MODERN FARMHOUSE – A DIY Homebuilding Project – Toil and Trouble

It was a beautiful day to pour concrete – cool and sunny.  All potential problems were cleared.  Our crew was ready at 6:00 am.  Nine trucks were ordered for a timed, orderly delivery.  All was routine.

Pump Truck set up

The pump truck arrived.  Normally the lot is dry, but we’ve had rain recently.  A steady trickle of water was running across the front of the lot.  The pump truck drove onto the lot, and immediately crushed the metal drain pipe, then gouged some serious ruts in the soft dirt.  These began to fill with water.

Truck in mud

The first concrete truck backed onto the lot, and began to spin tires in the now very muddy area.  The truck was barely able to back up to the pump.

Fortunately, we had a pile of extra dirt.  Our foundation guys rushed to wheel barrow dirt over to the muddy area.  But the stream of water kept trickling, and made more mud.  The next four trucks sank into the mud and spun tires, but managed to make it up to the pump truck.  Everyone held their breath.

The sixth truck could not make it across.  Mud was all over the street and the road edge was getting mangled.  The guys spent 45 minutes adding fresh dirt over the swamp and trying to get the truck across.  Four trucks were now standing by to pour concrete.  Finally, the pump truck driver said, “Go to McCoys for some lime.”

Matt rushed to McCoys.  He paid for bags of lime, but when he went to the pick-up yard, they were all out.  He was sent to the refund line.  This was turning into one of those slow motion nightmares.   Matt then drove to Lowes and brought back eight 50 lb bags of lime.  They looked like giant sacks of flour.

Siphon of water

Then, in a moment of desperation, Jim and Matt began to shovel dirt to dam up the water.  A pond formed, and Matt bucketed out the water.  Then Jim went to a neighbor and borrowed a hose to set up a siphon.  The siphon emptied the water across the street.  This was the critical move.  Without the water running across the front, the guys were able to pile up dry dirt and lime, plus some old 2 x 10 lumber was tossed on.

Last truck leaving

All this gave the concrete trucks enough traction to back in.  The waiting four trucks delivered their loads.  Then two more were ordered, for a total of 11 trucks.

Pump working

All in all, it was not pretty, but we got the main foundation poured.

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MODERN FARMHOUSE – A DIY Homebuilding Project – Report from the trenches.

Road Base TractorFoundation-checking plumbing Foundation-steel tied

Report From the Trenches

The good news is that we are pouring concrete at 7:00 am Monday morning.

The bad news is that it’s rained a lot, and we had some problems to address.

First, the plumber noticed that one of the foundation walls was slightly out of square….and the wall had to be taken down and redone.

Then a tractor needed to drive onto the foundation under-slab fill to excavate for the interior beams.  Jim was very concerned about a plumbing hub that would be driven over by the tractor.  He made a mark at a certain place on each vertical plumbing riser, shot with his automatic laser level.  After the excavating was done and the tractor was driven off the fill, he re-checked the marks again with his level.  Some of the pipes were lower than when first placed.  They had to be pulled up and re-tied at proper levels.

Then, we had to figure out where the pump truck driver would position his truck to pump the concrete.  Jim met with the driver to confirm his placement.  Concrete pump operators won’t elevate their boom within 20’ of an overhead power line.  Both of streets have power lines along the property line.  Therefore we needed to get the pumper truck well onto the property and away from power lines.

Then, the decision was made to have to have two pours:  The first pour will fill the main slab – with the truck sitting in the garage space.  The second pour will fill the garage – with concrete fed from the chutes on the back of the concrete trucks.  It makes you appreciate a simple flat lot where the concrete truck can drive right up to the slab.  Maybe next time…

The last issue was that the pumper guy wanted some large branches removed so he could swing his pump boom.  We had Javier, our tree guy, come over to remove the branches.  I think all is ready now.  One thing we don’t want is a line of concrete trucks in the street – unable to deliver.  That would be a big yiiiike!

Now on to the pour!

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MODERN FARMHOUSE – A DIY Homebuilding Project – Plumbing Preferences

Plumbing Preferences

Plumbing Layout-1

Yesterday John Podolak, our plumber came over to lay out his sewer lines in the foundation.  The sewer pipes have to go in prior to pouring concrete.  Sewer lines are 4” PVC pipes.

Normally water lines today are made of PEX (polyethylene) material, and are also run through the slab.  However, we are using copper lines and running them through the walls.  Some folks might not agree, but here are the reasons for these choices:

Water Lines in Walls

— This gives better access to the lines if a leak issue should develop.

— It is easier to insulate the hot water lines in the walls than in the slab.

Copper Lines instead of PEX

— Copper is more expensive than PEX tubing.  However, PEX should be sleeved when installed in a slab, which increases cost.

— PEX will be damaged by sunlight, so there concerns about how the pipe has been handled prior to installation.

— There are questions about the effect of chlorinated water on the PEX.

— PEX is made from petroleum products.  There has been some controversy about whether chemicals will leach into the water.  However, PEX is approved in all states. (California was last to approve in 2009).  Jim is personally averse to plastic water bottles, etc., so this is not a good fit for us.

This is not a decision for a whole subdivision, where cost will make a big difference.  This is just one house.  And, our plumber prefers to use copper.  He’s a single operator, and likes to do things the old-fashioned way.

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MODERN FARMHOUSE – A DIY Homebuilding Project -Foundation, The Inside Scoop

Foundation, The Inside Scoop

People often assume that a slab foundation is solid concrete.  But, as you can see from the photos, that’s not how they are made.  They are mostly a fill material.  Some builders use ordinary dirt and rocks from the site, but Jim-Bo will only use crushed limestone, or road base, as it is called.  Limestone is quarried in our area and is crushed into a mix of small rocks and fine particles.  It is wet and compacted during placement.  There is no organic material in the mix, so it will not settle or form voids later after the foundation ages.  The crushed limestone sticks to itself and dries almost rock hard, creating very strong under slab fill.

Road Base-2

There are some tall beams (vertical walls) around the perimeter that will be filled with concrete.  They have extra steel re-bar to strengthen the concrete.  The walls of the beams are created by bagged road base.   You can see the bags in the photo.


This hard job is easily handled by our great foundation guy – Victor Silva – 512-848-0086.

Victor Silva

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MODERN FARMHOUSE – A DIY Homebuilding Project – Firewood Fun

Firewood-Jim Firewood Firewood-Chris

Some Firewood Fun

We try to keep as many trees as possible.  It breaks my heart to lose a good tree.  But there was a small oak in the foundation area that had to come out.  Rather than see it hauled away, we cut it up for some good firewood.  They say a man who cuts his own wood is thrice warmed.  On this hot September day Chris and Jim were more than thrice warmed!

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MODERN FARMHOUSE – A DIY Homebuilding Project – Permit Playbook


Permit Playbook

Some people say that you don’t need permits when you are not in a city, but that is not true – not at all.  Unfortunately, there is no one place where you can go to get a list of permits and inspections needed for your job.  It’s all a deep mystery.  We had to call each jurisdiction several times and hope to get a live being on the phone.  We set up a permit folder to keep us on track.

Travis County

Permit – Yes

Inspections:  None, if you are the owner/builder

Water District 18

Inspections:  (1) Plumbing Top Out; (2) Plumbing Set Out

 Driveway in Right of Way

Permit – Yes

Inspections:  (1) Pre Pour; (2) Final

Austin ETJ

Permit – Yes (electrician will obtain)

Inspections:  (1) Service – inspect ground wire before pour; (2) Final – to release to Austin Energy

Septic Permit

Permit – Yes

Inspection:  (1) Pre-permit layout; (2) Tank installed; (3) Final after field lines are in

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MODERN FARMHOUSE – A DIY Homebuilding Project – Love Your Foundation

Foundation-Board Forms

Love Your Foundation

The foundation on the front and right sides of this house is going to be tall.  A lot of concrete exposure on the front would not have been our choice – if we had a choice.  But you have to “dance with who brung you,” as I like to say.  The lot has a side slope and we don’t like interior level changes.  And that leads to tall concrete.

Concrete is usually hidden or deemphasized.  In fact, there is second layer of cement that is normally plastered over the foundation to hide surface.  When we built houses in the 1980’s this was done as a matter of course.  It was called underpinning.

For this house we would like the foundation surface to be a feature of the house.  Not something to hide behind plants.  That takes some care in how the foundation is formed.  Rather than sheets of old plywood, this foundation is formed with 2 x 6 boards.  It will take on the shape and lines of the boards, similar to the concrete wall in the photo below.  The photo is from a Lake-Flato house – an architect we admire very much.

We’re kind of excited about the foundation.

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