Usually larger and more complex than a production home, a custom home, logically, will take longer to build. In fact, according to the latest available U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Construction, the average time it took to take a new home from authorization to completion in 2017 was 6.6 months for a built for sale or spec house, 9.1 months for a contractor-built house, and 12.5 months for an owner-built home.
Those figures, however, document only construction time. It’s more than the actual construction process – or the sheer size of the home – that extends completion time for custom homes. It’s the fact that, by definition, a true custom home means that nothing has been pre-planned.
On production or model homes, potential home sites have been pre-selected and likely improved, the house has been designed and modeled, and all the products and features (except for limited options) are already build in. Not so with a custom home. None of that is done in advance for a true custom home. With a custom home, you’re starting from scratch and completion will require a number of additional, time-consuming steps by you, the buyer.
See the companion article: “6 Steps to Building a Custom Home.”
You will have to investigate and select an architect and a builder for your new home. The latter may require a bidding process. You’ll also have to locate and purchase a site for the home. Next comes the time-consuming process of working with an architect or designer to create the home design, draft the plan, and select all the products, features and amenities. You will also need to obtain building permits.
There is no “typical” time limit for the above elements and none of these are required when purchasing a pre-built production home. The time it takes to build a custom home depends on you. Dream building, team and site selection, and home design could take months or even years, if you let it.
Count on two years overall
The above pre-construction activity alone can take a year, estimates Sheri Scott, Founder and Principal Architect at Springhouse Architects in Dayton, Ohio. Actual construction of your custom home can take an additional year, she says.
In short, in addition to a lifetime spent dreaming of and visualizing your ideal home, the actual planning and building process can to take up to two years.
Preliminary design through construction documents can take three to six months depending on how prepared the client is, Scott notes. “We say a full year,” She explains “because this gives us time to make all of the selections and revisions. If, for example, we started designing a house in the fall – doing a lot of the [architectural] work through winter – and then, in summer, the client decided they wanted a pool and access to the pool deck. This would give us time to design a house that lives well for them throughout the year.”
A lot of Springhouse client’s come with a site already in hand. “Often it’s the first thing they do,” Scott says. “But we like to be involved in selecting a site. What’s best is for them to have a few sites in mind and already know what they want in their house and living on the site. Then, we like to help them make the final decision based on the slope of the site, the sun orientation, size, and privacy.”
For the design process, consumers should bring their site information and details on any neighborhood boundaries or regulations. In addition, Scott asks them to bring “a ton of pictures to communicate what they want in their new home. They’ll have a list of how many bedrooms and bathrooms they need, but pictures better communicate the [design] feeling they are looking for in their new home.”
For bidding, contractor interviews and negotiation, Springhouse allows three months. “Right now,” Scott says, “because the building industry is so busy, we like to bring in a builder early, right after preliminary design, to get their input on cost savings and scheduling and to get on their books. We try to direct consumers on questions they should ask during bidding meetings and interviews.”
Allow one year for construction
Actual building time of a custom home can take twice as long as an off-the-shelf production home, according to Scott. “We get the most questions during framing, so during framing we are out on the site every week,” the architect says. “However, our clients are involved in every step of the building process and a lot of interior material selections are done after we’ve started construction because it feels different [more real] when you are in the framed house making those decisions.”
Prepping the site and pouring the foundation, normally three weeks for production homes, may take longer since custom home locations tend to need more tree removal and/or are on sloped land that may need erosion controls and more extensive leveling. In addition, a custom home’s foundation will likely be larger and more intrigue than that of a production home.
Likewise completion of rough framing, sheathing, and roofing; installation of electrical wiring, security systems, plumbing pipes, vents, and rough mechanicals; and installation of insulation— all of which takes about four weeks on a production home—will take longer simply because a typical custom home is larger, more complex, and requires higher craftsmanship and more extensive products and materials. The same applies to the installation of exterior brick or siding, windows, doors, drywall, interior trim, flooring, lighting, plumbing fixtures, appliances, HVAC installation, and landscaping.
In addition, a custom home may call for more sophisticated green and energy-efficient construction, high-tech sound and entertainment systems, wine cellar, fitness room, outdoor kitchen, safe room/storm shelter, slate or concrete roof tiles, granite countertops, or an elevator. It might also require the design of spiral or elaborate staircases, extensive outdoor decking or a swimming pool.
Construction time for your new home can also vary greatly due to a number of factors:
- The size and complexity of your home design, as well as the competence and efficiency of your builder, can impact building time.
- Permits. How long it takes to get building approvals and permits varies greatly depending on the local city or county building department.
- Shortages of available supplies or subcontractors can stall construction.
- Site conditions. Building on a prime but hilly lot or in an earthquake, mudslide, or fire hazard zone, will also add to building time. Construction also generally takes longer in rural areas than in metro areas with ready access to supplies and labor.
- Bad weather with heavy rain, snow or freezing temperatures can cause major delays in construction.
A common and serious contributor to the time it takes to design and build a custom home is the length of time it takes the homeowner to make option and design selections and decisions as required, says Scott. Following product and material ordering and lead times is vital. Delayed decisions – or worse, late change order requests – can seriously impact the completion of your custom home, Scott adds.
Bottom line: Make all of selections ahead of time and don’t make changes.
Approximate Custom Home Building Timeline
Below is a rough breakdown of each step in the process of completion of a custom home and an estimate of the time each element may take:
Pre-construction: 9 – 12 months
- Assemble the team (get architect/builder references, bids) – 3 months
- Obtain a site – 2 months
- Design (style, floor plan, options, selections) – 3 to 6 months
- Permits and loan approval -1 month
Construction: 12 months*
- Documents (plans, specs, bids and contracts) – 2 months
- Site prep (clear, grade, level and stake) – 1 month
- Foundation (pour footings, foundation, basement, slab; install drain tile) – 1 ½ months
- Rough carpentry (frame walls, floors, roof; install sheathing, house wrap) – 2 months
- Install HVAC – 1 month
- Rough plumbing, electrical, audio/video, security – 2 ½ months
- Roofing, exterior siding/brick/trim, windows, doors – 1 ½ months
- Insulation and drywall – 1 ½ months
- Prime, caulk, paint – 3 months
- Flooring, cabinets, trim, hardware – 4 months
Cleaning, punch list, closing: 1 month
Note: The construction times shown total 21 months. However, many of these activities take place concurrently.
Roy Diez is a freelance writer and marketing professional specializing in the architectural, building and construction industry. He is a former editor-in-chief of Professional Builder magazine.