|Building a custom home in the Antelope Valley, California
Christopher French Construction Company Website
General Contractor - Licensed, Bonded and Insured # 500957
Located in Santa Clarita and the Antelope Valley, California
Christopher French Construction Co.
All photos and text copyrighted
|Due to the many requests of our customers, friends and family, we have decided to
build a web page documenting the process and information in building a new home in
Rosamond, California. It's rare in California now days that a new custom home is
built, it's mainly tract homes built by big developers, and with yards getting smaller
and smaller. So we believe many will enjoy learning how this house was built.
This web page will continue to be updated as we build the house.
We hope you come by often and enjoy reading our updates.
We began with 2.5 acres of beautiful, flat, vacant land.
We had lots of clean-up to do on the lot because of people
dumping their trash throughout the years, but we got it
cleaned soon enough. The lot is surrounded by mountains
and hills which adds to the scenic beauty! Neighbors are
few and far between, which also makes it nice.
The permit process wasn't easy however, even in Kern
County, it still took me 10 months to get all the permits in
order. I remember in 1980 we pulled a permit to build a new
house in Northridge California, LA County, and we got it
over the counter in 45 minutes or less. This is certainly not
true today; the amount of red-tape just to do small projects
is difficult enough. It was very frustrating and many times I
felt like giving up. It wasn't like I was building a complicated
house, it was actually very basic and simple. I thought of it
as "builder friendly", to help save time and money, but the
permit process still took time.
After engineering fees and permit fees we spent
approx $18,000. I did the designing and architectural
drawings myself. This is actually a very small amount
compared to what someone would pay in LA County, for
example. I guess it could have been much worse.
My work truck, parked about center of the 2.5 acre lot. There
are no street lights, asphalt road or sidewalks to the house.
The air is very clear and fresh up in the high desert.
To fence in 2.5 acres of land can be very costly. We chose chain link fence
because it's cost effective, strong, and easy to see through, because we didn't want
to close ourselves in with a solid material. Also the high desert will have very strong
winds, and a wooden fence would be vulnerable to blowing over.
We had over 860 lineal feet of chain link fence to put up. The height will be 5 feet,
and the 1-3/8" posts will be driven into the ground 3 feet deep at 10' apart. We drove
all the posts into the ground by hand with a steel post driver. We had to be on a
ladder to get them started. Needless to say, this was very tiresome. They do make a
hydraulic post driver a person could rent, but there were none available in our area
and they also require a tractor to mount them.
Chain link fence work is harder than it seems; and it's very important to get all
the posts in a straight line, plumb up and down, and close in height. A chain link
stretcher bar is a must to take out the slack in the fabric, without it the end result will
be loose and look non professional.
It amazes me how rabbits can run
through a chain link fence without
even slowing down! We enjoy the
desert view looking through the
fence, and still are protected from
being wide open.
Andrew and I using a chain link stretcher bar to
take out the slack in the fencing fabric.
We used a wench tied to the truck to pull from.
At times we pulled over 250 feet of chain link fabric to
a nice even plane, making certain all the corners and
ends were supported extra well.
Before starting on the house, it was necessary to
have a place to put things other than in the dirt, so we
poured a concrete slab 17'x40', which was very helpful
after moving out of our previous home.
Standing left to right, Dale Moore, Chris French, Andrew French
towards the South
West from the lot.
The Joshua tree is
native to the Mojave
Desert and only
grows 1" to 3" per
year. They live for
hundreds of years
and can reach 49'
Sea containers are very useful. We bought two that
were cargo able, water and wind proof. We put them on
ether side of the concrete slab. Once they are dropped
off the big truck and trailer, there they sat (each weighs
over 8000lbs, empty).
Photo right, a common residential dirt
road in the remote areas of Rosamond.
There are no sidewalks or street lights,
the county doesn't maintain them. We
enjoy going for walks in the evening and
watching the critters scurry about (jack
rabbits, bunnies, ground squires, quail,
roadrunners. After dark coyotes and
kangaroo rats add to the mix).
At about the same time as when we began digging
the house foundation, we also dug out for the septic
tank. It was 6 feet tall with a capacity of 1000 gallons.
The Bob Cat excavator made short work of this huge
hole, but we still needed to be sure the sides were
straight down and the opening was square. Caution
should be taken if the sides were to cave in.
This photo shows the 3 open leach lines for the
septic tank. The design for the septic system was
calculated by a soils engineer, who came to the
property and dug three 7' deep holes to see the type of
soil that we had. Then he makes a plan for how deep,
wide and long the leach lines need to be. This was
calculated for a 3 bedroom house, it doesn't matter how
many bathrooms, only how many bedrooms. The plastic
and 4x6 boards seen covered the hole for the septic
Each of the three 45 foot long trenches, 3' wide x 2' deep, (in our case) had to be filled with 3/4" to1-1/2" clean gravel,
12" high. Then the 4" perforated plastic pipe would sit on that, with a very slight slope downward so the liquids would drain.
Moving the heavy gravel with shovels was not easy, and it was tricky getting the excavator around without caving in the
sides. Once the perforated pipe was installed and inspected, we covered it with another 6" of gravel, then a layer of non
treated building paper, to help with keeping dirt out of the gravel during the backfilling of dirt.
Planting trees and shrubs near or over the leach lines is not advisable; the root systems of the plants can block the leach
lines and cause a very expensive repair to have them restored or moved to another location, if another location is even an
Dropping the 1000 gallon concrete septic tank down into the earth
went quick and easy. Checking our hole for proper size and level
before-hand really paid off. The company who supplied the tank, allows
1hr of time with the truck driver and crane, so it wouldn't have been
good if we had not done our digging accurately. The tank empty
weighed 11,300 lbs.
Once the tank was set in the hole we checked it
for sitting level both ways, and thankfully, we didn't
have to do any adjusting. The tank has two openings
with concrete lids on the top. I am standing over the lid
to the liquid side of the tank, which rarely needs to be
In our particular case, 6" of dirt will cover the tank.
This will not be an area for driving or parking vehicles.
The average septic tank has two chambers; the
first is 2/3rds of the tank size, which is where all the
waste from the home enters. The solids remain in the
1st chamber to breakdown, the liquids spill over
(through a pipe located within the tank wall dividing the
two chambers) to the smaller chamber, which then exit
the septic tank to a "D" Box, which distributes the
exiting liquids to the 3 leach lines (in our case), which
leaches into the gravel and earth through the
Every so often, depending on the demand on the
septic system, the 1st chamber needs to be pumped
out, by opening the lid of the tank shown here, and
only by a qualified septic pumping company. The liquid
side of the tank also has a lid if needed for access, but
Pipe shown in the photo above, is the 4" waste line coming from the
house, entering the larger chamber of the septic tank.
Breaking Ground! (On September 7, 2017)
It was a good feeling to be breaking ground for the house
after all the long months of getting our plans approved!
I operated the Bob Cat E35 excavator while Andrew
trimmed the footings edges. The natural grade was left
undisturbed so our foundation would not be sitting in fill
soil. The lot naturally had a gentle slope already there. The
desert ground was dry and hard.
We used 2x6x20' boards for forming the foundation
footings. Later we could use them for the 9 foot 2x6
exterior walls. It's very important to build these forms
with strong material because later when the concrete is
pumped into them, the weight causes great pressure on
the sides, and we wouldn't want to have any failures
with forms blowing out and concrete spilling everywhere.
We formed 314 lineal feet of forms, 18" high.
Because the septic leach lines had to be a certain
height, per the soils engineer, the house had to be high
enough for the underground waste lines to have proper
fall. It was also nice to have the house a little higher than
normal to enjoy the desert view.
After the footings were dug, Andrew began driving
stakes for the forms. It was early September and the
weather wasn't too hot. We would get occasional rain
and thunderstorms, even some big hail! While using the
excavator, I would see a storm coming from off in the
distance, when it came to us, I jumped off the tractor
and went in the sea container until it passed, and then
went back to work.
In the background you can see me with the
excavator digging the hole for the septic tank.
Each footing had #4 (1/2") rebar placed
inside for strength. Walking over uneven
ground, getting in and out of trenches all
day, can really wear a person out!
The plastic colored clips, made by
Simpson Strong Tie, were very helpful;
the blue clips were to hold the 5/8"
anchor bolts, and the red clips were to
hold the STHD14 strap anchors for the
shear walls. Without these clips during
the time of pouring concrete, there is
little chance of getting all the bolts and
straps in the correct location. They also
hold the hardware at the proper height.
This photo shows us pouring the
concrete into the footings with a hired
concrete pumper (person in yellow). We
poured 32 yards of concrete (62 tons, 4
concrete trucks worth) in about 1-1/2
Without a pump there would be no
way with just Andrew and myself. With
that much weight going into the
foundation forms, it's critical the forms
are strong enough to hold such extreme
The next morning, we stripped off the inside
portion of the wood forms. Every hour after the pour,
the concrete gets stronger and it's more difficult to
remove them. The outside portion of the forms are
left intact for the slab pour. The concrete footing in
the center area is for the center bearing wall of the
house. It will hold the ceilings, beams and roof peak.
But before we pour the slab there is much to do!
The structural engineer called for steel columns
for the patio and porch covers. These columns were
made of 3/16" thick steel, 4.5" x 4.5" over 7 feet high
and 4 feet deep in the ground. The footings to
support the columns are referred to as "flag pole"
footings. There are no base plates, each column had
to be supported above, to hang straight with the
proper height while the concrete is poured.
Andrew and I made these trestle like supports that
worked real nice. We were able to adjust the columns
up and down and sideways. Each footing had a rebar
cage surrounding them underground.
We didn't use a concrete pumper for this, we had
the concrete truck drive along side of columns, and
used the truck's shoot to fill the holes. Another 5
yards of concrete (10 tons) were used.
Four columns are for the patio cover and two are for the front
|Night time is beautiful in
the high desert. When
there is no moon out, a
person can see the
Milky Way. It's been said
that only 40% of the
people in the US can
see the Milky Way,
because of the city
lights. We enjoy looking
at all the star
constellations and try to
locate the different ones!
Now it's time to fill in the
areas between the footings; to
bring the dirt and sand up to the
proper height and pour the
concrete slab. The concrete slab
will be 13"-18" higher than the
surrounding landscape. We were
able to use much of the leftover
dirt from the leach line trenches,
but 4 more 18 wheelers of fill
sand was required, and most of
that was graded with shovel
because the Bob cat tractor was
too awkward to use inside.
Once the fill sand was at the right height, running
the underground waste lines for the plumbing was our
next task. This is a job that can't be compromised in
the least, because if there are mistakes in the drainage
for the sinks' showers and toilets, the consequences
would be dire.
Much consideration had to be made with being sure
there was enough slope in the pipes, the correct
fittings were used, and there was adequate venting.
Also making sure the lines were in the correct location
of the walls to hide the pipes. Clean-outs were also a
The plastic that is seen is the 6 mil thick plastic
mentioned above. After the waste lines were inspected
we overlapped the plastic again and covered it with fill
Finally, before we can pour the concrete slab, after the waste line plumbing inspection, rebar and steel
mesh had to be installed. Because we chose not to do a monolithic (one pour) pour, (because of the height
of the slab), it was necessary to add #4 rebar from the footings to the slab 24" OC to make a good
connection between the two pours. Also, installing 6x6 #10 mesh, a standard procedure in most areas, was
also done. The orange colored plastic in the center area are covering 5/8" anchor bolts, for the center
bearing wall of the house. Standard procedure is any bearing walls would be bolted to the foundation.
Date beginning here >>>>>
September 7, 2017
Date ending here >>>>> October 24, 2017
When the big day came to pour the concrete slab, it
was very exciting for Andrew and I. Days and weeks of
preparation finally paid off. We had three finishers, one
pumper, a man helping the concrete pumper, Andrew,
myself, and 4 concrete trucks loaded to the max (10
yards each)! The 1st concrete truck arrived at 6:50AM,
and each came 30 minutes apart.
Things went very smoothly, everybody had a great
attitude which made it fun! It was an expensive day with
all the labor and concrete costs, but it's a good feeling to
get it all behind us!
By 11:30AM all the work was done, 2600+ Sq' of slab was complete. The concrete finisher's were
cleaning their trowels and loading their machine-powered finishing equipment. It's easy to be anxious about
doing a big pour like today, but we had over 110 years of experience on the job, combined with those doing
the work. With concrete you really have only a small amount of time to get it down, once it begins to set up,
you can't stop it, and to remove it is not an option!
All in all, the house foundation consisted of pouring 75 yards of 3000 lbs psi concrete mix. Figuring 4000
lbs per yard weight of concrete, that comes to 150,000 tons; not to mention 180 lengths of #4 x 20' rebar, 4
rolls of 150'x6' wire mesh, and 6 eighteen wheelers of fill sand!
My father, who was a contractor for over 50 years, always said on his jobs, it's nice to get out of the dirt!
So we too, feel the same way. It's nice to put down the shovel and pick up the hammer!
This machine had a round steel pan
mounted to the blades, which mainly levels
out the highs and lows in the concrete,
and doesn't focus on making it smooth.
The rough looking concrete he was
walking on, was done purposely with a big
squeegee to open the pores in the
concrete top layer to help it dry faster, then
the machines smooth it back out. It was
very interesting seeing this method.
This machine towards the camera, has
the 4 blades that focus on making the
concrete smooth. Between these two
finisher's going over the slab multiple
times, gave us a finish so smooth and
even we didn't expect! The machines also
made it much easier for them, saving their
knees and so much time!
When leveling the foundation forms; after
the stakes were driven, we marked them with
pencil using a tool called a transit. When the
transit is set up properly, whatever direction it
aims it stays on a level plane, and a tape
measure or piece of wood is used to gage the
height where to mark the stakes.
The transit was also useful when setting the
steel columns. Hooking our tape measure on the
steel buckets and going downward, the transit
reader would know how high or low to set the
columns, making them all equal in height.
The transit here being used was one my
father bought back in the early 1960's. It was
made by Bostrom - Brady MFG. CO. Atlanta GA.
Standard procedure is to put down 6mil
plastic to prevent moisture and off-gassing from
the earth to come through the new concrete
slab, then add fill sand above that, at least 3
It's very important to make the concrete slab
equal in thickness over the whole area as much
as possible. We needed 4" min for inspection,
but we like it a little thicker, 4 1/2" is what we
wanted. So we made a 2x6 screed board to drag
and pull the fill sand to the correct height (labor-
some work on our knees), then, after wetting it
with water, we used a vibrating plate machine to
compact it. It came out really solid, almost looked
like concrete. It made a fantastic base to pour
Checking for leaks!
During inspection of the
underground plumbing, the inspector
requires 10 feet of head pressure on the
entire waste system (excluding the
In the photo left, we installed a 10
foot tall 4" ABS pipe where a toilet would
go, then we filled it with water to the top
(gives 10' head pressure in the system).
All the lower pipes were capped off
making the system hold water pressure
from the 10' tall pipe.
The rubber balloon like thing I'm
holding in my hand, was installed in the
last clean-out pipe line before the septic
tank. When it is inflated with 30#psi of
air, it inflates and blocks water from
escaping from the whole system. Now
the inspector checks for any leaks in the
fittings and glue joints.
This is a great idea because if
there was a leak in the waste lines, it
would make the house smell and there
would be no way to find the problem,
and very difficult to repair!
Here are two photos showing the "D" box. It is an
80lbs concrete box (and concrete lid not shown) about
5 feet from the tank (in this setup) with 4 holes that the
4" waste line from the septic tank outlet go into, and 3 -
4" holes to distribute the waste water to the leach
lines, equally in height.
Making sure the waste lines have a very slight
downward slope is critical. Any uphill slope will cripple
the system. The "D" box we used had perfect sized 4"
pipe openings with rubber gaskets to make a good
seal and easy to install.