Chugging along

In the last month the interior framing has been completed and various other elements are going in. The plumber has been plumbing . Here’s a summary:

  • Frames of walls done
  • Plumbing lines are in
  • More dirt in the front lawn
  • Very nice (small) retaining wall built
  • Roof shadow board being installed
  • Fancy roof elements decided
  • Pylons for porch are set
  • Root cellar roof placed
  • Fios installed
  • Leach field dug
  • Septic tank placed 

Wow. That’s a lot when you type it all out.

Look at all that tape! Sealing tightly.

We have a pretty typical number of bathrooms planned, but there still ends up being a lot of plumbing. Top floor has one bathroom with shower (two vanities, two shower heads). Ground floor has a bathroom with bathtub, washer/dryer, kitchen sink, and island sink. Basement floor has a bathroom, bar sink, and utility sink (on suggestion by the plumber for no added cost as it is next to the pipes in the utility room). Outdoors will have three faucets. 

Leach field prep

You might be wondering why we bothered installing fios at this point. It was a request from our builders because t-mobile has lousy service in the area. It’s pretty awesome that we can get fios at the house in a rural town of 9000 when my current place doesn’t have fios and is in a much bigger city. I’m glad we sorted out the fios though. It took me a month of phone calls to get them to create the order. One of the quirks of building your own road is that maps don’t update fast enough. Verizon kept hitting a wall when they tried to look up my address. Eventually the right engineer was contacted who updated their database. Good to get that sorted now. It would have been sad to be ready to move in and have no internet for a month while they dithered.

Checking out our framed basement at night

Another mild crazy-making venture is deciding on tile. There are a dozen tile stores in my area. Tiles must have one heck of a profit margin. But we found that many of the tiles we liked were discontinued (never trust that gorgeous tile installed on their floor: it was installed 10 years ago and they no longer carry it). Currently we have chosen a slate from one online company, a marble floor from another online company, guest bathroom tile from a local shop, and I think I’m getting some custom copper tile off Etsy. Yeeesh. I hope it all works together. I’ve basically given up on a kitchen backsplash for now because I can’t bear the idea of having to make more tile decisions.

Root cellar roof

Lastly, I’ll talk about our fancy roof detail. My builders have been very accommodating when it comes to the trim of this house. While we have basic drawings on the architect plans we knew that we wanted fancier detail throughout the exterior (as constrained by budget). So when the builders started planning a straightforward roof rake and shadow board, we had to halt and revise. They have been excellent about thinking it through with us and finding a compromise between aesthetics and cost. I think the effect will be beautiful and completely unlike anything in the region. For now I’ll have to leave you in anticipation of the final result of the roof.

Making our own cedar post for the mailbox


All the money

Yes, it’s been a while. There has been lots of progress on the house, though! Almost all the interior framing is done, the roof is on, the windows are in, and the basement stairs are in. Wow!

Lookie! It’s a house!

Day to day, there isn’t too much to do besides gawk at the awesome progress, chat with the builders, and bring them baked goods. I like to stop by once or twice a week, but I know I slow them down so I try not to chat with them too much. The team consists of two primary builders (BR, TP), a younger helper (O), another fellow (TH) who is learning the ropes, and the project manager (BF). 

Second floor before any walls went up

BR is the main day-to-day contact, who often runs various decisions past me when I’m around. There have been changes from the architectural plans like whether the porch should be at the same level as the front door or set down one step. Or if the doorway to the garage should be moved over a few inches to match the doorway below. 

Crane placing walls for the second floor

BF is head of the project and gets us on task for the bigger decisions: shingle style, the plumbing fixtures, soffit material. We meet every 2 weeks to review next steps. He gets the bulk of the homemade goodies ūüėČ The rest of the team like to tease him about no longer being hands-on in the field; it’s a notable event when he puts on a tool belt. We review cost issues with him frequently, trying to balance quality and cost. 

Builders in the roof trusses

TP is a finish carpenter and is also doing much of house construction with BR. We tease him because he will make sure everything is at 1/32nd tolerance or spend half a day building shelving for their tools. I swear we’ve spent a decent chunk of labor cost on the support structures (shelving, a table, temp electrical panel) but I think it comes with the territory. He and BR care a lot about quality.

Taking a peek out of our roof

Cost overruns happen in construction and this project is no different. Some are beyond any of our control: material costs increase over time and especially with tariff threats. Some are due to changes for aesthetics or quality. And one annoying cost was due to underestimating the cost of fill.

Before the basement concrete pour

OMG the fill. In order to minimize the slope of the driveway, I chose the location and height of the house to be pretty highly elevated. This meant that we dug very shallowly to place the house on the hillside, generating no extra fill. The driveway comes from the high side which means that the garage is about 10′ above the low side. Cue: fill. We have trucked in at least 50+ trailers of dirt or crushed concrete and we’re not done yet. There will be a sharp slope on the south side of the house which makes me nervous but we have some ideas to manage it. Per unit volume, fill isn’t that expensive: $6-8 / cubic yard. But when you need thousands of cubic yards it’s no laughing matter. Who knew I’d be working extra shifts to pay for dirt.

Some second floor framing

Besides those painful moments on our wallet, we are enjoying the process. We love hanging out in the house as it’s being built. We’ve been out there at night and on weekends just chilling and imagining our future. 

Our beautiful dark Alpen windows

Next month should be pretty amazing with the arches being poured and the deck being started. I’ll keep up with more frequent posts about the process. If you have any questions feel free to ask me ūüôā

Owl cave ring from Twin Peaks, Moiety Dagger from Riven, and Seal of Rassilon from Doctor Who


Framing it up!

I admit that I’m getting excited! There has been a lot of work over the last two months since the last post. The weather has been fairly reasonable, with nowhere near the amount of snow we normally get. Hard to forget the effects of climate change.


I’d give you a play-by-play of the last two months but this post is all about the pictures. Here we go:


You can see a metal beam on the left-hand side. That’s to create a larger room in the basement than would structurally be feasible.

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Pre-made walls


So quick!


From the front yard. We are going to have to haul a lot more fill for this project.


It’s really fun to see what the future views will be!

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Here’s another one.


And lastly, ¬†here are most of the interior framing walls completed on the first floor. The floor is glossy in this picture because of rain. You can see they’ve started to put the subflooring in above.

Sadly while I was going to use a drone during construction, it’s having technical difficulties so I missed a couple good opportunities for shots. Also you can’t use a drone in sub-freezing temperatures so I wouldn’t have had a lot of opportunities anyway. Sadface.


Winter Construction

It is bitterly cold out. We had hoped to be further along in the construction before winter truly hit. Disappointingly we had a month delay due to our foundation walls. Superior Walls, a pre-cast concrete wall supplier, originally estimated a 3-4 week production lead time but ended up scheduling a seven week lead time. This gave us an end of December delivery. We were able to use the extra time to finish up site work and continue discussions about various details of the project but it did feel like wasted time. Especially with winter creeping up.

The process of installing pre-cast concrete walls was interesting and I’m glad I got to watch. Ahead of time my builder dug down below where the walls would be placed and filled to the appropriate thickness with gravel. Then the surveyors placed stakes at all 10 corners (imagine three rectangular boxes with two sharing a back wall) with the assistance of GPS. After the survey was complete the Superior Walls crew placed metal rods every several feet horizontally on the gravel where the walls would go. They tapped down the rods to the final grade then swept the gravel in between to match. The metal rods were removed prior to installation.


“They’ll need a crane”

Then the crane picked up each wall (some weighing over 5000 pounds) and carefully brought it over. The crew positioned each section and used sealant to join them. They tightened metal bolts between them as well. Each piece went together smoothly over about a day and a half. My builders were happy with the walls and installation.


Frost walls being lowered

Superior Walls markets themselves as a very watertight product with a high PSI. Since they can pour their concrete in a controlled environment on a flat surface they can achieve 5000 psi. The weakest parts of the system are the edges where two pieces are joined. Supposedly the sealant and bolts create a tight connection. We are still going to water proof the north side as extra insurance. It’s one of those relatively cheap things to do now to prevent a potential major headache later. They also insist that their R value of the Xi Plus walls is 20 on average, but this includes a low value of 3 at the studs. It’s because concrete is a terrible insulator and at the stud it’s almost entirely concrete. Makes it hard to improve the R-value at that location since it’s the thickest part.


Lowest R value is at those metal studs: solid concrete between the foam.

But on the whole it should be a very well insulated wall. It’s great that it comes with the studs premade with wiring conduit. We hope to finish our basement at the end of the project and this puts it in DIY territory.

It’s exciting to see our house really get underway. The next steps are going to be very cold for our builders who will be framing next week. But the next couple months should be amazing with a ton of changes happening every week.



Construction Has Begun

Since financing was finalized it’s been a slow but steady slog. In order to start construction you need a building permit approval. In order to have a building permit approval you need a functional well. For a well you need a site plan. We already had our site plan with well and septic design completed in the spring which had been approved by the Board of Health. It’s an intricate series of dependencies.

Watching the well drilling is pretty neat. They use a series of metal rods to drill very far into the ground. In my area it is typical for wells to reach 400-600 feet. Unfortunately for us, we had to drill quite far. We even had to hydrofrack which is related to the terrible-water-that-lights-on-fire gas hydrofracking but is done at a much shallower depth with clean water.



The rods get joined to the vertical pipe to extend the drill downward

After the hydrofrack they had to pump out excess and dirty water for a couple days until it runs clear. Then they tested it. So far it looks like we will have to fix the aluminum and iron levels of the water but nothing else.


Ewww. Dirty water from hydrofracking.

Once that was complete, the only thing stopping our building permit was our road. Yes, that road (See Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4). Getting the road ready to pave was a scramble but it all worked out. A local paving company gave us a great quote (about $16,000 to grade and pave about 11,000 square feet of binder course) and worked with us to get it ready for the paving. Amazing that after two years of weekend work on this road only 3 hours were needed to pave it.


Graded and rolled


Crew getting started and the engineer double checking



With the road and well complete we finally had everything needed to receive a building permit. The town had no problems and gave us our stamp of approval in mid October. Our builders were excited to get started and are confident they can manage the winter weather. The first step was to remove the top soil in the construction area and pile it up for future use. The next step is to create the (very tall) driveway so that it can serve as access for the project. One of the difficulties of building on a sloped lot with a walk-out basement is managing the driveway/garage. We didn’t want our garage facing the street because of the design of the house as well as concerns about rainwater flowing from the road into the garage. This meant we have a side facing garage. With a sloped lot, this places the driveway further “downslope” which means building it up a lot in order to avoid a slanted driveway. Making a relatively level driveway means a big drop-off on the other side. We are hoping to make it look nice by terracing or creating a natural appearing change in elevation.


Black box is below grade, black line is driveway

I expect progress will be much faster over the next year than the previous two! I hope to provide an update after every major step in construction. Thanks for reading!

Finding $$$

After choosing our builder in April, our next task was to secure funding.¬†I had previously contacted some banks to learn about the construction loan process. You have to provide your blueprints for an appraisal so they can determine the market value of your future house. This determines the amount they are willing to loan you. This doesn’t take the actual construction cost into account at all. With this type of loan¬†they send out inspectors who verify the work has been done and approve¬†the next draw. During construction¬†the loan is interest-only¬†then¬†it switches to a¬†standard loan. Usually this carries a slightly increased interest rate than their standard package because of the added risk of a new construction.

We started the process with two banks of¬†identical¬†rates. My original thought was to pay for two appraisals in order to double our chances of obtaining a favorable appraisal. However, I got spooked by one bank because they had a several thousand dollar fee if you requested a rate lock and didn’t go through with the loan. I caught the fine print in time, but the fact that the bank didn’t verbally disclose it to me before I signed the rate lock agreement soured my opinion of them. Ultimately starting the process with two banks cost me money anyway: the second bank received¬†a lower¬†credit score report because of the first bank’s credit report (dings your score by ~20 points) so we had to come up with extra cash at closing. Sucks.

But that was just a minor frustration compared to the rest of the loan process. It ended up taking about four months instead of their usual two months. Of course it was the appraisal that caused all the trouble.

We were assigned an appraiser in early May. I spoke with him and answered questions about the design. But a week later I heard from the bank that a second appraiser was assigned. This was the first hint that there were going to be problems. I asked the first appraiser what had happened. He told me that he found it hard to find “comparables” for the home and passed on the assignment. Comparables, recently sold homes that are of similar size and quality,¬†are the foundation¬†of an appraisal. Uh oh. So we started with the second appraiser. I answered his questions and he declined to speak with my builder. After a couple weeks we received the appraisal.

It sucked. Basically it evaluated the home at less than 50% of our construction + land costs. Completely unworkable. Worst case scenario. I started working with the bank immediately on our options. They told me that I could write an appeal stating why I thought the appraisal was inaccurate and provide my own comparables. I got to work and wrote up a lengthy list of the appraisal’s faults. I noted that he didn’t take into account any of the green energy design even though there are methods¬†to compensate¬†for it. He hadn’t met with the builder and had declined to speak with him. He compared our massive wrap around porch to porches 10% of the size with no adjustment in value. This beautiful custom home was¬†being compared to stock development houses. I actually contacted the first appraiser (the one who had passed on the job) and asked him to review my appeal. He approved of¬†my report¬†and seemed apologetic for the mess we had gotten into. Fortunately for us, the bank agreed that the appraisal was bogus.

But then, oddly, the bank asked the same appraiser to re-appraise the home. He provided a new appraisal that was higher but not drastically so. It was still a pathetic amount. This time the bank readily agreed that the appraisal had problems and needed to be thrown out.

So, we weren’t totally screwed but time was getting away from us and we hadn’t made progress with the application. The bank assured us that they would find an appropriate appraiser. Two weeks went by and they told me they had contacted 7 appraisers, none of which were willing to pick up the assignment. They were too busy or felt there weren’t enough comparables to write the report (like the first guy). Finally they found someone. This person spoke with our¬†builder and took the¬†green energy design into account. We waited impatiently for the new report.

Success! The appraisal was much closer to our goal! There was still a gap between the loan and our builder’s¬†budget¬†but it was within our means. Location is such an vital¬†determinant. If we had a small parcel of land near Boston and built this house, it could get appraised for well over our construction budget. But in a rural area with more modest homes¬†the loan could only go so far.

With the new appraisal in hand the closing went absurdly fast. They needed some last minute documentation but they were determined to close before their rate deadlines passed. This meant that 12 days after our appraisal came back, we closed. Having gone through 70 days of dancing around appraisals it was lightning speed!

Soon we will be starting construction on the house. Each step has been complicated but worthwhile. This project is awesome and daunting.





The Seven Dwarfs

Since the last post, we have been working on choosing a builder for the project. It’s a big decision and not one you can make quickly. I’ll use pseudonyms for this blog post and¬†name the builders after the Seven Dwarfs. Aside: Did you know that there are tons of crazy names given to the dwarfs in the last 100 years of adaptations?

First, we were given a reference for Axlerod¬†(okay I decided to go with the 1965 Dwarf names from Mr. Magoo’s Little Snow White) through the energy consultant. The energy consultant had worked with the architects regarding the heating/cooling systems and the ventilation system. He had worked with Axlerod¬†in the past and felt it would be a good match. In fact, Axle’s¬†crew is skilled in finish carpentry which was a particular asset for this project (See the last blog post). So we met with Axle¬†and his teammates.

They were definitely green energy geeks. They were also really excited by the Hanshaugen Restaurant which served as the model for our design. Axle felt confident that they could construct the exterior details that form the personality of the house. We filled out their material selection list and began making trips to tile shops, flooring stores, and kitchen hardware galleries. Things were going smoothly until we got our first proposal from them.

Ooof. It was a doozy. But how Axle¬†and his team explained it, they just went through each of the elements getting bids or best-guess estimates based on square footage. They weren’t looking to hit a specific budget goal. And unfortunately their proposal¬†was about 40% higher than our ideal budget. Not easy to swallow. We reluctantly decided to widen our builder search. Axle¬†understood and agreed to keep working at the budget to bring down costs. We suggested leaving a¬†couple major elements unfinished (the stone veneer arches at the walk out basement and the basement itself) to cut down costs. Then we had to approach other builders.

Since one of my goals is a green energy constructed home I was very wary of using conventional builders. So much of the performance of a green energy home depends on the detail and finesse that the builders put into it. Sealing every air leak and understanding how edges of the house come together smoothly are vital. I ended up sending out queries and speaking to six more builders. Here is how five of them went:

  1. Bartholemew¬†was a friend of our guy building our road. “Talk to Bart!” he said. Well, we talked to Bart. We sent him plans. Then silence. After a few weeks we heard back that he isn’t licensed in our state so he couldn’t do the work. Okay. So he recommended Cornelius.
  2. Cornelius builds fancy homes. Our house is a fairly fancy home. I spoke with him and sent him the plans. He seemed interested. Then silence. After a few weeks, I sent him a follow-up email. Silence. So, maybe not so interested.
  3. Dexter was a nice guy who chatted with me for an hour one Saturday going over some of the details of our plan. He thought that our first bid was probably within the right ballpark, and said that he’d get back to me with some budget ideas. Then silence. I emailed him and got no reply.
  4. Eustace was a similar green energy builder who got back to me with a few questions regarding the plans. He replied a few times that he was still gathering bids. But after a month I still had nothing concrete from him. Time to pass.
  5. Ferdinand¬†wasn’t sure if the project was too far for him so we sent him the plans to take a look. He spoke with the rest of his group and sadly decided that our town was a bit further out than they like to go.

Lastly was George. George¬†and his wife run a design-build company. He drew¬†up our house in ArchiCad and had a lot of ideas about the house. Some of them were about cost saving alternatives and some were about better flow in the house plan. We liked shifting some of the spacing to create a better kitchen space and adding some width to the staircase to gain doorway space elsewhere. A few ideas¬†we had contemplated during our architect design phase but had opted against. For example we have a large master bathroom. He wondered why it was so large and offered some ideas to cut it down into two separate rooms. We explained that it was the only space suitable for direct sunlight for plants so we opted to keep it open. Cutting it into two separate rooms would create a lovely “grow room” but since our plants are entirely decorative it would be silly to hide them away.¬†A few other ideas were aimed at cost savings but drastically changed the aesthetics. Overall though, we were impressed with¬†the effort he had put into pouring over the details of the plans.

George did worry us with some of his concerns about some of the structural elements of the house. He recommended we eliminate windows in one area due to the concrete wall foundation and remove a steel beam to simplify the structural supports. He also suggested redesigning a balcony to eliminate a cantilever. He felt that it was necessary to spend time building the construction documents from the ground up with his construction knowledge.

At this point, Axlerod had come back with an improved budget by getting different bids, changing some construction methods, and by bringing some elements in-house instead of subcontracting. Their new proposal was 14% higher than our ideal budget. High, but within reach. We discussed with Axle our conversations with George because we wanted to address the concerns that George had brought up about the structure. Axle explained that they were happy with how the construction documents were drawn and had no concerns about each of these elements brought up by George. Axle noted that some builders like to build a specific way and want to mold houses in this image. This matched with our perception of George as well.

So we had to make a decision. Axle and his team brought enthusiasm, engagement, and shared values. They did scare us with their first budget, but worked hard to bring it more in line with what was feasible for us. George¬†was clearly very thorough in his approach but couldn’t commit to a budget until the re-design. Ultimately we decided we trusted Axle. We shook hands and signed an agreement for the first phase.

Whew. We’re excited about moving forward on the house. There’s certainly a lot more to come over the next few months before the first hole is dug. We still have to obtain approval for a mortgage. And just as importantly we have to finish the road. If these things fall into place, we are tentatively aiming for July as our start.


16.12.10 Casements

My sketchup drawing of the house! Prize for getting to the bottom of the post.

Forging ahead

I hope everyone had a lovely holiday. 2016 was an emotional year both personally and nationally. It is sometimes hard to separate that stress from the rest of life. This blog focuses on our little subdivision project and offers a bit of respite from the real world around us.

Last week was a major stepping stone for the project. We received the Permit Set construction documents from our architect! She and her training architect did a fantastic job of translating our vision into an elegant and well thought out home. We have chosen a builder (project manager and finish work team) and will be starting on material selections this week. Today I’ll show off some of the elements of the design.


Located on the  northwest corner of the lower level

First is a root cellar. Our house is situated on a slope with a walk out basement. Because of the overall design, we had the space for a root cellar. It is exterior to the house and mostly embedded in the slope as well. It’s inset to avoid sunlight warming the door, and measures 16 feet by 8 feet. There will be concrete walls (plus some insulation and cement board) and a stone floor. There are two air outlets planned to help modulate the temp and humidity. I’ve never owned a root cellar before but I’m looking forward to learning how to use the space effectively for extending our vegetable storage.

Our exterior has a number of details that are unusual for a New England home.¬†¬†Here are the arched windows on the second floor. There are two sets of these on the north side and two sets on the south side. We had originally considered a basic half circle atop a rectangle but it didn’t give the right look. It resembled the common colonial window seen all over New England which wasn’t our goal. The extended half circle looks much closer to the Norwegian design we are referencing. Adjacent to the set of three windows are two¬†chevron wood panels. The pattern was drawn from¬†the St. Hanshaugen restaurant. It’s tough because we don’t have detailed drawings or images. It’s definitely not an accurate representation of the restaurant but hopefully comes across convincingly. It reminds me of our efforts in cosplay. You often make judgment calls from grainy video or photographs. The studio lighting impacts the colors. Do you go with the true color or the color as it appears on the TV?


Close-up of the windows we are referencing


Detail of insulation

Lastly I wanted to highlight the insulation for the house. We are using a “double stud wall.” This means that there will be two wall frames set ~12 inches apart. Dense packed cellulose is blown in between the frames. This provides high “R-value” with a green material. For the attic we have 18″ of blown cellulose to provide an extra thick layer of insulation. These details plus careful air sealing will provide a comfortable home with low heating and cooling needs. Green energy design is better for the environment, saves you money in the long run, and feels more comfortable.

I’ll post additional highlights of our home plan as we begin our material selection this winter.

Take care.


Building a Road (part 4)

Yes, this is still an on-going project! The town engineer did come and approve our subgrade last month. It was fortunate that we had a dump truck delivering construction entrance gravel that day, because we needed to have it drive slowly down the road to prove that the dirt was compacted. I had no worries about the compaction level of the dirt because our friend has been driving up and down it for a year with the excavator and trucks. Passed easily.

But we still don’t have gravel down. Why? Great question. For one thing, the road requires several methods of water management. When you create impervious surfaces (the asphalt) the town requires you to mitigate the additional surface water. Our friend is constructing a swale on one side of the road as well as two retention ponds. Each “pond” serves as a buffer for run-off in case of storms. They are wide and shallow. One is placed at the entrance on the corner of our new road and the existing residential road. The other is at the end of the hammerhead.

Our friend has made great progress in constructing these. It took a lot of dirt to bring the hammerhead-side pond to the right elevation. It’s a good thing we have some dirt and rocks to spare. In order to spare our topsoil (the nutrient rich layer), he dug down and used some of the lower quality soil underneath:


Stealing a bit of fill

Look! It’s where our future vegetable garden will be! Rest assured the quality soil will be placed back at the end.

The other delay has been due to utilities. When you build a subdivision road you are required to place utilities alongside it. Makes sense if you want electricity and internet to reach your home. Your electrical company is the one who designs the plan. You pay them a lot of money to design the utilities trench, then you build it for them. They inspect along the way. At the end you hand over the possession of the trench to them for maintenance in perpetuity. We did not realize how lengthy this process can be. Our electrical company estimates 5 months from initial contact to completion. And since we only contacted them a few weeks ago… you can see how this causes a delay in the road.

We are also contemplating the pros and cons of “aerial” versus “underground.” By default the utilities are supposed to be placed underground in a trench. This is a bit more costly but reduces the likelihood of power outages. Looks nicer, too. However we have a lot of ledge alongside the road where the trench would go. Until we start digging in that area we won’t know how much is composed of massive stubborn granite. We need to talk with the electrical company engineer to discuss how they feel about it. If they believe that aerial will be necessary that means requesting a waiver from the town. Which means meeting with the planning board again. Let’s hope whatever the result is, it’s the best choice for the road and the subdivision. Crosses fingers.

As I said in the last road building post, we needed an extension. That was blissfully easy though. The planning board accepted that we were having delays due to some of the topography (the blasting added a great deal of work) and allowed us a one-year extension. On Friday I picked up the amendment, notarized it, and submitted it at the Registry of Deeds. I certainly hope that’s the only extension we need!


Current status of the road

Oh but one bit of extra bright news in all this. Even though our friend has had to slog through many additional hours over the last month on this project, he found the time to place an additional standing stone around the fire pit. Justin and I helped with placement and shoring it up. We now have seven of eight stones placed! This one has an adorable sitting spot on the right-hand side.


Seventh standing stone

Until next time.



One stone at a time

My husband. If you know him, you know that he loves fire. He had been talking about building a fire pit on the land practically since we bought it. Last August he wanted to start. I asked our friend to dig us a shallow hole with the excavator so we could start with an actual pit and he obliged. Here’s how it began:


See the excavator tooth marks!

Each of those rocks were sourced from the property. You can see it’s quite a mishmash of shapes. Justin got much more picky as the project continued. He actually had to rebuild the interior wall once to make it more sturdy.


Here is the first ring. Now many people might stop around here and say, “Hey, that looks fairly functional. Great.” Justin, though, had a vision. He wanted to create a patio around the fire pit as well as a ring of standing stones. How big of a patio? Who knew, at that point.


String to monitor how level the rocks were


And so it began. Each rock was selected for its thickness and flat shape. Fortunately because of the road construction we had plenty to choose from. We bought a metal cart and hauled rocks up and down. I helped choose rocks but mine were decidedly smaller than the ones Justin picked. It’s good to have a range of sizes!


Once the first ring went down, we started our first celebratory fire. Notice how it’s dirt in the pit under the fire. Now it’s all ashes and charred wood. Cheery fire!


Because the winter was so mild Justin was able to continue working through the beginning of winter. This next photo is from early December, after about 3.5 months of occasional weekend work:


While I did none of the rock laying, many of our friends chipped in. Considering the weight of these stones, I wouldn’t have been able to pick up most of them to maneuver. I did vote on the fit and kept him company ¬†ūüôā


You can see one of the standing stones placed in the back. There are four currently, with another four planned. They are roughly equidistant from each other and the center of the pit. While Justin had originally wanted to extend the patio to the standing stones we were able to convince him that about halfway between was adequate. We didn’t want a huge 20 foot diameter circle of stone nor did we think the hours of work would be worth it. Fortunately Justin was getting a real sense of how exhausting this was and agreed.


Here is the edge, which is about 10 feet from the center of the fire pit. It was awesome when Justin was able to first link up to the edge. This was mid March.


From there, things moved at a pretty rapid clip. He made really amazing progress each afternoon. It took him about 4 hours to make about 8 stones of progress. This includes finding the rocks, digging the dirt to the proper depth, fitting rocks together, and leveling it all. We kept up a steady pace of rocks so he would have enough to choose from. At this point we had the blasted rocks from the road construction so there was plenty to pick through.


Then spring started to peek through again to keep us company. Days like this were gorgeous and so pleasant. I worked on brush clearing while he kept up his rock placement.


Almost there. So close! You can see he had been placing grass back along the edge to return the vegetation.

And here it is:


Yes, I know, our tarp covered cart is there ruining the full effect. But it was such a vital part of the process it’s okay that it’s in there. You can see the four standing stones. Each of them have their own interesting shape.

Lastly, a view of the fire pit complete:


Of course Justin is still working on it. One of the standing stones is near an elevation so he has started on a retaining wall surrounding it. Once that’s done I know he has other hardscape plans. I’ve been asking him to work on the area around the well so he’s started to bring rocks over there too. He’s done an amazing job and he’s so pleased when people compliment him on it.