FORGING THE FOUNDATION OF OUR STRAW BALE HOUSE

Foundations are not for the faint of heart.

They are a commitment.

We hope ours will last for 500 years.

That becomes doubly difficult when you have a walk-out basement, and you need to frost protect the footing in multiple ways.  In our case, we have three different components to our footing.

  1.  The slab-on-grade portion of the first floor has its own footing, supporting a fairly traditional 3’9” below-grade frost wall.
  2. Most of the basement concrete wall, being earth sheltered, will sit on a separate footing, dug into the hill 8’8” deeper than the first floor footing.
  3. The walkout portion of the basement will sit on it’s own 3’9” below-grade frost-protected footing.

    Concrete walls hardening in their frames. Our house seen from uphill.

We have every reason to believe that we are doing things right, in a manner that should last.  To top it off, all three wall components, including the two frost walls and the buried basement all were made with a single pour.

The concrete truck is pouring its load into the concrete boom pumper truck, which then carries the load up the treacherous hill side while the truck sits safely on solid ground.

There will be rebar joining all three together in a steel-reinforced network.  No cold joints: where fresh concrete is poured against an already- cured wall.  Hopefully,  Underhill House will be as solid as the rocky hill it is dug into.

Mike makes sure the concrete fills the walls. Later they were vibrated with a device pushed down into the slurry to encourage the concrete to settle into a solid mass.

The details of this foundation were not written in stone in our building contract.  We witnessed a heartfelt battle in the design between our architect and our concrete guy, Mike Flynn.  The resolution was a compromise that we think will be better than either competing plan.

When you step away from conventional building techniques, you need a pioneer’s innovative approach to problem solving in new territory, forging new plans on the fly.

It was a fascinating process to watch as the forms built the day before filled with a porridge-like substance that will turn to rock.

The force of the concrete can bow out the frames. They kept the walls straight by measuring with a string stretched the length of the wall about 2" out on both ends. Anywhere that the string was not 2" out, they braced with boards. (Doug and I are the shadow figures in the lower right.)

There are many more steps after the concrete truck is hosed off and drives away. The surface of the concrete must be smoothed. And very shortly after steel rebar was stuck in every few feet to stabilize the first row of straw bale wall.

This view shows the southwest corner of the house. That's where my office below and the kitchen above will be.

 Finally, and suddenly the shape of our house is defined. 

There is no going back. 

Full speed ahead. 

Foundations are forever.

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