Rain, Rain, go away


I need about a week of dry weather. Here’s the story:

Contacted my excavator- he still says he can dig 31 holes for about $400. He came out to look at my site on March 3, and said he can dig the holes any time I want, but he did  point out that I should have the plywood forms ready to drop in the holes the day he digs them. Which, at the time, I didn’t have any built, but I did have the plywood for them.

That sets up a few things that needed to happen:

Pour schedule

Day 0: foundation is dug, forms are ready to put in ground, rebar is onsite, and cut to size.

Day 1: level holes, install forms.

Day 2: Orient forms perfectly so the rebar will be ready to accept logs. The whole focus is to ensure the line of rebar sticking out of the tops of the piers is within 1/16″  perfectly lined up along the center of each line of piers along each side of the house. This helps with attaching the dreaded first layer of logs to the foundation, which is a pain, from what I hear.

Day 3: get pre-pour inspection done. Not sure what to expect here, but this is one of the inspections required by the city. I assume they are checking code to ensure piers are a minimum of 12″ below grade.

Day 4: pour concrete and place rebar in the forms.

Day 11:? pull plywood off forms. I think I wait a week after the pour to remove the plywood.
I have to do this over a short time period (think: days), because I think my forms (due to winter water damage) probably can’t take any more moisture. I don’t want them sitting around in the rain in holes in the ground while my rebar is on order, or while I try to get them oriented correctly. I just want to get them in the ground, orient them, get them inspected, and pour the concrete- preferably over the span of 2-3 dry days.

I did a final calculation on the volume of concrete needed. It’s a little tricky to calculate the volume of a “truncated regular pyramid”:


Fortunately, the internet is a fantastic place for letting someone else do the heavy lifting, and there’s a website that will calculate the volume if you provide the a,b, & h. Turns out I need 0.66 cubic yards for each of my smaller forms (28), and 1.28 cubic yards for the larger forms (3), for a total of about 23 yards of concrete (about $2300).

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Building the forms

I left the property after talking to Juni (the excavator) to go home and build forms. I built them all afternoon, and most of the next day (Saturday). Then I spent all week (when it wasn’t raining) building more. I almost finished building all 31 after a week of work. I need to put together the last three (which are the big ones- 54″x54″ base, 45 1/4″ tall).

My plywood was covered by a tarp all winter, but it still soaked up some water, which worries me. Concrete weighs about 3,700 pounds per cubic yard, and each pier is about 0.66 cubic yards, so I can figure about 2,400 pounds per pier. So the forms have to withstand 65 pounds per square foot (at least at the top). I also have to worry about the corners of the forms blowing out, or the bottoms, or maybe the whole pier will lift when the concrete is poured. I plan on using the extra dirt from the excavation to hold the forms down during the pour, and I’m adding collars to each one- found a cheap place (Mike’s Merchandise) to buy bolts – they sell surplus bolts and nuts for $1.00 per pound (13 nuts and bolts were a pound). I bought all they had in one size and ended up at about $20 of bolts- enough to do about 70% of the collars. If I had bought the same bolts at HomeDepot, it would have cost me $1.00 per bolt/nut, meaning, I would have paid about $372.00. So, my deal of $20-$30 is pretty cheap. Pays to shop around.

After building the forms, I have this huge pile of scrap leftover that I plan on using as part of the collars to strengthen the forms.

Getting Utilities installed

This has to be done before I can pass inspection- must have running water on site before you can pour concrete.

I went in January to get the utilities installed, but the utility company said I had to have a building permit. I went to the city to get the building permit, and they said I had to have utilities installed. Arggh! Will someone just please take my money so I can build?

I went back today, after getting the building permit- and they said, “Oh, do you have a copy of your building permit?” Well…..yes….posted out there on the property, like the city requires…. No matter- have to wait for the city electrical engineer to go out now (something else they didn’t mention last time….) and decide whether there’s enough power in the area to drop a line onto my property. She said she’ll take a picture of the permit while she’s out there tomorrow.

And I got the quote, too: normally, they come out and install a temporary utility pole with the meter on it. When you’re done building, you move the meter onto your house, and they come get the temporary pole. Of course, my build can’t be that simple, no- there’s no poles near my property – they are all across the street. So I have to pay for a permanent pole, plus a temporary pole (not sure why they can’t be the same). I also have to pay for a transformer. Expected cost: $5,000 for water, $385 for the temporary pole, and  $1800 for the permanent drop. Things are adding up…..

Sourcing Rebar

HomeDepot (hate to pick on them because they actually do sell 2×4’s for a good price, and they do have a lot of stuff in stock when you need it) sells rebar for about $0.50 per foot.


On the LHBA forum, there’s a section for posting “Craigslist finds”. On there, I discovered $0.30  per foot is a good deal. And just the other day, an advertisement popped up in my search:


I did the math- 7,000 ft for $1,000 works out to $0.14 per foot- a screaming deal. Except the guy (or gal, I guess), didn’t leave a phone number. Of course, 7,000 feet of rebar weighs 7,000 x .668 = 4676 lbs, so I’d need a bigger trailer (I think mine is rated for 2,000 pounds). But I only need 2600 feet for the cabin, and maybe half that for the garage. In the end, I could probably sell the scrap, and make my money back. In the end, the guy didn’t post any contact info- I pressed the “let poster know they didn’t leave any contact info” button. Several times. And again yesterday. And today. Twice. Maybe three times.

So I looked again for other ads, and found this guy in Decatur that says he’ll beat any price. I called him, and he did- $0.29 per foot. And he’ll cut it for free.  The old “a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush” holds true. And he spent all week last week cutting out plywood for forms for a house he’s building for himself. He wants the rain to go away, too…..


All of this adds up, of course, to a lot of money, time, and exhaustion. The main thing I’m worried about is that my forms don’t get left in the rain for days while I wait for an inspection, or the concrete, or the excavation. Getting all the materials, inspections, installations, and people lined up is quite an adventure. But once the foundation is done, the next adventure begins: getting ready to stack logs.


Dealing with our utilities company


Updates for the Holidays

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and all that good stuff. The Holidays are over, time to get back to work. I’ve been clearing brush, cutting more trees, and getting everything in order so I can start stacking logs ASAP. Still want to get the roof on before summer (April – June).

I have started cutting the concrete forms out, but my saw died. I found another one on Craigslist, and the guy also had a builder’s level- for $50. Wow! Those things are usually a couple hundred bucks.

I finally sat down with the city and talked specifics on a building permit. The process is pretty straightforward:

  1. Apply for an address
  2. Apply for Utilities through Huntsville City (Yes, my city buys their utilities from Huntsville)
    1. Must get a preliminary energy compliance certificate ICC-09 or something
  3. Pay for utilities to be installed (I pay my city, then they schedule Huntsville to do the work)
  4. Wait for installation (3-5 days)
  5. Submit plans to my city, pay for permit
  6. Start diggin’.
  7. Pass 3 inspections: concrete, rough-in, final.

Most of the process isn’t interesting, but the sticker is this energy code compliance stuff.

Energy Code Efficiency

Huntsville is progressive, like most other cities. Here’s how it works. Even though I own the land, and will be paying the bills, the government still gets to tell me how much energy I get to use. Remember, I’m paying the bill, but they get to tell me how much I can use. They get to tell me how many windows I can have, how thick they have to be, what kind of materials I can use, etc., and I’m assuming they will get more restrictive in the future. It’s not freedom. But, I can’t get power and water- in fact, I can’t get a building permit without their permission, so what do you do…..

2017-01-07-09-24-04_scrotOne of the insane laws I have to comply with is a blower door test in which a plastic frame is fitted over your front door with a fan and some gauges. The fan sucks air out of your house, and the gauges measure how much air gets sucked in through the cracks. The total volume of air in your house is calculated, and to pass the test, your house must not exceed 5 volumes of air changes per hour. Not too bad- I mean, you want your house tight, right? Here’s where the insanity comes in: there’s another law- this one says that if your house is built too tight- like it doesn’t allow air to exchange at more than 5 volumes of air per hour, you have to supply “mechanical ventilation”. Huh? So you have to make it tight to pass, but then you have to supply “mechanical ventilation” (a fan) to bring in outside air-so it’s not too tight. Why don’t they just forget measuring it at all- oh, because then the HVAC people (not the guy who comes out- the business owners who are in bed with the government) who invented this nonsense wouldn’t make any money. So, everyone plays the game, even though we all know it’s just a big kick-back program.

Another law says my walls have to be insulated to R-13 or better. Does that law take into account the 30 studies going back to the 1980’s that show that R-values are not a reliable indicator for how well your walls will actually insulate?  Or that log walls, even at half the R-value of standard walls, perform 45% better at energy efficiency (as recognized by the National Homebuilders Association and the Log Homes Council)? No. And No.

A 7″ thick log wall has a R-value of about R-9, yet performs 45% better at heat loss/gain than a standard framed wall (R-value of about R-15).  It’s called Thermal Mass, and R-values don’t account for it. Luckily for me, I’m not using 7″ logs. Mine are averaging about 17″, so I’m hoping to beat the stupid R-value requirement with huge logs.

It should be obvious that these “energy efficiency” laws are really about corporations and businesses using the clout of government to take your money. Same is true for the “climate change” nonsense.  If they were really all about “green building” and “saving energy”, wouldn’t they be all over themselves and support a guy cutting trees off his own property, with minimal processing/transportation/carbon emissions/at least 45% more energy efficient than traditional building/proven to lower your energy costs by 2/3’s/etc/etc? Yeah. They would.

Drawing the plans


So, I’ll play the game. I modified the plans I bought. I used a Linux computer running CrunchBang (isn’t that the coolest name for an operating system?) and LibreCAD, a free opensource software to arrange the floorplan to our liking.

It was a very detailed process. After converting the AutoCad files to a DXF format and then importing them into LiberCad, I had to first delete the interior floor plans, modify the outside access a little. Then I had to re-draw the interior plans. Have to know things like:

  • a standard wall is about 6″ thick
  • how wide bathroom doors are vs. bedroom doors vs. exterior doors,
  • window sizes
  • hallway sizes, bedroom sizes, closet sizes
  • stair width and length
  • plumbing configurations

It took a lot of work.

Submitting plans

As much as I dislike the government in my business, the utilities people I’ve been working with have been very professional and super nice. The guy I talked to gave me a lot of insight on the process and even gave me a heads up that the codes are about to change- maybe in March. He said if I get my building permit before the code changes, then I’m locked in under the current code- don’t have to meet any new requirements. So I took the week off working on the property, and devoted all my time to finishing the plans.

I just emailed the guy this morning:


Next steps

He’ll plug in all the numbers- log size, square footage, window area, number of bedrooms, building layout (which direction it faces), and give me a preliminary rating. A standard frame built home from 2006 is used as a reference- they give it 100 points. Then they look at my plans and say, “ok, your home has to beat the 2006 standard home by 30 points.” So I have to have 70 or less to pass.

Wish me luck.

On the edge of change


I keep bending the forks

I love this tractor, but I also realize it is 50 years old. I’ve now replaced or fixed:

  • the steering column
  • at least half a dozen hitch pins or linch pins- they pop out or fall out.
  • a flat tire
  • ignition switch – fixing this also fixed the charging and oil light from coming on all the time.
  • light switch
    • But now I would like some rear lights- I was hoping for some red ones so I can “legally” drive on the road that have removable red covers so I can use them as rear work lights on my property, but I can’t seem to find any.
  • bent steering rod
  • bent forks:
    • added strength members
    • straightened
    • added support beams to existing splines
  • lift arms- replaced one side with new arm support, welded the other- twice, now.

I feel like I’m in the home stretch- I’ve got almost all the heavy trees from the neighbor. I still need to cut a bunch from my property, and I need to get about 20 straight little ones for the rafters. But I almost feel like I’ve strained the tractor to its breaking point and need to be very careful not to get into some major issues- like I thought I was in a few weeks ago on a Friday I took off work:

I was moving a brush pile, and knew I was low on fuel, but I thought, “just one more run, then I’ll go get some diesel,” and the thing promptly sputtered and died right there.

I grabbed my chainsaw fuel can, knowing it was almost empty, and went to fill my chainsaw tank. But the chainsaw was full, too.

“Okay, so I’ll cut some trees to use up some fuel,” I thought. Did that, then emptied the fuel can into the saw tank. Got in my car, drove up to the gas station to get a gallon of diesel. Came back, put it in the tractor, and it started right up. I went up to the gas station on the tractor and filled the tank, then came back to do more work. On the way back, however, the tractor felt a little weak. But I hooked up a tree and tried to skid it over to my property. The tractor engine got weaker and weaker as I went. I got halfway there, and the tractor gave up. I tried to start it, but it was acting like it was begging for fuel.

I finally got it across the street with the help of another neighbor. Then, Mr. Maples came out to look at it, “I heard you sputtering over there.” We worked on it for about two hours, and couldn’t get it started. He thought it was the fuel pump. I had to leave and meet my wife for something, so I decided to come back on Saturday. Mr. Maples had already been working on it. I felt bad and started to apologize to Mrs. Maples, but she stopped me and said, “Look at that smile on his face- he loves doing this kind of stuff. You give him something to look forward to.”

With Mr. Maples help, we got it started: air in the fuel line is bad for diesels. And I learned that there are no glow plugs on my tractor (and for the uninitiated curious, no spark plugs either). The cylinders in the engine fire solely through compression. The fuel pump is completely mechanical- and has three pins inside that are timed off a gear from the front of the motor. It is quite ingenious. A few days after getting it running, it sputtered and died again. I remembered reading online somewhere that the fuel pump requires a certain amount of oil. Yes, the fuel pump requires oil. I checked its level, and sure enough it was low, so I added some. It runs fine, now.

There is no way I can repay the Maples for all of their help and kindness.

It was so, so dry, but now…

It’s been cold and wet. Moving trees during a drought is hard with my setup. Moving trees through wet weather- fuhgetaboutit. We’ve been having quite a bit of rain lately. It takes a minimum of one day of sunny weather after the rain to get going again. Two days if I’m moving logs.

Here’s the forecast for this week:


It was light outside, but now…

I’m not only watching the weather, but Daylight Savings is not saving me, nor is there very much Daylight….

I have a very generous boss at work: he’s pretty laid back, sometimes checks on us while not wearing shoes. I asked if I could set my schedule for 6:30-3:30, and he said ‘no problem.’ I get off at 3:30, and on good days, get to my property at 4:00. With daylight savings, that gives me about an hour of sunlight. I’ve considered only going out on Saturdays, but if I can clear one brush pile or move one tree every night, that’s something. We really want to get this thing done. With the current federal gov. administration, we were feeling that the potential for constriction (EPA, taxes, Agenda 21/Agenda 2030, etc.) was real, had the outcome of the election been different (hey, they really are regulating cow farts in Kalifornia, so the “Agenda”s mentioned above are not that far fetched). Not that the election results signaled any drastic changes, but we now feel like there is some breathing room. Don’t get me started on how far away from the Constitution we actually are as a country…But I digress.

The shortest day of the year is coming up. After this, we start getting about 3 minutes of daylight every day until June:


Doesn’t seem like much, but remember during the summer when the sun when to bed around 9:00 pm? I was getting a lot more done.

I like Christmas but….

I don’t like the hustle, bustle, pressure, and rush. I just finished with the Christmas orchestra at my church (playing flute and saxophone), but now I have to ramp up for the choir performance on Christmas Day. I’ve got 8-9 songs I have to learn on piano.

I’m also making some presents (8 knitted hats) for my sister’s family that I have to get in the mail this week.


My wife is taking care of all the other gifts for family. She is quite amazing.



20161214_153819_zpsyuqiurzm1The edge of change….

The most exciting development right now is getting our utilities installed. This is a huge development. Whereas right now, we have a piece of land with logs, getting utilities installed means we can apply for a building permit. It means commitment. We are on the cusp of paying for this. It will be a major step in this process. There are a few things we have to nail down before we can apply:

  • we have to apply for an address.
  • we have to submit a map with the future location of the home marked on it.
  • we have to make sure our home is close enough to the street to ensure the sewer line has a proper grade.
  • we may have to install some type of power pole for the utilities to connect to.
  • we have to pay $5,000 to get the water, sewer, and power.
  • we have to submit a front elevation (view) of the house.

Like I said, utilities will change everything- the build will shift from slowly moving logs to digging a foundation, pouring concrete, and then stacking logs. It’s time to get excited.