Cleave & Nina's Green Dream Home

Our Net-Positive Home in Long Beach, California



    Our last post showed the footings looking quite nice with the wood forms recently removed. Before we could pour the slab within the footings we (the figurative, not literal, 'we') had a number of tasks to complete -- compact soil (within the footings), install underground drain pipes, install under-slab electrical conduit, install downdraft ventilation vent, install structural steel, install under-slab vapor barrier, and install slab rebar. While there were a few problems to solve -- we don't have problems boss, we only have solutions -- our biggest problem was...


    After finishing the footings at the beginning of December 2016, we lost almost 6 weeks due to weather through the first week of February 2017. Back in October 2016, I semi-jokingly told our General Contractor that since we were supposed to get a lot of rain last year during an El Niño condition and didn't, that we would get a lot of rain this year.

    We defnitely need the rain in semi-arid Los Angeles which has be suffering from extreme drought conditions over the past few years, but our house construction schedule would look a lot better with less rain during this phase of the build.


    Starting & Stopping & Starting

    Unfortunately, our blog entries kind of mimic the pace of progress on our green, dream home. After getting City of Long Beach approval of our Construction Documents as scheduled, we had a bit of a delay in getting started on lot preparation (mid August).

    For us, lot preparation was a fascinating and unknowingly, complex process. Our concrete subcontractor had to dig 4 feet under the footprint of our slab foundation. Our soils engineering company provided an engineer who watched the dig and monitored and measured the refilling and compaction of the dirt that will be under the foundation. At one point it looked like we were building an Olympic swimming pool and size-wise, it wasn't too far off from being one.

    By the end of August we had a level and compacted lot.

    And then we waited.

    We waited for our subcontractors and services providers to come to a consensus on how to deal with the retaining walls on the east and north sides of our lot.

    As you can see from the photo above, our lot sits below the lot to the east (right side of photo) and the lot to the north (top-left of photo). Note that the lot to the east is our current house. The design of the retaining walls was more complicated than anyone expected because of the lot situation and the location of the house on the lot.

    Eight weeks later, we were ready to dig the footings for the retaining walls and the footings for the slab foundation.

    Looking more like a subterrainean maze, the trenches for the footings gave us a better view of how the house will sit on the lot and the relative sizes of the 1st floor rooms. The forms for the footings and rebar were next.

    In our estimation, there was enough rebar in the forms to build a small bridge or to keep the foundation intact after a 6.5 magnitude earthquake. The next problem lurked in the above photo. The wooden "plate" with the two bolts sticking out vertically are where we attached structural steel, box-section columns. Unfortunately, when the subcontractor responsible for erecting the mnmMOD walls inspected the forms, he determined that the configuration of the plates where the steel columns attach would interfere with installation of the walls.

    Back to the drawing board and 2 weeks later we reworked the forms. Here is the before and after:

    And we were able to pour concrete into the foundation footing forms and strip the forms.

    Next stop: Stop.


    We have a lot of photos ...

    ... and we will post a lot more!

    One advantage of living next door to where we're building our new house is that it's easy to take photos when there's some visible progress (more on that in a future blog post) and we've been collecting these photos in a Google Photos photo album. We've linked that album to this website. You can access it by clicking on 'Photos' on the menu bar (top-right of any page) and you can see our mostly unedited stream of photos and a couple of videos.

    No captions on the photos as of now so you'll have to use your imagination on what they show. Some of you will know what the photo depicts because you are involved in our project and some of you know because you're in the industry.

    For now, please enjoy them and let us know if you have any questions.

    P.S.: Thanks to Joshua at mnmMOD for suggesting that we do this.


    22 Years of Stuff

    As we prepare to move into our smaller green, dream home, we need to divest ourselves of 22 years of stuff that we accumulated as a family of four. Craigslist has been a great resource for getting things that we no longer need into the hands of those who can use them. We have been surprised how quickly people responded to our ads.

    There are definitely some emotions -- happy and sad -- sorting through items. We also reflect on why we needed so many things for us and our children. At the time, everything seemed like a good idea. In retrospect, some items seem overly frivolous. Our goal for the rest of our lives is to be more conscientious about things we acquire.

    We still have a plenty of things to sell or give away but we made a solid start and reuse is a good thing.



    A bit of a late announcement, but as of June 28, 2016, the City of Long Beach approved our construction documents. Jeannette Architects did a great job of working with the city and mnmMOD to get all of the details complete so that we could attain the approvals.

    Unfortunately, things have been a bit slow in getting started but we expect work to start within two weeks. Our General Contractor, Scott Yanofsky, has all of the permits so we are ready to roll once we get some details worked out on retaining walls for the new lot.


    Construction Documents Are Done!

    We achieved a major milestone in our home construction process -- Jeannette Architects submitted Construction Documents to the City of Long Beach this past Friday. Generally the process of getting city approval of the Construction Documents and permits takes about two months. We hope we get approvals sooner.

    Either way, we plan to be able to start pouring the foundation during the first week of July which should allow us to move in before Christmas.

    Time will fly!


    Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

    What a year! The first quarter of 2016 was full of excitement for us, some of which we would have been happy to avoid. Fortunately there were no tragedies. Intermixed with all of the excitement was the need for us to make decisions -- a lot of decisions.

    Countertop materials and colors, tiles, fixtures, appliances, paint, lighting, windows, and doors were just some of the decisions that we made. We had to balance performance, aesthetics, and price. Since we don't have unlimited funds to build our new home, price is often the deciding factor.

    Because we are using mnmMOD for the structure, we had to make certain decisions in advance compared to a standard stick build house. We didn't mind because once we start construction we don't want progress to stall awaiting a decision from us. Also, Jeannette Architects prefer that we define as much as possible up front so that we don't encounter design "surprises" after we start construction.

    Finally, a key aspect of our decision process is to involve our General Contractor, Scott Yanofsky, and our Interior Designer, Allison Smith, in as many of our decisions as is appropriate. This involvement slowed the decision process a bit but we hope it will make the construction process proceed smoother and more quickly than if we hadn't.

    We will see.


    Would You Believe July?

    "The best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men
    Gang aft agley,
    An'lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
    For promis'd joy!"

    Robert Burns, To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough

    At work, one of the principals that we try to espouse is planning before doing -- to a point. Unfortunately, we spent a lot of time understanding the relationship between our requirements, the proposed design, and cost. Since we are not independently wealthy, cost is an issue but cost is not the primary factor driving our requirements and cost is not driving all of our design choices. We spent a long time balancing cost against design and how to implement the design. (More on cost and some of our choices later.)

    We spent about 5 months doing that and we are now looking at a 3-4 month slip in starting construction. Since we chose mnmMod as our material and method for building the house structure, we will save significant time putting up the walls compared to standard wood framing. It is still possible that we can finish before the end of 2016. We will have to plan carefully to do complete by that date.


    Our Current Home

    Some of you have asked, "Are you going to keep your current house when you are done with your new house?"

    The basic answer is no.

    We need the proceeds from the sale of our current home to pay for our new home. If everything goes well, we will be in the same financial position as we were about six years ago before we started buying additional properties -- owners of a single residence with no mortgage. We are confident that we don't want to be landlords.

    To achieve our goal, we need our current home to be in the best possible condition when we sell it. Similar to what you see on home improvement shows, our 43 year-old home has some issues that we need to repair and owning the adjoining property makes some of those issues easier to repair.

    Specifically, the low retaining wall between the properties, part of the patio slab and the concrete path behind our current house are "falling" into our new property. Right now, access to the retaining wall, patio, and path is not an issue since our dream home lot is empty. So, first things first means we will be replacing and repairing the various concrete structures as appropriate. More expenditures without actually starting to build our green dream home. <Sigh>

    The bad thing is it's only money. The good thing is it would have been more money if there were houses on both lots.


    Big Announcement: mnmMOD

    This part of our journey and decision process started in 2014 with a phone call from my sister when she said something like, "I saw this house that someone is building near where I live [in Santa Monica] that had these cool steel and styrofoam walls. The sign at the construction site read mnmMOD."

    We are very please to announce that we will be using mnmMOD Building Solutions that are "Sustainable, Affordable Pre-Fab that Delivers Custom Design." The wall system uses recycled steel and polystyrene to provide a mold-free, VOC-free, termite-free home that is thermally efficient and minimizes waste during the construction process.

    We are very excited about this building system and the benefits it provides.

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