Tag Archives: Footings

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.


Excavating the footings (again)


Posted on April 24, 2015 by

The video

This video could have been about a lot of things…  It could be about appropriate ways to get you kids involved in construction…  Or about how I tried to hire for this basic task so I could focus on the trickier parts of constructing my earth sheltered home…

But in the end, the worked needed to get done, so I got my 10 year old to start on it one afternoon after work/school. David is a pretty good worker, but I didn’t mind him taking breaks (lots of breaks) with the bee bee gun.  On another cool spring day, I went out there with my younger son.  Generally speaking, they are very different personalities (Michael is also younger and therefore less suited to digging or working independently), but I was still pretty proud of how well Michael worked.  He also enjoys the bb gun, but he actually spent most of the evening with me working on the rib forms (a separate video). On each of these evenings, we took a break to go walking (and shooting) in the woods.


That Saturday, the whole family came out.  While I was working on welding steel arches (another video entirely), the rest of them got to digging.  My wife, Sherri, did the majority of the excavation until the bedroom footings were completely uncovered.

I took the following Monday afternoon off work and came back out.  This time, I managed to hire some students to excavate while a friend helped me with welding.  These two teens were scratching their heads as they uncovered my footings like archaeologists with no idea of what layout to expect.

Side note here…  I had some trouble with my generator (mentioned in another video) we ended up taking the carburetor apart, etc.  It turned out the carb was fine.  The oil level was just a tiny bit low and the “low oil” sensor was “almost” shutting things down as the oil was drawn up into the engine.

It took the teens several hours to clear the footings.  My wife thought that was money well spent.  Next I had them switch to clearing all the bracing wood out of the basement.  We ended up moving it away with the skid steer.  I offered them a 3rd job, but they were pooped and decided to go home instead.


Now that the wood is out of the basement, we can try to get these teens back to help clear the concrete slag out of there.


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: