There was just enough decent weather left in the season to prep and shotcrete the walls around the perimeter of the central circle. We had to start with the formwork, and since these walls had simple curvature (rather than compound curvature), we decided to use OSB board screwed to vertical steel studs. Of course, rebar was added in and tied. I’ll get into details and lessons learned later in this post… And there is always a gallery of pictures at the end, but first, the timelapse video.
These MarinoWare steel studs I have been experimenting with are a bit of a mixed success. They are great for holding the formwork, rebar, electrical, etc. And I like to think that they provide some reinforcement for the concrete. On the negative side, the shotcrete crew were not always able to properly encase them and possible voids in the walls along these studs probably reduced the wall strength and provided a path for water to channel. I wouldn’t call them a total failure, but I have decided not to use them in this same way for the central tower. Instead, I will brace that formwork from the outside. I will continue to use these studs for the South wall because the design there has these outside the concrete, supporting the rigid insulation formwork.
Screwing into Steel Studs
Pre-drilling would just take too long and it would probably drive you crazy trying to keep the boards aligned to get the screws thru the pre-drilled holes. Self-tapping drill point screws are what you need. They should be long enough to get thru the form materials (3/8th inch OSB in my case) and still bite in nicely to the steel. In places where you put an extra layer of OSB (such as to thicken the joints), you will need an extra 3/8ths of length. Also, to save money, you want to use the shortest and smallest screws that will work. Finally, the key thing is the head… I recommend the Hex-Washer-Head because it will be held securely by your driver without any slippage or cam outs. Do not buy Phillips head screws, you will seriously regret it.
Personally, I ended up mostly using TEKs #10 x 1 in. Zinc Plated Hex-Washer-Head Self Tapping Drill Point Screws that cost about 4 cents each. If you can get them in bulk, you can probably reduce the price to half that.
Plumb and Braced
For some reason, the camera kept moving on to the next area before we would complete the important job of plumbing and bracing each section of wall. However, that step was important and worth a small section here. The walls had some natural stability because of the curvature, but we still needed to brace them against the force and vibration of the shotcrete and they were not always naturally plumb. On dirt, we could just brace with a 2×2 or 2×4, screwed to a block on the wall and then screwed to a stake. However, for most of this job, we had to brace on the concrete deck and didn’t want to attach the bracing to the deck and risk damaging our radiant tubing… The solution was to place a board on the deck, screw the diagonal brace to that, and also screw a horizontal brace and tie it back into the wall. This worked pretty well.
In one location, the wall was out of plumb and took some serious pulling to try and force it plumb. Some combination of the boards, studs, and rebar was fighting against us. I ended up just using a strap and a come-along to pull it. Part of that strap is still embedded in the concrete wall, but at least it is plumb.
I get a lot of negative comments from people saying that it is “against code” to weld rebar. In reality, the building code has about 85 pages devoted to welding rebar. The code talks about what types of Rebar you can weld (mine has a little “w” on it to indicate that it is weldable), diameters (most welding rules don’t kick in until #7), what types of welds you can do (butt joints are not acceptable), pre-heating, exceptions based on engineering approval, etc. I was going to get into it a bit here, but it is probably better to just suggest you read up on it yourself.
While I agree that the heat treatment that comes from welding does influence the ductility and other material properties of the steel, in certain situations (some of my situations), it does make things much better. I know what I am doing, everything is inspected, no need to worry about it.
Here is where we put some of the pics we took during this period…
from time to time, I’ll just take a photo of my screen so I can have the measurements handy in my phone… Some times it is faster than trying to transfer a proper screen shot…
The Hex Head screws are much much better
For us, this build is pretty focused work. But while we are out there, the kids will often find time to play or read a book in some odd place.
Working on the side wall in the guest room. We had this one shot from the kitchen across the basement stairs.
Me setting up the camera in the kitchen…
I think I may have kept too many pics of David setting up the camera…
Sherri gets goofy some times…
Joe working on the dining room wall.
David Setting up the camera. He likes this job.
Here my father is working on the wood forms and my mother is tying rebar… Probably not the retirement they expected.
Sliding the rebar into the short wall section.
For this little side wall, we put in all the rebar pieces and then cut them down to size.
David setting up the camera for a shot
David was climbing around on the tower steel and took this interesting pic of Hunter walking thru the site.
Another shot of the playroom apse before it got started. You can see all the steel arches leaning against the rigid insulation in the background.
I separate out these jobs, but they often overlap. On this day, I was working (For ANSYS inc) from the site because the stucco guys were working on the garage. In the evening, I probably switched to welding the playroom apse or something like that.
I originally set everything up around this middle post, then I welded the outer edges in place.
To form the apse, I had to weld the thicker rolled steel arches to the thinner galvanized steel studs… It doesn’t have to hold forever, just long enough to be encased in concrete. It took a little practice to be able to weld the different materials reliably. I did little patches like this ever few inches along each edge where they met.
This looks like it was from my timelapse, but the rest of the video was lost… It happens sometimes.
This is one of those pics that happens when your 10 year old is just walking around with a camera.
Welding the rebar
apse steel ready
Apse steel from above
Outside of the guest-room wall. We shot the walls from the outside to try and avoid messing up the deck.
The inside of the guest room forms.
We try to avoid it, but occationally we are all working within a very narrow distance of eachother…
For some reason, Hunter likes to pose for the timelapse… Just while he is walking by in the middle of the shoot. The easter egg photos are mine now.
Friends playing while their parents helped out…
The north side, ready to shotcrete.
This gap between the back of the kitchen wall and the Quonset hut will be filled with a lot of earth.
This pic is trying to show that I cut away the fox blocks and drilled the horizontal rebar into that wall to tie everything together structurally.
The connection between the guest room wall and the mudroom…
There were a number of issues that delayed starting on the Quonset hut, including two extra weeks for delivery and I had to travel to Europe for a two week business trip… but eventually all the plans were in place and we had a nice weekend forecast (for late October), so my parents and sister (Bonnie) came down from Canada to help out.
You can find the full video here:
This all happened about a month ago… But it takes a while for me to find the time to put these videos and blogs together… At the time, I made a short and quick video and posted it to Facebook. Generally, the facebook posts are much closer to real time and are much much shorter than the bog posts. If you are interested, you can like us on Facebook (click over here in the right hand side è)
This is the short video that I posted on Facebook a month ago…
Each arch is made up of 7 pieces of steel bolted together with half inch bolts. Each arch section ends up weighing ~240 lbs. This portion of the building is my garage/workshop and will eventually have 20 arches and be 30 ft wide and ~40 ft long. For now, I have only put up 11 arch sections because I plan to build some forms for casting concrete ribs in the back and then roll them to the front where a crane can lift them up and move them into place.
The garage steel came on 1 pallet weighing about 4800 lbs. It included 2 buckets and 2 boxes containing about ~5000 pairs of nuts and bolts. The cost for the steel/nuts&bolts/engineering/delivery was $7200.
To assemble the arches, I used the help of friends and family… No one who helped had ever done anything like it before. The first Saturday, I had my parents and sister to help for nearly 12 hours, pre-dawn to dark. We got up 6 arches, which means it took an average of about 8 man hours per arch. Actually, the second arch took 3 hours and 40 minutes, which is about 14.66 man hours… And the 6th arch took 1.5 hours or 6 man hours. That is a decent learning curve. The second Saturday is harder to calculate because I had different people who came at different times for different numbers of hours. The first arch was done by 3 people and some time was lost giving tours to arriving friends, etc. but we were starting on the second arch by 2 hours and 10 minutes later, which is 6.5 man hours. The 9th arch (the last one that we had a full crew for) took 7 guys only 35 minutes, which is just over 4 man hours.
In total, my friends and family gave me 94 man hours over those two Saturdays. If I had to pay a moderate 20$/hour, that would have cost me $1880 in labor. I never got a quote to get the building professionally assembled, so I am not sure how that compares. However much I saved, I really appreciated the help and I hope they had some fun doing it.
There was that one piece that we didn’t overlap in the right direction… It should be OK in the end because the seam is almost at the top and we plan to cover the structure in concrete anyway.
I was not able to get the width down to 24 inches each for the arches… I was always half an inch over. I don’t think it will affect the strength much and the extra bit was balanced on both sides, so the building is straight. The biggest problem is that the structure is already about 6” longer than it should be. I don’t yet know how I will handle it when I add the remaining arch segments and get to the end of the slab… I don’t think I want to add an extra footing to move the front wall out 8 inches. The other options include not using the last arch, or perhaps cutting the last arch… I won’t really know how big of a mistake that was until the garage is complete.
Actually, I think this drawing from the manual is a little wrong… The text says over and over again that the 24″ should be bolt hole center to bolt hole center…
The assembly actually began on Friday. I knew we had a lot of hours ahead of us, so I asked my friend Aaron to come out and help me get 4 ribs together. It took us about an hour to get the first couple together. We timed the second couple and managed to get down to 17 minutes for each of those.
We arrived before dawn and were prepared to raise the first arch soon after sunrise. The arches went up pretty easy, for a 240lb arch of 20 gage steel. The biggest issue was really how flexible they were…
The first one had nothing to lean it against, so we braced it with wood and rope and then hurried to get the second one up to stiffen the assembly. The second arch was very difficult. I thought it was going to collapse at one point and I was seriously questioning my plan to erect this structure without any professional help.
However, as we bolted the two arches together, things started firming up. This was good because the wind started to pick up. You can see things start to move and shake in the video. I spent a lot of time stressing about the width of the arches, but it was really the wind that made me push on to get a few more arches up to increase the stiffness of the structure. The instructions said to assemble 4 sections and then tweak the building, so we moved ahead.
The 3rd and 4th sections went up pretty easily. We had a pretty good rhythm for bolting things together and it helped that the sun was out and things were warming up nicely. We now had almost a ton of steel up and the wind was not flexing it as much.
After the 4th arch, my father and I were fighting with the steel to try and get the width down to 24 inches… We just could not compress it that far. The depth was correct, and that made no sense to me.
Since I was too distracted to provide any guidance, the ladies took the initiative and started assembling the 5th arch on their own. Unfortunately, they assumed all the steel pieces were the same… which would have been right for a true Quonset, but this was an “S-type” made up of two different radius pieces. It was clearly curving too much and Bonnie realized something was wrong. She interrupted my stressing and said, “Hey are there two different radius pieces here?” Oops, I felt bad for letting them waste their time. I took a moment to explain the two different curvatures and how the pieces went together and then they got back to work.
I eventually accepted the slightly greater than 24 inch width and started drilling holes and bolting down the arches. Perhaps this was a big mistake, but I couldn’t see any other way forward.
The view from the top was nice though…
The 5th arch went up very easily and the ladies (now expert) began to assemble the 6th arch while the men bolted the 5th to the 4th. Sherri and the boys arrived just as we were getting ready to raise the 6th arch. It had been tough for me to manage all three ropes during the pull, so I was glad to have Sherri up there to help. After the 6th, it was clear that the day was ending and we wouldn’t necessarily have time to get another arch fully in place and properly secured before dark… We decided not to try and raise any more ribs that day. Instead, we just prepped for the next Saturday.
My family went home to Canada and I spent the next week trying to get enough local friends together to help me put up a few more arches before winter really set in… Many of my friends had prior commitments or were working, etc. Some could come for earlier hours, some could come later, Some could only come on Sunday instead of Saturday, etc. I was mostly concerned about not having enough guys there at one time to actually pull up the ribs. However, by Thursday, I did get enough to sign up for a fun workday in the freezing cold.
On Saturday morning, Aaron and Don showed up first. Since we didn’t have enough people to pull a full arch into place, we decided to try the “piece by piece” method. It actually worked pretty well, although it was a bit slower than the other method and we did make one overlap mistake (probably because we were rushing).
Then more friends arrived. Carl and his son Kent came with Doug, so we had an instant crew. A while later, my brother-in-law, John, arrived. Getting the arches into position with that many guys was pretty easy and then we had several pairs working on bolting things all together… The biggest bottle neck was waiting for me to anchor the arches to the concrete at the end. My previous approach had been to work bolting the ribs together, and then work on anchoring the previous arch (we kept the current arch loose so the next one could be fit over it easier). However, with so many guys bolting the arches together, it made much more sense for me to start anchoring the previous rib as soon as the new rib was up, but I still couldn’t finish before the guys got the rest of the bolts in place. We got pretty fast by the end of the day.
Next, I will need to grout the trench. The building is attached to the ground, but doesn’t have real strength until the feet are fixed in place so they can’t lean in or out.
Well, this portion of the build is starting to seem never-ending. It is a bit frustrating because I head out to the site with expectations of what I will accomplish and then don’t seem to accomplish half of that. The time-lapse videos help, because, like a sports coach, I can review the tapes. It looks like I am working hard, so I guess the primary thing I see is that I need to reduce my velocity expectations.
Here is the video for this past Friday and Saturday:
Reviewing the tapes (at a much slower speed than the 300 to 900 times speedup that you see) also shows that I could benefit from better organization. I currently spend too much time running to get the thing I forgot to bring with me in the first place… I guess that will improve with experience. Even moving around within the site, I often need to walk a few extra feet to get the tool I just put down. I do have a tool belt, but I hate wearing it. I find it hot and unbalanced. Maybe I should start carrying a small toolbox instead? I could set it down next to me and then move the whole thing every time I move…
On Friday last week, we got a hold of our Shotcrete contractor and made a plan for one week later. We came back on Saturday and put in a long day, but still didn’t get it all done.
I am starting to see the end of my stockpiled vacation days (less than 2 weeks left) and I need to put some days in the office next week, but with the shotcrete date looming, I am going to take Wednesday thru Friday off this week. When I run out, I will need to be more creative. My schedule is pretty flexible and I could do four-tens, or shift to California time or something like that…
One of the things still not done is the electrical rough-in. I have an inspection Wednesday morning, so I will need to get out there for dawn on Wednesday to get it done. Actually, Sherri and I have been working together on it. I am running the conduit and Sherri is pulling the wires through.
I am also talking with several recycling companies to get cheap ridged insulation. It looks like I can get it for about 40% of what I would pay at Home Depot, but I am still nervous about ordering because none of the companies I am dealing with are great about communicating exactly what I will get. Online forums discussing these companies give mostly good reviews, and the prices quoted are quite ahead of my budgeted allotment, so Sherri says I should just go ahead… Maybe I will place the order tomorrow.