Building to last, at last


Almost eleven years ago, we found a vacant lot for sale in Pacifica, having looked around for a few years for a place to build our own house.  The price was right, we had the cash, and 478 Monterey was ours in just a few weeks. It had a westward view of the ocean, full solar exposure to the south, and even a tiny creek at the back. We started planning a house for us and our two kids, with an in-law apartment for my mom. After much struggle, we came up with three-story house with expansive roof decks, and announced to our friends (and to the Pacifica Riptide e-newspaper) we were building our house.

Then the great recession hit, and we suddenly had time, but no money. Our plans and goals evolved as our business came back to life and as our kids grew older.  My mom went into assisted living and then passed away. Our inheritance from her convinced us that now was the right time – plus the knowledge that she would have been thrilled for us to invest her money on a modern house.

We sat down at the drafting table again, revised our program and did some more conceptual design. More struggle. In the intervening years we had learned more about green architecture, Passive House construction, and building science. We were more than ever resolved to build a green, environmentally friendly, and zero-net energy house.

Preliminary cost estimates convinced us we needed to do some cutting, which we did. In late 2015 we finalized our plans, selected a contractor and announced we were starting for real….and then it all fell apart. It’s still not clear exactly what happened but our relationship with our contractor soured; then our plan of getting a construction loan didn’t pan out.  Our neighbor – trying to fix erosion in the back of his yard — ran his bulldozer over our sparsely vegetated lot in the middle of the rainy season, and we had to regroup while he laid down erosion control measures.

By the time we got the construction drawings finished and through the permit process, another year went by, along with another two or three contractor possibilities. We were ready to start a year ago, and realized our son, a junior in high school on the verge of college application season, would have his life disrupted in the middle of his most stressful year. We decided to hold off for one more year.

We made one more change at the end of last year. As part of easing the housing crisis, the state is now requiring cities to make it easy to build Accessory Dwelling Units. We made some minor revisions and now our design can be used as a large family home, or divided into two units.  We expect this flexibility to be very useful as we age and need less space and some rental income.

So…Now…We…Are…Building! Really! Truly!  Noel Fox and his brother Sean Fox of American Clover Construction broke ground on April 10th and as I write the piers have been drilled and poured, the grade beam forms are going up, and we are in the midst of making a lot very real and final decisions.

Our financing is from a combination of savings, a home equity loan, and lots of sweat equity.  Noel will be building the shell, and we will be responsible for managing several main subcontractors and also all the finish work. We’ve put together a great team as part of our research over the past few years and we’re excited to work with them and continue to learn from them on site!

General Contractor: Noel and Sean Fox- American Clover

Plumbing, water harvesting and greywater: Wes Parks- Taproot Plumbing

Electrical: Costica and Michaela Paduraru – Costel Electric

Mechanical: Kyle Bosworth – EcoPerformance Builders

Insulation: Charles Bennett – Mr. Insulation (415)492-1166

Roofing: Tom Lee Roofing

The decision to finally go ahead was difficult, a once-in-a-lifetime choice of whether to jump off a very high cliff with a very small parachute. But Geronimo and off we go…

We encourage you to follow our blog as we discuss our research and decisions along the way. We’ll be offering tours and discussions about various subjects, from general design to technical topics (next up concrete!) Feel free to reach out to us if you have a class or group interested in organizing a site visit. Besides our technical blog, we hope to also maintain a running timeline with some humor through (B)Log of the Monterey


17 Responses

  1. Mary C. Rodriguez
    | Reply

    Am I reading the diagrams of the house wrong or is it labeled incorrectly? It looks like the garage is above the laundry room. Hope all goes smoothly.

    Mary C

    • Christine Boles
      | Reply

      Hi Mary! Yes, that is correct, the garage is on the upper level, intentionally so the main level is handicapped accessible. The room below will be used for laundry, storage, and a makerspace with a 3D printer and laser cutter!

  2. Bill & Junie Chow
    | Reply

    Good morning Bob & Christine:
    We have not seen you for such a long time but Robin mentioned the house that you’re building. Not a surprise that both of you have designed a home to benefit the community and nature. Junie and I are very happy about your successful start to a new home. We will follow you often and will have the opportunity to actually see the building – We have friends living in Pacifica on Arroyo Drive near a popular corner bakery.
    Bill & Junie

    • Christine Boles
      | Reply

      Thank you Bill and Junie! Stop by anytime! We will be there most days in the late afternoon. Once the house is framed we’ll schedule a gathering and walk-through!

  3. Kim
    | Reply

    Congrats!!! Very exciting to see the building in motion. I look forward to visiting the construction at some point

    • Christine Boles
      | Reply

      Thanks Kim! Stop by anytime, we will often be there in the late afternoons. Once the house, we’l schedule a gathering with a walk-through!

  4. Caterina Spies-Reece
    | Reply

    This all sounds very exciting I am so very happy for you!
    Would love to come and see the progress as things move along
    Wishing you all the best

    • Christine Boles
      | Reply

      Thank you Caterina! We’d love to see you and give you a personalized tour! Plus our favorite sushi place is around the corner!

  5. Pam Long
    | Reply

    This is truly amazing. Lots of work but the payoff will be grand.
    Looking forward to watching the progress. Thanks for including me.

  6. Paul Boles
    | Reply

    Sweet! I’ll swing by soon after work and check it out. Things are moving along!

    • Christine Boles
      | Reply

      Thanks Paul! Let us know when and we can try to meet you there!

  7. Joan Cannelli
    | Reply

    You have had many road blocks but your determination won out. I am so happy for you both. I can’t wait to see the house as the building progresses. My very best to you.

  8. Lena Zhang
    | Reply

    Congrats, Christine and Bob on this very exciting Zero-net project! I can’t wait to learn everything about it from you.

    • Christine Boles
      | Reply

      Thank you Lena! Come visit! There’s a great sushi place around the corner!

  9. Lillian Wu
    | Reply

    Hi Bob and Christine,
    How wonderful you can build your own home. I will be interested to follow your blog. Thanks for sharing this project. If I may let other environmental friends know about this, let me know.

    • Christine and Bob
      | Reply

      Hi Lillian,
      Yes, of course, please share away! One of our main goals in the project is to use it for education, for ourselves and the community.

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