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Pamela Van Halsema

The Great Foundation Debate

The Great Foundation Debate: Pier and Beam vs. Post Tension Slab

The Great Foundation Debate: Pier and Beam vs. Post Tension Slab

Pier and Beam Foundation vs. Post Tension “PT” Slab

There has recently been a lot of discussion regarding to a Post Tension, or PT slab on grade and a pier and beam foundation. I too, was looking for the best solution for my home; which is the most cost effective, and what are the pros and cons of each type. I reached out to a respected structural engineer in Sonoma County and he walked me through the options.  I’m sharing what I learned from that source to add to the discussion and so you don’t need to duplicate the effort.

Pier and beam-description, pros and cons

A traditional pier and beam is the type of foundation most of Coffey Park’s homes were originally built upon; This means piers are placed deep within the soil, carrying through the clay and into bedrock or stabilized soil. Beams lay across and carry the weight of the house. The clay may raise and lower but the house remains stabilize. With this type of foundation, there is a crawl space under the house and the ground floor is a bit higher than street level. A crawl space provides access to add electrical, move plumbing, etc. One must take care to provide adequate drainage, to eliminate risk of standing water under houses.

What are the pros and cons of pier and beam foundation? Some say it is better insulated choice. Over time, you may get a loose nail or notice a squeaky floor. In general, this is slightly more expensive due to lumber cost and additional labor, although contractor told us there was no added cost to do it this way and another said it would cost significantly more. (Maybe the second contractor just does not want to do them!)

PT slab foundation-description, pros and cons

A PT slab foundation consists of a concrete slab covering the entire first floor. Within the slab are cables, stretched with tension. Once concrete is placed, it provides a very strong foundation.

There are several advantages with a PT slab. If your house sat high on the property and you had a steep driveway, this option might lower the house closer to street level, reducing the incline of the driveway. There might be less of a need to bring in soil. Quicker to build, a PT slab foundation can save on construction time and is usually less expensive. Lastly, without a crawl space, there would never be an issue with standing water under the house.

Drawbacks of the PT slab in a rebuild start with a need for the contractor to excavate around all existing piers on the property a few feet down and remove at least a couple feet of each pier. You would never want any existing pier to ever make contact with your PT slab. After that excavation, the contractor would need to backfill with engineered rock, place a moisture barrier and install the slab. All plumbing under the slab will always remain since you would never want to jack hammer a PT slab; essentially your kitchens and bathrooms on the first floor all remain. Also, a PT slab eliminates the subfloor crawl space so you can no longer access to electrical and plumbing under the house for simple small changes.  Duct work for heaters would be located in the walls up high and not in the floor. Since heat rises it does make it harder to heat a house with high ceilings. Lastly, some people say the solid concrete base can be hard on your back.

Making the best decision

Ultimately, the foundation choice depends on your needs and a negotiation with your builder.  Both the pier and beam and the PT slab have good issues and both have negative ones. But more information will hopefully help you make the right choice for your new home.


-written by Steve Rahmn, Block Captain Coffey Strong Area 4

Tree Removal Questions

About Tree Removal

About Tree Removal

While many lots are cleared, there are still many trees left standing after the debris has been hauled away.  Perhaps you want those trees, or maybe you think they need to go.  Here are some answers and next steps for getting rid of some burned out trees from your property. This information is also posted on our FAQ page.

Property owners are responsible for the cost of their tree removal

Most insurance company policies have included tree removal costs within the debris removal disbursements.  Check with your insurance carrier on specific details. As per instructions from Sonoma County Recovers, see letter regarding insurance reimbursement information.  Paragraph three, some residential properties may require private debris removal for burnt trees, outbuildings under 120 square foot or …. Please note that insurance claim fund specified for debris removal can be used to cover those costs. Save your receipts from any debris removal and deduct them from your insurance distribution when submitting final Debris payment to FEMA.

Do I need a permit for tree removal?  

You do need to obtain a permit for the removal of over 4” diameter. The Santa Rosa City ordinance states: 

Santa Rosa City Tree Ordinance dated Oct. 2, 1990 requires you to have a permit when removing trees.

Article III Prohibitions: 17-24.030 Tree alteration, removal relocation-Permit required. No person shall alter, remove, or relocate, or permit or cause the alteration, removal of relocation, of any tree including any heritage, protected, or street tree, situated in the City, without a permit…

Link to the Santa Rosa Tree Removal Application: (https://www.srcity.org/DocumentCenter/View/2662)

Not sure about whether to remove a tree?

A certified arborist can help you with checking on the vitality of your trees after the fire.  They can arrange permits and tree removal, if needed.


Source: Confirmed information with Jackie from the USACE Debris Removal Hot line: 877-875-7681 (www.sonomacountyrecovers.org).

Article by Paula Becerra, 3539 Coffey Meadow Place, Block Captain Area 4 Section 9


Rain, mud and rebuilding

Rain, Mud and Rebuilding

Rain, Mud and Rebuilding

Rain and muddy lots

With rain in the immediate forecast, we felt it was important to put together a blog post on the impact those rains could have. The key to building a home timely is to get the foundation installed as rapidly as possible before the onset of extended rainy weather. With many lots in Coffey Park needing grading and soil compaction, there must be dry weather for a period of time to get that proper compaction and to avoid mud. The dry time will vary from lot to lot and will also depend on how saturated the ground is.

The concrete foundation and slab are more forgiving with water and can even cure when it rains. However, construction workers do not work when it is pouring rain. A light drizzle and a light amount of mud will not stop them. Heavy rain and a muddy job site will stop the project.

After the foundation has cured

Once the foundation and slab are cured, the project will only slow or stop for heavy rain. Even framing the house will be fine because wood can get wet, with little impact. Once the roof is on, the house is “dried in” and there will be no slow down in the schedule.

by Matthew Gill, professional home builder, who lost his home several years ago to wildfire in Southern California.  Gill is the founder of the Fire Victims Coalition a non-profit advocating on behalf of fire victims to receive full rebuilding cost from their insurance providers with no gap in coverage.

Santa Rosa City Public Copy Request

Request from the City Planning Dept. Archives

Request from the City Planning Dept. Archives

There is a possibility that the City of Santa Rosa might have a “plot plan” of your property (or other historic building permit information) in City Building Permit records from when the houses were first constructed. These are housed in the Planning and Economic Development Department in Room 3 at City Hall (100 Santa Rosa Avenue, Santa Rosa). But they are not quick and easy to access, and it takes about 10 days to get your hands on them since it means digging through archives and microfilm to find them.  You can request via mail and save yourself a trip downtown.

To find out what information the City might have about your property, the owner will need to complete the City’s “Public Copy Request Form” and submit it to the City’s Planning & Economic Development Department via hand delivery or mail to this address:

Planning & Economic Development
Attn: Copy Requests
100 Santa Rosa Avenue, Room 3
Santa Rosa, CA 95404

Source: Joshua Damron, Area 4 Block Captain and City of Santa Rosa Planning Dept.

the dirt on drainage and soil preparation

The Dirt on Drainage and Soil Preparation

The Dirt on Drainage and Soil Preparation

Are you concerned about any of the following?

* A higher neighboring lot that cause water to flow onto your lot?
* Rainy-season drainage problems on your lot?
* Adding enough replacement soil to your lot?
* Who is going to do all of the above?

In the presentation that was shown at the 12/19/17 Area 4 meeting (http://bit.ly/CSAREA-4), page 27 (pictured here) includes the statement "Drainage on each lot must be verified by a civil engineer"
Slide from the Area 4 presentation on Dec. 19. Click to enlarge

Dealing with Drainage

In the presentation that was shown at the 12/19/17 Area 4 meeting (http://bit.ly/CSAREA-4), page 27 (pictured here) includes the statement “Drainage on each lot must be verified by a civil engineer”. Before actual construction can start, every lot must be checked by a civil engineer (from a company such as Hogan Land Services) to ensure that

(a) water that drains from the lot goes into the City storm drain, and

(b) water from OTHER lots does not go onto the lot being checked.

Contrary to rumor, the big builders ARE thinking about this — they HAVE to. The prohibition against water flowing from one lot to another is actually in the building code!

What actually happens is more than just “checking”. If there are drainage problems a civil engineer will design a drainage system that fixes the problems. This can include adding or removing soil, adding new underground pipes and surface drains, and changing the slope of the surface (by grading). The finished design appears on a page called the “Grading & Drainage Plan” in the final “permit package” that the builder must submit to the City for approval.

Regarding Infill

Sheepsfoot roller for soil compaction on heavy clay soil
Sheepsfoot roller for soil compaction on heavy clay soil

Regarding adding soil, page 27 in the above presentation also says “Infill soil must be added, compacted and tested”. (“Infill” is defined as “material that is used to fill a space or hole”; the term can also apply to a house built later on a lot that was left vacant when all the other houses in a development were built.)

Just like with drainage, adding soil isn’t as simple as it sounds and requires work by a civil engineer. Consider that if you have a typical 5,000 square-foot lot that has had 3″ of soil removed over the entire lot, that’s 8.7 cubic yards of soil — which is about 2/3 the capacity of an average commercial dump truck!

“Compaction” is like stomping on the soil to remove air and voids like you do after digging a hole, except that with clay soil like in Coffey Park it’s typically done with a piece of equipment called a “sheepsfoot roller”. Then compaction testing ensures that the soil has been compacted enough to support the weight of the foundation and house. Also note that wet soil (“mud”) can’t be tested for compaction, so the weather must be factored into this process.

Discuss soil plans with your builder

Many large builders will include infill , drainage and grading in their package, but smaller or custom builders might not. The whole “adding soil during construction” process is something that can’t be done by homeowners, so any talk about “sharing costs” doesn’t actually make sense when it comes to adding soil. What homeowners SHOULD do is (a) make sure that their builder’s plans reflect the homeowner’s specific desires before the builder submits them to the City, and (b) monitor what’s being done during the “preparation for building” phase (see pages 25-29 in the Area-4 meeting presentation) to make sure that visually obvious problems such as height differences between lots are being corrected.

Cooperate and coordinate with neighboring lot owners

It may be obvious, but correcting height differences between lots typically requires grading across multiple lots. This means that if even if you already have selected your builder/contractor and you’re highly focused on rebuilding your house, you still may need to cooperate closely with the owners of the lots surrounding yours. Networking with your neighbors through CoffeyStrong, Nextdoor and Facebook has never been more important!

Soft costs – are they included in the builder’s cost per square foot?

“Preparation for building” costs such as geotechnical (soil) testing, infill soil, drainage design, and lot-line surveying are often called “soft costs” because they’re not a direct (“hard”) construction cost. Soft costs are often included in the builder’s cost-per-square-foot quote, but not always. For example, take a look at the “Large Builder Matrix” on the CoffeyStrong website. Six of the seven builders shown in the table include soft costs, but one doesn’t. Make sure you ask your builder to explain in detail (in advance!) any and all costs that are not included in his cost-per-square-foot quote.

Keep learning to protect your interests

I’m fairly sure that the majority of you have never had to deal with construction at this level before, and it can be pretty intimidating. Just be thankful that you live in the Internet age! Google and Wikipedia are your new best friends. To protect your interests when dealing with builders, it’s really helpful to increase your understanding of construction terms. I suggest Googling and/or looking in Wikipedia for all the construction terms used above: drainage, civil engineer, building code, soil compaction, sheepsfoot roller, foundation types, grading land, geotechnical engineering, surveying lot lines, and soft costs. Happy reading!

posted 12.28.17 by Geoff Walker, CoffeyStrong Area 4 organizer & block captain
and Nextdoor Coffey Park Lead

this article is modified from a post on Nextdoor Coffey Park

Coffey Park debris removal status maps

Debris Removal Status Maps and When Can I Rebuild?

Debris Removal Status Maps and When Can I Rebuild?

Mapping the progress of debris removal

Screenshot of the Debris Removal Map
Mapping Debris Removal Progress. Click to view interactive map on the sonomacountyrecovers.org website

The City and County have teamed up to provide an interactive online map displaying debris cleanup status of all the properties impacted by the fires. In addition to the map, a great deal of helpful information about debris removal requirements are provided on their website.

The map is searchable by address, and shows which properties have submitted a right of entry but are not cleared (white), which have opted for a private cleanup (ochre), which are waiting for soil sampling (blue) and which are ready for rebuilding (green).

First came the EPA

EPA cleanup sign in front of a fire damaged property
Sign in front of a property indicating they have been cleared by the EPA

Before the major ash and debris removal, the EPA came through to check for hazardous household waste.  As of December 20, the EPA had nearly completed all of this work throughout Sonoma County. This includes removal of everyday products like paints, cleaners, solvents, oils, batteries, herbicides and pesticides, which often contain hazardous ingredients. Following a fire, these products require special handling and disposal, especially if their containers are compromised.  For more information on the EPA’s work, see the agency’s fire response  webpage.

Phase II: Clearing and Soil Sampling

Once the Army Corps has completed the removal of all ash and debris, and sprayed erosion control material on the lot, then there is a soil sampling phase.  Already a week before Christmas more than half of Coffey Park’s lots had been cleared, and the Army Corps reports that their goal is to have them all done in our neighborhood by January 15, 2018.

Why isn’t mine clear yet?

Looking at the map, it seems that there is no particular order in which the lots have been cleared.  My own lot is still not clear, yet the properties on all sides of mine are all complete.  We are told that there are several factors determining the order of work, including

1. Density – the closer together the lots, the easier it is for the crews to clean more lots, faster.

2. Severity – are there critical facilities nearby, such as schools and other public needs

3. Protecting the watershed – creeks and riparian areas have been identified by specialists for prioritization

4. The date the Right of Entry form was accepted

Regardless, we can all be happy to know that the lots should all be clear in less than a month’s time for those who went with the public cleanup option.

I got the ready to build notification…now what?

Once all the debris cleanup is all done, and the soil samples come back clean, the Army Corps will notify the county that they have finished with your property.  The county will enter the data in their own information system and send you a robotic call to let you know you are cleared for rebuilding. The county will also send you a follow up notice in the mail. Once you receive that notice you are ‘ready to rebuild’, which means:

  1. You can prepare your lot with fill/grading which may be necessary to meet building site specifications. (Your selected builder/contractor might be taking care of this! You should ask!)
  2. You can consult with a professional land surveyor/engineer to get an accurate determination of where your legal property lines are. Work together with your neighbors to share the cost! Additional information may be included in your deed and in Assessor’s maps.
  3. Drainage must be verified by a civil engineer (Your selected builder might take care of this!)
  4. You can start the process of obtaining permits for your rebuild.
  5. Weather must cooperate!  Can’t rebuild in pouring rain!

For more information on Debris Removal visit https://www.sonomacountyrecovers.org/debris-removal/

posted 12-27-2017 by Pamela Van Halsema

Coffey Strong Update

United Way, Coffey Strong and Communications for Rebuilding

United Way, Coffey Strong and Communications for Rebuilding

Update from Jeff Okrepkie

United Way of the Wine Country Partnership with Coffey Strong

I wanted to reach out to let you all know about some big news in regards to Coffey Strong’s efforts. Recently, the United Way of the Wine Country has agreed to be the nonprofit partner for the Coffey Strong neighborhood association. This means we can now accept funds for our efforts through the 501c3 of the United Way. This is a very big development. Currently we are applying for grants and funding in order to accomplish two short term tasks that will have large ramifications. We are pursuing licensing for a customer relationship management (CRM) software that would make our communication methods exponentially more efficient. Additionally we will be looking to hire a free-lance developer to help make our website more robust.

Leveraging CRM Software to Connect Homeowners

What we plan to do with this CRM is to be able to cross reference many layers of information for each person on our contact list. The three main goals are as follows:

  • Identify everyone with the same floor plan and group them together
  • Identify everyone with the same insurance carrier and group them together
  • Cross reference those two so we can identify groups with the same floor plan AND insurance carrier.

This helps us in multiple ways. First, if we can identify those that share floor plans and carriers we can not only be able to compare notes on price per sq. ft. to make sure everyone is getting a fair shake but also be able to share best practices and any newly identified information. This will help level the playing field. Additionally, by grouping residents together by floor plan, we can offer the ability to share ideas. If you wish to make changes to your home’s design or start from scratch, we can provide the ability to have groups of the same floor plan meet with builders such as DeNova, American Pacific Builders and Stonefield who are willing to design new floor plans for groups that are large enough. That way you don’t need to worry about identifying others to share architecture or engineering costs. Those builders will incur those costs.

This is an excellent opportunity. Essentially we can get everyone with the same floor plan who wishes to participate in the same room to identify a builder to work with and create a focus group to develop a similarly sized floor plan with your ideas influencing it. Most of those builders will be developing plans for other sized homes as well, and can do a “plan fit” so you can see other designs that can fit on your lot.

Register at Coffeystrong.com

The most crucial components of this are to first, make sure you are registered on www.coffeystrong.com with your information updated (you can update your info even after you register). Second, be patient. We have an opportunity to update and customize the old floor plans with the builders paying that cost. The Coffey Strong organization is trying to avoid residents from having to pay for things they don’t need to. More info will be coming soon, thanks for your patience.

Happy Holidays,
Jeff Okrepkie
Board President
Coffey Strong

December 21, 2017

Maps with House Models

House Models Match Game

House Models Match Game

Update 12-23-17: The Sharon Park Map has been updated!  Also, if your house model is incorrect on the map, please let us know and we will update!  Submit your correct information via this form

Coffey Park is a large development with many original builders although within that plan many house models were duplicated.  As homeowners now get copies of their house’s original plans, they have been seeking others with the same plan too.  And with rebuilding, mortgages, and insurance, we know that footprint, square footage, number of bedrooms and bathrooms all have an impact on design review, permits and total cost.  There could be some real value to pursuing collaborative planning if you connect with others who also had your house plan or at least a similar square footage.

Maps Reveal Floor Plans with Color Coding

Here are some maps that one of our Coffey Park block captains created, all from public information in the city tax assessors office.  We are working on ways to help you connect with others homeowners in Coffey Strong if you want to try and plan, design and even build in collaboration with others (or at least explore that possibility).  Keep in mind the data is 30 years old and does not include upgrades or remodels.

Similar Floor Plan Locations in the Windrose Subdivisions
Similar Floor Plan Locations in the Windrose Subdivisions Click to view the larger pdf version of this map


Houses with Similar floorplans in Hillview and Willowgrove
Houses with Similar floorplans in Hillview and Willowgrove Click to view a larger pdf version of this map.


Similar Floor Plan Map Barnes Meadow
Similar Floor Plan Map Barnes Meadow Click to view the larger pdf version of this map



Master Floor Plan Locations in Five Coffey Park Subdivisions
Master Floor Plan Locations in Five Coffey Park Subdivisions  Click here to view large pdf file of this map
Sharon Park Homes Map
Sharon Park Homes by Model Map v. Dec 23, 2017. Click to view large map.
What you need to know before hiring a contractor

North Coast Builders Exchange to Host Webinar on Hiring a Contractor

North Coast Builders Exchange to Host Webinar on Hiring a Contractor

Hiring a contractor requires lots of research on the part of the homeowner.  What questions should you ask?  What kinds of qualifications and experience will be important for a smooth building process?  Our local North Coast Builders Exchange is offering a webinar, free to North Bay fire victims, to help educate with practical tips and advice as you begin the rebuilding process.

Hosted on Zoom, a web conferencing platform, you can watch this event live if you have an internet connection.

 “What You Need to Know Before Hiring a Contractor”

Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017     6:00 – 7:15 p.m.the 

Featuring speakers Mike Behler (Behler Construction Co.) and Craig Lawson (CAL Custom Building Services)

Please click the link below to join the webinar on Thursday, December 14 at 6 p.m.:


Or iPhone one-tap :

US: +16465588656,,436881994#  or +16699006833,,436881994#

Or you can listen on a Telephone:

Dial (for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):

US: +1 646 558 8656  or +1 669 900 6833

Webinar ID:  436 881 994

coffey strong important update

Update from Jeff Okrepkie

Update from Jeff Okrepkie

Coffey Park,

thre is time for due diligence and weigh all optionsIn this ever evolving rebuild we currently have some progress to share and to be aware of. Before we get to that, I want to address a few things. First, every builder I have talked to has expressed the same sentiment with the rebuild in regards to timeline. That is, at best, no construction will start at least until early April. That is the best case scenario where debris removal is done on time and efficiently, there are no set backs with utilities or public works and weather cooperates. This means there is time for due diligence and to weigh all options. This is particularly important as you need to have a preferred builder and a back up. A back up is crucial because you don’t want to be left at square one should your builder back out. This happened after Scripps Ranch in San Diego, so don’t be surprised if that happens here.

Latest on Builders

There are three predesigned turnkey builders. Those are APM Homes, Gallaher Construction and Synergy Group.The Tuxhorn Company is also doing some upgraded plans for their previous builds in Windrose, Barnes Meadows and the adjacent areas. There are plenty of builders that are willing to do custom homes. However there are a handful of large to mid-size builders that want to work with homeowners in order to develop new plans to build in scale. They include DeNova, Stonefield, American Pacific Builders among others. That last part is the reason for this post. Area 1 and Area 2 have begun to talk to builders in order to revitalize their old plans.

Mapping to Connect Neighbors with Similar Floorplans

We have recently mapped the original Coffey Park subdivision phases #1-5 by floor plan  (not to be confused with our Coffey Strong areas 1-5), The majority of these homes are located in Coffey Strong areas 3 & 4. We are about to begin the process of cross-referencing contact info by plans so we can contact all houses with the same floor plans with the intent to organize, and interview developers that wish to customize floor plans using resident input. You will see emails in the coming weeks to initiate this process.
All of us in Coffey Strong are volunteers and are doing this in what used to be our free time, so it won’t be instantaneous. You do not have to participate if you don’t wish to go this route. It should be said that there may be many plans that fit your lot, so the one derived from your group may not ultimately be the one you pick.
Areas 1 & 2, and the Windrose & Barnes Meadows subdivisions are progressing with this kind of effort and we intend on initiating this process soon for the previous mentioned areas, however that doesn’t mean the rest will be left out. We would still like help in tracking down floor plan info for the other areas to offer the same solution.
Thanks for your time,
Jeff Okrepkie