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Why Not & Why Bother to Build Your Own House?

7/1/2013 3:03:00 PM

By: David Wright and Richard Lee Drace

Tags: house construction, owner builder, green building, passive solar, David Wright

Richard and DavidRichard: David, I think we have a problem with our first blog. We introduced our approach of telling screw up stories in our forthcoming book, How NOT to Build Your Own House, in order to lead to advice on how TO build your own house.

David: It sounds like a good approach to me, Richard: Learn from others’ mistakes in order to avoid making them yourself.

RD: But might we discourage folks from taking on a house-building project? If so many things can go wrong, wouldn’t you be crazy to try to build your own?

DW: In other words, if there are so many NOTS, why bother? Why not just NOT build your own?

RD: I think our approach is good, just as long as we can deliver our message: The prospective owner-builder should feel more confident, not less.

DW: That’s right, once a person understands how to avoid the pitfalls that await the unprepared owner-builder, he or she should feel more secure about undertaking building his or her own house.

RD: Forewarned is fore armed?

DW: And fore-headed too!

RD: OK, convince me why I should bother to build my own house. And please try to improve your puns.

DW: Well let’s be clear that we don’t mean that you necessarily must -- or should -- build the whole thing by yourself. We include among owner-builders all those persons who contribute varying combinations of Time, Talent and Treasure in the building of his or her or their own house. The combination depends on how much of each of “the three T’s” you have at your disposal.

RD: You might choose to build the house yourself -- that’s what we call the “one man band approach.”

DW: Yet in most cases, you probably shouldn’t try to do it all yourself. If you can play all the instruments, fine. But you could end up like Amelia Earhart, trying to fly around the world solo and not making it.

RD: And the owner-builder equivalent of not making it doesn’t just mean not finishing the job – it can mean doing great damage to pocketbook, sanity, or relationships.

DW: You don’t need to do everything yourself to be an owner-builder, but doing some of the work can save money and bring a lot of satisfaction. Do what you can to create a better outcome than if you just buy a ready-made house.

RD: That’s right, in our book we tell many different stories and offer a wide variety of advice, yet there are really just three general things you need to learn so your screw-ups are small and your satisfactions are big:
Understand - the big picture, not just the individual skills.
Choose - carefully which roles you will do yourself and which you will hire out.

Prepare - for each role you choose for yourself before you start.

DW: I agree. Many mistakes due to lack of building skills generally can be corrected without too much bother. The pain and suffering happens when you don’t understand how all the parts fit together.

RD: Yes, the goal for our book is that some readers will take on a larger role than they previously thought they could. Other readers will realize they should get more professional help than they originally thought they should.

DW: More confidence for some, more reality-check for others -- a worthy goal.

RD: Let’s get back to your “why bother” question. We agree on building your own house for both savings and satisfaction.

DW: A third reason now comes to mind. I’m not sure what to call it -- maybe it’s a matter of feeling a need to create one’s own habitat -- but it has been going on for a long time – maybe the cavemen and cavewomen had to build their own shelter when there wasn’t a handy cave nearby?

RD: Cavepersons as owner-builders? Don’t you just go find a cave, hopefully one that is not occupied by a saber tooth cat?

DW: If it is occupied, I guess it would be a remodel instead of new construction – that is, if the cat is willing to move. What I meant was: Build a shelter if you can’t find a cave.

RD: Or perhaps you need to leave a cave because the saber-tooth cat returns and wants to see your occupancy permit.

DW: The point is that beyond simple necessity, the drive to create one’s own house satisfies a deep feeling of security that comes from protection from the elements or perhaps a hostile environment.

RD: Exactly, and also sort of a sense of being a permanent part of the landscape -- different than a teepee or some other “mobile home”.

DW: So we’re talking about reasons that have endured through the centuries. I believe hunter-gathers, who dug things up and ate them as they moved along, put down roots in their own way. I like your word “permanent” -- even though permanence may not last a long time.

RD: Dug up roots and put down roots? Permanence that isn’t permanent? You’re waxing pretty philosophical.

DW: Well, putting down roots might happen for a variety of reasons: the first-time homeowner; families upsizing or downsizing; perhaps a fixer-upper project; or folks retiring.

RD: And we’re not talking about “spec builders” or house “flippers”. In fact there is a legal definition in California of an “owner-builder”: a builder who waits a least one calendar year before putting the house on the market.

DW: Yes, the legendary “owner-builder”: someone willing to put Time and Talent and Treasure into building a modest home or a palace. What is it that motivates this kind of person to build a home?

RD: Let’s list what we’ve come up with so far: Savings. Satisfaction. Necessity. Security. Quantity. Quality.

DW: And let’s add one more, one particularly relevant to our present time: Lifestyle – how one chooses to live sustainably on our planet in this present day and age.

RD: Quite a list.

To be continued

Read more about David Wright and his solar architecture.




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