If all goes well– and, as someone who almost just lost the tip of a finger to a kitchen utensil (the irony of that is not lost on me, by the way) I can attest that occasionally all does not go well– but assuming the best relating to fingertips and floor plans for the rest of this week, by Friday I’ll have a full set of complete plans in my slightly bandaged hand.
For those of you who don’t know, I often threaten to lose a finger to one of my big power tools but very rarely try to make good on the promise through sheer stupidity. Today was an exception.* Relating to the more important topic of this post, however, I started working with my favorite architect on the plans for my new little cottage about two months ago, and we’ve just about hit the finish line for the first phase of this project. Here’s a quick recap of the process:
- I started out with a few ideas, general size, list of requirements, and inspiration photos, which I talked over with my architect back in November.
- The first version of the floor plan (and some rough sketches of the elevation) were ready to look at just before Thanksgiving. I spent a few weeks looking over them, got some other opinions, and came up with a short list of changes.
- The plans were refined, and a set of floor plans and elevations was ready for final tweaking, which included just a few small changes.
Which brings us to today, about eight weeks later, where I’ll soon have a full set of plans (which will include things like the foundation plan, roof plan and structure details) that can be used for cost estimates, lumber takeoffs, cabinet plans, and making scale cutouts of my furniture to play a grownup version of dollhouse with. Oh yeah, and building the thing.
I can tell you my fingers are itching to pick up hammer and get to work, but there’s quite a bit more planning and prep (and that one pesky detail about finding a place to build it) before the sawdust starts flying. The biggest decision I have to make at this point is how much work I’ll be doing on the cottage, and who will be helping me with the rest.
With the DIY House Addition on Memorial the idea was to do as much of the construction myself as possible. There were a couple of things going for me with that project, like the ability to live on site (albeit in a garage), the fact that the utilities were already hooked up, and, of course, I happened to have live-in help with the heavy lifting.
The story for Hillside Cottage is a bit different. Unless I decide to take crazy to a whole new level and live in my car for a few months (not entirely implausible) I won’t be able to stay on site. And with a much shorter timeline– my lease is up in four months– I don’t have the luxury of juggling the building after hours and on the weekends like I did with Memorial. Which means I’m going to have to do the one thing I hate most: Ask for help.
Well, let’s be honest here… pay for help. With Memorial I essentially acted as the general contractor for the subs we used, and while I’m considering doing the same for Hillside Cottage, it’s probably going to go a lot faster if I get someone to manage the details. So I’ve started the process of finding a builder who– god willing— I won’t be tempted to hit over the head with a shovel and bury in the back yard in the next six months.
While I haven’t had any outstanding contractor experiences yet (which explains why I decided to get my own builders license) I have learned a lot along the way, so here’s what I’m doing to make sure I get the best fit for my project:
- Asking around. First on my list of people to talk to are contractors other people have used and had good experiences with. As it turns out, however, not a lot of people have built a house without some drama. I also went outside the box on this one and contacted the building inspector and one of the guys who taught my builders licensure classes in the area for recommendations– if you want to know who does good work and who doesn’t, the guy who inspects all the buildings is the person to ask.
- Getting multiple quotes (and multiple types of quotes). With one exception we had good experiences with everyone who worked on Memorial, but for things like the rough framing and HVAC, we we under a time crunch and didn’t get multiple quotes. Big mistake. Not only am I asking for detailed quotes from multiple builders, I’m asking to have them itemized so I know what projects it makes the most money sense for me to tackle myself.
- Asking for references– and going to see the work. I absolutely will not hire anyone to build me a house without seeing the type of work they’ve done for other people first hand. Its not just about trust, it’s about the fact that we might have different definitions of the word “good.”
- Checking them out. I don’t solely rely on reviews posted on the internet, but that doesn’t mean I don’t do a good number of google searches on anyone I’m thinking about working with. An actual good old fashioned type-their-name-in-google search is a good way to go, as is checking them out on the BBB website, Angie’s List, and verifying that they are actually licensed. For more information about rules regarding people who build houses, check out this post.
While I do have some lamps and a bed to build, for the next two weeks my focus is going to be getting a piece of property under contract and searching out the right builder. Then it’s full steam ahead with material take-offs and building stuff for the new place.
Do any of you have good/bad contractor experiences to share or any insight on how to find the best builder?
*Also, for any of you who are actually worried about my finger (hi mom!) despite the copious amounts of blood it basically turned out to be a really bad puncture. 17 hours later I can tell you I’m not going to loose the finger, but I have lost all feeling on half of my finger tip… here’s hoping that comes back to me in the next couple of days or the number of typos on this website is going to quadruple.