If you've noticed that it's been a little quiet on the blog the past few weeks, it's because there's been a lot going on, and a lot has changed!
A month ago, we decided to part ways with our architects.
No more architects
As you know, we want to do as much as possible ourselves when it comes to building our house. But we're not experienced builders (we've never done anything like this before!) so from the very start we decided we wanted to surround ourselves with experts who could support and guide us - engineers, energy consultants, builders and yes, architects.
The first phase of our house build wasn't the house at all, rather we wanted to construct a utility building where we would terminate all our utilities. This would not only provide full hookups for our RV while we're on the property, but would serve as a training exercise where we could learn some of the construction skills needed before starting on the main house.
But it also gave us an opportunity to refine our working relationships - build out a network of contacts and find people who are a good fit for us and our project.
Sadly, after working together for almost a year, we decided to terminate the relationship with our architects. We didn't feel that the project was progressing at the pace or in a direction that we were happy with. With barely a month until we were scheduled to break ground, we still weren't happy with the designs and there were a lot of details still to be determined.
It was a difficult decision, especially as we had interviewed half a dozen architects a year prior before making our choice on who to work with. While it was disappointing to have come this far, we knew it was the right thing to do.
Going it alone
This left us in a tough position. We knew we wouldn't find another architect to work with at such short notice, and all we had to work with was some unfinished PDFs and no source CAD files from our old architects.
But after speaking with several people we were reassured that we could do it ourselves, without an architect, at least for the utility building.
So we made a decision: going forward, we would own all the master documents, drawings and designs for the build. We would freely share them with engineers, builders, consultants and others, but any changes would then be reflected in our own files which would serve as the master version.
I've been using Sketchup for a few years for various woodworking projects, including our RV desk build. But using it to design an entire building (or set of buildings) was a whole new challenge.
I set about designing, from scratch, our entire site plan, utility diagram and utility building in Sketchup, tweaking and refining the designs as I went along. This has involved working closely with our septic engineer, electric company and builders - plus many, many hours of research!
Splitting it up
It quickly became apparent that taking on all this design work ourselves while still continuing to fell trees and clear the site was going to become overwhelming. So rather than treating the utility building as one big project we decided to break things down into smaller projects:
- Electrical Service
- Well Drilling
- Septic System
- Temporary RV Pad
- Utility Building
- Fiber Internet
One by one we began listing out all the jobs that needed doing for each project, recording them in Asana (the task / project management we've been using for years already) and identifying dependencies, timelines and potential impediments.
The overwhelming mass of work was quickly broken down into smaller, much more manageable chunks - things we could pick up and complete within hours or days at most. No less work, but a more approachable challenge.
As much as we want to get the utility building done this year, we soon discovered a myriad of supply chain issues (both price and availability) that may hinder our efforts.
We're fortunate to have an RV that we're very comfortable living in, so we don't have a rigid deadline for the build - if delaying until next year saves us a lot of money and avoids us having to compromise on some things we want, it may be the right decision.
For the time being we're still living totally off-grid in the RV on our property, so getting some hookups is our priority. Without the utility building we still likely won't be able to comfortably spend the winter here on the property in the RV, but we'll be a lot more comfortable the rest of the time - plus we'll save a ton of money on tank pumping and gas for the generator!
So our focus right now is getting the utilities in. When the weather (and our bodies) permit, we're continuing to fell trees to clear the site, making space for our septic system, building sites, driveway, well and electrical trenching.
Delays are an almost inevitable part of a project like this, and we've done our best to structure things to accommodate delays with minimal impact. We found out a few weeks ago that our site work would be delayed by about a month or two due to staff shortages.
This actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise - a few more weeks to clear trees and get things ready!
As things stand right now, here's where we're at:
- Electrical service - we have a plan for electrical service that we've reviewed with our electrical consultant and has all been signed off by the utility company. We're expecting to have a line crew on site next week to start work. We have all the conduit and most of the other tools and materials ready to go on site.
- Well drilling - the well location has been cleared of trees and marked. We have a highly regarded local well drilling company lined up to come as soon as the excavators have leveled the area so their truck can get in.
- Septic system - our septic leach field has been cleared and laid out by the engineer for the mound location. We've almost finished clearing trees around the septic tanks and lines, have all the pipework on site, and a septic tank delivery company ready to drop off our tanks as soon as the excavator has dug the hole.
- Temporary RV pad - we have relocated the temporary RV pad and will be providing it with 100A electrical service. I'm mid-way through building the back board but we have all the components ready to install on it once it's in situ.
- Utility building - after a visit with one of our building consultants a week ago, we feel much better about things. While the general building shape will remain, we're redesigning it from scratch rather than reusing the designs from our architects. There's still a lot of work to do here, but our priority is to see if we can have the foundations designed before the excavator arrives.
- Fiber internet - other than installing conduit in advance, this project is on hold. The fiber company requires us to have a finished building before installing fiber, so this will have to wait until the utility building is ready.
In short, we're in a totally different place to where we were a month ago. Yes, we've taken on a lot more responsibility now that we're redesigning the utility building without an architect, but we feel so much better about it!
There are so many things we're having to research and design, but the flexibility of being able to do this ourselves is affording us huge opportunities. By discussing our ideas and plans with others, we have come up with several exciting modifications to our previous designs that will radically improve the functionality and performance of the utility building.