Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Room With a View

Maybe it's not geometrically correct, but I still think it's pretty cool!

Latest Three Dee

Here are the latest 3D renditions, featuring accurate topography, a garage built into the front of the basement (is it doable? Don't know yet!), and 2' high basement windows. These images are taken from a fly-through 3D version of the house that I'm building with Home Design Studio for the Mac.

It's not meant to be ease-y!

I now finally have my survey and my soils report, and predictably there's some good news and some bad news. The good news is that it's 'feasible' to build my LV Home on the lot - there's about three feet of topsoil, and under that is bedrock. The house will require either pier and grade beam foundations or, if we bury the basement into the hillside (which is what I intend to do), spread footings, which I assume would be less costly. So far, so good.

The not so good news is that our surveyor found out PG&E own an easement for the aerial power lines that hover above our lot. The upshot is that, instead of placing the front (south) corner of the house at the 15 foot front setback line, we will have to move the entire house 10 feet further down the hill, to a PG&E 25 foot setback line. It's a tight squeeze as it is, so that means we'd need to either rotate the house back about 12º away from the optimal view of the ocean; or get a variance for the rear 20 foot setback from Pacifica's planning department, so that we can encroach around 6 feet; or get permission from PG&E to ignore their easement; or chop a little off the corner of the house!

Of these options, the first is our least favorite, because we want to keep the view - that's the whole point of this site! The second is apparently very unlikely, and is also very expensive: the Pacifica Planning Department will charge us $4000 just to apply for the variance, which they won't support, and which they think we are unlikely to get. Choice number 3 is our favorite, although as you can imagine, dealing with PG&E will no doubt require the patience of a saint and several valium. Option 4 is a last resort, but I think it's doable, and it might look OK if we make it a feature rather than a bug!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Stakes All Around!

Things are starting to move! On a rainy Sunday morning I met Ed at the lot and we checked out the surveyor's work. We now finally have the property corners and the setbacks marked. We cleared a shit load of brush and established lines of sight so that Ed could bang in some stakes on the marks and run lines. We also marked the corners of the house, and it looks like it will just fit within the setbacks at the correct angle (turned about 35º NNW) to face the ocean. At this point it's unclear whether or not we'll be able to fit in a garage or carport next to the house - that's still TBD.

Very grateful to get some help from someone I don't even know, Bill Drury, who is clearing his own lot in San Rafael with the intention of building an LV Home, or something similar. Bill kindly volunteered his time and spent a couple of hours helping to cut down and clear shrubs. Thanks Bill!

Next step is to meet the surveyor at the lot and have him give us exact spots for the four corners of the house, and then we'll run lines and got a more accurate idea of how everything looks. We should get the actual survey map by Thursday, and the soils report some time next week.

In the meantime, I'm still getting quotes for the windows, and compiling a window and door spreadsheet, which I'll share with the LV Home Yahoo! group at some point soon. The best quotes have been from 1st Windows in LA, very reasonable prices for Milgards (50% less than my local quote!) and Jeld-Wen. I also now know that, if I want to have four full height 9' aluminum sliding doors at the back of the house, my main choices are Jeld-Wenn or Bonelli's, as neither Milgard nor Blomberg make them that high. The Jeld-Wen sliders are around $2500.00 each, while the Bonelli's are double that, at $4850.00 each. In the interests of completeness, I'll add that 9' Fleetwood sliders are nearly double that again, at $8918.00 each. I presume they are made of gold rather than aluminum.

Numbers in a nutshell: Milgard windows and doors all around for $10,753; Jeld-Wen all around for $17,140; Blomberg all around for $31,721; Bonelli's all around for $34,595; and Fleetwood all around for just over $60K!!! I'm leaning towards the Jeld-Wen, if I can get a good close-up look at them.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Talbot in the Morning

This morning Ed (my contractor friend) and I met with the surveyor at the lot, and it was the first time I'd seen the place in morning light. It was breathtaking...

Sunday, December 7, 2008


This weekend I've spent waaaay to long working on a 3D fly-through version of the house using Home Design Pro for the Mac. It's worth it, though, because after measuring out the lot and the setbacks and creating the 3D design, it looks like there's room on the lot to build a separate garage, and it doesn't look too bad next to the house.

The advantages of building a separate garage are that we won't need to change Rocio's plans (every change is expensive!); we can drop the basement lower into the hillside, which gives the house a much nicer profile; we don't have to deal with easements to get access from the bottom of the lot; and we don't have to build a long driveway. Also, we'll get the benefit of a full 1200 sq ft basement.

The cons? Well, it doesn't look all that attractive, does it? And I still have to build a second foundation and a garage!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Moving along, slowly

Now that Thanksgiving is out of the way, it's time to get everything moving along. The soils report is underway, with borings being taken right now, and today I signed a contract and mailed a deposit check for the site survey, which should happen on Friday.

The soils report, which is being done by Michelucci and Associates, will cost $4000.00.
The site survey, which is being done by American Land Surveying, will cost $3400.00.

And I have to say, I am very happy with those quotes, as I thought both surveys would be considerably more expensive.

Meanwhile, I'm still investigating windows. I got a quote from Bonelli's, who make high end windows here in San Francisco, for $34,595.00. That's... how can I put it?... a lot of fricking money. Nevertheless, I'm going to take a look at their products on Friday morning. They also quoted me $17,938.00 for the four sliding patio doors at the back of the building, and around $5250.00 each for oversize sliding patio doors that are 9' high - the height of the building.

I'm thinking that perhaps I could use these 9' Bonelli windows for the entire back of the house, without transoms. Matthew and Allison did this to their house in the Hudson Valley in New York State. I could then use cheaper windows - perhaps Milgards - for the rest of the house. Just a thought...

Still wondering what it takes to get a quote for the roof. In this crappy economy, why is it so hard to get anyone to return your calls, or follow through with a quote? Bewildering...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

From the Air...

This is the area where I'll be building the house, from my flight to St Louis last weekend.

Monday, November 24, 2008


Met with Rocio Romero in Perryville yesterday to discuss the plans. Didn't realize it would cost me $600.00, but I suppose that's my fault for not reading the small print.

The sticking points for customization is the placement of the garage (in the basement? Access from the street, or from the private road at the bottom of the lot?), which won't be resolved for a while. Ideally we'd build a driveway up from the bottom, but first I need to find out if we can get an easement, and if so, how much that will cost. There's also a sewer line at the bottom of the lot, and it may be a challenge to construct the driveway over it.

Got to go and look at some aluminum windows tomorrow. Apparently, I can use aluminum out here by the ocean if I get them with a clear anodized finish.

Can't get used to calling them 'aluminum', though. It's supposed to be 'aluminium.'

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Window to my Soul

This is a conundrum.

The LV Home looks best with aluminum windows, and my first quote was encouraging - Milgard aluminum windows at under $16k.

Not so fast, though.

The lot is close to the sea, and apparently aluminum corrodes in sea air, which means that aluminum is probably out. That leaves vinyl (yuck!) or fiberglass. Vinyl only comes in white or tan, and is quite a bit more expensive. It's just not gonna look good with the galvanized steel siding. After all, it's vinyl. On the plus side, like fiberglass, it doesn't produce condensation, so the glass doesn't need to be thermally broken.

Fiberglass is even more expensive, and you can finish the exterior it to match the color of the siding. But so far I can't find thin-frame sliding patio doors, only French doors with big fat ugly frames.

I'll talk to Rocio and her staff about this on Saturday. Hopefully we can come up with an elegant, non-corrosive, non-astronomically expensive solution.

You Can Quote Me On That

Starting to get some quotes now:

$5300.00 for the site survey
$4000.00 for the soils report
$15425.69 for the windows (Milgard Aluminum, with SunCoastMax)

No idea about the roof yet, though. There are so many choices - EPDM (which Rocio used on her house), TPO, PV, Green, and Duro-Last, to name a few. I'd love to get the PV (photo-voltaic) roof, but I'm sure it's going to be too expensive. Green is Good, but it's also pricey, and my budget is thinner than a bulimic supermodel after a visit to the bathroom.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


For my birthday in late September, Connie and I stayed at Jennifer and Barry Watson's LUMINHAUS in Amherst, Virginia. Jennifer and Barry were Rocio Romero's first customers for the LV Home, and they built it themselves for just under $100,000.

Getting there wasn't simple. I live in San Francisco, and Connie lives in NYC. So I flew Virgin America to Washington DC, while Connie flew Delta to Richmond, VA. The plan was for me to take the Amtrak train from DC to Richmond, but my flight was delayed - badly - due a mechanical problem, and I missed my train. Since there wasn't another one for 6 hours and I was stuck, the very helpful Virgin supervisor agreed to refund the cost of my flight. I grabbed a (very expensive!) taxi to the Greyhound station, and got a (very cheap) bus to Richmond. The bus experience in the U.S. is, and always has been, a little depressing, but I arrived at the Richmond bus station right around the time Connie pulled up in our rented car.

Luminhaus is hidden away on 6.2 acres of woodland in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The house is truly lovely, as you can see:

We had a great weekend, and it confirmed my fierce desire to build my own LV Home.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hey Big Spender!

And so the big spending begins!

Wrote a check today for the deposit and dropped it off at the title company (and I forgot how hard it was to cycle up Franklin to Post - damn, that's steep!), so we're now officially in escrow, with 90 days before close of escrow.

In that time I have to get the site surveyed (I have several quotes, from $4k to $8k) and get the geotechnical report (also known as a soils report - expensive); work with Rocio Romero to get the completed and probably slightly customized plans (just wired them a $10k down payment) ; and get the building permits (that process looks like it will cost at least $16k - oh, the joy of building in the Bay Area!).

Early days, but I'm hoping that we can start building in late March/early April.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

What a Lot I Got!

Well, it's about 90 ft wide by 85 ft deep, in the Sharp Park area of Pacifica, and it's about a quarter of a mile from the Pacific Ocean. If you wanna see it, take a look on Google Maps or Google Earth. It's at 445 Talbot Avenue, Pacifica, CA 94044.

These are photos of architect Rocio Romero's own prototype LV Home in Perryville, Missouri. The house is available as a kit home, and about 100 of them have been built around the U.S.

Next Saturday I'll be flying to St. Louis for a tour of Rocio's house, and then we'll be meeting to discuss my LV Home!

It Starts Here...

OK, the plan is to build an LV Home on a 7650 sq ft lot that I'm buying in Pacifica, a pretty, foggy seaside community about 15 miles and 15 minutes down the coast from San Francisco.

With any luck, we'll begin the building process in March or April next year, at the end of the rainy season, and I'd love to be able to move in next August. We'll see.

The lot has ocean views, so it should be spectacular on those rare sunny days:

Spent a beautiful afternoon and evening in Pacifica today. Lunch at the Salada Cafe, chatted with some neighbors, then watched the sun set on Rockaway Beach. One of the nicest evenings I've ever seen in the Bay Area!