How to Build a House: Your Complete Guide to the Home-Building Process

Mariel Loveland
Written by Mariel Loveland
Reviewed by Robert Tschudi
Updated September 12, 2022
A home exterior in evening
Photo: Bmak / Adobe Stock


  • On average, home building is a more than eight-month process

  • Most homeowners hire a general contractor to oversee the build

  • You can’t build a home without obtaining the proper permits

  • All homes start with a foundation and frame before finishing the exterior and interior

  • Your home must pass numerous inspections before you can get a certificate of occupancy

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The process of building a house can feel overwhelming. If you thought your bathroom renovation was hard, just imagine building from the ground up (or beneath the ground, if you have a basement). That being said, your dream home is just a few steps—and a little paperwork—away. All it takes is some careful planning and organization. This guide will show you how to build a house from start to finish, so no stone on your empty lot is unturned.

Plan Your Home: Where to Start 

You’ll need to do some significant planning before building a house—and everyone needs to start somewhere. Before you break ground, decide on a location, design, and contractor. 

Find and Purchase Your Land or Lot

Finding the perfect lot is a third of the battle. This is your forever home, so you need to make sure the land is actually suitable. Nobody wants to start building only to find there’s an unexpected cost because the land isn’t stable or weather got in the way. Consider the following:


The average single-family home is around 1,600 feet, but you might want something larger or smaller. Determine how much land you need to buy—and don’t forget to think about the entire property. Are you looking for multiple acres or do you just want enough space for a small garden? 


Before you make an offer, ensure your land is zoned properly and has access to your desired utilities and community institutions, like schools and libraries. Once you start getting into a rural area, you may have to provide your own water source (like a well) and waste disposal (like a septic tank). Check with the local authority or homeowners association (HOA) for any potential restrictions or pitfalls, such as ordinances restricting owners to build on a percentage of land only. 


Climate dictates the cost of your foundation, the type of insulation you’ll need, and other weather-related considerations. You may need to make sure your home can stand up to floods, hurricanes, tropical storms, unstable ground, tornadoes, earthquakes, intense heat, or intense cold. 

Property Taxes

Property taxes vary from state to state and city to city, but they’re a significant factor in the long-term costs of your home. Ask your real estate agent before you buy to make sure you have the budget.

Design Your Home

You can’t build a house without a design, and the design more or less determines your budget. The cost to build a house is anywhere from $100 to $500 per square foot—so the bigger your home is, the more you’re going to pay. Whether you learn how to design a house yourself or hire an architect to plan out the design, you should know a few things before getting started.

Hiring an Architect

A local architect can help you design a home with safety, functionality, and building codes in mind. It’s a huge way to protect your investment. You’ll avoid the kind of design errors that cause costly (and potentially hazardous) issues later on.

Decide the Number of Rooms 

Most homes have at least one bedroom, one full bathroom, a kitchen, and a living space—but that’s just a starting point. You can add more bedrooms and bathrooms to suit your family. You may even want additional living areas, like a playroom, home theater, or formal dining room.

Consider Utilities and Function

Sometimes, underground utility pipes can get in the way of your dream design, and things like central air conditioning and bathrooms will take special considerations. Beyond that, focusing on function makes your home more liveable. For example, is there a space that’s too small for a typical bedroom but could easily become a luxe walk-in closet?  Make sure the design suits your lifestyle.

Include Energy Efficient Designs

Even modest energy improvements can save you more than $500 a year, according to The U.S. Department of Energy. Consider using energy-efficient design elements like advanced house framing or installing a passive solar heating and cooling system.

Choose a Home Builder or Contractor 

Labor makes up about 40% of the cost to build a house yourself — but budget isn’t always best. You want to make sure you hire the right team. How do you choose? Let’s get into it.

Custom Home Builder vs General Contractor

A contractor oversees the whole home-building process, whereas a home builder just builds the house. If you hire a licensed home builder, they won’t have the qualifications to do specialized tasks like plumbing and electrical work, so you’ll need to bring more people on board. If you hire a general contractor, they’ll be able to subcontract an entire team of qualified professionals.

Hiring Your Team

You’ll need to hire licensed professionals that can tackle everything from roofing, flooring, and foundations to masonry, cabinetry, grading, electrical, and plumbing. Always check their  qualifications and make sure they provide the required paperwork—even if they’re subcontractors hired by your general contractor.

Get the Required Permits

Forgetting a permit is one of the biggest mistakes to avoid when building a house—and home building requires a ton of permits. In general, building permits cost between $10 to $2,300, but you’ll need a few different types of permits obtained by licensed contractors.

  • Building/Construction: For a new construction, you’ll need an overall building or construction permit. You will likely need to have a licensed engineer or architect submit your designs. 

  • Electrical: To do electrical work, you’ll need an electrical permit obtained by a licensed electrician. 

  • Plumbing: To do plumbing work, you’ll need a plumbing license. This is usually granted to a licensed plumber or licensed fire suppression contractor.

  • HVAC: You may need an HVAC license depending on the state, but this may fall under your main building permit. 

  • Septic: In some areas, you need to obtain a septic permit before installing a septic tank. This might also depend on the size of your septic system. 

  • Environmental: you may need an environmental permit if you’re near a waterway or building on one or more acres. You can learn more about these permis on the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, but your general contractor should be able to obtain one if necessary.

Breaking Ground on Your New Home 

The average timeline to build a house is around eight months—from permits to completion. Houses built by owners rather than contractors take around 13 months on average. Basically, slow and steady wins the race, and there’s a lot that goes into construction. Here’s what you need to know.

Prep the Construction Site

One of the first steps of building a home is preparing the construction site. Your excavation crew will level the area and make sure it’s free of rocks, trees, and other debris. They’ll also:

  • Stake the corners of your foundation. These stakes are known as building lines.

  • Put up wooden forms, which act as a guide for your foundation and hold poured concrete in place

  • Dig the trench for the foundation, unless your home in slab-on-grade

Lay Down Your Foundation

Once the area is prepped, it’s time to lay the foundation. During the foundation-making process, your contractor will:

  • Install footings: This is the ground support for your home. Your contractor will typically make your footings out of concrete and rebar.

  • Pour the foundation walls: If you have a basement, your contractor will build the foundation walls using poured concrete. 

  • Pour the slab: If you have a slab-on-grade home, your construction crew will level the space over your footings, install electrical and plumbing chases, then pour the concrete slab.

  • Install the plumbing and waterproofing: Once the concrete foundation fully cures, your crew will install a waterproofing membrane and whatever plumbing lines you’ll need for the first floor or basement. This includes drains, water taps, and your sewer system.

  • Backfill the foundation: Your construction crew will fill in the hole surrounding your foundation’s outer walls.

As soon as your foundation is complete, you’ll get your first city inspection. This ensures that everything is properly installed and up to code. If you don’t need to make adjustments, your contractor will remove the wooden forms and start building the frame of your home.

Build the Frame of Your House 

Every home starts with a rough frame, which acts as the skeleton of your house. The essential elements include:

  • Wall lines: The wooden supports behind your walls, including load-bearing beams

  • Roof trusses: This is the frame of your roof, which includes rafters and ceiling joists

  • Floor system: Rather than a concrete slab, off-grade and above-grade floors use wooden flooring piers and a floor joist framing system. 

  • Sheathing: This holds your exterior walls and roof in place. 

  • Protective barriers: Your contractor will wrap your sheathing in a plastic barrier that protects your home from mold, moisture, and wood rot. They may also install roofing felt for the same purpose.

After installation, a framing inspection will ensure your home’s frame complies with building codes.

Install Your Exterior Siding and Roofing

Once your frame is built, you’ll finish your home from the outside in. Install your exterior siding (whether it’s aluminum, wood, vinyl, or another material) and roof (whether it’s metal panels, shingles, or tiles). At this phase, you can also install your windows and doors.

Install Plumbing, Electrical, and HVAC

Before you can finish your floors, ceilings, and walls, you’ll need to install plumbing and electricity. Plumbing typically comes first. At this phase, your plumbing and electrical contractors will install:

  • Pipes for plumbing

  • Water supply lines

  • Bathtubs and showers

  • Breaker panels

  • Ductwork and HVAC vents

  • Electrical wiring

  • Receptacles for outlets, switches, and lights

After installation, you’ll need to have these elements inspected to make sure they comply with building codes.

Install Insulation

Insulation can account for around 30% of a home's heating and cooling costs—so it’s an important next step. Your contractor will likely install one or more of these commonly used insulation materials in your walls, floors, and ceiling:

  • Cellulose: Made of recycled newsprint or denim mixed with a bonding agent, cellulose can be installed as a loose-fill on the attic floor or as a blown-in material.

  • Fiberglass: You can install fiberglass insulation material in your wall cavities or between joists, beams, and studs. 

  • Spray foam: Spray foam insulation seals gaps and cavities inside existing walls.

  • Foam boards: Foam boards insulation (aka rigid panels) is great for insulating almost any part of your home, from the roof, floors, or foundation.

  • Mineral wool: Mineral wool insulation is similar to fiberglass material but more expensive. It can tolerate higher temperatures and has soundproof properties as well. 

  • Reflective barrier: While standard insulation materials reduce heat flow in a home, reflective insulation reflects the heat away from the house and prevents heat gain. 

Install Drywall, Interior Fixtures, and Finishes

Once the insulation is installed, you can finish your home’s interior. This includes:

  • Hanging drywall

  • Installing your flooring

  • Installing interior doors

  • Installing countertops

  • Installing cabinetry

  • Painting your walls

  • Applying wallpaper

  • Installing light fixtures

  • Adding interior trim

  • Installing mirrors

  • Installing carpeting

Complete Exterior Finishes

Your contractor will complete your home by adding any final exterior finishes. This could include stucco, masonry, bricks, or paint. You’ll also want to add the last of your exterior accessories like gutters, light fixtures, and shutters.

Add Hardscaping and Landscaping

Many first-time home builders overlook the need for landscaping and hardscaping—but there’s a huge value in adding a little more than just grass. Great landscaping creates curb appeal, while strategic hardscaping transforms your outdoor space into a secondary living space. You may want to hire a landscape designer near you to help plan your yard. At the very least you should:

  • Complete exterior grading (which prevents basement flooding)

  • Install walkways and driveways

  • Add grass, mulch, and shrubs

The Finishing Touches

Your home might look move-in ready—but don’t pack your bags just yet. You’ll need to walk through some red tape before your new home is considered complete.

Complete Your Final Inspection

It’s time for your fifth and final inspection. A building code official will inspect your home and issue a certificate of occupancy, meaning it’s legal to move in. If they find an issue, you’ll need to fix the problem and have a subsequent inspection before you can get your certificate.

Complete a Final Walkthrough with Your Contractor

Before you move in, your contractor will give you a final walkthrough of your home. During this process, they’ll explain the different features, outline the required maintenance, and discuss any warranties. You should also inspect the quality of their work. It’s easier to have your contractor fix an issue before you give them the thumbs up than later down the line.

Frequently Asked Questions

The cost to build a new home can range anywhere from $8,000 to more than $820,000. It depends on the location, size, features, and materials. That being said, most people spend between $123,000 to $451,000.

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