The 57 acres that comprise Cedar Ridge Farm are located in the beautiful rolling hills of South Central Kentucky. My wife, our four children, and I are on a homesteading adventure as we work toward increased self-sufficiency. We grow much of our own food and enjoy being in touch with the agrarian roots of our lives.

One of the major projects we have undertaken is the building of our own home. The house we're building has three major distinguishing features: 1. we're building it without incurring any debt; 2. it is a timber frame structure; and 3. the exterior walls will be plastered straw bales. We live debt and mortgage free, and building our house with that approach makes perfect sense. Large timbers in a home possess a beauty and project a sense of strength, stability, and warmth that we want in our home. Straw bale walls provide insulation and make ecological sense. This blog is a record of our home-building project.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Flashback: The Foundation

Every house needs to be built upon a solid foundation. The site we selected for our house sits on a relatively level area above our garden and at the base of a hill. I've heard that the couple who used to live in the old log cabin in the bottom had a garden where we're building our house. It is a good location for one in proximity to where the old cabin stood. It's also a good site for a house. It's protected on the back by the hill and trees, it overlooks our garden area, it will receive nice sun during the winter months, shadows begin to fall on the site a little after 3:00p.m. during the summer, and it has a nice view across our bottom land towards a hay field. There are often deer and turkeys to be seen out in the fields.

One of our original ideas was to build the house with a walk-out basement. This site lends itself to such a plan quite well. Basements are commonly considered inexpensive floor space in terms of price per square foot. However, on our house the price per square foot is NOT the determining factor; the bottom line is how much it costs overall. So, inexpensive in terms of per square foot is not necessarily inexpensive. We are doing this, afterall, debt free. It should be noted, though, that we aren't building a shack; it will be a very nice house. However, finances dictate certain decisions be made, such as eliminating the basement. Besides, we decided that we didn't really NEED a basement. It might be nice in some ways, but that's not the same as a need.

So, no basement. Another consideration that we didn't consider, basically because I wouldn't consider it, is a slab foundation. I don't want the timbers or straw bales that close to the ground. I'm concerned about moisture and termites. That leaves us with a crawl space foundation. Because of earlier design adjustments (detailed in a previous post), the posts in the frame weren't to be inserted into a sill. We decided on concrete piers for the posts to stand on.

In May 2006, I began clearing the site. I used a borrowed grader blade on the back of my 1966 International 424 Utility tractor. Most of the topsoil had already been pushed to the side when we had our driveway on the hill to the bottom constructed in July 2003. I just tried to smooth things out and to rip out the weeks and grass growing on the site.

After clearing the site, I laid out the house, determining how it would sit. Its orientation is determined by the shape, size, and location of the 'bench' upon which we're building it. It faces a mostly southerly direction -- it wasn't imperative that it be perfectly oriented toward the south.

I measured for squareness, and drove stakes at the corners. I installed batter boards outside the corners. Levelness for the horizontal members of the batter boards depended upon the use of a borrowed laser level. I remember being amazed at how unlevel the relatively level area for our house actually is. I was then able to run strings across the site so that they would cross on the centers of where the piers needed to be.

With the locations for the piers clearly marked with spray paint on the ground, it was time to begin digging for the footers. Time to get out the shovel. And, that's exactly what I did. I dug the first one for the northeast corner of the house. It was about three feet by three feet and 30 inches deep. For the other 11 holes to be dug, I borrowed a friends tractor-mounted post hole digger with a 12' auger. I used this to perforate and loosen the soil to the desired depth. It really made digging the holes a lot easier.

After the holes for the footers were dug, I needed to set the tubes for the piers. I bought 12" sonotubes from Lowes and some 3/8" rebar. The rebar was for strengthening the footers and helping to tie the footers and piers together. I suspended the tubes 12 inches from the bottom of the holes in order to make 12" thick footers. I endeavored to make sure the tubes were plumb and braced. I should've braced them better, though. I marked them, using the laser level and a pencil, at the height they each needed trimmed to and then cut them off to that level. At this point, I was ready for the concrete.

The ready mix truck arrived early one morning in June. I thought we might have to pour the footers and then pour the piers, allowing time for the footers to begin to setup a little. However, by using a rather dry mix, we were able to pour the piers and footers together.

Pouring the concrete went fine. I should have done more to help the concrete settle in the tubes so that there would've been less honey-combing, but I don't believe my not doing so affected their structural integrity. I can live with their appearance. Besides, once the house is built, no one will see them anyway -- they'll be hidden in the crawl space.

When we reached the 12th and final pier, disaster struck. When the tube was nearly full, the braces holding it broke, and it fell over! We were blessed in that I was able to lift the tube mostly full of wet concrete back up into a vertical position. It was then in the right location in terms of being centered, but it was now about 8 inches too short. The quick fix on the fly involved a cut off section from another tube and duct tape!

We taped the extra section to the top, checking the level with the laser. After we braced it, we finished the pour. We were glad that this mishap occurred on the last pier rather than the one of the first ones. That would've been discouraging. As it was, it all worked out fine.

It took only about an hour to pour all of the footers and piers. I pealed the tubes off of the piers several days later, and they stand waiting for the house they will one day support.

1 comment:

F t K said...

How far down did you go into the ground? Did you hit solid clay or bedrock? Did you have to go below a 'frost line'?
Will the piers 'shift' over time in their position? ...either sink down or skew laterally?