Construction Journal Entry Week of 6/15/08

6/17-19/08 I went up to the property for 3 days: Tuesday through Thursday.

I arrived at 12:45. After moving in and having lunch, I went into the woods to check on the sequoia trees. With the leaves out, it was very hard to find the trees or even to move through the brush. I found about 9 of the 11 and they were all doing well. Some of them hadn't grown much but were at least green. Others were growing fast and were nice and bushy. I was happy that none of the ones I found had died.

Next I went to work on the concrete staircase. I built mock-ups of the two landings using 1x2s and it was obvious that the staircase was going to take a lot of concrete. The major problem was that the long run was convex. The lower half is a steeper pitch than the upper half. The conduit run that has to be covered has six different sections, each at a different pitch angle. It wasn't obvious to me how many landings I should make in order to minimize the amount of concrete I would need. And, it wasn't obvious exactly where the landings should be. I decided to make a bunch of careful measurements so I could make drawings and figure it out. I strung a tight mason's string and a 100 ft. tape over the pipe run and spent the rest of the day making careful measurements of the pitch angles and the distances from the string to the pipe and from the string to the rock below. A chipmunk and the family of four gray jays came around for peanuts several times during the work.

In the evening, I used the measurements to start some drawings, but I soon realized that I wasn't going to be able to solve the problem that way. I remembered my experience trying the same approach with the footing forms for the cabin. I had made careful measurements and drawings and then discovered that the resulting plan didn't fit the actual rocks on the ground. They are just too irregular to be captured by a few measurements. I had to tear out the planned forms and design forms on the spot that actually fit the rocks. I decided to do the same with the staircase and abandoned the drawings.

On Wednesday, I spent a lot of time looking at the rocks and stringing strings and thinking. Instead of trying to make a landing in the middle, I decided to have one long run of steps over the top of that hump. That made the upper landing pretty high and it made the lower steps fairly high off the rock. The high point in the middle of the run was the edge of a rock ledge. I figured that if I could lower that corner by a few inches, it would effectively lower the entire staircase by that amount which would save quite a bit of concrete. I decided to see what I could do.

I got out my new roto-hammer and went to work on the granite. I drilled a series of 1/4" holes where the form stringer needed to go, and then tried a couple hammers on the rock. I couldn't find a cold chisel but I had a 5 lb. hammer and I had a bricklayer's hammer. After trying several techniques, I found that I could chisel away the rock pretty effectively using the hammers. I found that it was important to broom off the dust and chips otherwise they cushioned the hammer blows and made them less effective. The best way I found was to hit the rock pretty hard with the big hammer in a pattern of rows without hitting the same place twice and trying not to hit any dust or chips. Then I would broom off the dust and chips and do it all over again. Inside the corners or for special places, I would use the chisel end of the bricklayer's hammer either by swinging the hammer, or by holding it in place and striking the hammer face with the big 5 lb. hammer, in effect using the bricklayer's hammer head as a chisel.

After a couple hours of work, I had the rock lowered by a couple inches. I decided that was enough for the time being. Once I get the forms built and the risers located, I can decide whether I need to chisel away any more rock and do it then. Now I was in a position to establish the positions of the top and bottom risers of the staircase and the size, shape, and locations of the upper and lower landings.

With the boundaries of the upper landing laid out, I started excavating the landing area down to bedrock. I was dismayed to find that the dirt was about 3 feet deep on the left side, but I was pleased to find that the bedrock rose up steeply from there so that for most of the landing, the concrete would only be a foot or so deep.

While I was working, the PUD meter reader showed up to read the meter. I went down to talk to him and learned some interesting things. For one, I learned that there would be no problem if I started using the new permanent power in addition to continuing to use the temporary power. He said that my bill would simply show the amount from both meters. He also told me that when the time came, I could have the PUD disconnect the old temporary service but not remove it. That way, if I ever wanted to, I could have it re-activated.

I spent the rest of the day building the forms for the upper landing. I got about half of it done. I also decided to energize the distribution panel for the first time, since now I knew that it wouldn't cause any billing problems with the PUD. I inspected the panel to make sure it was ready to energize, and then I tried to flip the main switch from off to on. It wouldn't move. It seemed to be stuck and I didn't want to break the switch handle off. I looked at it carefully and it looked like there was a tab of black plastic in the way preventing the switch handle from sliding. I figured this was probably a tab that was supposed to be removed by someone. Maybe the electrician, or maybe the inspector. I just didn't know. At least I knew that I couldn't energize the panel without being able to throw that switch. I decided that I would ask Brian Kemly about it.

That evening, Ellen told me that we had received a letter from L&I. She read it to me and it said that I had failed to correct the inspection problems within 15 days, and that if I didn't respond in 5 days about how to fix them, there could be serious consequences. I told her that I was supposed to wait until I got that letter and then contact Don Millar to discuss the problem of vaulting that run of conduit over the rock.

On Thursday morning, I called Don Millar at L&I and told him about my situation. He told me that the system couldn't reschedule the date until the 15 days had expired and the letter I had gotten was automatically generated. Now I just needed to pick another date. We agreed to set October 15 as the new date for the next inspection. I should be able to get those stairs built by then. I can call for an inspection any time before that date so the date no longer represents any pressure on me.

I asked him what the minimum concrete cover was for the conduit and he told me 2". He said that the staircase would be plenty of cover. In fact, he told me that if I had used rigid steel conduit, I wouldn't have had to vault it at all. Now he tells me!

While he was on the phone, I asked Don about that plastic tab in the panel switch. He said he didn't know of any such tab but he told me that the switch lever is very stiff and is hard to push. That was good news. I figured that I just hadn't pushed hard enough on the lever.

When we hung up, I hurried up to the cabin and eagerly tried the main panel switch again. It was hard to push, but I was able to flip it on and off with no problem. I went down to the meter-disconnect pole at the road and flipped the breaker on for the first time. Then I went back up to the cabin and flipped that switch on. Then I plugged a lamp into one of the kitchen outlets and turned those two breakers on with high anticipation.

The lamp didn't come on. But I still had one more trick. I pushed the reset button on the GFCI breaker in the outlet, and the lamp came on. Hooray! That was the first use of the permanent power to the building. I now had two outlets on two separate 20 amp circuits in the building that were fed by those big 0000 wires. It marks a major milestone in the project. It will be easy to add more circuits, some of which are already installed, so it will be easy to convert my power over from temporary to permanent whenever I want.

I had just gathered a bunch of tools to resume my work on the landing forms when Larry came up for a visit. I hadn't seen him for a while and it was good to see him and talk to him. I was also happy to show him what I had done lately. We had a nice long visit. After he left, I did some more excavating for the upper landing by scraping dirt off the bedrock up under the conduit run where it will leave the landing. The chipmunk and gray jays visited me during the work. I had lunch and left for home at 1:15.

Go to Next Journal Entry
Previous Journal Entry

Index to all Journal Entries
Go To Home Page

©2008 Paul R. Martin, All rights reserved.