Notes from Windward: #65

Zen and the Art of Hydronic Slabbing

Todd describes pouring the wood shop's slab floor

foam insulation, rebar and hydronic tubing
all in place and ready to pour

     Thinking there might be some zen lurking in hydronic slabs, I had to be at Windward for the pours. Prepping and pouring concrete slabs are gaping holes in my amateur construction experience and what better opportunity than this? Walt was kind enough to sync the project timing with one of my pre-move visits so that I could get my hands properly dirty. Thanks, Walt.

Judas and Kathy standing by to help

     Building things is one of the reasons I love Windward. When I spent June of 2004 up there on the Wahkiakus plateau, one of the projects we got underway was Vermadise. After years of mostly sitting in front of a computer or munching M&Ms in client meetings, doing constructive physical work was almost a beatific experience: a sweaty meditation that injected a dose of balance into my life. Besides, Vermadise is a clever, cool project to get sweaty and sore-muscled over if there ever was one.

     But this week-long visit was about getting sweaty over concrete. Important concrete, being that it's forming the floor of the new "woodshop," which will house not only some of Windward's woodworking gear, but also metalworking gear. And not to forget some gear for working the flesh as well: hot tub, weight lifting machinery and massage table for starters.

Todd jigging the cement to push the larger rocks below the surface

     By the time I arrived on Saturday night, the conduit, plastic membrane, rigid insulation, rebar spacer blocks and rebar for the first bay had already been installed. Monday I got to help Walt lay in the special PEX plastic tubing and tie it down to the rebar which Walt later pressure-tested and judged ready for Wednesday's pour.

     Why tubing? When the system is up and running, water (the "hyd"in "hydronic") will circulate through the tubing cast into the concrete, which heats the slab, which heats the room efficiently from the bottom up. The insulation under the slab keeps the water's heat from being sucked away into the earth. That's the short version of what I learned from Walt.

first of three slabs poured and leveled

     Wednesday morn at 8:30 a bunch of helping hands arrived at the pour site and we got the necessary tools and gear together. Right at 9 the ready-mix truck arrived, Izak at the helm. Izak was not only a good "teller," he climbed right into the "mud" and demonstrated all the essential tricks for massaging wet concrete.

     Albert, Brooks, Walt and I all got to try our hands at shoveling, upside down raking (the rake, not the rakers), jitterbugging (aka tamping), bullfloating and troweling. Plus a little nonessential edging just for practice. Great fun!

     Surplus concrete mostly went into 5 gallon plastic buckets to make future stepping stones/fencepost footings. Judas and Albert manned Dancing Davy, the concrete vibrator whose job was to ensure proper dispersal of the aggregate and cement in these buckets. Yes, the notion of a concrete vibrator provoked some incredulous frowns and smirky titters from some circles.

concrete stepping stones made from the left over cement

     Between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday evening, we got the area for the second slab prepped for Friday's pour, and had plenty of far-ranging conversation in the process. Conversation is still another thing I love about Windward.

     Friday morning the team managed to get the second slab poured with a lot less effort, thanks to Izak's instruction and our hard-earned snippets of hands-on experience.

peacocks tracks in wet concrete

     Another thing I like about Windward is its fun-loving peacocks who are not averse to leaving their tracks in a wet slab.

Walt:     In the Navaho tradition, the coyote represents the spirt of malevolent chaos that is always lurking out there waiting to take advantage of any opportunity to do mischief, a role played at Windward by the flock of peacocks that have taken up residence here. Oh well, at least baked peacock is better eating than coyote, and it's stunts like this which move peacock to the head of the "what's for dinner" list.

     By late Friday afternoon I was on a plane headed back to California, head stuffed full of thoughts about community, friends, slabs, fixing up Rollie, moving, and a whole lot more. Maybe even some zen.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 65