Garage: Patching the Gap with Asphalt

A bit more visual progress on the garage progress! After we cut a nice straight line in the asphalt, and poured a new concrete apron in front of the garage, we were still left with about a 3-4″ wide gap  to fill.

Gap between asphalt and concrete.

We used some asphalt-in-a-bag product from the big box store to fill the gap. It looks nice, but this stuff is brutal to work with, and I’m not too impressed with the strength of the results. It was difficult to compact, and the strange shape of the gap we were trying to fill, combined with the slope of the fill left me without a lot of confidence in the finished product.

Patched Asphalt.

We will probably end up having the entire driveway repaved next summer, which will give us a chance to correct some other drainage issues. In the mean time, this will have to do.

Next, we’ll be painting the outside of the foundation with waterproof paint, caulking around the edges, spreading some topsoil, and trying to plant some grass seed. It will be a busy week!

Garage: Concrete Aprons

This past Saturday, we woke up early to get a jump start on the garage project.

First things first, y’all are probably wondering what’s up with the sinkhole… Well, we filled it back in, but It’s still down there somewhere…. sinking…. I’ll write a little bit more about sinkholes some other day, but for now, just know that we filled it back up and don’t really have much choice but to keep plugging along with the plan.

We ordered 2.25 yards of concrete to be delivered at 8:00 AM. By 6:00 AM, we were outside frantically making last-minute adjustments and making one last trip to the big-box hardware store for some critical supplies to be ready when the concrete truck showed up. Here are a couple pics of the forms and rebar set and ready to go.  It was a bit of a frantic morning, so apologies if these photos give you a bit of vertigo.

Rebar ready to pour.

We used construction adhesive to glue the expansion joint material to the edges of the garage foundation. This was very helpful to know how high on the side of the foundation the concrete should go.

Expansion Joint against slab.

Landing area for door.

Landing forms.

The concrete truck showed up right on time, and the driver was very helpful about maneuvering the truck exactly where we needed the concrete to go so we didn’t have to lug it around in a wheelbarrow. This was especially helpful since we didn’t have a wheelbarrow.

This was my first time pouring concrete, so it was all a learning experience for me. Luckily, my friend Neal had some experience finishing concrete and he was willing to come over and help me out, which was a good thing. I would have been in over my head without him.

Waiting for Concrete.

The concrete came out of the truck pretty quickly, and Neal and Mel tag teamed the screeding process, zig-zagging a 2×4 across the top of the forms to roughly level out the concrete.

Shoveling Concrete.

Meanwhile, I was shoveling concrete and guiding the truck chute around the rest of the forms.

Lumpy Concrete.

My friend Neal worked his magic, and taught me a few things while he was at it, and before long, here was the finished result:

Finished Alley Apron.

We filled in the 2′ strip between the garage and the concrete alley, and poured a little ramp in front of the garage doors.

Finished Driveway Apron and Door Landing.

I’m gonna call this a control joint. It probably has a different name, but when you’re reading my blog, it’s called a control joint.

Textured Finish and Joint Detail.

Since we had extra concrete, we decided to fill all the empty concrete block cores. I’m really glad we did this, as it will make the stem walls about 200% stronger (estimate).

Filled the concrete block cores.

For most of this, we just left KP in her crib, but eventually, she got a little cranky hanging out in her crib alone so we brought her outside and let her suck down a bottle of milk while we kept working. She was such a good little observer, content to just sit in her little plastic chair and watch.

But like a predictable sitcom, while our attention was elsewhere, babyzilla took over and she started stomping around in the wet concrete leaving tiny Chuck Taylor footprints everywhere. We troweled most of them out no problem, but decided to leave one just to hold on to the memory.

KP Footprint and Date.

Next up, we’ll let this dry, remove the forms, patch the asphalt, probably dig a trench for electrical stuff, and order a load of topsoil to work on re-grading the yard.

Garage Sinkhole: A Joyous Celebration

When I first started writing about my garage project, I mentioned that I was about 80% sure that our garage was slowly sinking into a sinkhole. I couldn’t be certain, of course, but several signs indicated that there was active soil movement on the property, but now I have certain proof.

Last time I wrote about the project, I showed that we had used a circular saw to cut away the asphalt in front of the garage so that we could have some room to pour a concrete apron. When I last posted a picture, it looked like this:

Straight asphalt edge.

Since that photo was taken, we dug out about 6-8 inches of dirt to provide a space to pour the concrete apron. We finished digging last weekend, and had started to set the forms for pouring the concrete. We had the concrete bed all flattened and compacted ready for concrete. Then Tuesday evening we had an ever-so-slight rainfall. Really, just a tiny bit of rain. We woke up Wednesday morning to find that this sinkhole had opened up right next to our garage, completely undermining our brand new slab:

Garage Sinkhole.
We’re doomed.

And if that much movement is happening with the slightest bit of rain, who know what’s happening when the rain really starts moving. It  confirms, though, that we’re building a garage on top of an active sinkhole. There is about a 0% chance that this will end well.

But this is not a sad post, friends. This is cause for joyous celebration. Right now, as you’re reading this, I want you to feel smart and capable. I want you to feel proud of your accomplishments. I want you to celebrate your successes.

As we move through life, each of us will make mistakes. We will have setbacks and challenges. We will underperform, miscalculate, or neglect some important thing. We will beat ourselves up over it. We will have feelings of self-doubt or shame. And next time, dear reader, you start beating yourself up over your latest failing of some sort, I want you to stop, think of this post, and smile. No matter what you’ve just screwed up, you should take immense comfort in knowing that at least you aren’t that guy on the internet who built a brand new garage on top of a sinkhole.

Garage: How to Cut Asphalt with a Circular Saw

Progress is happening slowly on the garage project. One thing that’s catching up to us acting as our own General Contractors is all the small stuff that each sub we hire doesn’t do because it wasn’t really their job. Here’s an example:

The guys that demo’d the old garage left a jagged edge of asphalt where the asphalt driveway met the concrete slab of the old driveway. They didn’t bother trying to leave a clean edge on the asphalt, and I didn’t really expect them to. Their job was just to get rid of the old garage.

The guys that poured the new slab didn’t clean the edge up either. Not surprising since it wasn’t really their job. I hired them to pour a slab, and that’s just what they did.

Jagged asphalt edge.

So it fell on us to clean the edge of that asphalt up so we could pour a nice concrete apron in front of the garage. The concrete work is happening Saturday morning (fingers crossed), so we needed to figure out how to get this done.

We don’t have any fancy masonry saws or anything, and renting one just didn’t seem economical. Rental fees were going to run in the $75-$100 range, and that just didn’t seem right for the 20′ cut we needed to make in the asphalt.

So I did what I always do when I’m stumped. I give up and go play with my daughter KP. My wife, realizing that nothing was going to get done unless she took matters into her own hands, went to the big box store and came home with a $16 diamond blade for our circular saw. Brilliant!

Here are some step-by-step directions on how to cut asphalt with a circular saw (or at least how we did it):

1. We used a 15 amp Makita 7.25″ circular saw with a diamond blade.

2. The next thing you’re going to want to do is find the smallest pair of shorts you own, and put them on.

Diamond blade on chalk line.

3. We snapped a chalk line, then just tore into it. A circular saw will only cut about 2″ deep, but luckily that was far enough in our driveway. To start, get the blade spinning first, then make contact with the asphalt and slowly sink the blade into the asphalt.

Always wear eye protection. Don’t worry about your legs.

4. I cannot reiterate enough the importance of small shorts.

Just about done.

5. Once the blade was sunk into the asphalt, we just pushed it along easy-peasy. I blew the 15 amp circuit breaker about four times before I wised up and plugged into a 20 amp circuit. Don’t burn the house down, lol.


6. Then just get yourself a shovel or something and lift up the old asphalt chunks. They’ll come right up.

Asphalt pulls up in sheets.

7. And you’re done.

Straight asphalt edge.

Next up, we’ll shovel that area out, set some forms, and get ready to pour concrete on Saturday.

Anyone out there know how to finish concrete?

Moving a Fence Post

Now that we’re done hiring people to work on the garage, we actually have to start doing things ourselves. Our first task was pretty easy. We just needed to move a fence post about 3 feet. You can see in this photo of the old garage the fence on the left was about 3 feet from the old garage, just enough space for the gate (which had rotted off its hinges).

So long, friend.

However, since the new garage is a few feet larger than the old garage (and further from the property line thanks to MPLS zoning codes), the space between the end of the fence and the edge of the new garage was less than 1′. Since we need to be able to walk through here, we needed to move that fence post out of the way.

Post is too close to slab.

The whole fence is a little bit rotten and wobbly, and it will all end up getting replaced eventually, but building a new fence is a little outside the scope of our current project. And since we knew that moving the fence post would be a pretty simple job, we just decided to move it.

The first step was to dig a hole underneath the fence generally where we wanted the post to be. We also cut one of those paper tube things to about 13″ long. Nothing magical about that length, that’s just what it turned out to be.

Dig a hole.

Next, we dropped the paper tube thing in the hole. If this was going to be a more permanent fence, I would have put a bit of effort into trying to make sure the paper tube was plumb. But not for this old fence. We just dropped it in the hole and called it good.

Paper tube thing.

Next, we removed a couple of the fence slats, just to give us a bit of room to work with. After that, we used a reciprocating saw to cut through the two horizontal fence members. We just eyeballed the bottom one right above the tube, then used a level to make sure we were cutting the top one in the same place.

Remove a couple fence slats.

We decided to use the type of concrete that doesn’t require pre-mixing. We aligned the post where we wanted it. Mel held it in place, making sure to hold it plumb (using that orange level strapped to the side of the post) while I poured the dry concrete mix into the paper tube. We back filled the dirt around the outside of the paper tube, and it was already pretty solid. The dry concrete mix was capable of holding up the post on its own. We turned the hose on and wet down the dry concrete mix. The dry mix soaked up the water and within about 20 minutes, this thing was pretty solidly in place.

Level and set post.

The last step was just to screw the horizontal fence pieces onto the new post, and hang another couple fence slats on the end.  Here’s a view of the finished fence.

A couple new slats.

And here’s what it looked like when we were done.

All done.

Next up, we’re going to get things ready for pouring some concrete. We’ll rent a masonry saw, cut a bit out of our driveway, dig a bit, pour some gravel, set some forms, and within a week or two, we’ll be ready to pour a bit more concrete.

Wish us luck.

Garage Concrete Blocks

More progress on the garage project yesterday. We got the row of concrete blocks on the slab and the anchor bolts set. We also covered the slab in plastic to keep the moisture in – wish I’d done that a few days earlier….. oh well…

Concrete Block.

And when I say “we” I mean we hired a guy. Total labor we’ve put into this project ourselves so far? Like nothing. But, this is the last part we’re hiring out, probably. Everything else from here on out we’ll do ourselves. We’re not going to start framing until the middle of September, but there’s plenty of cleanup to do around the edges to keep us busy. We still have some top soil to order and spread around, some cleanup to do, run the wires for electricity, and pour a few more concrete pads around the edges.

Stay tuned.

Garage Slab Finished

A bit more progress on the homestead.

Friday morning we went from this:

Forms ready for inspection.

To this:


The tough part of placing rebar in a floating slab is that you really don’t know whether the rebar should be in the top half of the slab or the bottom half. Bottom half is typical, but you really don’t know if the slab will end up settling concave or convex.

The guys left some rebar sticking out of the slab we can use to anchor a row of concrete blocks around the perimeter.

I’ve been spraying it down with water a few times every day. This stuff is thirsty, and just keeps sucking in the water as fast as I can spray it down.

Garage Slab Forms

Well, there’s been a bit of progress on the garage project this past week. If you recall, we decided to hire out the slab work to someone else. After much waiting, they finally had time to come start the project.

We went from this:


To this:

Forms ready for inspection.

It took a pretty good size load of fill material to get this leveled out at the right elevation. The new garage is going to sit a bit higher than the old one. We’re using 12″x12″ footers rather than the minimum required 4″x8″ just to beef things up a bit. We’re also using #4 rebar at 2′ on center rather than a more typical 4′ on center, and a 5″ slab rather than a more typical 4″ slab, also just to beef things up. We’re also gonna use a fancy-schmancy 4500 psi concrete with microfiber just to make sure this thing is solid since there may or may not be a sinkhole underneath.

“Bring it on, sinkhole,” I say tauntingly. “Open up under my garage. I’m just gonna bridge over you.”

Actually, I’m pretty sure that if there’s an active sinkhole under here, I’m probably screwed no matter what.

Now if that darned city inspector would hurry up and inspect the thing, we’d have a slab already.