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Steven in Colorado Springs, CO's Interview Answers

Previous Owner-Builder for Steven in Colorado Springs, CO at - Build Your Own Home

Do you have experience using spreadsheets for budgeting or scheduling?
 A hundred times
Did you get a construction loan without a contractor?
What did you choose for wall insulation?
 Insulated Concrete Forms
Do you have a step-up strategy?
Apples to apples, what utility savings did you get in your new house vs. old?
How many bedrooms did you include in your owner-built house?
Do you own a truck?
Did you incorporate active solar panels (PV) into your home?
Did you get liened by anybody?
 No liens
House style?
Was your project urban or rural?
 In the country
Did you use a designer, architect, stock plan?
What percentage of O-B's do you think get liened?
 1% - 5%
Have you owner-built more than once?
 Only once
Would you be willing to help another owner-builder?
 Yes, I would meet with a nearby O-B
How many books about contracting or the trades did you read when you owner-built?
How many houses have you built, remodeled or added on to as an owner-builder?
If ever you move from your O-B house, how long will you have lived in it?
 We'll never move
Did you take pictures of the job when you owner-built?
 Even took video
How many children do you have?
Was yours a starter, step-up, custom, or dream home?
 Dream home
How many tools do you own?
 $3,000 - $4,000
Were you working when you owner-built?
 Not married
Did you use a computer?
 Yes - even brought laptop or PDA to jobsite
How many hours did you spend as a couple, counting planning and construction?
 700 - 800 hrs.
How many air conditioning units did you include in your owner-built house?
What were the impact fees for you to build?
How many finished levels in your most recent owner-built house?
Was your project a new house or a remodel and addition?
 New house
How many covered vehicle spaces did you provide in your owner-built house?
How much calendar time from when you first did some written planning to groundbreaking?
 One to one and a half years
What type of construction?
Do you want to say anything more about your house style or construction?
 We're guided in large part because of the layout of the land. There's not much "flat" on this property, so where the house site is we have to work with what we've got. The hill behind the house and the relative narrowness of the lot drives us towards a more "leggy" house than normal that hugs the curve of the hill. This increases overall heat loss, and drives us towards some unconventional approaches (such as geothermal) rather than traditional "forced air" style furnaces.
What is the R-value of your walls?
How many bathrooms did you include in your owner-built house?
 More than five
Are you a coupon shopper?
 50% - 60%
Did you read The Owner-Builder Book before you built your house?
How many times are you planning to do this?
 One time total
Who took primary responsibility in your family for the work?
 I'm single
What trades did you do yourself?
 Clearing land (trees and brush). laying in radiant heat tubing (in-floor). some ICF stacking and rebar tying work (mostly on weekends). all electrical inside house. all plumbing and vent stacks inside house. building the masonry heater (not the chimney stack, though).
What's the difference in your mind between a starter, step-up, custom, or dream home?
A starter is usually a small house, just barely big enough to say, "I own a house!"
A step-up is something bigger. The owner usually has in mind that this is an intermediate house, perhaps purchased to accommodate kids.
Lines blur between custom homes and dream homes. They're often the same, but a dream home will have more "flair" and extras than a custom (generally speaking).
What were special features in your house?
100% ICF construction.
Concrete floors (Lite-Deck) between first and second floor for quiet and strength.
Geothermal heating/cooling system.
Solar PV power with propane generator backup.
Two-story masonry heater/fireplace.
Four-car garage.
Theater room.
Mother-in-law apartment.
Intercom system throughout house.
Super bargains you got?
 6/15/2009 -- Boulder blasting -- half-price.
Ways to save money?
 Doing a lot of work ourselves (site clearing, electrical, plumbing, painting, insulation in roof/attic area).
How much time did it take to construct?
 More than ten months
What time of year did you start?
Any reason you chose that time of year to start?
 That's when the construction loan finally came through--blame the banks.
What were your most important tools?
As of 10/24/09:
Gator ATV
Pickup truck
Pickup truck winch.
What anguish or fear of loss did you go through? What was your worst fear during the project?
 As of 10/24/09: That we'd never get this thing started.
What do you do for a living?
 I'm an aerospace engineer.
How much combined time did you spend planning?
 More than 900 hours
Are you organized?
Are you a good shopper?
 Good shopper
Were there any schedule items that took you a lot longer or shorter than you thought they would?
 It took several months to get the construction loan together.
What did you find to be the top five biggest expenses in the budget? How much, and how to cut back?
General contractor.
ICF/concrete crews.
Framing folks.
Were utility costs in the new house a surprise?
 About what I expected
They say that a marriage that survives building a house will survive anything. Any comments?
 No comment.... Sadly, we divorced prior to construction. :-(
Did you have any problems getting your building permit?
 No problems as an owner-builder
How did you mark your lot for the excavator who dug your foundation?
 We surveyed the general house layout and got the corners nailed down hard, then marked those with long (5') wooden stakes.
After this we laid out the general outline of the first floor with colored string so we could walk around this outline with the excavator when the time came.
Who built or installed your mailbox?
 Apartment-style mailbox at entrance to canyon....I guess the US Post Office.
What were major causes of delays that occurred in your construction?
- Securing the construction loan.
- Bad (rainy) weather at the start of construction season.
What was the average monthly cost of maintenance in the home you left to occupy your new home?
 $300 - $400
What was the age of your previous home?
 20 - 25 yrs.
What was your planned schedule when you started out?
 9-10 months
What's the population of the community where you built?
Do you know your credit score?
How many houses did you own prior to this one?
How much construction industry experience did you have before you owner-built?
 No experience in the industry whatsoever
Did you use any personal friends as subs?
How many children lived at home when you owner-built?
If stick-built, did you use 2x4 or 2x6 framing?
 It wasn't stick-built.
How much combined time did you take off work when you built?
What are your favorite shows or cable channels?
Sci Fi Channel
Fox News
Fox Entertainment
History Channel
Comedy Channel
How much personal use do you make of the Internet?
 > 25 hours a week
Why did you consider owner-building in the first place?
 To get exactly what I wanted, and because it just sounded like fun.
What was your original construction budget, not including land?
 $550,000 - $600,000
What print publications do you read regularly?
Colorado Springs Gazette
Home Power Magazine
Solar Today Magazine
PC Gamer
What was the initial interest rate on your mortgage?
Did you use a contracting consultant or an owner-builder program?
How many dead days did you have where nobody did anything?
 30 - 35 week days
Did you have a written schedule for construction?
If you used a contracting consultant or O-B program, what did it cost?
 Didn't use one
Did you get materials separate from labor on any of the trades?
What did the plans for your project cost?
 $500 - $1,000
How did your final appraisal compare with your preconstruction appraisal for the lender?
 Final appraisal was same as precontruction appraisal
Did you get bids from generals?
Did you hire anybody from out of town?
 More than five trades
How much would the trades you did yourself have cost in the marketplace?
 $50,000 - $70,000
Have you had it appraised?
How many trades were involved on your job?
 10 - 15
How many bids did you get for each subcontracted trade, on average?
How long did your self-work trades take?
 600 - 700 hours
How much management time did you and your spouse spend during the construction phase?
 More than 900 hours
Did you install a water softener?
What year did you get your certificate of occupancy?
How much did you save on the trades you did yourself?
 $110,000 - $130,000
What was the interest rate on your construction loan?
How many days when only a single sub was on site?
 30 - 35 days
How much more activity was there at end of project than in the middle?
How many trades did you do yourself?
How much did you save altogether vs. appraised or street value?
 45% - 50%
Did you get a bad surprise on property taxes?
 No - I expected the tax assessment I got
Did you buy any materials from out of town?
 > five trades
If you had a general contractor estimate, how much did you save vs. average estimate?
Things or approaches you invented?
- We taught the ICF guys a better way to stack that they were amazed they hadn't seen before.
- The electrical guys had never heard of European Roll Shutters; we showed them the product and how to plan for them for future expansion.
- The solar power contractor had never seen a ground-mount system built with large PVC pipe; it turned out to be extremely cost effective and quite strong.
What are the qualifications to be a good O-B?
- Hard work.
- Hard work.
- Hard work.
- Having a wad of spare cash on hand to handle emergencies doesn't hurt either.
Did you have contract problems?
 More than three
What do you consider the rules of good work?
1. Show up on time.
2. Show up with your tools and supplies.
3. Work carefully--don't try to hide a mistake, FIX IT.
4. Clean up your mess before you leave.
What help did you want but couldn't get?
 Very little help in finishing things up prior to the move; had to do most of it myself.
What do you consider the most desirable features in a custom home?
1. ICF construction.
2. Motorized roll shutter windows.
3. Large garage.
What features in your house save operating costs?
- ICF construction provides excellent insulation.
- Radiant heat everywhere provides controllable, area-specific heat control.
- Large wood fireplace allows me to utilize natural sources for heat in the winter.
What features add the most value to your home - rate them.
1. Building with ICF -- A fantastic choice, well worth the money even though there were FAR too many hassles with the concrete crews. Build with the thickest walls you can too.
2. The solar power system -- If you're building off-grid, your only better choice is if you happen to live next to a lively river from which you can generate hydro-electricity. Otherwise, solar is danged hard to beat.
3. The radiant heat system -- Clean, quiet, no drafts or cold spots. It just works....can't ask for more than that.
4. Lots of windows -- Often something folks looking for every bit of efficiency they can possibly get, I wanted a house that had a lot of light during the daylight hours. I sometimes think I have too many windows now, since I don't have a lot of long wall space upon which to put larger pictures and such! (It's a nice problem to have.)
5. Upgraded insulation -- Besides the R-value provided by the ICF walls I spent some extra $$$ on insulation in the attic. This isn't as big a deal as with any houses due to the radiant heat, but the extra padding up there keeps down noise and helps keep any "added" heat generated by appliances, people, etc. in the living areas where it belongs. Can't go wrong with more insulation.
What owner-builder laws exist where you live?
 None really...this area is pretty friendly to Owner-Builders.
What suggestions do you have for O-B's to get organized?
1. Keep a great notebook of ideas.
2. Go to every Home and Garden show you can.
3. Tour houses in a local Parade of Homes. Note things you like, things you hate.
What suggestions do you have on finding good prices?
 None really; they were all over the map every time we went to look at things. Sometimes we lucked into good finds (like outdoor lights for the apartment area), sometimes we were lucky to find one of something.
Would you be willing to upload to us a copy of your budget?
Would you be willing to upload to us a copy of your schedule?
What are the three best things you did?
1. I'm glad we oversized the solar array. This has proven to be a smart move despite admonitions from various online folks that I was "wasting money" and a general disgruntled "but it doesn't need to be that big" from Solar LeRoy. Let's be clear--they're all absolutely correct that one usually doesn't need a system quite this large, but I was thinking down the road and looking at power usage a few years hence. It's the natural tendency of people to use more electricity over time as they buy new things, and of course appliances age and get less efficient over time. The batteries are still a bit of a concern as I've noted before--I'm still not sure that having 24 of them is really quite enough storage given our loads and my projections as to what we'll do over the winter. Getting a backup generator will alleviate this (we're talking about what we'll get now) quite a bit, of course. Next year I plan to expand out the system to 42 panels (giving me approximately 9.6 kW of generating power) and possibly upping the storage to at least 36 batteries. Of course doing that means I'll have to build a new solar shed, as the current one simply won't hold all that hardware... but that's all part of evolving Tanglewood.
2. I'm glad I did all the coax and Ethernet wiring myself. This is already proving to be a real benefit to have full-speed hardwired Internet access throughout the house, and since I properly labeled everything as I went, I know what's what and where it all goes. It was a relatively simple task that the electricians wanted a ridiculous amount of money for, and doing it myself ensured it was both "done right" and helped me save some money. We did good here.
3. I'm glad I left room for the rooftop deck. Even though it's only a roof right now and I won't be installing the actual decking for a couple of years, this area is going to work out great. It's a large and spacious area with plenty of room for BBQ areas, benches and tables, trellises and planters that will be very inviting. Tying it into the computer room deck will be a special touch as well. I can't imagine what it would have cost to have the construction folks do the work, and given some of the other work I've stumbled across in the far corners of the house I frankly wouldn't have trusted it much. Plus there won't be any bears getting into the BBQ grill--a huge plus!
The three worst things that you did?
1. I wish we hadn't let the crews cut down as many trees as we did. This is more on me than anybody else, to be fair. Early on in the process I think that Builder Dale and Colleen were still figuring out exactly where the house was going to be and how they'd be able to access it for backfill work and the like, and as a result there were a lot of trees on their initial "hit list" that they wanted to cut down to make room for the heavy equipment. I countered that I was building in the middle of a forest for a reason, and I didn't want Tanglewood sitting in the middle of a big open space... it needed to be nestled among the trees. Colleen and I had some good arguments about some of the cut list candidates though I believe (she might disagree) that I eventually let them take down most of the ones they wanted. There were of course a few that in retrospect they didn't need to cut down after all (including a nice aspen clump at the edge of the backyard), and a large pine very close to the house deck that I insisted had to be kept, much to the consternation of the BuildBlock crew. There was also one near the entrance to the driveway that was the subject of a HUGE argument, and I absolutely insisted that it could not be taken down no matter how tricky it made turning around for some of the construction crews. I won the argument, and even better the crews steered well clear of the tree in question--they didn't even touch it.
2. I wish we hadn't used laminate flooring. At least in the bulk of the house, anyway. In the store I swear it looked like the perfect solution and it was certainly cheaper than going with engineered hardwoods, which was good for the construction budget. But once in place, I found I was less than thrilled with it. I think it looks sharp in the rooms where it's installed, but when I walk on it I can't help but think it just feels "cheap" or "hollow"--definitely not "solid" like I thought it would and what Tanglewood deserved. I can of course fix this over time, but it's an annoying finding if nothing else.
3. I wish we'd been better able to supervise the crews. They frankly took advantage of me building in a recession to "stretch out" the job so they could continue getting paid, and some of the work they did was sub-standard by any reasonable measure. I can fix it, of course, but I wish we'd been better able to keep an eye on them....this is primarily on our builder, really.
What is a good way to get discounts on lumber?
 No idea; never got any.
What is a good way to get discounts on cabinets?
 No idea; never got any.
Any problems with the inspector? Items that caused you to fail an inspection?
 There was one problem with wiring up the ground wires at the solar. Solar LeRoy didn't do it the way the inspector wanted. I'm pretty sure the inspector had learned a way and he wasn't going to listen to other approaches, so we had to rip it out and wire it up the way he wanted.
Where did you get good help and advice?
 All over the place really, much of it here.
Did you find a wide range in the prices you were bid for different things? What are some examples?
 Mostly the solar. Estimates there ranged from ~$25K to over $90K....It was ridiculous.
How big was your punch list? How much time did it take you to finish it out?
 It's ongoing...about three dozen items all told.
Was there anything you traded for materials or services?
How did you find good subcontractors? Any suggestions?
 Beats me....I was unhappy with virtually all of mine.
What was the average price quoted you to build your design? Highest price?
 We didn't get estimates that way, so this is a hard one to answer.
Did you use some type of written agreement when hiring subcontractors?
 The builder took care of that.
Would you be willing to upload or email us a copy of your agreement?
Were there features in your home that you implemented for free or cheap because of planning?
 The biggest thing was the extension to the driveway that allows me to drive back "behind" the wasn't in the plan, came about by accident when the excavation crews dumped dirt in this area. I liked it so much I had them leave it there and used gravel for the house infill (which made for a better fill anyway).
Were there aspects of your home that were improved because of your owner-builder involvement?
 I did all the radiant heat layout and connections, every bit of it. I shudder to think of what I'd have gotten if I'd left it to the crews; I am absolutely certain I would not have been happy with the results.
Did you incorporate anything in your design to facilitate a hobby?
 The computer room is at the top of the third floor tower.
Did you design anything special for a pet?
Were you ever lied to by a contractor? Examples?
 Probably more times than I know. To be fair some weren't "lies" as much as "hadn't thought it through very well." Some that I do know about:
- "We wired it up right.....there must be some problem with the pump."
- "I need more ICF blocks; there's not enough here to finish the job."
- "We'll get that Temp-Cast fireplace ordered in plenty of time for construction, don't worry."
- "We'll follow your electrical layout to the letter."
- "Don't worry about that roof; it won't ever leak."
- "We won't damage a single tree during construction, you have my word on it."
What are some of the discouraging comments you have heard from others about acting as your own contractor?
What is the worst treatment you ever got from a contractor?
 The framers got into a fight with the builder towards the end of the project. I can see where their work got pretty shoddy after that happened; I've had to rip out half of it and do it right.
Did you have any embarassing moments building?
Did you make some mistakes? Examples?
 No big ones.....
Did you run into any outrageous construction pricing?
Concrete and electrical work cost WAY too much.
Plumbing was actually pretty reasonable.
Were there little luxuries you were able to implement at little or no cost?
 Can't think of anything that wasn't planned.
What were the biggest construction bargains you found, and how did you find them?
What was your most valuable planning/preparation activity?
1. A radiant heat tool called "LoopCAD" was invaluable for my radiant heat design.
2. Lots and lots of drawings.
Beside yourself, who in your family got involved in this project?
 My wife.
How did you find other owner-builders to network with?
 Other than here, not really.
What websites did you find helpful when you built?
 This one!
Do you know of people wasting a lot of money when they built? Explain.
 I don't know anybody else who built a project to this scale, so not really.
Were there disappointments with your project that could have been avoided? How?
 The biggest one was that I shouldn't have let the construction guys cut down as many trees.....I hated it every time they insisted on taking one down, and I never got a single apology for the ones they damaged during construction.
Were there things that came out right because you were involved that might have been messed up if you had used a general contractor?
 The layout of the tubing for the radiant heat...there was no way I was going to let anybody other than myself do that.
Are there planning steps that you would suggest that might not be in The Owner-Builder Book?
Are there interview questions for subs that you would suggest that might not be in The Owner-Builder Book?
 Not really.
Did you have a good mentor who helped you accomplish this? Describe.
Do you know examples of people being injured trying to do their own work? Tell what happened.
How many trips to the hardware store or other suppliers did you have to make during your project? What could have cut that down?
 I have no idea; there were too many to count.
Towards the end we got better at looking ahead and seeing what we'd need, but that led to some purchases being made that turned out not to actually be was just plain tricky.
What self-work that you did would you hire out next time?
 None...I'd do more of it myself.
What are some examples of day to day problems you had to solve?
1. Contractors not bringing enough materials, or thinking the materials would be on site.
2. Irregular arrivals (mostly due to the mountain road).
3. No phone availability during construction....We ended up finding a spot we dubbed "the phone booth" about a mile down the road where cell phones worked. We regularly stopped in down there to see if there were updates/changes we needed to know about.
Did you do any creative problem solving?
 All the time.
What design strategies did you use to keep your house up to date?
 It was pretty up-to-date throughout construction.
Would you be willing to upload or email us photos of your project?
What were the benefits of your time on site?
 Things got done more right.
Suggestions for controlling the job?
1. BE ON SITE EVERY MINUTE! You can't trust most contractors on their own, especially if you're on a remote construction site.
2. QUESTION EVERYTHING! I learned this about halfway through the build, having trusted what the contractors and my builder were giving me all the options. Turned out they weren't always, not out of malicious intent but simply because they didn't think that way.
The best example was my extended driveway--it wasn't planned but as soon as I saw how useful the tailings dump was as a driveway extension I said I wanted to keep it. My builder suggested this would be "expensive", but when pressed I discovered it was only $500 (what it would cost for me to have some truckloads of gravel fill brought up)--a bargain compared to doing it later, plus I'd have a better infill within the house to boot. If I'd just accepted the "expensive" answer I'd have ended up with an inferior base under the house and a driveway lacking 6' of width.
3. HAVE A BLUEPRINT GOING IN! I found this to be invaluable.....I laid out all of the electrical outlets/lights/switches on diagrams prior to the electrical crew coming in, so when the time came they had relatively few questions. A diagram allowed me to check their progress and make changes (a couple were needed) as we went, whereas it gave them a clear idea of what I wanted and where. It worked out well.
Daily duties?
- Collecting trash and hauling it down to an in-town dumpster.
- Ensuring the site was locked up (once we had windows and doors).
Sub recognition?
 Not really--nobody went "above and beyond" in my estimation.
Do you have other suggestions or comments for owner-builders?
- Plan.
- Question.
- Experiment.
- Do as much as you can on your own.
What were the most helpful websites for your owner-builder project?
 This one!
Would you be willing to upload your feature list, your lien release form, or any other useful document?

Future Owner-Builder for Steven in Colorado Springs, CO at - Build Your Own Home

Are you organized?
Planned house style?
What time of year will you start?
Are you a good shopper?
 Good shopper
How much personal use do you make of the Internet?
 20-25 hours
What is the average monthly utility cost in your current home?
 $100 - $150
Do you plan to use any personal friends as subs?
How many books about contracting or the trades will you read when you owner-build?
Will you build in town or in the country?
Will you incorporate active solar panels (PV) into your home?
Who will take primary responsibility in your family for the work?
 I'm single
Will you take pictures of the job when you owner-built?
 Will even take video
What will you choose for wall insulation?
 Insulated Concrete Forms
How many finished levels in your future owner-built house?
What type of construction are you planning?
How much do you plan to save altogether vs. appraised value?
 35% - 40%
Will you be working when you owner-build?
 Only husband working
Will your project be a starter, step-up, custom, or dream home?
 Dream home
Will you get comparison bids from general contractors?
What percentage of the time do you think O-B's get liened by subs or vendors?
 5% - 10%
How much combined time will you spend planning?
 500 - 600 hours
How many times are you planning to do this?
 One time total
What is the average General Contractor estimate to build your plans?
 $100 - $125
Do you know your credit score?
How many houses have you owned prior to this one?
What will be the R-value of your walls?
How much construction industry experience will you have before you owner-build?
 No experience in the industry whatsoever
What is the average monthly maintenance cost of the house you'll be leaving?
 $300 - $400
What's the population of the community where you will build?
How much calendar time will there be from when you first did some written planning to groundbreaking?
 Two to two and a half years
How many houses have you built, remodeled or added on to as an owner-builder?
How many children do you have?
How many children will be living at home when you owner-build?
How many bedrooms are you planning on?
How many bathrooms are you planning on?
 More than five
How many air conditioning units will you include in your owner-built house?
If stick-built, will you use 2x4 or 2x6 framing?
 It won't be stick-built.
How many tools do you own?
 $2,000 - $3,000
Do you have experience using spreadsheets for budgeting or scheduling?
 A hundred times
Is your occupation "blue collar" or "white collar"?
 White collar
Do you own a truck?
How many covered vehicle spaces will you provide in your owner-built house?
What are the most helpful websites for your owner-builder project?
Why are you considering owner-building?
 I want to save money, and make sure it's done my way.
How many hours do you project spending as a couple, counting planning and construction?
 > 1,000 hrs.
Do you have a step-up strategy?
What print publications do you read regularly?
Backwoods Home
PC Gamer
Home Power
Solar Today
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