Monthly Archives: February 2015

(Temporary) basement stairs


Posted on February 21, 2015 by




Its cold out there:

Due to our cold Michigan winter, construction on our earth sheltered home had to slow.  Concrete (my primary building material) would have frozen before it cured.  There are additives that will speed up the cure, but they are corrosive to steel, so we just have to wait.  I guess perhaps this is one of the reasons that stick frame construction (wood) is so much more popular in this frigid area. Framing guys keep right on working in the cold (although it is probably unpleasant).

2015-01_WinterDriftsInstead, I have kept busy with a number of small jobs (and prepping for future jobs).  I have several “stories” in progress.  One of the things I could do was put in some temporary basement stairs.




For those who want to skip to the video:

The Story:

Since these stairs would be exposed to the elements for a while and eventually replaced,  I dug thru the scrap wood pile for some junk boards to cut to length as treads.  This snow covered pile was the worst of the wood left over from forming the footings.  This was junk wood that my wife wouldn’t even let me bring into the Quonset because she was concerned that the mold would spread to the “good” junk wood.  But I couldn’t just throw it away.  I figured I would use it for something rough and temporary, and then again as camp fire wood.

2015-01-24_StairTemplateI had already mounted the tread brackets to the shotcrete walls.  This was done with the aid of a template (also made of scrap forming board).  I screwed the template into the lower tread to position the higher tread and worked my way up the wall.  Actually, by also fastening the upper tread to the template, I was left with free hands for drilling pilot holes into the concrete for the screws (and for taking this photograph).

By the time I started recording the video, I just had to trim the treads to fit between the rough walls.   I actually had a pile of screws that I had taken out of the formwork and bracing when I disassembled it, and was able to reuse all of that also.

2015-02-07_StairDeckThere is actually another foot of wall that will come when I pour the floor over the basement, so there will eventually be a couple more steps.  But in the meantime, I put a deck across the top.  Since this is all temporary, it seemed easiest to just span the top of the walls.  On the drive home that night, it occurred to me that the quad deck will need to be set on top of on of those walls and I will soon need to move those boards out of the way again.  I should have done it properly by mounting horizontal boards on the wall and spanning the deck across that.  Then the tops of the walls would have been clear for the Quad deck.

That first day, I measured up for the last 4 stairs, but then I got distracted by other tasks.

I came back on a warmer day with finishing these stairs on my list (along with preparing the tower base and some other jobs).   I had the rough sizing and a vague plan in mind when I showed up, but I basically ended up just doing a quick re-measure (without writing anything down) and then rough cut the boards (eyeball-freehand on the table saw) and just screwed everything together.  To keep it square, I did some rough measuring to make sure that the width was the same at several key points…  Any true right angles are just luck, but it feels level and secure and will do the job.  The video shows that I didn’t remember all my measurements correctly because I had to trim nearly 6 inches off the back legs for a decent final fit, not really sure what happened there, but better too long than too short.

This last section of stairs needed to be both temporary and removable.  I plan to lift it out of the way when I pour the basement floor.  After the floor is done, I can trim off the bottom 6 inches and place it back again.  After the area is all closed in and safe from the elements, I can pull out these junk steps (firewood) and replace them with something that wouldn’t make a carpenter cringe so badly.  Not sure if I will have time (at that point) to make the final stairs myself.  Lets wait and see if I am critically short on time or money at that point.

Fox Blocks Training


Posted on February 12, 2015 by

ICF Blocks?foxBlocksLineUp

These blocks are basically reinforced styrofoam lego blocks that you can build into a wall and then fill with rebar and concrete.  The styrofoam is the formwork during the pour and stays in place as insulation for the life of the building.  They are a fantastic way to build.


This week, I attended a training session for “Fox BlocksICFs.  I had already watched all the videos on Youtube, but I wanted to get some “hands on time” before I started on my own build in the spring.

There were quite of lot of guys there learning to install these ICFs.  Many had big jobs coming up soon.  At least a couple had subcontracted other crews to do ICFs for them in the past, but wanted to do it themselves next time.  One crew had brought house plans and were discussing how to adjust the plans for easiest ICF construction.  There were lots of questions (it went for ~6 hours instead of 4).

During the training, we got to practice clipping the blocks together, cutting them, etc.   We roughed out a basic window together, but we didn’t take it as far as putting in the window bucks and buck supports.  It would also have been good to get in some hands on practice setting up the bracing.  Of course, we couldn’t pour cement in the shop, but that sort of experience before my actual job would have been great.  There was class room time to cover the details we couldn’t cover in the shop and I will get a card saying I am certified as a basic installer…

I need to buy a few basic tools and put my order together.  I could do it in winter, but I plan to wait for spring anyway.

Why FOX Blocks?

I put together a big spreadsheet comparing all the quotes I got from various companies and dividing the total costs by square footage, etc.  I found that I could get Fox blocks for less money and the install looked easier due to some clever features of their particular design.  I also liked that I could purchase the blocks from the hardware store (Menards) and install them myself.  The more I researched, the more I was convinced that the Fox Blocks company was growing so well because they made the best blocks in the industry.  During the install training, the instructor (Ken Williams) also pointed out a number of other design advantages.  As a bonus, I learned that their blocks are made from all pre-consumer recycled content (their parent company makes frozen food containers and needed something to do with the trimmings).

Unfortunately, they don’t have a “Quad Deck” alternative.  For that, I will still work with Quadlock.

Other news…

In other news, I put in some rough stairs to more easily access the basement and I will post about that separately.  I also got a drill press and “fabricated” the bases for my steel columns; again, that will be a separate post.

Some of you may have noticed that I used a new timelapse camera for this video.  I got a GoPro 3 White for my birthday and this video of the training was my first footage with it.  I guess I will record the next segment at the property with both cameras and talk about that in another post.  The much larger wide angle lens should make it much easier to get interior progress shots and a wider outdoor view of the construction.