Our family has taken on construction, not only as a way of learning the skills that will enable us to build our own homes some day, if the Lord provides, but also as a means of making money. We bid on jobs that we do as a family, each one working on the parts that they are able to do and watching and helping with the jobs that they are learning. We try to work on as many aspects of construction as possible so that we will be able to do everything ourselves
Tree work and dirt work are discussed under landscaping.
Before the foundation was poured, I helped Dad run schedule 40 plumbing (sewers and drains) under the sand floor. We had to hit all the sinks (basement kitchen and bathroom.) We also had to keep the pipe inclined so it would drain. This preparation has been greatly appreciated by our whole family as we use the basement kitchen and bathroom
What would life be like without sewer plumbing? The sewage systems we have in our home may not be glamorous but they are extremely valuable. Different states have different building codes you have to follow. Basically we want all our sewage to make it underground to be harmless either to spread disease on the surface or to contaminate our water.
Straightforward as the actual installation of PVC plumbing is, it can be sensitive to miss measurement. Like other construction jobs the first task is to lay out a plan to connect the drains and vent pipes, which is then followed by measuring, cutting, fitting, and then gluing the pieces together. The planning takes place long before pipe installation, since some must be laid under floors. Prior to pouring a concrete floor we install the pipes going to the septic system in the precise positions where we will connect the house's plumbing,including all drains we want on that floor.
Tip: Make sure these pipes don't move while they are being covered with concrete.
Another tricky aspect of installation is cutting the holes through studs for pipes without compromising the integrity of the wall. Saving extra work is made possible by simple things like measuring multiple times and fitting any assemblies without glue first before gluing them. No two building have the same plumbing, so we still do this when putting plumbing together. The only unpleasant aspects of plumbing plastic are the noxious fumes, for which some airflow is a sufficient remedy.
Thus it turns out this inglorious job of installing the sewer plumbing involves one of the most important considerations for any home - health. 'And to the less honorable, He gives more abundant honor.'
We have done quite a few projects that required concrete work, ranging from sauna tubes and slabs for porches and sheds to concrete retaining walls and dock anchors at a local lake. We have not done any basements because of the amount of specialized equipment required. For most small construction like sidewalks, porches and floors (like in a shed) we have used two bys for forms, and, as a rough end finish is preferable on the concrete, we use wooden screeds and floats that we are able to make ourselves out of scrap lumber. For all of our projects we have only ever needed two or three of us when the concrete was poured, the third person is nice on a larger job to be able to swap off with the screeders as they tire. (A third or fourth person is also needed to run a camera if we want any pictures.) Concrete tends to be a somewhat messy job, like playing with mud. Your hands get covered, and you
Tip: Use an edger to produce clean edges.
Tip: Rubber boots must not have zippers if you are intending to keep them.
Depending on the lay of the land, we do a number of things to drain water away from a building and to keep water out of a basement.
Our experience includes both good and bad water drainage. In 1995-96 we tore down our old home because of foundation problems and then built a new house. The old house had a stacked stone basement allowing water to run through, sometimes 8 inches deep, which brings to mind memories of walking across the basement on two upside down milk crates. Not all flood memories are bad! At least not for little people. The new house is on the same location, however, it is dry.
Before we backfill around an underground foundation we always seal all holes in it both inside and out, after which we tar the whole outside surface that will be underground. Because concrete is porous, we also painted the floor and walls inside our basement with a sealer to further control moisture entry. Back outside we install a curtain drain, which is quite simply a perforated pipe covered with crushed rock, with a ground cloth over it to keep dirt from filling in around the crushed rock. This pipe we extend until it exits further down the hill. After backfilling to the basement walls we grade the dirt so it slopes down from the building on all sides, even on the uphill side. Our aim here is to get the runoff to run around the building rather than up to it. Later, when we poured the floor inside the new house, we formed a sump in one corner, in case a quantity of water did make it in. Gratefully this has not been needed yet, however, with the problems, we had here in the past, we wanted to do everything in our power to limit future water invasion.
While this is a lot of work it is well worth the effort for the buildings with an underground floor. Setting a building on posts removes the necessity for these drainage measures. In all other cases where water may be a problem we try to build a berm to direct the water around the building.
Water can easily cause a tremendous amount of damage, so planning ahead to control it is very cost effective in our locality.
We have done quite a bit of 'framing', both building frames and porches, decks and ramps which are very similar in the skills and tools used. We have never actually framed a house because so far we have worked on modulars but we did frame the knee wall in the front of a basement and plenty of interior walls, also we have done many outhouses and a shower house at a local camp. Five years ago our family invested in a miter saw right before starting construction on a shower house, this drastically increased our production rate because before then we used a circular saw and table saw for the cutting of every board.
We tend to think of construction work as heavy difficult labor, and some of it definitely is but a surprising quantity of it, especially after the shell of the building is up, is very doable for us ladies. Hanging siding is one such activity. I worked with Nathanael and Sarah alternately on this project. The only difficult thing was that the building was a modular and came with half the siding already in place. Mating the new siding with the old had to be done very precisely. The peak was a long way up but as long as you don't mind heights and your scaffolding is secure, which ours was, the job is very straight forward. It just so happened that we were in a very hot spell when the time came to do the siding. This was particularly difficult on the east end of the building where the sun baked us. By 10 am the sun rose above the tree tops, and within 20
I was given the job of wiring the upstairs of our house. I didn't manage to keep my black and white wires straight, but an outlet tester allowed me to go back through and fix that. Once I was done, Dad checked my work, then it was re-checked by a certified electrician and he signed it off. After the practical was done, I was given some bookwork to do and the credit was set down for high-school.
I had not done much plumbing until 2005 when we worked on a cabin for the camp. On that job, however, I did quite a bit of many different sorts of plumbing. First Nathanael and I helped the man who owns the backhoe lay 550 ft of black plastic water line from a pre-existing well to the cabin, our line was buried 4 ft deep. In the building we used both copper pipe with soldered fittings, which I had worked with previously, and PEX.
A dear friend, who had been in the heating business for over 30 years, came and assisted us in laying the hot-water base-board heat throughout the upstairs of our house. We ran pipe, cut it to length, soldered the connections, and later tested under pressure. Once the pipes are laid in notches in the floor joists, you put steel plates over them to protect the pipes from nails when you install the flooring.
A lot of the construction work we do does not include the finishing touches of sheetrock, but one project we finished like a house. It was a modular, brought in on two trucks and set on the foundation with a crane. Though it was nearly complete
Painting is easiest to do before flooring and trim are put down. Of course, drop clothes and masking tape do a good job of protecting things from paint but it is a lot easier and quicker to do the painting first. We used both paint rollers and flat sponge applicators, as well as a corner sponge roller and small paint brush for hard to reach areas. One coat of primer goes on first, followed by three coats of paint, or however many are needed to get adequate coverage. With extension poles for the larger applicators we could paint the ceilings while standing on the floor, but it was still tiring for our necks.
Laying a wood floor has numerous complications but the end result is beautiful and durable enough to warrant any difficulties. When we were called upon to do a wood floor for one of our construction jobs, we rented the big floor stapler used to put down the tongue and groove flooring we were using. Careful to leave a half inch gap between the flooring and the wall to accommodate any expansion humidity might cause the boards, we gradually got the process figured out.
Installing linoleum is one more basic task needed when finishing the interior of a house. While I have worked on both flexible linoleum and vinyl flooring, which comes in rolls, and hard square tiles, we have found the commercial tiles a much higher quality option.
Flexible linoleum tends to be less expensive and there is no trouble sealing its surface if you can install it in one piece. We have found commercial linoleum tiles to be slightly easier to install and far more durable. Although the tiles are separate, they can be fit so tightly together that they are easy to seal and actually hard to differentiate visually.
Installing either type requires some planning to cover the whole area. Laying a continuous piece of flexible linoleum in several rooms obviously requires a piece as large as the greatest dimensions. Actually cutting and then fitting this piece through doorways and around obstacles is extremely sensitive, demanding precise measurement. Butting two pieces never works, especially in a doorway. With tiles you need not only sufficient for the area of the floor but also enough to cut for all the edges. Of course two edges, the walls in the corner from which you start laying tiles don't need edge pieces cut, if they are straight.
Whether using tile or flexible linoleum, the edges need to be sealed where the floor meets a wall. In areas where there will often be water, the corner seal must be particularly water resistant. If a sealant can be placed at the edge prior to the base molding or kick plate being set into it, the seal can last much longer.
Tip: With base molding or a kick plate at the floor, less precision is needed when meeting the linoleum to the wall. A kick plate or base molding takes the wear instead of the wall, I would recommend it just for that added durability. As an added seal against water getting underneath the linoleum, it definitely is an improvement to the longevity of the flooring.
A tangible and major consideration in a floor is the amount of time its maintenance requires. From experience I can confidently state, a smooth surface is far easier to clean than one with even just small indents and rises. While many tiles are smooth, we have not found flexible linoleum having a smooth surface.
We have used both kinds. Our house has always had flexible linoleum. While it has lasted very well under very heavy continuous use, since 1996 when we installed it, now after 10 years its surface is starting to chip. While the differences are not very obvious shortly after installation, for a long time frame, tiles show to advantage.
We installed carpet in both upstairs bedrooms. A layer of pad over the plywood prepares for the carpet. That is the easy part. The carpet itself has to be cut to the right size, seams must be joined, and the carpet has to be stretched to fit. I helped with this project and remember the knee kicker we rented to stretch the carpet to fit.
After the walls are painted and the flooring is laid, it is time to put on the trim or wall paneling that is desired. The modular we worked on in 2005 came with the base trim in place. In order to put down the flooring we had to remove the trim. When that was finished, I received the job of putting it all back on. It was quite the jig-saw puzzle, but with a tape measure, I got it figured out. The Lord had recently blessed us with two pneumatic nailers for our construction work. Using the trim nailer, I got all the trim back on the walls in an hour or so. After that came the more tedious work of glazing the top edge. It was a lot like glazing windows. I filled over all the nail heads and finished up by doing all the touch up painting that was needed.
Another form of trim is the roll out vinyl we used in the bathroom. Glue is applied and then the vinyl is pressed onto the wall. Corners were tricky.
A very different form of wood on the walls is wainscoting. Dad wainscoted our entire upstairs with the same wood as the walls in our living room. It breaks up the starkness of white walls without darkening the atmosphere significantly. I love the look it gives us girls' room.
I think that it is safe to say that all of us have enjoyed the construction projects that we have done together as a family and are grateful for the skills that they have enabled us to learn. We have found most construction to be straightforward and simple and have been blessed by the ability to do our own repairs instead of having to wait for a repairman to fit us into his schedule. Doing it ourselves has also allowed us to do some things nicer than we would have if we had had to pay someone else to do all the work.
We are grateful to our Father and Mother who taught us the different construction and business skills that we know and for teaching us to not be afraid to try new things or to learn from a book.
Copyright © 2006 The Stover Family - all rights reserved.