Alternatives to building a house from scratch

There are viable alternatives to building a house if, you don’t want to build from the ground up, or don’t have the time or patience.

Of course, you can always just buy an existing house that suits you, but that is not what this blog is about.

Mobile-Home-for-Sale-RANGE-ROAD-6-3-20120629232424Mobile homes are one of the alternatives to building, and you may not even have to buy your own lot. Of course rents on the lot may go up. Although modern mobile homes are built to much better standards than they once were, they still seem to depreciate rather rapidly, even while the house next door is escalating in value. Of course, if you own the land it is sitting on, the land itself may appreciate, and almost certainly will over the long term. Placing a mobile on a basement, or permanent foundation, will enhance it greatly. Cheaper and quicker, they may serve when you don’t have a lot of options. They are usually purchased off the lot, either new or used, much like buying a new or used car. nfortunately, it is usually obvious, that they are a mobile home. Although it is rarely done today, you could take your home with you if you move. Usually restricted to specific areas or zoning within a town or city.

How do you turn a cement mixer into an excavator? — Give him a shovel.

kelviin / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Modular, or factory built homes, are another of the alternatives to building. They are often very well built, and come to your site in one or more pieces. Although you may be able to purchase one off the lot that is already built, it is more common that you would choose a plan, and have it modified (within rather strict limits) to suit yourself. Any modifications have to fit within the limits of the factory, and limits of what can be moved on the highway. You will have to provide a basement or foundation, but some companies will even arrange for that. Much of the plumbing, heating, and some of the finishing, may be done on site. Usually holding their value as well as a stick built home, they can be very attractive. They are an excellent choice, where good trades and labor, is in short supply. In Alberta, in recent years, labor has been hard to find, and rather expensive. Many of these homes were built in a neighboring province, and delivered over several hundred miles. Cost is not much different than a stick built by a contractor.

Buying a home that has to be moved for some reason, could be an alternative to building. You may even get some period architecture that would be difficult or expensive to duplicate today. You must buy them very cheaply, as the cost of moving them is high. Sometimes, the companies that move houses, will have some available for sale as a package deal, which includes moving and setting on a foundation. You will have to have a foundation ready with workable access. Any modifications will have to be made after the fact, which means you may be involved in an immediate renovation or remodel. Some municipalities or developments may not allow this option, or will have strict rules about what is allowed. Many modern safety or code requirements may be absent. Because these houses were not designed to be moved, the possibility for damage is there. Most house movers are very good at their job, though, and it will likely arrive in decent condition.

Package homes were once a popular option, and they are still available as an alternative to buildng from scratch. In this case, material for the home is delivered precut and partially assembled. Good for do it yourself types, and requiring less know how to assemble the basics. They were well suited to the practical years of the bungalow and bi-level. Roof trusses were often provided for these before they became popular in stick built construction. A carpenter once told a customer of mine that he couldn’t remove an interior wall because the ceiling would fall. Turned out it was a package home and had trusses. The carpenter hadn’t looked in the attic, and only assumed, by the year of the home, that it would have interior bearing walls.

realistic_blueprints-1600x1200You can, of course, save considerable, while never picking up a hammer, by doing only the general contacting yourself. The time commitment is still considerable, and it can be very exasperating if you are not good at organizing, shopping, scheduling and supervising. There are many pitfalls waiting along the way if you are not vigilant. Click this link for a humorous example. Buy a guidebook, or take a course, if you do not have related experience. You must be able to read blue prints, and you will need detailed drawings for mechanical installations. Mistakes happen easily, and can throw a budget or schedule out the window.

When working for a contractor, I once saw where a plumber installed original rough ins from a mirror image plan. No one caught it until the plumber returned to do the next stage rough in. Needless to say this required some visible modifications, and the house had to be sold at a considerable discount.

I actually think it is easier, the more work you do yourself. You will need one or two helpers, and the more experience they have the better. If you can work full time at it, you could build in  four months or less. If you and and your helpers do it all, you will not have too wait on tradesmen, and it can go very quickly. It would be wise, though, to dedicate six months, at a minimum, exclusively to your project, from the time you start actual construction. In northern climates, you should plan to start about the first of May. If you do not have your exterior finished, and your interior to the drywall finishing stage, when winter sets in, your costs will escalate quickly. Scheduling is not so critical , because, if the plumber doesn’t show up as promised, there will be all kinds of other things you can do. Electrical and plumbing rough ins can be done as soon as the walls and roof are framed, but you can stay busy roofing, putting up siding, building stairs and steps or pouring concrete floors and walks until they come.

Once mechanical rough ins are done, you can likely figure out how to install sinks, toilets, or electrical lights, switches and receptacles. If you plan to do it all, be certain to familiarize yourself with the various safety and building codes

IMG_1110Drywall, painting and finishing carpentry can probably be done as well by you as by anyone, but be prepared to take much longer than the professionals. It would be wise to do some study and practice in advance.

Two carpenters were nailing boards on the wall when one noticed the other throwing as many nails over his shoulder as he was pounding into the wall. When asked, he said that half the nails were pointing the wrong way, and were unusable. “You fool” said the first “Those are for the other side of the house.”

 Photo credit: kelviin / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

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