Tuesday, June 24, 2008

June 24 Updade

Here are Reginaldo and Chad. Reginaldo Fernandes is our foundation subcontractor. He was responsible for the excavation, pouring the footers, and putting up the cinder blocks walls His group will also pour the basement and garage slabs. It's quite a bit of tough, hard work. His cousin Guina was actually the foreman of our project until he proved unreliable and Reginaldo stepped in to manage the job. Under his leadership, things have proceeded very well.

Chad Hackmann is with UBuildIt Bethesda and serves us by providing a variety of project managment services, chief among them cost estimation and solicitation/coordination of bidders.
Among other things, I really appreciate his encouraging demeanor, positive attitude, and daily responsiveness. I can tell he really wants this project to succeed. Our architect had recommended him. He's worked with him on other jobs. Our construction loan lender, National City bank, was also very glad to learn UBuildIt Bethesda was a key part of our team. They told me that they found his projects stayed on schedule and budget.

We met at the site to coordinate the final blockwork and get ready for the waterproofing subcontractor who is scheduled to come on Friday. the architect and electrician were also out there coordinating things. Tom, our electrician confirmed that the pump sensor seemed to fail, explaining why the pump stopped giving water. Chad will follow up with the pump and sensor provider tomorrow. While we were all there, a large dump truck from the College Park area came with a load of fill dirt. We had solicited for dirt on Craig's list and a number of folks have responded. There's alot of fill that we want to do to allow entry front/back at grade level.

So we need to finish the blockwork this week, clear the debris around the house, waterproof and insulate the foundation, fix the pump, order the windows and exterior doors, order the roof trusses and shingles, coordinate the installation of electrical boxes into the CEB concrete columns, keep the fill dirt coming, and in our spare time research tile for the front foyer, revise our kitchen cabinet order, and keep looking for bathroom vanities, closet organizers, central vacuum installers and acid staining subs. Oh, did I mention finish painting our current home, reorganizing the garage, and taking stuff to our rental unit? Chad will work the stucco quotes, solve a few loose ends in the basement, nag the bidders about the radiant floor quotes, and generally try to stay ahead of things.

Lord, we commit it all again to You. Establish the work of our hands. (Psalm 90).

Monday, June 23, 2008

June 23 Update

The top picture here is of the pump controller and tank. I haven't taken the time to understand why, but the constant pressure pumps use a very small tank. Anyway, I'm glad to report we got our first water from the system a couple of days ago. Unfortunately, what worked in the morning that day, stopped working in the afternoon, and we don't know why. Tom Ondulich, our electrician, plans to check it out again tomorrow morning.

Meanwhile more progress can be seen on the CEB walls, though the day was shortened somewhat by the threat of thunderstorms. Lydia thinks our house looks like a castle - moat and all. She's really quite correct, but I hope that overall look changes dramatically in a couple of weeks. The second picture above shows a view along the east facing wall with blocks removed to redo the garage window openings to the correct size. While no one likes mistakes, the fact that the CEBs are dry stacked gives you the chance to rework errors a lot easier than if mortar was involved.

The third shot down gives the view towards the northwest. You can see the crew has begun placing the wood frames that will help to hold the concrete forms for pouring the reinforcing concrete columns and bond beam across the top. The fourth shot down shows the view looking east with Mike's bedroom window on the left, Lydia's on the right, and their bathroom window in between. Next to the wall, happy as clams in the surf, are a stack of earth blocks. The gentle rain moistens them nicely, helping them cure and come to full strength. The rain, while a trouble on one hand, is compensating for our non-working-at-present pump. Lord, You know all. Watch over our house to make it strong and serviceable. Bless those working on it. Give them wisdom, strength and success. Help us to be in by the end of the year. Amen.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Update June 18

We had no blocks at all along the east wall yesterday. This evening you can see nine nicely stacked courses. The crew seems to be getting better and better at manipulating the blocks. Progress was also made on the other side of the house in the studio, where you can see the clear story window bucks which will give Maureen her highly-desired northern light in the studio.

The plumber said he'd be out in the morning to try again to install the pump in the well. It's generally thought that the first attempt was hindered by torque clips catching on a section of liner deep in the well shaft. Oh the things you learn when building a house! What's a torque clip look like anyway?? I'll be happy if, by the end of the day, we can use our own well water to spray down the CEBs at night.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

June 17 - Post 2 - This One's for You, Dear

Knowing that you want a new dining room table, and recognizing the CEB crew's very significant carpentry skills, I hit on a great idea - here it is - a low cost, highly functional VERY STRONG, brand new, dining room table! Whad'ya think? It's tall enough that you don't even need chairs - saving both space and money. It'll look good with just about any kind of tablecloth, and we needn't budget as much for furniture!

Now aren't you glad (again) that you married me? What a catch! Love, Kev

June 17 - Post 1- A World Record Set for CEBs!

Aided by the cooler weather, and benefiting from several weeks of learning the art, the CEB crew set a world record today for a single day's production - 950 high quality blocks. Amazingly, most of this work was performed by just four individuals. The other two members of the 6-man crew were up at the house using the bricks (along with some older ones) to make the walls. We are very grateful to God for the crew's commitment to hard work, their efforts to keep the worksite clean, and their obvious interest in being efficient with materials and time - thus helping to contain the cost of this portion of the overall project.

For the next few days, we can use extra hands carrying the CEBs to the walls. Please call me at 301-792-7413 if you can help out.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Update - June 16

I don't have any real good new pictures today since it rained right before I got to the site and it was so muddy I couldn't easily approach the house. I did go over yesterday, however, and all the bucks were remade to the right sizes and fastened in place. Today from a distance, it looked like the crew had once again encased the window bucks in CEBs, so effectively we're back to where we were on Saturday, only this time the window sizes are correct.

Tomorrow should be much cooler and better for work. Michael will likely go over sometime to get video of the crew working.

The picture above is one I took yesterday of the basement area that Michael will use for his filmmaking business. It should be very pretty and quiet.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Update June 14 - Mistakes Caught

It looked like we had a good two days of work, despite the heat. Unfortunately, looks were deceiving. Not that the workmanship was poor, but poor communication, and assumptions took their toll. Thursday the architect came by to check the windows. He seemed primarily interested in the height off the floor, which is what I saw him measuring. I had my own tape rule in hand, and purposed to check the windows myself. But John was "on it" and I went over to meet and work with the plumber. And then I got so hot, I decided to not to go back and do my own checking. Today I went out and found that the CEB workers misunderstood that R.O. (rough opening) on the plans did NOT mean the opening in the block for the window bucks, but the inside dimension of the bucks themselves when properly placed in the walls. In other words, the holes for the windows made in the last two days are three inches too small in width and height. Willie was surprised, expecting that the architect would have caught the error, but agreed that they needed to be redone. He's going to have members of the crew there tomorrow correcting things.

Meanwhile, I walked over to look out the kitchen "window." This is what Maureen can look forward to. It may be that the trellis out the back helps to hide the power lines. Oh - we'll move the plastic entagled dirt mound for her too.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

June 12 - Post Three - Please Come and Help

We'll be working a full day on Saturday and can use many hands to carry the earth blocks from the machine to the wall where the workers can concentrate on placing them. As the walls get higher, the workers will also need to be on scaffolding, so getting the blocks up to them becomes all the more important to keep the work flowing well. Please call me (Kevin) on my cell phone (301) 792-7413 if you can come out to help. You'll be part of something historic, as we're the first full house in the state of Maryland to use this particular CEB technology. Remember to bring sunscreen, water and work gloves!

June 12 - Post Two - Pump and Problem

The other new work done today was running water lines from the well into the house. The first shot is of Herb Dennison. He's our plumber. He and his son, Herb and helper Kevin came out and dug the trench from the well to the house and ran pipes into the foundation. There's two pipes because we anticipate installing an "open loop" geothermal system which runs the well water through the radiant heat flooring and then back down into the well. We can get away with this because our well is so deep - 360 feet (where it's cool) - and so productive- 13 gallons per minute during the yield test. It was nice that John Spears and Herb were there at the same time, as they were able to strategize some about the eventual design of our rain water collection system and how to effectively pipe it around inside the house.

We really hoped to have the pump installed and flowing water available by the end of the day to more easily keep the earth blocks damp. Unfortunately, as the Dennisons ran piping down into the well casing, they hit something that they couldn't pass about 140 feet down. Something (a rock?) has fallen down the well and is preventing passage of the piping. I'll have to call the well installers first thing in the morning and see what we do next. Hopefully they will be able to clear the well quickly and easily.

June 12 - Post One - Overall Progress

We made good progress on the walls today. Danny Mays and Michael helped from late morning to early afternoon; Ken Woodward and his son stopped by at mid afternoon for a couple hours. The extra hands do make the work progress faster. Image #2 above shows workers building the studio wall. John Spears had just come by to check progress and give some guidance to the crew. Chad Hackmann also visited the site, checking on the progress in the basement where he found one of the window bucks needs some adjustment. The next two views just show progress on the west and east (garage) walls, respectively. I took the final shot sitting in the studio looking toward the door where Maureen's art students will eagerly arrive for class in about 7 months.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Update June 9 - A Blisteringly Hot Day

Here's how we looked this evening. You can see that the pile of ~5000 CEBs that were made last week is dwindling. Willie told me they'd probably be making more bricks tomorrow. Some progress was made everywhere around the perimeter of the house, but with the afternoon heat index well above 100 degrees, it's not hard to imagine the crew was moving a bit slow today. Tomorrow's supposed to be another scorcher, but we should get some relief by Wednesday.

The second picture shows the progress on the west wall, looking north. The third picture shows the view along the front of the house looking east, toward the garage. The fourth picture shows it's still quite muddy in spots around the work site. We got enough quick winds and rain in the last thunderstorm to cause another small mud slide along the south wall (5th picture). We'll have to have this dug out to place the foundation drains that are part of the water proofing system. Our tent canopy got damaged too - not too surprising with all the winds - but it's still functional.

I asked John (the architect) and Chad (the UBuildIt Project Manager) to hold a telecon with me on Wednesday afternoon to make sure we're all coordinated. There's alot going on, and we need to stay in sync. Hopefully by month's end, the foundation will be waterproofed and backfilled, the walls will be up, the roof trusses will have arrived, and our windows will be ordered. Not to mention the well being activated, the electrician placing boxes in the concrete columns before they're poured, and perhaps the basement slab being poured (not before the insulation, rough-in plumbing and radiant heat components are put in place). We've also got to schedule the septic field folks, get the sprinkler system contractor started on their design, and get the
roofers lined up (and probably a bunch of other things I'm not thinking of...). Lord help us all!!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Next Week a Good Week to Help

Friends following the blog should know that the coming week should be an excellent one to drop by and help out for an hour or two. The CEB crew will need to be "fed" blocks from the stacks made last week that are still sitting on the ground. Sometime later in the week, we'll be making more blocks. I'll keep you posted daily on when this will happen. It's really fun to watch the machine work, and hopefully we'll take the blocks right off the machine to the wall.

Email me at GburgHnetts@comcast.net or call me on my cell phone 301-792-7413 and let me know when you can help. I'll coordinate with Willie so he knows you're coming. If you work 4 hours or more, let me know and we'll pay you.

June 7, A Good, Hot, Work Day

Michael and I (Kevin) along with friend Peter Dunne went out to the worksite a little after 7am. The work crew had just arrived and were setting up for the day. It was very foggy, which was nice, as it kept the sun at bay for a few hours. The first order of the day was to make a bridge across the "moat" to the house. It will be nice when the water proofing and backfilling of the foundation with dirt is finished. Meanwhile, to work on the house, you have to cross a plank which gets treacherous if you're carring anything heavy - like earth blocks.

Willie took a scrap piece of floor joist and some plywood and fashioned a nice ramp (complete with a handrail - see first picture). He also mounded up some dirt with the Bobcat to make the ramp not too steep. It works perfectly.

Willie's CEB crew was deployed all over the perimeter of the first floor stacking blocks. Mike, Pete and I loaded the scoop of the Bobcat with blocks and then parked it at the foot of the ramp where we could unload it more easily. Yes, that's Pete at the controls of the Bobcat. He's used a before, so Willie trusted him to move it around. Truth be told, I dont' think I carried more than about a dozen blocks across. By that time it was getting very hot, and my poor old body couldn't take the heat.

The CEB crew used chalk lines and care in lining and stacking the blocks. Partial blocks, where needed were made by using a strong blade on a generator-powered circular saw.

We stayed until around noon. The crew worked for a few hours after lunch, but were gone by mid afternoon when it got quite unbearably hot. We had a thunderstorm this evening. I hope everything is safe at the site.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

We lost a day of work yesterday because of the severe weather, but thankfully nothing bad happened out at the site. The small shade canopy didn't even blow away. The cinder blocks tied to the corners did their job. No one was there when I got there this evening, but it looks like the two work crews had a good day.

The top picture shows how Reginaldo (I need to get his picture) and the cinder block crew moved up the basement window that was placed too low. The next picture shows how they also prepped the rest of the basement windows to have concrete structural beams poured above each of them (per the architect's specification).

Willie and the CEB crew made good progress building up the garage walls and placing window bucks where the east-facing windows will be placed. You can see the area to the right of the southmost one where they'll pour a reinforcing column. It looks like Willie may have sprayed the walls down shortly before I got there. They were drying unevenly.

The final picture is the same wall viewed from the other direction, but not showing the window bucks. What also doesn't show is that the site was a muddy mess today because of all the storms yesterday.

I decided to take off from work tomorrow to catch up with many things. I hope to go over to the site with Michael in the middle of the afternoon to see whether we can help stack the CEBs. It looks like Willie is planning to finish the garage before setting the perimeter of the house with CEBs. I'll confirm this tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Another June 3rd Update - Volunteers Stand Ready!

We met with the CEB foreman, Willie, this evening at our Cinnabar home, trying to lay out the most efficient, cost effective way to build the CEB walls using a mix of paid and volunteer personnel. It looks like we will be in a place to really benefit from the help of volunteers this Friday, June 6th and Saturday, June 7th. Please let us know if you can help. The task will mainly be carrying bricks to the wall. They're not light - about 20-25 pounds each, so the job is not for everyone. Even if you can only come for an hour or two, please come out and see what's happening. I'll keep you updated with the Wednesday and Thursday posts of this week.

Update June 3rd - A Step Backward; a View Forward

It was a day of solving self-inflicted problems. Through miscommunication among the members of the foundation crew, one of the basement window openings was set way too low in the wall. This should be corrected tomorrow, weather permitting. Likewise, the architect had decided to add a reinforcing column in one of the CEB garage walls that was finished yesterday. Again, something not adequately communicated, resulting in blocks needed to be taken out of the wall to allow space for the column. We'd love to waterproof and backfill the house to make it easier to work on the walls, but we're delayed trying to get a better price on the waterproofing job. It's almost time to order the windows, and we need to meet with the architect to pick the exterior color of the house, windows and roof. It's hard to know whether we can afford the metal roof that our architect prefers. Oh yeah - still have to get the well pump going so that we can keep the CEBs damp on dry days. Today it just seems like there's 6 things to do and 7 to think about.

So I climbed up onto the first floor deck of the house and dreamed a bit. The third picture above is what the view from the Great Room will look like - minus the dirt mound and plastic. The rye grass is partially harvested and the swallows dive low through the field. We will have a great place to live in and minister out of in just six or seven months. God help us get there.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Update June 2nd - Willie and Watering Walls

Here's Willie, the foreman of the CEB-making crew. He's standing in front of the first wall made from the CEBs - the north wall of the garage. Actually, the wall's not finished. It needs to go up about a third higher and get topped with a bond beam between two concrete pillars that holds it in place.

In the second picture, Wayne Nelson says "good bye" to the blocks by wetting them down. They need to stay damp for about a week to cure most effectively. Wayne is leaving Willie in charge now to complete the effort. He's off tomorrow to be with his son in College Park as he competes as part of a team from Georgia in the 2008 World Finals of the Odessey of the Mind. From there they head back to Georgia, and then to Brazil where his wife was born. Meanwhile, we hope to have a pump installed soon in our water well to facilitate spaying the blocks down.

We learned today that several correctable errors were made in the foundation - a wrong window height, an offset in the pad location for one of the support beams, and missing headers over the window openings. I'm told these thing are "par" on the building course, but they're never happy discoveries. In this case, we hope it won't cost much in time or money to fix them. Lord help us catch all the mistakes before they're really hard - or impossible - to fix.