The Pros and Cons of Building Your Own Home

Reader Contribution by Paul Wood and Shelter Works

Building your own home takes a big investment of time and money. If you’re trying to decide whether it’s the right choice for you, this list of pros and cons is a good place to start.

Advantages of Building Your Own Home

Get the home you want. When you buy an existing home, you get what someone else wanted. Even if you have a home built for you, you’re often using someone else’s plans and preferred fixtures.

When you build your own home, you get exactly what you want. You pick the design, select the materials and put everything you desire between the four walls. If you have a clear vision for how you want your home to look and feel, there’s no better way to achieve that vision than to build it yourself.

More control over the process. Let’s say you decide to build a portion of your own home and leave the rest to a professional. Even with a partial DIY home, you still have more control over the building process than you would with a typical contractor-built home. You work in partnership with your building team to create the home on your timeline and to your specifications. This can be a great compromise for some people – it’s not quite as much work, and you still have the joy of knowing you participating in creating your dream home.

Know exactly what materials are in the house. This can be particularly important for people with allergies or chemical sensitivities. After all, the materials used in your home can mean the difference between sickness and health. But knowing what building materials go into your home is also important to people who want green or high-performance buildings – or even people who are meticulous about getting what they want. If you hire a builder, you may always wonder if they really used the no-VOC carpet glue or eco-friendly paint you wanted. When you build your own home, you don’t have to worry.

Save money (maybe). “Maybe” is the operative word here, because DIY homes can be extravagant mansions. But for many people, building their own home may be the only way they’re going to achieve the American dream of homeownership. When you build your own home, you cut out all of the middlemen. That can mean big savings in the homebuilding process.

Achieve personal fulfillment. Just as there’s great pride in homeownership, there’s also great pride in building your own home. No matter how small your dwelling is, building a house from the ground up is a big and lasting accomplishment. Your home is something you’ll be proud of for decades to come.

Disadvantages of Building Your Own Home

Time-consuming. One of the major drawbacks to building your own home is that it’s very time-consuming. The construction labor itself can take months or years. And if you’re acting as the general contractor, you also have to schedule subcontractors, apply for building permits, order materials and carry out every other task associated with building the house.

If you can’t take a few weeks off from work during key time periods to focus on your project, you might have to dial back your homebuilding expectations. Maybe you’ll need to hire a general contractor or do only a portion of the building yourself. Some of our clients also choose to build their own homes after they retire or when they’re between jobs.

Risk of building a poor-quality product. There’s a reason people hire professionals to build homes. Houses are complex buildings that can develop major problems if they aren’t built properly. If you’re a novice builder, there’s a higher risk that you’ll make an expensive mistakes. There’s also a higher risk that you or someone else may get injured while building the home due to lack of experience.

One good way to mitigate this problem is to hire a contractor or other professional to help you through the process. There are also a number of books, classes, videos and other resources available to coach DIY homebuilders through common problems and processes.

Harder to find land, acquire permits. When you buy an existing home, someone has already done the work of finding land for you. If you’re going to build your own home, you have to find your own land, and that’s getting increasingly difficult in urban and suburban North America. Even if you can find it, it may be subject to zoning or building restrictions that don’t fit within your vision for your home. Many homebuilders build in rural areas, where land can be easier to find and regulations can seem less onerous.

Keep in mind, too, that one of the challenges for homebuilders is understanding building codes and learning how to apply for permits. Get to know the folks at your city or county planning office; their job is to act as a resource to you, and having a friend there can make a big difference. 

Can be hard on relationships. Building your own home places a lot of stress on your budget, time, even your living situation. That can put a huge amount of strain on your relationship with your partner, children or housemates.

It’s vital to keep communication lines open before and during the homebuilding process. Ask the people who live with you what they want to see in the home. Be clear about timelines and expectations, and let others be involved as little or as much as they want. That will keep the homebuilding process fun for everyone involved.

Paul Wood is has more than 30 years experience in the construction industry. He spent over a decade with Habitat for Humanity International, building homes across Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States. For the past 10 years, Paul has been the co-owner of ShelterWorks, maker of Faswall blocks, an insulated concrete form (ICF) that can be used to build extremely green homes. Connect with Paul on Facebook and Twitter. Read all of Paul’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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