Surprise complications when building your home

When you build your own home, you are going to run into surprise complications that are inconvenient, and often expensive.

This is why, earlier in this blog, I advocated budgeting an extra 20% for eventualities that you may not foresee.



Yesterday, I stopped at our municipal offices to inquire about the provision of water and sewage services to our building lot. Something that I should have done before we purchased the lot, and I hope my experience will prod others to be more diligent.

I had made an assumption from a quick glance that water and sewer services were readily available, since there were fire hydrants at both ends of the block, and the lot across the street appeared to have water and sewer services. A dig in at 90 degrees should be simple and cost about 2000.00 dollars, even if there was no cost sharing by the municipality. To my surprise, that although a water service was no problem, there was not a sewer service to the front of our lots that I could use. The municipal plans showed that the sewer main ended about 100 ft. (30.48m) from where I needed it. It would be our responsibility to extend it the needed distance.

A quick mental calculation told me that the cost could now run up to 10,000.00 dollars although I have not yet confirmed this. Needless to say a big chunk of my 20% contingency is already gone, and I haven’t even driven a stake yet.

Although an unpleasant surprise, it is not as bad as it might have been. It might have turned out that it was not possible to connect to municipal sewer at all. Elevations could have made the line too shallow for frost protection before it reached to where it is required, or it could have required a longer line extension. I am not sure what our options would have been in that case, but I am sure they would have been costly.

Fortunately this development occurred at an early stage of our project,and leaves plenty of time for me to effect savings in other areas, to partly make up for this setback. It is not unusual for many of the worst surprises to happen early in a project. After all, you cannot see under the earth, and there is no telling what you may run into when you start digging. I am emotionally prepared for more unpleasant surprise,s and I have been taught another lesson in caution. You would think, that at my age, I would have a better idea what to expect.

tankless water heater

One of my practices, is to use the best retail prices I can find, when estimating material costs, and using these results in my budgeting. This can leave considerable room for future savings, if you are able to find package discounts and sale items. You may also be able to use some recycled material at considerable savings. This does require early planning, and time to do diligent shopping. Planning, and accumulating material, takes me longer than the actual build does.

Heating a house in our climate is one of the our major concern, both for expense, and for environmental reasons.

It is another area where I have run into complications, if not actually surprises. For efficiency and comfort, I had more or less settled on under floor hydronic radiant heating, after considering many options. To keep costs down and gain maximum efficiency, I had hoped to use a tankless water heater, which provides very high efficiencies, to supply both my hot water and space heating requirements. I have used a system like this in the past with excellent success.

A plate type heat exchanger

I had been made aware, that the code now required that a heat exchanger be used to separate the heating from the domestic hot water, in these applications. Both sides of this system would use potable water, and potable water rated equipment, so I am not sure what the reasoning behind this requirement is. Still it was not an onerous condition, since it would only require that I purchase a heat exchanger, an extra circulating pump and some extra controls. Total extra cost would be between 500.00 and 1000.00 dollars. System efficiencies would suffer slightly, as extra electricity would be used to run the extra pump, and maintenance concerns would be added.

Further research uncovered another possible concern. If I am interpreting the code correctly, a double wall exchanger will be required, at almost double the cost. The operating efficiency of a double wall exchanger is only about half of a single wall, and therefore, one twice as big would be required, and would nearly double the price again. I have not confirmed any of this, but I am concerned enough that I am looking at alternatives.

I am considering buying a second tankless water heater to supply my space heating requirements, and to keep space heating completely separate from potable water. It would not be much less expensive, but operating costs would be slightly lower, and the environment may be better served, if I can find a slightly used unit at a good price. I will comment on my success or failure in a later post.

Keeping your chin up is not a good idea, if its a boxing match. You could get a surprise.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>