A Foundation To Build From

Foundation 7.JPG

The last couple of months have been a whirlwind on the building front. Plans have been drafted, tweaked and re-drawn at the eleventh hour. Details regarding the layout and elevation of the house, which I will get to shortly, were in a constant state of flux, and had to be put to bed before we could break ground. The mad scramble to identify and retain contractors was a daily grind, one that still has a few loose ends, but the truth is I have had little involvement with that. K is the general contractor on this project, you see, so she’s been the one pulling her hair out. I’m living vicariously through her, and never would have had the desire, nerve or knowledge to attempt this.

Building during the winter (technically, it is still Autumn – it has only felt like winter) is a race against the clock. We took on this challenge for a variety of reasons, but the main reasons were control and to save money. Serving as your own subcontractor allows for that, as winter tends to be a slower time for tradesmen, and there is less competition for their services. The other reason for building in the winter is we want to be able to move during the spring, which is the optimum time to sell out current home.

So the first order of business was to retain a builder who was experienced with building the type of energy efficient house we want, and who wouldn’t get their nose bent out of shape if they weren’t responsible for the entire building process. Their task is to get the foundation in, frame the house, install the windows and finish the roof. K would take it from there. Once the structure is up, it won’t matter what the weather or temperatures are because the house will be enclosed and the subs would be shielded from the elements.

Our self imposed deadline, based on an assumption that the ground would not be completely frozen until then, was Christmas. Until recently, getting to the point where we could meet this deadline was like trying to nail Jello to a wall. All the last minute changes were bad enough, but K was like a dog with a bone and managed to pull everything together in early November. Unfortunately, Mother Nature wasn’t on the same page.

This has been a miserable Autumn, and the last few weeks have been especially terrible. While the folks in California would have given anything for a few drops of rain to stem the tide of the terrible wildfires, we were facing the opposite conundrum. Connecticut was in the midst of a stormy weather pattern that brought frequent rain, some of it torrential, and an early snowstorm. Not only that, the temperatures have been much colder than average, all of which have conspired to create numerous delays and postponements.

Talk about frustrating! It’s such a helpless feeling knowing that the clock is ticking, the amount of time in which to accomplish your goal was quickly eroding, and that all the time and effort spent in getting this out of the ground was in jeopardy of being derailed until Spring.

The last minute changes certainly didn’t help, but were an economic necessity. To make a long story short, we purchased adjoining lots, with the idea that when Nidan started working and eventually built up his savings, he’d have a lot to build his own place.  Our original plan was to have a separate apartment attached to the main house where he and my mother-in-law, who lives with us, would reside. When informed about the prevailing price per square foot for new home construction, and the fact that additional corners to any structure really jack up the construction price,  the math suggested that if we built a small house on the adjoining lot instead of an attached apartment, the cost would not be much greater. We therefore had blueprints for two houses drafted, and were ready to roll with that. After all, who wouldn’t want to empty the nest as early as possible?

Those plans unraveled once the quotes started coming in, and it became obvious that we would be way, way, WAY over budget, which was a shock based on what we thought we knew. The two house plan went up in smoke, so we had to scramble, and have the plans re-drawn (ka-ching!) that converted most of the basement of the original house into an apartment with a separate entrance.

This development changed the footprint of the entire house. In order to get the water and sewer lines into the downstairs living space, the house had to be raised several feet. This made the driveway, which was already a lot longer than we wanted so it would wrap around to the back of the structure where their entrance would be (ka-ching!), steeper than we would have liked. It also created a handful of other building complications that I won’t get into, but the bottom line is it delayed the entire process at least three to four weeks. Naturally, the weather nice during this unexpected delay, and would have provided a sustained period to get us out of the ground. It wasn’t until we were ready to rock and roll that the weather descended upon us like a ton of bricks.

When ground finally was broken, it was so saturated that extra material had to be utilized to prevent the heavy equipment from sinking (ka-ching!), and more drains were installed to help direct the water away from the building site (ka-ching!). The cherry on top occurred a couple of weeks ago where, after the hole was finally dug and ready for the foundation forms, over an inch of rain fell on already saturated grounds. This caused the earthen walls to collapse, which required the excavator to spend an extra day clearing the mud that sat where the foundation forms needed to be  set up (ka-ching!). The coup de grace was having to employ a truck that pumped the concrete from the mixer to the forms (ka-ching!)

Happily, all of that is past us. The footings were poured last week, and the foundation was poured on Monday. It appears we will be blessed with a ten day period of primarily dry weather, but this stretch will also be exceeding cold. What does that mean? It means the concrete needs to be kept warm, which requires an extra step or two in the process (ka-ching!).

The pictures that follow represent each step of the process to date, starting from the time we initially purchased the property.

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Foundation 3.JPG

Foundation 2.JPG

Foundation 1.JPG

Foundation 5

Foundation 4

Foundation 6

This period of dry weather should provide enough time to get the floors poured before we reach the point of no return, so the pressure to get things moving isn’t as great as it was several weeks ago. Still, it will be a relief once the lumber and windows are ordered because that will mean the floor is poured, the construction can begin in earnest, and we are back on schedule.

Wouldn’t that be something?

A Building Update

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There is a lot going on right now, and my head is swimming.

The fact that Red Sox have marched through the playoffs these last two weeks has gobbled up what little free time I have, including sleep time, because I have watched every inning of every game. To complicate things further, I am up to my neck in getting a package prepared that will go to prospective publishers soon. That is a story in itself, which I will detail when I’m done.

These two events have conspired to devour time ordinarily spent writing for this blog, which has presented a dilemma. One of my goals this year was to post something every week, and despite occasionally struggling with a subject matter,  I have managed to meet that objective.

This is a strange week because I have plenty of topics but am pressed for time, so this week’s post is going to be a quick one.

I’ve written in the past about building a new home, the last entry occurring in August. I am happy to report that we closed on the property a few weeks ago, the blueprints are completed, and we recently received building permits that will allow us to finally break ground. That’s the good news. The remaining hurdles are time and money.

TimeFrom a time perspective, our goal was to break ground before it froze, and have the structure under roof and enclosed before winter sets in so the finish work can continue, which would allow us to move by spring. That in turn would allow us to put our current house market in the spring, which is the best time of the year to sell in New England.

We fell a little under the gun on this front because the permit process took longer than expected,  and we are still waiting for the person we engaged to get the frame up to give us his numbers so we can put an overall project budget together. It’s almost Halloween, believe we must break ground next month, otherwise we will run out of time and not be able to start in earnest until spring, which will put us about a year behind schedule. I can hear the clock ticking.

As far as money is concerned, I can’t believe how much costs have increased since the last time we did this in 2000. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say they have almost doubled. We already know this is going to be more a lot more expensive than we originally thought, so the challenge is going to be how we will make this work.  K and I have already committed a lot financially just to get to where we currently are, so making major changes to our plans is not an option.

MoneyIn one respect, waiting another six months wouldn’t be terrible, as it would provide an opportunity to squirrel away a few more pesos. But the danger in that, besides knowing  building costs will only get higher with the passage of time, is that the stock market will crash and interest rates will spike. So the quicker we can proceed, the better.

Once we start moving dirt I can get more into the details of what our vision is and share the trials and tribulations of being our own subcontractors, but until that day comes we are in a state of limbo, anxiously waiting for the final set of numbers.

I’m not the most patient guy in the world, but should have known better than to think things would go according to plan. When it comes to house building, nothing ever goes completely as planned, hurry up and wait is they typical modus operandi, and the entire process is stressful as hell. My MS should love that. We also have never built during the winter before, so this is going to be an interesting experience. The original thought was that there would be more of a selection of  plumbers, electricians and other tradesmen to choose from, and therefore get better prices, because there isn’t lot of competition for their services in the winter. We’ll see if that was assumption was astute or naïve.

Buckle up for the ride. Hopefully it won’t be too bumpy.

 

The Next Big Project

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Last summer, I mused about needing a new house. At the time, the sentiment was real, and the motivation was there, but the desire was more wish than reality. Our list of requirements was long, you see. We wanted to either build something new, or completely gut a run down house in a good location. We also wanted to remain in our current town, have access to city water and sewer, and to own a relatively flat piece of property, but finding any land that checked off all the boxes AND not cost an insane amount of coin turned out to be like trying to eat soup with a fork.

K had doggedly turned over over every rock, and called anyone she could think of who might know somebody or something, but every promising turn resulted in a dead end. It was getting to the point where we began to wonder if we needed to revisit our requirements because at the rate we were going, there was no possible way we would move in 2019, which was the goal.

While this hand-wringing was going on, a new option presented itself almost by accident. We discovered an opportunity that was not yet public knowledge, and K ran with it. Lo and behold, after several months of back and forth, we reached and signed an agreement and forked over a deposit, which was necessary because the owner’s development plan for the property and not yet been submitted to or approved by the town’s Planning and Zoning committee. We had confidence it would, but timing was important because our desire is to break ground before winter, and move during the spring or early summer.

The town approved the plan on August 2nd, and we are currently in the waiting period where the requested changes P&Z made have to be submitted. The period in question also allows anyone who wishes to dispute the committee’s decision to file a complaint and gum up the process. Assuming the changes are made and nobody raises a fuss, we should formally close and own the property by the end of the month.

Now the fun begins really begins. We’ve been working with an architect for almost a month to create a plan that pleases K’s aesthetics in addition to being ADA compliant. We’ve also been looking at things like windows, doors, flooring and material of that nature so we can begin pricing this out.  We’ve had preliminary discussions with our bank to discuss financing options that are going to be predicated on whether we are going to serve as the general contractors for this project or hire a builder to oversee everything, which is another decision that needs to be made soon.

Actually, there is no “we” as far as being our own contractor is concerned. K will serve in that capacity. We’re familiar with the drill because we assumed that responsibility with house number one after we fired our general contractor before it was completely under roof, and hired all the subcontractors after that. Her father, a retired carpenter who knew how to build  a house in its entirety once a foundation was poured, was alive at the time and served as the on-site general foreman.

House number two was done by a local contractor, who built a decent house, but there were issues along the way. K has always been ahead of the curve in terms of healthy house construction. Much of what contractors thought was crazy twenty years ago is code these days. This wasn’t much of an issue with house number one because we subbed out most of it and paid the subcontractors ourselves, but it was on the second house. The contractor’s primary interest for that job was to get the thing up quickly with little deviation from his normal process, and he was therefore reluctant try anything new or different. Still, with K riding his butt, sticking firm to what she wanted, and making sure everything the subs needed was on-site so they didn’t wander off to another job, we moved into the place less than six months after ground was broken.

K has been and will continue to be the driving force behind this project. Of course, she will want to pull out her hair during the construction process, and repeatedly lament what possessed her to take this on, but the truth is she loves this stuff. The other truth is we can save a lot of money by doing this ourselves.  In retrospect, she and her Mom missed their calling. They have the eye and talent as far as house design and layout are concerned, and her Dad had the skills to make their visions a reality. They could have created one hell of a successful business flipping houses long before it became the rage, and maybe I’d be comfortably retired by now.

So, assuming there are no blips within the next two weeks, the thought of a new homestead has transformed from a conceptual idea to something very real over a relatively short period of time, and some anxiety comes with it.

Why? Well, it didn’t take long for sticker shock to set in. Building materials and costs have increased dramatically since 2000, the last time we did this. We know what we want this project to look like when we are finished. The great unknown right now is whether the cost is going to force us lower our expectations. I hope not.

We also know nothing ever goes as planned when it comes to building a house, so there will be many stressful and aggravating moments along the way, especially if this drags well into next summer. Managing stress is going to become paramount, especially for me since I know it exacerbates my symptoms. I may not be on the front lines while this is going on, but if K gest stressed, I get stressed.

It is going to be quite the challenge for her to pull this off, maintain her writing schedule, and keep up with the current house. I will do as much as I can, but we’ve long established the fact that my physical limitations prevent me from picking up my fair share of the slack. But I will try to approach things methodically as this develops, and address one item at a time. It is easier not to become overwhelmed that way.

I’ll post periodic updates as this process unfolds, and share more of the specifics of what our plans entail. Meanwhile, I have to dust off the calculator, figure out how to pay for the damn thing without mortgaging our future, and hope/pray that Mr. MS doesn’t decide to up the ante and create a host of debilitating problems before the job is done. What a shit-storm that would be.

 

 

 

Home Improvement

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Last Saturday evening, I was sitting around the fire pit in my back yard with my wife and a friend, sharing a drink and shooting the breeze. It was a perfect autumn evening: cool and clear, with no wind. A bright, full moon had emerged from behind the hills across the valley my yard overlooks, and was now perched in the center of the sky, casting moon shadows at various places in the yard. We had paused for a moment, and all you could hear was the hissing and crackling of the fire. I gazed at the moon and the picturesque scene, and thought: “I’m really going to miss this place.”

I need a new house, you see.

My condition is not the only reason I need to move, because I’m at the point in my life where scaling down makes sense. I never enjoyed yard work all that much, never liked house cleaning (who does?), and don’t take much pleasure in house maintenance, primarily because I’m not handy. A smaller house with a smaller, flatter yard would be cheaper to maintain, and require less work to take care of. The by-product of that would presumably be more free time for my wife and I to enjoy.

MS simply amplifies the need. Our house is too big for one person to maintain, and it’s frustrating for me to see my wife take on all of the inside house stuff knowing she could use my help. The cost of hiring people to mow a yard that is very hilly, remove snow from a driveway that is long, uphill and curvy, in addition to a portion of a private road we live on, is becoming prohibitive. Navigating the three stories (main floor, upstairs and basement) is becoming more cumbersome, and walking on terrain that has few flat spots has become a problem.

I’ve lived here the longest as an adult, so my connection to the place is deeper than any of my other homes, including my parent’s house. When I left home during my early twenties, I was ready to spread my wings and assert my independence. There wasn’t any melancholy or sadness, and when my parents passed away a couple of years ago, any emotional attachment I may have felt with the place was buried with them.

This is different. Quite frankly, we love our house. It is perched on a hill, has a wonderful view of a the Connecticut hills, and the interior decor and furnishings are just about perfect. So is the landscaping. It’s the house our son, who is now 19, was raised in. It took less than six months for us to move into the place once ground was broken, and we watched every step of the construction process, from the time the foundation was poured to the time we moved in. A lot of memories, good and bad, reside within those four walls, and it is going to feel very strange to call a new place home.

What is most daunting, though, is the thought of moving.

Back in the nineties, when I was twenty years younger, stronger, and had two good legs, we moved four times within a five year period. Two of those moves involved crossing state lines. The first move was a grand adventure, but the novelty had certainly worn off by move number four, into our current home. After that one, I swore that if I moved again soon, it would be in a pine box.

So I know what is involved, and understand that this move will be a royal bitch. First of all, we have far more stuff than we’ve ever had to move before, and we aren’t in our thirties anymore. Plus, I have a hard enough time helping decorate the Christmas Tree, so I have no illusions about what I will be bringing to the table when it comes to packing and moving a home. Maybe I’ll get an adrenaline rush and surprise myself, but that’s wishful thinking. The safer bet is that the process of moving is going to suck, and I will hate every second of it.

Having said that, the idea of a new place is exciting. We’ve built two houses already, and it is cool to see the planning and thought translate into the real thing during the construction process. Plus, when the new home is complete, you don’t have to worry about stuff breaking down, or having to replace anything in the near future. I relish the idea of having everything on one floor, ramps leading into the house from the sidewalks and garage, wide hallways that can accommodate a wheelchair, a bathroom/shower that will as well, and a stairway into the basement that has a stair lift.

As you can surmise, the new house will be ADA compliant, and knowing that we won’t have to worry anymore about my condition making it impossible to live in my home will put all of our minds at ease.  We want to incorporate everything we love about our current place, and, budget permitting, add a few things we don’t have but wish we did, like a sun room.

Do I have to move right away? Technically, no, but the progression clock is ticking. I would rather be in a place that will easily accommodate my needs should the day arrive when I’m wheelchair-bound, than have to look for a place because I have a hard time getting in and out of my home. Planning for a move now allows us to think clinically and rationally, and leads to better decision making. Waiting until it’s too late makes the process more emotional and impulsive.

My self imposed moving deadline is 2019. The biggest issue confronting us is finding a piece of property in our current town that checks all the boxes, and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. That isn’t easy to come by in the section of town we desire, and contractors usually scoop the parcels of land up when they do. I’d rather not be beholden to any one contractor.

I’ve pegged our odds at finding the right place in our current town 50-50 at best. If that fails, the fallback position is to buy a house that is is disrepair but has good bones on the cheap, rip it down to the studs, and fix it up. The problem with that, however, is there aren’t a lot of ranches in our town, and this might actually cost more than building from scratch. So we search, wait, and hope something will emerge. As a last resort, we may have to expand our search to neighboring towns, but would first have to decide if that would be better than staying in town and settle for something less than perfect. Hopefully is doesn’t boil down to that.

They say patience is a virtue. We’ll see. Hopefully, a parcel will become available and we’ll be able to build the house we want. A nice view would be a bonus.