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Lakefront Log-Home Building Diary

A couple details the process of completing their retirement lakefront log home.
by George and Marlyn Curnow
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A plan 10 years in the making, George and Marlyn Curnow are finally getting their log home underway. From finding the perfect piece of land to determining the right log-home producer to dealing with the constraints of building along the water, the couple details each step of their journey.


Log Home Diary: Entry #1
Southwestern Virginia log home project | Open SpaceThe Dream, The Plan
By George and Marlyn Curnow

The dream came before the plan. We are currently in our mid-60s and just retired. We began thinking about retirement and a retirement home about 10 years ago, so this has been a dream long in the making.

We saw an advertisement for a log home and decided to take a look. We drove from the north side of Atlanta to the east side where Southland Log Homes has a model home along I-20. It was a winter day, which for Atlanta meant it was too cold to boat and perfect for browsing. The exterior of the model brought flashbacks of living on Lake Mohawk in Sparta, N.J., in the 1990s…(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #2
Southwestern Virginia log home project | Open SpaceDid We Put the Cart Before the Horse?
By George and Marlyn Curnow

All the sage advice from sales people and log-home magazines is to get your land first, then pick a plan. That didn’t quite work for us. We needed to convince ourselves over time that we really wanted a log retirement home. The image was perfect, but we needed to think this through. Perhaps, in reality, we needed time to challenge ourselves that this was right for us. We aren’t known for being impulsive or foolhardy, and we certainly didn’t want a major investment at the time of retirement to be an unwise endeavor. (In our first blog, we told you we’re conservative. We were married 44 years ago while George was a junior in college, so we learned to be frugal quickly.)

Over the next five years, stopping to look at model log homes just became a part of our travel routine. We must have looked at a half-dozen Southland Log Home models, then Kuhns Bros. Log Homes and Blue Ridge Log Homes…(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #3
Southwestern Virginia log home project | Open SpaceWe Have Land!
By George and Marlyn Curnow

As mentioned in the last entry, we had the plan before the land. So, now we needed land. This was easy and hard. It was easy because we knew what we wanted and where we wanted it to be. It was hard because our guess at the cost of land was, well, a bit shy of reality.

We knew we wanted a lakefront log home. At the time, we were living on Lake Norman in North Carolina — our third lakefront home. In all, we have lived 17 years on the water. We wanted retirement living to be the same. The magic of the water has us thoroughly seduced…(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #4
Southwestern Virginia log home project | Open SpacePicking the Right Log-Home Company
By George and Marlyn Curnow

There is not necessarily a right or wrong decision to be made here. To be sure, there are a multitude of log-home companies. Each provides a different level of product/service. Some provide precut logs only; if you have essential construction trade skills, or have a lot of friends with those skills, and have the time, then this is a viable alternative. Other companies provide home design, precut logs and all the materials to put the house under roof. Still others provide a complete turnkey log-home package, including, literally, the kitchen sink.

Frankly, most of the decisions are more about knowing yourself. What are our construction capabilities? How much time and budget do we have for this?…(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #5
Southwestern Virginia log home project | Open SpaceChoosing the Builder
By George and Marlyn Curnow

Although we have lived in nine different homes over the course of our marriage, we have never built a home. In one, we were able to choose cabinetry and floor coverings, but for all practical purposes, it was a finished home. The point of saying this is to establish that we knew absolutely nothing about choosing a builder.

Our instinct told us we wanted a very experienced builder with good references and local knowledge. But when you don’t know the area or have limited contacts where you are going to be building, it’s hard to know where to start. This is where the selection of Southland Log Homes as our log-home producer began to really benefit us…(Click to continue)

 


Log Home Diary: Entry #6
Southwestern Virginia log home project | Open SpaceDeveloping a Floor Plan — Part 1
By George and Marlyn Curnow

Developing a floor plan was an interesting, fun and ultimately surprising process for us to undertake. With a lakefront property, we naturally wanted to take advantage of the best view of the water we could get. Even before picking the log-home company and builder, we had begun to develop our floor plan in our minds from the hundreds of floor-plan designs we saw over the years.

Prior to 2008, our floor plan mindset was something no greater than 3,000 square feet. (To be more accurate, George’s mindset was around 3,000 square feet; Marlyn’s mindset was a bit smaller.) Then the housing crisis hit, and the stock market caved in. Like most everyone else, our 401K became a 201K, figuratively speaking. This was a rude wakeup call that required some rethinking and adjusting of our retirement plans/dreams…(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #7
Southwestern Virginia log home project | Open SpaceDeveloping a Floor Plan — Part 2
By George and Marlyn Curnow

We now know the basic house footprint we want; Southland Log Homes refers to it as the Coosa. (We think it’s named after a river in Georgia or Alabama.) It provides the exterior look and the interior square footage that we think is right for us, so we made a conscious attempt to not increase the footprint, which at times was tempting to violate.

The Coosa has a one-way floor plan — in other words, from the front door, the walking pattern is into the great room, through the kitchen and then to the master bedroom. It also has a major disadvantage, in our judgment, in that the master bathroom also serves as the typical main-level powder room. We liked neither the walk pattern nor the lack of master bathroom privacy, so we decided we wanted a circular path through the home in order to literally walk in circles — a great choice for playing hide-and-seek with a 4-year-old grandson…(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #8
Southwestern Virginia log home project | Open SpaceDeveloping a Floor Plan — Part 3
By George and Marlyn Curnow

The final note mentioned in our last entry was the need to finish the placement of the fireplace and the staircase on the main level. We felt the staircase in the Coosa floor plan was too close to the front door. Our simple solution was to push the staircase toward the back of the house by about two feet, which created a more spacious entryway in the process. An issue we later realized we had created by doing that was diminishing space in the kitchen for a center island. A quick check with our builder determined the fix was simple but costly, as log floor joists had already been cut based on our original finalized design. So we’re living with the first decision.

As for the fireplace, we decided in the dreaming stage that a wood-burning fireplace is a “must have.” We tried our best to place it anywhere except the end wall, which faces the best lake view…(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #9
Southwestern Virginia log home project | Open SpaceDeveloping a Floor Plan — Part 4
By George and Marlyn Curnow

While building on a sloped piece of land has its excavation challenges and surprises, it has the distinct advantage of allowing for a walkout basement with sufficient windows to give much-needed natural lighting and additional lake views. Sloped land is often hard to avoid when building lakeside. However, another advantage to the slope is that it typically results in deep water off your boat dock. This is more than nice to have during drought periods.

We debated between having a separate garage and a full basement or a split garage and basement. Again, this is a choice afforded by a sloped piece of land. We opted for the garage below…(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #10
Southwestern Virginia log home project | Open SpacePreparing to Build — Part 1
By George and Marlyn Curnow

So far we have covered: the dream, the land purchase, the selection of the log home company and the builder; and the floor plan design. Now, it’s time to prepare to build.

Site preparation is the name of the game at this point. We discussed this phase with our builder and these were the immediate issues we faced…(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #11
Southwestern Virginia log home project | Open SpacePreparing to Build — Part 2
By George and Marlyn Curnow

In early summer, we made arrangements with Southland Log Homes to have our log package delivered. As mentioned in the last entry, Southland guarantees delivery on the agreed upon date. There is a cost to delaying the delivery, which escalates the closer you get to the date. If you think about it, Southland has to order logs, kiln dry them and mill them to the specifications of our plan. Once the company starts, it needs to keep the process moving, so it’s not overloaded with inventory. It’s just good business.

The contents of a log-home package are as varied as the number of log-home companies, so this really makes a comparison between different log-home companies less than easy…(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #12
Southwestern Virginia log home project | Open SpaceDiversion No. 1
By George and Marlyn Curnow

Why are we diverting from our building process? We’re learning that building a home doesn’t occur sequentially. Rather, a number of things run in parallel until a stumbling block arises; then that takes the spotlight. You can plan all you want, but there remain things beyond your control. Here’s a sampling:

Prior to ordering the logs, it’s a good idea to get any construction/mortgage financing in order. We started this process early. Not all lenders want to finance log homes, but those who do are quite happy with them. With prior homes, we’ve had mortgage approval take as little as 15 minutes. This process took months because of our current economy…(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #13
Southwestern Virginia log home project | Open SpacePreparing to Build – Part 3
By George and Marlyn Curnow

As indicated in Entry 11, we were able to locate the owners of the land where we wanted to offload the building material to save time and money, and provide safety for the workers. Real-estate records and a bit of detective work helped us locate the land owners. It turns out that he is a prominent judge in an adjacent county. The response to our request was very neighborly, so now we are set for delivery.

As advertised, Southland Log Homes dispatched three fully loaded flatbed tractor trailers on the exact day promised. To add a bit of humor to our excited anticipation, we received a call from one of the drivers…(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #14
Southwestern Virginia log home project | Open SpacePreparing to Build – Part 4
By George and Marlyn Curnow

In telling a story like this, it is at times difficult to keep the timeline on different events in proper sequence because the building process does not flow in a nice, orderly, predictable pace, regardless of how organized we think we are. A prime example was the building-permit process discussed in Entry 12. That started before the log-package delivery and continued long afterward. As a result, our log package sat for months on our future septic field site. This is mentioned so as to not leave the impression that we experienced a smooth sequential process. It has been anything but that.

We have no gripe with rules for permits. But we do have gripes with rules that change “on the fly” and seemingly at the whim of individuals who have the “power” to add rules as they see fit and when they see fit…(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #15
Southwestern Virginia log home project | Open SpaceExcavating and Laying the Foundation — Part 1
By George and Marlyn Curnow

Finally, with the permit issues, anxiety and frustrations behind us, we are at long last ready to move some dirt. You may recall that we have a relatively flat piece of land, except near the lakefront where it becomes very sloped. Before any earth could be moved, we needed to clear the building site of trees. Our plan was to place the house where we could maximize the lake view and minimize the tree removal. This wasn’t a budget consideration; rather, it was our appreciation of mature hardwoods.

Nevertheless, a number of beautiful specimens needed to go, which to this day is bothersome. We agonized over the removal of one tree. Was it or was it not too close to the foundation? …(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #16
Southwestern Virginia log home project | Open SpaceExcavating and Laying the Foundation — Part 2
By George and Marlyn Curnow

With the excavation work completed, it was now time to lay out the exact position of the house. The original idea was to position the house for the great room to have maximum exposure to the big water view of the lake, with a view with Smith Mountain in the background. We also wanted the house positioning to allow for similar views from the screened porch to be built off the dining area and kitchen. The original house placement was staked out with these features in mind.

When we double-checked this placement against local code, we realized an adjustment would be needed. The code requires that we be no closer than 12 feet to the property line. We were pushing the house close to the property line in order to maximize the water view…(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #17
Southwestern Virginia log home project | Open SpaceExcavating and Laying the Foundation — Part 3
By George and Marlyn Curnow

Now that the position of the house is determined, it’s time to move some more dirt so that the footers and foundation walls can be poured. Digging the footers is a fairly quick process. Fortunately, we encountered no more rock, which of course means no more money — whew! Just prior to this phase starting, a hole was dug for our septic tank and holding tank. A main section of PVC drainpipe was connected to the tanks and under the footers, and it was then capped off. A small crew of two worked for several days to carefully lay and string together the rebar to give firm structural support to the footers.

Being that the land is quite sloped, the footers were constructed at several different levels (a bit like stair steps), as the foundation walls would need to be much higher on the lake side versus the uphill side facing the front of the house…(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #18
Southwestern Virginia log home project | Open SpaceExcavating and Laying the Foundation — Part 4
By George and Marlyn Curnow

OK, everything has been going way too smoothly. It’s time for some problems.

While the foundation cured, building materials were moved from the storage area on the future septic field to an area adjacent to the building site, making everything ready for quick access. At about the same time, the plumber arrived to dig trenches under the soon-to-be-poured cement floor for laying the PVC sanitary drainpipes. This process went well, and at the end, the plumber sealed the pipes and put a pressure gauge on the end. It was pumped up to the proper pressure to show there are no leaks, and the inspector was called to check and verify that there are no leaks and check the plumbing for proper drainage…(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #19
Southwestern Virginia log home project | Open SpaceExcavating and Laying the Foundation — Part 5
By George and Marlyn Curnow

Before the sill plate and floor joists for the first floor can be started, the basement floor needs to be poured to hold the support posts. Also, in preparation for the first-level floor joists, our builder ordered a steel beam for our garage, as we didn’t want support posts for the floor joists to interfere with the garage space. The foundation and support posts in the walls dividing the living area from the garage will hold up the beam and another glue-laminated (glu-lam) beam in the non-garage half of the basement.

Our builder quickly made arrangements for the concrete to be poured at a time when the days were getting shorter, the temperatures colder, and winter was beginning to close in…(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #20
Southwestern Virginia log home project | Open SpaceStacking the Logs — Finally!
By George and Marlyn Curnow

Suddenly, it seems that things have shifted into a higher gear. The sill plates have been attached to the foundation, immediately followed by the installation of the floor joists for the first level. The subflooring, laid in 4-by-8-foot sheets, quickly gave an appearance of much progress, as now there was a new level of the house to walk on. This elevation is high enough to make us realize what a beautiful southeast view toward Smith Mountain we will have from the great room. The view will be spectacular in the late fall, winter and early spring, but the mountains (not the lake) will be obscured when there is full foliage.

The time has finally arrived for the first course of logs to be laid. This is one of the first tasks that makes a log home unique from conventional building. It is imperative that the first course be perfectly level and square…(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #21
Southwestern Virginia log home project | Open SpaceStacking the Logs — Part 2
By George and Marlyn Curnow

The careful log stacking continues. Each log was cut at the mill to fit a precise location in the stacking process. Some effort needed to be made in finding the correct pallet with the right log and keeping them staged so the process keeps moving.

We found it interesting to see the installation of door and window bucks (or jambs) as the log stacking process continued. It’s with uncertainty that we think this buck installation is a bit different from conventional construction. During this stacking process, we carefully followed the progress with the clearly detailed construction manual and DVD from Southland Log Homes explaining the process…(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #22
Southwestern Virginia log home project | Open SpaceStacking the Logs — Part 3
By George and Marlyn Curnow

The first-floor stacking of the logs continued for 20 courses. The standard is 18 courses, but we opted for 20 to give us 10-foot ceilings on the first floor. We wanted to maintain an open, airy feeling in those parts of the first floor that would be underneath the second floor, and we thought an extra foot would help do that.

It’s time to add the second-floor girder beams and floor beams. Our supplier’s girder beams, which support one end of the floor beams, are made of two log courses (as shown in the photo). The girder beams and floor beams are pre-notched into the exterior log wall and cut to length at the mill. The top of the second-floor girder needs to be flush with the 20th log course…(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #23
Credit: George and Marlyn Curnow image | Open SpaceAnd Now the Roof
By George and Marlyn Curnow

The roof couldn’t come too soon for our liking. The gables are up, and 2-by-4 bracing creates a web of support to protect the gables from strong winds. We already experienced bracing preventing one windstorm from doing damage prior to the second-floor beam system installation. But we found it hard to get comfortable until everything was structurally tied together, and it takes a roof system to make that happen.

Quickly after the second-floor beam system was complete, a new crew of about six roofing specialists showed up. We think these are the tightrope walkers of the construction trade…(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #24
Credit: George and Marlyn Curnow image | Open SpaceAnd Now the Roof — Part 2
By George and Marlyn Curnow

As part of the roof construction, consideration needed to be given to building the dormers. Our roof design included three dormers. There are two gable dormers on the front of the house and a shed dormer on the back, each having a double window. One gable dormer was part of the upper-level guest bedroom, and the other is in the cathedral ceiling to balance the exterior view and to provide light to the great room.

The shed dormer on the back of the house is considerably bigger and is distinguished by a roofline that is built opposite the gable dormer…(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #25
Finishing the Roof and Building Porches
By George and Marlyn Curnow

Well, we’re in for a bit of a delay in finishing the roof. Had we opted for a standard shingle roof, one could have quickly been put on at this stage. However, we wanted to have a forest green metal roof that would enhance the log-home look while adding the durability of metal. What we didn’t count on was that the decision meant a bit of a construction delay. After the roof is complete, precise measurements are taken; the fabricator of the roof makes the majority of the cuts, as each roof is essentially custom cut to specifications provided by our builder. The process from measurement to delivery of the metal roof system was about two-and-a-half weeks.

We also are at a point where the logs need to be power-washed inside and out. Now that is something you don’t do in a conventional stick-built home…(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #26
Credit: George and Marlyn Curnow image | Open SpaceClosing In the House and Preparing For the Subcontractors
By George and Marlyn Curnow

Log siding is used on the exterior of the house in non-heated roof areas. Although some of this had previously been installed, the rest is now complete. At the same time, wood doors, wood windows and wood sliders are ready for installation. Care is taken to see that each buck is level, plumb and square prior to being nailed in place through slots into the end of the logs. Windows are positioned in the openings from the exterior and made plumb and level with wood shims. Then they are nailed into place through the face of the window and into the window buck. Doors receive similar installation treatment. A groove (called a “kerf”) is cut above the windows and doors to accept a drip cap flashing to be installed later.

With the house now essentially closed in, it is now time for the power-washing inside and out. The rationale for this was explained in Entry No. 25, as this is clearly a departure from conventional construction protocol…(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #27
Credit: George and Marlyn Curnow image | Open SpaceFinishing Work — Part 1
By George and Marlyn Curnow

Finishing work covers a broad array of construction disciplines and skills. It includes interior wall construction, mechanical considerations (plumbing, heating, ventilating, air conditioning and fireplace construction), interior finishing, cabinetry, handrails, stairs, porch rails/ceiling, and gutters/downspouts. We’ll begin to discuss our experience with this work in this current entry.

Interior Wall Construction: This phase of construction actually moves quite quickly. It is conventional in the sense that the interior walls are primarily 2-by-4 wall construction. Although we’re not engineers, it may be safe to say that there are fewer load-bearing 2-by-4 walls. The log posts supporting the second-floor beams are essentially bearing the load. Two-by-four wall construction is done between these posts. Where mechanical ducts and pipes are needed (e.g., bathrooms, laundry room), 2-by-6 wall construction is used to provide the extra room for these necessary items…(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #28
Credit: George and Marlyn Curnow image | Open SpaceFinishing Work — Part 2
By George and Marlyn Curnow

This entry continues with the discussion of mechanical considerations — heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC). There are many choices to consider in this area. A couple of options we considered were radiant heat, and geothermal heating and cooling. Both of these we ultimately rejected because of the additional cost. For us to have used either of these, our motivation would have needed to be something other than money. Of course, the operating costs of geothermal caused us to give great thought to this. However, installation costs and the greater efficiency gains made with heat pumps makes the payback on geothermal take longer than acceptable to us.

Natural gas would have been our next choice, but that is not available in this area. So we ended up opting for a heat pump with a propane backup…(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #29
Credit: George and Marlyn Curnow image | Open SpaceFinishing Work — Part 3
By George and Marlyn Curnow

Well, now we’ve gone and done it! In the last entry, we finished by talking about the insulation process as part of the finishing work, but we totally forgot to mention the plumbing and electrical work that obviously was done before the insulation. We talked about the HVAC installation; but we simply forgot two major steps. So let’s get the horse back in front of the cart.

Electrical Installation: We knew from our early inspections of model log homes that the electrical plan should be well thought out. This is particularly true of exterior walls, as adding wiring in log walls after construction is considerably more complicated than during construction. So we took our time going over each floor of our house plans…(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #30 Credit: George and Marlyn Curnow image | Open Space
Finishing Work — Part 4

By George and Marlyn Curnow

Now that we have covered electrical installation and our security system, we want to talk plumbing.

Plumbing Installation: Plumbing should take some careful thought. Much of the plumbing for the kitchen and bathrooms is obvious, but we needed to think about the extras we wanted. In our case, there were not too many. Inside the house, we added plumbing for a small round copper bar/vegetable sink on the center island in the kitchen. We also wanted a utility sink in the garage to keep messy cleanup work closer to the source.

Outside, we wanted external cold-water faucet in both the back and front of the house. (With proper placement, two would be enough.) For the one in front, the lack of exposed foundation made it more practical for us to use an external water hydrant connected to the well-water line running to the house…(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #31
Credit: George and Marlyn Curnow image | Open SpaceFinishing Work — Part 5
By George and Marlyn Curnow

This is a continuation of the discussion of interior finishing work. It includes several short subjects, as a number of details are required to complete the construction process. Each one highlights how close we are getting to the end.

Finishing of Walls: Some time during the process, a decision needs to be made as to how much, if any, of the interior walls are to be Sheetrock. This, of course, becomes a personal preference, as well as a money consideration. We opted to have a mix. The interior walls/ceilings of the bedrooms, bathrooms and hallways are Sheetrock. Our choice was different for the great room and loft ceilings, stairway walls to the loft, and dormer in the great room. For these areas and the exterior porch ceilings, we opted for tongue-and-groove cedar. This provided a continuity of the wood look and feel to the home that we wanted…(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #32
Credit: George and Marlyn Curnow image | Open SpaceFinishing Work — Part 6
By George and Marlyn Curnow

Cabinetry Work (Kitchen, Bathrooms, etc.): Now this has been one of the memorable highlights of the building process. We started by sharing our ideas with two kitchen designers. We also talked to our builder’s cabinetmaker, an Amish gentleman from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Although all three were quite professional, quality and pricing covered a very wide range. We found the optimum mix of quality and pricing to be with Daniel, the Amish cabinetmaker.

As with any product or service, it is our belief that your purchase choices are price, service, quality — pick any two. You can only pick two of the three; otherwise, the person supplying the product/service will not survive in business. For us, we gave up a bit on service, as that was the least of our concerns during a long building process…(Click to continue)


Log Home Diary: Entry #33
The Final Chapter
By George and Marlyn Curnow

Just a bit more and then we start a new journey, as this one comes to an end.

Tiling of three bathrooms is all that remains. The master bath in particular has considerable tile work. It’s a tedious and messy job, but the end result is just what we were looking to have. This last step, along with the final cleanup, was all that remained prior to the final inspection.

The end became a bit interesting for us, since the home we had been renting suddenly sold and we needed to vacate. This resulted in our general contractor putting on a full-court press to get things done in 30 days. The focus was on completing any items that would prevent a Certificate of Occupancy (CO) from being issued by the county … (Click to continue)


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One Response

  1. I WANT WATERFONT FOR MY LOG CABIN! WHETHER @ THE BEACH ON NYs LONG ISLAND 25-75 MILES EAST OF NYC, OR 100 MILES
    NORTH OF NYC IN WOODSTOCK IN THE CATSKILLS WHERE I’LL GET LAKEFRONT PROPERTY=ON A LAKE THAT ALLOWS MOTORBOATS
    OR ON RH HUDSON RIVER(THERES ALOT OF RESOVOIRS WHERE I CAN UNDERSTAND NO MOTORBOATS BUT SOME BIG LAKES LIKE BLACK LAKE WHERE I WAS BUYING PROPERTY B4 I FOUND OUT NO MOTORBOATS JUST AS A STIFF POPULATIONS RULES! I’M WAITING ON STOLEN FUNDS FROM ME THAT I HAVE A LAWYER TRYING TO RECOVER 4ME! AND THEN I CAN BUILD USING KUHN BROS,GOLDEN EAGLE,LOK’N'LOG,ORIGINAL LOG CABINS,DANIEL BOONE. OR TIMBER BLOCK CAUSE THEIR PREFAB…REQUIRES VERY LITTLE LABOR COSTS. PLEASE ADVISE?!THANX GEORGE

    George PerrySeptember 25, 2011 @ 4:27 amReply



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