The Owner Builder Experience

Being an Owner Builder

Origins of this site

This site was originally written as a journal of the construction of my owner built home in central Ontario. I updated the images and other documents found here as the project progressed. Our design incorporates passive solar (orientation and south facing windows) and superinsulation (double stud walls with 11" of insulation for R40). We used environmentally friendly products where feasible, and made all material choices with the environment in mind. On this site, if you click on the small images, a larger version of that image will be displayed, click on the large image to close.

What it means to be an Owner Builder

I had long ago hoped to eventually build my own house. In about 2000 or so, my wife and I had made the decision to leave the city and move to a property in the country. First to be out of the city, but also to eventually build up a horse stable, as my wife works as a riding instructor. In 2002 we started looking for land and in October, 2002 we bought our property north of Stirling, Ontario. In the summer of 2003 we built a shed on the property, in May 2004 I took a year off work and started building the house.

In my mind an owner builder is someone who actually builds his or her home. Someone who actually pounds nails and cuts boards It is not someone who hires the contractors, does the scheduling and writes the cheques. That is being your own general contractor. Not that there is anything wrong with that, as you can save a considerable amount of money, but it is not and owner builder. I did hire contractors for some job that I could not do, such as the excavation and concrete work, others that I decided not to do, mostly due to safety reasons, such as the rafters and roofing. I also hired contractors for jobs that I was unsure of and having to fix later would be very expensive, such as the plumbing under the slab. We also contracted out doing the taping drywall on the ceiling in the main living area, as I hate taping ceilings, and the siding, as I had gone back to work and didn't have time. Most of the work, however, was done by myself and my wife, with occasional help from friends and family.

The owner builder experience is something that I am very glad that I did, but not something I would want to do again. If you want to be an owner builder, you will need to have a good mechanical sense and be able to visualize how things go together, be able to learn from books and have an incredible amount of persistence. We got the house to the point of being able to move in after 8 months, but 4 years later we are still doing finish work, but we are finally just about done. What you don't need is a lot of experience although it would probably help. I started by building a planter, then built the shed, and then built the house. Everything I learned about building a house came from reading books, reading magazines, and watching renovation shows on TV. I would put my house up against any house built by a professional builder, and I know that it is better built than most tract homes. Being an owner builder allowed me to know how every part of the house was constructed and where all the wires and pipes are located. Building it myself allowed me to control the quality. Tract homes are built largely by inexperienced labour, who have no incentive to do well and built with the cheapest materials possible. I used the best materials I could afford and had the incentive of a large cash investment and having to live in the house afterwards.

So go to the tabs at the top and follow through the owner builder experience.

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