Up to This Point

Before introducing the team of volunteers that came to help us, I'd like to take you on a little picture tour and attach some dates to show you the progress on our property and house. We bought the property in February 2008. We bought a chainsaw and began clearing some trees to open up the view a little and make place for our camper and house. The kids were great helpers and Shirley and I cleared a good size area, leaving the stumps. In the following picture from February 23, 2008, the kids and I are taking a break.

Then on March 28, 2008, the men from We Care Program had a staff work day and we cleared most of what is clear today. We rented a Caterpillar D5 to help remove stumps and shape the ground. Some of the men started building our shed. This picture was a goofy shot of celebration at the end of the day.

On April 23, 2008, we had Pat Hurst and Hurst Well Drilling come and drill 365 feet to get us a good well. Shortly after this we had Bobcat Creations of Odenville install a septic system.

A friend, Wally, began digging out our basement and leveling some of the surrounding areas. Here is the basement after part of the dig on April 28, 2008.

Alabama power installed two poles from the neighbors poles to our site. On Memorial Day, May 26, 2008, we were able to move the camper up to the site. We were not sure if the the truck would be able to pull the camper up the hill to get here. So we emptied it out and hauled everything up to the shed and drove up in 4WD.

Shirley and I dug the footers out and called for concrete on July 3, 2008 from Webb Concrete and Building Supply.

Over the next month, I designed the concrete forming system that would allow us to embed some insulation in the basement walls. On September 2, 2008, we got the first sections of the formwork started.

On September 18, 2008, we poured our first section of basement wall. This was almost the 10 year anniversary of when Shirley and I started emailing.

On October 2, 2008, we formed up for the second pour. Here you can see some of the inner workings of the formwork.

On November 28, 2008, we had some help pouring the third and final height of the end walls from Don and his boys, Brandon and Perry, from We Care Program and Bryan from Harvestfield Church. The concrete truck was just barely high enough to drag the concrete into the forms.

We continued pouring concrete to get up to the full height of the basement, putting in six windows and five doorways. On March 11, 2009, the lumber came from Webb Concrete and Building Supply for framing up. Shirley and I got the basement interior walls nailed together and the sill plate around the main part of the house put on before the crew from Pennsylvania began to work.

The work crew from Pennsylvania arrived on Saturday, March 14, 2009 and stayed till Thursday, March 19, 2009. In that time 12 volunteers (primarily from Middle Creek Church of the Brethren) framed up our house, poured concrete floors in the basement and put paper on the roof. The project was a success. The team was great, and God blessed us with safety as the house got up pretty high. Here at the end of the week, some of the crew stands atop the tower lookout.

We praise the Lord God Almighty for his kindness and protection to provide us with all these blessings, and to take care of us up to this point!


CSI - Concrete Surrounding Insulation

Have you heard of CSI? No, not Crime Scene Investigation. I'm talking about CSI for building walls? Likey, you should not have, because I just made it up. Essentially it is the title I am giving to my basement walls that my wife and kids and I created using concrete and EPS insulation. So here is what Concrete Surrounding Insullation (CSI) looks like:

You may have heard of ICF, which stands for Insulated Concrete Forms. ICF usually come in some type of block of Styrofoam or EPS that one can stack to form the house walls and then pour full of concrete. The blocks are already engineered to fit together and provide flexibility with corners, curves and other wall features. The form becomes part of the final wall and provides a great R-value for insulating a home. Though I have not tried it, I think two people could easily setup the walls. But there are a few issues that I have with it that deterred me to try something different.
  1. Price - the blocks are pretty expensive
  2. Finishing the inside - You need to still finish the inside with another material
  3. Finishing the outside - You will probably want to finish the outside with another material
  4. More price - Even after the blocks being expensive, you still have to pay for the above interior and exterior finishes
So in a quest to try something different, Shirley and I decided to try pouring our own concrete walls with insulation embedded inside or sandwiched inside. And that is the more commonly know term, "Sandwich Walls". Both inside and outside surfaces could be used as finished surfaces instead of having to add other materials! Our goals were to come up with a system that two people could assemble and pour without too costly of an investment in equipment. As a result, we went to Construction Material Wholesale in Birmingham to purchase plyform, a plywood with a black coating on both sides to protect from water and provide a smooth finish to the concrete. We bought:
  1. 16 - 4'x8' sheets at about $33 a sheet
  2. 2"x4'x8' at about $27 per sheet
  3. #4 rebar in 20' lengths
  4. 100 - 1/2"x2' threaded rods with two nuts and two washers per rod
  5. 1/2"x10' PVC pipes
  6. 1"x2"x8' treated wood boards (0.75" thick)
  7. 2"x4"x10' treated wood boards
We did the following to prepare for the first pour:
  1. We drilled holes in the plyform panels to optimize the load of the concrete pressure on the forms. The horizontal spacing was 2' in the 8' length of the board (1', 3', 5', 7'). We used 16" vertical spacing (8", 24", 40") for the holes.
  2. We cut EPS panels and doubled them up (4") to fit between two plyform panels.
  3. We cut PVC peices into 5" and 2.25" lengths.
  4. We made straps from the 1"x2" boards and drilled wholes in them to match the vertical spacing of the plyform holes.
  5. We assembled the formwork in place by putting threaded rod through first plyform, a 5" PVC, a strap, the 4" of EPS, another strap, a 2.25" PVC, and then the other plyform.
  6. Once all 12 holes have threaded rods through, we put the 2"x4" boards laying across the rows of threaded rod on each exterior side of the plyforms.
  7. Then we placed another set of straps on the outside of this.
  8. Finally, we put washers and nuts on and tightened everything up to make it rigid.
  9. We tied rebar on the 5.75" side within the wall cavity both vertically and horizontally.
  10. We repeated this process, placing the next set off the end of the previous.
  11. Once the wall is formed, we put end caps on and braced it up with some metal stakes at the bottom and some 2"X4" at the top down to the ground.
  12. We framed a door opening inside the forms.
  13. We put nailers and keyways in the form cavities.
  14. We poured it full of concrete to a height of 48".
  15. We let the concrete sit a day or two and removed the 2"x4" boards, the rods, and the forms.
  16. We cleaned the forms up some.
We did subsequent pours:
  1. We reassembled the forms with the bottom set of holes in the plyform lined up with the top set of holes from the previous pour and repeated the process to result in an additional 32" of height.
  2. We repeated again (including door and window openings) for the final 32" of height to add up to 48"+32"+32"=112"
It took a good bit of time to form up for each pour. The higher we went, the more time consuming. There were a few things we learned along the way and would do differently if we were to do it again. First, we would ensure that the juice from the second and thrird heights did not run out onto the lower heights. Second, I would drill the holes in the plyform a little more accurately (I drilled through several at once and some of them shifted a little). This made it difficult occasionally to lineup the forms. Third, I would create a better gutter on the top for the next pour to lock into.

Overall, we are satisfied with the result, and saved about $7,000 fomr the price quoted by a company that pours solid concrete walls without the insulation in them. This picture peers through one window to the back walls.

I built a set of scaffolding brackets that I can fit into the threaded rod holes to support a set of planks for walking around. It gives me an idea of what the view should look like on the back deck.

That is the short of the story. It took us a period of 5 months to do it with me working full time in the prison, going to our kids' soccer games, and battling the freezing weather since November. We are now getting ready to frame the floor deck and go up higher :)


A Prayer on the Mountain

As I continue to work at St. Clair Correctional Facility as an Assistant Chaplain through We Care Program, I am amazed at the wonderful ways that God works through his children. One of those beautiful moments was on Tuesday morning of the annual We Care Prison Crusade. I took the team of men entrusted to me to minister that week up to our property to show them where we are living and to pray together before going into the prison. Shirley and I were not expecting what was about to happen. After a while of kicking the walls, climbing around, and looking out over the valleys on either side, I called everybody together for prayer. I shared that our property contains the centroid of St. Clair County, Alabama, and a few possible visions for how we might use the property to glorify God. We shared some prayer requests and joined hands to pray. As the sun poured warmth on us and a gentle breeze drifted through, the men began to pray. We were blessed as the men prayed for Shirley and I and the kids and this mountain on which we stood and call home.

In a few moments of silence between the mens' prayer offerings, I heard what sounded like an eagle or a hawk in the surrounding air. You see, up to that point, we had seen and heard woodpeckers, buzzards, and small birds. I was moved to realize that the Lord had sent us such a beautiful bird to fly overhead and call out with us to Almighty God. Was I just hearing things? I did not see the bird as we were praying. I felt encouraged and determined. Those moments with these men of prayer, with my wife standing in support from behind, and my Lord pouring out blessings upon us were rich indeed. We prayed for the men in the prison, for the day was still ahead of us.

Some men in the prison are too intellectual to see the value of the simply wonderful plan of God's salvation in Jesus. Some men are too scared to open up for they fear what may ensue. Some men love their sin too much to take hold of Jesus Christ. Some are even explicitly serving Satan. Some hold their life too important to waste on following Jesus. Some will lie to us just to get us out of their way. "But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death." (Revelation 21:8)

But, thankfully, there are some in prison who delight in the Lord and they receive us who are coming to share and encourage in Christ. These men like the volunteers fit the following verses. "As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 2:4-5)

Yet standing before the Lord that morning, we were joined in unity preparing to enter the prison. Just a few evenings later, we would be standing with our arms interlocked with those believers in prison who do not think it shameful to bear the name of Jesus Christ on their lips and hearts. They bear their crosses to His glory. We stood with them, the rejected of society, and declared in our hearts in praise to God how awesome it is for all of us to know God's kindness and forgiveness for the sins of our lives that would have imprisoned us forever apart from God!

So that hawk's call was a welcome sound, declaring to us the glorious freedom that is in Jesus. I hope that each volunteer was blessed through this crusade. I would like to express my gratitude to every one of the volunteers who came to Alabama for a week to enter into a spiritually dark place and be instruments for the glory of the Lord to shine from the heavens and reflect from our faces. Amen!

As Shirley and I and the kids were driving on our road one day this week, we passed a spot where we saw the hawks. That verified that they were actually nearby. And then later they came again to fly over this place again. We praise you Lord!