Anyone who's been house-hunting knows that buying an existing home is all about compromise. Maybe you can find that cute bungalow in a great school district, but the kitchen is much smaller than you want. Or maybe the price is right on that ranch home, but the layout leaves something to be desired. If you've hunted around and just aren't finding what you're looking for, new construction might be for you. But how long does it take to build a home from the ground up?
When you're building a house from scratch, there are lots of variables to consider. Part of the fun of new construction is that you get to customize your space, right? Those customizations can take more time, especially if your contractor has to special-order materials. That's no reason to cross things off of your wish list -– you just want to keep in mind that those things might make your job take a bit longer.
The other big variables when you're talking about home construction are the number of workers on the job each day, the state of the lot, permits and inspections, and the weather [source: Pacific Crest Inspections]. If you have a big crew and clear skies, your job can go much faster. If there's an old house that you're demolishing or the ground where you want to build is in bad shape, that's going to add to the construction timeline a bit. Experts estimate that building a new house can take anywhere from five months to over a year depending on all of these factors. What's most important is that you find a contractor who you trust and who communicates with you every step of the way.
When you're taking on a construction project, it's a good idea to know what to expect. Knowing the steps involved and how long they typically take can help you ask the right questions and determine if your contractor is being honest with you about his time estimates. So, what does the construction timeline look like on a typical home?
What is a typical construction timeline?
Of course, every construction job is different, but there are some steps in the process that are standard when it comes to building a home. Your contractor should give you a construction timeline that's tailored to the house you're building before he breaks ground. If he doesn't, there's nothing wrong with asking for one!
Here's what a generic construction timeline might look like [source: Home Building Smart]:
- Pre-construction period. Before you break ground, you have to pull permits, finalize plans and get your financing sorted out. This can take one to two months or longer. When my family got a construction loan recently, it took over a year to find one that worked for us!
- Preparing the lot and laying the foundation. This includes clearing out debris and trees, leveling out the lot where the house will go, and pouring the foundation. A month is about average for this step.
- Framing the house and building the roof – Framing usually takes about two months, but bad weather can delay things here. Once the roof is up, weather is generally less of a concern [source: Bunzel].
- Siding, wiring, and plumbing – Workers will finish the outside of the house and get the plumbing, electrical, and HVAC started, which takes about a month.
- Interior finishing – This is when the inside of your house starts to look like a house, with the drywall and most of the carpentry completed. Expect about two months.
- Finish work – Everything is coming together now! In the final two months, contractors install the floors, do the painting and caulking, finish the plumbing and electrical work and hang ceiling fans.
- Punch list – This is a critical step where you do a final walk through and you and your contractor create what's essentially a to-do list of little things that still need finishing up – think a paint touch-up here and a bit of caulking there. Make sure you go into this with a critical eye and question anything that seems wrong. This is your chance to get your contractor to fix mistakes before you move in.
Some of these steps can overlap, of course, and delays along the way can make the job take longer than anticipated. The problem could be a delay with anything from materials to inspections and permits. Even knowing that, it might still seem as if construction is taking too long. So what can you do?
What's the holdup?
Weather is probably the biggest factor that can delay construction, especially at the beginning of the job, before the roof is complete. For example, roof tiles need at least a few hours to dry, so you don't want to install them if there's a chance it will rain. Once you have the walls and roof finished, bad weather isn't as much of a concern.
The materials you choose and the number of workers on site can also impact your construction timeline. A tile roof takes longer to install than an asphalt one, and if you have four workers, the job goes faster than if you have two. You also need to consider the state of the lot. Demolishing an existing structure adds some time, but more important is the state of the soil. If he discovers bad soil when he breaks ground, your contractor will need to dig and fill in the lot or use a special foundation to account for expansive soil [source: Pacific Crest Inspections].
One holdup that can be out of your contractor's hands is permitting. Sure, if your contractor makes a mistake and the city inspector catches it, that's on him, but sometimes the city gets backed up, and your contractor has to wait for an inspection before work can continue.
So, how can you tell if your contractor is giving you a reasonable time estimate? Rick Bunzel, principal inspector at Pacific Crest Inspections in Anacortes, Wash., says the key is having a good relationship with your general contractor, because he normally has a number of subcontractors who work underneath him and do a lot of the day-to-day work. Each task in home building is interrelated, and your general contractor has to organize that team and all of their timeframes, since each step happens in a sequence. For example, a delay in roughing out the plumbing or electrical system can push back hanging the drywall.
Bunzel recommends using the "reasonable person approach." If something feels like it's taking too long, ask your contractor about it. There could be a good reason, but you won't know unless you ask. It's important to be involved, visit the job site, look and ask questions, and make sure that your contractor is on the job watching what the subs are doing.
"Your relationship with that general contractor is like a marriage" he says. "You may not agree all the time but you're still in it together."
When I was in elementary school, my parents bought a house in a development that hadn't been built yet. Ours was only the second house in the neighborhood, so there were quite a few delays in the construction process. I still remember living in the townhouse we rented for the year it took to build and visiting the job site with my mom on the way to school a couple of mornings a week. It was almost magical watching this pile of dirt slowly become the house where I spent most of my childhood.
When my husband and I decided to buy a house in 2006, new construction wasn't even on our minds. We wanted an old house with character, but when we began to outgrow our little two bedroom, one bathroom space, I once again found myself in the middle of a construction zone while we built an addition. The project was nothing compared to building a house from scratch, and it definitely gave some me perspective about what that year in the townhouse must have been like for my parents. It's not quite as magical when you're in the middle of all of those decisions, but that makes moving in to the finished space that much more satisfying.
- Bunzel, Rick. Principal Inspector at Pacific Crest Inspections. Personal interview. April 16, 2012. http://www.paccrestinspections.com/
- HomeBuildingSmart. "New Home Construction Timeline." (April 16, 2012) http://www.homebuildingsmart.com/new-home-construction-timeline/
- Pacific Crest Inspections. "A Home Construction Timeline." (April 16, 2012) http://www.paccrestinspections.com/New-construction-timeline.htm
- Pacific Crest Inspections. "Expansive Soil." (April 24, 2012) http://www.paccrestinspections.com/expansive.htm
- Vila, Bob. "Your Home's Construction Schedule." Bob Vila. (April 16, 2012) http://www.homebuildingsmart.com/new-home-construction-timeline/