RANDOM RUBBLE - May 2003
Heidi Builds Her Dream House
Two views of Heidi's fabulous house (that don't really show off her house, but were intended for my reference), on a raised embankment on a wide open corner of a lovely Westfield, NJ street, this is a showcase home. Built in the 1920's, Heidi has used her talents as an interior/exterior designer to enhance this charming Dutch colonial into something quite spectacular!
She thought it would be nice to echo the fantastic random rubble work on her chimney (I'm guessing you couldn't have a chimney like that built nowadays for much under $60,000) by surrounding the concrete porch piers in similar style.
Would I like to do it? You bet! This job was tailor-made for me. It requires nothing less than a double-jointed mighty-mite with a knack for stacking rocks.
I had my "partner" John evaluate the scope and price it for me. I'm clueless in that regard, and thankful to him because I probably would have bid way under, and ended up hating myself , hating Heidi, and hating John. Now we're all happy, happy I hope.
Day 1- Are you impressed so far? This represents seven hours of digging. Most of it was under the porch on my side, digging with a tiny garden trowel in very rocky, rooty soil. Far left is a root that I was saving for Big John. He could could've cut it in one whack - took me 22, but I got the sucker! Pier at right is decidedly off its platform. It's base is also 2 or 3 inches lower than all the others, but who's counting? Oh, I guess that'd be me. Me with my 16th century tools. Thank God I'm so clever!
My biceps were so sore when I got home that I couldn't turn the doorknob! I considered stopping by the Cranford Fitness Center and telling the curlers in the weight corner that they'd get the same muscles, plus some cash if they'd help me. But I'm not sure any were small enough to fit under this porch with only 19" of clearance in the high spots.
It was kind of fun though. I don't think I've ever been so dirty in my life! Need to get some laundry tips from other contractors....
Tradition rubble building is done on a shallow 7-9" footing with 3" scarcements poured in the mortar used for building, but I ain't gonna argue with a concrete collar that plunges a full 3 feet into the ground, so I decided to dig 12" down, about 8" below the collar, clean away under the flange and use concrete mix to get a solid foundation that's good and anchored to the pier base. I'll treat the wall as a separate entity from the pier, but supported by the same foundation.
Day 2 - Well, here's what my kitchen looked like when I left for work:
Wouldn't anybody rather play in the dirt than contend with that?! Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho, it's off to work I go! Maybe the Foundation Fairies came during the night to fill my holes!
No such luck, but I have to say day 2 was like a day at the beach. I took it real easy and mixed concrete in a pan all day long - eight bags I think. Concrete is chunky, but it's actually a lot easier to mix than mortar.
Day 3 - I was intending to use "found on site" stone for the piers, but I'm a regular Goldilocks - this one's too big, this one's too small, this one's too dirty, this one's too cracked. I intend to use all the ones that are "just right", and buy approx half a ton additional from by buddy Boychuk.
Hurray! The fun begins!
At left: native rocks apres le bain; At right: Hurray! Visitors! Yes, you can bet that it's so lonely here, even IN-LAWS ARE WELCOME! - only kidding....My wonderful, handsome nephew Matt, my baby Emma, and my lovely, charming sister-in-law Ann dropped by to say hello and hurry home so I could cook them some dinner. Actually, I had already cooked dinner, but I had to spiff up for my son Chris's big event - his senior violin recital at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers. (Proud day!)
And if someone didn't come to drag me away, I could spend another hour cleaning and sculpting these few joints!
Wet down piers 1 and 2 many times with hose to slow the curing (drying) process This makes the mortar stronger over time.
More digging where no man has gone before - only woman!
Day 6 - Another day at the beach, mixing concrete. A brief rain delay during which I hauled another 400 lbs. of river stone from Boychuk - the real King of Rock.
Day 7 - Hauled 6 bags of mortar up what remains of the driveway in my wagon. Literally had to "fix my wagon" on site yesterday. Lucky for me that I just happened to have a drill, screws and scrap wood lying in my car!
Started work on Piers 3 and 4, which are also the most prominent, so they gotta be REAL pretty!
Tricky situation: Three of the eight piers practically butt against wood stairs. I'm going to leave 1/2" clearance or so between any wood/stone would-be points of contact. I think I'll also try using concrete caulk instead of mortar for all involved joints and to seal gaps in a flexible manner. We'll see how it goes. You have to go with the flow, think on your feet, and make use of what you have.
Feelin' a little STONED OUT.....guess I'll set a course and go....
Day 8 - May Day! Seems like those April showers decided to wait a month. I'm at the point where it seems like I'll never finish this job, and these rain delays are getting to me. Pier 4 is the one with four complete sides, so it's taking longer anyway. I put four fully functional weep holes (I tested them) at the base of the inside walls to prevent any standing water.
Day 9 - I'm such a dirty girl! Oh yes....the total lack of lawn combined with frequent, unpredicted rain showers are making it increasingly messy around here. I have to wash my work clothes twice!
But look! I am nearly halfway done now....
And the sun is finally coming out....
Here's my Half-Time song and dance routine.
Day 11- One thing about wet soil. It's way, way easier to dig! Can you dig it? Hoo yeah!
Footing 6, dug out and poured in under an hour! Good thing, because it immediately began to rain again!
Day12 - Gimme five.....I rock!
I felt the earth move with this one! Luckily it was just the earth and not Pier 7 (a not-to-code pier which meant I had to clear nearly 2ft. deep around it and unwrap the paper form). At least 10 tarps worth of earth moved, which I dragged around the corner to fill in a low spot. I dug this double footing out because I opted to build a wall here. There is only one column on this section of the porch, and its corresponding pier does not correspond at all to this particular column. In fact it juts out 3" from the edge of the porch. A wall just seems to make more sense here.
"Oh man, it looks like rain AGAIN. I need to get 6 bags of concrete mix out of my trunk and poured ASAP. And looky there....across the street....a big old Weldon Cement Mixer just pulled up. Anyone up for a HIJACK?!"
Actually, I did politely beg for any leftovers, and I did get half a barrowful....but I ended up mixing an additional 12 bags by hand to fill this crater! I laid two 2' pieces of 3/8" rebar across the semi-set concrete before pouring the last 3" for additional congruous support of the wall.
Day 13 - Wanna MUD WRESTLE?!
The rain, the mud, the soaked to the skin, chilled to the bone thing - it's really starting to get to me. The mortar won't set up because the rocks are all wet and the relative humidity is about 100%. This storm took me completely by surprise. I was under the dark porch and didn't notice the sky. My radio got it, my unopened mortar mix, my fresh mortar joints, my masonry bag - and I still got half a pan of mortar to throw! It's times like these you learn to live again, but first you gotta scream, "I want my Mommy!" I also crawled into my car, had a smoke and a cry, and THEN went back to work. Really no other option since the mortar sets up when it sets up, and you can't go home until the day's work is tooled and cleaned.
Day 14 -
Worked on the wall mostly. Originally I was going to pack my rubble work solid against the concrete piers. (But I then I thought they might not get along at some point, such as a sub-zero freeze and went with free-standing walls). But on this protruding corner and also the corners that abutt the steps here, I anticipate far more impact stress (mower slams, bike collisions, etc.) and wanted solidity. But faced with the incompatibility factor, I wanted to wrap the piers in either fibrous expansion joint material or some sort of metal lath or mesh. Home Depot Lite (formerly Villager's Hardware, and not stocked hard-core like real Home Depot) carried neither, so I used aluminum screening. But that example of resourcefulness can't beat the mortar build up I did by the other step. I happened to find a piece of scrap tar paper the exact size I needed right under the porch, not two feet from my hand. And a piece of press-treated lumber by the other stair that worked out perfectly to hold a free-standing piece of flagstone I used to hide the concrete pier in that really tight spot - little gifts from God (I assume) to encourage progress!
Think I'll ever finish? Sooo close now!
Day 15 -
This photo illustrates the protruding pier problem (at left), and why I went with a wall instead of the same ol' same ol'. Good choice, wasn't it? (Or was I just getting insanely bored?!) The wall was actually harder to build than two pier covers would have been - especially the completely done-in-the-dark back side under the porch. But go ahead and shine a flashlight, it's finished very nicely with two weep holes and sloped mortar capping for drainage.
Speaking of sloped, yes, that limestone has a hair more tilt than I intended. But... it IS in the right direction, and I've broken enough bonds to know when well-enough should be left alone! It's dead level side to side.
Well, that's all, folks! A bit of concrete caulk at the stairs and base of the limestone and I'm done! Done! On to the next one....