Chips Off the New Blocks

The concrete man, Doug, and I discussed the block order for the foundation walls.  I did my calculation of the number of blocks we need, but Doug calculated about 90 regular blocks more than I did.  Since his guys will be laying the block, I decided to go with his figure. and we ordered the block and mortar from the supplier.


Remember that the tops of the header blocks should be at the string lines, stretched across the tops of the 2×4 batter boards.  The strings are pulled back up to be used as guidelines to lay the walls.

For foundation walls taller than about 4 courses, have a pack of brick wall ties available for the block masons (about $35).  They probably will only need a handful, so give them a big handful and keep the rest in a dry place, such as your vehicle.  If you’ll have brick veneer on the house, save the rest of the brick ties for the brick laying.



Remember – compare everything they do to the drawings, and don’t be afraid to ask questions!

Click here for detailed help on foundation walls.  

Thanks for reading,

Vic Hunt

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Let’s Pour Some Concrete!

Every phase of a home building project has its unique smells.  Right now it’s the smell of freshly turned dirt.  When you’ve waited as long as we have to get going, this is the smell of progress.

The concrete folks are laying the rebars (reinforcing steel bars) into the footings.  Since this site has 3 to 4 feet of slope from the garage end down to the bedrooms on the opposite end of the house, there will be footing steps.  They are also setting the short forms for those.

Rebars  Footing step

Using cut sections of 2×8 lumber, an 8-inch step is formed, as you can see in this photo.  We believe that bringing in lots of fill dirt to create a level pad on a sloping lot is rarely a wise or good approach.  Read our page on this topic.  

It’s usually “not much to look at,” but this gets you moving down the road!  The next step is to order the concrete block, mortar, and masonry sand, and have them delivered.

Footings poured
Finished concrete footings

Thanks for reading!  Be sure to check out more info on this step of your home building project at our pages on footings.

Also check out our page on figuring the block and mortar to order.  

All the best – Vic

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I’ll Send the Boys Over

I mentioned in an earlier home building blog post that Susan had paid our water account fee.  The empty meter box had sat in the ground, front center of our lot, at the end of the water line from the street for several years.  Within two days of paying the fee, the Water Works crew came and installed a new meter.

Temporary home building water hydrant
Temporary water hydrant

Before the real plumbing starts, the temporary site water supply must be installed.  Bill the plumber had previously said, “Call me when the meter is in.”  So, I called him and told him it was in.  “Good, I’ll send the boys over to put your water pipe on.”  Which means, to install a temporary water faucet for construction use.

The pipe comes a short distance off of the water outlet of the meter, and turns up as shown in the photo.

Job Tip:  These faucets should stick up above the ground enough to allow someone to easily fill a 5 gallon plastic bucket as it sits on the ground, which happens a lot.  Anyone who puts in a short one,  sticking up just above the ground, doesn’t know what they are doing.  

We had this in place just prior to the concrete crew arriving to start their work.  Water is used by most trades on the project, even if only to wash tools.

By the way – you’ll start getting a water bill, but it should be cheap during construction.

Hey, we really appreciate your reading our blog.

Vic Hunt

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A Dirty Business

Boy!  There’s nothing like getting a group of guys together to dig in the dirt!  That’s exactly what the concrete crew did.  The job boss on the backhoe digging footings, and others cleaning loose soil oDigging footingsut of the “ditches,” with the “level man” checking the elevation of the bottom of the footings.

It’s amazing to me how they can drive that big machine all around and not cave in the sides of the footings.  This isn’t the prettiest stage of the project, but it’s important for everyone (including you) to check every bit of footing to make sure they’re in the right places.  Compare what they dig to the foundation or slab plan in the drawings.

The next step:  Put in the steel reinforcing bars (“rebars”) and pour the concrete footings.  

Digging footings

Click here for our page on foundations, for the details and how-to on checking over the footings, rebars, and footing steps before the concrete is poured.  Don’t be afraid or shy about asking questions about anything you don’t understand.

Thanks so much for reading our blog and web site!  We just want you to be more confident as you work through the building of your home, and to benefit from the things we share.

Vic Hunt 

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Batter boards will scare you

Doug and I worked the other day on the batter boards and dimensions as the next phase in our home building project.  This is the first step in getting ready to pour the concrete wall footings, and the batter boards will scare you if you don’t know what to expect.

Batter boards

Since the batter boards are set up outside the perimeter of the house, with enough space to work between the house and batter boards, the whole thing looks huge.

The neighbors, living in the house we built and sold to them, came over when the boards were set up and said, “Man!  This thing looks as big as a mansion.  How big is it?”  To which I answered, “About 4 square feet smaller than yours.”  (They’re both about 2040 sf.)

Also, remember that the top edge of the batter boards sets the top of the floor slab, and must be dead level all around.

Batter board checking

How to check dimensions

Nails will be set at each wall or slab edge, and strings will be pulled across the entire width.  Even a 1-foot offset on just one side will be located with a full-length string.  You have to keep the plan in your hands to keep track of what you’re looking at.

Batter board pink tape
Pink tape to leave correction note

On this house, I found one string that was on the wrong side of a wall line.  The dimension on my floor plan is 3-1/2″ from the other line, so when it got set on the wrong side, it was actually 7″ from the correct location.

Notice I used pink flagging tape and a black permanent marker.  This works better than hand-written notes that get lost.  Tie the tape to a nail or to the wood, and it will be there when the crew returns to work.

Vic checking dimensions
Vic checking dimensions

Don’t skip this critical check of the concrete crew’s layout.   If you don’t want them to watch you checking it, and maybe figuring your way through it, go out after they’ve left for the day.  Go to Lowe’s and buy a roll of the pink tape first.

Thanks so much for reading!

See our foundation layout pages for some really helpful info.  

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Chasing down prices on siding and fascia

Monday of this week Susan and I spent about half the day driving around to visit subs and the home building site.  This house has a brick exterior, but still has areas of vinyl board and batten siding and aluminum fascia at the roof edges.  We already have a priAluminum fascia with vinyl eavesce quote from a siding installer we have used on several houses we have built of this type, but it was a good bit higher than what I was expecting.

So, I have been calling John, who also has a siding company, and is really conscientious about doing excellent work with neat craftsmanship, but he has been more expensive in the past.  Anyway, I had left him two phone messages and got no replies.  When this happens, you can get mad and move on, or let it pass and try again, which is what I did.  Don’t let it get personal – it’s just business, and John may be having a rough time and I should cut him some slack.

Well, I called John on Monday morning and got him on the phone – “I’m working on a big two-story house up Highway 31.”  I knew exactly where it was, so Susan and I drove out to see him.  We gave him a set of drawings, and hope to get a price.

I may have to call him again, but I won’t give up.  If his price is cheaper I’ll be happy, because he does beautiful work.

I’ll let you know.  Thanks for reading!

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Don’t Overlook This Important Detail Before Building Your House

A local home builder got in hot water part-way through the construction of a home for a family on their property, when someone discovered that the new house was several feet over the property line.  I don’t know how this turned out.  Even when our banker let slip that he was involved in lending the money to the home owners during this fiasco, he wouldn’t divulge any details.  Some things are just better not being close enough to know everything.

So, here’s my plea and warning for you to take care of this crucial detail – be absolutely certain of the locations of the property lines and corners before you start.  And I don’t mean maybe!  I knew about where the four corner pins were on our lot, but couldn’t find them, even with my metal detector.  So, Guthrie the land surveyor went to the lot and located the pins, for a small price ($275).  How much is it worth to be sure you are building your home within the property lines?

Anyway, a few days ago, after the lot had been graded, Susan and I met Doug the concrete man there to locate the corners of the house.  Using the corner pins, we measured back from the front property line the distance we felt was best (about 35 feet), which was well within the allowable building area at the 25 foot minimum setback required on the lot.


After setting the four basic corners of the house, we could visualize the view from the front porch and back patio.  Nice trees!

Doug said he had to finish up a job and then come to ours by Wednesday (tomorrow).  He will take care of getting the layout and footing materials delivered by the lumber supplier.   Rained here and on the lot tonight.  Hopefully tomorrow afternoon the weather will be good!

Last week we got David the electrician to install the temporary power pole, which is just a 4×4 treated post with a meter base, some circuit breakers and electrical receptacles.  David does enough of these with the electric coop that I just asked all the questions about what needed to happen first, and then next and next.  He called me later that day to say that the pole was in place.  We established the account online with the electric coop, who will connect power to the pole and snap in the meter.

Susan also went to the water board office (must make a personal appearance) and paid the $560 fee to establish the account and get the meter installed in the box, which was in place when we bought the lot.  The meter was put in the next day, as I discovered while we were meeting with Doug the concrete man.  I called Bill the plumber, who said he would “send the boys” over soon to install the temporary water hydrant at the meter.  Lots of phone calls!

Water and electricity – two construction site essentials.  Not to mention the portable toilet, which is set to be delivered tomorrow, in time for the concrete crew (about $80 per month).

So, today’s lesson is to be certain of the locations of your property lines before laying out the house, and to get your utilities started just before the layout of the batterboards begins.

Thank you so much for reading.

Click here for more info on house sites. 

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We love trees, but sometimes have to clear them

At long last, the site work folks made it to our lot this week!  The trackhoe was unloaded on Monday morning.  Susan met the operator at the lot, to review the trees, grading and driveway location.

We had previously measured and driven stakes at each of the four corners of the house – approximate locations.  Two large trees had to be removed, plus several others that were too close to the house or were undesirable trees (such as pines and hackberries).  Susan and I had wrapped pink marking tape around the trunks of the trees we wanted to keep, and we kept as many as possible.

Trackhoe clearing trees

If you have a number of larger trees that must be removed to make way for your new house, don’t hire tree cutting folks to take them down before you talk with a site work contractor.  It’s amazing how quickly a trackhoe can take down an entire tree, including the roots.

So, one man and machine started working on Monday, continued on Tuesday, and by lunch on Wednesday had finished clearing off the trees, adjusting the grade and installed the driveway culvert pipe and dirt cover.   Read more about site clearing here. 

After seeing the finished lot this morning, I called David the electrician to let him know the grading was done.  The electrician must first install the temporary power pole, then we will establish the electrical service account with the power company (electric coop in this case).

David called me this evening at supper time to say that they had installed the power pole.  The next step is up to us.  We’d love to have working electricity on site before the concrete man arrives.

Keep your eyes open,


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The aroma of freshly baked banana nut bread, and rain

Yesterday I walked through the front door of our home, which was filled with the fresh smell of Susan’s banana nut bread.  Mind you, this is no quick-fix easy recipe with banana pudding mix.  It’s the real thing, with mashed bananas, chopped pecans and orange juice glaze.  Fresh out of the oven.   Mighty fine!

Now, why would I tell you about cooking banana bread on my blog for our latest home building project?  Could it be that there’s still no activity on our wooded house site for us to go look at?  Could it be that the promise that “we should be there on Monday or Tuesday” turned into after lunch on Friday?  And that widespread rain set in right after lunch (3.5 inches at our house)?  Could it be that the rain and other stuff has kept Kelly, the site work contractor, from getting to our lot to remove the trees that sit right where the new house will go?  Alas, one of the perils of home building is rain, because it not only slows down your project, but those projects that your sub has to finish before he can come to yours.


I remember on one of our houses that not a single drop of rain fell on the framing of the house.  From the time the slab was done until the roof shingles went on, the job site was dry.  That was really nice, but not normal for central Alabama, where we average an inch of rain per week.  In most areas of the country, rain delays are a fact of home building life that we just have to not stress and fret over.  You can’t do anything to change the weather.  The best you can do sometimes is work around it.  Sometimes.

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We should be getting started any day now!

We’re about to start construction on our latest home project!  We finished our drawings, got an appraisal and secured a construction loan.  We’ve gathered prices and have subs lined up, have our builder’s risk insurance policy, and we are just waiting for the site work contractor, Kelly, to get started removing some trees (only as necessary to build the house).

We’ll keep you posted on our progress, step by step, sometimes day by day, through the entire process.  Lots of photos and explanations!

See you soon,


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