Building the Barndominium Step 1 – Preparing the Site and Getting Ready to Pour the Foundation

Reader Contribution by Jim Christie
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Things are starting to move along pretty quickly now. In previous posts, we’ve put the road in and gotten the well dug (with some drama) along with some other descriptions of the land and our reasons for moving from Australia to Texas. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be going from a relatively bare and unused piece of land to something with a relatively large building on it.

We’re constructing something called a Barndominium. The basis for the building is a steel building from a basically stock design.  To that, we’re adding a very large porch (12′ wide by 52′ along the front and 52′ down the west side, all covered). Inside of half of the building, we’re constructing a 2 bedroom home with relatively large rooms. We’ll be talking quite a bit about the construction of the home, so we won’t put that in this post. Today, we’ll describe the activities undertaken to get the site prepared.

We selected a site on the property where we could have a somewhat level area as well as having some nice trees to provide a good vista both from the house and from the porch where we will do a lot of outside living. In some of the pictures, hopefully you’ll be able to see that, but I think we have a very nice area that’s relatively close to the eastern border of the property but not too close to any buildings on the eastern property. Also, we have quite a few trees on the east and south sides of the building, providing a nice backdrop as well as good screening. Access is down the road from the main road to the north and around the west side of the building to the garage area.

Here’s a picture of the leveling operation:

 I really didn’t want to remove this stand of trees. We had tried to arrange the building to minimise the number of trees we removed. However, when the guys staked out the outline of the building, it was pretty obvious that if this stand didn’t get removed, they would cause problems for the building in the future. They were even causing problems in the short term. The property drops 61″ from front to back (another negative surprise requiring a lot more work and cost to level). Without moving the trees, we wouldn’t be able to remove much dirt from the upper end of the building meaning that the lower end would have to be build up the 5′ drop.  I really didn’t want to have the back of the building that high above the surrounding grade, so removing half the material from the top half and moving it to the lower half was the best answer. Removing trees made that possible so down came the trees. With about 300 trees on the property, a small stand didn’t make a big difference, but still…..

Here’s some other views of the leveling operation and you’ll get a feel of how much time, equipment and effort is required for a project like this. It makes you wonder how long it took to level large areas prior to the advent of Bobcats, backhoes and other large mechanical bulldozers. 

 In the sequence of time, a few days have past since these pictures were taken. Once we had a dusty, unused field.  Now we have a nice, flat, cleared area (while preserving as much of the surrounding flora as possible).  We’ve gone from dirt to prepared forms complete with plumbing and rebar.  It’s all inspected and ready to go.  And the concrete will be poured from 5:30 tomorrow morning, Texas time.  That’ll be a start of 8:30 PM Monday night, Australia time, so hopefully, I’ll get to hear a bit about the pouring late evening.  Several times during the last few weeks as the various activities seen in these pictures took place, I wound up talking to people about 2 AM to sort out questions and problems.  One of the real drama of doing a project like this from 10,000 miles is that I can’t be there, can’t interact with the crew, real time and can’t be part of the immediate decision-making process.  I miss that but am very thankful that we have a group of concerned contractors, workers, friends and family members all helping out where they can.

 The following is a sequence of pictures:

The time taken to go from the beginning of site preparation to the start of forming the framework for the foundation was 18 days.  There is a huge amount of work that it takes to clear a site, get it very level and then have precisely (surveyed) level, square and true forms erected.  Since we’re erecting a standard steel building on the concrete slab, the forms must be exactly right.  From the point of the pictures above until the day of pouring the concrete is another two weeks and during that time the following activities took place:

The inspection team signed off on this phase. We’re getting three inspections. The first is of the slab and plumbing just prior to pouring the concrete. The second will be after all the framing is done, rough electrical and plumbing done (but no sheet rock installed) and the final will be just prior to occupancy.

It is exciting though to be to the point of getting the ground phase done.  There’s been a lot more work than I envisioned getting this far. We’ve been very fortunate (as I said earlier) to have a very good contractor for the road, leveling and concrete. He’s been very communicative (good with email, smart phone and other modern communication techniques) and has taken the plumber under his wing to make sure that portion was properly scheduled and executed without delaying the overall schedule.

Tonight, we’ll have a functional concrete slab, temporary power to the site and water.  And while I think it’s taken longer than I expected, it’s really only taken a month from grading the road to this point.  We’re on schedule!

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