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Greywater

As promised, here are some pictures of recent work. Today I’m going to focus on plumbing. This week the place is getting the drywall installed, taped, and textured; we’ll have more pictures for that soon!

So, without further ado, here are the pictures.

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Our bathroom addition isn’t going for any sort of “Green” certification, but I am trying to make it as “greenish” as possible. I’ve definitely had some Green Building Fails, like the foundation using seven cubic yards of concrete. That’s seven cubic yards of carbon into the atmosphere for a piddly bathroom, compliments of yours truly. I definitely could have done better!

But it vastly exceeds insulation requirements for our climate, is sited for passive solar, is built using durable materials and methods, specifies no mechanical heating or cooling, specifies energy-efficient or low-water-use appliances and fixtures, provides a permanent greywater reuse system, and it even calls for a rain barrel. Perhaps it will look cool enough that future owners won’t decide it’s ugly and tear it apart for remodeling.

Most of those green features really don’t add much to the cost of the addition. Some even qualify for rebates and tax credits. But sometimes trying to find stuff is a real pain (try asking a local lumberyard about Forest Stewarship Council-certified lumber). Trying to determine what really is environmentally responsible versus what is simply “greenwashed” is a challenge, too.

Given that, I think our addition should qualify for some kind of Green award after all. Maybe if I give my kids some markers and green construction paper they’ll make one for me. (They’ll have to learn how to spell first.)

This past weekend I tried to get a head start on framing. So without expecting any laborers friends or neighbors to be able to help, and knowing I’d be out of town the following weekend, I ordered a truckload of lumber and had it delivered. Meantime I got started on sill plates and flashing.

I installed copper termite flashing under the sills. It is supposed to make termites easier to detect by forcing them to tunnel out into the open. It's also pretty.

Between the termite shield and the sill is a foam gasket to stop air leaks.

Some of the anchor bolts were awkwardly placed. Some are where studs should go. This one was a tight fit under the stack cleanout. I couldn't get the sill plate to fit between the top of the bolt and the cleanout. I had to use a grinder to cut off the top of the bolt.

I had to chop off the overhang because the new addition is taller than the room we're attaching it to.

I managed to frame a little over one wall. My neighbor helped do the short wall; the tall one I had to do solo.

I spent a lot of time doing the stud layout. It was made more difficult for two reasons: pipes and anchor bolts. Some of the anchor bolts are where studs should go, as is the greywater pipe for the washing machine. I can’t move the pipes or anchor bolts, so I either have to adjust the stud placement or notch the studs to fit over or around the anchor bolts.

Since the south windows are eight feet up, the view is of trees and blue sky. The window placement is great for passive solar heating in the winter, too.

This is the view from the back patio, with the bedroom to the left. The building on the right is the shed, so you can see there is a sort of outdoor hallway to get behind the new bathroom. I'll put a gate back there to create a sort of secret garden. Don't tell anyone.

We’ve finally started our master bathroom!

We’ve been dreaming of this moment for a long time. Four people in a one-bathroom house is pretty tight. It’s even tighter when that one bathroom is about the same size as most walk-in closets in new homes. Now that we have a permit and have started, we can almost taste the water in the soon-to-be lavatory faucets! I can almost feel the lack of wind in my face from not having to go outside to do the laundry!

We used white marking paint to show where we would remove existing concrete, and to mark the limits of the excavation.

A shot of the bathroom laid out in paint.

We had to dig down below the existing foundation so the new footing would flow beneath the old one.

The previous owner sunk a 4X6 post in concrete. Like, eight bags of it. He used the post to hold up a speed bag. I think he was afraid he might knock it down with a mighty blow.

We had to dig the post out and used a sledgehammer, a heavy bar, and a jackhammer to try and reduce the size of it. We found rebar and copper Romex in the concrete.

We estimated the post weighed around 600 pounds. Caleb is around 200 pounds and would stand on one end of the post, which balanced on the edge of the hole. We managed to roll the post out of the hole, stand it up, and roll it out of the way, The entire time we were dealing with this monstrosity, we kept asking ourselves, why? Why did somebody think they needed 600 pounds of concrete to hold up a post? One 80-pound bag would have been fine.

After we dug the footings, we had to raise the level of the ground inside the building. Because the house is in the floodplain, various levels of government required us to ensure the new bathroom would be 12" above the flood elevation, which happens to be precisely equal to the bedroom floor elevation. So we will have two steps up into the bathroom. Alas, no ADA wheelchair accessible entrance from within..

As we dug the southern footing, we encountered a giant concrete box that had been filled in and buried. I suspect it is the old septic tank, as our house was on septic until the seventies. We also found a variety of abandoned plumbing lines.

We removed all the concrete in front of the back room. We needed to remove most of it to make the connection to the existing sewer line. I also wanted to run a greywater line from the laundry, sinks, and shower to our fruit trees, and that needed to go under the patio too. It sloped toward the house anyway. We re-poured it with positive slope away from the house, and made the back door wheelchair-accessible in the process.

After the plumbers came and went. We have separate drains for sewer and greywater, so there is a lot more pipe than is usual. Arizona is a desert, so it only makes sense to reuse the water from sinks, washing machines, and showers to irrigate the landscape. Arizona has wonderfully progressive greywater laws and incentives so it is easy to do.

The forms are up.

We used a pumper truck to get the concrete all the way to the bathroom. It made the pour a LOT easier and faster than using wheelbarrows.

After a parade of inspectors and concrete guys came and checked everything out in prior days, the pumper truck operator took one look at our forms and said they wouldn't hold. And they didn't. As I watched them blow out, my life flashed before my eyes. It took seven cubic yards of concrete to do the job, and I envisioned a giant useless lump of rebar-reinforced concrete in my back yard. A permanent testimony to my DIY foolery. But it worked out. The concrete guys were awesome. The top stayed square and true, and the finishers were able to strip off the forms and straighten the sides. At the end of the day I had eaten a large slice of humble pie, but was better for it, and everything worked out fine.

There it is! A beautiful finished slab, thanks to an awesome crew of helpers, some professional and some not. I'm looking forward to framing!