Chapter 88: It’s Time to Start the Second Building

June 23, 2017 • Written by Christina Berry

Hi again! It’s been less than a month since I last posted to the site. Considering the last pause between posts was twenty-six months long, I’m pretty proud of this bloggess achievement. If you will please allow me a brief moment of celebration…

Okay, back to blogging. So this week marks a milestone. It’s the eleven year anniversary of when Errek bought the house. I wasn’t on the paperwork back then, but I lent moral support and pretty much picked out the place because I fell in love with the window screens.

What? They’re cool window screens.

Of course, now we have larger windows, so we’ll have to recreate bigger versions of those window screens at some point. But that’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is the second building.

What the hell is the second building, you ask? Well, it’s this building we’ve been dreaming about for many, many years, and finally, finally we’re building it.

Back in June of 2006, when Errek signed the mountain of papers, this was what the backyard looked like.

Basically, a leaky carport, a shed that smelled like urine, a garage that listed to the left, and two gigantic pecan trees; all of which was completely encased in concrete.

We knew we wanted to do something with that area, but it took the drawing of many a bar-napkin floorplan before we finally enlisted the expertise of an architect to help us realize our dreams back in 2008.

Rudy was a tremendous help with getting our random ideas formed into an actual plan. And here’s that plan:

The design aesthetic in two words is: French Quarter. The plan is for the span of yard between the house and the second building to be an intimate courtyard shaded by the two gigantic pecans. The new building will be brick on the bottom, and wood on top with tall french doors and transom windows. Inside, a wood shop on the bottom floor for Errek, an office for me on the second floor (that we’ll Airbnb for a while to pay for the construction). Then finally there will be a spiral staircase up to a deck at the top that will probably have a pretty nice view of downtown year round, but definitely in the winter.

Ambitious? Yep. But this is our dream home after all, so we’re thinking big.

And there we were with our big plans and a hell of a lot of excitement. But excitement will only get you so far in construction when you don’t have money or time. So our plans, along with our excitement, collected dust for quite a while.

In recent years, though, as anyone who reads the news about Austin’s insane housing market can tell you, our property value has gone up quite a bit. About a year ago we walked into our credit union with our plans, our excitement, and our excellent credit scores, and walked out with a HELOC (Home Equity Line of Credit). Now we had the money…well, debt, but who’s counting? But we still needed time, cuz construction requires a lot of both.

Then in November, Errek got laid off. It sounds like a bad thing, but we had some money in savings, and that HELOC burning a hole in our bank account, so now we were flush with both money (sort of) and time. It was time to seize the moment and make our dreams a reality.

But first, there was the minor detail of demolishing the old garage. It was half falling down anyway, so it just needed a bit of a nudge.

And here’s that “nudge” as seen from the bathroom window.

Poof! Garage be gone!

Poof! Concrete be gone, too!

With the garage and the concrete pulled up, our foundation guys mapped the layout.

Then it was time to dig the piers. Piers, you say? Yep, we have to have more deep piers because, well see, we have this big problem. A problem, you say? Yeah, surprise surprise, right? But yes, we have a problem. Actually we have two gigantic tree-shaped problems. You see, these here trees are heritage trees, and Austin takes it’s heritage trees real serious. There are all sorts of strict restrictions as to what you can do over, under, and around heritage trees in Austin, construction-wise. And if you should accidentally or on-purpose kill a heritage tree, well it’s gonna cost you about $25,000. Yeah, you read that right. Not a typo. There is a twenty-five thousand dollar fee for killing a heritage tree.

Needless to say, we had 25,001 reasons why we didn’t want to kill our heritage trees, that last reason being that we love them and the shade they provide.

Thus, in the design of this second building a lot of time and energy and brain power and money went into how we can build a big ass building without hurting our pecans.

The most important part of Operation Don’t Hurt the Heritage Trees was the foundation, because that’s the part of the building most likely to hurt the tree roots. See, a key ingredient in laying a slab foundation is to compress the soil, but that is very very bad for the tree roots. As a result, we obviously couldn’t have a slab foundation. Instead we built a concrete deck on deep piers. How, you might wonder? Well, I’m glad you asked.

First, we hired some dudes with a couple of big augers and asked them to dig the piers really really deep.

Then our concrete crew built some steel structures to go down into the holes made out of massive rebar.

For real, those things were super heavy.

With the rebar in place, it was time to pour in the concrete for the piers.

With the piers done, it was time for the deck that would “float” over the ground several inches. How the hell do you get a concrete deck to “float”, you might be wondering? Well, the answer is void boxes.

The way it works is you put these cardboard “void” boxes into the space that needs to remain void, then you pour concrete on top of them. Over time the cardboard will disintegrate leaving a…you guessed it…a void. Neat, right?

So the guys started building the rebar frame for the concrete deck and filling the void spaces with void boxes.

They then covered the void boxes with plastic so that the concrete wouldn’t force it’s way all down into the void boxes’ space, thus defeating the point of void boxes altogether.

More rebar to reinforce the concrete. A car could drive on this thing and it wouldn’t hurt it.

And finally it was time for the concrete icing on our void cake. Eww, that doesn’t sound tasty at all.

Voila! Concrete pad is done and there at the bottom right you can see the voids so the tree roots will have room to stretch and breathe and, most importantly, not die.

Oh hey look, the platform is Blackie Lawless approved, much to Errek’s chagrin.