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DIY Home Building: 4 Ways to Build a House Yourself

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Building your own house can be an incredibly gratifying experience. Putting in those unique finishes and creating exactly what you want, knowing that you did it all with your own two hands, just adds another level of pride to homeownership. It might seem like being able to build a house on your own is an impossible dream, but there are actually several ways to build a house without breaking the bank.

DIY home building has become more popular than ever, and it can be surprisingly affordable, especially if you already have land to build on. HomeLight checked out some of the top options in do-it-yourself home construction, from building a tiny house on your own to getting contractor help for the big-ticket items but finishing the details on your own. We also spoke with experienced brokers and real estate agents to get their take on the best ways to build a house yourself.

A shell home, which is a house you can build yourself.
Source: (Trong Nguyen / Shutterstock)

Shell homes

For buyers who don’t want to deal with issues such as putting in a foundation or framing, hiring a contractor to put up a shell can speed up the building process while still leaving you the opportunity to do the bulk of the work yourself. The contractor comes in and puts in the foundation, frames the house, and then leaves the rest to you.

Veteran real estate agent Sandi Van Camp, who is based out of New York State and has more than 19 years’ experience in the industry, says that buyers who enlist a contractor to have a shell home built should keep in mind that all zoning regulations that contractors must adhere to still apply to buyers working on their own house. “You will still be required to have a zoning inspector sign off on the work,” she says.

“So while it’s certainly something you can do, some contractors are leery of building shell homes because if a buyer isn’t qualified to do the work, it could compromise the work the builder has already done.”

The cost for a shell home can vary widely by square footage and region, as well as by the number of subcontractors you might need to hire.

Broker Mary Stewart, who is based near Houston and has nearly 40 years of experience in the real estate industry, says that building your own home can be a viable choice for those seeking an affordable way to own their own house. “While I’ve worked primarily with buyers who hire contractors for a home build, there are options for those seeking to do everything themselves,” she says.

Stewart suggests that if a buyer really wants to purchase a shell home, they should consider going smaller. “One option is to go through a company that delivers small shell homes,” she says.

Stewart’s partner, Kevin Chrisman, is a sales rep for Derksen Portable Buildings. The company offers 16-by-40-foot shell buildings for purchase, delivered to your property. They can then be finished out by the company, or you can finish it yourself.

“Prices start at about $16,000,” says Chrisman, “and it is literally just a shell. You add interior walls, sheetrock, electrical, plumbing. Cost to finish it out ranges from about $75 to $80 per square foot, depending on your floor plan and design.” Chrisman says that while shell buildings like the one he offers aren’t considered traditional houses, if you live within the city limits, you’ll still need to adhere to zoning and code restrictions.

If you decide to go with a shell home, you’ll need to already own the land you want to build on, and you’ll also need to make sure that the property you buy or lease allows this type of building. You’ll also need all the proper tools for doing the work yourself.

A stack of shipping containers that have been turned into a house you can build yourself.
Source: (tete_escape / Shutterstock)

Container homes

Homes made from shipping containers are increasingly popular these days, and with good reason. With an average price of $3,000 to $5,000, they can be one of the most affordable housing options on the market, especially if you are able to do most of the finish work yourself.

Many cargo facilities keep a backstock of containers that they can no longer use, and there are several online resources for container purchases. You have the option to purchase refrigerated containers, which are insulated, or regular containers, which you’d need to insulate yourself. Containers can also be easily combined, going from the standard 8-by-40-foot container to a full-sized home, all at a fraction of the cost of a traditional build.

For DIY builders who want to purchase a container home, you’ll first want to make sure you have land and space for it prior to purchase, and figure out the logistics of getting the container delivered to your property. While most states now allow container homes, double check your own state and county for any potential restrictions.

You can do the interior framing and finish work yourself, or hire subcontractors, which is still less expensive than building a house from the ground up. One way that container homes differ from traditional homes is that they tend to be very tight, with minimal ventilation, so plan to invest in a ventilation exchange system.  

Florida resident and container homeowner/builder Troy Rosslow runs the Tiny House Lab, which provides information and resources on container homes, as well as workshops on both container homes and tiny homes. “Container homes can be built relatively quickly,” he says. “I built my first one in just a few months.”

Affordable price tag aside, a big benefit of container homes is that they are a very “green” product and can help reduce your carbon footprint. “They are becoming increasingly disposable,” says Rosslow. “There are more than 23 million containers sitting in ports and yards around the world, and it’s less expensive for companies to purchase new ones as opposed to melting down or refurbishing the old ones.”

A tiny house, something you can build yourself.
Source: (ppa / Shutterstock)

Tiny homes

The tiny home movement doesn’t appear to be slowing down, and if you already own a piece of land, building your own tiny house is an affordable way to create a space to call your own. Tiny homes can range in price from a few thousand dollars to more than $100,000, depending on what kind of home you want to build.

There are myriad online sites that offer plans for tiny houses, complete with supply lists and the costs of various finishes and custom work. Some people build their tiny homes directly onto trailers, making them more portable, or you can put in a foundation and build a permanent structure.

“Tiny homes can be a good choice for some people,” says Stewart, “Especially if you’re the type of person who likes to be outdoors a lot and doesn’t need much inside space.”

Stewart says that while traditional mortgage financing isn’t usually available for tiny homes, buyers can consider consumer loans if they need to finance their purchase. “Most people pay out-of-pocket,” she says. “And companies like Derksen do offer financing, but interest rates do tend to be higher.”

If you decide to go tiny, make sure you have your building plan sorted out before you start, in addition to all the supplies and tools needed. And for those builders wanting to put their tiny home on a trailer, be sure to get a trailer that is specifically made for tiny houses; otherwise, you’ll end up with problems with the building flexing and potentially getting damaged every time you move it.

Home kits

With DIY home kits, your new home is delivered directly to your door, ready for assembly.

A kit home can be a good choice if you aren’t quite sure about how to gather everything you might need to build on your own, or you just want to be able to construct your new home quickly. Prices vary depending on the size of the home, but they generally cost at least 20% less than traditional builds with a contractor, sometimes much less if you’re able to do all the work yourself.

Kits can be purchased from builders, many of whom offer custom planning and a wide range of sizes, or even from online retailers like Amazon. The price range fits just about any budget, as well, with some kits available to purchase for under $10,000.

Construction can be completed fairly quickly, with some builders getting the home up in a matter of weeks as opposed to the months-long timeline of traditional builds.

If a home kit sounds appealing, be sure to thoroughly research what the kit you purchase includes, as plans between kits can vary greatly. Some kits do not include a foundation or roof materials, so you will want to verify everything that’s included in a kit before buying it. If you aren’t experienced with things like plumbing or electrical, you’ll also need to factor in additional costs for subcontractors, as well as making sure your kit home meets any zoning requirements in your area.

No matter what route you decide on for building your own home, you’re likely to spend a lot less than if you purchased an existing house or hired a contractor to build for you. A DIY home means you can build within your budget, customize the house to fit your lifestyle, and have the satisfaction of knowing that you put in the work yourself. “There are so many variables,” adds Van Camp. “It really just depends on what you want and what you can afford.”

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Header Image Source: (Trong Nguyen / Shutterstock)