Life Challenge: Design, Build, and Live In Your Own Home – Post #3: A Solid Foundation

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True Nomads Need No Maps / In Transition-Home / Life Challenge: Design, Build, and Live In Your Own Home – Post #3: A Solid Foundation

Our crazy scheme to build our own house gets underway as we make final decisions on size and begin the foundation work. The question is: Do we really know what we are doing?

Filed Under: In Transition-Home by Weifarer December 12, 2012, 06:00

We’d decided on a size of our house-to-be: 16′ x 25′ with a 8′ covered porch on the long southern side and originally an 8′ x 8′ mudroom to the north. Raven pointed out the area set aside for the utility room, which would be holding a cistern, pressure tank, batteries, inverter, electric panel, and instant hot water heater, looked small to him. After some trouble shooting, we added some ‘closet’ space to the mudroom, enlarging it to a 10 1/2′ by 8′ so that some of the crammed utility room essentials could be set out there. Sizes determined, we needed a foundation of 20′ x 25′ with a 8′ x 10 1/2′ square off the 25′ side on the north.Sounds simple enough, but what kind of foundation? Hmmm . . . .

The site we’d chosen, a clearing with remnants of an old structure quickly cleared away, left an opening with bedrock, known as ‘ledge’ in Maine, less than a foot down in places. No basement was possible for us unless we used dynamite! As tempting as that was for Raven, it was an added expense we didn’t need.

We could pour a concrete slab, but the road to the site was through a forest, narrow and dirt. An excavator to clear away the top soil, gravel truck followed by a fully loaded concrete truck would never fit without destroying the secluded beauty we’d fallen in love with. Most likely if they did get in, they’d get stuck anyway.

Got stuck . . . must have been all that water they hit (I wish).

We’d barely fit the smallest well truck into the site. Even then, we’d had to cut out some trees we hadn’t wanted to see go, arguing at each one while we begged the well driller to try to make it without removing the offending tree. They made it in, backing over the site to the far side to drill the new well in a spot that would be inaccessible one the foundation was in place. The well went down 300′ for a whopping 1/2 gallon a minute, but that is another story. The well truck did get stuck on the way out. So we knew a concrete truck wouldn’t make it. It just wasn’t going to work.

We could do all the work by hand, including hand mixing the concrete after lugging it to the site. After all, the well was drilled so we had ample water. For some reason, this option wasn’t very tempting.

But a full concrete slab wasn’t the last option. It is common in Maine to build camps, barns, and even houses on posts. We could set posts in concrete tubes set directly on ledge, connecin our house to the core of the mountain we were building on.

We checked out the size of sauna tubes, decided on a one foot concrete footer with 6″x6″ posts. The long term idea was to set rocks or bricks with mortar between the posts, but the main support would be the posts. The main structure of the first floor would be 6″x6″ pressure treated beams as the sills with 2″x6″ stringers to support the floor. The subfloor was to be 5/8″ tongue and groove Advantex plywood. First though, we needed to know where the posts were going to go!

Me helming the survey instrument as we check the post height. Sure looks like we know what we are doing . . .

We started with measuring tapes, marking out the sides. With ledge so close to the surface, we used wire flags to mark corners and posts, measuring diagonals to square up the structure.Looking back, stakes and string would have been far better to maintain exact placement of posts, keeping the main beams aligned perfectly. Wire flags left exact placement a little up to interpretation. Of course, this was our first house and many of the lessons would be developed through hindsight.

Our posts flagged, we dug holes down to bedrock, placed cardboard forms, and poured concrete (hand mixing, in case you wanted to know!), placing a bracket for the 6×6 post into the
wet cement. We used an old survey instrument and tape to cut the posts to a level plain. We cut and set the main floor supports, using brackets and hefty screws. Then we stood back.

In a matter of days, we had our post foundation and the beginning of the house platform. Our house was officially underway!

Add the 6×6 stringers to support the floor.

Finished stringers . . . it all looks square – and surprisingly small!









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