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Posted to The-Larnerd-House by John in Newport News, VA
Happy New Year! We've got plans!!
Pete worked his butt off for several days and out popped an awesome set of plans! I put them out for bid and have gotten two bids back so far. One almost twice the price of the other! And both about $175,000 more than I want to spend. I've been thinking about how I can descope the project to bring it more in line with what I can spend and at the same time make it cheaper to operate (i.e. heat!).
The answer seems to be in the third floor. The 360 sq. ft. of the loft are the most expensive square feet in the whole house. First, they require 990 square feet of walls, a third stop for the elevator, a complicated roof, eight additional windows, multiple LVL support beams, and an additional 7,000 cubic feet of air that would need to be heated or cooled. Pretty hefty price for 360 square feet of redundant space.
So, I redesigned the house taking out the third floor and replacing it with a large attic storage space, and as a matter of fact, Deb and I like the result better than the original plan! Go figure. But of course, that means that we have to go back to the drawing board with the plans. Bummer. But it's cheaper to get it right now than to change our mind after we break ground. Take a look at the pictures I'm including. The rear elevation is not as stunning as the previous design, but I think it's a better fit for us and it's still a pretty impressive great room.
We were all set to put our house in Virginia on the market this week, but while I was in Florida last week I learned that my new ship, the USNS Comfort, may be relocated to Norfolk next year. It would be just my luck to sell my house and then move right back to the same neighborhood. Hopefully we will get the word soon about the Comfort's plans because until that is resolved, we are going to be on hold for building in New York! Another bummer. Happy New Year!
Posted to The-Larnerd-House by John in Newport News, VA
Well, this will hopefully be the last winter before our home is built!
We were up in New York for hunting season at the middle of November and in between hunting, we built a cover over our second pile of hardwood floor planks. We ended up with a little over 2,000 board feet of mostly Red Oak sawed into planks and stacked to air dry. When we were there in October, we had to leave before Doug the sawmill guy was done. He had about 10 logs to go when we left. So when he was done, he covered the final stack with a tarp and tied it down. So when I was up there in October, I built a semi-permanent roof over the stack to keep the water and snow of winter from moistening our floor, stairs, risers, and fireplace mantle.
Didn't shoot a deer this year, but that doesn't really matter. The best part of hunting is being in the woods on a beautiful fall day.
Wouldn't it be great if I could say that I have finally gotten my plans from my engineer and we're ready to move on. Unfortunately, we're not quite there yet. Pete's a great guy, and he does good work and has good ideas, but not the strongest on follow-through. Supposedly tomorrow morning I will get the plans. We'll see.
Had a problem with the elevator that resulted in some re-design. I was planning on putting in this really cool pneumatic elevator (Pete refers to it as my Jetson Tube) and it would have been a striking addition to the great room, however, we found out that it hasn't been approved by the National Elevator Board, so you can't get a building permit to install it. Now I'm not terribly hung up on building permits, but I am somewhat concerned with a system that for whatever reason hasn't been able to meet the standards of a national regulating board. Anyway, I decided to go to a chase-mounted conventional elevator and I was able to integrate it into the inside corner formed where the great room and the master bedroom meet, right at the top of the stairs. It meant building two additional walls for the chase, and extending the length of the great room by about three feet so that I could slide the chimney down and make room for the elevator. Overall, a cost-effective solution, but one that has made it longer to get the plans.
I am meeting tomorrow with a window guy at Home Depot. Apparently, they have a program called the "bid room" where for large projects, they will make a bid, presumably at some savings from their normal pricing. Since my normal pricing quote for windows and doors was over $32,000! I think they're taking pity on me. Again, we'll see!
I bought a piece of software that has proven to be very useful. It is called Punch! Professional Home Design and it is a decent CAD system, that can import PNG files and let you work with them. Once you import the drawings, you can render the design in 3-D and add objects, such as furniture, appliances, cabinets, etc. and then be able to walk, or fly through the space, rotate it around, look in from above, etc. Then you can take snapshots and print them out. This has proven to be very useful in being able to show just how much space a room will have and how furniture will fit. I'll attach a couple of the pictures so you can see. My wife particularly found it helpful because she was having a hard time visualizing how the space would work. My engineer also liked it, and I may end up getting some jobs from him to make 3-D renderings for some of his other clients.
In addition to showing the building, this also lets you represent the terrain, add driveways, plants, lighting, etc. Anyway, look at the attached pictures and you'll get the point. If anyone would like me to do something similar for your project, drop me a note and we can talk about it.
Well, only 11 days 'til Christmas. My goal is to sell my house in Virginia in June and break ground in New York in July! That means seven months and counting!
|3-D Rendering of plans||
Posted to The-Larnerd-House by John in Newport News, VA
on 10/22/2007 7:11:25 PM
Just got back home from New York a couple of days ago. What a trip!
It felt like a well coriographed dance! When we got there, our Logger/Septic guy had finished installing the septic system and had run the drain pipe over to our cottage. While he started collecting the logs that would serve as payment, I started the process of connecting the septic to our cottage and replacing our Envirolet Composting Toilet with a real no kidding flusher!
Only one problem. When I orignally built the bathroom in our cottage several years ago, I must have been sleeping because I never ran a water supply line for the toilet. Wasn't a problem while we were using the waterless Envirolet, but now that we have the urge to flush, we needed water. It took a few hours, but eventually I had a new water line run to the area of the toilet and we were in business.
Took about two days to hook up the toilet, run the gray water drains and hook up the sewer stack for the cottage. I finished just in time for the Sawmill Guy to arrive! My Logger had cut the red oak trees that were on our home-site and dutifully stacked them along side the driveway in the perfect position for the sawmill. Doug, the Sawmill Guy, got set up and started cutting the first log just in time for the heavens to open up and drench us all. Called it quits for the first day after the first log, but promised to be back the next day, assuming the weather was better. The next day, Friday, was a beaut and we were off to the races! As Doug cut the planks, I moved them and stacked them on the storage platform I built to allow them to air dry.
I started stacking them in piles based on their length, width, etc. This quickly proved to be a problem and Doug was kind enough to suggest a much more efficient stacking method called "box stacking." Basically, you take whatever width or length of boards you have and alternate them from each end toward the middle and form as complete a level as you can. Then you set a row of "stickers" on top of the level and start the next level, alternating starting ends. This creates a "box" of boards with good air flow between the levels and you don't have to worry about longer boards being stacked on top of shorter boards, because everything works out in the end!
Our orignial plan was to cut red oak for the hardwood floors, stair treads, and the fireplace mantel. Also, we were going to cut the main support beams needed for the house. Then I found out just how many, and how large these beams needed to be. We would have needed two beams 8"x12"x18 feet long, and several other lengths of 8"x12" beams. While I may have been able to find enough timber to cut the beams, I didn't have the equipment to effectively handle those large of beams. So, I decided to forego the beams and concentrate on the oak flooring and stair treads.
As it was, we were barely able to handle that in the time we had up in New York. In fact, Doug was still cutting when we left. Our logger, Beau was great at providing us with the additional large diameter logs we needed to make the required stair treads (the treads were 13" wide and 1 1/2" thick, and nearly four feet long). Since we weren't using the log hearts (they tend to split or crack), that meant that we needed logs about 18" in diameter to give us enough room to get treads from around the heart. We needed a total of 32 treads, and getting four out of an eight foot log meant we needed eight logs, 18" in diameter, to get the necessary treads.
In addition to that, I wanted to get a large mantel piece. We were able to get a mantel 5"x16"x10 feet long out of a large butt log from a chestnut oak.
All said, we ended up with about 1500 sf of flooring, 32 stair treads and one mantel, all cut and ready to dry for less than $500.00.
As we left to head back to Virginia, our logging was complete, our septic was installed and functioning, our oaks had been cut into planks, and were stacked and covered, ready for the Winter.
We met with our engineer and got a lot of work done on our house plans, although they still aren't done. I expect it will take a little more hounding, but we'll eventually get there. Now I'm back home in Virginia, missing our place in New York, and continuing the process of filling in the pieces in my plan!
Posted to The-Larnerd-House by John in Newport News, VA
Today was a momentous day! I received a call from our logger/septic guy and today he started the land clearing necessary to install our septic system! The building has begun!
Of course, this is just the first step in what will no doubt be a long, long process. But it is exciting. Deb and I will be heading up there this coming weekend to add our boundless enthusiasm to our contractor's boundless energy!
What I want to know is, "How do you do this in only 1,000 hours of planning?" I spend about four hours a night, and 12 hours or so each day of the weekend working on this (not to mention the hour or two at work!). My designer is about ready to fire me if I send him one more "idea" to include in the plans. I thought he was just "taking his time" getting my plans done, but in retrospect, I think he was waiting for me to burn out on trying to adjust the design before he actually did anything with it. Well, Pete, if you're reading this, I quit, just go with it!
I did have a strange conversation with IndyMac this week. They told me that since I own more than 20 acres of land, they'll only finance me at a 65% LTV ratio, but if I subdivided my property into a 20-acre piece, they would give me a 90% LTV loan. I guess I could understand that if I was trying to buy a piece of property to build on, but I've owned this property for almost 10 years. Oh well, I'll keep soldiering on! A local bank in New York said they won't finance owner-builder stick builders, but will finance if I use a panelized system. What's up with these people?
Anyway, off to NY in just a couple of days. I'll send pictures!
Posted to The-Larnerd-House by John in Newport News, VA
Ah, where to start! My first journal entry as we prepare to build what will be our retirement home!
To put this process into perspective for anyone who may be reading this, let me introduce myself: I am a career Naval officer with nearly 32 years in the service. I am a Medical Service Corps officer, a hospital administrator by trade. Not what you would normally consider a background that would prepare one for home building (although I have had plenty of experience in working with teams and managing processes).
There is a common thread that permeates the experience of being in the military: You're always broke. The combined effects of low incomes, frequent moves, and disruptive lifestyles (deployments, travel, duty, etc.) make it particularly difficult for many sailors to afford the luxury of hiring someone else to do something that a little research and "sweat equity" on your part can accomplish.
So it all started when I needed a picnic table. I was a newly commissioned Ensign (after serving for 10 years as an enlisted member) and we were stationed in the Washington, D.C. area, one of the most expensive areas to live in the country. We were renting a house with a nice side deck and we needed a picnic table to go on it. I priced them out. Choked, and said, "I can build one of those!" Home Depot had a flyer on building a picnic table, and I was off to the races! The table turned out great.
So then we moved again, this time we bought a house without a deck. (In my humble opinion, every house needs a deck). So I priced how much it would cost to have someone build a deck. I choked again and said, "I can build one of those!" Home Depot had a flyer on building a deck, and I was off to the races! The deck turned out great.
Then came a kitchen/bath installation in our downstairs to facilitate my wife's child daycare business. Learned some plumbing, learned some electrical (only got shocked once). It turned out great.
Then we bought 45 acres of land near our hometown of Binghamton in Upstate New York (notice the U is capitalized because Upstate New York is a separate and totally different world from the rest of New York, i.e. "The City"). We had an old 16' travel trailer that someone had given us and after some extensive repairs, we towed it from our home in Maryland to our land in UNY and placed it as far back in the woods as we could get it (about 270 feet back off the road). For the first couple of years we would arrive late on a Friday night (we were stationed in Connecticut then, about a five-hour drive away) and open the trailer, unload all of our tools that we kept in the trailer while we were gone, turn on the heat and about an hour after we arrived, settle in for the evening.
So then one day I thought, "Wouldn't it be nice if we had a storage shed so that we wouldn't have to unload the tools every time we arrived?" With my then vast knowledge of construction, I figured, "I can build that!" I didn't even need to get a pamphlet from Home Depot! All I needed was some graph paper, a ruler, and a pencil!
So the first draft was a 5'x8' storage shed. Just big enough for our rakes, clippers, shovels, chain saw, and other implements of destruction. But. . . What if we made it big enough so that we could park our John Deere Gator inside? That way we wouldn't have to tow it back and forth to Connecticut each week. Draft 2: So the shed grew to 12'x24' (needed some workbench space at the back of the now termed "garage"). But. . . with that raftered roof up there, if I put a loft space at the end of the garage, I would have some room to store long things (tools, lumber, etc.) without them cluttering up the garage. Draft 3: So the garage now had an eight-foot loft over the back portion. But... With that floor space up there, maybe we could put a mattress on the floor and make a sleeping area up there. And then it hit me. We don't need a garage, we need a cottage. So to make a long story short, our 5'x8' storage shed morphed into a 12'x24' cottage with a living room, full kitchen, and a 3/4 bath downstairs, a spiral staircase going up to the 12'x'11' loft bedroom upstairs complete with hot and cold running water, a high-tech evaporative composting toilet, shower, washer/dryer combination, and of course a nice big deck!
That brings us to today, September 22, 2007. While the Navy career is still going strong (I was just selected for promotion to captain this year), the end is in sight. It's time to start thinking about retirement, and we have made the decision that we want to retire back to our hometown in UNY (my wife and I are both from the same area, in fact, grew up in the same church together).
Ever since our commuting days when we would travel back and forth from Connecticut, we would pass "Beaver Mountain Log Homes" in Hancock, NY and we would stop in and look at some of their floor plans and models and began the dreaming process for what we would want in our retirement home.
Several months ago, I went on line and started exploring house plan websites and I found a set of plans that proved to be a real surprise. My wife and I have always wanted a design that would provide a large glass wall to allow the beauty of our wooded property to be seen from inside the house. The front elevation of the house I found was interesting, but didn't seem to fit that desire. It looked like a ranch-style house with some kind of raised section in the middle. I almost blew right past it, but I decided to look at the floor plan, because that raised section seemed interesting. So I scrolled down the page and almost immediately fell in love with the plan. It had practically everything that my wife and I had decided we needed in our home. First, it was designed with a walkout basement that would match the sloping site we had chosen, it had the master bedroom on the main floor along with the laundry room, kitchen, a huge deck that nearly surrounds the house, complete with a covered portion that is a screen porch, and a great room with a wall of glass looking down into the woods. Upon further review, the lower level had an auxiliary garage (for the John Deere Gator), a room that will be perfect for a home gym, and an enclosed kennel area under the screen porch that will allow our small dog the ability to go outside without the possibility of him becoming a coyote snack.
I clicked on the link for the rear elevation and the house is stunning. Within an hour, we decided that this was the design for us. I sent off for a "cost to build" estimate to see if this house would be something we could afford to build, and the estimate came back at $326,000 with $52,000 of that being builder overhead and profit. My self-imposed budget limit is $360,000 so even with contingency and the extras we plan to include, this definitely looks like a reasonable project.
We have an engineer in UNY, Pete, who we had previously employed to design a septic system for our cottage. The high-tech toilet was a huge leap in convenience from its predecessor, the porta-potty, but after about seven years of climbing under the cottage a couple of times a week to "stir the pot" as we call it (actually it's just a matter of pulling the rake bar in and out several times to stir the composting collection of, well, you-know-what), it's getting old. So we decided it was time to put in a real-deal septic system and to size it to support both the cottage and the full-size house. I not only was pleased with his responsiveness and the quality of the job he did designing the septic system, he also gave me a 10% military discount and another 10% discount when I offered to pay him cash up front instead of half now, half later. (Original price for the design was going to be $500. But after $50 off for the military discount and another $50 off for paying up front, the design ended up costing $400. A pretty good deal, considering it was a fairly complex design that was successful in avoiding my needing to put in a mound sand filter, basically saving me about $5,000-$7,000 in construction costs.)
So I give Pete a call and ask him if he would be able to do the modification on this set of house plans that I had found on the Internet to add the electrical layout (not included in the stock plans) and the site plan, and whatever other construction documents I would need. He said that he could, but he also offered that if I knew what I wanted as far as a basic floor plan, he could do the design from the ground up, thereby ensuring that everything lined up properly and was consistent with local building codes. "Sounds like a deal," I said. "How much will that cost me?"
"I can do the whole job for $1,000" he replied.
"How about a military discount?" I asked.
"I'll knock off $50."
"And if I pay you cash up front?"
"OK, I'll knock off another $50."
So, I get a complete set of construction plans for a custom-built home for $900!
Two weeks later we had our first meeting, and Pete presented us with the initial drawings for our review and mark-up. I spent several days pouring over the plans, making literally hundreds of additions/modifications (things like placing outdoor lighting, indoor downlights, kitchen appliance modifications, etc.). We gave that info back to Pete and headed back home to Virginia (where we're now stationed).
Over the weeks that followed, many more ideas came to mind. I bought The Owner-Builder Book, read it through in two days, and incorporated a lot of ideas from the book into both my design and my plan. Prior to reading the book, I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to manage being my own GC, particularly not living in the immediate vicinity of the building project. But the confidence inspired by Mark and Elaine's book helped me open my thought horizons and I came up with the idea of hiring my dad, a retired engineer with a lot of building experience of his own, to be my on-site project manager during the construction phase. That will cut into the equity I might otherwise acquire, but it will give me peace of mind when I can't be there, and if I have to pay someone, it might as well be someone in the family!
I know this is a huge post, but being the first one, I want to document where we have come, so be patient with me for just another couple of minutes.
Our property is 45 acres of all wooded land. It had been about 15 years since the last time it was logged, and so I called several loggers to have them evaluate whether it was time to log again, and to give me an idea of how much money I could get from the process. I had three logging companies come up. They all offer the same deal: 50/50 split based on the value of the logs harvested. I also had three septic system installation contractors come out and give me estimates on the septic system. Those estimates ranged from a low of $5,500 up to $7,500. Then the third logger that I had come by also said that he does excavation work and would be interested in doing the septic system as well. He impressed me as a logger because as I was walking with him through the property he was quick to point out that we had a lot of timber that could be harvested, but that should be allowed another 10 years to mature, more than doubling their value. He said that we do have more mature trees that are ready for harvest now and so we made a deal: He would harvest $11,000 worth of trees, and in return would install my septic system, basically matching the best price I had gotten and limiting the harvesting of my timber to what was only required to fund the installation of the septic system.
An additional part of our agreement is that he will remove all the trees from my home site and the septic system drainfield, and all of the red oak that comes from that area he will stack beside the driveway. The rest of the trees, he will stack so that I can cut them up for firewood.
At the same time that he is doing this work, I have contracted with a portable sawmill operator who will come to our property and cut those red oak logs into 1" thick planks of 4", 5", and 6" widths that I will stack to allow to air dry and will eventually have planed into the hardwood flooring for our great room and kitchen area of the house. I am also planning on cutting a large 4"x17"x8' oak slab that I will eventually use as my fireplace mantel, and if there is enough wood available, to cut the stair treads needed for the staircase leading from the lower level to the main level, and from the main level to the loft.
We are also going to be cutting some large pines that are on the property and using them to form the main support beams that are required in the house, as well as the 2"x12" rafters over the great room and other framing members. The sawmill is costing me $0.28 per board foot to cut the oak and "something less than that" for the pine. Even factoring in the expense I'll incur later for the planing and milling of the oak for the flooring, I anticipate that this will cut my cost for materials for the hardwood floors down from over $5/sf to less than $1/sf. Considering we're looking at about 1,200 s.f. of flooring and stair treads, not to mention the mantel, I expect to save nearly $5,000 by using my own timber as materials. Factor in the pine, and it could be thousands more!
OK, that's where we are today. I've started getting some estimates on windows and cabinetry, but we're kind of on hold until we get the next stage of design drawings (supposed to be the end of next week). We head back up to UNY two weeks from today to do the septic and logging work. I'm taking two weeks of leave to be able to be on site for the whole process. I have also gotten the address from our Town Assessor of the guy who owns the property next to mine. I'm going to contact him and see if he would like to have his property logged at the same time. If he does, I have negotiated a 5% finders fee from the logger who is doing my property. His property is about three times the size of mine and I don't think it has been logged for a very long time, so 5% could add up to a pretty good chunk of change!
OK, we're up to date!