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Friday, February 28, 2014

House: a large hole in the ground into which you pour money (and time)

We’re seeing the first signs of spring, and things are starting to happen, 

at last.

Crocuses in front of the Swedish Center

Typical modern Japanese soaking tub
We went to the Home Show and looked at doors, windows, counter tops, kitchen cabinets, railings, flooring, exterior materials, etc. until we were glassy eyed. We have to consider a lot of finishes, and hardware and it’s mind-boggling. Much of what was on display is totally unsuitable. The garden shed that’s bigger than our garden? Or how about the hot tub that seats ten and has a built in light show? There were a lot of hot tubs, most of them gigantic, some the size of small swimming pools. Don’t people realize how much energy they consume (not to mention water and (blech) chemicals? Here I am feeling guilty about wanting a one person Japanese-style soaking tub.

Brochures from the Home Show
The house itself remains empty and untouched (in other words, no, we still haven’t moved in yet), and possibly uninsured do to the complete incompetence of the insurance company who sold us the wrong kind of policy. But we are making progress, even if it isn’t visible. We have chosen a contractor, and spent considerable time with each candidate looking at preliminary budgets.

Today we participated in a charrette - a collaborative meeting between us, the architect, a structural engineer, and the contractor - to iron out some sticking points. The main problem being the remodel, as originally designed, would be significantly over budget. As it stood, the plans had nearly everything we ever wanted in a house, plus some extra space that we could easily do without. This propelled us into some serious thinking about what they call value engineering.  In other words, how to do as much of what we want to do without breaking the bank.  This calls for being creative with materials, and scaling back the project.

We really don’t need to make the house any bigger, but the plans extended one of the bedrooms in two dimensions in order to even out the facade and seamlessly tie in the front entrance to the rest of the house. It looked very nice on paper, until we saw how much it would cost. If we don't enlarge the envelope, and don't completely restructure the roof  (which would have required the
What to do with the roof
removal and rebuilding of the entire top floor to support the new shape) there will be less major engineering work, and less excavation. This kind of work is very expensive and best avoided if possible. However, it has been a real struggle to come up with a solution that doesn’t look ridiculous from the outside. We think we may have succeeded, though there’s an odd space on the ground under the top deck that may have to be a rock garden.
The roof is still under discussion. The shingles need replacing, and it really should have eaves extending over the walls (it occasionally rains in Seattle, if you hadn’t heard).  But completely redesigning it is too expensive.
While trying to finalize the rooflines, we looked at the plans, and compared them to exterior photographs of the house, and concluded some of the measurements for the front of the house
may be inaccurate.  This could have quite an impact on structural issues. Until the architect can get back to the house and double check a few measurements we can’t be sure what the answer will be.  There’s a bit of time pressure here, as the plan is to submit the permit requests in less than three weeks.

The basement will probably stay as it is rather than the radical redesign we first envisioned.  We're keeping the walk through bathroom intact, the only one, thank heavens that doesn't have horrible concrete countertops.  Various other elements have been jettisoned, such as a staircase between the back garden and the deck (everyone agrees the current metal monstrosity has to go). Along with a sweeping shed roof, we’ve cut out a catwalk with a view over Puget Sound.  The back deck will cover a smaller expanse, but have more useable surface area now that there is no staircase in the middle of it. However, after shivering through two cold snaps (the last one record-breaking) we decided the hydronic underfloor heating is not optional. Forced air heating is too unpleasant, and I’m willing to give up a lot for warmth.
Looking forward to next spring, when we might be able to enjoy the view from our refashioned home.

Fishing boat on Shilshole Bay