Sorry everyone, I tried to write a blog for early August; it was almost “in the pocket” but then I let it slip away!
The good news is that there are good reasons for letting that one slip: Things are just going faster than I can write them and I am just too busy between work, family and trying to rest.
The bad news is …? There is no bad news!
I am then forced to completely rewrite my previous August blog attempt; from a mid-summer blog, it now becomes a late summer blog; things just don’t look the same anymore; what was new trends in early August are now achievements in early September.
So you think “If I could not write it in August, what makes it easier to write it in September? The answer is simple: it is not easier but my guilt level is greater.
I feel guilty of not having provided you, my family, my friends and all other readers out there with even an update on our project. But I am sure that you will forgive me when you see the results.
So all self-pity aside, here it is: my Late Summer Blog
First I must announce that I am now grand-father to a second little girl: Madeline. She finally arrived on
September 1st very early in the morning and is of course gorgeous and Mommy and Baby are in great shape.
So, the Charmet family expands and I am confirmed with joy in my Grandfather role.
Working / Not-working?
I have become a permanent resident of Bancroft since mid-June. When my work contract with the bank ended in Mid-June, we decided that this was a sure enough sign that I should go and build that house instead of working for a salary. At first, we thought that I would aim to return to work in September, but when we saw how much progress we were doing with the team, we decided to keep the construction going as long as we can into September. Then when installing the roof became a possibility for 2015, we decided to push it as far as we could in order to achieve that before November.
So for me it is a sort of sabbatical from my usual consulting work, but it is a physically tiring work.
However, I am not retired and I do intend to go back to consulting work, but I am just not sure when this will happen.
Highlights on the building progress:
We have had a 3 man crew working full time team since July and a 4th is here this week as well.
We have been fortunate with the weather. So far we have had only one full day of rain and three days when the weather forced us to close at 4 pm.
I has been working out very well and we made some amazing progress:
· As of September 18th, we have completed:
o The 10th tire course on all North, East and West walls. Considering that the back wall is 12 courses, we do have the end in sight.
o The 4th tire course on the south wall (last course).
· QA is going well, one of my guys has learned it and is now performing QA efficiently.
· We are not doing any more volunteer weekends. Since we work 5 days a week, weekends are needed to rest and attend to other things than building.
· We are now on track to finish the walls in 2015 and install the roof before winter, i.e. by late October or early November. We are waiting for quotes on the roofing from a few suppliers.
New techniques and tools:
We were very fortunate to have Jim Knell’s visit in early summer to share his earthship building experience and knowledge with us and we decide to try and adopt some of his ideas and recommendations. As a result we spend a lot of time after that visit reevaluating and redefining our strategies and techniques.
· We molded two heavy rams from about 3 to 4 inches of concrete inside a 5 gal barrel with a pipe in the center to use as a handle. We now call them “Bertha” (as in “Big Bertha”). They have now become fully integrated in our tire compacting process.
· Using lath (aka. diamond mesh) to make molds for small concrete blocks between tires and at wall’s ends, where needed.
· Using cut tires at the end of walls to make ½ tire blocks and using a portable band saw to cut the tires. We attach the half tires to the existing tires with 1 ½ “roofing screws.
· On the 5th tire course, we drive 1 piece of rebar through each tire to about 1 foot into the ground (where possible)
· As we arrived at the 4th course of tires, we started having challenges being in a good position to compact tires easily. We could see that this was going to be a challenge from now on
· Doing my usual ‘McGiver’ routine, I designed a small platform fitting around one tire, but quickly realized that it did not work well enough to be useable.
· After discussion with Joanne, we decided that we needed proper scaffolding. I looked around but could not find anything cheap and practical. At this point, my father in law in all his wisdom, exclaimed “Holy Good God, you make the damn thing!” and proceeded to explain how he always made his own scaffolding when he needed them. So, we looked on the internet and of course the next day, I built one. We tried it and it was successful so I made a second one.
See pictures in the picture gallery
Bringing the sand to the top of the wall (loading platforms):
· Of course equally a challenge was to bring the sand to the top of the wall. We had always used wheelbarrow to bring the dirt to the tires and the loader shoveled it from the wheelbarrow into the tire. We did not relish the idea of using buckets and lifting them up to the top tire. If you try it once, you will agree that carrying two pails full of sand just pulls your arms out of their sockets before you take 3 steps.
· Prior to creating the scaffolding, I considered all alternatives to lift the sand to the top of the walls including using an auger. The auger solution was finally ruled out because we thought that sand would jam, pack and simply not work well with an auger.
· After having designed the scaffolding, I tried creating a pulley system but found that either it was too hard to lift a bucket full of sand with a one pulley system or that with a two pulleys system, it was too cumbersome and not very efficient. This idea was also shelved quickly.
· Soon after we had the scaffolding operating, the team asked me to build a small platform with a ramp to bring the wheel barrows up to the worker on the scaffold where they would shovel the sand into the tires. So with their input we designed a 3’x3’x3’ platform and ramp and they loved it. They loved it even better when I got some short handle shovels to go with that. Since it was such a success, I built another platform but thinking of the ever growing wall, I made it 4’x4’x4’ with a bigger ramp. It has proved to work very well in spite of the longer ramp that we had to fit to it. Now that we are working on the 10th course, I just made a third one 5 1/2 feet high with a ramp going to our now useless 3ft platform. The first tests in production on the 10th tire course are satisfactory. Obviously it is more cumbersome to move around, but it is still the best work around we could figure out so far.
See pictures in the picture gallery
Compacting tires with the back-fill tamper
· Only when we had the fine red sand, did the team prefer using sledgehammers rather than the back-fill tamper. When using the regular sand, we use only the back-fill tamper and Bertha’s to fully compact tires. We have actually stopped using sledgehammers altogether and we are compacting our tires just as well as before if not better. So far that back-fill tamper and compressor has been an excellent investment.
· The trench for the pipe from the well to the house: in order to put in place the permanent pipe going from the well to the house (around 120 feet), we ideally need to dig a 4 ft deep trench so we can bury that pipe safely below the frost line. John and his dad come over with a back hoe and dig the trench. We come upon some really big rock and it turns out to be a lot more difficult than we expected. Some of the block we extract are over 1 ton. We also end up hitting bed rock at the bottom of the trench at about only 1 foot below current grade.
o Plan A: We arrange for them to come back with their back hoe and the jack hammer attachment next weekend to try and break the higher rocks. But they cannot go through bed rock and we are left with a challenge: How will we get our hose 4ft below ground?
o Plan B: I buy a pail of rock busting compound (a sort of plaster that you mix and pour in pre-drilled holes in the rock that expands greatly when drying) – I rent a big percussion drill with a 1 1/2'” bit. I drill a number of holes and pour the stuff in it. On the first try, we mostly had some explosions of the compound itself. What happened is that the compound expanding, if the rock does not give, the pressure will build in the compound until it will explode out of the hole. In other words, we just re-invented the cannon! I do a second try with more holes in different positions and we brake some of the rock. However, this is such a small piece of the overall rock and drilling our holes is such hard labor that it is clear that this process is not doable for the type of rock that we have.
o Plan C: We will leave the bedrock where it is and raise the ground over the pipe after using sawdust around the pipe and Styrofoam over the pipe in the ground to protect the pipe to the maximum.
· The sand quality: In late July, we receive two truck of sand for filling tires and making concrete for packing the wall. This sand is different from the previous one as it is a very fine red sand with almost the consistency of flour. It works ok for compacting but very poorly for concrete making as it becomes gooey and almost impossible to mix. So we keep this sand for filling and compacting tires, and I have to find another temporary supplier for sand for concrete and now I remember to specify more accurately the quality of sand I want when ordering.
As mentioned earlier, we are aiming to:
1. Complete the tire walls in early October
2. Complete the wood framing (south wall, and internal wall) which have support beams for the roof
3. Install the roof before mid-November
4. Close the site and return to Toronto for winter and back to consulting work in November
· Primarily, we are feeling a great joy for the accomplishment to this day. We are of course ecstatic to be in position to complete the roof before this winter and to be ahead of forecast!
· Looking at the walls as they are now, I have a hard time believing how high they are. They are certainly a lot higher than I imagined them to be.
· It is a pleasure to work with this crew as it is now functioning. Some members of it have come and gone back more permanent jobs and we are so grateful to have had these guys!
· Also feeling a great excitement for what we still need to achieve before November, getting quotes for all the suppliers and making some important technical and partnering decisions.
· As always eternally grateful for all the people who come by and pay us a visit, friends, volunteers , curious neighbors, future earthships builders, people offering help in various ways and people simply offering support and enthusiasm.
· Of course all this comes with some stress to resolve all the building and technical questions regarding the structure and the roof supports beams and fighting against time and weather to complete the roof this fall.
· Finally, a little stress about eventually breaking away from this project and going back to consulting work at some point this late fall.