House construction is a daunting task.
While most people will use a general contractor and/or subcontractors, you will still have a huge role to play with all the steps of building a house.
The best way to stay organized is to formulate a “Building a House Checklist” to keep your thoughts, actions, and budget on track.
This outline will include the many steps of planning, the average cost to build a house, an evaluation of building vs buying a house, ways to effectively work with a contractor, an understanding of the building permit and inspection process, and the overall process to build a house.
Step 0 - Create a Budget
Before you do anything, consider the cost of building a house. Create a comprehensive list of assured and possible expenses.
Remember to include the cost of hiring help, all types of materials, tools if you’re doing any of the work yourself, and permits.
Do research, don’t guess. You may be shocked by what permits and inspections will cost you.
Also, plan for living elsewhere while your house is being built. Will that be a rental, a hotel, your current home, or another situation?
Also include finishing touches such as upgrades to appliances, flooring, countertop materials, smart technology, and every other item for the home.
Creating a detailed budget not only gives you an idea of what the project will cost but also helps you keep on track as each item is purchased and invoices begin rolling in.
This is also the phase of the project where you’ll want to source financing, if necessary. Whether borrowing from friends, family, investors, or a bank, you’ll need to get your paperwork in a row. Gather all required documents.
In the case of financing, get pre-approved before you begin looking for land. Also scrutinize your options when it comes to financing the costs of the build.
Step 1 - Secure Land to Build on
You may already have the land, whether it’s something you’ve purchased with the intent of building on or if you inherited it at some point and now plan to develop it.
Either way, make sure you have the right to build on the land to avoid any disputes down the road.
When evaluating the cost of building a house vs buying it’s easy to see you’ll probably always come out ahead if you already have land to build on.
If you haven’t yet bought the land, evaluate whether building a house vs buying is the right move.
There are many advantages to building your own home, such as the fact that everything will be new and directly contoured to your lifestyle and preferences.
This means less maintenance and the peace of mind of having a warranty for a time. It typically also means lower utility costs due to increased energy efficiency.
However, building a house can easily become more expensive than buying an existing home. Plus, building a house takes time, whereas buying a move-in ready house gets you settled much faster.
Step 2 - Hire Professionals
You’ve decided on the build. Congratulations. Now it’s time to get the professionals in on the project. Interview and select your contractors, architect, and engineers, as required.
Come armed with a solid idea of what job you want them to accomplish. Do you have a tricky building lot shape? Are you building on a former wetland or steep hillside? Do you want to work with wood or concrete blocks?
What about special desires such as green design, the use of natural materials, or a plan for an underground pool? Match your wishlist to the experience of the professionals you choose.
Make sure they provide work examples and ensure workers are licensed and insured. Thoroughly review any contracts you sign. See our related article Should I Have a Contract with My Contractor? for more information.
Step 3 - How Long Does it Take to Build a House?
This is a tricky question to answer. The average time to build a house in America is seven months. However, you should never plan on timelines going according to plan.
Delays are common, stemming from employee shortages, supply chain issues, setbacks from subcontractors, problems with permits, wait time for inspectors, and a host of other contributing factors.
Do yourself a favor and plan for at least one year, if you’re hiring out the work rather than building your own home DIY style.
You can help the process along by reliably sticking to timelines on your end, such as when making decisions about materials, colors, and appliances.
Read How To Use a Contractor's Time Efficiently for more pointers on optimizing your relationship with your contractor.
Step 4 - Identify House Orientation and Ability to Build on the Plot
Before you can come up with a comprehensive plan for the home, you’ll need to make sure you know where it will sit on the property. Start by clearly identifying the boundaries on all sides of the property.
Then find answers to all the pertinent questions. Is there enough space? Are there trees or other obstacles to manage? What’s the flood potential? Is the ground stable enough? Do you need engineering reports before you can build?
Also make sure you’re very informed about possible roadways or other easements. You’ll also want to check to see if the lot is zoned for residential housing.
Ideally, you addressed these issues before buying the land, but it’s important to note that construction is heavily regulated in most areas.
It’s the reason it’s a good idea to have a knowledgeable and experienced general contractor managing the process.
Step 5 - Develop a Blueprint for Building Your House
Next, get together with an architect or locate existing house plans through your contractor, online, or via other means.
Existing plans will be less expensive and quicker to build, while custom builds will require more of your time, money, and attention.
Either way, you go about developing a building plan, you’ll need to give attention to construction specifications.
The construction specifications sheet will contain details of the number of rooms and their sizes, type of windows and doors, flooring tiles, wall colors, built-in cupboards and wardrobes, garage location, pathways and corridors, electrical fittings, water pipes, lighting, and kitchen interiors.
The specification plan should exhaustively define the type of materials required for the construction.
Scour those plans again and again.
Walk the detailed measurements for each room, consider the location of the laundry room, think about which way the evening sun will hit the house, evaluate current or future accessibility needs, evaluate storage, and measure your existing cars, furniture, and other items you need to fit into the space.
In addition to the functional aspects of the home, identify your personal architectural design preference. Are you looking for a modern design? Rustic? A log cabin? Contemporary? Craftsman?
Choose your favorite siding from the various types available.
The look of the home when you pull into the driveway needs to be on paper before it can become a reality. The same goes for the inside of the home.
As the build progresses, you’ll make final decisions about fixtures and finishing materials, but during the design process, you’ll need to include structural elements like open beams, a bay window, skylights, and built-in bookcases.
Step 6 - Make Sure There’s a Plan for Utilities
Even if you’re equipping your house for off-grid living, you’ll need to ensure you have all the infrastructure in place.
Water and sewer holding tanks, as necessary, rainwater harvesting, solar panels with battery storage, and other types of low-impact living need to be considered upfront.
Similarly, being on the grid means figuring out how your house will connect with electrical power, natural gas, telephone lines, cable, internet, water, and other conveniences.
Step 7 - Get Permits
If you’ve hired a contractor, he or she will likely take care of this (check your contract). Whether you’re taking the lead or they are, be sure to factor it into your timeline.
Figure out what they will request ahead of time and have the documentation ready to go. The length of time before permits are approved varies widely by county and state. It may be a few days or a few months, sometimes longer.
Step 8 - Break Ground
Now the fun begins! There are many stages of building a house. Many of them are during planning, but when the foundation of the home is formed, the project comes to life, so breaking ground is an exciting time.
Now is the time to start dialing in your communication with your contractor. Be available to answer questions and be patient when you have questions of your own.
Be disciplined in your budget restrictions, even when offered upgrades during the build. It’s all tempting, but every additional $500 or $5000 adds up quickly to blow up your carefully-planned budget.
Step 9 - Monitor Timelines
The overall project of building a house will be broken into smaller projects in order to achieve the final goal. Getting each of those smaller tasks done is an ongoing time management challenge.
Excavators must complete their job before the workers get to work on the foundation. The framers are next on site. Then the plumbing and electrical components need to be completed before the drywall covers it up.
All along the way, there's plenty of opportunity for delays.
Although you should plan to be somewhat flexible in order to account for inevitable employee, weather, transport, and supply issues make sure you always know what is expected to happen next and what the estimated timeline is for it.
Step 10 - Be Onsite
No contractor, subcontractor, or worker wants you to be on the job site all the time. Honestly, you’ll get in the way and slow them down.
However, it’s critical you’re aware of what’s going on during each phase. For example, is the level of insulation the correct thickness? Are the light fixtures where you expect them to be? Are you happy with the pour of the driveway?
You do not want to show up when the contractor is ready to hand over the keys only to find there were issues that should have been addressed months ago.
As your construction progresses, personally inspect each phase of the project before making payment. Payments are traditionally staggered, with you paying in a few lump sums as the project progresses.
Ensure you’re satisfied with each phase before handing over a check, or you might never get the issue resolved. It’s much easier to make adjustments when they are identified than further down the road.
Step 11 - Watch the House Build Progress
Most home builds follow a pattern. First there’s site preparation. Next, the foundation is poured. Then the framing begins. Once the floors, walls, and roof are completed, you’ll really begin to see the project come together.
The plumbers and electricians will rough in the required components such as plumbing for toilets, sinks, and showers, as well as wiring for electrical outlets and lights.
The HVAC system will also be prepped, including the ductwork throughout the house and the furnace and/or air conditioning units. Then the home will get insulation, windows, and doors, followed by drywall or other wall finishes.
Next, crews will complete exterior siding or similar material. The finishing touches will include trim work, door casings, stairwell railings, cabinets, countertops, vanities, fireplaces, lights, mirrors, faucets, appliances, and similar fixtures.
Outdoors, your driveway, walkways, and landscaping will take shape.
Step 12 - Expect Inspections During the Home Build
You can commonly expect around five different inspections as the project progresses. If something doesn’t meet approval the first time, the inspector needs to sign off on repairs before the project can continue.
Although they get a bad reputation, inspectors are there to ensure the safety of your home, so embrace their role in the process.
As a hybrid between buying a pre-build house and hiring a contractor to custom-build your home, you could tackle the project by buying a house kit.
Design companies do a huge chunk of the planning for you, yet you can still hold the power of creating a layout that works for you. Choose a company, model, size, and floor plan that suits your needs.
From there, you can build the home using your DIY toolbox, or the company can construct it for you. Either way, the prefabricated option provides a much shorter “Building a House Checklist.”
There is no doubt that home building is intimidating and can be overwhelming. It’s a costly and time consuming endeavor, so the better you plan, the smoother it goes.
For more home construction tips, check out our pieces on Mistakes to Avoid When Painting the Outside of Your House and Old House Remodeling Ideas.