Thursday, October 30, 2008

The house is getting taller

The house has grown in the last two days. Yesterday, the framers pretty much finished the first floor joists, making the house a whole 11 7/8 inches taller. So as of yesterday, the house was 12 3/8 inches tall:

and today, there was a bunch more activity. Both the framers and the concrete guys were there working:
The concrete guys did a great job pouring the garage slab:

And the framers finished sheathing the first floor, bringing the house's height up to 14 1/8 inches:

and even started on the first floor walls for the east side of the house:

So now the garage slab is finished:

And the basement has a floor above it:

Tomorrow, hopefully the electrician will show up to install the electrical panel and rough in the workshop, and the framers will continue making the house taller. Next week, we'll have our first electrical inspection, pour the front porch slab (the last winter-impossible task), and continue making the house taller. Maybe we'll even get electrical service.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

More weather

The posts are getting more frequent. That's because we're starting to make more progress. Hopefully, it keeps on coming at this pace.

On Saturday, I had to drain our big bathtub (the garage), and let it dry out before putting foam panels back down. I also started to lay 1" foam panels on the garage floor, to prepare for pouring on Monday. I got to the site on Sunday, and all the panels I placed in the basement were blown all over the place. We had a bit of a wind storm with 55 mph winds. It took me all day Sunday to get the basement floor half covered with insulation panels. Dad came and helped me with the garage. 74 years old, and he had no problem crawling around with me down there. He complained that I didn't call him earlier so he could have shanghai'd my elderly uncle Roger to help as well.

On Monday, we got the basement and workshop floors poured. Despite having to complete the insulation that took me all day Sunday to get half-finished, it only took them about two hours. Here they are just finishing up the floor:

And here's the poured floor just before they finished it (with steel trowels). Notice the decorative rocks holding down the foam panels on the garage floor (those little bumps on the pink panels at the top of the picture). Take my word for it, after having to first fish the panels out of the garage bathtub, and then chase them through the prairie behind the house, the rocks are not decorative:

They couldn't pour the garage slab--another weather delay. To top off the rain on Friday and wind on Sunday, we're getting lows in the 20's and highs of about 40 for the next couple of days. Not a real problem for the basement floor, but definitely not good for a concrete slab poured in mid air. So they'll pour the garage and front porch slab on Thursday.

Concrete cracks. It always cracks. Nobody can stop it. They cut control joints into slabs so that when the concrete cracks, it cracks in a straight line. That's why there are cracks in the sidewalk that you avoided as a kid. Often, the control joints are tooled in when the slab is finished. I chose to have them saw cut (at least in the basement) instead. So they were in today to cut the control joints with a saw. Here's the slab with control joints all cut:

Now for the big finale: framing has commenced! The framers started today. They brought a forklift to disassemble the big pile of lumber and distribute it around the yard. They also laid out the sills. Tomorrow they'll work on the first floor. Hopefully by Thursday, they'll have the first floor capped and start on the first floor walls.

It's great actually seeing the house starting to go up. It is now officially an inch and a half high (the thickness of the sill). For the next few weeks, I'll measure progress by height. Stay tuned for more harrowing tales.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Home building and politics

Everyone talks about how difficult a home building project is for a married couple. I just wanted to post this photo to show that we have it even worse.  If this picture is any indication, do you think we'll have trouble picking out finishes?

Notice how Obama is further to the left and slightly behind McCain...

Saturday, October 25, 2008


This week started out faster than last week. Actually, a little faster than I had hoped--but I'm getting ahead of myself. The roofer arrived as scheduled on Monday, and laid a rubber membrane over the Spancrete slab in the garage. I was a little bit worried about condensation from the slab dripping onto my machinery in the workshop. So I went to Home Depot and bought a bunch of 4'x8' 2" thick foam panels to lay on top of the rubber membrane.

It was a bit windy on Monday, and as I was wheeling the first load of insulation panels out to the car, the wind caught four of the panels. One of them was blown out of the parking lot, across the street, over a fence, and across four lanes of interstate traffic. Luckily it didn't cause any accidents. But even more importantly, Home Depot replaced the panels at no charge. I'm sure glad I didn't have to spend another $22.

Here's the slab with insulation all safe and sound and (for a few days anyway) dry.

On Tuesday, the plumber came and set the underground plumbing. I was surprised how much underground plumbing we had. But he got everything done, inspected, and approved in one day.

The next day, the foundation guys came to prepare for the flatwork (slabs for the basement, the workshop, and the garage). They leveled everything, adding a couple more inches of gravel, and covered everything with plastic for a vapor barrier. The framer also came on Wednesday to check things out and adjust the steel columns to make sure they were in the right place.

Here's the basement all ready for pouring the slab:

The workshop is ready too:

Ideally, the foundation guys would have made it out on Thursday to pour the slab. But they couldn't make it on Thursday, so we had to move the pour to Friday. Friday morning, I woke up to rain. But that didn't stop the lumber yard from delivering our first load of lumber:

That's the first floor of our house sitting there on our driveway. Unfortunately, it rained all day on Friday. So no pour. Rain and wet concrete don't mix well. So the flatwork is delayed until Monday. Our first (and hopefully last) rain delay. The framer was supposed to start on Monday, but he understandably doesn't want to be working on top of wet cement, so he's delayed by a day also. 

There was another slight complication. Remember all that work I did to lay insulation on top of the rubber membrane in the garage?  Unfortunately, the rubber membrane worked really well. So this morning, I had 22 sheets of insulation floating in a big 24'x36' bathtub filled with about an inch of water. And there's no drain for that bathtub. So off came the insulation, and I swept the water off the membrane with a push broom.  

So next week (assuming that everything goes well), we'll pour the slab on Monday, start framing on Tuesday, and the electrician will install the electrical panel and rough in the workshop on Friday. 

Friday, October 17, 2008

Now I have a workshop...almost

Another slow week. At least it started out that way. The Spancrete panels that we'll use as our garage floor and workshop ceiling were done right on time, and were ready to install on Thursday. But the steel guy was supposed to be there on Thursday morning to set steel beams and columns that will support the first floor. So I rescheduled the Spancrete installation for Friday.

I showed up at the site on Thursday morning and waited, and waited, and waited. Finally, I received a call: they forgot to attach a splice needed to connect two of the beams, so they couldn't install until Friday morning. So that would mean I would have three things going on at the same time: Spancrete, steel, and underground plumbing. I figured it probably wasn't a good idea to have the plumbers crawling around under tons of swinging steel and concrete, so I rescheduled them for next Tuesday.

I got to the site a little after 7:00am, and here's what I found:

Not one, but two cranes. One for the steel, one for the Spancrete. And both teams were working at the same time. The Spancrete crane was pretty big. I guess that was necessary to swing those 25'x2'x8" concrete panels and set them on the walls:

One guy operated the crane, and two guys guided the plank into place:

At the same time, the steel guys were placing the steel the same way:

But it was obviously a bit lighter, they only needed one guy to set the steel:

Once the Spancrete panels were set in place, they filled the small gaps between the panels with backer rod, and "caulked" between the panels with mortar. They had a pretty innovative way of moving the mortar back and forth:

Now that's what I call ingenuity. Lifting with a crane sure beats pushing a hundred pounds of mortar around on loose fill in a wheelbarrow.

So now we have a subfloor for the garage:

Steel beams to hold up the first floor:

And, most importantly, the beginnings of a workshop:

What's in line for next week? The roofers will lay a rubber membrane over the spancrete panels on Monday. The plumber does the underground plumbing on Tuesday (and hopefully, the inspector passes us on Tuesday). Our framer will adjust the columns and beams while the foundation guy is preparing to pour slabs in the basement, workshop, and garage on Wednesday. Lumber gets delivered on Thursday. And framing will start the next week!

Friday, October 10, 2008

We're backfilled

This week wasn't quite as busy--at least on the construction front (too bad I can't say the same thing about the market).  And we got some bad news: our first real delay. Everything was going ahead of schedule, until Monday. I talked with the framer, and he won't be able to start until the 27th of October. To be fair, that's about when he told me he could start a month ago.  So I've had to rework the schedule a bit. We should still have no problem pouring the basement and garage floor before it freezes, so it's not a real big deal. It also gives me time to make sure everything is ready before they start. 

We passed the foundation inspection on Monday. The rest of the week...we waited for concrete to cure. On the bright side, it's been more than a week, and no cracks in the foundation yet--not even along the control joints.

I was hoping the excavators could make it on Thursday to install the sewer and water laterals and backfill the foundation. They had already scheduled me for Friday. Since it turns out that the steel guys couldn't make it until next week, good enough.  

But then it rained all day Tuesday, so they requested that we reschedule it to next Monday so they could finish up the job they were on. That of course caused a domino effect. I had to reschedule the steel guys. They'll come in next Thursday. I delayed the plumber's start date for underground plumbing until next Wednesday.  

I stopped by the site yesterday and, sure enough, there sat an excavator (a machine, not a person). They dropped the machine off yesterday, and finished everything up today. So they installed water and sewer laterals, backfilled, and spread "roadbase" (a mixture of very fine crushed limestone sand and bigger limestone gravel) on the driveway.  When they excavated, the guys had left exactly enough fill on the site to complete the backfill--they didn't have to truck any more fill in or out. So yet again, BPX exceeded my expectations.  If you're in the Milwaukee area, and you're looking for someone to do excavation or grading work, BPX should be your first call. 

Here's our basement: 

with the water & sewer laterals installed,

a single window well for the two windows on the south wall of the basement. This well will be about 30 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 3 to 4 feet deep (a great spot for playing hide and seek),

and a front porch filled with gravel:

So next week, we'll be doing underground plumbing and setting steel beams. The week after, we'll set the Spancrete. And the week after that, we'll start framing.

Zeke rocks

Megan, Zeke, and I spent part of the day on Saturday mining for rocks at the site.  It was a true family project. After surveying the job...

Zeke loaded the cart: 

Megan hauled the cart full of rocks: 

And I transported Zeke: 

Now you can see how I'll save so much money on the project.

Friday, October 3, 2008

We have a basement

We're no longer just proud hole owners. We now have a basement in our hole. The crew came back today to strip the forms from the walls, apply waterproofing membrane and insulation, and backfill with a couple feet of gravel. I stopped by the site for a little while this morning, went to work, and here's what I saw when I returned in the afternoon:

The crew had finished stripping the forms and applying the insulation and waterproofing membrane. We're using a product called Platon from Certainteed to waterproof the basement. It's a dimpled sheet of thick plastic (24mils--about 4 times as thick as a contractor's trash bag) that prevents water from reaching the walls. Since it's dimpled, there's some air space behind the membrane that allows water vapor out of the cement and/or any water that finds its way behind the membrane to drain. It's fairly new here in the U.S., but they've been using something similar in Europe for several years. I think it's a much better choice than the tar paint or rubber membranes that are more common because it provides both waterproofing and drainage. Only time will tell.

The Platon membrane is covered with rigid foam insulation (1-inch, R5 insulation panels). I found out today that Wisconsin's Focus on Energy program will give me a rebate if I install 2-inch insulation panels (I found that out right after the 1-inch panels were installed, of course). I guess I'll have to head to the building supply store to get another inch of insulation before the full backfill next Thursday. Once I've applied 2 inches of foam, the basement will have R10 insulation outside the wall. When I finish the basement, I'll add another 2 inches of foam to the interior, giving me a total of R20 insulation on the basement walls (about the same as the first and second story walls). Since something like 30% of the heat lost in a house is lost through the basement, this should make a big difference in the heating bill.
Now back to the story. Shortly after I returned to the site, the conveyer showed up, followed by a dump truck with a load of gravel:

Code requires a foot of gravel covering the foundation perimeter drain (the form-a-drain forms serve as our perimeter drain). They used the conveyer to spread about two to three feet of gravel around the perimeter:

Once the backfilling was complete, I climbed in to the basement for the first time. It's great to see the house taking shape, but I certainly can't complain that it's taking a long time. We hadn't even broken ground 10 days ago, and now we have a basement. Here's a view of the southeast corner of the basement. It will someday house a bedroom and/or exercise room to the far left, and a rec room to the far right, a bathroom, and a furnace room:

Notice the windows. I'm going to try to make them as tall as possible to let in as much light as I can. Being on the south wall, the windows should make the basement reasonably bright. The northwest corner of the basement will serve as a theater room (we actually removed a window from earlier plans so it would work better as a theater):

And finally, the real reason we're building the house. My workshop:
The braces are a precaution to keep the wall from caving in when it's backfilled. They'll be removed after backfilling is complete (next Thursday), the steel is set (next Friday), the basement is capped with the first floor framing (probably a week from Thursday), and the workshop is capped with Spancrete panels (another week after that). Then the basement floor can be poured and the basement will be pretty much done. At least until I start finishing it.

That's about it for this week. We'll continue to collect rocks over the weekend, but for the next five or six days, we get to experience the excitement of waiting for cement to cure.

The foundation is in

Before the foundation crew finished up on Wednesday, they did a quick check for level with a laser level at each corner. Each one was right on. And they hadn't leveled or squared the forms yet. As I understand it, you're really looking for three things in a basement wall system: strong, square, and level. I guess I'd add fourth that's at least as important: accurate. It's pretty amazing how this guys can set up a bunch of 2' x 9' and 2' x 10' forms, fill them with concrete, and have everything come within a fraction of an inch of the plan.

Anyway, the crew spent the first couple hours on Thursday squaring and leveling the forms. They didn't have any trouble getting things level. Great job by the excavator and footing guy.
When they squared it, there was only one problem area: at the front of the garage, where they had trouble getting everything perfectly square with the 10 foot tall forms for 12" thick walls. I believe they got it close, but the carpenter will have to tell me how well they really did. I hope they did well. Unlike the software I'm used to making, there's really no easy way to go back and fix problems with the foundation.

Anyway, when I got to the site, the forms were already squared and leveled, and the conveyer was ready to start.

The conveyer takes concrete from the cement truck, and spits it out where it's needed. It's a bigger machine than it appears to be in the picture above. This picture starts to put in into perspective. The boom has got to be at least 40 or 50 feet long:

At 8:55AM (5 minutes before schedule), the cement trucks started pouring in (pun intended):

and started pouring the cement:

The operator controlled the boom with a remote control. Kind of like playing witha remote controlled car:

The conveyer acts like a vacuum cleaner in reverse, spitting out the concrete through a hose. One crew member guides the hose, directing the concrete between the forms, while others agitate the poured concrete to eliminate air pockets:

After the concrete is poured, the crew levels it off, trowels it smooth, and embeds bolts into the concrete that will secure the stick walls to the foundation:

There were probably at least 15 loads, but I lost count. There were as many as three cement trucks on site at a time. It only took about two hours to pour the concrete. Each truck emptied itself in less than 10 minutes, and there weren't any delays longer than a couple minutes. By about 11:00, the walls were done.

The next installment

It's been a busy week. So I'll add a couple posts tonight that I should have been entering during the week. A lot has happened.

On Monday, 9/29, the excavator, BPX from Pewaukee, finished excavation. They did a great job, and they were even complimented by the footing guy. You can't get any better than that. The foundation guys, Precise Poured Foundations, based in Brookfield, started the foundation by starting to set footing forms on Monday, and they finished them up on Tuesday, got the footings inspected successfully, and poured the footings by the end of the day.

Here's a picture of the completed footings, with forms for the walls stacked up ready to install on Wednesday:

As you can see the foundation isn't the simplest. Two different levels, lot's of corners. The basement for the workshop is a foot lower than the basement for the rest of the house, so that even with an extra 14" of ceiling thickness in the workshop, I'll still have close to 9' ceilings in the workshop. Remember, the garage floor is the ceiling for the workshop, which is made of 8" hollow core concrete planks, covered by 2" of insulation, and a 4" concrete slab.

We're using the Form-A-Drain system from Certainteed for our footing forms. The hollow forms are made of rectangular tubes of recycled plastic with performations on the outer side that allow water to be channeled through the forms and into the sump crock. So the forms also serve as an interior and exterior perimeter drain. Pretty cool idea.

On Wednesday, they started to setup forms for the basement walls at 7am, and by about 8:30 they had already made some good progress:

And by the end of the day, the forms were complete, with rebar set to strengthen the walls, pockets for the steel beams we'll use to support the first floor, and ledges to support the Spancrete floor in the garage and the stone veneer on the front of the house:

I stuck around to get a couple more loads of field stone that we hope to use for retaining walls. It turns out that we live on a big gravel pit. Below the topsoil, it's a mix of sand and rocks. Shouldn't have any trouble with water in the basement. Here are the treasures I've found so far:

It's mostly Lannon stone (local limestone), with some granite mixed in. This pile doesn't look like much, but I have many more loads to go. And take my word for it, these are some heavy rocks. As I was getting ready to leave, I realized I hadn't taken a picture of the whole foundation, and what did I find?

Look closely, and you'll see that our basement is at the end of the rainbow! I checked all over, but I couldn't find the pot of gold. Maybe it's a sign that I'll need a pot of gold to finish the project?