Hello, ladies and gentleman. It’s the end of 2016, and good lord! Where did the time go? If you’re a friend or relative you’ve probably already heard all about the trials and tribulations of my last year and a half – where I worked as both a general contractor and listing agent on a custom home that I built with my father. I wanted to give you all some insight on just what it takes to build a custom home. It’s been both an excellent learning experience as well as a stressful and at times highly emotional process, but I wouldn’t exchange the knowledge I gained for the world!
Step one: Finding a lot and a design for a home.
Before a house can be built, you’ll need a plot of dirt to build it on. Of course, you’ll want to decide what you’re looking for in regard to acreage, whether you are allowed to have horses or other livestock, what neighborhood, etc. Some communities will not allow you to build a custom home, and strive for more uniformity (track homes). Make sure to check into the HOA and see if you can get a hold of the documents prior to entering into an offer on a lot. Getting a soils test and a survey of the lot are also highly recommended…and may be required.
Once you’ve got the land, then you’ll need an architect or designer to actually get a blueprint or plan for a house. We used Seidel Design Group, out of Portland Oregon. Getting a design is expensive and can be a long process – so try to gather as many ideas that you can in terms of the style / sq footage / design elements that you want to incorporate into your custom house.
Step two: Obtaining a building permit.
Now the real fun begins. Before you’ve even struck ground on the house – you will have to apply for a permit in your local county. In this case, we were building in Parker, which is part of Douglas County Colorado. Each county will have their own applications, requirements, and fees! For example, here’s what Douglas county requires just for you to get the building permit:
The following are required when submitting for a single-family residential home permit
- Building permit application. If contractors are being used they shall be listed on your application at the time of submittal.
- Construction documents. One set of scaled (¼” = 1’) construction plans on white paper in blue or black ink. Plans shall include:
- Site plan showing dimensions to property lines and other structures.
- Floor plans (including basement plans), room dimensions and intended use, location and size of all windows and doors.
- Elevation drawings showing complete construction including all exterior elevations.
- Cross-section(s) from the foundation to the roof.
- Typical wall detail(s) from the foundation to the roof showing all components.
- Engineered foundation plans with each page stamped and signed by a Colorado registered Professional Engineer.
- Soil report, stamped and signed by a Colorado registered Professional Engineer, for the property shall be submitted. In areas that may contain a geological hazard, additional analysis and mitigation by a Colorado registered Geological Engineer may be required.
- Structural framing plans.
- All trusses shall be engineered.
- Residential energy compliance. New residential construction shall comply with one of the following three paths for energy conservation: Prescriptive, Alternative or Performance. Please refer to the Residential Energy Compliance sheet for additional information and associated inspections.
- Heating and cooling. Heating and cooling equipment and appliances shall be sized in accordance with ACCA Manual S, based on building loads calculated in accordance with ACCA Manual J or other approved methodologies. Duct systems serving HVAC equipment shall be designed and installed in accordance with ACCA Manual D or other approved method.
- Drainage Erosion and Sediment Control. Complete DESC submittal (DESC Application, Erosion and Sediment Control Drawing, Lot Specific Drainage Plan, and DESC Plan Standard Notes and Details). Any questions related to DESC Plan design requirements, DESC Plan submittal and permitting process, or DESC inspection requirements should be directed to the Douglas County Engineering Services Division 303-660-7490.
- Availability of water. A “will serve” letter from the applicable water district for the property address will satisfy this requirement. For properties without public water supply, well permits shall be obtained from the Colorado Division of Water Resources (303-866-3581). Proof of adequate water supply is required before a building permit may be issued. The applicant shall provide evidence of a completed well test which demonstrates a water flow of at least one gallon per minute. The well test shall be signed by a licensed well contractor, professional geologist or engineer. If the well test demonstrates a water flow of less than one gallon per minute, a cistern shall be required in compliance with the Douglas County Plumbing Code, as amended.
- Sewage disposal. A “will serve” letter from the applicable waste water district for the property address will satisfy this requirement. Where septic systems are required, a copy of the permit application and septic permit shall be submitted. Septic permits shall be obtained from the Tri-County Health Department 303-663-7650.
- Proof of ownership. A recorded warranty deed under the applicant’s name is required at the time of submittal.
- Driveway permit. A Driveway permit application shall be submitted.
- Letter from Architectural Control Committee (ACC) (where applicable). If this letter is not included with your submittal, your permit will be placed “on hold” for 10 working days to allow the Architectural Control Committee to complete their review process
As you can see, there’s a lot to obtaining your permit.
Step 3: Digging a hole, foundation and framing
Now the construction begins! You will need to cordon off the lot using silt fences, which will keep sediment from leeching onto other people’s land or into the drainage systems.
These fences must be properly installed by digging a trench and then burying part of the fence. In our County and inspector will periodically check on the fence to make sure that it is keeping the sediment within your lot. Once the erosion control fences are established then the excavator will begin digging in the area where the foundation will be poured. This process takes a few days and then the foundation concrete contractor will begin his process of pouring the foundation.
Once the foundation is complete the task of framing begins. As you might imagine framing is extremely important to any house as it is the skeletal structure of the home and this process can take several months. Depending on the size of the crew you have working on the framing, your mileage may vary. Timing for the framing and afterwards when you put the roof on the house can be critical in Colorado. Are framing was completed near the end of the summer and getting into the fall and getting the roof on the home was a challenge because of inclement weather once our roof was finally completed we called for the final rough-in inspection in order to begin finishing and drywall in the home.
Step 4: Drywall & flooring
Once you have gotten the home “dried in” (IE water cannot penetrate into the home, the roof has sealed it) you will begin the work of drywalling and insulation – only after the HVAC contractor has finished making all of his vents and installed the furnace and water heating system.
Drywalling takes a few weeks and although you may think once it is drywalled that you are nearly complete let me burst the bubble because the finishing touches of the home are what truly takes the longest. Once your drywalled we begin the task of selecting tile for the bathrooms the mud room the laundry room. Finding a competent tile installer is an extremely important task because child takes very precise work to install. Tile can also get extremely expensive depending on if you use natural stone versus porcelain, and the country of origin from which the title comes from. For our tile selection we used a local outlet called world of tile which I will link to.
Around the same time as the tile installation hardwood flooring was installed on the main level of the home. Once the hardware is installed the subcontractor will have to return to the job later on in order to buff out the floor and coated with a lacquer for its final form.
Step 5: Cabinetry, trim work and painting
Once all of your hard flooring is completed,take note that we did not install the carpet yet that is the last last last step, then Begins the work of having the Tremors come in to do not only the baseboard around the floor but all of the encasing of Windows and any built-ins that the house will include. The trimmer has a very busy job and does quite a bit of things that you would not expect. For example all of the shelving in a closet comma any decorative work to the doors and any sort of built in entertainment centers or shelves are all done by our trimmer. The trimmers worked in this home for close to three months. The trimmers also in our case installed the cabinets we ordered for the kitchen, laundry room, and bathroom vanities.
Once the trimming is all completed then you need to hire a good painter to do both of the wall of the walls and all of the baseboard of the home. They will also stay in any of the doors that you have selected. The painting does not take very long but can be extremely expensive if you can find a subcontractor that gets contractor prices from your local paint shop that will go a long way in reducing the cost. Look at home style magazines or pinterest for ideas on what color combinations you’d like to use – in our case we knew we had darker walnut hardwood, so we matched the doors and railings to that and used a white for the baseboard and trim, and a light beige for the walls.
Step 6 – Countertops and appliance install
Once the trimmers have completed their task of installing cabinetry, you then need to purchase countertops. It is best to go to the warehouse to see what and variance of granite are available to you they can vary greatly in price depending on how exotic they look and what country they come from. The granite people will then measure the areas that need counter topping and then will charge you per slab of granite that it requires to complete the job. In this particular house we did granite on all the bathroom vanities, the kitchen counters and the island along with the main fireplace hearth. Our laundry room utilized formica countertops.
Step 7: Finishing touches, final inspections
At this point you’re getting pretty close to completion of the house but a couple steps to remain. One of the bigger steps is choosing Hardware which includes door handles closet rods door stops and other various little pieces of equipment that you might not even think of. Door handles can vary in price from $10 to over $50 per handle depending on if it is a passage handle a dummy handle for a privacy handle which has a lock on it. We try to get the strongest closet rods available so we used silver metallic ones from Alpine Lumber. You will also want to take note of how many door steps you will need some – some door stops rest in the baseboard trim while others actually are placed within the door jam itself. Also consider getting vinyl stoppers for the inside of cabinets and in the kitchen where opening a cabinet might accidentally dent the wood. At this point we recall other contractors such as the window installers who will then come and install the screens for the windows, the fireplace contractor who will hook up the fireplaces to the gas line, and the plumber who will install the toilets and turn on the main house water and make sure everything is running smoothly. The HVAC contractor will return to fire up the furnaces and air conditioning system and ensure the home is being heated and cooled properly.
The final inspections can be frustrating and time consuming – we found the final grade inspection to be difficult – this inspection insures the home has proper grade slopes away from the foundation so water will drain away from the home. We hired a contractor who specializes in getting the proper grades for this task and also plants the lot with a county approved seed that will begin to sprout the following spring – all with the intent of stopping sediment erosion. There are also final inspections to insure the home has been properly wired and all the electricity, insulation, and other safety concerns of the International building code are met.
Once you’ve completed all these you can go to the county and receive your Certificate of Occupancy, which is a legal document required for the home to be able to be lived in.
This is of course just a short summary of what actually goes on – there are endless details involved in building a house ( along with endless trips to Home Depot, Lowes, and other vendors..) But – if you ever decide to build a home and go through the entire process, you will have a new found respect for everything that goes into a project like this.
If you are curious about a home in Colorado, or building one from scratch, contact me today.