The journey of two millennials

Welcome to Fun Home Building, a blog on design, construction and building a dream house on a budget. We are documenting our journey of building a custom home in the suburb of twin cities, Minnesota and will share what we learn along the way.

  • House on West Shore

Construction in Winter: Racing Against Time

Updated: Nov 19, 2019

Can you believe we had snow again this week? I first watched with dismay all the rain we got this summer, then first snow fall in October, and now we are going to skip fall and fast forward into winter. Did we pick the worst year to build a house?

With all the changing weather, we were very worried of the possibility of living in a construction zone even after the house is done, there will be no driveway or lawn till next spring or who knows when it is warm again to pave asphalt. The kids will definitely like the idea of playing in mud and puddles. But not us.

Before driveway can come in, the yard needs to be graded, then the retaining walls need to be installed. Everything happens in an order and we can’t skip a step. Scheduling the work of the subcontractors to make sure every step happens in a timely manner is not an easy task. We watched anxiously every day if the team would be able to pull it off.

To our greatest amazement and relief, they did.

Look at the beautiful grass in our yard right before the snow hit this Wednesday! The timing can not be more perfect. We can now sit back and let the grass go to dormancy.

Average temperature this fall has been 10-20 degrees below normal, it is a rough year for construction

Back of the house, it was so nice to see lush lawn replacing dreary mud

In sharp contrast with the sodded yard, the muddy version is a lot more unfinished and messy

Some old pictures during the framing process. We had several thunderstorms in the summer, without the roof, the house got wet floor and puddles all over the place. Thankfully the wood dry pretty quickly and did not cause any issues.

Inside the house, painters have been patching trims and applying enamel paint to the cabinets/trims/casing. With the outside of the house mostly done, we are now in the finishing stage of construction. Woo-hoo. This is the fun part. Can‘t wait to see our previous design selections get installed and come alive.

Cabinets installed in kitchen

Kitchen in painting stage, cabinets and trims are being transformed to the white modern look

More drawers to paint, the enamel paint gives out really strong smell, we could barely breathe when visit

Tiling for master shower is done, love the shampoo niche and black hex tiles

Now let me share some lessons-learned in the 4th month of construction. Many things went as planned, but there were a few hiccups we didn’t anticipate:

1. Mortar color for the stone veneer initially was a lot darker than what we saw in the showroom (picture on right). The dark grout line coupled with larger stones reminded me of a toothless witch (forgive my lack of good metaphors) and really made me regret our decision to use stone (inner voice: why did I spend thousands to have an ugly looking fake stone on the outside of the house, what was I thinking...). Turns out stone mortar is always dark when first applied, once it is cured and weathered, the look of the stone surface will be completely different. Phew! What a relief.

2. Building code requires home owners install a handrail if there are 4 or more risers in the front stoop. Our plan showed 3 steps in the front then a 4th one stepping into the house, but when the workers poured concrete they ended up doing all 4 in the same area (picture on left). This was a real bummer, because we tried to make sure the number of steps would be minimized from the very beginning for accessibility reason. Thankfully DH came up with a clever solution, which was to extend the first riser to a large platform, so there are only 3 continuous steps (picture on right), eliminating the need to do handrails.

3. If you’re really detailed like my DH, you would be thinking about cabinet configuration to accommodate larger items stored in the cabinets. The cabinet drawings showed two-door cabinets on both sides of the fire place, which work perfectly for larger audio/video/VR equipment because the wiring goes behind the fireplace. However cabinet markers somehow placed the single door cabinets by the fireplace. By the time we found out about this mistake, it was too late to change. I guess we will have to live with this for a while.

4. Choosing furniture vanity over custom one has many hidden drawbacks. We picked two modern vanities online and thought they would look great and save money. What we didn’t know was they required special handling: delivery, storage, moving, these come with extra labor cost. The 60” vanity was close to 300 pounds, which made the move to the second floor quite challenging. Those heavy vanities also needed to be moved out of the way of painters and floor installers several times during the build, making them more susceptible to scratches and damage. Lastly, if defects were found 30 days after delivery, refund or return is nearly impossible. Custom made vanities on the other hand are put together on site, fit plumbing nicely, are painted and tiled around, sit against walls tightly, and suppliers are responsible for defects and issues, reducing a lot of headaches.


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