David and Lisa's 20 x 30 in Plumas County, CA

Started by davidj, January 11, 2008, 01:20:12 AM

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Over the 2006-2007 Winter, we couldn't really do much construction.  However, we did visit the property a few times and camp out.  Here's a picture of the campsite during winter, with Lisa huddled around the fire.

The counter was a few pieces of scrap butcher block on a frame.   I use that past tense because after drying out in the Sun then a couple of dozen freeze-thaw cycles, all we had was a heap of little wooden blocks.  So we decided to splash out and follow the fashion - we installed a granite countertop!  ($100 for a 6' x 2' section from a local granite wholesaler).

The other project during Winter was taking the Home Design Workshop at the Building Education Center (www.bldgeductr.org) in Berkeley.  This was great - a four evening "pretend you're an architecture student" course focused around your own project.  Homework was producing lots of designs each week followed by some often-brutal reviews by the instructor and the rest of the class.  I'd already decided to use something close to John's 20x30 plans, so my project was to work on the site plan.  It's definitely better than it would have been without doing this course.


In the Spring, we started on the site work.  First a septic system and leach field, along with a "fire safe driveway", installed by a local contractor (about $6K for the septic/leach, $2K for the driveway).

Everything went well except that the county health inspector noticed the nice, new, shiny outhouse.  It turns out that outhouses are illegal in Plumas County.  So we had to fill it in.  The fact that every other lot in the neighborhood has an outhouse is apparently not a problem (which I guess is good, as all we do now is walk to the neighbors outhouse!).


Whilst the contractor was doing the septic, I got him to dig footings for the "garage". Actually it's really a storage shed, not for housing cars.  It also wasn't permitted as a garage (200 sq. ft. storage sheds don't require any inspections) but size and shape wise it's just a single car garage.

I decided I want it to be on a slab so it is close to the ground for hauling equipment in and out.  And given the cost of  getting a concrete truck up we went for a monolithic slab so we could do it in one pour.  So all I needed to do is build some forms, throw in some rebar and then pour in the concrete.  Okay in theory, but here are the things I got wrong:

- The contractor was using a 24" bucket to dig the leach field.  If you dig a 24" wide footing, 18" deep for frost, 6" above grade for dirt clearance, that's a lot of concrete for each foot of footing!
- Dry, crumbly soil doesn't want to stay vertical on the inside of the footing.  It falls into the footing, you dig it out and then you need more concrete.  11 yds and $1677 for a 200 sq ft foundation, to be exact!  (I've since seen how to fix this problem - use building paper and chicken wire to support the inside wall of your foundation).
- Forms need to be strong and well braced.  It may only move 1/2" when you fill it with tons of concrete, but then you either don't lap your siding over the footing or you build a 10'1" wide garage!  (Or you get a diamond blade for your circular saw and trim the foundation down to size, which is what I did).
- It's much easier to pour the concrete exactly where you need it than to put it roughly where you need it and shovel it the last 6"
- Concrete sets fast in 85F weather
- Finishing concrete nicely is harder than it looks

However, there were no irreparable disasters and all of the neighbors and several friends came out to help with the pour (and the subsequent feast).  Special thanks to my co-worker Albert, without whom we would have probably been hiring guys with jackhammers the following week.




This looks great, David!  Personally, I'm going to stay with post and beam for as long as I can.  This other stuff takes too many people and too many trucks for my easy-going mind.

I like your workbench.  We've been using two saw horses with a piece of scrap plywood on top of scrap 2x4s, but it's time to nail it together and turn it into a real platform.  We don't have the freeze problem you do (We're at about 400'), so maybe it will last longer.

Sorry to hear about your outhouse.  We're getting our own lessons in how the county comes around and dispenses "Justice".  My neighbor said he saw a county appraiser walking around my place while I wasn't there, looking for things to tax.  Good luck, pard!  It still bugs me that they didn't extend me the courtesy of a telephone call.  Even though its big, it is my place.

I trust you have come up with a plan to reinstate the outhouse once the inspector left?  Or will your septic system be ready soon enough?

And there's always the Bumper Dumper http://www.bumperdumper.com/ for the completely mobile solution.  There might even be a nice private spot in the County parking lot next to the inspector's car.

Wow, I'm starting to sound like Glenn.   :o


David it looks as if you are getting right along.  Sorry about the outdoor fixture problem. Here it is just a tree where the leaves have not been disturbed before. :D

Drew talking about saw horses.  My neighbor had worked partime a couple of summers ago on a movie set in Balt. Md. He brought back a couple that he said were used constantly on the set.  Neat design and strong. They consisted of 1X material in a frame configuration with two longer for the legs. They plywood gusseted the frames with 1/2" ply.  Then with two made they hinged the top with two door hinges.  Below they used three door hinges for a lock and release.  It will only open as far as the hinges allow.  When closed they are only about 1-1/2" thick and are light enough to be hung on a nail in the garage.  The major cost is the hinges. But you could eliminate the bottom three by using a piece of dog chain.  If anyone is interested I will look up the photo and post. I guess anyone in the Calf area has already seen these but here in the east it was new.


John, I'd really like to see the pictures.  I have one set of horses I move around and I wouldn't mind sharing the work among a couple of sets that pretty much stayed in one area.


Yes, Drew, laying a slab is definitely stressful if you don't know what you are doing (which was certainly our case).  I'm glad we did it, but I'm also glad we're not going to do it again! Partly due to this experience we're going with a concrete block crawl space on the main cabin.  Putting down a lot of concrete that's hidden or a bit that's visible both seem fine, but putting down a lot of concrete that's visible or hard to fix is scary when you're making it up as you go along. And there's the added complication of about $700 minimum to get a concrete truck in.

One useful tip, though - if the concrete is only a week or so old and you've got a diamond blade then working with it is surprisingly easy (except for the dust).  It's more like cutting cheese than rock.  And setting the rebar was quick and pleasant once I'd worked out how to do it and got the right tools, although I'm guessing it gets to be seriously hard work for big projects.


Well Drew here they are.  I can give you the demensions but you can probably figure them out yourself as I made mine a little higher than what I had since it made for a lot less stooping over.  I also made them only 36" wide as it worked out for the best use of 12' 1"x4".  Used drywall screws for the gussets and glue.  I also made a sketch with demensions but I am at a loss on how to scan and then post them. I have just mastered(sort of) the photo posting. Computers are alot different than hammers. ;D Let me know what you think. It is a good rainy day project.  If you made a couple set you could also use them as temp scaffolding with some 2" planks. They are really strong and stay put.



Looks good John. More deluxe than mine with that hinged joint. I just used sash chain.
Just because something has been done and has not failed, doesn't mean it is good design.


Don I lucked out one day. Yes it happens occassionally even for me. Lowes was building a new store and had reduced the inventory at their old store. I bought door hinges for 25 cents a piece. Bought about 30-40 all they had left.  If I would have bought them at their regular price I would have used chain at the bottom.  Since I started using these I would never go back to the standard horses.  I can put 5 sets of these in the space of one standard. Best part you can hang them on the wall when closed.


That's a good lookin saw horse....I'll be make'n some soon.Thanks for the pictures.


Okay, some catching up to do on this thread as it's about 18 months behind reality!

So back in the late Summer of 2007, we'd got the septic in and at the same time we got a permit for the well.  This is all a big gamble as you pay by the foot (specifically, $42/foot) but the water depth is very unpredictable.  The neighbor to our left had to go down about 150ft.  The guy over the road went down 450ft.  The difference is about $13,000!

The way they usually do it is to start doing "simultaneous drilling", pulling a 6" (ID?) steel casing behind a disposable bit.  This is due to the loose upper layers of rock. That usually breaks when they hit hard rock, so then they then do a 5" or so regular hole inside the previous section and drop in plastic casing.

In our case, it seems they tried to drill a 4.95" hole because the bit was worn.  So they couldn't get the plastic down the hole.  So they tried with steel, using the drilling rig to force it in.  About half way in it got stuck.  So then they tried to pull it out, but it wouldn't come out.  So then they tried to pull it out whilst using a big, mechanical hammer thing to hit it repeatedly.  But the weld broke.  So they ground it off (spraying sparks from 15ft up onto bone-dry Sierra scrub!) welded it again, and it broke again.  Then they welded on brackets, and it broke again.  Then, another few attempts later, with the biggest weld and extra thick brackets, they finally pulled it out.  Then they decided to use slightly narrower steel pipe, but they didn't have any in stock so they had to wait a week or two.  Here's the rig with Lisa's Aunt pretending to be a well driller:

Finally, after nearly 3 weeks and $21,000 we had our 480ft, 5gpm hole in the ground.

glenn kangiser

Drilling can be so much fun sometimes but it sounds like they tried to cut the corners a bit too short.  Lots of unknowns there.
"Always work from the general to the specific." J. Raabe

Glenn's Underground Cabin  http://countryplans.com/smf/index.php?topic=151.0

Please put your area in your sig line so we can assist with location specific answers.


In the fall, we worked on the storage shed aka garage.  This was pretty straightforward once I'd cut the slab down to size and added the anchor bolts that I'd omitted during the pour (a great way to waste money - the retrofit bolts and epoxy cost about 5 times the regular set-in-place bolts).

The roof was simple triangular site-built 2x6 trusses using plywood gussets with a 12/12 slope.

Siding is 5/8" rough exterior ply, the roof sheathing is 5/8" ply too. The roof is metal, which went a lot more smoothly after the mistakes on the little shed.


As with the previous year, the garage became weatherproof about the same time the weather turned.

The battens to complete the board-and-batten look had to wait until the Spring.

But, at the time the snow hit, the garage door wasn't working as I'd been given the wrong parts.  And, once I got the right parts, it turned out the extension springs were the wrong strength (serves me right for going with a non-standard 6' wide door, I guess).  This is all straightforward when your garage door is at your house, but a bit harder when its a 4 hour drive and one hour ski from home.  And you can't even put the springs in the sled because that's Casey's seat, so it's in the backpack they go:


It's pretty hard to do anything when there's over 4 foot of snow on the ground...


...so Lisa worked on some prototypes:

You can even see the framing on the side!


On the basis that the gingerbread prototype probably wasn't going to be adequate for permits, we also had to do some plans for the main cabin.  I'd already bought John's 20 x 30 1 1/2 story plans and really liked the basic layout.  However, there were the usual tweaks and some more detail needed for CA code, including seismic stuff and snow load.   We also decided that maybe 1 story was easier to build and would be big enough most of the time (and anything we could build would be too small the rest of the time as it's either just the 2 of us or a big bunch of friends all visiting at once).  Another change was to try and get a wood stove in the middle, both for warmth reasons and to get the stovepipe out of the way of falling snow.  A vaulted ceiling in the main room was an important feature for Lisa, so that was added.  Finally, we tried to add a basement (but that got scaled back to a good-sized crawl space once we realized it would need to be engineered).

Once we'd tied down the changes, I made some feeble attempts to do a modified set of drawings myself, but then gave up and found a local house designer to do the design for us.  This turned out to be good from a design perspective as she had lots of little ideas to tweak the details like storage and windows so they fitted better with our revised plan.  She also explained how lofts with ladders are not allowed, but a 20'x10' "flower shelf" is fine.  And, importantly, her structural analysis software worked out that, with 120 psf snow load and a 20'x20' open room, you need a 6"x18" main beam!!! Finally the plans were submitted a couple of days before the end of the year, getting them in before the January 2008 California building code changes (but whilst I was out of the country).  Another set of plans, with the numerous errors fixed, were submitted a few weeks later (which I think went more smoothly than it might do in some places thanks to the plan checker and house designer being friends!).


Here's the plan:

Notice the space next to the fridge where you can put a ladder should you ever want to access the "flower shelf" above the bedroom/bathroom.


Another improvement that came in shortly after the well was a shower.

The water heater is an Eccotemp L5 and costs about $130 or so.  It's definitely cheaply built, but does the job and makes a huge difference - a hot shower at the end of the day is a real luxury.  If you want a regular temperature shower and the water's coming straight from the well then I'm guessing you have to have it at about 1-1.5 gallons/minute.  However, if the water's been sitting in the pressure tank a few hours it's just like your regular low-flow shower at home. One thing to watch out for with the Eccotemp heaters is that they have a safety shut-off after something like 15 mins - you have to switch them off then on again if you want them to continue.

We do have shower curtains that we use when we have guests...


Hey, great to hear from you & enjoyed the update!  Sounds like you are moving right along, although when you're in the midst of getting these things done it seems like it takes forever.  I like your shower  [cool]

You will know the truth & the truth will set you free


David it looks as if you are making good progress considering what "hoops" you have to go through in CA.  They would go crazy in my project.  When do you think you will have access tothe property or being able to work?

Oh BTW I went back and added the pictures of the horses I originally posted.  I don't know why PB deletes these after a period of time. 


Quote from: Redoverfarm on February 10, 2009, 07:27:59 AM
David it looks as if you are making good progress considering what "hoops" you have to go through in CA.  They would go crazy in my project.  When do you think you will have access tothe property or being able to work?
Compared with the Bay Area, the building officials up in the mountains are great - most of them seem to be on your side, even if the regulations seem to be a bit over the top for this kind of construction.  I don't think I'd have the guts to do this in the city having seen what my neighbors have gone through with remodels (one had a 1 month delay in their project because someone forgot to take into account the width of the window frames in the shear wall calculations!).

These photos are all from a year ago now - still trying to bring the thread up to date.  I think it was inaccessible for about 3 1/2 months starting around Christmas.  This year it snowed in mid-December and I'm hoping to get in late April. On a heavy snow year it can be closed in from Thanksgiving until May.  However, I've just invested in a "tool" to handle these issues:

(you can tell it's a tool, and hence an essential purchase, because it's yellow like my DeWalt saw.  If it was a toy it would be red!).


In the spring of 2008, once the snow had melted, we finished off clearing the location for the cabin.  This area had previously been covered in manzanita but other than that was pretty open so only 3 small trees to remove.  If the photos were bigger you might notice the stump where I got the cut very wrong and learned how essential a wedge is when the tree falls the wrong way and sits on your saw (and how moving the car before hand was definitely a wise move).


After waiting a few weeks (still the end of the construction boom), the back hoe came up to dig the footings.  The plan is to have a big crawl space, roughly 3ft below grade and 1ft above, so there was a fair bit of dirt to move. But it only took a few hours to do the whole thing, including a trench to the well.  It cost almost as much to get the equipment up to the property as to do the work.

In my head I had an image of the ground being pretty much ready for concrete after this stage.  The last photo of the four, taken after the backhoe had left,  indicates how wrong I was!