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Posted by Lisa in Cave Creek, AZ on 1/18/2009

Since I retired from my position at Creighton University (Ph.D. in Sociology) when we moved here & I enjoy research, I took detailed notes about everything (e.g., arrivals, lunch breaks, departures, work ethic, phone conversations & what was said..).  As I was on-site for the majority of work, it was truly like a participant observation research project for me (without the need to get IRB approval and consent from anyone!!!).

Our soil sample issue was a cluster.  We finally hired another company...and they said that a) we could pay for another soils report or b) we could remove all the clay & haul in non-expansive, good dirt.  We did pay (again) for spot soils checking.  Since we had hired a consulting firm to AVOID these types of issues, we were not the happiest campers.

On January 11, our excavator began building up the driveway so he could begin the pad.  Our highway crossing culverts were also 'cleared out' as there was concrete in the openings.  Several things happened...first I learned that equipment breaking down was quite common.  Thankfully, mechanics were dispatched & the equipment was fixed (for the most part).  Second, everything takes three times as long as planned.  As an owner-builder (even with UBuildIt), we learned that even though "all customers are equal in our eyes" was a great sales pitch, but in reality (as we expected) big companies (read: repeat customers) are more than equal :).

AZ Monsoon (who put in our well pump & tank) came out & re-tested our water.  Total coliforms (dirt) were present so they kept chlorinating it & testing until the ‘dirt’ was removed.  Marty even called me while on vacation when I was trying to get the generator hooked up to the well so we could have the water!  They were professional and courteous at all times. 

Since we were waiting & waiting on our soils issue, we re-visited the wall issue.  Our permit was for 6x6 construction…and we were going to have a very high r value.  We had wanted to use ICF, but were misinformed about a) Cave Creek did not know about ICF & it would take 3 times as long to build and b) the expense wasn’t worth it.  Given our unexpected hiatus (and a termite problem at Kim’s place of employment), we decided to revisit this issue.

We researched several products & decided to use SWS Wall Systems (formerly TechBlock).  The reported r-value of 40-48 was on target, round walls could be done (easily done at that point), and a structural engineer was available to do our plans.  Lessons learned here (and that had to be repeated for me throughout this process…guess I’m a slow learner): a) Don’t let anyone talk you out of what you want as it will cost more!  We had to pay again:  architect, drafter, structural engineer, etc.  AND the plans were not consistent throughout.  Apparently this is common, but it really surprised us as to the inconsistencies and incorrect measurements that were noted. We also had decided that there were several items we wanted (such as higher insulation, 3 a/c units (zoned), tankless gas water heaters, etc) and were told that ‘those can be changed in the field’. This played hell with our bids and ‘change orders’.  b) Even when I specifically told subs that I was learning, had a consultant, and wanted something x way, most did not listen.  Our first structural engineer (when we had 6x6 walls) did a great job on the standard plans (with many modifications) which she had done before.  But twice we had to return to her for oversights.  The second time, I had requested a poured concrete retaining stem wall.   We received plans for a CMU stem wall.  Unfortunately I a) trusted that what I requested would be there & b) believed in the honesty of individuals.  I verbally agreed to pay $350 for this detail.  The contract was to be ready for me to pick up with the plans.  These were already done. I arrived at the office & only the front office person was there.  She had the contract & the plans, I had the check.  We both looked through the plans & from what I read it was only CMU.  I should have taken my check & left.  BUT, she & I both thought that the poured concrete stem wall could be in there.  I was not versed in engineering details, but I have become much more proficient.  I left with the plans and that night, my husband read them with a “WTF” question.  I sent the drawings back and cancelled the check after being informed to do so by that company.  I would not recommend them (nor would they recommend me, I’m sure).

Surveyed again!  Note to self if there is ever a next time.  Survey once…mark points by out of boundary points!

During this month, we were also getting bids & confirming others:  foundation & footings, soils issues (several companies), plumbing, electrician, hvac, insulation, travertine, wall installation, etc.  Grad students from ASU geotechnical engineering came out to get some of our soil.  They were quite excited at the expansiveness.  It is now in their soil library…and the rest was trucked out.  We did provide some for a non-concreted parking area for a church who needed fill dirt, but the rest was trucked out.  Approximate $9k was spent on getting rid of the soil that so excited the students from ASU.




view from top of driveway up to pad (city water tank in background)
Begin Pad
Examining soil
Working on culverts
Truckload after truckload of 'good' dirt
Making 1 big pile so trucks could get in for 'bad' dirt removal
loading up bad dirt
next day, dirt loading up on pad. 3-4 trucks for several days!
Cold early mornings in January
We were welcomed to neighborhood by all!
driveway (yellow) & house (pink) survey points after a rain
after 2 days of rain, our culvert did fine!

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