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, September 25, 2006

The best laid plans

The biggest thing I have learned so far (and we are not that far into this) is that nothing is set in stone. I was hellbent on a cordwood masonry house. BZZZZT! Wrong, try again. We found FirstDay.

After looking everything over, I thought the saltbox would be the right thing. BZZZZT! Wrong, try again. FirstDay isn't doing saltboxes anymore, and even if they did they are more difficult to build and more expensive (which would make us wait to build so we could save the difference up, but we really need to do this on the planned timetable).

After looking at the current offerings, we decided that the 40' cape would fit the bill. BZZZZT! Wrong, try again. Turns out that David's new design turned our heads in a big way.

To clarify my last post (It was late and I didn't get as much in as I wanted to before going to bed), the data that David's designs brought up are important considerations. We ended up with some space we didn't have a plan for. In my plan it is a giant labyrinthine walk in closet; In the designs David showed us it could be a playroom/family room, but that made some problems with accessing the bathroom. The roof coming down to the 2' kneewall causes some problems I didn't account for in my plan, like not being able to have passages right next to the upstairs posts due to the lack of headroom.

When we spoke with David on the slab, and the consideration of building to the north of a drop off on our site, David responded that it really depends. At this point, for the extra cost (since we probably wouldn't be able to do a floating slab in NY in his experience, and would need deep frost walls anyway), he thinks the extra room is a steal at like $12 a square foot.

The thing is we don't need a 40' cape with a basement, as it will be way too big. The 32' cape with a basement is plenty of room, but each floor is a bit smaller than I would like and there isn't a middle ground in the cape style (say 36'). We felt that the 18' x 36' Original we visited was pretty close to livable for us. This has 2 feet more on that, and looking at a 16' and an 18' was a world of difference. Since the Canadian house is 20' x 36', and the ridge of the roof is along the 20' measurement and the roof falls away to the east and west to the top of the first floor wall, that leaves a couple of cathedral ceilings on either side of the loft area, as well as 2 floors (the basement half buried and finished into bedrooms).

The more we look at this option, the better it seems.

The pros:
1) Lower cost for Canadian kit - the 24' x 40' cape on a slab is quoted at approximately $14,000* more than the 20' x 36' Canadian house with finished basement (*without foundation costs)
2) It is the same square footage for both houses (1680), so cost per square foot is less for this house
3) The Canadian has the loft, which encompasses the extra space we don't know what to do with right now in the cape. This gives us a separate storage area for present, and space to expand into in the future.
4) The sample floorplans have a basement with 3 bedrooms, a family room and a bath, as well as a main floor with a bedroom, so we could put an office/guestroom on the main level and later convert it for single floor living as we get older if we like. This combo gives us plenty of room and the unfinished space mentioned in point 3 to grow into.
5) The Canadian has 2 1/2 stories of south facing windows. The Cape has 1, which means more light and more solar gain.
6) The sleeping area is at least partially underground, meaning cooler in the summer, warmer in the winter!
7) This solves the problem of putting the house up against the change in level toward the south of the building site, as we don't have to raise the slab with fill or anything silly like that.
8) This also may save some of the hassle of having to have everything (water, drainage, gas, electric, etc) going through the slab itself.

The Cons:

1) We have no idea what it really looks like inside. Looking at floorplans and drawings gives an idea, but it definitely helped us to actually go into the other houses to see what they were like. In some cases we realized that being inside gave us a perspective we didn't get from paper (like how wide 16', 18' and 24' really are). We have no way to really see what it looks like inside, since the first one is going to be built in Canada this fall/winter. We could possibly go see it prior to delivery in the spring, even half completed. In the meantime, I am working on building a 3D model on the 'puter so we can virtually walk through it. This is by no means the best method, but we have to do what we can, you know?
2) Basement Living - I know that when we first started looking at FirstDay, one of the houses they had was an original with a walk out basement which had the sleeping rooms in it. Wendy was not impressed with the idea. So putting it in front of her again, it was an immediate con. After talking about it some more, we thought of people we knew who had bedrooms in the basement, as well as the fact that we lived in a basement at the first place we lived in Colorado. All of a sudden it didn't seem so bad.
3) More Posts - One of the things we recognize we have to learn to deal with is the posts in the middle. In the Cape, in the center of the downstairs only there is a row of 11 posts running the width of the house, aligned with the beams. The Canadian has 2 rows of 5 posts each on the main floor and the basement level, making 20 posts overall. They divide the house into 3 sections fairly naturally though, and there are only 5 of them to see on each side.
4) Slope and Fill - this house is clearly designed for a south facing slope. We have at best a building lot with a flat space to the South. At best meaning we bring in fill for the backside of the house, which raises the cost more. At worst, we have a north facing slope.

Clearly the pros outweigh the cons. The big thing we need to know, then, is what the foundation will cost, as that will tell us how this works out economically. The secret is that I am positive that we will build a Canadian, we just need to complete the research and see everything works.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

On the road again...

A long day was had by all today, We dropped the kids off, first thing, with Wendy's mom, who graciously agreed to watch them today while we went to meet David. By 8:30am we were all fueled up with coffee and ready to drive.

We met with David and went over what we wanted and the plans I had drawn. He thought that our plans had merit and drew them out for us in FirstDay format, given proper adjustment for headroom and other factors. Then we did some exploration of other ways to incorporate the same ideas in the Cape. This yielded very useful data.

Wendy decided to ask about whether putting the house on a slab is recommended or not. I asked if a basement made more sense in our case, explaining the lay of the land and our reasons for wanting a slab. David made things very difficult at this point by introducing their newest house to us. It is called the Canadian House, as the first folks to build one are in Canada. Now we are back to the tough part - making decisions.

Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway
We're the best of friends
Insisting that the world be turnin' our way
And our way
Is on the road again

Willie Nelson

Designing the FirstDay

We are going to visit FistDay Cottage in Walpole, NH yet again tomorrow morning. This time we will take our checkbook and put down the $1,000 deposit on our house. This is a symbolic day for us - we will be committing to building a FirstDay Cottage.

I am also excited to talk to David and show him our ideas and see what he suggests for the final design. I have spent a lot of time over the past year thinking about house layouts, but somehow I never put much of that to paper. I took the last two weeks to work on a floor plan, and Wendy and I think we have definitely come up with a good one for the first floor.

Proposed Cape plan 1

Now I guess this is where the tricky part of being an architect comes in. Once you have laid out the ground floor, then you have to work with the mess you have made upstairs. Laying out the second floor took a bit of work (and cursing - 'Why did I put the stairs there? STUPID!!'), and it is not perfect.
Proposed Cape plan 2
This plan embodies a lot of the ideas we liked. I was hoping to explain what is what, and I have had some really cool ideas for details that i want to write down, but it is way late and we have a lot of driving to do tomorrow, so I am gonna hit the sack. I just wanted to put up what we are starting with for posterity before David starts changing our thought patterns with new plans.

Monday, September 11, 2006

It's all about the Cape

Schluter FD

We just returned from a trip to Cape Cod to visit three FirstDays, and their builders of course! We were of a mind that we wanted to see the new Cape that FirstDay is selling (the one with the two foot knee wall), but the problem is that there are none in New York to see, finished or not. The folks at FirstDay suggested visiting the Schluters, who are in the midst of building a 24' x 32'. They showed us around and talked about what they have learned so far. It was very inspiring to be able to connect with these folks who have made it so far in this process and see the fruit of their labors, as well as benefit from what they have already learned.

After we had some lunch and many of our questions answered, Sarah took us over to see Hammetts house in progress - they are building a 24' x 40'. We have found the size FirstDay we are going to build! I was despairing that we might not find a size and style we could agree on, but when we got done on Saturday, I knew exactly what it was we had come to Cape Cod for - to see the house we will build next year.

Hammett FD

We camped Saturday night after some fine fresh seafood, and in the morning got up and by midday were packed up and on our way to see Billy Snowden's house further out on the Cape. He has the VIHN (Very Important New House) FirstDay, which is a cape but with 5 foot kneewalls upstairs instead of 2 foot or no kneewall. It makes the upstairs very light and big! Billy was very welcoming and told us all sort of good things about his process and what he learned. We also got to see the wonderful trim work in his house. He really went all out on the trim, and it counts double points.

Snowden FD

The trip was a rousing success all around, and we met some great people with interesting stories on the way. We also got a great feel for the Cape style FirstDay and a very good direction to head in. As a matter of fact, I called FirstDay today and made an appointment to come up and give them our deposit and talk to David about our plans in about 2 weeks.

Last week we had a little scare when the Town Building Inspector called and advised us that the superintendent of Highways called him to tell him that we needed a driveway permit. We were told it was because the contractor was extending our driveway down so his trucks could get down into where the septic field is being constructed. Not wanting to cause any problems, we got in touch with the Highway superintendent and found that he was actually referring to an earlier issue he had told me about. I had met him at one of the septic contractor's offices while dropping off plans for quotes and he told me that the driveway didn't meet his approval yet because it didn't have a negative slope from the road. At the time I said I would have Ed contact him, which he did, but he is laid up after his knee surgery. Well, seeing the contractors on site, he figured that we were building and wanted to make sure that the Building Inspector has everything in line. We had the septic contractor contact him and find out what he wanted and they fixed it up. We should be all good now.

We also heard back from the well driller last week and the area for him to drill in is not leveled correctly. Since the bulldozer was there, we asked the septic contractor to do the leveling of that as well. When talking to the Highway superintendent, I asked him about that and he said we should have checked with him, and that he would look at it and tell us if there was a problem. Being that we haven't heard anything as of today and the septic contractor said he was up there Thursday looking things over, I think we are in the clear for that, though since it is not a permanent entry to the land, we can correct it later on if there is a problem I think. As I was told when I asked for a copy of the driveway permit (as we heard we needed one after we applied for one and got the go ahead for the driveway from the highway superintendent), you don't get a seperate permit from the building permit, you just don't get a C.O. if the driveway doesn't meet the requirements.

In other news, we went up to look at the progress of the septic on Thursday evening, before we left. They have removed the bulldozer from the property and it looks like the base for the septic is down (quicker than I thought). In talking to the contractor today, they tried to do their own preliminary perc on Saturday while we were gone, but it started raining and hailing, so they left off and planned to try again today. Once that is done, they will contact the engineer and arrange for the official tests and they can go on their way laying out the actual leech field.

First full day of septic work

Wendy called the Well driller today as well to tell them that the site is ready now that the septic contractor is done leveling it out. Things are starting to move very quickly now. I can't even imagine what it will be like once we really get started next year, but I can't wait to get there!