Step 1 - Learn and develop construction skills

Decide how much of the actual construction you wish to do yourself.

Issues to consider include:

   - Assessment and development of your skills.  You should have already built some items before you set out to build a house that you are going to live in.  Save money and develop your skill by renovating an old house while you live in it.  Build a garage or storage shed to gain a feel for your ability and insight into the construction process.

   - Local regulatory and code requirements.  If building in a municipality, there may be very little work that you can perform without the appropriate certifications.  Certain other trades like plumbing and electrical are heavily protected in most areas.  The most important step is to know the rules before you start ( or buy land ).

   - Cost of raw materials vs. installation costs.  Contractors can install some items for less than you can buy the materials for.  You can start pricing construction materials and shopping for contractors years ahead of the time you are ready to start construction.   That's the best way to know what a good deal is as well as have realistic expectations for cost.

   - Time.  Decide how much time you can invest ... and how much you can get from friends and family.

Here's my personal experience:

   My grandpa built the house that my dad grew up in, and my dad built the house that I grew up in, and that's why I wanted to keep the family trend going.  My dad was a great resource to tell me all the things I did wrong when I built an 8X12 pump shed in the backyard.   Later, he taught me how to pour a slab when we built a 14X22 garage together.   I also did work on whatever house I was living in then, anything from patching the roof to patching holes in drywall.  Finally, I have a degree in Aerospace Engineering and several of my classes focused on structural analysis.  So, I always felt comfortable designing a solid structure.  I'd say you either have a knack for it or you should hire an architect.

   I was lucky to have some land given that was suitable for construction by an owner-builder.  The land was out in a rural county in Texas that did not require building permits or have code enforcement.  The only permits I had to get were for the septic wastewater.  I was free to do as much of the other construction as I wanted.
   When I started pricing materials and getting quotes from contractors, I was surprised that it was cheaper to pay a contractor to come in and do a trade than it was for me to buy the materials at retail and do it myself.  Specifically, I would never consider doing insulation, masonry, or drywall myself.  To save money, I did always keep an eye out for cheap used lumber, re-bar, pipe, or anything else that I could acquire and store for years before my construction start date.   Be careful, you can't use "used" materials in an area that must pass code inspections, and obviously you only want stuff in sound condition.

   As you will see in the videos, I did a lot of work in the evenings and weekends while I was also working full time at a desk job.  I did everything I could ahead of time until I got laid off one day.  That's when I started actual construction.  It took about 18 months of full time work to build an 1800 sq ft house, but it would have taken much longer if I hadn't hired contractors for several of the trades.   In retrospect, the process would have gone much faster if I weren't so slow, or if I had hired an assistant, especially for framing.  If you do hire someone, be sure you have appropriate insurance.

As you can see from the video, there's not much to work with out there:

Step 2 - Get your game plan

   It gets rough when you have to make a huge investment in "housing" that you can't live in yet.  On top of that, loans can be tricky to come by, as well as insurance.   It is wise to develop a plan far ahead of time, and keep it as flexible as possible until the last moment.

Here's a list of items that you need to have figured out.

1.  Where are you going to build?
     - be careful to buy land that you can legally build on
     - be careful to buy land that is above any 1000 year flood plain ... drive out after a flood before you buy
     - check deed restrictions and know how far from boundaries that you can put up a structure
     - check county records to be aware of any easements, pipelines, power lines, etc. running through
     - before you buy, make sure you can get water service to the property or dig a well and know the cost
     - before you buy, make sure you can get electric service and know the cost
     - evaluate the cost of building a road to your construction site
     - evaluate the soil, grade/slope, and brush cover for impact to construction costs ... rocky terrain will add cost for septic installation if blasting is required; clay soil may add foundation and septic system costs.    
     - talk to neighbors to find out about site specific costs they ran into
     - consider property tax issues and whether or not you can have any exemptions, homestead or agriculture
     - evaluate site security and decide what is needed to prevent theft of building materials
     - evaluate any other risk factors like wild fire or tornado probability and plan to build accordingly
     - evaluate the location and travel time into town ... sometimes, 'further from town yet just off a major highway' can be better than 'close to town but down twisted and/or busy side streets'.
     - evaluate the view and imagine the orientation of your house on the lot ... can you have most of your windows face south and can you place the garage to block the north winter winds.

2.  Where are you going to live while you build?
     - you need a place that's close to the construction site
     - renting is a good option so that you don't have an outstanding loan for your current residence
     - moving a trailer onto the property might be possible in some areas, but watch the cash burn on that
     - building a pole barn / garage apartment first is a way to gain practice and have a place to live during construction of your main house.

3.  Where are you going to get the money?
     - start saving money today (you're 10 and have about $50K in lemonade stand profits to open your first savings account with ... right?)
     - always strive for a perfect credit history
     - find out who you can get personal loans from
     - decide if you need to break the project up into phases
     - you could pour the slab and then let things sit for a year or two
     - or 'dry the house in' and let it sit while you save again
     - don't frame it half way and try to let that sit for 2 years
     - make sure you have the money in hand to get to the next stopping point before you start another phase
     - be realistic about how much you can save and borrow.  Plan for everything to cost more than you expect.  It's much easier to find ways to make things nicer and spend more money later than it is to figure out how to cut corners and reduce spending.  Think simple, think small, think efficient.

4.  What are you going to do if disaster strikes?
     - make sure you can get an insurance policy for the site in case someone gets hurt and sues you
     - make sure you have adequate health and life insurance in case you kill or injure yourself
     - make sure you can get a construction insurance policy, but don't initiate it until you start framing.

Here's how I worked out the game plan:

   The land was already there, provided by my father-in-law.  We had to do some surveying and splitting and working with the county Health Department.  In Texas, you must have 10 acres with at least 50' of frontage to a public road to divide out a property to build on.   Luckily, my father-in-law already had a water meter out on the property to get water to his cattle.   Also, luckily, he kept the agricultural property tax exemption current.  We picked the site to minimize the distance that a road and utilities would have to be run, and made every decision possible to delay or reduce the amount of 'up-front' cash we had to spend.

   After considering the 'mobile home' option and the 'build a garage apartment' option, we bought a very affordable house close to the construction site.  It was "cozy".   I had pre-fabricated many components for the frame of a garage apartment, but then we changed our plans and decided to go ahead and build the main house.  I had to get creative to figure out how to use the parts I had already made.

   When I started construction, I had 50K saved up.  I was able to get the house "dried in" with that.   Then I had to borrow another 50K to finish it out.   This was for construction from 2002 to 2003, so be sure to account for inflation.  The biggest driver of cost is the amount of regulation you have to deal with though.   If at all possible, build in the country in a county that does not have building codes.  

   As for insurance, since we owned the other home close to the construction site, we were able to get a general liability policy to cover if anyone got hurt on the property.  Then, after I started framing, I got a 1 year construction policy.  That type of policy assumes that you will be 100% complete by the end of the term, but you can sometimes buy an extension.

Step 3 - It is Time to Design

   To me, the biggest perk to building your own house is that you have the freedom to design EXACTLY what you want.  Hopefully your tastes don't exceed your wallet, but at least you get to dream it all out in every detail.  You can and should customize your new home to fit perfectly into its space on the planet, and for you and your family to fit perfectly into your space in the new home.   It's time to bring together that list of all the things you just love about other people's homes, and put them to paper to form visual representations of the shapes that will form your space.

   Some ideas cost more than others to implement, but the best way to assimilate that list of must have features is to visit a lot of existing homes and take notes on how features that you like are put together.  You should always go to a party with a notepad and a tape measurer.   When you see a kitchen/dining/living space that just fits and makes you feel comfortable; don't just compliment the owner, hang back after the party and measure off the rooms, closets, bathrooms, ceiling heights, and note how they are laid out.  You can use these type of specific notes to help your architect understand what you want, or you can use those notes to help layout your own floor plan.

   Another great trick for putting together an awesome home design is to visit construction sites and start talking to the tradesmen onsite.  See first hand how they are doing their jobs.  If you catch a friendly one, ask lots of questions ... people usually like to be the expert and blab about their business.  Always take a note pad and a tape measurer because you do need specific data if you are going to design the house for yourself.   If you are inexperienced, be careful to get data from many projects and talk to many different people about the same questions.   You will have to combine all the different answers you get to what makes the most sense for your situation.   You need to review many houses so you can learn what items you can simply copy vs. when you must engineer a solution.   For example, every room has 2X4s to hold up the walls at 16" centers.   You can copy that and use that same pattern no matter how big the room is.   But, if you are building a floor that spans 12 feet between supports, you will need a much stronger board than if your floor only spans 8 feet.  You need to look at many structures to get a feel for when you can copy and when you must do some thinking and/or research.

   I built my whole house from a sketch of the floor plan on 3 sheets of 8 1/2" X 11" engineering paper.   Since I erected the foundation forms, laid the re-bar, plumbing, and framed the house, I didn't need much detail at all.  Most of the design was in my head, and I had the freedom to make many decisions on the fly.  However, most details should be decided ahead of time, and so here is a list:

1.  Dimensions and locations of all rooms, garages, closets, hallways, stairs, and the boundaries of the house.  Remember to account for thickness of walls in the floor-plan.  For any type of masonry exterior, the foundation should extend 5.5" beyond the outside face of the walls.  The walls will be about 4.5" thick if you are using 2x4 studs for your walls.

2.  Height of all rooms.   Allow for at least 12" boundary space between floors.  If some areas have short spans and you have only 10" floor joists, decide how you are going to match that up with areas that might require 12" joists.  You can just add that couple of inches to the ceiling height of the room under the 10" joists.

3.  Size and pitch of the roof.  The roof should extend 18-24" beyond the walls of the house.  Also, whether a hip roof or how the ridges will run.  I'm partial to a simple single ridge, non-hip roof.  It is easy to build and it is very efficient if you do a metal roof.

4.  The location and size of all doors and windows.  Be very careful with closets and bathrooms to make sure you have room to actually open the doors and pass through.  Take specific measurements from an existing house to see how much space is needed for the toilet or bathtub you plan to install.

5.  Location and shape of driveways, porches, and decks. Be sure to use 2x10s to create a lowered ledge in the foundation for the bottom of the garage doors to fit into. Normally you will use 2x6 lumber to form a 'brick ledge' around the rest of the house.

6.  Where all the load bearing walls will be.   These should rest on top of beams in your foundation or floors.

7.  For a concrete foundation, location of supporting beams.  The beams should be re-bar reinforce concrete that are 30-36" in depth.  They should approximate a 12' x 12' grid across the foundation, but you may shift them around to match up with your load bearing walls.  If building in really terrible soil, you may consider digging pier holes as well.  ( Talk to neighbors and see how their foundations are doing ).

8.  Location and size of any spanning beams for upper floors or across a basement.   These must be strong enough to hang the floor joists off of and support the weight of your mother-in-law's pet elephant.

9.  Location, size, ventilation, and entrances for any crawl spaces, basements, or storm cellars.

10.  Plumbing locations.  Starting with the water service inlet, and ending with the main septic line out, decide where all the lines will go and what size they should be. Check out the section on plumbing for more details.  If you have any custom bath tub units that you are planning to install, get the specs ahead of time so you know exactly where the drain and pressure lines go.  Also, remember to account for lines for any ice-maker, external faucets, or other appliances you might want ... and fire sprinklers too.   Finally, remember to plan spaces in walls for vent pipes to be run off the drain lines up through the roof.  You may have to build some 2x6 walls behind bathrooms, for example, to hide vent pipes.

11.  HVAC.  Make sure you have places to run ducts and air returns.  Make sure you have a location in the attic to accommodate the unit and that it is near a suitable location for the condenser outside.  Consider how the noise from the unit might affect the occupants and plan to locate away from bedrooms if possible.

12.  Electrical.  At least decide where the main breaker box is to be located.  I like to have mine in the garage with the main power coming from underground.  So, that means I had to run conduit from the service pole underground and then up through the edge of the foundation of the garage.

13.  Appliances: plan for venting the cook-stove, clothes dryer, wood stove, or fireplace.

14.  Location of water heater, emergency pressure relief line, and French drain in case it ever leaks.

15.  Orientation and location of the house on the property, location of utilities and access to the property.

Here's the story on how I designed my first house:

   I started by designing a tiny little garage apartment with 3 tiny bedrooms, 1 bath, a kitchenette, and a living space downstairs behind the garage.   I began construction out of my garage in Houston some 200 miles away from where I ended up building the new house.  I just started building door and window bucks.  I ended up needing more as the design "grew", but it was a way for me to get started since I had a dry place to store them:

These are easily used later in any house design, as long as you don't change your mind on the size of the windows you want.

By getting this early start with the hammer and nail, I did lock in the width of my house when I started building roof trusses and floor joists.

These set my width at 24', but I was able to add more space to the house by building more of these than I had originally designed for. Still, I didn't want my house to look like a long barn, so I made the house 'L' shaped. The trick was to run rafters from one edge of the trusses out over a wider, but "single-story" part of the house. This gave me all the room I needed to fit a nice kitchen, dining, living, laundry, pantry, half-bath and closets downstairs. It also was perfect for having a space to put the HVAC equipment and a walk-in attic space that is accessed from the master bedroom without having to climb up a rickety ladder.

I did have to use some old high school geometry to figure out how high to make that main truss and how high to make the walls over the single story section of the house. The angle of the roof line needed to be constant as it descends over the section of the house seen to the left.

Step 4 - Site Prep

   Site prep is the first step in the actual construction process.  I lumped some things in this phase that one might not normally do here, but it worked for me.

Once you are sure that you can legally build on your lot and have any permits to even get started, here's a checklist for what you need to do early in the process.  These items will also add value to your lot even if you can't go ahead with construction yourself.

1.  Water service.  No matter if you plan to connect to city, co-op, or drill a well, you need to get water onsite.  The price of water is rising and availability is falling, at least around central Texas.  Getting water can be very expensive, but these days, it is best to get it sooner than later.  Perhaps if you are planning a rooftop collection system, then you can save this step for later.

2.  Electric service.   Most country hardware stores can put a meter loop together for you.  Call the electric service provider for your area to get the specs for a new meter loop, and make sure the one you buy meets their requirements.   Usually if you purchase a meter loop from the same county where you build, the hardware store will already have one that meets the specs.   Have them add a 200 amp master shutoff with 4 breakers below it to come off of for your construction power needs.  Make sure the master shutoff box has pass through connectors so you can later run underground conduit to tie into the same box to feed power to a master panel inside the house.  Those outside breakers come in handy for any outdoor power needs after construction is finished as well, i.e. for the septic pump.   Plan ahead and you'll save some money by placing a connection for construction that is suitable for the finished house.  Also, have the meter loop pole onsite when the power company sets their poles so they can set your meter loop pole on the same trip.

3.  Access road.  You can save money upfront by waiting on the road, but then rain and mud sure can mess you up if you don't have good access to the site.  My favorite strategy for building a road is to start with scrap rock from a local quarry or scrap concrete from where ever you can get it.  Big chunks make the best first layer for a new road, and sometimes you can pull out nice pieces to use later for retaining walls.  Of course you'll need crushed base to cover the big stuff and fill in little gaps.  Once you have all material onsite, don't hesitate to rent a Bobcat / skid-steer loader with "teeth" on the loader bucket.   Sometimes if you rent one on Friday night or Saturday morning, you can use it all weekend for one day's rental if you don't put more than 8 hours on it.  Skid steers / Bobcats are actually very easy to operate and building a road is a great way to get the hang of it.  Please though, don't let anybody around the site while you are working ... ESPECIALLY NO CHILDREN!!!

4.  Fences or other security measures.  Of course this depends on your specific situation, but now is the time to fence off the construction area.  When you start construction, rent a lockable storage container if needed.

5.  Tree clearing or tree planting.   This is one of those things I just lumped in.  Since there were no trees near my house, I wanted to get one started ASAP.   Just don't plant anything too close to the construction site.

Ok, so now you have some tedious pre-construction work done.  You should be able to quit now and sell your lot for more than you paid for it.   Nothing should be totally set in stone yet.  Even the road could be moved or extended.  However, now is the time to totally finalize what you are going to build and where it is going to sit on the lot.  Steps from here on out may also be time sensitive, so gear yourself up to keep the ball rolling now.   There are just three steps left for site prep though:

1.  In Texas, you will need to get a permit for an on-site wastewater system.  This has an expiration on it, so wait until you are actually ready to begin construction before you go to the county health department to get it. I do recommend getting it before you break ground.  If there's going to be a snag in the process, it will be while dealing with the government.  Mother Nature is more predictable.

2.  Layout the approximate footprint of you house, driveway, and porches.  One trick for getting the layout square and even is to measure diagonally from corner to corner.  Those diagonal measures must match unless you want your house shaped like a rhombus or trapezoid.

3.  Rent that skid steer ( with teeth on the loader ) again and remove any signs of life and at least 6" of the topsoil from the area inside your layout and up to a foot around your layout (in case you were off a little somewhere).  Insist on a skid steer with teeth because you will have a hard time cutting through the turf without them.   Also, it certainly doesn't hurt to wet the soil ahead of time or plan to do this within a week of a good rain.   Remember, no kids around while that machine is running.

Site Prep = DONE

Step 5 - Slab Prep

Get ready to do a lot of work that is just going to be torn back down. Whew, quite a few man hours go into building the forms for a concrete foundation. If you can afford to hire a helper, now is the time. You'll notice in the videos below that I did some things the hard way. Most professional slab crews will do a slab in this order:

1. Pack the base
2. Cut beam trenches
3. Build the forms
4. Run the plumbing
5. Pressure test plumbing
6. Set the vapor barrier
7. Set the re-bar
8. Pour the slab

If you are a one man show, wait as long as possible to dig the trenches because they will cave in during rain storms. If you do build the forms first, like I did, you will have to rent a special trencher that has the blade all the way over to the side of the machine. Also, don't put the brick-ledge boards on or do ANY plumbing until after you have the beams trenched out.

The videos below outline the steps as I did them ... or did them, un-did them, and re-did them as was the case whenever I screwed up or did something in the wrong order.

The first task is to layout the batter boards with string lines that mark the exact locations of the edges of your foundation. Pick the height of the layout such that you can have a descent of 12" around every edge of your house. To word differently, find the highest point around the edge of your foundation, and make sure the surface of your slab is at least 12" above that level. This will cost you a little extra in base fill material, but it will save you from ever having to sweep water out of the garage.

The next step is to build the forms. I actually ran my string lines to mark the edge of the frame of the house, so I made a little template to space the forms out far enough to allow for the brick ledge.

Don't try to get by without renting a Bobcat again unless you want to waste a lot of time like I did. Do order extra base material to fill the forms or make sure you can get deliveries of more on the day that you have the Bobcat onsite. It takes a lot more base fill than you think, especially if you do a good job of packing it down as you go.  Lastly, leave one section of the forms down so that the dump trucks can back all the way into the foundation area, and to have access to drive the Bobcat in and out to spread the fill and pack it down.

Again, just rent the equipment you need for the job. $200 and the right machine can do two week's worth of hard manual labor in a few hours.

Also, don't run ANY plumbing until after you have trenched out for all your slab beams.  Most of the plumbing can run fairly shallow through the base.  Depending on your situation, use the trencher to set the main sewer line, but a pick and shovel should work for everything else.

   One way to simplify the plumbing for the slab is to put all your bathtubs on the second floor. For your main sewer line, use one straight 4" PVC pipe across the house to connect all the downstairs toilets with as few bends as possible. 'T' into that main line as needed with 2" lines for the drains for, tubs, sinks, and the washing machine.

   Remember to allow for venting on the sewer lines. Technically, each toilet should have a 3" PVC pipe that runs through the wall behind the toilet.  So, you need a 'T' pointing up for the pipe to come up through the slab where the toilet will mount ( center point is 12" from the wall behind the toilet ) as well as a 'T' pointing horizontally to tie the vent pipe into. Place the horizontal 'T' upstream of the 'T' that is for mounting the toilet. You also need a couple of short pieces of PVC pipe and a 90 deg. long sweep elbow to route the vent pipe up through the slab where the back wall behind the toilet will be. I like to use 4" pipe for the sewer lines, but I reduce down to 3" for the vent pipes. Of course, pay attention to how the sweeps in those 'T's are running. The path should always be down and out. Remember to also have a vertical 'T' to receive any sewer from the upper floors.

   That main horizontal sewer line should also gradually descend as it exits the house. Plan to have your septic tank located such that it is on a straight shot, aligned with your main sewer line as it exits under your slab.

   For pressure lines, use soft copper for all under slab work. There should be no joints of any kind under the slab, and you just bend the tubing as needed to come up or go down. Starting at your water service line outside the slab area, attach a shutoff valve (I recommend a simple PVC ball valve if your incoming line is PVC.) Sweat a brass threaded fitting onto the end of the soft copper tubing, and then, after it cools, screw it into the shutoff valve. Run that line under or through a hole in the forms and then bend it up. Create your first manifold here. You will need to 'T' off for hot water and for every direction that you need to run water.

   If multiple locations needing water are off in the same general direction, create another manifold at each intermediate location. At each manifold, you simply bend the soft copper up so it will come above the surface of the slab. Then you sweat on the needed 'T's and run the outgoing lines back down into the base fill and across to the next location needing water. I like to protect that soft copper with plastic sleeves or insulation sections as I do each run. Do practice ahead of time before you try to "sweat" soft copper tubing ... it's a pain.

   Finally, pressure test all your lines before you pour the concrete.   Create a temporary bridge from the cold water side to your hot water side so that you can pressure up the hot water lines as well.  Leave the pressure on the lines for at least 24 hours, and check for any signs of moisture at the joints or along any of the runs.   If you have the equipment, you could pressure the lines with air and have a pressure gauge attached.  Then just check for any drop in pressure to indicate a leak.  That's a good final test.

Watch dumpsters at construction sites for 'almost' used up chop saw blades. These can fit in a regular skil saw and be used for cutting re-bar.

6" mesh makes great supports for re-bar in your slab beams.

After you get your vapor barrier laid down, it is time to tie in that re-bar.

A 6" wire mesh will really strengthen up your slab. Make sure it stays as close to the upper surface of the slab as possible without being above it anywhere. Also, before the concrete trucks come, put a coating of tar around all exiting pipes. This will help prevent insect intrusions later.

   You will definitely need help on slab pour day. I found that it was less expensive to hire a crew than it was to rent all the equipment and owe a bunch of favors to all my friends and family that I would need out there.  Also, concrete is often less expensive for weekday delivery.

   Remember to put all the anchor bolts down.  You could drill a hole in the middle of a 2X4 block, and use that as a little template to position all the bolts the same distance from the brick ledge.  Try to keep the slab misted with water after it sets up, especially if you pour during the hot months of summer.  It is best to also mist the slab the next day.  Finally, let the concrete cure for a few days before you start pulling the forms off.

Bonus:  Add a storm shelter - Shown below are the forms of an 'under-slab' shelter.   It only goes down to the depth of the natural ground at the back side of the house, and so anyone would have to lay down to get inside.   The forms allow for pouring the walls and ceiling of the shelter and the floor is poured later when the cement trucks come back to do the driveway.

Note the anchor bolts in the forms.  These will be used to attach boards for the lid to sit on.

Remember to install a P-Trap and drain line in the bottom so no moisture will collect in there.

Step 6 - Fun Stuff ... Framing

   Yeah, I could have saved a lot of time by hiring a helper for the framing too, but I wanted to save all the fun for myself.  Framing is fun.  If you don't think so, you probably shouldn't be trying to build a house.  Still, you can more than double your productivity by hiring a good helper, even if just for a few hours a week.

   Save time framing by having all your roof trusses, rough-ins for doors and windows, and even your 'L's and 'T's for corners and wall intersections made up ahead of time.

   Looking back, I really don't know why I waited so long to spend a few hundred dollars to get an air nailer.  Yep, everything you see here was done with one hammer, one skill saw, one old table saw, and maybe a cheap drill from time to time.

  For large spans of a roof or to support upper floors, you will need strong beams.  You can have beams engineered for your home design, but you will probably need a full architectural drawing for them to work off of.  I designed my own beams.  The beams described below are very sturdy and there is no bouncy feeling when you walk across the second floor.

   I used 2x12 lumber to create a beam to span 20' and support 2x12 joists that spanned 12'.  The corrugated steel that is sandwiched in the middle of the 2x12 lumber is what gives it good stiffness.  Order standard corrugated steel to be the exact length of your beam, and then rip each sheet down to 11 - 11.25".  The longer your span, the more steel you need.  I used 10 full length strips and then 10 more 10' strips in the middle of the beam ( the middle of a beam is where the greatest bending loads are ).  When running the joists, you may have to use shims to get them to match height with the top of the main beam.

   For stairs, you can buy precut steps.  When you nail them to the walls, be sure nail a 1x12" spacer board along each wall first.  The idea is to create a gap between the wall and the steps so the drywall can be cut diagonally and slipped behind the jig-jag pattern of the steps.  Be sure to screw down the steps and risers and the decking for your second floor.  It's slower and more expensive, but worth it for not having a squeaky floor in a few years.

  Geeeze, framing by yourself is slow.

   Sheathing the frame is fairly straight forward.  Run the sheets horizontally around the house, and be sure to line your blocking (short 2x4s that run horizontally between the studs in the walls) up with the horizontal seems of your sheathing.  Much strength is gained by having the seems of the sheathing nailed into that blocking.  For any area of the wall that is under anything that attaches to the outside wall (like a deck, or porch roof ) use treated plywood for the sheathing.  It's just an area that is likely to be exposed to moisture someday.

   When all the walls are done, it's time to put up the roof trusses.  Practice on the ground when you make your first set of trusses.  I carried mine up the stairs, half truss at a time, folded them together and attached them in the middle.  Of course you could buy the trusses and use a crane to lift them into place.   If you do have an all truss roof, be careful to design some of them to allow a place to put the HVAC unit.

  I loved my redneck man-lift:

   For the facer, use treated 2x6 boards all the way around that outside edge of the roof.  If you go with a metal roof, use treated 2x4's to make your first run of purling.  Then it's easy to use a 1x8 cedar to trim out your facer, and it will last for many years.

   Don't skimp on outdoor decks.   Thick walled 6" steel pipe make great vertical supports, but have your welder put a cap on each end so that moisture can never get inside.

Step 7 - Drying in and finishing exterior

   Once you finish framing and sheathing, it is time to trim out the eves around the edges of the roof and start roofing. A metal roof goes up faster and lasts longer. You can save any waste or cutting by sizing your eves such that the metal panels fit exactly. Each panel covers 3' and the last one will cover 3' 3". You can add an extra 1" to the overall width of your roof, and that will be covered by the metal roofing side trim pieces.

   Use 2x material for your purlins and 1 1/2" screws to attach the metal sheets. The purlins are another great time to use used material and you don't even have to pull the old nails. To speed the process, cut some blocks sized to fit between your rafters or trusses ( ~2' ) and just nail one of the blocks under any location that has a seem. That way you aren't wasting time trying to cut purlin boards so the seems are directly over a rafter board.

   The most likely area for wind to start working on a metal roof is right at the bottom. To make it last, make two runs of purlin around the bottom of the roof, lowest one with treated lumber. If you don't cover all the purlins with Tyvek, at least put a thin strip of tar paper over the 1st 2 or 3 runs up from the bottom of the roof.

Set the flashing for septic vents such that it is overlapped by either the ridge vent or some other seem in the roof.

Unless you can rig a spooler up, as seen below, you will want to have a helper to wrap the house with a vapor barrier.

   Windows and exterior doors are installed next, as well as any exterior trim.   The lumber yard can often provide temporary construction doors that you can use until the house is ready to paint.  The purpose is to keep your nice new exterior doors nice and new.

   Now you are ready for whatever exterior siding you have chosen. If there is any chance of a wildfire in your area, use a thick, non-flammable exterior for your house. The rock crew I found had an uncle who owned the rock quarry. They were able to get the rock and do the work for less than I would have been able to get the rock for. As covered in the video below, make sure you have openings for any A/C, water, dryer vents, or electric lines that you need to pass through your wall.

   I liked the idea of vinyl siding because it would never need painting, but next time I would take a hammer with me when I shop for it. I'd ask for a sample and then I'd whack it with the hammer and see if it cracks. The stuff I got does not hold up well to hail. Fortunately I did save all the scraps, and so I had leftovers to make patch repairs later.

   Wait to pour the driveway until you are sure that you can keep any heavy delivery trucks OFF! Plan ahead and set form tubes for deck piers, set forms for any porches, walks, or out buildings; and pour all of these at the same time as the driveway.

   The last tasks on the outside are to finish out any decks or porches.   The timing doesn't matter much on that though.

Step 8 - Interior rough-in

   Interior rough-in is all the work that is needed before hanging the drywall.   It includes the plumbing, electrical, and HVAC trades.  To keep your project moving, you have to order certain items at this point:

      -- Schedule for a lumber yard sales person to come measure for all interior doors and trim.  Walk through the house with him so you both can be straight on which way all the doors are to open ( left-hand or right-hand ).

     -- Decide on and order all your sinks, showers, and tubs.

     -- Schedule a cabinet maker to come out to measure for the cabinets.  If you can find a little shop out in a small town, they will likely reward your patronage with excellent work and a reasonable price.  

     -- Install any fixtures (like a tub or shower, that butt up to the cabinets so the cabinet maker can get the measures he needs.  At least decide what you want and where it will be located and talk that over with the cabinet maker.   He will let you know if he needs to make another trip to measure again later when you have them in place.

   Now it is time to begin the actual rough-in work.

   Plumbing is fairly easy after you get the hang of sweating copper pipes.  The best way to learn plumbing is to go look at houses in various stages of completion.  When running all the copper, always keep the hot water side to the left as you face a wall where a sink will be.   From left to right, you'll have the hot water line, the drain (2" pvc), and then the cold water line.   The copper lines should have temporary caps protruding out from within the wall.  For sink drains, you may find it easier to configure the P-traps under the sinks if your rough-in drain pipe is off 2" to 4" to the side from the center of where the sink drain will be.  In my experience, there wasn't enough room for the P-traps to go straight back from the sink drain into the wall.   If I had an offset there, it would have been easier to angle the P off to the side and have more room to work with.  Finally, remember to have all your drain lines vented properly.  In some cases I used wet venting, and that has worked fine.

   Tubs and showers are typically installed during the rough-in phase because you may have to temporarily remove some wall studs just to get them in.  Remember that you have the freedom to add sprinkler heads, or route gray water to a garden or other landscaping.   If you and your family are tall, you might consider raising all your sinks and counter tops by a couple of inches ... just have a step stool handy for when short people come visit.  Account for any customizations when setting all the rough in plumbing lines.

   You should still have the hot and cold side bridged together so you can pressure up both sides and check for leaks.

   I hired an electrician, so I'm not going into the details of sizing all the circuits.   Typically, he would run 4 plugs and one light to a breaker circuit.   Of course a plug intended for a fridge or other appliance should have its own circuit.  It is good to have your appliances picked out so you have the specs for their electrical requirements.  For example, an electric oven will require a bigger circuit and wiring than a gas range that only needs electricity for the clock and lights.

   Make sure you or your electrician mounts the boxes for ceiling lights strong and secured to the ceiling joists.   Sometimes electricians will try to use a flimsy thing that is not suitable to support the weight of a ceiling fan.  You may want to add a fan someday and not have it held up solely on the strength of drywall.  Many people will tell you something is "strong enough", but if it looks kinda flimsy then it probably is.   Why go to all this trouble to put something up that is going to give you problems 10 years from now?

   If you are hiring contractors, HVAC will probably prefer to go last, after the plumbers and electricians are done.   HVAC is also one of those trades where a contractor might be able to get the materials for much less than you.  For a two story house, be sure to account for the effects of hot summers on the upper floors and cold winters on the lower floors.   The best solution is to have a separate unit for the second floor with its own thermostat, but a lower cost solution is to have louvers installed in the ducts as they exit the distribution box.   You'll have to go into the attic every spring to adjust the louvers to drive most of the airflow to the upper floor ducts.  Then every fall, you'll have to go back to the attic to switch most of the airflow to the lower floors.

   Insulation is ridiculously overpriced at retail home improvement stores.   I couldn't believe how inexpensively a crew bid the job to insulate my house.   The only tip I have here is to insulate all the way around the master bedroom for sound proofing.   The little ones don't need to know what will be happening in there someday.

   Drywall is another trade that you should be able to have done inexpensively compared to the amount of work involved.

Rounded corners may cost a little extra, but its worth it. They really aren't any harder to put on than regular cornering, and so you might be able to negotiate the price down on that.

I recommend that you also have your drywall contractor finish the drywall. It is just too time consuming to do a good job unless you are really, really good at it.

Congratulations, you should have something that looks a little bit like a place to live now!

Step 9 - Interior finishing

   Certainly finish work is what a lot of folks will feel comfortable doing themselves.  However, by the time your house is this close to being done, it might make more sense to keep the work moving along rapidly so you can get moved in.  You can keep yourself busy acting as a general contractor at this stage, scheduling and  watching the performance of the various finish trades.

   Before, or right after the drywall is up and finished, choose and order all plumbing and electrical fixtures, flooring, paint, and interior door and trim handles.   As you begin interior finishing, you will also need to order all appliances.

   The first work to be done is to install the trim, doors, and cabinets.  I had my trim crew hold off on nailing down any baseboards in rooms that were to get laminate, tile, or vinyl flooring.  I had them cut the pieces and just set them in place.  That prevented me from needing any 1/4 round trim to hide flooring blemishes.

   Get the cabinets installed just as soon as they arrive and then get the counter top company out to measure them.  They will create a template from the installed cabinets that they will use to cut out the counter tops.

   Once the trim is in place, it is time for the first coat of paint.  The painters will caulk everything, prime, and spray enamel coats on baseboards.  A good crew will remove all door hinges to spray the doors.  You might work with them to trim the bottoms of the doors while they have them down.  Otherwise, you may have to pull any doors that will be over carpet down again to trim them later.  You will need a gap of 1.5 to 2" from the bottom of an interior door to the unfinished sub-floor.  The gap is needed to prevent dragging on the carpet as well as for return air to pass out of rooms.

   Once the painters are done, it is time to install all the electrical plugs, switches, and light fixtures.

   You should also be able to get the flooring crew started at this time.  It was my preference to wait until the flooring was finished before installing any toilets or baseboards.  That's the cheapest, easiest way to get a clean look around the edges.  Be careful when ordering vinyl flooring as it is often overpriced.  But, if installing tile over a wooden sub-floor, make sure to use cement backer board.

   Hopefully your counter tops are in by the time all the above activities are complete.

   Finally, install appliances and plumbing fixtures as the areas they rest upon are completed.

Step 10 - Septic and landscaping


   Generally it is best to wait until the end of the project to put in the septic field so that big trucks aren't driving over it.   You will have to hire a licensed contractor for this step.  Remember to get the access risers if the tank is buried deep.  Also, remember to plan to have 2 20AMP circuits available for any pumps or warning systems associated with your onsite wastewater system.  If you can afford to add a gray water system, that is very efficient way to have water for a landscaped area.


   Your septic contractor may also move some more dirt around to fill in around the house.  It is likely that a large amount of backfill material will be leftover from the septic field.  I also love using scrap rock for backfill because it is stable and I usually get good landscape blocks inexpensively from the pile.  You might also be able to get your septic contractor to touch up your road inexpensively since he already has his equipment onsite.   

Final walk-through:

   You still have a few things left to do, there always are.  Once all the lights and plumbing fixtures are intact, you should be able to move in.  You can hang wallpaper, install knobs and handles, add mirrors, and hang blinds as time allows.  If you do hold back a little money from the paint crew, you should also be able to get them to do a touch up run to catch dings from the final stages of construction and move in.

Congratulations, and enjoy!!!