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What It Takes to Build Your Own Log Home

Should you hire a pro or build your own log home? Time and money will help you decide.

Your goal is in sight, though the hard work is just beginning: actually building your new timber or log home. The task requires the greatest expenditure of effort and money, but, if all goes according to your plan, there’ll be no surprises, and you’ll finish on time and on budget.

The biggest unanticipated costs result from change orders once construction is under way. It’s tempting to make modifications as the home unfolds — add a window here, move a door there — but building a house isn’t quite the same as re-arranging furniture. So think twice before you order a change.

Despite all your planning and all the choices you will have made to this point, as construction proceeds, your contractor and subs will have questions about whether you want something one way or another. Even if you don’t physically participate in your home’s construction, you’ll be involved.

You can choose to build your custom wood home yourself, act as your own contractor or hire a contractor to do the work for you. The decision needs to be made based on how much skill, time and money you have available, and an honest evaluation of your personal motivation.

Here are your choices:

1. Build It Yourself

Building your own home can be challenging and rewarding for you and your family, something you will remember for years to come. It can also save you up to 35 percent of the cost of your home. On the other hand, it can require many hours of very hard work and cost more in the end than a professional construction crew would have charged to do all the work for you.

Log homes are perhaps a bit more easily built by do-it-yourselfers than other homes are. Erecting the log walls is usually a simple enough process, and the manufacturer provides plenty of assistance, including construction guides, construction videos and on-site technical assistance.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that building a log home is easy. Plenty of very hard work is necessary to build any home, and there are many skills to learn, so you’ll want to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses carefully before undertaking a project this large.

Timber-frame homes are built similarly to conventional stud-framed homes, with the obvious exception of the frame. There are also elements that fall outside of DIYers’ home-building experience: application of structural insulated panels (SIPs) and installation of roof trusses.

These features are better left to experienced timber-home builders, although there are building schools that can acquaint you with the fundamentals. You probably shouldn’t attempt to build the home yourself unless you are willing to dedicate all of your free time — that includes weekends and evenings — to the project for the next six to 12 months.

Also consider your family. They will all be involved very deeply. Make sure your spouse and children are as committed to the project as you are. If you all can make this commitment, a level of satisfaction and achievement that few people ever realize will be yours.

Be your own general contractor Would you make a good contractor?

2. Become a Contractor

If you are a good planner and organizer, have the skill to manage others who will be working on your home, and are persistent in searching out the best value for your money, then you probably have what it takes to be your own general contractor.

You will, of course, need a strong working knowledge of construction techniques, the ability to discern good workmanship and the temperament to bring together a diverse group of subcontractors to accomplish a specified goal on a set schedule. The task requires a considerable number of hours, often in the early morning or the early evening because these are the only times subcontractors might be accessible.

The task also requires endless hours of running around during the day to gather bids, pick up materials and inspect the work to make sure it meets your standards before you pay for it. The result of all your effort will certainly be a home that meets your exacting standards. There won’t be any surprises because you will have a hand in every decision.

More importantly, you will save the amount a general contractor would charge for his work, plus his profit and overhead. This will usually be 15 to 20 percent of the total job cost. You may not save as much as you expect, however, because an experienced contractor may be able to get lower bids and better prices than you can, although the savings are worth the effort. It’s a job you can handle without taking off completely from your regular job, although an understanding boss helps.

3. Turn-Key Contract

It may be that you simply don’t have the time or interest in becoming deeply involved in the construction of your new home. You may choose to contract with a professional builder to do all of the work in what is known in the industry as a “turn-key” contract. Your only involvement is to turn the key and walk into a finished home.

You will still be asked to make hundreds of decisions, from selecting the wallpaper to specifying the quality of hardware, but you won’t have to get involved in working with subcontractors and construction management. Selecting a builder can be demanding task.

Ask your producer’s representative for a list of builders in your area. Conventional builders willing to tackle a log or timber home on a fixed-price contract might be difficult to find because they may be unfamiliar with some of the construction techniques required. Resist the urge to sign a cost-plus contract unless you know and trust the contractor completely.

A cost-plus contract is one that does not have a fixed price but pays the contractor a percentage of whatever the job costs. It offers the contractor little incentive to work efficiently and watch expenses since he will make a profit no matter what.