How to Build a Custom Home You’ll Love

How to build a custom home: worker cleaning the windows of a house

Building a custom home is a pursuit many people dream of achieving. The satisfaction of seeing a set of house plans come to life is a unique pleasure.

In order to make that dream come true, we'll help you figure out how to build a custom home, what you need to know before you break ground, and what will happen during each phase of the building process.

Phase 1: Envision Your Home

How to build a custom home: tiny home with a front porch

Before you don your hard hat, you should have a vision of the custom home you want to build. You probably already have an image in mind. Start there and picture the details of the house. This will help you get a sense of where you want it to be, the organization and size of the rooms, the exterior setup, and the amenities or features to make it feel complete. Once you're clear on those details, you can move onto the next steps in this phase of the building process

Decide on Your House Plans

You can choose to work with an architect to bring your vision to the page. An experienced professional with knowledge of local building codes can make sure that what you imagine translates to a plan that can actually be built. However, that expertise comes at a price. The national average cost for a 2,500-square-foot home design is $40,000, which may not be the best fit for your budget.

For a more affordable design process, you can find your plans at DEN Outdoors. Our plans are detailed and designed by a team of experts. With a Starter package, you can study a plan in detail and even share it with contractors, local building departments, and potential lenders to help you get your budget and permits in place. 

Once you've settled on the best fit for your custom home, you can upgrade to the Complete package to make adjustments to the house plans. Our team knows how to build a custom home and they're happy to work with you to create your dream house.

Find Your Land 

Where you build your new house is just as important as how you build it. If this is a vacation property, think about how often you want to be there and how accessible it’ll be to you. A remote escape sounds lovely, but that peace could be disrupted if the travel to get there is stressful. Plus, if you're planning a DIY build, you'll need to get to the property easily and often.

Consider the terrain, climate, and your budget. The South tends to be the least expensive region to build in, with the Midwest second. The West comes in third, and the Northeast is the most expensive area.

If you're purchasing land away from where you currently live, be sure to work with a local realtor. An insider who knows the area can help you find the best real estate offerings in your price range. Plus, they may have relationships with sellers and businesses that can go a long way in finding the best property for you.

Phase 2: Prepare for Your Build 

How to build a custom home: couple drawing plans on a piece of paper

Bringing your dream home to the real world will take some preparation, but it's worth it to make sure you're not dealing with major problems during your build. Take the time to dot your i's and cross your t's to ensure a smooth building process

Set Your Budget 

No home construction project should start without a budget in place. We’ve all seen it happen on home-renovation shows where poor budget planning, plus an unexpected hiccup, equals a recipe for disaster. While you can't plan for everything, a budget — with some contingency funds built in — will help you get your team together and keep your build on track, hopefully with some extra peace of mind.

With a professional team and traditional plumbing and electricity, the average construction cost for a new home is $244.50 per square foot. An architect may charge an additional 10-15% of the total cost of building a home. 

At DEN, based on our customers' experiences, we estimate $153/sq. ft. That estimate factors in the unexpected costs that can arise when building a home. About 75% of the estimate is the cost of building, while the remaining 25% covers the builder's overhead and profit. 

If you want to DIY your custom home, be sure to budget accordingly. While the estimated cost per square foot for DIY builds is less than half the cost of working with a builder ($70/sq. ft.), doing things yourself can add up. Costly mistakes can undercut the implied savings, and since DIY builds take longer, you may end up paying more over an extended timeline.

You can also use DEN's Construction Cost Calculator to help you create a budget for how to build a custom home

Assemble Your Team

Whether you're planning to DIY or hiring a builder who knows how to build a custom home, you'll need a team to help you along the way. In addition to a general contractor, you'll probably need specialists like a carpenter, electrician, and interior designer

DIY construction can cut back on costs and provide a serious sense of pride and accomplishment, but there's a lot you'll have to learn as you figure out how to build a custom home. We recommend that DIY builders know how to:

  • Square and bolt sill plates
  • Frame a house
  • Read and interpret blueprints
  • Sheath a structure
  • Lay flooring and hang wall coverings (drywall or plywood)

It's important to keep in mind that you can't DIY everything. Be prepared to call in friends or hire help when you need extra hands. Also, there are several aspects of building a custom home that require professionals. Installing foundations, electrical and plumbing systems, and roofing should not be learned by YouTube videos. Hire specialists for these jobs to be sure your home is built safely and properly.

Hiring a Builder

If you decide to hire a professional, finding the right builder is essential. Construction labor is very localized. Most builders travel 45 minutes at most for a job, so your search should be local to your new home's site. 

Talk to your neighbors and browse local Facebook groups to find builders that specialize in the kind of construction you're planning. If you're building a tiny house, for instance, keep an eye out for builders with experience in small-scale projects. 

Reach out to three or four possible builders and schedule a site walkthrough with each one. You should prepare a list of questions to help you determine which builder is right for your project, so break out the notepad. Here are some to consider:

  • How long would you estimate this build will take?
  • How much would you charge for this build?
  • What is your schedule like this coming year?
  • When would you be able to start?
  • What work are you not able to do that I would need to license subcontractors for? 
  • Are you and your subcontractors licensed and insured?

You should also review samples of their previous work on similar builds. If they don't have any, you may want to remove them from your list of possible builders. 

Based on the site walkthrough and work samples, request proposals from the builders who seem promising. You should try to collect three proposals — and even though it’s tempting, don't just rely on their price quotes to make your decision. Other factors, like timing, personality, and quality of work, are equally important to making your choice. 

Secure Your Financing

Now that you have your land, plans, and team in place, it’s time to get your funds in order. If you're self-financing, be sure that you have enough money saved to cover your budget. It's also a good idea to put extra money aside for change orders or unexpected costs during the building process

If you can't save up everything before you get started, you might need a construction loan. DEN plans can come in handy here — you can share them with the bank, along with a materials list, budget, timeline, and the contact information of your team of builders. The bank will factor all of this into determining the risk of loaning to you for your build. 

Phase 3: Start Building

Construction worker laying cement

With your budget, financing, team, and plans in place, you're ready to start building your custom home. While custom homes often follow unconventional building processes, there are some steps that need to happen in order. Here’s an overview of the custom home building process:

  1. Site preparation and laying the foundation: The land will be cleared and leveled for building to begin. If there are trees and rocks in the way, they'll be removed for excavation to make room for the foundation. 
  2. Inspection #1: This inspection usually occurs before the foundation is poured, since concrete is fairly permanent. The inspector will ensure the site has been properly excavated and the foundation can be laid. 
  3. Rough framing: The skeleton of the house is put together with lumber, and the structure's studs, ceiling joists, and roof trusses are set in place. 
  4. Exteriors and sheathing: Floors, exterior walls, and the roof are installed, and sheathing is applied to protect the build from the elements. The sheathing will be covered with house wrap, a semi-permeable water barrier. The exterior windows can also go in now and, if you're building customized DEN plans that have adjusted the interior floor plan, that change would go into effect at this point. 
  5. Inspection #2: Prior to hanging the interior walls, an inspector will confirm that the framing, exterior walls, and sheathing are properly installed.
  6. Siding and roofing: The exterior of the house will begin to look finished with the siding and roof added on to the build.
  7. Rough plumbing and electrical/HVAC: Pipes and wires, sewer or septic lines, and ductwork are installed.
  8. Inspections #3 and #4: Rough framing, plumbing, and electrical and mechanical systems each need to be inspected by your local building department before you can move forward to the next steps of your project. These are often separate inspections and, if issues are found, you'll need to address them. 
  9. Finishing touches: Wall coverings, flooring, countertops, light fixtures, faucets, and interior doors are added at this stage. Exterior finishes are also installed, like stairs and railings, outdoor lighting, etc. 
  10. Final walk-through: This final inspection is to check that your build is up to code and safe for living in. If there are any problems at this stage, you'll need to address them and schedule a follow-up inspection before receiving an official Certificate of Occupancy (CO). Sometimes, you can get a temporary CO if the issues with your build are small. With a temporary CO, you can move in and begin decorating and landscaping while fixing those minor issues. 

Set a realistic time frame 

New construction takes time. You should expect no less than eight months from starting your search for land to having a new custom home that's ready for move-in. We find it's closer to a year-and-a-half from start to finish when working with a highly motivated builder or committing full-time to the project. If you'll be DIYing most of the project while maintaining a job, plan on up to two years. 

Don't forget to factor in change orders — as you see your home come off the page, you may realize you want adjustments. 

How to Build a Custom Home With DEN

Beautiful, small home in the woods

Building a custom home is a huge goal for many people. Having a home that fits your lifestyle and vision is satisfying in a way that buying a house can't match. While the process of home construction might seem overwhelming, there are a few ways to keep things streamlined and moving.

Finding the right house plans and the best land for your new home are essential, and doing so will help you create a budget, assemble a team, and secure your financing. DEN has a library of designs and a team dedicated to customization that can make your custom home building process as easy and straightforward as possible. Check out our library and find the right DEN house plans for you.