Tag Archives: Lath

Setting up the office apse steel…


Posted on November 19, 2016 by


The day after shotcrete on the perimeter walls, we got started on prepping the steel arches and setting them up for another round of shotcrete.  This particular apse is special because it will eventually be my office (where I will spend most of my waking hours), and because it needs to be in (along with its retaining wall) before we can bury the garage side of the house. The work was all pretty simple compared to the bedrooms, and I didn’t take much time to stop and take pics, so this post should be short.  But first, the video…

The video:

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An apse is the semi-circular end of a vault. They are pretty common in earth sheltered homes because they can hold a lot of load, but usually, they are at the back, completely buried.  I put mine up front and included a window.  Hopefully, it turns out to be a good idea.  This apse will also be my office, and I spend a lot of the time on video conference calls, so hopefully, the acoustics are OK.  At least my head will be near the window and not near the acoustic focus point.

The Gallery

Lath and Stucco


Posted on October 9, 2016 by


The style of the home is something my wife and I are calling “Modern Tuscan“.  To us, this means a stucco and stone exterior.  While the majority of the Quonset hut will be buried, the Fox Block ICF endwalls would be visible (and prominent) and need to be stuccoed. But first, we would need to attach lath to hold the stucco.  Since the work was pretty standard, I decided to hire a professional to take care of the actual stucco work.  This is the story of how that all came together, but first, the video.

The Video

Lath overlap

As always, this is a journal of my progress, not a “how to”.  I don’t always do things the right way at the start, although I do usually learn from my initial mistakes.  For the lath, I read about attachment details like how often to put screws in each direction (and then I exceeded it), but I didn’t pay too much attention to the part about overlapping the lath and just butt jointed everything so the surface would be flatter for the stucco. Probably I was also thinking about saving on lath.  At a later point, I changed my mind, so the later pieces are properly overlapped…  Either way, the professional stucco guys said we did a good job and only needed to add some J-pieces to form the bottom edge.

The window

With such a large and prominent wall, I knew I needed a window to break up the space.  Personally, I think a square window would have looked stupid, so I bit the bullet and budgeted for a nice round window.  At least I went with a standard diameter window so it wouldn’t need to be custom.

However, when I finally got to this stucco stage, I wasn’t ready to order the windows. I want to order them all at once to get the bulk discount, and I wanted to build all (or most) of the bucks before I order, so…  In the meantime, I decided to go with polycarbonate Lexan.  This is pretty basic stuff that you can buy from Home Depot less than 1/10th the price of a window.  The R-value is also pretty similar to a double pane window.  I figured it would at least give us a temporary solution that would keep the inside dry over the winter.

It ended up looking so good, I might just decide to keep it this way.  We will see how well it holds up to UV.  Obviously, if it yellows or cracks over time, I will switch to glass.  But it did claim to be “UV stable” and has looked fine so far, so I am optimistic.



Still, I wanted to make sure that the window opening was ready for proper glass so that the stucco edge would all be done correctly.  We used wood strips to form a curb, and then put two layers of the tar paper to protect the wood and then a strip of lath to hold the stucco.  Lots of screws…


Getting a Contractor

I have had many struggles with getting contractors to work on the more unusual parts of my build, but I was surprised to even have trouble getting something as basic as “stucco over ICF”.   Very few of these companies advertise properly, probably because most are kept busy by professional builders and are not actually looking for work. Eventually, I went to the stucco supplier and asked for a list of names and recommendations.  One of those paid off, but even then I had to wait quite a while to fit into the schedule.

Of course, the contractor, Hoffman Plastering, did a great job in terms of how nice and flat the wall was (they certainly had to compensate for my less than professional ICF job).  Their classic worm finish was also excellent.




However, in the months after the stucco was applied, we did get a bunch of fairly obvious cracks in various places and we have not been able to get them to come out and take a look.  On the phone, they said that it was probably my fault. Essentially, they blamed the copper cap and said that water probably got behind the stucco and froze, but I was able to find pics showing the start of the cracks before the first freeze, also the cracks look more like ones that are caused by expansion and contraction of the stucco its self.  Basically, I imagine that if the south wall expanded in the sunshine, this narrow region would be the highest stress concentration and the most likely to crack. The inspector thought it may have been that the top layer was applied too soon after the brown coat. The contractor may have rushed that step because the work was done in October. The cracks are not wide enough to get the edge of a coin or screwdriver in there, but are still concerning. The conclusion of this story is still on hold, but I should probably do something before winter when water might actually get in thru those cracks and cause further problems when it freezes.

Future Stucco?

I wish I could hire a contractor to stucco the rest of it.  Their work was excellent (other than the cracking) and the quote to handle the rest of it was probably fair per square ft.  The problem is just the large number of square ft required. The majority of the cost is the professional labor, the actual materials are a very small fraction of the cost.  Therefore, I am guessing I will need to do it myself. With any luck, my skills will grow quickly.


As per usual… A collection of pics related to the lath and stucco.

Rebar and lath for the bedrooms


Posted on May 6, 2016 by

Last year, we got started on the steel structure.  This year (2016), we got all the rebar and lath up in preparation for shotcrete.  First, the video…  Then some info, but mostly a larger picture gallery than usual.

The Video



This process took from 2016-05-05 to 2016-07-26, so nearly 12 weeks of the calendar.  Of course we also worked on other things during that time (such as the garage which will be a separate video). Specific to this bedroom wing, we worked (at least for a couple hours) on 26 different days.  The time-lapse camera (which I ran pretty faithfully) recorded 77,653 images.  At one every 5 seconds, that means it was running for 388k seconds, or 107 hours.  If we divided that into 8 hour days, it comes to about 13.5 days.  About half the time, I was there by myself, 1/4 of the time with Sherri, and the last quarter Sherri and I had other help (Hunter, John, Bonnie, Joe & Jessica (my parents), Dan, Ethan and the plumbers).

If I had turned all 77,653 images into video at 29.97 frames per second, it would have been a little over 43 minutes of video.  I edited that down to under 10 minutes (less than 1/4).  In some cases, I edited out scenes, in others (such as that last interior wall), I just ran the speed of the video up to x900.  You are welcome ;^)

Rebar Chairs

We added rebar chairs to stiffen up the assembly and prevent “bounce”.

It is important to leave some space between the rebar and the lath for the concrete to completely encase the rebar.  To achieve this, we made sure to tie the lath on loosely (leave room for a couple fingers).  this works pretty well for the roof because the weight of the concrete will push the lath down and away from the rebar, but no further than the wire ties.  However, in the walls, the concrete can “bounce” the lath and then fall off the wall.  After seeing my setup, the shotcrete guy asked me to stiffen up the walls by adding rebar chairs where the lath was bouncy…  I had these chairs left over from the quad deck floor and they worked perfectly.


Welding was great because it really stiffens up the assembly so you can climb it without fear… and it actually doesn’t take much longer than tying.  In many cases, I just tied enough to keep the bars in place and pull any wide intersections close enough to weld.  Then I would just weld the rest of the connections much faster than I could have tied them.

The downside to welding is that the heat can actually change the properties of the steel and make it more brittle if you try to bend against the weld…  However, in my case, the welds are really just there to keep the steel in place long enough to pour the concrete.  After that, it is really the concrete that keeps the steel together (and vice versa).  My welds are intentionally shallow, just enough to tack the pieces together without significantly weakening the rebar.

You may find some places have building codes against welding rebar, but if you read them more carefully, they are really talking about cleaning that surface crud off the steel.  You get that sort of thing with arc welding, but not with the MIG welder that I use.  But in any case, there are no such rules for residential construction where I am building.

Curving Rebar

When you curve rebar, it is always trickier to curve the first and last couple feet.  But the middle curves pretty easily.  So, I usually curve the full 20 ft long pieces and then cut the nice continuous curve into as many pieces as I can get.   If the piece has a 5 ft straight wall before the curve, then I just start curving the rebar 5 ft from the end.  I usually start by “over curving” the steel a little bit and then straighten it out to get the final radius that I want.


Here is a gallery of pics.  Some are just as people started or moved the go pro time lapse camera. Others are just candid pics that went by too fast in the timelapse.  There are also occasional cell phone pics in there also.  Thanks to everyone who came out to help.