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I just got back from several months at work at sea. That's great that I won another forum post. I look forward to reading and participating in your forums again. Just too bad we don't have the Web at sea. I go to meet with my designer again next week and resume the design process.
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Posted to The-Ridges by Brett in Logan, UT on 7/31/2008 12:58:18 PM

I can't believe it has been a month since I entered anything in this journal.  I apologize to anyone who was watching with interest.  I'll go ahead and give an update on things here, and then I'll post some pictures later.

Anyway, we got the ground plumbing in finally.  The ground was so full of 6-10" rocks that digging the trenches was a chore.  But in the end, the guy I've got helping with the plumbing did a great job, and the ground plumbing lined up in the basement walls perfectly.  We had to install a couple backwater valves because the nearest upstream sewer manhole was a couple feet above our basement floor in elevation.  If you are doing your own plumbing, make sure to remember this.  Otherwise, if the sewer floods, your basement will flood first.  The price we got on the plumbing supplies was great.  30% less than I had anticipated.  A couple key points for ground plumbing.

  • Review the layout multiple times, even if the basement will be unfinished. 
    • You kinda need to have an idea of where drains will be for basement bathrooms and kitchenettes.  they are hard to adjust later and it is minimal cost to locate them correctly for future use.
  • Follow my other guidelines for digging and locate the hole correctly the first time and things will go much smoother.
  • Make sure the DWV pipe coming up through the floor are located exactly where they need to be.  You won't always be able to move the wall over to match a mistake there. 
    • This is especially true if using panelized walls.

We got the basement slab poured, which was a bit of an ordeal compared to what I would've liked.  All of the problems have come from the setback issues that we had originally.  If I had done the excavation differently, then all of these problems would be gone.  We smoothed out the dirt under the slab by hand and dug the interior footings.  The depth of compaction wasn't high, so we just used a plate compactor and a bit of water to get everything nice and firm.  Then we called in a gravel slinger to get everything to grade.  Best money we ever spent on that, just make sure to budget for it.  I had them drop the slab down even with the top of the footings so that we wouldn't lose any ceiling height.  That saved us from having to do 9' ceilings, but our next house will just be 9' ceilings anyway.

We went ahead and took care of the basement framing ourselves.  Panel companies won't do basement walls because it is impossible to account for irregularities in the slab height.  The basement framing went smoothly except for one wall that divides the U-shaped staircase.  Turns out we had it marked on center, but we placed the wall to the side of the mark.  This resulted in the upper string of stairs being 3.5" wider than the lower string.  Not a big deal as the stairs were 4' wide anyway. 

Once the basement framing was done, they delivered the floor trusses for the main floor.  This was a huge hassle.  If you remember, I had decided to go with trusses for the main floor so as to be able to place the ducts up inside them.  There were just a few really big issues.  The truss guys are supposed to come out and measure the foundation to make sure that it matches the plans, which it never does.  So they are supposed to match the trusses to the foundation measurement.  Turns out our foundation was about 1/2" short in one direction.

When the trusses came, they didn't account for that 1/2" so the trusses were hanging off the side of the foundation.  This means that we had to shim the panelized walls to match it.  But, that wasn't the biggest issue.  There were two girder trusses over the basement hallway that eliminated the need for beams hanging below the ceiling.  The trusses hangers used to tie the trusses to the girders take up about 1/4" each and we had 4 of them on each length, not to mention a bit of twisting of the girder.  All in all there were 3 trusses in the middle of the house that ended up being almost 2" too long.  Problem is that they are engineered trusses and aren't supposed to be modified on site.  So I had to get the truss company to send site mod instructions, which we then used to shorten the long trusses.  We ended up losing about 3 days because of the floor truss issues.

In the mean time, I had ordered delivery of the main floor walls.  They showed up with me still needing to put down about 4 sheets of subfloor.  So Amber and I were scrambling to get it ready for them.  Luckily, these wall guys knew their stuff.  It was great to see the walls go up so fast , and these guys were very professional.  We were able to compensate for the floor issues, and it all went smoothly except that they wanted to stand the garage walls and I wasn't ready for that yet. 

It then only took three of us about 2.5 hours to install the rest of the interior walls without any problems and that was a huge relief.  I only have a couple things I would do differently on the panelized walls.
  • Get a good bid on materials from the cheapest lumberyard in town, and then take that to Lowes or HD.
    • They won't beat the lumberyard price, but they will match it. 
    • It is a hassle to work with the box stores when compared to the lumberyard, but they have much higher quality lumber.
      • Box stores can't afford to throw away half of a shipment after people pick through it, so they get select choice lumber.
  • Tell the panel guys that you'll be having the box store deliver to them and that you only want them to use the lumber that you ordered.
    • Otherwise they will just get started with whatever lumber they have sitting around from another job which might be poor quality.
  • I would also ask if I could supply the nails for them to use, and I'd get ring shanked nails.  It'll cost you an extra $100, but the walls won't work loose during transport and installation.
I then rented a backhoe for 2 days and moved a ton of dirt and did all the necessary backfill.  In the end I think we moved about 450 yards of dirt.  It took about 20 hours of machine time to get everything filled and graded right.  The only snag was that we accidentally hit the water line from the meter and broke it.  It took a few minutes to inspect it and get an underground splice done.

During the past week we have just been finishing up some of the post and beam framing on the main floor, as well as getting the second floor on.  The I-joists are a dream to work with as compared to the floor trusses.  Not sure what I'll do next time.  We'll see how the HVAC goes in with the floor trusses.  Also, the wall guy is working on a partnership with a truss company so that they can coordinate the dimensions better.  That would've eliminated most of the hassle.

Second floor walls should be going up on Monday.  I'll post pictures at that time.

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Posted to The-Ridges by Brett in Logan, UT on 6/24/2008 9:56:25 PM

We have the foundation in for the most part.  I've learned a lot about how I will approach this next time around.  I think I could end up saving about $1K more if I do things a bit differently.  Not to mention getting things done a whole lot quicker.

This is how I will do the foundation next time.

  1. According to the guidelines in my previous post, I will get the excavator to dig the hole as quickly as possible.  The main difference is that I will not have them dig the footings as specified.  Instead I will have them only dig to the bottom of the basement walls, and I'll have them dig about 3' further out than the footings will be in all directions.
  2. Once that is completely dug out, I will precisely mark the location of the footings but not form them in yet. 
  3. I'll then rent a mini-excavator with a 12" shovel and get down in there and dig the sewer and water trenches.
  4. Once the ground sewer and water is inspected, I'll bury the lines and then use the mini-excavator with a 20" shovel to precisely dig the footings to the appropriate depth using my laser level and depth guage.
    1. The key here is to dig all the footings (both interior and perimeter) about 6" too shallow.  This could be done with a shovel if you're ambitious as the footings then only need to be an additional 4" deep.
  5. Then bring in a couple inches worth of gravel for the areas that will just be supporting slab but not footing.
  6. Form in the outside of the perimeter footings only with 2x6 stock and run the rebar as needed.
  7. Then do a complete monolithic pour for the slab and all footings.
    1. Again the key is to spread gravel in such a manner as to reduce/eliminate the use of excess concrete.
Voila! Now the slab and the footings are done in the same time as the slab alone.  Also, in my case I would save about 5 yards of concrete, which comes out to about $450.  The bigger issue though is the time aspect and the effort.  There will also be additional savings in excavation.

There are a couple caveats to a monolithic pour though.  I would only do it in areas where there are no possible water issues, but that is not a problem as I never plan on building in an area where that could be an issue.  Also, I would always do a double foundation coating and install drain tile.


Breaking Ground
Me supervising the dig
Footings In
Walls Formed & Poured

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Posted to The-Ridges by Brett in Logan, UT on 6/12/2008 2:56:03 PM

So it won't stop pouring rain in Utah.  There is a fair amount of clay in the dirt on the lot and that gets very greasy when wet.  Anyway, a ton has happened over the last week, and it was sort of a fiasco.

I got the guys up there to form in the footings one morning and it was an absolute downpour.  I get a call at work saying that my setbacks are incorrect.  I tell him that I was pretty sure they were right and he responds that he took the liberty of calling the inspector to double check so as not to cost me money.  Sure enough, the house needed to be five feet further east, and five feet further south.  Just in case anyone is wondering, this type of stuff costs money.

Fortunately I got that excavation crew up there to jump over and adjust the hole.  They gave me 7' extra in both directions.  It took them two hours.  I told the guy to do it just as fast and dirty as possible because it would just be costing me extra money.  Two hours was blazing fast for the amount that they had to dig.  It also looks like I'm gonna be able to trade them some of my dirt straight across for the extra hoe time.  That will eliminate that cost, but not the extra fill that I'm gonna need now.  I'm still trying to figure that out.  It is a question of whether I will need to bring in 1" gravel or simply use the dirt they pulled out and compact it.  The latter is obviously cheaper but much more time intensive.

Yesterday they were finally able to get the footings formed and they should be pouring them this afternoon.  I was hoping not to need a pump truck, but the grade makes it hard to pour without it.  Bummer...  Good thing that I've been trying so hard to get the budget down.  I might be looking at about $1K in unexpected cost.

I ended up having to fill the footing forms with a bit of gravel (about 3-4 yards).  The last minute excavation adjustment messed up the nice pretty dig and we had to raise the forms to get everything level.

Decided on a monolithic pour for the basement slab and interior footings.  This will save me the cost of forming 80 linear feet worth of interior footings as well as a couple yards of concrete.  That is about $500 in savings, so that will hopefully offset some of the unexpected costs.  I also realized that I could save a 13' long, 8' tall pour for the front of the porch if I simply increased the size of the cold storage room in the basement to include the area underneath the porch.  That is gonna save me another $400 in concrete and wall forming as well as adding 50ft2 of space to the cold storage room.  If I build this house again later, that will become a room safe.

Here are the tips of the day:

  1. Speed is crucial in saving money on the excavation.  This means bigger is better in terms of bucket size.  36" bucket is ok and 40" is even better.  Any less than that and the hourly charge starts jumping quick.  If you have a good layer of topsoil on the lot, have them bring up a front-end loader before you do anything else, and scrape that soil to the back corner of the lot.  This shouldn't take more than an hour and will cost around $100. 
  2. After they have removed the good top-soil, go ahead and stake off the building.  Then before having them dig the hole, get the footing guys to stop by and check the location of the stakes to make sure things are in order.  Ask them while they are there, how much room they are gonna need to work with.  IOW, how far outside the foundation walls should the walls of the pit be.  Less digging = less cost, so don't dig 5' to much if you don't have to.
  3. Don't have anything that will get in the way of the excavator.  I thought I would save some time by having them work around the batter-boards.  That probably cost me a couple hundred bucks and we put the new batter-boards up within 20 minutes after the hole was dug.  Tell the excavator that you'll only hire him if he has a big bucket and a fast operator, but keep in mind that they'll still need to be accurate enough not to dig your footings 6-8" too deep, or heaven forbid >12" too deep. 
  4. While everything else with the excavator is focused on speeding things up, slow them down a bit and have them accurately dig the footings separate from the slab.  Common practice in many places is to simply dig the hole all to the same depth and then backfill underneath the slab with gravel once the footers are poured.  I'll use my house as an example.  My basement slab is about 1400ft2.  The footings are 10" deep.  The footings generally have to be raised a bit to be leveled, which means the top of the footer is really close to 12" higher than the hole that they dug if they didn't dig the footers separate.   That means that every 27ft2 of slab area will need 1yd3 of gravel.  This gravel is about 1.4 tons per yard at a cost of $11.50/ton delivered.  That means my house would need about $900 worth of gravel to backfill underneath the slab.  Or they can simply spend 1-2 extra hours and leave the virgin soil inside while digging the footing separately.  If it is virgin soil there, then you don't need any compaction before pouring the slab.
  5. As I mentioned above, a monolithic pour for the interior footings will save you money if done correctly, but there are a few different ways to do this, so I will explain a bit.
    1. Standard practice is to pour the footings and, if you're in a hot climate, they will usually do a keyed footing, but in cold climates like mine they insert j-bend rebar that will project up into the poured walls.  After the walls are poured they will fill the slab areas with gravel until the gravel is flush with the top of the footing.  Then they pour a 4" slab over the gravel and the inside of the footings.  Some points to keep in mind here:
      1. You will lose ceiling height in the basement equal to the thickness of the slab.
      2. If they didn't dig separate footings then you'll need about 10-12" of fill beneath the slab.
      3. The interior footings must be formed & poured 10" thick, which costs more money in both forming and concrete.
    2. Monolithic pours can be done two ways depending on ground water issues.  If groundwater might be an issue, then you simply pour the salb the same as above except that you don't dig/form/pour the interior footings separately.  You don't form the interior footings at all.  You simply dig a shovel footing about 6" deep as the slab makes up the other 4", run rebar through it and pour the entire thing.
      1. This is very similar to the method above except that you'll save a bit of concrete on interior footings.
    3. You can also do a complete monolithic pour, where the perimeter footings are poured along with the slab.  This is common in slab-on-grade builds but might present water issues with basements, so be sure to eliminate that possibility.  You can mimic this by form/pouring the perimeter footings and then doing a monoliths slab for interior footings, but instead of capping the perimeter footings with the slab, you pour the top of the slab flush with the top of the footings.
      1. The nice thing about this is that you get true 8' ceilings in the basement.
      2. If done correctly this will also save you about $500 in concrete and fill.

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Posted to The-Ridges by Brett in Logan, UT on 6/4/2008 1:47:30 PM

I've received much inquiry regarding material/design choices and the process was a bit detailed, so I figured that I would designate an entire entry to this topic.

There were a few issues that we planned around based on current market conditions.  I work in the securities market and could see as a result of significant construction slowdown that there was going to be a large drop in lumber futures.  This lead to a huge fast drop in all things lumber; dimensional, OSB, etc.  I could also quite easily predict increases in other building materials.

Steel, concrete, and petroleum based products keep rising, but especially steel and oil which have simply launched higher. So, when we considered what materials to build with, we wanted to maximize the use of lumber and minimize the use of concrete and oil based products. We are building this house for maximum profit as this is not our dream home. 

There are a few main categories of building that we had considered while brainstorming:

  • Traditional Stick Built
  • ICF
  • SIPs
  • Light Guage Steel
The requirements for the house to stay in line with current price trends were as follows:
  • Small Footprint- this would result in less steel and concrete usage.
    • This resulted in a choice to go 2-story with full basement.
      • One nice side effect is that above ground s.f. appraises higher than below ground areas.
  • Use as much lumber as possible.
    • Dimensional lumber is anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 of what it was just more than a year ago.
    • This ruled out the following:
      • ICF
      • SIP
      • Light Guage Steel
  • Very few (if any) bump-outs or projections.
    • IOW, try to stay with a simple square plan that saves time and money.
      • This led us to a neo-colonial because they are meant to be flat and square as part of their charm.
      • Conversely, high-end cape cods and other styles look very plain and lose a ton of curb appeal without the 10 bump-outs and siding transitions.
We opted to go with stick-built panelized construction as a time saver mostly.  We can pre-order the walls and stand them in two days.  In contrast, if I were to frame it myself, it would require the better part of a month if not more.  Sure, I could frame a house; it isn't hard at all.  Framing it myself would only save $4K for a month's time.  Bricking it myself will save $35K for the same month's time.  Better to simply get the building standing and go from there. 

Next was deciding on windows and things.  We had to fit the style of the house, so narrow tall windows fit the bill.  Turns out that three small windows is cheaper than one large one that is separated into three sections.  I also had to determine whether windows were cheaper than brick.  If I was hiring the brick out, the windows would be significantly cheaper.  But, I'm doing my own brick, so the brick is cheaper.  Because of this, I reduced the % of glazed exterior, increasing the % of bricked exterior.  The unintended consequence was that the energy code was easier to comply with, having fewer/smaller windows.  This resulted in less insulation and things of that nature. 

As far as the interior design went.  We wanted to eliminate hallways as much as possible.  This required the staircase to be located in the center of the house.  Once we did this, tons of square footage could be added to more important areas like bathrooms, great rooms. kitchens, etc... 

I guess what it really comes down to is that we spent a bunch of time designing elements of the house to increase efficiency, and eliminate cost.  This house was interesting because we had to drive cost as low as possible, while making it appealing to high-end custom buyers. 

When it comes down to it, there are certain things that people won't pay for YET.  At least there isn't any return on investment for these items.
  • Top notch energy efficiency.
  • Hallways
  • Upgraded windows
  • Stay-in-place expanding foam insulation
  • Solar Power
  • Water Recirc System
  • Overdone Electrical, like using all 12 guage instead of 14 guage wire.
  • Overpriced designer hardware like doorknobs and hinges
OTOH, people will pay a premium for
  • Bigger kitchens
  • Bigger dining rooms
  • Closets
  • Garage Space
  • Luxurious Bathrooms
  • Above Ground Living Areas
  • Views
  • Exterior materials
  • Flooring
  • Custom Cabinetry/Carpentry
We concentrated on areas we knew people would pay for.  Hopefully it pays off.

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Posted to The-Ridges by Brett in Logan, UT on 5/31/2008

It's only been a couple of days, but a lot has happened, so I figured I would write a little bit about it.

Getting the hole dug has been an ordeal to say the least. Here's the story in a nutshell...

I originally arranged for the excavator to show up on Saturday 24th. The holiday left them a man short and they said, "First thing Tuesday after the holiday." Saturday I ran into the whole HOA approval thing I described in the last post. So I left a message telling him to cancel the dig on Tuesday. I spent the weekend trying to get the approval, but everyone was gone on holiday. 

Tuesday morning at about 9:00 am a little voice tells me that I should call to confirm that the dig had been canceled. Sure enough, it hadn't! He didn't get the message, so he scrambles to call the guy and tell him to stop. Luckily, he hadn't started because he was waiting for me to direct him. They then said if it would only be a couple days, that they would rather just leave the hoe up there because things are slow anyway. 

Thursday morning I contacted the developer (at a funeral... oops) and got the go-ahead to dig. I called the excavator and was informed that they had moved the hoe to another job that morning not too far away but would be finished there by Friday afternoon. I was bummed but thought I would make use of the time to review some stuff. I visited the lot again and realized that I really wanted the driveway to be longer, so I re-staked the house again, making the driveway 5' longer.

Friday morning I was thinking things over and had a big debate in my head going about the two vs. three-car garage. I decided that I would call the appraiser to ask what kind of value would be created by doing the three-car vs. a two-car with an RV pad. He said about $7,500. That was a bit tempting, since it will only cost me about $2,500 to do the three-car vs. the RV pad. So I decided to call the two biggest Realtors in the area and get their advice, since we'll be looking to sell it in a couple years. Glad I did! It went something like this.

Realtors:      What price range is the house in?
Me:              Conservatively, I'd say $#####.
Realtors:       You don't have a choice in that neighborhoods at that price.  If you don't do a three-car we won't even be able to show it.
Me:              Really?!?
Realtors:      19 out of 20 buyers won't even walk through it if we tell them two-car garage at that price.

Luckily, I'd already had my aunt draw up a set of plans with a three-car garage just in case, so I went up again Friday morning at 10:00 am to re-stake the garage for the fourth time with only an hour before I was expecting a call from the excavator saying they were on their way.

12:30 pm rolls around and no excavator, so I am piddling around getting all the batter boards up to locate footings and foundation corners. All the while there is a big local excavation company (50-man outfit) with a 15-man crew working on the roads and storm drains for phase two of the development. They're running four track-hoes, two big front-end loaders, and three dump trucks. The foreman comes over to tell me that his guys are making fun of me. They'd been watching me getting my corners dialed in as accurately as possible and thought I was doing it for the excavator, knowing that he was only gonna be accurate +- 1-2 feet. After talking with me he realized that I was doing a bunch of work myself and that I was locating my own footings.

He then asked if I wanted them to jump over and dig the hole really quick for me, saying that a couple of them could use a little extra cash. I turned him down figuring that the guy I'd hired would be there shortly. Well... no such luck. Friday ended without a hole. Today (Saturday) I was frustrated and called the owner of that big outfit and met him up on the lot. We joked for an hour and he gave me a bunch of advice because he knew the conditions of the land really well, having done all the roadways around it. He informed me of exactly what issues I would be running into on that lot. In the end he said that he would have two of his guys dig my hole for me first thing Monday.  Not only that, because they are already up there he's doing it 25% cheaper per hour than the other guys, and running two machines cutting the time almost in half. Needless to say, I called and canceled the other guys.

I'll be needing a bunch of big landscaping boulders now for the front of the lot and they usually run about $85 for a 4' diameter rock. I'll need about 10 of those and a bunch of smaller ones that are about $500 for 20 of them. He informed me that I'll likely get several of them from my own lot when we dig a certain area, and I'm trying to get a bunch free from the piles they are digging up each day doing those storm drains. He also buys about $1 million worth of concrete each year for curb/gutter and sidewalks, so I'm gonna try to run my concrete purchase through his account. If all that worked out, the savings will be as follows:

  1. $500 for the cheaper excavation
  2. $1,350 for the free boulders
  3. $600-$1,500 for the cheaper concrete, depending on if I can buy through him for my flatwork later.
An additional $3,350 in savings would be nice, so I'll do my best to try to get it to work out. Anyway, I've loaded more pictures below. Enjoy.


I guess the land really is ours. You can see the slope of the front of the lot that I have to deal with behind us.
Staking out the lot.
Finally finished re-staking for the last time.
Me carrying Amber across the threshold. Or at least that is where it will be.

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Posted to The-Ridges by Brett in Logan, UT on 5/28/2008 12:31:18 PM

Well, another mistake on my end is costing us time.  We were all ready to dig, when I realized that I had forgotten to get a necessary approval from the development committee.  Slightly less than patiently waiting for them to give the "OK."

On the plus side though, I was able to use the time to resolve some issues with the site plan.  I ended up pushing the house back 5' from the road because the lot drops about 12' in a 15' run toward the road.  I had expected that this would fall in the front yard, but it turns out that the slope begins right off the front of the porch.  It will look great when it is done, but I had to revise the landscaping plan to accommodate this.  Now there will be sort of a grand staircase that leads to the front porch up that slope.  It will cost me about an extra $500, but will look much nicer.

Also, I took the opportunity to locate a guy I know who does foundations and I am going to end up saving about $550 there.  I already got a screaming deal on the foundation hardware (rebar) through my father-in-law that saved me about $1,500.  $2,000 under budget during the initial stages, keeping fingers tightly crossed.

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Posted to The-Ridges by Brett in Logan, UT on 5/23/2008 8:25:09 AM

No, the title of this post isn't a typo or misspelling.  I'm just a bit frustrated because the weather isn't cooperating.  I've already scheduled the excavators, but I still have to get up there to stake off the property.  It's a mud bog right now, and setting stakes while knee deep in mud is no fun for anyone.  I'm hoping there will be a break in the clouds today so that things will dry out just a touch.  There is a chance I will be able to get them up there to dig on Sat before the holiday, so I must have the stakes in whether or not the weather is cooperating.

There are benefits to digging right now though.  We just finished a very wet winter, with about 150% of normal snow levels.  Runoff and water tables are at their peaks right now.  Combine that with four straight days of rain and things are really as wet as they'll ever be here.  Once the hole is in the ground, I'll be able to take a good look at the dirt to determine whether or not we will run into any moisture problems in the basement.  The original geotechnical report stated that they went 11 feet down with no moisture, but that was in July.  I think that May is a better indicator. 

Anyway, even when building construction is slow, be sure to give your excavators a couple days notice.  They can't do anything until the property has been blue staked, and the utilities guys ask for a couple days notice to come and mark their lines.  Also I would really like to get the plumbing/sewer/electric hooked up while the hoe is up there so that he can fill the trenches before leaving, but the city inspector hasn't finished reviewing the plans yet, so I have no permits.  I started calling them yesterday, but I don't want to bother him too much.  I really don't want to get on his bad side.  One guy I know up here said that he failed his framing inspection because the distance between his nails on the OSB sheathing was 1/2" to large.  The inspector actually got out a ruler and measured the distance between sheathing fasteners.   Turns out, they had gotten into a bit of an argument earlier, and the inspector still wasn't happy with him.

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Posted to The-Ridges by Brett in Logan, UT on 5/20/2008 8:33:57 AM

Alright, so we closed on the loan yesterday, which went quite smoothly.  I don't want to jinx anything but I have to say for anyone else looking to do an owner-builder, CTP Loans has been great to deal with so far.   In all fairness, they did take longer to close than some of the local banks do, but that was a minor issue.  The biggest delay was not getting the appraisal back very promptly.  I should probably give an update on the current credit situation since the whole sub-prime loan debacle.  If anyone thought it was hard to get an owner-builder loan before, it is much harder now.  A year ago, local banks were closing in less than a week on owner-builders, with very little paperwork.  They would also not require a down payment because they would count the sweat equity as down payment.  That is no longer the case.

Every local bank that "specializes" in owner-builders said that they would need at least 10% and preferably 20% down (or collateralized equity from a current home).  None of them will consider sweat equity anymore.  Easy credit has simply dried up.  CTP loans has me working through MidCountry Bank, who does risk-based rates.  I didn't mind the extra detailed paperwork regarding the building budget, because I like to do that anyway to make sure I've accounted for all expenses.  My wife and I both have credit scores in the 740's, and technically we could have had a 10% down payment, but that money was better used elsewhere.  Had we gone the direction of a 10% down payment, our rate would have been in the low 6% range.  Since we didn't, our construction rate came in at the mid 7% range.  This will cost us an extra couple thousand in interest during the build, which is not a problem.  I work in investments and the $40K that we would have used as a down payment should end up making far more than that over the next year anyway.  A 10% down payment is a crazy expensive way to get 1% knocked off the construction loan rate.

Anyway, we would be good to start building, but I wasn't on the ball enough with the building permits.  The city inspector is a very hard guy to get a hold of.  I get through to him about 1 in 10 times that I call.  I'm really glad I'm realizing this now, because I'll need several inspections done by him and at least now I know I will have to schedule them far in advance.  The permits should come within the next week if they are fast, and hopefully no longer than 10 days.  I'll be calling in two days to start bugging them.  Not a huge issue though, because I still need to get the excavation done, and I don't need a permit for that.  Also, it is supposed to rain for the next 7 days.  We got so much snow this year that the usual April showers have become May showers.  Working in a mud bog is no fun for anyone when pouring a foundation.

I've heard several people asking on here whether anyone does the majority of the work themselves.  We will be doing the bulk of it ourselves, but there are certain things that it makes sense to hire out.  Here is a list of things we will be contracting out, and the reason.

  1. Excavation:  We can rent a backhoe for $100/hr and I would likely take about 8 hrs, or we can hire an excavator for $125/hr and it will take him 4-5 hours.  Easy choice.  I did the surveying and staking myself though.
  2. Foundation:  I hate concrete work and the forms are expensive.  My father-in-law works for Nucor Steel, so I'm getting all the rebar for pennies on the dollar, and I talked the readymix & foundation guys down to a fair price.  Labor is at about $3/ln ft for footings and $10/ln ft for basement walls.  Doing it myself would only save me about $3K and it would likely take an extra couple weeks and wear me out prematurely in the process.
  3. Walls:  Ordering stick-built panelized walls.  He gets a better deal on lumber than I do, so that offsets some of the labor, and he will save me about 4-6 weeks worth of framing.  The interest savings offset almost all of the rest of the labor cost.  I'll be standing the walls up and hanging all joists & trusses.
  4. HVAC:  I'd like to do this part, but I need to spend my time on electrical and plumbing where the savings are much greater.  HVAC is majority material/equipment cost.  Labor makes up the lesser part.  Plumbing & electrical are the opposite, and labor makes up the bulk of the cost.
  5. Insulation:  I was planning on doing this myself but the stay-in-place blown fiberglass bid came in for less than I can install fiberglass batt myself, and it has a better R-value.
  6. Drywall:  I'll be hanging the drywall, but I really hate tape/mud/texture.  Since I'm doing all the finish carpentry including cabinets myself, I really don't want to waste my time sanding drywall joint compound.  Besides, drywallers are starving right now with the housing slump, so they are giving me great prices.
Besides those 6 items, everything else will be done by me with the help of some friends/family.  I've been helping others build houses for the last several years, and now I'm calling in some favors.

Anyway, getting back to the title of this entry.  Most states now require proof of energy code compliance.  Mine is no exception, but I wasn't aware of this.  Turns out that architects and engineers are required to provide this when they do your plans.  Many of us on this site are a bit more resourceful than that though, and obtain plans through much cheaper routes.  If you are like me and get your plans done for free, you will need to generate the "ResCheck" yourself.  You do so at the following website.

The easiest way to do it is to use the package generator in the prescriptive approach.  If you have a hard time getting a package that is compliant with your specs, then you can use the trade-off approach which will allow you to skimp in some areas and make it up in others.  For instance, you can use U35 windows instead of U30 windows if you take your walls up to R23 instead of R19.

Anyway, I've gotta go get my lot staked out for the excavator.  Hopefully I've got a hole in the ground by Friday.

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Posted to The-Ridges by Brett in Logan, UT on 5/14/2008 4:33:55 PM

Photos didn't load well last time.  This should work better.  The photos of the floor plans are also attached as pdf's on the last entry, so I won't load the images again.  Anyone interested can simply open them in Adobe.


Front Exterior Rendering. Not exactly, but it conveys a very close approximation.

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Posted to The-Ridges by Brett in Logan, UT on 5/14/2008

Well, some time has past and I've really been scrambling to get everything together since the last journal entry. I guess you could say that most things have gone smoothly. 

I really needed quick turnaround on the house plans, but we also wanted to save a bunch of money. So, I had to be a little resourceful. I have "Punch Home Architect 4000" that I've used for several remodel projects before. I found a house plan on the Internet that was somewhat similar to what I was thinking. (My favorite architect on the Web is Don Gardner, and the attached front rendering is actually a modified version of one of his homes that I've been using as a good look at what the exterior of the home should look like when completed.) On the Punch software, I created a similar version of the floor plans in about five minutes, using the floor plan trace function. Then I threw out everything that I didn't like about that design and moved a bunch of walls around. Once I had everything in approximately the right places, which didn't end up much like the original at all, I used the software to convert the plans to DXF and emailed them to my aunt who is a drafter.

My aunt imported my files into her AutoCAD program and made the necessary changes, such as moving walls so that dimensions would be in even increments to make construction less complicated. Having my files on hand helped a ton because they live 350 miles away and there was no way to meet up to discuss things. Because of my designs, discussions were quite minimal, but she made some very good suggestions regarding functionality of the rooms. In the end, I had 2'x3' blueprints in hand after 8 days. (She only worked on them for 4 of the 8 days.) I've attached a copy of some of the floor plans if anyone is interested.

During that time I checked with a few local banks about owner-building. A couple of them would work with me, but credit standards have really tightened up, so they were really giving me a hard time. Most wanted about 20% down, and sweat equity didn't count. I decided to get with CTP Loans at the recommendation of several people here. They are a dream to work with. They require you to do a little more work than some local banks, but the terms are great. We had the pre-approval paperwork done in about three days, everything except the subcontractor quotes. 

I got with an appraiser and delivered him a copy of the plans on Apr. 8th. He indicated that the appraisal would be sent to CTP by the 11th. Long story short, it was two weeks past the 11th when the appraisal finally got to them. That has been the only hangup, but unfortunately, that required me to get a two-week extension on the land purchase deadline. The developers were easy to work with on that, though.

Anyway, while the plans were being appraised, I went about completing the quite detailed construction budget worksheet from CTP Loans. To give you an idea, their worksheet has 80 different line items that need quotes or estimates. This is where again the Punch software helped a ton. Once I got the finished plans back from my aunt, I made the necessary changes on my software, but mine also allows me to design the interior and do a complete walk-through. I designed all interior finishes including flooring, paint, trim, and cabinetry. The software then has an estimator that will tell you how much material you will need for any DIY work, which I will be doing a lot of. Then all I had to do was make a few visits to suppliers and have them do a quick price breakdown. (A note to novice builders: this is the part where it really pays to be familiar with building practices, lingo, and building codes.)

Before I began this design work, I had already located three different subs in each of the areas I would require, such as foundation, concrete, plumbing, electrical, etc... I wanted to get bids on the items I was doing myself also, because I wanted to see how much I would be saving through DIY. I went to a local copy shop and had plenty of 50% reduced copies of the blueprints made, as well as 6 full-sized copies. Below are a few tips for doing this:

  1. Avoid places like Kinko's, as they are exceptionally overpriced (e.g. Kinko's = $5/sheet, local copy places = $1.50/sheet).
  2. Small copies should be reduced exactly 50%, because it is easier for subs to use for quotes. The scale is exactly 1/2 the original and most of them use architectural tools to put bids together. If you just get 11X17" copies, the scale will be all wrong and it takes them longer.
  3. Many places would rather get emailed versions, which will save you tons of time and money. Tell your drafter you want PDF versions that are scaled to fit 11x17", or 8.5x11".
To make a very long story just a touch shorter, I told all subs that I was on a short time schedule and would need the quotes back within four days.  They were informed that if they didn't meet that deadline, they would not get the job. I started on a Monday, and had all the quotes/estimates back by Friday. Two of the full-sized blueprints were also delivered to building material supplier/lumberyards for complete take-offs. Now for the past two weeks I have been waiting while the appraiser took his sweet time, and the bank underwriters are doing their thing. There is still much to be done during this waiting period though. Price shopping is the biggest thing. I gave my wife a complete breakdown of fixtures, appliances, and finish materials that we will need, along with an itemized budget, and told her she can get whatever she wants, as long as it doesn't cost more than I've specified. I hate shopping, but she loves it. We all need to do what we're good at.

There are more tips that I have for anyone doing this, but I'm out of time for the day. I'll attach the pictures, and post more later. Hopefully our loan closes Friday.


What the house should pretty much look like when completed. Not exact, but close.
Main level floor plan.
Upper level floor plan.
Basement floor plan.


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Posted to The-Ridges by Brett in Logan, UT on 3/23/2008 2:25:22 PM

Well, owner-building here we come!

Having originally decided to buy an older home and renovate we spent the last several months looking at homes.  This shouldn't have been difficult.  The market is saturated with existing homes for sale.  As it turned out, there were many homes in undesirable locations, and those in good locations were still selling very quickly.  As a result there was really no money to be made on renovating an older home.  Even my most aggressive estimates suggested a mere $50K sweat-equity gain.

Consequently, we began discussing the idea of building rather than purchasing a home.  Finding a lot to build on would also prove to be more difficult than expected.  Even with the builders market softening there has been a nice climb in real estate prices in our area over the last couple years.

We live in a mountain valley in northern Utah with a population of about 100,000 people.  Naturally, the mountain benches overlooking the valley are the most desirable places to live.  A few years back we had considered the idea of building a home and had located some 1/3 acre lots on the bench that we thought were priced fairly at $45K.  The last few of those lots are now selling for $82K just a few years later.  I realize that many on this site are thinking that even at the current price these lots are a great deal.  We had been hoping these lots had only increased to about $60K, but I guess $80-115,000 is the reality of this valley now.

We enlisted the help of five different real estate agents to aid us in our search for property.  This is a great idea for anyone looking for property right now.  Agents are really having a hard time moving properties and are fighting for any business that they can get right now.  Most times they won't require any type of contract and are also willing to take smaller commissions to allow for more negotiation room.  Originally, I figured that since they all had access to the same MLS listings that there wasn't really any need for more than one agent.  Well, I was very wrong.  While there were several subdivisions that kept popping up, the lists we were given were quite different.  Not to mention that a few agents had the inside track on lots not found in new subdivisions.

In an effort to stay under $60K on the lot we began looking at some valley floor subdivisions with lots around $50K.  Obviously, there aren't any views here and the area isn't nearly as desirable, but we are really trying to stay under budget from the start.  We found a few subdivisions priced at about $60K but those lots jumped to $85 if we opted not to use their builder.  Finally, last week I received an email listing for a new 4-phase subdivision with phase-1 lots priced at about $75K.  Obviously this was outside our price range, but they were giving "founder phase discounts" for lots purchased in phase one.  This placed the lots at $67K. 

The trends we were seeing with multi-phase developments is that the founder phase generally starts at slightly reduced prices, allowing the developer to raise additional cash to finish off the rest of t he development.  Given these trends, it is very likely that phase three lots in this subdivision (set for completion next summer) will sell at around $85K.  We decided that the extra $7K should end up providing a nice return on investment.  So we contacted the agent and placed $1,000 to lock in the lot for 45 days.  Now I am scrambling to get the plans finished and financing approved before that 45 day deadline.

Wish me luck.

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