A Hole Where the House Goes

Yesterday we had full Gale force winds and torrential rain with the forecast calling for more rain today. So I wasn’t sure what, if anything, would be able to get done today. Turns out a LOT got done today and I couldn’t be happier!

Clearing the driveway

Clearing driveway topsoil

Before digging can start, the diggers have to arrive, in this case earlier than I was prepared to get video. We’re fortunate to have an exceptionally good excavation contractor here on the island meaning he doesn’t have to wait for the morning ferry. Still, it’s surprising to have a contractor start earlier than the ferry! Adam was here bright and early to drop off two machines.

The first order of business was to clear the driveway of 30-plus years of vegetation and top soil that had accumulated on the gravel surface. The new utilities will be run down the middle of the driveway so this is just temporary ‘cleaning’. Once exposed, we could see the gravel layer is in good condition. This should be sufficient as a construction-phase surface without too much repair after the utilities trench is closed.

Moving the power

Power line is now safe from construction

Matt was here a couple days ago to locate the power supply line that used to service the cabins but is now servicing the trailer where I live fulltime. Using a hand shovel he dug back from the cabin to expose the cable that ran from the cabin to the trailer (that was not in conduit) and from the cabin back to the ‘temporary’ power pole at the street (that was in conduit). Of course both of these lines were in the way of the construction so they needed to be moved. Because this is my main power supply, the request was to move it with as little outage as possible. Fortunately the conduit was buried so shallow, they were able to lift it out of the ground as a single unit and drag it to next to the downed tree. It now runs along the south edge of the property in parallel with the supply line to the RV pad.

Moving the wood chips

Finally moving the wood chips

Then Adam moved the remainder of a pile of wood chips left by the tree service after they took down some hazardous trees on my property last year. I’ve been picking away at that pile for two summers, moving one wheelbarrow at a time to build up pathways and to mulch planting beds around the trailer. I’ve also hauled a few pick-up truck loads to my sister’s garden. She lives on the island a few miles away and generously let me use some of her raised beds this year for growing vegetables and as temporary holding space for plants that will be transplanted, eventually, into my greenhouse. We used the chips to cover paths between the raised beds and to cover the weed-cloth in a sitting area in the garden. We still need more chips to finish the pathways so Adam also loaded my truck to capacity – yea I didn’t have to do it by hand!

Clearing the topsoil

Clearing the top soil

Adam continued clearing topsoil down from the driveway to the area for the house and greenhouse. There will be a lot of raw ground to cover after the construction is done so we’re saving as much of the native top soil as possible. Other than the one test hole that Adam dug a few weeks ago to see what kind of soil is in this area, this is our first look at the soil in the entire greenhouse footprint. Looking good at the surface – well draining sand and gravel. That may explain why there isn’t any standing water on my property even with the torrential rains we’ve had over the last days and weeks.

Now that the pile of chips is out of the way and the ground is cleared within the greenhouse footprint, I can finally see exactly where the greenhouse will sit in relation to the existing structures and views.

Saving the topsoil

Fortunately, I had a large area on the edge of my property cleared last spring where the soil can be stock piled. Due to so much uncertainty with construction material delivery times, the original intent was to use that space for a shipping container to store materials that arrived earlier than needed. But we won’t need that much space afterall so it’s perfect for soil storage. This space is far enough away from the foundation site, however, that Adam loaded the dirt into a dump truck and then drove the 100 feet +/- to the dumping ground. It didn’t look like that much dirt when it was in situ but I’m glad I didn’t have to pay to haul it away and then pay to replace it later.

Setting elevations

One of the trickier aspects of siting the greenhouse is how to deal with the 4 foot grade change between the east end and west end of the greenhouse location. My property is comprised of 3 parcels – 1 ‘upper’ parcel that butts into 2 ‘lower’ parcels. Due to set-back requirements and the space taken up by the septic drain field, there isn’t enough width for the greenhouse on the upper (east) parcel. We can, however, place a retaining wall on the upper parcel so that lowers grade on the greenhouse’s east end and reduces the amount the ground has to be raised at the greenhouse’s west end.

The primary reasons to want to minimize the amount to raise the west end of the greenhouse are cost and space. Wherever the greenhouse’s foundation is above present grade means we’ll have to either grade the soil in a slope back to the native elevation or build retaining walls to step back to the native elevation. The trade-offs are that slopes require linear space and walls require time to gather, or money to haul in, wall material. If I didn’t have existing structures on my property, the decision would be simple. But the west end of the greenhouse will be within about 10 feet of the septic system’s sand filter so there isn’t enough space for a nice slope between the structures. Fortunately, last year Adam did the excavation work for my neighbor’s home and utilities and stock-piled a bunch of boulders near the property line. Voila! A free source of wall material conveniently available at the edge of my property!

The swimming pool comes early

Making a well for the pump

Once the elevations and the house’s outline were marked, it was time for the moment I’ve been waiting almost 2 years for – digging started! Fortunately the test hole was mostly true and digging went quickly. Starting at the north east edge of what will be the lap pool, Adam moved down the northern edge for the length of the pool. There will be a crawl space under the house for the utilities and seasonal storage so in addition to clearing the house perimeter, Adam cleared the entire area of the house’s footprint.

Not too far below the surface, the soils turned to clay and rock in the northeast corner. Adam used the backhoe to break out as much of the rock as he could. There was some rock that wouldn’t break with the backhoe but fortunately we only have to raise the elevation around 6 inches rather than bring in additional equipment to break out more rock. It certainly is not optimal to lose those 6 inches on the upper (east) edge because it means raising the lower (west) edge even more than was planned. But it is much better than the additional time to transport, and cost to use, another machine or rock hammer attachment.

The next, but expected, challenge was dealing with water in the hole. There has been so much rain lately that water is literally flowing down the hill and pooling in the hole. So Adam also dug a bit beyond the edge of the greenhouse foundation to create a well for the water to drain toward. Tomorrow Matt and Adam will be back with a pump and to dig the trench for the retaining wall on the upper parcel. Let’s see if the weather cooperates.

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