Wednesday, May 23, 2012

May 21-22 - Building a Foundation

We were out of town for a few days (more on that later), but luckily we have amazing new neighbors who were kind enough to shoot a few pictures of the progress while we were gone...and boy was there progress! (Be sure and check out some of the cool shots from their upstairs windows.)

On May 21 the concrete forms were delivered:

And on May 22 in a matter of a few hours the forms were set and inspected:

And by early afternoon, concrete was being poured!

We were a little bummed to have missed all the action, but what an awesome set of photos to come back to!

May 17, 2012 -Drain Tile

Again we hit the action (otherwise known as heavy machinery) right on the nose.  This is our little man's favorite part of the process, but our "big girl" isn't so fond of the noise and insists on wearing ear protection, so we keep it handy at all times!  When we got to the site the drain pipe had been laid and the gravel was just beginning to be, well, shot into the foundation hole.  I feel like I've never really watched this part of the building process.  My involvement usually begins during the framing or finishing stages so this feels a bit new to me, but all this machinery really is pretty cool to watch!  Here are some photos of the crazy gravel shooting action:

And here's the hole all ready for foundation form work:

May 16, 2012 - Pouring Footers

We've had some great luck with arriving on site just as some great action is happening.  Usually we try to stop by after preschool, and on "footer" day we showed up and saw this:

The footer forms were in, complete with rebar, and there was even a tag on the caution tape that inspection had already taken place.  Within about a minute of being onsite it became apparent that the footer pour was imminent, so of course we had to stay!

I still think I get a bigger kick out of this than the kids most of the time, they just play around on rocks and dirt piles while I snap pictures of the action, but what a fun process to watch!  As you can tell we stayed long enough to see them pour and agitate the concrete, level it, float it smooth, and insert the rebar to connect to the foundation.  And it was all over in under thirty minutes!

May 10-11, 2012 - Digging for Utilities

More big action on site!  On May 10 the excavators started digging the foundation.  Thanks to our nice square footprint work went fairly quickly, and the hole was about 2/3 dug by the end of Day 1.  The only issue was getting down to solid ground for the front porch piers, so they had to dig all the way down to full foundation depth and will have to back fill once we get the piers in.  Not a huge deal.

On May 11 the hole was completed and we were advised that the excavators had to move the digger off site to make room for other equipment to come in and pour footers, etc.  You can see from the photo below that the compact size of the site makes maneuvering the machinery a bit difficult at times!

There is apparently some ground water present so if any cave-ins occurred they would have to be re-dug by hand.  So, we prayed for a nice dry weekend to hopefully prevent that situation.  Here are some photos of the completed "yard hole", as our little girl it!

May 9, 2012 - Digging for Utilities

I should mention right from the start that the location of the utilities was a bit of an unknown right up until digging day.  It was actually a major concern of ours when purchasing the lot, so we made it a contingency and did some research.  We were assured that when the road was put in, utility taps were run to every available lot on the street, and that the city was about 95% sure that the taps would be available and intact without requiring us to dig up the road.  The only problem was, we couldn't find out for sure without digging, and of course we couldn't do that without ownership and a permit.  So, we took a leap of faith and said a lot of prayers, especially after being informed on several occasions that if we did have to dig up the road it would run us about $10k extra!  Yikes!  So, on digging day we bit our nails, said some more prayers, and passed by the lot about five times, watching this process unfold:

Does anyone see how close to the road we are?  And still not finding everything?  Yeah, I was starting to freak out.  But, at the end of the day we received an e-mail from our contractor.  All utilities (water, sewer, and gas) had been found, and we were tied in and backfilled.  Hooray!  Official sighs of relief all around; we are SO happy to know we won't be starting this project 10k over budget!

April 26, 2012 - Goodbye Trees

Taking down trees is one of those necessary evils of home building.  We really didn't want to do it, but we really do want to have our own place to live again sometime soon.  So, with virtually no wiggle room as far as where the house could go on the lot, we did what we had to do.

As you can see in the site plan above, our lot had only four trees to begin with, and two were directly in the way of our house and garage locations.  A third (the one that had our "Intent to Build" sign on it) was dying and leaning towards the future house.  Not a good combo.  So, we had to take down three out of our four trees.  Fortunately the fourth is beautiful and we hope it will last a log time despite the fact that the tree guy informed us it is home to many, many carpenter ants.

Here are a few pictures of the tree-removal process.

One thing that did help us stomach the removal a bit better is that the tree guy assured us that typically about 98% of the tree material is reused, mostly either for mulch, or milling into lumber, and he can provide receipts for where all the wood went.  Also, our job foreman took several of the larger pieces to make some furniture, so hopefully when our new home is complete it will house a table made from one of those trees!

After the job was done, our site looked like this:

A little sad-looking without those beautiful trees, but at least now there's room for a house!

April 2, 2012 - Design Review Meeting

The next step after the Zoning Commission was to present our plans to the Board of Design Review.  They meet every two weeks and require a full set of drawings, because if you get approval from them you just have to wait the required number of days and then you can go pick up your permit!  Although for me it was a big deal to prepare for, it's not much fun to read about the process, so I'll keep this post brief.  I submitted my full drawing sets a week ahead and showed up to the meeting with my hubby by my side for moral support.  Again I had sweaty palms as I waited my turn and then presented our plan, and again the Board was so easy to work with and thrilled to see a "green" home going up in Rocky River.  So, after being granted our approval Mark and I headed out to the Wine Bar to celebrate, and nine days later we were rewarded with this:

We have a building permit! Things are heating up around here!  Oh, and for any of you who are interested, here is a sneak peek at the design:

You may notice it's more or less a square floor plan, which allows for maximum efficiency in the thermal envelope(and is very cost-effective as well).  Though we may not be able to afford to go through all the hoops to get the official certification, we are working to get as close to Passive House standards as possible.  To sum it up very crudely, this involves a very tight thermal envelope, excellent insulation values, and, as a result, a very small non-traditional heating and cooling system. The whole house will be heated via one mini-split unit mounted on the dining room wall, and cooled by a very small A/C unit mounted on an exterior wall.  A heat recovery ventilator will keep fresh air flowing in while recovering the heat from said air, and internal circulation fans will keep the heated/cooled/fresh air moving throughout the house.  It all sounds so high-tech and crunchy granola at the same time....So pretty much right up our alley!  We'll try to fill you in on more of the technical details as we go along, but for now we're just happy to have permission to build!

Friday, May 18, 2012

March 8, 2012 - Zoning Variances

The first thing we had to do after making an offer on the lot was to request two zoning variances from the city of Rocky River.  The first was for lot coverage.  The city allows lot coverage of 28%.  Though we tried to be as space-efficient as possible, we weren't quite able to make a home for a family of four (with a little room to grow) and a detached garage fit in that amount of space.  So, off to the Zoning Commission we went, to request a variance to increase our lot coverage to 32.4%.  We justified our request by pointing out that our lot is just a bit smaller than most others in the area, and that the reduced driveway area we achieved by accessing the garage off the back alley will more than make up for the slight increase in impermeable area caused by the building coverage.

While we were at it, we had to throw in another request for a slight increase in allowable height, from 25'-0" to 27'-6".  We are not going to have a tall house, per se, but this city measures mean roof from the front setback line, and our our lot slopes quite a bit (almost 9 feet!) from front to back, so if we want to be able to walk out our back doors we needed a bit more room in that department.  The other big reason we needed some extra height is that we are planning an extremely tight and well-insulated building envelope, part of which includes a flat ceiling on the second floor with 20" or so of insulation in the unconditioned attic space, bringing that insulation value close to R-60.

So I presented our plans at the monthly Zoning Commission meeting with sweaty palms.  Why do these things always make me so nervous?!  In fact, they were delightfully understanding and easy to work with, and were very excited at the prospect of a "green" home being built in the city.  Long story short we received our two approvals and moved on to the next stage: presenting to the Board of Design Review.

To be continued...

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Let the Blogging Begin

Though our home designing and building project has been underway for a little while already, we've finally decided to put some things down on (virtual) paper to keep friends and family updated on the process.  I can't promise we'll always use the most technical terms or even be quite as prompt with these posts as we'd like, but we hope to provide a little insight for those who can't just pop over and check on our progress. A little background to catch you up...

After almost seven years of owning (and loving) our nearly 100 year-old home in Cleveland, we decided that the current low interest rates might be the kicker to get us to move to a better school district now, rather than waiting until we needed to and then getting stuck with a ridiculous rate down the line.  So, after selling our home relatively quickly by Cleveland standards, we started scrambling for a new place to live.  We knew we wanted great public schools, a safe and walkable neighborhood, close proximity to the lake and Metroparks, and to still be fairly close to the city of Cleveland and all it has to offer.  Within a relatively short time we identified about a one-mile radius in Rocky River, Ohio where we wanted to find a our price range.  

After much searching and very little finding, we kept coming back to one tiny vacant lot in the heart of our search area and our long-held desire to build our own home. We spent much of the winter designing, researching, interviewing builders, pricing... We came up with a plan for a very open, family-oriented house with a green roof, tankless water heaters, and a greywater recycling system. Most builders looked at our budget and told us most of our desired "eco-friendly" features would have to go.  But one didn't even want to see our plans if we were just looking for a "code-built" house.  We met with him and the same night decided to put an offer in on the lot. We had to trim some of our crazier ideas back a bit, but so far we've learned a lot about how to build a home that lives large but treads lightly on the earth, and we can't wait to learn more each step of the way!

We'll fill you in more on design and building features as we progress, but for now, let's catch you up on what's been accomplished so far:

  • Designed the house
  • Found an great builder
  • Bought the lot
  • Got approval for two zoning variances
  • Got approval from the Design Review Board
  • Got our building permit
  • Took down three trees :(
  • Dug for (and found!) utilities and got all connected
  • Dug our foundation
  • Poured footers
  • Set drain tile and gravel 
  • Set foundation form work 

I'll update later with some pictures of all the action...stay tuned!