Back on track after unavoidable pre-construction setbacks, my homebuilding journey has had its share of challenges, even before the foundation was placed. But delays have been used as opportunities for design improvements that will make the house even more resilient than originally planned. This episode is kind of a construction update. I’ll tell you about our delays and what we did to make lemonade out of lemons.
Before we move on, I wanna give many thanks to Ginalupeho and Ben14826 for our latest Apple Podcasts 5 star ratings and reviews. They titled their reviews “Best Beginner Podcast I’ve Found” and “Best Home Building Podcast.” You two wrote such persuasive reviews. Anyone remotely considering listening to the podcast will definitely be inclined to give it a try because of reviews like yours. Thank you for writing such kind words. I don’t know if you realize it, but this podcast is a lot of work and when I get tired, or tempted to think it’s not really making a difference, it helps me to read your positive feedback. I’m grateful to all you who have ever left a nice review or sent me a kind email. Thank you. Thank you for giving back in that way.
Ok, let’s move on to this week’s show.
We’ve had downpour delays, foundation frustrations, and soil surprises. I’ve told you about some of our challenges in other episodes, but some things I’ll tell you today I’ve never shared before. Including this first thing: My house will be an idea house, also known as a concept house or case study house. I’m calling it the Ultimate Idea House because I intend on it being example of some the best ideas, materials and methods that I’ve learned about over the course of this podcast. Unlike most idea houses that focus solely on decor, I want to show energy efficient, quality construction that’s not only stylish, but strong. The project will be presented at RESNET’s BUILDING PERFORMANCE CONFERENCE and there will be virtual tours of the completed house in 2021.
Most of the construction progress photos will be on Instagram. Now, you know I’m not very social media savvy, but I’m giving Instagram a try. So, if you want to see the progress of the house, plus some styles and products I’m considering for the build, follow the project on Instagram @ulimateideahouse. I’m just starting the Instagram account, and I need some followers, so if this podcast has been helpful to you, I would love for you to help me out with that. And be patient with me until I can add more photos posted. Here's the link to the Instagram account: ulimateideahouse .
Alright, let’s get into the meat of the episode…
Record rains and flooding were the main culprits stalling the start of construction of my house. The running joke in the area was that it only rained twice in the spring/summer of 2019— once for 2 months and once for 3 months.
Countless consecutive weeks of abundant rain culminated in the overflow of the river. River water infiltrated area homes and sat outside of the riverbed for days.
The conditions caused a significant postponement to the start of construction of our house. This happened not only because of fewer potential working days, but because subcontractors’ time and attention were diverted from working on bids and new builds, to repairing homes damaged by rain and flooding.
The extra rain (and time) sparked us to consider some design modifications that would make the house more equipped to withstand the region’s wet climate. High above and overlooking the river, the house will have virtually no chance of ever flooding. But because of its hilltop location, there is a fairly high risk of the site being affected by penetrating, wind-driven rain. As a result, we added an outdoor storage unit to the job site to protect construction materials from downpours. Remember ZTERS? I told you about them several weeks ago. They’re a one stop shop for all the construction site services that you'll need for your build, including dumpsters, portable toilets, temporary fencing and storage units. We’re using a storage unit from ZTERS for our job site because we’re on a pretty tall, secluded hilltop where materials would be susceptible to wind-driven rain and theft.
Another thing we did because of all the rain in the area was add a covered entry to the home’s design. There was no covered entry on the original house plan. It was considered an unnecessary, aesthetic feature by the architect. But the builder I’m working with insisted on a covering over the front door to protect the home’s entry from infiltrating rain.
We also added a rainscreen to the design. Remember the term rainscreen? We talked about it in episode 145. A rainscreen is not a tangible screen at all. Instead, it’s a space— an air gap between the home’s exterior siding and its water-resistant barrier. When wind driven rain, and other water or moisture get behind your brick, stone, stucco or fiber cement siding, the rainscreen provides a drainage and ventilation space. That space lets any water and moisture that gets behind the exterior cladding, drip down or evaporate. The rainscreen is added protection from wall rot.
We going to use the Dorken Delta Dry and Lath rainscreen because of its ability to be installed quickly and easily. The 2-in-1 product combines a rain screen with a fiberglass lath system used for stone and stucco application. Using materials that combine construction solutions decreases the labor and time needed for installation, helping to make up for time lost on the project.
Another time-saving solution planned is the inclusion of Huber Zip System R sheathing. Zip R combines a water and air barrier with continuous exterior insulation. It will not only provide a tight building envelope for this high performance house, but will also save days to weeks of labor when compared to separately installing sheathing, a moisture and air barrier, and exterior insulation.
Not only did bad weather defer the start of the build, but the construction schedule suffered because of a several months wait for the structural engineer’s designs of the foundation and continuous load path. Pop Quiz: What is a continuous load path is? You should know this one… We’ve talked about it in several past episodes. A continuous load path is a method of construction that uses a system of connectors, fasteners, bolts and screws to connect the structural frame of the house all together. The roof is connected to the walls of the second floor, the walls of second floor are connected to walls of the first floor, and the walls of the first floor are connected to the foundation.
Since I’m in a smaller city, there is a limited number of specialized professionals like structural engineers. In times of thriving construction, like now, overdue structural designs are more the rule than the exception.
While waiting for the structural engineer, we used the extra time to scrutinize the original set of house plans. The builder added missing dimensions and construction detail to the architect’s plans so subcontractors could more easily interpret and execute the design. The architect’s original plan set left room for assumptions and misinterpretations. This would have most likely caused mistakes and slowdowns in the field.
Modifications to the roof design were made to make it more economical and better suited for the rainy climate. An early quote from the plumber revealed that roof drains for the original 4 flat roofs would take a huge portion of the plumbing budget. Therefore, the majority of the roof design was changed to a McElroy Metal standing seam roof.
The two largest flat, membrane roofs were switched to low pitched (3:12) metal roofs. The redesign maintains the aesthetic of the house, but is better for the budget and for decreasing the risk of potential leaks. Roof drains for the 2 remaining flat roofs were replaced with plans for scuppers, which are more economical and easier and quicker to install.
Ok, pop quiz: Do you remember what a scupper is? We talked about scuppers in episode 173 called Why Roof Overhangs are Important, Part 1.
A roof scupper is a roof drainage system usually used for flat roofs, Scuppers have openings on the edge of the roof. From that scupper opening, roof water moves into and through a downspout that looks similar to a downspout in a typical gutter system. Scuppers are typically less expensive than roof drains, which can also be used for flat roof drainage.
The final pre-construction hurdle was encountered after getting started with the initial excavation for the footings. Although soil, civil and structural engineers had assessed the homesite prior to excavation, not one of them predicted the degree of unstable soil encountered on the north side of homesite. To address the unexpected soil inconsistencies, the foundation design was changed. It was originally one with wide footings (remember footings are the deepest part of the foundation, kind of like the feet of the house). But because if the unstable soil the design was changed to a retaining wall. A retaining wall is a structure that holds or retains soil behind it. There are many types of materials that can be used to create retaining walls, including concrete blocks, poured concrete, treated wood timbers, rocks or boulders. Our retaining wall foundation is being constructed with concrete block and horizontal and vertical steel rods or rebar for greater resilience. And once the retaining wall is finished, they will pour a flat, horizontal slab that will connect with the vertical retaining wall.
Now I don’t want you to get discouraged be my difficulties. We have had many more setbacks than most folks won’t have. If you choose a standard lot on regular soil that doesn’t need any significant structural engineering, and if you can avoid record rains and flooding, you will have a much easier time with your project than we have had. Be we have a site with great views and lots of privacy and I believe it will be worth time and trouble. I hope so anyway. Despite… no, because of the challenges encountered during our pre construction phase, we’re even better prepared to build a strong, weather-resistant home and it’s going to be a concept/idea home that we can all learn from.
Don’t forget to follow me on instagram at @ultimateideahouse. It will be the main platform where you can see the progress of the house and the products, fixtures, fittings and surfaces I’ll be considering for the build.
Thanks for stopping by. Join me again next week.