Tag Archives: Sourcing

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.

Bedroom Shotcrete


Posted on August 18, 2016 by

After a lot of setup work, we were finally ready to have the shotcrete sprayed over our bedroom wing.  The Quonset garage was actually done at the same time, but that is another post.

In this post, we have some pics to illustrate the process and challenges, along with some tips for anyone planning to do something similar.

But first, The video.

The Video



Try to get a quote that includes some expectation of how far they will get.

With each shotcrete visit, the cost (when I divide out per yard) has gone up dramatically.  I don’t have the calculation right in front of me, but this visit was more than double the cost per yard of the basement job, and that first one totally blew the original estimate out of the water.  So, as you can imagine, we have now (writing after the 3rd shotcrete session) blown thru all the money we allocated for shotcrete in the budget.  It is not so much that the shotcrete company underestimated the daily costs, but they dramatically overstated the amount they could get done in a day.  During this run, there was one day when they only got 8 yards (because the compressor broke), other days got 16 or 24. They said they would pro-rate, but in the end, the costs were all the same per day.  If you are paying a daily rate and the volume can vary from 8 to 24 yards, it is difficult to budget.

We will need to come to a better agreement that factors in some of my expectations when we do the next shotcrete.  We want to be fair (it is hard specialized work), but we don’t want to go bankrupt either. Next time, I am going to try and work in some better expectations of how far they should get for the money.  It probably seems basic, but I am sure it is easier said than done.

A few more guys is a good thing.

Each day costs thousands of dollars for the base crew and concrete… The extra finishing guys are just a few hundred dollars each.  That is a bargain when you realize how much energy they save the base crew (so those guys get more concrete up) and how much smoother they make the walls (so you can save on waterproofing).

The lift will save you more than it costs.

The lift rental was over a thousand dollars.  This got worse because the shotcrete took a weekend and several days more than expected.  But actually, they guys at Wolverine Rental were pretty cool about it and made me a good deal that factored in days when I wasn’t actually using the rental, even though it was sitting on my lot.

The crew would have liked a nicer lift with a more powerful engine and tracks, I can’t even comment on how much more that would have cost because I simply couldn’t find one at any of the rental places in my area.  I suppose it would have saved a little time (they got stuck a few times), but probably not enough to justify the additional cost (I am guessing it would be a lot more).

The crew also complained about not having a second lift for the finishing crew.  Looking back, this may have paid for its self…  I’ll have to do a more careful financial analysis when I get a chance, but probably.  Looking forward toward my remaining shotcrete jobs, I don’t think there will be enough lift work to justify two, but maybe…

After saying all the negative stuff first for some reason… I will also say that I am pretty sure the lift really saved us more than it cost.  Certainly, it was necessary for reaching the awkward hard-to-reach places with that shotcrete hose.  But it also helped in the other areas where they could have used scaffolding or some “cheaper” method.  It helped move the hose around and allowed the guys to conserve their energy so they could get further in a day and do a better job.  I can do a quick mental calculation and say that it easily saved me much more than it cost.

Update: Funny side update, but 6 months later the Shotcrete contractor texted me to say that the lift (which his crew operated) damaged his 900$ hose while it was pulling it around.  Later in the text conversation, he said he would be nice and not bill me for the damage.   ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


One of the mix trucks must have had some old cement set inside it after a previous delivery.  When it brought us our concrete, those chunks broke off and jammed up the concrete pump causing us to lose nearly an hour while the shotcrete guys tried to get the chunks out again.  Because we delayed the cement truck past the time they expected it to stay on site, the concrete company charged us an extra fee (75$), which was nothing compared to the value of the delay to us…  Any longer and we would have had to dump the remaining concrete. At the time, Sherri took this picture of the chunks so we could argue against the silly charge, but in the end, the 75$ wasn’t enough to bother fighting.

The chunks of concrete that came out of the mix truck and jammed the concrete pump. Sherri’s shoes for scale.



The concrete comes from the supplier in a mix truck.  The factory adds the dry ingredients into the truck according to the recipe from the shotcrete guys.  It is basically a 7 sack mix with sand and peastone and Fly Ash (carbon nanospheres that help it flow) and various other admixtures determined by the weather and other conditions.  Along the way, water is added and the barrel of the truck turns to mix it up while on the way (which is why it is called “transit mix”).  They need to get the concrete out of the mix truck and on the wall within 90 minutes of starting to mix it.

Once on site, the concrete truck dumps the wet concrete into the hopper of the concrete pump.  This pump uses a 110 HP Cummins diesel engine to power two large 6-inch diameter pistons that can handle pumping concrete with aggregates at a rate of up to 50 cubic yards per hour.  Of course, they never got above 8 yards per hour, but that is more a function of the complexity of my design.

Meanwhile, the compressor sends high-pressure air thru the smaller hose (1-inch diameter) to the nozzle where it meets the pumped concrete and blasts it thru the nozzle and out into the air…

All of this comes together in the nozzle.  The most obvious control is a mixing valve for adjusting the ratio of air to concrete right behind the nozzle.  The concrete pump is controlled by a remote that was usually carried by another guy (who could go over and check the pump when something goes wrong).  The nozzle man indirectly controls the flow rate of the concrete pump by communicating with hand signals (and occasional verbal abuse) to the guy with the remote.  The nozzle is also pretty heavy and the video clips show how the nozzle man has to work with his whole body to control it, often while standing in very precarious positions.  The end of the nozzle is a rubber tip that can be switched out depending on the task or concrete properties.  The nozzleman can control the fan of the shotcrete spray by pinching this tip with his fingers.

From there, it is all muscle and skill as the nozzleman builds up the concrete in the right places, properly encasing the rebar and all the other annoying things I have in my walls.

These are the main pieces of equipment that make shotcrete possible.


Big job

Shotcrete requires a lot of setup to get rolling.  Once the guys get rolling, they can only put up so much concrete in any one place before it starts to schlep off.   Instead of doing the bedrooms and Quonset separately as two smaller jobs, we combined them.  I am pretty sure this saved us money and gave the shotcrete guys somewhere to go when the one-half of the project needed some time to cure.


I guess I’ll tell the other stories here in the gallery.


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.


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