I messed up.

The last four weeks…

We spent the last four weeks burning branches, got the water hooked up, power installed:

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Digging 31 holes and moving the driveway

I checked the weather for the second week of April – and noticed they were forecasting about a week’s worth of dry weather.

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If you read my last post, you know it’s been raining every 2-3 days for a month or more. So this little break meant go time. I called the excavator- he said he could come Monday.

I busted my butt finishing up the last of the pier collars on Friday, but then the excavator called on Friday and asked if he could come Saturday instead- great! Except all the rain washed away my month old paint marks for where to dig the holes. So, Friday night, I loaded the trailer with the collars.

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I left early Saturday morning to meet him out there at 8:30, and the trailer was fishtailing with all the collars on it. I didn’t know it at the time, but some of them had slipped a little after I tied them, and were hanging out the back of the trailer. It wasn’t many, but enough to shift the balance of weight. I took the drive very slowly- 20 mph, but it wasn’t enough- after fishtailing, the tongue of the trailer wore out and broke in half.

Looking at the tongue, I was surprised-  they used 1/8″ thick angle steel everywhere on the trailer except the tongue. On the tongue- the most important part of the trailer- they cheaped out and used 1/16″ square tube. I’ll never understand people. I could write a whole post on fixing the trailer, but let’s just give the short version: had to leave it on the highway, get my holes dug, then go back for the trailer. Used a blow torch to cut the hardened steel pivot bolt off the trailer side of the tongue. Brass welded the tongue back together at the neighbor’s house, hooked onto the trailer, and went to property to unload collars.

Then, the tongue broke again on the way back (empty). Stupid thing did a cartwheel on the highway. 5-6 good people stopped to help, and nobody got hurt. Met Matthew Hunter, who hooked me up with a new tongue and paint job on the trailer. Tongue is now 1/8″ x 4″x2″ tube steel- it’s a beast. And the trailer no longer tilts (I hated that “feature”), and pulls like a dream.

I got the holes dug- took him only two hours instead of four:

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and moved the driveway:

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I also fixed a flat tire on the tractor

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So, how did I mess up?

Details about the plans:

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Above: You can see the detail of a corner of the pier layout:

  • red: pier outline
  • purple: outer edge of log walls
  • white: center of log wall

As you can see, the plans don’t specify a measurement or offset from the edge for where to place the logs on the piers- probably because they don’t know what size logs you will use- the plans state they are for 12″ logs, but mine are a little larger- like 18″ or something. Starting with what you know:

  • base of pier is 36″ square
  • top of pier is 8″x24″
  • log (according to the plans) is 12″ diameter
  • log is supposed to set just in from the edge of pier, not the center.

Thinking about the above brings up a practical question: How far from the bottom edge of the pier do you place the rebar (i.e. the white line goes over the top of each stick of rebar in each pier)? To ask another way, if I hang my string layout at 40’x40′ square, how far out from the string is the edge of each hole for each pier?

My mistake in laying out the foundation was that I never considered this. So I spray-painted marks where I thought they should go, but I can’t prove that is actually where they go. So I messed up.

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I spent all day Wednesday burning in the hot sun to place 4 piers. I had to dig about 12″x36″x18″ of dirt to get the forms lined up correctly under the string. My wife finally talked me out of my stubbornness- and had me call the excavator. It took me five hours to fix 4 holes. I got better at it, but 31 holes means 31 hours of work if I do it by hand.  I did accomplish one thing: I know how far from the string the bottom edge of the pier goes- in my case, to get the rebar 8″ from the top edge, I need the bottom edge to be 16″ from the string. I got a plumb bob and a tape measure, and spray-painted marks. Then I called Jim to have the excavator come back and cut some more out of my holes. He couldn’t do it right away, but said he would call. I was worried he won’t get it done before the next rain, but he pulled off of a job he was doing on Cloud Trail road, came over to my place and fixed the gravel and the holes. He left before we showed up- under an hour.

Moving forward

Leveling the holes is now taking me about 10 minutes, instead of an hour. There’s a small chance of rain next week. Cross your fingers, and pray I can get concrete before anything happens.

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More of the same / Drawing our own plans

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More of the We’ve been through this already

We’ve already sat down and drawn up plans. Several times. Before I attended the first LHBA class in February 2016, my wife and I were so excited, we decided to draw up some plans. They were rectangular houses. Everyone from the organization said to wait until class, but we couldn’t. Then I took the class. Not much changed- except we now are working from a set of square plans. We had to completely re-draw our plans.  It wasn’t too bad- my wife had to give up a really good layout. The mathematician in me had to give up on having the satisfying “golden rectangle” design. But, here we are again, looking at stock plans and thinking (because we are rebellious like that), “this won’t work for our situation.”  We have lots of kids, and it looks like they will be living with us for a while. We have elderly parents who could potentially live with us for a while. I have two kids out of state that could come live with me at some point- and that could be out of the blue.

But, as the heading says, we’ve been through this already. Our issues mainly rest on how tall I can make this thing. If we get what we want, then the stairs can go where they are supposed to without getting squished by the lack of headroom from a shorter roof. But there are other things we haven’t figured out- like the actual floor plan for the second level. We know we want two bedrooms upstairs and a bathroom, but there is extra room, so do we want closets and a loft? or another bedroom? A den? A place for house plants?

Then there’s the utilities: where do we put the HVAC in a log home? You can’t just hide them in the walls- the walls are log, so you have to be a little more creative. We decided to put some of the chases in the closets. We changed some of the layout so that closets were above each other- making it easier to put a chase through them. But then that changes where the plumbing can go. And then the electrical. And on. And on.

And this doesn’t even include getting the window placement. Or the doors. These are special considerations when working with logs. And did I mention getting the permit?

The nervous permit process- two possible outcomes

The problem in a big city is big regulations. They don’t give a hoot about your dreams- only whether it will look nice for whatever zone you fall under. Start talking about a custom log home? That’ll be the beginning of your troubles.

The problem in a small city is small minded people who don’t like change. I’ll bet $100 that any private citizen builder goes down to the permit office with plans for a stick house that looks like all the other stick houses in the neighborhood will get his permit, no problem. Go in with plans for a log home and, “you wanna build a what?” And yes, everyone in the South has asked, “you gotta sawmill to mill them logs? How you gonna build a square house outta round logs?” Er, no, that’s not the type of log home I’m talking about. Suspicion level = 4. I’m going to do it myself. Suspicion level = 6. With these plans I drew myself. Suspicion level = 10. Ok, they were drawn and approved by an engineer. These plans have been used in all 50 states, with no problems. I just modified the inside walls a little. Suspicion level = 8. So there’s that.

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Re-drawing the stock plans

With all the above stated, I’m pretty nervous about modifying my stock plans:

  • What if the city wants an engineer’s wet stamp, and I can’t get an engineer to approve them?
  • What if I can get a wet stamp, but it costs a thousand dollars?
  • What if the city wants to nitpick and inspect everything according to the plans I submitted?
  • What if I can’t follow the plans I drew?

I’m using LibreCAD, because it’s free, open source, and works on Linux (I despise companies like Microsoft and Apple that give their source keys to the NSA). There’s like 35 layers on this drawing- electrical, floor joists, roof layout, plumbing- everything, so it’s a big project. I made a copy of the originals and used some weird online conversion program to change them into a format LiberCAD could understand (.dxf), and I’m modifying them slowly, one block at a time.

The roof overhangs are only 3′ 6″, but this is the South, so with all the rain, I may need bigger overhangs. But not too big because I’m doing a wrap around porch. One of our members, Paul Kahle, getting the ridge pole installed on a pier foundation (ours will be similar):

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I don’t like the main floor layout on the stock plans, so my wife and I hashed out one that we do like. Everything hinges on the stairs for some reason- we want to avoid knee walls upstairs (where the roof meets the wall: sometimes, in a log home, the second floor is more of a loft than a second floor, and the roof often meets up with the wall at about four feet tall). But if we want to avoid knee walls, then we need the walls to be full height on the second floor. Nobody wants to bump their head at the top of the stairs because the roof wasn’t tall enough. But we don’t want the stair anywhere else in the house (ruins our layout), so we have to push the roof up. We want ten foot ceilings downstairs. We hope for a similar height upstairs, but shorter – like eight feet- would still be acceptable.

The outcome and plan

My genius wife scared me the other night after we had finalized the second floor plan and I had started modifying the plans with: “I want to re-draw the second floor again.” Inside, I’m like, “Noooooooo!!!!!!!!” But I said, “Ok”. She went to work. A few hours later, I came home from practicing for the Christmas concert, and she met me with, “come look!”. It was great! It addressed the issues of where do we put extra people, gives me a study area/den, and gives her a loft/hang out area/ plant area. Everyone is happy. I guess the drawings will take me a month to finish updating. I’m doing it in between working on the property, working on my truck, working at my job, getting the kids to school, playing with my daughter, my church assignments, oh, and sleeping.

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And, sorry, but for privacy reasons, I don’t think I’ll post the floor plan here (we’ll welcome most folks that seem nice enough for a tour when it’s finished). But I can describe the layout:

The house will be built on a pier foundation with a wrap around porch. From the front door, you enter the home and look left- and see the living room with piano area and stairs. Look right, and see the kitchen. Straight ahead is the master bedroom and a second bedroom and bathroom, along with a laundry area and pantry. Upstairs, there are a couple of bedrooms, another bathroom, and a loft/study area. All living can be done on the main floor. The wrap around porch is divided in the back by a screened in porch looking out at the backyard.

2016 July 24: Schedule for the rest of 2016

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I got a little raise at work. Yay! Now, hopefully, our account will still be hundreds in the black instead of just tens a week before payday. It’s sort of self imposed: we committed to saving a small house payment-like amount when we started the build. We are counting on this amount to supplement our savings that we used to initially start things off. But I also have some student loan payments and we have the land loan every month, along with our utilities, groceries, gas, and the normal bills everyone has.

I’ve been worried about finances on the build for a few months now- the city charges $5,000 to hook up water, power, and sewer, and this amount will just about clean out our savings for the next few months, and make it difficult to get concrete poured (I’m thinking thousands for the concrete). But we can’t get a building permit until we have utilities, so it was becoming a roadblock to progress. With my little raise at work, we now have some breathing room on our build, although we won’t be able to do the concrete right away.

I’m still cleaning up tree debris from cutting twelve trees a few weeks ago- not ready to move logs, but hope to do so later this week. And the debris piles are getting huge. Even with saving the bigger branches, things are still piling up. I’m probably going to end up with ten or more debris piles. There is currently an annual “burn ban” for the summer in the county we live in, so no burning until October. And I think I’ll be required to have running water on hand while burning brush.

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I also need to borate the trees I have. Borating the trees stops mold and bugs (mostly termites) from setting up shop in your house. Borating only really needs to be done once if your logs are already stacked and dried in (protected from rain). My logs are laying around exposed to the elements, so I’m going to have to treat them twice- once now, and once again when they are under roof. Once they are under roof, further borating is not necessary. The boric acid discourages insects, while the glycol causes the tree to suck up the solution much farther than just water would do. For LHBA members (password and membership required), I like the thread “NOTICE – Borate Mixture- Notice” under the “log home construction” folder. Three ingredients- borax, boric acid, and some kind of glycol. There are some surface mold spots on the logs I’ve peeled (thank you,  ‘The South’, and your overly humid weather). I bought a metal bushel, but I still have to buy the borax and the glycol (both available at Walmart). I also have a sprayer (thank you, Harbor Freight, for having extremely cheap tools). Just need a few hours to boil up some brew…

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All of the above has caused me to think about a (very aggressive) build schedule for the rest of the year:

  • July
    • continue to cut trees, clean up brush.
    • Hope to end the month with 18 existing + 15 new = 33 trees on racks, and half of them peeled.
    • borate the trees I’ve peeled.
  • August
    • cut and haul more trees- hopefully, by end of August, get 20 more trees for a total of 53 trees- enough to start the build. I think I only need 48 for the walls, but I want some breathing room. I also still need a bunch for the roof purlins, lifting logs, cap logs, ridge poles, etc, but I can at least get the build going once I have the minimum.
  • September
    • Peel all trees, and borate the remainder once peeled.
  • October
    • pay for water hook up
    • submit plans and get building permit
    • dig and pour foundation
  • November
    • lay first logs for walls. This also means I’ll make this blog public- that is the goal- make it public after the first few courses of logs are laid.
    • burn brush piles and maybe stumps
  • December
    • Lay last log for walls
  • January 2017 (or whenever I have funds)
    • Get the freakin’ roof on!

At some point, I need to get more tools and materials. Items I’m still missing:

  • plywood for foundation forms ($200)
  • concrete ($2400)
  • rebar (about $1200)
  • 2 3-ton chain hoists ($160)
  • rebar cutter ($150) or chop saw blades ($50?)
  • styrofoam for roof (I don’t know- probably $200-500)
  • roof panels (probably metal roof – $3000)
  • T&G roof decking ($2000)
  • plywood roof underlayment (I don’t know)

It’s obviously very ambitious for one person, not to mention one person that has never done this before. I’m sure there will be delays due to finances or hassles with the city, equipment breakdowns, etc. But if the schedule needs to be adjusted by two or three months, that’s ok- I need to wait for a tax return for a boost to my finances anyway.  It still appears that I can “git-r-dun” within my goal of 2-3 years.

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