Monthly Archives: April 2013

About the Site (the building site, not the website)

Well, we have our “bit of earth”- about 3/4 of an acre of property, and about half of that is a sunken marshy area with a cattle pass leading onto it. There are no cattle there nowadays, but due to it being low ground we can’t build there anyway. So that leaves us with about 1/3 of an acre to build on, and we have to do some careful measuring and juggling to fit some key elements onto it.


The view looking from the road (and the corner of the trailer)

First- a well needs to be dug. We need to find out just how far from the road/property line it needs to be, according to code.

Second- a septic system needs to be put in. Per the building code, the septic tank needs to be at least 50 ft away from the well and the leach field needs to be at least 100 ft away, for pretty obvious reasons.

Third- a house needs to go up! Lengthy discussions and sketches and “bring-a-tape-measure-outside-to-see-exactly-what-this-will-look-like” sessions have led us to the conclusion that this house will be “compact”- not tiny per se, but certainly not sprawling. This is actually just what I was hoping for, but my gosh did the outline look tiny (TINY) when we measured it out!

Property map

Property map

The septic system is going to be on the lowest part of the property, and the well on the highest part, so there’s no possibility of septic runoff into our well area. So, looking at the diagram, you can see that there’s really only one way to set this up while adhering to the code.

Also, see that trailer sitting there, right on the site of our future well? That’s gotta go, either as a whole or in scrap pieces. It’s a bit of an uninhabitable wreck, but there are definitely some salvageable pieces on it if we do decide to scrap it. Our neighbors have assured us they will be oh-so-happy to see it go, and so will we 🙂

Inventory and Things To Do

I wanted to quickly summarize where we are in the home-building process. But first, a random picture of our beautiful child:

Get a load of those cheeks!

Get a load of those cheeks!

What we have so far:

  • One (1) parcel of land, approximately 3/4 of an acre in size
  • One (1) burning desire to build a house
  • One (1) bank account with not enough money in it
  • Some tools and stuff

Things that we need to do next:

  • Find an architect. Not only is this required for getting a building permit, but we’re also building with ICFs, which means that the walls of the house will be literally cast in concrete once they’re finished. Also, have you ever tried to sketch house plans? We have, and it’s pretty fun until you realize that your stairs run straight into a blank wall, the master bathroom has windows facing out into the hallway and one of the bedrooms is not actually accessible from anywhere else in the building. (Not kidding, this is what actually happened.)
  • Find a septic engineer. This is also required for a building permit. The calculations themselves aren’t actually all that difficult. Our land is in a pretty rural area, so we have no option for city sewer, city water or other nice things like that.
  • Talk to well-drilling people, to get quotes.

Local friends: do you have anyone you could recommend for us?

Why ICFs? (And what *are* ICFs?)

(… and what’s wrong with good old-fashioned wood anyway?)

So, you may be asking yourself: what the heck are these ICF thingys and what are the benefits of using them?

See? Doesn't look like a concrete bunker at all! (And the page I stole this from has some good stuff about ICFs and their insulating properties).

See? Doesn’t look like a concrete bunker at all! (And the page I stole this from has some good stuff about ICFs and their insulating properties).

Okay, so it’s really simple – ICF stands for Insulated Concrete Forms, and they’re like big legos for adults. They’re made of 2 polystyrene (think styrofoam) boards held together by plastic, and they stack easily together to create hollow walls. These walls are then filled with poured cement, and voila! you have an insulated concrete house that can be finished to look like pretty much any other building on the market (don’t picture Soviet Russia here – it doesn’t wind up looking like a concrete bunker, unless of course you WANT it to).

ICFs are, as I already mentioned, super insulated, due to the polystyrene the blocks are made out of. This means heating and cooling costs go way down (go green!) and it’s a lot cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.

Speaking of saving money, ICFs are (supposedly anyway) very easy to work with – again, think legos for adults – and my husband and I are REALLY excited to do as much of the work as possible ourselves. Will we need help with things like digging the foundation and pouring the concrete? Yeah, probably. But laying out and putting up the walls, we’ll be all over that, no additional work crew needed (edit: this does not include any close and dearly loved family members who will be conscripted politely requested to help us out here).

Another bonus? The insides of ICF homes are nice and quiet because of the thickness of the walls. This is a particularly good thing for us, because our lot is beside a county highway, and I’m not a big fan of hearing traffic go by 24/7!

Also, not that it’s really a concern in our area, but all that concrete pretty much makes these houses hurricane proof. Hundred-mile-an-hour winds? Not a problem, these walls will stay standin’. The Third Little Piggy would approve.

The Husband: “Nice post! Though I don’t know if it will convince all the unbelievers — like your uncle [he’s a carpenter]. He thinks that building with anything other than sticks is eccentric and unnecessary and will end in tears. Except you shouldn’t write that because one day he will come across this blog and then I will be in trouble.”

The First Post

Yay! We have a blog!

So first thing, Disclaimer: Although the heading of the blog is “how one family built their dream home”, at this point it’s actually more about “how one family decided to build something that might someday become their dream home… it might actually be more of a nightmare… we don’t know… stay tuned”. But as you can see, that would be far too long for the heading, so I decided to bend the truth a little.

My wife, I and our 9-month-old baby are going to build a house. We’re going to build this house with insulated concrete forms (ICFs) because those things are awesome, energy efficient, green and sustainable. We’re going to do most of the work ourselves because we’re trying to save money and because it’ll be fun. And we’re going to blog about it, because that seems to help keep things organized.