I’m delighted to report that at the end of June 2010 we moved into the home we began building last October. We have learned enough to fill a book, which we are thinking about writing. Here are some of the main points:
• Even though our architect and builders intended to help us build an energy-efficient and sustainable home within our budget, the house cost more than we had hoped. To some extent this was because of changes we made—the biggest one being our choice to cover much of the exterior with Tennessee fieldstone instead of the galvanized steel in the original design. In retrospect, however, we could have built the house for much less if we had known the timeline for decisions earlier on. For example, we were getting estimates from three vendors for reclaimed wood for our bedroom floor, all of whom had good products, when we realized that they didn’t all have immediate access to the wood. Instead of going with the vendor who had the lowest price, we went with the one who could deliver soonest because we needed the floors in place to proceed with the next phase of construction.
• We also learned that the early and late aspects of construction need to be well-coordinated, maybe more than for conventional homes. The guys who dug the geothermal trench ran into the septic pipe and then needed to make repairs to the latter. A vent pipe positioned before we had walls built cast a shadow on a solar panel, and although some modification was possible, we were disheartened that these two aspects of the structure had not been aligned from the outset.
A wall of windows offers great views and ample lighting in the completed living room. Photo By Rebecca Selove.
• In hindsight I wish we’d used a form for clarifying agreements with every subcontractor from the beginning. Such a document could have been used to record details like agreements about standards, tile grout color, what was to be done with leftover materials, how much the specific project would cost, and when payments would be made. Our builders created a form for us relatively late in the project, and it helped when we used it.
• One of my friends asked me if the house is “exactly what you wanted,” and the answer is no. Conscientious people assumed they knew what we wanted and constructed aspects of the house in ways that we had not imagined—and did not prefer. Assumptions, misunderstandings and forgetting a detail here and there meant that pieces of our home reflect others’ ideas of the best way to do something. Still, so many aspects of the house are exactly what we wanted that it seems wise to focus on and enjoy those features, which we do.
We hope our intention to build a healthy, energy-efficient home, the considerable time we invested in learning about materials and methods, and our careful decision making (as well as our good luck finding very able partners and advisors) will benefit others with similar goals. We look forward to sharing what we learned with visitors and guests.