Can I Do It Myself?

The answer to that question is couched in so many “ifs” that no one could answer the question with any honesty. Here are a few of the questions that you might like to ask yourself when answering that basic question for yourself.

Will They Let Me Do It Myself?
The “They” in this question is assumed to be the governmental agencies that control contractor licensing, permitting and building inspections. The general answer to this question is: YES, they have to. It is a generally accepted right in this country that the owner of a piece of property can build his own home and any ancillary buildings that he may choose to put on his own property, even in California. That “YES” includes structural framing, electrical, plumbing, fire sprinklers, heating and air-conditioning, etc. This does not mean that you can build anything you want to build. It merely means that you can build for yourself, as long as you follow the numerous zoning and building codes that apply to everyone else.

It should be noted that the act of building in this case must be done directly by the owner of the property. This normally means the property owner and his family. The rules are sometimes interpreted to allow the help of friends and neighbors if they are not paid, but that is still a bit questionable. What is not allowed is to have the owner pay a tradesman or unlicensed contractor to work on the job, unless that owner treats him as an employee and pays worker’s compensation insurance on all his wages. Enough said.

Do You Have the Time?
A functional “Backyard Cottage” may require 500 to 900 man-hours to complete. If you are thinking of doing it completely by yourself, that’s a lot of weekends and evenings. It’s also a lot of time for the backyard to be torn up. If you can count on some friends and relatives to help, the task becomes much more doable.  If you can also find an experienced roofer, an electrician and a plumber to hire to do the higher skilled jobs, you will have made the task much more reasonable. Our advice is to do both. A little companionship on your project makes the work move faster and makes it much more enjoyable. Paying for help on the more technical parts of the work will save lots of time and save you a lot of sleep.

Do I have the Technical Expertise?
This question really revolves on how much you are willing to read. Virtually no construction worker I ever hired had the skills to do every different task on a job site. Some knew how to finish concrete and frame walls while some could hang drywall and paint. But none of those guys could lay tile or set cabinets. The reason was mostly that they only knew what they had been taught on a job site. Most were also too lazy, unmotivated or just too dumb to learn anything else. The first thing that you have to know about construction is that it is nothing but a multitude of very EASY JOBS that virtually anyone could do with a little instruction (I’ll make an exception for Electrical and Plumbing). Back in the old days you needed apprenticeships and years of experience to master the required skills. Today the construction process has been “Dumbed Down” to make up for the fact that we no longer train young construction workers to learn complicated skills. For example today; we use drywall instead of wet plaster, we use pre-hung doors instead of hanging frames and cutting in hinges, we use prefabricated, pre-finished cabinets instead of site building, etc, etc, etc.

If you’re planning on building a Cottage, you probably have some construction skills and a few tools. So, you'll just need some help finding a quick and easy way to learn the rest of the tricks of each trade. Fortunately, technology has provided that in both written and digital imaging form for a very minimal price. Today the market is flooded with how-to books, videos and TV shows on building everything and anything. I must confess that after 45 years in this business, I still buy books and watch videos to catch up on new construction techniques or to remind myself of a construction task I have not used in years. If you want a “one source fits all” answer to where you find all the answers go to: craftsman-book.com. There you’ll find an entire library of e-books on virtually any construction topic for $150. You can read them all if you like but better yet, load them into your iPad and take them to the site. You’ll have the answers to virtually any construction question right at hand, when you need to know it. The website offers videos, building codes and estimating books as well if you need any more help.

Do I Need a Lot of Expensive Tools?
The question of what tools you will need is asked often. There are a lot of tools available for very specific construction tasks.  Some are quite expensive. However, when building a backyard cottage only a few are really required. If you want to keep costs to a bare minimum this list is very small. If you want to make the job a lot easier and faster, you probably want a little more than the basics. Having built a few hundred homes and having designed all the plans you see on this website, I believe I can give some guidance on this issue. Here are two lists describing the tools I think you should have to build our “Backyard Cottages”. The first list shows the most basic tools that will be required. The second is what a professional might bring to the job. We assume your tool list will fall somewhere between these two, based on your budget and what tools you might already have or are able to borrow.

A Basic Tool List

  • 25 Foot Stanley “Power Lock” Measuring Tape
  • 48" Johnson Wood Level
  • 22oz Estwing Framing Hammer
  • 16oz Estwing Claw Hammer
  • Johnson Aluminum Framing Square
  • Empire Professional Combination Square
  • Ryobi 13 amp - 7 1/4" circular saw
  • 3/8" Variable Speed Drill - Generic 120v Corded
  • Screwdriver and Wrench set
  • Set of Wood Chisels
  • 6 foot 250 lb Fiberglass Step Ladder
  • 16 foot 250 lb Fiberglass Extension Ladder

A Professional Tool List

  • 25 Foot Stanley “Power Lock” Measuring Tape
  • 48" Johnson Wood Level
  • 22oz Estwing Framing Hammer
  • 16oz Estwing Claw Hammer
  • Johnson Aluminum Framing Square
  • Empire Professional Combination Square
  • Bosch 15 amp - 7 1/4" circular saw
  • Makita 1/2" Corded 120v Drill
  • Makita 18Volt Lithium-Ion VSR Drill and Driver Set
  • Mechanics Tool Set
  • Set of Wood Chisels
  • 6 foot 250 lb Fiberglass Step Ladder
  • 16 foot 250 lb Fiberglass Extension Ladder
  • Makita 10" Compound Miter Saw
  • Makita 10" Portable Table Saw
  • 2-1/4 HP Makita Router
  • Porter Cable 3.5gal Pancake Compressor
  • Hitachi 3-1/4" Pneumatic Framing Nailer
  • Hitachi 15ga 2-1/2" Pneumatic Finish Nailer
  • 3/8" x  50 Ft Air Hose
  • 2 - 50 foot Outdoor Extension Chords

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