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Archive for September, 2008


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. 

There Is Satisfaction in Complete Destruction


Saturday, September 6, 2008

Last week was all about pry bars and sledgehammers and demolition. In fact, the one tool that has probably been responsible for the most work done so far is something called a demolition bar. It’s a very long pry bar with one end bent at fifteen degrees and the other at ninety. Bert says that many things will try to resist the demo bar, but none succeed. Whatever the demo bar addresses eventually succumbs. It is heavy, so it can knock things down. It is long, so it provides the leverage to pull things up or apart. It is hard, so things like concrete or nails do not impede its path. The sawzall used to be my favorite tool, but the demo bar has dethroned it. 

After the roof came off the rest of the house fell quite readily. Bert came over with Scott to help remove the shed roof from the kitchen. That happened so quickly that we decided to take the side and rear walls down as well. Ironically, we broke for labor day and then I returned on Tuesday to take down the laundry room and the front facade. Working alone is three times slower than working with two other people. Weird how the math works out on that huh? When Scott and Bert were helping we took down three walls and a really heavy roof section in half a day. Alone I took down one wall and one little four by eight foot room in about six hours. That left us with just the car port, which Ed Botello the hauling guy pulled down via a rope tied to his truck. Ed deserves an entire post so I’ll sing his praises later. For now I’ll describe him as a compact bulldozer of a man who gets things done like nobody I’ve ever seen. 

The carport was the last of the original structure and once it fell we were left with two giant piles of debris. One pile was “clean” and one was “dirty”. Dirty goes straight to landfill. Clean is recycled and most of it eventually ends up as mulch. The dump has giant piles of different grades of mulch that you can buy for a low price. I’m positive that some of the lumber of the old house will eventually end up back in the garden.

While taking down one of the walls I split open a piece of wood and found a bunch of termites. Man those guys are tenacious. It seems like every wall and most of the ceiling was spongy from their efforts. Somehow they manage to eat most of the wood while leaving a fairly rigid structure behind. It’s as if they know that if they ate completely through the house would fall down and they’d ruin their meal ticket. You can see photos of the termites and their handiwork in the gallery below. 

Tearing down the front of the house brought out the neighbors. Every hour or so I’d see someone stop in front, mouth agape and with a “dang!” expression on their face.  I met Kevin from down the street – a woodworking teacher and carpenter. And I met Jake from across the street, a nice guy and also a carpenter. My next door neighbor is a carpenter too. And a few doors down is a roofer. For such an anti-growth town there sure are a lot of dudes in the building trades living here. Everyone has been really cool, offering advice and generally being stoked on the project. 

I’m putting together a video from different stages of the tear down. Until it is ready, please enjoy these photos of recent interest.