All posts by justin

Large house under construction

“Monster House”

Most of the time the way we do business becomes an automatic reaction. We don’t “think” about giving a customer our best work, we just do it. Only when we can compare ourselves to other general contractors do we get to look at the way we do things. Recently we were given a chance to do just that. We got a desperate call from good friends of ours in the beginning of this year. They need us to help finish building their 5,000+ square foot custom home that was in shambles. We hadn’t ever taken over an existing custom home from another contractor and from what they told us, this one was going to be a challenge on every level.

Before any physical building is done on a home or commercial building, a lot of information needs to be gathered, an extensive, comprehensive plan needs to be developed and a formal contract needs to be agreed upon and signed by all involved. Apparently several of those key steps had been left out in the beginning of this project. We needed to do some major backtracking in order to make any movement forward. So, we spent a few weeks making lists, contingency plans, calling sub-contractors, gathering budget numbers, physically “remodeling” parts of the home and tracking down lost material. That work left us with solid budget numbers, a plan for completion and most importantly…the truth. Our friends had been in the dark for so long about how their home was going to be finished, they were beginning to lose hope. We provided the relief they needed. Continue reading

Wayne’s House

Meshack Drew, Wayne and Pastor Kurt IngramAwhile ago we were privileged to be allowed to offer a wonderful gift to someone in our community.

One early summer day, Wayne called me to ask if we would be willing to help him make his home more livable. We soon determined that the house was not salvageable and his best hope would be to tear down the existing crumbling structure and start over.  After much thought, prayer and discussion, my wife and I felt moved to take this project on pro bono, and oversee the building of his new home.

Wayne’s existing house was very old, unsafe, and about to be condemned by the City of Bellingham.  Our job was now to remove the existing home and build Wayne a new home in a very short period of time while he lived with a friend.

With the help from one of Wayne’s family members we were able to come up with a small budget of $21000 dollars to cover the minimal costs such as permitting and material for which we could not find donations.

Wayne was incredibly moved,  excited and humbled by everyone’s willingness to help give him a new start. Continue reading

new house on a hill

A Very Custom Spec House

About 7 years ago, when the building market was hot, we found a great lot out in the county to build our next project. The land was on a grassy hillside off of a lightly used county road. From the high side of the property you could see the Canadian Rockies. It was gorgeous. We decided to orient the house to capture those views. This project, at that time, was our biggest undertaking and we were ready. I think necessity caused us to do all the foundation work on our own and it was hard work. We had to learn a lot about rebar schedules, retaining walls and grade beams. I know that “hands-on” experience has helped all of us in understanding the logistics of later projects. We moved on from a hard foundation to challenging framing. There were several days we had to melt solid ice off the tops of the walls so we could walk on them. From the end of framing on, the project went fairly smooth. Now we hire out all of the tile work and exterior stonework, we have some amazing craftsmen as sub-contractors, but back then we were the ones that did the work. I can remember doing tile on several projects, including this one, for about a month straight! After that I didn’t want to touch a tile saw…ever. Continue reading

Kitchen with island

Daylight in the Dusk

In December of 2007 the economy in the building industry was not looking good. Many of the general contractors around us were struggling to find work or sell the houses they had just built. This custom job came to us in the middle of a rough time in our industry. We felt blessed and thankful for light in the darkening skies.

The customers came to us with a lot, a plan and some great ideas. We added our newly acquired project management skills, knowledge of the industry and some creativity. From there a great project was born.
We hired a new foundation/flatwork contractor for this job and now we consider them to be the best of our sub-contractors. Their foundation walls are flawless and completely flat which made our framing perfectly level, square and plumb without having to shim anything on this house.

In the framing process we needed to hire more help. We had the opportunity to hire a friend of ours who was out of work and needed income. He had drive and focus that improved the way we framed that house and we had fun at the same time. Continue reading

For Those Who Know

We have built homes for a number of our sub-contractors. I take this as a big compliment. They have seen innumerable houses in their careers. They have seen the quality of construction in the homes they work on. They know who keeps schedule and who pays on time. They know those who pass inspections on the first try. We have tried to collect a group of sub-contractors that know what they are doing and provide quality, every time. When one of them looks to you to build their custom home amidst hundreds of others general contractors, it should be taken as a compliment.

A few years ago we were asked by one of our contractors to design and build their dream home. They planned to live in this house into retirement. With that in mind we set out to provide a stellar product. This was the first house we used the Chief Architect software to design. The design was very complex and we were so new to the program that the process was tough. It was a “trial by fire” situation but I think the software paid for itself in this first job. There were so many custom details and tricky construction situations and the program allowed us to zero in tight before any material was purchased. It was sweet. Continue reading

On the Rock!

Occasionally, now that we have been designing buildings “in-house”, we get a customer who has already picked a floor plan that they like and sometimes they have already purchased a copy of that plan. That was the case with this house we built by Lake Whatcom. Our customers had a lot and a plan. The lot was steep down to the street and the plan was very cool. We wanted to make this one work.

In the beginning we knew the lot could hold some potential problems. We needed to push the house away from the steep front slope down to the street, but the house needed to be far enough away from the back of the lot to allow for a functional back yard. The other issue was sandstone. Our excavation contractor told us that there may be sandstone right under the surface of the topsoil and we might have a hard time digging an appropriate foundation. In our experience with sandstone we have seen two scenarios. One, the sandstone is a light gray/brown color and can be dug up with an excavator without many extra steps or problems. Two, the sandstone is a gray/blue color, much harder and it has to be broken up before it can be removed. The second scenario is more expensive and time consuming. Our risk here equated to potentially having to use the buffer in the budget and not being able to spend that reserve on other, important aspects of the house. Continue reading

Victorian Vitality

In July of 2009 we were contracted to build an addition on a historical building in downtown Bellingham. The house was a beautiful Victorian style home in the lettered streets with a pristine English-style garden covering every inch of the property.

Most custom jobs we take on have unique challenges. This one was no different. We were asked to put a 350 square foot addition right in the middle of an established garden without disturbing it. All of the plants within the footprint of the addition had specific relocation instructions as well. We were also asked to continue the look of the existing Victorian façade on the addition. Some Victorians are decorated like ornate gingerbread cookie houses you see around the holidays. This one was more subdued than that, but there were some very ornate details we had to copy to perfection.

As you might have noticed from earlier posts, no one within the walls of Squalicum Builders is easily intimidated by creative challenges. I think we actually look for projects that stretch us as builders and as people.

The excavation was similar to doing delicate surgery. We took the dirt off the property one bucket-full at a time. During the framing phase, a few tree branches needed to be trimmed, but that is about it. We kept the site as clean as possible to help keep the garden we were working in beautiful. In the slideshow at the end of the post you can see the detail on the eaves we reproduced from the original. Can you spot the wooden toy wheels? Yeah, that is what those circles are. Continue reading

Cottage on a cliff

We have a few customers who we have hired us for more than one project and only one who has hired us for three. Summer of 2008 we built a guest cottage for this customer. She has an amazing lot with an amazing view of the bay. Just sitting on her deck eating lunch every day watching the water added years to our lives.

The plan was to make a separate dwelling for her to use as an art studio and a place for her guests/family to stay when they were visiting. Space was an important aspect. The cottage needed to be small, but functional and match the style of the main house.

Our first hurdle was how to get an excavator to the back of a property on a cliff. We rented a mini-excavator that could pull its tracks in to 5’4” wide and we drove it through a space we opened in the side fence. The digging was slow and we hit sandstone, but time and a jackhammer did the trick. Continue reading

Commercial Projects

The majority of our business has been in residential construction. In the last few years we have tried our hand at a few commercial projects to broaden our skill set and get some different perspective. We have since learned new things and met new people who have helped us become better contractors.
One of the major aspects we needed to learn was the code in commercial construction. We are very read in the International Residential Building Code, but commercial is a whole other world. Health Department and ADA regulations became familiar to us very quickly.

The Daisy Café used to be the Toulouse Café and we helped change that. We had to bring the kitchen up to Health Department standards. It was interesting to clean a commercial kitchen that didn’t pass the Health code in the beginning and improve it to pass a very stringent multiple point inspection. I appreciate the Health Department so much more now! We took that knowledge and used it at Greene’s Corner and Room2Think which both have kitchen facilities. The Daisy Café is now one of our favorite places to have “business meetings” and plot out our next ventures. It is a good feeling to eat at a place and think ‘Hey, we made this place better than what it was and I know the kitchen passed inspection!’ Continue reading

Raise the roof!

A few years ago we were hired to do a remodel project on a home in Ferndale. The family who hired us wanted to add a bonus room above their garage that connected to the upper story of their house. We drew up a design and a budget that fit.

Everything was going just as planned with the demolition until we came to the roof. It had to be ripped off so we could build a new floor above it. Taking a roof off a garage that size is not very difficult but it creates a lot of garbage that has to be hauled to the dump. We usually try to separate out all of the wood debris from the non-recyclable construction waste that is produced on our sites if it is possible. In this situation the idea was raised to just lift the roof and truss structure off the top with a crane, set it down on the ground during the construction of the second floor and put it back on top of the new walls. We added up the labor, time and cost of that demolition. Then we calculated the crane cost and time for detaching and reattaching the structure. In the end we figured it would save just a few hundred dollars, but the true savings was in the reuse of what we had. Continue reading

Not your grandfather’s insulation

Our insulation contractor, Northwest Insulation, has recently switched suppliers to Knauf Insulation. Knauf has a new product line called EcoBatt Glasswool Insulation and we think it rocks! We are always trying to find more “environmentally friendly” or ( insert ecological buzz word here ) materials. The reasons are numerous but when it comes down to it, we want to use materials in our projects that maintain industry standard and utilize our natural resources to the maximum. If a material is safe, clean and renewable, but it does not meet existing industry regulations, we are out of a job. If the material does not use our earth’s resources in a sustainable way and those resources disappear, we are out of a job. In our opinion, it is in the best interest of every industry to use what they have well.

Echo-Bat Insulation

EcoBatt is made of sand, a minimum of 30% post-consumer recycled glass bottles and a renewable organic binder that takes 70% less energy to produce. The binder is the key part of the equation. The “glue” that holds other fiberglass insulations together is made with phenol, formaldehyde, acrylics and artificial colors. It is nasty stuff, not just for the customer’s home we are putting it in, for the contractors that have to install it in the walls in the first place. We have to handle it and breathe it in too.

This product meets all thermal values and industry compliances. It also meets low emitting standards for application in schools and hospitals. It currently comes in most of the standard sizes with a few exceptions and is about the same price as the old stuff! We are excited about this product and we hope we can put it in your home or office someday.

-Squalicum Builders Team