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Owner-Builder Journal Entries

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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