0 Helpful?

First time General Contractor

First, let me begin by saying that I have never built a house. I have, however, lived in 2 homes that I had built. Also, I am a skilled in finished carpentry, tiling, plumbing, and can hold my own in general framing and electrical work. For over 35 years I worked in Information Systems (my day job) specializing in project management.
Here's the question. My son and daughter-in-law are planning to build a house. Since he works in HVAC and knows all of the reputable contractors in the area, they would like to build the house themselves. With my background in project management and limited experience with some of the construction techniques, I'd like to offer my services as general contractor (I'm retired now so I have the time). Since we can rely on the contractors to do good work I won't have to supervise them too much. Instead, I see this as a large project management exercise. Am I getting in way over my head? If not, can anyone recommend some reference material for building a home? Comments, suggestions, recommendations are welcome.

Asked by Mike Turner
Posted Dec 24, 2012 1:52 PM ET


13 Answers

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"...they would like to build the house themselves..." but it sounds like you have contractors lined up. So, are they building it, or supervising the contractors? If contractors, it sounds to me like you three will be fine, if you get detailed plans drawn up.

Answered by John Klingel
Posted Dec 24, 2012 2:05 PM ET


It sounds like a disaster in the making. Just because most contractors are idiots doesn't mean any idiot can be a contractor.

Answered by Dan Kolbert
Posted Dec 24, 2012 4:50 PM ET


John, for clarification, they want to build the house instead of buying a new home in a development. We have a design picked up that includes a complete set of plans for all the trades.

Sorry, Dan, can't think of a way to respond to your comments without violating the rules of the board. That said, have a Merry Christmas.

Answered by Mike Turner
Posted Dec 25, 2012 8:45 AM ET


Supervisor.... But not supervising, good luck with that.

This site is to do with "green" not training retired relatives.

My advice, just stick with being a relative and let them build the home with a builder of their choice. Take up golf for a frustration to contemplate.

And Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones!

Answered by aj builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a
Posted Dec 25, 2012 10:58 AM ET
Edited Dec 25, 2012 11:00 AM ET.


Pheww. Got her from a link on the Fine Homebuilding forum. Now I know why the 'green' initiative is having so much trouble....the people involved are a joy to work with.

Answered by Mike Turner
Posted Dec 25, 2012 11:28 AM ET


Mike asked: "Am I getting in way over my head?"

From posts that I have seen elsewhere...
I would say that Dan is a nice guy (and General Contractor) with a very good sense of humor.
I think he was trying to make a joke and a point.

here is my take...
There is a chance that your first experience as a General Contractor may turn out "well".
I think the odds are better that things will turn out not-so-well....
and or the experience will be not-so-pleasant.

This sort-a reminds me of my daughter's first soccer game.
My wife asked her: "why don't you just go for the ball?"
My daughter said: "but, Mom...it's not as easy as it looks"

From my three experiences as a GC ... I would say "It's not as easy as it looks"

Answered by John Brooks
Posted Dec 25, 2012 11:54 AM ET


Mike, please forgive the tone of the answers. I'd suggest they are not aimed at you directly, but more probably the result of some frustration caused by the DIY industry that has spent a lot of time denigrating the skills that go into successfully building a house and suggesting anyone can do it.

I GCed my first house 25 years ago and at the time was practicing as an architect so assumed I already had the knowledge necessary to do so. It turned out alright, but there were quite a few bumps along the way. Your house will very likely turn out fine too but like anything you do for the first time it won't turn out as well as a second attempt would.

The more conventional the design, the better chance of a smooth project. Things that are unusual are where a good GC demonstrates their value, as their experience lets them integrate new things into the process. For a first attempt I would try and limit innovation, which may or may not fit into your plans. Allow a longer timeline with gaps between the trades to deal with issues that otherwise will be rushed and you will regret later.

Expect a bit of push back from contractors and trades. Their experience will have been that working for a first time GC is often fraught with difficulties. Even if you aren't the cause of them you will be an easy target.

Good luck!

Answered by Malcolm Taylor
Posted Dec 25, 2012 2:29 PM ET
Edited Dec 25, 2012 3:16 PM ET.


Some of the roles of a GC that may not be obvious at first:

1. A GC understands every aspect of residential construction in a way that individual sub-trades may not.

2. A GC anticipates what comes next in the construction schedule and makes sure everything is ready to proceed.

3. A GC is thoroughly familiar with the plans and specs, and is the one who reminds the designer or architect what the designer or architect forgot to include on the plans.

4. A GC provides a warranty to the owner for all work, and is the one who comes back to fix anything if it isn't right, for at least one year after construction is complete. A GC is responsible for the work of all subcontractors, even those who screw up.

When someone who has never performed a job thinks, "Hey -- I'm smart enough to do that job myself, and I could save a bunch of money that way," you can't blame a builder who rolls his eyes and notices the implied insult to the builder's expertise.

Answered by Martin Holladay
Posted Dec 25, 2012 3:01 PM ET
Edited Dec 25, 2012 3:05 PM ET.


Good summary by others above. To me, your comment that "...since we can rely on the contractors to do good work I won't have to supervise them too much" belies a serious misunderstanding about what a GC is responsible for.

Answered by David Meiland
Posted Dec 25, 2012 3:44 PM ET


I come from the Design/Build group. I’ve designed and/or built hundreds of homes and in the last 15 years every one of them as high performing, energy efficient and healthy home. I also teach Green Building and Building Science. Having said that, I believe it all comes down to what your kids want as the end product and the economics of the project.
I cringe when you say “We have a design picked up that includes a complete set of plans for all the trades”. Designing homes for high level “green building” is something that you can’t buy in a magazine or plan service. A custom home needs to be designed as a true custom home, with its unique details and building science. In my experience seeing and traveling around the country, I find very few Designers with the knowledge and experience to do the job correctly; so make sure you are getting the level of work you desire, if not, search for it. Skimping on the very 1st step to build a custom home is looking for trouble later on, plus a good and experienced Designer WILL save you money on the build job and in the future... Pay now or pay later!
On the building side is fairly the same principle. You need to look for a builder with the knowledge and experience to build high performing homes. Anyone can build a decent house that passes minimum code or even slightly better, but few can build true high performing houses. If that’s what your kids want, they should start by contracting with a builder who has certified homes under stringent guidelines of any of the main green national programs or guidelines. In general, there is a huge difference in home performance from builders that certify homes and those who doesn’t. Ask a HERS rater or BPI Verifier if I’m wrong.
A sad reality is that most Designers, Builders and subcontractors do the same work as they’ve done for 15-30 or more years, and only change their ways when new codes and inspectors make them do so. Most of them do not even own code books, I know, I usually ask that question on classes I teach around the country; and at best, 5-10% owns an IRC or IECC code book.
I’m sure you could do a good job for your kids as a Construction Manager, but you may need an experienced GC or Superintendent to make sure all aspects of building a house are done right. Most of us who design/build at a high level of quality and performance, know that is not as easy as it looks, so again, it all boils down on what your kids expect and can afford.
A lesson I learned from one of my first bosses: “You build what you inspect, not what you expect.”

Answered by Armando Cobo
Posted Dec 25, 2012 4:59 PM ET


Mike: Pls feel free to email me at jolinak@gci.net. I am not a professional, but would like to talk to you about your experience as you go along, just for my own education and perhaps to ask enough questions to call attention to something you may have overlooked. Either way, good luck.

Answered by John Klingel
Posted Dec 27, 2012 2:43 AM ET


first of all according to my opinion you must go for a contractor let him take care of each and every aspect of house building and this step is safe too. you can find good contractors from your family, friends and co workers recommendations or search online. after you find an contractor it will be his duty to buy and supervise the material in need.

Answered by Anthony Cole
Posted Jul 8, 2013 12:26 AM ET


I've been the GC on several, intensive remodeling projects for my own house over the last 5 years. I have pissed off the designer, drafter, and all the trades working for me, a time or two. The designer and all those trades have pissed me off sometimes, too. It's not as efficient as it could be but, then, what is? Things get done, with good results. My worst problem has been complete psychiatric instability, since I am the GC, designer, and every single one of the trades involved, except I hired a HVAC contractor to put in my mini-splits. Even he pissed me off, though, so I guess that's part of things--he charged way too much labor and brought an electrician with him that cut corners at every possible opportunity. The psychiatrically unstable group I'm used to working with never does that. Also, the first thing I bought before doing anything was the building codes.

Mike, I say go for it and be proud. The responders here have really given you some good advice and comments.

Answered by Sonny Chatum
Posted Jul 8, 2013 7:19 AM ET
Edited Jul 8, 2013 7:30 AM ET.

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