Steps In Building a House

We’ll go into more details on each of these steps in a moment. But, for now, these are the basic steps to building a house:

  1. research
  2. read books related to home building
  3. ask questions
  4. research
  5. read magazines related to home building
  6. ask questions
  7. contemplate
  8. spend time visiting and observing your intended building site
  9. ask more questions
  10. help somebody else build their house, even for a day
  11. ask questions
  12. look through mountains of plans
  13. stop at houses you like and politely ask questions
  14. go on new home construction tours
  15. go to home shows
  16. ask questions
  17. attend some building workshops
  18. ask around about good subcontractors
  19. examine your finances
  20. research covenants, codes, setbacks, zoning, etc., on your piece of land
  21. talk to your future neighbours
  22. pick a likely plan and build a model from it
  23. contemplate
  24. ask questions of your bank about their building restrictions for approving a loan
  25. investigate other funding sources as a backup
  26. plan your temporary housing options while your new home is being built
  27. have an architect look over your final plan
  28. ask questions
  29. dig the hole, frame the walls, run the wiring and plumbing, put the roof on
  30. move in
  31. work like a dog to pay off your loan

Ok, ok, so this is a bit of an exaggeration. What I really wanted to do here is emphasize how critically important the planning phase is. There is so much to know about building even a basic house, that you will never be able to know everything before breaking ground. Even folks who make home building their living are always learning. There’s a mountain of knowledge you can acquire before setting shovel to soil. The more you know before jumping into your house building project the greater your chances of things going relatively smoothly.

So, what would a more realistic list of steps in building a house look like? Let’s look at it from the likely possibility that you want to be the general contractor for the project, but not necessarily do all the typical subcontract work. While keeping in mind that the planning, research, questioning, contemplation, etc. phase is all important, it would probably look a little more like this:

  1. thorough planning and research
  2. site selection and evaluation
  3. finalizing plan selection, including working with an architect on detail adjustments if necessary
  4. draw up a materials list and get quotes from 2 to 4 supply yards in the area; this includes truss design and ordering
  5. mortgage or other finance acquisition
  6. construction site insurance
  7. permit application and approval
  8. establish temporary electricity from power company
  9. interview and secure contracts with subcontractors
  10. survey site, find a good excavator, triple check property boundaries and setback laws, stake out foundation corners, and set up erosion control
  11. remove topsoil from site and set aside, dig hole for basement (or whatever foundation type you’re using)
  12. put in gravel road base for driveway
    (keeps the mud down a bit)
  13. set forms for footings & pour concrete
  14. set forms for foundation walls & pour concrete; waterproof & insulate exterior of foundation
  15. backfill foundation after thoroughly set
  16. frame floor joists, apply underlayment
  17. frame walls, apply exterior sheathing & house wrap
    (if putting in a single unit tub/shower surround make sure to place it in or near the future bathroom space before too many interior walls are framed up)
  18. frame roof or place roof trusses
  19. apply exterior finish to roof
  20. wiring & plumbing
  21. install heating & cooling system (duct work?)
  22. for country setting: dig well & install septic system
  23. exterior finishing
  24. insulate
  25. interior wall finishing
  26. flooring
  27. bathroom & kitchen finishing
  28. final grading & landscaping of site
  29. final occupancy inspection and permit
  30. housewarming partaaayyyyyy!

Truthfully there’s many of these steps that are done concurrently. And some simply have to be done before others. It should be obvious that walls can’t be framed up before the first floor joists and underlayment are set down, and that the concrete of the foundation walls have to thoroughly set up before applying waterproofing, rigid insulation and backfilling (they usually say 3 to 5 days depending on temperature). I’ll eventually build a page on this site going into detail on each one of these.

Unfortunately, there is one step in this process that I didn’t do. Number 6, construction site insurance. During the whole construction process of my house there was only one injury, and pretty serious at that. But the guy had great health insurance through his employer, so it all turned out ok in the end. I don’t even want to specify what the injury was for fear of his insurance company tracking me down, even after all this time. All I’ll say is it had something to do with a pneumatic hammer. In hindsight we were pretty damn lucky that nothing else happened.

This list (well, 2 lists really) on steps to building a house is based on my experience of house building. Depending on the area of the country, or planet, that you’re building, your permit process, legal restriction, and climate and soil factors will be different. And there will undoubtedly be problems and dilemmas that come up during the process that will throw you for a loop. The inspector many not like something and insist that it be changed before signing off; there’s a strike at the truss factory and there’s no definite delivery of your trusses; the colour of your special order roofing material is wrong and has to be exchanged. I could go on ad infinitum. You get my point, though. Planning is critical, but it’s best if you’re adaptable and flexible when glitches come up.

The most important step to reach, beside the final inspection and occupancy permit, is to get the materials and structure under cover. Buy or borrow lots of tarps. Cover you pile of building materials with plenty of tarps. Get the walls and roof framed and sheathed as quickly as possible. If the final roofing material isn’t available, put tarps on the roof. Short and infrequent exposure to rain isn’t too much of a problem, but several days of rain and standing water on the plywood and OSB is bad. This kind of manufactured lumber has lots of glues and resins and will easily delaminate when soaked long enough, which is about a day or less.

If you experience a pouring rain, make sure to get into the structure and sweep out any standing water on the underlayment. This is the main reason the basement floor concrete isn’t poured too soon. Even with the roof on and the exterior walls sheathed there’s still many large openings (future doors and windows) that can let in a driving rain.

Building on a slab is a whole ‘another ball game in terms of deflecting standing water. Rob Roy told of a home builder that had half-finished cordwood walls on their monolithic slab. After a rain there was sufficient standing water on the slab floor next to the cordwood walls to cause some serious water absorption and expansion issues. If you’re intending to build on a slab at least have a raised curb incorporated into the edge of the structure. This extra 2 to 4 inches will raise the water-absorptive materials out of reach of all but the deepest, flood-level, water. Just a suggestion.

These lists will give you a good start in contemplating drawing up your own list, too. The list of inspections that will be done on your house is also a good guide to the order of things. Even if you start out with a list that comes from an experienced builder, you’ll find there are things you’ll change to suit your own unique project. Best of luck on your adventure in house building! It’s an experience I’d recommend to anybody that wants a serious challenge in their life.