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5 Things You're Afraid to Tell Your Builder

And why you shouldn't be.

Written by Dan Mitchell
 Photo by Callum Hill / Unsplash


We live in a time when information has all but replaced money as a person’s most valuable asset. It’s no surprise that when someone asks us for our name, our phone number or – the granddaddy of all – our email address, we protect our personal info with gusto. We want to know why they want it and what they plan to do with it if we give it to them. 

So it stands to reason that when a builder starts to ask you personal questions, especially related to your finances and budget, your instinct is to be guarded; play it close to the vest; take care not to over-share. But, there’s a danger in this approach that’s just as real as broadcasting your Social Security Number on social media. Not being honest with the folks who will craft your dream log home can only result in dissatisfaction. 

As a builder and a Log & Timber Home University professor, I’ve heard it all (or not heard it, as the case may be), and I want to help you understand why honesty and full disclosure are the best policies when dealing with your log home team. Here’s my topfive list of what people are afraid to tell their builder, and why they shouldn’t be.


How much money you have to invest in the project. 

There’s an important distinction between how much money you have and how much you are willing to invest on the design, fabrication and construction of your log home. Being sincere with your builder about this is vital, because every decision from that point on will be based on that number. If you think you’re being clever by telling him you have less money to spend on your home than you actually intend, then you’re doing yourself a disservice. 

He’s already looking to limit your selections or even cut items from your project that could improve the quality of your home, just so you can stay within a fictitious budget. Some of these choices might include settling for fiberglass-batt insulation in the roof instead of energy-efficient (but more expensive) spray foam insulation or structural insulated panels; upgrading to an on-demand hot water system, which costs more now but saves money over time; or choosing higher-quality windows, which will boost your home’s thermal envelope, resulting in lower energy bills. 

A better approach is to be honest with the total amount you have to invest, broken down by how much you’d like to spend upfront and how much of that number is set aside as a contingency. For example, say your all-in number is $500,000, but you’re setting aside $75k as a sideline for unforeseen issues or other uses, like smart upgrades. Tell your builder this information. This way he can work to keep the bulk of your build to $425,000 but know that if he has a problem or cost overrun, he doesn’t have to cut from other areas to make the numbers work. This kind of transparency will go a long way to establishing a good relationship between you and your builder.


Your knowledge (or lack thereof) about construction.

A lot of people don’t want to let a builder know that they don’t have construction experience out of fear that if they’re viewed as unknowledgeable, they will be, somehow, “taken.” You shouldn’t be worried about that, but you should be concerned with being appropriately informed. If you do have construction experience, by all means share that detail with your builder. You and he will be able to speak intelligently as milestones approach and about ways to create value in the project. If you don’t know much about construction, don’t fake it. Your builder may assume you understand key components of the process and skim over them rather than bring you into the conversation, leaving you in the dark and causing you to be frustrated. Be honest and rely on his talent and expertise. That’s why you hired him in the first place.


 See also: How to Choose The Right Log Home Builder


Tasks you can tackle to save money.

Some people are afraid to tell their builder they are willing to purchase their own flooring or cabinetry for fear they’ll offend him. The truth is, with all the balls a builder has to keep in the air to complete your home on time and on budget, they welcome a client who is willing to participate in the process. The key is to keep your involvement to tasks that won’t disrupt the schedule. 

For instance, you may think you can save a lot of money if you sand your floors or stain your logs yourself, and maybe you can; but these types of “sweat equity” tasks rely on two key factors to keep your build running smoothly. First, you have to be available in the builder’s window for when certain tasks need to take place; and second, you have to have the time and expertise to complete the project within that window. If you can’t comply with these parameters, not only will you not save money, you actually could add to the overall cost if you throw the schedule off track and hold up the job.


See also: 30 Secrets of Affordable Design


When you really need to move in.

Giving a builder a false move-in date is common, and it’s counterproductive. If you have a year before you absolutely have to move into your log home, don’t tell your builder you only have five months. This will put your builder in a position where, in trying to fast-track things to meet your deadline, he may have to pull in trade contractors he hasn’t worked with before or squeeze you in between other jobs he has going on — not ideal, since you want your builder to be focused on your home. A better approach is to tell him that you’d like to be in by a certain time (August, for example) but also be honest about your drop-dead date (December). This allows your builder to properly schedule his experienced subs to work on your home.


You’re not happy with some aspect of the build.

If you’re like most people, you’re going to make regular trips to the job site to see how things are going. During these visits, if you see something you don’t understand or that doesn’t look right to you, speak up! So many people don’t because they don’t want to seem like they’re nit-picky or are afraid to question their builder, but the reality is, he’s human. So is his team. Mistakes can happen, and the sooner you identify a potential problem, the easier it will be to fix. Remember: This is your house. A good builder wants you to be thrilled with the end result and will always make it right. All good relationships are built on trust, and if you are forthright with your builder about these five areas, you’ll be on the right path to a great partnership and a log home you’re going to love.


Dan Mitchell is a builder and a Log & Timber Home University professor. He owns Eagle CDI, a construction firm based near Knoxville,Tennessee. 

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