Plans Change, and now I'm starting with a 12 X 12

Started by JavaMan, April 20, 2010, 12:37:41 PM

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After some consideration, and looking at the budget, I've decided that it might be in my best interest to start a bit smaller than I originally planned (I was going to start with a 18 X 28 cabin).

So, I'm starting out with a "shed" - 12 X 12 - to keep things simple.  I figure, when I actually start building the 18 X 28, I will need to have a place to store the tools and such so I'm not carting them back and forth from the wetside, and if I build the "shed" right, I can also provide for a snug place to sleep and relax when a days work is done.  I may begin the other cabin before this building is complete, but only so as to maximize my time and use of rented tools.

So, the plan right now is to "break ground" on either the 30th of April or the 1st of May (depending on when I can actually get out of town with all the tools I need).  I figure a 3 day weekend should do it.

The plan is to head up and rent a hole auger to dig the holes for the piers (6 of them).  If I can get it on Friday, I figure I should be able to finish with it in time to return it on Saturday and rent a cement mixer, pick up some rebar, crushed rock, and cement and pour the piers.  They will be about 10-12" in diameter below grade and 8" in diameter above grade (tube type molds).  I don't believe any of them will be more than 12-18" above grade (if they are, I will have to brace them some how).

I would hope to get the concrete poured on Saturday and Sunday so that I can return the mixer as quickly as I can.


1.  Do you guys think this is too ambitious for one person?
2.  Are there any other tools that you think I might need besides the logical ones of shovel, axe, maybe a pick, wrenches, etc...?
3.  Any other suggestions?

The piers will be about 9-10' apart so no more than 18" "overhang" (cantilever) for the deck and the building.

Thinking ahead, should I use PT for all the floor joists, or only for the beams? I am leaning towards using PT for the joists, but that is going to add considerably to the cost of that part of the project.  (which is the next step for the next weekend I get up there)

I am planning on using 4" X 6" PT for the beams, which should sit directly on the piers, being held there with embedded fasteners and washers and nuts.

So, on to building!


For a 12x12 I wouldn't do all that -- but then for a 14x24 I didn't either -- because if it is a shed then why put the piers in?  The cost is high, the rewards low.

I'd do a post and pier foundation and save the money and effort.

Did you check the ground for rocks?  One of those augers wouldn't work for me because the area has massive rocks/boulders everywhere!  We had to pick them out with the excavator in order to get a trench for our post and pier foundation -- if I were to do it again I'd do it by hand and plan around the biggest rocks.

Orange tape, stakes, engineers line (colored twine), a compass and a rake.

Stake the corners where you think you want to build, use the twine to set the outline.  Check compass headings to make sure you have good southern exposure on the wall you want main windows in (12x12 doesn't have a long wall but perhaps you want sun coming in a window to warm you up in the winter while waiting on the main cabin?) a rake to clean the area up so you have smooth ground to work on perhaps.....

water is also important so I'd suggest if you don't have a well then a 50 gallon water drum that you can fill and use for personal use while there (and later put a 12v pump in to provide pressurized water for things)...saw a great set up like that this weekend)


In some respects this build is going to be a bit of a "test bed".  Which is why the more elaborate piers.  I'm figuring that there are other structures that I am going to want to build that will use the pier foundation.  I suppose, it could be a bit more affordable and easier to simply dig a shallow spot so things are flat, pour a small square (or round) "foundation" and then either wood posts or concrete tubes on top of that.  I would fear that it wouldn't be all that stable, tho.

I have time to think about it tho - so might revise the plan in the mean time (easy, since most of the heavy supplies I'm not picking up until I get to Omak)

Yeah, I forgot to mention batter board, stakes, twine, levels, etc... thanks for the reminder - that's the sort of stuff that  I would leave behind if I don't write it down someplace!

And I gotta check the generator to make sure it's all serviced and ready to go.  If I decide to just go with precast block and posts, I will be ready to build the deck in short order, so will have to take the compressor, etc... with, too.  But then I have to figure out PT joists on the flooring or not  ???  Decisions, decisions... d*

John Raabe

As long as the joists are at least 8" above the soil they do not need to be PT. If you plan plumbing and wiring in the floor, boost this under floor "crawspace" up to 18".

It sounds like you are using the pier block foundation layout of the 12' wide cabin in the Little House plans. That is simple to build and has proved to work well in many climates. When you go to larger more expensive buildings I think a deeper pier is worth the extra effort and expense. In some soils (wet clay or soft sand) even these do not always work well. But then, those types of sites really shouldn't have buildings on them!
None of us are as smart as all of us.

Pine Cone

I think your plan is do-able, but you have some long days a head.  I would bring a rock bar to help with your holes and a big scrub brush and a couple of buckets to help with the cement work.  We had limited water on our site (rainwater storage) and filled a bucket with water to store the shovel in between mixing batches.  Kept the concrete from drying on the shovel, and use used the dirty water to help clean the mixer when we were done.  A scrub brush is pretty essential for cleaning off the mixer.

I have a love/hate relationship with PT lumber.  I used it for my foundation and joists to give me better protection against carpenter ants, carpenter bees, and lots of other creatures designed to be Gods recyclers.  I found that if you do use it, it normally warps badly if not severly restrained with blocking, nails, strongtie connectors, etc.  I had some 2x8 sill boards that lifted more than 1/2" off my joists on one side.  Luckly for me it rained, the sill boards got wet and I was able to force them back to a flatter configuration.

I think in your dryer forest area I might take John's advice and skip the PT for joists.


Thanks John! The info about using PT or not will certainly come in handy - I am pretty certain I can manage to keep all the boards a minimum of 8" above grade somehow! The beams are 4 X 6 - ok 5-1/2" - so that only means another 3" - should be easy.

As for the plans - no, I haven't even looked at them.  I built a 12 X 12 "shed" in the back yard about 5 years ago (came as a "kit" from the local lumber yard - altho, "kit" is a bit of an exaggeration - more like "there's enough lumber and stuff here to build this - but you'll have to figure it out yourself what cuts, etc... to make" ;D)

Finished off on the inside, too, real nice for a Ham radio shack.  Ran 220V to it, dry walled it, including a ceiling, with a fan, lights, and small heater for the chilly nights.  Even carpeted it and tiled the entryway for muddy shoes.  Had to sell the house in the divorce eventually, so I lost it. (kept the radio gear, tho  :) )

So that is roughly what this will be based from.  A few changes, tho - the pitch of the roof will be 12:12, rather than the 6:12 that  it was on the previous one, and I will hang the door better.  $1,000's of radio equipment and if you bumped the door just right, it would open - even with a deadbolt! Go figure ???  I'm glad no one ever figured out there was lotsa good stuff in there!

Yeah, PineCone, I am sure glad John chimed in about the PT ... should save me some headaches and a few $$$'s too!   Thanks for the suggestion of the brush! I would have used a boat load of water to rinse the mixer otherwise - and I don't have a well (yet), so I will be trying (hoping?) the neighbor down the road is at his place that weekend (I'm trying to find his phone #, but I can find just about everything else about the guy, but that!).  I have a 235 gallon tank for the truck, but no way to get it off once filled (yet another project that  I've been thinking of).  That would be real nice to have up there - but I'll have to take the 55 gallon barrel I have instead.


One more thing about PT lumber. If you haven't used it be aware some people (like me) are very sensitive to the dust. I have to work with gloves, long pants and long sleeves all the time and either pay close attention to the wind or wear a dust mask when sawing. PT splinters are a big nasty for me.


Fortunately, Jim, I've worked with it before without so much as a sniffle or scratch ... of course, having said that now, I will probably suffer anaphylactic shock this time.  Seriously, tho.  I know there are problems with the dust, but I've not had any problem, but I usually try not to breath the stuff.


JavaMan, remember a level and a plumb bob!   I like the sonotube piers, I do not hear much good on this site regarding them, but with rebar and simpson ties you can go many feet above grade,easy to build/install and  they end up super solid, no rot/insect concerns!  From my POV many of the builds on this site would be waaaay better off on sonotube piers.  As far as the PT, I would use it on everything below the subfloor with zero reservations.  I would not do it any other way. Especially if you are not going to be 18 inches above grade, use PT.  I am also a big fan of Copper Green, slap that stuff on every edge of will smell for a couple weeks but it penetrates and protects like nothing else.  I have used it to coat numerous redwood underground septic tanks i have made over the years with great results! This is my experience with numerous 100+ year old barns I own and some 85 year old redwood structures that have not seen stain in 40 years and have ZERO rot! Just my opinion, but I have solid non rotting, no mold structures to back it up.  I should add these practices have worked well in Tahoe winters on very large scale structures.


If you are well drained soil I'd be tempted to use pre-cast blocks and PT posts, especially without a handy water source.  Not much, if any frost heave in those dry soils.  Digging around those boulders can be a real pain.  Did some under-slab plumbing for my Sister over there...  Took me a full day longer than it should have. 

We hand dug our place, luckily the digging was easy.

"The secret to life is to be alive.  To live ultimately by one's own hand and one's own independent devices." -Ted Nugent


Thanks eddie for the tip on Copper Green - I'll look into that and see if I can use it (y'never know what this state will disallow) - and the plumb bob is a good thought, too.  I just picked up a package of 2 levels - the kind that hang on a line.  I think they will work for getting the site level enough - or at least the beams.  And I'll take my trusty carpenters level, too.

Yonderosa, I have some rocks poking up through the ground, and I know there are some that are buried just under the surface, but I also know there are spots where there don't seem to be any - and one of the places I am thinking of putting this is such a place - who knows, tho, when I get there, I might think that putting it on top of one of the outcrops would be better (doubtful).  My concern about running in to rocks and boulders, is when I start building the first cabin.

Then, eventually, there is what I call "The Big House" - about 2000 sqft ... there are a couple places that I'd love to put it, but they are definitely on rocky cliffs.  Two concerns with that - stability of the cliff itself, and how to attach the house to rock.  But that's quite a few years off, and I might not even do it.


Good points made by all-
I like the Copper Green idea.
Here is one more vote for using pressure treated only where really necessary- ie. ground contact.
With the dry conditions over there and the crappy quality of mass produced pressure treated material, I would limit it's use- and never use it for floor joists.
When I cut and installed the stair jacks in the picture below they were right on the money. After a long hot summer they moved quite a bit.  I framed the whole deck structure with PT and now I wish I did not.  The main deck area is not that bad but the stair jacks really got wacked out of shape.  When I install the decking I will have a bunch of shimming to do in order to get everything to plane out.
(the composit decking in the picture is temporary and will be replaced this summer)

Good Luck

Notice the un-even stair treads due to the PT jacks.
Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.
Abraham Lincoln


Regarding leveling. For an easy to use and accurate DIY system it's hard to beat a water level. Either a home brewed system or one like Zircon makes.  The strings have to be pulled very tight if one uses those vials that hang on a string.
Just because something has been done and has not failed, doesn't mean it is good design.


Java Man:

Sounds kind of ambitions schedule, but maybe that's just me.

Your plans seem similar to mine (gotta start up my own builder thread sometime soon).  I am building a 10 x 10 shed for storage, and later the 22 x 25 cabin will go in.

My time line on the shed (now, this considers I have a pretty time demanding job and two teenagers).

  • sonotubes go in - last June, whole weekend for four (rocky soil so lots of rock bar work).  Note, on corner sticks up quite a bit, but hasn't been a problem so far; I used rebar).  Used a home made water level (milk jug and plastic tubing)
  • PT 6x6 beams and PT 2x6 joists - last July.  Just a day.  Reading the above I guess I didn't need to go PT on the joists.
  • insulation sandwich of hardware cloth, ridigd foam, then R19, then top off with plywood -- last August, most of a weekend.

Now I'm just starting the framing.  I'm pretty much a perfectionist, so perhaps that's why I am going so slow.  And because I am lugging everything frmo home (and then another 100 feet to the work area), productivity is slow.  But still, I don't think a 12 x 12 will go up in weekend.

Here's a shot while I just starting the hardware cloth:


Well, Southern, I wasn't planning on having the entire thing built in a weekend.  Just the Tubes if I go that way, or if precast blocks, then just the deck/floor.  Then the next working weekend would be walls, and a final weekend would be roof.  Of course, that's just the bare minimum - no doors or winders.  Having built one of these before, It took me about a week to get it "roughed in", and another day to be dry (doors, winders, locks).  Then it was a good month of work to finish off the inside with wiring, sheetrock, carpet, etc...

Where are you building? (Sorry if it's in your info, I can't seem to see it in edit mode  d*)

Oh, and how deep and what diameter are your tubes? And did you put a footer in (as in a base that is bigger than the tube diameter)?

Nice picture, BTW


I am with the other posters- those line levels are no good!  Also you mention a rock-bar...not sure what that is but I used a Home Depot purchased heavy iron bar that has a flat spade (maybe 2-3 inches wide)on one end and a flat end, it is approx 5 feet long.  it worked great for breaking rocks that were underground.


Quote from: JavaMan on April 21, 2010, 02:18:29 PM
Where are you building? (Sorry if it's in your info, I can't seem to see it in edit mode  d*)

Oh, and how deep and what diameter are your tubes? And did you put a footer in (as in a base that is bigger than the tube diameter)?
Yeah, I've got to update my profile, etc.  But what I'm really trying to find time for is building the shed!  The Southern Tier is the part of New York just above the 42nd parallel, which is the straight part of the border with PA.  Really beautiful country.  It's quite cold there in the winter, so minimum depth to avoid frost is 3.5 feet, typically try to get to 4 or more.  Here's my picnic tables two Novembers ago:

My posts almost make it to 3.5 feet; tried to go all the way but just too many rocks.  I was augering a 12-inch hole which didn't make it any easier.  It was one of those two-man hand-held augers that were a lot of work to manhandle in the rocks.  Those are 10-inch tubes.  Probably over engineered for this small project, but that probably makes up for the fact that (a) no, I don't have a footer below them (no way I could get something down the bottom of a 12-inch hole 3+ feet down, although I did put some gravel in) and (b) the one tube you can't see stuck up further than I would like it to.  It's always amazing how your eyes can trick you on non-level ground.  When you actually mark the level line, it's way higher than you would think.


Quote from: MountainDon on April 21, 2010, 11:28:03 AM
Regarding leveling. For an easy to use and accurate DIY system it's hard to beat a water level. Either a home brewed system or one like Zircon makes.  The strings have to be pulled very tight if one uses those vials that hang on a string.

Wow! I hadn't seen your post Don!  But I went reading someplace on the forum and saw someone talking about leveling his posts with a water level - great little tutorial.  I am thinking that I might have to actually figure out how to do that (instead of the line levels) - at least the line levels were cheap.

Eddie: Thanks for the description of the rock bar - I will have to see if I can find one of those (there are at least 3 HD's and 4 or 5 Lowe's on the way to the Ranch - I should be able to  ::) )

That's a lot of snow, Southern - altho it sounds like the snow knows when the seasons are... up at my place the snow usually goes out early (March, maybe April from what I'm told), but two years ago it wasn't quite gone on Memorial day (I have a picture of the front wheel on my truck buried to the axle in it someplace around here)


My water level is nothing more than a 1/2 in. by 50 ft. clear plastic tube. Very simple, accurate, easy, cheap. Place one end with water level at start line, wherever the other end is will be at same level. Just make sure to siphon all the bubbles out.


Thanks Dug for the picture - between that and the pictures in another thread here, I have n excellent idea on how to implement that.

So, thus far, in thinking about it, this is just a shed after all (not the main cabin structure) so as much as I'd like to play with the tubes, I am going to go with the precast footers.  If I was going to finish this off inside like an actual living space, I would put in a more permanent foundation.

So the list of things that I need to take this weekend so far are:
Shovel, hammer, prybar/rockbar, plastic tubing, batter boards, mason twine, tape measure, level, Plumb bob, square.  All this and the beams and blocks that I hope to pick up locally should get me the foundation and beams in.

After that, I am hoping to build the deck yet this weekend, and to speed that long, I am planning on bringing the genset, compressor and nail gun, circular saw, sawhorses.  Of course, I will need to get the joists, nails, brackets, etc... on my run down the mountain to have breakfast on Saturday or Sunday.

The plan right now is to head up on Friday morning, and return on Monday afternoon. depending on what the plans are at home, I might push that to Tuesday if there's still work I can do, but I think the deck is about all I'll accomplish this trip.

Have I thought of everything? - well, except water and food, but that's a given


I put mine on concrete piers as well.  Dug 9 piers, 8" dia., and went into the ground 4'. 2' is the frost line up there, and I wanted a really solid footing. I am the overkill king in this regard. This also meant that i do not need cross bracing on the piers as the depth supports it.  Put a 16"X16"X8" footer in the hole, then tied rebar and poured into Sonotubes.  I set the height with a laser level at sunset and this has worked great! 

Because of rocks and I am cheap, i did not rent an auger but dug by hand.  At that depth and required size to get there, it took 2 weekends, slowed by a 1200 pound rock in the middle of a hole that we pulled with the truck.  Once the piers were aligned and the holes filled, I just mixed by hand about 35 sacks of redi-mix and went for it.  Mixing this way was easier clean up and I surprised myself that it only took about 3-4 hours.  Manual labor is not always fun, and the mixing leaves for sore shoulders, but no extras to haul in and out and clean with no running water.

I am on a grade, so went 18" at the back, and am about 48" at the front of the cabin.  I only used pt material for shims on the concrete, then went to standard for the rest.  I built high for the snow depth and run-off, as well as getting wood off the ground due to carpenter ants in the area (I have already sprayed once this year). 

I wish you luck with an ambitious long weekend coming at you.  Digging the holes in the land over there can be challenging, so do plan a little extra time for the rough terrain. My privy hole took me 5 hours, 300 feet away the piers took 3 days. I think that you are on the right track to start with a small building then work to the larger, if nothing else by for practice! 


jdejarn, Thanks for the info! Where abouts are you building over there? There are a few of us building on that side, as you've probably seen.

How big is your place?It sounds like you went quite high out of the ground to ensure you stay dry.  When I get around to the actual cabin, the front will probably be about that far up - that is the front of the deck in front.

What did you mix your concrete in? or did you mix it a couple bags at a time?  I figure I'd like to have a couple mixers at my disposal and have one mixing while pouring with the other.  Of course a couple wheelbarrows would do the trick, too, if I had a helper  ;D  I gotta see if I can rope, er.. convince one of my friends to come give me a .hand when I get that far  ;)


Alright, I have to start a thread here and get the photos and all that to let everyone know where the project phases are.  I work late and too long for too little (heard that before?) and weekends now are spent, well you know...

Location:  Mt Hull, 15 miles north of Tonasket on a forest service rd off of Swanson Mill Road. This is about half way between Oroville and Tonasket. Great treed and level property, easement road through the middle and drives already in, and power and phone run on the easement so if I ever wanted to...  But I don't.  I like off-grid.  Put this on an owner carry contract and got the land for a lot less than it's worth, because of year round access and level, developable potential.  And it has some view of Mt Bonapart and the valley to the east.

How I mixed and poured: By hand.  Less to haul and manage.  Went to Midway Supply in Tonasket, bought 36 80# sacks, had the water (about 60-80 gallons) in barells right there.  I bolted a 2x4 to the bottom of my wheelbarrow for better balance and mixed.  That simple.  I have good shoulders and decent back, and the 8" tubes ranged in toal from 6' to 9'.  I mixed (yes, 1-2 at a time) and scooped, set a bracket in the top to tie, and was done in about 3-4 hours.  Come to think of it, I started around 8am, and was on the road again (didn't want Memorial Day traffic!) with clean tools by 1pm. 

Tools:  a scoop (plastic bottle) one flat point and one spade, a 3 gallon steel pail, and a wheel barrow.  It's not hard for a small structure.

And in brief, the building is a simple 60-day cabin, and is permitted as this.  For the land contract, I have to play by the rules.  16x20, stick frame, panelled outside in T1-11 (found for 9.99/sheet on a sale).  Put an 8x16 deck on the front.  For now it is a single story cabin with a 12/12 roof and 8' walls, but is this way so I could later add a second story, a loft or a solid level.  Kept it simple for a weekend place and am too young (39) to consider retiring anytime in the near future, so I will worry that later.  Just a place for me to escape, and let my family go to as we did at a lake place we used to have when I was growing up.

When I get a little time and a little more discipline, I will post.  Got to go over this weekend (th and Fri) to put the stairs in and measure for the rails and guards, then pretty much ready for a little trim and a final.  Then I can proced with the real plans to make it a nice place to stay!  I wish you luck with your build!  I have spent a little too much energy doing mine, and nearly lost the fun in it last year with the really steep and high roof and a few issues working 250 miles from home, so if it starts to feel like work, I recommend you stop!


jdejarn - thanks for the info.  Yup, quite a few of us in the okanogan building.  Looks like Oljarhead is just up the road a bit from you!  I wish I had year-round access... and with a little effort I might, but it's a bit more effort than I care to put forth right now.  I'd have to get there a bit more often than I have time and money for in the winter.

I've been in the planning stages for about 5 years now, even tho I've owned my land for about 3.5 years so far.  I had a piece of land before that up in the Tonasket area, but times got tough and I had to cash it in to cover the lean year or so that I was having.

I know what you mean about "if it begins to feel like work"  I figure it will just before I finish.  But I will make sure that it's usable before I quit working - and even then it will only be until I recover.  I'm not sure I'll get to the actual cabin this year, but if I do, it will be a longer project and I believe will take me into next year.  I will have to plan what to do for the winter when I won't be up there.

Thanks again for the info on mixing, etc...


Would love to catch up w/ you guys over there over the weekend, but with my odd schedule, will have to plan when I get a vacation.  You guys have fun.  I will be back on this side come friday afternoon, so not a lot of time this run!  Take care!