Check. Bob Davidsons bucket list is now one item shorter. The semi-retired technical writer has checked off Design and build my own house, and the Orange County resident says anyone can do it. If theyve got the time and the money, if theyve watched This Old House and said, I can do that, then they can, he said. About six years ago, Davidson and his wife, Flora, bought 3.3 acres off N.C. 54 in the White Cross community with the intention of eventually building a house. We wanted a lot with big hardwood trees, he recalled. This was all woods. I really liked it, and it met my requirements. The tract had a south-facing slope, allowing for a passive solar house with a walkout basement. They had a road and a half-acre for the house cleared. They were living in a doublewide mobile home on a rented lot in Bingham. Theyd lived there since moving to North Carolina about 14 years ago and had started looking for a new home when their access to water became unreliable. We decided wed just move, go buy a house somewhere, Davidson said. Yet they couldnt find a house they liked in the price range they wanted. The houses they saw were chopped-up boxes. What they wanted was a timber-frame house or log home with exposed beams and a large, open living space. I dont think we would have ever been able to find this, Davidson said. Thats what we figured out after we spent weekend after weekend looking at crummy houses. We wanted this big space that youre sitting in right now, and we wanted it to be solar. I wanted it to have a big workshop in the basement, and we wanted it to be rural because I dont like living in the city having people tell me what to do. They decided the only way to get what they really wanted was to design and build it themselves. Davidson started work on their home in March 2011. They moved in a year later. Building expertise To learn the processes of building a house, Davidson: Took a 12-week General Contractor License Preparation course offered during the evenings at Alamance Community College. Bought a number of books with titles like You Can Build Your Own House or You Can Contract Your Own House. Joined a forum offered through one of the home construction books. Joined an area support group started out of the forum. If youre doing it for the first time, you need some sort of support group, Davidson said. I felt maybe not quite qualified but close enough to get started. The group would meet at a restaurant and look over plans. What I got out of that was enough confidence in my skills, Davidson said, recalling one attendee equating the job of house contractor to any other project management job. Davidson, too, had been a project manager. Original plan The Davidsons decided the double framing of a timber-frame house would be too expensive. To cut costs, they bought a 1906 dairy barn frame for $11,000 through ebay and paid another $1,000 to have it disassembled and trucked from Pittsburgh. They had a house design drawn based on the 32-foot-by-48-foot oak frame, but when Davidson was laid off from his job with IBM, the cost of building a timber-frame house even with a recycled frame seemed too high because of the structural insulated panels that would be needed to surround the frame. New plan The couple decided they could build a conventional house, embellish it with beams from the old barn frame and have the large, open space they wanted. They looked at numerous plans online, picked pieces they liked and hired an engineer for about $1,500 to help them come up with a structurally sound design. That plan called for basement walls made of cinderblocks filled with concrete and rebar. Following some reading, the Davidsons deviated from the plan a bit and purchased custom precast concrete walls from Superior Walls. Once the walls arrived premade from the factory, they were put in place in about two hours, Davidson said. The house In addition to the recycled barn beams and precast concrete walls, the house features other green and energy-saving techniques, including a large expanse of south-facing windows and earth sheltering to help keep the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter; a solar water heating system; hot water radiant floor heating; and a woodstove. The walkout basement includes a two-car garage and a workshop with a half bathroom and canning area with stove, dual commercial sink and island. The exterior entryway to the house is from the recycled barn frame and opens to a large living space with a 26-foot ceiling and timber beams. I love the look of them, Davidson said. It gave me the look and feel of a timber frame without the cost. The living space, with an open gourmet kitchen, is surrounded by a wraparound deck with cable rails. A half bath and the master bedroom and bathroom are at the rear of the house. The upstairs includes a loft, guest bedroom, office and full bath. Davidson, who has returned to IBM as a contractor, still is working on the house when he can. Still left are a covered patio, greenhouse, chicken coop, landscaping and an expanded garden. The couple had a pole barn built when they cleared the lot and are storing timber from the recycled barn frame and lot clearing. The propertys wood has turned up already in shelving for closets, cabinetry and other furniture work. Cost I had unrealistic expectations of how much I could build a house for, Davidson said. He figured he could do it for about $200,000, with money saved by contracting the work himself. The big gain in acting as contractor was the control he had over the process, he said, but building the house ended up costing about $350,000. The land was an additional $48,000. Davidson forgot to include some materials in his estimate, including insulation. And many materials were more expensive when he bought them as needed months later. That never killed us, but that certainly affected us, Davidson said. So we had to do some bargain shopping, and we had to do some compromises that we didnt want to. We had a lot of trouble finding quality stuff that we can afford. We tried buying American, but you cant find anything made in the U.S. anymore. One area they didnt want to compromise much on was the kitchen, which they designed themselves using a book. Davidson did the work himself on the house whenever he could, including finishing the carpentry work and tiling all the tile floors, bathroom walls and kitchen backsplash. Ive found that 63-year-old knees are not made for tile work, he said. But that said, every time I walk in here I get satisfaction from having done those tasks. When it was all said and done, I loved the whole thing. I would do it again in a heartbeat because I loved everything except for dealing with the bank. It was not without issues or mistakes, but it was the experience of a lifetime. The day I die Ill look at this as one of the highlights of my life.