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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 3/27/2009

I thought I'd add an entry about my home automation experiences so far. I don't remember what got me interested in having this in our new home, probably ran across it by accident while researching, but I'm really enjoying it. There are a lot of things you can do with home automation, it's pretty much limited only by your own imagination. I mainly bought the system I have for security and for lighting automation. I also have their whole-house audio system, but I haven't gotten around to setting it up yet.

I bought the HAI OmniPro II controller myself. HAI has several controllers of varying levels of cost and capabilities. The OmniPro II is their top-of-the-line product meant for use in larger homes. I probably could have gotten by with a smaller controller but I wanted to have plenty of options and the OmniPro II was only few hundred dollars more than the other model I was looking at. You can see what they offer at

HAI offers special lighting switches that enable their controller to manage lights in the home. The switches are very expensive when compared to ordinary light switches but you don't have to use their switches for all of your lights; just the ones you'd like to automate. Personally, I opted to control almost all of my lights; with the exception of utility-type closets and attic lights, all my switches are HAI switches. And I'm thinking about changing out the ones in the attic so I can turn them off without having to go up there every time the kids forget and leave them on. I'd estimate I spent around $1,500 just on light switches. Most people probably think that's crazy and in one sense, it's very crazy. But it's something I wanted, it provides that wow feature to guests and everybody blows money on stuff they really don't need, this just happens to be where I blew some of mine.

Seriously though, you can decide how far you want to go with a home automation system if you're interested in putting such a system into your home; don't let my own expenditures in that area turn you off from the idea. How much it costs really depends on how complex a system you want. For instance, you can do some limited lighting control without even owning a home-automation controller. The switches can be manually programmed to work with scene and house switches (multi-button switches that can control HAI light switches). For instance, before I got around to installing my HAI controller, I had several of my light switches programmed on a house switch which allowed me to turn on/off such things as outside lights, bedroom and bathroom lights, upstairs lights, etc.; all from one switch.

So, if we were headed out of the house and the kids had left their bedroom lights on, I could turn them off from the kitchen on the way out the door without having to walk all the way to the other end of the house. I could turn on the porch light over our bedroom door from the kitchen without having to walk to our bedroom to flip the switch. There were several things I could do like that which made the house a little more convenient to live in without actually spending much money at all. So if a person were so inclined, he/she could start a home-automation system on a small scale and grow it over time to where they really want to be.

Me, I had planned before starting to have home automation and security all in one system. So, I actually bought my controller before I started wiring the house so I could review the instructions and make sure I ran all the wires I'd need before closing in the walls. And I decided to spend the extra money on light switches in order to get the most benefit from the system. I'm still not finished with all I want/intend to do, but since installing the controller, I can now arm my house at night and when we're gone for protection in the event of a burglary or fire and completely control the lighting in the house. The alarm system side of it works like any other alarm system. But the cool stuff is on the automation side of the controller. For instance, I have it set up to turn on all of my outside lights at sundown and off at sunrise. When the alarm isn't armed, the motion sensors I've installed are used to turn lights on and off as we move through the house. Right now, I'm only doing this in the hallways and in the main living area, kitchen mainly. I have it turn on my bathroom light at 6:00 every morning, but only during the week. What's the big deal in turning a light on manually you might ask? Well, there isn't a big deal, I've been doing it my whole life. However, having the house do it automatically is cool to me. It also had an added benefit of waking me up recently when the radio station my alarm is set to was off the air. It also turns on the kitchen and living room lights before I get there in the mornings, which is cool, but also saves me a few steps in having to turn the lights on in the kitchen manually. Of course, the motion sensor would catch the kitchen lights for me now, but I didn't have the motion sensors set up initially.

One of the things I intend to do but haven't yet is have the appropriate lights come on whenever certain outside doors are opened; the garage for instance will light up when we open the door going into the garage and will light our way. This will be helpful when our hands are full and might even prevent an accident from trying to walk through a darkened garage with arms loaded. I can also use the capabilities of this system to save a little money. For instance, my kids are always leaving the lights on upstairs and in the attic. If they leave the attic light on, it can be days before any of us notice. However, when I get around to doing it, I could have the lights in the attic turn off automatically; upstairs too for that matter. For instance, we arm the system in night mode when we go to bed. I could program that arming event to turn off all unnecessary lights at that time. Or I could do it based on a timer or motion; there are several ways to accomplish the task, which makes this system highly flexible.

With the HAI controller, I can also program a number lighting scenes to automatically set the lights based on a specific mood or mode we might be in. I use CFL lighting almost exclusively throughout the house but if we had incandescent lighting for instance, we could have the lights in the living room dim whenever we turned on the TV or by remote or by pressing a scene button on a scene or house switch. There are all kinds of things you can do. My intentions are all security- and convenience-based. For instance, our dog is actually the responsibility of our youngest son; it's his dog technically (we all love and care for the dog of course, but it's his job to keep the dog watered, fed and to take him out to do his business). Well, I have a key-fob remote that I programmed to flash my son's light in his bedroom whenever the dog needs to go out. If I wanted to get real inventive, I could probably rig a switch that the dog could trigger himself to flash my son's lights; now wouldn't that be cool? Our dog is pretty smart, so if it were simple, I have no doubt I could train him to do it. The sky is the limit! All of that stuff is cool, but what I think is the coolest feature of all is that I can control the lights and alarms in my house from anywhere in the world as long as I have an internet connection, including iPhones and Windows mobile PDA phones! Now that is very cool indeed.

If you do go to HAI's website, you'll probably notice their disclaimer that their controllers are designed for professional installation. That is true and unless you are an advanced techy (aka nerd) like myself, I'd definitely recommend that you do hire a professional to do your installation, should you choose to go this route. But HAI does support DIY installers like myself. Personally, I found the documentation easy to understand and I didn't have any problems installing our system myself. There are also message boards on the Internet where you can find some information. HAI personnel monitors messages on one such board, I actually exchanged messages and received help from one of their programmers on this message board when I upgraded to their latest installer software and it wouldn't run correctly. They were very polite and helpful; turns out, they had to tweak their software a little and I downloaded the new version the very next day and that fixed my biggest issue. So, they can be very quick as well. I have only dealt with HAI employees twice and both times they were extremely helpful.

Well, I've probably talked enough about home automation and still haven't covered anywhere near everything that is available. If you like cool stuff, check it out. And HAI isn't the only game in town, there are several home automation systems out there. Another affordable system that has a very good reputation is the Elk M1 Gold system. A lot of DIY folks choose the Elk system; I chose the HAI and have no regrets. I don't have any personal experience with it but I've read a lot about it and by all accounts, it's a very good system. And there are others. Personally, I'd probably go with HAI or Elk if I had to do it all again, but when you research this stuff, be sure you look at all of them before deciding on one.

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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 2/5/2009 1:17:05 PM

I've mentioned that I bought a tractor with front-end loader and backhoe more than once either in my journal, in the forums or both. My original plan was to buy the tractor, use it throughout construction and then sell it or at least have that option. But I have to say, I'm stuck on it; I love my tractor. It comes in handy in so many ways that I can't imagine not having it now. Just last week, I loaned it to my pastor to help clean up his yard after a major ice storm littered his yard with broken tree limbs. I use it to mow the lawn and carry stuff around the yard. I can dig up stumps with it and I have several that need attention. I'm sure I'll use it extensively once I start landscaping the yard. There are just so many uses for the tractor that I think it's one of my best purchases ever. It wasn't cheap but it makes me much more productive. If you can afford one, it's not a bad thing to have. Convincing your spouse that you need one is another story though...

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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 2/5/2009

Well, I've actually entered several posts today. I haven't said anything in five months, so I guess I'm trying to make up for lost time. Arkansas, along with several surrounding states, experienced the worst ice storm we've seen in decades, just over a week ago. The result was hundreds of thousands of people without power, downed utility poles all over the place and trees that look like a giant stepped on them. It has been a trying time with several deaths, including our hometown Police Chief, Larry Blagg. I grew up with Larry and was overwhelmed with grief when I heard of the accident that took his life. He was helping clear roads in town, during the freezing rain that crippled our area of the country, and a tree limb fell on him and killed him instantly. He was a well-respected man who was a great asset to our city and even surrounding areas and he will be sorely missed.

Along with his death and several others, the state was thrown back in time when the lights went out. People had to live without power and many people are ill-prepared for such an event. It was madness really, a lot of people really panicked over being without power and didn't know what to do. I was caught with my pants down, so to speak, because I had been thinking about buying a generator for months, but hadn't. I ended up not needing one during construction because I managed to get my temporary power turned on very quickly. And after the house was finished, I knew I needed one and even wanted to get one but I kept putting it off because they are so expensive and I had other items that were more important to me.

Well, that all changed. I was lucky; our house is insulated well enough that it never even got cold in the house. It dropped into the 60's but was comfortable; actually, we keep it set on 68° so it wasn't much of a drop. Several people I know were complaining about their homes dropping into the 40's or lower and they were having a hard time of it. Also, we have a lot of camping gear so we broke it out and were still able to cook and we had light via a propane lantern, candles and oil lamps. Luckily, I had two full 24-lb. bottles of propane left over from our construction. I also have the propane heater from construction and I rigged it to run off of an inverter and a car battery in case we needed it; but we never did. All in all, we fared okay without a generator but I decided that I couldn't procrastinate any longer and I ordered one that week.

Ideally, I'd love to have a whole house standby generator that runs on LP and/or natural gas. However, when I ran the numbers, I decided that they aren't very economical. At current natural gas prices, it would cost around $50 every 24 hours to operate such a generator. And the up-front cost of such a system is pretty high. High enough that it would be hard to justify such a system. If I lived where power went out frequently for short periods of time, I think that is what I'd buy but in my 38 years, the longest I've ever been without electricity was for 24 hours. We were without for only 15 hours during this latest disaster. Many people are still out today, about a week and a half later and some will be without for as much as three or four weeks I imagine. But I live in the city and the utility companies restore city power first; so we've never had long outages like that. Yeah, a whole-house standby generator would be very nice and convenient. But I decided to buy a large portable generator instead; actually, it's a PTO generator which means it doesn't have an engine attached to it. Instead, I'll hook it up to my tractor and run it that way.

Since I use my tractor all the time and will keep it in good running condition, I figured I'd get more efficient use out of the tractor and the generator that way. A lot of tractor owners make emergency power this way, so it's pretty common. This is the generator I bought: It's a 13-kW generator which should be sufficient for my needs during an emergency. I'm working up a plan to store a few weeks worth of diesel fuel because when the lights go out, it can be hard to buy fuel too. I'm going to mount it on a three-point hitch platform that will allow me to have a very portable generator that I can use whenever I need electricity out away from the house and I can transport on my tractor. I wish I had planned ahead for this and installed a receptacle for plugging it into the house when I built, but I didn't. I plan on adding one now though. That's something you might want to keep in mind as you make plans for your new home.


PTO generator - 13 kW

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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 2/5/2009

How many O-B's think that after they close and move in, they're finished? Probably all of us think that, at least to a certain extent. But guess what? Even with the best-laid plans, problems still arise. We actually moved in back in June 2008, almost eight months ago. Since that time we've had several little problems with the house that we weren't expecting. And here’s one that’s probably not that uncommon. I’m sure a lot of people have HVAC issues shortly after installation. Back in the summer, we had an issue where our air conditioner (geothermal heat pump) stopped keeping the house cool.

Since turning it on, the unit had done an amazing job at keeping the house comfortable, so we were disappointed when it started getting warm in the house. We called our installers, and they sent a tech out to look at it. He checked the system out, and it had frozen up. In my experience, that happens when there's either too much or too little coolant in the system. Since it was a new unit, I was afraid we had a leak - but he turned on the heat, thawed it out, then asked my wife about the air filters, and if we were keeping them clean. Well, we clean our filters every month, but in the past, we used disposable filters and the ones on the new system are washable, permanent filters.

Whereas I used to change out the filter in the old house, my wife has been keeping the new ones clean. But at that time, instead of washing the filters out with water, she'd been using her vacuum to suck the dirt out. I knew she was doing that, and I didn't think it would make much difference, but the tech recommended that we wash them out instead. We haven't had another problem with the system since then. Another thing that happened was two of our decorative attic vents (that the siding guys installed on each of our gables) blew off during a storm and another was loose. One of them had blown off once already, before we moved in, and when I called the siding company, they came right out put it back on. But this time, I decided to stop this from happening once and for all, so I used my extension ladder to put one of the vents back on, and then I used screws to lock it in place permanently.

Unfortunately, my 24-foot ladder wouldn't reach the other vent (the same one which had blown off before). So I called the siding company again and asked if they'd come out and fix the vent, and use screws this time so it wouldn't come off again; the vents were made to snap on, very poor design for something like that. Anyway, they said they would be happy to put it back on for me, so I left it on the porch for their arrival. But they never showed up. A few months later, when my brother was over for either Christmas or my son's birthday, he and I managed to screw the vent back on and fix the third one, which had also blown off by this time. That same day, I found a few places on the siding where the fascia wasn't nailed properly and the wind had caused the fascia to pull away from the fascia board, which then allowed the soffit to drop out of place. One such place was actually letting rainwater enter the house; that's how I discovered the problem.

So my brother and I fixed those as well. What's the count now? Two?... Three? But that isn't all. Once winter set in and it got cold outside, our windows started sweating. Now, I viewed this with some consternation because I had spent extra on efficient windows and insulation and done pretty much everything right as far as I could find in my research, but they were sweating for certain. The actual windows were sweating but we kept them wiped off every day or so, and it was mainly a minor annoyance. But our French doors in the breakfast nook/family room area were sweating bad enough to leave puddles on the tile every morning; that was more than just annoying. I attributed the sweating doors, at least partly, to the fact that I installed glass-enclosed blinds over the windows on those doors, and I figured that more cold was being trapped inside the door because of that.

Anyway, I went to the Internet to research the problem and see what I could do to fix it. I found many references to this problem in very tight energy-efficient homes like the one I've built. I thought to myself, "Now why did none of those energy gurus mention this when they were telling me how to build an energy-efficient home?" Actually, I was at a Doug Rye seminar back while I was building my house where the question came up. Doug asked the inquirer what kind of heat he had and told him that his gas furnace was putting moisture into the home and that he'd need to remove that moisture with a dehumidifier. That's one of the reasons I went with an all electric home, to avoid moisture from gas heat. But here I was, I had built the home that Doug recommends and I still had sweating windows.

Needless to say, I wasn't very pleased with the situation. However, there was still one aspect of the energy-efficient home which I still hadn't completed. I had done everything else. I had built on a crawlspace, which allowed me to install my heat pump and ducts inside a temperate area of the home, unlike the attic which experiences mostly extreme temperatures, suffocating heat in summer and bone-chilling cold in winter. I had insulated the house as thoroughly as I could imagine using cellulose insulation and radiant-heat-barrier technology. The windows we used were the highest-level energy-efficient windows I could find in our area without going to grossly-overpriced triple-pane windows. My wife had caulked and foamed every nook and cranny in the house to create a tight, leak-proof house. I cut out of the design as many windows and doors as I could without diminishing the appearance of the house to reduce the BTU requirements for heating and cooling the house; I even cut the fireplace from the plans for the same reason. I installed a geothermal heat pump instead of conventional air and gas heat. I literally followed Doug's recommendations to the letter.

The only things I didn't do were the cost-prohibitive recommendations such as the $800 bathroom exhaust fans and the extremely expensive triple-pane windows. I couldn't figure out why this was happening. I did have a couple of ideas but as it turned out, those were wrong. The one thing I still hadn't done but had every intention of doing was install the vapor barrier under the house; simply plastic sheeting that covers all the dirt in the crawlspace. It's put down so that it overlaps at the seams and completely covers the ground, because moisture tends to rise up into the crawlspace from the earth. I had actually called a contractor about installing back before we moved in and thought I had him scheduled to come out, but he never showed up. I tried calling but just got his answering machine. The next thing I knew, we had closed on the house and I was almost out of money with a few more items that I still needed to buy or have done.

So, I put off the vapor barrier temporarily. I still fully intended to have it put down, but the guy who never showed up was the only contractor I knew around here who does that sort of thing. I had gotten his name from the man who sprayed foam insulation on the crawlspace walls. I could have installed the vapor barrier myself and probably should have, but I have spent a lot of time under the house since construction started, and I really just didn't relish the idea of doing it. So I let it go for a while. When the windows started sweating, I thought that if I had the vapor barrier down, they might not sweat so much; but when I finally hired someone to install it, I was extremely surprised that the vapor barrier completely stopped the sweating! I don't even recall if anyone ever mentioned installing a vapor barrier to control sweating windows, but it sure stopped ours and stopped it completely. Until then, I knew the vapor barrier would control moisture in the house and I thought more importantly in the crawlspace. I knew I needed it to prevent mold and mildew problems, but I never thought it would have such an impact.

If you live on a crawlspace and you don't have a vapor barrier, I would really recommend researching this technique for yourself. The results are amazing. Do your research though, my crawlspace is completely sealed up, or will be once I finally get around to building the doors for it. I have no vents and the walls are sealed and insulated with spray-on foam, which is the method I learned via research that keeps the crawlspace dry and temperate. This method may not be the best for all geographic areas, so be sure to do your own research before implementing something like this.

I think that's all of the issues we've had, with the exception of one other. I installed the bathroom exhaust fans so that they vented out the roof, as I've learned is the preferred method for venting moisture from showers. This worked fine during the summer, but when it turned cold, we noticed that the water vapor in the exhaust pipes was condensing inside the pipe and running back down into the fans! Sure enough, a search on the Web showed that this is a common problem. Most recommendations were to insulate the vent pipe and run the fans for extended times after showering to get the water out of the pipes before it condenses. I have insulated my pipes, but I haven't verified that it's working yet.

Anyway, I thought I’d share my experience in case anyone else is interested. Good luck to you all!

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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 2/5/2009

Well, it's been five months since my last post. I didn't realize I never finished the blog, so to speak. My last post was about finishing my master bath before closing. It ended up taking me longer than I expected to finish all that tilework and get the tub set, but I managed to get it done in time for our scheduled closing. Before I could close, I had to have a final appraisal because the first one was done before I had finished all the electrical, tile and trimwork.

Before the appraiser came out to approve the final appraisal, I worked very hard to wrap things up. I managed to get all the electrical finished and the trim work completed as well as most of the tilework. The only work I had left to finish was in the master bath and I worked on it right up to the day of the appraisal. I managed to get all of the tile in and I got almost all of it grouted. I went ahead and set the tub, but I didn't have time to get either the tub or the shower drains plumbed underneath the house before the appraiser came by, and I still liked some grout in the shower being 100% finished. But luckily, the appraiser didn’t show up on time - and when he did finally show up, my wife and I were both out of town for a few hours and couldn't get back home to let him in the house. So, he just looked through the windows to verify that I had done the work required and approved the house based on what he saw; which didn't include the master bath. I'm pretty comfortable he would have approved it anyway, and I finished up over the next couple of days too so it was 100% completed before we closed. Needless to say, I was grateful and felt blessed to finally be finished.

We closed a couple of days later and I have to say, it was like a tremendous load was suddenly lifted off my back. I can't really describe the feeling. I think maybe one of the closest analogies would be to compare it to how I felt as a child on the first day of summer break from school. It truly was a good feeling. After closing, I spent the next several weeks doing next to nothing other than working my regular job. There were still minor little projects that needed my attention, but I was determined to take it easy for a while. So, I played video games, I read books and was generally lazy. Slowly, I began to feel rested again. I think you get so involved in working on the house while building that you get to the point where you know nothing but work. You wake up mornings stiff and sore all over and you never really seem to get a good night of rest. To a certain extent, you put your normal life on hold and pick up another life that's full of pain. For instance, my two sons play ball most of the year and I was forced to miss almost all of their spring soccer and baseball games last year. I didn't have time to sit and relax and watch TV or do any of the other things I normally do. I missed a lot of church too; I wouldn't recommend that one if you can avoid it. My whole life was turned upside down for over a year, and when I finally finished and started getting back to normal, it took a while to get back into my old groove. But once I did, man did it feel nice. I guess it gives you something to look forward to besides just having a completed house. Completed...

That's something I'm not sure you ever truly reach. Even now, five months later, there are many things that I have left undone; nothing that would keep me from selling the house if I chose to do so and nothing that would cause an appraiser to reduce the value of the house. But little optional things such as installing the whole-house audio speakers throughout the house, I have several optional power outlets that I ran which I haven't bothered to complete yet. I'm still punching down phone lines, network and cable runs. I put off installing crown molding in a lot of places and will do that at some point later on and just the usual upgrades and maintenance-type jobs that you'll have on any house, whether it's new or 50 years old. I don't think a house is ever fully complete, because it's always growing and improving, but at least I can finally take my time at doing those things and I don't feel pressured to finish them.

As for the closing process, for us, it was a very simple thing other than having to finish the house first, of course. We didn't have to get a certificate of occupancy; our city doesn't required them but will provide them if the mortgage company does. So after getting the appraiser to sign off on the house value, the mortgage company was ready to close the very next week and the whole process was very simple. We met a lawyer and the loan officer at the mortgage company's office and we signed our life away. There were no surprises and no setbacks. The whole process was very pleasant.

As an IT geek, I prefer to use email whenever I can, and the loan officer was very up with the times as opposed to bankers I've worked with in the past. I've never worked with a loan officer who used email effectively at all, so this one was a pleasure to work with. I met her once when I picked up the loan application and then again when we closed; everything else was handled via e-mail. After I picked up the loan application, I think we spoke on the phone maybe one other time; we used e-mail for everything else which pleased me very much. The turnaround was very quick, unlike dealings I've had with other loan agencies in the past. If I had been ready, I think we could have closed in less than two weeks but I had to finish the house first. All in all, I am happy with the process and the outcome. In my opinion, it was a perfect transaction on their part.

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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 9/10/2008

Well, as I said in my last post, one of the last things for me to complete is our master bath. The toilet and vanities are functional already and I installed the floor tile months ago. But up until recently, I still had a lot of wall tile, the tub surround, and the shower to install. Well, I've been working on it as I can for a week now and I've got some pictures to show my progress.

After much research, I opted to use Schluter's Kerdi system in our showers. Kerdi is a waterproofing system for tile showers and tubs. From what I gather reading tile and do-it-yourself forums around the web, Kerdi is THE way to go in a modern shower if you want a guaranteed waterproof installation. If you decide to use Kerdi, it will add a few hundred dollars to the cost of your shower but when it's finished, you won't ever have to worry about moisture problems behind the tile. That makes it worth every penny in my opinion, that is if you plan on living in your new home for a long time.

I've seen posts of horror stories from people who have had moisture issues behind their tile showers in relatively new homes, five years old and less. I plan on living in my new house for the rest of my life so I don't want to have to ever redo the bathrooms. If you do what I did and start reading about installing tile on the web, you can't get far without reading about Kerdi. Judging by the message boards, Kerdi is evidently very popular among professional tile setters. If you are interested in reading about it, you can Google the word "kerdi" and find all the information you need. I found the John Bridge tile forums to be the most useful site for detailed information; just go there and search for "kerdi". The John Bridge forum is also a very good resource for any other tile questions you may have; several pro tile setters hang out there. I also found a good step by step how-to for Kerdi installation at this site.

My first adventure with Kerdi was in our boy's bathroom which I completed going on three months ago. It is a tub and shower installation so I only had to worry about waterproofing the walls around the tub. It was a good place to start and after all my research, I was confident when I started. I took my time and did it right but I did learn one thing new from the experience, you really have to make the thinset wet to get good adherence with the Kerdi. I usually mix my thinset kind of thick, especially for wall tiles and although the Kerdi will set into thicker thinset, it's more work to make it do so. Anyway, that first Kerdi job went well for me and I'm happy with it.

There was more work in the master bath because the shower is a walk-in, one of the walls is angled, there's two arches in the shower and a bench to contend with, but I found the Kerdi easy to work with and had no problems installing it. I measured and precut all of my Kerdi before I started and I'd recommend that. I still have to put Kerdi on the floor, but I've already pre-cut that piece too, and will install it this weekend.

Because our shower has an odd shape, I couldn't make use of the Kerdi shower pan. Instead, I had to build a mud deck for my shower floor. I found all the information I needed on how to do that on the John Bridge forums. Having never attempted that before, I was pleasantly surprised at how it turned out. The guys on the forum forewarned that after mixing the dry pack or deck mud, as it is called, only 30 to 45 minutes would be available to get the shower floor worked and shaped appropriately. That worried me some because I wasn't sure I could accomplish it in that amount of time. Consequently, I bought extra materials and only mixed up half of it initially so that if it did harden on me before I finished, I could mix another batch and finish it up. Luckily, I found the mud workable for at least twice what these guys had mentioned as typical so I didn't have any problems finishing the floor. I did run out of mud and have to mix up another 50 pounds of it in order to finish but that wasn't a problem. 

The hardest part of this task was actually mixing the ingredients (sand, Portland cement and water). I actually have a small tractor with a front-end loader and I mixed the ingredients in my front-end loader using a flat shovel. The first batch I mixed was 350 lbs. before adding water and it was a really hard work. It didn't help that it was very hot that day, somewhere in the 90's here in Arkansas. By the time I got it mixed well, I was already worn out and I still had to do the tedious work of pouring the mixture into the shower, packing and spreading it out properly. Luckily, that part of the job was in conditioned space. But this deck mud is about like working with damp sand, similar to what you would use to make sand castles; so that part of the task actually was easier than I expected. I have some pictures of the deck mud being installed. It was a new experience for me and one that I'm proud to say turned out well.

Anyway, I'm still not completely finished in the master bath, but I've got a very good start and I expect to be finished by the end of next week. I could finish this weekend or shortly thereafter but I'll be on a company sponsored fishing trip and a much needed break! Here are the pictures.


Yes, that's a picture in the tile. My wife bought that on eBay. You can also see some of the Kerdi to the left. Kerdi is the orange stuff on the wall.
In this picture you see the first and only upside-down tile I've installed. Surprisingly, it didn't even try to fall. In the background is our master closet/safe room.
Here's a better shot of the Kerdi in the shower.
The tub surround after I finished setting the tile.
This is a good picture of the arches.
Here's a finished shot of the picture.
In this one I'm installing the Kerdi drain. When doing the mud floor, you install the drain and a ledge of mud around the outer edge. Then you use the drain (which is lower than the ledge) and the ledge to slope the floor into the drain.
This is a picture of the shower floor's outer edge.
And this is what the floor looks like when you are finished. Because you pack the mixture down, when you finish, the floor is firm enough to hold weight even though it isn't dry. After it dries, it is hard like concrete but still soft enough to scrape off bumps and ridges.

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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 9/9/2008

I just noticed it's been two months since my last post, and a lot has happened during that time. I wish I could say that we are finished and the mortgage is closed, but alas, I can't. I ended up getting sick around the time of my last post - and I was out of play for three weeks due to illness, and afterward it took a few days for me to get my strength back and get rolling good again. Consequently, I'm not finished with the house, but I am very close.

I started the mortgage process around about the time of the last post and should have really been closed by now, but as you may have heard, because of all of the issues in the housing market right now, lenders are a lot more picky about handing out loans. Before the shakeup, it wasn't all that uncommon to be able to get a loan on a house that wasn't 100% finished. Basically, as long as the house, in its current state, was valued at enough to to cover the loan amount, plus the 20% equity requirement, you could still get your loan. I found out the hard way that they won't do that anymore. My house was mostly finished, we are living in it; but I had quite a bit of trimwork and tilework to do before I could call it done. Well, the appraiser right off told me that he didn't think the lender would close until I finished all of that work. I wasn't expecting an issue and was hoping to take my time finishing, but he was right. So, I've spent the last few weeks working my butt off to get done enough to close.

It only took a couple of days to finish the electrical inside the house; I had a few light fixtures to put up and some switches and receptacles to cover, plus the bonus room; that's all done now. Afterward, I hit the trim work hard and got all I could get done finished within a few days. Then I hit the half-bath area and got the rest of the tile cut, set and grouted. Next, I was able to finish up the trimwork in that area, install the toilet, vanity and mirror, etc. That actually ended up taking longer than I expected by a few days. Lastly, I started on the master bath. I had a lot of tilework to do there and I was quickly running out of time to get it done for two reasons; one, my construction loan was about to reach maturity (August 30th) and two, my mortgage loan locked-in rate was about to expire (September 8th). I contacted my loan officer at the bank, and told him I was going to need more time to get rolled-over to my long term mortgage, and he was okay with that. Also, I thought I was going to be able to finish in time for the September 8th deadline; but I didn't make it. By Thursday the 4th, it was apparent that I wasn't going to finish on time so I started the process of locking in a new rate with the mortgage company. It's actually working out for the best, because I was able to lock in a lower rate this time, but I wish I had known they wouldn't close until the house was 100% complete up-front, because I wouldn't have locked in a rate so far ahead of being finished.

Another issue we encountered was our credit score. I've always had a great credit score, usually close to 800; but against my better judgment, I didn't check my score before starting the mortgage process. It turned out that a doctor bill for $50 we'd been trying to get straightened out for two years and thought we had settled nearly a year ago, came back to haunt me. They had put a non-payment against my credit and it caused my usual high score to drop to below 700. The score was still considered good, but not what it should have been, and consequently, I was being quoted a higher interest rate than what I should have gotten; all because of a screw up at a doctor's office in Las Vegas, which evidently employs the dumbest people in the world because even after two years of sending them copies of the check we wrote them which they deposited and arguing with them over and over, they still couldn't get their books corrected! The last we heard from them was September of last year, when they told my wife that they had finally gotten the account fixed and everything was settled. But according to my credit report, the very next month they turned it in to the credit bureau! The funny thing is that I have 18 years of credit history with not a single missed payment, not a single blemish and my credit was hurt bad enough over $50 that I couldn't get the best loan rates available! How crazy is that!?! Anyway, I knew I should have checked my credit before starting the loan process, but I got in a hurry and I ended up with a big shock - and another two months of work getting my credit fixed as a result. Keep that in mind when you get to the mortgage stage of your project.

As of today, I have the new rate locked in, and I'm still working toward getting my final loan closed, but I still have some work to finish. I just have a little more breathing room now, and I don't feel as boxed in. I still need to get the loan rolled over and get my construction loan paid off soon, but my loan officer at the bank has so far been understanding about the delay. I worked hard for the last three or four weeks to try and get finished, and as a result all I lack being done is some trimwork in the bonus room (just a few hours of work up there at the most) and I still have to finish my master bath. I actually got most of the tile set in the master bath, but I realized I wasn't going to have enough to finish. Going in, I thought I was going to have a lot left over, but due to the design of the shower and the bath, there were a lot of cuts to be made, and in the end, I was going to come up short. I've got some more tile on order now that should give me enough to finish up. I will have the trimwork upstairs finished by tomorrow night, and I'll work on finishing the tile in the master bath over the weekend and next week. I should be ready to close by the end of next weekend, barring anymore problems.

I'll make another post dedicated to the tile work in the master bath. I've got some pictures for that.

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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 7/7/2008

Well, we moved in two weeks ago. I still have some things to finish in the tile and trim area but it's definitely livable and almost finished (I don't think you ever really get finished with a house). I still have to set tile in a couple of small closets and in the half bath. And because I'm not finished with the tile in that area, I have three doors and trim to do when I do get finished. That is really a small area that won't take much to finish if I could ever just get back to it. It got sidetracked because the tile supplier sent the tile I'm using in that area in two shipments and the second one didn't match the first. Anyway, while I waited on the matching tile to come in, I moved on to other things and just haven't gotten back into the tile mode just yet. But I'll have to get there soon; I intended to work on it this weekend but I was sick.

I also have the master bathroom to finish. It's functional and mostly finished except for the shower and bathtub. I've got a lot of tile work to do there and it's going to be tedious so I'm saving that for last. But other than that, I have some electric work to finish in the bonus room and a little bit outside and then the rest of the trim which I can probably do in a couple of good days of work. It's not much but I'm out of vacation time and I'm tired when I get home so most of it is being done on weekends, so it's not going real fast at the moment. I've got to get moving on it though because I want to get it done and because I need to get rolled over to my mortgage which I'm working on now.

We received our first full month electric bill with A/C running all month. It's for June and we had a hot one here so it is a pretty good gauge for what we can expect. We like to keep it cool in the house and it's a decent size house at 3,400 sq. ft. heated and cooled. However, 600 of that is bonus space, which at the time we hadn't yet started cooling except when we were up there, so say 2,800 cooled for the last month at an average of 72 degrees and the bill was $108. That's not bad, considering it's been hitting in the upper 90's all month. I won't say that this is what our bill will be ongoing but it should be in that neighborhood. June wasn't the perfect month to judge by, because we were only living there for two of the billing weeks. For the other two weeks, we were finishing out the house and there from early in the morning until late, 11 PM - 1 AM, almost every day and running the A/C and using the washer and dryer and cooking and all that but we weren't showering there for one thing and for at least one week of that, we were turning the A/C up to 75 when we left; we keep it on 70 degrees normally. So, even though we weren't living there, we were almost living there. Anyway, it will be interesting to see the bill for July. I expect it to be in the same ballpark but a little more. 

Interestingly enough, our bonus room has been open to the attic up until Saturday the 5th when I finally got the door hung that closes off the attic and the rest of the house was open to the bonus room too. I don't know if it happened or not or how much impact it had but it's possible that the A/C has been pulling that hot humid air down into the house, which now that it is closed off, may impact the bill in our favor a little bit too. Regardless of all that, I can at least tell that my energy-saving features are helping because at $108, it cost over half less to cool this house as it did the old house, and this one is three times larger than the old house! That's not bad in my book.

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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 6/6/2008

Before starting a new post, I always read my previous post so I don't repeat myself, and so I can gauge where to start in my effort to keep the blog up to date. After reading my last post about the air conditioner turn up, I was suddenly stunned at how much progress we've made this month. Besides the heat pump, which works great by the way, we managed to get our cabinets installed, I finished almost all of the floor tile (I just like a half bath and two small closets having the floor tile finished (I was held up by the supplier on those rooms), our carpet is finished, I've trimmed almost all of the windows and my wife is working on painting the interior doors, about a third of which I’ve already hung. Also, I got the hot water heaters, the refrigerator, the wall oven/microwave combo, the dishwasher, the washer and dryer all installed. And, I've installed all of the ceiling fans, five in total. I’ve already finish-wired almost the entire house; all I lack is a closet or two, the chandelier in the foyer (which my wife can’t seem to settle on), the under-cabinet lights and the bonus room, plus some minor outside wiring and I'll be finished with all of the electrical!

We've been spending so much time over there lately, it's like we're already living there. The only things we do at our old house are shower and sleep; we even take supper at the new one. In fact, when the countertop people finish in the kitchen, I should be able to get the sink and cooktop working fairly quickly and then we can even cook over there.

Oh, and the countertop folks have started installing in the kitchen. They came out and made their templates two weeks ago, and they had the granite mostly ready last week, but had to wait on the cabinet guy to come back and correct the island in the kitchen before coming out to install. He forgot and made the island flat; it was supposed to step up into a bar on the back side. He fixed that on Tuesday and finished some odds and ends that he had remaining. The cabinets look great. I have some pictures, but I’m not sure how well they turned out. I’ll post what I have.

Anyway, the countertop guys showed up yesterday morning and got one corner piece and the long piece where the sink is installed. We have a pretty large kitchen and a lot of countertop, so they had to make three seams to get it all in. They managed to hide two of the seams under cabinetry that hanged down all the way to the countertop which is good. The only one out in the open is to the right of the sink by a couple of feet. Most people won’t notice it, and they glued it together well. I stayed for part of the install because I’ve never seen granite installed, but they were having problems with the cabinets, which apparently aren’t quite level. So, they’ll have to come back to finish the rest. They have to come back anyway for the island which they couldn’t measure until yesterday and because they didn’t have the vanities ready to install yet. Hopefully it won’t be long before they come back and finish. I was hoping to have the countertops all in by this weekend.

I've got pictures of the carpet too, but the pictures don't do it justice. We opted for a very plush, thick carpet and we ended up doing the whole house in the same color. It is called peppermint and is a light brownish-green color, depending on the light. It actually turned out more brown than I remember it looking in the store, but it looks good with all of our paint. Hopefully, our two boys won't mess it up with stains and such, but I wouldn't bet on that.

Anyway, we still have several items to finish, but it's exciting at this point because we are so close, and the house is starting to look like it will when we are finished. In fact, some of the rooms are almost completely finished. The bedrooms for instance, all we lack there is baseboard and doors and they will be basically finished except for moving in. I've already put in most of the baseboard in the laundry room, I just left out the last pieces that go on either side of the door and I still have to hang the door; then that room will be complete. Heck, we've even used the washer and dryer several times already.

Back on the A/C, the outside temperature has been hitting in the 90's already in NE Arkansas so we've been running the A/C while we're at the house. I am pretty proud of the house though, even without any A/C, the inside temp stayed below 70° until two weeks ago and even then, I've not seen it over 80° except when we have subs there and all the doors are open. It's hard to say for certain, but I think my energy features may really pay off. Anyway, over the last few days, we've started running the A/C and I don't know how well it is performing from an energy standpoint, but it is doing an excellent job at cooling the house. I'm very pleased so far. In my last post, I stated that the unit was so quiet I couldn’t hear it. That’s true, on that day I couldn’t hear it, but since we’ve been using it regularly, I can hear it now. It’s still hard to tell if it’s running sometimes; the refrigerator, which is pretty quiet as fridges go, is louder than the A/C. Basically, when you hear the A/C, all you hear is a low hum and maybe the air flowing through the registers a little (only in stage three though). I really hope this geothermal unit saves as much on the electric bill as everyone says they do.

Well, that’s about it for today. We’ll likely be moved in by the next post. We’ll either be moving in next week or the week after. I’d like to completely finish the house before we move in and that was my goal, but that’s not going to happen. I’m working on getting the main house bathroom going (all I like is tiling the tub/shower) and hooking up the sinks when the vanities get here. I should be able to finish most of the tile this weekend; I probably won’t get it grouted until next week though. I will need to get the baseboard installed in most of the rooms too, but mainly where furniture will sit. I hate to move in like that, but we’ve sold our house and need to get out. After we’re moved in, the work will continue; I’m not one to let it go, and all we will lack will be some trimwork and the master bathroom, where I still have to tile the shower and the tub; and of course, the little odds and ends that we will likely be working on for the next year or so. 



I realized recently that I never did post any pictures of the outside of the house after it was completed. So here are a few.
Due to how close I sat the house to the road and the closeness of trees on the opposite side of the road, it's hard to get a frontal picture of the entire house from directly in front of it. You have to go off to one side or the other. I plan on taking some frontal shots from different vantage points and merging them into one eventually; just haven't done that yet.
I took more pictures of the carpet but none of them turned out very well; not even this one really.
This and the following photos don't do the kitchen justice. It's a little too dark in the kitchen right now and the photos didn't show the colors the way they truly look. Maybe you can get an idea though.
This is a closeup of the countertop that has been installed so far; they haven't installed the backsplashes yet and they scratched the wall during the install. Anyway, if you look real close, you can barely make out the seam in this shot. It's a little more noticable in the next one which is at an angle to the seam.
This shot captures the colors better than any of the others and it still doesn't "feel" right to me. But you can see the contrast between the cherry stain and the verde butterfly (green) granite.

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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 5/2/2008

Well, Hydro-Temp got my geothermal heat pump turned on today. Of course, we’ll have to get moved in to really see how well it works but my first impression is that it puts out cold air like it is supposed to this time of year in Arkansas and it is extremely quiet. In fact, I was about 10 feet away from the air handler when the technician turned it on and said, “Okay, it’s blowing cold air.” I said, “It’s running now?” To which he replied, “Yep!” It is so very quiet!  I couldn’t even hear it! Inside, you certainly can’t hear it. If you hear anything it is the air coming out of the register holes but I didn’t hear much there either and I was trying to. It was running on stage two of three and the tech said that we might hear it a little when it kicks up to stage three. I’ll let you know how it turns out but so far so good. By the way, the guys at Hydro-Temp are really good on customer service; I’m very impressed with their professionalism.


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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 5/2/2008

I've been meaning to update my posts about the Wagner sprayer I bought. I did have some trouble with it. It worked great for about 30 gallons of paint/primer, maybe a little more, but then the inlet valve broke. It should be easy to repair but it caught me at a time when I couldn't wait for repair parts so I ended up buying another sprayer instead. Before doing so, I searched online about the inlet valve problem and I found a lot of complaints about the Wagner sprayers and this issue. The valve isn’t covered under warranty and it seems to be designed to fail; at least the one I pulled out of mine is. It is made of a combination of high quality, tooled steel and very flimsy cheap plastic; guess which part broke.

My plan is to fix the Wagner and try to sell it, depending on what they are going for used, but I think I like the replacement model I bought better. It's a Graco Magnum XR5. I’ve already put as much paint/primer through it as I did the Wagner and so far it shows no sign of stopping. I’ve still got about 20 gallons of material to spray inside and then another 30 or 40 to spray in the garage, half primer and half paint basically. 

There are pros and cons to both models. I like the hopper on the Wagner because it can use all the material since the inlet valve is gravity fed from above. The Graco uses a siphon hose which is more common to professional sprayers. That system works well too but because of the design of the filter at the end of the hose, it can’t really suck up all of the material; it always leaves some in the bottom the bucket. As it turns out, that isn’t really an issue on a large job such as painting a house unless you figure your paint supply down to the ounce; something that is probably only going to happen by accident. I did have one room where I used every bit of the paint and had to have my wife turn the bucket up on edge so I could get as much as possible out of the bucket. It wasn’t that I figured it that way, I just ran out of paint or barely had enough actually. Besides that, the only other negative I can say about the Graco is that you have to move the hoses between buckets so you may get some paint on your hands; again, that’s not a big issue and if you are careful, you can do it without getting dirty.  The Graco is a heck of a lot quieter than the Wagner. The Wagner didn’t bother me when I was using it but it was pretty loud. I didn’t realize just how loud until I got the Graco, it is extremely quiet by comparison and is pretty quiet in general. With the Wagner, you can get about 3+ gallons in the hopper (the manual says to put no more than 2.5 gallons in it) while the Graco sucks it out of a 5-gallon bucket, or smaller if you wish. I found myself just refilling the 5-gallon bucket instead of trying to switch them out.

Actual operation and cleanup steps of the two units are about the same, especially the operation steps. The cleanup on the Graco is easier and quicker for the most part. The only exception is checking/cleaning the two filters, gun filter and outlet filter. The filters on the Wagner require no tools to clean while the two on the Graco do; however it’s still a very simple task. The higher quality, optional guns for the Graco are more like the one you get with the Wagner as far as cleanup goes. On the other hand, I went through three gun filters on the Wagner, counting the one that came with it and the filters are about $5 or $6 each; meanwhile, I’m still on the original filter for the Graco. The Graco filter seems better made and is much easier to clean. Another thing I really like about the Wagner is the built-in two wheel dolly which also has a rack for the hose and the power cord; the Graco has only a rack for the cord and no dolly (the more expensive XR7 model and those above that have the dolly). That is a strike against the Graco but I got around it by using the hose from my Wagner on the Graco which extended my reach from 25 feet to 50 feet. I was then able to setup the Graco in a completely separate room from where I was working which also made it quieter in my work area. Oh, and the Graco supports up to 150 feet of hose whereas the Wagner and other competing brand/models only support 100 feet; that’s probably not overly important to most people but still good to know. By the way, the Graco isn’t heavy so the lack of the dolly isn’t that big of deal until you start thinking about moving the sprayer and a 5 gallon bucket of paint and the spray hose, etc. It’s doable, but it would be easier with a dolly. I’m sure you could retrofit it to a dolly or possibly even buy that feature but of course that would add to the cost; which by the way was about $100 more than the Wagner. Also, I’ve already started thinking about how I’ll put it away when I’m finished painting; what will I do with the hose?  The Wagner puts away into a neat little package, much better than the Graco. Of course, I may just sell it since it will be some time before I do more painting; we’ll see.

Another plus for the Graco is that it came with an operational video, an actual DVD. I was hoping it might show painting tips but it basically shows you how to set the sprayer up and run it and then how to clean it up afterward. I got all of that from the manual but it would be handy for someone who learns easier by seeing.

At the end of the day, I personally like the Graco better and would recommend it over the Wagner. However, the Wagner has its own appeal so I wouldn’t write it off. The biggest problem with the Wagner is that it broke down in the middle of the job and from what I read about it, it is likely to do so every time after about 30 gallons of material; I’m sure that varies depending on the material. I haven’t priced the inlet valve yet but I don’t think it is expensive so for small jobs and infrequent use, the Wagner is probably a good choice but if you don’t like to get shutdown in the middle of a job (who does?), you might want to consider keeping a replacement valve on hand.


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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 5/1/2008

I've been trying to get the blog updated for weeks now, but I've just been way too busy.

The drywall finishers finally got their part done, at least in the living space; they still have to come back and do the garage, but right now I'm using it for a workshop and it is too cluttered to work on. They finished about three weeks ago, I guess. In the week following, my wife and I got the rest of the house painted, except for the bonus room. I probably should have gone ahead and painted the bonus room while I was in painting mode, but I got sidetracked by tile and HVAC. Basically, I scheduled our HVAC contractors for the final geothermal hookup as a way to deadline myself into getting that part finished and consequently, I forced myself to shelf the paint for a while. I had to get my water heaters installed and some of the water supply plumbing finished before the HVAC guys showed up, and that was last week.

I picked up my Marathon water heaters and finished wiring and tiling the closet for the water heater that sits in the middle of the house near the bathrooms. I wasn't sure about what the HVAC guys needed from me as far as hooking the water heater up so I waited until they showed up and had them clarify that right off. I then spent the rest of that day buying and installing pipe fittings, but I got it ready to go. I had to take the day off and I figured they would get done in one day but they told me it would take two, so I ended up taking another day off to be there when they turned it all on and be available in case they needed anything. 

Well, they didn't show up the next day, so I changed my plans and went to work late. I was aggravated at first that they didn't call but when I got to work, there was a message from them on my work phone. They did come the next work day, which was Monday and I ended up staying with them. The installer and I both expected Monday would be the big day and I was excited to see the thing in action finally, but their fill pump crapped out so now they have to come back yet again. They are supposed to be on site tomorrow. In the meantime, I'm installing our second water heater in preparation for them to hook up our desuperheater. I set the tank, ran the pipes and finished the wiring last night, so I'll be doing the final connections purging the air out of the system tonight. I hope it all goes well tomorrow because I'm tired of missing work for them (I do try to get some work done while I'm there). They should only have a couple of hours of work to finish, but we'll see.

In the meantime, I set about 400 sq. ft. of tile over the weekend in the kitchen and breakfast nook area. I've already set the floor tile in both of the main bathrooms and I've got the laundry room ready to tile. I was planning on finishing the floor tile this week but got sidetracked on the water heater instead. I've got another 700 sq. ft. of tile being delivered tomorrow, so I've still got a lot of work cut out for me. However, my wife and I have been thinking about cutting the tile area back some, so we'll see. Either way, I've still got a lot of tile work to do, but everything else is getting there. About half of the house is finish-wired with lights, receptacles and switches; and the rest of the house has a lot of can lights, which are easier to finish in my opinion, so that part is on the way. But basically, all we have left is the finish work and we're well on our way to completing that stuff. Since the drywall guys have gotten out of the way, we're really making progress.

I'm going to do my best to get us moved in by the end of May. I might not make it, but it won't be for lack of trying and if I don't make it, we'll be close anyway. I'm going to be focusing on tile work for the next week to two weeks, which I'm doing myself. But in the meantime, our cabinets are in progress and we're working on getting our countertops on order. I'm close to have the tilework done to a point where we can order our carpet. Our interior doors and window casings are on order. I might not get much sleep in the coming weeks, but I'm going to try to get all of this stuff installed.

Oh, and we have all of our appliances in-house and ready to install, just waiting on the cabinets. It's going to be a busy month.

Until next time...


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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 4/4/2008

I mentioned in one of my previous posts that I had purchased a Wagner Paint Crew Plus Sprayer. I think I might have also mentioned a little about the cleanup. Well, I like the sprayer so far. I've used it several times; in fact I've painted six different rooms/areas with it, and I've primed about the same amount of area as well. If you happen to get one of these, I might have a few tips that will help you enjoy your experience with it a little more.

First of all, follow the directions and definitely clean it up after every use. The cleanup portion is probably the only downside to using a sprayer but in fairness you have cleanup to do with manual painting methods as well. It takes a couple of passes through the cleanup procedures to get them down but after you've done it a few times, you'll get quicker at it; just like with any other multi-step procedure. Anyway, during my usage, I developed a shortcut that actually works better than what the manual provides. I'm only going to hit on the main steps, you'll need to read the manual and learn the tedious stuff like the pressure relief steps that you have to perform several times.

The first thing you do once you finish spraying is empty the hopper. Basically, you just pour you paint material back into the bucket it came from. You then rinse the hopper with a water hose or in a utility sink. This is the step I've modified. Rinsing the hopper is probably the most time-consuming portion of the cleanup; it's definitely the most manual portion. But the owner's manual has you do this step twice. The first time, it just instructs you to rinse the hopper and refill it with an appropriate cleaning solution (water for latex material and mineral spirits for oil-based materials; from this point forward, I’m just going to use water in place of cleaning solution; but you need to remember to use mineral spirits with oil-based paints). The problem is, if you do that, you're either going to spend a lot of time rinsing or you're going to end up with colored water in the hopper for the next steps. Why? Because there is an inlet filter at the bottom of the hopper that is full of paint material when you get finished spraying and if you simply try to rinse out the hopper, you will keep getting paint or primer from that valve mixed back in with your cleaning solution.

The manual has you rinse the hopper, fill it with cleaning solution and then use the cleaning solution to flush the spray hose and then the return tube; which is a rubber tube that circulates material back into the hopper when you prime the sprayer. Remember, the water isn’t really clean at this point so the spray hose and the return tube don’t get completely clean either. After you flush the return tube, the manual has you rinse the hopper a second time but this time it also instructs you to clean the inlet filter. When you’re done the second time, you’re completely done. All in all, that process takes between 30 and 40 minutes.

Okay, you got that didn't you? The manufacturer wants you to rinse out the hopper twice! Well, after the first time, I said the heck with that! That filter at the bottom of the hopper is the cause of the dirty water. So, I adjusted the cleaning process so that I lightly rinse the hopper just enough to remove the heavy paint or primer; it doesn't need to be perfect at this point. I remove the inlet filter and clean it thoroughly. Then I finish rinsing the hopper so that it is good and clean and reassemble the filter. At this point, the hopper is as clean as it would be the second time you rinsed it according to the manual. I then fill the hopper with water and I usually have a clean bucket with me and I fill it with water too. Then, I replace the hopper on the sprayer and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Except, from the time I start cleaning the sprayer, the return tube is removed from the hopper and placed over my waste bucket. After I clean it, I never allow any dirty water or paint material back into the hopper; that is contrary to what the manual says to do. If I'm not mistaken, the manual has you rinse the return tube back into the hopper; I don't do that. At this point, I rinse both the return tube and the spray hose into the waste bucket. If I run out of water before they are both clean, I refill the hopper from my clean water bucket. Once both the return tube and the spray hose are clean, I empty out my hopper (actually I usually allow the sprayer to run all of the water through the hoses so that I don't even have to do that step). 

At that point, everything except for the gun is clean. I then proceed to clean the gun and nozzle following the manufacturer's cleanup instructions. I find that my cleanup method is faster, less labor-intensive and more thorough than that provided by the manufacturer. I hope this information helps someone save some time. After several prime/paint sequences, you can actually shave off a few hours of work this way. 



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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 4/4/2008

The drywall sub is still taking his sweet time about getting our house finished but he is getting really close. As of last night, he has the living room, the stairwell, the bonus room upstairs, the coat closet and the powder room; oh, and they still haven't finished the master bedroom. He says he is going to get all those rooms finished this weekend, but we have heard that before, so we're not celebrating just yet. Even so, he really is close to being ready to spray the knock-down in those areas. Some of them just need a little sanding before they are ready; only the master bedroom and the bonus room still have mud work waiting, and that is primarily on the corners which they have started. If they do get those rooms finished, the garage is still untouched.

Unless they surprise me and really get in there and work; I seriously doubt they will finish before the weekend is through. However, they might get some other rooms textured. We'll see. 

In the meantime, I managed to catch up to them with the painting before they textured the kitchen and family room. Since they got those rooms finished, I have more work to do. I painted the bedroom area hall last night, so other than the master bedroom, that whole wing of the house is finished -- paint-wise anyway. I'll probably get back on the tile work this weekend. I want to get the tile set so we can get our cabinets started. The floor tile in the master bathroom is set but not grouted, and the laundry room and main bath are ready to set.

Here are some pictures of the texture and the painting we've done recently.


Hallway - before
Hallway - after
Hallway - during... My best side... :-)
Laundry Room - this is one of the first rooms we painted before deciding to texture the rest of the house. Unfortunately, most of the pictures I took of the painted rooms didn't turn out well, so this is it.
Family room - freshly textured
Dining room - you might be able to make out the knock-down texture in this picture. It looks better in person.

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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 3/28/2008

Over the past weekend, our drywall company managed to get a full third of the house ready to paint!!! We're very excited. Unfortunately, I am currently in New Orleans on business this week, and the area wasn't dry enough to prime until late afternoon on Sunday, so I haven't been able to get it all primed yet. I did get three bedrooms along with their closets primed so all that is left is the hallway and the closets in the hallway. That just leaves the master bedroom, which they haven't sprayed the texture on yet; they still have to put corner beads on the tray ceiling in that room.

I've been away for three days today and in my absence, they managed to get several rooms on the north third of the house ready to prime as well. I'm going to have my work cut out for me when I return but that is good news for a change.

I used the Wagner Spraytech Paint Crew Plus to prime the last rooms, and it sprayed Kilz primer just fine, and spraying is much easier than rolling, no doubt about it.

I'm headed home tomorrow and look forward to more painting. By the way, we decided to have knock-down texture put on walls and ceilings for the rest of the house, and it looks great. However, it does soak up more primer than smooth walls. Something to keep in mind if you are thinking about texturing your walls.

I've got to go, but I'll post again soon.

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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 3/20/2008

I would have never thought I'd still be working on drywall at this point, but that's where I am. The sub has been a little unreliable, in that he misses days sometimes - and others he doesn't put in a full day. He never puts in more than about seven hours in a single day anyway. But he is getting somewhat close to completing the house at least; he still has to do the garage, though. As of today, he is two weeks over his original estimation for completion, but he is close, and other than missing a few things here and there - he’s been doing good work. Two weeks doesn’t sound like much at first, but when you consider that the hangers took three weeks (two weeks longer than projected and what it should have taken), then the finisher didn’t start for two weeks after that! I was originally told a week and a half, and then that was stretched to three weeks by the guy actually doing the work. We’ve been in the drywall stage for 10 weeks! That’s way too long. I kick myself because I made some lousy choices in drywall subs, and now I’m paying for it.

As I mentioned in the last post, I asked the sub to finish out our master bathroom first because I have some intricate tilework to do in there. If he'd do that for me, at least I'd have something to work on while he finished the rest of the house. Well, he finally did what I asked, but he just took three weeks to do it. He had most of it finished for about a week - but there were two wide-angled corners in the water closet for which he needed a rubber knife to finish, and he didn’t have one. His boss, the sub I actually hired has them, but they both kept forgetting to get one over to the house. I didn’t find this out until he told me that the bathroom and master closet were ready to be primed and painted. When I went in to prime the water closet, I noticed that those two corners weren’t finished and asked the sub about it. He’d forgotten, again, about the corners and the knife; that's when I found out what he was waiting on. I went ahead and primed the main part of the bathroom and he told me that he’d paint the water closet himself if he ended up delaying me any more on it. Kari and I went forward and painted the rest of the bathroom and the master closet, but I talked to the sub about the tool he needed, and told him I’d pick one up the next day so he could complete the water closet. I did as I said, but when I took it to him at lunch he’d already gotten one from his boss. Go figure. When I talked to him yesterday, he said he was going to spray the knock-down pattern on the ceilings in the south half of the house which would give use more rooms to work on while he finishes up. He’s planning on taking off a couple of days to work on another job, which has been delayed because of ours, so he’s trying to get plenty of work laid out for my wife and I, so he’s not holding us up.

We are starting to see some real progress though, for all my complaining. He’s almost finished with the mud in the house, and we’ve managed to paint three rooms (out of about 18 or so) and I’ve even laid floor tile in the master bath. I also have backer board down in the laundry room and plan on laying the CBU in the main-house bath soon. I have the tile for the house bath, so I’ll probably get around to setting that this weekend, assuming I don’t get caught up painting instead. I just got the Kerdi in for the master bath shower today, and I ordered the rest of our tile. We’ll use it throughout the laundry, utility, kitchen, dining and foyer areas of the house. I have pictures of the master-bath floor, but I haven’t been able to grout that floor yet, so it’s not finished. I had to special order the grout because nobody had the color we wanted in stock, same goes for the other bathroom. That at least is one good thing about the other tile we’ll be using in the house; it’s a dark brown slate color, and the grout for it is readily available at Home Depot.

Also, I finished the wiring in the master closet and about half of the master bath, so we have permanent lights, receptacles and switches in that area. And the insulation company will be at the house tomorrow to blow cellulose in the attic. Plus, I called the cabinet guy to give him a status update of where we are, and he put us on his schedule behind two other projects. So we’re about three weeks out from having cabinets, maybe four. Our appliances are all on order and scheduled for an April delivery. I should have all of the flooring (that I’m doing) done by then, and probably most if not all of the painting, so carpet will go down around that time too. We’ve definitely got some momentum going right now. I hope it stays that way, because I really am ready to finish this project. It’s been long and a lot of work, but I’ve enjoyed most of it. I’m especially having fun with the tile right now.

Speaking of tile, I thought I was going to save some money on that trade by borrowing a friend’s tile saw. He offered it, I didn’t ask, but I typically avoid borrowing stuff from people, especially expensive items because I’m always afraid that it might break while I have it, and I would feel obligated to fix it. But I let him loan me his saw because it was so much better than the one I had planned on buying. It’s about a $400 saw compared to the $80 one I was going to buy. I used it on about half of the master bath floor, and then it quit cutting. At first I thought I’d worn the blade out so I bought a replacement for $50; that’s almost as much as the saw I was going to buy; so that didn’t sit too well. The new blade cut great, but after I cut one tile, I noticed that the motor seemed like it was dragging. Sure enough, the belt had started slipping, and the belt burned up! When I took the cover off, the belt was almost worn all the way through at one spot. Well, I spent a couple of hours trying to find a belt for the saw with no luck, and I was losing productivity. So, I weighed my options and decided that I’d fix his saw later, but I was held up without one, so I went to Home Depot and bought one of their Husky-brand saws. It cost $300, which was a lot more than I wanted to spend, but I had determined that it was actually the best one for my needs - since it has mitering and plunge features (both of which I need for my project) that surpassed the capabilities of my friend’s saw, and it also has laser sighting to boot. The laser feature alone has really increased my productivity with the tile cuts. I need to clarify that my friend’s saw is an industrial-quality saw, the likes of which professionals use, and the one I bought is not; but it is great for my project. And the Husky cuts great! It has a smallish motor, but it runs at 7,000 RPM's and really cuts through the tiles with quick, clean cuts. Also, it does a great job at keeping the tile and the blade wet; that’s another area where it surpasses the borrowed saw. In case you can’t tell, I’m pretty pleased with the saw. Besides the features I listed above, it also came with a stand, which is nice. The only complaint I have with it so far is that the laser vibrates out of adjustment pretty much after every cut. It wasn’t nearly that bad when I first started using the saw, but since the blade has been worn down somewhat now, and there is more vibration during the cuts, I have to adjust the laser between cuts. On the upside, the laser adjusts very quickly and easily. Anyway, I like the saw and considering I’m saving a minimum of $8,000 by doing my own tilework, I think the $300 investment is going to be worth it. By the way, I finally found a replacement belt for my friend’s saw today; that was an ordeal. I think I’ll get his going and return it before I break anything else.

I’m something of a bookworm, and I’m an aggressive DIY'er, so I did a lot of research before starting my tilework and since. I actually set about 300 sq. ft. of tile in our current house about eight years ago, but nothing like what I’m doing on this job. When it’s all said and done, I’ll have set about 2,000 sq. ft. of tile in this new house. The last job I did was a fairly straight forward, rectangular, two-room job. With this new house, there are a lot of odd angles for which to account, multiple rooms (about half of the house) and I’ll be tiling bathtubs and showers, which I’ve never done. Consequently, a lot of my research has been focused on building a waterproof shower. That is where the Kerdi comes in. If you’re not familiar with this product and you are building a new home, I’d recommend you check it out. You can find all sorts of information online via Schluter’s website and on tile-centric message boards. I’ve found some of the most useful info on the John Bridge tile forums where amateurs and professionals alike hang out and try to help each other with tiling issues. And if you spend much time in the forums, you can also learn what not to do via the many horror stories of mostly bathroom projects gone awry! Judging by the posts on the tile forums, I would guess that most professional tile setters are already using and recommending Kerdi, and I’d be leery of any that aren’t. Anyway, Kerdi is an amazing product by all accounts, and I look forward to using it in my home. It does add some additional cost to a shower project, but it is completely waterproof, unlike the older traditional methods of shower-building. Check it out and judge for yourself.

I almost forgot, I also bought a Wagner Paint Crew Plus paint sprayer. We’ve got a lot of house to paint and I wanted something that would do it as fast and neat as possible without going completely industrial. Well, I bought the sprayer at Lowe's for $200 and I’ve got to say that I am impressed. I painted our master bathroom in about 15 minutes and the master closet in less than 7 minutes! It took me longer to put the thing together than it did to paint those two rooms. I was a little concerned that I might not be able to use it well, but it turned out pretty darn good. It does take about 20-30 minutes to clean the sprayer after you’re finished with it, but that’s not bad when you consider how much painting you can get done with it in a short time. Actually, it might not take quite that long once I get used to the steps and don't have to take time to read the directions at each point along the way. The bathroom was the worst, because it’s about half tile and half sheetrock, so we had to tape off the areas that we didn’t want to get paint on, which took some prep time. It actually took longer to do that than to paint the room, but the prep work was neither hard nor overly time-consuming. I’m not sure I’d bother with it for smaller rooms unless they were going to share a paint color with other rooms that you can do at the same time, but for larger rooms such as bedrooms and the public areas of your house, it is a great tool. Also, rooms other than bathrooms are a lot easier to prep (for new construction anyway); you only need to cover up doors and windows unless you’ve got something special such as flooring already in the room, which you need to cover. If you do get one of these, or something similar to do your own painting, practice with it on spare sheetrock or in a small, out-of-the-way room until you get the hang of it. I found it very easy to use, but you can get runs pretty quickly if you aren’t careful. Anyway, it beats rolling the paint on for sure!

Well, I think that’s about it for now. I’ve still got a lot of work to do before I can put up my work boots, but at least the little bit of aesthetic progress we’ve made so far has lifted mine and my wife’s spirits this month.



Here's a picture of the tile saw I bought. I've read a lot of decent reviews from professional tile setters about this saw. Even though it's not an industrial saw, it seems the pros like it.
Light switch in master bath. The picture doesn't do the paint color justice but it is a darkish, gray/green. Should look great with the tile and white trim.
Isn't it amazing how much joy you can derive from something as simple as getting your exhaust fan finished out? You can also see the ceiling texture in this photo.
Here's our paint sprayer. You load the materials into the removable bucket at the top. It'll hold 2.5 gallons of paint at a time.
Here's my tile when it was about half done in the master bath.
This isn't the half of it but you can get an idea of the angles I'm dealing with from this photo. There are many such angles throughout the house, mostly where I decided to install tile. How stupid does that make me?

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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 2/19/2008

Well, I have to say that the excitement I had while adding my last post has completely burned out. The drywall hangers took three weeks, in other words FOREVER, to get the rock on the walls. It should have been a week-long job at the most, and they completely drug their feet. In the last post, I was excited thinking I was going to be painting by now but nope, didn't happen. The sub who hung the drywall was originally supposed to mud it too, but after talking to him and seeing how long it took him to hang it and how sloppy they were, I told him that I was going to get someone else to do it.

I had originally told the guy I'd probably let him do the mud work but afterward I saw another job that he did and I was less than impressed. The truth is it scared me. I'm building a very upscale house for my town and this guy did substandard mud work. So, I started calling other subs in the area to get someone else on the job and completely struck out all around; I couldn't find anybody to do it. I thought I was going to have to stick with the original guy until at the last moment I finally found someone with a good reputation to take the job. I felt like a load had been lifted and I felt a lot better. I talked with the guy and he pointed out several rough areas in the rock that would have to be fixed but he said they'd take care of it and it wouldn't be a problem to make the place look good. Man, that made me and my wife feel so much better. The only downside was he told me it'd be another week before he could start; but he said it would only take a week and a half to two weeks to finish. I was looking at probably four weeks with the other guy anyway so that was still a time savings and he’s a better-quality finisher to boot, so I was okay with the delay.

Then the other shoe dropped. The new guy was four days late getting started on my house and instead of working the job himself, he hired it out to another sub. By all accounts the guy he hired is a quality finisher, but he is known to be slow and in fact, he told my wife we were looking at three weeks. Now, I'm back where I started timewise and the only good thing to come of all of this is that I expect we'll get a quality finish out of it. That is definitely worth more time to me, but I can't help but be disappointed. Oh, and it's going to cost me $2,900 more than the original guy too; but that is okay with me because the original guy underquoted the job considerably. He probably would have been asking for more money before it was all said and done if I had allowed him to proceed.

I was in a hurry trying to get as much done before the end of February as possible, because that is when my loan expires, but from day one I've had problems with subs dragging the job out - so I don't know why I expected any better from these drywall finishers. At their current rate of productivity, it's likely to take them more than the three weeks we were last quoted, too. I mean, we're talking about one guy working alone (so far anyway) on about 4,200 sq. ft. of floorspace, and he seems to be working somewhere else part of the day, and then hitting my job in the afternoons. Consequently, he's only been putting in about four or five hours a day since he started, and he's only worked on the job three days so far. I would complain about that, but at this point it isn't going to accomplish anything. I'm going to have to get an extension, no question about that now, and since this is the only drywall finisher I could get to even take the job, I don't have a lot of options.

If you can't tell from my tone, I'm a little down right now. I was hoping to be in the house before the end of March and just a few weeks ago, I didn't think that would be too hard to accomplish. Now, I'm thinking we may be lucky to move in by the end of April, and it’s all thanks to slowpoke subs. I've still got tile to put down after the mudding and sanding is done, and a lot of painting to do as well. I'll probably hire out the finish carpentry. Early on, I had planned on doing that part myself, but we're too far gone on the project now. I'll do the tile and the painting for sure, and I'll be doing the finish electrical and plumbing too, but that is about it. Right now, I'm just spinning my wheels, waiting anxiously for these guys to get out of my way. I did request that they finish the master bath first so that I could go ahead with the tilework in there. Maybe I'll feel better once I have something to do besides wait...

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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 1/24/2008

Finally! We did it! Whoopee! We finally covered up the studs and have actual rooms in the house! We are so excited. It has taken much longer than we anticipated, but we finally have drywall hung in the house! I was there at lunch today, and the downstairs portion of the house is almost completely hung; it should be finished by the time I get home today. All they lack is the bonus room upstairs and finishing the garage (waiting on Hardie Siding for the garage). I don't have any pictures uploaded that show the drywall going in, but I do have pictures of it being loaded into the house, and you can see the insulation in the walls in these photos as well.

This is a major milestone for us. It means we are getting close. We should be painting within the next two weeks, and I'll be laying tile shortly thereafter. The power company cut us over to permanent power last week, and I had to wire up a couple of receptacles for the subs to use inside the house. I also installed the garage-door lights and have tested them. My garage doors are going in tomorrow and after they are in place, I can start leaving those lights on; I didn't want them on at night showing everyone what we had in the garage. This weekend, while the drywall subs are working in the house, I may wire up my security lights and the lights and receptacles in the attic. I can't do a lot inside the house without getting in their way, so I'll piddle around for now; I need the break anyway.

It's very exciting to finally feel like we are getting close. There are still a hundred little things that have to be done, but we are getting there. We've been shooting for the end of February as a completion date, but more and more it looks like it will probably be the end of March. That still works out nicely for us, though.


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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 1/10/2008

I don't think I took any pictures of my wiring in the house. I guess I've just been too busy doing it to even think about taking pictures of it. I'm finished now. I wired the house for 400-amp service and I have the cut over from temporary service to permanent called in. That should take place any day now. The electric company doesn't give you notice once you order service; they just show up. I ended up installing a 320-class meter base with two 200-amp external disconnects, which connect back to two 200-amp breaker panels in the house. The service wire ended up costing $1,000 and that was for aluminum wire. I wanted to use copper, but it was going to cost $2,500. I ran 6,000+ feet of 12/2 wire in the house as well as a roll of 12/3 for three-way switches. I installed 24 recessed lights, the insulation rated variety, and boxes for 6 ceiling fans and a bunch of regular light fixtures. I also wired for under the cabinet lighting in the kitchen and security lighting outside. I used a box and a half of recepticle boxes, plus quite a few multigang boxes throughout the house; that's close to 200 electric boxes, not counting lights. I used an entire box of light boxes, I think there were 48 in the box, plus the fan boxes. Many of the wall boxes were for low-voltage wiring such as network, phones and TV. That reminds me, I ran nearly 3,000 feet of Cat5 for phones, network and other devices and nearly 2,000 feet of RG6 coax, and almost 500 feet of speaker wire (I'm not actually finished running for speakers, but that's all I'm going to run for now).

I finished wiring this past Sunday... well, that's not entirely true. I still have some finishing up to do but nothing much. My insulation contractor started on Tuesday prepping the house for cellulose. My wife had already caulked and foamed cracks all over the house but the insulation contractor has more experience at that and he found several places that Kari missed, not enough to make a real impact though. Anyway, he touched up the caulk and foam and he prepped the open walls and ceiling between the two floors with mesh on Tuesday and final prepped on Wednesday morning. He finally started blowing cellulose at around 2:00 on Wednesday afternoon. He thinks he'll finish most of the house today and finish the job tomorrow morning. So, I've got sheetrock scheduled for delivery tomorrow afternoon and my sheetrock hanger is supposed to start hanging the ceilings this weekend. Some of the inside walls are hung already. They were put in on one side to hold the insulation for those particular inside walls so we were excited finally see some walls covered up!

I also got my front yard built up yesterday. I still need to finish grade it so that it is completely level and smooth but it is close already. There is still a lot of work to do in the back yard though. We've had a lot of rain so far this past fall and winter so the trenches I dug for my geothermal air and heat system have settled... a lot. I'll have plenty of time to work on that once the house is complete though.

I've still got a lot to do, but things are coming together nicely. The outside of the house has been finished for several weeks now, and I look forward to completing the inside soon.

Until next time...

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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 12/6/2007

To date, the siding company I hired has been one of the most professional subs I've hired. The owners have really impressed me. They have been very professional in their communication and quick to respond to queries. They started working on the house last Wednesday I believe it was, and are getting close to finishing the siding, soffit, and fascia portion of their job. They still have to install the gutters after that.

I had picked a green color for the siding and white for the soffit and fascia. After ordering the green, I started second–guessing myself about the color. I had no doubt that the green would look good, but I wasn't sure about mixing green and white, even though the architectural concept drawing showed white and green (a lot lighter green than what I had chosen). So, I fretted about it for a long time.  Had the green been a stock color, I could have seen what it would look like from samples, but it was special order and I didn't want to wait on a sample and then have to wait that much longer on getting it done.

Once they started hanging it and I got my first glance at it, I was still not on board with it. But after they finished the south end of the house where I could see the full effect, I was less apprehensive about it; still not 100% happy, though. However, after a couple of days of looking at it, it started to grow on me and I started to come around. It wasn't until they did the front porch though that I became fully satisfied and indeed, ecstatic about how it looked. The siding guys were sold on it from the start, but I fell in love with it once I saw that green on the porch. It really looks great to me. Of course, color preferences are always biased and everyone likes something different, but I think I did good with the siding colors. See for yourself.


South End of the House
Storm Room/Master Closet
Storm Room... Again
It's getting there.
North End of House
Front of the House (100% Happy!)

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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 12/6/2007

I had my jack-of-all trades, do-it-all sub frame out my shower and bathtub in the master bathroom. The walls around the vanity and toilet areas will likely be sheetrocked, but the floors and walls around the bathtub and shower will all be tiled for certain. My wife chose a design for the shower that includes an extension of the tub surround into the shower to create a bench inside the shower with an arched glass wall between the shower and the tub. We'll install a frameless glass door on the shower as well. We haven't decided on tile yet, but we're leaning toward a green porcelain style that looks like marble. My wife is pretty much sold on a green tile in the master bathroom. All of the plumbing fixtures are a rustic bronze color and the cabinets are going to be a dark, red, cherry color. If we can pull it off, it should turn out pretty good.


Drop-in Jacuzzi style tub.
View from the closet doorway.

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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 12/6/2007

I decided to use PEX for my water supply and I ran it myself. I found it very easy to work with and quick to install. I bought most of my pipe and my tools from Home Depot and Lowe's. Home Depot seems to have the best prices between the two stores, at least in our city, but Lowe's has a better selection of fittings. The actual pipe coils are the same price and brand at either store. I bought most of my fittings and my manifolds from for considerable savings, and the service was pretty good too. I checked with local plumbing supply companies, but they didn't carry much in the way of PEX products and what they did have was way overpriced. Our city inspector was very impressed with how neat the installation looked.

I installed two manifolds, one for the south end of the house, which takes care of the two main bathrooms and the laundry room and another at the north end which covers the half bath and the kitchen. I stubbed all of the sinks and toilets out through the wall using 90-degree mounting plates made for that purpose and I brought the fridge, icemaker, washing machine and showers straight up through the wall to the fixtures. Even though I don't have to put separate shutoffs on the sinks and toilets (because the manifolds have individual shutoffs), I'll probably do that anyway after the sheetrock goes on and the cabinets are installed. Right now, I have all supply lines plugged off for pressure testing.


South Manifold
North Manifold
Kitchen Sink
Half Bath: These pipes were stubbed out of the wall after the picture was taken.
Output box for the clothes washer.

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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 12/6/2007

I hired a childhood friend of mine to do our driveway and sidewalks. We aren't close friends, we just grew up in the same area and I dated his sister when we were kids. I see him from time to time at Little League ballgames where both our kids play during the summer. But I didn't know that he was a concrete contractor until recently. It turns out, that he is a very good concrete contractor. If I had known about him early on, I'd have had called him about doing my foundation. Anyway, he did an excellent job on the concrete for the house. The first day they were out there, they poured a little under half the concrete, probably 18 to 20 yards, and it was a little cool, so the concrete didn't dry very quickly and he stayed with it until after 11:00 pm to make sure it was worked out the way it should be. It all looks very good. I have to say that he ended up being one of the most professional tradesmen I've hired during this project and his work was better than I expected. I'm very pleased with how it turned out.

I wanted a wide driveway so that when we entertain guests, we'll have plenty of parking so we poured it extra wide and a little longer than necessary to accomplish my goals. I estimate that if we pushed it, we could probably park up to 12 vehicles in the garage and the driveway. The boys now have a place to ride their scooters, skates, and bikes, too. It hasn't really rained since the walks and driveway went in, so I don't know for certain, but there appears to be plenty of drop on all the flatwork so that it won't hold water. It is supposed to rain Saturday so maybe I'll find out for sure this weekend.

I had the walkways curve around for looks. I plan on doing some landscaping between the walks and the house. I also had a walk put in out to the road, but afterward I noticed that most people don't seem to do that anymore; I've used it several times already though, so maybe it isn't too much.


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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 12/6/2007

It's been a while since I posted new pictures of the house, and I've just been catching up on my images. I'm going to post the miscellaneous stuff in this post and then do separate posts for the more specific areas for which I have images.

A lot of stuff has been done since I last posted to the blog. My masons finished up their part, finally. Now I have brick steps on the front porch, the stonework is finished and everything looks great! I'm including some photos of the brickwork. Of course you can see the brick on the house in all the images, but they did a neat job on my mailbox and my front porch steps (I don't have a specific picture of the steps, but you can see them in some of the other photos.)

I've pretty much completed the plumbing; there are some minor things that need to be completed, but the part that needed to be done for the sheetrock is done. I've started on the electric and I'm making good progress there. The outside is almost finished. One day last week I had four different subs on site, which made for the busiest day around that house in a long time. It felt good to see progress being made. My driveway and sidewalks are now in, my siding is almost finished, my HVAC system is installed and lacks about one more day of work to be complete (but that won't take place until water and electric are turned on in the house.) I've got all my PEX pipe stubbed out in the house and connected to the manifolds; all I lack is the main feed connections from the street, and I can do those at any time. We are getting there.

I've also had a framer, who up until recently has been working for someone else, doing some miscellaneous-type work around the house, jobs that I'd have to do myself if I didn't hire him. He framed up my master bath, the steps on my patios and in the garage, he installed my porch posts, and I've had him fix various things in the framing that weren't quite right. He did a nice job on the porch steps as you can see in the photos. All in all, he has been a huge help to me and he does good work, but at a very reasonable price. I'd be much farther behind if it weren't for him helping me out when I need someone. Of course, he is doing it for the money, but he is particular about his workmanship too.

Check out my next posts for more images, especially the siding post.


Nice Mailbox
Patio outside the master bedroom.
Patio outside the breakfast nook area.
Steps inside the garage.
Porch posts. There are some on the back of the house too.

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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 11/8/2007

Since the last post, I spent a month of getting next to nothing done. My oldest son plays soccer and he had tournaments, most of them out of town, every weekend of the month. So, October was pretty well shot, but I've made some real progress in the last two weeks. I've managed to get back on my plumbing and I've just about got it all roughed in. I also got the wall between the garage and the house closed in, so once I get the last two locks on the house, I can finally start locking it up. I got the master bathroom framed up and we finally decided the final layout of the both the master bath and the kitchen so I was able to get the plumbing going and start nailing down the cabinet details.

My masons returned yesterday and finally finished my stonework on the outside. I got a call from the siding company and the siding is due in tomorrow so we should be rolling pretty soon. It's really all starting to click again, so I'm feeling much better. I expect to start insulating in two or three weeks and drywalling not long afterward; now that will be a milestone for sure. I can't wait!

I've got my wife working on picking out colors and fixtures so I think she feels more involved now. I've pretty much been doing it all since we started, and I think she kind of felt left out or in the dark. But I don't think she really wanted to be involved that much up to this point. I've tried many times to show her what is going on and how it all comes together but she can't "see" it like I can. And man, do I see it. I dream about it all night and think about it all day!

Well, I'm off to work on the house again tonight. I've taken another vacation day tomorrow, so I'll have a long weekend to work on getting things done.

Until next time...

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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 10/17/2007

I don't know if I mentioned it or not, but my original framer took a long time to "complete" his job and then left me hanging in the end. He didn't manage his draws well in that he took the money he made and put most of it into his own house which he is building in a nearby city instead of keeping some back in reserve. When it ended up taking him longer to complete the house than it should have, he no longer had any draws left to pay his crew and had to lay most of them off; which of course had the snowball effect of causing the job to take even longer.

In my opinion, a big part of the reason it took him too long to build the house is that he never put in a full day, at least not until he was down to just he and his son working on the job. He never got started before 9:00 and then he would quit by 2:00, every day. And this was during the spring when the weather was beautiful and the heat was mild. Anyway, the guy did quality work except that he is a lousy manager. He ended up finishing probably 98% - 99% of my house and then he got some other jobs and left me hanging. He did come back two or three times on Saturdays to "finish" up, but I had to wait at least a week, sometimes two, before I'd see him, and then he’d only work two or three hours. I tried to get the guy to do what was right, but he is a scumbag; plain and simple. More than once, when he was framing other houses, it rained and of course he could have worked on mine since it was in the dry, and I mentioned this to him, but he never did. He did manage to finish most of the house and for the most part he did a good job, but I ended up hiring another framer to come in behind him and fix the few things that weren't done exactly the way they needed to be done and to finish up what was left undone by the first framer. I started out finishing the job myself, but I simply don't have the time to do it all and so I brought in someone to help. That's working out a lot better for me anyway, because this guy is good and he is much faster than I am at getting it done.

I started off by having the new framer finish the soffit framing and getting ready for my siding company to come in and finish the exterior of the house. I need to get this step completed so I can get back to what I need to be doing, the plumbing and the electrical. Obviously, I have to get those two items completed before I can move on to the rest of the interior trades. So, having to finish up for the first framer really put a kink in my progress. On the bright side, the new guy is doing good work and he has a fresh perspective on such things like attic bracing, and so he is able to point out and fix areas or add to what the other guy did to make an even stronger house.

Since I finally made some real progress at getting my exterior ready for the siding, I went ahead and contacted the company I had chosen to get the details nailed down and get them scheduled to come out. I'm still waiting on them to come back one more time with an updated quote after I made changes and added detail, of which they weren't aware, but it looks like they will probably start in about two weeks.

I'll be glad to get the siding finished. This is the last major trade I have left for the outside of the house. Well, I still have to put the driveway and sidewalks in, but I mean on the physical house, that is the last trade I have to get done. There will be other minor stuff, but once the siding is on, the house is going to look almost finished from the outside! 

The siding company I picked uses Alcoa brand siding and the color I picked is Hazelwood, which is a dark green color. Our fascia, soffit, windows and other trim are all in white. I'm hoping the house turns out the way I have it pictured. I chose to use ridge vents to ventilate the attic, and the siding company is going to install continuous vent soffit for good airflow in the attic. I can't wait to see how it turns out.

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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 10/10/2007

We're still going, but not very quickly. I've been busy with work and haven't had as much time to spend on the house as I'd like; plus soccer season has started back up and school, so we're busy running around with the boys because of that. But I've got to get focused back on the task at hand and get our house finished. I'm expecting to finish sometime around February but I've still got a lot to do.

Most recently, I had our HVAC system delivered and roughed in. The unit hasn't been installed, but the ductwork field loops and all are in place. I had been kicking around the idea of going with geothermal for over a year and had been going back and forth on it due to the extreme costs I kept hearing about. On the one hand, the technology is extremely efficient and should save us money on our monthly heating and cooling usage, but on the other, the initial purchase costs, as I had been told and read about, were prohibitive. Many people have the opinion that even though you save on heating and cooling, you may never get payback on the initial investment, or at a minimum it will take 10 to 15 years.

I’ve based most of my energy efficient design choices on the teachings of Doug Rye, and he usually says that geothermal will pay for itself in about 5-8 years. Of course, how long it takes really depends on how much you save every month and how much the system costs, which can vary greatly depending on your location and size of your home. I've done a lot of research on this myself and I have seen time and time again stories from people who had purchased geothermal where the systems were expensive, $4K+/ton in many cases, and those stories gave credence to the naysayers. In addition, those stories would steer me away from what I thought should be the best way to go.  However, when I finally started getting my own bids; I saw two sides to this issue. On the one hand, I got a bid from a reputable company with decades of experience and history in the geothermal market; actual manufacturers of geothermal heat pumps. And on the other, I got a bid from a regular HVAC services company that installs both conventional systems and geothermal systems.

Hydro-Temp, the manufacturer/service company, gave me an excellent price on their system. My house is 3,400 sq ft, and I'm taking steps to build it with energy efficiency in mind. And Hydro-Temp took all that information into account when they did the load calculations for my house and came up with a solution based on a single, six-ton, three-stage system. The three stage compressor allows the unit to function as a 2, 4, or 6-ton system and will be installed with automatic damper controls to keep the house at the right temperature for each of the three zones we'll be using. Hydro-Temp really did a great job of taking my plans and desires and coming up with a solution that meets our HVAC needs, but also matches my own desires for an energy-efficient home. 

On the other hand, I got the feeling that the other geothermal dealer just wanted my hard-earned cash. From what I’ve found in my research, there shouldn’t be such a huge discrepancy between conventional and geothermal systems; not at least based on equipment costs. The equipment isn’t greatly more expensive, although it is more. And the installation is similar, the biggest difference being the ground-loop installation. Well, I watched those guys install my ground loop and it wasn’t that hard. They laid the pipes in about thirty minutes. I’d say that there isn’t very much difference in the time it takes to install the ground loop (assuming the trenches are already dug) and the time it takes to install the outside condenser unit of a more conventional system. No doubt, it does take longer, but I don’t think the time difference is great enough to warrant the huge price differences between geothermal and conventional heat pumps. The duct installation is the same, so there should be no difference in cost there.

I think it boils down to supply and demand. I think the local service company is about the only game in town (for geothermal anyway; the company I hired came from another town, about an hour away) and because of that, they can charge what they want and I think they are taking advantage of the situation to overinflate the price. The service company’s bid was more than twice what Hydro-Temp quoted and their bid was more along the $4K - $5K/ton estimates I’d been seeing on the Web. In fact, they were $5K+, which is just too much. At least, that is my opinion. I think that this company knows that people expect geothermal to be overly expensive and instead of doing their best to deflate those prices and notions and get more people on the better technology; they are taking advantage of it and are charging as much as they can get away with. That’s fine; I can understand the desire to do that. But the result is less people buy geothermal because it is “too expensive”, and instead, they buy conventional systems and mostly the least-efficient models, which results in higher electricity usage in our nation as a whole. Wouldn’t it be better if this company would charge a reasonable price for geothermal? True, it would still be more expensive, but the difference between conventional systems and geothermal would narrow considerably and more people would opt for geothermal, which would result in less electricity usage in the long run and the service company would likely make more money as well.

Besides the two geothermal bids (I wanted more but had trouble finding a third installer locally), I also got three conventional bids. I was pleasantly surprised to have Hydro-Temp's bids come in very close to the conventional heat pump bids. The cheapest bid I got for a conventional system was $13K, and the most expensive was for a high-end, 16 SEER, multistage, conventional heat pump that actually came in at a higher price than what Hydro-Temp quoted for my geothermal system, a lot more! Yep, that is correct; my geothermal system is going in at a competitive cost to a comparable conventional heat pump system. I’m very happy with the price I got on my HVAC system and the service the company has provided so far; and I’m getting geothermal, which is what I really wanted. I’m very pleased.

By the way, I opted for the horizontal ground-loop configuration, as I had plenty of land to dig and install the loops. It was my responsibility as homeowner to get the trenches for the ground loops dug, so I ended up renting a backhoe and digging them myself. I have a small tractor with front-end loader and backhoe, and I intended to use it to dig the trenches, but it was going to take too long for my particular situation so I called a rental company and had a backhoe delivered. I had to dig six trenches, two feet wide by six feet deep by 240 feet long, as well as an additional four feet deep trench across the end of the other six to join them all together near the house. When it was all said and done, the backhoe rental cost me $650; I checked with a local owner/operator and it would have ended up costing about twice that if I had hired someone to dig the trenches for me. It was a lot of work and it took me three days to dig the trenches and another day to cover them back up, but I know it is going to be worth it in the long run. Of course, I’ll need to level my yard once the trenches have time to settle, but it needed that anyway.

Other than heat and air, my bricks on the house are complete, and I have a brick mailbox out by the road but my stonework is only half done and I want to add brick around the front porch. I have to get a brick ledge put in around the porch before the bricklayers will come back and finish. Also, I’m in the process of getting the rest of the outside veneer put on. Most of the house is brick, but there are a few gables and other areas that are going to be covered in siding. I have a siding contractor in mind, but I’ve got some prep work to complete before I can schedule him to do the work. Part of that prep work includes a couple of windows that need to be covered in stucco. I’ve hired a stucco sub and he started working on that last week. Plus, due to the way the house went together, there are a few places that I need to close up for energy reasons that will be hidden by the siding so I need to get them closed before having the siding installed. It won’t be long, though.

The inside is another story. It’s basically still a shell. I’ve been working on other things like light framing, trench digging, cleanup, etc., and my plumbing and electrical work has taken a back seat to more pressing needs. Consequently, the inside of the house is at a standstill. Once I finally get the siding contractor going, I expect to be able to finish up on plumbing and electrical, but of course by then I’ll have to get it done because I’ll be holding up the other trades. My wife did manage to get the front door stained and some of the walls caulked, though.

I don’t regret deciding to contract myself or do the trades that I’m doing. In fact, I have to do those trades in order to be able to afford the finished product. The contracting part of the job is not that bad for me, but the trades are simply going to take time that I don’t have and will have to make. However, in the end, it will all be worth it.

The pictures in this post show how the yard was torn up for the geothermal ground loops. I dug all the trenches myself. One of the photos shows my dad covering them back up. He used the full-sized backhoe while I used my tractor to level the ground better after he covered the holes. At that point, we were getting as much done with the backhoe as possible before having to send it back. Unfortunately, we couldn’t completely cover the holes, because although the PE pipe for the ground loops had been laid, it wasn’t fused at the ends yet. I ended up covering up the connecting trench and the ends of all of the other six trenches using my little tractor. It did a fine job at it, though.

There are also some pictures of the stucco work. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures of the early stages of the stucco. I’ll try to get a few more before it is finished.


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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 9/1/2007

My framers still haven't finished. They worked on my house for over a month without a draw because they slowed down so much that they ran out of draws. Realistically, they only have a couple of days work at the house if they'd come in early, work all day at it and really try to finish. But instead, they started another house and stayed away for two weeks. But they did finally come back today and installed the rest of my windows, so I guess I'm officially, finally, in the dry!

In other news, I've been working on my plumbing for the last couple of weeks. I've got most of the drains and vents for two of my bathrooms and the laundry room installed. I plan on working on the tubs this weekend. I bought a corner jacuzzi for the master bath as shown in the plans and a standard jacuzzi for the main bath, which the kids will use.

Also, my masons started the bricks this week. The guy I hired was working a crew of three, not counting himself. He also had another crew working a house in another city about 30 miles away, and was splitting his time between job sites. They wanted to start on Wednesday, but I wasn't really ready for them yet. They were in a rush to start, so I let them work on prep stuff while I finished getting set for them. They actually started laying brick at about 9:00 on Thursday. By the end of the day, they were about halfway up all the way across the back of the house. These guys show up early and work all day long, till about 7:30 - 8:00 pm. By end of day Friday, they were halfway up all around the house. On Saturday, I decided to sleep until I woke up, for a change and didn't get out to the house until 9:00 am. Imagine my surprise when I get there and there are about 20 guys scurrying around the house laying brick! By the end of the day, they had finished the back side of the house except for right over the windows in the middle and they had finished the south end of the house! Man, those guys were laying some brick.

Well, I've got a few new pictures to post so I hope you enjoy them. The brick is from Acme Brick Company and the color is Brandywine. I also went with red mortar, which is actually Georgia Red. Oh yeah, you'll see in the pictures that my entry door is in. The framers installed it before they started that other house, but I don't know if I ever mentioned it. My wife worked on staining it today. She got the inside stained, but it still needs another coat or two. It's a mahogany door and we're staining it Cherry; it looks good so far, but I didn't get a picture of it stained yet.

We've still got a long way to go, but we are making progress.


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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 8/8/2007

I didn't realize how long it's been since I posted. Let me give you an update. I'm almost in the dry, as the title shows. I don't currently have any pictures to post. I've been using an old CD250 camera of ours to take daily photos and I had about 150 pictures that I lost when the CD I was using somehow became corrupted when I tried to download the pictures. I do have a few pictures, but I don't have them with me.

Anyway, all the rafters are up and the decking is on and most of the shingles have been laid. In fact, all of the shingles on the main roof have been laid with the exception of some decorative "eyebrows" on the house that still need shingles, but that is minor by comparison to the main roof. I've used about 103 squares of shingles so far. Also, the roofers are my framers, so they haven't totally completed their framing yet. I'll get into that below...

I had to fire my first sub when I started the roof. I hired a guy whom I'd been hearing about from others who was supposed to be a good roofer. He quoted me a good price, so we set up a start date and I ordered the materials. He was supposed to show up at 7:00 on Monday, July 16th. So I took the day off to make sure they got a good start and had everything they needed; plus I wanted to monitor his work. I showed up at the job site at 6:30 and hung around until 8:30, no roofers! Now, I've seen this a couple of times already in this project so I about half expect the subs to show up late or not at all on the day they are supposed to start, but it is still infuriating to have to deal with people like that (end of rant).

Anyway, I had the day off so I went with my Dad up to Jonesboro to the local metal recycler where he sold some old air conditioner coils and aluminum. While he was doing that, I called the roofer to see where he was and found out that he had showed up at the house after we left. When we got back, I was immediately concerned because the guy had jumped right into the roofing, but he started on the roof over the front porch instead of the main part of the roof. And instead of just laying felt over the entire roof first and then shingling, he was just laying the felt as he worked his way up with the shingles. Now that in and of itself isn't such a big deal, but it is opposite of what I've seen most roofers do. Also, the porch should have been the last place to be shingled, not the first.  That is because the porch is the ideal place to climb out onto the main roof and as such saw a lot of traffic throughout the roofing part of the project; consequently it received a lot of wear and tear from foot traffic.

Also, the guy didn't leave much overhang around the edges of the roof, less than half an inch. Again, that is more of a preference thing from what I've read; I like mine to overhang about an inch and I told him that. In my research I've read a few messages from professional roofers who do not leave an overhang; but most do. After I spoke to the roofer about it, he started leaving an overhang and we left it at that. But then I noticed pretty quickly that this guy was extremely slow. He worked for me for four days during which most real roofers would have laid somewhere between 40 and 60 squares, but he only laid about 10 squares of shingles! Now, that is extremely slow for a roofer; in fact, I've done a few roofs myself (none of the caliber of my new house) and I know for a fact that I can lay shingles faster than that by myself, using a hammer; and he uses a nail gun and five helpers!

But, even that isn't why I ended up firing the guy. No, I fired him because I noticed that he was putting nails in the flashing in my valleys (in the middle of the valleys!) and he installed my step flashing incorrectly. I'd been leaning toward letting him go almost since he started, but once I started worrying about having a quarter-million-dollar home with a leaky roof, I had to do it. He took it well, almost like he expected it and we parted amicably, so at least that was good. But the guys who ended up installing my shingles had to tear off several squares of shingles that this guy messed up, which was anything but good. Still, it wasn’t a major setback; more a lesson learned.

Then I was left without a roofer. The funny thing is that up to this point, my framing still wasn't finished (heck, it's not finished now either). The roof wasn’t even finished though, just the front side was complete, but I expected the back side to be ready by the time the roofers needed to be there. 

My framer evidently is not a very good business manager, although he does very good work. When he started the job, he told me that at most it would be a four-week job. I wasn't really convinced about that because I thought it would take more like six weeks but I am paying him for the job, not by the hour and I'm not really in a hurry at the moment, so I wasn't overly concerned. He started with a crew of five, which at times expanded to six and even seven. Early on, they made phenomenal progress, but they wouldn't get started until close to 9:00 each morning and would quit somewhere between 2:00 and 3:00 in the afternoon (this was late spring and fairly nice weather for Arkansas; it hadn't even gotten hot yet and they only got rained out twice, one day each time!).

Their work hours seemed odd to me and to others who noticed it, but they were doing great work so I didn't say anything. Most framers and trade subs in general get started earlier around here, 6:00 to 7:00, so they can get a lot of work done before it gets hot in the afternoons. For the first three or four weeks, the framer and his crew made excellent progress. They got all the walls put up and hung the rafters. But once they started decking the roof, they slowed down a little; even so, the main part of the decking went pretty fast. However, I noticed that when I'd go by there and they were working, there seemed to always be several guys standing around.

Now, I was paying the guy in regular draws with the last draw being withheld until the job is complete, and that was mostly based on a six-week finish date; so when I saw guys standing around, I was afraid he was headed for trouble. Once most of the decking was completed, the work seemed to grind to a slow crawl. I mean, they slapped the decking on fast, but the odd thing was that instead of finishing the roof framing before nailing on the decking, they left the edges of the roof unfinished in a lot of places and finished them after the decking was already in place. So, although they had the biggest part of the roof finished, there were still these little unfinished areas all over the place and it took them forever to wrap that stuff up.

In fact, there was a gable and a gazebo-type roof structure on the back side of the house that was still unfinished when the first roofers started on the front side of the house. And there were several unfinished spots around the inside of the house as well that were left undone because the framer has this annoying habit of jumping around instead of finishing what he is working on before moving on to another part of the house (there are still a lot of these little unfinished spots in the house). Anyway, once the framing took a turn from fast to extremely slow, the framer ran out of money; meaning he was down to his last draw, which is still being withheld until the job is completed. So, he had to lay off most of his employees and he started working without pay to finish the job. Honestly, I don't know why he hasn't finished it yet.

It is so close to being finished, that the last draw would easily cover what is left and I suspect most framers would do everything in their power to wrap it up and get out of there, but this guy just keeps getting slower and slower. On the other hand, I'm impressed that he didn't leave altogether when he got to this point. Today begins his fifth week to work on framing without a paycheck (he had three weeks of roofing mixed into that period for which he was paid, though) and he just keeps coming back. It's to the point now that if he did quit, and after all of this I don't think he will, I could finish it myself; that's how close it is.

Anyway, as it turns out, the framer is also an experienced roofer. His son, who works with him on his framing crew, is a roofer and they often roof the houses they build. Well, after I fired my first roofer, I asked my framer if he was interested. Up to this point, he had said that he didn't want to roof the house because it's too big and has too many steep gables (the primary roof is 10/12 pitch, but there several gables on the house, all of which are 12/12 with one exception and it is 18/12; I’ve been on it and it is steep). But he'd gone for a couple of weeks without a paycheck and he jumped on the offer. They’ve been on the roof now for two full weeks and are just about complete. All they lack is an “eyebrow” that needs to be decked and shingled and a few minor touch-up items, and they will be done; about a day’s worth of work really.

But the best thing about them doing the roof is that they had to finish the framing on my “eyebrows” and roof in order to finish the shingles, so I liked that arrangement. Unfortunately, other than roof framing, they haven’t completed much else in the framing department, which was to be expected. They do usually hit some of the framing work when it gets too hot to work on the roof, but most of it has been roof related. All in all, my framers have been on site for roughly two months now and the windows and most of the doors (external of course) have been installed and the roof is almost complete so all they lack as they say is finishing up.

In other news, I’ve been trying to plan and build this house to be energy efficient. Most of the techniques I’m using were learned from Doug Rye via his DVD and one of his seminars, which I attended. I’ve also done tons of research on the subject, so I’m fairly confident it will work. Well, if you’ve studied much on energy efficiency, you’ve no doubt heard about geothermal heat pumps. Everything I’ve read leads me to believe that I need to go that route for long-term efficiency, but the short-term price always gets me to wondering. They are expensive when compared to conventional systems, but much more efficient. There are many valid arguments both for and against going with geothermal, but I wanted to get some quotes anyway.

I called a local company that actually is a manufacturer of geothermal heat pumps, and they came out to evaluate the house and discuss options. The next day I received a Manual-J calculation of the loads my house is estimated to carry along with a very professional quote for roughly $17,900 for a completely installed system (that’s with me digging the trenches for the loops. Yes, that is quite a lot of money, but it is also less than what I had budgeted and I’m leaning toward doing it. I still have other bids to get for comparison, but I like it so far. A friend of mine is building a house that is actually 300 sq ft smaller than my 3,400 sq ft in living space and his HVAC system, which consists of conventional heat pumps, is going to cost him more than what I was quoted for geothermal. That’s based on a SEER 13 unit, three of them in fact, two 3.5 and one 2.5-ton system. One of the big reasons for his expensive costs is that there wasn’t a load calculation done on his house to determine what he needed; instead, the old spitball method was used (e.g. one ton for each 400, sometimes 500, sq ft) plus he oversized one of the units for his bonus room which is in the attic “just to be safe”. 

I’ll post some updated photos soon…


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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 8/8/2007

I purchased an infrared thermometer today to monitor some temperatures at my new construction site. I'm not far enough along to have installed all the energy features I plan to, but what I have are already showing results. I live in northeast Arkansas where we have what is called a subtropic climate. Basically, it is very humid all year long and during the summer very hot. For instance, today at 3 pm it was 99° but it felt like 108°. The humidity level reached 71%, which makes it very uncomfortable to be outside. Our winters, although we do get some cold days below freezing, are usually fairly mild, with daytime temperatures in the 40's much of the time. So, my main concern from an energy standpoint is mostly fighting summer heat.
I decided early on to build our new house based on energy tips from Doug Rye and others I've read about in my research on the topic. Some of the features I decided to incorporate include conventional insulated crawlspace foundation (basements don't exist in my relative area due to the flat nature of our land and the high water table), what are sometimes called California T's and corners in the framing construction (basically open T's and corners that allow insulation to fill all wall cavities), cellulose insulation in walls and attic, radiant-heat-barrier roof decking (TechShield brand), energy efficient windows and doors with Low-E and argon gas, caulk or foam all cracks and openings in framing, possibly geothermal heat pump and other effective features.
I'm not to the point where all of these features have been installed, but I do have the crawlspace, roof decking and energy efficient doors and windows. I used the infrared thermometer to check several surfaces around our construction and compare them to another local house which is being built near ours but using average building methods. The following are the results from today. The other house is a couple of months farther along than ours, so we aren't comparing apples to apples, but there are some interesting differences already.
My New House
Time: 5:30 pm August 8th:
Construction Stage - Mostly dried in. All windows were closed except in bonus room, all doors were open. Walls are sheathed in OSB and wrap only, no insulation whatsoever. All shingles are in place.
Exterior surface of roof and walls facing western sun - 130° to 133°

Crawlspace - 84°
Floor - 87° to 89°
All Internal Space - 89°
Inside Roof Decking Surface - 94° (At all surface locations; even side facing the sun)
Inside surface of exterior walls not facing sun - 89°
Inside surface of exterior walls facing sun - 109° (OSB)
Surface of windows facing sun - 101°
The Other House
Time:  6:00 pm August 8th:
Construction Stage - Insulated, bricked and 75% drywalled. All doors and windows were standing open.
Exterior surface of roof and walls facing western sun - 130° to 133°
Floor - 90° (concrete slab)
All Internal Space - 94°
Inside Roof Decking Surface - 115° (At tallest surface; 108° at eaves)
Inside surface of exterior walls not facing sun - 94°
Inside surface of exterior walls facing sun - 101° (Bricked, wrapped, insulated and drywalled) **Note: This number may have been a little lower, I'm not sure I remember it correctly but I'm sure it is close.
Surface of windows facing sun - 107° (Funny, the surface of the raised panel that was basically doubled because it was raised was 101°, the same as mine :-)
Well, I enjoyed the numbers anyway.

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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 6/28/2007

As you can see from the photos, my house is growing taller. When I went home today for lunch, the framers had probably 75% of the rafters up. They still have a gable to add on the back of the house and there is also a gazebo-type roof on the back over the family room, but progress is being made. The framer thinks they'll begin laying roof decking by tomorrow, but I'm not sure about that. If not tomorrow, they probably will be doing so by Monday, I'm sure. He thinks it will take three days to deck the roof, at which point all they'll lack is finishing up the loose ends such as framing for the soffit and the odds and ends that they didn't quite complete on the inside. He thinks they will be completely finished by the end of next week. Personally, I think it will probably flow over into the week after though. Regardless, I'm almost in the dry. Things will start slowing way down after that, though.

On the financial side, I ended up taking my first draw week before last, I believe it was. For me, that was a painless experience (I'm sure I'll feel it once I have to start paying it back though!). I called the loan officer, told him how much I needed and the draw was made. I made it roughly two months without taking a draw, so I was fairly pleased with myself; all my walls were up by then. Since then, I made a small draw last week and then another large one today. I'm expecting two more invoices, one to cover the remainder of the concrete that went into the storm shelter and the other for floor decking and possibly my roof decking as well.

I don't recall if I mentioned it, but I chose to go with Advantech floor decking, and I'm glad I did. It was between Advantech and Sturd-I-Floor for me; Sturd-I-Floor was $17/sheet at the local lumberyard that I've been using, and Advantech was $22/sheet. However, I called around and another vendor just 10 miles away had Advantech for $18/sheet, so I went with them for the decking (free delivery). Several people had told me that Advantech holds up better and I saw firsthand that it does indeed; I compared the two in another house that is being built here locally that used a lot of Sturd-I-Floor but some Advantech too. After getting wet, the Advantech is still smooth and looks as good as it did when it was purchased, but the Sturd-I-Floor strand edges have started curling up, making it rough.

I also decided to use radiant-heat barrier roof decking on my house. That's the OSB with an aluminum foil backing on it. There are several brands of the stuff, Solarboard and TechShield are the two I'm most familiar with. By all accounts, it is a good product that will considerably reduce the heat in your attic. Once my roof is decked, I should be able to tell if it works or not; but I'm sure it does.

I guess that is it for now; I've got to go watch my oldest play baseball. Enjoy the pictures!

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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 6/18/2007

All the walls are up now. I've measured all the rooms and they all match the plans, so that is good. With the walls up, my wife and kids can finally visualize the size and shape of all the rooms, and I think they are happy with what they see. So far, my wife hasn't requested any changes, and I can tell she is starting to get excited about the project.

The framers have laid about half the ceiling joists, and the trusses for my upstairs bonus room are ready to set. My hope is that we'll see rafters go up this week, and the stairs to the bonus room should be built. I went by this morning as usual to see the guys off before going to work, but nobody showed up. I think it is because it looks like rain today, but I looked at the radar and it appears that we are clear here because everything is going around us. Personally, I would have taken advantage of the overcast sky and mild temperature for as long as possible today. My wife will be checking on them shortly to see if they showed up after I left. I'm not concerned though. This crew is usually very dependable.

My youngest son, age 6, and I spent about six hot hours at the site on Saturday. We got there around 3 pm and I left at 9 pm. I managed to clean up about half of the house, chucking scrap wood and stacking those pieces that can be used for something later. My son was helpful in picking up good nails and discarded saw blades and such. He also helped pick up a lot of wood pieces out in front of the house while I was working inside. I also managed to sweep the half that I picked up. I meant to go back on Sunday after church to finish the other half, but my wife and kids took me out for Father's Day instead, and I didn't get to finish. But if it isn't raining after work, I'll be back over this evening cleaning up some more.

I have a clause in my contracting agreement about the subcontractor's responsibility to pick up their own trash, but they don't do it. I've even mentioned it to them a few times, and they act like they agree but they still don't do it. I've had some of the tradesmen who have been in the business for years tell me that years ago construction crews were always diligent about picking up their trash at the end of a work day, but nobody does it any more. To me, it's just another sign of the degradation of our society. More and more people in our country have no respect for others. But for me, it's a little thing to go around each day and clean up behind them; even though it feels like I'm cleaning up behind a bunch of 40-year-old children. Personally, I couldn't throw my trash down just anywhere knowing that the guy who is paying my salary is going to have to come along and pick up after me and knowing what he is going to think of me because of it. I wouldn't throw trash on the ground anyway, but that's how they are. To me it's not worth fussing over, although I might add to the next sub's contract a stipulation that if I have to pick up their trash, I'll withhold $500 from their fee for my effort. How hard can it be? I set out trash barrels for them to use. It would be a plus to me if they’d at least toss their empty cans and cups in the general direction of the trash barrels, at least that way all the trash would be close and easy to pick up. But I guess that’s too much to ask of such people.

Speaking of cans and bottles, these guys must spend half their pay checks on drinks and snacks. Personally I don’t understand that.  If I were in their positions, I’d bring a five-gallon jug of ice water every day and drink that instead. In fact, I worked a vending route for four years myself and I spent about half the day every day inside my vending truck loading up my dolly where the temperature was usually 15 to 20 degrees higher than the temperature outside and that is exactly what I did. I fixed a large jug of ice water every day and drank it throughout to stay hydrated. But it is their money and their right to spend it however they want; I just think it is foolish.

I guess that is enough ranting for one day. I did just find out that the framers are out there working; they just got a late start for some reason. My wife went by to check on them and they were setting the trusses for the bonus room. Life is good!

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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 6/13/2007

Technically, the framing started last week when my crawlspace was put in. The beams and trusses were mostly all laid in one day. In fact, they installed them so fast that I didn't get any pictures of them going in. That started last Wednesday I believe, and by the time I got back to the site on Wednesday evening, the trusses were all in and part of the decking had been laid. By end of day Thursday, half of the decking had been laid and even a wall or two had been stood up. We got rained out on Friday, but I ordered more decking to finish the floor and had it delivered with the understanding that the framers would work over the weekend; they are in a hurry at this point, not me. But nothing was done over the weekend. On Monday when the framers came back out, the sub said that they had come out to work but didn't see the Advantec decking material and went back home. I have no reason to doubt him, but I don't see how they missed thirty sheets of Advantec under a tarp.

Anyway, on Monday the 11th, they finished the decking and started standing up the walls. It has gone so fast that there are huge differences between my pictures, which I normally take each evening after work. Most of the walls are up now and the exterior OSB sheathing is on most of the outside walls and the windows and doors are framed up, as of noon today.

I'm one of those people who can picture in my mind what something will look like so I've been able to "see" where everything will be in the house since we started the footings. However, my wife has struggled with that vision up to now. Yesterday, she and our two boys were finally able to see the layout and comprehend the dimensions of the rooms in the house. The boys are already fighting over the bedrooms and my wife can finally picture where the furniture will sit and how the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, will lay out. It's exiting for all of us.

When I left at lunch, most of the living-space walls were up and they were working on standing up the garage walls; in fact, most of those were up too. The framer expected to get to some of the ceiling joists today, but I don't know if he got that far yet or not. It's almost quitting time, so I'll find out shortly...


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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 6/8/2007

I now have a crawlspace! I'll post more pictures later, but this has been a busy week. My blocklayers finally finished laying foundation block on Tuesday, and my framer couldn't wait to get started. He was setting beams before I got there on Wednesday and away he went. The concrete guys were still working on my safe room while he was setting beams. And he had them all set by the end of the day on Wednesday. The blocklayers finished the safe-room walls last night around 6:30 and the trusses showed up around 10:00 in the morning yesterday.

When I made my evening visit to the site, almost all the trusses were set and part of the Advantec had been laid, probably 20%. When I left this morning, the concrete guys were forming up the ceiling in my safe room and the framer's crew was setting the remaining trusses or actually had them set while I was there and were setting the remaining floor decking. My framer called at 10:00 to let me know that he had run out of Advantec, but was going to have to stop anyway because it is raining. 

It looks like it is going to rain the rest of the day here, but as it stands, my footings have been dug and poured, my foundation walls have been built complete and everything lined up exactly right, my safe-room walls have been built and my door has been set in concrete, my foundation walls have been filled with concrete and anchor bolts set, my front porch and two patios have been poured and finished, my garage has been poured and finished, by floor beams have all been set, my floor trusses have all been set and over half of my floor decking has been mounted. All in all, I'd say I'm off to a pretty good start. I expect that by end of week next week, I should have most if not all of the walls up; assuming the weather doesn't turn off bad.

Today makes three weeks since we started. Overall, the project has gone well and we haven't had any major issues yet. There was a small mix-up with the pier footings initially but we caught and fixed it before any concrete was poured so that worked out well. And over the last couple of days, they've had to build a couple of extra piers where the ones we'd built didn't quite hit where they were supposed to. Actually, only one was like that; the other one was due to the trusses being slightly different than the plans show. But nothing major has happened, and the pier issues didn't end up costing me anything more.

The only other issue was that our blocklayer held up progress for a few days. He didn’t show up on the day after Memorial Day but sent word that his daughter had given birth the night before and he was with her. Then, it misted rain for 20 or 30 minutes the next day, first thing in the morning, and so he didn’t work that day. It actually turned out to be one of the most beautiful days in history but the blocklayers never showed up. But, they were there the next day and every day since, as needed to complete the job, so I can’t complain too much.

Other than that, the only thing that hasn’t gone as planned is that the framing has gotten started and is going faster than expected. I was told there was a two-week lead time on floor trusses, so I was expecting to have more time to clean up under the crawlspace before the trusses went in. Instead, I had to take a day off from work to work on that, but the framer had a couple of boys with nothing else to do and he made them help me get it cleaned up and leveled. It ended up looking good.

I guess that is it for now. When I have a little more time, I'll post some new images.

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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 5/30/2007

I wanted to post a few updated pictures and I also forgot to mention that my electric service was installed yesterday!

Here are some shots of the footings being poured.


They started on the blocks last Thursday.

They managed to get part of the garage finished before quitting on Friday for the extended Memorial Day weekend. But no progress has been made since then. The blocklayer took yesterday off to be with his newborn grandchild and then it rained last night and today. Worse, it looks like it is going to rain the rest of the week and into the weekend. I guess there will be no more progress this week. I was looking forward to finishing the foundation and getting my floor trusses on order. Plus, my framer is finishing up on his current job and was looking to start mine next. Also, my concrete guys were looking forward to pouring the porches and garage this week. I guess we're all going to be off schedule now.  Luckily for me, I haven't started taking draws yet and I'm not currently in a big hurry.

Here my boys are earning their new, larger bedrooms and having some fun doing it. Ordinarily they'd fuss when you asked them to pick up the trash, but dig a gigantic hole in the backyard and tell them they can throw the trash in there and they are happy to help!  :-)

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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 5/29/2007

Here's a quick update.  As stated in my last post, we officially broke ground on the house Monday a week ago.  The week progressed fairly well.  So far I'm very impressed with the foundation crew I hired, especially their attention to detail and they have made some good recommendations along the way as well.  My pastor is building a new house too, he started close to three months ago and this same crew did his foundation.  Whoever they hired to do his blocks did a sloppy job in my opinion.  Now, I'm no expert and I agree with the excuse they made for the appearance, "It's going to be covered by brick anyway so nobody will see it..."  But I'm a person who takes more pride in my work than that and I tend to expect the same of others.  Even so, appearance wasn’t the only problem with their blocks but I won’t go into that. 

Anyway, the foundation contractor hired a different block layer for my job (he got started last Thursday) and this guy is doing an excellent job and that without us having to say anything to him.  I mentioned that to him and he told me that he always cleans and joints his blocks.  He said that he does that even though he knows that the blocks will eventually be covered up because the blocks will usually be visible for several weeks before the bricks come in and he wants people to see his work and know that he does a good job.  I like that attitude and I'm considering bringing him back to do the bricks when I get to that point!

Anyway, my foundation is now about 2/3's of the way done.  The block layer didn't come back this morning but sent one of his helpers by to explain.  His daughter gave birth yesterday (Memorial Day) and he is out of town visiting with his grandchild.  He said he would be back early tomorrow morning.  He's at least a day, maybe two from finishing up with the foundation.  I'm also having an in-house storm shelter built, which will probably take him another day or so to complete.  I was hoping we'd be finished with the foundation this week but it looks like it may get pushed into next week.  Part of that is due to his unexpected absence today, but it is also looking like it might rain tonight and maybe the rest of the week!  Oh well, that's part of it.

I just noticed that I haven't posted any pictures of the blocks going up.  I'll come back and do that later today or tomorrow if I can.


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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 5/23/2007

Well, we broke ground Monday. I ended up hiring a crew to do the footings, blocks and concrete work, all from one company. I had priced the different trades individually in my area, and these guys are doing the whole foundation, including porches and garage for the same price as it was going to cost me to have it done by individual subs. Also, this crew is very active in my city and I was able to see several examples of their work at each stage of construction. I'm very impressed with their overall knowledge of the foundation and construction in general and they have been very helpful in assisting me in various decisions along the way.

So far, the only complaint I have about them is that they first told me they would be at the site last Thursday but didn't show up. They did however call me to let me know they weren't going to make it, and when they called they told me they would be there on Friday. Well, I ended up taking off Friday to meet them and to get some other work done around the site, but they didn't show up until 3:00 in the afternoon. I was frustrated over that because I thought they were going to be there in the morning and I even called to check on them and they told me they got held up but would be there at noon.  So when they finally showed up at 3:00, I had all but given up on the them. On the other hand, we had a good conversation and settled some outstanding items such as the contract and they told me they would be there ready to start first thing on Monday morning.

I got out there early and took pictures before anyone started digging.

I ended up breaking ground first. I had my temporary electric pole ready; so I dug a hole and set it up before the footing was ever dug.

Now, if they hadn't shown up on Monday I was going to be angry, but they were there just as they said they would be and they've been plodding right along ever since. It took them most of the day to lay out the footing, but they did end up digging a little in the evening. I dropped by early the next morning and took some pictures and when I went back at lunch, they had most of the footing dug and were getting ready to lay the rebar and pour the concrete.

It turned out that we couldn't get the concrete yesterday, so we should be pouring concrete today for the footings. That delay actually turned out to be a good thing, because we learned late yesterday from the floor truss manufacturer that we were going to have to move some of the piers. So, they are back at it today. The blocks, fill dirt and concrete should arrive today.

I'm having them build an in-house, storm shelter/safe room where the master closet is on the plans. We'll use the closet as it was originally designed, but have a steel and concrete reinforced concrete block vault to take shelter in when the tornadoes start rolling through our area; which is a fairly regular event every year. So far, we've been blessed by God and haven't had any damage from any of the twisters, but there's no reason not to be prepared for the worst. I'm looking forward to seeing the blocks go up and the safe room take shape.

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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 4/27/2007

Well, it's been close to four weeks since I last posted.  I had gone to the bank and applied for the loan to get started.  As I stated in my previous post, the whole process was simple and uneventful.  However, I made the mistake of not following my instincts and I first went to Regions Bank for the loan, which is where I currently bank.  I had thought about using another bank because I've borrowed money from Regions in the past and it has always been a painfully slow, drawn out process.  This time was no different.  This past Monday, 04/23/2007, marked a month since I had applied for the loan with Regions and I still hadn't closed!  On top of that, the loan officer had quoted some pretty high closing cost figures that just didn't sound right to me.  So, I started asking around and I finally came to the conclusion that I'd better talk to a different bank.

I ended up calling a loan officer that I know from the Bank of Trumann, which is a small local bank in my home town.  I called him on Monday afternoon and we met on Tuesday to fill out the loan application.  Afterward, I called Regions to see where they were with my application and they were still stalled out.  The loan officer there did exclaim that he had gotten my appraisal in on Monday, the day before (if you read my last post, the appraiser had promised a quick turnaround back on 04/01/2007).  When I found out that no progress had been made, I told Regions to cancel the application because I was going with another bank.  The Regions loan officer then forwarded me the appraisal and I had to pay the $375 appraisal fee and that was it.  I called the Bank of Trumann to confirm my intention to go with them for the construction loan and they got the ball rolling.  The not so funny thing is that I looked the appraisal over and it was dated 04/04/2007!  I truly believe that Regions had the appraisal for longer than a day when I called the loan officer on 04/24/2007.

We closed this morning with Bank of Trumann, just three days after applying for the loan!  Now, I consider that good service!  So, I went by the city inspector's office after leaving the bank, and picked up my building permits.  I guess now I have no excuse for waiting any longer.  I've got a few more minor housekeeping steps to take care of and then I'll start scheduling my subs.  I've already talked to most of them and since the market is kind of slow in this area at the moment, they are all fairly chomping at the bit for work.

My first sub will be my footing contractor, who is also the excavator and concrete man for my safe room, driveway, porches and patios.  I've already talked with him several times as well as my block/brick layer.  As things start rolling and I finally break ground, I'll let you know how it goes.  For now, I have to get ready to go to my son's baseball game!


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Posted to Arkansas-First-Timer by Jack in Trumann, AR on 4/2/2007


Well, this is my first post to my journal but I've been working on our project for some time now.  We are building this home, which is 4775 sqft, including patios, porches, bonus space and garage; 3423 sqft of just living space.  We'll be building this house on 1.7 acres of land that we bought two years ago and which is paid for free and clear.

I bought and read The Owner-Builder Book a year ago and I'm still referring back to sections of it periodically as I work on the related steps myself.  I also bought and read The Complete Guide to Contracting Your Home and I still refer to this book as well.  As for my own experience, I've never built a home before but I have a little experience in many of the trades that go into such a project.  For instance, I built a shop building behind my current home which I started back in 2002 and completed in 2003 and I did all the work myself.  I know that a shop building and a home are not the same thing but they are related and I even insulated and finished the interior walls and ceiling in this particular shop which is something that isn't always done on such buildings.  In addition to the shop, I've torn out and replaced windows, I've installed numerous doors.  I've installed tile and finish trim.  I've blown insulation into my own attic.  I've installed, expanded and repaired electrical fixtures.  I've installed all of the most commonly used types of appliances.  I've done limited plumbing.  I've installed light fixtures, faucets, ventilation fans and ceiling fans.  I even replaced the window in our bathroom with glass block.  I've roofed and helped roof several houses in my day.  I've poured and helped pour several yards of concrete and many other things of this sort.  I say all of this so you know that although I'm no expert at any of the trades that go into building a house, I'm at least casually familiar with a lot of them and I plan on doing a few in our house in order to save money and build "sweat equity" into the project.

Now, I can't say that up to this point I've followed all the recommendations found in The Owner-Builder Book or promise that I will in the future.  But I found the book very informative and useful.  I expect I'll be referring back to it throughout our project.

I've had our house plans for a year now and I've been kind of casually researching the prospect of contracting my own home for at least that long as well.  I don't know how common such a practice is in other areas but it isn't all that uncommon around here.  In fact, I can think of several people that I know personally who have contracted the building of their own homes over the last few years and a few who have done most of the work themselves.  I have two friends that are building their own homes right now and who are only a few weeks ahead of me.

General Bids:

I've had three generals bid on my project.  One is still out at the moment.  One came back at $317k and one at $267k!  That's a difference of fifty thousand dollars! How ridiculous is that?  While the generals were working on their bids, I've been working on my own take offs and I believe that I can build the house for around $170k; it might go a little over that but I hope to do it for a little less even.  I'll be okay either way.  The $267k bid is $100k more than what I come up with.  Now to be fair, I'm planning on doing about $20 - $30k of the work myself but they are still way over in my opinion.  The worst part is that I was expecting one of these guys to come back with a more reasonable bid; boy was I surprised.  Another let down is that neither general would provide me with a detailed bid.  The $317k guy actually had a detailed bid and when he made his sales pitch, he brought it to my office on his laptop and we went over it.  But would you believe that his laptop battery was almost dead and he didn't have an A/C adapter with him?  Because of that, we didn't get to look it over for as long as I would have liked and when I asked him for a printed copy, he gave me excuses.  Of course, he promised to provide the detail if I signed his contract; fat chance buddy!  I saw enough of his detail to get an idea of why he was so high though (come to think of it, he may have been high in more than one sense of the term! :-).  His estimates on material were extravagant.  I'd already gotten a couple of material bids for the house so I know what current prices are and I noticed several material items in his detail that were at least twice the going rate.  For example, OSB is currently about $5.50 in my area and he had it down for $11.  You can buy plain white toilets for under $100 around here and he had them at $300.  He listed framer labor at $30k for the house and I've priced it out at $16k, firm.  The other guy was more reasonable in a lot of areas and although he didn't provide complete detail, he did provide some.  Part of what he had quoted was in the ballpark in my opinion but some of it wasn't.  Even so, I asked him about a lot of the items that he didn't have listed in detail and the information he provided was in line with what I've found using my own research and getting bids myself.  Consequently, I found myself wondering why his bid wasn't closer to mine.  Was he planning on making $100k off of my project?  It looks that way.

Anyway, if I hadn't been set on building myself up to that point, they would have settled it for me and in a sense, they did.  I wanted their bids for comparison but if one of them had come back at a reasonable rate, I would have considered hiring them.  For instance, the lower of the two above had agreed to allow me to supply material (that actually is the common practice in this area; most builders do not supply materials around here; I guess it's either too much of a hassle for them or they haven’t figured out that they can rip off their customers by doing so, like the first guy I talked to) and he wasn’t opposed to me doing some of my own trades; he was all for my building in sweat equity.  But neither bid came in where I'd need it to be and the other guy hasn't come back with a bid yet.  So, I'm going forward with my own plans.

Sub Bids:

I haven't had much trouble finding subs in this area.  My dad worked for the largest lumber supplier in this area until recently and knows a lot of contractors as a result.  I've picked up probably 50 business cards from supplier bulletin boards and I've gotten several names from acquaintances of mine who have building experience.  I've also gotten references from potential subs for some of the other trades.

At this point, I haven't actually gotten bids for all of the trades.  But I have gotten bids from the major ones and I've overestimated the others in order to figure out what kind of cost I'm looking at.  For instance, until I got a firm bid or two from framers, I was estimating the framing trade at $30k.  As it turns out, that is almost twice what I'll actually end up paying.  I even suspected that to be the case but I believe in being safe rather than sorry.

Going to the Bank:

One of the things mentioned in the book that I found to be different for me and for other OB's in the area is the loan process.  The book recommends that you have a complete project, well organized for presentation to the bank, before going in for the loan and that the process is a formal selling of yourself and your plan to the bank.  I didn't experience this.  Now granted, I don't yet have my loan closed but the whole process for me and other OB's that I know was a much more casual experience.  In fact, I was working on something like the book recommends until I found out how easily my friends got their loans.  After hearing how easy it was for them, I dropped what I was doing and went to the bank.

All I had to provide the bank was check stubs for the last 30 days from work, the last two bank statements from our checking account, last year's income tax filings, a copy of a material list (which I got from a local supplier) and a copy of my house plans.  I looked up the loan officer on the bank's website and e-mailed him ahead of time to see what he needed from me to get the process rolling and he listed the items above and we setup an appointment for the next day.  When I went to see him, I wore normal work clothes, dress shoes, pants and button up shirt; no suit.  I provided him the information he requested and he asked several questions and then he entered it all into the computer and said I'd hear from an appraiser in a few days.  That was about it.  He did ask how much I needed to build the house.  I gave him one of the general bids to base the loan on.  Like I said, the whole process was very casual.  And this is the same experience that my friends who are currently building and who have already closed their loans described to me.

Where I'm At Now:

Well, the loan officer did call and ask for one other item; the legal description for my lot.  I sent him that last week.  And the appraiser called yesterday and wanted me to meet him at my lot to do the appraisal.  I met him and that seemed to go well.  He told me he would have the appraisal finished today.  I don't know if that is much of an indicator but both of my friends who are building closed their loans the same week that the appraiser finished his part.  So cross your fingers, I may be breaking ground in a couple of weeks!  :-)


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