Armchair Builder

Kit Homes for Owner Builders

Owner Built Home

Pros and Cons of Kit Homes for Owner Builders

We are always looking for ways to make the building process easier for those who want to build their own home as an owner builder.  One option for making the process simpler is to purchase a kit home from a lumber supplier.  What is a kit home you say?  Basically, it contains a house plan and the materials (no labor) required to build the home.  But is a kit home a good idea for an owner builder?  Let’s take a look at the pros and cons…

Why Kit Homes are Good for Owner Builders

Purchasing a kit home can be a good idea for owner builders because it removes most of the requirement for material takeoffs.  Knowing how to calculate the number of 2x4x16’s, pre-cut studs, sill sealer, and hurricane straps can be a time consuming and challenging task.  But when you purchase a kit home, all of the material should have been carefully reviewed by the supplier prior to packaging them for shipment.  And in most cases, the home has been built many times before so the takeoff (a.k.a. material list) should be quite accurate.

Another nice benefit of choosing a kit home for constructing a new home is the supplier has already gone through the task of matching up materials for the plan and its geographic location.  Let’s say you are building a home in Alaska.  The building codes there will require special insulation for the cold temperatures…which may affect wall thickness, which may affect foundation dimensions…etc.  Theoretically, the supply company should already know this and will have included these adjustments in the plan and takeoff/material list.  Another example where the kit home includes items that an owner builder might not have included would be in the windows being used.  If the windows have a flange to attach them to the house, the installers will need special flashing to seal them up properly.  The lumber supplier’s kit should include this flashing which will prevent a last minute run to the hardware store to get them when installation starts.

Dealing with one supplier for the most of the materials in the home also simplifies the scheduling process.  If you have a window supplier, roof truss supplier, floor joist supplier,…etc. it adds to the number companies and people that need to be organized on the construction schedule.  By having one company supply the entire kit home, lead times for ordering and delivery are simplified greatly.

The Negative Side of Kit Homes

When you start reviewing plans for the kit homes available today, you begin to realize that most building supply companies don’t understand what makes a great house.  Things like curb appeal, wide open concept floor plans, efficiency to build…etc. are all things that don’t hit the radar for these folks.  So, it will probably be challenging for most people to find a kit home that matches up with their “want” list for their dream home.

Another issue that comes up when purchasing a kit home is that most building supply companies have manufacturer specific agreements.  So let’s say you go to ABC Material Company for your kit home, they may only have two cabinet suppliers to choose from…and if these don’t meet your expectations, well tough luck.  This limited selection will run through to things like windows, doors, trim, siding, roofing…etc.

It’s also really important to carefully go through the list of items included in the kit home as there will inevitably be a few things still needed over and above the kit materials list.  Obviously the foundation will not be included.  But what about things like paint or flooring?   Are the gutters included?  How about nails?

One last item that is a big one for me as a builder…I like to have my contractors supply the material they are working with in many instances.  Why?  They buy in bulk so the bigger subcontractors get huge volume discounts.  Now whether you can get your siding or drywall subcontractor to pass the material savings on to you is another question.  The other reason it’s good to have a subcontractor supply their own material is because they usually manage it better than if they show up on the job and you’ve already had it delivered for them.  There can be significant waste when installing drywall, siding, or trim and in my experience, the sub manages the waste better when supplied by them.

There you have it.  There are some really compelling reasons for choosing a kit home as an owner builder.  As long as you realize the drawbacks and you can work around them, a kit home can be a great option to reduce the management time for the person in charge.  Below is an article with video of a story that comes from Australia covering kit homes and how they can save big money.  If you are interested, we are working on a new kit home plan that will soon rollout to the public called Open Book Build    

Kit Home Article and Video




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