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The Do's & Don't if Building Your Dream Home

Third in a series: Bricks and Mortar, Hammers and Nails, Getting Your House Built and on Track

(If You Missed Part One Please Follow This Link)
(If You Missed Part Two Please Follow This Link)

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Well if you have been with us since the first of these articles you should now be familiar with: choosing a design and having an architect draw up the plan and schedules for materials and specifications. You've interviewed and chosen a contractor and you have set a date for the work to commence. Now the real job begins.

Homes are not just bricks and mortar and plywood and paint, they are a living and breathing entity like no other. They are subject to their surroundings and the environment and therefore in a state of constant flux. Raising a roof from conception to certificate of occupancy is like raising a child. It takes your undivided attention, strength perseverance, and a bit of compassion. The easy and fun part was the conception. Raising them to become self-sufficient and freestanding is the arduous part. It would be impossible to cover all of the aspects of construction within the confines of this particular article, but we will begin to discuss and outline the tasks that you will need to supervise and accomplish, to get the job done, including the banking and inspections.

If you have done your homework satisfactorily you have hired a contractor who you can rely on, and who you have been meeting for initial planning, scheduling and coordination. You have gone out to the site and you have had it surveyed and staked out. Tests were performed to determine how soft or hard the ground is, or if there is bedrock lying under the surface. (This is all very important information you will need to do this early on so that you can properly design the footings and foundation.) The utilities have been arranged for and you have temporary meters and hook ups for water and electric, and possibly a temporary, self-contained toilet facility as well. You have addressed all the concerns for permits and permissions and you have made preparations for site maintenance, trash removal (possibly a large steel refuse container, size depending on the scope of you project) and security during the course of your project. Both you, and the contractors, are insured and you have made provisions for the safe keeping of all tools, equipment, building supplies and materials that will be delivered to or kept on the job site. You are now ready to break ground and lay the foundation of your dreams.

Note: Keeping the work site clean and free of debris is not only one of the basic tenets of a safe and accident free job site, but it will help insure that any pests or rodents do not move into your home before you do. They are hard to evict.

Site Preparation and Foundation Work

Note: It is a smart thing to keep a running diary of everything that occurs on your job site. Make note of the day's weather, which trades are present and how many men are working. All deliveries of equipment, materials and supplies must also be recorded. Any discussions with supervisors of labor should also be kept in the diary, noting any changes to schedule, plan or specification. Make note of who was present at that meeting, when it took place, what was decided and who would action on it. If it is of a certain magnitude, have all those involved initial the entry.

Depending on the actual lay of the land, the environment and your design, you will be doing one of three things first: excavating a hole for a basement, trenching for piers and beams if it is to be a crawl space, or grading and trenching if your design calls for a slab. The key point here is to make sure the crew that performs this work is aware that the concrete is being mixed properly, and poured in the proper manner (be careful for rainy or very hot or cold days). Also make sure that any steel re-enforcing being used is of the proper gauge/weight and that the pour is allowed to cure for no less than two weeks before proceeding with that aspect of the job.

Note: Whenever doing grading or excavating never remove more soil than necessary. Once the ground is cut too deeply, and then back fill is required, you will run the risk of your structure settling into this uncompressed and unstable fill and damages could result to the entire house.

The tree most prevalent types of foundations in America are:

Slabs - The least involved, the cheapest, easiest and fastest solution, which is best suited to warm Southern climes, where there is little or no freezing to crack the slab in winter causing ground water problems. Make sure all the drainage and sewer, plumbing and traps, as well as any chases or conduit for electric, telephones and other wired systems have been properly installed before you pour. Once the pour is done you must live with the results.

Crawlspaces - This is possibly bit more money, but still much less than a basement. A crawlspace elevates the house and allows for systems to be easily installed and accessed after the home is built. Even though the home is elevated slightly, it will protect the home from water and frost as long as the drainage is correct and moisture barriers are used. Make sure that the proper insulation has also been installed. No one likes a home with cold floors and your energy consumption will also be minimized.

Basements - Basements are the most expensive and time consuming of foundations and demand a greater degree of skill than the first two options. Digging the whole requires the use of heavy equipment, extensive and expensive forming must be done, along with all the other preparations that a crawlspace or slab would require. Drainage and reinforcing are two things that should be paramount when designing a basement. Remember, it's not supposed be a swimming pool, that comes later. Basements, although more costly, also add value. The extra space can be well utilized for the placement of HVAC (Heating/Ventilation/Air Conditioning) systems and laundry equipment. Further, it is a good place for extra storage, a work shop, extra refrigeration and freezers or a family room. If you pan to utilize this space for any of these items be sure to plumb and wire for these eventualities in advance. All of these idea are for things that can be tucked away in the basement freeing up valuable living space on the floors above.

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