Saturday, August 20, 2016

Construction - Carpentery Phase Begins with Interior Bearing Walls

Now that most of the dirt and concrete work are behind us, the carpentry work can begin in earnest.  However, some "infrastructure" work needed to be done first.

"Infrastructure" First
The carpentry phase of the project will take quite a while since I will be working alone most of the time and working alone is several multiples slower than twice the time of two workers or three times the time of three workers.  So, it makes sense for me to acknowledge the situation and spend as much time as necessary upfront to shorten and simplify the process downstream.  

Consequently, I used a couple of substantial steel desks that I "inherited" to create a sawing station.  I secured the compound miter saw to them well enough that stealing it would be too much trouble. By covering it with a tote to protect it from the weather, it can be left in place indefinitely.  I created a way to lock the abundance of the drawers in the desks in one fell swoop so as to be able to store tools and supplies on site.  Instead of installing temporary electric service and incurring a minimum per-month-charge for a meter, I ran a 10 ga extension cord from my workshop next door high enough overhead to be safe from tall vehicles.  I made provisions for locking the ladders under a cover.  And, as will be discussed below, I spent lots of time simply building a safe scaffold that will stay in place until after the drywall that can be reached from it is hung, taped and painted.

Sequencing Wall Construction
A must read for anyone doing construction alone
I made the decision to reverse the order of wall construction over what a professional builder would likely do, viz., I am building the interior bearing walls ahead of the exterior walls. The exterior walls will be constructed from shop-built  wall trusses and window-housing wall sections that have plywood and OSB elements that would not survive prolonged exposure to wet weather. Consequently, they will need to be roofed over as soon as possible after being raised. By contrast, the interior bearing walls will have no plywood or OSB so will be more able to handle some rain while I raise the exterior walls and construct the roof. Accordingly, I began with the most interior of the interior walls -- a tall wall that parallels the north concrete wall -- and, in conjunction with it, the scaffold.  It is mid-August and we are entering what is usually a drier season.  I am hoping to erect the exterior walls and get the roof in place before the Spring rains start.

The Long and Tall Bearing Wall
The first wall is 56' long, 16' tall and parallels and stands 5' away from the north concrete wall.  Eventually, it will divide the living space from the storage area (see the architectural drawings).  Four of us raised it in three sections that I tied togetherlater via 2 x 12 headers and, for a short section, the second component of a double top plate.  The fourth section (last photo below) was added subsequently with the help of volunteers.

Since the wall is so tall, scaffolding was necessary early on for joining the wall sections with a top plate or headers. The scaffolding will also be necessary later for adding a short truss wall to the top of the concrete wall and for setting the roof rafters.  And, as mentioned above, It will stay in place until the dry-walling and painting above it are done.  I suspended the scaffold between the two walls flush with the top of the 12' concrete wall. Not only does it serve as a work surface, it also holds the tall wall plumb until it can be tied to the roof.  As you can see in the pictures, the scaffold framing is all salvaged lumber and the plywood deck has been weatherized with stain so it can be reused later.
Above left photo:  interior view of scaffold.  Right photo:  exterior
view of scaffold; notice stationary ladder and the rope from the 
pulley hanging from the guard rail that runs to a box below
 for raising tools and supplies to the scaffold

It takes only a glance at the wall framing to appreciate the challenge of installing the three double 2 x 12 headers after the wall was raised while working alone, especially the one at the 16' height. I was able to do it primarily from reading John Carroll's "Working Alone". His individual methods come in handy but its major impact is the way it fosters a different way of looking at construction that makes the seemingly impossible quite possible.  It would have been a real challenge to have assembled the headers on the floor then attempt to raise them by myself. So I raised the pieces for each header separately, which in itself was a bit of a challenge for the higher headers, and assembled them in place -- without Carroll's influence I probably would have been calling for volunteers and waiting until they were free.

The long low header to the right in the photo below bridges over the numerous stubbed-out ends of the PEX water supply lines that run separately to each faucet in the kitchen, bath and laundry (home-run configuration).  They emerge from the concrete just barely behind the wall but the temporary bracing that holds them in place now would interfere with raising the wall in front of them.  The header allows me to postpone piecing together the bottom of the wall until the bracing is removed.

Salvaged Lumber Situation

As you can tell by the color of the lumber in the tall wall, most is new.  There were not many salvaged 2 x 4s long enough and straight enough for the job.  Pre-building the wall trusses over the past couple of winters consumed most of the salvaged 2 x 4s that were in the eight-foot range and the section of the tall wall being installed in the photo below used the few that were longer.  My current inventory of salvaged 2 x 4s is mostly boards that are less than 8' but will work or can be made to work, for most of the other interior walls. Ultimately, I do not expect to have to buy many new studs.  As for the 2 x 6 walls, there will be enough salvage for all of them.
Frontal view of the wall after the section being raised in the next photo is in place;
the headers to the left are in association with a second story room that protrudes
 through the wall; the header to the right bridges across the termination of a 
dozen or more PEX water supply lines
(as with all the photos, clicking on the pic will enlarge it for better viewing)
Design of the Tall Wall
Initially after raising the wall, there were two large openings above substantial headers. As can be seen in the fourth photo, the opening to the left is to accomodate a second story balcony-like office that will cantilever through and extend 2' beyond the tall wall. Before the the photo was taken, the other opening to the right of the wall above the header that is just over the PEX plumbing rough-ins (under the burlap). The fifth photo shows the fourth and last section going in over the 
The fourth section goes up with two of us pulling from  the scaffold
plumbing with the help of friends and family.  

The Next Line of Bearing Walls
Actually, the next line of east-west "bearing walls" that are slated for the middle of the house, comprise as many post-supported beams as stick-built walls due to the open floor plan in the dining room/kitchen/living room area.  These mid-line bearing structures will support  the second story south wall and the catwalk just inside of it but not alone -- the floor framing for two second story rooms plays a role as well.  All this will be covered in the next post.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Design - Final Architectural Drawings

I have deliberately withheld the architectural drawings until now (the 84th post to the blog) because most of the dirt work and concrete work, except for that pertaining to the AGS system*, is pretty generic for any slab-on-grade house and the drawings would not have added much value.  The atypical dirt and concrete work for the AGS system*, although definitely unique, was only loosely influenced by the floor plan. But, now that we are ready to start building vertically with wood, the architectural drawings may perhaps be of interest.  

The drawings lack the finite details that are typical of most construction projects. The design is mine so the drawings were mostly a matter of professionalizing my amateur drawings so the structural engineer would stamp them and the Building Director would accept them.  Not only was the Building Director comfortable with letting me sweat the details, he encouraged me not to pay additional architectural fees for more detailed plans. Because we had already had 5+ years of collaboration on the project, he was also willing to trust me to make changes without checking with him first. 

(For a blow-up view of any drawing, click on it or click on the first drawing to blow it up then scroll down through the rest of the drawings.)

Design Summary
The house is nestled into a 15 degree slope so as to have the right amount of earth contact and it faces south so as to benefit from the sun's energy for passive solar heating and air conditioning via a system called Annualized GeoSolar*.  It would qualify as a two-bedroom, two-bath ranch except it has two second-story rooms -- a third bedroom and an office.  As is typical with passive solar homes, the house is longer east and west than north and south -- by a factor of 2:1. It has earth contact with nearly all of the two-story north wall, half of the west wall and with a slab-on-grade floor. All but three small windows face south but, by virtue of clerestory windows, there are no rooms without dedicated windows. The two-car garage is attached and is heated by the same AGS system as the house but to a lesser degree.  The "back door" into the kitchen leads in from the screened porch in front of the house. Except for the second story, the house exceeds compliance criteria for the American Disability Act.  

Page One
Page 1 contains two drawings showing the front and back of the house.  The top drawing
is useful for visualizing the screened porch and garage relative to the house and the abundance of south-facing windows for passive solar gain. This drawing and the one on page 5 shows a photo-voltaic array for generating electricity as well as serving as the overhang for the second story windows. This early idea was abandoned in favor of a site-built overhang and a free-standing, post-mounted array to the north of the house. Otherwise, we are adhering pretty closely to the drawings.

The second drawing shows the extent of backfill against the tall north concrete wall -- almost 12' above floor level in the center.  It also shows a short stick-built wall on top of the concrete.  The abrupt changes in elevation of the backfill represents the location of retaining walls running north.

Page Two
Page 2 shows the details for the footings, foundation, concrete walls and concrete slab. With regard to the tall north wall, the design shown here is not what the structural engineer accepted but what he designed and stamped was not what we did. With the blessing of the Building Director,  we poured a 10" thick wall, instead of 12", and used three deadmen and two right-angle west and east walls to brace it. We also poured a slab at least 5" thick and reinforced with fiberglass fibers instead of a 4" with steel mesh reinforcement as called for in the drawing.  Otherwise, we stayed with the drawing.

Page Three
Page 3 is the floor plan for the lower story. Here we are taking liberty with the drawing in the living space adjacent to the garage. The drawing shows a workshop north of an airlock. When we were able unexpectedly to buy the property next door to the building site and use it as our our temporary residence, I turned its large free-standing garage into a workshop which I will keep even after we convert the temporary residence to rental property. The workshop area in the plans then morphed into more living room space, a reconfigured airlock and more storage area. The DIY picture of the altered floor plan appears as the last photo below with my pencil drawing of the changes taped over the original drawing.  Otherwise, we are sticking to the plan.

Page Four
Page 4 shows the second story layout.  There is a balcony office over the bathrooms that looks out over the living room towards the east but not over the master bedroom on the west. There is an east-west catwalk cantilevered over the living room and master bedroom. Towards the east it connects a bedroom to the stairs and office and towards the west it extends out over the master bedroom. It serves three functions:  (1) it provides access to the second-story bedroom; (2) it provides access to the clearstory windows for opening and closing, washing and, perhaps someday, managing thermal shades and (3) it adds architectural interest. 

Page Five
Page 5 shows primarily the east and west profiles of the house and screened porch as well as a north-south cross-section at the level of the stairway.  

It brings dimension to the extraordinarily high ceilings in the living room and master bedroom -- 20' from the floor at the clerestory windows and 16' at the partition between living quarters and storage area. The high ceilings will allow light from the clerestories to reach the back of the living room and master bedroom. The drawings clearly show no windows on the west, three small ones on the east, two of which are in the garage, and the rest facing south.

Altered Floor Plan (Last Photo)
The workshop has been eliminated and its space reallocated to the living room and some to the storage area along the north wall.  The long dimension of the airlock was shifted 90 degrees for better utilization of the abandoned workshop space for the living room.

* For information on Annualized GeoSolar, click on the "Featured Post" in the left column above which is the the first of three posts on AGS.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Construction - Summary of the Dirt and Concrete Phase of Construction

Reminder:  A click on any photo enlarges it for closer inspection.  Also, for details on the phases of construction discussed below, click on the appropriate links to previous posts.

Broke Ground
We broke ground on August 3, 2014.  It took about a month's worth of track loader digging for me to rough out the excavation into the side of the hill --  a lot of trips up and
Pre-made French drains:  Wrapping perforated culvert
with specialized geo-textile fabric
down the hill to carry the dirt to storage behind and to the side of the building site.  Rain and cold weather pretty much put a stop to the dirt work leading up to and during the winter.  Meanwhile, I used the time away from the dig to fabricate French drains that were of custom design and to begin assembling exterior wall trusses in my workshop.

French Drains and Solar Collector
 Installing AGS conduit after the French drains were backfilled
April of '15 was an unusually dry month for April which allowed a excavation contractor to smooth and grade the footprint for the house. Then, as he dug trenches for the French drains,  a crew of volunteers snaked the long drains to the trenches and lowered them to place with ropes.  Once the trenches were backfilled, the contractor began trenching for the conduits for the AGS system* and dug the pit for the solar collector.  With the help of volunteers, the conduits were installed and backfilled just before a rainy May and early June.  Between frequent rains, I, with occasional help from friends and family, managed to get the solar collector built using dry-stacked concrete blocks parged with fiber-bonded cement. By mid-summer we had the conduits connected to the collector and associated backfilling done. 
Solar collector:  Notice pipes exiting the back wall that connect to the
conduits under the house which, in turn, connect with the pipes
running to daylight behind the house; when the collector is finished,
heat from the summer sun will course through the conduits and warm
the soil under the house; heat from the soil will conduct through the floor
 and the concrete back wall to condition the house in lieu of conventional HVAC

Footings, Concrete Walls and Shallow Frost-Proof Foundation
The concrete work was begun in late summer of '15 and barely completed before freezing
weather.  The contractor dug the trenches for footings to support the north and west concrete walls and
Concrete walls in place; shallow frost-protected foundation poured inside
of insulated concrete forms; waste plumbing roughed-in
 the foundation under the stick-built walls. I did what forming needed to be done for the wide footing for the concrete west and north walls and the contractor poured the footing then poured the wall.  With some help from volunteers, I formed up and poured the narrow footing for the foundation under the stick-built walls.  A friend and
 I erected the insulated concrete forms for the shallow frost-protected foundation over the narrow footing and several of us poured the foundation inside the forms.  All that remained of the concrete work were the floors for the house, garage and screened porch. However, they had to be put on hold until the electrical and plumbing rough-ins, situated below the floor, were done. 

Plumbing and Electrical Rough-Ins; Slab Floor; Partial Backfilling
By mid-October, I had the plumbing and electrical rough-ins ready for slinging the gravel sub-base and pouring the slab floor.  The contractor poured the floor but only for the house
Supply plumbing and electrical rough-ins done; gravel sub-base and
plastic sheeting in place; house slab in process
-- the garage and screened porch were put on hold.  A few weeks later, I damp-proofed the concrete walls and installed a footing French drain at the base of the walls and ran it to daylight in front of the house at both ends. Then I backfilled the north wall to about half its height and sloped the grade behind the house for efficient surface drainage in preparation for upcoming rainy weather and winter freezing.  As recommended by the concrete contractor, I coated the fresh slab with a sealant to prevent damage to the fresh concrete from freezing and covered the exposed footings with 2" EPS (styrofoam) for the same reason.  That was about all we could do towards construction until Spring so I turned my attention to several upgrades to the old farmhouse in which we live next to the building site.  Also I was able to finish building the wall trusses that we will need this summer for the exterior walls and to erect a temporary enclosure in which to store them.

Retaining Wall
West wall of the house insulated and partially parged with
stucco; retaining wall in place with insulation and two layers
of plastic behind and under it as part of the
insulation/watershed umbrella for the AGS system*;
partially backfilled
The first project for the early Spring of 2016, was building a retaining wall running west from the west concrete wall.  However, as part of the umbrella for the AGS system*, I had to insulate the outside of the wall first using a DIY method described in detail in a recent post, as well as insulate the ground on which it would be resting. With the help of many volunteers, a formidable wall went up in about two hours time using foundation stones salvaged from a 19th century barn.  Then, while waiting for the Spring rains to subside, I shop-built the exterior wall sections that will house the windows and stored them on the house slab under cover.

Screened Porch Slab; Garage Slab; Retrofitted Concrete Wall
A lot of June and July was spent on the screened porch and the garage.  I formed up and
Footing, foundation and slab completed for the screened porch
poured the footings and foundation for the screened porch in preparation for the pouring of the porch slab by the concrete contractor.  As part of the umbrella for the AGS system*, I also worked on insulating the porch floor and insulating the garage floor so that the contractor could pour them as well.  I had miscalculated on the design of the east wall of the garage and ended up asking the contractor to add four feet of height to it in conjunction with his pouring of the porch and garage.  I recently spent a couple 
Pouring the garage floor; addition to the east wall of garage already poured
of weeks between rains insulating the new east wall of the garage.
  Also, I added one more layer of backfill to the north wall to bring it up to the top of the previously-installed damp-proofing membrane -- to a depth of about 8' -- (only to learn later through a comment submitted to the blog that I had installed it backwards).

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *  

In a nutshell, it has taken me two years to be reach the carpentry phase of construction partly because the dirt and concrete phase has been so weather-dependent.  I would guess that it will take another two years to have the house ready for occupancy -- maybe 6 mos to get it under cover and 18 mos to finish it -- but the weather will be inconsequential by comparison since the work will be done on the slab floor and soon under cover. 

There will be more dirt work to do before winter of this year, principally, completing the umbrella for the AGS system* in front of the house, and more to do in back of the house next year but all of the concrete work and most of the dirt work are history.
* For information on the Annualized GeoSolar system, click on the "Featured Post" in the left column above which is the first of three posts on AGS.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Construction - DIY Concrete Wall Insulation

recent post delt in part with the construction of the concrete east wall of the future
garage pictured at the left with the French drain at its bottom.  It needed to be insulated exteriorly then backfilled to almost half of its height.  Here I am using that wall to demonstrate a DIY custom insulation method that I will be using subsequently for those parts of the north and west walls that lie above the horizontal insulation/watershed umbrella. (There is no need for insulation below the umbrella so as to maintain as much uninhibited earth contact as possible.) The method I am using was somewhat described in another post in conjunction with the first retaining wall west of the house. What follows is a more detailed account. Remember that a click on any photo enlarges it for better viewing.

The DIY design described here is a bastardization of the proprietary product Insofast.  Perusal of the Insofast website was encouraging -- the product would seem to be perfect for insulating our concrete walls inside and out. However, for our  requirements, their quote was at least $3,000 more than the following DIY method.  And Insofast maxes out at an insulation thickness of 2.5", which would have worked for the garage, but not very well for the house. Nevertheless, I am indebted to Isofast for stimulating improvisation.

Essentially, the insulation is expanded polystyrene (EPS) (styrofoam) supported by metal drywall track (ordinarily used as the bottom member of a metal stud wall, i.e., the part that is fastened to the floor).  Even though the track is galvanized, there would be a limit as to how much moisture it could endure before rusting so I am wrapping the entire assembly in plastic sheeting to isolate it from the concrete on one side and from the outside environment on the other side.  The secondary function of the track is to support the cement board cladding that serves as a base for the stucco finish.

From my drywall supply company, the track comes in two widths -- 2 1/2" and 3 1/2" -- and two gauges -- 20 and 24.  For the garage where maximizing the R-factor is not critical, I used 2 1/2".  For the house walls, I plan to step up to 3 1/2" track for a higher R-value.  As for thickness of the track, the thicker 20 ga is more suitable for supporting the heavy stucco wall.  It then takes two thicknesses of  foam board --
1 1/2" and 1" -- to fit the 2 1/2" track. The plastic sheeting is good quality 6 mil that I buy from a farm supply store in 24' widths -- the kind sold to farmers probably for covering hay. 

My original intention was to use one thickness of 1/2" cement board but, after finding that it was not rigid enough to support a thin layer of stucco, I used two thicknesses. Even two thicknesses would be too compressible and would have to be backed up by something more rigid for long term durability in high traffic areas.  In our case, most of the insulated concrete walls will be below grade after backfilling and most of those above grade are away from high traffic areas.  The lone exception is the east wall discussed here; it will be in a high traffic area but less than half of it will be exposed.

Therefore, I covered the top of the first layer of cement board with a pressure treated 1 x 6 and butted the second layer of cement board up against it.  Not only does the 2 x 6 make the top of the insulation more rigid but it also widens the wall by 1 1/2" which will work better with the stick-built truss wall above it.

Shop-Made Tracks
The drywall tracks that support the insulation and the cement board were shop-made
Drilling holes for the Tapcon screws 
ahead of time.  All but the first track at the south end of the wall and the last track at the north end have to be back-to-back.  Before screwing them together, one of them was
Pre-made tracks already cut to length for the north garage wall
perforated on one of its short sides with holes large enough to accomodate the 3/16" Tapcon screws that fasten them to the concrete wall.  The drill press and a long wood block cut from a 2 x 4 to fit inside a track and marked to guide hole placement made short work of holes drilled 8" apart, which was more frequent than necessary but it gave more options for screw placement during installation.  Next, the pre-drilled track was clamped  back-to-back with another track and the two of them screwed together with metal screws in pre-drilled starter holes.

Screwed-together double track showing holes for Tapcon screws in the bottom piece
Jumping ahead to the time when the tracks would be fitted to the wall, let me share what I found to be the best way to cut them to length.  Use straight-cutting metal shears to cut all four short sides at the cut mark.  Then, instead of trying to cut across the long dimension of the back-to-back tracks, simply to bend the tracks back and forth a few times to "worry" the metal into separating.

Pre-cut Foam Board
Purchasing ESP is cheapest in 4 x 8 sheets but, to fit the present situation, the sheets need to be split lengthwise into 24" pieces.  I have sawed them by two methods and prefer one over the other for the sake of accuracy. The less desirable method is to use a straight edge guide and a circular saw.  Accurate cuts are difficult for several reasons that I will leave up to the reader to find out for him/herself.  The other method is to get someone to help run the sheets through a stationary saw against a proper rip fence. For this, I have used both my table saw and my radial arm saw.  (The latter works for me because the saw table is quite long -- 16' -- which is atypical for arm saws.) Either saw does a splendid job of making a mess of the shop, so I recommend planning ahead and cutting as many sheets as possible in one session to minimize the number of times the mess has to be cleaned up.

The advantage of using a stationary saw is that the sawn edges are straight and each piece is a standard width.  The straighter they are the better they fit the tracks and the less air space exists between the foam and the track.  Air spaces are also minimized by having consistent and matching widths of the two pieces of foam that go together to fit the track.  I had some 1 1/2" foam pieces left over that were cut with the circular saw for the west wall behind the retaining wall.  When they were matched with the 1" that were cut with the radial arm saw, there were air spaces up to 1/2" in some cases -- which was acceptable for a garage wall but would not be for the house walls.  And a stationary saw is mandatory for accurate cutting of thin sheets like the 1" due to the foam's flexibility (even when they are doubled up to increase rigidity).

The pre-cut 1" and 1 1/2" foam panels are easier to cut to length and install between the tracks when they are glued together.  Accordingly, a spray adhesive specific for EPS did the trick.  Just be careful that the edges are flush when gluing. 

Installation of the Track and Insulation Panels
In order to protect the track from moisture, the plastic sheeting must be in place before the
Plastic sheeting covering the near side of the wall;
remainder thrown over the top of the wall temporarily;
 four tracks installed supporting four courses of insulation
first track is installed.  
The 24' width of the 6 mil plastic sheeting was a little more than the length of the wall so all I had to do was cut a piece from the roll that was a couple of feet longer than twice the height of the wall.  It was draped over the wall so that it reached the ground and turned outward a foot or so on the near side of the wall.  The balance of the sheet went over the top of the wall and hung down on the far side temporarily. The plastic was left long towards the south (left) end of the wall so that later it could be folded under the cement board in such a way as to protect the left side of the first track.
Tracks and insulation installed, ready for cladding

The south corner track, a single member rather than back-to-back, was cut to length and screwed to the wall through the plastic using a hammer drill, drill/driver and 
1 1/4"  x  3/8" Phillips head Tapcon screws. The first section of foam was cut to length and fitted into the single track, in this case, to the left.  The next (double) track was then slipped over the right side of the foam and pressed by hand or even tapped with a block of wood and a hammer so as to eliminate as much as possible any air spaces between the foam and the left and right tracks.  It was installed with the track having pre-drilled holes to the right. While holding the track firmly towards the left, the right track was screwed to place through the plastic sheeting.  The remainder of the sections were installed in a like manner.  At the north end, the plastic sheeting was folded back over the last track to protect it from the right side.

Installing the Cement Board
Sheet plastic folded back over the wall so as to protect
the tracks and insulation from the exterior environment;
first layer of cement board partially installed 
The cladding comprised the cementitious (cement) board and a top coat of stucco both of which will always absorb some moisture from the environment. So the plastic sheet was brought back over the wall to cover the top of the insulation, hang down in front of it and extend over the French drain at the bottom so as to separate completely the insulation and tracks from the cladding and direct any running moisture to the drain.

Unfortunately, the cement board comes in 3' x 5' panels which doesn't equate well with the tracks on 24" centers.  So they had to be cut to width as well as length which is best done with a nibbler rather than a circular saw in order to avoid the noxious and health-impairing dust.  My nibbler was originally purchased for $80 on Craigslist at a time when I thought I would be gladding the exterior of the house with fibercement board (which later morphed into preference for steel siding which will require a different nibbler). It wasn't until later that I found out that I was lucky to have the fibercement nibbler because it cuts cement board as well.

The installation of the board was time-consuming.  In order to hang it with the same
One-by-six in place; second layer of cement board
butted up against it and ready for parging with stucco
cement board screws that are used for fastening the board to the bathroom floors and shower wall studs, pilot holes had to be drilled in the metal track.  And in order to keep the twist drill sharp for the metal, holes had to be drilled through the cement board first.  This meant three tool changes -- a cordless drill with a 3/16" masonary bit, a cordless drill with a 1/8" twist drill and a drill/driver for the screws.  

The mismatch between the cement board sizes and the 24" OC of the tracks created multiple left-over pieces.  Since I knew that there would be two layers of cement board, I didn't hesitate to work the small pieces into the wall for the first layer even though they were not as rigid as large pieces.  The 3' x 4' second layer pieces covered up the multiple seams of the first layer and added rigidity.  

Adding the Stucco
Fortunately, parging the cement board with stucco was easy after my experience with fiber bonded cement for the dry-stacked block walls of the solar connector.  The material that I
Wall after stuccoing; French drain covered with a layer of
 clean rock; 
about half of the wall will be buried in
backfill starting with +/- 4' deep at the north corner and
ending with +/- 2' deep at the south corner 
used was Quickcrete Professional One Coat Fiberglass-Reinforced Stucco.  And, as with the fiber bonded cement, getting the consistency just right is critical for easy handling. If it is too dry, it falls off instead of sticking to the wall and, where it does stick, tends to be too thick.  If too wet, it falls off and, where it does stick, tends to be too thin.  With a little experience, the right consistency goes on easily a trowel-full at a time (painfully slow) and can be troweled to a rather smooth finish. The manufacturer recommends limiting the size of each mix to that which can be applied in one hour.  An 80 lb bag mix was about right for meeting the time requirements during the hot summer after I waited to start the project in the afternoon when the wall was in the shade.

It is mandatory to keep a hose or sprayer handy.  Whether the substrate is concrete, other stucco layers or, as is the case here, cement board,  it must be kept moist for the stucco to adhere properly.  And the stucco should be kept moist for a couple of days afterwards to control crazing due to shrinkage as it cures.

In the present situation, both layers of the plastic sheet were trimmed so as to overlay about half of the top of the French drain so that any moisture between the inner sheet and the wall or between the outer sheet and the cladding will be directed to the drain but without completely covering the drain with plastic.

Interior Surface of the Concrete Walls
The east wall of the garage used here as an example and all of the concrete house walls that are insulated on the exterior will be insulated on the interior in a similar way using plastic sheeting, metal track and ESP foam board.  The only difference will be drywall for cladding instead of parged cement board.   

Insulating both sides of the wall will give a nominal R-20 for the garage where 2 1/2" tracks were used and R-28 for the house walls where 3 1/2" tracks were used.  An R-20 for the garage is probably overkill but an R-28 for the house is marginal compared to the 
R-50-ish stick-built walls and ceilings.  Fortunately, I can live with it since the amount of concrete that will be exposed above the insulation-watershed umbrella will be minimal. 

Backfilling Against the Wall
Provisional backfill to ward off the runoff from behind the wall;
the carpentry  work can now resume  in earnest
The reason for interrupting the carpentry phase and concentrating on the garage wall was to insulate and clad it so it could be partially backfilled to force the runoff from the the backfill behind the house away from the east garage wall and to cover the French drain.  Accordingly, I dropped a few track loader buckets of dirt against the wall to suffice until the entire slope could be properly contoured eventually.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Odds 'N Ends - Work Attire (Cont'd)

Work Boots
Except for hunting, I always bought cheap boots.  They were not very supportive, especially when standing on a ladder or stepping on a nail, were usually so wide that, even with heavy socks, almost needed to be double breasted where they laced and they wore out quickly.  In anticipation of doing construction, I went to a large boot emporium and
My sticker-shock boots 5 years later
threw myself on the mercy of the court, saying something like, "I want to buy a good boot like professional contractors wear", and added something out of character for me, "price is not an issue".  Without hesitation the clerk took me to the Carolina boot rack and picked out a pair of short boots that cost just south of $180 (gulp! that is five times more than I had ever paid for expensive dress shoes back when the dollar was worth something).

Best decision I ever made.  The boots came in more than one width so fit was no issue.  There was no breaking-in period; they were comfortable from day one.  And they have special mid-sole construction to cushion the feet against ladder rung pressure.  As I was coughing up for them at the checkout counter, I ask the clerk, "How long can I expect theses boots to last if I wear them daily?".  She said, "About a year".  I did the math -- that's fifty cents a day if I wore them every day for 365 days.  Well, for whatever reason, she was way conservative because the boots are still going strong after five years.  And, believe it or not, the original boot-strings are still in them.

Making Boots Last
Seems to me that my investment in boots paid off for two reasons -- keeping the leather supple and protecting the toe from wear.

Growing up in the country, I was early on familiar with neatsfoot compound, an oil-based product available at most hardware, work shoes and shoe repair stores.  We used it on tack -- halters, bridles, saddles, harnesses -- as well on leather footwear. It waterproofed the leather and kept it supple.  I had used it in adult life, on hunting boots primarily, so there was no hesitancy about applying it to my new work boots and I am sure it alone has added several years to their longevity.

I think it is safe to say that the toes of most boots wear out first due to scraping on rough surfaces while working on hands and knees.  If the toes can be preserved, the life of boots
Kind of wear Tufftoe prevents
can be extended.  There is an after-market product called "Tufftoe" that is easily applied by the consumer and is offered as a service by some shoe repair and boot stores (our local bootery will apply it for $15 which is about what it cost me online for the product and I had to apply it myself).  It coats the toes with a tough rubbery material that sticks like glue after the leather has been properly prepared for it and protects the toes from wearing out.  I would recommend a visit to the Tufftoe website if you have boots or athletic shoes with vulnerable toes.  A word of caution however:  If you are doing both neatsfoot compound and Tufftoe, be sure to apply the Tufftoe first so its bond with the leather is not compromised by the oil.  Notice in the
third photo that the Tufftoe is peeling away on the top edges due to my having applied it after neatsfoot oil treatment. That said, I took the boots to the original emporium to be sure the the same model of boots would still be available when the old ones wear out and the clerk said that a certain amount of peeling can be expected in any case due to flexing of the leather over the toes.

Seasoned construction workers have tough hands because they are typically young or
younger and have skins thick enough to protect against injury. Unfortunately with age, the skin thins out and injures easily. Consequently, I have had to wear gloves year-round and have experimented with several iterations.

Latex coated work gloves have proven to be the most useful --  both the warm weather variety shown here and the heavier colder weather variety.  The amount of dexterity they afford is amazing.  I have no trouble picking up small nails or washers and yet they are thick enough to protect against most injuries.  The heavier winter type are almost as dexterous but, unfortunately, are not thick enough to protect against severe cold.  Another advantage to the latex coating is that it reduces the amount of effort necessary for carrying heavy objects.  The friction between the latex and the surface of a heavy object frees up muscle power, that would otherwise be used for grasping, and reallocates for carrying the item.  If there is a knock against wearing most gloves is that they sometimes catch in the threads of drywall screws such that the glove on the non-dominant hand wears out fastest.

Health Issues
In the previous post, I advocated long sleeves, long pants and a broad brimmed hat as the best way to stay cool in hot weather.  Such a get-up is also important year-round as the best protection against basal cell skin cancer, which increases in frequency with age due to long-term sun damage.  I didn't cover up while young and have paid for it with more than a dozen basal cells removals in later life.

Wearing long sleeves after the skin thins with age affords some protection against scraps and bruises to the arms.  According to my dermatologist, my skin would not be so susceptible to laceration if it weren't for the sun damage in early life.  UV rays seemingly break down the attachment of the outer layer of skin (epidermis) to the inner layer (dermis) such that the epidermis literally peels away from the dermis with the slightest insult.  And the blood escapes not only through the wound to the outside, but also spreads laterally between the two layers of skin and produces ugly bruising.  So, young workers that go shirtless or work in short sleeves are not doing themselves a favor if they anticipate putting their skins in harms way late in life.

Sun glasses are important as well, not just to keep from squinting, but for long-term eye protection.  Solar radiation over time is a major contributor to cataracts.   

Monday, July 4, 2016

Odds 'N Ends - Work Attire

Staying Cool During the Summer
So far, our St Louis summer has been hotter than last summer as measured by

heating-degree days. However, I am pleased to say that, while the hot weather slows my pace somewhat, I am still able to get in 9- and 10-hour days in 90+ degree weather -- weather that is made even worse by the high humidity that rises up the Mississippi River valley from the southeastern states (we are in the "hot-humid" zone that's orange on the map.)  I am pretty sure that my productivity would suffer if I hadn't learned from my elders how to dress for such weather.

"Farmer Attire"
Growing up in a small central Illinois community, I knew a lot of farmers.  Most of them, particularly the older ones, wore denim overalls, long sleeve shirts, "clod-hopper" boots and either straw hats or "gimme" hats.  (Gimme as in asking the seed or implement dealer, "Gimme one of them hats".)  Many of them also switched to cotton long underwear in summer after having worn wool in the winter.  They sometimes didn't smell so great in July but they knew how to beat the heat.

By contrast, you typically see construction workers today wearing shorts and tee shirts or no shirts.  Which do you think is more comfortable in the heat and humidity -- the farmers I knew or today's workers?   Having worked in both get-ups, I can testify that the farmers knew what they were doing.  For instance, we had one of the hottest summers on record in 2012 when the daytime highs were in the 100s for dozens of days, sometimes as high as 112 degrees.  I worked at least 8 hours a day tearing down a two story house and, if you have ever done deconstruction, you know the work is much more strenuous than most phases of construction.  I am convinced that I could never have done as much in shorts and tees due to something called evaporative cooling.

Evaporative Cooling
I have worked in "farmer attire"  -- bib overalls, long sleeve shirts and a floppy broad brimmed hat for most of my adult life.  When I hear it from my younger friends for being old-fashion, I explain the advantage my arrangement has over their flimsy clothing or bare skin in terms of evaporative cooling.  Once my clothing is ringing wet with sweat, it has a cooling effect that is not possible with thinner clothing where perspiration evaporates too rapidly for effective cooling; bare skin is even worse. The bibs on the overalls add an extra layer that helps to cool the chest.   When I come in for lunch, I change to dry clothing while inside but switch back to the wet clothing before going back out so as to benefit immediately from evaporative cooling rather than suffering from the heat while waiting for dry clothes become saturated.

Carhartt Overalls
The Carhartt overalls have some advantages over the denim "farmer type" bibs and definitely over typical pants like jeans in that the "pants" part of the bibs are held up by the shoulders.  Therefore, not only do the pants never slip down or the shirt tail rise, there is no uncomfortable pants belt pressing into the skin when overlaid by a carpenter's tool belt.  

The Carhartt bibs have other unique features that bear mentioning, aside from the fact that their duck material is tougher
and wears better than garments made from denim.  The buckles on the shoulder straps lie flat whereas most other bibs have protruding knobs on the bibs that engage the hooks on the straps.  Many of us like to wear wide suspenders on our carpenter's belt to shift the weight of the tools and fasteners in and on the belt away from the waist and onto the shoulders.  The suspenders lie on top of the shoulder straps of the overalls and press the bulky fasteners on most overalls into the skin whereas the flat fasteners on the Carhartts are comfortable under the suspenders. Unfortunately, the knobby fasteners that close the gaps of the sides at the waist are often uncomfortable when pressed into the flesh by the carpenter's belt laden with heavy tools.   Seems to me that flat fasteners of some sort instead of knobs at the waist would improve the Carhartts even more. 

Knee Pads
Another advantage to Carhartts is that they have built-in compartments in the legs for after-market knee pads that are quite effective for working on hands and knees.  They are not bulky enough for serious hands and knees work like laying flooring but are thick enough to save the knees during other kinds of construction work.  And they sure beat shorts and bare knees!

The pads are available online at or 888-4KNEEPAD for nominal cost.  The openings to the knee pad pouches in the Carhartts are at the bottom.  The pads are rolled tightly and slipped through the openings.  When a pad clears an opening, it springs open and lies flat.  They cannot easily be removed even for laundering but, when the overalls wear out, the pouches can be cut open and pads moved to another pair of Carhartts.  I work with three pairs of pads and none have shown any wear after use in several pairs of bibs each over quite a few years.