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Building Your Dream Home Part 2
By Mark Donovan
Razing the Cottage
With new house plans and permits in hand, subcontractors hired and a Septic
Design in process, it was now time to raze the existing cottage. I considered
employing the local fire department to burn it down, however I chose the
demolition route instead. Though I did not contact the Fire Department, I
was convinced that this route would have led to multiple delays and pitfalls,
as I would have been at the whim of several town employees and weather
conditions. The demolition route required only the excavator subcontractor
and had less weather related schedule risks. In addition, the demolition
cost and effort was very reasonable. Within two days, it was as if the cottage
never existed on the land. It is important to note, however, that the cottage
was relatively small. It was 22 x 30. If the cottage had been
significantly larger, then the Fire Department route may have made more financial
The demolition effort itself basically consisted of three parts. First, all
of the furniture and appliances needed to be removed. Most of these items
were old and musty and were not worth saving. Next, the excavator used a
large backhoe and tore apart and crushed the building into small pieces.
Finally, the excavator loaded the debris into several 20 cubic yard dumpsters,
which were then hauled away by a dumpster company. Finding the appropriate
dumpster company was a little bit of a challenge, as there are strict regulations
on the disposing of certain home construction material. In addition, the
dumpster costs can dramatically increase depending on how far away their
facilities are from the construction/destruction site.
After the cottage was razed, and the stakes were placed outlining the boundary
of the new home, it was time to break ground. This was a very exciting time
as my dream was about to begin to take shape. I was building a large contemporary
home with a wall of windows facing the lake front. Admittedly it was only
a hole in the ground, but this hole represented the rough footprint of my
future house. Seeing the hole, I could begin to more easily visualize my
Digging out the hole and preparing the site for a foundation is one of the
most critical aspects of building a new home. As a result, I spent several
occasions with both the Excavator and Foundation subcontractors reviewing
the house plans and the site prior to, and during the excavation. It was
imperative that all of us were on the same page to ensure that the foundation
walls, with all its jogs and step ups/downs would be located and installed
per the plans. During these meetings a few adjustments were necessary to
the foundation plans, however with all the team members involved the changes
were minor and absolutely necessary. The changes helped prevent more serious
problems later on and ensured that the outside aesthetics of the home were
As I already indicated, the foundation is extremely important to any quality
home. If the foundation is not built upon a solid footing, nor constructed
of the appropriate concrete strength, the foundation walls will crack in
short order. These cracks can lead to water in the basement, settling in
the framing, and eventually cracks in the finished walls and ceilings.
Consequently, it is imperative that the excavation site not only be properly
dug out, but also backfilled with crushed stone and sand to provide for a
stable base and to enable proper drainage underneath and around the home.
In my case I had the excavator dig out sufficiently to enable 18 of
crushed stone to be backfilled into the hole and still meet my foundation
Once the site was prepared for concrete, the foundation crew installed concrete
footings 18 wide and 12 deep. In addition they installed several
cement footings in the middle of the house footprint for lally columns. The
footings represent the base of the home and support the concrete foundation
walls and the home itself. Due to the fact that it was winter, Calcium Chloride
was used as an accelerator to speed the curing time of the concrete. In addition
water had pooled in a portion of the hole, so constant pumping was necessary
during the curing time.
After a couple of days, the foundation crew installed forms for the concrete
walls. A day later the foundation walls were poured. Three days later the
forms were removed and the foundation walls were in. I then had my excavator
subcontractor return. After tarring the outer walls, just up to the level
of where the finished grade would be, he installed a perimeter drain around
the foundation and then backfilled the foundation with clean sand and fill.
It is important that boulders and clay not be used as backfill material.
Boulders can crack the foundation walls while being pushed into place, and
clay can lead to improper drainage around the home.
With the foundation in and backfilled I was ready for framers.
The Framing Stage
The framing stage is probably the most exciting part of building a home.
In a relatively short period of time, literally days, a house begins to take
real form. Within less than a week knee walls were up, floor joists were
installed and a plywood sub-floor was down. After a couple of weeks, the
first floor walls were up and ceiling joists were being installed. I was
so impressed I was convinced my new home was a month ahead of schedule. Boy
was I wrong.
Before I elaborate on my misconception I should jump back for a minute. While
the excavation work went on, I was also engaged with the Framing subcontractor.
The Framing subcontractor needed to order framing material including lumber,
doors and windows, shingles and siding. Inevitably there were issues with
the availability of material and delivery dates, and as a result, we spent
a fair amount of time resolving these issues. Fortunately, due to constant
communication and quick problem solving we were able to have the initial
delivery of lumber arrive on the site within a day after the backfilling
of the foundation.
It is important to note, that it is at this time of the project that the
large outlays of money begin to occur. Lumber costs for a home construction
are quite large, and final payments are due to the Excavator and Foundation
subcontractors. Excavation/Sitework and Foundation installations are a
significant portion of the cost of building a home. In addition, the Framing
subcontractor requires a portion of his labor to be paid in advance.
Also, it is very important that Homeowner Construction Insurance be obtained
prior to the construction phase. This insurance protects the Homeowner/Builder
against material theft and job injuries. All of your subcontractors and their
employees should be insured but dont count on it. During any building
project, subcontractors are bound to hire extra help for short stints and
I would be surprised if these temporary employees were added to the
subcontractors insurance policy. The homeowner/builder insurance policy
is small change compared to the risk of theft or the threat of injury lawsuits.
As I indicated earlier, I was in for a surprise with the framing phase of
my home. As mentioned, the initial framing moved quickly. However it was
still winter and frequent snow storms and extremely cold weather began to
hit. This dramatically slowed progress. In addition, with the fresh supply
of snow it quickly became apparent that my framing crew had an affinity to
snowmobiling. So even on the sunny days my framing crew was frequently absent.
No matter my level of complaining or prodding I was unable to control my
framing subcontractors work ethic.
Consequently, I had to contact my plumbing, electric, and fireplace
subcontractors to inform them of the delay. This was extremely painful to
have to do, as I had no definitive date on when I would actually need them
and each of them had very full calendars. As a result, to be able to call
them at the last minute and expect for them to drop what they were doing
to come to work on my project was highly unlikely. Again, through regular
communication with these other subcontractors I was able to mitigate some
of this problem, however my project did experience significant schedule slips
due to my framing crews shenanigans.
In retrospect, I am not sure what I could have done to have prevented this
problem. Reference checks on the Framing subcontractor had been positive.
I guess I should have asked what his hobbies were and made sure they did
not correspond to the season I wanted the work done. It is also a fact that
unexpected things do happen on any project and one should expect it and plan
accordingly. For example, put some contingency dollars and schedule into
your project for events such as mine. Also, I can not stress enough to establish
a rapport and regular communication channel with all of your subcontractors.
Do not assume anything during a project of this size.
To Be Continued
In Part 3 of Building Your Dream House, the Framing continues
and Rough Electric and Plumbing begin. Stay
Over the past 20+ years Mr. Donovan has been involved with building homes
and additions to homes. His projects have included: building a vacation home,
building additions and garages on to existing homes, and finishing unfinished
homes. Mr. Donovan's formal education and profession have been as an Electrical
Engineer and Marketing Manager.