Our 20X40 - 1 1/2 Story in Central Alabama

Started by VannL, February 27, 2014, 10:28:08 PM

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I have started and stopped this darn project twice before. This time it is really happening.

Saturday, a big dirt digging machine will come out and dig the hole for the foundation on our cabin. It is a 20X40 1 1/2 story. The living room will be open vaulted and a loft area for an office and such will be above the bedroom/bathroom.

This will, obviously, be our first big expense into this project. I am trying to keep it inexpensive so I can keep building while saving up more money. It is a nervous yet exciting emotion to know that we are embarking on a long journey in building this cabin, our very own design AND constructed by our own hands.

Once the hole is dug, I will start with a 12"X12" trench around the edge for the foundation and then stack cinder block on top of that. Lots of photos will come, some with question. I want to thank those who have already fielded some questions for me already. John's tag line is correct, no one is as smart as all of us.

Well, here goes...everything!
If you build it, it will be yours!


Good luck on your start, you won't be the only one with a slow build......

we are still saving for the next few things to get done on ours too


Good Luck on your project  [cool]
When digging the trench, a conventional footing for 8" block is 8" thick x 16" wide leaving a 4" projection on each side of the block. A better bearing and slightly less concrete than a 12 x 12.  Normally there are 2 continuous strands of #4 rebar on "chairs" set in the lower third of the footing thickness.


Thanks guys, and thanks Don for the 8X16. I am so stoked for tomorrow to come. I will start the trenching this weekend.
If you build it, it will be yours!


We got a jump start on our building process today. Just got done with the digging of the hole. That was a big deal and needed a big toy. After deciding that it would not do to attempt it with a shovel, I hired a pro. Good move.

This is our land where we are going to build before anything was done to it. The tree was the first thing to go.

This is my new friend, Mr. Gamble, and his shovel.

This is what the space looks like now, after 3 hours of digging. By the way, the bottom is within 3 inches level according to the level laser level he used. And that he got on the first shot.

Just to give some dimension to the far corner, which is the deepest point, I got this ugly guy to pose in that corner.

That was $400 of digging and pushing over a big tree. Not too bad, I guess.

We have officially started! Next is digging the trench for the footing, getting it poured and then building a block wall.
If you build it, it will be yours!


Next step completed.

I hired the foundation done. We decided to go with 12 inches deep and 24 wide. Two strands of rebar with the ground bar tied in. This was done the day before the pour.

Here is the finished product. Three guys and 12.5 cubic yards of concrete, 4000 lbs mix. I must say I am happy with everything.

A friend of mine is going to show me (insert help me) with the cinder block foundation. It will take over 1000 cinder blocks to make the foundation walls. It's getting exciting here all the time. This weekend we will be running the strings and getting some blocks for test runs. I will be using S mortar, as M is very hard to get here and everyone seems to be recommending S for this job.

Here goes everything!
If you build it, it will be yours!


Looks good.  It is fun seeing the land change.  Digging is good and seeing something going in the ground is better.  What is going to blow your mind is when you start building UP!  You have your base!  Now you can start the upward motion.



Wow. We have had a lot going on personally since my last post.

First, the amount of rain we got caused flooding through out the Birmingham area. This meant that I spent two days one weekend with the shovel and wheelbarrow digging back down to the foundation and then pressure washing the remaining mud off. In the tall back corner, it was over a foot thick. Not fun.

I hunted for good pricing for the cinder blocks I needed, about 1100. The prices were high but I figured in a bulk buy, the local DIY chains would work with me. Boy was I ever wrong. $1.38 each. I continued to shop around and found the place that actually makes all of the cinder blocks for the region. The chain stores buy from this place. Perfect! I shopped them and they offered $1.25. SOLD! I also had them deliver it, with the mortar and the sand. $2002.00 total. Not sure how that compares across the nation, but around here everyone is telling me that I got a good deal.

I started last Sunday and managed to get 5 blocks in place, but it wasn't very good. I stopped before I got too far. A friend of mine (retired construction laborer and brick mason) told me that he would show me how to do it right. It looks easy in videos and in books, but it isn't.

First the blocks weigh 32 lbs each. For a guy who drives a desk all day, that is quite the work out. Mixing the mortar is an art form. The instructions on the bag give the amount of mortar, one 70 lbs bag, 2.25 to 3 cubic feet of sand and the correct amount of water. I kind you not, the bag actually says, "Add 2/3 of the right amount of water while mixing and the rest at the end of the mix cycle." No where on the bag does it tell you how much the correct amount of water is.

I came home this last Thursday and noticed that some things were shifted around. I looked into the 'pit' as we are calling the building site and found that my friend Tommy had started the two far back corners. I was so surprised. Friday I had to take my wife in for some oral surgery and when we got back, there he was laying more block. I love my friends!

After I got my wife resting soundly, I changed and dashed outside to learn all I could about laying cinder block. It will take a few days for the bright red of the sun burn to cool down (My wife told me to use sunscreen.) I will admit that nearly everything I did on my solo attempt at laying block was wrong in some fashion. OK, I learned. I watched and did a lot Friday and today, and yet still feel like an idiot but this evening, after a rest, I tried it on my own, with his blessing. Seeing how much time it takes me to butter and lay each one, I worked in 1/4 bag loads instead of 1/2 bag loads like he does. Between the strings and the level, I produced a good result. The blocks are level and straight.

My wife took this pic with her phone after the company finished delivering the block, mortar and sand. It's 1100 8X8X16 blocks.

This is our progress at the end of Friday. It is my first stab and masonry of any type, and of course it has to be heavy cinder block.

Tommy uses this reinforcing wire coming out from the corners, especially when the wall is going to be under stress like ours will with the earth behind it. Seems a simple concept and fairly cheap too. We also bought some metal lintles for the doorway between the two sections and the door to the crawl space.

Yeah for string. This handy trick helps keep everything straight from corner to corner. My foundation guy used a concrete nail driver to place some nails in exactly on the marks for the corners. It might be normal for a foundation person to do that, but I didn't know. What a big help that has been.

This is a picture after Tommy left. I got a few more up on the walls after this picture, but not a lot. They are straight though!
If you build it, it will be yours!


Quote from: dablack on April 03, 2014, 07:38:54 AM
Looks good.  It is fun seeing the land change.  Digging is good and seeing something going in the ground is better.  What is going to blow your mind is when you start building UP!  You have your base!  Now you can start the upward motion.


Austin, you are right. It's incredible to thing that this structure will be our house. I've tried to imagine what it will be like walking around down there with the floor in place. I can hardly wait, but I have a long way to go...about 750 more blocks.
If you build it, it will be yours!


 [cool]    Good to see your progress on what will be a great foundation!!
Just because something has been done and has not failed, doesn't mean it is good design.


Minor Update:
With various illnesses and other health issues, I have been taking care of my wife more often than feeding the house project. Now with my wife getting back to health, and the weather turning, I am on a hard run to finish the blocks before it gets too cold to lay block.

Here is the progress that was made during the summer. The back 28 foot wall, the 20 foot and 8 foot wall of the closet/utility area are done, as well as the forward 20 foot wall. You can see the beginning of the interior 20 foot wall, which will have a door in it to access the root cellar and storm shelter area.

Now you can see the front 20 foot wall which is almost done. It also will have a door in it. I have the interior 20 foot wall to finish and the 40 foot wall, on the left, to finish. I have a full row on the 40 footer, 1 of 8 rows, and a start on the interior wall.

The blocks above the doorway are just sitting there on a metal lintel. I was told about a concrete one, but my supplier said that this is what is being used today. Has anyone used one of these? It will be the last thing mortared in place so I don't bash my forehead in a thousand times before I finish.

Thanks for stopping by and checking up on us.  *Man, I can't wait until I'm slinging wood instead of block*
If you build it, it will be yours!


I can't help you with the lintel but the rest looks great.  Keep going! 


How about an update. It has been 2 years since I updated this, mostly because we haven't had time to work on the house. This delay has been due to my wife's health and some other issues we have been dealing with. We have been through a lot. Now that we seem to be on the other side of all that, we are again back to house building. Yea!

The foundation is done!!! I hired my master block laying friend to come back and finish this up. He knocked it out in short order and record time. As a side note, he is over 70 years young.

Next is the anchor bolt lay out and installation. I am also trying to source the LVL that I want for my floor joists.

We are back on track!
If you build it, it will be yours!


Onwards and upwards! Looking foward to watching your progress.


Nice looking foundation. In the areas where you will have unbalanced backfill you might want to put vertical rebar down the CMUs and then fill them solid with soupy concrete. The horizontal durawall stuff will hold the wall together horizontally, but not stop it from buckling.

$400 for digging a foundation is an awesome price by the way... around here it would cost that much to rent the machine and try to do it yourself.

Looking forward to seeing your progress. LVL is the way to go for framing your floor. I want to say for an 11 7/8 we paid somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-6$ per foot.

John Raabe

Here's to a Happy and Healthy New Year.

Your local lumberyard can likely size and Spec the engineered joists and any LVL beams you need.
None of us are as smart as all of us.


Blasted crazy winter weather! Between cold snaps and rain storms, and time to dry out, we have been filling the cinder block walls in certain areas with concrete to over come the unbalanced fill in the back areas. I am within IRC as my unbalanced fill is at best five feet, but I am also going to have someone come over and redo the area for better drainage away from the house and drop the level to only four feet unbalanced fill at the highest point.

Now that we are done with filling the cinder blocks, we have been installing anchor bolts. Seeing as I have run out of bags to fill the holes to keep the cement from dropping down, I am using roofing felt, 30W for extra rigidness. Works like a champ. Thanks to John (redoverfarms) for the tip on that one.

Currently halfway through with the sill bolts and going to get the last four bags of mix this weekend. Also going to pick up some 2x6's to start the sill plates. It will be too cold to finish pouring for the sill plate bolts this weekend. Over night low Saturday will be 33. Blasted crazy winter weather.
If you build it, it will be yours!


A little more progress.

So, the crazy weather has been holding up the pouring of the last of the anchor bolts. I am down to seven left and it looks like I can finish those tomorrow evening. The overnight lows have been too low lately.

I popped over to a little mom and pop store that seems to have a good reputation from the folks around here. The trip was to get the lumber for my sill plate, or mud sill as they call it around here. Well, I bought the needed drill bit for drilling the holes and the lumber. Met a guy outside and he dug through the pile of lumber to pick out the best 2x6 PTs. They are really good looking one, especially when compared to the DIY chain stuff we have around here.

We talked while he picked and loaded my truck. He said that all the guys in the store have built homes so if I had any questions that they would be able to help me also. Guess who I will be buying most of my lumber from for this house!!!!! Can't find that type of experience and helpfulness at most chain stores around here. Their prices were a tad higher, but it is a quick ten minutes drive through the back woods roads back to my house instead of a 30 to 40 minutes drive down the interstate. So, not only closer but with the tailgate down my truck bed is eight feet long. I REALLY don't want to drive with sixteen foot long lumber down the interstate. It is these types of things that I had not thought about before. Learning to build a house is one thing, but the supply chain story is not often high in the planning process, until now that is.

Even while I was waiting to pour for the last anchor bolts, I have been busy getting the sill plates figured out. I have them finger installed just for alignment. My wife is getting the sill gasket today. Each one is individually labeled with a number that I have marked down on my plans. There is also an arrow showing which way is to point in what direction.

Every story needs pictures.

This picture shows the lumber I got in three lengths, 8 foot, 10 foot and 12 foot.

Here is a picture of some of the sill installed. I am just getting them fit at this point. The nuts are only finger tight and the gasket is not in place yet.

Here is a good picture of them set in place. Nice and straight.
If you build it, it will be yours!


Just checking/reminding. The top at least 4" of all the blocks are poured solid to keep critters from tunneling up inside the blocks. If you aren't soil treating a termite shield is also a good idea in the south.

Set the remaining bolts so that you have about 1/2" of thread sticking above the board and bury the rest of the bolt as deep in the wall as you can, you're trying to "hook up " the bolt as deep in the wall as you can to hold the building down. One thing that really straps you down if exposed to the wind is to run strapping from under the underside of the sill near the bolts (flip over and nail em on first),then set and leave the straps dangling outside. When you set the rim bend them up and nail to the rim, if you align with a stud even better. Then sheath. I've even used the heaviest steel band strapping from lumber deliveries for cheap strapping when I'm just "improving" the frame.


The bolts are tall at this point as my initial plan was to go with a double sill plate. I'll cut them off with a single plate. Also, the bolts are at least 7 inches deep, in accordance with IRC.

I must admit I had not heard about filling all the remaining open holes as anti critter protection.

On the wind issue, we are fairly well protected with trees on tree sides. This stuff is very old growth hard woods. My anemometer will barely move when the tops of the trees are blowing to be all.

Thanks for the input. I do appreciate it.
If you build it, it will be yours!


Here is an update.

Things are moving along and I'm loving the fact that I'm not mixing cement anymore. "I love the smell of fresh cut wood in the morning!"

Got the sill plates, with gaskets, installed and bolted down. Talked with my lumber store and the pricing on the wood i-joists were more than I wanted to spend. Ended up using a more traditional style floor joist system, but that sent me back to the store from some concrete. Used four pads and 4x4's for posts to support a 40 foot long beam. All floor joists are in, just need to get the rim joists and blocking in so I can cap this with sub-floor.

Here is one of the four concrete pads I poured to support the posts for the beam.

Three of the posts up with the four pad drying.

Once the posts were up, I started to build the center beam. It is made from 2x12. I used an 8 foot section to start, then 16 foot sections from there, in staggering formation. There is less than 8 feet between my posts.

Once I had some of the beam up, I installed some of the floor joists near the posts to add support. It sure is good throwing around some lumber.

The next weekend saw the last post installed, the rest of the beam completed, and the beginnings of the floor joists.

Here the last of the floor joists are in. Next is the rim joists and blocking.
If you build it, it will be yours!


Looks great!  One you start working with wood things seem to go so much faster.

It's a little late at this stage, but I feel compelled to ask.  Did you reinforce the center pads with some rebar before pouring the concrete?
My cabin build thread: Alaskan remote 16x28 1.5 story


If you build it, it will be yours!



Looking good.  Can you post your proposed floor plans