Sunday, 18 May 2014

Ten tips for building a house

The poster presentation on cool homes for a warming planet gave me the opportunity to revisit and update my ten tips for building a house. It also encouraged me towards concision, so the ten tips are now more pithy.

1. Don't do it.

2. Dedicate a couple of years of your life to this project.

3. Have a vision.

4. Don't trust anyone.

5. Work out who is in charge.

6. Don't let them rush you.

7. Sometimes you have to make decisions and then move on.

8. The ideal home, what you want, what you ask for and what you get are four different things.

9. Assume that everyone thinks you are a complete idiot who knows nothing about house building.

10. When it's all finished, if you get more than about half of what you wanted, you've done really well.

11. It will take longer than you originally thought, and they may try to charge you more than the price you thought you had agreed on.

That's all that went on the poster, but here are some notes just to explain a little more:
1. This is not so much a negative give-up-and-don't-bother, but more because there are loads of houses out there and lots of people already making houses, and you have to wonder: do you really want to add to all of it?
2. The way life works out, there's a good chance that building a house will coincide with having small children and working very hard at your career, both of which may seem, and in fact are, more important.
3. If you don't have a clear idea of what kind of home it will be, the other people building the house may use theirs. If you can find someone with a vision you like, that's great! Beware of marketing slogans masquerading as visions. 
4. Ask questions, search the internet, find out the options, get a second opinion. Be particularly wary of free information, like this.
5. It's probably not you and if you want to be in charge you may have a battle on your hands unless you are really going to build the house yourself. An architect will try to keep himself as your sole contact and prevent you from talking to anyone else on the project. He may then leave everything up to the site foreman or the carpenter, and they may in fact be in charge. Make sure they are on your side!
6. Spend another few days making that decision. Don't worry about changing your mind. You will probably be living in the house and possibly paying back the loan for the rest of your life, and it should be just what you want. It's like shoes: if they don't feel comfortable when you try them on in the shop, then don't buy them. They won't ever feel comfortable on your feet outside, you won't grow into them, and they won't be just right when you've worn them in.
There are two main reasons they want you to make a decision quickly. First, they want to get your project out of the way, and start working on the next one. Second, they have promised one of their friends in the building trade that they are going to be contracting some work, and the timing suits their friends.
7. Sometimes you just have put the decision behind you and start treating it as an unchangeable fact that you will have to live with, and which there is no point in agonising over any more. If buts and ands were pots and pans you'd need to build an extension onto your kitchen.
9. For the most part, they are probably right. The building trade, like many others, seems to work on the principle: a fool and his money are easily separated. People will only be interested in what you think or what you want at the beginning. Very soon they will just ignore you and work on what they think you want.

And you can see even more in the original post published here in June 2012.