Breaking Ground!

After years of waiting, worrying and wondering if we would EVER get our building permit, we are proud to announce that we have finally broken ground!

Building an ICF house

First things first… removing this cute little tree. I really wanted to save it, but unfortunately it would have been in the way of the heavy equipment and probably too close to the house.

                            WAHOO!       YIPPEE!        HOORAY!

The first step in building our new home is to form massive concrete footings for the foundation of the very heavy concrete walls.  We are using the Reynoso Brothers as our concrete contractor because we have been extremely happy with the work they have done on our building site so far.  Last year they prepared the building site quickly and efficiently, on time and at a reasonable cost, so it was a no brainer to have them back.

building a Faswall home

These footings will be three feet wide and two feet deep, with lots and lots of rebar!

The heavy equipment they brought seemed to be overkill at first, but then when I saw the size of the trenches they were digging, I understood.  The footings will be massive!

The tractors made digging through our clay dirt seem like a knife through butter.  Well… almost.  Until they hit a huge rock right at the back corner of where our patio will be.  Luckily, it was a soft rock (sedimentary?) and the excavator was able to actually scrape most of the rock away.

Once the trenches were dug for the footings, they began defining the upper edges with some 2 x 6’s.  They used a laser on a tripod to get everything perfect, and the picture on the left shows what they were able to accomplish after just one day of work!

Then the rebar was installed.  Holy cannoli… 3 tons of rebar!

No joke.  Really.  Three tons!

Building a Faswall house

These are two guys from Reynoso Bros bending rebar.  Can you see the pile of rebar next to them?  Let me tell you, their work was cut out for them!

With all the concrete and metal that is going into this house, I truly believe it will last

F.  O.  R.  E.  V.  E.  R.

Once all the footings were dug and most of the rebar installed, it was time to set the rough plumbing.  For minimal intrusion into the Faswall itself, we decided to set the kitchen sink, the toilet in the 1/2 bath and the urinal in the master bathroom under the slab.

“Urinal?” you say?  Why yes!  No more fretting about poor aiming and no more seat up/down wars! Can you tell I’m a mother of four boys (including my husband). 😉

Building a Faswall ICF House

I designed the house so that all the plumbing would be in one area. Originally I was going to have the kitchen sink closer to all the bathrooms, but I wanted to have a window over the sink, so it ended up being the only plumbing that was not in a 15 foot square area. Oh well.

Juan from ACE Plumbing and his crew did most of the work in one day, which was impressive.  Except…

The toilet was put in the wrong spot, and so was the freestanding bathtub.  You see, building a house with ICF is a lot different than building a stick-built house.  In our ICF home, the blocks themselves are exactly 2 feet long, with 1/2 blocks being 1 foot long (well, duh).

A Faswall Block. This one happens to be a corner block, which is why the insulation is in an “L” shape on one side. The blocks are 2 feet long, 12 inches thick and 8 inches high.

Anyway, because of that, when designing an ICF house, windows and doors are placed exactly on whole feet and not partial feet.  So, when the two foot wide bathroom window will start 14 feet from the corner of the house, with the toilet centered right underneath, the toilet needs to be centered on 15 feet.  Get it?

Well, only having built stick houses before, they figured they would center the toilet on the wall, and the window could be built centered over the toilet. That’s the normal thing to do.  But we needed to have just the opposite.  They needed to center the toilet under where the window will be!

So, when we explained this to Juan, he had his crew up that very afternoon to fix the problem!  Yay!

One thing dear hubby and I have been doing is testing and checking, checking and testing everything!  That’s how we knew the toilet wasn’t right.  We put the Faswall block exactly where it will be placed on the footing, then measured twice from corner to corner, and toilet to corner, then bathtub to corner, etc.  I know that sounds a bit nit-picky, but the truth is that WE are acting as our own contractor and in the end WE are the only ones responsible.  So, it’s better to check and make adjustments now, before any concrete is poured!

Insulated Concrete Form building

The Southeast corner of our future Faswall home temporarily in place.

So, now you ask… what’s next?

Inspection!  Yup.  Our first inspection.  We are a bit nervous, though I don’t know why.  The two contractors we have had on site so far are experts in their field and are fully licensed, so we shouldn’t have any problems.  (Famous last words?)

Insulated Concrete Forms

When we pass our first inspection, we will celebrate with this bottle of wine our good friends Ronda and Leonard gave us. Cheers!

In the meantime, I have been moving my green plastic chair around in the house, pretending I am looking out this window or that window, getting a feel of what it will look like, and dreaming…..

Faswall ICF building

The chair is where our covered, screened in patio will be. Ahhhhhhh

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Off-Grid Pump House

I am so behind in a lot of my posts.  Sorry.

A lot has been happening around here.

Last March I started telling you about the pump house we were building.

You may recall that framing the walls was next on the agenda.  If you havent seen that previous post, you can catch up by clicking HERE.

Since we drilled the holes in the sill boards for the J-bolts and PVC conduit pipes, then set everything in place, tightening the bolts tight, the concrete was able to cure with everything in it’s proper place.

We decided to re-use the lumber that we used for framing the concrete slab (reduce, reuse, recycle!), so I spent some time scraping off the cement from the boards.

We began framing one wall at a time, which was definitely a two person job.  Sometimes I needed three arms to hold everything up while dear hubby Ray screwed it into place, but after a lot of groaning and a few colorful words, we eventually got the walls up.  As mentioned in the first post about this pump house, we used 2 x 6 lumber (2 x 4 in a few spots for bracing) which fits nicely with the 6″ wide concrete block, and also so that in the future we can super insulate the walls and ceiling.  

Once the walls were in place, we installed a window.  We went to Habitat for Humanity’s Re-Store to purchase a few items for this project.  We got the Marvin window for about $35 and hinges for the door for $1 each!  I love going to these Re-Stores and spending an hour or so just looking around, because you never know what you might find!  We have been to several and each one is different, which makes the shopping adventure just that much better!

We needed to put a window into the pump house not only for the natural light, but also in case we need to pull the pump out of the well.  The window was positioned right in front of the well head, and it’s big enough to slide open and pull the pump through.

Next came the roof.  We bought these metal “hangers” from the big box store to make it easier to secure the rafters to the top plate of the framing.  They worked great!  When we (meaning me) first put them on, we got them upside down.  Oops!  Ray corrected my mistake.  🙂

Then we added a bit more structure to the gable ends and jack studs horizontally between the regular studs, to give the building more structure and strength. On the front side (the picture to the left is showing the back side) we also installed a vent. Eventually we plan to install a solar panel on the roof to provide a task light on the inside and a motion detector light outside, and also as a trickle charge to batteries that we can use for pumping water on cloudy days.  We have decided to leave the power to the pump separate from the power to the house because that system is already in place and running.  Ray has all that stuff worked out and I am sure glad he does, because when it comes to anything electrical (watt?  amp who? voltage where?), I am the consummate dummy!  But that’s okay because it just makes him the yang to my yin!  After 41 years of marriage, this has worked well.

So… I just nod and smile when he is telling me about all of that “stuff”.

Then the rafters went up.  Holy canolli, what a job!  They were heavy and cumbersome and we decided to put them up on a windy day.  Why would we do something so silly? Because rain was in the forecast and we wanted to get the roof on ASAP!

Now it’s actually looking like a building!  Wahoo!  The hardest part is done… right?

Well, No.

For us, the hardest part was the plywood and metal roofing.  Why?  Because the plywood is heavy (really heavy), the metal roofing is sharp, and we are both just a little nervous about heights! :O

It was a bit difficult getting the plywood exactly centered and leveled on the rafters because, unfortunately, a few of the rafters were just a bit warped and twisted. And we aren’t professional contractors. And did I mention those suckers are heavy? Oh well. You really can’t see that from the outside, so we’re good.

Just don’t look too close…

Our next task was to wrap the house and install the siding.  Since we live in an area that is prone to wildfires, we try to use fire resistant products whenever possible.  We decided to use the James Hardie Planks, just like we did on the tool shed (turned into our little cottage bunkhouse), with the James Hardie 4×8 sheets on the gable ends, for a little bit of interest. This product is fairly noncombustable as it is a cement based product.  The truth is that ANYTHING can burn… even concrete, but every little bit of prevention helps in a wildfire situation! The trim was also made from this product. The siding took the longest time to do – several days – but I think it turned out well!  We also used the Hardi Planks to close up the soffits.  Closed soffits are also an important component of a structure in a wildfire prone area.  If no sparks can get into the attic, it is less likely that the building will burn!  One thing I will say about using the James Hardie products is that they are NASTY when you cut them!  We learned from experience the first time we used this product.  It is imperative that safety goggles (the kind that completely enclose your eyes) and breathing masks be used, otherwise your snot turns to concrete marbles and your eyes will weep rocks for days!

Seriously!

The door was our final piece of construction.  When we were planning how big to make this building, we knew that we had to make the door big enough to be able to remove and/or replace the water storage tank.  But we also knew that we didn’t want a door to be that big, because it would tend to sag and warp.  So, we decided to make a double door system where only one door is used and the other, while useable when necessary, would usually be pinned shut with a bolt going through the door and into the concrete on the bottom.  We bought the hinges at the Re-Store and the handle and lock system at the big box store.  Once the doors were constructed, we trimmed them out with the Hardi Board to match the gables and… voila!

I couldn’t wait to hang my sun on the side of the building!

Now, all we have to do is paint!

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Our Building Blocks

 

We have been spending the last month getting our Faswall ICF (Insulated concrete form) blocks from a yard in the valley where they were delivered, up to our build site.  We finally got all 30 pallets delivered so far (2-3 more are to be delivered soon) up to our build site.

Unloading the Faswall blocks on our building site.

One

Block

At

A

Time!

We were able to bring only two pallets up to our site at a time due to weight issues, so we had to make fifteen trips.  During the time we were getting our block, we have endured two flat tires on the trailer and an evacuation due to a wildfire near our ridge! This is one of the biggest reasons we are building with Faswall… they don’t like to burn!  

It was scarier at night when you could see the red glow of the fire.  The sparks made it look like molten lava.  The good news is that we are blessed to have some of the best firefighters around, so we only had to endure a couple of days of evacuation and everything turned out just fine… at least for us.  My heart goes out to all those who lost their homes.  We also bought construction insurance, because you just never know!

And here they are:

And here:

And over here too:

We separated the blocks into type, and put each type on a different location at the building site, so that when we are actually building the walls it will be easier to retrieve the proper block/blocks.  The whole Faswall system of blocks includes several different types.  We aren’t using all they have available because, for instance, we only will be using outside corners, no inside corners.

The “standard” block looks like this:Building with Faswall ICF

As you can see, it’s similar to a concrete (CMU) block in shape.  Faswall blocks are 24” long, 8” high and 12” width.  In the standard block, there is a 3” polyisocyanate insulation insert, which is the one pictured above.  We will be using standard blocks with 2” insulation inserts as well.  The smaller inserts leave more room in the voids, which means there will be more concrete, so you get an even stronger wall. You can see the ends of the block have an interlocking shape, which stabilizes the block wall and helps to prevent “blow-outs” when the concrete is poured into the forms.  The blocks are “dry stacked” on each other in a running bond fashion, to about 4-5 feet high, which is called a “lift”.  Once a lift is stacked, concrete is poured into the forms, which in effect creates a grid of concrete in the walls.

Cool, huh?

Building with Faswall ICF The picture above shows two standard blocks stacked on each other, so you can see the horizontal void where concrete flows to form the grid.  Of course, as we are stacking, we add rebar in the voids, which adds to the strength of the concrete walls.  The blocks will be placed in a running bond pattern, much like CMU blocks.  When the walls are completely done and cured, they will be extremely strong, fire resistant, pest resistant and energy efficient.

I truly believe this house is going to be standing for hundreds of years!

Then there are the end blocks.  These blocks do not have the interlocking shape on both sides, but instead just one side.  Building with FaswallThese are used at the windows and doors. When the walls are all done and it’s time to put in the windows and doors, they are installed just like you would install into a wood framed house.  You see, Faswall IS made of wood… just mineralized with concrete and a special process to make it very fire resistant!  That’s why when it is necessary to cut a form, we use regular wood cutting tools, like a circular saw or a Sawzall.  And when installing doors and windows, you can nail and screw right into the walls!

The corner blocks are used for, well, corners!

You can see there are the interlocking ribs on the end and one side so that the interlocking ribs from another block fits right in, making a perfect corner!

The last blocks that we will require are the all purpose blocks.  These can easily be cut in half and used wherever a half block is needed, especially around windows and doors as a half end block.  Since the blocks are set in a running bond fashion, we will need one of these half blocks every other row.

The all purpose blocks are made to easily be cut in half and used where needed.  For us, we will be using these at the windows and doors.

faswall ICF corner blockWe were happy to find, in the end, only seven blocks total that were damaged.  I think that’s pretty good considering the almost two thousand blocks that we got so far.  We were talking with a friend who recently build his “stick” house (conventional wood frame) and said he had to return a lot of lumber that was twisted and/or warped or just plain unuseable. We have already verified that these broken blocks will be added to our last shipment, which will be soon.

So far, I’m glad we are building with these ICF forms and the company we chose.  We’ll see how things go in the future.

When do we start?

The guys setting up the forms for the footings are supposed to be here today, but in reality we don’t expect to see them until next week.  Once the footings are poured, we can start setting blocks!

I am just over the moon excited!

I can’t wait to show you our progress!

In the meantime, I need to get a new pair of gloves.  These building blocks bite!  I have to say that the one downside we have found so far is that the blocks are very sharp and will tear your clothes and skin if you are not careful.  That’s the bad news…  which is also the good news!  The good news is that they are rough, which makes it much easier and cheaper to stucco the outside and plaster the inside!

What else have we been doing?  I’ll show you in the next post!

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We Got Our Building Permit!

Wahoo   🙂

It’s about time!  We finally got our building permit!

We can’t wait to get started!  Some friends of ours gave us a bottle of wine from their new vineyard (thanks Ronda and Leonard!), and as soon as we break ground for the footings, we are going to open that bottle and celebrate!

The Reynoso Brothers hard at work last year, getting our building site ready to build.

Right now we are in the process of finding our “subs”.  We decided to go ahead and build the house by ourselves, acting as our own contractor, and subcontract out the stuff we can’t or don’t want to do, including the concrete footings and slab, rough plumbing and electrical, interior wall framing and the roof.  Fastwall is supposed to be a DIY building project, and since we live on the site, have sound bodies, and are reasonably intelligent, we figured we should be able to stack the walls ourselves.  Paul Wood, one of the owners of Faswall, has been very helpful so far and has all the technical knowledge in his head, so we are hoping to rely on him when we get into any pickles… and I am certain we will!

In the meantime, we are trying to get at least three estimates for each of the above specialties… except for the concrete footings and slab.  We already signed a contract with the company who cleared our building pad last year:  The Reynoso Brothers. When they were up here last spring, they came on time, did exactly what they said they would (and more), and were reasonably priced.  So, we felt that it was a “no-brainer” to go with them again.

Some of our “raw” backyard that we are getting cleaned up to provide defensible space in the event of a wildfire.

While waiting for the estimates, we have been trying to develop our “defensible space” around the house site, which is required to get our final inspection approved.  This has been hard, dusty, sweaty work.  We need to rake up the loose “duff”, pull out a lot of trees and bushes, remove the dead wood, and cut off the lower 6-8 feet of limbs from the trees.  Once this is all done, we should have the “park-like” setting we have always envisioned around the house.

Finding a plumber has been quite a challenge.  Apparently, plumbers can make more money fixing leaky toilets and replacing water heaters than they can doing rough plumbing in a new house. Barry, the House Planner who did our electrical plans (since our architect or engineer wouldn’t do them) told us that the plumbing really wasn’t hard to do, and that we should just go down to the library and get some books to figure out how to do the plumbing ourselves and save a ton of money!  Hmmmmm… that’s a scary thought. Still, it would be nice to save some money.  I just wish we could find a plumber who (for a fee) would draw a plumbing plan and give us a list of all the stuff we would need, along with some technical advice, and then we could do it ourselves.  Are there any plumbers out there that do this kind of thing?

Our house site, ready to go!  We have wooden stakes at all four corners, and also delineating the back patio.  Unfortunately, we have pretty much given up on keeping these in the ground because our neighbor’s dogs seem to think they are sticks to “go fetch”!  😉

As far as the outside walls that make up the shell of the house, I am pleased to announce that they are on our build site… mostly!

Here are all the stacked pallets of our Faswall blocks… all 30 of them, in the yard at Endeavor Homes.  Faswall could fit only these 30 pallets on the delivery truck, so we still have 2 more pallets coming.

We are building our home with Faswall, which is a type of insulated concrete form (ICF).  The ICFs are 12 inches thick and 24 inches long.  Their shape is similar to concrete blocks (CMUs), but are made from shredded wood mixed with concrete, with a 3” insulation insert.  Once we stack the blocks about 4-5 feet tall around the entire perimeter of the house, concrete is poured into the center voids, which will make a grid pattern of concrete in our walls.  So basically, it will be a concrete house, which is good to have in a forest.

Loading the pallet onto our trailer

We have been hauling the blocks up to our property two pallets at a time.  Unfortunately, we have to break them down (one block at a time) into half high pallets for a more stable trip up the mountain to our property, and once on site we unload each block individually, stacking them 6 blocks high, into groups of block type.  You see, there are the “Normal” blocks that make up the majority of the walls.  Then, there are the corners, the end blocks, and the normal blocks with smaller 2” insulation.  The 2” insulation blocks are for certain areas in the walls that need a bit more concrete for structural support, so the insulation is thinner.  And then there are the specialty blocks, that can be easily cut in half and used as end blocks.  I will get to the shape and purpose of those blocks in my next post. Special thanks to my youngest son, Michael, for helping haul a lot of pallets!

Unloading the Faswall blocks on our building site.

So far we have hauled 24 of the 30 pallets delivered up to our build site.  Faswall still needs to deliver 2 more pallets of blocks (only 30 fit on the truck), and apparently those will be coming soon.  The blocks were delivered to a large yard owned by Endeavor Homes, a company that sells lumber and “kit” houses, because we weren’t sure that the semi-truck delivering our block would be able to get into our build site.  Nor could we find a forklift to rent, so that we could off-load the delivery truck.  The guys at Endeavor unloaded our blocks and let us use their space for free!  Of course, we will be buying lumber from them, but these days it is so hard to find anything free and we are so grateful for their generosity!  Thank you so much Dell!

This is a stack of the standard block with 3″ insulation.

Lifting and stacking those blocks is really getting me into shape. You should see my biceps!   By the time we get done with the Faswall, we will have lifted almost every block by hand three times – once to get it stacked on the trailer, once to unload on the house site, and once more when we actually build the walls.  The best news is that so far we could find only six blocks that are damaged.  We will wait until we get the rest of the block up here, so that we can take a final accounting, but I am assuming Faswall will replace the damaged blocks.  Out of the hundreds and hundreds of blocks we have handled so far, I think only six damaged blocks is pretty darn good!

So… what’s next?

The Reynoso Brothers will be coming up in a few weeks to dig, frame and then pour our concrete footings.  Of course, that’s if we can get concrete.  Our new home is about a 45 minute drive above Oroville Dam, and you might remember hearing about the Oroville Dam spillway failure early this past spring.  So, the dam repair is getting first priority for concrete, which of course, they should!

And here we are trying to build a concrete house…

The truth is, however, that we have come this far and there is no going back now, so we will just have to take the concrete when we can get it.

I can’t wait!  I can’t wait!  I am so excited to be finally building our new home!

 

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