Hey all. I know this posting is still not as clear as a direct download would be, but I am still monkeying with how to get these up and so far, this is the easiest. Again, I’ve made some adjustments and would love to hear whether 1) you could read the text in the bubbles, and 2) if the appearance on your computer was great, good, fair, poor, or made you think I should keep my day job! Wait, this IS my day job! Maybe by now they’ve got an opening in Animal Control….
Houston, we have a landing…SNOW!!!
Despite feverishly throwing cement in cracks, holes, gaps and spider nests, and working on the shed in between, the weather has closed in on us. This morning marks the first snow of the season. About three inches is atop the patio table. Still falling. Cider anyone?
We’ve not gotten a good shot of the house lit up at night, so I decided to try to get a shot of it this morning because it was dark enough that I thought I could get snow and the lights in one shot. Haven’t dragged out the snow shoes, so wore my crocks. Poor planning on my part! (Slosh, slosh)
Balcony railing work is still being targeted as our last hooray for construction attempts this year. It reminds me of a saying, “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer being, “One bite at a time.” Finishing our home has been, and will continue to be, a lifetime event of tackling little bites each year. By the time we get it all done, the projects we fixed first will need repair again. Bah humbug!
Regarding the balcony railing, we have battled over this issue since the beginning. From a purely selfish standpoint, the view is spectacular without one. From a litigation standpoint, the view is also spectacular, as someone falling off our balcony would surely sue us and own our home at the end of litigation. We already had a scare involving the balcony last week, when daughter Heidi forgot her keys to the house and decided to use a ladder to gain access to the balcony, assuming the balcony door was open, which it was not. She used an extension ladder, and having a blond moment, set it up backwards, making it an unstable climb. She also left her cell phone and jacket in her car. Undeterred, she made it to the top, found the door locked, and then was unsure how to descend. Deciding it was unsafe, she tried to wave down cars by…you guessed it…waving at them. Everyone happily waved back at her and kept on driving. After two hours, she was about to jump – a decision that would have undoubtedly caused broken bones, when we drove up. We thought she was just being friendly, too, so we waved back at her, a little confused. By this time she was frozen and in no mood to explain why she had not just phoned us. I must admit, seeing a blond, atop a balcony, with a full ladder by her side, in tears because she cannot figure out how to get down,…was a picture for a cartoonist’s eye.
Anyway, we need a railing. There is one more standpoint that is also important–the view from outside the home. A clumsy railing can detract from the look of the home. So can an exotic one. So, we wrestle with ideas of a plain enough railing to do the job, but pretty enough to be an enhancement without being the star attraction. Hopefully, in a little while, I will be able to post balcony photos. Stay tuned. In the meantime, if any of you have ideas??? Please share!
(See Slipforming, part 16 – Balcony railing…at last, for the next thread.)
If you have gotten this far in my posts, you have read about how to slipform, what the concrete looks like fresh out of the forms, how to scrape it off for a smooth joint and the dangers of using mixed sources of cement. An area that I have not covered is how to repair cold seams. Cold seams are the bane of a concrete slinger’s existence. They are deceptive. They are not forthright, they make promises they do not keep. They should die. And now I’ll tell you how I really feel.
Kitty, Dad and I were racing an unforgiving clock–Colorado weather. We knew we would get done only what the weather would allow. As luck had it, we had glorious weather until one week before Thanksgiving. That was remarkable because often we have snow by Halloween, which is in late October for those of you reading this from other countries. We decided to go to the nine foot mark because that would be where the second floor would be attached to the slipformed walls.
I read material on Helen and Scott Nearing and how they suggested to leave exposed rock sticking out atop the cement for the next layer of cement to bond to. (This photo, at right, is of our shed, so disregard the wire mesh and focus on the rock tops that I leave exposed. Leaving a layer of rock exposed allows the next pouring of cement to grab onto those rocks and also allows a normal seam across the top edge of the rocks. The downside is that when you leave rocks like this exposed over a winter, snow and rain can occasionally get behind the rocks and pop them from the wall. Left for a season, the break in cement causes a cold seam where the old concrete has cured and the new concrete continues to cure at a different rate, thus encouraging cracking.)
Also, it is important to leave rebar exposed so that the new concrete has something to grip. I did that. The cement was left to cure from September until the next spring. Snow fell. Spring rains washed the walls leaving small puddles that froze at night in the crevaces of cement. In at least one area, the rain got in valleys between the exposed rock and the level cement and popped the seal of the exposed rocks. This, I was not to discover until this year – a full 10 years after pouring the initial cement.
For those of you wondering why it would take 10 years to discover a cement problem, this comes my accusation that cement lies. When I first poured the second layers of cement, there was no indication that I was going to face any cold seam issues. That came later, first with a hint of a problem. A hairline crack barely visible to the naked eye. Being an optimist, I hoped it was just settling. Then, it grew to a wider crack. As it grew, I worried. Was the house settling? Should I repair it immediately? Should I wait until all settling stopped? Was something structural going on?
My decision was to wait and allow any settling to occur, then to repair the cold seam rather than repair it every year. The cracking did slow, and now at 10 years, I believe it has stopped. That made this the time for repair. Now, others might advise differently. Certainly, weather is a consideration and can complicate repairs. If your winters are harsh, with a lot of moisture, you may want to seek other opinions. Our winters are not that harsh, and there is less rainfall in our county than in Tucson, Arizona so I was not that worried. The big issue is having water enter those gaps, freeze, and weaken the wall. To avoid that, grouting helps considerably.
Filling the gaps with caulk, or with mortar glue before applying grout is one possibility. Applying straight grout into the gaps works, too. This photo at left shows glue applied in the crevaces around the rocks. From here, grout will be applied over the top hiding any sign of the glue and giving a uniform appearance.
Our cold seam repair is somewhat of an experiment, which I hope to update next year. We chose to repair our cold seam with masonry glue, which is applied like caulking. Then, over the top of that, we put a mortar mix of straight mortar mix and water. We mixed a stiff batch adding only enough water to bind it, but not so much that it was soupy. Before applying the grout, we washed the walls and wet them down. This keeps the dry cement from absorbing the moisture in the mortar mix and weakening the grout.
The photo above shows a grouting job in process. Notice the rough edges of the ungrouted cement. These rough edges work really well because the jagged edges allow the freshly applied grout to grip the surface. When the entire surface is complete, the joints will all be smooth. This will repel rain, snow, insects, small children and Ken’s secret notes. (Just kidding.)
It goes without saying that one must remove all loose rocks, cement, or dirt before applying the grout. Make repairs carefully and then the grout can be molded into place by hand. We used a small pointed trowel, but often we only used it to transport small handfuls of cement to the gaps. Then, we used our gloved hands to work the cement into the gaps. Dragging a finger atop the grout leaves a smooth grout seam. That is what you want. Rough edges catch water. The water, in most cooler climates, freezes and it is that freezing process that is the cause of most problems.
Most people who have experience with cement advise to grout as soon as possible after installing the cement. I agree. The bond is easier to encourage. We have more than one project and have handled them differently. The new shed was grouted as it was poured. The house was grouted 10 years after it was poured. While it is preferable to do it early, it is better to get it up late than never. Grouting protects your work and your investment.
Now, with vertical cold seams, the cracks are sometimes more problematic. This one is a cold seam in a raised garden wall. It was made worse because of tree root growth which ran beneath the wall. The gap grew as winter snow and rainfall froze inside, further spreading the crack despite rebar extensions from the sides of the cement. To repair this gap, Ken filled it with expandable insulation, then will shave off the extra insulation and grout from there. Extra foam can be removed with a muriatic acid/water mix when it is smeared across the surface, but the acid will eat the foam quickly, so applying it to the actual joint is not recommended, as it will eat the foam you intended to stay in place.
This crack can be covered with grout without a problem. We completed a similar vertical crack a few feet away from this one a few years ago and it has given us no problems, nor did it continue to crack.
Final word on cold seams: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you can pour your project consistently without long gaps between stages, you will have less cold seam problems. If, like us, you cannot finish the project in one season, then you will likely face cold seam cracks. Fear not. They are not that difficult to repair, but do not delay. The sooner you repair them, the less damage future weather will have on your walls.
(See Slipforming, part 15 – Snow and the balcony for the next thread.)
So, we’ve covered that my biggest hurdle was overcoming doubt. Then, everything around me began to die, and then Dad’s added his initial view of the project admitting that he was not proud to confess that the entire work crew consisted of one 73-year-old man and two women in their early 30s (one pregnant, but thankfully not me). Out of this amazing work crew, none had built a home before. What was he thinking? (He was thinking it would last one week. That’s what he was thinking!) Happily for me, disappointingly for my father, I did not quit after one week.
We had dealt with the ugly reality that we were building a home without a plan – justifying this decision because I’d never built a home before, and didn’t know if it would be one floor or two, mindful of the ever-present possibility that I might beg to quit mid-way through the project. We needed flexibility, and that was solved by just not putting the floor in.
What would not putting in a floor have to do with it?
Well, by stubbing the water, gas and electric under the foundation, and leaving them inside, we could run them anywhere we chose. That decision freed me up to continue working on the rock walls while the weather was nice, and during the winter months I could obsess over where everything would go. I am quite aware this is not an ideal situation, nor am I advising it, but it was the only solution that fit our needs. Ken wanted in-floor heat and that decision required a more serious knowledge of the layout, which was dependent on knowing if we could add a second floor.
I knew where the kitchen, dining room and living room would be positioned, so we focused on what we had, and postponed what we did not. Toward that end, I began gathering rocks and we focused on putting up the exterior walls which took the bulk of that fall. I was very lucky, we did not have rain or snow until one week before Thanksgiving, an unusual year that blessed my project!
One thing I had not counted on was that I got in better shape lifting those rocks. Dad maintained they would get heavier with time, but in reality, they got lighter. By the end of four months of moving stones (and our make-shift scaffolding) around, I probably could have arm wrestled a high school boy and won!
I was lifting, moving, re-lifting, re-moving rocks almost all day. When I was not moving rocks, I was lifting the foam panels, lumber and tools. It was a very good workout. Very thorough! I slept very well every night from all the activity.
I also discovered that Murphy’s Law was alive and well. At this stage in the project, I learned three of Murphy’s Laws intimately:
Murphy’s Law #1: Early on, though I was only carrying cement in small coffee cans, I was lifting a lot of rocks. I was surprised when my hands started going numb, particularly in the fingers. As I would grasp the rocks with my fingers, spasms would shoot up my arm that were similar to electrical shocks. It was the same feeling as hitting the funny bone on your elbow, except it was in my finger joints and ran all the way up to my shoulder. They were painful and this concerned me. Those who knew I was suffering suggested it might be carpal tunnel syndrome and that it could require surgery. That was an unacceptable answer. How could I finish this darned project if my hands quit on me within the first three weeks?
Luckily, a friend of mine – the mother of my high school boyfriend – came to the rescue. She was a rock hound who had spent the last 40 years of her life lifting and carrying heavy rocks. I asked her if she had ever had such problems. “Well, honey, of course!” she said in her high-pitched voice, laughing, “You’ve got to know when to stop. You need to take a break and let your muscles heal. I’ve had that happen hundreds of times. I just take some time off and it’s fine. Give yourself a couple weeks,” she said.
A couple weeks? But I was in September, with Colorado weather threatening to shut me down at any given point. Two weeks would seriously compromise my progress. I satisfied myself with a few days and spent those collecting other essentials for the project, namely 98-pound bags of cement and truck-loads of sand, which also provided some very important discoveries.
Murphy’s Law #2: Though I always considered myself an aficionado of playground equipment, I inadvertently ignored the hazards of duplicating a teeter-totter with a Ford pickup. For those fuzzy on teeter-totters and their application in slipforming, I discovered that 1) the gravel yard employees will let you put way too much sand in your truck; 2) when you load an old Ford pickup too full of sand – it tips the front of the truck upward, very much like a teeter totter, making steering an adventure; and 3) the gravel employee will think this is funny.
I had insisted on a truck full of sand – not wanting to make unnecessary trips back for more, and the bobcat operator looked at me and grinned. I think he knew it was a mistake I would make only once. And it was. I rolled out of the gravel yard driving like a drunken driver, swerving to the right, then over-correcting to the left. My maximum speed on the way home was probably 10 miles an hour and I was praying for my tires not to pop. Of course, Dad took one look at the rig and asked me what the heck I was doing to his old truck? Did I want to die? At that moment, the answer was “Yes! Please!”
Murphy’s Law #3: On any building site, the likelihood of having to use a restroom is inversely proportional to the availability of one. In other words, if you need one, you won’t have one, and if you have one, you won’t need one. Secondly, your desire to “go” always seems to occur just moments before someone important drives up, regardless of the fact that no one has stopped by the site all day. Thirdly, these people are snapping photos as they approach the place, of course assuring you they will destroy any they might have snapped of you! (yeah, right…)
Ugh! I realized these facts early, and considered renting a port-a-potty. They are more expensive than I imagined, and as you will recall, I did not have a lot of money. That said, it made more sense to purchase a small camper and park it on the site, than to rent a port-a-potty. This decision had the added benefit of allowing me to get out of a rain storm, and provided a make-shift office and lockable tool storage. It also provided a spot for a kid (or me) to take a nap or wash a wound and apply a band-aid, if necessary. It was a brilliant decision.
That camper paid for itself over and over – and when I was done with it, I sold it for the same price I bought it for, thereby costing me nothing. It also had a working refrigerator and a stove, so when I was particularly depressed, I could dart inside for a hot cup of tea, or cocoa and regroup. Later, when I hired the roofing done and was paying by the hour, I suspected the roof contractor was fibbing on his hours, assuring me he was arriving one or two hours before I arrived. I started spending the night in the camper and my costs, and progress, improved markedly. All in all, that camper was a winner of an idea, and I still miss being able to just get away sometimes.
To see “Slipforming, part 8 – successes and failures,” click here.
Sixteen-year-old Ben just came home from a 4-H leadership conference in Fort Collins. He had looked forward to it since last year when he met a bunch of friends and found that there is, indeed, life beyond Hotchkiss. Even “girl” life. That was particularly exciting to him. So, when this years sign-up list was making the rounds, Ben’s name was first to hit the roster.
The event lasted three days, and for some young pups, it was the first time away from home. They frolic, drink Mountain Dew, Red Bull and other caffeine-based drinks, listen to inspiring lecturers and then drive the chaperones crazy until the wee hours. Usually, with a little therapy, the chaperones bounce back to normal within a week. Some remain abnormal the rest of their lives. (You know who you are…)
As is our tradition, all heck broke loose on our end as Ben left. Dad broke his hip; a goat got her leg broke by a dog; another goat got sick and Dad’s cows got a case of the “Happy Feet,” and were running loose apparently heading for a field trip in Montana.
The photo, at right, shows one of Dad’s cows deep in thought about navigating the most direct route to Montana. Once the plotting is complete, the cows feet levitate and the rest is a blur of hooves, wringing tails and cow glee.
Waiting to pick up Ben from his trip, I got a phone call from the vet saying he had a shot for the sick goat and that we could stop by to pick it up on our way home. Time did not allow me to alert Ben to the change in the usual drive home, so he launched into a full detailed account of the most exciting parts of his trip. That included one story after another involving girls.
“There were so many girls there that I couldn’t dance with them all,” he said. “They even came up to me asking me to save slow dances for them – but there were only about five slow dances and four times that many girls,” he continued, lamenting what he felt was a dire situation. He bounced from one story to another – all involving girls – when the turn to the vet’s office came into sight.
“What are you doing?” he panicked, searching the rear-view mirror for police lights. “Where are we going?”
“We’re going to the vet’s,” I said, matter of fact.
“Why? Did something bad happen?” he asked.
“No. I just figured it was time to get you neutered,” I answered. “You’ll stay home better, and all these thoughts of girls will vanish and you’ll be better able to focus on school and the important things,” I say, trying to keep a straight face.
“I know you’re kidding,” he said. “Besides, I have an opposable thumb. Whatever he does to the dog, I can undo.”
“That’s why they have zip-ties, duct tape and a plastic collar,” I say, unable to resist.
We arrived at the vet’s. Ben opted not to get out of the car despite the sweltering heat. I went inside thinking this would be a quick visit, but the vet’s wife was on the phone telling someone that their dog might need to have its eye removed. I could tell the call wasn’t going well. Then, Doc entered the operating room and appeared to be in a foul mood as well having just taken an eye out of a cow. I figured he could use a little comic relief, so I told him why Ben was holed up inside the car and wanted no part of seeing him today.
The vet chuckled, probably finding me sick and demented, but un-medicate-able. His wife opted to end the dog call before memories of her own son’s discovering girls caused her to chuckle inappropriately.
As the heat in the car increased, Ben’s grit expired and he reluctantly came inside. He quickly sat down, legs together, hands folded over his lap in a protective fashion.
Now, what I would have given to have the vet come out with a set of tweezers and a large plastic collar and tell Ben to get up on the table…but, no, my vet is soft.
“Don’t worry, Ben,” he said, smiling. “I’m on your side.”
“My mother is SOOO ornery,” said Ben. “She hasn’t seen me for three days. You’d think she’d be nice for, well, at least an hour. But noooooo. It’s like she’s stored up three days worth!”
“All women are that way, but the ones with horses are the worst,” said the vet, giving a sidelong glance at his wife. “There’s no cure, and it appears to be genetic. That means that you’ll probably behave the same way with your kids,” he said, smiling.
Well, we are less than 24 hours without goats and the withdrawl symptoms hit Ken. Actually, it was just lucky timing. We have a pond that has been a money pit. It got all gunked up with gloppy, gross crud including a floating crust. Ken hired a smiling tractor guy to dig it out and the ensuing stench left the air nearby smelling worse than a sewer for nearly a month. That was nearly a decade ago. Then, Ken looked into getting grass carp.
Grass Carp are a regulated fish because they eat virtually anything that does not eat them first – which makes them a hazard to all other fish because they eat literally everything and then the native fish die. Ken invited the Division of Wildlife folks out and he filled out a bunch of forms. Then, the idea got sidetracked and the fish never arrived.
Well, yesterday he got the call and he was like an adoptive parent receiving word of a new baby. Today, he dashed out to pick up the new babies. They are now several years old and 18-20 inches long. They are sterile fish, so it is unlikely I will look out there and see a school of them. Then again, with our luck….
Supposedly, the fish will clean the pond within a year. I’ll try to do a follow up as the pond progresses. The biggest concerns are namely that the fish will get snagged by eagles or hawks, or just die, and secondly, that they will clean that pond so clean that Ken and Ben will skinny-dip in there. The second risk is the most worrysome to wildlife officials. Anyway, we have put fish into this pond before. None have thrived. The pond expert took a sample of the goop out of the pond and said it was a veritable delicatessen for grass carp. I guess we’ll see.
I wonder if the fish messed in the back of Ken’s car. I’ll probably mention it the next time we go somewhere. Something like, “Wow, this car stinks…like FISH!” To which Ken will have a coronary and probably give an impressive tirade using various adjectives which are rarely used to describe goats. Then again, maybe they ARE commonly used to describe goats.