Planning to Build Your Own House

Proper planning and budgeting are necessary steps to prevent pitfalls when building your own house.


| February 2016



Small house model

Beyond the functional value of owning a home, the experience you’ll receive by building it yourself can be immensely satisfying.


Photo by Fotolia/Romolo Tavani

Hut-Topia: How to Create Sustainable Small Homes and Homesteads by Christopher James Marshall, 2015, is a holistic DIY guide designed to help you along the path to creating a sustainable homestead and affordable dwelling. It provides perspectives on the history of small houses, building and zoning codes, as well as on being a landowner, how rural living is different than urban, examples of off-grid dwellings, and much more.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Hut-Topia: How to Create Sustainable Small Homes and Homesteads.

Building your home may take one or more years to complete. Considering the scope of an owner-built home project, it’s important to spend enough effort on the design phase in order for the building phase to go well.  Begin sketching a livable space, and then as you consider the choices in building architecture and on-site power, roll the energy plan and the house plan into one integrated plan.

Budget Is the Bottom Line

Budget is a one-word question for two things: how much time and money do you have?  You won’t know exactly how much time and money your home will require, but you can estimate based on quotes, or you can work the other way—fix the budget and then design a home that fits the budget.  Either way, it’s an educated guess.  The smartest guessers know how much they under or over estimate and compensate accordingly. 

Even though owner-built small homes are low cost, the nest egg you need will be one of the largest budgets in your lifetime.  Forget about a loan or mortgage, especially if your estimating skills are weak, because you could find yourself with an unfinished home and have to pay back the borrowed funds before you can live in it.  Another pitfall, when using only savings, and if your estimate is off, you could end up with an unfinished home and you’re broke.  Generally it would behoove you to add more time and money to the budget.  Even bank loans for new construction require you to budget at least 20% more for the unexpected.

One twist about budget, if you find yourself with time on your hands, then time is an asset you can leverage to build sooner provided you have the money to make the budget work.  On the other hand, if you suddenly come into money, but had no time, it might be worthwhile to take the time off of your other activities to build your home sooner.  One last option is to bring in income and build your home at the same time, which is extremely difficult and would require extending the completion date of your home.

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