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Our foundation---of course it ain't normal

Warning: buttload of photos. I tried to compress them, but still…

I’ll start with the drawing for the rubble trench side of the foundation. The biggest change was the anchors weren’t j-bolts or cast-in-place, but these new Titen bolts. For shear walls inside the house, I was required to install steel all-thread in epoxy.

Installing these all are almost as fun as a root canal, which this is essentially. Drill drill drill. Scrape scrape scrape. Fill fill fill. Cry cry cry. Repeate three hundred times. I exaggerate--288 is the total as I recall.


First thing we did in March of 07 is move a beautiful Japanese maple from the middle of the site. Happy birthday, fab GF! It made her very happy to keep the tree and she’ll be able to see it from the master bedroom window.

The ditches were dug with a small backhoe run by Mike the dirt guy. I shoveled the drainage ditches, placed the drainpipe with fabric filter, and used landscape staples to keep the weed barrier in place in the rubble trench.

Ditches and drainpipe

Then we placed the rigid insulation and some rubble in the rubble trench and built the forms for the footings. The Z-shaped rebar is what will tie the cap (poured last) to the footing. I helped the concrete guy with all this, but the concrete guy was one of two subs on our project who was kind of an asshole, so we don’t mention his name or show his picture.

Footing at rubble transition

Then we built the forms for the stem walls. The concrete guy showed me how to tie rebar so I tied all this.

Stemwall forms and rebar

With the stemwalls poured (but forms still on) Mike added more rubble. I took off the forms after this picture was taken and scraped them clean. Awful job.

Poured stemwalls

Mike filled the rubble trench and I tamped it a bunch of times, and then we started building the form for the concrete cap.

Forms for cap

I started taking apart the form after the pour and fired the concrete guy.

Cap poured and removing forms

Time to work on the interior slab. I had Mike lay down 2” of rock I tamped down and covered with a layer of weed barrier. Mike then hauled in 2” of sand I tamped down. Mike was done for now, but he just came back a few weeks ago to dig a utility trench. We'll probably have him back to finish the grading around the house---one of the last big things we do before moving in.

We needed interior trenches for thicker layers of slab for shear walls and posts on the interior. The concrete guy kept saying we would do this when we poured the cap, but he never got it done. That is an axable offense and reason number 17 he got fired. Luckily I called my buddy Raul and we dug everything by hand in one afternoon.

I compacted everything again, then put in moisture barrier and 2” of rigid insulation. If I had really thought about it, I would have put 4” of insulation and not just 2”. Ah, well. Every seam was taped and every opening was filled with spray foam.

Interior trenches

I laid in the mesh and rebar in for the slab and Colin came to staple down the PEX tubing for the radiant heating system. Colin will be here Monday to put up the solar themeral panels, mount the boiler, and get all the pumps and crap for our heating system and DHW. Yay.

The little concrete cubes are standoffs that will place the tubes within the top 2” of the slab (most efficient placement) and places the mesh in the middle of the slab, which maximized its strength. Bet you didn't know that. Now you can't say you didn't learn something today.

Radiant tubes, mesh for slab

While waiting for Al and Matthew and the slab guys (including one fellow the fab GF nicknamed Tiny), I started placing the boards for the toe-ups.


Before attaching the boards, I cut a kerf perpendicular across the underside as in the drawing to accommodate the hi-tensile strength wire that would tie together the toe-up (AKA bottom plate) with the top plate. The black tubing was a void through which to pass the wire after the bales were up. Once the boards were anchored and the black tubing in place, I rolled an asphalt waterproofer over the top of the cap. Just before stacking bales, we put pea gravel between the toe-ups for extra bale support.

Toe-ups, anchor bolts, plastic tube for wire

The vertical member you see is the side of the front door buck. A buck is one way to frame the opening of a window or door. Our bucks were built, foam insulated, and then placed and braced so we would keep everything plumb and square. My pal Tom came over and helped me do the bracing, which consisted of him with a level and his shoulder and me with the nail gun.

Heh. Me and a nail gun. Actually, I have two nail guns, a brad nailer, and two pneumatic staplers. Need something attached to something? I'm your gal.

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chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

concrete and mesh go together well, and if you forget that, heaven help you. it seems like it would be obvious once you figure out why that is, but the first couple of times i didn't, and to very sad results. oh well, there's no learning like that via having to do the whole project over again because you skipped/forgot one particular step. heh.

Submitted by ohio on

I cast some pavers and everything was just swell until it froze overnight. Nothing went boom, but I was very sad the next day when all the concrete crumbled out of the form. Good thing I know how to "recycle" and was able to re-use the crumbly bits as "fill."

I have one massively huge fuck-up I did that I have to find the courage to even talk about. Hooo, man, that was a very very bad day and it could've turned into a class A shitplosion without Ryan, our framing crazy jailbird carpenter. The man saved my ass.

We still have two potentially huge shitplosion situations coming up in the next few weeks. One is with insulation and another is with the soil pipe leading to the septic tank. Suffice that I assume the worst until things are done and working and nothing is, uh, coming back to bite me, so to speak.

Oh, man, "coming back" and "septic tank" together do not lead to happy experiences.

basement angel's picture
Submitted by basement angel on

I'd encourage you to remember the rule about writing a thesis - tell people what you're going to tell them, tell them what you've got to tell them and then tell them what you told them. People comprehend much faster when they know where the information they are assembling goes. And I'm all eyeballs for this but I don't really know what you're talking about. What is a Titen Bolt and can you tell us more about what you're doing with the steel all thread and the sheer walls? I don't know what a footing, toe up or stem wall is either.

Anyway - sincerely, tell us more. Remember, that a lot of us who have never built anything have no idea how to build anything.

Especially if this is for some sort of alternative housing, I'm deeply and passionately interested.

Submitted by hipparchia on

it's in ohio's very first post here.

ohio: could you add a 'straw bale house' tag [or 'alternative housing' or some such] to your posts? i'm following your building saga closely because, like basement angel, i'm interested in alternative housing too.