Monthly Archives: October 2015

Finishing the Quonset Hut


Posted on October 24, 2015 by

The Video

Its a short one this week, and the end is rather abrupt, but here it is anyway…


Why a Quonset hut?

My house design is an experiment with a variety of different arch forms.  Since it is a self build, I kept most of my spans shorter than 15 ft.  The exception is the garage.  I wanted a 3 car garage for practical purposes and decided to use a Quonset hut to form the wider span.

The quonset hut could probably support a significant earth load, if it were carefully distributed, etc. But in my design, it is really just fancy formwork to hold up the rebar and shotcrete that will actually support the earth.

My build also required a workshop to build the other components, and the Quonset hut is something that could be erected quickly, early in the construction, and provide that place.  I have used it to weld steel arches, store materials, and most importantly, to form my large concrete ribs.

Why build it in two stages?

The rib forms needed to be built on a large flat surface, out of the weather.   But we would also need to use a crane to move them to where they needed to go.  The ribs weigh 5000 lbs each, so I couldn’t roll them out across the gravel or dirt.  Instead, I needed to keep them on the slab, but also needed open sky above them for the crane.

The solution was to build only 2/3rds of the Quonset hut on the slab floor.  I could use that sheltered space at the back to form the ribs.  I would then jack them up and pull them forward to the open 3rd where a crane could lift them up and over to where they needed to go.




When the crane came out, it did lift them straight up and over, but I noticed that it actually had a telescoping arm.  I asked the operator and he said that he could lift them up and pull them out of the building if I finished it…

The ribs were taking me a long time to make and closing off the building would save me a lot of hassle, so that seemed like a good idea.  It had been almost a year since the first 2/3rds were erected.

The final 3rd

My parents came down to visit and to pick up their camper. Anyway, it was windy and we didn’t want to try erecting Quonset sections with just the three of us. However, that is a good number for assembling the steel arches, so we spent most of the afternoon doing that.



The following week, I put out help requests on Facebook and at work. The first few days, I was worried that I wouldn’t have at least 4 people there at one single time.  By the end of the week there were lots of people volunteering and I was buying a few extra half inch sockets and wrenches so there would be tools for everyone.  One co-worker even volunteered his whole family of very capable teens.




The steel ribs went up very quickly.  7 in under two hours.  We were actually done before the Pizza lunch I ordered arrived.  No worries, we had other work to do (not captured on film).


Because these new steel arch sections were were bolted to the rest of the Quonset hut, which was already bolted and concreted to the slab, and because they were very heavy, I wasn’t too worried about the new section blowing away. With 13 people working in parallel to bolt the sections together, I didn’t want to interrupt that flow and make everyone stand around while I drilled and bolted the steel sections down.  I figured I would come back and take care of the anchor bolts next time…

However, by the next time I went out there, I found that the wind had lifted the front third of the Quonset out of the groove.  We ended up wasting several man hours and a lot of sweat getting it back into place.





I should have known better because this is a pretty typical fluid dynamics problem that I had to do several times at school.


Another “mistake” that I pretty much accepted was that my building was a little longer than it should have been and ended up hanging over the edge by a few inches.  I ended up cutting that off so it wouldn’t get in the way of the end wall, but that is another story.

Quad Deck, Part 2


Posted on October 18, 2015 by


After the Quad Deck ICFs were installed, there was still a lot of work to do before we could pour concrete, and then still a bit of work after.

Before we could pour, we had to install the pex tube for the radiant floors, build a perimeter form to hold in the concrete, put in plumbing, electrical conduit and duct work, and generally clean up any mess from the previous steps.

While we had the pump truck there, I also wanted to pour a couple 7 ft tall columns, so we also prepped those.  We also poured a section of ICF wall, but I will save that for another post…

After it was all over, we had to remove all the forms.  We gave the concrete a couple weeks to cure (and gain strength) and then we removed the scaffolding and shoring.



You can find the Video here:

Experienced workers and new technology

Pour_01They workers are used to pouring concrete on stable ground, so they were quite nervous about pouring on the ICF forms.  They started out walking very carefully and there was a lot of nervous laughter.  I made sure to pass along the pour instructions I had received from the Quad Deck installers. After the grooves were filled, the guys appeared to forget what they were standing on and began stomping around as usual.  We had no problems with the Quad Deck system.  Everything held up and there was only a little bleed water in the basement.

The blow out

During the column pour, the weight/lateral pressure of the concrete blew out the forms.  To be clear, these were my column forms, that I built, not the Quad deck forms.  My heart sunk as concrete spilled into the basement.

Next thing I knew, the guys from Dysert concrete, who were working on finishing the slab, jumped into action and helped strap the form and re-level it.  This was really going the extra mile because they were really only there to look after the floor.  They also went another extra mile and helped me scoop some concrete out of the basement.  When it was all over and guys were packing up, I tried to give them some cash for their extra efforts, but they wouldn’t take it. If you are in the SE Michigan area, I recommend these guys.

Pour_08_ColumnsIn contrast, the pump truck operator (not my usual guy who is very helpful, so I won’t blame the company), clearly did not want to be there. He was grouchy from the start, perhaps not a morning person?  When the floor was finishing up and I told him the columns were next, he complained a lot because he thought he was only there for the floor.  He threatened to charge me extra.  At that point, we were not even half way thru the minimum 4 hour window that I had to pay for.  Also, I had specified (in writing) the volume of concrete and listed the columns and the ICF wall when I booked the truck.  I didn’t bother arguing all these details with the driver, but I simply ignored his threat and told him it needed to be done before he could pack up.

Amateur legal note:  If a contractor tries to change the price part way thru a job without sufficient justification, you can safely ignore the threat.  Legally, if it would be even more expensive to switch contractors at that point, the threat of a work stoppage amounts to extortion and puts you in financial duress to agree with their unjustified price increase. In this case, I didn’t verbally agree to the extra charge, but I did tell him to continue on, which could be considered implicit agreement.  However, even if I had agreed verbally, or in writing, I would still be able to contest the extra charges in court later due to financial duress making the amended agreement invalid.  In order to increase the cost mid project on a fixed bid, the contractor would need to prove that the scope of the work increased significantly beyond a reasonable expectation.  For instance, my septic field guys found a 1940’s garbage dump almost as soon as they started digging.  The health department got involved and ended up raising the cost of the installation by about 30%, which I agreed to and paid without an argument.










When the columns failed, he was even more annoyed at the extra delay and kept saying he had another job to get to.  I reminded him that he had been there less than half the minimum time I was paying for.  A moment later, he started dumping concrete on the sand, we suspect it was intentional so he could leave. Sherri got mad and yelled at him until he stopped. However, as a result of the waste (intentional or otherwise), we did not have enough concrete to finish the ICF blocks in the north wall, but that is another story.

This pic is just one the time-lapse caught as I was moving the camera.  It shows Sherri trying to clear the dumped/wasted concrete off the footings.  Definitely not princess work, but I never asked her to do it…  I was running too much to even think about it, but she separated it into smaller piles that I could move after it hardened, so I am glad she did.




AaronYou can see that a few of my friends in this and other videos and in the gallery below.  Some of them actually like this sort of work, others come out and help anyway.  I appreciate them all.

Working with friends makes the work go faster and the day fly by.  Some of them have also taught me some good tricks based on their respective experience, or mentioned tools that would make the job easier. I will definitely have to have a big party when this thing is all done.

Pex connections

LeakingSharkBiteIn the video, you might have caught that the pressure test dial didn’t hold the pressure when I filled it.  I ended up using some dish soap from the camper to find the leaks.  I had one easily fixed leak in the manifold, but most of the trouble was with the Shark Bite connections.  Basically, I had not left enough extra length to reach down to my manifold (oops), so I needed to connect some short bits to make the final stretch.  The SharkBite connectors are individually expensive, but easy to use without any tools, and I only needed a handful.  However, try as I might, I couldn’t stop some of them from leaking.  I talked to the plumbers (who use Pex for everything) and they said they prefer the crimp connections.  I figured I would eventually be putting in a bunch more radiant, so I decided to spend the money on the crimp tool and it easily sorted out my issues.

Fibonacci Spiral

Fibonacci_01I had long planned to insert 1 ft long glass rods thru the Quad deck to let light thru in both directions.  When it came to the layout, I went with the points of a simple Fibonacci spiral, centered in the room and leading around to a spiral stair case around the corner.  Later, I can etch or mosaic in the actual curve if I want to.

These are sorts of fun little extras that make building your own home fun.

To keep the glass rods from being pushed thru the floor by the workers stepping on them, I screwed boards up underneath to hold the bottoms in place.  This is why the lights turn off just before the pour in the video.



Rented Scaffolding

IMG_20151031_170822546 (Medium)The scaffolding that I rented has been stacked nicely and ready for pickup for more than 4 months with no responses to my monthly texts to the builder to come and pick ’em up.  You will see it in the background of various other videos ;^)  It was actually quite labor intensive to remove it from the basement, so I hope the builder appreciates that that free labor.  I wonder if I could surprise him with storage fees?  I had to move it again recently.


Here are some pics with descriptions