By Amy Knight

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The House We Live In: A Series on Building the Sustainable Home in Tucson, Arizona

We sent our bid set to five contractors. One never wrote back. And then there were four. Two asked for more time – so we gave everybody two extra weeks. This week, one of the remaining four wrote and told us he wouldn’t be able to bid; his firm was simply too busy with (bigger) (more lucrative) commercial projects. (I force myself to believe him, silencing the voice that says there is something wrong with my plans, something off-putting.) So now we are down to three: two we’ve worked with fairly extensively during the design process, and one who is a bit of an unknown.

I’m not terribly upset by this. I think three is probably enough—and it will be easier to choose from among three than from among five. The one who dropped out was a personal favorite of Matthew’s. And if I’m perfectly honest, I’m a little relieved about that. Of course the decision was always mine, and Matthew’s favoring a particular builder would only have been one factor in the decision. But it still felt like conflict. I didn’t necessarily dislike this builder, but I didn’t like the feeling of a clear favorite based on a couple of conversations, without talking to any references or seeing a bid. He was a bit more buttoned up and chop-chop than the other two we’d been talking to, both of whom had a more laid back vibe. I imagine that’s why Matthew liked him—some combination of personality and culture. East vs. West.

I know that the two remaining “known quantity” builders are a little more used to designing their own projects, and figuring certain things out as they go along. Which is not at all what we want a builder to do here. But I’m hoping that, given the level of detail in the plans (the drawing set is 50 pages with an astounding number of details specified) and the guaranteed maximum price bidding, we’ll get them to do this other task just as well, without losing their warm, Western, laid-back personalities.

The builder and I are going to have a relationship. Personality matters. As does money, as does skill. I’m still not sure how I’m going to balance all of these things, whether the choice is among five or among three. Or two; what if we lose another one along the way? There it is again; my ingrained anxiety. For now there’s nothing to be done but wait. Wait, and let them do their work.



Amy KnightAmy Knight is the fiction editor for In this weekly series, she chronicles the process of designing and building an eco-friendly house in Tucson, Arizona. The series will explore both how it’s done and what it means, from the perspective of someone who wants to do the right thing but knows almost nothing about sustainable building. Look for new posts every Monday. You can email Amy at [email protected] or leave a comment here. Visit her website, or follow her on twitter @amypknight.

Photo of birds courtesy Pixabay. Photo of Amy Knight by Richard Whitmer. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.