Finishing the gravel trench and constructing the concrete forms

We’ve been busy working since our last post! The gravel trench proved to be a time-consuming and laborious project, but hey, that’s what building your own house is all about!

The trench took precisely 75,340 lbs. of gravel to fill. Shovelful by shovelful we moved that entire amount from the pile to the trench. Installing the perforated pipe in the gravel was much lighter work, but it required quite a bit more attention to detail. The more pipe we laid, the better we got at achieving the correct slope.

Daniel, drinking prematurely out of his “hubby” mug, demonstrates that occasionally we  hydrated, but never strayed too far from the gravel pile.  

After we finished laying all the drainpipe the majority of the gravel still had to be added to the trench. I rented a jumping jack tamper and plate compactor on numerous occasions to make sure we were adequately compacting the gravel as we went along. A jumping jack is a wild machine to control, but it’s kind of a fun time. The plate compactor is far easier to operate and does a better job for this kind of work.

When a violent rainstorm forced Daniel and I to take quick cover in the truck, it provided our first opportunity to see if the drainpipe would work. After about an hour, the rain lightened up enough for us to get out of the vehicle and scope things out. To my delight, a great flow of water was streaming out of both pipe ends. We were relieved and validated to see the drains in action. Although I hope that there’s never this volume of water in the pipes once the house is built, it’s great to know that we can rely on our french drain to do its job when needed.

The two ends of the perforated pipe. The pipes slope away from here in opposite directions.
The low end where all the water drains out. I snapped this photo at the tail end of a major rainstorm that halted our work for over an hour, but provided us with an excellent opportunity to see our hard work validated. 

It was a wonderful feeling when the last of the gravel had been added to the trenches and the plate compactor had been taken for several final spins around the footers. Daniel and I were happy to put the gravel shoveling, wheelbarrowing, and compacting behind us. The site looked neater than it had looked for a long while, as the footprint of the house was now at ground level. It sure was nice to be above ground finally!

We spent some additional time with the transit level making sure that the gravel surface was as level as possible all the way around. We had been using the transit level more frequently as we got closer and closer to our finished grade to make sure that we filled in low spots and weren’t adding gravel above our finished grade. I figured that the more time we spent leveling out the gravel surface, the easier it would be to level the concrete forms. We did a pretty good job, although it certainly wasn’t perfect.

Once we grew weary of this gravel-leveling business, we moved onto constructing the forms for the concrete grade beam that would sit atop the gravel and support the adobe walls above. The grade beam was to be 8 inches thick and as wide as the wall it was to support. We used the string lines tied to our batter boards and the trusty plumb bob to line up the forms as squarely as possible. We used the transit level, a 2′ level, and a 4′ level to make sure the form boards were level (key word: level).

Our basic process was as follows: Line up the 2×8 board as closely as possible using the sting line and plumb bob. Drive a concrete stake into the gravel and against the board while the other person braces the board to hold it in place (easier said than done). Use the 2′ and 4′ levels to find the correct elevation for the board. One person holds the board level while the other drives two, 2″ screws through the concrete stake into the board to keep it at the desired position. Repeat to ad nauseam.

If a parallel board had already been secured in place, we’d use a wooden spacer cut to the desired width of that particular wall to help ensure that the new board would be installed the correct distance apart. After a board had at least been secured at both ends, we’d check the elevation at each stake with the transit level. When we were being smart, we’d check every board as soon as we installed it. There is likely a better way to go about this pesky business of leveling form boards. Perhaps using a string line that is leveled to the exact desired elevation would save time, but this seemed difficult and time-consuming to install and get right.

Oh, one quick final note about connecting the form boards: Make sure that boards are screwed in such a way so that the screws can be removed once the concrete is poured and hardened. Do not allow screws to go through boards where it will come into contact with the concrete.

Well, that’s all I have to say on this subject at this time! Tomorrow we’ll add rebar, bracing, and kickers to get the forms really secured in place and ready for the inspection.

Daniel and I using the transit level to check the form board level around the entire house. By the looks of it, we were having a pretty good time.


Most of the exterior walls have been formed up in this photo, although the interior walls still needed to be done.
All the forms are in place. They still need to be braced and secured further.
The forms at sunset…


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