Tag Archives: skills

House update: exterior backfill and slab footer leveling

We got the outside of the footers backfilled. Which also means we got our garage pad excavated since that’s where the dirt for the backfill came from.

Before we backfilled, however, we had to put rigid insulation around the footers. This helps to insulate the pad so that the house is easier to heat. We chose to go with extruded polystyrene (xps) since it seemed more durable to us. Also, our plans say it has to be at least R-7 and this 2 inch xps foam is R-10 and was easier to find at our local big box hardware store than the right kind of expanded polystyrene (eps). 

We also spent a couple days ripping our form bords down to the right height and reattaching them so that they become the forms for the finished slab. I like that we were able to reuse materials. In addition to the wood, we had put all the forms together with screws, which means we were able to save those when we took the footer forms apart and use them again. Once the slab is poured, these forms will come down and one more row of insulation will go down, then we’ll backfill the rest of the way. And I am sure all this wood will find it’s use on the homestead.

We rented an excavator that Pops operated for us. He’s a wizard in that thing! But then, that’s what he did for a living for 30+ years.

Excavating the garage pad (and getting us fill dirt)

The Hubs and I took turns operating the little bobcat we also rented. Would have been nice to have something a bit bigger, but that’s all that was available on short notice. We used that to move the dirt around the house.

Almost done with the exterior backfill

And since we had the machine there, we decided to finally move the huge boulders into their permanent positions. 

These gigantic boulders came out of the hillside when we excavated for our well. We knew they would come in handy for landscaping and retaining. So that’s exactly how we used them.

Play boulders


The new garage pad with big boulders as a retaining wall

Just a couple days after finishing the backfill, we took off on a big family vacation that has been in the works for two years. 

The Castle Rock Family at Mt Rushmore

We got back from vacation this past weekend, and now it’s back to work!

First thing our hired hand and I did this morning in was some rebar work that needed to be finished. It was one of those jobs that would have been easy to forget.

Then we worked on leveling up the forms. They were pretty close to level, but needed a bit of adjusting here and there.

The first thing we did was go around with a transit level and measuring rod and see where the forms were high or low. Princess Girl and Pajii helped out today as well.

A transit level is basically a swiveling scope mounted on a tri-pod. You make sure it is perfectly level by using the adjusters, then site through it to a measuring rod or tape measure.

The site through the transit

Once we figured out the measurement that was most common, we called that measurement “grade” and brought everything else up or down to meet it. 

Sometimes we had to detach the form from the supports and pry the form up a bit and re-attach. But for the most part, we had to get some spots down a bit. Because there was not enough wiggle room in the system to push the boards down, I came up with the idea to plane down the high spots. We would find two “grade” spots not too far from each other, put a chalk line on it, then use the electric planer to take off the excess down to the mark.

Princess girl was in charge of the camera for a bit – obviously!

It worked great!

Planing down the high spots


That’s all we did today. Tomorrow I am going to order some fill dirt and we’ll start backfilling the interior on Friday (gotta work my summer job on Thursday). Tomorrow we also have some more bracing to do on the forms now that they are level. Don’t want those suckers to move a millimeter!

Then, over the weekend, we start trenching for interior footers and plumbing! This progress is so exciting!

House update – footers poured!

I haven’t written much lately because I feel like there’s not much to update you on. We’ve been working a lot the last several weeks to get our forms ready for concrete, but you couldn’t​ really see the progress. Besides that, I’ve been exhausted working all day in the heat. On top of that, I’ve had to work my regular summer job here and there, and have had a couple of migraines. All that together, and nothing got written here on the blog (though I do a better job updating Instagram and Facebook). However, we did pass our first inspection no problem (yay!) And then had to wait a week for schedules to line up. But we finally got a permanent part of the house built today! We got our footers poured!

It was an exciting day, let me tell you! This is the first thing we’ve done so far that is actually a part of the house. 

And I feel rather validated, because not only did the inspector not have a single issue with the work we had done building the forms, he said it looked good, and several of the concrete guys we’ve had out lately to give us bids have said that the forms looked amazing. 

And they performed marvelously today as we pumped the concrete into them.

And it’s all due to this guys right here:

Gary is a family friend who is a retired contractor and has volunteered hours and hours to help us get this far on the house. He is generous, loving, knowledgeable, and helpful. We could not have done nearly as well or as quickly as we have without his expertise and willingness to help us out.

And he’s not just a supervisor type guy either. He is right there in the mix, getting his hands dirty with the rest of us.

Today we had a large crew here helping. Not only was it Gary and the Hubs and I, but we had Princess Girl, our highered hand (a young friend who’s working for us for the summer), a brother-in-law of sorts, and a couple the dads. In fact, the Dads put together the forms for the patio we poured out of the left over concrete.

Everyone had a job and did it well. There were times of rushed activity, and times of standing around not doing much.

All told, it took about 4 hours to do both the footers and the little patio.

Its been amazing hour much help our hired hand has been. And Princess Girl is learning fast and is able to help with more and more.

At the end of the day, it was amazing to just sit and take it all in. To reminisce about all the work that’s gone into the project thus far. To be proud of what our hard work has accomplished. And to realize that this is just the beginning.

Actually that last part scares me a bit. 

Ok. A lot.

We’ve worked so hard already. And we are just getting started. We have so far to go.

But I know we’ll get there. In God’s timing, and in His will.

And when it’s all built, and we are sitting there of an evening, admiring the work of our hands, we’ll know it was all worth it.

And in the mean time, we just do the next step. Which tonight is wetting down the ground inside the footers so that it will settle and compact.

And now we’re off to bed. Its been a big day.

Fostering chicks

So. We live in an off-grid tiny home (ie a 280 square foot camping trailer) and we’re busy building a house. Just the situation and time to bring home 17 baby chicks from the feed store, right?

No? You don’t think so?

I think you’re probably right. But we brought them home anyway. 

You see, we had a plan!

We had two hens go broody, and while we eventually decided that we didn’t want them to hatch any of our own eggs (we don’t want our rooster procreating), the idea of baby chicks had taken hold.

So, we put one of the hens in her own penthouse suite (ie, and old dog crate), and let the other sit in one of the egg laying nests in the main coop.

Broody hen in her kennel

Both hens were sitting on a few golf balls. These make excellent, cheap imitation eggs. 

Our plan was to let them sit on their “eggs” for a few weeks, then buy chicks from the feed store and do a little switcheroo and the hen will think her “eggs” hatched.

Or so the theory goes. 

And I’m here to tell you that it works! 

Kinda.

Here’s our story.

On Wednesday, April 19 we bought 9 chicks (4 Gold Sexlinks, 4 Ameracaunas, and 1 Golden Laced Wyandotte). We gave the chicks to our broody Austra White, “Bluebell” (so named because she has a blue band on her leg) at about 4pm. 

Bluebell and a couple of her new chicks

She was a bit confused at first, and the chicks didn’t know what she was, but within about 10 minutes, all the babies were snuggled up under their new mamma and she was happily clucking away to them.
The next morning, they were all out in the enclosure I set up inside the coop so that they had a bit of space to move around, but would be separated from the rest of the flock. They hung out in this space for a couple days. I figured by using crates, the other hens would be able to get used to the chicks so that by the time I started letting them out into the larger area and even out into the run, there shouldn’t be any problems.

Inside their enclosure inside the coop.

At this point, everything was going so well. I was exstatic that it was working out just as I’d read about. Bluebell was a good mamma. She kept the babies warm when needed, and was even careful how she stepped around them.

Good mamma, keeping her babies warm!

I was excited for Phase 2: more chicks to give to “Roadie”, our other broody hen.
On Friday, April 21, we bought another 8 chicks (4 Welsummers, 2 Barred Rocks, and 2 Delawares.)

We attempted to repeat our success.

And that’s where everything went to pot.

Roadie rejected the chicks! ğŸ˜ž She kept pecking them away. More on that later.

So now we had 17 chicks and only one mamma hen. I have heard stories of a hen hatching out and caring for a large brood, so I figured we’d try giving the other chicks to Bluebell and hope she could raise them. At least for the night until we got a brooder of some sort set up for some of them.

It worked. Kinda. 

On Saturday morning, I found a chick dead in the nest box. It had been crushed. 😢 Seems 17 was just too many. Go figure.

And a weird thing that morning is that Bluebell was pecking at two of the new chicks. Just the two Barred Rocks. None of the others. So we rescued those two and set up a brooder box for them. And we figured that since we had to do it for two of them, we’d pick out several others and lighten Bluebell’s load. 

So, besides the two Barred Rocks, we grabbed a Welsummer, a Sexlink, the Wyandotte, and one of the Ameracaunas. The Wyandotte and that particular Ameracauna are special to Flower Girl and Princess Girl. 

That left 10 chicks with Bluebell. Five of them are from the older group, and 5 are from the younger group. Two days age difference doesn’t make hardly any difference at all.

And she has been a great mamma. They are just over a week old now and have started roaming outside and even free-ranging with the flock. 

Mamma in the chicken run, babies small enough to free range through the fence. (But they never get too far from mamma!)

The other hens and the rooster leave the chicks alone, even Roadie who is back in with the flock. I have seen Bluebell run off the other hens if she doesn’t want them around, and she gets antsy if the chicks wander too far away from her, especially if they are on the other side of the fence from her!

It is great to have all those little chickies running around! 

I feel kinda bad for the ones in the brood box in our mudroom. They don’t get to run and scratch and play outside like Bluebell’s brood. Maybe I’ll have Flower Girl take them outside tomorrow and set up a little space where they can get some of the same experience. 😃

Chicks in the brooder box

So, remember when I mentioned that Roadie was pecking at the chicks and Bluebell pecked at only certain ones? I have a theory why that happened.

In Roadie’s kennel crate, I had noticed that mice were getting in to eat her food. Annoying, but I didn’t think to much of it till she started pecking at the chicks. I betcha that she didn’t know the difference between her babies and the pesky mice that would come to eat her out of house and home. And the Barred Rock chicks are black, so maybe Bluebell also thought they were mice since I see evidence of them in the coop from time to time. I dunno. I could be crazy. Roadie could just be a bad mom. And Bluebell could just not like the color black. Either way, I think before I try the kennel again for a broody hen, I’ll have to find a way to solve the mouse problem.

So that is our success story, and our failure. I learned a lot and hope you did, too. 

I’ll write up another post about how we have the brooder set up, and what we did until we got a heat source that would work on our off-grid solar system.

Building update – and a great wood cutting tip!

For those of you who do not follow us on Facebook or Instagram, you probably don’t know that we actually started building our house! 

Finally!

After months and months of permit delays. And more and more months of weather delays, we finally “broke ground” on Easter weekend.

Bringing in “DG” (decomposed granite) to level out the house pad.

The perimeter of the house outlined in compacted and leveled DG

Once the pad was leveled, it was time to build the footing forms. We decided to build the forms up and backfill rather than try to dig down into our very bouldery ground. 

Yes. “Bouldery.” See all those huge boulders in the above pictures? That’s what lies just below the surface up here!

The first day’s progress.

Yup, that’s me, putting one of the pier footing forms together.

We have a family friend who is a licensed contractor who is helping us get all this right (that’s him in the red plaid shirt). We couldn’t do it nearly so well or as easily without his help. As with many things in life, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And we are so very glad to know him (and that he is so generous with his time) ’cause we don’t know much!

Princess Girl, “Mom, I need ‘more cowbell’!” So proud of my girl. Not only was she a huge help putting all those “cowbells” on the forms, but she also quoted a Saturday Night Live skit. Yep, we’re raising her right! 😃

Building: a family affair

The perimeter of the house footings – almost completely built. Now to do all the leveling and put in rebar, etc.

It’s so wonderful to see the progress after waiting for so long. 

And today I learned something new. Something that makes me say, “No way!” A new way to use a skill saw!

I’ve used a skill saw for 20+ years and just today learned something new. I’ve seen the pros (building contractors, etc) use a skill saw in a certain way but never knew why. Today, I tried it and was blown away with the results!

The old way: you lay the 2×4 flat on the sawhorse(s) and hold it with one hand while pushing the saw across the wood. All the while, the force of the saw pushes against the board and it is hard to hold it still. 

The old way.

Close up – old way

In order to hold the wood still, you can use a clamp, but that takes a while to put in place and remove, and when you’re making a bunch of cuts as I was today, they are too cumbersome to use.

I’m not sure what made me think to try something new, but I figured, what could it hurt?

The new way: So, I turned the 2×4 up on it’s long edge at about a 45 degree angle and the saw cut through so easily, I was shocked. I had no trouble keeping the saw on the cutting line, and the weight of the saw pushed it’s own way though the wood. 

The new way: turn that wood up on it’s edge!

Close up – the new way

The wood rests on the sawhorse and the force of the saw is pushing downward rather than across, so the board doesn’t move around.
So easy!

This technique will make the thousands of cuts I’ll be making over the coming months that much easier. 

Just goes to prove that it’s never too late to learn something new.

A time for everything

A friend of ours was looking to re-home his chickens and rabbits.

So, who did he call to see if we wanted to take them? Why, us, of course! And it just so happened that THIS week is the week we needed to take them.

Despite the fact that we did not have a chicken coop. At. All.

And our rabbit hutch is in disrepair.

But did we let that deter us? Not a chance!

If you follow us on Facebook, you’ve probably seen the progress we made on a chicken coop.

First we gathered materials.

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We’re pretty excited that so far, we have not had to buy a single thing to put together our chicken coop. Most of the wood is reclaimed wood from a friend’s old play house and some shelves we demolished which we found on freecycle. A few 2×4’s are “new”, as in, never been used, but we’ve had them hanging around for a while. We’ll eventually need to put a bit of money into it for roofing and paint, but it won’t cost us very much. We feel so blessed.

Over the course of a few days, I worked to get a coop up enough that the chickens would at least have a place to sleep.

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My “office” for a few days. How blessed am I?!

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Making sure things are level and plumb.

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Putting on the floor.

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My co-workers for the day. Lot of help they are!

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Getting closer. This is what the coop looked like when we brought the chickens home on Tuesday at 2pm.

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Nailing on the roof.

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It took everyone to work to finish the coop before sundown.

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It’s not finished, but it will work for a few days to get us through till we have time to work some more on it.

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Time to bring in the chickens.

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Flower girl wanted to help, of course.

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Happy in their new home.

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Happy in their new home.

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They’ll free-range till we can get a run built for them.

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And the rabbits are living in a little box trailer we have till we can get their hutch repaired.

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This is April. She actually belonged to us several years ago till we gave her to our friend, who gave her back to us. She is the most docile of the group. The other 4 are her offspring, several generations removed. She is no longer a breeder since she’s so old, but she’s so sweet we’re not sure if we want to cull her or not.

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Sharing their meal.

And that’s our new adventure. I’ve had fun over the last couple of days trying to figure out what breeds of chickens we have. Eventually we want to get into breeding them, and doing so selectively. But for now, it’s enough that we have chickens again.

And the rabbits. Yes. That is three females and two males all running around in a box trailer together. Yes, that means babies in about a month. But the deed was done before we got home. They had all gotten out of their cages and were running around in the trailer with the chickens. Figured that since the deed was already done, it wouldn’t hurt for them to live in colony until we can get their hutch repaired. That’s our project for this weekend. And in just a month, we’re gonna have babies. Lots of cute, cuddly, fluffy baby bunnies. Just in time for Christmas.

Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving!

How do we…take showers

We are a family of 5 (while our godson is living with us) living in an off-grid camping trailer while we build our house. 

And we ripped the shower and toilet out of the trailer long before we ever started living in it.

So, how do we de-stinkify ourselves when the need arises? (And believe me, living all together in 280 square feet, the need arises quite frequently!)

However, in reality, we all take fewer full showers than most people do. Being that we have to haul in our own water, we try to conserve as much as possible. The girls and I only wash our hair once a week, and the water always gets turned off while soaping up. And in between those several full showers a week are the “rinse offs”. This is where we basically only wash off the truly stinky parts. You know, those areas you’d hit with a quick sponge bath.

When we lived here two years ago for those few idyllic months, we mainly took sponge baths and went to my mom’s house when a full shower was needed.

But we knew that couldn’t last for too long, so when we moved back to the homestead this summer, we knew we needed something more permanent. And yes, there’s always Pajii’s trailer, but we don’t want to constantly be using his water and power or crowding his space every time we need to clean up. Not to mention how tiny those trailer showers are!

So Hubby built us a shower room constructed from 2×4’s and plywood.

This 4×4 mini-shed makes a very spacious and wonderful shower. We use a 20 amp hour, 12 volt battery connected to an RV water pump which sits on top of one of our 50 gallon barrels of water. 


A 100 watt solar panel is hooked to the battery to keep it topped up. The pump brings water through a propane powered instant hot water heater.


Right now, we only have the ability to turn the water on and off while inside the shower, not adjust the temperature. So showering can be quite the adventure depending on how warm the ambient air is as well as how warm the water inside the barrel has gotten. If you’re taking a shower mid-afternoon on a warm day, you’d better turn that puppy waaaay down before you get in there. 😀 We have plans to rig it up so we can adjust the temperature from inside. But we’ve had a few, more pressing projects.

And speaking of the inside…


The reason we have a shower curtain in there is so we can hang our clothes and towel on the hooks and close the curtain around them so they don’t get wet. 

There is no floor built into the shower. Rather, we placed pavers on the ground inside so the water can drain easily. 


So far, the whole system has worked almost seamlessly. Once the temps drop, we will need to do something to keep things from freezing, but for now, and probably at least another month or so, we’ll be fine.

And hopefully we’ll have the well in by then and can move our whole base of operations down to the house pad (we’re still camped out on the upper pad about a quarter mile away from where the house is going to go.)

Oh, and the latest news on the well is that the drilling company has a broken rig, putting them further behind schedule and they’ll contact is when they can get us back on the schedule. *Sigh*

But it will happen when it happens. There’s nothing we can do about it, so why stress over it? God has his reasons. In the mean time, we’re keeping busy.

So anyway, now you know how we get clean here on the homestead.

We have a house! Well…kinda.

Our house was delivered earlier this week! Well, the outside shell of it anyway.

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We decided a long time ago that we wanted to buy a steel building and use that as the shell of our house and finish out the inside. There are a myriad of reasons we chose to go with a metal building; fire resistance being high on our list. But also, the maintenance is low, it goes up very quickly, and we like the look.

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And once again, we are so blessed in the family God gave us. My dad loaned us his flatbed trailer. Which we ended up not needing, but it was great to have it just in case. And my step-dad operated the fork lift. That was great. ‘Cause it would have taken waaaay too long for us to learn it and operate it.

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So even though we don’t have a building permit yet, we do have a building. That building is sitting near our house pad in a bagillion pieces, waiting to be put together like a big erector set.

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It’s totally awesome and a little bit surreal to see the pieces there with my name on them. We’re getting closer to actually building!

Maridy

“I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121