Featured Posts

  • Aerial Photos and First Floor Walls Finished

    Happy Thanksgiving. Two days ago the first floor walls were poured finally. So ICF is a really long construction process, really, really, long. There is a ton of residential construction going on where I live right now and I’m forever jealous of these stick frame homes I see go up in a week or two,… [more…]

    Aerial Photos and First Floor Walls Finished
  • Castle Wall Stone Options

    One of the main reasons to build a castle is because you like the way castles look, obviously. Otherwise you wouldn’t take on such an ambitious building project. One of the key components to how they look is the exterior stone cladding for your walls, and that can also be a significant budget expense. I’m… [more…]

    Castle Wall Stone Options
  • Exciting Day: First Looks at Castle Exterior

    After dreaming this place up at least a decade ago, putting it in the “what if” and “maybe someday” category, gradually moving it into the “possibly” category, then the “probably” category, and now hopefully in the “definitely” category.  After over a year of finally getting down to the nitty gritty and nailing down the interior… [more…]

    Exciting Day: First Looks at Castle Exterior
  • An Energy Efficient Castle

    We’re building with concrete, for a number of reasons. It is strong, it can survive hurricanes and tornadoes, it is thick, giving us the wall thickness we desire, but also it is incredibly energy efficient, and I wanted to build an energy efficient castle. Concrete has immense thermal mass which allows it to only slowly… [more…]

    An Energy Efficient Castle
  • My Modern Castle Design Philosophy

    I am not building a time capsule. It is not my desire to recreate a castle as it existed back in 1350. I am aiming for a more evolutionary structure. Conceptually with the idea that the castle may have been originally built many hundreds of years ago, and the bones of the structure would be… [more…]

    My Modern Castle Design Philosophy

2nd Floor Walls and Garden Fence Done

The 2nd floor walls were poured last Friday, Saturday they were knocking bracing off, and now we’re waiting on the heavy steel to start. The crane is up there today but they didn’t get started. In the meantime the pool steel is pretty much all formed and so one of these days that will be done, and my garden fence was finished today.

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I had the hardest time trying to find someone to build my fence. It isn’t a complex thing, and people build these all the time, it is a deer proof garden fence, or people often use it for chickens as well, in my case I’m using it for both. But all it is is an 8 foot wire fence with wood posts. Simple right? But I couldn’t get a fence company to bid it, and it isn’t a small fence, over 400 linear feet. Decent size job I figured, but I couldn’t get people to return my calls, or give me bids, or give me bids what I wanted (like I would tell them what I wanted, then they would quote me something else).

Then I found Jesse from Generation Fence and he had my fence up in, I think, less than 10 days after I called him at a good price.

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Now I have over 5000 sq/ft of gardening space, and an over 1000 sq/ft chicken run. The house may not be done, nor is it likely to be until another summer passes, but I will be planting in here in a couple weeks and gardening all summer.

We’re into February now, so we didn’t quite get the 2nd floor done in 30 days (I consider it done when the subfloor above is on), but I’m keeping my finger’s crossed it will be done by the end of next week which will put us somewhere around 40 days, cutting in half the 1st floor’s 80 days. Though I do hate it when we have day’s like today, where we catch a break and don’t have forecasted rain, and we don’t make much progress down the critical path.

2nd Floor Walls

So far, 2nd floor is progressing much faster than the 1st floor. It took 80 days, 80 days!, to do the 1st floor. My builder things we can do the 2nd floor in 30 days, and so far we’re on schedule, the ICF is definitely going to be done in time (though this very recent cold weather (no school tomorrow for the kids) I hope doesn’t delay things), the question remains the steel. Theoretically the steel can all be done in a couple days, the big question is, will the steel be ready to go when the ICF is done, the light gauge steel gave us a 21 day or so delay on the 1st floor because it wasn’t ready on time.

Every floor is slightly less than the prior floor, but the third floor really drops down from the second floor because the barbican stops at 2 stories. So, if we’re able to execute this 2nd floor in 30 days, then I have no reason to believe we shouldn’t be able to do the third floor in 30 days, and the fourth floor and roof portions as well. Really the fourth floor, which is just the corner towers, should be done in less.

So putting on my prediction hat, at the current pace, we could have our roof around April 1st.

Here are some pictures of the 2nd floor walls, the ICF blocks are basically up and done, except the barbican. There is some fine tuning to be done before the concrete pour. One thing becoming evident is the height of the great room ceilings, 24 feet, and actually the ceiling above the central staircase will be 36 feet (actually possibly as much as 46 feet to the peak of the skylight). Then the rough openings for the 14 foot tall cathedral windows on the side of the great room are done. Some of these pictures are starting to show that scale.

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2nd Floor Views

After rain and delays our 2nd floor subfloor is finally complete. This is just about 80 days since the 1st floor subfloor was complete. To put this in perspective, up the road from where I live now about 80 days ago there was a wooded lot, and today there is a completely framed, wrapped, and roofed house on it, they’re now on siding and windows. In that time I got 1 floor of framing. The ICF contractor cannot start back until Monday so, now that it finally stopped raining and we have nice weather, we’re not making upward progress. I feel that weather has been so unkind that every day with good weather should be seized with a vengeance.

But the 2nd floor subfloor is done and today was finally sunny and I was able to get some nice pictures. The house already looks so tall and the view already seems so elevated it is hard to remember this is only the 2nd floor. There will be 2 more floors in the towers, and then you can go on the tower roofs to get even more height if you wanted a truly spectacular view.

Master Bedroom View

Southeastern view from the master bathroom

Southeastern view from the master bathroom

The view to the north off the front of the house

The view to the north off the front of the house

The great hall as seen from the central staircase. The balconies to the left and right are permanent, the great hall has a double story ceiling, 24 feet total. The three windows in the background will eventually be 14 feet tall.

The great hall as seen from the central staircase. The balconies to the left and right are permanent, the great hall has a double story ceiling, 24 feet total. The three windows in the background will eventually be 14 feet tall.

Master Bedroom View

View from 2nd floor front balcony (directly above the front door) looking down the driveway. Here is where you would stand when negotiating with the goblin horde trying to get in.

View from 2nd floor front balcony (directly above the front door) looking down the driveway. Here is where you would stand when negotiating with the goblin horde trying to get in.

Master Bedroom View

I have also had dirt delivered for my vegetable garden, a really sort of high end soil. I need to still till it down and mix it with the forest soil that is underneath, and then put in a deer proof fence. But I will be able to grow a whole bunch of veggies with this garden (5000 sq/ft for veggies, 1000 sq/ft for chickens). I’ve dreamed of having a garden this big for years. I am currently seeking to hire a fencing contractor to put in the fence for me, should anyone have a referral.

The plot for my backyard vegetable garden.

The plot for my backyard vegetable garden.

Aerial Photos and First Floor Walls Finished

Happy Thanksgiving. Two days ago the first floor walls were poured finally. So ICF is a really long construction process, really, really, long. There is a ton of residential construction going on where I live right now and I’m forever jealous of these stick frame homes I see go up in a week or two, literally from a foundation to a fully framed home in a week or two, whereas my home is taking 8 weeks a floor.

ICF is still superior, far superior. It is essentially a double walled cooler with a large thermal mass inside, the energy efficiency of the walls is amazing. Additionally, concrete building is the safest building you can do. Who remembers major hurricanes or tornadoes where house after house is destroyed, and then you come across one that is barely damaged – that home is usually concrete. It is more expensive, but I knew that going in, I didn’t realize how much longer it would take. ICF is really slow. Perhaps we need a larger crew working on it? That would help.

But finally the 1st floor blocks were up and so two days ago they poured the concrete in them. Also on that day I happened to have a helicopter flight I won at a charity auction so I’m sure you can guess where I wanted to fly to.

It will take two weeks to set the steel and subfloor system for the 2nd floor. This is another thing that takes longer than a stick frame house. Steel just takes longer, but here it really was the only option. We have large clear spans inside. I wanted the castle to look very authentic from the outside, and the 1st floor of the inside I wanted it to have very appropriate decor and finishing details, but one area where we are definitely not traditional is the size of our rooms. The first floor is basically one big open floor plan, huge rooms, big clear spans, like any other modern house we don’t really have much in the way of walls separating areas of the first floor. An actual castle would have had relatively small rooms simply because they lacked the engineering for the big spans. But with steel I beams and engineered trusses we can do that sort of thing.

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So, I’m told around December 14th we’ll start the 2nd floor walls. Hopefully things speed up a little, I wanted to get the roof on by Valentine’s Day but unless things speed up that won’t happen. The floors should get easier as they go up, there is a little less material in each floor. At the rate things have been going they might only be starting the 3rd floor walls around Valentines day.

I want to thank Rock Creek Aviation for the helicopter ride. I will have to go up again when the castle is finished.

First Floor Walls Going Up

They have been working on the first floor walls, so far the first floor seems to be going much faster than the basement. The big key will be how fast the steel goes in after the walls are poured.

Its starting to get really fun to visit the building site, to be standing in rooms that have only been in my head or on paper for literally years. I am a bit of a liar though I guess. I always said I could visualize things, I could put myself in the space, and I think to a large degree that holds true, I am very good at visualizing things, everything is turning out well with rooms so there is that. But… actually being there I can still be awed and surprised and impressed, so I guess I was not quite visualizing the truth.

For instance, this ginormous window, on paper it fits the space and it makes sense and all that, but I never really appreciated how big it was until I was there on site looking through it. Kids are here for scale, but this window is essentially 12×7…feet. This goes into our “morning room” aka breakfast nook attached to the kitchen. I was worried that the kitchen would be too dark… not anymore. This window is matched by a window almost as big adjacent to it on the corner (just off the left side of the photo). The corner they form is where our breakfast table will be (ya, its that kind of house, a dinner table and a breakfast table). So… natural light, check.
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The walls continue to go up, I think they have about a week left until they’re ready to pour the concrete. Theoretically, maybe we’d be having 2nd floor walls going up around Thanksgiving, and 3rd floor walls around New Years. Maybe we could have a roof by Valentines Day. 11666258_1019977351398489_4193075074899766269_n

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1st floor subfloor completed

We have a floor. We still do NOT have the hollowcore concrete slabs installed for the pool deck, so that portion of the 1st floor is not done. But the rest of the first floor subfloor is done, and the 1st floor walls are now being started as I type this. Here are two pictures.

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As slow as everything is going I worry that the subfloor will fail from weather exposure, but we’re using Advantec subfloors and I’m told they can stand to months and months of weather.

I also made a photosphere, which you can view below, or here (bigger). This is pretty cool, makes it seem like you’re there. I took this while sitting on a 10 ft sadder on the 1st floor, so my camera position was about where the joists for the 2nd floor would start. The actual view from 2nd floor windows will be 6-8 higher than where I was.

Basement Concrete Slab Pour

In two separate pours I now have a thick basement concrete slab. Something to walk on, soon it will have something above it too and it’ll feel a bit like a house perhaps.

It is cool though, to go from dirt floor to concrete floor, psychologically it is a big step.

Things still progress slower than I would like, I get really jealous when I see a stick framed house go up in a week with all the framing (decently big houses too). I originally thought we’d have a roof on by now, and instead we don’t even have a first floor. The first floor should be started, started, next week though. it’ll take over a month to finish it. I think it’ll be December before the 2nd floor is started, and I would consider myself lucky at that point.

I’m also very anxiously awaiting the backfill of the foundation, as a gardener I have an intense interest in how the land ends up.

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First Structural Steel Installed

Over last weekend the first structural steel (heavy duty, beams and posts) was installed… finally. I felt like we’ve been spinning our tires since early July. Some things have been happening, we had underslab plumbing and electrical work put in, the holes drilled for our geothermal HVAC system, but actual upward construction was in a holding pattern while some engineering kinks were worked out.

Finally, though things are starting to happen again – but now… now I don’t know when I’ll get to move in, it has been 6 months since we got our loan and we’re still on basement walls. It needs to start moving faster. I wanted the roof to be on by Christmas and I just don’t see that happening now (and that matters, because Winter).

Now though we have this steel stretching into the sky and you can see the height of the…2nd floor. Yes, some of these upright steel posts are supposed to go higher, to the roof, but it wasn’t advisable to have them installed sticking up like that quite yet so they will be put up in sections. This height is only to the 2nd floor floor (or just above it), we’ve got 2 more floors to go. I wanted them to install the final height of the steel, so I could get an appreciation for the final height of the building, but I understand the reasons not to (it just isn’t safe, they get in the way of the concrete boom truck, etc.)

Today, they are pouring the basement slab finally, it will be done in sections, the final section being done on Friday. Next week we should start getting the first floor floor on, then we can backfill the foundation and start putting up the first floor walls.

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First Concrete Walls Poured

Up until now we’ve been forming the walls, but now, now they are starting to be poured. That makes them permanent I suppose.

The ICF forms, while up to the final height for the basement, are still being tinkered with, having embeds and other things put in for holding up the floor system. But that will be done soon and they will start to pour those. Yesterday though they started pouring the back pool patio walls. Our entire pool patio, to put it on the same level as the 1st floor, essentially is raised, with our garage underneath it. Here the construction is more like a parking garage, we’re doing plain poured walls (no sense using more expensive insulated ICF walls when you don’t plan to heat or cool the space), and the garage roof/patio floor will be hollowcore concrete planks (precast concrete planks hoisted up by a crane) directly supported by the walls.

In a few days the forms will be pulled down and we’ll be left with large monolithic concrete walls, and they really are large, because they go all the way down to the footings, which are about two feet below the grade of the eventual slab that will make the floor of the garage.

Once all the walls are poured, gravel is placed on top of all the dirt, then the plumbers and electricians do any slab rough-ins they need done, the slab is poured, the 1st floor truss system and patio hollowcore planks are put on, the foundation is backfilled all around, and we start on the 1st floor.

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Thar be walls! ICF castle walls going up.

Over the last two weeks the walls have started creeping up toward the sky.

We chose an ICF wall system for the main part of the house. There are lots of options for an energy efficient wall, superinsulated double stick (traditional framing) walls. Structural insulated panels, or SIPs, but I’ve always wanted ICFs, which are insulated concrete forms, because they’re superefficient and still super strong.
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We’ve all seem videos of disasters, where home after home is destroyed, but one thing that consistently happens is homes built out of concrete tend to make it. So I’ve always wanted a concrete home, and really, for a castle, I think it fits more the spirit of the building. Real castles had multifoot thick walls filled with rubble, my walls will not be that thick (though the thickest walls will approach 20 inches when the cladding is added), but they will at least be strong.
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So an ICF, or insulated concrete form, is just about the most efficient way to do a concrete wall. Normally when building a concrete wall you put up wood or metal forms, pour your concrete between them, then when the concrete dries you take the forms down and voila, a wall. ICFs are forms that you never take down, and they’re made of insulating foam, so essentially you’re building a double walled cooler, foam on the outside of the wall, and foam on the inside of the wall, a complete thermal envelope.
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The concrete of course also adds mass, mass sinks heat. Think about how a rock feels in the sun, in the morning, even if the sun is shining strong, that rock will be cold, it will take all day to warm it up, and then, after the sun sets, it will still feel warm for awhile. Or, to say it another way, rock changes temperature slowly. Concrete is the same way. So as the sun and hot outdoor air hits my walls in the summer the stone on the outside will heat up, then the outer foam will heat up (very very slowly, being foam and a poor conductor of heat), then there is the concrete core which will be able to absorb a tremendous about of heat, then the foam on the inside. By the time the concrete warms up enough to transfer heat to the interior of the building the sun will be going down, and the building will start to cool. And of course it works the same way in the winter.
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You can also think of it like a freezer, did you know freezers work better when full? The more stuff, the more mass, you have in your freezer the less it needs to work to keep stuff frozen because it has all that frozen mass reducing temperature swings. Mass you add to your house works the same way, concrete adds a lot of mass. Originally we were going to do concrete floors all the way up too for various reasons, including the mass they would add, but that was sacrificed on the altar of the budget. We do however have the concrete exterior wall and a large fully interior concrete feature wall.
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Other wall systems can provide great R value, but they don’t have the strength or mass of concrete in an ICF wall system. So it was an easy choice for us.
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The ICFs go on like Legos, they get stacked on each other like bricks, they interlock, reinforcing steel rebar goes inside of them where necessary, and then before pouring concrete in the middle you need to brace them so the concrete doesn’t bulge out the sides. After the concrete dries you leave them in the place and work on the next floor up. Of course there is a bit of a break there, once the walls are up, in most cases you do the floor of the level above before you start doing those walls. So in our case it is steel beams and trusses that will go on attaching to the walls to hold up the next floor, and then they’ll start on the next floor of ICFs, and on and on until we have our 3 story (4 with the basement) main area, and our 4 story (5 with the basement) towers.

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