Homebuilding Series: Building a House One Bite at a Time

| November 5, 2011

A virtually built house in SoftPlan residential design software

The American Dream

I have met many people that have dreamed about building their own home. I have always had a fascination with building things and I too had a life goal of building our own house. And when I say build, I mean purchase the lot, design the floor plan, and be the general contractor and occasional hammer swinger. In essence, take all the risk and the ultimate satisfaction.

Although going into every detail will be impossible in this blog, I will attempt in this series to give you an idea of the process and steps that I took to build our home. It would have been immensely helpful to me at the time so I hope that others can benefit from my experience. I am not sure how many posts it will take to complete this series but I will expand it as time permits.

If you are not into home building and just like travel, art and photography, don’t worry because I will keep up with those posts too!

Our Situation

Donna and I have owned three houses so far in our life. We outgrew our first place pretty fast in two and a half years, which was about when our son arrived! On the opposite end of the spectrum, we called our second house a home for 16 years. It was a great place and I did a ton of remodeling on that house including finishing a basement and building a two car garage, which allowed me to turn my existing garage into an ultimate wood shop. With the experience I gained on that place, in addition to some mentoring from a local custom home builder, we decided to finally build our own house when our son graduated from high school.

Before we get too far, the house you see in the first four renderings in this post is not the house we ultimately built. They were the initial concepts that lead to the final design. You will see the actual house we built for ourselves as we go through the project in detail. The two renderings at the bottom are of Donna’s mom’s house, which which we built before starting our own place.

The first concept drawing of the Brown residence

Where Did I Start?

I have  found in life that if you focus too heavily on the enormity of a task and all the barriers that can get in the way of achieving your goal, it is easy to get discouraged and never take the plunge. They say you should eat an elephant one bite at a time. That is what I did.

Full color rendering from my concept house drawn in SoftPlan

I decided that the best way to learn how to build a house was to build one. Build one in the computer that is. The software that is available these days is amazing. After a ton of research, I purchased a residential design software package called SoftPlan. It was a big investment at $3600 but that was a lot cheaper than buying materials for a real house. SoftPlan allowed me to design and build a virtual house right down to the inch using virtual materials just like the ones that I would use to build in real life.

Rear of house rendering including lot grade and retaining walls

The renderings you see above were generated from computer-aided, two-dimensional floor plans, that I drew in SoftPlan. You know, like the ones you see rolled up on the job site that contain the site plan, framing details, foundation design, and elevations – just computerized versions of them. The two-dimensional floor plan drawings contained all of the relevant information to create the 3D models that you see in the pictures. For example, when I drew an exterior wall, the computer knew, by my specification, that the wall was made of 2×6 lumber, was 12-feet high, had 1/2 inch drywall on the inside, and sheathing and stucco on the outside. Sweet!

Below is the place we built for Donna’s mom. I have included a copy of the floorplan I drew in SoftPlan for her house along with the visualization so you can  see how a 2D plan extrudes into the 3D version. The 2D version is drawn to actual construction requirements so the 3D model is incredibly accurate. Within SoftPlan, I can actually walk through the house and check it out.

Our mom's 2D-floorplan

A 3D explosion of Mom's house from 2D plan

So, in essence, I was able to design the floor plan with CAD-like accuracy but also see what I was designing in full 3D. Pretty slick, huh? Yes, the software had a huge learning curve but that was part of the fun. I my view, this was an excellent way to get comfortable with what the house would look like and working out the design bugs before committing to the build. Nothing worse that spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and decide you just made an ugly and functionally compromised house!

Yes, this task is not for everyone but it was a blast to learn this way. Using an architect is advisable if you do not have any experience. Or even if you do for that matter. I fortunately had the benefit of being mentored by a custom home builder that gave me the benefit of his experience. After I drew my house, I gave the plans to a structural engineer for review. They ultimately stamped the final plans, which were submitted to the local building department for final approval and the issuance of a building permit.

If you want to stay on top of updates, please click the link below or enter your email in the upper right corner of the site. ADNW has hundreds of subscribers already. Your email address will not be shared with anyone. I promise!

Category: Homebuilding Series

Comments (3)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Jim Denham says:

    Looks awesome Lee! Good luck in the endeavor my friend!

  2. Lee says:

    Thanks Jim. We actually live in the house now. The series just documents the process we went through. Take care!

  3. LeavesOfCrimson says:

    I love your MIL’s house, Lee. Between the stone, those gorgeous garage doors…sigh…What a home! How long did this take you from concept to final turn key?