Barn: Part 3

Monitor Barn

I enjoy learning new skills. Sometimes it feels as if every day is packed with lessons. With this barn project I’ve embarked on an expansive multi-year curriculum including architecture, engineering, building science, and the trades. I’ve dabbled in aspects of it over the years, but never have I taken on such a comprehensive effort.

From age 15 through 18 my summer job (a Monday through Saturday, 50 to 60 hour work-week) was with Bradford Plumbing and Heating. The name was a misnomer, however. We did relatively little in the way of indoor plumbing and heating work. The business had the contract for maintaining the town’s water and sewer systems. Much of the work was underground. I learned a lot about backhoes, bulldozers, skidsteers, and the flatbed tractor trailer that we used to transport the machinery with. I also became intimately familiar with the shovel. In addition to repair and installation of water mains and sewer pipes, the jobs we took on included the excavation of “cellar holes.” We dug many over the years, but I never had the opportunity to build up a foundation until the fall of 2013 when Marion and I started laying block for the barn.

The availability of “how-to’s” on the Internet has been a huge asset for the DIY crowd, but there always comes a moment when learning comes from doing. As the autumn leaves began to fall, it was time to roll up the sleeves and just dig in.

Monitor Barn

Off I went to the masonry supply yard in West Lebanon, NH, returning with the ingredients – mortar sand, portland cement and lime. (The mortar sand came from an industrial-sized aggregate producing operation where my truck could have disappeared into the bucket of the loader that poured the sand into the bed. BIG Tonka toys!) In the photo above, the mortar sand is protected by the black landscaping fabric, with Marion’s mixing station to the left. Marion (referring to herself as my “mortar monkey”) mixed a LOT of mortar over the course of those few weeks in September and October.

Monitor Barn

It’s quite an art to build a foundation that is perfectly level and square. Lots of mason line, levels, and many clever tricks that I learned over those weeks allowed us to lay up a precisely positioned base for the barn.

Due to the fact that we were building atop a rubble trench, our footings were essentially at grade, with steps that allowed them to follow the terrain. The walls still required a lot of masonry work, but not nearly as much as they would have if we’d taken them all the way down below the frost line.

Monitor Barn

We’re both extremely excited about the inclusion of a root cellar in the barn foundation (below).

Monitor Barn

Once the walls were laid (22,050 pounds of block that, at this point, we’d lifted at least four times over the course of the project), we installed reinforcing rebar, poured many of the cores, then laid a course of “bond beam” block along the top. More rebar is inserted into the u-shaped profile of the block before it is all capped off with mortar.

Monitor Barn

L-bolts inserted into the mortar at regular intervals along the bond beam will provide attachment points for the sills that we’d install in the coming year. In the photo below, our foundation is ready for winter at the close of the 2013 construction season.

Monitor Barn