Monthly Archives: October 2015

Lost Track

October 27, 2015

The last week has progressed well.  It has been reasonably dry and I was able to get a lot of the backfill complete.  The back west wall is almost complete (put it aside to do other weather dependent things).  Mr. J was by on Friday and we were able to backfill the front garage wall to a height of 6 ft, which is all that will be done until I pour the suspended slab.

Front of garage half back-filled.

Front of garage half back-filled.

He also helped finish off the gravel drainage plane on the west wall. I brought the gravel up to the height of the shop exhaust port (8″ PVC pipe – foreground is exhaust and background is intake).  This exhaust port will get connected to a 20′ PVC pipe extension before rising above grade, so the fumes are evacuated well away from the house.  The pipe will be sloped away from the house and have a hole in the bottom of the pipe at the far end before it elbows up.  The pipe will be set in a bed of gravel that will be connected to the drainage plane on the west wall.  This will drain any condensation that builds up in the pipe.  In general I am stopping the drainage plane about one foot below the surface so that there is no connection with grade and storm water.  I do not want the possibility of storm water flooding down under the basement floor slab (as I have to pump all this water up to drain to District).  I stopped the gravel even lower on the west wall because I did not want the flower/herb garden bed drying out too much.

I brought the drainage plane on the west wall up to the height of the 8" shop exhaust port.

I brought the drainage plane on the west wall up to the height of the 8″ shop exhaust port.

After talking it over with my building science mentor, I decided to forgo the granular drainage plane around the garage.  The drainage plane was an extra level of protection to ensure the Roxul stayed very dry and retained all of its R Value.  As the room under the garage is a ‘cold’ room anyway, it will not matter if I loose a small amount of thermal resistance in the unlikely event that the insulation somehow gets wet (it is still covered with dimple sheet).  This greatly sped up the process (at least 2x as fast).

With all of the back fill completed, that can be done at this stage of construction, I set work on the pile of backfill at the rear of the site.  I had used up most of the glacial till to backfill the west wall and was now stuck with the glacial coble.  The till had a few rocks (mainly big ones) that were easier to avoid.  The coble was a drastically different story.  This stuff is around 60% Rock 40% soil.  I built a screen (see photo below) and proceeded to start separating the rocks from the soil.  It has been working great and I now have about 20+ yards of screened soil I can use for additional backfill later in the build process.  And I will use a lot of the rock on site for a rock wall along the south property line, raised vegetable garden bed walls, and landscaping around a manmade stream, pond and waterfall planned for the back yard.  I was on track to finish the screening activities today (before the week of rain expected) but then poor Alfie threw a track mid afternoon and I was done for the day.  I tried to pull back on with chains as you see in the photo below, but after 1.5 hours, I had only managed to get one side onto the sprocket and could not get the other onto the idler.  So I will need to release the hydraulic pressure on the idler and try to force it back in before prying the track back into place.  This will be done on the next dry day! At least most of the soil (finished about 90% of it) is screened and ready to go.

Trying to put Alfie's show back on.

Trying to put Alfie’s shoe back on.

Tomorrow will probably be an office day and then I will clean up a few loose ends related to backfill before starting on the forming for the garage floor and wall stubs.  It will be great to change gears and finally get away from the backfill process. Hope is to pour concrete late November if all goes smoothly.  Ha!  – we will see if that happens.

Thanks for visiting.

“True grit is making a decision and standing by it, doing what must be done. No moral man can have peace of mind if he leaves undone what he knows he should have done.”
—John Wayne (1907-1979) American Film Actor, Director, And Producer

“The same boiling water that softens the potato hardens the egg. It’s about what you’re made of, not the circumstances.” —Unknown

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In the name of Science

October 19, 2015

Well. I am extremely grateful I moved Alfie to the back yard last Friday as by Saturday AM, about 4ft of the back-filled south bank had caved in.  If Alfie was still on the front bank, I would have had a lot of work to hand dig out the cave in and rebuild up till the ramp was wide enough to drive through. Now of course, he is stranded in the back-yard until the backfill is complete on the west and balance of south wall.

Rains washed away 4' of built-up bank

Rains washed away 4′ of built-up bank

I started last week with the completion of the insulation on the west wall and then installing additional dimple sheet.  I have found a much better way of attaching the Delta Dry dimple to the Roxul mineral wool insulation.  I bought what is call polyurethane foam adhesive, which has a lot stronger grip compared to spray foam.  I just need to support the dimple for 15 minutes or so and then I have a strong hold that ensures the riggers of backfill operation.

Great Stuff Foam Adhesive.

Great Stuff Foam Adhesive.

Very tight dimple adhered to Roxul with foam adhesive.

The result was a very tight dimple adhered to Roxul with foam adhesive. Notice how tight a corner this method allows.  This makes installation of gravel drainage plane much easier.

I blocked dimple sheet with 2x4's and plywood until foam adhesive set up.

I blocked dimple sheet with 2×4’s and plywood until foam adhesive set up.

With the wall prep complete, I proceeded on the back-fill starting off with some relatively rock free soil at the bottom to protect the PEX ground loop I have installed.

PEX Ground loop that will be used to precondition the HRV incoming air.

PEX Ground loop that will be used to precondition HRV incoming air.

I then realized that I had an opportunity for another building science lab of sorts.  I have sidewalks right up against the house on all sides Except the west wall that I am working on, which instead will have various landscaping including our herb garden.  So, if I forgo compacting the west wall, I will be provided an opportunity to compare the rate of settlement between the compacted and uncompacted back fill.  When the west wall settles down the road, I will just need to add some more soil to ensure it is still sloped away from the dwelling.  Of course this decision has nothing to do with the fact that not compacting the soil in 12″ lifts will be much faster.  Of course it is all about the science  🙂  At least that is what I am going with.

Now of course, I can’t just push a bunch of soil into the hole and call it a day.  I am still installing the granular drainage plane against the dimple.  And a problem I had a couple of weeks ago gave me an idea on how to speed up this process as well. I had made the mistake of backfilling too much of the plywood acting as the barrier, between the soil and gravel, to allow for it to be pulled up by hand and used a jack and pick to raise it up.

Jack and pick used to raise plywood divider

Jack and pick used to raise plywood divider

After a couple of sleeps, I devised a better way.

A farm jack pulling up on 2x4's screwed to plywood allowed for easy raising of the sheet,

A farm jack pulling up on 2×4’s screwed to plywood allowed for easy raising of the sheet.

This new method allowed me to almost completely bury the plywood allowing for much taller lifts on each cycle.

A couple of minutes is all it takes to raise the plywood along a 40' section of foundation

A couple of minutes is all it takes to raise the plywood along a 40′ section of foundation

Because I am not compacting the west wall, I also do not need to have rock free soil.  I just made sure there were no large rocks up against the plywood.

Because I am not compacting the west wall, I also do not need to have rock free soil. I just made sure there were no large rocks up against the plywood.

Now of course the perfectionist in me is still not comfortable with NO compaction, so I am stomping the soil down (especially right against the plywood) as I go.  I had done about 3ft by Friday and then with Mr. J’s help, was able to do another 3ft on Saturday to reach the half way point. Today I was able to do another 1.5′ ft or so on my own and have about 4′ left to complete.

I bought this nifty Aerocart from Worx, that is sturdy and well balanced, to move gravel across the floor deck to the back wall where it is poured down in a pile and then shovelled into buckets to fill behind plywood.

I bought this nifty Aerocart from Worx, that is sturdy and well balanced, to move gravel across the floor deck to the back wall where it is poured down in a pile and then shovelled into buckets to fill behind plywood.

With Mr' J's help Saturday, we were able to finish installing the dimple and filling in the west wall hole to the half way point.

With Mr’ J’s help Saturday, we were able to finish installing the dimple and filling in the west wall hole to the half-way point.

As promised last week, here is a photo of teh massive boulder I had to push back out of the way.  Yellow circle shows where it was and how little room there was between it and edge of bank.  Made for some exciting moments as I teetered back and forth on the edge of the bank with Alfie

As promised last week, here is a photo of the massive boulder I had to push back out of the way. Yellow circle shows where it was and how little room there was between it and edge of bank. Made for some exciting moments as I teetered back and forth on the edge of the bank with Alfie

Thanks for visiting.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) Philosopher, Poet, Author, Essayist

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Alfie goes for a stroll – At last!

October 9, 2015

Well, it has been exactly 13 months since Alfie was banished from the back yard due to the excavation activities last September 2014.  Today, Alfie was once again able to stroll into  the back yard (ok – it was more of a steep climb).  I finally completed enough of the south wall back-fill so that the my tractor could once again move to the back yard.  I know this is a pathetic milestone.  Who takes 13 months to get to backfill, but all the same, it is a major relief to finally have gotten here.

This week started off great.  I had Shane from Embers here on Monday and we got a LOT done considering he had to go at 2:30. He was a hard worker, strong, and knew how to operate and control a compactor. But then on Tuesday he was a no show.  He was at Embers office at 6:30 AM and left with bus tickets in hand, but never made it to my place. Even Embers was unable to track him down.  He had had past jail time and was regularly checking in with his PO, so something may have happened along that line.  Unfortunately, Embers did not have any other labourers available, so I was once again reduced to 1 and the need to hall gravel and run the compactor by myself (against the promise I made to my med team that I would hire those tasks out).

It was unfortunate as we were going to work late Tuesday to get as much done as possible before the rains. Low and behold, Wednesday the rains came and I was unable to proceed.  Compacting this soil when wet just creates a slushy like mixture.  Embers sent a new fellow out in the morning but within 5 minutes I could tell  we were not going to be able to continue.  So he went off to a different job site and I went into the office and did a day of finances (yuck!)

Thursday, the soil was still too wet to compact, so I switched gears and finished the torch on membrane on the west wall (back wall) and most of the Roxul insulation.  This wall was a bit more complicated as I have two – 8″ exhaust and air intake ducts for the shop and four conduits to feed various items in the back yard.  Each of these had to be waterproofed and R Guard Joint & Seam came to the rescue once more. Again, this is a permeable material not designed for below grade, but I am only concerned about the hairline crack that could develop between the PVC pipe and the Torch’N Stick Membrane.  This will do an awesome job of bridging that gap to prevent liquid water from entering and the amount of vapour that could go through a hairline joint it will probably be unmeasurable.

Hardly my finest work.  I was using an old tube of caulk and had to cut off the nozzle to get the cured plug out. I had to just eject onto a piece of plastic and 'mould' by hand.  But it will get the job done.

Hardly my finest work. I was using an old tube of caulk and had to cut off the nozzle to get the cured plug out. I had to just eject onto a piece of plastic and ‘mould’ by plastic covered hand. But it will get the job done.

Torch-On complete, waterproofing complete, Roxul insulation almost complete.

Torch-On complete, waterproofing complete, Roxul insulation almost complete.

As I knew the weather was going to continue to be wet, I ordered a load of sand for today that I could use for back fill to finish enough of the south wall so that Alfie could get past the tree fencing and into the back yard.  This worked well and I was able to add the last 18-24″ of backfill needed down the south wall.  I put down a healthy layer of sand and then switched back to the native soil, but instead of using the compactor, I ran over each lift with the tractor and used the bucket to compact between the tracks.  This prevented the water from separating from the soil and creating soup.

Heavy layer of sand dried everything up.

Heavy layer of sand dried everything up.

I also created a gravel sump to receive the water coming off the tarp, that I covered with fabric and then more sand.

I also created a gravel sump to receive the water coming off the tarp, that I covered with fabric and then more sand.  This prevents the water from flowing along the surface and then eroding away the edge of my backfill where it drops back down to 12′.  I needed every inch to squeeze Alfie by!

And then more sand.

And then more sand.

Alfie is so close to freedom, he can almost taste it.  Just got to get rid of all these darned cables.

Alfie is so close to freedom, he can almost taste it. Just got to get rid of all these darned cables.

With the south side back filled enough to free Alfie, I proceeded to prep the back yard for Alfie’s triumphant return.

First task is to take down the old apple tree (apples were inedible) and heavily prune the grape that will eventually be transplanted to a new location in the yard.

First task was to take down an old apple tree (apples were inedible) and heavily prune the grape that will eventually be transplanted to a new location in the yard.

That's better!

That’s better!

Next task was to hang the ShedCam network cable and a heavy (very) 60A tech cable feeding the back shed, between the camera pole and a tree so that out of way of Alfie

Next task was to hang the ShedCam network cable and a heavy (very) 60A tech cable feeding the back shed, between the camera pole and a tree so that they were out of the way of Alfie

Complete - not ideal height as I will still have to pay attention to Alfie's boom, but it will work.

Complete – not ideal height as I will still have to pay attention to Alfie’s boom, but it will work.

With all of the prep work complete, I went for it.  The next stage was the most critical and dangerous.  Sorry I do not have photos, I will post some ‘after the fact’ next entry.  There was JUST enough room between the end of the tree fencing and the still remaining 12′ deep excavation at the end of the south wall.  I had less than a foot to spare.  The problem was that I had a massive boulder I had excavated out of the pit and plan to use for landscaping.  It is probably 4′ in diameter.  Unfortunately it was left too close to the excavation edge to allow Alfie to pass between it and the excavation.  So while precariously perched just on the edge of the ledge, I had to try and push the rock away with Alfie.  This was reminiscent to moving the red storage container last summer, Alfie could barley budge it. During the process the treads were digging away and any extra room, and then some, I had between the end of the fence and the hole quickly disappeared.  I had to move the rock as there was no going back now.  Obviously from the next photo, it is clear we were successful.  WhaHoo!

Finally - Freedom!

Finally – Freedom!

Now I will prep the rear back fill pile (covered in blue plastic) to allow for a safe track parallel along the top of the west bank in preparation to the backfill activities of this back wall.  I hope to finish the back west wall next week during the promised nice weather. Once complete, I will do a little bit more around the garage out front and then will be done until I finish the garage suspended slab and the basement walk-up stair foundation.

I am feeling very relieved, not just because I have finally reached the back yard, but because with better access to the foundation walls and no more instrument wires to work around.  The backfill is proceeding much more quickly.  Even on Tuesday when I was working by myself, I still was able to place a large volume of soil and was able to add about three feet of depth over a 16-18 ft long section over a 9 hour session.  That took about 20 hours when at the front of the house.  So my productivity per hour is way up.  Lets hope it continues.

Thanks for visiting.

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Uncompacted Schedule

October 4, 2015

Well, I continue to be wildly optimistic in my backfill schedule. Even with assistance, this process is taking a LONG time. I can certainly understand why NO ONE does this in residential construction.

I have averaged only one lineal ft every 4 hours (one lineal foot of the roughly 12′ deep hole represents around 45-60 cubic feet of backfill).   I have 120 man-hours into the backfill operations (no dimple or insulation installation) and have only completed about 30ft of wall out of about 160ft.  Part of the problem has been site access issues to wall with tractor, and working around the instruments.  The most difficult portions are now complete and I hope to get another 30-40 ft done over the next week.

Final batches of foundation lab instruments completed. 118 in all were made and installed.

Final batches of foundation lab instruments completed. 118 in all were made and installed.

Photo showing three of the six instruments columns in the foundation science lab. The photo is showing the units installed in the Roxul layer.

Photo showing three of the six instruments columns in the foundation science lab. The photo is showing the units installed in the Roxul layer.

My mileage also has varied depending on the hired labour.  Mr. J (my nephew) has been outstanding and we get a lot done on the days he is here.  He absorbs instruction well, is strong (so has been able to run the compactor), and hustles.  Unfortunately, he is only available one day a week.  The ability to run the compactor is the most important as I really should not be, so I specifically requested a labourer from Embers for this coming week, that is strong enough to run the compactor.

With that all said, I probably would still do the gravel layer if I did this all over again in a wet region. In a dry region I would just drape the ROXUL with the dimple and backfill right to the dimple. I looked at just backfilling my site with gravel because I have fairly steep banks that are close to the foundation, but each lineal foot still represents 45-60 cubic ft representing 300+ yards of gravel or about $20,000 – $25,000.

On the issue of compactor, I am afraid we had to say good by to George Jr.  George Jr. decided that the enormous burden of compacting over 300 yards of back-fill in 8″-10″ lifts was more than he could bare and committed Hari kari. He accomplished this by backing off the bolts that held the piston connecting rod to the crankshaft.  This action took out the crank, connecting rod, and both main bearings.  There is a good chance when the heads was removed, that there also would have been damage to the head and piston.  I had to go out and rent a unit to get through the week and then picked up George Jr. II yesterday from Sabre Rentals in Whistler.  This is also where I bought the first unit (used) and Alfie my mini excavator.  I have always found Dave very fair and indeed, when I told him the first unit had died, he made it right even though he had delivered the first unit back in July.  As I only had about 30 hours of use out of it, he was honorable and helped me out.  He did not have any 150# units left so sold me a 200# unit for $300 (half price).  Even with the original $400 I paid for the first unit, I was still ahead of all the used units, of similar size and model, sold on Craigslist.  The shop I took the failed unit to wanted $800+ to replace the engine and $300+ to repair the engine but would then not provide any warranty.  When I checked on line, their part pricing was way out of wack.  For instance, $120 for a connecting rod kit that I could get for under $10.   If I had time, I would have repaired myself, but with rental costs coming in at $225 a week, I needed a new unit fast.

George Jr. II

George Jr. II

George Jr. I Autopsy

George Jr. I Autopsy

Connecting Rod Bracket Base Cap - Heavily Scored

Connecting Rod Bracket Base Cap – Heavily Scored

So, by the end of this week, weather dependent, I hope to have enough of the south wall completed so that Alfie can once again reach the back yard and the large stock pile of back-fill soil located there.  I will spend any rainy days finishing off the waterproofing and insulation on the back south wall.  I hope that by the end of the month all back fill duties will be complete on all but the north wall (which has to wait until the basement exterior walk-up stairs are formed and poured) and around the garage (that will need to wait till the garage slab is poured).

Thanks for visiting.

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