General Mom

Mom-of-5, building a home in California, step by step, with Faith and Feistiness ~ by General Mom Contractor

Plumbing – How to Avoid the Looney Bin

Do you remember the old Kohler ad where the lady puts a faucet on the architect’s desk and says,”Design a house around this?”

I remember this ad so clearly, like it was a ominous warning from God long ago! Don’t you love the perplexed look on her husband’s face? He nailed it!

Times have changed in the plumbing industry, dramatically. I would recommend beginning the plumbing shopping right after the style of the house is determined. It will seriously take you that long to:
1. Find fixtures that fit within your budget.
2. Determine finish sections for the whole project.
3. Order the valves for the plumbing rough-in so you are not stuck in a back order time delay.
4. Go to fifty million showrooms and box stores who have limited product lines.
5. Come to grips on how you feel about plastic and if you like paying lots of money for it.

As you know, I’m on a budget but plumbing is a tough one to stay on budget without always picturing a leaky faucet in your mind. Our last house, I bought everything from Home Depot and it barely made five years without issues. We installed all of the faucets and showers ourselves and it was a pain with missing plastic components and the operation was faulty.

10 years later, the quality of plumbing is significantly worse at Home Depot and Lowe’s. It’s an isle of plastic with chrome over it. Plastic inside and out is not a good combo for longevity. Who are these manufacturers kidding?

Even Hansgrohe/Grohe have jumped on the plastic bandwagon. They have an excellent brand reputation and now they are charging a ton of money for cheap plastic trim pieces. They still make a great faucet. But if you want the matching line for the shower, you get plastic shower trim and heads. Get ready to tap your fingernails on everything!

I refuse to pay a lot of money for plastic or even half plastic/half decent quality. So after much stressful deliberation, lack of time, quality for the money, I’m going with Toto and a hint of California Faucets and Kohler. I don’t have the budget, but love the quality of Rohl, Lefroy Brooks, Graff and more.


So, if you will be remodeling or building, remember the brilliant lady in the video. Get on the plumbing fixtures ASAP. Then you can take your time using my previous tips on saving money on the internet!
~ Regards from the looney bin,
General Mom

“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” Ephesians 6:10


Let the Iron Work Begin

Finding the right people to hire is the absolute most difficult and critical part of building a home. It requires talking to many people in the same trade, seeing their work and checking references.

One of the most visual impacting pieces of our project is the iron work. The front door is a full 9′ radius iron and glass door. I researched to the moon and back on this one and it boiled down to a door made in China or handcrafted. Cost was similar but quality was significantly different. So we opted for handcrafted. I interviewed several (10) local iron craftsman and finally settled on Silva’s Artistic Iron Work. He makes everything by hand. Truly a work of art!

We were referred by friends who has his amazing work in their house. I have been to his shop over the past 6 months and have seen him in action. Simply amazing! We also visited a home to see his work recently installed. So the homework is exhausting but will alleviate future headaches.

Silva started on the front door and he sent me this photo of our door being made in his shop! Super duper excited!


Our covered porch has a radius that mimics the front door.


It should look similar to this.

After he completes the door, he will work on the banister. It’s a ton of work but will be a piece of art!

Black Friday to Cyber Monday Tips to Save Money

This is the first Cyber Monday that this, Mom-of-5 kids, was prepared to shop online with new money saving skills. I’ve outlined the detailed steps below to save 5-10% below the advertised sale price!

Step 1: Research what you really want, can afford and most importantly if it will fit in your space in advance of a sale.  Research different brands by going to the store and writing down what you do and don’t like.  Be sure to read all the specs on line and measure to see if it fits. It pays off when you finally find a sale.

Step 2: Register for all the major cash back sites in advance. It’s free! These offer the best selection of stores:
Big Crumbs
Fat Wallet
Be aware that they rotate stores and how much cash back they offer. It’s kind of like the stock market and the percentages fluctuate. Once you know what you want you can search by appliances, toys, boots etc. Then you will see what stores like Sears, Home Depot are offering for cash back. Normally they offer anywhere from 1% to 10% (percentages double for Cyber Monday). Go for the highest cash back!

Step three: Go to the website directly you want to purchase from, Sears for example, to create an account and sign in. Otherwise, you have to do it when purchasing and this makes you feel like you won’t get that cash back with too many steps. Also, sign up for credit cards of those big stores in advance since, on big sale days they give extra savings of points or free financing.  At the least, make sure your credit limit is enough for your purchases when you are ready.

Step four: Close all web pages even if there is stuff in your cart. It remembers you when you come back in the next step.

Step five: Figure out which top three cash back sites are offering the biggest percentages and then click through that link to “shop and buy”.  That link takes you to directly to Sears for example. If you look up at the URL it sometimes says “ref” that means it got your referral site. So Sears will report your cash back at the end of the transaction or report which may take days.  I have received $$ back in my cash back account/paypal within a few days. Some are faster than others. But be smart, keep notes of how much your order was and which cash back sites owe you and what percentage too!

Step six: Use those retailer credit cards for extra discounts during checkout.

Step seven:  There are discount codes that sometimes work for free shipping or for first time buyers. Beware that you need the code during research time to cut and paste. Because you do not want to click through a site like Retailmenot or you will lose the tracking process of the cash back site.

Step eight: Some products have rebates which need your online receipt and postmarked by certain dates.

See, you can do this!! Are you exhausted or excited to save money on your next purchase??

Breakdown of my Cyber Monday Cost Savings:  I found a Bosch Dishwasher that our whole family agreed upon at a local store.  I searched all the box stores to see what deals they offered today.  I have been following a e-tailer in Missouri called Goedeker’s for a year with no tax and no shipping and they had a sale on this Bosch. The model was MSRP $1099, the box stores price $999 today.  My e-tailer had it on sale for a $100 less than that.  Making it $829 no shipping, no tax.  They had a $50 rebate form and I got 2% cash back from my entry cash back site. Our local electric company PG&E is offering an energy rebate of $50 as well.  So for $700 I got one of the top of the line Bosch dishwashers!

Have any savvy savings tips? Please share with us!

Tips on Designing a Home

Surprisingly, designs on paper are sometimes very different than what it becomes in reality. Most people say that they can’t “picture” how it will look. I have a few tips to help minimize the surprise and expense from design to reality.

Since I’m on a nail-biting budget, the structure of the house needs to be designed right the first time because change orders are super expensive and cause delays. Here are some practical tips to get what you want, get what you need and most importantly, you aren’t surprised when it’s too late.

1. Plan for the future. Try your best to think ahead to future lifestyle. That may include more children, bigger children, elderly parents or retirement. Make a list and scrub your plans with that list in hand. We designed our first house with one toddler in tow. We never imagined five children, so we outgrew that house quickly. At the very least, we could have designed the kids bedrooms to accommodate bunk beds for future kids! Thankfully, in the shared bathroom, we designed a door between the toilet and sinks. When it’s bedtime…that is essential! So we kept these lessons in mind and implemented them into the current design.

2. Take an inventory of what drives you crazy at your current house or past houses. Mine include overlapping doors or doors that you have to close one to open another, not enough closet or pantry space, outlets in the wrong places, and narrow walking paths.

3. Pick your favorite rooms and take note of the size of the room and give that to your designer. For instance, 5 x 9 is my favorite size for a private bathroom with a tub. 12 x 12 is my favorite minimum bedroom size for two children. You may want to visit some model homes and bring a tape measure! Beware of those tricky decorators that somehow make a 9 x 9 bedroom look big with a twin and one dresser!

4. Get some blue painter’s tape and lay out room sizes on your floor. With 7 bodies in our house, I love a 4 foot max – 42″ minimum walking path, since I always have someone following and tugging on me.

5. Make cut outs of your furniture to the scale of your design. Place them on the drawings and make sure you cut out a segment to allow for your favorite or minimum walking path. This will ensure the flow is good. If the piano doesn’t fit on the drawing now, it won’t in reality. You don’t want to be surprised at how uncomfortable you feel when it’s all framed!

I haven’t been too surprised during first floor framing, since I have scrubbed every inch of the plan. The second floor may be a bit surprising, since I have an “innovative” laundry room plan. I’ll take picture when it’s finished at the end of the week. I hope I’m right and it’s genius! If not, I will be annoyed at how small it is. The master closet may be a foot too small (yes you should know what bothers you) and I may have too much room around the tub. So we will see if I will be moving a wall back to accommodate. My framer is alerted to this possibility. As soon as the perimeter is framed, then I will remeasure and adjust it. Pulling an interior wall in 6″-1′ is not creating more work in this instance, so there is no change order needed.

One HUGE surprise was the foyer on this house. On paper it seemed average in size based on our old house foyer, past neighbors, model homes. But I am shocked at the height! It’s 20 feet high! I just didn’t envision it. Well, it’s dramatic to say the least. The foyer doubles as a music conservatory. Our piano is nestled under the staircase. I have a romantic notion of the children having recitals with our family watching in the foyer. A Juliet balcony extends over the foyer for a trio or viewing area. It will marvelous. Even seasoned owner builders like us are still surprised and thankfully in a good way!





Second Floor Framing

The last stair was nailed and I got to climb up to our new second floor. I just put my hand over my heart and the view took my breath away.


That is the view from the kids bedroom and our master bedroom is to the right of the scaffolding. This is the balcony looking over to the front door and front stairs.


Framing the second story begins tomorrow and the lumber was delivered today. We still have water, electric and septic to trench before it rains. We should have our roof on in 4 weeks but I’m shooting for 3.5 weeks. Windows will be delivered December 2! I had last minute final decisions that had to be made about door heights, closet heights, pocket doors and newly found usable space. Never a dull moment when building a home!


First Floor, Stucco and Custom Cabinets

And there we have it…a first floor! Woohoo! The opening on the right of the front cement stoop is where our staircase will be. That will be framed when scaffolding arrives on Monday. Since it’s over 20 feet tall in the foyer, there isn’t a way to stack it without the scaffolding.




I finalized our stucco contract today. Stucco is a type of exterior finish that leaves a brick and siding kind of girl spinning. Stucco is essentially a mixture of cement, sand and water. There are fifty million options for finish and trims that this General Mom has to decide on, quickly. So I selected a light sand finish with a color coat mixed into the stucco. I am having the trim made locally out of casted concrete which looks like limestone. This will give it a nice Mediterranean look.




My cabinet maker stopped by today to measure the kitchen. I literally was so focused on our discussion of ideas, that we both didn’t notice the framers were putting a huge 400 pound beam over our heads! He will get shop drawings together and then it will take several months for him to make the cabinets. So exciting! I can’t wait until you see the secret pantry door!



Don’t let my framers kid you…they love all the photos I take of them! I’m like paparazzi following them around taking pictures.


Just Keep Building

Pretty much all our married life of 15 years, we have been in some kind of construction mode.

We bought a fixer-upper after our first year of marriage. We gutted it ourselves and worked inside and outside for 4 years.

Year six, we decided to buy an acre of land and build a custom home in IL. We had a one year old at that time and I was the General Contractor. From beginning of design to moving in was only 9 months! Mind you, it was unfinished when we moved in. What a adventure to have plywood floors and countertops with a toddler!

Year 12 of marriage, we made the big move to CA. We looked at houses to buy but nothing seemed right. Then God brought us to our property and it just melted our hearts. It felt like home. We’ve been on this journey since June of 2012 and 13 years married. The saying is true, ” A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor!”

So now when I see the framing, it really feels surreal. I have every inch of the house memorized on paper. But when I stood at my kitchen window today, I was so thankful and overwhelmed with gratitude and peace.

Picture the scene out of Mark chapter 4. The disciples are in a fishing boat, the sea is raging and Jesus is sleeping and the disciples have lost their minds.

Mark 4:35-41 Jesus Calms a Storm
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

I just love that Jesus was sleeping. (Some kind of omnipotent fake sleeping I bet.) Without any fear or hesitation but out of love and concern, Jesus awoke and pronounced over the raging sea, “‘Peace be still.’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.”

I don’t know what the sea ahead of me looks like, but I know The One who has navigated us through many waters. I pray you do too. Trust Him.






All Choked Up!

Today was a huge milestone! Framing the first floor started today.

I purposely waited until after lunch to stop out at the property, since I wanted to be surprised. I didn’t realize I would be all choked up and wiping tears from my eyes! It was one of those moments that you plan for so long and it’s everything you imagined but better. It’s a humbling feeling too, that God has gotten us this far.

They got really far today with the exterior walls and some of the interior walls. We have four carpenters making sections of the plan of 2″ x 6″ walls that are 10 feet high. They lay it all out like a puzzle on top of the subfloor. Then, they have to heave-ho each heavy section into place and sometimes up above pipes and hold downs. I tried to “help” and it was some serious heavy stuff. So, I went back to cleaning up nails and such.

I also had my first kooky California “Green Build” meeting. A nice consultant arrived in her Prius and went through a 3 page checklist of all the points we have to achieve or the county won’t give you final occupancy. We have to do normal things like buy energy star appliances and put in high efficiency air conditioners. However, she has to inspect all the glues and paints are low VOC, the fireplace meets EPA, show receipts of where we are recycling our garbage and even check the moisture content of the wood for framing. It was staggering. I think I may have wiped a tear during that hour long description of additional things to do!




Here Kitty, Kitty!

It seemed like folk lore to us when we heard Mountain Lions lived in our area. Mountain Lion wasn’t even in my vocabulary being from IL! We have proof now that a big kitty came on our building site and drank water from the concrete wash out area.

We’re on high alert since our kids are at risk when we move here. No fence will keep them out, as this will only aide in their agility training. Afterall, they climb trees, so a fence is nothing! They are said to kill a deer a day. When we first bought the land, we found a big deer that was drug up under a bush. Just below the house, we found 5 deer skulls and we named that area “The Dining Hall.” Then last week, a lion ran out in front of the neighbor’s car at 9pm. She said it was as big as a Great Dane!

We might need to call the county to have it removed. There are some pretty sad attack stories involving adults and kids.

A friend sent me photos of lions on his property that his hunting cameras took when it sensed motion. The hubby was searching amazon last night for these cameras! That song, “I always feel like somebody’s watching me” keeps going through my mind. Maybe we really don’t want to see what lurks in the dark!






Concrete and Plywood

Friday, we passed our insulation inspection which allowed us to cover it up with plywood floors. So now, we can start framing on Monday. So excited I won’t be falling through the joists anymore too!

Saturday morning at 6 am, when it’s still dark and the mountain lions are looking for breakfast, concrete was delivered for the garage, front stoop, back yard landings and terrace.

The hubby was able to check everything out and do what he does best, quality control. He reluctantly made one of my sappy Pinterest pins come true by making a heart with our thumbprints in the wet concrete in the garage corner. Neither of us wanted to mess up the beautiful job they did, so this was a good solution to make our mark. Don’t you think it’s super cute?