Archived Blogs

Why we have not updated our posts for a while?

We were blissfully ignorant of the workings of the Keys. I was spending my time making design decisions for my “dream home” without the cruel realities. Our original designer did not tell us he had heart disease and he died during the process. His boss was a thief, stole money and did not finish the design work. Due to the cost of an ICF house was about $900,000 we decided to go with a more traditional concrete block and metal…
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Precast Concrete Piers

Considering that we made the decision early on to have a concrete house we have to take into account the extra weight of the whole structure. The “soil” (sandy marine clay and rock fragment) we will be building on is probably fill the developer threw on top of a marsh to create “dry” land and from the surrounding canals. Considering the average elevation of the lot is +3.5 feet above sea level, you can bet the foundation will be sitting…
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Design Consultants

Design Consultants This has been, and seems to continue to be, one of the hardest parts of the project for us. There are different designers who are able to submit approved drawings to a government body for approval. The two main ones I will talk about are architects and engineers. All can services can be as per the design professionals expertise and licensing. Architects, as design professionals, typically complete more parts of the process. An architect may do only the…
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Construction Drawings

Construction Drawings Construction drawings are a set of plans and specifications which are used to carry out the agreed upon design ideas. These plans are usually the ones submitted to governmental agencies for review and approval. Contractors use these drawings to bid projects by calculating costs for materials, labor, overhead and profit. Most people do not realize that plans and specifications are legal documents! They are part of the construction contract. “I give you money and you build this.” The…
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Dehumidification and Air Conditioning

As a student of this work, rather than a teacher, I am going to take information directly from two articles that can better explain the need for both dehumidification and air conditioning in areas of high humidity. From Fine Homebuilding Magazine, “Excess humidity can encourage the growth of mold and even damage a house’s structure and furnishings over time. Many homes control indoor humidity with a dehumidifier. A liquid refrigerant passes through evaporator coils, which contact incoming air. Moisture from…
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Design Ideas – The Long Distance Design Process

Since we live 3,000 miles away, the design process is being done with starts and fits. Some times it’s hard to get a concept across by phone. I have started to sketch out design ideas, scan them and email them to our designer. It seems to take forever to create design ideas, get them refined, sent out, reviewed, commented and reviewed again. By that time we have rethought the ideas and have come up with additional ideas and changes. I’m…
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Window and Door Schedules

Now that we are into creating the construction drawings we need to make “final” decisions on things. I like my information organized. What sized window is going where in the house? Is it frosted as a bathroom window may be? Does it have mullions? Does it open up and down, or sideways? Does it not open? How high from the finished floor does it start? After looking at it awhile a home owner could figure this schedule out for themselves.…
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Preliminary Design Concept – Floor Plans

After much round and round we have refined our needs and hopefully be within budget. The original idea *sigh* was way to big and expensive for us to accomplish. So now to our refined plan. The least expensive design is a square house with a hip roof. We worked with the rooms and room sizes we could live with and worked our way outward. We were able, with many design iterations, to come to a design that will give us…
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Preliminary Design Concept – Elevations

Another part of a preliminary design is to see what the elevations would look like based on the preliminary floor plans. Our idea is to have the exterior walls stuccoed in a Mediterranean style with medium texture. Due to budget concerns we want our concrete roof to be as light as possible and still resist hurricanes. The lighter the roof the less wall structure we need to pay for. To do so, we are going to paint the roof with…
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Design Ideas – Doors and Windows

In an area of extreme weather can we afford failure? High impact windows and doors are mandatory per code. Good idea! What quality? Most have a 20 year warranty. What happens if the company declares bankruptcy every five years and the warranty is void? It happened to us! I looked online for high quality impact resistant windows. Some got very poor ratings for door handles and metal fasteners. How do you balance cost vs. quality vs. survivability?  Do you know…
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Design Ideas – Flooring

Flooring I don’t care for wood or bamboo in high humidity, mold and insect environments. There is to much of a chance of warping for my taste. Ceramic tile maybe a slipping hazard for older homeowners. It depends on the tile style. What ever we choose, it will be better than the usual white tiles of South Florida.There are what seems to be an unlimited number of choices. Tile sub-floors needs to be very clean for the installation. Maybe stone,…
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Design Ideas – Structural Walls – Revised

3.2 Structural Walls This was written before the hurricane came through the Keys. We still intend to build and we think the only way to build is with the ICF blocks, described below. Where do you start! If you are scared of hurricanes as we are, we decided on a concrete structure. What type of concrete structure? Poured in place, tilt up panels, concrete block? I was first concerned by the cost. After speaking to contractors and architects I am…
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Design Ideas – Balconies

We would like to maximize the view from our lot to the water. To do so we will need to build high and have balconies. Outdoor deck flooring will be an interesting effort. If there are livable areas below the concrete decks, what will guarantee it will be waterproof? Right now I think any deck above a livable area needs a waterproof plastic/rubber mat will have to be used, then covered with slip resistant flooring.The sub-floor had better be smooth…
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Design Ideas – Exterior Wall Finishes

Exterior Wall Finishes Wall finishes in a hurricane zone is an interesting series of decisions. It certainly depends on what materials the walls are made of. If we do go with ICF blocks for the walls, we need to think about the rigid foam block and the outside wall exposed to the environment. Due to weathering I would not choose wood. There is a Hardieplank siding, which has concrete in it, but our ideal style is more Mediterranean. So stucco…
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Design Ideas – Roofing

What kind of roof do we have built? Wood, Metal or Concrete? The building code calls for a roof to be able to withstand winds of 180 mph. The new roof code was instituted due to hurricane losses. For wood roofs, greater use of tie downs and better inspections have helped to prevent roof damage dramatically.   Since hurricane Irma, Monroe County is considering making changes to it’s building code. One change may be the elimination of shingle roof tiles and requiring…
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Design Ideas – Exterior Walls Insulation

Concrete is not a good insulator. I would like to use foam insulation for the ceiling spaces (especially under the roof). Most of the contractors I speak to use fiberglass batting. It’s cheaper than foam insulation but not as effective. Does anyone in the Keys install foam insulation at an affordable price? Foam insulation has an R value of 1″ = R-6.8, NCFI – rigid insulation spray, 3-1/2” = R21. Between the outside walls and the wall of a room…
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Design Ideas – Fasteners

Stainless steel fasteners should be used for doors windows and exposed stuff. Stainless steel is not just one quality. Do you buy the “big box store” quality or professional quality considering we are in a highly corrosive environment. I learned that Tapcon screws are stainless steel, 410 stainless steel quality which gives these concrete screws superior rust resistance. Also I learned Fastenal fasteners are superior quality. Rebar can have coating to prevent rust and spalling. What is the difference in…
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Electrical Work within ICF Walls

As we decide to build our house with ICF walls, floors and roof we need to think ahead as how to run electrical wiring. There is the typical electrical wiring and structured wiring. Structured wiring is a general term that refers to a whole-house network of audio, video, data, telephone, intercom, television, home automation, security alarms, cable and satellite hookups, ethernet and networking, security cameras, lighting, etc. With a house built of concrete, how electrical wiring is run is a…
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Design Ideas – Electrical and HVAC

Electrical Work Electrical work: Installing a high quality, house wide, surge protector by the power company, or whole house surge protective devices will be important to protect electronic devices and computers. Central air/heating. AC units are measured in SEER ratings. A SEER rating is the ratio of the cooling output of an air conditioner over a typical cooling season, divided by the energy it consumed in watt-hours. Central air is mandatory. What size? If you have a two level house do…
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Design Ideas – Plumbing

PLUMBING As for water piping, we can use rigid plastic or CPVC.  CPVC  can handle temperatures up to 200 degrees F. CPVC pipe has comparable corrosion resistance to PVC pipe yet it is suitable for handling material at temperatures 40 to 60 degrees F higher than regular PVC. It is lightweight, easy to assemble and install. Job-site erection of a leakproof joint can be made in only a minute with solvent cement, or by threading. PEX piping is commonly used. It…
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Design Ideas – Sub-floors

3.4 Sub-floors We  decided to use something instead of wood for the exterior walls. We also wanted to eliminate wood use on the interior as well. Because we decided to build with a concrete system for our walls, and for sub-floors within the building envelope, we wanted to avoid wood products, even those rated as insect or fire resistant. It seems logical to look for a concrete solution for our porches or decks as well. To fully enjoy coastal living and…
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Design Ideas – Structural Concrete – Updated

Design Ideas – Structural Concrete In the Keys, newer construction is using concrete rather than wood pilings or columns. The concrete specification for a house in a high salt climate can have additional additives to prevent spalling. Other additives can aid the concrete pour by making the mix slippery, to insure all areas inside the ICF blocks are filled. Fixing areas of visual concrete corrosion (spalling) is an good-sized industry in the Florida Keys. One person I talked with said…
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Design Ideas – Site Work

Site Work The FEMA requirement for structures in this area to be above the flood level, is +7.1 feet above sea level. Our average lot elevation is about +3.5 feet above sea level. We are allowed to start the total height of the structure at the highest street elevation of +4.93 feet above sea level. Currently 37′ is new height limit of the structure. So the total house height can be +41.93 feet above sea level. If the CC&Rs are no longer valid…
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Hopes and Dreams vs. Budget

I would love to build a house without budget considerations. But reality is a cruel mistress (the only one I will ever get!) We could not afford a waterfront lot and certainly not a very large house. There is an elasticity between amenities and cost. More goodies, the higher the total cost. We have basic requirements; walls, roof, floors, indoor plumbing, etc, the City of Marathon has requirements; structural loads, roof wind resistance, minimum elevation for the house, permit fees,…
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Hurricanes, Wind and Flooding

Hurricanes, Wind and Flooding After living in California all of our adult lives, we are (mostly) nonplussed by earthquakes. We have experienced small ones barely noticeable, to those that damaged San Francisco and caused elevated highways to fail. Our current house is wood construction, which reacts well to moderate earthquakes. We accept that we cannot predict when they will happen. We hope we are prepared with food, water and shelter. Hurricanes on the other hand, we have limited experience. I…
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Design Ideas – House Style

House Style The Florida Keys are known, somewhat, for a tropical style. Most homes do not express a particular style. Older homes were usually constructed on the ground. The new regulations require home to be built on piers, above grade. The higher above grade you build the “safer” you are, and the cheaper your flood insurance will be. I have seen different styles such as Bahamas style, Bermuda style, Caribbean style, Mediterranean style, Victorian style, contemporary style and everything else.…
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The Planning Approval Process

The Planning Approval Process The planning approval process was mostly a blur, as we started about 11 years ago. At the time most real estate transactions were handled by attorneys as well as real estate agents. I was a very nervous buyer. There were CC&R’s (covenants, conditions and restrictions), many local, county, state and federal (FEMA) approvals, including environmental and biology approvals or waivers. The attorney was important to me. Back then I did not have much confidence in Florida…
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Our Lot

Our Lot There were four lots available at the time of “get it now or else!” I chose the corner lot. It was a little farther from the state park beach but close to a large lagoon (connected to the Atlantic) and is more amenable to stealing views from at least 2 directions. If we built up as high as possible, we could see over the existing houses of the neighbors as well.   As you can see from the…
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The Search

The Search Some of the lots I looked at were canal front, but in areas without neighborhood amenities. I did not think we would want to be on the road every time we needed something. The only road through the Keys is Highway 1 (the Overseas Highway). Basically; one lane in each direction for 100 miles. Most accidents are head on collisions; a bigger car is part of the agenda, too. Other lots were at lower elevations, yes; lower than…
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Getting Started

Getting Started I never took the initiative to talk to a real estate agent until the market got hot in 2004. I woke up early one morning and decided I would walk into the local real estate agency, Coldwell-Banker Schmitt in Marathon, to ask a few questions. I bought into the “better get it while you can” story. I did go to different parts of the Keys to speak with other real estate agents to investigate other opportunities. I tried…
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Design Ideas – Interior Walls and Insulation

Steel studs are standard in the Keys. I do not want wood in the house structure, or walls or floors. We want to protect against bugs, termites and mold living since we will be living in a damp, high humidity environment. I want to use US made “paperless” drywall and fiberglass tape. Mold and bugs like the glue used on paper covered drywall. Some imported drywall products caused extensive health issues for some home owners. Finishing walls with “paperless” drywall and fiberglass tape can be…
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Choosing Consultants

Since we had many years to go, things went on the back burner, until now.  I have been collecting information, construction details and ideas as the years went on. As we get closer towards changing our lives, get enough points to build, and become empty-nesters, we pick up our story. Over a year ago I compile a list of engineers, architects and contractors. I have begun the process of speaking to architects, engineers and contractors. I have limited experience speaking…
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