Job Diary - Second Month of Construction
No show today. And I can't get the framer to return my calls.
I made calls all day today and this evening. My theory is three strikes and you're out. The framers didn't show Monday, and they didn't show today, and I don't know whether to count last Friday as a no-show because they say they never work on Fridays. Anyway, I went to a lot of trouble to line up Framer D today and I even met with this guy. I was pretty optimistic about using him as a replacement for the no-shows, but when I talked to him, there wasn't much to go on. For example, they couldn't give me a single reference, because they say they have been doing remodeling for most of a year now.
I called back Framer D, and finally got a name of someone he did some framing on more than a year ago, and then got that person on the phone, and they said that maybe I should look a little further for a framer. That was a shock because most people are pretty gentle in their evaluations. Maybe the framer didn't think I would check this reference. Then I got pretty busy calling back the people who had steered me to Framer C with whom I signed papers six days ago.
My friend Lucy, who said she thought he was good, but didn't use him because she thought he didn't relate well to women owners, gave me her sister's number. Her sister actually used Don Smith on her house a year or two ago. She had lots of interesting things to say. She thinks it's difficult to deal with this framer but that he does a good job. The most important thing she said was that his crew chief is the best person to talk to if you want anything done. She had his number, so I called him right up.
The crew chief said he knew all about my job, and he was sorry that didn't make it yet because of weather and unexpected things on the fix up job they were doing. He said, "However, we will be there tomorrow morning." I was amazed. So, rather than be tough about it, since I will be working closely with these guys, I told him that I would have hot chocolate and donuts ready for them bright and early in the morning.
It is difficult to write tonight because I am completely sick of this. For a few bucks, I would gladly give this damn house away. I went out there this morning and there was nobody. The chocolate got cold and I just left it there. Honestly, I am so sick of being lied to by so many people, I can't stand it any more.
I got the framer on the phone this afternoon, and let him know what I felt, and that all I ask is just call and tell me the truth. I told him that I have called and changed delivery times for my lumber probably five times now, and that can't help his reputation. This was the low point, I hope of this project.
11/16/00 I couldn't bring myself to go out there today, but my neighbor tells me that yesterday that built the bearing wall in the basement, and today they came back and laid out all the joists for the floor of the house. That's good, I guess, but I'm not celebrating, because nothing will happen again until Monday, because tomorrow Friday, is their "day off".
This was the third day of framing. We have a beautiful floor, now. It feels good to walk on, and makes it seem like the real thing.
Framing day four. This was maybe the most dramatic day of the whole six months or eight months we've been doing this, because they put up exterior walls today, and it changes everything to go vertical like that.
Maybe we hurried our designer too much when we made the changes on the house to fit the lot. lots of little things have come up on the plan. Every time I go out there, there framers have several questions about things on the plans that do not jive with actual measurements. Today we found out that the stair case out of the basement is a full eight inches out. The bottom line on this one is that the pantry will have to shrink to make up the difference.
Today they started assembling the trusses that were delivered two days ago. They preassemble them on the ground so that when the crane comes out here after Thanksgiving, the trusses will all go into place and tie down quickly. They also got most of the wall sheathing in place today. I believe these framers could meet their deadline to finish this house.
Also today I find out from the city engineer that an invoice is coming for my electrical power. That surprised me, because I understood that temporary power was covered by the fees I paid with the building permit. It turns out that they were supposed to install a temporary power meter in a permanent power box, and instead they installed a permanent meter on my power pole. I called the planning guy at the city and he said he would take care of it, that I would not get an invoice until I occupy the house, and the first reading will be a base reading. So I won't be charged for the power that we use before we occupy. The planning guy says the engineering people do this all the time.
Framing day six. This was even more dramatic than when they put walls up. The crane came out and they lifted the trusses into place over the walls. Everything almost fit perfectly. Unfortunately, they have to make some modifications to get it completely right, but it looks great how the trusses all line up into the perfect shape of our roof. Tomorrow they will secure the trusses and start sheathing the roof.
Framing day eight. A lot of the interior walls are up now, and we can see how things will look in each room. The rooms generally look much smaller than I imagined them. You can see less and less daylight in the house now. Unfortunately, the framers will pass their deadline of the 29th of November tomorrow.
Big problem. My neighbor brought to my attention that the wall sheathing is not put on the house according to code. The framers apparently got a little lazy and put a strip of wood along the joists resting on the concrete of the foundation, and then put sheets of OSB on top of that that run to the eaves. But the sheathing is supposed to be one continuous piece from the concrete to the eaves for maximum shear strength.
When I showed the framer what I was talking about, he started in with the routine about being in the business for thirty years, and always doing it the same way, and there's never been a question. I called the inspector and explained it to him, and he said, now way that will pass our shear wall inspection. I asked him if we have to rip it off, and he said that we could go to a structural engineer and get a workaround that will give the walls adequate strength through steel strapping.
Of course the framer insists that's not according to the USB code, and that he just built the walls according to our blueprints, which I admit aren't specific about this. So I call the engineer who the city gave me, and he says, oh yes, that's been code for maybe eight years. Naturally, I expect the framer to build according to code, even if the plans don't spell it out for him.
I borrowed a digital video camera with a little playback screen on it and went out and took pictures of the wall sheathing and brought them to the engineer, who agreed to meet me today. He said he didn't need it, he knows this problem, but I showed him what we had. For just $50 he is doing some diagrams of what to fix in order to satisfy code, and he will stamp the plans with the modifications.
It's not a good idea to skip the step of engineering like we did. If the engineer reviews your plans, he points out the specific things that must be incorporated in your framing to have the strength required. It would have been a good education to work with him earlier, but the city thought my plans were good enough, and I wanted to get started. Now there is going to be some cost of modifications to make it right.
We also decided to spend some more money with the engineer to get a full shear wall analysis of our house. It turns out that the foundation guys didn't use the right steel straps that come out of the top of the wall to fasten to the framing and anchor it. So there is some concern that overall the walls have all the shear strength they're supposed to, so I am paying him an extra $100 for that.
Framers didn't show up today. We are in limbo now that they missed their deadline of Nov. 29th. He agreed to it, and agreed to liquidated damages of $50 a day if they go over, though I'm sure he'll freak when I backcharge him for the delay. But the thing is they never really tried to meet the date. They had 17 available workdays in the month of November after they promised to be there. They missed 7 of those, by my count. Then, they said they would be working 10 hour days, with a four man crew. But they were usually late, and never really stayed past four o'clock.
If you take 17 days times 8 hours, times four men, they could have put 544 hours in before their deadline. They worked parts of ten days, with an average of 2 and a half men on site, I figure. Their average time per day was about six hours, I'd say, if you count mornings they didn't show or had to leave at lunch. So six hours times ten days, times 2 and a half men is 150 hours. So they worked only 28% of their potential before the deadline.
The bad thing is, that I had other framers at the same or lower prices who agreed to the deadline. By exaggerating their ability, they cut out somebody else who may have really deserved the job and could deliver.
Now the framer shows up and gets the bad news about the engineer's recommendations to fix the way he framed the walls. He definitely doesn't like it. He's complaining about everything else, sort of defensive, I guess. Like there's a hole in the front where a rock window well is going to go. He's complaining that I didn't get it filled in, because it would be easier to climb up the roof overhead and put sheathing boards up for his crew. So I tell him that the concrete guys didn't show when they promised to do something about it. He says, "That's because you're an owner-builder. They don't care about you." I asked, "Don't you care about me?" He didn't answer.
A little later he says, "You only have one job. General contractors have more." I said, "Then maybe I just won't refer you to anybody else." You know owner-builders are increasing. They count for a lot of jobs." There was an article about our house in the Salt Lake Tribune last week where they interviewed me and Jessica and talked a lot about local owner-building. On the Wasatch front where we live, they say there have been 909 building permits for owner-builders so far this year. That's much more than the biggest local contractor, Ivory, who had 425, and even more than the next several combined.
Anyways, this framer is burned because he's going to have to pay for the engineering to fix the problem, and for the metal straps that are required, about $200.
Framers came late. They are even slower this month than last month. The crew leader is building a home for himself, so my guess is that's where they spend their time. They didn't want to get up on the roof to finish, because they said it's slippery in the mornings with frost on it. So they left to get a table saw at 10:30 and didn't get back until 12:30. Then they left early. And only 2 of them came. They are so lax, they act as if they don't know that I'm going to dock them for their time past the deadline.
I'm getting tired of waiting for the framers to be done, so I'm planning to go out tomorrow with my friend and start setting electrical boxes, so we can at least make some progress. I'm thinking of going in to work early and taking off after lunch and starting, and getting in four or five hours, then coming back Saturday morning and doing a whole day.
Almost all the interior walls are framed up and they're putting in the staircase today, so there is plenty we can do to get started. The framers fixed some trusses that weren't quite right on the front part of the roof today. I've gotta say that it is pretty good walking inside the house and seeing the nice angles for the den on your left and for the master bedroom on your right. It's going to be a pretty house.
Now I find out that my roofer can't do the job. He came out and I helped him to roll out a few sheets of tar paper for the front of the roof, and we talked and he said he couldn't get a roof this big done. The reason is that his crew of mostly students have gone back to school. If we started a little earlier, he might have been able to, he said. This is a problem, because he was maybe $1,000 under the other roofing numbers I got. This is another problem with the framer being late.
I'm not sleeping well anymore. I am so tired and sick that there's no way I could start the electrical work this weekend. This job is taking way more time that I thought.
My banker called today and said he saw the article in the Salt Lake Tribune. I was super worried about that, because the article says we are owner-builders, and when we got the loan we took the position that we had a contractor. That's my friend who let us use his license and gives us advice for $700. But the banker wasn't surprised at all, and said it was a good article. It makes me wonder about the 909 owner-builder permits this year around here. Maybe there are more than that, maybe two or three times as many, because lots of people pretend like they have a contractor to make the bank happy. It's stupid.
I got my bill for the cell phone for the last month, and I can't believe that I ran up $125 in calls. I have to be careful, because I'm not counting this as a construction cost and it could be way over $500 if I'm not watching it. My plumber and heating guy both came over to the site today and got started. They are very agreeable, which is a nice change. I am so glad that they are ready to go after all the schedule creep.
Kelly Jackson, my HVAC guy, is doing a 4 ton air conditioner with an 11 Seer rating, and an 80 plus 2 stage furnace for a very good price. One cool thing is that he is putting a return air in each bedroom. In a normal house, when the bedroom doors are closed, you're not heating those rooms at all, because all you have is a vent. The plumber is giving us two shower heads, one high, and one low on the column that slides, which is a nice luxury. We also got a very good two person jetted tub. One of the great things about being an owner-builder is that you get to talk to guys like this, and they help you build a better house.
Windows and doors delivered today.
Both mechanical guys were in today. We are making good progress.
Windows and doors hung today, all but two doors. The framers might be able to finish the basement framing tomorrow. They finished the archway over the garage. The plumber got mostly done yesterday, will finish tomorrow. Kelly has done the flue and the vents and will put in the furnace tomorrow!
We grossly overestimated the amount of brick we need for the house. We'll get back probably $1,000 for the budget there. The materials are going to be $3,000 not $4,000. The brick guy, on the other hand, is going to be higher, so we'll get done for $10,000 not $9,000 like we thought, altogether. But we are going to save $700 on stucco, so it's close.
What a great week. The electrician consultant I have walked through the house with me today, at no charge. (No pun intended.) He showed us how to get started, which I will do tomorrow with my friend. The heating rough-in is all done now, with the furnace install finished. It's beautiful. Plumbing is also all roughed in.
I got my new roofer to come out and paper the roof. He is a very willing guy. Not like some who have been leery of our steep roof, or of the frost. He just says it's nothing to clean off a roof and go to work. Isn't that what you'd expect from a professional? I was getting numbers on roofing labor of $48 a square, down to $38 a square, and this guy came in at $32 with good references, and ready to go. And we were quoted $54 a square on roofing materials, for 30 year architectural shingles, but my lumberyard is doing it for me at $32. That's $64 for labor and materials on a 30 year roof. I'm really glad to get the roof blacked in with all the threatening weather.
One more thing about the roof that was a huge and nice surprise. The people who looked at my roof before this said that the roof size was 52 squares. And another supplier said it was 41 squares. But this guy worked it out carefully, and it's only 32 squares of roofing. That will help the budget.
I am tired but very pleased that we got most of the electrical boxes set for the house, my friend and I. We put in for telephone and cable TV (or satellite) too. I got a super deal on electrical parts. This man in my church, a good friend of my family's, owns a big electrician company here. His son is a pretty good friend, and he's in college. The son has grown up wiring houses, and he is the consultant I am using. One of the things he offered me is to buy electrical parts at their supplier under their account.
The supplier, Codale Electric, is also where my brother in law works. He told me he can't get close to the prices they were able to give me under my friend's account. They said that he does more houses in the valley than any other electrical company by far. For instance, a double gang plastic box was 22 cents. And a really good can light, a Lightolier Lightning, was only $6.
The plumber told me to put the GFI, the ground fault interrupter, for the tub in the next room on the wall, so you don't have to go under the tub to reset it if it trips. We put that in the wall of the master bedroom. We are putting a box for 220 power as well as a natural gas fitting for both the dryer in the laundry room and for the oven in the kitchen. It's fun to build in flexibility, and it doesn't cost us hardly anything.
One thing that would have saved us time is if we decided in advance where our outlets were going to be. We probably stood around for half the day thinking, and it was cold in the house. It would have been better to do it on paper in advance. We worked for 8 hours today, but were busy for probably 2 hours.
The last two doors for the house were delivered today. This lady supplies doors for about half of what they cost elsewhere. She buys damaged doors from the factory, and then repairs them. Our front door is a really nice metal door with an eyebrow window and full length Avante side lites and cost us $300. Those are easily $600 from other people. We looked for the flaw, and their was a scratch that had been filled and sanded. It will be invisible when it's finished. We also got the french doors for the master bedroom.
My daughter Emma came out to the job with Jessica today. She's 22 months old, and she walks right in and says running down the hall pointing, "This is my room." When Jessica came, she wasn't too happy with the straw mess all over the front porch. Water got in it, and there are these yellow stains on the concrete. We cleaned that up and put bales of straw as stepping stones at the entrances. We had plastic down on the floor to catch drips and the roof seams are covered over now, so we took up the plastic and stapled it to the front door frame, and at the open garage wall into the house and in the back. And suddenly the house was warm. But we did this at 4:00 p.m., so we wished we started the day that way.
I can't believe my neighbor that I gave a copy of The Owner-Builder Book to. He walked right into the bank and said, here are my plans and all my bids, and I want a loan on my own merits - no contractor. He got his loan. It ticks me off that I didn't have the guts to do that. He says that all his bids are coming in higher than he budgeted, though. I need to teach him my Round Robin idea. I have been having good success calling back all my subs or vendors and saying "this is what I'm getting from other guys, this is what I have budgeted, what can you do now?" I have been getting excellent prices.