What’s a homestead without a home?
We have been working for two years… TWO YEARS, trying to get our architect and engineer to produce working and legal house plans.
Here’s the backstory.
Ray and I purchased five acres of mountain property fifteen years ago and have slowly developed it over the years, while we lived and worked in our home in the Sacramento Valley. First was the septic system, then came the well. We blazed a driveway through our property and brought in four truckloads of gravel. We planted our orchard. We prepared a nice place for our travel trailer (you can see that post HERE), since we would be living in it while we were building our new house, and beefed up the solar system (see that post HERE) to minimize the need to run a generator, lessening our dependence on fossil fuels. The house site has been graded and leveled for more than a year now.
We also built our beloved outhouse. We built the outhouse for many reasons, some of which you can read in a previous post about the outhouse HERE.
The summer before Ray’s retirement, we had a 20 foot long cargo container (read about that HERE) delivered to our property, to store the household items that we were keeping, and over the next ten months we decluttered our house, spruced it up and started filling up the container, getting ready to put our house up for sale upon Ray’s retirement.
We must have done a good job, because we put our house up for sale by owner before Ray actually retired, just to feel out the market, and sold it sooner than we expected.
Fortunately, we were prepared, the escrow went very well, Ray finally retired, and we moved up to live on our property permanently in late March of 2015.
So, that’s the backstory.
We have planned to build the outside walls of our home with Faswall ICF (insulated concrete form), which is a mineralized wood product formed into what looks like a very large concrete building block. These are stacked much like Legos and then the voids are filled with rebar and concrete. After studying several ICF systems and weighing the pros and cons, we felt the Shelter Works Faswall was a superior product and decided to contract with them.
We were referred to an Engineer, Don Sherman (whom we will now call Engineer), who was familiar with the Faswall system and, although he lived in Oregon, had a California Engineer’s license. In several e-mails we told Engineer that we were DIYers and were wanting to build on a limited budget, as we did not want to have a mortgage. He assured us that this was definitely a DIY project and that in the long-run, the house would not cost more than a house that was stick-built. He also said that his costs would be very reasonable. But first, we would need an architect to actually draw the plans, and Engineer referred us to Jack Scovel (now called Architect), also out of Oregon, to draw the plans. Architect does NOT have a California license, but Engineer assured us that it was okay, because his California license would cover everything.
So, we signed a contract and sent a deposit to Architect TWO YEARS AGO this month.
I sent the house plans I had been working on for several years using a software package I had purchased at Staples. All Architect had to do was make them fit with the Faswall system (each block is four feet long) and make sure the plans passed California Building Codes.
In fact, other than the final dimensions, his preliminary plans almost exactly mirror the plans I sent him. Again, we emphasized to Architect in e-mails and phone calls that we wanted to build as cheaply as possible, and that we were planning to do the bulk of the work ourselves, though we were NOT licensed contractors! Thank goodness we saved every single E-mail, in case this ends up going to court.
FOURTEEN months later, they finally had everything necessary to submit our building package to the planning department for inspection and review.
Why would it take so long? We wish we knew! We begged, we nagged and we pleaded, to no avail. Is it because we made a lot of changes to our plans? NOPE! We had Architect remove two windows on the second story that HE put in and we didn’t want, and I had him flip flop the shower with the toilet room in the master bath on the preliminary plans. That’s it. Seriously!
Why am I naming names? Because these are the cold, hard facts. I am not worried about slander, much less libel, because I am telling the truth, as hard as it is to swallow. I have saved all our e-mails, and our local county personnel will back me up on all of this, and so since I refuse to sugar coat anything, I am naming names. Perhaps I can prevent someone else’s heartbreak.
When we finally submitted the plans, we got the results of our first review back from the “plan checker” within two weeks. There were pages and pages and pages of things that were missing, incomplete or just plain wrong in our house plans.
UGGGGHHHHHHH! This was in late July of 2016.
In the meantime, we had a bunch of contractors up to our property to give us bids on the foundation work. That was one of the only things we were not planning to do ourselves (besides the roof), because we wanted to have a good foundation to build on!
Contractor after contractor told us that just the basement alone was going to cost between $50,000 to $60,000. Holy @%$&
Because our home was essentially three stories (basement, first floor, second floor) some of the footings were to be seven feet wide! And one of the basement walls had to be a solid concrete wall (filled with rebar) 35 feet long, 10 feet high and eight inches thick, to hold up the house above.
Did someone forget all the e-mails about this being a DIY project with a reasonable cost? Why did they ignore our requests and communications? Were we speaking Chinese?
You hire professionals to work for YOU, to listen to YOUR problems, to understand what YOU need and to provide that service! Wouldn’t the Architect and Engineer know that the basement with the huge footings and that concrete wall were going to be extremely expensive and certainly NOT a DIY project? If one of them had warned us of that in the preliminary stages, we would have nixed the basement right away! But after the preliminary plans were done, there was very little communication, other than the bills they sent us.
Which we always paid with a week of their receipt.
So, after realizing that a basement was not worth a huge chunk of our budget, we asked the architect and engineer to remove it from our plans, along with correcting the pages of errors the plan checker had sent. Oh, and we added a small retaining wall across our back patio and removed the fireplace. It took more than six months for them to do this. SIX MONTHS! Because of that, we missed out on another building season. And then they had the audacity to charge us thousands of dollars more! Oh, and I forgot, since Oregon does not require electrical or plumbing plans (apparently those inspections are done in the field), Mr. Architect and Mr. Engineer refused to do ours. But wait… we were assured by Mr. Engineer that since he had a California license, he would make our plans California compliant. I have that in an e-mail and told him so, but they still refused. So, we had to hire a house planner who is licensed here in California to do this!
Do you see a theme here?
We finally were able to turn in everything for our second review in February 2017. Were we good to go? NOPE. Again, errors and omissions. To top it off, now WE have to pay more than $160/hour for the next building review (the third), for mistakes and omissions our Architect/Engineer are responsible for!
What a scam.
This past winter was brutal. If you have been following this blog for very long, you know that we moved from our travel trailer into our “cottage” over a year ago. See the post of our cottage HERE. Travel trailers are not meant to be lived in 24/7, and we were burning way too much propane just to keep warm. We were having to drive 45 minutes to get to town just to buy more propane! It was insane! Hey… that rhymes. 😉
Anyway, this past winter here in Northern California was the fourth wettest since recording began. While living in the cottage to stay warm, every time I had to use the bathroom, I had to go out into the cold rain and sometimes snow. We were still showering and cooking in the trailer, so I was having to constantly go back and forth between the cottage and the trailer, oh, and the outhouse.
In the rain.
The truth is, this is not what we signed on for. I thank God that Ray and I are best friends, because this has really been a strain on our marriage and I wouldn’t wish this situation on our worst enemy.
So far, we have wasted two precious years, our retirement years, waiting for Mr. Architect and Mr. Engineer to do their jobs. When Ray sent ANOTHER e-mail to them to see what the status of our plans are, essentially they responded that they were working on them.
Yeah. Right. If you believe that, I have a bridge in Taiwan I will sell you cheap for $10,000!
We need a house.
One that we can call home.
If it takes any longer just to get plans to build a Faswall home, it’s not going to happen and we are truly heartbroken! The Faswall folks have had our money for the blocks for a year and a half now (we made our final payment December 2015), and we will be asking for a full refund. Luckily, Faswall won’t lose one cent, because they don’t manufacture the blocks until arrangements have been made to pick them up. The truth is, they probably MADE money through interest over the past year and a half! Luckily, our contract with Faswall states that if we don’t get a permit to build, and we haven’t (through no fault of our own), we will get a full refund. We are talking almost $24,000 here, folks!
We are also considering whether we will sue Jack Scovel and Don Sherman. We have contacted quite a few architects in the area, and have been told that two years for a residential house (nothing fancy here, just a normal, everyday house) is not even fathomable… It’s insane! It’s unheard of! In fact, ONE year (according to EVERY contractor we asked) is crazy! So, I don’t think we will have a problem winning that one.
If you have made it this far in the story, I would really like to have your opinion. You, my faithful followers, have given me great advice in the past. What do you think? Should we give Mr. Architect and Mr. Engineer another month to get the plans right and hope to get our Faswall dream house, knowing that it will be ANOTHER year before we can get started? Or, should we cut our losses (time), go to court to get all of our money back, and start again from scratch?