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Unexpected Construction Costs

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You won’t go far without hearing horror stories about log home owners who went way over budget, ran out of money before the project was through, and generally had a terrible building experience.  I’m sure there are as many tales as there are people, and I’m just as sure I haven’t even heard most of them.  Assuming that your initial construction budget is realistic, here are a few points that might make the unexpected a little easier to plan for.  A good builder will have already taken care of many of these suggestions, but it couldn’t hurt to be certain that the costs are covered in the original quote.

WEATHER: Weather delays are probably the biggest bugaboos.  Time is money, and every week that your house sits in the rain and snow is another week you are paying interest on your construction loan (we won’t even talk about exposure).  Ideally, you should plan the log delivery so that, bare minimum, your roof is on and windows are installed before winter hits.  Is waiting until Spring a good idea?  Well, April showers create a sea of mud that could bog down the heavy equipment.  The mud will be inevitable, but perhaps waiting for a dryer summer would speed things along?

EASE OF ACCESS: Some of the more isolated properties can be inaccessible by a 55-foot truck.  First of all, make sure your local bridges are designed to take the weight of a laden truck (and no, you can’t divide the total weight in half because only one axle is on the bridge at a time).  If the truck can’t navigate the curves, incline, or surface of the road, you might have to offload the logs onto a smaller vehicle.  This necessitates another forklift (one for the big truck, one for the little truck).  In the worst case scenario, a helicopter comes into play.

JOB SITE PREPARATION:  You might be tempted to throw down a quick-and-dirty layer of gravel to accommodate the machinery, but in the end you may be creating even bigger problems.  If the trucks get stuck on an inadequate surface, you may be the one to pay for towing… and again, you’ll experience delays.  Especially if using a gravel driveway, have the full driveway laid in first with the riprap as a foundation.  If it gets chewed up a bit, repairing it will be cheaper in the long run than the alternative.  When laying down the gravel driveway, make sure you add a section at least 50×50 sq. ft. for the logs to sit.  Then cover that section with thick plastic sheeting.  The last thing you want is to see your beautiful logs dumped in the mud.  

If you decide to take the whole house delivery at once, including lumber, plywood, windows and all, you’re going to need to store them.  You may have to rent one or more trailers to protect your stuff from the elements (and dare I suggest, theft?).  If at all possible, take delivery in more than one shipment, even if the initial expense is higher.  

Also, make sure provisions are made for a dumpster and portable potties; you won’t regret it.

TARPS:  You’re going to find yourself acting like a log baby-sitter for a while.  Whenever possible, the logs should be protected by tarps, nicely fastened with bungie cords against the wind.  But you’ll be amazed at how many tarps you’re going to need.  I’ve even seen builders cover the whole unfinished structure with tarps, though that’s the exception rather than the rule.

POWER:  Most builders will give you a few days’ allowance for power, but after that, you may get charged for that expensive generator.  Instead, you can arrange for the electric company to erect a temporary panel on site for the power tools.  They have to bring the power lines to your house anyway.  Make provisions for this way ahead of time.  Also verify way ahead of time whether the telephone company has service on your street.

CHAIN-SAW WORK ON SITE:  This is a little difficult to prepare for, since we usually don’t know what questions to ask.  I know of one person who was completely unaware that the stair timbers needed to be cut on site.  Also, not every log home company sizes the window holes exactly.  One side might line up, but the other side might need to be cut to measure.  Another couple I knew was surprised to discover that an inside archway through a solid log wall needed to be cut on site.  They were not skilled enough to attempt the task, and had to track down a person willing to take the responsibility – for a big price.  Sometimes logs need to be notched on site.  All these things get added to the bill.

ALLOWANCES:  This can be a big budget buster.  Whenever possible, pick out and budget your own fixtures, kitchen, flooring, countertops, etc. rather than take an allowance from the builder.  The likelihood of finding something in the price range allowed for the item is pretty slim. If you start far enough ahead, you can buy certain expensive appliances and luxuries and put them into storage.  Try to have all the items ready for installation before they are needed.  Remember to plan ahead for extra light fixtures; this item is one of the most frequently neglected necessities in the house.

CHANGE ORDERS:  If you want to stay in budget, NEVER make a change after the work has been done.  Change orders make the cash register sing.  Try to stay ahead of the project, so if you perceive a change while still in the planning stage, a good builder will work with you at no extra charge.

WHO DOES WHAT?  In our experience, the only time things went really astray is when we tried to bring in our own trades, who inevitably clashed with the builder’s subs.  The biggest fight was who would wire the septic pump: the electrician or the excavator.  We hired the excavator, and the electrician walked off the job because he refused to wire the excavator’s pump.  We were flabbergasted, and it took over a month to get another (inferior) electrician to finish the house… another month’s rent, another month’s interest. 

Not all problems can be foreseen, but conventional wisdom tells us to add a 10-20% slush fund to the budget to allow for unexpected cost over-runs.  Bare minimum, you may need to tap into this fund to bridge the gap between the subs getting paid and your next construction loan draw.  Planning this buffer is not going to be easy, but in the end, it might save you a whole lot of headaches – and an ulcer or two.

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