Building a Workshop: Laying a Foundation

Laying a foundation takes quite a bit of work and you can’t be afraid to get dirty. Exhibit A: This photo of me with a glob of concrete on my forehead and bits of it in my hair.

We moved to the country in the summer of 2013 and since then have done various projects on our property. Our main goal is to┬átake it from a flimsy wood-paneled modular home to a cute little lakeside cottage. We took our first major step in 2015 when we replaced and upgraded our electric panel. This year we are tackling the need for a workshop, which will allow us to move forward with replacing everything. That means walls, siding, roof, flooring, windows, cabinets, appliances… You name it, we’re replacing it.

Most people probably hire a contractor when it comes to laying a foundation. It’s just easier, but it’s also more expensive. We, however, are DIYers who would rather spend 1/3 of the cost and have most of the control.

Preparing for a Foundation

Once the county approved our plans for the workshop and issued permits, we went to work. About two weeks ago, we rented a Bobcat to excavate the area for the foundation. Then my husband built the forms in which the fill and concrete would be poured. Roughly a week after that, we had the gravel delivered. Last weekend we filled the forms with gravel and then shaped and compacted it for the foundation and footer. Last Sunday, my husband laid the rebar and mesh. He rented the plate compactor to compress the gravel fill, which keeps the soil and dirt from settling beneath the slab.

On Friday, I took a half day off from work to help with the concrete. Laying concrete is a very time-is-of-the-essence project. You don’t just pour it in, smooth it out, and call it good. First, you need the proper equipment for safety and spreading. For us this meant thick rubber boots and rubber gloves, because some types of concrete can be caustic. I was the person designated to stand in the fill area, so I was shin-deep in concrete for a good hour of the day!

Laying A Foundation

Next, we needed to get the concrete from truck to forms, because the truck couldn’t quite get all the way into our backyard. Even though the project was explained to them, they didn’t load extra chute components. That was alright, though, because we used a tractor to dump concrete. We supplemented that with a wheelbarrow. With that, we had a steady “assembly line” of two people dumping concrete into the form and two people spreading it.

We also made sure to go around the edges from the outside, and shake the concrete around in the corners and along the edges to get rid of air pockets/bubbles and help it settle into the footing. It was a good two hours of hard physical work, but well worth doing it ourselves, rather than paying thousands more for the labor.

Finishing the Foundation

My husband and our neighbor then did the screeding while I back filled holes and helped spread the excess concrete out to the areas that needed it. Then they screeded the concrete, leaving us with an even surface. My husband bull floated it to smooth it out. After that, they used an edger to smooth the edges and inserted the j-bolts for the future framing/walls.

Cuts along the center of the slab (both ways) keep cracking to a minimum or prevent it (if you’re lucky!). And then, of course, we’ve been keeping the foundation wet to help it cure properly. Mother Nature gave us a hand on Saturday, raining consistently on the concrete after it’d had a chance to set overnight on Friday.

We’re really looking forward to putting the walls up next!

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