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Posted to sherman by Rob in Downers Grove, IL on 9/27/2012 3:56:03 PM

A patio was finally completed this summer.


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Posted to sherman by Rob in Downers Grove, IL on 12/7/2010

It has been over a year since we broke ground on the house. We moved into the house this past summer and celebrated our first Thanksgiving in the new house. I figured it would be good to post some photos of the completed house. Our lives are back to normal now!!!


The breakfast area attached to the kitchen. We still need to get window treatments, it is like living in a fishbowl right now.
The main kitchen area.
The boys playing the family room. They have more space now, and seem to take over every inch of the house with their toys.
The front of the house after landscaping.
The backyard
The side yard
Googie checking out the island.
Mommy and the boys baking in the new kitchen
Googie loves the new fireplace!
Here he is 10 years later.

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Posted to sherman by Rob in Downers Grove, IL on 9/9/2010

It has been a while since I posted anything here. We pretty much completed the project. There are still a few things that I need to complete. I plan to paint some windows and stain some doors. I probably could have paid someone by now, and probably should have. We are really happy with the way that everything turned out and life is about back to normal.

I am going to post some photos from several moths ago that I have on my computer. I will try to post the final ones now that the yard is complete.


Amish Kitchen Cabinets... One of our friends told us these are soo nice, they don't look Amish. I think people think that the Amish only make oak cabinets, but they can make anything you want. They paint, they stain, they do great work. These cabinets are stained cherry and painted maple.
Looking into the kitchen from the family room.
Da bros, my son on the right is about the same age as the house.
My painting crew.
The rental property that we were staying in filled up with water when the sump pump broke. The next day I called the plumber and had the Aquanaut system installed in the new house. I don't plan on having that happen in the new house.
I paid next to nothing for this garage door. It was a white elephant closeout. But it is a top-of-the-line insulated door from Clopay. There just aren't many 18-ft garage doors being sold these days.
The boys cracking up in their new bedroom.

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Posted to sherman by Rob in Downers Grove, IL on 5/20/2010

Just a quick update on the kitchen...

The cabinets have been installed, and they are awesome. I will post pictures this weekend. We went with custom cabinets and wow, are they great. Plywood-box construction, perfect finish, no filler pieces. Nothing but great quality. In an earlier post, I listed some prices for cabinets from the Great Indoors. We wound up spending less on custom cabinetry for the entire house including installation of the kitchen, compared to the prices we got for box cabinets w/o install with lesser quality. The cabinet company we used was second to none. Amazing.

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Posted to sherman by Rob in Downers Grove, IL on 4/15/2010

I don't have any time to write about the project these days. The drywall is up, and the exterior siding is done. The siding guys did such a great job; 100% quality work to the very end. They made several suggestions along the way, which really improved the end result.


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Posted to sherman by Rob in Downers Grove, IL on 3/19/2010

I had to post some more photos of the house. It is a tribute to the great work the siding guys from Golden Prague Construction are doing. They are "top five" on the sub list. Their attention to detail is exceptional. I believe they really enjoy working on this project and they seem to take pride in their work, and it shows.

A couple of weeks ago Beatty Lumber went out of business. This was a shocker, because I purchased all my lumber and windows for the project through them. They were a 100+ year old lumber company; I never expected them to go under. I also ordered my exterior doors through them. Unfortunately, they went under the day before I was scheduled for delivery. The doors were never delivered, instead the company Fedexed a bad check the week of delivery with a note saying they could not process the order. I don't know what the heck Robert Beatty (the owner) is doing, because I thought the company wasn't going into bankruptcy, just closing its doors. I suppose I am going to have to take him to court to get my money back. I wound up having to purchase my doors directly from Beatty's distributor. To be continued!

The basement has been poured. Next week we pour the garage and start the prep work for insulation. Hopefully, the front and back doors will be installed along with some framing that needs to be completed in the basement. It would be nice to get the plumbing stack test completed too. I think we will be making progress on all the loose ends next week.


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Posted to sherman by Rob in Downers Grove, IL on 3/17/2010

I had to upload some new photos; the other ones are getting a little old. We are getting better weather, so things are moving forward again.

The exterior brick work has been completed, and the siding on the second floor is just about done.

We poured the basement this past week. This is a major stress reliever for me, because it was holding up basement framing and the staircase. I am glad that I waited; the pour went great.


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Posted to sherman by Rob in Downers Grove, IL on 2/6/2010

It has been a while since I updated our progress. This is the first time in weeks I have actually had some free time to catch up on things. The build consumes every ounce of my time these days. However, we did pass rough inspection this past week, so things are starting to look a little better.

The brick veneer is starting to go onto the house. It looks great! We are really happy with the "Old Jefferson" bricks.

It is late and I am tired. I will try to add more info this week.


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Posted to sherman by Rob in Downers Grove, IL on 12/31/2009

After not posting anything for a couple of weeks, I have about two weeks of photos. Things move slow when the weather is bad. 

The electrical service was connected the other day. Check that one off the list. The plumber was in this past week to run the gas lines. He is going to be back next week to start the rough-in. 

We got all the holes punched in the roof for the HVAC and plumbing stack. The roofing guys have about one day left. Roofing was delayed a couple of days due to the weather. We had a couple of days of snow and one that was in the teens. The roofing guys don't work when it is below 20 degrees. But when they do work, they start by blowing all the snow off the house. 

The framing crew is finishing up all the small stuff. The wraparound porch was framed out yesterday and sheeted today. These guys have done a fantastic job. There has only been one day that they did not work. That was a single-digit day with negative windchill. Otherwise, these guys have been committed to getting the job done, no excuses. And believe me, there have been many days where it would have been easier for them to stay at home waiting for better weather. These guys sheathed the house in the middle of a snowstorm a couple of days before Christmas!

On Christmas day, all the snow melted and water was everywhere. Christmas morning I wound up drilling weep holes all over the house to drain all the water out of the second floor. The next day it snowed 8 inches so everything is covered in snow again.


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Posted to sherman by Rob in Downers Grove, IL on 12/19/2009

The framing continues despite the cold weather and snow. The week started good on Monday with temps close to 40 degrees. The mason was able to get in there to set the block for the wraparound porch. Initially the planed called for a framed knee wall with pressure-treated lumber. I wound up going with a masonry wall for strength that should hold up to the weather. I did get a credit from the lumberyard for the pressure-treated lumber that had already been delivered. In the long run this is going to cost more, but I think it will be a better design. The blocks will later be faced with a brick veneer that will match what goes along the foundation wall. Now that the blocks are in place, you can start to see how the porch is going to look.

As the week went by the weather started to get worse. It rained, it got cold, and then it snowed 2.5". In addition to the mason, NiCor stopped by to tunnel under the street to complete the gas connection. I now have a gas meter. I have the plumber lined up for Weds. of next week to rough-in a gas line to the basement and punch the stack through the roof before the roofer starts. This will allow us to place a temporary furnace in the basement. I may try to get the basement poured if it can be defrosted. Right now it is not too bad.

The carpenters were out there again all week. Despite the weather they have been working very hard to get the roof on the house. You can see from the photos how the home is starting to come together. It really started to look better after the details in the gables and the soffit started to go up. I hope to see more big changes next week as the roof is started and the porch is framed out.

On the planning side, the kitchen designer came back with a nice design. We had a couple small tweaks, but in general it looks much better compared to the plan we were working with before. I think it is difficult to design a really nice kitchen. Sure you can pick a bunch of cabinets and throw them into your kitchen. But the end results looks like a DIY'er designed the kitchen. The designer was able to bring in an element that we could not accomplish by ourselves no matter how hard we tried. The new design did not change much compared to the old now. A couple of the cabinets were shifted here and there, one or two were eliminated in the island, and the countertop edges were changed, but overall it looks 100 times better. Some people can do this well; I can't. It is a big investment into the value of your home so it needs to be perfect. 

Today I shoveled out the house all day. There is more snow coming in the next few days. I hope the roof goes on as planned. Otherwise I am going to be back at it again. I try to stay ahead of the snow because if you let it sit it turns to ice, and when the ice melts there is water everywhere.


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Posted to sherman by Rob in Downers Grove, IL on 12/13/2009

This week was not a good week to be building anything outside. 

Things started off well when NiCor Gas showed up and installed segment of the gas service that goes from the house to the parkway. They were able to reuse the second construction entrance and drive their machine around the back of the house and down the side yard. I didn't have to move the dumpster. It would have been a nightmare to move it because there was no place to move it with all the lumber everywhere. I need to call them to see when they will complete the final connection to the main. This requires boring under the street which is probably done by a different crew. The general contractor's assistant agreed to follow up on that on Monday. She has become a pro at dealing with NiCor and ComEd. 

ComEd may stand for a comedy of errors. Over the weekend I finally received the paperwork to connect the new service. They sent three different field engineers out to the job site before they sent us a final contract for new service. Each person had some excuse as to why they could not do it, and why they had to forward the paperwork off to the next guy. When we would follow-up with the next person, they would not be familiar with our project and would start the process over again. Each new person we dealt with had to visit the job site and talk about how they were going to send us a contract. Finally over the weekend I received a contract, I immediately signed it and sent it back, we will see what happens now.

They managed to frame the upstairs walls during the first couple of days this past week. Amazing they made the progress that they did because we had several inches of snowfall Tuesday and Wednesday, by Thursday the temperature was in the single digits with a negative wind chill, work had to stop for a couple of days. 

Today I spent a couple of hours shoveling out the house, trying to get as much of the snow out as I could. Things are starting to melt now so there is water everywhere. Next week should be a better week for framing. I hope to get the mason in to do some work on the front porch. If all goes well we will start to see some roofs by the end of next week.

My assistant is going to meet with the kitchen designer tomorrow. For the last couple of weeks she has been working on plans for our kitchen and baths. This is the meeting where she will present her design ideas. I really hope that she can help us come up with a good plan. Time is running out for us. In a week or so I need to tell the plumber where we want our prep sink. This is going to be hard to do w/o a final kitchen layout.

We also contacted a couple of staircase companies this past week. I need to get real subs lined up to do the stairs. I had a couple of bids from early on in the process, but they were more to determine a budget. Now we are ready to select what we really like and finalize the deal.


Breakfast room
Master bathroom w/fireplace cutout
View from the master bedroom window

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Posted to sherman by Rob in Downers Grove, IL on 12/6/2009

This week the first-floor walls and second-floor deck were completed. No rain, so there was good progress. We are starting to get into the below-freezing temps, so the ground is pretty solid now, no more mud pit. Hopefully we will make more good progress next week, but I am not sure. Tonight it is going to snow a couple of inches with more to come after that. The temps will be in the single digits by the end of the week. I expect that we are going to lose a couple of days.

I am still waiting on ComEd to connect my electrical service. I installed the panel, dug the trench, and laid the wires, but they can't seem to get it together to line up the final connection. NiCor is also a problem. They told me that the dumpster is in the way and that I need to move it. I asked when they would be out there and I was told 0-10 days. Not really a good answer because I have building materials being delivered every day and we need somewhere to put them. The dumpster is placed to the side so that the lumber can be delivered. I don't mind moving the dumpster, I can't exactly hold up my project for 10 days waiting on them. Lets just roll out the red carpet, NiCor is on their way. I don't know how they can do this. Well, I do know. They are a monopoly and that is what happens when you are a monopoly. You can tell someone you will be there in 0-10 days w/o any notice.

We are still working out the details on the kitchen. It is going to come down to the wire, I think. This is not the best approach because you wind up making decisions you regret. We are trying to come up with a nice design and it is difficult with the shape of our kitchen and breakfast room.


Living room with a big opening for the fireplace.
Looking north standing on the second-floor deck.
Looking south standing on the second-floor deck.
Garage with tall ceilings.
"Da Bros" checking out the new house that replaced the "junkie house".
Pee Pee in the potty?

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Posted to sherman by Rob in Downers Grove, IL on 11/27/2009

Looking back at my last journal entry about two weeks ago, I can see that many things have happened.

The forms came off, then came the waterproofing, then the insulation board. I burned a couple of days after the forms came off because I failed to realize that it takes a few days for the surveyor to produce a top-of-foundation survey. This survey is required by the village before they will schedule the foundation inspection and it takes a couple of days to process. The foundation inspection has to happen before the backfill so I had to push out the backfill. Luckily, I had some play in the schedule so it was not much of an issue. The backfill happened right before we stated to get more rain. The the rain pushed the underground contractor two days and then he pushed me one because he has to fix a water main break. It was not until this past Monday that my sewer, water, gas and electric service were installed.

I am not complaining because the sewer contractor did a fantastic job. Originally I was going to have him just do sewer and water. Then my electrician told me that he could place the buried triplex cable for the electrical service if the underground contractor would dig the trench. This was a great idea because it could possibly now take less time to make the final connection to the power grid having provided my own service drop to ComEd. ComEd is super slow when they do anything. The best part is that I am going to save some money in the process. I wondered about the gas service and if that was something that I could do myself. Turns out if you install your own conduit to the parkway, Nicor charges about half as much to make the final connection. So the sewer contractor created a trench for this too for a small fee. I lucked out on the sewer connection too. There is a piece of ductile iron pipe that runs into the parkway off the sewer main. I was able to reuse this pipe for my new sewer service. Had I not been able to do this, I would have had to open and then patch the street. This probably would have cost around $1,000 to repair.

The plumber was in there at the beginning of this week to do the underground plumbing. He installed the rough-in for a future basement bathroom along with the ejector pit. I found my plumber when he was working on a new construction job around the corner from my old house. It was close to being a cold call. I had been kinda concerned about hiring him because I did not find him via word of mouth like I had for the other subs. It is funny, because everyone I know hates their plumber. I can do plumbing, but I don't have the time. So I figured I would try to find a plumber that was affordable and supplement whatever was not included with my own work. So far, things are working out nicely and I haven't had to do anything. His office is very responsive, his work is good, and he has done what he said he was going to do. He is always available on the phone to answer questions, calls you back, etc. When I was out there the other day, he had a question about what was going to be allowed by the village. He called the inspector directly to clarify and when it came time to inspect, we had no issues. I like it when there are no surprises.

The day before Thanksgiving the carpenter set the structural steel and started the first floor deck. I did not setup an account with the steel company so they required payment on delivery. I was not there when the steel was delivered. Woops! Luckily my wife was available to run a check out to the job site.

Today the carpenter was back our there (Black Friday) to complete the first floor deck. He has been great, sharp guy with lots of experience. Competition for carpentry has to be tough right now, there are many good people out there. When I sent out bids, I had several great names for carpentry. All of them had great references. One guy was a friend of the family, he had built additions for both my uncle and my dad. Another guy built my wife's friend's house (they were owner-builders too), two other guys came strongly recommended by my architect and by my buddy at the lumberyard. I went with my neighbor who came highly recommended by everyone in the neighborhood. I figured that if he could work on all these peoples' houses and still manage to remain friends with them, he must be doing something right. So far things seem to be working out nicely. Next week they will be starting on the first floor walls.

It is nice to start to see things come together. Tomorrow my wife and I are going to walk the first floor deck to get a feel for the kitchen layout. I am always second guessing the design of the house. I should have done this, could have done that. I hope I don't feel this way when the house is done. I like to tell people that the next house I build after this one is going to be really great! My wife then says that her next husband after this one is going to be even better.


First-floor deck.
Almost completed first-floor deck.
Side of the house, basement windows and fireplace.
Back of the house after backfill.
Mud pit that was created when we installed the new sewer and water service.
Beginning of the first-floor deck.
Foundation just prior to backfill, walls braced.
Before... Front of the house with the forms on.
After... Front of the house with the forms off and the insulation board.

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Posted to sherman by Rob in Downers Grove, IL on 11/10/2009

In Chicago, during the month of October we had one of the worst months for rain in years. This happened to be the year I decided to build a house. I managed to get the footings in and then it started to rain. The water collected at the bottom of the foundation, so I spent a Saturday morning crawling around in the mud. I rented a 2" trash pump from Home Depot and pumped it out in a couple of hours. I wanted to get the water out, because the weather forecast looked good for the following week and I wanted to make sure the concrete guys could work on Monday. Carrying around a trash pump in the mud is fun for about one minute.

My pumping seemed to work. The following Monday they were able to strip the footings, install the inner and outer drain tiles and sump pit. Tuesday they dropped off the aluminum forms via crane, Wednesday and Thursday they set up the forms; by Friday they poured the foundation walls. 

Yesterday the forms came off, and the foundation insulation, window wells, and waterproofing were installed. Ever since November started we have had great weather. Perfect weather for curing concrete foundations. Since we started this project pouring the foundation has been one of my biggest fears. It is the most important part of the build process and the cost to correct any problems is expensive so I didn't want to screw it up.

This week I am working on the final window order and negotiating the best deal on lumber. I have meetings scheduled with the underground utility, HVAC and plumbing contractors. I am not sure if this is going to work but I asked the HVAC and plumber to lay out their runs on my architectural plan to make sure there won't be any conflicts with the placement of ducts and stacks. I also talked to the framing carpenter about making one of the walls a 2x6 for a plumbing stack and to double up some floor joists under the toilet run. I hope this will eliminate any surprises when it comes time to do the rough-in.

A couple of weeks ago I placed a bet. I guessed that we would be ready for framing the week of November 22nd. So I pushed hard to get the project started and to get the foundation in the ground. The concrete guy finished ahead of schedule because he was quick and we didn't have any weather delays. Great - we are ahead of schedule, but I created my own problem becasue the framing carpenter is not going to be ready for us for another week and a half. I am going to see if I can get the underground completed and the electrical service in while we are waiting to start framing.


Footings in the water.
Drain tile and lots of stone.
I had to pay an arm and a leg to use the concrete conveyor. They had to use it, because it was not possible to get the concrete truck close enough to the back corner of the property. In hindsight, I probably should have thought more about where I placed the construction entrance. Had I placed it on the side, they would have been able to get the trucks close to the foundation.
The finished product, concrete-filled forms.
Looking at the front door.

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Posted to sherman by Rob in Downers Grove, IL on 10/29/2009 7:44:03 PM

Lots of stuff going on this week. Despite all the rain, we managed to get the hole dug and the footings poured. We were going to start on Monday but had to push things a day because of the rain. On Tuesday, things went a bit slower than planned because of the way the foundation is designed; nothing I couldn't handle. Because we are building the house into a hill the foundation has a brick ledger, a joist ledger, stepped footings, a pushed-down finished-floor height, so the plan gets complicated. The finished floor height is below grade on one side of the house. There was a lot of checking and rechecking of elevations and layouts before the dig even started. By Wednesday at 2:30 they were all done digging. An army of trucks were ready to take all the dirt to the dump.

Today the footings were formed, inspected and poured. Just like that, one day. I was expecting two days, but one will work. Tonight we are going to get some heavy rain, hopefully there won't be any issues with the walls.

We are building on a lot that is somewhat lower then the surrounding houses. Some of the neighbors complain about stormwater runoff from a neighboring park. This has been in the back of my mind since we started to design the house. When I first started my project I made the civil engineer meet me out at the lot (and it happened to be raining in the middle of the meeting) to discuss runoff. He got the idea. I also made sure we raised the house a bit out of the ground to make sure we were not too low. I tend to believe grading seems to fix most water problems, so I had to hire the right engineering firm to design the grading plan. So far they have done a great job with the survey and engineering work for my project.

Being an engineer, I tend to design systems for worst-case scenarios; my house is no exception. The foundation design calls for an interior and exterior drain tile. The footing has a water-stop membrane that is installed on top of the footing in the V-groove to seal the seam between the footing and the bottom of the foundation wall. The walls are going to be covered with the DELTA-MS membrane. The basement floor will be covered by the DELTA-MS UNDERSLAB. My gold-plated foundation should be watertight when we are done. I decided to go with DELTA-MS over Rub-R-WALL because I like the concept and it also costs less, which is a bonus. The DELTA system provides a gap between the foundation wall and the membrane, allowing water to escape down to the footing if it penetrates the membrane. On top of this will be 1" of insulation board.

I need to be careful w/r to my design decisions, because I don't want to design a gold-plated hammer. Another couple of options I have been considering include insulating the attic rafters, natural-gas backup generator, and a garage furnace. I will most likely go with a garage furnace to keep the rooms above my garage a bit warmer.


New stone drive. The excavator put this in and it is working great. He put a ton of stone down and it has been keeping the streets clean.
The excavator did his own layout. He painted the ground where the foundation was going to be placed.
Completed footings.
The guys from JMS Concrete working fast.

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Posted to sherman by Rob in Downers Grove, IL on 10/25/2009 11:03:07 PM

The house was torn down the week before last. I meet the demo guy out at our lot at 7 a.m.; we talked for 20 minutes while the machine warmed up. We went over some last-minute paperwork and I was about ready to leave. Then he said to me "where you going, don't you want to see the house come down?" I figured it would be a while before they started to tear into it. So I waited a couple of minutes for him to start. In about 20 minutes the two-story house was a pile of rubble. It is amazing to see these guys at work.

My neighbors were loving it too. The kids across the street were excited jumping up and down in the parkway. I watched them cheer as the 4x8 plate glass window on the front of the house broke into a million pieces. It took about a day and a help to complete the demo. There was a rather large drive and detached garage that needed to be hauled away. The dumps close early now that it is late in the season.

We started this week with the lofty goal of digging the foundation on Monday of next week. Five things needed to happen for us to start digging this coming week.

The surveyors had to do the layout by last Friday, the excavator needed to be available, the concrete guy needed to be available, the permits needed to be ready and the weather had to be decent. So far we are four for five. We are supposed to get another couple of inches of rain this week so we will likely postpone the excavation another couple of more days.

I also meet with the carpenter this week. He had a number of questions for the architect and some instructions for the concrete guy. He also gave me his lumber list. Which is much better than the takeoff that the lumberyard has given me.


The lot has been cleared.
Looking into the yard from the street.
Standing in the back yard.
The location has been marked.

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Posted to sherman by Rob in Downers Grove, IL on 10/16/2009 9:08:49 PM

For the past week, we have been fighting with Nicor and ComEd to get the utilities disconnected on the teardown property. I had to file complaints with the Better Business Bureau before we got them to perform the disconnects. If I ever do this again, I will allow more time for this to happen. My wife must have called ComEd about 20 times over the last three weeks.

Today we managed to install fences and get the green light for demo. Downers Grove requires that 6-ft. chain link and silt fencing be installed around the perimeter of the property to protect neighboring properties and to keep random people out of the construction site. I got my first taste of excitement this morning from the fence company. A section of the area where fencing was to be installed was not cleared by JULIE. Luckily we didn't have to inspect that area for the pre-demolition inspection, so they are going to come back out on Tuesday and install the remainder of the fence.

I also wound up installing 150 LF of orange snow fence for tree protection. Originally, I was going to pay the fence company to install this fence, but when they showed in the morning they didn't have enough fence on the truck. They said that they could go back to the shop and get more but we would have lost a couple of hours. I had already scheduled the fence inspection for 2 p.m. and we had already lost an hour by disagreeing about the JULIE. So I quickly ran to Home Depot and threw up some orange snow fence. Problem solved! The fence company did their job by 2 p.m. and we passed the pre-demolition inspection. In the middle of the fence install, the demo company rolled in (unannounced) to drop off their monster-sized machine. Luckily I was there and we didn't have any issues. The fence guys helped me move their tools out of the way so the machine could get through. 

I am waiting for my final permit approvals. We turned in our plan revisions this past Tuesday. Hopefully we will receive our permits on Tuesday of next week if everything is in order. Then I can line up the survey, excavator and concrete guys.


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Posted to sherman by Rob in Downers Grove, IL on 10/8/2009

My plan comments came back and most of them were pretty minor. The village did request that I replace about 75% of the sidewalks on my property. This was a surprise to myself, the engineer and the architect. A surprise to me because I grew up in this town. I know what goes on with the new construction projects. Others are not being asked to replace such a large percentage of walks. I really don't have much of a choice in the matter. I have to agree to the change or push my project out into next year while I fight, which would cost more than just replacing the sidewalks.

Nicor finally disconnected service on the teardown after about of month of begging and pleading. Which is kinda funny because it happened so fast. By the time I got to the house, they were in their trucks eating lunch ready to move on to the next job. If all goes as planned tomorrow the sewer and water will be disconnected along with ComEd. We have been waiting on ComEd for several weeks, hopefully they will finally come through .

I have received many bids back, most of the "A-list" contractors are available and have responded to my request for bids. It is starting to look promising.

Lumber and window companies have been slow to respond, but they eventually do. You just need to keep on them, make several phone calls (emails) a week. I think it helps to let them know that you are serious about getting a number from them. I am realizing that there is a lot of time-wasting in the building industry. Someone like me asks a few guys for a price on siding with the option of them supplying the materials. That guy turns around and asks his outside sales rep at the lumberyard for a price on the siding. He may or may not get the job. If he doesn't, then the outside sales rep just wasted an hour of the day creating an estimate for a project that he did not make any money on. I would imagine this happens all day long. Over time, he probably becomes conditioned to only working on the projects that will likely yield a sale. So the easiest way to navigate through all this is to do your own takeoff and then have them quote you a price on your own takeoff. Otherwise, you may wait a long time for them to get around to doing the takeoff and then a couple of more days for them to give you a price.

Right now, material pricing is very competitive. I have found that the lumberyards are giving me good prices on windows compared to window companies. In fact, so good that a couple of my Marvin Ultimate bids came back lower then the Pella Architect bids. The difference was a couple of thousand dollars.

I am attaching a photo of the kitchen of the teardown.


Brick-veneer backsplash?
Picture of the "bad" sidewalks.

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Posted to sherman by Rob in Downers Grove, IL on 9/26/2009 7:14:38 AM

This past week we got our plans into the village for permitting. It is going to be two weeks or better before we hear back from them. I was kinda surprised because nobody seems to be building houses right now. I was hoping for a quick turnaround and to start breaking ground shortly. We will wait and see. 

In the meantime Manny with Midland Tree Services (who did an awesome job) took down the 41" and 24" silver maples trees that had to be cut down prior to construction. Originally, we wanted to cut down one of the trees in the back. But after talking to the village forester we cut down a second in the front. Over the last couple of years limbs had started falling off the tree in the front. It was just a matter of time before this one was going to have to come down. Silver maples are brittle trees to start with, and this one has a hole in the middle of it. We had them cut down the trees and pile the stumps on the parkway. I posted an ad for free wood on craigslist and people came from all over to pick up the branches and trunks. Manny hauled away everything under 8" and ground up the stumps. We were able to negotiate a very reasonable price; he did the project as a background task over the course of a weeks time.

We also started to send out bids this week. My wife took an early maternity leave so she has been at home for the last couple of weeks. She started helping out with the bidding. It is hard to work a 9-5 job, call people back and meet them to hand out specs and plans. It has been a HUGE help to have her at home. It greatly accelerates the process.  We sent out plans to about 99% of the people on our contractor list. I am getting a minimum of three bids, in some cases I have gotten 6. We have some really good names via friends and friends of friends who are general contractors. People seem to be available and willing to bid our winter job. We may have to make some hard choices when it comes to the final bid selection.


Da Bros
Junkie House

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Posted to sherman by Rob in Downers Grove, IL on 9/4/2009

This week we have been digging into the kitchen design. I like to flush out all the details by going right out for bids. By doing this, people start to ask me questions about what I want and like and force me to research the answers. And at the end of the day I start to get a better idea on the scope of my project. My wife always says that she is in charge of design and I am cost. It works out well for us.

We talked to the Great Indoors first about cabinets since we happened to be in their store one Sunday morning. The designers were really friendly and offered to take a look at our plans and cost out the kitchen. We said sure, no problem. They were able to give us a worst-case estimate of our kitchen costs. Their bid had all the bells and whistles. But I am not sure that we are the kind of people who like "over the top". For a small fee ($100) they offered to help us with the design and provide more detailed information about the bid. We are not big into paying for services that we can get for free at other stores. The free bid came out to be...

Decora - Renwick Brandywine Maple $25,312 + Tax
Decora -Renwick Brandywine Cherry $26,949 + Tax
Dynasty - Guthrie Sable Cherry $28,360 + Tax
Dynasty- Guthrie Red Birch $30,936 + Tax

Too rich for my blood!

Next we visited a custom cabinetry store in the south suburbs. We found this place via word of mouth from a friend that worked with them on her kitchen. They may deal more with GCs on a day-to-day basis. It is a Monday-Friday, 7-3:30 kind of place. The showroom is small and attached to the factory in an industrial park. They make the cabinets on site to whatever specification you want. Hardware is included and installation is like $80/hr. My kitchen is going to be a 1.5-day job. They priced out my kitchen, all bathrooms, linen cabinets and laundry room for less than $18K. Good price, but we need more details.

Next week we are going to try to find an Amish cabinet place. I need to do some research. Our architect purchased his completely custom cabinets from the Amish in southern IL. They look great. However, his sales contact is in business so I suspect that we will try to find another.

We also visited Home Depot. You can't design a kitchen w/o getting a bid from The Home Depot! I did notice something that they posted about sales tax and cabinet installation while I was there. They said that if I were to purchase my cabinets through them and contract them to do the installation I would not have to pay sales tax. You don't typically have to pay tax on labor, but not paying tax on cabinets - this was an interesting thought. So I did a little research and I think I believe them. This link does a little better job of explaining the law then I ever could. Not all cabinet suppliers will be able to do this. But I am sure that HD has an army of tax consultants working this angle.


Kitchen Layout

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Posted to sherman by Rob in Downers Grove, IL on 9/1/2009 9:26:53 PM

So the plans are close to completion. I found out that the building department recently increased the permit fees for new construction in Downers Grove. What a joke, because the boom is over and nobody is building homes. I am being taken to the cleaners because I wanted to build a new house in the town I grew up in. I am not a big-time builder, which I feel that these fees are targeted at.

I plan to post all the fees here when I get the final bill. You get hit from all different directions, new water services (despite having a perfectly good water connection to the old house), stormwater, sanitary sewers, bonds, lofty initial permit fees, and review fees. I am expecting that it is going to cost me in total around $8K or $9K just for the permits.

Below I attached a couple images of the elevations.

Over the last couple of weeks I have researched the heck out of windows. I came to the conclusion that I will go with Marvin Ultimate and use Integrity as a backup. We have been going back and forth with the architect over the last couple of months trying to refine the design to a point that I could afford these windows. We have around 45 windows. I realized quickly that any window that is produced in small quantities or is custom can really drive the price up. When we started we had a few special arch tops, ovals etc. now we are down to standard window sizes and shapes. Don't get me started about the egress windows. Nice concept, but really a stupid rule. Originally I had casements in all my bedrooms to meet code requirements. Then I got to thinking, what happens if my four-year-old stands on the windowsill (like he does in our living room) and falls out the window. So now all are double hungs. I am also thinking about putting the Integrity in the basement and garage and having the Ultimate in rest of the house. Hopefully there would not be much of a difference in the look from the exterior.


Front Elevation
Side Elevation

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Posted to sherman by Rob in Downers Grove, IL on 7/17/2009 11:51:36 PM

I purchased a teardown property back in April of this year with the long-term plan of building my own house. I have watched the price of land fall about $100K over the last two years and finally decided that it was time to buy. At the time I figured that it would take about 12 months to sell my current home and if it didn't sell it I was planning on renting out the teardown or "junkie house" as my son likes to call it. I didn't want to start a build and wind up having a second home that could not be sold in the down market and I didn't know what the house was going to sell for or what my final budget was going to be on the new build or if the banks would even lend me money with two homes. So I figured it would be best to sell first and then build.

During the 12-month home-selling period I had planned to hire an architect/designer to design the perfect house, fix up and stage my current house, and research every single little detail about building a house. I figured that 12 months would be plenty of time to get it all together before moving into the construction phase. Before placing my house on the market I had to complete a bunch of small projects including painting the entire interior. These projects took about two months to complete because I did most of them myself on the weekends and I didn't want to spend any more money on a house that I was going to sell.

I started working with a designer at a very slow pace for the last two months. He came up with some very nice plans; most of them were a little too large both in sq ft and construction costs. Excellent details, great vision as to the use of the space. This past week we seemed to get a little closer to where we want to be in terms of cost and size. My wife says that we are like yin-yang. I am not sure if he likes working with an engineer. He likes to draw, and I like to add numbers.

To meet the budget, I am going to have to do some of the work, something that I had hoped to avoid. I may do some of the high-cost trades to keep the total costs down. Over the last year I created a 300-line spreadsheet to estimate the cost of everything. I am pretty good with spreadsheets and estimation, although most of my experience in this area has to do with the design and manufacturing of electronics. I figure building a house is similar, with the advantage that everyone is in the same time zone and most people speak English.

So last week I think I sold my house. Well, we are under contract and in four weeks I will be homeless. My 12 months of design time has now turned into the past two months plus a hurry-up offense.

I created this first entry in the journal becasue now I am going to have to face the music and become an owner-builder. After thinking about this for two years, I think it is finally going to happen, there is no turning back.

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