Making the Grade

Leelanau County, Michigan – May 24, 2021 – Written by Jim

When building a structure, one has to take into consideration the surrounding grade of the land. The last thing anyone wants is for the top of their foundation to be below grade and have water pour over the top in a downpour.The code book here in Michigan requires one 8” block showing above grade and that the surrounding soil slopes away from the building.

While our cabin site itself had only a moderate grade to it, the surrounding land varies in elevation quite a bit. We determined the high corner at the time of excavation and let that decide how deep to dig. Our plan was to have a 6 course deep layer of concrete block make up our crawl space, which would bring us up 48” from the top of the footing. After the footing was poured, we decided we wanted a bit more comfort to ensure we had sufficient runoff. We had the mason figure in an additional course of 8” block, bringing us up to 56” above the footing.

This past Wednesday was block day! Jim Ricketts and his crew showed up before 8 AM and immediately went to work laying out the foundation.

Measuring from corner to corner insures squareness. Prior to him arriving, I drove my tractor into the center of the footings and smoothed out the floor and removed the larger rocks. I will explain the reason for that later in the post.

Soon after the lines were chalked, the block truck showed up.

Of all of the varied soil on our property, that truck is parked over a vein of the softest and purest beach sand you could ever imagine. The driver took it all in stride and hung the tail of the truck right over the edge.

Before too long, the crew had the block spread out and the first courses were laid.

By the end of the day on Wednesday, the four of them had three walls complete!

Look at that smile! Diana is very happy to see walls rising. Also, in the process of adding a course of block, we discovered another benefit:

Our crawl space is now tall enough so I don’t have to crawl in it!

On Thursday, Jim and his son Chris returned to finish the last wall.

They were finished by noon. Jim and I then took a chalk line and held it to predetermined marks while Diana snapped it to mark the lines. That set the top level for the waterproofer. As Jim and Chris were cleaning up, the waterproofer rolled in and went to work.

That hot tar will hopefully keep the water out. As you can see, our finished grade will vary quite a bit! Within a half hour of the waterproofer finishing up, the inspector rolled in and approved the foundation. His words “Let the fun continue” were music to our ears!

Part of the mortar-making process involved having coarse sand on hand to mix with the cement. The block supplier brought two huge containers of it and dumped it outside the perimeter of the foundation. There was quite a bit left when the job was complete, so I had a plan for it. To help explain, here is a photo of a conditioned crawl space:

The walls get 3” of foil-faced foam board applied to them and the dirt floor is covered with a thick plastic membrane. This completely seals out any moisture or radon coming up from below.

The edge of our footing is a little wider than 3”, so our friend Rod suggested piling dirt against it to soften that sharp corner. A sharp edge could tear the plastic membrane. That left over sand was just what I needed. I scooped it up with our tractor and dumped it inside. I then used my dad’s favorite shovel (he preferred using it to shovel snow) to spread it around the edge. I still had quite a bit left over, so I spread it out over the smaller rocks on the floor.

In addition to all of this, we’ve found time to play a little. One day, we took off and visited several of our favorite places in the area. One of those was Suttons Bay Ciders.

In addition to enjoying a flight of cider on their deck that overlooks Grand Traverse Bay, we purchased a bottle of their maple syrup. Some of the maple sap from this syrup comes from our friends John and Julie’s property. We’ve also had a harvest of our own up here on our hill:

It’s Morel mushroom season! We are blessed with a decent sized crop of them.

We’ve also enjoyed the daffodils, tulips, iris that Diana planted last year, along with the peony that her mom and dad gave us quite a few years ago. It was planted at our first house in 1990 as a housewarming present and has moved with us. During our time on the road, my sister Judy cared for it at her home. She also kept some of Diana’s aunt’s lily of the valley for us. And our friend Mary gave us some forget-me-not and some rhubarb, both of which are doing well. This is all in addition to the explosion of wildflowers in our woods. Leelanau doesn’t have an overpopulation of deer, so we have a LOT of trillium!

With all of that, we are ready for the framers! We will wait to backfill the outside until after the main floor is constructed. That will brace the block walls from the external pressure exerted on it by the soil piled against them. Stay tuned for our next post as our cabin rises up from our property. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

16 thoughts on “Making the Grade”

  1. Looks like are off to a great start! That has to be the cleanest crawl space I have ever seen but I bet yours will rival it.

    It is so cool that you were able to keep some of the plants from your old place, it looks like you have the perfect weather and soil to help them grow. Two things we certainly do not have around here!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is our friends’ crawl space. Encapsulation sure keeps them clean! Your land has a rugged beauty all its own, Jim. Daffodils would probably look out of place and trillium…even if they could grow…wouldn’t stand a chance with your deer!

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  2. I imagine that you’re both happily exhausted from all the activity going on!! How good is it that you have family caring for your heirloom plants! We’re glad you took some time off to relax!! WHEW!

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  3. Looks like a super busy summer is in store for the two of you! Glad you are taking some breaks and having fun. Hopefully the price of lumber and other building materials will settle down. Looking forward to watching the progress.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wonderful that everyone showed up like they’re supposed to. It has to be so exciting to watch it growing in your space!! Wish our “crawl space” was that deep – wow. Wish we were at the cidery with you guys, looking at that beautiful view from their patio :-)))

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