View Full Version : Vacation Home

10-26-2007, 12:40 PM
Anyone willing to share his experience and insigths about building a vacation home?

In a search for perfect water, I am close to buying a lot on a private lake in northwest Illinois.

Staying within budget means keeping a vacation home on this lot to not more than 1,500 square feet and making it pretty much a do-it-yourself project.

With respect to experience, I gutted and rebuilt the kitchen and first floor bathroom of my primary residence, hiring a licensed electrician to provide direction and check on my work, and put a new roof on a larger home. I have three sons (ages 22, 20, and 14) who are pretty good with tools. I have the basic power tools (table saw, compund miter saw, drills, etc).

I'm inclined to hire a contrctor to excavate and put in a full basement. Am debating buying a prepackaged home kit vs. buying materials from a building supply center such as Lowes and working from a set of blue prints.

Ranch style is an easier build, but for a few more bucks on the same size foundation a cape cod offers second floor space where my kids' friends can drop their sleeping bags for the weekend.

This will be the biggest project I've undertaken. Not wanting to end up over my head, I need to know what should be consider during the planning phase and the common mistakes to avoid during the build phase.

Many thanks. - Deerfield

10-26-2007, 03:18 PM
My wife and I did just what you are describing after buying our lot in a private lake community in northwest IL about four years ago. We chose to build a log home and purchased a package from Northeastern Log Homes (ME, KY). We hired locals to do excavation, foundation, septic, etc. and hired a crew to set the logs. We did everything else other than rough plumbing, electric and HVAC. A friend of mine at the same community went further and did everything after the foundation, including setting logs himself. Stick built house would be easier and maybe faster. It's a big undertaking that took me most every weekend and vacation for a year and a half to get an occupancy permit and flip my financing to a mortgage. On the other hand, we immediately had $150k in equity based on the work we did ourselves. In addition, my wife did all the general contracting work up front to save another big chunk of change. Set your budget and then add 30%. I would be happy to share experiences if you like.

10-26-2007, 11:08 PM
I did not build my lake home, but I have had one for 7 years and can give you a couple suggestions.

Rather than a basement, I would look at the price of a large metal building, if I had the real estate. I've got a fair amount of rental property and basements leak. I bought a metal building, about 10 miles from the lake house for the boats and other lake stuff. It has gone up in value faster than the boat has gone down in value. I am seriously considering selling it and building an equivalent building next door. You will fill whatever size building you build.

If I could build a split-level I'd be more interested in a basement. A set of cellar doors for hauling stuff in and out of the basement will come in really handy. If you don't know I'm talking about, It's a straight shot stairway to the basement from outside the house, usually the side.

My lake house is a four-bedroom, two bath, doublewide. It kept the price low enough so that if I don't go out for a couple months, I don't choke on the payments. Water, TAXES, heat, insurance, phone, grass cutting, security system and ongoing improvements all add to the monthly burn rate. Don't get so much in the house that the payments hurt.

I have a covered patio in the back outfitted with air mattresses during the summer. It is usually a very nice place to sleep.

I would not build a house myself, it is not a hobby for me. I don't have enough free weekends, with good weather, to spend them sling a hammer. There are some pre-fabricated houses that don't look like trailers that are built very well and very competitively priced. You may want to look into those as well.

If I had the money I'd build a log home with two stories and a basement with a giant log barn. I love that Idea, I even have a lot on Norris waiting for the day. Until then, I like my little doublewide and the little payments that go with it.

When we furnished our lake house, we rented a U-Haul truck midsummer and spent the weekend hitting garage sales. We furnished the place for about $500, not including mattresses, which we bought new.

I suggest putting the air-conditioning unit in the front yard, so that you do not have to listen to it lakeside. Install a water shut off with easy access. The kitchen should be lakeside. You'll spend way more time cooking and eating outside, than you will sitting in the living room, gazing out at the lake.

You'll also find that if you have a lake house, you do not need a boat. Boat owners will find you.

Good luck, have fun, I consider it the best investment I've ever made.


P.S. Dragon Naturally Speaking is the beans.

10-27-2007, 11:55 PM

My wife and I are in the middle of such a project right now. Couple of differnces. Our property is on an Island with no bridge, and we are contractors by trade.

A full basement on the lake if at all possible means instant equity and extra storage. Like suggested before outside access to the basement is key, we put in a set of bilko doors at the rear of the basement for just such a reason. I also like the idea of the prefab set on your foundation. You can buy these with the set for around 80k for the size you want. That leaves the sewer, water, foundation(whatever that may be), permits and a few other misc items.

If you want to go the stick built route figure a lot more time, and do yourself a favour and don't under estimate the magnitude of the project or for that matter don't over estimate your time, willingness or ability. Any one of these three can take the wind out of your sails ASAP.

We met this summer at the get together, feel free to get ahold of me if you want. We happen to be doing a store in Glenview right now so I'm in the area.

11-06-2007, 12:03 PM
Wayne, smokedog, and sled - Thanks guys. To update you, we have selected a lot at a private lake community in northwest Illinois called Apple Canyon Lake. Measures approxiamtely 100' X 200', has a gentle slope running north to south, and backs to a forested area on the south edge of the lot. The lot purhase will happen in November. It will be at least six months after the purchase date before anything significant happens. We are inclined to hire a foundation contractor for a walkout basement, deck footers, and garage pad. Preferred house is a modular cape cod. This would give us instant living space. We would finish out the second floor and basement, and build a deck (on east side of house protected from hot summer sun setting in the west) and garage as budget and time permit. Logs are a bit expensive for us, so will go with more traditional, but still nice, finish inside and out. Might take a couple of years to get it all done. I really appreciated your suggestions. If you have more thoughts/concerns/questions, please let me know. - Deerfield

11-06-2007, 12:25 PM
Deerfield - Small world as that's where we built our place. Don't expect to find that perfect water on weekends, but if you start early or go late, you can find some clean water and have some fun. We built our place with the intention of retiring there someday. I can provide info on contractors, building inspector, etc. I can also provide information specific to ACL, such as dock space, etc. Feel free to send me a PM and I can answer questions or provide information.

11-06-2007, 10:10 PM
Congratulations, I hope it works out for you. We just started roughing ours last weekend, we are very excited. Just remember what they say, if you don't think you have any friends just start spreading the word that you bought a lake property, ha ha.

PS the modular idea makes a lot of sense I think it will work out for you, just make sure to shop around

11-07-2007, 12:51 AM
While living in Atlanta my wife and I searched for a cabin or lot on a lake near Atlanta. We couldn't find anything reasonable so we just moved to Panama City Florida and bought a house on the lake for a price that was .....well shockling low for what we saw in Georgia. Now 5 years later and we love it here! If you can find work here come on down! The boat is still in the water! Water temp was low 70's last week! I remember growing up in Glenview not wanting to swim in the pool in the summer the water was so cold!

11-07-2007, 09:30 PM
Tell me about it, expecting snow flurries tonight. I spent 5 months last year in florida working. I skied every wednesday night and went diving on the weekends, how could it get any better. You made the right move, I'm envious :D

11-07-2007, 10:17 PM
I grew up as a military brat, we would live in Glenview IL and then move to Atlanta and then back to Glenview back to Atlanta. I don't know how my father arranged that. But I would come to Panama City for vacations and decided if I ever had the chance I would move here. It was the MOST difficult decision we ever made but the BEST one. OK what I am not telling you is that my wife is the water skier and I am the fisherman. We brought our old MC down here with us but I also went out and bought a 25ft Proline walk. So it is one weekend in the Gulf and 2 on the lake. Then 2 winters ago we bought Kayaks. There is something about a place where you can enjoy the water year around! This Jan. we will go to the Atlanta Boat show and order a new Moomba Outback V. And I hope to have some pictures like yours with the kids in the coats as we cruise around the lake!!!! :) OK they will be lightweight jackets!

11-07-2007, 10:25 PM
Didn't matter to them, they we just happy to be out. I have a picture of my oldest son when he was just around 2 months old out in our last boat. It was the end of March, the lakes opened up early that year. And your right, there's just something about the water!

11-07-2007, 10:39 PM
My son is 10 and my daughter is 7. They both kneeboard, my son wakeboards and slaloms and my daughter is on pairs. They love the water. If the price of fuel wasn't so high I would be out in the Gulf more often but with a pair of Evinrude Ficht 150s I usually have to spend 150 dollars to take the big boat out for A day. So most of the time we are waterskiing. The old MC doesn't use much fuel, we can easily ski all weekend on on tank. I am now looking for a youth slalom, my son is using a pairs ski for slalom but the tail is too wide and he is wiping out trying to turn too hard. We take him between the course bouys and the boat bouys as this makes a nice a begginer course. I called Obrien as they seem to have the only youth slalom but they discontinued the 59" length and only offer a 62". I think that is too long for him right now but he might get it for Christmas. Do you know of any youth slalom skis?

11-07-2007, 10:58 PM
Go to the skiing section, we had a whole thing going this summer about it. In fact I ended up getting a HO Judge for my 7 year old. I believe it is a 59 and we got a size 3 highwrap and RTP. We got it from Wileys, great guys to deal with. I want to say between 200 and 300 bucks shipped.

11-07-2007, 11:06 PM
Well since I am on the computer now I will go to Wileys website and see what they offer. Thanks! Where is Florida were you this summer?

11-07-2007, 11:23 PM
Oh by the way, anyone interested in a very good condition 1975 MasterCraft Stars and Stripes??? She is exceptionally fast out of the hole (no weight) and there is no such thing as a wake to cross (again no weight)! She has been kept up very well, we even have a new drive shaft which incidentally if that guy in the pretty red Moomba Outback hadn't come to our help to give us a tow to the ramp that day I would have never known how nice these Moomba boats are. It is his fault my wife is demanding a Moomba! If there was room in it for more than 3 people I would keep her!

11-08-2007, 12:25 AM
I was in orlando, I skied at the the OWP which has a cable park and had small ski area with a couple of Nautiques. I would go to West Palm on the weekends for diving and my second favorite hobby Lobster Hunting.

11-08-2007, 06:45 PM
oh yea, Bug hunts, I used to love kelp diving in CA at night. Warm water must be wonderful

11-08-2007, 11:26 PM
Yeah, that CA diving 7mils even in summer, I much prefer the 1/2 mil type diving

11-08-2007, 11:43 PM
mils??? we had 87 degree water this summer, I think the lake behind my house is probably in the low 70's now! Trouble is you get used to it being warm and its WAY to cold now for swimming!

11-09-2007, 11:23 AM
Trouble is you get used to it being warm and its WAY to cold now for swimming

You guys are so spoiled... It never gets too cold for swimming there..

11-09-2007, 11:21 PM
Hey I was born and raised in Thunder Bay Ontario. You know 10 months of winter and 2 months of bad sledding.

11-10-2007, 11:52 AM
Oh wow, no wonder you moved!
It all makes sense now...LOL!!



11-10-2007, 02:29 PM
It seems the older I get the more southernly my body wants to move! My wife has a rule if we ever move we cannot move 1 inch North of the location of the old house!
By the way does anyone know why when I composed an email it just sits in my outbox? I cannot find the secret send button anywhere!

11-20-2007, 06:30 PM
Wayne, smokedog, and sled - Thanks guys. To update you, we have selected a lot at a private lake community in northwest Illinois called Apple Canyon Lake. Measures approxiamtely 100' X 200', has a gentle slope running north to south, and backs to a forested area on the south edge of the lot. The lot purhase will happen in November.

Deerfield - Trying to reclaim the thread. What section of ACL are you in? Did you close? We're in the Winchester section on the NE corner of the lake. Happy to help with info, advice, when you're ready to get going.


11-20-2007, 07:28 PM
Wayne - Am back from the county courthouse. Made a copy of all vacant lot sales for 2007 YTD and 2006. Want to know the activity level and sale prices to make an informed bid. We would like to buy lot 178 in the Hawthorne section. It's listed for $15,500. My oldest son is home from college for the week, so I took the day off from work today to show him the lake and get the above information. My two other sons have been to ACL a couple of times now with my wife and me. I'd like to make a purchase by the middle of December. - Deerfield

01-29-2009, 12:36 PM
Well, this was a good thread that needed to be brought back. I thought of it as I planned my winter emergency trip to the lake house. Power has been out for three days and while the water is turned off, I need RV antifreeze in the traps and toilets.

I called two other folks on the lake (but without security systems) - they are hitting the road as well. Kim is 80% sure the water is turned off :)

Oh, the joys of remote home ownership.

Another good thread title is Neighbor boys/kids/? If you all are iced in with Ohio


01-29-2009, 02:00 PM
Z... you kill me!
But when in Rome, do as the Romans do! My wife and I make the best of living in Zion country and we basically ski/board all year long.... the only difference is that in the summer, we do it in the water and in the winter we hit the slopes!

01-29-2009, 05:32 PM
SD, I agree 100%. Seems if you don't makes sure to check up on the second house that's when things happen. Like oh your small dock boat ends up on the bottom of the lake or a tree adds a new sky light to your living room.

01-30-2009, 02:14 PM
We used to have a place on the Kankakee River. Every winter the ice from the river would wipe out docks and everything else in sight. One day my Dad came back from visiting one of the neighbors who couldn't find any trace of their shack that had been rebuilt the year before. He told me they were mad at God.

01-30-2009, 02:20 PM

Yeah I am a cold weather wuss, and when Sled sends me pictures and tells me of snowmobiling for 60 miles down frozen rivers then I re-think what I feel about it. Now maybe we should be looking for a vacation home in the snowy north.
And I guess I should admit, I have lived in rural Indiana and Chicago when growing up so yes I have seen blizzards and snow but my poor 9 year old daughter has never seen it so we might have to take a trip to Grandpa's house in Indiana soon. Now if I could only find a snowmobile for rent????

01-31-2009, 01:16 PM
The power came back on at 6:30 yesterday. A little before I got home.

The pipes are a special plastic that can freeze and not break, but you still need to watch the traps and dishwasher. The water bottles in the house were not frozen yet. They were in the barn. 15 deg F here today.

01-31-2009, 02:15 PM
smokedog2 - I'm pleased to know there is no apparent damage to your house. Smart build using that special plastic plumbing pipe. Lookin' forward to summer! - Deerfield

01-31-2009, 10:42 PM
SD, What do you keep your place at? I'm thinking just around 40 or so next winter when I'm done. I have to depend on a heat pump with a propane back up, and again on an Island with no bridge so propane is 100lb size that I have to hump over. I'm thinking I will need 3 - 5 of them depending on how good this heat pump is.

But like you, at the end of the day doesn't matter if there is no POWER!

01-31-2009, 11:22 PM
It is an old thermostat but I think between 45 & 50. I want enough heat to ride out a power outage. I’m good for 4-5 days well below freezing. It took 7 days one winter to freeze the dishwasher line. The pipe did not break but the plastic fitting cracked s little. No leak but I put a metal pipe bracket around it.

My parents have a place in North Dakota they heat with electric heat all winter at about 40, it runs about $50 a month. They winter here in Ohio. If you have electric, I suggest an electric furnace. They ran propane but had just the issue you raise, the thing can go empty when you really need it. Their heating bills went down a bit with electric.

Also remember if you turn the water off you want to turn the water heater off. The water will eventually cook off in the water heater and you will burn out your top heater element. They are a pain to replace.

Blowing all the lines out is not that hard if you are closing up for the winter but the cold can be hard on stuff that is otherwise pretty tough.

02-01-2009, 07:31 PM
Thanks SD all good info. I'm not going with a water heater I'm going with a Demand system, and the heating system I'm using is supposed to be good without the back up to -20f so I'm feeling confident. Plus we only live 40 minutes away. so regular checking is possible.

02-03-2009, 06:48 PM
Deerfield, just an update on my progress. Deck is about 90% done. Well is going in this week, electical rough is going in this week, basement floor is getting started with prep and pour started this weekend. WE Energies is getting prepped to run the power down to the service, rough plumbing complete and inspected. All field stone for fireplace chase has been moved over and stored for warm weather installation.

Should have all rough inspections next week, then Insulation and insulation inspection within a week. Will start to move siding/sofit/facia material over around end of Feb beginning of March.

Still shooting for June completion. If your around this weekend and have nothing to do let me know and I'll bring you out for the tour.

02-03-2009, 10:34 PM
Any of you handymen want to weigh in on an off topic question for me? I always had a gas water heater-- this house has electric. It's starting to have a burnt smell every now and then. Is this a sign of an element going out or is the thing junk? Thanks for replies if you know anything about these.

02-03-2009, 10:52 PM
I have electric H2O heater and never had a burnt smell. When the elements start to go out you run out of hot water pretty quick. Bottom element is first to go so when water gets below top element water gets cold. I think I'd have someone check it out if you're getting a burnt smell. That doesn't sound to safe. Just my .02.

02-03-2009, 11:59 PM
Might be cooking dust bunnies:)

02-04-2009, 11:27 AM
Well, I'm looking for an excuse to pull the thing out and relocate it anyway. It's in the only decent downstairs closet in the house. It should be out in the garage like most other houses in FL. Don't know why they decided to ruin a perfectly good closet.