05 Feb 2010

Owner As Installer – Should You Help Build It?

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You’re a DITY…I’m a DITY…we’re all DITY. Pick up that hammer and join the DITY (Do-It-Yourself) world. Admit it, you’ve fallen victim to the DITY-movement. Frequent DITY shows on HGTV inspire you to build your own project. Instructional U-Tube videos empowered you to remodel your kitchen. The sheer number of home improvement stores, shows and helpful U-Tube videos inspired many owners to build IT themselves. I installed my own kitchen backsplash, well house, screen wall, closet and garage shelving so I’m a DITY convert. Many of you talented owners ask me if you should build part of your home project and I always say “it depends”. DITY may save you a few bucks, but should you actually help your builder? If you decide to offer your services make sure you understand the rewards and pitfalls.

Rewards:
  • cost – performing some work yourself may save you money
  • satisfaction -you did it yourself and have bragging rights for life
  • awareness – you learn what it takes to build a complex home project
  • oversight – you’re on site to make sure they build it to plan
  • flexibility – you can make changes to your work without paying extra fees (providing it doesn’t affect another trade)
Pitfalls:
  • liability – since you’re not an employee, the builder’s insurance does not cover you and he may charge extra overhead to cover injuries. Don’t be angry with your builder if he refuses to allow you to work alongside him because your prescence inadvertently compromises his legal and technical position if something goes wrong.
  • schedule – if you delay the builder, it costs him and you money. Remember your builder estimated time to complete each phase and if you delay the project because you’re distracted with life or your real job, he will adjust the project time and cost.
  • conflict – unless your work is perfect, the trade following you will blame you. Each trade is responsible for their piece and may not coordinate work with complementary trades. I’ve seen trades lambast each other to save their own neck and they will do the same to you.
  • quality – are you skilled enough to construct the assembly? Do you know the correct surface preparation, installation and curing time for the products you install? If you don’t, work quality suffers and you will pay yourself or the builder to redo it.
  • role confusion – are you the boss or are you the worker? You might be paying the builder, but if you work on the site you’re working for him and this arrangement complicates the relationship if you disagree on your respective approach.
  • financing – banks are stingy with their money and are risk averse. Your owner-builder contract will identify work division and if the bank knows you’re doing part of the work they may perceive your involvement as risk and charge you a higher interest rate to compensate for the risk.
  • warranty – owner-installed products and labor void the builder’s warranty. The builder will not take responsibility for work you install and will charge you for repairs if you cannot repair problems.

You might decide the rewards outweigh the potential pitfalls. When you do, most homeowners volunteer to do carpentry or finish work such as paint, tile, cabinet hardware, appliances, trim and caulk/seal joints. Those tasks seem simple enough, but how do you know if you should help the builder?

When to DITY:
  • small projects that do not affect the other trades such as outbuildings or premium finishes installed after the builder leaves (faux paint, wall coverings, tile accents)
  • you own or operate a small construction trade company and have licenses and insurance
  • you are the owner and general contractor (u-build-it, help U build, owner-builder network)
  • you have a skilled and accessible volunteer work force who finish timely
When NOT to DITY:
  • you have no sense of urgency and want to work at your pace
  • you lack sufficient time to be on site and finish your work
  • you lack the equipment or skill to do the job right

Being involved in your home project is rewarding, but can be problematic. My advice is to be the boss and be involved in decisions, product selections and to interpret design intent, but don’t help build unless you build unrelated projects, are skilled in the trade and have the time to do it properly. Remember, no design or construction project is perfect and you have plenty of opportunity to home improve later.

image credit = pixabay

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About the Author


Your Architect is Eric Faulkner -- an architect licensed in Texas & Oklahoma with 28 years experience in design, construction observation and life.