by Robert Maxwell
If you’ve read my Cabin Chronicles series, you know that I built a small house in the woods where I now live with my wife, daughter, and cat. I started the project at 19, with virtually no knowledge or experience in construction. I’m 27 now, and if I could go back, I’d do it again. This article is to present you with some of the benefits of this self-building approach. If you’re planning a new home or cottage, don’t rule out building it yourself, even if you’ve never done it before. It sounds crazy, but these days the world’s knowledge is at your fingertips. If you want to learn building, it’s never been easier. I won’t try to teach you how to build here - that’s a topic for another article, or more likely, a series. This post is simply to share advantages you may not have considered of constructing your own place.
1. Save Money
Building your own home from scratch isn’t cheap, but it’s not nearly as costly as hiring a builder. When you factor in all costs, the cheapest you can hire a builder for works out to about $150 CAD per square foot of living space. That means if you want a basic, 2000 square foot home without any fancy features, it’ll cost at least $300 000. Add tiles, a custom fireplace, hardwood floors and vaulted ceilings and that figure could easily swell by 40 percent or more. Even if you’re a millionaire, this is a hefty investment. For most people, it's far more than they can afford, but they do it anyway by taking on massive debt. When you build yourself, cash for materials and time are the only things you’ll be spending. But cost isn’t the only reason to consider building yourself.
2. Higher Quality Results
These days, it’s getting noticeably more difficult to find trustworthy contractors who do good work. They still exist, but are becoming the exception rather than the rule. With just a little knowledge of proper building techniques it’s easy to spot serious flaws and cut corners in even high end homes. This shouldn’t be the case, but in a field where speed increasingly trumps quality, strapping on your own tool belt has never made more sense. When you build your own home, you don’t have to rush the work to ensure a certain hourly rate. You also don’t need to cheap out on materials because you promised to match a lowball bid from a competitor. You can take time to consider the best solution to every challenge without having to worry about deadlines. What you lack in experience compared to a professional contractor, you can make up for in care and attention to detail.
3. Gain Valuable Skills
I’m amazed how many people I know are completely helpless when something goes wrong with their house. Even simple problems experienced by everyone like dripping taps, loose door hinges or leaking shower stalls make them scratch their heads and reach for the phone. With our school system’s glorification of white collar jobs and treatment of the trades as second rate, this shouldn’t be surprising, but it also shouldn’t be acceptable. Lack of practical skills is one of modern society’s greatest weaknesses, and something every man should work to correct in himself. Building your own home forces you to learn a wide range of practical skills that will serve you not only through the construction process, but afterwards too. When something goes wrong or needs fixing in your home (it always happens eventually), you’ll be far better prepared to handle it if you’ve built the place than someone who’s never swung a hammer. You’ll also be the best qualified person to handle any renovations or additions that need to be done down the road.
4. Love Your Home More
It’s hard to describe the bond a man develops with his self-built home to someone who’s only ever lived in walls erected by someone else. There’s a deep satisfaction in knowing your comfort, safety, and occasionally survival depend on shelter created with your own hands. This satisfaction becomes especially acute when you or a member of your family are physically vulnerable, and only your home stands between you and a painful death. Try spending a January night outside when you have the flu and you’ll get the idea. Your home provides a great service, and building that home yourself is the best way to appreciate this to the fullest. I pity the vast majority of people who live their entire lives in houses bought only with money, and not their own careful, dedicated efforts. They’ll never love and value their homes as much as they could.
Building a home isn’t for everyone. If you have absolutely zero interest in construction, buying a house is probably better for you. If you like the idea of building your own place but think a gut load of hard work would burn you out, consider hiring a professional. Many people will fall into these two categories, and that’s fine. But if you’re someone with an interest in taking the path less travelled by, and paying a high physical price for a high reward, perhaps creating your own home is just what you need.