Armchair Builder

Do Owner Builders Do All the Physical Labor?

Owner Built Home

What do people mean when they say owner builder or build your own house?  Does this translate into swinging a hammer and physically building the home yourself or is this more about managing trade contractors?  Actually, both of these are correct.  When you take on a project to build a new home without a general contractor, you decide what portions of the project to do yourself and what will be completed by subcontractors.  Having the ability to choose can save you serious money as the owner builder.

Do It Yourself 

If you have skills in a particular trade and have the extra time, you may decide to do the work yourself for a given activity.  By taking on this work, you can add to the savings you will see from being your own general contractor.  I have a friend that was a remodeling contractor in a past career.  He decided to do much of the work himself when he built his new home as he had the knowledge, experience, and time.

Another situation where you might consider DIY for your home building project would be if all your bids came back too high for a given task.  Let’s say all of your drywall bids were higher than you expected.  You may not have experience with the drywall trade, but you could offer to clean up after hanging is complete and then again after drywall finishing to save money.  Any labor you can provide should save the subcontractor time and should provide savings to you.

Professional home builder’s use this tactic all the time.  If a given activity is going to cost more than it should, they will substitute their own labor (employees or their own time) to do the work or a portion of the work.  This helps keep subcontractors honest with pricing.

Hire it Out 

When a job task requires special skills or tools, it’s a good idea to hire a professional subcontractor to do the work.  The mechanical trades (i.e. electrical, plumbing, and HVAC) are a good example of work that requires special knowledge and skill.  However, if you have worked in these trades, you may decide to take them on.  Or, you may have a friend in that particular business that can give you direction.  Either way, it’s not a good idea to tackle the mechanical activities without some form of knowledgeable help.

You will also want to hire companies to perform tasks that require special tools.  For example, excavation for your new foundation requires heavy equipment.  You could rent the equipment, but by the time you do this and learn how to operate it, it’s probably cheaper to hire an excavation company to do the work.

Family and Friends 

One of the benefits to taking on the general contractor role for your new home building project is you get to decide who does the work.  Most professional home builders won’t allow you to choose who does the work when they are in control of the project.  This is because general contractors have contract agreements and/or loyalties with specific companies.  They may also be afraid of substandard workmanship with trades they aren’t familiar with.

When you are in control, you can look to friends and colleagues for help.  Maybe your cousin has a plumbing company or your best friend is rough carpenter.  These relationships are great ways to get quality work done on your new home at discounted prices.

Tip for Time Strapped Owner Builders

If you would like to do more of the physical work on your new home but don’t feel like you have the time while handling the general contractor duties, you may want to consider building the home in phases.  You can leave your basement or attic unfinished and start those projects back up when you have the time or extra money.

You may also want to speak with your building department about building out the interior of your new home in phases.  The building department will have certain minimum requirements to make sure your home is safe to live in.  If you decide to go this route, be sure to tell your trade contractors and suppliers of your intentions.  You will want to rough in plumbing under slabs and you may want to rough in other mechanicals to the future finished areas.  This will prevent you from having to tear apart the finished portions of your home when starting the projects back up.

Taking on the general contractor role for your new home building project gives you the flexibility to decide when to do the work yourself.  This can add serious savings to your new project.  For some great tools to help you build your own home, checkout the Armchair Builder e-Store.


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