Here are twelve tips that will save you time and cash. We’ve found them helpful in our years as owner-builders and in our professional experience in the Going Solar Design group.
When siting your house try to place it on the least desirable spot on your lot, so that the more beautiful places are left available.
Set up proper books and keep accurate records. If necessary, pay an accountant as a consultant to help you arrange your books.
Choose a carport over a garage if local codes allow. This can save significant amounts of money, since less structure is required. Ask yourself, “Does my car need to be in the house?”
Pace yourself while doing your building project, so that you don’t burn yourself out. Consider a vacation before you begin your final carpentry. Try to keep your project fun. Look for signs of anger, impatience, mistakes and injuries that mean you should take some time off. Always be in control of the project; don’t ever let it control you. Use your energies for creative work, not to combat frustration.
Use the local employment office to obtain manual laborers for digging trenches, moving lumber, clean-up, etc.
Plan out your trips to the lumberyard. Have a job site chalkboard. When anyone runs out of something or realizes something will be needed, write it down. Frequent and unorganized trips to the lumberyard waste a lot of time.
When figuring materials, always add 5% to 10% for waste, errors and unusable stock. Running out is costly.
Get a “temporary building shack” permit to allow you to live on the land while you are building, thereby saving rental costs or mortgage payments on another house.
Investigate edible landscaping. If you’re going to plant trees, why not plant fruit trees or vines that provide food?
If you must remove trees from the land, leave at least 4 ft. of stump, so the bulldozer operator can easily knock it over. If cut off at ground level, stumps are very difficult to remove.
If you look like a building professional and learn the lingo, you will easily get the contractor’s discount. If you are questioned, state that you are an owner-builder, the contractor of record on your job, and you should get the reductions in price. Be gently insistent.
Consider used lumber, especially for large timbers, but have it graded by a certified lumber grader. Check the newspaper for demolition opportunities.
John Stebbins, Laguna Beach, CA