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Ask HN: Have you built a house?
356 points by gonvaled 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 220 comments
I am toying with the idea of building a house, as autonomously as possible. I am thinking about a massive, concrete house. with basement, ground floor and upper floor.

Has somebody here experience in this area? Any useful pointers?




I've built a house, in the sense that I was working as the general contractor and hiring out crews and tradespeople to do the actual work. My involvement differed anywhere between hire-a-crew and pay them when they are done down to doing certain things myself 100%.

A few takeaways:

- Things seem simple from the outside, before you do them for the first time. They are in actuality quite complicated. Even something as straightforward as painting a wall will be hard when you are doing it for the first time. You will make mistakes if you do it yourself. Try to do it yourself only in areas where you can tolerate such mistakes.

- The more project management experience you have, the better off you will be.

- Keep things simple. If you are trying to do things non-traditionally, you are not only attempting a non-trivial task for the first time, but will also have limited or no resources to lean on when questions or problems arise. Walk first, then run. If this is your first house AND you are trying to build it autonomously, you are trying to do two things you have little experience with. Consider building your first house using traditional methods. Try to automate it when you build your 5th house.

- Why a concrete house? How will you insulate it? Do you have enough funds to do it this way?

- Learn as much as you can before you even buy a plot of land. Read about foundations, building materials, roofing, windows, exterior doors, interior doors, wood flooring, tile flooring, concrete flooring, flooring in general, wall tiles, plaster, drywall, painting, insulation, plumbing, electrical work, stairs, waterproofing basements, ground settlement, building codes, gas installation, pest-proofing, garden planning, driveways, carpentry, weatherproofing, heating, cooling, ventilation, sewers, patios, exterior finishing, fences, gates, garage doors, how heavy a truck full of cement is and whether they can access your property on the type of road that is present, liability insurance, permits, weather forecasts and what things can be done in what type of weather, dumpsters & garbage disposal, portapotties, area maps to see what is planning in your neighborhood, earthquake considerations, flooding considerations, wind and snow loads, glass & mirror installations, safes, interior and exterior lighting, and particularities of hiring crews.


> - Things seem simple from the outside, before you do them for the first time. They are in actuality quite complicated. Even something as straightforward as painting a wall will be hard when you are doing it for the first time. You will make mistakes if you do it yourself. Try to do it yourself only in areas where you can tolerate such mistakes.

I'm not a home-builder but I am a home-owner. Let me add that any work you do yourself the flaws will be about 10 times as noticeable and annoying to you as if you'd hired someone to do the work and it had the exact same flaws.


I think that depends on personality maybe? I'd rather live with sloppy work I'm proud I did myself than to think I hired somebody and they delivered a bad job.


I think his point was that you don't look as closely to the works others people do than the works that you do. Sure if you know there's flaws on both and they are identical, I agree with you, I would rather it be from myself, but I would most probably not takes as much attention at the works others people do than on mine.


I think that's a property of having experience doing something, rather than of having done that particular instance of it.

For example: I re-did some grouting in my bathroom, and only after that started to notice the imperfections in other areas not by me. Bits of tile I'd seen everyday for a years, that only after I had experience grouting I realised had grout smeared over them and let to dry.


Right, once you do a job you never look at it the same. By hiring it out you never know the details. The same quality of work might look better to you if you didn't do it, but it may be more satisfying if you do.


Also depends on how much money you saved. A bad job for $200 is not as big of a deal as a mediocre job for $2k.


Attn people trying to sell their homes, this is why we don't buy them- because we saw you decided to do the bathroom yourself and you're an idiot


Well, it's true that homeowners sometimes bite off more than they can chew, but that's not really what I'm talking about. Even if you do a great job, the minor imperfections are going to be very noticeable to you. Whoever did the staircase in my house splashed woodstain on the white paint parts (it's got white for the front of the steps and natural wood on top) and I never even noticed until I did basically the same thing to the side of the house staining the deck.

Also, if your house is in the right area people will buy anything.


As someone who has done some home renovation projects, this is so true. For example, if you mess up a grout line when you tile, your eyes will be drawn to it every time you see it.


I assembled my bed before two days and the panel covering the hydraulics is bit off angle because of my mistake. It still bothers me every 5 minutes @-@


Your... bed has hydraulics?


Beds with storage under matress can have hydraulic parts (sorry, don't know how they're called exactly) to help lift the matress. Example:

https://www.ikea.com/pl/pl/catalog/products/80404078/



this just came to my mind https://i.gifer.com/B514.gif xD


Ottoman


Waterbed?


And, you will start to notice those flaws weeks-to-years after having completed the work. E.g. after something fails, or a flaw comes up.


Did you spout that last paragraph off the top of your head? That is a staggering bullet list that I suspect has several layers of unwritten sub-bullets. I have a whole new respect for home builders.


It's really crazy how much there is that you don't think about up front if you've never built a house.

My first build (this summer) was a playhouse for the kids, 8 square meters single story. I built it mostly like you would a real house, omitting a few details (like insulation between inner and outer walls, since it's not heated anyway). I ended up with a budget overrun of 40% and spent close to twice the number of hours I estimated up front. It turned out really nice though.

If you're thinking about building a house, I would definitely recommend doing a playhouse or a shed first.


I just finished pressure-washing and painting a deck for some friends. Simple, right?

I estimated 20 hours, with another 4-8 of uncertainty. The job took 43 hours. So >100% overrun on my best-case estimate, >50% over my worst-case. If you don't have experience, it isn't just estimating the time that's hard, it's hard to estimate the uncertainty too. And I'd done a couple of decks before, just never any with as much railing or a second story.

I nth everybody else's suggestion to take on a couple simpler projects first. If you've never painted, paint something non-trivial. Then build a playhouse.


>budget overrun of 40% and spent close to twice the number of hours I estimated up front

Sounds typical for construction.


Needed more practice in construction estimating, which is yet another discipline that you wouldn’t immediately think of when someone says “build a house.”


A friend of a friend runs a pipeline construction company (think the people that would actually build Keystone XL or the likes) and he has a team of estimators that run all the numbers on a given project and come up with a budget. He then double checks their numbers by chartering a helicopter and flying the route with an an old construction foreman, who basically eyeballs the thing and and does some mental math. Apparently it was uncanny how often the two estimates were within 10% of each other, but that the old guy eyeballing the thing had saved him on a number of occasions by recognizing issues/costs that the estimators had missed...


After spending his entire career in construction, one of the last jobs my dad had before retiring was in preparing bids for proposals. The company wanted people with lots of experience in the bidding process. Not just on-budget, on-schedule, but people that had been through over-budget, behind-schedule so that they knew what to be aware of as potential pit falls.


When I was in college one of the big promises of BIM was "we'll have information rich models that will make estimating easier and more accurate!"

I'm not directly involved in that process in-industry (ended up in light fixture manufacturing), but my impression is that BIM models are usually good enough to kick out a set of drawings, but you wouldn't want to count on any information that you pull out of it electronically being accurate.

So you still have "contractor to verify quantity" notes on everything, and presumably someone going through the drawing figuring out how many "Type F 2x4' troffers" and how many faucets and how many of every other little detail that will take money or time.

It's a pretty intensive process, but given the amounts of money at stake if you screw it up, hugely important to get right.


or for software development :)


Software development is more like - couple hundred percent over spec in time and cost, code base is a mess, almost nobody uses it and finally, after a couple of years, management changes and the new mgmt calls a spade a spade and terminates the project.

At least that's often the case in huge organizations trying to do crazily ambitious projects (esp. given their general incompetence). I tend to consult on such shitstorms because it pays well. The scars are for life though...


that's is way I started with a dog house before even building a shed.


I looked around my house and tried to remember the decisions I needed to make along the way. Some things did not apply, like seismic considerations.

Once you've built a house, you realize that every single little thing you see, and every thing you don't see because it is covered, involved a decision about technology, materials, crew, method, minor adjustments, and sometimes fixups. I mean, EVERY ONE. Each square inch. It did not get there by accident.

As for the list, the good news is that most of the knowledge and experience came from others. For most of those things, I just needed to find our enough about it to know whom to turn to, or to make a decision to NOT to do it because it involved more costs and complications (i.e. basement).


You can build an app that allows you to post 140 character messages on a feed in a couple of hours of work. Building Twitter took years, countless man-hours, and a mind-boggling amount of money.

What kind of house do you want to build?


if we knew or cared about anything like that almost 3 decades ago when we were building houses in Siberia as summer student jobs i don't think we'd have been able to build anything :) (just out of curiosity checked couple years ago using satellite photos - the houses are still there :) Though right now i'm very happy knowing that my townhouse meets all the CA tough building codes :)


I am curious. Which points of that list didn't you consider in any way and at anytime - except for specific features of the land that would force you to take into account the possibility of earthquakes or flood - while building the house ?


One of those neglected sub-bullets is initial cleaning - the last stage.

I'm an initial cleaner, a type of cleaning that takes place for new buildings.

We use a host of specialized tools and techniques, here is one tip on glass. Typically removing concrete, paint, plastic, plaster, caulk from it.

Most cleaners and builders use Stanley blades and score lovely scratches all over your expensive windows - today can be 15% of materials costs. When the sun rises you'll want to cry. The more modern or expensive your window the more surely it shall be damaged.

There are three options. 1.2 mostly works on older glass types, usually not to be used on toughened glass or low e-glass and never interior door glass or veluxes.

1.1 Protect the glass using plastic and tape. 1.2 Use this with a water soaked applicator https://www.homedepot.com/p/Unger-14-in-Window-Scrubber-with... https://www.ungerglobal.com/en/trim-10-1 1.2.1 Use plastic blades 1.3 Use applicator then red pad (special grit of buffing pad that won't harm glass) and a cream abrasive.

https://www.3m.com/3M/en_US/company-us/all-3m-products/~/3M-...

http://www.cifclean.co.uk/product/category/971337/creams

The construction trades are filled with a zoo of techniques that individually seem obvious - which must be why few doing DIY do it the right way ever. I subscribe to Fine Homebuilding and read their articles because I know I can't wing it on everything when I self-build - even caulking is a specialization, and few professionals seem to know how to airseal or fully flash a building.

Engineers should be aware that building has one of the lowest rates of automation. The main difference between builders today and builders half a century ago is pneumatic tools. When you think of it - all house are built by hand, and the factory built housing paradigm has tried to get off the ground and failed dozens of times, prefabs aren't much more common than they were centuries ago.

You won't automate the construction of your house and profit (the important bit - or it means you invented a kind of toy) without a giant breakthrough in AI. The nearest you'd get to automating a process and profiting from it will be gang cutting studs with a circular saw.


+1 to everything here, and want to emphasize permitting/zoning since it's buried in the bullet list. For example, even if you have the knowledge and skill to do your own plumbing, in most places you cannot just do your own plumbing (legally).

I am building a house for the first time (hired a GC, but making the infinite number of decisions involved and writing the checks) - I went in knowing it would be more work and more expensive than I was planning, and it was even more work and even more expensive than that still.


I'm thinking about dipping my toes into this world by building a shed. As David Lynch said:

"Whenever you can build a shed, you've got it made"

"I'm a shed builder. If I was just left alone, I would build sheds. I would plan them at Bob's Big Boy Coffee Shop, and I would become very excited with these coffees and a chocolate shake. So, when I left Bob's, I would be racing home with plans for certain parts of a shed, right? Then, I would find the right kind of wood and I would start cutting them up with my power saw, nailing it, fitting it and working it. And I would be almost in heaven with happiness"

http://www.thecityofabsurdity.com/quotecollection/sheds.html


I just finished building a shed and put my build on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LaN1hnR7pSk


Whoa. Now that’s a shed!


Awesome!


I started building a shed this winter: https://photos.app.goo.gl/cMVk5TpIdQ0x0WvZ2

I'd say it's an excellent way to get a feel for what it takes to build a home. There are a TON of details, especially if you don't want it to rot.

If you intend to heat it in the winter, be sure to consider the effects of condensation. I made the mistake of building my first shed without proper ventilation, and it was like indoor rain when I turned on a space heater. For my second, more permanent shed I've followed building codes for real homes to avoid making any more big mistakes like that.


I built a shed. https://imgur.com/a/MHm6gpc

It was fun! Like a "hello world" for human habitats.


Very cool!


I'm building a kids playhouse at the moment and I feel the exact same way. I'm in here working at the computer just enough that I can bail to the backyard for the day and cut timber.


+1 to this post by koliber. Only thing I would add is to plan as detailed as you can everything beforehand. Draw it up, visualize it. What sort of hinges on doors, how will the cabinets swing, etc. etc. Before you even start building a wall you have to decide how wide you want the trim around the doorway as you'll want the light switch just that far from the door and you'll want a 2x4 there with electrical. So there are a lot of cascading intertwined non-obvious decisions and it is remarkably expensive to refactor a house partway through construction.


Absolutely.

First, try to understand a process. Draw it. Imagine going through the process of building it. Draw it again. Look at your friend's house to see how it is different. Try to imagine how that one was built.

I have an interesting tale of how the patio door installer almost caused my kitchen countertops to be installed 2 inches lower. The story is a bit convoluted because many things are tied together in the house. You have levels for your foundations, sills, door bottoms, door tops, window tops, subfloors, and floors. Different layers have different widths. Wood flooring ends up being a certain width, and tile flooring another. If you want things to be flush when you're done, you need to plan everything meticulously, backwards, across months of time and different crews.

Moral of the story: pay attention to the levels of everything, across the house, all the time, in one place. Double-check this and verify all the time.


Are the software tools used to build a buildprint smart enough to take into account the local code, comfortable spacing/clearances, etc.? Is there a blueprint equivalent of lint?


Almost certainly not for local code. My experience is that building codes make the IRS tax codes look clear and concise. Often multiple conflicting rules apply and you're trying to hammer out some reasonable common sense with 2-3 different people in planning office one of which is almost certain to go on vacation while you're in permitting process. You'd be luck to get city plan reviewer, architect and contractor all in the same room for an extended discussion.

There are architectural programs that will render a 3d space to help with visualizations. Or any 3d drawing program like autocad can help as well.

Generally the linting is done manually when you ask for bids on your plans from contractors. If your plans are really poor they won't bid or they will come back with suggestions or prices that incentivize you to rethink things.


>Even something as straightforward as painting a wall will be hard when you are doing it for the first time.

Painting is one of the things I do myself, in part because it's something I do often enough that I more or less know the various gotchas, techniques, etc. It's also the case that, when redoing areas that were already painted which is most of what I do these days, I can take some very timesaving shortcuts that someone I hire can't. I can repaint a ceiling without bothering with meticulously masking all the edges and corners. If I don't repaint 100% of the area it probably doesn't matter unless things are in really bad shape.


I've never hired anybody to do interior paint, so I'm wondering: do pros ever actually tape a ceiling border? I've always just cut in by hand. I've found that it's usually high enough that any minor imperfections aren't noticeable.

The last time I did a wall or ceiling, the crown molding had been painted so many times, it would have been nigh impossible to tape it and get a satisfactory result. But I've been living in old places.

Are you in a newer place with fewer uneven spots to tape around?


> do pros ever actually tape a ceiling border?

Nope. They either use something that looks like a trowel, or freehand it.


I've never seen a pro use tape, unless they are spray painting. My guess is that it takes to long when you're probably being paid by the job not the hour.


Yes, and when you paint as much as they do they get good at it. I've seen a guy who's freehand looked better than what I can do with tape - and he was much faster.


I often get frustrated and resort to tape, but although it seems better while I'm doing it, I remove the tape and invariably discover that it's hard to (or at least, I'm bad at) taping straight.


I have seen a pro calk the edge, then it was easier to tape over it straight.


I do all my own DIY and I tape off everything.

Learnt that lesson the hardware, I do not have a steady hand.

Also if you go the tape route, buy trade tape (in the UK it's commonly known as Frog Tape (though that's a tradename there are generics), comes off without lifting paint, doesn't suffer from creep and is brightly coloured (green) so you can see it against the underlying wall.


>Are you in a newer place with fewer uneven spots to tape around?

Hah. 200 years old.

I've used masking tape when I've been making changes in color or it's been around new cabinetry, windows, etc. As I say, when I'm touching up, I'm usually pretty sloppy. No crown moulding.


Tape is good for perfectly symmetrical timber edges like door and window frames (tape the wood, not the wall).

For everything else it's way faster and neater to do by hand, but it takes a lot of practice to get right.


Nice list, this seems like one of those GitHub projects with a bunch of resources linked in the readme.


> Why a concrete house? How will you insulate it?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insulating_concrete_form

> Do you have enough funds to do it this way?

For basements they are cheaper than traditional ways, for above ground they cost more initially, but are cheaper longterm.


I'm thinking the point was to make the OP think about this question, not to given an answer to the comment.


Could you recommend resources for the topics you mention as good to learn?


My landlord's son-in-law was telling me about his adventures building a house. He seems very capable and takes on a general philosophy of "this is actually not that hard" which makes everything seem more accessible. He's been blogging about it at http://www.savingsustainably.com and you can see the whole process up until now (house is still under construction, I believe).


Thanks that's really useful!


If you look for the desired task on YouTube you will find a LOT of REALLY USEFUL resources ranging from 2 [1] minutes video to 30-minutes [2] long video with all necessary details.

In addition to the parent's advice, I would say for you to prototype/test the technique/task you are trying to accomplish before doing it in the actual part.

You will screw it up even the simpler tasks so make sure you screw up something that you don't care about before trying it in "production".

[1] - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=McH3Cha7dnk - 1 minute video on priming a wall

[2] - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETRU3AxYq0w - 15 minute video on the same topic


I moved to Poland and built a house there. I can recommend some Polish-language resources here. Where are you planning on building the house?


Ah, I'm not the op but I'd like to build a house some day, as of now Africa feels like a likely suspect.


Also don't forget considering permifrost and pumbling regulations. In the north that's an issue and we tend to burry pipes deeper.


If you have permafrost, there are many, many other issues to deal with. (I live in/near permafrost). I think what you are referring to is that in most areas, you are required to extend the foundations below frost depth.


Right. And even “small” things like deck footings need to use sonotubes or similar to get below the frost line. Otherwise one or two years of frost heaving will ruin that new deck.


Are we talking about software engineering or building? I've lost track.


A lot of stuff is blind hard the first time. Practical physics / material science is subtle. But if you're quant inclinde, you will get up to par fast.


Well stated. I did the same but self performed a large portion. Have someone who knows what they’re doing work with you to help you get started


Also, for the first time in a really long time, I actually had to use the pythagorean theorem! So brush up on trig as well :)


For near mythological geek cred you should use a Babylonian water level :)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_level_%28device%29


Was this for your own house? Or for someone elses? If the latter, how did you get into that business?


No, I have not built a house. However, I highly recommend you take a look at two books before you move earth.

The first is "House" by Tracy Kidder.

https://www.amazon.com/House-Tracy-Kidder/dp/0618001913

The second is "Renovation" by Michael Litchfield.

https://www.amazon.com/Renovation-4th-Completely-Revised-Upd...

The first book is a detailed, engrossing narrative about building an actual house (it exists). The second book is a renowned compendium of all things in home renovation.

As a quick commentary on your idea, go check out RSMean's cost estimations. It gives you a ballpark estimate of cost per square foot for, say, poured concrete with rebar. You are going to need rebar because concrete is brittle and it cannot carry tension. You are going to need steel framing because concrete floors are damn heavy. With wood, you can use much, much cheaper standard wood framing. Rebar is expensive because you need to be a metalworker to do it properly. It is likely you will not be able to do it DIY because of building codes. The rabbit hole goes on and on. Good luck with your research!

https://www.rsmeans.com/


If you prefer the video format over a book, Grand Designs (BBC, select seasons available on Netflix) is a series covering the build from nothing to completion of complex or unconventional building designs. Most of the time the episode covers how the build goes wrong.

There are certain themes across the variety of site locations and designs and backgrounds of the individuals building:

1) It costs more than expected

2) It takes longer than expected

3) Project managing it yourself is extremely difficult

4) Building it yourself is even more difficult


"House" by Tracy Kidder is such a fantastic book. Kidder does a great job pulling you into the story of the house and the folks involved with the process. My favorite scene (if I recall correctly) is one where the owner's father is on site one day and noticed the efforts the builders go to for seemingly unimportant pieces in the house (specifically around which piece of wood they chose for something that would be hidden). It reminds me of the stories about the internals for the first Apple machines.


House looks like a fantastic book!

Tracy Kidder is also the author of The Soul of a New Machine for which he won a Pulitzer. One of my all-time favorites.


I really enjoyed House because I bought a 200ish year-old fixer-upper about the time the book came out. I had read Soul of a New Machine and, in fact, joined Data General and knew many of the people in the book quite well.

Unfortunately, I looked at a couple of other Kidder books and, while I'm sure they were good, the subject matter just didn't grab me.


The OP's description also reminded me of "A place of my own" by michael pollan. It is a really inspirational tale of another amateur coming from a similar excited and childlike fascination.


The first is "House" by Tracy Kidder.

Shocked I hadn’t heard of this before. Ordered!


I have no affiliation with this YouTube channel, but here's a guy who does an entire in-depth series on how to build a house from scratch[0], from surveying the land, to getting permits, to pouring the foundation, and so on. Good way to spend a few hours on a weekend.

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mn4L_aJ1rV4&list=PLRZePj70B4...


Was going to link this same channel. Unfortunately they've barely started on the project. But the amount of knowledge he shares should be enough to cause anyone to think twice about jumping into something like this...


Somehow, I find him to be especially inspiring and encouraging of beginners - especially some of the early no-nonsense framing basics.

He shows the clear experience of a lifetime of craft, yet there's something about his persona that's so reflective of people starting out, and his early days. Humility can't hurt either.

As an aside, the ratings on his videos are unbelievable. On YouTube, in 2018, his videos frequently hit 99%-99.5% thumbs-up. I'm shocked that's even possible.


I came in to link this exact series. OP, if you are interested in building a concrete home, this guys videos on concrete should give you enough detail about all the things that can go sideways to dissuade you of that idea.


Essential Craftsman is incredible!


This is an incredible series. The guy's breadth of knowledge is amazing! Super interesting stuff.


I've worked most construction trades and built three houses that my wife and I designed. The devil is in the details. Some machine layering out concrete like a 3D printer is something I saw in Popular Science decades ago. I always wanted to see it happen. Even with a giant 3D printer, you'd have to have people there to lay conduits for plumbing, electrical, etc. The devil is in the details and most of those details are hidden from view. Out of sight, out of mind for most people. Once you do these jobs you realize there is so much that goes into a house.

Once a house is built in a way that is "out of the norm", you'll raise a few eyebrows from inspectors too. We had that issue and it was because it was a timber framed house like someone might have made 100+ years ago - no bolts, nails screws, metal brackets, etc. It was 100% put together with joints and pegs. The inspector only walked around with his jaw on the floor. We finally sat him down to show that we did our homework and followed engineering guidelines - but they weren't guidelines that he was familiar with.


I've lived in 7 different brand new houses within a relatively short time period. Brand new meaning I was the first person living there. Even different countries, contractors, etc.

The whole experience has made me quite strong-minded about a few things. And I've also converted to hardcore minimalism.

First, I've seen so many crazy bad construction jobs that whenever I buy a new house I'll try to buy something modular that has been premade in a factory. Here quality is much better thanks to construction (actually manufacturing) taking part in a controlled and standardized environment. Unless I have a lot of time, money and energy to devote to a custom project, and construction technology hasn't evolved much. Premade houses evoke park homes and cheap quality. However, things are moving forward very quickly and there are some concrete and steel designs around that seem the opposite of cheap quality to me. E.g. http://www.kodasema.com/

Second, for me the most important feature is that the house should be a healthy space. Few houses have continuous filtered air ventilation systems, and it makes a huge difference to avoid mould, CO and VOCs. It doesn't have to be something centralized and superfancy. You can have them per room. I'd also try to avoid living too close to major traffic routes, and unhealthy materials that will release tons of VOCs during the first months. Also room arrangement is key. Bedrooms that face E or SE and homeoffices that face SW definitely improve your mood, especially in you live in high latitudes. Having your kitchen and toilets a bit isolated is also important to avoid smells and noise if space is sufficient to do so.

Finally, I hate embedded junk. Like cheap veneer embedded kitchen furniture. It's expensive, and it deteriorates quickly. Furthermore, I have had problems with stuff hiding inside. Like insect pests and even trash left behind by contractors. I very much prefer to avoid embedded furniture unless you can afford very good quality. High-end kitchen stuff is actually fitted but not necessarily embedded. E.g. http://www.kochkoekken.dk


>Second, for me the most important feature is that the house should be a healthy space. Few houses have continuous filtered air ventilation systems, and it makes a huge difference to avoid mould, CO and VOCs. It doesn't have to be something centralized and superfancy. You can have them per room.

+1 for that, it is one of the most overlooked parts in modern building, in practice you cannot have a house Class C or higher (B ot A, let alone A+) without a valid air ventilation/renew system.

Particularly if you (and wife/partner/family) work full-time.

Once upon a time (and in tradditional houses that were thermal inefficient but much more permeable to vapour and had this or that form of natural ventilation) the wife (that stayed at home) would open all windows in the morning, undo the beds and put the linen to the air, once a week or so also pput matresses on windows sills, etc.

Nowadays the house (which is airtight in order to be energy efficient) is kept with all foors and windows closed at all times and this creates an amount of humidity (and conversely dew/mould) that is NOT healthy.


Koda is lovely, but expensive. Nothing wrong with that, but might be an obstacle for the value-seeking segment.

https://katus.eu/learn/news/koda-prefab-homes-2-years-later

and a related read:

https://katus.eu/learn/news/new-hype-airbnb-prefab-modules


You seem to be knowledgeable about the topic.

Any other, perhaps better value, options you may know about?

I know Arcelor EU has a really nice and relatively cheap prototype that is about to enter the market.


Hey,

Not a self build, but I have just completed the first phase of a renovation. For me the main struggles were getting it wind and water tight especially in a location with bad weather.

Renovation is a gamble, people have said it makes it easy and hard at the same time. Easy in that you have a clearer vision of what you want to do (fix up, restore etc), but harder in that you are constrained by whatever the existing structure is there e.g. (concrete weaknesses, old cladding, planning permissions).

I tried to tackle it pragmatically like a piece of software, I didn't want to get too far ahead of myself in case I ran out of money or something catastrophic happened.

It is interesting how building problems are similar to software problems. For example connecting two types of waste pipe from a sink and washing machine to an older specification of waste pipe, was just like solving an API integration issue (minus the tape and coupling I had to hack together)

Now that the place is wind and watertight, I can now focus on planning the internals over the winter period and then come back to the property next summer with energy.

Since my place was in a remote location, I had to factor in costs of transportation. Which looking back, ate about 10% of my total budget.

Tradesmen unreliability is another thing to factor in, which caused about 2 months total in delays.

In summary, my experience is no different to any other engineering project. I have been tempted to write up about it, however I am more focused about getting back to work as I am near enough broke now :)

Here's a photo of the end result - bearing in mind it didn't have a roof and all the windows were broken / smashed

https://pasteboard.co/HBisuqe.jpg

Feel free to ask any questions, I am from the UK so it might not be relevant in some cases.

Also check for "free" money; as in grants for insulation, solar panels etc.


Lucky man, what a wonderful place to be. Nice job you're doing there! Many years ago I bought a similar place on Skye to renovate, but had to pass it on as I went broke (unrelated to the renovation project). It was one of life's forks in the road, and we've somehow ended up in Santa Cruz California instead so I can't complain too much, but do miss those Hebridean feels.


Small world, this property is on the outer hebrides!


Note my response is NOT based on someone trying to build a wood framed house, rather it is based on someone who wants to build a massive concrete structure.

Permits and Permission. You need to understand very clearly where and what you are allowed to build. You can go bankrupt trying to develop the wrong land before a single bucket of dirt is ever moved. Neighbor lawsuits, land use restrictions, easements, building review, public notice, taxes, etc...

Of course this depends on where you want to build and if you are starting with a developed lot. An existing structure on a residential lot has crossed a lot of red tape, permits, reviews, and has underground and above ground utilities (if needed). Work with a real estate agent to find suitable lots, if you already have a lot time to visit your local building department. Get a property map, building code checklist, and a permit application paperwork. A local architect will be your next stop. Before you can go much further, you need a site plan and a survey to determine soil condition. You'll need a soil engineer to verify your site can support a massive concrete building without some exotic foundation so it won't sink (that much). Next you'll submit a draft permit to get approval and they will give you a ton more paper work or may reject it or require public review.

Finally you will need a hire a concrete building and engineering contractor. Post tension concrete and concrete buildings are a specialty. Everything needed to build a concrete structure requires experience and purpose built hardware which is seldom available to the public because it will fail if not installed correctly. Also a concrete contractor will give you your first real estimate of building costs and can identify the cost centers of your project. Never relay on an architects building estimate, they are not the ones doing the work.


I've worked 5 years in construction industry when I was younger, building houses from scratch among other things. Before that I've spent a lot of time in my father's workshop since I was like 5 years old, building things always came naturally to me.

Even though it's not impossible, I would not advise you to build "a massive, concrete house" all by yourself. In fact it wouldn't even be possible. Details may vary from country to country, but you will need surveys, architect drawings, all kinds of permissions, material estimates and million other things and that's before you even start building anything.

The building phase. Unlike in software there are a lot fewer "undos" in construction. If you end up screwing up the foundation the building might be condemned before you even put the roof on. So many things that can go wrong, I'd need a few days to make a list. You would need to think in advance about so many things it would make your head spin. Plumbing, electricity, insulation, etc. I could go on.


I have not built a house, but I have done enough renovations to know a few basic pointers:

* Buy extra materials than what you actually will need. If it's your first time doing a specific task, mistakes will happen, some will be costly, some, minor.

* Ensure you are building up to code. Make sure you read what your local residential building code specs are. Having things "not up to code" can be costly and fail inspections.

* Buying equipment over renting equipment: This is a personal preference, but I have exceeded the rental time limit and ended up paying more than to actually buy the actual equipment. This does not apply to all equipment. Preferably, it would be better if you know someone that owns the equipment. You won't have issues reselling used equipment.

* Don't be cheap on electrical wiring or water piping. Water or fire damage is obviously costly.

* Personal Tip: Consider space for a backyard and landscaping. Landscaping can be the best cost-to-return investment you can do in a property.

* Get a "contractor membership" at your hardware store of choice. You can end up saving some money with its discounts.

_Take my pointers with a grain of salt, this has been from personal experience and lessons learned the past 2 years._


Also a good idea to keep extra materials around for future repairs and modifications.


Also extra materials can usually be returned which saves a lot of time vs making yet another run to the store.


We rebuilt our house in downtown Reykjavik a couple of years ago. It was first built in 1897 and owned by the same family continuously into the 90’s. There wasn’t much in the way of modern technique or planning back then so when we stripped back the walls we found the frame and roof irreparable. That eventually turned out to be a blessing as rather than an extensive renovation we ended up replanning and building a much nicer version of the same basic footprint. It’s incredibly stressful to basically demolish most of your house before having to make that decision though!

We did a bunch of manual labour and finishing work. But used contractors for everything else. We did that mostly to get things done quickly as we didn’t have a stable place to stay, had a two year old and my wife was pregnant with our second.

Your project sounds quite different but I think the biggest takeaway I can offer is to have a large contingency in your budget. Particularly if you mean autonomous as in building with robots or some new technique. The second is to find good contractors we got very lucky with the people we hired. Reykjavik is going through a construction boom and it’s often the less reputable people that are free to work.

We’re pretty glad we did it now we can look back on the stressful memories. It’s definitely Type 2 fun.

Our next big project is to build a shed-cum-office in our garden for us to work from. Probably next summer. With less time pressure and an easier problem I’ll probably build that myself with help from family.


Autonomous in this context likely means "by myself," as not in automatic but in autocratic.


I did not build this, and it doesn't meet all your design criteria, but it's very interesting...

A couple of months ago, I visited a friend and her fiance at their home in the Colorado Rockies - way up in the mountains, not down on the front range. The architecture was very interesting, straightforward, and inexpensive. They simply cut a house-sized trench into the side of a mountain (about a 45 degree slope there), put a prefab quonset hut in the trench, and covered it with dirt/rocks. Then a poured concrete floor, and concrete-lined walls, and a brick facade with big airy windows. The interior was given a half-second story, and some rooms in the back.

Effectively, it's a cross between an A-frame cabin and a hobbit hole.

On the minus side, the back bedrooms have no windows/exits, and thus are not up to code as bedrooms. On the plus side, it's basically fireproof anyway (I'm sure it would survive even a forest fire). The other minus - or plus, depending - is that it's technically off grid, getting power from a generator and solar panels, and the only connectivity is satellite internet. This wouldn't be an issue in a more residential area.

Personally, I love this house. It's cozy, practically disappears into the gorgeous scenery, and was not difficult or expensive to build, even in the quite rugged terrain (almost a mile up a steep, switchbacked dirt road).


Sounds cool, but the fire concern is very real and not so much flames as it is being unable to escape the smoke.


True. But like I said, there's not a lot to burn... just furniture and the kitchen cabinets. Everything else is concrete and metal.

Of course, if there's a forest fire, you don't want to be on the mountain regardless.


People die in places like what you have described, and that's why there are codes against it. A bed or sofa on fire is enough to turn that place into a combination gas chamber and oven. Rooms need more than one egress for redundancy, since fire and smoke in another room may block your normal transit.


Modern furniture creates extremely toxic and hot fires. That's a pretty serious risk.


Our neighbors growing up had a house built into the side of a hill like that. It is warmer in the winter, and cooler in the summer. It really seemed to work well, if you don't mind part of the house not getting light. They put a ton of windows/skylights in the front to mitigate that.


While I haven't built a house, I have built a few smaller structures (3 astronomical observatories, several sheds and gazebos, decks). My main advice would be to give the permitting process a lot of attention before starting. You might be required (or better off) to design the whole thing before starting. To me, it seems easier to build and design in stages, like building the whole outer structure with only a rough idea about where everything else will go, then filling in the details when you get to that point. But each stage might require a new permit, since it wasn't mentioned in the previous one. And this can add a lot of time and delays into the project.


For someone interested in building a shed (or many sheds) would you recommend something smaller than 25'x20'. Is post and beam construction a poor choice too?


20' is wider than any shed I've built. Two of the observatories were wider and we used trusses on those. I am far from a structural engineer and mostly based my plans off of others'.


My family built our house. It was while I was in highschool. We did everything except pour the foundation, the septic system, and stuff required by a certified folks like some electrical work and building code stuff. Unless you’re building in an un-zoned area with no permits required you’re not going to be able to truly “build it yourself”. We had the benefit of having big equipment available due to our family business. Also received a lot of help from a few friends. Real bonding experience.

It is still one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, though it was tough at the time.

There is a lot we didn’t get right the first time, and had to fix in subsequent years. Nothing that affected livability.

To that point. Concrete is difficult to re-work. It’s not very sustainable either, if that is a concern of yours.

Our house is made of straw bales. (It’s a thing). We visited a bunch before building. But straw bale houses are a lot like concrete houses. Once built difficult to re-work. Great for insulation. Horrible to re-work. I would not suggest concrete, from that perspective.

Anything that can cause you legal trouble or that would be expensive to re-work, pay a professional. Otherwise, have fun. Do it. You’ll be glad you did.


> But straw bale houses are a lot like concrete houses. Once built difficult to re-work. Great for insulation. Horrible to re-work.

Environmentally-focused / permaculture types tend to like concrete floor + strawbale. It solves a lot of heating / cooling problems, but naturally the benefits there depend on the climate you're in and local costs of materials.

Anyway, to your point. Strawbale housing comes in two broad forms -- infill or load-bearing. Infill was the most popular way of doing this a few years ago, but seems to have lost favour (I don't know why). Load-bearing is definitely more difficult to modify, and that may be the variety you've got experience with. Infill is where you build a (say) structural metal pre-fab shed on a slab, and then tie down bales to embedded threaded bar in the floors to make the walls - filling gaps at the top with looser material. Non-trivial to change your mind later, but at least can be done without affecting the roof / infrastructure.


Yeah, load-bearing. With gunite (concrete) exterior. I guess my point was more to the OPs situation, that a concrete house would be difficult to re-work. Which matched my experience with our house.


Yup, I noted in a separate comment that re-work (or any kind of maintenance, let alone mind-changing) with concrete is a significant con, at least beyond the slab.

I'm likely to use in-fill, as load-bearing just seems too much effort, too time-constrained in terms of dealing with random weather events, and too difficult to effect subsequent design changes.

I'm assuming the gunite mixture allows some breathing? I thought concrete mixes were typically avoided for this reason -- most people I've heard of that do these (I'm in AU) use a natural mix, mostly clay-based, IIRC.


I've had a custom house built by a very well-respected GC in my region. Despite not doing any of the actual labor, I'm doing an incredible amount of work. Since it's a totally custom house, I spent all weekend for five or so months going to supplier offices to pick out materials, designing tile work & shelving, tweaking layouts, etc. Since the project has taken so long, I've had to deal with suppliers running out of materials and having to redesign a significant portion of the house. I even hired a professional designer to help with ordering and negotiating.

I'm at the house after every trade leaves to ensure things are done correctly. I've had to ask for dozens of things to be redone because it was just wrong. Doors were the wrong size (and installed anyway, despite having written on the door the correct size), the wrong color, outlets were missed, the stairs had to be moved (!!!), the tub was backwards, etc.

Additionally, even though it's a custom house, I already regret some design decisions, but it's impossible to fix them now.


I think it's time to reassess that "well-respected GC in my region" statement.


Not sure what you mean. He delivered a wonderful house for exactly the price he said it would be.

My point is, building a custom house is a lot of work, even when you're not the one swinging the hammer.


The not well-respected ones do a poor job that might look good from the outside, take your money and then disappear before you can sue them to get anything fixed.


I have built more than one, not personally/manually but I have been in the construction industry many (maybe too many) years and I could possibly be called a technologist in the field.

You won't be able to build a concrete house by yourself using "traditional" methods, if you were, you wouldn't be here asking how to do it (Catch 22), but there are more than a few techniques/building approaches that were actually designed for self-builders.

Talking of concrete houses, the "working" ones are those that combine insulation with formwork.

One example is the "Plastbau" building method, usig EPS as insulation/formwork/structure and another on is the "Isotex" one combining wood and EPS, a couple of videos on Youtube, JFYI:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ythSGowrNcw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGuP2jp51g0

There are of course many more similar methods, but the overall idea is the same.

Using these kind of elements a house can actually be built by two/three people without particular knowledge/experience in the field.

Another possibility - often used in self-construction - is to "build" the whole house in EPS (in this case the EPS is in the middle of the walls and the reinforcing bar is on the outside) and then call some specialists to spray concrete (shotcrete).

An example here:

https://www.mdue.it/en/emmedue-panels

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8juvDvSeYL8

Otherwise there is nothing particularly difficult in a concrete carpenter's job, but you need to learn those abilities.

And you will need a "supporting" technician, i.e. besides designing the house, do the calculations and whatever else needed to get a construction permit, the project needs to be made by someone that believes in the self-construction approach and that simplifies/adapt the design to the construction method chosen.


Volunteer for habitat for humanity — you’ll learn a lot , meet new people , contribute to poor persons life


That's a really good idea. You'll also likely meet local people with a lot of relevant experience, some who might be or point you to very good resources for this project. Only works if you are near-ish some HH builds I suppose.


I just built a "normal" wood house.

I have no experience with building concrete houses. Are they normal for your area, or are you trying to follow unusual construction techniques?

Something to keep in mind: If you're doing anything slightly unusual, you need to be very careful about who you work with. There are people who will ignore your request to do something a certain way and just do it the same way that it's been done in the last 20 houses they worked in.

Assuming a concrete house is unusual, you will have a very hard time finding a general contractor to build it. You will need to interview very carefully.

In my case, I couldn't hire the general contractor I wanted, because I ended up buying land that came with a general contractor. I like where I live, but he screwed up a few of my requests. (Hired the wrong sub to put in my heat pumps, didn't put switches where I asked for them, didn't bury my gutters even though the contract specified that they were supposed to be buried.)

Had I hired the guy I wanted, I'm sure he would have done everything I asked for... I just wouldn't have liked where I could buy land!


If a construction technique is unusual in a particular area, it's usually unusual for a good reason - cost or impracticality or both. For example, in Minneapolis where I live, every house has a basement; they're required by code. The reason is deep frost cycles in the winter. But in Houston, nobody has a basement. It'd just be flooded all the time, and there's no freeze cycle to worry about.

Standard house construction in any given area is a product of what works well and what is reasonably inexpensive. You can see this by era, too. Like my neighborhood is almost all 100 year old bungalows on basically the same floor plan. They were state of the art in 1913, dependent on the new technology of manufactured nails for their cheap 2x4 balloon frames, and stucco for the sturdy weatherproof exteriors. But they're also designed for hand tools and, um, inaccurate measurements. No reason to build that way in an era of power tools and prefab.


I agree, but what if you don't care about inexpensive? Seems pretty much everything available newish construction has been cost-optimized to absurd levels.

What if I want to build a European-style concrete or stone building, that will still be standing in 300 years? Not a throwaway structure that has a 50 year designed lifespan?

I was looking at new construction (or a full gut rehab of an older 1800's building) and it's just real hard to find any contractors even interested in the "quality" angle.


> If a construction technique is unusual in a particular area, it's usually unusual for a good reason - cost or impracticality or both

Or it's new technology. Concrete has a lot of heat mass, which means that it can be a way to build a lower-energy home.

In my case, heat pumps are new technology where I live. Also, some contractors just don't get it when you ask them to put a switch somewhere or an outlet at a particular location.


Back home I noticed contractors continue to only one or two electric plug sockets per room. This may have been fine 20 years ago but the number of electrical devices people have has really gone up. A plug socket only adds a couple of dollars to the cost but adds so much convenience in the long run. Its the sort of thing you have to engage you contrator on.


No... It's just what happens when the contractor refuses to write things down and you need the house. I couldn't raise a stink about details that I normally raise when I can slow something down until it's done correctly.

Or, to put it mildly, in this part of the world, people just refuse to pay their contractor until little details are fixed.


I have built a two level house, more conventional brick veneer. It is a massive amount of work even when you hire various trades, etc.

Don't know about all concrete houses. Wet concrete is extremely heavy and you need to know what you are doing when it comes to formwork, etc. You would also need concrete pump to get the stuff to the upper floor.

You will most certainly need the services of an architect and structural engineer. The level of detail you need to get building approvals, etc is substantial. You might even need town planner, geotech and environmental consultant reports as well.


Interesting. Did you plan the whole thing yourself, including plumbing, electrical installation, etc?


Yes I did all the plans and sketches but then hired an architectural draftsperson to draw up plans to the local building control body's requirements. The actual plumbing and electrical work was subcontracted out. In Australia you can't DIY - you need to be licensed for those trades.

I had previously worked on a renovation project, helped a family member build a house from scratch and worked for an electrical contractor. It also helped that I had experience as a project manager on large infrastructure projects.


I’ve built 25 basic homes (no insulation, electricity or plumbing) in Tijuana, Mexico. For each build, I organized 10-15 high school volunteers and 3-4 adult supervisors. Each home was built in one day, ~8 hours actually. Handing the home keys to an impoverished family at the end of the day was a great feeling for all concerned. Let someone else build your home. Look into prefab, for a lot of places it’s faster, cheaper and much better quality. Last, insulate like hell if you live in hot/cold climate. Your home will be quieter, too.


Not a contractor myself (I "escaped" into IT), but I come from a family that's almost exclusively contractors and had quite a few summer jobs on construction sites.

I think for more, err, concrete advice, some indication of the location you want to build in would be helpful.

Either way, you will likely want to involve an architect if you're building your first house, to help getting your ideas to paper within the confines of local building codes. You'll also want a structural engineer verifying the suitability of the design, especially with something as heavy as concrete.

If you're in the US (at least) or other places where wood framing is more common than concrete or stone, the "uncommon" material will likely increase cost noticeably.

Also keep in mind that unless you want to drywall the interior of the house anyway, you'll have to make sure you have pipes and conduits for everything in place before you pour the concrete. Even if you are planning to drywall the interior, you're still looking at making sure all your mechanical systems (heating/cooling, water, electricity) can actually be routed from one floor to the next.

If you're looking for an inspirational rabbit hole to go down, check out this thread on Garage Journal: https://www.garagejournal.com/forum/showthread.php?t=145073

Just keep in mind that the guy building the house is actually a concrete contractor and not exactly new to this game.


If you are building with concrete I would pay close attention to a few things. Insulation, concrete is shit by itself. Airflow, normal wood houses use the tiny gaps and seams and shit to help draw air through the house all over, a concrete home doesn't and you should make sure you have proper ventilation throughout the house or it will be damp and musty and grow mold. Plumbing and wiring, if you don't have tubes plumbed before you pour you have to build essentially an entire wooden house on the inside to hide the wires and water lines and drywall it all over, near doubling your costs. Foundation, a concrete house needs a more substantial foundation, and if anything settles out of plumb and square later, you can't do anything about it, unlike a wooden home that can be jacked up.

Also, make sure you verify you can get utilities to your house. Just because everyone around you has water and power and internet hookups, doesn't mean they will hook you up, or not charge you a literal fortune to do it. And don't fuck around with permits and shit, they will fuck you if they can.


My parents built a house. They got help digging the foundations (which required heavy machinery given it was built on rock) but did everything else themselves. A couple of tips:

- They bought a pretty run down shell as their first project to learn about bricklaying, roofing, electrics, plumbing etc. before buying the land for the new build.

- For the new build, they got an architect to review their designs pretty thoroughly, given the country's strict building regulations.

Also, don't underestimate the enormity of the undertaking. It took them 9 years to complete the build, working most evenings and weekends after work.


In 2007, I had an architect design the outside both for aesthetics and to smooth negotiating with the Santa Cruz mafia planning department, but his floor plans were abysmal, and I would have hated life, stubbing my toes daily.

So I took over that task, drove my girlfriend at the time absolutely nuts iterating over it, then one day showed her something she said was bleeping perfect. We built that plan relying on a neighbor who was a general contractor at the top of his game (early 40s). I still live in that house, but the girlfriend and I broke up mid-project, oh well.

General observations:

1. The town will extract maximum value from you for the tiniest changes so get as much as you can in the 1st draft (e.g.: another $5000 to authorize making windows openable at floor level vs not)

2. Get a contractor you trust, things can go non-linear if you don't, and even if you do, you'll get some flakes. Do not be nice to flakes. Flakes suck.

3. Rent a nice place elsewhere during the process. If you don't have the $$$ to do this, you probably shouldn't be doing this at all. It will break you. The movie "The Money Pit" is IMO mostly documentary and only part comedy.

4. I have 10 Gb/s Cat 6 hard-wired Ethernet in my walls. Local contractors didn't even know that was possible in 2007. Do your research. This serves me well when I train DL models in my house.

The next project for me is a solar power system to power all my DL servers. Since they each eat ~1.5 KW, I'm going to need 10 kW overall for all 4 servers plus household requirements (but don't call it a datacenter or NVDA will audit you, call it "A House of Ill Compute"). To that end, I have nicknamed my home as the house of 200 TFLOPs (16 Pascal GPUs across 4 servers). It's about to become the house of 2 PFLOPS (RTX 2080TI GPU upgrade pending).


I really like "A House of Ill Compute" as a nickname.

Congrats for managing to create buildable plans!

I hope you used metal/plastic conduits to pass wires between the floors/walls (so they could be theoretically upgraded with fiber or something better).


The FLOPhouse!


What do you train DL models for? That’s a lot of power.


So 4 player local netplay of GTA V at 8k?


Concrete structures are cool, but there are lots of issues. Insulation, water vapor / condensation, potential chemical reaction with other materials, difficulty of future modification ...

Get a copy of A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander


I'd suggest you consider the environment around your house - permaculture materials will help here as sustainable habitations are a strong focus.

You've suggested a 'massive concrete house' without stating size (massive is very subjective) or why you want concrete (a very expensive material, in $-cost, environmental costs, and maintenance / repair). You haven't indicated what climate you're in, or the landscape you're working with.

Passive solar heating works well with concrete floors on an equator-facing house (assuming you're outside the tropics) with thoughtfully designed awnings, but a 'whole concrete house' will likely backfire if you're intending to reduce on-going HVAC costs.


There's a couple in Idaho who have adopted homesteading lifestyle and are video blogging their experience building their own home. It's convinced me to never try to build my own home.

"Pure Living for Life" https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChhBsM9K_Bc9a_YTK7UUlnQ


I built room on the side of the house, I worked with a journey man and everything he taught me as he gave orders, wrote blueprints I could confirm with sources online.

It's a wonderful idea to build something using modern techniques. There is a joke in engineering about the architect that doesn't know how to use a hammer.

I would be happy to generate a plethora of links to resources if you like? What is the climate for the structure? What is the ground like, rock or sand? Concrete molds are available at any mainstream hardware store or supply store. Are you sure you would use concrete above the basement and ground floor? That is heavy and it takes a while to warm and cool it which can be a benefit or a problem.


Architects dream ... builder's nightmare !


Get some experience.

Find small construction sides where you can work as an amateur. Small sides so that you can grasp most of the pieces and how they fit together.

Understand a house plan.

Learn to read building plans and how they translate to a physical structure. The tools and materials used.

Get the tools for the job.

You can not build a solid house in first attempt so Practice. Practice. Practice. Play with the tools, know what fits where, why, and how. Get a sense of how all pieces fit together to form a house and build your confidence.

I recommend you get some bricks and and practice building small structures. No cement. You can use mud so it’s essier to breakdown and start over.

Launch your project when you feel confident you have the skills to see it through.


as autonomously as possible

I don't know what you mean by this phrase. Do you mean DIY? Or do you mean off-grid? Or both?

A conventional house with a lot of sweat equity is a very different plan from a futuristic, self-sufficient, self-contained home/mini-biome that is off-grid. The advice you will need to achieve each of these different scenarios is vastly different.


If you want to build with concrete, look into ICF (insulated concrete forms). These are foam panels that easily fasten together make the forms. After the concrete is poured, the forms stay in place to form the insulation. If you are handy, you could probably do the pour yourself with friends and family, saving you a lot of money.


Apparently houses constructed with ICFs can withstand a fire (from the outside) for up to 4 hours.


I've had two bespoke homes built for me in the Tokyo area and bought two cookie cutter homes in southern California.

For custom homes, the amount of details and things to consider for the structure itself is enormous. Each area is a specialized skill, from the paperwork and inspections, the waterworks, electrical, ventilation, lighting, accessibility, and more.

We worked with the architect for over four months, making him earn his pay to fit everything to our requirements. While we were quite demanding, the wife was an architect in California and I run software projects, we were sympathetic and tried to give clear change requests along with reasoning.

During the build, we visited the location regularly and was allowed to make last minute decisions. Again very aware to make sure the changes were trivial and straightforward.

While we settled on wood frame house (with ceramic sidewalls), we also looked at steel and concrete. I think the most compelling concrete build is this "Hebel House" with the use of aerated concrete. This type of concrete provides insulation along with other concrete properties such as resistance to fire.

For homes with modern amenities, there's too many specialized knowledge for one person to do a build in a reasonable time frame. There are firms with a team that can help with the build. And it's important for the most important stakeholder, you the owner, to be fully involved but also work with the experts.


Have helped manage a few houses my father (A GC and finishing carpenter) has built to live in every 5-10 years.

Before I was allowed to get a computer or enroll in comp sci, my father made sure that I learned to work with my hands a little too, so I had to be Junior GC..

Strategic Lessons:

- If you're interested in building a house, it might help to hire a GC who builds a regular house for a percentage fee to manage the build, learn from them, and then build your own. Most will be very happy to teach. You get 2 tries at a house on fit and finish.

- When building new, getting a closed shell (foundation, framing, walls, roof) is the most urgent thing to allow inside work to commence regardless of weather. If this gets missed in a shoulder season and you plan on building through the winter, it will present challenges.

- You have to build relative to the neighbourhood value, not what you can afford to build due to managing it yourself. Exception is if you're going to live there for 20 years.

- Lining up and managing trades is the name of the game. The more you look out for trades to get in and out easily, and care about their work, their quality of work goes through the roof.

- I would start with remodeling / extending an existing house before going through a new house. New builds are cleaner in some ways, but you will get a taste if it's for you.

- Alternative building methods (concrete walls, 3D printing) can be expected to have unintended side effects to traditional house building you should.

- Be strategic where you can save and do things yourself, vs have things done. There's often enough margin in just helping with prep and cleanup along the way plus doing a few easy things.

- Build to sell - build in extra entrances that are separate for basement suites, etc.

Reality:

- You have to be around all the time. Always when you're not planning to. Plan that in your commute and coming and going. Always better to build as close as possible to where you live. If not, where work.

- Clean as you go. All the time. Trades behave better on a site that's meticulous.

- Finishing is 60% of the value of a house. Keep that in mind. Everything can become more affordable when building on your own because labour savings are there.

- Managing your project schedule and budget every few days as a first timer will help a lot.


Have you considered a Monolithic Dome? You'd have to excavate a basement, but the construction process is massively simplified (if perhaps still not DIY level).

http://www.monolithic.org/homes


I built my own house with no experience. It was very easy. Houses today are built out of crappy material like OSB and 2x6. Important factors are R-value for your area, Snow Load for the roof pitch, and frost level. I would start off with a shed and learn these things, plus framing a wall, building a load bearing wall, and roofing. Basically the hardest part is following the code, getting permits and inspection. If I were to do it all again, I would buy a steel house kit and then do everything else from that. I have since bought a backhoe and various construction equipment but I also own a farm. My dream home would be a "Californian Ranch Style" with Victorian inside crown trim, vaulted ceilings, built out the steel frame and redwood that I harvested, milled, and planed myself (which would required to get green tag) nickle, gold, and bronze plated cast iron decals and Gothic marble style polished epoxy cement flooring and fake ivory and 11 ft walls with vaulted ceiling and a huge fireplace. It would take me 15 years to make and I would have to learn how to use a wood lathe.


Currently building a small (real small by US standards) 95 sqm. passive house in Romania. I dared to do this by myself as I'm a trained structural engineer (now a SW developer).

I can not emphasize enough on the energy efficiency of the house as energy costs are high. Take a look on how and why to build a passive house, it will change your life.

I can take a look here and see if you have one in your area... if it's a certified one you can visit it between 9-11 of Nov., this is a world wide event. More here: https://passivehouse-international.org/index.php?page_id=262

Also here you can find more info regarding passive houses in USA: https://naphnconference.com/


I have built a house and a garage. For the garage, I was the GC, but for the house, I hired a GC. The garage was 500 sq ft and easy enough to manage all the subcontractors. The house was a much bigger project; an infill development, 3500 sq ft, two floors with big expansive rooms, which required a lot of steel since we are in an earthquake zone. I was on-site every day reviewing progress and managing up and down the chain. Also, gain a working level of Spanish if you are building in California; it's essential for communicating with the tradespeople.

In both cases, I used an architect to professionalize the basic design and help walk us through the city review, approval, and permit process (edit: this added tremendous value for the house environment and style [1] ). We used an independent, licensed structural engineer for the house, but the city still found issues with the work (the city will often subcontract the review to another, usually an out-of-state engineer) and needed to be convinced the design was correct in some cases and reworked in other cases.

The review process, while often criticized, is for your benefit and safety. If you treat the reviewers as a partner the project will be better for it.

The project itself is hard enough using industry standard conventional building techniques. If you try to do something too original or unorthodox the system has many obstacles in place to force you to prove your project is safe.

If you are serious about this I suggest the following: 0) learn SketchUp or a similar 3d modeling system, 1) choose a location in a rural area to reduce the complexities of building in a crowded area, 2) find a retired GC who is interested in the idea and wants to learn more about it and hire them as a consultant, 3) start small and build test cases (dollhouses, then a shed, then a garage, and finally scale up to a house) to build skill and discover your skill gaps.

Best of luck, it sounds like a fun and challenging project.

[1] https://www.houzz.com/projects/439864/mountain-view-prairie-...


> Also, gain a working level of Spanish if you are building in California; it's essential for communicating with the tradespeople.

Not just California -- most places. My neighbors in VA were Hispanic construction workers who did mostly concrete pouring. When I helped my folks refurb their properties in rural NY and PA easily 60-80% were Hispanic, even the GC/PM.


I'm currently most of the way done with building my home, which is a steel boat. Anyone else here on HN built their own liveaboard (or a substantial part of it)?

When I got started I just bought the rusty hull, with almost nothing attached, and built my way up from there.

Feel free to ask me anything about it.


Once you have gotten plans on paper, and permits. And you are getting the foundation placed(or placing it yourself) make sure of all measurements, don't shrug away half a degree off. Same with levelling the walls. This will save you a lot of cursing.

Also if you are going with concrete then the electrics will be poured in, make sure you put a lifeline in for some circuits. (this is a connection from the entry point to a different point in the circuit than the connection you already have) This could save a lot of work if something goes awry and you lose a connection.

insulation is good, but you don't want water condensation in between materials.


Built a house in the Bay here. Not sure you can build a fully concrete house in the Bay because of earthquake requirements. There are specific materials and engineering required, etc. I’m assuming you’re browsing lots at the moment? Make sure to check that the lot is buildable 1st, then look at the building envelop, is it big enough? How’s the soil? etc. I would hire a civil engineer to check a lot prior to signing a deal. It costs somewhere around $5k to run a survey on a lot.

Then when everything is fine and you bought the lot, start working with an architect. That is the expensive part (at least $50k and the sky is the limit). Ater your architect validates your floorplan with the city, you’re now able to start the process of building your house. You need to interview a bunch of contractors/builders, some have their own project managers (which I’d recommend using), some require a lot more coordination and work from your side. In California in general, especially around the Bay, the city will be your biggest enemy. They are a pain in the butt when it comes to new regulations, green stuff and all the non-sense. They will utimately bump up your original estimation by forcing your builder to comply to their random rules. I mean... we could talk for days on the subject. Good luck! Feel free to ask if you have more specific questions.


I've bought a house from 1950, removed everything inside except the main walls and the roof, and redo everything, including heat, water, electricity, and insulation.

It took me around two years, mostly working on the weeks and I learned a ton of stuff, mostly that if you persevere, you can succeed (this applies to projects too ;) ).

The main point I'll raise is that you always need to check the work made by professional. We hired a few for some of the work, and almost everytime, it was sloppy, badly made or wrongly installed. It's unbelievable how the word "professional" doesn't rime with quality!

It will take a lot of your time - still does - and will drag you down sometimes, but once you'll be living in, you'll be pretty happy. And friends will be impressed by what you accomplished.

I don't have a background in brick and mortar, so a lot of stuff was new to me, but I do have a close friend who is a mason, and have a very good knowledge in the main fields of building a house. Is help was tremendous, and I'm not sure I would have finished without him.

I'm now working on adding a patio by increasing the ground floor and having the patio on the top. I'm doing it with my friend so it takes time, finding when we both are available, but it's less costly that way, and make me sweat a bit (swear too ;) ).


I do plan on building a house (buying some land, finding a contractor and getting it built).

Houses in Ontario are getting crazy expensive (as an example - a friend of mine was able to get land + house for ~800k when the going rate of a prebuilt house in the neighborhood was around a mil).

Also, if I am spending so much and plan to put down some roots - I like to have a house based on my designs rather than a cookie cutter bs that most contractors have.

EDIT: I also plan on using concrete (and rebar).


I have done construction since I was 8.

First off laws, you be surprise what kind of laws there are in your state/city. Where I live you must have a 3 foot drop on your roof. The only allowed material for building houses is wood and bricks. You wouldn't be able to build steel or cement house where I live.

Second location location location, you be surprise how many house get flooded because they are built in a bad spot or because while they were building the house they accidentally rerouted water paths. The other thing is you find some exotic or endanger animal on the premise and have to stop all the construction. Do your research, walk around the land and property, and go during different weather what might be a warm spot in the sun might be a swamp in a lite rainfall.

Third define massive because my definition of a massive house is everyone with there own bedroom and one extra room besides the kitchen and living room.

Fourth hooking up to water, electricity, and internet. Just because someone down the street has all these things doesn't mean they going to run them to your house. I have family friends that has neighbors that they can wave to each other through kitchen windows yet they can not get the same ISP hook up they have and have to use satellite internet. They also cannot get city water like them for some odd ball reason only thing they get is electricity.

Fifth you be surprise what unknowns cost in construction. There is a reason why neighborhoods have the same cookie cut houses covering a neighborhood. When you buy $100k worth of material it comes with a no return policy. If something funky happens you have to absorb those cost no matter what. You hire someone to build a house and $10k worth of material got stolen! You going to have to toss in another $10k to cover that stolen material.Also you might be surprise how difficult a bank loan is to get for new constructions.

In my experience unless you you have more money then you know what to do with a custom house won't benefit you more then a prefab or buying used. Just like new people to software they only see the surface think I can do this then learn what kind of hell it is. You will either be the 99% that regret it or the 1% that loves it. It is going to cost you more then you think, and take longer then you think. You will have to jump over a lot of hurdles and learn things you never knew existed.


I'm currently helping a friend build a house in Austria, where houses are generally brick and concrete. You don't want to build the walls out of concrete. Use thick thermal bricks, he kind with lots of internal cavities. Then, if you are in a really cold climate, apply a layer of thick rigid insulation on the outside, followed by a rigid top coat. Floors and ceilings only should be poured concrete.


Hello! I have built my own house from scratch. I worked with a couple of friends on the weekends for about 2 years building it. I put together a YouTube series documenting the whole process. I am not an expirenced builder, we just figured it all out as we went along. The house is about 1000 square feet with 18 foot ceilings in the living room. As mentioned by others in this thread keep the design simple such as a single roof line. Consider your HVAC need well ahead of time as this nearly bit me later. Also keep plumbing out of exterior walls. Here is a playlist of the build -http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL8s_XcXa7A6z2Je2v56Xjp...


Depending on the reason, I recommend no basement if you can get around it. They leak, mold, dark, humid etc. more economical to get another story up. of course if land is sparse or your in a major city you may need one and it may be worth the hassle regardless.

hire out a reputable builder for the structure. and perhaps polish the floors. get a proper rough in for electrical and plumbing. order cabinets and such for kitchen and 1 full washroom.

things like flooring, paining and other small finishing work are learnable skills. be prepared to take extra time or redo work as part of the learning curve. Keep the design very simple, reduce or remove finishing as possible. if you can get a livable structure built in short order you can spend the months or years building it to your needs and tastes over time.


This is really going to depend on the region you're building in. In much of the North Eastern/Mid-Atlantic USA, assuming a plot with good drainage/grading, basements are awesome. They're a perfect place to put the house mechanical equipment (HVAC/water heater) and run necessary pipes/wires/ducts. Good luck running new wiring/plumbing around the first floor with slab-on-grade.

Basements are also generally preferable to crawlspaces, because they're (semi)conditioned and can be dehumidified/sealed as necessary to prevent mold/water issues to the framing. Crawlspaces are not typically sealed, and issues (mold/rot/leaks) can often go unnoticed, because nobody wants to crawl around to inspect. If you use your basement for storage, you'll likely be down there frequently enough to notice any growing issues.

On top of all that, many people finish their basements to add additional living space. This is typically very easy to do (DIY), because tapping into a few ducts and power is all right there.


My family built our home starting in about 1990 when I was in high school. We built the entire thing ourselves. The only parts we didn't fabricate were the cabinets that my uncle built. We built a 3 bedroom 2 bath home with a study. I really cannot remember how big it was.

We built a 'pier and beam' foundation that created a cawl space under the house. We did our own plumbing, electrical, and hvac. We built in the country where the required inspections were minimal.

Even after having gone through the experience, I'm not sure what pointers I would give you here other than be prepared to do a lot of hard work and, if you finish, you'll probably be really glad you did it!


Yes, i've built a few and many more dozens of permitted construction projects... The big thing for me is the cost, and keeping it down. If you hire builders to do the work, in my area the price is about $100/sqft. If you do the permits yourself or sub out the general contractor yourself, you can get the work done for about $10/sqft - $25/sqft. Also, when you spec out the materials, try to avoid places like Home Depot and Lowes as much as possible, try instead to look on places like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, other places where people sell things. You can easily save tens of thousands by doing that in your project.


If you want to do something like this as some kind of R&D mule, I highly recommend you do it in the desert where land is very cheap, sand readily available on your own property for mixing the concrete, and code enforcement is less prevalent.

Additionally, you may want to check out super adobe structures. It would be interesting to try automate construction of some of calearth's [0] designs. I can imagine a machine filling and laying the earthbags fairly easily... and IIRC some of their designs have already been certified and legally built in San Bernardino county.

[0] https://calearth.org


Be sure to look into cob and strawbale construction. Quite a bit hippy, but also a better process for the first time owner-builder.

There's a book called The Hand-Sculpted House. Also Google "cob house" and "strawbale house".


"Cob" includes the straw. Its the name of a construction method basically involving mud and straw. My aunt and uncle's previous house was built in the 1640s of cob, with a reed thatch roof, including a catslide. We called it the mud hut, due to our lack of imagination.


Don't put your home near place names like "floodville", "lavafornia", "poisonwell" or "mudbottom". Is surprising how many people still insist (and are allowed) on building their home inside the floodable areas near rivers. If there are very old trees or even better very old houses standing around, put a green checkmark in your notebook.

Let the floor, columns and beams to be managed by a professional. Furniture is heavy and your house will need to stand a lot of weight. You can live with a door misplaced opening against the light switch, but not with a treacherous floor.


If you decide to do it from hempcrete instead of concrete, I can recommend Essential Hempcrete by Chris Magwood which is a good book on the subject. Hempcrete is better suited for a DIY project than concrete, it also more natural, has decent insulation and acts as a humudity buffer, has good time shift properties and fire resistance. It also involves wood framing, but the framing is usually burried into the cast hemplime material.

http://limecrete.co.uk/hempcrete-factsheet/


I've done a major rehaul on my house.

- Removal of mould in basement - Redid basement (plumbing + electrical) - Full foundation waterproofing + french drain - Full landscaping (asphalt, stone, sod) - Full reflooring (tile + wood) - Redid downstairs bathroom - Redid garage

My suggestions?

- Keep things as simple as possible. I can't count the times I ended up creating problems by trying to be clever. - Keep water out of the house. I would forego the basement completely and start from a concrete slab. - Build on solid ground (i.e. rock) if possible - Build on elevated ground with a good grade to keep the water away


I have never seen an autonomously built concrete house, but building with ICF forms is basically like stacking giant Styrofoam legos, and the pouring concrete in the middle. And insulation values of R40 are common! There was an interesting blog series to follow from Ana White about building an ICF home in Alaska for their moms.

http://www.ana-white.com/2013/03/momplex/building-momplex-ic...


Two things:

1) I am currently building a house. Pretty much every comment here is dead on. It's hard. Especially the first time. And especially anything that isn't "standard" will cost about 2x more than what you expect.

2) I stayed in an airbnb in Iceland this past spring. The house was built in the 70's and was mostly concrete. Interior walls were poured concrete. It was cool until I tried to check my email in outside of the room that had the wifi router.

There's rebar in all that concrete and I'm pretty sure it was a big faraday cage.


I can speak for myself. I live in Germany and building something new is very expensive here. I have some friends who tried this path and most of them have absolutely bad experience. If you don't have enough time and expertise, it is very very expensive. You will overpay for every single service. In fact, Germany has enourmosely inflated prices, you may spend x10 less if you decide to build in any other near country (like Hungary). Don't know if it's similar in regard to US.


I'm actually planning on building a cabin near Truckee, CA. I've bought a 1/4 acre and I'm working on the designs now. I want to do most of it myself. I've got the sketchup plans on github https://github.com/CacheFactory/Cabin I'm just wondering if it should be 2 or 3 floors. I don't want to bit off too much that I can't finish it.


I've basically done everything short of laying concrete foundations and putting up the frame. Not all on one house, but bits various houses.

There are a lot of things you can do yourself (depending on jurisdiction) that can save a lot of money. My old man owns several houses, and home renovation/building houses is sort of his hobby (it also makes him a lot of money, but it's not his day job). I've been helping him with renovation/construction since I was about 5 years old.

My father and I have built our own fences, painted interior and exterior, plastered (not actually so easy), tiled floors (also not that easy), laid wooden floor, laid decks, built swimming pools (we did hire a contractor to dig the pit), retaining walls (took a weekend, saved about $10,000), internal electrical wiring and fittings (you may need to get a certificate to do this), ethernet/phone wiring, installed roof insulation, built kitchens, laid driveways etc. etc.

The only things I haven't done are laying concrete foundations and erecting frames (all the houses I've worked on were timber framed).

The main problems you're likely to run into is whether you're legally allowed to do it yourself or not. You'll most likely need qualifications to do any electrical work (which my father has, although he's not an electrician) or plumbing/gasfitting work.

My suggestion though would be to start small. I've been doing this sort of thing since as long as I can remember, so I'm fairly confident in what I'm doing. If I were you I wouldn't start with trying to build a house from scratch, start with building some smaller things, like rebuilding your fence (if you have one) or building a shed/sleepout.

I really don't know how feasible it would be to make a concrete house by yourself. I wouldn't lay a concrete foundation myself, it's not a one man job to start with, and if you screw it up it's a very expensive mistake.

If this is your first experience with building a new house, which I assume it is, I'd really caution against trying to do it all yourself and biting off more than you can chew. Get an architect, get a project plan (I have no experience at all at this end), and then break down what you can do yourself, and what you need to pay somebody else to do.


My father and our relatives built the house I grew up. My father worked in the construction industry as a construction supervisor and made blue prints for family homes as a side gig. My uncle was a professional roofer. I can't remember them saying anything like "that was a nice thing, let us do it again". Finishing it took almost 10 years and some parts had to be rebuilt because of lack of proper isolation.


You might find construction with Durisol blocks interesting - the end result is an insulated concrete house but the construction process is manageable by one or two people. There's an interesting article covering the building of such a house here: https://edinkist.wordpress.com/diary-of-the-build/


If you're in a warm climate this might not be for you, but I live in a moderate climate and I've always been interested in a Rocket Mass Heater as the centerpiece of my house:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocket_mass_heater

Unfortunately I live in a cookie-cutter suburb so it's not feasable right now, but someday...


They seem very popular in the permaculture community, I wonder how effective they really are.


About as effective as any reasonably efficiently designed wood stove. Usually 60%-80% transfer efficiency at best, depending on the exact design and way it's operated. They're a fad because they look cool, not because they're order of magnitude more efficient. You can run them more efficient, but then you have to deal with corrosive condensate, which makes the operational characteristics questionable.


I know people here discussed some of the complexities with building with concrete. My great grandfather mixed/poured his own mortar bricks and then proceeded to build his house with soley bricks. Another option to consider (although this was constructed about 75 years ago)

https://goo.gl/maps/F3zrHVWk1sm


A friend of my old roommate built his own house: https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/brianandhannahbuildah...

Might be worth it to reach out to him. He's a woodworker, so it's not exactly a massive concrete house.


I recently wanted to pour some slabs for a sidewalk on part of my house. A 16 sqft slab (4' x 4'), to my surprise, ended up taking 750 pounds of concrete/cement and hours of effort to mix by hand. Building concrete walls is much harder and requires a complex form unless you are just laying bricks. Choose your battles wisely!


There’s a couple on YouTube that are building a concrete (ICF) house together. The channel is called Pure Living For Life. https://m.youtube.com/channel/UChhBsM9K_Bc9a_YTK7UUlnQ

Construction work is amazingly easy to underestimate.


The following URL discusses using aircrete to build with and there are many advantages.

Permits are interesting to navigate. I recommend engaging a local contractor for advice as it would help you significantly

https://www.domegaia.com/how-to-make-aircrete.html


Watch all of a house build of This Old House. You'll get a good idea of the hidden things that come into play.


I'm thinking about the same thing, and this summer I took a two week Home Design/Build course at Yestermorrow (yestermorrow.org). I really recommend it as a way to work through your designs, both on the broad scale and in the specifics (building to code, budgeting, utilities, etc).


Consider ICF for the walls, steel joists which would allow you to have large open modern looking spaces - i.e. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRGMcLPrrZU


Finishing my first build now. It was a tear down of an old house and replaced with a slightly larger ( ~ 4200sqft ), custom house on the same footprint. A different design ( curved roof and lots of glass ), but less site work ( e.g. driveway, well, retaining walls, etc already in place ).

Rough timeline ( just under two years from start to finish ): - starting looking seriously in Nov 2016 - Found property in Jan 2017 and closed on April 2017 - interviewed half a dozen GCs / architects, had one lined up by May 2018 - basic design / layout of house done by July 2018 - started permit process in July 2018 - Demo'd existing house Nov 2018 - All permits finally approved Dec 2018 - Construction Dec 2018 - present ( projected finish Oct 2018 )

What I learned:

+ If this is your first house and you don't have experience, hire the best general contractor you can find for your project. Hire a general contractor prior to selecting a site if possible, as they would be very helpful in helping you with the pros and cons of each build site. Your choice of contractor is one of the biggest choicest you can make in terms of how enjoyable the process will be. The best way you can automate the process is your selection of GC.

+ We worked with a design/build firm that did both the architectural work + the contracting.

+ The general contractor is CEO. You are the Chairperson of the Board. Your role isn't making day to day decisions, but rather finding a CEO that can perform the job, providing what he or she needs to do the job you asked ( mainly timely money and decisions ), and confirming the job has been done.

+ Minimize change orders, but don't be afraid to make changes during the construction. Decisions get exponentially more expensive to change as you go along. We only had one change order --- ripped out a sliding door and replaced it with a window. That change, which would have only cost $75 at drafting time, cost us ~$5k. However, if we had waited until the project was finished the cost would have been $8-10k+. Also know, that if you ask for an estimated cost on a change order or add-on during construction, expect it to actually cost 25-50%.

+ Even seasoned pros make mistakes. Accept upfront that mistakes / delays will happen. If you stress about every mistake and try to optimize everything, you'll drive yourself crazy. Focus on avoiding the mistakes that would be prohibitively expensive to fix properly.

+ Permitting time is a lot longer than you think. We hired the site engineer in July and didn't get approved permits until Dec ( there was never any push back on the permits, but they all had long processing times and could not be run in parallel.


I'm trying to understand your dates.... should I %s/2018/2017/g ?


Came here expecting to find nifty "tiny house" anecdotes.

I see the virus is not spreading :(


If you are set on concrete, check out this blog about building a modern concrete house in a rural area: http://moderninmn.blogspot.com



Autonomously as in 3D printed ? If so, cool! I’ve build houses and (a#1) hire a great architect.

Where would you build it ? I’d love to help with any sort of 3D printed building project


Make sure you have a french drain around your basement perimeter.


I too have this goal/fantasy. Thanks for posting this on HN. I would love to join some sort of group or mailing list to further explore the subject.


My buddy is currently building an adobe in NM:

https://visioncreationadobe.com


Hi, I build two homes in WA state in a rural area (more on this later) while I was working as a webmaster and all around sysadmin for a small wood distributor co.

First house: 2600sq ft, Full size basement with 2 stories on top of a traditional timber frame structure, wrapped in S.I.Ps (structural insulated panels). We had plans drawn by architects and we went BIG. I ended up acting as the general contractor as the guy we hired ended up screwing up and bailing on us. I did a lot labor along the subs and learned a good deal of many of the trades and what were m,y limitations, what could I do. I also interacted with the building department as a owner-builder, it seems to me that unless you are in a rural area (they helped me and coached me thru a lot), you will have to have some help navigating this aspect too. Learnings from the first house: - a project management approach would have saved me time and money.Ask this for your GC, or make sure you look at time-cost-quality on every touchpoint. - make sure you have contracts with everyone that will be subbing for you. We had a contract with the GC and even then we had to go to court (long side story, headaches) - Basement concrete walls & foundation were slow to build, expensive and you need to know what you are doing, not something I would recommend for an owner-builder. - try to design the smallest space you think you need, then cut again on space. If you design with the possibility to expand later on and still be statically pleasing, you will end up ahead on many fronts. We got carried away and built twice as much what we needed with very expensive materials and techniques (timber frame). Cue in 2006-2008 financial crisis. Imagine the rest.

Second house: 1100 sq ft Rastra blocks crawl space Foundation. (Insulated Concrete forms) and S.I.P.s panel walls and roof. I acted as the GC. I subbed the excavation (minimal as I did a crawl space that was barely deep to let me in), and the rough plumbing, as the guy did it in 8 hrs. I did all the finish plumbing. I learned to do the electrical work and wired the whole house, had an electrician friend come connect the main panel to the street tri-phasic high-voltage. SIP panels for the walls of this one story house we raised by hand with my ex-wife. Roof panels we flew in on a single day with 4 friends, had to rend a crane for 6 hrs. With SIP panels you have a closed structure, with all openings framed and ready to be covered in 8 days. Took me 9 months to finish, working evenings and weekends and 1 month summer vacation.

Learnings from second house: - build small, smallest you need. - your local hardware store is your training, mentor and partner in this. Most folks are happy to teach you what to use, how to use it. You will end up paying a little more than $BigBox, but you also can ask to get a GC account and discount (around 10-15%). Win-win. - Labor savings with modular construction techniques such as SIPs and CIFs are huge if you are a DIY builder. Heck here in Sweden even big projects are built modular!

This is a bit stream of consciousness post, apologies as it is late here and also there are so many emotions linked to those two projects... Message me if you need a sounding board to discuss more.

Happy building!


I'd be very interested to hear more about your 2nd house experience as I'm currently considering building a similar-sized house using SIPs in rural Washington state. Ideally, I'd use a GC (if I can find a good one!) to get the building dried-in and then do the bulk of the finishing work myself. Do you have a recommendation for a SIP vendor?


Hi, this was back in 2009 and we used Insulspan, would imagine they are still around but you should check.

The good thing was that we used their structural calculations on the wall and the three beams that held the roof panels to have an Engineer stamp the plans at a reduced price (he simply checked that their calculations were OK). The RASTRA blocks to do the perimeter foundation was a great solution as we did the floor with OSB I beams, very fast and cheap!


actually I'm framing a house right now with my uncle. Having difficulty breaking into programming / dev jobs after graduating this past spring.

End up working 10-13 hours on the house, and try to work on projects when I'm finished there for the day. Still been applying!


Good luck with building codes and dealing with your local government.

- https://redd.it/8qo0lh

- https://redd.it/8pn8et

- https://redd.it/1c1ofk



If you are in the States then unless you're licensed in like 30 areas, you will not be able to build your house "autonomously".

You will need permits for everything - properly doing concrete for walls and ceilings is a huge undertaking.

You will need to hire electricians and then get your local city to inspect everything. Again, if you plan on laying anything within your concrete structure, you will have a ton of back and forth in terms of approvals and inspections.

Before I forget, you will also need to make sure you run your plans by a professional since you may not realize something you need to run within your flooring or foundation. For example, I have worked on a basement-less home where the ground floor is concrete slab. Well, all sewer, electrical, water, etc was run through this in 1977. We wanted to make certain extensions but were limited by where certain water, gas and power outlets were already run. For one section we had no choice so we trenched the foundation to run new water and sewer lines. It was not easy. It was not cheap. It was a lot of work. So, if you do this, you can't just assume you have planned everything correctly in your head. You have to hire someone to at the very least look over everything and assure you that you're not forgetting anything. Otherwise it will be twice as expensive to go back and fix things later.

The biggest thing you need to do focus on right now is your budget. If you told me how many square feet you wanted your house to be, we could estimate something for the base concrete costs - including permits and labor. But your house will need windows, flooring, carpet, wood, doors, HVAC, tiles, tiling, fixtures, lighting, electrical, moulding, etc etc etc... you can easily blow your budget on just your foundation, or in just one bathroom where you pick the wrong tiles or go overboard with too many fancy design and aesthetic choices. A custom shower with a modern shower system and a concrete floor that allows for custom tiles in the shower for example will be costly in terms of time and effort, but something you can do yourself. You will again need to make sure any plumbing in this bathroom is properly done otherwise your local inspector will literally make you tear it all up and do it again properly.

tldr - there are a million ways this can wreck you. Unless you live on a farm in the middle of nowhere and are a millionaire with access to contractors who can deliver all these things to your land for you to experiment and play with... I would not consider building a massive concrete house "autonomously".


sounds like you should look at concrete dome homes which basically involve spraying concrete on the inside or outside of a giant anchored bag of air.


I did not build a house, but I did buy a mobile home recently and to save money I did all of the "site prep" work my self. This was basically running a water line (400 ft from the meter), getting electric installed (180ft from the pole), getting a concrete foundation to put the house one (because putting a mobile home on a gravel pad is ghetto and leads to a lifetime of house leveling issues), septic installed, HVAC install (I declined the cheap unit the house came with).

Let me tell you, just those few things were a lot of work. I'd say don't even think about it (building a house) unless you know someone in the business locally that can point you to decent contractors. Let me itemize everything below and explain:

First, I needed to run a water line about 300 ft. I wanted to use all Pex as copper is too expensive and PVC just breaks around here. But after researching, I realized that I'd need a pipe with an inside diameter bigger than 1" to go that 300 ft without a big pressure drop. Once you go above 1" in Pex, you start getting really expensive. I ended up running a "trunk" line out of straight 1 1/4" PVC, 20 ft sections with a 2" bell end. These should be pretty strong and since it is in a straight line, shouldn't break. Every 20 ft, I offset the pipe about 4" to "weave" it into the trench to help with expansion. On each end I used a pvc to pex transition fitting from Sioux Chief. Not really what I wanted, but the pvc was $200 while to do it in pex with a 1.5" line would have been well over $1000. Asking around for tips in plumbing forums does help, but you'll quickly find out that plumbers are very opinionated about what to use (even among themselves) and they don't really like "outsiders" asking for advice. It was a big job, trenching the line took a full day, and then I spent about 3 days cleaning out the trench with a shovel...

Pouring a concrete slab was the next big thing. How hard can that be? Well... I quickly found out that (honest) concrete contractors did not really want to pour me a slab to put a mobile home on since I had no blue prints to go by. This is where having someone in the industry really helps. My family has a auto shop locally and they knew of a concrete contractor that a "rich" customer uses quite often to do industrial buildings. I managed to meet with him, and using some of the ideas and plans laid out from some of the other contractors that turned me down, we were able to design a slab that would be correct to handle the weight and soil movement properly. But through research, I also discovered that concrete needs to be "cured" properly or you loose up to 50% of the strength. This curing is normally not done by contractors. So through more research, I ended up locating and buying some membrane based spray on curing compound that I put on the slab right after it was poured. I think it turned out well.

Septic was fun. This is rural land, so there is no septic service. 30 years ago, this would have been a simple and cheap thing. But thanks to today's regulations, it is now expensive and covered in red tape. Early in my planning, I had a person quote me an install price of $5k for a tank and leach field. I based all of my budget on that. But I never could get the guy to show up, and he would never answer the phone. He was from far out of town too. Using the knowledge of my family auto shop's customer base, I located some people locally, but they all wanted $13k! We went back and forth on prices, I eventually gave up and went back to trying to find shady craigslist people again, but I still couldn't find anyone that would show up. Plus the local guys were all telling me there is quite an epidemic of unlicensed installers that will do cheap work under the table but once the county finds out about your bootlegged septic install, they'll make you remove it and have it re-done. Basically a bootlegged system carries the same punishments as dumping raw sewage into a river, so it is not something to screw around with as you are dealing with the state's health department. In the end, I paid one of the local guys to do it right for $13k...

HVAC systems I am somewhat familiar with, so I was fine with just looking around locally to find someone that is an approved dealer for the HVAC brand I want.

The electric connection from the pole to the house was not so straight forward though. Most connections from the meter to the house are under 40 feet. I was at 180 ft, which meant I had to up size the wire. Which also meant I had to up size the conduit it was in to 2.5", but the conduit into the house would still be 2". So basically I ended up installing a feed through sub panel in the back yard. Run the bigger wire to that, then for the last 20 ft or so, run some smaller wire. But all this had to be researched quite a bit on my own. Talking to electricians didn't help too much surprisingly. Thankfully we did have one in my family though.

So as you can see, even simple tasks that you might think you can do by yourself, end up not being as such and/or taking 4x longer to complete (and maybe even 4x more price-wise)

As far as concrete constructed houses, ironically, one of my family members lives in one. It was built in the 1970's. It arrived piece by piece on a several trailers and was assembled with cranes. The walls are solid with no insulation. Even in our hot climate where most people's electric bills are $200+ in the summer, he normally stays below $100 surprisingly, though he does live under a thick cover of trees. He's had some rather large tree branches fall on the house too, but it didn't hurt anything other than break some of the stone/spanish tiles on the roof. Interestingly, his insurance is not cheap. He has to pay a premium for "unconventional" construction for both flood and fire insurance even though water or fire would not bother the house much...


no but I've been reading about concrete and bricks recently


comments is awesome


> I am thinking about a massive, concrete house.

Great. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_concre...


> I am thinking of doing anything.

Great. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entropy


yes, and cutting trees down and transporting wood around is so great for the environment...


I'll entertain this line of thought.

1. Most of the trees that are cut down are coming from farms. The trees were planted with the express purpose of being harvested.

2. The transportation network for traditional building materials is built for scale. Outside of the last mile, that transportation network is far more energy-efficient than transporting materials and equipment for non-traditional buildings.

Counter-points can definitely be raised:

- Tree farms use a good deal of water and fertilizer

    - The same argument can be raised against most industrial farming
- Natural environments have been destroyed to create and expand tree farms

We can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Traditional building materials end up being better for the environment than concrete and many non-traditional materials.


> Tree farms use a good deal of water and fertilizer

Really? In my country trees are planted and then nature does most of the rest (apart from thinning). After 25 years, trees are chopped down, and the process repeated.


For the wood, add the impact of frequently pumping in termite poison. Also add the impact of increased energy usage for heating and cooling.


It’s orders of magnitude better.




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