Sunday, August 28, 2011


Oh boy, a basement!

One thing for sure, our house is not going to move. The whole mountain is going to have to fall down first. I was excited about the prospect of having a basement so I can have a real workshop like the one I had growing up in the north. No more working in the garage and having to store my power tools to make way for the cars. In addition, the added space has room for a spare room, small bathroom and utility room big enough to house all the solar equipment, etc.

The concrete basement slab was poured encasing radiant floor tubing for basement heating. This seems like a good time to explain radiant floor heating. Long lengths of plastic tubing are laid out in coiled patterns and concrete is poured over it. Hot water will be pumped through the tubing which transfers heat into the solid concrete which acts like a thermal mass radiating heat upward into the interior rooms.

Our system will be heated by solar hot water panels and backed up by a LP gas boiler. Sundance Solar has designed an extremely efficient system for us that is cutting edge. It is fairly complicated and I am going to wait to get a drawing from them that will show the specifics of the design. This system will be covered in a future blog.

The advantages of radiant heating are:

  1. Far more efficient than most other types of heat and using solar takes advantage of the ultimate renewable resource-the Sun
  2. No duct work, so no air born allergens
  3. Virtually quiet
  4. Warm floor so you can walk bare footed in the winter (Edrianna is going to love this)
  5. Humidity levels stay constant so air is not dry

Our domestic hot water is going to be tied into this system, so we will have most of our hot water heated for free. I will also go more into depth on the entire radiant system after the main floor is installed and all the mechanical stuff is set up.

Vernon Greene of Greene Concrete Finishers Ent. LLC from Swannanoa (the mountain range we are building on) visits and discusses our concrete job with Al.

Floor Prep!
Before the concrete can be poured the plumbers have to lay the basement plumbing (future blog), a crew has to level the gravel sub base, put down plastic, 2" thick foam board insulation, wire mesh, and then the radiant heat tubes. 

Vernon's crew: Joaquin, Mario and Pablo work on installing the foam insulation.
Joaquin (on left) and Pablo put in the wire mesh. A PINK basement - but not for long.
Next, Jim lays out the walls for the utility room, bed room and bath. The radiant tubes have to go around the walls so we don't risk puncturing one of the tubes with a nail when the walls are installed.

Grey, from Sundance, spends a good bit of time calculating the layout of the tubing before he begins. He said they try to get 200' in a run (250' takes too long to warm up and cools quickly and 100' warms up fast but isn't as efficient).
Curtis and Grey alternate placing and tie wrapping the tubing to the wire mesh.

After all the tubing in laid out, the entire line is pressure tested.

Joaquin and Pablo return to place a trim piece of foam insulation around the perimeter of the room. The concrete will be poured to the top of the foam. It also creates an expansion area for the concrete and prevents it from pouring into the bottom of the Superior Walls.

The first two trucks of concrete arrive plus the pump truck. The basement needed almost 4 truck loads at 15 yards each. There were so many people I started to lose track of everyone. Two truck drivers, maybe two operating the pump, Lonnie and Randy laying out the hose and  spreading the concrete, and at least 4 smoothing it out: BB, Chin, Joaquin and Pablo (I may have missed someone).  

The first blob of concrete goes in - it is a lot thicker than I imagined it would be. The crews begin working it right away.

Lonnie and Randy take turns spreading the concrete while the rest of the crew smooths it out.

After the trucks and the rest of the crews left, BB and Chin stay to finish the job. They spent hours with the big fan looking thing, changing it's blades - for different effects, and sprinkling the floor with water to repair bumps and dips.
After they were done they had several hours to kill while they waited for their ride. We chatted with them for a long time. Eventually we all ended up inside the house and BB fell asleep on the floor of our bedroom. It was a long, hot day. We are glad he found a place to rest.

The next day they cut expansion joints to prevent the slab from cracking. The following Monday the floor was sealed with a water based sealer to prevent stains.  

By the way, since I wrote this piece last week, the eastern seaboard including North Carolina experienced an earthquake, Freaky! The house did not slide off the mountain.

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