Wednesday, November 18, 2015

# 559 - Country House - WATER WOES

One thing we discovered during the construction of our country home is that the plumbing line we had run to the RV was not to code.

It was insufficient to carry the proper pressure needed to supply water to the house.

A couple of weeks ago, the rainy weather created terrible conditions and one of their cars slipped into the trench Sgt. Dave had dug and that carried our existing out-of-code pipe, they broke the pipe that carries water to our RV. By the time the crew left, it was a mess. However, you can see the other side of our acreage and the smooth road over there, such a difference between the home-site and the RV site.

We needed to get this trench line finished or we weren't getting water to the house.

So, Sgt. Dave has handled all the piping that runs to the house.

And I've learned that Schedule 40 pipe is ran beneath the ground for water piping and we used the recommended 1 1/2" pipe from the water main to the house. Any pipe extending out of the ground must be Schedule 80 pipe as it is heavy duty and less likely to break.

Our plumber, ran pipe throughout the house and he'll be connecting the pipe Sgt. Dave ran from the water main to the house.

We still need a septic system to be installed at the house. They were supposed to come install it about two weeks ago, but the foul weather prevents the heavy equipment from getting around on our land. Until things dry out for a few days, we won't be able to get things connected.

But, the good news is...I bought some sheetrock the other day, a bit of rolled insulation that will be on outer walls that need immediate insulating and can't wait for the overall blown-in foam insulation process.

I also bought some hardy concrete board (a knockoff) for us to begin some wet zone prepping for tile work and to have the counters ready for tiling.

These days, I take a look at things and can see that real leaps in progress are happening, but we've still got a LONG way to go before our house will be considered "finished."

I'm just thankful the trench lines are closed up and no one else's vehicle can slip into the trench on a rainy day.

Regardless, it's still an exciting process.

Monday, November 9, 2015

# 558 - Country House Update...WEATHER Stalls Work

The house is coming along. Over the past few weeks the weather has truly interfered with construction progress. It is difficult because I can see in this house in the distance, through the woods, yet we cannot move into it yet.

The above view is from a second downstairs bedroom or from a room that can be used as a den.

The hardy board is primed a yellowish color...yet to be painted.

My husband has taken care of most of the electrical requirements for the house because the bids were astronomical, so he's now been doing things in a significant manner so we can finish the house.

I've worked extremely hard to keep our budget within strict boundaries. That doesn't happen easily. And things have come up, of course, that have blown the budget to a degree.

The plumbing has been a hefty expense, but our plumber is very experienced, which counts for a lot. The septic tank is a separate expense and will be a few thousand more than expected because our soil dictates that a gravity-fed system is impossible, so an aerobic system is required. But, I adore our plumber, a Cajun from Louisiana; he's very experienced with designing great plumbing systems with efficient layout, but he strictly does pipe plumbing for the house and the septic requires a completely different crew.

As a former city girl, I had not truly understood that these were such separate areas...plumbers and septic installers are not necessarily one in the same.

Another area that we didn't plan for was the piping from the water main to the house...Sgt. Dave is currently running 1 1/2" schedule 40 piping from the main to the house for the plumber to connect so we will have running water.

The septic workers haven't been able to come do the installation because the weather won't allow the heavy equipment to be operated in the mucky mess. And we can't spread the Rye seed until the septic is installed because it will just be ruined by the septic crew. So, for now, we have a muddy mess surrounding the house.

The larger piping from the water main to the house will be better able to handle the proper pressure needed to transfer and disperse water to the house. So, a lot of underground piping will need to be done properly so the house can actually be connected to the water supply.

Here is the back of the house and the general area, likely, where
the septic system and leech field will be located.

Back to the electrical part of construction...The electrical was shockingly expensive. Our builder is normally within an accurate guessing range of $500 to $1,000. for each area of work needed to finish the house, but even he has been astounded by sky high estimates for electrical work.

For instance, one company gave a quote to ONLY run electrical wire through the house. Sgt. Dave drilled all the holes through the 2x4's, and he installed all the blue outlet/switch housing boxes. We were supplying all materials to strand the wire, and they wanted almost $10,000. just to string the wire, that's it.

The way the stained glass windows look from the porch
when there is a light turned on inside the house via electrical cord.

The great thing is that I managed to save us thousands by drawing, re-drawing and again drawing our house plans that were carefully followed by the builder. I consulted with too many experts, did too much research, and took too much time to carefully consider every single detail for the layout of this house. Working to understand the most efficient layout for plumbing, the most desirable kitchen design, and to build a house with GREAT closet space has been crucial for me. Working in real estate for years definitely helped.

And it was a challenge to find the best appliances at the deepest savings...the work to get this house built has been stressful and never-ending. The hardest part for me is that even in my "down" time, my brain is in continual high gear and processing the things that need to be done, the order of events so we don't spend extra money or time trying to correct a needless mistake, and I must make sure that the people I must stay in contact with understand everything that is happening with other contractors and time-lines so they never step on each other's toes. It's been a massive juggling act.

However, things have definitely slowed down. Much has been accomplished, but as the saying goes, "The devil is in the details." It is true that the details are the most challenging and difficult part of the process.

Still, the expense to build a custom home in a rural area is significant.

There are other ways I've learned to save a great deal of money. For instance, I don't make one trip to Lowe's or Home Depot without KNOWING exactly what I am going to buy and the research has already been done with extensive notes ready for referral. We cannot afford, money-wise or time-wise, to be wandering through the store, and we can't buy things that are unnecessary or the wrong item. Sometimes they don't have the things we came to buy. That stinks.

At the start of the process, I bought a college notebook with ruled pages to take extensive notes, and I carry that sucker with me everywhere. It is filled with crucial measurements, layout information, directional details...such as which side the tub skirt and drain should be facing, etc.

As for me, I had to design the bathrooms to fit the tubs, showers, toilets, sinks, etc., and let me tell you that there is much to consider with room layouts...shower pans/basins, type of tub, direction of drain, placement of drain, height of shower walls, types of shower doors, desired depth and length of shower space and much more. I've seen my share of HORRIBLE bathroom layouts, so let's keep our fingers crossed that my planning and efforts will pay off with un-horrible bathrooms.

So far, the most exciting part of the rough-in process has been to see the HVAC system be installed. The crew built the rigid runs on the job-site and used rigid as much as possible, but in some areas flex duct was required. The attention to detail was awesome. I stand in each room and look at the vents and imagine what it will feel like to have cold air or heat blasting through them.

Because the house has a story and a half with a vaulted ceiling across almost half the house, I knew we needed a dual-zoned air-conditioning system. This means we would have two systems with two thermostats.

I spoke with a total of three potential HVAC contractors and one of them didn't want to install a true separate zoned systems...he wanted to put in one 5-ton unit. This guy tried to convince me that this one unit would do the job, in Texas, with a second floor of multiple rooms and high ceilings. The HVAC company I ended up hiring was in total agreement regarding the necessity of the separately zoned system and the owner of the company clarified the reasons the one 5-ton unit would not be efficient, specifically due to the design of the house.

Where space is tight, they installed flex ducting.

Having one 5-ton unit would have perpetually created zones in the house that would either be too hot or too cool...controlled temperatures would have been more difficult. With one unit, getting the entire house to a feel-great consistent temperature would have been impossible.

We also went with a heatpump, which these days can be switched off when not needed. The heat-pumps of today are not the same as they were a few years ago. They can save major energy and when not needed, you just flip a switch to turn them off.

We are also have two 4-ton blowers, which will truly help blast the cool air throughout the house.

I've already gotten the estimate to get the house insulated with the blown-in expanding foam insulation that is top-notch. One of my HVAC workers said that once that insulation is in place that the interior of the house will be the same as a YETI Ice Chest. That cracked me up. I don't know how they'll get the insulation in the area behind the air-conditioning units, but we will see.

But, we can't move forward with the insulation until the plumbing, HVAC and electrical is finished being roughed-in. Almost there...just electrical needs to be finished and then we can roll forward.

And, the kitchen cabinets are going to be a dream-come-true for me and my husband. At this time, they are in the process of being built. Our cabinet builder even MILLS HIS OWN WOOD. He is incredible. I was in disbelief that our kitchen cabinetry, custom built AND installed, is LESS money than buying the ready-made-to-install cabinetry at the local hardware store. I had never dreamed of being able to have a kitchen as we will enjoy because Houston prices were off the charts. This is one area where country living has paid off.

I have already researched, priced, ordered and paid for our kitchen appliances. All Kenmore Elite appliances. They are sitting in a warehouse waiting to be delivered and installed. I was able to buy high-end appliances by sticking to a budget, being patient, ordering through our Sears Hometown store that had the freedom to come down even further off the advertised sale's price while ordering multiple appliances also reduced the overall cost by another 15%. Ordering on a holiday weekend made the sale prices even better.

Our Sears Hometown store is also delivering and INSTALLING all the appliances for approximately $87. - a one-time fee for all appliances to be installed. The only thing they won't do is connect water/plumbing lines, so I already purchased all the connections for the dishwasher and refrigerator water/ice-maker for Sgt. Dave to hook up during the Sears installation. Since the double-ovens weigh nearly 300 lbs, this is a valuable benefit of working with the local store...ordering through a regular Corporately owned Sears would've meant a much higher price for at-home delivery and installation.

As for kitchen countertops, I am still exploring options. I am old-fashioned and love tiled countertops because of the texture and depth, but the grout lines are not good for some food prepping, such as baking. So, the island will likely have granite.

Another expense was garage doors.

After calling around to price different companies, I was surprised to discovered a significant difference between one local company and another that is about 40 miles further away. The one further away was at least $350. less for the same door.

So, we installed two insulated garage doors and purchased decorative perimeter weather stripping and it cost right at $1,565.00. for both doors, installed. Not Bad!

After next weekend, we will officially begin locking the doors to the house and garage.

This is the house BEFORE the full beams were added around
the entire porch. Beefy beams.

But, the BEST feeling was to see the first tub installed upstairs. This tub is porcelain over steel and cost only $110. at Home Depot!

The Master Bathroom will have a regular tub, but with a more angled back to allow for soaking. We decided to not get an over-sized corner or garden tub because the water usage would be ridiculous and that's not great for a septic system...too much water can cause hydraulic overload. So, we remained conservative in these areas.

We have three bathrooms and have these toilets. It is interesting.

This toilet has two flush options on top of tank. Let me break it down for you...there's a PeePee flush option that uses less water, and a second Poo-Poo flush option that uses more water and pressure to SWISH the poo AWAY! Eventually, I will let you know how these work.

And to catch up...In September, me and my daughter Stefie made a road trip to see my oldest daughter since she had just given birth to their first son. We had a wonderful few days at the Johnson house. Stefie had a great time giving Coraline extra attention; it isn't easy suddenly becoming a big sissy!

Hank was 9 lbs 6oz when he was born in a birthing center as my daughter delivered him completely natural. Heather is amazing. I have two grand-babies now. I've been back a couple more times for visits since his birth, but this first visit with Hank was awesome.

Me and my week old grandson, Hank.

It was wonderful to hold my grandson and worth the crazy road trip to get there! Stefie and I laughed so hard and had such a wonderful road trip together that I'd do it again in a heartbeat with her.

My daughter and son-in-law, Heather & Henry with their babies...
Coraline and Hank. Their family is beautiful.

Heather is a very busy momma with TWO children!

Getting our house finished is extra important. Our family is growing. We all love each other and want to spend more time together. For me, this time of living in an RV for over 2 1/2 years has been extremely difficult since I am super involved with my family. There were moments I'd love to just walk away and say FORGET IT...then we drive into the city and remember the increasing congestion and the conveniences aren't worth it.

This time of great sacrifice is for a bigger reason...being patient a little longer is my requirement. Well, being a patient a LOT longer is going to be necessary, but we will keep going and enjoy the journey.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

# 557 - Country House Shell is FINISHED!

Okay, it's a "Potty Blog Post" so sit on the potty and enjoy some old-fashioned reading.

Every day we are still living in a 30 foot RV in the woods, but our house is finally being built on our acreage. We have waited a long time to see our custom home come into existence.

To catch up any potential new readers...On a hot day in May of 2013, which seems like an ETERNITY ago, we sold our house in the Greater Houston area so that we could move to the country on acreage we've owned for about 15 years. The weekend we sold our house, we stayed an extra three days to pack and clean; thank goodness for securing a three-day leaseback.

Finally, during these leaseback days, we also ordered a new RV which would serve as temporary housing. We had spent many weekends looking at RV's and trying to narrow down floorplans we thought livable while prepping to build a custom home. The RV would make it possible for us to immediately live on our acreage after leaving the house we sold.

I estimated it'd take approximately six months to one year before we'd start building our dream home. If we'd known it'd take over two years of living in an RV to start construction, I'm not so sure we would've been as adventurous. There's a great reason God doesn't give us a crystal ball.

Life itself is an adventure...we make our plans but life has a way of working itself out alongside your well-thought-out plans, sometimes causing our plans to be completely altered or that we tweak it to adjust to life's twists and turns.

As I always told my kids, "Life is what happens as you're making plans."

I've also seen the reason so many people do not take this path. Building a custom home on rural land is quite a challenge. For one, if a person doesn't relish academic work, they probably won't like handling construction details themselves. Secondly, building a custom home in the boonies takes patience. Believe me, it's not a fast process, especially when you're doing everything from scratch.

 We are not in a "custom home development" so that means we don't have a developer handling any portion of our build. I have friends and former clients who built a custom home in a development, but the builder would send them to a design center and tell them...pick your brick/front elevation/carpet/tile from our pre-determined selection. They have so much prepared for them and the process is made easy by having limitations which caps the decision process to the developer's liking. However, for us, we must make every single decision ourselves; we must find every single item for our house, without a design center, without a developer, and without any of the contractors at the developer's beck and call. For us, it means major research, interviews, reference checking and comparison shopping, which equates to a LOT OF HOMEWORK. Again, if someone doesn't like doing their home-work, then they won't like handling a custom build without the aid of a developer.

No doubt, this has been an enlightening process that takes considerable dedication, time, effort, organization and a willingness to learn along the way and the acceptance of the bumps and bruises to the body and ego in the process. For me, this has been a full-time job. Most people just don't have the time to take on another full-time job. Some would rather pay someone else to handle all the details of building their home, but I've been the willing "General Contractor" and the savings that role gives us is significant. Handling much of this myself has given us valuable "sweat equity" into our estate. Proper design and planning increases the value of a home and makes it special...this home is uniquely our own.

My main area of indecisiveness and trepidation was selecting the home-site. This was difficult because we have a few considerations. All parts of our acreage are sloped, with hills, heavily forested areas, and we have a creek. Sgt. Dave had to make the final call on this decision; he was unwavering in sticking with the same home-site he'd selected 15 years ago. .

I STRONGLY RECOMMEND drawing and maintaining a rough Master Plan design of more than just the house, but of the land with any structures or roads or fences that are to be built. Design it as much as possible, even if some things are five years down the road. We have a Master Planned level of organization for our acreage. But, living in the RV on the land for about a year allowed us to truly get a feel for living on the property and allowed us to confidently select the home-site far in advance of any construction.

However, when we first rolled our RV onto this acreage and did our basic set-up, we were grateful to get a break from a house. Our immediate plan was to chill out and not do ANY extra projects for the time being. Truly, we never intended to rush any decision. For both of us, our entire grown-up lives together has been high-pressured with a constant sense of urgency and constant busyness...but this move would be different...we made an intentional plan to get the RV in place, do minimal work to be settled, do nothing permanent for a year and enjoy that one year of planning. One year turned into two years. Yes, over two years in an RV is what it took to build our custom home.

We selected our builder and closed on our construction loan, but it rained nearly every day and we could not start construction for the next month.

On June 5th, we began the first step in building our house, which was to have the ground level piers installed, ones that are designed for a "severe environment."

Then, we had the foundation built for our garage. Our son-in-law Henry handled that part of our construction because it is his life-long profession.


Of course, Henry got the help of our grand-daughter Coraline.

It is awesome that her hand and foot prints are imprinted in the concrete foundation!

Our builder has taken approximately six weeks to build the shell of our house, which is excellent timing. But, I have to say that seeing the flooring and wrap-around porch in place was a shock.

The house is a good size and we have utilized the second story for extra space, but the first story is mainly for our day to day life and it's about 2,200 square feet. The second story has angled ceilings due to the roof pitch, but gives ample room for more living space.

I had been panicked about the house having too steep of a pitch or too little of a pitch...

...and worried about the dormer windows being just right because sometimes they look way too off scale...the porch was something I've never considered, that was ALL Sgt. Dave's much that you can see on paper or look at, but until your house is built, it is still concept and not reality.

Now, I love the house.

Little touches, such as adding the antique stained glass windows I found at a local shop and that had once been in a restaurant we loved, but that has closed down.

The garage is close enough to make it possible to run electricity and plumbing to the loft overhead without much extra expense and the carport is twice as large as we planned, but it worked out.

The loft over the carport is going to be part attic space to store the normal stuff kept in an attic, such as Christmas decorations, etc. and that area will be walled off from the other part which will be used as the art loft, a space where I can work and not be worried about making a big mess.

Whatever flooring we use will be fine to spill paint...that kind of art loft.

But, we have much to do. Plumbing, electrical, HVAC, spray-in foam insulation, septic tank installation, sheetrocking, interior door installation, flooring, trim, light fixtures, plumbing fixtures, cabinetry and more. Some of this work we will be able to do ourselves and some we must pay to have done professionally. Regardless, we have approximately three months of work in front of us.

It still seems like a mile away from reality because I can't even see the house from the RV location. The driveway to the house is on the other side of our acreage, so once we move to the house, we will be driving down a completely different private road on the acreage to go home.

But, I cannot WAIT until we are able to move everything out of this cramped RV! I cannot wait to haul this RV off our acreage and SELL IT. I cannot wait to say goodbye to RV life.

We will probably move into the house before it's really "livable" and it will be easier because we will be in the house, able to do work every day instead of having to be across the acreage.

But, I have no idea when we will actually be able to MOVE into the house.

We are planning on having our family/friend Thanksgiving gathering at the house, so things should be pretty much ready by that time, but I know we want to move into the house as soon as possible. It's difficult knowing the structure is ready, but we are still have so much to do before we can live in it!

This lean-to area for our outdoor kitchen is going to be moved
further away from the back of the house.

I won't even think about other details, such as landscaping and sodding the yard. I'd love to get some St. Augustine grass plugs started within a couple of weeks, but that yard is large and will take quite of lot of time, energy and expense to get sodded.

It has to be last on our list because we are pushing our budget to the max to finish our house.

Our family is very excited that we will finally have a home for us all to gather throughout the year. According to my own upbringing, it is vital to have a home-base for the grown kids and grand-kids to come home to enjoy...a retreat for whenever they need to be nurtured. It feels great that my children grew up enjoying this acreage and now we will continue to enjoy this peaceful spot for many years to come. Last weekend we had a baby shower for my daughter Heather as she is expecting our first grandson in about three weeks!

We are blessed.