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How To Build Your Own House

Build You Own House – Know what is Involved.

To successfully build your own house make sure you have plenty of patience, finance and the know how. You may have done and accomplished a lot of things.  You may even have contemplated more adventurous hobbies. Well, the truth is, there are very few things that may have prepared you enough for the role of being an owner builder.  You see, building a house has gotten more complicated and technical than it was in medieval times. Then you could just ask members of your family to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty.  One family member could be tasked with cutting wood and delivering wood planks to a suitable spot where you’ve decided to build your own house. Another member could be tasked with making sure that there will be enough water to mix mortar or lime. So all in all you didn’t have to worry much about tons of paperwork, mortgage, contractors or even the place where your family would stay for the duration of the construction period.

Now that we’re in the 21st century, a lot must be considered before you build your own house.  

Key to the success of building your house is knowing exactly what is involved, right from the beginning.

Nowadays, the main reason why one would decide to build your own house is to have a brand new custom made home that is built around your personal needs. This is a luxury that most other homeowners don’t enjoy. For most people, buying an existing house is the easiest option than building your own house from scratch, actually, it may very well be the only option.

The truth is, with better planning and discipline, building your own home is possible for many people who are not builders themselves. In short, you must understand that building your own house can be costly and much more risky if you under calculate the various elements involved.  So what are these elements? For starters, you should ask yourself the following questions.

Questions to ask yourself (and answer) before you build your own house:

  1. How much can you afford?
  2. What sort of house option is best for my needs right now?
  3. How much will the building cost?
  4. Is your land suitable for the house you want to build?
  5. Do you understand your building loan terms?
  6. Do you have an architect/designer to draw your building plans?
  7. Who will be your building contractor?


To answer these questions, one will need to look at the various processes that are involved in more detail. The first process that you will be engaged in is: PLANNING.  The planning stage in turn consists of various role players that you will be introduced to as you perform your role as an owner builder. For some of the roles and functions you will need to employ other professionals to undertake specific technical duties on your behalf. To name a few of these professionals: architect, structural engineer, quantity surveyor, building contractor, etc.

To help you understand the interlinked processes involved in the planning and building of your home, we have prepared the chart below.  This chart outlines the individuals and institutions that you will be dealing with and their responsibilities. Note that this chart outlines the overall process and responsibilities of each participant from the point when construction is about to begin up until completion of the building work.  It is also based on an average sized residential dwelling.

A Typical Chart of participants/professionals involved in a home building project:

how to build a house custom home builders build a house new homes new home construction Build your own house infographic build your own home build your house infographic home builder; building contractors; architects; quantity surveyor; municipality; strctural engineer; house plans; archid architects cost to build a house build your own house

The Architect

To appoint the architect, the homeowner must ensure that he is satisfied with the architects portfolio, references and good old friendliness. It makes no sense to embark on such a long and tedious process with someone you don’t feel comfortable around.  As you will see below, the architect must be your companion right from the beginning and throughout this process.

As you can see in the chart above, the architect plays a central role on your behalf. Assuming, you have done your homework of choosing the right architect for the job, the very first thing that your architect will want to see is your site/plot. He will need to ascertain all  the conditions that applies to your site, both physical, legal and technical. You see your architect may cost you some money now but in the long run he saves you a lot and ensures that your investment grows over time. Remember, it is everyone’s dream to design their own home and then BUILD YOUR OWN HOUSE.  However this doesn’t mean you should take up every risk along the way. And this is where your architect comes in.

If you hire an experienced architect who has done all manner of works under the sky then I’m certain he will be more than happy to let you have the bulk of the contributions in both the design and management of outcomes.  So be sure to communicate with your architect all your desires and wishes for the project. Your architect has seen it all. So don’t hold back. After-all he is there to shoulder and protect your interests.

The homeowner may also appoint the architect to be a project manager or contract manager.  The role of the architect as project manager is well documented and so there is no need to cover it here.  As a contract manager (in the absence of a Quantity Surveyor) the architect will first call for tenders or bids from home builders. He will supply the builders with drawings, specifications and all other documentation from engineers etc.  

Once the bids are received, the architect will call a meeting with the homeowner after he has evaluated all the bids. Here the architect will brief the owner of all bids received, any suitable bid that is worth considering and all the other matters of importance that may risen from the bidding process. Together with the homeowner, the architect will choose a suitable builder.  He will prepare a building contract which will be entered into by the homeowner and the builder.

During the construction phase, the architect, if contracted to manage and oversee the contract, will make periodic site visits to ensure that construction work goes according to plan, budget and expected quality.  He will ensure that any other sub-contractors appointed, either by the main contractor or the homeowner, performs their task accordingly.

At completion of building work, the architect must now develop As-Built drawings. These drawings will show all the deviations and changes that were made during the construction phase. He will thereafter submit these drawings to the municipality for approval.  This must be done before the occupation certificate can be issued by the building inspector.

The Municipality

Here again, the architect will do most of the liaison with your municipality. Firstly, your architect will advise you on all the property rights and limitations pertaining to the planning and zoning requirements. He will guide the house design process based on your requirements and those stipulated in the planning and zoning ordinances. A large part of regrets that most homeowners experience, pertains to dealing with municipalities. Government officials are wired differently.  For them, procedure and red tape is the bottom line. So if you’re going to deal with them, make sure that you allow sufficient time. Your architect will know about this..

Another important factor to bear in mind is that the involvement of the local authority doesn’t just end with the approval of your building plans.  Before the building process commences on site, a building inspector must be notified. An inspector must visit the site at various stages of construction.  The first visit is usually at the point when the foundation trenches have been dug out just before concrete is poured. It is at this visit where the inspector will usually inform the builder/homeowner and/or the architect of all the stages that he will need to be called out to inspect.  At these inspections the inspector will first check whether the construction conforms to the approved building plans. He will also check whether the builder is following the various building ordinances and by-laws. If any element of the building, workmanship or procedure is found to violate the statutes, the inspector has the right to stop such work from being carried out or instruct that such work be demolished or redone.

At completion of the building work the inspector will also be requested to make a final inspection to ensure that the building will be ready for occupation.  If happy then he will issue an occupation certificate to the homeowner to take occupation.

The Builder

Always remember that home builders or building contractors are business people. You will appoint a home builder or building contractor because he has readily available personnel who are skilled in all the trades and craftsmanship needed to complete your home within the scope of time, quality and cost. Most homeowners make the mistake of being too casual with builders. To build your own house you need someone with enough experience but also organised. 

Firstly, you will need to sign a contract with your builder. The contract must stipulate all the work that your builder is responsible for.  Among others, the contract will also stipulate how disputes are to be handled. Where your architect is involved in contract management, periodic meetings will be held on site to measure, evaluate and resolve any matters arising from the contract.  As indicated in the chart above, your architect will again save the day in as far as managing the builder is concerned.

The need to appoint a registered home builder to build your own house can never be emphasized enough. In fact, builders of new homes are required by law to registered with a statutory body that governs and maintain the standards pertaining to the quality and performance of construction of new homes. One sure way of eliminating any unscrupulous home builders is by requesting references.  Ask your home builder to take you to their previous clients and to show you the quality of work they were tasked with. This way you can rely on other homeowners who have walked the line with a potential builder.  After-all to build your own house relies on good research.

The Structural engineer

As you have noted in the chart, the engineer is mostly engaged with the the architects drawings and the management of on-site work items.  The involvement of a structural engineer is regulated by statutory regulations. It is not the homeowners choice whether to use an engineer or not. Usually it is the national and local ordinances that gives direction as to which aspects of work that should be undertaken by a registered engineer.  Working with more experienced engineers is advisable. An experienced engineer will be well versed in various methods and techniques of building sound structures, timeously and cost efficiently. Bear in mind also that engineers are required by law to have a professional indemnity insurance. Whatever your engineer designs or specifies, he must take full responsibility for the performance of any such material, technology and/or timing.

Structural engineers are required by law to register with a statutory body that governs the occupation of all engineers in a given country or jurisdiction.  Here again, the experience of the architect will ensure that only suitable candidates are appointed. This will save the homeowner the headache of calling for proposals, managing the bidding process and finally appointing a suitable structural engineer. In short, an engineer ensures that you build your own house..one that will remain standing.

The Quantity Surveyor

A quantity surveyor, also known as a QS, is responsible for estimating and costing the project. A quantity surveyor is not listed in the chart above due to the fact that they are not always used in smaller projects.  It is however important to touch on their function as cost managers and estimators in residential buildings. A quantity surveyor is usually appointed by either the homeowner or the architect. He will be tasked with estimating the project cost as early as when the first sketches are made available by the architect.  His role is to ensure that the architect’s designs do not exceed the budget stipulated by the homeowner. And he will be provided with all the drawings that the architects produces. His role is mostly that of an advisor. In larger contracts, he may be tasked with the role of project manager, contract administrator and/or as adjudicator in contractual disputes.  In other words, a quantity surveyor acts like a finance manager to the client. They are constantly on the lookout for any work items that threatens to derail the budget. They make sure that actual costs are in line with the projected budget estimates. Where deviations are likely to occur, the quantity surveyor will advise both the client and architect to ensure that the cost implications are manageable.  So at the end, a quantity surveyor will ensure that you build your own house without breaking the bank.

Senior Contributor

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