Tuesday, April 30, 2013


A lot has happened since my last post, mostly still related to the excavation/infrastructure side of things, as shown in the pictures at the bottom.  Here is what has happened:

**The foundation is now complete and has been backfilled with drainage swales graded out.

**The electric pole has been installed in the lower, South East corner of the property, receiving electric from a neighboring property.

**The trench has been dug, and electric lines installed that carry the electricity underground from the pole up to the house (the electric will temporarily “run” into a pedestal up near the house that the builders will use during construction.  It will eventually “run” from there, underground into the house.

**The entire septic system has been installed and passed inspection from the DEP (Department of   Environmental Protection).

One interesting thing that happened when the trench for the electric was being dug:  Soon after they started digging, they hit a water pipe near the road, breaking it open.  It gushed water for a couple minutes, before trickling to a stop.  The excavator then went into town to research with the town clerk’s office what the pipe could possibly be (there are no public water utilities in our area).  Turns out, that pipe used to feed water to the nearby town of Hobart, probably from a spring or an old reservoir a long time ago.  Long enough ago that it didn’t show up on the initial “utilities check” he did before beginning work on the property.  The local code inspector told him to simply cap it since it’s been out of use for many decades. You can see the capped pipe in the picture below.

One note about our septic system:  As I mentioned in a previous post about the driveway, our property is located in the NYC Watershed region of the Catskills, and because of that, stricter guidelines are in place for residential and commercial septic systems.  That means our septic system cost us more than it would have in a location outside of the Watershed because of the advanced design requirements by the DEP.  We’re lucky though; it could have cost us a lot more than it did. Soil tests (perc tests) performed on a few different areas of the property by an engineer and a DEP rep before we purchased the property, detected one “sweet spot” where the soil was most ideal in terms of it’s fertile ability to handle a “shallow trench” system.  We were also very fortunate that that spot happened to be in an ideal location for the septic system in terms of where the house was going to sit.  It saved us thousands of dollars compared to what a “deep trench” system, commonly required in the area, would have cost us. 

So, what’s next?  The well is being drilled this week and Framing is due to begin in a couple of weeks! I plan to be onsite to “help” the builders for the framing process for as much time as I’m able to take off from my job.  I’m really looking forward to that! Thanks for taking the time to read this!  Here’s some pictures: 

Backfill is in place around the foundation with a nice "drainage swale" surrounding the site.

The electric pole installed at the bottom corner of the property, next to the road.  The electric lines going in to that pole will be mostly out of site from the cabin.  If you look closely, you can see the capped water pipe I talked about in the trench.  The trench goes all the way up to the house site and will run the electric inside conduit as seen here.  

The cement septic tank being installed

The line going from the tank to the distribution box.

Several pipes leave the distribution box and drain into the area called the leach field. The driveway, seen here in the background, will get a final layer of gravel as soon as soon as all site work is completed.

The DEP inspector's truck.  A DEP inspector is required to be onsite during the septic system installation.  It passed inspection!!  Another thing you can see in this photo is the electric "pedestal" I talked about sticking out of the ground behind the truck.  That's where the builders will tap into for electricity during construction.  Eventually, the electric will be routed from there underground and into the cabin.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


Wow, the driveway rough-in is complete and work on the foundation is nearing completion! This excavation crew moves fast!  (See pics with captions below).

A few thoughts about the foundation:

We decided a while back, during the designing phase, to go with a 4' high poured concrete crawl space, as opposed to a concrete slab, or a full basement, for a few reasons:

* The soil in our region, the Catskills, is very rocky.  When excavating, you never know how far (or how shallow) you'll have to dig before hitting"ledge," (rock too big to remove with standard equipment, requiring explosives which can blow your budget to pieces).

But we wanted some below-floor storage space, so:

* A poured concrete crawl space 4' high felt like a reasonable compromise/gamble in terms of mentioned "ledge" and is high enough to store things and does not require a staircase down which would take up living space in the cabin.  It can be accessed via a hatch-door  in the floor.

* A 4' high crawl space is high enough to house the hot-water heater ( a "Low-Boy" model) which again, takes up less living space in the cabin.

Now, a very common sentiment against a crawl space is this:

"You have all the equipment, cement and manpower already on site, why not just spend a few extra bucks to dig a few feet deeper and have a full basement?

This is a very good question.  What's misleading, though, about that sentiment, is the implication that the additional costs for a full basement are simply related to digging, cement and manpower (as significant as they are).  As I mentioned above, a basement would require a staircase to access it.  In our floor plan, that would require removing the closet and pantry, or, the half bath on the first floor.  Neither of those is an option for us. So, to then add a staircase for a basement, we would have to expand the total footprint of the cabin by four feet, thus adding an additional 300 + sq ft between the two floors of the cabin, as well the foundation.  Building costs are generally based on a Per Sq Ft ratio, so between the foundation and upper floors of the cabin, the additional costs become multiplied.

If this were our primary residence, we'd probably spend the money, expand the footprint, and dig deeper for a full basement.  But for budget minded cabin builders, I'm personally sold on the 4' high crawl space as a foundation.  And hey, we were successful in not hitting ledge!  We'll be able to store a lot of stuff down there too!

Thanks for taking the time to read this!  Check out the pictures below showing the progression of the foundation installation!  Framing is not too far away!

Poured concrete footers are in place.

"Forms" being constructed 4' high for the poured concrete crawl space foundation ("Forms" are the temporary walls that contain the poured concrete. 

Concrete walls have been poured, inner forms have been removed, and foundation floor is being poured.  

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Earth is Moving!

The snow is finally gone and work has begun on the driveway!  The picture below was taken yesterday by our excavator (opposite angle from earlier pics showing the view). One of the downsides of living three hours away from the construction site (and weather being the main determining factor of the start date) is that Tracey and I were not able to be there for an official groundbreaking.  Guess we'll just have to Photoshop something later.

When the final rough-in of the driveway is complete, a couple of layers of crushed stone (gravel) will be added and impacted into place with a "vibratory roll" -- a gravel roller that vibrates.  You can actually see the Roller waiting in the wings in this picture; it's the furthest right piece of equipment next to the Spruce trees.  Also, a culvert pipe was installed to allow drainage along the road as there is a ditch between the road and the property.  The stones surrounding the pipe is a nice touch by the excavator.

Generally speaking, for driveways with a slope, gravel works better than asphalt in high snow areas like Upstate New York as they provide better traction in snow and ice.  And hey, it's also cheaper.  It's also our only option.  That's because our property is within 200 feet of a stream and because our property is within the New York City Watershed, we would not be allowed to have an asphalt driveway for water run-off issues.

I'll address the NYC Watershed issues in further detail when we get to the septic system installation, but briefly: NYC's drinking water is piped in from huge reservoirs in Upstate new York.  The region where those reservoirs are located is referred to as, the New York City Watershed. In order to preserve the purity and cleanliness of those reservoirs, stricter guidelines are in place, such as the one I just mentioned about the driveway, than in areas outside of the Watershed.  I think that's a good thing.  As a resident of NYC, I want clean drinking water.

Well, I think that's it for now.  Thanks for taking the time to read this!  When the driveway is complete, work will begin on the foundation.  Whoa!

Saturday, April 6, 2013


Hello!  Welcome to my cabin construction blog!  My wife Tracey and I will be building a cozy 2 bedroom, 1 ½ bath cabin/cottage this summer near the Western Catskills town of Hobart (population: 436) in Upstate New York.  A couple of years ago, we purchased a 1.7 acre property on a lightly traveled “back road,” about two miles outside of town.  The property sits up off the road with a gentle slope all the way up to the back of the property which will provide a nice perch for the cabin, facing South, with nice mountain views to boot. 

“But Bob,” you might say, “Do you have the necessary skills to build a house?” 
“No, I don’t” I would respond, and that’s exactly why we’ve hired a highly respected professional builder in the area as the General Contractor.  We will, however, be investing a bit of sweat equity into the project, which will be discussed and illustrated in future posts.   

One other very exciting thing:  I, with helpful feedback and input from Tracey, designed every square inch of the cottage which has been an enormously, rewardingly creative process.  The thought of watching what we've designed on paper slowly taking shape in the coming months is an amazing feeling .  Drafting has been a secret passion of mine for a long, long time. The final plans for this cabin we’re about to build is the result of a long evolutionary combination of various aspects of plans I've been working on that contain everything we want inside of 1150 sq ft.  And since purchasing this property a couple of years ago, significant adaptations have of course been made to achieve the best possible design in regards to how the house will sit on the property. Hopefully, everything will come to life as we imagine it.  

Mostly, this blog will be a mixture of photos, descriptions of photos, with thoughts and observations occasionally mixed in.   I also intend to include some thought processes behind various aspects of decision making that go into designing and building – and there are thousands of them.  So, while the purpose of the blog will primarily be to keep anyone who’s interested in the project up to date on how things are progressing, I also hope it will provide useful information to anyone considering a similar endeavor -- in the years we’ve been preparing and planning for this (which has required a good deal of online research), architectural and construction blogs/forums have been extremely helpful to me.  However, any commentary or opinions I offer up in re: to decision making around building and design should not in any way be taken as professional advice.  

Well, thanks for taking the time to read my introductory post!  Building a cabin in the mountains has been a life-long dream and I look forward to sharing the process with you.  Building permit is in hand and weather is beginning to break -- stay tuned: things will be getting underway shortly!  

A couple of photos of our land, as yet untouched. 

View from the future site of the cabin (photo taken in late Autumn).

Several trucks have been on site, waiting to start cutting in the driveway.  The snow has kept them idle but it's looking like that's about to change shortly (photo taken a couple of weeks ago).