Monday, July 31, 2017

How We Cut Costs in our Farmhouse Build

Even though we are building a custom home, which tends to be more costly, we have deliberately made many decisions that aid in cutting expenses to stay within our budget. In other words, yes, you CAN build a custom, high quality home on a reasonable budget! (especially if you have a great builder who will work with you and give advice to keep costs down).

One of the most important ways we stayed within budget was allowing most of the things we wanted within reason but also compromising on quite a few things too. I learned to be very flexible and to be content knowing that not everything on our wish list was going to be feasible for us to do. The items we splurged on were windows, the front door, countertops, tile for our master and guest bath, and the height of the ceilings.

It seems like many aspects of the new house that are standard for our builders are pretty high-end, but it turns out that's just how our builders roll. For example, custom wood closet shelving systems at no extra cost?  Built-in cabinetry in laundry room? Yes, please!! Interestingly, our cabinets for the kitchen and bath vanities are custom-made by our builders who are master carpenters and do all their own cabinetry work, and they were no more expensive than any other basic cabinets (even ikea!) that we could have bought elsewhere.

Below is a partial list of what we did to help with cost savings:

-simple house plan, no fussy exterior (the more corners there are the more expensive!)
-two stories instead of one is more cost-effective
-addition of a full-length shed dormer on the rear of house
-removed gabled dormer windows on the facade of the original house plan
-hardieplank siding exterior rather than brick or stone, with a brick foundation
-wood-burning fireplace insert (with gas pipe) with a brick veneer rather than a full masonry fireplace
-metal roof (one of the more budget-friendly materials for roofing)
-budget-friendly (but still high quality) flooring choices: basic oak for hardwood downstairs, carpet in  bedrooms, tile in some bathrooms, vinyl plank in girls' bath, vinyl plank in laundry room.
-no fancy wall treatments and simple interior moldings
-composite but still solid core interior doors
-fiberglass French doors to screened porch and steel door in laundry
-regular decking on screened-in rear porch instead of tongue and groove
-screen tight system on screened porch instead of custom fabricated panels
-no bathtub (yet) in master bath (just shower for now)
-high quality but reasonably-priced ("mid-grade") lighting fixtures and plumbing fixtures
-recessed lighting in closets, kitchen, utilitarian spaces instead of higher-priced fixtures
-re-using our current washer and dryer
-re-using our current refrigerator
-re-using a few of our light fixtures
-taking advantage of holiday sales for fixtures and appliances
-no doors (just framed openings) on master closet, bonus room, and a few others
-minimal upper cabinetry in kitchen
-designing and completing landscaping ourselves

Of course there are a lot of building material costs that are difficult to cut down and the only way to really save is by cutting square footage. Still, we were able to make quite a dent in the cost of our house by choosing our house plan wisely and being conservative on high-end finishes or treatments. Additionally, since we were going for a simple farmhouse look, this lends itself to simple, cost-effective finishes anyway (think beadboard, subway tile, simple cabinets and trim, etc.).

The funny thing is, many things I thought I wanted in the beginning or "compromised" on, I don't even miss! I'm just so thankful to be able to design and build a homestead of our own :)

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Thursday, July 6, 2017

My Paint Color Scheme: White and Soft Neutrals

Wow...this has been tough. Who knew there are SO many different shades of whites to choose from even just from one brand of paint! We are painting the exterior of our new home (under construction) as well as a good portion of the interior white and selecting the perfect shade of white has been a daunting task. Will it be too off-white? Too cool or stark? Too grey?

I decided the best way for me to determine the white that we needed and liked was to look at lots of pictures of the color I was wanting to use in context (and in different lights). I also plan to simply test out the paint on whatever surface we are intending to paint.

Fairly early on we decided to go with Sherwin Williams paints (as advised by our builder) so that we could still have high quality paint but not go too over budget. This automatically limited our color choices (which was a good thing) but there are many other great brands of paint out there for those that have time to sift through all those thousands of choices :) There were so many beautiful whites and soft neutral colors to choose from that I gathered several samples together, took them home, and researched what they looked like used in homes from pictures online. If you didn't already suspect it, I am seriously afraid to commit to color--and I just love the clean look of a neutral colored space with smaller pops of color. For some reason too much color becomes too busy for me.

Above is a collage of most of my paint colors for the new house--it's a bit deceiving because our furnishings we already have will add color and make a big difference in the overall look of the space. I ended up going with Sherwin William's "Pure White" and "Alabaster" for the interior trim and walls, respectively. I think they nice true whites--the Alabaster is a softer, creamier white and I liked that they didn't present too cool or too warm for what I was going for. It looks like a lot of blue-greens in our house too but in reality we are only using these in small amounts--for cabinetry mostly and for the laundry room. Likewise, the pink, Sherwin Williams "Faint Coral," will only be for the girls' bedroom.

Below are some design boards I created using Olioboard (I love this online tool!) to envision what our furnishings might look like with the paint colors selected for a few of the rooms in our new house. Most of the items I chose for the boards are representative or inspirational rather than actual furnishings we have or plan to use.

Living Room:

Dining Room:

Master Bedroom:

Girls' Bedroom:

My overall thought is that we will start with white (and neutrals) and as time goes on if we want, we will slowly move into more color as we live in the space. After all, it's just paint!! And easily changed.

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Saturday, June 17, 2017

House Build Progress: Exterior Updates

Since nothing too exciting has been happening on the interior of our farmhouse build lately, today I'd thought I would share some updates on the exterior. It's hard to believe we are at the point of picking out paint colors but yes--it's true!

Since my last post our builders have finished the siding, all exterior trim, the front and back/screened porch flooring, and they installed the roofing!

I love our new roof--it's a "5 V-crimp" metal in the standard silvery galvalume finish. In addition to being very durable and economical, I really think it fits well with the farmhouse look as most older farmhouses in our area have metal roofs.

The hardieplank (cement fiber board) siding comes standard in a grey color but we plan to paint it and the trim white. I never tire of classic white for a farmhouse--and it really makes the windows and brick foundation pop. With the dark exterior window sashes, the white will definitely give the house that "modern farmhouse" look. Currently most of the house has been primed already--and all exterior painting may be finished by next week!

The porches will have painted or stained floors but their trim will also be white. If we don't like the paint--as my husband says--we can always paint over it later. So glad that he has this attitude :)  I'm really looking forward to painting the ceilings of our porches a robin's egg blue color--an old tradition that was said to mimic the color of the sky.

Other than the front porch steps, the carpentry work for the porch posts, lighting, and the screening for the back porch, all of the exterior work is complete for the most part. The interior has had all plumbing, electrical, HVAC, gas lines, and a fireplace installed. The next big project for the interior will be installing drywall and making the cabinetry for the kitchen and bathrooms--it has been a little overwhelming trying to plan the layout and design for all the cabinets but by keeping things simple it hasn't been too bad. We are so fortunate that our builders make their own high quality custom cabinetry--it is their specialty--and for extremely reasonable prices.

 Every week it is so fun to see what has been done --it's really starting to come together!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

House Build: Windows

A lot has happened in the last few months on our farmhouse build for our 11 acre homestead--we now have all framing completed, sheathing, wrapping, plumbing and HVAC, some siding, trim, a fireplace, and WINDOWS!!!

Let me just say if you all only knew how much we debated over our choice of windows for the house--I mean this was a HUGE point of contention between my husband and I. The windows were the ONLY thing I was set on and not really willing to compromise. Yes, my husband was frustrated :) But there were plenty of other choices and desires that I have conceded in order to stay in budget. The windows? Nope--I was stubborn and did not budge!

I think that's because I'm naturally a lover of old houses which have amazing often times old wood, double-hung, true-divided light gorgeous windows with original casings and surrounds. Windows in historic houses are classified as "character-defining features," meaning they have a major impact on the look and feel of the building. I wanted this for our new house too but it does present a problem--to get something like the wonderful windows of old is very difficult, expensive, and the window by itself wouldn't be as energy efficient. You simply cannot make new windows like the old anymore anyway unless you are using reclaimed old growth wood and producing reproduction-quality sashes.

So, I settled on something that I know I will like that still provides some of the same features as a traditional wood window: an all-wood window, double-hung, with aluminum-clad exterior and as close to true divided lights as we could get with a dark brown spacer in between the two panes of energy efficient glass. Most of our windows will be two-over-two sash and we will have three six-light casement windows in the kitchen.

We vacillated between going with Sierra Pacific and JELD-WEN, but ultimately chose the JELD-WEN "Sightline" because it was the company that our builder's supply warehouse is most familiar with. It certainly is a top-of-the-line window and made up a good portion of the overall house budget but I know it's something that will last a very long time and adds so much character to the house. I'm pretty sure I'm going to ditch doing any window treatments--I'm leaving these beauties bare and enjoying them!

My husband not only scoffs at my insistence of this particular window type but he also can't believe that we have 31 of them in the house! That's a lot of windows!! The exterior aluminum cladding color we chose is a dark bronze and we plan to paint the interior of the sashes white to match the surrounding casings and interior trim.

Our front door has four lights to match the sash pattern of the windows and the pair of French doors leading to the screened porch will have six-lights-over-one-panel. I love tons of natural light which was another reason why I chose for our doors to have plenty of glass.

The only thing that surprised me a little about the windows we chose was the "reflectiveness" of the new glass (low-e) they are using in windows these days. We were just unaware (in certain kinds of light) how tinted and mirror-like the glass actually looks. The upside is that it actually provides a little bit more privacy since one is less able to see inside. Other than that, we are extremely happy with how the windows turned out and look forward to enjoying them.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Mothering in Decades Past

Have you ever wondered how mothers did it all 50, 100, 200 plus years ago? I do--all the time. I think about how stressed, overworked and struggling to juggle so many different responsibilities the mothers of today often are. I wonder if the mothers of yesteryear felt the same way--not to say mothers back then were not stressed out too--I'm sure they were. But it just seems like they had a better handle on things.

I struggle to get through a day without yelling at my girls, I let them watch too much TV, and I let them eat far too  much processed junk than they should be. I often feel frazzled when I'm home with them all day and it makes me want to scream when I get a fun project set up for them (that they requested) and then they don't even want to do it for 5 minutes. I need grace and forgiveness in this area--parenting is. so. hard.

My priorities are often pulled in so many directions--even at home. I work part-time (partly from home), so work duties are constantly calling me. Then there's the homemaking chores and the homesteading and the gardening that all take time. I feel guilty enough not spending much time really "playing" with my girls but I just don't have that luxury a lot of times.

For one, I think because a majority of women in decades past did not work outside the home (or perhaps they worked on the farm), work-life balance was not as much of an issue and the childcare situation--at least financially--was taken care of somewhat. Two, those that did engage in pursuits outside of home life were privileged to have help in the form of nurses, nannies, or relatives that served as caregivers for young children. It seems that in order for one class of mothers to have the necessary help needed to care for their children, another class of mothers--namely servants--would have sacrificed their family life.

Oh how I would love to ask the advice of those mothers long ago who were able to juggle the responsibilities of home and farm and raise up multiple children without the help of modern conveniences. Because this mama needs a lot of help most days. To do everything that society expects of a mother in today's world as well as a professional in the workplace requires us to be "supermoms"--is that really sustainable and healthy?

So what is the solution? Is it impossible for moms these days to both work and raise a family and do a fine job at both? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Hatching Chicks in an Incubator

Believe it or not, for as long as we have had chickens (7 years), we have never hatched any chicks using an incubator. This is the first year!

In the past we have always let one of our hens go broody and sit on our fertile eggs OR we have purchased baby chicks from a breeder we knew. In my opinion, if you can let a broody hen do all the work of sitting, hatching, and raising the chicks it is WAY easier and I tend to think the birds end up being a bit hardier that way--something the Dominique breed already has but it never hurts to have extra hardy birds.

This year due to our shortage of available laying hens (only 3) we did not have very many eggs and our rooster isn't too good about fertilizing the eggs either, haha! We probably would have had a pretty unsuccessful hatch if one at all using our own flock. Fortunately, I was able to get some fertile Dominique eggs from a breeder friend I know who has some great stock. He gave me 15 fertile eggs which was so generous!

Fertile eggs take approximately 3 weeks to hatch using an incubator. The temperature needs to be set according to the incubator's instructions--ours at 100 degrees and water added periodically to keep the humidity level where it should be. We candled them a couple of times to check the development of the eggs but tried to not open the incubator more than once or twice.

Once the eggs begin to pip then it gets pretty exciting!! The hatching process takes a little bit of time and can occur over the course of 2 or 3 days. Do not open the incubator once the eggs begin to hatch unless you are removing already hatched chicks to the brooder. Ours almost all hatched within 24 hours of each other--we had 14 chicks! So many babies!!

Eventually the chicks will fluff out and be ready to be removed into the brooder. They can survive for 24 hours or so without food or water in the incubator by absorbing the rest of their yolk.

For our brooder, we used a large plastic tub lined with puppy pee pads, a chick "nipple" waterer, an egg carton filled with chick feed and a heater designed so that the chicks can sit underneath for cover and warmth like they would a mother hen (see image below). You can move the heater higher and higher which allows the temperature underneath to drop 5-10 degrees each week as the chicks feather out. We will also eventually switch to pine shavings for brooder bedding once the chicks get a little older. All of these items can be found either at your local feed supply store or available online.

The pee pads will need to be changed every day or so in the beginning until the transition to pine shavings. We have been handling the chicks daily but they are still quite afraid of our presence and do not like being picked up. It is important to check for "pasty butt" at this stage and clear any blockages up to prevent illness. Fresh water and food every day (or multiple times a day if food dish is small) is critical.

You may need to make some adjustments depending on how the chicks are doing--especially if some of the appear to be sick or having trouble thriving. For example, we had to separate two of the chicks who were much smaller than the others and getting a bit trampled on. I put them in a separate brooder and babied them a bit more--I added a little water dish with pebbles and this helped one of the chicks with drinking tremendously. Adding a nutrient supplement to their water can save a chick's life as well at this stage if they aren't eating and drinking much.

These two chicks were not thriving as much as the others
and needed to be separated to their own brooder

We recently moved our brooder to the screened-in porch and hopefully around 4-6 weeks of age they will be able to go outside permanently into their brooder coop with the weather being so warm now. We could probably put them outside already with a couple of heat sources available for them. Until they go outside, we have been letting them enjoy the outdoors in a "play pen" set up so they can't roam very far but enjoy the grass and sunshine.

4 of these chicks will go to some relatives that live nearby who are raising chickens for the first time (and who I've made partial to the Dominique!) and the rest of them we will keep. In addition to all of the pullets, we will likely keep 2 of the best cockerels and either sell, give away for breeding, or process the others.

It was a fun experience to hatch the chicks in the incubator and nice to know that we have that option if necessary. However, I will say it's way easier to just let the broody hen do all the work herself and I think we will try to go that route the next time :)

cute little fuzzy butts!

Baby chicks can be time consuming and a little needy at first--especially if you have one that gets sick or stops thriving. But they sure are adorable and sweet!

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Friday, April 28, 2017

House Build Progress: Walls, 2nd Floor and More

A lot has happened since my last update on the construction of our new farmhouse! We are LOVING seeing the progression of the build and are getting so excited about all our plans and dreams for our little homestead.

For one, the second floor framing has been completed and sheathing has been placed on the roof rafters and on the exterior. It has also been wrapped for protection and the subfloor is completed.

An oblique view of the rear elevation of the house

The "great room"--where the fireplace will be

Having all the framing complete makes it so much easier to envision actual room sizes and the feel with the light from the windows and traffic flow.

Since we don't really have a true "open" floor plan, having a living room that is two-stories high gives it a larger, more open feel and I love that. (Even if my husband thinks it's a waste of space!)

View of second floor framing from our bonus room facing west

View of the girls' bedroom and bathroom

Peeking into the kitchen facing south

They had to move the casement windows in the kitchen down a few inches (as much as they could) because I am fairly short and I couldn't see very well out of them. I wish they could have lowered them further but now according to code windows have to be higher due to required outlets that have to sit at the sink in between the counter and the windows, or something like that. They joked that the builder can make me a little pull-out stool under the sink cabinets to stand on and see better out those windows :)

Our front door, unstained

Another huge change is the installation of the windows and doors! We chose an all-wood DSA Mastercraft front door with four-lights-over-one-panel and matching sidelights and a transom of five lights. We plan to stain this door with a walnut colored stain. I am planning to devote an entire post to the windows soon, but I'll briefly describe them here: we chose a JELD-WEN all wood double-hung window, two-over-two sash that has an aluminum-clad exterior in dark bronze. The windows will be trimmed out and painted white on the interior.

The back French doors with transom leading to the screened porch are a Plastipro fiberglass, six-lights-over-one-panel that will be painted. I'm think I'm going to go with a dark grey or charcoal color for these. Already we know that our favorite room in this house is probably going to be this glorious screened porch.

The only other door is our laundry door leading to the screened porch which is just a simple steel door with one light in the upper half. Nothing fancy for that one.

Laundry room

Next week we are meeting the electrician and pretty soon we have to pick out all our flooring! Light fixtures too. So many decisions to make! It's starting to get a little overwhelming :)

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