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Building a house over several years

commonwealthKevin's picture

Building a house over several years (post #206584)

Hi, guys. I've been looking all over Google for information on this topic but to no avail. It looks like many of you here might be competent to offer some advisory on my issue.

I'm interested in building a house, but I'd like to do it all in cash over several years (I don't know, about 3- 4 years or so). Not sure it's particularly relevant, but the reason is that I'm an entrepreneur with highly variable income and obtaining a construction loan would be almost impossible. In addition, I'm not big on debt (despite my business being a debt-based business--but my hypocrisy is for another day).

Anyway, I guess I'm concerned about some of the pitfalls of undertaking the task of a long-term build, mostly the house's exposure to the elements. I live in the Mid-Atlantic United States, and we have 4 normal seasons. I'd like to build a house in stages--1) concrete foundation; 2) insulated concrete form (ICF) framing; 3) brick/stone siding; 4) plumbing, electrical, HVAC, etc. and the rest of the interior build out; and 5) professional landscapping.

Building in stages would allow me to build slowly and all in cash. But what are the pitfalls with home exposure to the elements over several years? Are there any solutions to combat these pitfalls? I could have sworn I read something several years ago about a foam or shell that can be placed around an un-finished house while it remains idle. Did I just imagine this or does something like that really exist? 



There are likely several (post #206584, reply #1 of 11)

There are likely several issues to consider having to do with permits.

Most permits have a time limit of a year or so, and so a single permit is not likely to cover construction over a 4 year period.  You'll likely have to renew the permit several times.

Further, you run the risk that, in the 4-year interval, codes could change such that you might have to rework some of the work you did earlier, to satisfy newer codes.

And I'm sure others can cite other permit-related issues.

Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.  --Herman Melville

No real problems at all. I've (post #206584, reply #2 of 11)

No real problems at all. I've even seen commercial building built in stages as you describe. Keep your material dry, dry in the roof as soon as possible after its sheathed and you should be fine. Permits should not be an issue in most places since they usualy expire 6 months after your last inspection. Once a permit is issued code changes won't affect your job.

Florida Licensed Building Contractor, 50 years experience in commercial remodeling, new homes, home remodeling and repairs and all types building maintenance.

Could you maybe save up (post #206584, reply #3 of 11)

Could you maybe save up enough money to get a foundation, walls, and a roof on before you started?

With a little creative engineering you might be able to put a floor in later, and then continue on with the rest of building the house.

This is one area that I'm an (post #206584, reply #4 of 11)

This is one area that I'm an expert it. Heck, my house is being built over a 20 to 30 year time frame!

I wouldn't completely eliminate the possibility of a construction loan. My experience is that if you are seriously organized with detailed plans, estimates, and with rigorous methods of tracking costs, then you expose the bank to less risk than other projects. I used an Excel workbook to plan the budget and track costs.

Another factor is building location. Around here the urban locations have very strict rules about timelines and occupancy. The rural locations are quite different. We moved into our house without flooring, doors, deck railings, soffits and siding.

Good luck.

I've been building an (post #206584, reply #5 of 11)

I've been building an outbuilding for a little over a year in much the method you describe. I've also added a second story to a single level home over several years time (It was dried in within two months). As others suggest, you need to get a roof on as quick as possible so the elements don't damage what you've started. In my experience, most building inspectors will not give you a hard time about how long it takes if you're making legitimate progress and your work is up to snuff.

You might be helpful to look back at my blog posts:

I think you could do it, but (post #206584, reply #6 of 11)

I think you could do it, but you would have toplan and design it backwards:  Build it from the top down!

Set out your floor plan, then frame and build the roof of that floorplan - shingles, gutters, everything.  You just need piers for the posts holding up the roof, and X bracing between the poles to keep them vertical.  After that, you can build underneith at your convenience.  Inclement weather can be held off with tarps.

YAY!  I love WYSISYG editing!  And Spellcheck!


Good Luck! (post #206584, reply #7 of 11)



Saw you're going to attempt this adventure, which is awesome. Definitely not easy to build your own home over any period of time, but very rewarding in the end. 


Full disclosure, I work with Owens Corning, but we recently updated our Architectural Information center. The site doesn't focus on products, instead it talks about LEED specifications, offers different guidelines, legalities, and online courses for those looking to learn more about architecture as a whole. It also mentions some insulation tactics and roofing information.

Owens Corning Architectural Information  


If you have any OC questions, don't hesitate. 




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Design to build in phases. (post #206584, reply #8 of 11)

My Dad built a rambling modern style home.  The entire design was done at once, and then built in consecutive phases, over 14 years.  He, and three of the other engineers he worked with, all designed their own homes to be built in phases.  All of them took 10 to 15 years to complete the construction, and were completed with little or no debt load.  All were modern in style, and incorporated what are now considered state of the art conservation features such as deep eaves designed to shade large windows through the summer, while allowing full sun exposure in the winter, and seperate gray water systems, to provide irrigation water for gardening, and decrease the loading ons the spetic system. 

Phase I: bathroom; kithcen; a small living room/entry/dining room; what would later be the family room at 14 by 20 with two doors, and a temorary movable closet partition wall; second 7X12 bathroom, with plumbing stubbed in, used temporarily as bedroom.  All over a full basement that housed the mechanicals.  And a 20X25 attached carport.

Phase II: finish the basement to provide a play room, and office space for my Mom, who worked from home as an inker for a couple of engineering firms. 

Phase III: Build second carport attached to the first; and then, enclose the original carport, install a fire place, and picture windows to form the final living room. 

Phase IV:  Build a two story addition on the end away from the living room, master suite on top floor, two more bedrooms on loser floor, finish second bath, remove temporary partions in family room as bedrooms are completed. 

Phase V:  Build third Carport, enclose second car port into shop and office space. 

Phase VI: Convert third carport into garage. 

The advantages to this design for phased construction plan is that all of the siding, trim are consistent accros the structure.  The exterior finish was stained redwood, and natural stone with white trim.  Restain as you side every addition, and the color stays constant accross the structure.   And, having a fully developed plan, allows you to frame for future doors, windows, etc., as you go. This costs a bit more initially, but saves a great deal in the long run. 

I think I have the original drawings for Dad's rolled up in a tube somewhere, I'll see if I can find them, and post a scan. 

Another approach is to build the exterior shell, as a "Storage building", with only a few penetrations, and use something like T1-11 as the siding.  This allows you to dry in quickly, and work in the dry, untill you are very nearly complete, with a minium of access points for vandals or thieves until the interior is nearly complete.  At which point you cut the plywood off the preframed window openings, install the windows, and new siding over the T1-11, and move in. 

I worked with a carpenter who built his out of town retirement home over five years that way. He'd drive up in the RV, and hook up to an RV hookup he built as part of the initial build, and then work on the house for two or three weeks, before he left again. 

Building in phases (post #206584, reply #10 of 11)

I am also interested in building in phases. I don't mind a little debt. I would like to do this as an investment home with it being a home to retire to years later. I have an opportunity to buy a lot. I would like to buy the lot this year and start building next year. I would like to build a basement and a minimal first floor with the idea of adding a second floor later on. I don't know where to start, but I don't want to ignore this possibility just for the lack of knowledge. I liked the idea of building the basement and just having the carport and minimal space to live in. I wonder if I could have a basement, a single room on the first floor. Then later, that would become an in-law room with the main bedroom on the second floor.

I had a friend who built a (post #206584, reply #11 of 11)

I had a friend who built a distant house over a 5 or 6 year period. Howver, he built the foundations one year, got good measurements then came home and precut all his floor framing, framed all the walls in sections, precut the second floor stairs, floor system, second floor walls and cut the pieces for his own roof trusses. When summer came around he took 3 weeks vacation, loaded a large trailer with all the materials and headed oput ona 12 hour drive to the new homesite. He, his 14 year old son and wife had the frame up, roof dried in and the exterior walls covered with plastic 2 weeks later. At Thanksgiving they went back and sheathed the walls and even built the septic tank. Thats the way it went for the next 3 years until the house was done.  It turned out to be a beautiful, well built house.

Florida Licensed Building Contractor, 50 years experience in commercial remodeling, new homes, home remodeling and repairs and all types building maintenance.

It is going to take more (post #206584, reply #9 of 11)

It is going to take more money to build that way.  I am assuming you plan to do most of the work, but you will find yourself wasting more material just protecting what you have, which is the least of problems you will have.  I built a second story roof over the existing single story house, removing the old roof later.  It took about 3 times as much time to do this, because wall studs were added piece by piece and stud penetrations through the old roof had to be made rain tight.  I would not do it this way again.

I was also lucky not to be injured during that time.  You don't want to leave the construction open to weather while you are healing.

My neighbors were good enough to tolerate prolonged construction noise.  I also felt very safe leaving the house at night, but these days, copper thieves are fact of life.  We moved in when the first floor was ready for living.

Either way it will take discipline, so why not save enough money to have the dry shell?