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Monday, November 21, 2005

Lite-Form and Me

Looks like Fred at "Fragments from Floyd" is building the foundation of his room addition using a material I am extremely fond of: Lite-Form. Just seeing his picture made me squeak happily and go look for my album of pictures I took while building my house here in 1996.

Trip Renn, who is now a big contractor around town, was framer and general consultant for my job. He agreed with me that the odd reverse bay in my home-made design - a section of wall with 45-degree angles - would tax the computational abilities of your average mason.

He, however, as a carpenter, wouldn't build my foundation. Carpenters are not happy until the job has risen out of the dirt.

So I did a bunch of research and discovered that with Lite-Form I could do it myself.

This picture (right) was given to me at the time by my ex-husband, who found the process amusing.

I made a house-building photo album with commentary for my son Zed, who at the time was 8 or 9 years old. The album has gotten very faded and discolored, as have the pictures. Here's what it said, and a few of its pictures ...

Trip and Mike did not enjoy working on my foundation, but Trip was curious about Lite-Form and knew it would be wise to keep an eye on it (and me).

Here the two of them are morosely measuring off rebar. It didn't fit very well. I was not yet used to how often things taking place at your construction site are not the way you want them to be. I guess that applies to more than just construction sites.

It's too bad I don't have a picture of Leonard O'Brient, the short, tough old guy with very blue eyes who had dug and supervised the pouring of this foundation using only a milk jug full of chalk. How'd he do that?

Then John Wilson the Lite-Form guy arrived from West Virginia with stacks of 2" thick by 8' long insulation "logs" of styrofoam with lots of little plastic ties and what he called a "saw-saw" blade, two hacksaw blades duct-taped together. I thought he would stay and see me through, but it started to rain and he left.

This is the only picture I have of Loye's truck. He loves it. He carries pictures of his antique trucks (mostly Mack) in his wallet instead of pictures of grandbabies. If you're not careful he'll stand there for half an hour and talk to you about transmissions and stuff.

(Loye continued to work for me for many years until he had quadruple bypass surgery and his wife made him sell all his trucks.)

I sure wish there were a picture of me putting this stuff together. I had bronchitis and it rained almost all the time. I sat in the rain - and sometimes snow - coughing and fitting these styrofoam logs together, day after day. I gotta tell you, I loved it.

However, I discovered it's very hard to fit the pieces together when they are covered with ice and snow. I also found that ice on the north side of the Lite-Form melts much more slowly than the ice on the south side. Go figure. Then I got pneumonia. By the way, I read that recently researchers have discovered that getting chilled can help make you sick. Honestly, who could ever have guessed such a thing?

This is Zed, probably supervising.

I was very proud of my handiwork.

I noticed that, at first, Trip agonized over 1/16" here and there. He gave me grief when my corners deviated even slightly. Later, though, very much larger discrepancies - like porch posts only sitting halfway on their piers - did not seem to call for an adjustment in his estimation.

The day before the big cement pour Zed helped me put the plastic bags over the cardboard Sonotubes because it was going to rain (again). Trip called them "Sondoms."

This boy, Michael, was a UNC student recommended by Loye to help out with the foundation work. Michael and I spent a couple days together in the trench around the house shoveling drainage gravel. But then he got arrested for "pointing a gun at passing motorists" and being "armed to the terror of the people." He was arrested in the front yard of his Pi Kappa Phi fraternity house and, surprise, did not come back to the site, so I finished shoveling the gravel by myself.

This last picture is of Tripp pouring the concrete, and my friend Mark behind him whacking the concrete to eliminate air pockets. Trip had been very nervous about all this, and was a very good sport, considering that he hates foundation work - every bit of concrete in my substantial foundation (which includes a partial basement) traveled through his hands or over his shoulder that morning.

I went out after a while and bought about twenty barbeque sandwiches for everybody at Allen & Son just down the road - but some of us were too anxious to eat.

Trip built about a thousand vertical braces, not trusting the Lite-Form, and it turns out that was a very good thing, because when the concrete truck showed up I had to sign a form saying the concrete company was not responsible for anything that might go wrong.

Laughing, the driver told me he'd done a Lite-Form pour once and the styrofoam had floated right up on top of the concrete and the concrete had slumped out from underneath it, all over the site. Since he had then high-tailed it out of there he didn't know what happened next.

Tie down your Lite-Form, Fred!

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At 9:20 AM, Blogger fred said...

This foam stuff is tougher than it looks, but NOT indestructable. Karl, our contractor who talked us into this method (made sense to me!) said he convinced his brother (also a contractor) to try it, but warned him to start the pour very slowly. He didn't. And too much concrete too fast blew out the bottom of the wall, which herniated the semi-solid into the greater world outside. We were scheduled for wall pouring tomorrow, but winter weather may postpone it.

Besides, there is this issue of adding stain to the concrete for the floor proper (on a future date) so we aren't wanting to get in too big a hurry ourselves.

At 5:03 PM, Blogger Badaunt said...

You are amazing, building your own place. I don't think I would ever have the patience. I certainly don't have the skills!

At 5:11 PM, Blogger melinama said...

I didn't have the skills either. It was a learn on the job deal...

At 10:44 PM, Blogger kenju said...

I would have neither the skills, the energy or the patience and confidence to do it. I am SO immpressed that you did!

At 2:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cool system, great story. I'm much happier once one of my projects is "out of the ground," too, as it's easier to deal with any issues that come up in framing, etc., than those that involve concrete and earthwork. Did you leave the forms in place as insulation?

"Sondoms" made me laugh out loud.

At 3:18 PM, Blogger melinama said...

Kimberly, yes, the deal is you leave the 2" of foam on the inside and the outside = good insulation.

At 9:02 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Aha! Talking about me behind my back. This cyber-gossip is unseemly at best, but at least the picture can remind me of when I was carrying less poundage. "Big contractor" indeed.
A memorable project, made more so by the winning personality and admirable determination and willing spirit of Ms. Peppler.
Mike is still my main man, and we have come to love concrete--on our own terms, not including Lite-forms necessarily. We have successfully formed and poured curved retaining walls, regular old foundation walls, and rather lovely hardscape features--if I do say so myself.
But we have yet to encounter a client with the gumption of JP again.


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