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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 9/9/2009

After my last post, Rachel had asked me how my project had turned out cost-wise, and whether cost savings was my primary goal, or was it getting what I wanted.

Well, the truth is that I started out in my prep phase worrying and figuring a lot about costs and savings, etc. Taking meticulous notes, doing calculations with various estimates and projections. But after I got my interim loan, and got into the sequence of the build, all of that dropped away. 

What mattered was getting the job done in a timely way, and controlling costs at all opportunities, but getting it done the very best seemed to make the most sense.

Of course I still saved receipts, and do have the raw notes on costs, but I've never even added it all up. Almost did when I was considering a tax appraisal protest, but then decided not to do that.

And then there's the question of what to compare it to. The actual money that can be spent on a house of so many sq. ft. varies so much, even within a specific locale, that you can make your assumptions and make your case in most any direction you want. Since I was only doing this once, the question of savings over going with a GC just didn't matter to me once I was underway. Apparently, in fact, the actual precise cost didn't really matter to me either (I used lots of CC credit along the way, and paid most all of it back, but didn't really account it religiously).

If I had to make a wild guess, I'd say I saved something around $100,000 - a bit less if you compare to an aggressive general contractor bid, maybe more if compared to a premium bid. My note, which pretty much covers my construction cost, started @ just under $340,000. 

Overall, I'd judge my time on it to have been well spent, due to the savings for sure, but even more due to the satisfaction of seeing it through to completion, and knowing that it's well done.

Photos

A rainy day - a very rare day this summer.



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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 9/7/2009

I've been off with other things for a while, so thought I'd just make another post here just to mark my involvement here on the site.

We've entered the routine phase after our house is built and moved in. If I had a general contractor, I'd have lots to complain about, because the guy hasn't finished lots of things! Haven't even seen him do much of anything for a while... 

But, oh wait, there's not a general contractor. There's just me. Oh, well, maybe it's not so bad.

Actually most important things are working out fine. We've had a ghastly hot, dry summer here. We just need one more day over 100 degrees to match the all-time record (right now we're at 68 days of 100 degrees or over). But despite the drought and lots of watering of shrubs and such, my rainfall catchment tank is nearly full. And the air conditioning is working fine. We're well insulated (with an unvented, fully-insulated, mildly air-conditioned attic) we have ceiling fans almost everywhere, and as long as we stay inside, everything is fine. Also, I've been pleasantly surprised by the frequency of good breezes out on our wraparound porches. I guess that's due to us being near the top of a hill, and I'm sure glad we added the generous eyebrow porches to the original plan we were working from.

Photos




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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 6/22/2008 11:34:20 AM

The tilework was a good example of something that evolved quite a lot after we started doing it, and I just can't imagine it without heavy involvment in the process as an owner-builder.  (Just putting in a change here to test out the moderator edit function--MPS)

Photos

Custom design for cabinet counter underneath the stairs.
Border between guest bath and bedroom.
Guest bath counter.
The master bath counter includes several custom tiles that Lynda made at work.



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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 6/22/2008 11:21:58 AM

We're working on putting together our main move next weekend -- right now it's a modified do-it-yourself:  Rent a truck for a couple days, hire firemen on each end to help load and unload, and me driving it both ways.  Makes me exhausted just thinking about it.  But it will be great to get it behind us, and get into setting up housekeeping.

Catching up on pictures of my finish out, this time on tile work.

Originally I was planning to do all the tile laying myself, as I am doing with laminate flooring.  But my subcontractor for rainfall catchment had a guy who does tile laying as well as concrete tank construction, and he was willing to provide him for a fair day rate, if I "supervised," so that seemed like an attractive deal.

I'm glad that I went that way, because the tile work turned out to be a massive job that I would have had a really hard time getting done on my own in any kind of timely way.  Over 1,500 sq ft, over about 8 rooms, with lots of corners and tricky things to work around, plus a half dozen tile counters, a large shower and a couple large tub surrounds. Just keeping him supplied with materials kept me pretty busy (partly because our main source of tile was back in Dallas).  It ended up taking nearly a month (one guy nearly full time).

Photos

The biggest share of the tile was an 18" tile used downstairs in the great room, entry, dining area, and kitchen/pantry. We ended up also using it in the downstairs bath, master closet, and for some special areas such as the risers for the staircase.
Lynda and Octavio (our tileguy) worked up a design for above the range using the main floor tile along with several special tiles.
Wider view in the kitchen.
Border between dining area and kitchen.



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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 6/15/2008 3:21:42 PM

Continuing to catch up on my postings about the last few months finishing up the interior:

The trim carpentry had turned out to be something of a logjam.  First I'd had a hard time getting referrals to trim carpenters, and then selecting one.  Then once I done that, I was still left with the task of acquiring all the materials: getting the right stuff, right sizes, quantities, etc.  Just enough complexity that I tended to avoid getting it done. 

Also my first choice to supply lumber was an independent lumber mill guy from East Texas who had previously supplied great looking Cypress to my trim carpenter.  But when he was supposed to deliver, he called and said he couldn't get the material, and wouldn't be able to supply it.  Then it took me some long while to get back on the wagon and find an alternative.

Getting the materials together for the main stairs was surprisingly complicated.  I ended up buying oak stair treads and nosing from 4-5 different places I think, iron balusters from a couple, rough cedar and pine from three more.  Part of the problem was that at a couple junctures the quantities of stair treads and lengths that we speced and bought turned out to be insufficient, and when I went for emergency shopping, most places had a very limited supply.

But in the end I think it turned out well.

Photos

The raw stairs before trimming.
The oak treads in place, but the oak flooring yet to be laid on the landings.
Lots and lots of "measure twice, cut once" critical junctures.
I think the relatively wide door trim works well in the scale of our house (relatively high ceilings, open spaces, etc.)



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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 6/14/2008 9:48:12 PM

Based on my little bit of current research, I think 5.75% is a pretty good rate for a 30 yr permanent mortgage.  Passed the inspection/appraisal, got the final docs notarized and into the bank, and we should be done with  everything for the final mortgage.  That's a relief, because the construction loan has got pretty pricey lately, as the construction has taken way more time than I originally envisioned (1 full year instead of 7 months).

As soon as I can finish at least most of the laminate flooring, we can move in.

Worked about two good days on the laminate this week, and got two thirds of one room done.  I'm agonizingly slow at it.  Did make some pretty good progress climbing the learning curve, figured out a couple tricks.  I'm hopeful that I can put in a full week at it next week, and do one room every couple days.  Have what amounts to five rooms to do, including the one that's mostly done.

Photos




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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 6/1/2008 9:06:42 PM

I've been really busy finishing up the house over the last few months, and have skipped out on regular postings to my blog--I'll do a few catchup posts after this one.

Lots has happened since last posting.  The tilework was finished, then trim carpentry, then woodwork staining, with more electrical, hvac, plumbing and bobcat work mixed in.  Many trips to HD, Lowes and McCoys.  I did a big push staying onsite straight thru the last two weeks, culminating with the lender's final appraisal inspection on Friday.  If it was satisfactory (haven't heard yet), then all steps will be complete to convert my construction loan into a permanent mortgage, although the paperwork will take a few weeks to percolate.  I got a quite good rate locked in last week, 5.75% for a 30yr.

The house was supposed to be finished for the final appraisal, and I got as much as possible punched out by then.  Just this week got a lot of electrical finished out, shower door and mirrors, carpet laid, grass laid, pictures hung, etc.

But the reality is that my remaining punchout list seems a mile long, and in particular substantially all the laminate flooring remains undone, and the HVAC still had maybe a couple dozen manhours to go.  But I got my hvac guy to install the thermostats, and the outside units have been in place for some weeks, so it at least looks like the hvac might be finished.  As to the laminate, which I'm doing myself, I laid down the underlayment, and laid out a lot of the laminate on top of it, without any trimming to fit.  Although 95% of the work is in the trimming to fit, maybe it looks further along than it is.  My holdup on the laminate flooring, besides having all the other finishout to supervise, buy for, and do some of, has been cutting the door trim for fitting the laminate under it.  Bought my 3rd or 4th tool for the purpose last week, which I'm hopeful will make it go quicker next week.

Photos

Kitchen pretty well finished--recent completions have included installing the real rough cedar beams, hooking up the oven, dishwasher, sink with garbage disposer, finishing the lites and ceiling fan, and installing the venthood. Still have to mount the counter trim, and cafe doors into the pantry.



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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 3/29/2008 11:49:02 AM

Had another stallout last week when very little happened, but this week was reasonably productive.  Electrician has finished most of the fixtures and wall sockets, switches.  It's beginning to feel more like a place to live in.  Plumbing will make a big difference.

Also started the floor tiling this week.  And I started putting in shelves--staining the wood and hanging brackets.

Photos

Testing the relationship of fixture to vessel--looks like it'll work fine.
Lots of ceiling fans--I think the total count is 15.
I'm doing "hanging metal" shelf brackets with wood or melamine shelves in all the closets and pantry, laundry, garage, etc. Lately I just buy all they have at the Lowe's or Home Depot whenever I'm there.



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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 3/29/2008 11:28:03 AM

We've got a couple early spring rains since got my tank hooked up to the gutters, and it's over half full now.  Looks like I'm catching about 3300 gal per one inch of rainfall.  If our annual rainfall is about 35 inches, that would net us about 115,000 gal a year (actually less due to possible inability to capture if already full when it rains).

Feels like a very good situation though, considering all I'm reading nowadays about water crises all over.

Photos

Moved some dirt and fill around the tank. Still have longrange plans to build a deck up around it, but probably not this year.



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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 3/16/2008 1:34:29 PM

Although I've got lots of continuing "shovelwork" work to do all around, we've got the tractorwork part of landscaping and driveways pretty well finished for now.

This is one of the more personally satisfying parts of the project for me, partly because I've always been fascinated with working in the dirt and manipulating drainage, since my mudpie days.  And partly because I'm more hands-on involved in this project.

Photos

Sometimes people have to truck away surplus dirt and rocks--for me it worked out just about right--had what looked like lots of excess dirt and rock piles, but ended up using all of it, mostly behind the house, on the downslope. Could have used more.
Added a circular driveway to make it easier to get in and out.
Scraped some dirt away from in front of the house, to make water run away and around the house.



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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 3/16/2008 1:13:33 PM

Fans and lighting fixtures also seem to be a pretty good value these days.  Thanks to the Chinese, mostly, and the bigbox retailers.

Photos




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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 3/16/2008 12:05:12 PM

Got our kitchen appliances delivered a few weeks ago.  Last week, I finally moved my office and "bedroom" out of the workshop and into the house.  After all this time roughing it, feels like quite a luxury to have a full-size fridge--plenty of tv dinners, ice cream bars, etc.

Photos

After interminable shopping over many months, we bought our appliances (at Home Depot) and got them delivered. I was worried about the fridge fitting into the space, but it's going to work. We moved the fridge location after framing, so the space wasn't really designed to accomodate.
There's also a pretty modernistic looking stainless and glass vent hood that we've bought to go over the range. It's an interesting turn--we started out planning to splurge on a ridiculously overpriced antiquey-looking range.
Lots of room, at the most comfortable height. One of the perks of building a new house, is getting up to date appliances. Overall, they seem like quite a good value.



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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 2/8/2008 11:00:36 PM

Got the stonemason crew back this week to finish the stonework inside.  It really helps to tie together the living room, floor to ceiling.

Photos

Magic stone dust



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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 1/26/2008 2:00:37 PM

Over at the Texas Local Forum, under "Subs in Austin", I've posted my list of subcontractors and suppliers that I've used for my project.  So thought I'd add it here to my blog.

Of course you'll want to make your own judgments for your individual projects, but I hope these names will be  helpful in your quest for some folks in the area (Austin and mainly West of Austin, TX).  My particular housebuild is 10 miles northwest of Dripping Springs, but most all my subs seem to work an area about a hundred miles in diameter.

I know that for myself, every single recommendation that I got from anyone with direct experience of a sub was precious indeed.

Myself, the top item on my search list right now is for a trim or finish carpenter.  Anybody know any?

Real Estate Agent (Specializing in Rural Lots)--Mike Rose--512 894 0835

 

Construction Loan and Mortgage (1-time close) that accepts ownerbuilders--Capital One, Houston—Kristin Louviere and Ray Miller—713 435 5527.

 

Surveyer--Gary Pennington--512 894 0664

 

Foundation--Texsun Concrete—Shane Pot—512 858 7001

 

Framing--L & M Const.--Mike Steel—512 585 7140

 

Plumbing--Bowman Plumbing—Tom Combs—512 263 9495

 

Electric and HVAC--Jack Ward—512 497 7982

 

Metal Building: Blanco Metal Buildings--Chip Northcutt—830 385 1351

 

Septic System:  Dirtco—Jake Lindsey—512 845 5470

 

Concrete Rain Catchment tanks and systems—Bowerbird Const.—Keith Miller—512 858 5395

 

Stonemason--Gabriel Ugalde—512 395 4829

 

Metal Roofing--Atomic Roofing—Tim Moss—512 787 8965

 

Painter--Taylor Painting--David Taylor--512 393 9009

 

Demilac Foam Insulation--Bobby Key--Central Texas Foam--512 563 8624

 

Sheetrock,tape,bed, texture--Mary Jane Allen--Action Drywall--512 280 9609

 

Seamless Gutters--T&E Services--Lewis & Heath--512 947 8191, 832 868 8290

 

Some suppliers:

Windows:--American Window Systems—Bryant—817 654 9050

 

Lumber, etc.--McCoy’s Bee Caves—Donna—512 263 3527

 

Trusses--Lampasas Building Components—Dan Clausen—512 556 2180

 

Stone--Brooks Stone Ranch, New Braunfels—830 608 0387

 

Sheetmetal Roofing--Mueller, New Braunfels—830 620 5141

 

Paint--Kelly Moore, San Marcos--Art Lopez--512 393 3202

 

Cabinets--Jimmy Carter--Parish Co (Quality Cabinets)--512 748 1789

 

Fireplaces--Anthony's--512 263 5115

 

Garage Doors--Precision Doors--512 280 2300

 

Tile--William @ World of Tile (Dallas)--972 243 0115

 

General--Lowes and Home Depot everywhere, 2nds and Surplus (Dallas)--214 637 3131

 

Line of Sight Wireless Internet--Billy Byrnes--Texas Data--512 264 8787

 


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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 1/26/2008 11:47:20 AM

The rainfall catchment tank is finished, and got a delivery of water to test it out.  Also, there's been a slow but nearly continuous mist in the air for days, so it'll will be interesting to see if that's added any significant quantity of water.

The sheetrock/tape/bed/texture process is finished, and we've decided on the wall color, and bought the paint.  The painter is hopefully starting taping off this weekend, and will finish the interior paint next week.  Gratefully, we're keeping it simple, with just one wall color for everywhere.  We might get into some other colors after we're finished.  But right now I'm trying to focus toward reaching a zeropoint where we can close out the construction loan to the final mortgage, and move in.

Forgot to take any pictures of them yet, but the cabinets are finished being installed.

Photos

The finished rainfall catchment tank. 20,000 gallon capacity. Later I'll extend the back porch with a deck incorporating the tank, which will give me a great perch view over the valley below.
Testing paint colors. The colors on the wall were persistently darker than the paint chips, perceptually. Ended up with a color choice one or two steps lighter than these shown.
Lynda's retired now (from over 20 yrs at the Dallas VA hospital), and so she's been able to come down to the house to look it over a couple times lately.



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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 1/6/2008 4:49:20 PM

There's no water utility serving my rural location.  I could do a well, but they're expensive and the water quality is pretty poor (the limestone underground makes the wellwater very hard).  So I decided to go with a rainfall catchment system. 

I'm feeding it with runoff from both my house and it's porches, and also from the workshop building, so I'm pretty confident that once I fill up my tank, I'll be good to go indefinitely.  In the worst case, there's lots of local suppliers who deliver water pretty economically.

It turned out that I could get a 20,000 gal concrete tank for less than fiberglass or even plastic, plus you can incorporate it into your deck and walk on it, so that's the way I'm going.

Photos

The site behind my back porch.
The metal "cage" that will form the sides.
"Plastering" the sides with concrete, which is done from the outside, and then from the inside.



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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 1/5/2008

I've been away from the housebuild for a few days, and I'm hoping they sheetrock crew has made good progress and is getting close to finished. 

Getting the sheetrocking done seems like a pretty significant step in finishing the house.  Much of the openendedness of the project is over.  Now the spaces are clearly delineated.  If some wiring or plumbing or framing or caulking detail isn't done yet--well--it probably ain't gonna get done now, so I don't have to worry about it any more. 

Lynda's going to visit Monday, and I think she'll be able to visualize spaces, room sizes, wall areas, etc. better now.  Before she'd look at the framing and say she had a hard time telling much about it, because "there weren't any walls."

According to the draw I got authorized this week, we're 70% finished.  I figure it's more like 75%, because the bank's draw schedule doesn't account for or include septic or rainfall catchment systems, which my septic is finished and the rainfall catchment system is past half-way.

Photos




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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 1/4/2008 9:28:16 PM

I'm very glad that I did spray foam insulation.  I've had enough experience with fiberglass insulation, seeing how many gaps are inevitable in installation, and seeing how it it tends to pack down in attic areas after some years in place, to see it as a very mediocre solution, especially in a high-energy cost world.

The spray foam product really seems to give a very tightly sealed envelope for thermal insulation and to prevent air infiltration, and also good sound insulation. 

I also am happy being situated in a practical middle ground between the ICF and SIP purists on the one side, and what you'd think from so many discussions is the only alternative--the drafty frame slackers on the other side.

Photos




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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 1/1/2008 2:15:34 PM

I've had the lines buried to carry rainfall to the catchment tank, and now have got the gutters hooked up to them.

Photos

The gutters are formed onsite in whatever length is necessary, starting with a roll of colored metal back on the truck, which is run thru an extruding machine. Looks like a pretty nice little business to me.



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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 11/29/2007 3:01:37 PM

Progress in general has slowed over the last month--it's moving, but just barely it seems.

But I have got some of the utilities in, including line of site wifi, Direct TV dish, permanent telephone cable buried, most of the trenching and pvc piping to feed water from my roof gutters to my water tank, hot water heater, permanent electric meter.  And the septic installation is finished--my installer also did other trenching for me, and dug out the place behind the house for the concrete water tank (20,000 gal) to be built.

I'm not getting down to my build site this week for the first week I've missed since the housebuild started.

Hopefully, this week the fireplaces install is getting finished, and progress is being made on HVAC.

I'll be calling for a propane tank next week, and the water tank construction is supposed to start.

Photos

quite small receiver for "line of site" wi-fi type broadband internet.
The dishes seem to be getting bigger again, but there's lots more HD now.
Trenches to carry water from workshop gutters.
Noritz tankless hot water heater



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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 10/20/2007

Made a first stab at taking my picture with my project baby--holding the camera at arm's length. Next time I'll try with a tripod, which should work a lot easier.

This week was rather slow, progress-wise. Jack the electrician did a big push Monday and got within shooting distance of finishing the electrical rough-in, with one or two days remaining. But he was off on another project for the rest of the week.

The plumbing rough is pretty close to finished.

The fireplace install is dragging out--the installer pretty much always is coming tomorrow, but tomorrow hadn't come yet as of Friday. Fortunately, that's not holding anything up.

I'm hopeful that the septic permit will be granted quickly (it's relatively just a formality in Hays County if you're doing an aerobic spray system), so maybe can start digging for the septic and also clearing my pad for rainfall catchment tank midweek next.

One of the local "line of sight" internet companies finally got out to survey my location: 

PRAISE THE LORD! They spotted their tower thru binoculars, so they can give me service. There's no cable or DSL or fiber at my rural location, so a "wi-fi" type radio signal direct from a tower was my only good option--without that, satellite high speed is the only other thing, available anywhere (above ground at least), but it's overly expensive and very slow for upload. They're Texas Data--they'll be coming to install their little radio receiver next week.

I went ahead and called Direct TV last week, and lo and behold, they gave me an appointment right away, and then actually showed up at the appointed time.

So maybe I got no water, no septic, and only temp power, but by golly I got HDTV now!

Photos




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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 10/12/2007

The roof is finished, along with the exterior stone.

I finally broke thru my procrastination and contacted the septic engineer and septic installer I'd identified months ago, and hopefully will be able to start septic construction within a few weeks. The septic installer is also going to prep my pad for rainfall catchment tank, so it's another one of those things that needs to happen for something else to happen.

There's still a lot remaining to do exterior: gutters and rainfall catchment piping, lots of trenching for various purposes, septic and water tank construction, grading and landscape. But most of the effort from here forward will be interior.

The electric and plumbing rough in are getting close to finished, with HVAC ducting coming soon.

Photos




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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 10/7/2007

I was already behind the curve when I located a fireplace dealer and installer, but the initial schedule looked like it would work out without holding up the train too much.

But as it will, that schedule for fireplace installation slipped by some days, which made the stonemasons stop for a week, which prevented the roofers from coming back and finishing. (Had to leave a large section of roof on both levels unfinished so that it wouldn't get ruined by rock falling from above during fireplace chimney cladding.)

But they did finally arrive Wednesday nite, and the plumber put in the gas valve Thursday, so the stonemasons could start back Friday. Should work out now that the roofer can get back next week and finish the roof.

The pictures are of three fireplaces--the stainless steel exterior rated one on the screened-in porch, and a big one inside for the great room--both of these will be wrapped in stone. The third is upstairs in the master bedroom, and right now I'm planning to do a project of it myself making it a pueblo fireplace look.

Photos




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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 9/30/2007

We did one day of changes in the framing. 

Once Lynda had seen the kitchen space and thought about it for a while, she thought it would be better to open up the wall that goes alongside the hallway. Since that wall is somewhat load-bearing, we had to put in a 16" LVL beam along the roof, and a post to support it, which will also be decorative.

This will reduce our upper cabinet space to a very minimal amount, but we think we'll be okay, since we've got a large pantry. It will definitely make the kitchen more open to the entry hallway than it had been.

We also made another fairly major change, which was to expand the downstairs guest bath (1/2 bath) into a full bath, by moving the wall and digging out the floor for a shower drain, and add a door to the adjacent room, which was Lynda's craft room, but will now be the guest bedroom. Lynda will move her craft room up into what had been the second bedroom (which won't require any major changes there).

The bath change will cost us I think a little less than $3,000, but it will take us from a two bedroom, two and a half bath to a three bedroom, three bath. The real benefit we were going for was to have a more suitable guest room when my mother visits, because she's getting to be impaired going up stairs.

The third framing change was just moving a wall in the master bath over about 6 inches to accommodate the spa tub that turned out to be wider than I thought. I was really glad to be able to add that on a day when the framing guys were there anyway, so I didn't have to agonize over whether I should do it myself. I could have done it of course, but it would have taken me way, way longer than it did them. Like a day or two instead of an hour or two.

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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 9/30/2007

The stone was yet another feature that I wasn't entirely sure about 'til I saw it in  place. But it seems to work well.

Building a house from scratch, there are really a lot of things like that:  you do all the planning, pondering, projecting, visualizing, etc. that you can, but when it really comes down to it, there remains an irreducible big wild unknown part. You just have to hope it comes together okay.  And maybe decide to like it anyway where it doesn't.

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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 9/30/2007

Getting the roof on was a relief in a couple ways.

Of course getting better protection from the rain is a big step, but also, I was relieved to see the decor scheme of the exterior coming together. I think the wall and trim colors and the bright copper roof work very well together. The bright copper is a pretty bold color, so I just couldn't be sure about it until I actually saw it in place.

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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 9/30/2007

I'm just going to post a few pics here.

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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 9/9/2007 2:20:09 PM

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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 9/9/2007 2:11:06 PM

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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 9/9/2007 1:52:51 PM

I'm still catching up posting pictures--still a few weeks behind.

The first pic is looking at an application of the "Bright Copper" metal roof that we decided to use.  It's going to make a pretty strong statement--so strong that I'm still a little nervous about having such a massive strong color on top of the house.  But I believe it will look great.

I've had the roofing material delivered on site now for several weeks.  We've been waiting to get the painting done, so it wouldn't damage or stain the roofing. 

But they finished this past week, and the roofer is set to start Monday.

The plumber has started back in, especially to get the holes punched in the roof that are needed for plumbing vents.  And Lynda and I are furiously shopping for plumbing fixtures, tubs, showers, etc.  Also shopping for lighting fixtures, ceiling fans, cabinets, countertops.....oh my there are so many decisions.

The electrician is starting in soon, and I've given him an initial deposit to buy materials.

Other subs needed, decisions needed re. fireplaces, tilework, doorknobs and deadbolts to lock up the house....

I'll be glad to get a real roof on--the tarpaper roof I've had for the past month has been way better than nothing, but a lot of it blew off completely in one wind/rain flurry, and since being replaced it's held in place better, but there's still enough leaky spots that I had standing water for several days last week after a good 2 inch soaking overnite.

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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 9/9/2007

I'm still catching up posting pictures--still a few weeks behind.

The first pic is looking at an application of the "Bright Copper" metal roof that we decided to use. It's going to make a pretty strong statement--so strong that I'm still a little nervous about having such a massive strong color on top of the house. But I believe it will look great.

I've had the roofing material delivered on site now for several weeks.  We've been waiting to get the painting done, so it wouldn't damage or stain the roofing. 

But they finished this past week, and the roofer is set to start Monday.

The plumber has started back in, especially to get the holes punched in the roof that are needed for plumbing vents. And Lynda and I are furiously shopping for plumbing fixtures, tubs, showers, etc. Also shopping for lighting fixtures, ceiling fans, cabinets, countertops... oh my, there are so many decisions.

The electrician is starting in soon, and I've given him an initial deposit to buy materials.

Other subs needed, decisions needed re: fireplaces, tile work, doorknobs and deadbolts to lock up the house...

I'll be glad to get a real roof on--the tarpaper roof I've had for the past month has been way better than nothing, but a lot of it blew off completely in one wind/rain flurry, and since being replaced, it's held in place better, but there's still enough leaky spots that I had standing water for several days last week after a good two-inch soaking overnight.

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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 8/26/2007

Starting exterior painting this week, and finishing up the framing.

Lynda was able to get down to Dripping this week to see the house build. We were able to pick out the type of stone we want, and corrected our trim color.

We had picked a trim color that looked just right on the small color chip, and I'd bought a gallon of it to try out on the wall. But from the first brushstroke, I was pretty sure it wasn't going to work--way too close to Burnt Orange. We picked a couple more subdued colors to try, and ended up using the more subdued of those two. I'm sure glad we tried some before we ordered it all and started painting.

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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 8/12/2007

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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 8/10/2007

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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 8/5/2007

We're actually finished with the roof decking and tarpaper at this point in time, but I'm trying to catch up gradually with my posts. Being on dial-up on site at the build is a serious handicap in regard to prompt postings, especially for photos.

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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 7/25/2007

Framing begins.

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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 7/25/2007

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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 7/20/2007

We're doing a separate building that I'll use as a workshop (for photography, carpentry, and especially storage). Meanwhile it's going to be my living quarters during the house build, and give me a secure lockup for building materials, fixtures, appliances, etc.

My concrete contractor did the foundation for it as part of his deal (along with lot clearing and road rough-in). Actually he referred me to the metal building contractor who I ended up with.

Once we got past a week of rain-induced delays in getting started, the erection and completion of the metal building happened amazingly quickly. The contractor got the material delivered over the weekend, but the actual construction was substantially completed in just three days, with a few hours of punch-out on the fourth day. Of course there's still electric to do later, and I've got lots of shelf building and a small lockup room to build, and I'm not doing any plumbing, or insulation except in the lockup room. But I've already got bright daylighting, due to the "skylights" easily afforded by translucent roofing strips. I still feel compelled to look to flip off the light switch when I walk out.

It's a mighty fast way to get a building done. I really think it's something that more people should consider if they're trying to be ultra-economical with their house build. Especially when in a hurry to get under a roof.

My cost for the 30'x40'x12'high building was $12,000 for the building, and $6,000 for the foundation.

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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 6/22/2007

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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 6/17/2007

Last Tuesday the slab was poured.

By the time I arrived, about 4 am, after driving from Dallas starting about 12:30 pm, the big cement pump truck was already set up, with work lights making an eerie scene to come upon in the dark countryside.

As the cement trucks start arriving and unloading into the pumper truck, a flurry of activity commences and continues for some hours.

It's amazing how quickly the cement transforms from a thick soup to solid enough to walk on--in just a few hours.

My guess is that this will prove to be the most productive single day in this house-build project.

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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 6/11/2007

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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 6/8/2007

We're getting ready for the pour scheduled for early early next Tuesday morning.

Since these pictures the steel in the beam channels has been finished, the termite treatment done, the plumbing supply lines put in, and the plastic laid down.

I was vaguely checking the outline of the foundation beams in the dark (with a flashlight) this past Tuesday nite, when I noticed that it didn't seem quite right on the corner between the kitchen and the garage. Turned out I was right, that it was wrong. My foundation guy and I conferred about it, and considered going with the additional footprint. But I decided that was too complicated to consider, especially in terms of my two-story plan, so we kept a little extra extension on the rear porch, and tore out and redid the forms for one side of the garage. Not a big deal catching it when we did, but it could have been a big deal if it stayed that way thru the pour. However my overall experience with my foundation contractor has been excellent. He has become a consulting resource that I expect to confer with on a casual basis as the project proceeds, and that's very valuable.

The termite treatment snuck up on me. I was vaguely aware I might want to do it, but basically had forgotten, until I noticed it was a requirement listed for my first draw. Thus another quick scramble to find somebody available and schedule them around the foundation and plumbing. But it worked out fine.

Also I settled on and hired my electrician, and in an additional bonus, also hired him to do my HVAC installation.

Just talked to my best prospect (best price and equal references) for framer, and have an appointment to meet him to see the slab being poured on Tuesday.


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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 6/6/2007

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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 6/6/2007

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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 6/6/2007

Actually I’m a little late with this post.

 

We broke ground last Tuesday. Things went fast—almost scary fast—for the first few days. The forms were pretty well up the first day. On the afternoon of the first day, my foundation contractor (who’s doing the clearing and grading as well), asked to talk to my plumber, so they could coordinate.

 

Unfortunately, I hadn’t yet been able to select my plumbing sub. So I was barely begun, and already felt like I was falling behind the curve. Getting bids from plumbers has been extremely challenging. Lots of turndowns, either “Don’t do residential—commercial only”, or “Don’t do new construction”, or “Too busy”, or “Don’t go that far”, or they just never called back, even after repeated messages. Eventually after calls to over twenty companies, I got a half-dozen bids.

 

I picked the only one who I’d had an opportunity to meet in person, and fortunately he was able to get in almost right away to do the rough plumbing. So my delay in picking a plumber hasn’t held anything up, gratefully.

 

Now we’ve had a couple gullywashers, and the pace has slowed a bit. The tentative plan is to pour next Tuesday.

 

Now have the driveway roughed in, most of the rough plumbing finished, got a portapotty, have a temporary telephone line installed (which is important because Sprint is so spotty in my location out in the hills). Have the forms survey done. Turns out there’s no actual bank inspection required for the first draw, so I guess I’m ready to get that.

 

A couple of the most urgent issues looming right now are picking an electrician and a framer, and getting/building a place to stay.


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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 5/14/2007

Wow--how time flies.

It's been three weeks since closing on my construction loan/mortgage (one-time close).

It had been a flurry of activity for several days up thru the close.  But in the three weeks since--precious little progress has been made. I have got some more bids on foundation, framing, plumbing, electric. But still haven't settled on foundation contractor. Several of my better prospects for better prices on foundation are insisting on an engineered foundation plan. I would just go ahead and pay for that if I could get it quickly, but the one engineer I've talked to, who was very helpful and forthcoming with info even if I don't hire him, unfortunately isn't able to do any plan for some weeks.

So it's clear that I made a blunder in not getting an engineered foundation plan done right after my plans were finished from the designer. I'm actually fairly confident that I don't need the plan for the technical specs per se--I feel confident that I could work that out with any of the contractors I've talked to. But I do need a set plan to judge the bids I'm getting, and to be sure I'm comparing apples to apples, and not oranges. Also it would be very nice to have a engineer come look over the forms before the pour.

Anyway, if I'd got the engineered plan done while I was pursuing financing, I could be close to pouring concrete right now probably, instead of still wondering when I'll actually get started.

One other reason why I've made so little progress is that I actually got somewhat busy in my other life, as a cameraman, over the last couple weeks. I work as a freelance cameraman, mostly shooting video and high-definition, and it comes mostly one or maybe two days an assignment, often on weekends, so it's somewhat doable, simultaneous with managing a house build.

Somewhat doable

At least that's what I said in my loan application. Somewhat doable--but actually mighty challenging to juggle--especially since my house build is 200 miles away. Actually I got a call the other day for an unusual 10-day straight-thru cameraman job to be in June, and fairly lucrative at that. Initially I accepted it--but then confronted my reality, and had to call back to regretfully decline (and to offer a substitute for myself).

I did get down to the area of my build last Friday, and it was pretty productive. Met with and delivered plans to several framers, and one plumber. Discovered a great source for locally milled beams. Got better than usual responses from my usual routine of asking just about everybody I meet if they know any subs. Lots of people called me back. Got some good advice from several prospective subs that I met with or talked to on the phone. Enjoyed driving back and forth in my future neighborhood, winding thru the hills, wildflowers all around.

The Texas Hill Country in spring, some days, comes very close to heaven.


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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 4/28/2007

I'm generally pretty happy with the plans, although it did turn out to be a frustrating process getting the final changes into the plans--actually I finally just gave up, and will just do my best to prevent the few remaining erroneous details from becoming a tripup in construction.

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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 4/28/2007

Hallelujah!

Closed on my loan this week. 

It’s a one-time close, with all of paperwork included for the final mortgage.

LOTS of paperwork!

 

It has been an arduous and drawn-out process of talking to lots of potential lenders (figuratively kissing lots of toads)--most of whom didn’t really grok the wondrous benefits of this “owner-builder thing” I was waving my arms about. It’s been frustrating, and a few times I was tempted to be scared that it just was too hard to get it done the way I wanted.

 

But once I finally settled on a couple lenders to do the formal apps with, the process actually sailed thru with barely a hitch, at least with the one that closed this week.

 

It went so smoothly that I got to fearing there must be a “gotcha” lurking somewhere. Actually, the day before closing, there was one “gotcha” that popped up. In doing the title search, the title company came across an easement for two oil or gas pipelines referenced in earlier surveys related to my acreage lot (7 acres in a rural area).

 

Mr. Smith, did you know about these pipelines? 

Gosh, no!

Haven’t you seen the signs posted in the ground where they cross? 

No, and I’ve looked everywhere too—haven’t seen any.

Well, Mr. Smith, you understand you wouldn’t want to start building and find out later that the pipeline ran right under your house. You know that could be dangerous! 

Oh yeah…

 

So the first thing I tried was to gather all the old Xeroxed copies of the plats for my lot and the lots around me, and take them down to the title office to see if the absence of any sign of pipelines on these would help.

 

But these weren’t real surveys, and they didn’t help. It looked like I’d have to get a formal survey done. (There will be a survey required at two stages during construction, but it hadn’t been required to close the construction loan.) This would cost some extra money, but the main problem was that it could easily take several weeks to book a survey, get them out to the site, and get back results.

 

I put in a call for help to Kristin, the loan originator. When she called back, we decided that maybe the local county office might know something about it. I never got that far, but did get ahold of the real estate agent who’d sold me the lot. He said:

Oh yeah, that comes up a lot out in that area. They’re looking at an old survey for a much larger area, many years ago. There’s actually four pipelines out there—you can see them on McGregor on the way out there, about two miles back…

 

So he wrote an email to Kristin, she cleared it with her “underwriter” and she wrote to the title company stipulating (I guess) that there were no pipeline encumbrances, and all was well again--we were hunky dory to close.

Never met the underwriter, of course. But heard reference to him several times thru the process. The underwriter will look at this, or our underwriter has cleared that many times in the past. A little mysterious--kind of like the wizard behind the curtain.

 

So we were scheduled to close late afternoon the next day, on Tuesday. Only one big obstacle remained—the weather. My mother was to be my builder-of-record, and she lives one city over, in Fort Worth. She’d been following the reports, and was convinced that Tuesday would be too stormy to be driving across the Metroplex. But I persisted, and finally convinced her that I’d come pick her up to go to the closing, and everything would be fine.

 

But it wasn’t fine. As soon as I got out on the freeway headed to Fort Worth, it started pouring. Listening to the radio, I heard nonstop interruptions for storm warnings, tornado warnings, flash flood warnings—ahead of me, behind me, to the south, to the north… The standing advice was to stay under shelter, don’t go out, get off the roads. Of course I heard all this while driving as fast as I could in 10 lanes of traffic.

 

As it turned out, there were actually three tornadoes that touched down in the multi-county area during the day. But after I picked up mother we were lucky, and didn’t experience anything too outrageous, and got to the title company just in the nick of time, to meet Lynda there and sign the papers.

 

One big step taken, but many more to do now.

 

No this weather radar picture isn't from last week--couldn't find one--but that's about how it looked.


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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 4/14/2007

I got back down to our lot this week for most of three days. The drought that we had going up thru the winter has broken, and the creek which runs down on the edge of our lot is running beautifully right now. All the trees and grass are looking hale and happy right now.

The lady at Capital One who's handling my application is talking like it could close soon (no problems have popped up yet, and I've got my fingers crossed). So I'm trying to move ahead with getting some solid bids on the first few trades, especially foundation and framing.

Since I'm hoping to skip doing engineering or soil tests for the foundation, I'm wanting to get the foundation contractors to come out and look at my site. Our lot is a little out in the sticks, so it takes a little doing to get folks out to look. But now I've had five prospective foundation subs look at it, and it seems to be pretty routine in terms of the relatively slight slope, and very hard limestone right under the soil.

The foundation guys are suggesting that I should extend the foundation slab to include the covered porch areas, which are extensive in our plans (the porches wrap around on three sides). Makes good sense to me, considering the maintenance issues that I've faced on the wood deck that I have now. Also it's clearly better structurally, since we've got extensive roof that's supported by whatever is under the porch. We would have individual concrete footings if we went with a wood deck, but over time they could move differentially in relation to the main slab. Don't know if it will fly with Lynda--to her, to be a porch it's got to be elevated, and made of wood or similar material--not solid concrete. But I'm hoping that we can look at some nicely finished scored and stained concrete decks that will bring her over.

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Posted to PennsmithLostValleyTX by Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 4/1/2007

Thought I'd make a quick entry--partly just to get back in the habit of it. I have been busy planning my house-build project, and also pretty involved with this OBB website, but lately mostly thru the forums.

Well, I expected that securing financing, locking in on a budget, and selecting subs was going to be very time-consuming. But it's been even more so. 

It's a pretty open-ended project, and can be something of a time trap. It's easy to squander huge chunks of time browsing, researching, and considering... without actually moving the ball much. Looking back, I've done quite a lot of that. On the other hand, it deserves a lot of planning and consideration, and besides, it's actually a fun hobby-like project besides.

We've got loan application packages initiated with two lenders, one a probably small mortgage shop, and the other a big national finance outfit that's relatively new to the area (Capitol One). They both profess to be very open to owner-builder loans, which is very refreshing, and I've gone from mildly despondent over the challenge of getting financing, to fairly optimistic.

The Cap One process is a little further along, and we're overnighting the signed docs tomorrow. There's still hurdles that could trip us, such as the appraisal, but currently I'm optimistic.

Gonna try to start updating this blog at least weekly.


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