Thursday, April 2, 2015

On Building a House

This month it has been three years since we took this picture of the ground breaking on our addition with my father-in-law.  We amateur home-builders have learned SO MANY THINGS the hard way since this picture was taken.  And we still aren't finished, but I thought I'd take a trip down memory lane to remind myself how far we have come and distill those lessons.   

We were so thankful that Grandpa donated his backhoe and time to our efforts.

It took him a long time to move all of this dirt.

Measuring out the house.

It was such delicate work next to the house.

Dale could teach Jubal a thing or two.

Preparing for the footers.

These lessons are in no particular order:

1. Begin how you intend to finish

I usually think of this as applied to beginning and ending well, but I am applying it differently in our case.  We owned a three bedroom townhouse when my husband found this property.  This house also had three bedrooms, but it also had almost five acres of land, was out of town and it was no more expensive than our townhouse.  We bought it with the thought that we could build an addition for a garage and maybe add a bedroom.  Then we got talking and planning and excited.  My husband does excited really well.  By the time the blueprints came back to us, the "addition" was twice the size of our existing house.  We decided that once we had finished the addition, we could do some work on the main house, but the incongruity of a brand-new, stick-built addition on what is essentially a double-wide finally hit us.  We are now thinking that we will complete the addition, move into it, haul the original house away, and then put an addition on the addition so that we'll have a real kitchen and dining room since those weren't in the original addition.  If we succeed, we will have built a brand new house without ever having moved out of it.  This comes with planning and strategic issues that I can't even begin to describe here.  It really would have been much easier to just build a brand new house.   

We started small, but are ending up big.  We should have started big.

Preparing for the footers.

The cement trucks have arrived!

It is really difficult to do cement work this close to an existing house.

This is just in case we needed a coal shed.

Forms for the walls.

Again, so challenging by the first house.

Forms removed.

Finished and painted product.

Laying the drain hose and rock around the base of the house.

Preparing inside the walls for the cement floor.

The plumbing pipes had to be in place and the dirt hard packed.

Construction projects are dreams come true for children.

Laying the vapor barrier.

Tying the in-floor heating tubing. 
The tubing had to be wired to the wire below it every few inches.  This killed my back.

2. Count the cost (or sometimes you have empty hoses in the floor)

We loved the idea of in-floor radiant heat, so we spent a lot of time wiring those tubes in perfect formation, but at the time we didn't realize that the geothermal system that would go along with them would cost us $60,000 to install.  As we were trying decide whether to invest in that expensive system or do something else for heating, we stalled out on the house for a year.  There were a few other factors, but we eventually decided to use an energy-efficient, but traditional, forced air electric system for a fraction of the geothermal cost.  We may still use these tubes someday for in-floor heating along with an electric water heater/pump, but until then we'll have empty tubes in the floor.  We are learning to consider the impact of our decisions today on our options tomorrow.  

Finishing the floor.

Completed and drying.

Framing out the first floor walls.

Those are 12 ft. walls so that we can have a really tall fitness center for climbing and other things.  It also means that we can have a trampoline inside the house on the first floor in the winter.  Great for homeschooling moms!

 He is amazing.

3. A single-minded man can do much

Timothy framed the entire first floor (12' high) by himself with a backhoe and a sledge hammer.  He is one of the most persistent people and best problem-solvers that I know.  It still amazes me that he did it.  This was the first time that he had framed a house and he was learning as he went.  I was scared to build a home because I had lived my entire childhood in an unfinished house.  My dad is a great leader and a visionary who can see the big picture and direct a team.  However, he isn't a details person.  So we moved into a house that wasn't finished when I was nine and when I left for college, it still wasn't done.  It was fun for a kid to live a creative life, but it wasn't what I wanted in marriage. I had seen how devoted Timothy was to finishing what he started through the early years of our marriage, so I agreed to the plan.  I sometimes wonder if we will run out of time or money to finish the house, but I never doubt my husband's ability to continue working on long Saturdays at tiny steps toward the finished picture.     

Placing the I-beams before starting the second floor.

I was so busy feeding the large crew that Timothy's dad brought that I didn't take pictures while they placed the second story floor, set the trusses, put plywood on the sides and inserted the windows.

The housewrap.
I also didn't take pictures of Timothy putting on the tin roof.  That may be because he and a friend did it in January and they ended up falling off the roof.  They were wearing ropes and safety harnesses, but Timothy's rope broke.  I am sure there is a lesson in that, but I try not to think about it too much - beyond being thankful that he is still alive.

Siding going up.

4. Sometimes it is best to pay someone who knows what they are doing

Timothy has done so much of the work by himself. His dad has contributed a lot too, but sometimes you have to realize that you aren't going to be able to master a skill in the process of doing one house.  This is especially important if that item is something that you are going to look at every day of your life.  We decided to hire someone to place the siding.  After working so long on our own, it was amazing to watch work being completed so quickly.  We still did a lot.  We painted a lot of the siding before they put it up.  We will probably apply this lesson inside the house when it comes time to tape and mud the drywall.

We decided to side the old house to make them match.  This was before we had decided to haul it away.  See what I mean about needing to think through the long-term consequences of our decisions?


It is twice the size of our original home and we still call it "the addition."
The furnace.

It was so fun to move to the interior of the house.  We've made a lot of progress since last summer.  Timothy put the garage doors on, we paid a plumber to complete the rough-in plumbing, we hired a company to install the HVAC system, and Timothy has spent the last few months wiring the house on Saturdays.  It pays to have an electrician for a husband.
Downstairs shower.

Garage doors up.

Tub for the master bathroom.

Tub for the kids' bathroom/

Upstairs family room.

Opposing view of upstairs family room. 

My ridiculous kids clothes collection requiring their own storage room.  These were given to me and my hoarding habits mean that we've rarely had to buy clothes for our kids. 

The panel with the wire pulled in, but not yet landed.

The dedicated panel for our heating system.

Timothy has pulled almost all of the wire and made up all the boxes.

5. Building a house is like raising children.

If I were constantly worried about what would happen when my first grader was in high school, I would be a basket case.  I have a long-term plan for her education, but I have to focus on today.  The same goes for a building a house.  We have a plan and I dream of moving into a fresh and lovely building, but if I was only focused on getting it done so that we could move in, I couldn't stand today for the wait.  I try and do on what needs to be done today and cheer Timothy on in small victories - like pulling all the wire for the house.  We are building the house without taking out a loan and paying for things as you go adds a lot of time to the process.  However, the result will be wonderful when someday we are done and only owe our original mortgage on the place.  Just like we pray that our loving care and (semi-) consistent discipline of our children will eventually reap the rewards of adults we enjoy and who love Jesus.

What is up next?  Timothy needs to complete the electrical work in the house and we are paying the electric company to put in a new electrical service to the addition.  Then, we get to move on to insulation!  It will be fun to see the rooms take shape as they are separated by the insulation. 

Three years in and who knows how many we have to go, but I am now encouraged by seeing how far we have come!

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