Presented in reverse chronological order. First time visitors may want to read from the bottom up.

Christmas Update (12/25/2007 - 12/30/2007)
With closing and funding complete, Neal was able to start the site prep work the week before Christmas. Christmas day we drove to Whitewater Springs to see the progress first hand and for the first time we were able to drive about 100 feet onto our property and park the car between the big oak and the grove of smaller oaks. We were also able to see the footprint of the house marked off with little orange flags.

But the real surprise came when we returned to the property 5 days later and parked the car in the same spot. This time the long distance panoramic view from the car was amazing.

The foundation contractor had started excavating the area for the house and garage and had cleared a row of cedar trees that were encroaching upon the footprint toward the rear of the back porches. It's amazing how clearing just a few more cedars opened up the view. Everyone has been telling me that we would have great views once the cedars were cleared but I never could have imaged the impressive view that we're going to have from the first floor. Although I always thought we would have sweeping views from the second floor, I wasn't sure how much we would be able to see from the first floor.

The oak trees have also appreciated the clearing that we did one year ago to the day. Helped by the heavy rains this summer, they have really prospered now that the cedars are not taking all the moisture out of the ground.

To think that a little over a year ago, Alan and Peter were able to see the full potential of this site even though it was so overgrown with cedars they had to meandor their way around and through the cedars and tall native grasses that surrounded the oaks to find the perfect location for the house.

On this trip to Austin we also had to opportunity to meet Neal's wife Nita for the first time. Nita is the other principal of English Partners Inc and will be helping Neal manage the construction process.

Quick Update on the Latest Activities (12/15/2007)
It's mid-December and we had thought by now we might have everything in place for Neal to be able to break ground but it looks like it's going to be at least a few more days. Yesterday afternoon we received the closing papers from the title company so now all we need to do is read, sign and overnight them back to the title company. By Tuesday of next week we should be able so say we have made it through our first "close". Our second and final close will be in late 2008 when the house is complete.

Yesterday, we also received a proposal from Western States Fire Protection Co. for a fire sprinkler system. Although we've always wondered - almost from the very day we bought the property - if we would be able to get fire insurance since we are so far from a fire department, it wasn't until the recent California wildfires that I realized that maybe we should consider a fire sprinkler system. Early in our discussions with Peter we had talked about wildfires and we knew that we were doing everything we could to make our exterior fire-resistant. But we always knew we were at risk on the interior.

In late October California experienced some of the worst wildfires that I can remember and as I was reading about them I started seeing mention of "Shelter in Place" communities. Coincidentally, Whitewater Springs had just become a Firewise Community and was also promoting shelter in place for homes constructed with non-combustible exteriors. In addition to good outdoor "firewise" practices, the California communities also required fire sprinkler systems. So I started doing research and discovered several cites in the US have required fire sprinklers in all new construction residences for as many as 10 years. And from my research I also concluded that fire sprinkler systems were much more affordable then one might think.

About this same time my husband contacted our insurance company about insuring our new home and after asking if we have a fire hydrant within 500 feet (NO), is there one within a mile (NO - but as of a couple months ago, there is a dry hydrant at the bottom of the hill at the community swimming pool) the insurance representative asked if we were going to have a fire sprinkler system which she highly recommended. At the time we were considering it but hadn't made a final decision. She was also very interested in learning that we would have three 2600 gallon cisterns on our property and told us that the Bertram fire department could give us a connection that would allow them to hook up to the cisterns in the event of a fire.

This was all going on just as Donna was wrapping up our plans and Neal was working on his final bid. So at our final design/bid review meeting in November, we asked Neal to add an allowance for a sprinkler system to his final bid to allow us more time to find out if this was something we really wanted to do.

Since then we have learned we will be eligible for a discount from our insurance company if we install a fire sprinkler system. And more importantly, we would be covered for accidental discharge in the event that there is a leak or false discharge. With mesquite floors throughout the house, it was important to know that they would be covered.

Now that we've received Western States Fire Protection Co's bid and it's within the allowance we added, our current plans are to include a fire sprinkler system in our house.

This also marks our final system to include in the house. After a year of design, if we haven't thought of something by now, I can't image that it's something we really need.

Meeting first with Barley and Pfeiffer Architects and English Partners, Inc and later with Presidential Mortgage (11/20/2007)
With the design process complete or as complete as it can ever be when you're building a house for the very first time, we met with Donna, Neal, Peter and Alan to review Neal's final bid. Once again we were pleased with the bid. While it was more than our original ballpark number it was right in line with what we were expecting given the number of items we personally requested to be added to the project. We accepted Neal's bid without modification and eagerly signed a contract with him. Neal has been so helpful during the design process it is good to finally have an official contract with him.

Almost by chance, we learned today from Peter that Neal built the Walburg Beagle House and Donna was the Project Manager. We also learned that the house appeared in an HGTV Landscaper's Challenge as recently as last month. Although, we quite regularly watch Landscaper's Challenge we weren't aware of the Garden on a Prairie episode. So now that we know we will watch for it in case they show it again.

Of all the houses on the Barley & Pfeiffer web site the Walburg Beagle House was always my husband's favorite. And after Barley and Pfeiffer's "Green Building" philosophy, the Beagle house was possibly the next biggest influence in his choice of architects - I had already made my choice long ago and knew that I liked what I think of as the distinctive Barley and Pfeiffer style with metal roofs, a combination of metal, stone and cementious siding, large awnings and overhangs to shade the windows, flared stone columns and fabulous screened porches. So to find out now that Neal built the Walburg Beagle house makes it just that much more significant.

During the construction phase Donna will remain our Project Manager and will provide architectural consultation and construction administration services.

After leaving our meeting at the Barley and Pfeiffer office, we met with Amy at Presidential Mortgage company to make final plans for our construction loan. Following an appraisal of our house plans and a title search we hope to close in about 2 weeks.

Latest estimate for breaking ground is mid-December. We can't wait!

No Meetings but lots of Progress (11/2/2007)
This past week we reached several significant milestones. Whitewater Springs Architectural Control Committe approved our application to build, Peter finished checking our construction design documents(CD2) and Linda completed the interior design finishes interior design finishes package. The next milestones will be to get Neal's final bid and close on our construction loan.

Meeting with Barley and Pfeiffer Architects (10/08/2007)
It was approximately 1 year ago that we first met Peter at the 2006 Austin AIA Homes Tour. As in 2006, Barley and Pfeiffer Architects had a home on the 2007 Austin AIA Homes Tour, but we missed the tour this year because we walked in the Houston Susan G. Komen Race on Saturday morning and on Sunday drove to Austin and then on to WWS to make sure our electricity and water hook-up had been completed as scheduled. With water and electricity now available to our property we're one step closer to construction.

On Monday we met with Donna to go over the CD2 check set. During CD2 the plans have continued to evolve to such a level of detail that I keep thinking there can't possibly be anything else to change. But as Peter, Alan and now Donna have all told us at various stages of the process -- these things are never really finished when you're designing a one-of-a-kind home that has never been built before. So it really was not all that surprising to find out that in addition to the few changes we were considering, Donna and Peter were also still contemplating design changes. Donna said she would let us know if they came up with anything that was a big improvement.

The more major additions during CD2 included a rain water collection system consisting of three 2600 gallon cisterns that will be used for irrigation only, a whole house water filtration/softener system and a home automation system. At the same time, Donna continued to polish and simplify while she also began to work with the structural engineer to define the framing and foundation requirements.

Some of the structural changes that occurred during CD2 included the addition of structural steel to support the swooping ceiling in the screened porch, a design change in the master bath to allow for better support of the floating vanity and a change to the wall at the base of the stairs to allow for a color transition.

Although we're getting very close to the end of design, Donna still needs to finalize her drawings and specifications, have them checked by another member of the Barley and Pfeiffer team and then have Peter personally check the drawings and give his stamp of approval. During this process the structural engineer will also finalize his drawings and notes. Once these tasks are completed the plans are ready for the builder to make his third and final bid.

In the meantime, we will pursue getting approval to build from the Whitewater Springs Architectural Control Committee by submitting an application form, the builder and owner responsibilty forms and the road impact fee. WWS ACC also requires a plot plan, the Burnet County Aerobic OSSF permit, the structural engineer's notes, and various other drawings from the CD2 documents. Currently we have everything except the structural engineer's notes. So rather than delay any longer we're going to submit what we have so the ACC can begin to review our project.

Meeting at Mesa Home Systems (8/27/2007)
When Donna Tiemann suggested we contact a local vendor to help us determine our low-voltage allowance she recommended two vendors. One of the recommended vendors was Mesa Home Systems which just happens to be located on the perimeter of our son's North Austin neighborhood. Although we had driven past the building numerous times my husband was always too busy driving to have noticed it sitting back behind the trees. I, on the other hand, had wondered what they did each time we drove by and was glad to find out that one of Austin's premier home systems providers was so close by.

Our meeting was at 9:30 am Monday morning with Adam Joosten. Adam was still into introductions when he told us he had property near Bertram in a development called Whitewater Springs. Once he realized our property was also in Whitewater Springs he went on to ask us if we knew one of the residents for whom he had installed low-voltage features. Back in 2000 when we toured the development, the salesman had actually stopped and introduced us to this resident, who coincidentally happens to be a retiree from the company my husband works for.

Adam did an excellent job explaining current high-tech (but practical) low-voltage options. He is currently working on a bid and proposal to include a Home Automation System including security and fire monitoring, lighting control, video security ,whole house audio distribution and video distribution using DirecTV for television and high-speed Internet. All of these features can be controlled via wall-mounted easy to use touch screen control panels.

The best feature of all may be the fact that all the wires and all the equipment will be neatly stored out of sight in a hall closet on the second floor. This is the same closet that was originally designed to hold the hot water heater before Peter decided to switch to a tankless water heater mounted on an outside wall of the house. This freed up the space to become an extra linen closet and now will become the "home run" closet. We're so pleased with the way the design of this house just keeps evolving in an effortless way, thanks to the expertise and thoughtful planning of everyone at Barley and Pfeiffer Architects.

Meeting with Barley & Pfeiffer Architects (7/13/2007)
Today was another very successful meeting. We began at 10:00 am with the first of a 3-part meeting with a presentation by Linda Witt of Witt&Witt Interior Design. When we arrived at the Barley and Pfeiffer office we were told we would be meeting downstairs rather than in the more formal meeting room just inside the reception area. As we went down the stairs and entered the room we could begin to see the color pallet laid out on the table. I immediately thought this is perfect. There is no way we could have ever begun to describe or assemble such a soft and pleasing color pallet on our own.

The main walls of the house will be a creamy Sherman Williams Natural Choice, with Softer Tan trim and accent walls of Totally Tan and Halcyon Green. The kitchen counter tops will be Silestone Tea Leaf and the pantry and kitchen cabinets Svelte Sage. The island, buffet and pop-up ceiling in the living room/dining room area will all be stained, however as of the meeting, the species and stain color were still for Linda to determine. Most likely they will be a lighter color than the mesquite floor which Linda will make sure is stained just the right hue of mesquite. Add Daltile French Quarter New Orleans Moss tile for a backsplash and Harvest Blend sandstone columns and now for the first time we can picture our first floor in living color.

The second floor will have accent walls of Svelte Sage, Halcyon Green (which leans more to the blue) and Totally Tan. The countertops in the master bath will be Blue Sahara Stilestone. Linda had proposed a beautiful Limestone tile for the master bathroom but because of the amount of tile we will have in the bathroom and dressing room/closet and the pop-up ceiling on the first floor the weight of the tile was going to be a structural issue. So Donna suggested that maybe Linda could find a ceramic tile that had the look and feel of limestone but not the weight.

The secondary bath on the 2nd floor will be white on white with white cultured marble, white subway tiles in the shower and an off-white ceramic floor tile. The downstairs bath will be very similar but instead of the subway tiles, the floor tiles will be carried into and up the walls of the shower to give the room the look and feel of a somewhat larger room. White on white will give both rooms a very clean look.

Linda also presented her choices for all the specialty lighting fixtures and ceiling fans. Her lighting selections were from Hubbardton Forge - a Vermont company that is a 3 time recipient of the Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence. Her ceiling fan selections were from Casablanca and Craftmade. While we were all in agreement that Casablanca fans offer superior performance, Craftmade offers more design options for light kits so we will mostly choose to go with a combination of the two.

Right around noon, Linda started gathering up her things just as lunch was delivered. While we ate lunch Donna told us about the trials and tribulations of living through a 1 1/2 year remodeling effort that had just been completed the week before. She also went over our design specs with us clarifying any questions we had and elaborating on the recent change - the addition of book shelves - in the study. The book shelves were an additional detail that resulted out of her simplification of the framing to support the cantilevered corner of the upstairs bedroom.

About 1:30 pm Neal English arrived for his part of the meeting. His main agenda item was to let us know his latest bid. So he went over each category in detail letting us know how much and why the figure changed. For the most part all the increases were in the allowance items. In some cases like landscaping the allowance had not been included in the initial bid. For other items, like concrete, the cost of fuel contributed to the increase and of course for others, like the switch from cork to wood floors in the bedrooms, the increase was due to us changing our minds. But all in all we are still OK with Neal's bid so we continued to move forward. Donna then went through some of her recent design changes with Neal and as a result we made even a few more changes. But we're getting down to the end of design so hopefully we've identify all the really important big ticket items and any changes from here on out will be minor.

Neal has been working with Brandon Couch, R.S. to complete the plans for the aerobic septic system. These plans are just one of the documents that we will need to provide to the Whitewater Springs architectural committee when we make application for home construction. In addition, the previous week Neal met Kohutek Engineering & Testing, Inc at our property prior to them drilling two 20 foot core samples. The purpose of the drilling is to make sure we have the correct foundation for the specific soil conditions of our lot. Donna hopes to get the geotechnical report next week. Once she has the reports Steve Conrad will begin to design the foundation.

Central Texas Flood (6/27/2007)
These pictures were taken by our son as he tried to get to our property the morning after 19 inches of rain fell near Marble Falls. Rainfalls between 10 and 18 inches were reported in the nearby towns of Marble Falls, Burnet, Kingsland, Liberty Hills, and Bertram. If you click on the location descriptions above each group of pictures you can see a Google Map of exactly where the pictures were taken.

It took our son 3 attempts via 3 different routes before he was able to get to Whitewater Springs and then only because TxDOT waved him past a road block at 1431 and 1174 after telling him "the road is out at Cow Creek, but it's not bad, just be careful".

Central Texas has been in a drought most of the 7 years that we have owned our property and our home owners association has been encouraging water conservation because of the severely limited rainfall. While we had all been hoping for rain to replenish the Edwards Aquifer we didn't need 19 inches in 3 - 4 hours. As typical with Texas weather it's always extreme.

The pictures labeled Whitewater Dr. @ Cow Creek River (3:30pm) show bridge damage within Whitewater Springs. The majority of the roughly 50 some residences are on the other side of this bridge and consequently most residents can not get in or out of the development if Cow Creek floods as it did today. Normally the bridge stands 12 feet above the water however as you can see by the pictures much of the damage was caused not only be rushing water but large floating debris as the water rushed over the bridge. Phone service and drinking water in Whitewater Springs were disrupted for some period of time and at least one home had water seep into the basement.

Our main learning from this is that even though our property is located on the top of the highest hill in the development and although we don't have to worry about our home flooding, we still need to make sure we stock up on groceries and bottled water because we may not be able to get out to a grocery store. The nearest grocery store is about 15 miles away and you have to cross over all of the same bridges and low-water crossings that prevented our son from getting to our property.

While this wasn't a completely novel learning for us, I think we had always thought the risk of an ice storm was more likely to keep us from getting in or out of our property because of the steep hill we have to traverse on Chaney's Crossing - not to mention all the other hills outside the gates of Whitewater Springs which make this area so beautiful to drive through. Besides we've seen very little water in Cow Creek over the past 7 years and have been lulled into somewhat of a complacency about potential flooding. Now we know ice storms and flash floods, which really are much more likely in Central Texas, can be troublesome for us.

At this point we do not know if the surrounding bridge damages will have any long term delay on our building plans, but it has already delayed the Geotechnical Drilling Report that Kohutek Engineering & Testing, Inc will do for us prior to the structural engineer finalizing our foundation specifications. As of June 29th, 10 more days of rain were expected.

On a lighter note, check out the Barley and Pfeiffer TV Appearances Videos. The This Old House video is an excellent opportunity to not only see Peter Pfeiffer's Austin Energy rated Five-Star home but also to learn about his passion as a "Building Scientist" for "Green Building" techniques that are also shared by the entire Barley & Pfeiffer team. And the Today Show video is an excellent commentary on the current trend toward smaller, more environmentally friendly and much more livable homes than the McMansions that we still see in some parts of our country. By the way, this 1 minute clip took 4 hours to film.

Conference Call with witt&witt Interior Design (6/22/2007)
Today we had the opportunity to meet Linda Witt of Witt & Witt Interior Design for the first time via a 3 way conference call. Linda will help us finish out the details of our interior and wanted to do some programing to get an idea of what we liked, what we didn't like and what we just had to have.

For the most part, we really don't have any definite ideas of how the interior should be finished out, so we told Linda she had carte blanche to do whatever she thinks works the best. That's been our approach throughout this entire project and it's worked really wonders for us.

However, we were able to offer Linda a couple of starting points for her design. The first certainty is Lometa Autumn Blend sandstone which will be used both on the exterior and interior. And the second certainty is Texas mesquite hardwood flooring from Hardwood Designs which will be used in all rooms except the bathrooms and screened-in porch. Although we do have a few items from our current home that we want to be able to incorporate into our new home, we are pretty much open to color and material suggestions and recommendations from Linda and can't wait to see what she puts together for us.

Meeting with Kirby Stone Company (6/16/2007)
For some time we've known that the stone for our house would come from Lometa, Texas which is just north of our property. But what we didn't realize was that the corporate office for Kirby Stone Company was in Baytown, Texas where my husband grew up and we both graduated from high school.

After taking my mother to lunch at Chili's on Garth Road and I10, we met Doug, a 7th generation Baytownian, and his father Bo Cox at their corporate office parking lot to pick up samples of Autumn Blend Sandstone. Doug keeps the samples of Lometa Sandstone - some fairly large and heavy - in the back of his pickup truck.

We will have quite a bit of stone in the interior of our house so the stone samples will be a major influence and starting point for all our interior selections.

Meeting with Barley & Pfeiffer Architects (6/08/2007)
Today we met with just about everyone on our project team. Peter, Donna, Neal and John Chapman who works with Neal participated in various segments of the meeting while Alan stopped by a time or two to say hello and see how things were going. Today's meeting marked the completion of CD 1(Construction Design Phase 1) and represents another major milestone in the design process. With just one more design phase to go, we're really looking forward to the start of construction this fall.

When we arrived at the Barley & Pfeiffer office Peter greeted us with exceptionally good news about the energy analysis that had been conducted on our house. Peter was so pleased with the results of the energy report that he said our house was one of the niftiest houses they have designed. The analysis indicated that the almost 3000 sq foot house could be cooled with just one 2-ton heat pump per zone(floor).

Initially, Peter had talked of using a hydronic system which uses water from the hot water heater to heat the house. But instead he has decided to use a hybrid heat pump system which uses a gas fired furnace to heat the house on extremely cool days. This change allowed him to replace the large hot water heater in a closet on the second floor with a tankless water heater mounted in an inconspicuous place on an outside wall. The removal of the hot water tank allowed space to add another linen closet on the second floor.

Although the attic and walls will be insulated with spray foam, Peter explained that there is still some energy loss where the wall studs meet the exterior surface. With that, Peter explained a new technique to us and Neal that he wants to use on our house. This new technique calls for setting each wall’s foot plate back from the edge of the foundation 3/4 of an inch to allow a layer of insulation between the studs and the exterior surface. Peter asked Neal if this would be a problem with his framers as some in the building industry feel that this change might cause some confusion for the builders. Neal indicated that it wouldn’t be a problem as they would just lay a chalk line down ¾ of an inch back from the foundation edge. It's always fascinating to listen to Peter explain the both tried and true and cutting edge science behind building an energy efficient house.

Following the energy analysis discussion, Donna walked through the CD1 drawings to familiarize Neal and John with the latest changes to the plan. Neal will now do a second bid to fine tune his estimate for us. Hopefully we haven't been too extravagant in our changes or selections and are still within our price range. Before leaving, Neal also agreed to help pull together the septic plan for us since we need it before we can make our application to the Whitewater Springs architectural control committee.

We spent the remainder of the meeting wrapping up loose ends with Donna and making sure we were ready to move on to the next phase. Like Alan, Donna has done such a great job at reading between the lines and figuring out our real style that we really didn't have many changes. I think the only real change we requested was to add a little detail to the master bedroom ceiling. Donna also told us she would like to bring in Linda Witt of Witt & Witt Interior Design to help us with color selections, tile and countertop selections, special light fixtures, furniture and other aesthetic details. We're looking forward to hearing from Linda.

Time seems to really fly during our meetings with Barley & Pfeiffer. And today was no exception. We were there for 3 hours in all although it seemed much shorter. And in the end everyone agreed it was a really good meeting.

Meeting with Donna Tiemann of Barley & Pfeiffer Architects (5/4/2007)
This afternoon we had a meeting with just Donna and us - Peter, Alan and Lynne were all away from the office for the day - and we got to see the results of her work from the Design Development phase. This is Donna's favorite phase of the project because it allows her to get her head into the project and walk through the house in her mind's eye. It was exciting for us also because Donna had some really great ideas that we would never have thought of on our own. The drop-off/pantry pass thru system, the really "neat and tidy" walk in pantry with doored cabinets and lots of counter and drawer space and the cooktop which appears to be floating between two columns of stone just to name a few.

Everything is really coming along nicely!

Before we left, Donna gave us a homework assignment to choose our appliances and begin thinking about tile selection. Once we decided to go with stainless steel rather than the new Jenn-Air exclusive called oiled bronze, the KitchenAid Architect Series was an easy choice for the kitchen. For the laundry room we're going to go with Consumer Reports' top rated LG Front Load Steam Washer and Dryer.

Tile selection is a much harder choice at this point because we really haven't determined our color palette yet and there are so many types and colors of tile to choose from. But we do know we want Silestone for the counter tops so we thought we'd try to start by compiling a short list of patterns that we like. As it turns out there was one pattern that my husband and I both really liked so for now we'll use that as a base as we start to look for backsplash tile. Fortunately for us, Donna says she can work with anything we choose and I'm sure she'll guide us in the right direction as we get further into the selection process.

Next we need to start thinking about what TV we want so that Donna can complete her design of the cabinets that will house the TV and components. I have a feeling we are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg of our homework assignments.

Meeting with Barley & Pfeiffer Architects (4/13/2007)
Today's meeting marked the beginning of the Design Development phase and our first meeting with Donna Tiemann who will be the project manager for the remaining architectural phases of our project. Reaching this phase is a major milestone in the design process and as such warrants an additional retainer fee and a new contract before continuing with the development and construction document phases of the design process. Although we had already submitted the retainer check and signed the contract weeks earlier, Peter went over the contract with us just to make certain we didn't have any questions or concerns about the contract or the services that they will provide.

Following our discussion with Peter, we met with Alan and Donna. Over the next several months, Donna will further develop the design that Alan created during the preliminary planning phase. We had already heard very good things about Donna from the owners of Su Hacienda Ideal so we were very happy to find out she would be our project manager also. Whether by coincidence or design, it turns out we have the same builder and same project manager as the Su Hacienda Ideal house.

Meeting with Principal Mortgage Co. (3/09/2007)
Following our morning meeting with Alan and Neal, we had an afternoon meeting with Ed Solter of Presidential Mortgage Company in Austin. After our initial meeting with Peter Pfeiffer in November, Peter recommended that we meet with Ed Solter to discuss financing possibilities for the project. Ed used this meeting to give us a class on the workings of home construction loans, permanent loans and cash flow management during both the architectural and construction phase. Ed handles about 100 custom homes a year and was both knowledgeable and helpful to us.

Meeting with Barley & Pfeiffer Architects and English Partners, Inc (3/09/2007)
Today we had an 11:00 am meeting at the Barley and Pfeiffer office with architect Alan Barley and builder Neal English. A late morning appointment meant we had to leave Houston about 6:00 am to make the 3 1/4-hour drive to our son's house in north Austin. After unpacking the car, getting a quick bite to eat and resting a few minutes we then made the 15 - 20 minute drive to downtown Austin.

We were anxiously looking forward to today's meeting because we would finally learn what our house might cost. Sharon George had called and arranged the meeting earlier in the week and told us "we would be happy with the bid" but we didn't really know just how happy we would be. Mostly because we didn't know what number she was using for comparison. One thing we learned really early in this process was that it's very hard to put a $$$ figure on how much everything is going to cost because there are just so many things to take into consideration.

On the way to the meeting I asked my husband what figure would make us happy and he said if it was X we would be happy and Y we'd be ecstatic. Well, it was even less than Y so, to say the least, we were ecstatic.

We've heard so many good things about Neal English and his wife, we are really looking forward to having them build our new home. Neal's bid will give us breathing room as we get into Design Development and the later phases, but we also have to give a lot of credit to Alan Barley for keeping the costs down through effective design and coaching. From day one Alan's goal has been to design an efficient house that we could afford to build.

Meeting with builder Neal English of English Partners, Inc (2/17/2007)
This morning we met Neal English at the front gate to Whitewater Springs and escorted him through the 4-mile scenic drive to our property site on Longhorn Pass.

Neal will need about 2 weeks to prepare the initial estimate based on the preliminary home planning documents, otherwise known as the "Schematic Package".

Later in the day we had the pleasure of visiting with the proud home owners of Su Hacienda Ideal designed by Barley & Pfeiffer Architects and built by English Partners, Inc.

Meeting with Barley & Pfeiffer Architects (2/16/2007)
This weekend marks a major milestone in the design process - the wrap-up of the Programming/Preliminary Planning/Schematic Design phase.

In addition to Alan, Sharon George also participated in today's meeting. Sharon is the project manager responsible for the schematic drawings. We briefly met her at our introductory meeting with Peter on November 6, 2006 when he asked her to bring in some drawings for us to see that she was working on for another customer.

The schematic drawings look like blueprints but they don't have all the detail that is necessary for construction blueprints. However, they do have enough detail for the builder to make his initial bid. This bid will tell us if we are in the right ballpark for our budget. If we're on track for being in budget, we will continue with the Design Detail phase immediately. Otherwise we may have to make a few adjustments before proceeding to the Design Detail phase.

Alan showed us pictures of possible stone selections which the builder will use when doing his estimate.

Peter also stopped by to chat and answer a few energy performance questions.

Tomorrow we meet our potential builder.

  • Stone Selection
  • Preliminary Site Plan

  • Meeting with Barley & Pfeiffer Architects (1/26/2007)
    Today Alan invited us into his personal office to see the Google SketchUp model that he was working on. Google SketchUp is free software that can be downloaded from the internet. Of course there is also a professional version which Alan was using that costs $$$, but the free version works fine for us.

    The purpose of the digital model, which was about 1/2 complete, was to demonstrate a 3D view of the exterior of house and the use of stone, metal and siding.

    Before we left, Alan saved a copy of his model on a memory stick that I happened to have with me. This was particularly exciting for us since it allowed us to share the progress of our house with our son when we got back to his house. And after Alan's very helpful tutorial on how to make a window, we were able to experiment with completing the model once we returned to Houston.

  • Google SketchUp Model

  • Meeting with Barley & Pfeiffer Architects (1/5/2007)
    Today Alan expanded upon his earlier bubble sketch and created 1 inch = 10 feet scale drawings of the front exterior elevation as well as both interior floors. As you can see, this is a step-up from the December 18th bubble drawing and is getting much easier to see and visualize.

    During today's meeting Peter stopped by to say "hello". Although he really wasn't supposed to be working today he was in the office after inclement weather and bad driving conditions caused him to return from his ski trip a couple days early.

  • Preliminary Sketches

  • Tree Removal by Arbortex (12/26/2006 - 01/2/2007)
  • Streetside Corner of Lot Near Utilities
  • Streetside View from Center of Property Line
  • Streetside Corner of Lot Near Cul de Sac
  • Eastern Property Line Between Street and Grove
  • Center of Grove
  • 360 View from Kitchen
  • 360 View from Front Door
  • View from Rear of Garage

  • Revealing the Oak by the Street
  • Miscellaneous Photos

  • Meeting with Barley & Pfeiffer Architects (12/18/2006)
    The planning begins! Today Alan Barley and Peter Pfeiffer got an up-close and personal tour of our property in Whitewater Springs. Over the 6 years that we have owned the property, the ashe juniper, sometimes known as cedar, had taken over and we would soon discover that we really didn't have a clue as to how nice a site we actually had. But Peter and Alan were able to see through the trees and show us how nicely a house could be nestled among the oak trees while at the same time having 20-mile vistas to the east.

    Their first recommendation was that we clear the cedars that were choking the oaks. As you will see in a later blog, we immediately took their recommendation and WOW! we have a totally different site now.

    Later this day we returned to their office and spent a couple of hours walking through our programming guide which is the first and most important step in getting the home of your dreams. The final highlight of the day was watching Alan draw a bubble sketch of our future home.

    coincidentally, today would have been the 96th birthday of my maternal grandmother.

  • Preliminary Sketches

  • Topographic and Tree Survey by West Surveyors Inc. (11/30/2006)
  • Survey Drawing including final sketch of house, garage and driveway

  • Meeting with Barley & Pfeiffer Architects (11/6/2006)
    Our first meeting at the Barley and Pfeiffer office, located on 6th street in Austin, was with Peter Pfeiffer. The purpose of this meeting was for us to learn what Barley & Pfeiffer Architects could do for us and for Peter to learn something about our interests and desires for our new home.

    Peter is one half of the Barley + Pfeiffer team and is nationally recognized as a "building scientist". Consequently, his focus is primarily on the technical aspects of design and construction, while Alan Barley, whom we haven't yet met, focuses on the more aesthetic and artistic aspects.

    Peter is also the inventor of TechShield a radiant barrier product that is used in many energy efficient homes today. In addition he is the public relations side of the team making frequent speaking engagements promoting proven "green building" techniques and frequently quoted in publications for his "green building" expertise.

    Our meeting with Peter went really well and when we left their office we knew we had found the right architectural firm to design an energy efficient, environmentally friendly house for us. Barley & Pfeiffer have been doing green building for 20 years - long before it was known as "green building" - and have been instrumental in bringing green building to mainstream America. They are so dedicated to green building that they only accept projects which include much "green building" thinking and allow them to further their "green building" knowledge and techniques. So it was very flattering to us to know that they were just as interested and excited about doing our "not so big green" project as we were in having them design our new home.

    2006 AUSTIN AIA HOMES TOUR (10/7-8/2006)
    The 2006 Austin AIA Homes Tour was held October 7 and 8th. The weather was perfect. The tour featured 10 unique homes all designed by Austin architects for their clients. On Saturday morning we layed out a map and determined the order we would tour the homes based on a route that would minimize our driving time. That order put the house that I was most interested in seeing - one designed by Barley & Pfeiffer - number 7 on our tour.

    The first house we toured was a large house on the lake that was issuing little disposable booties to slip on over your shoes. This was great because otherwise you had to leave your shoes outside each house. Many people just threw their booties away after touring the home(maybe thinking they would get more at the next house) but we saved ours and re-used them at each of the next 9 houses.

    While all the houses were beautiful and well designed the highlight of the day was when we got to house number 7 - the Barley and Pfeiffer Architects Craftsman Bungalow which had received a Five Star rating from the Austin Green Building Program. Barley and Pfeiffer Architects has become a regular on the home tour having had a home on the home tour something like 13 times in last 15 years. I was particularly excited to find out the Bungalow house was on the 2006 tour since I had been following it's development on their website for some time.

    With its interesting layout, effective use of space and extensive use of detail both inside and out - all while still earning a 5-star rating for being green - the bungalow house quickly became not only my favorite but also my husband and son's favorite.

    After seeing all 10 homes, we originally had 2 houses on our list that we wanted to go back to see on day 2 of the tour. But as we discussed the home tour over dinner it became obvious that we really were only interested in re-visiting the bungalow house in hopes of maybe making contact with someone from Barley and Pfeiffer Architects. Having never worked with an architect before, we really didn't even know where to start.

    We arrived at the bungalow house a little before noon - the start time of Sunday's tour - and were among the first visitors of the day. As we entered the house we were greeted by Lynne Connellee, Barley and Pfeiffer Architects Business Manager. We explained that we were back for a second look and signed the guest book this time. Moments later we were out on the back porch when someone said "if you have any questions I know the architect". We had heard those same words the day before but did not realize it was Peter Pfeiffer who had spoken them. However this time my husband saw his name tag and introduced himself.

    Peter immediately said let's sit down and talk. So we all sat down and enjoyed a nice little "green building" & "Not so Big House" chat in the comfort of the Craftsman Bungalow back porch. I'm also a big fan of Sarah Suzanka and her "Not so Big" books, so it was a pleasant surprise when we learned Peter and Sarah talk on the phone quite regularly.

    Of all the homes we toured Peter was the only architect to our knowledge that made themselves readily available to the public during the tour which was just another indication that all my research was moving us in the right direction.

    Fast Forward to Late 2005 Early 2006
    In late 2005 we decided that before the end of 2006 we would make a decision on an architect. Off and on over the past 5 years I had been researching Austin-area architects on the web and had narrowed my list of preferred architects to 4 or 5 with Barley and Pfeiffer Architects number 1 on my list.

    Although we had bought a pre-construction townhouse in 2002 and had watched the builder lay forms and build the townhouse from the ground up, we didn't have any experience with hiring an architect or builder on our own and were somewhat hesitant to actually contact anyone.

    When I learned about the 2006 Austin AIA Home Tour, we thought that would be a good place to start. As we would later learn, the home tour was the ideal way to see a variety of architects' work as well as the opportunity and pleasure to personally met Peter Pfeiffer one of the founding principals of Barley & Pfeiffer Architects.

    Purchase 4 Acre Hilltop Lot in Whitewater Springs Section 6 (08/24/2000)
    Sometime in 2000 we decided to look for retirement property in the Texas Hill Country. Initially we considered Wimberley which is a nice little town south of Austin on the Blanco River but we quickly dismissed that idea when we got caught in a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam and decided it had too much of a tourist feel. We next decided to explore possibly north of Austin. It was on one of those trips that we saw a billboard advertising Whitewater Springs. It sounded really nice but we did not get the directions and were unable to find it. So it was back home to Houston to search the internet where I found a promotional video advertising Whitewater Springs - The Jewel of the Hill Country".

    On our next trip to Austin we drove out to Whitewater Springs. We just wanted to drive through the area and really weren't interested in talking to anyone just yet. However, when we got there we discovered that Whitewater Springs was a gated community and the only way to see the area was to check in at the sales office. So we did.

    The salesman was very nice and eagerly showed us around the area. At the time there were at most a small handful of houses in WWS with a couple under construction. Today there are almost 50 houses.

    After taking us on a tour of the area, the salesman showed us a "trophy lot" that was still available. The lot was 4 acres, had large oak trees, a 20-mile view and a tree covered ridgeline. While we have always joked about our "trophy lot", it really was a nice lot and just what we were looking for. So without further hesitation we bought 4-acres of Texas Hill Country in WWS surrounded by the Balcones Canyonland National Wildlife Refuge.

  • Early Photo Slideshow
  • Google Maps