Excavation, Footings, and Crossed Fingers

In my last post regarding construction, I detailed the drilling of the well that provides water to the house and gardens up here near Babb, Montana.  This evening I’ll move on to the nuts and bolts (or sand and cement, anyways) of getting started with actual construction of the building.  A structure of this size requires a very sturdy footprint to rest on, especially considering how deep the ground freezes and heaves in the winters.


First, I borrowed a backhoe from my neighbors (slash sister/brother in law) and set to knocking over a couple of scraggly aspen trees that were right where my shop was supposed to be.  I left as many as I could….but eventually most of them came down to make room for working AROUND the house.  Luckily the building was to be sited right near the crest of a small rise so clearing away the grass and topsoil while leveling the area was a pretty straightforward process.

After getting the site cleared, I set up what are known as “batter boards” just outside the four corners of the prospective building and then stretched twine between them to outline exactly where the walls would be.  By measuring the distances between corners, and more importantly the diagonals between cross corners, batter boards allow you to get the building completed “squared up” with simple string.  After a little fiddling, I had a rectangle that was exactly 28 feet wide by 52 feet long.  I spraypainted the ground through the twine to mark where to dig trenches for the foundation.

Then I climbed back into the backhoe to start digging said trenches….and paused.  Although I’d done a fair amount of remodeling, and had just finished fixing up the bunkhouse– I’d never really built anything from scratch bigger than a doghouse.  Certainly never something that I hoped would be the most wind-resistant, well-insulated, and maintenance-free building possible just shy of the 49th parallel.

Plus, I’d only been running a backhoe for a few weeks and flat-bottomed trenches are hard when you first get started!

So I called up a local guy (well, THE local guy) that has helped out with a lot of 5-ft-in-the-ground projects here at Hillhouse and he agreed to do the excavation and all the drain lines in the slab out to the septic system.  If I messed those up…well, jack-hammering up my brand new floor to get the toilet to flush didn’t sound swell so Gary and I had a deal!

I also worked a deal with one of the two local guys that does concrete.  I’ve poured some steps and short sidewalks and footings, but never anything of this magnitude with several trucks worth of mud and multiple pours.  I was confident that I could handle the actual “building” part of the building…but I wanted to be certain that I was working on solid ground, as it were.  And I really wanted my floor drains to drain.  Turns out I probably could have  done an equal or better job of that on my own with a little help from friends, but what are you gonna do.  The guy I hired was known to me to not always get the whole job all the way done…but the other guy had threatened to kill me at least twice, so I figured with proper supervision that guy #1 would work just fine.


Good evening!  1-21-2016

More details on the concrete work shortly!

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