Sunday, August 12, 2007

A house of Railway Sleepers - Part 2

The construction begins...

This is the 2nd article in a series that documents the building the construction of a lakeshore house made of railway sleepers. In Part 1 I explained the how's and why's of sleepers and the logistics of getting the sleepers to the construction site.

As I said in the previous article I had the plans drawn after the terrain was leveled. So now was the time to dig the holes for the house pillars. We decided to stay away from the border (even though I compresed the ground with two different sized Jeeps... I suspected this non-certified method may have left some loose spots). So we left about 5 feet of margin (1.5 meter) to the border.

Pillars and Floor Beams

So then we dug the 23 2x2x2 ft holes (and by we I mean Don Hernan) that were needed to plant the pillars. A truckload of sand, another one of gravel and about 400 Kgs. of concrete were used to build the pillars foundations.

The center pillars had to be a lot taller to acomodate for an attic at the center of the roof, so I bought 7 timber pieces (copper sulphate treated eucaliptus) of 17 and 21 ft. (5 and 6.5 meters). You can see the resulting shape from up close and from a distance in the photos.

The first time I saw it done and could guess the house's shape I laid down on the ground and looked at all the pillars pointing towards the sky... the coarse sleepers made it look like my very own Stonehenge. (yeah, yeah... I know... but this sort of Kodak moments of pride happen when you see your house being slowly built, even more if you build parts of it... trust me).

Then it was time to put on the floor structure... we used 21 pieces of 2"x4" pine wood treated with a protective paint as floor beams, and bolt them on to the sleeper/pillars using 6" hex headed galvanized screws. (Tip: Bolt them slowly or you'll cut the head of the screw in the last inch).
My wife Carolina and my son Pablito bolted most of the floor structure, and we all painted them to protect them from moist.

By that time I figured that some of the floor would bounce when we walk on the center areas, so in each room we added a center piece of concrete as a support point to make the beams light smaller, now every beam has no more than 3 or 4 ft of light between pillars and support points.
Now you can jump on a single beams and nothing moves (another scientific method, this one I picked up from my father, who usually jumps over or hungs from anything he is installing, never mind it`s just a screw to hold a picture).

Meanwhile we found time within Don Hernan`s busy schedule to build a small fishing and diving dock (small because it will only be for a couple of years untill be build the terrace) and a stair of sleepers to go down from the house to the dock.

You can see me standing with my best face of "I own this dock" in this photo.

Will it float?

When we were almost finished with the floor structure... winter was here, and it started raining... And it rained for a week, and with the rain came the mud, and the edge of the perfectly leveled terrain started to slide slowly down the hill towards the water.
A couple of weeks before we had forgotten that this could happen, and about the safety margin... and got too close to the border with two more pillars to acommodate a bow window in the living room.
These were the only two pillars that were damaged by the sliding and had to be removed.

The next morning we all secured every "still single" pillar with the rest of the floor structure and I prayed... And the next week the construction of a containment wall of concrete and stone begun. And the two pillars for the bow window will go interlocked into the wall. The wall is 50 ft long (16 mt.) and is has another second section to the back of 20 ft to keep the road of continuosly going into the house spot with the same rain.

This unplanned cointainment wall has demanded a large truckload of stones, another one of gravel and two weeks of work of Don Hernan and one helper. It also demanded as much investment as all the sleepers. So I guess this is the first of the things I would be complaining as an owner to his constructor. But being my own constructor I can't complain... (not without a mirror at least).
Plus, not so deep down I knew we would need it (and that it would be expensive), but wished it wouldn't be needed so soon, and that I could finish the house without it.

Right now most of the wall is built and we can rest assured that the house will stay were we first planted it. In a couple of weeks we will start building the walls with sleepers and fastened with the mighty TimberLock bolts (we got another 100 in our recent trip to the Laguna Seca MotoGP races).

Looking ahead, we still have to practice more on the sleeper cutting, and try out a compressible rubber band call CompriBand (duh!) to seal the uneven spots that will be left between the sleepers.

So far it's been a fun and large project, and everyone is helping build a little of our lakehouse.

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