Saturday, October 30, 2010

Oct. 2010: Septic system, part 2

My folks had rented a hotel room for the next several days. I rode into Belfast with them (about a 20 minute drive) to have dinner and take a shower. A hot shower is such a luxury when you do not have one at your convenience! When staying at the house sculpture I take sponge baths with water heated on the stove. After this visit, I am much closer to having a hot shower at home. I still have yet to sculpt a shower stall..
I stayed at the hotel that night with my folks. When we awoke the next morning it was pouring rain. It continued to rain after we had arrived at the house. It put me in a lousy mood and I did not feel like working but Mom and Dad seemed determined to get some shit done. Two projects were high on my list of priorities. One was to assemble all of the 4" waste pipe underneath the house. The other was to level the bed for the septic tank which needed to be finished today as the tank would be delivered the next morning. I had already dug the pit, but it needed sand to be thrown in to make a level 6'X8' bed. Thanks to the rain the pit now had about a foot of standing water, so I suggested we work on the waste line and wait until later in the day when the rain might let up. That was all my Dad needed to hear. He immediately went outside and crawled under the house. It was still pouring outside and there was mud everywhere. As dirty a job it is to be crawling around under the house it was at least dry. So we assessed the situation, figured out what we needed to do and got to work. I knew where the 3" line from the bathroom would need to exit the floor to the underside of the house and meet the 4"pipe so we started there and ran the pipes on around to the center of the house and aimed them toward the septic tank some 40 or so feet away. We added a T in the line so that we could connect a waste line running from the kitchen which we also hung. We pitched the line at 1/4" per foot which is standard code. After a couple of hours all the pipe had been hung and Mom had a delicious lunch ready for us. We were covered with dirt. The combination of getting wet with rain and then crawling around in the dry dust under the house outfitted each of us with a thorough coating of mud.
The rain was letting a bit after lunch so we decided to make the pit ready to receive the tank. My folks were all into doing the dirty work of standing in the pit raking while I dumped in sand with the tractor. The standing water in the hole actually helped determine a level grade. After awhile a nice bed had been made and we were ready for the tank.
I stayed at the house that night and met the truck delivering the tank early the next morning. It was a huge truck with a hydraulic lift off the back. The driver was good. He backed his truck all the way up my driveway and up to the hole. By remote, the driver used the lift to pick the 2 ton cement tank off the truck and set it gently on it's level bed of sand.
With the tank in place it was time to build the drainage field. We set to work leveling each course with sand and setting in three 10ft. sections for each of the five courses to make a total of 150ft.. Each course ran at 4" graduated elevations which we were able to determine with the site leveler. It took us a couple of days to install all the enviroseptic lines. When the pipes were in their places we capped and linked them together with 4"pipe. Last, we joined the drainage field to the septic tank and the tank to the house.
Now it was time to call Randy the inspector to come out and take a look.
Randy would come by the next morning so it the meantime my Dad and I turned our attention to the roof of the house. During the recent rain storm the house had showed some leaks. Eventually we made an educated guess as to where the water was getting in and made the necessary repairs.
The next day Randy came out and measured our work against the nail in the fir tree. All was good! We had passed inspection and were ready to backfill. The entire system needed to be buried 18" deep from the top of the drainage pipe. We had some sand left so we buried the drainage area, but only just barely. There would need to be much more backfill later. For now this visit had come to it's end.
It was time for a sad farewell to my folks who were flying back to Oregon the next morning. I am always amazed at my parent's willingness to travel such a long distance and do so much physical work for the sake of me and this little shack in the woods. For myself, I decided that I was done too. I was tired and missed my wife and needed to be back at work on the Cape. As always, leaving my little haven in the woods was a painful experience. I've invested so much of myself in this thing and in the process have grown very close to my parents. Now at three years into this project, I care so much for what of myself and my family it embodies, I can't help but tear up with sadness every time I must leave.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Oct. 2010: Septic system, part 1

The time was nigh for a long put off project. I had been trying to wrap my mind around this certain necessity since before I began building the house sculpture. During this October visit, three years into the project, I, with the help of my parents (yet to arrive) would build a code septic system. I had plans drawn up, but the building process was still foggy in my mind. As usual it was my intention to learn as I went along, one step at a time. I knew I would need a lot of gravel and sand so I called a local contractor, Steve Roche. He had brought me fill for my driveway the previous year and the locals spoke highly of him. Steve also turned out to be helpful whenever I had questions regarding the construction of the system as he had built a few of this type himself. This sort of design is called an enviroseptic system because of the special pipe used in the drainage field. Each length is 10 ft. long and 12 inches in diameter. Each piece is ribbed, perforated plastic wrapped in a filter cloth.
I also knew I would need a site leveler to know at what depth in the soil to place each row of the enviroseptic drainage pipe. Ted Pellerin, who had designed my system, offered to let me borrow one of his. It was an old fashioned sort, just fine for what I was up to.
With the leveling device I could determine how much from grade level to take off of the drainage field. I first made some 8ft. stakes to mark the four corners of the field. They needed to be tall in order to pass level of the fixed point at which the system would be built: a nail in a small fir tree nearby. Ted had picked this point and sited everything against it. By lining up the leveler with the nail, and aligning it to my stakes I could calculate how deep I needed to dig for the pipes to sit in their proper places: seems I still needed to take away another foot of dirt. More tractor time!
With the tractor's backhoe I lowered the grade level by about a foot. By that time Steve had delivered two loads of fill, one gravel and one sand. I used this material to build a berm on the lowest side of the drainage field. The lowest side would need to be built up more than the other three; about 30" from grade level. At this point I turned my attention to the location of the future septic tank. I needed to dig a large pit located between the house and the drainage field. The tank would need to sit at a depth relative to the waste pipe coming from the house. Set at a slight angle of 1/4" per foot, the pipe could enter the inlet flange at 54.5" from the bottom of the tank. The depth would change in accord with it's distance from the house. The plans called for a standard 1000 gallon tank which measures about 6ft. X 8ft. side to side and about 6ft. tall, (54.5" to the bottom of the inlet).
I had already measured and positioned the 4" waste pipe's angle starting where the main interior drain would be located under the house to where it would exit the side of the house. Knowing that height I was able to extrapolate the depth of the tank. I wanted to put the tank as far from the house as possible because it must by code be located at least 10ft. from any structure. My future plans for the house involve an addition to this side of the existing house. The location of the tank would therefore dictate how wide my addition could be. I thus began digging next to the drainage field. A big concern when digging in Maine is stone ledge. It's everywhere and makes digging to any great depth very difficult. In my case I needed to have a pit that was about 5ft. deep. With an excavator that isn't too difficult to achieve but with my little backhoe it's a little trickier. I had to dig around a bit and displace a lot of dirt and large stone before finding the spot where a level 6'X8' bed could be made.
It was at this point on a Thursday afternoon that some very welcome guests arrived. It was my parents all the way from Roseburg, OR to help with the completion of this mighty project.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

September 2010

At the end of September, Sprocket and I arrived at the House Sculpture. It was still early afternoon so I had some daylight to accomplish something. The clearing for the septic still needed finishing before the inspector could come by and look at it, so I started up the tractor and got to work. I called him the next day; I think it was Tuesday. He said he could come by on Thursday evening, so I had a couple of days to turn my attention to the house and it's awkward kitchen. I have noted during several past visits the cramped feeling of the kitchen. Some part needed fixing or "adjustment". The culprit was within the camper section for sure, specifically the spot where the old RV refrigerator was located. I also had decided months before that the entryway was not right. The exterior door must be moved. Really, the whole kitchen needed to be pushed out and that meant more floor which meant more foundation.
Before I began working I did some thinking. I do lot's of standing around thinking. I wanted to picture how the upper floor would relate to the lower. The new section would be squared to the living room section with a second floor deck, I surmised, which will have an entrance from the second floor future master bedroom... and there might be some funky tower in there too. All that will sit upon a garage/ workshop area which will also serve as a seasonal dining room or a place for guests...or something like that...
First I figured out how a wall, square to the box of the house that was the living room, would meet the porch that extended off the kitchen. I then cleared and leveled two spots where two heavy "feet" would need to be located in order to support a load bearing wall that could eventually run flush with the living room. I made the feet with my usual method of placing two 8"X8"X16" cinder blocks together and filling them with concrete. The legs consisted of pressure treated 4"X4" blocks with treated 2"X6"s attached to form "I"s. I bridged them with a thick beam of rough-cut Hemlock. The span had to be rather long, about 8ft.. The floor's close proximity to the Pine tree that will eventually be at the center of the completed house made me want to tread lightly so as not to damage any roots.
When the stringers were in place and anchored to the deck it was time to put the sub floor down. But first I had to cut away another section of the camper (about 44") so that the floor could meet the camper's floor flush and attach securely. I first moved the old RV fridge and propane heater. I began cutting with the Saws-all and Kitty made herself scarce. She always knows when I'm about to make a racket. It's always a messy job removing bits of the camper. Shortly I had yet again cut away a section of my original "house" on this land. Now all that remained was a 6ft. section of what was once the camper's tiny bathroom.
With the removal of that section, the fen Sui immediately improved. Now, in my mind's eye I could see all the kitchen appliances, shelves and cabinets falling easily into their places. It was a stark contrast to my previous mental arrangement of a losing game of Tetris.
At this point in the day, late afternoon Thursday, my time was limited to close up the opening in the wall, but it was also time for the inspector to arrive. And he did just before 6pm.
As before, he had no concerns about my haphazard building style. He took a long look at the clearing I had made and at the plans Ted had drawn up for the septic system. He issued me a permit to continue with my plan, but expressed concerns about my narrow winding driveway. It may have to be widened to get a dump truck up there for the many loads of fill it will take to complete this septic project. But that is for another time, soon to come!