Archive for August, 2012

Building a Home: Site Preparation

Posted on: August 20th, 2012 No Comments

Backhoe clearing trees with a stump in the foreground.

After the home is staked out in the proper location, it’s time to clear anything that may be in or near its footprint and prepare the lot to be built on. Our builder Daron hired some guys with heavy equipment and experience accomplish this task.

First item: bring down the trees. I’m a tree fan, but I’ve also spent some time living beneath a huge oak tree. Every time the wind would pick up, I thought that oak was coming in through the roof. Trees can do significant damage to a home and won’t wait until you or your family are out before doing so. For each tree that comes down, we’ll plant a new one, preferably trees that won’t destroy our new home. We identified what needed to go and the crew got to work. See a tree coming down here.

UPDATE: An area within the footprint of the foundation was retaining water after days of rain. Rather than wait for it to dry, the excavators dug out the wet dirt and back filled it with several truckloads of sand.

Foundation spot being dug out to fix a wet spot. The excavated site will be back-filled with sand and compressed with a roller.

After the trees were down and small brush cleared, they started bringing in dirt. The foundation needs to be high off the ground so there’s no chance for water to enter the home. Since dirt is cheaper than concrete, the crew brought in several truck loads of dirt to mound up where the home and garage foundations would be. Each time a new load was brought in, it would be leveled then rolled to compress it. This ensures the foundation is built on high, stable ground.


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What is a Septic Inspection?

Posted on: August 15th, 2012 No Comments

Homes in Tallahassee will discharge waste to either the city sewage system or a septic tank. If you own or plan on buying a home with a septic tank, there are some things you should do to save money and headaches in the future.

Septic system separation tank.

Septic systems are a simple yet reliable way to treat waste. They are essentially a two part system: a separation tank and absorption area. Septic waste flows out of the house into a 1000-1500 gallon separation tank (aka “septic tank”), which is normally made of concrete. Once in the tank, the solid material will settle to the bottom of the tank and liquid will rise to the top. Baffles allow the liquid to flow into a second chamber where another separation occurs.

Once solids are separated from the liquid, the liquid enters an absorption area (aka a “leach field” or “drain field”). Exiting the separation tank, several feet of perforated pipe are laid on a bed of aggregate or crushed rock. The effluent liquid is allowed to “leach” into the ground in an evenly distributed manner.

When a septic tank is not maintained properly, a number of problems may arise:

Concrete septic tanks can last up to 40 years, but the drain fields generally only last about 20. Homeowners should have their septic tanks pumped every 3-5 years depending on the amount of septic waste being discharged from the home. Home buyers should have both the drain field and septic tanks inspected prior to purchase. If the owner has an adequate maintenance record, inspections may not be necessary. Considering a drain field inspection only costs $150 and a septic tank inspection is around $250, it’s a small price to pay to make sure you don’t have to shell out several thousand dollars for a new tank or drain field.



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Building a Home: Staking the Foundation

Posted on: August 1st, 2012 No Comments

The location of physical structures relative to the lot boundary lines are very important. Buildings must be “set back” a certain number of feet from lot lines, city streets, etc. (here are the setbacks for the zoning district we’re in). There must be a minimum of 7.5 feet between the side of our house and the lot line and a minimum of 15 feet to the front and back lot lines.

Stakes marking the lot boundaries as well as the building corners. The boss gives her approval.

As our builder was waiting for the permits to be issued, he had the building foundations and lot lines surveyed and staked out. Surveys are accurate to a very high degree, as they should be. Before each phase of construction is signed off by the city building inspector, they will actually come out and make sure the work was done according to what was approved during planning. If the home foundation is several feet off, it may need to be torn up and repoured! Therefore, it’s critical to make sure everything is positioned correctly. Once the building permit is approved, the foundation crew will use the stakes to guide them in putting up forms for the foundation.

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Building a Home: Permits

Posted on: August 1st, 2012 No Comments

Before anything can be done to the home site, the builder has to apply for certain permits. The first is the environmental permit. This will allow the builder to remove trees on the lot that are in or close to the footprint of the home. As I’ve written about before, you can’t remove certain trees without a permit, and trees such as live oaks are expressly forbidden from being taken down.

The other permit is a residential building permit. This informs the city or other governing body of your intentions for building. Builders must submit construction plans, wind analysis, and soil tests among other requirements. Building officials or engineers will review the documents to make sure they meet the local government’s building codes before they’ll issue a permit that allows the builder to begin construction.

This may all sound a little uneccessary when you’re dealing with a reputable builder. But remember, any hack can apply for and get a contractors license. Only well designed and qualified plans can get through code enforcement.


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