A good Friday’s pouring…..

22 04 2017

If after finishing digging up the trenches for the retaining wall on Good Friday you had told me they would be full of concrete within a week…. I would have told you that you had sawdust for brains. Yet that is exactly what happened, but you need all your stars lining up.

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My first four bars…..

The day after the big dig, I excitedly started laying steel bars in the trench, only to quickly realise there was no way known I could do this on my own. I’d lift one end of a 6m long bar to sit it on a chair, then walk to the other end to do the same, and the first end would fall off, entailing walking back and forth so many times that I reckon I’d walked over 150m just to set four bars down! Then, trying to tie the L shaped bars that reinforce the wall to those bars on my own simply proved nigh impossible, I would at least need one person to just hold the bar while I tied….. and being Easter, the chances of anyone helping were very slim indeed….. I started thinking that this job would easily take me a month, and I better get used to the idea.

 

Monday morning, Caleb, a friend’s teenaged son who lives locally and could use some spare cash, came to help me. Then, out of the blue, this American wwoofer who had contacted me some weeks before but didn’t know when he’d be in Tasmania rings me up, all excited and wanting to get stuck into some construction work…. “Your timing could not be better” I told him, and he was here by lunch time keen and eager. Best of all, he had way more concreting experience than I ever had, and he literally took over, becoming my project manager!

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Caleb and Nico hard at work tying bars…..

Nico is not only a great concretor, he’s also amazing company, and we’ve been chewing the fat every night over a well-earned cider. How this guy came into my life so unexpectedly just blows me away. Sometimes you’ve just got to get lucky……

Retaining walls work a bit like you standing in a strong wind…… think ‘back to the wind’, and your feet on the ground stopping you falling over. The pressure on your back wants to topple you over, but your toes strain against the wind’s force, all you need is a heel and toe joined to strong enough calf muscles to make sure the whole leg is stiff enough to avoid the embarrassment….. that’s exactly what the L bars do, and the concrete is the muscle.

I then came up with what I can only describe as a brilliant idea. The top of the footing has to have a layer of mesh no more than 50mm from the top surface. How to set this up so you can place it while busily pouring wet concrete? My solution was to tie it to the bars at the right height, and in just three places at the top so that one of us could just run around behind the formwork, cut those ties, and drop the mesh at its lower ‘hinge’. Then all I’d have to do is sink it into the concrete with the vibrator. Worked a treat…..

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Formwork in place

Once all the steel was in, the formwork to stop the concrete falling into the drain area had to be put up. I had bought 8’x4′ sheets of formply to cut into 300mm high boards and made a load of pointy timber stakes to hold them up with, but the stakes refused to penetrate the hard clay…  what to do? Nico said, ‘in the states we use metal form spikes’, but I’d never heard of them here. So I rang Nubco where I bought the steel, and they suggested 600mm star pickets that Bunnings sell. Sure enough, Bunnings had a whole lot in store at $5.80 each. I wasn’t keen on either driving that far let alone patronising Bunnings, so as we were approaching Huonville in the ute, I suggested Nico ring Mitre 10 there to see if they had some…. and they did. Not only that, they were on sale for $3.95 each (I needed 60 of them!), and I walked out with a bunch of screws, a new level and heavy hammer for less than what the pickets would have cost at Bunnings.  I’m on a roll!

 

Before we knew it, it looked very close to the job being finished, and I rang the concrete crowd and ordered the runny stuff…. I still can’t believe it all went so fast.

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Dawn on pouring day……. what a gorgeous start!

We spent Friday morning finishing the formwork, tying up loose ends, adding chairs where necessary, and cleaning all the loose rubbish out of the trenches, which we finished nearly an hour and a half before the first truck arrived..

The whole West wing of the footing was poured from the first truck. The new concrete vibrator I bought myself worked a treat, most of the concrete finding its own level from being quite violently shaken.

The second truck arrived to pour the ‘pointy bit’ in the middle of the house, and that’s where the work on the hottest April day in over 50 years started in earnest….. because the chute was too short to reach, and poor old Nico had to rake and shovel the stuff into the corner while Caleb barrowed concrete from the truck to the edge of the trench, almost losing the wheelbarrow one time when he got too close, and the wheel fell into the wet concrete! Much frantic pulling and pushing from the three of us (while the truck driver never even lifted a finger) got the wheelbarrow back out again, but let me tell you we were all sweating! Swinging the heavy petrol powered vibrator at full arms length was hard yakka, but concrete waits for no man, and there was no stopping. And passing out wasn’t an option either….!

After it was all over, Nico said to me that sometimes you buy something, and you think to yourself, that was a good purchase….. but that concrete vibrator must be the best thing I ever bought according to him!

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All done…… what a job!

Needless to say, $3700 later it all ended well…… but we were all exhausted, and the entire affair reminded me of why I swore I’d never do it again after the last time.

In my last post where I mentioned this, I stated that if I didn’t save myself $10,000 by doing it myself I’d eat my hat. Well, at this stage it looks like I may well save closer to $20,000. Of course we still have to pour the slab over the top of all this work, but it’s hard to imagine how concretors can pay themselves as well as they do all the same…..

Time for a couple of days rest now…….

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A good Friday’s digging……

16 04 2017

There must be something in Tasmania’s water that doesn’t agree with the building industry….. I’ve wasted so much time waiting for people to do things for me, it beggars belief. All along, I said that this time, 15 years older and wiser, I would not undertake to do my own concreting at Mon Abri MkII. So I contacted this local contractor, whom everyone around here seems to think is the bee’s knees. He came out, sighted the house site, and the plans, a copy of which he left with. I explained to him what was needed, that I had already ordered the reinforcing, and that all I needed was someone to put it all together……

About a week later, the reo had arrived, and still no quote; so I texted him to tell him the steel was here and asking for his quote. The next day, he rang back with an over the phone quote of $30,000, which I’m almost sure he said included building the block wall… I’m a bit hard of hearing these days, so maybe I got that wrong. In any case, thirty grand being such a very round number, I asked for a written quote. Which took another two weeks. And when it arrived, it was way over the top, with no break down of how much the labour was, or the concrete pumping, earthworks, or anything for that matter, it just lumped everything together, including the steel I already had….. and the quote was now $32,000……. plus $26,000 to build the wall!

I almost fell off my chair…..

That wall building quote works out at $12 a block, which I established was four times the normal rate. So he must have included the cost of the blocks (which set me back $17,000…!) Thirty pallets of blocks is sort of hard to not see….. so what on earth was he thinking about?

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String profiles in place

Then to top it off, I visited my friend Dave who’s building a greenhouse up the hill, and the same contractor stuffed the footings up; they weren’t level, causing the block layer to have to trim as much as an inch off the blocks to make the top of the first course level…… By that stage, there was no doubt I was going to have do the job myself, any confidence I might have had at the start of the process had by now vanished. If I don’t save $10,000 by doing it myself, I’ll eat my (very sweaty) hat…..

Having discussed this with Matt next door – who owns his own excavator – we walked over my site with Steve, a very experienced excavator and crane driver who works in Antarctica – I don’t think they hire dodgy people to work there at great expense – and settled on Good Friday to start digging the retaining wall footings.

I had almost (another) month to psych myself up on how we would do this, set the

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Depth/Width gauge

profiles up to accurately arrive at the house’s footprint, and eventually started painting lines in the dirt. I also made myself a gauge to measure both the depth and the width of the trenches.

Because the previous excavator driver decided to dig a hole in the wrong place last time, and had to refill it to remedy the error, that part of the bank had collapsed in the heavy rain last year, actually making it impossible to place the profiles where I wanted them. So that had to be fixed first, because a whole pile of dirt and rocks was actually right on top of where we had to dig.

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Fixing Trev’s boo boo

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earthmoving ute

 

 

 

 

Then, because the digger was too far from the bank when digging the small trench under the living space, the spoil had to be put on the ute, which I then had to move and manually unload the two tonnes of dirt with shovel and rake. Like I say, this project will either keep me fit, or kill me..!

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the next pizza oven base..!

There was also a huge rock that had to come out where the slab will be, because the top of it was actually higher than floor level. Trev (the last operator) reckoned his machine couldn’t pull it out, but Matt’s excavator is a newer and better device, and Steve had it out in no time…. it might not look like much in the photo, but it has to weigh close to 500kg, and it’s a great find actually, because it’s (almost) big enough to make the base of the next pizza oven on its own, and it’s nice and flat!

The rest of the digging went well, even though working so close to the embankment made things difficult for Steve, who did a great job. It’s so nice to work with professionals, let me tell you…. Now all I have to do is fill the hole with steel and concrete….

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