Most of us have heard of the term “sweat equity”. Make no mistake, it is all about sweat! For those of you who don't mind the physical and mental challenges of building your own home, it is icing on the cake. After the house is complete, you have equity rich property. Be realistic with yourself as to what you can accomplish and who might help you. Be careful who you ask to help you. A building project can pose a risk to others and yourself if they are unfamiliar with working around a construction site. Sweat equity can only be earned if you have a safe and injury free project. Before you plan your “Sweat Equity” activities, you should consider your skill level and resources. The rest of the information in this "Build Your Own" section outline the activities and descriptions that might help you identify what roles are right for you . ( back to top )
Before spending too much time and or money on plans, or pursuing financing, you'll need to qualify yourself to make sure that you can afford to build the home you want. As a general rule, I would suggest using a sf cost of $130-$140 per sf (square foot) for a finished home from the foundation up. This generally does not include the cost of the septic, land improvements, or a well. Garages or unfinished basements should be figured in the $50-$60 per sf range. This allowance allows for all materials and labor to build a turnkey log and panel home and allow for contractor’s fees if you hire a general. This is an average based on Northwest materials and labor prices and may not be true for other regions of the country. Costs per sf includes sales tax for Washington residents. If you live in states such as Oregon, there is no sales tax on home construction. If you plan on building your own log and panel home or acting as your own general contractor, you will save money and may spend only $80 per sf depending on your resources. However, as I did when we built our house, I maintained a higher sf allowance so I could afford to pay myself during the time I took away from work and at the same time building equity! Keep in mind that sf prices may vary from plan to plan depending on complexity of design. Call us if you have any questions on determining a workable sf allowance for your project.
Know what you want before you ask how much? This is where it starts when you have decided to build a log style home and when you make that first phone call and ask “How much is it per sf”? When you ask for prices, know what you’re asking for such as; do you want prices for a finished shell or a turnkey home? Prices for shell pricing and turnkey are vastly different. What kind of logs do you want? Do the sf prices include sales tax or contractors fees? There are some that will give you low costs just to get your business if it goes that far. Unfortunately you may end up with a set of plans that you paid for with a design you can not afford to build. The whole idea of getting a preliminary cost estimate in the beginning is to insure that you can afford to build the house. ( back to top )
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The first stage of drafting is compiling a preliminary design based on a conceptual idea. Customers will review the house at each stage until we complete a final draft. Our preliminary drawings will provide a 3D full color rendering so our client will be able to see the interior and exterior views of the home. It is important to have an accurate preliminary design so that an effective preliminary cost breakdown can be created, which in turn will set the clients budget for construction.
The next stage before committing to design fees is to create a working and accurate preliminary cost breakdown, which is derived from the preliminary design. The breakdown of costs will provide allowances and budgets for all activities on your home building project. It is generally laid out in detail showing such items as the following:
  1. Design Fees
  2. Engineering
  3. Permit Fees
  4. Excavation
  5. Rough Plumbing
  6. Cabinets
  7. Rough Lumber
  8. Rough in Electrical
  9. Interior Finish   
This list is not complete but starts to identify all levels of activities that need budgets and allowances. Your preliminary budget should also show contractor’s overhead and profit if you are hiring a general contractor. Do not forget to add state sales tax if applicable. Your cost breakdown should also include a min. 5% contingency for unforeseen overages. Remember it is easier to spend less than spend more of your budget when you come towards the end of your project. ( back to top )
Once the preliminary plans and cost breakdowns are finished, it is time to start the final drafting of your construction drawings. This is when your drawings will take on many more construction details and other information needed for processing the final building permit. You will receive three sets of drawings which in most cases is sufficient for the engineer. The structural engineer will provide the house structural calculations specific to your job site location. In most cases engineering should include full lateral calculation's based on wind loads, seismic activity and snow loads. Once the engineering is complete you are ready to submit to your building authority for the permitting process. Keep in mind that you should allow 6–8 weeks from the time of preliminary design to final drawings. There's also a time line for the engineering and building authority. ( back to top )
After receiving the drawings back from the engineer you will need to review your budget for changes that the engineer made. Many times the engineer will add structural hardware that needs to be added to your budget. On average structural hardware could add on average 1% for a 2000 sf home for structural upgrades. Adjust your final budget to allow for last minute design changes. ( back to top )

This is a portion of your project that can be challenging, but also potentially one that can save you allot of money. Traditionally a general contractor manages a job site overseeing subcontractors, managing cash flow, scheduling and quality control. It’s a lot to do, but, by preparing in advance and proper planning, some "do-it-yourselfers" will succeed and save on average 20% to 30% of the total project cost. That is a large sum of savings that qualifies at the top of "Sweat Equity" activities.
Another important thing is having a source of income or funding that allows you to manage your money in smaller portions without having to extend yourself, on average $15k from stage to stage before you get reimbursed by your lender. Some lenders offer vouchers; like checks, which is great when you are working directly with a subcontractor. Having the cash available to pay upon them completing their work is critical to getting subcontractors in and out.
Being your own general may be one of the most rewarding projects you have ever taken on. When you see your house payment at closing and how low it is, then also discover how much equity you have, you might decide to do it all over again someday. ( back to top )

The question you might be asking yourself is "how much can I save by doing it yourself, and, is it worth it. By reading through the activities below, try to visualize yourself as the one doing the work. Be realistic with yourself in regards to your time, resources and skill level. But try not to over extending yourself beyond your capabilities. ( back to top )
Not a very popular activity for the “do-it-your-selfers”. It requires a sound basic understanding of knowing how to square building lines and layout and of course requires a good understanding of concrete forming. You will need to rent your forms if you don't happen to have piles of foundation form plywood and accessories in your tool shed. If your foundation is a simple design and you really want to get your hands dirty, then you can probably locate a concrete supply business that will estimate the materials and forms (based on your plans) that you can rent. ( back to top )
Floor Framing
Floor framing can be relatively easy. Take your plans to your local lumberyard and have the salesman submit them to a floor joist supply manufacturer (such as Truss Joist or Boise Cascade) and they will provide a complete materials list for engineered I-joists with a floor framing diagram that will show you exactly how the floor should be laid out. The design takes into account local building requirements for dead and live loads and will provide you the best value for floor systems. Of course you can always consider dimensional lumber if you prefer, which at times is cheaper when compared to an engineered joist system. Don't forget to use a good screw shanked nail and adhesive to eliminate those squeaks. ( back to top )
Shell Framing
It will require a good sound basic understanding of carpentry such as knowing how to square building lines, layout, building all exterior walls and interior walls and then of course the roof framing. Tools should include a sliding compound saw, skill saw, 4' & 2' levels, chalk line, speed square and of course, a good hammer! Don't forget a framing square and stair gauges to lay out your stair jacks. Once you have all your tools rounded up and are buzzing to get started, review the plans very carefully, only then is it time to install your logs and panels. It will take a minimum of one helper, but best if you can get 2 or 3. Regardless, you can get allot done with one helper. Take your time and read the plans, especially the engineering notes. It will save you time from not having to tear something apart because of mistakes. Building the walls, setting logs and getting the lower levels built right will insure an easier time when it comes to roof framing. Consult with Frontier about any details and hints to helping you build safer and smarter. ( back to top )
Exterior Finish
Typically you will be using some type of wood siding such as cedar lap siding or board and batt. If you want to be a siding machine, then go out and buy a Senco cordless self-feeding gun. It is a great tool! Instead of nailing the siding on the traditional way and having to penetrate a stud; with screws it isn't important to hit studs if the sheathing is a minimum ½" thick. Use trim head stainless steel screws and most of the screw will become hidden. ( back to top )
This is one activity that you should seriously consider left to the professionals. For the simple reason that a pro is so much faster than the rest of us. Not to mention that they will probably do a better job than the rest of us and just in case you do have a leak they will be the one on top of the roof repairing it when the rain is pouring down. Keep in mind that time is a factor at this stage of the project and if you do hire a roofer, you can always be building a deck, which in comparison will reward you larger in labor savings.( back to top )
Here is probably the least popular "sweat equity" activity and the itchiest one by far. Not much room for savings in labor. Most insulation companies buy at such high volume that it is difficult to complete with and save any money installing it yourself....however it doesn't mean you shouldn't get a bid from a installer and go out and solicit a bid for materials only. And after comparing the two, see for yourself if it is worth your time. ( back to top )
Sheetrock or drywall is another activity that you may want to leave to the pros. It doesn't require a lot of tools but probably more finesse. If you choose to hang your own sheet rock you can use the Senco screw gun that you might have bought for the siding. Few people are skilled enough to apply the taping compound and have a good finish without having to sand and sand and sand....The pros know how to apply the mud to minimize the sanding. However, I have seen a customer apply their own mud on the seams then decided to add mud all over the drywall and ended up with a heavy, hand smoothed texture which gave it an Adobe style look which looked great. ( back to top )
Probably the most popular stage for the "do-it-your-selfers". I suggest having the right equipment such as a airless sprayer and some good brushes.You should also purchase a head stocking that will protect your hair from over spray. ( back to top )
Interior Carpentry
Very popular in the "Sweat Equity" category for most home builders. It is time to add the interior that best suites you. The activities include hanging doors, installing cabinets, cut and install moldings and trim, hang mirrors, shower doors and finish stairs with railings, etc... It is a stage that requires some basic tools which should include a sliding miter saw, finishing gun and some type of orbital sander. It is time to add the interior that best suits you. ( back to top )
Deck Building
Here is a good task that pays you well in "sweat equity". Building a deck adds a lot of value to your home and they are relativity easy to build. If it is a synthetic or wood composite deck material that you decide to use that will add even more value. Again the Senco screw gun will come in very handy to screw down the deck boards. ( back to top )
Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing
These three items are probably some of the least favorite do-it-yourself activities unless any of you are in a skilled trade that you can perform these tasks. If not then, it should be left to a pro. Contact your local building department first to identify the restrictions that may exists under any of these three items. ( back to top )
Always talk to two or three lenders and ask them about their construction loan programs in detail. Lenders can be very different in how and when they disburse funds. Depending on your cash or equity situation, choosing the wrong lender can put you in a cash bind. Be very specific about what you intend to do and have your lender put together a cash flow plan so you can predict your expenses during the project. Be specific with your lender that you plan to act as your own general contractor and discuss what the they may require. Some lenders won't write loans for “Owner/Builders” but there some that specialize in that area. Talk to your lender on the duration of the construction loan. If you are building it yourself you will probably need extra time. There are some lenders that allow 24 months to complete your home as long as you show continued and forward progress. On the other hand there are some lenders that only allow 6 months to build and charge you extension fees for every month after six. In-addition I have experienced a few times when some people closed on their loan which starts the lenders completion time clock, but the permits were not issued for 5 to 6 weeks after funding, which now leaves you with 4 to 5 months to complete your home. Allow yourself plenty of time in advance to understand your goals and what your lender has to offer and you will and should get through your building process just fine. ( back to top )
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