Custom House Design Timeline – How Long Will It Take?

By: Kate HambletFebruary 23, 2024

One of the most common mishaps I encounter with homeowners getting ready to build or renovate their homes is that they haven’t given themselves enough time to get everything ready before construction begins. Considerations need to be given to the custom home design timeline. 

This always leads to massive disappointment.  If you have dreams of moving into your house by a certain time, but you haven’t accounted for all the time-consuming things that need to happen before construction can even begin, then you probably won’t be reaching your desired move-in timeframe.

To help you avoid this unfortunate scenario, I’m going to walk you through planning out your pre-construction calendar.  But first, let’s look at all the things that need to happen before construction can begin.

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What needs to happen before construction begins:

Pre-Design:

(Time: 4-6 weeks)

Pre-Design is an incredibly important phase of the building process that you CANNOT skip.  I promise you, it will save you so much money, heartache and time if you do the required tasks in Pre-Design.

Here’s My 10-Step Pre-Design Formula:

  1. Get Organized
  2. Determine your purpose / Goals and Intentions
  3. Purchase Land if Building New/ Document Existing Conditions if Renovating
  4. Perform Zoning Code Research
  5. Figure out your Project Budget
  6. Conduct A Site Analysis
  7. Create A Program of Spaces and Bubble Diagrams
  8. Gather Inspiration Images
  9. Put Together Your Design and Construction Team
  10. Create the Project Schedule

My Healthy Home Design Toolkit Program walks you through each step of the Pre-Design Phase. Learn more here.

Design:

(Time: 4-8 months)

The design phase is as it sounds 🙂  This is when you take the time to design your house just how you want it.  There are 3 sub-phases to the design phase: Concept Design, Design Development, and Construction Documents.  

The time it takes to design your home depends on the size of your project, how much time you can invest in your project on a regular basis, the complexity of your design, your lot, and/or town requirements, and how long your designer and design consultants need to create their work.

With all these factors considered, it usually takes around 4-8 months from concept design to creating a set of construction document drawings that your builder will use to build your home or renovation.

But sometimes the design phase can take over a year (or many, many years) if it takes you a while to make decisions, or if you have a super complicated site or jurisdiction requirements.

Download my free 'Start To Finish Guide' to know what needs to happen in each phase of design.

Pre-Build: 

(Time: Varies Greatly)

Pre-Build is all the stuff that needs to happen once your home is designed but before you can start to build.  Here are the most common things that need to happen. 

Construction Cost Estimate:

I highly recommend finding your contractor during the early stages of designing your home so they can provide cost and practicality inputs along the way.  

But even if you do choose to work with a contractor during the design phase, you’ll still need them to do a final pricing estimate once the design drawings are complete.  

This can take months!  The general contractor needs to get pricing from their subcontractors, and when subs are busy, they take a very long time to get estimates out.

However, if you have your contractor working with you during the design phase, they can provide a price estimate about mid-way through your design, once all the big decisions have been made such as the size, shape and look of the house, and you have a good idea about the construction type, mechanicals, and types of materials you’ll use.  This will make the final estimate that they need to do once the construction drawings are complete go a bit faster.

Building Permits:

You will need to obtain a building permit from your jurisdiction (town, city or county depending on where you live) before you can build.  This can be a pretty quick process (a couple weeks) or a very long process (a couple months) depending on your jurisdiction.  This is why you need to do your permit research during the pre-design phase to know how long you can expect this process to take.

Note: Building permits and cost estimates can usually be happening simultaneously.  

Financing:

If you’re financing your project with a bank loan or something similar, you’ll need to factor the time in for that.  Banks will need the final construction estimate from the general contractor, and they usually need to see that the building permit has been received before they’ll approve the loan.  Banks also need to do an appraisal which can take months depending on how busy they are.  

So if you plan to finance, I recommend reaching out to banks early in the design process rather than waiting until the design process is done.  You won’t be able to get started with the loan process yet, but you’ll get the insight on how long things will take on the bank’s end, and what information they need from you.

Construction Contract:

The construction contract is the contract between you and the contractor to build your house.  This should be a relatively quick process once the pricing estimate is done, but it will depend on how quickly the contractor can get it to you to review, how long it takes you to review it, and any negotiations that need to happen before you’re both ok with signing it.

Construction:

Before you can figure out your project calendar, you’ll need to know how long construction will take.  This time varies greatly as well, but I typically use 10-12 months for a new construction home where I live in New Hampshire.  You’ll need to do some research, or ask your contractor if you already have one, on how long to expect for your specific project in your area of the country.

When you start construction is also dependent on when your contractor can start!  This is important to keep in mind.  Make sure your contractor’s schedule also aligns with your desired move-in date.

Planning your pre-construction calendar:

Now that you know all the things that have to happen before you can start construction, let’s plan out your calendar.

Make sure you have a calendar in front of you while you create your schedule!

 I’ll run through a couple examples to show how to plan your project schedule.

If you have a move-in date in mind, then you can start there, and work your way backwards.

Example 1: You’re doing a kitchen renovation and you want it to be done by the beginning of December, 2024.  You’ll be financing the project with a bank loan, and you know the permit process takes about 3 weeks in your jurisdiction.

Starting with the end date of December 3rd, 2024, we'll work backwards filling in each phase of the project.

  • Construction Begins: Timeframe given by contractor (make sure they give a buffer!) = 5 Months
  • Start Financing Process: Timeframe given by bank = 5 weeks
  • Building Permit Review Process: Time given by City = 3 weeks
  • Design Phase: Time estimated by homeowner and drafter = 4 months
  • Pre-Design Phase: Time estimated by homeowner = 6 weeks

Important Note: The homeowner in this example knows that they're going to be too busy in the month of December to do any design work, so they block off the entire month of December.  Make sure you keep your busy schedule in mind when planning out your project schedule.

Project Start Date = October 10th, 2023

Project End Date = December 3rd, 2024

Conclusion: Working backwards when you have an end date in mind let's you know when you need to start the pre-design process.  If the beginning date ends up being in the past (like this example, since I'm writing this in February of 2024) you may need to readjust your expectations on your move-in timeframe.

If you don’t have a specific construction start or finish date in mind, then you can start at the beginning and work forwards.

Example 2:  You’re building a new custom home that will be bank financed, and you want to know when you’ll be ready to start construction.  You know the permit process takes about 1 month in your jurisdiction.

This time we'll start with the date we want to get rolling on the pre-design phase of the project.

  • Pre-Design Phase: 6 weeks
  • Concept Design Phase: 3 months
  • Design Development Phase: 2 months
  • Construction Documents Phase: 2.5 months
  • Permit Review Process: 1 month
  • Bank Financing: 7 weeks

Pre-Design Start Date = January 17th

Construction Start Date = December 12th

That means it'll take 11 months from the beginning of design until construction is ready to begin.

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot to do before construction can begin on your new home or renovation / addition project.  To avoid disappointment, it's so important to map out your project schedule and have realistic expectations on how long everything is going to take.

***Looking for more guidance?***

Introducing the Healthy Home Design Toolkit.

 The healthy home design toolkit is an online program filled with video lessons, spreadsheets, checklists, and guides designed to take you from feeling overwhelmed, unprepared, and lost...

to empowered, educated, excited, and prepared so you can create the perfect healthy home that meets your family’s goals and values.

With the Toolkit, You'll Have The Tools You Need To...

  • Make educated decisions about the home planning process
  • Create a functional and comfortable home layout 
  • Select healthy and sustainable material options
  • Decide what building methods to choose
  • Confidently share your decisions with your contractor and/or design team!

Learn more here.


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