Wood and Stone

A site to track our progress as we build our FirstDay Cottage Canadian house kit. Come on in, get a cup of coffee, set a spell and follow along on our journey or join in if you like. Check back for the weekly update (usually by Wednesday when things are going right) to see what we are currently up to!

Monday, July 31, 2006

Come Together

I redrew the diagram a bit. You can click it to get a bigger size, and I think most everything is pretty obvious now. H is the House (south facing) and G is the garage (which presumably will have an apartment on the north side).

Potential layout
Things have really started coming together in the past week or so. We found out last night that a private financier will hold a note for a mortgage comprising the balance of what we will need to be building in the spring. This is very exciting, but also a bit melancholy - I really wanted to do this without any mortgage. I believe that we could do it that way if we could continue in our current living arrangement (we live with Wendy's dad) for another couple of years to build up our bank account more. The reality though is that with 2 kids, ages 3 and almost 1, we really are going to need some more space soon. To do that, we need to take out a loan unfortunately.

The other side is that I don't feel as bad about doing it this way as I do using a bank. I would just as soon we give our interest to someone we know as to a bank. Also, private financing could make some design decisions a bit easier - where a bank might insist on the mainstream way of doing things (having a forced hot air furnace for example), this will hopefully give us some more leeway in what we do in building the house. I must point out that we are very grateful that things worked out this way, and thank our lenders for their generosity!

We finally received all the well drilling quotes just before the weekend. After analyzing the numbers, we calculated that the fixed price quote will probably give us the best deal, given a well depth of 400' minimum. A house down the hill that this driller did has a 400' well, and our neighbor to the north has a 550' well. Given that, we think that a 400' minimum depth for our well is a pretty good bet. Also, their Water System Price is $1500, which is $500 - $700 cheaper than the other quotes we have. When we saw that the contract guarantees a well with a flow rate of 5gpm, everything seems to work in their favor. I do have some questions for them before we sign anything:

1) What can they do to guarantee the flow rate?
2) Can we drill near the driveway to avoid having to get the truck in and out of undeveloped portions of the land, which is what I talked to this driller about when we met at the property?
3) Is the price for the water system fixed once we sign the contract or subject to change based on market prices when it is installed (we would have to pay the 5k when the well is drilled and the 1.5k when the water system is installed).
4) Do they know any dowsers in the area?

I left a message this evening for them, and hope to hear soon.

I heard back from the neighbor who did the driveway, let us refer to him from now on as Ed. Ed looked at it and says it needs some more fill at the top once we get to using it more (that is why it is all soft now), but that it should be fine for now. Ed is out of commission right now after having had knee surgery this weekend, so it will be 4 weeks or so before he can do much else.

I also called back the guy who dug the perc holes, as I had missed a call from him over the weekend. We are going to meet Wednesday evening to discuss the septic plan and the well logistics. Wendy is going to try calling some other septic contractors recommended by Ed and the neighbor to the north to see what we need to do to get estimates.

The last bit of excitement is that the chainsaw arrived Friday. I put the bar and chain on, and am harboring a desire to take down the pine that is shading the vegetable garden at my father-in-law's house. I have to go get some safety gear first, so maybe I will try it out next weekend!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Well, Well, Well

Wendy has been busy contacting well drillers in the area trying to get estimates and the like for our well. Some of the drillers just gave us their per foot rates with and without casing. A couple are going to send us estimates and a couple more wanted to see the property. One went on his own on Friday, and we went up to the property yesterday to meet the other well driller.

The prices range from $14/ft with casing and $12/ft without casing to $16/ft with casing and $15/ft without casing. The guy we met with yesterday (from VT) actually has a fixed price. No matter the depth of the well, you pay one price. He quoted us $6500 for the well and the pump equipment verbally, and is going to follow up with a written estimate. The breakdown is $5000 for the well itself and $1500 for the pump and pressure tank and pipe, etc.

Now we need to wait for all the estimates to come in, work out what it comes to for the average well in our area (400-500 ft) and see what makes the most sense economically. I have a feeling that the fixed rate guy will come in as the best choice given how deep wells are in the area on average (they vary from 90' to 800' deep).

We also met our next door neighbor down the hill. He stopped by right after the well driller left and introduced himself. We chatted about wells and septic and told him about our plans a bit. he seems very nice, said he wanted a place out in the country to get away. After he left, we talked to the driveway making neighbor for a bit - he stopped by as we were eating some lunch. He gave us the names of some septic folks and introduced us to his wife.

After he left, we noticed Quinn was playing in a muddy section of the driveway, right at the road. The end was pretty goopy, like quicksand almost. I hope this doesn't mean that we will have an issue because of not having a culvert. The Highway Super said that was fine as long as it had a good base of stone (which it does). Called our neighbor, and he is gonna take a look at it. Maybe it is just an effect of all the rain and not having packed down enough yet (wishful thnking hard at work here)

We took out the tape and attempted to measure out and stake where the septic is going to go, so we could get an idea where the garage would have to be. The mosquitos were nuts - just ignoring the bug spray, what with the heat and rain, and we ended up cutting our visit short. We got one corner stake for the septic planted, but the next one was not lining up according to the engineer's drawing. We planted a second stake in the general vicinity of the well before leaving.

When we got home, I attempted to make a drawing of the NorthWest end of the site layout. I have put the picture below so you can get an idea of what the layout is. We need to go out and take some detailed (as possible) measurements and redraw this to actual scale. The program I am using (AutoREALM - a mapping program for RPGS) has scale on it, so I set to to 10' per square and drew from the survey, but to little avail.

I ordered the chainsaw - a Husqvarna 350 - online. It came out almost $40 cheaper than buying it at a dealer, plus it came with a second chain, 2 bottles of 2 cycle oil and a t-shirt, all free! So that should be winging it's way toward me and is another item I can check off the list. Now we need to get in touch with Septic Installers and get some quotes.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Making a list, checking it twice....

We have been bitten. The building bug has decided to bite us right on the booty, and boy does it hurt. After our visit to FirstDay, Wendy and I started to seriously think about how we are gonna build this thing. We can wait and save the money, but the price of building materials (as David Howard told us) keeps going up.

The metal roofing folks send him rate increases with a 6 month lead time. The cost of the lumber keeps going up. God forbid oil skyrockets in the next 2 years, because this house idea will be down the drain. Since the lumber all comes from Europe, the cost has to be tied to the shipping and if oil goes really nuts, that will be it. Think full regional war in the Middle East - last week it was the marginal possibility. This week it may already be too late. But enough politics.

We are looking into alternatives to the traditional bank mortgage (as much as possible), and will try to keep to that path. I don't want to talk about them - it is way too early for that. But if we need to get a mortgage, we will think seriously about that too. Anyway, as a means to that end, we have a list of things we have to get done pronto. And when I say "we have to get done pronto", I really mean "Wendy has to get done pronto." She has more flexibility than I do, having the kids. Quinn and Emmet won't call her in for a meeting because they see that she is taking and placing too many phone calls on their time. In return, I agreed to make the list of items with specific questions and put it up here for her to access while making the calls. This will change as we go along. Also, some of it is in code for us to remember things.

- buy chainsaw and related equipment
- saw pants
- hardhat
- eye protection
- tools (files, etc)
- have
- earplugs
- gloves (Harbinger)
- clear area for septic system
- clear area for house/garage

Well Drilling
- we need multiple quotes
- we need to schedule this
- dowser?

Septic System
- we need multiple quotes
- we should schedule by end of fall (or do we need it for building in the spring?)

- Building Permits
- House
- Garage

- slabs (garage and house), but what kind?
- need to research what we can do ourselves
- talk to neighbor about excavating footings, people who do foundations
- need multiple quotes on having these poured.

- Garage
- need to talk to David about what we can do with an expanded garage kit, price, etc.
- how long does the Garage take?
- House
- need to setup a visit of the new design with FirstDay, maybe in Kingston or Chatham (or better, both)
- need to talk to David about what we can do to get going

- Borrow?
- nail guns & compressors (RQ)
- pex crimper? (WS)
- table saw? (JK)
- framing hammers (JK)
- Have
- circular saw
- Need
- framing hammers

Electric Service
- Contact National Grid (gotta find the guys name I met with)
- find out requirements of service for new construction cost?
- they said they would replace the existing pole as it had been there for 30 years. will they?

- What are FD builders doing in this regard? Email the list.

- Research pickup cost vs Delivery (SlTx)?

That is all I can think of for now, but I will update more later.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Park on the Driveway!

We can park now!
Finally, at a final cost of $2,000, and with 15 loads of fill - mostly crushed gravel, with a nice layer of Item #4 ( a mixture of sand and crushed stone) on top to create a good surface - our driveway is done and we have a place to park when we go to the land!

Hooray! No more parking on the side of the road, hoping the neighbors won't be upset that we are taking up about half the road with our car. No more trying to find a place where we can pull off onto a piece of shoulder without getting stuck, and where the opposite shoulder hasn't been eaten away, leaving less than half the road for anyone else to get by.

Now we have to think about how to keep the people (likely kids) who leave the beer cans along our road frontage from pulling in to settle down for a night of drinking. Goodness knows that I have parked in my fair share of newly created driveways on new construction sites to hang out with my friends while they drank beer when I was younger. The empties they leave add to the house fund, but the liability has to be considered, and while the renter's insurance provides some coverage, god forbid they take it into their heads to start a fire and burn our woods down, or once we get some sort of storage setup, they decide to vandalize it or break in and steal something. We'll be screwed. I am wondering if a chain strung between trees is enough, or if we need stonger deterrents (livestock fence? Or a raising and lowering bar like some folks down the way have?). The biggest issue is that the throat of the driveway is like 30 feet wide. Nice and easy to get in and out, not so easy to secure. Ah well, I am sure Pop will have some sage advice for me on that.

We also went to visit David Howard at FirstDay Cottage in Walpole, NH on Friday, July 14th (the above photo was taken on the way). He is quite an interesting man , with a lot of knowledge and a very amicable character. My parents decided to come up and meet us there, so that they could learn more about the company and houses. I was very glad they wanted to come. Pop was a union carpenter for many years, and an overall shrewd businessman, and I figured he would ask some questions Wendy and I didn't know to ask, and he might hear or learn things Wendy and I might miss. I am also glad that they are interested enough in our house that they wanted to come along and learn about it with us. Even though I don't always follow their advice, I like to have them giving me advice.

There had been a problem with our scheduled appointment and when we thought to confirm the appointment on Thursday, David was not aware of an appointment He agreed to meet with us on Friday without hesitation though.

We finally found the place (no thanks to Google Maps - they put us on the wrong end of town) and got to sit down and talk with David. He gave us a copy of the DVD, as the information packet mailed to us didn't have one, and we learned a good deal about what David thinks. Many topics weaved in and out of the conversation, but they all related to the houses in the end.

We talked about the fact that we want a garage with an in-law's apartment for Lana and all this time I have been thinking that the apartment will be upstairs from the garage. David's suggestion was to extend the building and put the apartment on the same level as the garage, which would save having to fireproof the apartment (as it would have to be to be above a garage) and also eliminates the problem of Lana having to go up and down stairs to get in and out of her apartment, which had been an unfortunate effect of consolidating the space. Oddly, I had never thought of that, though Wendy says that she had suggested it a while back and I pooh-poohed it. Perhaps I got too caught up in the "Building up is cheaper than building out" theory.

We talked a bit about what we wanted in a house, and David recommended we think about the new design that they are building, which isn't even on their website yet. It is a 24x33, 2 stories. He showed us a paper mock up, which looked similar to the Cape, but he said they say it has 18 feet usable in the second story, and they think they will be able to claim more on the newer ones as they are starting to build bigger kneewalls on them too.

The only disappointment I had was that David recommended against our idea of using a masonry heater in the house. He said that since the houses are so tight, the masonry heater is overkill - a pellet stove like John has is much cheaper and better suited to the type of heat output one would need. He also told us about one FirstDay where the owners built in a masonry heater, and it took them 3 years to figure out how to use it right with their house. I am still not convinced that it is not a good idea though.

Masonry heaters are the most efficient and clean type of wood burning heat (when used correctly of course), and I like the idea of a stove that doesn't get over 230F on the outside surface. I am doing my own research about the use of masonry heaters in tight houses to see what I can find. I will post my finding here, if only as a resource for others looking at a similar situation. I also think that taking some time to learn to use the stove correctly for the house it is in is important and would happen if we built cordwood or if we build a FirstDay.

We went to look at John's house (his fiancee agreed to let us come visit). It is lovely, just like in the pictures that can be seen of it on the FirstDay site, on the FirstDay photo CD and DVD and in the FDBuilders Yahoo! Group. It is the 16' x 30' Original and it is cozy. After tramping around his house, looking at the work he has done, we took my parents out to lunch at the Walpole Village Tavern, which had an excellent lunch menu (in case you find yourself in Walpole NH wondering where to eat), and went our separate ways.

We spent the rest of the weekend in Portland, Maine visiting our friends Dave and Darshana and being sick. Quinn had a runny nose Thursday, and by time we got to Maine on Friday we were all infected with runny noses and sore throats. We were sick in their house, sick at the beach, sick at the neighborhood pool, and sick eating seafood. As a matter of fact, today I am home from work sick and now I am going to go lay down and die in our bedroom - the only room at our house with an air conditioner (Thank you Glen & Julie!).

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Drive on the Parkway...

We are still awaiting approval of our driveway permit by the town highway department, but in the meantime our neighbor has started clearing the way for the driveway so that he is ready to go when they give approval. Wendy had tried contacting the highway supervisor for a couple of weeks, leaving voicemail ewach time, but never received a return call. I had mentioned this to our neighbor when he asked about our permit, and he said to tell them that he is doing the driveway.

Wendy called once more armed with this info, and left yet another voicemail. Three (count em, three) minutes later, she received a return call. The highway supervisor said that our permit would be approved no problem, and that he would meet with our neighbor and tell him what needed to be done for the driveway. So they are arranging to meet (circumstance makes it so that they cannot meet for a wek or so yet) and as soon as they do, we will have a driveway built.

I am still a bit leery, as I am unsure I understand what our neighbor's plan for the driveway is. I want to bring it out right through the hole where the electric right-of-way enters the property (from the southwest), perpendicular to the road, but he is talking about angling it to the north a bit (downhill) to make it easier to get in and out of in the winter. I need to speak to him about this.

As for the price, he expects that it will come out between $1,000 and $2,000, based on the amount of fill needed to level it up. There is a pretty big rise to the road from where the electric right-of-way is cut, but there are a number of boulders that he will push in and use under the driveway where he can to raise it up, so hopefully that will minimize the fill we need. Fortunately he is just charging us the going rate for fill and gas and then his time (bulldozer work and cutting trees in the area of the driveway).

We took a ride up after Glen, Julie and Renata's Bon Voyage party (should it be Gute Reise?) to see what he had already done with clearing. Wow! It is astounding what difference a couple of trees taken down can make. You can see all the way back to where the house is going to go (behind those two very-well-spaced-for-a-hammock trees in the center of the back!

A clearing
You can see the difference from the photo in the Denial and Isolation to Acceptance post. Here is the view from the where the main door of the house will be, facing the road.

A clearing
It is very encouraging to see the project moving forward in a concrete way such as this!