Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Standing Around is a Valuable Skill

I learned early on that one of the essential skills of a GC is to be able to hang around and talk smart with the subs. There's a lot of good information to be had and it's a great way to learn things you might not even realize you need to know. For me, it's also fun to get some insight into how other people view our "unconventional" project.

As I've mentioned before, we're restricted from hauling concrete and other heavy things during the period of spring load restrictions. This rule, however, is apparently not as hard and fast as I thought. What I learned learned during one of my smart-talking chats with a very nice concrete truck driver on-site is that it's common for cities to issue an exemption permit (for a fee, of course) that allows for load hauling in excess of the restricted tonnage, usually during early morning hours. At this point, anything would be better than nothing, and I've been trying for the last two weeks to obtain such a permit, but unfortunately I'm getting nowhere. The public works 'supervisor' at the city claims he's never issued such a permit, that "we don't do that", and that he's never heard of such a thing. UGH! I'm intensely frustrated, since every time I've had to deal with city officials it's been an exercise in head bashing in one way or another. I intend to keep trying, but I'm not very optimistic since even getting a hold of anyone is a challenge unto itself. It certainly doesn't help that Vern was out at the site today and saw a city dump truck filled to overflowing with gravel (and therefore WAY over the 5 ton per axle restricted weight limit) driving down the very city street that they will not give us a permit to use. Oh, the cruel, cruel irony of $10K+ in permit fees.

Another of our current delimmas is a mud thing. We had to wait until our front stoop footing was poured before we could backfill, and in the mean time the exposed footings were covered with insulating blankets to keep the frost out. We were also waiting to place drain tile and gravel along these foundation walls, and now that we're ready to do that, we've discovered that the banks of the excavated area have collapsed in to the point that the frost blankets are covered with a foot or two of mud in some areas. We made an attempt to extract the blankets and expose the footings with hand shoveling over the weekend to no avail. We got about as dirty as we've ever been, but made no headway with the mud or blanket extraction much less placing drain tile. I feel completely defeated since we can't get a big enough backhoe in to dig it out because of...you guessed it....road restrictions...so we either hope it dries up enough to hand dig or wait at least five more weeks.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

It's A Floor!

We were in a race against time and the road restriction schedule to get our upper level floor placed, the radiant heat tubing installed and forms set to have the concrete placed and finished, and I'm happy to report we made it, and with barely a day to spare, as road restrictions will begin at midnight tonight. Whew!

Since the time this project was conceived, there was no question in my mind that I wanted to have concrete as the finish flooring throughout the house. It seemed like a simple, inexpensive wish, given the fact that there are acres and acres of poured concrete floor in commercial buildings, but finding a contractor that was willing and capable of this proved to be surprisingly difficult. The decorative concrete contractors weren't interested because I didn't want color, stamping or polishing, and the commercial guys wouldn't give a residential project consideration. I wanted a floor like those in any big box building; just a perfectly smooth, shiny, bare gray concrete slab in its natural state, and I had several contractors try and convince me that to get that I had to pay them $10 a square foot for grinding and polishing. NOT! And that was after patiently explaining to them that I wasn't interested in a multi-colored, intricately saw cut pattern. After a lot of phone calls, I finally found someone that got their head around what I was going for, and was happy to provide me with a simple, machine finished floor, and the finished product looks great. It's being heated from below and blanketed on top for a few days but as soon as it's had a chance to cure, I'm going to go up there and just sit and revel in it and hope that all of our PEX tubing survived the pour without getting kinked or punctured. Here's a look:

Unfortunately we're now prevented from hauling concrete for the next six weeks. My goal for that time is to push to make sure the upper level walls are stacked and ready to pour the minute we can get concrete again. I'm also planning on finalizing the plan for exterior materials and scheduling anything I can for inside in preparation for pouring the grade slab. Today I'm enjoying the day off and reveling in the fact that I can have dinner tonight in something other than my muddy work boots and ratty jeans.

Friday, March 18, 2005

We've Been Busy

If I never see another roll of rebar mesh, spring sucks, and other rants.

Our project has been a full time job for both of us lately so I've had very little time to think much less blog. This week has been our busiest to date in terms of actual physical labor, not to mention the hours of phone time that is the norm.

We spent 13 hours on-site yesterday installing everything that will be contained within our upper level floor slab. We laid all of the PEX tubing for our radiant heating system and we were pleased that this ended up being easy and extremely DIY friendly. We finished in about two and a half hours. What made the day hell was that this tubing is sandwiched between two layers of 6x6 rebar mesh to reinforce the slab and keep the tubing in place within it. Cutting, hauling, placing and securing this mesh was the backbreaker and took from dawn to dark. If I never see another roll of that stuff as long as I live it will be too soon. We like to think of ourselves as in shape in that we workout on a daily basis, but I feel like I got hit by a truck this morning. We were scrambling to beat our own deadline to get the floor poured (today), so yesterdays sprint was unavoidable since the joists for this floor weren't even in place until Wednesday. We feel victorious in that we got our part done on time, but in typical Minnesota construction schedule style, we've been halted by a spring snowstorm. This floor slab will be our interior finish floor and needs to be machine-floated for a perfect finish. Because it's still open to the elements, we need dry skies to achieve this, and we're now on hold until Monday.

There's another hang up for our progress, as well... Rougly estimated, our house will contain between 250 and 300 yards of concrete (that's a lot) and we still have about 100 yards to pour. A concrete truck holds about 9 yards when full, and we've required as many as six full trucks on a single day. The arrival of spring in Minnesota also means the arrival of road restrictions, more specifically a maximum weight limit imposed on all roads to prevent them being destroyed during the time the ground frost is migrating out. Under these restrictions, we're prevented from hauling concrete, since an empty truck exceeds the limit of our city's roads. We anticipate these road restrictions will be imposed starting any minute, so we're scrambling to get our upper level floor in place before that happens to allow our ICF guy to proceed with stacking the upper level during the six weeks of restriction. We've also been dealing with extending the term of our construction loan since our one year term is up at the end of this month. Oh, and did I mention our site is one giagantic boot-sucking mud pit and half our materials are frozen to the ground in a puddle? This home building thing is sheer joy :) Some action shots: This is the first section of steel that was hung. It's the roof over the master bedroom which will be our lower roof deck. The concrete needed to be poured over this section before we could hang the steel for the upper level floors.
The beam that supports the master bedroom joists on one side and the upper level floor joists on the other. We had to close off and heat this room from below to allow the slab above to cure.
pouring and finishing the lower roof deck slab

A view from the entry hall looking south. The upright beam will support two huge roof beams that support the roof joists.

The PEX tubing in place, ready for a second layer of rebar mesh. The very expensive front stoop footing is visible in the foreground along with the north wall waiting to be backfilled.