The 35 Steps to Building a House: Your Start-to-Finish Guide

This is it — you’re finally making the move to build your very own house, and you couldn’t be more excited! It’s a huge decision, and it’s not one you’ve taken lightly. But do you know what goes into building a house, start to finish?

If not, don’t worry — we’ve got you covered. We’re going to break down all of the steps of building a house and break down what percentage each job costs out of your budget.

We have a lot of ground to cover, so grab a snack!

A contractor saws through a wooden beam working on the steps to building a house.
(Source: Greyson Joralemon / Unsplash)

Step 1: Find and purchase the lot

The very first step to building a house is buying the ideal plot of land for your new dwelling.

Think about where you’d like to build. Do you want to live in the country with a large yard? Do you want to build a house in a growing development with a developer? Does the land already have access to utilities like water, sewer, and electricity?

Unfortunately, you can’t buy any old vacant lot — it must adhere to zoning ordinances where you want to build. Common zoning designations include:

  • Residential: Areas designated for single-family homes
  • Commercial: Areas designated for businesses like restaurants, retail shops, and so on
  • Industrial: Areas designated for factories
  • Rural: Areas designated for farming
  • Historical: Areas designated for the preservation of historical landmarks or buildings
  • Environmental: Areas designated for the protection of natural habitats
  • Aesthetic: Structures must adhere to a certain “look” as outlined by zoning codes

Step 2: Research the type of house you want

There are three types of builds available; spec homes, tract homes, or a fully custom home.

Spec (speculative) homes

Spec homes are single-family homes that are built in a development with no particular buyer in mind.

If you go under contract early enough on a spec home, you may be able to choose some features like flooring, paint, kitchen appliances, and other finishes.

Tract homes

Tract homes are when a developer buys a large plot of land and divides that land into individual lots. They’ll then construct homes from specific architectural options planned for that community.

Tract homes could include single-family homes, condos, or townhomes.

Custom homes

A custom home is where you have your own plot of land and hire a builder to build a house exactly the way you want it.

Russell Wing, a top-selling agent who has sold 83% more single-family homes than the average agent in Union County, North Carolina, shares insight on the benefits of a custom home.

“It’s easier to build a custom because you have more choices. You can build the house from the bottom up and in the way you want — you’ll have to pay accordingly. With a spec home, your options are limited. Contractors may only offer shades of white or certain cabinets. They’re basically cookie-cutter homes.”

Regardless of which type of home you want, you’ll want to look at the different floor plans available. Consider things like:

Step 3: Research and hire the building team

Building a home is a huge project, and the average build will involve 22 subcontractors working on the home.

The first person you’ll need to hire is the general contractor or a custom home builder. They will oversee the construction of your home from start to finish. Their duties include:

  • Getting estimates for labor and materials
  • Vetting and hiring subcontractors (some will have a team of subcontractors they generally work with and will hire an outside subcontractor for electrical and plumbing work)
  • Assigning tasks to subcontractors
  • Making sure the team meets deadlines

Note: Custom home builders and general contractors are not the same thing, but they are very similar. A custom home builder draws up blueprints for the home and specializes in custom homes, whereas a general contractor does not.

Step 4: Get the required permits from the township

Before construction can begin, your contractor will contact your municipal office and discuss your plans. They’ll know what permits are necessary and they might already have a relationship with the municipality, which could help speed up the process.

Permits you will need could include:

  • Building permit ($1,200 to $2,000)
  • Electrical permit ($10 to $500)
  • Plumbing permit ($50 to $500)
  • HVAC permit ($250 to $400)
  • If a grading permit is needed ($100 to $1,000)

If you’re on a budget, you could get the permits yourself, but then you’ll be considered the contractor, and you would be liable if there’s a problem during construction or inspections.

Warning: Do not, under any circumstances, begin construction before obtaining permits! If the city learns that you do not have a permit, you could face increased fees to obtain the proper permits, and you could have to shut down construction until the permits are obtained, or even tear down work you’ve already completed.

Step 5: Clear the property

During this step, a professional land-clearing team will remove any debris, vegetation, trees, brush, and rocks within the intended build site.

When trees, shrubs, and bushes are removed, the team will also begin removing stump and root systems to prevent re-growth.

Note: If there are a lot of trees that need to be removed, you may have the option of selling the trees to a commercial logging company so they can be repurposed and turned into lumber.

Step 6: Level the site

Once the land is cleared, the clearing team will fill in any holes and level the ground. Then, the team will put up wooden stakes to market out where the foundation should be poured.

If the land has dips or hills, these will be graded to make sure there’s a flat surface to accommodate the house and driveway.

Step 7: Prepare the land for the foundation or basement

Using the wooden stakes as a guide, the team will dig holes and trenches for the foundation, utilities, and septic system if applicable.

Step 8: Install footings

Footings can be made from concrete or brick masonry and are most commonly used with shallow foundations because it distributes the weight of vertical loads directly to the soil.  Footings are generally wider than the foundation itself and sit one foot below the frost line (the typical depth at which the soil freezes in your climate).

Footing drains will be constructed so that water drains away from the house and protects the drains from damage.

Step 9: Pour the foundation

With the footings in place, your home will have either a slab foundation, a crawlspace, or a full basement poured or constructed.

The concrete will go through a curing process to reach maximum strength. This can take anywhere from 28 to 60 days, but depending on weather conditions, the building can resume after one week.

Regardless of the type of foundation your home will have, it will have to be waterproofed.

A builder measures the gaps between beams as part of the steps to building a house.
(Source: Callum Hill / Unsplash)

Step 10: Install drains, sewers, taps

Once the foundation has cured, drains, sewer lines, water taps, and other plumbing that is needed on the first floor will be installed. Then, the contractors will fill in the trenches surrounding the foundation with excavated dirt.

Step 11: Have an inspection done on the foundation

After the footings, foundation, plumbing, and electrical basics have been laid, there will be an inspection to make sure the foundation was done correctly and follows local code requirements.

Some things the inspector will look at typically include:

  • The footing’s width, depth, and condition
  • Waterproofing
  • Grading
  • Reinforced bars

Step 12: Build the frame of the house

Once the inspector gives the project the green light, next comes the framing.

This is where you’ll finally see your home take shape. The framing crew will erect lumber for the walls, flooring, ceiling, and roof trusses. This step could take between one and two weeks to complete.

Step 13: The sheathing is applied to exterior walls

The sheathing is the large sheets of wood, oriented strand board, wafer board, or exterior gypsum that’s nailed to the frame. It’s recommended to use half-inch panels to give the structure more strength.

In some cases, insulation sheathing (rigid foam or cellulose-fiber panels) may be used to improve insulation. This type can be attached directly to the studs, below the wood sheathing. It could also be attached on top of the wood sheathing.

Next, the sheathing is covered with house wrap, a protective cover that prevents moisture from seeping into the underlying wood, preventing mold and wood rot.

Step 14: Install windows and exterior doors

With the sheathing attached to the bones of the house, the windows and doors can be installed.

When you’re shopping for windows and doors, look for energy-efficient windows with the Energy Star label. Energy-efficient windows and doors will help lower energy costs by keeping the temperature indoors consistent, no matter the temperature outdoors.

Step 15: Install HVAC system

The HVAC technician will come in to install ductwork throughout the house. The air handler, condenser, and trim work will be installed as well.

Step 16: Rough plumbing

A plumber will come in and run pipes to the bathrooms, kitchen, and laundry room. They will also install sewer lines, vents, and bathtubs.

This step can be done while the doors and windows are being installed.

Step 17: Have an inspector evaluate the new plumbing

Although a licensed plumber may have done the work, an inspector will have to come in and inspect the work to make sure everything is done correctly.

The inspector will look for leaks and will ensure that the drains, sewage, and vent pipes pass a pressure test.

Step 18: Install electrical wires and panels

This stage is when all of the electrical work is done.

The wires are run through the walls and ceilings. The HVAC is hooked up (including the thermostat), and the fans, lights, electrical outlets, external electrical work, and the circuit breaker are also hooked up and ready to go.

Step. 19: Get an HVAC and electrical inspection

Once the HVAC and electrical work are complete, an inspector will come out and make sure these systems work properly and are completed to code.

A builder constructs the framing, which is one of the steps to building a house.
(Source: Josh Olalde / Unsplash)

Step 20: The roof is put on the home

The sheathing for the roof is generally done when the exterior sheathing is attached to the walls.

During this stage, the roof will be completed. Roofers will install the flashings and asphalt shingles — but other materials may be used, such as clay or concrete tile, slate, metal, or wood.

Step 21: Insulation is installed

The type of insulation your home will need is going to depend on your location.

Usually, insulation is applied to interior walls, the attic, basement, crawl space, and exterior walls (if it wasn’t applied before the sheathing).

The most common types of insulation are fiberglass, cellulose, or foam spray insulation.

Fiberglass insulation is used in unfinished walls, floors and ceilings. It comes in rolls and is installed in-between studs, joists, and beams. The average cost for fiberglass insulation is between $0.64 to $1.19 per square foot.

Cellulose insulation is used in existing and enclosed walls, or new open cavities in the wall. This insulation can be used in unfinished attic floors and other hard to reach places. This type of insulation can be poured, but is usually blown into place using special equipment. The average cost of cellulose insulation is between $1.00 to $1.50 per square foot.

Foam spray insulation is much like cellulose insulation, as it can be applied in enclosed, existing walls, new wall cavities, and unfinished attic floors. It is applied using a spray container (for smaller areas) or a pressure spray product (for larger areas). The average cost of foam spray insulation is between $1.50 to $4.90 per square foot.

Step 22: Drywall is hung

Drywall is hung throughout the interior of the house, as well as on the ceiling.

Step 22b: The walls and ceiling are textured

After the drywall is hung, a texture may be sprayed on the drywall. Then the walls are primed so they can be painted.

Step 23: Walls are painted

We’re nearing the final steps to building a house!

At this stage, the walls will be painted, and it’ll start feeling a little more like your home.

If you’re going with a spec or tract home, you may not have many choices in paint color, but if it’s a custom home, you could have your choice of colors, or even have wallpaper put on the walls.

Step 24: Exterior finishes are installed

There are different types of siding that can be applied to your home.

Vinyl siding is the cheapest siding material ($4.50 to $12.50 per square foot) and the most common material used for spec and tract homes. However, if you’re going custom, other options include:

  • Wood ($8.50 to $14.50 per square foot)
  • Fiber cement ($8.50 to $14.50 per square foot)
  • Stucco ($7.50 to $14.00 per square foot)
  • Brick ($10.00 to $20.00 per square foot)
  • Metal ($7.50 to $25.00 per square foot)
  • Stone ($11.00 to $35.00 per square foot)

Step 25: Flooring is laid throughout the house

Once the paint has dried, flooring is laid throughout the house.

Sometimes you won’t have a choice what type of flooring you’ll get if you’re going with a spec or tract home; however, with a custom home, the sky’s the limit!

Step 26: Window sills and trim are completed

When the flooring has been laid, next comes the trim.

Trim will be installed around the windows and doors, along the floor, and if you choose, around the ceiling, too (that’s called crown molding and can add a sophisticated look to any room).

Step 27: Cabinets and vanities are installed

Vanities and cabinets are the next things to be installed in your home.

Spec and tract homes typically come with builder-grade cabinetry, which is the most basic (and affordable) type of cabinetry you can get that still looks good.

You can opt for higher quality cabinets and vanities, but that will affect your budget. Custom cabinets can cost between $500 to $1,200 per linear foot!

Step 28: Light fixtures, outlets, and switches are installed

After the electrical work is finished, light fixtures, outlets, and switches are hooked up.

These features can be customized to match your personal style, but you can also opt for plain white ones and upgrade down the road if you choose.

Step 29: Countertops and appliances are installed in the kitchen

Countertops and appliances are the next things to go in. There are a variety of countertops you can choose from, but the most popular include:

Tile is installed in the kitchen, one of the steps to building a house.
(Source: Charles Deluvio / Unsplash)

Step 30: Bathroom fixtures are installed

Bathroom fixtures such as faucets, showerheads, toilets, heat register covers, and other features are added during this phase.

Step 31: Mirrors are hung

Along with bathroom fixtures, mirrors are hung in the bathroom and other spaces, including walk-in closets, bedrooms, and workout rooms (if in a custom home).

Step 32: Landscaping and hardscaping is completed

You took so much care into what goes in the house; you can’t forget about the exterior!

A professional landscaper can come in and lay down sod, plant trees, or flowers. They’ll install walkways, build decks or patios, create garden walls, and so much more.

This is your chance to make your yard an oasis that leaves your neighbors green with envy!

Step 33: Final home inspection

The final home inspection is where a home inspector looks over everything.

They’ll double-check the plumbing, electrical, and HVAC systems. They’ll inspect doors, windows, the foundation, the roof, and more. If the structure passes the inspection, they’ll give you a certificate of occupancy, which means it’s inhabitable and safe to live in.

If there are any issues, another inspection may be required after those problems have been fixed.

Step 34: Final walkthrough

The final walkthrough is your opportunity to go through the house and make sure everything is as you requested.

You’ll want to pay close attention to the details and take note of anything that isn’t what you discussed or approved with your contractor. You’ll also want to look for any signs of damage that may have occurred during the final stages of construction, such as gouges in countertops, dented or scratched appliances, deep scratches on the hardwood floors, or damaged walls.

Step 35: Closing

If everything passes inspection and you don’t find any problems that need to be addressed during the final walkthrough, you can begin the closing process on the home. Hurray!

The framework of a new home, which is one of many steps to building a new house.
(Source: Avel Chuklanov / Unsplash)

Don’t be overwhelmed by the steps to build a house

The average homebuyer looks at at least 10 houses in 10 weeks before submitting an offer on a house. There are times when they can’t find a house they want to buy and they’ll go with a new build. Why, new construction homes are in such high demand that authorization for new residential construction building permits increased by 30.2% from March 2020 to March 2021. Within that same time frame, 1,739,000 homes began construction, and 1,580,000 houses were completed.

If you decide that new construction is right for you, but you’re uncertain about what type of new build you’d like to go with, look at your budget and try to decide the level of customization you want and how much house your budget will allow for.

“You can go to a tract home and get a lot more square footage for the money than you could with a custom build. It’s a cookie-cutter home, and the quality may not be as good as a custom build, but building custom is harder today because the price of materials has skyrocketed,” Wing advises.

If customization isn’t high on your list, a tract home or spec home is a great option. However, if you want a house that reflects your personality from the moment you sign the closing papers, then a custom home is the way to go!

Header Image Source: (Jens Behrmann / Unsplash)