I was trying to wait until we actually started construction before I did another project update, but I know you guys have been wondering what’s been going on since my last update back in September. Well, as you know from the title of the episode, we still haven’t started construction.
Our site has been cleared and leveled, and it’s ready for construction. The floor plan is complete and Keith, the builder I hired as my construction manager, is ready to go. But, for several months, we’ve been waiting on the structural engineer to complete the foundation plan and the other portions of the plan that need to be engineered.
I can’t remember if I told you, but this guy is the second structural engineer that’s worked on the house. We never could get a modified, finalized plan from the first guy, so we moved on to this second engineer, who has been working on the structural plan for several months. He was recommended by the civil engineer who did the survey on our land. This second structural engineer knew we had been delayed by the original engineer and said he had time for the job.
Now granted, I have an challenging, rocky site, but it shouldn’t be taking this long. I asked Keith about it. I asked if he thought the engineer is blowing me off because I’m an owner builder. Keith said "No". He said he has personally had the same experience with this engineer and other structural engineers in our area. He said that they are all notoriously extremely slow.
I think it has to do with the fact that, in our smaller city, there isn’t much competition. There aren’t a lot of structural engineers in the area to choose from. We only have 3 or 4. So there is way more demand than there is supply. The engineers are usually pretty busy and I think they take as long as they want on jobs because they don’t have many competitors.
When I visited Dallas a couple of weeks ago, I asked a builder how long it typically takes for a structural engineer to complete a plan for residential construction. He said a month. A month! Large cities like Dallas have lots more engineers, so structural work is spread out across many more people and each engineer wants to do a good job in a timely manner because they don’t want folks going to their competitors for future jobs.
I was kinda embarrassed to admit to you (and to the my friends) that we haven’t started building. But I realize it’s false shame. It’s not my fault and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. I’ve been calling or emailing the engineer on a weekly basis to pleasantly ask “how it’s going?”, hoping that being a squeaky wheel will speed him up, but that hasn’t worked. It’s soooo frustrating. If I could go on You Tube to learn how to design a structurally sound foundation, I would have done that a long time ago. But all I can do is wait on him.
My plan was to start construction in the fall, when the prices for lumber and other materials are low and weather is typically pretty good. But I have obviously missed that deadline. The only bright side of all of this is that this past fall was especially rainy in my region. Keith, the builder, said that this is one of the rainiest autumns he can remember. Our autumn weather is typically comfortably cool and dry. He said, “if it makes you feel any better, we wouldn’t have made much progress this past fall anyway. If you had gotten the framing done, it would have been sitting out in the rain for many days.”
That did make me feel better. If I had gotten too much rain on your house frame, I would be more frustrated than I am now. To hear what too much rain can do to the frame of your house, take a listen to episode 106 called “My Framing Lumber is Getting Soaked by Rain! Is That Okay?”
Another thing that makes me feel better is that lumber prices have continued to drop. They are even lower than they were in the fall. I wondered if I would be allowed to purchase the lumber now, since prices are so low, and just have the lumber yard hold it until we are ready for them to deliver it. Keith said lumber yards typically will hold lumber in their yard for about 60 days. Since we may or may not be ready for lumber in 60 days, I’m hesitant to make that purchase right now. I don’t just want the lumber sitting out on my lot in the elements, soaking up moisture and tempting thieves. I could rent a shelter for the lumber, but that would probably eat up any savings I would get by purchasing it now. So, I’m probably gonna wait a little while longer. Hopefully, we will be able to make that purchase before spring, when prices usually start going up.
Thankfully, because I live in the south, we usually have fairly mild winters, so starting construction in the winter, though not ideal, is possible.
I called a meeting last week with my architect, Keith, and the structural engineer. We all got together so we could clarify things in person and get answers to questions immediately, instead of communicating through text or email, which can take more time. It was a productive. At the end of the meeting, I touched the engineer’s arm, looked him in the eye and said, “I know you probably have other projects that you’re working on, but would you please prioritize my house? I think I’ve paid my dues in both time and patience.” He smiled and said he would. We’ll see.
There is one school of thought that you should put a completion deadline in your contracts when building a house. If the sub or professional exceeds that deadline, a portion of his fee will be deducted for each day or week he is late. That idea seems like a good one, except that you don’t want the people working for you to rush through their work and cut corners in order to meet a deadline. I don’t know what the right answer is. And I don’t know what I could have done to avoid this delay. This engineer came recommended and he said he had time for the project.
While I’ve been waiting, I’ve continued to look at Pinterest and Houzz and solidified some design ideas, like what color cabinetry will go where and what type flooring I want in each room. I’ve gone to showrooms like Ferguson and narrowed down my options for bathtubs, sinks, faucets, toilets and lighting. I’ve ordered samples of wood and stone. So, I haven’t been sitting idly by, doing nothing, but I just want to get started. I prayed about it and I’ve done my part and that’s all I can do.
Thankfully, most of you won’t need a structural engineer, so you won’t have to deal with this type of delay. If you have purchased a fairly typical lot, on stable soil, and you don’t have a very complex house plan, the odds of you needing a structural engineer are slim. To learn more about whether you might need a structural design, take a listen to episodes 3 and 4 called “Do you need a structural engineer?” And if you do, and live in a larger city, you probably won’t encounter the delays that we have.
Anyway, that’s our update. Not the best news, but it could always be worse. I’m being forced to develop patience and realize that I can’t always be in control. It hasn’t been fun, but it’s not hurting me, it will ultimately help me— help me to develop into a better, more patient person.
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 and it’s subject to change, so 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.
1/27/2019 07:48:15 am
WOW. I started listening to this podcast recently, from the beginning and have been working my way up through the list and thought FOR SURE you would be completely done and moved in by now since the first episode is now from over two YEARS ago!! How incredibly frustrating. I can't believe your structural engineer has been putting you off since September. No mater how busy he is, that is completely unacceptable. It sounds like you are such a nice person and don't want to step on any toes, but it doesn't sound like you are being assertive enough. Too laid back and you become a doormat. If you are going to build your own house, you need to be able to manage your team appropriately - as you've talked about on this podcast. But calling every week for five months saying "How's it going?" obviously isn't working. It's not going. At all. I'm not saying you need to be a jerk and cuss him out, but I think it's completely acceptable to summarize how long you've been waiting (HOLY COW 5 MONTHS), and say you need it completed by X date as he alone is stalling the entire project and putting you and your team in jeopardy.
1/27/2019 02:06:55 pm
I hear you Katy. For perspective, the goal in my first 2 years of the podcast was do research to prepare me to build, so haven't be waiting to build for over 2 years. I agree, this whole structural engineer situation is unacceptable. Since he is the second engineer who has worked on the project, I'm not eager to pass it on to a 3rd engineer in a larger city, but I guess I'll have to consider that if he doesn't work out.
1/28/2019 05:36:02 pm
I can empathize with you on the delay. I live in the south also and we started officially our project effort in August 2018 with the first steps being 1. hiring a build yourself construction consultant that provided advise on the building process to get us going and 2. hiring an architect, since drawings/design are a key component to getting started. We already had our lot picked out that was purchased two years ago. And I also taught myself how to use Chief Architect, 6 months prior, and had a concept already drawn out that we shared with the architect, including roof lines - which can be tricky to figure out as well; I like to say we gave him 90% of the solution; all we needed was the detailing out of the concept and ensuring IRC stds were followed. Nevertheless, our architect took a long time to submit drawings for our review. We kept hearing that we would get them soon, next week, etc. and nothing would happen. Well, early December came around and our architect finally submitted drawings, after numerous phone calls and false promises. I am an engineer by training and noticed lots of errors and poor attention to detail when reviewing the drawings. So, naturally, I bled all over the drawings with red ink. We haven't heard from this person since; it is now end of January and we are still waiting. Knowing something was wrong and wanting to do something, in early January, I decided to pursue a parallel path with another architect. This has been working out so far and my wife and I are happy with the results and how our concept is being morphed into final drawings with details. We are now on the verge of submitting our final design to the structural engineering house, which has a good reputation in our area. They are quoting 3 to 4 weeks to get engineering completed for both framing and foundation work and have even contacted us to find out where we are at with our drawings, so they can get going. I will also be bringing onboard a civil engineer that can create a detailed grading plan that includes drainage engineering. Lessons learned from the above said: 1. Be careful who you give money to. We gave architect #1 2000USD to get started and will have to figure something out to try and get this money back, assuming this person has run away and is now basically hiding from us; this person doesnt answer his phone very often. 2. Ask architects what software they use. It is my opinion that 3D software for home design must be employed. Architect #1 used 2D software and this becomes a challenge when matching roof lines with elevation drawings and so forth. Consistency becomes a challenge and checking that actual lines drawn in 2D make sense in 3D (i.e constructability) becomes challenging and only sets you up for change orders and delays in the actual construction process. Hope this helps.
1/29/2019 05:50:32 am
I feel your frustration Joe, but we’ll get there! Thanks for your insight.
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