Choosing The Best Rural Lot23 Aug

There are many choices that must be made before buying a rural lot. Most choices are governed by economics, but a person’s lifestyle and background have an influence as well. Do you want a house that is secluded and private, or one that is spectacular with a view of the plains? Maybe your dream is a small ranch with a view of the mountains.

The mountains have always been the refuge of those seeking to find a reasonably priced lot. The mountains of Gilpin and Boulder County are covered with mining districts with the land already divided into 5 ac claims. There are also older mountain subdivisions with 2 and 3 acre lots that have not been built out. But there are pitfalls that can raise the price of building on a lot, and make it less desirable. One of the most expensive is rocky terrain and steep slopes. Steep slopes are difficult because they add costs to the road, to the septic system, and to the house construction. They can usually be built on, but almost every step is expensive.

Another issue to be considered, is the orientation of the lot and therefore the house. Does the road and the house have a Southern exposure which gets good sun, and therefore easily melts off the snow in the winter instead of building up snow pack all winter long? A road that melts snow means fewer trees have to be cut for turnouts in which to store plowed snow. Roads that face North often run out of snow plowing space, and the roads get covered with ice as the winter progresses. Northern slopes can be dealt with, but again, they require more planning. Southern exposures are ideal for passive and active solar gains, an added bonus that could provide your new home with free heat and energy.

West facing building sites may have a wonderful view of the mountains, but they face into the wind, which howls down the mountains onto the plains. Large glass areas facing West can develop a lot of bow in the glass and mullions, and you may wonder if the wind is going to blow your house down to Denver some day. There are building techniques to handle this, including foam forms that make a house much more solid with concrete and rebar cores running throughout the walls. Stronger triple pane windows can also shield from the strong afternoon sun, as well as the strong winds, and overhanging roofs can block the summer sun while letting in the winter rays.

East facing lots can have big views of the plains, and will catch the sun early in the day, ideal for morning people. They can often be situated so that they get the Eastern view and the Southern sun exposure. They are usually well protected from the wind. If they are on a flat bench with a short road in from the South, you have the makings of the perfect building spot. Now if only no one else had found this idyllic spot! Unfortunately, there you may have neighbors who are nestled in to the North, and South, on both sides of your land. Therefore, you also have to be concerned about your neighbor’s wells and septic systems.

Wells and septics need to have space from each other, and between themselves. The perfect spot for a well is close to the house, and just uphill. Ideally, you must have 200ft. from your well to any other leach field, and to your own leach field. Your land must be over an acre, or you have bought a campsite, not a house site. You would be surprised at how many campsites are for sale in the mountains. They are not buildable due to size, and the need for separation of the well and septic. The health department has to approve every building permit before anyone can build on their lot, and their rules are very inflexible when it comes to public safety. The State of Colorado has set the basic rules of septic field and well separation, and the counties have adopted them and in many cases, made them even more stringent. The State has said 100’ is minimum well distance, but many counties use 200’ for high bedrock or high ground water situations. Some counties allow blasting for rock, but some don’t. Some require pretreatment systems to get around the 100’ separation, or for land less than 5 acres. Each area’s rules should be determined before purchasing a lot by looking the rules up on the county web site, or by consulting a professional.

In Boulder County there are 14,000 houses with septic systems, and only about 6000 are permitted systems. The Septic Smart program will attempt to have all septic systems permitted by requiring a septic inspection whenever a house is sold. Negotiating a $20,000 septic system into the price of a rural house would probably be a smart idea for most rural homebuyers.

Before you buy a smaller rural lot, the location of all the neighbor’s septic systems and wells needs to be located to determine if there is room so that a well and septic can be located 200’ apart on your own lot, as well as 200’ from all the neighbor’s septic systems and wells. Many people don’t understand that these locations may dictate the house location, and increase the cost of a specific location by thousands of dollars.

Many counties have restrictions that can make a huge difference in house location and cost. For example, Gilpin County requires a 50ft. setback from a road and from a stream, and thus a valley property with a road and stream may have very few house locations available. On a rural lot the well and septic location should be inspected along with the property survey just as diligently as the title and the road access. Consulting a professional engineer to look at these restrictions should be a part of every land purchase unless the owner is familiar with the regulations and conditions in the location.

Another major condition that may affect a rural property is the wildfire deterrent requirements. If the lot is steep and heavily forested, there may be extensive thinning required by the County to build on the site. Thinning the trees and removing the undercover may protect the house from a fast moving wildfire, and make it more defensible by the fire fighters. There should be no woodpiles or other types of combustable material around the house. Farther from the house, the woods should be thinned and underbrush removed. Propane tanks should be buried and away from the house. Ideally, the exterior of the house is constructed of materials that are fire resistant such as masonary, and all decks need to be constructed of fire resistant materials as well. The roof is the easiest way to burn down a house, and metal and tile are the best materials to use so that doesn’t happen. No wood product or other combustible shingle should be used. Concrete boards are a good choice for facia and soffit to resist fire.

As you can see, there is much to consider before buying your dream lot. Please don’t buy without investigating exactly how your home will – and even if it can – fit on the lot.

Locating Your House On Your Land Part 2. Rural Lots: Part 108 Jul

Many people want to escape from the city to enjoy the rural lifestyle, and often they find less restrictions on what they can build. When considering a rural subdivision it is always a good idea to drive around to see if you like the types of houses being built there. There are new subdivisions all the time, but there are also some very old ones that still have lots for sale. An older subdivision may or may not have an active homeowners association, and that may translate into a wider choice of building options.

The mountains of the Front Range offer a wide array of building sites and not all of them are in subdivisions. They include patented mining claims, and other often large parcels of land that allow more flexibility. Even the idea of a lot in a rural subdivision can be very different than what you encounter in the city. A country lot can be as small as an acre, or larger than thirty acres, and it can include steep hillsides or massive rock outcroppings. But no matter what lot you find, the county you live in will still have rules and regulations you must adhere to.

In Boulder County there is Site Plan Review. Site Plan Review requires that the builder submit preliminary plans on the location, height, and square footage of the proposed house. The square footage may be restricted by the size of the other houses nearby. The general character of the neighborhood will also be a guide to the house size. Another restriction is the amount of dirt that can be moved to construct the house, and the access road to the house. If your house design requires more than 500 cubic yards of soil to be moved, then you must attend a hearing before the County Commissioners where all your new neighbors can, if they choose, object to your preliminary plans. The County has further restricted the movement of soil by counting each yard of soil being moved twice, once when it is picked up, and again when it is set it down somewhere else, so the same cubic yard of dirt becomes two cubic yards for counting purposes.

These restrictions can be overcome by good planning on the site and having a location that makes sense from an environmental point of view. For example, an owner plans to build a house on top of a ridge giving them a great view of the mountains, but it can not only be seen by everyone else for a long distance, but also shines bright lights that can be seen for an even longer distance at night! The Site Plan Review process will likely require that they move the house location off of the ridge top to a place on the land that cannot be seen by the neighbors. Furthermore, they’ll specify that exterior of the house be a color that blends into the environment, that natural materials be used to fit in with the rural character, and that lighting be downward facing so as not to shine where neighbors will see the lights at night.

Building in a rural area has other unique requirements such as finding a spot for a septic system and digging your own well. I’ll get to those in Part 2 of buying and building on a rural lot.

Building Your Home. Part One:City and Subdivision Lots06 Jul

When you buy a lot in the city, most of the decisions on locating your home have been decided by the developer, the subdivision covenants, and the city land use regulations. Read all these documents carefully before you purchase a lot to make sure if it will accommodate the house you plan to build. The style of house, building height, location on the lot, garage location, even colors and trim may be dictated by these documents. A careful read and a good look at what has already been built in the neighborhood will teach you a lot, but it still might be a wise idea to talk to the other residents to get an idea of how things really work for new builders in the neighborhood.

For example, is there an active homeowners association that has a committee to check and approve new building plans, paint colors, style of house, house size, garage location and other building requirements? If there is an active building committee, it would be wise to speak to the head of the committee to ask some questions. Is there a set of building guidelines that the committee puts out to describe their requirements? Does the committee require plans by an architect or engineer? How detailed must your building plans be? Are only specific styles or house sizes allowed? Are there separate restrictions on the size or location of the garage? These design requirements can be extensive particularly in a newer subdivision that is still being built out.

The next visit you’ll need to make is to the city building department to see what your local regulations require. Normally there are setback requirements for the house and garage, and often size limitations. For example, in the City of Boulder, new city regulations dictate the ratio of house size to lot size so the size of your house may be limited by the type of lot you purchase. Also, the floor plan could be restricted not allowing long straight exterior walls. Furthermore, the shadow your house will produce also has restrictions and must be analyzed to make sure that your new house does not shade your neighbor’s current or future solar installation. In Boulder, your house must also pass the Green Points Test for energy efficiency, and certain house designs could prove more difficult to build to these energy efficient requirements. It is, therefore, very important to find out what both your subdivision and your city require before you finalize both your house plans,and which lot to buy where, long before you turn over that first shovelful of dirt.

Why is My House Cracking Up?19 Apr

In some parts of the U.S. buildings need to be modified because they are in earthquake zones, or they make concessions for hurricanes and tumultuous weather. Here in Colorado we rarely have earthquakes, and never worry about hurricanes, but we do have our own specific building challenges, and one of them is expansive soils. Everyone has seen, or maybe even tripped over, a heaved up sidewalk or driveway. The broken concrete is usually due to a problem with an expansive soil, such as Bentonite, which can be found all along the Front Range.

Fine clay particles wind-blown off of the mountains, are then deposited in layers along the leeward side of ridges and valleys. Just the right accumulation of clay particles produces a deposit that expands up to 10% under wet conditions, and conversely shrinks 10% during dry conditions. This soil movement can wreck not only driveways and sidewalks, but all sorts of slabs including the one your house is sitting on. Footers are susceptible to movement as well, particularly if water becomes concentrated in one corner of the foundation. In an expansive soil situation, surface drainage around the house becomes even more important in order to avoid water concentration in any one area.

Building codes have been adapted to mitigate expansive soil problems, and newer homes are now designed with concrete piers that penetrate 26 feet or more in order to anchor into a more stable bedrock formation. Concrete anchors hold the concrete walls down during uplift events, and support the walls during periods of shrinkage. Local building departments require an engineer to inspect the foundations designed for expansive soils to make sure that they are built according to the design.

Older homes built before the new rules often show the results of what expansive soils can do. These problems may be uncovered when a house goes under contract to be sold. If the home inspection reveals a severely cracked foundation or extreme drywall cracking, an engineer is usually called in to look at the problem and recommend a solution. Sometimes the repairs are relatively simple, but they can also be extensive and expensive. One important component often over looked, is improving the home’s drainage system. When expansive soils are present, landscaping and the watering that accompanies it, can prove devastating. Having an engineer inspect the problem helps both the buyer and the seller to anticipate the cost and extent of repairs, or at the very least, can advise them on how to stop any further damage from expansive soils.

Welcome to Wilkinson Engineering.26 Mar

Welcome to Wilkinson Engineering. If you are visiting our site, odds are good that you are building a new home or adding on to your current residence and someone has said, “You need an engineer for that.”

But perhaps you’re still wondering, “Why do I need an engineer?” Here are some answers:

New Home:

If you live in Boulder, Jefferson, Broomfield, or Denver County, a Professional Engineer is required to design the home’s foundation. Roofs often need to be redesigned stronger for Colorado’s wind and snow loads. Building departments have specific requirements depending on where you live. Many areas of Colorado have expansive soils that can swell and break foundations, driveways, etc. If you encounter this type of soil condition, you need to make sure your foundation is designed correctly. Site design. On a new house an engineer will help you to site and/or design your house, septic system, well, driveway, and road to maximize everything from solar energy gain, to drainage issues.

Additions and Remodel:

These have some of the same issues as New Home Construction plus, the existing house may not be up to code, and need to be redesigned to meet current criteria. When adding a second story or tying in an addition, the existing house has to be able to structurally accommodate the new construction. Changing the footprint of a house will often compromise existing drainage systems and need to be redesigned. To help you resolve and decide how to deal with the age old question: Is that a weight bearing wall?

Everyday Problems That Call for an Engineer (Often these are discovered during a home inspection prior to a home sale):

Septic system failures (Boulder County requires that septic tanks and leachfields be inspected to identify failed and unpermitted systems before selling a home)

Unsafe Decks and Balconies.

Faulty drainage systems resulting in water damage.

Sagging or slanted floors and ceilings.

Cracked foundations and drywall.