Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Nov. 26th is bid day


Tomorrow, Wednesday November 26, is "bid day," one of the important days for our project. It's the day that we finally get to see actual dollar figures for construction costs proposed by general contractors that we've hand-selected to bid... which will be both relieving and scary at the same time. It's a relief to finally get the home cost out of the "theoretical" and into the "practical," and it's also quite scary to see whether the submitted bids are close to our budget. If the bids are a little over our budget, things can be done here and there to bring it back in line without sacrificing the overall vision. If the bids are significantly over budget, then that means something fundamental about the home design will have to change, or be completed in a much longer time-scale than we are intending. We're currently just focusing in prayer on selecting the right contractor and trying to let God take care of the rest.

First, for those interested in the home building process, I can explain how this bidding process works. In reality, one doesn't need to do a bidding process at all, you can select a general contractor right from the beginning and work with them throughout your project. This is "easier" to do because you can ask the contractor all your questions along the way and it makes generating the construction drawings (with the contractor or with an architect) a smoother process because the contractor has input from the beginning. However, this is also more expensive because the contractor has no competition and is only reduced to negotiating with you over price. Another option is to run a bidding process, where you line up contractors who are willing to bid on your project and they compete against each other. I say "willing" because in good economic times it might be hard to find contractors willing to bid because it takes a lot of work to put together a detailed bid (the process typically takes 3-4 weeks). If there are lots of other jobs available they can just skip yours and move to the next one. But, in bad economic times, there's magically lots of contractors willing to bid on your home project! The only catch to making a bid worth your while (and worth the contrators' effort) is that you need to have detailed construction drawings completed and almost every item for the home selected ahead of time so the bids will be accurate and won't require lots of revisions after the bids. This means you need to do this without the contractors' help, and that can be challenging. But in the end, bidding your project gets you a much better price and is worth the effort and organization required.

Conventional wisdom says to have 3-5 general contractors lined up to bid, and to make sure you are comfortable with any of the contractors being the winner. You want to have at least 3 bidders so that you have proper competition and a decent selection at the end, and you also don't want to have more than 5 bidders so that each of the bidders feels like they have a reasonable shot at winning (and will put in the required effort instead of just "throwing a number at it"). We interviewed many contractors and ended up selecting 5 contractors to bid, thinking that one or more would potentially drop out later (and we wanted to ensure we had at least 3). Not surprisingly, with this economic climate, none of the 5 dropped out. So we actually have 5 very qualified contractors bidding on our project. I prepared a USB drive with all of the construction documents and bid paperwork for each of the bidders that they each picked up at our house on Nov. 1, and the bids are due by 4:00 pm on Nov. 26 (tomorrow). I set a date of Friday, Dec. 5 as the day when we will let the bidders know the winner, after we've had a chance to digest the bids.

So here's a look at the bidders on our project, in alphabetical order, so you can see the choice we'll have to make. Not all of the contractors has construction examples posted on their site, but for the ones who do I've posted some example photos of their work.

The Chuba Company (Elk River, MN)

We intentionally tried to pick contractors who are experienced with Structural Insulated Panels (SIP's), and The Chuba Company has over 20 years experience with SIP's and uses these almost exclusively.

Cornerstone Custom Construction (Coon Rapids, MN)

Cornerstone primarily does Insulated Concrete Form (ICF) construction, but has also done homes with SIP's before.

Fine Design Contracting (New Hope, MN)

Fine Design Contracting has won awards for extensive home remodels, such as a 2007 Parade of Homes Remodeler's Showcase "Featured Home," but also does custom construction. There website is screwy and in need of improvement, but they are very qualified contractors. Here's an example of their work.

Mattson Brothers Construction (Cambridge, MN)

Not as experienced in SIP's, but a contractor that builds extremely high-quality homes and has very satisfied customers, Mattson Brothers Construction will be bidding on our home. Here's an example of their work.

Summit Design Build (St. Paul, MN)

Highly recommeded by a co-worker of mine, Summit Design Build constructed her home and it ended up winning the 2008 Parade of Homes "Excellence in Green Building" Award. Here it is...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Check out this great clip...


This is a very well-done video clip from a story in the St. Paul Pioneer Press of a seminarian that Molly and I know at St. Paul Seminary (the major seminary of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis). Justin was stationed at our parish for some weeks to observe parish life, and he is also a good friend and classmate of my brother Evan, also a seminarian at St. Paul Seminary. Heck, you can even spot my brother a couple times between the 1:34 and 1:37 mark in the video!

Please pray for our seminarians!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Design Updates: Volume 7


Well, we're about 1/3 of the way through the bidding process, with the bids from general contractors due back on Wednesday, November 26th. We're very much looking forward to getting some hard numbers for our project. But while we wait for the completion of the bidding, I thought I'd do a brief post to show you the final chapel design as it's depicted in the construction drawings.

The final chapel design is somewhat different than options that had been previously considered, mostly due to cost concerns. Placing clerestory windows in the roof, in whatever manner proposed, was going to add significant unneeded expense, and so I long had the thought in my mind of simply having windows in the walls themselves. It turns out that my brother had the exact same thought, and on the first re-design try came up with exactly what we were looking for. Here are the exterior elevations...

From the South:

From the East:

From the North:

The design from the exterior is simple and yet clearly communicates that this is a chapel, and a different space from the rest of the home. All of the windows, even the circular window on the East side, are standard-sized Andersen windows (that is, they are offered in these sizes and shapes by Andersen, and are not custom windows, which keeps costs low). The idea with the windows on the North and South sides is that they enhance the feeling of verticality, due to their tall/thin shape, while also providing a rhythm for seating in the chapel, which would align with the gaps between the windows. These windows are also placed up high so that they let light in but don't provide distracting views to the outside. The bottom of each window is set at roughly 6 feet above the chapel floor.

Here is an interior section view looking to the East (click to enlarge):

Here you can see the final design of the "bump-out", or "mini sanctuary", on the East side. The re will eventually be an altar at the base, but the concept was changed from my previous idea so that the entire bump-out is open to the chapel space all the way up to the circular window (and contains the circular window). See this post, near the end, for some previous models I had done that differ from this design. I like this change as it provides another traditional design cue for Catholic sacred architecture.

To give some scale to the diagram above, I mocked up a figure, about 6 feet in height (or a few inches taller) to place in the diagram, along with an example of how such a figure would relate in height to one of the side windows, shown in light blue (click to enlarge):

The interior of the chapel will not be finished at first, to save cost, and also to allow further detailed design to make sure we get everything exactly right. I'll finish the interior myself, and in fact for some things I feel that I need to actually be in the space in order to determine the best approaches (like final placement of lighting).

Sunday, November 2, 2008

All Saints Eve

For weeks the kids have been looking forward to our celebration of All Saints' Day, particularly our parish's All Saints' Party on October 31 (complete with mass in honor of the Feast Day, a "procession of saints" a hot dog dinner (Brendan was in heaven!), games, a hay ride--and a boatload of candy!) Several months ago, while I was on a silent retreat, I read a book about the lives of the children of Fatima (Blesseds Francicso and Jacinta Marto and their older cousin, Lucia dos Santos) and was convinced that it was the perfect story to focus on during October (the month of the Holy Rosary) in preparation for the Feast of All Saints.

I actually had a difficult time finding materials that I considered suitable for our kids because they tend to get scared easily. Although it is important to be honest about the stories of the Christians who have gone before us, I've found it beneficial to tell the stories of the saints in terms that the kids can relate to without too much fear associated. For example, in the movie The Day the Sun Danced there's a line where the mayor of Ourem says in this wicked voice something like "Is the oil good and hot?!" And in the book we read, "We'll fry them like fish!" We skipped that line and explained that some adults thought the children were lying about the apparitions and that they brought them to jail and threatened to let them die if they didn't tell them what the Lady had revealed to them. Our kids were actually really interested in discussing the fact that the Blessed Mother had been appearing to them was real and that the children were willing to die because they knew they were telling the truth and that they could soon be with Jesus in heaven.

Throughout October we read portions of Blesseds Jacinta and Francisco Marto: Shepherds of Fatima during our family prayer time. The kids spent a lot of time pretending to be the children, going to the Cova de Iria to pray the Rosary. They loved that Francisco would play the flute while the girls danced and also that Fransisco once gave all his money to save a poor bird that was being tortured by some village boys. They would pretend to give their lunch to the poor and offer their sufferings for poor sinners. There was also a moment during their playtime when Lucia (Clara) whipped out a cell phone and called her mom in Florida. :)

If I had been organized enough, I probably could have convinced my sister-in-law, Allison, to come up with a sheep costume for Max so that he could be part of the story, too, but it was just too convenient to whip out the old dinosaur costume from a couple of years ago. He was actually quite thrilled to be a part of the big kids' playtime, even though he had no idea what he was participating in. When we were taking pictures outside last Friday, he was actually running around in circles chasing his own tail. What could be more fun?!

I'm always amazed at the depth that children can reach in matters of faith. Once again, it was my children who taught me more than I may have taught them!

Jacinta (Eleanor), Francisco (Aidan), and Lucia (Clara)
Kneeling with their rosaries

The Children of Fatima
(As you can see, the apparition is to the left of the children) :)

Jacinta, Francisco, Lucia, and the Dinosaur
(What? You don't remember the dinosaur in the story?!)