This week I want to give you a quick update on the status of my project. My structural engineer finally completed my foundation plan and I also got the official plot plan done.
The foundation plan is a drawing that shows the location and size of the foundation, plus the materials needed to construct it. The plan also details the different parts of the foundation, including the footings, piers, foundation walls, and supporting beams.
It took about 8 weeks to get my foundation plan done. This longer than usual, but I live in a smaller city and my structural engineer is very much in demand. He was one of the best engineers in the area, so he was juggling many projects at once. If I had to do it all over again, I would probably go with someone who was good, but not so much in demand.
A few days after I got the foundation plan, I met with one of the foundation contractors who was recommended to me by my structural engineer. This is one of the foundation contractors who will bid on my project. We met on my lot and I learned that he recently did the foundation for a new house just a few doors down from our site. That house sits on a lot that is that has soil similar to my soil— rocky. Really rocky— in some places it's pure, solid bedrock.
Just to let you know, before I purchased the lot, I did get a soils engineer to test the soil to make sure the lot was buildable. And it's a buildable lot, but it's rocky. You might wonder why I would chose a rocky lot. The answer is because it’s a nice sized lot in a suburban neighborhood (not out in the sticks) and it has a nice view. Anyway…
I ask the foundation contractor if he thought the reinforced slab foundation that my structural engineer designed was the best solution for the site. And I asked if he could think of any changes that could save money without compromising the safety and quality of the foundation. Not that I don’t trust my structural engineer. I do, but structural engineers aren’t typically thinking about budget. So, I just wanted this foundation guy’s opinion.
Remember, that’s one of my favorite tricks for getting good money saving tips— ask the subs who will be bidding on your project what suggestions they have to make the project more economical without significantly decreasing quality.
The reinforced slab foundation that my structural engineer designed has a continuous footing all along the periphery of the entire foundation. The footing, remember, sits lower than the main part of the foundation and the footing distributes the weight of the slab and the house.
The footing in my foundation design would be created by digging a continuous trench along the entire periphery of the slab and then filling that continuous trench with concrete. That footing would be like an outline of the slab that sits lower in the ground than the main part of the slab.
Digging a continuous trench for the footing is a typical plan and would be a very economical solution if you have a lot with regular, soft soil. But since my lot is rocky, regular “digging” is not really possible. Drilling and hammering that rocky soil is what would be needed for the footing. And the more drilling and hammering you do, the more expensive the job will be.
What the foundation guy suggested was to do a slab foundation, with footings made of drill piers. Meaning instead of drilling or hammering the footing as a continuous trench around the entire outer edge of the foundation, the footings would be made of multiple vertical piers that would be drilled and placed at intervals, several inches apart. That would save significantly on the drilling and hammering bill and it would save time in the construction of the foundation, but it would be just as stable and safe as a foundation made with a continous footing.
Although I know very little about foundations, the drill pier foundation idea made sense to me, so I asked my structural engineer about it. I told him that this foundation guy, who he actually recommended, thought a drill pier foundation might be a better design for my project in that it would save money and time. I told him that the foundation contractor had recently done a foundation just around the corner from my lot and that it had similar soil as mine. My engineer said, “Hmmm, a drill pier foundation… yeah, that might make more sense.” He said he would call the foundation contractor to chat with him about the specifics of his idea then he would probably make some modifications to my foundation plan.
Yes, asking about an alternative foundation plan is taking more time, and we won’t be getting started with construction quite as soon, but I’d rather spend more time in the planning and design phase of my house as opposed to spending more time to construct a more complicated and more expensive foundation.
This whole thing has also made me wonder what would have happened had I let a builder handle my entire project, without being involved with construction decisions? Would a builder have asked the foundation contractor for money saving design suggestions or would he just have simply moved forward with the engineers more expensive, more complicated design? I don’t know. It probably depends on the builder, but I’m glad I had the wherewithal to ask the foundation contractor questions and to ask the engineer's opinion of the foundation contractor's suggestions.
So, at this point, I’m waiting to hear back from the structural engineer about the foundation modifications. I was also told by the foundation contractor that I’ll have to do a little more dirt work and excavation to prepare my lot for construction.
I’ve also gotten the plot plan completed since the last project update. The plot plan is a drawing that shows the exact location of the house and deck on the land as it relates to the property lines. That plot plan needed to be officially stamped by an engineer or a surveyor. I got the civil engineer who originally surveyed the property to do the plot plan. It took about a week for the civil engineer to complete and stamp the official plot plan.
One bit of good news is that the house design was approved by the Property Owners Association. As soon as I got that stamped plot plan, I sent it, along with drawings of the home’s exterior elevations and floor plan to the POA. The POA must approve of the house design before I can apply for a building permit.
My POA doesn’t have too many strict design criteria. I think they mainly what to make sure that new homes aren’t going to stick out like sore thumbs in the neighborhood—so, no ultra contemporary architecture, no tiny homes, no weird colors or materials.
Just a few days after dropping off my house design documents at the house of one of the POA members, I got word, by text message, that the house was approved. They didn’t ask for any modifications. I was happy about that.
This week, since the actual house design is finished and approved, I’m going to meet with a home energy rating company so my home’s features can be put into a software program and the house can be modeled to figure out the most appropriate energy efficient features that should be included in the design. Features like overhangs, the type of insulation, the type of windows and an appropriately sized HVAC system. I’ll let you know how that turns out on the next project update.
We’re making progress. It’s slow progress, but it’s progress, so I grateful for that.
I’m also grateful for all of you who listen every week and I’m especially thankful for the really well-written reviews sent in by Woochoa 98, applefam14 and BritishLitChick. Thank you so much for giving back to the podcast by letting everyone know that you find the show helpful. Those reviews also encourage me, so thank you. Well, that’s all I have for you this week. I hope you’ll join me again next week for another episode of BYHYU.
Please remember that the purpose of this podcast is simply to educate and inform. It is not a substitute for professional advice. The information that you hear is based the only on the opinions, research and experiences of my guests and myself. That information might be incomplete, it’s subject to change and it may not apply to your project. In addition, building codes and requirements vary from region to region, so always consult a professional about specific recommendations for your home.