Saturday, September 24, 2022
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Construction is underway… but let’s back up a bit

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It’s been quite a while since our last post. To be honest with you, I don’t think any of us were in a place to be fair about our experiences. We were all a bit angry at the situation and we had more questions than answers to share with all of you.

To expand upon what Mrs. Harv discussed in her last post on the process, we found ourselves spinning around instead of seeing an actual building popping up, but let me recap.

House Demolition

From the time we began our journey, the sales consultant explained to us how their process worked. They said things like, “while you are working on getting your financing in place and making your selection decisions, we are working in the background to make sure we are ready to begin construction of your home.” Several references by not only the sales consultant had us convinced that roughly 2 weeks after we closed on our loan they would be ready to get started.

We closed our loan on June 9th and on June 24th the crew arrived to demolish our old house and ready the spot for the new one to be built. We had real progress and things were moving like we thought they should. That is until I asked when the excavation crew (who actually demolished the house) would be back to start digging the footings for the new house.

It was at this point we learned that first, they had to wait for our house to be cleared from the site in order to properly layout for the new house and get a surveyor to then locate everything precisely and generate a plot plan. It was this plot plan that was required in order to submit for the various permits that would be needed to build our house. This took approximately 3 weeks to complete and is where we were when Mrs. Harv commented we are sliding into August with no signs of anything being different.

Septic Permit

As we would later learn, the septic permit would become the major bottleneck in our project. This is where I had my first major complaint with the builder we chose and their process. The person we were working with, representing the builder, was following the Builder’s process to a fault. After hearing them express to us how it is no one’s fault and these are unprecedented times we are working in one time too many, I nearly lost it.

First, let me say that our Septic permit was submitted the first week of August and then sat for 3 weeks as the person assigned to our permit by the county went out on bereavement leave. While no one faults this person and we were sorry to hear of their loss, why was no one else in the county health department able to look at our request? Upon their return and a few days to allow them to get caught up, we heard there was an issue and they would not be able to issue our permit.

It turns out that the creek that runs behind our house and on the adjacent property owner’s land is a regulated drain maintained by the County Surveyor’s Office. This regulated Drain has a 75′ easement from the top of the bank preventing any building in that area as the county reserves this area to perform its maintenance activities. Of course that is where the engineers placed the septic and took all of the required soil samples unaware of this easement.

Process Paralysis

I started out by asking the question, why wasn’t this known prior to submitting for the permit? While I was unaware of the easement or that it interfered with where they planned to place our new septic, I do feel that this is something the builder or their representative could have uncovered in the months from our signing the contract (11/20) until they submitted the permit (8/21). The answer I received was they couldn’t do anything until they had the plot plan and they didn’t have that until only recently (end of July).

So without personally having a copy of the plot plan, I knew from the first time we met with the construction manager on site to look at our property in January or February roughly where they wanted to put our new septic system. I called the county and asked a few questions about the creek behind our house. Within 30 minutes I had spoken with a member of the County Health Department and a member of the County Surveyor’s Office and was told what each would require of us in order to get the permit sorted out.

The point here is without having the official plot plan, phone calls could have been made and even a site visit to prepare for the inevitable. Once we closed on our loan in June, the paperwork could have been ready to be set in motion. The issue is that the process did not allow for that sort of discovery to take place as the builder’s representative did not have the plot plan and per their process, they have to go in order. In my company, we would say they follow a very waterfall process and are not very agile.

Government Agency Shenanigans

I cannot help but point out some of the city and county shenanigans while I am on this topic. Starting with the County Health Department, who told us they were fine with daylighting the perimeter drain on our property. Then came the inevitable BUT and it was suggested that I speak to the Surveyor.

While speaking with the County Surveyor’s Office, they informed me that we would be required to pipe the drain all the way to the top of the bank to avoid erosion. I responded by stating the creek was not on our property. The Surveyor’s Office said to just get something from the adjacent property owner stating it is okay for us to bury a drain tile on their property. Wait for it… Yes, another BUT appeared. The Surveyor’s Office indicated that I should probably speak to the Health Department on what they might require of us.

So it was back to the Health Department to confirm that this was acceptable. It, of course, was not going to meet the Health Department’s requirements. The Health Department was fine with us daylighting the pipe, since the Surveyor said you will have to bury it, the Health Department will require an easement be granted by the adjacent property owner. This easement will require legal descriptions created and to be recorded to both parcels.

Not to be outdone by the County, the City decided that the pole barn that we obtained a permit for in December 2020 was a non-conforming structure as it crossed a property line. Let me add a bit of background to help. Our property is made up of 3 physical parcels despite having been surveyed and described as a single parcel. So a call to the city was up next. In speaking with the permit reviewer, I asked how it was possible for us to get a permit to build the barn, but now they won’t let us build our home? I also clarified the actual property lines and the County GIS representation were not accurate. Backing down on the barn, he then decided that the detached garage that existed on the property prior to our purchase of the house did not meet setback requirements. He went on to explain how I could technically sell one of the parcels separately from the others and create a bad situation. He then said he would have to refer this to the planner.

Conclusion

At this point I really don’t know what happened, other than to say both the builder and I had a call in to this planner. While waiting to hear back, the builder received a call stating the permit was ready! Holy cow, no idea what transpired and at this point, which was just over 4 months after closing on our construction loan and 6 months of living in a 400 square foot room with my wife, 17 year old daughter, 12 year old daughter and our 2 dogs, I was simply ready to take the win and move on!

What’s New?

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As of July 31st, the construction hasn’t begun. It turns out when you have an existing house to tear down, the process does not follow the normal timeline the builder told us about. That timeline is super delayed when you are not starting with an empty lot or vacant land ready to go. Since June 24th, not much has occurred. We had to get wait for the house to be demolished and cleared away in order for the land to be staked, surveyed, and have plans drawn up showing exactly where everything, including our new septic system, would be in relation to the property. From there, the builder has to submit for the septic permit, driveway permit (silly since the driveway has existed here since the ’50s), and a handful of other things before they can submit the building permit request to the City of Westfield. Mrs. Harv isn’t a very patient person, nor do I understand everything that has to happen to proceed. The 249th time I asked about the status, Harv responded “I thought you understood what had to happen, Mrs. Harv”. How did I respond to his bold statement? Uuuhhhmmm…1) First of all, no you didn’t! 2) Clearly not if I’m asking yet again when we will see something other than a large dirt depression and occasionally muddy trenched area, where the grass is beginning to grow and our new house should be appearing. I had an expectation that we would see movement and progress by the first of July. Folks, we are sliding into August with no signs of anything being different from 6 weeks ago.

Demolition

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Thursday, June 24th we tore down the home. Many people assumed that it would be a sad day for our family. I think the kids were sad to see the only home they had ever known or could remember torn down. On the other hand, I was so ready to see it leveled. I appreciated all of the phone calls to check in and see how we were coping, but honestly, it was just such a great feeling that we were finally going to get the space and home we ultimately desired. I hope that makes sense to many of you.

In the days leading up to the 24th, Harv, the kids and I took pleasure in getting a little “smash” therapy in as we went around the house banging on walls, tearing up tile and wood planks in the kitchen that were such a pain in the butt to clean.

Open Air
Gabi’s breakthrough

It was awesome pushing the air conditioner through the window in those final days. When we purchased the house, we had floor board heating and no air conditioning. We had several cooling units throughout the house, except in the kitchen. Needless to say, we are very much looking forward to having central heat and air in the new home!

Looking into Nik’s room from the G & H’s room!
Gabi takes control of her weapon in her room and closet!
Master Closet Destruction!

Pole Barn!

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We had an FBI pole barn built in early January. We were originally told that it would be the end of February, so we were pleasantly surprised to have it begin much earlier. If you’ve never seen a pole barn built, it is really cool. I only got to see bits of the barn after work, but I wish I would have been able to see the FBI men actually raise the roof off of the ground. The entire process took 3 days, but as you can see they had to come back and put in the concrete.

FBI Pole Barn
First Glance #FBI Buildings
FBI Pole Barn
Up close #FBI Buildings

Of course, we also got a beautiful, yellow porta potty right in the front yard. Don’t be jealous!

On a side note, did you know that when you google porta potty to see exactly how to spell it, it comes up several different ways. I really thought it would be Port-A-Potty, but there were several variations. It seems like the Porta Potty was the way to go.

Packing Up and Moving

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Getting it ready….

Right after Christmas, the packing commenced! We were so excited. In a very short period of time, our dining room was transformed into storage for boxes of all sizes filled to the brim with our belongings. When the weather was good and after the concrete had cured in the pole barn, it was time to get stuff moved out. Instead of moving the boxes one by one, we used Harv’s tractor and a pallet to get the boxes into the storage area.

Our John Deere 1025r Mover taking another load to the pole barn.
John Deere Mover

Getting Ready

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Once we decided on building and after signing the contract with Hallmark Homes, we had many decisions to make! When we signed in November, we anticipated an April 1st start of the project. We had many decisions to make in a short period of time. The biggest being…. Where are we going to live? What are we doing with all of the contents of our home? Many of you will think we are totally crazy for making the choices we made and that is okay. I think we’re a whole lotta crazy too!

Brian and I talked with each other and all of the kids,…and agreed to disagree on topics, but not as much as you may think. For us and the rest of the world, there was so much uncertainty around the pandemic. We had no idea if the schools would stay on a hybrid/virtual schedule and if Brian would go back into the office. We tried to make the best plans with our kids in mind and go from there.

Our original plan was to build a pole barn on our property behind what we call our barn. When I refer to the barn, it really isn’t what you might imagine. We don’t house any animals in the barn, other than Brian, the children and dogs now. Just kidding,…or am I? The barn was originally our 2 1/2 car detached garage. From the very first day of move in 17 years ago and I saw a dead mouse on the floor, I said I would not use the garage and we decided to use it as Brian’s workshop, and storage instead. I know a dead mouse shouldn’t have led me to that extreme conclusion. But, it’s worked out nicely over the years and the barn has grown in size to include an annex and a carport. Eleven years ago, we added an upstairs to the structure and put two large rooms up there. One side is for Harv’s model railroad and childhood toys and the other was a place for me to scrapbook, when I had time for that sort of hobby, and a bar.

Okay, so back to the pole barn! We decided to build a pole barn to store the contents of our home. The entire endeavor was accomplished with the help of Brian’s parents. We use the majority of the pole barn, but also have space for my sister-in-law, Julie to have a space so she can get out of her current storage unit. She’s a teacher and has many things to store, as you might imagine. It’s difficult to build a pole barn in the middle of winter. We started prep work in December with several loads of gravel and had Christy and Tim Marks, with Tractor Time with Tim, over to help flatten and level the gravel. Tim and Christy have helped us out several times and we wouldn’t have been able to do this prep work without his expertise and tools.

Demolition Day Has finally Arrived!

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The CASE CX210D arrives on-site

On the afternoon of June 23rd, I heard the sound of a large truck braking on the road in front of our property. I got up from my computer and put down my headset to run over to the window and peer outside. What was it that I saw… Well of course it was the monstrosity you see getting ready to come down our driveway in the picture.

Happy to see this beast making its way down the driveway

My next thought was, oh man… I hope it fits through the gates. It did just fine as you can see in the photo. This signaled the end of the house we have lived in for the past 17 years and at the same time was the trigger for the new house we were about to begin.

Hey there, woah… What time is it?

Not knowing exactly when things would get started, we were startled when we heard the first of many dumpsters being dropped off shortly after 7:30 AM on the 24th of June. I had taken time off from work in order to be outside to witness the destruction and of course so that I could film the demolition! Jumping up and quickly making my way outside with my camera… I found they had already taken the front porch roof down with a single swipe of the bucket.

The large CASE CX210D excavator made quick work of the living room before the rest of the crew had even arrived. Our construction manager wanted to be there early as there was a post from our deck that we wanted to be saved since it was helping to support the winch we use to raise and lower the tower we have our security lights on. After the deck was demolished what remained looks sort of like a doorway. Not sure what or how we’ll incorporate that once the new house is built, so if you have any suggestions leave us a comment below!

The light blue walls of the bathroom shine through amongst the rest of the debris

While both Mrs Harv and I were happy to see the house demolished, there were a few bittersweet moments throughout the day. The blue and white you see in the middle of this picture was the very first room we remodeled. I built all of the cabinets, installed heated tile flooring, a tiled countertop and the shower was amazing!

As I texted, Tweeted, Instagrammed and Facebooked throughout the day there were several people who responded and asked me how I was doing thinking I was going to be heartbroken. Like I said, there were moments that I thought about all of the work I put into fixing up our fixer upper over the years and of course that led me to the memories of my father coming down to help me with whatever project I was tackling. Having just lost my father a month prior to this day, I will say again that this day was bittersweet. I shared so many things with my dad and the excitement around building a better life for my family and giving them the home they deserved was just one of them. Even as I sit here writing this blog, the thoughts of him never getting to see everything we talked about coming to life is bringing tears to my eyes.

What started out as a simple addition of an Attached garage with some bedrooms upstairs and a small bump out across part of the front to tie it all together, now has us staring at dirt depression in the ground where our house once stood. It is on to bigger and brighter things to come… And hey, just think of all of the furniture, built-ins and other projects I get to look forward to making and posting on my YouTube channel to share with all of you!

We tore down our house! Why?

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Many of you may wonder why we decided to tear down our house and rebuild? As Harv mentioned in his post, we had got close to adding on in 2020. It wouldn’t have had everything we ultimately needed and the cost we were quoted was $365,000 for the addition itself, but it would give us more space and the garage, and bedrooms we desperately needed. We were totally ready to do it, but obviously it wasn’t meant to be. In July of 2020, I was covering a COVID screening shift and ran across an add on Facebook about Pole Barn Homes. I had no idea what a pole barn home was, but quickly loved the pictures I was seeing. I sent Brian a text asking if he would ever consider tearing down our house and rebuilding. Immediately, he responded with a YES! Within hours of that initial text and Brian looking online at custom builders, I knew that was where we were headed.

You Decided To Do What? Seriously?

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Back Story

When we were expecting our 2nd child, we knew that we needed a bigger house to raise our family. The house we chose didn’t check all of our boxes, but we needed to move and move quickly. We knew it was a fixer upper when we bought it and that was what we wanted. We could tear a room apart and remake it as our own without feeling bad about it.

The number 1 thing this house did not have was an attached garage. From day one, Mrs. Harv told me that she was not going to park in the detached garage and walk up a steep set of rickety stairs that lacked handrails to the back door. We decided then and there that we eventually need to make an addition to the house consisting of a 3 car attached side-loaded garage. My next question for Mrs. Harv was… If we’re not going to park in the detached garage, can I have that for my workshop?

In addition to the garage, we would have liked the house to have a proper master bedroom suite, perhaps a guest room, and even a place for the kids to hang out with friends. Having spent 5 years within the College of Architecture and Planning and formerly desiring to become an architect, I jumped at the opportunity to design the addition of our dreams. We attempted to build an addition a couple of times over the years, but as the saying goes… Life happened.

Getting Serious

In the fall of 2018, we sat down with an architect to create the construction plans necessary to obtain a permit from the city. By January of 2019, we had a workable set of plans. Mrs. Harv and I attended the local Home Show and talked to a number of builders about our project. After receiving several quotes that exceeded our wildest imagination of a garage addition with bedrooms above and a bump-out across the front of our existing house to tie the two together, we decided to scale back and try to do some of the work ourselves.

After meeting a very nice Christian man who told us how he built the home of our pastor, we felt good about moving forward with our addition. Of course, by this time it was the end of 2019 and we were starting to work through the financing needed. Unless you’ve been living under a rock somewhere, I am sure you can imagine what came next. The PANDEMIC of 2020 hit and things slowed to a crawl.

It was during this time that I sat back and really thought about what we would have in the end when the project was completed. We would have our number 1 item in an attached garage. We would have rooms for all 3 of our children and a family/rec room. We would have a new front porch and entryway. We’d also have a space where we could eventually build a new kitchen allowing us to eventually gut the old kitchen and turn that into a dining room.

The overwhelming problem I was coming up with was that we would still have to complete the aforementioned Kitchen and Dining Room. We would have to gut the opposite end of the house turning 3 small bedrooms into a master suite, including a master bathroom and walk-in closet. While I was definitely planning on building the kitchen cabinets and doing most, if not all of the work myself (with the help of Mrs. Harv of course), the cost of all that seemed more than I wished to add to the already increasing cost of our renovated house.

The Solution

About once a month I would look at the local property listings in our area to see if there was anything out there that would meet our needs. While there were houses that met our needs, the price of those houses was as much as what we would have invested in our own house had we gone through with the remodeling project and completed the remaining efforts ourselves. The trouble was that none of the properties had any land with them (we currently have roughly 1.7 acres), nor did they have a separate structure that could be turned into my workshop.

One day Mrs. Harv said to me, “Would you ever consider demolishing our house and starting over with something like a Barndominium?” As we had a running joke over the years if we ever won the lottery, I immediately said absolutely. After seeing some of the homes that Mrs. Harv had been looking at, I dove in and began researching these for myself. Eventually, I asked Mrs. Harv if she would be interested in talking to a builder who built a house for my sister many years before.

After our first consultation with Hallmark Homes, we were convinced that demolishing our existing home and starting over was a viable option for us. For the cost to tear down our home, we could essentially have a finished home that gave us the amenities we wanted for the same price as we were previously quoted for the remodel. In the end, we signed an agreement to tear down and rebuild

Shop Organization – French Cleat Wall

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If there is one theme among the folks that I’ve spoken with regarding what their number one need is, it would have to be Shop Organization. I must admit there’s nothing I enjoy more than entering a clean and organized workspace. Unfortunately, those days have been few and far between! French Cleat Wall project to the rescue… let’s hope.

French Cleats… what’s that about?

The French Cleat has become a very common method for hanging everything from picture frames to kitchen cabinets. But where in the heck did this term come from? The history behind the French cleat as it turns out is a bit unclear. Many believe the French Cleat was invented sometime during the 1800’s by French ship builders who used long wedge shaped wooden pieces to mount items to the walls of their ships. The wooden wedges or cleats prevented the items they hung from them from falling off the walls as the ship navigated rough seas. While there are other theories out there, it’s this one that resonates with me as the most likely.

So what’s wrong with Pegboard?

Several people I’ve talked to have asked me why I would replace my Pegboard with a French Cleat system. It’s really a tough one for me, as I am sure it might be for some of you as well, since I’ve had pegboard in my shop since for close to 30 years. What I can say for sure is that I will not be removing the pegboard in my entire shop. There are definite advantages of Pegboard for hanging and storing certain items. As someone who lives a bit further out, stopping in the middle of a project to run in to town for something tends to take the wind out of the sails of productivity. As a result, I often pick up items I might need when I am in town. Given the nature of the packaging, pegboard works out quite well to store those items until I need them.

One of the main disadvantages from my perspective is when it comes to hanging heavier items. I have had the Pegboard hooks bend. I’ve seen the Pegboard bow over time and in some cases had the hooks break through. Heck, I have even managed to break a few hooks while bending them to compensate for the sagging over the years.

French Cleat Advantages

Given that the cleats themselves are anchored directly to the studs, hanging heavy objects is of little concern! The cleats themselves are easy to make by simply ripping a board at a 45° angle. Generally speaking you can remove the item you hung without first taking everything off or out of it. If after a bit of use you realize there’s a better arrangement to fit your needs, it is super easy to move things around. Just about anything can be hung up by adding a corresponding cleat to the back of the item. If adding a cleat directly is not an option, you can throw together a quick and dirty holder of some sort that you can put a cleat on!

Summary

After having built the French Cleat Wall in my shop, I’m really glad I finally took the plunge. I’m having a good time thinking about, researching and planning the organizers that will eventually find their way on the wall. Heck, I am even thinking about creating a few organizers out of some of my old Pegboard hooks just to try it out! What kind of holders or organizers have you found useful in your own shops?