Job Diary - Third Month of Construction
I borrowed a trailer today because I found out that the lumberyard's delivery charges had amounted to $125 already. They charge you $25 each time, and I had to get 40 2X4's for the framers for the basement, so I picked them up myself. The lumberyard has been great, though, and I've gotten very good prices, now including the roofing materials, which I've gotten pretty much at cost. Because of that, I decided to use really good 30 year dimensional shingles.
The framer comes up to me today and says, "Why did you haul off that ladder?" which he needed for some roof or truss work. I told him it was the previous roofer's ladder, but if he needed one, I'd get one for him. He also presented me with a bill for $300 to build the shed roof over the bay windows, because it varied a little from the plan. With everything he has done to delay me and run up my costs, I can't believe the nerve.
The framer completely missed 7 work days in November, for whatever reason. He had an average of about 65% of the crew size of four that he promised me, and they came late and left early nearly every time, giving me about 80% of the promised day length. This is why he ran over by so much. I can tell you one thing, it's not because I didn't leave a ladder for him.
Front door went in today. That shuts off all the big holes into the house. But for some reason, there is no place colder than a house under construction out here. I'm going to buy a propane space heater for the place.
The lender who called a couple of weeks ago and mentioned the story about us in the Salt Lake Tribune called my broker and chewed him out royal. I thought that the lender liked the story in the paper, or at least wasn't bothered by it. It says that we are owner-builders, whereas the bank views us as having a contractor. We technically have a contractor, and paid him $700 for the use of his license and his advice. The article mentions the contractor as an independent inspector. So the lender basically took it that we were deceiving him. I don't see it that way, I think the banks know good and well whether you're really using a contractor or not, and they have their own purposes for categorizing borrowers like they do.
This same bank is the one that gave my neighbor approval for his construction loan. This neighbor went in and said "I'm going to be my own contractor, and I want a loan." For whatever reason they approved him like that.
I did some clean up today and will tomorrow, too, because my people that will help me with electrical are coming over soon.
I figured out what to do to make sure my tools are safe in the house. There's a fruit room in the basement that is all concrete like a bunker, and we are going to put a metal door on it to keep it cool in there. I will call the door lady and try to move that along so we can put the tools and supplies in the room and lock it and not worry.
I don't have to worry about the locking door in the basement just yet, because a company came over today and put temporary locks on the outside doors of the house for free. These people are a cultured marble supplier who are bidding on my bathrooms, and they offer this free service using junk knobs and locks that work fine to people to be friendly, I guess. This is handy, too, because the doors of the house don't swing open when the wind blows anymore.
Our roofer has done a very good job. He gets in and out quickly and doesn't need any attention to do his job. He's got our roof all finished and it's really great looking. There are 10-15 bundles of shingles left on the roof, and I called the lumberyard to come with their lift truck and get them off the roof. I have collected a good pile of individual shingles that I am keeping for future repairs, and I might keep one of the bundles, too to be safe. I will get a nice credit for the unused shingles.
I put in can lights today in the kitchen. On my electrician's suggestion, I strung a line where the lights would go along the face of the joists in the kitchen ceiling. I just measured with a tape and put in a screw on each end of the line of lights and then wound the string on the screw and ran to the next screw, and then over to the next line of lights. When I put the cans in, I just centered them on the string by sight. It looks good.
These cans I got for about $6 each, and I really like them. I found out that if I vary from these 5" cans even a little bit, say to the 3" can lights, the cost goes up by 500%. I think that's one reason architect-designed houses cost so much. They specify the thing they think is just perfect looking, and the costs go crazy.
I have scheduled a meeting with my plumber for next Tuesday night. I don't know if I'll use the same plumber for finish work, because I'm getting resistance from him about buying my own materials. He actually put Moen control valves in the showers and baths without my permission, and if I let him do that, two things will happen. One, he will think he can supply all the finish fixtures and mark them up, and two, we're committed to Moen. There are a lot of other plumbers out there.
This was a huge day. I had my electrician helpers, John and his brother Alan, and my brother in law Todd, and his father, and a friend, all came and pulled wire today. I can figure out wiring, like power in and out, switch legs, three ways, etc., but John is much faster than I am and he just sort of bossed us all day. We got a lot done.
Very good day, we had the brothers working all day, and we pulled a lot of wire, maybe 2,500 feet altogether so far, about 10 rolls of 250 feet. The guys have spinners that they hag in doorways and we put a whole coil of Romex on the spinner, and just pull it off and thread it through. It help that they have a Hole Hawg-type one inch drill that goes through studs in a hurry.
It is so great that I was able to do this wiring over Christmas and New Years, because John and Alan are able to be there, because they don't have school. The commercial work they do is in a lull right now, too. They also brought their younger brother, who is in training to be an electrician and they was very good and worked hard. And they brought Paul, another journeyman who is in graduate school with John. Like they said, we slammed it in there today. Almost everything in the way of rough wiring is done, except that there are some cans to make up and John is going to do the panel. He's coming back on Thursday night.
Since it was New Years Eve last night, the guys came a little late, but they worked probably six hours. It was cold as can be, some of the drinks froze in the cups, and I had to make sure the propane heater was running. My dad came and went to the store for me to get sandwiches for everybody and then he went to get a fresh propane bottle later. It really take a lot of time running around to keep a group busy. I can hardly start anything myself, like installing the porch lights without stopping 20 times to show people what to do, or answer questions, or get something they need.
I hired my young cousin Josh to come and clean up around the house, and he got all the trash picked up and into the junk trailer I borrowed. This will be my second load to take to the dump. The place looks good. Plus I did some corrective framing tonight with a friend. The window over the front door did not fit in the messed up hole the framers left, so I bought two sheets of OSB and carefully traced the window on one and cut it out with a jig saw. We screwed the window in very strong and trimmed everything off and used spacers to fit it perfectly. Now the wind has stopped whistling through the house.
The framing I couldn't get to until all the commotion died down and I didn't have to answer any more questions. We set up a work light and got it done at around 7:00 p.m. To0morrow it's back to work and live like a normal person for a while.
I started looking carefully at my spread sheet, and this house is definitely costing me more than I thought. When I did my spreadsheet for the budget, I didn't really fill in the "soft costs" for the house, but working with the banker, and using his spreadsheet, they have all been identified now. Jessica is not too happy with me that with land, this house is going to cost around $225,000. She said that the neighbors sold last year for $250,000 which would only make $25,000 in equity, and that's not worth all the hassle.
Hopefully, the house will be worth more than that. Our first appraisal was for $280,000, and it might come out at $300,000 when we're done. It's easy to worry about the cost a lot. I have gone over my original estimate in 5 or 6 categories, and been under in 2 or 3 categories. When I transferred my original budget into the lender's spreadsheet format, I apparently left out a couple of categories, like window coverings and landscaping. I want to count it all and digest it and not worry about it.
Met with my plumber and talked over what he's doing. I was wrong to be worried about him. He is as professional as they come. In fact, he teaches plumbing at the state college near here. He has done nothing to prevent my buying my own plumbing fixtures, and I would say it's a privilege to work with him. One little thing he did that I should have been more careful about was that he ran his manibloc plumbing tubes below the joists in the basement ceiling rather than through them. He cut pieces of PVC pipe and mounted them next to the heating duct which hangs down. I wanted the tubes run through the joists so there would be less of a drop ceiling there, but I forgot to say anything, which is my fault. Never assume. This was easier for the plumber and he did a very neat job of it.
On Monday, I am having the gas company out to lay the gas line from the street to the house. We need this because we have to get the house heated with the furnace pretty soon so they can mud and tape the sheetrock. It could wait say a few weeks, but now that I have an appointment with the gas company I have to be ready because it takes several weeks to get an appointment.
So today, I had the brick supplier back out with their fork lift to move the bricks they set in the corner of the front yard. Right under there goes the gas trench. Then I located a backhoe operator in the neighborhood who was working and gave him $50 to come over and dig the gas trench late this afternoon. I had to go out and remind him that I needed it today. At the same time he filled back in my electrical trench, which has been inspected and is good to go.
My electrician friend talked with me today about doing a generator disconnect on the electrical panel in the basement. He knows a lot about this and he and his brother formed a company just to go out and do retrofits of people's panels to make them capable of running house power off a generator. With bad news about electrical utilities in California and different kinds of outages, this is a really good idea. I don't have it in the budget to do now, but we are making provisions to add it later.
It'll be a 200 amp transfer switch off the side of the panel to convert to 5,000 watt generator. A nice Generac generator is $900. This is great because you could with a cable, run the generator outside away from things, and use all the normal power things in your house. With that many watts, you can keep fridge and freezer running, and run computers, lights, and even a microwave oven.
Something you'll see in the pictures that saved a lot of trouble when we were putting in can lights was the string we used to mark the line of cans across the ceiling. Another timesaver was using 14 gauge wires to wire most of the house, because there are standard clips to hook them up to can lights and into power receptacles. It may not be the best for power conservation, though, because the lower gauge wires supposedly offer less resistance to current.
Another trick I learned from the electricians who are working with me is to hang swivel spools with Romex on them in various places around the framed walls. There are pictures of the spools that they made from scrap lumber and pieces of Romex.
I have a shear wall inspection set for tomorrow.
I am having trouble finding cabinets at reasonable prices. Still looking. I did find a great deal on prewire for my alarm system. The whole house for $350 which includes all sensors, one in every window and door, upstairs and down, and motion detectors in the big spaces inside. For another $400, I can have the alarm activated with control panels inside the house near the door and in the master bedroom. Then the service runs only $20 a month with no contract. I can cancel it with 30 days notice if I want.
One of the alarm companies I called wanted $45 per window or door, and I have 14 windows up, 6 windows down, and 5 doors, which would make $1,1125 just for prewire.
Met the inspector at 3:00 for shear wall inspection, which I have to have before we can brick. Everything was fine, but he noticed an obvious thing, our UFA ground, a piece of rebar embedded in the foundation wall is sticking up outside the wall of the house. It's supposed to be inside so the wiring can be grounded to it, a major safety feature. Duh! Now I'll have to bend it to the inside some way. Plus it's in the way of the brick, which will sit on top of the foundation wall at the base of the framing.
The inspector took a little extra time and told me stuff I need for the four way inspection coming up. Some of the trusses are not nailed together in our attic. We don't have the necessary 6'8" clearance in the ceiling over the basement stairs in one spot. We are a little short. He said we can notch the floor joist overhead there.
My electricians John and Alan came out and made up all the switches in the house as a quality control to make sure all the wiring works right. They also got the service hooked into the outside of the house and are working on making up the panel. I've been working up each can light, they are all tied now. I need the bath fans in. I've got almost all the plugs made up, too. It's a lot of work. I spent 5 hours on Saturday, and 5 hours yesterday. I need to do smoke detectors, they hook up in series, and downstairs lights.
My cellulose guy came today. He suggests that we get all plugs on exterior walls wired before anything is covered up by insulation. The cellulose sticks to everything. It is really a cool product. No air gets through it, like it does with fiberglass. So we don't need any vapor barrier, which saves us money. It will also fill in all the cavities at the roof line and make this a sweet, tight house. I'm really glad I made this decision now that energy is going up around here. We are a natural gas house, and they just passed a 30% increase in gas prices, and 20% more is already requested. However California goes, we go, because we buy in the same spot market as they do, and share some of the energy contracts.
The way cellulose works, it keeps the moisture in your home rather that let it migrate to the colder air outside, like it tries to do. This is important, because it keeps the house more humid. Scientific evidence shows that people get sick less often when the humidity is maintained indoors. That's why people buy humidifiers. By keeping their nasal passages moister, there is less tendency for microcracking to occur in peoples passages and so germs don't get a place to lodge. That's true! The cellulose guy told me about the improved humidity and said he had one past client who didn't believe him and he installed a humidifier in his house. Then his windows sweat, which is pretty unusual in our dry climate.
To get ready for the four way we need the plumber to finish up and pressure test the lines. He has to have the lines pressurized when the inspector comes out for the four way. The inspector looks to see that they hold pressure when he comes, and then as he finishes, he checks whether there has been any drop during the time.
We've decided to bypass a gas fireplace for now. For one thing that saves near $2,000 and for another, with the cellulose we'll have no need of extra warmth, and I can get along without the extra energy costs, too. We'll probably rip out the angled corner the framers made for the fireplace and pick up extra room that way.
I'm very concerned about where the furnace flue goes up through the house. The inspector pointed out to me how close the pipe comes to framing, and how that can create a fire risk. This would have been one reason to buy an 90 Plus furnace instead of an 80 Plus. The 90 has a much smaller flue. And it save a little energy. But it would have cost me $900 more to do that. Now what we have to do is have the heating guy back out to protect the framing with sheet metal. Another approach for people thinking about this is to use steel studs in the first place around where the flue travels.
Another thing the inspector pointed out is the windows in the basement near our basement stairs out to the backyard are supposed to be tempered, and they're not. This is one of those frustrating things, because I knew that. The thing is, we had the stairs originally on the side of the garage, and moved them to get more clearance on the side of the house. Then I forgot to tell the window guy about the change. That's going to cost me $150. Oops.
There is flashing that's supposed to be around all the windows that a bituminous material and protects them from wind and rain. I knew it was supposed to go around the windows on the back, but not front and side. So the framers secured the windows without the flashing in place under it. The inspector told me how to put a product that comes in a roll over the window edges at the base of each window and meet his requirements. You have to caulk the product to make sure it seals completely. Then the brick guys put tar paper over the edges around the rest of each window, and that's sufficient.
We shouldn't have moved the window over the front door in the dark. I was pretty proud of myself for moving the window and fixing the framing over the front door with a friend two weeks ago. Looking closely, we can see now that it's not centered yet over the door. It's off maybe an inch. That's one of those things that you have to get right.
I told the roofer I wasn't happy with the ridge caps on our house. He face nailed the cap shingles there, and you can see every nail from the ground. He sort of laughed at me. I told him I wanted it ripped off. He's already been paid, and he sort of laughed at me on the phone. I couldn't believe it. Trying to figure out what to do, and I was pretty mad, I called the roofer's supply for suggestions. It turns out they have closed his account because he was not current. They told me that Elk makes a special paint to cover the nail heads.
Then the roofer called me back and left a message. It seems that he thought better of it after our phone conversation. He apologized and asked if he could try to make it right before ripping it off. When I called him back I told him that I had been fair with him, and reminded him that 100% of his work comes from referrals. I asked him if he wanted me to call my friend across the street and tell him not to use him. He protested that he already was planning to do that job, and I said, "Yeah, because I told him to use you." He was a little slow to realize that I could turn it off the same way.
Still I feel like if I pay a guy promptly and give him referrals, I don't expect to get laughed it. I think he'll get it fixed for us.
Walking around out house, I can see that it is very quiet. We chose a tongue and groove approach to our flooring and had it glued and screwed, all over silent floor joists. It makes a good house. Also, I really kept after it so that no water would get into the floor during construction.
Today I sent the framer the letter saying that we were obliged to charge back $1,000 for delays in completion as per our contract. I also shorted him by the cost of engineering and seismic straps to allow the framing to pass inspection. It's not what I wanted, but it's necessary after all the delays he caused. My interest cost and the increases in my roofing cost more than account for the $1,000. The money I am shorting him is called "liquidated damages" and is a good term because it amounts to a repaying or liquidating of financial damages caused.
One good idea for the house is that we decided to put lights in our attic. My dad laughs about it and says that I'll be missing out if I don't climb up the fold up steps to the attic carrying something with a flashlight in my mouth. All of the scrap lumber we had lying around is going to good use to make really good sized attic storage spaces over the garage and the bedrooms. The way our roof is, we'll have very good overhead clearance and can store camping equipment, Christmas decorations, etc..
My brick guy starts Monday. He was a good find because he was thousands of dollars under competition, had great references, and wanted to start right away. We got the UFA ground out of his way today. My friend and I used a Sawzall to cut a hole in the basement joist where the ground stuck up, and pounded it in with a sledge hammer. It's amazing how forgiving construction is. When you make a goof, you can use a variety of ways to fix it back up.
We also put the flashing at the base of all the windows that the inspector suggested. We just cut lengths of the sticky black material, applied caulk, and peeled back the paper and sealed it down. Those windows will be tight.