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
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
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
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
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
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