Out for Bid

By Amy Knight

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

We finally did it: we sent the drawings out for bid. I feel a little like I’ve just handed in a term paper, or perhaps more accurately, a formal proposal for a thesis. It’s a mixture of relief—a major task accomplished—and anxiety about how it will be received. We sent it to five builders. We gave them about two weeks to come up with a number and it has to be a hard number, a guaranteed maximum price. And now, we wait.

I’ve been waiting for this for a long time, and indeed, in the last week or so I’ve been restless for my new space, annoyed by the quirks of my temporary digs (stairs; tiny bathroom). Now that we’ve done it, I’ve got a new set of worries. What if the prices, despite our effort to prevent this by having the project priced once already, come back significantly higher than I thought? What if the builders say there’s some piece of it they just can’t do? What if no one actually bids? (Not going to happen, I know; we’ve already gotten communication from most of them that they’re on it). What if they all come up with good bids, and I have to choose without a clear winner? What if I make the wrong choice? What if the contract I make with the builder isn’t quite right, in some way I should’ve caught?

Some of this anxiety is just my personality. And a lot of it reflects the degree to which I’ve taken real ownership of the project through its development. Even technical problems feel, at this point, like things I did. I did everything I could to understand them and agree to them. I insisted on certain things. And of course, at the end of the day, I hired Matthew to do a job for me and he has done it; remaining practical problems are not really his problem anymore. I’m the boss.

Which reminds me that I have been the boss all along. That’s why I wanted to do this to begin with: to create a house that was mine. And with that control comes responsibility. Time and again over the last year and a half, I’ve thought about how much easier it would’ve been to buy an existing house and slowly add green features to it. Solar panels one year, a water harvesting system soon, new windows, new appliances, shading where it was needed. I could already be there, using all this beautiful sunshine to power my life, and instead I’m in this sub-optimal rental, worrying about contractors.

But the worry is the other side of the coin—and it’s a coin I very much want. I should embrace this worry because it means I am free from the constraints of other people’s visions. It isn’t easy. But when I start down those rabbit holes, I just need to close my eyes and picture myself writing this from my courtyard, then coming inside for a glass of wine in my cheerful, efficient kitchen, looking out to see my wall of books and records, the perfect places for my art to hang, the nook for my piano, my cozy bedroom, and everything seems a little easier.



Amy KnightAmy Knight is the fiction editor for Terrain.org. 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 amy@terrain.org or leave a comment here. Visit her website, or follow her on twitter @amypknight.

Photo of mailbox courtesy Pixabay. Photo of Amy Knight by Richard Whitmer.

Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.