Browsing Topic: General Contractor

We’re holding us up

July 19th, 2008

Due to an unfortunately ambiguous email exchange in regards to our permit requirements it turns out the thing that’s holding up our project at the moment is: us!

Somehow we thought someone else was going to be looking after providing a Grading & Drainage plan for the new house but it seems we were the ones who were actually intended to scout out a Civil Engineer for the task.

Apparently all the other issues have been addressed in a series of email messages referencing building codes and jargon that I confess I could not decipher. Once we have submitted all this additional information, the city may still come back with further concerns (but hopefully not).

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Greener pastures of our own

June 10th, 2008

We’ve found our new project manager!

Last year, our new PM had actually looked at our plans at the request of the architect and turned down the job as he was already stretched thin. He also wasn’t very keen on the stick-frame construction that had been proposed at the time.

Fast-forward a year and it turns out he had been selected by our old PM to lay the Durisol ICFs for the project. But we met with him today and some really interesting things came to light:

  1. He usually works as a general contractor and has a full team of trades on hand to do the work (so he can usually work much faster than other General Contractors who have to hire external trades, whose availability is highly variable).
  2. He’s been building Eco-Block ICF homes for many years and has a wealth of experience with ICF type products.
  3. He seems like just a great, smart guy who will be really easy to work with.
  4. He works on exactly one project at a time.
  5. He works the job site himself, so he’s there all day to make sure things are being done correctly (often by him).
  6. Even our old PM said he thinks we might be in better hands with this fellow, based on his wealth of experience

I think we will be really happy if we have no more surprises on this project, but so far the majority of our surprise “missteps” have actually had us wind up in a better place than before.

The plan is now to start August 1.

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Permit application short on two counts

June 9th, 2008

We received one call and one letter letting us know that our building permit application could not be approved until we:

  1. Submitted a Grading and Drainage Diagram with our build plans (a new requirement for all new construction in the city).
  2. Submitted revised mechanical drawings that show the location of the HRV ducting. (Because our heating system is entirely radiant flooring, one has to show how the ventilation will work.

We’ve asked the Mechanical Engineer to start work on the HRV ducting but we’re not sure who will provide the Grading diagram yet.

Even though it may seem like we have lots of time with our start date being moved back to August 1, we know all too well by now everything that can be rushed, should be rushed or it will never get done.

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Fertilizer for greener pastures

June 2nd, 2008

The Project Manager has received a job offer teaching architecture at a Canadian university and will not be available to help us this summer.


This is suddenly shades of last year, but this time we haven’t just paid for plans. We’ve also paid to design a mechanical system, and bought permits from the city for a house we can’t build.

He is (and we are) working on finding a replacement.

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Redesigning for ICF

March 25th, 2008

Today the architect and Project Manager (PM) had a conference call to discuss the design changes that will be required to move to an ICF system for framing the house.

The PM performed a quick estimate indicating the cost of stick-frame materials and labour would probably be about equal to the materials for ICF. The labour for installing ICF walls for the entire foundation and house came in around $20,000, making it quite reasonable considering it will leave us with around an R50 wall!

Note: The ICFs will frame the house as a ‘box’ only. It seems using ICF for the gables would have involved quite a bit of additional labour so a different wall system will be used for the entire roof area of the house.

The architect has someone redesigning the plans as I type and hopes to have them ready by early next week.

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Contractor selected

March 19th, 2008

After another round of interviews with prospective builders our selection has been made!

To maximize our flexibility in dealing with changes as they arise, we’ve opted for a variation on a “structured management” arrangement with our builder. Technically, we will act as the General Contractor and they will take care of managing all the details, with the exception of signing cheques. (This nicely avoids that nightmare situation where one pays the General Contractor, but the General Contractor doesn’t pay the trades, who then lien the property.)

Another interesting aspect of our arrangement is that the exact fee paid to our ‘project managers’ increases as the total project budget decreases (and vice versa). This provides them with a financial incentive to keep expenses down for us.

But the most important aspect of selecting our builder was a strong sense of trust we have in working with them. All the final candidates seemed like people we could work with but our “warmest, fuzziest” feeling was with our selected builder.

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September 25th, 2007

We had gotten our hopes up pretty high, thinking that we were actually going to be able to build this year, despite the amount of time we had already lost. Also because the general contractor who initially said they thought they could do the job for ‘budget + 10-15%’ came back with a number closer to ‘budget + 80%’.

Even then we weren’t completely convinced we weren’t going ahead: we realized that perhaps we could do it if we could subsidize the mortgage with a rental unit in the basement. This would remove a big part of the functionality of the house we had designed, but it seemed like the only avenue we had to travel if we wanted to build.

The problem with this plan, of course, is that it meant spending even more money (on finishing the rental unit in the basement) to be able to afford the already-over-budget house. We eventually came to the realization that we would be moving outside our financial comfort-zone to proceed with building this year. Plus if we did get into a position where we had to sell the house, we’d never be able to get what it was costing us (once you factor in the what we paid for the land + construction cost).

And there was another issue: when our build-plans started going sour in May, we decide not to put off having kids until after the house was built because we were worried something like this might happen. So part of our urgency to build right now was that we would want to move in to the house in February/March just around the time the baby was born.

While the builder thought this might be possible, we figured that was probably wishful thinking on both our parts. (Possible: I’m sure it is. Probable: I’m sure it isn’t.) We really didn’t want to be stuck somewhere other than a place we call home in those first few months.

We also heard from the junior-architect something we hadn’t heard (or at least can’t remember hearing) before: For 3 months after construction ends there is an enormous amount of fine particulate in the air that acts like “sandpaper for your lungs.” (Oh perfect. That’s where we — and our baby! — want to live. In winter, with the windows sealed shut. Cozy! Just us, our lungs, and the sandpaper.)

Indoor air quality is very important to us since Stacey has asthma. We’re trying to find ways to reduce off-gassing from the building materials as well. By waiting until next year, we’re hoping to have the time to let the house air out some before taking occupancy.

The junior-architect suggested we’d really want to get a secondary high efficiency air filter for the first 3 months, but I think we could reduce the time necessary to clean the air by going in a couple of times per day with a high-pressure air compressor and blasting the walls, floor, etc. to get the dust into the air and thereby into the air-filter.

So, that’s where we are at: waiting for a better time to build. It was also mentioned to us that a report released in the U.S. was predicting that housing starts would drop 50% (!) in 2008. If this does happen, its effects could extend north, and lower construction prices here.

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New builder on the scene

July 17th, 2007

It has been a long 5 weeks since my last post and unfortunately not much as happened as we’ve been mired in budgetary issues… until tonight!

We met with a new builder this evening and he seems to think we can bring our construction project in on budget after all. Wow!

I should mention that we did not try to mess them about. We went with the ‘cards on the table’ approach and informed them that this project was, to others who had seen it, very expensive to build, and that even an independent coster said so. On the other hand, we also did our best to illustrate the design elements that should make it much easier to build.

They need to put in a formal bid, of course, but their initial impression of the plans was that we were not, in fact, building a rocket ship; That while the materials were unique, the way in which the house went together was not all that different from traditional construction. And the house was so well thought out in its design, that it should be reasonably simple to build.

In short: they ‘got it.’

The anticipated construction time would be 6 months, and if all goes really well, we might be able to break ground in September. Here’s hoping!

One item that did concern them (and you should be aware of if you plan to build in the city) is that they were quite keen to be able to put scaffolding on our neighbour’s driveway while building the exterior walls. I hadn’t considered it before but building on a narrow lot such as ours (well, at 25′ ours is actually wide for the area), it would be very difficult to erect an exterior wall if you couldn’t put scaffolding outside the property area (unless it was a VERY narrow house).

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Revising architectural plans

June 9th, 2007

Today we met with the Joanne at her office in Hamilton, along with Alex and a prospective contractor.

The purpose of the meeting was to try to identify the portions of the house which were causing it to be so expensive. We made some good progress and identified the following items:

  • The ‘c’ shape of the house introduces 4 additional corners to the foundation. It would be cheaper/easier to build a rectangular foundation. This means our ‘cold room’ would be inside the foundation, but if it is well insulated from the house interior and unheated, it should provide us with nearly the same effect.
  • The stairs to the basement are quite expensive and could be added at a future date.
  • According to the energy modeling team, the radiant floors on the ground floor and 2nd floor are excessive for our needs. The house’s structure is going to be so efficient, that it simply isn’t going to take much heat to keep the house comfortably. It’s felt this amount of heat can be easily distributed through the ventilation system. Radiant floors should apparently still be used in the basement because, as Alex pointed out: we’re pouring concrete anyway. It’s hardly any extra work to put the tubing down before we do that.
  • Move Stacey’s writing garret inside the roof of the house.
  • And other smaller changes.

That last point is the hardest one on the list. We think that part ads a lot of character to the house and we’ll be quite sad if it has to go to appease the budget gods. Alex is working on an analysis of what savings we might find from each of the features taken away from the house and we’ll make our choices once we know what we’re saving for each item we’re giving up.

We still haven’t settled on a solution to resolve our parking dilemma, but have mentioned the issue to our neighbours to see if they would be interested in creating a shared laneway to the back yard for parking to be set up there. The other option we’re exploring is narrowing the ground floor to leave enough space for a full parking space at the side of the house.

There is a major difference between these approaches as the former only requires 2.2m of space between the houses, whereas the side-parking requires 2.6m of space between our house and the property line. It also leaves the 2nd floor overhanging the first floor. (I can’t say we really understand why the city wants us to make one of these choices instead of just parking in front of our house as we, and as many others on our street, do now.)

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Whatever happened with the general-contractors?

June 1st, 2007

This was very strange.

Two general-contractors were bidding on our project. One needed a little more time, and one needed a lot more time. We granted the long extension (to May 20) and the architect informed the other contractor of the new timeline. (This is not that unusual: their trades and suppliers are all very busy so getting everyone to return their quotes for the work to be done can be challenging.)

Both contractors were really nice and came across as thoroughly professional, but when it came time to turn in the bids, the contractor who needed the longer extension didn’t arrive.

He didn’t call, didn’t return our 2 phone calls or the calls from the architect over the next few days. He just disappeared. The behaviour seems so out of keeping with the fellow we met that we are a bit concerned that he’s been injured on a work-site. It just doesn’t make much sense that he couldn’t take 30 seconds to say “Sorry, I’m just too busy to take on this project” so the only other (disturbing) explanation we’re left with is that he’s unable to contact us.

The one bid we did receive was, unfortunately, well outside our anticipated budget for the project. He called us to let us know that he was keen to sit down and see where the project could be modified/simplified to reduce the budget, which was nice. We’ll probably wind up doing this once we are more certain what direction we’re going in regarding parking.

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