Getting Ready to Build!

http://www.clipartof.com

http://www.clipartof.com

We have been working with an architect and an engineer to design our house plans, and were finally able to submit the plans to our building department last month.  They wanted a small fortune in building fees, but our biggest shock was the $8,500 + impact fee to our school district.  Holy cow, I think we just paid for half a classroom!

In the meantime, we have been getting bids for the final excavation and foundation work.

Wowza!

The estimates are much, much more than we anticipated.  The problem is that we are essentially building a three story structure, so the foundation under the basement is requiring 7 foot wide footings and a poured in place concrete wall 8” thick and 35’ long!  Holy Cannoli – we can’t afford that!  Especially since the concrete trucks are tacking on a premium to bring the concrete up the mountain to our property.  (Some silly thing about diesel costing a lot 😉 of money)

This is one version of the main floor of our house plans. I can't wait to live in this house!

This is one version of the main floor of our house plans. I can’t wait to live in this house!

Hmmmmm…  So, we thought long and hard about this.  Why do we want a basement?

  1. The back third was going to be walled off and turned into a root cellar.
  2. Storage – canned goods, household stuff and, of course, junk.
  3. A cool place to sit on a hot afternoon.

We decided (no brainer) we can always build a root cellar elsewhere.  Also, going up and down stairs when I am 85 years old to get my canned goods and stuff – well, let’s just say it’s not something I am looking forward to!  Besides, this is supposed to be our final forever home, and we need to have everything required for everyday living on one floor!  The upstairs only has two bedrooms and a bathroom, so I will only need to go up there when we have guests!

Therefore, we decided to send the plans back to the architect and engineer and nix the basement.  Besides, they had LOTS of changes to make for the county plan checker anyway. Let me tell you – California has some crazy codes that we must adhere to!  More about that later.  Now, if you look at the floor plan above, maybe we could turn the area where the stairs going down to the basement would have been into a nice long pantry? What do you think?  We will see what the architect says.

People warned us that this was a very long, frustrating process, and let me tell you…  they were so right!

This is what the Shelterworks Faswall block looks like.

This is what the Shelterworks Faswall block looks like.  You can see lots of beautiful homes built with these blocks on their website – which is also where I got this picture!  🙂

In the meantime, we have already purchased the Insulated Concrete Forms, or ICF.  We decided to go with a company called ShelterWorks and their product called FasWall.  We have done a lot of research for a few years now, and these FasWall ICFs are probably the easiest to work with, the most insect and fire resistant, and breathable insulated forms on the market today.  FasWall is also easier to build with because regular carpenter tools are used and, unlike the plastic ICF, you can actually screw or nail into the form at any place.  One more reason we were sold on FasWall is that the wood used in the form is made from mineralized and recycled shredded wood from old wooden pallets.  The ICFs are stacked together like Legos, with rebar placed vertically and horizontally within the cavity of the ICFs, and then concrete is poured into the cavity.  Essentially, this makes a waffle grid of concrete within the walls, and gives the effect of superior insulation and stability.

Doesn’t that sound fantastic?

It does cost a bit more (5-10%) to build a home with these forms than it does a stick built house.  However, the payback comes with the energy savings.  The houses built with these forms are solid, very energy efficient, almost sound-proof, and essentially pest (think termite, carpenter ant, mouse) proof!  Also, the fire resistance of these ICF walls is important when you consider that we are living in the middle of a forest here in Northern California, where wildfire is not at all uncommon.  We have been working with Paul Wood, one of Faswall’s representatives, who has been very helpful in getting our building plans moving forward.

This big old Douglas Fir just had to go. So sad. We wanted to use the wood in our house, but California code required that it be graded and certified by a professional - timely and costly. Yet another one of those "codes" run amuck!

This big old Douglas Fir just had to go. So sad. We wanted to use the wood in our house, but California code required that it be graded and certified by a professional – timely and costly. Yet another one of those “codes” run amuck!  Grrrrrrrrr…

In the meantime, we have been getting our building site ready.  We had some beetle killed trees that needed to come down, and a couple other smaller trees that were right where our living room will be, so they all had to go.  We had a massive Douglas Fir that we wanted to save (above), but sadly, after some excavating and figuring right where the house would go, we realized that it was going to be too close to the house for fire safety.  Not to mention the fact that it was leaning right toward where our master bedroom was to be.  Since the tree was too big for Ray’s chainsaw, we called in Clyde, a Professional and Licensed Logger to drop the tree for us.

The beginning of excavation to make a flat building site - first you have to remove the tree stumps!

The beginning of excavation to make a flat building site – first you have to remove the tree stumps!  These guys made it look too easy.

The initial excavation has also been done.  The excavators popped out the tree stumps we had cut, scraped the lot clean of brush, and then cut into the hillside a bit so that the land would be level.  They were wonderful to work with and very respectful of our property, keeping clear of the septic tank so they wouldn’t damage it.

All of the brush was piled into a huge pile, so later Ray and I burned most of it, and cut up for firewood what was large enough to bother with.  It took us several days to get that accomplished, and we were able to get the brush burned before our burning permits were restricted for the fire season.

This is our nice, level building spot! The orange tape on the stakes indicate where the septic tank is. We have been busy burning duff and forest debris, trying to get the house site "fire-safe". It sure is a lot of work!

This is our nice, level building spot! The orange tape on the stakes indicate where the septic tank is. We have been busy burning duff and forest debris, trying to get the house site “fire-safe”. It sure is a lot of work!  The ashes are about where the kitchen will be, and the trees will be the view looking south-east out our front windows!

We are also busy raking up the forest duff, pulling out small bushes and trees, and laddering up the trees that will remain, so that the immediate area thirty feet around our house will hopefully keep a wildfire from getting too close to our house, and help firefighters to defend it.  Nancy, from our county fire department, will be up soon to tell us how we are doing and what else we need to do to make our home fire safe. Unfortunately, getting homeowner’s insurance in our neck of the woods is nearly impossible, so we want to make our home as fire safe as possible!

So, wish us luck, send good thoughts, or even a few prayers that our architect and engineer don’t take too long to get the changes and corrections made to our plans!  I would really like to at least have our foundation poured this year – God willing!

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22 thoughts on “Getting Ready to Build!

    • Ugh – a looooooooonnnnnnnggggg journey! And yes, it looks like we will have to tough it out another winter. Well – at least we have plenty of firewood to stay warm!

  1. We have a pantry under a set of stairs. Just one cautionary note – it is NARROW, esp. after you put in shelves. Think about bending over to put something on a lower shelf, or how to reach and retrieve items from that very short section under the bottom stairs. Consider how much room you need to move around physically. I love the use of space but I wish I had more space to move around. Ohhh, our door was at the end of the narrow space. Maybe double doors opening across the width would have been better but was not an option by the time I turned it into a pantry.

    • Hmmmm… good thought! Thank you so much for your caution, Lisa! The area is four feet wide, so with 1 foot wide shelves, that would leave me three feet. I am going to have to experiment to see if that will be enough space for my big backside! 🙂

  2. Frustrating, but still exciting! My parents built three houses in CA during our time there, and each one of them almost resulted in a divorce, so I think you guys are doing well. 🙂
    I do remember hearing a lot about the crazy codes, some of which make absolutely no sense. Best of luck with those- I think not having a basement will be just fine- you can turn the under-the-stairs space into canning storage, right?

    • Haha – yes – it has been a test to our marriage! We were married 40 years on July 31st, so we have been through lots of test, but I think this is the one that will make us or break us! One of the crazy codes I can’t understand is called a Title 24. That’s a report where we have to pay a certified energy consultant (they aren’t cheap) to prove that our home is energy efficient. HELLO! We are building off-grid and will be producing our own energy! Sheesh! But then they turn around and tell us we have to have a ventilation fan running 24/7 in the house. What? Really? Where is the energy efficiency there? Ugh!

  3. My daughter has been building a house for the last five years and paying as she goes so she won’t have a mortgage. We’re hoping this time next year she’ll be in it. She, like you, wanted no steps to deal with and has made all of her room handicap accessible (wider doors). I love your plans and know you can’t wait to be in it. Good luck and the outside cellar is a great idea! Ours was built almost 200 years ago with a apple house overhead. The cellar never gets over 60* in the summer and never below 35* in the winter. Shelves on two walls floor to ceiling for canned goods and back wall has a potato and squash bin. You will love it too!

    • Thank you so much for telling me this, Rita! It will probably take us a few years to finish building also, but we are ready to deal with that reality and will enjoy not having a mortgage in our future years. And a 200 year old cellar? That’s fantastic! One question: will my metal jar lids rust? That’s one thing I worry about in a root cellar because typically (at least I think) they have a higher humidity than outside air. Thanks for stopping by today – I really appreciate your comment!

    • Thank you so much, Kendall! It is quite the endeavor, indeed! It is certainly nice to see the area completely flat where the house will be built, without trees or brush, so that I can more readily imagine a house there. I would be embarrassed to tell you how many times I have stood where our front window will be, pretending to look out at the view! 😉

    • Ugh – so slow! First the architect and engineer took forever, then the building department wanted this and that before they would even allow us to apply for a permit and give them money! Now that the plans are back to the architect and engineer, who knows when this fiasco will end! Oh well. In the meantime we are getting other things done, like splitting and stacking firewood. Lots and lots of firewood! It’s good to hear from you again, Lydia!

  4. I’m so happy to read a post from you, Vickie! So, you’re making progress, albeit slowly. Sigh. How frustrating for you!! Another winter in the shed turned cottage….good thing it’s so cute and cozy!

    • I know, right? But even though our living quarters are so cute and cozy, it’s small. And every day it seems to get smaller! 😉 Oh well, like I always say, we are actually living better than half of the world’s population. We have warmth in the winter, clean water, and healthy food. However, it’s a good thing my husband and I are still good friends!

  5. Hooray for progress! You have more patience than I do, Vickie. And the codes and regulation are becoming outrageous everywhere. A relative in St. Louis recently graded his yard and planted grass seed to fix an errosion and ponding issue. Within an hour a city official showed up and wrote him a $250 ticket for failing to get a permit to fix his own lawn. If that isn’t bad enough he will be additionally fined if the grass doesn’t grow an inch a week after the first two weeks! Seriously? And congratulations, 40 years is quite an achievement!

    • Oh my goodness! They were Fixing a problem, and got fined for it! Government intrusion at it’s best (I’m being sarcastic, of course). Get this – they want us to put in a fire sprinkler system integrated with the smoke detectors. When a smoke detector goes off, they all go off. Why? Supposedly so that you will know there is a fire in the basement while you are on the second floor. Hmmm… my smoke detector is so loud that I can hear it outside down the block, so I am sure I would hear it inside the house, also! Besides, how do you know where the fire is, if they are all going off! Harrumph! I really think it’s just another way for the government to grab more money. It’s almost at the point that all these extras that we have to put in our house, that were not required just 10 years ago, are making it too expensive to build! The fire sprinkler itself is going to cost us well over $8,000, even though we don’t want it! One of the people in the building department had the audacity to say that the sprinkler system will make our homeowner’s insurance cheaper. Really? Not where we are building! There is only one company that will insure homes in our area – Lloyd’s of London – and they aren’t cheap! And if we are gone for more than a few days during the winter, we have more of a chance to have an insurance claim from busted frozen pipes than from a fire! UGH! Can you tell I’m frustrated? Thanks for giving me a soapbox, Sharon!

    • Yes – but we are trying to be as philosophical about the whole think as possible – and are also convincing ourselves that we didn’t need that old basement anyway! Actually, I do think the house will be better without it – and certainly cheaper! I might be able to afford those granite countertops after-all!

  6. Great update on the preparation of your home site and all that goes with the planning (not to mention expense!) of building a home. It will be good to see the project go through the construction phases to completion.

    • Yes, it WILL be good to see the construction phase and completion! We just hope that happens sometime in the next decade! Once we see the roof on and the windows in, however, we will certainly feel a lot better! The good thing about all of this is that the work getting the land prepared is keeping Ray and I in good shape. Cutting, splitting and stacking wood, raking and shoveling the dirt, along with pulling small stumps and bushes – hey – who needs a gym!

  7. Very excited to read an update! I like the idea of the pantry where the stairs were! There you can put some of the canned goods and the excess potentially in the root cellar so you are not overworking those legs 😉 I am frustrated for you on the CA codes. My friend recently went though something similar in So Cal… What a nightmare. You have to pay for so many “what if’s…” along the way too. But in the meantime, you have come this far so I think you understand perseverance very well! Like my pa used to say “Keep on Truckin”…

    Thank you for sharing with us this week on the Art of Home-Making Mondays at Strangers & Pilgrims on Earth! 🙂 And here is a little blessing for your new home:

    “Peace be both to thee, and peace be to thine house, and peace be unto all that thou hast…” ~ 1 Samuel 25:6

    • Thank you so much for your blessing! You know, at this point I could easily get up on a soapbox and rant, rant, rant about how our state is over-reaching with all their building codes, but I won’t. You are so right about overworking legs – especially during canning season! It will be so much easier to just store all my canned goods right there off the kitchen! Thank you so much for hosting your wonderful blog party.

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