I am so excited to tell you that we made our first purchase for our new house!! I know, a little silly considering that we don’t even have a floor plan yet, but all the same I’m beyond ecstatic!

One of my coworkers owns a store on Etsy Rustic Pine Designs where they sell custom made wooden signs. A majority of their work is wording etched into wood, but they also make monogram signs (Monograms) where lettering is cut out of wood using a CNC machine to mill out lettering from a single piece of wood using computer software. The result is amazingly beautiful! They’re able to cut out any shape in any font using the machine.

They made me a monogram sign with our initials surrounded by a circle. It’s gorgeous! As you can see in the photo below, I painted it white for now, but I might need to repaint it a light turquoise for the new place 😉

Close-up of the monogram sign "J F S"

Close-up of the monogram sign

For now I have it placed outside near our front door, I’ll definitely have to find a good place for it in the new house! If you’re interested in getting one too, be sure to check out their store on Etsy, and don’t be afraid to ask for something custom…the possibilities are limitless!

Currently the sign is up on our house now, but eventually it will be on our new place!

Currently the sign is up on our house now, but eventually it will be on our new place!


Get it Surveyed

I knew that I wanted to get our property surveyed from the second I saw it. Actually, I guess I would want to get any property we purchase surveyed!

There’s a few reasons that it’s important to get a survey of a property. The first and obvious reason is to define our property boundary. There’s an existing fence on the south end of our property, so we have a good idea where that property line is, but there’s an empty lot to the north of us. So we don’t have an exact idea where that boundary lies. Lucky for us, when the property was subdivided our southwest property corner was marked with rebar, capped, and recorded with the County. So it was relatively easy to find that Property corner and work from there.

The second reason that we wanted to get our property surveyed is to have an “existing basemap” to start our design from. I’ve mentioned before that our lot has a slope to it, therefore site placement and the home design needs to be integrated into the existing topography as much as possible so that the home doesn’t look out of place. There’s no way to define the topography of land better than contours. And to get contours a topographic survey must be done.

The third reason we wanted to get our property surveyed is to find out how much of our land has actually been cleared. Back in 2005 the was an approved clearing and grading permit issued and the old owner cleared off all of the existing vegetation/trees. Now we’re left with a cleared site and it’d be great to know the extents of the clearing limits so that we can convey to our designer the limits that they have to work with. This is especially key for a landscape designer (although we haven’t started that design yet).

The fourth reason that getting our property surveyed is to fully visualize the property with a Digital Terrain Model (DTM). Our surveyors take all of the existing elevation points and contours and create a 3-Dimensional model of our existing ground. I think it’s awesome to be able to view our property in a 3-D model, and I know our designer will love to look at it and use that to shape our home and it’s placement. I’m even hopeful that the person doing the exterior rendering of our home will be able to use it to accurately represent our property. More on that in the future I guess!

Finally, the fifth reason that getting our property surveyed is important is because I’m simply used to having a basemap to work from! I design roads and freeways all the time and there’s no way to do a good solid design without knowing what the existing conditions are!

On August 12th, I hired a couple of licensed surveyors from my firm to perform a property survey for us. Lucky for us they are coworkers and I was able to pay them a heck of a lot less than if I hired an outside firm (and I trust these guys so much more).

It took two guys about seven hours of field work to survey the property, a lot of this time I’m sure was because of the existing sticker-bushes they had to whack through. While out in the field, the crew staked the property lines as seen in the photos below. Now we know exactly where our property boundary lies!

Existing southwest property corner located on the west side of the road

Existing southwest property corner located on the west side of the road

Close-up of the property corner marked with rebar and a yellow cap

Close-up of the property corner marked with rebar and a yellow cap

Set the northwest property corner based on the marked southwest corner

Set the northwest property corner based on the marked southwest corner

Surveyed benchmark was set with its elevation

Surveyed benchmark was set with its elevation

The northern property line defined

The northern property line defined

Northern property line stake

Northern property line stake

Afterwards they came back to the office to process the file data and pass the information along to one of our survey CAD technicians. This person took the raw field data from the survey equipment and put it into a legible format that designers can use…In our case AutoCAD. And that’s what is shown in the image below. In the basemap we can read all of the existing contours to understand the topography as well as see existing features that are currently out there. This includes larger diameter trees, the neighbor’s fence on our south property line, a large boulder, existing utilities, and the existing tree drip line.

A plot of the existing topography

A plot of the existing topography “basemap” based on the survey.

One note on the existing utilities is that I really should have called One Call to “paint up” the existing utilities that are in the road on the west side of our property. This is a free service, because the last thing that any utility owner wants is for one of their utility lines to be accidentally damaged during construction. Avoiding utility conflicts is always ideal for any project! One Call would have come out and spray painted the existing utilities and our surveyors could have added those shots into our basemap. A couple of the utilities are shown in the basemap because they are clearly flagged or because there are utility boxes out there, but it would have been nice to get all of them in the survey. In the future I’ll have One Call paint them and I can add them into the basemap myself based off field measurements.

Before Design Can Begin

Before the design of our home can begin, there’s a few things that we need to take care of over the next couple of weeks.

  1. The first thing is getting an approved Critical Area Designation with King County. In short, because we have a wetland on our property we’ll need to have the wetland and buffer boundaries determined by a biologist. We need to determine how much land King County will allow us to use inside the wetland buffer area as a backyard. This really affects both our home placement on the property as well as the shape of the home. The more space we have as a backyard, the wider the depth of our home can be.
  2. We also need to get the property surveyed. Because our site isn’t flat, it’s important for us to understand the slope of the property. This will enable us to have a home designed that will work well and take full advantage of the contours of our property.

Although we’re excited to have Mike Blondino design our home, we really feel that having all of the necessary site information first will make the process go a lot smoother. Knowing everything we can about the site is sure to make for less revisions to the design in the future. After we get both the Critical Area Designation and the property surveyed, I think we’ll be all set to have Mike design our dream home!

Architect Interview Questions

Over the past few months I’ve been reading numerous books on custom building a home and doing quite a bit of research online as well. Based on these books and other articles I’ve read I drafted a composite list of architect interview questions. Before our two in-person interviews I had called a handful of other architects in our area and even out of state as well. That’s primarily where I’d ask most of my questions which is how I narrowed our in-person interview down to just the two. Really the in-person interviews were about understanding more in-depth their design process and finding out if there was a good working chemistry between us. Having a great chemistry I believe was one of the key factors in making our decision. This person will be designing our home – a personal space that should reflect us and the way we live. Being able to be comfortable in our discussions/interactions with our designer will make the world of difference!

Our Architect Interview Questions

1. How will you discover what our perfect house will be? Can you explain your process? How do you collect information about our needs, goals, etc.

2. What are the steps in the design process and how are they organized?

3. What criteria will be used to establish priorities and make design decisions?

4. How many projects do you have going at once?

5. Will you be designing our house yourself?

6. Can you show me some of your past work?

7. What kinds of drawings or models will you prepare? Do you do any computer renderings? 2D, 3D?

8. What percentage of your office’s work is custom residential?

9. How do you treat custom residential designs differently than builder’s?

10. Are you a registered architect in the state of Washington?

11. What type of contract do you use? Is it a percentage fee, hourly fee, fixed sum, etc?

12. What would you expect your fee to be for this project?

13. What is included in your basic services and what services would incur additional fees?

14. Are any other consultants included in your fee – structural engineer, landscape architect, interior designer?

15. How long will the design and construction documents take?

16. What would you estimate the approximate cost of construction to be, based on your usual projects or based on what we’ve already discussed?

17. How accurate have your construction cost estimates been in the past?

18. How will costs of design changes be handled?

19. When can you realistically start on our project?

20. How long have you been in business?

21. Can you provide us with a list of references and a list of all the projects you’ve done in the past 5 years?

22. How will you work with my builder?

23. If we were to stop this project before construction, how would our contract be terminated? What would our financial obligations be?