Tuesday, June 30, 2009

It's not easy...being your own GC...

(Sung in a sad little Kermit the Frog voice.) So I've wanted to blog about this for awhile but kept putting it off...thinking things might get better or that my feelings would change. Maybe it's because I'm tired today or because I'm frustrated that our well still hasn't been dug. Whatever the reason, today is the day that I will spill the beans about how tough it has been to act as our own general contractors. Here is my list of things those annoying "It's Easy Being Your Own GC: Anybody Can Do It! Really!" books won't tell you...

1. Acting as your own GC is like trying to cook a highly complex 10-course meal for 1000 people with ingredients and recipes you have never used before. I remember my mom being a wiz in the kitchen when I was a kid. She knew just when to pop the chicken in the oven and whip the mashed potatoes so that everything was hot and ready at the exact right moment. It was a perfectly choreographed dance, a masterful exhibition of skill and timing. Not only am I completely unable to emulate her abilities in the kitchen, apparently I am equally challenged when it comes to applying similar skills to building a house. Every single step of this process is reliant on a tangled web of related baby steps. And they all have to work in concert in order for things to come together at the right time. Let me just provide one example. When are we breaking ground, you ask? Well, we cannot begin excavation until we have a building permit. The town won't grant us our building permit until we prove to them that our well draws the requisite yield. We cannot dig the well until the land has been staked out by our civil engineer. Furthermore, we cannot put the well in until testing equipment is installed on the neighbors' wells (long story). We can't install the testing equipment at the neighbors until they have signed off on the process. And so on and so forth. Each of the above steps required separate phone calls and emails...and follow-up phone calls and emails. So when someone asks when we are starting construction, perhaps now they will understand why I sink to my knees with my head in my hands. I don't know, I tell them. I don't know.

2. Acting as your own GC is very difficult if you have no building experience whatsoever. The books tell you that you don't have to lift a hammer as a GC. True, perhaps, but it is helpful if you know what a hammer is, what it is typically used for, and who, ideally, will be wielding one. (Okay, I know the answers to those questions but you get my drift.) In order to solicit solid bids from sub-contractors, you need to know some basic information about the job you are asking them to do. How else can you explain the project on which they are bidding? When electrical subs ask me whether we're mounting the meter on the house or a pedestal, it's helpful for me to know what the *&$# they're talking about. While I don't think it's necessary to have a lot of building experience, per se, don't expect that you can get through the process without a lot of reading and researching. You will know more than you ever wanted to about conduits and GFI plugs by the end of it. And, in my experience, the learning curve is pretty steep. (Oh, and if you were wondering, we're putting the meter on the house, thank you very much.)

3. Acting as your own GC is a full-time job. Too bad I already have one. When I leave Montpelier every day, I know I have my hour-long commute to relax. Because as soon as I walk in the door, I settle into my second desk job of the day at my home computer. I prefer to communicate via email rather than phone and, so far, that has worked out reasonably well with most subs. And it means I can sometimes reply to folks during the day from work. But, for the most part, I try to keep my two work lives separate...which means "working from home" in the evenings on the house. I have no idea what it will be like when we're actually in the construction phase. I have a feeling it's not going to get any easier.

*I should add, though, that all of our subs have been wonderful to work with and I am grateful for each and every one of them. This post has nothing to do with them but with the overall experience coordinating the project ourselves.*

Okay, so there's my vent. I already feel better. Ultimately, I am confident that acting as our own GCs has saved us money. What we've saved in costs, though, we've lost in sleepless nights and stress headaches. So be aware of the trade-off. It's not that I wouldn't suggest that people take the route we've taken. But I wish I had a more accurate picture in my head of the reality of the process before we started. I'm pretty much convinced that the folks writing those annoying, aforementioned GC-guide books are either a) independently wealthy without 9-5 jobs, b) former builders/contractors who just didn't feel like doing all the work themselves this time around, c) flaming $%#holes who think it's funny to convince idiots like me that I can build my own house, or d) all of the above.

And who knows--maybe it will get easier and I'll post a glorious tribute to owner-building six months from now reveling in our decision. Don't hold your breath, though.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Ryan is famous!

So check this out. Every week, Seven Days airs a piece on RETN local television about its current issue. Ryan had the chance to talk about our article for this week's segment! I think he did a terrific job. He said he was super nervous (thanks for going easy on him, Cathy!)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

In print!

We are so excited about this! Ryan works as a graphic designer for Seven Days, an alternative weekly newspaper based in Burlington. When they found out about our building project, they asked if they could include it in their annual "Green Issue." Of course we said yes. So Ryan and I spent the weekend working on our center spread. It was a perfect division of labor. I wrote the copy and he created the beautiful (and informative) visuals and layout. It's such a nice combination of our strengths! We really are proud :) And it was super fun to partner on a project...I hope we work as well together on the actual construction.

Speaking of construction...countdown to excavation: 3 weeks. The well goes in this Friday. Assuming we draw the requisite yield (which we expect we will), we can apply for our administrative permit next week. We then have to post the land for two weeks before breaking ground. I'll try to get out there and take some pictures of the staked property. It's amazing to finally see where our front door will be.

Anyway, here is a link to the story on the Seven Days website. And here's a shot of what it looks like in print (if you click on the image, it will open in a larger window). Thanks to SD for including us!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

100k house

This post is super late in coming. I went down to visit my sister in Philly in January and stopped by the 100k house. It was so cool to see it in person! Chad even offered to meet me and give me a tour but I didn't want to put him out. But I took some great pictures from the outside. They've made so much progress since I took these photos...

My sister and her boyfriend peeking in...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Inspiration from Ace Hotel

Ace Hotel has been featured on a lot of other blogs lately and I figured it was about time to play copycat and post about it here, too. My trip to Homestead General got me in the rustic industrial mood :) I love the vibe of these hotels...part industrial, part army base, part vintage. It's all glorious. I think I want our house to be a tad warmer than this (maybe not the intense concentration on grays and browns) but I really like the juxtaposition of metal, wood, and white/cream. Enjoy.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Fairhope Green Home

Sorry this took me so long to post! A week ago when I was down in Fairhope I had the privilege of meeting the builder of this beautiful new green home. I'm really happy that green is catching on in my hometown. The home is stick-framed but jam packed with cellulose insulation. The windows are high efficiency and the fixtures low-flow. They did a great job incorporating local, environmentally friendly products as well including salvaged wood beams from the site for trim work and wood floors native to the area. The doors throughout the house were stunning (and made from locally available woods). Here are some pics...

Monday, June 8, 2009

Homestead General

So I have lots to post from my weeked jaunt to my hometown of Fairhope, Alabama. Sometimes it takes a bit of time away from a place to make you realize how beautiful and special it is. Fairhope is literally awash in blooms. The city has its own nursery and greenhouses and it plants gorgeous flowers on every street corner downtown. There are even flowers planted on the top of trash cans--no lie! In addition to the physical beauty of the town, I am happy to say that they are catching on to the green building movement (post to follow on my tour of the Fairhope Green Home) and to the localvore movement. They host a farmers market downtown every Thursday and several restaurants are serving locally raised grass-fed beef. It all makes me very happy...and very proud of the town I called home as a kid.

But one of the most exciting discoveries of the trip was a new store on Fairhope Ave. called Homestead General. My parents and I drove past it Saturday evening and I fell in love as soon as I saw the window diplay--a large set of wire baskets with weathered picture frames on top. Ahh, industrial rustic. Love it. So with less than 30 minutes until I had to leave for the airport on Sunday afternoon, my mom indulged me and we dashed downtown for a quick look. The window display was only a teaser. The entire store was filled with gems--rustic tables and vintage signs, metal wire baskets and tubs, organic canvas bedding, iron beds, rustic/modern furniture. It actually had a vibe similar to the White Flower Farmhouse. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I spent more money per minute than I ever have in my life (although the pieces were very reasonably priced). Below are some shots of my purchases. This woman blogged about her trip to Homestead General and took some great interior shots of the shop. (I'm kicking myself for not bringing my camera!)

The last one has an interesting story. A woman in the area collected wood scraps after Hurricane Katrina and turned them into unique decoration pieces. I think I'm going to hang this in the master bathroom to hold wet towels.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

South Farm Homes tour

So as promised, here are some shots of the South Farm Homes development we toured last weekend. They really are beautiful (and smart!) homes. Which color scheme is your favorite? I'm partial to the red one myself...

We were able to see the inside of this last house. With its abundance of locally sourced woods (floors, trim, and cabinets), slate tile, and wood stove, it has a very cozy, warm feel to it. The house has already been purchased but the owner doesn't move in until later this year. So cool that she let folks tour her home! Apparently she even offered it up to a series of journalists (from magazines including Martha Stewart and O) who were interested in experiencing green living. So look for features of this house in upcoming issues!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Clearing up confusion...

So I wanted to clear up some confusion that arose from a newspaper article this weekend. The Free Press published a piece on Sunday about the South Farm Homes development. We happened to be at the open house at the same time as the reporter and enjoyed talking with him. But he misunderstood a comment I made and misquoted me in the paper. I addressed this in the comments section of my last post so I'll just paste that comment here:

A reporter from the Burlington Free Press was on site when we toured the South Farm Homes development this weekend. We had a lovely conversation with him but he, unfortunately, misquoted me in an article he wrote in this Sunday's paper (to which, I assume, Ellis Wyatt--a commenter--is referring). In talking with the reporter, I explained that Ryan and I are trying to prove that you can build green on a budget--we are estimating that construction costs for our house will total $200,000-$225,000 (excluding land). I was NOT referring to the South Farm Homes development as being affordable. While the houses are beautiful and incredibly green, they are not in our price range. The houses have both solar hot water and PVs...and geothermal. Those renewables alone put them in another price bracket. So please know that I was misquoted in the article--I do not consider South Farm Homes to be an affordable green development...although I respect anyone building green, regardless of price point. Homes across the cost spectrum need to be built green. The purpose behing OUR project is to illustrate that it is possible to build green on a budget. So I hope that addresses your concerns, Ellis. I want to clear up any confusion about the BFP article. Thanks.

I'll be posting pictures soon of the open house--the development really is beautiful and while not in our price range, a great example of green building.