Honey We’re Home: Construction Week 18
Can you believe we’re already at week 18 of full on construction?? We’ve been at it for over 4 months! It seems crazy to me. Sometimes I feel like time goes really slowly here, in the sense that it can take a really long time for things to come together or get worked out, like our car repairs. We have a Santa Fe that’s been in the shop since last June. When I stopped and realized that we were coming up on the one year mark it made me want to cry. Other things just slip by and I find myself wondering how we got to where we are, kind of like those times when you’re driving and you realize that you somehow missed the last five minutes of the journey because you were lost in your thoughts.
When I last updated about the construction we had just done the foundation pour on the house. So much has happened since then!
Yesterday I went out to meet with Evens so we could confirm placement on electrical outlets and switches. Yep, outlets and switches! Now, you have to remember that the process for building in concrete is much different than wood. With wood you do all the framing first, get things to close up stage, then you have your contractors go in and place wiring and plumbing. With concrete you have to place all of that as you go because it all gets cemented in the walls and floors. When we built our current house we waited on some of that stuff and did it after, which was a lot of work. It meant jackhammering lines in the wall and running the conduit that way. So much work. This time we’re doing it the right way and doing it as we go.
When I arrived I was giddy because so much was happening. Let’s start with the depot (shop):
A few weeks ago we poured the roof on the building. Working up to a pour is a time consuming process. It took about two weeks to do all the wood form work on the roof. As they’re placing the wood supports they’re reinforcing them with what we call “potos”. Creole is funny because one word will have many meanings. In English we have many words to mean the same thing. A “photo” can be any kind of support post. On a bridge, a column supporting a roof, or in the case of prepping the roof for pouring, a metal jack stand.
I think in total we rented about 120 of them for the depot building. After all the cross supports and jack stands are in place plywood is laid down. But, we’re still not ready to pour the roof. Before we can pour we have to tie rebar in a grid pattern at set distances to carry the main structural support of the concrete. Rebar is what holds concrete buildings together if there’s any flex, like an earthquake. As the rebar was getting tied Evens was also running any electrical and what not. Things like boxes for light fixtures. It all has to be in place before the pour because you can’t place that stuff in a solid slab after the pour.
Pour day was once again a great day. Pouring the foundation was a different process because we were pouring concrete down into the trenches, so the guys could literally drive a wheelbarrow over and dump it, then the bosses came along and smoothed things out where needed. When you pour a roof you’re going up, and in Haiti we do that with a ladder and a bunch of buckets, in a bucket brigade.
If you want to see fierce work, watch Haitian men pour a cement roof. It’s amazing. It’s hard and exhausting work. It’s like watching a well oiled machine.
When I arrived at the site they were well under way. We had estimated that they were going to have to work a long day just based on the square footage that needed to be poured. They completely blew us away. By noon the roof was almost done. When I came back out an hour before the end of the work day they were done the roof and had moved onto laying block on the house. Let me just be clear here – these guys had heaved TONS, very literally, of cement up a story onto a roof, and then they went and did other work to round the day out.
The thing that just keeps amazing us is everyone’s attitudes. This is really the hardest and probably least enjoyable type of work when you’re doing a construction project, but the guys were in great spirits. In fact, they actually had a bit of a competition going on between the two teams.
After the roof pour we waited a day or two, then took the form work off. A few days before I left on my trip I did a trip to Port au Prince with Chewie so we could buy a ton of stuff. A TON of stuff. Evens was going to need bathroom fixtures for the staff bathrooms, but we decided that since we were getting all the fixtures for the house from the same places we would go and buy all of it at the same time. Toilets, and sinks, and a bathtub, oh my! The advantage of doing this is that as Evens has been getting the plumbing laid in the house he’s got the actual fixtures that he’ll be working with, rather than laying stuff and hoping it fits later. So much better than what we did last time. The other advantage for me personally, was having to make final decisions on things early on. While I could have spent several visits to multiple stores deciding exactly which toilet or faucets I wanted, it was actually really freeing to just decide, pay for it, and put it in the truck. Now I don’t need to let that take up space in my brain. We got conduit, tile, grout, electrical wire… so many things that my head was spinning and we were completely exhausted by the time we got home.
For the record, do you know how expensive wire is??? Crazy expensive! We have to a have a heavy gauge, multi-line wire for our battery and inverter system. It’s literally an inch thick. We shudder every time we have to buy it, because we’ve had to buy it in big pieces, like 170 feet. And it’s always in the hundreds of dollars. Like lots of hundreds of dollars range. Ouch!
In the past two weeks the guys have been working on certain things on the depot to get it a bit more finished and useable, then we’ll stop work on that and just be working on the house until after we move. The priorities are to get the doors on to be able to lock stuff up inside, get the staff bathrooms partly functional to the point where the guys can bucket flush the toilet and take bucket showers. The full on water system will be hooked up when we move into the house because it’s all inter-connected.
When I went out yesterday I found bathrooms with mostly tiled walls. We got a sweet standing tile saw that makes me want to tile all the things. One of our bosses does tile, so rather than having to hire out he’s going to be doing ALL the tile, which is going to be a lot. It was worth it to invest in a good saw to do the job. He had a big grin when I asked him if he likes the saw. He’s used to working with a slider cutter and then having to break the tile. He’s doing a beautiful job.
The depot has also been mostly painted. We wanted to get everything painted to protect the block. The first coat took 25 gallons of paint, and it’s not done yet. I need to get more today when I go to town. It’s just soaking it up, but it’s good because it means that the walls will be really well protected.
We have two of the three rooms in lock up stage and are using them to store things like cement and tools. The main room door isn’t square so we need to do some work on it to get it to fit. Hopefully that’ll happen early next week.
Now, the house!
The last time I posted about it we were starting to lay block after the foundation was poured…
Since then we’ve filled the spaces between the block and the trenches, and tamped it down to get ready to pour the floor…
Then we poured the floor last week while I was away. This is what it looked like on Saturday morning when Chris and I went out:
Aside from the rebar sticking up there’s also a lot of conduit. Those are electrical lines and some plumbing.
And this is what things looked like yesterday when I went out:
This is looking from the centre of the kitchen to the living room. Those support posts will all be formed and poured to match the wall. It’s basically a big wide door way. On the right where you see the line of blocks at floor level is where the stairwell will be going to the second floor. The stairs will go up in the corner to a small landing, then up the main staircase.
Thony (l) and Evens (r) are in the office! The storage room/pantry for the main floor is that section in the lower part of the picture. The picture doesn’t really give a good feel for how big the office is.
Evens adjusting the height of the counter top electrical socket boxes.
Up until yesterday I had been holding my breath because it was still really hard to get a feel for the rooms, especially when I was still looking at trenches. I kept worrying that all my hours of pacing and measuring things out as I worked on plans would have left things “off”. That we would have gotten to the point of putting up walls and realized that a certain room was too small by just a couple feet, but that it was too late to change anything. Through the whole process I’ve kept telling Chris that I wanted to be really intentional about planning so we didn’t have any regrets or wish that we’d done something differently. Walking through the house over the weekend and yesterday was so fun because I was totally happy with everything! So excited to see it keep coming together.