Thursday, September 27, 2007

Latest on the House

I thought I'd give an update on the house progress before talking about the garden.

I've been steadily building the foundation walls of my house. I'm reusing concrete for my foundation so that I can reduce the amount of cement I have to use and thus lessen my impact on the planet. I heard about a pile of "urbanite" at the local airport and inquired about it. Urbanite is a funny name for broken pieces of concrete from the pulling up of a road or sidewalk. In my case it was the removal of a runway. Many of the pieces were cut out with a saw so fortunately they have some smooth sides, making them better for making a smooth-sided wall. I decided to use mortar to bind the urbanite together in the foundation. I could have dry stacked the pieces, but I wanted a stronger wall and wanted it to be animal proof. Mice can find their way through the tiniest of holes.

I also scavenged some concrete block from a house that was being demolished in the small town about a half mile away. This was a boon because I was thinking of buying block for the one side of my house that will be framed with wood instead of strawbale. This was also a good thing because the urbanite is very heavy and had to be hauled from a town 45 miles away (about $70 for the trip in the vehicle co-op). I cleaned the old mortar off the block and was able to use them just like new block.

I had a plumber dig the foundation trench for me and ground was broken on August 30th. They dug a 3 and a half foot trench so that I wouldn't have to do it by hand (some people here have dug theirs by hand). The idea is that you fill the trench with gravel and line the bottom with drainage tile. You build your foundation on top of the gravel trench to keep it from sitting on soil or clay where the frost heaving action of freezing and thawing can cause your foundation to become unstable in time. The gravel trench also drains any runoff after rain. In our clay soil the rain runs right off.

Then I had a load of gravel dropped off and I raked it out and tamped it down to fill in the trench.

After that I could level off one side and begin to build the foundation. I laid out the corners and sides of the building and figured out how high I wanted to build the foundation wall. It's a good idea to build the top of the wall at least 12 inches above grade. This meant the south wall would be much higher than the north because of the slope the house is sitting on. Fortunately that was the one that I was using block on. Block is easier to lay than urbanite.

This is the block wall after I'd laid two courses. Below is the cement mortar I used.

I laid four courses of the block to reach the final height of the south wall. I wrapped the block around so that I could tie it into the adjacent walls.

Then I started on the urbanite and right now this is as far as I am. I think it's looking pretty good. At first I wasn't sure I'd have enough urbanite to make all the walls, but now it's looking like I might.

This is the urbanite up close. It looks like stone more or less. I'm trying to lay it so that from the outside it looks good. The inside of the foundation will be filled with mostly clay up to about 8 inches below the top of the foundation wall. I plan to make a natural earthen floor and that will be where the floor will lie.

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