Information about design and construction of earth sheltered homes and a journal of my own progress

Waterproofing Test


Posted on September 20, 2014 by


Yes, our waterproofing is invisible…  Not just clear like I expected from the description on the bucket, but actually imperceptible.   You can’t even feel it.   So we were not that surprised when our building inspector questioned it.

ProteShield-5-Gallon-REDUCEDWe had used ProtéShield made by New Look International.  Actually, we bought it from Home Depot. Our shotcrete walls are curved and not the smoothest in the world, so it was important that we use a waterproofing that we could spray on.  ProtéShield claimed to be, “a water-based inorganic elastomeric polymer sealer designed to penetrate, waterproof, seal, and protect various porous surfaces.”  The website said it was, “Recommended for sealing, waterproofing, winterizing and protecting most porous building materials such as concrete, pavers, concrete block, brick, precast concrete, plaster, drywall, GFRC, gypsum board, stone… [etc.]”  The brochure listed, “Ideal Interior and Exterior Applications: ” including, “basements and other below grade spaces.””Foundation walls (above grade and below), bridges, sound and barrier and retaining walls, fencing, towers, buildings.”  Their technical data sheet claimed ProtéShield would protect the concrete against, “ultra violet rays, ice, water, chlorinated water, salt water, rain, acid rain, salts and other chlorides, rust, mold, fungus, insects, chemicals, oil, fuel, stains, and excessive temperatures.”   The cost was about $270 per 5 gallon bucket and I would need 2 buckets to get the basement walls done.

So, when my building inspector questioned it, I brought out the empty bucket and showed him what we had used.  He said he had never heard of it and would need to see the official test results.  No problem, I emailed him the technical data sheets (Sherri found them with her new smartphone).  He gave us a partial approval on the waterproofing and said we could proceed with the back-fill at our own risk.  He would check out the data sheet, but if it had not been properly tested, we would need to fix it (dig it up) before proceeding with any other steps.  It was a tough decision, but I was sure it would pass and the excavators were due to arrive any moment to work on the back-filling.  We went ahead with it.

A couple weeks later, my building inspector emailed me that the correct tests had not been done and we were not approved for backfill…  I called New Look International and asked them about it.  They said they had never been asked for that test before but insisted that they test their product and it would work for me as described.   They called the building inspector to talk to him on my behalf.

Test and verify

The next day, the building inspector called and told me about this part of the building code…

R104.11.1 Tests. Whenever there is insufficient evidence of compliance with the provisions of this code, or evidence that a material or method does not conform to the requirements
of this code, or in order to substantiate claims for alternative materials or methods, the building official shall have the authority to require tests as evidence of compliance
to be made at no expense to the jurisdiction. Test methods shall be as specified in this code or by other recognized test standards. In the absence of recognized and accepted test methods, the building official shall approve the testing procedures. Tests shall be performed by an approved agency.  Reports of such tests shall be retained by the building official for the period required for retention of public records.

He said that he would allow me to conduct a test of the waterproofing to establish if it was acceptable or not.

I designed two tests.

My first test was based on other damp proof tests I found on YouTube.  These tests place the lower end of concrete samples in water and see if it is drawn up into the sample.   I used pieces of shotcrete that had ended up stuck to my bracing.  I waterproofed half the samples and made this video.  I think it worked well in this test. (no music because testing is serious ;^)

Then the second test was against gravity… I made two concrete bowls from ready mix with fiber reinforcement. I waterproofed one and then filled both with water. The hope was that the one would hold the water without letting it soak in or drain thru. Clearly, the waterproofed bowl did much better than the other bowl, but, perhaps due to the small bubble holes on the surface that did not get properly filled with waterproofing, water did leak into the bowl (the water level dropped). Here is the second test video.


I sent both videos to my building inspector and he approved the “damp proofing” on the vertical basement walls. That was a big relief because it would have been expensive to dig it up and reapply.  However, he didn’t feel comfortable calling it waterproofing for the horizontal roof of my earth sheltered building.  I agreed to use a more visible waterproofing for that.

On to the next challenge…


Over the tire tracks (OTT)


Posted on September 15, 2014 by

There are several stories in the works.  I am waiting on the septic field to be completed so I can tell that story.  I am also waiting on the inspectors opinion of my waterproofing tests.   The latest drama is my inspectors concern about the back-filling.  Since this concern came in after the footings were formed, it could be quite costly to remedy…  I’ll find out tomorrow where that will go (it ended up fine, video of the back-filling showed enough tamping).  In the mean time, I am guessing I won’t get any more permits approved until we sort these things out.

So, lets talk about something completely different, my new Over the Tire Tracks (OTT) for my Skid Steer.

My skid-steer was pretty useless in sand.  As soon as you start to turn, it starts to sink and and you are quickly stuck.  I researched over the tire tracks (OTT) and quickly discovered that even if you buy tracks, they won’t work very well unless you also buy new tires.  The back tires were already new, I just needed to replace the front tires…  I figured that I should replace the tires and see if I still needed the tracks.  $400 later, I discovered that my skid-steer was still pretty useless in the sand.

OTT_GapI don’t spend money lightly, and OTT are expensive, so I spent weeks looking for a decent “used” pair. Occasionally, the steel bar kind would show up on Craig’s list.  Of course they were all rusty and most seemed to be for the wrong tire size or spacing…  but the kicker was that were still selling for more than half their new price.  From my research, I knew that these bar tracks would give good traction on some types of ground, but I needed “flotation” on the sand.  I needed wide rubber pad tracks.  I didn’t see those second hand anywhere.

Also, OTT tracks also require at least 3 inches of space between the tires and the side of the Skid Steer…  I measured and had only 2.25 inches.  I called around and found that the 3 inches was definitely a minimum.  The solution was to buy and install “wheel spacers”, another $300.  This made me wait even longer to order…

Eventually, I gave in and ordered a set of Prowler Stealth OTT with the extra spacers.  I almost backed out, so the sales guy offered me an even better deal, plus free shipping.  They arrived a week later on a 1400 lb pallet that I was able to easily offload from the truck with my skid steer…


I took the wheels off and put on the wheel spacers.  They were just over 2″ thick, which added 4″ of lateral stability to my SkidSteer…  They went on pretty easily thanks to my dads powerful socket driver.  Basically, you bolt them on where the tire was and then use their new wheel studs to bolt your old tires back on.



After all 4 wheels were back on, it was time to get the tracks on…  These suckers were heavy.  I managed to lay out one side and drive the skid steer on to it, then I used a rope tied around the wheel to pull the track up onto the wheel as I drove forward.  For the other end of the track, the only option was muscling it into place.  I found it difficult to lift it and guide it properly over the tire treads, so I appreciated my wife helping out with that part.

Prowler provides some tools to help you wrangle the tracks together so you can slide in the carriage bolts.  I am guessing that these tools probably work well with the other types of track that they sell (as shown in the instructions), but the Stealth rubber tracks have less space between them and it is tough to get the turnbuckle in place.  Once it is in place, it tends to turn the rubber pads out of alignment rather than bring them together.   Eventually, I managed to get the first track bolted on, but that was just the start.  Once the track was in place, I was able to measure the slack and find that I needed to remove about 5 inches of total length.  That is too little to remove a whole link, so you need to do it by unhooking and re-hooking individual links using the half inch shorter hole. This meant I was going to get lots of practice.

The instructions show using the turnbuckle tool positioned between the tires, and I did the first couple that way, but I soon found it was easiest to take advantage of the natural slack in-front of the tire.  I could pretty easily move that link into position, the hard part was reaching inside to put the carriage bolt in place.  As I got more and more links tightened, it got harder and harder to pull the track into position and I was back to using the turnbuckle for the last couple holes.

OTT_Turnbuckle OTT_Closeup

One problem with the turnbuckle is that it was pulling the tracks together in a way that rotated them so that I couldn’t get the bolts in the right place…  I eventually solved this problem by adding stakes that kept everything flat.  I eventually got the first track all tightened up.  I had shifted 9 links.


I then shifted 9 links on the other track while it was laying on the ground.  That was a lot easier.  Getting the second track up on the skidsteer was also easier, thanks to some practice.  But it still took me quite a while to get the last two bolts in place to secure the track…


How did it work out?  Pretty well.  I can now actually use the skid steer on my sandy site.  I have since used it to save about $1000 worth of footings work.  I also used it to unload a couple tons of rebar from the top of a truck.  It moved a few hundred feet of 8″ pipe to the edge of a trench in one trip, etc…   I am sure it will come in very handy for the rest of the construction phase…  And then?  Maybe I sell the skid steer with the tracks?

OTT_AtWork_02 OTT_Pipe


Backfilling the Trench


Posted on September 9, 2014 by

After digging the trench and laying the septic pipe, drain tile and earth tubes, it was time to backfill the trench.  We started at the top by the house, but I didn’t record the first couple hours for some reason, but I caught enough of the rest to put this video together.

The Video

The Story

We placed the earth tubes by staking them into the side of the slope.  This saved us from killing ourselves manually back-filling the trench on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year. However, it did slow down the back filling process.  Instead of just pushing the dirt back into the hole, we had to carefully (and manually) backfill around the earth tubes so they would keep the right position and slope…  I guess this added another couple hours of backhoe time to the true cost of the earth tubes.

I was actually surprised how the excavator attacked the problem.  I guess I naively thought he would bring the dirt in from the side where the dirt had been placed…  Instead, he started from the other side and dug his way down.  He dug undisturbed dirt and put it in the hole under and around my earth tubes.  Once the tubes were covered enough to protect them from the excavator and there was a slope for him to climb down into the trench (in the video, you can see him slip a little), the excavator was able to reach up and pull the sand from the far side, down into the trench.  From there he was able to quickly move up and down the length of the trench pulling in the dirt.

Eventually, when the trench was almost full, he was able to climb out the far side and reach some of the other dirt.



At some point, Dick parked the excavator and got into the bulldozer to level off and “reshape” the hill.



At this point, the Septic field is not yet complete, so there will still be some more earth moving before the septic system is complete.

My Pink Skirt

Marty and Dick knew I wanted a flat area 4 feet up the wall to put an insulation skirt in, so they flattened and tamped the ground in that area for me.

Meanwhile, I had been doing my own work for my employer in the trailer, but when they guys took their regular lunch break at noon, I started my 1 hour shift.

The idea is trap a bubble of heat around the house with an insulation skirt or umbrella.  This idea was popularized by John Hait who calls it “PAHS” or Passive Annual Heat Storage, but the idea had been fully researched by the University of Wisconsin several years earlier.  You can read more about it here.

The umbrella is really supposed to be several layers of insulation with layers of plastic between. I only put in one layer of 2 inch Rigid insulation (Foamular 250) and ran it out about 16 ft (2 sheets) from the house.  Since this is really more of an insulating skirt beyond the basement rather than an umbrella over my home, I didn’t feel the need to go the full 6 inches thick that I plan to over the rest of the house.  Similarly, I didn’t feel the need to put several layers of 6 mil plastic in this location.  Instead I just went with one layer of pretty think painters plastic.  The point of the plastic is just to reduce the amount of water that can go thru this area and steal away the stored heat with its high specific heat capacity.  I sloped it all way from the house and covered it over.

I will eventually overlap this skirt with the larger insulating umbrella.  Our backyard patio will eventually go over this area.


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