Monday, July 27, 2009

More Decisions! - Interior

Guess what! We finished digging last Friday! Things are finally starting to pick up speed :-) This week two main things: laying (not pouring!) the foundation and setting up underground plumbing. Will have to make a trip to the jobsite to get you some photos!

In the meantime, we have a lot of decisions to make... Help!


We need to decide which type of flooring we want and where, and I think we have! Hardwood in the foyer, hallway and kitchen. Ceramic tile in the laundry room, mudroom/mudhall, and all the bathrooms. Carpet everywhere else. But we also need to decide

We're hoping to go tomorrow to pick out the one we want.
*Species of wood - main ones we are considering are maple, walnut, and cherry (but not oak, I don't like how the fibers show). Probably won't go with cherry either because it's pretty expensive.
*Width of the hardwood pieces - the wider the more expensive... We are thinking around 3 1/2 to 4 inches.
*Color - we want it dark!!

Ceramic Tile
We need to figure out which tile we want in which bathroom. We'll probably go with a 12x12 in the master bath and laundry, and smaller (10x10, 8x10, or most likely 6x6) in the other bathrooms.
We also have to choose the tile for the bathroom walls, and for the backsplash in the kitchen.

We still have a lot of time to decide this, but we'll probably choose one tomorrow at the Flooring store since we'll be there anyway.


We want granite countertops in the kitchen and need to choose:
*Color - have NO idea!! We need to go to see our options
*Edge type. There are standard types as well as ogee, waterfall, and half-round details. I like ogee, will probably go with that!

In the bathrooms, we are thinking of laminate countertops that look like granite (that's what we have in our condo now), but we aren't sure! We might do granite in the master bath.

Other decisions

We have more time before we need to decide on-

*Electrical Decisions - include where we want recessed lights, fan prep, dimmer switches, under-cabinet lighting, what type of switches (decora or toggle), if we want to pre-wire for an alarm system, or intercom, or stereo system, where we want phone, cable, and data lines.

*Appliances - What type of appliances, and choosing specific ones (gas v. electric, etc). Stain-less steel baby!

*Interior Trim - Includes fireplace mantle (color, wood? (probably not), and type of marble surround)

*Paint - Color and type

*Plumbing - Still have a lot of time for this! I do have a pretty good idea of the kitchen sink I want, though! BIG, stain-less steel :-)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Yay! Finally chose a brick!

Score! Finally, a brick that is available in our price range that I actually like! Take a look at the pictures and let me know what you think!

The roof shingles are "weathered wood," which is what we were leaning towards anyway, it matches quite well with the brick, right? I think we'll do the same trim color too. Three birds with one stone - Great! Success!

I just need to choose a shutter color... Any ideas?? I'm so confused!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

SOOO many decisions to make!!

Had a selection meeting with our builder today; oh my! there are so many things we need to decide on!! In this post I'll discuss decisions having to do with the exterior.

Roof -

*Color - Thankfully, there aren't too many options in this department. And I'm pretty sure we will go with "weathered wood," which is a grayish color. It's either that or "slate," which is a darker gray. I also liked "charcoal," but it would look nice with dark red brick, not the lighter one we are going with.
*Type - Two types of shingles basically, flat and dimensional. The flat is just shingles placed next to each other (also called 3-tab), while the dimensional is more 3-D.


We only have siding on the sides and rear of the house, and very little on the front. But we still need to decide on:
*Type - We are considering two types, vinyl and concrete. Concrete's a lot more expensive, so we are thinking of putting it only in the front of the house since there is only a little there. The rest will be vinyl. We also saw some new types of designs in a magazine, with different shapes of vinyl siding, but I think we'll stick with the traditional ;)
*Color - There were two colors of vinyl that I liked, "wicker," an almond color, and "heather," which has a pinkish tone to it. For the light red brick we are hoping to go with, these two match well. Read this: some things to keep in mind when choosing siding colors.
Here's a website that has a bunch of siding colors.

Exterior trim

We need to choose the color of the trim under the roof as well as around the windows and stuff. I wasn't even aware of this wood that we'd have to trim, so apparently I have another decision to make! Thankfully, all we have to do is choose a color. We will wait until we've finalized the siding color then try to find a match in trim color. Some like to have the trim contrast completely with the siding, but I'm not creative enough for that!


We've already decided on the type of windows we want, (double-hung) the color (white), and the grills (only on the top half). Here are a list of window types. We plan on having a box-out window in the dining room (similar to bay), and an awning window in our master bedroom.


Our elevation has fake shutters that I think give the house some charm. We need to decide on
*Style - there are paneled and louvered. I like the paneled more.
*Color - we will match the shutters to the roof, brick, and exterior trim.


We thought we had finalized our brick choice, but we have to do more homework! It's been a pain getting the brick we want. The house we liked, turns out its brick is way too expensive. Haven't had the chance yet, but will check out this website for help in choosing soon. Builder said brick needs weeks to come in so we have to decide asap!! Most likely, we will go to a brick store and take a look, because this process has become tedious!


Monday, July 20, 2009

Great Lakes Superior Walls

It's almost time!!! We got the building permit and are just finishing up last second drafts of the site plan and stuff so we can begin excavating and building! Hot dog!

We're sort of excited about the basement. We are seriously considering going with Great Lakes Superior Walls, precast foundation that is finished in a matter of hours! So let me try to explain it; instead of pouring foundation and having to wait a week for it to set, Superior Walls is foundation that comes in blocks of concrete that are ready, and are simply put into place in a matter of hours!

The even better part is that your basement is nearly finished when you use it; just add drywall and carpet and you'd have a finished basement! So if you think you will finish your basement in the n ear future, then the superior walls is a great investment.. We got some quotes and it seems that it would cost us somewhere between $1000-2000 more to use Superior Walls, but we think we are going to go for it! Will let you know if we do, and how we like it!!

Straight from the Superior Walls website,

For superior new home comfort, Superior Walls foundations are custom-designed and built to demanding specifications to be dry, warm and smart. Superior in every way. When your new home is built with Superior Walls, you can enjoy increased building efficiencies—with your assurance of superior living.

For a list of advantages of going with Superior Walls, click here.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Choosing a front door

Been thinking a lot about our front door. Our builder told us to start thinking about the kind of front door we want. He guided us to the Therma-tru website to help us design the door we want. We knew a steel door was out of the question for us. At first, I designed this beautiful mahogany door, and had our builder get us a quote--it was almost $4000!!!

We had to decide what was most important to us. Three factors affect the cost: How close it is to wood (real wood is most expensive of course, then fiber-classic that can be stained like wood, then smooth-star that can only be painted); How much glass; And the glass detail (the more intricate the more expensive).

For us, having glass was most important, as well as privacy. For this reason, we are leaning towards the Smooth-Star line; it's cheaper in general and so we'd be able to get a lot of glass while staying within our budget ($1000-2000). Smooth-Star can't be stained like the Fiber-Classic line to look like wood, but it can be painted. We also would have liked a transom (the arched glass above the door), but our budget wouldn't allow it.

I really liked the Thermatru website because it lets you design the door you like, then you can also check how much privacy the glass you chose can afford you. The only thing I don't like is that you can't get the price estimate from the site.

The door above is the one I am leaning towards now. It's exactly in our price range and I love it! On the privacy scale rating (where ten is most private) it rates a 8. It's important for us that we have a lot of privacy, but don't need blinds on it, because I think that's ugly. What do you think? What color should I paint it? Do you like the glass design or should I choose a different one?

I'm just a little worried that the door we chose might not match with our red-brick theme. I am considering getting the same door but in Fiber-Classic if we can get it at a decent cost. That way it can be stained to look more like wood.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Change in plans

We've had a few changes made to our plans, nothing major. We added some flair to our original elevation with some cultured stone and a break in the huge wall of brick on the left side. (We also got rid of the wing walls, don't remind me!) As for the main floor, the main difference is the larger foyer to make room for the now L-shaped staircase. There were a few other adjustments, but nothing major. And finally, all we changed on the second floor was our walk-in closet, we removed the wall in the middle. Since the staircase is now L-shaped, we also gained some space on the landing.

Here are the pdf files for the elevation, the main floor, and the second floor.

On another note, we're getting the building permit on Monday!! Hot dog!

[We haven't decided yet if we are going to completely finish the bonus room, i.e., the space above the garage. Actually, I have decided, lol, I want it done! But I'm still trying to convince the hubbby. Basically, it would be cheaper now to finish it than later, and we might as well, it would be a nice workout room/game room for the kids. I plan on putting our elliptical in there, and then when the kids grow up we can put them a desk and chairs, instead of them going in our office downstairs. Hubby wants to know exactly how much it would cost to finish before he decides. Stay tuned.]

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Flooring - to hardwood or not to hardwood, that is the question

Deciding on flooring has been difficult, to say the least. Let me explain...

So my dream kitchen has been like this: dark, rich hardwood floors, stain-less steel appliances, dark granite countertops, dark wood (maybe cherry maybe maple or mahogany) cabinets. This has been my dream, and now that I'm building our "dream house," well it only made sense.
But my husband and everyone else have been trying to convince me otherwise. Just about the hardwood. It's hard to maintain. It chips and dents, especially with kids (we only have one now, but who knows?) It gets ruined by water.

I thought long and hard, and I think they've convinced me. We are still going to do hardwood floors in the foyer and hallway, but I think I'm going to go with a dark (to hide dirt) ceramic tile in the kitchen (take a look at the picture, isn't that beautiful? and it's not hardwood!). What do you think? Do you have hardwood, is it hard to maintain??

Yesterday we also considered the possiblity of hardwood in the den, dining and living rooms, but specially the den. Take a look at our main floor plan to see why we are considering this.

I still want the stain-less steel and the dark cabinets. Not sure which color of granite I want though! I've been taking a look mostly at this website for granite countertops, but also this one. It's really hard to decide without seeing in person, I think we will go looking at some model houses or something to make a better decision.

July 17th, ETA: Okay, back to square one! I want hardwood floors in the kitchen again! I am just concerned that I will constantly be worried about it, what with kids, spills, water, etc... I am so confused now! I know that my dream is hardwood, but ... I found these two kitchen flooring that I like.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Brick and stone

So I've been doing some research on brick colors. We know that we like the reddish tones more than others, and we especially don't like the very light brick. I did some searching online and came to some websites that helped, that show the brick color, and when clicked, show a house with that brick. We also drove around and took some pictures of houses whose brick we liked. In the end, we liked this house's brick the most!

What do you think - do you like this color??

We are also trying to decide about whether or not we want to use any stone. Stone is A LOT more expensive than brick. Check out the stone to the left! Beautiful, I know... But expensive.

Whereas, the house above, if you see, above the windows there is a white arch, that is made from limestone. We've decided we want to do the same thing, that way the house has stone but it's not too costly.

Our builder also suggested having the front door be surrounded by cultured stone. Cultured stone is basically fake stone, so it's a lot cheaper, but still looks pretty nice. It comes in a lot of different shapes and colors, but we haven't yet decided exactly what we want. We are going to do like the picture to the left with cultured stone around the front door, but we need help choosing a style!

Also, we decided to have a boxed window in the dining room, which would be the front of the house. Unlike the bay window, it doesn't come out as much so it's cheaper, but it still gives the house some character from the outside.

The demolition

The demolition was on Wednesday, July 8th. It was incredible! It's pretty crazy how easy and quick it is to destroy, and how hard and time-consuming to build! The excavator reminded me of a dinosaur, I'm not sure why! Within less than two hours, the house was just a pile of rubble!

As he was demolishing, the dude stopped all of a sudden. We weren't sure why, but then we saw him using the crane to remove a refrigerator from the house!

It was so exciting, we're finally starting!!!! All the planning and talking and now we are going to actually SEE results! It's so weird to think that there's no house there anymore... and I never even stepped inside! HaHa! I guess it's too late for that now :-)

It took a few days for the demolition to be complete. They had to clean up afterwards too. Here's our builder the day of the demolition:

And my husband and 8 month old son:

Monday, July 13, 2009

Meeting with the architect

After we had a clear idea of what we wanted, our builder made a meeting with the architect. Before the meeting, he had given the architect the preliminary plans I had sketched, and showed him a house in the area that we liked, so he came with a general plan for the house. He showed us an elevation as well as layout and we discussed everything we liked and did not like. We talked about things like, how many bathrooms on each floor, where to put each room, windows to use, ceiling heights, etc. The architect listened to our comments and made notes on his sheets.

We stayed in contact with the architect, going back and forth on some details, for a few weeks, after which we met again. This time, we were more pleased with what we saw, and only had minor details to change, such as adding a half bath downstairs, a linen close upstairs, making the garage a little bit smaller, etc.

From looking at hundreds of elevations, I had found a feature I fell in love with - wing walls!!! I asked if they were costly but was told they aren't, so we added a wing wall on each side of the house. I really loved them! They were something I chose, something I created, and they were just different! Take a look at these wing walls, similar to what I had in mind.

About a week later, the architect sent us the final drafts of the plans. We gave him the OK to draw up the blueprints!

Getting the blueprints was one of the most exciting things... to see all the minor and major details of the house, being able to picture it, was a great feeling! Our builder told us we could have a partial walk-out basement, which is a major plus (especially for resale value), BUT in doing so we would lose our wing walls!! It was a hard decision to make, but in the end, bye bye wing walls!

To see the elevation we came up with with the wing walls see here: DOWNLOAD FILE

With the plans complete, we were ready to demolish!!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Preliminary plans

Let the fun begin!! As we were waiting for permits to come in, our builder told us to start thinking about plans, both for the elevation and the interior. We looked through tons and tons of those books filled with hundreds of elevations and site plans. Some good ones are Impressions of home and Homes of Grandeur by Design Basics Inc. It also helped to go to Realtor and check out the houses currently on the market.

Elevation. For the time being, we only had to have a general idea of the elevation we were going after. Did we want brick? (yes) Stone? (maybe) Cultured stone? (hmmm..) Drivet? (no) What colors did we like? (red, traditional colors) What sort of roof were we going to have? (no idea)

(There are two kinds, a gable roof and a hip roof. A gable roof is two-dimensional, while a gable is three or four. Here is a house with a gable roof (top) and one with a hip roof (bottom). Notice the gable roof is two pieces of roof, while the hip has three or four "faces," which gives it a more aesthetic look. A hip roof is a LOT more expensive than a gable. Before understanding the difference between the two, I would never have noticed! But once they explained it to me, I couldn't see a house without realizing what type of roof it had, and how all the "nice" houses had hip roofs! We were on a budget, though, and a hip roof was out of the question. We decided to go with the gable... but we asked if we could have a small part of the roof be hip. The answer: yes. Success!

The house with the hip roof also has what are known as "coins," those rectangles on the edges of the exterior walls. Coins give a house flair and pizazz. We decided against them, however. With the color of brick we wanted (red), we thought they were unnecessary.

Plans. It's important that you sketch a general idea of the layout you want for your house. Even if it's done on a dinner napkin. I chose the Paint application on my computer and came up with the following drawing.
We took the cardinal directions into consideration. Southern and Eastern exposures are better than Northern and Western (South is best). You want the rooms you use the most (which for us are family room, kitchen/nook, and master bedroom) to have the best exposure to keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Most of our decisions were made based on that, as well as trying to stay away from the house to our north that's pretty close.

We also had a little "problem." The lot is not level, the original house was set on ground which dipped four feet about 5 feet from the house. The driveway as I had drawn it below would require a retaining wall to keep the driveway from sloping downward. A retaining wall, if done properly, is very costly, and if not done properly could settle over the years. My dad, who had done one for the pergola he had built, did not recommend it! So we decided against it.

Preliminary plans are helpful, especially when meeting with the architect. The more information you include, the better. By the time we met with ours, we had a pretty clear idea of what we wanted our house to be!

Next: Meeting with the architect!

Demolition and building permits

Just as anything in this country, lots of paperwork and hoops to jump through to get to the actual building part. The anticipation can kill you!

Since we're demolishing, we also had to get a demolition permit. To get it, we had to talk to several utility companies to make sure their service was turned off at the property. That wasn't the hard part. We had to ask them to send a letter stating that their service was off. Sounds easy huh? Well, it wasn't. We had to talk with four companies - AT&T, DTE (Detroit Energy), CE (Consumer Energy), and Comcast. CE charged us several hundred dollars since we weren't customers of theirs. But it just took forever! AT&T had us directed from department to department, we kept having to call back and check up on the process...It finally worked though. Was a pain! We turned that all in.

We still haven't gotten the building permit. The guy at the city in charge of it only comes in on Mondays, so it's pretty inconvenient. To apply, we had to finalize the plans of the house...which I'll talk about in another post. Hopefully, we'll be getting the permit soon so we can start with the exciting part!

Once you get the demo permit you can demolish, but my brother wanted to wait until we had all the plans and blueprints ready. That way we can demolish then start building immediately after.
So the next step for us was making preliminary plans.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Picking a builder

Picking a builder is like deciding which doctor you want to operate on's a decision that will affect you for a long long time! Luckily for us, my brother is a builder, and a good one at that! But if he weren't, I'd think our decision-making would go somewhat like this:

-Search and make a list. The first thing I'd do is search for a list of local builders, check out their websites and make a list of those in my price range who build houses similar in size, quality, and type to the one I wish to build. Like contemporary style? I don't, but if I did I'd find builders who specialize in building those types of houses.

-Ask around. Know someone who's built his own house? Talk to him and see who built it and how the experience was. Is your friend really recommending someone? Because it's always best to go with someone already tried and tested!

-Check them out. I'd make sure to see pictures of houses the builder has already built, and if possible, visit a model house. Always best to see the finished product with your own eyes! My brother built his own house, and my husband and I love it and want ours to be quite similar to it.

-Meet/talk with them. Once I've whittled my list down a little, I'd meet or talk with the remaining options and see who I feel most comfortable with. When building a house, you're about to enter into a month-long relationship, with sometimes daily communication. You should like your builder, or at least not hate him! Make sure you show or at least describe the lot to your builder. Is there a house currently on the lot? Sometimes parts of the land can't be built on. Make sure you discuss these details! Especially if you're going with a foreclosure.

-Negotiate. Talk numbers from the first visit. Don't get stuck in the position where you've grown fond of a builder, but haven't yet discussed cost. If you're demolishing, don't forget to talk demolition costs. Where does the money you pay for the house go?

-Sign a contract. Be sure to read the contract before signing!! No one likes a surprise!

Got the builder and the lot. Now what? Time to apply for building and demolition (if applicable) permits.

First step - Finding a lot

My husband and I were pretty sure we wanted to build, and not buy, a house so we set out looking for the perfect lot. This may be the most important step in the entire house-building process, because as much as you may like your house, if you don't like where it is, or the land it's on, you're not going to be happy.

The hard economic times we are in are actually to the house-hunter's advantage these days. Once we knew we were going to build, we decided to look for a foreclosed house to tear down. My brother had done this years before, well-no, it wasn't foreclosed, but he bought an old house, tore it down, and built a new one in its place. Sadly, there isn't a shortage of foreclosures in Michigan.

Next we thought about location. We quickly decided on this small picturesque city, with small streets, historic landmarks, and good schools. That narrowed our options a lot, since it's a very little town.

We were in the hospital having our first child when my husband told me about the house he had found online. He had went to see it earlier with my brother and was feeling really good about it. After the anaesthesiologist had given me my epidural, we sat there talking about this house... that would one day become ours.

Since it's old and abandoned (for over two years), my husband had to do some extra homework. He went to the city hall and asked about the house, got the public records, inquired about the sewer and well (it's not city water). It's also a good idea to have a surveyor come out to survey the land to determine where the house can and can't be built. Our builder recommended a surveyor whom we met with on site. The lot is not completely leveled, and having the surveyor discuss our options with us really helped.

In the end, my husband put an offer that was accepted :-) Set on a street, and not a neighborhood, surrounded by trees, private and serene, it was our dream house. Except that it was rundown, broken, and in shambles! But that only made it more exciting.

I wish now that I had taken a picture of it before it was gone. But this picture from afar will have to do. You can kinda see the red brick walls... Now that you have a lot, you need to choose a builder!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Why build?

versus just buying?

Thinking why you should build and waste money on a builder when you can just buy a house that's already up for sale?

Well there are a lot of reasons. The first is, you may actually pay less than, or the same as, you would pay for a house on the market. The reason for this is, sadly, the US economy has hit the building industry badly. Builders are desperate for a project, any project. You may just be able to get yourself a pretty good deal.

*Not sure you can afford to build a house? Calculate an estimate for how much your n ew house will cost and, as Dad always tells me, expect it to cost about 10% more!

The more important reason is of course that building means it is your house. Customized to your liking, everything from the rooftop down to the toilets and doorknobs! You know that feeling where you like a house, but......... Hate that "but"?? Wish you could find a house that has it "all"? Well, by building, you can!

Third, it's FUN!! Watching the house come up is like watching your baby grow. You can observe the construction of the house from the very beginning. It's an adventure for the whole family! When my dad built his house, we would drive out there every weekend, run around, and share notes, "What's changed since last time???" It was our little weekly outing and we loved it.

Convinced? Well, start looking for a lot!


Hey There!

My name's Ranya and I live in Ann Arbor, for the time being that is. My husband and I recently bought an old, run-down, and abandoned foreclosure house that was torn down just yesterday!
My brother (a professional builder) is building us a house on the property, and we are so excited! I plan on using this blog as a way to update the house's progress (with pictures, hopefully) and comment on the entire house-building process! I probably should have started this months ago - before we even bought the house - but I was pregnant and didn't think of it til now! Will try to post at least once every two weeks, but knowing me, it'll probably be more than that! At least in the beginning while I fill you in on all the details that we've already decided on.

Thinking of building a home yourself? Let me tell you, we've only just started but so far it has been extremely exciting...and I know so much more about houses now. It's hard for me to see a house without thinking, "Hmmm.. is that a hip roof, or a gable?" Or, "Wow, check out the stone on that house! But wait, is that cultured stone?" and my newest obsessions, "Look at that front door!" and "To hardwood or not, that is the question."

So for the next week or so I will start at the very beginning. And the adventure begins! I hope you enjoy it as much as I do :-)
The pre-building stage includes: