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Home Video

The Home Building Video takes a critical thinking approach to the residential Design/Build process by raising over 200 questions you'll need to ask when planning and organizing your home building project.

Home Building for Owner-Builders received an excellent five-star rating at Google Video where Tom's free documentary is located.

Tom's 45-minute documentary takes you through the entire building process from excavation to landscaping, covering every phase of construction so you get a chance to watch a custom home put together from start to finish.

As you watch Tom's Home Building Video, follow the script provided below, and refer to the Home Building Guide for additional details.

Home Building is a collaborative process. Whether you work with a consultant, hire a general contractor, or act as an owner/builder, you need to work with the entire building community to construct your dream house.


How to Manage Your Construction Project

This is the Morris residence on Lake Sawyer.

We'll be using this house as a model to raise questions which are important to home building and design.

The point is to ask yourself:

How am I going to manage my construction project?

We need to encourage critical thinking about the unique circumstances of your project.

To do this, we'll raise Design/Build questions, which are pertinent to both phases of construction: rough-in and finish.

So, let's take a look at the construction of the Morris home.

Rough-In Phase

  • Who provides leadership for Design/Build activities?
  • Who interprets the drawings and directs trade contractor activities?

The DECISION MAKING PROCESS is based on shared responsibilities of a variety of construction professionals who contribute their expertise to the Design/Build process.

Ask yourself:

  • Who will be the principal players of my project team?
  • What are my capabilities and what am I willing to do to get the job done?
  • Who determines site logistics?
  • Where do I place temporary services like the electrical power pole and the water service?
  • Where do I store excess dirt?
  • What trees and shrubs will be removed?
  • What special circumstances surround my site?
  • Who do I turn to for advice?
  • How will information be recorded for future reference?
  • Who establishes elevations and building layout?
  • Is there a truly reliable system for organizing my project details?

The format we use to arrange the complexity of information is a DESIGN BUILD MATRIX.

We use this format to organize project details so decisions can be made sensibly and sequentially.

Consider this:

  • How do we differentiate between Design and Build events?
  • What construction methods are popular in your area?
  • Can trade contractors and suppliers be of assistance providing Design/Build ideas?
  • Are you comfortable beginning with vague notions and gradually heading toward specific choices?
  • What architectural style appeals to you?
  • Does your life style require a full basement?
  • Will your site even accommodate a full basement?
  • Do you currently have a place in your home, which can be dedicated as a design center and construction office?
  • Do you enjoy collecting articles and pictures, which can be incorporated into your home design?
  • Have you put together a filing system for notes and brochures?
  • How will your home style fit into your surrounding community?

BUILDING AND LIVING GREEN requires a dedication to following Design/Build practices, which promote personal health and environmental protection.

Ask yourself:

  • What people and organizations in my area promote efforts to reduce, reuse or recycle debris?
  • What is the designer or architect's orientation toward building green?
  • What are the economic advantages to this philosophy?
  • Why is this a personal health issue?
  • Are hauling services available in my area to support building green efforts?
  • Should workers be using protective gear such as rubber gloves and boots?
  • Where can excess material be used on site?
  • Are their small steps or walkways to place excess concrete?
  • Are trade contractors supportive of the building green philosophy?
  • What manufacturers promote non-toxic or recycled products?
  • Do trade contractors offer any alternatives to their standard practices?
  • Can an engineered wood floor system be used rather than dimensional lumber?
  • Are there site issues, which require an Environmental Impact Statement?

Your CONTRACT DOCUMENTS are a combination of four sets of information: the drawings, the specifications, the agreements and the conditions.

Each set of information references the other sets and together form the basis of a good working relationship with trade contractors and suppliers.

Consider this:

  • What information is best described graphically or may be better explained in writing?
  • Have you created drafts of these documents before negotiations begin?
  • What type of labor and materials are required on site, and when will they be needed?
  • Are you familiar with the standard forms used by the American Institute of Architects, the Associated General Contractors and various trade associations?
  • Will trade contractors and suppliers perceive your project in the same way in which you do?
  • Are you comfortable discussing terms with a trade contractor or supplier before an agreement is finalized?
  • Ask yourself: what needs to be done, who will do it, when will it happen, and how much will it cost?

DRAWINGS provide dimensions and layout for your residential design.

Drawings depict a home style, which will meet the needs of your family's life style.

  • Your responsibility is to characterize your home style before you engage the services of a designer or architect. What will your budget allow in the way of design services?
  • Can you create a rough sketch of the site plan and floor plan before you visit a plan service?
  • Is there a roof style that appeals to you?
  • Are you able to visualize your home on the site?
  • How do you want your home to fit into your neighborhood?
  • How many bathrooms will your family require?
  • Can you define how you want to live on a day-by-day basis?
  • What does the building department require on the drawings?
  • Since your drawings won't provide all necessary details, what will you need to put into writing?

SPECIFICATIONS are the written instructions of how work will be performed and the type of material to be used.

Ask yourself:

  • What are the unique requirements of my project?
  • Is a special nailing pattern required for specific areas?
  • How do I describe what products and equipment will be used?
  • How will I reference manufacturers' instructions and specifications?
  • Are product specifications available to trade contractors prior to their bid proposal so they understand my expectations?
  • Do trade contractors thoroughly understand how different products and materials go together?
  • Will trade contractor procedures follow manufacturer recommendations for installation?
  • Whose standard of performance will be maintained?
  • Are any special requirements demanded by the local building department for product installation?

In some instances, there may be methods for installing products which follow standard practices of the construction industry.

Sometimes there are no installation instructions with a product.

The supplier makes the assumption that the installer will follow standard practices.

For instance, on exterior doors and windows does your supplier simply assume the carpenter is familiar with standard practices for door and window installation?

  • Whose responsibility is it to inspect the work: the owner; a trade contractor; or the local building department? Or, are inspections a shared responsibility by all?
  • What agencies have legal jurisdiction over your project?
  • Which codes and ordinances apply to your project?

Remember: PERMITS are a legal consent for construction work to proceed according to approved drawings and specifications.

Call your local building department and ask:

  • Are guidelines available for permit application and field inspections?
  • When are field inspections required?
  • Whose responsibility is it to arrange for inspections?

Ask yourself:

  • How often do I need to check a trade contractor's work?
  • Will a trade contractor report their progress without being asked?
  • Will the architect or designer take responsibility for the results of their work if the design doesn't comply with building codes?
  • Are trade contractors willing to correct their mistakes in a timely fashion?
  • Will corrections in work adversely affect my budget?

As you can see, we're getting slightly ahead on the exterior finish, so let's get back to rough-in.

Quite often, there'll be trade contractors working both outside and inside the house at the same time, and you'll be required to keep an eye on several trades at once.

Let's switch our attention to what's going on inside the Morris house.

A BUDGET ESTIMATE is a preliminary appraisal of all Design/Build costs.

  • Have you established your cost range?
  • Is your cost range based on realistic material and labor choices?
  • Do some product choices automatically place you outside your budget?
  • What is your financial plan of action?
  • Are you making allowances for both hard and soft costs?
  • Do you consider design options and alternative building methods before work begins?
  • Are trade contractors asked to consider other layout possibilities, which may be more efficient?
  • Do you consider multiple cost strategies for reaching your financial objective?
  • Do you understand your budget as a flexible, changing estimate of costs?

Eventually your budget estimate extends into a more refined cost analysis.

A COST ANALYSIS is a complete examination of all expenditures based on bid proposals.

You should understand that this is still a time for negotiation and further analysis.

Ask yourself:

  • Are six to eight copies of drawings and specifications available to circulate for bid proposals?
  • Am I certain all products and services required for my project are included in the drawings and specifications?
  • Have I received multiple bids for each phase of work?
  • Am I using bid proposals to refine my choice of products and services?
  • Am I reviewing all bid proposals prior to my acceptance?
  • Do I make counter-offers to trade contractor proposals?
  • Have I compared bid proposals to a construction cost database?
  • Is my final cost analysis based on negotiated bid proposals?
  • What determines when an agreement is binding?

What we need is a fiscal method to record the specific conditions of agreement between a buyer and a seller.

This is what a PURCHASE ORDER SYSTEM accomplishes. Consider this:

  • Are the conditions of an agreement accurately presented as terms of purchase?
  • Are you certain purchase orders have been created for all products and services necessary to complete your project?
  • How do you organize expenditures so you can track what's actually being spent?
  • Will a check register and job cost journal be utilized?
  • How will trade contractors and suppliers be held accountable for their performance?
  • Is it also necessary to hold design professionals accountable for their work?
  • What is your responsibility, and what will be done by others?
  • For instance, who does the trenching for utilities?

At this point in the job, we shift our focus from rough-in to finish.

So, let's move on to the next phase of the project to see what's going on.

Finish Phase

Each TRADE CONTRACTOR takes responsibility for installation of products and materials related to their craft:

Ask yourself:

  • Should I hire employees, engage a trade contractor, or should I do-it-myself?
  • Is it worth the effort to break apart a phase of work so I can take charge of labor and material?

Remember: Given our emphasis on project management, we assume you'll probably hire a trade contractor to do the work, but how do you qualify trade contractors?

  • Do you follow a standard bidding procedure?
  • Will the person who signs the contract be the person who does the work?
  • Does low bid guarantee best results or just best price?
  • Are information sheets available on each trade contractor?
  • Do trade contractors fully understand the unique circumstances of your project?
  • Will trade contractors provide both labor and material for their portion of the work?
  • How much does a trade contractor mark-up material costs?
  • Who cleans the building site and removes or recycles debris?
  • Are their any special disposal issues, such as empty paint buckets?

A SUPPLIER differs from a trade contractor in that a supplier is usually interested in just providing material for your job.

A supplier is in business to buy direct from a manufacturer then distribute goods to trade contractors and the general public.

  • Is it necessary to contact a trade association to determine industry standards for a type of product?
  • What are your criteria for supplier selection?
  • Who inspects goods on delivery?
  • Are delivery terms stated clearly on purchase orders?
  • Are there certain products or materials, which are available locally?
  • How do you choose what product to install?
  • Is a manufacturer directory available at your city or county library?
  • Are materials and methods described adequately in the drawings and specifications?
  • How familiar is your installer with your supplier?
  • When do you pay for materials delivered?
  • At time of payment, is it necessary to obtain a lien waiver?
  • When is your project ready for material deliveries?
  • Are you coordinating your delivery with trade contractors?

You need to assign a fixed date and time for construction activities.

This is your SCHEDULE.

Do you realize the difference between the ideal and the real, between your expectations and the way things really happen?

Ask yourself:

  • What is the proper sequence of events?
  • Am I able to assign priorities to daily activities?
  • How do I adjust to delays?
  • What happens if products or materials arrive on site prematurely?
  • As I negotiate with trade contractors and suppliers, what are their concerns regarding priorities, and how long will their work actually take?
  • Is my schedule based on trade contractor availability?
  • Are trade contractors really committed to my schedule?
  • Have I allowed ample lead time for special order items?
  • Is there a chance products might get damaged if installed too soon?
  • Do I consider site logistics when I schedule?
  • Can a workspace accommodate multiple trades at the same time?
  • How does your site impress new arrivals?
  • Will the general appearance of your project let people know you are definitely serious about job safety?
  • Has a safety plan been established?

Remember: SAFETY is protection from personal injury or loss of property.

You are liable for accidents and theft.

It's up to you to secure materials and products on site to prevent hazards and stealing.

Ask yourself:

  • Are safety conditions part of my agreement with trade contractors?
  • Does a safety file exist for the project?
  • Have I requested "Material Safety Data Sheets" from manufacturers and suppliers?
  • Is a first-aid kit on site and readily available?
  • Do I anticipate hazards on a daily basis?
  • Am I able to recognize unsafe actions and conditions?

QUALITY CONTROL is not just a concern for safety, but also an issue of work performance.

Quality Control is the act of maintaining a high degree of excellence whether it concerns a person's behavior or product installation.

Consider this:

  • Who's in charge of Quality Control?
  • Does work conform to drawings and specifications and your agreement with a trade contractor?
  • Are copies of drawings and specifications always available on site?
  • Do you double-check what's been installed?
  • Are crew members aware of the conditions of your agreement, and how work is to be performed?
  • What happens if a product arrives damaged or missing parts?
  • Are you using both 35mm and video cameras to document your work?
  • In addition to using a checklist, are you anticipating what needs to be done and keeping a job diary?
  • What is your tolerance for error?
  • Are there slight variations in quality of work, which you'll accept as okay?

A PUNCH LIST is an inventory of those items not yet completed or in need of repair.

  • Is it reasonable to expect a standard of zero defects?
  • Do you take immediate action when problems occur?
  • Are manufacturer instructions available at time of installation, or do standard practices exist, which eliminate the need for installation instructions?
  • Are the "Design/Build Collage" and "Activity Flow Chart" useful to anticipate problems?
  • Are your "Cardboard Box Files" and "Cost Ledger" useful to locate information, as you need it?
  • Who pays for corrections or deficiencies in work performed?
  • Is it necessary to withhold 10% of a trade contractor's fee for callbacks?
  • Where is your time best spent at the end of the project? Should you be completing the Punch List, cleaning your new house, or arranging for move-in?
  • Are you almost ready for a final inspection by the building department?


We hope these questions have prompted you to think critically about your project.

Remember: The owner is the linking pin for the entire organization.

You'll make the connection between people and events.

You'll bring together materials, machines, money, methods, and labor in order to get the job done.

You'll approach this endeavor like a painter.

You just won't start at the corner of the canvas and work your way down.

You'll put on one layer; add another layer; step back...and then put on a final layer.

How you resolve conflict and contend with difficulties will test your character and ingenuity.

You must remain a creative, problem solver.

Construction Management draws on your talents as both a Designer and Builder.

Let both talents unite to be the creative force behind your home building project.

To be successful, you need to communicate your vision to your community and the professionals of the project team but the experience really goes beyond this.

The building process creates a new community of companion roles working to achieve your ideas -- a community that will live on long after the last nail is driven.

Due to the unique circumstances
of each home building project,
you'll want to collaborate with a
Construction Manager,
Architect or Engineer
familiar with design/build considerations.

The methods and materials presented in this video
pertain specifically
to the residence under construction,
and you should consider
your situation as different
requiring special treatment.

Home building is an exciting
and rewarding endeavor
but whether you hire
a building professional
or act as an owner/builder,
you must comply with all local,
state and federal laws governing construction work.

This video is a companion to the
"Home Building Guide".
Read the Guide thoroughly
before proceeding with any design/build activities.

Copyright 1997-2007 by Tom Landis

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