Monthly Archives: August 2014

Septic System


Posted on August 30, 2014 by

The step after backfilling around the basement was to dig a trench over 150 ft long and up to 15 ft deep from the house to the septic field location.

The video:

The story:

Again, I hired Roe Brothers Excavating.  All the septic field bids had come in very close.  Roe Brothers were not the cheapest, but I liked working with them and they had the right equipment (excavator vs backhoe).   The trench didn’t count as part of the septic field bid, so I knew I would be billed by the hour.  The right people on the right equipment can get things done more quickly and cheaply.

They started the process by finding the height difference from the excavation on one side (the back wall of the house had not yet been backfilled) to the septic field on the other.  There was barely enough difference to cover the distance between the two points at the minimum slope (1%), and there was a lot of dirt between the two points.  They laid out the shortest path and figured out how to dig it so the dirt would end up in the right place…  Then they got started and I turned on the cameras. Excavation is hard on the land…  I began moving all the nicer trees that were within the area designated for the septic field, including several that we had planted a few years before.  I asked Dick Roe to spare the Oak tree on the one edge of the trench and the ash tree on the other…  The ash tree didn’t make it. Red Pine is in the septic field area

We also found some turtle eggs (they just rolled down the side of the trench from somewhere), so we moved them to a safer location.  Weeks later, we found at least one little snapping turtle, you can find that pic on our facebook page. IMG_20140829_160921_511

The trench got pretty close to my fathers pop up camper.  I kept texting him scary photos just to make him nervous. IMG_20140829_173859_776

The process ended up taking several days and included a pluming inspection from the house to the first tank and then a septic inspection beyond that.


Complications included finding a 75 year old garbage dump at the south east corner of the septic field.  The guys called me down and told me they would need to call the health department (they manage the septic field inspections) and report it right away.  The idea was that it would go better for us if we reported it and adjusted the plan accordingly rather than have the inspector find the problem themselves and have us undo our work.  The health inspector required some changes the design of the septic field, including digging out and refilling the trash heap.  This increased my costs a little.  We also had more than one weeks delay due to a shortage of septic tanks and after those were in, we had another weeks delay waiting for the 60 yards of gravel to be delivered.  Fun details.

In the end, it looks like we will end up about 30% over budget for the septic system (trench, tanks and field), and it is not quite done yet (more than one month after starting the trench) because the excavators had to move on to other jobs while we waited for the final inspection.  Based on digging in the gravel, I would guess the inspection is passed now and the excavators will be back soon to finish up.

Backfill around the basement


Posted on August 30, 2014 by

For the Video:

For the Story:

An inspection is needed before back-filling.  Inspections in our township are limited to Monday, Wednesday or Friday, 10:00 AM to noon.  And you are required (ideally) to give the inspector two days notice.   Sherri and I had already got the waterproofing up and started the drain tile the weekend before, so on Monday, I scheduled the inspection for Wednesday morning and scheduled Roe Brothers Excavation for Wednesday afternoon.   The plan was to complete the drain tile on Monday or Tuesday evening, but we had thunderstorms…

My sister (Bonnie) visited us from Canada again, arriving by motorcycle late Tuesday night.  I am sure she was thrilled to hear that we would be getting up again at 5:00 AM.  We had to get out to the property by first light in order to be sure to get the drain tile in before the inspector arrived.

Drain tile

They call it “drain tile” because it used to be made of clay tiles, curved like Spanish roofing tiles. Now days, it is much better to buy long plastic tubes.  Special drain tile PVC is probably better to use because it has smooth walls and lays straight, but I used the corrugated HDPE pipe instead, primarily because of the price and because it is easy to lay around curved walls.  I admit that the corrugations are not ideal if you want water to drain out of the tiles completely.  I bought drain tile with a sock around it because it was only 5 cents more per ft (it is 50 cents more per foot with the sock if you buy it at Home Depot, so don’t buy it there).

Having to lay the drain tile is a little frustrating because, with all the sand on the site, drain tile is totally unnecessary.  We have gone thru many storms in that excavation and have seen that water just falls thru the sand and the water table is not a problem.  However, drain tile is required by code.  A fellow builder in the same sandy area told me that he put in the drain tile to pass the back-fill inspection, but didn’t actually run it anywhere to drain.  Even the building inspector told me that he doesn’t expect my drain tile will ever carry any water.  

However, I am the kind of guy who likes to do things right anyway.  I spent a lot of time making sure that my drain met the required slope all the way to daylight.  This required a lot of digging to lower or raise the ground level.

The building inspector also insisted that we follow the building code requirement to cover our drain tile with 6 inches of pea stone and cover that with landscapers fabric.  This would have been great on my current house which is built in clay…    Research on the internet showed that it was best to lay the landscapers fabric down first, then lay the tube and gravel and cover it with the other half of the fabric like a very crunchy burrito.  The truck delivering the pea stone couldn’t get very close because he was sinking in to our sand (irony?), so we had to carry 4 yards (actually only used 3 of them) down to the footing by bucket.

To make these drain tiles worth all the effort, I decided to use them as bonus earth tubes.  This required a change in the layout.  Instead of a loop around the house and a single tube draining to daylight, I made it a circuit with both ends draining to daylight…  That took an extra hundred and fifty ft of tube that I will run down the same trench as the septic pipe.  Actually, I took it one step further and connected the high end of the tubes into my house.  Sherri thinks this is a terrible idea because the air traveling thru the tubes could be picking up mold from the corrugations.  The fact that it passes thru the septic trench doesn’t help.  I think it was fairly low cost and has minimal risk and I can seal it if she turns out to be right.

Back to the Story…

This lugging pea-stone was the fun part that Bonnie arrived just in time for.   My wife and boys also carried their fair share of pea stone that morning.   The work goes by quick in the timelapse video, but it took several hours in real life.  Then we closed the landscapers fabric and waited for the inspector.


He arrived and took a careful walk around.  I was expecting him to check the slope, but he seemed content with a visual inspection.  I guess it was obvious that it dropped by a ft along the side of the footing. He did comment that my drain tile burrito was strange because most people just lay the landscapers fabric on top of the pea stone, not under it…  We passed that part of the inspection.


The inspector was much more concerned about my waterproofing.

I didn’t want to use the stinky tar that is commonly used in my area.  It is dirty and smelly and a pain to put up.  Other “board based” waterproofing is expensive and much better suited to smooth flat walls.  I ended up going with an “elastomeric penetrating sealer”.  The install was covered in this post.  This stuff sprayed on with a paint sprayer, but quickly soaked in and dried clear…  Other than slightly darkening the color of the concrete, you can’t even see or feel it.  At a microscope level, it has actually affected the chemical structure of the first quarter inch of concrete to lock out the water…  And the elastomeric part will actually bridge cracks to keep them sealed (so they claim).

Anyway, I can’t blame the inspector for questioning a new type of waterproofing that he had never seen before (and still hadn’t really been able to see).  He asked for literature on the waterproofing, specifically, if it had passed a certain test.  I said I had seen the tech specs on line and they talked about this being for above and below grade waterproofing of foundations and basement walls.   I could send him links that evening (in the mean time, Sherri actually got them on her smartphone while on site).

Meanwhile, I had a crew coming to back fill right after lunch.

The inspector decided to give me a “provisional” pass.  I could proceed at my own risk.  If the waterproofing turned out not to be acceptable, construction would need to stop until I dug it up and reapplied waterproofing so I could pass this inspection.  Ouch.   But I was pretty confident that basement waterproofing sold at Home Depot would pass.  Surely, I couldn’t be the first person to try to use it?  Dun dun dunnnn!!!

Back to the Story…

After lunch, the excavators arrived to back-fill.  We had made it quite clear that we needed this fill to be well compacted because other footings will go on it.  I also marked the 4ft level along the walls and told them to stop at that point so I could put in earth tubes and rigid insulation.  They put the sand back in in lifts, each just over 1 ft, and then tamped like crazy with a mechanical tamper.

In this pic, I let my older son go in to help rake even though my wife was very nervous about him being down there while the excavator was running.


Earth tubes

Earth tubes have been central to my plan since the beginning.  You can see these pages about earth tube design.  So it felt great to finally be putting them in.  It was also great to have my hard working (and digging gifted) sister to help me out.  The primary earth tubes are 8″ double wall HDPE pipe that run over 250 ft down the hill to daylight.  They cost about 6 times what the 4″ corrugated pipe costs, but they are stronger, have a smooth inside and 4 times the cross sectional area.  The pipe I bought was “earth tight”, rather than “water tight”, just to keep the cost down.

We sloped the pipes at 1/4 inch per ft, which required digging into the freshly compacted sand.  The difficulty of digging actually made me feel better about how well compacted the sand was.  It took us past dark to get the work done.

This pic shows that we had to cut the pipe and join sections with 30 degree and 45 degree bends. Everything locked together without need for screws.


The next morning, we got Marty (from Roe Brothers Excavating) to compact over the earth tubes for us.

On the other side of the house, we put in shorter earth tubes (average 75 ft) between the house and the window well (as the low point).  Here I experimented a bit.  I did put in two more of the 8″ double wall HDPE pipes, but I also put in a 6 inch corrugated HDPE pipe and a 4 inch Corrugated HDPE pipe.

Last (and probably least), I put in a 1″ solid pipe (it was actually intended as irrigation pipe).  I have had the opportunity to computer model a system for a researcher in India who is working with a system of 1″ earth tubes.  His physical model is producing good results so far (he has asked me not to show his results until he publishes his paper).  My biggest objection is that the 1″ pipe actually costs about the same as the 4″ pipe, but you would need 16 of them to get the same cross sectional area.  There is also the issue of greater back-pressure thru smaller pipes.  The benefit is supposed to be much greater surface area, and therefore better heat exchange, so you can use shorter pipes…  I am looking forward to the conclusion of the research, but wanted to test my own.

I used hydrolic cement to seal the pipes into the holes I had made in the basement wall.  I also filled the area around the connection with pea stone so that water couldn’t sit there.

Back to the Story…

Once the pipes were back in, back-filling and compacting proceeded as before.

At certain times, Bonnie and I laid down Foamular 250 rigid insulation to help trap heat in the volume of earth around the basement.  I will talk more about that another time…

The back-filling isn’t completely done, first we need to finish the trench down to the septic tank, and then we can back-fill on that north west side of the house.




Life After Shotcrete


Posted on August 23, 2014 by

Since the shotcrete went up, I have been working on other things such as getting my drain tile in and getting the basement plumbing done. That is covered in the previous post (posted later in time, but shown lower down in the list of posts because of its date).

This is how things looked after the shotcrete was finished (and we got down the drain tile)


Progress is being hampered by the fact that the shotcrete left a lot more concrete on the floor than expected.  Instead of being a thin crust that breaks easily, it is 2 to 6 inches thick and pretty solid across the whole floor.  This was mostly due to shotcrete blowing thru the lath and on to the floor inside. The mechanical room has it the worst because it is a small room with shotcrete coming in from all sides.  I will need to rent or hire a jack hammer to sort it out properly.

This shot is after spending an hour with a power chisel.


I dug out several other areas for drains and to allow the radon pipe to exit…

But I still need to run the drains and radon pipes thru the rest of the structure, and I would guess that this lumpy surface will make it much harder to get the underfloor insulation and radiant floor tubes in place.  I am even a bit concerned about broken pieces of concrete tearing the vapor barrier.

I have a crew lined up to get in there to chip the rest of it out, but they are not available for another week or two.  And of course, this was not in the budget.