Living Offgrid Affordably: Laying The Foundation

Reader Contribution by Jeff Chaney
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After building the campsite in the last installment, Breaking More Than Ground (namely my back), and enjoying it for two years, we are ready to begin the foundation for the storage building. It is the last week of July, 2002, and 98 degrees in the shade! The weather forecast is for an extended period of no rain, so this is as good a time as any to get started.

I will not take the time to explain in detail the proper procedures, which are outlined in the “bible” that I refer to often. I will only mention those operations and details that are of utmost importance, where I deviate from the accepted norm.

The storage building outside measurements will be 20 feet by 24 feet. This size should yield plenty of space for present needs, especially with a half-loft. A house double this footprint will be plenty big enough for us. The storage building will have 720 square feet of floor space, the same size as a 12 x 60 foot trailer. The future house, with 1,440 square feet of floor space, may be big for just us, but doubling the plan is too easy to pass up!

I marked-off the exact placement of the foundation with string, then dug the footer by hand with a pick and shovel. Approximately one week was invested in this operation, in an attempt to achieve perfection. The footer must extend below the frost line, which varies by location. In our area, sixteen inches depth is considered the standard. Since I wanted to do this right, and only once, I decided to go twenty-four inches deep. Since this was only a storage building, my view was that 8 inch block would suffice. I view most building standards as minimums. The footer trench must be uniform and level. Everything else will ride on this foundation. This step drove home the fact that you will expend money or labor in massive amounts.

To save money, I purchased bags of concrete and mixed them with water in a wheelbarrow with a hoe, to pour the footer. This is an awful lot of work, but very cost effective.

In addition to the four outside walls, I poured a footer in the center of the site in a + shape to bolster the middle of the structure. This will support the posts in the front center of the loft floor, and the center of the ground floor sections.

After the trench was poured and set, I dry stacked one course of concrete block in it, then checked the top of the block with a level, and the corners for square. A-ok!

I installed two foundation vents, one in each side wall. The east wall vent was located eight feet from the front of the building, the west wall vent eight feet from the rear.

In the rear wall, I installed a six inch pvc pipe to serve as a grey water drain for a hand washing sink. Tied to this pipe was a drain in the center of the building, to handle the inevitable rain, or any spills. Thinking that this building would also serve as a base of operations, I installed a shower stall drain.

When laying the front wall, I inserted into the block, at four foot intervals, stainless steel ½ inch rods with threads protruding, to later attach framing for a front porch. When the porch floor sections are built, I can simply bolt them to the front wall. The builder friend of which I previously spoke, laughed at me throughout the entire project for building like a mechanic, bolting everything together. This, to me, would facilitate disassembly without destroying materials.

 I next reverted to the bagged concrete/wheelbarrow method to pour the cavities of the block, which would anchor the porch bolts, and yield a very strong foundation on which to build. I inserted stainless rods vertically in the block at 4 foot intervals, to bolt down the wall sections. Threaded on both ends, I installed a large washer and nut on the rod end in the concrete. This foundation seemed plenty strong to me, as I did not want this building to come apart!

Termites are nice critters, but I do not want them to eat my building. A good termite shield would enhance longevity. I was able to locate some aluminum flashing with one inch 45 degree down angles on both edges, and a little wider than the block. I laid a section of the shield down on the foundation bolts, rapped the shield with a hammer at the bolts to mark them, then drilled holes for the bolts. The shield was laid over the top of the block wall, using a one inch overlap and 45 degree corners. The center section of the foundation was also done in this manner.

Since this building is to be used for storage, I did not insulate the foundation, thinking it would not be needed. Think again! Life is a very unpredictable journey. Preparation for the future is seldom regretted.

The foundation was now ready to accept the floor system, with one exception. A vapor barrier needed to be installed. I purchased a roll of 6 mil black plastic large enough to cover the foundation without a seam. Placement of the vapor barrier will be just before the floor sections are installed, to prevent any damage to it. Besides, I need a couple days off!

We’ll now take a much needed rest. Yet again, it seems the real work is about to begin. Because of all the hard work, do not be discouraged, and please remember to reuse and recycle everything, when possible.

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