Building a Custom Home – The Foundation

Have you ever caught yourself wondering what roughly $35,000 worth of gravel, concrete, and manual labor would look like? Yes? I knew it. Well, it looks a lot like this…

custom home foundation

It’s the most beautiful hunk of concrete I’ve ever seen.

Alright, let’s dig into the process.

So first, the form boards went up. It started with the foundation crew saying “Tell us where you want it” and my husband and I were like “HERE”…. and they got to work. (Actually, that’s not entirely true… first, we fought a little, measured a lot, and then were like “Whatever, just put it here.”)

form board beginnings

The form boards went up somewhat slowly, thanks to our perilous driveway. Out of the first group of work trucks to enter our property, two blew out tires and one punctured a gas tank. I’m beginning to wonder how my minivan has made it out unscathed so far (not pulling a monster trailer probably helps). Here they are all up…so fun to watch it take shape!

main house form boards

(We decided last-minute to make our porch larger, which is why there is a tree in the way.)

Next the plumber came out and added all the drains.

garageguest house drains

After all the form boards were up and the plumbing was in, Adam went out to measure and make sure it was all correct. It was perfect apart from the one, obvious, tiny little baby little hiccup (name that movie!). It was over the easement. Our house has to be 25 feet off the property line, and it was four inches over. It seems like a tiny insignificant detail, but it can cause problems when we go to close on the mortgage. So it had to be moved, all of it. We ended up just moving the house and compressing the breezeway 6 inches to make it easy (well, easier…says the girl who didn’t actually do anything).

From there it was smooth sailing! After all the form boards were in place, gravel was brought in and bagged into squares (I’m sure there are technical terms for all of this, but I have no idea what they are so I’m just going to call ’em like I see ’em).

foundation prep
bagged gravel for foundation
foundation maze

Then the gravel was covered and cables were added in a grid pattern.

post tension foundation cables

This is a post tension slab, which means there is no rebar involved, just cables that you pull tight to reinforce the concrete.

post tension foundation 2

Here’s a closer look at the cables, they run over the top of the gravel and in all the trenches.

cables in a post tension foundation

They are attached to the form boards like so…

post tension foundation

And here is what they look like after the concrete is poured.

post tension cables and spiderman

At some point in the near future they will be tightened, cut off, and patched so that you would never even know they’re there.

And here is the finished product! Well, half of it and then the other half, since it’s so wide I can’t get it all in one photo.

concrete foundation
foundation breezeway and barn

Adam and I were taking the other day, and this slab cost more than every vehicle we have ever owned, combined. Isn’t math fun? Haha.

Here is the floor plan again so you can get an idea of what you’re looking at.


Here’s the corner (front and back) where we decided to add the porch wrap last-minute.

porch wrap

Here is the house from standing in the barn (garage/workshop/future tiny guest house)

custom home foundation

The breezeway, which I’m super stoked about. I have always loved breezeways.

breezeway and barn

The master bedroom, bathroom, and closet area.

master bedroom and bathroom

The courtyard portion of the backyard, from the master bedroom. This little section will get grass (and a tiny section in the front of the house) and the rest will be left wild.


Here’s the view from the backyard.

foundation from the back

And that’s the tour! I’m so excited…I can’t believe we are actually building a house. It’s always been this far-off future dream, and now it’s really happening. Crazy.

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  1. Wow Ashley, that’s so exciting that they’re actually starting to build it! Any idea on how long the process will be? It’s such a gorgeous spot, it’s going to be beautiful.

    1. Thanks Jan! I’m thinking the builders portion will take about four months? In 11 months the house has to be finished enough to be transferred from a construction loan to a mortgage, but I’m not sure what exactly the guidelines are for that. Hoping we can finish it that fast!

      1. I used to do accounting work for a Housing Developer and some of his customers had construction loans during that phase that when it was completed it was switched to a regular mortgage. In Canada with that bank the customer made draws on their construction loan based on the % completed. IE if your construction loan is for $300,000 the bank in our case required a Certified Bldg Inspector come out and assess the work completed to date so if he reports back it is 10% done then the bank would release 10% of the loan in this example $30,000. You pay for these inspections and the bank usually dictates how many or how often or a min $ that you can “draw” down $ from your loan. To make your final “draw” on your construction loan the inspector needs to do a final walk thru and report that it is 100% done as a functional house to bldg code then the builder is paid out. At that time you would convert your construction loan to a mortgage. Essentially the house needs to be finished so if something happened to you two they could list it with a realtor as a finished house to sell to someone else. Check with your bank on their requirements – knowledge is power even with bank loans!.

        1. Good to hear from someone that knows the business! Our loan works similar to that, but a little more casual. Our builder makes draws based on what he has spent and no inspector comes out till the end (at least that what I think). We’ve asked the bank multiple times what EXACTLY needs to be done to close out the construction loan, and they keep telling us it just depends on the inspector that you get. We recently had some friends close out their construction loan and there was quite a bit left to do, that that is good. We want to close it out as quick as possible since we will be paying a ton in interest every month once we have drawn a good amount.

          1. Although, our builder and mortgage guy (and the architect, actually) are all connections from church, so that might have something to do with how casual it it.

  2. Gah! So exciting! It’s really happening :) What’s the timellne? Like when do you think you’ll be able to move in? Kudos to you guys for being so involved in the process, I only have two kids and I barely find time to shower, let alone build a house! :)

    1. Ha…I never said I was able to shower! I don’t see us moving in before next summer. I’m thinking the builders portion (the outside) will be finished in about four months, and we take over from there. It has to be “livable” in 11 months so that we can convert it from a construction loan to a mortgage. I’m really not sure what to expect with finishing the inside…we work at a snails pace on our current house, but it should be much easier to work on a house we’re not living in. Adam is confident we will be able to finish it pretty quickly and I’m not so sure.

  3. Woooo! That’s so exciting:) I am loving following along, I had no idea all of that was involved in pouring a foundation, I thought it was just a giant slab of concrete. So interesting. I can’t wait to see the next steps:)

  4. Ex-architect here, and showing my rusty-ness with current home construction economies…What made the decision for post-tensioned concrete, rather than rebar? Has the cost come down in the last 10 years? Is there something about the land that suggested post-tensioned was a better choice?

    1. Honestly, I wanted a rebar foundation (just because I feel more comfortable with it), but it is much more expensive to do it that way. Also, this is how new construction homes are now built around here, pretty much no one does rebar anymore. Our lot is basically a solid limestone shelf and we were told by a foundation engineer (or whatever their title is) that we shouldn’t have any foundation problems no matter which route we go. Here’s to hoping!

  5. Congrats! What an exciting time for your family! I apologize if you’ve already addressed this in another post but I’ve been meaning to ask and talk of a construction loan vs. mortgage above made me think of it again: You’ve said paying off your current house so quickly was really just about being as frugal as possible. In your post about paying the mortgage off, you talk about buying everything with cash. My husband has never had a credit card or car loan and, as such, has no credit history. Not bad credit history…literally no credit history. As such, when we went to the bank, we were told that only I can apply for a mortgage because only I have a credit score off which they can base their lending decision. If I’m correct in assuming you don’t use credit cards, can you share the process of securing the loans to buy/build your homes? Or do you use cards and just pay them off immediately? We’re discovering that his frugal choices are a double-edged sword, as they’re now hindering our mortgage process and I’m curious how other people are making this work.

    1. That’s a great question and a great problem to have! You’re right, we do pay for things with cash and don’t have a lick of debt (well, until this new house). Somehow though we still have really great credit scores. I was kinda expecting to have the same problem you are having, but I’m not sure how long it takes your credit score to become zero after becoming debt free (we paid off our house three years ago and had very limited credit history before then). So unfortunately I don’t know much about getting a mortgage without a credit score, but I do know it can be done…you just have to find a bank/credit union/mortgage company that will do manual underwriting. I found this on Dave Ramsey’s website….

      Getting a Mortgage Without a Credit Score

      Let’s go back a few years, though—back before you paid off that mortgage. How can you get a mortgage without a credit score in the first place? Isn’t this magic number your key to the world of mortgages and homeownership?

      Actually, no, it isn’t. You can get a mortgage without a credit score. How so? Manual underwriting.

      Not every lender is going to do manual underwriting—which is basically when they use a little common sense and look at factors like your income and not just your credit score. Churchill Mortgage is the lender we recommend for manual underwriting.

      Now, this doesn’t mean that just anyone can walk into a bank or mortgage lender and walk out with a home loan using manual underwriting. Remember, this is the way weird people do it, so there are some requirements you’ve got to live up to. Specifically, you must:

      *Put at least 20% down on your home.
      *Choose a 15-year, fixed-rate conventional mortgage.
      *Have a strong employment history and personal income to support the loan.
      *Demonstrate 4–6 trade lines that span 18–24 months. These are just regularly recurring expenses such as rent, electric bills, water bills, cell phones, etc.
      *Also, your old credit history has to be in good shape. Even if you have a zero score, the old history is still there and impacts the loan decision. If you have an old history of late or missing payments, then you could have some problems.

    2. @ Colleen – I had this same problem when I wanted to buy my farm – I am frugal and never bought anything I could not pay cash for vehicles included, did not have a credit card so no credit history = no mortgage! I live in Canada but the remedy here is likely the same in the USA – I went to the bank to apply for a credit card with a $500 limit – I had no credit history so had to secure it putting $500 in a special savings acct I could not withdraw on that acted as security that Visa could access if I defaulted on pymts. Next step is use the card so you actually have monthly transactions on the card to build your credit score. I set up my online banking to automatically pay the monthly bill in full direct from my bank acct before it was due so after 6 mths I had a perfect score and security was released and bought a farm! I had a 20% downpymt to put down, a stable job history and got pre-approved for a mortgage based on that and my credit score from a $500 Visa card so don’t let it be your stumbling block – go talk to your bank to discuss this and they will advise you as they will want your business – good luck!

      1. Thanks so much, this is great advice! He’d mentioned getting a secured credit card, but I’d never even heard of such a thing.

  6. Anyone who has put themselves out there as looking has literally dozens of recruiters asking for calls, some of them hinting at the fact that they *might* have a role you’d be good for, but providing no details about the role. If you’re unemployed, you have all day to schedule calls. If you’re working, and have a family, and maybe some extracurriculars, the space in which to schedule calls is really tight. You have to try to read between the lines to determine if it’s a pre-submission screen or if it’s simply someone trying to build their contact list.

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