Fancy Forms

Yesterday we poured… But what led up to that? Let’s step back to a post I didn’t finish in the rush to get ready for the pour.

The outside foundation forms over the ledge are up as of this photo. With the forms we started with the most difficult parts and worked our way inward and toward the easier sections. This was the most complex section of concrete form work. This pan was taken after the construction panorama from Thursday and looks in the opposite direction towards the north. The insulation and rebar are in the forms so now we can put up the inside forms which are lying on the ground ready to be set in place in the photo above.

The section of forms we’ve finished (and now poured) fits to the ledge as it bobs and weaves. This means lots of cutting and fitting rather than being able to do fast long stretches of form work. Most of the forms are simple 2xX’s often backed by 2″ foam insulation to make it easier to strip forms and to start the insulation up the outside of the concrete walls. But in this fancy form section we needed to cut plywood to odd shapes to follow the contours of the rock.

This week we got up the rest of the forms for the small cottage. The ‘cottage’ is only about 252 square feet inside, before you take away space for partitions. It does have one sleeping loft and one storage loft which adds a little to that. With winter roaring in we have scaled back our plans drastically from the full house to try and get something up before snows get serious. Cold weather pouring is new to us. Concrete work is something that is really better done in the warm weather but it didn’t happen.

Fortunately it doesn’t have to be too exacting. As I told the kids, the close we get to the final surfaces the more precise and exact we get. The mountain is rough. The ledge somewhat smoother. The forms have level top surfaces and approximate the contours in and out by a few inches along their bottoms. The low slump of the concrete and strategically placed rocks all along the edges where there were gaps make all the difference.

Forms braced and pinned to ledge

We have all the rest of the form boards made for the rest of the foundation but have not laid them out since we’ve decided not to pour those sections until next spring. I had hoped to pour them this fall so that in the spring, while it was still muddy, we would be able to work on masonry walls. But with it getting so late I decided it was better not to leave that large amount of concrete curing in cold weather.

The small section we’ve cut back to has all insulated forms around the concrete except for a few places where it touches the ledge. We also use hay to insulate so the concrete can cure properly. With it getting so late in the year you can imagine I’ve been doing a lot of reading about cold weather pouring. More on insulation and cold weather pours later.

After we completed all the forms, Pete and Joe from the concrete company came and visited our site to check out the road and forms. The road they were happy with but they had serious misgivings about my form work. I added more wiring as per their instructions and added some more braces. As Will said at one point, this work wouldn’t be bad if we really just felt it was necessary. Still, we did it although it delayed the pour five more days. I think I’m right but the cost of being wrong is so high that I’m more than willing to do a few more days work to be sure.

In the end I was right which is gratifying – my theories played out in the actual pour yesterday. We had no concrete blow outs and the extra wires and braces never took up additional tension or even went tight. Life is good. A little extra precaution was fine and now I also have more experience and confidence.

Because the guys from the concrete company are experts I listened carefully, I want to learn everything I can, and did what they suggested, for the most part, but it is good to know that my ideas, while unconventional in some aspects, did work. Holly thinks the reason they were uncomfortable with some of the things was that the way I did things were simply different than what they were used to seeing. A point in case is I used 16 gauge fencing wire which is shiny and they were expecting the black form wire. On Pete’s urging I went to the construction store and bought “real forming wire” but it turned out to be the same stuff we had been using, just a different color. Same metal, same gauge. The ungalvanized fencing wire works fine and is not covered in grease.

I also used 661010WWM for cross ties along the bottoms of the forms and they really didn’t like that. They were sure the staples would pull out. They didn’t and the forms did not budge so the tension was not taken up in the form wires I added above.

I based what I did on physics and math – it worked. I also always leave a large margin of error. We amateurs can use all the help we can find! Still, I wanted to hear and learn from their experiences so I was very careful to listen and not discourage them from talking. What I did not mention was I’ve done five concrete foundations before this one, two of which were quite a bit more complicated than this one including one under an existing house. Best to just listen and learn all I can. It hopefully saves on mistakes.

Learning is key from any source because I do not have huge amounts of experience. I spend a lot of time thinking about a project like this. That does slow things down. One of my tendencies is to do smaller test projects building up to something major. This little house is one such test project. Actually, there are a number of littler houses that have proceeded it, each exploring different aspects. This cottage is really the latest one in a series of tests – one big enough to live in. By doing little projects I learn a lot of things, get to try out some of my ideas, to live in them and that will lead to new ideas making the final larger house better.

Experts can tackle a whole big house at once – I do it in incremental steps I can handle. It is a difference in style and resources. On the other hand, most houses built by experts are done using tradition as the design ruler. I want to do something different and have ideas that don’t fit in traditional boxes.

48째F/33째F Sun with some clouds

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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2 Responses to Fancy Forms

  1. Julie says:

    You have a scientific style approach to things that I really connect with. I think that’s why I enjoy reading your blog so much. I miss my time in the lab.

  2. karl says:

    what happens to the “little experiments” are they houses for your kids when they are old enough? do you sell them, rent them?

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