Building the Walls – Part 1

To catch you up from our last post (click here to read)…  we were contacted right away by a very apologetic Paul, the technical guy from Faswall (stuff happens), but in the meantime, the Engineer who drew our plans came through like a superhero and answered our questions.

First course of block for FaswallWith the Faswall building system, you stack the blocks on top of each other, staggered (generally) without mortar, then fill the interior of the blocks with cement.  Except for the first course.  You don’t have to, but it is recommended to set the first course of block in mortar, and as you saw in the last post, we were able to accomplish our first course in mortar fairly easily.

When set in mortar, you can be sure that the first course is absolutely level and straight, so that when setting the next courses of block on top, you would be less likely to get a wiggy-woggy wall.

Well, that’s the general idea.

However, we found that a wiggy-woggy wall is inevitable because we discovered that the blocks aren’t all exactly the same.  Some are kind of hour glass shaped, just slightly, while others are a smidge wider, especially the end blocks.  Also, some blocks are much heavier than others, and it’s easy to see that some obviously have a bit more concrete content, which makes them heavier. A wet block is also a heavier block, and weaker if you have to cut it, so we seek out the whiter/heavier blocks to cut if it has rained in the previous few days.  Doing this is a “no-brainer” and has prevented any more Oops when Ray is cutting/modifying a block.

You can see there is a difference in color between these two blocks. The one on the right is much heavier and has a lot more concrete in the mix than the one on the left,

But a wiggy-woggy wall is okay.  We plan to stucco the outside and plaster the inside, and I like the “not perfect” look anyway.  Not quite all out rustic and not messy… just not perfect.  My mom once said that mistakes are less obvious in an imperfect world. I think she was right.

Anyway…

Getting the first few courses down was fairly easy.  But soon we could see that it would have made sense to build a 51 foot 2-1/2 inch long wall, instead of a 51 foot wall. Why?  Because the blocks do not fit EXACTLY together with a paper tight fit.  There are a few cracks here and there between the blocks no matter how hard we try to pound them together.  We tried redoing one of the shorter walls to see if we could get the blocks to fit perfectly, but it was impossible.  In fact, in the instruction manual provided by Faswall, they even admit that most walls will have to be cut to fit.

This is a page from the Faswall Installation/Information packet.

So, again, it makes me wonder why they don’t just advise that for every 10 feet you will gain at least an extra ½ inch, and then have the architect plan for that accordingly.

Just my two cents.

Cutting Faswall Blocks

You don’t need any special tools to work with Faswall. They cut, nail and screw into just like wood.

Speaking of cutting the blocks:  it really is easy.  The blocks cut, glue, screw and hammer just like wood. Here is how to modify a block to fit:

  1. Measure the opening for the size of block needed
  2. Cut off the end “fingers” of one side of the block
  3. Measuring from the opposite side, cut the block the length of the measurement minus 2 inches (that is how wide the “fingers are)
  4. Glue the now shortened ends of the block to the severed finger end (ouch, that sounds horrible!) with low VOC construction glue
  5. Place screws into each of the four corners
  6. Set into the wall.

    The modified block on top is easier to spot. The end piece that was added onto the other piece of the block is slightly a different color.  Our supervisor, Louie, leaving the building.

Ray is getting pretty good at modifying the size of the blocks now.  The plan of our house is so that we have to modify at least two blocks on each of the four sides.  Unfortunately, easy as it is to modify the size of a block, it does take some time to do it. Sigh. And we are a bit worried now that we won’t have enough block to finish the project.  You see, the regular blocks (not the corner or end blocks) were figured on a square-foot-of-wall basis.  Well, since we have to cut blocks down to get a tight fit (as I said, inevitable with our plan), there is some waste.  I guess we won’t really know the answer to this dilemma until we are almost finished, and this is just one of the questions that is keeping me awake at night!

We had to hurry up and build this wall as the plumber was there. When he arrived, the wall was two blocks high, but we needed to build as he placed the plumbing parts and pieces. In the end it all worked out just fine.

After the second course of block was set, we had to start thinking about electrical chases and plumbing for water and vents.  Juan and his plumbers from Ace Plumbing came up and put the vents and water lines in the walls where we needed them, along with the two short gas lines that would be in one of the walls. Thank goodness my plan to place most of the electrical and plumbing on interior (wood) walls worked out and there isn’t much intrusion of these vents and pipes in the actual Faswall walls. The under slab plumbing had already been inspected, so the vents, water lines and gas lines that would be in the walls only took a couple of days to do.  We will be using liquid propane for our range, tankless hot water heater, and a couple of wall heaters within the house.  Ray is also planning to have a line trenched under the back patio to supply his gas barbeque.

This shows a photo of the gas line and water lines that will go to our tankless hot water heater on the outside.

I wish the electrical chases had been that easy.

Oy vey!

To save money, we decided to use the good old fashioned gray conduit pipe to run our electrical wires instead of the flexible “Smurf” tube…so called because it is blue.  We had Tony from Chico Electric come up to the house site and give us some advice about placement of electrical boxes, wiring, conduit, etc., because we contracted with them to do our rough electrical once we had all our interior walls up and the roof on.  Part of that contract stated that Ray and I would install all the electrical boxes and conduit in the Faswall. The first problem we encountered was that we could not use the “normal” electrical box… we must use “extra-deep” electrical boxes because the Faswall blocks themselves are 2 inches thick and a regular box would not stick out far enough into the cavity of the wall to be able to receive the conduit pipe.  No problem, we thought, until we saw the price of those extra-deep boxes.  Holy schiznitz!

They are   E   X   P   E   N   S   I   V   E   !!!!!!!

Second, we learned we don’t know how to properly bend conduit.  We thought we were done with the lower electrical boxes and conduit that would go in the Faswall before Tony arrived, but we were sorely mistaken.  After we had set all the electrical boxes according to our electrical plan, we used our propane cooker to heat the conduit until it was soft, and then bend it so that it would go around curves and corners. We thought we had done a great job and were ready for Tony to give us a pat on the back! Nope.  Tony looked at our work and informed us that any bend in the conduit could not be puckered, and there was absolutely no way that the conduit would pass inspection if it had scorch marks.

Well….. we were puckered and scorched.

$ & # % @ { %     (my rendition of off color words)

Okay.  So we regrouped.  Plan B: buy some 90 and 45 degree connectors and re-do the whole kit and caboodle, which is exactly what we did.  We should have done it that way in the first place because it was certainly a lot easier and the elbows are fairly cheap!  Boy are we glad we hadn’t put any more rows of blocks on the wall before Tony came up.

The boxes are in! Happy Dance!

Whew…dodged another one!

The last task for the electrical boxes was to string “jet” line (a type of plastic rope used for this purpose) through each run so that all the electrician would have to do is tie his wire to the “jet” line and pull the wire through.  Easier said than done.  We had 6 electrical outlets on one run, 5 outlets on another, and just 3 on two other runs.  The first two runs that had only 3 outlets each were easy to get the “jet” line through.

Block variation of Faswall

We tied some cut pieces of PVC pipe to the end of the jet line to make sure the lines won’t scrunch up and get lost in the conduit!

Each of those runs had only one corner and the “fishtape” slid right through.  Fishtape is similar to a very thin metal measuring tape, with a hook of sorts on the end, that you “fish” through a run of conduit. Most hardware and big box stores have these. But we struggled and struggled to get the fishtape to turn the corner in the opposite direction than the first corner.  Sure, the fishtape bends forward and backward, but not side to side.  At all.  So we tried using just regular old plastic coated copper wire that was fairly stiff but still flexible, fishing it from one box to the next.  Even that was difficult!  We couldn’t figure out what in the blazes was going wrong, until a piece of ice dropped out of one of the outlets while we were trying to push the wire through.

OOOOOOHHHHHHHH.  So THAT’s the problem!  The conduit was clogged with ICE!  Haha… so we had spent hours trying to push ICE through the conduit, and it only gave way in the afternoon because it was melting!

Well, at least we didn’t have to re-do anything, and we finally got the electrical “jet” line strung.  Whew.  Done with the electricals.  At least the electricals for the first pour, which will be 6 blocks, or four feet, high. One pour is technically called a “lift” and I use these terms (lift and pour) intermittently.

A big part of building our walls is the placement of rebar.  In the next post about building our home, I will go over the massive amounts and strange shapes of rebar we must place inside the walls.  You won’t believe how we are bending the rebar!

Until then, have a wonderful day!

My party list:  Thank Goodness It’s MondayGrand SocialMix It Up MondayCreate, Link, Inspire;  Amaze Me Monday,  Over The MoonHearth and Soul;  Show & Share Tuesday;  Brag About ItTuesdays with a TwistThe Scoop;  Inspire Me TuesdaysTuesdays at Our Home;  Party In Your PJ’s;  Make, Bake and Create;   Wined Down Wednesday;  Fluster’s Creative Muster;  Homestead Blog HopWow Us Wednesday;  Waste Less WednesdayAIM LinkyTalk of the TownHealthy,Happy & NaturalOur Simple Homestead; Share Your Cup Thursday;  Home and Garden Thursday;  Think Tank Thursday;  Homemaking Party;  This Is How We RollNo Rules Weekend PartyBlogger’s Pit StopFriendship Friday;  Family Fun Friday;  Awesome Life Friday;  Home MattersTraffic Jam Weekend; Friday FeaturesSaturday Sparks;  Dare to ShareScraptastic Saturday;  Happiness is HomemadeAnything Goes Pink SaturdaySimple SaturdaysSaturday ShuffleThat DIY Party;  Snickerdoodle SundayDishing it & Digging It

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 plumbing for 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

Blog parties: Thank Goodness It’s MondayGrand SocialMix It Up MondayCreate, Link, Inspire;  Amaze Me Monday,  Over The MoonShow & Share TuesdayThe Gathering SpotBrag About ItTuesdays with a TwistThe ScoopTwo Cup Tuesday;  Inspire Me TuesdaysTuesdays at Our Home;  Party In Your PJ’sMake, Bake and Create;   Wined Down Wednesday;  Fluster’s Creative Muster;  Homestead Blog HopWow Us Wednesday;  Waste Less WednesdayAIM LinkyTalk of the TownHealthy,Happy & NaturalOur Simple Homestead; Share Your Cup Thursday;  Home and Garden Thursday;  Think Tank Thursday;  Homemaking Party;  This Is How We RollNo Rules Weekend PartyFriendship Friday;  Family Fun Friday;  Awesome Life Friday;  Home MattersTraffic Jam Weekend ; Saturday Sparks;  Dare to ShareScraptastic Saturday;  Happiness is HomemadeAnything Goes Pink SaturdaySimple SaturdaysThat DIY Party;  Snickerdoodle SundayDishing it & Digging It

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