Archive for May, 2010

I know nothing about these.  The soil, from what I can tell, is brown and has rocks.  So I do not know what this is and what to expect.  However, I do know someone who does.  My very dear friend, Carrie, is an environmental engineer and has been a font of information about it.  She has agreed to answer some questions for me to better understand what these are all about. Thanks Carrie!  I appreciate the information and I now understand the need for the surveys.
First, introductions.  Carrie is an environmental engineer with a degree from Michigan Technological University.  She has a Professional Engineer’s License (PE), achieved in 2009, which generally covers air, water, land, groundwater, hazardous materials and waste. She has been working in the field for over 16 years, primarily doing soil and groundwater contamination investigation.  Many aspects of subsurface soil and groundwater investigations overlap with geotechnical investigations.  During the last 3 years, she has added a bit of civil engineering skills (site planning, and a tiny bit of structural engineering) to her repertoire.
What follows is an interview I had with her recently regarding soil and geotechnical surveys.

Me:  What are soil and geotechnical surveys?
Carrie:  A soil survey is just what it sounds like.  You go to a particular area and determine soil types (e.g. sand, silt, clay, bedrock).  A geotechnical survey is performed to determine the capacity of the soils to hold up a particular structure at a site.  It is a soil survey that encompasses subsurface investigation of not only soil type, but also compression.  Soil samples are collected during the investigation in the event that laboratory testing is needed for more specific information.  Some examples would be to determine the stiffness of a clay sample or the specific grain size of a sand sample.  All the information is collected and analyzed.  A report will be compiled, typically for a structural engineer, to let them know the amount of pressure the soils at the site are capable of supporting.  From there, the structural engineer can design the footings and foundation of the house.
Me:  What is the process for gathering the soil samples?
Carrie:  Samples are collected by a drill rig (or similar equipment).  The rig goes to the site and performs borings of pre-determined depths at various locations at the site.  Typically, a structural engineer will provide locations and depths based on where the footings will be and the size of the structure to be built.  When collecting the samples, the drillers will count “blow counts” to determine the compression of the soil.  The blow count is just what it sounds like.  The drillers count how many blows it takes for the sample collector to go through one foot of soil.
Me:  What are they looking for?
Carrie:  In general, they are looking for surprises.  Typically, you would know the general soil types in an area from previous government soil surveys.  These typically do not provide site-specific information or stratigraphy at a site.  Surprises would be sub-surface voids, uncompressed soils or undesirable soils.
Me:  What types of soil are good for building?
Carrie:  Bedrock is the ultimate foundation for any structure.  However, it’s not commonly found near the surface.  Generally, compacted sand of varying grain size is very good to build on.  Stiffer, dry clays also make good foundations.
Me:  What types of soil are not good?
Carrie:  Any soil that is not compressed provides some degree of difficulty in building.  The worst soil types tend to be peat and marle, though. These are organic soils that are typically from a former swamp beneath the site.  These have little structural integrity.
Me:  If we have the “bad” kind of soil, what can be done to enhance the soil so we could build?
Carrie:  There are several options available to address unsuitable soils. 
     a.  Poorly-compacted or unsuitable soils near the surface.
               These could be excavated or a compactor (vibrator) could be used to better compact the soil.
     b.  Poorly compacted subsurface soils.
             Vibro compaction can be used in this case.  Probes would be put into the ground that vibrate and jet water into the soils.  This compacts the subsurface.
     c.  Unsuitable, subsurface soils.
             These are some of the hardest soils to deal with. If they are too deep to excavate, piles must be installed that go down to a lower, more stable soil.  The structure would then sit on the piles, as opposed to footings.
Me:  Are there any situations in which no amount of enhancement can be done to the soil and you couldn’t build?
Carrie:  No.  However, some of the options are very costly.  While it would be rare if you were in an area that is already partially developed, if deep unsuitable soils were found, the solution may be too costly to proceed with the building.
Me:  We think the soil is glacial till–sediment and large rocks.  What does that imply?
Carrie:  When the glaciers came through, they scraped the surface and took in various types of soil.  As the glaciers receded, they left glacial till behind.  It’s basically a hodge podge of whatever may have been in the glacier (e.g., sand, silt, clay. rocks).  While it means that an area may have more frequent changes in soil type, glacial till is by no means a deterrent to building in an area.
Me:  We are building a 1-story house with a bonus room above the garage.  Given this, what sort of supports need to be built into the garage to support the bonus room?
Carrie:  Typically, the structure in place to support the garage roof is capable of supporting a load of 20 pounds per square foot.  For a bonus room, the rafters and floor of the bonus room need to be designed to support 40 pounds per square foot. Extra supports would just be the bonus room floor.  For the rafters, typically, you would just need to change the size of the materials, as opposed to building additional rafters.

There you have it.  Everything you wanted to know about soil and geotechnical surveys.  As soon as we receive the report from the surveyor, I shall post the results.  Since there are other houses already built around our property, we are not expecting any surprises.  But it will be fun to know what makes up our soil.  I’ll be able to talk intelligently about it should someone ask about it.


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And we’re off!

We’ve chosen a builder!  I really felt that we clicked with him and we are happy with our choice.  But more on that in a later blog.  We signed the contract and have a list of pre-construction tasks from our builder complete with “assigned to” and due dates.  Here is our list broken into sections.

  1. Contracts: sign–done
  2. Sitework–site survey, topographic survey, soil test:  these are assigned to owner and architect
  3. Design work–plat requirements, site and grading plan, schematic design, design development, construction documents (all assigned to architect) and design review approval (assigned to owner, architect and builder)
  4. Budgeting–schematic design budget, design development budget, final budget (builder)
  5. Permitting–Building permit (builder), water and sewer tap fees (owner), declaration of covenants (owner, builder), planning and zoning signoff (no one assigned)
  6. Utilities–Mountain Parks load data sheet (builder), Mountain Parks signed contract and payment (owner), Mountain Parks layout/field meeting (builder), Xcel Energy application (owner, builder)

Now, the first set of tasks, site survey and topographic survey have a due date of 5/24/10.  Notice how these are assigned to “owner and architect.”  OK, one week does not give us a lot of lead time to get these done; in fact it gives us very little time.  As a project manager, it’s very embarrassing to be assigned the first tasks and being late in delivery!  Not a good way to start the process!  Yikes!!  I am assured it’s OK, but it is a bit embarrassing.

We received a couple names from our builder to call and we have someone who will do these by the first week of June.  We’ll be 1-2 weeks late.  *Sigh*

Next up, soil survey–due 6/9/10.   We received several options for soil surveys which we will be reviewing and choosing over the next couple days.  Apparently they dig a hole or two, pull soil samples and analyze them.  I don’t know what they are looking for, but from what I can tell, it’s brown and has rocks.

The next task is a budget from the builder, due 6/7/10.  An estimate of the cost of the project.  This will be most illuminating.

The bulk of the work over the summer, however, is in our architect’s hands.  He needs to get all the designs complete enough to submit for review and approval.  Why you may ask?

Because we are going to try to break ground in September rather than waiting until May!!

Aaaaaahhhhhhh!!!!  This is a huge change in scope.  Our original goal was to break ground in 2011 to be in the house by Christmas 2011.  During our trip to Colorado 3 weeks ago, we found that we wouldn’t be able to break ground until late May 2011.  Our builder indicated this would be an 8-month project.  That would put us in the house in February 2012 (in time for my birthday).  However, should we break ground in the fall of 2010, they could pour the foundation, get all the utility conduits dug and connections in, and get the sub-floor completed,  before sealing it up for the winter.  Something about using special blankets made for concrete.  I’m picturing our foundation snuggled up under these blankets with some hot chocolate or a warm fire to keep it warm throughout the winter…but I digress.

Should we be able to do this, we could get the subcontractors in off-cycle and earlier than usual (say April rather than May) and most likely be in the house by Thanksgiving 2011.  Now, a lot of things need to happen to do this, not least of which is getting the designs done enough to submit for approval.  As I said, this is all up to our architect.  I don’t want him burning himself out making the deadline, but if he says he can do it, I have to believe him.

He says he can do it.

So, in the immortal words of Bette Davis:  “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”  Stay tuned for updates as we go through the summer.  You can follow our tasks to see how many due dates we hit and how many we miss.  Of course, I could go into all kinds of project management stuff about critical path and network diagrams and Microsoft Scheduling, but I won’t.  This is too personal for that.

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Windows and Doors

We spent yesterday in a number of places checking out appliances and windows and doors.  And I learned a lot.   First, I REALLY like French doors.  I’ve never had them, but from what I’ve seen, they are lovely.  We checked out a few models, namely Anderson, Pella and Marvin Windows.  The result of yesterday’s excursion was changes to the drawings our architect has.  Not major changes, and isn’t it better to change things now rather than when the builders are into construction?  Yes, says I.

What are the changes?  First, let me make sure Dave has read his email.  Dave–have you read your email?  Yes?  Good.  I shall proceed.  Let’s look at the living room.   This is what our current design shows.

Notice how the door is on the very far left (or right if you are standing in the living room).  I would like to change this.  I would like to have a double in-swing French door in the center of the living room with a window flanking each side.  So, the configuration would be:  floor to ceiling window, double in-swing French door, floor to ceiling French door.  I really think these need to be in-swing rather than out-swing.  Mostly b/c if there is snow or winds, out-swing will be difficult to open the door.  I’ve found a couple examples of the styles I’d like.

Now,this one looks like a sliding glass door while the other one appears to be an out-swing door.  Both of these have the configuration I like, so we can substitute the in-swing doors in either case.  Not sure I want the curved window pane over the door in the one on the right but I’m flexible.

I have decided that the configuration in the breakfast nook also needs to be adjusted.  Right now, the configuration is this:

The door in this is on the far left (right if you are standing in the nook itself).  I think it would be better if the door was located in the angled wall and be a sliding glass door.  Yes, I know what you are thinking.  I’d said that I want all French doors out the back.  But I really think, in this case, that a sliding glass door is the best alternative.  There is limited space in the breakfast nook to begin with.  This is a good use of space.  Where the door is now is where floor-to-ceiling windows will be.  I like this new look.

Pella windows seems to be the only window that has cloth shades (aka Hunter-Douglas-style shades) in between the glass.  We really like this style as we get a window covering without having to install shades, blinds or curtains.  We like clean lines and not a lot of clutter….OK, so, work with me here!  If anyone knows of another window that has the cloth shades between the windows AND are as good as Pella windows, please let me know.  I’d like to know.

About the only window I haven’t decided on is the kitchen window.  Not sure if I want a casement window or double hung.  I’m rather inclined to the casement window as that is what I have now and rather like.  Anybody have any other opinions?  I’d love to hear from you.

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Trip Report

Boy, what a whirlwind weekend!  We packed so much into a 24 hour period, I don’t know where to begin.  We arrived, uneventfully, on Thursday evening and spent the night near the airport.  Friday morning we were up early (since we were 2 hours ahead) and the weather report was not in our favor.  Vail Pass/Eisenhower Tunnel had a “chains required” posting.  It wasn’t snowing on the front range so we easily made it to breakfast then set off for Middle Park (that’s where Grand Lake, Granby, Winter Park, Fraser, etc are located).

Berthoud Pass was snow-packed with one lane on each side travel-able.  Craig is an excellent mountain driver and we made it over in our Hyundai rental car with only a couple times slipping.  No big deal.  We were in the valley long before we needed to be.  It was a bit more snowy than anticipated as evidenced by this picture.  Beautiful, isn’t it?

We met with 3 builders–separately of course.  We spent about an hour with each one.  They were extremely informative meetings and we came away with a very difficult decision to make.  Each have their strengths.  Our next steps will be to call references and reconnoiter.  One thing I did learn:  I will need to adjust my expectations regarding the possible start and end date for construction.  I had hoped we’d break ground in April 2011 with occupancy by Christmas 2011.  Not gonna happen.  We’ll be lucky to break ground by the middle of May and it will be about 8 months of work.  So, we won’t be in until February 2012.  OK, so I hope to celebrate my birthday (Feb 5) in the new house.

The best part of the weekend was meeting our architect, Dave and our landscape designer, Teresa for the first time face-to-face.  There are fantastic people!  They were with us at each meeting asking questions along with us which was very helpful.  Teresa showed me her plans for the landscape and I love them.  But more on that in another blog.

Later in the afternoon, after several more stops, we finally made it to our property and for the first time we stood on the lot together.  This was a big moment for us!  We had both seen it separately but had not seen it together.  It looks cold, and it was.  It looks snowy, and it was.  But it is my vision of heaven.  It is beautiful.  Too bad the view up the draw of the continental divide was obscured but when we left on Saturday the ceiling had lifted enough for me to see some of it.  If you haven’t noticed, I’ve used a different cropping of this same picture in the header for this blog.  Bet you didn’t notice!

It was so peaceful when we woke up in the morning, a blanket of new-fallen snow on the ground–on May Day, no less.  We met Dave and Teresa in the Blue Creek Bakery for breakfast and discussed our next steps.  Before we left, we drove around our neighborhood looking at facades.  I think we gave Dave a pretty good idea of what we are looking for.  We left the valley around noon on Saturday and headed for my parent’s home.

We’ve got a lot to think about.

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