Friday, October 16, 2009


I'm learning more about concrete than I'd ever known in the past, probably because in the past, I'd never spent a minute even thinking about it. Interesting stuff, though, and yet another thing we take for granted when we live in a house and have no interest in how things work.

We have a plan to redo the front porch in concrete, and when it's done right, it's beautiful. The key phrase, of course, is "done right." Anybody can mix and pour concrete, it's not unlike playing with mud, but the fine tuning is literally an art.

The porch was originally done with tiles, beautiful ones, mind you, except that there was a serious design flaw in that the pitch was all wrong. When it rained heavily the water was shunted towards the house, when you want it to flow away. This was a huge problem because the water collects and then makes its way through the floor and into the basement. Big problems. As anyone who owns a house knows, especially in New England, moisture is the enemy.

So my Mentor mentioned some beautiful concrete work he'd seen, got the information, we started the process of redoing the porch. The easy part was ripping out the old tiles, which the kids helped me with. Of course, once that was done, I let it sit for awhile, which is typical for me, and now the time has come to move forward thanks to a little pressure (threats?) from above.

The main concern is if the concrete will be strong enough. My Mentor told me to make some molds that will mimic the final product, and we'll set about trying to destroy them to see if they are strong enough. I bought some concrete from LaValley's and was amazed at how cheap that stuff is. I think I paid $4 for an 80lb bag, though you begin to realize how much you end up using. Having never worked with concrete before, I naturally shied away from doing anything, and the bag just sat in the basement, though I felt triumphant that I even bought the stuff.

Eventually it was indicated to me that the state of the porch was unacceptable, forcing me to take action. It's amazing what a little pressure will do for a guy. I made the molds, and then had to cut out the rebar, which is a wire mesh that is too thick to cut with tin snips. I ended using a hacksaw, which was awkward, but did the trick.

I worked in the basement because it's cold outside, and it wasn't so bad. In fact, it's not unlike making bread. You have your dough, you add water, and mix the stuff. If anything, it's easier because you don't have to knead . The directions say to pour the entire contents into a bin and add 4 quarts of water. I didn't need that much, so I had to estimate how much water to add. Again, my baking experience came in handy and I could get a pretty good idea how much to add.

After adding the stuff to the mold, I tried my best to smooth it over, but found this to be pretty challenging, to the point where I gave up and decided that this time around, we'd simply test it for strength. I'm thinking we're going to need a little help on this one.

Once (if?) we get the porch poured, I need to finish ripping out the shingles and then put up new clapboards. Then I have to paint them. Boy, it's crazy how much work it takes to own a home. I have to confess, much to Mentor's chagrin, I'm sure, but it's a lot easier making whoopie pies with the kids. That's why they pay contractors the big bucks.

I've also found that when you ask around, the so-called experts will all tell you a different story. You can go crazy sifting through all the information. The temperature outside is getting cold, and I asked the guys at LaValley's what to do. They said it was find to pour the stuff, you just don't to do it when it drops to zero degrees. The concrete dries overnight, but it needs to "cure" over several weeks. What a pain.

I believe this involves the evaporation of water and the dissipation of air, so naturally you don't want the stuff to freeze. Another friend of mine, CF, who is one of those guys who has done everything and knows everybody (a good candidate for unofficial mayor of this town), said you don't want to do it when the temp falls below 40 degrees. While I completely respect CF and really trust his word, I'm inclined to go with the guys at LaValleys (my new buddies) said. However, CF happens to have a cement mixer (why?) that he said we could borrow, so I don't want to offend him. CF also knows a guy who can do the concrete work, which we might need in the end.

That's where we stand. My Mentor is going to kill me but I still need to rip out the white stuff on the deck, so hopefully I can get that done before shows up today. Yeah, right, is that before or after I make breakfast and wash the dishes?

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

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