The First Wall Pour

PDF versionPDF version

Everything is going smooth. 

 Very smooth. 

 Too smooth really. 

And then we hear an odd sound. Not a loud one. More like a stretching sound. Like the kids are playing tug-o-war and suddenly they both yell, "I win!" at the same time.

Like a sound you aren't supposed to hear. But you heard it. And you know something is very wrong.

I run around the outside of the Momplex, and I see, the ICF blocks have just barely started to separate on the side, and concrete is just starting to leak out.

I turn to run back inside to get a drill and some boards to patch up the leak, but before I get anywhere, there's a loud KA-POW!

The blocks split open, and four truckloads full of concrete explode out of the walls . . . burying me, destroying our summers worth of work, hard earned savings, and ruining our dream of building the Momplex.
This is the nightmare that I've dreamed up inside my head, as we've built this house of foam. Can a foam house really hold 115,000 pounds of concrete?  If you put 10 grown elephants inside a box full of foam peanuts, who's going to win?  Can a giant foam coffee cup hold 14,000 gallons of water?  
Today, we are personally going to find out.

Beautiful Day

Although the day is beautiful, there's gusts of winds - up to 30 MPH.  We are already nervous, and knowing a gust of wind could put a wall out of square is far from calming.


While waiting for the concrete and pump truck, we decide that Mr. Real Alaska Man himself will be on the hose.  Grandpa will run the vibrator and his friend Nick volunteered to help today (thank you!) by assisting with the vibrator.  Uncle Bill and I are on the ground, helping with everything else and on the "oh crap kit" duty.
The pump truck arrives around noon, driving 100 miles so we won't have to personally haul, bucket by bucket, 115,000 pounds of concrete up to the tops of the walls, and hand pour.  

Pre Pour Checklist

I've gone through the checklist, and it's time to pour the concrete into 12 feet of hollow foam walls.  It is time.
The pump truck starts to expand out.
It's towering over the already tall Momplex.
Creating a massive and very fitting M in the sky.
The first concrete truck arrives.  Unlike when we poured the footers, this time the concrete truck simply pours concrete into the back of the pump truck.
The pump truck does all the work.  
Bringing the concrete up twelve feet, to the tops of the walls.  Ready?


We've got concrete.The first of the concrete falls out of the hose and into the ARXX blocks.  
We won't be pouring the whole 12 feet at once.  Instead, we'll be pouring two blocks high at a time as we go around, each time around, pouring another two blocks of concrete.  
That way when the concrete is vibrated to remove air pockets, you can be confident that you are removing all voids.  And the pressure will be significantly decreased as opposed to pouring the entire wall at once.
So around they went, pouring and vibrating. 
On the hose, the main responsibility is gauging how much concrete you are placing and communicating with the pump truck operator to control the hose.  The vibrator is the tough job, because you have to drop the vibrator down into the concrete - remember, that's 12 feet - vibrate - then pull back out and move over a foot or so and do it all over again.  Multiply that by a total of 176 feet of walls times several trips around . . . you get the idea.

Concrete Placement Under Windows

If you remember, all the windows have been built with an opening in the sill.  Concrete is placed in the opening in the sill.
Then the concrete is vibrated to remove any air pockets.
Then the concrete is smoothed out, flush to the bottom of the sill.
And Uncle Bill places a piece of precut foam in the opening.
Followed by a piece of precut 1/2" plywood screwed to the sill.  The plywood completes the opening, and now concrete cannot come out the window sill when concrete is poured above the sill height.
Then precut 2x4s are placed in the window to temporarily support the tremendous weight of concrete being poured over the windows.

Four Concrete Trucks

And the concrete trucks kept coming.
And we kept pouring,  This poor pour guy has been telling me all week as soon as the concrete pour is over, he's taking a long nap.  
He definitely deserves it.  And everyone else helping out.  Building a home is hard work. 
But thankfully on this beautiful day, not too hard work.  
I can't vouch for the elephants and Styrofoam peanuts or the foam coffee cup filled with 14,000 gallons of water.  But I can tell you this - the ARXX blocks are now holding 115,000 pounds of concrete - and they will be for many many years to come.
Sorry to scare you earlier  :) ARXX blocks have been poured in over 14 millions square feet of residential and commercial spaces, and with the bracing system and the check over by Phil, we were confident that the pour would go smoothly.  But since this was our first pour, there's always that "what if" thought in the back of your heads.  Turns out, we had nothing to worry about, and the day went as smoothly as the concrete we poured.  Yes, DIYers can build homes made of ICFs, and today we proved it!
After the pour, the walls are plumbed up by checking the string line we ran in this post with a block.
And then the braces are turned, either pushing the walls out or pulling the wall in, until the string line matches the block.  Then you know your walls are plumb.
Once the walls are plumbed, all that's left is to let the concrete cure.  We can't remove the braces for a few days.  Darn.  What to do with a few days off?
Sounds like a good time to do more than enjoy the mountain view of the Momplex.
Sounds like a good time to actually go to the mountains.
And forget about concrete curing, ordering trusses, the floor system and anchor bolts and the snow line dropping.
Even if fall does bring winter, no one ever said it isn't beautiful.
Thank you to our readers for their support, prayers and encouragement, we have completed a major hurdle in DIYing a duplex for our mothers.  
We are thrilled to be working with ARXX blocks to build the exterior walls of the Momplex.  To learn more about ARXX blocks, you can visit their extensive website here.
Money Spent So Far: 
$34,000 + Cost of Property
Time Spent So Far: 
530 Hours on Site + Tons of Planning and Prep work


Ana you had me at first, my stomach sank as I read your nightmare scenario thinking it was real. But the real story is truly beautiful and the RAM is hunky in all his builderness! Truly amazing what you are doing, can't wait to see the next step.

Super excited for you! I've been following along and just can't wait to see what's next. Enjoy the next couple of days off. Congratulations on a successful first pour! Woo hoo!

I just shouted "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!" when I read the first part of your post and completely freaked out my husband! LOL My heart was pounding!

So happy to hear the pour went well! It was neat to see how the windows were done - even with all the explaining in previous posts, seeing it was an "Ah-ha" moment for me. Very cool!

My heart sank with the first bit of your story. So very glad that it all went well. Definitely a well deserved rest. Enjoy your beautiful autumn weather. Staying tuned for the rest of the continuing saga.

I must admit that envy has gotten the best of me this morning. Reading this post, especially the last few photos, made me so jealous that I don't have a life like this. Sure it's hard work, but so rewarding. And the ability to stop and literally watch the grass grow or go fishing with your daughter has me wishing I could have that opportunity.
Sure the 90 degree, hurricane-laden, mosquito infested swamp land has it benefits, but you truly live in a land that is beyond explanation.
Thank you for bringing us into your lives, even just a glimpse. The journey is well worth the ride!

So glad it was a bad dream and not the reality you experienced. What a story you are telling. The Momplex will be amazing. Enjoy your time off.

I too thought your nightmare was your reality and was just sick as I was reading what happened. I am glad it all went well and glad you have a few days to relax and enjoy your beautiful surroundings. I hope the rest of it goes as smoothly.

Hi everyone! Sorry to do that to you :) but wanted to pass on to you how nervous I was on the pour day! Thank goodness everything went well. Thank you so much for your thoughts and prayers, I know it had something to do with the good weather and good pour!

that first part made me cringe so! I understand the nerves on pour day- I was so worried I couldn't even be on site when it happened for our house. We let a "hired professional" handle that part for us(never again). It would have easier had we been able to do all that ourselves- or hired you and your crew! You all are doing amazing work, and to share it all with us is even more amazing. Thank you and keep up the great progress.

Thank you!

Sometimes I'm sad that we don't get out and enjoy Alaska as much because we are always building! I told Mr. Real Alaska Man that we should mandate one day of blogging about beautiful Alaska, which would force us to take a day off and "smell the wild roses" .

Anna, the view from your 2x4 braced windows is gorgeous right now! nice photo sequence, and I'm sure you will fully enjoy your time "off" waiting for the concrete to cure. You and your family are amazing! :)

I love to see the progress and especially the fruits of your labor. Loved the segway into the big pour; I was expecting a post explaining how you rescued the mess or how far your accident had set you back. Great stuff, haha.

Looks so beautiful. I've got to get up in the mountains this fall. My favorite time of year. Weather cools down, and all of the colors change. Time starts to slow down from the busy summer and I can enjoy nature instead of sweat to death in the heat!

So excited for you, I remember when my husband poured our basement walls (he is a union carpenter and block walls were not good enough for him). We did not have huge walls like you, just our basement, but it is worrisome and nerve wracking during the pour, but my basement is always dry and my basement walls are really sturdy!!

Your post read like a suspense novel! I didn't jump to conclusions :)
I grew up building stuff (houses, decks, swing sets ,etc) with my grandpa and dad. I was 10 years old when they gave me my own nail apron and let me get up on the roof to help shingle it. They wrote my name on that nail was a big deal for a 10 year old girl.
I love that you are building with your family and for your moms. I read all your posts and cheer you along from my own computer...... way over here in Michigan.
Looking forward to the next chapter.....after you sit and enjoy a day of picturesque Alaska.


Hey Ana, not to rush the process but when do you think you'll be done building the momplex. Over here it takes builders about 6-8mths if I'm not mistaken to build a home from start to move in ready. Will it take you guys that long or longer or shorter?

Way to have all of our hearts in our stomachs on that intro! Glad everything worked out for the best. This is such a great adventure watching you and your family build this duplex!

Hi Eesh, thank you for reading and commenting and following along! I really feel like this has become OUR Momplex - as in mine, our family's and yours and everyone else that reads the Momplex posts.

We optimistically hope to have at least one Mom moved in by next summer. So much of this is going to depend on weather. Here's a break down of what needs to be done for us to be able to work on the Momplex over the winter.

- Pour the basement slab (and add heat tubes and plumbing)
- Backfill and pour front apron, insulate the footers
- Build interior basement walls
- Build the floor system for upper floors
- Build the upper floor walls
- Put the roof on and insulate the roof
- Doors and windows

Because we went the ICF route, we should be able to at that point put heat in the Momplex and work on the interior over the winter. And then hopefully be siding and wrapping up the exterior next spring.

This is very optimistic. You save a ton of money by owner building - but you pay for it with patience and hard work.

Hope you are there for the entire process!


Great! Seeing as it's ours too, I can bring the family and stay there when we visit Alaska? Fantastic!! :)

As I first started reading this post I kinda got the feeling you were talking about a bad dream or worst case scenario.... Because I knew there was no way that any corners had been cut and that the White crew had quadrupule checked the checklists:-) Who knew that reading about pouring concrete walls could be so exciting? You're an awesome writer! And the pics are breathtaking!! I agree with the previous poster and the last one with Mr. RAM and Gracie is beautiful!

What a super post! I'm in Maryland, and we lost power (and internet connectivity) Saturday during the hurricane and just got our power back last night, and internet is back up today (yay!!!) Reading your site has become my relaxation ritual (Hubby calls it my R&R), and I've really missed it the past few days. So happy to see the Momplex progress! Had to tell you that it was worth the wait! Now I'm off to read your next post and catch up on all the beautiful things the Community has been working on. You and your family are doing something truly awesome and I'm so grateful that you are including us in your journey. Wonderful pictures of Alaska, such a beautiful place. Cheers! :) J