Monday, December 31, 2007

The Kin

From left to right - Andy, Mindy, Eli, Benson, Ethan, Chris, and Karen. Andy and Chris are the two oldest sons of Gary and Pat West, and were heavily influenced by their time spent in Western Mass as kids. They lived in Charlemont then, but the scenery and atmosphere is much the same in Chester. Andy and Mindy have three boys who love to help on the house - even if that means smearing mud on our beautiful clean spruce lumber. We all love the peace and quiet of the woods and the rural setting of our house. Karen and Mindy are great friends, and will hopefully remain so, even after sharing a kitchen.

This is the South wall of the house, where the egress windows will be installed in a few months. The sun will shine into a craft room, a bedroom, and some office space on the lower level.

The Kit

The treacherous driveway. This was a sketchy entrance for the boom truck, and we were all glad to see it arrive safely down the hill. This will be one of several deliveries from FirstDay.
Foam and wood galore!
This seemed like a good omen on our pallets... we're building a Canadian, after all.
Unloading the kit itself.

The Foundation

The hole with the crushed rock base. Karen approves, though I don't think she can envision a house fitting there yet. Or perhaps she's mapping out floor plans...

On another note, this is the angle from which most of the updating pictures will be taken. In the foreground, you can see three logs partially buried in the ground, like our little woodhenge. While we camped here in the summer of 2006, we set up a screen tent around our dining room table, which was a 2'x4' piece of plywood with a routed edge, set on four posts we buried in the ground. One post was moved out of the way, but you can still see a few of the legs from our dining room table.
The footings are poured.
Footings from the other corner of the house. Most of the updating photos are taken while I'm leaning against the cherry tree on the hill just above the blue tarp. The blue tarp covers our tools, which rest on what was once our kitchen counter.
Walls are up, basement windows are in. We left them open, so the house wouldn't get stuffy.
Interior footings in place. This is looking from the egress window on the North side of the house, facing SW. The straw on the sill kept the concrete warm as it cured. It's tough to pour foundations in freezing temperatures like this.

The Clearing

Leading up the driveway to the entrance of the house site, through a break in the stone wall. We aren't yet sure who built the stone wall, or when it was built, but it's definitely a point of curiosity. The break in the wall was original, and was presumably used by the original builder, but with a wagon instead of an excavator.
When we purchased the land, this was all forest. A lot of trees have been removed for light access to the house and garden sites. We planned on keeping this an off-grid home, but financing wouldn't allow a strictly off-grid option. We plan to add solar panels in the future, and we have plenty of Southern access for those already. The house will end up right behind the excavator in this picture. Matt is in the photo - a brother in law who lives nearby.
Stumps. Lots o' stumps.
The driveway up to the house site. This is taken from where the house will be, looking South back down the driveway and past the stone wall.
Looking up the driveway toward the future house hole. Everything has been excavated at this point, and we're ready for the concrete guys to build the forms and pour the footings.

The Driveway

Our house site has some unique considerations; among them, the need for a long, tricky driveway and a bridge. The bridge was designed by a local civil engineer, and comprises an aluminum arch that spans 16' across, over 13' wide, and over 6' high, then gravel topped with a 18" of rebar and concrete. It is an open bottom arch, so the stream bed itself will remain undisturbed. At least after construction. The excavating company we contracted to do our site work did an excellent job of installing everything, including the stone that reinforces the banks of the stream. When the house is done, we plan to add railings, more stonework, etc. to really make it a nice feature.
Preparing the forms for the concrete cap on the bridge.
The arch looking downstream, before the stonework had been finished. A few good rains will clear the sludge right out.
The concrete cap to the bridge. The figuring in the lower left of the bridge surface are courtesy of Eli and Mindy - handprints and the date of the pour.
The completed bridge, as it looks from the road side of the stream. This held the FirstDay delivery truck, at approximately 75,000 lbs, as well as countless gravel and concrete trucks with as much as 90,000 lbs. of weight. This bridge should survive Armageddon.

The Land

Cook Brook, or Roaring Brook. Depends on which map you're looking at or which local you're talking with. The brook bisects our property into two unequal portions; roughly 15 acres on the road side of things, with the other 30 acres on the wild side.

The house site as it looked when we walked the land with the realtor. Wow... we hardly recognize this anymore!

The driveway at the stream crossing, where the bridge now sits. This is a July photo, and the stream is barely moving. In the spring runoff, the stream gets pretty full.

The stone wall South of the house site. The other side of this wall is visible from the house as you look South.

The cliff. This is on the West side of the brook. The land above the cliff is quite level, and may provide a good spot for a little cabin.

The Beginning

This project began in the summer of 2004, during a visit to Andy and Mindy's home in Crittenden, KY. Chris had recently graduated college, and wanted to find somewhere to live happily ever after, then find a job nearby. And definitely in that order. The four of us; Andy, Mindy, Chris, and Karen, all liked that approach, and chose to settle together with the idea of sharing time, talents, and finances to quickly secure and pay off a homestead. We looked casually at several areas of the country, and eventually settled on a few serious prospects: New England, the Pacific Northwest, and the Ozark Mountain region in Missouri.

We eventually ruled out the West coast, mostly due to the proximity of family, as I recall. The Ozarks appealed on many levels, but was also ruled out, probably due to the proximity to large cultural centers, job markets, and again, family.

The final nail in those coffins was that, on some level, New England just feels like home. So here we are, in the beautiful Berkshires of Western Mass.

We scoured the internet for available land, and after a few trips from our homes in UT and KY, visits with Dolores, our fantastic realtor, and some walks through properties here, we closed on a 45 acre plot of land on Skyline Trail in Chester, MA in September of 2005.

We sold our homes in our respective states, moved in with our inlaws for awhile, and finally made the trek for good in May of 2006. With no jobs, no home, and a whole lot of work to do, we moved onto our land that spring, with the idea of clearing the land, building a home, and moving in by winter of 2006. Uhmmm... yes, we realize now how out of line our expectations were.

That six weeks of camping on our future house site was wonderful, though. Even with the bugs, the dirt, the rain, the mud, and Delilah, our friendly bear with a penchant for peanut butter.

With jobs, local apartments, and the usual mundane effects of life, we worked on the land when we could, clearing the driveway, the house site, the garden site, the garage area, etc., quickly amassing huge quantities of split and stacked firewood that we hope will keep us warm for years to come.

To bring us up to the current date: we came across FirstDay Cottage awhile ago, met with them in the fall of 2006, and very quickly decided that their Canadian model would be ideal for us. We're building throughout the winter of 2007/2008, and will keep this site updated with our progress.