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How NOT to Build Your Own House

5/7/2013 10:23:00 AM

Tags: home construction, home energy, energy conservation, passive solar, owner building, David Wright and Richard Drace

Our Invitation to MOTHER EARTH NEWS Readers:

We're writing a book — 
How NOT to Build Your Own House — and we’d like your help!

We offer screw-up stories of owner-builder projects gone wrong with this goal in mind: To help our readers learn from mistakes others have made so that their own projects will be turn out to be success stories.

Let us introduce ourselves. We’re David Wright and Richard Drace, design and building professionals whoDavid Wright and Richard Drace work on natural home building designs have been helping owner-builders for over 30 years. David is an architect who is one of the true pioneers of passive solar architecture, and has designed hundreds of houses across the country. Richard is a designer-builder whose Owner Builder Summer Camp has taught thousands of folks how to build their own houses and he has designed and built many houses himself. Between us, we’ve seen most house building projects turn out well, but we’ve also seen too owner-builders experience major difficulties, with significant emotional and financial consequences.


We’re writing this book to pass along what we’ve learned throughout the years. We knew we didn’t want to publish one more how-to DIY instruction book: How to saw, plumb, wire, tile and so on. Such books are helpful tools for the owner-builder, but our experiences have shown that projects seldom go haywire for lack of hands-on skills. The usual problem is a lack of foresight and understanding of the big picture, resulting in inadequate planning, poor management, and a lot of hindsight.


While searching for the best way to share what we’ve learned, we sat around and told stories of owner-builder projects gone wrong. The “Eureka!” moment was when we realized the screw-up stories are the story. It became clear that our critiques should be the  “if-only-I-hads”, and the “shoulda-woulda-couldas”: How NOT to do it can be the best way to teach how TO do it.


With each new blog, we’ll introduce one of our chapters. We’ll cover a wide range of subjects: Discussing why you should build your own home; the sequence of steps to building your own house; how to best manage the many decisions that need to be made. Each chapter begins with one or more screw-up stories. Some of them will be our own mess-ups. You’ll be treated to candid dialogues between Richard and David -- we agree on most major things, but we sometimes have different perspectives and we have even been known to argue. The point is that there are often different create ways to deal with the myriad choices to be made when building your own house. We want you to avoid the wrong ones.


We would also like to hear your stories. With each blog, we invite you to send us your stories that are relevant to the subject being explored. Send us your tales of things you would not do again: Did you plunge ahead unprepared? Were you over-confident that you could do it yourself because it seemed so simple? Did you convince yourself it wouldn’t cost more than you thought it should? Were you naïvely optimistic about how long it would take? Did you give disorganized direction to the cast of characters that participated in your housebuilding project? 


We won’t make fun of you like we might of ourselves; but if we do, we’ll do it anonymously. We have made plenty of mistakes ourselves – and much of what we have to offer is what we’ve learned from them. So here is our wish for our readers: Learn from the mistakes of others so you won’t have to make them yourself.


We are also very interested in the potential of “social editing”, having you help make our stories better by giving us feedback from this sneak preview of our book. Also, in today’s changing world, what method would be the best for us to pursue to publish the final product? We hope one of our blog readers will tell us the best way to get our book into many potential homebuilders hands.


Stay tuned for the first story!



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Post a comment below.

 

quest.taylor1
5/23/2013 1:37:23 PM

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straycat
5/9/2013 9:04:12 AM

Preplanning: Have you checked out property tax rate in the area you want to build?  We inherited land we built on but were still shocked at the valuation.  We pay twice what this house would cost in the next county south.

Also, we had to build on a 40 degree slope.  We are in our 60's...we knew that mowing and gardening on slopes is more physically taxing (the exercise will be good for us!) than flat land, but we underestimated how much.

House plan: unless you are very very good at visualizing plans, I suggest going to real houses to find a house plan you like.  It is easier to see the size and configurations of rooms, see where there is wasted space, etc.  By going with a predrawn plan, we ended up with too-small guest room, no linen closets in the bathrooms, wasted space in the foyer, too narrow area for our big dining table, and windows where we didn't need them.

Communication: We wanted big eaves to shield summer sun from windows  but it didn't get carried out.  The architect said the builder could do it without any redrawing of the plans, the builder was used to doing cookie cutter plans and somehow didn't get it done.  If I had it to do over, I would have a meeting with both architect and builder in the same room.  Yes, it would cost $400 an hour for architect's time, but money well spent. Ask questions--how will it get done, who is responsible, benchmarks to look for, get it in writing so that everyone is on the same page.

You will become weary:  We got worn out with all the decisions to make (drawer pulls, paint colors, faucets, etc).  I ended up selecting outdoor paint which is nice but boring.  I wish I had picked that paint first, when I had energy...it's easier and cheaper to repaint inside if you don't like the color than to repaint a whole house.  

Trim paint: I didn't think about it...the bathroom cabinets would be the same as the trim color, so in my southwest colors bathroom there is the offwhite cabinet which stands out like a sore thumb.  In retrospect, we would go with staining wood than painting a trim color.  Wood is warmer.

Fireplaces: I assumed fireplaces would be flush with the wall because....because that's how my selection looked in the store display.  But it wasn't done that way...so it cut into the room space. 








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