Archive for the ‘foundation’ Category

Every spare second of my time over the last week has been spent moving around pieces of concrete.  I wore holes through the fingers of my gloves, and then wore my fingertips raw.  When I laid the last chunk of urbanite today I almost didn’t know what to do with myself for the rest of the day.  I just hung around the house site for a while, walking some on the foundation to test the stones, and make sure they didn’t move.  Now that the foundation is finished, the wall is ready for some cob!  I can’t wait to get some mud on my feet.

south wall

west wall & entrance

north & west walls

So, today I did use a little cement to mortar the bricks in the threshold.  The guy at a local building supply store gave me a free bag of concrete that had busted open. Here’s some mortar action:

And the threshold:


And here I am gloating over my beautiful, beautiful stemwall:

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The south wall of the foundation has grown to stand 18″ above ground level, which means that part is finished.  Once the wall was up to ground level, I started stacking the urbanite on it’s side, instead of laying it flat.  I feel like this method allows for more creativity, and I’ve been having so much fun dry stacking lately.  The wall is also going up much faster, partly because stacking them on their sides means I get more height with each placement, but also because I’m using much smaller pieces, which I can pick up and use quickly, instead of struggling to slowly drag some massive chunks of concrete onto the wall.  The different shapes and sizes of the pieces make a more interesting wall, too…

south wall

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Today I finished the third course of urbanite, which finally brought me into some above ground territory.  The eastern part of the stem wall is now a couple inches above the grass!

I haven’t been able to stack urbanite as often as I’d like lately, but, when I can work a full day, I seem to be able to lay a course in a day.  The hardest part of the dry stacking so far has been trying to move around pieces of concrete that weigh more than me.  I can’t lift the larger pieces on my own, so I’ve had to roll them across the field,  slowly inch them closer to the wall, and slide them into place.  And then sometimes slide them back off…

Here’s some pictures from earlier today:

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The first course of urbanite is complete, and so begins the start of the foundation stem wall.  On Friday I picked up a yard of sand, and after tamping the rubble and then laying old grain bags on top, I put a layer of sand over the grain bags, to create a more stable surface on which to lay the concrete pieces.  Then it was time to start laying the urbanite.

Gray and I spent hours hauling urbanite over to the site and fitting them together like puzzle pieces.  We had a lot of fun, mostly working in silence, except for the sounds of hammer, chisel, and breaking concrete.  It went a lot faster than I expected, and we had the first course done before dinner…

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So much of my time over the last month or so has been spent digging deeper and deeper into the earth, I had forgotten that there would one day be an end to it.  I’ve really come to enjoy and appreciate digging, and have found the mattock to be one of my favorite tools.  But I won’t get to spend as much time with it for a while.  After lots of lonely digging and shoveling, I had a bunch of friends show up and do in one day what would have taken me a week.  I turned around and when I looked back over my shoulder the rest of the trench had been dug and graded.  I blinked and drain pipe was laid and cradled with urbanite rubble.  The trench is filled and almost ready for the stem wall.  I’ve just got to cover the rubble with some old grain bags we’ve got in the shed, and then put some sand on top of that before I can start dry stacking the urbanite.

I love how this picture makes the site look so teeny:

All the time we’ve spent scavenging concrete rubble has paid off, and we were able to avoid spending hundreds of dollars on gravel.  I fell asleep last night feeling so satisfied.  Satisfied not only with the completion of one phase of the project, but satisfied with a life full of hard work, good food, beautiful weather, and great friends.

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Sunday night was rainy.  As I was lying in bed listening to the thunder and watching the lightning through closed eyes, I just kept thinking of my poor trench, filling up inch by inch.  The next morning I walked over to the site, and, as I expected, it was totally full of water.

Lucky for me, my friend Greg showed up that morning, and he digs trenches as a form of recreation.  So after some buckwheat pancakes and raw beet salad we got to work lengthening the “tail” of the drainage trench.  To be dramatic, we left a small dam in place, so that at the end of the day we could remove the section of soil and, ideally, the standing water would flow into the tail trench, away from the house site.

We dug for hours and hours, creating an excessively long tail trench that opens up at the end into a sort of light bulb shape.  It’ll be a great spot for some tree plantings.

At 6:00 we broke our earthen dam, and watched as the water started to flow.

In the end at least half the water left the trench, which was extremely satisfying.  The next day I continued working on the trench until most of the water had drained out.  Once all the grading is done, this will be a serious drainage trench.  The house is going to last forever.

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I have to admit that I haven’t been able to devote as much time to the trench as I’ve wanted the last couple of weeks, but I have been able to get some good work in.  Here’s a picture of the current state of the rubble trench.  The part of the trench in the top left corner of the picture is 12 inches deep, and is sloping at about a 5 percent grade.

We have had some serious rains lately, and so far I’ve decided on not having any kind of roof, or tarp, covering the site.  So the site has been pretty muddy a lot of the time, and full of standing water some days.  But it hasn’t been too much of a problem yet, and it does make the digging easier, giving the mattock the ability to take out large chunks of earth with a single swing.  I’ve had the opportunity recently to help a friend of mine dig the foundation trench to his future cob house, and it was great to see and experience someone else’s building process.  He started roof first, and his site sits in contrast to mine with its dusty dryness.  There seems to be pros and cons to each.  His ground was rock hard, and much more difficult to dig.  But it was easier to maneuver around at times, and I did appreciate the ability to wear shoes without quickly having 5 inches of mud stuck to the soles.  I’ve been too annoyed with shoes at my place, and have been digging barefoot, except when I slip a croc onto my left foot when it’s time to shovel the clay out of the trench.  As I get into more grading work with the trench, though, I might decide to cover the site if some heavy rains are in the forecast.

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After all the less exciting work staking the foundation lines, it was finally time to dig.  We got a couple hours of earth moving in, and the rubble trench is off to a good start.  The weather was amazing, and as the air temperature creeped up into the 60s, I was reminded that winter wouldn’t last forever.

Here you can see where a cob garden wall will extend out from the northeastern portion of the building:

We’ve been piling the clay subsoil near the site for future foot mixing.  You can see here how the color changes as we dig deeper, or dig in different areas.  We have a wide range of clays here on our land, and depending on where you dig you might find yellow, brown, white, or red clay.

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The permanent position for the foundation has been staked out.  The first afternoon Noel and I went out there we started out by marking some key points on the house plans, and then transferring those points onto the ground using triangulation.  It was boring, and frustrating at times, and took forever.

The next time we went out to work on flagging the foundation, we decided to use our own methods.  We had enough marked already that by looking at the plan and the existing points we could figure out the rest, checking our measurements as we went along.  To figure out how dramatically the rounded “corners” of the space should curve, I would just mark a curving line in the clay, stand back and study how it made me feel, and then keep changing it until the space felt comfortable.  Each of the “corners” has a somewhat different curve to it, with a more dramatic curve to the southeast corner, and more squarish curves on the northern corners.  In what in the end amounted to around one full day of work, we had it all staked out, and felt really satisfied with our results.

Here I realized we could add another 2 inches to the width of the house.  It’s going to be so spacious:

Check out that nice curve:

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