Thoughts on working too hard

I occasionally get comments on how hard my plan looks. I scratch my head and say “hard?” Do you mean it won’t work? For some reason, this hits one of my buttons.

The worse thing anyone can say to me is “you can’t” or “it won’t work”. Please believe me, I have history here. I’ve been married to an “it won’t work” guy for over 30 years. I hear those words and go a bit mad. Someone is actually questioning my vision? My capability? My intelligence? How dare they! Embued with steely determination, I set out to prove not only can it be done, it works. And when I prove the naysayer wrong, the whole process fuels my ego, which isn’t good for anyone, doesn’t add to my popularity and irks people. So don’t say “it won’t work” or “it’s too hard”. Please. Spare us all.

My plan is neither hard nor complicated. I am the queen of organization and simplification. My goal is a finished wall inside and out with all my electrical boxes, conduit and inwall plumbing in place in one step. What’s hard about that? I can think about more than one thing at a time. Yeah, somebody definitely hit one of my buttons.

Okay, technically it’s not one step. It’s one step repeated 8 or 10 times, however many times required to build sufficient wall height. I did say I was doing all the walls at once, didn’t I? Assuming, or course, I can build enough one to two foot tall slipforms to do the wall length of on entire pod. Or, again assuming, I can find a mix design that will set up sufficiently quickly that I can move the forms along the length of the wall more than once a day. Yeah, yeah, more testing.

I’ve looked at the way other people do things and I can see they work well for the people using them, but don’t necessarily see that they will work for me. Let me be very clear here. I am in no way denigrating how other people build. It may not work for me, but it works. They’re way ahead of me. I’m still camping. People get buildings they can live it! That’s the real goal and I laud their result.

To illustrate my point regarding my plan, let’s look at some of the other construction techniques people are pushing at me as being better than what I’ve planned. Strawbale covered with blown on papercrete stucco is a good one. This house is a true hybrid with lots of different construction material components. I have oversimplified the heck out of this process, but even simplified, it illustrates my point.

  • Build the foundation
  • If the strawbale is infill, erect the structural members.
  • Stack bales, impaling them with rebar tied to keep everything in place. Feel free to count the bales that have to be collected, set in place, fastened in place. Add window and door headers and bucks as you build.
  • I’m going to assume electrical and any inwall plumbing are added once the walls are in place.
  • Bond beam the bales.
  • Add windows and doors.
  • Build the roof.
  • Spray stucco on the interior and exterior.

With me so far?

So let’s say I’m doing papercrete blocks instead of post and beam with straw bale infill. It’s just like the process above, except first you have to create the blocks, let them dry, stack and mud them in place. Cut in electrical/plumging, partially destroying the work just done. Once the electrical and plumbing are in place, the cuts have to be mortared to fill the holes. There are a few other nit-picky differences, but the overall process is pretty much the same.

I don’t want to individualize that many steps. Parts of what I want to do may not work right out of the box and will need fiddling, tinkering or spots of brilliance, but I’ll figure things out . . . assuming I actually get to building something instead of spending time just talking about it.

For my plan to work, I have needs.

I need a structural mix recipe with an absolute minimum of shrinkage with good thermal mass and sufficient insulation for here in the Northwest. I also need a mix design that will work in our wet NW climate. If I need to, I can seal the outside, but I’d rather have a mix that doesn’t require sealing, an extra step. If I can just paint, knowing for certain my wall isn’t going to absorb moisture, that’s a pretty perfect mix for me.

I need forms that are strong and porous. I have some pretty solid ideas on how to accomplish this, just need to assemble and test.

When I am done with the final pour, I want to be done. Electrical runs in place, plumbing in place, windows and doors in place, interior finish complete, ready for paint. I expect I’ll have to do some touchup to the walls before I paint, but it should be relatively minor. I may even have to apply a lime plaster . . . I don’t see this as being too big of a minus. It’s cosmetic.

I need a way to hold my electrical (and plumbing) components in place as I pour. I do not want to cut into my poured walls to place electric boxes, conduit and plumbing once the wall is complete, so they must be incorporated into this step. I can screw through my forms to hold the boxes in place, counting on gravity and the reinforcing netting to hold the conduit in place, but I want a finished wall when I’m done and if I run screws through my form it will no longer produce a smooth and even surface, so this isn’t an optimal method.

I obviously have some testing to do.

I need to test netting as integrated reinforcing. It needs to stay in place and become a cohesive part of the mix. If I pick my netting with care and use sufficient layers I should get what I need. This step may be totally unnecessary, but my brain is demanding an element that will resist being pulled apart. Netting should do the trick.

I need to test cylinders of rolled expanded metal as embedded posts. This is just a wild hare idea . . . I have to play with this idea a bit more. Having posts I can embed will facilitate everything . . . giving me elements on which to hang my forms and netting and allow the bond beam to become an integral part of the wall.

I need to know how vibrating the mix into the form effects shrinkage, strength and thermal mass.

I need to perfect porous forms.

I need to find a way to fasten my outfall routing plastic securely to the bottom edges of my form. Maybe fastening the plastic to the form isn’t the answer. Maybe getting out my industrial stapler and stapling the plastic right to the papercrete is the answer. It doesn’t need to stay there forever, just long enough for me to set my forms and pour.

I need to know how long poured sections of wall will take to set up in this climate before the next course of wall can be poured.

I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel, just adjust it’s size and shape to suit me and where I live.

There are processes others have done before me I can use. Tim Pye (bless you Tim) used a 10 year old diaphragm pump for getting his papercrete out of the mixer and into his forms. He bought his 50 gpm Wacker pump used from a rental yard. I’ve priced diaphram pumps on eBay, and the price is doable, but I will rent and experiment until I’m sure pumping is an efficient way for me to move papercrete mix in my application. If I don’t feel comfortable with pumping or don’t think it’s the most efficient way to go, I’ll bucket the mix into place. I won’t know what’s best until I work through the process.

Why do I want to do things this way? Besides efficiency and the mostly finished inside and outside when I’m done, I can protect this method of construction from our wet northwest weather by erecting visqueen tents over the walls to keep the precip off. Sounds like a plan to me.

So don’t tell me I can’t. Don’t tell me it won’t work. Don’t tell me it would be easier/better/faster if I did it some other person’s way. I have the bit firmly between my teeth and my eyes are agleam with determination. And I know I’m not alone in how I feel. There are others who have gone before me, innovators who bucked tradition and established practices to accomplish interesting things. I wanna be like them.

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