14 Steps to Building a House as an Owner-Builder

  1. Buy the land
  2. Secure White Cards and permits as an Owner-Builder
  3. Read up on your local rules
  4. Develop Draft House Plans and understand the shipping container’s structure
  5. Engage a winning team
  6. Secure your building permit
  7. Order materials, or order your modular house
  8. Prepare the site for construction
  9. Install the septic tank
  10. Construction – Foundation, Framing, Lockup, Internal & External Fit-out
  11. Install a water storage tank
  12. Driveway and landscaping
  13. Secure an occupancy certificate
  14. Move in!

The process of constructing or managing the phases of construction as a project of your own house may be an emotional roller coaster. However, if you refinance your mortgage, you might save tens of thousands of dollars over the life of the loan and gain immediate equity.

You can do the Owner-Builder’s Course in one weekend. If you supplement the course with the latest online design and project management tools, you can be up and running and in control of your project much faster than expected.

It’s important to remember that states have diverse processes for approving brand-new homes. For example, in QLD, owner builders engage private certifiers, yet some councils require a separate plumbing plan submission. Certifiers then approve the dwellings. In NSW, local councils take care of approvals.

Here is a quick DIY guide to building a house— from concept to completion. It will cover everything from the initial planning stages to the last touches and will be relevant for all 3 types of owner-builder:
This guide is relevant for all 3 types of owner builders:

  • Those physically building the house themselves
  • Those of you who will be project managing all of the trades
  • Those of you who will be buying a modular home and placing it on your land

1. Buy the land

To start your owner-builder journey, you must look for a proper location for your new house. No matter the size, you will need some space, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re building a villa or a modular home. You can’t apply for council approval if the location of your house is unknown.

The good news is that you’re not restricted to a specific type of land. There are several locations to choose from, including standard residential, rural or acreage, island living (such as Russell Island, QLD), and off-grid or remote. But this takes careful planning, identifying your actual needs for a house and the capacity to build and live in it.

With buying land, there are various options for you. It can be in your name, through a trust, or your company. Then there are also various financial options to acquire land, such as bank loans, vendor finance, and paying upfront and in full.

2. Secure White Cards and permits as an Owner-Builder

Being the owner-builder allows you, as the property owner, to personally perform the construction work. And to add to that, take on the role of Head Contractor on the building project. There are many owner-builder courses out there to choose from. Course fees range from $200 to $300, plus additional fees for your white card.

Below are links to state-approved owner builder courses to look into:

When it comes to managing the build of a new shed, garage, or kit home on your property, you may need an owner-builder permit. This permit allows you to complete the construction without engaging a licensed builder, while your white card will enable you to enter your construction site legally. Not all projects require a permit, so make sure you do the needed research. Generally, it is based on the total market value of the job and whether development consent is required.

This can be done with the relevant state-based building council found below:

NSW Housing And Property


VIC Building Authority

SA Business Services

TAS Building Services

ACT Planning

WA Building Services

NT Housing And Property

3. Read Up on Your Local Rules

The zoning laws dictate how the land can be used and what type of building is permitted in the area. You can ensure your construction process by talking to your local council, zoning office, city hall, or other local planning board. They are knowledgeable about zoning laws governing your area, making sure there are no restrictions or regulations that would prevent you from carrying out your building plan. You can then go ahead and get their permission before you begin construction.

With the Mod Hauz team, all council approvals and on-site works will be taken care of if needed.

4. Develop Draft House Plans and understand the shipping container’s structure

The shipping container, new or recycled, is mainly used for its structural capabilities and ready-to-use structural frame. The container is then made into a house by adding insulation, electrical, plumbing, and other required utilities.

Who can develop these plans? In theory, anyone can do this step, particularly given the array of software now available for planning. However, you can also engage a draftsman or engineer for this stage. From experience, creating house plans for land on Russell Island was a reasonably steep learning curve.

Your local council can give you clear instructions in securing home construction project requirements for your home construction project. Then when it comes to the draftsperson, designer, or architect, they offer different services. It will help you later to know if their service extends to submitting your plans for approval. If not, then you’ll need to do it yourself.

An electrical plan is a wiring diagram describing an engineer’s electrical design to its clients. In short, an electrical plan shows the positions of all the electrical apparatus in the house.

An electrical drawing includes the following basic details:

  • Interconnection of electrical wirings and other parts of the system
  • Connection of different components and fixtures to the system
  • Power lines with more information such as size, voltage, rating, and capacity
  • Power transformers and also their winding connections
  • The main switches, tiebreaker, and fused switches
  • Other essential equipment include solar panels, batteries, generators, air conditioning, etc.

It is also essential to plan for plumbing. In some states, that may even be included in general building or development applications. In QLD, however, this is a separate process. It requires engaging a certified plumber with experience submitting plumbing plans to the council.

You might also be interested in converting to a greywater system. More about it here.

5. Engage a winning team

Building a home is a huge undertaking. The average build usually involves 10 subcontractors & specialists working on the project. In some cases, as the owner-builder of a modular home, you can engage with these:

  • General Carpenter
  • Electrician
  • Plumber
  • Draftsman
  • Engineer
  • Private certifier
  • Painter

If you assign yourself as General Contractor to oversee the whole construction from start to finish, your duties will include–
Getting estimates for labor and materials
Hiring and assigning tasks to subcontractors
Making sure the team meets deadlines
Working with draftsman and engineers to complete plans
Working with the certifier to gain approvals

6. Secure Your Building Permit

Like always, the process varies from state to state regarding securing permits. Know that this step is critical before commencing construction. Unless you intend to build and then ask for forgiveness later, you will have to accomplish this with some help.

Before construction can begin, contact your municipal office and discuss your plans. They’ll guide you through securing the permits and fees necessary to green-light your project.

Permits you will need could include:

Building Permit
Electrical Permit
Plumbing Permit
HVAC Permit
If a grading permit is needed

As an owner-builder on a budget, you can get permits by yourself. However, this means you will also be liable for any problems during construction or inspections.

7. Order materials, or order your Modular House

If you buy a prefabricated modular home, now is the time to order it.

Check out Mod Hauz modular homes here. If you are building the house yourself, now is the time to start ordering your materials.

Some key things to think about at this stage:

Have you engaged contractors? Carpenters, plumbers, electricians, etc.? This would be a good time if you haven’t. They may have some valuable insights that will impact what you order and where you call it from.
Do you have somewhere to store your materials? If you are building on site, you will need a place to store your materials to avoid theft and the elements.
Where will you live if you are building on-site and your site is remote? You can commute each day to the site, or you can visit the site occasionally. You can do this while checking in with the carpenter and builder as needed. There are also some great low-cost CCTV options to monitor your suite remotely during construction. Another possibility is that you live on-site in a rented Modular home. Click here to view options for renting a 6m container home to live in while you build your dream home.

8. Prepare The Site For Construction

Before construction can begin, you are responsible for clearing and leveling the site. Firstly, clear the property.

You can outsource this process to a professional land-clearing team. They can remove debris, vegetation, trees, brush, and rocks within the intended build site. Once trees, shrubs, and bushes are removed, the team will remove stump and root systems to prevent re-growth.

If a lot of trees need to be removed, you have the option to sell the trees to a logging company so they can be repurposed and turned into lumber.

Once cleared, the clearing team will fill in any holes and level the ground. Then, the team will put wooden stakes to mark where the foundation will be poured. Next, with the wooden stakes as a guide, the team will build holes and trenches for the foundation, septic system, and utilities.

If there are dips and hills on the land, these will be graded to ensure a flat surface for the house and driveway.

9. Install The Septic Tank

If you are planning to include plumbing and placing a septic tank for your home, this is the part where you do it.

There are different requirements and only relevant for some councils in Australia. For example, councils such as Redland in QLD require the installation of a septic bed. Note that in step 4, we discussed the plumbing plan. This is also part of securing the plumbing permit, where a plumber is responsible for creating extensive plumbing plans.

The septic bed location and configuration are part of this stage as well. It may be theoretically possible to install the septic bed after the house is installed, but this could be problematic later. It is because some trench work needs to be completed under the house.

Installed septic tanks start from around $12,000 and will go up depending on the size. The size will be directly correlated to the house’s number of bedrooms and bathrooms. So the larger the house, the larger the septic tank.

If you opt for an eco-friendly lifestyle, you might be interested in converting to composting or incinerating toilets. More about it here.

10. Construction – Foundation, Framing, Lockup, Internal & External Fit-out

As the team already dug the trenches for the foundation during the site preparation, you can proceed with securing the site by fencing it. Then, in public view, place your owner-builder license number on a large board or frame by the fence.

You can use concrete slabs, raised piers, or concrete blocks for the foundation. These have varying advantages depending on what fits your land area and your use.

After the foundation, plumbing, and electrical basics have been laid, there will be an inspection. It ensures that the foundation is done correctly and follows local code requirements.

The framing is then the part where the house is finally taking shape. Finally, the lumber for the walls, flooring, ceiling, and roof trusses will be erected. This could take between one and two weeks to complete.

The lockup stage is when all the windows and exterior doors are installed, and you can effectively lock up the house. Reaching the lockup stage is important because the house can be properly secured. By this time, you can start putting in things like appliances and fixtures (e.g. light fixtures, taps, etc.) for safekeeping.

It is critical at this stage that the place is waterproof as you then move to the internal fit-out. Flooring is laid once the paint is dried. Next comes the trim. It will be installed around the windows and doors, along the floor, and, if you choose, around the ceiling. Vanities and cabinets are the following things to be installed in your home. When it comes to Modhauz units, they already have builder-grade cabinets in the bathroom and kitchen.

Once electrical work is finished, light fixtures, outlets, and switches are attached. These features, depending on your style, can be customized. The countertops, backsplash, and kitchen sink are then installed. It is followed by other kitchen appliances such as stove, exhaust, oven, fridge, and dishwasher. Bathroom fixtures like faucets, showerheads, toilets, heat register covers and other features are also added during this phase.

Another pretty significant milestone in your construction project is setting up the bedroom. Finally, when you have a place to rest your tired body in your new home, you know you’re close to moving in.

External fit-out or cladding does not only protect the property’s structure. It can also dramatically transform the overall aesthetic of a modular home. The choices of cladding materials is endless, from timber to stone and uPVC to brick. While the techniques you use to fit the external cladding may vary depending on the material, the preparation and the installation process are generally the same.

Lastly, gutter downspouts. Installation for this is a reasonably easy task for most homeowners. The directions for installing a gutter downspout will depend on the overhang of your roof. If the eave of your home extends beyond the wall, you’ll need to use more elbows. Draining excess rainwater all the way down will avoid leaks and flooding in your home.

11. Install A Water Storage Tank

We have included this step as we assume that most people reading this list are keen to go off-grid or at least want to be self-sufficient.

With a water tank, you can run lines to a home plumbing system and hold water for use in an emergency. The specifications of the tank will vary based on the application use and the daily water demand of the home or business.

As with most home improvement projects, getting a solid foundation is crucial. To begin, you need to choose a convenient location. Ideally, this is situated near your garden, pool, or any other area you plan on irrigating using your stored water. Next, tamp down the soil thoroughly and remove any rocks or other foreign matter that could interfere. Then pour a three-inch reinforced concrete slab in the location you’ve chosen for your storage tank. It should be flat and level in both dimensions and larger than the tank itself.

Depending on where you purchased your water storage tank, it may already be fitted with an overflow drainage pipe. Installing this pipe properly will ensure excess water runoff will not compromise the stability of your concrete base over time.

To complete your new setup, you’ll need to install fill pipes to complete the water’s path from your roof to your storage tank.

12. Driveway & Landscaping

DIY gravel or aggregate driveway installation is well within most homeowners’ capabilities. Asphalt, concrete, and paving stones are best left to professional pavers.

You can build a concrete driveway yourself, but careful planning and preparation are necessary. First, make sure to place all the concrete at once. With a big driveway, you can break it down into smaller, manageable sections using 2x4s. After that, you build and install forms, ensuring they’re level and adequately graded for drainage.

Since you’re going to put so much into building a house, you might as well devote some effort to making the surrounding landscape beautiful. Segmenting the area into manageable portions helps create visual interest. With the yard, the flowerbeds, and the garden, you can develop a sense of order and make the DIY landscaping process easier to manage.

13. Secure an occupancy certificate

The final home inspection is where the inspector of your local council checks everything.

They’ll double-check the HVAC, plumbing, and electrical systems. They will also include the doors, windows, foundation, roof, and more. If the structure passes the inspection, you get a certificate of occupancy. It means it’s a habitable and safe place to live. If issues are encountered, another inspection may be required after those problems are fixed.

14. Move in!

If everything passes inspection and you don’t find any problems during the final walkthrough, congratulations! You can now move in!

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