By Andrew Morrison of www.TinyHouseBuild.com
Should you DIY or hire it out? That is the question!! Are you excited about building a tiny house but stuck on whether to do it yourself or hire it out? For some, that decision can be paralyzing, and knowing if you even can do it on your own, difficult to assess. Here’s what I can offer from my experience in teaching over 3,000 participants over the span of 10+ years at our hands-on workshops: you CAN do it yourself (if you want) even with limited or no building experience. I’ve seen it again and again; people with truly no building background successfully creating their dream homes by using their own hands. That said, in some cases, it may make more sense to hire it out. Let’s assess both options and considerations below.
Alexis (pictured at right) from www.TinyHouseExpedition.com working on her DIY build
Although the learning curve may be steeper for those with no experience, it’s in no way insurmountable. So if you want to build your place, know that it’s possible; just make sure you get some quality education before you jump in. The more you learn, the easier and faster your project will go. There are some amazing resources out there to help you learn construction, ranging from volunteering, to books, videos, online courses, and in-person workshops. The key is to find the right approach for you since different people learn in different ways.
Building your own home takes a healthy dose of courage; it’s a big undertaking and if you weren’t at least a little trepidatious at the onset, I’d be worried! But fear doesn't need to be paralyzing and in fact, it can serve as a benevolent guidepost, leading you towards the things you need to work on. For example, if you’re worried about hurting yourself during the electric installation, do some reading up on the topic and come to the task prepared with an understanding of what the risks are and how to keep yourself safe. Just be mindful not to get stuck in “paralysis by analysis” and know how to recognize when you've got enough information to get started. Remember that you don’t need to know every single step of every single process; a strong overview and quick access to resources will get you through your build.
I received some great advice early on in my career from my mentor (who was the head of construction tech in college): “There’s nothing in construction that you can mess up that you can’t fix, so stop worrying so much and get the job done to the best of your ability. If you need to fix a mistake later, it may cost you some time and some money, but you will have learned so much more than those costs could ever have burdened you with.” Those words have helped me countless times during challenging aspects of my builds.
One important factor to consider when deciding whether to DIY your build or hire it out is your schedule. Typically, for a new DIYer, it takes twice (if not more) the time to build a tiny house than when a professional does it. You’ll have to decide if you’ll approach the job as a weekend warrior, working only in your spare time, or as a full time build.
If you take the weekend warrior approach, you’ll be pretty tired before long since you won’t have many breaks between your regular and construction job. But, you’ll be able to keep your job and the income that comes with it. On the other hand, if you take a break from your job in order to build, you’ll lose the income, which will need to be factored into the overall cost of your build. These are good considerations to keep in mind as you decide which route to take.
Christian of www.TinyHouseExpedition.com celebrating the wall framing portion of the build.
If you do choose to build it yourself, I HIGHLY recommend you celebrate each and every victory along the way to completing your house. If you’ve never framed a wall before, be sure to dance and sing when the first wall is up. YOU did THAT!!! Building one’s own home isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but it certainly isn’t the hardest either, and I can tell you one thing with certainty: using one’s own hands to build one’s own house is truly one of the most amazing experiences out there. I hope you’ll have a chance to experience it at least one time in your life!
The “easier” approach is hiring a contractor to complete the job for you. I put the word easier in quotes because although simpler, I still recommend that you learn about construction so you can keep a discerning eye on the job progress. You may pay more in the end to hire it out (depending on your relationship with employment as mentioned above), but it may be worth it to you. With a contractor, you’ll most likely get the house sooner and you’ll have a warranty to go with it; something you can’t offer yourself as an owner builder.
Every situation has drawbacks and/or risks though. For contracting, the biggest risk is hiring the wrong company to complete the job. Nothing will ruin your build as much as hiring a crook or bad builder. Even making mistakes yourself that cost money is better than hiring a crappy contractor. After all, you get the lessons and improve your construction skills when you make a mistake, but you might only learn about construction law and courtrooms if you hire the wrong contractor for your job.
I recommend you interview at least three different contractors and have the same conversations with all of them before making a decision. Be sure to consider the following things, at a bare minimum:
1. Get quality references
2. Confirm that the builder is licensed, bonded, and insured
3. Spend some time in communication with the builder to make sure you a) get along and b) communicate well.
4. Read and understand every word of the contract; making sure it protects you as much as it protects the builder
5. Make sure the right details are in the contract (price, time line, terms, details of the work, contact info, etc.)
As I mentioned above, I’ve been teaching people how to build for years and have learned through that experience that a) you CAN do it yourself, either entirely or partially; and b) sometimes hiring it out is the right choice (and sometimes it’s not!). No matter which option you choose, be sure to stay connected to the project and it’s progress. You can always hit pause along the way, reassess how things are going and make changes if necessary. If you start getting truly worried during your build, remember that there’s no mistake in construction that you can’t fix. I hope you’ll have the incredible and empowering experience of building your own home at least once in your life, but if you do decide to hire it out, I wish you a fantastic builder and a beautiful place to call “home” when it’s done!
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