First Things First...
Choosing a Place
Finding a Builder
The Construction Begins
Monitoring Weekly Progress
The Final Inspection/Delivery
Installing the Appliances
Problems - Part 1
Problems - Part 2
Problems - Part 3
Problems - Part 4
First Things First… Posted June 15, 2013
When I decided that I wanted to move to and live in Norway, the first question became: Where? The answer to that wasn’t too difficult. Since I had really not seen any place here that wasn’t incredibly beautiful, I decided that I would be willing to live practically anywhere in this country.
There were two specific areas in Norway, however, that held a special attraction for me. My father was from Mysen (in the south-eastern part of Norway). I was born there, as well. I figured that if I lived in that area, people there would know my last name, and know that I – and my ancestors – were part of that region. I also had some cousins and an aunt living there. The other area of interest to me was the Sokndal region in the south-western part of Norway, where my mother was from. I had visited that region most often during my previous travels, and I also had several relatives, including a half-brother, living there, too. But even though I would like to have settled in either of these two areas, I was looking forward to living anywhere in this beautiful country.
The question then became: Do I want to own or rent? Since I wanted to live in Norway long-term, I quickly decided that I wanted to own the place where I lived. I didn’t want to be at the mercy of forces that I would have no control over (such as rising rents, sale of the building, etc.).
The next question was: Did I want to live in an apartment (condominium) or a house? Here, I was open to both possibilities. The apartment option included various scenarios ranging from living in a high-rise apartment building, to living as part of a tri-plex or a duplex, etc. Although this would involve some compromise to privacy, I considered this option. If I chose to live in a stand-alone house (“enebolig”), then the decision would be whether I would try to find an existing home or to try to build a house on a building lot (“tomt”). Again, either option was OK with me.
I searched through the internet to identify different realtors that operated in Norway. I found one website that lists thousands of properties in Norway that are for sale, including building lots, older homes, new homes, and apartments, almost all with photographs and contact information for the realtor companies involved ( www.finn.no ).
And so the search was on…
Choosing a Place Posted June 15, 2013
Once I started searching for a place to live, it soon became apparent that – whatever I found – it was going to be expensive. Not only houses and apartments, but building lots were expensive, as well. And, just like real estate everywhere in the world, other key factors in the prices were: location, location, location. A house or a building lot with a view of the ocean would easily sell for double or triple the price (or more) as compared to an equivalent property elsewhere. An apartment in the center of a city sold for more than another apartment on the outskirts.
During my search, my half-brother (who lives in Norway), contacted me and offered to sell me a plot of land that he had bought for himself many years before. This land was a very small part of the farm that had been in our mother’s family for many generations and for hundreds of years (at least since the late 1500s). This was the farm where our mother was born and where she grew up. She had told me that her years growing up on that farm were some of the best times of her life. My brother originally wanted to build a house for himself on that property, but his plans had changed over the years and he no longer had use for this land.
Of course, I jumped at the chance. Not only was this an opportunity to live in a beautiful, rural area (which I preferred, compared to living in a city), but this land had a long history and family connection. This is where my mother grew up, where she laughed and played, where she was happy. Also, one of my cousins owns the rest of this farm, so - although his home was a few hundred meters away - I would have relatives living right 'next door.'
There is also a rune stone about 100 meters from the edge of this property. It is narrow and almost 2 meters tall, and the runes inscribed on it are very worn. I’ve been told that archeologists have studied this stone and they determined that it commemorates a Viking battle that occurred in this area approximately 1,000 years ago. This place also has history.
So now I had a location – a building lot. Because of this, another decision had been made for me: I was going to build a new house on bare land. That opened up a whole new adventure…
Finding a Builder Posted June 22, 2013
Now that I knew that I was going to build a house, and I had the land to put it on, I needed a builder.
During a vacation trip to Norway, I personally contacted four or five different construction companies in the area. I explained that I wanted to build a house on raw land, and I told them where the lot was. They were all agreeable. I then mentioned my special circumstance: that I was then living in the U.S., and I would not be physically in Norway during the construction process. That was unusual, but they all agreed that it would still be possible. I also collected all of the available catalogues that each company had that showed various designs of single-family homes.
During this same trip, I also contacted a Norwegian bank and spoke with one of their loan officers. I explained my situation, and that I wanted to build a retirement home in Norway. Again, my circumstances seemed somewhat out of the ordinary, but workable. We discussed various levels of down-payment, loan terms, etc., and she gave me a list of financial and employment documentation that would be required.
Catalogues are fun – they’re like wish lists. I look at the pictures and imagine what it be like to live in such a house, and I also dream about the potential uses for such a home and its ability to accommodate my needs as well as that of expected visitors, etc. Fun.
After returning to the U.S., I carefully chose one or two designs from each builder’s catalogues. My basic requirement was that it needed to have a balcony. I had never before lived in a house with a balcony, and I’ve always thought that I wanted to be able to sit in the sun while reading or overlooking beautiful scenery and surroundings. My wife’s basic requirement was that it would have a small sauna. I have seen such saunas attached to bathrooms, so I didn’t see this as a major problem. With me on my balcony and my wife in her sauna, I thought that life would be good.
As I wrote back and forth to each builder during the following weeks and months (asking about designs, possible alterations, etc.), I noticed that, one-by-one, they started to drop out – they stopped replying to my messages. I don’t know if I was taking too much of their time with my e-mails and my questions, or if it was difficult for them to understand my English (or perhaps other reasons). I tried to let them know that they could respond in Norwegian, but I sometimes would ask for clarification if I didn’t understand something.
Anyway, the end result is that only one builder stayed with me and continued to reply to my e-mails and respond to my questions. By default, that company became my builder – the general contractor. It turned out that this particular company was a relatively large construction company in Norway with a lot of experience in home building.
With this builder, I had been looking at two particular designs. After some discussions (including potential costs), I eventually settled on one basic design.
Now, I had a building lot and a general contractor. I had a bank willing to work with me for financing. I also had chosen the house design I wanted. I thought I was on a roll. However, I hadn’t counted on the paperwork. . .
Paperwork… Posted June 29, 2013
As with most major projects, building my house involved a lot of paperwork. First, after a house design was chosen, a detailed building plan was developed with the construction company (the builder). Then, the builder obtained bids from subcontractors for digging a water well, excavating the foundation and septic tank system, and the plumbing and electrical work. This was all assembled into a 36-page contract. Attached to this was an additional 17-page copy of the relevant contract laws of Norway. Of course, all of this was in Norwegian. I tried to read and translate parts of this, but – in the end – I essentially signed it on faith.
I was building on what had previously been used as farm land. In order to convert land that has been used for agricultural purposes into a building lot for a home, permission is required from the local governmental agency (referred to as the ‘kommune,’ which is roughly equivalent to the ‘county’ in many U.S.states). When my half-brother had owned this lot before I bought it from him, he had requested and received this permission many years previously. Therefore, new, updated permission to build a home there was not difficult to obtain.
The road that leads to my cousin’s house (as well as to other homes and farm properties behind him) lay on this building lot, and my house was going to be placed squarely on that road; therefore, a new road needed to be made to allow access for these people. That meant another trip to the kommune to get permission to build this new road alongside my property.
The precise borders of my property had to be established, and this required a ‘målebrev’ from the national government mapping service (statens kartverk). This took a few weeks, and a lot of money.
Also, before building could begin, the neighbors within the immediate area needed to be notified that a house was being built, and these neighbors were thus given a chance to object to or comment on the proposed structure. They were given 30 days to respond. If there were any objections, then these objections would have to be addressed. This took time.
There needed to be an underground drainage pipe installed from my property to a stream that runs nearby. This required another permit from the kommune. Also, there are two small sections of grazing land located between my house and this stream, and these parcels of land are owned by two different people. In order to lay the pipe through their properties, these owners needed to give their permission. Negotiations and arrangements were eventually made to do this, and these documents were submitted to the kommune.
Of course, the bank required paperwork in order to give me a loan, and – once that was done – a financing guarantee document from the bank needed to be provided to the builder.
While this process was ongoing, the water well had been dug on the property (by the way, I have seen this well-drilling crew work on other locations, and I was very impressed – they can dig a well, case it, and be finished and gone within 24 hours). Anyway, when my well was dug and a water sample had been sent for analysis, it was recommended that I have a water treatment tank and filter installed. Those pieces of equipment took up room that I didn’t have with the existing house plans. After studying different options, I decided to have a small storage room added to the side of the house, with its own entrance. This added approximately 50 square feet of floor space to the house. Unfortunately, this small storage room changed the total size and layout of the house enough that another notification had to sent out to the neighbors – with the new plans – and they were given an additional 30 days to either comment or object to the house plans.
Besides these documents that I’ve listed, I’ve probably forgotten other paperwork that needed to be completed. However, once all of the documents and permission forms had been obtained and signed, then a building permit was finally issued. This process had taken about five or six months since the building contract had been signed, and I was anxious to see the building get started.
The Construction Begins… Posted July 7, 2013
After the months of paperwork and permission-gathering work, the construction phase of the house finally began. First came the excavation, and then laying the foundation and concrete work. The framing soon followed. My cousin’s daughter (who lived nearby), was kind enough to take photos of the progress of the construction work, and she e-mailed them to me periodically. It was great to see what was happening, since I couldn’t be there myself.
This construction phase also brought on new decisions that had to be made.
In the original bid and contract, there were certain amounts included for basic services from the plumber, the kitchen supplier, and the electrician. However, these were very basic services and items. For example, the basic bid from the plumbing company included a shower (but no shower stall or enclosure), and their basic bid included a sink for each bathroom (there are two bathrooms), but no mirror or cabinets – these were extra items that I would have to order and pay for myself, separately.
As the excavation began, I was in contact with each of these subcontractors, identifying what was included in their original construction bid, and what would be ‘extra.’ I was trying to be conservative – and I was becoming very cost-conscious – so my ‘wish list’ wasn’t long. Even so, the added costs for each supplier amounted to approximately 30,000 NOK to 50,000 NOK. Added to this was the water treatment and filtration equipment that I needed, and which was ordered through the plumbing company.
The contractor also needed to know what kind of interior walls I wanted. Depending on my preference, different types of materials needed to be ordered. If I wanted to wallpaper any of the rooms of the house, one type of wall would be built. If I wanted to paint the interior, another type of wall was needed. Since I was not in Norway, I decided to go with the option that required the least preparation on my part: paneling. Of course, that was extra.
The contractor then needed to know what kind of floors I wanted. Depending on my preference, different subfloors would be built, and the cost of the floors themselves would be extra. I originally wanted to have wood floors throughout the house, with carpeted floors for the bedrooms. However, I was unable to find a carpet sales/installation company that would work with me via e-mail, so I ended up ordering wood floors for the bedrooms as well. Extra.
In my original building contract, I had ordered floor heating cables for the bathroom floors. But the bathroom floors themselves were extra. I had contacted two tile companies to see if they would give me bids for the bathroom flooring. Again, only one company ended up willing to work with me by long-distance, and so they got the work.
Again, since I was not living in Norway at the time, I needed the house to be finished as much as possible – I wasn’t able to do any work on it myself. I therefore asked if the outside walls of house would be painted. The answer was “No,” but I could have it primer-coated, and the cost would be extra. I ordered the primer-coated walls, and the workers used pre-primed wood on the outer walls.
I was asked if I wanted moulding around the inside windows and doors. That was extra. Did I want this molding to be painted? That was extra as well.
The building contractor had a special form for all of these “extras.” In the U.S., I believe they’re called “change orders.” In Norway, the form says “Endringer” (changes) on the top. Throughout this process, I signed many “Endringer” forms.
Although it was sometimes difficult for me to contact and communicate with the different subcontractors and outside suppliers for the different “extra” things needed on the house, the main builder was doing me a favor. If the main contractor had arranged for these extra services and products themselves, they would have added 10% to the subcontractor charges. By arranging and paying for these myself, I was saving money.
Monitoring Weekly Progress Posted July 15, 2013
As I’ve mentioned before, my cousin’s daughter took pictures of the house construction as it progressed, and she e-mailed these to me weekly. This was great. Besides letting me see the step-by-step progress of the house, these photos were extremely helpful to me in trying to monitor the construction process. When I saw something in these photos that I didn’t understand – or that I thought was not correct in regards to the construction plans – I would send an e-mail the construction foreman about it. He would then either explain what was happening, or make the correction. I tried to be sensitive of the foreman’s time, and I tried to not bother him too much.
There were two carpenters working on the house, off and on, throughout the winter. After the framing and some of the outside work was completed, the inside work started. It was interesting to see the electrical wires going in, and the heating cables for the bathroom floors.
Eventually, the floor tiles were installed in both bathrooms. When I saw those photos, however, I noticed that the floor tiles had not been installed in the little sauna that was connected to the main floor bathroom. I sent an e-mail to the tile company, reminding them about the sauna. The following week, the tiles were there.
On another occasion, I noticed from a photo that the ventilation system blower/filter unit was being installed in a very small space in the attic, just under the edge of the roof. This would severely limit access to the unit. The house plans, however, showed that this unit was to be installed in the adjoining storage room (which would give easy access to it). I sent an e-mail to the foreman, and was told that this was a temporary placement.
During this construction process, I had ordered the kitchen cabinets, countertop, appliances, stove ventilation fan, etc., through the supplier arranged by the builder. We made up a kitchen to fill up the space that was available, and the kitchen supplier transmitted this information to the construction company. I was later given another floor plan with the kitchen items drawn in. I noticed that there were large gaps in the plan – a 30 cm empty space along one kitchen wall and a 6 cm space along the other. After a few quick e-mails, I found out that the kitchen supplier had initially been given the wrong dimensions. We then constructed a new kitchen to fill in all of the available space. No one had mentioned anything, and I shudder to think what my finished kitchen would have looked like if this hadn’t been caught.
Curtains Posted July 26, 2013
During the months that passed as the house was being built (some weeks there would be a lot of activity, and some weeks nothing seemed to be happening), I was looking forward to the day that it would be finished, and I could then take possession of it. It appeared that the house would be ready in early summer.
When it was time to take over the house, I wanted it to be as finished as much as possible. I wanted it to be ready to live in. One of the things I wanted to have arranged and in-place was the window coverings. I knew (from previous experiences) that obtaining and installing window curtains and blinds was often time-consuming: windows measured, items ordered, and later installed.
I received some referrals from my family in Norway, and I looked up different companies online. I located two businesses in a city not far from my house site, and wrote to them. One soon dropped out of the running, which left the company I ended up working with.
I described my situation (that is, my not being able to come into the store myself), and the manager willingly worked with me. I told her how many windows there were in the house and where they were (living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, etc.), and she suggested different coverings for the various rooms. Catalogs were e-mailed, and I picked out patterns and colors.
Now came what I thought would be the difficult part: I asked if there was any way that these windows could be measured and installed by her company, and I said that I would pay for someone’s time and mileage to do this (my house was located about 30 km (approx. 20 miles from her store).
The manager said that she could do this herself. This woman arranged with the construction company to make sure the house would be open, she drove to the house to take the measurements, ordered the items, and then travelled back to the house to install them. She did all this for no extra charge. I was very pleasantly surprised, and especially thankful for this service. Also, some of the items were on sale at the time I ordered them, and this store manager even applied these sale prices to my order.
When I did come to Norway to take possession of the house, it was great to have all the window coverings already in place (the blinds for one small bathroom window had to be re-ordered, but that was the only item missing). I could lower the bedroom window covering to keep out the summer sun that first night!
This was an example of great customer service, and I was very fortunate to find this extraordinary store manager. After I arrived in Norway, I went to her store to meet her and to thank her again. It was fun to meet someone in person after having done online business with them over a period of months. Also, I can assure you that I purchased many other household items from this same manager/store after my arrival (bed linens, pillows, quilts/blankets, towels, etc.). This turned out to be one of the more pleasant experiences in my house-building mission.
Final Inspection/Delivery Posted August 7, 2013
After years of planning, months of construction, and probably a thousand e-mails back and forth, I was told that my house was finally finished and available for inspection (and ‘delivery’ to me). Needless to say, I was excited to finally see this end product of one of my life’s dreams.
I really had no concerns about the quality of the workmanship that had gone into the construction of my house. My father was a furniture maker – trained in Norway – and over the years I saw the quality of work that my father produced. The items that my father made were of the highest quality that I had ever seen; I would even venture to say that the products of his work were “perfect” (at least to my untrained eye), without any discernable blemishes. I had decided that if other workers in Norway were trained as my father was, I knew that their workmanship would be of very high quality.
Another trip to Norway was scheduled, and an appointment was made with the construction company. I was assured that the house was ready for occupancy. This would be my first trip to Norwaysince before the construction had started, so I had never personally witnessed any of the construction progress (relying instead on the almost weekly photographs that were sent by my cousin’s daughter). I was traveling about two weeks after school ended for the summer.
When I arrived in Norway quite late in the evening, I stayed at my brother’s home, which is about 40 minutes away from my newly-built house. I was anxious to see the house, but I was tired, too, so I went to bed (I can never sleep on airplane trips). The appointment with the construction company was for 1:00 pm the next day.
With the jetlag and time differential (it’s an eight-hour difference between southern Idaho and Norway), I woke the next morning at about 4:00 or 4:30 am, and couldn’t get back to sleep. The sense of anticipation and excitement overwhelmed me, and I decided to go see the house that morning. I quietly dressed, and took the car that I had arranged to rent during my stay.
After the 40-minute drive, I arrived at the house and was finally able to see it in reality (rather than just through photographs). I had mixed emotions, however; I was excited to actually see this house I was going to live in, but I was surprised to find a very large pile of construction debris at its side. When I let myself in, I was again faced with mixed feelings. The interior of the house looked like it was still under construction; the kitchen and laundry appliances were still in boxes in the living room, and the rooms were strewn with tools, equipment, and debris. It didn’t look at all like it was finished or ready for occupancy.
As I went from room to room, I noticed that there were a couple of boxes of leftover tiles that had been used on the two bathroom floors. Deciding that these tiles would be good to have in case I ever needed to have tiles replaced in the future, I put these boxes in my car.
I felt discouraged as I locked the door behind me. I had been hoping that I could stay in the house that evening, and it didn’t look like it was nearly ready. I drove back to my brother’s house and waited there until it was time for the appointment with the construction people that afternoon.
When I returned to the house a few hours later to meet the two people from the construction company, I was greeted with a total surprise: the pile of debris had been removed from the outside of the house. When we entered, I was astonished to see that the interior had also been cleaned up; the tools, equipment, and trash were gone, and most of the appliances had been unpacked and installed. It looked like a completely different place than the one I had seen just a few hours earlier, and I would never have imagined that it could have been cleaned up and transformed in such a short time. I mentioned to the construction manager that I had been there that morning and I described what condition it was in. He told me that he had a couple of workers clean it up before our meeting. Considering the condition of the building when I saw it earlier, the transformation was remarkable (and I would have thought impossible). Afterwards, I was glad that I had removed the boxes of leftover floor tiles from the two bathrooms earlier; in their zeal, I'm sure that the workers would have "cleaned up" these boxes as well.
After a brief inspection (and many questions on my part), we found very few things that needed attention or correction. There were problems, however, with some things that the plumbing subcontractor did (and didn’t do), but I will discuss more about this later. All in all, I was happy and excited. I was also presented with a couple of housewarming gifts – and flowers! (I had never received flowers before in my life!)
That afternoon, I went to a furniture store and placed my first order: a bed and a kitchen table with chairs. When they were delivered the following day, I mentioned to the delivery driver that “At least now I can eat and sleep.” I’ve seen this same driver several times since then, as I have been able to buy more and more furniture. It’s been a challenge to outfit a home from scratch, with no appliances, furniture, utensils, etc., to begin with.
I stayed in my new house that night, using blankets and pillows on the floor. The curtains had already been installed, so I was able to sleep in a dark bedroom.
Installing the Appliances Posted April 12, 2014
As I’ve mentioned, I had come to see the house the day before the final inspection. I was surprised that it did not appear to be ready for occupation, and one of the problems was that the appliances had not been installed (the refrigerator, stove, washing machine, and dryer); they were all still packaged up and sitting in the living room.
When I came the next day for the final inspection, the refrigerator and stove were unpacked and in place (although the refrigerator was not plugged in). I was able to pull out the refrigerator (thankfully, refrigerators have two small wheels in the back), I eventually did find its outlet (which was hidden behind a kitchen cabinet drawer), and I plugged it in. The washer and dryer, however, were a different matter; they were still in the living room.
At the time that I had ordered all of these items from the subcontractor, it was my understanding (well, my assumption) that installation was included (after all, this has been my experience every time I have bought appliances in the past). However, these items had all been delivered several months previously, and – since the house was not yet ready for them – these appliances had been left in the living room.
During the final inspection, I was told by the general contractor that installing the washer and dryer was not part of their responsibility (even though they had placed the refrigerator and stove in their respective slots in the kitchen as a courtesy).
The same subcontractor that supplied these appliances had also supplied the kitchen cupboards, cabinets, and countertop. When these items were delivered, this subcontractor informed me that they could not provide the finish installation of these items because their employee – who normally did this work – had recently quit working for them. I asked if they were getting a new employee to do this, but I was told that they had no prospects and had no idea if (or when) another installation employee would be available. Therefore, I was told to arrange installation through the general contractor. I did so, but I had to pay an additional fee to the general contractor for this extra service (which was not covered by the subcontractor).
Based on my previous experience regarding “installation issues” with the company that supplied the appliances, I accepted this state of affairs and decided I would have to arrange the installation myself. There were three things I needed done. Because the refrigerator was installed in a corner, I wanted the door swing changed to a “right-hand” door (so I wouldn’t have to stand by the wall to open the refrigerator and retrieve items from it), I needed the clothes washer to be installed in the large downstairs bathroom (and correctly balanced), and I also needed to have the clothes dryer mounted properly on top of the washing machine (so it wouldn’t move about or fall off of the washer when it went into its high-speed spin cycles).
During one of my previous lives (i.e., one of my part-time jobs), I have changed doors on refrigerators and I have installed washers and dryers. However, the tools needed for the refrigerator door were different than the limited tools that I had with me. I also did not have an appliance dolly to move the washing machine (they are heavy), nor did I have a level to use to balance it. And I had never installed a stacking dryer on top of a washer. To solve all of these problems, I decided to contact – and pay for – an appliance repairman to come to the house to perform these tasks. I thought it wouldn’t take long for someone – who knew what they were doing and had the correct tools – to do the job right.
After calling around a bit, I found the name and contact information for an appliance repairman in my area. Since I live in a rural area, this is the appliance repairman for this region – no one else appeared to be willing to work this area. After a few calls and leaving messages, a return call was finally received. Contact arrangements were made and directions given.
Then…. nothing. The repairman just ceased communicating – no return calls or replies to emails. I have no idea what the problem was, but the repairman apparently decided he didn’t want to do this work.
I installed the washing machine myself, walking it slowly from the living room to the bathroom and lifting it over the doorway threshold. I found and bought a level, using it to adjust the washer legs to make sure it was balanced as best I could. Mounting the dryer was a challenge. After trying to read and understand some brief installation instructions (written in Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, French, and German), I finally did mount the dryer. Lifting the dryer by myself was a challenge. I’m still not sure I mounted the dryer correctly, but it hasn’t fallen off – yet. It was several months later (after finding and purchasing the necessary specialized tools) before I finally did get the refrigerator doors changed over. If I had not done this previously several times, I probably wouldn’t have been able to change them successfully.
In retrospect, I probably should have asked – or insisted – that the company that supplied these appliances also install them correctly, even though they had delivered them several months previously.
I also hope that – if and when I need an appliance repairman/woman – I’ll be able to find one that is willing and able to do service calls.
Problems – Part 1 Posted August 23, 2013 / Modified September 22, 2013
During and after the ‘final’ inspection, I did notice some problems, but I accepted the house anyway (besides, I didn’t know what my options were in trying to get these problems corrected).
One problem was the placement of the fan blower/filter unit for the ventilation system. As I mentioned in the “Monitoring Weekly Progress” posting on this page, I noticed that this unit was being installed in an almost inaccessible spot just under the outer roof edge. When I pointed this out when I saw it, I was told that this was only a temporary placement, and that it would be moved before the house was finished.
However, when I was going through the house for the final inspection, this ventilation unit was still in the same place I had seen it before (from the photos that my cousin’s daughter sent). I asked the construction foreman about this at the inspection, and he said that the people installing the system told him that this was the best location for the unit and that the people who installed it couldn’t/wouldn’t change it. I was not informed of this at that time I originally brought up the issue. If I had known that the location of the unit was not going to be changed, then I would have requested that the adjoining wall be moved inwards by a little (perhaps by 10 to 20 cm or so), which would make more space available for someone to crawl into that area to service the unit. As it stood, there is only a 40 cm (15 3/4 inches) space alongside that unit where one has to crawl, maneuver, open the side of the unit, and pull out and reinstall two filters. The 40 cm space doesn't even allow for the unit door to open completely.
Trying to make light about the issue, I mentioned that I was getting older and putting on some weight, and my days of crawling and maneuvering in small attic spaces were probably pretty much over (and even 10 to 20 cm more space can mean a lot to old people trying to get around in tight spaces). The people with me at the inspection said that I wouldn’t need to crawl around in there – I could have servicemen and technicians do that for me. Well, servicemen and technicians are expensive – especially in Norway – and it would be very costly to have someone come over just to change the filters once a year.
A somewhat similar issue existed with the placement of some of the fixtures in the downstairs bathroom/laundry room. In this case, it was the plumbing company that didn’t follow the house plans they were given. When the plans were being drawn up, I had carefully thought out and indicated where I wanted all of appliances and fixtures placed But when I arrived, I saw that a cupboard, the utility sink, and the washer/dryer hook-ups were all placed in the wrong locations, different than what were clearly indicated on the house plans.
Besides being an inconvenience for me, these new placements presented a new potential problem. There is a water control/access panel on this bathroom wall, which appears to be similar in theory to a circuit breaker panel for the electrical system. It has a small door by which a person can access the distribution water lines throughout the house. With the new placement of the washing machine hookups, the stacking dryer cover completely blocked this panel. This would mean that the dryer would have to be removed whenever this panel needed to be accessed. I mentioned this during the final inspection, but was again told that someone else – the plumber or whoever needed to open this panel – would be the one to move (or remove) the dryer. I remember thinking, ‘This would not be problem if the house plans had been followed.’
I later talked with the young man I had been assigned to at the plumbing company, and asked why the house plans had not been followed in regards to the placements of those three items in the main floor bathroom (the cupboard, utility sink, and washing machine hook-up).
I was surprised by his answer: “It’s better this way.”
I mentioned that I had carefully planned and determined where I wanted these items, and that’s why there were included as such in the plans. He again repeated, “It’s better this way.”
I then asked who decided that it was better – on whose authority was it decided that it was “better this way.” The young man declined to answer, nor did he explain in what way the changes they had instituted were "better.".
I don’t know if these could have been a ‘deal-breakers.’ Perhaps I should have insisted that the ventilation unit be reinstalled and that the bathroom fixtures be restored to their original locations as shown in the house plans. I didn't know how far I could have pushed these issues - to make these changes at that point would have meant some serious remodeling work.
Instead, I accepted the fact that the main floor bathroom appliance fixtures are where they are and that the ventilation unit was placed it was. I figured that I was just going to have to lose some weight and to limber up my joints before having to crawl into that space to change the filters. I have changed the filters on this unit three times since building the house, and it has been difficult every time. I do admit to silently cussing while doing this (and sometimes not so silently...).
These are just things I'll learn to live with...
Problems – Part 2 (Posted September 9, 2013)
When I went through the final inspection of the house with the representatives of the construction company, I noticed a couple of other things that were either missing or were glaringly wrong. Both of these had to do with the plumbing company that had been one of the subcontractors.
First, I saw that the house’s water treatment and filtration system was missing – it had never been installed! Before the construction of the house had begun, the well had been dug and the water tested (see the Paperwork posting, above). At that time, I was told that I needed to have some treatment of the incoming water in order to make it safe/good to drink. A list of necessary items and equipment were ordered at that time (at least I thought they had been ordered), but now I saw they hadn’t been installed.
This issue warranted a personal visit to the plumbing company that did the work on my house. Their office was in a neighboring city, approximately 30 km (20 miles) each way from my house, so it's not a trip I enjoy making very often..
When I arrived, I asked for the man who had been my contact person with the company. He and I seemed to have had a good relationship and communicated well. I found out that this man was no longer with this company (and had, in fact, left to start his own plumbing company). He was replaced by a young man, who was now in charge of my case.
I asked about the water treatment tank and filtration system that was ordered after the well was dug.
“What system?” he asked.
I explained what had transpired when the well was dug, and that a list of needed equipment was given to me – that I assumed had been ordered.
“Nobody told me about this,” he said.
The young man then retrieved a folder from his filing cabinet and leafed through the pages. There, he came upon the equipment list.
“The other man didn’t tell me about this when he left,” he repeated.
“Could you please order this and get it installed?” I asked.
“Maybe you don’t need it,” the young man stated.
I was surprised at this remark. I explained that the water test done several months ago indicated that this system was needed in order to have drinkable water.
“Maybe the water is OK now,” he said. “We should wait until a new water test is done before we order this.”
I didn’t understand why or how the water quality would have changed between then and now. In any event, this young man requested that I “see how it goes” and wait before ordering this equipment. He also advised me to run all of the faucets in the house for several minutes to see if that would “clear out” the system and provide me with clean water. I didn’t understand how this would work. But after another person suggested the same thing (even though this second advice was from an electrician), I decided to try it.
What I got after several minutes of running the water – instead of clean, pure water – was sand starting to come through the system. I shut off all the faucets.
Over the next few days, I just used the water for normal purposes, and only used it when I needed it. I did notice that the water was not clean and clear, but left small particles of dark material in the bathtub and kitchen sink after they were drained.
So, I finally returned to the plumbing company again, explained what had happened as a result of his suggestion, described the residue in the bathtub and sink, and I specifically requested that they order and install the water treatment and filtration system that had been requested many months before. The young man finally agreed.
What happened after that is another story itself…
Problems – Part 3 Posted September 15, 2013
As I mentioned in the previous post, the young man at the plumbing company finally agreed to order the water treatment and conditioning equipment for my house. He said that it should arrive on Thursday, and that some of his company’s people would be out “first thing” on Friday to install the system. I told him that would be great.
Well… Friday morning came… and went. No workers – and no equipment – arrived at my house. That afternoon, I returned to the plumbing company again (40-mile round trip) to find out what was happening.
The young man at the plumbing company said that the equipment did arrive the day before (on Thursday), but they decided that the plumber who did the original plumbing work on my house during its construction should also be the person who would install the water treatment equipment. Unfortunately, that plumber was a semi-retired man who worked only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so they decided to wait until the following Tuesday to deliver and install the equipment.
I should point out that this was all happening before I moved to Norway – I was on a limited-time vacation, and I was under pressure to get things done. I was feeling some frustration and stress...
Tuesday eventually arrived, and the plumber showed up early. Finally! I had several errands to run that morning, so I left the house and let him have at it. As I drove away, I did notice him carefully reading an installation instruction book, starting at page one. I had two immediate thoughts. One was worrisome: “He’s not experienced with this system,” and the other was comforting: “At least he’s being careful to follow the instructions.”
When I returned, the plumber was just finishing up; the equipment was installed and connected. He proudly accompanied me into the house and turned on a water faucet.
After a little sputtering, water started flowing. Quickly, however, the water turned completely black as ink. The plumber immediately turned off the water, went to another faucet, and turned that one on. Black water again. He became visibly nervous, went outside, and started calling people on his phone. After a few minutes – when it appeared that he was waiting for a return call – I asked him to explain to me how the system was set up – what went where.
The plumber showed me where the water entered the utility room from the well, and then it went from here to there, to there, etc. When he pointing out where the water entered the water treatment tank, he stopped. He looked at the tank for a few moments, and then he uttered the equivalent of “Opps, I made a mistake.” He immediately whipped his wrench out from his pocket and attacked the hose with it.
The plumber had connected the incoming water line to the “Out” connection of the treatment tank, and thus the output line was hooked up to the “In” connection. He furiously reconnected the hoses to their proper positions. At that time, I wondered if he would have noticed this error if I hadn’t asked him to show me how the water went through the system.
I left the plumber alone, and went into the house to put away the items I had bought on my errands. The plumber was still working in the side utility room when I noticed that he received his expected return phone call.
After some time, the plumber came back into the house. He proudly turned on a water faucet again. After some sputtering of black ink, the water soon ran clear. He repeated this process at the second faucet. After running the water for a minute or so, he cupped some water in his hand, put it up to his nose, and said that it smelled good. He invited me to smell it, also, but I declined, saying, “My sense of smell isn’t very good anymore. I wouldn’t be able to smell if it was good or not.” He then drank some of the water from his hand, and again offered me to do the same. He said it tasted fine. Remembering all of the black water that had come out of that faucet just a few minutes earlier, I was apprehensive. I joked, “I’ll call you on your phone in 15 minutes, and if you’re still alive, then I’ll drink the water.” After this, however, the water system seemed to work alright.
Before leaving the country, I returned to the plumbing company again. I asked the young man – my designated contact with the plumbing company – if he (or someone else there) could explain to me what types of service my water treatment system would require. He advised me to contact the wholesale company from which they obtained the equipment for this information. I asked if his plumbing company serviced these systems that they installed or if they at least replaced the water filter cores (and how often should this filter be replaced). Again, he referred me to the supplier of the system. I found these responses quite odd, but I left it at that.
After returning to the U.S., I continued to have a nagging suspicion that maybe things were still not quite right with that water treatment system. I later found out that my suspicions were correct…
Problems – Part 4 Posted September 21, 2013
Even though the water system seemed to work (I got clear, drinkable water), I still wasn’t sure everything was set up correctly. It wasn’t until after I had moved to Norway that I was finally able to address my concerns.
After my arrival, I made contact with the supplier of the water treatment system, and I also visited their office (about 92 km – or 56 miles – each way). I purchased a replacement water filter from this company, and I was told that they are a wholesale sales company, and, therefore, they usually deal through local plumbing companies (rather than directly with the retail customers). They also said that the plumbing company that installed my system should be capable of servicing the system. That’s when I finally decided that the plumbing company that I had been dealing with – or at least the young man that they had assigned me to work with – apparently didn’t want to deal with me anymore.
I let this wholesale company know about my concerns regarding the installation of their water treatment system, and I asked if they could come to my house and check it for me. I realized that they were rather far away from my home, but I hoped that they would have a technician in this area sometime, and they might then take a look at my system.
After a few weeks, the owner of the company himself made the trip and inspected the system. He then informed me that the system was not installed correctly and was wrong on several points. He did a partial repair by moving the water filter to its correct point in the water supply chain, and then noted the other problems by taking pictures. The following week, he e-mailed me his evaluation of the installation along with a description of the needed corrections. He said that the plumbing company that installed the system didn’t follow their installation directions (so I guess that the semi-retired plumber who came to my house didn’t read the installation instructions as well as I had thought).
Meanwhile, the plumbing company in question had merged with one of the companies in my nearby town, so that there was a local office I could now go to. This meant that I didn’t have to travel so far to contact the company anymore, and I also wasn’t stuck trying to deal with the young, uncooperative representative I had been assigned to.
I went to the local office of the plumbing company, and expressed my concerns about the incorrect installation. I brought a copy of the e-mail and diagram I had received from the owner of the wholesale house. After a bit of back-and-forth, they agreed to come and look at the system. I didn’t hear back from them for a few days, so I stopped by again. I was eventually told that one of their plumbers looked at the system and had decided that – even though the original instructions hadn’t been followed – the water system should work just the way it was. I sent this information to the wholesaler. This led to a couple of weeks of back-and-forth exchanges between the plumbing company and the owner of the wholesale house that supplied the system. Finally, the plumbing company agreed to correct the installation.
Another week or two went by, and the plumbing company eventually fixed the problems. I mistakenly thought that this issue was then finally settled.
The following day (after the repairs had been made), I heard a loud thump-thump sound coming from the storage room where the water system was located. It was bizarre, in that it sounded somewhat like a heartbeat: thump-thump, thump-thump, and I could hear it throughout the house. This only occurred after I ran some water, such as when using the shower or sometimes after flushing a toilet. After about 15 to 20 seconds, it would stop. I investigated and found that the sound was coming from what looked like a pressure-controlled switch near the input of water line from the well. This meant another trip to the local plumbing company office.
I was able to talk with one of the plumbers, and he told me that this sound was completely normal. When I told him that I’d never heard this sound before, he was surprised and again insisted that it was a normal function of this switch. I asked for someone to come and look at it, anyway (and I wondered as I walked out to my car how often that line works with customers: That’s normal; don’t worry about it!).
The plumber who had made the correction repairs eventually returned to the house. I was home this time, and I was able to talk with him directly. He did tell me that “No, this sound is not normal.” The item making this thump-thump sound was a switch that was supposed to turn on the pump when the water pressure in the pressure tank indicated the need for more water. He said that he disassembled the switch, cleaned it, and re-assembled it.
This worked fine for about 24 hours, then the thump-thump returned. I began thinking of this sound as the heartbeat of my house, and I wondered if I had the only living house in the country (with a heartbeat to prove it).
I again contacted the plumbing company, and after another couple of days, the switch was replaced. No more heartbeat.
I was never charged by the plumbing company for these corrections, but the charge from the wholesale house to inspect and advise my on the water treatment installation came to several hundreds of dollars.
One important thing did arise from these troubles and problems. I know that – whenever I need to have plumbing repairs done on my house, or whenever I have my water treatment system serviced – I now know which plumbing company I will never use in the future; that decision has already been made.
Lessons Learned Posted October 11, 2013
This was the first time I’d had a new house built for me, and doing this while I lived thousands of miles away produced some special challenges. Building a house in Norway has been… let me just say, an experience. I’m not sure what adjectives to use to describe it: wonderful, exciting, crazy, difficult, frustrating – they all fit.
The end product of this effort was the culmination of one of my life dreams – my ‘bucket list’ – that is, a home in Norway. But the road to get here was not always an easy one.
Looking back on this whole process, I see where I could (and should) have done things differently. I’ve learned some lessons.
During the design process, I didn’t fully realize how much input I could have provided and what changes were possible. I did make some suggestions and requests, but not enough (after living here, I see where some small changes would have made a big difference). If I were to do it over again, I’d ask for a larger storage room on the side of the house (that now holds the water heater, pressure tank, and water filtration and treatment system). I would have made that room at least one meter wider and a half meter longer. One can never have enough storage space, you know.
I would have added a window on east wall of the main floor living room (right now, it’s a solid wall on that side). A window there would give that room direct rays from the morning sun to help warm and brighten it up.
I would have requested (or demanded) that the house plans be followed exactly, and – if there were any changes contemplated or proposed – that I be notified before any changes were made. Here, I’m thinking about the placement of the air ventilation system as well as the changes made in the placement of some of the fixtures in the downstairs bathroom. I could have made a suggestion in regards to the air handler that would have made access to it much better. But I am especially disappointed that someone from the plumbing company decided – on their own – to make changes in the house plans without even consulting me: the homeowner (besides their failure in neglecting to initially install the water treatment system).
There are pros and cons to doing it the way I did. But – looking at the overall process – if I were to do this again, I think that it probably would have been best if I had waited until I actually came to Norway to build the house.
One of the reasons I wanted to build it early (before I moved here) was to avoid the rising building costs due to inflation. However, I found that – once the house was completed – I was billed for the inflationary cost increases, anyway, that occurred between the signing of the contract and the completion of the house.
Another reason I wanted the house built before I came to Norway was that I wanted to live in my own home as quickly as possible. In that case, I would have needed to rent a place for the time it would have taken to build the house (which would have been a hassle). But if I were living in Norway during its construction, I would have been able to have better contact with carpet stores, tile companies, home decorators, etc., than I had when living in the U.S. These contacts would have been much easier to make and maintain (and perhaps I would have been able to find better prices for the products and services I needed). Also, by actually being in Norway, I could have kept a closer eye on the construction process, and would have been better able to catch deviations from the house plans more quickly.
But, here I am, and life is what it is. I’m happy to be here, and excited to be able to live this dream.
Telephone Hook-Ups Posted May 30, 2014
Frankly, I thought that I was finished with this section of my blog – that being those issues involved with building my home in Norway. After all, the house was completed and delivered to me nearly three years ago. Unfortunately, it appears that surprises keep popping up. In this case, it involves the telephone hook-ups for the house.
When I built the house, the plans called for three telephone connections/outlets: one in the main floor living room, one in the master bedroom (located on the main floor), and one in the small upstairs living room area. Shortly after I moved into the house, I had telephone service installed. The telephone service plan I chose included two cordless telephones. I connected the main telephone line to the living room telephone jack (and plugged its charger into an electrical outlet), and placed the second phone in its own charger in the master bedroom (this second phone did not need to be plugged into the bedroom telephone jack). The phones worked, and everything was fine.
At the same time, I also had Internet service installed (both the telephone and Internet service are from the same company). This was provided through a wireless router that was also plugged into the living room telephone jack. This worked fine, as well, and I could access Internet service throughout my house. All was good … for a while.
My house has two upstairs bedrooms, and I began to use one of those bedrooms as a small office/workroom. I occasionally started spending more time upstairs than I was spending time downstairs. When the house telephone rang, however, I then needed to go downstairs to answer the phone. Even though I don’t get many calls, this became an annoyance after a time. So, I got the brilliant idea of buying a separate telephone and plugging it into the jack that was in the upstairs living room. That would save me having to run downstairs whenever I wanted to answer or use the telephone.
I purchased a telephone, brought it home, plugged it in, and I got … nothing. No dial tone. Not sure what to think of this, I then plugged this new telephone into the other telephone jack that was not being used: the one in the master bedroom. Still nothing. Dead. OK, I thought. I’ve had the misfortune to purchase a telephone that is faulty, right out of the box. To fully confirm my suspicion, I then took this new telephone and plugged it into the main floor living room telephone jack (the one that served my wireless phone and the Internet router). It now worked. This meant that my new telephone was OK. I double-check my findings by plugging the wireless telephone that I had been using into the two previously unused phone jacks, and it did not work in either location. Both of these telephone jacks were dead.
The conclusion: Of the three telephone jacks installed when the house was built, only one of them worked, that being the one in the main floor living room.
Over the past two years, there have been a few very severe thunderstorms in this area (one being rather recent), and lightning had blown out my telephone and Internet service on two different occasions. Telephone company service men have had to come and repair the system before service was restored (both times, small circuit boards were found to be fried and had to be replaced). I thought that this might be the problem here: the past lightning storms may have disabled these two telephone jacks, and I hadn’t noticed because I had not tried using them before.
Although the most recent thunderstorm had not knocked out my telephone service, it had blown out my kitchen overhead light. After trying to fix this myself (and not succeeding), I had decided to ‘bite the bullet’ and call the company – whose electricians had wired the house initially – to come and repair the kitchen light (since I knew that service calls were usually expensive). I also asked them to look into my nonfunctioning telephone jacks.
When the electrician arrived, he quickly replaced the kitchen light fixture. I then explained what the problem was with the nonfunctioning telephone jacks. After a brief examination, the electrician called me over to the electrical panel. Above the electrical panel (where all the circuit breakers are located) is a smaller panel door that covers the telephone lines that come into the house. Inside this door were four telephone jacks in two housings. There was also a short ‘jumper wire’ plugged into two of these four jacks. I had seen this setup before (initially, when I went through the house for the inspection), but I didn’t understand what it was for and I never worried about it.
The electrician explained that these jacks and the jumper wire were to determine which of my house’s three telephone jacks would be ‘hot’ (i.e., operational) at any one time. The way it was then connected, the main living room jack was functional. To make either the bedroom telephone jack or the upstairs phone jack operational, the jumper wire would have to be connected differently for each. When one phone jack was ‘hot,’ the other two were disabled. I asked why it was set up that way. He said that – since I wasn’t nearby when the house was built – they couldn’t ask me how I wanted it set up, so they connected it this way.
I was very surprised! I told him that I’d like it connected so that all three telephone jacks would be ‘live’ (operational) at any one time. I said I didn’t have time to unplug and re-plug that jumper wire every time I went up or down the stairs. He said that he could do this, and went to work.
I also wondered about his statement that I was not around to ask questions of when construction was underway – I was readily reachable at any time by email.
After about an hour and a half of work, the electrician announced that all three telephone jacks were now operational – simultaneously! He tested them all, and all was well – except that I noticed that the Internet was now off (I was working on my computer as the electrician was doing his thing). After about another 20 minutes or so, the electrician announced that he was not able to make all of the telephone jacks working at the same time with the Internet. He said that he was putting everything back to where it was before he started (that is, with only the living room telephone jack working – which meant that I still had my Internet capability). He said that he would have to send another electrician from his firm to do the work I needed to have done, someone who understood the telephone wiring system better than he did.
Another week went by, and the second electrician arrived. I again explained what I wanted (three functional telephone jacks plus Internet), and he got to work. It took him about 30 minutes to get the job done, and done correctly. Now I can use all three phone jacks.
It had never before occurred to me that all of the telephone jacks in a house would not be wired to work when the house was built. I had never previously heard of the set-up that they had initially arranged for me (that is, putting in a jumper wire in an electrical box that I needed to unplug and plug-in to get different phones in the house to work).
In the end, the bill for everything came to a pretty hefty amount (over $ 750 US); I was charged for the replacement of the kitchen light fixture and the ‘repair’ of the phone jack system. But I was also charged for the nearly two hours’ of labor that the first electrician used in his failed attempt to correct the system, along with the time he took to put it all back to the way it was in the first place.
Another lesson learned: Check ALL electrical outlets and telephone jacks to make sure they work when the house is delivered to you. Don’t assume anything…