A few folks have asked recently why we built our deluxe shed up in the air on piers. You see houses on piers near the ocean often enough but West-by-God-Virginia is not terribly near the ocean (really, check a map….) Near an ocean, it makes sense to raise your house in the air for when hurricanes blow through or when gators need to mate (more for my bayou friends than my ocean friends).
The first problem we had in building this house is that we had absolutely no facilities to make building a house in the least bit easy. We had no water, no power and no flat land. I studied A LOT before charging head-long into house building and among foundations, it seemed that the post and pier foundation required the least amount of concrete to be mixed and would be the most straightforward for a building neophyte to pull together. All of the concrete for this place had to be hand mixed as there is no driveway or road for a mix truck to deliver concrete.
I figured that pouring one pier at a time would be slow enough to do (unlike dealing with an entire load of concrete on a truck) that I could take the time to make sure that stuff was plumb and level and fixable if I screwed up. It turns out that it is a slow process but definitely not simple. I learned how to tie rebar and how to mix concrete that was not too wet and not too dry and I learned how to keep a sonotube (cylindrical concrete form) plumb even when pouring shovels full of concrete into them.
Our soil is red sticky clay with very little rock. I read a lot about soil types and found that if there isn’t a sufficient base under a pier, the cylinder that is the pier will push down into the soft clay like a pin through butter when the weight of the house is added. Most recommendations suggest that a larger footprint cylinder will prevent the sinking. They make a flared base that expands the footprint of a typical 8 inch sonotube to prevent sinking but I didn’t have those handy. The other option is to use a bigger tube. Twelve inch piers seemed to be the consensus for size and they were readily for sale. Let me tell you, for simple cardboard tubes, the folks that make the forms are pretty proud of their product. Anyhow, in addition to the size of the base, the depth is important. In addition to needing to dig the piers deeper than the frost line, deeper piers provide more contact between concrete and soil. That friction also prevents sinking as well.
Anyone still with me? Yeah Mom, you don’t really count here. Anyone else? Ok, well just in case…we connected 6x6s to the pier with a metal post base which was bolted to a J-bolt embedded in the concrete. In some ways, I would have preferred to pour taller concrete piers rather than add a wooden post but my back wouldn’t take it. I also did not know if I could lift that much concrete over my head to pour it into the forms. Anyhow, the only reason it matters is that the joint between the concrete and wood is a hinge point…a point of weakness. Solid concrete to the base of the house would have eliminated that hinge point.
My goal is to minimize hinging by making good connections, by making things plumb/level/square and by using geometry. I connected 2×6 boards from the top of one pier to the bottom of adjacent piers. By making triangles with the boards, the weaker tops of the 6x6s are connected to the more stable lower portions preventing movement.
So, once all of that is done, I have a pretty stable base on which to build everything else. I am not sure that I made a compelling case for building a post and pier foundation but I have no regrets and it definitely raises eyebrows. Initially, I had hoped to be able to ignore the space underneath but I will definitely have to do something to protect the area beneath our deluxe shed. The wind really howls up there and I have no interest in a Dorothy/Kansas/Toto deal where my house gets carried away by the wind!