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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 8/24/2011 1:47:30 PM

Anyone's who has ever built their own home will surely be able to relate to the feeling that I have right now: I'm in the front car of the roller coaster and we've just reached the crest of that first monster hill -- it's all downhill, FAST, from here! I sure hope my harness is securely fastened!

Although I haven't been posting a lot here on The Owner-Builder Book site, I've been keeping a detailed diary of what's been happening on my own blog NW Forever Home. Please feel free to stop by and check it out!

We've certainly had our ups and downs... Yesterday (or overnight from the night before), there was an attempted burglary which is causing me to have to replace the top panels on both garage doors. It won't total enough to file an insurance claim, because we have a high deductible, sadly... I don't get these people who think they're entitled to your things because they want them...

In any event, I'm continuing to blog, usually VERY late at night after long days at the site. With just a few weeks left at max, I'll soon be able to post pictures of a clean, finished house! And it can't happen fast enough!

Hope your project is going great!


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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 6/21/2011

Hi all! I've been away awhile but I've been blogging about everything going on with the house on my own construction blog so I invite you to hop on over and check it out!

In short, we had a huge delay problem because the framer apparently thought he should only work a couple of hours per day and maybe two days per week. He was fired and the new framer got the entire pickup list done in two days. Then they did a bunch of new work for dropped ceilings and soffit work in the basement -- that was a huge surprise, and was necessary because the joists were running exactly the opposite way they should have been. It was a ease-of-design issue for the original builder (fired before we broke ground) but took absolutely no trades into consideration.

The HardiePlank siding is on and I'm staining individual Hardie shingles (till my fingers fall off!) with Mason Select Woodperfect in Maple (6702). The siders were astounded at how good they look and made a point of saying that these were SO much better than the standard cedar shingles that get used so much around here. I've got some mid-job pictures posted on my blog if you'd like to see!

The HVAC is in: two high efficiency furnaces and a high-efficiency A/C unit (for the main floor only because the basement will be cool enough on its own) are installed in their own closed systems. The main floor furnace and AC found a good home in a really high, open spot in the attic. The basement furnace has its own little mechanical room.

Rough-in plumbing is now complete and, after a nitpicky inspection failure, we've passed and all is well. Of course, no good deed goes unpunished and we had a fitting failure on the sewer drain line and last Friday night there was a blowout -- water (thankfully, clean) all over the basement -- elevator pit totally filled to its 8" depth, 4'x4'... we'd just gotten well dried out after all that rain when the roof wasn't on...

Electrical is zipping along -- much of the rough-in is done. The generator-ready panels are sitting in our apartment hallway waiting for Thursday to roll around so they can be installed. The generator will be ordered shortly.

I'm meeting with the low-voltage electrical guys tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. to go over CATV/network/telephone locations, a hybrid wired/wireless security system and some A/V wiring. It was interesting to me that the winning electrical bid did not include any low voltage at all! Guess that's common here, because so many people are into future-proofed houses with all the bells and whistles. It lives and dies by low voltage...

Garage doors were ordered today and should be installed mid-next week. I'm going to pick up garage door openers and they'll install them as well. Once the doors are up, I can start storing things in the garage that I just don't have room for in the apartment.

The deck structure has been built and we're thinking about making a minor adjustment to the cedar material we'll use for the decking. My construction manager just used a new product that is also cedar, but it has grooves cut into the back, similar to Trex. It purports to keep the lumber from wanting to cup. I have to see what it costs compared to the standard clear knot cedar. That material was only going to cost us $750, including tax. The framers have given a $700 bid to install whatever decking material and balusters that we choose. So we'll decide over the next week or so. No reason to delay now that the siding around the deck is done -- nothing else needs to be done that should damage it.

We had 9 windows throughout the house lowered 12" so that I can actually reach them to pull them down if I should choose to throw them open. Why the original framers decided to put them 3' off the floor is a mystery to everyone. It cost me $50 per window to get them where they belonged but it's worth the cost. We may try to charge that back to the first framer but even if that doesn't ultimately happen, it's a small price to pay to have a house I can live with for the long term.

The elevator call buttons have been wired and the elevator has been ordered. It should be here in 6 weeks. They upgraded the accordion gates to acrylic smoke from the standard vinyl ones -- no extra charge!

Insulation will be done next week after the framing and electrical inspections are passed. Drywall is poised to start whenever we get the ducks in a row.

Cabinetry from went into production yesterday and is scheduled for delivery on or about July 15 -- YAY!

Work on the cultured rock exterior is about 75% finished, but the column bases and some of the wainscot around the entry have to wait until the porch is poured. That's supposed to be tomorrow at 9 a.m. Then Alex, the stone mason, will get going again on Thursday. I'm waffling on interior stone for the fireplace (which was installed last week) so Alex is bringing me samples to pick from. Great guy -- a really good referral from the other builder in our subdivision!

The gas meter will be installed before June 27 (Jim and my 24th anniversary :-)!! ) so a laborer was digging up the conduit today in preparation. He also did a fair amount of general clean-up after doing some back-fill and leveling of the porch form area.

So the avalanche of activity that will (hopefully) get us into this house in September is in full force. Every day we make progress and the curve balls are getting fewer and further between. I love being involved daily, even though we have the construction manager on board. It's a great tag team that's got positive direction to it!

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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 5/21/2011

We're finally dried in! Of course, the rain stopped four days ago... go figure! After much research, we decided to go with a 30-year, high definition Owens Corning (Oakridge) shingle in Driftwood color. I like the variation and the visual texture (hard to see in the pictures) -- I've already settled on a mossy green for the body of the house, so I think it will coordinate nicely!

We're on to plumbing now -- it's actually been going on in fits and spurts over the past couple of days. Some framing changes need to be done so that it finishes smoothly, but that shouldn't be a big deal. In the daylight basement bathroom, in order to accommodate the drains and venting, we're going to have to drop the ceiling along the tub/toilet closet wall approximately 6", but since we're starting with 9' ceilings, that shouldn't be a big deal.

I did decide to reconfigure the bathroom on the fly last week; details are on my construction blog. It saved having to remove some existing framing and actually gives me more room for the dual sinks and the base cabinet between them. So what if the door now opens into the main room rather than the hallway?! It makes it easier access for hubby's wheelchair, too, so I'm thinking win-win!

Moving on to mechanical, siding and electric proposal selection in the next week. Final framing (tub deck, fireplace box, window relocation) and deck structure will be done in the next few days. The final four windows will be installed by the framers before they leave. Since the exterior doors have now arrived, they'll also be installed by the framers too.

Updated my cabinet order to account for a larger cooktop/cabinet and some additional molding. Will be pulling the trigger shortly with a delivery date of July 15. Can't wait!

Also ordering the elevator next week -- 8-12 weeks for delivery is standard. They're giving me an upgrade to smoked acrylic gates on either end of the cab at no charge -- saves me about $600, so YAY!  

Speaking of saving money, by using the subcontractors we got referrals on from the other builder in our little pod, we saved over $3K on our roofing and are set to save approximately $2K on our siding labor. I can hardly wait to see what their mechanical and electrical guys can come up with! It's amazing how people who are well-employed by another builder in the area can cut costs when they want to stay that way! Also, since they know we were referred by the builder they're already working with, they're not likely to do us wrong because they know we'd go right back to that builder and make noise -- that wouldn't be good for them! But it surely appears to be good for us! :-)


Front, just before completion
Rear elevation, roofing completed

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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 4/29/2011

So I went to the site with the installation guy from the elevator company this morning. We haven't ordered the elevator yet, but we definitely need to get it in the pipeline by the end of May if we want to have it available at the proper time.

Turns out that, through some transposition of numbers, the elevator pit that was formed into the basement slab is actually 10" too wide. Better too wide than not wide enough, believe you me! BUT, this presents a couple of potential issues with the bathroom that backs up to it:

  1. Did the plumber use the pit form to base his measurements off of or did he use an outside foundation wall?
  2. If he used the foundation wall, we'll just need to confirm that the pipes now embedded in the concrete are in the appropriate places. It should be OK.
  3. If he used the pit form edge, we need to figure out where the pipes should have been (likely 5" off if you split the 10" mis-measure in half) and then determine whether adjustments will be necessary. It could be possible to just change the arrangement of fixtures as long as the flow of the room is still accessible for Jim's wheelchair. Otherwise...

If there is a mis-measurement and it causes fixtures to be too far out from the walls (like a toilet 18" from the wall or sinks that would be positioned in the hallway) then we're going to have to bust up concrete to move them. The fixture that actually gives me the biggest case of heartburn is the grinder pump, which is pretty large and is buried in/under the slab with only the top sticking up. Moving that would be monumental and -- I'm sure -- not free.

The pit being mis-sized brings up the absolute value of having a quality, experienced framing crew working on your project. Orlando realized by reviewing the plans that the pit was too large and that the framing needed to be adjusted. So he quickly figured out that there was an additional 10" there, split it and centered the hoistway, adjusting either side to get to the dimension required for the elevator. Had he not been so diligent, we would have incurred additional costs for re-framing -- it also would have thrown our schedule off and could have potentially caused additional engineering to calculate appropriate bracing changes that would have been required for the equipment to have been properly supported and operable.

Wayne has to check several things on site tomorrow in addition to the elevator stuff:

How to address the master bathroom framing to fix a problem that was not caught by the designer -- they had the shower wall sitting inside the shower pan and a window was mis-positioned to be centered over the tub. An error that the framers made in putting up a half wall between the tub and sinks needs to be corrected (a pony wall instead of a full wall 3' deep).

Marking the shower pan in Bath #2 so that the framers know where to change the framing/joists (site built so easier to make changes to than engineered joists) to give us the 6" additional that never made it into the plans when I dismissed the original builder/designer. It was on the list of known changes, but it didn't get communicated to the framers.

Joists were delivered today and they'll be going up over the next week or so. Garage slab will be poured on Tuesday -- the dumpster will also be delivered on Tuesday. We should also be getting windows either next Friday or the following Monday so things are moving along.

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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 4/22/2011

The initial bids we had for Mechanical were based on our original plans for 2,549 sf up and 1,881 sf down. When we blew out the crawl space into full-fledged basement space, I knew we were probably on the hairy edge of what the proposed system was engineered to do -- we went from roughly 4,400 sf to just shy of 5,100 sf. The re-bid came in nearly $3K higher before tax and has caused me to begin learning more about HVAC than I thought I would ever want to!

Rather than using a heat pump as the main source of heat and backing it up with a 95% efficient natural gas furnace in a two-zone configuration (main floor on one zone, basement on the second) as the original HVAC company had proposed, this sub was spec'ing in a 95% efficient furnace as the main source of heat and an AC unit for the lesser need to chill the air in the house. Makes sense when I think about it now. But he was proposing three zones: one for the basement, one for the master bedroom/den area and a third to cover the rest of the main floor. In a zoned system like that, the dampers in the system that open and close to perform the tasks required cost a pretty penny. There are also home-run vents that need to be strategically engineered into the system and run. Those aren't free either.

I like the idea of being able to fine-tune the master bedroom since Jim spends a whole lot of time there, but I'm not sure it can't be done another way -- a way which would hopefully do the job at a lesser initial and ongoing cost.

In talking with the mechanical sub, one of the things that became obvious quickly is that he hadn't been made privy to what I thought was probably a critical change: we altered a huge vaulted area (almost half of the main floor) to be 9' high flat ceilings. When I spoke with the mechanical subcontractor yesterday, he was unaware of the change, and at first said it probably wasn't going to change his approach very much. But I heard a lightbulb click on and he started to talk REALLY fast -- it was hard to keep up with his thought process since I'm a mechanical neophyte!

His bottom line was this: with the alteration of the ceiling, there was now a huge attic area available for mechanical equipment. What if we put the AC air handler in the attic (with the de rigeur overflow pan, auto shut-off wet switch, etc.) and only addressed the main floor space with it? The basement isn't going to get that warm, even with all the windows we'll have. And air movement to make things more comfortable can be well addressed with ceiling fans strategically placed throughout the space. If we do this, then he thinks it probably can be engineered back into a two-zone system, which would save a lot of up-front expense and put the HVAC equipment in closest proximity to the areas that will need it most routinely.

He asked for a couple of days to work through the scenarios and come up with possible designs and will be getting back with several proposals of potential ways to handle our specific situation. I really appreciate that he listened to me about how we're going to live in the house and about our desire to save upfront dollars without compromising comfort or safety, let alone resale value at some point.

I love bean-counting, especially when it comes with an education AND aspects of the house that will ultimately serve us the best!

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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 4/18/2011 8:54:39 PM

Well, we have our daylight basement exterior fully framed and the joists have been set! The framers are going to return on Wednesday morning, but are making themselves scarce while the excavator finishes the backfill and hooking up the water service pipes.

Come read more of my daily details at my blog:

Hope you're having a grand day and that the building gods are smiling on you!

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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 4/7/2011 10:54:07 AM

As you probably can tell from my previous entries, I love to write about what's going on -- I view it as a way to off-load as well as a way to document little snippets that would otherwise likely sift through my brain and exit quietly, never to be thought of again! You might even have wished I didn't go into such tiny detail but, when the fingers have to move, they have to move! 

Well, it's become a lot of effort to maintain this journal and my main blog too, so I'm going to switch over to mainly journaling/posting at Please feel free to stop by and read about my latest building adventures!

Owner-Builders ROCK!!

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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 4/6/2011 11:12:31 AM

Another inspection (albeit another optional one) down and many more to go! The inspector asked for this particular visit and wanted to see how insulation was being handled, what with our gigantic four-foot wide footings... He was very complimentary to our construction manager, saying that he was pleased every time he comes to the property and it's clear that we're starting off on a very high-quality track. Yay!

The foundation guy came back out during a lull in the multi-day rain system that's been bothering us of late -- he put in a really precise rebar grid (anchored into the foundation walls all the way around) after putting down the vapor/moisture barrier and setting the forms for the elevator pit and a couple of other post footings called for in the plans. (I'll post pictures tomorrow when I retrieve my camera from the car -- oops!)

There's supposed to be a gradual slowing of rain through Thursday with Friday and Saturday being projected to be bone-dry. That means the slab will get poured either of those days -- finally. The basement lumber to build out the daylight basement and interior basement walls as well as the joists are to be delivered on Monday so that the framing crew (also scheduled for Monday) has something to work with.

I'm guessing (based on Wayne's estimate) that we're about a month from having a roof on and totally dried in. After that, we won't be as bothered by Mother Nature's fickle behavior! We're aiming for a move in date prior to October 31st, which is perfect, since our "shoebox" lease is up that date and the last thing I want to do is have a house nearly finished but have to pay ridiculous month-to-month rental for this apartment. It's incentive to get things moving and keep them on schedule!

I changed our cooktop to a 36" model from the 30" that I was really happy with because I realized that when the time comes to replace that unit (and it WILL come, because it always does) there are virtually no other 5-burner gas cooktops available in a 30" size. If I happened not to like working on the Caldera unit I'd chosen, I'd be stuck having to get another -- assuming they still made them in that size. If I just love the unit, it's no big problem, but the limitation was too much to take a chance on, so I went to a GE 36" stainless steel model. But nothing's ever easy... that lead to needing a 36" vent hood, which isn't available in the series I'd selected so I needed another model, which took me from under-cabinet mounted to wall-mounted ventilation. That, in turn, deleted a W3018 cabinet that used to be above the cooktop and also changed the base drawer unit from 30 to 36. That, in a chain reaction, changed the upper and lower cabinets on either side of the cooktop from 21" down to 18" to stay within the plan's kitchen footprint... Thankfully, Patty at was able to finagle a reworking of my order without incurring any change order fees -- yay, Patty! :-)

One of the builders who is starting to work on lots 1 and 2 in our little subdivision has offered to provide his list of quality subs for virtually every trade I could need. While I already have bids from others for all of those trades, they're at what appears to be a pretty high "custom home" rate. I fully understand the value of using subs that Wayne is familiar with and can vouch for their quality and warranty practices and I don't want to just walk away from that comfort factor. But I feel like a sub that is working over 50 homes per year for this other builder is not likely to (and please pardon my expression) "potty where they eat" by doing a substandard job for us when they have a bunch of other jobs pending for the builder referring them to us. We have a small community's worth of reference homes to check out less than half a mile up the road, so their quality can easily be checked and confirmed. We've taken the really important foundation and framing into our own hands at this point and we're paying top dollar to have those done better than right. As long as everything that follows on is, at minimum, "right" -- if I can save a couple thousand here, a couple thousand there, I'll be a happy camper.

Working through the construction loan process has motivated me to tighten up these bids as much as possible. I originally thought about it in terms of, overestimate and just get a bloated pot of available funds. If you don't use them, you don't convert them to a permanent mortgage. No harm, no foul, no biggie, right? Well, O-B pays 1 1/2 discount points on the stated value of the loan, so it IS a big deal. If there's an extra $50K for contingency that we're 90% sure we won't need and some pretty high bids for a lot of the trades, we're not doing ourselves any favors financially. Also, it means having to show higher income to qualify if the numbers are high enough... so I'll be spending the next week or so working with Wayne to contact these new subs, get the PDFs to them, gets their bids and check their reference properties. Fingers crossed that some of these folks end up being gems!

I'm really anxious to see this set of numbers for another reason -- this other builder told me I should be able to build a 5,100 sf home on our $175K lot for about $400-$425K total!! Of course, that wouldn't include the $30K for elevator and generator, and I bet his foundation quality and expense wouldn't have been the same as our reality has turned out, but the estimate is still very small compared to ours! The developer told my son that he could build a good home using these same subs (he actually IS using them to build his "dream home" right now) for around $50/sf and that we would get his pricing, no questions asked -- all of these numbers put mine to absolute shame, so I'm looking to trim fat while maintaining quality and pulling up the schedule as much as possible -- and where it makes logical, good sense. Wish me luck!

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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 3/30/2011

So what if it keeps on raining to the extent it makes you think about getting out your ark?!

We've got electric! I sat in the construction manager's truck at around 8:30 a.m., hearing that our meeting with the foundation guy was put off because there was no good reason (or positive outcome possible) if he were to have come out and tried in pouring rain and 30-40 mph winds to put down moisture barrier, slab insulation and set the rebar grid that we've decided to install in the slab for stability. And voila! Out of the fog trotted a PSE guy with his rain gear and hard hat -- down to the tempy pole he went. And a few minutes later we were powerful!

The rain is going to add some pretty serious delay to our slab pouring, which had been slated for tomorrow. We'll be lucky to get it done by next Tuesday because all of the work has to be done (in decent weather conditions) and an inspection scheduled/passed before the concrete can be arranged. And, of course, the lumber to stick-build the bulk of the daylight basement foundation walls and the floor joists for the main floor can't be scheduled until we know when the slab is going to happen. It's all a chain...

It appears that the 700+ square feet that we gained when reclaiming the previously planned crawlspace is going to cost us about $3,000 in additional excavation, foundation and lumber/joists. That's not a bad deal! The joist people just re-worked the basement space to remove as many of the bearing points as they could, considering we'd lost that crawlspace wall that had previously done yeoman's work as far as support. It looks like there may be a single spot in one of the bedrooms that may call for movement of a closet to hide the 4x4 support column that must be present. I guess if that's the worst that happens to my space planning, it's not a big deal.

Still working on nailing down construction financing -- it moves REALLY slowly. In the meantime, I'm finding that many of the suppliers are happy to take plastic, which is really going to bolster my reward point situation! As I mentioned in a previous blog post, those points are going to come in real handy when I turn them in for either cash or big box gift cards -- I'm thinking landscape materials may be in order, since I purposely excluded all landscaping costs from the construction budget. I'm still not even sure that we'll have more than about five feet on either side and a maximum of 10' deep by about 20-30 feet wide in front and back. There won't be a big area to pretty up, but it will be nice if my housing purchases can pay for my garden material!

I'm mentally gearing up to be super tile-layer for this house -- just like I did in Asheville in 2001. Tile labor is absolutely huge, especially when compared to very reasonable tile that I have found locally. And I'm good at tile -- I actually like the process of designing, fitting, cutting and sticking it to the floors and walls. It's the grouting that I could do without! I'm now also resigned to being the main interior painter and I will be learning how to properly install the laminate flooring I've selected for the basement -- I'm going to leave the main floor hardwood for professionals. I'm not sure why I'm making that differentiation, but it seems like that's the way it should be split. All I know is that I'm getting a real bargain on all that flooring, but the labor to install it is looking like 100%+ of that cost over again. I need to control costs for things that I can positively impact and keep the outlay to a minimum while maintaining quality and keeping on schedule to be in the house no later than 11/1. Using the pros, that should be infinitely doable. Using my free labor may tack on some time -- I just need to keep my eye on it and remember to get help when/if I need it instead of being too proud to ask.

Here's crossing fingers again, hoping that the rain and wind will slow down or stop altogether even if it's just for a couple of days!

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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 3/29/2011 2:21:07 PM

We had and passed the sewer connection inspection yesterday, so one more thing knocked off the list!

I spent some of my respite run meandering through the local Home Depot, and found some really workable 12x12 packaged glass mosaic tile sheets for the bargain price of $4.50 each! The ones I liked for the kitchen backsplash (Brioche) are a mix of stone and glass and range from cream to clear to green to almond (looks more yellow in pics, but isn't). There is another called Shoreline that I think would look really sharp cut into two to three tile border strips and applied to the shower walls as accents against the glossy white subway tiles planned for bath #2. Still pondering. A huge bargain, but I need to make sure there's nothing I won't like better for similar pricing. It's not worth the savings if I don't like it in the end and settled to save pennies!

Rough plumbing is in the basement area now; the standard pea gravel has been laid and we're working on insulating the areas required on the plans. Slab should be poured Thursday or Friday. Lumber is scheduled to be dropped mid next week, but we're waiting for a revised joist plan and pricing based on the extra, reclaimed space. We needed to confirm/adjust bearing points, etc. We'll have those today - not expecting much change in pricing, because we've gained and lost material that should result (roughly) in a wash.


Home Depot Brioche Mosaic $4.50 12x12 for kitchen backsplash? What looks like taupe is actually a nice shade of green. What looks blue is actually gray. Lighting in HD is challenging!
Home Depot Shoreline Mosaic $4.50 12x12 - cut into strips for accent with white subway tile in Bath #2?
Basement rough plumbing. This area abuts the elevator hoistway (pink string rectangle).
The grinder pump that is being installed to get waste back up the slope to the sewer.

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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 3/26/2011

Although still bugged by off and on rain, we had two beautiful days in a row followed by 3/4 good days this past Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. That allowed us to get all the interior foundation backfill done and get the plumber out. On Friday, Wayne (construction manager) and I met Bob (plumber) at the site at 8 a.m. (39 degrees -- where are my mittens?!) to go over the placement of the new, improved plumbing layout. Once the plumber is done with the basement bathroom plumbing (five fixtures' worth -- should be today) the dozer guys will put down the pea gravel. The slab areas that require insulation will be addressed, and the slab will be poured. That should be mid next week.

Because we were expanding the living space in the basement thanks to claiming the previous crawlspace, I felt like a one-sink bathroom wasn't going to be enough to service over 2,600 sf, particularly when one of the areas designated as storage is designed with an egress window and easy space to add a future closet and be another good-sized bedroom. But, and it's a big "but", adding another bathroom would have meant going back to the county to alter the permit -- something I didn't want to spend any more time on after waiting over three months for the original. So I thought about it for hours while staring at the previous rough drawings I'd done and decided that I could push out the wall far enough to get a 5' vanity with two sinks and a new fixture arrangement that would give better accessibility for Jim's wheelchair.

We also found out that, because the slope is so severe and the basement so deep, we need a grinder pump to get properly drained to the sewer. Another piece of unintentional good news came when the plumber identified the newly expanded linen closet in the bathroom as an excellent place to sink the system and get easy access when needed without setting aside space anywhere else. I just knew I needed linen and bathroom storage -- but some accidents are good!

Also on the grinder pump, Wayne had told me he thought it would be around $500 if we needed one. With the plumber's discount, it ended up being about $375 so I saved a few pennies there! YAY!

We've been wrestling with the challenge of egress for Jim (and everyone else) from the basement with the slope issues we have. Turns out there's no place but the original location for setting the door and having any hope of reasonable exit, so that's where it will stay. I'd hoped to move it over into the new space we gained, but there's just too much slope and too big a dropoff over there. So I have to go over today and see just how it was implemented, but we made a plan yesterday morning to bring the grade up to the slab at the door and then slope away to a spot that will be level at the far edge of the property - we will build a landing at the door with an integrated ramp/slope down to this area and I'll plant stuff there to make it look more like a garden than a wheelchair parking lot. Mind you, when I say "the far edge", I only mean about 20-25 feet away from the door or approximately 10-15 feet from the corner of the basement. So while Jim could get out of the house if he were in the basement, without someone to haul him up the hill in an emergency (fire rescue, etc.), he'd be staying there in the "garden". It feels like half of a solution, but the reality is that he'll be in the basement only sporadically and during daylight hours, will never sleep there and will never be alone in the house. For people who would be sleeping in the basement, the ramp will lead to an area that will access stairs (motion-detector lit) going up the slope and they'd be able to get away without issue.

We got nice news on the excavation budget yesterday as well... we'd had to pad it with $15K because of the concerns about mitigating the clay soil issues found. After trial and error of several different types of materials and methods, the "dozer family" (Al and his two sons) clicked onto the right process. They imported several dump trucks full of "recon" (reclaimed concrete material mixed with a little dirt -- it's VERY light compared to normal fill material) and mixed three parts of original with one part of the recon and got rock-hard results! They were shocked by the compaction they were able to achieve and everyone is happy with the end product. They ended up using approximately $7K for materials and additional labor, but the other $8K goes back into the unused pot! Yippy Skippy!

We also had about $3K left over in the foundation budget because we had applied tax onto a number that already included tax. Normally I would do a little happy dance about that too, but we're going to burn that up by doing another structural overkill item: rebar grid in the slab. This is not just adding the "wire mesh", but rather rebar is actually affixed to the foundation, running from wall to wall, and will help to stabilize the slab so there's no displacement. Seems like a small amount to pay for long term insurance -- especially since the basement is going to be finished living space, not an unfinished "bonus" space, and could more easily be repaired should something happen down the line if we didn't do this rebar grid. It's already in the budget, so: why not?


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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 3/22/2011

The weather has cooperated a little more the last few days than it had been, thank goodness. Today I found the excavation guys out putting in a hefty drainage system around the perimeter of the foundation. Backfill should be happening real quick -- I expect to see imported 2x4 "recon" which is apparently reclaimed concrete that's used specifically to increase drainage when you have a situation like ours where the excavated fill has clay in it that can't be trusted.

I have a meeting at 8:30 tomorrow morning with our construction manager and the elevator company to finalize the new, larger cab dimension that we're going to be able to order -- the basement slab will be poured in a few days so that elevator pit is a big deal to get right, and the time is surely now. Oh, and I found out that I can charge the elevator instead of having to write a check, so I'm going to be able to get a ton of reward points which I can convert to cash or big box store gift cards to use for little house tweaks later on! Hey, I'm going to buy an elevator one way or the other -- what not get a little bit back to pay for some stuff that I also need to buy?!

Even though I'm a couple months ahead of myself, I also got a great Groupon for a window treatment (it should cover at least the utility room and possibly another single window elsewhere in the house. Blinds can be really expensive and this Groupon (which I bought through my rebate account and saved another $2.64 on!) was $35 for $75 worth of product. So a bargain in the making! If you're a bargain aficionado like me and you haven't registered for Groupon, LivingSocial and LocalTwist you should really consider it -- they're all free, and in the past month I've seen offers for 50-80% off landscaping services, painting services, cleaning services, window cleaning, kitchen design and planning, etc. -- all things that could be of use during the building process. If you're buying stuff online for your house (or just buying online in general) and you haven't set up free accounts on,, you're leaving money on the table -- and don't forget to go to to see if anybody is offering a rebate for whatever site you're thinking of buying from before you press the "order complete" button, or it could cost you more than you'd need to spend.


View from street below and in back of site. Looks more like a bunker than a house at this stage!
Foundation at rear of house under kitchen eating area and great room
Foundation at master bedroom; waterproofing steps down to match lot slope. And our giant mountain of fill at left.
Garage foundation wall (waayyy high) with waterproofing system
Foundation at front in Dining Room/Foyer area with waterproofing system installed.
Waterproofing finish where foundation walls meet footings. Gunite was applied under the area as an additional piece of insurance.
Waterproofing System

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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 3/16/2011

So the weather has just not cooperated since we broke ground -- go figure! In the weeks just prior to starting, we had a two-day snow event and a little misty rain, but otherwise it was pretty ideal for building. Of course, that's when we were stuck in the county's building permit process because they "forgot" we were to be fast tracked due to documented medical need. From the day the excavator took up its first shovelful of dirt, we've been fighting wicked winds, whipping rains and even some snow -- actually one day there was even a short hailstorm.

Yesterday was supposed to be the start of waterproofing. When I arrived at our site at 9 a.m., I could hear a leaf blower and our construction manager took me over to show me what was being done: they were blowing the wall bottom and footings dry so they could start the waterproofing during what they refer to here as "a sun break"! Let the games begin!

The guy in charge of the waterproofing has been at it for well over 20 years and the construction manager has worked with him for over 15 years. He's been described as a "waterproofing genius" so I have very high expectations! We're waterproofing specific areas in specific ways to maximize our dollars while getting the most appropriate coverage where it's needed.

We added an extra step to the process (and will go $180 over waterproofing budget) by applying a gunite coating to the entire exposed footing and two feet up the vertical wall at the front of the house. That's the 14' high wall of concrete that has both the most dirt exposure as well as the highest potential for water penetration. After that is applied, there is a coating, then a membrane and finish. On the walls holding up the garage, it's high enough that a thick coating of waterproofing goop will be enough -- no membrane required. The slope of this site surely has caused some as-we-go surprises...

I'll be heading over to the lot this morning before meeting with the construction manager at 11. I want to see/document how far they got on the waterproofing process before the skies opened up again. We're living in an apartment less than two miles from the site and, here, there was less than two hours of no rain before it cranked up again. Of course, that doesn't mean that it wasn't bone dry at the house.

Today we'll be working with Wayne to finalize a layout for the basement to best utilize the over 700 SF of extra space we gained by gobbling up the crawlspace. We need to figure out what additional support might be necessary now that the original walls have been blown out and won't be supporting load as was depicted on our plans. We'll also figure out windows so we can go get the package rebid - we'll need more than originally planned because of how much stick-building we're doing on fully-out-of-the-ground wall space in the daylight basement. It's almost as if we have a two-story house built into the side of the hill instead of a ranch with a basement. Lots of light and airy space, so that's good!

Also waiting on new drawings for the elevator. I spoke with the company yesterday and we'll be expanding the cab from 12 SF to 15 SF (no additional expense), putting the winding drum mechanism in a small mechanical room rather than sitting on top of the cab in the hoistway (we have room for the mechanical room in our new, expanded space!) and relocating the rails in the hoistway to best control potential noise. They should be done this afternoon. We need to get this information before we can form up the pit for the unit in the basement slab and they're aware of our short fuse. Jim's happy that the elevator will be a little less confining too!

It appears that we'll be able to use approximately half of the dirt excavated from our foundation. Half is a clay-mix fill but the other half is more topsoil, less clay. It's very free-draining. The dozing folks separated it out as they were digging, so they have easy access to the higher quality dirt. We'll be importing crushed concrete for use under the basement and garage slab as well as to mix in to the backfill. Free-draining quality is what's being designed in and, between that and the super-duper waterproofing job, we should be good to go for a long time! We need to talk the other builder/developer to let us leave the extra fill with their existing piles of fill so that we don't have to pay to export -- it's absolutely ridiculous what taking away dirt adds to the bottom line!

Fingers crossed for QuickCAD engineers and good weather!


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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 3/12/2011

Today was a bad day for timing... spent most of it on the phone and emailing back and forth with the HOA for the home we left behind in Florida with a tenant in it. I hate HOAs and so wish there would have been a way to build here in WA without one involved, but sadly, it was not to be. I have to hope that whoever we get as neighbors (aside from our son and daughter-in-law, whom we already know and can control via meals and babysitting ;-)) are reasonable people who work and don't have tons of idle time and nothing constructive to do with it...

I need to go tomorrow to check, but we were supposed to have our foundation walls poured today. Wayne (construction manager) says the slab insulation will be put down in the next few days and the super-duper waterproofing job will be done. Then the plumber will be out to put in the stuff that needs to be in place prior to the slab being poured. We should have a floor by mid next-week and then we can drop lumber and head off to the races.

Received another one of those notice of intent to lien certified mails from a sub's sub -- this time the concrete pumping company. It's a good thing I know what they are and to expect them to come certified, because receiving mail you need to sign for is anxiety-provoking for me.

Tomorrow after I do a quick check of the wall pour, I'm going to spend a goodly amount of time re-working the basement floor plan to take advantage of our newfound 700 sf. It dawned on me yesterday, too, that the expanded area is going to allow us to get a bigger elevator cab without incurring extra expense. Up to a certain square footage, the price is all the same from the elevator company. I think we will definitely take advantage because we can afford to give up 6-12" in the main floor hallway (leaving over 4' of clear hall space) and we have tons of extra now in the basement. With power wheelchairs, a little extra space can go a very long way!

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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 3/11/2011

One more step down... form setting was finished mid-morning today, and the inspector was out about 1:30 this afternoon. It was, once again dreary and raining, but this time we had the extra added bonus of 30-mph winds! I'm guessing the weather had something to do with it, but the inspection took less than 15 minutes and we passed just fine.

The inspector made it very plain to our construction manager that his very detailed explanation of the need for the extra wide footings and precisely how and why we were deviating from the plans has been key to his (the inspector's) comfort level. He also specifically mentioned that, now that he could appreciate the full height of the wall we're pouring at the front of the house (the high point), he feels that he probably would have failed us for the footings during this second step had we not done the jumbo ones initially. The ones specified in our plans were apparently appropriate for a flat or very gently sloped lot without flat access for the wheelchair, but not so much when those things actually are present. I find it very interesting that the builder who designed the house and hired the engineer to stamp all of the specs didn't get it right (like so many other things...) Bottom line: I guess that honesty and transparency does bring good karma -- even when it comes to construction!

Weather tomorrow is supposed to be continued yuck, but Wayne says the pour will happen anyway. Apparently if they waited here in the Seattle area for clear weather, nothing would ever get built! So they know how to pour properly even in the rain and Wayne will have the final call if it gets too wild. But we're definitely moving forward!

Our financing is in process, and we're paying the first invoices out of pocket while we wait. Would it have been more pleasant to be able to use only the bank's money right off the bat? Of course, but they wouldn't start officially processing the construction loan until we had the permits in hand; it takes nearly a month to get everything buttoned up with all of the disbursement accounts set up, etc. We didn't want to wait! We'll figure out whether we want to get reimbursed for these first invoices or whether we'll just pay them and call it part of the down payment -- not sure yet which way to go...

Oh, and I went to Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer this morning to get our sewer permit and water meter. Base expense is $510 for both, BUT there's also the small matter of a $6,000+ capital recovery charge for every new home that helps them recoup the costs for new water and sewer facilities they've built. If there's any excess, it goes into the kitty for future water/sewer needs. Whatever... I'd have to flush an awful lot of toilets to use up $6K don't you think? It's just Jim and I, but apparently the fee is the same per household, regardless of number of occupants. Oh well, another day, another checkbook hit! :-)

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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 3/7/2011

So the weather has been holding for the past couple of days and work continues on form setting. Construction manager Wayne says the form inspection is scheduled for Thursday and, assuming we pass, walls get poured on Friday. So we continue to move along.

I got notice of a certified mail to pick up at the post office, so I trundled over there this morning. I was shocked to find what amounted to a notice of intent to lien -- weird, considering that only excavation and foundation work has commenced and no bills have been received. Turns out that in Washington state, anytime a subcontractor takes work from from another subcontractor, they have to file this official document which does two things: it lets the owner know that a different subcontractor is working on the job and it warns you that you should be vigilant that you don't pay twice for the same work. I guess that problems could arise if billing came from vendors...

Wayne assures me that the foundation contractor often subs out the form setting and that the letter was a formality, really a good thing. I wish they didn't send them certified, because that cost me 20 minutes waiting in line to pick it up! But I do realize they need to be certain that I've seen the document in case financial issues arise that would affect us.

Hope Thursday rolls around soon!


Form work, midway March 7
Form work, midway March 7
More form work, midway on March 7

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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 3/4/2011

Of course, the misty rain was falling again and the wind was whipping -- just can't catch a break! I guess Mother Nature isn't going to make it easy for us... The gigantic, oversized footings have been poured! YAY! They will begin setting the wall forms tomorrow and expectations are that those will be poured late next week. 

Walked through the adjusted budget numbers with the GC this morning and got a huge surprise... you CAN build a quality house for around $80/sf!!! And that includes an elevator and a generator, hardwood floors throughout, quality all wood cabinets, granite counters, etc. GC Wayne says that there's no way this figure would have been reached if we didn't have such a solid partnership -- we're working bids from two angles and leveraging the information to get the highest quality at the lowest cost. It's also directly attributable to the severely depressed building market -- quality subs are scrambling for work and are willing to take a much smaller profit just to keep busy. It appears to be working for us! It's not hurting, either, that the kids will be building next door and subs can be offered both jobs if their bid is attractive enough. Shameless... oh well!

Now we're putting together a "presentation" to give the bank appraiser on Monday so that the true value of the house will be represented to and accounted for by the money-holders! In addition to the full set of plans they already have in hand, they'll now receive a spec list and information about the lot (it's large for the area and has unobstructed views from three sides, which is uncommon), specific features that are unique and need to be considered above the "average construction" in the area (elevator, generator) etc. The idea is to provide ammunition to get the highest realistic appraisal so that we can cover any monetary possibility within 80% of loan-to-value parameters that our bank adheres to. When we get that finalized, I'll try to post a template that others can possibly use to get a good appraisal in this no-so-good market.

$80/sf... who'd have thunk it!?!


Mar 3 - Footings just poured. 4' wide (yes, 4 feet!). Sorry for fuzz, camera phone not the best tool!
Mar 3 - Footings just poured, crew working on them in rain
Mar 3 - Work on just-poured footings

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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 3/2/2011

Woohoo! The inspector was out to inspect the footing forms and we passed! Of course, there was a little drama (but when isn't there?!) before getting his stamp...

He was confused by the fact that we had "overkill" footings, but our GC was able to explain that we exceeded the required specs engineered into our plans to better support the very tall back wall of the basement. We're 3'-5' elevated from where we might have been because of needing flat wheelchair access for Jim on this very sloped lot. As I mentioned in an earlier post, that need afforded us the opportunity to lose a crawl space area and claim it as basement, giving us a full 2,540 sf lower living level. But that back wall (which will be the only fully concrete wall in the basement) just soars, and the GC was concerned that we build it tight and to a higher standard than might be required. I understand that idea because, here in WA, the contractor is on the hook for 7 years should a problem arise that makes the house uninhabitable. 'Nuff said!

Anyway, the inspector said that we were taking a great approach (thank you GC Wayne and Excavator Al!!) and we'll be pouring the footings tomorrow. Wall forms will go up in the next couple of days with the physical walls being poured late next week. 

Oh, and our big muddy pile of dirt appears to be drying out under its new Visqueen "hat" with the big rock embellishments :-)  -- we'll see what it looks like in another week before making a decision about whether the mountain will need to be hauled off and replaced or use it without concern as backfill against our giant concrete wall.

I hope all the inspections go so smoothly!

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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 3/2/2011

So the rain kind of let up and, aside from about 30 minutes of flurries, there hasn't been any snow to speak of, so the remainder of the footings were set. Inspection will be today -- not sure when, so the GC is sitting nearby our lot, waiting for the call.

Thankfully, after pawing through thousands of emails last night, I found the name of the firm that did the geotech and sited the rockeries on the lot (actually the entire 13-lot plat) as it was being finalized for the county, so we know now that our lot WAS filled and compacted at 95% -- that passes muster. The GC now has a scanned copy of the engineer's letter (with stamp, so it should be considered official) that has already gone to the county in case there are any questions. It will also help them to decide whether additional work will be necessary based on the soil type we've seen so far and how it's behaved since being turned.

I was thinking today about the virtues of using a GC on our project. First off, the bank wasn't going to loan us money without a GC's involvement in some capacity, so we didn't have much of a choice. Beyond that, the man we've contracted with has made my life so much easier that I can't even explain it. I actually read part of a non-building-related book last night -- something I haven't done in months due to fishing around for bids, working with the designer and county, etc. I think that he has already earned back the majority of his flat fee and I believe that this investment in him will reap us many financial and quality benefits as we continue with the project. 

Having said that, we partnered up after I'd already done a considerable amount of work on pricing our project. And, with that data, I was actually able to give the GC ammunition to get even better pricing or higher quality materials at the same price from his trusted network of subs. So if anyone finds themselves in our position or is planning from the start to use a GC, I think it's still highly valuable to bid out the job as soon as you have your plan set.

If I hadn't followed my own advice here, I would have stayed with our original O-B builder for the shell and then had to manage everything after that envelope was completed myself. And I became fully educated that I would have been paying at least $150K more than I could have done it for myself, just based on the bids that I got as a "builder of one house and nothing further to offer as far as volume" when I sent out plans to subs. Even when I consider the $45K that I'll pay this GC, I'm still $110K minimum ahead AND I don't have to stress about things I don't have expertise in. As they say in the credit card commercials... priceless!

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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 3/1/2011

Well, the excavation work was pretty much done and the foundation guys came in to do their part. Then it started to snow. And rain. And snow again. It was pretty much melting as fast as it fell over this past weekend, but the ground was absolutely saturated. Which brings up the next potential challenge.

The dirt that was removed from the basement and was intended to be used as backfill (saving us nearly $10K in haul-away costs) is totally soaked. It was so heavy that the earth moving equipment could barely budge it to reconfigure an area that needed to be addressed. Then one side of the cut collapsed down into the forms and what the excavation guys were shoveling out looked like wet concrete that had just come down the chute from a cement truck. But I haven't gotten any concrete yet... 

We've got quite a bit of pooling within the footing forms but the good news is that it IS draining and the GC also noted that the mountain of dirt that's so soaked is also giving up water at a pretty rapid rate. The dirt appears to have a fair amount of clay in it, but also has some fist-sized rocks and sandy material as well. It was really compacted under the topsoil (which was, in fact, pretty much garbage quality anyway...) and seemed to be of a nature that could easily and safely be built on without additional attention. Now, maybe not so much... The first step is to get the county's opinion as to whether we're OK by using the extra wide footings we're setting (much more than required by the plan specs in order to support the wall height) and, if necessary, the hiring of a soils engineer to tell us whether any amendment is required or we're ready to go.

I'd rather pay the piper up front and build the daylight basement with confidence that it will start out and remain dry than to realize there was a problem later on. Remediation would not be a pleasant thing, to be sure.

Sometimes what seems like a bad thing (the lovely brown swimming pool with a possibly useless mountain of fill dirt sitting beside it) could actually be a blessing. What might have happened later on had we built in the summer when it's mostly dry around here?? What if the dirt had gotten saturated once the house was completed and heaved the slab or something equally bad? That's a place I just plain don't want to go. So we'll take care of it now and live a long and happy life in our forever home!

Footing inspection tomorrow, and if no additional engineering required, concrete pouring on Thursday or Friday.

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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 2/25/2011

So the house we left behind in FL (waiting to sell once the market bounces) was approximately 3,600 sf. My hubby is in a wheelchair, but we knew we wanted to downsize for this "forever" home, so we had to be very crafty regarding space planning, storage and future-proofing. We thought we could easily live in about 2,600 sf, so that's what we designed. Of course, what we could easily live in had virtually nothing to do with resale potential someday... How much market is there, realistically, for a two-bedroom 2,600 sf home outside Seattle?

The home plans that we finalized had a little over 2,600 sf on the main floor, which includes a master bedroom and a den, which could be a bedroom, since it has a closet. But as far as bedrooms, that's it for the house proper. The basement was initially slated to be a mostly unfinished space where Jim could once again have his huge Lionel/K Line train collection -- something he hadn't had access to since his accident. We were slated to have a finished accessible bathroom and therapy room plus a bunch of unfinished storage. Our plans were drawn up with two small future bedrooms to bring the ultimate total BRs to three (or four, counting the den on the main floor). Turns out that, in our county, if the basement space might eventually be finished and is heated/cooled, it has to be studded and insulated in order to pass final inspections and get a CO. There's not a whole lot of additional money to be spent if you have to take it that far, so we decided to bite the bullet and just finish it -- we wound up with 4,440 sf. 

So much for downsizing...

We broke ground at the beginning of this week and we discovered that we would be ending up with only half of the concrete basement walls that we'd assumed. The slope falls off so much that this will look like a two-story house sitting against the hill rather than just a rambler with a daylight basement area at the back. While the excavator was working, he determined that because we'd had to raise the grade to provide the flattest possible access from the street, we'd have a crawlspace only about 1-2 feet shallower than the basement. He called the GC to discuss it before putting the heavy machinery away -- long story short, the GC told him to go ahead and dig it out. Interesting how well he already understands my thought processes... Along with the now mostly-exposed basement walls, we already had figured out:

  • This would give us a full 2,600 sf basement with 9'-10' ceilings (not sure which at this point) - a net gain of about 700 usable square feet with no additional excavation cost.
  • Additional concrete slab expense will be minimal and the majority would be offset by being able to use lumber to stick-build the nearly fully exposed side of the house that was previously assumed to be most covered by earth. The additional 1-2' of vertical concrete foundation wall for basement vs. the crawlspace has a cost associated too, but will be minor. Air may be the cheapest building material, but in a battle of wood vs. concrete, wood wins every time.
  • We'll have some additional siding expense to cover the now stick-built side of the basement, but that really isn't connected to this decision -- it's more associated with the severe dropoff at the rockery that hadn't been fully appreciated during the design process. 
  • Bottom line: about 700 sf of living space for (maximum) a couple thousand dollars total including all the additional lumber, labor, electric, finish... sign me up!

We may have to add additional HVAC equipment at some expense, but until we get the mechanical people to review the new reality, it's not anything I can put my finger on at this point.  Since we're not building two stories above the basement, the GC is hopeful that a highly efficient HVAC unit (we're doing heat pump backed up with a gas forced air furnace) and a properly engineered duct system may allow us to stay with the planned configuration.

This additional space now gives me the luxury of revisiting the basement floorplan and fixing the problem of too-small bedrooms, and disconnected storage areas that I would always rather have had in a single spot. We can also add some more windows and put in a little kitchen/wet bar area into an expanded family room area. And last, but certainly not least, Jim will now have an area to display many of the trains that won't be on the train table -- that was a biggie for him but now, problem solved!

I guess the lesson learned here is to keep your eyes open, be flexible but reasonable/rational and hire experienced subs who think on their feet -- as if your home is their home. Had the excavator not been highly experienced and good at his job AND thinking as he worked, we would have gotten just what we asked for -- or at least what we'd agreed to in order to "fit the lot". For a few thousand dollars extra (which I will gladly take out of my pocket if it were to become a budgetary issue) we now have possibilities that will add tremendous functionality, design options and value to our finished product.

I can't wait to see what the rest of the subs can bring to the table to boost our value while holding the line on our costs!

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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 2/22/2011

Fortunately, the forecasted snow held off till mid afternoon, so a lot of digging was completed before the weather became any sort of an issue. I'll hear back from our GC in the morning regarding whether all the excavation was completed or if there's still some remaining. I was feeling pretty crummy today, so didn't go to the lot -- I want to get rid of my head cold before it turns into something that keeps me off the site for an extended period of time!

The fill issue is a non-issue! With minimal cuts to the sloping lot to accommodate the daylight basement, undisturbed earth was found and, with that, I could put my checkbook away for the time being! The excavator was really pleased with the quality and consistency/density of the soil, so that was a positive thing! 

The footprint of the house is so very tight to the minimal setbacks required by the county and, in some areas, very near the pre-existing rockeries that I cannot afford to breach -- literally and figuratively. We're really, really close to the rockery on the master bedroom side of the house -- it will sound ridiculous, but I had no clue just how much of a slope we were actually dealing with there! It is SO sloped that we're going to be able to do a low, stepped concrete base over there and stick-build almost the entire 9' height for the whole side. It will save quite a bit using lumber rather than concrete, but we'll have to side it at some additional expense, so I'm anxious to see just what it will mean for the exterior design to have that altered appearance.

Upcoming schedule (not sure if the pending nasty snow week is going to drastically affect this or not):

  • Wednesday - complete any remaining excavation work
  • Thursday - engineer to re-stake for foundation forms
  • Friday - foundation form work to begin; make inspection appointment for Monday
  • Saturday - foundation form work to be completed
  • Monday - form inspection
  • Monday or Tuesday - pour footings/foundation

So if the excavation work is done or very nearly done, and the weather cooperates, we will have something to actually look at by mid next week!

I've gotten back a few straggling bids: cultured rock material-only for exterior wainscot and fireplace face (way less than I expected), garage doors (half the price of the previous best bid I had from Costco), gas fireplaces (pretty much in line with where I imagined both would come in) and insulation (a HUGE bargain, cutting almost $1,500 off the previous best bid). Things are coming in, generally, under what I thought they would -- which is great. Framing looks like $3.80/square foot, really inexpensive tile installer the GC has worked with for a long time... good news for us all around.

Still waiting on some substantial bids for big ticket items like electric, plumbing and flooring. I'll buy my plumbing fixtures online and have them shipped free with no tax, because it appears that the plumbers can't beat them. Light fixtures I will purchase with no mark-up, but we're not sure how the local prices with tax will compare to online prices without. Flooring is a biggie because very few online companies ship free. I've found some really good quality material and, even with shipping, I should be able to get pricing that would put me at around $8K for 2,500 sf of engineered maple hardwood and about 1,500 sf of 12 mm laminate. Still have some rooting around to do though...

Fingers crossed for better weather than is being forecasted...

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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 2/21/2011

So it was 37 degrees this morning at 8:30 a.m. but it was nice and clear as I gathered up my jacket, mittens and car keys and headed out from our "shoebox". It was a momentous day: GROUNDBREAKING!!

The GC and the excavator's son were at the lot when I arrived -- it only takes about five minutes from shoebox to lot -- and the big yellow digger (not sure exactly what it's called) arrived about 10 minutes later. After getting out the laser level and walking the lot to check the engineer's staking job against the house plans, the silt screen was installed and the digging began.

Tomorrow I'll find out whether the fill used to create the contour of the lot was engineered fill or regular old fill that will require additional work to get the lot ready. I'm REALLY hoping for the former because the latter has costs associated. I've been thinking positive thoughts out to the universe in an attempt to form the fate I want -- let's see in a day or two how powerful my thought processes are!

On a positive note, one of the builders who will develop the other 11 lots in our little subdivision was out on lot #2 staking out a foundation today and I introduced myself. He will give me the names of his subcontractors to get some additional competitive bids so there might be some more expense-shaving in my future! He also offered us as much good fill as we needed from the huge number of dirt piles they've been stashing on lots 5 and 6 right next to us! Turns out they're building out another small subdivision less than a mile up the road. Fortuitous for us!

We're definitely going to have some topographical challenges to get the drainage just right while preserving the kind of access that Jim's wheelchair will fare best with. We're probably going to have to do quite a bit of filling, even though the lot's slope is pretty perfect for the daylight basement we're going to build. We need to bring up the elevation of the garage slab almost a foot to get the proper angle for good drainage -- the lot really drops off from there... There was even talk of the one full concrete wall of foundation possibly being 14" high! Jeez!

Expecting snow showers tomorrow, so not sure what that will do (if anything) to the excavation work. Fingers crossed that they circumvent our area and that the fill was engineered so sailing will continue on a smooth path.


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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 2/18/2011 9:29:13 AM

Building Permit In-Hand!!! YAY!

Now it's just a question of starting which will either be tomorrow (weather permitting -- big storm expected but you never know) or Monday.

We're on our way. Finally.

Skip, skip, sliddddee... skip, skip, sliddddee....  :-)

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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 2/17/2011 12:02:52 PM

Woohoo! Another $500 savings! Just found out the building permit is coming in under the estimates we were given at intake! I DO love saving money! :-)

I've gotten an email from our plan designer/original builder pushing (kind of demanding, sorta...) for a meeting to go over the prices I found that resulted in documenting the $150K disconnect between their proposal and my bids. I know it's going to sound immature, but I don't WANT to meet with them anymore. I'm tired and I've done a lot of research that they can do themselves if they want to verify whether they're realistic in their pricing or not... They want to talk about where the relationship derailed and how we got to what it is today. It's pretty clear to me: money and greed, greed and money. That's it from where I stand: my desire to save money and their greed in wanting that money for themselves.

They still owe me finalized plans, but the ones that were submitted to the county have been approved, so maybe I'll forgo the revision for a little less stress. After all, the consulting GC we've hired said that custom house plans are seldom 100% correct, and he's already talking to the joist company about revisions necessary for the flat access showers that weren't accounted for by the first people. The GC is confirming whether additional support will be necessary for those lowered pans, so I know that he's thinking. He's actually advised that I could reasonably just keep the plans, as we have them now and the house could be built fine from them with the appropriate oversight and to-do list in place prior to starting. I'm leaning that way... I'm really ready for some smooth sailing without any more anxiety than is strictly necessary.

I have PDFs of the most recent iteration of the plans that I can send electronically to the FedEx Store or the local printer and have spit out in blueprint scale. The GC can simply order regular trusses instead of scissor trusses where we decided to un-vault the ceiling. 

On to other irritations, I'd been told by the original builder that there was approximately $6K overall lumber savings by going with 9' ceilings rather than 10' (which I prefer) throughout our 4,400 sf build. I mentioned that to the GC because we may have an issue with overhead ceiling height in our elevator hoistway (and we MUST have an elevator for hubby's wheelchair travel between floors). In what is getting to be a common occurrence (and I'd better get used to it), I got a blank stare and silence followed by looks of confusion and then anger from the GC. Lumber comes in even-number lengths. They would be chopping inches off 10' lumber to get a finished 9' height -- I hadn't even thought about it like that. So maybe I can't get full 10' ceilings, but maybe, just maybe, I can get 9 and a half feet at the same price as budgeted for 9' -- that would fix any lingering hoistway overhead clearance issues AND keep me on budget with a little extra height to make the house look more airy and open. Win-win again!

I think we're getting to the fun part now!

The lot was actually staked for excavation yesterday, and, if it weren't slated for snow tomorrow, we could have started in the morning. We may still if the forecasters are wrong and if that happens, then the engineer will go out Friday and stake for the foundation. Then the forms will be set over the weekend with the first inspection of the build for those forms on Monday. It's really good to have a consulting GC who has years of experience and relationships built with the inspectors so that we don't suffer delays! 

Oh, and the GC indicated that a house this size could possibly take up to 10 months to complete due to weather and other "stuff". I challenged him to a maximum of 8 months the other day, and he stepped right up. This morning I said: "Did I say 8? I meant 6!"  He laughed and said it would be a push, but he wants to get us in as quickly as possible so that our lives go back to some semblance of normal. It's nice that I'm not the only one thinking that way!

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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 2/16/2011

Even though we had a "medical needs prioritization", we managed to have our building permit stuck in the King County system for the better part of two months. Total time actually spent looking at or doing specific activities regards our plans since December 9?  Oh, about four calendar dates -- not sure how many hours on those dates, but I can see actions commented on in their on-line system for four dates.

What did they do? Day after we did our intake, they made a site visit to verify fire flow and determine that we didn't need fire sprinklers (woohoo -- that was approximately $8,000 saved right there). Then five weeks later and after a well-placed nudge, they had our plans in review for two dates. Then three weeks later with additional nudging from me and our consulting GC, they finally calculated the final bill due. I'm thinking we waited from December 9 until now for probably around 20 hours total work. 

On the positive side, tomorrow morning I can head to the building department with my checkbook, plunk down the over $5K permit balance and walk out of there on what will be the first day of the next exciting phase of our lives! Oh, and the porta-potty is being delivered tomorrow sometime while the excavation site is being staked. Yippy Skippy! Onward!

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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 2/13/2011

Our lot is one of 13 in a small subdivision and we will be the first house started. Our son and daughter-in-law (and grandson!!) will be building on the adjacent lot, so we'll have a family compound of sorts. Our building permits should be released this week and I'll be able to go, plunk down another multi-thousand dollar chunk of change and we'll be on our way! Except...

There's no street sign. Nothing says the main development street is 240th Place SE. And, of course, no other houses are up yet, so there are no address markers. Oh, and although our address makes it appear that we front out to the main street, we're actually building down an little private road and will be set back behind our kids' lot at the edge of a hilltop with unobstructed views of pretty trees and rolling hills. 

So off to the office supply or big-box store I go to get sign materials today so that they'll be able to find us to site our utilities tomorrow! If they can't find us, we'll not be off to the flying start we're hoping for, so... three signs it is!

Several years of thinking, planning and designing are about to be realized! Aside from a topo/boundary survey, this is the first actual work that will be done at our site, so it's very exciting! YAY!

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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 2/12/2011

Yay! After about a month of serious thinking, planning, and going back and forth with the designer, I've locked in the cabinetry for the entire house! Local prices for average cabinets (furniture board boxes, decent construction) were too high and custom cabinetry was out of the question. So off to the Internet I went! And the winner is: Plywood boxes, dovetail/full extension drawers, lifetime warranty... what more could a girl want?!

Kitchen (19), utility room (5), master bath (5), bath number two (2) and bath number three (1) all-wood cabinets with all the crown, panels, skins, toekicks, mouldings -- everything! -- came in at just under $10K, already assembled, tax-free and delivered promptly from Minnesota. Included in this were four (count 'em, 4!) hours of phone conversations (some with screen sharing), renderings, elevations with carpenter's notes and floor plans. All drawers have soft close mechanisms and 80% of my doors have optional soft closers on them as well. There are cabinets with roll-out trays and waste cans in them. We're using a horizontal spice drawer cabinet with the drawers removed as a  five-bottle wine rack in our island. It's going to be a beautiful end product! Although their standard pricing is quite the bargain compared other cabs I found, I was able to take advantage of a 20% off promo that ran through today. "How?" you might ask, since I haven't even broken ground yet... They will put a hold on my credit card for the amount of the order and then they will wait for word from me when to start building my order. I won't be charged until those cabinets leave their facility. Sweet deal for me!

Oh, and my biggest concern about using an internet supplier for such a critical finish item for my house: what happens if stuff arrives damaged? Well, their policy is to have replacement product on its way to you within 48 hours (not counting weekends) -- that's WAY better than you'd get with a big box store or other local supplier, because they'd have to get it from the manufacturer and there would surely be a delay. This way you're connected to the manufacturer at the hip and, like the middleman money that wasn't in the picture, the middleman time isn't a factor, either.

It's very interesting to me that I was unable to find any information on the company cliqstudios on BBB's site, nor did I find reviews by consumers. I kept searching and finally stumbled across a line of pre-assembled cabinets at a site that looked suspiciously similar in style and color and discovered they were from a company called 6 Square. I looked them up and they were based in, wait for it, Minnesota. Hmmm. OK, there's info on them on the BBB site. I was able to locate distributors in lots of states at their website and started finding consumer comments. People were generally pretty happy, so that was good news but without confirmation, I couldn't be 100% sure these were the same cabinets. So a phone call to Patty Green, my designer did confirm -- the cabinets are one and the same. She was shocked that I'd been able to figure it out. They have a different price structure and NEVER offer the 6 Square name to customers, because it would disrupt their distributor relationships.

The cabinets are assembled in Minnesota, made with American materials. One thing I caught a whiff of while surfing and confirmed with the designer, is that the door parts are finished in China in a factory that was designed by the US company. Their processes are as stringent as those in the US manufacturing plant and the materials for the finish job are shipped there from the US to assure quality. The reason they do this is the labor costs; apparently it is SO much less expensive that no one wants to do it here for that price. At least the boxes and all assembly is done here. Patty described the process as this: the door components are sent to China where they're stained and finished. Then they're flat packed and returned to Minnesota. The components go through a quality control process upon arrival, are inspected and then are matched into door sets with consistent shading, graining, etc. Finished cabinets are inspected again, packed, palletized and shipped. I can live with this process. While I'd rather the entire operation were located here in the US and our jobs were totally protected, this hybrid isn't all bad.

I've selected satin nickel hardware from Amerock: Conrad (Bridge) - great coordinating pulls and knobs. It's contemporary without being stark, and I love the simplicity with the Shaker style of the cabinets. I found a site offering them for half of most others ( and will use their pricing with the door hardware site I'm going to use and ask them to price match -- they advertise a 110% guarantee on their homepage at I'm game to test that! Oh, and if I'm able to place my order on line and still get the price match, I'll earn a bigcrumbs rebate of around 5% as well. Cha-ching!

On to my next bargain -- breaking ground within the next 10 days so time's a wastin'!


Amerock Conrad "Bridge" Pull in Satin Nickel
Rockford Caramel Shaker Door Style - notice the nice bevel detail instead of just a square cut
Amerock Conrad Knob in Satin Nickel

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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 2/11/2011

At midnight a couple of nights ago, I had finally tallied all the numbers for bids I'd collected to mirror the work included in the panelized builder's package price. The gap was in excess of $150K. They were waiting for me to come in and sign commitment papers so that as soon as the building permit was issued they would be able to break ground -- but I already knew that there was absolutely no way it was going to happen. I decided that I didn't want to wait to meet with them and scheduled appointments would delay my sitting down with them for another 4-5 days. So I sent them an email.

I told them that I, just as I said I would, had taken apart every last part of their proposal including the "sacred" shell package. They weren't expecting that; they thought I would simply go out and try to get better pricing on the stuff that wasn't in the shell. I told them that the gap was so huge that I wasn't even going to ask them to sharpen their pencils. I asked for the last few pending things to get put into the plan package, for them to be finalized and available ASAP. I thanked them for their time over the past 18-24 months in support of our finding land suitable for what we wanted to build.

Yesterday I got an email back from them. I'd expected that I would get that instead of a call since I'd made it clear that I was out-of-pocket for several days. In the email, I saw things I knew would be there: "We're a quality builder, our company has been in business for years, we have a two-year relationship, etc." Then I saw some things that just irritated me. 

  • They're known as a panelized builder, but sometimes complex houses don't lend themselves well to panelization and incur higher costs.
  • They wanted to re-bid the project as stick-built, still as an O-B project, and they believed they could get the package price "in line" with our expectations.
  • They want to meet one more time to go over the numbers.

OK, we've built panelized before, and, although it was a straightforward, rectangular shaped house, there were approximately 15% savings over stick-built. If you KNOW that your customer's objective is to build as much house as possible with certain accessibility features in a quality fashion for the least amount possible, if the design that YOU were directly involved in creating was going to cause a cost overrun problem if done via panelization, wouldn't you raise the issue immediately? And once you saw that the number for your package added to the subcontractor bids that you were handing to that client totaled over $500K for 4,400 finished square feet (some of which is storage and mechanical room) -- so more than $100/sf in a depressed building economy -- wouldn't you automatically come up with an alternate proposal for a stick-built version at a more tenable total price, presenting it concurrently? Not if, I guess, you were afraid you were going to leave money on the table... 

Interestingly enough, they said "IF" they were really that far from what I found (my bid request process was flawed? I don't think so.), we both needed to know where. Well, I personally don't need to know where! It's plain for me to see. I don't really care about specific subs or materials -- my eye is on the prize: the bottom line, the finished project. THEY obviously do need to know, but I don't actually think there's much of a disconnect at the line-item level. At least that's my suspicion. Most of the bids I got for the work beyond the shell package actually came in within a few dollars or percentage points (except cabinets) of their subs' bids. I think what there is is a huge profit margin for the builder buried in a non-specific, bundled total price. Maybe they actually do need to review their suppliers and subs to assure appropriate prices for themselves, but I don't think that's really the issue. The thing that really disappoints me is that they didn't think I was smart or tenacious enough to figure out how to confirm the financials of this build. Hah... fooled them, I guess.

The way this project developed as an O-B one seemed OK until we got to the pricing part. They weren't going to give me critical information on dollars or suppliers for key work that everything else would dovetail off of. Not very transparent. I wanted a partner to build with and what I got were bean-counters with closed books. I find it interesting that they apparently thought that they could throw virtually any number out and I wouldn't walk away because of the two-year relationship that had developed between us. Guess they didn't learn too much about me in that two years, huh? My family is more important to me than a relationship with a builder. I'm the bean-counter in this family: every nickel I don't spend on this house and get to keep in our account will compound into that much more to be used for health care expenses as we go along. That's not a "maybe", it's an absolute. I know for a fact that those expenses will grow and grow because of Jim's challenges. They forgot about that while we, conversely, live it every day.

I find it incredibly arrogant that this builder would give me the sparest of information about individual pieces in their package, tell me I wouldn't be able to beat their prices because they built a large volume of homes per year, challenge me to try to better every subcontractor's bid and expect that they would get "a pass". Then, when I determine the huge price differential and tell them I've cut them loose, they come back with an offer to do the right thing after the fact. Why would you not lead with your best price first? Why would you think you were going to escape my scrutiny and research when I'd proven to you how good I was at it before you ever delivered your package price? They were shocked at how I ripped into and then dismissed a cabinet company that thought I just another clueless female customer who was more concerned that I would get a pretty kitchen and wouldn't be able to figure out they were not giving me good pricing. It shouldn't have been a mystery that I wasn't going to stop with the cabinets.

I'm done. This is just another business decision in a lifetime that's been full of many business decisions. At this point, there's nothing they can do to change my mind. If they were suddenly able to match the pricing that I've documented, then it would be proof that they were willing to rip me off and impact my family's future for their own profit. If they don't even come close, I don't want to spend time sitting in their office hashing out something that's never going to satisfy me -- I'm not going to spend money when it's clear that there's absolutely no reason to do so. I've moved on and found a GC who is so transparent that it's like drinking from a fire hose in so many ways -- he's educating me, coordinating with me, letting me know daily what's going on! The information comes fast and furious. His flat fee entitles us to his time, experience, contacts and negotiation skills. His job is to gather up the most qualified, cost-effective subs to get the exact house we need built as quickly as possible at the best price he can. If he can get better prices on material or labor, it benefits us but his fee stays the same. His bid book is totally open to us. I'm speaking with him several times a day, sending/receiving emails with specifications and bids attached. When he suggests a product or a finish, he takes me to a house to see precisely what he's talking about so I can make an informed decision. I have a partner. And THAT makes me happy! And the fact that he shaved another $6K off today on framing labor is just more icing on my already well-frosted cake.

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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 2/8/2011

Okay, so I was thinking about my last post when I announced that we would begin working with a GC in order to secure our construction financing. I'm sure that this doesn't fit the purest form of O-B, but in my opinion, it's probably even a little step up in the genre.

I think to be successful building your own home you have to be realistic about what you don't know or can't/don't want to do and be humble enough (and smart enough) to get help for those things. For me that list is pretty substantial, since my hubby is in a wheelchair and can't help like he did on our last build. Additionally, you have to have a ton of time and enough expertise to be able to look at someone's work or consider a specific trade's work and hand and know what's good, bad or maybe enough to meet code, but should be beefed up "because"... I'm not working, so I definitely have the time and I'd like to think I'm 100% capable, but realistically, I'm not an expert, so I'm never going to hit that percentage.

If you hire a GC to run a job and he presents you with a price for the build and you accept it and have nothing more to say about who gets used, what gets used and when the bills get paid, then you're no longer an O-B. But if you hire a GC to partner with you as a consultant whose job it is to get you the best quality at the best price in the most timely fashion, and the entire process is made transparent for you -- I think that's a highly workable O-B hybrid. If the only additional expense to us over the bids we'd gotten is this consulting GC's fee, then isn't it a win-win? If he can shave thousands off the bids we were perfectly accepting of before he came into the picture, isn't that all good for us? Seems like he's covering some, if not most, of his fee... He's getting paid a reasonable amount to run the job as we envisioned it and any lack of experience on our part isn't going to delay our getting into our new home. He's saving money over what we thought was the best we could do after months of research, bid requests and proposal reviews. He took a single look at our plans, looked at my husband in his wheelchair and realized that the floor joists hadn't been spec'd properly to accommodate a lowered floor in the showers so that we would end up with the flat access we need - now there's some money we won't have to come up with after the fact! He has a relationship with the building department that we could never have, so we'll probably stay on schedule from that aspect as well. And I have 30 years of experience on call to answer every dorky question I can come up with so that I can understand exactly what's going on.

I still get to project-manage the job, but now I have a "partner in crime" who, like me, is excited to see how little we can spend to get the house we need, but to do so in a quality way that isn't going to cost us in the end. A penny saved isn't always a penny earned and I suspect that, with O-B, the errors could be amplified in ways that could quickly deplete a budget or cause schedule overruns of the highest order. At this point, if I could find a bank willing to lend us funds without a GC involved, on the face, I would save about $40K but I would have to be absolutely perfect in order not to eat up the savings with any errors I might make myself. I'm thoughtful, logical, a pretty good judge of people, a savvy shopper and a stickler for detail, BUT absolutely perfect?  Not so much! 

This consulting GC being involved has lifted a layer of anxiety off my shoulders that I didn't even realize I had. I think it's because, unlike many O-B's who do their projects over much longer periods of time, we really need to start and get done without delay. The hubby's health is a big concern for me and the longer we live in this shoebox and he doesn't have access to his therapy equipment the more likely deterioration is. So I welcome this GC's involvement -- I'm happy to add a member to the team. And if it has a price tag attached that I can live with and the result is a home with my hand in it/my personal stamp on it, so much the better.

Maybe what happened with the original builder's package price was fate... if it hadn't been so ridiculously high, I wouldn't have been so dogged in getting up to five bids per trade and I wouldn't have known just how much their initial involvement was going to cost us -- and we still would have been working without a net on everything after the house was dried in. If I hadn't had the banker we do, I probably wouldn't have gotten the GC's referral and I would still be a hamster on a wheel trying to negotiate with the original builder and likely getting nowhere fast. Instead, I'm feeling peaceful and hopeful -- the polar opposite of what was building up previously. So much to think about, collect details about and organize. So many relationships to build after figuring out who you want to work with on all the trades. I love the O-B model, but I really like that I can have some flexibility and still realize the quality and the savings with my new hybrid!

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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 2/7/2011

It's been a busy last week or so. My research and bidding process is in absolute full swing. The gap between the original builder's bid and the reality that I'm confirming for myself is coming into focus more clearly with each passing day -- actually the gap is growing pretty steadily. And it's all good -- for us!

Financing became the topic du jour of late... I called my lender to tell them that I thought I was reaching the end of the road (a fiscal impasse, if you will) with the builder who had referred me to them. And I asked the magic $64,000 question: If I walked away from the builder, would they still lend me the funds to build our new home? Well, I got the answer I guess I expected I would:  No. Not without a licensed general contractor running the job. Darn.

But wait! There's more! He had the name of a contractor who might be able to help on a flat-fee basis -- he described the GC as "a breath of fresh air".  I've met him, I like him -- he found a structural problem with our floor joists in terms of creating the curbless showers that we need in two bathrooms for wheelchair accessibility. That single discovery ahead of ordering lumber and I-joists undoubtedly saved us a pretty penny. And we haven't signed even one paper with him yet. Breath of fresh air indeed! And even with his flat fee rolled in, I'm still more than $100K to the positive over the first builder AND we haven't exhausted all the avenues to squeeze out every last penny of savings yet.

He's looked at all the bids, including the original builder's "package" and he thinks he can beat virtually every one of them. My framing bid: just under $23K. He said, "if I put out your job with a $23K paycheck associated, there would be a line of quality, experienced framers wrapped around the corner." He believes it's probably $5K to $6K too high at that amount, so he's sending the plan PDFs to his regular framing crews for competitive bids. And to think... I was so happy to have gotten my bids in hand! Every one of them was several hundred to several thousand dollars less than the baseline I started with. They proved that there was over $150K fat in the package -- I was so pleased with them! To think that as a regular old consumer that I could, for instance, walk into a lumberyard and get one-off pricing that was so attractive but that this GC could potentially do better with his own commercial account and those savings would be ours? And he's poised to fight those financial battles without any increase in his fee to us? And I can relax knowing I have an experienced professional with a complete and thorough understanding of the way the building process works in our county? Woo hoo!

Oh, and my concern about the original builder's name possibly jeopardizing issuance of my building permits? A phone call. That's all it will take to get it adjusted. A breath of fresh air, indeed. He just made a molehill out of a pending mountain!

So what I've learned in the last couple of days boils down to this:  regardless of what the original builder would have us believe, the building recession is still in full swing. There are a TON of good people who have great skills and WANT to build good homes just scratching for work. They're willing to be competitive to keep from being idle. And going into a partnership with someone who possesses the proper credentials, and has 30-year relationships with those quality people AND the building department AND the bank is by no means a defeat of any magnitude. It's a strategy to get what we need.

Let's call it my first small victory!

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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 2/2/2011 10:38:57 AM

It's not even 8 a.m. yet, and I've found another two proposals in my email in-box and I'm very excited about them! My cabinet designer said something interesting to me yesterday when we were discussing prices... I said that her company caught my eye initially because of the prices and a quick review of their construction and value proposition. If I had a ton of money, I might never have spoken to her, because I would have plopped my butt down in a local high and mighty cabinet shop (or expected them to come to me) and said "just do it." Her observation was that she thought I would be unhappy if I felt like I left money unnecessarily on the table, whether I had tons to spare or just two nickels to rub together, and that she thought I enjoyed the planning and detail aspects too much to simply let someone else "handle it". 

This woman doesn't know me really. I've spent about three hours on the phone with her, but she has no idea who I am. Maybe I'm transparent. I hadn't thought about it the way she put it, actually, but on reflection, I think she's right. And that's what makes this owner-builder adventure so appealing to me. I want the best that I can get, and I don't begrudge anyone making a profit, BUT if I can locate people who can make a profit they're comfortable with and I still wind up keeping my wallet firmly tucked into my purse... that's a win-win by definition.

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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 2/1/2011

My head's a little spinny... I'm not sure whether to call the building department now and raise someone's antennae, or just get the permit in my hand and figure out what to do next...

The panelized builder who drew up our plans and helped get the permit submission package together is named as the contractor/builder on the permit documents. They were only ever going to do the "shell" and we would have finished the remainder of the project on our own. 

Now I'm wondering.... it looks like we will not be using this builder because of the huge disparity in pricing we expected and what we actually were proposed - you saw the unfolding story in my previous post. Savings keep piling up as I get bid after bid in my hand and plug them into my ever-present spreadsheet -- saving over $150K is not small potatoes. But I'm wondering what the county's position would be if we suddenly have zero involvement with the contractor listed on the permit.

I look at this similarly to if we were mid-stream and decided to ditch the builder for whatever reason -- surely that wouldn't invalidate the building permit, would it? I guess I'll try to figure out a way to anonymously ask the question to make sure I don't cost any more time than we've already spent waiting. If we have to reapply with the name of a GC consultant or site supervisor, I guess it would be better to know sooner rather than later.

It's amazing all the little details that escape...

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Posted to Forever-Home-Sweet-Home by Jo-Lynn in Issaquah, WA on 1/31/2011

OK, so we spent a year looking for a lot in King County, WA. Man, the prices are really high as are the taxes. Sometimes I wonder whether it's brilliant to take on this kind of financial burden at our "advanced" ages. And the house in Florida can't be sold right now -- the market stinks -- so our building money is tied up. To be able to have exactly what we need is critical with Jim's health needs, so onward we go.

We've been working with a panelized builder since we started looking for a lot. We used their designer (not an architect) and their CAD engineer to work up our accessible plans. Then we submitted our package, including a request for prioritization in the building permit process due to Jim's medical needs, to the county building department. And then we waited. And waited some more. 

In this county, it's common to wait between two and five months to get a building permit when there are absolutely no challenges, no critical areas or wetlands to be confirmed or worked around. It's kind of ridiculous... but the good news is that I've been able to use waiting time to research the heck out of every aspect, nook and cranny of the panelized builder's bid. And boy, am I glad I had the time to do it right!

The house we will build is a 2,600 square foot rambler (ranch) with a full daylight basement (around 1,800 sf) for a total of just over 4,400 square feet. The panelized builder offers turnkey projects or owner-builder; obviously o-b is the right path. So I dutifully received their blue 3" o-b binder, which included bids from all the subs for stuff the builder doesn't do in their shell package. I reviewed, red-lined, contacted subs and then started soliciting bids on my own. Angie's List and the BBB are my good friends now. They're backed up by and between them, I've found potential bidders that others think highly of and the bids are slowly rolling in and I'm learning that I can shave money off virtually every bid they gave me, all of which were supposedly their contract pricing.

After getting the builder's package price, we are nearly $150K apart and they're claiming all I can expect to realize as far as savings/equity is about 10%. I told them I would take the bids apart and get realistic numbers. I don't think they understood that I meant the ENTIRE BID, even their part. Is panelized building worth extra to me if the only savings is time? Nope.

So BMC West has become my ally in the fight to build the right house and gain all the equity I can. I went to them after I met a disgruntled customer of the builder I've done my planning with. They claimed to have saved over $18K in trusses alone. Now that's a bargain I can't ignore. I sent them my plan PDFs and was absolutely floored a week later to get the "envelope" bid (lumber, HW, siding, windows, deck structure, trusses, I-beam floor joists). When I added BMC-estimated framing and siding labor costs, a middling roofing bid, a deck bid which was too high because it included the structural lumber too, and the only excavation/foundation bid I've gotten back thus far, it comes in $140K less than the panelized builder. Cha-ching... There's the $150K disconnect, right?

I looked up our permit's progress on the King County website tonight and discovered that they're finished with their review of our plans. The website doesn't say whether they've approved or disapproved yet, so I still have my fingers crossed. I'm not finished gathering up all my bids yet and the panelized builder is looking to set up a meeting to finalize the plans. I think I'll go ahead and do that before I drop the bomb that they'd have to cut their bid in half to get anything more than the $9K I spent on plans. No more money going in that direction... good for us, not so good for them. But no matter how nice the people, the economics and reality of the situation make it pretty apparent that we won't be using them to complete our project.

Hopefully we'll hear good news from the county in the next day or two!

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