Monthly Archives: December 2014

Merry Christmas

December 24, 2014

Its been quiet since my last posting.  Although I did not get a chest ‘infection’, the flue going around does have a really strong chest cough component, especially for people with bad allergies or asthma issues – so I ended up spending another week basically in bed or very inactive so that I could keep the coughing under control.

Something that complicated this illness is that when you cough you actually increase the pressure in your spinal column and if you have disc issues, each cough represents a stabbing pain at the injured disc site. So as a result the back has gotten really bad and quite frankly, I am not sure what I am going to do.  Hopefully once I stop coughing (almost better now), the back will settle down and I can walk and sit pain free again.

Very little has been accomplished at the job site due to my physical limitations.  I have spent some time in the office preparing the moisture sensors for the basement walls and also repaired the roving cam and reactivated (required rewiring some corroded power connections).  The shed cam is terminal and being sent back under warranty today and should be back up in a week or so.  I also managed to haul the damaged tarp out of the pit using the electric winch.  I had a chat with the tarp supplier last week and there is some things we can do to make the new tarp more durable.

So that is it – a suitable ending for the year I have had.  All I can do is put it behind me and regroup yet again and start the new year on a more productive and professional path.  I wrote many months ago that in order to be a successful owner builder you needed to exhibit the following traits:

 

  • Patience to accept that things will not go as planned, but faith they will work out in the end.
  • Perseverance in order to have the ability to stick with the task no matter how exhausted you are and however unlikely it looks like you will be successful.
  • A positive/upbeat attitude to allow you to bounce back from defeats and setbacks so that you can still win the war.
  • Stubbornness (most important trait) to allow you to push through to a solution even when none seem available.

I can attest that all of these are needed in spades in order to survive and not throw in the towel and run to hide in the woods!

I want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you for visiting my website and the encouragement, sympathy, support, and guidance I have received from many of you.  It is deeply appreciated.

Merry Christmas everyone and I wish you all a healthy and joyous 2015.

 

 

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A very poor week

December 14, 2014

This week lunged off the rails early and continued plummeting down the canyon walls until it splashed into the river below at the end of the week.

The first warning sign was last Thursday as I turned into the neighbourhood, all of the warning lights and buzzer on my truck dash suddenly came on.  I started investigating on Sunday and at first thought it was a relay but then a web search suggested I look at the alternator connections. Sure enough, the main neutral had corroded right off and with it the top half of the terminal bolt on the alternator.  It is a good thing I did not ignore the problem and continue driving as the vehicle was basically running off the battery.  If I had continued, the vehicle would have just died at one point and with my luck, that would have been halfway across one of the local bridges or something similar.  I spent a good part of Sunday removing the alternator (it is below AC condenser) and also prepping the wiring harness for a repair (the corroded neutral was now too short to reach and needed to be spliced or replaced).  I also wanted to take the opportunity to change out the main grounding strap to the engine as it had a nick in the plastic casing and I could see corrosion on the conductors inside.

I borrowed my wife’s car and dropped off the alternator for rebuilding when Edmonds Starters and Alternators opened Monday AM and was reassembling by 11 AM. They have great service and a total rebuild was only $175.  By 1:30 I was up and running and more importantly charging!  I finished the last few hours of the day in the pit and got all of the North wall ICF modules in place. Very late Monday the wind picked up and at 11:30 PM I had to go and re-secure one of the ropes attached to the stump tree as the force of the wind had ripped a metal anchor out of the tree and had the rope slumped over my power line.  Little did I know that this late night run was a forerunner for later in the week.

My plan for Tuesday was to deal with some mud flow into the pit, that started developing late last week.  There has been quite a bit of subgrade water movement out of the bottom half of the pit ramp.  And when the temps warmed up at the end of last week, all this released moisture wanted a place to go and ended up puking mud about three ft into the pit across my recently prepared footing zones.

Ramp is puking mud all over my footing zone

Ramp is puking mud all over my footing zone.

I will need to move the muck out of the way  of the footings and figure out a way to keep this from flowing back in till I am ready for back-fill. Ideas anyone?

Well that was the plan anyway, but a widely circulating flu virus had other major plans for me.  I woke up in the middle of the night with a bad cough and by Tuesday AM my personal temp gauge was reading triple digits and climbing.  I continued to boil over for the rest of the week.  The fever finally broke Friday morning and I thought I was in the clear, but a few hours later and I was back to 101.5 F and back to the aching and headaches that accompany such a state.  I was so over this!  Fortunately, by Sunday morning the storm had lifted and I was starting to feel human again.  Due to allergies, I am very susceptible for developing chest infections at the tail end of colds or flues,  so I will be taking it a bit easy Monday until I see that this is truly behind me.  I am also quite frankly still quite weak, so will not have a choice anyway.

However, the crowning glory of my week was the total annihilation of the tarp during Thursday night’s wind storm.  I had to drag myself out of bed at 11:30 Thursday night to lower the shredded tarp into the pit and try and secure all the pieces so they did not blow away and cause damage to others properties.  I just missed seeing the initial rip that went across the whole tarp but was on hand to see the rest of the destruction.  In the end, the tarp ended up in three large pieces, but each of those pieces is generally shredded with rips as well.

Devastation after the storm

Devastation after the storm.  You can see the bent over weather station pole at lop left of photo.  Even the cutting table was flipped sending the chop saw flying about 6ft away. I will now need to build a covered work area to protect the tools and hardware.

snapped wood shows some of the forces.  I believe from looking at some of the webcam snapshots, damage was to tarp was caused by very strong uplift.  This could have been avoided if I had upgraded the rope matrix to also capture the top surface of the tarp, but the rope was out of stock ironically until this last Monday.

snapped wood shows some of the winds forces. I believe from looking at some of the webcam snapshots, damage to tarp was caused by very strong series of uplifts. This could have been avoided if I had upgraded the rope matrix to also capture the top surface of the tarp, but the rope was out of stock ironically until this last Monday.

So the B.A.T. is finished and will not fly again!

The only good part was I was too sick at that point to really care or absorb what had transpired and was just grateful I had not passed out while going up and down the various ladders and more grateful that it had not cause too much damage to others properties.  I do owe Ron a repair to his front gutter as a piece latched on and ripped part of it off the house.

On my side of the fence, the damage was more pronounced.  Because the tarp pieces were blowing around wildly, one of the cables at the SW corner crossed paths with the weather station pole and brought the whole assembly down to the ground. When it did this, it also severed the network cable to the Shed cam.  So both will be off line for a while.  I should be able to get the shed cam up in a few days, but the weather station is going to take more effort as it bent off at grade and will therefor require a new hole and to be cemented in.  This is far from a priority right now, so I will probably leave it down for the foreseeable future.  All of the ropes and the tarp itself were also draped over various ICF modules after the failure but when the wind was still blowing and it appears that some may have shifted.  SO I will need to resurvey all of their positions next week before proceeding.

So, all in all, a poor week.  I am not going to worry about the tarp until I am ready to start framing and have the foundations complete.  I will then make a decision based on the weather on whether to invest in a new tarp or not.  I still will not build a ‘wet’ house, especially as I realize it will take me at least a couple of months to frame up to the roof.  And I really do not want to delay this build any further waiting for good weather.  So the extra $1800 investment on top of what I already have in place is probably worth it.

Analyzing the pieces, the initial rip across the entire middle of the tarp was along the edges of attachment wood strips that held the north tension cable (picture of snapped wood above).  The strain was caused when the tarp billowed up like a hot air balloon.  This would be prevented if the tarp was restrained from billowing upward with an over the top rope grid added to the structure.  This had been a planned upgrade but I had been waiting on the vendor to restock.  Ironically, they emailed on Monday advising it was finally in.

So there you have it.  Any chance of getting my footings finished, inspected, and poured before the end of the year was shattered by this weeks performance.  I am going to get what I can done over the next couple of weeks and regroup to hit the ground running in the new year as I am so over this below grade stage of this build!

Thanks for visiting.

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Footings Continue

December 6, 2014

Yesterday I was only able to finish the jog in the footings by the NW corner and place one module on the North wall.  This was a disappointing effort brought on by a series of brain farts.

I was laying out the first of the legs of the jog and for some reason did not ensure that a corner block was lined up with a string line before securing it and the other blocks to the cross braces.  Problem was that one of the blocks was cut to fit so now it was too short. SO I undid everything and re-aligned and then cut some filler pieces to insert into the gap.  When I had this complete and all re-attached to the cross braces and started on the next leg, I realized I had aligned to the wrong string line!  The ICF block was lined up with the edge of the footing instead of the foundation line.  SO I had to undo everything yet again, and this time I took out the cut block and filler pieces and put in a full block and a small filler.  I was SO frustrated.

Then I was hoisting the first module for the North wall into place, I had forgotten to put the pads on the feet.  But when I re-lifted with Alfie, I somehow screwed up the joystick controls and ended up smacking the module with the bucket and sending it flying.  I had to lift the whole thing back to the I-Beam and reassemble as I had ripped off two feet and broken a corner of a block.  I was tired and hungry, as well as a bit dopey from the pain meds – and was clearly off my game.  The mistakes cost me about 2.5 hours and with the shorter day, I was well behind my goal of completing most of the North Wall.

Today I spent some time in the morning looking at door photos on line and deciding on a door design for the basement walkout (I will probably build my own door, sandwiching a 2″ slab of XPS between 2″ thick strips of T&G cedar that I will have milled out of the tree stump by the road).  I then designed the installation details around the ICF and exterior insulation. With these new details, I was able to calculate the exact dimensions for the opening required in the ICF wall and headed to site to translate that to the next module.

Once at site I secured the last module I placed last night and then build, placed and secured the next module that included the beginning of the cutout for the door (photos to come).  This all required the raising of the string lines as they were hitting the cross braces.  Again, not the progress I hoped for, but at least I did not do anything stupid today!

I had a reader ask about the adjustment feet and what happens when you do not have a multiple of 3ft on your dims.  Here is a series of photos to explain.

These adjustable feet from Fab-Form have been great.  They allow perfect alignment  of the ICF modules.  They adjust up and down using a hex bit in a driver.  I am finding that I am wearing some of the ft sockets out because I am driving on an angle (due to the 2x4 brace above) and reusing the feet over and over again.  I am going to look for a shorter hex bit and a universal adapter.

These adjustable feet from Fab-Form have been great. They allow perfect alignment of the ICF modules. They adjust up and down using a hex bit in a driver. I am finding that I am wearing some of the feet sockets out because I am driving on an angle (due to the 2×4 brace above) and reusing the feet over and over again. I am going to look for a shorter hex bit and a universal joint.

So you have a gap – here is what I do.

Step 1 - Secure blocks on both sides and measure gap.

Step 1 – Secure blocks on both sides and measure gap.

Step 2 - Cut side panels from a cut-off or broken block and insert and secure with screws

Step 2 – Cut side panels from a cut-off or broken block and insert and secure with screws.

Both filler panels in place and secured to 2x4 battens

Both filler panels in place and secured to 2×4 battens

I will secure bottom side once I put on the bag footing.

I will secure bottom side once I put on the bag footing.

'The Plan' - this was scribbled down during a boring seminar at the RCI conference last spring.  The plan has executed perfectly.

‘The Plan’ – this was scribbled down during a boring seminar at the RCI conference last spring. The plan has executed perfectly.

Ensure the corner blocks are perfectly lined up with string lines

Ensure the corner blocks are perfectly lined up with string lines

Thanks for visiting.

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Yeah Rain!

December 4, 2014

In a million years, I would not have ever believed I was happy for the rain – but today I was thrilled!  You see I got the rain beat.

The tarp sheds water well without any pooling.  The pit base has enough gravel that even during a storm, the water will not rise up above the gravel surface (even though the tarp covers most of the excavation, all storm water still enters the pit as it falls off the edge of the tarp and down the excavation walls at the front and back) as long as both pumps are working.

On the other hand, the freezing temps have been really tough to work in and the tarp is not rigged for snow.  Today I lowered the NE corner of the tarp and was able to shake off the large accumulation of snow and ice on the front half.   This had to be done before the rain came as the snow/ice was heavy and cause sections of the tarp to sag and pool.  If I did not clear it off and allow the tarp to go to a neutral position, it would have built up water and collapsed.

Snow and ice build up causing depression in tarp that would collect a lot of water if it rained.

Example of snow and ice build up causing depression in tarp that would collect a lot of water if it rained.  Fortunately, I was able to get this off today before this afternoons rains.

So I got to say – I am happy for the rain and was motivated to put in a 8.5 hour day today.

Yesterday I ordered the rebar dowels I need for the footings and then went for a supply run in the morning (screws and 2×2’s).  I also picked up the 90 form stakes from the rental shop.  I am getting these from EMC Form Rentals and Sales in North Van.    They always have stock and have great pricing and service.  Because driving in 90 stakes with a sledge would all but kill me, I rented a grounding rod driver and drove all 90 stakes in about 90 minutes.  The only down side of this method is if the stakes are a bit older and the top edge has been curled over with repeated sledge hits, the rod may be too big to fit into the driver or worse, it goes in and gets stuck.  This happened about 10 times and probably set me back 30 minutes total.   But all in all, this method was a huge time boost as it would have taken all day with just a sledge.  By the end of yesterday I had all the stakes driven and had placed one more module on the south wall.

Rod driver is a bit that inserts into an electric jack hammer which has a pocket that the rot fits into.  A very useful tool typically used to drive 10ft grounding rods into the soil.

Rod driver is a bit that inserts into an electric jack hammer which has a pocket that the rot fits into. A very useful tool typically used to drive 10ft grounding rods into the soil.

Today I continued laying down modules and finished off the south wall.  The basic three block modules take about 30-45 minutes to assemble and place.  But the corner modules take a bit longer. The one at the east end of the south wall took a lot longer as we had to cut down a block, as the length of the wall was not in a 3ft increment.

Cutting the Durisol ICF blocks is straightforward.  You just treat it as wood and use all the standard tools including a reciprocating or chop saw.  I cut off the one end of the block to the total length needed and then also cut out the middle web and screwed it into the new block ‘end’ with a 1/2″ setback.

Step 1 - Cut block off at required length.

Step 1 – Cut block off at required length. I used a reciprocating saw.

Step 2 - Cut out inside web (from end you have cut off) and screw it into the block being insatlled. Set this back from the end 1/2" if it is to be the 'socket' end of the block.

Step 2 – Cut out inside web (from end you have cut off) and rebuild end of block being installed by screwing the salvaged web into place.  Set this back from the end 1/2″ if it is to be the ‘socket’ end of the block and out 1/2″ if it is to be the tongue side.

Cut block installed with corner block.  The orange paint is a warning to me that this part of the block has been damaged and is not structural.  I have been screwing the damaged pieces back on and then spary with oragge paint.  Depending on where they end up, I will need to screw plywood bracing to the outside to support while poring.

Cut block installed with corner block. The orange paint is a warning to me that this part of the block has been damaged and is not structural. I have been screwing the damaged pieces back on and then spray with orange paint. Depending on where they end up, I will need to screw plywood bracing to the outside to support while poring.  This location will not need bracing beyond the 2×4 that is already present.

I am using 3" construction screw to attach the cross braces with the batten boards attached to each side of the module.  But becasuse I am hanging these modules, I also secure one side with a #8 x 4" wood screw, alternating between the side I use from one set of uprighst to the next.  This ensures I have a really good gripping screw ever 8ft.  I tested the assembly several times today by walking on top of the blocks after the ft were removed.  No Problems.

I am using 3″ construction screw to attach the cross braces to the batten boards attached to each side of the module (Toe-Screw each edge of 2×4 on each side). But because I am hanging these modules, I also secure one side with a #8 x 4″ wood screw, alternating between the side I use from one set of uprights to the next. This ensures I have a really good gripping screw ever 8ft. I tested the assembly several times today by walking on top of the blocks after the feet were removed. No Problems!  If it can support me, it can handle the rigours of concrete placement.

Before ending the day, I also laid down 2 modules on the west wall of the shop and have the third ready to lift in place.  At this point it looks like I will be at least till end of day Monday but suspect it will be end of Tuesday, before all basic modules are in place. I have a lot of corners to do at the NW corner by the tree.  For the end of tomorrow and because I have to leave the site by 4PM for a family function, I will be happy if I finish off all of the west wall (including jog) and get most of the way down the north wall.

The north wall and the internal ICF wall off the west side of the garage will also be complicated by the fact that they both have a door.  So I will have to figure out how I am going to frame the doors and ensure I leave blocks out in this area.  But then I will need to figure out how to continue the bag footing through this area.

All in all a great day but my back is not happy.  Starting acting out by lunch and I just pushed through for rest of day.  Should be interesting to see what tomorrow feels like.

Thanks for visiting.

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Firsts!

December 2, 2014

This has been a week or firsts for me.

We had our first snowfall and the tarp survived.  It was straining mightily, but sustained no damage.  With the continuous freezing temps, much of the snow is still on the tarp in the form of crusty ice.  The rope support system really came under fire in the front half as the weight of the snow built up in each section.  The back side fared better because it is at a steeper angle. It also receives more sun, so just today, the remaining snow and ice slipped down to the edge where I was able to knock it off.  Hopefully the rains will start gradually and allow the snow/ice to melt on the front half, or I may end up with ice dams and puddles requiring emergency release of the support ropes which would allow the tarp to drop straight down.

But the best of the firsts is that I have actually started installing my footing forms today.  I have made up and placed two ICF modules (three blocks per module) and the process came together just as planned.

I am installing the first row of ICF with the footings so that I end up with a perfectly level starter course.  This will take a bit more effort to set up the footings but will save a lot of time later.

First, I will not have to worry about levelling the top of the footings after pouring.  I also can be off a little bit on my order volume (will order slightly less than needed) because I do not have to bring the concrete level up to the top of the ICF block.  As long as it fills the bag footing and comes part way up the block, I am golden.  This saves time because now I really do not have to level any concrete after pouring until I get to the final pour at the top of the ICF foundation wall.  This saves money because I will be able to do the footing pour by myself (no labour costs).

Next, I will now not have to bed the first row of ICF into a mortar bed to ensure that row is perfectly level. This would require hand mixing mortar (my back!) and additional costs.  Plus, as anyone who has worked with CMU’s can attest, this process is a PITA as unless the mortar mix is perfect and stays that way over 15-30 minutes (good luck in this weather), it is difficult to get the blocks to level as the mortar is often too soft (block sinks) or too firm (difficult to bed blocks).  I spent many a summer working with Joe Hirmer (my neighbours growing up in Richmond) placing brick and mixing mud and hated that first row!

So – How am I doing this?

Step 1 – Install uprights. I have found that renting the form stakes from a form rental company to be the best approach for anything that has to go into this ground.  It is far too dense to drive in wooden stakes.  I get 24″ stakes and drive them through the gravel layer and into the ground so only the last three holes remain above the surface.  I then screw a 2×2 upright to this stake.  This step I did yesterday.

Step 1: Drive stakes and attach Uprights.  Obviously, these need to be driven outside of the footing zones.

Step 1: Drive stakes and attach Uprights. Obviously, these need to be driven outside of the footing zones.

Step 2 – Build the ICF module.  I am using a W8x18 Metal beam that will be a support beam in the basement.  It makes the perfect flat surface to place the ICF on.  The width of the beam fit inside the ICF core so that only the connecting webs were resting on the beam and I had full access to the outside panels.  I screwed each block together through the webs at each end.  I then screwed a 2×4 flush with the top surface allowing the 2×4 to overlap at one end (so I can lock each module together with the next).

Step 2 - Assemble three blocks into a module.

Step 2 – Assemble three blocks into a module.

Step 3 – Install Feet.  I bought a dozen adjustable feet from Fab-Form.  They would normally sell their clients enough of these so that each Foam ICF block is supported around the whole perimeter.  But these metal adjustable brackets are a significant cost (would have been $750 on my project) and also represents a significant addition to the embodied energy of the system.  I instead plan on using them for the levelling the ICF modules and they work really well for this. They have an included hex driver bit that goes in your power driver, that allows you to raise and lower the feet and therefore the assembly. The little round pads on the bottom fall off a lot, but they have redesigned these and are just waiting for their shipment to arrive.  I will then unscrew a set of 6 feet from a module and transfer to the next module once I have supported the previous.

Step 3 - Install adjustable ft on module.

Step 3 – Install adjustable feet on module. Can also see 2×4 support screwed to blocks flush with top.  This is attached to each side.

Step 4 – Lift into place.  Of course on a normal job site, you would get a couple of people to do this. The module is around 150 lbs so not bad.  But I am cheap, have a bad back, and have Alfie at my side.  So I used a masonry brick lift and tied it to the tractor’s boom.  The first lift you see below was quite lopsided, but on the second module I was able to find the centre of gravity.  I tied a rope to each side so I could control the swing of the module from the tractor cab.

Step 4 - Attach Brick Carrier

Step 4 – Attach Brick Carrier

Step 4 - Lift module into place

Step 4 – Lift module into place.  Little tricky to find centre of gravity.

Step 5 – Level.  With the feet on, the module can be levelled end to end and side to side.  I was using a laser level to get one side level and then a spirit level to level the side to side.  Worked a charm and was dead on!  I got irritated at one point because I was unable to lower the module and figured out the feet had bottomed out, but then I realized I was below the 8″ required footing thickness, so I believe this is designed as a fail safe (8″ is typical min footing thickness).  In the end, it turned out I had the wrong height marked off on the measuring stick and needed to be higher, not lower.

Step 5 - Levelling the modules

Step 5 – Levelling the modules by adjusting the feet up and down.

Step 6 – Secure.  Once I had a module perfectly level, I attached a 2×4 to the upright on each side with it resting on top of block. Then I anchored it into each side of the block on each side of the 2×4 (Toe-Screw).  This locks the module into position so that it can not shift out of alignment and provides ‘hanging’ support so I can remove the feet.

Step 6 - Securing modules with cross braces to upright.

Step 6 – Securing modules with cross braces to upright. Cross braces are screwed down into 2×4 braces attached horizontally flush with top of module.

Step 7 – Move on.  Once the module is secure and hanging from the cross braces, the feet can be removed to start the next module.

Once all of the first course of ICF is installed and supported in this fashion, I will then attach the footing form fabric to the bottom edges of the ICF and I will be almost done.  I will then just need to place the rebar dowels into the top of the ICF, and then will be ready for inspections and to pour.

I am pleased with this progress and really happy that the installation is going as planed with no hiccups or real challenges to the process.  Now I just need to put in the hours to get it done.  Monday and Tuesday morning were needed for an urgent business matter I had to attend. Tomorrow will be both Physio and massage, so again a short day.  But to be honest, it is just TOO COLD to work in the pit more than 4-5 hours.  Even with 4 layers, I leave absolutely frigid!

I hope to get a full day Thursday and Friday, and will probably also get some time in on Saturday.  It is my hope that the full perimeter ICF starter row will be in place by the end of the week and I can polish off the fabric form installation early next week. Then I will need to layout the internal footings which will be framed with rigid foam.  This will probably be done by the end of next week and I can call for inspections and survey.

Thanks for visiting.

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