With all of the incredible DIY projects populating the blogosphere, it’s easy to imagine practically anything becoming a project.
But an entire DIY house?
It probably sounds a bit like overkill, but it’s exactly what our family set out to do a little over three years ago (and is still doing today in many ways).
If you didn’t believe that we did practically every bit of it ourselves, I wouldn’t blame you. I live in my house (thank goodness!), and sometimes I walk in, look around, and can hardly believe that we (and by we, I mostly mean my amazing husband with help from his dad) built…
…this house (and the fence and the pergola, and the walkway, and…well, you get the idea).
A few months before we got married 6+ years ago, we bought an 1,800 sq. ft. house in a rural subdivision. It was cute and situated on over an acre of land—the perfect starter-home…for us, anyway. We spent the next three years doing the usual newlywed sprucing—decorating, gazebo-building, greenhouse-constructing. Okay, maybe those last two aren’t the usual, but apparently, we were just getting warmed up.
By the end of that three years, we had two little boys, and we knew we wanted more kids someday. We also loved the idea of space and lots of it. So, when we found a beautiful 28-acre piece of land about 5 miles down the road, we bought it, intending to sell our house and build on the new piece of land…some day. In the meantime, my husband and father-in-law built a barn so we wouldn’t have to rent storage when we did move. (The wall-raising day happened to coincide with a raging storm, complete with gale-force winds. As I’m sure you can imagine, getting the walls up was a bit of a challenge; I seem to remember something about the wind blowing one down).
I ♥ our green barn! (This picture was taken right after we built it over two years ago; obviously we managed to get the walls back up).
When we put our house on the market, it sold in one month!
So, we packed up and moved into the second story of my parents’ home, complete with a full kitchen, a washer/dryer combo, and two bathrooms (yeah, we were roughin’ it).
We decided to draw up our own blueprints and quickly discovered that what we wanted was a custom house without having to pay custom prices. To achieve that, we spent most of our waking hours over the next year planning, scouring the clearance aisles at Lowe’s for deals and haunting local bargain surplus stores, sourcing contractors for the few tasks that simply weren’t worth taking on ourselves, and then…what else?
Oh yeah. Building the house.
Here’s what we started with:
Not daunting at all, right?
And after a lot of clearing:
Better…but still an insane amount of work to do.
Not too much later (my husband says that framing is the fastest and most fun part of building), we had this:
And then this:
And finally this:
So, how did we manage it? Especially with two children under two and the need for my husband to continue working to provide income to live on and, well, pay for the house?
Have you heard the, “How do you eat an elephant,” dilemma?
If so, then you know the answer is, “One bite at at time.”
And that’s about right.
Bit by bit, day by day, we kept at it until, lo and behold, a house emerged. If that sounds too easy, let me assure you that easy was the last thing it was. But it was doable.
We kept constant task-lists running:
Shaun—frame up house
Abbie—find lighting that’s cheap but not cheaply made
Shaun—put roof on
Abbie—hold down the fort at home
Shaun—run electrical and plumbing
Abbie—paint everything in sight
(Aren’t we talented list-makers?)
So, what all did we do ourselves? Well, it would probably be easier to list what we didn’t do. So, here goes.
We did not:
Do all (most but not all) of the clearing/dirt-work
Pour the slab (although Shaun did set the forms)
Install the A/C
Build/install the kitchen cabinets
Paint the exterior
Blow in the insulation
- Do all of the dry-wall/texture
Everything else—from tiling to wood-floors, from spackling to painting, from electrical to plumbing, from framing to trim, from stair-building to crown-molding, window-installation, tub-installation, can-light-installation—you name it, we did it.
And several of the things we didn’t do ourselves, we bartered services for. My husband is a talented computer programmer and web designer, and we got a deep discount on both our A/C units and our kitchen cabinets because we found top-notch craftsmen who needed websites built for them and were willing to exchange a portion of their fees for a custom site.
Here’s a shot of my uniform for the better part of six months:
No make-up—check. Dew-rag to hide greasy hair—check. Paint-stained top—check. (I think I’m making microwaveable brownies here since the microwave was our only appliance with electricity at this point. Mm mmm, good).
One of many late night “painting parties.” What a supportive husband I have. : )
The day our walnut butcher-block (part of the cabinet barter) arrived, I think I did cartwheels around the kitchen!
And here’s what the kitchen looks like in its (almost) finished form:
I did a post on the entire kitchen reveal if you’re interested in seeing more details (including how we managed to score our entire kitchen appliance suite for $1,300).
And here is a collage of shots from some of my favorite (mostly finished…really, when is a room ever completely done?) rooms in the house.
I’ve done posts on all of these rooms as well if you want the deets.
So, what did I learn from our year-in-building experience?
1) Sleep isn’t nearly as essential as you think it is if there is an end in sight. What is essential is being slightly crazy (the sleep-deprivation helps with that).
2) Having an incredibly gifted husband who can work magic with a hammer or a keyboard in his hands is…I won’t say a necessity…but an invaluable bonus.
3) Building a big two-story “box” house (with small little variations like the bay-style windows in the breakfast nook) saves money both in construction costs and heating and cooling.
4) Lowe’s managers who are motivated to move their inventory are absolute godsends (I did an entire post on what I call “retail haggling,” in which I describe my methods for getting name-brand items like light fixtures and faucets and toilets—oh my!—for next-to-nothing).
5) Giving up one year of your life to own your dream-house free-and-clear at the ripe old age of 26 (29 for him) is sooooooo worth it!
Here we all are enjoying our front porch last Easter (that cute little girl is the latest addition to our family). I had to prove that I actually do wear something other than my painter’s clothes every now and then!
Now, if you’re like me, you’re probably dying to know numbers. So, here they are:
Our house is approximately 2,800 square feet and features many nice touches such as hardwood floors, crown molding, custom cabinets, name-brand appliances and bathroom fixtures, built-in shelving, a walk-in pantry and master closet, and much more…and the entire thing (minus home décor and outdoor improvements) ran us about $100,000.
Of course, that doesn’t factor in the effort and hassle of doing everything yourself, but the satisfaction of a job well done and beaucoups of money saved more than makes up for it.
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