Sunday, September 07, 2014

What's (S)he Building?

  Unbelievably enough, I'm actually still keeping up with the "word" posts that I started so very long ago and am down to only 2 words left on the list!  One word after this post because we are going to explore the word "architecture" for Rich, who wanted to know how I designed and built my house.  And as you may have guessed, yes, I saved the harder words for last!  Or I guess I should say, words that involved the most time and effort to elaborate on in a blog post and I really wanted to do this one as well as I could.  It's not going to involve all that I originally wanted to but I think it will be fairly complete.
  Now, as far as how I built my house, well, that's the majority of the blog and you can just pick what part you want to see over in the 'labels' column, i.e. foundation, framing, electrical and so on.  And for any newcomers, yes, I am a woman and yes, I built my house.  Of course I had help! or you could say I was the help in some cases as Allen was in charge of framing and such but I did the formwork, the steelwork and all the interior after it was dried in.  I even did a long post on how I saved for and financed the house, which is somewhere in finances.
  Now, as far as how I designed the house, well, I didn't.  Okay, I kinda started out doing it and knew sort of the footprint I wanted but you all know by now that the BFA (big, fancy architect) had a big part in the design of the house.  I did use The New Natural House Book by David Pearson and The Solar House by Daniel Chiras for technical information on passive solar heating and cooling, correct placement of windows and all that and just general inspiration for a naturally built house and I highly recommend both books if you are interested in doing something similar.  I would also recommend any of Sarah Susanka's Not So Big House series for the sensible, actually livable designs and beautifully crafted houses she spotlights.
  So, I admit flat out I used, and still do use, an architect... and I've been really taken back by the amount of crap I've received over that.  I think I can kind of guess why in the blogging world.  From my reading of the popular homesteading/ DIY/ prepper/ doomer blogs I have gotten the distinct impression that if you don't do absolutely everything yourself and/ or you dare to use any conventional element from normal society (like a contractor or architect) you are not authentic and are pandering to "the Man".  Because you know, I didn't manually shred and chew 1,000 pairs of old blue jeans into natural cellulose insulation and I let a real cabinet maker make my cabinets so I'm just faking it all!  So to employ a honest-to-goodness architect!!  Holy shit! I might as well turn in my anarchist card immediately and cancel my subscription to Mother Earth News.  What the hell was I thinking!
I think what it boils down to is the idea that if you actually use an architect, you must have money and no real homesteader/ doomer/ prepper has that kind of money, so you are not one of us.  This theory is backed up by the fact that I've had a number of people ask me, to my face, "what, you think you're better'n everybody else?"  "Why can't you just do like everybody else?"  and let's not forget.."why d'ya even want to use some ol' architect?"  Well, let's ponder those questions for a minute...Some people could accuse me of an ego trip but I can't really see how because I can't say who the architect is and to me, that's where the bragging would be.  And no, it's not Frank Gehry.  Hah!  I'm not a big fan of his designs anyway.  I mention using an architect because it is something more people should consider, it's more possible than many believe and I don't want to give people the false idea that these cool designs are mine!  As far as why?  Hhhm, let's see...I found a notable, very experienced design professional who was willing, and even considered it fun, to design a unique little house in exchange for carpentry/ manual labor on my part...but nah, no thanks, I'll just use some layout I found in a magazine.  Yeah right.  I mean seriously, if I'm going to go to the extreme physical effort to build my own house, wouldn't you want it to be something awesome and reflective of your personality and life, rather than just stick something together that looks like some damn Jim Walter home some half-ass contractor could throw up in 3 months?  Of course, I know there are those out there now saying, well yeah, but the Jim Walter crap would be done by now!!! and you're still slaving away on only half of your fancy-smancy house.  Well, you got a point there I'll admit.  I'll also admit I've had some unusual physical problems and such that have seriously impeded my progress and it has caused me to question what I'm doing more than once, I assure you.  In the end, it's up to the individual and what matters most to them.  Some people want 4 walls and a roof and be done with it and there's nothing wrong with that.

This is an example of why I enjoy the route I have taken.  I could have never come up with this design myself.  Or the large steel beam that holds up my roof, or the rafter tails inside and out and how it kind of, in the back of your mind way, makes you think of a church when you see them.  The column in the drawing above is a recent thing that the BFA came up with and these will support the covered walkway that I've started and will extend further down the house as the next half is built.  The bottom half or less is stone around a concrete base with filigreed steel extending up to the roof.  The cool thing is that the steel design is cut from three flat plates and joined at ninety degrees so that a cross-section would look like a + sign.  It's still very strong structurally but does not employ the normal hollow tube used for steel columns so that you can have this really cool, open design but not have to worry about wasps and other horrible critters making nests up in it!  If the design looks a bit, erhm, intricate to you...then I would agree and we figured this will probably be simplified a bit to keep me from losing the rest of my mind trying to assemble these things.  There will probably be 5 or 6 of them when the house is totally finished.

Now, here is an old, original drawing of the entire house footprint.  You may notice that it's been marked on quite a bit, changed, and that there are no dimensions!  Well, there are some concessions you must make when working with a BFA in a barter situation.  If he had to work hard enough to put actual dimension on there I'd still be a slave to this guy! Ha!  Well, I laugh but those fancy columns just bought me another round of labor and sweat.  One good thing about taking a while to build a house is that you really, really figure out what is essential to what you want in a house and where to put it.  This drawing shows a 3 bedroom house but it will probably wind up being only 2 bedrooms and a really honkin' great craft/ sewing room.  And a much bigger master bath...I don't know what the hell he was thinking on that.  When I'm old and decrepit there's no way I'm gonna try stepping into a tub to bathe.  Hell, I'm half decrepit now.  I want something I can just cruise into and sit down.

This is the elevation drawing from the south side and it is somewhat different from reality in that not that many windows actually went in the existing part.  But that's okay.  Since we were experienced builders we really didn't have a problem building with drawings that were....not quite finished, let's say.  I would not recommend that if you are not experienced in construction.  Most people also have a hard time seeing in their mind what the finished house will look like from some drawings, so I found this actual photo of a contemporary dogtrot house.  Of course, this house does not look like mine is going to but you get the idea.  Their trot area is wider than mine is drawn now, and I'm thinking about maybe making mine a little wider, but overall it gives a very similar feeling.  Long, rectangular footprint, high windows, metal roof and a deck that bumps out on one side.

When you are building your own house, and it ends up taking a while, I think you also begin to think about other scenarios.  "What if I go to all this trouble and then don't end up staying here?"  "What if some giant storm comes and destroys my house just about the time I get it finished?"  Due to circumstances beyond my control in the years I have lived here, I have seriously considered the idea that I may not always live here.  What if I found some beautiful, secluded property with a gorgeous mountain view?  Well, no one knows what the future holds and how things are ultimately going to work out.  Often times it's quite a surprise.  I know it would break my heart to leave this house due to the sentimental value and I'm not kidding when I say I would rip out certain parts to take with me!  But, it is one thing to consider when building.  At least if I finished the house and needed or wanted to sell, I could be pretty certain of getting a good price in order to start over somewhere else.  Because the house was designed by someone who does that for a living, most everyone* that comes here raves over the flow and comfort of the place.  And it's not even all here yet.  People find it very homey and comforting.  It's personable, not some sterile, catalog ordered floor plan. So, it's an investment one way or another.

This post may not have answered your question Rich, if you even remember your question, so if it didn't just let me know and I can hopefully address what you really wanted to know.

*Everyone except my stick-in-the-mud family who hates everything.  Ha!


Fairhope Supply Co. said...

I love houses that aren't cookie-cutter copies of those around it. And I've never in my life heard of a wasp-proof plan! How clever!!!
You've done a great job and your house should be featured in a magazine!

Rich said...

Of course I remember my question, and from what I remember you more or less answered it.

I was wondering how you came up with all the details and made them all work together to make the house what it is. (or something or other like that).

You also sort of cleared up something else up for me, since I've always heard the expression "BFH or Big F***ing Hammer", and I was wondering just exactly what a BFA was and if you were still getting along with him.

Rich said...

Just to add to the discussion, isn't there something of value to be had in designing a house and taking your time to build it the way you want to build it (focusing on the process) instead of just building it hell-bent-for-leather to get an ordinary house (focusing on the result)?

The creation process is what is important, the finished product is irrelevant.

texasann said...

Annie - I love reading about your house, and have gone back to the beginning of your blog to access from the get-go. What an endeavor, and Huzzah to you, Jack, and the BFA for what you started. And now you and Hubby can live happily ever after, and keep working and adding as you see fit.
Glad to hear you're feeling up to doing some barter work, too. Always look forward to your blog..

edifice rex said...

Hey Fairhope! thank you! Well, hopefully when the house is completely done it will get featured somewhere. You never know!

Hey Rich! I think that yes, there is a lot of value in the creation of a home and, in my opinion, is something sorely lacking in today's society and the instant gratification of a typical house scenario. I wouldn't say the finished product is irrelevant but the process is certainly just as important.
Glad I did answer your question (sorry it took so long). The BFA and I still get along great and I'm lucky to have a husband that doesn't mind him being a close friend.

Hey Ann! thank you! I'm glad you enjoy the blog!

Ed said...

We verbally hired a BFA to design some additions to our house that we could work on over the coming years. He said he would get right on it. About five months later he emailed to say he would get started right away. About five months after that he emailed to ask if we were still interested in him starting. We told him not really. If he wasn't interested in keeping us informed, we weren't interested in working for him. Unfortunately he is the only BFA in this small berg so we have to go aways to find another. Fortunately, we changed our minds on what we wanted done and now probably won't need a BFA. But I have no problems hiring another, better communicating BFA, should the need arise someday. I have found that hiring others who do this on a daily basis will pay dividends on ideas that someone like me would never have thought about.

edifice rex said...

Hey Ed! yeah, if you are actually paying money for a BFA's services then you do expect, rightfully so, a bit more interest and product.
I was lucky to find one willing to barter but there has been concessions on both our parts. He has had to wait a little for completion of a couple of his projects and I've had to work mainly from sketches more than real drawings. But it has worked for us.

Anonymous said...

I think we saved a truckload of aggravation, lumber and our marriage by using a bfa.

The basic ideas for a design of our barn were floating around in our heads. Throwing together a structure based on "floating ideas" usually turns into nightmare. I never have qualified for an anarchist card and my subscription for Mother Earth News lapsed after the tenth article about free range chickens and composting toilets during a one year run. We did however carry the fantasy of hand driving 16d ring shank nails well into the first section of framing before I "sold out" and bought a framing nailer. The floor of the loft is all done by hand and hammer though.

I can't even begin to tell you how many folk have asked why we didn't just throw up a metal clad pole barn. The answer is buried in the question. We didn't want a metal clad pole barn. We wanted a brand new eighty year old barn. We aren't farming. We're doing what the hell makes us happy and I happen to share some of our projects with others through our blogging. I truly understand why Ron drops off the blogosphere from time to time. He tires of folks critiquing his choices that he shares on his blog.

Your house ROCKS! I've always looked your way for inspiration and tech support. I would hope that more people would put more time and thought into their choices for their physical world. We would all benefit from the joy of being able to let our eyes romp through a town of design instead of our minds melting at the sight of an endless horizon of cookie-cutter sameness.

edifice rex said...

Hey Woody! Oooh, ring shanks...yeah, I don't blame you for the the nail gun. lol!
I tell you I am amazed at the number of people that just can't understand people that want something a little different and personal. I didn't realize that our society had become SO cookie cutter. And then if you don't go along with the crowd, you are trying to "put on airs". Bleh. Funny thing is, I've rarely had anyone question me on the blog. Real life is another matter all together though!
Thanks for the kind words, man. LOVe that last sentence of yours. Dead on!