Friday, October 9, 2015

MODERN FARMHOUSE – A DIY Homebuilding Project - Plumbing Preferences

Plumbing Preferences

Yesterday John Podelak, our plumber came over to lay out his sewer lines in the foundation.  The sewer pipes have to go in prior to pouring concrete.  Sewer lines are 4” PVC pipes. 

Normally water lines today are made of PEX (polyethylene) material, and are also run through the slab.  However, we are using copper lines and running them through the walls.  Some folks might not agree, but here are the reasons for these choices: 

Water Lines in Walls

--- This gives better access to the lines if a leak issue should develop. 

--- It is easier to insulate the hot water lines in the walls than in the slab. 

Copper Lines instead of PEX

--- Copper is more expensive than PEX tubing.  However, PEX should be sleeved when installed in a slab, which increases cost.

--- PEX will be damaged by sunlight, so there concerns about how they have been handled prior to installation.

--- There are questions about the effect of chlorinated water on the PEX.

--- PEX is made from petroleum products.  There has been some controversy about whether chemicals will leach into the water.  However, PEX is approved in all states. (California was last to approve in 2009).  Jim is personally averse to plastic water bottles, etc., so this is not a good fit for us.

We are not making a decision for a whole subdivision, where cost will make a big difference.  This is just one house.  And, our plumber prefers to use copper.  He’s a single operator, and likes to do things the old fashioned way.   

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

MODERN FARMHOUSE – A DIY Homebuilding Project- Foundation, Inside Scoop

Foundation – Inside Scoop

People often assume that a slab foundation is solid concrete.  But, as you can see from the photos, that’s not how they are made.  They are mostly a fill material.  Some builders use ordinary dirt and rocks from the site, but Jim-Bo will only use crushed limestone, or road base, as it is called.  Limestone is quarried in our area and is crushed into a mix of small rocks and fine particles.  It is wet and compacted during placement.  There is no organic material in the mix, so it will not settle or form voids later after the foundation ages.  The crushed limestone sticks to itself and dries almost rock hard, creating very strong under slab fill.

There are some tall beams (vertical walls) around the perimeter that will be filled with concrete.  They have extra steel re-bar to strengthen the concrete.  The walls of the beams are created by bagged road base.   You can see the bags in the photo. 

This hard work no problem for our great foundation guy – Victor Silva – 512-848-0086.  

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

MODERN FARMHOUSE – A DIY Homebuilding Project - A Firewood Morning

A Firewood Morning

We try to keep as many trees as possible.  It breaks my heart to lose a good tree.  But there was a small oak in the foundation area that had to come out.  Rather than see it hauled away, we cut it up for some good firewood.  They say a man who cuts his own wood is thrice warmed.  On this hot September day Chris and Jim were more than thrice warmed. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

MODERN FARMHOUSE – A DIY Homebuilding Project - Permit Playbook

Permit Playbook

Some people say that you don’t need permits when you are not in a city, but that is not true – not at all.  Unfortunately, there is no one place where you can go to get a list of permits and inspections needed for your job.  We had to call each jurisdiction several times and hope to get a live being on the line who knew the score.  

Travis County
Permit – Yes
Inspections:  None, if you are the owner/builder

Water District 18
Inspections:  Plumbing Top Out; Plumbing Set Out

Driveway in Right of Way
Permit – Yes
Inspections:  Pre Pour; Final

Austin ETJ
Permit – Yes (electrician will obtain)
Inspections:  Service – inspect ground wire before pour; Final – to release to Austin Energy

Septic Permit
Permit – Yes
Inspection:  Pre-permit layout; Tank installed; Final

Sunday, September 20, 2015

MODERN FARMHOUSE – A DIY Homebuilding Project - Love Your Foundation

Love Your Foundation

The foundation on the front and right sides of this house is going to be tall.  A lot of concrete exposure on the front would not have been our choice – if we had a choice.  But you have to “dance with who brung you,” as I like to say.  The lot has a side slope and we don’t like interior level changes.  And that leads to tall concrete.

Concrete is usually hidden or de-emphasized.  In fact, there is layer of cement that is normally plastered over the foundation to hide surface.  When we built houses in the 1980’s this was done as a matter of course.  It was called underpinning.

For this house we would like the foundation surface to be a feature of the house.  Not something to hide behind plants.  That takes some care in how the foundation is formed.  Rather than sheets of old plywood, this foundation is formed with 2 x 6 boards.  It will take on the lines and texture of the boards, like the concrete wall in the photo below.  The photo is from a Lake-Flato house – an architect we admire very much.

We’re kind of excited about the foundation. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

MODERN FARMHOUSE – A DIY Homebuilding Project - Things to Do Today

To-Do Today

 There are some exciting moments in building a house.  Well... maybe just two.  The slab pour is definitely one, and I’ll let you know if I think of another one.  

Mostly building is just a long to-do list.  Here are some items we checked off lately: 

Silt Fence.  (Shaun Tenber – 817-235-1713 –He put up the silt fence for us.)

PortaCan.  (We used Blue Chem – a new husband/wife porta-potty company. As a new customer, we got the first month free.)

Permit posted.  (A handy real estate flyer box worked for this.)

Stand Pipe Faucet.  (This gives water to the site during construction.)

Put up temporary electric pole.  (A temporary electric pole coming soon.)

Haul trash and get things cleaned up.  (Keeping a clean job site is important!)

MODERN FARMHOUSE – A DIY Homebuilding Project - Color Thoughts

Early Decision on Color

White siding with dark trim is very popular in Austin.  It is a clean, crisp style that looks great with a dark metal roof and dark window sashes.  The photo is a good example of this look.  White would be a good choice for us.  However, the other exterior materials - concrete and metal - might look better if combined with a contrasting color.    

We are planning a dark grey for these reasons: 

This lot has a side slope, which means that there will be a tall slab exposed in the front – and concrete is light gray.

The roof will be galvalume – a light silver gray.

There will be a little corrugated metal siding – light silver gray.

White siding would be close in tone to these silver gray materials.  We think dark gray would be a better decision.

Why deal with exterior color now?   Because windows need to be ordered 6 weeks in advance.  We’re using Jeld Wen Aluminum clad wood windows.  Windows will probably have black sashes.

Will get samples and look at grays next week…

Friday, September 4, 2015

MODERN FARMHOUSE – A DIY Homebuilding Project: Truth About Surveys

The Survey is Ground Truth, or is it? 

In order to design the house in the first place, Jim took lots of measurements.  Jim draws all our plans.  That’s a gift he has.  He knows where the lot lines are, and every tree, and every change in ground level.  He’s not psychic – he goes out there and measures.

Now that the lot has been cleared, our foundation guy came over and put up batter boards.  These are temporary frameworks to hold strings.  The strings are critical to building the foundation in the exact place, as shown on the plans. 

But something seemed to be wrong.  The actual measurements on the ground were not matching the dimensions on the survey.  Here’s an email Jim sent to an engineer friend: 

Because I accepted that the survey must be correct, I have spent hours and hours going back out there in the heat trying to analyze what I was doing wrong.  Then many more additional hours fooling around with the drawing on the computer trying to come up with a new strategy for resolving the huge discrepancies between distances which I knew I should have -  and what I was actually getting on the ground.  Not knowing where the problem was, I questioned everything I was doing, thinking that my approach must be grossly inadequate.  Sons Matthew and Jim spent many of those hours out there helping me try to solve the puzzle.  I was almost convinced that I shouldn’t be doing this kind of thing anymore.  

The truth came out when they found both rear pins, which the surveyor had not uncovered.  He had marked the fence posts as our corners, which turned out to be about 2.5 feet beyond our property line.  So we had an incorrect survey.

Note to self:  Call surveyor and request refund.   

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

MODERN FARMHOUSE – A DIY Homebuilding Project - Hot Days

Hot Days, Hard Work

Tree Tom was our lot clearing guy.  He brought over his son, who's been clearing since he was 12, and a couple of other guys.  Plus a giant chipper, and small backhoe. 

Tree Tom’s crew was paid by the day.  We could not do this as a contract bid, since we made decisions on the work as we went along.  For three days, they cut Ligustrum, dead trees, and anything inside the house area.  Our sons, Matt and Chris, joined in and hauled logs and worked the chipper.  The mulch pile soared to over 6 feet.  The temperature soared to over 100 degrees. 

We rescued many Oaks and Elms from Ligustrom prison.  The lot is looking open and beautiful.  These were hot days and good times.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

MODERN FARMHOUSE – A DIY Homebuilding Project - Papa's Boots

Papa’s Boots

So we needed a pair of tall boots for Jim-Bo to wear as part of his chigger avoidance program.  This required a fun trip to Cavenders Boots in south Austin.  
We selected these:  Ariat International, Inc. - Impact II 8-in. Lace-Up Boots 

Later, Jim was reading his copy of Fine Homebuilding, and saw that these very boots were noted as a great construction boot.  They are not steel-toed, do not hold a lot of mud in the treads, and are sturdy and supportive.  

Friday, August 28, 2015

MODERN FARMHOUSE – A DIY Homebuilding Project - Chiggers

A Tiny Problem

We all came home with chiggers after a hot afternoon of chopping down Ligustroms.  Of course, none of us want to get chiggers, but Jim, Sr. is allergic to them.  So that’s a problem we need to solve, or he just won’t be able to tramp around on the lot.   

Jim looked up the US Army’s Chigger Specs, and followed them to the letter (as he always does with any directions):

Get a pair of tall boots
Wear pants tucked into the boots and tighten laces
Treat pants and boots with Permethrin Repellent

After a little searching, Permethrin was found at Dicks Sporting Goods. 

So far it has worked perfectly.  No chiggers on Jim-Bo.  The rest of us just spray a little Deep Woods Off on our shoes, and still get an occasional chigger.  When Jim comes back from the lot, he puts his pants and boots into a box, since they have that Permethrin stuff on them.

Modern Farmhouse Series – All Posts

Sunday, August 23, 2015

MODERN FARMHOUSE – A DIY Homebuilding Project - Ligustrum Jungle

Ligustrum Jungle

We are underway with a new DIY home building project - a modern farmhouse in the Lake Hills neighborhood of Austin. 

The lot has some big cedar elms, oaks, and Texas Persimmons.  But, there were plenty of trash trees too.  A whole lot of a Ligustrums had grown in over the years.  The hardwoods are “pruned” up high because the Ligustrums choked off light to their lower parts.

We checked with the Wildflower Center, and Mr. Smarty Pants agrees Ligustrums should go! 

Mr. Smarty Plants stands solidly with your arborist and applauds you enthusiastically for getting rid of those nasty, invasive Ligustrums. They do provide shade and privacy but at the expense of beautiful native trees that can do the job as well or better. Believe me, you'll be glad those Ligustrums are gone!

Stay in touch - we'll keep you posted through the building process.