Utah's "Civil" War

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Why the hell would you want to build a house?

by tommy kirchhoff

OK, so you’re an idiot and you want to build a house. Let’s skip the “buy property,” “find a loan” and “choose a competent architect” bullshit and move right into the painful, rectal itch of construction.

You’ve nailed down your construction plans and know unequivocally what you want to build; you have a construction budget so you can dole out monies in precise, controlled amounts. (You didn’t forget a sizable sum for “General Allowance” or “the unforeseen,” right?)

I’ll tell you right now—the gospel of construction is to take your FINALIZED schedule and budget, then add three months & 30 percent. Don’t believe me? Fine. You don’t have to listen. But in the end, that’s where you’ll be.

OK, smart guy, let’s build.

Water: If you don’t have it, you don’t even get to start. (tack on as much time as it takes)

Site Prep: You’re gonna have to put up a stupid little “erosion control” fence to keep any wild-ass balls of dirt from running away. You’ll also need an LOD fence or “limit of disturbance.” Both are small tasks, but your friendly, government inspector will bust your ass for either.

Excavation: You’re building in Utah. Sorry. It’s not like digging in a sandbox half full of cat shit. The good news is you may never have to worry about your house settling; the smack on the ass is you might have to spend an extra $10,000 to blast the hole open with dynamite. (please see “General Allowance” above)

Footings and Foundation: Heh. Even some of the most reputable concrete guys around can screw it up big time. Be sure to keep the concrete from freezing, the top of the wall level, and the concrete plant paid (some guys take your money, but don’t pay the plant; can you say lien?). If any of these don’t go right, count on spending more. (please see “General Allowance” above)

Framing: Assuming your concrete came out all right, your framing should be rapid and exciting. Visibly, things begin to happen as shit starts goin’ vertical. If it’s cold, your guys won’t work and neither will their nail guns. This price should be set in stone in a contract; but don’t be surprised if lumber prices go up 20 percent and you spend more than you anticipated. (please see above)

Dry-In: This is merely getting windows hung and a waterproof material over the roof sheathing. Guess what—some of your windows are going to break. If you use felt and leave it to blow in the Utah wind, some of it will tear up; you’ll spend dollars to fix it. If you cover with bituthane, you spend good money, but get a great dry-in.

Electric, Plumbing, Heating: This is the longest and most ass-chafing part of the project. Making sure all the kids are playing nice with each other is tough. Especially since you figure out that your “perfect” design concept doesn’t work in five rooms, and you have to have them redrawn by the architect…which costs more money. You’ll also have to either pay the General for change orders (get them all in writing you idiot!) an/or any subcontractor affected. This is also the point that the General and/or subs decree that your plans suck and are missing all kinds of details. This will delay the job substantially. (please see “add three months”)

Four-way: No, this is not a sexual fantasy. You’re in deep shit. Four-ways don’t often pass the first inspection. Why? Your rough framing, plumbing, electric and heating are intricate little processes, and they all have to work in harmony. If your construction plans were followed to a “T” by the subs (the smart ones won’t do that), now you’ve got seven items that fail the inspection (the subs who followed the plans laughed when they installed shit the wrong way). But when Inspector Uberbuilder comes back, he’ll find seven more things. (please see “add three months”). At some point in your career, you’ll pass and get to sheetrock.

Drywall: A perfect compliment to Utah weather. Drier than a dust fart, and dustier than a dirt storm. Something will go wrong at this stage of the game too. Tack on some days, tack on some dollars, and stay the hell away from the job until drywall’s done.

Finish: OK smart guy. When drywall is done, your job could be right around 90 percent complete. Many people at this stage in the game say, “Wow! I’m just barely over my budget!” Yup. And this is the fuckin’ wakeup call. For some reason of construction psychosis, people don’t like anything originally slated for finishes.

Linoleum in the bathrooms?

“You know, I think I’d rather have tile. Ya, Italian tile…with colored grout.”

New appliances?

“I like that stainless refrigerator, oh and the Bosch dishwasher, and eew! that Viking gas range...”


“Plaster with integral color is pretty cool looking.”

This goes on and on and on. Ten thousand forks in the road. Roofing, carpet upgrades, hardwood floors, trim details, stone veneer…lighting! There are actually guys in Salt Lake who get $150 an hour to tell you what kind of lights and where to put them. This is the kind of shit that will drive you absolutely mad! You’re spending so much money on cool shit that you don’t even realize you’re still spending money on the unforeseen. Money spentus, tempus wasted, sobriety no longer an option.

C.O.: This means Certificate of Occupancy, and really certifies that you’ve lost your mind--and all your money. You get to move in, but I’ve heard of plenty of people so pissed off at this point that they just sell the damn thing.

A few tips:

Cuss: Fucking swear. It’s the only accepted form of communication, and it’s free therapy. The guys will dig it.

Do some labor: Guys will work harder if you don’t look like a Sunday Mormon. At least, sweep up. Never show up in dress clothes.

Beer: At 4:30 p.m. on Fridays, take them beer. Just do it.

And remember: Finalize your budget (with a General Allowance), then stash 30 percent more somewhere else; figure for three extra months. You can’t get hurt.