Building Your Own Home For Dummies
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Every home improvement project requires a budget. Whether you're painting a bedroom or gutting and remodeling a kitchen, you need to come up with an accurate estimate of the project's cost so you can look at your current finances and make sure that you have enough money (or a way to get enough money) to pay for everything. Home improvement budgets can range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands, depending on the size and scope of the project.

Before you begin your estimate, you need to decide what you don't like in the area(s) you plan to remodel. What doesn't meet your family's needs and lifestyle? What additional things do you need to make the area more livable? What have you seen in other homes that may work for you? Answering these questions gives you insight into what you want and need and helps get your creative juices flowing.

If your project involves major (or even minor) structural changes to your house, you need to involve an architect, a contractor, and possibly even an engineer. Any structural change can affect the integrity of your house, and it must meet local building codes to ensure that the house remains structurally safe to inhabit. You also need to engage inspectors from your city's various building departments — construction (building), plumbing, and electrical.

Architects and most design and construction people don't create elaborate plans without being compensated. Even though you won't get several drawings or bids to compare, you should meet with at least two designers or architects to see whether they can give you a rough plan that meets your needs. You also need to determine whether your personalities are compatible. This factor is critical to a successful remodel.

A visit to a local lumberyard or home center is a great way to begin pricing materials. A thorough materials list is invaluable here. Providing the store with a complete list enables them to do a take-off (an estimate of materials needed and their total costs). Give the list that you created to a couple of retailers to see which one gives you the best prices.

Try to work with one person at each store. You don't want to explain your project to half a dozen people in the same store.

With a couple of estimates in hand, do your homework. Don't pick a product or material simply because it has the lowest price. Make sure that the prices are for the same product or for products of equal quality. Check the brand, model, size, and so on to confirm that the products are comparable. If you're not sure about the differences between two brands, ask!

Another good source of product information is the Internet. Most manufacturers have websites to provide consumers with product information and evaluations, even if only their own evaluation. Also consider checking consumer advocacy magazines like Consumer Reports to see whether they've tested the type(s) of products you're looking at. Their reports are very fair at evaluating and rating all types of products.

Many remodeling projects involve opening, moving, or even removing an entire wall or part of a wall. For most people, this means hiring professional help, so remember to factor in labor costs. A good way to get an estimate is to consult your local home center. Most home stores offer installation as an option with the products they sell, so you should be able to get the price of the product with and without installation and then do the simple math.

One area that too many people overlook is their own time. Your time is valuable to you, your family, and your friends. If the project's going to tie you up every weekend during the summer, but you could hire a professional to complete the job in a couple weeks, doing it yourself may not be worth it. You need to weigh the cost of hiring a professional versus what your time is worth to you.

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