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Posted by Mary in PA on 8/5/2010

With the farm terrace fix and driveway underway, it was time to start building the pad for the shop. A simple enough process; strip the topsoil, replace it with suitable fill to the correct height, and compact. The thing is though, determining the correct height took a little bit of thought and effort well before any heavy machinery arrived on site. Here is what we did.


Based on our site plan, were knew where the shop would go, and it’s orientation to take advantage of passive solar in the winter. That was all about the x-y axis stuff, in terms of the site plan. But now we also needed to think about the z-axis, or elevation. For example, we wanted the shop high enough to keep storm water running away from the building, but not so high it appeared to be blasting off into space. And how high should the slab (inside) and the final backfill (outside) be relative to the top of block. We needed to decide these things and communicate this information to the contractors in an accurate and reliable way. I was lucky to come across a book called Measuring, Marking & Layout by John Carroll and studied the pertinent sections on how to survey and set ‘top of block’ height for a block foundation wall. Based on information from the book and thinking about what we wanted, we hand-sketched a scale cross-section drawing of the footing, block wall, stone and slab (inside), and backfill (outside). Then it was time to put ‘measure, mark & layout’ on the actual dirt.


We wanted to rent a laser transit for this task, but it was already out. Lesson learned: reserve way ahead! So we wound up with a traditional transit, and fortunately John took to it like a duck to water. I was the able assistant and we set about laying out the building boundaries and setting up the batter boards (to establish a ‘top of block’ reference) just as described in the book. Then: double-check measurements, adjust batter boards and repeat. And repeat. And repeat… until you get it right. And now, we were ready for excavation.


As it turned out, our simple hand sketch was one of the most useful tools I had in communicating with the contractors and just plain keeping it straight in my own head. For example, our drawing indicated that the contractor would need to bring in fill to bring the pad up to the desired height (after the topsoil was stripped). Referencing the drawing, we could see just how many inches of fill were needed, so we were able to discuss how that was going to happen (getting subsoil from the simultaneous work on the farm terrace). The drawing and other docs I had organized in a folder helped me answer questions promptly and with confidence, OK, a bit of confidence. Sort of like that first day at a new job, except that in this job I had no prior experience and I was starting as the boss.


All in all everything worked out pretty well. Over the course of a couple of days our three-ring circus began to resolve according to our site plan and foundation drawing.


P.S. I find I really like large earth-moving machines. I know my niece and nephew are fascinated with them, too. Maybe it’s something some people never really outgrow. A few months ago when the two young’uns came for a visit, we returned home from a morning outing to see that two houses down they were ripping up the driveway and repaving. The kids were so enthralled they didn’t want to come in for lunch. So I brought sandwiches out and we had a picnic lunch and ‘show’ out on the front lawn. I’m not sure what the construction guys thought of their peanut gallery, but we enjoyed it very much. Maybe the only thing more fun than watching the equipment would be getting to use it… but I guess that’s a project for a different day!


Massive machine scrapes subsoil from terrace, then drops and grades it at building pad.
Building pad taking shape, batter boards still standing (good).
Finished pad, ready for foundation trench.
Everyone loves to watch big machines, and with PB&J sandwiches, what could be better?

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