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June 1, 2011

Mr. B and I were out talking to our excavator, Shorty, last night. Our power is in, our well (sans pump) is in, and the septic is 90% in. After the utilities are in the task is going to be more on our shoulders and less driven by others’ schedules. I thought this would be a great time to summarize the smaller lessons I’ve learned so far in this whole process.

1) Get a good excavator – Shorty is wonderful. He has been consistently available to us, which is especially important since the excavator helps run power, helps the well drillers, and puts in (and designs) your septic system. That is just up to this point – he’ll also do our driveway, foundation, and future trenching to get water and electricity to the house. Shorty has acted like a general contractor for us, calling the utility people to schedule their visits and pulling them out of the mud.

2) Talk to everyone – I am horrible at shooting the shit. I tend towards stilted, pointed conversations. If someone wants to stand and talk about their friend’s house or their Aunt Mable’s cake or the time it was -72 degrees, do it. Knowing what you want is necessary to get what you want, but getting to know people is the only way they’ll remember who you are. If they remember you, they might like you, and that is the only way they will help you out.

3) You will spend more money on copies than you ever thought possible.

4) Keep all your receipts, and not just in your wallet.

5) Your plans will change (and possibly change back) several times and you won’t be able to foresee it. We have moved our house, changed our septic plan and well location, flipped the house plan over twice, changed our foundation plan and then considered changing it to a third option, and been required to have the longest driveway ever. People have told us that you can’t plan for everything, but you won’t believe it until you are calling your engineer at 7 pm trying to get plan changes done by tomorrow because you have an unheard of amount of topsoil. Try to figure out in advance which changes cost money and which changes don’t.

6) Get three quotes for everything, including banks and copy shops.

7) You will have to eat sandwiches and box mac and cheese for dinner sometimes. Deal with it.

8) Make sure there is a place on your building site where you can sit down out of the rain and the wind while you eat lunch or have a beer.

9) Be prepared to spend a huge amount of time acting as your own general contractor. I think I said in an earlier post that if you decide to design your own house you will be taking on a full time job in addition to your normal life. Not only do Mr. B and I spend most of our free time on our plans, we have also been out at the site, with the engineer, at a governmental office, or with a supplier every night of the week. We also have had to spend weekday afternoons out there dealing with unexpected issues, and we have a long list of phone calls to make every day.

10) Pick people you like to work with. Our realtor, engineer, and excavator are the three best examples of people who have not only treated us seriously and with respect, but who have also gone out of their way to help us out. I look forward to seeing them and know that have our best interest in mind when they, for example, pick out the less expensive type of Simpson strong tie we need.

11) The only way to solve a problem quickly is to deal with it right away. I know that sounds simplistic and obvious, but it is true. If there is a problem and you want it solved then drop everything you can and try to fix it. If there are people waiting for an answer (like your well driller or excavator) then waiting to deal with it could mean that they aren’t available again for several days or weeks.

12) Be flexible. I’m not and I usually want to scream when people say this to me, but I’m getting better. If you don’t want to spend the entire building process with stomach problems and sleep deprivation, you’ll learn to take in problems with some equanimity.

13) Remember to relax. Go out to happy hour, spend the day canoeing or hiking, see a funny movie. Try and take at least one night a week when you don’t think or talk about any of this.

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