Archive for September, 2009 —

Framing complete. Sizing crisis averted.

After only five weeks, Scott and the three man crew at Alexander’s Custom Homes have successfully completed framing of the house. They will be back to install the windows and several other things later, but the bulk of their work is done… and done extremely well.

Here is the timelapse of framing phase:

Click to play timelapse

I mentioned in my last post that we encountered a few sizing “issues” during framing, two of which were solved by minor shifts in interior walls, and one of which was unsolved.

The unsolved issue centered around the feeling that, at less than 12 feet, the master bedroom was too shallow. While 12 feet is a perfectly livable depth for a bedroom, it just seemed too cramped, especially for a house designed from scratch for its owner. The girlfriend and I both felt the entire master suite was just too small so we asked Build for options, priced out. The options were:

  1. Move the entire exterior west wall of the master bedroom two feet west, enlarging the bedroom depth by two feet and shrinking the deck depth by two feet. This seemed like the most attractive option, but it was also by far the most difficult because it posed far-reaching structural problems. Turns out we would have had to re-beam a good portion of the house all the way from the north to the south. Approximate cost: $14,000.
  2. Same thing as above but move the wall six feet west instead, to the edge of the deck, eliminating the deck. This was a lot easier structurally, but losing the master bedroom deck did not seem good. Approximate cost: $10,000.
  3. Move only the section of the west wall that is glass two feet west, leaving the structural part of the wall in place. This poses no structural issues, shrinks part of the deck to a 4 foot depth and leaves the other part at a full 6 feet. Approximate cost: $1,500.
  4. Steal a foot from the already small master bathroom and walk-in closet. Approximate cost: $500.
  5. Do nothing. Cost: only disappointment.

After some heavy thinking, option 3 arose as the clear winner. It accomplished the objective of enlarging the master bedroom, didn’t cost too much, and it even improves the deck in a way, since the six-foot-depth area is a bit more private now.

So, sizing crisis averted!

There are a few very important things I learned from this process:

  1. I can’t stress how relieving it is to have a design/build firm whose interests are completely aligned with mine and who isn’t interested in nickel-and-diming me for every little change order that comes along. With many traditional architects and G.C.s, even meeting about such a change would “start the meter” so to speak. Build has been great through all modification requests and I feel very lucky to have a team that cares as much as they do.
  2. Not withstanding the above, I am a bit mad at myself for not doing more during design stage to ensure the house was sized appropriately. In looking at plans, I tended to concentrate on the more obvious questions like “where is the kitchen in relation to the living room and dining room” and “how many bedrooms are on the same floor at the master”. I really never scrutinized actual dimensions of rooms because I just figured there was a standard size for everything that would be either met or exceeded. What I should have done is physically laid out string in an open space somewhere to match the dimensions of each room in the house. Just a quick “reality check”. This lesson gave me a great idea for an invention/business that I may pursue at some point. The bottom line, however, is that it doesn’t matter who your architect is… they are going to design what they think works and if you don’t have the data to know otherwise and say something, you’ll end up with questions and change orders.
  3. In this phase of the project, I will freely admit that I have gone from a “low to medium maintenance” client to a “high maintenance” client, and I think I know why: I am a web designer. My world is not a world in which I spend months planning things with the intent of building them out to the meticulous specs of the plan. My world is a world in which you have an idea, mock something up, prototype a little, iterate, launch, and then keep iterating after that. The foundation is never set, the walls are never nailed, and the paint is never dry. Working on the web is an infinitely iterative process and designing a house is the opposite of that.

Plumbing and HVAC work in progress

A couple of weeks ago, plumbing and HVAC work began. There’s not a whole lot to see on the livecam (which is good because it’s been busted for a few days… need to reboot) but lots of work is happening very quickly. Below are some of the specifics of what’s going in.


For the pipes, we chose PVC and PEX over copper. It’s cheaper, easier to work with, and has no significant disadvantages other than it isn’t supposed to be exposed to sunlight. I am so glad we took this house down to the foundation and replaced everything because the old galvanized steel pipes were in disgusting shape.

Imagine the sweet, sweet nectar that ran through these puppies.

For shower hardware, we went with the Purist line from Kohler with a few bodysprays as well. We opted against a steam shower for both cost and moisture reasons.

For the bath, we went with the Origami from Bain. You aren’t supposed to use oils or salts in normal jetted tubs so we went with an airbath. It’s a nice simple design and supposedly Bain is the best brand to trust. For the tub filler, we went with the Cascade Bi-Tech 14200, which roughly matches the faucets.

For the faucets, we are either going with Dornbracht 33 500 625 or a knockoff built in China called the Taron. Apparently there was a huge lightning-induced fire at the Dornbracht factory in Germany this summer and it has caused dramatic delays in getting product from them. I wasn’t crazy about spending $500 a faucet anyway, so we may just see how the $225 knockoffs do instead. I’ll have a separate post on this shortly.

For the master bathroom sinks, we’re going with the Ronbow CB3028 and for the powder room sink, it’ll be the hard-to-find Laufen Palomba.

For the commodes, we’re going with the Toto Pacifica line. Notably, we are avoiding dual-flush models because I’ve heard that the “half flush” option ends up never getting used. I wanted to use wall-mounted commodes, but the cost and extra complexity in fixing any “problems” kept me away.

The only thing up in the air is whether or not we will be running a hot water recirculation line. The system was spec’d without it, but as soon as I found out the delay in getting a hot shower in the morning could be a minute or more, we’re looking into how much it would cost. I’ve lived in apartments and condos for most of my life so I’m used to only waiting 10 seconds or so for hot water, so the thought of building a house like this and downgrading significantly in that area is not appealing.


Most significantly, we’re going with a forced air heating and air conditioning system powered by a Rheem 5 ton 16 SEER 2 stage heat pump, with a Rheem 100,000 BTU variable speed 80% efficient gas furnace as a backup. I would have loved to do radiant heat but since we wanted air conditioning as well, that would have required buying, installing, and operating two completely different systems. Instead, we’re just doing electric radiant pads in the master bathroom and underneath the concrete hallway on the main floor.

A friend of mine who built a house told me the biggest mistake he made was not having a system which could service multiple zones independently. In other words, the ability to turn off basement heat, send a bunch of heat to the main floor to get it to 70 degrees, and send maybe not quite as much heat to the upper level to get it to 70. Or, to leave all A/C off on a summer night except for on the upper level where the master bedroom is. We had originally looked at doing separate systems for each floor but eventually settled on one system that can service three zones independently. There was some initial confusion between Build and I about what a multi-zone system really is. By multi-zone, I mean “the ability to control multiple zones with multiple thermostats, all electronically, and without having to physically open and close vents”. If you’re spec’ing your own system, make sure you make this clear.

I’m not sure what thermostats are going in (I think HAIs maybe), but they will all have the ability to tie into my home automation system for remote administration.

Our HVAC contractor is Anderson Nesler, Inc..

I’ll have everything broken down by price once this stage of construction is complete.