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 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 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 10 – Frame the Second Floor

You can see how I’ve been trying to keep the OSB flooring dry with a tarp but with the walls going up it is difficult.  Luckily, I spent some extra money on Weyerhauser EdgeGold OSB subfloor and according to their reps they are perfectly fine to get wet for a few weeks as long as they are given time to dry out.

Framing the second floor is not a whole lot different from framing the first.  Whereas on the first floor, the sill plate was pressure treated lumber, this isn’t necessary on the second.  Also, the bottom plate was bolted to the concrete foundation on the first floor, but on the second we simply nail it to the rim joists as you can see below.

Before raising the exterior walls, I toe-nailed the inside edge of the bottom plate to the floor boards.  These nails help enure the wall stays in position and doesn’t fall off the house before it gets nailed into place.

After going up and down the ladder many times cutting pieces for the walls I decided it was time to build something permanent.  The finished house will have a large spiral staircase but it would get messed up pretty quickly during building (as well as annoying) so instead I just threw together a makeshift ladder from some scrap wood.

Whereas the first floor walls were pretty simple, things got slightly more complicated on the second floor with the master bathroom as it has walled off areas for the shower, toilet, and two walk-in closets.  Several of these walls are angled, and one of the master bedroom walls is actually curved! 

Creating an angled wall is pretty simple.  You can see I have two walls meeting at a 45 degree angle on both the left and right side of the picture.  All you do is miter both top plates and bottom plates at 22.5 degrees so that when they fit together they create a 45 degree angle.  You can see how the studs meet on the inside wall and the small gap on the outer wall will be covered with a metal corner bead under the drywall.

At the center of the pic above I actually have three walls coming together in the shape of a ‘Y’.  For these I mitered the two arm walls with 45 degrees and joined them to a straight wall.  When it came time to add the top plate I had to do cut a special piece to fit with a jigsaw.

To build the circular wall, I had some 3/4 inch plywood ready.  I created a makeshift compass to get the right radius for the wall and transfer it to the plywood.  Then I drew out a second radius exactly 3.5 inches smaller than the first for the inside of the wall plate.  Sandwiching two of these pieces together, I ended up with an equivalent to a ‘curved’ 2×4.

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The one thing about a curved wall is that it uses a lot of studs!  The far side of the wall will curve right around the spiral staircase when it is installed. (I haven’t cut the opening completely yet for safety)

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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 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 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 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.