Or clay. It depends on where you live. Definitely not sand. Building on sand is a disaster waiting to happen. Floods and all that.
Months ago, I started to write about building an addition to my house. Then? Crickets. I haven’t written anything because I haven’t been able to do anything. There’s this thing called building permits.
First things first.
I filed for the permit back in December but got a call saying that I needed to enlarge my septic system to handle the additional bedrooms. Apparently, a system built for two bedrooms isn’t really designed to handle a family of six.
Unfortunately, because of the placement of the well on our property and another on our neighbor’s, we can’t just extend the current system. We have to put an entirely new septic tank and drain field on the other side of the house. This means we have to flip the entire layout of the addition to putting the bathrooms closer to the system. The master bedroom will have to be in the front and the kids in the back, instead of the other way around. And I will have to sacrifice my beloved blackberry patch for a drain field. All for the greater good.
Learning all of this took two and a half months. McDuffie County doesn’t have a permanent environmental engineer on staff, so they have to borrow one from the district. When I finally met the engineer, it turned out that he lived in Dearing, too, and had done the design for my father-in-law’s septic system. Super nice guy, just buried with too much work and not enough time.
This whole episode made me think about a whole bunch of potty jokes of the kind that I look down sternly upon when I hear them from my children. But the fact of the matter is that when you’re trying to build an addition or a family, you have to deal with certain things first or they will cause a big problem.
Preparing for the big day.
Once the septic permit came through, it was an easy thing to get the building permit. Well, almost easy. They wanted to see revised drawings with the new layout. By this point, I wanted to start NOW, so I took a photograph of the existing plans and opened it in a free photo editing software called Gimp. I’m not a good or experienced photo editor at all. It’s a testimony to Gimp’s ease of use that I was able to search for each tool that I thought I needed and reversed the image in an evening. It looks pretty good if I do say so myself.
I finally picked up my building permit on March 14th. Praise the Lord. I could finally break ground. The first thing to be done was to scrape off the vegetation and the topsoil. It makes sense. I don’t want to lay a foundation on vegetation or topsoil, because it isn’t solid enough. In my corner of Georgia, I have to dig down to the clay level, which feels like rock if you’re trying to dig it by hand.
Before that happened, though, my friendly neighborhood electrician Joe Almeter came over and installed a temporary power pole. I’m installing the addition on the side of the house where the main electrical comes in. We had fun digging the hole for the pole. The first couple of feet weren’t too bad, but then we got to the clay layer. Georgia clay is something like rock, except it doesn’t chip and break the way rock does. It just mushes. That makes it very difficult to dig.
Thankfully, my neighbor has a tractor with a big auger for digging post holes. We brought that over and were able to make short work of the rest of the digging. Joe is a machine, even though he’s now in his seventies. He has known my wife since she was running around in diapers. His son married my sister-in-law. Incidentally, his son also helped refinance my home so that I could even build the addition. Thanks, Anthony Almeter and First Citizens Bank.
On March 19th, the feast of St. Joseph, a local guy with an excavator came and dug out the foundation. He put it all in great big piles around the open foundation. I came behind him with a tractor and cleared away all of the dirt to another part of the yard. My wife had asked about getting some dirt to build some raised beds. I made a pile nearly 6 feet tall and at least 50 feet in circumference. Enough for more raised beds than we have land. I aim to please.
She is, however, a little concerned about the relationship that I developed with the tractor. I’ve never run a tractor for hours to do real work before. And I’m hooked. It’s hard to describe the joy that I get from slinging around so much dirt so easily. It’s quite the adrenaline rush. And I was riding on a medium/small-sized tractor. I can only imagine what running really big earth-moving equipment is like.
Getting the kids involved.
If you don’t have children, you might not know that getting kids to work often takes more effort than doing the work yourself. This is especially true with young boys. Unless you’re talking about demolition. If they get to destroy things, boys come like flies to honey.
Active heavy equipment drew a crowd of neighborhood kids, and when I told them that they could join the fun, these boys jumped at the chance. These pictures show my oldest son, David, and our neighbors Leo and Kolbe going to town clearing the dirt away from the foundation.
They actually helped a lot. While they were whacking away at the dirt next to the foundation, I slowly created a giant dirt mound in another part of the yard. When they finished their job, the dirt hill captured them with its siren call.
Kids love dirt. I think it’s built into them. This dirt pile quickly collected most of the children in a
Laying down the line.
The giant open wound in the soil next to my house reminds me of the opening of the book of Genesis. Formless and void. An emptiness ready to be filled with something new. Before I fill the void, I have to give it some form.
Enter Larry Harris. Larry’s my next-door neighbor and good friend. He’s now my construction mentor. He knows pretty much how to build anything in the world after a lifetime as a general contractor, teacher, and technical director for Habitat for Humanity. So not only does he know how to build anything, he knows how to teach bozos like me how to build anything.
Larry helped me set up some stakes and twine to mark out exactly where the addition will go using a construction level. It’s a really neat process. The construction level is set up outside the planned perimeter of the building and calibrated so that the line inside a viewfinder stays at the same level no matter which direction you turn. In case you haven’t seen a construction level, it’s something that surveyors use and has an eyepiece that you can look through.
After ripping the first several rows of siding off my house, we found the level of the subfloor in my existing house. This will be the level of the new concrete slab that will be poured so the addition will match up nicely with the rest of the house. We then used pounded three stakes into the ground at each of the three corners of the addition that were not attached to the house. Using the construction level, we marked the stakes at the same level as the top of the subfloor.
We used a little geometry to make sure that we got the angles right. After measuring the lengths of the sides, we measured the diagonals. If the corners are all right angles, the diagonals will be the same length. If they’re slightly different, then you know that you don’t have a perfect rectangle. After a little bit of adjustment, we got the lines showing exactly where the top edge of the new slab will be.
Since I’m going to pour a concrete slab for the new foundation, I have to fill the empty space with a mixture of clay and sand that compresses down solid. I ended up getting four dump-truck loads of this stuff, and it still isn’t quite enough. And if there’s anything that kids love more than a giant pile of dirt, it’s a giant pile of sand clay. Imagine playing in a sandbox taller than your head. They loved it.
I loved it, too, because it meant that I got more tractor time. I don’t know how many tons of sand I moved with that tractor. A rough estimate of 10 cubic yards per load X 2,800 lbs. of sand per cubic yard X 4 loads = something in the neighborhood of 110,000 lbs. of sand. This isn’t much compared to some really big construction jobs, but it’s way more than I’ve ever done in my entire life.
I laid down a layer of the sand about 6-8 inches deep inside the lines, leaving some room for the walls of the foundation. Then I used a vibrating plate compactor to smush it all flat. That was a fun tool.
You run the compactor in a kind of cross-hatch pattern, like mowing the lawn. But first, you go in one direction, then at right angles, then diagonally across it. I couldn’t believe it, but it compacted the sand enough that I could drive the tractor up onto the sand to put down the next layer. It took me almost two full days to move all that sand and compact it down. Thankfully, I wasn’t doing it all by myself. I had a lot of help from some good friends like my father-in-law Jerry Germann and my down-the-street neighbor Tom Molitor (another member of the Alleluia Community).
That’s enough for now. More to come as I continue the chronicle, “Unless the Lord builds a house.”
If you want to read more of my adventures building the House of Krupa, check out the archive!
Jesus snatched me out of the darkness and saved me from complete madness. If you want to hear more of that story, check out Demoniac, now available on Amazon.