Tag Archives: buttress

Soggy spring

I would love to say that we have accomplished a whole lot in the last month since I posted, but unfortunately we haven’t. This is largely due to the weather. I think this past May has been the soggiest one on record. Rain is pretty common in May, but it has been rather severe this year.

Our area was pretty lucky in that the worst we had were a few basements where the sub-pump broke and they wet basement floors. Other parts of Ontario and Quebec had full blown evacuations and states of emergency. When you come back to your house after it all resides and find that the water was up to the level of your counter-top in your kitchen, you could say that we had a lot of rain.

My last post was on May 2nd and it wasn’t long after that when things started to get crazy. We had two days of severe rain, then this happened on the 7th.

Yeah, that’s right. It started snowing. This has been known to happen in May, so it wasn’t so much of a big deal, except for the fact that it didn’t stop. I bet you can guess when I took the following picture?

That wasn’t the end of it either. It just kept snowing, right through until the 9th.

You can see that there wasn’t a whole lot of accumulation, but still, three days of snow in May?

Someone needs to turn up the outdoor thermostat.

That wasn’t the end of it either. I think we had a day or two break and then we had two more solid days of rain. When I say solid, I mean around 60mm (2.5 inches) of rain. That number may seem small, but if I put that in equivalent snow terms that would be 60cm (2 feet) of snow. It rained A LOT!

Those were the two heaviest days, but we’ve had quite a few days where it rained since then. Not nearly as bad. On May 14th we had a severe thunder storm which included hail. I had just done my weekly trip to the dump and it started on my way back. I was pulling into the driveway when the hail started so I sat in the truck for a bit and snapped this picture of the hail building up on the windshield wipers.

Not only has it been wet, it hasn’t been particularly warm either. We’ve had a few days above 20C (68F) but not many. And on those days when it isn’t cold and raining, the bugs are bad enough to pick you up and carry you off if you aren’t careful. The black flies especially are having a bumper year. We’re hoping the dragon flies will show up soon and we have seen one or two, but the big swarms of them have yet to arrive. They help a lot with reducing the biting insects.

All of this wetness has put a big damper on our firewood harvest this year. Going out in the pouring rain to cut down a tree isn’t a great thing to do. It’s even more inadvisable if there is high wind. Don’t try cutting down a tree in high wind and expect it to drop where you want it. I avoid that at all costs.

In addition to this, because of all of the rain, there were times we couldn’t even get the truck up the hill for fear of burying it out of sight just because the ground was so saturated with water. We still can’t drive to the top of our hill because a lot of water is draining down the road and it’s very squishy.

Of course there is the bug factor as well. Once you do get a decent day to go cut wood, you have to deal with the bugs. So, needless to say, we are behind in our firewood harvesting.

Fortunately, we haven’t been completely idle. We did get started on installing a new sink and finishing the counter-top around it. Here you can see the cutting of the hole where the sink is going to go.

Slightly closer so you can see the sink outline in pencil.

There we have it, a hole for a sink.

We even have a sink to put in that hole too! We bought it at the Re-store which I have to say, is kind of a hit or miss in terms of whether it’s really worth it or not. The sink we bought didn’t have holes for faucets, nor did it have a strainer basket. We weren’t too concerned about the faucet holes as we aren’t likely to have any faucet for a while. A new strainer basket cost $20 for the cheap one. The sink cost us $45. I could have bought a brand new sink for $100 that included holes for the faucet and strainer basket. Add some tax in there and you start to wonder if it was really worth the savings. Things to think about if you ever go to the Re-store for building materials.

Now for the counter-top we decided to use a 19mm (3/4 inch) piece of plywood with red oak veneer. One sheet of that will set you back $85 so you don’t want to mess it up. I cut out the piece to size for the counter first.

I scribed the hole for the sink from underneath and then cut out the hole for the sink as well.

Voila! New counter-top. Well, almost. The counter then went out to the staining and finishing department. I can say that it has been stained and had two coats of varnish put on it. The next step is to put a thick coat of epoxy on it to make it durable and waterproof. We have the epoxy, but it is sensitive to temperature and humidity so that part has been put on hold until things dry up and warm up a bit.

So it’s been a slow start to the year. We haven’t planted anything in the garden yet either because it’s been so cold. Last night we had a low of 2C (36F). Yes, we had a fire. They say we should be safe for planting after the full moon in June, which is this Friday. We can only wait and see at this point.


Colorado Earthship Build: Day 24 (More atrium work)

I thought I would start off the day using up some of that nice bread we bought at the bakery. We’ve had a few loaves from them, and you often get to the ends which aren’t big enough to make sandwiches out of (for two people anyway) and you wonder what you can do with it.

I ended up making french toast. I sliced some bananas on them and sprinkled it with cinnamon and then broke out our stash of maple syrup. I should point out the sun had just crested the mountain, so it makes the toast look extra yellow. It wasn’t really that vibrant.


After that lovely breakfast, Kat and I headed up to the build site. It seemed really quiet this morning. That is partially due to the fact that a lot of people are working up top, so if you are working down below, you’re mostly alone. It is also due to the fact that some didn’t show up for work today and some others have actually left as their time is up. Supposedly they are getting another twenty people this weekend for the second phase. Our last day at the build will be Saturday.

Anyway, there is this big swimming pool of water that the concrete guys use for mixing and washing and it usually looks really murky, but today I arrived to it looking really clear. No one had disturbed it yet and all of the sand/dirt/concrete had settled to the bottom. It was pretty neat and certainly rare.


As mentioned yesterday, our first order of business was to pour the end blocks that we built forms for. I shoveled concrete while Kat stabbed it to get out her morning aggrivations. We had a bit of a panic when the form shifted so we shoved in more bracing.


In the end, we got them poured and the anchor bolts in place. We then let them set for most of the day.


While the concrete was setting, Kat and I started a new quest: build a double wide door frame for the front of the atrium. Oh, hey, let’s go look at the drawings and see if we can find the dimensions. Nope, no dimensions there. It only had references to other parts that we had to measure from to figure out how big the door frame was supposed to be.

That involved setting up the site/transit level and “shooting some lines” to figure out where things were. Once we had those, myself, Phil and Mike R had a discussion about the door and its dimensions. Phil and Mike came to an agreement and then I had some dimensions to work with.

I should also mention it was getting really hot by this point. Luckily, I wasn’t pounding tires or I would have had a much more difficult time. Nothing I did was too strenuous today, so I was hot, but I felt okay.

I don’t have a before picture, but this is the door frame I built. I finished it after lunch while Kat was out at the store.


I have to say, I was pretty proud of the results. I took extra care with my cuts to make them accurate. I made sure the whole thing was square using the diagonal dimensions. I added the bracing in to keep it that way too. It’s lying on its side, by the way, in that picture above. The extra bit at the top will have a window put in it.

The door frame will be installed tomorrow.

It was mid afternoon when that was all finished and by that point the concrete on our morning pours had set up enough we could take the forms off. So we did.


They aren’t perfect, that’s for sure, but they should get the job done. We also put the piece of Trex down across the part where the door is going to go. We tightened down the nuts on the anchor bolts and I used the grinder to cut of the excess threads.

We re-established the center line for the building and marked that on the door nailing plate and then centered the door frame on that line. I put in some wood stakes in the ground so we would have something for the door bracing to be attached too. I also cut the trex plates to go across the sections we had to leave undone due to the concrete pouring, but we didn’t put them in for fear of ripping out the anchor bolts in the new pour as it hadn’t finished fully hardening yet.

By that point, clean up had been called, so we know what we’ll be doing first thing tomorrow morning.


In other news, Captain Planet stopped by to have a beer today with the crew. He was a lot smaller than what I imagined.


The people upstairs have been getting a lot done. Here we have a picture of Mike R sitting on the short wall that will receive the angled glass for the green house. One of the trusses has already been put in place.


Here it is again from the other side. I would be willing to bet that all of the trusses will be in place there by the end of the day tomorrow.


Also I thought I heard someone say the cement trucks are supposed to make another appearance tomorrow to pour the bond beam and buttresses for the upper level. That will mean we should be ready to put the logs on the roof of the second level on Friday.

Here is another progress shot of the bottle work around the doors. I like this shot because it shows the full length of the house, messy as it is right now.


Tomorrow will be another action packed day of atrium work. I don’t mind it, but it does feel like we’re moving slowly. Though, I must say, it’s just been Kat and I with no one else to help. I’m sure things would move much quicker if we had more hands on deck… er atrium.

Colorado Earthship Build: Day 12 (Packout and various things)

Sung to the tune Le Freak by Chic

Have you heard about the new house craze?
Listen to us, I’m sure you’ll be amazed
Tire fun to be had by everyone
It’s up to you, It surely can be done
Young and old are doing it, I’m told
Just one try, and you too will be sold
It’s called pack out! They’re doing it night and day
Allow us, we’ll show you the way

Aaahh Pack out!
Pack out, don’t pout
Pack out!

Yes, this morning I was doing more packout, only this time it was on the west side wing wall around the cistern. I also had helpers who had never done packout so I was playing mentor too. I did a lot more fetching of mortar, with extra people to help. The morning went by pretty quick.

I’m sure you’re tired of looking at pictures of tire walls so I didn’t take any of those.

However, the dude with the excavator came by both ends to bury the cisterns, so there was a bit of frantic work to put the insulation around them before they got buried. Here is a picture of the excavator at work burying the eastern cistern. You can also see the white foam insulation boards that were put around it.


I also carried up and put into place both cooling tube boxes for the west side. Those things are not light, as I mentioned before, as they are made from Trex.


Here is a picture of one that is open so you can see the screen across the pipe. That’s so when you have it open, no critters will climb in. They will eventually be screwed into the cooling tubes and the corners filled in.


Things are going to jump around a bit from here on. I had quite a few different duties after lunch, but none of them involved pounding tires or doing packout.

They have been going pretty hard to put up the vertical green house wall. Here you can see they are working on the support beam across the top on the west side. They have also put up the wood guides on the east side to do the same thing. The gap in the middle is where the framing for the atrium will eventually be going in.


This is the same picture, more or less, but stepped back a ways so you can see the end of the beam. The beam is made of a 2×8 plate, on top of which sits a sandwich of five 2x12s. Another 2×8 plate is put on top of that. This thing is not going anywhere.


Right after lunch, the big crane arrived to move the logs (vigas) into place. It setup first on the west side.


It looks a bit precarious from this picture, but it was well secured.


The way the process worked was the backhoe was outfitted with some forks and it would bring up two or three of the logs at a time.


Helpers would sling the ties around the logs and the crane would pick them up and swing them over to the building. I was wandering around at one point looking for Kat as I couldn’t find her anywhere. Apparently she was one of the log loading helpers. Go Kat go!


Here is a shot from the other end. You can see the logs being placed over the garage. On top of the bond beam you can see two nailing plates. I was helping to install those just after lunch so I got to run up and down that wall. First they had me cutting off the excess threads from the anchor bolts sticking up out of the nailing plate after the nuts on them were tightened. Then I switched and I was the tightener for a bit.

Then we ran out of nuts, so there was a frantic search for more. Don’t you hate it when you don’t have enough nuts to finish the job? Well, anyway, we found enough and all of the plates were bolted down.


Moving around to the opposite corner, I took this picture showing the progress of the logs. For now, they were just putting them up on the roof. They didn’t spend any time making sure they were positioned properly. That will be the finicky part later, maybe tomorrow.


This next picture is a more direct view of the east side bedrooms on the first/bottom floor and the finished beam across the top. You can also see the logs being put into place further in the back on the left.

Something interesting to note, you see how they have those massive posts in some places, and in others they just built a sandwich of 2×8 plates? I asked about that; why use posts in some places and the stack in others. It turns out that the posts are there because they will be exposed when finished and they wanted something nicer to look at. Otherwise, if they were just going to be covered, they probably would have chosen a cheaper option.


More logs, this time being delivered from the east side. You can also see on the right side how they also put the logs over the first floor section on the west side of the building as well. There are a lot of logs in this building.


This is a detailed shot of the form and rebar work for what will be the concrete arch over the west side entrance to the garage. Also, on the right, is the rebar and remesh grid where the outside dome will be created over the entrance. Pretty snazzy, eh?


More logs coming in on the east side. You can also see from this spot that they have poured the concrete for the arch on this side. They also poured all of the buttresses along the back wall of the garage.


I have to tell you, that is a huge amount of concrete to be mixing just with regular cement mixers. The guys working the mixers are real troopers, not to mention all of the others who have to cart it away in wheel barrows and then get it into the spaces it is intended for.

The dumb thing is, the company that had the concrete pumping truck that broke said they had another truck, but it was all booked. We’re like, well that’s your loss, cause this building has no small amount of concrete. Unfortunately, that means more work for us.

I don’t know how many pallets of bags of cement we have gone through so far on this build, but it has to be something like a dozen or more. I believe there are 35 bags per pallet, each weighing 42kg (94lbs). According to spec, “One 94 lb. bag of Portland Cement makes 4.5 cubic feet of concrete.” That’s about 19.75L for us metric folk. If you do the math, that turns out to be roughly 70 cubic yards (53.5 cubic meters). The fun part about that is, we aren’t even finished with the concrete/mortar work yet.

Anyway, I ended up running around all over the place doing little things here and there. I spent a while using the miter saw to cut blocks for the logs. You put a block of wood on each side of each log so it will stay in place, once you have it positioned properly. You need it to stay put as a rebar pin is going to be pounded through it into the nailing plate.

But I’m getting ahead of things. I’m sure we’ll see that part soon enough.

Colorado Earthship Build: Day 5 (Tires and cisterns)

Friday. Another day at the build site. Once again, it was a perfectly sunny morning and, of course, rather hot as the day progressed. I’m not sure what happened, but the heat was really killing me today, even though it didnt’ seem much different than the other days. I just didn’t have a lot of oomph.

We started off putting in the next layer of insulation at the west wing area where we have been working. Here is a shot of Jenn (on left), Susan (on right) and Kat (the hat at the back) moving a sheet into position.


Due to the fact that you want to stagger the sheets both horizontally and vertically, you do have to trim some of the sheets. You do a measure, draw line and then cut it with a small hand saw. This creates a lot of white debris so it looks like it is snowing. As a result, we had a snow dog.


Kat and I thought it might be a good idea to take some pictures to help explain some of the tire pounding stuff we had talked about yesterday, so let’s talk about that for a minute.

There are a couple of ways you can use to level a tire. The first one is to jab a pick axe or pry bar under the bottom of the tire, lift it and pound the dirt down. This is effective, but has limits. If you do it too much, you’ll end up bulging the dirt out of the bottom and you’ll get rocky tires. You don’t really want that, but for some small lift, it’s quite effective.


A second technique, which I talked about yesterday, is to put the pick axe under the lip of the side wall and pull it up. This will create a cavity that you can pound more dirt into.


You can really push up the side wall if you pound a rock under the lip. We had one tire that needed to be raised a lot and I had so many rocks pounded into that thing by the end, it might as well have been filled with concrete. It was dang hard and certainly not going anywhere.


Anyway, back to the build.

Here is a shot of the rest of the build site from where we were working. You can see the guys putting the EPDM rubber liners in the botanical cells (remember those trenches from yesterday?). After the rubber, they get filled with gravel and then sand and finally soil for the plants.


We were working on tires again in the morning. Here is a shot of Kat with a pry bar helping me to level a tire.


I was beat by lunch and was happy for the break. As we were finishing lunch, some rain rolled in which was a life saver for me. With the sun behind some clouds, some rain falling down and our recent repast, I was renewed for the afternoon.

I spent most of the afternoon leveling the pad for the cistern that was to be installed in the west wing. These are preformed, purchased cisterns, not custom made ones. Here is ours just after it was delivered by the back hoe.


Yeah, the cisterns are pretty huge. Each one holds 1700 gallons (roughly 6600 litres).

Leveling the pad for it was time consuming, but I greatly enjoyed it as it was a nice break from pounding tires. Of course, my leveling tools were a four foot (1.2M) level and a 16′ (5m) 2×8. I had two others, one with a rake and one with a shovel so we could move the dirt around.

Eventually it was ready and we gathered a bunch of volunteers to move it into position.


I gave the camera to Kat and grabbed a spot on the cistern. There was a big heave-ho! and we picked it up and started to move it.


We got it up on the pad and pushed it into place. You can see me at the back there with the green hat and the pony tail.


There were a few minor adjustments, but it went up pretty smooth.


There ya go. One cistern put in place. Now all we need is Lou the plumber to come over and connect the pipe to it.


After that excitement, it was time to take some more pictures 😛

In this picture you can see the BUTTress forms they were building along the back wall of the garage. The forms have rebar running through them which is connected to the rebar that goes through the bond beam over the top of the wall. When the concrete is poured, it will form a solid structure tying all of the pieces together. The buttresses are there to satisfy the engineers that the wall won’t fall over. In this case, at this site with the potential for land slides, it’s extra security.


When we finally made it to the end of the day, we all gathered around Phil and had a Q&A session. If you have ever seen the Garbage Warrior movie, or many of the other Earthship Biotecture videos on the net, you’ve probably seen Phil. He’s a great and fun guy to work with/for and he is the longest standing Earthship crew member (since 1992, I believe). He has a tonne of experience, has built his own Earthship and is basically the foreman for the project, second only to Michael Reynolds.


Phil brought the drawings along and we got to ask him all sorts of things. The first thing I asked is what the budget for this build was. His answer was “we charge $225 per square foot and the building is around 4400 square feet. Do the math.” That’s just shy of one million. This is a really serious building and you’ll understand why when I show you some of the pictures of the drawings.

This first one is a top down view showing the roof detail on the front/bottom tier. Those are stairs on the east/west sides heading up to a patio. In the middle is a big glass atrium, that has doors on either side so you can walk from the east side patio, over a bridge through the atrium, to the west side, and vice versa. Yeah, I’m sure that wasn’t cheap.


Here is a section drawing showing the two tiers and the garage.


Here is a nice rendered view from the front of what it is supposed to look like when it is finished.


Another finished rendering from the east side.


Finally, after snagging all those pictures of the drawings and Q&A was over, we headed out. But not before Kat decided to see just how strong those buttress forms are.


Yeah, they have to build them very strong so when you pour it full of concrete, it doesn’t burst. I have heard stories of that happening and it doesn’t sound fun. Concrete weighs a lot. Be prepared 🙂