How NOT to Build Your Own House

Reader Contribution by David Wright And Richard Drace
article image

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 who

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!

Need Help? Call 1-800-234-3368