Tuesday, January 11, 2011

15 - Stone Work

The exterior walls of the basement and towers will be faced with stone. The rest of the house will be smooth stucco. Most of the stone masons around here like to use 4"-thick stone, because it's easy to stack and goes up pretty quickly. But at 25 cents a pound, stone that thick was not an option for me. By using 1-inch-thick stone instead, the cost per square foot of wall facing would only be 1/4 as much.

But I still wanted to give the impression that the rock was thick, so I studied the look of a thick-stone wall. I found that I could mimic the look fairly well by laying the stone mostly horizonally, and when not possible, at least have the grain running horizontal. I was able to find thin rock at the local stoneyards, and it even had a "grain", but it took a lot of hand-picking to get suitable ones.
The only problem was the corners, where the exposed edges were a dead give-away of the true thickness. So, how to hide the corners? In European architecture, it has been common for centuries to have columns of thick, smooth stones at each corner of the structure, then fill in between them with smaller, rougher rocks. These cornerstones are usually staggered for strength. Perfect - that look would fit in nicely with my design. But what to make the cornerstones out of?

There are some Engineered Stone products (Robertson Stone, for example) which offer pre-cut corners of real stone, but the cost would be prohibitive for me, and they only make 90-degree angles, not the 45-degrees which all my corners would require. So I decided to cast them myself from concrete. This turned out to be fairly easy. I built 5 forms out of plywood, added some rebar and a metal strap (to help secure the finished corner to the wall), and poured quick-set concrete into them. It was a fairly hot day, so within two hours there were 5 finished corner pieces.

The molds were held together with screws, so it was easy to take them apart, release the finished cornerstones, then screw the forms back together.  I sprayed a light coat of Pam cooking spray on the forms each time, to act as a mold-release.

My daughter and her boyfriend helped with making the corner pieces, and in a couple of weeks we had a stockpile of about 150 of them. This will probably be about half of what I'll need, but it's easy to start up the production line again when I've used up what we've made.

Attaching the cornerstones to the walls is time-consuming, but not very hard. First, I coated the ICF block with a waterproof membrane (I use Blue Max, but there are many available), and put on lath (chickenwire). Then I just screwed the stones to the wall, using the tabs I had cast into the stones. I used Tapcon screws which were long enough to go through the 2" of styrofoam and into the concrete core of the wall.
The next step has been a bit controversial. I injected a spray-foam adhesive behind the stones, filling in all the gaps. This is a black outdoor version of the popular yellow foam, and is typically used to hold rocks together in landscape elements, like waterfalls. When I hired a stone mason to do some later walls, he insisted on using the traditional thin-set morter construction. It will be interesting to see which method holds up best in 50 years (when I'm 112).

Now, how to deal with the round-top basement windows in the stone walls? At first I was going to cut the stones around those arches, but then I thought that a concrete trim would look nicer, and match the corners. I asked a stone mason about this, and he thought commercial trim for those windows would be about $100 each.

Wait a minute...if I could cast the cornerstones myself, wouldn't it be just as easy to make window trim? Yes, it turned to be quite easy. I used masonite to make curved forms, which were tacked down to plywood. Straight sections for the window sills were even easier. I added two pieces of rebar in each section, and the result was total success -- great-looking trim for about $4 per window!

This is as much of the stonework as I have done working alone. I tend to over-think each piece, which makes the work extremely slow-going. I hired a stonemason to do several more walls, but he was only about twice as fast as I was, and the labor costs were a little too high. I'll tackle this again in the spring, perhaps laying out the stones for each wall on the ground first.

19 comments:

  1. Just amazing, Jim!! Can't wait for more. You are an artist on and off the computer! Not many can say that!!

    Dbfromfww

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    1. Jim, Hope all is well with your great house! Any updates coming? The wife and I are thinking of building our dream home and are excited to see yours when it gets finished. Oh, and where's the crab on my Marine Aquarium 3.2? just kidding.lol

      Dbfromfww

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    2. I'll add another chapter tomorrow for sure!

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  2. Lookin good Jim! I can't wait to see the finished product. Your designs are always so immaculate and precise. I love it! Hows the weather up that way? I see the snow in the back ground.

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  3. Most of those pictures were taken some time ago. Weather was great today.

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  4. Jim, I have just read thru your blog on this enormous project. I am getting ready to star building and enjoyed hearing about some of the things you have experienced - and some good advice I hope to follow! Moving into retirement stage and moving from Dallas to Washington State. We have purchased waterfront property on Hood Canal on the Kitsap Peninsula and are in the process of defining the design for the house. As we will have a pretty nice view of the water and the Olympics, we are wanting to maximize the view potential and are going with a walk out basement, main floor and second story for a total of three floors (nothing anywhere close to the complexity that you are working with though). We are looking at something between 6 - 7,000 sq feet and are already running into a lot of budget concerns (I was budgeting $150 per sq foot - not counting the property). Curious what you feel is a reasonable amount - for a more traditional design? I was very interested in what you had to say about the prefab walls as I had not considered this until now - thanks! We are also looking at under floor heating as you have used. I am also interested in the insulated wall blocks you have used - again, some very good ideas. I have told the designer that I want to put in as much sweat equity as possible but we still go back and forth on the general contractor idea versus using a builder. My initial plan is to act as our own G.C. but with a local contractor who acts as an adviser. He has access to subs and wholesale materials, etc... and most important some good advice as we go along. I just hope we aren't biting off more than we can chew. I would enjoy the opportunity to compare some additional notes with you and to learn from the considerable experience you have gained in the last few years. Thanks for the insights on your blog! Chip Morgan

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  5. Thanks for sharing your plans, Chip. Keep us posted on your progress!

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  6. First off Jim, awesome blog, best of luck with your dream home!

    Chip,
    I've been looking at building a house east of Seattle and right around or maybe a tad bigger then yours and I think if anyone is saying you can build out on the Peninsula for $150 a sq ft, their lying and know that your prices are going to skyrocket, even more so then during any normal custom build.

    That area is beautiful, my brother use to live in Port Orchard, but everything and I do mean everything is much more expensive and building in WA is pretty darn expensive to start with, so you have to add on the expense of working in a remote location (materials, labor costs, everything is effected by either the long commute or the ferries), and then the living in WA surcharge (it's basically my home state, but I've lived elsewhere and things aren't cheap here and I've even lived in Tax'assachusetts and New England ain't cheap), and then you add on the "surprise extra expense building charge," and your looking at a pretty pricey house.

    For my place I'm realistically thinking of probably at least $200 sq ft, and that's not for anything really high end, but because I want to use very green technology, because it's a forever home and I think it'll pay itself back, and I like being green, that number get's bumped to $250 and maybe even $275 and then because I'm going to be building in a kind of a remote area, though not as remote as the Hood Canal, I bump it up to $300 and then I want to have at least a 20% of the estimated cost of the entire build set aside for the unexpected additional expenses that all new builds have.

    I'm a cautious person, and once you start down this path if you can't finish it, chances are your going to lose whatever you put into it. Well this is just my two cents, and even at that I'm overcharging, so best of luck to both of you guys.

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  7. Was bragging about your other home in Lake Arrowhead today to my fiance and was trying to google some real pics to compare to your earlier drawings and then thought of you. :D So I popped over here to see how you are coming along with the current project. How have you been? I miss my visits and our ritual McDonald's run. lol I hope someday I can make it up to the new place.

    I am getting ready to head over to the Philippines for a bit to help my Fiance with her parents house and try to make a brick house flood proof up to about 8 feet deep that is what got me thinking of you and how you sealed the bricks at the back of the Arrowhead place. Anyway, I hope life is treating you well.

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  8. Hi, Rick - Good to hear from you. I'm still working on the house. I'll try to post a new chapter in the next couple of days.

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  9. Don't let this happen to you, Jim:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/dec/05/where-did-our-chateau-go

    http://www.boston.com/news/world/europe/2012/12/05/century-french-chateau-razed-mistake/KvJDXtlIo3elUteNXWa4ZI/story.html

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    1. http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/illegal-castle-built-by-beekeeper-torn-down-over-safety-concerns-a-837510.html

      Very, very oddly, there is a 'Beekeeper' character in a game called 'Castle Crashers':
      http://castlecrashers.wikia.com/wiki/Beekeeper

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  10. What a shame about that poor guy's castle. It actually looked fairly well-made in the pictures. The article says it came down fairly easily due to poor construction, but I doubt if many structures would have stood up to that demolition equipment.

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    1. The guy who said it came down easily due to its allegedly having been poorly constructed is the same official who was responsible for the decision to tear down the castle. It might be doubted if his views on the matter are entirely unbiased.

      Thanks for looking!

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    2. Now these kinds of stories seem not so rare after all:
      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/11543212/Farmer-agrees-to-destroy-his-castle-after-seven-year-legal-battle.html
      Not so very deplorable in that case -- the edifice has no style, imho. I like the pond and waterfall, though.

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    3. Yeah, that's a shame, but the guy was asking for trouble building on greenbelt space. There's no way the council could set a precedent by letting him get away with it. Still, it seems like a large fine would discourage others from trying the same thing, without the need for a tear-down.

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