Homestead Construction #5 – Foundation Complete!

We have wrapped up the foundation part of the construction this week. It’s only taken a few weeks, but it seems like it was a lot longer!

Once the minor plumbing issues were resolved, it was just time to wait until dawn on Monday morning for the boom truck to arrive and get set up.

With the hopper on the back of the boom truck, it is 50+ feet long, so the driver was nervous that he would have trouble getting turned around in our parking area and lined up along the house pad. Turned out to be pretty easy and only took him 5 minutes to get into position. Watching the boom unfold in the pre-dawn light at 6AM was pretty cool 🙂

The first delivery truck arrived about 7AM and started feeding the concrete mix into the boom truck’s hopper. The rest of the crew started pumping the mix into the footings while I was working on the generator. The only real snafu of the morning was the bearing on the pull starter of our generator decided to get seized up, so I had the pleasure of pulling the front of the generator off at record speed, fixing the bearing alignment and reassembling the whole setup. That excitement aside, the generator was fired up and the well pump plugged in to wet down the gravel pad that would soon be under the concrete mix.

The next delivery trucks arrived at about 20-30 minute intervals as the morning went on. It took a total of right around 40 yards of concrete mix to fill the forms. By around 10:30AM, the pour was finished and floats were used to start smoothing out the surface. Control joints were cut with a blade into the still wet mix to allow for controlled cracking later on. After lunch the finish troweling took a couple hours, a polymer cure coat was sprayed on (to help control evaporation) and the crew was finished.


The next day, the forms came off and the foundation was done!

It has been a few days now and apart from hosing down the slab to keep it from heating up too much, we are ready to move onto the walls. The masonry supplies will get delivered on Monday, hopefully. That should allow for the first set of blocks to be set on Tuesday.

The drainfield inspection was also completed this week. The inspector from DEQ seemed happy, so we were able to backfill the drainfield and just leave the inspection ports showing. Once the main deliveries for the masonry supplies and the trusses are on site, we can go ahead and dig the hole for the tank and have it put into place. We’ll see if that happens this fall or next spring.

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Saving Seeds

We’re working on processing and packaging some seed from the vegetable garden today, so I thought I would post pics of some of the seed we have put aside this year.

Good seed production from the carrots! The swiss chard has also really provided a lot of seed for future years.

Some of our favorite greens – Wong Bok, Napa and Collards

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Homestead Construction #4 – Foundation: Moisture Barrier and Rebar

Here we are at the end of the second week of working on the foundation. A lot more progress was made this week.

Our first inspection for the construction process was on Monday for the plumbing rough-in. The Inspector was just on the site for a couple of minutes and we were signed off, ready to go to the next stage.

The water & waste lines were lightly covered and the footings for the internal block walls were dug. A 10 mil moisture barrier (plastic sheet) was put into place over the tamped gravel and 2 extra inches of 3/4 minus gravel was added on top of the moisture barrier.

Once the final layer of gravel was watered down and tamped, it was time to move on to putting the reinforcing bar (rebar) into position. A grid (18″) was formed by laying down lengths of rebar in each direction. The bars were propped up to a height of 2″ so that they would be in the center of the slab when the concrete was poured. Additional bars were added and tied into place to be running lengthwise inside the footings. Finally, vertical bars were tied into position every 48″ around the perimeter of the walls in a position that will allow them to run inside the cells of the block walls.

The next Inspector came out on Thursday and said the footings and rebar looked great. He had a few comments on the plumbing where it passed under and came out of the slab, so we have a couple things to do this weekend (putting sleeves on the water lines running under the load bearing walls and doing a better job tying down the water lines that come up from the floor inside the slab).

The boom pump for the concrete is scheduled to come out to the site at dawn on Monday. Here’s hoping the pour goes well!

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Homestead Construction #3 – Progress on the Foundation

After a busy week of working on the foundation, it is nice to sit back and look at some pictures.

Once the house pad was excavated down to a roughly level pad, some base rock (clean 4″ minus) was put down, spead out to roughly flat and then compacted with a vibrating roller. After 10 loads and a lot of compaction, 130 tons of rock made a nice base for a stable foundation. The deeper areas that we carved out of the hillside got down to a good mix of aggregate (pink shale) and clay subsoil. The more shallow areas were still mostly clay subsoil, so the base rock should allow for a stable platform and good drainage.

Here you can see the base rock all rolled out and the first material for the assembling the footings for the forms.

We’ve got a 2 man crew helping us out with setting up the forms and installing the 3/4″ minus gravel that will go under the concrete slab. This next photo shows the forms about halfway up and 4 of the total of 8 loads of gravel being shifted around with the Bobcat:

Once the gravel is moved into position and roughly smoothed out, a gas-powered tamper is used to pack it down in layers a couple of inches thick.
After 8 loads (~100 tons) of gravel is smoothed, wet down and tamped, we are ready for the last of the forms to be put up:

Once the last of the forms were up (after fixing a small miscalculation on the length of the east-west walls… the final plans call for a 64’8″ wall rather than a 65′ like I had thought; this should let us avoid having to cut very many of the 8x8x16 blocks in the walls), we didn’t waste any time getting the underground plumbing in.

Almost all of the plumbing work is in the southwest quadrant of the house. The 2″ water inlet for the house comes in the north side of the house and comes up between the bathroom and shower walls. From there it is distributed to the laundry sink, washer, solar water heater and kitchen sink. The hot water systems takes the cold water supply and has a line for running to the solar hot water heater (will be outside the house), then back to an insulated pre-heater tank inside the house and finally to an on-demand gas heater (southwest wall of the house).

The waste lines head out under the south wall of the house. A 3″ inch line from the toilet joins up with the line from the kitchen sink at the south wall. The shower floor drain, washer drain and laundry sink lines combine into a 2″ line that runs under the south wall and then joins the 3″ line outside the foundation wall. This way, once we have our graywater system in place, we can divert the waste water from laundry sink, washer and shower with the turn of a valve.

Additional plumbing includes a floor drain towards the northeast section of the house for the battery room, and an air intake in the middle of the house that will supply air for the woodstove.

We finished up the week ready for our first inspection tomorrow!

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Homestead Construction #2 – Drainfield Installation

The drainfield for the septic system is now in place. It took three mornings of digging trenches with the backhoe and using pick, shovel and rake to level the trenches. Instead of a pipe on gravel drainfield, we are using infiltrators (the black pieces in the picture below). They are a lot easier to work work with and it avoids having to haul and level gravel to the trenches. Our system is 3 lines of 125′ each, connected at the ends near the septic tank. The tank be installed a bit later to allow us more room to work and move construction vehicles around the front of the home site.

Now we just need to backfill up to the tops of the infiltrators and request the inspection. Whew! Glad it is done and we beat the rainy season. We would have had to wait until next June, otherwise.

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Homestead Construction #1 – Introduction and breaking ground

This series of posts is intended to briefly capture the main phases of construction of the house.

The house will be a high mass, passive solar home. A wood-burning stove will be used for cooking and to provide supplemental heat beyond what captured through the passive solar design. During the warm seasons, an outdoor rocket stove will be used for cooking, or a gas range inside the home. All power will be generated by photovoltaic (PV) panels or by backup LPG generator, when necessary. Water will be collected off the metal roof and stored in collection tanks to be used throughout the year. Waste will be handled primarily through a graywater system, composting toilets and septic system (mainly for guests that are not comfortable with a composting toilet). The gardens and orchard are located right next to the home to provide a year-round source of fresh food.

The homesite is located on a hillside with about a 10% slope. We started breaking ground at the end of August and have completed leveling the pad this week. By digging into the hillside the house will be facing true south and have a sheltered north wall. The house is not directly up against the hillside, but has a ~15′ space that has been leveled between the back wall and the slope.

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Snacking in the Orchard

The heat of summer has finally arrived, it seems. With it comes the chance to sample some new flavors of fruit and berries!

I was excited to see the Tayberries plumping up over the past week, and now they have started to really put on some size and color. I’m still not exactly sure what the pedigree of a Tayberry is… different sources claim different parents. All that I have seen so far agree that it is a hybrid cross of a blackberry and a raspberry. Some sources say a black raspberry, others a red raspberry. Yet others claim a loganberry (another hybrid) is in the mix. However this plant came to be, I’m grateful to the Scottish folks who bred the Tayberry. I was impressed with the flavor and texture of the berry. Looking forward to eating many more!

Another first this year was the Nugent (NY 518) cherry. This is an all yellow cherry, skin and flesh. It is quite sweet and has a nice firm texture to the flesh. Not a real stand-out as far as “cherry” flavor goes, but I think we will enjoy this one, too. The yellow color is supposed to fool the birds into thinking it isn’t ripe yet. We didn’t have any trouble with the birds on the few dark red Stella cherries that set this year, but I expect the fruit eating birds will find our orchard before too long.

This week also brought about the first ripe blueberries, meeker raspberries, black currants and white currants. Today, we were able to eat eight different kinds of fruit/berries: Elliot blueberries, Musk strawberries, Primus white currants, Tsema black currants, Autumn Britten raspberries, Meeker raspberries, Nugent cherries and the Tayberries… what a treat!

They were all given the thumbs-up by my boys, except for the black currants. None of us are still quite sure what to make of them, yet. I need to look up some recipes and find a way to use the strong flavored taste.

The next few weeks should bring on the different types of gooseberries and jostaberry along with more kinds of blueberries, loganberry and boysenberry. Summer is delicious!

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