I need an itemized list of all the steps of building a house.
October 11, 2015 9:48 PM   Subscribe

We're finally building a house! As owner-builders, we need to communicate with contractors about the scope of the work for which we are requesting estimates. We know generally what we want, but need the language for communicating with folks in the trade.

We know the rough outline:

- Get temporary utilities on site
- Excavate foundation
- Survey for precise building corners*
- Pour foundation*
- Framing*
- Roofing*
- Sheathing (Tyvek or similar)*
- Exterior siding
- Plumbing & Electrical*
- Insulation
- Sheetrock
- Interior Fixtures

But from the contractors I've talked to, I get the impression there's more granularity in the process, and if we can be more specific it will help them make clear estimates.

Our goal is to have experts do the foundation pour, framing, roofing, sheathing, plumbing, and electrical work (the items marked with *). We would like to do the rest, and have found a contractor who will assist us when we need help with the details.

What's missing from this list? What is in the wrong order? Which things can be done in a simple sequence, and which need to be carefully coordinated?
posted by sibilatorix to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Well, for one thing, you've left out the floors entirely.
posted by contraption at 10:36 PM on October 11, 2015

You're missing doors and windows, heating and other pipefitting (furnace & ductwork/radiant, water heater etc.), fireproofing, paving (driveway?), landscaping, flooring, exterior and interior trims, finish carpentry, tilework in bathrooms/kitchen, painting, off the top of my head.
posted by halogen at 10:39 PM on October 11, 2015

You might want to consider adding some soil testing to ensure that the foundation doesn't shift later. Compact the soil anyway.

Assuming it rains where you are...

After you excavate make sure the property drains away from the house. Waterproof/damproof the foundation - a dry basement is a happy basement. Add a rainwater runoff system.

Check your area for Radon gas you might need to vent your foundation.

Do your site survey first.
posted by Zedcaster at 10:44 PM on October 11, 2015

You might already know this, but you'll have to do many other things that cost money, like setting up fencing/other barricades, providing a dumpster, port-a-potties for labor, securing insurance, getting permits etc. if you don't hire a GC.
posted by halogen at 10:44 PM on October 11, 2015

Some links:
Soil problems for foundations. Geotechnical engineers are the go-to experts.

One example of foundation waterproofing. This is done by a drainage contractor typically.
posted by Zedcaster at 10:56 PM on October 11, 2015

The search term I used was scope of work build house. If you have the land already, visit the town's permit office. Lowe's/ Home Depot might have some information.
posted by theora55 at 10:57 PM on October 11, 2015

Also, make sure you know who exactly will do "little" but crucial things like caulking, flashing, etc. since they often touch the work of more than one trade.

If you're not already in construction, make sure you budget for the many tools you will need and have a place to safely store them at night. Also account for maintenance and consumables (you can easily go through several expensive blades and drill bits depending on your decking material, etc. --I'm looking at you, ipe).
posted by halogen at 11:14 PM on October 11, 2015

Oh. I missed one. Don't forget that the foundation will also require rebar (you will need a supplier and an installer) in addition to formwork, concrete placement, and finishing. Account for scaffolding if you're doing your own siding and the house is tall.
posted by halogen at 11:22 PM on October 11, 2015

Acting as your own general contractor is quite time consuming. If you really have a lot of questions, maybe you should hire a GC this time, learn the 'ropes', and act as your own GC next time.
Failing to keep subcontractors properly scheduled is expensive. They are paid whether you have the structure ready for their trade or not.
Another thought: An experienced GC knows the tradesmen and their work habits.
posted by Cranberry at 11:22 PM on October 11, 2015

Those above have a good list started. Partially repeating but off the top of my own head:

- plans drawn up
- zoning arrivals and building permits
- permanent utility hookups (e.g., secure the permits and then get tapped into city water / septic../ etc..)
- waterproofing the foundation (one of those nuances you should figure out -- do you need a sump pump?)
- exterior windows and doors + door hardware
- painting
- cabinets
- stove hood and venting
- countertops (will you be cutting the sink hole in the granite?)
- finish plumbing (e.g., installing sinks and tubs)
- finish electrical (e.g., wiring outlets - don't forget exterior lighting)
- flooring (tile + wood + carpet?)
- finish carpentry (e.g., install doors and floor trim)

The best tool for getting a solid bid and getting the trades to work together well is a nice set of plans drawn up in as much detail as possible. It should have the info on the materials and quantities that subs will need to bid the job. It will save you far more than it costs. Minor example: our plumber put the tub drain in one location, but the only tub that fit our opening had its drain hole somewhere else -- we had to redo that.
posted by slidell at 1:07 AM on October 12, 2015

One thing that might help is figuring out at which points you will need inspections -- that will give you a version of a critical path to follow through the process, because until you get a sign-off by the inspector at one point, you can't go on to the next step in the process.

You are also going to need to decide if you are going to separately contract out all of the above starred steps, or lump them into fewer contracts (like framing plus sheathing plus roofing, say).
posted by Dip Flash at 3:32 AM on October 12, 2015

There is a lot that a DIYer can miss when it comes to proper installation of vapor barriers and insulation. The DIYer who built my house left out or messed up: perimeter joist insulation; sealing the backs of attic kneewalls (if you can see the pink stuff there, it's useless); installing draft blocks in joist spaces below kneewalls, and also at the eave ends of all joist spaces; proper insulation below radiant heating coils (that reflective foil stuff is useless) and proper attachment of heating coils to subfloor. All of these are at the more "granular" level you mentioned, but they're critical if you want to have an energy-efficient house. Even many contractors are not aware of the finer points. Fixing all this (to the extent possible) cost me around $3,000 but now saves around $500 per year in fuel cost.
posted by beagle at 4:44 AM on October 12, 2015

An indirect answer, but you might want to consider taking a class at a local adult-ed or similar venue on being your own GC. They are (at least, in my experience) not uncommon topics in many areas. There are some weekend courses aimed specifically at people who are building their own houses that have always struck me as probably useful if you're going down that road.

Your profile doesn't list a location but if you want to share it, people might even be able to give you specific suggestions.

Many things are going to be region and locality-specific so I'd be cautious taking general advice or trying to make a checklist from the Internet as a whole. (E.g. the requirements for septic permits vary wildly even within the same state in the US, from virtually no rules to requiring a engineering study that would make you think you're digging a coal mine.) You really want to get firsthand knowledge from someone in your area.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:19 AM on October 12, 2015

An indirect answer, but you might want to consider taking a class at a local adult-ed or similar venue on being your own GC.

I work for my family's GC business. My father has a great story about a young couple showing up with a checklist after having taken one of these types of courses. They still didn't know what they were talking about. He likened it to someone taking a two-hour "law" course and trying to act as their own legal counsel. We are really good at this because we do it for a living and it's a skillset that has been built over decades, not hours.

Dip Flash already mentioned this, but it's important to reiterate. In our municipality, there are scores of inspections required at various stages of the build. Our superintendent knows when and why he needs to call. Again, years of experience.

Building a house is a stressful enough process when you have a competent contractor who knows exactly what they're doing. There are so many surprises and roadblocks along the way. Also, who is going to make sure all of the trades are following the various OHS acts and regulations regarding working at heights, confined spaces, etc? In our area, these things are mandated by law and having untrained personnel on a work site is a terrible accident waiting to happen. Our customers are generally unaware of many, if not all, of these things. I know these things because it's my job to know them.

We also don't hire any subcontractor who doesn't have worker's compensation insurance (different system here in Canada, but still). I vet all of these people. Do you have time to do that? Don't forget that your own time is valuable too, and what takes you days to figure out may only take us a few minutes.
posted by futureisunwritten at 8:45 AM on October 12, 2015 [9 favorites]

The list of things you'll have others do, doesn't include drywall and insulation. Those are two sub jobs that I found were actually worth paying someone else to do.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:38 AM on October 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

- Sheathing (Tyvek or similar)

You honestly seem a little unprepared for this task.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:39 AM on October 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

We just sort of owner-built our house. (Sort of because we had a GC build up until the "shell" finished.) We ran into a lot of unexpected issues even though my husband has construction experience. So looking at your list, I would either be prepared to double or triple the cost/time estimates because of complications OR hire a GC to do the whole thing.

Our lot already had utilities, so the process looked like this:

- Get architect drawing/plans
- Get permit
- Survey
- Excavate, for foundation and for drainage
- Install French drains and also plan for other drainage you might need
- Pour foundation (which is actually two steps, also required a bit of plumbing at this step)
- Framing
- Roofing
- Install gutters
- Sheathing
- Install windows and doors
- Install garage door
- Siding
- Install outside trim
- Rough electrical
- Rough plumbing (and they poked a vent hole through the roof without letting us know, and we had to climb onto the roof to install the flashing ourselves)
- Rough natural gas
- Get city to hook up natural gas
- Install heat pump pipes in wall
- Install radiant floor heating (with pouring self leveling concrete)
- Insulation
- Drywall (which I would highly encourage that you hire out)
- Install heat pump
- Painting
- Flooring
- Trim/baseboard
- Paint trim/baseboard
- Kitchen cabinets/counter
- Finish electrical (actual light fixtures, outlet covers, etc)
- Finish plumbing (fixtures, hooking things up, toilet, bathtub, tiling the tub surround, kitchen sink, etc)
- Caulking
- Install kitchen appliances
- Paint outside (siding and trim)
- Lay driveway
- Landscaping

We're actually not quite done yet. We have yet to finish installing trim/baseboard and we have temporary kitchen cabinets. And of course this doesn't include the NUMEROUS days you have to stay home in order to get inspection. I would expect on average 1-2 inspections PER step.
posted by ethidda at 11:09 AM on October 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Do you have drawings? Most of the items that are missing from your list are going to be shown on drawings, so you'd do best to get your drawings sorted and then pick the items that need doing off the list.

Just looking at the list for the parts that you are going to contract out and related, you are missing:

Sub-slab and basement wall insulation (or as appropriate for your design)
Foundation drainage and sealing.
Radon mitigation as required.
Sheathing (as in OSB or plywood) or shear panels as required, this comes after framing, but before roofing.

This assumes you are doing a basement or crawl space. If you are doing a slab on grade, you will need your plumber and electrician on site before the slab is poured.

If you are going to do the exterior siding, you might as well do the house wrap (Tyvek) yourself. It is not highly skilled work. Just make sure you get the details right around the ROs.
posted by ssg at 1:02 PM on October 12, 2015

Since sheathing and Tyvek are not at all the same thing, I'm less than optimistic about this proposal. You seem... underprepared for this. If you can't figure this part out, how are you planning to figure out all the technical installation details of your waterproofing, or know when (or who) to call for inspections? That's just a couple examples of the things that you'll need to deal with if you try to be the GC... I understand your enthusiasm but really think you're underestimating this task. There's a reason the site supers tend to be grizzled old guys. It takes decades to really become an expert in all the things you can screw up building a house.

As an example, consider that if you mess up your vapor barriers, you're going to have walls full of mold after your first heating season. How confident are you that you're not going to make this mistake?
posted by annie o at 9:37 PM on October 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

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