Step 11d – Inspection, Bargeboard, and Gable Overhangs

I’m tantalizingly close to reaching that glorious step where rain will no longer be able to harm the OSB roof sheathing or subfloor but a few key steps remain.  Most importantly, there is currently no roof sheathing on the gable end overhangs.  As you can see in the pictures, I only installed the sheathing up to the gable end trusses instead of extending it out to the ends of the lookouts, which is where the roof will eventually end.  The reason for this is that the bottom of the gable end overhang sheathing is going to be visible from below, and the OSB I used for roof sheathing has a very cheap look to it and can tend to flake off when exposed to the elements.  Plywood looks ten times better and will hold up much better to the elements, so it’s worth making the transition from the OSB to plywood just for those gable end overhangs.  This part of the roof isn’t structural however, so it wasn’t part of the roof sheathing inspection I passed yesterday.  The plywood is only to add a nice aesthetic touch.

The other item that needs to be installed before adding the roof underlay is the bargeboard.  Made of the same primed, textured wood as the fascia, the bargeboard will attach to the fascia and run along the edge of the lookouts up to the ridge.  Once it is in place, the roof will be entirely surrounded by this finished wood.  Before nailing it on, I climbed up the roof and measured the lookouts, recording the length of the shortest lookout on each side (they varied up to 3/8″).

I grabbed what was left of the primed, textured, wood and beveled the top edge at 22.6 degrees on each side, to form the shape you see below.  I also cut each piece to the length I had recorded for the side it would be attached to.  I toenailed these pieces on to each end of the roof ridge, and then snapped a chalk line across the lookouts, holding one end of the line on the edge of the ridge pieces, and the other just grazing the end of the shortest lookout.  This gave me a visual as to which of the lookouts needed to be trimmed just a bit so they would all be even.  After cutting them down with a circular saw, I mitered one end of the bargeboard and brought it up to the roof.  I eased it over the edge and lined up the top side with the tops of the lookouts, clamping it in place.  Next, I marked the other end of the bargeboard where it crossed the center of the ridge piece and cut it along this line, then nailed it to the ends of the lookouts using galvanized nails (as these nails will be exposed to the elements).

With the bargeboard in place, I ripped a sheet of plywood in half the long way, and used my winch and rails to reel the two pieces up to the top of the roof.  I lined one end up so it was about a 1/4″ from the edge of the bargeboard and tacked it down to the lookouts.  I then ran my circular saw along the opposite edge of the plywood deep enough so it would cut through the OSB sheathing.  This trimmed off about 3/4″ of the OSB sheathing, exposing half of the gable end truss to support the plywood.  This was important so I would have something to nail the plywood into.  I cut the second piece of plywood so it lined up over the fascia the same distance as the OSB sheathing, and then thoroughly nailed the plywood to the gable end truss, lookouts, and bargeboard.

Here you can see the process in action with step 1 trimming the lookouts on the right side, step 2 placing the bargeboard on the left side, and then step 3 adding the plywood towards the center of the pic

As I’ve said before, there’s nothing quite like working on a roof when it’s a beautiful day!

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

Step 4d – Finishing the Septic Install

Well, as you can see, the entire septic system has been completed and covered with backfill.  The final steps involved building inspection ports from 6″ PVC and placing them over each of the ends of the drain lines. Each port has a plastic cap that can be lifted off to expose the 90 degree long sweep at the end of the line.  If for any reason the drain lines get clogged, you can take off the cap, reach down inside the PVC and unscrew the plug for the line in order to flush it out.

Here you can see the end of one of the lines and the 90 degree sweep as it starts to curve up into the 6″ PVC.  The rebar going through the side of the PVC helps to support the drain line and to anchor the inspection port down in the dirt so it doesn’t move around.  You can also see the end piece screwed onto the last of the black infiltrators that protect the drain lines and also help to distribute the effluent spray evenly across the soil.  Towards the end of the day the backhoe operator returned and expertly returned the soil over everything and drove back and forth to compact the soil.

Here are a couple nice pics that really showcase the before and after of the septic install.


Totally out of sight now, you can hardly tell anything was done!  What better way to Save Sustainably than to build your own septic system on your lot rather than take up a ton of land with a giant sewage treatment plant?  Obviously those are necessary with high density residential areas but in neighborhoods like mine, it really is too bad that more of them don’t have their own septic systems.


Step 4c – Ready For Another Inspection

And there you have it folks.  My $7000 high powered sprinkler system!  Hard to believe that underneath the plastic “infiltrators” you see in the background and 12 inches of soil, that spray is going to be the last step in safely disposing of my sewage.  Today, the septic designer brought over the last piece I needed, a “hose assembly”, and we hooked it up.  The hose assembly attaches to the pump at the bottom of the tank and makes three 90 degree turns before exiting the tank and going through the PVC pipes I assembled a few days ago.  

Now it was time to fill up the pump chamber with water and test the system.  It was necessary to fill up the chamber with water for two reasons. First, you never want to run any kind of water pump without water in it because air has much lower resistance than water and the motor will burn out without that resistance (so make sure you aren’t out of windshield wiper fluid!)  Second, the panel won’t operate the pump unless both the redundant off and pump on floats have been activated and I’m not too keen on climbing down into the tank and flipping them upside down by hand.  After ten minutes or so I had enough water in the tank to activate both floats and I turned on the power to the control panel.  The pump activated and we got the beautiful water show you see at the top of the post.  The septic designer called the inspector for an appointment tomorrow so I can replicate the display for him and he will sign off on it.  There will be a few more minor things to assemble once that is done but nothing I can’t get done by the end of tomorrow as long as the backhoe operator shows up.

Step 4 – Septic System

Standard treatment of sewage hasn’t changed much over the years.  Nature actually had it figured out pretty good before humans even attempted to manage it.  Given enough time, soil and the organisms that inhabit it are extremely adept at breaking down harmful toxins and dispersing the safer compounds into underground waterways.  The only thing a septic system does is harness this awesome power.

Designing a proper system starts with a soils test and/or “perc” test.  A soils test involves removing a deep core of soil and analyzing what appears in the different layers.  Soil is then classified into sand, gravel, loam, clay, and all sorts of combinations of those types.  A perc test involves filling a deep hole with water and timing how long it takes water to percolate through the soil at the bottom of the hole (the soil must be prepped by soaking it thoroughly first and most counties require you to have a license to complete the test).  Both tests can give a pretty good indication of how well a particular patch of soil will perform at breaking down the “effluent”, which is what sewage becomes after sitting for a period of time.

Soils Test

In my state, the soils test or perc test must be completed by a licensed septic designer.  The designer I hired charged $150 and found my soil to be “sandy loam” for the top inch and “medium sand” for the next two feet until reaching the water table at 28″.  This is the depth at which dry soil becomes saturated with water due to an underground spring.    The county and state health codes dictate what kind of dispersal system can be used for a given type of soil, and for my great soil and water table depth they allowed me to use a gravity distributed system, which is the simplest type.

Perc Test

The next step in the design called for locating the area of the lot where the drain field would be located.  Health codes dictate setbacks for the field of 5′ from property lines, 10′ from water lines, and 100′ from natural water supplies.  I have a natural canal on one end of my property, and the 100′ setback took up a substantial amount of the lot.  The drain field needed to be 400 square feet, and there also needed to be a reserve field of the same area set at least 6′ away from the main field.  I had a problem here because it was impossible to fit both fields into the setbacks.  Fortunately, by using the next system up from gravity I was able to use smaller fields that fit within the setbacks.

The type of design I will be installing is a pressure distributed system.  It’s basically the same as a gravity type system but with the addition of a pump.  This balances the distribution of effluent more evenly across the field and thus allows for a smaller area.  The sewage from the house exits the main drain pipe and enters a 3 compartment concrete septic tank.

The first compartment is aptly named the trash chamber, and allows the sewage to separate into solids on the bottom, a layer of sludge on the top, and a cleaner liquid in the middle.  This liquid is allowed to enter the second compartment, called the digestion chamber.  In order to exit this chamber, the sewage must decompose into small enough particles to pass through a filter.  In the last compartment, the clarifier chamber, the pump sits at the bottom.  When the level of liquid in the chamber causes a float to reach a certain height, the pump turns on and pumps some of the liquid out of the tank and through a pipe to the drain field.  There are two more floats, the first to ensure the pump doesn’t run too often and the second to sound an alarm if the pump isn’t working and the tank is getting full.  

It’s a relatively simple operation, so I’m planning to get it all done in less than a week!  In just two days from now, a local contractor with a backhoe will be coming out to dig a deep hole for the tank.  I will check the depth as he digs and ensure it is correct.  Around midday a crane will arrive and the tank manufacturer will drop it into the hole.  We will immediately begin filling it with water while the backhoe gets started on digging the main field.  It’s very important to get the drain field completely level and ensure that it is at precisely the correct depth.  If you go too low there won’t be enough soil to break down the effluent and you can’t just add soil back in because then it will be classified differently.  If you don’t go deep enough there won’t be enough soil to protect the effluent from the human activity above.  The health inspector must pass off the installation of the design and he will pay very close attention to the depth of the field.

In the few days following I will be assembling all the necessary pipes that lead to and from the tank, the floats that go inside the tank, and the pipes that will lie inside the field and distribute the effluent evenly across the entire area.  These lines will be covered with large plastic tunnels called gravelless chambers.  The last step will involve wiring the control panel to the floats and pump and hooking it up to power.  My goal will be to get it all done within 5 days because that is the day the health inspector comes out.  If I don’t finish I will have to wait another week!

I was very pleased with the deal that the septic designer got for me.  You can see the total cost of the system by clicking on the Project Budget link on the home page.  He is also going to check up on me throughout the installation to ensure I’m getting everything hooked up correctly.

Step 3b – Wiring and Inspection

Electrical wiring seems very complicated but its actually pretty simple.  The catch is that a mistake could possibly kill you.  Fortunately, when you are dealing with new construction, the power isn’t hooked up yet so you don’t have to worry about that.    The basics behind modern electricity can be pretty complicated, but here is a quick rundown.  Standard residential service uses alternating current with two 120 volt currents running in opposite phases.  Think of it like two pedals on a bicycle.  They are on opposite sides of each other but they can work together when you need them to.  Large appliances that need all 240 volts available can use a double breaker and take advantage of the added power.  Most normal circuits just utilize one phase or the other depending on where the breakers are situated in the panel.  As you can see in the photo at top, I have one 30 amp circuit powering the trailer using one phase and a 20 amp circuit for my tools on the other phase.  Within a couple weeks I hope to add two additional circuits on opposing phases to power my septic system.

As for the wiring of these circuits, the first step was to bring power from the utility company’s stubout to a meter socket.  The utility company will splice these wires to the ones they have in the stubout and put a meter in the meter socket so they can properly bill me for the power I use.  They are not allowed to complete these tasks until I have a sticker placed on my panel by the state electrical inspector.  In many states the building inspector does the electrical inspections but in Washington they are completed by the department of labor and industry.  According to the NEC (National Electric Code), you need to use size #4 copper or #2 aluminum wires to power a 100 amp service like the one I am installing.  Because these wires are run underground, they are required to be URD (underground residential distribution) conductors.  I used aluminum because it was cheaper.  Three wires are used, one for each phase of the AC current and one for the neutral wire where the power returns.  Think of electrical power like a river powering a water wheel.  If there is no place for the river to flow it won’t move and the wheel won’t move either.  Likewise, electricity won’t work unless it has a place to go and the neutral wire provides this path.

From the meter socket, the same URD wires are used to run the two “hots” and one neutral to the breaker panel.  Inside the panel, clamps are provided that connect to large metal plates for the “hot” wires, and a long metal bar for the neutral wire.  For every circuit, a breaker is connected to one of the metal plates and a white neutral wire is connected to the metal neutral bar.  The hot wire for the circuit is then connected to the breaker and the circuit is complete.  As you can see, I have one circuit to power the trailer that connects to a 30 amp breaker and one for my tools that connects to a 20 amp breaker.

There is a third wire on each circuit that is called the ground wire.  This wire is a relatively modern innovation for safety reasons and isn’t necessary to power either of the circuits.  Many elements have the ability to conduct electricity, including the human body, and electricity acts just as water does in that it will take the easiest path available.  A properly grounded electrical system provides a path with very little resistance so that, in the instance of a wire coming loose and briefly contacting a surface that conducts electricity, the surface charge will continue through the grounding system rather than remaining on the surface and electrocuting the next person that touches it.  The ground wires on the circuit are connected to a “grounding bar” inside the panel that is also connected through a copper wire to a 10 foot long copper rod that is buried all the way down into the earth.  Using our water analogy, this would be as if there was a water slide leading to a pool.  Some of the water might splash up onto the sides of the slide, but gravity is going to eventually draw it down into the pool.

So that basically covers the wiring of the system.  The hardest part is deciphering the NEC to figure out what type and size of wires to use.  There are many different kinds of conductors (THHN, THWN, XHHW, URD) which are basically single insulated wires, and then there are many different kinds of cables (UF, NM, SE, USE) which are several conductors independently insulated and bundled together and then given a second layer of insulation.  With the wiring completed, I was able to call an inspector in and he passed me off and put a yellow sticker on my service panel.  The utility company won’t connect the power without the sticker but now that I have it I can call them up and get connected.