Steps to Build a Custom Home in Canada

This Page's Content Was Last Updated: June 22, 2022
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What You Should Know

  • It takes around 10 months for a custom home to be built in Canada.
  • Before construction can take place, you'll need to have land to build on, architectural plans and designs, and the necessary permits and approvals for construction.
  • The financing and planning stage can take a few months.
  • Many custom home builders try to time the planning and approvals to take place over the winter, so that they can begin construction in the spring.
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Building a custom home means being in control of everything from the ground up, but it also means that you will have to manage a lot of moving parts. A custom home build allows you to customize everything about the home's design and lets you choose the location that you want to build on. Here are the steps to building a custom home in Canada.

Custom Home Build Timeline

Financing,Choosing and Purchasing LandLess than one month
Designs and Architectural PlansOne to two months
Permits and ApprovalsOne to two months
ConstructionFour to eight months

Step One - Financing, Choosing and Purchasing Land

The location for your custom home is important. While you might be able to make alterations to your home design down the road, changing your land lot once your custom home has already been built would not be possible. In some of Canada’s more built-up housing markets, the land itself may even cost more than what it would cost to build a custom home.

You will need to make a trade off when buying land to build your home: should you buy an expensive and smaller land lot in a more urban area at the expense of a smaller home, or should you look towards rural areas that are cheaper and allow you to afford a larger home?

Cheap rural land might seem enticing, but it can be much more expensive to develop and build a custom home on. You might need to worry about how difficult it would be to access during construction, the availability or lack of utilities and municipal services, the condition of your lot and possible wooded lot clearing or lot grading, and whether it would be an ideal location to stay year-round. It might seem like a great location during the summer, but possible lack of road access might make it a hassle during the winter.

While choosing a land, you must also look at applicable easements and restrictive covenants that may affect your building plan. You may not be able to build a house as per your wish on every plot of land and there may be applicable restrictions on the use of the building.

You may decide to purchase land during this step, but some potential homeowners stop at this step and end up going to a builder directly instead. If you decide not to go ahead with a custom home, builders have spec homes or semi-custom homes where you purchase the design and land from the builder’s inventory.

You can get a construction loan to purchase the land to build on as well as to finance your custom home build. Construction loans allow you to borrow money for about one year, which is enough time for most custom homes to be built.

Step Two - Designs and Architectural Plans

Once you have purchased land to build on, it’s time to design the home that you want to build on that land. You will need to hire an architect or a drafter to create your home designs, which you can specify to your liking.

At this point, you may consider hiring a builder and having them involved in the designing of your home. They will be able to let you know how much the design will cost and provide input about the design on the land lot. Some may choose to only hire a builder once all of their plans and designs have been completed and approved.

It is also important to plan out and budget all the expenses at this step. Building a house takes a lot of resources, so you have to make sure that you can cover the project. It is wise to estimate the amount of different materials needed. For example, if you are planning to paint the inside of the house, you may use a paint calculator to estimate the amount of materials needed for the job. You can also find materials needed for other jobs. For example, if you are planning to build a staircase, a stair calculator can yield the dimensions of materials needed to do that given the dimensions of the area where the staircase will be installed.

Step Three - Permits and Approvals

You may need to request a zoning bylaw amendment if building a home will go against municipal zoning by-laws for your lot. Your architect would have taken zoning bylaws into account when creating your home design, such as building setbacks, easements, lot coverage, or height restrictions.

You will then need to obtain a building permit. If your land is located in an environmentally sensitive area, you may also require a special permit from your local authorities if your lot is in a regulated area.

Step Four - Construction

After all of the planning and approvals are in place, it’s time to start construction for your custom home. If you didn’t select a builder during the designing and planning phase of your home build, you will need to choose a builder now. Candidate builders will bid on your project. While it might be tempting to choose the builder that offers the lowest price, the cheapest builder might not always be the best builder for your project. Remember to check references and do research on their reputation and past builds.

If you’re looking to build the home yourself or through subcontractors, there may be additional requirements for owner-builders in your province.

For example, you will need to get a letter of confirmation from Tarion Warranty Corporation if you are building a new home in Ontario without a registered builder. In British Columbia, you'll need to get Owner Builder Authorization from BC Housing, and warranty your home against defects for 10 years should you resell your home in the future. In Alberta, you'll get owner-builder authorization from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs under the Residential Protection Program.

Most custom home builders in Canada start construction in the spring. This allows enough time for your custom home to be finished before winter or for your exterior to at least be sealed. With the planning portion of your custom home taking at least a few months, it would be a good idea to have started looking for land to build on in the fall or over the winter. Waiting to start the planning process in the spring may cause your building window in the summer to be cut short.

Once construction is complete, you’ll be ready to move in! Your construction loan can either be paid back in full or converted into a residential mortgage.

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