Monthly Archives: October 2014


October 29, 2014

About once a week on average I run across someone who questions my plans to build my house basically by myself.  The first question is always, “How long do you think it will take you?”  They then usually get around to recommending that I contract much of the project out to “save time”.

But today’s conversation on the bus went much further.  The fellow was a builder and I suspect was even familiar with my project (he got on the bus in my neighbourhood).  He basically called me a fool and idiot in almost those words.  When I told him about the lack of progress or more specifically how little had gotten done since the official start in May, he laughed (not in a good way) and advised I was going to ‘piss away all your savings in holding costs’.  Fortunately he got off the bus a few stops later, but I was feeling like I had been put through an old fashioned washing machine ringer – I felt deflated. My mood was not helped when I got all the way down town to the convention centre only to realize I had the wrong day and the trade show is tomorrow. Oh well – at least I got there and back on one bus ticket.

I have know that my holding costs are low, but today’s ‘assault’ made me want to sharpen the pencil and look to see if this truly is making sense.  So here goes.

Current Monthly Costs

  • Mortgage *  $ 2450
  • Hydro   $ 15
  • Property Taxes $ 314
  • Rent  $ 1400
  • House Insurance $200 **
  • Storage Locker $84

* Our mortgage will be paid off in next couple of months. We had planned on paying it off before starting construction but needed the cash flow since the construction loan does not kick in till after we pour the foundation.
** This includes our contents in our suite as well as the construction coverage.  It also covers the full finished value of the home even though it will be two years before we reach this value.  A rip off if you have ever seen one.

SO this leaves us with a current monthly holding cost of $4379.  The relevant pre-moveout monthly total was $ 3244 for a difference of only $1135.  Why so little difference?  Well for starters our Hydro inc. gas used to be $163 and now our rent includes utilities and I only have to pay for the job site electricity. The property taxes were also much higher accounting for a livable house ($555).  The only thing that was lower was the house insurance bill that was only $80 prior to move out.

S0 – how far would $1135 a month get me.  Well, the two labourers from Embers cost me $335 a day for the pair all in.  So I could get two labourers for 27 hours a month for this difference, or just over three days.  Does anyone think that I will save a month of work by hiring two labourers for three days???  I sure don’t!  And once the mortgage is paid off, this will lower the holding costs even further but does raise the difference a bit to $1213 monthly.

I know, I know, this is not a fair comparison.  I need to just look at the extra costs it is costing me to take one month longer in the construction, so the pre-tear down costs are somewhat irrelevant. So here we go again:

  • Hydro   $ 15
  • Rent  $ 1400
  • House Insurance $75 *
  • Storage Locker $84
  • Interest on money borrowed to date $260

* I am only including the extra cost for the actual course of construction coverage as we would be paying the rest even after the house is finished.
** I have also not included the mortgage since it will be gone shortly, or included the taxes as they will only go up when the place is done.  By rights I should decrease a bit because once we move into the new place, we will have to pay utilities again.  But lets keep it simple.

This adds up to $1840.  Lets call it an even $2000.  This would get me 6 days of labour.  While better, it sure would not reduce my build time by a month and therefore would be a net loss.  With two labourers I do not become 300% efficient (including myself).  I may gain 40% to a max of 50%, because I now have to divert my energies away from getting stuff done to supervision and instruction.  So lets say I hire 2 labourers for a month.  This will cost me $8000 (inc Saturdays) but will only have shortened my build time by two weeks max or $1000 of holding costs.  And if I hired 2 skilled skilled labour, my costs would be well above $10K and I may get up to 80% increase in efficiency (I still have to tell skilled labour what I want done and monitor that they are doing it right).  So I save $1500 by spending $10K+.

If any of you critics are out there and want to question my logic, please do.  I welcome the input, but no matter how I crunch the numbers, the math just does not add up to real savings to me.

To me this is totally evident by this last example.  The finished house has been appraised by both the bank and insurance company at a build cost of between $850K and $950K.  I have budgeted $450K but am fully prepared at this point for that to escalate to $500K.  That is a savings of $350K minimum.  That is the kind of money we would have to spend to significantly reduce our build time to say 1 year (pretty standard around here for many homes).  If I did reduce build time to one year, I would save $24K in holding costs.

Spend $350K to save $25K.  I don’t think so!  Thanks for letting me get this off my chest.

Work has been progressing well with the tarp modifications.  I bought the final rope and parts needed this morning and finished rigging all of the ropes this afternoon. I also finished tensioning the tarp to the north tree so that it no longer sags on the main cable and covers the entire build site.

All that is left is the final tightening of all the tie down ropes, and the ‘tressing’ of the ropes underneath the tarp, so that they can not slip, and so they provide intermediate support to the tarp between them to prevent pooling.

The tarp has been subjected to some pretty strong winds again today without incident.  The changes in behaviour between before where the tarp was the structure, and now where it is a passenger, are very clear.  I really do not have any fears from a wind perspective any more and now just need to ensure it slopes to drain.

Thanks for visiting.

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October 28, 2014

As I had hoped, I was able to finish my company books and file both my GST and Income Tax returns yesterday AM.  This is a huge relief and quite frankly was stressing me out more than the house build.  I could not just farm it out to an accountant because the hard part of this was recreating all of the transactions for the last two years (lost in the data crash) and setting them to the right categories.  I am meticulous about scanning all receipts and statements and thankfully I did not loos any of these, but the harder transactions are those done electronically (web/email).  Copies of these ‘receipts’ are in many folders based on their original subject matter.

Then I clearly had used a different set of logic when entering them the first time as once re-entered the second time, I did not have a match  to what I had done previous.  Some were obvious but some I could never find and I suspect I may have even made a typo the first time around.  So a lot of effort was put into ensuring that what was re-entered for 2013, added up to what was actually filled for 2013 before I could start on 2014.  Once this was done, the rest was a piece of cake.

Now that this is off my shoulders, I will have Sundays and evenings free again to rest, do long outstanding chores, and even do some construction planning (what a concept).

I finished up the books at 11 yesterday morning and then went to site to find that the south pump GFCI was blown again.  Investigation showed that it was the actual pump and not the chord.  I had bought it 31 days ago so was worried that Canadian Tire would not take it back.  But I was thrilled to find out they have a 90 day return policy but more importantly a 5 Year Warranty on these electronic sump pumps.

I have to say, this 1/3 HP Electronic pump has performed extremely well as a pit storm water excavation pump, and when connected to a 1″ pipe instead of garden hose, it puts out a very high flow of water.  Research shows it does not handle extremely muddy water, but you are not allowed to discharge muddy water to the storm sewer anyway.  I have dug a pit filled with crushed rock and inserted the pump in there.  The water coming out is typically clear enough that it looks drinkable.

I have had two units fail however.  The first within hours of first use.  The bottom impeller seal failed and let all of the electric oil out of the unit which then filled up with water and shorted out. I do not know why the second unit I took back yesterday failed.  When I took it apart there was some corrosion on the circuit board.  I suspect the seal around the power chord had allowed water in over a long period of time.  But with a 5 yr warranty and no questions asked exchanges, this ends up being a much cheaper water control system compared to renting a pit pump.  1 week rental is way more than this electronic pump is worth. And on the rentals, unless you are able to set them up in a sump right from the beginning, there is no easy way to attach a float and you therefore have to baby sit it (including getting up during the night), because if they run dry they would burn out.

Once I got back from exchanging the pump, I set to rigging the reconfiguration of the tarp system.  The main cable now goes up very smoothly since the cable was changed and Sean from Burley was able to install the pulley block in the south tree.  This is going to make raising and lowering the tarp so much easier.  The winch I bought had no problems yanking the assembly up into the air.  By the end of the day, I had partially rigged four  new cables and tensioned the tarp on the main line about 85% of the way.

Today I continued rigging the new rope lines and the tarps attachment to them.  I completed the attachment points on the east side and did a test raise.  It was quite windy around noon and the new system had no problem handling the wind.  The ropes are taking all of the load instead of the tarp itself. But it was also raining (heavily) and there was pooling building up quite quickly.  The tarp was bunched up because the ropes were too tight and not allowing the tarp to stretch out enough.  This was an easy adjustment – just had to let out the various ropes a bit.  As I had ensured each rope had a few extra ft, this took no time at all.  But then it was getting dark and REALLY raining, so I called it a day.

My first attempt had the tension ropes too tight (they are under the tarp so hidden).  This produced lots of folds in the tarp that collected water once the tarp was raised.

My first attempt had the tension ropes too tight (they are under the tarp so hidden). This produced lots of folds in the tarp that collected water once the tarp was raised.

I was able to see, with the tarp partially raised, that I will have to do cross ‘webbing’ underneath from rope to rope to prevent pooling.  I will do this on the diagonal so that the webbing itself does not create ponding. This will be tomorrow and Thursday’s tasks as well as completing the tensioning of the tarp on the main cable. (I will take a video of the system once complete and post).

Tomorrow will be a shorter day as I will be visiting the Wood Solutions Fair and specifically stopping by the TriForce wood web Floor truss both to meet the salesman I bought the trusses from.

Thanks for visiting.


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October 26, 2014

The last few days have been about prepping for the big tarp reconfiguration and further storm water management.

Friday was spent cleaning up the pit floor (moving empty pallets, getting rid of debris, etc.) , trenching from low spots collecting water to areas serviced by the pumps, and then finishing the conversion of the south pit pump to use 1″ PVC instead of a garden house for increased capacity.  I also started rigging some of the new ropes that will be used to support the tarp.

Saturday saw more work on the storm water system including digging a pit outside of the footing zone for the south pump and also installing check valves on both pumps to prevent the water flowing back into the pit every time the pump cycled.   I also added a new portable pump Saturday that will be used in the short term to pump water off the tarp surface when it is down.  By the end of the day, I also fully lowered the tarp in preparation for Sunday.

Today, Sean from Burley Boys was back and rigged a new cable on the north tree to be used for tensioning the tarp. He then rigged a 6″ pulley block, I bought from Princess Auto, on the South tree to allow easy raising and lowering of the tarp (this is the side that I raise and lower the cable from – it is fixed at the north tree).  You will remember I was nervous that the existing shackle was being weakened by the cable cutting into it and as you can see by the photo, this was a justifiable fear.

Shackle was cut about 25% of the way through.  Was only a matter of time before it failed.

Shackle was cut about 25% of the way through. Was only a matter of time before it failed.

I also had Sean cut off a couple of branches that were clearly responsible for the huge resistance I was getting when I tried to raise the tarp back up.

Cable was cutting into branch along its length attributing to huge resistance in cable movement.

Cable was cutting into branch along its length attributing to huge resistance in cable movement.

Cable was cutting through branch further resisting movement

Cable was cutting through branch further resisting movement

I decided to also run a new cable from the base of the tree up to where the tarp is attached as the original one was ‘curled’ due to rubbing up against the shackles and was becoming increasingly more difficult to handle and was increasing the risk with raising and lowering the tarp (the curls would get caught and have to be untwisted to lower the tarp).

South portion of main cable had become curled due to repeating rubbing against metal shackles.  It will be replaced.

South portion of main cable had become curled due to repeating rubbing against metal shackles. It will be replaced. In the background you can also see the water backup caused by the storm last night and the fact that the nearby pump had tripped the GFCI at some point.

This now also allows me to run the cable leg out far enough from the base of the tree so that it can reach over the pit to the driveway and make lowering and raising very easy again.  These actions have dealt with the last of the weak spots on the system that I cannot access from the ground and should make future operation and maintenance much easier.

This coming week will be about rigging the new rope spider web that will be the structural support for the tarp, but only after I fill the company income and sales taxes which have become the first priority in life right now.  Hopefully the bookkeeping will be done by noon or mid afternoon on Monday.

Thanks for visiting.

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I have a plan!

October 23, 2014

Yesterday I took back the winch I bought from Princess Auto and instead bought this Champion 4500 Lb winch from Canadian Tire.  It was regularly $399 on sale for $229.99 (cheaper than the one I took back).

Yesterday afternoon, I tried it out and it did much better raising the main cable but still could not get the cable all the way up.  But I got enough slack to now attach to the truck and lo and behold the truck could no longer pull it up all the way either. Some investigation work with binoculars showed that the cable was wound around a branch and having to slice through the branch to go anywhere.  I also noticed that all of this raising and lowering of the cables was causing it to cut through the metal shackles.  So now I was worried at the presumed weakened state of the top shackle and not wanting to pull too hard in case it snapped.

I raised the tarp about 75% of the way (after pupping off what appeared to be 300-400 gallons of pooled water from on top of the tarp from the previous nights storm), and then started working on the front attachment points.  That is when I realized that the tarp has stretched a lot more over the last few weeks and that no matter how tightly I attached the front side, I would still be left with valleys the water would puddle.  I finished the day seriously contemplating finally giving up!  And if I did give up on the tarp, would I just put the project on hold till the spring?

Then today happened.  Brian from Embers came and re-stacked all of the ICF block in the pit along the north wall where it will be out of the way of digging the final footings and spreading the granular layer along the pit floor. Half the pit was covered with tarp and the other half was not, so it was a very definitive example of the difference in working conditions.  Unfortunately, while Brian was moving block, I was basically topside working without the benefit of the tarp and was soaked through in a matter of minutes.

Brian complete moving blocks and covering with Plastic

Brian completes moving blocks and covering with Plastic

Now most construction people would just say “suck it up buttercup” and I would totally agree.  While miserable, it is not impossible and you just have to push through.  I have worked on construction jobs in the rain many times and you just deal with it.  But it was my afternoon road trip that cemented my commitment to not build a house exposed.

There were three houses under construction (started within last month) that are near me.  All three have just started framing first storey floor assembly or just starting first floor walls.  None were tarped. In all cases the plywood floors were de-laminating and I could see bows in the floor caused by sagging of the floor trusses in their saturated state.

Now, if you are putting on a concrete skim coat for hydronic heating, you can get away with some bowing of the floor, but we are not. So we would have a permanent deflection visible in our finished floors unless a lot of effort was made to scarf out the dips with thin ply (door skins) or levelling compound.  Not to mention the twisting and bowing of the studs you would then need to contend with.  Then of course, your wood has come to fibre saturation (32% wood moisture) and now has been initiated for fungi growth.

This is the standard way to build in my region, but I refuse to work as hard as I know I will be, just to build a poorly constructed and performing dwelling.  SO tarp failure is NOT AN OPTION and thankfully I have a plan.  And the plan is a total departure from what I have been trying to do to date.

Up till now, other than the top main cable, I have been using the tarp itself as the structure needing to hold it up.  I have attached the tie down chords to the edge of the tarp and used the tarp material itself to transfer these loads up to the top cable.  Because we needed to keep the tarp from sagging, these ties down cables have been snugged extremely tightly (I was using the truck to tension them).  But this is a plastic tarp, so it was just stretching or the tension was just ripping the tarp at any significant wind load.

I will now take the tarp out of the equation and make the structure out of rope.  The tie downs chords will continue all the way up to the main overhead cable allowing the tarp to just ‘sit on top’ of the chords.  I will create a grid work of ropes that the tarp will lie on to prevent any significant pooling.  I will still attach the tarp at the outside edges so that it does not blow away, but will ensure the tarp is slacker than the rope so that it is not under tension.  The tarp can still balloon up with certain winds, but this has never placed a lot of strain on the tarp.  It is the top down winds that were trying to tear it to bits and this will be prevented with the supporting rope grid. Yes this will take a few days and cause further delay, but the difference in efficiency working under cover will more than make up for it.

Wish me well and thanks for visiting.


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Excavation Officially Completed

October 21, 2014

On Monday AM in addition to prepping for my shopping trip, I also met with the GeoTech on site to review the status of the excavation. Ben from DAVIES GEOTECHNICAL INC. appeared satisfied with the efforts I had taken to address both Davies and the WorkSafe safety concerns.  Well I just received the inspection report and the pit has been signed off for maned entry.  This officially completes the excavation and allows me to finally move on.



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Slow but steady

October 21, 2014

I ended up not putting in as much time on the weekend as I had hoped.  I needed to spend more time on my company bookkeeping as they are more messed up than I hoped and taking a while to sort through.  I also took time out Sunday to celebrate my father-in-law’s birthday.  But I did get 5 hours of tarp repair in on Saturday and on Sunday Sean from Burley Boys returned to re-attach a shackle at the north tree that provides the north tension point so the tarp does not sag.  The job took longer than the promised 5 minutes due to a missing set of tree spurs, but we got the job done.

I decided Monday that in order to make it much easier and faster to raise the tarp I would buy an electric winch. I bought this 2500 Lb unit from Princes Auto. As this was out in Coquitlam and had taken much of the morning to research, I combined the trip with several stops along the way to pick up other items I am needing from places generally not open on the weekend.  By the time I got back it was after 4 and too late to do anything substantial on the tarp.

So today was to be the tarp raising day and it did get up part way.  But in the end it was more of another prep and repair day, than a raising day.

First off, the winch is garbage and will be returned.  It has no where near the rated pull force.  When it would grind to a halt, I would be able to step on the cable and easily stomp down another couple of ft.  Unless I have gained a LOT of weight over the last couple of days, I do not think I can be exerting 2500 Lbs of force.  This was a big disappointment and made the raising of the main cable painful again. Now that the pit is present, I cannot hook onto the truck and pull it back in a few seconds.  So I will have to use the come-a-long to pull it up in 3ft stages.

I also needed to wait over an hour while all the water pumped out of a large puddle that had formed on the top side of the tarp from days of rain.

Pumping out the water

Pumping out the water

But the big disappointment was that the north tension cable (that Sean had just raised Sunday) snapped when I had the tarp about 3/4 of the way it needed to slide on the main cable.  It was a 1/8″ cable and in hindsight I should have changed it out before Sean came.  So I have now upgraded it to a 1/4″ cable and will have to use my 32′ ladder to route it through the shackle up in the tree.  This snapped at about 2 PM and so by the time I bought the new cable, and lowered the partially raised tarp back to the ground so I could attach the new cable, it was 4:30 and again too late to raise the tarp up.

If I have learned anything with this tarp, it is that I need to be able to get it fully raised and tensioned in one go so that the wind cannot pull at it and the water cannot puddle.  So tomorrow will hopefully be the final push that gets this task behind me.

I have booked Brian from Embers for half a day of labour on Thursday AM.  I will get him to move all of the ICF blocks currently in the pit to the north side at the basement walkout space so it is out of my way.  This will let me dig out the final footing areas, scrape away all mud, and then arrange for gravel delivery. I hope to be ready for gravel early next week. If we finish the blocks in the pit early, I will get him to start also moving the blocks from the road side into the pit (probably using a chute).

Finally I want to express my deepest sympathies to my good friend Richard who lost his almost completed airplane in a hanger fire last night. Richard had been working on an electric plane ElectraFlyer-X for a few years now.  He had pushed through many challenging setbacks including the total rebuild of the electric motor and controller and re-wiring of aircraft (he purchased the unit close to complete).  The plane was very near complete and he was just ironing out some brake issues before undertaking the final taxi testing and airworthiness testing.  I do not have a lot of details, but apparently it was a battery fire and he has a 100% loss.  The photo he sent is just too devastating to post.  Richard – my thoughts are with you.  I am so sorry!



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Bank Blanket Complete!

October 17, 2014

Well it has not been a stellar week from a productivity point of view, but progress was made and I am satisfied with that. From Physio and massage appointments for my back, to an unexplained Wednesday night with only 2 hours sleep leading to a zombie performance on Thursday, I only averaged 3 hours a day of site work for a total of 14 hours since Tuesday morning (Monday was a stat here). But as of this morning, I finished securing the mesh blanket to the banks of the excavation.I will not officially know if I am done till I hear back from the engineer, but I am hopeful that I have officially completed the excavation portion of this build.

The mesh blanket does not really stabilize the bank, it is more a safety to capture any soil that sloughs off the bank and preventing it from burying or crushing personnel between the soil and the foundation once present. It will also protect me from any rocks that work loose. While I still content this was way overkill, I will admit that I will feel safer when working near the banks and a side benefit is that I can crawl all over it when I need to access something say part way up the foundation wall.

East bank blanketed with mesh except for equipment and pedestrian ramp

East bank blanketed with mesh except for equipment and pedestrian ramp

South Bank draped with welded wire mesh

South Bank draped with welded wire mesh

Over the weekend, the weather is supposed to improve and I will use the opportunity to repair and hopefully re-raise the tarp. Next week, once I have heard back from the engineer, I will work on digging the final bits for the footings, scraping off all mud, and blowing in the granular layer across the pit floor prior to starting the footing form installation.

Thanks for visiting.


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Hanging Around

October 12, 2014

Friday saw the start of installing the welded wire mesh over the excavation banks.

I took a chance and hired two labourers from embers again. You may have remembered I was less than impressed with the last time I hired a labourer from here, but I really needed the help and took the risk. There was no way I would be able to man-handle the 300+ lb rolls even with a healthy back. Boy was I glad I did as Shane and Mick were awesome. They both worked hard, thought ahead in the process, and asked for things to do to keep busy.

The process got off to a rough start. The threaded rod anchors I had made up Thursday were not going into the soil. They would just bounce off cobble. And if they did find a soft spot, they would then not grab and just pull out again. After an hour of trying, we had not driven a single anchor that held at the top side of the bank. The bottom side was better as the clay tills would usually accept the anchors with ease. I called the engineer in frustration (again voicing my displeasure for having to do this which they graciously put up with). They suggested switching from threaded rod to rebar which would have less resistance. They also suggested using a ground bar driver bit on a hammer drill.

So I prepared to head off to the lumber and rental store. This was complicated by the fact my truck was in the shop getting a new tailpipe and would not be ready till 11:30. Shane and Mick wanted to stay busy and not just hang around (I was very impressed) and so, after their break, worked on loading my trailer with all the plastic pipe I had dug out of the ground for salvage (but unfortunately it is too dirty for the salvage process and instead will need to go to the dump) and then worked on re-stacking lumber I had to get out of the way of the excavator and had just been thrown into a pile. When I got back, the job site had been cleaned up and organized. Awesome!

We got to work cutting the new rebar to length and then trying once again to drive in anchors, this time with the hammer drill. Again, no joy. The rods were just bouncing off rock. I was able to drive anchors along the bottom side of the west bank but I think we only got 1 or 2 driven at the top. We placed the wire so that the curve of the roll was pushing the top into place. With the bottom anchored, this will hold them there until I can figure out a method of attaching the top. I indicated to the engineer I doubted it would be possible to drive anything in the middle-heavily-cemented area and many attempts showed this to be the case.

The south bank went much easier. For one I could easily access the top of the bank and the soil at the top of the bank also easily allowed entry of the threaded rod anchors I made up and once driven were holding fast. So we just hung each strip of mesh anchoring firmly at top and I will go back next week and anchor the bottoms. I wanted to get all of the strips hung with the labour help as that was the part that would be hardest on my back.

The east bank saw different soil once again. The east, or front of the house, actually did have top soil as I had put in about 12″ of peat and sand to remediate the front lawn after we bought. SO we had to switch back to the rebar and cut them 24″ or so long in order to penetrate the soft soil and grab into the denser native soils below. The rebar anchors were just straight pieces of rod with rebar wire wrapped around them a few inches from the top end. After driving in part way, the wire would then also get fastened to the mesh before driving the rod in the balance of the way and cinching the connection up.

At exactly the end of an 8 hour day, we had hung all of the welded wire mesh except for the strips that will need to be moulded to the corners between banks. The larger two pieces were cut and made ready for me next week. I had hoped to finish this task Friday, but considering all the problems driving the anchors, I was very happy with the progress we made.

I will hopefully finish driving all the bottom anchors and placing the final sheets on Tuesday/Wednesday and then will have to figure out what we are going to do about the top bank of the west wall. I will see if I can use a sledge to drive larger anchors into place somewhere above the bank and then use cable to weave into the mesh and around the anchors. Looks like I will not meet my goal of at least starting the footings by Saturday. Whats new!

Brian and Mick holding the mesh in place while I drive anchors along bottom.  The top of this bank did not accept anchors and will require a modified game plan.

Brian and Mick holding the mesh in place while I drive anchors along bottom. The top of this bank did not accept anchors and will require a modified game plan.

Thanks for visiting.

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Grind of a day

October 9, 2014

Not a lot has happened over the last few days.  It was pretty clear at Physio on Monday that if I did not give my back some down time, things would rapidly get much worse (I have disc issues).  So I made the decision to take Tuesday off and just rest the back (meaning no sitting either).

Then I got a call saying someone had cancelled and did I want to come in Wednesday evening for an MRI that had been ordered for me to find out if I had chiari malformation (a hereditary condition recently found in a family member that needed surgery to correct where you literately have too large a brain to fit into an area of the scull).  The calling technician had a series of questions including had I ever ground metal.  As the conversation progressed she heavily advised against me cutting metal rod on the day of the MRI (the risk is that some can get under the skin or even very small pieces somehow get in your eyes.  Of course the magnets would rip the shards right out potentially causing a lot of damage).  As my back was still pretty bad, I decided a second day with my feet up would be the wisest course of action.

Today my back felt better and I got to work prepping for tomorrow. You see, I have to reinforce ALL of the excavated banks that do not have lock blocks (not just the odd area that is close to vertical).  This involves covering them with 8Ga welded wire mesh and securing it top and bottom with anchors driven 12″ into the soil.  To me and many others that have been by, this is ludicrous, but Worksafe pressured my engineer who has now recommended this installation.  The heavily cemented soil could probably be undercut and still not collapse, so the lightly banked sides pose no threat in my opinion, but I am complying with the ($2K) recommendation because it is easier than fighting.

I spent the day cutting 134 pcs of 15″ long threaded rod and then rented a rebar bender and bent 3″ long angles on the top to allow it to lock into the mesh and provide a hammering surface.  The mesh will be laid in vertical strips top to bottom and be secured along the top and bottom.  I have hired two labourers for tomorrow to help hang the strips so I do not re-agrevate my back now that it has calmed down.  They will manhandle the 12′-16′ long strips while I anchor them into place.

Engineer allowed me to make anchors out of 1/2" threaded rod I had on hand from my old Chemetics days.  It has a 12" leg and 3" cap to hook into the mesh.

Engineer allowed me to make anchors out of 1/2″ threaded rod I had on hand from my old Chemetics days. I cut the 5ft rods into 15″ long studs that I then bend a 3″ top leg into that will hook into the mesh.

4"x4" Mesh 8Ga. will be placed in vertical sheets from the top to bottom of the excavation.

4″x4″ Mesh 8Ga. will be placed in vertical sheets from the top to bottom of the excavation.

By the end of tomorrow I hope to have all strips in place with basic anchoring along the top side.  I will then complete the driving of anchors into the top side and along the bottom over the weekend.

My hope is that by Tuesday (Monday is a holiday – no construction noise allowed), that the actual excavation and its stabilization will be complete and I will finally be able to move on.  I will then spend a day rehanging the tarp and then hopefully finish digging the perimeter footings and scraping all mud into one pile. I would then cover the rest of the pit floor with gravel. Parm from Diamond will come back to dig out the scrapings and footing dirt which represents about one truck full.  At that time, I would also have him pull Alfie out of the hole.

So my goal is that by Saturday the 18 at the latest, I will have started laying out the footing forms. Once laid out, I will need to have them surveyed and then inspected by the geotech, structural engineer, and the District engineer before pouring.

Lets hope and pray everything is finally proceeding on the right track and speed.

Thanks for visiting.


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Report Card

October 6, 2014

Tonight I also wanted to share some of my thoughts on the progress to date.

This build is to be a showcase house demonstrating best practices for building envelope and house construction in general.  However I would say to date that although I probably score an A in effort, I would get an F for content on the project so far.

The fact that the house took 3 months to take down, and that it has been almost 2 months since the house has been gone, and we are still doing excavation related activities, is quite frankly pathetic!  Anybody in the construction business would just laugh at my attempts to date and I would not find fault in that reaction.

This project has pushed me to the limits on many levels and obviously, a lack of experience has had a major contribution to the extended time line. But, I also seem to be plagued with outside forces that at least on the face of things, seem to be asking for things to be done in ways that are not seen on most build sites. Whether this is because I have actually hired quality consultants that actually ensure best practice (compared to cheap and rubber stamping consultants I see on so many jobs), or it is a result of certain authorities taking extra interest because this is a owner builder, I do not know.

For instance, this excavation a mere two blocks away has much steeper banks than mine (granted - they are not as deep but the bearing principles still apply.

For instance, this excavation a mere two blocks away has much steeper banks than mine (granted – they are not as deep but the bearing principles still apply.

And then there is of course my ongoing struggles with the tarp.  This has been at the front and center of so many of the delays. Over the last week or two I have though long and hard about this part of the puzzle.  Really, it is not needed right now and by the time I started framing, I could just drape a much smaller tarp over the top of the foundation, or part of structure completed to date.  But this would prevent all of you from being able to keep tabs on the project via the webcams and would eliminate the time lapse photos I am capturing on this build.  As this is a process I have committed to (and put a lot of time and money towards), I really need to keep trying on the tarp as I refuse to build a house where the engineered components become saturated.

I was also recently questioned as to the wisdom of posting all of my trials and tribulations on this build and how this could effect value if we sold down the road. Well, for starters, we plan on owning this dwelling for some time (10 years at least), but secondly – this site will document that while yes I will have challenges, in the end – things WILL be done right.

So while, I may complain that I am unhappy with the progress, or that I am being asked to do something I feel at the time is not required.  I will be satisfied that as components are completed, they will represent best practice and something I can be proud of.

I leave you with some thoughts of what I have learned to date:

  • Do not allow disconnection of services to the existing dwelling until you have building permits for the new dwelling in hand.  I would extend this advise to say, do not move out until you have permits in hand (if you are an owner build and already were living on the property).  The best plan for us would have been to stay in the house until next spring and have spent this year purging, planning, getting quotes, and doing some of the back yard landscaping including building the concrete block and stone fence along the south property line.
  • Make a much stronger effort to dismantle the house in a expedited time frame including hiring assistance.  This step was only planned to take one month.  The extra 2 months added up to $2400 in rent which could have been put towards labour to expedite the process. I still feel that dismantling a house is worth the effort and added cost.
  • Pay very close attention to layout lines to ensure that you only excavate the area needed.  Over-excavating a tight job site results in needless removal of material (costs and delays) and in my case, eroded the ability to have an engineer mandated slope. It probably would have also been a good idea to make a slope checking jig, to ensure that the excavators are conforming to the engineer’s specs.
  • Ensure that the pit base is dug out with a smooth edged bucket instead of one with teeth.  It does not work to try and re-compact glacial till that has been disturbed with the teeth of a bucket. No matter how well packed down, once wet, it turns to soup.
  • Get gravel down in the bottom of your pit VERY QUICKLY.  Even if this means putting it down before you have finished digging the footings and will have to move the gravel aside in these areas to dig the footings. Of course, this is a fairly unique problem on my job site because I am also putting a gravel drainage bed below the footings which is best practice and more difficult to build but not something down on most builds.  At the most, some builds with higher water levels will install a drain pipe from one side of the footing to the other.
  • And finally, you need to accept that some delays are unavoidable and you just have to deal with them and move on.
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Progress – Finally!

October 6, 2014

Well I had a couple of people contact me advising that the silence was deafening and wondering if I was really busy or just fed up again.  I am afraid it has generally been the later but today finally was a semi-productive day.

But first lets back up a few days to catch everyone up.  As I had last left you, we had repaired the tarp, partially raised it, and were hashing out the requirements for bank stabilization. I finished Thursday fairly upbeat but then 3:00 AM happened.

True to form the advertized ‘showers’ were more like a tropical downpour I experienced many years ago when in the Whitsunday Passage of Australia.  I had woken up from the rain and got up to check on the tarp as it had not been fully raised yet and there was a danger of puddling.  Sure enough there was about 100 or so gallons pooled in one spot but all was intact.  So I was going to let down one of the ropes at the front and let everything drain.  Just then the water switched position and went further north.  So I instead went to the most northern front rope and let it out.  This turned out to be a mistake and I immediately heard the sound I have come to dread – ripping tarp.  The end result was that I lost a foot off the front of the tarp and then when the tarp edge fell down into the pit, it caught a pallet of ICF and ripped another big gash in it.  At this point I just went home to try to get more sleep.

I tossed and turned all night wondering what to do and decided I would give the tarp one final chance.  This was mainly because of the fact that the back half of the tarp had never sustained any damage and so I was going to mimic its attachment points on the front side as well.  I figured the front had too many competing pull angles that must be creating stress risers, where the back is just tightly attached at each corner and then only has light attachment point in the middle to prevent flapping.  The front two ropes had also been tensioned by attaching to the truck, so they were probably way too tight.  I finally fell asleep around 6 AM with a plan.

Of course this was turned upside down with a daylight inspection of the tarp showing the back north corner had also ripped during the night. Talk about a torpedo to my plan.  But then I figured out the rip probably occurred when the water switched positions as I heard something at that point but thought it was just a rope slipping.  And the water did represent a LOT of weight that the tarp was never designed to carry and should be able to be prevented on a fully raised and attached tarp.

I was pretty fed up by now and decided to give the tarp a time out.  I would secure it to Alfie in the pit at the end of each day (so the wind would not catch it and drag it over more ICF blocks further tearing it) and have just been ignoring it for a few days.

Friday was spent attaching plywood bulkheads to the ends of the blocks to prevent the gravel from sloughing out once back filled. The rest of Friday and also Saturday was spent ensuring the north footing was dug to the right depth, moving a pallet of ICF block out of the way (hand bomb), and then scrapping away any mud and road base back fill from the footing area, and also the mud away from the first 10ft or so of slab area from the north side. The final task Saturday was to dig out all the back-fill Diamond and I had put behind the sump as it had become saturated and was like pea soup.  This was quite a bit of work and took several hours as there was a large volume to remove and the soup went about 3ft below the bottom of the pit, which was due to the mini pit we dug for the part of the sump basin that extended even lower.  I did not fully excavate the north side of the sump as it does not represent bearing for the pit wall or any of the house.  It was the south side that really mattered as the garage footing will sit in this area, so I made sure to go down to solid unsaturated native soil in this area.

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All of the open ends of the lock blocks were bulk-headed by plywood hiltied into the block.


Sunday was another 12 hour marathon on rebuilding the company QuickBooks file.  Probably 2 more long days will be needed before I can start prepping for this years taxes.  So I will have to hustle to finish before the end of the month.

This morning, things finally started going in the right direction.  Superior Stone Slinger showed up just after 7:30 and by 8:15, they had finished back-filling all the voids behind the lock block wall.  My neighbors house is now fully supported relieving a huge stress contributor for me. I then made one of my better decisions and asked them to bring a second load which they were able to fit into their morning schedule.  With the second load, we were able to fill in the north footing trench and partially cover about 15% of the slab in a strip along the north footing.  This was great for two reasons, it handled the area of the pit having the most problems with water and mud build-up, and it really was a moral booster as this area is now, with some light raking, ready to layout footings.  It was not cheap, but the boosted progress and the fact I will not need to work in mud anymore was well worth it.

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The back side of the sump was re-excavated down to bearing soil and then backfilled with 3/4″ crushed rock.


The Stone Slinger is an amazing invention that turns hours of work into mere minutes.
Layer of 3/4" crushed rock provides a nice blanket over the north side of the excavation.

Layer of 3/4″ crushed rock provides a nice blanket over the north side of the excavation.

Thanks for visiting.

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Tarp MD

October 2, 2014

Sorry for the lack of updates.  It has been a week of ups and downs and to be frank, I did not feel like talking about it.

I arrived back in town Monday around noon and had a small rest before going to the job site.  I decided the best thing to focus on was upgrading the water evacuation system.  So I converted the main pump to use 1″ PVC pipe instead of the 1/2 garden hose.  It was made for this and just required the removal of an adapter.  The difference was phenomenal and that small pump now puts out volumes close to the 2.5″ pump I rented.  This allowed me to return the rental pump.  If you find yourself in my shoes, do yourself a favor and install the 1″ PVC right from the beginning.  It would have eliminated most of the storm water headache I had last week.  I  have bought materials to convert the second pump to the 1″ PVC rigid as well, but other tasks are currently more important. The upgrade took a few hours and then I was off to Physio to work on my knee which was very sore after the full blown sprint at the airport on Saturday.

Tuesday’s tasks involved continuing work on raising the tarp.  I installed a plywood gusset at the rip along the main cable at the apex of the tarp. Unfortunately, the rip was too close to the top and when the tarp was lifted again, the pressure pulling down on the bottom side of the gusset was pushing the top side out and re-ripping the tarp. SO work on the tarp came to a halt again as I figured out a new action plan.

As weight of tarp pulled down on bottom pf plywood gusset, the top side would pivot up and re-ripped tarp

As weight of tarp pulled down on bottom pf plywood gusset, the top side would pivot up and re-ripped tarp

Mid morning, my Geotech engineer came by to inspect the end of excavation and address concerns raised by WorkSafeBC. There definitely was concerns about the native soils that had washed out from behind the lock blocks. The options were to take the blocks down and reinstall, use a suction truck to remove the soil before back-filling, or just topping off with gravel. The concerns re the suction truck is that they need to liquify the soil before removing which could cause the bank to erode further. Fortunately the recommendation came back to just top off the gap behind the blocks with 3/4″ crushed gravel and I have ordered a rock slinger for Monday morning at 8 AM.  These are cool trucks that use a built in conveyor to hurl the gravel long distances.

I will also need to cover the ends of the block walls that do not terminate into other blocks or dirt banks with plywood that I hilti to the blocks, so that the back fill material does not slough out. And in order to sling the rock, I will need to provide protection to the neighbors house by screwing plywood sheets into his battens (did I mention I have an awesome and understanding neighbor). I will also need the plywood backing along the tree and construction fencing so that they have something to ‘shoot’ against to allow the gravel to fall down into the hole.  This is a bit costly as a method (cost to shoot is equivalent for the cost of the gravel so one load will be $800 or so), but this area cannot be back filled with an excavator and hiring labor to ‘bucket’ the gravel would have been more.

The rest of Tuesday was spent finishing the poly cover on all of the banks and blocks. I am very grateful that the multiple days of ‘showers’ forecast for this week have generally dried up.

Wednesday was tarp repair day.  I found a vendor that makes reinforced rubber conveyor belts and bought 2 pcs that were 6″ wide, 48″ long and 1/2″ thick.   I also picked up some 3/8 double braided poly rope. I decided to address one of WorkSafe’s concerns and remove the aircraft cable tie downs on the front of the tarp and upgrade with the rope.  This way if something freaky happens and the tie downs some how get hooked up in the power lines, there is no potential for electric shock.  I used the rubber strips as a stitch that draped over the main cable and clamped to the tarp on both sides.  This will take all of the stress and transfer it to sound material on each side of the original tear and yet be flexible enough to bend and not ‘push out’ through the tarp material.  This repair took the rest of the day.  On my parts run in the morning I also returned stirrups used to lift the sump sections (for a whopping $1000 deposit return) and finally picked up the new rubber tracks for Alfie who will be very happy to have new shoes.

Sorry for poor photo - phone had just dropped in puddle.  Rubber straps are draped over main cable and screwed together clamping the tarp between the strips. The small cable is the retention strap that keeps the tarp from sagging and bunching up on the main cable.

Sorry for poor photo – phone had just dropped in puddle. Rubber straps are draped over main cable and screwed together clamping the tarp between the strips. The small cable is the retention strap that keeps the tarp from sagging and bunching up on the main cable.

I also received a call and email late in the day from the engineer who now had new concerns regarding the slope of the excavated banks and that I had to modify them.  This was very concerning as of course I no longer had machinery on site that could do this.  The tarp would also now be in the way as it was not going to be as high as before without again calling in the arbourist, because the wind had ripped the eye bolt right out at the top of the stump tree.  And then there was the fact that we were out of cash and needed to keep costs down between now and the end of the foundation pour where we would finally get our first construction draw.  This occupied my attention for the rest of the evening and woke me up at 4AM this morning and generally was ruining my day.

SO this morning I called the lead engineer and discussed.  I was relieved that there was probably other remedies available including covering the poly with welded wire mesh and securing to bank. We agreed that I would take a full video of the conditions and slopes so the lead engineer could review and make recommendations.  With the threat of the return of heavy equipment averted, I returned to the task of raising the tarp back up and had just finished the front main two attachment points when WorkSafeBC showed up for a follow up visit and to deliver their report from the first visit.  I explained the steps taken since their last visit and they seemed generally satisfied with the progress, although there was some disagreement between them and the engineer regarding the distance vehicles had to stay back from the pit edge. They will now just want to see the engineers memo with the revised instructions for the bank stabilization.  It was then off to Physio where I asked them to switch it up and work on my back that was injured in yesterday’s movement of the tractor tracks.

So it looks like we are back on track again.  I have looked at what is involved with raising the house out of the ground a foot to bring my grade closer to the neighbors where it belongs.  But it looks like it is just too costly compared to just putting in some extra surface drainage in case his yard floods (he is the lowest on the street) and backs up into my yard.  The extra 12″ of gravel would be at least $4000 and adding a row of ICF blocks would be $2000 for the blocks and then more $ for concrete & rebar.  Then there would be the need to check with engineering to see if it changed the reinforcement requirements of the foundation. And then of course would be the tasks of trying to get District approval.  For $1000 I can put in a french drain along that side of the house, so I will just chalk this up to a lesson learned and move on.

I want to give a shout out to my friend Ed in Winnipeg who is my neighbors brother and was visiting last week.  He is now keeping tabs of the project on the vid cams and this website.  Look forward to your next visit Ed!

I will leave you with these two photos showing some of the water buildup after last Thursday’s rains. This was after the rains had stopped and the pumps caught up a bit.  As my neighbor would say “Poor – Very Poor!”

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Thanks For visiting.


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