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Elevation gone wrong

Posted by robin1190 (My Page) on
Fri, Jun 28, 13 at 10:09

We are just beginning building our home. Our plans were laid out as a one level home with no-to-little steps than what is necessary. While we were gone on vacation, which just so happened to be right when we broke ground, we got a call from our builder that the elevation had a 7' difference. He didn't tell us what that meant at the time and we didn't give it much thought as we trusted him. When we returned home, the foundation had been laid and we were told there would be 9 steps in to the house from the garage. WHAT?!!! 9 steps?!! What happened to the one level home we designed?

Needless to say, I'm very frustrated. The builder said the lot was deceiving and he didn't know and it could have cost a lot of money to level the ground and we might not have been able to do it because of the septic tank that needs to go in close by. (we are building in the country, so we have to put in a septic tank). Ok, well that might have been the case, but he didn't check in to these things at all and went ahead and proceeded.

Now we are faced with 9 stairs in the garage in a home that is going to be our retirement home. At some point when we are older (we are late 40's-early 50's now), we are not going to be able to walk up 9 steps. ugh

The front and back door have the same issues, but not as many stairs. So now we are talking to the landscaper and builder together to see what we can do to remedy those without having all the stairs. Is there anything we can do at this point now that the foundation has been laid and the framing has begun? do we have any recourse with our builder now?


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Elevation gone wrong

You can't remedy a 7' difference from where you are now. I'm not sure exactly how it all went down, or what communications were had among you, the builder, the designer and the dirt men who prepped the site -- but something went amiss. Setting all of that aside, I don't see how you get back to your single-level build without moving the dirt under the house. Which means that everything stops, the garage section (at least) of the foundation (and whatever framing) is removed, grading is revisited, whatever allowances/changes are made to deal with the septic, and you dig and pour again.

Barring that, you can price what it would cost (if it is even feasible) to "build up" the foundation and the slab in the garage to get it up to the level of the house.

Again -- no easy way to fix it.


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No way to really fix this now without a lot of money. Money that your idiot builder will not want to lay out. He might walk away instead.

Wasn't a topographical survey part of the package that you gave to the architect when the home was designed? If you didn't have an architect, then who designed the building? You cannot design a "flat" home with a 7' grade change. The home has to be designed for the site conditions. Whomever assessed the site conditions originally is the original culprit, and then the builder who doesn't own a level to be able to see that the site isn't flat to be able to build the plan without site amelioration.

The best course of action at this point might be to treat this as a spec home and finish it up and sell it. With a substantial discount from the builder, you might at least break even on the build. Then choose another architect who will built for the next exact site in question and a much more experienced and competent builder.


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At first, I thought this was the usual confusion of ' and ".

But no. Seven feet!

As a builder, I've always been accurate within one - two steps. And you can usually grade landscaping to reduce exterior changes.

you can price what it would cost (if it is even feasible) to "build up" the foundation and the slab in the garage to get it up to the level of the house.

I've seen this done. Except the driveway looks like a ski-hill.

Time to consult your lawyer to see your remedies, or lack thereof.

This keeps the water out of your garage.


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RE: Elevation gone wrong

This is a great design for eliminating cars and RVs parked in the drive-way. Skate boarders, however, should love it!


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RE: Elevation gone wrong

That is a huge mistake from the builder. He should have utilized some common sense to not allow construction to proceed as that. He raised the red flag first but did not take it seriously enough to get your reponse in writing and just assumed that you would't care. Yes. Some terrible communication problems among builder, owner, and architect/designer, and basically the whole team. It is so unfortunate. You need to seek an attorney for sure.

I am going to build my own house soon. No wonder I am worried about so many different things...

Jf


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RE: Elevation gone wrong

A 7' difference in the height of the lot should have been visible from the street I would think, no?


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Totally agree with all of you. No way do I want my driveway a ski slope. He totally messed up. Maybe he assumed we didn't care about the 7' elevation. This is our property we are having it built on, so we won't be selling it...we'll have to live there.

At this point, the garage will have to stay as it is. There's nothing we can do now without tearing it down and starting over. Moving forward, is there a way to put retaining walls or whatever, to level the entrance to the front and back doors or will we still have a couple steps? A couple steps would be fine, but definitely not going to have more steps up in to the house.

We are meeting with the landscaper and builder again on Monday to discuss what can be done with the entrances, but any suggestions you guys have would be greatly appreciated! I'm trying to move on, even tho I'm extremely pissed about this.


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And if the lot slopes 7', then you would have steps on one side and none on the opposite, with the "East and West" sides (if the other two are N and S) halfway between. The grade of the lot should very seldom dictate steps on all sides of a house. (save for sitting the house on the crest of a steep lot)


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is there a way...to level the entrance to the front and back doors or will we still have a couple steps?

Many ways. Given enough space, you can regrade the yards. Or step up in levels of one-three steps at a time.


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RE: Elevation gone wrong

Can you post a site plan, floor plan, photo? What kind of contract do you have with the builder? Or is this his lot and is he financing? I wouldn't proceed or indicate in any way that you accept what's been done, or make next payment without looking carefully at the contract (with quick legal consultation if necessary, which could be a tiny bit of money well-spent). It's not clear to me how this 7' was missed by everyone and not addressed by drawings before ground was even broken. If you say he messed up, why are you already accepting the situation and moving on? There would be no easier time than right now to change what's been built rather than trying to change your site to fit the building. Also, this is the time to show the builder that there is a right way to communicate, and that making big decisions like this without your input is unacceptable. If you don't do this, it may happen again.


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Is the garage even big enough to build a ramp over the stairs in the future?


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Good point chispa. A 9 step set of stairs is is going to require about 8'-6" of run which very well make your garage unusable for putting a car in (or at least one bay)!


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Unless, they have room to turn the stairs and run them along the "front" of the garage. In that case, and if they had a gable over the garage facing the driveway (or if one can now be added to remedy the situation), they could extend the front of the garage forward on the driveway, to gain the space necessary at the stair end... It won't help with curb appeal, as you'll have a huge nose of a garage, but you can get your accessibility.
This assumes a door to the main house from the "front" of the garage and not the side.

Can you post some layouts?


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The stairs can run parallel to the garage wall.

However, as posters have pointed out, it makes no sense to accept the mistake if the OP is not wholly or partially responsible.


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We do have plenty of space to make the steps at a gradual level. Here's a photo of the floor plans. The builder says to put the stairs in the garage on the right hand side, but my thoughts are that you won't be able to get in the passenger side door, so wondering if the back of the garage would be better.

This is the first time my husband and I have built a house and neither of us knew what all was involved, but we trusted our builder, so if something went different, we assumed he would fix it. That's where we went wrong...in assuming that when he told us about the 7' elevation difference would be fixed to still keep our level home. Well, it wasn't cuz nothing was discussed and our builder did not volunteer the information about having stairs. What else can we do at this point besides have him tear it down and start over? I doubt he'll do that, as that would cost a lot.

The land is ours and we are financing the house.

Good points dadereni....I guess I need to be more aggressive at this point. Everyone seems to be just accepting and saying there's nothing we can do now, so let's see what we can do with the entrances....yet I'm still not happy with this.


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RE: Elevation gone wrong

Contact a lawyer *asap*.

Note that this doesn't necessarily mean you're going to tell the builder that you're talking to a lawyer, but you shouldn't (as someone else here said) note any approval of what they've done. Contacting a lawyer doesn't automatically imply you're going to go to court, arbitration etc. A good attorney can help you have a discussion with the builder (even if they're not present and simply give you advice before & after, or pre-screen your emails).

Note for anyone else reading this that has not yet signed a contract with a builder. Get a lawyer to review it before you sign anything. It'll cost a few hundred dollars. That is nothing compared to the cost of the house, and having to live with something like this (or the cost of fixing it) forever. Same thing for your architect/etc contracts.


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Can you post pictures of the build in it's current condition? And from all sides so we can see how the lot slopes. There must be a slope from the left side of the house to the center of the house since there are more steps from the garage than the front door. Does it continue to slope downward toward the right side of the house?

And if the builder miscalculated on the slope of the land, how is he handling drainage on the property? Was that done properly?


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Okay, so what I would suggest is to put a RAMP (not stairs) along the "top" wall of the garage. And, pull your garage front forward to make up the lost-to-the-ramp-space so you can still fit a car in there.

That might actually work fairly well (you'll lose garage wall space, so hopefully you didn't intend to put a shop along that top wall) but that ramp could end approximately between the 2 door sets--the middle of the garage.

You'd pull your roof gable forward and need to enlarge your garage pad, and need to hope are you still building with in setbacks, but that would be my first preference for how to deal with it... AND, of course, all of those changes and added expenses (more garage roof trusses) being on the GC's dime.


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Also of note--for a forever until I die kind of home, you need to change your WC door (in your master bath) from an inswing to a pocket door, or get rid of it all together.


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We have a similar situation in that our lot falls off towards the garage side. We ended up with a set of 3 steps heading into the house that doesn't allow a car door to swing open next to them. Luckily, I drive a minvan and the door can slide open letting the kids get in. This change in grade also gives us 4 steps into our service door.

Like others have said, make sure that ample space is allotted for pulling in a car or for door swing.

We had the top name architect in our town do our plans and he didn't catch this. Live and learn, that is for sure.


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From that floor plan I don't see how you can do the steps there for them to not block one of your garage bays and making it a 2.5 car garage.


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kirkhall.....the walk in closet door? yea, good idea...prob just get rid of it all together.

I have some pics, but I'm going to take more so you can see the front landscape area. I'm hoping we can make a gradual ramp instead of any stairs in to the main entrance.

Unfortunately, it's too late to put the stairs or ramp at the top of the garage. We're pretty much out of luck with the garage situation at this point I guess. I'm hoping we'll be able to put in a hydraulic lift or something in the future if we need it, but gonna talk to the builder and find out about that. Will also discuss drainage, good point.

The house slopes down toward the garage...no slope on the other side.

Caben, very good points. We definitely should have had a lawyer review the contract from the beginning. This whole thing got messed up cuz we were not thinking clearly when he called us on vacation to tell us about the elevation to ask any questions, nor did he inform us what that meant. We just assumed whatever was wrong, he would fix it....afterall, we designed a one level home and we told him over and over we didn't want any steps. I would have never thought this would happen. We have another meeting with him tomorrow and then the landscaper on Monday so we can discuss the front and back entrances.


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That is really beyond the pale -- that driveway is unusable -- vehicles will bottom out. You said it just happened, but the house looks farther along than that? I'd have the builder stop work until further notice, and consult an attorney stat. This does not look like something fixable without starting over. It seems unlikely that you would be on the hook for costs, but you really need to discuss with an attorney.


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RE: Elevation gone wrong

"The builder said the lot was deceiving" What does that even mean? He doesn't have a level or doesn't know how to use one? Seven feet is not exactly a subtle drop over the length of most house footprints. It is hard to see how a competent person could fail to take that into account, given that you had highlighted the issue. We are building a retirement house on a similar slope and decided that we could live with steps to the front door as long as we had a "no-step" entrance on an adjacent side. We have parents who still climb stairs just fine in their eighties, so we'll hope that works for us, but it's always good to have a backup plan. Hope this gets resolved for you.


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Not your walk-in-closet (WIC); your WC (water closet/toilet room) door... You need a non-in-swing on master bath toilet door for safety.


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totally agree lori! I don't know how it was missed either. I'm hoping we will still be able to do stairs when we're older, but like you said, we need another alternative. Sure hoping Monday when we get together they will have a good plan for us.

Kirk - oh ok! Definitely have to have a door to the toilet room, but why do you say a non in-swing is better?


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In case someone were to collapse in the bathroom and block the door no one would be able to get in. Unfortunately not something a lot of people think about or plan for but very important none the less.


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What I'm thinking is that you need another bay added onto the garage in order to be able to keep the same parking and storage that you originally envisioned and still have room for a ramp into the home. That should come at no charge from the builder. Depending on how the gables run, perhaps that single bay could now become the double bay, and the double bay could become a single +, with the ramp/stairs located to the right, next to the entrance. You'd have a little room left over, but you wouldn't have to try to cram in stairs and parking also and LOSE space due to his incompetency.


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Would you be open to any suggestions to improve the function and safety of the layout, or are things already set in stone as far as plumbing locations, internal walls, etc. I'm sorry, but I don't see this home as very friendly to universal design at all, even if you do manage to get an exterior ramp into the space.


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greendesigns, what do you mean by "bay"?

Yes, I'm open to any suggestions you have! I'm not sure at this point what we can change. I need to find out what has progressed within the past 2 days. Last time I knew heating and cooling had gone in. Not sure if plumbing was in yet. We meet with our builder in a couple hours.


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on the bright side, we have a storage room tall enough for a pet giraffe we always wanted. lol


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on the bright side, we have a storage room tall enough for a pet giraffe we always wanted. lol


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Since our garage is now going to be so high, we are considering adding another room up there....you could get to it by the garage stairwell. What do you think?


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Since our garage is now going to be so high, we are considering adding another room up there....you could get to it by the garage stairwell. What do you think?


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Generally not allowed...

But, I am now confused. Do you mean that your garage is higher than your main floor? Will you be walking UP stairs to get into your home from the garage, or Down stairs?


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"high garage" probably means high garage roof.

A ramp would wrap around the entire garage.

The only simple solution is to leave space (like a storage closet) for a future elevator. It is unlikely that you will ever add the elevator but it will allow you to move on.


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Still confused, who laid out the house? An architect certainly should have accounted for a 7' elevation change. What does he say about this or did you not have an architect?


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We hired a builder and he had a draftsman.

There will be 9 steps from the garage in to the house, so the garage sets lower than the rest of the house. And in order to get from the garage area in to the front door from outside, there's going to have to be either a ramp or more stairs, which could be gradual I know, but this just keeps getting worse. I can't begin to tell you how upset I am about this now. My husband keeps telling me we'll do the best we can to make it a nice gradual incline and can do the ramp, but I still think we could have looked at other possibilities had we known all this.

We had a meeting with the builder yesterday and what he told us was that there were a couple things that determined all of this. One being the septic tank. Because we had to put the septic tank in the front of the property, which is in front of the house, we couldn't dig down that side of the house to be level with the garage because then the house would have been lower than the septic. He wanted to put the septic in the back yard area, but we are going to put a pool there next year. We also have to have a reserve area set for a reserve septic, so he's not even sure if we COULD have put the septic in the back, but that would have been something to look in to. The other thing I thought about is maybe we needed to go back and have the whole design layout redone. I just think there are other things we could have looked at and tried before him going ahead and laying the foundation. I know he did the best he could do with the circumstances he had, but I do feel he should have told us about all these stairs because that would have sent a red flag to me to ask about other possibilities. He also said it cost him another $7K in material costs because of the elevation.

It sounds like the best alternative to do now is ramp it, so I hope it can look nice and not look like a geriatric clinic.

I'm going to upload some pics here to show you where we're at right now. I'm curious to know about how much money is put in to it so far cuz I feel like tearing the whole thing down and starting over, but ugh...prob way too much money.

I'm standing in front of where the front door will be in these photos....sorry, I should have taken one from looking up from the garage area. I'll get more today if you need a better view.


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This is the front door area


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This is off to the right where my office and studio entrance is.


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RE: Elevation gone wrong

IMO, amazing that you're just going to let something of this magnitude slide. Though it's also amazing to me that the plans were so vague that this wasn't clear from the elevations. Typically the architect has to "fit" the elevations to the contour of the land so these sorts of discrepancies would show up. My architect has a CAD model of our topo survey and built the house as a model on top of it. It provides a pretty clear picture of the lay of the land, as it were.

A change at this point would be very costly (and who bears the cost will likely be contentious) and most likely involve a lot of demolition of the existing foundation, regrading and/or changes to the design of the house. For me, having a "tall brow" on the garage would be unacceptable. But different strokes for different folks I guess.

There was a thread on here a few months back where people were talking about how wonderful it was that they could trust their builder so much there was no need for a contract etc. I had to roll my eyes a little at that. There's a spectrum of how a project can go. On one end everything goes perfectly (unattainable) and on the other end everything goes wrong. In the middle somewhere are various issues like these. I guess it comes down to what your expectations are etc. If you're not using an experienced architect/civil engineer/lawyer etc, you really are leaving yourself prone. I wish this forum had a way to stick a post to the top that linked to important threads, because I think this thread is one of them.

As Virgil would say, good luck with your project!


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Okay, I understand why the house couldn't have been lower, but what I don't understand is that why the garage can't be higher? Sure, it will take a lot of grading and you may need a retaining wall, but IMHO, you will regret it if you keep it as is. Even if you can get it so that there are 4-5 steps then that will be a huge improvement.

We had specified that we wanted zero steps from the garage to the house. The floor of the garage of 7" lower and we step up into the house.

There are no steps drawn on the plans so how can he go from zero to 9?


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Okay, I understand why the house couldn't have been lower, but what I don't understand is that why the garage can't be higher? Sure, it will take a lot of grading and you may need a retaining wall, but IMHO, you will regret it if you keep it as is. Even if you can get it so that there are 4-5 steps then that will be a huge improvement.

We had specified that we wanted zero steps from the garage to the house. The floor of the garage of 7" lower and we step up into the house.

There are no steps drawn on the plans so how can he go from zero to 9?


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I agree...I know it's a big thing and believe me, I've lost sleep and have been talking about it non stop to my husband...if we stop construction, we go to court, thousands of dollars lost if we have to tear down and rebuild. etc, etc. That's what I feel like doing at this point. I'm so frustrated. My husband doesn't want to do that...he wants to figure a way to make it acceptable and move on. Me, I'm more for getting what I dreamed of having in the first place, but if we end up having to pay for this, we can't afford the lost costs. So we're trying to figure out what we can do at this point to see if it will be acceptable to us.

I'll talk to him about raising the garage up. He said he can make a ramp walkway up to the porch and would have 3 steps from there in to the house and the incline would not be steep. I'll look at the drawings this afternoon to see what he has in mind. :(


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Talked to my loan officer and no draw has been taken yet on what has been done, so the builder has not requested money to pay yet.


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So, why would YOU have to pay anything to fix this major mistake by the builder? He made the mistake, it's up to him to fix it. Putting in steps doesn't do that. He should regrade the lot to make it work. Gratis.


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robin, I believe your beginning to understand the dangers of using a draftsperson (as you suggested on another post) and not an actual architect.


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yes, I certainly am.

What happens at this point if we stop construction? We can get legal advice, but am wondering then does it sit in arbitration for months? Or what would the process be?


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I would let the builder know that construction has stopped, (in writing). Get a professional engineer to come look and give suggestions, cost shouldn't be more than $400<>. Have the builder there when he visits. Go to the county/town and review the plans he submitted to see if they are what he is building. Talk to an attorney if this is your last house, (more than likely it will not be). (I'm living in my last house yet building my last house), go figure?) As a last resort, block up the garage entrance and put in 7-9 feet of fill. Pour a new floor at that level with one step to the main house and grade the driveway up to it. (Unless it looks like the photo way above.


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Because we had to put the septic tank in the front of the property, which is in front of the house, we couldn't dig down that side of the house to be level with the garage because then the house would have been lower than the septic.

Why couldn't he put in a pump system for the septic. A number of our neighbors have pump systems because of the difference in elevation of their house and their septic.


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So which was it....did the builder misread the drawing or was the drawing wrong? And where was the building inspector?

We too wanted a one story house for our retirement. I remember we spent a lot of time placing our house...with the builder in the hole with a story pole, and us, and the architect all ensuring that the house would come out as we had planned and sit properly on the property.

And please, next time the builder calls you to say X is out of whack by X amount, please make sure you understand exactly what it is he's talking about.


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What kind of contract do you have?
Usually contracts state the construction of a house according to plans - and the plan does not show 9 steps.
I would not consider something like this a mistake. The contours of a lot can be deceiving but once the foundation contractor starts digging, he will let the GC know about a situation like this. This happens before placing the forms and pouring.

In this case the GC deliveratedly decided to cut cost and go with the 7' difference.
I would not accept something like this, considering that you made it clear from the beginning that you wanted a one level house.
I would stop construction and find legal help.


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Robin1190 - Sorry to hear about your experience. What did you end up doing?

My husband and I are going through a similar experience; trusted the builder, they drafted the plans, we were never shown a topo survey or a story stick, but we were explicit about not having steps to the outside from the house or the service door of the garage, discussed it in several conversations and there were none on our plans so we felt we were heard...until we saw the foundation already poured and were told we'd have 4-5 steps into our front (side) door and about the same from our sliding door onto our patio (we told our builder "no deck") and 2-3 steps out of our garage service door. A huge problem because we have a narrow lot, a side entrance and the stairs prevent access to the back yard and the lake! Even if we make the stairs so you go up one side to the door then down the other side to the lake what a foreseeable royal PITA for carrying coolers, lake toys, etc from the garage to the boat. Sorry, I don't mean to go on and on...it's just so hard to see something you work so hard for be executed on so poorly and not be able to "fix" it.

How did you resolve the matter? Take legal action? Any reimbursement or no charge from your builder for excavation and foundation work? Would you have any pictures of your walkway "ramp" from driveway to front door?


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I don't know how this previous problem was resolved but legal action would have been high on my list.

Any competent builder would survey the site and work out any elevation issues before actual construction begins.

(particularly if you have explicitly told them you do not want steps and the plans do not show steps)

On the other hand, I suppose if you already owned the land and would have had to make the same compromise to get the house built at an affordable cost it would probably not be reasonable to sue them because it did not meet some unpractical ideal. So in that case it would be a question of did the builder (at least) use the best solution?
In other words, simply suing the builder because they did not give you a chance to agree on the changes before they where made (but would have agreed with) seems not quite above board to me.

Still any competent builder would not leave site elevations to chance.


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