If anyone had ever told me that one day we would build a house, I never would have believed it. Yet, after living for two years in substandard rentals plus 35 years in an old fixer-upper, things finally worked out for us to build a new one. It was one of the best times of my life, in spite of some lessons about the building process we had to learn the hard way.
After finding and buying the perfect house spot, an unimproved plot of two wooded acres on the down side of a road running the length of a hill just inside the city limits, we both continued to work and save for a few years before we were ready to start building. During that time, we came up with house plans that we were both happy with.
We cleared the brush, briars, and a few trees from the land near the road, and at someone’s suggestion, we hired a man with a bulldozer to clean off the place for the house. Then he went to the bottom of the hill and dug a pond, hauling the dirt up to build a pad for the house since the area was about six feet lower in the back than in the front.
We started talking to contractors, some who came and looked at the location and never returned. After going through eight contractors, some who weren’t interested and some we were leery of, the eighth finally told us what was going on. He said he was unable to take the job, as he worked alone and was about to have surgery, but he would tell us that we didn’t want that clay under our house. He said when it got wet, it would swell up and push the foundation out.
So we called back the man we had paid $1100 to build the pad, and hired him to unbuild it. Much of the soil we gave to our neighbor to the north, and we used the rest to fill in low places on our side of the line. Later we paid half the cost of digging a drainage ditch between our properties and it has worked well to prevent drainage problems.
When we finally got back to square one, we called another contractor, a man we had both known as a local carpenter, but didn’t realize he built houses from the ground up. We had plans based on a house our daughter had lived in, with some additions to it. My husband wanted a room built upstairs over the garage where he could sit and look out over the valley below us. Where other contractors had expressed doubt that could be done, this one knew immediately just how to do it. He did all the work himself that he could do legally, and hired a plumber and electrician, although he could have done better work himself than they did. He was totally dependable and honest in every way. We were blessed.
Our plans changed much as the job progressed. We had told our builder that we wanted a back porch. After he got it poured, we decided to have him enclose it for a sunroom. We also told him we wanted a deck behind the sunroom. Then we decided we needed a narrow deck running from the driveway and down the side of the sunroom to the main deck. We also realized we needed a narrow deck running the entire length of the house at the back, joined onto the main deck at the south end and with steps on the north end. We had a door put where a window was supposed to be in a bedroom, and later had the builder add another window to the room. The deck would serve as a means of escape in case of fire, as that door and the back doors of the living room and sunroom were high off the ground. Every change was made with no complaints from our builder.
One day I came out and saw that the decks were pretty well completed, except for the one my husband wanted upstairs by “his room.” So we told the builder we wanted another deck upstairs, thinking it would be much smaller than the lower one. We came out after work to see he had framed up a deck almost as large as the lower one, with nice, sturdy steps leading up to it. A few years later we floored that upper deck, which provides a dry place below to sit and enjoy the rain. We were glad our builder was willing to take some things into his own hands and work without definite plans.
We had planned to have a circular staircase in the corner of the sunroom to access the upstairs room, but decided, with our builder’s help, that we could use a regular staircase. Upstairs, that left a long narrow space on one side of the stairs, which we turned into a galley-type kitchen, and a larger one on the other side, which serves as a bedroom. At the end of the bedroom area is a sitting room, and at the end of the kitchen a bathroom. So what started out as a room for my husband to sit in and look out evolved into a complete, though small, apartment.
Many evenings after work during the seven months our house was under construction, we found it necessary to drive to the nearest town of any size, 50 miles away, to buy building materials. One night we took our small truck up there to buy floor tiles for several rooms. When we got them loaded, the back tires were flat and the front ones would barely touch the ground. So we had to rearrange the tiles in the truck and limp down the road to a gas station to put more air in the tires. We later realized we had far exceeded the maximum weight load for the truck. But no harm was done and we would know better next time.
Although our house grew by 37% from our original plans, we were both very happy with the finished product. By saving up for it for years before starting to build, we were able to complete the house and pay it off as soon as our old one sold. It was such a good experience for me that I would like to do it again. My husband may not agree completely, but we both feel blessed with the way things all worked out.