the mother of all checklists

aka what you have to do before a wrecking ball comes to tear down your house

We had no idea that there were a gazillion and one steps to even GET to the permit and demolition stage. So - in an effort to list all of the things you gotta do before you build on your own lot - below is a handy dandy checklist! And who doesn't love a good checklist??

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  1. Design House
  2. Get a Construction Loan
  3. Start Construction Documents
  4. File for Permits 
  5. Hire a contractor 
  6. Find a place to live/rent
  7. Schedule all disconnects with utility companies
  8. Move out

1 . House Design

In my everyday life, I am a commercial and mixed use architect (translation: I work on big buildings and commercial spaces, not residential homes) so this endeavor is...well...its nothing I have ever really done before. Weird...I know. The last time I designed a home was in architecture school (GO TERPS!) and it was probably an unrealistic design and it was super rushed because I was hungover.

Designing the house was the part that my husband (a mechanical engineer) and I were very familiar with. We deal with floor plans, door schedules, and mechanical /electrical layouts all day long. So after 2 years of Pinning , Houzzing (I made that word up) and Googling images and house styles / floor plans...we landed on a design.

Our residential architect & good friend Eric Saul from Saul Architects helped us do all the construction documents. Don't know Eric? You should! Stalk him here:

Permit documents can cost anywhere from 20k to 50k. Just for the drawings. Yep. But - trust don't want to skimp on this part. You really get what you pay for...

Front elevation of the new house - cool right?

sneak peek of the front elevation of the house

Things you want from your architect: good basic sensibilities, a design aesthetic that is the same or very similar to yours, great knowledge of construction and details and someone who can teach your kids baseball. Okayy - you dont really need the last one but mine just happens to be an architect AND a baseball coach. So it's just like anyone else you hire - get some great references and someone who is honest and straight forward with you. They need to be able to tell you if you're designing something crazy expensive or just plain ugly.


Go drive around and find some of the homes they have designed...if you don't like some of those homes you visited and are just using them because they are the cheaper guy in wont be happy with your end result.

2. Construction Loans

During the time of deciding to build this house...we needed to find out if we can afford it. Good idea right? Just a little tidbit about me: I am a very visual person that can barely balance a checkbook. So in my research for this little venture of ours I found an easy to understand article written by a banker who specializes in this type of loan.

3. Construction Documents

To get a building permit - you will need at least two sets of drawings. A Building Set and a Land or Civil set.

The architect draws up what is called a Permit Set. It's basically a set that has just enough information on it to get a permit from the County to build your house. The set includes black and white drawings like floor plans, elevations and sections, energy envelope analysis, window and door schedules, etc. I will be posting the entire set for our house in an upcoming blog. Can't wait to show it to you!

A civil engineer draws up a set for Land Development. Basically this is a site plan of your lot with the house located, road and side lot setbacks, tree locations, trench drain details, storm water wells, soils testing reports and....zzzz....boring stuff.

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original site plan of house

I'm going to give you a really good piece of advice...listen closely...get a hire good people eve if they cost a bit more. You know that old get what you pay for. The civil engineer recommended to us was, in short, a jackass. The "idiot engineer" as I have lovingly come to call him drew the building footprint in the wrong place. It has set us back weeks...we actually still don't have a permit. He promised the drawings on said due date he got mad at me for asking him to get me what I pad him for. Then when I finally got the drawings the set had lots of information missing and the footprint was located in the wrong place. He was also just a 'jerk of a human'. I am from New York - and that my my way of really really really putting it mildly. He was SO unprofessional (and I have the emails to prove it!) but since I paid him the full amount already...well - he could take his sweet old time and be a total a-hole. DO NOT get me started.

4 . Permits

After you get the Permit Set from the Architect and the civil engineer then you can go to the permitting office and wait for hours going from line to line to submit the drawings. It felt like being at the emergency room...but no one is hurt. But - it's just as painful.

Once you are there - you have lots of paper work and drawings to submit:

  • Residential Building Application
  • Right of Way Application
  • Sediment Control Application
  • Site Plan
  • Roadside Tree Affidavit

Oh yeah...and there is one other thing you will need: MONEY $$!! Our permitting fees for this house total around $8k. I KNOW!! crazy right? Not sure what they do with that money. In our county, the permitting fees are based on the square feet of the new home

5. Hire a contractor/builder

File this one also under IMPORTANT THINGS TO SPEND YOUR MONEY ON. Be sure to vet your contractor...verify that he has many other homes that he has built and make sure to call his references for any past complaints or disgruntled clients. Pretty simple.

6. Find a place to live

No real mystery here. We obviously can't live at the house while this is going on. So we rented a house on the kids school bus route. Although...I wanted to see if we could rent an RV and live on the lot for 8 months. Seriously...if we have wifi and Ritz Bits peanut butter crackers - we really don't need anything else.

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7. Materials donation

This is my favorite part about the demolition of my house that I did not know about. There are many companies out there that will come in and assess your house for any salvageable materials that they can donate to charities. And - we will get a large tax deduction form it. They come in and extrude pieces like doors, flooring, light fixtures, even drywall and use it on another building project that needs it. So - we get the deduction, people in need get my perfectly good windows and washer/dryer and a limited amount of stuff goes to landfill. It's a WIN - WIN - WIN!

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8. Disconnects:

This was something I had never heard of but of course now that I think about it...all power and water needs to be turned off prior to demo. Luckily the contractor we chose helped us contact utility providers to have everything disconnected.

  • Power - The main power gets cut off from house first.   But then the site needs TEMPORARY POWER - power used during the build of the new house. The workers working on the new house need to plug in their tools and that cool yellow boombox they always bring to job sites.  
  • Gas
  • Water
  • Sewer  - we were on a well system but our county forced us to connect to the public sewer system.  
  • Cell and Internet - all needs to be moved to rental home
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photo of power pole after disconnect

9. Move out

As I write this...we move in a couple of days and we have four - count 'em - four boxes packed. I'm trying not to stress about it. I think my biggest obstacle right now is that I'm sad to move out. We have lived in this house for 10 years. Some days I used to wish I would come home and the house was just 'poof' - not there. The house used to frustrate me so much.

But...for some reason now that the day is here...I am very sentimental and sad. I brought my youngest son home from the hospital to this home 7 years ago and have had some amazing fun memories with my hubs, 2 sons, cat and dog.

Now imagine your home getting picked apart piece by piece and then some huge excavator taking its big metal teeth and crushing your house until its just a bunch of debris. :(

Ugggh. Maybe eating a Ritz bit will make me feel better. Or a whole box of them.

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