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Dream home from a kit — The ultimate do-it-yourself project

It is the ultimate in do-it-yourself projects—building your own custom home. Read Joe Milanese’s story. He’s a new arrival to Lancaster County who knows a secret that will not only jump-start the process, but also give you a better product at a cost that could save as much as 25% to 50%. That’s built-in equity.

by Audrey Thomasson

Joe Milanese has taken on the challenge of building a family home for his retirement by serving as his own contractor.

Joe has never built a house before. Certainly never tackled a project anywhere near the size of this 4,250-square-foot structure including a breezeway to his future “man cave” above the future garage.

And he plans to have it completed in six to seven months—half the time most folks wait for a custom home build. He also expects to save a good chunk of change.

But Joe has a secret weapon. He’s building using a panelized house kit.

“If you’ve got a general concept of building, managing contracts and tasks, then you can do this,” says the retired project manager for a New Jersey utility company.

Day 1: First floor walls are set.
Day 2: Setting garage walls.
Day 3: Setting second floor walls and trusses.
Day 4: Roof sheathing applied.
Day 5: Shingles are up. (Photos courtesy of Nicole Chambers)

What is a panelized home?
Panelized house kits are a newer version of prefabricated homes. But instead of the house traveling for miles in two or three completed sections and joined at the site, panelized kits are delivered as pre-cut and assembled 12-foot frames for the exterior and interior walls.

The frames are made from quality lumber with machine-automated precision and pre-built in the factory in controlled conditions. The frames are assembled on-site within days.

The benefit is clean, dry framing with exact angled corners and a house that goes under roof without being exposed to months in the elements. Joe’s home was under roof by the fifth day.

How it works
Joe had an architectural firm draw up his plans. In November, he hired a local company to put in the foundation. Once the foundation was completed, he submitted both the house plans and foundation measurements to a panelizing company in Pennsylvania.

Pre-fab panelized homes are engineered by computer, so the materials are precise and assured at the factory. Owner/builders have all the components for their home delivered to the site, eliminating having to order and inventory a variety of deliveries from different suppliers. Also, it eliminates constant trips to the lumberyard and the necessity of a big dumpster on site, because the waste is mostly eliminated at the factory.

“The structure was delivered in 12-foot wall sections. The company sent a crane and operator and it all arrived on three tractor-trailers in February,” said Joe. “The crane operator had the house assembled in three days—framework, doors, house wrap and sheathing.”

The first floor was up in eight hours, including framing the interior and exterior. The second floor took two days because they had to sheath the roof, he said. Shingling the roof was the next step, which a local roofer completed in a day.

By comparison, another home nearby started framing in November and has yet to have the roof shingled to protect the skeleton from the elements.

Joe’s home is 3,100 square feet of living space which jumps to 4,250 with the garage and breezeway. There’s also a covered back porch. He said the cost was $22 per square foot for the shell.

Other benefits
In designing the house, Joe was not limited to simple, straight-line elements. He points to the design of the roof as an example of special design features the panelizer easily accommodated.

Joe estimates he saved 50% on framing by going with a panelizing company. By being his own contractor, he feels he has more control of the project and can make last minute changes without having to pay extra. For example, the downstairs bathroom was originally designed as a full bath, but after framing, he decided to make it a half bath. With a few alterations, everything was set and it didn’t cost him a dime.

Other cost savings will come by putting the finish work out for bids and choosing his own contractors.

“That way I have more control, too. I’m making the decisions on future work—insulation, electrical. I can pick and choose what I want to do and what I want to sub out. What you save depends on what you sub out. I can get three or four bids and choose what I’m most comfortable with.”

By doing it yourself, you can save 25% to 50% over building through a general contractor, he said. Of course, much of the ability to save comes from the choice of materials and fixtures. “You can easily eat into your savings with high-end fixtures, but you’ve saved the money to be able to do that”

One more secret to success
Joe has one other secret weapon at his disposal—new friends Skip and Nicole Chambers. Skip owns a local contracting company, SNS Contracting in Irvington. He and Nicole are like a virtual geyser, spewing forth information and opportunities about trends in construction. They guided Joe to the idea of a panelized home and then did the ground work in finding what they felt was the best and most reliable panelizing company for his needs.

They have also been on the construction site every step of the way, not only for support, but to learn more about the process for themselves.

“Our role is as friends,” said Nicole. “We brought him the idea and now we’re helping guide him through the process.”

And if all goes according to plan, Joe expects to move his family from New Jersey to Lancaster County and into a custom dream home on Dymer Creek this fall. 

posted 03.20.2013

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