Even More Committed

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We could have backed out after cutting all the logs- could’ve called a logger and said, “come get ’em”. Or the water and power. But it’s getting harder each time we add something. Today, we poured concrete. Looks like we’re committed now. But I should back up a little…

Where we left off

In my last post, I thought it would go smoothly (why did I think that?) when I called the building inspector (BI)- after all, the city had already approved my plans, which were designed by a licensed engineer; I was following city code (minimum 12″ below frost line for foundation), I had water and power as required. I called the city to schedule the BI, and he came out on a Thursday.

He wasn’t the most talkative guy. He walked around looking at my holes. I had a printed copy of the foundation plan on four 8 1/2″ by 11″ paper that I had taped together so it had plenty of detail. I don’t think he liked them all taped together. He said, “you drew these plans yourself?”

“No, they were drawn by a professional engineer in Washington state.”

“Hmmm…” More walking around.

“Well, this is very unconventional- no one uses this style of foundation anymore- I’ve only seen it in hundred year old houses.” (Wait- if you’ve seen it in hundred-year-old houses, doesn’t that mean it’s pretty good?)

Then the disheartening news: “I’m going to have to see some stamped plans before you can continue work on this project.” (‘Stamped plans’ means that a local licensed engineer goes through your plans with a fine-toothed comb and calculates all the stresses involved in your structure. Things like wind speed, tension forces, sheer forces, compressive forces, and earthquake zones are measured, based on the type of wood you use– oak is different than Southern Yellow Pine.  All of the factors and calculations can be combined into a detailed report that can be 50 pages long. You can imagine what it might cost for a local engineer to produce such a report.)

“But the city already approved them,” I protested.

“I have to be sure they will work in this soil condition. Have you run into any clay? Your soil looks pretty good; usually this area has a lot of clay.”

“No clay that I’ve noticed. I should be able to get them stamped pretty easily,” I bluffed.  I actually had no idea what getting them stamped would involve. I really hadn’t seen any clay. But now the whole project was in jeopardy of a huge delay.

I told my wife the bad news- she was very sad about it too. I posted about it on Facebook- because I had asked the guys at church for help with pouring concrete on Saturday. I mentioned that the BI was now requiring me to get the plans stamped by an engineer, so the pour was canceled. One guy from church commented that he might know someone who could review my plans and stamp them.

We pay tithing

That night, my wife mentioned, “but we pay our tithing!” In our church, we believe in the Old Testament promise that if you pay tithing on your income (a ‘tithe’ means ‘tenth’, so we pay 10%), the Lord will “open you the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”  I prayed on it that night.

The next day, Friday, I went to work. The suite next to mine is a group of civil engineers. I’ve been friendly with the head engineer. He’s been interested and supportive of my build from the beginning. I headed over and asked him for help. He said they don’t do small projects like mine- they do huge civil engineering projects for commercial construction- like resorts and malls. He did offer to print the plans on professional sized paper (2′ x 3′), so that was a positive move. But I still needed an engineer to stamp the plans. I checked on Facebook- the guy from church that commented had sent me a private message saying he was the guy that was an engineer, and he would review the plans for free if I wanted. Wow! I’ve heard of others in our group having to jump through hoops with their plans- and having it cost into the hundreds or even thousands to get them approved, not to mention if the local engineer requires changes to the structure or plans.  He asked for contact information for the LHBA engineer, so I found that and sent him my plans. He asked if I wanted the entire plan approved, or just the foundation. I thought about what the BI might think, and decided to go with the entire plan. It would take longer, but having the whole thing approved would make the approval air-tight.

He asked me questions about the soil quality and construction method- I told him I hadn’t found any clay. He said he was thinking about requiring a pedestal foundation with a continuous footer, just to improve the strength of the build, but needed more information from the LHBA engineer on the building method.

I didn’t sleep well that night. I kept having this dream where I had to dig a three-foot wide trench all the way around the perimeter for a footer. This would mean either hiring the excavator again (probably another $200), probably at least a week or two of work to level the holes, missing the good weather window, and setting the project back about a month. I was very worried about the piers- they were made out of plywood that sat in the back yard all winter covered by a tarp. But the tarp blew off several times, and some of the plies had separated on several pieces, and couldn’t be used. Even the rest weren’t that great. I was worried the plywood piers would fail when the 2,600 pounds of concrete was poured into each of them. In my dream I was trying to calculate the extra cost for concrete and rebar. I woke up at 2 A.M. and actually had to calculate the extra concrete. It would be about $1600 more. I just don’t have it.

The windows of heaven

The engineer from church had a detailed conversation with the LHBA engineer. The LHBA guy sent a 50-page sample engineering report for a 40×40 home on piers- like what I’m building. He also gave some detailed insight into the pier method, emphasizing that although piers aren’t as strong as a stem wall foundation, the piers work for the butt and pass method because of how the logs are tied together with rebar (a stem wall foundation usually has a continuous footer around the perimeter of the house along with a continuous wall that stands about 18″ above ground all the way around). The log walls are many, many times stronger than a conventional wall (built with 2×4’s), due to the rebar pinning method- a piece of rebar is spiked through the logs every 2 feet on every row. Combined with the piers, the structure is very strong. The guy from church said he would consider all of the information.

I sat on pins and needles waiting for the final report. It took one more day, but he sent a letter that the plans were approved with 3 caveats-

  1. All the piers had to be 12″ or more below ground
  2. I had to follow the new IRC fastening requirements (tells you how to attach the floors and walls and roof together). No big deal, I would have had to do this anyway- the notes on my plans needed to be updated anyway.
  3. The large piers had to be 20″ below ground. I had already increased the size of the top of the 3 largest piers from 8″x24″ to 12″x36″ to accommodate the larger logs I was using. Doing this changed the geometry enough that they were now taller. And due to the slope of my property, they were already within a few inches of being 20″ deep anyway.

Basically, I was already doing all of the above, so the cost to meet the BI’s requirements was $0.  I sent the original plans to the civil engineer guy next door, and he came over a few hours later and handed them to me, saying, “good luck with your build. These are free.” I plan to continue paying tithing for a long, long, long time.

We move ahead

While waiting for the okay, there was a lot of rain in the forecast, so I covered everything with plastic. I knew the piers were weak, and I was praying they wouldn’t get any wetter. I was planning on burying the piers up to their necks with dirt to ensure they didn’t “float up” when the concrete was poured (a common problem with truncated pyramidal piers), and also to counteract the tremendous pressure from the concrete pushing out on the piers. Some folks have reported that even though they had two guys standing on the piers, they still floated up. Others report that their piers busted, and concrete poured out all over the ground. I didn’t want to take any chances, but I had to wait until my plans were approved.

The day I got them approved was a big rainstorm. But the BI agreed to meet me the next day to go over my plans. It was exactly a week after he shut down the project. He looked at the printed plans, and the letter from the local engineer. He was a lot friendlier, too- talked about how he’s remodeling a house, and it’s very expensive. He likes old Ford trucks, like me, and noticed my Ford 3000 tractor (that’s a plus). He wanted to look at the logs.

“You moved these with that little tractor? How much do they weigh?”

“I figure the heaviest ones weigh between 4,000-6,000 pounds.”

“Wow.”  He said he was excited to see things move forward, thanked me for the letter, and said I could pour concrete. Yay!

Things go smoothly when I listen to my wife

I was working like crazy to bury the piers. Each one took 8 wheelbarrows full of dirt to bury- and there were 31 of them. Thursday, I went crazy trying to bury them. My wife suggested that we do a little pour on Friday to get our feet wet, and then pour the rest on Saturday. I wasn’t sure about breaking up the schedule into two days, but I figured she was right. Friday, I got up early and headed out at 6 A.M. I had to meet my boss for a couple hours and pick up a wheelbarrow from a guy on Craigslist, and then headed right back out. My wife picked up the two older boys and brought them out to help that afternoon. She said we should pour the 7 piers on the inside first, then do the outer ones on Saturday. Each truck can hold 9 yards of concrete, and each normal sized pier holds .67 yards of concrete. So I ordered 7 yards on Friday after 3 P.M., and then 17 yards (two trucks: 8 in one truck, and 9 in the other, each an hour apart, since they charge by the minute for any pour over an hour).

The pour went so smooth. Everything was perfect. The concrete truck driver gave us a lot of tips- like give two taps to each side of the pier with a hammer- it makes the concrete nice and smooth.  Was it that obvious that I had never done concrete on this scale before? 🙂

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After the pour, I still had the outer piers to bury. There were 24 of them, and I had until the next morning at 9:00 to bury all of them. Julie and the boys helped, but the boys weren’t used to this much hard work, and Julie had already had a long day. They helped for about another hour or so, and then left. I stayed until 7 PM, then it got too dark. I had put in 13 hours that day, minus the 1.5 hours with my boss.

Saturday, I still had half the piers to bury before the concrete showed up. I got out there at 6 A.M., and started going at it. I finished burying the last pier at 9:00, and then the concrete showed up. My wife was running a little late, but got there in enough time to help smooth the concrete and place the rebar. She is quite a hard worker. Just as we finished the last of the first truck, the second one showed up early. The outer piers were easy to pour. I had three that separated a little at the top, but not enough to endanger anything.

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Overall, I couldn’t have been more pleased with the result, and all the little miracles that made it happen. I was so dead from all that work, that I laid on the couch all Saturday afternoon. Next is some site clean up like removing the plywood from the piers, and then I’ll be setting the lifting poles.

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2016 May 29: Update on Floor Plan & Cost Analysis

Floor Plan update:

Before I took the class, I made a post about our Floor Plan. We created the floor plan before the class to help us get an idea of the possibilities of our layout. I went to class and learned a lot of reasons why our floor plan should be changed.

One thing that impressed me is the use of square floor plans. Because I have a degree in Math, this is something I’m interested in. Here’s the argument:

Take your typical rectangular floor plan: 30 x 50. For simplicity, we’ll just consider the first floor. The square footage works out to be 1500 square feet. No problems right?

Now take those same dimensions (30 x 50), and subtract 10 feet from the long side (50 – 10 = 40), and add those same 10 feet to the short side (30 + 10 = 40). We haven’t increased or decreased the amount of materials, have we? No. They were just subtracted from the long side and added to the short side. Ok, so now, using the same amount of linear measurements, our dimensions are now 40 x 40, right? A square. Now, when we do our square footage calculations, we have 40 x 40 = 1600 square feet. So we just added 100 square feet to our house without increasing the amount of material we need for the walls. Pretty neat, huh? Yes, that 100 square feet will cost us on the floor and the roof, but it costs us $0.00 to add it to the walls.

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My wife hates math. She doesn’t know it, but she’s actually very good at math. She makes quilts with patterns she creates. When I showed her the calculations above, she wasn’t impressed. To her, it was all about the layout. And rectangles work very well for layouts- ever heard of a “golden rectangle”? No? Very interesting. Square layouts…not so much. But what did make sense was when we go to submit our building plans, how would the City Building Inspector react to our hand-drawn (or even computer drawn, but by amateur) plans? Would he require “engineered plans”? How much of a stickler were we going to be dealing with here? Finding an engineer that is qualified on log home construction is hard enough, but then having him get you plans with a wet stamp on them adds to the cost. For the un-initiated, a “wet stamp”, as far as I can tell, means that an engineer licensed in your area, has signed off on the plan requirements- bolts, nuts, steel thickness, beam thickness, roof truss design, etc. The plans I found online all needed to be modified to meet our needs- large family, specific bedroom assignments, large pantry, super special other stuff, etc. I found plans for as cheap as $400.

I stated in my previous post that the plans from the class were $1700. When I got to class, they offered them at a steep discount- almost half price. And the plans they were selling included engineered drawings for three different sizes- 30×30, 35×35, and 40×40. And the plans included three different foundation layouts- crawlspace, full basement, and pier. And the plans included plans for a two-car garage. And they included plans for a 200 square foot shed. And they included lifetime building rights. Meaning, you can build as many of these homes as you like. I researched this last one (from an  article titled “The 10 things you must know about architectural copyrights“):

9. THE ORIGINAL ARCHITECT OR DESIGNER REMAINS THE OWNER OF ANY COPYRIGHTS IN THE ARCHITECTURAL DESIGN, EVEN IF THE CONTRACTOR OR OWNER PAID FOR THE DESIGN.  

In many construction projects, the owner, construction manager or contractor will contract with an architect or designer to design the project. Regardless of payment, if the contract does not state otherwise, the original architect or designer retains ownership of the copyrights and the purchaser merely obtains a non-exclusive license to use the plans for that particular construction project. This means that the owner and/or contractor do not necessarily have the right to use the purchased plans for any other projects…

LHBA also provides free access to an engineer for members. If your Building Inspector requires a wet stamp, and architects in your area are unfamiliar with log home construction, you just give your architect this guy’s phone number, and he answers any questions for free. That alone is worth the price of the plans.

But let’s go back to the “build as many homes as you like”. Most people in this organization will build one home, and then they are done. I’m hoping to be in that category, so why is this important? Why should I care if LHBA grants me the rights to build as many homes as I like using their plans? For me, it means this isn’t a rip-off organization. They don’t exist to take my money for some over-priced (ha!) class that just shows you a few tips, and then says, “ok, go get ’em!” No. This is an organization that, at its very core, is dedicated to increasing a person’s ability to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That makes me happy.

 

We ended up really liking the 40×40 plan, even though in class, they are saying not to start with that one. Folks are saying it’s too big, hard to clean, more expensive, etc. We are planning so that all of our living can be done on the first level- kitchen, laundry, living, bedrooms, bathrooms. The second level is just for the older kids. A floor plan smaller than 40×40 just doesn’t give us the feeling of enough space on the first floor. We have lots of hobbies- she sews, and needs space for fabric. I like to knit and do woodwork. I’m also a musician- I play piano, accordion, sax- well, all the woodwinds except oboe and bassoon, and a little guitar. These things take up space…

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Could have picked a smaller instrument to play, I guess….

My wife modified the interior somewhat- and we can make it work just as well as our rectangular plan. I don’t think I should share the actual floor plan here, but I can describe it: walk in the front door, living room on the left, kitchen on the right. Living area is open to all the way to the roof. A 3/4 2nd floor encloses the rest of the home. At the back of the living room are stairs that go up from left to right. Behind the stairs is a hallway, with one bedroom and a master bedroom with master bath. Behind the kitchen is a large pantry with room and next to that is laundry. There is also a backdoor. Across the hall from the pantry and laundry is the main floor bathroom.  Upstairs, there are two bedrooms above the 1st floor bedrooms. There are also some closets. There is also a bathroom and a study that could also be a bedroom. The entire house is enclosed by a large wrap around porch, with a special screened in area at the back porch, and a walkway leading to the detached garage.

Cost Analysis

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original cost analysis- 3 months before I took the class.

Read the original post here. Not much has changed. I might not need to buy a sawmill ($3,000), but I ended up buying a tractor ($3,000), so that’s a wash. Chainsaw was $350, but I’m transporting my own logs, so that saves me $300 from my estimate. Chain hoists are going to run me $240, not $100, so that increases by $140. Rope was $70, so I saved there. OSB for forms are going to be more- I might be able to save some by going in with another member in Lacey Springs (30 min away), but it will be a couple hundred for the wood forms- you have to have them ready all at the same time. And on and on. The roof will probably go up by $1,000, now that I know how the class recommends doing it. I think, bottom line, the shell will cost me about $15,000. I’m still sticking with my interior estimate of $25,000 at this point. So, total cost to build: I’m still estimating $40,000.

The good news is, I’m adding $300 a month to a “build savings account”. I estimated this amount to offset the amount of money I started with to come up with the $40,000 total I would need. The other good/bad news is my time frame to complete is now nearing three years instead of two. Peeling logs is pretty slow. The reason this is good news is because at $300 month, an extra year will add $3,600 to my “build savings account”, not to mention the extra tax return for that year (that hopefully) will also add up, which is more comfortable for our bottom line.

That’s the latest update. I think we are still doing pretty well on costs.