Living Offgrid Affordably: The Floor Goes In

Reader Contribution by Jeff Chaney
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After our last step, Laying The Foundation, we are ready to build the floor system. I couldn’t help but look up and be thankful for that huge black tarp. No rain was in the weather forecast, but I knew it would come sooner or later.

The next step was to place the vapor barrier, which must be done very carefully to prevent damage. Any holes or tears will reduce it’s effectiveness. The plastic is pushed down over the stainless steel bolts protruding from the termite shield. Care must be taken when cutting holes for the drains. A tight fit is imperative! One must be meticulous with the small details, or the effort is useless. In hindsight, laying the vapor barrier directly on the ground would have been just as effective, and a lot less work! Another great idea would have been to insulate the foundation, but this was just going to be a storage building, destined to be dismantled in the future.

At this point, we again vary from the norm. According to the Southern Building Code, which was in effect at the time of this construction, all lumber used within 18 inches of the ground must be treated lumber. Arsenic is typically used, and we did not want that! Plus, I was concerned about rain damage, since I was doing this myself and progress would be slow. So I decided to use water sealer on all the framing lumber. Part of the reason for this was to eliminate any pine beetles, which were prevalent in the area. This, and the termite shield, would give ample protection. I purchased a bunk feeder from a farm supply store, and used it to soak the framing lumber in water sealer. The boards were laid on sawhorses to dry.

When the lumber had dried, I laid out the four sections of the floor, each measuring 10 feet x 12 feet. This framing lumber, sometimes referred to as “jack pine”, is almost as tough as hardwood, and must be predrilled. Screws were used for assembly, which was done per the “bible” instructions. All framing used 2 x 6 boards on 2 foot centers. After using the same procedure to mark and drill them as was used with the termite shield, the sill plates were screwed to the bottom/outside edges of the floor section headers.

Each floor section sill/header was now set in place. Everything fit perfectly! Screws were used to anchor the section headers to each other, then large washers and nuts were installed on the stainless bolts to affix thefloor system to the foundation. Once all this was bolted down, I drilled and screwed in the floor joists.

The next order of business was to lay the sub floor. My builder friend likes to use usb board. I wanted to avoid it for two reasons. First, it will be less than 18 inches off the ground. Second, it will probably get wet, which tends to make it fall apart. Real 5/8 inch plywood got the nod, and it also received the waterproofing treatment. When dried, we began installation.

The tricky thing here was to accurately mark and cut holes for the drains. We only ruined one plywood sheet, and was later able to use half of it. All of the sub floor was screwed down, meaning all screw holes had to be predrilled. Using screws, with a drop of Elmer’s wood glue on each one, tends to greatly minimize floor squeaks and loosening screws.

 Now we must pause to address the next misstep. I was aware that to construct a barn, no building permit was needed. I assumed, since this was to be a storage “barn” on agricultural zoned property, a permit would not be necessary. Wrong! I immediately obtained a permit. I had neglected to adhere to the required county building inspector’s schedule. The first inspection was due after preparation of the footer, but before it was poured. I was unaware of this initially, and should have contacted that office beforehand. This was almost a major gaffe, as the inspector can halt construction or order dismantling, as he sees fit. When the foundation and floor were inspected, however, he commented that I had “overbuilt” and there was no problem. I had greatly exceeded minimum requirements, which is what I intended from the beginning. Had that not been the case, we would have been in trouble. Always check with your county planning commission or building department before action is taken. Demolition and reconstruction is very costly. I now knew the future inspection schedule and would adhere to it rigidly.

We are approximately six weeks into the project and have had little to no rain, with ninety-eight degrees in the shade. This weather pattern was about to change. I was pleased with the progress made, even though it was slow because I had performed all work to this point. My wife lobbied me to hire help, but I knew if I did, the budget would drastically diminish very quickly. The overall goal was a minimum of expense. I enjoyed this little break, which one must have occasionally if you expect to finish such a monumental undertaking.

Next time, we will start going up with the walls. I have relished living in a tent in the driveway (I have always been an outdoorsman), but my feelings will not be hurt to move “inside”, for a change. Besides, winter is fast approaching! This entire exercise has brought me more in tune with nature, an attribute necessary for future life. It seems that current lifestyles tend to try to overcome Mother Nature, instead of working with Her. An easy way to begin to cooperate is recycle any and everything, when possible.

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