August on the Sunbeam Ranch build brought footings, a foundation, and the start of framing. Oh – and more heat than I can possibly describe.

I couldn’t believe how much dirt we needed. We got extremely lucky that our grading contractor got his pool-building buddies to start dumping dirt. Load after load came for weeks on end. Here you can see some dirt being staged for my parents’ house next door (affectionately referred to as The Bluebird Cottage).

Here are the foundation forms.

At this point, we had to make sure that all of the in-ground plumbing and electrical lines were run. That was more of a challenge than you’d think because we were still making decisions about where some of the fixtures would be located. Most of the wiring and plumbing runs in the walls, but a major plumbing runs right through the center of the foundation. We also needed to run plumbing and electrical between our main house and the garage/casita structure. Finally, our electrician installed the electrical boxes we wanted in the middle of the floor in the main living area.

The whole project seems like an endless series of design decisions. We tried to design as much as we could during the architectural drawing process, but it seems like we still make a hundred decisions a day. I was trying to get ahead of the cabinet design a bit. Here’s one of the sketches I doodled while we were discussing the wall that will house the oven, fridge, and freezer.

Here the ABC is being spread on top of the pad.

The plans called for a monolithic concrete slab for the foundation. Most contractors don’t carry as many sets of forms for monolithic as they do for more traditional foundations, so we were worried we’d have to wait for them to pull the forms off of another job. But luck was on our side and the forms came available just when we needed them!

First, the contractor poured the interior footings. Then the rest of the foundation is poured all at once. This saves both time and material. The process went very smoothly.

Here you can see the forms in place for a stem wall foundation on Bluebird Cottage.

We told the concrete sub that we planned to use a polished concrete floor, and we wanted to leave some aggregate near the top if possible. We ended up not grinding very far into the concrete after all, but the aggregate did show through really well in a few areas. Another interesting thing we learned much later is that everywhere the concrete guys spent extra time troweling were actually more difficult places to work with when we were grinding off the top layer.

Some design decisions on the property require collaboration with my parents and my sister (who lives in the yellow house shown in the pic below). One such decision involved the road we’ll use to access our house. My sister’s house faces the street. Our houses sit behind hers, so we needed a road to run past her house and along the length of the property. The county requires a road at least 20 feet wide, which allows two cars to pass one another and provides enough space for emergency vehicles.

We had a problem, though. If we put the road right against the fence, there was a telephone/power pole smack dab in the middle of the road!

One option was to have the road start to the left of the pole and then veer immediately to the right and follow the fence the rest of the way. This was a sub-optimal approach for a couple of reasons. First, it would eat into my sister’s front yard. Second, we wanted to make sure that visitors could easily navigate the property and would feel comfortable driving down the road. If the road entrance was too close to my sister’s house, it would appear to be a driveway rather than a road past her house. Also, while curvy roads are quaint and provoke a feeling of adventure, they make navigation difficult and discourage timid visitors from venturing down the path when they’re already somewhat uncertain of whether they’re actually in the right place (further complicated by the fact that our address is higher than my sister’s, which should put the road on the opposite side of the house from where it is).

We all decided there was only way to tackle the problem. That power pole had to go. It ended up being an expensive proposition that required a herculean effort to coordinate with all of the companies and committees who needed to be involved, but we’re happy with the decision. At least, I think we will be (we’re months down the road and we have a new pole but the old one is still standing).

Here you can see the new trenches dug for the underground power line back to the new transformer. Note the water in the ditch. Irrigation has been a constant irritation in one form or another. Dan (my parents’ general contractor) got his feet wet – and muddy – laying the PVC.

I already wrote about how disappointed we were that we couldn’t use SIPs to build the house. But you better believe we were celebrating once those sticks started going up!

Dustin Smith

Author Dustin Smith

Dustin is the father of four awesome kids and works as a consultant and entrepreneur in the entertainment attractions industry.

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