Why We Decided to Build a Custom Home

Building a house comes with endless decisions to make as far as floor plans, fixtures, and trims, but before any of that happens, the most important decision to make is: What type of new construction home should you build? I explain why we decided to go the custom route and how we’re moving forward.

Linda Ly
The decision to build our home

Before we lucked out on finding our land, my husband Will and I went back and forth endlessly between building or renovating a house.

For him, there’s a bit of nostalgia to it. His parents found a pristine plot of land in the ’60s and spent the next 10 years building their dream home, much of it with their own hands (and it’s still going strong today). He grew up remembering all the sacrifices, hard work, and rewards that came with a solidly built house that involved your own sweat and tears.

On the other hand, I never thought that my first home purchase (especially as I’m nearing 40 years old) would be a teardown-come-new-construction. Renovations, DIY, and working within the confines of an old home with character were things I’d just assumed would be in my future. So while Will was familiar with what it took to start from scratch, homebuilding was uncharted territory for me.

Here’s why we decided to go the custom home route.

Progress on the Garden Betty homestead

Building a house was on par with renovating a house, cost-wise

If you’ve read my previous post, you might remember that we actually searched high and low for two years for a home to make our own. We’d hoped to find a fixer with good bones in a great neighborhood, but it was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

In a booming market like Bend, Oregon, it was nearly impossible to find the right balance of budget, location, land, and size. We wanted a home where we could raise our family and establish a homestead, not just settle for a few years and move on once we’d outgrown it.

After looking at dozens of real estate listings, we came to the realization that we could easily spend just as much money renovating an old home as we would if we’d built a home exactly how we wanted it, where we wanted it. Building simply made sense as a long-term plan for our family.

Once the decision to build was made, I spent my free time Googling things like “how to be your own general contractor,” “how to get a construction loan,” and “how much does it cost to build a house.”

I researched online house plans, energy-efficient building options, and passive solar design principles. I went to a local home show where dozens of companies in the building trades exhibited their goods and services, and I brought home piles of specs on roofing, siding, flooring, plumbing, and HVAC equipment.

In short, I wanted to learn as much as possible about the homebuilding process to gauge whether we’d be in over our heads with building a custom home, as opposed to buying a prefabricated, modular, or semi-custom stock home.

You see, we were hesitant at first because we need a construction loan to make this happen. After talking with a few banks, we learned that we can’t get approved for a loan until we have a bid from a builder. But, we don’t know how much house to design until we have some numbers from a bank. It’s truly a catch-22.

All we know is the range we want our monthly mortgage to fall in, so we’re going off that figure and crossing our fingers that our design fits within that budget (a budget that’s relatively small for Bend, but we’re hoping to offset that by doing some of the work ourselves).

All that to say… We are going for it! (A little terrifying to think about, actually.)

Moving forward with designing a custom home on our new property

We can build energy efficiency into our house from the get-go

Before we’d even closed on our property, we knew that our number-one priority for our new home would be energy efficiency. We saw new construction as an opportunity to go beyond “builder basics” and make smart decisions from day one that would pay dividends in the years to come.

Too often, new construction (especially in our area) means speedy builds with no forethought as to orientation, insulation, structural integrity, or energy costs.

For us, however, new construction meant we could position the house and windows in a way that maximized solar gain, perform energy calculations to determine ideal insulation levels for our climate, focus on air sealing methods to achieve an airtight building envelope, plan for good ductwork design to support our heating and cooling needs, and select home appliances and systems that could be supplemented with renewable energy sources in the future, to name a few things on our wish list.

While many of these features can be added to an existing home, it’s more expensive to install them after the fact than it is to build them into a home during construction. (If you’ve ever had to upgrade plumbing or wiring in an older home, you know how crazy it can get!)

Sneak peek of our house plans

All of these decisions—while not nearly as exciting or glamorous as, say, picking paint colors or countertops—are long-range solutions that we couldn’t have easily implemented in an existing structure.

We’re choosing to invest most of our money into the things that no one sees, and while I hope we’ll have a little bit left in our budget to splurge on something fun like a statement tile, I know these are things we won’t regret.

Many aesthetic features can be inexpensively DIYed or changed down the line, but the guts of the house aren’t something we want to scrimp on.

We can choose the exact features and finishes we want

Speaking of aesthetics, a huge advantage of building a fully custom home is being able to choose every single fixture, tile, slab, paint color, and trim, right down to the tiniest details. We even created our own electrical and lighting plan because we knew where we wanted extra outlets, separate circuits, and different types of switches, and what kind of lighting to put throughout the house.

For many people, making these kinds of decisions would be a nightmare. But what I’ve learned in the last four months of intense planning is that my Type A personality works well with this extreme level of detail, as does my design background, which is loving all the problem-solving and creative stimulation.

We’ve done a massive amount of research and after several iterations, we’ve landed on the perfect design that’s a little bit Linda, a little bit Will, and a whole lot of awesomeness.

What’s next in the homebuilding stage

With most of the structural details pinned down, we’re now trying to establish a reasonable budget for the interior finishes. This is one area where we’re trying to stay super flexible, as it’s the easiest place to save money if necessary. (It’s also the easiest place to overspend since a few hundred dollars here and there really adds up!)

While we’re visiting showrooms and browsing magazines for inspiration, our home designer is wrapping up his end of the project. Our construction drawings are currently in the engineering stage, and I am super excited to reveal our plans once they’re approved in a few weeks.

I have much more to update on the site prep front, but I’ll save that for another post!

The day we closed on our property

(P.S. This isn’t the greatest picture, but it was taken spur of the moment on the day we closed on our property and it just makes me so happy. I’m hoping I’ll still have that warm, fuzzy feeling about it all when we’re deep in the trenches of construction! Haha.)

Follow along as Garden Betty Builds a House:


  1. I agree- great picture. Kathy and I have been thinking of you lately- We got 4 baby hens 8 weeks ago and moved them outside just today (from our makeshift back-porch chick nursery). We leave Saturday for 8 days camping and hiking at Sleeping Bear dunes in Michigan- We’re bringing pre-frozen and marinaded pork (for your Bahn Mi Tacos) and chicken (your BBQ Korean Chicken)- I’ll let you know how they go- they both look like something that would freeze and pack well. We have a favorite bookstore in Traverse City that has carried your first two books- I’ll see if I can get you a pic of ‘Backyard Fire” in the wild.

  2. Yes,congrats on all the new adventures coming your way. We are looking to buy land in PA and this will be a whole different world for us. You must let us know your design plans and the systems you went with. ooohhh… an idea fr anew book. Building an energy efficient home… 🙂

    1. Oh my, there’s still SO MUCH more for us to learn about that! 🙂 It’s been a very eye-opening and thrilling process so far of researching all of our options on the energy efficiency front. There have been so many improvements and innovations just in the last few years. I’ll be sure to share what we’ve discovered! Good luck on your land search!

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