The Self-building Big Picture

The Self-building Big Picture

ouse kits are bundles of construction materials put together with maximum precision and minimum waste.

What does this mean to you, the final client?

It means that:1) A very short time is needed to put the structure up. You save on labor and on local services you rent (scaffolding, portable toilet, …).

2) You don’t have to pay for excess materials that get wasted.

3) You don’t have to pay for “uncertainties”, since everything is very well defined and there is no unforeseen cost in building the structure.

4) You have the possibility to contract all the local works with different specialized crews, thus getting the best price/quality you can afford… on every component of the house. This saves you money and gives you a better house.

Now, if you don’t see obvious benefits in the four points above, you better stop reading and forget the idea of self-building.

If, on the other hand, the idea of “leading the project yourself in the quest of bringing your dream home to be a reality while saving a considerable amount of money” intrigues you… well, keep reading because now things become interesting.

Here it begins…

So here the story begins and, this time, YOU are the Hero.

It’s you who have to decide whether to accept the call to adventure… or to keep living a comfortable, easy life in a place that no longer suits your needs and that is robbing you of the freedom you so desperately desire.

On this quest, you’ll have to make many decisions.

But the most important thing is that, when the story begins, the Hero is not equipped to make those decisions.

Think about all the movies you binged on:

  • Luke Skywalker has to find mentors (Obi One Kenobi, Yoda) and go through a series of adventures before being ready to defeat the Empire.
  • Frodo has to learn from Gandalf and walk his way through the dangers of Mordor and its Dark Lord, Sauron before he can finally get rid of the ring.
  • Aladdin has to learn from the Genie before he can regain control over the lamp and defeat the evil Jafar, conquering the heart of Princess Jasmine.

…and I could go on and on with examples… but you get the point.

The Hero has to go through a learning process, a transformation.

Moreover, a Hero must get his butt off the couch and embrace the uncomfortable to bring about a change in his life and in the life of those he loves.

The Guide and the Villain

In the examples above, you most certainly noticed that in every good story there is a Hero, a Guide, and a Villain.

In your story, the one where you build a house for your family so you can live happily ever after, we (Avrame) play the part of the Guide.

This should be pretty obvious… we are here teaching you how to get stuff done and we’ve even put together a bunch of resources to help you …remember??? 

…the Quickstart Guide, the 100 Questions Guide, the Budgeting Guide???

…well, no wonder why they are called “Guides” 🙂

Anyway, there is one last role to fill in the cast of your story.
That’s the role of the Villain.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s give a warm round of applause to our Villain… “Inefficiency”.

Battling Inefficiency

At this point, you might be wondering what Inefficiency has to do with all of this.
That’s a fair question.

Inefficiency waits for you behind every corner, to burn your hard-earned cash and your time, to give you frustration, and to derail the course of your project.

Inefficiency is the enemy you must swear to defeat, from the very day you accept this challenge.

The sneaky thing about Inefficiency is that it lurks in the shadows and it is in everything you do, always ready to take over.

But there is a point in this story where Inefficiency awaits for you… a point where it has the biggest leverage and it can cause the most damage.

That’s where you need to be strong and be prepared to hold your position.

Facing the Builders

One of the battles you’ll have to face and win is the one with the Builders.

In this story, the Builders are those characters that will put together the structure of your house.

Builders are not evil creatures but, long ago, most of them signed up to work for an evil master: Inefficiency.

They did that because, at the time, they didn’t know better.
They believe the only way to build houses is with sweat and a hammer and that construction projects are meant to last for months.

For all they know, if you build with a kit, they lose a chance to make money.

They’ll tell you they can provide you that structure for a lower price.
They’ll tell you they can build for you the whole house, for a lower price.
They’ll tell you that it makes no sense to buy a house kit from far-far-away when they can do the same job with less money.

They’ll lure you into thinking you can win your quest through a shortcut.

But what they won’t tell you is what the entire project will cost you.

They know they’ll have to pay a price to Inefficiency and they’ll revert that price on you.
Unfortunately, they don’t know what that price is… and that’s why they won’t be able to give you a fixed quote.

They’ll keep saying “less”… but less is not a number.

Beyond the fairy tale

Now, let’s step out of this fairy tale and let’s look at this as grown men do.

Here is one thing you need to know:

every project comes with associated risks

When you self-build, you fully assume the risk and, if all goes well, this will save you money.

Having Builders to do all the work for you, means you are transferring the risks entirely to them and, in doing so, you also transfer your opportunity to save money.

Your opportunity becomes now their opportunity.

In the fairy tale framework, you gave up being the Hero and made the Builders the heroes of your story… now they are the ones fighting Inefficiency… and they are the ones who’ll gain from victory.

So, if you want to carry on your project and make your journey the most efficient it can be, you really have to make an effort to stay in charge of the project.

In particular, you have to fix these conditions:

  1. Builders will put up the structure and carry out other accessory works (maybe interior finishes) but they will not be in charge of the entire project;
  2. You’ll be the Project Manager and you’ll be in charge of appointing the other subcontractors (heating, ventilation, electricity, …).

To resist the temptation of giving everything over to the Builders (giving up on building with a house kit), it is important to understand one thing: doing things on-site costs more.

You wouldn’t even think of getting your car custom built by a mechanic who tells you “I have all the parts, I can build you one for less”… you intuitively understand that it’s a bad deal.

You wouldn’t even think of getting your H&M clothes copied by a tailor who tells you “I can get the same fabric and I have the tools, I can make you those clothes for less”… you intuitively understand that it’s a bad deal.

Deep inside, you know that solutions made from scratch cost more… or the quality of what you get is questionable.

So, if you know that, why would you even consider going that road with your home?

Avrame has built hundreds of A-frame houses with its pre-cut kits.
With each delivery we learn something.
With each delivery we adjust things.
With each delivery we get better, the kits get better. The first kit we made was OK, but we spent nearly 6 months preparing the drawings, engineering, material choices etc. How long your builder will prepare?

We are converging to optimal use of materials, minimum waste, minimum use of labor on-site.

Builders haven’t done a project like this before and they have to figure out everything anew.

What are the chances they can make you save money?

Their only chance is in the cost of the wood material.

Yes, buying local wood is cheaper… but by how much???

That is the real issue here.
How much is this “saving” they promise to you?

This kind of Builders are like magicians… they draw your attention to one detail (the cost of the wood) to blind you to the rest of the picture.

The Big Picture

Well, let me tell you about the Big Picture and let me show you a chart to put things into perspective…

When you look at the project from the very beginning to the very end, you quickly discover that the amount of things you have to factor in is overwhelming.

We call this “the Big Picture”.

When you look at the Big Picture (see the pie-chart above), you can see that the house kit that the Builder promises to deliver for a cheaper price, represents a mere 44% of the total cost of your project.

The chart above is compiled using real cost for a project for a TRIO 100 we carried out locally (in Estonia) and the following remarks apply:

  • in your Country, the cost of assembly may be more expensive;
  • in your Country, and depending on the type of soil on your land, the cost of groundworks & foundation may be more expensive;
  • in your Country, the cost of paperwork may be more expensive;
  • you may want to use a more expensive solution for the interior finishing. In this one, we opted for the cheapest arrangement.

When you consider all this, the incidence of the cost of the kit on the entire project shrinks below 40%.

Now, out of the cost of the house kit, the lumber itself accounts for only 12-15% of the total.
If you do the math, you’ll see we are talking about 8000 – 9000 EUR.

You don’t need a degree in economics to see that, even if the Builder was able to source the lumber for half the price, the margin you just gained would not even cover the cost of the engineering!

On top of that, to cut all the wood on your site, Builders will need equipment and this equipment has to be moved around. 
This generates extra costs that you’ll have to pay… costs that are simply not there when you buy a kit home.

SidenoteAvrame house kits are manufactured with Kiln-dried wood. Air-dried wood is cheaper but it is not suitable for high-quality timber framing since it tends to rot quicker.

Furthermore, when you buy a house kit, you buy the peace of mind of getting something that has been tested over and over again and it is proven to work.

Tips to approach the Builders

We understand that, in some cases, it is hard to get the Builders to agree to take your project and set your structure up. We have seen situations where local Builders lobbied against the construction and made it impossible for the project to move forward.

Here are three tips you can use to get the Builders on your side:

  • Call it “truss system” instead of “kit home”.
    Most builders are familiar with truss systems… but they are not familiar with Kit Homes.
    When you ask a builder to build with a kit, you ask him to do something he’s not proficient in… and he’ll most likely start the talk on the defensive.
    If you talk about a truss system… well, he has done that in the past so he’ll be more open minded.
    Avrame kits are entirely made A-shaped trusses, so this  
  • Make sure the Builders understand the timeframe of the project.
    Building with a prefab system is way faster than building entirely on-site. If a builder is not familiar with kit homes, he’ll assume your project will take at least double of what it is really necessary.
  • Agree to pay a premium.
    Finally, when everything else fails, agree to pay more than they would ask for putting up your kit.
    Remember that the number one reason they won’t take your project is that they fear they won’t make enough money (or they’ll face to many unforeseen issues).
    With this in mind, you can negotiate a premium to pay if the project is carried out smoothly and within the agreed timeframe.


For this story to meet its happy ending, you – the Hero – must accept your call to adventure and being the quest to free yourself and your family from the slavery of a lifestyle that no liger fits you.

You must meet your Guide and learn the lessons he will teach you, so you’ll become ready to face the Builders and defeat Inefficiency.

It’s a brave adventure, but the words of your Guide will always be in the back of your mind and, when the going gets harder, you can always pull the Self-building Guides out of your back pocket.

Today you’ve learned the existence of the Big Picture… and this is the biggest lesson of all.
It will serve you well in the future and it will be the key to the success of your quest.

…and remember:

if you manage the risks yourself, 
you have a chance at saving money,

If you give away all the risks,
you give away all the possibilities of saving.

What next?

You can go and browse our energy and cost-efficient A-frame models or get useful knowledge about building your own home (hassle free) by getting our e-guide.