How to Customize Your Tool Belt

I was lucky enough to be given a totally awesome tool belt from my mentor, and so began my current love affair with all things Makita (which I just gotta say, is an outstanding company)  While I loved the belt I was given, it frustrated me quite often.  The pockets were oversized, and whenever I was working tools would fall out, especially when I was navigating the maze of truss webs.  One time I was running cable in the attic and my chisel fell out of my bag and dinged the tub, which had just been installed less than a week earlier.  Needless to say, I wasn’t allowed to bring the chisel with me into the attic after that.

You can buy belts with tons of pockets, and for big bucks you can even send a company all of your tools and they will make custom pockets for everything.  My mentor has this great belt that even has a spot for his speed square, which is an awkward item to fit in a tool belt.     That wasn’t an option for me because buying a new, overpriced tool belt when I already had a perfectly good one goes against everything Saving Sustainably stands for.  The solution was to ignore the cultural mockery I would surely receive and learn to sew.  It really isn’t hard at all, and I picked it up in no time.  The end result for me was a used belt that I couldn’t be happier with at a price of $11.  Now THAT’s Saving Sustainably!

The $11 was the cost of the thread and fabric online.  I ordered it with only a best guess that it would match the fabric on the belt but it actually turned out to match flawlessly!  The material is very heavy duty and is called 1000D Cordura Nylon.  The thread was just called X Strong Black.  A shout out to my sewing instructor, Savilla, who also gave me a needle and thimble.

To strengthen the fabric even more and protect against fraying, I first cut a piece for a pocket a little more than twice as wide as I needed it, folded a side over just a bit and sewed it down.  Then I took the entire piece and folded it in half and sewed that down too.  Now I had a piece the right size for a pocket with a folded edge at both the top and the bottom.  I took a tool and placed it in the belt, then wrapped the pocket around it.  Pinning it in place would probably have been a good idea but I decided to do without and just started sewing it to the belt.  I also tightened a couple of the already existing pockets so they fit snugly against my tools.  At the end of the day I could literally turn the belt practically upside down without anything falling out.  I accomplished this while still being able to easily remove and reinsert each tool into its pocket with ease.  Like I said, I couldn’t be happier with the end result.


Step 6 – Dig and Prep for Foundation

With the permit approved it was time to break ground!  I had already planned a mini excavator rental and surveyed the lot extensively so I knew where and how I wanted to orient the house.  The end result of my work will be the picture above.  You can see the perimeter footings forming a rectangle and the other trenches that run through it will be for plumbing, electrical, and HVAC.

Before digging, I needed a game plan.  I set up some makeshift batter boards with 2 foot nail stakes and scrap wood and then stretched string lines between them to mark out the inside and outside of the trenches.  I measured carefully to ensure the strings were spaced the correct distance apart from each other and also measured the diagonal distances between the corners to ensure that they formed perfect 90 degree angles.  You want to ensure that you are leaving enough space between the trench and the batter boards to fit the mini excavator.  Once I was sure the lines were straight and square, I notched the batter boards where the strings crossed the board so I could remove them and reset them without measuring again.

Close up of the nail stake, notched batter board, and string line

Next, I marked underneath the string lines using inverted spray paint. Unfortunately, I had already gone through one can before I read that you can just use cornmeal to mark the lines.  I bought a bulk bag and put some in a container with a spout on it and just poured it over the string lines.  It fell past the string and made a neat line on the ground.  Once the lines were marked I removed the string lines and hopped on the mini!

Above, you can see the string at the top of the photo that I had untied, wound up, and placed over a stake for future use.  At the bottom is one of the strings that is still tied in place.  You can also see how I used the painted lines to align my digging with the mini.

When I was planning out my build, I thought seriously about just buying a mini excavator.  They have incredible resale value and are incredibly handy.  You can not only use them to excavate, but also to raise walls, move dirt around, or just move heavy objects.  In the end, I’m glad I decided against it.  The thrill of operating one of these machines is an experience I was happy to have, but by the 4th hour or so I was losing interest.  It takes about an hour to get pretty good on the controls, so of course the learning aspect of that was an enjoyable challenge, but once you have it down the digging becomes monotonous and I’m not a fan of diesel fumes.  If I had it to do over again I would just use a skid steer to clear the topsoil and level everything and then I would dig the footings by hand.  That having said, my soil is pretty sandy here so I’m sure I would feel differently if I was dealing with a more clay-like substrate.

After the footings were dug, I used the mini to move the “spoils” to a location out of the way where they will remain until I finish building and will use it to “backfill”.  I did use some of them to add on to my septic field mound just to give it a more rounded, neat look.  I used my builders level to painstakingly level the interior and ensure that my footings were dug to the proper depth.  You can see below how I made a little jig to hold the grade stake in place so I could walk back to the level and check the depth.  A rake, shovel, and wheelbarrow also made moving the dirt easier.

Now the only thing left as far as digging is concerned is just a few small trenches for utilities (HVAC, water supply, electrical)  It’s very gratifing to see the design I have been working so hard on slowly becoming reality.

Step 5a – Stand Up!

It’s been a while since my last post as I had to take some time off building to put my house up for sale and finish moving all of my belongings into a shipping container on the lot.  I also discovered that when you want to get a building permit appointment, you should apply about a month ahead!  They call it an “intake appointment” (still don’t know why) and once again the county website was very helpful in letting me know just what I needed to bring (copy of deed, septic design, proof of water availability, 2 copies of plans, etc) The website had links to download several documents to bring, but one of the links didn’t work.  I eventually decided it was probably not important.

Three weeks later the big day finally came!  I went through the checklist provided on the website one more time and double checked my plans (I ended up finding a few mistakes and had to reprint two copies of a few pages!)  I was nervous and didn’t really know what to expect but it was actually pretty simple.  The plans examiner met me at the counter and unrolled my plans.  He looked at them for about 5 minutes and then told me that I was missing one thing and needed engineering.  I was frustrated but not too surprised (I’m a beginning builder after all!)  The missing item turned out to be what I needed from the link that didn’t work that I had decided wasn’t important.  He admitted that they knew the link didn’t work and showed me where to find the documents.  He told me I needed engineering because my braced wall lines exceeded the maximum of 25′ and that my deck could only extend 6′ from the exterior wall of the house (I had extended it 12′).  I was completely caught off guard and I gave a half hearted attempt to argue that my plans followed all of the county’s building codes but I also started to second guess myself.  Perhaps I had made a mistake?  I had drawn up the plans for the wall bracing months ago and didn’t quite remember the details.  He made an appointment for me for the following week and I left, disappointed but not deterred.  As soon as I drove home I grabbed my copy of the International Residential Building Code (IRC) and double checked.  I was right!  The codes clearly dictated that my exception to the 25′ max was admissible.  Furthermore, I couldn’t find anything limiting decks to 6′ in the pertinent section (R507)

I wrote the plans examiner an email clearly stating the codes that allowed me to exceed the braced wall line spacing (for those who want to get technical, make sure you read my post on wall bracing and then read at the bottom of the post) and also asked him politely to refer me to the code that limited the deck to 6′.  Unfortunately, it was Friday, so I had to wait through the weekend to hear back.  I reluctantly called an engineer as a backup plan and he told me he would happily provide engineering for me… for just a thousand dollars…  When Monday finally came, the plans examiner emailed back and informed me that the exception I was using on the bracing could only be used on one wall, and I was using it on two.  For the deck, he referred me to code 301.  Once again frustrated and thinking I had made a mistake, I painstakingly read through the code again.  There was nothing anywhere limiting the bracing to one wall!  For the deck, the code he referred me to discussed irregular shaped houses, not decks!  My house was a perfect rectangle – one of the most regular shapes there could ever be!  I wrote him one more time asking him politely to provide the code that limited the exception to one wall and an hour later he called back with the incredible news!  He admitted he was wrong!   Sweet, sweet vindication was mine!!  For the deck, he wrote that the county had decided to apply 301. to decks as well.  This was frustrating, but only a minor setback.  I would be able to build the house without expensive engineering and I could always add to the deck later.  The engineering for just a deck would be half the price.  I would have to reprint my plans (at the price of $30) but if all goes well I should have my permit in another 4 days!  I already have a backhoe reserved for Saturday so I can start digging the foundation!
Read this next section at your own risk!  We are about to get very technical and very boring!  So for those who are interested in how I taught the plans examiner something new, I will let you know.  In review, braced wall lines are imaginary lines that are designed into the house to protect against shear forces (wind, earthquakes, etc)  The section of the IRC that discusses wall bracing (602.10-602.12) is one of the most complex of the entire code and takes up at least 15 pages.  One of the first issues covered is the spacing of these imaginary lines.  As you can see in the table above, in my seismic zone (D1), the lines can be spaced no more than 25′ from each other.  However, if you read the bottom right box, there is an exception that allows the spacing to extend up to 35′.  As you learned from my post on wall bracing, these imaginary braced wall lines must contain a certain amount of braced wall panels that run parallel to the imaginary braced wall line with an offset of no more than 4′.  The exception I am using allows the spacing to exceed 25′ only if the amount of braced wall panels is increased.

For me, this was no problem.  The main obstacles to planning for a braced wall panel are large openings like windows, and garage doors.  When I designed the house, I decided to go easy on the windows so I could afford to buy really good ones.  Windows are quite inefficient when it comes to sustainability.  They let the hot sun in on hot days and let the heat dissipate through them out of the house on cold days.  These effects can be mitigated by buying windows with low U-values, low SHGC (solar heat gain coefficient), and insulated frames, but at a significant cost.  Saving Sustainably means using fewer windows, but spending the money to get really good ones and strategically locating them.

Getting back to the point, I had no problem with adding more braced wall panels to my imaginary lines.  Let’s take a look at the first table that was referenced in my exception to the 25′ maximum braced wall line spacing.

The table is quite long, but we will just focus on the section that applies (seismic zone D1).  If you look on the far right side of the table you will see the CS-WSP method.  This stands for Continuous Sheathing Wood Structural Panels.  It means that we will nail plywood (or OSB) to the exterior of the framing of the house, and wherever we locate a braced wall panel, this “sheathing” will extend all the way from the bottom of the wall to the top of the wall (with no openings for windows, doors, etc).  My exterior walls are 24′ and 32′ long and at the bottom of the table there is a footnote that says “linear interpolation shall be permitted”.  Therefore, we can find the amount of bracing necessary with some basic math. The results are….

Main Floor 24′ Walls – roughly 9’7″ of bracing

Main Floor 32′ Walls – roughly 12’4″ of bracing

2nd Floor 24′ Walls  – roughly 4’4″ of bracing

2nd Floor 32′ Walls – roughly 5’6″ of bracing

Now, let’s take a look at the second table that was referenced.

Looking at item 3, we can see that the braced wall line spacing can be increased to between 30 and 35 feet if the amount of bracing in each wall is increased by a factor of 1.4.

I recalculated the bracing, rounded up to the nearest 2′ increment, and came up with the results that I noted on my plans.

It might be hard to make out but if you look closely you can see the triangles along the exterior walls that denote the braced wall panels, and if you add them up you can verify that I have satisfied the requirements of the exception to the 25′ max.