Sugar Mountain Farm Butcher Shop Ready to Form Up
Click for the Big View…
In 2008 we began working on our Big Project, an on-farm slaughterhouse and butcher shop here at Sugar Mountain Farm so that our livestock can live out their entire lives here on the farm. There are many reasons for doing this including more humane animal conditions, better quality meat for our customers, cost savings for us and security for our family farm. It makes sense all around.
Inside the Reefer
Banks were not impressed. We’ve spent years trying to get a bank loan with no success. I’ll not go into the gruesome details. But their lack of faith didn’t stop us. We got all of our permits in 2009 and have been bootstrapping: building out of pocket to the tune of over $30,000 and getting assistance from customers who have purchased over $12,000 in CSA Pre-Buys of pork plus loans from local farmers and business owners.
Forms To Go
Even with the generous community support we had spent all the cash we had and it looked like we wouldn’t be doing more until spring. We kept saving our pennies for the day when we had enough to do the next pour. After getting everything ready that we could without spending any money we changed our attention to other farm projects that didn’t require any cash outlay as we saved for the next concrete pour.
On October 10th we got a big surprise. It started with a mysterious message from a stranger. Then a phone call and a visit. The cumulation was a very generous loan that would let us do all the work we could this fall.
Odd Form Out
We switched gears and raced the weather to pour more concrete before the snows came. After spending a week tidying up our current projects we purchased more needed materials and began snapping the final wall forms of the butcher shop into place. The wooden structure is like a giant super insulated jello mold for creating a continuous concrete object – an entire building molded in place. Imagine if you could build houses by just pouring them complete with integrated insulation.
Energy efficiency in our facility is critical. Running the compressors to keep the building cold is the big operational cost and I aim to minimize it. Saving electricity saves money and of course, that means green meat, er, as in environmentally friendly!
To achieve this the thermal mass of the structure is isolated from the environment and then within that additional boxes within boxes are further isolated so that the final inner cold rooms will be as energy efficient as possible. The heat that is pumped out of the cold areas will be pumped into the warm areas (e.g., Administration or Admin as we call it).
I actually have another trick up my sleeve I’ll explain in detail someday. Basically we’re going to take winter and shift it into summer as far as we can. Ask yourself, “What can you do with hundreds of thousands of pounds of thermal mass?”
Cutting Odd Form
The standard wall forming units start at the corners. Where possible I made the room dimensions and the form dimensions work together so that special forms were minimized. Still, we had to make two on the inside of the reefer. What we did was build from the corners and then simply cut down a form to fit the odd spots in the opposing walls.
Butcher Shop Seen From Road
Right now a passer by looking at the building sees a lot of wooden forms and might reasonably assume that is the building. It isn’t. Once done all the wood will be gone. These are reusable standardardized forms we created so that we can snap the building together almost like playing with Legos or some other child’s toy – a game where the building units are typically 4’x8′ and quite the heft even for strong adults.
Caught in a pose of contemplation up on top of the form work. Actually, I was the ‘high-man’ measuring, adjusting and bracing the top of the forms as Ben and Will worked at putting them in place from the ground. The job goes quickly if there is one person walking the wall. We placed all the upper forms in the reefer, along with their insulation, in just one half day.
Granite in the Walls – Foam Spacers
Don’t tell the tax assessors that our abattoir is built of fine marble and granite! Truthfully there are tons of granite in our walls – the concrete is made in part from an aggregate of crushed granite from the local quarries. Fortunately concrete is considered the lowest assessed material in construction.
In addition to the standard granite we used chunks of granite as spacers, wedges and blocks. These set the rebar, foam and forms to the right distances. When the building is done these will vanish into the concrete.
Embedding Marble & Granite
That wasn’t enough, we also had some fun as shown in the photo above. Will – with the pushing assistance of Ben – is gluing a smooth slab of marble onto the formwork in the abattoir. When the forms are removed this will leave the beautiful stonework exposed – embedded in the concrete matrix. How many slaughterhouses do you know of where they have fancy stone mosaics? What fun! See our bedroom ceiling for another example of this technique.
All Forms Up
Click for the Big View…
Once the forms were all up in place we took the wobble out of them using long straight 2×6’s and 2×8’s as headers. Similarly, in the middle and at the bottom of the walls are additional straightening beams. This is why the wall is closer to 9′ tall rather than the 8′ of the forms.
Will Heading Up
Putting up the headers required people on the ground and people at each end of the header boards, strings, levels, tape measures and patience. The corners are the guide. The string shows the straight line and the level checks the walls are vertical and that the inner and outer walls are even across.
It is wonderful working on new construction that is plumb, square and level. For decades I’ve refurbished very old houses which are anything but plumb, square and level. I even lifted one into the air and torqued it to straighten it. That worked, to a degree. Pun intended.
Of interest, the 100′ long foundation and the 40′ slab I put in decades ago are still right to within 1/4″ over 40′ and that 1/4″ was there to start with. These are bonded to the ledge of the mountain. Similarly our cottage is keyed to the ledge. I like solid construction.
Hard Hat Ben
Ben spends most of his time being our man Friday when we’re up high on the forms. He keeps us supplied with electricity, tools, fasteners, boards, food and drink. Wisely he wears head protection since we might drop things down on him. So far we keep missing.
Threading Rods Fast!
Once the headers are on and the forms are straight it is time to put in the threaded rod. The threaded rod transfers the force of the concrete out through the plywood, studs, wailers, washers and nuts and then back around to the other side of the forms through the same sequence backwards. This makes for strong solid forms that can take the tremendous force behind the 200,000 pounds of concrete in these walls.
Threaded rods are expensive. But, they’re reusable. The high torque 120v electric drill is great for threading rod in and out but it doesn’t have the power to break free the rod from the concrete. Thus Ben is using a wrench and lock nuts to crack the rod free.
After pouring we spin the rods and then can retract them later for use in another pour. This means that after we’ve made the forms and rods for one project we get to reuse them on the next project. Some of these forms and such came from the south field shed project and before that they were used on our tiny cottage. Reuse, reuse, reuse…
Ultra Locked Nut
Some of the rods were hard enough that it took both Will and I to do them. A few of them even all three of us couldn’t break free. In fact, I snapped a big straight wrench trying. Good thing it has a life time guarantee. My guess is lack of oil – see below.
Walter in the Sky
The weather has been intermittently challenging these past few weeks. Fortunately the big rains happened before we switched gears. Since then we’ve had quite a bit of really great weather with occasional flurries of cold white stuff. This isn’t the global warming I was promised – but I can’t complain because some years we’re under snow by now.
Working on the details around the form work and the old farm house kitchen. We’re actually using the old farm house as part of our form work. That saved building four forms and gained us four inches. On a small building like this every inch matters.
The Right Tool
There are times when the right tool for the job makes all the difference in the world. We have a place where we must drill 32″ long holes through the forms for tie rods. The local Tool Warehouse had the parts to make this monster drill bit which saved us from trying to make holes from each side with our tiny 18″ long drill bit.
Ben Drilling Deep, Deep, Deep!
By the way, this drill sucks. As in it sucks itself right through the form and out the other side! Fast! Whoa Bessy! Ben is just demonstrating here. When I actually did it I held a level against the drill and had to restrain the eager beaver from going to fast. It also bites through rebar, nails and screws. Avoid that.
Will Tightening Rods
Once all the holes were drilled through the wailers and forms we threaded the rods through and set the distances. On one end we put double nuts to make spinning them easier later. On the other side just a single nut which we adjusted to the proper distance so that as the concrete filled the cavity the forms could not spread further than I had designed.
There were a few special places where we couldn’t put rods, such as on the farmhouse kitchen wall. Those got wooden corner braces and tie rods through the doorway. Then we ran out of rods and used bar clamps as shown here on this doorway. This lower section had actually already been poured and probably would have been fine without the bars but better safe than sorry said the Over Engineer.
By the way, that piece of pink foam is a head debonker. Scientific term.
Header & Rebar Braces
As we set the wall width we also put top braces across. These serve two purposes: 1) they space the walls further straightening the forms and 2) the cross braces forced the rebar to the center of the cavities. Otherwise during the pour the rebar can vibrate out of center and be touching insulation making the wall weaker. By the way, I use a lot of rebar. Steel’s cheap. I don’t understand why some contractors skimp on the steel. Same for fiber. Build it once and build it well. Build it not to fall down.
Insulated Slab Observation
While I was up adjusting and measuring cavities to calculate how much concrete we would need (25 cu-yd) I noticed a most interesting thing going on down on the super insulated slab. Look carefully along the magenta lines. There’s no frost there! Yet there is the clear outline of frost in other areas. What is happening is the frosted area is directly over insulation and the non-frosted area is over a beam. The thermal mass of the beam kept frost from developing overnight. This demonstrates how well the insulated floor is working. Below that beam is another cross layer of insulation and then an air gap so the frost from our freezer won’t go into the ground causing buckling. Even more insulation will be above the rough slab you see there. Insulation is cheap. Electricity from now to eternity is expensive.
Will Oiling Rods
Will is oiling the threaded tie rods so that when we go to spin them the day after the concrete pour they’ll release easily from the concrete. That’s a Q-tip we got from the Jolly Green Giant. He said we could keep it when we were done.
In the corners of the rooms are platforms like this for when we pour the concrete. In one room, Admin, they also serve as corner braces for the forms where we can’t do the threaded rod due to the kitchen wall of the old farm house.
Forms Ready to Pour
Ready to go!
See the next day’s concrete pour too…
Outdoors: 34°F/27°F Spots of Sunshine, Light Snow
Tiny Cottage: 65°F/63°F
Daily Spark: Dogs check for email in their scent box.