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Information About our Plans & DIY Home Building..

In this section of our site you’ll find information on our plans, permitting, estimating and DIY house building.  Below are links to the major topics we cover.  Scroll down a bit and you’ll find an index of links on more specific topics.

  • Buying our Plans (What’s included, How much it costs, What You Get & When)
  • Customized Changes (Cost to Customize, New Designs, Requesting a Change)
  • Permitting & Zoning (Building Codes, Surveys, Site Plans, Other Required Drawings)
  • DIY Home Building or Contracting (Should You Build it Yourself?)
  • Accurately Estimating Building Costs  (Why You Can’t Use National Costs)
  • How to Get a Realistic “Ballpark Estimate” (Making a Low-Cost Preliminary Budget)
  • Getting a “Real Estimate” (How You Can Assemble a Trustworthy Estimate)
  •  Some Tips on Building for Yourself  (Direct Employees, General vs. Sub-contractors)
  • Jobs You Should Do Yourself (Doing the Jobs That Save The Most Money)
  • Tools and Work Shops (What You Need and Don’t Need)
  • Who We Are ( Why Us? Our Background, Credentials and our Leader)
  • Contact Us  (Phone, Address and E-mail Contact Information)

Why Historic Design?
Why a Small Cottage?
Why Buy from Us?
Who We Are

More Information On:

The Cottage Style
Victorian Architecture
Caribbean Style
French Provincial Style
Italian Villa Style
Our Plans
Permitting & Zoning
Do-It-Yourself Building
Estimating a Home
Jobs You Could Do
Tools & Work Shops

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INDEX to Information

About Our Plans
What is a “Study Plan”
What is a “Construction Plan Set”
What is a “Detailed Plan Set”
Will I Need Any Additional Drawings?
Why Use Electronically Reproducible Drawings in stead of Paper?
How Long Does it Take to receive My Drawings?
How Do I Save My Downloaded Drawings?
How Do I Open My Drawing Files?
How Do I get Blueprints?
How Do I Find a Printing Company?
Customizing Standard Plans
Can I Customize Standard Plans?
What Does a Minor Change Cost?
What Does a Major Change Cost?
What If I What a Totally New Design?
How Do I Request a Quote on My Change?
Permitting & Zoning
What Do I Need to Know About Zoning?
Setting Up a “Pre- Permitting” Meeting with your Building, Planning & Zoning Department
A Few Things You Should Know About Building Codes
Do You Need Anything Else?
Site Surveys
Finding Out About Site Utilities and Creating a Site Plan
Do You Need A Foundation or Soils Report?
Are You Building in an Earthquake, Hurricane or Flood Prone Area?
Do-It-Yourself Building & Contracting
Can I Build It Myself?
You Should Read This Book
Cottage vs Primary Home
Accurately Estimating Building Costs
The Mystery of “General Condition Costs”
Using Standardized Labor Prices
Local Materials vs National
So How Do I Get an Estimate?
A “Ball Park” Estimate Technique
Land Costs
Best Guess Construction Costs
General Condition Costs
A Real Estimate of Your House on Your Lot (In Progress)
First, a Good Set of Plans and Lots of Them
Free Local Costs of Materials
Free Local Costs of Labor
Determining What to Do Yourself
Remember the “General Conditions”
Some Tips on Building for Yourself
Direct Employees and Other Mistakes
On Hiring a General Contractor
Sub-Contracting with Specialists
What Jobs Can I Do Myself?
What Jobs Should I do Myself (a Discussion by Trade)
Plumbing and Electrical
Kitchen and Bath Cabinets
Coming Soon:
Exterior Doors
French and Sliding Doors
Ceramic, Marble and Tile
Hardwood Floors
Fixtures and Appliances
Finish Carpentry and the Tool Shop(in Progress)
The Value of a Owner-Builder Shop
Value Added by Historic and Classical Detailing
The Cost of Setting Up Your Shop
Planning Finish Work to Fit into the Schedule
About Us
Why Buy from Us?
Who We Are
Visit Us and See for Yourself
What are Our Credentials?
Contact Us

Address, Phone, Fax and E-mail Numbers 

Information About our Web Site, Plans and DIY Home Building

About our Plans

What’s Included? We produce three categories of Home and Cottage Plans that try to fit into the various positions you might be in with respect to building a home or cottage. We call the three drawing set types 1) Study Plans, 2) Construction Drawings and 3) Special Detailed Drawings. The various drawing sets include:

1) Study Plans
What They Are – Our Study Plans are an inexpensive (Usually $59.00) way to learn more about each home that we sell. The Study Plan shows a detailed scaled layout of the floor plans of an individual home. Sometimes additional details are attached if they are a part of the standard floor plan sheet. The Study Plan is sent in full size 24” x 36” reproducible pdf format that can be viewed on your computer monitor or printed on your home printer. It can also be printed at full “blueprint” size at any Kinkos, Office Depot or local blueprint shop. Blueprints diy home building
What They Do – The Study Plan is intended to provide you with precise layout and room sizes you can use to see, for example, whether your home fits on your lot or if your furniture fits well in each room. You can study window and door locations, kitchen and bath layouts, or whatever; to see if the plan is one you might like to build. If so, you will need to purchase a Construction Drawing set.
How Quickly Do I Receive my Study Plan? – Your plans will be available immediately after your

online check-out. Just click on the link indicated and you can open or save your drawings to your computer. If you would rather wait to download your drawings at a more convenient time or place, a link to downloaded drawings will be sent to the e-mail address you provided at check-out. You will have 48 hours to download your plans. You can download the drawing files as many times as you want in those 48 hours.

2) Construction Drawing Sets
What They Are –

Our construction drawing sets contain from 8 to 12 sheets of 24” x 36” architectural-engineering plans which describe how to build each of our houses. They include: a. Floor Plan Drawings, b. Building Elevations, c. Window Schedules, d. Kitchen Cabinet Plans and Elevations, e. Architectural Sections and Details, f. Wall Sections, g. Stair Details, h. Structural Plans and Elevations, i. Large Scale Framing-Building Details, j. Specifications, k. Basic Ornamentation Details l. Electrical Plans.

What They Do –
The Construction Plan drawings are the drawings you submit to the building/zoning department and give to the contractor for bidding and building. They are complete and ready to go except for some site related drawings like site and foundation plan. See the “What Else” section below to learn what additional drawings might be required based on your local conditions.

How Quickly Do I Receive My Construction Drawings? – Your complete set of Construction Drawings will be availableBlueprints 2 diy

home building immediately after your online check-out. Just click on the link indicated and you can open or save your drawings to your computer. If you would rather wait to download your drawings at a more convenient time or place, a link to download drawings will be sent to the e-mail address you provided at check-out. You will have 48 hours to download your plans. You can download the drawing files as many times as you want in those 48 hours. If you want full size sets of the drawings, just send an electronic copy to your local printer and he can make you as many copies as you need. See the section below about “Electronically Reproducible Drawing Files” for information about saving and printing drawings.

3) Detailed Drawing Sets
What they are –
We sell plans for finely detailed historically based structures. These buildings have many features and therefore many details not found in modern building plans produced by modern architects/designers. Many of our details are actually what are referred to as “shop drawings”. These are detailed drawings normally produced by suppliers after permitting and used by the building craftsmen to create specific details. These details are what makes a building “authentic”. If what you want in a home is a strong, well laid out, efficient design without a lot of ornamentation than you can build any of our houses from our “Construction Drawing” sets. Our “Construction Drawing” sets have a more detail than a normal set of house drawings you find on the internet but they do not have all the details that make it a classic. Some of the details that are contained in a typical “Detailed Drawing” set might be: Detailed Sections of Window and Door Jambs, Heads and Sills, Sections of Interior and Exterior walls with Cornice and Base Trim Details, Victorian Gable Details, Exterior Rail Details with Full Size Patterns of Gingerbread Panels & Balusters Porch Gingerbread Pattern Cutouts, Door Header Arches with Full Size Patterns, Large Scale Details of Interior Hardwood Stair Construction with Elevations, Plans and Sections, Stair Layouts with Hardwood Rail, Tread, Riser, Skirt and Baluster Placement, Cut Lengths, Manufacturer’s Part Numbers, Stair Part SKU # for Easy Ordering of Stair Parts, Exact Stringer Cut and Placement Drawings, Exterior Porch Stair Details Including Sloped Rail and Baluster Construction, Stringers, Treads and Newel Posts.
What They Do –
Our “Detailed Drawing Sets” contain the shop drawings, millwork drawings and blow-ups of details that we use to give our buildings that artistic and historic touch. Detail Plans- diy home building These drawings show details that are the result of decades of refinement and simplification that allow hired craftsmen or owner/builders to create proportionate, authentic looking ornamentation and historic detailing without wasted time, materials or mental anguish. They can save you thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours.

How Quickly Do I Receive My Detailed Drawings?
Your complete set of Detailed Drawings will be available immediately after your online check-out. Just click on the link indicated and you can open or save your drawings to your computer. If you would rather wait to download your drawings at a more convenient time or place, a link to download drawings will be sent to the e-mail address you provided at check-out. You will have 48 hours to download your plans. You can download the drawing files as many times as you want in those 48 hours. If you want full size sets of the drawings, just send an electronic copy to your local printer and he can make you as many copies as you need. See the section below about “Electronically Reproducible Drawing Files” for information about saving and printing drawings.

Why Electronically Reproducible Drawing Files?
Unlike most everyone else on the internet we no not charge extra for electronically reproducible files. Our reasons for using these files are many, here are a few:
1) Drawing delivery is fast.
You can have a full set of drawings up for viewing and printing on your computer within minutes of making your purchase. It takes approximately 3 days, most times 5 days, to deliver a printed copy of drawing sets. If you are a buyer outside the U.S. it may take weeks to print, deliver and clear customs,
2) It is Inexpensive.
If we have to print, package and ship drawings in the U.S., the cost of a typical three drawing set is approximately $120. Overseas the cost can be hundreds in shipping and thousands in customs fees. This savings is passed on to you and built into our sales price.
3) It is practical.
You will need at least 10 sets of drawings before you are finished with a house. Consider that you’ll be making a minimum of three sets for the building department, a set to each contractor bidding on the project, a set to major building suppliers, sets to your major sub-contractors, sets used in the field, sets to your lender, etc, etc. If we, or any internet drawing supplier, prints your drawings, it will cost at least $120 each time and will take 3 to 7 days to receive. If you have the reproducible drawings on file at a blueprint service you can have them printed on demand with a phone call or e-mail. And your suppliers and contractors can pick them up on their own. That’s normal business practice these days. You pay for actual printing only and save a tremendous amount of time. And you can print as many copies as you want or need.
4) It’s Versatile.
You will have the drawings on your own computer where you can send a digital copy, print a full set at 8-1/2” x 11” or enlarge a detail to any scale. Many contractors and or approval agencies will want the drawings in digital format or delivered on 8-1/2”x11” paper. Sending drawing files or printing from your own computer will greatly minimize the hassle and cost. If you need to send a detail or a change to us, a supplier or contractor, you can mark it up in Adobe Acrobat and send the marked up drawing via e-mail for near instant response. Many of our detailed drawings must be printed at sizes larger than 24”x 36”. Some of our full size gingerbread patterns can be as long as 24 feet! This can create a shipping nightmare. Your blueprinter can print sheets 48” wide x nearly any length without the delivery problems.

How Do I Use My Electronically Reproducible Files?
We will send our drawings to you in Adobe Acrobat Format, also known as pdf. You will need to store the drawings on your computer for printing and viewing later on. Here’s some things you might need to know about saving and printing reproducible drawings. When Will You Receive the Drawings? Your complete set of drawings will be available immediately after your online check-out. Just click on the link indicated on your receipt and you can open or save your drawings to your computer. If you would rather wait to download your drawings at a more convenient time or place, a link to download drawings will be sent to the e-mail address you provided at check-out. You will have 48 hours to download your plans. You can download the drawing files as many times as you want in those 48 hours.

How Do I Save the Downloaded Drawings?
When you click on the noted link(s) to download your drawing files after check-out or via our e-mailed file, the files will instantly be available for saving or opening. Before downloading into your computer, your computer will ask you whether you want to open the file or save it. We highly recommend you save the files to a convenient folder before opening. The process is the same as any file save operation. After the file download is complete your drawings will be ready to open.

How Do I Open My Drawing Files?
Your files are sent to you in Adobe Acrobat “pdf” format and can be viewed, copied and printed using Adobe Acrobat or Adobe Reader software. If you do not have Acrobat installed on your computer the current version of “Reader” is available for download from Adobe free of charge at . After installing Acrobat Reader, the drawings can be opened using the “open” icon. Once opened the drawings can be viewed on virtually any monitor or can be printed at any scale.

How Do I Get “Blueprints” Made?
You can make prints of our drawings from any size printer you have available but most of our customers will need a commercial printer to make full size (24”x 36”) prints of their drawings. Choosing a printing company to make your “Blueprints” is worth some effort. Blueprints at this writing can cost any where from $.80 to $3.00 per sheet. We chose to transfer all of our AutoCAD drawings to Acrobat because it is universally acceptable to all commercial printers, so no matter whom you choose, they will be able to use our files. Generally there is very little quality difference between a large sophisticated company and a “Mom & Pop” printer so look for convenience and a good price. Once you have chosen your printing company, you can get the files to them by sending the files as an attachment to an e-mail, by giving them a CD disk or via a USB flash drive. Tell your print company to save your files to their computer so they will be available throughout your Project.

How Do I Find a Printing Company?
Your best source for finding a printer is your local Yellow Pages. Remember that printing can mean a lot of things and the labels used i.e. blueprinting, reprographics, reproduction and printing can all be used to describe “blueprinting”. In addition companies like Fed-Ex Kinkos, Office Depot and The UPS Store usually have large format printing services. The best bet is to look for someone who specializes in printing for architects and engineers. They specialize in 24”x 36” blueprints and are usually competitive. Remember the price drops significantly the more copies you get, so try to print in batches. And tell the printer you would like to set up an account so he can bill you for copies that your contractors or suppliers pick up.

Customizing Standard Plans

Can I Customize My Plans? –
It is routine practice for us to standardize our plans to meet customer’s needs. It is cautioned that it can be expensive if the change requires us to redesign something that affects major structural elements or causes a change in a number of different drawings. In all cases our work would involve revising the original drawings in AutoCAD, recreating a printable custom drawing set and sending the revised pdf drawings to you.

Minor Changes ($200-$400) – Below are listed a number of revisions that we consider minor:
Adding or Moving Windows or Doors
Moving a Non-Bearing Wall
Changing Kitchen Cabinet Style, Size, Placement
Revising Depth or Size of Footings
Moderate Changes ($500-$1000) These are some things we consider moderate changes:
Moving a Bearing Wall Causing a Redesign of the Structural System
Enlarging the Exterior Perimeter Walls
Flipping the House Right to Left
Adding a Basement
Changing a Stair Location
Complete New Designs Based on One of Our Home Designs –
We have designed 100’s of custom houses and redesigned our standard plans to accommodate all kinds of things; airplanes underneath, boat lifts, towers, third and forth stories, mountain tops and extreme slopes. Each presented a different challenge. Occasionally we design entirely new homes with an owner inspired theme. Based on our experience we would have to talk to our customers a bit before providing pricing information, however the range could be as little as $5000 to as much as $15,000 for a completely original design.

How do I Request a Quote on a Customized Change? –
The best way to receive a design quote is to describe your desired change by printing and sketching over one of our study plans or over a printout of our on-line plans. Just mark up the changes directly on the drawing sheet. Add sketches or notes on as many sheets as you need and fax the drawings and notes back to us at our toll free fax number 866-788-8297. If you’d like to scan something and attach it to an e-mail that’s OK also. Our e-mail address is [email protected]. If you have a photograph of a detail or a style you would like to emulate, send that also. The more information we have from you the better we can give you accurate feedback. Quotes are free of any charge.

Permitting & Zoning

What You’ll Need to Start – A Lot & a Plan
What you first need to start your building process is, of course, a piece of property to put your new home on. And obviously, all residential properties are not the same. So you first need to identify a particular lot or subdivision you might want to live in. Once you have some idea where you want to build, your next task is to find out what is allowed to be built on your particular lot. That usually means you need to talk to a planner or zoning specialist at your local Zoning Department.

Zoning Department “Pre-Permitting” Meeting –
Zoning Mtg diy home buildingAs soon as you think you have found a suitable lot or subdivision and have some sort of building

plan, you need to make an appointment for a “Pre-design Meeting” at your local Building, Planning and Zoning Department. Here’s what you need to take to that meeting:
A legal description of the lot or the lot number and subdivision name,
A sketch or survey of the lot with dimensions and road name and location,
A house plan that shows, outside dimensions, overall height and finished area. This might be one of our study plans.

At the “Pre-Design” meeting you’re going to learn a lot about your property, community and probably bureaucracy.  But here’s some questions you need to have answered at that meeting:

  • Is the property zoned for the single-family dwelling you are proposing?
  • Is the property large enough for the house you are proposing?
  • Does the proposed plan fit inside the setbacks required by the local Zoning Code?
  • Is there a height limitation?  Either maximum overall or minimum height above the ground.  If so, does the proposed building meet these requirements,
  • Are there architectural building standards, such as historic detailing, fireproof construction, specific roofing materials, etc. required?
  • Are there utilities available to the site or will you need to provide a well for water or septic system for wastewater?
  • Request the names and phone numbers of each utility that are available to provide service to the property.  That list should include sewer, water, electrical, gas, phone and cable.Bldg Permit diy home plans
  • Does your permit application require a signed and sealed survey by a Certified Surveyor or can you use the plat map dimensions for your site plan?
  • Will you need a soils report for foundations?  If so obtai
  • n a list of local firms who are approved to perform this service,
  • What Building Code is being used for the review of residential building permits and what year or version?
  • Will your design have to include special calculations and/or details for disasters such as Earthquakes, Hurricanes or Floods?
  • Will your building plans need to be signed and sealed by a Registered Engineer or Architect?
  • How much will your building permit cost including any impact or use fees that are assessed against residential permits?  

Some of these questions might be better answered by the building department, if the departments are separate. But you are allowed to ask someone from the building department to join the meeting if necessary.  After you have gathered all this information, you will have a much clearer idea whether you can or want to build on the property you have picked.  The following is how to handle various permitting and zoning related issues.  

About Building Codes –

When you buy a set of drawings from us the architectural, structural, and plumbing design is based on the International Building Code (IBC). In the past ICC Code diy home buildingdecade this national code has replaced many of the older regional codes that used to exist in the United States, such as, the “BOCA Code”, the “Southern Standard Building Code”, the California Building Code and the “Uniform Building Code”. So most municipalities will recognize the IBC as their design standard. CodeCheck diy home building
Fortunately the standard is now being adapted throughout the world, so most nearly all the countries in which we sell plans will find

the standards of the IBC acceptable. If you have any problem with a code interpretation in our drawings, please have the local Building Code Official in charge call or e-mail us directly for any code related questions. If you want a handy way to check building code requirements or see if your contractor is doing it right, get a copy of “Code Check- Complete”. This book shortens thousands of pages of building codes down to a few illustrated check sheets that anyone can understand. We use it ourselves. It’s available from Amazon for about $25.00.

Do You Need any Other Thing Else? –
We design homes that are built all over the world so we are forced to standardize to some degree. However there are issues that need to be specifically addressed for each individual property. Those usually include the property setbacks and dimensions, site plans, location of site utilities and local soil conditions. You will need to address each issue on your property. Here are some suggestions:
Surveys – Normally a site plan, based upon a certified survey, is required by the building department as part of a Building Plan Construction Set. If you need to request a survey make sure the survey shows at least the following items:

  •  Property lines with lot line dimensionsSurveyors diy home building
  • Existing utilities
  • Grades with elevation contours
  •  Adjacent roads and structures
  • Major trees or landscape items
  • Existing driveways and sidewalks  

The survey is normally well worth preparing since it will probably be needed by your financing institution and by the contractor for setting the building position in the field.  Therefore we normally recommend a formal survey for every house.  If you think you have enough information without a formal survey and if the local building department does not need it then you can save some money by avoiding this cost.  However you will probably still need a Site Plan.  

Site Plans – The sitsite plan diy home buildinge plan locates the actual building position on the property, taking note of desirable view corridors, setbacks, obstacles, utilities, sidewalks and roads. The house designer, utilizing a survey drawing prepared by a local surveyor, normally prepares the site plan. The site plan can be prepared from a plat map or even a dimensioned sketch but either way the essential elements noted above for a survey should be shown on the Site Plan.
For your new home, you can choose to have a local draftsman prepare your site plan or we can provide the drawing for you as part of our customization services. If we prepare your plan from an electronically reproducible survey containing all the information noted above it will normally cost about $250.00. After completion we would send the finished drawing back to you in pdf format for inclusion with the rest of your plans.

Foundation and Soils Reports – Because we send drawings to all parts of the world, our foundation design is generalized and

conservative. Our designs are usually based on International Building Code Table 1804.2, “Class 5” soil conditions with a maximum bearing strength ofdriller diy home building 1500 psf. We require that all foundations extend a minimum of 12” into undisturbed “Virgin Soil”. These are IBC worst-case conditions and therefore should be safe in nearly all cases. However, some local Building Departments require a site soils analysis to be a part of a Building Application. When they do, it will be necessary for you to employ a local Geotechnical Engineer. Your local building department should have a list of approved engineers on hand. It could cost thousands of dollars for this expense so remember to check with the local building department.

pecial Structural Designs – If you are planning to build in a Hurricane Zone, a designated High Wind Zone, a Flood or Earthquake prone area you may be required to have a licensed engineer add special structural details to your house plans to resist the extraordinary forces created by these acts of nature. Unlike other plan sellers, all of our house plans are designed by a Registered Engineer. If your local building department needs engineering calculations or a “sealed” set of drawings for any of the above

conditions, please contact us for help. hurricane diy home building We maintain engineering licenses in California, Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky. We also are certified nationally with the “Structural Engineering Certification Board” but some states, in which we are not registered, may require a local engineer to seal your plans. In that case you will need to ask for a list of local engineers to assist with the necessary details and certifications on our plans. Normally this will involve the local engineer reviewing our plans to see if they need any further strengthening for local conditions. If he believes so he might add additional drawings to your building set.

Do-It-Yourself Building & Contracting

Can I Build it Myself? –
The question has so many answers. But probably the most compelling question first is whether you have the time to Build-It-Yourself? If you have the time, a source of income and a minimal amount of skill, the answer is yes. But if you’re thinking about building a home or cottage completely on your own, I would suggest doing some serious research. We are offering some basic suggestions in the paragraphs that follow but the topic is quite broad and has been written about extensively in much more detail than we have space for here.

You Should Read this Book-
We have reviewed a number of books on the Do-It-Yourself subject. The one we recommend because it offers the best perspective is “The Owner-Builder Book” by “Mark and Elaine Smith” a paperback that sells for only $19.95. This book alone could save you tens of thousands of dollars.

Cottage vs Primary Home –
One thing to keep in mind is that there is a major difference between building a primary home and a vacation home or backyard cottage. Again it gets down to time. If you don’t need to move out of your present home and into the one you’re building then the game is completely different. Having your sons and daughters, brothers, cousins and friends help to build a small cottage that everyone gets to use when finished, can be one of the most rewarding activities a family can share. Assuming the cottage is cottage size, maybe 400 to 800 square feet, a crew of three can do a significant percentage of work on a weekend. And in a summer of weekends you could reasonably expect to finish by fall and be ready for next year’s fishing season or the kid’s summer vacation. A small budget, cute cottage and no deadlines can make the work fun. If on the other hand, you’re building a larger, primary house, we think you will need outside help. So here are a few tips on how to do that effectively.

Accurately Estimating Building Costs ( Why you Can’t Use National Costs)

We have spent considerable time trying to determine how best to tell our customers what to do about calculating accurate construction costs.  We have attempted to use square footage calculators adjusted by region.  We have gone through the effort of putting our house takeoff quantities into national construction databases and we have tried using national lumber store chains to keep ongoing tabulations.   But we still have problems creating an estimate accurate enough that you literally can “take to the bank”.  So much rides on the final cost of construction that we think it is foolishness to assume that anyone sitting thousands of miles from you can predict the final construction cost of your house on your lot.  Particularly when one realizes that the final cost is a number you might be betting your life savings on.   Here’s a few reasons why you should not put too much faith in long distance estimates of your new house:

General Conditions: 

An outsider has no idea what the general conditions part of the equation is.  The general conditions are the permit fees, the general fund impact fees, school tax, road impact fee, electrical power extension, water connection fee, sewer connection fee, the road and sidewalk costs, the cost of environmental protection required, the security issues, the temporary utilities, clean-up costs, fire sprinkling requirements, professional inspections, cost of professional surveys, environmental reports and a myriad of other things.  The total of these fees could be as little as $2000, or as much as $200,000.  And the answers to these questions all need to be found locally.     

The labor Issue: 

Virtually all national estimating data bases use some form of labor figure given by the government stating hourly rates for the various trades.  The other part of unit costs is “The Labor Production Rate”, (as in, how many square feet does one worker put in per day, hour, etc).  These rates are usually based on union sources because they are the only ones who create a record of such for their contracts.  Like it or not, these are not reliable sources for one-off single-family homes.  Every time we do work in a new locale we have to modify our labor rate and production costs widely to address local reality.   An example:  We know we can have standard masonry blocks laid in Miami for $.85 each in labor.  But that same block laid in Colorado will cost you over $4.00 each.  The national cost books show the difference in masonry labor between Miami and Denver at about 5%.    A few mistakes like that in pricing your home and the bank will own the house.      

Local Materials:

One doesn’t have to be a genius to know that redwood costs a lot less in Northern California than it does in South Florida.  Or, on the other hand, Southern Yellow Pine costs a fraction of the cost in Orlando vs Los Angeles.  The costing books do very little to reflect these differences.  And the same can be said for sand, cement, granite, ceramic tile, etc. Building one single-family home changes the costs so much that national costs mean very little.  Building one small house means you can find enough good quality tile or marble to do a complete bathroom at a local close-out sale for $1.00/sf.  But if you want to buy high quality roof shingles, you are probably going to pay 50% more than a tract builder who buys a train car full at a time.  The train car prices are the ones in the national estimating books.  These variations go on and on.

So How Do I Get an Estimate?

You probably should do this estimating task in two phases.  First, find out whether your budget is anywhere near realistic before you buy anything!  You can do this with a “Ball Park Estimate” with very little cost.  If you determine your budget is realistic, then spend some time and money and do the heavy number crunching.  We guarantee you cannot spend too much time on costing out your project.  It not only provides you with the money part of the equation but it also gives you insight into scheduling, materials sources, sub-contractor availability, local building practices and potential building & zoning department problems.  


1st  A “Ball Park Estimate”   

 To get this number you need three pieces of information.  The cost of the land, including all fees and closing costs, the basic construction costs of the house, and a realistic estimate of the “General Conditions”.  So lets see how you get these costs;

1)  Land costs – If you are buying the land your real estate broker should be able to give you a complete “good faith estimate” before you have to close.  If you own the property already, I assume you already have these figures.

2) Construction Costs – First select a house plan you like from the internet or wherever.  From the description of the house find and write down the area of interior finished space.  Separately record the area of all exterior balconies, porches and decks.  (You might have to guess).  If you want a garage included note its area.   You can use 288 sq feet for single car and 588 sq feet for a two car as an average.  Even though it’s a bad idea to use zip code based estimating you have to start somewhere.   So buy, steel or borrow a copy of the “National Building Cost Manual” current edition by Craftsman Books.  A $26 download is available at ( 

  • Average Cost Per Square Foot: Go to the page that shows “Single Family Residences- 10 Corners”.  Based on how many square feet of finished floor area there are in the house plan you picked, choose a cost per square foot for “Exceptional Quality Class”  (the top line). Don’t bother with any other class of house, only tract builders can approach that number.  You need to know the maximum this house is going to cost. ·        
  • Adjust the Price for Your Area: Next go to the page showing “Area Modifications” near the front of the book and find the nearest city to your property.  Find and write down the percentage value shown.
  • Find Your Basic House Price: Now multiply the interior area times the modification factor times the cost per square foot that will equal the basic house enclosed construction cost then,
  • Find Your Other Building Costs: Add up the area of the garages + porches + Balconies + decks.  Multiply that number by ½.  Then multiply the result by the cost per square foot of the interior times (from above) times the previously noted “area modification factor”
  • Add to Get Your Construction Cost: Add the two costs together and we will use that figure for the “Ballpark Construction Cost” number.  Note this is not everything yet.


3) General Conditions Costs – This part is going to take more time.  The first thing you should do is to trot on over to the building, planning and zoning department introduce yourself, tell them you’re going to be seeing a lot of them.  Then show them your house plans and lot information and make these requests.

  •  Ask them for as complete a list as possible of every fee, assessment or permit cost that could be associated with your house on your lot,
  • Ask them if someone from their planning or environmental department can meet you at the site and see if you have any problems or costs that are not obvious to you,
  •  Ask them for a list of utility companies who will be responsible for providing service to the site and try to get phone numbers and names of whom to call, 
  • Call or preferable go to the office of every utility company you will be working with and ask for their connection and impact fee information and ask about the process of scheduling your connection,  

This is important – Document your Discussions! – Write down everyone’s name you talked to and record in writing what was discussed.  You are going to need this information again!  


Some Additional G.C. costs You Have to Include:  If all these governmental and utility costs have not made you quit, we can start to add it up.  Remember to add these costs also to your general conditions:

  • Repair to the roads and sidewalks if you have to cut into the road for utilities, (ask a local contractor if you need this price it could be $10-15,000 if you have to cross a paved road)
  • Temporary utilities of at least $200 per month for a year,
  • Trash and Dump fees at $500 per month,
  • Professional Surveys, if required  $600- $2400
  • Temporary Security Fencing Around the Site,  $1000 – $2500


Add It All Up: You’re ready to get a total.  If you have any idea that there may be another cost, guess at that number, but guess high and write it down.  Now breathe deep, take a look at the total and decide if you can really afford this?  This is still a rough number but if it’s in the ballpark then we can proceed to a Real Estimate.

A Real Estimate of Your House on Your Lot  (In Process)

  • First, a Good Set of Plans and Lots of Them  
  • Free Local Costs of Materials
  • Free Local Costs of Labor
  • Determining What to Do Yourself
  • Remember the “General Conditions”

Some Tips on Building for Yourself

For purposes of this outline we will attempt to add a few often-overlooked points to the discussion. You can save a $100,000 or more by building a 2000 sf house for yourself. But that does not mean nailing every nail and digging every ditch. Here are a few things to consider before you start:

1) Direct Employees and Other Mistakes – If you are like most owner-builders you probably cannot be on site from 8:00 to 4:30 every workday. Most of us have to make a living, pay the mortgage, cut the grass and then find time to work on our projects, be they birdhouses or a guest cottage. If you hire help directly and don’t supervise them, they will EAT YOU ALIVE. Don’t even think about it. One- time employees without knowledgeable supervision will sit on their butts, break tools, steal you blind and strike for more pay. You might as well throw your money into the street.

2) On Hiring a General Contractor – With the unsupervised direct employee issue behind us, you have a choice. You can take 10 years to build your house by driving every nail yourself or you can hire someone to supervise the help. That is why most people end up paying a general contractor his overhead and profit. That OH&P is not a small part of the project cost. There are some smart ways to avoid having to spend your life either baby-sitting a direct crew or paying 25% for a general contractor’s OH&P. Do what most big contractors do, hire out the work to sub-contractor specialists!

3) Sub-Contracting Directly with Specialists – Sub-contractors have become the heart of the building industry for good reason. They do their work for a fixed price, supervise their own employees, carry their own insurance, have their own tools and are efficient at the small part of the puzzle they specialize in. They know what they are doing, where to find the cheapest materials and how to get their employees to work. Virtually all sub-contracting is very competitive, so you can be assured, they would not be in business very long if they were not efficient. You can find people to sub-contract every back-breaking job on your project. The only help they will need from you is maybe a few questions each day and a couple checks as they complete the work. If you act like a general contractor by giving them clean drawings to bid from, treat them fairly, do a little scheduling so they can plan your job, you will get the same prices the general contractor would have gotten. And you’ll get your supervision for nothing.

4) What Jobs can I Sub-Contract? You can sub-contract virtually every job on the site. But what I recommend you do is you subcontract every job necessary to get the house “dryed in” before you do a thing physically on the site. That means sub-contracting these Items:

  • Excavation and grading,
  • Foundations,
  • Rough framing,
  • Sheathing,
  • Roofing,
  • Window and exterior door installation,     
  • Siding,
  • Electrical rough-in,
  • Plumbing rough-in,
  • HVAC rough-in,
  • Insulation,
  • Drywall

These are all jobs that require specialized tools, skills and more back than brain. This work and is usually done by the lower priced employees on any job site. You would be hard pressed to do these jobs faster, better or cheaper than people who do them every day, day after day. Don’t worry about not having anything to do. If you keep things going smoothly, you can bet the subs will keep your spare time busy with material requests, quality control, payments for completed work, scheduling, inspections and work coordination. So I can guarantee that you will still feel like you’re building it yourself. After these jobs are complete you can sit back and enjoy the praise of your wife, neighbors and the bank, because to them the house looks complete. Unfortunately it is not even close. Now it’s time for you to go to work for real.

What Jobs Should I do? In general you should think in terms who is costing the most money on an hourly basis and can I replace him with my own hands? The more you replace these high-paid workers the more money you save. The key to this philosophy is that there are very few jobs on a construction site any more that require a high degree of skill. Most anyone with normal intelligence and motor skills can do virtually anything on a construction site. Virtually every part is now manufactured for ease of installation. Training videos and books are available to learn about every normal house-building task. The object becomes what things might you have some skills in and what parts would you like to build. So lets take a look at what’s left to do and where the savings are.

What Jobs Should I do Myself (a Discussion by Trade)

1) Plumbing and Electrical – These trades have traditionally been the highest paid on a construction site but by the time you get the house “dryed-in” the vast majority of plumbing and electrical work has been done. In addition, the mechanics that installed the system know where all the pipes and wires connect and what goes where. For these reasons, it’s probably better to sign a contract running from beginning to end with the plumber and electrician. The type of contract you are looking for is a “rough-in and trim-out without fixtures”. Plumbing and electrical fixture purchases are a different matter altogether. That subject we will discuss in another paragraph.

2) Kitchen and Bath Cabinets – If you have some carpentry skills you can save thousands of dollars on cabinets. Typical cabinet costs in one of our homes can range from $5000 to $50,000 depending on how you order or make them. Here’s an example from the cottage we just completed in Sonoma. The project cabinets consist of those required for a large kitchen with islands, refrigerator & dishwasher custom fronts, a large pantry and for 4 separate multi-unit bath vanities. The frames are painted hardwood with plywood boxes, custom made for all units, custom hardwood paneled and molded doors, dovetailed hardwood drawers, Blum concealed hinges, standard hardware pulls and latches, hidden drawer slides and 14 separate rollout, dovetailed hardwood drawers:

  • The price from a cabinet dealer selling high end nationally known units based on pre-made modular units, with a 25% discount was  $55,000,
  •  The price from Home Depot with their medium to high end pre- made cabinet was $35,000,
  •  The price from a bargain basement Chinese cabinet distributor with questionable quality and very limited finish choice was $24,000,
  • What we ended up with was:
    • 1.  $4500 for Custom Boxes
    • 2. $2300 for Custom Doors and Drawers
    • 3.  $1200 for Door and Slide Hardware
    • 4.    $240 for pulls and latches
    • 5.  $1500 site Installation
    • Total:    $8660

That’s at least 2/3rd less than any of the conventional methods, for an installation every bit as good as the highest priced cabinets. The method for saving money this kind of money is in making the boxes yourself and buying custom doors and drawers direct from door and drawer manufacturers. The construction technique for making the boxes has been made incredibly simple using the “kreg frame fastening system” (a $99.00 investment). High quality hardwood doors and drawers can be ordered on-line for any dimension, direct from a number of different U.S. manufacturers for about $12.00 a door. We purchase all our hardware, slides and hinges from discount online sources. For more information about cabinets and sources for tools and materials go to our DIY Home Building: Resources -Kitchen & Baths section.

3) Doors and Windows –
a. Windows – can be one of the biggest items on your budget. There are some compromises that can be made but you might want to remember the old adage taught to all young architectural students; which goes, “Only a rich man can afford cheap windows”. The lesson is that cheap windows will cost you more eventually. In terms of energy lost, refinishing and broken hardware that old adage is still true. So beware of windows that look like a good deal upfront!

We choose the best when it comes to windows. For us that means Marvin Windows out of Warroad, Minnesota. They are a national firm, sold through local retailers. They make all the traditional styles we want and they are built with quality in everyway. Their clad exteriors and natural interior surfaces are perfect for historical reproductions. And they don’t pay me to say this.

Window DIY House BuildingThere are a few things you should know about buying windows through window retailers. The mark-up

on quality windows is high. If you don’t get a 40 to 50% discount on a full set of windows, try another retailer. Second, what you ultimately pay for a window has little to do with the base price of that window. It’s those little things that are added on that make it expensive. Here’s an example: We recently bought 8 casement windows like the one shown pictured. It’s a large Marvin 28” x 64” Insulated Casement that can be bought with any number of upgrades. We chose from the following (approx prices):

  • Base Wood Window  …..   $385.00
  • Add Exterior Cladding  …. $125.00
  • Add Argon Gas Insul ……. $   32.00
  • Add Handle Set   ………… $  26.00                        
  •  Add Hex Grill  ……………..$1145.00  

You can quickly see that adding the hexagonal grill actually tripled the cost of the window. The total cost of adding the hexagonal bars (i.e. muntins ) to this house (including sales tax) amounts to just under $10,000. The cost of these eight windows went from $4500 to $14,500. In our case, we felt we needed the hexagonal grill to make the building work visually. So we bought $25.00 of ¾” pvc trim material, ripped it on a table saw down to 1” width, ran it through our router to create the molded edges and glued it onto the windows with silicone caulking. The entire cost of materials and labor to add the eight grills was $480.00. That’s a savings of about $9500.00. That much money would buy an entire workshop full of woodworking tools.

Window Cladding vs Paint
A little more on window options: you will probably always want to choose a clad window over a painted one. Modern claddings are more or less permanent protection against rot, termites, warping and paint failure. In the pricing we showed above we did not mention that painting a window with three coats of paint in the field, would cost between $75 and $100 per unit. Therefore you will get permanent protection of your windows for about $25-50 each. That’s value.

Minimal Difference Between Good and Poor Base Window Costs:
Another point to consider when purchasing windows is the actual base window cost. When comparing good quality wood clad windows to cheaper wood or aluminum units, the difference in price is usually less than $100 per unit for the same sized insulated unit without any extras. Considering most homes have 10 to 12 windows, that’s only $1000-1200 difference for the good stuff. So unless you are a rich man, you can’t afford cheap windows.

DIY Job Topics We’ll Be Covering Soon:

  • Exterior Doors
  • French and Sliding Doors
  • Ceramic, Marble and Tile
  • Countertops
  • Hardwood Floors
  • Fixtures and Appliances

Finish Carpentry and the Tool Shop (Coming Soon)

  • The Value of a Owner-Builder Shop
  • Value Added by Historic and Classical Detailing
  • The Cost of Setting Up Your Shop
  • Planning Finish Work to Fit into the Schedule

About Us

Why Buy from Us? 

Now a bit of self promotion.  We believe that we are quite different than most of our competitors for a number of reasons:

  • We sell what we know.  We design everything you see on our site.  We are not brokers for dozens of designers and house plan books.  The number of plans we offer are limited because we don’t try to be an expert on every type of home.  We know how to design and build truly unique historic homes and cottages.
  • We know how to build, as well as, design historic homes and cottages.  That means the purchaser of our plans can expect that our plans can and have been built.  Our plans are not just an architectural dream, the details have been worked out, the costs have been optimized. This means you’re getting a plan that works.
  • We are available to the purchaser to help along the way.  When you contact us you will speak to someone who knows our plans.  Not a telephone help desk, not a secretary nor phone bank.
  • You will receive real details.  If you have not picked up by now, we are passionate about historic homes and cottages.  We want you to create something you and we can be proud of.  That’s why you’ll find real details in our drawings.  Not architectural renderings or large scale drawings which show you little more than a picture. We sell drawings with full size patterns, detailed sections, materials specifications and actual part numbers.  That is not true of our competitors.

We sell what we know. We design everything you see on our site. We are not brokers for dozens of designers and house plan books. The number of plans we offer are limited because we don’t try to be an expert on every type of home. We know how to design and build truly unique historic homes and cottages.
We know how to build, as well as, design historic homes and cottages. That means the purchaser of our plans can expect that our plans can and have been built. Our plans are not just an architectural dream, the details have been worked out, the costs have been optimized. This means you’re getting a plan that works.
We are available to the purchaser to help along the way. When you contact us you will speak to someone who knows our plans. Not a telephone help desk, not a secretary nor phone bank.
You will receive real details. If you have not picked up by now, we are passionate about historic homes and cottages. We want you to create something you and we can be proud of. That’s why you’ll find real details in our drawings. Not architectural renderings or large scale drawings which show you little more than a picture. We sell drawings with full size patterns, detailed sections, materials specifications and actual part numbers. That is not true of our competitors.Who We Are – Our Web Site “www.” and all the drawings, images and opinions expressed are written and owed by Garant Homes Corporation of California. The company, along with it’s two sister corporations, Garant Engineering Corporation of Florida and Sonoma Valley Engineering Corporation, are owned and operated by Robert R. Garant, his wife Pamala and their family, out of an office in the City of Sonoma in Northern California.

The plans sold on our website are the result of some 40 years of research, design and building experience done by Robert R. Garant, our founder. His love of history, old buildings, tools and wooden boats has combined to create a truly original group of historic house and cottage designs. His insight into the problems faced by the first time owner-builder comes from a long and in-depth background of not only designing classical homes but also swinging a hammer on his designs in a dozen states and 5 different countries.
W-Spain_DIY House Building
Visit Us and See for Yourself – Our new office, home and guest cottage in Historic Sonoma were built in the early 19th Century

Carpenter Gothic style of Andrew Jackson Downing as an example of what can be created with our Historic Home and Cottage Plans. If you’re planning a visit to Sonoma and would like to see what one of our cottages and homes looks like up close. Please give us a call and we’ll schedule a tour. And perhaps a wine tasting .

What Are our Credentials? – The primary design professional at is Robert Garant. Mr. Garant graduated from the University of Michigan, School of Engineering with a Bachelor of Science Degree in 1969. He majored in structural design and math. He currently holds licenses to practice engineering in 5 states and is a certified building contractor in two states. He maintains current national registration from the Structural Engineering Certification Board. The following is a list of his current licenses and professional associations:

Engineering Registrations:  

California Civil Engineer
Florida Registered Engineer
Ohio Registered Engineer
Kentucky Structural Engineer
Michigan Registered Engineer
Registered, National Structural Certification Board
Building Contractor Certifications:
California Certified Builder
Florida Certified Unlimited Contractor

Professional Memberships:
American Society of Civil Engineers
Structural Engineers Association of Northern California
National Society of Professional Engineers
International Code Council

Contact Us

E-mail: [email protected]
Phone: 707.939.1948
Fax (Toll Free): 866.788.8297
Mail: Garant Homes Corporation, 275 West Spain Street, Sonoma, CA 95476