Foundation work

Once we had access again to the property, the house building could continue.  The foundation guys came out and built out the most important part of the house.

First they put the outside frame down.

Next came the underground plumbing.

Then more dirt and sand.

Because of our soil type, we have to have 42″ beams around the perimeter of the foundation.

This took 2 days longer than the guys expected…so we missed our foundation pour.  The main sub kept telling us that we have a VERY strong foundation!  There is a ton of steel in the design.

This is the final day just after they put the re-bar on the top.  There is still a week before the pour, so they put plastic over the perimeter of the foundation in preparation for the rain we are supposed to have this weekend.  If it does rain, there is a deep trench in the back that will allow the water to drain out. And the guys also said they will bring in pumps to get out any remaining water.

From start to finish, this took exactly 3 weeks.

House pad

The site prep and house pad took about a week to finish. First they cleared about 6 inches off the top, then came back and filled it so that it was about 18″ off of the natural ground.  The back slopes down, so the pad is about 48″ off of the natural ground.

We heard several times from the foundation people that our pad guy did an excellent job!

They finished just in time.  We had some heavy rain that weekend which led to more culvert drama…

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.)

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.

The Culvert- Our first hurdle

Over the course of the next 6 months, the culvert will become our biggest regret buying our property.

Let me back up to pre-sale of our property.  In the HAR description, it stated “Culvert must be installed per county specifications.”  We thoroughly read the county page and from everything we could figure, the county will install the culvert as long as the owner buys the pipe.  Just to make sure we understood correctly, we called the county.  The girl was super nice, asked if it was residential or commercial, I told her residential and she reiterated what was on the website.  The county would install the culvert.  Great!  We bought the land…without having driven on it.  We jumped the ditch (a very DEEP ditch) to walk the property.

One week after the purchase, we called the county and said we were ready for the culvert installation.  We were instructed to fill out the paperwork online and go mark where we wanted the culvert.  Make sure to clearly label the address so the county knows they are in the right place.

Excited to finally be building our dream…we did exactly as we were told.

Wade filled the paperwork the next day.  This is January.  About 5 minutes later, the county called.

We had a special piece of land…our property required a commercial grade, box culvert and the county would NOT be installing it.

Wait…what????  But we called and verified BEFORE buying the land!!!!  Yes…but we did not give the EXACT address when we called.  We asked a generic question which the generic answer is that the county installs culverts…unless it is over 60″ diameter, in which case it is considered a commercial install and the county does not do that.

Taking a deep breath, we decided to move forward.  I mean, really, how much can a box culvert cost?  Surely…not more than 10K right???  WRONG.



Hindsight is 20/20.  Knowing what we know now, we might have been able to find something a bit cheaper…but not by much.  Most places that sell box culverts do not sell to the public…they are commercial culverts!  The ones that do sell to the public were giving us quotes of 20K+ JUST.FOR.THE.BOXES.

After spending weeks trying to figure out what to do…we were at a loss.  The cheapest we figured it would cost to gain drive-able access to the land was close to 40K.  Wade had talked to an attorney about the sellers who we bought the land from being responsible for not disclosing in the description exactly what it meant about the “culvert” and “county specs.”

UPDATE: We found out from the county some more information about our property.  It seems that the gentleman that originally owned the farm land with grazing cows (in the 90’s) decided to break it up into 14 lots of 2.5 acres each with his house on 5 acres and the lot next to him was 4.5 acres (which will become ours).  The county told him with the development of the lots, the drainage would be an issue.  They tried to work out several different options…possibly an alley with back entrance so the drainage ditch would not be disturbed, or have the neighbors share driveways to have fewer obstructions in the ditch…the owner did not want to do anything the county suggested.  In the end, he said it would be up to the buyers to do what the county wanted…install commercial box culverts.  The lots sold like hot cakes.  Every single one of them.  And then came the first houses.  The county saw what an issue the drainage was going to become so the first homeowners were able to work something out.  They would buy the culvert, but the county would help with some of the install.  It was an all or none thing…so the property owners that agreed had nice box culverts put in for a fraction of what we paid.  The others have sold off the land (without disclosing what it would take to gain access to the property).  After ours…there are still 3 lots that need culverts.  When you call the county now about installing residential culverts, they ask your location just in case it happens to be on our street…