- Mathew H. Coppell, Texas - HPG-1752-1: The Remington
My wife and I purchased a lakefront lot on a wonderfully pristine Texas lake in 2000 with the intention of eventually building a lakefront home with retirement in mind. We were operating on a 20+ year plan.
Two years ago my wife’s parents approached us with a proposition. My father in law was planning on retiring in 2010 and was looking at their retirement options. While he wasn’t in the position to buy a lakefront place that he wanted, he did have enough funds to help finance the construction of a home.
We worked out an arrangement in that we would build a house on our lakefront in which they would live out the rest of their independent years. My wife and I would maintain ownership and my inlaws would have a wonderful retirement lifestyle that they wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise.
It was a win-win for everyone.
We began looking at house plans and were initially looking for a modest, easy to construct home. Since I was acting as the general contractor and doing a great deal of the work myself as well, design simplicity was important. But so was efficient use of space. We sat down together and drew up a list of key “care abouts”. Those key care abouts included full masonry exterior, covered porches, separate laundry room, open eating/living space, a separate master suite area from the other bedrooms, spacious garage large enough to hold 2 cars and a golf cart. We also wanted a safe room as tornados are not uncommon in the area.
My inlaws began surfing the web looking at various online designs and came across the HPG-1752-1 on one of the stock plan sites. It had most of what we were looking for, but needed a few modifications to suit our particular tastes and needs. I contacted the guys over at House Plan Gallery and discussed our desired changes.
I was unbelievably surprised when I found out that not only could House Plan Gallery make the requested changes, but that the modification cost was well below what I had expected!
After a few email exchanges outlining the changes, House Plan Gallery delivered the modified draft plans for our review within a few days, and after one more round of tweaks, House Plan Gallery delivered what I thought would be our final plans at an extremely reasonable price.
The first step in our construction process was site work. With plans in hand I met up with my site work subcontractor to lay out the plans on the lot. I already had a good idea where the house would sit and anticipated that we would need pad leveling to compensate for our gentle sloping lot.
The plans called for slab on grade construction. Imagine my surprise when shooting the elevations, that the lot dropped nearly seven feet from one corner of the house to the other. The excavation sub estimated that he would need to bring in 60 truck loads of fill as well as cut one corner down 3 feet. I nearly choked on the estimate for fill dirt. Off handedly, I asked how much just to dig a whole. His estimate for a hole was significantly less.
So right off the bat we were faced with a major decision. I could spend a large amount of money for dirt and end up with a 1800 sqft home sitting on very expensive dirt, or I could spend less money on a hole and potentially double the square footage of the house. Sure the basement would cost some money (so I thought), but I’d rather spend money on potentially usable space than dirt.
So back to the drawing board…
I contacted House Plan Gallery, and asked them what it would cost to modify our house plans for a basement foundation. Again the service was excellent, inexpensive, and fast. So now I had new plans with almost double the living area square footage.
Our plan of record was to complete the upper level as originally planned, and to finish out the basement at some point in the future. As I mentioned the house is in Texas. Curious thing about Texas is that not a lot of houses are built with basements. Since the frost line is so shallow, slab on grade is perfectly adequate.
But after a visit to the foundation engineer, I found out why else we don’t build basements in Texas-expansive soils. I had a soil survey done as part of engineering the foundation and turns out my site had just about the worst expansive soil possible. This means tremendous lateral force is placed on basement walls as the soils expand and contract. The end result is a basement structure that my neighbors jokingly referred to as “Fort Hubbard”. I have 10′ tall, 10″ thick poured in place concrete walls with a double layer of steel reinforcement, all sitting on belled, steel reinforced, concrete piers sunk 20′ below the basement lower level. All of this sits on a concrete floor slab criss-crossed with 3′ concrete beams. Since a tornado shelter was one of our “care abouts”, it sits in one of the basement corners(under the garage) and is completely encased by reinforced steel to concrete per FEMA standards. The first quote from my concrete sub was for over $100K just for the basement alone. At this point I am certain I should have paid for the dirt.
We started pushing dirt in October 2010, and it took until January 2011 to complete the basement(due to several weather related delays). I eventually worked with my concrete sub to get the price down based on some creative win-win negotiations and aggressive bid shopping.
I decided early on in the construction process, given how much dirt work we planned and that I would be acting as the general contractor, to purchase a used skidsteer loader. My wife and father in law thought I was nuts, but I initially justified it in that we could always sell it for basically what we paid. It has proven to be invaluable and it has paid for itself at least twice so far.
I have also found an interesting and effective owner builder tool. It’s called craigslist.com. I typically post what I need, and am flooded by responses. I interview the more promising, check references, and cut a deal. I have also used it to source building supplies.
Of all the subs I have hired so far, the framing sub proved to be the “best”. My framer came to me via craigslist. He was relatively young, had two sizeable crews, and was building for several of the major custom home builders in the greater area. He was responsive, polite, and clearly knowledgeable. He was also looking to start building around the lake where my lot was located. We worked out a deal and set a start date. He was typically paid 45-60 days after completion by the major custom home builders, and I agreed to pay cash upon completion.
My framer and his crew showed up bright and early on the start date and knocked out the whole house in three days. I couldn’t believe it and was more than happy to hand over his payment upon completion. On the third day, he had both his crews show up to insure that he completed on time. I’ve seen lots of operations in various industries, but I have never seen one as efficient as this framing crew.
Half way through the second day I realized that the job site was relatively quiet, except for the almost constant pneumatic nailing. I then noticed that the crew was working in pairs, one guy measured/nailed, the other guy cut and kept material flowing to the one nailing. I then noticed that the crew was all using what looked like sign language to communicate! If you ever seen bond traders flash hand signals in the trading pits to convey purchase prices, this is exactly what this looked like. But this crew had created their own sign language to convey measurements so that they didn’t have to shout over the constant nailing.
I commented at the end of the day to my framer how impressed I was, and he related this story to me. He had hired a deaf/mute on one of his crews about a year earlier. They had created, through trial and error, a way to provide him instructions on the site using hand signals. He realized that the deaf mute got more done than some of his other seasoned crew members, and that it was because he never had to repeat instructions. So he started making all of his crew use hand signs, and their productivity went up!
Needless to say It was very humbling to see that through my home building efforts, I was able to employ a farmer who employed a deaf mute, who in all likelihood would have not had a job. Since I blew my construction budget almost from the beginning, I have had to resort to very creative ways to control costs. Craigslist has proven to very useful for this as well. My best materials deal was for my stone veneer. I found someone on craigslist that had 5 pallets of brand new stone veneer in almost the exact color and style I wanted. Better yet, they wanted 10% of the retail price. The veneer was overruns from a local manufacturer. The only kicker was you had to come pick it up from their home. I loaded up my skidsteer and within 30 minutes I had all five pallets loaded. That one trip netted me almost $4000 in savings and paid for nearly half of the skidsteer.
My house is now dried in and most of the rough electrical, plumbing, and mechanical are completed. I still have a lot of work remaining, but it’s predominantly subs from this point forward. Things like drywall, insulation, and septic system will go relatively quickly. The basement has inflated the original construction budget by almost 50% and delayed my completion date by almost 6 months. In the end I think it was worth it.
All of my family is anxiously awaiting completion so that we can start enjoying the lake. It looks like we will miss this summer, but there is always next and many more after that.
We appreciate the guys at House Plan Gallery for helping us to make our dream home a reality, and we’d definitely recommend you to all of our friends and family looking for new house plans..
- Berry C. - Murfreesboro, TN - HPG-1200B-1 – The Gunter Ridge
I have and will again recommend HPG.
They were great to work with. After we had found the plans we wanted, there were a few things we wanted to modify. I made a phone call, submitted an e-mail with the requested changes. We received the modified floor plan, and were delighted with what we received.
Great folks to work with, and we will buy our next set of house plans from them.
- Gordon J. - Lake Forest, IL - HPG-0728-1 – The Matilda
Plans were easy to use and met all code enforcement requirements. Our carpenter was able to make some small changes with no problems. We were even able to change to a truss roof.