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"foundation" Category


Behind the Shack Door


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Well, although this blog has been silent lately, we have been diligently working. Ever since I got back from France I’ve been trying to get the plans approved by the city. And finally, last Thursday, they were! So after paying them a healthy, rather large, and rather unexpected large fee, we have our plans in hand and are ready to start building. But, uh, actually it’s not that simple. See, we want to put radiant floors in. And that means we need to have these special WarmBoard panels that act as both the subfloor and the holder for the tubes that keep the floor warm. They need to be ordered in special configurations that meet the layout of the house. In order to do that you have to figure out how many zones and loops you’re going to have and generally how your radiant system is going to work. The lumber had to be ordered as well. And we never poured the concrete piers for the inside of our foundation. And since we’re doing a truss roof, that needed to be configured and ordered as well. The rough plumbing, which includes the sewer lines, the waste line, and all the hot and cold water that will run under the floor all needed to be figured out and ordered. The One-and-Only-Greatly-Revered-and-Lauded George Williams was very generous with his time and drew these amazing schematics that showed how every part of our rough plumbing system would work. He then wrote up a manifest with every part we needed and got it priced for us (at a discout I might add). How awesome is that??? We owe George, big time. 

At this point, all of our construction materials are ordered and scheduled and will be delivered in a timely fashion. It’s like we’ve been laboriously pushing a big boulder up to a mountaintop and are about to let it fly down the other side. It’s a strange time to start building since it seems as though all building has stopped and since the holidays are just about to kick in to high gear, but that’s how we do. 

Last week Reggie and I installed our salvaged doors (with a super-expensive jamb added after-the-fact) into the shack. It gives the shack a certain viable presence now. Makes it feel like a real building. Also I dug holes for the piers and built forms for pouring concrete into them. I’ll get them inspected tomorrow and hopefully we can pour concrete into them on Tuesday. That will kick off the floor building spree. After the floors get built I’ll install the plumbing. Then the WarmBoard goes on, including the PEX tubing. After that the walls get built and then finally the roof trusses are tacked on top. I’m hoping to have all this done by February. Heh. Wish us luck.

Pour, Baby, Pour


Monday, October 13, 2008

Our last couple of days in the states were a whirlwind. There were several things that needed to happen before we boarded the plane. I beg your patience while I backtrack a couple weeks…

The plan all along was to have the foundation poured before we left for France. I think we even planned to be further along initially, but those were just silly high hopes. The roof of the office was nearly complete and the old foundation had been cut and hauled off to the landfill. All that was left was to dig the trenches for the foundation, build the forms and pour the concrete. The labor wasn’t going to be a problem, but we had a couple of technical hurdles that needed to be overcome. Firstly, we had not yet submitted our house plans to the building department. Well, actually, we did manage to do that, but they came back needing revisions. A lot of revisions. The plans were sound, but they needed a bunch of boilerplate stuff that architects usually stamp on without thinking – stuff like “I promise that this will all conform to all the codes it is supposed to conform to”. It’s like a big wink that architects and building departments do to each other as part of the process. The architects can’t possibly specify every little detail that the code requires and if they did the building department would be swollen with plan checkers making sure all those details were there. So they use a shorthand method that manifests in the form of a note. The note declares something like, “you know and I know that this is supposed to meet the codes, and it’s a bother to write everything down, so let’s just promise that this will meet the codes and agree to let the contractor handle the details.” Except the note is 200 lines long and written in blueprint shorthand like: “Smoke detectors installed per CBC Section 907.2.10.1.2.”

Alas, there was no way I was going to finish the ditches, build the forms AND update the plans before leaving. The forms needed to be inspected before pouring as well. Add this to the fact that we discovered an abandoned septic tank underneath the old foundation and you can imagine how cloudy our outlook was becoming. 

Yes, the abandoned septic tank was a surprise. I found it while digging the trench for the footing. A solid BONK against the shovel about a foot down. It ran about ten feet along the footing. The tank itself was made from concrete walls and measured five by nine by six feet. Whomever abandoned it was supposed to fill it up back when the public sewer line was run down the street. They wisely deferred that task to me. The city told me to talk to the county. The county asked me what the city wanted me to do. The Santa Cruz County Sanitation Department inspector is a dude named Calvin. He is a cool cat. He’s one of those guys who is nice because he knows that if he needs to beat up everyone in the room he could. He’s been doing his job for a long time and the stuff he cares least about in this world are the minutiae involved with my project. “Fill it with slurry. I’ll check it out later.” Thing is, that he needed to give me a permit saying it was filled before we could pour the foundation. But having the concrete truck come out twice (once to fill the septic tank and once to pour the foundation) would be expensive. “Um, I was hoping I could just pour it the same day that we poured the foundation and you would just sign off on my permit if I promised to do it.” He’s got his old school raybans on. “Yeah, whatever…. As long as it’s cool with the city.” Oy vey, another trip to Capitola city hall. Don’t get me wrong. All this back and forth driving is totally worth it to make this all happen smoothly. 

Another shout out to the Capitola building department. These guys have been so helpful and so understanding about the project that we’ve actually spent some time trying to figure out how to do something nice for them without making it look like a bribe. I can’t publicly tell you what they did, but it can be aptly described as: enabling. 

We now had our ducks lined up. They were haggard ducks, they were a bit wobbly and a some even tardy, but they were there. Our plane was leaving Thursday at noon. The pour was to happen on Wednesday. The forms were finished and inspected on Tuesday. Bert again came to the rescue and helped me finish the forms over the weekend while Reggie took his family to Disneyland. 

On the day of the pour we had a guy named Stewart from Santa Cruz Concrete Pumping who manned the concrete pump. This is basically a huge diesel engine that manages to push concrete through a long tube to wherever you need it to go. I’ve seen it in action but I still don’t believe it works. A fifty foot, four inch tube of concrete is very, very heavy. This machine manages to push it out in a steady glug, glug, glug that boggles the thoughtful mind. Stewart is one of those people who loves his job and is thus very good at doing it. He ran around, jumping over the forms, giving us tips on how to make sure the concrete filled the forms evenly and keeping the consistency of the concrete (which he called “L.A. butter”) steady. If you are ever in need of a concrete pump and you are in the Santa Cruz area, you should definitely call Stewart.

During the pour Kari and Reggie and I smoothed the top of the concrete, making a nice even surface for the top of our foundation. By the end of the day we were pulling stakes and cleaning up the site a bit. Bert offered to pull the forms off the next day, so I went home and packed. We slept, woke up early and drove to SF to catch our flight. One more day of impedance and we wouldn’t have a foundation, just a big moat waiting to be filled by rainwater.

Hasta la Vista Baby!


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Oh buddies! In a mad rush we poured the foundation for the new house today. Soooooooo stoked. It’s a long story, but we’re leaving for France first thing tomorrow morning so I’m going to bed. Just wanted the millions of readers of this blog to know that we managed to pour before we left. There is comfort in knowing that we didn’t walk away from two hundred feet of rebar filled trenches that would have undoubtedly have been filled with rainwater by the time of our return. 

Life’s a Ditch


Thursday, October 2, 2008

During my last quiet phase I was enduring a ditch digging marathon. Roughly four days of ditch digging is something I hope I will not have to perform again soon. There is something oddly satisfying about digging however. It must be some primal instinct that we carry on genetically from our evolutionary cousin the cro-gopher. The deeper I dug, the happier I became. In fact it was a bit of a problem in that I was constantly digging my ditches deeper than the prescribed fifteen inches. I’d find myself at a blissful two feet, my mind perversely sated, before jolting back to consciousness slightly annoyed at myself while at the same time weirdly proud. We have plans to install a rain catchment system which will require the interring of an 800 gallon plastic tank. And I look forward to clawing the giant hole required by such a vessel. 

After doing the ditch, we began building the forms for the foundation. This involves: String, wooden stakes, steel rebar, many board-feet of 2×8 lumber, and duplex nails. Everything must end up very straight. This usually means jumping through hoops trying to compensate for how crooked the lumber is. It’s like putting braces on a 40 year-old British citizen. You can tweak and cajole those planks, but it’s never gonna be Tom Cruise’s mouth. Um. That metaphor was whack, sorry. 

During slow times we roofed. After visiting ABC Roofing Supply, Kari and I drove around town looking at roofs. We were soon able to identify most recent roofing jobs by brand, product line and colorway. Naturally we decided on GAF-ELK Timberline Lifetime in “charcoal”. It was a close call over “weathered wood”. The whole roofing industry seems to be centered on making a roof look like something it very clearly is not. We often overheard the phrase “and from far away it actually looks just like antique italian slate!” Which is a complete lie. It looks like three tab asphalt shingles and that’s it. For the shed we picked a slightly less fancy version of the same color since nobody, from any angle, will ever see that roof. The roof on the main house will use a thicker shingle, which will make it look exactly like we roofed our house with Teddy Roosevelt’s eyelids from Mount Rushmore.

We’re leaving for France next Thursday (one week! yikes!) so we’ve been jamming to try to get the foundation poured before then. Rain is predicted for tomorrow, so hopefully we can finish the forms before the lot turns into a mud wrestling arena. All sorts of finagling has been going on to try to line up the city, the county, the lumber, the concrete, etc.

Oh! We found an old abandoned septic tank underneath the old slab. That was a surprise. It has a very tomb-like feel and upon opening the hatch I was sure that we’d see a human skeleton inside. Luckily it was devoid of bodies (and poo) but unluckily we now have to fill it with concrete to eliminate it as a structural nuisance. The city and county have been VERY cool about signing off on it before I do the pour.

If everything works out I’ll have photos of the new foundation before we leave for France. Wish us luck!

Concrete Diaries


Monday, September 22, 2008

Nothing very interesting has happened lately. Mostly it’s been just brute labor. We rented a concrete saw to cut up the old foundation. We cut up the old foundation to make room for the new foundation. After cutting, we used a sledgehammer to break up the concrete. That got us nowhere. Then we rented an electric jackhammer to break up the concrete.

That worked for the thin stuff, but when we got to the real footings, the 18 inch deep stuff, it got us nowhere. Each visit to the tool rental place was like another installment of an arms race. I’d return the tool and say, “got anything stronger?” And the dude who worked at the tool rental place (who shall go unnamed because I don’t know his name and he was a big jerk) would say: “well, we got the 2990.” And then I’d have to say, “[long pause] What’s the 2990?” And he’d give me this well if you need to ask look. And then I’d say nothing. Saying nothing turns out to be a powerful move in the building trades. Saying something only invites rebuttal. But if you say nothing then you leave your opponent, er, rental place dude, vulnerable to the possibility of saying something stupid. Sometimes these tense bouts of tactical silence can go on for minutes. Anyway, I ended up with a 90 pound jackhammer and a ginormous, diesel-powered air compressor that needed to be towed behind me. The silence technique usually requires that I leave with a tool that I have no idea how to operate.

Bert showed up just in time to fire up the jackhammer and start pounding. The great thing about Bert is that he just goes for it. It would’ve taken me thirty minutes to double check all the air compressor settings and reading of panels to figure out what the blinking red light was and wondering about why there were so many dials and so few operable buttons. But Bert just plugged it in, turned it on and started pummeling. 

Once the hammering was complete we were left with many piles of concrete. I spent several days loading them into my truck, hauling them to the landfill, and then unloading them at the base of a giant concrete mountain. The landfill somehow recycles concrete. They probably send it to China to put into baby formula or cat food. By weighing my full and then empty truck at the pay station I figured that each load was a ton. So in the end I loaded and unloaded ten tons of concrete by hand. When one envisions the process of building the dream home, the whole tons of concrete thing rarely makes the highlight reel. 

Raise the Roof


Monday, September 15, 2008

We finally put a roof on the shed. Walking on the rafters scared me, mostly because I’m a big wuss. See the photos below. 

Here’s an update of our progress and plans so far. The old house has been torn down. We are cutting parts of the old foundation off so that we can make room for the new foundation. That will involve a concrete saw, a jack hammer, a demo bar, a sledge hammer and a 20 gallon can of elbow grease.

Next we’ll dig the ditch for the new foundation. I estimate that that will take about four days. Normally that would be a problem, but I have time to kill since the building inspector is at a conference this week. We’re still waiting for estimates from the truss roof dudes and the energy analysis dudes. The truss dudes are going to build trusses for our roof. They deliver them to the site, crane them onto your built up walls and then you just nail them into place. Sweet! The energy analysis dudes look at your plans and tell the Great State of California if your house meets Title 24 energy requirements. What are those requirements? Only people with computers can tell you that, but apparently it’s a pass/fail sort of thing. 

So while we’re waiting for the paperwork, we’re gonna dig ditches. Hopefully this will be the last set of ditches that we dig. We’re going to France in October and I’m hoping to get the foundation poured before we leave. 

Hammer Elbow


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Is “hammer elbow” a condition, like tennis elbow? If it is I think I’ve got it. Yesterday we installed the sill plate and framed the floor for the shack. Using a hammer properly is like swinging a golf club. Lots of people do it, but only a few do it really, really well. Reggie sinks every nail in two hits. If I sink one in four hits I feel like a smooth operator. Somewhere out there, there is a Tiger Woods of hammering who sinks every nail perfectly with one hit. He’s sponsored by Home Depot and he does the NASCAR circuit, demoing Stanley hammers and building eco-responsible show houses in 35 minutes flat. Bert Moulton is kind of a bigger, older, whiter Tiger, and he can sink a nail with the best of em. He came over to help after working a full day at his gas station. Thanks Bert! He and Reggie adding some blocking to the floor while I made a lumber run. On the way back he called and said, “Dammit Ed, there’s no beer! What the hell kind of working conditions you got goin on here?!” I pulled a u-turn and picked up a sixer of fancy Peroni Italian beer just to piss em off. 

Here are some pictures of the result of the concrete pour and yesterday’s framing work:

 

We have another inspection today and (don’t tell anyone) but some of my anchor bolts are a little too close to the edge of the sill plate. Hopefully he’ll let those pass. We’re gonna install some insulation, get the subfloor on, and maybe do some wall framing today. Hmmm, how many trips to Big Creek Lumber will that be today? Oh, speaking of which, Mary and Dustin over at Big Creek saw the blog! I guess they just stumbled upon it somehow and they told Reggie they saw it. How cool is that? I mean, c’mon, you think you’re gonna go to Home Depot or Lumberman and those people working there are gonna be stoked because they saw your blog? Thanks Mary and Dustin – you guys are cool!