We could have backed out after cutting all the logs- could’ve called a logger and said, “come get ’em”. Or the water and power. But it’s getting harder each time we add something. Today, we poured concrete. Looks like we’re committed now. But I should back up a little…
Where we left off
In my last post, I thought it would go smoothly (why did I think that?) when I called the building inspector (BI)- after all, the city had already approved my plans, which were designed by a licensed engineer; I was following city code (minimum 12″ below frost line for foundation), I had water and power as required. I called the city to schedule the BI, and he came out on a Thursday.
He wasn’t the most talkative guy. He walked around looking at my holes. I had a printed copy of the foundation plan on four 8 1/2″ by 11″ paper that I had taped together so it had plenty of detail. I don’t think he liked them all taped together. He said, “you drew these plans yourself?”
“No, they were drawn by a professional engineer in Washington state.”
“Hmmm…” More walking around.
“Well, this is very unconventional- no one uses this style of foundation anymore- I’ve only seen it in hundred year old houses.” (Wait- if you’ve seen it in hundred-year-old houses, doesn’t that mean it’s pretty good?)
Then the disheartening news: “I’m going to have to see some stamped plans before you can continue work on this project.” (‘Stamped plans’ means that a local licensed engineer goes through your plans with a fine-toothed comb and calculates all the stresses involved in your structure. Things like wind speed, tension forces, sheer forces, compressive forces, and earthquake zones are measured, based on the type of wood you use– oak is different than Southern Yellow Pine. All of the factors and calculations can be combined into a detailed report that can be 50 pages long. You can imagine what it might cost for a local engineer to produce such a report.)
“But the city already approved them,” I protested.
“I have to be sure they will work in this soil condition. Have you run into any clay? Your soil looks pretty good; usually this area has a lot of clay.”
“No clay that I’ve noticed. I should be able to get them stamped pretty easily,” I bluffed. I actually had no idea what getting them stamped would involve. I really hadn’t seen any clay. But now the whole project was in jeopardy of a huge delay.
I told my wife the bad news- she was very sad about it too. I posted about it on Facebook- because I had asked the guys at church for help with pouring concrete on Saturday. I mentioned that the BI was now requiring me to get the plans stamped by an engineer, so the pour was canceled. One guy from church commented that he might know someone who could review my plans and stamp them.
We pay tithing
That night, my wife mentioned, “but we pay our tithing!” In our church, we believe in the Old Testament promise that if you pay tithing on your income (a ‘tithe’ means ‘tenth’, so we pay 10%), the Lord will “open you the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” I prayed on it that night.
The next day, Friday, I went to work. The suite next to mine is a group of civil engineers. I’ve been friendly with the head engineer. He’s been interested and supportive of my build from the beginning. I headed over and asked him for help. He said they don’t do small projects like mine- they do huge civil engineering projects for commercial construction- like resorts and malls. He did offer to print the plans on professional sized paper (2′ x 3′), so that was a positive move. But I still needed an engineer to stamp the plans. I checked on Facebook- the guy from church that commented had sent me a private message saying he was the guy that was an engineer, and he would review the plans for free if I wanted. Wow! I’ve heard of others in our group having to jump through hoops with their plans- and having it cost into the hundreds or even thousands to get them approved, not to mention if the local engineer requires changes to the structure or plans. He asked for contact information for the LHBA engineer, so I found that and sent him my plans. He asked if I wanted the entire plan approved, or just the foundation. I thought about what the BI might think, and decided to go with the entire plan. It would take longer, but having the whole thing approved would make the approval air-tight.
He asked me questions about the soil quality and construction method- I told him I hadn’t found any clay. He said he was thinking about requiring a pedestal foundation with a continuous footer, just to improve the strength of the build, but needed more information from the LHBA engineer on the building method.
I didn’t sleep well that night. I kept having this dream where I had to dig a three-foot wide trench all the way around the perimeter for a footer. This would mean either hiring the excavator again (probably another $200), probably at least a week or two of work to level the holes, missing the good weather window, and setting the project back about a month. I was very worried about the piers- they were made out of plywood that sat in the back yard all winter covered by a tarp. But the tarp blew off several times, and some of the plies had separated on several pieces, and couldn’t be used. Even the rest weren’t that great. I was worried the plywood piers would fail when the 2,600 pounds of concrete was poured into each of them. In my dream I was trying to calculate the extra cost for concrete and rebar. I woke up at 2 A.M. and actually had to calculate the extra concrete. It would be about $1600 more. I just don’t have it.
The windows of heaven
The engineer from church had a detailed conversation with the LHBA engineer. The LHBA guy sent a 50-page sample engineering report for a 40×40 home on piers- like what I’m building. He also gave some detailed insight into the pier method, emphasizing that although piers aren’t as strong as a stem wall foundation, the piers work for the butt and pass method because of how the logs are tied together with rebar (a stem wall foundation usually has a continuous footer around the perimeter of the house along with a continuous wall that stands about 18″ above ground all the way around). The log walls are many, many times stronger than a conventional wall (built with 2×4’s), due to the rebar pinning method- a piece of rebar is spiked through the logs every 2 feet on every row. Combined with the piers, the structure is very strong. The guy from church said he would consider all of the information.
I sat on pins and needles waiting for the final report. It took one more day, but he sent a letter that the plans were approved with 3 caveats-
- All the piers had to be 12″ or more below ground
- I had to follow the new IRC fastening requirements (tells you how to attach the floors and walls and roof together). No big deal, I would have had to do this anyway- the notes on my plans needed to be updated anyway.
- The large piers had to be 20″ below ground. I had already increased the size of the top of the 3 largest piers from 8″x24″ to 12″x36″ to accommodate the larger logs I was using. Doing this changed the geometry enough that they were now taller. And due to the slope of my property, they were already within a few inches of being 20″ deep anyway.
Basically, I was already doing all of the above, so the cost to meet the BI’s requirements was $0. I sent the original plans to the civil engineer guy next door, and he came over a few hours later and handed them to me, saying, “good luck with your build. These are free.” I plan to continue paying tithing for a long, long, long time.
We move ahead
While waiting for the okay, there was a lot of rain in the forecast, so I covered everything with plastic. I knew the piers were weak, and I was praying they wouldn’t get any wetter. I was planning on burying the piers up to their necks with dirt to ensure they didn’t “float up” when the concrete was poured (a common problem with truncated pyramidal piers), and also to counteract the tremendous pressure from the concrete pushing out on the piers. Some folks have reported that even though they had two guys standing on the piers, they still floated up. Others report that their piers busted, and concrete poured out all over the ground. I didn’t want to take any chances, but I had to wait until my plans were approved.
The day I got them approved was a big rainstorm. But the BI agreed to meet me the next day to go over my plans. It was exactly a week after he shut down the project. He looked at the printed plans, and the letter from the local engineer. He was a lot friendlier, too- talked about how he’s remodeling a house, and it’s very expensive. He likes old Ford trucks, like me, and noticed my Ford 3000 tractor (that’s a plus). He wanted to look at the logs.
“You moved these with that little tractor? How much do they weigh?”
“I figure the heaviest ones weigh between 4,000-6,000 pounds.”
“Wow.” He said he was excited to see things move forward, thanked me for the letter, and said I could pour concrete. Yay!
Things go smoothly when I listen to my wife
I was working like crazy to bury the piers. Each one took 8 wheelbarrows full of dirt to bury- and there were 31 of them. Thursday, I went crazy trying to bury them. My wife suggested that we do a little pour on Friday to get our feet wet, and then pour the rest on Saturday. I wasn’t sure about breaking up the schedule into two days, but I figured she was right. Friday, I got up early and headed out at 6 A.M. I had to meet my boss for a couple hours and pick up a wheelbarrow from a guy on Craigslist, and then headed right back out. My wife picked up the two older boys and brought them out to help that afternoon. She said we should pour the 7 piers on the inside first, then do the outer ones on Saturday. Each truck can hold 9 yards of concrete, and each normal sized pier holds .67 yards of concrete. So I ordered 7 yards on Friday after 3 P.M., and then 17 yards (two trucks: 8 in one truck, and 9 in the other, each an hour apart, since they charge by the minute for any pour over an hour).
The pour went so smooth. Everything was perfect. The concrete truck driver gave us a lot of tips- like give two taps to each side of the pier with a hammer- it makes the concrete nice and smooth. Was it that obvious that I had never done concrete on this scale before? 🙂
After the pour, I still had the outer piers to bury. There were 24 of them, and I had until the next morning at 9:00 to bury all of them. Julie and the boys helped, but the boys weren’t used to this much hard work, and Julie had already had a long day. They helped for about another hour or so, and then left. I stayed until 7 PM, then it got too dark. I had put in 13 hours that day, minus the 1.5 hours with my boss.
Saturday, I still had half the piers to bury before the concrete showed up. I got out there at 6 A.M., and started going at it. I finished burying the last pier at 9:00, and then the concrete showed up. My wife was running a little late, but got there in enough time to help smooth the concrete and place the rebar. She is quite a hard worker. Just as we finished the last of the first truck, the second one showed up early. The outer piers were easy to pour. I had three that separated a little at the top, but not enough to endanger anything.
Overall, I couldn’t have been more pleased with the result, and all the little miracles that made it happen. I was so dead from all that work, that I laid on the couch all Saturday afternoon. Next is some site clean up like removing the plywood from the piers, and then I’ll be setting the lifting poles.