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Stucco, Wood and Steel Give Form to a Dream : Dwellings: Soaring costs and a shaky economy stack the deck against custom-building a home. Meet one couple who just might beat the odds.

June 24, 1993|LEONARD REED | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jim and Jane Gerochi will soon be eating lunch in their new dining room in Camarillo. And when they do, they will look out to the street through their extra-large dining room window.

The Gerochis like the feeling of space and light, and so adding 2.5 feet of width to the window was important in the dining room design. What they didn't know was that without special reinforcement the weight of the upstairs of the house threatened to buckle the windowed wall--the span of glass pushed the wooden vertical beams too far apart to support all that weight.

So the Gerochis' architect and the contractor did the right thing: buried into the wall is a massive, 4-inch-by-4-inch tubular steel arch support that surrounds the window and stands strong against the upstairs weight.

The window, as a result, is a veritable bridge span against gravity. And its slightly enlarged area does give the room a bit more light.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION
Los Angeles Times Thursday July 29, 1993 Ventura West Edition Ventura County Life Part J Page 3 Column 3 Zones Desk 6 inches; 182 words Type of Material: Correction
A June 24 Ventura County Life story about one family's efforts to build a custom home in Camarillo cited a $6,000 increase in the cost of lumber for the project. That additional cost, the builder and now the owner agree, has been shouldered entirely by the builder.
The June 24 story, "Stucco, Wood and Steel Give Form To A Dream," also dealt with a steel beam in the dining room wall. The story should have said that the main structural purpose is for seismic, or lateral, support and that its price was included in the original construction cost estimates.
In its depiction of a disagreement over construction of a roof support structure, The Times reflected the homeowner's sentiment in calling the builder recalcitrant, in saying that he misread building plans, and in saying that he failed to seek the advice of a civil engineer. The builder, who did rebuild the structure for an additional charge to the owner, says that the original plans required further detail, which he received; that he did keep in constant touch with the project's engineer; and that the firmness of his position to the owner and the engineer over the roof's design represented professionalism, or the ability to make clear what his job was. The Times regrets intensifying a matter over which there had been disagreement in the details.

But the cost was anything but slight. The beam added an unforeseen $3,000 to the construction bill.

"We kind of let that one get by," says a mildly amused Jim Gerochi. "Had we known, we would have done something else."

Then there was the little matter of the foundation.

The core sample of soil taken from the Gerochis' building site revealed the presence, unexpectedly, of clay (adjacent home sites are far sandier in composition). Since soil with a high clay content can only withstand weight exerting up to 4,000 pounds per square inch--sandy soil, by comparison, can take up to 7,000 pounds per square inch--the Gerochis' foundation would need bolstering. What was to have been a plain old poured concrete slab would instead need a matrix of steel reinforcement rods embedded within it.

Add another thousand to the tab.

"But at least we know things are secure," notes Gerochi, running his shoe along a fine crack already evident in the floor of the dining-room-in-progress. "These cracks are normal. They won't spread because of the re-bars."

A COMMANDING VIEW

Welcome to The American Dream Home, this one halfway up a craggy hillside commanding an unbroken view eastward across the steamy Santa Rosa Valley. It is situated on a half acre of treeless property on a winding street that demarcates the outer edge of what's left to develop in the city of Camarillo.

If you tiptoe across the street, you can see clear across the Oxnard Plain to the ocean and the Channel Islands--but sticker shock on the few available lots here, a mere 50 yards from the Gerochi dining room, may make you run back. The Gerochi lot, occluded from ocean views, was a "mere" $180,000--down from about $300,000 just a few years ago.

Jim and Jane Gerochi, first-generation Americans from the Philippines, stand in a long line of Americans who carry the dream of designing, situating and building their own home. But today--as construction costs soar, employment dwindles and trounced real estate values fail to show improvement let alone stability, they are at the front of a very short line of those willing to forge ahead on such a trying project.

"I think you must take risks," says Jim Gerochi. "Otherwise you stand still."

Jim Higgins, of Remax in Camarillo, is a bit more taciturn on the subject.

"It's something out there," he says. "Hardly anyone is building, because things are so uncertain. The price of lumber, for example, has doubled in the last six months. That'll stop you right there." (More on the Gerochis' lumber problem later.)

Lumber cost is one of the factors that did stop Mike Potts, a Camarillo dentist, from commencing construction upon a lot he recently purchased "for repo price" in the exclusive Spanish Hills development in Camarillo. "There are just enough things to make me hold back for a while," he says. "I'm hoping that my current house value is on the upswing, meanwhile, and that'll help me when it comes time to build. You hold a lot of things in the balance."

Both Higgins and Potts, however, end their remarks by invoking perhaps the greatest peril in seeking The American Dream Home--whether you do it in good economic times or bad.

"If you can hold onto your marriage while building a house, you're doing great," says Potts, laughing.

"If you have any cracks in your marriage," says Higgins, "building a home will widen them, forever."

Well, not for Jim and Jane Gerochi.

The dining room window didn't bring them down; neither did the re-bars; neither did a $6,000 jump in their lumber bill, split with the builder. And now, in a problem still being negotiated, neither are the special roofing tiles, whose flat rectilinear shape doesn't come close to fitting the architect's conical roof structure.

Plainly, with little more than two months to go before moving in, the Gerochis have so far managed to avoid turning The Dream into The Nightmare.

HUMOR PREVAILS

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