Building / contractor recommendations

User Forum Topic
Submitted by sdduuuude on June 19, 2017 - 10:34am

Well, greetings from a long lost Pigg. Has been a long time since I checked in here. Much to tell about my housing ventures, and some favors to ask.

In a nutshell, we moved out of Clairemont, rented in Carmel Valley, bought a piece of property in Carmel Valley and are now under construction on a modern house there. No HOA. No Mello Roos. Zoned agricultural residential. SD Realtor responsible for making it happen.

Anyway, The house will be one of only a handful of houses in 92130 that are not Cali-Mediterranean, and possibly the only one where the the owner is neither a real-estate agent or contractor but did the general contracting himself.

It took a couple of years to pull the permit, and there were some delays in demolition of the existing house but we are well under construction now.

Construction is going pretty well but I am looking for some subcontractors and hoping the Piggs can help. Some of my subs are either flaky or creeping their prices up now that we are getting down to actual bids so I am looking to get some competitive bids going now.

Right now, I am looking for these:
- Under-floor radiant tubing installation.
- underground (below slab) plumbing.
- framing
- swimming pool re-plastering.

I look for small one-owner companies where the owner lives in east county and is the guy selling the job and doing the work. And they often have a bad attitude, which is OK if they know what they are doing. If they have a sales guy wearing a polo shirt and the office or owner is in North County Coastal, I don't even want to look at them. They charge too much, for sure.

Take the swimming pool re-plastering, for example. I don't want a pool company. They will just go sub-contract out the work to the guy I want to hire directly. I want the guy who comes out w/ a jackhammer and two of his employees to get 'er done.

The under-floor radiant folks are particularly hard to find. I have found a few companies that will turnkey the system, but they farm out and mark-up all the work. I just want the little team that ties the piping to the steel under the concrete.

OK, Piggs, what-choo-got ?

Submitted by sdduuuude on June 19, 2017 - 10:46am.

I should say - in return, I will gladly answer questions about the process of designing and building a house in San Diego. Been contemplating my own blog, actually.

One interesting thing I learned is that different people mean different things when they say "square foot".

Submitted by Rich Toscano on June 19, 2017 - 11:11am.

Welcome back.

(I don't have any useful info for you, just wanted to say that).

Submitted by treehugger on June 19, 2017 - 1:09pm.

Gardner Pool Remodel, a few folks we know used them and loved them. I hear definitely not the cheapest, but supposedly the best in the business.

801 Gable Way, El Cajon CA 92020
 619-593-8880
 619-593-8886

Submitted by sdsurfer on June 19, 2017 - 1:26pm.

I'd be interested in reading your blog and learning about the process you went through. I have plenty of friends that have talked about doing what your doing, but none of them ended up doing it. I've told myself (and the wifey) that I think if we approach it the right way it would be cool to build a house one day. I think there are a lot more people out there telling people not to do it than people explaining that it is possible. Good luck with everything and your logic seems super reasonable to me as far as who to work with.

Submitted by sdduuuude on June 19, 2017 - 2:52pm.

That is an interesting way to put it - that there are more people telling others not to do it than people saying to give it a shot. And likely the people saying "don't do it" have never done it or tried it.

It definitely isn't for everybody and it requires, above all things, patience.

Also, you have to be able to see things both from a very high level and at a very detailed level. If you are only comfortable with one of the two, you will drown one way or another.

Buying a property that has already been "developed" is also key. Because my property had a house on it when I bought it, I was able to rent it out while we worked on the permit, and it saved me about $66,000 in school fees and Mello Roos-type fees as well. Again - not a typo. $66,000. I think it also saves on utility infrastructure costs, as well. $4500 for water, probably $10K for electric, etc. ALso, we were able to finance the purchase as a normal mortgage instead of a land purchase.

Also critical is understanding that interest is a real, hard cost and along with "patience" comes the ability to afford to be patient.

Submitted by sdduuuude on June 19, 2017 - 3:09pm.

Thanks, Rich. I have been going back and forth over the concept of doing a blog on the house build. Just not sure I want the general public knowing where I live. I have lots to tell about the city, architects, inspectors, etc. Seriously, if anyone is looking to DIY a new house, I'm glad to help.

Unfortunately, contractors are pretty busy now and lumber skyrocketed in the last six months. I expect the next downturn will come as soon as I finish my house, after which builders will be begging for work.

Submitted by sdduuuude on June 19, 2017 - 3:15pm.

RE: Gardener Pools.

Thanks for the referral. Good news is they are family owned and in east county.

Bad news is they have a nice website and are partnered with Leslie pool supplies. Companies with partners like that are unlikely to work with me cuz they won't want to come out and do just the pool surface. They will want to turn key it or they won't do it.

Submitted by OnPoint on June 19, 2017 - 5:36pm.

Let a robot build your house!

Submitted by sdduuuude on June 20, 2017 - 8:22am.

I tried that. Couldn't get it permitted.

Submitted by Rich Toscano on June 20, 2017 - 9:11am.

Wow, for real, you tried it? That robot thinger is so cool.

I am generally un-handy and know nothing about this sort of thing. But lately I've been harboring a fantasy that it might be cool buy a property along the Tecolote Canyon ridge in west Clairemont, and replace the existing house (most of them are small 1960s numbers) with a nice modern open-plan house. That would result in a killer, modern home on a property with a spectacular nature-y view, right on a great walking/biking trail I go to all the time, for a cost that's not TOO much more (I think?) than our current Bay Park house.

My girlfriend says it's way too much hassle and I think she may be right. Reading this thread reinforces that idea... the permitting alone sounds nightmarish. But, it's fun to think about.

One thing I thought was that if I could find a good prefab home with a design I like, it would simplify things a lot. Fewer choices/decisions to make. They seem expensive though. The robot house kinda reminded me of that, though I guess that's a lot more customized.

Submitted by sdduuuude on June 20, 2017 - 12:16pm.

No, of course I didn't ACTUALLY look into it. That was just me being snarky.

I did look, very briefly, into using shipping containers for a pool house, though. It is doable, but the structural engineer said it won't really save you money because if you cut them, you have to re-engineer everything.

Permitting in Clairemont shouldn't be too bad. I would recommend doing what we did and submit a Preliminary Design Review to the city DURING escrow. This is a process by which you ask the city specific questions about building a loosely defined house on a specific property.

We checked up on all the overlays that apply to this particular property and any specific rules so you know, before you close escrow, what you are dealing with.

We learned, for example, that the property was not in the coastal commission overlay. If it had been, we would not have purchased it.

The prelim. design review cost about $4K but it paved the way for a little easier permitting, and let us know what to expect. We also requested exemptions that we were able to use when it came to permitting time.

In Clairemont, you will run into "steep hillside" overlyas, but you can get exemptions by pulling up old grading maps that show the slope is not natural.

I would say the permitting process is not so bad. Again - patience is the key and playing the "I'm just a homeowner" card goes a long way. Finding an architect that is both creative and knows how to negotiate the permitting process is probably the biggest challenge.

And budgeting the city fees is impossible.

Tell your girlfriend "In a year, you will wish you started today." As much time and hassle as I have put into this house, I am so thrilled that I started it when I did.

We pulled a permit in 2 yrs in CV and we used an architect that was more commercial than residential for personal reasons. We could have done it in about 6 months w/ a residential architect.

Submitted by Rich Toscano on June 20, 2017 - 2:17pm.

Cool... very interesting!

Submitted by XBoxBoy on June 21, 2017 - 6:27pm.


Hope you will post some more here about your experiences. I for one would love to hear what you've done and how things worked out for you. (And what didn't!)

Did you use an architect? If so, how did you go about picking them? Do they bill based on a percent of construction costs or a flat fee rate? How much help were they when dealing with the city? Did they try to sell you a lot of "interior decorator" services too? Did you have a good idea of what you wanted when you went into the project or was this something where they provided a lot of the design and ideas?

Do you have a construction company overseeing everything, or maybe a general contractor, or maybe you're doing it all. How much time has this taken?

Are you doing a lot of foundation work, or is that a pretty small part of the job? What style is the house? Where do you see most of the costs coming from?

Anyway, want to really encourage you to either do your own blog, or to post more here about your experiences. Yes we want to hear about it!


Submitted by Hobie on June 22, 2017 - 6:22am.

I'm very interested in the radiant floor. Not very common on the west coast but I think it has great potential, especially with high ceiling homes or just taking the chill out of a workshop.

Since the tubing is embedded in the concrete they create 'zones' with specific runs. I wonder if they build in any redundancy using side by side backup tubes? Also, do you need a thicker slab due to the tubing potentially creating weak points or thinner slab cross section.

Do your architect create the working plans? I'm looking for a draftsman for such.

Thanks and good luck.

Submitted by svelte on June 22, 2017 - 8:18pm.

Exactly the kind of thread this forum needs!

Carry on!

Submitted by gzz on June 23, 2017 - 9:23am.

Have you tried to estimate what the return to your time invested into the project is by the hour?

Like Rich I have thought about development too as an amateur, and I already own the developable property, a medium size single family in OB in lot zoned for 4500sf of multifamily. So CCC issues.

I met someone last year who went this route after retiring. A contractor ripped him off and broke him just as it was nearing completion. It slow walked the work with excuses and demands for more payments then simply stopped and disappeared. The house itself was occupable and very nice, an open concept on a hilltop canyon lot in fact. But the final task was grading and paving the long route from street to driveway to garage and the areas on each side. They left it a mess of deep holes rocks and dirt piles. Without this done, the city would not issue a cert for occupancy, which also prevented him from getting a conventional loan. I told him I saw no options other than a hard money loan at awful rates and paying another contactor. Between the stolen money, delay, and high cost loan it was a financial disaster. Hopefully the rising market made up for it.

Seeing this first hand helped scare me off!

Submitted by moneymaker on June 23, 2017 - 9:48am.

Yes, I imagine a lot of what goes on in building a house is similar in many ways to adding on an addition. Did you leave 1 wall standing?

Submitted by FlyerInHi on June 23, 2017 - 1:24pm.

Gzz, i believe that for multi family you must use licensed contractors. By that I mean only contractors with the proper licenses can pull permits. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong for San Diego city and county.

For single family, you can do owner built. So technically, your friend could build himself as long as he knows how.

BTW, did your friend have utilities without certificate of occupancy? I know that with permit violations, the city/county can order utilities to cut off service, if violations are not corrected timely.

Submitted by bubba99 on June 23, 2017 - 2:17pm.


I really enjoyed reading this post. Please continue to update. Like many I have considered building, but never had the courage.

Submitted by flyer on June 23, 2017 - 4:04pm.

Great thread.

We've jumped through the building hoops on many properties over the years, and it's definitely a challenging, but rewarding experience.

Good luck with all of your projects, sdduuuude.

Submitted by ucodegen on June 23, 2017 - 4:57pm.

A useful link on items needed for permits/plans..

top level:


Building Codes: Nice to have them online now, though I can do without the flash and page flipping noises (can be turned off). Would be better to have in PDF in entirety.

Update: found a way to download a PDF version -- well at least of the plumbing code (I might look later for other code books .. but I gotta get back to what I was working on and stop being distracted)

Ok, ok... got a little distracted: Here is California Residential code:

Submitted by gzz on June 23, 2017 - 10:42pm.

Flyer, not a friend, but someone I bought some high end furniture from. He did have utilities and was living there.

We are not talking about a normal driveway paving, but more like 60 feet and a steep grade, plus some additional front yard areas that would be paved or regraded.

Submitted by pokepud3 on June 25, 2017 - 5:39am.

I am literally starving for this sort of information as I'm looking forward to doing this myself. How much $$$ per sqft do you estimate the project will cost upon completion not including the land cost? I plan on being the general contractor/manager myself and subcontract the other work to save on costs if that's reasonable.

Submitted by Rich Toscano on June 25, 2017 - 9:40am.

Wow, duuude, sounds like you've really hit on a popular topic here.

Maybe I should make a new forum, titled something like "Home improvement and construction." That way if you create a lot of posts on the topic, they will be easier to find in one place.

Anyone have feedback on that idea?

Submitted by phaster on June 29, 2017 - 7:27am.



The Myth of Public Agency protection in the Building Permit Process

...A Primer Building a home or contracting for a work of improvement on your property can be an uneasy, eye-opening experience. Property owners seeking to build or improve their property often need to rely on the expertise of a licensed contractor who is competent in the particular work that must be performed... The relevant state and local building agencies have adopted building requirements that are, in large measure, based upon the Uniform Building Code (UBC). The UBC is published every three years by the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO) and its intent is to impress reasonable standards of construction and safety upon the building public...

As part of its general police power, cities and counties may and do require that a building permit be obtained prior to the erection of a structure on privately owned property. As part of its many detailed requirements, the UBC requires that a building permit first be obtained from the applicable public agency/building official prior to any construction, repair or alteration of a building or structure. To obtain a permit, the building applicant must pay a statutory fee and file an application in writing on a form furnished by the code enforcement agency which identifies and describes the work to be covered by the permit. Plans, diagrams, computations and specifications are also required to be submitted along with the application for the building permit. Once submitted, the application and its accompanying data are then reviewed by the building official and by any other required departments to verify that the proposed work of improvement complies with the applicable building laws of the jurisdiction. If the building official finds that the requisite fee has been paid, and the work described in the permit application conforms to the requirements of the local building code and other pertinent laws and ordinances, the official will issue a building permit to the applicant...

Suppose that a year after the construction of a wood patio in the back yard of your home, one of the floor boards comes loose because the nails used by the contractor were too small and not code compliant. As a result, your child steps through the loose board while playing on the patio and injures herself. What legal recourse do you have available? While you may have a cause of action against the contractor (assuming you used one) for the negligent and defective workmanship, you likely have no legal right to sue the building inspector and/or the city building authority for negligently granting its approval of the construction in the first place. The reality is that if a building inspector fails to inspect your property or inspects the work that was done in an incompetent manner and then issues a final approval for the work that was inspected (or a Certificate of Occupancy for commercial structures), and an injury later occurs because the work turns out to be defective, the city is almost always immune from any liability.

...Building codes, the issuance of building permits, and building inspections are merely devices used by municipalities to collect the revenues that help fund the municipality. When viewed from this perspective, the building permits issued by public agencies are not meant to serve as insurance policies by which the municipality guarantees that each building is built in compliance with the building and zoning codes. The fees a city collects for issuing building permits merely act to offset expenses incurred by the city in promoting the public interest in general, and in no way function as insurance premiums which make the city liable for each item of defective construction on the improved premises. A building permit simply represents to the property owner that the work that was inspected is complete and that all of the required administrative details have been performed by the contractor to the building inspector's satisfaction...

Submitted by biggoldbear on June 29, 2017 - 12:15pm.

Rich Toscano wrote:
Wow, duuude, sounds like you've really hit on a popular topic here.

Maybe I should make a new forum, titled something like "Home improvement and construction." That way if you create a lot of posts on the topic, they will be easier to find in one place.

Anyone have feedback on that idea?

Great Idea! A lot of Piggs have jumped into home ownership and would be great to get advice/experience from a group of people who like to do their research and spend wisely!

Submitted by svelte on June 30, 2017 - 2:52pm.

biggoldbear wrote:
Rich Toscano wrote:
Wow, duuude, sounds like you've really hit on a popular topic here.

Maybe I should make a new forum, titled something like "Home improvement and construction." That way if you create a lot of posts on the topic, they will be easier to find in one place.

Anyone have feedback on that idea?

Great Idea! A lot of Piggs have jumped into home ownership and would be great to get advice/experience from a group of people who like to do their research and spend wisely!

I like the idea too, Rich.

Quite often when I need to learn something about home modifications, I'll do a google search starting with Having a forum specifically for that would help!

Submitted by Rich Toscano on July 9, 2017 - 2:20pm.

OK thanks for the feedback guys, I think it makes sense too. I created the new forum and moved this topic into it as the inaugural post.

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