Research is key if you are thinking about undertaking a large project like building your own home. We spent countless hours researching every single aspect of our home. It consumed us for months, but it saved us so much money and allowed us to do so much ourselves, it was absolutely worth it! We did not take anything at face value or first answer, if we didn’t like the price or the information we received, we just kept pushing and looking for alternatives. This research is what led us to take on framing the house ourselves. Here’s how it happened!
When we purchased the land, we immediately began clearing it ourselves. We never even considered hiring this out. Daniel went on YouTube and learned how to fell trees. We bought a John Deere tractor which ended up being one of the best decisions we made! It was 0% interest and we used in in almost every single aspect of our build and still use it to this day. It was a lot of work, many long sweaty days and a few gut-wrenching moments watching him fell pine trees that stood sixty-five feet in the air. We then hired a portable sawmill to come out and turn the trees into lumber. We dried it out and used it for out front porch floor, mantle and siding for our water shed.
After the land was cleared, we started bringing in dirt. We used our tractor to spread it out and once we thought we had it the foot and a half above the crown in the road required, we had our friend laser it to make sure it was correct.
Then it was time to stake out our home. We carefully considered so many factors in this process. Our primary consideration was we wanted the kitchen windows to directly face the three large oak trees in the center of our property. Daniel’s parents came over and one person stood on each corner of the “house” and we held strings to represent the walls. We slowly rotated, checking as we went, until we had the exact layout we wanted. Then we staked out our corners.
Next, we dug our footers. Now this was a process! It just so happened that we had one of the wettest July’s Florida had ever seen that year! We ended up digging the footers four times as each time we dug them, they would get washed away by a torrential downpour. One the fourth dig, we finally covered them with Visqueen to protect them, but of course this time it didn’t rain! We were finally able to have the concrete company come out and pour our footers! What a relief!
Now it was time to build our stem wall. Daniel wanted to build it all the way to 48″ to ensure we would not have any issues with flooding and to give him as much head height underneath the house as possible. This way in the future, he could easily get under the house to work. Our friend Elmer came over to help us with the stem wall install. He is an experienced block layer, so he was able to teach Daniel the ropes. This is a key piece of advice! If you are thinking of building your own home, if you don’t know how to do something, find friends or family that you can pay to come teach and/or help you.
While all of this was going on, I was researching labor and lumber packages for our framing. I called any lumber company I could find that I thought might deliver to us! I had a page and a half long list of companies I called. We sent our plans to every company that serviced our area so we could receive as many quotes as possible, ensuring we got the best price. We had been warned by other contractors that many times, lumber companies will underbid just to get your business. Then, when you are in the middle of the build and realize you are short on lumber, you will be forced to spend more money and have a time delay waiting for it to be delivered. This is a very common tactic and one we did not want to fall for, so we were not only interested in the cheapest, we were looking for the most accurate with the best price. When we received our quote from BMC, the trajectory of our build changed! We ended up going to lunch with the lumber representative and he brought the window guy with him, as we were considering getting our windows through them as well. Mid-conversation, one of the gentleman mentioned something called Ready Frame. The conversation quickly shifted to something else, but I was intrigued. I said “what a second, what is this Ready Frame thing you just mentioned?” It seemed like they were hesitant to discuss it at first, but I’m not one to back down easily, so I pushed for more information. They then told us it was a system, similar to the old Sears Kit Homes. They optimize your building plans in their computer system, then pre-cut all of your lumber, ensuring minimal waste. Each piece is then labeled and each wall bundled together. It is then delivered to the job site, along with as many studs as you will need. You also get a three-ring binder with a diagram of each wall, so if you have any questions about a particular wall, you simply look it up. They are coded interior or exterior walls and upstairs or downstairs, so it’s very easy to know which wall goes where. One of the biggest pro’s to this system is the lumber guarantee. Remember how I mentioned before that some companies will underbid just to get your business? Ready Frame guarantees you will have all the lumber you need. If for whatever reason you are short, they send it out for free. This gave us so much peace of mind! Ready Frame charges $.25 per square foot, so $1200 for us to use this system. Not a bad price even if you were hiring framers and wanted to ensure minimal waste and capitalize on that lumber guarantee! But here is where we were able to save big time! They told us on a scale of 1-10, this system made framing your own house a difficulty level 4. We were intrigued! We had received bids from $37-40k from framing contractors. If we spent $1200 for Ready Frame and framed it ourselves, we would save over $30k! They ensured us it was doable and that the Ready Frame representative would help us until we were comfortable.
They were definitely right about the Ready Frame rep! Larry was amazing! When optimizing our system, he caught several issues our architect had missed which we would not have found until we were well into the build. This allowed us to fix them before we got started, versus the time, stress and money it would have cost us to fix them mid-build. He was incredibly patient with us, coming out to the job site, teaching us everything we needed to know to use the system. At first, it felt SO overwhelming! What had we gotten ourselves into? But by the time I built my third wall, I was feeling more comfortable. Daniel and I both agree that their estimation of it being a 4 out of 10 on the difficulty scale was wrong on the walls, we’d say it was maybe a 2! However, the trusses made up for the ease of the walls! We had a couple employees on our crew that had experience setting trusses, so thankfully we were able to do it ourselves. If you are thinking of going this route, just keep that in mind. Not that it’s not doable, but have a few extra hands that know what they are doing, will make it much easier! Overall, we saved over 30k by framing it ourselves. Our lumber package cost us 63k including our trusses. One quick note on the lumber package, with BMC, once they quote you, you will not pay more if prices go up, but if prices go down, you will pay less. So make sure to check lumber prices the day you go to actually order and remind them to do so as well. We received a bill for the original price, though I had checked prices the day we ordered and they had gone down significantly. This was back when there was an issue with tariffs on China, so lumber prices had gone up quite a bit. By reminding them that they had told us we would save money if prices had gone down, we saved $5,000 on our lumber package. Again, research and not being afraid to speak up are key in this process!
In the next blog, I will discuss the next steps we took in building our own home!