Lessons Learned... So Far

The house isn't finished yet, so I can't exactly do a retrospective on the entire ordeal, but... I'm far enough along that I can speak from experience when asked about building your own home. (Also see the FAQ Page.)

Would you do it again, knowing what you know now? Probably not. But that's a loaded question: how could I possibly start over with foreknowledge of what's to come? To be honest, I would love to start over, but I would not build the house I have now. Yes, really.

What would you have done differently? I'd have built something more along these lines. After having lived in a small camper and a small cabin for years, my current home feels enormous by comparison—even after having lived in it the last several months. And I have the funny feeling it always will. It's as if I have some form of PTSD—I just can't get used to the "big" space.

Would you have built somewhere else? Sure! I built my home were I did because the property was available just when I started looking, and it met my criteria. I suspect any number of other properties would have filled the bill had they been on the market at the right time.

What was the worst part of the process? Without question it's been the bureaucracy. The County Health Department drove me to the brink of sanity, although they were not 100% of the problem—others shared some of the blame. But JCP&L edges out over the County, having needlessly cost me nearly four years and four thousand dollars obtaining electric service due mostly to their incompetence and/or uncooperativeness. I've never had a shouting match with anyone... except their job manager. (And his own crew rewarded me for standing up to him!)

What was the best part? Doing very nearly everything myself. I've been dreaming my whole life about building my own home, and while a part of me is reminded to "be careful what you wish for," a much larger part has had more satisfaction than sex three times a day. Seriously. The pleasure that comes from accomplishing something yourself—especially something as significant as building your own home—cannot be overstated.

What's your advice for others thinking of doing the same thing? Learn, learn, learn! You cannot know too much! Buy books, even if you think you "know it all." Visit the Township offices; speak with the Zoning Officer and other officials to find out about their requirements and what building codes they follow; speak with the County, especially the Health Department. Interview contractors—lots of them—and get their recommendations. Speak with area residents to try and identify tripping points and other gotchas. Find out everything you can about what documentation you'll need for whom, then dot your i's and cross your t's. And finally, be prepared for speed bumps along the way; there's absolutely no avoiding them!

What takes the most time? Planning, without a doubt. Allow yourself plenty of time to make sure you know exactly what you're going to do, and how to do it. The second-biggest time-sucking monster is dealing with bureaucracy; all too often public agencies are slower than molasses in winter, so don't ever expect timely responses. Also remember that you attract more flies with honey than vinegar—in other words, be nice, even if it kills you. And finally, take the advice I'm often given by a friend: Don't let the bastards grind you down.

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