Project Pemberton: House Footings

So you have a bunch of poles that your house is going to sit on, just dig a hole an drop them in? Well, kind of, but not exactly.

But first, do I need to remind you again that I'm not a builder and pretty much have no idea what I am doing? This is not a story about how to build a house but rather a story about my experiences with building a house.

If you want to build it "properly", talk to somebody who knows how to do it "properly". I'm just a hack who, armed with a manual and access to 3 builders on the end of a telephone line for support, somehow managed to get a house built.

I will remind you of this from time to time, just to be sure were are understanding each other ;)

What a house looks like, flat out.

Right, the kit arrives! All on the back of a semi, freight cost $AUD1300(2003). Prepare yourself... it isn't like dropping off a couch, it took a _whole_ _day_ to unload the truck and I was doing half the work.

First up, I'm going to be a bit unfair, my apologies to anyone who is offended. Truckies Do Not Care About Your Load. If they could undo all the straps, accelerate hard and it all falls of the back they would be happy. You should insist that they use slings for delicate stuff - there was chain damage done to some of my stuff. Nothing serious, but there will be patching up to do in the future.

Hiab, I'm the dogman. Argh.

Firstly I insisted the driver reverse down my firebreak. I wanted the load to be dropped off at the site, not by the road. He was not happy about this, but got over it.

Now it was a case of slowly and painfully hiab'ing each "pack" off the truck. You do this by putting chains around the pack you want, lifting it up with the hiab, then putting it on the ground. On chocks of wood. Yep, slings, not chains, for delicate stuff like fibrocement. He had no slings. Argh.

Allow the whole day. My unloading experience was harrowing - here's my $$$ kit being manhandled onto the ground. I was stressed enough as it was with the daunting prospect of erecting it, but seeing bits break off the frames as they were unloaded really turned that stress up a notch!

A good labourer is essential, and even better when they work for dinner and a few beers ;)

To top it all off, once unloaded the semi couldn't get enough traction to drive back up the firebreak. Hmmm. Tip one - you can't pull a semi with a 4x4 Hilux ;) Fortunately I know a few neighbours now and to my delight one came out in a 4WD tractor and pulled him out easily. Now, let us never talk of this again.

After getting a not so good nights sleep the next day got better when my Chief Labourer Olde Man! I'd been winding Dad up for a year about taking some time off work and giving me a hand. Well firstly you absolutely need a second person. You cannot do it all by yourself. Sure, you can do lots by yourself but NOT everything.

Well Dad was an exceptional help - knows less than me about building but is fitter than me, not bad for a sixty year old. Furthermore he took off around 3 weeks during the busiest time of his working year and even after than came down on weekends. Good on you Dad, you're the best.

Shovels? We don't need no stinkin' shovels.

Let me tell you that in gravel/loamy/clay ground - you don't use a shovel. Ever. For $AUD80 (2003) I got Geoff from Macsland, who conveniently lives just down the road, to auger me up some 450 holes with his little Kanga. The spec calls for a 600 deep hole, 100 concrete on the bottom, the pile sits on top and you fill in the rest of the 500. Well being an "over-"engineer, I got Geoff to dig the holes as deep as the little Kanga could - around 900-1200.

The locations of the holes were worked out from the stringlines. Basically the centre of the holes were made such that the outsides of the piles could go up flush against the perimeter - but on the back and front I extended them out by 20mm just to make sure the floor will be sitting on the poles and not hanging out the sides.

Throw a bit of 'crete in the holes, bung your pile on top, check the plumb, another 10 loads of concrete should fill it in...

A builder would at this stage have the concrete truck lined up and start barrowing in concrete and piles. Well that scared me. I wanted to take my time, carefully work each one out - so I got a couple of cubic metres of concrete premix delivered, grabbed a heap of 40kg cement bags and started the cement mixer. Getting the water was an interesting feat - fortunately being winter there was some ponded water down the bottom of the block so Dad and I filled up a 200L placcy drum given to me to act as construction water.

Dad mixed, I barrowed and lined up the piles. I had a moment when I thought the longest pile was going to be too short - not enough in the ground - but it came good. I put each pile into the ground as far as possible on a bed of concrete - except for the longest ones where I built up the bed first and then made sure the pile was sticking out of the ground far enough.

Heads up!

Two days to get them in, then we gave the concrete a day to go off a bit. The following day I fired up the chainsaw to trim the excess off the top. Some of them were just at the wrong height - this stance I could be refered to the "make a mistake and at least you won't feel anything, ever again" stance.

Ant caps go on top and you are ready for the floor system. Ants (termites, whiteants) typically start gnawing wood from the inside and work their way through to the ends and then out. By putting a piece of tin on top of the pile (and not nailing or putting any holes through it) the ants can't get up through the middle.

They don't really like going around the antcap but they will if they are keen. If that is the case they will build a little mudpipe up the side. By checking the antcaps every now and then you can see whether they have found their way inside and take appropriate measures.

Piles done.