Step 12 – Wall Sheathing

With the roof underlay on, the structure is now safe from direct rain, but there is a ton of wind here in Point Roberts thanks to the proximity to the ocean, so wind blown rain is still a threat. Installing the wall sheathing will solve that problem, at least for the short term.

Many builders apply the wall sheathing to the studs before they even stand the wall up. This would have required me to rent some heavy equipment, so I decided against it. Another good thing about installing the sheathing now as opposed to earlier in the build, is that I was able to wait until I was sure that the interior of the structure was nice and dry. If I had attached it earlier before the roof was on, rain would have soaked everything from above and then the sheathing would have blocked all the wind from drying everything out.

The wall sheathing serves several very important functions besides acting as a blocker to wind blown rain. Most importantly, it provides the necessary wall bracing to adhere to building codes.  Second, it functions as the integral part of the outer air barrier, which is crucial to achieving net-zero.  Last, it will provide nailing support for the exterior rigid insulation.

Sheathing the walls solo, like the floor and roof sheathing, required a few creative bits of ingenuity.  The 4 foot high and 8 foot long sheets weigh a little over 45 pounds, and the top row of sheathing must be installed 20 feet up in the air.  Just carrying one of these sheets is cumbersome, let alone figuring out how to hold it in place and nail it with only 2 hands.  On top of that, I had to figure out how to apply a bead of caulk around the edges of the sheets and at window openings, and keep in mind that some of this would need to be done on a ladder.  The task at hand was quite daunting, but after thinking it over for a bit I was able to come up with some techniques that worked surprisingly well!

Before the sheets could be installed I had to attach some blocking halfway up each wall, in between all the studs.  This is required for wall bracing to ensure the sheathing is fully attached to the structure.  I had several extra 2×6 studs from a minor mistake I had made when ordering the framing lumber, so I ripped them in half and then cut them to fit between the studs.  Each block was end nailed to the stud on one side, and then toe-nailed on the other side.

Marking out windows and studs before installing the sheet made nailing a lot easier

Attaching the first row of sheathing was obviously the easiest.  I snapped a chalk line halfway up the bottom plate and then sank a few 16d nails just below it so that if I rested the board on the nails, the bottom of the board would line up with the chalk line.  Next, I grabbed a sheet of plywood from my stack and drew a line every 2 feet.  This would make knowing where the studs were for nailing much easier.  Next, I grabbed my caulking gun and used Dynaflex 230 to lay a bead of caulk along the top of the bottom plate, the bottom of the blocking, and the two studs where the ends of the sheet would be.  I also caulked all the way around any window openings that would be under the sheet I was installing.  After that it was a simple matter of lifting the sheet onto the nails at an angle so the top of the sheet wouldn’t smear the caulk, then positioning it precisely, and last pushing it into the wall and nailing it down.  Each sheet was nailed every 6″ along the edges and every 12″ on the lines I had drawn.

Plenty of caulk along the edges of each board and around windows will ensure an airtight barrier

Installing the next row wasn’t a whole lot more difficult.  I sank 16d nails on each stud just over the top of the previous row of sheathing.  This will leave a small gap between the rows which will allow for expansion due to heat and moisture.  I marked lines every 2 feet to line up with the studs and caulked just as I had with the sheets in the first row.  Then I hoisted the sheet up on top of my homemade scaffolding and then used a ladder to get myself up on the scaffolding as well.  From here I could install the sheet just like the first row by angling it onto the nails, positioning, and then pushing it to the wall and nailing it down.

The third row got a little more tricky.  I installed more blocking, snapped a line marking where the top row of sheathing should go, marked lines every 2 feet on the sheet, and caulked.  Then, from the second floor inside the house, I clamped my winch to the top half of the stud that would lie in the middle of the sheet, and used a c-clamp to attach the belt to the sheet of plywood.  Then I cranked up the winch until the sheet was at the right height, positioned it from inside the house on the second floor, and reached around with my nail gun to tack it down.  Then I removed the c-clamp, went downstairs, and climbed a ladder to finish nailing down the panel.

On the gable ends, I was able to install the final row just like the third row by simply moving the winch up to the gable end truss and attaching it there.  On the other two sides I had nothing to clamp the winch too!  After trying in vain for quite some time figuring out how to do it on my own, I realized this might be one of the times I needed to call a friend over.  I drilled holes in a couple of scrap blocks and nailed them to the frieze blocks, and ran one of my nail stakes left over from the foundation through the holes.  Then I ran a rope around the nail stake so both ends dangled down at the bottom of the house.  I attached one end of the rope to a c-clamp around the plywood, and left the other end dangling.

Here you can see the bar we used to help us lift the last of the sheets into place

When my friend arrived, I caulked the area where the sheet would go and then he stood on the second story and hoisted up on the rope while I simultaneously pulled in the slack at the bottom.  Once the sheet had reached the top, I nailed a second stake into the ground and tied off the rope so we could both let go and the board would stay in place.  At that point I climbed the ladder with my nailgun and gave him instructions on which way to nudge it so it was perfectly positioned and then nailed it down.

 

It may look pretty boring now, but the interior is protected from the elements!  The exterior of the plywood sheathing will definitely still get wet, but the water won’t leak through and the inside will stay nice and dry.  I will wait until it gets a little warmer in a couple months so I can be sure that the outside of the house is completely dried out, then I will install the exterior foam, water barrier, furring strips, windows, etc.  In the meantime, it is nice and dry inside and I will be starting on the plumbing!

A huge thank you to my friend PJ for his help, both with coming up with the idea on attaching the bar to the house and for his strength helping to hoist the sheets!

 

Step 11a – Frieze Blocks and Baffles

Working on the roof definitely has its perks when it comes to sunset!  Doesn’t show up as well in the picture but I had a beautiful view of a snow covered Mt. Baker there.  So when I ordered the roof trusses, I had specified that I wanted a 15″ energy heel.  This feature ensures that the attic insulation will maintain it’s full strength all the way to the edge of the wall.  I will be using blown-in cellulose insulation in the attic and to achieve my desired strength of R-60 I will need about 16.5″ of insulation (blown cellulose has an r-value of about 3.7 per inch)  A standard truss would slope all the way down to the top plate, leaving only the width of the truss chord between the ceiling and the roof.  For a net-zero home this is unacceptable.  So before we can apply the roof sheathing, the sides of the walls need to be built up to the same level as the roof, otherwise the cellulose would just fall out after we blew it in.

 

The pieces used to build up the wall are called frieze blocks.  If you look closely, you can see how I had to add in a layer of plywood to ensure that the blocks were tall enough.  In addition, I beveled the top edge of each block so that it would match the slope of the trusses.  Any place in the house where insulation exists, it becomes very important to have an airtight seal all around it.  The beveled edge will make it much easier to air seal the frieze block to the trusses on the sides, and to the roof sheathing on top.

 

You might notice that every third frieze block is a few inches shorter than the others.  The spaces there will be used for baffles.

A baffle is used to ventilate the attic.  Even with a perfectly installed roof and airtight seals all around the insulation, moisture has a knack of finding its way into pretty much anyplace you don’t want it to be.  The most effective way to remove this unwanted moisture that could potentially lead to rot and mold is to use moving air.  The air will enter the attic through the baffle and warm slightly, causing it to rise and eventually exit through the ridge vent at the peak of the roof.  As the air completes this journey, it will pick up any moisture that exists in the attic.  As you can see below, the baffle is more than just an opening through the wall of frieze blocks.  It is actually more like an air tunnel that runs over the top of the insulation.  Again, recall that it is extremely important to ensure no moving air comes into contact with the insulation. 

If you can imagine the roof sheathing going on over the top of this baffle, it will create a 2 inch wide air tunnel through the attic between the two layers of wood.  Below you can get a good look at the frieze block from the bottom.  Several months from now, practically this entire area you see will be filled with energy saving insulation.  You can also see where I added hurricane ties to lock the trusses to the top plates of the walls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 9a – Install Blocking and Plumbing

Before the subfloor can be nailed onto the joists, small sections of 2×12 called “blocking” must be installed.  Together with the rim joists they ensure that the floor joists won’t roll onto their flat sides where they can easily bend.  The blocking is placed along the top of the interior bearing wall at the exact place where the two floor joist spans meet and nailed perpendicularly between them.   I kept all the plumbing of the house on interior walls so I wouldn’t take any precious space away from my insulation inside the exterior walls.  My interior bearing wall being the major wall on the first floor, this meant that it had a significant amount of plumbing running through it.  The plumbing runs through the middle of the wall, and all of the DWV pipes must be vented vertically through the roof.  These pipes want to go through the middle of the interior bearing wall and exit right into the middle of my blocking!  My solution was to simply install a double set of blocking with the pipes in the middle.

Here you see the normal blocking at the outer edges of the pic and the modified blocking in the middle. The 2×6 boards at the bottom of the pic are for me to walk on until the floorboards are installed! Note how the joists from each exterior wall meet in the middle at this point.

In addition, I had planned for some of these pipes to run horizontally in the space between the floor joists.  For example, the washing machine is on the second floor, but the space I want to put it in doesn’t have a wall below it on the first floor.  If I didn’t run the pipe horizontally I would have a pipe for the dirty clothes water running through the center of the guest bedroom!  So this horizontal run would need to make a turn through the blocking so it would run in the space between the floor joists.

The pipe on the left makes a 90 degree turn to run between the floor joists while the one on the left goes straight through the blocking and will continue through the 2nd floor walls and out through the roof

 

 

All of my planning really paid off because some of the runs of ABS pipe were required to have cleanouts.  If I hadn’t installed them before running the vertical pipe up through the blocking it would have been a pain to do later.  The one you see below will be covered with a bench seat at the dining room table.  In case of a plumbing emergency the cushion can be taken off the seat and a hinged panel will provide access to the cleanout.

For a contractor, calling the plumber out before the entire house is framed is unusual.  I’m sure they would have been able to come up with a solution without breaking their routine, but I’m also pretty sure it wouldn’t have been as neat and efficient as my solution.  For me, it was very easy to stop framing for half the day and work on some plumbing so that I could finish with the blocking.  Yet another great example of the flaws in building a house with contractors…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 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 6c – Inner Forms, Plumbing and Bracing

I could save a lot of time and some money by pouring the concrete for the footings and slab at the same time, in which case I would be done with the formwork now.  For several reasons, I decided to pour them separately, so I needed to add an additional set of forms before I pour.  The double pour will allow for more control, hopefully resulting in a smoother, more level slab.  It also allows me to insulate the inside of the footing wall, instead of the outside.  You can always add insulation to the outside of the wall anytime you want if needed to reach the net-zero goal, but you can never add it to the inside once the concrete has been poured.

I set up the second set of forms exactly 8″ apart from the first set to create the 8″ stem wall required by the local building code.  The set up method was no different than that of the first set of forms: stakes in the ground, forms nailed to the stakes, scrap wood screwed to the forms to hold them tight to each other with no gap in between.  I attached the two forms together with the precise 8″ gap using some scrap wood.  I placed these scraps at the exact locations where my anchor bolts will go.  This way, I can use the scrap wood to hold the bolt while the concrete cures around it.  The conventional way is just to throw the bolts in wherever you “think” you might need them as the concrete is curing.  This often results in bolts ending up where studs or plumbing is supposed to go and needing to be cut and replaced, so the method I’m using is much more efficient.

 

Once the second set of forms were attached and level with the first set, I began straightening them out using the bracing shown here.  The boards may not look pretty, but they are free and I can’t see spending money on temporary bracing.  When it comes time to pour concrete, we will be banging the forms with hammers trying to work the air pockets out of the concrete so I need to ensure the forms won’t move around at all.

With the forms perfectly marking out the edges of the house, I now had a reference to place the plumbing.  Here you see the plumbing for the toilet which has to exit the concrete slab at the precise location where the toilet will go.  Notice that there is not a trap in the pipe because toilets have traps built into them.  When I connect the plumbing for the tub you will see that there is a u-shaped trap under the concrete that will hold a pocket of water and ensure that the gases from the septic tank don’t enter the house.  When bracing the main pipe here, I will need to maintain a downward slope of 1/4″ for every foot of pipe all the way through the line to the septic tank.  I used the builders level again to make sure that I was starting at the right spot.  Using the spec sheet that came with the septic tank, I know that he inlet is exactly 17″ below the top of the inspection ports that are visible from above.

The edge of the forms where the main sewer pipe will exit the concrete is a little less than 10′ from the inlet port, so the pipes must exit that spot 2.5″ above that height (10′ at 1/4″ per ft= 2.5″).  From there it gets much easier as I just had to slope the pipe at 1/4″ per foot until the end of the line.

The last step before the pour will be my electrical and utility sweeps, so be looking out for that in the next post!

Step 5a – Be Confident!

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 301.2.2.2.5.  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 301.2.2.2.5 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 I explained in my page on How to Meet Wall Bracing Requirements, 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.