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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Finishing the Battlements

OK, so they're not technically battlements. They're retaining walls. But they're really, really sturdy, like we imagine battlements to be. Even though we've never seen a battlement. Enough, already, about battlements.

The skirting on the NW side of the house had been installed originally without adequate framing behind it, and the erosion from the hill behind it caused it to cave in.

See the stripe in the middle of the house? Where the P.(revious) O.(wner) did not seal the two halves, but rather left them exposed the elements for 8 years? That's where Mikey patched them together. Below that is the section of skirting that is being forced under the house by the pressure of the eroded earth.
We were lucky enough to stumble into meeting a great guy, Tony Carastia, who is a superb earthworks fellow. He dug out the 3 sides of the house that we could easily get to, so that the skirting could be replaced.

The original idea was to replace the faulty skirting AND create permanent access ways to get under the house, instead of just peeling down a section of the skirting and clambering over it, which was the P.O.'s idea of access.

Front trench with new framing

NW side trench
We debated several ideas on creating the access ways. Railroad ties (too heavy and dulls the chainsaw chain too fast), landscape timbers (too expensive), CMU or concrete blocks (too fussy and requires to much precision, neither of us is a mason, don't want to pay yet another person to do something we should be able to do ourselves) - these were rejected in favor of messing about with earthbags. We had already decided to make the tank house from scoria filled earthbags, and we had plenty of bags on hand. And we figured it would be fairly hard to screw it up, since it seemed kind of loosey goosey to begin with.

First row of bags filled with gravel (instead of earth) to provide drainage.
We had to butt the bags up against the new skirting, so it's a good thing that Mikey made the framing sturdy. The little dark stripes on the house in the photos are pieces of masking tape showing the locations of 2x4s and pipes.

A few more layers of bags added.
We were able to level as we went up, although the second or third layer was a partial one to sort of even things up. Surprisingly, we did not make ourselves crazy with the leveling - it was very much a case of  'good enough'. We drove rebar through 5 evenly spaced locations after the first 3 or 4 rows because there would be a goodly amount of soil pressure on the wall. We also drove more rebar in later in staggered places to help solidify the whole thing.  (You may be able to see where we marked the bags on the inside of the curve to indicate where the rebar was driven.) The curve helped with stability.

He looks surprisingly cheerful for a guy who isn't half finished yet.

We added sections of PVC pipe to the top with long nails in order to shed moisture. I now think it was unnecessary in our dry climate, and weakened the burlap-crete. I would not do this again unless I lived in a very rainy place.

 Can I just say at this juncture that we are profoundly grateful for the help of 3 people, without whose generosity to put their work on the internet we could have not done this? Owen Geiger and Kelly Hart have made earthbag building a real DIY concern with tons of information and design ideas. They are both generous with their expertise and experience, and really made us feel that we could do this despite being in our 50's. The covering we chose - burlap-crete - has a long history, but it was the efforts of John Annesley that made this actually doable for us. His recipe, along with details about what he tried that turned out to be unsuitable, let us do this without time consuming experimentation.

Battlement with burlap--crete covering.

And with the backfilling complete - YAY! Finshed! Thanks Tony! Dibs on the Ben-Gay!

In the same spirit of sharing that got us here, please email me with any questions about what we specifically did that worked, and what could have used improvement. And wear protective clothing when working with the rapid set mortar that John recommends. I got burns on my legs from wearing shorts the first day. (Have water and vinegar on hand to treat cement burns and do not use lotion. It can trap the chemicals under its oil layer and deepen the burns!)