Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Cool, Clear Water

I do not think I can quite express my overwhelming joy and glee at what you are now seeing. That beautiful, clear water is freely flowing from my garden hose whenever I turn the knob! True, it's not flowing in the house yet, but like the monkey said when he got his tail caught in the door, it won't be long now. Mostly due to Allen's great efforts, we finally relocated the pump and tank and got everything wired and hooked up. The pump house itself is not finished but is providing enough shelter for the equipment for now.
We had to run about 220 feet of #8 wire in conduit to this new location. We are using a 1hp shallow well pump which draws 7 or 8 amps running but more when it initially starts up. I found several different recommendations for wire size on this due to length of the pull etc. but #12 seemed to be the most popular size. I did want to go one size up from that because this allows for greater energy efficiency. Just like water flows freer through a larger pipe, electricity flows easier through larger wire. I read a couple of studies on how much cheaper it is to run an appliance or whatever if you go one size bigger on the wire. On average, it was about $30-$40 a year savings, which may not seem like that much but to me, that adds up. Actually, the #8 is 2 sizes bigger but Allen insisted and we worked out a deal where he gets my leftover #12 wire (which I had procured at an earlier date for free), which will be a lot, in exchange for this wire here. The electrical box is an old leftover off a job, the rafters are 80 year old heart pine out of an old building downtown and the roof decking is plyform from way back when we poured the first foundation wall for the house. We did buy the PT 2x4's for the framing.

Here you can see the configuration of the pump and tank and how that is all hooked up. There will be a real floor in the house at some point. It did not take anywhere near the effort to prime the system this time. Of course, the water line was still holding water from our first efforts but it was much easier to get going and you can hear that it just runs better and sounds better. There is only one 90 degree turn in the pipe on the suction side.

Here you can see that, in order to keep the water lines as even and in line as possible, the equipment was located at different elevations. I was pleased to see the concrete walls came out as well as they did. I was afraid that with such tight (4") forms and no vibrator, we were going to have a bunch of honeycomb in the walls but we didn't. I bumped them really good but gently with a sledgehammer the whole time we were pouring. If you look close you can see the little PT blocks we embedded in the top of the walls for the framing to fasten to. That seemed to work well. Pulling wire that far was really a pain. We ran a strong string through the conduit as we were gluing it together but when we tried to pull all three wires through, the string broke. So, we pulled everything back out and sucked the string back through with a vacuum. We then pulled just the ground wire through (we had double length of it) and used it to pull the 2 hot wires and another length of ground wire. That worked pretty good but you still need one person at each end pushing and pulling.

So now I can water my garden just standing there instead of hauling water in buckets up from the creek. I watered everything I could reach today, even myself some. That spring water is COLD though! After about an hour of running water and making sure the pump and tank were going to work properly, I checked the spring level. It had dropped about 12-14 inches, which did cause me some concern. I have not seen it drop that much that fast. Anyway, I turned the water off and left for about 2 hours and when I came back the spring had completely recovered to it's previous level.

Monday, June 25, 2007


This weekend was very productive and some noticeable things are going on at the house. My mason buddy (Charles) came Friday and Saturday and started closing up the underside of the house. We ran out of block so it's not completed but I hope to be able to scrounge up some more soon. Now, when completed, this block will not show on the outside of the house. A stone planter will be built in front of the block and stone will top out the wall above the planter. I got the block for free and am trading for the labor to lay it, so I thought it would save me time and rock gathering labor to do it this way. If you notice the bright pink ball of string in the bottom right of the photo, Charles said he bought that just for me and this job. It takes a manly mason to use pink string. I wonder if he will carry to any other jobs though.

Due to lack of planning more than poor planning, lots of cuts had to be made and so that is why this little bit of block took 2 days to lay. I had originally thought the whole wall would be stone and so footing steps, column lines etc. didn't matter. They matter a lot if you lay block. But he was very kind about it and did a beautiful job. I told him it didn't have to be so neat but he wouldn't have it any other way because he said someone might see it before it got covered up. And I thought I was obsessive-compulsive.

I welded these ties on every 16" vertically (to hit in every other joint) and then painted my welds with primer. You can see that the ties have a slot that the little wire can move up and down in so you have about 3" in case the tie isn't in exactly the right spot. This block has been "buttered" and is waiting for the next block to be set on top.
I also had to serve as the laborer because a mason usually does not mix or carry any mud, block or tools. So, after proper instruction, I mixed the mortar, kept it on the boards, kept it wet, carried and placed block, made some cuts and generally tried to keep Charles from having to do anything but lay the block. I did not succeed on everything. I cooked lunch for him and welded a fender back on his trailer too so maybe I did my part for the weekend. He claims that he has not laid block in about 10 years (2 back surgeries) so I said this was sort of like a limited edition wall then. I'm proud to have it at any rate. At the end I also provided some comedy for him because he wanted me to try laying the last couple of block. Let me tell you, it's much harder than it looks. But I did see the tricks to it and, as I told him, I learned a lot. I learned I don't want to be a mason.
We had some friends visit who have been watching the blog for a while and that was fun although I didn't get to talk with them a whole lot due to work. Allen got most of the pump house framed and we both worked on wiring it on Sunday. After a pain in the butt ordeal we finally got the wire pulled and the connections made and he set the pump today. We may try to move the pressure tank tomorrow.
I'm still out of work. Maybe that won't last much longer because things are getting pretty slim as far as being able to buy materials for the house. But it will all work out fine.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Despite the drought conditions, the blackberry crop has been pretty good this year. I have been taking advantage of my laid-off time by doing some stuff I normally don't have time to. Like going out in the mornings or evenings and picking blackberries and cooking a little more etc. These are a chore to get to but worth it to me. I spent a couple of days picking the thorns out of the back of my hand after gathering these. The bowl is one of a set I made in college. One of the few pieces I have from that time. I am actually firing some pottery I made some time ago to take to a upscale farmer's market in Birmingham this Saturday. I've got to do something to get more income coming in and I usually do pretty good at this place.
On house news, the drywall is finished and ready to prime and start painting. I am kind of torn between 2 options on the paint. I could try to make the paint. I have found several recipes for natural milk paint etc. I already have most of the ingredients (whiting, mineral colorants)because a lot of them are used in making glazes for pottery and the paints are considered the healthiest. However, some don't work real well over drywall and in the very humid areas like here in the South. My other option is a commercial painting contractor that I know well. They give their leftover paint away to certain individuals because otherwise they have to pay to have it disposed of. You only have certain colors to choose from as it is just what they happen to have at the moment but I imagine that, due to the size of the company, that could be a pretty good selection and I'm sure that I could find at least some of the paint I wanted. Latex paint is considered to be somewhat unhealthy as it releases certain chemicals (VOCs) but even non-"green" paint has gotten somewhat better about that. Using the paint would keep it out of a landfill also. After it dries (in a house) I think it becomes basically inert and is probably a worse thing for it to be disposed of, even in a proper way. So... free, potentially slightly unhealthy paint that is easy and quick to apply or very healthy, very inexpensive paint that could be a real pain in the butt to make (and color) and time consuming to apply.
I will be wrecking the forms soon at the pump house and we can start to move that equipment down there and hopefully, have running water soon.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Late In The Evening

Over the weekend we formed and poured the lower walls for the pump house. The tallest part of these walls are 3'-6" and then we will frame the rest of the structure on top of this. The walls are 3 5/8" thick so that the concrete and the wood frame will all be one thickness. Not that that really matters but it helps cut down on the amount of Quickrete I had to buy and mix etc. and it is sufficient to hold. We used concrete for the bottom half to be able to backfill against it and offer some thermal protection to the pump and tank without running a heater. Also, if we had wanted to do the whole thing wood-framed that would have required A LOT of excavation and the dirt in this area is very hard. As you can see if this photo, we went ahead and made the door frame out of PT 4x4's and set it in concrete. This way it served to help form the front walls and tie into the concrete.
Allen made up the rebar mats for the walls while I cut the plyform etc. We did not pour any footings and will pour a little dirt/mortar floor later. Due to the thinness of the walls and the hardness of the dirt I think this will be OK. Normally, I would always pour some kind of footing but, as we say on the big jobs, we ain't building no piano. The 2 holes in the ground are for the door frame.

This is a detail of the of the forms; I didn't think this was a very good shot but maybe it's clear enough to see what we did. The forms are basically 3/4" plyform (not regular plywood although that would be fine) with 2x4's nailed on the edges to stiffen. Plyform is plywood (usually fir) that has been treated with an oily release agent. It has a good smooth surface kinda like BC and is great for sheathing later because it resists moisture. We did not use snap ties because, as far as I know, they don't make 4" ties but these walls were not hardly big enough for them anyway. The little, wooden block in the photo acted as a snap tie in that it kept the forms a certain distance apart and, being PT also, will be left in the walls to screw the wood framing down to. We ran galvanized screws halfway into the sides of the blocks to help them bond into the concrete. There are also 2- 3" PVC sleeves down in there to form a passageway for the water pipe and electrical conduit to run through the walls.

This is just me floating off the top of the walls trying to get them pretty much on grade and fairly smooth so the bottom plate of the wood framing will sit nice. The interior forms we set at grade but for ease we just let the outer forms run wild on about half of it. We couldn't do a lot of digging or disturbing ground without it falling into the wall forms.

We started mixing and pouring about 3:00 p.m. and finished around 7:00. We used 28, 80 lb. bags, so we poured 2,240 lbs of concrete ( doesn't include the water) with a 5 -gallon bucket. We took turns mixing but we were wore slap out by evening to say the least. If you are wondering why didn't I just order concrete, well, I'll tell you. Even all that wouldn't have made quite a yard of concrete. All the batch plants up here charge a 3-4 yard minimum and with concrete going up to $91.00/yard min. it was much cheaper this way. Plus, we would have had a major time getting a truck up in the woods where this thing is, if it would have been possible at all. Now, we could have laid 8" block and it would have been cheaper (maybe not much) and easier ( sorta) but we just prefer poured concrete. Maybe we are gluttons for punishment. Oh, BTW, the local building supply once again beat Lowe's and Home Depot on prices. They were about 50 cents cheaper per bag on the Quikcrete than the big box stores. How is that possible? Hhhmm. Something stinks in Denmark.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Dry Times

This week our county and about half the others in the state were declared federal disaster areas because of the drought here. Around this area it doesn't actually look that bad but I know it is. What is frustrating is that, like today, huge, dark clouds just filled with rain came up and boiled all around and then just sorta faded away without so much as a drop falling. The little spring doesn't seem to be doing too badly though. It is down about 2 inches. We put this 3" pipe down in the spring with these measurements marked on the outside just to keep an idea of what the water does. This pipe also serves to protect the suction pipe from a possible cave-in and keep any big frog or whatever away. There are a series of 1/2" holes drilled in the lower 4' of this pipe to allow the water to flow to the suction pipe. The suction pipe is 1 1/2" PVC with a brass footvalve about 18" above the bottom of the hole.
This is a little further down the line where I walk down to the stream, that comes from the spring, to dip water. As you can see, the path is well worn.

This is down at the deeper part; you can see my dipping can on the right. This is about as deep as it ever is though. This is a very nice area and I want to clear it just a little more and plant some native, flowering plants here and there. There are already lots of oak leaf hydrangea and ferns.

My garden is not doing too bad except where the rabbits came in and mauled it but I have been willing to haul water to it several days a week. I did pick some squash today and hopefully the tomatoes will be ripe soon. One thing that is thriving is the grasshoppers! They are everywhere and just waiting to eat everything I have. I keep the plants sprayed with Pyola or Neem oil which are both good organic insecticides. They even keep the Japanese beetles off.
On another subject, I look at my site meter pretty regular to see who is coming around and I have noticed many regulars but most never leave comments. Now, I love to hear from those of you who do (Pablo, FC, karl) but I would like to hear from you other people! I see some from New York, California (which always surprises me) Illinois, South Carolina etc. I know I am not perceptive enough to be explaining everything well about the house we are building. Do ya'll want to know something about things that I have not shown? Have I not explained something well? Do you wonder why in the hell I do the things I do? Speak to me!! Any other female construction workers out there? And another thing: I got people from Pella Corp. to visit my site just by mentioning the name because it is found by search engines, so I wonder, could I get say, Martha Stewart to visit my site just by mentioning her name a bunch of times? Hhmm. We'll see.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Dig A Little Deeper

Our big project lately has been relocating the pump and pressure tank. We shot grade along the pipe line until we found the spot that was at the highest point that the pump could pull to. This should have been done at the beginning and that's what you get when you just assume that something will work and not check out the facts. Allen dug out the area so that, keeping the pipe at it's current elevation, the pump can be set down in line with the pipe and not require a 90 degree turn to reach the inlet. It's best to only have 1 turn in the pipe on the suction side. Any more and you start dramatically reducing the amount of head the pump can pull. In the photo, the pump pad has been poured and I have formed up the pad for the pressure tank. That pad sits higher due to the fact that the outlet pipe on the pump is on the top, so having the pressure tank sit higher allows the piping to be run with as few turns as possible. I'll have photos later when everything is hooked up so that this will be clear in case I'm completely confusing you now. This setup also allows for the pump house to be somewhat earth sheltered and hopefully will retain some warmth from the ground during the winter. We are going to pour a 4" concrete wall all around (only about 3 feet high) and a concrete/dirt floor. Masonry or wood will top out the walls and I plan to use drop from my metal roof to roof this little house. I am trying to build this without buying any material other than Quikcrete. The pump house will have a light and at least one plug outlet too. It sits about halfway between the spring and house (about 180 feet from the house) so it's not that bad to have to walk down to, work on etc. and will be a good source to have power and water at later. I hope to build my chicken coop in this general area at a later date.
This is the little form for the pump. We dug a hole under where the pad will sit to anchor it to the ground, added a little rebar here and there and put in the anchor bolts for the pump. The floor in here will be mainly for aesthetics so that is why we did not pour that first. I can probably wreck the forms this afternoon and start forming the walls too so things are moving along fine. Until then I am working on the interior of the house and getting the ceiling ready to stain.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Walkin' Blues

Either Clapton or Muddy Waters' version will do. I'm a little in the dumps today; it's a combination of several good and bad things. Friday afternoon I was laid off from work. Now, that's a bad thing from a money point of view but it gives me more time to work on my house and catch up on some other projects I've been putting off for way too long. No money to buy stuff for my house but I'm a pretty good scrapper and salvager. The photo above is of the crew I've been working with for the past several months. They're a motley bunch but good as gold. Now, this is just the boys in my crew, being the general contractor, not all the guys with the subcontractors. Actually, 2 of them left before me and there were a couple more not in the photo. Some of them I've known for almost my whole career and some I just met on this job. This is the part of my job that gets me down sometimes. You work with a crew for sometimes up to 2 years building this huge thing and get to be friends with a lot of different people and then one day the superintendent comes up and says "tomorrow is your last day, you're going to so and so". Notice is normally pretty short. It's not unusual to never see these people again either. I think this has a stronger impact on me because, as a woman, I am not really allowed to keep in contact with these guys outside of work. The guys can call each other, and do, from job to job to see how each are getting along but I can't do that. So, I have to just rely on what I hear from my present crew as to how different people are doing; did their child get over that car accident?, did he get promoted? and so on. Now, some guys we are more than glad to never hear from again but several of them I can't help but think a lot of as they try to look out for me and really go out of their way to do things for me. I try to help them as much as I can (some of them like to have a woman to talk to as far as personal dilemmas) and I bake cookies and stuff for them. Since I knew Friday was my last day, I made fried apple pies for them which they scarfed down really quick. One guy dropped one of his on the ground but picked it up and ate it anyway so I think they liked them. Hey! don't gross out; believe me, when you are on one of these jobs and get some good food you don't let it go to waste. We get very little time to eat (15 minute break at 9:00 a.m. and 30 minutes at lunch) so going to get something from a store or whatever is not usually an option. And when the crew needs certain supplies that the boss thinks is maybe unnecessary, I will go harass them for it because they usually won't tell me "no" where they would turn down one of the men. Oops! I hope I'm not giving away my secrets!
So anyway, things almost always work out for the best and this job provided several opportunities for me while I was there. Construction is an odd profession and is it's own society within itself and very ritualized. There are certain age-old greetings, comments and insults that have been handed down for generations. So, we don't really say good-bye when we leave. We say, "See you on the next one". And sometimes if we are lucky, we do.
On a completely unrelated topic, Allen came dragging this snake home yesterday morning and insisted I get a picture of it. What is it with you guys and snakes? He thought maybe some of you out there could identify it for him. It was about 4 1/2 feet long. Very pretty but after awhile it got kinda agitated and started shaking it's tail like it was a rattlesnake. I guess it thought maybe that bluff was worth a try. Allen found it in the road and so we released it out into the woods.
We are still working on relocating the water pump and tank so I should have some photos and stuff about that soon. Maybe we will have water again soon. At least with being laid off I might can blog a little more often.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Good Vibrations

Trenchers are wonderful machines. I would have really been discouraged if we had to dig all 390 feet of water line by hand. As it was, it was pretty rough going even with the machine when we hit the wooded areas but we got it all trenched in a day and the next day even put in a line to the garden since I had time left on the machine. It was only about $140 to rent the trencher for a weekend so to me it was worth every penny. It did very well but we did hit one rock that would not be moved so I had to remove that one by hand. But thanks to this little chipping hammer I borrowed from work, it didn't take but a couple of afternoons to get that done.
We have suffered a bit of a setback with the water though. Due to poor planning and research we have now discovered (after complete installation) that the pump is not going to work in it's current location. We are going to have to move it and the pressure tank much closer to the spring and build a little pump house etc. etc. This means running power to it, which means more money and more money for pump house materials although I can probably scavenge a lot of that. We did get the septic tank about half full before we decided to shut the pump down for good though, so that gives me a little more peace of mind; not that it is going to be in danger of floating out of the ground around here with this drought. Hey, but Sunday, it came a toad strangler at the house! I was SO excited! If it hadn't been lightning too I might have been out playing in the rain. We quickly rigged our gutter system back up under the eaves and funneled even more water into the septic tank. Oh, Allen did get the septic tank tied into the house lines also, so now we just need water coming in 'cause it will go out!
I worked on getting the ceiling ready to stain and finish so the scaffolding can be gotten rid of for good. This must be done now in order to build the wall between the kitchen and living room. Once that wall is there, it will be much harder to move scaffolding around and reach everything. The sheetrock finishers came back today so I am closer to painting too. I hate trying to pick out colors though!
I would like to think that the house is entering an easier phase but it doesn't feel like it. I still have several of footings to dig by hand (because of more poor planning), much stone and block need to be laid and a lot of concrete to be formed and poured. We are not working much overtime so far this week at the job but I almost broke a finger today at work and am still tired from last week. I know all of this will be worth it but I just hope my body will hold out until I actually get to live in the house. I wish I could post more because there are lots of little details to show but I just can't make it sometimes. Our computer is at our office, not at our little apartment so that makes it harder to make time especially when I just want to go home and collapse. The camera is still out of commission too so I may have to post little cartoons of what's going on.
Oh, yes, Pablo, Oliver is named Oliver because that is what kind he is. And it kind of suits him. I bought a book for Allen some time ago titled "Sex, Love and Tractors" (the authors name escapes me at the moment) which was quite humorous and that guy had a tractor named Sweet Alice because it was, of course, an Alis Chalmers.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Big Birds

I have been meaning to put up some photos of the job I am on now so when these geese passed through the other day I thought they would be a good story. They were just sort of cruising through the parking lot as we were all arriving for work. They didn't seem bothered by us. This photo is kind of dark because the sun was just coming up. This is a very large job I'm on now; more what I am accustomed to. At it's busiest time there were probably 100-150 men on the site. It's winding down now so there are fewer people there now. It's a big church and I can't say that I am happy to be working on it but it pays good. I like the crew and bosses that I work with but I have some issues nowadays with some big construction.

These guys have been hanging around for some time now. I wonder why they don't go on further north. Anyway, I wrote this post several days ago but Blogger was being a butt and wouldn't post it and then I forgot about it, so here it is now!