Saturday, December 8, 2012

Our First Tractor Purchase

Today marks the end of a search that has spanned many years.
Today we got our first tractor.

Our desire for such a machine was sparked by borrowing the neighbor's tractor for garden tilling and a few other heavy tasks around the farm. Also, as chores around the house became increasingly larger the appeal of the wheel barrow, shovels, and other hand tools diminished significantly.

Over the past few years we had sporadically invested time and effort in researching and seeking out a suitable tractor for use around our residence. Along the way we soaked up as much data as we could about PTO horsepower, break out force, hydraulic flow capacities, hydrostatic transmissions, and dealer networks.

We opted to look at used machines to save on costs. We decided to stick with some of the more popular brands to ensure the machine would hold it's value and parts would be easy to find. New Holland, John Deere, and Kubota seemed to be the top contenders in the market.

Eventually we found a suitable deal on a tractor with loader as well as a few of the implements we wanted.

The package as purchased was:

2002 John Deere 4310 with 386 hours  32 HP - 27 PTO HP
430 Front End Loader
E-Hydro Hydrostatic Transmission
Load Match
Motion Match
R4 Tires

Land Pride FDR2572 finish mower in moderate condition.
Landscaping rake, 5ft.
Land pride Rototiller RTA 1558 with some moderate rusting.

We are lucky to have great neighbors all around us. A couple of them helped us pick up this tractor which was located about 65 miles away. They secured a flatbed trailer and truck for us as well as helped rig and haul. Many thanks to John and Susan for making this possible!

The tractor had been stored in a shed for the past few years so there were a few things to address before putting it into full service. The first tasks on the docket were an oil change, battery acid clean up, fuel system treatment and cleaning, mid pto circuit troubleshooting, and a hydraulic system check.

After the maintenance items are addressed we plan on putting the tractor to work cleaning out the old barn.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Taking Down the Antenna Tower

In preparation for the addition we needed to remove an old antenna tower attached to the back side of the house. The triangular antenna tower was bolted to three sections of pipe that had a cement base sunk into the ground. The setup was such that the tower could rotate using two of the mounting bolts as a hinge if the third was removed. The tower was also held to the house near the top by a muffler clamp bolted to the fascia and some rope lashings around a hook bolted through the fascia.

We originally tried to lower the tower by removing the back (closest to the house) bolt from the base and letting it flip straight down. We placed a metal ring on the top hook and ran a rope through it then around a nearby tree to create a friction lowering setup. We also attached a rope up high on the tower that could be used to pull it if it got hung up on any small branches. This proved to be futile as the path the tower was forced to take was obstructed by branches (circled in yellow above) that were a little stronger than anticipated.

Instead we removed all the base screws so that the tower was free to move in any direction, however, we chained the bottom of the tower to the secure cement base so that it could not flip the bottom up unpredictably should it hit an obstruction on the way down. Having one person man the lower line and another tend to a pulling line we were able to bring the tower down and make path corrections during it's descent.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Backyard Clearing

Since the addition is almost entirely in the back of the house we needed to clear out a few obstacles from the construction zone.

A tall pine in the backyard had to come out. We always disliked having that pine close to the house, it was a never ending source of needles that would always make their way inside. You can see a couple of dish poles and a propane tank that need relocation in this picture.

 We had a tree company carefully block the pine down for $400, we opted to do our own cleanup to save on costs.

 There were a couple of clothes line poles in the way of the new septic field location, those had to come out as well, dug out and pulled by hand. The grassy expanse between the hill on the left and the tree on the right is the future site of the new septic drain field.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Propane Planning

Moving the propane tank was an interesting endeavor. We need to move the tank because it's current location will interfere with addition construction, plus it's a big eye sore when you spend time in the back yard.

Researching the relocation costs:

We started by calling our current provider. They wanted $2 a foot for trenching and laying the gas line out to the new location, plus $80 an hour for labor, plus purchase of any fittings and equipment needed, plus a permit fee.  Whew... we figured this would cost us just under $500.  So we called other companies hoping they would be a bit more competitive, we found they were.

We settled with a company that would do the installation at $2 a foot for trenching and laying with no other charges or permits. They stated that since we are simply 'moving' the tank we should be fine without a permit. Also this new company offered an introductory annual fuel rate way less than our current rate.

Planning the location:

There were some restrictions to consider when planning to move the tank. The gas company must have a clear view of the tank from where they will park to refill it. The length of hose the gas company has to stretch from their truck to the tank will affect where you can have it as well. The hose lengths we found from various companies ranged from 60' to 120'.

If the tank is placed where we would like it then it will be far more than 120' from the nearest driveway. Our solution is to build a new driveway to the west of the new location. There will then be a path through the outer hedge row, the wind break, then into the inner hedge row. This should meet all the requirements for visibility and distance.

Preparing the location:

We eventually settled on a location within an inner hedge row on the property. We cleared this area of the saplings, brush, and their stumps.

This position gives us about a 60' run to where the service comes into the house.

The gas hookup to the house is just to the right of the tree.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Septic Planning

We had the Lapeer county sanitarian (Chip) come over and look at our property layout. There are some specific site requirements when building the newer berm systems. We had initially scouted out a large bowel shaped area on the property so any mound wouldn't be as noticeable. This area didn't sit right with the sanitarian as it would be prone to gathering water during heavy rainfall.

After talking with the sanitarian a bit, it seems that all they do nowadays are berm type systems in our area. I'm told the berm systems seem to perform better but have a large upfront cost compared to traditional ditch systems

I asked the sanitarian how our particular soil was on a scale of  1 to 10, 10 being the best for septic systems. He stated ours was about a 5 and the usual rating for Elba Twp was about a 3.

Costs for Today: $425
$125 for a sanitary department employee to come onsite and inspect the soil, as well as file the permit application.
$225 for an excavator to come and dig two large holes in the ground for soil inspection.

After talking with our builder a bit after the meeting we got an idea of what the system will cost. The builder estimates the system at just under $12,000.

Below is a diagram we created to submit to the sanitarian for the septic application. The main thing they wanted to see was existing well septic locations for us and the neighbor and the clearances from the proposed changes.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Addition Plans

Our Design Process

To maintain some sense of sanity, we tried to be methodical in designing plans for the addition. We knew the features of the current floor plan that were deficient and some possible fixes we could incorporate. For developing new spaces we had lengthy discussions on what we felt was needed to accommodate our growing family. In the end we felt like we incorporated most of what we wanted and made reasonable compromises on other things.

Some design requirements we developed throughout the process included:
  • A dedicated 1st floor laundry room, close to the kitchen.
  • Increased kitchen area and counter top surface.
  • Basement with room for workout equipment and pool table, possibly a bar area.
  • Additional bedrooms to accommodate guests and future children.
  • Separate bath facilities for the children and parents. We thought this would be important once the children enter their teenage years.
  • Kitchen that opens to the living area such that you can keep an eye on children in the living space while in the kitchen.
We started design with a few guiding rules:
  • Strive for a more square overall structure to minimize material costs while maximizing area.
  • Examine the current structure and attempt to utilize existing walls and partitions, or extend them naturally into the new construction.
  • Load match major walls from the roof down to their bearing footer.
  • Preserve the general "farm house" look when viewing the house from the street. The home's history made this an important rule.

When making any major change to the plans the wife and I would review it daily. Over a week's time any changes seemed to sink in. Eventually, through plan redraws and sometimes heated discussion, we seemed to piece together the aspects that work well and solve pieces of the puzzle that didn't fit. The process was quite iterative, and we found that the more plans and solutions we worked through the more confident we became with our final choices.

Existing Structure

Here is the original 1st floor layout, the kitchen is in the back of the house and the front decking is shown in this drawing. The main entrance is in the kitchen.

As you can see the kitchen is quite small and the washer and dryer are in the kitchen, it's a bit awkward having first time guests walk directly into your kitchen/laundry room. Living in this space we found that we used the sewing room as storage, the dining room partially as a laundry, the bedroom as a nursery, and spent most of our time in the kitchen or living room. We were basically living in 300 square feet and it was tight.  There was a narrow passage from the kitchen to the dining room such that you could not get through if someone had the fridge open or was working on laundry. Another oddity of this floor plan is that you must go through the bathroom to get to the basement.

The floor above has a half bath two small bedrooms and an odd room we simply used to store stuff. The second story didn't go over the kitchen. The roof line was simply a offset "T" with one portion butted into the other forming valleys in the middle, open gables on all exposed ends.

Here is the second story layout:

To give you an idea of how this all looks in real life here is a photo of the house from the front:

The New Plan

We worked through many iterations of our plan but there were really only two major versions. I'll cover the first version briefly but devote a bit more time and description to the second (and final) plan. Here is the plan of the first floor:

This plan featured an additional stairway to get to the second story and a wrap around kitchen. While the floor plan is expansive the separation of kitchen and living areas wasn't ideal.
Here is the second story:

The second story features a master suite. There is an awkward space at the top of the stairs as well.
We began doubting this addition plan once we found that the cost could be substantially more than we were comfortable with.

Here is something close to what we settled on for the first floor. To give you an idea of how the old fits with the new we show the new construction walls on this drawing as solid black while the old walls have no fill color.

This plan adds space by pushing out the back of the house and squaring it off. Doing this on the 1st story created an interesting issue dealing with the roof line on the second story.

To extend the entire area of the new space up to the second floor would require a complete roof restructuring and drastically increase the roof height to cover the span. This would really change the farm house look so we made a compromise by cutting out a portion of the second story plan creating something akin to two large dormers off the back (top of image below) of the structure.

To get a feel for how the various rooms would feel when completed we would often use an existing wall and lay out tape marking the new wall boundaries. Then someone could hold up an big sheet of cardboard or another large object to simulate the new walls where the tape was. Going over a few spaces this way we came up with some changes.

One critical change was to increase the width of the first floor laundry. We originally had it planned at 5ft wide. This would fit some washers and dryer combos but if we ever wanted to upgrade and put them width wise in this room we would have limited options.

We were not increasing the kitchen size considerably. We were adding more counter space with an island but not gaining much additional room for storage. The need for a dedicated pantry storage area became obvious as we thought about room use.

We also spent some time thinking about how we use bathrooms. Our reasoning was that the last thing you do (or should be doing) in there is washing your hands, so we should orient the sink near the exit. Additionally converting the roofing system from trusses to rafters allowed a little more flexibility with wall locations so we bumped out one of the bathroom walls upstairs.

Our plans morphed once again.

First Floor:

Second Floor:


Exterior View: