Careful What You Ask For

One week ago I wrote about how we were waiting for our builder to provide us with an updated estimate for the cost of our new home. Last Thursday he finally came through and now I’m almost wishing he hadn’t. That dream I had about the specific over budget number turned out to be frighteningly accurate.

I felt physically sick most of the day Thursday, trying to get my head around it. I almost canceled my planned dinner with my friend Jane, as I thought I would be in too lousy of a mood to really enjoy it. Of course it turned out to be the best thing I could have done, laughing and catching up with a dear friend.

The food was outstanding and we had a fantastic server. It made me forget that we now have absolutely no budget left to do any landscaping. The house itself is 15% over what we allocated when we started building and about 25% over what we originally wanted to spend. I honestly don’t know what we’re going to do at this point.

My current strategy is to not really think about it and pray for a big lottery win. Today I’m featuring some of the outstanding scenery we enjoyed during our trip on the Rocky Mountaineer from Vancouver to Banff. Because when you feel like shit is falling down around your ears, you need to hold on to the really good things.

Framed and Electrified

We had our framing inspection last week. It did not go well. The inspector found fourteen issues, all except one were due to the framers not following the plan correctly. The one exception was an engineering issue. I would have loved to listen in on the conversation between our construction manager and the owner of the framing company. I wonder if they’ll ever be doing business together again. The framers were back on Monday, making the required changes.

The stucco guys were hard at work, as well. We’ve got good weather this week, so they are trying to get as much done as possible before they have to get back under the plastic tarp. Unfortunately it was windy yesterday, so that limited what they could accomplish. Meanwhile our project manager met with a commercial metal fabricator to discuss our staircase. He also talked to a rep from the motorized shade company. We are meeting with him this morning to discuss the results from both of those meetings.

The electrical inspection also happened yesterday and, unlike the framing, we passed that on the first try. The electrician still has a few things to finish up, not the least of which is my husband’s workshop. The finish line is definitely in sight for completing that rough-in, however. Spray foam is scheduled to happen tomorrow. I think this is the third time it’s been scheduled, so I’m not holding my breath.

Our builder promised to have all of our financials updated in the new construction software by the end of the day yesterday. He just sent me a text that a few of the actuals need to be updated before he releases the results. I am waiting anxiously. Last night I had a disturbing dream that we got the total number and it was significantly over our current estimate. I hope that’s not prophetic.

Progess, Not Perfection

We met with our electrician on Saturday morning. Yes, you heard right, Saturday. He’s got the inspection scheduled for tomorrow, so he worked over the weekend to finish up our rough-in. Even though it seems like we’ve talked through everything multiple times now, somehow he still had outstanding questions, hence the meeting.

Everyone is super paranoid about the (supposedly) upcoming spray foam. Once things are foamed, it’s really hard to make changes/additions. One of the electrician’s question was regarding the height of some exterior sconces that we weren’t really comfortable answering, so after the meeting we went to the lighting store for advice.

It turned out to be a good thing, because our lighting designer mentioned that he had the housing for one special recessed fixture in our house. We purchased it and brought it back to the house. We had discussed this fixture with our electrician during our first walkthru back in July, but somehow he just thought we changed our minds about it.

We were pleasantly surprised to see the stucco guys had been back at work on Friday and completed the scratch coat for another large section of the house. It’s starting to look more like a real house every day. Apropos of nothing, today’s photos are prairie dogs from the Minnesota Zoo. Because they’re cute and I’m in a good mood.

More Reflections

I’m starting to think our solar panel install is being done by the three stooges. There’s two young guys and one older guy. The young guys are just muscle and the old guy will talk your ear off if you give him a chance. He did that to the ME from our builder as well as myself.

The panels were delivered on Monday and they spent a good chunk of the day just carrying everything up to the crow’s nest. The panels and racks are fairly light, but it’s a ballasted system, so everything is weighed down by concrete blocks. A lot of concrete blocks.

When we stopped by the house on Wednesday afternoon, they didn’t appear to have made significant progress from the prior day. Some of the concrete blocks were sitting on the second floor, otherwise all of the materials were crowded into the crow’s nest. It didn’t leave them much room to work. Of course it only looked like one of them was actually doing anything resembling work.

They get paid for the job, not by the hour, so in theory it doesn’t matter how long they take to get it done. But it still drives me crazy. Hopefully we’ll see more substantial progress this afternoon. Today’s reflections are courtesy of Lake Agnes. This was our reward for making the grueling hike up from Lake Louise up to the Tea House.

Stop Making Waves

Yesterday’s moody photos were from our Alaska cruise. With all of my bitching about our builder, I forgot to mention that. Today’s images are also from the cruise. We went for a short walk yesterday morning, prior to our meeting. While we were walking back home, my cell phone rang. It was our builder calling to tell me they wouldn’t have all the numbers they promised us ready in time for our meeting in the afternoon.

Color me not even slightly surprised. I honestly spent the morning just expecting to just get a text telling me the meeting was canceled.

As it turns out, we had the meeting, we just didn’t really talk about the numbers. Or any numbers, except for the stucco estimates.

They gave us a quick preview of the new software, using a different client’s project. Instead, we used most of the meeting to talk about a bunch of other stuff. Then we drove to the site to have a low voltage walkthru. At least there were a bunch of people working. The stucco brown coat was in progress under a giant plastic tarp and the installation of the solar panels had started. Things continue to move, although we still don’t have an endpoint. Or a final number.

Kwitcher Beefin’

Just when I start to sink into the pit of despair over our never ending house project, something happens to remind me that I need to STFU and get over myself. There’s been a lot of those reminders lately.

Several people I know have been dealing with real issues over the last few months. In October our landscape designer’s father-in-law died suddenly, the day after he and his family had left for vacation. They needed to immediately fly home for the funeral. Meanwhile, I was complaining our San Diego condo lacked air conditioning.

That same month a friend’s husband was diagnosed with blood clots and a massive tumor on his kidney. She jokingly apologized for missing a dinner we had been trying to plan for months with a third friend, because her husband needed surgery. I was stressing out about only having two weeks at home in between our return from Canada and our departure to Phoenix.

At the beginning of November I found out that another friend lost her grandmother (expected, but still difficult) and her father-in-law (unexpected massive stroke). I was irritated at the lack of stucco progress on our house while we were on vacation.

Last week my friend who had just nursed her husband through a major surgery needed surgery herself, requiring her husband to play nurse while he was still recovering. I’m crying about the expensive estimates we’re getting for our staircase build. I could go on, but you get my point. Nothing like a few reality checks about real problems.

It’s Dahlia Time Again

You didn’t think I was done with the Dahlias, did you? It’s been over a week, so time to hit these beauties once again. It takes my mind off the crappy weather and agonizingly slow progress on our house.

The electrician was back at the house this week, installing the panels. We’re hoping to have power soon, as it’s not going to warm up and the interior of the house needs to be warm to spray foam insulation.

The big delay has been the ongoing conversation with the utility company about getting the hideous transformer, located on a pole ten feet from the house, dropped to a box on the ground. It currently dominates the view from my west facing photo studio window.

Ideally, we’d like to have the transformer closer to the street, but even if it’s just dropped straight down it won’t be visible from inside the house, as we don’t have any windows in that corner on the ground floor. Fingers crossed it comes down soon.

Paranoia Will Destroy Me

One of the biggest problems with building a custom home is the constant feeling that you are going to make some incredibly stupid mistake that will be haunting you for years to come. We are making a thousand decisions, often with incomplete information. The odds of knocking everything out of the park are infinitesimal.

A year ago we made the last minute decision to add water/plumbing to my husband’s detached workshop. I say last minute because they were literally days away from pouring the foundation and it caused a delay while we had the plans redrawn. I’m so glad we made that decision, because it would have been impossible to do once the foundation had been poured and I think we would have regretted not having water there at some point in the future.

That was a big one, but there are tons of small things that lead to sleepless nights. Are the outlets and switches all in the right places? Do we have enough drawers in the kitchen cabinets? It becomes paralyzing at points. I was awake at 3:00 am this morning with a pounding headache and the realization that we needed to add another water source to our conservatory. The architect has specified three on the plans, but when we met with the plumber on Monday, I decided that one would be sufficient.

When we visited the site Friday afternoon to see the “finished” plumbing rough-in, my husband pointed out that having only one would limit irrigation options. My early morning panic attack was caused by my brain finally coughing up the real problem with a single source – I can’t cross the door threshold with any irrigation system, even a temporary one. It’s the reason the architect specified multiple ones in the first place. I emailed the builder with the request this morning. The plumber won’t be happy, but I will sleep better.

Back it Up

In late July we had a meeting to discuss backup power for our new house. The meeting went well and the representative from the company was supposed to get back to our builder with estimates for both generator and Tesla Powerwall options. Then he went completely AWOL and has not returned any of the weekly phone calls from our builder’s mechanical engineer (ME).

So the ME contacted the only other certified Powerwall installer in the area to request a meeting. Last week I received an email from the company stating, among other things, “you will need a minimum of 2 Powerwalls” and “it will require a cash payment starting at $20,000.” If I agreed to those terms, we could meet with one of their specialists, otherwise piss off. (Not those words, but that intent.)

I forwarded the email on to the ME and pondered whether I should bring the payment to our meeting in small, unmarked bills, rolls of quarters or stamps. If it wasn’t such a hassle to get that much cash, I would have brought it just for the effect. We had the meeting this afternoon and it was pretty much a non-event. No money changed hands, only information. Hopefully this guy will actually follow up.


During our February trip to Phoenix, we visited an art fair and saw some large metal sculptures for sale. We had been talking about getting a large sculpture for the yard in our new home and we really liked the look of these pieces. We talked to the artist for a bit and when we told him where we lived, he asked it if was anywhere near Plymouth, MN.

Turns out, he had a commissioned piece that he planned on delivering to Plymouth in late August. Talk about serendipity! We ended up ordering two custom sculptures, with the understanding that he would deliver them for free, near when our house was scheduled to be complete. That was then, this is now. Of course our new house is nowhere near completion, but it’s the end of August and today was the delivery day.

The larger of the two pieces weighs in excess of 500 pounds, so the artist requested some additional muscle. Our builder sent his two newest employees, one of whom I’m pretty sure I outweigh. Not my idea of muscle. Fortunately, the sculptor is used to moving large pieces, so he came well prepared with a series of pipe sections to use for rollers. The hardest part was getting his truck into position.

The smaller and lighter piece was quickly offloaded and set into the workshop. While we could have set the larger piece in there as well, it became apparent that it would be a tight fit through the door opening and that once the door was actually installed, it would be pretty much impossible to get it back out again. So it is now resting on a piece of plywood next to the shop. It makes me a little nervous, but there’s not much we can do about it. We’ll just have to cover it with a tarp and hope no one backs a piece of heavy equipment into it.