Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mythbusting: It's nearly impossible to move a recorded well site.

Nick went to the County yesterday and got great news about moving the well. That was one myth worth busting. I'm not sure where the rumor got started that moving a well was hard, as our well driller seemed to be pretty adamant about it being an "act of congress" but it's good to know that we can move it!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Rain rain, go away...but only when you're ready

We met with our well driller last night to finalize the spot for our well and, much to our dismay, have to put the drilling on hold until we go through one week of solid sun and can project another week after that.

When the company parceled the five plots in our development they chose the well sites based on paper boundaries and not what made sense based on grading of the land or placement of trees. Unfortunately for us this site happens to be in the middle of our "front forest". We lucked out in that we won't lose any trees to prepare the area (it's not as heavily treed as the "back forest") but we didn't luck out in the super steep decline into the front.

We have three options: 1. Bring in truckloads and truckloads of gravel in order to "pave" a good path for the rigs 2. Move the well site or 3. Wait for the sun. The idea of bringing in gravel to blanket our ground is not appealing to us and according to our well driller moving a well site is an act of congress (although he's checking on it today). As far as we're concerned the choice is easy...we're Pacific Northwesterners...waiting for the sun is what we do best!

But, until it comes we're not going to wish our lives away. Spring in Washington is one of my favorite times of year, the trees finally have their color back but because of the constant rain showers everything takes on a misty sheen. Standing in the middle of the tree roots and Jurassic ferns last night, soaking wet and just a little chilly, I fell in love with the moodiness of our land.

So Mr. Sun, take your time...but we're ready for you when you do decide to come out!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

We met two sets of neighbors this weekend while out working, one man had even lived next to the property since he was born in 1956. As the last piece of undeveloped land in an area of large acreage parcels our building is bound to bring some questions from anyone and everyone who has a viewpoint. Of course everyone has been very polite and super nice but you could tell they wanted the scoop: how big of a house were we going to build, what were we going to do with the land, were we going to take down any more trees, etc. etc. etc. They were concerned, but who wouldn't be, we're human beings and we don't like people encroaching. 

We shared with them our plans to keep the small forest that still remained in addition to adding even more trees. I've been doing a lot of research on "fast growing trees" and found a great website, endorsed by Good Morning America (for whatever that's worth), breaks it down into the "fastest growing trees" of which the Thuja Giant has become one of our favorites. We currently have good treed borders but, as land-owners ourselves now, we're anxious about what "future neighbors" could do to take away our privacy. By planting the Thuja Giants along our perimeter we'll establish borders now and hopefully, any more development from new owners will be of no concern to us.

Robert Frost said it best in his poem, "Mending Wall"
Something there is that doesn't love a wall...
Good fences make good neighbors. 

I'm excited our neighbors are all so amenable. I even believe they will continue to be nice, just as we will continue to be long as everyone stays on the right side of the "fence."

Photo Credit: I took this photo on the side of the road while driving through the countryside of Nicaragua. I did some touch up in photoshop to enhance the colors and make the sky more moody.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Right Gear for the Right Girl

I celebrated my 27th birthday yesterday and, much to my shagrin, received some great new gear from "the moms". Getting ready to go into a long journey like this one, I think it's important to take advantage of the little things that will help get you through the cold and rainy days when getting out of bed seems like a chore and going to work on a construction site seems impossible. 

A few years ago Nick was working in Kyrgyzstan leaving me to manage our properties alone. Frequently making house calls began to wear on my happiness, I hated having to dig through Nick's tools in the garage to get what I needed. And so, I took matters into my own hands and bought myself a hot pink tool kit. It was tidy, portable and most important pink. Getting a call to go fix something meant grabbing my tool kit and taking care of business, it was empowering to be able to quickly get what I needed and it was cheerful for them to be pink.

I suppose that's a good lesson in life: Find the little things that make you happy, in whatever situation you may be in. And so, I know I will enjoy my hard hat, my tool belt and my safety glasses just as much as I have my pink tool kit. Thanks Moms!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Trex Decking: Sustainable and Beautiful

In honor of Earth Day today I'm posting about a product I am beginning to believe more and more in. Trex Decking. Made from reclaimed wood and reclaimed plastic Trex claims to keep more than 300,000 tons of plastic and wood scrap out of landfills each year utilizing 7 out of 10 recycled plastic bags. That's great news, especially considering the beached gray whale discovered in Seattle this morning with more than "20 plastic bags, small towels, surgical gloves, plastic pieces and duct tape" in his stomach.
What makes Trex such a great product though is not that it's sustainable but it's attractive and it's affordable. (Two categories I think a lot of "sustainable" products fall short in). In fact, in the case of Trex the cost actually balances out the benefits. One builder gave us a bid at $22,700 for a 1,040 sq ft framed deck, 3 sets of stairs off the deck, and a railing system. (What can I say I've always been a sucker for wrap around porches). And I think we can do better than that. The best part is, Trex requires very little maintenance and, according to their website, if you own your deck for at least four years the cost equals that of a pressure treated deck.
So, while you may still get plastic grocery bags from the grocery store instead of utilizing a re-useable bag I think it's okay. Just recycle it! That way it has a 70% chance of becoming a Trex deck.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

To basement or not to basement?

As relatively new transplants to the Pacific Northwest (we've been here since 2005) we've always been a little confused as to why so few houses have basements out here. Nick grew up in Ohio and I spent a lot of time on the East Coast where it seemed like everyone had a basement to hang out in. Until recently, no one could provide an explanation as to why basements are so few and far between but we think we've finally figured it out!

In colder climates the frost line is lower (your foundation sits on a footing, but because the ground swells when it freezes, the footing has to go below the frost line) which means the structure for a basement is accidentally made. It would be silly to not take advantage of that space. However, in the Pacific Northwest the frost line is about 3 feet, not quite enough for a basement :)

We have decided that even though it's out of the ordinary we're going to do a full basement (terraced with partial walk-out). Since we're building the home on a budget we can basically build the first floor (a 3,300 square foot rambler with 3 bedrooms), get our certificate of occupancy, and then finish the basement as our family grows.

We got the estimate from one builder (who has tried to talk us out of the basement because of the cost) and the additional cost is about $54,000. This includes the extra cost of the foundation, the framing (which I thought, oh, why don't you just wait on that too but then I was reminded that you have to have something to set the house above on), the framing labor and the basement floor (a 4" concrete slab). At first thought that seems like a lot, but, when you consider that we'll be gaining at least 2,500 more square feet, that's only about $21.60 a square foot! Now that doesn't include all the finishing but for the basic shell of a basement we'll take it.

Photo Credit: I took this photo outside of the Catedral de Leon in Nicaragua. It is a statue of Maximo Jerez, a 19th century military leader.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Construction Estimating Spreadsheet

For anyone who needs it (now or in the future) here is an outline of the spreadsheet we're using to estimate our potential costs for our construction loan. The second tab is my personal estimating spreadsheet which doesn't include everything but does breakdown the main rooms.

Click here to download

Kitchen Cabinet Comparison

I met with the Kitchen Cabinet people at Lowes last night to "finalize" the majority of our kitchen in order to make sure that the estimate I created online was actually correct.

First things first though, this is the inspiration photo, you can see it in it's full glory here: We'll change some of the things (i.e. one of the women in my office suggested that small children and glass cabinets on the bottom don't mix well...I agree with that as we plan on turning that into an eat-up bar.)
The man I worked with (Mike for anyone who is in the Olympia area), was really great. We don't have our final plans yet (as they are undergoing some modifications) so all I had was the printout from the internet...instead of just telling me that I didn't have the right information he worked to create a blueprint from scratch. I appreciate when people don't just say no because they don't want to go the extra step.
So, I learned some really good things about kitchen cabinets yesterday the most important being that of the brands that Lowes sells Kraftmaid is the third most expensive. The least expensive (which I am quickly learning is the non-offensize way to say cheap) is Shenandoah. I was okay with this as I really liked their crown molding options but, they don't offer the Silhouette Glass Pattern which is a necessity in my book. (As a side note: Shenandoah doesn't outsource any of their labor which is how they are able to keep their costs down, or at least this is what Mike told me).
The second least expensive, the one I am going with, is Diamond Reflections Cabinety. There were a couple options that I liked about Diamond, even over Kraftmaid. First, they offer my Silhouette Glass Pattern. As an added bonus though, they have really broken the code on cabinet organization. Third, they are extremely durable...he demonstrated for me how kids can hang on open drawers...something I never did as a child but I am told children do quite frequently.
All that being said, phew! It was a 3.5 hour process to design the cabinets (silly me, I thought it would only take about 30 minutes). I'm sure it will take even longer when we go to officially order asthis is just the estimation phase but it's nice to have the groundwork layed.
Grand total for our "estimate" kitchen was $19,053. I asked how much Kraftmaid would have been, just as a point of reference and he said he guessed about $22,000 and Shenandoah about $17,000...

Monday, April 19, 2010

Construction Loan 101

Nick and I met with Olympia Federal Savings Bank this morning to talk about construction loans. We've never had a brick and mortar bank before as we've always been happy USAA customers but apparently Olyfed is one of the few banks in the area making construction loans right now. While we're not ready to submit an application yet (we're going to build the barn with cash) it's good to know the basics:
  • Need 20% down payment for the construction loan.
  • Have 6 months to get certificate of occupancy. As owner-builders this was a little worrysome to me but the woman said we could get a special exception made.
  • Need to produce a line-item budget of how much it will cost to build the house. Now me, being the excellent list maker and spreadsheet inventor that I have always been, has already created a line by line estimation of what it will cost to build the house. I asked the woman if what I had created would work and she kind of laughed like I would need to do more work...well low and behold, I included more line items than the bank. There are some rough estimates that we had done which I'll need to finalize but I'm more done than not.
  • Once we start building we'll only pay interest on the money we take out only and not the whole balance, AND the best part...
  • They reimburse us for our purchases instead of paying directly with their money. Which for us is just about the best scenario ever as we have a very good mileage card. (The Platinum Delta Sky Miles card in case you're looking for one yourself. I went to Greece on my miles and Nick and I both went to Nicaragua, not to mention countless other domestic flights. In a lot of cases (like home improvement stores and gas, woot woot!) you get double miles.)

Clearing the Barn

Salvage Finds

So our plan for the barn is to build it completely out of salvage...while Nick isn't quite done drafting up the finalized plans we do know there are certain things we want.

There are two places in the local area we plan on frequenting. Locally, Habitat for Humanity ReStore and then up in Seattle, Earthwise Architectural Salvage.

We're off to a great start already!

This guy came from Earthwise when a local stoneyard closed vision is for it to be part of a fireplace mantle that Nick builds. He was $10!

This lamp came from Earthwise was only $5. I don't know where it came from but I think it's perfect for hanging in an's over 2 feet tall!

This giant window came from the Restore in Olympia, $69. We went for a bike ride one weekend and stopped in only to find the perfect window for underneath the widows peak of the barn. It's double-paned, fiberglass...8 feet tall on the bottom and weighs over 300 lbs. Yes, we hauled it up from our apartment complex parking lot, up three flights of stairs to put it in the guest room (after I cleaned it of course).

This lamp is from the Restore...$40 but in perfect condition, I imagine it going over an eating area...there's an extra light in the middle on the bottom...I like how it's kind of farmhouse but kind of contemporary too.

Our Blog

I've been saying it since we bought the land last December...we should really chronicle our journey online...So, I finally sat my butt down and am doing it...our unborn children will thank us I'm sure.
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