Step 9 – Frame the Floor

Flooring is pretty basic, and if you’ve ever noticed how a deck is built then you have the gist of it.  Long boards called joists are laid out parallel with each other and on their sides so they won’t bend easily.  4×8 sheets of plywood or OSB are laid out over the top of the joists to create a flat, sturdy surface.  The joists are supported by some of the first floor walls.  As I mentioned before, one of my interior walls is a load bearing wall, so it will be used to transfer half the weight of the second floor of the house down to the ground .  The 2nd floor interior walls will rest on the subfloor, which will in turn rest on the floor joists.  Since the floor joists span all the way from the exterior walls to the interior bearing wall, they will need to handle a significant amount of the weight of the house, which they will then transfer to the exterior walls and the interior load bearing wall.  The pic below might help you visualize…

Notice how much weight is carried by the load-bearing wall in the middle

Proper joist sizes can easily be figured out from the IRC (International Residential Building Code) using a table in the same way you calculate header sizes.  For me, that meant looking at the part of the table that dealt with 24 inch joist spacing since that is what I’m using.  Then figure out what the greatest distance the joists will span is, which for me is just slightly over 14 feet.  Last, select a lumber option that supports a minimum span greater than this distance.  I decided to go with #2 2×12 Douglas Fir, which supports a span of up to 16’6″.  Going with an option suitable for a span larger than what I need will hopefully give me a less bouncy, less squeaky floor.

Lifting 16 foot 2×12’s 10 feet up in the air solo is a great workout.  After cutting each joist to length.  I lifted one side up in the air and rested it on the top of an exterior wall.  Next I moved a ladder near the interior bearing wall and lifted the other end of the joist up so I could rest it on the top of the ladder.  After climbing up a few rungs on the ladder, I had enough height where I could lift the joist from the top of the ladder to rest on the interior wall.  Just as with the wall framing, it was important to ensure that the crown of the lumber faced the sky.

The first joists I installed are called the rim joists.  These run on the top of the exterior walls perpendicular to the rest of the joists.  Above you can see the rim joist on the left side of the corner and the outermost floor joist on the right side.  Using rim joists ensures that there is a perimeter of joists all the way around the house even though the majority of the joists run in the same direction.  The rim joists are “toe-nailed” to the top plate, meaning that they are nailed diagonally.  Once the rim joists are up, the other joists are placed perpendicular between them and nailed to the rim joists, as well as toe-nailed to the exterior walls.

The opening for the stairway required a little bit of detail.  The code requires joists to be doubled all around the opening.  In addition, any time you are unable to rest a joist on a bearing wall, you must use steel joist hangers to carry the weight around to where it can reach a bearing wall.  The manufacturer of the hangers (in this case Simpson Strong-Tie) tells you what kind of nails you must use and what amount of weight the hanger is capable of carrying.

Step 8c – Plumb and Line

With all of the 1st floor walls complete, it was neat to be able to navigate the rooms and get an idea of the feel of the dimensions of the house.   Before moving on to the 2nd floor I needed to take some time to ensure that all of my framing so far is straight, level, square, plumb, and true.  (For those who don’t know what the last two are, plumb means perpendicular to level and true means both level and plumb at the same time)  Once the subfloor is nailed to the floor joists it will tie everything together so this was my last chance to make sure it was just right.

I started by double checking the lengths of the top and bottom plates, and the lengths of the corner studs.  Next, I used a plumb bob to ensure each of the corners was plumb.  I used long 2×4’s nailed diagonally and nail stakes in the ground to push or pull the end of each wall as needed to plumb the ends of the wall.  I knew the foundation was level, so since the wall lengths were equal and plumb, I knew the walls were square and true as well.  I repeated the process for each wall, and then checked each wall for straightness.  Now I knew the corners were right, but in the middle of the wall there might be some waving.  I nailed a 2×4 block to the top corner on each end of the wall and stretched a string tightly between them.  Using a third 2×4 block, I checked all along the wall to ensure this block fit snugly between the wall and the string.  Where necessary I used additional bracing to make the wall straight.

With the exterior walls (hopefully) perfect, it was time for the interior walls.  I used a powder actuated hammer tool to nail the bottom plates of the interior walls into place.  This uses a .22 caliber explosive to drive the nail into the hard concrete.  You insert the nail into one end, put the .22 caliber load in the middle, and then strike the other end with a hammer.  The blow ignites the load, driving the nail in.  I double checked all of the measurements for the walls to ensure they were straight and then used the powder actuated hammer tool to attach them to the concrete.

Once again, I used the plumb bob to square up the walls and attached them to the exterior walls with a splice plate.  I used additional bracing on the one long wall, but the others were so short that they should stay straight.

With this crucial step of straightening done, I was now confident enough to get going on the joists.

Step 8b – Frame the Interior Walls

In my last post, I discussed how using advanced framing would help me lower my heating bill by creating more space for insulation.  However, insulating a house is just one of the ways to reduce the amount of energy needed to heat (or cool) a house.  No matter how much insulation I put in the house, if I don’t control the air that is allowed to flow through the walls  it will be impossible to control the temperature.

Air is able to transfer heat using convection.  This is great when you are using a furnace or a heat pump to blow nice hot air into the house during the winter, but in many houses, that air is allowed to escape back outside through tiny cracks and crevices all throughout the house.  According to the US Dept of Energy, up to 30% of heating and cooling cost is due to lack of air sealing.  One of the places where air can escape is in the tiny gap between the sill plates of the walls and the concrete foundation.  While I did place a sheet of sill gasket in that area, that was only to prevent water from wicking up the concrete and into the walls.  The sill gasket is air permeable, meaning air can pass through it.  I needed to add an additional layer that was air impermeable to fill the gap, and some all-weather caulk fit the bill nicely.

Countless houses leave this crucial step for later, or skip it altogether.  The best time to do it is now, though, because after I frame the interior walls it will be nearly impossible to caulk the spaces where they connect to the exteriors.

Image result for continuous drywall intersection

Another technique I will be utilizing to control air movement is using “continuous drywall”.  This means that the drywall will slide in behind the wall framing for the interior walls, resulting in fewer joints in the drywall and thus fewer opportunities for air infiltration.  Each of these small details contributes just a little more energy savings and helps to get the house to achieving net-zero.  Above you can see a pic of an intersecting wall with continuous drywall, which is the method I will be using, and below is a traditional method that the majority of builders use.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The drywall won’t be installed until later in the build, at least until the roof and siding are installed.  Drywall doesn’t perform very well when it gets wet.  This means I will need to leave a gap in between the exterior walls and any interior walls that run into it.  I cut small scrap pieces so they were 3/4″ thick and used them as spacers to ensure the gap was sufficient.  Even though the drywall is only 1/2″ thick the extra 1/4″ will allow me to slide it in the gap without damaging it.  I used the spacers at both the bottom of the wall and at the top as you can see below.

You can also see the line of caulking that follows the entire perimeter of the house

Splice plates are used to hold the top of the wall in place

I used standard framing instead of advanced framing for the interior walls since they don’t require any extra room for insulation.  This meant spacing the studs at 16″ on center instead of 24″ like I did with the exterior walls, and capping the studs with a double top plate instead of a single.  Additionally, I used 2×4’s to frame most of the interior walls instead of the 2×6’s I used on the exterior.  I did use 2×6’s on several of the interior walls that contained large plumbing pipes.  This will give me a little more room to play with as some of the pipes are over 3″ in diameter and the 2×4’s are only 3.5″ wide.  Beyond that, framing the interior walls is just the same as the exterior.  Mark the stud locations on the top and bottom plates and then nail them in.  A few details were needed for bedroom and bathroom doors as well as intersecting walls but overall it is a pretty simple process.  The second top plate is added on after the walls are up and is staggered in a way that ties all the walls together as you can see below.

 

Step 8a – Utilize Advanced Framing Techniques

To an experienced framer, the work I have completed over the last couple of days would seem wrong.  It is quite possible they would never have seen a house framed the way that I am framing mine.  A few might even claim that I am violating building codes in not following “standard practice”.  The fact is, I am utilizing a method of framing created in the 1970s in a collaboration between the U.S. Deparment of Housing and Urban Development and the National Association of Home Builders Research Foundation.  Their goal was to reduce the amount of wood used in construction, not only to save the lumber, but more importantly, to create more space for insulation and save on energy usage.  All of these small changes work to ensure the house will be net-zero!

Image result for photo of advanced framing vs traditional

As you can see above, in traditional framing you have a single sill plate at the bottom of the wall connected to a series of studs spaced 14 1/2″ apart from each other (16″ on center) which are then connected to two top plates sandwiched together.  Additional shorter studs called “jack studs” are used to support headers above window and door openings.  Even more studs are used to anchor interior walls to the exterior.  All of the wood used are 2x4s, leaving 3 1/2″ of space between the studs for insulation.

In advanced framing, on the other hand, only a single top plate is used, studs are spaced 22 1/2″ apart (24″ O.C.), and metal “header hangers” are used instead of the jack studs.  On “gable end” walls, no headers are needed at all! (see below) “Ladder framing” is used to anchor interior walls and 2×6 lumber is used, leaving 5 1/2″ of space for insulation (obviously that’s the part of the wall that looks like a ladder in the pic)

The advanced framing system is cheaper because it uses 5% to 10% less lumber, and it is faster because it uses 30% fewer boards (although they are a bit bigger and heavier). More importantly, every single year more money is saved on energy costs because over 60% more insulation can be filled in.

This is a gable end wall, meaning it will extend all the way to the peak of the roof without slanting. Because of this, you can see I don’t have to use headers above the windows. (And yes, that is just a very light dusting of snow)

Okay, so what’s the catch?  If advanced framing was added to the building code over 40 years ago, is cheaper and faster, and reduces the energy bill every single month, then why isn’t it standard operating procedure for builders?  How could I possibly be telling you that most builders don’t even know about it?  While I could devote several pages answering that very question, I’ll do my best to sum it up quickly.  Building a house is difficult.  There are very few people who have the knowledge to do it all themselves and I may very well fall flat on my face in trying.  For me, that challenge is exciting, even if it is frustrating at times.  Because of this fact, the vast majority of houses are built by a massive team of “contractors” that under normal circumstances communicate very little with each other, if at all.  These tradesman are managed by a “general contractor” who uses building plans that were probably drawn up by an architect and edited by an engineer.  Although I was able to sum up the advanced framing techniques in a couple sentences, the small changes affect every single one of these workers.

Image result for photo of advanced framing vs traditional

The architect and the engineer must design the house from the very beginning so the floor joists and studs stack up within an inch of each stud (see pic above)  This puts a sort of limiting factor on the architect in regards to wall lengths and window placements that many are resistant to.  Next, the general contractor must be open to training the contractors under him because many of them will be unaccustomed to the framing.  The framing crew will be working with a different length of wood due to the single top plate, and have to frame completely differently than they are used to.  The electrician has fewer studs to attach electrical boxes to.  The drywall crew has fewer studs to nail the drywall to and may have to hang it differently.  The small changes ripple right on down the line and affect every single person that works on the house.  As contractors are paid by the job and not by the hour, they aren’t too keen on taking time to learn this new technique.  The fewer that learn it, the fewer that are available to teach it, and the cycle continues…

As I’m building solo, I have none of these issues.  I designed the house myself from the very beginning with advanced framing in mind.  Thanks to my mentor, who introduced me to advanced framing, I’ve never built any other way.  I saved money on lumber and nails.  I saved time with fewer studs to nail together.  I saved trees because of using less lumber (I’ll be using dense packed cellulose in the spaces where the studs would have been which is made of mostly recycled newspaper and denim).  I will save money on my energy bill each month (or be able to use a smaller solar array).  I even save time building because with the larger spacing between studs I can jump in an out of the house anywhere instead of using a doorway.  If you really want to save sustainably, advanced framing is the way to go.

 

Step 8 – Frame the First Floor

After spending the weekend spraying the new slab down every hour or so, it was finally time to get the walls up!  This process of “wet curing” concrete can add up to 50 percent more strength when done for 3-7 days because it prevents the water inside the concrete from evaporating.  While many contractors immediately begin framing the house the day after the concrete is poured with no problems, I played it safe and waited until the 3rd day to get going.

The first step was to “snap lines” (see pic above) where the walls would go.  This will help me to ensure the bottoms of the walls stay straight and square to each other.  I took several measurements of the footings, including the diagonal measurements from corner to corner, to decide where to start.  The footings came out really good, but not perfect (this is my first solo build, after all!)  There will be a few small areas of concrete that stick out a bit or don’t come out far enough.  This is no problem at all structurally and visually it will be covered up by the siding, but in taking these measurements I was able to position the walls to minimize it as much as possible.

Here you can see where the concrete sticks out a half inch

The exterior walls will be framed on 2×6’s, so the first lines I snapped mark where the inside edge of the bottom plates will go, 5.5 inches in from my starting corner (for those not in the know, a 2×6 is actually only 5.5 inches wide on average)  Snapping lines is done using a chalk reel, which is basically a spool of string inside of a metal casing.  The casing has a sliding door so that you can fill it with chalk, that way when you pull out the string it gets covered in it.  I would put the end of the string on my mark on one end of the footing and weight it down with my sledge hammer, then allow the chalked string to unroll as I walked to the other side.  By pulling the string taut against the concrete and then lifting it just an inch, the line snapped back down leaving a neat line of chalk behind.

Once I had marked all the exterior walls, I grabbed the first sill plate from my pile of lumber and cut it down to 20′ (most lumber yards give you an extra 1/2 inch or so).  I lined it up on my line and marked out the anchor bolt locations, and then drilled them out.  (Remember that the bolts were embedded in the concrete footings so just the top part is sticking out)  Then I placed it over the bolts and made sure it lined up just right.  I repeated the procedure all the way around each wall until I had all 4 done.  With the placement of the exterior walls now set, I was able to measure out the locations of the interior walls and snap those lines as well.  It will be much easier to mark them now and serve as a sort of map to where my interior walls will be going.

I had to call a friend over to help me carry the 32′ long LVL top plate from the lumber pile over to the slab, and we set it on edge next to the bottom plate, which I had also turned on edge.  I used some clamps to hold them together perfectly lined up, and then used a tape measure to mark out the stud locations every 2 feet.  I had ordered the studs precut so that saved me a lot of time.  I just had to carry them over from the lumber pile and then inspect them and “crown” them.  Lumber being a product of nature is never perfect.  Sometimes they have significant bends or waves in them and I will save those for later.  The straighter ones I will use now, but even the straighter ones have a bit of a curve or “crown” in them.  I lined the crowns up all going the same direction which will make it easier to straighten them out later in the build.

 

 

 

Once all the studs were laid out on my marks it was just a matter of nailing them together.  Building codes offer several different ways to satisfy nailing requirements, and the one I chose will be 3 16D nails to connect each stud to the top and bottom plates.  I took my time and carefully aligned each stud to ensure that it didn’t stick out on either side of the top plate.  It is situations like these where even with my lack of experience I can guarantee I put together a better wall than 90% of the framing crews since they are focused on speed over quality.

For the window openings, a larger piece of lumber must be used to carry the load from the opening that is missing a stud to the studs on either side of it.  Again, building codes dictate several ways to satisfy these header requirements, and for mine I chose a single 2×10.  I will also be utilizing some metal hangers to carry the weight of the header instead of shorter studs called jack studs, although you can see that I did use jack studs for the entry door in the pic below.

The jack studs are the ones that are shorter than the regular studs on either side of the door opening

Once all the lumber was nailed together, I unrolled some “sill gasket” and placed it over the footing where the wall will be hoisted.  I also nailed some long 2×4’s to the top of the wall.  As we raise the wall, these boards will swing out and brace it.  The wall was very heavy but with a few friends we were able to get it airborne with ease.  Once it was vertical, I staked down the bracing boards and then screwed the nuts down over large square washers on the anchor bolts.

If you look closely you can see the white sill gasket underneath the bottom plate

Within a couple days I was able to finish the remaining 3 walls and raise them into place as well.  It’s so much fun to see my vision becoming reality!

The long 2x4s in front forming an ‘x’ are the bracing pieces I was talking about

Step 7c – Pour the Slab

One thing I realized I forgot to document was that I placed a cardboard box around the DWV pipe for the downstairs tub and filled it with gravel.  This will allow me to easily break the thin layer of concrete over the box and pull out all the gravel, leaving a nice area around the pipe giving me plenty of room to work when I hook it up to the tub.  With that final step complete I was ready to pour the slab.

A freshly poured slab is an incredibly beautiful thing.  When it first comes out of a truck it looks like a messy slop of oatmeal with blueberries in it (the blueberries being the gravel).  A long, straight 2×4 is used as a “screed” and run back and forth to level the slop.

After about 20-30 minutes, the slop has started to gel a bit, and the gravel sinks down just a little.  At this time, a long pole with a metal “float” attached is run across the concrete.  The float pushes the gravel further down and brings this very creamy part of the concrete up to the top.  It is this stage where the concrete really starts to take on a new personality, like an awkward teenager emerging from acne-filled puberty.

Another 30-45 minutes go by, and the concrete really starts to harden, but when you run a float over the top you can still get a tiny layer of cream to appear.  You continue working this cream back and forth over the top, smoothing and smoothing, until it too begins to harden.  At this time, a strong force over a small area of concrete will create an indentation, but by kneeling on pieces of plywood, the force is applied over a larger surface area and the concrete doesn’t move.  Using these “kneeboards”, you can get over to the center of the slab and work that as well.

Raphael working the bull float

I must admit that I had another learning experience during this pour as well.  Although I was certain I ordered the same amount of extra concrete as the last pour, in which we had quite a bit leftover at the end, we ended up running out of concrete with a tiny corner of the slab left.  I made a quick trip to the hardware store and we dropped 13 bags of concrete in, mixed it with water, and finished the job.  When it was all said and done, you can’t tell the difference, and hopefully there will be no negative side effects down the road.

After the concrete hardened, I went out and sprayed it down with a fine mist every 15 minutes or so.  While excess water added to the concrete before it has set will reduce the strength, when it is added after setting it slows the curing process and will prevent the cracking that can occur when the concrete sets too quickly.

Step 7b- Add Gravel, Vapor Barrier, and Rebar

Capillary forces are very powerful.  Have you ever been to a redwood forest and wondered how water gets from the roots to the leaves at the very top of the tree?  The answer is capillary force, and surprisingly, it works even more efficiently in concrete than it does in trees!  Scientists believe concrete has such powerful capillary force that it theoretically has the ability to drive water 6 miles upward against the force of gravity.  Wood maxes out at about 400 feet which is why you don’t see any trees get that high.  In an effort to curb these powerful forces, building codes require that a layer of gravel and a vapor barrier be placed underneath the concrete slab.  The gravel drains away any standing water, and the vapor barrier takes care of any water vapor. 

As you can see above, I have started adding the gravel layer inside my footing.  The long 2×12 boards act as barriers to prevent the gravel from occupying the “shovel footing” that is necessary to support the bearing wall that will soon be framed directly above it.  Once all the gravel has been added and compacted, the boards will be removed and a 12″ wide and 8″ deep ditch will be left behind.  It is much easier to create the ditch this way rather than shovel the gravel out.  When we pour the concrete for the slab, the concrete will flow into this ditch and the slab will be 8″ thicker along that line, giving added support to the bearing wall.  If you aren’t aware, a bearing wall means that it is supporting some of the weight of the house.  The entire roof of the house is supported on only two exterior walls, so none of the interior second story walls have any weight to carry. I could have supported the weight of the floor joists between the first and second stories in the same way, but I would have had to use special engineered I-Joists.  Instead, it was much easier to use two lengths of 2×12 joists and have them meet on top of one of the first story interior walls.  This wall is the bearing wall.

After all of the gravel had been added, I leveled it out and then installed the horizontal layer of Roxul as you can see above.  Keep in mind that the more insulation added now, the lower the heating bill will be in the future.  Investing an extra $300 now will quickly pay off in a year or two, and then I will reap the benefits every year after that for the life of the house.  Once the insulation was added, I ran a plate compactor around everywhere to ensure the gravel was well compacted.  Then I pulled out the long 2x12s to create the shovel footing as you can see below.

The last steps were to add the vapor barrier and rebar.  The vapor barrier comes in a large roll so it was simply a matter of rolling it out and cutting it to fit.  Wherever a pipe penetrated I used vapor barrier tape to seal the hole.  I tucked all the edges of the barrier in between the two layers of insulation.  The rebar I lined up in a neat, four foot grid and set it on 2″ chairs so it would end up right in the middle of the 4″ slab.

 

Step 7a – Pull Stakes and Forms, Insulate, and Reinspect

After a couple weeks of frustration, I was rewarded with my second passing inspection today, giving me a green light to pour the concrete slab that will complete the foundation.  I do have a few more steps to take before then, which I will document in the next post, but the inspector is allowing me to just take a picture after the gravel is filled in so he doesn’t have to come back.  Weather is threatening not to cooperate but with a little luck I will have the slab poured before the end of the week.  It is hard to believe that when I get my next inspection, the house will be completely framed!  You can see to the left how the permit is kind of like a checklist that the inspector signs off as you move through the building process.  The two blank spots are not applicable to my build and I will actually be skipping over the rough plumbing, duct, and HVAC so the next inspection will be the ‘rough frame-roof’.  After that it will be nice and dry inside and I can work on finishing the plumbing & HVAC.

The frustrations I experienced over the last two weeks resulted from the same mistake that caused the two mishaps with the first concrete pour: underestimating the fantastic power of concrete.  I should have removed the stakes and forms as soon as 24 hours had passed from pouring the footings, but I was nervous and decided to wait an extra day.  When I finally got the nerve to pull the stakes they didn’t budge a millimeter.  I had purchased a fancy stake puller called a JackJaw that my mentor had used to remove his stakes,  but I had decided to go for the $225 unit instead of the $450 one.  The result was the rapid destruction of the tool as you can see below.

The bottom is NOT supposed to bend that way!

Thankfully, JackJaw has outstanding customer service and they offered to accept the unit back as a full price credit towards the more expensive one.  After a week of waiting, it finally arrived and though it was many times more powerful, it was still a battle to get the stakes out as they had now been setting in the concrete for over a week.  Using the customer service associate’s advice, I used a sledge to pound each stake in a few inches and then used the JackJaw to pull it up until it wouldn’t go out anymore, and then repeat the process.  It was an agonizingly slow process, and I still have 4 stakes in the ground as I’m typing this, but that’s about 92 stakes less than I had in the ground a week ago.

With the stakes out, you might think it would be quite easy to pull off the form boards.  The smooth plywood forms were still greasy from the last time they were used so they didn’t adhere to the concrete, and all the screws and stakes holding them together had been removed.  Unfortunately, because of the way the concrete had curled up and around the bottom of the form as I described in my previous post, removing them was just as excruciatingly time-consuming as pulling out the stakes.  Like running a marathon, it didn’t seem like a lot of fun while I was in the middle of it, but looking back on it the experience was much more rewarding this way and I surely have some additional muscle tone to show for it.

With the forms removed, I was able to apply the Roxul to the interior vertical face of the footing as you can see in the picture that started this post.  Many people find it puzzling that there is a layer of foam sandwiched inside two pours of concrete, but the layer of insulation will serve two important purposes.  It will protect the slab from frost heave during the winter, and work in unison with the walls and roof to reduce the heating and cooling load required to maintain a comfortable temperature in the house all year long.  Cold-weather climate builders have used foam called EPS (expanded polystyrene) that is commonly found in packaging for a new television or computer underneath or surrounding slabs for many years.  Not only is the manufacturing of the foam harmful to the environment, but the insulating power (r-value) slowly degrades over time.  With Roxul, a brand of rockwool, you don’t have either of these downsides.  It really is an incredible product as you can soak it down with a hose all you want, peel back the outer layer, and the inside will be bone dry.  As you can see to the left, I cut a 45 degree slope on the top of the Roxul.  This will allow for maximum insulation while also giving the slab a firm connection to the footing.

The last step was simple.  I just capped off the entire DWV system (Drain, Waste, Vent) and filled it with water.  As you can see, I added a 10′ section of ABS to one of the vents so I could show the required “10 foot head of pressure” for the inspector.  The force of gravity on the column of water held in that pipe applies a force to the entire system that the building code has approved to show that there are no leaks in the system.  It hasn’t happened a lot, but this was one of those rare times when I didn’t have to spend any extra time fixing a mistake I had made.  As you can see below, an empty and uncapped, upside down water bottle shows the water level holding steady, showing that there are no leaks.

 

 

Step 7 – Pour Concrete!

Today marked another milestone as the concrete was poured into place that will eventually support the load of 90% of the weight of the house.  As with almost every step in the build so far, there were definitely a few hiccups along the way, but at the end of the day I was pretty pleased with the results.

The major hiccup occurred when a couple of the pieces of wood I was using to hold the forms exactly 8″ apart from each other pulled away from the screws that were holding them in place.  This wasn’t catastrophic because the bottoms of the forms were held in place by the nail stakes, but it is the top of the forms that is the most crucial, so it was important to figure out how to push them back in place and hold them there.  The easiest fix was a little costly, but it worked and in the grand scheme of the build it will be a minor cost.  I had one of my friends (thank goodness I had some extra help!) run to the local building supply store and buy some steel spreaders and then we used some 2x4s to lever the tops of the forms back into place and lock them together with the spreaders.  I measured it out and the entire pour ended up being less than a 1/2 inch off all the way around the top.  Although the bottoms did bow out a little bit, they will be completely covered with dirt.  Crisis averted!

Here you can see the wooden spreader that ended up breaking next to my right hand

A little less than $100 worth of extra concrete. Better safe than sorry…

Another minor hiccup during the pour was that the weight of the concrete inside the forms was so great that it pushed the concrete underneath and up around the outside of the forms.  If you recall, the concrete was supposed to level out as it reached the bottom of the forms and press into the dirt, creating an upside down T.  Unfortunately the concrete started rising back up at the ends so in reality it was more like an upside down ‘T’.  Structurally, this was not an issue, and again, this part of the pour will eventually be completely covered by dirt.  The problem was that I hadn’t accounted for the additional concrete in my calculations.  I had ordered extra but started getting scared that the excess I had ordered wouldn’t be enough to cover it.  We solved this problem by pouring the bottom part of the T first and then pouring the top half after the bottom half had about a half hour to cure.  This incurred an additional hourly cost for the pump truck driver but running out of concrete would have been catastrophic.  As it turned out, we would have had enough but better safe than sorry.  We poured the excess concrete underneath the slab and it will result in needing less gravel in the next phase of the build.

Below you can see the finished result of the pour.  I removed all of the bracing but I’m having a little trouble removing a lot of the nail stakes.  I had purchased a powerful stake puller capable of exerting over 750 pounds of upward force on each stake but it wasn’t enough.  Thankfully, the company said they would send out the next model up and I would only have to pay the difference in price between the two.  Thanks JackJaw!!  It does set me back a week on getting the inspection for the second pour but it could have been worse.

A big shout out to my friends Michael and PJ for all their help  and also to Raphael and his crew who I hired to help with the pour!

 

 

Step 6d – Final Steps Before The First Pour

I passed my footing inspection today, which means that I am approved to pour my footings.  The inspector verified that my setbacks were correct and also leaned on the forms a bit to make sure they were sturdy.  He also made a visual inspection of everything to ensure that the dimensions were correct.  Overall it was a pretty easy process.  He signed my building permit and was gone after less than 10 minutes.

Over the last few days I had completed the final steps in preparation for the inspection.  These included forming the small point load footing for the stairway, laying out all the cold water supply lines, and setting up the utility sweeps for the electrical, heat pump water heater, and ductless mini split systems.  I also made a few minor adjustments to the forms to straighten out the rebar and make sure they were precisely squared and leveled, and laid out the anchor bolts.

 The inspector had made a small adjustment to my design during the permitting process.  He decided that the foundation needed to be strengthened at one particular point where the opening for the spiral staircase put a lot of weight on two walls of the first level.  At the spot where these walls intersected, he indicated on my plans that I was to pour a small footing under the slab measuring 16″x 16″x 10″.  I built a form for those dimensions using some 2×4’s and OSB, and lined it up at the correct spot so that the top of the form was 4″ below the top of my other forms.  I will pour this at the same time as my footings and then remove the form.  The 4″ above will allow enough space for the slab to be poured over it.

I’ll be running the hot water lines inside the “conditioned space” of the house, meaning that they will stay nice and warm at the same temperature as the house.  The cold water lines, on the other hand, don’t need that kind of insulation so I am running them underneath the slab alongside the rest of the plumbing I had already installed.  I will be using a hybrid type of water supply installation for the cold water lines, meaning it will be halfway between the “trunk and branch” method and the “home run” method.  The hot water lines will be almost exclusively home runs with one minor exception.

The trunk and branch method of water supply means that you have a main water line that travels through the entire house and wherever you have a fixture like a toilet or sink, the line for that fixture will branch off of the main trunk line.  The home run method means that as soon as the water line enters the house it is piped into what is called a manifold, where it immediately branches off into as many lines as there are fixtures in the house.  These branches pipe directly into each individual fixture.  When dealing with hot water lines, the trunk and branch system has a major flaw in that if you want hot water in one of the fixtures and the water currently in the trunk has already cooled off, you have to wait until all of the water in the trunk has exited the fixture before you get hot water.  This is not only annoying but also extremely wasteful.  The home run method uses more piping, but solves this problem, ultimately paying off in the long run.  For cold water lines this isn’t an issue, so I just ran the piping as efficiently as I could to reduce the amount of PEX piping I needed to buy.

The last step was to set up the utility sweeps, or chases.  These are conduits that are bent in 90 degree angles at very large radii, so when I am ready to run utility lines into the house I won’t need to cut a hole in the wall or reduce the amount of insulation I have in an exterior wall.  The electrical sweep will house the main electrical lines for the house.  The one for the water heater will house one cold line and one hot line as the water runs back and forth between the hot water tank inside the house and the heat exchanger outside the house.  Many houses have their hot water tanks in the garage which is extremely inefficient because the garage is unconditioned space and will cause the hot water to cool down faster.  The last sweep will house the refrigerant lines for the ductless mini split system as they travel between the heat pump outside and the fan inside.  I ran each of the sweeps from the location I had planned for each of them on an interior wall of the house down through the footing and out to the other side.  I next cut some small pieces of plywood to ensure that concrete wouldn’t spill over and cover the end of the conduits.

Here is the electrical sweep with the grounding electrode attached to the rebar next to it.

Here you can see the plywood that will prevent the concrete from flowing past the main plumbing outlet