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Owner-Builder Journal Entries

Posted to QuarterlyHouse by Cara in Orlando, FL on 6/9/2005

Received the first step of wetland permitting from Steve today. This is the CAD (Conservation area determination). CAD is basically a synonym for "overprices overhead maps." It's sort of frustrating, because I'm pretty sure I could have found the maps myself on the internet and done this on my own, but I'm not quite sophisticated enough with the terminology to do it on my own. Basically there's standard stuff that's pulled from the property appraiser site (I can do that, easily), hydrologic soils maps (I think I came across this once), and a wetland delineation map (ok, I probably needed Steve for this one).
I guess in the long run we need Steve anyways to go to bat for us with the County, but it's frustrating to drop $$$ on 5 pieces of paper with basic information. C'est la vie, I guess.

Two weeks till the meeting with our designer! I'd like to go to a bunch of model homes next weekend and take pics/collect floor plans so that when we go to Dave, I'll have an idea of how big rooms were that I liked, etc. I'm thinking Avalon Park area, Clermont, and Heathrow/Sanford W of I-4. Those seem to be places that are being heavily developed, so I could hit a bunch of models at once.

Posted to QuarterlyHouse by Cara in Orlando, FL on 6/1/2005

Wednesday, June 1st, 2005
5:59 P.M.
Design Appointment
More progress! We have our (second) initial meeting with our designer on the 24th of June. He will take us through the entire process, start to finish, including sealing the plans (structural engineer thing) for the windload certification, etc. We have a general idea of what we want, both form and function-wise, so that should help. A list of a few things that are important to one/both of us (extra credit if you can guess who wants what)
1. oversized garage with workshop area and side (east) entry
2. Master Bedroom on east side of house with east/rear windows
3. large covered patio (sort of closed in on 3 sides by house)
4. summer kitchen (outdoor kitchen for you non-fancy types)
5. rec/game/theater/multipurpose room
6. walk-in pantry/laundry room
7. peninsula-style kitchen (not necessarily connected to wall, but you get the idea...)
8. 9'4" or 10' ceilings
9. pool/mud room bath (we're not building a pool, but an indoor/outdoor bath would be handy since we are planning to entertain on the patio frequently)
10. LARGE great room rather than broken up spaces
11. study/den/library
12. lots of natural light in master bath

There's probably tons more, but maybe as I think of them I can add them and then reference this when we go to the designer...

When we began this process back in October of 2004, we thought we'd buy some ready-made plans on the internet, be out the door for just a few hundred dollars, and be ready to build the house. Not so. In Florida, they need to be locally approved/sealed/etc. to meet code. The other issue with pre-made plans was that there were minor changes (position of garage door, adding windows) that would cost us several hundred dollars per change. When we did the math, it made more sense to get it custom designed. This way, we get a house that:
a) is well-suited for a lakefront lot
b) is designed to be built efficiently (i.e. not lots of bumpouts, dimensions of rooms for minimal material waste)
c) includes construction docs not included on internet plans
d) we can say "custom" when we finally resell
e) is uniquely designed for our needs (conducive to entertaining, conversing, and cooking for many people)
f) has other things integrated that J wants, such as propane where needed or light switches in particular places
The list goes on.
At first, it took some convincing for J to see that in the end, spending more money on plans would be cost-efficient, but at our first meeting with the designer, I brought a plan we were considering and showed it to the designer. I asked him how he might redesign it to save $$ and he was easily able to point out things that would save us several thousand dollars on the building side of things. From then on out, we were sold on the idea. Ok, enough for now... For those of you still getting to know me, you now also have some insight into my personality by my almost obsessive use of lists, both lettered and numbered ;)

Posted to QuarterlyHouse by Cara in Orlando, FL on 5/29/2005

Sunday, May 29th, 2005

In October of 2004, Jason and I put an offer on an acre of land on a lake in Wedgefield, which is a community east of Orlando. The property turned out to be part of an estate sale, which greatly complicated the purchase process. In addition, the seller's realtor wasn't the most friendly, helpful, or organized individual. Luckily, we had a wonderful realtor who was assertive, kept us calm, and spent countless hours doing research or following up on things for us. In March of 2005, we finally closed on the property.

For those of you who've never built a house before, it isn't as simple as just buying a plot of land and then plunking a house down on it. Oh no. There are hoops, many hoops to jump through before you can even break ground. And costly hoops they are :) So, now, as June begins, we are finally beginning the process that will lead us to a groundbreaking sometime in September.

There might be a lot of technical (read, boring) stuff in this journal to help me organize the whole process. I promise I won't be offended if you skip those parts. I'd do the same thing, if I was you. Eventually there will be pictures (if there aren't, blame Jason) for those of you that are interested.

Let the journey begin...

11:23 A.M.
The Property

The property itself is 150 ft. wide by 300 ft. deep, with the road on the South border, and the lake (or pond, if you ask Jason) to the north. We currently have a neighbor to the east, but none on the west. The southwest and northeast corner are inhabited with cypress trees, which are sort of the sacred inhabitants of Florida wetlands. You don't touch cypress, if you can at all avoid it. There are a few sizable slash pines here and there, and a good-sized maple tree near the front of the property, but other than that, there is most just scrub brush and small trees. The driveway will eventually come up the east side of the property and curve around to a side-entry garage on the east side of the house. The well will be on the east side as well, as our neighbors have already put their well on the western edge of their property (thus making a septic system on that side impossible). The septic will go either in front of or even with the house, to the west or south of where the house is. We will be able to clear the driveway, housepad, yard, and everything embedded in the cypress dome (other than the cypress). I like the cypress anyways, as it provides some blockage from the street and will make for a nice quiet area. It's not swampy cypress either, and has been completely dry every time I've been to the site. The whole middle third of the property is herbaceous (crappy) wetland, meaning we can destroy it but will pay to do so. There's no avoiding this, so it is what it is. We're allowed to "limb" any trees to preserve a lake view or any other view if needed. Once all the underbrush is cleared, it should be really nice. We're even allowed to build a walkway out to the lake through the cypress if we care to.

So, that's the property (pictures to follow eventually, I hope).

11:32 A.M.
Environmental Consultant Meeting

Just a note here, first- I forgot to mention that we are owner-building. For those non-construction types, this does NOT mean that Jay and I will be out there swinging a hammer 8 hours a day for 10 months. TRUST ME, it doesn't mean that... If it does, I quit ;). Hypothetically, what it means is that we forgo hiring a contractor and instead manage the construction process ourselves and hire our own subs. Some of the finish work we will actually do ourselves. I think we're capable of it, although we may end up retaining a contractor on an as-needed basis for advice, connections, order of operations, etc. We've read a ton of books and are intelligent people. I'm really good at project management, and J is good with the construction type stuff. Unfortunately, banks don't necessarily have as much faith in our ability to build a house, so financing will be really tricky. I think the plan is to get through wetlands, begin to clear and fill, and get our house plans done. This will allow us to get estimates from subs, which of course will drive the bottom line we are asking the bank for. Luckily, the value of the property above and beyond what we owe, in addition to any money we've put into improvements/fees counts as equity. I'm pretty secure in the whole process except for the part about knowing the steps, the timing, and the order of the steps. I'm still confused with all the permits, order of permits, answering to different jurisdictional authorities, etc. Hopefully, I'll soon be an expert.

Because of all the wetland stuff, we've retained an environmental consultant to take us through the wetland determination/mitigation process. The wetland area determination (county) is the first part, which will take two to three weeks. But then there is also a state part, although they can't double charge you for mitigation. Basically, for any wetland you impact, you will have to pay a mitigation fee. Mitigation is a really interesting concept. Since we are "destroying," say, half an acre of wetland, we must pay to preserve an acre elsewhere. Of course this thought process is flawed, since there is still a net loss of wetlands in the end. But whatever, it's the rule. Until recently, how much you had to pay in mitigation was dependent on what type of wetland you were going to destroy. For example, you good, detail-oriented readers will remember that cypress wetlands are the most valuable. If you destroy cypress, you will pay maybe a 10 to 1 ratio (destroy 1 acre, preserve 10). This gets really expensive, and the mitigation wetlands available are really limited anyways. So now the county is just using the following straightforward formula:
appraised value (per county)* percentage of property where wetland is impacted=mitigation cost.
So, for example, an acre property appraised at $42,500 where you plan to impact a third of an acre will cost you $12,750.

Anyways, I met the environmental consultant, Steve, at the site this morning. In typical survivalist/naturalist fashion, he was there with camo pants and fishing vest. Love that guy. He also pointed out two deer that were just chilling about 100 feet from where we were standing. So cool! We'll have nature in our backyard! At least, whatever nature Jada will tolerate.

Steve has really good relationships with all the wetland decisionmakers, which will really help us. He advised that we try to be at any meetings as "proof" that we really do have a desire to preserve nature and plan to make Wedgefield our permanent home. He'll be submitting our initial applications within a week or two, and as soon as they get approved, we can begin to clear. We can fill after we go through the site plan submission process with the three required agencies, and it looks like we are on target for an October groundbreaking! Perfect!

Posted to EurekaMT-Timberframe by Mike in Augusta, MI on 6/15/2004

4,500-mile round trip from Michigan to Montana to work our land.

Posted to EurekaMT-Timberframe by Mike in Augusta, MI on 6/15/2003

4,500-mile round trip from Michigan to Montana to work our land.

Posted to Michigan-Owner-Builder by Jere in Ray Twp., MI on 12/5/2002

The major items on the outside are completed just in time for winter. Furnace installed and duct work roughed in. Rough electrical and plumbing wrapped up. Did a lot of the electrical myself with help from family... the electrical took way too long. At least it is behind me now. Ready for insulation. Hopefully drywall will be hung next week.


Posted to EurekaMT-Timberframe by Mike in Augusta, MI on 9/9/2002

Closing… we own our Montana land FREE and CLEAR!


A double rainbow over our land has to been a very good sign!

Posted to EurekaMT-Timberframe by Mike in Augusta, MI on 8/30/2002

Took out 1st mortgage on our current house in Michigan.

Posted to EurekaMT-Timberframe by Mike in Augusta, MI on 7/24/2002

Our offer was accepted!

Posted to EurekaMT-Timberframe by Mike in Augusta, MI on 7/19/2002

After traveling 2,000 miles all over the Northern Rockies (Idaho and Montana), we finally found our dream land! We made an offer, put down earnest money, and drove 2,000 miles one way back to Michigan. (A total of 6,000 miles in three weeks while living/camping out of our minivan looking for land!)

Posted to Michigan-Owner-Builder by Jere in Ray Twp., MI on 7/18/2002

The Pierson Gibbs Homes crew finished the rest of the walls on the 2nd floor, the trusses are set and the roof is sheeted ready for shingles. Hopefully the windows and doors will be installed in a few days.


Posted to Michigan-Owner-Builder by Jere in Ray Twp., MI on 7/8/2002

The framers are moving along. We have most of the outside walls up on the 2nd floor.


Posted to Michigan-Owner-Builder by Jere in Ray Twp., MI on 6/28/2002

The carpenters from Pierson Gibbs Homes started framing the house.  Got a few walls up.


Daylight basement.

Posted to Michigan-Owner-Builder by Jere in Ray Twp., MI on 6/20/2002

My foundation got installed.  I used Great Lakes Superior Walls


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