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Top Tips for How to Build a House

There are many different ways to get a new home, including buying an existing house, building a house yourself, or working with an experienced team to design and build a home. Unless you have extensive construction experience we always recommend the latter process of building a custom house. Fortress Home in Chicago has a team of experts in home construction and here we detail the steps you need to follow when looking to build a house and outline the residential building construction process so you can understand what's happening every step of the way.

Should I buy or build?

When you want a new house there are many options and we highlight a few of the pros and cons of the three most common ones.

Buying an existing house

This is the most traditional way to get a new house and has the most options for financing. However, when buying a house it's hard to find exactly what you want so compromises usually have to be made. But for many people, it's the easiest option.

Pros

  • Better availability in well-established neighborhoods
  • Classic house designs
  • Far quicker than building a house (usually)
  • A well-established garden with trees and shrubs
  • Maybe cheaper depending on the current market and location
  • Many options for mortgages and financing

Cons

  • Surprise problems
  • Higher maintenance costs
  • Unlikely to find your dream home
  • Compromise often required
  • Older building standards may be lower than current ones
 

Building your own home

Some people are up for the challenge of being their own contractor but this option should not be undertaken lightly. Sweat equity may be able to save you money, but lack of experience and contacts can end up being very costly.

Owner-built houses almost always take at least 25% longer to build than contractor-built houses and are far more likely to go over both budget and schedule, meaning that while the cost to build a house yourself may be lower than with a contractor, it can also be a lot higher.


Pros

  • You can save money if you know what you're doing
  • More freedom to change features as you go
  • A true sense of accomplishment and ownership

Cons

  • Can take much longer than working with a professional
  • Stressful to find qualified and experienced subcontractors for specialist tasks
  • No access to trade discounts on materials which can cost more
  • Lack of experience can lead to poor finishes
  • Can end up costing more in wasted time and energy
  • Very likely to over-run schedule
  • Insurance can be complex and expensive
  • Difficult to get finance or loans for self-build projects

 

Working with home builders when building a new home

If you decide to build a custom house with a reputable and long-standing general contractor, like Fortress Home, you get a lot of benefits that come with years of experience in home construction.

Pros

  • Experience and expertise already in place
  • Access to a network of expert subcontractors, saving you time
  • Access to trade discounts, saving you money
  • Well insured (if a licensed general contractor)
  • Knows the local building codes and planning permit regulations
  • Understand the local inspections process
  • All warranties for materials and appliances will be valid as the work is fully licensed
  • Accountability for all budgets and schedules
  • One point of contact for the entire building project

Cons

  • Fees can be costly
  • If you work with an unlicensed contractor you may not be insured
  • If you don't get along with your construction manager it can be stressful
 

How to start the process of building a house

So you've asked yourself 'how to build a house?' and decided to work with a trusted builder or general contractor. But before you break ground on your home building process there are several things you need to do.

Prioritize what you need

Before you speak to a professional or look for land it's very important to get a clear idea of what you want from your custom home.

We recommend sitting down with your whole family and discussing which rooms are essential and which are nice to have. You can think about your existing home and discuss what you love about it and what you'd like to change. Maybe the laundry room is in an awkward place and you want it off the kitchen, not the hallway. Perhaps you've always dreamed of wood flooring in your living space. Make a note of everything you need in your custom home.

You should also discuss house styles and layouts. Are you looking for a modern concrete house or a classic bungalow? Do you want a small front yard and a larger back yard with a pond? What about a basement or pool?

While you're doing this remember to think about the future. If there's a chance you'll be working from home more, make sure there's an office space. Is an elderly parent likely to need to live with you in the coming years - perhaps a self-contained mini-apartment would be a good idea?

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Work out your budgets

Understanding what you have to spend on your home building project and having a clear budget is vital before you start building your own home. It can be useful to break your budget down into three distinct areas:

  • The actual construction of the house, including your land costs.
  • The interior decoration and finishes, including furniture, curtains, rugs, etc.
  • The exterior finishes, which can include landscaping, planting, and decking. Some of these costs may be included in your construction budget by your general contractor, but thinking about it this way can be helpful.
 

You will almost certainly need a construction loan to pay for building a new home, but in general, these types of loans only cover the first budget, so you may need to get a mortgage or other type of loan to cover the remainder of the project.

Find your general contractor and architect

The home builders you work with are vital for success when you want to design and build a house so finding the right team is vital. We recommend working with a full-service general contractor as they may even be able to help you find a great architect to draw up your plans.

A full-service contractor, like Fortress Home, will help manage the project every step of the way:

  • give you a quote for the total cost
  • work out a schedule with deadlines
  • assist with the design
  • obtain the building permit
  • employ all the subcontractors and laborers
  • keep the project on schedule and to budget
  • ensure your house passes the final inspection
  • communicate with you every step of the way
 

We recommend getting personal recommendations for a contractor, checking out their work and testimonials, and speaking to a few contractors before choosing the one who will manage your house build.


A great place to get suggestions is a local real estate agent or homeowners association.

You may not need an architect if you buy plans off the shelf, but it's important to ensure the plans are up to local building codes. For a more complex custom home hiring an architect who specializes in your style of house is a good idea.

Find the perfect plot of land

Looking for the right plot of land can take time and your general contractor may be able to help with suggestions. You should also check with local realtors for suitable plots.

Things to consider when buying land include:

  • Zoning laws
  • The type of soil you'll be building on
  • Any water sources on the land
  • Access roads
  • Proximity to underground utilities

Design your custom house

It's best to wait until you have your land to start the technical design process for the house as there may be features on the land you need to workaround. If you are building a fully custom house you'll want to consider things like the square footage, the direction the plot faces, and where the sun will hit, before finalizing your designs.

At this stage, you can give your architect your full list of requirements and discuss with them how best to realize them. You may also want to work with an interior designer to design the look and feel of the interior of your dream home.

Handover to the builders

Once you have the land and building plans you can hand the project over to your general contractors and their team of builders who will begin realizing your new construction.

Understanding the residential construction process

Once you hand the floor plans over to your construction team, the process to building a house can begin. Here we give you a brief outline of how to build a house from the point of view of the construction team, so you can understand what is happening every step of the way.

Approvals and permits

Before the physical process to build a house begins the plans need to be approved and a building permit needs to be obtained. Your contractor should already have a good relationship with the local building office so this step should proceed smoothly.

Prepare the land and foundation

The first step in actually building a house is to clear the building site and then lay the foundation. Clearing the land may involve clearing trees and bushes, demolishing old buildings, and leveling the plot.

Utilities and services may be laid into the property too at this point if they're not already there. It's much easier to put in the main pipes, drains, and cables before construction begins.

Then the outline of the exterior walls can be laid out and trenches dug for the foundation walls. Depending on the type of soil and style of house you may have concrete footings or a concrete slab laid as well. If you're laying a concrete slab, utilities will be placed in it, ready for the building to go up on top.

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Pup up the frame, roof, and siding

Once the foundation wall is in place and dried (which can take a while, depending on the weather), your house structure can go up. If you're building a wood-framed house the structure will be erected. Roofers will put up the roof and siding will go on.

Exterior windows and doors will also be installed so at this point, your structure will be mostly weatherproof and it will start to look like a real house.

Install the utilities, HVAC, insulation, and drywall

The rough wiring, plumbing, and ductwork for the HVAC will be installed in the walls and floors, ready to be wired in at a later stage.

In order to make sure your house is energy-efficient insulation will be placed or inserted into the walls. Depending on the type of insulation that's used this will either take place before or after the drywall is hung for the interior walls.

Painting, carpentry, and cabinets

Once you have walls up the painters and decorators will arrive so that painting can begin. Carpenters will come in and build any fitted wardrobes as well as kitchen and bathroom cabinets.

Any other carpentry such as baseboards, molding, and stair rails will also be constructed at this stage. Interior doors should also be hung, although the carpenter might wait until after the final coat of paint.

After that the final coat of paint can be put on, showing off your style and flair.

Flooring and tiling

Wooden floors or floor tiles can then be laid and bathroom and kitchen walls will be tiled too. Your house will start to look less like a building site and more like a home at this point.

Finish plumbing and electrics

The plumbers and electricians will be back on site once the floors are down. Before the utilities are connected any sinks, showers, bathtubs, faucets, outlets, light switches and light fixtures will be installed.

Once they are all in place your house can be connected to the utilities and you can turn on the lights and wash your hands in the sink of your new home.

Final interior touches and appliances

Your appliances should have arrived by now and can all be installed. You may need an electrician and plumber for this to ensure they are safe and in full working order.

If you have not yet laid carpets that can be done at this point, first ensuring that everything is meticulously cleaned.

Any other final interior touches will be added, such as towel rails and hooks.

Your house will then be given a final clean and the interior will be complete.

Final exterior touches

Contractors usually wait until after the interior is complete to do any exterior work, to save damaging a newly laid lawn or fresh driveway with heavy vehicles.


Depending on what features your new house has there might be decking, ponds, garden paths, lawns, and trees added to the yard.

Final walk-through and move in

You should have had regular inspections of the building work as it progressed so any final inspections should be straightforward. Your contractor will manage them so you're able to move into your new home.

You'll also have a final walk-through with your contractor to make sure that you are happy with the new construction and you understand how everything works. If there are any minor details that need finishing or fixing you'll give a list to the contractor and they will be completed.

Frequently asked questions

Where do I start if I want to build a house?

One of the first things you should do when you decide to start building a new home is to work out exactly what you want in your new house - the number of rooms, storage space, outdoor space, and what style of house you want.

Then you need to work out what you can afford, as your budget will dictate what size and type of house you can realistically build.

Is it cheaper to buy or build a house?

There is no definite answer as to whether building or buying a home is cheaper as so much depends on the location, the current property market in your area, and the type of home you're looking for. We suggest speaking to local real estate agents as they will be best placed to advise you on the current situation where you are.

How much does it cost to build your own home?

The cost of building your own home depends very much on a lot of factors, including location, land prices, type and size of house, materials, and labor costs. However, the average cost for new home construction in 2021 is between $100 - $200 per square foot.

According to HomeAdvisor the typical range for house construction costs is currently $120,000 - $450,000 although this can be much higher if you are building a luxury or design-led modern house.

Can I legally build my own house?

In most states, you can legally act as an owner-builder and manage the construction of your own home. However, it is unlikely you'll be able to construct the entire house yourself as understanding all the building codes and being a qualified electrician and plumber requires a lot of experience and expertise.

If you do manage your own home building project you'll need to ensure all permits are in place, everything is completed to code so you're able to pass all inspections. So working with experienced subcontractors, or ideally, a well-established general contractor will ensure your entire home is safe, legal, and passes inspection.

How to build a house in Chicago

If you're planning to build your own house in the Chicago area, speak to Fortress Home for a no-obligation, free consultation. With 20 years of expertise in residential construction and hundreds of happy customers, we'll help turn your dreams into a reality. Call +773-770-8607 or [email protected] today.

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