- 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..
- Micah D. Hodgenville, KY - HPG-1888-1 : The Mayberry
Great customer service, and willingness to help!
- Clint & Angie W. Scott Depot, West Virginia - HPG-30002-1: The Stonewood Lane
My husband has had the vision to build for several years and the timing was right for our family in terms of the economy and employment situations. There are so many features that we LOVE! The large front porch (where I have added a porch swing), the covered backporch, the large great room, the breakfast area, the kitchen, the master bath!
When my husband and I saw this house plan, we both knew it was the perfect house plan for our family and would meet all of our needs and wants.
Our lot overlooks a wooded area so the large number of windows provide access to gorgeous wooded views that some find only in vacation homes. There are many features to this house that we absolutely love, but as a mom, the large breakfast area is one of my favorites. We have only lived in this home two short months, but the breakfast area has already provided several opportunities for our family to come together over meals and board games while spending time together. In addition, it is nice to be in the kitchen close by while my children have their friends over and are hanging out/ snacking (as kids and teens will do).
The porches are another favorite! Since I was a girl growing up next to an elderly lady who would invite me to sit and talk on her front porch swing, I have always dreamed of owning a home with a porch swing and now I have it! The memories that I have of the time I spent with my Christian neighbor and the values she imparted to me are priceless because we had a place to relax and spend time. I now have my own porch swing on my front porch to share with my own children. This is also the first time my family has had a covered back porch. We have spent more time outdoors in two months on the back porch then we did in an entire year at our old home with a deck. We’ve enjoyed rain storms, reading books, meals and more in the shade and privacy of our covered back porch.
The bedroom layout of this house plan was also perfect for our family. We have three children ages 6, 10 and 13 (two boys and a girl). The bedroom with the bathroom inside of it was perfect for my only daughter (who is also the youngest). She feels like she is a princess in her pink bedroom with a purple bathroom.
Due to the way the roof line fell, the builder was able to expand this room (with a sloped ceiling). The extra play space is perfect for her dollhouse and other “girl” toys. My two boys have the bedrooms at the top of the stairs facing the front of the house. The large closets give them room for their sports equipments and hobbies (and clothes). The boys also share the bathroom in the upstairs hall. It is perfect! We added a double vanity (instead of one) so that each of my boys would have their own sink bowl (no fighting over who is going to brush their teeth first !). The door between the toilet/shower area and the vanity area also gives each boy the privacy he needs.
Lastly, my husband and I have a master bedroom downstairs which makes this a house we can grow old in! The large closets are also a plus and make it easier to keep our things separate and neat. The window over the garden tub looks over the wooded area behind our home and it is a wonderful view that we enjoy each day!
My husband’s job is based from our home so the home office gives him a private place to work (with doors). The workshop area in the garage also gives him the storage space he needs without having work files cluttering the living areas of our home.
In the garage, we divided the garage area and made one car stall separate with a wall. This allowed us to have space for a weight room / fitness area. This means all our equipment, including the treadmill, have a place of their own (and not in the living areas of the house).
We opted to finish out the bonus room at the top of the stairs (complete with French doors) for our children (and their friends) to have a place to hang out and play. We’ve added a television and video games, foosball table, air hockey and more! This is a great place for our kid’s friends. At night, they can roll out the sleeping bags and crash. It has been a lot of fun having this space. We also added a large closet off from the bonus room upstairs. The closet is lined with shelves for legos, board games, toy sets, books and more.
This house is the house of our dreams. When my husband and I saw the plan, we both knew right away that this was it! After living here for two months, we were right. The layout of this home has brought our family closer together in ways that we never could have imagined. Family ties are important in this busy world in which we are pulled in so many directions. I am grateful for my home and the opportunity to share my excitement with you! There are so many more things I could share – like the great builder we had, the wonderful woodwork, the gorgeous kitchen, but I think you get the picture!
Thank you House Plan Gallery for making our dreams come true!