Literally DIY Home Building - Price per square foot?

mamajaneApril 7, 2014

I'm having such a hard time finding pricing on home building if you are going to do most of the work yourself. My husband is a skilled laborer and the things we would hire out are:

- pouring foundation, we are doing a crawl space.
- roof trusses - having them built & placed.
- mudding & taping after we drywall.

He can do the framing, the electrical, the plumbing, and all the finish work. We have done a lot of remodeling and additions and he has built a lot of shops with living spaces, bathrooms, etc. But we've never done a whole house together.

The plan our architect is working on (still being tweaked) is around 3000 square feet, two stories. The architect thought around $45 per square foot was the average for folks here (we are in a rural area west of the Rockies) who are their own GCs and subcontract out stuff, but we're having a hard time finding info on individuals who have built traditional stick homes with a GC, but doing most of the labor themselves. Any guesses for me?

It's a farmhouse, a big rectangle, no fancy bumpouts, mid-grade finishes. Wood floors, but MDF trim. White kitchen appliances. 5 bedrooms, an office, and three bathrooms. A play room, a family room, kitchen, and dining area. Lots of storage. Square, with modular design for ease of building and economical cost. There are built ins but we'll be constructing those ourselves. We also do all our own cabinet work. We already own the farmland & are just trying to sort out construction costs with zero labor. We don't care if it takes us three years to complete, we just want to do it ourselves.

Thanks for any input -- yes, we've researched w/ the county & know all the right hoops to jump through / red tape for pulling permits and all of that. We have a GC who will let us do all the work we want.

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Too many variables...

Normally (rule of thumb) split is 50% material and 50% labor. Some jobs worth paying for imho. Hanging drywall by yourself on 3000 sq ft house - is problematic.

Lumber can be estimated pretty exact, so is drywall and foundation. Framing needs to be done quickly as you can not keep lumber on site for a year - it will warp and gets stolen. (I would not keep it for an extra day). Nor you want interior floors exposed and moldy. Framing + roof = 10k

$45/sq ft for your own GC is pretty tight. You are not going to build 3000 sq ft house for 100k. Most overpriced is plumbing, hvac, electrical, septic, well, hookups, permits.

By the way - I would never use MDF baseboards.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 6:06AM
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We already own the farmland & are just trying to sort out construction costs with zero labor...we are in a rural area west of the Rockies

Is it flat? How many trees? Do you need a well? How about a septic system? Is there already electric or do you need to have the lines pulled into the site?

Sitework could be expensive, or not, depending on the site. Without knowing the site, no one here can tell you how much that will cost. And even it they knew the site, weird, unexpected things can come up. Once you get past the site work, you can better estimate your costs.

This post was edited by dekeoboe on Mon, Apr 7, 14 at 8:36

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 8:35AM
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I can maybe be of some help. Due to brown rot because of design flaws I have personally rebuilt about 1,300 sq ft of our place. Footings, piers, beams, joists, moving walls, rewiring, plumbing work, subfloor, and now we are at the point where I'm painting walls, flooring goes in soon and then the kitchen and entrty hall, formal living and family rooms.

Costs of this nature I have a pretty good idea for, but other items like wall framing, roofing, ... I don't know.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 9:12AM
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I would be glad to share with you our cost of materials up to this point. We are about half way through our build. Just email me and I will make you a list. Of course, our house is much smaller but it might give you some kind of idea of material costs even though we are in a different region.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 10:14AM
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Going with 50% labor, you come to $22 a sqft or $66k. Drywall mud in a low cost area shouldn't be more than $2k. Roof trusses on a similar house cost me about $5k. Another $5k for crawl space.

So $78k plus any site work, well, septic, permits.

1 Like    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 2:28PM
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Around here you would pay at least $100/sq. ft. in actual materials. I am estimating from our costs, a friend who is a developer, and my brother in law whom is doing exactly what you are describing. Its a long road with only two hands. I think you should perhaps budget for double that and if you can swing it for less than great. Are you getting a loan for the house at all? Banks will really grill you as the GC and give you a time line as well in my experience.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 5:05PM
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If bank financing is required (construction loan and permanent mortgage), the first stop I'd make would be to several lenders to find out from them what they will finance (and what they won't), lending requirements and schedules. This is not the sort of information you want to find out about at the end of your planning process.

Good luck with your project.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 5:28PM
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Good luck in your ventures!! We are DIYing our build too. We hired our own subs, however to get us to drywall (DH did exterior finishes though, trim, siding, soffits, garage doors, painting, not the roof). We are at 4000 sq ft finished and moved into the house 14 months ago and have been working at it ever since. It was very rough when we moved in and we are now finally laying down the hardwood floors on the main floor!!!!! The upstairs is finished except for a few items on the punch list. It has been a very long haul, we now have 6 boys the oldest in high school and feel as if we have lost 2 years of our life. It has been very stressful and very hard.

I would think very seriously as for subbing out more of the work. I can not even imagine if we did our own framing and dry wall. As others have mentioned, the time and weathering of some materials are just not cost/time productive.

For costs of the build, you really just need to bid everything out. Find subs and see what they will charge and go from there. A lumber yard will give you a material list on everything up to and including trim. Take the time to price out everything else....the flooring, each and every fixture, sinks, tubs, etc. When building yourself, YOU MUST BE VERY ORGANIZED. Start now by making spread sheets of the entire build and list absolutely every sink, faucet, toilet, light, paint, carpet etc. Start going and getting pricing on it all and keep track of everything. And then you know the labor part is $0 on the part you choose to take on yourself. Still make sure you have an allowance. Items always cost more. For example if you plan on the cost of tile to be $500 and then go to get your materials and did not budget for....underlayment, tape, tools, adhesive, grout, tax, etc. Now your $500 tile project is actually $1000.

I'm not trying to discourage you, just trying to share things that we have learned by doing it on our own. It takes longer and cost more than you would expect on almost every aspect. With that being said, we are getting close t seeing the "light" and will have a beautiful home to enjoy with a very low mortgage. Good-Luck!!!

    Bookmark   April 8, 2014 at 7:56AM
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Even if you do it all yourself, your labor is not free unless you are a retired person, because you must factor in opportunity cost from _not working_ at a paying job. Even if you work your DIY evenings and weekends, you will still be burnt out at your 9-5, less efficient, preoccupied, etc. (power-possessing people may take note).
As a person who has framed over a dozen houses from the foundation up, and restored many many historic structures, done whole-house remodels, (for 33 years as a carpenter), I'll tell you to count on needing a crew of five to get a 3000 sq ft house under paper in a week, and that's for a box with trusses, and perfect weather. Fewer hands, weather delays, and complicated plans/details can stretch the finish date literally to infinity. You can't put up rafters, set girders, sheath the roof, etc., by yourself. Pay for the shingles to be delivered to the roof, it's better than humping 50 bundles up a ladder.
Keep your site clean and safe, minimize open trenches, and realize the effect they have on site access and safety. Make sure your health ins. is paid up, (not to mention life ins.)

    Bookmark   April 8, 2014 at 9:31AM
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I just went through the experience of DIY'ing a house. It took 4 years of fairly hard labor on the weekends, during vacation and in the evening (after my corporate job work day).

I'd say it is extremely difficult if not impossible to do this without at least one other person because a lot of tasks require more than a pair of hands. So be prepared to work with your husband.

It's a LOT of work. We DIYd almost everything except concrete flatwork and drywall. I would do it again because I like spending my time this way.

I don't know about doing it to save money. Like other people said, time is money and your time isn't free. And if you do hire contractors, you'll likely pay a premium because you don't have an established business relationship with the trades.

I did it as a hobby and because I wanted to cross this off my bucket list. It's tough work, expensive but also a lot of fun at times and rewarding.

Price/sf is impossible to answer because it's so variable (foundation type, construction type, footprint, roof, finishes...)

Another piece of advice: Do everything you can to eliminate time pressure that you cannot control.
Time flies (I still can't believe that four years have passed since I started) and having someone breathing down your neck is very stressful. I can't imagine doing this with a construction loan where the bank expects progress as if you were a pro. I already had anxiety attacks about the building permit expiring if I didn't call in inspections periodically.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2014 at 1:42PM
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Thank you so much everyone, this was really helpful.

I work full time and my husband is a stay at home dad, so house building would be his full time job. Our older kids will be helping and I can help too, especially on the inside. My work is very flexible as long as I get my hours in.

The land is flat, it's been farmed for years, there is one ridge but its away from the homesite. No trees.

Yes, we do need a septic and well and have priced those things out already. The gas company & electric company can come in for free as there is an adjoining neighborhood and the distance is within their 'free' range as we are building closer to the road to maximize the land behind us.

We had MDF baseboards for 10 years in the house we just sold and they were great. All the trim was MDF in that house except for the bathrooms where we used PVC trim. I did get one section of the MDF baseboards nicked up with a rocking chair, but it was easy to pull out and replace.

Anyway, we're learning just how variable this is, but it'd be so nice to have a ballpark. Knowing labor is 50% is helpful, and I can see how organized we'll need to be. We do have a GC who will hire any subcontractor work for us since he has the connections.

Anyone wiling to share costs of their projects would be much appreciated! Can we email though this site? If not, my email is my screen name with 72 tacked on at the end, no spaces or dashes or anything at gmail.

We are nervous about the time frame the bank wants to impose, we have a large downpayment so we financing about 50%. We're still working out those details, but we'd want a year.

My husband framed a 3400 square foot shop with 18 foot ceilings by himself, but it was a big box. Our house has been designed to be a two story basic rectangle / saltbox style for ease of building, but he hasn't done two stories before. Having a crew sounds like it will be helpful. I have a brother in law who is a professional framer who is willing to bring his crew. Anyway, so much to consider.

Loved the advice to detail everything, every single item and spreadsheet it all. We have done cabinetry, tile work, trim, framing, shingling, and sheetrocking, plus laying hardwood and carpeting in our other projects. My husband is also a trained, though not certified electrician and can do most plumbing work too as long as we have regular inspections. So glad he has mad skills or this would not work at all.

We'd love to get it moveinable in a year - even though a lot would be unfinished inside. I hope that's possible.

Oh, we're doing a 4' deep crawlspace, it sounds like it will work better for hardwood flooring rather than a slab.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 2:57AM
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Another DIY'er here. I'm gonna say that you can do it with two laborers, by and large, in a year, but it IS the burnout that will start to get to you. I saved up 8 weeks holidays, and STILL this wasn't enough to get it to lock-in. Granted, I dug my own basement (full height, with an 18" backhoe on the back of a 32 hp tractor...), and did my own concrete work, but still. It's a LOT of work.

Which I don't regret for a second and would do again, but still.

I would say, if I had stuck to mid-level finishings, it would have been about 50% the cost. I only hired out: Mudder, Well Driller, Boom truck (to lift 30' long 18" deep beams), Concrete Pumper truck (ICF basement), granite countertop fabricator, spray foam installer (illegal here to do it yourself), and a crew one afternoon to install my front windows (I had four that were 12' high, 5' wide and and 15' in the air...).

That being said, if I was to do it again, I would be tempted to pay a crew to board the house with drywall. The actual hanging of it wasn't so bad, but I learned quickly that your mudder is going to charge you extra if it isn't perfect. Without the tools to cut perfectly around your outlet boxes, you risk overcutting and it'll cost you to have those mistakes mudded. A lot of boarders also do interior walls with glue now, so less screws. Cost me extra for all the screws. My mudder liked a plastic corner bead, cost me extra because he had to trim back all my corners that were boarded for steel corners. It was just one of those things that while it turned out okay in the end, I think it would have been worth the savings in mudding plus the huge savings in time, to have had it boarded. Hindsight.

Everything else really I'm thrilled I did myself. Even the terrifying things (like hauling a 25' wall upright with a rope while it teetered on the edge of the floor...or shingling a 13:12 pitched roof and having to carry the bundles of shingles up bc the pitch was too steep to leave them up there...).

In the end, my place would have cost $350k to build and my final cost was $190k (was $170k but I chose to put in the foundation for the rear deck since it was already dug, I installed a steam shower, paid for the mudders, rented a lift truck to install some things on the 2nd floor that weren't easy to carry up a ladder, went from $1/sq.ft. flooring to $4/sq.ft., bought all the fancy cabinetry, went with more expensive tile, added in-floor heating, bought all new appliances, opted for stainless handrails instead of builder grade wood...installed the full walk-in closet organizer now instead of waiting...).

The variability of materials for me, didn't change the cost by more than 6%. Which is pretty awesome.

My best advice, is to do what others say and make an itemized spreadsheet of EVERY cost, including materials, labor, tools you'll need to purchase (oh you will), rentals, appraisal and inspection fees, interest on loans that you won't get paid in time...

If you're precise enough, you'll be able to have a REALLY accurate idea of how much it'll cost AND you'll know how much you can spend on each thing. Budget $200 for a builder sink and find a kohler on sale for $210, you know you can buy it!

Like I said, that's what I did, and was only 6% different with my final costs. You can also add each receipt into the spreadsheet as you go, so you know how you're doing along the way. It works great and if you show it to the bank, they're gonna fall in love with you. Nothing like a self-GC who's got it all figured out.

Last thing. Expect the unexpected. My biggest delays weren't was things like my granite installer cutting the template upside down (delayed a bank appraisal 3 weeks, meaning I paid interest on outstanding loans), my building inspector thinking that bedrock wasn't a suitable base for a foundation, my engineer undersizing a footing and my truss designer have NO IDEA how to design our trusses and having to have the blueprints drawn with additional details 3 times before we just sent her a picture of how to design the truss (which she still screwed up and we had to get prefabricated). You can frame in the rain, you can build footing forms in the rain, you can shovel granular...but you can't make people do their jobs right the first time. :P

And give yourself and your family some break time. You will burn out, the idea is to just make it a small burn and not happen until the bank is no longer breathing down your throat. Best of luck! You can make this happen!

    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 8:59AM
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Did you work through the whole 8 weeks in one block?
If so, WOW!!!!!

Mondays at my corporate job were always wonderful because I could recuperate my sore body sitting at my desk. Working two days outside all the time doing manual labor is hard.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 8:39PM
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Once the foundation cured, yup, 8 weeks, one straight block. The boss is a good man and knew it was coming...the benefit of a government job ;) There was MANY a day I thought my body would fail me...roofing was the worst due to the pitches and I was taking 2 tylenols every 4 hours and had to wear 3 pairs of socks on my aching feet for cushion (in +95F weather). Good point though jrldh, the physical exhaustion will get you at times. But wow, do you come away fit as a fiddle! I was carrying 2x12 D.Fir 16' long all on my own, and I'm a 135lb 5'9" stick! Better than any gym membership I know of!!

    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 9:06AM
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We're DIY'ing the majority of our house too. The basement, framing, electrical, and plumbing is being done by contractors though. We're just essentially doing the finish work. The hubby has the winters off so it'll work perfect. But, does anybody care to share what they paid for their basement pours and the lumber package/framing? We have every price dialed in for our budget except those and were not sure on what the going rate is.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 9:23AM
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Hawkeyes, our bids for framing are per square foot and are coming in between $4.50 and $5.50 /sqft for the main house,

Garage $2.50/sqft, basement $1/sqft.

The concrete is coming in at $30-35k for 1700 sqft ranch with 8ft ceilings in the basement, 800sqft garage, small porch and patio, 20-30ft driveway and sidewalk. I don't know the specifics of how that's calculated.

You can get your lumber package estimate from a lumberyard if you have dimensioned plans you can give them. Ask for a 'takeoff'. Most will provide this for free as a service to win your business. Additionally, Menards will provide a takeoff, Home Depot will provide some pricing but likely not as thorough as the lumberyard, and Lowes is a PITA and will charge for a full takeoff and won't provide pricing for a materials list except in person by going to each department individually (per my local store in Cedar Rapids).

A couple of concrete contractors that I've worked with or seen locally are DeLaney Concrete, Rogers Concrete and Kelly Concrete.

If you need a few framers, I can give you some conctacts for that as well.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2014 at 9:48AM
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Thank you so much for all the great info ZG! I really appreciate it!! Yes some contacts for framers would be great! Do you know if they would travel at all? Im not sure where you're located but i live in the fort dodge area. Thanks again for all the great help!!

    Bookmark   April 12, 2014 at 11:04AM
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One of the framers I've talked to is in Masonville, IA. We're in Marion, just north of Cedar Rapids. So that's a bit of a drive for him already. He might do Fort Dodge, or might be able to refer you to someone.

The company is S&R Construction, the owner's name is Steve Pettlon. 319-361-0638. Got this info from his business card, so I assume he won't mind it being shared here.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2014 at 7:34PM
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Awnmyown - Thank you! That is so helpful and encouraging in a realistic way, I really appreciate it. That's basically what we're looking at, though my husband will have no work constraints. Love the hindsights as well, thanks so much.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2014 at 9:07PM
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Thanks again for all your help ZG I'll be giving them a call tomorrow! I had one last question is your quote for the basement include waterproofing?

    Bookmark   April 13, 2014 at 9:14AM
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The concrete estimate does include waterproofing.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2014 at 3:17PM
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Sophie Wheeler

I have friends that built a $40 a square foot garage in a very cheap labor location. I don't think that it's reasonable to expect to build a house for the same dollar figure as an outbuilding.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2014 at 6:00PM
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