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Friday, February 4, 2011
The Best Property and Location for Your Log Home
The Best Property and Location for Your Log Home
When I first started constructing log homes, the last thing on my mind was if the lot was suited for it or not. Being the builder versus being the owner, you would think that it didn't matter what I thought of the property. In most cases this is true, until I started constructing my second log home. The owner, being fairly wealthy, had chosen a lot on top of a steep hill with a rutted gravel path to the top. He chose the lot because you could see a small sliver of the lake a mile away. Not exactly a million dollar view, but one that suited the owner. I believe that if he knew what type of logistical problem he had presented us with, he would have purchased a different lot.
The first time I tried to go to the top of this hill in my truck, I had to stop, back down and get a running shot to make it. Now this wasn't like a fifty foot hill to the top of a flat site, no it was a little over a quarter mile of switchbacks with some areas being as steep as forty-five degrees. Once I made it to the top I thought, well I got up here, no problem. At the end of that same week one of my employees jack knifed the company truck with the tool trailer behind it on the same hill. We ended up bringing in a backhoe to get them both up the hill and spent about $250.00 repairing the hitch on both the truck and the trailer. The following week I ordered concrete for the footings that we had just excavated. When I ordered the concrete I made sure to tell the dispatcher that they needed to bring their six wheel drive trucks to make it up the hill. Needless to say the first truck to try the hill not only got stuck halfway up the hill but he also spilled about one third of the load on the steepest part of the slope.
Knowing that I had very little time before the concrete started to set up in the truck, I sent the second truck back to the plant. (It still cost us for both full loads) Then I called a local excavating contractor to bring in a D-8 Caterpillar dozer to ease the truck back off the hill. Once the dozer and operator arrived at the site (about an hour after the truck driver panicked) we attempted to get the concrete truck to the top of the hill and salvage what concrete was left. Once again fate had different plans, it turned out that the loaded truck was just to heavy for the dozer. We eventually dumped the load of concrete over the side of the hill and eased the truck and driver back down to the bottom (the driver refused to ever come back to the site). After making a call to my boss and after he made a call to the owner, it was decided that we needed to rebuild the road to allow for a better access to the site. Considering that before we even started construction I had three loads of crush and run spread on the drive, it turned out to be useless. After talking to the owner of the dozer, I made arrangements to have the road bed cut down, then we put on a thin layer of two inch crushed stone and a three inch layer of crush and run. (crush and run are the tailings left over from the stone crushing process, they are usually cheaper and once it is compacted it is almost as strong as concrete) Two weeks and ten thousand dollars later we had a decent road to access the job site, the only problem with this is that once we drove construction vehicles over it for six months, it wasn't much better than when we started.
The other problem with this site was storage area. At the top of this hill, the site was barely big enough for the house and a couple of cars. We were only able to store limited amounts of material at the building site. The remainder of the material was stored a quarter of a mile below on the right of way. Now this may not sound like that big of a deal, until you realize that we had to keep a lull on-site during construction. This added another eight hundred dollars a week to the building cost. None of these costs were factored in by the owner when he purchase the land and his log home kit. When we bid the house, we knew that we would have material storage problems, but we did not consider rebuilding the road. The moral of this story is that if the owner had done just a little homework, he would have been able to pre-plan for these costs. Some people do not care what it costs to get what they want, but most of us live on restricted budgets and cannot absorb a ten thousand dollar road project. The remainder of this article will address some of the other problems that you can encounter when dealing with building a new home. Those problems tend to become exaggerated when you are building a log home.
In the first four paragraphs we addressed the issue of access to the site and storage. When you order a log home the sales representative should tell you that on the day of delivery, you will need to have a lull on
site. (a lull is a forklift with a boom that extends out and adjusts level and right to left) The one thing that I hate about this is when I am building a home for a farmer and he decides that he can unload the materials with his tractor. THIS DOES NOT WORK. I have seen more than one load of logs damaged beyond use because a homeowner was trying to save a couple hundred bucks. Imagine if you will that you tried to unload your logs with a tractor, you have dropped a bundle of logs and now they have to be replaced or used with all the gouges in them. To replace that one bundle could cost anywhere from $1800.00 up to $7000.00. Now I bet you are wishing that you would have just bit the bullet and rented a lull. The "gotcha" on this deal is this, in the fine print on your contract with your supplier you will find a little paragraph stating that you have one half hour to unload each truck and that for every half hour over this time, you will have to pay the driver an additional fifty dollars. Now, this may not sound like much, but let me tell you how this little scheme works for the drivers.
Your delivery is scheduled to arrive a five o-clock in the afternoon. The first truck driver, who is not familiar with the area, arrives about six thirty or just after dark. Upon arrival, you realize that you cannot get the truck to the site because of roads, weak culverts or narrow drive. Or you cannot get the logs to the site because the bundles are to wide to go down the drive without cutting down that beautiful oak that your wife loves so much. So, here you are trying to solve these problems and the clock is ticking. The driver is loving it because he can get some rest and you still have to pay him. I have seen drivers pretend to be stuck at the end of the drive in order to make a couple extra dollars while he sleeps. This happens more than you would like to believe. The lesson here is, one, make sure that your order is scheduled to arrive early in the morning. Two, that you have made arrangements to unload the truck in a timely manner. This may mean that you have to unload the truck on the side of the road and take the material to the site after they leave. The other option is to make sure that the driver cannot only get to the site, but that you have at least twelve feet of clearance along the access that the material will be ferried down. This is one of the most common mistakes made by owners. The odd part is that only two log home companies (that I know of) actually prepare the homeowner for this situation. Most will tell you that you need the lull, some will tell you that you need at least twelve feet of clearance, (you may need more clearance if your logs are longer and or bundled in a strange manner, check with your sales representative long before delivery so that you can prepare) but few if any will tell you that the delivery costs can go up on site. Another little tip in the storage area is that if you can, have the logs arrive after you have the sub-floor down. That way you can set what logs you are going to need first right on the deck and save yourself or the builder a ton of labor.
Another common mistake made by log home buyers is to build in a neighborhood that consists of framed houses. If you build a log home on a lot and all of the houses around you are framed with vinyl siding, your home will never reach its value potential. The value of your home will be based on those around you and not on a comparable house. For example, lets say that you purchase a kit for thirty thousand dollars. Then you bring in a log home builder who charges you another fifteen thousand just to dry it in. Then you bring in a roofer, an electrician, a plumber and a finish crew. When all is said and done, you have spent a hundred and fifty thousand to build a house that will never be worth more than the two cracker boxes on either side of you. Now, if you are in love with your neighborhood and don't mind the loss of equity, then be my guest, but don't expect it to sell quickly on the market. When people think of log homes, they think of woods, streams, creeks, rivers and lakes. They don't think about vinyl siding, brick and privacy fencing. This is honestly a personal preference, but one that you should at least consider before purchasing a piece of land for your new home. If you have ever driven around looking at log homes, you will notice that they are either built off by themselves or in a neighborhood with dozens of other log homes. Research recent log home sales in your area to get a better idea of how this phenomenon works.
For our next subject let's go back to the top of that hill we were talking about earlier. The owner of that home was so proud that he not only had a view, paved roads in the neighborhood, neighbors no closer than two acres apart but he was proud that city water was available. Before anyone can start a project, they need two things to the site, one that they need electricity and two they need water. Now you can get a generator and you can haul water, but this costs money and it is much easier and convenient to have those services on site. The plumber that I had on that project started by installing a spigot at the meter (which was a quarter of a mile down the hill) and then proceeded to run a solid one inch polyethylene pipe from the meter to the house. Once he had it installed along with a temporary spigot at the house, he proceeded to go to the meter and turn the water on. He then made the trip back to the top of the hill only to discover that no water was coming out of the line.
My plumber then stood back and scratched his head for a couple of minutes while I explained to him that if he only had thirty five psi at the meter, that would only push the water so far up the hill and that we would have to install a booster pump in the line at some point. Now this plumber (being a stubborn yankee, now I am not prejudice because I am married to a stubborn yankee) decided to walk down the hill about fifty feet, cut the line and install the booster pump. Well people, there is an equation for this situation, but he chose to play it by ear. After moving the pump three times and increasing its size twice, he finally got a decent thirty five pounds of pressure at the house. The only problem with this is that if the city water pressure were to drop by five pounds, not only would he not have water at his house, but odds are it would burn up the pump before he knew what was happening. It could also be a problem if the city shut the water down without giving him notice. Now we installed an automatic shut off valve and a decent sized pressurized storage tank in the home to prevent this sort of problem, but your plumber might not want to go to all that trouble, especially if he gave you a hard dollar cost on the project. This is just another unforeseen expense that the owner had to bear because he had no idea what he was getting into, not to mention the ongoing expense of maintaining such a complicated system.
For our discussion of electrical we will once again go back to our home on the hill. Almost everyone knows that before you start construction on a project, one of the first things you do is set a temporary power pole. Sounds easy enough, doesn't it? Well on this particular project, we invited the electrical engineer from our local electric department out to the site to tell us what we would need to get our temporary electrical in place. He took it easy on us at first and told us to upgrade our four by four post to a six by six. Then he told us that we would need to stake it off firmly and have the weather-head at least fourteen feet off the ground. Then he hit us hard. "We are going to need a swath one hundred feet wide cut down that hill so that we have fifty feet either side of our power line." That is a direct quote. Now, I knew that we would have to cut a few trees to get the poles set and the wire strung, but this was going to be a hundred foot wide path a quarter of a mile long on the side of a steep hill with a ninety degree turn at the bottom. Not only did we have to cut all of these trees but we had to move them out of the way of the bucket trucks. (which they had to winch down the side of the hill using a D-8 dozer) I took one other man and started at the bottom, two and a half weeks and about a thousand trees later, we had our path for our power lines.
Before I started cutting trees, I called my boss who in turn called the owner and explained what the electric company required. He told us to go ahead and do whatever we had to do. However, I don't think that
anything could have prepared him for the site of the side of his hill stripped of all vegetation. The side of that hill looked as if we had dropped napalm on it and tried to burn out charlie. Not to mention the fact that we had to take down trees as large as two foot in diameter. It is hard to imagine how many trees are in a hundred foot path a quarter of a mile long, but if you are curious, go out in the woods with a tape measure and mark out an area one hundred feet by one hundred feet and count the trees. I think you will be surprised. The pile of firewood at the bottom of that hill was enormous, to bad he didn't install a wood burning fireplace. (he went for a gas unit) This is just another example of a cost that the homeowner didn't consider. This wasn't just a monetary loss either, this was a loss of beauty, habitat and it had screened the house from the neighbors. The cost of this one item alone single handedly shattered his illusion of seclusion. The cost of running the poles and wire was only seven hundred and fifty dollars, if he had went for an underground installation the cost would have been closer to ten thousand. Looking back I think he wishes that he would have spent the ten grand rather than have us strip half of his hill bare.
Now for the next consideration, soil conditions and the ability of the soil to perk. With all of the new types of septic systems on the market these days, there are few sites that a person cannot build on. However, if your ground will not perk and you are required to install an exotic waste system the cost can be astronomical. It is best to have this tested before you purchase the land. Even if the owner or dealer or realtor tells you that a particular spot will perk, get it tested. Often rules that apply to septic systems change as environmental conditions change. The perk test that you are quoted may no longer be valid. The area of the ground that actually perks may restrict you from building on the sweet spot where you want your house to sit. What good is a lot if you have to build at the bottom of the hill and cannot see the million dollar view that you paid for? Another consequence of perk tests is it may restrict your home to two bedrooms and one and a half baths when you wanted a four bedroom three bath house. The devil is in the details, isn't it? There are occasions when you can get around these problems by installing an exotic waste system, but be prepared to pay for it. These are not just a hole in the ground with a couple hundred feet of pipe. They can get expensive. Also keep in mind that a typical septic system will require one hundred feet of line for each bedroom and an additional ten feet for each bath. These lines are usually ten feet apart, sometimes further depending on soil conditions. You need to know all of this so that you have plenty of room once you begin construction. No matter how nice you are, no one is going to let you sneak part of your septic line on to their property. Keep in mind that these are general rules and your local laws will apply.
I am sure that you are tired of me boring you with details so I am going to end this article with one last note on property. Location, location, location. I know that the saying is older than the dirt you are planning on building on. Let me tell you of a man and his dream home. Several years ago we get a cost plus contract on a log home near Dale Hollow Lake for a retired businessman. We spent the better part of two years and three quarters of a million dollars building this couple their dream home. This house had everything (it was a Y-2K home complete with generators, underground propane tanks, back up tanks) this house even had a sixteen foot fish tank with a live coral reef from Japan in it. The dogs had a bathtub in this house. It was equipped with bunkers, duel water systems, if this guy thought of it, we put it in. My point is, this guy spent two years of his life building his dream home and once it was finished and we had all went home. His wife decided that she was lonely and made him sell it so that they could move back to Ohio. In order to sell his dream home he ended up taking a hundred thousand dollar loss, because your dream isn't my dream. It didn't help that it was a forty-five minute drive to a grocery store and an hour and a half to decent shopping. Careful not to remove yourself and your better half too far from what you both are accustomed to, unless you both know what you are getting into. If you want my advice, rent a home as close as possible to where you will eventually build and see if you are happy in that area before you go burning through your nest egg.
If you have been keeping up with my articles on log homes, you know that this is the fourth. Please keep coming back as there are many more topics to be discussed at length. The more you know, the better prepared you can be when you are ready. Nothing is as frustrating to a builder than having a customer who not only doesn't know what they want, but has no clue what it takes to give them the product that they expect. Just like all things, a knowledgeable consumer is a happy consumer. See more of these LRGoodwin articles, Log Homes, Log Cabins, Luxury Log Homes, new log floor plans, client photo galleries, new articles, and videos at http://www.avalonloghomes.com/