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Audio Post Building One Home Concrete October 4, 2012

It was cold last night. Its colder tonight. There is a hard freeze warning. The weather is predicted to be in the 20s at night and the 50s during the day for the next week. It is scaring me. If it does not get warmer we cannot get our foundation for our replacement house in this fall and will have to wait until March or April to even start.

Concrete is made of water, sand, cement and gravel. If the water freezes you have cement, gravel, sand and a block of ice. From what I have read, there seems to be differences of opinion as to what the lowest temperature you can pour concrete in. The answer that is most convincing to me is that it matters a great deal what temperature you allow the concrete to cure. Curing is the period of time that the mixture of water, sand, cement and gravel becomes a solid mass known as concrete. The colder the temperature, the longer the cure–or creation of the sand/gravel/cement with ice concoction. At least that is the way I understand it. I am not an expert so don’t pour concrete with my advice.

This past summer for a friend’s birthday present, I set out to replace an 6′ by 8′ area of linoleum at the back door of her farm house. That little bit of floor catches everything that everyone brings from the house to the barn and the barn to the house. The farmhouse is over 100 years old so completing the project was an adventure in home repair. Pulling up the old materials was an archeological dig. When I finally got down to the bottom, I realized that I needed to repair the threshold and the bottom of the wall if the linoleum was to have a lifespan of more than a few weeks. Problem was, I did not know how to solve this problem. I had never tried to do anything like this.

I examined the floor and hoped for inspiration. Some neighbors came by. I looked it some more. I took a hammer to the wall. My theory always has been if it is bad, and a hammer won’t make it worse, give it a go. I did get some improvement hammering the threshold and the wall but not enough. It was inevitable, I needed concrete. The gap was originally filled with concrete and over the years it had settled and when I started pulling up the floor I pulled up chunks of old fractured concrete. I did not want a big twirling truck to back up in the yard. I just needed a bucket of concrete.

I asked if anyone had any Quick Crete and no one knew what I was talking about. Then someone said, “well you could get a bag of sakcrete.” Ah, the regional differences in product. In the Intermountain West we drink pop. In some areas of the South you drink a soda. In other places any soft drink of any flavor is a Coke. So, someone brought me a bag of Sakcrete. I read the directions three times and it looked to me like it worked the same way. I did not check the internet, it just would not do for a woman in a tool belt to look on the internet. While in the privacy of my own home, I have worked on plumbing using a pipe wrench, a computer and a youtube video. However, for a woman who travels with a suitcase of tools, it would be unseemly to be seen looking up the differences between SAKcrete and Quickcrete. I had to look like I knew what I was doing and just having pretty tools was not going to get me far on the farm where people take their tools seriously.

So, I mixed my Sakcrete and was ready to pour it. A friend came by and helpfully suggested that I could wedge some long nails in like mini-rebar. What a great idea! Off I went to the garage to find some big nails. I could not find any nails. I thought there might be some at the barn but not much building stuff gets kept down there.

As I was rummaging through. I found an old bag of french pleat drapery pins. These days everyone uses rings, even for pinch pleated draperies. The pins were large. They were thick. They had multiple surfaces. They had pointy ends that could be wedged between the two sides of the existing concrete. I had a prize. That is, if my friend did not need them. To my utter delight she said I could use them.

drapery pinSo, I set about putting in some concrete, wedging some drapery pins and putting more concrete in. I patted it down and felt quite happy with myself. I went off to other things to wait for the concrete to cure. I thought I could get back to work in the morning.

I checked on it before we went to bed and was relived to see that it had not exploded or left for Mars. As I said, I am not an expert in concrete.

I have a friend who is.

As dawn broke, I could not sleep for thinking about the concrete so I crept downstairs about 5:30am to check my concrete. There were funny little light gray marks on the darker gray background. To say I was concerned would be underplaying it a little since I had made such a show with my tool bucket. I had to live up to the reputation of a 5 gallon paint bucket with a canvas organizer handing off of it. I poked at the concrete, I pushed gently on the structure around it, all seemed well but, well, you don’t want to make a mistake with something that sets up like, well, like concrete.

My expert friend was two timezones away. I paced up and down until I thought it was a decent hour to call. I explained what it looked like and he was very happy. Seems it is supposed to look like. He asked me to walk him through what I had done. When I got to the drapery pins I almost lied. I had not quite decided if it was going to be a lie of omission or a lie of commission but I don’t lie so there you have it. I confessed to the drapery pins. My friend burst out laughing. I was crushed. He asked my why I thought it would work and I went on with some physics lesson about more points of contact, flexibility so that it would move with the concrete as it shifted normally in the weather, etc. Silence on the other end of the phone. I said sheepishly, “I could not find anything else and it looked like a good idea to me.” He had stopped laughing and had been listening carefully. He laughed again, congratulated me on my creativity and and said that home remodeling was about what you could think up in the face of a problem.

When I finished the floor was somewhat better but the threshold was my piece de resistance. I don’t know which thought I liked better, that the you can step on the threshold and not have it move or wondering what the next generation of people who live in this 100 year old house will think when they find drapery pins in the concrete when it is their tern to repair this all-important door.

A few days before the fire I put up an arbor with a gate. I had wanted it for years. It was pretty and I hoped that it would be an impediment to the deer that were walking under our window setting off Sophie, the hound. The arbor was expensive, several hundred dollars. It was hard to put together alone since it was an arc and depended on being anchored to the ground to become stable.

I was sick so putting it together was even harder. The ground, however, was hardest of all. The ground was all rock. After a bit I gave up, in series, a shovel, a spade, a post hole digger and went back to the tried and true method of using a trowel, a pry bar and another rock or two. My holes needed to be 2 feet deep. Well, marking four holes in a tight space, working around the roof of the house, and in an area of almost solid rock was not easy. It took me so long I dragged construction lights out into my yard and worked until about 1 in the morning. In the end, I had one small diameter hole, two medium (correct) size holes and one hole that was big enough for a foundation for a Habitat for Humanity House. The size was brought about by not being able to place the whole arbor to establish where the posts that held it up went and being able to pry holes into this rocky ground.

I pured my concrete and it was not good enough. I dug a but and poured a 2nd round. I took my spouse out to see the lovely new arbor. He pushed on it and it stayed right where it was. It did not budget. I was excited that I had an arbor and that it was not going to fall over. It burned three days later.

After the fire we found the four metal anchor posts sitting in their rock-solid concrete. It will take an excavator with heavy equipment to get them up.

I am not an expert in concrete. I cannot tell if our new concrete will be in the ground this fall or if we will have to wait for Spring. If we do have to wait, it will be a very long wait.

For my expert concrete and life friend DR