Tag Archives: Excavation

Running Septic Lines


Posted on May 4, 2016 by

We needed to hook up the septic side lines to run from the bedrooms and garage to the main central line coming from under the basement.  The original plan had these running under the house, but the plumber suggested that it would be much easier to run the line outside the house completely…  At some later point, we also decided to run the bedroom electrical along this outside line.  Of course, this all required some digging.  Gota love that nice soft sand.

The Video

Some details

The Stack:

The bedroom septic line had a further run and needed to be below frost depth, so it connected at a lower point on the stack.  Then I connected the garage line at a higher point.  However, I thought it would be a good idea to slope it more and get deeper than I had to…  Some plumbers say that you shouldn’t slope too much because the solids and liquids will separate and you will have clogging problems.  I have done my research and determined that was not true (just a plumbers wives’ tale) so I didn’t mind sloping it more.  However, after making the stack connection with the Y-pipe shown in the video, I decided that I didn’t like the angle of the connection.  Basically, these pipes are designed to connect at closer to perpendicular or maybe 5 degrees off.  My original connection was maybe 20 degrees off.  It was probably sealed, but it didn’t look great and I didn’t want to take any chances.  I ended up cutting off that Y-connection and extending the stack so i could connect at a higher point with less slope.

The Shortcut:

The plumbing and the electrical in the bedroom wing both connect in the laundry room, very close to eachother so they can exit from the same hole and follow the same trench…  However, I didn’t measure conservatively enough and although the electrical cables could reach the panel, I was worried about being a few inches short of making final connections, so we ended up digging a short cut trench for the electrical cables. At least we could still re-use about 2/3rds of the trench.

The Electrical cables:

Earlier, I had experimented with other kinds of cable, running thru conduit. This time I was using cable that was certified to be directly buried.  It was still in conduit where it came out of the garage (because it is not certified to be encased in concrete and because I didn’t want a potential leak above the floor anyway), but then came out of the conduit below the footings level.  I basically wired it according to above ground code with the required depth below the footing and bushings, etc. After burial, it will only further exceed code.


Just some pics…

Cleaning out the slag


Posted on May 21, 2015 by

Now this was a tough long weekend.FamilyCleanup

Basically, the basement of our earth sheltered home was filled with approximately 11 cubic yards of concrete slag that needed to be broken up and removed so we could prep for pouring the basement floor.

It was something we have known we needed to do since last year, but were putting it off for obvious reasons.



Here is the video:

Why did this mess happen?

All this concrete was wasted shotcrete that wasn’t on the walls and should not have been on the floor either.

As you may recall, I had used steel studs to frame the basement and then placed metal lath on the inside to “catch” the shotcrete.  I had been told (by the shotcrete guys) that the lath would be enough to prevent much of the shotcrete (peastone) from blowing thru.  I was told to expect a thin layer of concrete on the inside, thin enough that it would break up into small fragments just by walking on it and that it would actually save me from needing to add as much pea stone later.

Watching the shotcrete being applied, it did appear that not much passed thru when it was applied at a downward angle onto the previous shotcrete.  They did do it this way for the first couple levels, and actually raised a scaffold jack platform twice as they went.  But then they got a bit tired and started shooting horizontally and even at an upward angle.  This allowed much more shotcrete to pass thru.

The effect was cumulative with blow thru coming from so many different angles, each adding its own layer of concrete.  The round central room was especially bad for this with at least 3 layers of 2 inch thick concrete across the floor.

And once the crew was working on the inner walls, there was also “rebound”, shotcrete that doesn’t stick to the wall, and “trimmings”, concrete that is cut off the wall because too much was applied in the first place.

All this concrete (that I paid for) ended up on the floor, but not in a good, “wow, you got bonus concrete floor along with your shotcrete” kind of way.  On average, I would say we had about 3 or 4 inches across most of the floor (in several layers), and up to 8 or more inches near the walls, especially in the corners.  It was uneven and lumpy and even had boot prints in it.  The whole feeling was somewhat “war torn” and more than a little depressing.

When I setup the main level, I plan to back the metal lath with fiberglass screen.  The metal lath will still provide the strength to catch the shotcrete, but the fiberglass screen will prevent any material from passing through.





Thought I would try to put some extra pics in here…

And the Story.

I like to include the text of the video, along with some extra info that doesn’t fit in a narration, so that the content is google searchable.

For this job, I had hired some teens, rented a jack hammer and taken the day off work to make the long weekend even longer.

The big question was, “How would I get this slag out of the basement?”  The final solution that I came up with was a Bagster dumpster that I got from Home Depot for 30$.


The plan was to load it up and use my trusty skid steer in to lift it up and out of the basement.

It took a bit of trial and error to figure out the best way to lift the bag and to empty it, but fortunately, we had lots of tries to get it right.  You can see how we did it in the video.

The bagster is supposed to be for only a single use, but it  held up very well, load after heavy load, for a number of days. The only tear was caused by dragging it up the rough wall in the first lift.

TeensThis first day, we were mostly focused on the edges where the thickest concrete was because I didn’t want to rent that 75 lb jack hammer for a second day.  The heavy jackhammer was actually very effective on the thick concrete, but kept getting stuck in the thinner stuff.  For that, the 11 lb breaker was much more effective.  My Dewalt hammer drill also got a work out.  At the start of the day, I couldn’t get the teens to touch the power tools, but by the end of the day, they were much more comfortable with me and the tools and were taking turns on the jack hammer.

On Saturday, my parents were in town, even though I warned them that we would be taking on the worst job of the build so far.  I also hired Zack again, he was one of the teens from the day before.

My father got to cutting a slot in the footings (doorway) for the radon tube while the rest of us got cracking on the concrete slag.  Our radon tube was made of a 4 inch corrugated drain pipe, wrapped in landscapers fabric to keep dirt out.  It just gives radon an easy way to escape so it won’t build up under the basement floor.

Then my father and I worked on the floor drains while the others just kept right on cracking up that concrete.  In order to get the slope correct from the floor drain in the central room all the way to the outer wall, we had to cut open the tops of the footings.



We had planned for holes in the footings to run these pipes, and I had even come prepared with 4″ PVC to use to form them.  However, the guys doing our footings told me they brought their own 4″ corrugated drain pipe, which they nailed in place very quickly.  The problem was that the flexible pipe “floated” up in the middle when the footings were poured. Instead of being a straight sloped hole thru the concrete, they bowed to the point that we couldn’t even get the 2″ pipes thru.  I guess they were not used to the footings being so wide.  Narrower footings probably wouldn’t have as much deformation due to “floating”.  You may recall this same issue cost me time and money during several other stages of the build. Hopefully this was the last of it.


Then we came back out again on the holiday Monday, just my wife and kids.  Sherri and I cracked things up with the 11 lb “breaker” and the boys scrambled to collect the pieces into the buckets.  When the buckets filled up, one of us would dump the bucket in the bagster.  The boys were motivated by being paid 1$ per 5 gallon bucket.  They worked for several hours before wearing out.

With the big chunks finally removed, we raked the smaller bits and then brought in some pea stone, which is required by code in my area.

I came back on another afternoon with Zack and my friend Aaron to get the second half of the pea stone down and rake it all level.  At one point in the video, you can see Aaron intentionally took a pea stone shower, just to see what it would feel like.  I don’t think he will do that again.

BuildingPermit_blurThe final product was a a peastone under-floor that meets building code.  The black pipes are to channel radon out of the home and the white pipes are plumbing or drains.  The inspector approved the work and we were able to rake the pea stone level and move on to the next step.

Next step is to get the vapor barrier, insulation and radiant floor tubes down here so we can pour the basement floor.


Burying our footings


Posted on January 17, 2015 by

Welcome to 2015… Hopefully, the year we get most of this earth sheltered home build done.

BusinessLawAt the moment, things are pretty cold for building with concrete. There are ways to cure concrete in freezing cold weather, but the additives often reduce strength and/or corrode the reinforcement, so I am mostly working on planning. I have also pretty busy at work and got going again on my MBA, I am doing a business law class this semester. I go out any time the weather gets above freezing, but there were a couple weeks over New Year’s when I didn’t make it out to the site at all.

I guess my neighbors got a bit concerned about my seemingly lackadaisical approach to construction, so the neighborhood association wrote me a letter reminding me that I only have a year to get it done. They also reminded me that I have some legal liability if anyone (particularly children) get hurt on the site and asked me to fence it off. I wrote back that my mortgage company also wanted me done within a year, but has much bigger financial teeth than the association, so they don’t need to chase me about it. I also agreed that the construction fence was a good idea, at least from a legal perspective.

I went out to the site and just strapped some of that cheap orange construction fencing directly to the steel studs around the basement.  More importantly, we took down the tempting scaffold tower so that we would be a less “attractive” nuisance to our neighbor’s children.  I also put up a bunch of “Warning, Construction Site” signs. They are more for legal purposes than anything else.


Around about this time, I also started to bury my footings. I am sure that seems strange, so I put some fancy power point graphics into the video for a little extra explanation. The short story is that we need to fill in a couple hundred yards of dirt around the footings before we build the walls so we can use the skid steer instead of hand tools…

I had planned to bury the entire main level footing, and then hand excavate the top of the footing again so I could start bolting the steel to it ahead of the spring.  But the ground is just too frozen to work with properly, so I am putting off that task until spring and have switched to focusing on tasks that can move forward, such as mounting the hardware for the basement stairs and central tower structure.

The video on those other tasks will come later, but here is the back fill video: