Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Decisions Decisions

An entirely open, virgin pallet leads to lots more questions than to answers. Do we build in the valleys out of the wind or atop the hills trading frequent batterings for lush views? Do we bring in a mobile home for a few years and then build something later? How about building a small shack? A yurt, maybe? Would we build a Northwest Lodge? A Victorian?

Long before building the house, we needed to bring in power and drill a well. Getting off the grid sounded very appealing, so we explored wind turbines. Not good. I did not want to hear that noise pollution nor climb up to lube the damned thing every six months and replace batteries every five years. I appreciate wind energy, but becoming my own power company had little appeal. So we called Columbia REA. They came out and offered estimates for bringing in power from the road...a 2/3 mile run. Overhead power would mean less expense, but looking at power poles. Underground would run another six thousand dollars. Underground it was...except the price leaped another $9,000 higher after a whoops by their estimator. We now have a five-inch thick power cable running four feet underground along the eastern edge of Grape Hill. We could probably run enough juice to supply a small township. Put in a 400 amp system...for the future, just in case we do anything ambitious.

For the well, we called out Mike Harding. Mike stood on the site and pointed to all the wells he had dug around the region..."got in one just over that hill there...good water at 245 feet". I got a call from Mike saying that he would like to bring out his friend to witch for water before he set up his rig. (I still owe his friend a steak dinner at The Homestead.) I told Mike that it was fine with me and Mike said that he couldn't figure it out but that he had seen his friend in action too many times to doubt him. I decided to run an eight inch bore rather than a six inch so that we could have more capacity and even go deeper later if we ever need to do so. At 305 feet, Mike hit 35 gallons per minute in the basalt aquifer. Our water has been draining down from Montana since before humans walked the face of North America. Good water. Really good. I can't get over how Sue wants to buy bottled water since the water dispenser on the fridge has a little light showing we should replace the filter. I love this abundant water that Mike's friend witched!

Water is perhaps the most important element of all in farming country. We have lots of it, and lots of questions about how much of it we can use. We have excellent vineyard sites across five dozen of our acres, but even if we had the desire to enter into the wine grapes business, we would need to figure out our water. This is a whole separate discussion.

With power and water and the vineyard in place, the next thing we did was interview architects. Architects come in many shapes and sizes. There are artists who want to make their visions. There are the guys who listen to what you say, offer no input, and give you precisely what you deserve...usually a mess. We chose a level-headed guy who was supposed to understand our budget constraints and to work accordingly. Nice guy. He produced this banal structure that would have lived badly and had this awkward city deck stuck onto the back of the house. Some of the issues were my fault, no doubt, but I paid him his five grand and gave the plans to three of the good builders in the area to get their estimates. These guys spent a lot of time preparing the estimates and, to this day, I am embarrassed by the result. The architect produced a place that ran 250% of our top budget...all three builders were really close on estimates. In retrospect, that error saved us from producing a place that we would never have loved.

Hitting the financial sweet spot helped to narrow the field. We went with our version of a VW Pop-Top, our beloved pre-kids ride! Made it look on the outside like an agricultural building, all reflective galvalume metal siding to keep down energy costs and thick-walled post construction to allow for lots of insulation and wide open tall spaces. We would build a section now, pre-frame and wire and duct for expansion, and keep the farm looking as original as possible. I got to drawing, walking the spaces, drawing more, and the next year spent way too many nights at La Quinta Inn on 2nd Avenue to oversee the emerging structure. Nothing would come easily, but then so it goes when a place is one of a kind...

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