Zen and the Art of Home Building



I’m tired.  I just cut approximately fifty blocks of foam, each approximately 19″ x 4″, out of my shiny new basement walls.  The reason I had to cut out the foam was because there needs to be structural contact between the basement wall and the cement basement floor.  It was hard work but I wouldn’t trade it for the world in retrospect.  Removing the foam may have left a void in my wall, but it filled a void in my self.  This simple act created structural contact between my self and our home.

My first attempt to take on this foam removal task was on Saturday, but I the 2.5″ thick foam easily overwhelmed my utility knife and my spirit.  I basically gave up and threw in the towel, but quickly found encouragement and confidence from Tony and my wife, Christine.  There are alternative methods to doing the floor but they create pretty sizable thermal bridges.  If I’m going to all the trouble to create thermal breaks, get fancy windows, and insulate everything, they rationalized why have a weak link in the system just because it’s difficult work.  Nothing in life worth doing is easy.  Ultimately it came down to “what is the right thing to do?” and let that be my guide.

So I went tool shopping, which is hardly like pulling teeth for me.  And Sunday, bright and early I went to the job site with my helper, Christine.

The circled area where you see the "x" (which is a future, pressure treated, 2x4) is where I cut out foam.

The plan worked well, Christine marked out 4″ increments from the bottom of the wall.  4″ gravel, 4″ rigid insulation and 4″ cement floor.  She transferred the marks across the face of the studs and back across the foam lined wall cavities.  Then with my handy-dandy drywall hand saw (non-powered by the way), I cut out the foam; all the way across and 4″ wide, corresponding with where the cement floor will go.

Me cutting foam.

The right tool for cutting foam, I found out, is a simple Sears Craftsman drywall hand saw, about 6″ in length.  I had a more aggressive generic one, but the simpler serrated blade of the Craftsman saw cut a lot easier.  A more aggressive blade does not move through the foam easy enough.  I then used an all purpose pry bar and inserted into my cuts to pop out the foam.
In a perfect world, the wall manufacturer would have this all set up in their mold so I wouldn’t have to remove the foam after the fact.  But that’s for the future, for now it was my sweat equity.

Use a pry bar to pop the foam out. The foam's not glued in so it comes right out. I left the 4" of rigid insulation below, on the wall. I paid for it and it's at the same level as the insulation I'm going to be adding above the gravel and below the cement floor.

Here’s what the bays look like after foam removal. I’ll save the scrap blocks and use them when we insulation the floor. Yeah, I’m pretty hard-core.
Picture of my line marking helper. It made the job a lot easier having someone marking out our lines for gravel, foam, and cement on the studs and bays. We used a thick Sharpie (which eventually wore out) and a red marking crayon from Sears.

All and all it took about 8 man hours to do.  I’ll go over the next steps in the coming days.  As you can see, we didn’t get our first floor deck on yet.  Once that’s on, it’ll get real dark in the basement.

It was pretty cool, the two of us, working on the house together.  Like Christine said, it makes it feel more like “our house” now.  More so than if we’d just handed over a check to some builder.  We’re going to make a point of getting out there and working on the house.  Even if it means I have to pay a professional to fix our mistakes afterwards.
And that leads me to the real fortune I got dug out of my basement today.  See, sitting there relatively all alone, cutting foam from one bay to the next, I finally found some semblance of inner peace that I’d been searching for.  Corky would be proud, and I probably owe him a beer because he predicted it back when we did the blessing on the land.  As he was walking out I told him about my need to meditate or some how come to some form of inner peace or I wasn’t going to make it to Fall, let alone make it to the end of this project.  He said I didn’t need to go meditate on some rock, lie on some couch or even climb a mountain.  By just working out there, on my land, meditation would come on its own.
We live in world where we’ve insulated and homogenized the 1,440 minutes we’re gifted each day.  So much so, that there isn’t a free moment to reflect or clear our mind. 
What I experienced today, cutting each block of foam, was freedom that I can only dream of on any given day.  Yes, the work was a pain in the ass and it was hot out there.  But you know what?  I didn’t have to think, make a decision or be badgered by god knows who or what out there.  It was just me (and Christine for a while), my wall and blue sky above.  The value of that is ten times, a thousand times greater than all the minutes spent running around in a typical day.  Days spent running around, fighting other people’s battles and working other people’s dreams.
It’s remarkable how, as I leave our land and drive back to the real world, deep down inside I can feel myself adjusting.  Where we’re building our house is out in the country, but by no means desolate.  In a way though it’s about a million miles away.  I’m pretty sure somewhere along the road as I come and go from the land, I pass through a veil.  A screen so real I truly believe if I squint hard enough in the warm August air of a Ohio summer afternoon I could see it.  It eases through my car window and all of a sudden I realize I’m on the other side where the reality of the rest of the world emerges.
And it’s not that bad.  Not that bad because back there, about a 1/2 mile back, just past where the road runs along the railroad tracks…..yeah, back there I’ll get to pass through going the other way again tomorrow or the next day.
And the fireflies will start dancing as the sun goes down.  Crickets will chirp and my worries will ease because I’ll know I’m home.

3 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Home Building

  1. Pingback: Studio Shelf Day 4….or is it 5?… | nine apple trees

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