E xcavating was first. We were extremely fortunate to find a local team with dozens of years of experience. They were careful not to roll their eyeballs (at least when we were watching) as our flurries of questions made it clear we would be relying heavily on their good judgment. They chopped through the limestone and shale without a complaint to create a wonderfully flat area to build upon. They also made a nice clearing of trees and shrubs around the foundation area to serve as a fire break. Glad they thought of that. Big "Thanks" to Carl and Rob!


Step 1 done!


Next, again, we were thrilled by our concrete guy! He too was sensitive to our need for guidance, and did a bang up job on the foundation. We thank you Kenny and crew!


Step 2 done!


We were now ready for the arrival of the house kit. May 4th, the kit is here...arriving on a full size 50 ft semi! And here begins the next round of absurdity.


Because the last 4 miles of getting to our place has a number of tight turns on a single lane dirt road, we made it clear that a full size truck wasn't going to work. We were assured a shorter truck would be arranged. Well, clearly that little piece of info wasn't passed on at some point.


I met Russell our driver in town and gave him the news about the uncertainty of navigating the tighter curves. He had not only been unaware of the trailer size request, but was also never told about the 1/2 hour ride of dirt roads. Even with that, and after a long drive from Kentucky, he was strangely cheerful and confident. I really do think all the "Praise God" and "Thank The Lord" from the bible belt brought us a little sunshine! He was just what we needed.


So we set out into the no cell phone service wilderness. Me and my little VW kicking up huge clouds of dirt, followed by Russell cheerfully eating it. Poor guy... With only 4 miles left in the trip, he more and more understood my concern. The last couple miles we crawled and he managed to eek around the most challenging curves. We made it to the driveway! I am amazed and relieved. We pulled into the driveway where our building crew of 4 was waiting to unload.


Once backed in, the crew fired up the fork truck we had rented for the day, and quickly unloaded the cargo. The kit was methodically placed around the perimeter of the foundation. Pretty Slick! It was now late morning and the builders were able to put together the floor before calling it quits for the day and embarking on their 2 hour drive home. The next few days brought good progress. The guys usually put in about 6 hours a day when they could. We were informed the next morning that we were required to provide the fork truck for a week, not just the day of unloading like we were first told. Luckily, there were no other reservations for that week, so we were able to extend our reservation. What's another five hundred bucks?


The guys only stayed for a couple hours the 2nd day as the wind had nearly blown one of the workers off a ladder. Spring winds here can be pretty outrageous. We made one or 2 visits daily to see how things were going. Toward the last couple days of construction some kinda strange things were popping up.


We were noticing shoddy work and cut corners here and there. John, the crew chief was stressed. There was loose joinery, posts out of plumb and a slight sway in the roof ridge. We thought it weird that there were no temporary supports to hold up the roof ridge. Especially, since the collar ties had not yet been installed. The real head scratcher was the pee wee length of the collar ties securing the roof. Something ain't right.


Paul took up these issues with John. As far as the sagging roof ridge and out of plumb posts go, he ensured us it will all be fine in the end. And as for the lack of temporary supports to hold the roof ridge, he said not to worry and that was just the way they do it. When it came to the collar ties, he said it was with the kit, so that is what they used. Upon pressing him a little harder, he did admit that the size of the collar ties didn't sit well with him either, but he was reluctant to make waves with the designer.


We continued on with our concerns and made a call to the place we purchased the kit from, and eventually found out the wrong size ties had been loaded on the truck. The correct length of 4x6 lumber was ordered from a local lumber yard. The wood was still green, but installed pretty much right away. The guys hoisted up the roof ridge and secured the ties in place.


A couple days later, the shell of the house was nearly complete. The posts were now “plumb enough” and the obvious shortcuts we noticed were remedied. The premade stair riser and rail/baluster set was cut too long, so that whole unit is a little out of plumb too. At this point we had to ask ourselves how far to take the battle. The structure is basically sound and all the issues with plumb seemed to match. We figured if something were corrected to perfectly plumb or level, it would stick out like a sore thumb. We decided to let go of the more "minor" in discrepancies and just get the biggies taken care of.


Toward the end of our conversations with John, we found out that he and the guys are builders of sheds, not houses. This, in fact, was the first house they had built. Going back to the collar tie issue...they accidentally sent us ties for a shed!


Step 3 done!


Absurd: Let’s start with the whole “Embodied Energy” thing. We actually DID consider the absurdity of importing a kit from Kentucky. That’s 1200 miles of burning fuel unnecessarily. After all, there are reputable home kit dealers right here in Colorado. It was the price that got us. Because of the housing market crash, the sale of our Illinois home provided considerably less cash than we had hoped for. The kits from Kentucky were about 1/3 the price of similar 1,000 square foot kits from Colorado. That’s shipping included! To make matters worse, we found marks on the lumber telling us it was first shipped from Canada to Kentucky. Yes, so now it’s gone from bad to worse.


Sensible: Hindsight would now have us taking a little different approach. We would probably have gone more the local manufactured home route with the natural siding. A reputable builder would probably provide a home with FAR less maintenance.


Absurd: The shrinkage of the wood since the home was built had been significant. Good size gaps appeared in the D-log siding, requiring cases of caulk to keep the house sealed. The gaps invited hoards of insects. A well sealed home is also super important for a passive solar plan.


Sensible: Consider again the Colorado kits. Perhaps building with wood already acclimated to our drier conditions would help keep the shrinkage under control.


Absurd: Assumptions. We assumed "Amish Built" guaranteed quality. We assumed the tight joinery seen in the more humid Kentucky conditions would play out the same here in southern Colorado.


Sensible: Learn from our mistakes.


Absurd: Breakdowns in communication, it’s everywhere!


Sensible: Be a Pain in the Ars! This is your home we’re talking about. It’s OK to over communicate in this situation.

There is plenty good to say about the freedom of apartment living! As most of you home owners out there already know, maintenance by itself can be an unforeseen burden on your time and finances. Add a dynamic list of creative projects and you have yourself an endeavor that is forever ongoing. Complete one of 5 or so projects currently in the works, and then add a new project to the list.


Here is a common sentiment that works well in a conventional suburban setting. Start one project and finish it! Well, let me describe our current scenario of projects. Keep in mind now that Paul is a remote IT guy working a full-time job. Also, we still prefer to avoid taking out loans.


Project 1 - The Active Solar System - ongoing for a year or so. We are approaching the last phase...finally! Simply put, this is an expensive project. Probably the most costly outside of building the home. Never mind the fact it could take decades to recoup the cost. We have focused instead on the value of independence from the grid. Yeah, we're THOSE kind of people. So, we basically split the project into 4 phases mostly determined by cost. When the previous phase is complete and paid for we move onto the next. This upcoming final phase will be the purchase of the batteries. That price will be close to $6K.


So, financial time off between the phases of the solar system, leaves time for the lesser expensive secondary projects. We now get more into projects requiring labor in the yard...and this year there will be lots! We really need to get out of the dirt and mud around here. We have to take care of this landscaping stuff when outdoor conditions permit. That means no mud, preferably temps between 40 and 80, no high winds and no rain. So, like now, we are not quite to the last phase of the solar stuff and outdoor conditions are not right for landscaping stuff.


Now we get into the 3 or so remaining works in progress. We are nearing the end of an interior LED lighting project covering a section of the south wall. The dimmer switch we purchased does not work well with low voltage. We ordered what we hope is the right dimmer and will pick up on that when it arrives the following week. The new switch arrived and is not that great either. It flickers on medium and low settings. Back to the internet to get this figured out. While we wait for that, Paul has more work to do setting up the inside of the solar shed, and I work on gathering the final components for the bathroom remodel. Oh yeah, I'm also the cook and maid around here. Additional time is of course spent on this website. So, 5 or so projects at any given time will usually allow us at least one, at any given time, that we can actually work on.


Ah, the dilemma of the DIY obsessed!


Absurd: Using your home as a work shop like we do. Don’t do it unless you like living in a disaster area.


Sensible: Now that you have added a garage to your mountain cabin plans, make sure there is room for a workshop. At the end of the day you'll appreciate relaxing in a tidy house.


Absurd: Being surrounded by unfinished projects.


Sensible: Relax, for cryin’ out loud!! Keep plugging away…they’ll get done!



A Crazy Notion


From the Ground Up 


The LongHaul 


PART  2 


PART  1 


PART  3 


home  building ...the saga


Don't miss the ABSURD and SENSIBLE sections

at the bottom of all 3 parts.


It was our 4th property shopping trip to Colorado and in October of 2006, we had finally bought ourselves a chunk of land that was both beautiful and affordable. We were now the proud new owners of 35 wonderful mountain acres just about an hour drive north from the New Mexico border. Sincere "Thanks" to Colorado Homestead Properties.


Step 1 done!


2007 arrives and the last of the 3 kids is now out on his own. It is the perfect time to get the house on the market. "Uh huh", right before the housing market crash. Fast forward to December 2009. We have completely updated and remodeled our kitchen, and were quite fortunate to receive an offer of "only" $55K less than we were asking 2 years prior.


Step 2 done!


During the 2 years it took to sell our place, we continued to dream, research and plan our romantic home in the mountains. After an extensive internet search, many emails and phone conversations, we "thought" we had become pretty well educated in the matter of rustic, DIY home kits. Interestingly, the best value we found was from a Kentucky based operation. The price, including shipping, was about 1/3 less than the kits in Colorado. We decided to take a little road trip to Kentucky to check this place out. We had a great visit, a wonderful tour and decided a 28’x36’ kit would be perfect.


The house closing process went pretty smoothly, with no major pitfalls. We patiently awaited the call from the realtor as to the scheduled move out date. Patience ran out later that afternoon, so we gave the realtor a call. We were jaw dropped to find out that we needed to be out by midnight that very night! The complete insanity of the next 12 hours started with a flurry of phone calls. First, to secure a moving truck. Then, to find a place to live. Our realtor from Colorado Homestead Properties found us a super beautiful, empty home to rent right away. The location was perfect as it was only a few miles from our property. The home was for sale, but according to her, "Waaay overpriced". We all felt confident our temporary home was secure, giving us a nice place to stay while our new little home was under construction. So far, so good...


Next, load all our crap in the 26’ truck Paul had found us. We managed to pack it to the gills, with the remainder of our stuff being shuffled to the parents’ house. We attempted a few hours of sleep before setting out for Colorado later that day.


It was just another killer cold, northern Illinois, winter day. Onto milder horizons. We warmed up the Golf and packed in the 2 crated cats. Paul started up the reluctant truck and gave it time to warm up. The heat in the truck wasn’t that good, but better than outside. We hit the road about 1pm. Paul in front hauling the trailer hauling the 1974 Beetle, money pit, project car. Me in the back with a cool grip on the walkie talkie to let Paul know the moment I saw possible trouble with the hitch or loosening of the tarp covering the Bug. We did have to pull over west of Chicago to tighten down the new tarp that had stretched as we suspected it would. The heat in the truck was now nearly nonexistent and Paul’s toes were numb. Although, at the time, he was more concerned with making progress on our long trek.


So, we continued on for a few more hours before stopping for the night at a Super 8. It was just about dinner time, we made it only to DesMoines. Paul had lost all feeling in his frozen toes, and we were exhausted.


The next morning it was decided to search out a Penske Truck facility and see if we couldn’t get the damn heat fixed. We found a place relatively close, but had to wait around a bit for the place to open. This was a good thing…we were still tired. Needed lots more coffee. The cats got to chill a little longer in the hotel room before getting crammed back into the car.


The heat was fixed! It turned out the vent door for outside air was frozen all the way open. It was thawed and lubed up. So, now we have heat and only one big toe permanently numb. Yes, to this day the feeling hasn’t returned.


The remainder of the trip went relatively well. We made good progress the 2nd day and landed in Ogallala, Nebraska for the night. Then, made it to the rental house at the end of the 3rd day. It was unusually cold when we arrived, and coincidentally the same temp out as it was in Illinois when we left. We got up early the next morning and unloaded all our stuff into the garage.


Step 3 done!


Once partially and comfortably unpacked we made the home kit purchase and scheduled a spring delivery. All's well, right? Not so quick... We got the call about a month into our home rental that our rental house had sold! WTF? Luckily, the new owners from Texas (LOTS of Texans in this area) were happy to let us continue renting. We had until the end of May. Whew! Well, kinda... There was no way in Haiti we would be able to get our new home ready to move into by June 1st. So, now what?


Well, a new conversation with the cabin kit guy ensued and we upped the date of the delivery to May. OK, well, we still won't be able to live in the new place by the end of May if we build it ourselves. After much ado, we decided to take up the offer from the cabin kit guy to send an Amish crew out with the kit to get the shell built for us. A pretty sweet deal if you have a spare $18K lying around. It wasn't lying around, but we did it anyway.


A couple weeks before the delivery we get a call from the cabin guy saying there is a conflict in scheduling for the building crew. Not to worry, he has connections to another Amish building crew from right here in Colorado. They are every bit as competent builders as the crew from Kentucky. Sounds like a no brainer...Let's do it!


We had already planned to provide food and lodging to the guys brought in from Kentucky. Our house rental was a large 3 bedroom with a loft. We had bedding arrangements made for up to 5 guys in 2 bedrooms in their own separate wing. So we were hoping to do the same for the new crew driving in from 2 hours away. They decided they would rather drive 4 hours a day on top of 6-8 hours a day of labor. OK, your choice :)


Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why wouldn’t you just hire local builders? Right? Just like suburbia? Well, that ain’t how things work out here. A few years back, local carpenters with good reputations were nonexistent. Perhaps that has changed now. Oh, the horror stories. By the way, the general consensus out here is to absolutely be living nearby for the construction process, and stop by often. Stay on top of things!


Absurd: The realtor and lawyer dropped the ball. No one told us we would have to be out of the Illinois house the same day as the closing.


Sensible: I can’t say it enough…”Over Communicate!” in these situations.


Absurd: All the crap we acquire over time. Even after countless trips to the Salvation Army with the station wagon filled to the gills with stuff, it seemed to barely make a dent. A couple months before selling we even had a large roll-away parked in the driveway for the rest of the stuff. We filled it! Before we started weeding out, our house appeared tidy. No one would ever have known we had that much stuff. We parted with about 2/3 of our belongings before our move.


Sensible: Try to keep on top of the volume of stuff you own. Make donations regularly. Try to adopt an approach where if something comes into the house, something else has to go. It’s funny to think about how so many of us are sooo concerned with the amount of storage a place has. When, in reality, storage is often a curse.


Absurd: $7K Yard ornaments


Sensible: Get a garage. The VW bug, as well as the other vehicles would have benefitted greatly. The brand new interior of the partially refurbished bug has been ripped apart and violated by Pack Rats. It is currently a yard ornament. This same furry species has a taste for wires and hoses in our engine compartments. The cats fear them.

the gratuitous cat photo

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