Calm, Forward, Straight

Calm, Forward, Straight

Monday, February 11, 2019

Horse Before House Part 5
Shopping + Topping

At this point - about 90 days into construction - it seemed like a good time to line up what was going to go into the house - plumbing fixtures, lighting, doors, flooring. The kitchen and paint will get future posts all their own.

Although I was able to do a ton of research online, many items needed checking out in real life, so there were the prerequisite trips to Lowe's and Home Depot. They're located off island - a three hour round trip from here. I find box stores completely overwhelming at the best of times. Since an entire day would end up being sacrificed, those little jaunts required serious planning, multiple lists and all the documentation. Whatever did we do before smart phones?

Speaking of smart phones - I used mine to immediately text a recap of every meeting or phone conversation I had with my builder - hoping to avoid any he said-she said issues down the line. That proved to be a successful (although probably annoying πŸ˜‡) strategy lol...

Meanwhile back at the ranch, my framers achieved the ridge beam - aka "topping out." According to google:

"The practice of "topping out" a new building can be traced to the ancient Scandinavian religious rite of placing a tree atop a new building to appease the tree-dwelling spirits displaced in its construction. Long an important component of timber frame building, it migrated initially to England and Northern Europe, thence to the Americas. A tree or leafy branch is placed on the topmost wood or iron beam, often with flags and streamers tied to it. A toast is usually drunk and sometimes workers are treated to a meal."
The afternoon my framers nailed in the ridge beam, they graciously hung this handy flag for me. You can find just about anything on Amazon.

Year of the Unicorn!!!

We celebrated with a shot or two of Patron, and I sent them home with fresh eggs.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Horse Before House Part 4
Second floor + all the decisions

I anticipated the process of building a house would tax my ability + desire + patience for decision making, but the reality surpassed my wildest imaginings. I had also failed to envision the amount of push-back I would receive when my decisions didn't fit it with the ideas + schedules + budgets of others.

Not sure if this is par for the course with single-woman construction clients everywhere, or just here on my island - where unattached women are often cause for fear and suspicion. How can she live without a man - the horror! She cuts her own grass! Operates machinery! (And the ever popular - She might be after my man!!!) I've been challenging the world view of some of the less open-minded folks around here for a while lol. I wish I were kidding.

It started with how to site the house on the lot. My plan was to face the house into the property, at an angle. With covered porches, this would take advantage of passive solar. It would also square the house to the cardinal compass points. The winds that tend to be harshest in hurricanes and winter storms - NE, NW and SW - will hit the house at the corners rather than the walls directly. While I have yet to find research online to back this up (that isn't full of physics equations beyond my comprehension), after living on the property for eight years, through multiple storms, I believe this will mitigate the effect of wind somewhat.

As to the view - while it might be conventional to orient your house to the street - the thought of pointing the front porch at my neighbor's house, and the comings and goings of their parking area, didn't thrill me. I prefer to look out onto the garden, Val's paddock and the woods. It's amazing how much effort was expended explaining and justifying these choices - to the builder, the surveyors, the piling guy, etc...  #becauseisaidso

One of the pitfalls of having to say grace over so many decisions in such a short time, even with months of research prior to building, is getting overwhelmed and saying whatever - f*ck it - I can't deal. Especially when you're not sharing the responsibility of the decision making with a partner.

Balance that with the stress of knowing that many choices are time sensitive and can't be taken back which = bad choices will surely cost $$$ in the future - let's just say there was a maximum amount of pressure. Most of the selections for building materials were based on long term value. Architectural shingles, premium windows, Smart Lap siding, Duration paint. I bought into the theory that quality materials on the front end will payoff in the long term. Fingers crossed. I'll dissect interior choices in a future post. Meanwhile enjoy more construction p*rn 😎

Starting the porch roof and upstairs floor joists

The beginning of much ladder climbing - the only way to access the house for months

Setting out 2x4s to mark the interior walls

The view! Itty bitty Val in the grazing pen...

Looking down from the future stairway

Wrapping around!

Upstairs walls - it's starting to get exciting 😍

Monday, January 21, 2019

Horse Before House Part 3
Floors, Walls and Rooms

Once the pilings were banded, the pace picked up considerably. My framing crew was a super group of guys - by far the most professional and talented of all the trades who worked on the house. (it certainly helped that there wasn't much good surf when they were here)

Early on, right after the property was purchased, I met with a potential builder. He walked the lot with me, answering questions about siting the house, clearing the lot etc. I happened to mention the plan was to live in the Shimmy Shack during construction. He basically implied he wouldn't take a job when the client lived there. Once the project got going - because I lived on site - it was apparent when work started and stopped, who was there (or wasn't), and how far things progressed. I no longer wonder why in my landscaping business, I've run into so many off island clients over the years who seemed suspicious of local contractors...


There were a couple of comments asking for details - one was about costs outside of the mortgage. Here's that breakdown:

Plans - $1800
Surveying - $2000
Lot clearing - $1200 (not including my labor)
Stump pulling + grading - $2400 (not including my labor)
Permits/inspections - $1000
Water impact (county water) - $3000
Running 350' water line - $300 (not including my labor)
Electric pole - $200

The other question was about pilings and elevation. Two years ago hurricane Matthew brought flood waters of +/- 9'. My property is 7.5' above sea level. It had never flooded here since anyone could remember - one of the main reasons I bought the property. I raised the first floor 10' above the ground - so 17.5' above sea level. There are codes regarding elevation, as well as requirements from the bank, and better deals on insurance the higher up your first floor is. I wanted to be able to use the space under the house for parking and storage, and figured 10' would allow me to eventually close in a little shop once some time has passed.

First floor pano

View from the future kitchen (!)

Raising the walls

It's crazy - all that held those walls up for weeks were a few 2x4s...

...and some wall jacks

Laundry room with a view ❤️

First floor walled in

Monday, January 14, 2019

Horse Before House Part 2

Next up - fine tuning the site and sinking the pilings:

From the very beginning of envisioning a house on my property, I had high hopes of preserving a sizable twin oak that would end up being pretty close to the front of the house.

The builder was sure we'd be able to keep it. The guy who pulled the stumps kindly avoided the root ball. The surveyor (theoretically) worked hard locating the footprint to save it, and the piling crew did a bunch of handwork to accommodate the roots. It looked like we were home free, pilings sunk and ready to start banding (insert record scratch here)...

*Let's take a pause. There a SO many incidental costs that pop up when you build a house, outside of having to do with the structure itself. SO many. I knew this would be a factor, but no one could give me a ball park figure. In my area, 10k would be a good number to start with if everything goes according to plan...

My property is located in a sensitive ecological zone. A plus is I'm bordered by land that which can't be developed so - minimal neighbors. A minus is the numerous extra regulations, one of which has to do with the setbacks - how close to your property lines you can site the dwelling.

I researched this way back in the beginning, while doing my homework. (we'll revisit this detail later on in the story) What I found was 50' from the front property line and 30' from the sides, which is huge, and majorly impacted where I sited my house, the clearing I did, and what kind of plan and footprint I could choose. There are also strict rules about percentage of acreage cleared, and coverage.

During one of the myriad meetings with the surveyors, I was informed that the setbacks were quite a bit smaller (30' and 12') than what I had thought. This meant I could for sure save the tree. I was overjoyed. They staked my footprint and generated the drawings and paperwork that nothing could progress further without. I mentioned my findings, but was assured that their numbers were good. Here is the start of several themes that persisted throughout my house building experience:

1. I seemed to be the only person researching anything, and
2. to question professionals or not to question professionals...

On the edge of your seat yet? I won't keep you waiting. The pilings had to be moved after the county came to inspect the setbacks. (a gigantic error) Fortunately - due to a symmetrical house plan - we were able to leapfrog just the back row of pilings to the front row and be within regulations, although getting back on the piling guy's schedule set us behind by 30 days. And fortunate for me, but not the oak. Another theme that kept popping up - avoid getting attached - be flexible...

Bye bye oak :(

When the dumpster appears - you are officially in business!

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Horse Before House Part 1

If it hadn't been for Val, I would probably still be living in a tiny, low-lying, overpriced rental cottage, waiting for the next storm to come and flood me out again - frequently needing to negotiate several feet of seawater to get to my horse.

The paddock and run-in I leased for Val, was put on the market just a few months after we arrived. In the scramble to keep the only suitable horse-keeping spot available, I made a pie-in-the-sky offer on the property (owner financed + no down payment) and suddenly was the owner of 2.7 acres on a tiny destination island in the Atlantic Ocean.

Rent and mortgage being out of the question, next came the Shimmy Shack. She took her final journey to the farmette, providing me with a semi-comfortable, somewhat watertight home for the last eight years.

Fast forward to last January, and the house building journey began for real - plan chosen, builder interviewed, contract written, construction loan secured, site cleared. After some serious number crunching - I bit the bullet, committing to be the painting contractor - which I can confirm, is much easier in the theoretical phase of the house building project lol.

Doing anything equestrian-related beyond caring for my horse, (much less creating blog-worthy horse content) was simply out of the question in 2018. It feels like the year passed in the blink of an eye. I was pretty good about documenting the process photographically, so hopefully the pics will help me share my review of the Year of the Unicorn...

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