‘Garage and Shop not so Usonian’…explained

A few people have mentioned that my plans have a large garage and shop and those that know Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian philosophy (if you can call it that) mentioned it did not include such opulence.

In fact this is true in most cases except it is my one dream in life to one day have a machine/wood shop to invent ideas that may later help to solve some the world’s messed up energy issues. Despite all the jobs I have had in my life, I feel deep down it is the one that I would need to achieve to call my life a success.

Without a shop I can stumble out of bed and go to in my retirement years (few off still but getting there), I would never achieve that life dream. The one thing I learned about a shop is if it is not easily accessible, heated and has it’s own designated space, it will go unused. And I do not want that so thus the shop and large garage semi-attached to the Usonian home.

The garage part will also serve as an area to help restore an old car or use as a welding area away from the wood/machine shop.

My wife’s one caveat was that we build the house first and the shop/garage later but our plans have changed as you can see in the previous two posts. Because the shop/garage/cottage is of such simple design, we also hope to work out some of the weird building methods we will be presenting to the local authorities for approval including the slab on grade foundation that will also act as the flooring. The 4′ on center douglas fir posts with windows between them are another.

Frank Lloyd Wright actually designed several houses with either extended car ports (including his own Taliesin) as well as houses with a tiny shop in them to match the needs of his clients. I truly believe this will be our retirement house and want it to meet all our future needs including the dedicated shop and garage that will get a ton of use once built.

The Usonian Master Plan

I have not finished my posts from our trip to Taliesin, Wingspread, Jacobs House, Robie House, Oak Park yet but will soon have some up-to-date information.

My wife and I were most impressed by the Jacobs house and the beauty it hides in the rear. I found a writing by Herbert Jacobs that details his life building the house and living in it for several years. Check it out, it an eye into the Usonian lifestyle that Frank Lloyd Wright clearly defined for the Jacobs family and many more families to come.

After seeing the Jacobs house and reading the passion all involved had for that house my wife and I began to rethink our path.

…and we have a really Usonian solution to the issue of living in a Usonian style house and achieving our dreams much earlier than expected.

We have decided to purchase a 150 ft by 600+ ft property on the north shores of lake erie within the next 6 months or so (for we hope between $60K and $90K). We may even be able to get a 3 year option on it for 10% down in some cases freeing up some cash to build with. We will then take the garage/shop section of our previous usonian floor plan, and design it into a 3 bedroom livable cottage. It will be about 900 square feet, use a slab on grade foundation, in floor heat. It can be built extremely fast (in about 2 or 3 months) for around $30K in materials and permits and hookups. The idea is to go as cheap as possible and retain the footprint of the future garage/shop.

Once complete we will sell our existing home, move into it and reduce our debt load by half, leaving a minimal house payment, a comfortable cottage on the lake to begin our Usonian lifestyle (minimal stuff) and it lets us complete the remaining 2,400 square feet house at our leisure and budget timeframe.

The decision to do this has a much longer explanation to it but for now realize we will be into a new property, new house and not have nearly the debt load. It also lets us only carry one property and not be a slave to two houses (my worst nightmare as we were once in that situation).

The other piece of news is while on our trip, we met up with a rather knowledgeable architect (that is significantly important in the field of Frank Lloyd Wright style houses) that will be helping us with our design and steps forward. He even gave us a way to reduce the house cost by about $20K (which will I hope easily make up for his fee). My wife and I are super stoked about this news.

Will catch up more later and have some photos of the Frank Lloyd Wright houses including panoramic shots of a few.

Usonian Foundation Notes and Cost Notes

Talked to an old excavator guy today to get quote to dig our foundation (part of further pinning down the costs). He had some sagely advice for our new home. Said “A basement is a swimming pool waiting to happen…may take a year or five but it will certainly fill up with water.” This goes along the same lines as Frank Lloyd Wright’s comment that nothing good ever came out of a basement. Mike actually told us to dig a footer down one foot and that’s all the excavating you need. Build your frost wall up 3 feet 6 inches more and backfill the outside and inside and you have yourself a raised safe foundation. Can’t wait…learning so much from old school guys that things are finally falling into place in my mind.

Reran all the materials costs in detail again today. Still well with projected costs of around $120K to $130K including septic, util hookups and permits. Very cheap skilled labour here so I am not so worried about the unknown labour costs that might pop-up. Land price is still up in the air but we have budgeted $50 to $90K making a total around $170K to a max of $200K. Yeah the naysayers are saying there is no way to build it for that but my previous profession did include very accurate cost estimations and I think we will be within 10% of that cost.

Well we are off to Taliesin, Robie House and Wingspread and maybe a few more stops for a week. Updates when back. Make sure to enjoy your own summer and those that are on their own Usonian paths, I wish you great luck.

(sorry forgot the property that is on the previous plan is a potential property we are considering that is 150 feet X 250 feet (cost $50K with wiggle room of $5000 but it is on a major county road…still not sure if it will block sound which is what we trying to get away from here. One day I will take an audio sample here to see what I mean.)

Usonian Cooling

Thoughts on cooling our Usonian house in the future.

Recently, in our current home we have been able to keep the interior temperature around 15 degrees F below the outside house temperature using only passive cooling methods.

1. Our property is very shaded and  provides excellent cross breezes. The mature trees are fantastic and perfectly positioned to literally cool the whole house in the summer and they are mostly maples so in the winter the leaves fall off and the lower sun warms the house in winter.

2. We close the windows in the morning and open them in the evening. Doing so it is 90 degrees outside and 75 inside for a majority of the day even with high humidity.

3. Ceiling fans provide direct cooling on the body.

4. We do not use this but in my childhood home we had what is known as a whole house fan. The idea is it draws cool air from the lower level and expels the hot air out the roof. This will certainly be going in the new home.

5. Another note is that because the whole house is on one level, the upper level is not even there to collect heat. In our current home the upstairs level just collects heat and is unbearable at times. It will not be missed.

6. Open property or on the lake. This will provide a nice cooling wind.

Now, I know at some point we will have absolutely sweltering days with no air movement and have to turn the A/C on but not for a few more weeks at least and by then summer is half over.

In the new house we will likely be running A/C duct work under the slab just because it is open and cannot really be done later. We may not install the A/C or backup forced air gas system for some time but at least the ducts are in place.

Well those are my thoughts on the cooling situation.

Quick Update…

I apologize for not posting much but with winter FINALLY breaking (we had frost even in late May) we were both excited to get out into the outdoors and work on our property and my wife’s parent’s place.

We are planing a trip to Taliesin East and hope to also see the Johnson Wax Headquarters, Wingspread, Monona Terrace and a few other places if time permits.

I’m hoping to do some panoramic photography at as many places and I can. I really feel this will help preserve these locations into the future and let many more people access the beauty that is Frank Lloyd Wright architecture.

Will catch up more soon. I have the design really refined and will have more Google Sketchup models soon.

Usonian Property Considerations…

A lot has been going on with the progress of our Usonian dreams over the past two weeks.

We found the area we likely want to purchase in and found several properties that are basically lakefront on a bluff and extremely affordable. It is approximately 40 miles from our current location but suitable in the future. However, once we began to research this, the more possible expenses, risks and considerations came up.

1) Conservation Authority.

Because the bluff erodes away at apparently about 1.5 feet per year average (sometimes more, sometimes less) the setback for the house must maintained a safe distance for at least 100 years and more likely 180 years. The current regulation is around 180 to 300 feet depending on the location. Not a problem unless someone builds closer to the bluff and sort of blocks our potential view.

2) Foundation.

I have been speaking with both the local building authorities and a reader of this blog regarding the unknown expenses that may arise from building in this general location. One is the soil. It is considered “fox gravelly loam” which drains very well but you may run into soft spots or high water tables that will add expenses. The other is that in the area, an engineered foundation is required adding yet another expense. We are still considering about 3 foundation methods, piering/suspension foundations, Frank Lloyd Wrights slab on grade method (which I suspect would work well in this situation but apparently is harder to get approved in that area) or standard footer/4 to 5 feet foundation walls. The building authorities told me to consider up to twice the normal footer specs depending on the soil conditions…which add another expense…the soil report. My rough estimates after calling around a bit would be around $50K for a solid foundation which is about double or higher my original estimates. However, the soil is more suitable for a septic bed which can save some of that added cost. This is a significant consideration because we can literally be paying more for those two items than 4 acres of land!

3) Real Estate.

After some preliminary research, not many properties are selling in that area which changes our purchasing strategy. I’ll describe this more in a moment. For now we realized…we can wait a seller out. Not much is moving in the price range we have looked at. In some cases, if the seller does not sell within the next few years, the authorities won’t let them sell it as a building lot…period. So eventually we may be looking at a reverse bidding (more selling) war where the people purchasing the properties and building will begin to be courted by the land owners at the last minute. That my friend is a good bargaining position!

4) Financing.

I spoke to a friend that manages a mortgage department for a major Canadian bank about our financing options again. He basically told me what we heard before…banks do not want to take the risk of financing land because of the lack of potential equity in the land versus a fully built home. In other words, a piece of land is likely harder to sell in the case of a default than a built home.

This falls in line with Frank Lloyd Wright’s comments on the subject which was paraphrased as “Banks don’t finance homes to live in they finance homes to sell”. We have certainly found that in our own lives and were stuck in that thinking before we realized we may build a house we can spend forever in. A very romantic and real notion.

However, my friend had a fantastic idea. Because we are not likely ready to build for about 2 to 3 years time he said take what you would have put into that property in interest and taxes for 3 years and put that amount into an interest baring account each month instead. That way at the end of the 3 years we have a significant down-payment and a private mortgage lender will likely finance that…no problem because they are protected with our 35% down. This allows a better bargaining position all the way around, better rates and lets us wait to see if someone else is building in that area to predict the risks we are going to encounter with the soil and foundation situation (which we found out happened a few miles away). Also, we will have more equity in our current home which we can then refinance to use for building costs on the new property. Made a lot of sense to me because instead of losing money each month, we are gaining in the long run on interest and taxes saved. It is entirely possible to have the entire property paid for in that 3 years which puts us in an amazing situation because then we can build with the equity in land and not touch the equity in our current home. I was stunned at my friend’s thinking because it is a totally Usonian way to do things because at the end of the day, we will be carrying very little debt throughout the process of achieving our Usonian dream!

Update to Possible Property

Dealing with Sellers inflating their properties seems to be the norm here!

Dealing with Sellers inflating their properties seems to be the norm here!

Oh man! Grrrrr! Once again dealing with someone inflating their property beyond belief. Not sure why we keep running into this as the market is very soft here.

Many land owners have decided to divide off their property and sell it themselves. Now I have no problem with doing so but when they literally double the price of their properties compared to others on the same exact street for no logical reason…that I find frustrating.

My wife really loves this property yet judging from Google Maps history feature, it has been listed since at least 2009! I don’t mind paying a bit extra if it is something unique or selling like hotcakes…but it just isn’t.

Anyone have ideas how to deal with a private vendor such as this? Please leave your comment. Thanks.

New Usonian Workshop Site…

Just a quick heads up; I started a Usonian Wood and Metal Working Website to go along with this site. It will chronicle projects for our future Usonian house as well as techniques we are discovering. There is not much content yet, but I will be adding as time goes on because I am learning many woodworking methods including Japanese techniques that would have made Frank Lloyd Wright proud.

Possible “Frank Lloyd Wright” Dream Property…

We did a bit of property hunting over the weekend outside our city. Remember, Frank Lloyd Wright did recommend going out 50 miles and then go farther to build a house…so we did. We looked at several properties right on the North shores of lake Erie because we figured the house can have a south-east facing, unobstructed view, and still be within our budget. Fifty miles inwards to the city…NO WAY we could afford that view.

Possible Property for Our Usonian Possible Property for Our Usonian

Here is what we are considering. It is a section of land on the top of a 50 foot bluff that is subdivided into 150 feet X 700 foot lots. The reason we thought this would work is there is restrictions set by the authorities that stops a neighbor from building in the future in our path. To put it another way…you would enter house from the north side of the property not seeing the lake behind, come around the corner into the living room and have a totally unobstructed view of the lake.

There are 6 lots available and if this is not the lot, there are plenty more around that area, mostly newer retirement homes. A local agent told us most of the farmers sold off their land to subdivide and make a profit. At times some of these lots are going for as low as 400 FT frontage for $70K. We both are just shaking our heads for the past two days knowing it is something we can both picture our future Usonian house and life beginning on. It will fit the view to perfection.