Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Ductwork begins…

This week we begin the monumental task of laying out the duct work. As I’ve mentioned before this is by far the hardest part of the project and mainly due to the fact the grill registers have to align with the grout lines of the tile. Since the slab is not laid out yet, the act of finding the centerlines of the grills is looking like it is going to be a problem.
Already, we’ve had to re-dig a couple of trenches as the dimensions shift every time the guys dig a new trench.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The iT House arrives

This week started out slow and is quickly got crazy. We are still trenching on the site (plumbing trenches now) and so the only thing really going on was the arrival of the Bosch structural system and the Epic roof decking but 40' truck. For most contractors this wouldn't be any big deal, but since this is an "owner-builder" project we are relegated to figuring out how to do this ourselves. Most contractors would have ready labor but since we have no permanent crew I had to go to the local job center and "recruit" so guys for the day. As I was about to leave to pickup the guys the trucker who was carrying the Epic roof system called to say he was on his way which I was expecting. However, as I sped down the freeway to the job center in the adjacent city of Orange, I got a call from the second hauler. "I am about and hour away" he said. "Are you ready with a fork lift?" he added. "Um, yeah." I replied "we're ready for you, but did you say something about a fork lift?". "You're going to need one, my palletes weigh over 3,500 lbs." he laughed. "No worries, we'lll deal with it, I'll see you soon" I replied.

We of course had no fork lift, but I went to Home Depot and grabed a pry bar and some bolt cutters in order to disassemble the crates. I blew into the job center, secured some guys, u-turned and sped back up the freeway to Villa Park. We reached the site and the first truck was still not there. Villa Park has a distinct rule about "no trucks" and I was worried that and nosy neighbor was going to call the police. The only thing worse than one illegal truck is two parked right next to each other. Rather than worry about it too much, I put the guys to work cleaning up the site while we waited for the first truck.

The Epic roofing system showed up at around 1:30pm. The trucker and his wife hopped out of their rig and helped me and the "temporary TK construction crew" release the bindings that held the roofing system. With two guys on the bed of the trailer and two guys on the ground we slowly unloaded the steel roofing. Things were going pretty well, but slowly. The Epic roof is really strong, but can get "dinged" pretty easily. The guys did a great job considering that they had to unload 35 pieces of steel decking one by one.

About the time I had finally begun to relax, the second truck roared down the street and parked itself in front of a neighbors house. "Oh great" I thought, "here we go". I approached the delivery guy and explained that we were only half-way done with the first truck and that we hadn't expected him until 5:00 pm. He laughed "Well, I could use a nap. Wake me up when you guys are done". It took another 45 minutes to unload the Epic from the first truck. In the meantime I chatted with the trucker who had come all the way from Epics factory in Pennsylvania. He had driven over 1000 miles in one day, just to get the load here before Thanksgiving, and now he was turning around and heading to Arizona. What a life! The best quote he shot my way was "If you don't get a spot at the truck stop early, you don't get a spot".

Food for thought.

Anyway, after unloading the Epic steel the trucker backed his whole rig all the way back down the street and headed off for Arizona. Now it was time for the Bosch to get unloaded. We had made space for it in the garage and had the driver from USF back his rig (a shorter, local haul rig) into the driveway so that the guys could unload it faster. We opened the trailer to find the Bosch neatly stacked and bound into 6 palettes- so no pry bar needed. After breaking the pallet straps with the bolt cutters the team unloaded the Bosch (lighter than the Epic, but easier to scratch) and stacked it in the garage. Some of units were easy to move as a group and were not that heavy, but the 20' beams proved to be a challenge and had to get broken down into single pieces. The crew did a great job and did not drop a single piece.

After an hour we were done and after some clean up and re-hydraition I took the guys back to the job center, did another u-turn and hit the now jammed freeway back to Los Angeles.


Thursday, November 17, 2005

More Trenching

I met with the mechanical sub on site this morning so that he could do his final "take offs" on the duct work. We looked over the trenches and he took some measurements and left for his shop to start the fabrication process. I started marking up the plumbing layouts on the ground so that those could be dug as well. All in all there isn't going to be much dirt left when we are finished with all of the trenches (see above photo).
There are so many systems running beneath the slab, that it is surprising that we have room for them all. Because the fabrication process for the ducts is going to take longer than expected it looks as though we may find behind schedule. I won't know till next week, but with the Thanksgiving holiday I don't know how we are going to get everything trenched and laid out by the end of next week.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Marking the trenches...again

So Alan and I headed out to the site this morning to check some of the trenches. It is always good to have another pair of eyes on the battlefield and sure enough we found some coordination errors. Notice the different colored paint? We spent a good part of the morning scratching our heads and wondering where things were off before diving back into the layout, and finalizing on the dirt. Once the mechanical sub comes out tomorrow to do his takeoffs I can start coordinating the plumber and electrician to come in and lay their work out. By December 2nd we should be done with this phase of the project and I think everyone will breathe a little easier.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Sunset on Downtown

Back at the office after a killer day in the field. I must have spent 4 hours going over the locations of the ductwork with the trenching sub and it still seems like some things are off.
Alan and I are going to go out again tomorrow and re-check things to ensure that the trenches are correct. The execution of the phase is so critical, the stress is building.

For now though I'll take a moment to enjoy the view.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Trenching: Mechanical

So Monday started off with us continuing the backfilling operations behind the retaining walls. On Tuesday, the concrete sub and I laid out the mechanical trenches so that his crew could start the excavation for the HVAC ducts. Because everything is going underground, precision is critical. Once the ducts are cemented into the trenches they cannot be moved, so we are checking and re-checking to make sure it all works. We've also had to re-design the footing to allow for three 16" ducts to pass through it without compromising the integrity of the wall. This is the part of the project we've all been nervously joking about (I keep making references to needing another rolaids or valium). The slab layout is the most difficult phase for us because there are structural, electrical, plumbing, and mechanical lines running through the trenches underneath the slab. On top of all that goes the radiant floor, so nothing can be amiss.

Saturday, November 12, 2005


Here is a picture of the backhoe which is about to start backfilling behind the wall.
I am standing at the top of the hill looking down into the 10'-0" deep cut that is behind the retaining wall. It is going to feel good to fill that up and be done with it- especially with more rain on the way.

Waterproofing and Backfill

With the rain behind us The crews have begun preparations for the backfilling operations on the retaining walls. They waterproofed the walls today with Thuroseal and then added an addition sheet membrane of MiraDri. This is because the retaining walls will make up the back of the house and need to resist any moisture seepage. The MiraDri is a roll-on (think wall paper) material that forms an added layer of protection. After the guys get that set up they will put in a perforated drain at the base of the wall. We are also installing 2"x12" of rigid insulation at the base of the wall to contain the heat generated by the radiant flooring. All in all it makes for a lot of coordination and continuous inspection inorder to insure that the job gets done properly. Afterall, no one wants to have to re-excavate, and re-waterproof the wall if it leaks.

There is a backhoe on site again that will dump the dirt behind the wall to complete our backfill operations. There is a lot going on today, and so it's exciting to see things moving forward so quickly. We are still on schedule, but one delay could set us back a week. On Monday we will layout the trenches for the underslab work and begin the most complex part of the project.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Rain Day

So it's raining here in L.A. I spoke with the concrete sub this morning and his guys are working on the pipe and gravel for the drains behind the walls. Other than that not much is going on since the concrete plant canceled our pour this morning. Since it is raining off and on most of their deliveries got canceled and so they closed for the day. I decided to use the opportunity to tackle the mountain of coordination paperwork that is waiting for me at the office.

Tomorrow, weather willing, we should finish the wall.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Passed Inspection

Passed our final lift inspection. Yeah!

I went to the Home Depot to pick up the rigid insultation for the base of the slab. We almost forgot to add this in, but it is critical in that it keeps the heat from the radiant flooring from escaping in the area where the slab meets the CMU wall. Basically, the guys will just cut it up and slip into the area between the wall and the "French drain" behind the wall. After we finish with the drains and additional waterproofing, we will begin the backfill process.

Tomorrow we'll finish up the grout fill on the wall and start to work on the trenching for all of the utilities for the iT House. Before we do this though, 18" of soil will have to be removed and then recompacted to provide a stable base for the slab.

It's still looking like rain.

Week 6: Masonry Walls: Final Lift

So it has started to sprinkle. I am holed up in the on site office waiting for the building inspector to arrive to approve our final lift on the masonry walls of the iT House. There is still so much to coordinate and the next phase (the slab) is going to be the hardest part. While it seems like there is not a lot going on at the site, Alan, Linda, and I are in constant discussion about what is going to occur over the next four weeks, two months, etc... till the project is finished.

I hope the rain holds off till we can fill the walls with concrete.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Masonry Walls/Grout Pour

So our plumber never showed. Construction is one of the few industries where people can get away with flaking on meetings and it's not unusual that you show up at the job site and the sub either calls you 2 minutes before the meeting, or they don't call at all. You just have to roll with it and hope they didn't die on you or something.

About the same time I was wondering about the plumber the truck showed up with our grout fill. It took the crew an hour to fill the entire wall and vibrate the concrete to make sure it sits down in the cells. After having lunch the crew is going to continue to build the wall and put the first coat of waterproofing on the lower side.

We have city inspection tomorrow and then we can grout fill the entire wall and start on the slab.

We are still looking for a roofing company to do the epdm roofing. It is frustrating as there are plenty of companies, but no one who does residential. If the iT were only a 200,000 s.f. warehouse we'd be in luck.

Masonry Lifts: Grout Pour

Met on site with John from CALQUAKE (the concrete sub-contractor). The first thing we did was take an overall dim with the long tape to check (once again) the interior dimensions. We came in at 49' 1" - 1/2" over what we needed! This is great news because while the Bosch beams and colums can be cheated out a bit, they cannot be cheated to compensate for a dimension that is too short. We had contemplated shaving down the block where the columns would go, but now that looks to be a thing of the past.

Another big coordination issue is the are where the under-slab ducting crosses beneath the footing. Basically the footing is going to have to span a 48" gap where the ducts are, and consequently will not work as designed. The footing has been dug already, so now we are trying to re-design it to act as a beam in the area of the ducts. It just goes to show you that no matter how much you design and plan, things always need to be reworked in the field. I always like to think of the building as a body- in that it needs constant re-evaluation and primping to make it come together.

Waiting on the concete trucks to show up for the grout pour...For those who are unaccustomed to construction lingo, a "lift" is the height of a course of blocks that have been grouted by the masons. The typical lift height varries by municipality, but for safety measures you don't want to pour higher than 6' because the block is unstable untill it's cells are filled. So today we are "grout filling" (filling the cells of block with concrete) the block to the 6'-0" mark and will begin constructing the next lift of the wall later today.

The weather is holding up O.K. though they say it is supposed to rain tonight. This is bad, because we want to hog out the rest of the dirt in the slab area so that it can be recompacted. The dumps won't take wet dirt, so we are hoping that it stays sunny here in SOCAL till we can finish this phase of the project.

Waiting on the concrete trucks and the plumber...

Monday, November 07, 2005

Masonry Wall Inspection

We passed our first lift inspection! Yeah!

Masonry Walls 1st lift

So Alan and I made it out to the site this morning to do structural observation for the retaining walls of the iT House. All the bars were in place and the walls were up to the 6'0" mark. We checked the overall interior dimensions of the house to make certain we were within a 1/16" of an inch and found that we were 3/8" off. After thinking for awhile we decided to come back the next day with a "long" tape, just to be sure. If the overall dimensions are under what they should be the Bosch system will not work. No one on the project has ever worked with tollerances this tight! In masonry construction the normal tollerance is usually anywhere from 3/4" to 1'-0" over the length of the building. The hope is that because we were adding dimensions in the field that the discrepency can be attributed to that.

Just waiting around for the inspector to show up then we can confirm tomorrows grout pour for the walls.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Week 5: Masonry Walls

So the day started out with the second course of block. After making some adjustments to get the walls exactly to the proper interior dimension, the crew methodically laid each block, finishing the second course in about an hour. The alignment of the rear retaining walls is criticial as they not only have to align visually, but must meet the Bosch columns at the correct intersections. The masonry crew's efficiency is impressive. a laborer brings block to the masons and they set everthing with and such precission- it looks like a bunch of lego bricks. As they work there is a constant checking and re-checking to be done, to ensure that the walls are in plane with each other as well as level across the entire course. Monday we go for inspection again and hope to "grout fill" the first 4'-0" high section of block on Tuesday. The goal is to have the entire wall complete by the end of the week.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Week 5: Footings/Masonry Walls

With todays pour we finally got out of the ground! 40 + yards of concrete went into the footings and by the afternoon, the masonry crew had begun to set the first course of block. I spent an hour with the concrete sub in order to cross check the interior dimensions of the house. The exciting part is that now you can see the overall footprint of the iT House taking shape. It is always hard to visualize things by simply looking at the string lines, but once you have a piece of the building going up, the form begins to materialize.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Week 5, Wednesday

Today we got our approval for the city for the footings. Tomorrow morning we pour concrete!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Week 5

Phase: Concrete footings at retaining walls.

The general thing people don’t realize about construction is that it is about good days and bad days- As long as at the end of the project you have more positives than negatives, then you are doing O.K. Monday was one of the bad days. Alan and I arrived at the site to inspect the rebar cages for the footings at the rear retaining wall and noticed that one of the footing excavations was not as long as it should be. After a quick conference with the project engineer we decided that the footing had to be re-excavated and the cages in that area re-done in order to match the detail. A minor hiccup no doubt, but one that cost us two days since the city inspector only visits the job site on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

After stopping by the site today to inspect the work one final time, we signed off on the rebar cages and barring any problems with the inspector tomorrow, we should be pouring our footings on Thursday.

The soils engineer visited the site and confirmed that all the soil under the footprint of the house, to a depth of 18" will have to be removed and disposed of due to excessive organic material (roots!). New fill will have to be brought in and compacted prior to pouring the slab. It is expected to add about a week to the overall schedule.