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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MODERN FARMHOUSE – A DIY Homebuilding Project – To-Do-List

Tree trash

Things-To-Do Today

There are some exciting moments in building a house.  OK, maybe just two exciting moments.  The slab pour is definitely one, and I’ll let you know if I think of another one.

Mostly building is just a long to-do list.  Here are some items we checked off lately:

Silt Fence.  (Shaun Tenber – 817-235-1713 –He put up the silt fence for us.)

PortaCan.  (We used Blue Chem – a new husband/wife porta-potty company. As a new customer, we got the first month free.)

Permit posted.  (A handy real estate flyer box worked for this.)

Stand Pipe Faucet.  (This gives water to the site during construction.)

Temporary electric pole.  (Provides power.)

Haul trash and tree stumps to make room for foundation work.  (Things can get messy and cluttered fast, if we don’t battle this constantly.)

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MODERN FARMHOUSE – A DIY Homebuilding Project – Exterior Color

Early Decision on Color

White siding with dark trim is all the rage in Austin.  It’s a clean, crisp style that looks great with a dark metal roof and dark window sashes. Here’s a good example:


White would not be a wrong choice for us.  But, when combined with the concrete and metal used on the exterior, the siding might be better in a more contrasting color.

This lot has a side slope, –  which means that there will be a tall slab exposed in the front – and concrete is light gray.
The roof will be galvalume – a light silver gray.
There will be a little corrugated metal siding – light silver gray.

White siding would be close in tone to these silver gray materials.  We think dark gray would be a better decision.

Why deal with exterior color now?   Because siding should work with window color, and windows need to be ordered 6 weeks in advance.  We’re using Jeld Wen Aluminum clad wood windows.   Probably will use black.

Will get color samples and look at grays next week…

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MODERN FARMHOUSE – A DIY Homebuilding Project – Survey

Measuring-Jim,Jr Measuring-Matt Lot-Layout-4

The Survey is Ground Truth, or is it?

In order to design the house in the first place, Jim took lots of measurements.  Jim draws all our plans.  That’s a gift he has.  He knows where the lot lines are, and every tree, and every change in ground level.  He’s not psychic – he goes out there and measures.

Now that the lot is open and walkable, our foundation guy came over and put up batter boards.  These are temporary frameworks to hold strings.  The strings are critical to building the foundation in the exact place, as shown on the plans.

But something seemed wrong.  The actual measurements on the ground were not matching the dimensions on the survey.  Here’s an email Jim sent to an engineer friend:

Because I accepted that the survey must be correct, I have spent hours and hours going back out there in the heat trying to analyze what I was doing wrong.  Then many more hours fooling around with the drawing on the computer trying to come up with a new strategy for resolving the huge discrepancies between distances which I knew I should have –  and what I was actually getting on the ground.  Not knowing where the problem was, I questioned everything I was doing, thinking that my approach must be grossly inadequate.  Sons Matthew and Jim spent many of those hours out there helping me try to solve the puzzle.  I was almost convinced that I shouldn’t be doing this kind of thing anymore. 

The truth came out when they found both rear pins, which the surveyor had not uncovered.  He had marked the rear fence posts as our corners, which turned out to be about 2.5 feet beyond our property line.  So we had an incorrect survey.

Note to self:  Call surveyor and request refund.

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