The House Part I: The Foundation

Designing and building a home for yourself is both a privilege and a challenge. It is guaranteed to challenge your equilibrium, your peace of mind, your personal relationships, and your budget. I donít mean to complain, of course: I am doing this voluntarily, I recognize it as a luxury, and I am still under the impression that I want to do it. And it is not as if my partner and I are doing all the work. We are hiring professionals to do much of it. Nonetheless, we are suffering from stress.

Letís talk about how things change. Currently we have the concrete foundation and basement poured and sealed, and the first floor has joists, beams, and subfloor in place. We will be ready to raise the straw bale walls on schedule. But are we happy? And how does all this compare to our original concept, or even the plans as approved for our building permit? What accounts for our lack of satisfaction?

Just prior to submitting our house plans for the building department approval, we changed from a one room basement with only an exterior door, to a two room basement with interior stairs. We now have a huge unneeded room to fill with all the clutter that we would like to be moving away from. Seeing this, or even thinking about it, oppresses me beyond reason. I am appalled by it.

Next, the excavation. On the day of the deed, the excavator and the foundation contractor consult and point out that digging below the grade of the nearby street as planned, would require drainage under the foundation to a (lower) drain field. Since no conveniently adjacent land qualifies, we decide to situate the house 2 feet higher in the air than anticipated. Change number two!

This has advantages. We will have a better view, a daylight basement which will now support the propane water heater we want to use, and we get more convenient access to the basement. OK, so now we add two new windows, and enlarge a third. After all, we donít need to use double pane in the unheated basement (although of course we willÖ), so these could be relatively cheap. Still we have added new costs.

The large new basement room haunts me. The money spent to date, along with budget planning based on our hard to calculate square footage, intimidates us both. Michaelís two day panic passes quickly; mine however smolders and builds up over time. I consider ways to make the house smaller and cheaper. We discuss using fewer, cheaper windows, eliminating a small cantilevered dining area, and other minor adjustments. Michael proposes leaving the second floor unfinished initially, if we go over budget. I counter with more drastic alternatives: leaving off the master bedroom (but the floor beams have already been ordered), or eliminating the second floor entirely.

Michael is not enthused; he wants to proceed as designed. Any major change would require new architectural drawings, which donít come free. We would lose guest space and a much desired second bathroom. I want a smaller house, but donít quite want the truncated house which would result from this surgery. Impasse. We will proceed to build as designed. However, my image of our new house has changed from a modest, innovative, environmentally benign and aesthetically charming structure to a grotesquely bloated symbol of greed and conspicuous consumption. A source of guilt, and a burden to carried, even before it is built. Oh, the pain! And we are less than one quarter of our way through the process! Can we endure? Stay tunedÖ