Designing Winter’s Hope
I decided to write a few diary-type entries on the process of building our new home in rural Washington as a means of remembering how far we have come on this journey. This was prompted the other day by a drywall contractor’s questions when he learned we had done all the work ourselves. “You did the electrical wiring?” “Yes.” “You did the metal roof yourself?” “Yes.” “You did everything yourself?” “Everything except the spray foam insulation.” “Hunh.”
Yes, we were able to finagle a contractor to do the drywalling and if you find yourself building a home with a twenty-four-foot ceiling, I highly recommend that you do the same. The drywall used on ceilings is thicker at five-eighths inch and weighs seventy pounds per sheet. Imagine hauling a four-by-eight-foot sheet up three levels of scaffolding and then lifting it over head into just the right spot. Then do that thirty more times. Drywall is a young person’s job, a young person with thick, juicy cartilage and spinal discs.
We have only been able to get two contractors out here and they were the spray foam insulation and the sheetrock. We did try to contract out the electrical but the only bid we could get was more than four times what it should have been, and they were going to charge us for three different electrical permits, saying it was “required.” Excuse me? Why not just say, “We know you have no other options besides us so we are going to charge you an extreme fee. Because we can.”
Let’s see, what else did we try to contract out? Oh yes, the installation of insulation batts (over twenty thousand dollars for our $1500 square foot house). We flirted with having the siding and metal roof done but no one would come out here. We are still looking at gutter contracting but it is looking the same. As one guy in Seattle said, “It’s just not worth it for us to find guys to come out there, take time away from their families and other jobs, and try to pass the expense on to you. It ends up being too expensive for you and no one wants to go all the way to Forks.” I would argue that in summertime plenty of people come to Forks, but not to work and round it goes. We got very, very lucky that the well drilling company we contacted from Tacoma wanted to come out here because they have a sailboat moored nearby. And we paid them an extra thousand dollars.
I have heard there are local contractors and have seen some of the work they did many years ago but they seem to have all retired or moved on to other areas. We were unable to get any local contractors to commit to doing jobs for us. So, that is how we ended up building a house with just our own hands. We were encouraged by a brother engineer who said, “Sure, we can get the house framed up, no problem! It will be a fun project!” And it began…
First, we looked at kit homes. These are homes, many in a log cabin style, that you pick and the company sends you the plans and the materials. Pan Abode is a popular company but we couldn’t find one that was a good fit for our needs. They were either too small or too big; we needed the Baby Bear size of being just right. After searching the internet for home plans and coming up with several that were just okay but not exciting, we decided to reach out to an architect and design our own.
For us, this was a very big step. Neither of us had ever owned a brand-new house, much less designed one! We talked with several architects and chose to work with an architect in Idaho. Rhonda with Wemhoff Architecture had a wonderful “desk-side manner,” as I like to call it, and educated us about how to design a house. We showed her pictures of things we liked and she very quickly drew up ideas on our first visit. She had wonderful ideas about sight line and roof pitch that we wouldn’t have known to consider. If you are brand new to building a house, definitely meet with your architect and see how well they listen to you. If you leave the meeting feeling excited, that is the architect for you!
The day we got the finished drawings, oh my gosh, we were elated!
That view named Rear Elevation is basically a wall of glass with just few breaks between the windows. It would face east toward the river and we could see the bald eagles flying above the river and maybe even the salmon swimming upstream. I could already envision myself, cup of tea in hand, gazing out the many, many windows at the green ferns, the stormy gray skies, and the deer frolicking between the trees.
The area in which we are building has a few issues to consider, including seismic activity (the Olympic Mountains are not volcanic but the Cascades are and they are basically in our side yard, as volcanoes go), wind speed (150 mph winds from those hearty storms off the Pacific), tsunamis and flooding, and then something that was new to me called liquefaction. Our architect recommended an engineer to look at the plans and create building designs that would conform to the code requirements for our beautiful glass box. Paul Hopkins at TD&H Engineering made our dream home come true and up to code!
The county then approved the plans, with a few flourishes of their own, and we were off! First order of business was to see about getting the specialty strong frame from Simpson ordered. This frame would allow the Rear Elevation, the back wall that is pretty much all windows, to meet code. It has to be manufactured to specific requirements for this house. It is the thing in color below
Chris sent the specs to Simpson. He got the quote back for this metal frame that goes inside the walls –
THIRTY THOUSAND DOLLARS
Our budget does not allow for a $30k frame inside the house. We didn’t know it yet but at the time we would be buying lumber would go down in history as the highest prices for lumber ever. We certainly could not put such a large chunk of budget toward the frame.
Would we have to give up on this dream house? Chris and I were despairing at this point. But then I emailed Rhonda and Paul and asked if there was any way we could redesign the house to not need this strong frame?
And, oh my gosh, they figured out a way! All we had to do was get rid of some windows and, voila! Winter’s Hope is back on track to become a reality. Moral to this story is that there will always be bumps along the path; find a way around them, be flexible, ask for help. You will get through and make your dreams come true.
And here is a peak of the house as it looks in real life on August 17, 2022
More to follow!