Missed It By THAT Much

As expected, the fifth and final hole dug for the porch footings had layers of cinderblock three feet down, put there as a sort of footing for the original 4×4 post. What I didn’t expect to find, about two feet down, was the long-lost septic outflow pipe:


Fortunately, due to its angle, it left just enough room for the tube form to sit plumb in the right spot. I’m not sure what I would have done if it hadn’t.

But we were also glad to find the pipe — if you recall, we had closed up the septic tank and started using it without actually, physically, confirming the existence and location of a leach field. We had a fair idea where it was supposed to be, but after digging in several spots had been unable to confirm that there was an outflow pipe leading in that direction.

Now we know! (That is not to say that we know the leach field or its perforated pipe is in any creditable condition — on that we are still crossing our fingers. But the septic runoff is definitely going the right way, and not just backing up under our porch waiting to engulf us. Eew.)

So after three days work we have our five 10-inch footings, each with its 6×6 post brace.


By Wednesday or Thursday the concrete will be cured enough to start putting up the final beam and its posts. Meanwhile we’ll start work on the porch above — rebuilding the outer wall to fit the new windows, and to make it thicker for better insulation.

I wanted to say a word about how we ended up doing this bit “DIY.” The issues with the original posts on this porch were identified very early on — the first time we laid eyes on the house, we all said, “are those posts sufficient? Are they even in concrete? That’ll have to be strengthened….”

And then over the months we had bits of advice from all comers — but notably from a couple of builder-contractors — about what it would take to do the “strengthening.” One “quick-and-dirty” approach proposed by Jaison was simply to sandwich the existing beam with a pair of 2×12’s (both hiding and reinforcing its unsightly and inadequate lap joints), and then incrementally substitute the support posts. Our builder/friend Mark was the one who explained that a temporary “wall” could support the entire porch, allowing us to completely refit the posts and beam at once (the approach we ended up taking).

But another question was, “what posts? what footings?” We’d had a demo of the Techno-Post process on the post under the stairs, and at $230 each that seemed excessive for the whole porch. I researched traditional concrete footings, and the depth needed to guard against frost heave in this climate.

Even so, should we rent a portable auger? Hire someone with a higher-powered auger? Hire someone with a back hoe?

Just how hard would these holes be to dig? Time went on, and we had other opportunities to dig in this area (notably, searching for the septic line). It wasn’t bad — it seemed like easy clean fill for at least two feet. I also got (physically) stronger. Money got tighter. The schedule became clearer — these supports were a first prerequisite for a whole chain of improvements, all of them necessary even for our “minimal” move-in standard.

I bought the tube forms, the galvanized post braces, the rebar, the pressure-treated 2×12’s for the beam and the pressure-treated 6×6’s for the posts. Helping Jaison’s helper Reid put up the 6×6 post under the stairs boosted my confidence for being able to handle this dimension of lumber.

Meanwhile I’d been talking with our neighbor Jon, who had started a project of his own up the street: a 3-season guest cabin. He would need about nine concrete footings himself, and was looking to hire an excavator and a concrete truck. We agreed to coordinate with each other — perhaps if it worked out, we could save money together by hiring the same workers on the same days.

And then we had several days of perfectly clear weather. Jon was running a few days behind. I laid out the geometry and survey markers and started digging. And so the decision was made — I made the four round trips to the Unity hardware store, amassing 21 80# bags of ready-mix concrete, and really before we knew it I was committed to full-bore DIY.

It became a pretty cool case of realizing that I was ready, willing, and able, exactly in step with actually forging ahead.