First House Inside Wall Foundation November 2013
  First task for November was to get the house inside wall foundations in, build the inside walls to floor level and then fill and level all the rooms. We've got a real tricky corner to get right where the steps go up from the lounge to the second level and in the same corner go down into the passage to the bathroom and bedroom and then down more steps into the garage.

Below is where we started on Saturday morning, everyone in there digging the foundation trenches for the first house inside walls. The long wall running across the picture horizontally will separate the lounge and the lower level bathroom and bedroom. And then we had to add all the tie-ins for the passage walls and passage steps.

  Above left, the steel rebar layed into the long wall foundation with lots of tie-ins.

Above centre, the steel rebar for the passage walls and the foundation for the steps.

Above right, getting the concrete in - a bit difficult with all the piles of sand around. We had two areas where we could pour and had to spread it manaully from there.

On the right, the base foundation for the steps down into the garages being poured.

  Big Filing
  We have a lot of building to do on the double storey house and in order to preserve our sand for building we decided to order in some fill material.

Shahid arranged his big truck to fetch some good quality fill and offload it off at our site. Hopefully this is a a once off because that big truck with 12 cubic meters of sand did some damage by leaving some ugly big tyre tracks on our ground.

And with that the driveway is now again closed.

  House First Inside Wall to Floor Level
  Sunday morning the concrete had set enough to work on and Leno brought his kids and his two helpers out to get the brickwork up to floor level.

On the right, much activity on the building site. Five guys busy gettting the mortar mixed and then laying down the first course of bricks on the new concrete foundation.

Below are a few pictures of the day's work on the first house inside wall. Hopefully some of the house layout now starting to make sense?

From the bottom front corner ...

... from the basement corner ...
... from the top of the big sand pile (kitchen) ...

... and from the driveway

  Stepping down into the Garage
  Steps take a lot of effort and building material to build. The little passage down to the garage is only 4 meters long and we will have to step down from the lounge almost half a meter, have enough level space to put in doorways off to the bathroom and bedroom and then step down about three quarters of a meter further down into the garage block.

I've worked it all out and we should be ok. One step down from the lounge and three steps down into the garage. We decided to use face bricks for the base of the steps and follow a pattern that when walking up from the garage you will see face brick feature walls inside the house and when walking down into the garage all the walls will be plastered. Should look good.

On the right, Leno taking a break waiting for the next batch of mortar to be mixed. One side of the passage wall up to floor level, the other side almost there.

Below, lots of brick and mortar to make the three solid steps down into the garages.

And below right, the steps from inside the garage block. We just didn't have enough mortar to finish the last step up to floor level. Next week, maybe...

  Moving Sand
  The plan for the second weekend in November was to get all the house foundations in and build all walls to ground level. But first we had some sand to move, and if we were going to move it we may as well move to to where it's finally going to end up.
  So the day was started by clearing the sand from where we needed to dig the final house foundation into the fill area for the lounge, where we had built to floor level the previous weekend.

Lots of sand, lots of dust, lots of levelling for our 9 x 7 meter open plan lounge/dining room area.

  Tidying Up
  While waiting for Martie to water the driveway garden I noticed the forest looking a bit untidy in the area with a lot of the smaller dead trees fallen down all over the place.

Twenty minutes later the forest area next to the road was looking much neater and I piled up another month or two of firewood (as if we needed it) from the first few meters of forest next to the driveway.

  Last House Inside Wall Foundation
  Once the sand was all moved away we marked off the position of the kitchen/lounge separating wall and the digging began. We had to dig the foundation trench right down to the outside wall foundation - just over a meter deep!

The clearing and digging took most of the day but amazingly we still managed to lay the reinforcing steel and cast the concrete so that we could build on it the next day.

Starting the 1 meter dig down ...
... trench complete and rebar in ...
... and concrete poured

  While the builders were working on the foundation we thought we'd do our bit and start filling the bottom section of the house. Above left, shovelling from the pile of fill over the wall into the bathroom. Above right, Martie loading the wheelbarrow to fill the passage area.

We made a fair dent in the pile of fill sand. Not near enough to get the driveway open again and not too much of a noticeable impression on the areas to be filled, but our muscles told us that work had been done.

Above, I managed to fill a small section of the deepest corner of the bathroom.

Above right, Martie emptying her wheelbarrow of fill into the passage area.

And on the right, Charlie dug out a very neat and comfy little hole in the soft, cool sand for a quick nap.

  Basement Steps Foundation
  Sunday we got going early as we had a complex build job ahead for the day. First job was to dig and lay in the basement steps foundation so that we could tie the steps into all the walls.
  The basic plan for the day was to get the kitchen/lounge inside wall up to floor level. We would also have to build the one side of the basement wall up to the same height to get the entire kitchen area up to floor level. In order to optimise Leno's bricklaying speed we decided not to build the basement inside facebrick wall and that I would build the basement steps.

Wiring up the rebar for the steps foundation
Concrete in and setting up profile

  Basement Corner
  Next job was to cut away some of the sand around the basement corner to give us more space to work there. This was the area where I miscalculated the house foundation joint to the basement and in order to build the house wall on the centre of the foundation, we moved the house wall 400mm in from the basement outside wall. So now we have a bit of a
  "dog-leg" on the kitchen and laundry long wall, but I think
we can make a feature of it.

Americo cutting away for the corner build
Basement and house wall junction

  Building Last Inside Wall to Floor Level
  On the left, basement step foundation done, profle set and ready to go on building the kitchen wall to floor level.

Below left, first course of bricks down and all going well.

Below, Martie spent much of the morning making a veg and chicken "potjie" for lunch on the braai fire. Lunchtime timing was perfect for our first thunderstorm of the day.

By the time we had finished lunch, the storm had moved off and we could all get back to work.


  Mid-Afternoon Hail Storm . . .
  About an hour after lunch is when our day's productivity fell apart. A hail storm like we haven't seen in a long, long time came through and set our building back well over an hour and a half. But it was spectacular. And we are so grateful for our new roof, although still a bit leaky around the edges without it's flashing sheeting, for the shelter it was able to provide us.
Martie took this photo of the scene out over the valley. All the big trucks backed up on the old Durban road


Within minutes of the hail stopping, the sun was out again but everything was just too wet to start working.

Above left, no gutters so this is what slid off the end of our garage roof.

  Top right, from the construction site up towards the hill. Camera shutter speed was fast enough to catch the last few hailstones still pelting down.

Above right, looking like a winter wonderland, the view into the forest from the double garage door opening across the driveway.

  . . . and then the Flash Flood

In our three years of working on weekends on the farm, this is the second time we've been honoured to witness the spectacular flash floods that rush down the hillside and through our forest. With our regular Highveld summer thunderstorms, it is probably quite a regular occurance. We just miss all the weekday shows.

Above left, waterfalls of water coming down over the rocks on the hill. The sound is spectacular.

Above right, as the ground levels out the water spreads out into sheets and flows down around the bushes. That water is two to three centimeters deep over the whole hillside and runs for about half an hour after the cloudburst.

And on the right, our driveway! The water runs down from the hill through our property, down our driveway and joins with water coming down the gorge on Che's property. At the lowest point just before our driveway garden, the water is rushing through over 300mm deep!

  Back to Work
  Back on the building site we carefully observed the water flow around the buildings. Everything was good and only water from the sky was in the basement (although 3cm deep!). Once we get going on the farm we will have to find some way of holding at least a small quantity of the run-off water and somehow store it. I'm sure the farmer down in the valley with the big dam won't miss the bit we manage to hold back.

Once everything had dried out a bit we set up some scaffolding in the basement, finished off the remaining bit of mortar and called it a day.


It's not often we don't acheive our objectives for the day, and this was one of them. We only managed to get the wall we were working on halfway up to where we should have. I got three steps in, one to go. We'll just have to finish it all off next weekend.

  And Charlie and Dakota just love the farm. Dakota, now over 12 years old, takes it a bit easier but can still keep with Charlie on a good chase.

Charlie has legs like pogo sticks and everything is at full speed. But when it's time to recharge, it's time to recharge and there's just nothing like the couch!

  Filling, continued
  The third weekend in November and unfortunately quite a boring one, although there was good and essential progress on the basic house foundation.

While we were waiting for Martie to refill the water tank we got going on shovelling more fill into the bathroom area. The water arrived well before we were able to finish the filling, so maybe another day ...

  Finishing Last Inside Wall to Floor Level
  Once the mortar was mixed Leno got on with the brickwork to get the kitchen/lounge separator wall up to floor level. That didn't take too long and then he got started on getting the basement wall up to floor level. In the picture below top left, the view from the front of the house showing the new kitchen separator wall to floor level.

I slowed things down a bit by insisting that he include the basement wall right up to the end of the steps. This meant changing from stock bricks to basement face bricks at the point where the wall ties in to the basement and stairwell separator wall. It also allows me to tie the steps into the wall. Picture of that below bottom left, with Sanele covering the face brick/stock brick joint section.

In the picture below right, the three split levels along the front of the house, first the bedroom and bathroom level, step up to the lounge/dining room level and then in the distance, final step up to the kitchen level.


  Finishing Basement Steps
  While Leno was building the wall, I worked on finishing off the basement steps all the way up to
floor level. That was not so easy with guys passing bricks over my head and continually trying to get past to get mortar to Leno on the scaffolding in the middle of the basement. But I managed to get the steps done without too much continual rebuilding from little "accidents".

I also had to include the basement corner wall so I could tie the steps into it. I left it stepped so that Leno could continue on it when he builds the basement side wall.

We decided to extend the little stairwell passage another 800mm into the lounge so that the door will open on level flooring and so that when you open the door to enter the basement you are not immediately confronted with the first step down.

In the picture on the left, the steps now finished. Well, almost. We have also decided to close up the bottom steps and face them with the face bricks we are using in the basement.

The picture on the left is a bit deceptive. Everything is actually straight and square (well, as close as). The camera lens is just distorting the picture a wee bit.

  Building Basement Walls to Roof Level

Once the kitchen wall was built up to floor level we decided to get the basement right up to roof height (also floor level for the pantry and laundry which will be built on top of it).

I slowed building down again by insisting on the wall separating the stairwell and the basement be built at the same time as they tie in together. Leno likes to build one wall at a time, I like to have connecting walls built together at the same time. I don't think we'll ever agree on that one, but I pay the money so unless he has a very good reason to do it his way, it normally gets done my way.

Also, another small change of plan. The basement height worked out to only 1.9 meters from floor to ceiling. Just a little too low for comfort, so we are going to lift the basement ceiling two brick courses. This means there will now be a small single step up from the kitchen to the pantry and laundry. Unfortunately the step will have to take it's bit of space from the kitchen.

  Filling, completed
  During spare time the helpers managed to complete the filling of the bathroom and passage areas. I gave a hand with the levelling - seriously hard work!

We have only used about half of the fill pile, so the rest will have to be loaded on the bakkie and taken around to the top of the kitchen area and used to fill there. The load of fill was a good move and it looks like we'll still be left with an adequate quantity of our red subsoil for building.

Below right, a big difference from just over a month ago when this whole area was just foundation trenches and big piles of sand!


  Basement Walls, Driveway Side
  After lunch we moved the scaffolding in the basement across to the other side and Leno built on the driveway side basement walls.

He built only the inner two brick courses as the outer course will need to be face brick from just below ground level upwards.

By the end of the day we were two brick courses lower than where we should have been (that being to basement ceiling height). Not too serious, we were catching up well and we will finish that off next weekend.

  Quick House Section Photo Recap
  So here is the construction site at this point. Picture on the left is from the basement corner and below is from the kitchen front corner, both pictures from elevation points (top of sand piles and brick piles).

  More Steps Completed
  During the afternoon between checking on the basement wall building and a visit from Che, some of her friends, her pony and her dogs and all the kids, I managed to finish off the top step from the garage up into the passage and lay the face bricks into the wall on the lounge level in preparation for that step when the passage concrete slab has been layed.

It's going to be a very busy week ahead where I'll have to fit in a lot of farm stuff in between work and probably have to make a few trips out to the farm to get all the materials out there in readiness for laying the roof slab for the basement.

We're going to need the prestressed lintels, the cement blocks, extra reinforced steel and mesh and of course lots of crusher stone, river sand and cement for next weekend's building.

Just don't know when I'm going to get the time to fit all the pumphouse and garage block roof flashing and get some stuff working up at the pumphouse . . .

  Poor little bakkie worked very hard this week. It did three trips out to the farm fully loaded with either concrete ribs or cement blocks. Dealing with these suppliers, both out south (Klipriver and Meyerton), is great because they give you the exact weight of your order so you can arrange your transportation accordingly. The cement hollow block order was 1.6 tons so we had to split it into two trips and the concrete ribs worked out to 0.65 tons which we were able to do in one trip. The ribs, being so long, put a bit of strain on the bakkie. They had to hang off the back off the back nearly a meter, resulting in some less than ideal weight distribution. But the old bakkie just took it in it's stride and capably got all the materials out to the farm.

We will have to go through this whole process again twice at some time in the future when we get to first level height. Firstly for the pantry/laundry roof and then for bottom bathroom roof.

  On the left, everything we need for the basement roof and pantry/laundry floor: 9 x 2.9m prestressed concrete ribs and 100 x S120 hollow blocks.

We did the two trips with the hollow blocks on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons and then collected the concrete ribs on the way back from the second trip so we could take them out on the weekend.

  Friday Night Sleepover
  Breaking from our normal weekend routine, we called off all building operations for Saturday. We took Friday afternoon off and took the prestressed concrete ribs out to the farm. We also decided to stay over for the night.

It's been a long time since we last stayed overnight on the farm and it was the first time we slept under our new roof instead of in our little tent. We took an hour or two and gave the workshop areas a thorough cleanup before setting up our "bedroom". Then we got the braai fire going and had an enjoyable and really relaxed braai dinner.

Nature gave us the full show with an evening thunderstorm just after we finished cooking on the fire. A bit more light rain through the night (light rain on a tin roof is great for sleep) and we were woken up to the early morning robin and bokmakierie calls and a few noisy guinea fowl in the now lush green grass right outside the workshop door.

Our comfy blow up bed in the corner of the workshop
Guinea fowl outside - no doors yet

  Big Building Materials Delivery
  We arranged the building materials delivery early on Saturday morning. Jada only had the big truck available and loaded it with 20 bags of cement, 6 cubic meters of river sand, 3 meters of stone and some Y12 rebar. All for the basement roof concrete slab.

  That truck is just so big and heavy. The driver got a bit too close to the foundation trench and the ground around it it caved in under the front wheels (picture above left). No damage to the wall and we will be filling the trench soon anyway. And he managed to get the truck out without too much trouble.

Without the builders there I also managed to make a start on cleaning up the pumphouse roof area where the water tanks are to be mounted. The concrete floor will need to be smooth and clean before applying the waterproofing. At about lunch time we left the farm to get back to Johannesburg for our camera club year end function.

  Back to Basement Brickwork
  The last Sunday in November (only next Saturday and then it's December!) and Leno got going on finishing off the brickwork for the basement. We first worked on the basement stairwell walls, which were a little tricky getting the levels correct for some headroom while descending the steps. We layed down the first prestressed rib across the side of the basement and used it to support a smaller lintel and block system in the corner. Everything looked like it would work out fine.

We were also hoping to have a few small windows in the basement but due to ground and veranda level problems ended up with only one which will give some natural light in the stairwell.

I'm sure the basement will be an essential element of the the farm for food storage later but looking at the labour and materials lists, it has come at a hefty price. Just hope it's going to be worth it.

Getting the last basement wall up to basement roof height

First prestressed rib in place and corner lintel/block system in place
Corner lintel and block system and stairwell window

By the end of the day we had the last wall and corner brickwork finished and were ready for laying down the lintels and blocks.

  Basement Brickwork Almost Complete
  While building the basement walls up to roof height we also installed the top breather pipe (below).

Then Leno wanted to get all the brickwork on the basement finished so he started on the outer face brick wall. The basement wall is an extra brick thicker than the normal 9 inch wall. The inside brick is a special hard face brick, the middle brick is normal cement stock brick and then the outer brick is face brick above ground level to match the rest of the house.

Upper breather pipe installed
   Inner walls up to basement roof height and basement window opening

Outer face brick wall on it's way up

  One Year of Building
  Exactly one year since we let the builders onsite to dig the first foundation trenches (for the pumphouse/ablution block). The year has flown by but we are very satisfied with the progress in the development of our little farm.

On the slow front we have the beginnings of a really great lapa (sorry, haven't been able to work on it since last December) and the start of two growing tunnels, one ready for soil preparation and one with only the foundation cast.

Steady progress has been made on the pumphouse/ablution block. The builders are out of there but it is very far from finished. We can now fit our bathroom stuff and get the borehole going. We'll also get some solar water heating and solar power installed there soon.

Our garage and workshop block is 98% complete. It has a roof, some windows and just needs the rest of the windows fitted and some touch-up plastering around the inside roof areas and windows and then it's done. The builders will still be required there for the plastering. Once they're out we can fit the garage doors and get some workbenches up.

  And the house has been started and is presently built to floor level with the basement excavated and with all it's walls built. We're almost ready for casting the floor slabs and then it's all brickwork up from there.

Wow, what a year! We've certainly learned a lot - and we haven't even started on the real farming stuff yet!

  Builders Update
  On our way out to the farm we always phone Leno to check that he and his team are ready to be picked up. Saturday morning he said he had things he needed to do and would only be able to build on the farm on Sunday. Being end of the month it was understandable and we immediately turned back home and repacked for a Saturday night stayover on the farm. It would be more economical to drive through to fetch the builders from the farm on Sunday morning.

You will also probably have noticed that James is not mentioned any more in our postings. Around mid-September we had a bit of a fallout with him. Although it was his "company" we took on to build on the farm, he just wasn't putting in his fair share. He was often off due to his drinking problems (and expecting to be paid for the days he was off) and often communicated with Leno that if he wasn't going to work, then Leno shouldn't either. He was also constantly on his cell phone and in general just not concentrating on what was going on. The basement dimension problems were due to his negligence and now fitting the flashing on the pumphouse roof reveals that although he assured me had had done roofing before, it was obvious he hadn't as the headwall purlins were in the incorrect positions resulting in special serated finishing sheets having to be made up by the roof flashing manufacturers.

James leaving did cause some friction between James and Leno, James accusing Leno of "stealing" his business project. But their business relationship before the farm was really about their Meyersdal project which was now completed and they were ready to go their own ways. My business and working relationship is much better with Leno. We discuss building problems and he is always willing to look at the options I propose.

The other problem with James is that he would quote for a project and never be able to keep to the quoted price. I suspect he simply quoted low to get the job but was never able to do the job for that price. With Leno we now do not set project prices, I just pay him a fixed amount for a weekend's work. This does mean that I have to make sure that productivity stays on track but it allows me to ask him to do all the "extras" (of which there are and are going to be many!) without having to feel guilty about the extra little jobs affecting the main project productivity and price.

This work relationship has been working well with Leno for a few months now but as he only works for us on weekends, he has to find work for weekdays. Up to now he has found small jobs locally to keep him going and he is also working during the week on renovating his own house. I often help him out by ordering building materials for him while ordering for the farm which we take through to his house when we drop them off on Sunday evenings.

But now he has taken on another house to build down in Newcastle. His plan is to work down there during the week and travel back home to be with his family and work on our farm on the weekends. I know he has been paid a large part of the Newcastle project up front and I suspect until that money has been used up, we may not see him working on the farm too often. But that will suit us fine as we can use the next month or two to do the small finishings that are lagging a bit behind as over the last few months we have been concentrating on getting the bigger things done. Let's see how we go through December . . .

  Day Off
  When we got to the farm we set up camp in the workshop storeroom, had a leasurely breakfast and cleaned up the building site a bit in preparation for a visit from Corrie and Alida. Corrie took some videos of the farm building site with his amazing new little quadcopter with Go-Pro camera. We're very excited to see the results.

We then decided to go for a walk to the dam to see if there was any water in it yet. It had rained quite a bit through the week and everything was so clean and fresh. On the way out we passed by a small herd of eland bulls. Like many of the buck species, when there are calves in the main herd, the bulls are turfed out until they are needed again. There was no water in the dam yet.

Small herd of eland bulls allowing us to get reasonably close

  Some of the suikerbos bushes up on the hill were in full bloom. Their flowers will last most of the summer.

We also came across numerous dung beetles, all very busy rolling their dung balls around with their mates holding on tight, frantically looking for soft places to bury the dung balls. Not many soft spots on the stoney slopes, though.

And then the seasonal, very beautiful little veld flowers. In places you would tend to tread carefully as to not crush them underfoot. There are just so many varieties and we seem to see different ones every time we go out walking.

To end off the walk and the month, the view from the top of the hilltop looking down onto our little farm was just fantastic.