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Notes on the Geography of Oklahoma: Norman 6: Building a Starter House

We've been looking at the top end of the housing market, but there's a bottom end too. Here we look at how to build a house down there.

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Oklahoma: Norman 6: Building a Starter House picture 1

It looks like this--a lot like Levittown in the 1940s--but this is Poppy Grove, on Normans' north side.

Oklahoma: Norman 6: Building a Starter House picture 2

The houses run about 800 square feet and cost--Norman's high for Oklahoma--about $90,000.

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We're standing in the living room and looking toward the kitchen and dining.  The door on the left is to the one-car garage.  To the right are two bedrooms separated by the house's one bath.

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You can see here some of the underlying structure of the house, including the stem wall and the framing, with OSB or "oriented strand board" nailed to studs.  OSB is used in about 75% of American housing. Like plywood, it's a sandwich available in various thicknesses; with OSB, however, each layer is a mat of wood chips.  The mats are laid down so the fibers in adjoining layers run perpendicular to each other.  Despite consumer resistance, OSB is very strong and unlike plywood uses the whole tree.

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Here's a fresh subdivision of slightly more expensive homes.

Oklahoma: Norman 6: Building a Starter House picture 6

In this case, the builder is using foam panelling, not OSB. 

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The space between studs will be insulated with fiberglass batting.  There will an external veneer and internal drywall.  That's it.  Looks like you could blow it away, but maybe there's elegance in this lightness.

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Foam walls with OSB sheeting at the corners, for greater strength.  Norman is said to have some of the best construction in the state, mainly because inspections are rigorous.  Here's a routine sequence of tasks, along with the inspection routine.  1: Grade the lot. 2: Excavate the foundation. 3: Pour the stem wall, which means also building the necessary forms and then removing them.  4: Install buried plumbing to all outlets.  INSPECTION!  5: Bring in 7-10 loads of sand and spread it to underlie the concrete slab.  6: Spray the sand and stem wall with termite treatment. INSPECTION! 7: Pour slab.  8: Line-up lumber and wait a few days for slab to cure.  9: Frame carpenters go to work.  Don't hurry them: better if they take a week than a couple of days.  Some builders use anchors bolt to tie the floor plates to the stem wall and steel hurricane straps to tie the roof joists to the wall plates. Good idea. 

Oklahoma: Norman 6: Building a Starter House picture 9

Continuing the checklist: 10: Deck the roof and make sure it's braced properly.  11: Roofer goes to work, while framers install the windows. INSPECTION!  12.  Time to rough-in the electrical, the plumbing, and the heat and air ducts.  Each must be INSPECTED!  13:  If you're going to use a brick veneer, you can start now.  14:  Insulators install batting.  INSPECTION! 15: Time to install sheet rock (drywall); meanwhile, order the trim package of doors, casings, and cabinets.  16.  Tape the sheet rock edges.  17: "Mud" the sheetrock; if you want a textured wall, you'll have to do it several times over a period of a week. 18: Trim carpenter sets doors and cabinets.  19:  Painters caulk and fill gaps, then stain or paint cabinets, baseboards, doors, and--last of all--walls.  20: Install countertops--tile, probably--over the plywood cabinet top.  21: Order appliances and light fixtures.  22: Install plumbed fixtures such as the dishwasher, toilets, faucets, and sinks.  INSPECTION! 23: Install electrical fixtures such as lights, vents, stoves, and garbage disposal. INSPECTION! 24: Pour concrete driveway now if not sooner.  INSPECTION!

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Continuing the checklist.  25: With concrete driveway poured and cured, order and install the furnace and air-conditioning equipment.  Set the condenser.  25: Install carpet.  26: Install knobs and closet and towel rods.  27: Clean-up the place and fix all the screw-ups.  (There are always screw-ups.)  28: Level the yards and add topsoil.  29. Time for four final INSPECTIONS, covering heat and air, electrical (each outlet tested), plumbing, and building final, including drainage inspection to make sure there's no place for standing water to accumulate.  30: Lay sod.  31: Build fence.  Whew!  All told. this will take about five months. You can rush it and maybe get it done in 70 days--but it's not a great idea, especially if you plan on living in the house or being accountable to the purchaser.

The photo shows a corner detail of OSB made by Weyerhaeser a major manufacturer of the stuff. A plant in Hudson Bay, Saskatchewan, turns out 146 feet per minute of 3/8-inch panel. Not a lot of big trees up there, but you don't need big trees for OSB, and this is a profitable use for small ones.

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Applying brick veneer.  How many hands are involved in building this house?  Let's count the tasks or crews: tractor operator, stem wall framer, concrete pourer, framer, heat and air guy, plumber, electrician, insulating guy, sheetrocker, taper, texturer, trim carpenter.  That's about 20-25 people.  Think the construction superintendent can function without Spanish? Ha! Oh, maybe with the electrical and plumbing, but no way with the lower-paying jobs like framing, roofing, and (as in this picture) brick veneering. Illegal workers?  Sure, but the builder subcontracts these jobs, so it's the "subs" who get hit if they're caught.

Oklahoma: Norman 6: Building a Starter House picture 12

So here's the Poppy Grove starter house again.  The builder (Ideal Homes) had to fight some nearby towns to get permission to build homes like these: the fear, he heard, was that such cheap houses would attract White Trash.  The builder's probably Republican, but on this score he's a fighting Democrat, willing to sue if need be to get permission to build houses for people who would otherwise be forced to rent.


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