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I am building a house....i have no idea what i am doing :)

11 years ago

Have stumbled upon this board many times prior when looking up other things (family is the DIY type)...and my wife and I are finally gearing up to build....

a little background...

Wife and i have been wanting to do this for years, but due to finances, no idea of location, etc. it was always a dream but no real steps other than wishful forward to september of this year and we close on property!!!

It's perfect, down the street from where we are now with better schools (have two little boys) and still close to family (REALLY close)...we got it for a's 1.2 acres in a near suburb of Chicago with a tiny farm house on it....

we are currently renting the tiny house on the land and currently have a one year lease with the tenants...we did some minor rehab on the house but nothing major....we are now starting the ACTUAL planning stages. i have read a ton on here about planning and more planning, then finally....some more planning. Good news is both my wife and I are good planners and have already picked out a ton of things and pictures of what we want etc. so we are starting off on a good note!

we did go see a design-builder that pretty much offered white glove service on high end custom homes....along with the white glove service came a white glove price that I don't think I am willing to pay before shopping around a ton. Problem is, we want to build a custom home, not plans (although we do have a set of base plans we LOVE). So we are currently looking for architects or designers to draw up plans for our land and for what we are looking for.

we have a ton to do and are in the infancy stages of all this considering we are planning to build late next year, but we want to be as prepared as we can.

just wanted to introduce myself as I no doubt will have questions and would love to share our progress!

if you are interested, i am going to *try* and keep a blog going about the entire's here if you're interested...

thank you for what i know will be a warm welcome and i look forward to the conversations!

Comments (22)

  • User
    11 years ago


    If you don't know what you are doing and you want a custom design you should hire a professional to guide you through the process and provide drawings complete enough to bid competitively and avoid unnecessary and costly allowances.

    You can't really escape the cost of design; you will pay it to a design-build contractor or in change orders if you negotiate a contract. You might as well be in control of the process.

  • sanveann
    11 years ago

    Ha! I just commented on your blog. We're at the same point -- sort of scratching our heads and going, "What now?!"

    I'm reading "Building Your Own Home for Dummies," which has been helpful in explaining the process. We're currently interviewing home designers and architects (already have a builder picked out); I'm thinking most of the architects around here are going to be out of our price range, so we're probably going with a designer, who has come highly recommended by our builder and a couple of other people.

    I would also suggest reading "Designing Your Perfect House," which includes a lot of great things to think about including (or not including) in your house.

  • Linda Gomez
    11 years ago

    We had our idea and rough plan. We went to an architect and weren't pleased. Switched to a home designer/contractor--she gave us some good ideas and came up with a good basic design, but she tried to fit our house into a plan that fit in her program and she decided to nickel and dime us every time we made a change.

    We've ended up with a builder(civil engineer) who used to draft old school--that's how he put his kids through college. He isn't too creative, but knows how to work the plans from the basement up; he calculates loads and the other engineer type stuff. He regularly consults a truss guy.

    I regularly consult an interior designer that I trust. I pay her on an hourly basis. Now I'm not the type that has ever used a designer for a whole room--just when I hit a brick wall. I've gotten good design input from her.

    I might add that once the builder had a decent floor plan, he said we could go get a building permit based on it. I guess he's the kind that did something on a napkin and turned it in. We are insisting on accurate estimates whereas he'd be content to do a ball park.

    I don't view any of the $$$ we've spent as wasted. We knew when we weren't comfortable with the one doing our work so changed until we've felt comfortable. We really like our builder and he has a good reputation. A builder may already have a few floor plans he's worked with. You can meet builders at Parade of Homes, if they have them in your area.

  • energy_rater_la
    11 years ago

    in addition to pics of moldings floors etc
    you'll want to start thinking about the things
    you don't 'see'.
    insulation packages
    air tight drywall approach
    good windows with solar heat gain coefficients
    & ufactors .30 or less
    Insulation Contact Air Tight recessed lights
    (just cause people put so many...and they leak
    attic air so much)
    hvac system
    ductwork location.

    in planning stages, now is the time to design
    the house with heating system AND ducts
    inside the living space.

    never again will it be so easy to save money
    every month on utility costs by making this

    putting hvac choice, sizing and design of ducts
    off until building is underway is a sure fire way
    to get a hvac system that is oversized, poorly
    designed and a added cost to operate every
    month for the life of the system.

    load calcs instead of rule of thumb sizing.
    install of ducts & hvac system rather than getting
    hung up on brands.

    starting to think about these things now
    is a good step towards building a house that
    will include comfort & savings for your family.

    best of luck

  • ffingers
    Original Author
    11 years ago


    I kid when I say I have no wife and I are both obsessive planners and researchers, and we have a good idea of what we need to do. Like anything else though, I think until you get into it, you don't understand the sheer scope and magnitude of what it entails. Sort of to @energy_rater_la points that there are many more things to consider than just what is pretty floors and I want a big living space.

    @sanveann - thanks for the comment on the blog, I hope I keep up with it haha. I also saw your book recommendation on your blog and am likely going to take a look, hopefully soon.

    @ still_waters - good advice...i think so long as you get what you need design-wise, whatever mechanism that comes through its not important.

    I am a little tongue-in-cheek when I write so please don't take my sarcasm too seriously, but I am very excited and slightly fearful at the whole process. My wife and will likely have 90% of the house planned before we begin building and my wife is a sales obsessed freak!! (in a good way) We are also not overly picky in that we want some certain nice things, where off the rack home deport or lowes will do for others.

    Overall it should be an interesting process. Like most, the journey for me will likely be the best part. It's been a dream of ours for almost a decade now and to finally have land, to finally be talking's makes me feel all gooey inside.

  • User
    11 years ago

    When I was a child I thought my father made the car go faster by shaking the steering wheel faster. I know now that he probably needed a wheel alignment.

    A house design is not just a collection of detail and material decisions although it might look that way. A design starts with the site and the program and the big ideas. All other decisions are derived in one way or another from the bigger ideas and decisions. It is a process. How to manage that process is something that cannot be researched and learned in a month or even a year. It helps to be professionally trained but it is essential to have done it repeatedly over many years so a homeowner should think twice before attempting to learn this process by designing their own house; the mistakes are just too costly to correct. Try your uncle's house or participate here for a year or two.

    Relying on a builder to help you manage a design process is to fail to recognize the intrinsic conflict of interest and lack of design focus of a builder.

    Using a plan from the internet corrupts the design process; forcing you to accept too many ideas and decisions all at once and out of the proper sequence. It can only work if you want what the market wants, ie a dogleg kitchen island should separate a kitchen from the living room and roofs should be multiple hipped party hats and overlapping gables.

    Good luck with your project. I will try to help a long as you don't call it a "build".

  • ffingers
    Original Author
    11 years ago

    I appreciate the comments Renovator8....again maybe I came off wrong, but I have no intention of doing this ourselves and will most certainly defer to those who have spent years doing this...I have friends who are architects and even considered the field for awhile...but as you say the process starts with a vision and big ideas that drive the process and subsequent decisions....we are still trying to put together what our dreamhouse is...whats realistic and what is merely dreaming....research to understand that I feel is important so I know going in an idea of what to expect....

    Again I appreciate all the help this board will no doubt be....

  • wishiwasinoz
    11 years ago

    Renovator8 has great advice, as does everyone else. Read as much as you can & really learn, learn, learn.

    We did not have a signed contract with the GC in the planning stages, but we were 90% sure he was our guy. He sat in on every single planning session with the architect. The architect can plan the most beautiful (& expensive!) home ever, but if it isn't efficient, what does it matter. Having the eyes & ears of a GC who's been building homes for 30 years was extremely beneficial in our minds. Luckily, our GC isn't old school, even though he's been doing this half of his life. He stays up to date on the latest advances in the industry. Also, the knowledge of how & why certain thing work was so helpful for DH & me. We didn't need to waste time in these planning sessions to ask questions. When GC would say, "it has to be done this way because of XYZ", then we were able to roll with it. Also, I think GC has gained a certain amount of respect for us because we are clued in to what is going on. We are spending a hell of a lot of money, so we really want to know the ins & outs of this investment.

    Best of luck to you & welcome! You are going to learn so much!

  • virgilcarter
    11 years ago

    Reno 8's comments, above, should be a reference thread. And wishiwasinoz's comments about their contractor is also a classic. Few builders care to be in the early design explorations, and fewer still can offer useful comments at that stage. I hope you are compensating your contractor for this valuable time.

    A new home certainly isn't a "build". It's an exploration of ideas and concepts, followed by conceptual (schematic) design explorations. With an accepted design, design development follows, with more detailed desgin studies.

    When the design development is approved, construction drawings and specifications are prepared. This phase is followed by bidding, which, in turn, is followed by construction and occupancy.

    There are concrete reasons for this process and these phases of work: a creative but logical and phased exploration of what works best for the owner's requirements, budget, site and applicable regulatory requirements.

    The error many first time home builders make (as well as those who have built before) is to consider their home a "build", rather than a custom design followed logical steps to arrive at bidding and construction. When one considers their home a "build" that's all they get--a built house! Taking a stock plan and modifying it simply results in a few larger closets, a bigger laundry with kiddie cubbies or a revised kitchen island, which is hardly a house conceived and designed for a family's unique needs and site!

    Just a few thoughts.

  • ffingers
    Original Author
    11 years ago

    I do appreciate the comments....but please it seems like everyone is hung up language I used...."build" was just a term I used...if anyone wife and I have been waiting for this over 10 years..your crazy if you think this being taken lightly...while appreciate the comments. ...I said we had plans we liked and were looking for an architect to design our seems most of these posts are assuming I said I was using stock plans and just want to build....I dont believe I said anything like that...and I am sorry if I gave that impression...we understand the gravity of this and am not looking for a quick out...

    But again thank you for the comments...I appreciate them all

  • energy_rater_la
    11 years ago

    don't take it all too seriously. letting your
    personality & sense of humor show in your
    posts isn't a bad thing.

    I'm not understanding why such offense
    was taken..but its over. move on.

    You have waited 10 years for this...
    enjoy it.
    it will be a learning experience and if we
    can, we will assist you in the areas we have
    experience in.

    looking forward to reading of your process
    in the building of your new home.

    best of luck.

  • virgilcarter
    11 years ago

    "I'm building a house...I have no idea what I'm doing..."

    'Nuff said. Move on?

  • energy_rater_la
    11 years ago

    so he was a little what?

    doesn't mean he isn't serious about building.

    I took the title to mean that he is open
    to learning the process.

  • sweet.reverie
    11 years ago

    Oh my! Who DOES know what they are doing? You could plan and plan all your want and there will always be a curveball (or a few thrown at the same time right at your face) that you cannot see coming.

    OP- I appreciate your humor! Hopefully it will help you and your wife through the tough parts of building. There a few posters who take all of this very seriously, which is amazingly helpful and eye-opening at times but tone is so hard to interpret online and so they read everything the same I think.
    All I have to say is that hopefully you can figure out how to build a house, you idiot! :)

    I will be following your journey and excited to see what you guys come up with!

  • Carol.33
    11 years ago

    We are about in the same boat as you, ffingers..... building a house with no idea what we're doing! I'm looking forward to see what you come up with too!!

  • dadereni
    11 years ago

    Good luck.

    The fact that your first post isn't titled, "Help! We're framing next week!" or "This [insert inferior unspecified product] isn't what I wanted!" or "My 18" plank floors aren't like a sheet of glass" you're off to a good start. An ounce of prevention...

    Echoing above posts, early and continuous involvement of professionals besides the builder, who work for you and not the builder, will help ensure that everything you want is in the contract from the beginning (when your position is strong) and ends up in the finished home in the way you expect it (have the architect provide services throughout construction). Unless you meet with surprises with your site during excavation, for new construction you shouldn't have the overages that those with vague contract documents and without assistance have.

    This post was edited by dadereni on Tue, May 14, 13 at 10:36

  • logastellus
    11 years ago

    I would suggest this book here:

    it's proven to be invaluable for our custom home design process.

    One sad thing I learned from dealing with architects is that a lot of times the architectural firm has partners and drafters. So you THINK you are getting a proper architect to help you out and instead they stick you with an AutoCAD master who is good with software but lacks the proper vision and training of a REAL architect.

    In my case, I didn't even realize this was the case until it was too late. Sad.

  • jessica562
    11 years ago

    We are also in the infant stages of building. My husband and I have signed up for a local "home building" class at the Community College which goes through the entire process and every aspect of the home structure. I am hoping this will help us avoid costly mistakes. Perhaps you should see if a similar class is available in your area?

    We have our preliminary plans complete and are working on bids from builders. We expect to be finished with the 8 week course before breaking ground.

  • ffingers
    Original Author
    11 years ago

    This thread got some views lately apparently...I guess I can post a follow-up. First and foremost, my title was more of a joke than anything else. I am obviously not a builder myself, but I do have quite a bit of info about the process. My wife and I have done extensive research to the point where we probably know as much as we can know being a non-builder/designer.

    When I wrote that post, we more in the realm of, do we hire an architect, a designer, a design/builder, etc. Since that post, we have met with multiple builders, a few different architects, as well as a couple additional builder/designers.

    We have pretty much settled on our "partner" in this. It is a design build firm that works in our "neck of the woods." We found them because when we initially started to pick out houses which had elements we liked, we kept finding their homes online and we loved their look and style. When we started rough designing plans, we found ourselves unconsciously designing plans that were very similar to their home's layouts. The funny thing, when we saw them and when we started roughing plans was months apart. It was fairly obvious this outfit fit the bill for us. They are slightly more expensive than hiring a builder separately, but they work with an architect to help design and draft the plans to a budget. Since they then bid it out as well, they have a pretty good handle as to the house they can build, with the finishes they use, and for what price. This is what we wanted.

    Given that we still have a bit of time between build time, we are looking to start the official drawing phase of the project late this year.

  • redlodger
    10 years ago

    We bought our land 4 years before we built our home. We wanted to build our dream home and were not in a hurry to rush into it and then regret decisions made too quickly.

    I was the designer on the project and honestly enjoyed all that it entailed. We also had a wonderful builder that made the whole process go seamlessly and stress free.

    After we chose a house plan and had it updated to include the must-haves on our list, I poured over those plans for hours and hours making sure each room was as ideal as possible.

    Now is the time to decide if you want an HVAC duct in that place or a light switch or outlet in that spot. Decide if you want floor outlets, special outlets in pantries or cleaning closets. Are the rooms the right size? Could a couple feet make a difference anywhere? I sure wish we had made our laundry room 3 feet wider.

    Choose as many products as you can before your builder gives you his estimate. If you want granite and he's giving you laminate pricing the cost will be more. Also, painting the interior all one color is less expensive than having several rooms painted differently. Are you going with pre-painted siding or having the exterior custom painted? Are you using brick, cultured stone or natural stone? Huge difference between brick and natural stone. Plumbing fixtures vary in price as do lighting and appliances. Make sure he's taking your choices into account with his bottom line. Think about any upgrades in insulation, soundproofing, radiant heating, etc.

    The best advice I can give from someone who's been there, done that, is to sit down and really think about how you want the house to look, function and feel....and cost.

    Are there things you can't do without? For us it was a 3rd garage, his & hers master's closets, a computer space off the kitchen area where we can monitor our son, and a particular type of kitchen layout. Break the house plan down room by room if it's overwhelming but KNOW WHAT YOU WANT. If you're unsure of that then you can be talked into a lot of stuff you will find out later you really didn't need or want.

    Almost all of us have to stick to a budget so the trick is getting what you want overall at a price you can afford. This website is a treasure trove of information that I'm sure will benefit you in the days to come. Good luck on your build and keep your chin up.

  • Dave & Aimiee
    9 years ago

    Hi There!
    My husband Dave and I are at the beginning stages of tearing down our dear, sweet 1950s CA beach house and putting in something new in its place. I came across this string of comments in a Google Search and was wondering if there were any updates! I have already learned a ton from all of you responders--so thank you for anything more your can impart.

  • Bethanysmom
    9 years ago

    OP - I had to laugh at your original title and post - not because I was laughing at you; rather, I was laughing with you as that is exactly how I felt when I got started in this process. And, quite frankly, no one was born knowing how to design and build a home. Everyone had to start somewhere,

    It sounds like to me that you and your wife have done your research and are headed in the right direction. Like you and your wife, my husband and I have been planning our dream home for years. And we've worked hard to get to the point of actually being able to start the process.

    I have also educated myself as much as possible up to this point, and am working with some talented, more knowledgeable people to fill in the areas I lack.

    Though we've had several setbacks already (and we haven't even broken ground), I am trying to enjoy the process as much as possible. As I said, we've waited a long time for this, and I am going to enjoy it. And, for someone like me who is living with an inoperable brain aneurysm, every day is a gift in itself.

    Just wanted you to know that there are others here in the same place you are. Enjoy the process of turning your dream into a reality. It's something so many people dream about, yet are never able to do. :-)