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Owner-Builder Journal Entries

Posted to TheWillemsHome by Ben in Galloway Township, NJ on 5/13/2006

We have set aside (a lot loan of) $150K for the lot. The prices here have gone through the roof as I may have mentioned in an earlier post. At this point we are negotiating about the purchase of 20-acre lot (75% of which consists of maximum buffer and about 5% consists of actual wetlands).

I picked up Jeremiah Hansen's budget spreadsheet and am trying to start filling in the budget items. So far I have received some decent feedback from several of the folks on this website about costs. Still have to do quite a few calculations though. How much square footage am I going to have for the ICFs that I will use for the exterior walls and the basement? Should I use ICFs for the interior walls as well or use regular framing? Anyway, still plenty of planning to do.

Posted to TheWillemsHome by Ben in Galloway Township, NJ on 5/12/2006

While waiting for the sellers and their lawyer to go over our proposed contract and make changes, I am trying to prepare for the next steps, i.e. after we have a signed contract.

It sounded like getting a good surveyor would be a good plan. On one of the examples of a survey that my Realtor gave me, I found the address, phone number, etc. of a local surveyor. I pass his office on the way home from work every day. So, I stopped by and walked into the office. Must have interrupted something and got a response that reeked of disinterest (" tomorrow and make an appointment"). Not giving up and slowly getting used to the grumpiness of people, I called the next day to set up an appointment. I left my name and all the phone numbers where he could reach me, but did not hear back from him. Now, if that is an indication of how rapidly he will respond to requests that I actually may need to pay for I am not in good shape. Better look around some more for a good surveyor. If anyone in Southern New Jersey knows of one, let me know.

Posted to TheWillemsHome by Ben in Galloway Township, NJ on 5/11/2006

As Cara has indicated elsewhere on this site, progress is slow. Hurry up and wait. We have made a good faith deposit so that we can purchase the land, but with the caveat that we can get our pinelands/wetlands approvals, building permits, and lot loan squared away. The current lot owner is in no hurry, and his lawyer is slower than molasses on a cold day. My Realtor told me last week that we would receive a revised contract, because an addendum was made. Yesterday it turned out that we are now waiting for an revision to the addendum.

At this point my hands are tied, because I do not want to shell out money for surveys and the like before we have some certainty about the seller's willingness to sell us the lot. To see that in black and white would be a nice first step.

Posted to QuarterlyHouse by Cara in Orlando, FL on 5/10/2006 8:55:15 AM

Hurry up and wait... The life of an owner-builder...

Land: Funny, the assumptions we make. We assumed, based on aerial photos and measurements, that the south edge of the cypress stand was as far north as we needed to clear. A few days ago, we took a tape measure out there to double check the lay of the land, and it turns out that the cypress stand is only 150' off the front of our property, not the 200' we'd imagined. We need to clear at least another 15-20' back just to have room for the house pad and well. I'm kind of sad, as the whole point was to preserve those trees. Note to self- in the future, design the house to better fit the lot, if possible. It's not SO bad, and we'll still have trees... Actually, we have way more property between our house and the lake than we thought we did. Oh well. So we need to go back out there and take out some seriously big trees.

Ranger Drainage: They gave us our permit, and got our driveway in. So far they get five stars. Very nice, and helpful. We paid them for the permanent culvert, but they'll wait till we're done to install it.

HOA: We have one. Who knew. They sent us a nice welcome letter, copy of the rules, and a request for $250 for architectural review- apparently we have to have their approval of our home design. I'm sure it's just a formality, or as Jason says, a way to pay for the board of directors' lunch. Everyone has their hands out for money, it seems.

Permitting: We need a few more items from the designer (and we needed Ranger's approval, but we have that in hand now). We REALLY need to go to permitting this week.

Money: Received our first drawdown, so far so good. It's weird to be writing all these big checks, but I guess I'd better get used to it.

Wetlands: Cara- send in the TM deposit tonight!!!!!

That's about all, nothing halfway witty or intelligent, but I just needed to document this for reference later.

Posted to Working-Wilton by Barbara in Wilton, NH on 5/9/2006 12:20:08 PM

Well, here goes nothing.  We put our house on the market and have signed the contract on 20 acres in Wilton, NH.  We are planning on doing most of the work ourselves.  Have been in touch with the wonderful people at the NH Sustainable Energy Association regarding "green" building.  The soil scientist from Meridien Land Services suggested we do hydroelectric.  We are building along a brook that has a dam nearby.  We will need to speak with the dam owners to get permission, but we are hoping that seeing as they have run their production business "Frye's Measure Mill" off of hydro since they started, they may be open-minded to allow us to tap into their dam's spillway.

Lucky for us we know a lot of people in different construction fields and so far have someone for excavation, foundation (ICF), septic, electric, plumbing, insulation, and roofing.  Wish us luck, I'm sure we are going to need it. 

The lot is gorgeous with 1,200 ft of frontage on Mill Brook on Burton Highway.  Beep and wave when you go by and see us pulling our hair out!!

Posted to cosdreamhome by Arnold in Colorado Springs, CO on 5/8/2006 8:28:15 PM

Well, PJ and I started the foundation drains the day after the pour (you can actually see the plastic on the bottom of the house in some of the photos of the day after the pour).  This may have been one of those owner-builder items that I should have not done.  Shoveling gravel stinks!  I had some frustrations on Sunday and didn't end up getting a lot done, but I had an owner-builder all-hands call this afternoon and we pounded it out.

I managed to grab one of my ICF subs crew members for the afternoon to help me, PJ, and Mark out.  In five hours we managed to kick the drains out... or at least we hope we did! (We'll see if they pass tomorrow.)

I think I may have convinced PJ to not do his own foundation drains.

Will add pics Thursday or so...

Posted to Jennifer-and-Darko by Darko in Holly Springs, NC on 5/8/2006 8:14:23 PM

Hi everyone!  We've learned a lot from the Owner-Builder Book and website, and wanted to share our experiences as well. We have already started a blog of our own that you're welcome to check out and leave comments if you like!  We'd love to read them when we have time.  Here's the link:

Have a great week!  Jennifer and Darko


Posted to cosdreamhome by Arnold in Colorado Springs, CO on 5/7/2006 8:53:40 PM

Well it still looked good in the morning!

I'm very happy with how it turned out.  There are a couple of areas where the walls aren't perfectly straight, but nothing greater than 1/8" off over 20' or so.

Here are some pics.


Posted to cosdreamhome by Arnold in Colorado Springs, CO on 5/7/2006

I really can't say enough about my ICF crew. Anyone doing ICFs within an hour of Colorado Springs, CO please let me know and I'll give you the reference. I've never met a more professional, capable bunch of guys. 

I showed up at about noon on pour day to try to get some things done before the pour started. Specifically, I was trying to get some wall protrusions done using 2' sections of metal ducting. I should have done this earlier, but got crunched for time. Next floor, I'll do better.

The pour began at 2:30 PM on a Friday... and Andy is the crazy dude walking on top of the 10' ICF walls holding onto the pump nozzle hoping the pump guy doesn't swing him off into the basement. I have issues walking on top of those walls when they're concrete filled and he was doing it with no concrete. 

We actually had a pretty good pour going until they started to dump too much concrete into a corner with a window well right next to it. Basically the concrete started to come out the bottom of the window (when I say come out. I mean a one-foot Old Faithful!). This lifted the block, and caused a failure on the corner next to the window. We lost about 4 cubic yards of concrete on this blowout.

Everyone left at 8 PM. It was a long week for the ICF crew.


Posted to QuarterlyHouse by Cara in Orlando, FL on 5/5/2006

We now have a large mortgage note riding on this project :) Whew. Feels very different... Before, if we screwed up or decided to give up, we could. We no longer have that option. It's stressing me out a bit, but I'm sure I'll get used to it. Now for some updates:

Loan closing: For the purposes of educating other O-B's, I'll share how this went down. We went to closing (actually closing came to us), and all was going smoothly until we came upon a Very Scary Addendum. Basically it said our note would convert into an ARM after construction with a rate of somewhere between 8.4% and 12%. WHAT?! We'd agreed on a fixed rate in the low sixes, and our credit is awesome. So we called the title company, who couldn't answer our questions. We decided not to sign anything else, although the title co. said that we could sign and then get our questions answered the next day... Ummmm, don't think so sweetheart! We canceled the closing. Jason was really stressing and felt like we'd been misled. While I don't disagree, I've seen other O-B's refer to IndyMac using a "bait and switch" ploy.

Jason called Benny, our loan guy, the next day and worked everything out more or less. Benny promised that everything was okay, and also said that he'd email us his cell number (this never happened, by the way). He told Jason to look for a particular form as follows: basically there is an addendum amending the residential construction loan agreement. It says that we may, 30 days prior to completion, exercise an option to choose an alternate loan product (i.e. the fixed rate). It's ONE measly paragraph out of all the pages. But I guess it works. There are a lot more forms than at a standard closing.

We did end up closing yesterday, and had Jason's dad sit with us too to be an extra set of eyes. We're all three pretty thorough, so I feel okay about our position with the bank. I am, however, totally stressed out at the idea that we now are really locked into this. But I'm also really excited - we actually have the money to buy the things we need, like walls and slabs and septic tanks. Yay! The sky is the limit! As a side note, IndyMac's program offers you a Home Depot card with a 5% rebate, so we did that. I know there's two schools of thought on HD and some O-B's avoid it like the plague, but we have had good experiences with them and gotten some great deals. We will be spending a lot of money there.

Ranger drainage: Our temp culvert is in, although I have not seen it yet. The permitting guy called and said that I need to put a silt fence on the N and W edge of the impact area. I told him that we were still doing some clearing, but would get on top of that soon. It turns out that Orange County needs Ranger's okay, so we can't permit with them until Ranger is done.

Slab/Walls: need to get Laurie the plumber and electrician's info.

Electric: Jason just met with the electrician. Wow. Talk about pricey. Apparently the cost of copper has skyrocketed. I have asked Jason to get another bid just to make sure. Also, Jason mentioned something about going into contract and giving them some $$ up front to lock in the copper prices. Like a good, studious O-B, I told him no way are we giving any sub cash up front. Also, I need to send our app and payment to OUC to get a temp power pole in the works.

Fill: Jason is supposed to calculate how much we need.

I think that's all for the moment... Feels like we're at the top of a hill on a roller coaster right before it dips down! Exhilarating and scary, all at once.

Posted to cosdreamhome by Arnold in Colorado Springs, CO on 5/4/2006 9:02:06 AM

Well the ICF crew did an amazing job on day two.  They put in a 10-hour day stacking the Styrofoam blocks (we're using Reward Wall blocks instead of Buildblock due to some logistical problems with Buildblock).

Here's how it looked Wednesday morning.  They should have completed it yesterday and inspection should be today.

Big pour day tomorrow!

I'll be going out there this afternoon to ensure the dimensions are correct.

I learned that cranes and welders are cheap!



Posted to cosdreamhome by Arnold in Colorado Springs, CO on 5/1/2006

Well the ICFs are going up! This is great news. I guess they ran out of ICFs, so they are waiting on the factory to deliver more.

I got a great deal from USAA Insurance today. Builder's risk insurance for $590!!! I love saving money!

Pics below.


Posted to Octagon-in-Glencoe-CA by Gail in Glencoe , CA on 4/30/2006 4:33:59 PM

We are two year plus into the process and one year into our build. Our website ( chronicles the whole process from deciding what to build through the blueprint phase, permitting, foundation and  and the actual "barnraising" in process.

Posted to cosdreamhome by Arnold in Colorado Springs, CO on 4/30/2006 7:19:11 AM

Footers are in!  My ICF sub should start building walls on Monday morning.  I'll see what I can do to get some pictures of the walls going in.

My framer is working with me on some timing issues, so it looks as if that will be progressing normally as well.


Posted to QuarterlyHouse by Cara in Orlando, FL on 4/29/2006 5:44:02 AM

No clever title here... The land is actually cleared! I'm attaching a picture for your enjoyment... You can't see too well but Jason and his brother are in the background, as is the bobcat, off to the left. The neighbor's well is the blue thing on the right hand side. The lake is beyond the trees in the back- since this picture was taken, we've gone back and cleared some more brush out so the lake is becoming more visible. We have some more "minor" work to do still, probably one more bobcat day, but can you believe that the bulk of this was done in one day?!?

Plans: are done! Jason will go get them on Monday and go to permitting.

Loan: we are ready to close just as soon as we get into permitting.

Drainange/Culvert: we submitted our app for the permanent culvert, and also paid to have a temp one put in. The perm one could be approved in as little as two weeks, but because of the uncertainty, we decided to just pony up the dough to get a temp one put in so that we don't get held up.

Fill: next site work step, we'll be scheduling this within the next few weeks, max!



Posted to LeFamily by Hugh in Irvine, CA on 4/29/2006

Signed contract and agreed the construction starts on May 15, 2006 and end by Nov. 15, 2006. Any day later than promised, contractor will be charged at $300 per day.

Posted to cosdreamhome by Arnold in Colorado Springs, CO on 4/28/2006 8:04:23 AM

Not too much to report. I finally fixed the temporary electric post so that it passed inspection, and my ICF sub has been working to get the footers completed.  After seeing a buddy's footers, he's really taking the time to do it right.  I really hope that I'm able to find subs of this quality for the rest of the project!

Pics are below.


Posted to BuzzardsNest by Kristy in Saint Lucie, FL on 4/27/2006

Met with interior designer to get opinions on layout, traffic flow, furniture placement, etc.  Expected to spend about two hours with her, but barely made it an hour. Didn't really have too much to offer beyond what we had already thought of and she didn't have any great solutions to somewhat problem areas.  From what I gather it really comes down to personal preference and what issues one can or cannot live with.  Originally I was looking forward to working with a designer, and I guess I just expected a lot more. Not worth it! All in all, I'm glad I met with her. It just reassured us that we are on the right track trying to really think things through in this "planning" stage. Jamie and I need to come together and tweak a few things on the plans and back to the architect we go!

In the meantime, I'm collecting lots of pictures of ideas on all sorts of things and organizing in a notebook. I'm trying to be much more organized. Continuing to learn a lot from this forum, and branching off to do our own research as well. We need to decide on the home structure itself. So far, I really like the ALL WALL system but need to gather more info. Hope to decide soon!

Posted to TheWillemsHome by Ben in Galloway Township, NJ on 4/26/2006

Okay, so we found a lot and made an offer pending pinelands and local approval of our plans. If anyone has experience in dealing with local wetlands restrictions, etc. please contact me. I can use all the help I can get.


Posted to Octagon-in-Glencoe-CA by Gail in Glencoe , CA on 4/26/2006

April 26, 2006
1,810 nails

Steve pounds nails into the deck joist hangers.

On Monday, April 24, Russell was greeted at mid-morning by the familiar sound of Steve’s motorcycle climbing the hill. After three days with Gail and one day alone, Russell would work with Steve for the next two days.

Russell had spent the last day preparing. He had almost completed all ten of the end-section angled joists (coming up a dozen nails short). He had measured all of the lengths for the remaining joists. And he had set up sleeping accommodations for the two men. (Before she departed, Gail had set up a kitchen and menu for the next several days.)

Steve also came prepared. He arrived with two more five-pound boxes of 10d galvanized nails, two large rodent traps, and rat poison.

The two men settled in and began work immediately. Last year, we had installed joists in one of the five deck sections. In addition, over the past several days Gail and Russell had installed all of the end-section angled joists. This left four remaining deck sections, each with eleven joists.

Russell estimated that each deck section would require half a day’s work. His milestone was to complete the first section on Monday afternoon, the second section on Tuesday morning, the third section on Tuesday afternoon, and the final section on Wednesday morning before Steve departed.

Given our fear of doing something wrong, we decided to cut and install each joist one at a time (as opposed to cutting 44 joists all at once, then discovering that we had measured something wrong). Although this meant more time spent going up and down ladders and starting the generator, we felt safer.

As usual, Russell and Steve worked well together, developing a process that worked like clockwork. By Monday afternoon, we had not only completed the first section, but we had gotten three joists ahead on the second section.

Filling a deck section with joists.

Steve was officially the “guest,” so Russell took kitchen cooking and clean-up duties. This enabled Steve to earn a small reward of zooming his motorcycle around on the various trails throughout the property during breaks.

Monday evening’s agenda consisted of watching episodes of “Lost” on DVD (Russell has gotten Steve addicted) and setting the rat traps.

Tuesday morning greeted us with immense fog, but no rain – perfect working conditions. The rat traps had not been productive, but the work was. The second deck section was completed by 11:30 am, in time for lunch. The third section was completed in record time by 2:30. (Russell had estimated four hours per section – the third section took an hour and a half.) We pushed on ahead, and by 5:30 pm the fourth and final section was completed – a full half-day ahead of schedule.

During work breaks, we removed all of the tarps from the first-story lumber piles. In addition to discovering two more rodent nests, Steve succeeded in actually spotting our quarry – an eight-inch-long brown rat – before he scurried away into a lumber pile.

(Back home, Gail was horrified to hear that she had spent the last several nights sleeping with a rat roaming around near her head.)

The rat was not biting at any of our trap bait (oatmeal granola bars covered with peanut butter), so we left the front “door” open for most of the day in the hopes that he would just leave on his own.

After more “Lost” on Tuesday evening, Steve spent the night sleeping with a big stick near at hand. We each kept an ear open throughout the night, but did not hear any of the familiar scurrying sounds. With luck, we were finally alone.

Wednesday turned out to be not only a free day, but a gorgeous one as well, weather-wise. Our last job tasks were to clean up the work site, put away all of the tools, re-cover everything in plastic, and pack up.

(We also dismantled the rat traps, but left the rat poison out. Unlike a trap, poison would give the rat an opportunity to exit the house in search of water before he expired. We didn’t want to come back next time to find a rotting rat carcass in the house.)

Then, on this gorgeously sunny 75º day (our first in a week), we set out on a two-hour dirt bike ride. For the first time, we journeyed beyond our property to the trails and pastures beyond. Our ride was interrupted by the discovery of a fallen tree a few miles down the road, but we still had enough trails to explore and enjoy. Russell even got stuck in the mud once.

The end of a nice motorbike ride: Steve encounters a fallen tree.

As usual, we finished our stay with the traditional trip into town for an all-you-can-eat buffet of Chinese food. As we sat stuffing our faces, Russell computed that, in total, the five deck sections had required 1,810 nails. In the last week, Gail, Russell, and Steve had personally pounded in 1,502 of them. Not bad for a bunch of middle-aged folks.

The west side of the house: joists completely installed across the three-section deck.


[Worldtrippers home] [Mountaintop home]

Posted to cosdreamhome by Arnold in Colorado Springs, CO on 4/25/2006 4:49:00 AM

This weekend was a good reminder that I am an owner-builder. 

I decided to trench my electric line (180 feet), room for a 5' length of 4" PVC under the footers for both my water line (from well) and grey water, and the trench for my perimeter drain to daylight (about 60').  The first points of drama were about the bloody wire.  I finally chose to go with 4/0, 4/0, 2/0 aluminum wire.  Unfortunately for my home design, this will limit me to a 200A service.  In retrospect, this is probably not that bad for me.  The only electrical appliance I have are my ovens.  I have a gas dryer, gas rangetop, gas heat, and no plans to put the big hot tub in (yet).

After trenching all day Saturday, I ran into some frustrating interactions with Home Depot and Lowe's.  Trying to find anything approaching competent service at these places is similar to the hunt for the Holy Grail.  On Sunday we laid pipe and wire, and put together some splices at the temp electric box.

My trench for house final passed!  My temp electric failed inspection, but it's due to two relatively minor things that I will resolve today.

Things are progressing.


Posted to QuarterlyHouse by Cara in Orlando, FL on 4/24/2006 6:41:29 AM

This will just be a quick run-down for the time being. Sorry. :P

Plans: Ragina finished all of our changes and sent them back to ODG for final sealing. We should have them ready to go to permitting by the end of the week!!

Wetlands: Have I mentioned that I have developed a deep and abiding hatred for the county wetland people? Here's a few samples of their antics:
email received from them after we completed our new survey:

Unfortunately, we have to take a step back and revise the CAD.  Please submit 3 copies of the certified survey.  I'll work on the UMAM numbers in the mean time.
The survey would need to have straight lines between flags, wetland area and upland areas in acres, and CAD# 05-137.  Follow the original letter, dated Sept. 16, 2005, condition 2. 
Sorry, tell your surveyor that curvy lines between points is one of my pet peeves.  He should make your property lines curvy, so you have a big bubble and more acreage.

Ok. We get him his straight line survey. Then this:

I have one concern, the driveway is on the edge of the impact area.  Unless you're going to have a stem wall, you would need two or three feet on the edge for the slope of the fill, similar to the West side of the house.
Additionally, it appears that the septic is less than 75 feet from the edge of the wetland.  It would at least have to be 50 feet from the wetland, which is an acceptable distance for a variance.Anything under 75 would require a variance.  Make sure the neighbor's well isn't within 75 feet of your septic tank and drain field also.

Now, keep in mind that the driveway and septic never changed. It's just that he's only now noticing. We updated the site plan AGAIN and sent it back to him, along with the three survey copies he requested (keep in mind that he'd already seen pdfs of everything, so her knows full well what it looks like).

I have reviewed the surveys and noticed they do not have bearings and distances on the wetland line.  You would need the surveyor to place them on the survey.  If the surveyor has any questions, have him call me.  Everything else is OK as is, so I would need 3 certified copies to proceed.

Are you kidding me?????? Also, there's one more email that I can't find where he says that he has no idea how we arrived at .4 credits. So I forwarded him HIS OWN EMAIL from last month requesting .4 credits. Lovely. These people really make us mad.

Ranger Drainage: We ALMOST have our topo together to take to the drainage people for approval and culvert install. yay!

Loan: We should be good to close within the next two weeks, as soon as we get insurance and submit plans to permitting.

Insurance: Work in progress.

Surveys: We found an awesome survey co., finally. If you are in Central Florida and are in need of a surveyor, please contact me and I will put you in touch with them. They rock! They are definitely more expensive than the other guys, but they also actually do the work (while the other people do not). Since surveyors are sort of a necessity, I guess that it's better to have a more expensive and competent one. Especially since we wasted a bunch of money on incompetent surveyors. Lesson learned.

And the most exciting thing: Site work: We are clearing on Thursday and Friday! Yay!!!!!!

Posted to cosdreamhome by Arnold in Colorado Springs, CO on 4/23/2006 6:07:27 AM

I spent the week on the East Coast, it just figures that the moment I start the house business picks up.

I returned to Colorado at about 1:30 in the afternoon.  After some coordinating with PJ, I was able to pick up my septic permit and make it to regional building department to pull my permit.

PJ and I got up early to go to Lumber Liquidators for their big sale.  Then they pissed me off by puling some bait and switch with their stock, and the deals they had were kinda crappy anyway.  Why pay $.50 sq/foot less for something when they tell you all sales are final, they won't tell you the condition of the product, and they take the attitude like they're bending over backward for you.  Screw 'em.

We finally made it up to the land, and the trencher was sitting there waiting for us.  Unfortunately, my first trench of the day cut my neighbor's telephone line (it wasn't marked by the marking service... so I shouldn't be liable). 

Then I got the trencher stuck in the trench and PJ and I got to dig it out (Aleve is my friend right now).  With that and some Home Depot issues, it was a long day.

Posted to Octagon-in-Glencoe-CA by Gail in Glencoe , CA on 4/23/2006

April 23, 2006
Emerging from hibernation

Our mountain house in winter (We weren't actually here -- our neighbor took this picture.)

Back on October 2, 2005, we had shut down construction on our mountain house as the good weather came to an end. What followed were several months of the most extreme winter in the area’s history. The San Francisco Bay Area broke an 80-year-old record for the most days of consecutive rain. Calaveras County experienced several snowstorms, including one that blanketed our mountain (at 2,700 feet elevation, normally below the snow line) under several feet of snow.

During those long winter months, we made a few day trips to the site just to check on conditions. The first thing we discovered was that although we had wrapped the house in plastic, the house was not weatherproof. The metal roof had no leaks, but the plastic-covered second-story floor did not stop rain from seeping through to the first story below. (On the mountain, rain often comes down almost sideways.) As a result, there was some water damage to the lumber, clothing, and other supplies that we had stored in the first story.

We repaired broken plastic sheets, re-covered the second-story floor with yet more plastic, and ultimately covered everything on the first-story floor with tarps.

It was not until April 20, 2006, that the weather looked good enough for us to journey back up for more than a day trip. With the boys away on a church trip, Gail and Russell drove two cars up for a three-night stay. There had previously been a few intermittent weeks of fair weather, but our schedules did not permit us to take advantage of them. With our schedule now free, the weather forecast was for cloudy, overcast skies and intermittent showers.

The first thing we had to determine was whether we could safely sleep on the lower story. We arrived to find yet more water damage, but found a dry spot to set up a double air mattress.

(One of our newest acquisitions for the house was a propane-powered heater that Gail had gotten for free on It worked fine for the first day, then began to sputter and shut itself off every day afterward.)

Our intention had been to begin work on the decks, but we ended up spending several days just doing housekeeping and maintenance work.

  • The access road was cluttered with several fallen branches, as well as a small landslide. All of this needed to be cleared.
  • There was more damage to the plastic that surrounded the house – both the front “door” and one of the “windows” had been shredded by the storms. These needed to be repaired.
  • Several trees were becoming infested with mistletoe. (Despite its reputation as a holiday decoration, mistletoe is actually a slow-growing parasite that will ultimately kill the tree on which it is growing.) We tried to remove the growths that we could reach, but we see a long-term systemic problem.
  • The mold in the ceilings that Gail had so meticulously eradicated last year had returned.
  • Due to rainwater accumulation on the exposed second story, several OSB floorboards were beginning to warp.

But the most unsettling issue was that, in the middle of the night, we began to hear tiny feet scampering about near our heads in the tarp-covered lumber piles. Apparently we were not alone – some small rodent had made a home here during the winter. As we uncovered the lumber piles, we found a piece of insulation that had been formed into a nest, surrounded by empty acorn shells and rodent droppings.

A rodent nest uncovered in the lumber piles.

We took a trip into town to purchase two live-capture (humane) mousetraps, which we baited with peanut butter. We never did capture anything, which led us to the disturbing conclusion that whatever we had was larger than a mouse.

It was not until the second day that we were able to begin the work that we had come for: the deck joists.

Our plans called for decks to be built on five of the eight sides of the upper story. Last summer, we had installed eleven joists on one of the sides. We decided that all of the decks would need to be completed before we could install the upper-story walls – otherwise we would have no place to stand.

Because the decks themselves were trapezoid-shaped, eleven joists would be simple 2x8” pieces of wood with normal, square cross cuts. However, the last joist on either end of each section would need to be cut at an extreme diagonal angle in order to fit. We decided to cut and install all of these peculiar end-section pieces first.

We tried three different saws, including a skill saw, a table saw, and a mitre saw – but none of them could cut at the extreme angle we required. Ultimately, a hand-held Sawzall was the only tool that could do the trick – but only after we drove into town to buy a longer blade.

Russell uses a Sawzall to make an angle cut for a deck joist.

As a team of two, Gail and Russell successfully cut and installed seven of the ten end-section joists before we ran out of time. It was now Sunday, April 23, and Gail would need to return to the Bay Area to pick up the boys on their return.

Gail, overcoming her fear of edges, installs an end joist.

Russell would stay on the mountain, to be joined after a night alone by our friend Steve for an additional two nights. During his day alone, Russell cut and installed the remaining end-section joists until he ran out of nails. Undeterred, he went ahead and measured the lengths for all of the remaining joists.

It was nice that Gail and Russell were able to spend some time up on the mountain alone, especially for the re-opening of construction. It was even nicer that the only rain we had was during the night.

Tomorrow, Russell will be joined by Steve for the first time this year. Our goal is to complete the remainder of the deck joists… weather permitting.

The final result: angled joists at the end of each deck section


[Worldtrippers home] [Mountaintop home]

Posted to Angie-Mossy-Oak-Acres by Angela in Lake Helen, FL on 4/19/2006 1:43:20 PM

I must be getting ahead of myself. Every time I think we're getting close to starting the actual ground breaking we're really still many months away. Why did I think this would be easy?

The realization has set in that while I really want to start building my house tomorrow, I am still only in the "planning & research phase" and have many decisions left to be made. While there are many knowledgeable people on this website who are more than happy to offer me advice, the decisions still rest on my shoulders. And with so many options out there - which one is right for me?

I thought I had this all planned out a year ago. How naive. There are so many things to consider when building and I am lost in a sea of information trying to fish out what appeals to me and sounds like something that is affordable,  practical and beneficial for my family. Just when I think I've set my hook and I'm reeling one in, I see a bigger fish out there .....

So I guess this could go on for a while, but I'm OK with that. I would rather take my time and learn everything there is to learn about every product out there. Then I will make informed decisions that we can live with. Until then I will stare longingly at my house plans.

Right now this is where we're at: We've located someone new to do our engineering. We've done this only because this guy has been recommended over and over again by several companies. Also, he has used hardware that we plan on using, but our architect doesn't know much about. Nothing is written in stone, so this too could change, but I think this is our best prospect yet.

Our idea to do a full basement has been tossed around, tossed in the trash and then put back on the table. It has got it's pros and cons. It would offer a lot of space, but we didn't really budget a bsmt. in. However, with all the talk of ICF's on here, I thought I should investigate that option. So far I have been told by one company that they could do a full basement 44X30X8 for $17000 turnkey. Thats not so bad. But we haven't yet made any decisions and we will probably look into a few more companies before we do.

Builders Risk Insurance. Turns out I may get a better deal than what I budgeted in. It is always exciting to learn I am going to save money.

It seems as though everywhere I go I try to make contacts. Do you know a good electrician, plumber, HVAC, GC (to use for consulting only) .... I have so many names and recommendations that I don't know how I could possibly talk to all of these people. But here and there I get some good advice and by talking to some people of the trades they are able to offer me ideas that I haven't thought of and have given me a general idea on what costs might be or directed me to change something in my plan because it really wouldn't work the way we had it.

One step at a time ... we're forging ahead and learning as we go. It's a great and stressful experience that I wouldn't want to pass up. I'm proud to say that I'm owner building my house. Most people pass this opportunity up because of lack of time and experience, but it's worth what you have to learn and all the extra time you have to put into it. I think the end result will be an amazingly beautiful home and it will feel awesome to know that I designed and built it myself.

Posted to cosdreamhome by Arnold in Colorado Springs, CO on 4/19/2006 9:50:21 AM

In an instantaneous $13,000 cost savings, my soils engineer has deemed that I do NOT need an overdig!  Whoohoo!

Now if this just happens every week I'm golden. :-)

Excavation has been completed, and I'm going to do trenching for temp. electric this weekend. In addition, my foundation guy is going to arrive on Monday to start the walls.  Here we go folks!!!!


Posted to TheHoskensProject by Brian in Dome-ville, FL on 4/18/2006

The next major step was to build a garage. The strongest and least expensive choice was a steel-arch building, also attractive because we could put it up ourselves. We pulled permits and had the concrete slab poured, and then over spring break week with one laborer's help, we put up the entire building from a bare slab to an enclosed, secure building, 30x40 feet (1,200 sq. ft of storage!).


Posted to cosdreamhome by Arnold in Colorado Springs, CO on 4/17/2006 8:40:24 PM

Excavation has started.  I got lucky and chose a really good excavator, he specializes in custom homes and really took some time to sit down with me.

I finally beat the regional building department monster!  Only to find another monster behind the septic permit door. I might have it by Friday.  We'll see. 

I also find out whether or not I need an overdig tomorrow afternoon.  The overdig may be required if they find expansive soil on open hole inspection.  If there's no overdig I'm automatically $12,000 in the black!!!!!


Department Status Date Checked Reviewer Comments
ConstructionApproved 17-apr-2006 16:04:34RICHapproved rich
MechanicalApproved 14-apr-2006 10:09:00DARYL
Out to ReviewApproved 11-apr-2006 11:41:46JANarnold werschky 2374820
MechanicalDisapproved 11-apr-2006 08:15:56DARYL1. Please provide injformation on water heater to verify effic iency and BTU input and suitablilty for dual use. What about the domestic use--it does not seem you have any sizing left for it. 2. Please decribe symbols in loft and family room. 3. Need fan cfm and static and OSA duct sizing for fan in theatre room. 4. Safe room is non habitable--therefore no ventilation needed.
ConstructionDisapproved 10-apr-2006 07:48:42JOHNPWalk through OK
Out to ReviewApproved 06-apr-2006 07:55:31JOHNP
Zoning/PlanningDisapproved 03-apr-2006 07:18:00MINDY03/30/06 BG
FloodplainApproved 29-mar-2006 09:01:28JEANNINE
EnumerationApproved 29-mar-2006 07:39:14MARLENE


Posted to cosdreamhome by Arnold in Colorado Springs, CO on 4/16/2006 8:03:49 PM

Well my Friday morning at regional was pretty productive.  I managed to get zoning/planning approval (even though its not reflected below) and mechanical in the bag. 

Mechanical was actually an interesting experience.  The first heat calculation I submitted had me maxing out the boiler for just my heating needs.  They obviously had an issue with this, because they felt I needed 40K BTU capacity for my domestic needs.  I knew I had enough capacity because the heat calc didn't adequately reflect the needs of my home.  Basically, after having some conversations with regional we ended up modifying the heat calc to fit an ICF and SIP home.  Kinda cool that they worked with me, but it took about five hours of conversation to do it.  I included the heat calc, and a example Energy Star brief below.

Construction was not accomplished due to my truss designers screwing up the trusses again (third time).  I sure as hell hope they build 'em better than they design them.

Department Status Date Checked Reviewer Comments
MechanicalApproved 14-apr-2006 10:09:00DARYL
Out to ReviewApproved 11-apr-2006 11:41:46JANarnold werschky 2374820
MechanicalDisapproved 11-apr-2006 08:15:56DARYL1. Please provide injformation on water heater to verify effic iency and BTU input and suitablilty for dual use. What about the domestic use--it does not seem you have any sizing left for it. 2. Please decribe symbols in loft and family room. 3. Need fan cfm and static and OSA duct sizing for fan in theatre room. 4. Safe room is non habitable--therefore no ventilation needed.
ConstructionDisapproved 10-apr-2006 07:48:42JOHNPWalk through OK
Out to ReviewApproved 06-apr-2006 07:55:31JOHNP
Zoning/PlanningDisapproved 03-apr-2006 07:18:00MINDY03/30/06 BG
FloodplainApproved 29-mar-2006 09:01:28JEANNINE
EnumerationApproved 29-mar-2006 07:39:14MARLENE


Posted to cosdreamhome by Arnold in Colorado Springs, CO on 4/16/2006

After my regional adventure, I went out to the lot with PJ and cut down 35 of the 42 trees. We had a high wind warning yesterday, so I wanted to get the trees down before the wind kicked up. We had some minor difficulties with the trees not going where we wanted them to go, but we practiced on the little guys before taking on the biggies.

Both chainsaws worked like champs.

Tough couple of hours, but we got them all down.


Posted to cosdreamhome by Arnold in Colorado Springs, CO on 4/16/2006

Saturday was a long day.

We (me, PJ, Donnie, and Mark) arrived at 8 AM to start with chopping up the trees. Latecomers were Roger (FIL) and Aaron (BIL). Our original plan was to have Donnie back his trailer down to the trees (Donnie gets all the wood because I have to clear or seal all the wood within five days because of pine beetle infestation). This didn't work, because Donnie was afraid that he'd get the trailer stuck. We ended up hauling all the wood to the trailer all morning, until I took a step back and decided to work smarter not harder. After getting the Bobcat, our efficiency doubled!

The other snag with Saturday was that Donnie lives 45 minutes away. This resulted in a two-hour loss of two guys every time the trailer was full. That really hurts when it's a third of the workforce.

We ended up accomplishing the task, but it took us until 6 PM. The chipper was a freakin' nightmare -- but aren't they always? I ended up losing about three hours on the chipper due to not having hearing protection. We got it done.

Excavator comes Monday.


Posted to 10000-sq-feet by Alan in La Habra Heights, CA on 4/14/2006 3:26:50 PM

pictures are too big - had to add under a second post...


Posted to 10000-sq-feet by Alan in La Habra Heights, CA on 4/14/2006

Soil testing - backhoe came out and dug some 8' deep holes. First one was bedrock after about 6 inches of topsoil.  the second was clay after a couple inches of topsoil.


Posted to 10000-sq-feet by Alan in La Habra Heights, CA on 4/14/2006

Drill truck came out and dug some 4" diameter holes 50' deep. They said they would dig till they hit water or 50' whichever came first - didn't even get close to water. The engineer who came out said everything looked good - clays, no sand. Entire process took about four hours.


Posted to 10000-sq-feet by Alan in La Habra Heights, CA on 4/14/2006

Went in on Wednesday to have the planning dept look over our plans. I didn't review the finalized plans from the architect prior to submission and I paid the price for it. They were incomplete in some areas, too complete in other areas and the attention to detail was missing. For example - they specifically asked for dashed lines to mark setbacks, my plans had them in solid lines. Little things - but they added up to a fairly annoyed planning dept. member. From the notes I took, I came up with 3.5 pages of bullets items that needed to be fixed before we re-submit the plans.

For my city at least, they tell you exactly what they want - spend the time to make sure you get them exactly what they want. Don't expect others to be detail-oriented enough to get it all right the first time - I found it's up to you to take responsibility for every deliverable (need to earn your 20% O-B price savings :) I've spent an additional 15 hours working on cleaning up the application - making sure, double-sure, and triple-sure that I have everything nailed down perfectly before I take it back to the planning commission. The architect will have the updated plans by Monday, but I'll still need to review (and I imagine update) before going back to the city - I hope to have this done by next Tuesday or Wednesday...

The soil team is coming back out on Saturday for their third visit (see previous posts for pics of previous visits.) I believe this time they will be drilling some 50' holes by hand auger in places where the truck couldn't go. This includes the hillside in back where we are intending to put a massive new deck... I'm praying for bedrock in that area!

Posted to cosdreamhome by Arnold in Colorado Springs, CO on 4/12/2006

Well, it's definitely been a frustrating 24 hours. El Paso County Regional Building Department (hereafter referred to as "Regional") finally got finished with my plan review, only to find deficiencies in three of the five areas.

Department Status Date Checked Reviewer Comments
Out to ReviewApproved 11-Apr-2006 11:41:46JANArnold wXXXXX 2XXXXX
MechanicalDisapproved 11-Apr-2006 08:15:56DARYL1. Please provide information on water heater to verify efficiency and BTU input and suitability for dual use. What about the domestic use--it does not seem you have any sizing left for it. 2. Please describe symbols in loft and family room. 3. Need fan cfm and static and OSA duct sizing for fan in theatre room. 4. Safe room is non habitable--therefore no ventilation needed.
ConstructionDisapproved 10-apr-2006 07:48:42JOHNPWalk through OK
Out to ReviewApproved 06-apr-2006 07:55:31JOHNP
Zoning/PlanningDisapproved 03-apr-2006 07:18:00MINDY03/30/06 BG
FloodplainApproved 29-mar-2006 09:01:28JEANNINE
EnumerationApproved 29-mar-2006 07:39:14MARLENE

The comment above on construction means that I could walk it through the department. Unfortunately, this was an error. The problem was that my architect used the old code standard to engineer my plans. Regional switched from the UBC to the IBC on Jan 1. The IBC has a different wind standard than the UBC. So my trusses and plans have to re-engineered. I'm less than happy.
The zoning/planning disapproval was my fault, I delayed getting two "permits" associated with this process and they failed me because I hadn't paid the fees.

The Mechanical is another problem entirely. I failed to put the ERV on this version of plans, because I wanted to make the plans easier to pass. Bad call. I ended up forgetting the theater ventilation requirements. Another problem that has come up has been the new IECC 2005 requirements. Regional still has an Excel spreadsheet that they allow for heat calcs... but it seems they might have changed their minds in my case. It's nice when I've talked to three different people and gotten three different answers. So I may have to pay an engineer to do a full heat calc. 

In other news, I'm clearing the lot this weekend and I'm continuing with my excavation on Monday. My first inspection isn't until footing forms are in place... and I have a bunch of work to do before that happens. Loan closing is on Friday, 2 PM.

AG out.

Posted to TheWillemsHome by Ben in Galloway Township, NJ on 4/11/2006

Okay, I think we have it down to two lots that we are interested in. Pricey though. The lot prices are going through the roof in south New Jersey ...and I still have to put a house on it as well!

Posted to BuzzardsNest by Kristy in Saint Lucie, FL on 4/8/2006

I've been wickedly hooked on this website now for weeks. It's unbelievably informative! I can't believe I'm actually sitting here doing a journal. Never thought I would become so involved, but after reading the others, I can see what an awesome memoir it is to have after a LONG project. So what the heck!

We are in the preliminary stages of our second owner-building project. We currently live in our first. I must compliment my husband, because he by far handled 90% of the 18-month headache. I took a backseat to it all. I don't know, I guess I was just intimidated by the whole thought. I took care of the finances; he did the rest. Yes, we made some mistakes along the way. At the time they seemed to be such a big deal, but now looking back I guess it comes with the territory. We thought this was going to be where we would live for the next 30+ years, but we've decided to move once again!

Attached is a picture of our first O-B home! 3,500 total square feet. 2,300 living/3,600 detached hangar.


Posted by Jim in Plumas Lake, CA on 4/6/2006 1:06:37 PM

This pic was taken back in February, before our late winter started.  The excavators used some leftover logs to reinforce the hillside and line the driveway above.  In the meantime, we are in Apri now and it is still raining and snowing at this elevation.  I'm getting concerned as interest rates continue to rise and my finish date gets pushed into late June.  We are framing the walls off site now to get them done.  But no slab until the ground dries out.


Posted to QuarterlyHouse by Cara in Orlando, FL on 4/6/2006

Is that a light I see at the end of the tunnel??? It just might be. DEP went out to the property last week and re-flagged the wetlands. Ace Survey also went out to determine if they had in fact messed up. They showed up at the same time as our new company, Shannon Surveying. Unfortunate. Anyway, Shannon called all sketched out about why we had another survey company out there and I re-explained the situation (I'd already told him previously). He was supposed to do the topo while we waited on the new wetland flags. Never heard from him on the topo. Called him Friday to let him know the new flags were in place. He said that he'd not done any of the CAD work.

He was to call me on Monday and let me know about the crew going out there for the other survey. He was really annoyed and didn't understand why they put new flags and why he had to go back (I was thinking, "Why do you care as long as you get paid?"). He didn't call Monday, so I left a message with his secretary and emailed him. Nothing. Called him Tuesday and finally got ahold of him - he swore he'd have an answer for me by the end of the day. I told him that if he could not get back to me by the end of the day he could consider our business done.

In the meantime, a survey co. we'd previously gotten a bid from called and told me they had a slot available for Wed. and "did I want it?" I had to tell them to hold off until I resolved things. Tuesday night came and went with no call. I called Shannon once more on Wednesday AM just to give him one final chance, and told the secretary to tell him to call me ASAP. She said he was in a meeting. Whatever. Two hours passed with no return call. I call again and say that she can tell him that our business is finished and if he wants to discuss it he can call me. I get a voice mail from them 30 mins later saying THEY ARE SENDING A CREW OUT NOW.

I call Jason and ask him what to do. As far as I am concerned, we are no longer a client of theirs. Jason calls the secretary, who says that she just spoke to Shannon and the crew is in fact out there now. She asks J if she should have the crew pulled. He called and asked me and I said I'd call her directly. I called and actually ended up talking to Shannon. I told him to pull the crew. He claimed to not understand why, saying "I thought this is what you wanted?" Yeah buddy, but how long is it going to take you to do the actual CAD work after the field work is completed? I told him that obviously I couldn't rely on him to get the remainder of the work done in a timely fashion. He told me it wasn't in my best interest to start over with a new company, as I would be in the same position. Maybe, but I refuse to continue doing business with such a pathetic operation that can't even return a customer's phone call. He asked if I thought it was strange that I'd already been through several survey companies and suggested that Jason and I were the problem. I told him maybe, if having high expectations for service is a problem. I gave him hell a bit more. He wasn't rude, just very quiet (previously he had claimed that I was "hurting his feelings" with what I said). At the end he just said "have a good day" and hung up. We never had a written contract (to both of our detriments I guess).

I faxed a contract to the new company and included a completion date requirement. Just called him a moment ago and the crew was out there today. Yay! And they have signed a contract to complete work by the 12th. We need to re-book Josh to clear the land, finalize our insurance, and check up on our plans completion. Week after next - close on loan, clear land, submit to permitting??? Who knows???


Posted to 10000-sq-feet by Alan in La Habra Heights, CA on 4/6/2006

So I got my first comment on this journal so I guess that means that at least one person read it! Given how unorganized the thoughts are I feel like I should apologize to my one reader :) Any recommendations on how I should structure this journal for easier reading would be great. My initial idea was to organize it like I organize my job folder - a tab (or journal entry) for each functional area - I could then just keep adding to each journal entry as things came up so when you went to say the "survey" tab, you could see everything that happened with the surveyor. The other option is to do it by date - that way you could see everything that happened this week as opposed to last week... decisions decisions... any comments would be helpful.

For a quick update on the project (in chronological format - I'll move these comments to the appropriate journal entry if we decide to go with the functional area format)...

1. On the building height - I've talked with the city and the surveyor - I think I know what needs to get done on this key roadblock. I'm heading to the city again tonight to confirm - as mentioned earlier in regards to the planning department, ask early and ask often. Personally working through this particular issue is the only way I'm going to be able to get my roofline at 34' rather than the 25' that my neighbors are stuck with. Architect couldn't do it, surveyor couldn't do it - only by sitting down and talking with the city on a personal level was I able to find the leverage necessary to work through the complex city rules (hopefully).

2. Financing - Getting the money doesn't appear to be an issue - getting a fixed 30-year loan however, is a problem. I've been offered a fixed 18-month construction loan @ 6%-8%, and either nothing after that (need to find a permanent loan at that time) or a 5-year ARM. I'd really like that 30-year fixed, although I may have to be flexible on this... I've heard good things about IndyMac, so I'm going to try and sit down with them this weekend...

3. It finally stopped raining (who said SUNNY southern California??) so the soil guy is coming out this Saturday to do some more serious drilling. I'll take a bunch of pictures also and finally post so people can see the site...

Posted to 10000-sq-feet by Alan in La Habra Heights, CA on 4/4/2006 3:17:59 PM

Get to know the people who work in your city planning department.  In our city, people have waited for 2+ years and had to make dramatic changes to their plans before getting approval.  It doesn't have to be like this.  Get to know the people there, be nice, and ask for lots of help.  Getting questions answered early will save you time and aggravation in the long run (I havn't gotten submit yet, so we'll see how true this is in the future.)

Our city has very strict rules on building height - I did the legwork to find out exactly what they needed and now I have another change request for the surveyor to help me out with.  I believe that doing this kind of analysis will make the difference between my plans getting approved and having to make several changes to get them through.  Ask early and ask often.  I hope to have the surveyor work done late this week and submit next week (early April.)

Posted to 10000-sq-feet by Alan in La Habra Heights, CA on 4/4/2006 3:13:48 PM

Our city is on septic systems and for a house of this size, a septic replacement is required.  I got multiple bids for soil work - pick up the phone book and start calling.  prices were all in the 10k range for soil testing and percolation tests.  Since I know there will be many change requests for the soil engineer, I wanted to get someone who wouldn't stick me with high charges.  I got a referral from my architect and so far it's going fine.  Total costs including all changes shouldn't be over 10k although the work isn't complete yet.

Posted to 10000-sq-feet by Alan in La Habra Heights, CA on 4/4/2006 2:39:31 PM

We followed these steps in coming up with the initial ideas for the house.

1. Location - obvious that it needs to get done, but incredibly challenging, as it's one thing that you definately can't change about your house once it's done!  After much thinking we've decided to stay in our current location (see Background)

2. Determine how much money you can spend on the house - forget construction costs for now - figure out your monthly payment that you can make.  Remember to include Principle, interest, taxes and insurance.  Yes - they will revalue your house, so your taxes will go up.  For us the final number was 15k/month.  Once we had that number we could back into a total loan amount.  For us the number was about 1.7M based on conservative interest rates, etc.  Remember that you have to pay off your old loan so for us that meant 1.2M left to spend on the house itself.

3. Create the initial design.  Since we had an existing house that we lived in for 6 years, we had many ideas about what we liked and didn't like.  I spent approx 200 hours on sketches of my own - draw it out and then close your eyes and try to visualize walking through that part of the house.  Buy books with plans in them.  Get a tape measure and measure out existing rooms in your house so you have an idea of what it will actually look like.

4. Find an architect.  For a custom home, the architect is one of the key people on your project.  Going with the lowest price is NOT the best idea.  Since our city is fairly unique (and difficult to get plans approved), we decided to drive through the city to try and find a house close to what we wanted.  I figured that if it was built recently enough I could probably knock on the door and find out who the architect was.  As it turns out, we lucked out - there was a house that was under construction that was extremely close to the ideal we had come up with.  Amazingly, the builder of this house was doing an OB as well and had TONS of great information to share.  Since he's about a year ahead of me, he's paving the way - which will end up saving me time, money and heartache.  I would say that discovering this house and this OB is the single most important factor that (I hope) will lead to the success of my project.  I think first time OB's should keep their eye open for at least one key mentor like this that can help out.  The first referral I received from him was for an architect.

Now it was time to get serious about the project!

Posted to 10000-sq-feet by Alan in La Habra Heights, CA on 4/4/2006 2:25:16 PM


Current house = 2100 square feet single story ranch style built in 1948.  Purchased in 2000 for 450k.  Current value about 900k, 600k land value (conservative).  460k owed on house (took 100k out to start a business).

Land = approx 1.08 acres on a ridgeline (slope on front of lot, flat pad on top, steep slope at rear of lot.)

Area = La Habra Heights, CA 90631 (southern california).  Area is all 1 acre+ lots, all custom homes.  Home prices approx 750k (for tear down) to 4M+

After contemplating for about a year whether to build new or sell and move, we decided to build a new home on the lot.

Construction experience: My mother worked as a designer for several years.  I worked doing general construction activities as a summer job when I was in school.  I have lots of experience working as a project manager (although not for home construction), so schedules, deadlines, and lining up subcontractors is nothing new to me.

Definition of OB - I don't intend to do any of the actual labor myself - I'll leave that to the skilled tradespeople.  Rather, I'll focus my time on doing the job that you would want your General Contractor to do - lining up the subcontractors, getting the best prices, making sure that everything is operating as it should be, taking care of issues as they come up, finding the right (and lowest price) materials for the job, etc.

Posted to 10000-sq-feet by Alan in La Habra Heights, CA on 4/4/2006

The architect is the key resource when building a custom home. I got four architect bids - two from local resources, two online - one full-service, one minimal service. The minimal service bid was for $8K - blueprints only, from someone who would never see the plot or be involved in the construction. Full service online was approx. $8/sq foot of finished space. At this point we were thinking of 6,000 sq feet or $48K. Local resources - I had one that made me feel uneasy and his full service price was $48K. The last one (that I had gotten the referral for) started at $8/square foot - but I wanted a fixed price. We ended up at $65K complete - this was to include the plans, all structural including numerous retaining walls, basement, driveway, drainage plans, landscape plans, energy calculations, etc. required for plan check. While this sounds like a lot of money - I have found to this point that it is a great bargain. I shudder to think of where I'd be had I gone with someone else. 

Working with the architect should be a give and take. I had initial drawings going in, and we have spent approx three months getting the floorplan and elevations ready to submit to the city. My mother (the designer) helped tremendously by looking over the floorplans and determining things like traffic patterns, furniture size and placement, room envelopes, light and noise concerns, etc. I HIGHLY recommend getting a professional in this area as well.  They will point out things that you just know would have bugged you forever had you not fixed them in the plans. Examples: I had a breakfast nook sticking out the side of the house - original size was 10x10, back side open to the kitchen - French doors on two sides - front was glass with city view. Sounds decent - looked good on paper. Now figure in your furniture - a 5'-6' round table in the middle - this gives you about 2' on either side for someone to sit - not enough room - and those French doors? Forget about ever opening them - the traffic pattern just doesn't work. We liked the nook but expanded it - 17x10 - French doors have 17' between them - now you have a 6' table and 5+' for chairs on each side - more than enough room to sit and have someone walk behind you.  There are MANY other examples like that where something looked good on paper, but would have been disastrous in practice.  Assuming you're building to live in - find an expert in this area - save money elsewhere.

After much back and forth - we have come close to finalizing on a design - approx 1,600 sq ft basement, 4,075 first floor, 4,319 second floor, 800 attached garage. Given this - you can see the value in a fixed bid - at $8/sq foot - I could have easily paid $15K+ more!

Posted to 10000-sq-feet by Alan in La Habra Heights, CA on 4/4/2006

One of the first things your architect will ask for is a survey. This is where you want to start saving money. Get multiple bids - find someone that you're comfortable with. I got bids ranging from $3K-$7K for basically the same job. Some offered bells and whistles that I didn't need, and since they weren't adding to the quality of the house, I went with the lowest bid. Also - ask even the lowest bidder for a better price. I saved over $500 just for asking. Surveys can be done much cheaper than this, but mine is on a ridge line, so lots of measurements need to be taken.

Here's your first opportunity to save some money. The surveyor has to come and walk all over your property in order to plot the contours. Get out the trimmer and do some serious gardening before they come to do their bids. The easier the job is for them, the cheaper they are willing to do it for. 

April - The city bases building height on the average slope of the lot - this is called a slope calculation. Getting this done for my lot cost me an extra $600.

Posted to 10000-sq-feet by Alan in La Habra Heights, CA on 4/4/2006

Financing a house like this is an interesting thing...

Total loan amount = approx. $1.8M

Existing loan amount = $460K

Cash out of pocket that we have to spend = approx. $200K

Money to spend on the house = approx $1.5M

I have a corporate job and my wife owns her own dental practice. We would like to do stated income... for the reasons that small business owners typically like to do stated income.

Given that we can only write off $1.1M of mortgage interest, I think ideally I would like a 30-year fixed for $1.1M and a $700K second, either fixed or 5-year ARM. Given our cash flow I would expect to pay off the second in the 5 to 7-year time frame.

I would prefer not to have a GC on the job since this will add approx $200K to the cost of the house. I am comfortable working with my architect and my mentor who is nearly complete building a house almost identical to mine. I expect that I'll need a site supervisor which I have budgeted at $50/hour 20 hours a week.

Estimated cost of the house = $150/foot or $1.5M. As an interesting note - my mentor building basically the same house got quoted $300-$400/foot and he ended up in the $150/foot range doing exactly what I'm planning on doing. He's even already done most of my homework on getting the subs to bid given how similar our houses are :) Doing the math, a conservative estimate for this high-end custom home will be in the mid to high $3M range. Even with a $1.8M mortgage, there is still plenty of room to account for a softening market and still have lots of equity left over.

The problem that I've run into on the loan is this - for stated income at this amount, some companies want to do a 5-year ARM for the whole amount. Unfortunately I'm fairly risk adverse when it comes to something like losing my house, so I'm going to keep pushing for the loan arrangement mentioned above.

Creating a cost sheet has been interesting. I started with an online Excel template (which I probably got at this site). I then spent several hours adding everything that I could possibly think of to expand it out. I then categorized all the items. To check myself, I ran it by my mentor so he could verify my costs and list of items. I also got a cost sheet from another custom home builder in the area for a sort of similar home - all these things combined have allowed me to come up with a fairly detailed breakdown for the cost sheet - over 300 total items which I'm sure will expand to over 1,000 items before I'm finished. Every sink, faucet and door needs to be included, otherwise you might leave something out and have to hit your contingency fund - never a good idea if you can avoid it - there will be enough real surprises.

I'd like to get the loan process going over the next month or so - if anyone knows a bank/broker that can help - please send them my way.

Posted to cosdreamhome by Arnold in Colorado Springs, CO on 3/31/2006 11:06:14 AM

It feels as though I've been going through this process for so long, I don't know where to try to start explaining it.  I guess I should start at the beginning.

I read The Owner-Builder Book about 2.5 years ago after the Slashdot article.  This book was so appealing to me because my father owner-built his dream home in 1976 in Mill Valley, CA.

As I started the project, my wife and I were making friends with someone I was working with: PJ and his wife Stephanie.  We started focusing on the problem, and ended up purchasing properties in the Colorado Springs area that are right next to each other.  We hope that by building at the same time we will be able to realize some cost and work sharing.

We had hoped to build in March, 2006... but April seems more likely right now (as it is April).

More will follow after this!

Posted to QuarterlyHouse by Cara in Orlando, FL on 3/27/2006 5:35:12 PM

You are probably asking "Cara, why are you posting in your journal? Aren't you exhausted from a hard day of clearing your property?" And you'd be right to ask that.  Sigh. OK, here we go...  The day is Friday. The sky, partly cloudy. The weather cool and breezy. All irrelevant points. Being the cautious (read anal) people we are, we brought a measuring tape to double check everything and spraypaint mark ahead of time what we wanted our clearing crew to take out.
Hmmmmm, that's funny, the wetland flag on the south border of our property is measuring 68 feet to the west of the property line, NOT 45 as shown on our wetland survey. Well that's odd, but surely our inaccurate tape measure is to blame. After all, how could a surveyor, whose job it is to measure, get it wrong? Well, to be safe, let's check the north flag (located on the east border of our land). Well gee golly, that one's off too! Maybe we have a tape that measures in the wrong kind of inches? Damn dollar store tape measures... (Just kidding about that part, of course, Jason would never stand for that). Enter friendly neighbor with a 300' surveying tape. Awesome. He points out that the phone poles are exactly 150 feet across and mark the property borders. Good point. Because at this point I am sort of freaking out thinking that maybe we are one of those sad sad cases where our property line is somewhere between the neighbor's kitchen and his septic tank. But for the moment, we seem to be clear, with phone poles right along the edge of our property. We even see a stake and flag marking the west border of our property.
This still leaves one lingering question. How did the surveyor mark the wetland 20 feet off both the west and north borders? Alternately, how are our college educated selves so crappy at basic math? Depending on how you look at things. And, in all honesty, if you questioned my math, you might have a legitimate concern, but Jason's math is flawless. At this point I'm still thinking we are somehow measuring wrong.  So, off we go to measure more. We measure front to back. Left to right. Side to side. Inside and out. Flag to flag. We measure the neighbor's property. We measure the distance between phone poles. We measure the width of the road. We measure EVERYTHING. Still, our conclusion remains the same. Our survey is FUBARed. Now, if you haven't been following my journal, you might be wondering about the significance of this. Here's the thing (you might want to open the attachment so this makes more sense. I promise, it won't bite).  Our wetlands are costing us a small fortune. If our findings are correct, we have almost enough room to do the house AND the yard with only a bit of impact. Meaning that we might not have to deal with the state, and may not even owe the county any money for wetland impact. We are talking a 10-15k difference here. We call the state and county people immediately and they tell us not to clear because if we do, they won't be able to verify the larger area of upland. So we mope our way home. Oh, and on the way, we stop at the surveyor's office, just in case he might be in. On a Friday afternoon, ha, fat chance.
Saturday, bright and early, back out to the property we go, with GPS in hand. (And I thought it was a random useless xmas present from Jason, hehe). We record and pushpin every flag. Go home. Using the county map, calculate everything. Our measurements are the same. This is starting to look suspiciously like we are right. So this morning we went to the surveyor's and presented him with our information. He said that he would "try to fit us in" tomorrow. Lovely. We told him that if it turned out to be our error that we'd be more than happy to compensate him.  He seemed less than thrilled. While we were out that way, we went to our propert once again and measured for the third time. Same findings.
We have a new surveyor going out there tomorrow, and the state people plan to go out there later this week to confirm the flag locations. What a week. We were SO CLOSE!!! Of course, we are really bummed. Hopefully tomorrow, better news.



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