Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2011 Forecast

2011 looks like a very busy year so far. We still have a few winter and summer start dates available. The ice conditions are pretty good so far, which enables us to start our winter work on schedule.
Our kit cabins have been more popular than expected and we will be adding more plans during the coming year.
As reported in the November 29 blog, there will be a 6% price increase on January 1.

Ordinary riches can be stolen, real riches cannot. In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.
- Oscar Wilde

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!!

We at Friesen's Custom Cabins want to wish all a MERRY CHRISTMAS and a great NEW YEAR to come!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ice Testing Video

Testing ice for thickness is a very simple process. Be sure you test in several different spots before you drive your vehicle on the ice. Be sure and watch for warm springs, creek outlets and inlets, and other areas of thin ice. Be sure and have at least 12" of good black ice for cars and pickups, 24" to 36" for larger rigs. Refer to the Blog dated 11/13/09 for the ice thickness formula put out by the Corp of Engineers. Above all, be careful!!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Pile Driver Extraordinaire!

We have built on many different sites over the years. Many times the only practical foundation is steel piling. When we need steel pilings we call Charley Ross at Pilings Plus.
If you are doing a project that requires steel pilings I highly recommend Charley. His number is 727-3027.
This particular project is on the Kenai in a flood zone. The only foundation that makes sense is a steel driven foundation.

Monday, November 29, 2010

2011 Pricing

Our prices have remained the same for the past four years. After reviewing our 2010 season, it has become obvious that we need to increase the price slightly to cover the ever increasing operating and materials costs.
We were anticipating a 10% increase across the board but metal roofing came down slightly this fall which enabled us to drop the increase to 6%. (Metal roofing is still approximately 50% more than it was in 2006) This increase will barely cover the increased cost of operations and definitely doesn't include any additional profit.
Not only has material increased in the past four years; workers compensation, liablility insurance, fuel and equipment costs have also gone up which really leaves us no choice in the matter.
The price increase will become effective January 1, 2011. Naturally, all projects contracted before that time will be locked in to the lower price.
We still have start dates available this winter and several available in the summer season.

I don't want to do business with those who don't make a profit, because they can't give the best service.
Lee Bristol

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

Thanksgiving 2010
Everyone has heard all of the Thanksgiving cliches so there is no need to repeat them in this blog.
On Thanksgiving day take one minute (use a timer) and count all of the things you have to be thankful for. If you are an American, you can start with being thankful for our troops overseas who leave their families to fight and even die on our behalf. Then continue on to hands, feet, eyes, senses, air and the ability to breathe it. By the time a minute is up you will probably think of many more but if you can't that's OK, at least you made a start. In the worst of times there are always many things to be thankful for.
Many people have so many extreme problems that they really can't see their way to be thankful. It's not that they are unthankful, they just can't see through the fog of their misery. Remember, there are always people that are more miserable than you. Reach out to them with a kind word or a smile. It may do you more good than it does them.

Joy can be real only if people look upon their life as a service, and have a definite object in life outside themselves and their personal happiness.

- Leo Tolstoy

Sunday, November 21, 2010


It looks like we will be traveling on the ice very soon. We normally shoot for driving on the valley lakes right after Thanksgiving but we will probably extend that a week or two. We should have pretty good ice for small vehicles in a couple of weeks.
Much of our work is done across the ice where it is impractical to do it in the summer. If we can drive across the ice to a building site, we don't have to charge extra for being off the road system and it makes things go very smooth.
If you have a project that is inaccessible in summer but driveable in winter; give us a holler and we can do it for you this season and have it ready for summer.

Generosity is giving more than you can, and pride is taking less than you need.
Kahlil Gibran
Lebanese artist & poet in US (1883 - 1931)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Kit Video Introduction

I have included an introduction video that comes with the power point presentation for our kits. We are continually trying to improve the presentation to make putting together one of our kits an enjoyable experience.
Please send any comments on how we can improve.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

It's On!

It looks like winter is getting here, slowly, but it is coming. Soon we will be able to access projects that we couldn't get to in the summer.
I don't expect we will be able to drive on the local lakes or rivers until well after Thanksgiving.
We have a number of projects scheduled for this winter but we still have a few openings left.
A few tips for preparing your lot for winter building:

-Leave the snow on the lot and try not to drive snowmachines across the building site. This compacts the snow and allows the frost to go deeper into the ground, making it more difficult to dig pilings.
-Avoid scraping the organics off. The organic layer is a good insulator and helps keep the frost from going too deep.

These may seem like minor things but they make a big difference when it comes time to excavate.

He that lives upon hope will die fasting.
Benjamin Franklin
US author, diplomat, inventor, physicist, politician, & printer (1706 - 1790)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My First Cabin Repair Job

The year was 1978, the place was the upper Chitina River. I had been flown out to catch horses and repair the cabins at a hunting camp. Up until this point, I had never spent a day alone in my life so I didn't know what to expect.
My boss, Ken Bunch landed on an airstrip that I thought was a helicopter pad and told me this would be my home for the next few months.
A bear had recently torn up the cabins and out buildings. The doors had been smashed in and even some of the plywood had been peeled off the walls.
Most of the plywood had been flown in in 2 x 4' sheets which made it easier for the bear to peel it off, which he did.
The door was a hollow core door which probably felt as strong as toilet paper to the bear.
He had also gotten into all of the food in the cabin, making a huge mess.
Outside, he had bitten into the Blazo (white gas) cans draining them of there contents. I could never understand why they would bite a gas can.
Ken didn't give me much direction, he just wrote the names of the horses on the back of an envelope, Whitey, Blacky, Bad Eye, Friendly, Grey and so on. It was very easy to identify which one was which.
Before getting into his plane and flying off he pointed to a small cache platform in a tree and told me there was enough survival gear in the cache to keep me alive in case I burned the cabin down. "Keep you alive until I can get out and shoot you" he said with no hint of sarcasm. Then he got in his plane and took off. Here I was, an eighteen year old kid looking for adventure, never had spent a day alone in my life.
I first got started repairing the cabin. I found an old hammer with one claw, some used nails and an old hand saw with very dull teeth. Since I didn't have anything to campare it to, I felt fortunate to have even these simple tools.
To make a long story shorter, I fixed the cabin and made it liveable; at least until the bear came around again, but that is a story for another blog.

My life has no purpose, no direction, no aim, no meaning, and yet I'm happy. I can't figure it out. What am I doing right?
- Charles Schulz

Sunday, October 24, 2010

New Kit Options

As advertised, we are adding new kit sizes and plans. Below are the new sizes for plans #1 and #5 six sizes for plan #2. These will be posted on our site very soon.

New Kit Options October 24, 2010
Plan #1
12 x 20- 9,120.00
24 x 32- 27,648.00
24 x 36- 31,104.00

Plan #2
16 x 20- 11,774.00
16 x 24- 13,871.00
20 x 24- 17,056.00
20 x 28- 19,398.00
24 x 32- 26,599.00
24 x 42- 40,729.00

Plan #5
12 x 20- 6,999.00
24 x 32- 19,200.00
24 x 36- 22,100.00

The meanest, most contemptible kind of praise is that which first speaks well of a man, and then qualifies it with a "but".
Henry Ward Beecher
US abolitionist & clergyman (1813 - 1887)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

New Kits

Our kits are becoming more and more popular, especially for remote projects. We are introducing more plans and adding more options as well. We have developed a power point presentation for the kits that includes drawings, pictures, text and video. It is designed for someone who has no construction experience. So far we have had good feedback on the kits but we are always trying to improve our product and to include more sizes and styles.
We will soon be offering complete finish packages to include wiring, plumbing, insulation, wall covering, floor covering etc. etc. etc.
We are adding options as the demand calls for it and judging by the response we have had, demand is strong.
There is a four to six week lead time for the kits right now but we are trying to cut the lead time down to two weeks.
If you are in the market for a kit and you don't see it on the site; email or call us and we can get you a price on any size or style you wish.

Search others for their virtues, thyself for thy vices.
Benjamin Franklin
US author, diplomat, inventor, physicist, politician, & printer (1706 - 1790)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The seasons they area a changin'

We have become accustom to warmer temperatures over the years but 60 degrees in October still doesn't feel right. We all know that this can and will change very quickly so we might as well enjoy it while we can.
I hear people saying that it was much colder 20 years ago but I remember people saying the same thing over 30 years ago when I first came here. One thing for sure, 60 degrees in October feels pretty warm but I won't complain unless we don't have enough ice to drive on after Thanksgiving.
In our business, we look for ways to work with whatever weather we get, but sometimes you just have to stop and wait for it to change.
You can definitely count on change!

When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot!
Thomas Jefferson

Friday, September 17, 2010

Shout Outs!

I am going to make 'Shout Outs' a regular feature of this Blog. Almost all of us experience extraordinary service occasionally or see a random act of kindness in our daily lives. Sometimes we don't realize how unusual it was until much later.
Naturally, we are more likely to remember negative experiences, but those comments will be reserved for private conversation.
Recently, I have been working with several parties who received their construction financing through First National of Alaska. The Loan officers I have been in contact with are Teo Ransum and Stacy Tomuro and they have been great to work with. Above and beyond good service, they have been extraordinary. They return calls very promptly and went out of their way to make sure things were going smooth. For Owner/builder financing information you can go to http://www.fnbalaska.com/373.cfm

Never miss an opportunity to make someone's day!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

It's Over

The Fair is over and it was good! Scores of past customers came in to say hi. I tried to keep a log of all who came through but I soon lost count. After building between 500 and 600 cabins over twenty years, we have a lot of past customers.
We have had a booth at the fair many times but this year was different. We couldn't even keep up with the demand for flyers and business cards.
We want to say thank you to all who visited us and we look forward to doing it again next year.

I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.
- Thomas A. Edison

Sunday, September 5, 2010


The 2010 Alaska State Fair is almost a memory, albeit a wet one. Two more days and it is over.
Alaskans are a hardy breed, I can tell you that. They come to the fair no matter how cold and wet it is. They wait patiently in line for performances where they will have to sit in wet cold chairs with rain pouring (although the hosts were wiping the chairs with a shamwow last night, which was cool)
They are wet through and through yet they walk through the grounds like there is nothing to it. You don't hear any complaining either, they are more likely to say "Its Alaska, It Rains, It's Cold, It gets dark, get over it." Try that in California.
Having our booth here gives us an opportunity to visit with past customers which is great. Some go back over 20 years. It also gives us an opportunity to speak with new customers who will be building in the next 20 years.
Come see us at the Fair, we'll be there until closing on Monday, then it's back to the real world.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Winter and Spring

Once again the leaves are starting to turn and the pace of construction quickens to get everything done before the snow flies. We still have a few start dates available before freeze up but we build all winter so what’s the hurry, right?
We start doing a lot of our off-road building after Thanksgiving when the ice is thick enough to support vehicles and planes on a normal year. We can put in piling foundations year round so we never stop.
If you want to build next spring; now is the time to start the planning process. Sometimes the financing takes several months to go through. Spring and Summer start dates fill up pretty quickly so it is good to get the ball rolling early.

Behind every successful man is a surprised woman. Maryon Pearson

Winter and Spring Schedule

We still have a few start dates available before freeze up but now is the time to start thinking about winter and spring. As you know, if you read our blog very often, we do a lot of our off-road building in the winter. Things really start to get busy after Thanksgiving when the lakes are solid enough to drive and land on.
If you wanted to build this summer but just couldn't get to it; we can do it after freeze up.
If you are planning on building this coming spring, give us a call and we'll start the planning process with you so everything will be in order right after break-up.
We are usually putting foundations and garage slabs up until November 1 and sometimes a little after.

Success is simply a matter of luck. Ask any failure.
Earl Nightingale

Thursday, August 26, 2010


The Fair starts today! Our booth is right next to the one with the airplane, right down the street from the haunted house. We will be there to answer any questions and actually write estimates for you on the spot.
If we have built for you before, please bring a picture that we can post on the wall or just stop in to say hi.
If you are interested in building in the future, stop in, we would like to meet you and discuss your future plans.

Look forward to seeing you at the 2010 State Fair! Hopefully, we'll see some sun!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


We have obviously had a very rainy summer so far in South Central. Rain affects our schedule in several ways and it is hard sometimes to explain that it isn't that it is uncomfortable to work in and we are a bunch of wimps. There are other aspects to consider.
It slows the pace down in rough framing when you have to slog through mud, change into dry clothes and work with heavy wet wood, it is also dangerous to walk on wet, narrow, slick wood. Especially when you are twenty or more feet off the ground.
The scheduling problems usually start with the dirt work. It is hard or impossible to excavate when it is really wet. The dirt turns to mud, equipment gets stuck or slides around, making it very difficult and slow.
When the dirt work gets behind schedule; we can't start the foundation work on time, which means we can't start the framing on time which means we are not finishing on time, which means we can't start the next job on time which makes people unhappy. When the sun does come out and dries everything out, we are still playing catch up on the previous job so we can get the schedule caught up, but the client gets frustrated because we aren't on they're job while the weather is good.
The only way to catch up the schedule is to work more hours or hire more people which comes with it's own set of problems. We normally elect to work more hours within reason.
Residential framing is hard work and the more hours you work the less efficient you become and the more likely you are to get hurt. Statistics show that efficency drops dramatically after eight hours and the injury rate goes up.
The bottom line is; we are trying to get back on schedule right now and we are actually very close to being right on so we feel pretty fortunate even if we haven't had much help from mother nature.

Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first. Mark Twain

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

See Us At The Fair!!

We will have our display cabin at the Alaska State Fair this summer starting August 26. We will be on hand to answer questions and give estimates. We look forward to meeting you at the Fair. I'm not sure where we will be but we will most likely be on the purple trail over by the big barn.

If you want to feel rich, just count all of the things you have that money can't buy.
- Anonymous

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Choosing a lot Part III

Choosing a lot Part III (Off road edition)

Choosing a lot off the road system is much the same as any other lot but there are a few more considerations due to access. Many people think that off road lots are going to be a lot less expensive than lots on the road system but this is not always true and the cost of building is going to be much higher.
If you want to get away from the crowds you almost have to go off the road system and even then you are likely to have some neighbors.
Some things to consider:
-What kind of access is there to your lot? Boat, Snow machine, ATV, Aircraft, Ferry, etc.
-Is there year round access?
-If the access is too difficult, are you really going to feel like visiting the cabin often?
-What about emergencies?
-Is there drinkable water available?
-Is the property in a flood zone? Many river lots are susceptible to flooding. Flooding can change channels and cut the property in half or erode the usable portion away. (I know, it happened to me)
-Is there permafrost in the area? This doesn't have to be a deal killer but you need to be aware of it.
-What is the weather like in the area? Are you going to have to worry about being weathered in for weeks at a time or spend your vacation time waiting for the weather to clear to get in or out?
-Is there heating fuel (firewood) available or are you going to have to haul propane or fuel oil?

All of these questions are to make you aware of things you may not have thought of, they are not to discourage you from making the plunge into remote property.

Discaimer: The advise in this blog is strictly informational and is not to be taken as anything more than a Builder's Opinion.

'Be yourself!' is about the worst advice you can give to some people.
- Tom Masson

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Choosing a lot Part II

Choosing a lot Part II

Now that you have narrowed your search down to a certain area you can start getting more picky about individual lots. Make sure the lot is buildable and there are no encroachments by adjoining lots ie. septics, storage buildings, well, old cars etc.
Ask yourself some hard questions: (These questions are for lots on the road system)
-Is this lot steep?
-Are you going to have to build a long driveway?
-Is there electricity nearby, if so, how far away?
-Is the lot big enough to get the separation between your well and septic or between the neighbors well and your septic?
-If it is a lake lot; is there enough room to build and still have the required setback? Don't let anyone tell you that you can get a variance to build closer to the lake because it is unlikely.
-Is the lot swampy, if so, is there enough dry ground on the lot to build on. Many lake lots are wet but they are still buildable with some expensive dirtwork. If the lot is questionable, have an excavating contractor look at it with you to determine the cost for making it buildable, he will also be able to determine whether you have space enough for well and septic separation. Waterfront property is so scarce now that it is often worthwhile spending some money on making it buildable. If you don't have an excavation contractor, we can provide you with names in your area.
-Does the neighborhood agree with you. If you see crime tape and a condemned notice on the house next door you might surmise that there is illegal activity going on.(This is more common than you might think)
-Will the ground perk ok for a septic system?
-How deep are the neighbors' wells?
-Has the lot been surveyed recently? You want to be sure of your corners.
-Are there obstructions that will block the sun for three months in winter? This may not be important to you but you want to think about these things before purchasing.
There are many more questions to ask so try and cover all the bases.

More in Choosing a lot Part III (Off road Edition)

To discover the truth, ask the very old or the very young.
Wally Hickel 1978

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Choosing a Lot Part I

Choosing a Lot Part I
Choosing a recreational lot can be a very divisive issue in a family. Mom wants a cabin with all of the amenities and some reasonable shopping nearby, Dad wants a remote cabin on a great fishing river only accessible by parachute. The kids? They want to go water skiing and snowboarding with no break between. Of course, I am being very stereotypical and perhaps even a little sexist, but it only goes to illustrate that finding a perfect recreational lot is very difficult; throw cost into the mix and you have a real dilemma.
Compromise is the operative word here. Decide what activities you most enjoy as a family and start planning. Now you have to refine your search.

• Do you want to be road accessible or off the road system?
• If you decide to be off the road system, you need to decide what access you are willing to deal with. Boat, Snowmachine, ATV, airplane, helicopter etc. (Remember, building off the road system will be much more expensive depending on how far and ease of access)
• Waterfront will be harder to find and more expensive.
• View lots are also going to be expensive but easier to find, depending on the view. Every lot has a view of something but you may not want a view of the neighbor’s collection of wrecked cars.
Once you have decided on the area you want to be in; the search begins. Most people drive all the roads in the area to determine where they would like to be or perhaps where they don’t want to be.
You can start by looking for “For Sale” signs and asking around the area. You can go to the borough office and look at the maps to find out who owns any property you think you might be interested in. Many owners have long since left the state and might be interested in selling. I can’t tell you how many times people have come to us to have us build for them on a lot they found in just this way. There are many ways to find an owner but sometimes it isn’t easy. Many lots sit vacant for years because the property is tied up in probate or other legal issues. The easiest way to find out about the status of a property is to go to the borough office and find out who the legal owner is and perhaps write a letter expressing your interest.
Another way to find property is to log on to the Alaska real estate Multiple listing site. http://www.alaskarealestate.com/ This is a very powerful search engine that can help you refine your search.
Craigslist also has many properties listed for sale by owner. http://anchorage.craigslist.org/
Alaska list is another great option. http://alaskaslist.com/1/posts/12_Real_Estate/0/

Looking at these sites will give you an idea about what is available and what the costs are likely to be and you might even find what you are looking for right away. My advice is to take your time in your search, you will find things about certain areas that you might not like and other things about other areas that you didn’t know about. (To be continued in choosing a lot part II)

Kindness is more important than wisdom, and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom.
- Theodore Isaac Rubin

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Fall Schedule

This season has been extremely busy but we are always looking for new opportunities.
July, August and September are scheduled pretty tight but late September, October and November still have openings for starting work.
A lot of people think of the construction season as the summer months only. To us it is construction season year round.
If you are planning a project for this year and think you are running out of time; you are probably not out of time since we can start most projects at any time of year.
We usually start transporting materials to remote sites right after Thanksgiving when the ice starts getting thick.
Our kits are produced year round as well and we are usually about four weeks out on them depending on the size and complexity.

"Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes". - Mahatma Gandhi.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Independence Day

July 4th is the biggest weekend of the summer. It is easy to forget why we celebrate this day. It is more than barbeque and fireworks. Many have died to buy this freedom we so casually enjoy.
Take a moment and reflect on those who bought this freedom with their blood.

"The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender, or submission". - John F. Kennedy.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Railroad Job

The Railroad Walk
We were building a cabin on the Alaska Railroad north of Talkeetna in the winter. I had gone in on the train to get the crew started and needed to get back to town to take care of some other business, so I decided to walk the eighteen miles back to Talkeetna instead of waiting until the next day to catch the train.
I calculated that I would walk four miles an hour so it would take four and a half hours. It was about five o’clock then so I would be in Talkeetna at 9:30 or at the worst 10:00 PM. So off I went.
There are mile markers on the Alaska Railroad so it is pretty easy to determine your speed and my speed was slow. I thought I was seeing things when I had only covered two miles in the first hour. Granted, walking on the snow on the railroad tracks was uncomfortable but I didn’t think it was slowing me down that much but the next eight hours proved to me that railroad walking was indeed slower than any other walking I had done.
I finally arrived in Talkeetna about one in the morning to find that I had left my lights on in my car and my battery was dead and I was dead tired. I went into the bar to see if I could find someone to give me a jump. One guy said he didn’t want to risk doing damage to the alternator in his new truck but another couple was getting ready to leave and they agreed to help me.
The man was drunker than his female companion so she drove their old truck to my old car to get it close enough to jump. The man was directing her to the car with wild gestures and yelling at her until she stopped everything and gave him a definitive middle finger to which he responded violently and ran up on her as if he was going to hit her. I ran over and split them up and told them I would find another way, thanked them for the help and headed into the old hotel and asked for a room, I would deal with the car in the morning; I had had enough adventure for one day.

No act of kindness, no matter how small is ever wasted.
- Aesop, Greek fabulist

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Remote Estimating Part 2

(Continued from June 22, 2010)

We finally got back to camp and I started investigating the old cabin that needed to be jacked up to put a new foundation under it as well as a new roof and many other improvements. By now it was getting late and I knew I would be here for the night so I relaxed and allowed myself to enjoy the evening. A small argument broke out between a member of our camp and the neighboring lodge from whom we got our electrical power. The next door lodge shut our power off until an agreement could be worked out. For a few minutes I thought a brawl was going to start but it was soon smoothed over and it was bedtime.
The next morning I did some last minute figuring before the plane came to get me and soon I was on my way back to Aleknagik.
I got to my plane a little after noon and was soon heading to Illiamna to get fuel. At Iliamna I found that Lake Clark Pass was choked up with weather so I would have to wait until it cleared up which it did in only a few hours and I was on my way again. I made it through the pass and headed up Cook Inlet until I reached a solid wall of clouds that I couldn’t go around so I landed on a beach strip close to a little camp called Shirleyville. I knew nothing of Shirleyville but I found that they housed oil company people and other workers who were in the area and I was able to buy a meal and hang around for awhile watching TV until it was time to go back to the plane about a mile away.
I took everything out of the plane to make room to sleep and went to bed and slept fitfully even with the wind rocking the plane all night.
The next morning the weather had cleared so I took off early and flew home, landing uneventfully at my home strip as my wife and two kids raced out to meet me. What I had allowed one day for had taken three and we didn’t even get the job. The homeowner sold the property and that was the end of that.

You can't do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth.
- Shira Tehrani

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Remote Estimating Part 1

Remote Estimating
I received a call from a past customer in 2003 who wanted me to give him an estimate on building a new lodge/cabin and repair an old log cabin at Lake Nerka north of Dillingham in the Tikchik Lakes system. No problem, I would fly down, take a look at the site and come home, no problem.
I made arrangements for a jet boat at Lake Aleknagik to take me up the Agulowak River to Lake Nerka or Second Lake as it is called by the locals.
I figured I would leave the home strip at 4:00AM, fly to Aleknagik, arriving at 8:00 AM, taking the jet boat to Agulowak, arriving at say…10:00, look at the jobsite, go back to Aleknagik and be in the air heading home by no later than 5:00 PM, stop for fuel in Illiamna along the way but still arriving home by 11:00 PM or midnight at the latest. A long day to be sure, but doable.
I got in the air by 4:00AM and had flown through Lake Clark pass with good weather until I got to the Nushagak River near the village of Ekwok. The weather here was much lower but I flew on, knowing I was pretty close to Aleknagik. As I got closer to Aleknagik, the weather got even lower and I was getting low on fuel. I didn’t have enough fuel to go anywhere if I got to Aleknagik and couldn’t land so I turned around and flew back to Ekwok and put some gas in the plane that I had brought with me.
I finally landed at Aleknagik at around 9:00AM; Later than I wanted but still not too bad. I asked around to find my jet boat driver and located his office down on the lake. He wasn’t there yet but would be there shortly so I waited for a half hour or so until he showed up. Unfortunately, he was having trouble with his Jet boat so he would fly me to the Agulowak in his Turbine Otter for the same price. That was great! I would make up for some lost time right?
We landed at Agulowak and I was introduced to the homeowner and his friends that were there for fishing and the first thing he wanted to do was take me fishing for Arctic Char, after all, this place is one of the hottest fishing spots on earth. I was on a mission to estimate a job so I really didn’t want to fish at the time. I had several projects all over the State and I didn’t have time to smell the roses, at least not at that time. We went fishing.
The Char were hitting so hard that you couldn’t keep them off your hook. I’m not a sport fisherman so I was really doing nothing to entice the fish on my hook but you literally couldn’t keep them off. I politely reeled in fish after fish, all the while my mind was on getting back to camp to do my estimating.

(to be continued)

"An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest."

Benjamin Franklin

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Swamp Builder

It was early in 2000 when I was contacted to build a cabin for some folks in the Susitna Duck flats. I agreed to do the project without a site visit first. Not a good idea.
I flew down with the owner in his Cessna 185 on amphibious floats and landed on a small lake near the building site. We couldn’t taxi all the way to the shore because the lake was too shallow so we had to wade from the plane to the shore. The first thing I noticed was the smell. It had the rotten egg smell of stagnant water and bird poop. (Thousands of noisy seagulls inhabit the area.)
The building site, as it turned out, was at least 100 yards from the lake and it was all swampy trail. The cabin we were to stay in had large holes in the roof but there were areas in the old shack that were dry and it was slightly better than a tent so what the heck.
We contracted with Rust’s Flying Service to fly the materials. Since I knew a lightly loaded 185 couldn’t taxi to shore, a loaded Turbine Otter wouldn’t even get close so I sent down some Styrofoam float logs so I could build a raft to shuttle material from the plane to the shore where we could pack it another 100 yards to the building site.
I went out on the first load to build the raft and get ready for the following loads. We basically had to unload in the middle of the lake and unload the plane onto the raft, push it to shore, unload it and push it back to the plane for another load. This took some time but by the end of the day we had material on the shore.
Paul Holmes and I were going to do the actual construction so I agreed to pack material while Paul did the building, at least for the first two days. If you’ve ever packed moose meat through a swamp, you can imagine what it was like packing a cabin through the swamp. It took two full days to get the material to the building site. Paul worked in his bare feet because It was so muddy on the ground that it was making a nasty mess on the floor. We both slept well for those four days despite the bugs, noisy birds, mud and the rain but we got it done.
From this job we were able to develop better estimating procedures for hand packing materials in a swamp. Up to that time I didn’t really know how to estimate the cost for building so far from the lake in the swamp. Now I do, but there hasn’t been much call for cabins on the duck flats lately.

. The only job where you start at the top, is digging a hole.
- Anonymous

Friday, June 11, 2010


Trying to keep up with the culture isn't easy for an old guy but thanks to my daughter, Andrea, we now have a Facebook page.
We are trying to keep it current with Wall Posts several times a week and regular updates.
It is amazing to me how many of our past clients have contacted us through the Facebook page.
I am still learning my way around this medium but why not join us?

I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.
Mark Twain

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Interesting Requests

Over the years we have received many requests that were out of the ordinary. Any reasonable request can be accomodated here as long as we are reasonably compensated for it.
Most requests have to do with using alternative access, not damaging trees, parking, set backs and the like. Rarely would we decline a request from a client.
One request was so ridiculous that we actually had to laugh it off, literally.
In the mid 1990's a fellow called and talked to Gwen, my wife, about building a remote cabin. "No problem, that's what we do."
"This site is very remote and I don't want anyone to know where it is." He stated.
"OKAY" She replied, knowing there was more.
"I want to blindfold the crew so they won't know how to find the place when they are finished with the project."
...Long Pause...
"Sir, I can tell you now that my husband will not be submitting himself to being blindfolded for any reason, sorry!" End of conversation.
We all got a pretty good laugh out of this one and it continues to get a chuckle every time I tell this story. (Whenever I come across someone who hasn't heard it from me already.)

I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.
- Thomas A. Edison

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Summer is Heating Up

The summer season is upon us. 2010 has already been a very busy year so far and our summer season is very busy.
The cabin kits have been very popular and we are working on adding more sizes and styles as requests come in.
If you have ideas on different sizes and styles of kits, please let us know. Your input is valuable for us in deciding what products to offer.
We still have start dates available this season depending on your location and the size of your project.

Always do right - this will gratify some and astonish the rest.
- Mark Twain

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Access Horror
We had contracted to build a cabin at a popular lake near a remote village in Southwest Alaska in 2004. We had flown the material down in a DC-6 with Northern Air Cargo and it was sitting at the airport waiting to be transported three miles to the jobsite. The only problem was, we had no legal access to the building lot. This was not divulged to me before contracting the job which was my own fault, I hadn’t asked.
When I called our customer and explained him of our predicament I was told that that was my problem. That much was true, it was definitely a problem. The building site was on a lake with public access so I knew we could do it, but it would definitely take a huge bite out of our profit.
I ordered some Styrofoam float logs and had them flown down so we could build a raft. Now you can see where I am going with this. We wound up floating all of the material from the boat landing to the lot, unloading it and carrying it to the building site. This wouldn’t have been so unusual if we had known about it ahead of time and could budget for it.
So, if you are doing a remote project and I am asking a few questions about the site that seem ridiculous, you will know why. There are always surprises but we try and keep them to a minimum. We do operate on the premise that once we contract for a project, the price will not change if we find we neglected to do our due diligence and the conditions are not what we expected. It is our responsibility to check out the site if we are concerned about conditions.
Most people are very honest and forthright when they give us the information on there building site so it hasn’t really been much of a problem. I am proud to say that we have never asked for more money due to “unforeseen conditions.”

You can tell more about a person by what he says about others than you can by what others say about him. ~Leo Aikman

Monday, May 31, 2010

New Requirements for Owner/Builders

In the past year and a half or so, we have seen a definite change in the market. I have noticed that the lending institutions have become very skittish about loaning to Owner/Builders. Most are not loaning unless there is a General Contractor involved. This defeats the purpose for most owner/builders because they wanted to build their home themselves and not use a General Contractor.
In years past we were always building for owner/builders and there was no problem borrowing the money. The banks now want to have a general contractor on the project before loaning the money and the General Contractor has to be on the approved list of contractors for that institution.
We are offering our services to Owner/Builders so they can get the financing. We still do the dried-in shell and even the wiring, plumbing, insulation and sheetrock if necessary but the Owner/builder takes care of the rest with our help selecting subcontractors and products. We are on board to satisfy the bank and keep everything on schedule. We will be recommending sub-contractors to do the work that you can't do or don't have the time to do. Most importantly, we will be helping you with the paperwork which can be daunting if you have never done it before.

Promise only what you can deliver. Then deliver more than you promise. ~Author Unknown

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Pending Price Increase

We have experienced a significant spike in material prices in the past few months. Sheet goods like OSB (Oriented Strand Board) which we use for sub flooring, roof sheathing and some wall sheathing, has more than doubled in price. Metal roofing has also jumped 15 to 20%. We are hearing that the earthquake Chile is responsible for the increase in material prices. Lumber is a commodity, whenever there is a large demand somewhere in the world, the prices go up.
We haven’t had a price increase in over three years and have seen our materials creep up over that time. Unfortunately, we are being forced to increase our prices 5% just to offset the increase in material costs.
This is never an announcement we like to make because many people have already budgeted for their home or cabin and 5% can push them over the budgeted amount. I anticipate the increase will take place June first unless we have a dramatic lowering of material prices in that time.

When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. ~Franklin D. Roosevelt

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Trex Products
We are going to be offering Trex decking on our price list in the next week or so. We have been using the Trex product for over six years and we wanted to be sure we liked the product before we started offering it as a regular option.
We like it! More importantly, our customers like it. There were other companies producing synthetic deck products and many of them had a hollow core and didn’t hold up well. Trex has a solid core and has held up extremely well and requires no maintenance.
Most people don’t know that Trex is made from plastic grocery bags and recycled wood. In fact, Trex uses approximately 70% of the recycled grocery bags in the United States. The plastic is mixed with a wood sawdust to make an indestructible decking product.
It holds up to cold weather or warm weather. The color stays intact for years and it is very easy to clean, it doesn’t cup, warp or split and the surface is non-slip.
We haven’t found a downside except that it is more expensive and heavier than wood. Within a few years it will make up most of the decking in Alaska.
We will have the pricing posted on June 1 with several colors to choose from.

Never miss an opportunity to make others happy, even if you have to leave them alone in order to do it. ~Author Unknown

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Off Grid Living: Solar Edition

Many of the cabins we build are off the electrical grid so it only makes sense to discuss the inovations in Solar, Wind and Water power.
For most locations in Alaska, solar power will be the most practical for electrical needs. Wind power is a viable option in many areas and there are more and more practical wind power systems on the market.
The key to alternative power is learning to manage and maximize efficiency in your electrical use.
If you only need to run a few lights, TV, stereo, water pump and a computer, you can get by comfortably with a simple 12 volt system.
If you want to run more appliances and have all of the comforts of home, you will want an inverter that will convert 12 or 24 volts to 110 just like city power.
If you want to go all electric with 220v capability, electric fridge, electric oven, freezer etc. you are most likely going to need a 48 volt system with large batteries and a sizable inverter system. These applications are normally for lodge use and will require the use of a generator system as well.
You will want to get a couple of solar panels and batteries to start with and my advice is to keep it simple until you learn what your needs really are.
For all of your off grid living needs you can visit Kirk and his staff at Susitna Energy Systems in Anchorage. Kirk not only supplies alternative energy supplies to others, he uses them himself at his remote cabin.

2507 Fairbanks Street
Anchorage, AK 99503-2821
(907) 337-1300

“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend six hours sharpening my ax”
Abraham Lincoln

Monday, May 3, 2010

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


In the early 1980's I was introduced to log building when I was an apprentice to Paul Smith in Cooper Landing. I soon became a purist of scribe fit log building; looking down my nose at factory turned logs and conventional stick framed homes.
Now, a quarter century later, I realize there is room enough in this world for all types of homes and one type isn't necessarily better than the other depending on what location on earth it is located.
Here in Alaska and in other northern climes we value homes that are energy efficient and easy to maintain. Perhaps the most efficient homes are the sod houses that the Eskimos lived in for thousands of years. They are weather tight, easy to heat, built with local materials at low cost and are very low maintenance. Naturally, we have become accustom to our modern conveniences and most of us aren't willing to give them up to live in a truly green home.
Since we aren't willing to live in sod houses, we are left with wood as our primary material for residential housing. We do see some concrete homes and even some steel frame construction, but wood is still king in homebuilding.
I am often presented with the question; which is better, log homes or conventional frame construction. I love this question because it gives me an opportunity to display my vast knowledge and make people think I'm really smart. The answer is easily answered with a question. 'Which one do you like best?' or 'How much money have you got?'
The title for this blog is Log vs. Frame as if it is a title fight or a court battle. Believe it or not, people frequently do plot one against the other like one is better than the other.
In the words of the infamous Rodney King. "Can't we all just get along?"

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Framing Nailer for All

Everyone who has ever built anything with a hammer and nails can appreciate the ease and speed of a framing nailer. Up until twenty years or so ago; you had to purchase a compressor, hose, fittings and a nailer to get set up for air nailing.
If you are building one of our Kits, I recommend you purchase a Paslode Cordless Framing Nailer. Everything you need comes in the handy carrying case. You don't need a compressor, hose or anything else.
The framing nailer is powered by a battery to activate the firing mechanism and a butane cartridge to provide the power to drive the nail. We have been using them since the early nineties and have had great success.
True, they aren't quite as fast as pneumatic nailers and you have to pull the trigger for each nail but it is literally ten times as fast as the fastest hand nailer.
The downside is that the battery and the gas cartridge need to be kept warm during winter work. Our solution is to keep an extra battery and cartridge in an inside pocket close to the body.
The nailers are under $400 and can be had at AIH, Home Depot, SBS, Lowes.........
The time you will save will amaze you and there are many nail sizes etc. to choose from..

"Oh, wouldn't the world seem dull and flat with nothing whatever to grumble at?" W.S. Gilbert

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

'Glu - Lam Humor'

We were building a cabin on Nancy Lake in the late 90's. The site wasn't road accessible so we had to take all of our material by boat to the shoreline and haul it up a steep hill to the building site.
I had hired two young fellows to carry the materials up the hill which was quite a task. When I got to the site to start building, I noticed two 5 1/8" x 12" Glue Laminated beams still at the waters edge. Instantly I new what had happend. The boys found the beams to be too heavy. True, they were 18' long and they were heavy, but I figured they could have carried them with a little effort. OK, a lot of effort.
I called them on the cell phone to ask why they hadn't taken the beams up the hill, I got the answer I had anticipated. " Those beams were just too heavy". I wasn't thrilled about it but I knew I was going to have to take the beams myself if they were going to get up there.
I hoisted the first beam on my shoulder and slowly started trudging up the hill. Wow, this beam was even heavier than I thought. By the time I got to the top of the hill I was breathing harder than if I had attempted a four minute mile. It seemed like my mouth wasn't quite big enough to take large enough breaths. One down and one to go.
On the second beam I went a little slower but the same problem arose at the top of the hill: I just couldn't catch my breath. Finally, both of the beams were at the top of the hill and I was quite proud of myself and I called the boys and told them that I took the beams myself just to rub it in a little.
Later that night when I got home, Gwen, my wife wanted me to hear a message she received on her cell phone. "You want to explain this?" she asked. The message started out with extremely heavy breathing and continued with heavy breathing for a minute or two which seemed a little long for an obscene phone call. Then it hit me.
I had accidentally hit the cell phone recall button in my pocket while hauling the beams and had called her phone and left a message. She looked at me after I explained and said one word sardonically. "Sure"

Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.
- Oscar Wilde

Friday, April 16, 2010

Porcupines Like Trex?

We have been hearing reports about Porcupines and trex. We would really appreciate any feedback.
It is pretty well known that porcupines like to chew on anything that contains salt or glue. They really like unpainted T1-11, mainly because it contains glue. Canoe paddles and wood hand tools are also favorites as they contain salt from the users sweaty palms.
There have been reports of porkys chewing on plastic culverts and trex decking. Since these products cannot be painted, other measures have to be taken if the problem persists.
If you have pictures of porcupine damage, particularly damage to trex decking and other synthetic products; we would like to post them for our readers.

Make failure your teacher, not your undertaker. - Zig Ziglar

Monday, April 12, 2010

More Cabin Tales

We had contracted to build a Uyak bay on the west side of Kodiak Island. A landing craft had been hired to haul the material which amounted to almost 50,000 pounds. My crew was on board and the boat was on the water for eight or nine hours when I got a phone call from Kenai Supply in Homer.
Kenai Supply was our supplier at the time in the mid nineties and we had always experienced excellent service from them. "Jay, I hate to tell you this, but we forgot the glu-lams on the Kodiak order." My heart quickened as I immediatly got on the phone to a friend in Kodiak to see if he knew anyone who could take the glu lams from Kodiak city. He didn't. I then called around to see if I could find anyone to take the beams. I finally settled on All West Freight in Sterling. 'Wild Bill' owned the company and he came by his name honestly. Bill agreed to take the beams in his Sky Van but since they were 20' long he wouldn't be able to close the back door.
I took the beams from Palmer to Sterling and loaded them on Bill's plane and we headed for Larsen Bay. When we got there I had to hire a truck to take the beams down to the bay, hire a boat to haul the beams across the bay, and pay the crew to haul them up to the building site. By the time we got the beams delivered they cost
2000.00 each compared to 300.00 at the lumber yard.
I guess it is true that you learn more from your losses than your wins. You would think that after a few projects like this I would want to give up. Well I thought about it a few times but couldn't bring myself to give up the exitement. Or, more likely, I don't know how to do anything else. In any event, we've learned a few things about building cabins over the years but we still get a surprise once and a while and that keeps it exiting.

No act of kindness, no matter how small is ever wasted.
- Aesop, Greek fabulist

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Building Season 2010

The 2010 building season has taken us a little by surprise. We have committed much of the summer and some of the fall of 2010 and the winter of 2011 looks like it will be busy with off road projects.
We still have some open dates for this season so don't hesitate to call.
Pricing has been very level for the past year until the past few weeks. We have seen metal roofing products shoot up 15% and lumber prices are very likely to follow. This means we may have to raise prices for the first time in almost four years. I am not sure when this will happen and we will hold it off as long as we can.
Financing institutions have lightened up a little since last year which helps when you're trying to get a construction loan.
All in all, 2010 is shaping up to be a good year for building so let us know what we can do for you!

There are no classes in life for beginners: right away you are always asked to deal with what is most difficult.Rainer Maria Rilke

Saturday, March 20, 2010

New Services

We are offering several new services for 2010. For each of our plans we will be offering three phases:
Phase I: Our standard framing shell that we have been listing for many years.
Phase II: Rough-in Plumbing and Wiring
Phase III: Insulation and Drywall Hanging
We feel that this will enable more clients to obtain owner/builder financing and expedite the process of finishing your home or cabin.
Pricing will be dependent on the size and complexity of the plan and will include our warranty and oversight.
Over the years we have seen that more people have problems with the wiring and plumbing than any phase of the work. By us shouldering that burden it will alleviate some of the headscratching for our clients.
Naturally, you will still save money by doing it yourself and we will assist in that as well by recommending reliable sub contractors to you.
Insulation and drywall is simply difficult and physically demanding. Many start into it and find it is much more difficult than they had anticipated.
By choosing Phase I through III you will be 75% complete and there will still be a lot of savings to be had by taking care of the taping, mudding, painting, cabinets, heat, floor coverings, trim and millwork in an insulated heated space.
These options aren't for everyone but they will be available for those who choose to quicken the process.

"A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining and wants it back the minute it begins to rain" ~ Mark Twain

Friday, February 26, 2010

Cabin Tales From The Darkside

You can't be in the remote building business for very long before you have a story or two about how things didn't work out as planned. This particular event occured in 1985 and is an excerpt from my book.
Ken Bunch from Glennallen sent a radio message to me in late July asking me if I would do some assessment work and cabin repairs at his gold claim at Calamity Gulch in the Wrangell Mountains. In order to keep a mining claim active one must do a certain amount of work on it each year and register the work with the claims office. Many people simply send in a phony assessment work claim instead of doing the actual work. But Ken was a very honest man and wanted to make sure he was keeping up with the assessment work as the claim was in the newly formed Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and he wanted to be sure and keep the claim active. We agreed to meet at the May Creek airstrip and he would try and land me with the Super Cub on the mountain above the claim to save me from a day’s hike.
This trip would be another one where everything went wrong from the first few minutes. The first thing to happen was my newly welded tail wheel broke loose from the tubing at May Creek. Then Ken’s pilot, Bernie, who was flying fuel to May Creek with the 206, forgot the staking posts that Ken had left for him.
Ken decided to fly up on the mountain to see if it was safe to land. When he came back he said it was too dangerous so I jumped in the Cub with him and we flew up to the mine and dropped the staking posts that Bernie had gone back to town to get. I could see that the posts had not landed in an easy spot to find and I wasn’t sure if I could find them when I got there on the ground or not.
When we got back to May Creek I strapped on my backpack and headed for Calamity creek, fifteen hard miles away.
I was on top of the ridge above the mine in about three or four hours and decided to take a shortcut down to the mine. Instead of walking down and around the valley I made the decision to slide down a shale slide, thus saving myself at least an hour. It was so steep I lowered my pack in front of me using it as a front brake. Somehow I stumbled and lost my grip on the pack and it started tumbling down the thousand foot shale slide, bouncing and spinning like a boulder dropped on a steep hillside. All I could do was stand and watch.
Not wanting to end up like my backpack, I slowly picked my way down the slide to where my pack was, lying in a small creek. Great, now all my gear was soaking wet, including my sleeping bag. My pack had been bent up a little but was in remarkably good shape considering what it had been through.
I picked my way down the small creek to Calamity creek, which took an hour or so, to find Calamity creek was raging high and I would have to criss cross down the creek because there was no way to walk on the side. It took another hour or so to reach the mining camp and I had fallen in the fast moving creek several times while trying to cross. I was soaking wet, cold, hungry and bone tired. The cabin was a welcome site and I just wanted to rest. When I got into the cabin I found that someone else had been there in the five years since I had been there. The windows were broken and the door had been torn off but it was better than nothing so I hung up my clothes to dry in the breeze blowing through. I was so hungry but too tired to cook. I had been thinking about the food Jim Kohring and I had stashed seven years earlier in the barrel in the attic. I climbed into the attic, reached in the barrel and the first thing I picked up was a can of stewed tomatoes. I opened the can with my pocket knife and ate the tomatoes right there in the attic. Nothing had ever tasted so good!
Being tired and wet I decided to take off all my clothes and hang them on a wire so the air circulating through the broken windows would dry them out at least partially during the night. I then crawled in my wet sleeping bag and immediately went to sleep.
During the night I dreamt that a breeze was blowing gently through the cabin windows causing my wet jeans to slap against the stove pipe they were hanging near. I soon awoke and realized the sound I thought was my wet jeans slapping against the pipe was a more ominous sound. Something was in the other room of the cabin rummaging around. I knew it had to be a bear. My .44 pistol was lying on a table about six feet away so I lunged out of my soggy sleeping bag, grabbed my pistol and climbed the ladder into the attic in one clumsy motion. Here I was, totally naked, sitting in the pitch dark attic with a pistol while a bear was in the other room. I didn’t have a flashlite but I figured the blast of the pistol would light up the room if only for an instant. I crawled as quietly across the attic until I could see down into the other room which had originally been a kitchen. The wild creature was knawing on something and didn’t seem to hear me. I finally shot the pistol out the window and was able to catch a glimpse of a dark furry animal. At first I thought it was a black bear sticking his head up through a hole in the floor but after some time I realized it was a porcupine. With some relief I climbed down out of the attic and chased off the porcupine and went back to sleep.
The next morning I built a fire in the yard to finish drying out my clothes, while walking back into the cabin I accidentally disturbed a nest of hornets near the door and they chased me back into the yard. After while I was able to get back into the cabin and retrieve my gear. While I was looking for the posts that Ken and I had dropped a day before, I had crawled into the underbrush on the hillside behind the cabin. I saw something orange lying in the brush several hundred yards from the camp. There was no reason for anyone to ever come to this place so I couldn’t figure what it could possibly be. When I finally got to the spot of orange I found it was a small orange back pack with the name “Morehouse” on it. It contained some miscellaneous tools in it and appeared to have been there for some years. It dawned on me that Ralph Morehouse, from the F/V Alaska Eagle had mentioned working a gold claim on Calamity creek and that he had air- dropped some stuff that he never recovered. He was going to be surprised when I returned it to him.
I re-staked the claim and did some simple repairs around the cabin and headed for May Creek where I found that Ken had left me some hose clamps and bailing wire to fix my tailwheel so I could fly home. I fixed the tailwheel, spun the prop and headed home, thankful that all projects weren't like this one.

"You cannot be mad at somebody
who makes you laugh -
it's as simple as that."
Jay Leno

Friday, February 19, 2010

Spring is Coming!

With all of this warm weather it is easy to get lulled into thinking that spring has sprung. Don't fall for it, it's a trap.
The spring and summer building season will be here shortly but we still have a lot of winter work to finish. The warm weather actually is not a blessing for us if it lasts too long. Trails get slushy and it makes it difficult to transport materials by snowmachine. Lakes get slushy and nasty for landing planes.
If you are considering a building project this season; now is a good time to let us know and start planning. This season is shaping up to be a very busy one but we still have several start dates available for the summer and fall. We are hearing that this season is busy for everyone which is a good sign.

The more a man knows, the more he forgives.
Catherine the Great

Friday, February 12, 2010

Kits at Last! New page Preview

Friesen’s Custom Cabin Kits
Over the past twenty years we have been asked over and over if we produce kits. We always said that we only build on your lot. Well, now we are producing kits for those who want to do the work themselves and save some bucks.
With our kits you can easily and quickly erect your cabin and enjoy it right away. You can use the money you save to finish the inside.
Each kit will come with a complete inventory list, drawings, directions and an instructional video. We also offer support over the phone or through email. If you run into trouble and need assistance with the project we have carpenters available to send out to your site at extra cost to lend a hand for a few hours or a few days if necessary.
Our packages include:
• Pressure treated 6 x6 pilings
• 4 x 12 floor beams
• 2 x 10 floor joist (pre-cut)
• ¾ Tongue and groove osb sub flooring
• 2 x 6 top and bottom plates ( pre-cut and layed out)
• 2 x 6 studs (pre-cut)
• Tyvek Housewrap
• 5/8” T1-11
• 3/1/8 x 12 loft beam
• 2 x 8 second floor joist ( Pre-cut)
• 2 x 8 rafters (pre-cut)
• 7/16” roof sheathing
• 15# felt roofing paper
• 29ga. Painted metal roofing (Pre-cut)
• Metal roof flashing
• Pre-cut ships ladder
• Pre-cut insulated window headers, trimmers , cripple studs and cedar trim
• Vinyl Windows
• Insulated metal door with deadbolt and lockset
• Framing hardware, nails, staples and roofing screws

Plan #1
16 x 20 Plan #1: $10,995.00
16 x 24 Plan #1: $12,995.00
20 x 24 Plan #1: $15,995.00
20 x 28 Plan #1: $18,595.00

Plan #5
16 x 20 Plan #5: $8,995.00
16 x 24 Plan #5: $10,895.00
20 x 24 Plan #5: $11,995.00
20 x 28 Plan #5: $13,995.00

The advantage to choosing us for your kit is our thirty plus years building in Alaska. We have built in every area of the state and can help you with logistics and planning.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Introducing Our First Kit Cabins!

We at Friesen's Custom Cabins have been toying with the idea of Kit Cabins for almost 20 years. Somehow we have never taken the step. Perhaps we weren't listening closely enough to our customer base. We have received countless phone calls and emails over the years about kit cabins and we're now offering our first kit cabin starting March 1.
Our first Kit will be a 16 x 20 plan #1 and will include foundation pilings, pre-cut floor joist, headers, plates, studs, rafters and metal roofing. The kit will also include four windows, door, steps etc. A short instructional video will also be included as well as an optional site visit from one of our staff to help with any questions.
The 16 x 20 Plan #1 Kit will be priced at $10,995. The advantage of buying a kit from us is our knowledge of construction and logistics. We will be able to assist in organizing remote transportation and finish products as well.
If the first kit is popular, we will introduce more kits as requests come in and offer custom kits as well.

Once the game is over, the king and the pawn go back in the same box.
- Anonymous

Monday, February 8, 2010

Remote Building II: Construction Phase

Most of the problems in remote building are in the transportation. Construction in remote areas is much the same as on the road system but with a few complications. Below are some considerations for the constructioon phase. None of these situations are serious by themselves but they all add to the cost of construction. All of these things need to be averaged into the cost of doing business over the years or a contractor will never survive. We don't plan for mishaps and emergencies; we do however, plan to be ready for them if they arise.
1. Are there existing quarters for the crew or are we bringing our own tents and cooking gear?
2. Is there good drinking water available? We don't want anyone getting sick. We have seen crew members get sick and require an extra charter to get them out and bring a new crew in.
3. What about restroom facilites? This may seem silly to consider but it can be extremely uncomfortable in certain areas.
4. Are we in bear country? Many times we are working in bear country which calls for special measures. Bears can obviously do a lot of damage to a campsite.
5. What about communications? Do we need a satellite phone?
6. Do we have an emergency plan? Construction involves working with tools that can be dangerous and we need to have an extensive first aid kit and a plan to evacuate a crew member if the need arises. (We have had to implement this evacuation plan on more than one occasion.)
7. We need a back up for every tool, especially generators.
8. What if material arrives damaged? Sometimes materials are damaged in shipment and replacements need to be shipped. (Twice we have had helicopters drop loads in the middle of nowhere)
9. Weather can be a limiting factor in some areas. Some days are too extreme to work in and the crew has to take a down day. Too many down days and the crew will be looking for a job in a better environment.
10. Most crew members want to work overtime when out of town. This adds considerable labor costs to the project and has to be added into the estimate.

These are just a few of the issues to consider when estimating a remote project.

"A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out."
-Walter Winchell

Monday, February 1, 2010

Remote Building Costs I: Transportation

We have been building in remote areas for over thirty years now but every year we get a surprise or two when estimating off road projects.
Whether you are a mile from a road or four hundred miles from the road system; there are special considerations.
Most projects on the road system are relatively simple. You order your materials and have them delivered to the site, give your crews directions and meet them at the site and start the work. Off road projects are more problematic.
It really isn't so difficult to build off the road system. It is extremely difficult to build off the road system and make a profit.
There are many things to take into consideration when estimating a remote project; I have a couple of stories for every question listed below that I will address in future blogs. These are a few of the questions we ask or confirm before starting on a remote project. After building over 500 projects statewide we have run into many obstacles that can be career ending if you figure wrong.

1. Location of the jumping off spot; ie, the staging area. How far is it from our base? The crew will need to be compensated for their time traveling.
2. Is there adequate space for material storage at staging area? Do we need to provide equipment ie. forklift for loading the plane or boat.
3. Is staging area secure or do we need to have someone watching the material while we are transporting. Can we leave equipment there overnight or do we need to take it with us?
4. Is there lodging available near the staging area?
5. Is there fuel available or do we need to bring our own?
6. How far is the site from the staging area?
7. What method of transportation for materials?
8. What method of transportation for crew. (This might seem obvious but if you are barging your materials to Western Alaska; it is doubtful that you will want your crew travelling on the barge.
9. If you are going overland in Winter; What are the trail conditions? Is there any open water or overflow to be concerned about? Do you have to cross any private property? Is the trail wide enough?
10. Is there room at the site for storage of materials?
11. If you are flying materials you may have to provide crew to load and unload.
12. Is there a good landing spot at the building site? How far from the landing site to the building site. (This is very important) What method of transport from the landing site to the building site? Is there legal access from the landing site?(we have faced this before where there was no legal access to the building site from the airport).
13. If you are flying materials on floats; Is the water deep enough to taxi to the shore? Is there any protection from the wind? We have landed in water so shallow that we had to unload the Otter in the middle of the lake onto a raft; push it to shore and unload, then carry the material 100 yards through the swamp to the building site. On this project the transport was almost as much as the construction.
14. If you are flying materials on Skiis; Do you have a way to pack an airstrip for the plane? Most pilots flying heavy loads will want a packed strip, that means a snowmachine or snowshoes.(Lots of snowshoes)
15. If you are hauling by boat; is there somewhere safe to park your truck and trailer? Are there launch fees? Do you have to wait on tides?

These are just a few considerations to make before estimating costs on a remote project. Once you know the conditions, you use experience to figure the costs. More to come in Part II

"I don't like that man. I must get to know him better"Abraham Lincoln

Saturday, January 23, 2010

2010 Construction Season

The 2010 construction season is shaping up to be a busy one. Perhaps the banks and lending institutions are lightening up a little or it may be that we are getting accustom to the new economy.
We still have some start dates available this coming summer but they are going fast. There are plenty of spots in the fall and winter however, and we still have one opening for this spring.
Financing procedures usually take several months so if you need financing for summer and fall work, it is best to start now. The paperwork for a construction loan can be very intimidating; don't let it scare you, we can help!
Our pricing hasn't changed since 2007 but we are anticipating an increase this year, we just don't know when.

I am not young enough to know everything
by Oscar Wilde.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bush Cabin Design

If you google 'Cabin Designs'you will see there are 3,730,000 results. That is the reason it is so difficult to make a selection. In bush Alaska the designs are narrowed down somewhat due to utility.
We specialize in fairly simple, efficient designs that have been proven for hundreds if not thousands of years. As you can see on our website we try to keep dimensions to 2' increments and we don't encourage multiple valleys, flat roofs, round work or dead valleys.
In snow country it is important to make sure the snow has a place to go when it comes off the metal roof to minimize damage and injury. Since many of our structures are not lived in full time; we try to make them as maintenance friendly as possible.
Most people come to us with a plan in their mind. It might be something they saw online or in a plan book. It could be a plan from their past; perhaps their grandparent's cabin from their childhood. One lady wanted a replica of the cabin she grew up in in the Fairbanks area; even the screened in porch with an old fashioned screen door with a spring on it so it would make the same slamming sound as she remembered from her childhood in the 1930's. When we were finished and the door slammed shut; she was very happy as it brought back memories of her past.
Our job is to make your plans fit your dreams within your budget which isn't always easy. The most important component is communication between the client and the designer/builder. The more information we have about your needs, the easier it is to deliver a design to fit those needs. Most designs are a compromise between needs, wishes and budget.
The first step is to have us prepare a proposal for you on a basic plan. If your budget allows; you can add options to it or subtract from it as you wish. Budget is always a factor. I have never built for anyone who didn't have a limited budget for their project.
Most projects take several planning meetings before settling on a plan; however, some folks have been planning for many years and know exactly what they want it to look like.
If you have a custom plan in mind or even a 'bar napkin drawing', that is enough to get started.

Always do right - this will gratify some and astonish the rest.
- Mark Twain

Friday, January 8, 2010

Cabin Financing Part II

The first step is finding a suitable lot. The second step is to view our website for ideas or give us your ideas so we can put together a proposal and some drawings.
Once the drawings are done and the proposal is withing your budget; we will do a quick calculation of the finish costs you can expect and you can go to the bank for a consultation with a loan officer. We have had good success with Alaska USA, Mat Valley Credit Union and First National of Anchorage.
Once you have your loan packet we can schedule an appointment and go over it with you. Then we get bids from our sub contractors for whatever portion of the work you cannot do yourself, do the worksheet, put together the schedule and submit it to the bank for approval.
Some banks will require an asbuilt survey, appraisal and ICBO inspections, so these have to be figured into the final cost. The process can take as little as two weeks and as long as six months depending on how busy everyone is and your schedule. The average time for construction of a residential home by an owner/builder is six months.
Owner/builder projects aren't for everyone but there are a lot of savings to be had if you have the time to keep an eye on the work and the schedule. If you have questions about the process feel free to send and email or give us a call and we can steer you in the right direction.

The next thing to saying a good thing yourself, is to quote one."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, January 4, 2010

Cabin Financing Part I

Financing a second home is much like financing anything else. You need collateral, credit, ability to pay and a down payment in most cases. If your cabin is not your primary residence you may face slightly more scrutiny.
If you are building off the road system with no utilities, it is unlikely that you are going to get a 30 year conventional mortgage. You can, however, get a signature loan or a home equity loan on your primary residence or build the shell with cash and finish it as you have funds. With a dried-in shell you can at least start using it on a limited basis until you have the funds to finish. The danger here is that you can get mighty comfortable partially finished and never get it done but that is another story.
For a conventional construction loan, most lending institutions will want title to the building lot and a down payment. If you're an owner/builder, the bank will want a realistic schedule and a worksheet of the project with bids from sub-contractors for each phase of the work. Or a complete proposal from a General Contractor. You can save at least 25% by acting as your own General Contractor. We have guided many homeowners through the process.
We at FCC specialize in working with owner/builders. We do the design work, help you do your construction schedule worksheet and give you names of our sub contractors for the portion of the work you wish to sub out. Banks are more likely to loan to an owner/builder if they know they are working with a General Contractor for the first phase of the work. At least the bank will have a dried-in shell for collateral before anything can go too far wrong.
Next: Cabin Financing Part II

I have enough money to last me the rest of my life, unless I buy something.
Jackie Mason (1934 - )