By ALEXI VENICE
If you haven’t fought with your spouse recently, and you’d like to go a few rounds, build a house together. Better yet, do it in your mid-30’s when you still have a lot of estrogen on board so your heart is really in it.
(I wrote this post a few days after Halloween, and I’m so buzzed on mini-chocolate bars and an iced latte that I can barely control my tapping feet much less my typing fingers. Who knows what’s gonna fly out of my brain onto this page?!)
Bill and I are building our fifth house over the course of our 27-year marriage. We’d like to think we’re getting better at making harmonious decisions, but we can still muster up a door-slamming fight over—well—doors. Personally, I think bathrooms should have doors on them. Just sayin’. I compromised. The den doesn’t have a door on it. (Deposit a coin in the marital harmony bank for me.)
Here’s my perspective on building a house. First, time is money. The goal is to finish the house—and soon. No matter how you’re financing the project, it needs to get done, so you can get your finances in order. Second, building is a complex project with several moving parts, so you have to be patient—which is challenging in the face of time being money. Third, trust your builder that he knows what he’s doing. Fourth, try to maintain the marriage, so you want to live together after you’ve built your dream house.
The house we’re currently building is the house we plan to retire in. It’s one level, three bedrooms, three bathrooms, and has laundry off the kitchen. The hallways are wide enough for a wheelchair and the showers are zero-entry. (Bill is looking out for our best interests if one of us breaks a hip.) The finished space is about 2,200 square feet, plus an attached garage and a storage room.
Here’s the empty lot we bought a few years ago for this house.
Our builder is Jerry Geist & Sons from Holcombe. Jerry has been a builder for many years and is also a deer hunter.
Of the two heads in that pic, I’m pretty sure Jerry is the lower right. Jerry’s sons are Terry and Jay (the “Geist Bros.”). Terry is in the feature photo of this post. He’s the older brother, so he comes first. (Like Jay hasn’t heard that his entire life!)
A builder is like a massage therapist. You have to trust him not to stick a knife in your back (or place scalding hot rocks on your spine) when you’re in a vulnerable position. We trust the Geist Bros. as much as I trust my massage therapist.
(If you know Bill, you correctly guessed that he doesn’t have a massage therapist—that I know of. In fact, no other woman’s hands have touched him since we got married—that I’m aware of. Hmm. Let me confirm that and get back to you. He’s in the kitchen, and I’m hopped up on chocolate and coffee. I’ll ask. Hold on……
Okay. I’m back. I asked, and he told me, “not since college.” Whew. Building a house can be such an emotional roller coaster.)
The Geist Bros. built our lake house four years ago and did a splendid job. We beta-tested the design, in-floor heat, and some of the materials we plan to use in our retirement house at the lake.
We talk to the Geist Bros. every day at the job site. (Hard hats optional if you want to look like an OSHA geek.) I have a rule of thumb when working with carpenters. Once I describe what I want, and they start building, I don’t complain. Their workmanship is top notch, so the result will always look finished (whether it’s exactly what I had in mind or not). Good carpenters are creative, so I want them to bring their style to the project.
Bill designed our previous four houses, too. During various phases, we built a couple of suburban, traditional-looking homes; a log cabin at the farm; and the lake house, so we were ready for a super modern look.
Yes, that’s a deer off the farm porch. Where’s Jerry?
Bill outgrew gabled rooftops in his 50s, so you’ll see the roof-line for the retirement home is 3/12 pitch. (So he tells me; I haven’t measured it.) The house is composed of three sections that are spatially incorporated where the roof-lines intersect. (It turns Bill on when I talk like this.)
The color theme (inside and out) is wine and grey. We decided on a burgundy steel roof, grey siding, and white trim. The columns will be wrapped in cinnabar (one of the 50 shades of burgundy) and will have stone bases.
Speaking of 50 shades, the heating for this house is radiant in-floor on the concrete slab. The energy source for the boiler is natural gas. (No, that doesn’t mean Bill.) Although, here’s Bill standing in the mechanical room where the pipes for the radiant heating are visible.
Another source of heat is a wood stove in the living room. We like the brand Vermont Castings and have the exact same model and color (burgundy) at our lake house. This little stove will be able to heat the house from 65 degrees to 75 degrees in one hour.
The energy source for electricity will be solar panels on the detached shed. Look at this wonky, asymmetrical shed! We really had the neighbors talking when this went up. They conjectured we were building a sauna and would be running nude between the shed and house—through the snow in the winter! (How crazy is that?! Don’t they realize we only run nude outdoors in the summer? And that will be down the middle of the street!)
The solar panel shed faces south. Now that Bill makes hot sauce and yogurt, I’m thinking we should go off the grid and use the solar shed for a chicken coop. The first step in creating your own cult is to make your own yogurt and electricity, right? In fact, from a distance, this house sort of looks like a convention center. Guru Bill might have to hold some cooking classes in it.
The plan is to use what we need for electricity and sell any excess to the energy company. Bill tells me the electric company will act as our “battery” until we decide to buy a power wall for the shed. I made the mistake of asking why we aren’t buying a battery now, so he explained cost, kilowatts, amortization over the life of the solar panels, etc., until I ran from the kitchen with my hands over my ears.
(Behavioral Detour here: I’m ashamed to admit that I hate getting trapped in conversational quicksand where I have to listen to boring stuff. I’m terrified my brain is going to store the boring stuff, using precious space, and not leave room for murder mysteries with romantic twists. To keep the boring stuff from sticking, I walk/run away from a boring conversation. It’s an impolite technique that I routinely rely upon. I’m not suggesting that you try it. It could be career-ending in many instances.)
Back on track. Let’s talk clean water. We aren’t on city water for this house, so we had to dig a well. Here’s a tip—never watch guys digging a well; it’s literally throwing money down a hole. They spent two-and-a-half days digging! I was hoping they’d strike oil, but…
Here are some tips for you future home builders. My colleague, Zach, recently built a house, so he contributed as well:
- Make daily (short) visits to the house to chat with the builder and answer any questions he might have. (Don’t get in the way or micromanage.)
- Visit the house at least a couple of times per week when the crew isn’t there—like in the evenings. Confirm that the work is being done per plan (windows and lights are in the right places). Make a list to discuss with your builder (or sub) the next business day when they return.
- Point out things you think are well done when bringing to their attention the items that need to be corrected.
- Show up on a Friday at noon with a cooler of beverages and some snacks. Leave it there for them to drink/eat during breaks.
- If you’re confused about something, ask the builder. There might be a miscommunication and you’ll both be glad you clarified the issue before it became permanent/expensive to change.
- Remember that your house isn’t the only house they’re building. There might be days when the crew isn’t at your house because they have to pay attention to another project.
- Your builder has a certain order in which things need to be done, so trust that the builder is lining up the subcontractors appropriately. (For example, the rough electrical needs to go in before they can insulate and sheet rock the interior).
- Builders have lives, too. They won’t work on your house 24/7. In Wisconsin, no one (not one sub) works during gun deer hunting season (Thanksgiving week).
- On a different note, there might be one subcontractor who’s a dud. This has happened to us, and we simply discuss it with the builder.
- Remember that deadlines get pushed because, if there’s a delay on one item, it has a domino effect on next steps. (If the windows are delayed, it pushes back siding.)
My chocolate and caffeine high is wearing off, so I need to wrap up. Thanks for sticking with this post. I so value your readership and opinion. Feel free to offer your own comments and tips below.