Timing Groundbreaking

While we were waiting for our building permits to come in and starting to get some of our (proverbial) groundwork done for our construction loan, we revisited the question of timing. By this point it was getting close to mid-October; the first significant snow was forecast for later in the week. 

The “fast” program would have us breaking ground as soon as our building permits came through. Our excavators were lined up, and though our financing wasn’t setup yet, we could afford to fund the initial excavation out of pocket if it meant moving things along. Then the plan would be to follow with concrete shortly after. The good news with this plan is that we would keep things moving along, and it would also put us off of the “standard” Summit County building schedule, which was usually to break ground in the wet, mucky spring. It meant drier ground, and it also meant that we may be able to find some lower prices on labor and materials during the “off-season.”

The major pitfall of the fast program was the weather. Things get cold in a hurry at 9,000’, and excavation could take up to a month, and cement work could take up to a month. That meant we could be finishing in late December. Even once the temperature gets below freezing, it takes a while for the ground to freeze. But concrete is significantly weakened if it freezes while it’s setting, which takes about four days.

Enter the ground heater, basically a machine that heats and pumps glycol through pipes to keep the ground and the concrete warm. Insulated blankets then try to hold in the heat. As you can imagine, all of this costs money. Our neighbors followed a similar timeline, breaking ground Nov. 4 and backfilling on Jan. 1, and they figure the process added $10,000-$15,000 to their bottom line, though they also had an unusually snowy fall and early winter.

The “slow” plan would have us wait and break ground in the spring. The good news is that winter and snow would no longer be a problem. Goodbye ground heater. But a snowy spring could mean a long, slow melt, and the ground doesn’t just need to be unfrozen to start major excavation and concrete work – it needs to be dry (ish), and it needs to be dry enough in the area so that any hole we dig doesn’t fill up with water. The slow plan would also mean that we’re trying to do things, like rough plumbing or electrical, when lots of other people are trying to do the same thing. Finally, it means that we’re in the process of building for at least six additional months, and we don’t move to where we want to be for at least an additional six months. Which would have our timeline starting to bump up against our oldest kid’s likely kindergarten start date.

With all of that in mind, we started pricing out the worst-case “fast” plan scenario, to decide whether it was a budget bite we could handle. All things considered, we liked the fast plan more, and the added expense — a likely $15,000-$20,000, was likely worth it over the slow plan.

Our permits came through after about two weeks with the county. By that point it was snowing up high, and we were getting nervous about whether we’d be able to break ground in the fall, which was now feeling like winter. We wanted to get firm numbers from the concrete contractors on what the winter “overage” would cost us. That took over a week, and Shaun went to another set of contractors after not hearing from the first group of three. After a week plus, we got a bid, for all the concrete work plus the winter work, for less than a $10,000 overage. $10k was worth a seven-month jump to us, so we decided to go with the “fast” plan, and dig!

That also meant moving forward on our construction loan.