Sunday, December 30, 2007


Okay, time to update the blog or forget about it altogether. Actually, it was probably time to update it or forget about it altogether back in October sometime, but we have kept the idea of updating it alive all these months, so maybe I'll finally take the time to act on it now that we've made a little more progress.

So Adam quit his job back in late August and has been concentrating on construction for the past four months, in addition to looking for a new full time (income producing) job. Therese has been working more or less full time since then, at a couple different jobs, trying to bring some income in.

When we left you in mid August Adam was filling in the foundation and preparing the ground underneath the slab. Finalizing that process took many, many hours and much hard labor. He compacted every ten inch lift, either with a rented rolling compactor or the hand compactor (jumping jack) depending on how tight the spot was. When he got to the "third" cell, he had to do it all with the hand compactor because it was too deep and difficult to get the rolling compactor into place.

As he was backfilling he'd also been placing the plumbing. After the fill was all in place, he finalized the plumbing. Then came the final layer of gravel and the final compaction. Then came three inches of blueboard insulation. Adam's friend, Ben, came up from Tucson with his grandson one weekend and helped with that process. The insulation is there to stop the floor heat from sinking into the ground, encouraging it to rise instead.

On top of the insulation came a 6-inch wire grid, then the radiant floor tubing (tied to the wire to keep it in place). A rebar grid was laid out over the tubing to keep it from floating during concrete placement. After all the tubing was pressure tested and inspected (requisite inspections had been taking place all along, of course), it was finally time to call in the concrete team to lay the slab!

We hired Brandon from Northern Concrete to pour the slab, with a pump truck from Marco Crane. The concrete itself came from Flagstaff Concrete. We wanted a four inch slab but ended up with about 3.5 inches (about 7 yards of concrete that we paid for disappeared altogether, we're still not sure where). We had most of it poured plain gray, but decided to have the entryway section dyed "terra cotta" red and scored on the diagonal in 24 inch squares to make it look like tiles. The rest of the floor will eventually be finished with flagstone (kitchen and living room) or saltillo tiles (bedrooms).

After the slab was poured, it was time to make the framing lumber order and finalize the window order. This took several weeks, as Adam tried to negotiate the intracacies of the framing process and make final window selections. Ken Shively, a structural engineer and friend, went over the construction plans for us one more time after several changes to the plans. We decided to go with Home Depot for the lumber, after much consideration. Key to this decision was the willingness of the Home Depot staff to negotiate with us, and the fact that they just opened a huge new store on OUR side of town, making the thousands of trips we'll have to make over the course of the project MUCH less time consuming than the full hour (round trip) it used to take to get to any hardware store at all.

For the windows we went with Sierra Pacific Windows because of their environmentally friendly tendencies and the willingness of the representative, Scott Wachowski, to work with us through several sets of changes.

The first load of lumber was scheduled to be delivered on December 10 but we had our first big snowfall that day, followed by two additional days of snow. We thought we'd be ready for the lumber by December 15 due to the fact that snow doesn't usually stick around long here (high temperatures in the 40's are the norm in December) but unusually cold and cloudy weather delayed the delivery even further.

We finally had to hire an equipment operator to come in and clear some of the snow for us so we could take our first lumber delivery on December 18. The kids were out of school for the Christmas holiday on December 19 and Adam has been struggling to get some walls built while watching three small kids full time and getting over a nasty cold, ever since! As you can see, we have managed to get a few wall portions up, cause for great celebration! This is a view from the south, with the large gaps you can see here representing windows. The wall section that seems to be missing on this side is actually a 16 foot window section, where there will be two 4 foot sliding glass doors with two 4 foot plate glass windows on either side. This is where we'll get most of our passive solar heat from!
Stay tuned, we really will try to be better about updating this blog in the future!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Filling the third cell

Adam worked hard on filling the last cell of the foundation this past weekend. It's in the "deep fill" section and he can't get in there with a rolling compactor or the bobcat so he's doing it all by hand and with the jumping jack compactor. Very time consuming and lots of work!

We did receive our base course fill for the last layer under the slab, it is waiting patiently for us to be ready!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Foundation 2/3 done!

Adam finished filling two of the three "cells" of the house this past weekend, all by himself! (With the help of the rental equipment.)

One more to go!

We are preparing to welcome our straw bales one of these weeks. Here is the spot we have cleared for the eight "squeezes" of straw we have ordered. We have pushed back the delivery date a number of times because we are not in any hurry to receive it and also because it has been a VERY rainy July and August here and we'd just as soon let it stay in sunny southern Arizona as long as possible.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Keep on Filling!

Aided by consistent daily rains (making constant watering of the fill less necessary, thereby saving us time and water) and the delivery of more fill while we were in Santa Fe last week, as well as the use of the rental bobcat and compactor again this weekend, we made significant progress. We were able to do three lifts in the back bedrooms and finish the front rooms to the point where we are now ready for base course in the front section of the house. Of course we still have to finish filling the back bedrooms and pretty much start from scratch in the entry way section, so we still have lots of work to do before we're ready to pour the slab!

It was definitely a family affair this weekend!

Monday, July 16, 2007

More progress!

With the help of some rental equipment (a bobcat and a rolling compactor) and two friends (thank you to Dwight and Ken), we made significant progress on filling the foundation and taking down the loads of "dirty cinders" this weekend. In fact, all 14 loads of cinders are now in the foundation (mostly in the living area) and compacted; we ordered more to be delivered this week.

This is the living area pictured above right (kitchen at far end, living room in middle and master bedroom closest to photographer).

Ken was also able to dig our water line connection for us with his tractor.

We leave for Santa Fe tomorrow to attend Willis Umholtz's memorial service, but we should be back by the weekend and Adam will be hard at it again. Therese may even be able to help this weekend, as she is not schedule to work at her "day job".

Thanks for checking!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Filling the Foundation (still)

Sad news: Adam's father, Willis Umholtz, died on June 10, 2007. Adam necessarily had to put the building project on hold while he grieved his father's unexpected death and made all the arrangements associated with moving his father's body from Texas (where he died) to Santa Fe, NM (where he was buried), and attending his burial. We will be taking another break later this week when we all travel back to Santa Fe to attend a memorial service in Willis' honor.

After an extended hiatus on the building project, (Willis you are missed), we finally got going again on July 2 with the delivery of 14 dump truck loads of "dirty cinders" which we'll be using to fill in the foundation. Once we fill up what seems like the vast space defined by the impressive wall, we will be ready for the slab.

Adam spent one whole weekend trying as hard as he could to move the dirt from outside the wall to the inside, level it and compact it by hand (carrying the dirt by wheel barrow load; shoveling it in, leveling with a rake and compacting every 10 inches with a jumping jack compactor). While he made significant progress for this method, it seems there is still a long way to go!

Accordingly, he has rented some equipment for this weekend: a bobcat and a remote compactor. These, along with the help of some friends, will make it go faster we hope!

Friday, June 8, 2007

Building the Stem Wall

Tuesday, June 5, the Big T crew started the stem wall and worked right through a bitter wind storm to finish it by Thursday, June 7. It’s a pretty impressive wall, standing about 8 feet at the downhill (east) side, and just slightly above ground level at the uphill side. Next step will be filling the area inside the wall with dirt. Adam is planning to do this himself with the help of a friend who has a small tractor, so it may take a few weeks!

Filling the Footings!!

We decided to go with a licensed contractor (David Lavadazo-Big T Masonry) to finish the footings and build the stemwall, so on Friday, June 1, they came and laid the steel in place. On Monday, June 4, they poured the cement in the footings and shaped the steps to make the grade work for the foundation.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

More Foundation Work

Still working on shoring up the foundation ditches (and finding someone to help with the pre-concrete preparation work). Adam's been working hard, fine-tuning the ditches with his shovel, and now compacting them with his compactor while he lines up help with getting the re-bar in place so the concrete can be poured into the ditches. It may take another week or so before the re-bar is ready (as most of the work is being done on the weekends).

Saturday, May 19, 2007


Well, we laid out the house this week, and hired a backhoe operator (named Fred Long) to dig the footings on Friday, May 18! I wasn't here but Adam was, to help him dig in the right places. Fred was surprised how soft the dirt was, and now we have to worry a bit about making sure the trenches don't cave in before the steel gets put in place and the cement truck can make its first appearance!

We ordered the steel (re-bar) needed to reinforce the concrete for the footings. It will be delivered Friday the 25th! Once it is delivered, Adam will spend about a week putting the steel in place. We will hope to have the cement truck come to pour the footings on the following Friday or Saturday, June 1 or 2.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Ground Cleared

Second step down! (Getting the permit was the first BIG step. Anyone who has ever dealt with an arbitrary and cantankerous building department can identify, I'm sure.) The top layer is scraped off, with the help of a little rental tractor. Next step, lay out the "footprint" and dig the footings with the help of a backhoe and operator. That's scheduled for later this week, stay tuned!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

We got the permit!

Hey, so we've been designing our strawbale home in Flagstaff, Arizona for the past three years; we've been tweaking the plans for the past 12 months, and we've been waiting for the building permit for the past ten weeks. We finally received the blasted piece of paper on Friday, May 11, and we're off!

My husband, Adam, is planning to do most of the work himself, with various "helpers" along the way. This in addition to a full time job as a civil engineer in the private sector, and three smallish kids (ages 5, 7, and 9). So you know we won't be moving at a lightning pace, but we'll hopefully be moving faster than we have the past three years! The picture is the building site "before". The tractor (rental) is poised to remove the top layer of organics to start preparing the site.

Check back often to see how we're progressing!