Saturday, July 23, 2011

How we got started building a custom home

Kyle and I have had this crazy dream to build a house since before we were married. We always knew that someday we wanted to create a beautiful home we could live in forever, but we also knew we wanted to build a house that was "green". On our budget it has not been easy.

We set a goal in mind several years ago to continue to live frugally and save every extra penny towards our house. During college we worked and went to school full time and along the way we collected countless architectural house plans and photos for inspiration. Over 500 photos at this point in my "Home Inspiration" folder!

We found one particular plan that we loved, so we tweaked it and made it smaller and added extra touches like built-in and a master bathroom walk in shower. It takes a lot of care and time to make a house layout feel right. You need to really picture your self walking through each room, opening the windows and moving furniture up the staircase.

At this point we already had our land purchased. Then we started searching for builders in our area that had knowledge or specialized in energy efficient homes and SIP's (Structurally insulated panels or Panelized homes). We first searched for builders through the SIPA website. We found 4 builders that were worth interviewing and meeting with. We also met with a few other builders in the area that did not work with SIP's. Most builders we found liked to stick to what they are comfortable working with, like traditional stick built framing but that wasn't what we were after.

We were more comfortable working with someone who had knowledge of SIP's and that's how we met our current builder. He used to work for a manufacturer of SIP's in Michigan and then started his own company building custom homes. We met with him and talked about our plans and our budget. We had a great feeling about him and what his company stood for. We met with him one other time before we decided he was our guy.
Our builder visited out property and reviewed out house plans to make sure they would work. Sometimes the grade or slope of a property doesn't lend its self to some house layouts. We then took our plans (that we had hand drawn as well as drew in Microsoft Excel) to an architect that could bring them to life and be up to code with Michigan building laws. That was the fun part! Seeing our plans come to life was so incredible. Kyle and I felt like two kids on Christmas morning waiting for that email of our plans.

We have made several revisions of our plans as the budget was made and as Kyle and I changed our opinion on what was important in the house. Paying attention to the layout is key to feeling happy with your home in the end. We have spent many evenings looking at the plans and seeing if anything is out of place with our vision for the house.

We had several budget meetings with our builder, both here in Lansing and in Grand Rapids (where our builder is located). The budget of course was the most stressful part of the whole process. Even though we saved like crazy and had a nice down payment set aside, we were pretty surprised when we saw that final number! We worked hard to get the budget back down and still keep some of the important amenities. We got rid of a few items but kept many others (like my granite counters!)

We have learned so much through this process and although we wont be doing it again (ever), we can pass on what we learned not to do to others looking to build.

Any questions about finding a builder, finding a layout or building a house in general? The treehuggers are always available.


  1. I can across your blog while doing a search on the basic of geothermal HVAC. My husband and I are starting on the exact same custom building journey! We have talked to 3 builders so far, 1 said the budget wasn't doable at all, 1 said we would make it work, and the other one is going to discuss it with the "team" :) I feel like our budget is huge (in terms of what it buys with an existing home) but I think custom builders are so used to large size homes with, well, lots of custom items. We want a nice home, with lots green, energy efficient elements and we can always add the custom details (wainscotting, etc.) as DIY projects down the line. Any tips or advice you have on how to keep down costs or any other lessons learned from your house building journey would be appreciated!

    1. Thanks for the comment Kathleen! We had the same goals in mind when we started our home. We wanted to build a modest family home with as many green elements as our budget would allow. We have 2100 sq ft and our Geothermal system and Loop field cost us just over $18,000. That covered the loop field, duct work and the Geo unit in the house. Also included an Air exchanger and hook up to our water heater. We tried to keep around $100 a sq ft for the project, we went over but not too far over that. That was our thought too, add the custom details like crown molding and what not later. Best of Luck!! If you have any additional questions, email us at and we would be happy to help!