by: Mark J. 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 sense.
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 future home.
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 maintained.
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 plan requirements.
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 don’t 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 subcontractor’s 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 subcontractor’s 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 “Build Your Dream House”, the Framing continues and Rough Electric and Plumbing begin. Stay tuned next week……………
About The Author
Over the past 20+ years Mark 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. For more home improvement information visit http://www.homeadditionplus.com and http://www.homeaddition.blogspot.com.
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