hole in the ground

Hole in the ground

22 October 2012

Planning has been in the works for quite a while, but now that we’ve dug a giant hole in the ground there’s no going back: we are building a house. Again.

I’m edge-of-the-high-dive nervous. Building a house in California is breathtakingly more expensive than building in Ohio, and chinese grandmas don’t splurge easily. I hope in time this will prove a wise investment. But what I see now is an enormous money pit, awesome and scary.

How did I get here? In the days when we rented a little one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan, my husband, who grew up in a gorgeously maintained home in rolling farmland of Ohio, used to say, “Wouldn’t it be great to have a house?” And I, having grown up in a more utilitarian setting with two working immigrant parents, would shake my head. “Sounds like a lot of work to me.”

Little did I know that owning a house is a breeze compared with building one. In terms of time, effort and uncertainty, the difference between buying and building a house is something like the difference between going to the grocery store and growing your own food.

Fortunately we’ve learned a few things. I’m counting on the second house, like the second child, not to be as traumatizing as the first. I won’t inundate you with head-exploding minutiae – no posts on the difference between muntins and mullions, or the distinction between chrome and nickel finishes (have I lost you yet? exactly my point!). But since this project is going to be a major distraction for a while (early 2014???), I thought I’d share peeks now and again.

To summarize progress to date:


No house.


Geeky construction tidbits

In California, you don’t just knock down houses with a wrecking ball anymore. A deconstruction company takes it apart for usable material – lumber, windows, doors, appliances, etc. We get a tax write-off for the donated material which offsets the cost of deconstruction. Nifty.

Friends ask if our house in California will be similar to the house we built in Ohio. In the past that would have made sense to me too. We built a house we loved, why not repeat it? But different settings want different structures.

Harsh climates call for solid shelter – a box to shield you from the elements. But mild California calls for indoor-outdoor living – you want to feel the air and sun, to be drawn outside. So while there are elements that will be very familiar – a great room that combines kitchen, dining and living space; modestly sized bedrooms and bathrooms; lots of windows – the shape and feel of the house will be different.

My midwestern husband loves basements, which is why we have a such a big hole in the ground. But the hole is larger than the basement. We have two big light wells to invite California sunshine. There’s extra space around the perimeter for workers to build basement walls, and by OSHA regulations the walls are required to slope outward at the top to minimize risk of loose dirt falling in. We have a huge mound of dirt that will fill in these margins when the basement is complete.

Diggers hit rock when excavating the basement, which is great news in earthquake country. The bad news is that it cost more to dispose of rocks than dirt.

Anyone have building or remodeling wisdom to share? I’d love to hear it. When it comes to construction, a little forethought can save a lot of heartache later.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Annette Hoffman 22 October 2012 at 12:04 pm

Thank you so much for sharing with the Ohio relatives! Loved seeing the first pictures. Looks like a beautiful setting and I know the home will be gorgeous as well! Miss you here!


cg 24 October 2012 at 3:11 pm

hi annette – we miss you all too. come visit when we’re done!


Michelle 22 October 2012 at 12:18 pm

How exciting for you!!! I would love to have a basement……as you know, most homes here don’t have them. When it’s finished, I’m sending my kids to your house to play and to eat Jacques mixed cheese fondue;-)


cg 24 October 2012 at 3:04 pm

yes, i hope the basement will be kiddie heaven – cartwheels, wrestling, pillow fights, forts. or, kids being kids, they’ll just keep wreaking havoc in the living room. the best laid plans!


jennie 23 October 2012 at 1:14 pm

Document the process–it’s so fascinating to see a project go from an initial sketch to a completed home. Remodelista is a great website for helping with some of those mind-numbing decisions, especially the regular feature “10 Easy Pieces” (highlighting things like kitchen faucets, white paint, etc–very fun to sift through). I hope you’ll post updates–good luck!


cg 24 October 2012 at 3:24 pm

hi jennie – thanks for the ideas! i will definitely check out remodelista to help un-numb my poor mind. =P


mm 25 October 2012 at 6:07 am

I hope you have a good architect and reliable contractors. I would recommend you keep a very close eye on proceedings. Look forward to seeing your progress.


Lisa Lendavic 29 November 2012 at 3:14 pm

I just received your card in the mail…thank you! Wow, what an awesome adventure you all are on. I imagine you are following your hearts and your dreams and you can rarely go wrong with that.
So sorry to read about your father. I know the struggle that comes with that. I wish you all the best. You will be missed here in Ohio. I will miss visiting your beautiful home and seeing all of your smiling faces.
God bless,


cg 1 December 2012 at 1:01 am

dear lisa – thank you so much. hopefully we will see you again on one of our regular trips back to buckeye country.


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