Should I Try Being My Own General Contractor?

By James Dulley

November 22, 2018 4 min read

Dear James: I am planning to build a new home for myself and my two children. I have looked at many plans and taken house tours. In order to save money, does it make sense for me to be my own general contractor? — Steve K.

Dear Steve: Homeowners acting as their own general contractors is done every day, and it can reduce the building costs. Be prepared, though, to spend many hours planning and at the job site. Also plan on some sleepless nights, because it can become very stressful.

The degree of success in being your own general contractor is largely a function of your knowledge of house building materials and techniques. As the general contractor, you will be dealing with subcontractors, suppliers and inspectors.

Having reviewed many house plans and taken many tours is only the starting point in being able to manage the building of a house. If you do not have a construction background or the appropriate knowledge, you might consider taking some formal courses first.

A general contractor typically increases the total building costs of a house by 15 to 20 percent. If the contractor builds many houses, he likely gets discounts on materials and labor from regular subcontractors he uses. The actual savings you realize many be more in the 5 to 10 percent range when all is said and done.

Another consideration is the quality of the work by subcontractors. They are human, and the quality of their work varies somewhat, from day to day and job to job. When they are working for a general contractor who uses them often, they may be more careful about quality than when they are working for an individual.

If you still want to give it a try, educate yourself as much as possible. It would be wise to contact trade associations for literature and standards they may have related to residential construction. Ask for both the consumer and the professional literature available.

Several good trade associations to contact are: Portland Cement Association, 847- 966-6200; Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association, 212-297-2122; Hardwood Council, 412-244-0440; Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute 703-524-8800; and National Roofing Contractors Association, 847-299-9070.

Plan on visiting the job site every day. This will keep the subcontractors working on schedule and show you have a personal interest in the quality of their work. Carefully compare each day's work to your building plans. If something is incorrect and not caught early on, it can be very expensive to correct it later.

When dealing with the subcontractors, you would be wise to hire a lawyer to write up all the contracts you will need. It may cost from $300 to $500, but it will be money well spent. Remember, with you acting as the general, you will not have a builder to complain to if there are problems.

Select a lawyer who has experience with residential construction. He will be aware of problems which typically arise, and he can address these in the contracts. An experienced lawyer can also review your building plans to be sure you have adequately specified materials and construction details.

Take many photos with your cellphone as the construction progresses. These will be invaluable if problems with any subcontractors arise later. The photos will also come in handy after you move in and start hanging pictures and things. Knowing the location of plumbing and wiring inside the walls can be very helpful.

Send your questions to Here's How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit To find out more about James Dulley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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