More of the same / Drawing our own plans

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More of the We’ve been through this already

We’ve already sat down and drawn up plans. Several times. Before I attended the first LHBA class in February 2016, my wife and I were so excited, we decided to draw up some plans. They were rectangular houses. Everyone from the organization said to wait until class, but we couldn’t. Then I took the class. Not much changed- except we now are working from a set of square plans. We had to completely re-draw our plans.  It wasn’t too bad- my wife had to give up a really good layout. The mathematician in me had to give up on having the satisfying “golden rectangle” design. But, here we are again, looking at stock plans and thinking (because we are rebellious like that), “this won’t work for our situation.”  We have lots of kids, and it looks like they will be living with us for a while. We have elderly parents who could potentially live with us for a while. I have two kids out of state that could come live with me at some point- and that could be out of the blue.

But, as the heading says, we’ve been through this already. Our issues mainly rest on how tall I can make this thing. If we get what we want, then the stairs can go where they are supposed to without getting squished by the lack of headroom from a shorter roof. But there are other things we haven’t figured out- like the actual floor plan for the second level. We know we want two bedrooms upstairs and a bathroom, but there is extra room, so do we want closets and a loft? or another bedroom? A den? A place for house plants?

Then there’s the utilities: where do we put the HVAC in a log home? You can’t just hide them in the walls- the walls are log, so you have to be a little more creative. We decided to put some of the chases in the closets. We changed some of the layout so that closets were above each other- making it easier to put a chase through them. But then that changes where the plumbing can go. And then the electrical. And on. And on.

And this doesn’t even include getting the window placement. Or the doors. These are special considerations when working with logs. And did I mention getting the permit?

The nervous permit process- two possible outcomes

The problem in a big city is big regulations. They don’t give a hoot about your dreams- only whether it will look nice for whatever zone you fall under. Start talking about a custom log home? That’ll be the beginning of your troubles.

The problem in a small city is small minded people who don’t like change. I’ll bet $100 that any private citizen builder goes down to the permit office with plans for a stick house that looks like all the other stick houses in the neighborhood will get his permit, no problem. Go in with plans for a log home and, “you wanna build a what?” And yes, everyone in the South has asked, “you gotta sawmill to mill them logs? How you gonna build a square house outta round logs?” Er, no, that’s not the type of log home I’m talking about. Suspicion level = 4. I’m going to do it myself. Suspicion level = 6. With these plans I drew myself. Suspicion level = 10. Ok, they were drawn and approved by an engineer. These plans have been used in all 50 states, with no problems. I just modified the inside walls a little. Suspicion level = 8. So there’s that.

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Re-drawing the stock plans

With all the above stated, I’m pretty nervous about modifying my stock plans:

  • What if the city wants an engineer’s wet stamp, and I can’t get an engineer to approve them?
  • What if I can get a wet stamp, but it costs a thousand dollars?
  • What if the city wants to nitpick and inspect everything according to the plans I submitted?
  • What if I can’t follow the plans I drew?

I’m using LibreCAD, because it’s free, open source, and works on Linux (I despise companies like Microsoft and Apple that give their source keys to the NSA). There’s like 35 layers on this drawing- electrical, floor joists, roof layout, plumbing- everything, so it’s a big project. I made a copy of the originals and used some weird online conversion program to change them into a format LiberCAD could understand (.dxf), and I’m modifying them slowly, one block at a time.

The roof overhangs are only 3′ 6″, but this is the South, so with all the rain, I may need bigger overhangs. But not too big because I’m doing a wrap around porch. One of our members, Paul Kahle, getting the ridge pole installed on a pier foundation (ours will be similar):

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I don’t like the main floor layout on the stock plans, so my wife and I hashed out one that we do like. Everything hinges on the stairs for some reason- we want to avoid knee walls upstairs (where the roof meets the wall: sometimes, in a log home, the second floor is more of a loft than a second floor, and the roof often meets up with the wall at about four feet tall). But if we want to avoid knee walls, then we need the walls to be full height on the second floor. Nobody wants to bump their head at the top of the stairs because the roof wasn’t tall enough. But we don’t want the stair anywhere else in the house (ruins our layout), so we have to push the roof up. We want ten foot ceilings downstairs. We hope for a similar height upstairs, but shorter – like eight feet- would still be acceptable.

The outcome and plan

My genius wife scared me the other night after we had finalized the second floor plan and I had started modifying the plans with: “I want to re-draw the second floor again.” Inside, I’m like, “Noooooooo!!!!!!!!” But I said, “Ok”. She went to work. A few hours later, I came home from practicing for the Christmas concert, and she met me with, “come look!”. It was great! It addressed the issues of where do we put extra people, gives me a study area/den, and gives her a loft/hang out area/ plant area. Everyone is happy. I guess the drawings will take me a month to finish updating. I’m doing it in between working on the property, working on my truck, working at my job, getting the kids to school, playing with my daughter, my church assignments, oh, and sleeping.

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And, sorry, but for privacy reasons, I don’t think I’ll post the floor plan here (we’ll welcome most folks that seem nice enough for a tour when it’s finished). But I can describe the layout:

The house will be built on a pier foundation with a wrap around porch. From the front door, you enter the home and look left- and see the living room with piano area and stairs. Look right, and see the kitchen. Straight ahead is the master bedroom and a second bedroom and bathroom, along with a laundry area and pantry. Upstairs, there are a couple of bedrooms, another bathroom, and a loft/study area. All living can be done on the main floor. The wrap around porch is divided in the back by a screened in porch looking out at the backyard.

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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.