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The Story of the Affordable Natural House
by Day Host-Jablonski

In May 2001, Day Host-Jablonski graduated from college and soon moved to the Lansing Street site to start a 7-month stint as a Design Coalition intern. This is her account, as she learned to manage a construction site and help present a natural home-building workshop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Left: Day Host-Jablonski, helping present a 'green' building materials session at the 2001 Midwest Renewable Energy Fair. Day is Lou's daughter.


 

 

 

Left: Day made this drawing when she was 7 years old. It is surprisingly prophetic, from the shape of the house and overhangs to the loft bedroom and little round window.

August, 2001 - Week 1

As of the beginning of next week, we are ready to begin work on the Main House addition. This summer we have "repaired" (read: installed) the foundation under the existing "Old House", pouring concrete piers at six locations around its perimeter after we excavated all around the house to determine there was indeed no original foundation. Except for the northwest corner (bathroom and waterheater corner) -- which we believe was an addition itself, and had a fairly recent frost-wall foundation -- the Old House was resting on piles of stone. Some were cut, some rough; most were laid no more than one foot (30cm) into the ground.

Right: We found a time-capsule jar under the front stoop . The 1964 message is from the homeowners, the Zimmermans, and states that the concrete they poured cost $15 per yard.

Once we had a level point to work from (the tops of the piers) we rigged a series of jacks (eleven hydraulic bottle jacks and one RV jack, all necessary because of the many load-bearing points we discovered, a result of perpendicular joists and what appear to be a miraculous three additions/structural repairs onto the original 1930 building) to simultaneously straighten out the house and raise it almost two feet above grade. Nerve-wracking, but very interesting, and much more successful than we secretly feared. In the last week we had teenage help, so we also cleared the front yard of bushes, the two apple trees we cannot save, and the last of the old fencing.

August 2001, Weeks 2 & 3

Bill was on vacation for the past two weeks, so no physical work has been done. Lou and I have been organizing a plan of action, and I spent a good deal of time getting to know different excavating, concrete and tree-moving contractors. Working on bids, contracts, finishing the blueprints and getting a building permit. We got the land surveyed, and realized that not only is our fenceline crooked, but it narrowed our lot significantly on the north side. I feel a little bad about reclaiming over six feet (2 meters) of yard from next-door neighbors Eugene and Gloria, but I feel a lot better knowing exactly where our land is.

August 2001, Week 4

This week S.S. Lingard moved Nora, the largest and strongest apple tree to the northeastern corner of the lot. Its very hot and late in the year to be moving trees--she was already working on some apples--but we water her several times a day, and I think she'll be fine.

At the end of the week, we removed all the topsoil from the construction site, preparing for excavation and eventual landscaping. Lou and I spent time mapping out the site in real-space, organizing where the drawing will become building. Next week Carl comes in to rearrange the plumbing, and we got the wheres and hows of that sorted out.

Alas, Benedict the Truck died this week. Broke a piston while we were out in rural Fitchburg. Grandma Marion rescued us. Still unknown if he can be ressurected.

September 2001, Week 1

Prairie joined us this week, now that we are solidly working on the Main House addition. He has spent the last year with Operation Fresh Start, and I have a feeling that once he gets a feel for this project, he will be the most competent member of the crew; he's stronger and has more energy than Bill, and is light-years more experienced than me.

The big achievement of this week was moving the water and sewer lines. It took us forever to find the water line hiding beneath the sewer pipe, an old cast iron pipe clogged by roots and a very shallow pitch. With a backhoe, we dug to find the endpoints of the section we wanted to replace (so the lines will intersect with the addition and plumbing could be brought in more easily) and then backhoed the trench to relay the pipe. When Carl came to inspect it, we realized we hadn't dug a trench that was compatible with the angles of pipe he had, so we had to refill and re-dig, which was all the more frustrating because it was preventable, but I don't have enough experience to catch all of these potential problems.

Finally, the trench was perfect and the pipe was just about laid, but when they cut the old pipe it started spurting sewage like an artery, and we either had a pitch-problem or some kind of blockage (thankfully it was the latter, which was easily fixed by Mike's Roto-rooter.) The sewage we hauled out of the trench was inky black and not particularly foul-smelling. We dug small holes for it around the edge of newly-transplanted Nora and used it like fertilizer.

Everything is now ready for Hellenbrand to excavate the foundation, and DC to come in and pour it. I'm on vacation to the West Coast for the next ten days, but everything has been scheduled so there shouldn't be too much for Bill and Prairie to worry about.

September 2001, Week 2 (9/11/01)

I flew back late from vacation due to the national crisis, and I'm very disappointed with the work of my concrete contractors. Hellenbrand did a beautiful job cleanly excavating the basement and the north and south walls of the foundation. (We decided to do the excavating and concreting in two stages, so we could get a cement truck into the site instead of buying them 100' long (30 meters) chutes.)

 

However, DC Concrete not only did poor work (Bill, Lou and Prairie each witnessed sloppy and faulty work), but they did it slower than arranged, and with a whole lot of surliness. Each of the innovative details (like thermal breaks) that I had specifically pointed out and answered questions about were suddenly obstacles DC complained about and balked at, and ultimately we were forced to make compromises in our design because half-way through the work they threatened to quit. I'm appalled and kind of want to sue them; they've either taken severe advantage of the fact that I wasn't present on the site, or in my opinion they are bordering on incompetent and rabid.

September 2001, Week 3

This week we finished the foundation. I hired Thering to pour the basement floor, and dealing with them was apples to helicopters compared to working with DC. I feel a little responsible for inflicting DC on the project; I really thought I had found a happy medium between experience and low cost when I hired them, and I was totally unprepared for their attitude and shoddy work ethic. I had a couple of very concise, heated arguments with DC this week about the quality of their work, and they finished their foundation work perfunctorily. I've started planning for the workshop in earnest now, solidifying the 10,000 logistical details, and contacting everyone whose email address I have.

Left: Benedict is officially not coming back to life, and we've started using the old blue daycare van.


September 2001, Week 4

All we did this week was backfill. It was a huge job. Hellenbrand had moved the large majority of the fill-dirt when they were here with their big backhoe, even replacing most of the top soil. But we were on our own to fill in the interior of the foundation, where we installed foam insulation. Before Hellenbrand's backfilling, we also installed Volclay panels on the exterior of the basement walls. These clay-filled sheets will provide an absorbtive barrier to protect the basement from flooding. Then we shoveled by hand and jumping-jacked the whole deal. Not having enough of our own dirt to raise the interior grade as high as the earth-cement floor system will eventually need, we had 90 tons (81,800 kilos) of fill-sand delivered and poured into the cavity. Watered down instead of packed, it almost looks pristine.

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Design concepts | Site | Workshop | In-progress | House Details | Research | Interview w/ Lou