And we have land access!

It has always been a dream of ours to build our own house.  We looked at several different options and decided to use Owner Builder Network (OBN).  In a short summary, you pay them a fee per square foot, and they help you be the general contractor for your house build.  They are there for every step of the whole construction process.  We had hoped to build our house in 6 months (from the time we sold our other house)…that is NOT going to happen!

  • January- bought the property
  • February- struggled with backing out of the sale of the property due to the culvert issue
  • March- decided to move forward and build a culvert; hired a designer for our plans; signed a contract with OBN
  • April- put our house up for sale
  • May- sold our house; moved everything into 2 storage units; signed a 6mo apt lease
  • June- began bank construction loan
  • July- signed on a construction loan; culvert started
  • August- Wade had open heart surgery, everything went on hold except culvert construction
  • September- the culvert is finally finished

Now that it is October, and we have access to the property, we can actually get started!

The first thing we did was get a storage container.  We had a storage unit that contained our outside garage stuff (the same one that flooded back in May), but we doubled the size and cut the price in half by putting a container on the property.  This also gives us room to store building materials.

I am not going to lie, the guy almost flipped over in the ditch getting this on the property.  You see, Henry never did finish the culvert.  It was good enough to drive a car/truck on but not good enough for big construction trucks/equipment of any kind.  We tried to get Henry to come back and add more to build up the sides, but he kept telling us he was not sure what to do.  To be continued…

Working the land

We bought our property in January. At the end of the month, our local master gardeners had a tree sale.  We bought 1 of each navel orange, blood orange, grapefruit, lemon, lime, apricot, pear, fig, avocado, and some blackberries.  Around the last frost, we went and planted them all.  Every few days, we jumped across the ditch and hauled water from the creek to water everything…walking the 4.5 acres…with 5-gallon buckets of water.  Sometimes we used the wagon when we remembered to bring it.

With record flooding in May…by mid-summer, we were in desperate need of someone to mow the property.  Without a culvert, it was hard to find someone willing, with the right equipment to get across to mow.  We finally found someone, and paid him way too much.  Once.

Now is a good time to mention our wonderful neighbors.  We met them the first day we came out to the property, and we totally lucked out with such good people next to us.  During the summer, as the grass and weeds grew up, when Mr. M next door would mow his lot, he would make a lap around all of the trees making it easier for us to get to them to water.

By the end of the summer (a VERY dry summer on top of one of the wettest Springs), the creek was dry again and we had no way to water the trees.  We hoped that it would rain…or the culvert would be finished.

The culvert won.  Just as we gained access…the rainy season came.  (And we only lost one orange tree and the avocado tree.)

Finally- a box culvert!

There was much drama from the start of the culvert construction until the end.

We contacted Henry in March.  Between permitting and ordering materials and Henry accepting a bigger job than he could handle…construction started in July–4 months later.  We could FINALLY drive onto our land mid-September.

The county would not allow us to build a bridge.  It had to be a “box” culvert.  Henry built a base, then forms for the concrete sides and eventually the top.  We cannot complain at all about the actual construction project.  He did a great job on the concrete box.  Here it is in pictures.

The re-bar used is pretty impressive.  It is 1.5″ in diameter.  There is 15″ of concrete on the top of the culvert.  Hopefully it won’t go anywhere!!!

More rain…And this is why it is so important to have good drainage in our ditch.


Designing a box culvert

When we tell people about our culvert, they cannot possibly understand what we are talking about.  If you even KNOW what a culvert is, then you typically picture the round concrete pipe that the driveway goes over.

Ours is a very special culvert.

Just a review of our timeline…We bought our property mid-January.  By mid-March we were about to sell off our dream because we could not figure out how to gain access to our land without spending 40K+ on a culvert.  In a desperate plea on Facebook one day, I posted a picture of a small concrete bridge and asked if anyone knew of someone that could build it.  Henry answered that he could do it.

We took a chance.  Would we do it again the same way? NO WAY.  But we learned a lot and so did Henry.  We made some major mistakes, but it is only money right???  You cannot die with it.  We spent more than we should have, but we still came in under 20K for the culvert.

Lessons learned:

  • Get the contract in writing…every single detail.  How much money, exactly what materials and a DATE.OF.COMPLETION.
  • If there is a change order, make sure it is in writing.
  • Do research BEFORE agreeing to additional purchases. Henry used a structural engineer to design the culvert and it cost the same as our engineered house plans!  We were told after the fact what we owed the engineer.  YIKES!
  • Pay NOTHING up front.  If they are a professional, they will get started without having to buy materials.
  • Pay in chunks.  We paid too much along the way, and ended up getting screwed at the end.
  • Be present as much as possible.  It was not until the culvert washed away that we found out Henry did not use stabilized sand and we had to re-fill the sides.
  • Get everything in writing.
  • Get everything in writing.

New property and flooding

As we continued struggling with our culvert, we proceeded to move forward with plans to build a house on our property (once we finally had access…).  We put our house up for sale in April…had a contract on it in less than 3 weeks and closed the end of May.

We figured that once the culvert was in place we would begin building.  We planned on doing it ourselves with Owner Builder Network and already had an agreement with them.  Given that we would do it ourselves and had a good idea of what we wanted, we opted for a small, 1 bedroom, 1 study and 1 bath, 850 sq ft apartment.

The weekend we moved out…we had some major flooding.  Luckily our house that we were selling was high and dry!  The buyers were pleased to see how the water came up close to other houses, but not ours!

Our storage unit was another story…we had 4 inches of water in it, and it cause the boxes to crumble spilling the contents onto the floor…making an even bigger mess.

We also made several trips out to the property to look at where the flooding would happen.  It was pretty much right along the flood zone.  Good for us as we planned on our house location!

That is our creek behind there that is normally dry.  This is the edge of the property where the ditch and the creek comes to a point.