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Owner-Builder Journal Entries

Posted by Leonard in Colorado Springs, CO on 2/6/2006 9:46:54 AM

My wife and I bought a four acre piece of property about a year ago in mountain valley, about an hour west of Colorado Springs.  We have a southern view down the valley toward Eleven Mile Resevoir.

We have always wanted to build a weekend getaway and maybe future retirement home and this is a really nice site for it.  I've got a fair amount of experience at swinging a hammer and home repair over the years, so we decided to do our own general contracting.  We also have good friends in the area who are builders and have signed on to advise us novices.  They also can recommend trustworthy and good suppliers and sub-contractors.

After attending a home show and talking to a rep from a Structural Insulated Panel manufacturer, we decided to do much deeper research and get quotes from six different manufacturers.  We have defintely decided to go the SIP route for many good reasons.

If any out there have experience in how to have proper air exchange in such tight structures and therefore avoid the penetration of moisture into the seams of OSB panels and to avoid mold, please let me know.  I am apprehensive about that property of SIPs.

Posted to QuarterlyHouse by Cara in Orlando, FL on 2/4/2006 3:12:15 PM

I just want to see if I can upload my floor plan for you all to admire :) Apologies in advance if it doesn't work.


Posted to QuarterlyHouse by Cara in Orlando, FL on 2/1/2006 10:00:10 AM

That's how many hours we are putting in :) Not that that's a bad thing at all, but we have been working a LOT. On Sunday and Monday we worked on windows and finally feel pretty comfortable with both our knowledge base and budget. We had budgeted high on windows, so that's a good thing. Unfortunately we lowballed drywall and septic, but I'm pretty sure we've arrived at a number that won't fluctuate too much (other than downwards for big discounts, etc.).

Wetlands: meeting scheduled for next Monday on-site. Would be nice if I could get a surveyor out there before the meeting to flag our impact line, but we'll see. Jason is going to hand-deliver the state app tomorrow.

Designer: Ragina and Dave are awesome. Jason picked up full size partly-engineered plans from Dave that we can now use for subs. We're keeping one plan to mark up which we will then turn back in- they will make any final changes while we hire a truss company and have them design the trusses. We could potentially be looking at completed plans within two weeks. Depending on how fast we get a few more truss bids. Things are almost final- just being tweaked. We made some changes to the plan that take us from a mid-range custom home to a super-high end custom home. I think the greatest opportunity for this is in the kitchen. Jason is doing all of the cabinetry himself with the help of his dad. They will be maple with mitred corners and all sorts of custom features like a built in wine rack and crown moulding. Maybe some underlighting. An appliance garage. We're also doing a wall oven now, with a cooktop separate. These are the little things that make a big difference.

Posted to QuarterlyHouse by Cara in Orlando, FL on 1/29/2006

I'm prone to not being able to turn my brain off when a lot is going on- last night was the first night that house-related stuff kept me thinking. I'm slightly stressed about the budget, but not too bad, and Jason is not concerned at all. Here's the usual updates... Also, Jason informed me that he read the journal and even though he is actually doing the project, he didn't much understand it... Something about scrambling his brain. Sorry about that. I'll do my best to be a bit more explanatory. The thing is, this journal is half for you and half for me... so the me parts tend to be pretty stream of consciousness.

Wetlands: When I spoke to the state wetland guy the other day, he was more than willing to sit down and have a pre-app meeting with us. Hell, he even offered to fill out the ghastly application packet! Ok, just kidding, that's a total lie. Truth is, he had about as much personality as, well, a cypress stump, and with his busy important state environment wetland enforcer job does not have time to meet with us until at least Feb. 6th. Lovely. Keep in mind that it took me precisely 5 days to even get him on the phone- apparently he is too busy to answer voice mails as well. We also had been trying to get ahold of Sheldon, the county guy, to see if he had reviewed our lovely and very intensive site proposal AND THREE YEAR MAINTENANCE PLAN. He hemmed and hawed (amazingly, I got in contact with him at 4:30 pm on a Friday) and said what we were doing was unique and he wasn't sure. I pressed him for a timeline and will be calling on Tuesday after he runs our ideas by his boss. So by Saturday morning, Jason and I had worked ourselves up into a slight government environmental guy feeding frenzy. We called Steve, the environmental consultant, to ask some questions. Our main beefs are:
- we have to jump through all these hoops for less than 10,000 sf of impact?!?! What about the developers that are flattening everything in site? I bet THEY didn't get jerked around.
- How can it possibly be sooooo crazy to propose on-site mitigation and preservation? It's like we are the first people ever to do this!
- What the hell is a UMAM score and why can't we see ours? Yes, I know it's a complicated formula, but we are pretty educated people, and frankly, the lack of transparency makes me more than a little suspicious.
- How can it possibly be that two mitigation banks, both alike in dignity (grin), in the same basin etc. etc. a) can have such different prices and b) not both be eligible for us to use. And isn't it funny that the one the state is pushing for is the expensive one. Furthermore, Jason has talked to the mitigation broker, and she says that she has sold many a credit to Wedgefield residents.

I was really expecting to lose it with Steve, because I feel like he has not really been lobbying on our behalf. But, he answered all of my questions appropriately and suggested a meeting of all parties at the site. I will call to do this tomorrow. The whole thing is so ridiculous. State and county shouldn't even be allowed to have dual jurisdiction to begin with! Honestly, I think this part will be the hardest part of anything. No wonder pre-cleared lots sell for so much more. Whew.

Various subs: Friday was a day for making phone calls and running around. Jason and I are splitting the burden and each taking parts that we will be "experts" in. So far, I have talked to subs about or researched: foundation, walls, trusses, drywall, windows, septic, plumbing.
Jason currently has: generator, propane, cabinetry, designer responsibility, framing, clearing and filling, and something that's slipping my mind at the moment. Most of the subs have been very responsive. One word to the wise- if you are talking to a sub and want to get referrals, don't ask if they can reccomend anyone, because they will say no. Instead, ask if there is anyone they work with on a regular basis. My foundation guy gave me plumbing, electric, and a bank reference, just because I asked! At any rate, we are getting plenty of pallpark estimates- we have been too high or on the money with our initial guesses, but the budget is still high IMO.

I researched windows almost all day yesterday, and wasn’t able to find out too much… It’s all greek to me, really. Plus, I don’t have window sizes yet, and even if I did, you can only find MANUFACTURERS online, not distributors. I do have a few company names that have come up frequently: Marvin, Harvey, Jeld-Wen, Kolbe, and Alside among others. Don’t forget, we have to have up to Florida code windows. If I just had my window list I could at least fax it our, but I guess I won’t get that till construction docs are done.

New Purchases: most importantly, pics pending, soon. For now I will have to link them to shutterfly, but soon this journal will be moving to the owner-builder site, and they will have the capability for me to upload pictures directly. YAY! Our purchase of the week is a vanity set for the powder room bath. Includes Vanity w/ doors and drawers, sink, faucet, and mirror… Home Depot, original price $299… Drumroll…. Our price $99 on clearance plus 10% with coupon. Yay! It’s very nice, easy to install, etc. I see storage at our current house quickly becoming an issue if we keep this up ? On the other hand, if we can realize 10-60% savings on EVERYTHING we purchase, I can be a bit less worried about the budget. We also looked at countertops. Primarily, our 3 choices are: granite tile (self installed, least expensive option, also least visually appealing), granite slab (most expensive, most visually appealing), or Silestone/Zodiaq (mid-range price, pretty appealing). It actually turned out to be less for Silestone than we thought. Also, we are thinking about removing one side of our peninsula which would then make it an eat-in-kitchen. This would also be huge for cabinetry and countertop costs, since that area alone makes up a good portion of the counter, between the bar top and countertop. So I’m pretty sold on removing those features as a trade-off for silestone. We’ll probably also do Silestone in our bath. I really thought I wouldn’t like it, but it’s only slightly less visually appealing than granite, and it comes with a warranty. And, it’s less expensive. Oh, the best part: they were running a 10% off sale on one of the color groups. That’s easily $500. We learned from the guy that you need to do an install within 60 days of purchase, so we will just keep our eyes open when we get close to that point. Note to self, and others: go to HD and Lowe’s ALL THE TIME and check the websites, because sales are HUGE in terms of savings on this expensive stuff. At HD, we also saw some faucets like the ones we purchased from Costco- for twice the price! It’s a good thing I love shopping and am a good bargain shopper. Jason usually hates shopping… But he LOVES shopping at HD or Costco, so problem solved ?

Whew, that’s a lot of information! To do this week:
get bids on plumbing, septic, drywall, elec., clear/fill, framing
Hire a surveyor.
Set a meeting date w/ evil wetland people.
Send in state DEP app

Posted to QuarterlyHouse by Cara in Orlando, FL on 1/25/2006

Wetlands: we sent our site proposal to Sheldon @ the county and Steve... They are supposed to get back to us and let us know if we need to make additions or change anything. Then hopefully Sheldon will tell us it will cost 1/10 of a credit in mitigation. State wetlands: received the massive bureaucratic application packet from them, and a handy helpful booklet. Jason has been talking with them, and I called this morning to see if I could set up a pre-app meeting with them on Friday. I'm hoping we don't ACTUALLY have to fill out all of the stuff it seems like we have to fill out. Also, they told Jason that we can't use eco-bank (our mitigation bank of choice). However, Jay has spoken directly with eco-bank and they have assured us that our property is in their service area. I think that these state and county people just posture a whole lot because many people simply don't question them. However, Jason and I can't afford to not question them, soooo.... we shall see.

Plans: will be ready to be picked up on Friday for final review of elec plan, etc. In the meantime they are supposed to email me docs.

Budget: We took our first trip to Home Depot to look at pricing. We know HD has high prices comparatively, but we'd rather go into this project overestimating rather than underestimating the budget. Plus, we have 10% off coupons, we'll shop sales, etc. We just wanted to start ballparking. Here's some notes on potential subs so far, so I can find my notes in case I lose them :)

Epic Walls- on S. OBT spoke to on phone, can ballpark me if I bring plans by (Friday!)
Solid Wall System- 321-633-7511- in Brevard, sister company of space coast truss, have not called yet

Florida Terrazzo- 407-422-0721- spoke to on phone, can ballpark if I bring plans in (Friday!)

Central Florida Truss- works with Florida Terrazzo, contacted Billy 321-259-7507 or can give me an est with plans (email him when ODG sends them)They require 10% down to do the truss work for the construction docs.
Space Coast Truss- Recommended by Dave @ ODG; they work with Solid Wall System. There's a thing on their site to do an email quote

Tropical Plumbing- left message 407-841-0400

I need to drive around and look for window warehouses- maybe try john young or OWG road. also window classics 522-9264. i really need to find out when we can get a complete window list.

Porta Potty (let's be honest, it's a necessity): $69.95/28 days plus a $15 delivery fee; includes weekly service

We have done a LOT of work this week!
My Friday to-do list includes:
possible meeting w/ state DEP
Visit Epic Walls
Visit Florida Terrazzo
Look for window and door places
Pick up plans from ODG
Go to Julie's house and say hi
Possibly go to Brevard for Truss/Wall bids

Posted to QuarterlyHouse by Cara in Orlando, FL on 1/20/2006

Wetlands: After finding out the going rate for mitigation 1/10 credits ($2,750-$4,500), we decided to see if we could bring that 3/10 number down. So I called Sheldon and asked if I could meet with him. He said yes, but it was probably not going to budge. Then I called Steve and asked steve to put in a good word for us with sheldon. When i got to sheldon's office, he said that he didn't know we wanted to do onsite enhancements, etc., and that we could probably lift the UMAM score to get at least 1/10 credit taken off. He gave me a bunch of options- saving existing trees, adding new plantings, making a berm, fencing, etc. He asked that we prepare a proposal including a three year maintenance plan and submit it along with a letter from Steve. So I'm working on that now. Once he approves us at 1/10 or 2/10 credit, he will write a letter stating his decision.
We found out that we are also supposed to go to the state DEP. Jason researched this yesterday and the application is on its way to us. When we get it, we are to fill it out (not Steve, it will be better received by the state if we do it ourselves). They will then look at the county's decision and most likely concur. Once they sign off, we can purchase our mitigation.

Ranger drainage: requires certain grading of the lot, we are supposed to provide them with a topo survey and a $75 app fee so that they can make sure we grade the lot correctly. Also, we need a culvert at the front of our lot and supposedly they are the ONLY ones allowed to do it. For the low low price of $1937. Oy vey.

Septic: I called the health dept. and we will need to do the following to get our septic variance: Hire a septic contractor/geotechnical engineer who will site our system and draw it on our site plan. Then we take that and the house plans (and a $195 check) to the front desk, or call Nancy Smith at x78203 and they will approve our variance.

Clearing/Fill: Jason spoke with some people who will take a look at the site and give us a clearing estimate. Jason and I will be responsible for fencing off any trees we want to keep and also for hand clearing the wetlands.

Surveyors: We need to retain a company to do our survey package (to include all necessary surveys, like topo, foundation/formboard, final, etc.). Jason is on this too.

Posted to QuarterlyHouse by Cara in Orlando, FL on 1/17/2006

Sorry for the pending non-sequitirs, but I'm really busy and need to just hammer this out in a few minutes.

So, we have flooring! Costco got one lot of bamboo (real bamboo) flooring, so we bought enough to do the kitchen and office. It's very nice, high quality stuff. Bamboo is harder than oak, and is also a renewable resource, which is nice. We got it for about 1/3 of the usual cost. Jason will be doing the install- we still need to purchase underlayment for it. We also bought a few faucets since we liked them and figured that we need them at some point, why not just buy them now. So we got two for our bath, and one for probably the bar.
This is our first actual purchase of "STUFF" for the house. I am thinking that storage space will be a real issue as this project moves forward...

To do list: Change budget to have total est. cost, cash cost, and financed cost side-by-side. Begin developing material lists and codes by type and room. Get Jason to scan and print all receipts, file them with invoices. Start collecting materials from potantial suppliers and file in the file box. Update resumes. Finalize bid request form. Start creating lien release waivers etc. Research worker's insurance policy.

Wetlands- got a call from Sheldon, the updated plan is a go, we will need to buy 3/10 of a credit in mitigation. I am about to call Steve and find out how much that will cost.

Plans- Ragina has the plans to work on electrical- I need to talk to her about adding some inoperable windows above the cabinets in the kitchen.

Sorry, will write more later.

Posted to QuarterlyHouse by Cara in Orlando, FL on 1/5/2006

House plans- talked to Dave, Jason is to meet with him tomorrow (Friday) at 2 to go over some design issues, electrical specs, and elevations. Then we will have a follow-up meeting next Friday if the work is done by then. According to Dave, the house plans will be complete in 5 weeks...
1) Preliminary Elec/Specs/Elevations (1 week) $ Due: 50% of construction doc cost as retainer
2) Hire truss company
3) Dave sends plans to truss company (1 week)
4) Finalize plans (2 weeks)
5) Dave receives truss pkg.
6) Dave takes to engineer for seal/stamp (1 week)
7) Pick up plans $ Due: Final 50% of construction doc cost.

Wetlands- Sheldon from the county called- the problem is as follows: we need at least a 50 foot setback from the septic drain field to the well, but preferably a 75 ft. 50 feet will cost us less in mitigation, but will require a septic variation from the county (apparently this is easily accomplished). So he is supposed to fax me the changes now, so I can call Regina (the person who actually does the design work- she works out of KS, which is why we meet with Dave about major stuff) and she can make the changes. We are meeting with Sheldon and Steve Rich (Env. Consultant) next Friday at 1pm. This is our chance to show Sheldon that we are engaged and want to do the right thing. Estimated time to wetlands completion: 3 weeks.

*note to self, create a timeline with the dates from the zoning people, Dave, and Sheldon.


Posted to QuarterlyHouse by Cara in Orlando, FL on 1/4/2006

Happy New Year! 2006, for us, will hopefully be The Year Things Start To Happen :)

Wetlands- The Conservation Area Impact Application has been received by the county- I just spoke to Sheldon, the guy over there who deals with applications. He said that we were missing some stuff rom our site map and survey, so he is supposed to send a letter requesting additional information.
Estimated time to completion (when we settle on a mitigation amt.): 1 month (let's say 2/15)
I think I will need to get a survey to flag the ok-to-clear lines. Need to get bids on clearing costs.

Consultant- Susan is still on board with us, hopefully we'll begin meeting in February to do a final review/troubleshoot of our plans.

Plans- We need to make an appointment to meet w/ Dave re: electrical plan, elevation (**important, and also don't forget to get a color elevation to include in project book), and final changes to floor plan. Once we do that we will need to find a truss company and send the plans off to get the truss package designed. Then the plans will be "sealed" and will be good to go to the zoning department. Note to self- check into how detailed the spec sheet will be as we need that to get good bids. Also, order extra sets of plans (15 total?)

Bids- preliminary bid cover sheets have been developed, once the plans are done we'll set up a few plan review dates and invite potential bidders to review full size sets of plans. I will be logging all bids by bidder ID. Also, Jason needs to create electronic versions of the plans so we can email/fax as needed. Jason, you also need to set up our E-Fax please!

Budget- a line item budget has been developed (sans dollar figures). When bids come in, I will use them to create an estimated budget. There is also a cash debit log that auto-updates to the budget spreadsheet so I can see to-date actual expenditures.

Project Mgmt Chart- This has been hard because it is a total nightmare trying to figure out what order stuff goes in. I'm waiting on this until I get into the permitting- maybe it will start to reveal itself.

Project Book- this will serve as a complete reference guide for Jason and I, but primarily will serve the purpose of convincing lenders that we know what we are doing.
Items to include: general project Specs, land pictures, plans,prop appraiser info, title, comp properties, line item budget estimate, letters of support (? maybe?), personal resumes and credit history, proposed forms, suppliers, construction schedule, ????

Permitting- there is a handy 2 page document on Orange County's website that walks you through the "Residential And Accessory Use Permitting Process." It's useless. My master's degree in management and I couldn't figure out their non-flowing flow chart. Lovely. I called around and got nonsensical answers. I think the bottom line is that you just submit what you THINK is necessary, and then just make sure you call to check up. When you call, they will tell you what's next. It's almost like a rat in a maze. They can't just say "make your second right, then a left, then go straight till you dead end and make another right." It's more like "hand us 3 sets of floor plans and call us to get the next direction in a week." Don't get me wrong, they are very nice. Here's what I have learned today (I THINK this is the order of things):
1. call stormwater and ask for a flood determination (cost-free, time-48 hrs to 2 weeks). They will fax it back.
2. Take 3 sets of plans and flood determination to ZONING.
3. ZONING will pass it on to BUILDING
4. Somewhere along the way, get a STREET ADDRESS
5. At some point, go see Health Dept. regarding well/septic
6. At some point, go see ranger drainage district re: grading requirements
7. Pay impact fees and file commencement notice.

Basically once the process has started, it moves along via inertia and bureaucratic ability to pigeonhole things. Remember Willy Wonka and the good egg/bad egg room? When your stuff arrives on each bureacrat's desk, they declare it a "good egg" or "bad egg" and put it in the pile that goes to the next step or the pile that sits there till you follow up. At least it's predictable. And like I said, they are nice enough people. So I'm no longer too worried. We'll just gather everything, submit whatever we feel like to whichever department, and keep calling to see if they need different stuff.
Oh, and for those of you who read the helpful pamphlet, take note of the following verbiage:
The zoning division will not authorize a building permit unless the applicant has been vested for concurrency or has obtained a capacity encumbrance letter or a capacity reservation certificate. The applications for concurrency are available through the building and planning divisions. This requirement pertains to ALL NEW residential/commercial.

I know, right? First response- HUH? Second response- Uh-oh, I need one of them letters! Nope, you don't. Folks, I will save you hours of poring over and just tell you what this means. This is basically for subdivision builders, saying- "hey, you have a 15 acre ranch zoned R-1A and now you say you want to put 43 tract homes there??? I think not! Oh no, you need to wait in line and pay dearly to ensure that there's enough roads and schools and stuff for everyone.So what we're gonna do is charge you hundreds of dollars to do a determination about how many thousands more you owe us." The charging a fee to charge a fee turns out to be Standard Operating Procedure for the county. But I digress. Bottom line- you probably own a lot that was platted a while ago, and you're planning to use it as originally zoned, so you're grandfathered in- or as they say, you have "vested rights." No letter needed, no reservation needed. According to the most recent person I spoke to, all you need is to take your plans and flood cert to zoning, and you're good to go. :) If it's really that easy I will cry tears of joy.


P.S. Thank you to JULIE KATZ, who got me for my b-day. I'd like to migrate over there and get it all set up nice for the house...Soon....

Posted to QuarterlyHouse by Cara in Orlando, FL on 12/7/2005

I've been lax, because I'm co-chairing a huge event for needy families in Osceola. After December 16th, life should get back to normal. Here's where we stand:
Have asked Steve (Environmental Consultant) to get with Regina (house designer) to prepare our site plan and then Steve will submit our conservation area impact application to the county. The app fee is bday/xmas/hannukah present from mom and dad- thanks guys! :)

I took our plans to a custom builder in Wedgefield, and it was about 300k to build plus 30k in site work. Since that includes their profit line item, I feel pretty good about our budget.

We've been emailing back and forth with a neighbor-owner-builder and are looking forward to picking their brain (Hi Julie!) :)

Builder's Show is in January, we've got tickets, should be good.

To do: call Steve and check on status
email Susan and let her know we are still at it, but it is slow going

Sorry for the disjointedness, it's early, but miles to go before I sleep....

Posted to Michigan-Owner-Builder by Jere in Ray Twp., MI on 11/13/2005

Grass is coming in a lot better now that I put in a sprinkler system over the summer.  Still trying to find the time and money to work on the landscaping and build a deck/patio. A special thanks to Pierson Gibbs Homes for making our dream a reality... I couldn't have done it without you!


I'll get around to the landscaping...
This is the back yard looking from the breakfast nook. We have a stream that goes through the property. We see deer and wild turkey all the time.

Posted to QuarterlyHouse by Cara in Orlando, FL on 10/27/2005

Well, I've received several emails asking why this thing wasn't updated, sooooo here goes. We have had to make a difficult decision. After Katrina, we became very concerned about the cost and availability of both labor and supplies. We are terrified of beginning the project and getting held up halfway through by unforseen problem. We're not willing to risk losing the property, and right now the labor and supplies market seems rather shaky. My sense is that supply (for labor at least) will begin to catch up with demand eventually, when people see that there are so many construction job openings, but for now much of our local labor base has moved on to greener pastures. I think that the housing market, new construction and otherwise, is beginning to slow, which may make local workers more available. Of course, one alternative to this dilemma is to hire a contractor, but I really doubt that we'd be able to afford that (on the other hand, with a contractor, we may be able to lock in some sort of guarantee of labor, cost, and ultimately completion).

Our plans are still in the "almost done" phase. After walking through some model homes recently, we had some changes to the plan- small ones primarily.
- the game room is now closed off to the west mostly so that the entertainment center can go there and I can have my windows on the north (lake-facing) side of the house.
- the third bath is now a half bath, and where the shower was originally is now part of the game room as a nook.
- the kitchen has been reconfigured to open it up, make it more functional, and reduce the linear feet of cabinetry.
-dropped the ceiling in the den and MBR by 1 foot.
- Changed floor coverings in some rooms.
-Changed window size/height in some rooms.

The designer is also working on our plot plans, which will show the exact square footage of wetland impact. We'll submit that to the county for approval and a mitigation cost. I guess I'll have to get with Steve to make sure there's nothing else to do. I would REALLY like to get the wetlands taken care of so that we can at least begin to clear at our leisure and maybe take advantage of opportunities for free fill.

When we get the new plans, I will post them. By the way, to everyone that has emailed us, thanks for reading, and please feel free to offer advice, referrals, etc. We are always open to new ideas.


Posted to TheHoskensProject by Brian in Dome-ville, FL on 9/30/2005

After clearing a bit and looking around (and spreading out a bunch of grass seed), we decided to build the easiest thing we could start with, a shed. Not your ordinary shed, this is a geodesic "dome" shed, technically a one-frequency icosahedron. Since we're building a geodesic dome as a primary house, and since this shed would give us practice, we decided to try it. Borrowing a friend's truck to haul the trailer and the shed pieces up to the property, we started off. Unfortunately, 3/4 of the way there the rain and a careless driver forced us to have a wreck, totaling my friend's truck. Due ONLY to my wife's determination, we did NOT go home and abandon the project for the time being. We continued on, and built the shed over a four-day long weekend. It's called a "Starplate" shed, and it's made using 2x4's all cut to the same length (except for the five roof struts, longer to make an overhang). Even though it's got a LOT of angles, there was very little waste on the plywood.


Posted to TheHoskensProject by Brian in Dome-ville, FL on 9/23/2005

And so it begins... with dirt. This is after clearing a bunch of brush and small trees so thick you couldn't even fight your way across with a machete in each hand. Amazing how a guy with a bulldozer can help out. Now we have a clearing! Below is the clearing and a view of the lake.


Posted to QuarterlyHouse by Cara in Orlando, FL on 8/26/2005

The latest and greatest set of house plans is done- I will be posting them to shutterfly soon. Can I just say, I LOVE the plan! It's so us, and so well laid out.
Lots of progress has been made this week.

-The survey is allegedly complete, I need to get a hold of the guy and have him mail it, since I think that's be faster than going out there and picking it up.

-We have a contractor/consultant! Her name is Susan Gantt, and she just spent 2 hours with me (free of charge), giving me the initial order of things to do. She will be able to consult for us for an hourly rate (although she said little things like phone calls will be free of charge). Incidentally, she is very into affordable housing and is responsible for the design of the Winter Park Land Trust's first project. Very cool. She and her husband own the firm, and she told me that they owner-built several years ago. Anyways, she seems to be just what I am looking for.

I know I had more to type, but it's escaping me. Sorry! :(

Posted to QuarterlyHouse by Cara in Orlando, FL on 8/19/2005

It's been a while since I updated, because I refused to do so without adding pictures... What I've done is created a shutterfly album... Hopefully, I'll be able to insert this link:
and you can copy/paste into your browser to view the photo (only 1 pic so far). Please let me know if this works!!!

Overall, we LOVE the plan. The first feedback meeting was obviously helpful, because they really brought us back a good product on the second go-round. We still have a few minor changes to make; The pink and yellow highlighting designates those changes. We'll also be taking the back left corner of the house that is now not under roof and just enclosing it. It will have a half wall, as will the bar area designated by the pink line in the family room. On Wednesday, we should have 3 sets of updated preliminary plans... We shall stop at that point until we are about ready to pursue bids, at which time we will go to a truss company, and go back to Dave for electrical and sealing. We need the "real" plans in order to get bids and financing. I'm not worried about our budget except for fuel and concrete costs. Crossing my fingers that we aren't too hard hit by either of those.

Other news: our surveyor is supposedly inserting the wetland line on the survey, but I haven't been able to get a hold of him.
I am now officially in search of a contractor to consult with. Primarily, I need him/her for two things: to help me understand the critical path and permitting process, and to give me contact names for subs.

Posted to QuarterlyHouse by Cara in Orlando, FL on 7/28/2005

We met with Dave yesterday- he gave us the first run of the plans- surprisingly on BIG sheets of paper. I thought the overall idea was okay, but he missed the boat on a few things- we need 3br, not 4, one front door, not 2, and 3 baths, not 2. No problem. Part of the deal is that he will go back to the plans until we love them. We gave him about 12 changes to make to the plan. He should have the next run ready when we get back from Alaska.

A few hours after we left Dave's I get a call from Jason, who has had several epiphanies regarding the plan and wants to review them with me. One was eliminating the slider in the MBr (fine, but only if I get a french door instead- I definitely want porch access from the MBr). The other was the placement of the kitchen. To me, where Dave placed the kitchen is BACKWARDS. Don't ask me to explain why, because I couldn't if I tried. It's backwards. It just is. So we had asked him to flip it around, but then Jason realized that by leaving it BACKWARDS we could open up a wall to the dining room, where there otherwise would have been cabinets. It will be much better that way. So alls well that ends well. I'm going to have to figure out what it is that makes it seem backwards- hopefully changing the placement of the peninsula will help with that. We shall see.

The other thing on my short list is to get the surveyor out to plot the wetlands flag. He won't call me back! So annoyed! This will have to wait until I get back, I suppose. It's a lot easier and cheaper to reuse him; the only other option would be to entirely redo the survey! Oh well, vacation for now, house worries later. All in all, things remain on track.

Posted to QuarterlyHouse by Cara in Orlando, FL on 6/24/2005

So we met with Dave Brauer (designer) this morning to have our initial meeting- basically he just gets a feel for what we want, and we ask him lots of questions about how to save money. He's going to go to the drawing board and call us in 3 weeks or so with a preliminary plan. We'll take the plan on vacation with us and ponder it, and then when we get back we'll have a list of changes to give him.

It's looking like this: 2400sf under air 3/2.5 w/ a 3 car garage (with one door only), monolithic slab, hip/gable shingle roof, tilt-wall construction. Here's a bit more info on each of the rooms-

Patio: Summer kitchen and hopefully a pass thru from the indoor kitchen, sliders to interior

Kitchen: Range, DW, walk-in pantry, natural gas appliances, peninsula style

Master suite: tray ceiling, garden tub and walk in shower with no door, single WIC not in bathroom

Other rooms: Formal dining room (a.k.a. office/library), utility room w/ sink, hopefully half bath will be a pool bath, 2nd BR is sort of a guest suite

Living room: wet bar

Foyer: single front door w/ sidelight and transom, 10' ceilings except in kitchen/main living area, where they will be 12'

Hmmm I can't think of what else. I love his past work, he tends to design very open and casual spaces, which is what we want. He believes that the features we are asking for will make for a marketable house, and after meeting with him, I def. think that a 3/2.5 is a better way to go than a 4/3- more room in the living spaces, as opposed to small secondary bedrooms we'll hardly use. I will most certainly be on top of the picture posting thing by the time the floor plans come in :)


Posted to QuarterlyHouse by Cara in Orlando, FL on 6/24/2005

Things are moving right along!

Wetlands: Called Steve, who met with the county wetland guy. They agree on the wetland line and site location for the house. However, the county believes that the Department of Environmental Protection may want us to build on the FRONT of the lot (destroying the front cypress stand and leaving the majority of the lot swampy), rather than the logical location midway back in the already-disturbed wetlands. Steve thinks we'll eventually get them to see our side, but it may take a while. No problem. I also asked him about the alleged water problems in Wedgefield. His feelings are that:
a) The media blew it out proportion
b) Wedgefield Utilities regularly tests their water and in reality the levels are fine
c) Since we will be on our own well water we are in a different situation. It will be pumped from a much shallower aquifer than what the city water pumps from. Also, we will use different methods of treating our water, and the experts believe it is the chlorination that causes the production of the harmful agents in the water.

So A-OK there.

Designer: Dave called yesterday, he has come up with several plans but they don't match the elevation he had in mind. So he's going to work on it a bit more. Then he'll provide us with the draft, as well as each iteration prior, what he changed in each one, and why. Awesome! We will have it before Alaska.

I went to see a few house models last week and plan to go to a few more possibly next weekend. Saw a 4br model around 2500 sf. This reaffirmed our decision to go w/ a 3br... We will be able to make the secondary bedrooms bigger, and add space to the great room by doing so. A few things I wanted to make mental note of:
Don't forget about soffitt lighting when it comes time to do electric plans
Recessed lighting in the shower stall looks pretty darn cool
Stucco finishing on covered patio- how much, say, to do arches between support columns, etc.
Plant shelves in bathroom or other?
17x20 absolute minimum size for great room
Think about walls and furniture placement too... Where will everything be situated in the great room?
Definitely still like the concept of a pool bath adjoining a secondary BR (acts as a guest suite too!)
Will there be enough room somewhere to eat inside? If we have a larger living room type area, this could potentially work. Otherwise, maybe an eat-in area of the kitchen that adjoins the great room? Somewhere there needs to be room to feed 12 people easily.
I heart mitered glass eat-in nooks, but I think it would be too expensive.
Half-walls could be an option for the "living room" area. It might make the place seem bigger. We'd be sacrificing soundproofing, but it could potentially be nice. Good for entertaining, too, I think.
13x18 is plenty for a Mbr
Hallways are an utter waste of space!!!!!
Kitchen layout is important- it has to be just right, otherwise I will feel "crooked" while I am in it.

To-do list:
Research construction management software and pick one
Research window costs and standard sizes
Get up to date on owner-builder message board, get a login and introduce myself
Begin to find out how to get a street address assigned (please god don't let there be any fees for this...)
Get Orange-specific critical path, permitting, and inspection list to begin project management chart
Look into taking a construction class at Valencia beginning in September

Posted to QuarterlyHouse by Cara in Orlando, FL on 6/19/2005

13. Tray ceilings
14. Leaning towards a 3/3 plus study/office/library, plus rec room
15. pocket doors wherever possible
16. we don't care so much about a big master suite. give us the space instead in the kitchen, study, living and rec rooms, where we will spend much more time

Layout of rooms:
ideally the garage should be on the southwest side, but I'm not sure that will be possible with the septic needing to go on that side... I'm going to generally speaking lay out some possible room locations using a grid - like this:
1 2 3
4 5 6
7 8 9

ideally 1= rec room, 2=covered patio, 3=Mbedroom
4= secondary bedrooms, 5=great room and kitchen, pref in that order, 6=Mbath and closet (if garage on SW, maybe even MBath reaching to front of house for light on 2 sides)
7=Garage/Study, 8=Entry, 9=office/study/library

If in fact the septic placement prevents the garage from being there, flip flop 7 and 9

I meant to go look at house models this weekend but didn't have time. Oh well, hopefully it's too early to need to do that anyways.
I WOULD post pics of some of the plans we like or have designed on our own, but still don't know how to do that. Sorry!

Posted to QuarterlyHouse by Cara in Orlando, FL on 6/18/2005

Jason and I received a letter from Orange County's Environmental Protection Division. They have completed the conservation area determination and classified our wetlands as Class II. This is better than class I, and cheaper to mitigate. Steve has a very good relationship with the county guy, Sheldon, and Steve had told us beforehand that it would likely be a II because it is a disturbed area, and on a retention pond rather than a true natural lake. We now need to send the county a letter saying we accept their determination.

After that, we need to get in contact with our surveyor and have him add the wetland line to the survey. Three copies of the survey will go to the county, and we will get two of them back. We must do this within ninety days.

Next, we begin the process of conservation area impact. The county EPD will send the survey to the state DEP, and alphabet soup will ensue... Just kidding... Seriously, they will talk it over, and Steve will have by this time prepared what he calls a "flexmap." With the flexmap, he will show that even though the property is mostly class II wetland, the middle half of the property is arguably the area that should be impacted, in order to leave the cypress stands intact. Even from the aerial photos, you can see that this is the case, but with the state, who knows.

Mitigation: I feel like the mitigation market is a local version of the stock market or something. It's up, it's down. Since we have begun the process, prices for mitigation on our property have been estimated at anywhere from 20k to 5k. Luckily for us, it's been a downward trend. My personal feeling is that this is because it's a case of a policy where the cart came before the horse (development, then conservation policy), so there's really no legal leg for mitigation charges to stand on. What needs to happen (for the best interest of the environment) is for all of the wetland decision-makers to get together, figure out one cohesive process and fee structure, backed up of course by policy research. Of course, this from a girl with an environmental conscience and a social policy degree. LOL.

What's actually going to happen is some sort of bargaining with a mutually beneficial outcome. The poor policy planning results in the process being highly negotiable and malleable, and it changes on a daily basis. Today, the going price for a mitigation "credit," which equates to 1/4 acre impact, is a steal at $5,000. My $5,000 will be used to preserve forever a quarter acre of land elsewhere. Last month, if you remember, it was a formula based on appraised price and it was simply a cash donation to the county for future purchase of public lands. Crossing our fingers that something major doesn't change the fee structure in the near future. Homebuilding is basically holding your breath and hoping for no:
policy changes
administration changes
natural disasters
market changes in construction

On to other topics... Designer plans any day now!!! SOOOOOO excited for this to happen, finally! Progress in leaps and bounds.


Posted to EurekaMT-Timberframe by Mike in Augusta, MI on 6/15/2005

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

We have become very good friends with two local brothers (Billy and Roy) that have been in the logging business all their lives.  We asked Billy to find someone to thin our land because we are scared to death of forest fires.  Only one logging company came out, but they declined because about 95% of our trees are Douglas Fir and not worth their time.  (Our property was a Christmas-tree farm.)   We asked Roy if he would be interested in working for us.  Since the sawmills closed and he was out of work, he jumped at the chance.  He is clearing/thinning just using a chainsaw and no other power equipment!  I have never met anyone that works as hard as Roy!  Due to fire restrictions, Roy can only work thinning in the fall and burning the slash piles in the winter.

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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