Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Clearing out those pesky trees

So, I hate to see them go, but we do need a spot to build a house, and the county seems to frown on treehouses. I'd like to have cut them down myself, but we need the root balls removed as well, and the fastest way to do that is to push them over. I debated renting a loader and pushing them over myself, but the internet scared me off with stories of destroying $50k machines. Plus, when Matt over at Banks Septic recommended Brandon Waters Grading out of Gainesville, GA, the choice became alot easier. Brandon quoted me a great price that I could not refuse. His references (both builders and homeowners) speak highly of him. No, he doesn't have a website, no storefront, no employees. He's a one man show, so it keeps his costs down, so you get the best price. I was amazed at what he accomplished in one day with his loader and a chainsaw. All the trunks were stacked in one location, root balls in another, and branches in a third. He's going to haul away the root balls, just like I requested. We'll take care of the branches with a chipper/shredder (that's the current plan).


Looking back out toward the street. Yeah, we're about 3 telephone poles off the street.

Day one of Brandon Waters Grading with his loader:

Timber!!! It's amazing what you can do with a 38,000lbs machine:

Viewing the aftermath of Day 1:

That's alot of work out of one man!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

We need water!

So, we have a well on the property we purchased, but we really didn't know what kind of shape it was in. There's just a PVC pipe sticking out of the ground with a PVC cap on the end. I checked some plats on file with the county, and it looks like it showed up sometime in the late 80's. I opened it up, and can see water reflecting my flashlight back to me, so I know there is water down there. The question is, how deep is it and how fast can you pump it out without it going dry (recovery rate)? Back in February, we decided to find out.

To figure out the recovery rate, we needed a well pump, but we didn't have any electricity on the property yet, and I don't own a generator (well, I almost bought one second hand, until I asked the guy selling it to plug something into the generator to test it. Nothing. I said, "That was kind of a feature I was looking for in a generator...the ability to generate electricity." He apologized profusely and admitted that he never tested it. It was his father-in-laws and apparently the motor didn't start until he fixed that. He assumed that was all that was wrong with it. So, no generator...yet). We also wanted to know the state of the well, so we hired Paul Fonzo, owner of All Purpose Well Drilling, to come out and take a look. He was happy to give advice on how we could determine the depth of the water and the well on our own, but to determine recovery rate we were going to have to pump it. It always impresses me when a contractor is willing to explain how you can do the job yourself, rather than hire him to do it. I'd recommend All Purpose Well Drilling to anyone needing their well serviced in the area of Cumming, GA.

Paul has an LED camera to scope the well, so you can tell if there are any issues with the casing or the walls of the well itself.

Take a look inside our well. You can see cracks in the stone that look sort of tan. This is where the water seeps into the well.

Using the meter on the camera, we determined that the static water level was 35ft and the well was 330ft deep. Now for the recovery rate test. Paul's team has a pump on a coil of pipe on a trailer that they can lower into the well and run off a generator. Here's what this process looks like:

So, we pumped at about 30gal/min, and pumped the well dry in 15 minutes. I think I remember Paul saying that a well that was roughly 6" in diameter holds about 1.5 gallons. Since your well was 330 feet deep with the static water level of 35 ft, we had 295ft of water in the well. This equates to 442.5 gallons, give or take. Remember, we pumped about 450 gallons in 15 minutes, so that means in 15 minutes we gained about 7.5 gallons, or a recovery rate of 1/2 gallon per minute. That sounds pretty bad, but when you do the math, that's 720 gallons a day or ~21,100/month. Looking at our water bill, the most we've used was 15,000 gallons, and that was because we had a leak. About 8,000 gallons is the norm for our active family of five.

Now Paul recommends we shoot for at least 5 gallons/minute recovery rate, to get you through the drought, when the water level can drop. He suggested we go down another 200ft to see if we could get better flow, but warned that "you never know." This well drilling business is a bit like gambling. He told me what trees would need to be taken down to get the drilling rig into position.

After the family and I cut down the trees and cleared the spot by hand, we scheduled him to come back out (about a month later, in April). This time, we got to see the big rig!

Here's some footage of the drill in action. The first one is of them lowering a section of drill pipe into the well:

Here's one of them adding another section of pipe to the drill. Basically, they have a thing that holds several sections of drill pipe along side the drill boom/tower. They just rotate it over and connect another section of pipe in. It's pretty cool to see in person, but if you squint real hard, you can see it:

Well, around at around 410ft, they started pumping alot of sand. Paul stopped the drilling and just ran the pump for a long while, waiting for the sand to clear. Apparently, sand is not something you want to hit while drilling. Not really something you want to drink, either. He suggested we shutdown for the day and try pumping it again tomorrow, after everything settled out. The next day, we pumped a little more sand, then it ran clear. We did some recovery rate tests and determined that we were right at 5 gallons/minute. Done!

He'll come back later, when we have the property cleared and electricity to set the pump and a temporary tank for the construction phase.

Monday, June 27, 2011

House number 2

   House number 2 (or actually house number 3, but we won't talk about the first one).  We decided to stick with Debie's SunPlans designs.  I wanted something quite a bit smaller, as I figure we could go with smaller bedrooms (how much time do you really spend in there), but my wife is used to much bigger bedrooms. We decided to go with something in between. I have to admit, I might have suggested the 1400 sqft house for the "shock and awe" factor, but I think it would work. There would be some culture shock, but it would work. I grew up with 3 siblings in a house about that size. We just spent alot of time outside. She also insists on a basement, which I like, but question the bang for the buck. Don't get me wrong, I want one, I just don't want to pay for one. Given the plague of storms and tornadoes that have swept through the southeast, I lost that battle.

    I really liked tower in the Windy Corner, but it didn't have enough bedrooms. We liked the layout of the Fairy Tale, but I needed a bit more character. Since you can alter plans if you purchase the copyright release, we decided to do that and purchased the Windy Corner plans. We'll meld the two plans together and call it what? The Windy Tale or the Fairy Tale Corner?

   We had decided to go back to Rhonda at Southland Custom Homes in Dawsonville, because she was such a joy to work with.   They have the most transparent pricing model with near realtime pricing on most things that are considered "normal".   Rhonda is a real asset to the company. With her price book, you can immediately know what that extra item will cost you. This makes it easier to decide just what to add, and what you can live without. If it's not in the price book, she's happy to get a quote from their vendors. She even entertained some of our "wild" ideas, like geothermal HVAC, SuperiorWalls for the basement, those "special" high SHGC windows, and installing a custom masonry heater like the ones from Not that these are wild ideas, but they are definitely not the norm.

   Basically, with Southland Custom Homes, you can pick one of their many homes and tweak it to suit your needs.  They have pricing published online, which let's you get a feel for how much it could cost to build your home.  This is great, because we didn't find alot of websites that showed you actual pricing.  There are things that are not included in that sticker price (basement, stone, brick, and fireplace), but those are clearly stated.  Site prep is another thing that can be quite pricey, depending on how much "prep" your lot needs (sewer or septic, water or well, electricity, gas, clearing trees, permits, driveway, etc...), but Rhonda went over all of this during our initial meeting.  You can get a pretty close estimate after a few hours with Rhonda, if you need to tweak the design to suit your needs (after all, making changes is what makes it your own).

  After you've decided you are ready to take the plung, you sign a drafting agreement with Southland Custom Homes and pay them a fee for their time to draft the changes and do a more formal estimation.  Let's say you have your own plan or you like one from another site, not a problem.  They will purchase the necessary copyrights or formally draft the one that you've hand drawn.  Alan took our purchased plan and incorporated all of our changes into it.  He had to tweak a few things to account for structural concerns about spans, but the first pass was pretty much what we asked for.  Of course, after we got it back and reviewed it with Rhonda, we saw some changes that needed to be made for increased functionality.  It's all part of the process. 

More to follow, I'm being called to dinner.

What kind of house should we build?

That is the question, isn't it. What kind of house should we build?

    We know we wanted an energy efficient home, but we didn't want to make too many sacrifices in comfort.  We currently have decent size family (3 kids living with us and one that has moved out)  and in-laws that come to visit frequently, so we can't get away with alot of the smaller houses that the energy efficient plans tend to use.  Our two youngest (boy and girl) are currently share a bedroom, but they are getting older, they need separate bedrooms.  This is another reason we started looking for a bigger house.

     We scoured the internet and came across Debie Rucker Coleman's Passive Solar designs at  Passive Solar design basically is about situating your house so that the majority of the windows are on the south facing wall.  The difference between today's version and the one from the 70's that your parents probably remember, is that they realize that too much sun can be a bad thing.  Today's plans use bigger overhangs, so the windows are fully shaded in the summer, and partially in the spring and fall.  This keeps out the heat of the sun when you don't want it, and let's it in during the winter, when the sun is lower on the horizon.  They also use more thermal mass (stone, tile, concrete) on the interior of the home to absorb and release heat, thus reducing large temperature swings.  Check out her book for more information and her learn more page.

   We decided on the Moravian Falls design, which I thought was perfect, albeit larger than I'd planned.  We initially planned on contracting it ourselves, so we started getting bids on the different items.  We sent out for quotes for SIP (Structural Insulated Panels) walls and roof that the plan called for, metal roof, and ICF foundation.  (Upon reading more about ICFs, they don't appear to be appropriate for areas with a high risk for termite infestations.  Code says you can use them, but you must apply chemical soil treatments for termite prevention. )   Her plans do come with alternative construction techniques, such as regular shingles, framed walls, etc..., but I figured we'd price it out as drawn.  We spent several months researching and getting quotes (or attempting to get quotes).  We also had a few contractors bid on the job using the more conventional construction methods. 

    In the end, it was a real eye opener.  The house was simply out of our budget, although Southland Custom Homes was far lower than the other quotes.  Rhonda, with Southland Custom Homes, has a infectious enthusiasm about her job that really gets you excited about building.  We found her a pleasure to work with.  Unfortunately, for everyone involved, there is no real good way to find that out, without spending alot of time estimating.  So, back to the drawing board.  Luckily, Debie over at SunPlans, Inc has a "Clunker Trade-In" and other specials, which allowed us to purchase a different set of plans at a substantial discount.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

In The Beginning...

It all started with the purchase of 5 hens (or pullets as they call them before a year old)...

     Well, maybe it started a bit before that...

     A friend of ours was moving to Chicago and getting ready to sell her house. Her neighbor was short selling their house, so we went for a look. Turns out, she wasn't actually approved for a shortsale quite yet, but the damage was done, we now had the house buying bug, so we kept looking. Shortsales and foreclosures. We looked, we bid, we lost, rinse, and repeat. 
   Then it happened.  We found a foreclosure with around 20 acres (10 pasture, 10 wooded, and a horse barn) at a great price...too good to be true? Sure enough, the realtors didn't check their facts. As I dug into deed books, I discovered that the lot had been split into two. The house was on a small flag shaped lot, and the pasture and woods around it were already sold. Disappointment again, but the seed of having a farm was planted in my brain. From that point forward, we only looked at farm property. If it has more than 10 acres and in our price range and in Forsyth county (Georgia), the house was a dump. If the house was nice, it was outside of the county, and Dylan would have to switch schools---to a high schooler, this would be devastating, so we kept looking.
     Eventually, we found 12 acres (foreclosure) for sale, but it was just a lot--no house. The price was a bit more than we wanted to spend, but pretty cheap per acre compared to what was on the market. The downside was that there was no house, and it was fully wooded. Being fully wooded would not have been bad, had we not wanted some pasture land (for chickens, turkeys, cows, goats, etc...).   Well, not having ever cleared land or created a pasture (outside of seeding my lawn), I figured it couldn't be that hard. So, we bought the land, although everyone wasn't exactly on board just yet.  My wife, Cindy, had expressed reservations.   She was a bit out of her comfort zone, and thought we might eventually find what we were looking for, if we just waited.   She was probably right, but I'm a Taurus, and a bit stubborn, as bulls can be.  I figured it would be good for everyone to learn a bit more about where their food comes from and to build something from the ground up.   More on that later.  Back to the chickens.
     Our son, Dylan, really got the farm bug. He'd already raised Bearded Dragons, which he fully paid for himself, but now he wanted to raise some chickens to supply us with eggs. We were a bit reluctant to start this at our current house, but after checking our HOA covenants and not finding anything prohibiting chickens (as long as the pets weren't deemed "noxious"), we agreed to let him get some chickens. We picked them up from the local feed and seed store on March 21, 2010.

     While the chicks were nice and toasty inside the basement in the Rubbermaid storage box, Dylan started working on their coop.
   The coop was made out of an old, kids' play-cabin with a framed "run" attached to it. He built it by himself, with minor guidance on things like how to attach a door to a plastic cabin, keeping the "run" from falling over, attaching a roost to the cabin, etc...).   No chicken wire on yet, just framed out with drainage ditches dug.
 The chicks grew fast. At almost one month old, they were already starting to look like real, albeit skinny, chickens.
     Dylan and his friend, Leland, named the hens gender appropriate names, such as Bob, George, Tyson, Lady, and Rex. Okay, so not gender appropriate, but names none-the-less.

  • Tyson is a Buff Orpington (lays light brown eggs),

  • Lady a Silverlaced Wyandotte (lays speckled, brown eggs),

  • Rex a Wheaten Ameraucana (aka "Easter Egger", because it lays colored eggs),

  • Bob and George are Rhode Island Reds (medium brown eggs).

On August 12, 2010, we got our first eggs. It was pretty exciting.  They came from the Rhode Island Reds, which are very reliable egg layers.  The first ones were a little small, which is expected, but now they are about the size of the large eggs you buy at the grocery store.  The difference is, we know exactly when these eggs were laid.