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Our Adventure Building Our Own Home

How To Build Your Own Home e-book available
 
Home

Before You Begin

Pre-Construction

Tools Of The Trade

Designing Your Home

Building Permit Plans

Excavation

Drain Pipes

Prepping For Slab

Pouring Slab

Installing Sill Plate

cutting Outside Wall Parts

Building Outside Walls

Framing & Raising interior Walls

Exterior Sheathing

Cutting Out Openings

Wrapping The House

Preparing For Roof Trusses

Gettin Roof Trusses Ready

Raising Roof Trusses

Sheathing The Roof

Preping For Shingles

Shingling The Roof

Selecting Doors And Windows

Installing Doors And Windows

Preparing For Siding

Types Of Siding

How To Select Siding

Siding The House

Siding Soffits & Trim

Installing Strapping

 

Did I always know I was going to build my own house? Absolutely not! Had I known I would one day build our home, I would have made sure to have worked construction at some point in my life to gather knowledge. At least to learn how to use the tools of the trade efficiently and safely. However like a lot of people living in the city, I didnít have the occasion to use many tools or for that matter to build anything.

Our story begins about 7 years ago when my wife and I decided that we didnít want to wait to be in our twilight years to see this beautiful country of ours. We decided to get an RV and tour the country until we ran out of money. Money we got through a home equity loan on our small house in town. We started our adventure 2 days after New Years and headed to the Everglades in Florida. What a trip it was, never having towed anything behind me then all of a sudden towing a 28í 5th wheel in the dead of winter from Northern New England to Southern Florida. Needless to say it was quite an adventure traveling through all of the major cities on the Eastern Seaboard.

We got to the everglades and had a great time. We saw hundreds of species of birds and fish. Oh, and many, many, gators and crocks. Actually, were lucky to be here today seeing that we used an small inflatable boat to get around. We had intended on staying down there for only a couple of weeks then to move on. However, that year was one of the coldest years in history which brought frost all the way down to Key West. We had to wait for cold to let up so we could begin our travels west. Two months past and we were still in the Everglades waiting. By that time our funds were getting low so we had a decision to make. Should we keep going or go home? We enjoyed camping a lot in the RV. We had a solar panel on the top so our batteries never died out and we didnít need a generator. It was great!!

We both work with the public all day so during our time off we tend to want to get away from the crowds. The drawback of camping was that during the week the campgrounds are quiet but on weekends, all the locals go camping and it becomes one big noisy playground. We prefer quiet adult camping so we decided that instead of spending the rest of our money traveling from noisy campground to noisy campground, we were going to make our own private little getaway.

When the cold let up by the end of March we drove back home. After the snow had melted we began looking for a piece of land not too far from our home. However, anything that was within our price range was either tiny and crowded or swampy. So we traveled even further north where the land was considerably less expensive and where the countryside was very beautiful.

We found a small parcel of land on a private road with right of way to a small pond. We would have preferred to be on the pond but nothing was available within our price range. The owner of this property was from out of state and divorced so she really wanted to let go of the land. We bought it. We made ourselves a very peaceful campsite of our own and put the RV on it.

We traveled to our retreat every weekend in the spring summer and fall. We tried a couple of times the first winter but found it too cold. The only drawbacks were that we had to empty out our septic tank every time it was full and we had to lug enough water from home for showers etc.

The second season we decided to have power put in. The third season I built the only structure I had ever built in my life. It took us 3 days of hard labor. The fruits of our labor yielded a 3í x 3í outhouse. We were so proud to have a real building on the property. By this time we had mowed a large area in front of the RV so it looked more like a home site than camp site. Every Sunday we hated to go back to the noisy city and all week we longed to be back at our retreat.

One cold winter Sunday morning during breakfast we had a very impulsive idea. Every weekend during the summer we found ourselves hating to come home and saying "wouldnít it be nice to live here?" So we decided to inquire as to how much equity we had in our home and what we could buy or build with it. We began with such enthusiasm looking at prefab homes, cottages, double wide homes, and even mobile homes. The housing bubble was almost at its peak and in this area home prices doubled within 2 yrs. What began as a hopeful happy process ended up being disparaging experience.

Within a couple of weeks I had convinced my wife and myself that if I could build an outhouse I could build a real house. The only problem that I could foresee at the time was that I had sustained a severe back injury a couple of years back. I had 3 disk hirniations that left me quite handicapped for over a year and a half. I couldnít put on my own socks or lift anything heavier than 3 or 4 pounds. I could never lift anything over 20lbs again. None the less, that day I went to Borders and bought the thickest book I could find on carpentry. I got a little discouraged when I had a difficult time lifting the book for too long.

Now you might think that Iím not too bright in the IQ department and that my wife is a fool to go along with me. Its not that Iím foolish its that Iím very determined and my wife is very caring and supportive. Not to say that we didnít have our doubts and fears. After all we were going to take a huge financial risk as well as a huge physical risk. Hurting my back again could result in surgery, chronic pain, and even total disability.

As if we didnít have enough doubts of our own, most of the people we told about our endeavors thought we were crazy. I supposed if the tables were turned and someone as ignorant as we were about building said they would spend every last penny they had and borrow the rest to build a house all by themselves, I would think they were nuts.

T

hat being said, we made the decision and I began reading my carpentry book and taking notes. That fall we began our adventures. However, instead of making the initial risk be our home, I decided to try my hand at building a shop first. Most people build their home first then a shop, but I thought it would be good practice for the house. Plus if I hurt myself or if I found that I could not proceed for any reason we could always sell the RV and use the shop as a little cottage for weekends.

We went through all of the pre-construction steps I refer to on this website and we were on our way. As I saw it I had 4 disadvantages. I was physically challenged, I was totally ignorant to all aspects of the construction field nor did I know anyone who did, I had to do it all myself (my wife would be working at her full time job), and I had extreme fear of heights. Iím not one to take risks like jumping out of planes or jumping off of a bridge on a rubber band (even though I would probably enjoy that), but calculated risks Iím ok with. Boy, this was going to be fun!!!

We had it all planned out. We would both be home working at our jobs Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Friday night, we would load the truck with all of the tools, water (55 gallon drum), and food. Drive for 3 hours sometimes 4 depending on road construction. We would then unload the truck, pump the water into the trailer, and set up the job site. We would stay for the weekend until Angieís (my wife) mom would come pick her up where she would work Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. Angie works online as a transcriptionist for a company out of the mid west so she was able to work from her parents house for 3 day. I would stay and work at the job site until Tuesday when I would load up all of the tools, cover and hide the materials, and go pick up Angie at her parents house. We would drive home and arrive Tuesday night and begin the entire process all over again. That was our plan!!

I wasnít naive enough to think that I could physically handle the excavation. The driveway to the shop would be 300í long as well as a 75í driveway to the house. The septic system is 150í from the house and the shop was going to be 32í x 40í. Not to mention that 6" below grade is a surface of shale on top of bedrock. There was no way I could do any of that by myself without the proper machinery. So we hired out for the excavation, cement work, water drilling, and septic system. If I were to rent all of the machinery needed assuming I could figure out how to use it, it would cost almost as much as having the experts do the work.

On the second week of August 2003 the site was ready with a driveway and a slab. The rest was up to me... I knew that winter was just around the corner and that I needed to be working on the building every chance that I could, so I rigged up a weather proof workstation. I went online and found an inexpensive portable garage 10í wide by 20í long. I set it up next to the slab with three sides up but the side facing the slab remaining off so I could easily pass material through as well as have plenty of ventilation. This enabled me to work through inclement weather which turned out to be quite frequently that summer.

Talk about feeling overwhelmed. I had a 32í x 40í slab in front of me and the rest was up to me. The only blueprint I had was a pencil drawing that I had made. I had no one to ask questions to and no one to help me (Angie has a medical condition which prohibits her from bending over for too long, lifting anything, exerting herself too much, and anything that increases her blood pressure too quickly. It could be lethal.) The only reference I had was this book with bad drawings. Yes I was beginning to feel the stress of the task ahead. None the less I would read up the night before on what needed to be done for the next day and on I went. I do have to say that I was in a constant state of anxiety with every new task that I took on.

Three weeks after I began we were sitting on the slab on a warm summer night having a beer admiring our new walls. Two weeks later the roof was on and two weeks after that the roofing was done. Again due to my injuries I decided to buy roof trusses as opposed to making my own. There actually wasnít much of a price difference between the two anyway. I hired a local guy whose name I got from the local hardware store, to raise the trusses onto the walls. He ended up being a very nice man which we used at various times during the building process. He was willing to give advice and I was more than willing to listen. I was glad to have met him when it came time to lift the 3/4" plywood to the roof as well as the shingles. Roofing was difficult for me because I was afraid to get up on the roof. However, in no time at all I got used to it and felt comfortable up there. The roof was a 6/12 pitch so it wasnít too steep.

Within a couple weeks I had all of the doors and windows up and was starting on the siding. We chose vinyl siding so we didnít have to paint or stain every year and also due to the cost. Money was certainly an issue with every decision we made. The weather was starting to cool off very quickly so I knew that I had to work quickly. You canít apply sheetrock mud if the weather is too cold. We had no heating system and hadnít really put much thought into what it would be.

By the middle of October we had a finished building. It was insulated, wired, had a small bathroom with shower, sheetrock finished, and painted. We had a finished building and by this time had decided that this wasnít going to be our weekend cottage but our full time shop next to our house. I should say that during this time we had put our house in the city up for sale. We werenít having much luck at this point. We decided to add water to our site. On Halloween we celebrated having water for the first time in the three years we had owned it. It truly felt like a luxury to have water.

We bought an older monitor heater which ran on kerosene and I installed it with a second hand tank that my brother had given us. And now we had heat. By the beginning of October we had grown quite sick of traveling back and forth to the city every week and we knew that If I were going to build us a house this winter, then I would need to make preparations now. We decided to stay in our RV full time. Angie needed high speed internet for her job so we got a satellite for her. We would have preferred cable but it is not yet available in this area (yes we are in the boonies.) We were kind of cramped with Angieís office and all of our living needs in the RV, but we were home.

By the second week in November, it was getting to be too cold for the RV even with 3 extra space heaters and we knew that it was just going to get much colder. We decided to abandon our house in the city completely and move all of our belongings to the shop and live in the shop full time. We drove back to our house and packed everything and had I not had the back injury I would have loaded it all up in a U-haul or two and drove it myself, but we had to hire movers. It was fortunate because they loaded a full 18 wheeler and a smaller moving truck. I created a little make shift kitchen and on Thanksgiving day in the middle of a huge snow storm, we moved. Now I should mention that when we had planned on storing our household belongings in the shop, we thought that most of what we didnít need would be stored in one of the two back rooms. When what actually happened was that the shop was so full of things that a large portion had to be stored under tarps for the winter. We were living in what looked like a cramped warehouse. But I do have to say that it was so nice to live in a building that we had just completed building with our own two hands.

I didnít have much time to waste if I was going to start building the house soon. By this time the excavators had installed the septic system and had laid out the gravel for the house. I had already laid out the drainage system in the ground and was ready for the slab to be poured. We decided on a slab as opposed to a basement for financial reasons. We would have preferred a basement but the cost would have been even higher if blasting was involved which was very likely.

It was now December and we were spending our first Christmas in our new home/shop. We went out and cut a small 3í (thatís all the room we had) tree right from our land. I was going to start on the house after the holidays. During this time I needed to keep the house slab clean of ice and snow. This was not an easy task as we got much snow and the temperatures were very low. As a matter of fact I had to postpone building due to wind chills 40 to 60 degrees bellow zero for three weeks straight. Even after those first 3 weeks in January, the rest of the winter was below zero for the most part. I bought a pair of overalls and set up my worksite outside this time, below the slab and began the process all over again. This time with snow and cold instead of sun and heat. Angie took video of me snow blowing the interior of our house before the roof was on.

Building the house was very similar to building the shop. Both are built the same except the house is 10í longer, 15í cathedral ceilings for half the house, and a second floor over the other half. Again we decided on premanufactured roof trusses since they worked so well for the shop. In addition we were able to order cathedral trusses and also trusses that would give us a second floor without actually spending the money to build outside walls or put siding on them. Even though those trusses were more expensive, they enabled us to have a good sized bedroom and master bath without adding another story to the house. We found out about those trusses after we had started building so the layout of the house changed drastically and unfortunately the drainage system was already encased in the slab so we had to be very creative.

The roofing on the house was a little different than the roofing on the shop. First of all we needed to cut out two skylights for the bedroom upstairs and two for the living room. Secondly, the pitch of the house is 8/12 which is much steeper than the shop and let me tell you if your uncomfortable with heights, it makes all the difference in the world. I thought that my fear of heights had disappeared after building the shop until I built the roof of the house. I was scared as hell the entire time I was up there which was about 2 weeks. the fact that it was very cold and icy didnít help much either.

All in all the building process went rather well. The shop was only 1280sqí as the house is 2000sqí and 832sqí of which has 15í tall ceilings. Having to climb up a 12í step ladder every time you want to access the ceiling is much more difficult than just reaching up. My father was an artist so our walls are covered with paintings. therefore, I wanted to light up all of the walls around the house. For that reason as well as for esthetic reasons, I decided on a pretty elaborate lighting system throughout the house. Needless to say I spent many hours up on that 12í step ladder weaving wires through and hanging lighting fixtures, not to mention mudding and painting. Come to think of it having 15í ceilings really complicated things and added a lot of work to the process. Now that its done we love it!!

I do have to say that when I drew out the plans for the house in my notebook, I did envision having a million dollar living room. I have always wanted a really nice living room that I called a million dollar room. Meaning a room that you would find in a million dollar house ( which these days would be a 20 million dollar house.)

I started building the house on the 3rd week in January and we moved in on July 31 of the same year. We brought our makeshift kitchen from the shop until I finished building all of the cabinets for the kitchen and had the kitchen completed by winter. The interior trim in the house was completed that spring because I had to wait for the weather to warm up to paint the trim.

We now have a property with a 32íx40í shop, a 2000sqft home, a storage shed (that was a breeze to build after the building the house), and this spring Iím going to build a 8íx16í woodshed. In time I will add a garage for the cars. All of this I built with my own two hands and figured out by myself. Donít get me wrong it was very difficult to do under these circumstances. And there were many times when I just wanted to give up because I could find no solution for the problem I was facing. As a matter of fact there were many such times. This is why I put together this web site. I wanted to share with you this process to both motivate those of you who want a home but feel they canít afford it, and those of you who think that unless you spend years working as a builder you donít stand a chance. Even if you are a carpenter, electrician, plumber, sheetrock hanger, roofer, or any other in the trade, it can still be a scary undertaking when so much money is at stake. I also wanted to share the step by step process with you so that you will have a step by step instruction manual.

I want to say that Angie supported us financially throughout this process. She was the contractor who coordinated all of the subcontractors, she set up all of the price quotes and ordered all of the materials and dealt with store managers, she set up all deliveries and arranged for exchanges, all while holding a full time job and dealing with a stressed out and sometimes quite bitchy husband. Building a home isnít only about constructing the home. Its about surviving during the building process, its about dealing with the erratic schedules of subcontractors, its about coordinating everyone sequentially, its about choosing and ordering tons of materials and insuring timely and proper delivery, its about getting the best price for everything and keeping it affordable. Its also about keeping track of every penny spent of your limited budget and keeping us on track. All the while making sure that we are fed, healthy, and all of the bills are paid (which got pretty scary at times). Angie did all of the above and held a full time job. It took two of us to build our home. One without the other would have never succeeded.

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