Getting a Survey and The Tale of The $80k Door

When one door costs a year’s salary.

When you are a city dweller who has only ever rented little apartments the idea of owning land is kind of mind blowing. Andrew and I still just walk around the property and are like, see that tree? It’s mine. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT??

When your shoes match your rake

When we were purchasing the house, it was a requirement for our mortgage to get a survey of our land done. I guess you need this in case there are disputes about the property lines or something in the future. I was mostly focused on how cool it would be to have a full on map of our property.

We had our survey done by a local guy who really loved talking to me on the phone. Could not get the dude to shut up. But he was full of good gossip about the neighbors, local zoning laws and all other things country. Essentially, we paid this crazy guy to walk around our property for two full days, tie neon ribbons on a few trees marking the boundaries, draw us a map and write a description of the property line. The description is surprisingly one of the best parts. I love it.

BEGINNING AT A MARBLE MONUMENT THENCE ALONG THE MAGNETIC MERIDIAN TO THE LARGE HEMLOCK TREE! ~swoon~ And thus my favorite run on sentence of all time hath so been written.

I promise we’re going to talk about expensive doors here (#noclickbait), but I want to show you the layout of the house on the property so you get me and why I wanted these big ass doors and windows. Here is the map we got:

Feeling peak adult with this.
~when you realize how small the house you just bought is ~

Our little house is in the woods down in a valley so it gets fairly limited light. I wanted to open it up as much as possible with big beautiful windows. I think I must have said this a lot because our architect really nailed this on our plans.

Before demo day we actually taped out the size of the new window frames on the walls to see what it would be like. They were huge!

Note the very high end stereo system

I was somewhat concerned that I had gone fully off the rails with the ridiculous size of these windows, but mostly I was pumped.

The western side of the house faces a big open meadow and all other sides are surrounded by woods. I wanted to open that side up as much as possible to bring in a feeling of spaciousness.

The view to the west (and a dope sunset)

We went through a couple of design iterations on this elevation.

Original and the first take
The version going into construction

I was pretty happy with this last version. My architect came up with it after I was like, what about some sliders? To be clear, this drawing is one large door with two sliding panels in the middle. The whole thing is 22 feet across with 4 5'6" by 7' panels of glass.

In retrospect I think I was pretty naive assuming this was at all possible. I was just like, well, they put it in there so I guess they can do it! Lalala ~hands covering ears~ So we operated with this drawing for like 2 more months as we tweaked various other things. The last stage of work with the architect was something called the “window and door schedule” where the architect indicates the exact windows and doors to purchase. At this stage, my drawing was changed to this:

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Significantly less awesome amirite? I asked what the heck happened and it turned out that while that giant glass door had been in the drawings all along, it wasn’t a standard size and it would be way outside of our budget. Such a bummer.

I spoke to our GC when he got these plans and I asked him if he could price out the larger doors just to understand the price difference. Turns out those big doors cost $80,000. I mean. That’s insane. Well technically they cost $40,000 but the company insists on installing them themselves and they charge another $40,000 for the installation. But you know. Same.

Obviously this was a bummer but, here’s where being addicted to Dwell magazine and Pinterest really helped me out. What made the door so expensive was not the large panes of glass but the fact that it was all one single unit.

In my endless browsing I had found this photo. They had a really similar shape opening here (albeit with stacking doors instead of sliders) but the post separating these openings makes this home so much more interesting. The way they ran the vertical siding right down the center of the post makes it feel so intentional (and not like they simply didn’t spring for the $80k door). I think it also makes the house feel like a modern home in the woods, not like something that belongs in Malibu that I forced into upstate NY.

I did a new set of drawings to incorporate this idea and asked our GC to price it out.

I also changed the entry, more on that later.

These doors were still pricey, but they were way more feasible and did not blow our entire budget at $7.5k a pop. Obviously this is still a very expensive door but since all the other windows and doors were standard sizes and this would be such a focal piece of the house, we decided to go for it. I am also way happier with the look and think it will be more unique and interesting than the original plan.

I think there were a few lessons here. First, get a survey because it’s so fun. Second, be skeptical, if something looks expensive it probably is. Don’t just trust that everyone involved is always taking your budget into consideration. I would have much preferred to find out that these doors were too expensive before I spent months mulling over and tweaking the plans only to discover they were out of reach at the last moment.

Finally, don’t lose hope if it seems like the look you want is out of your budget. Do research and look for creative solutions. Maybe you’ll even find something you like better. Work the problem, as Ed Harris would say in Apollo 13. The best movie ever made.