Replacing Concrete with Wood: Pier and Beam Foundation

by ziggy on May 23, 2012 -- 1 comment -- Follow

Timber frame pier and beam foundation

Standing at the future floor height... we are way up there!

Many people are shocked at the giant size of the sill beam timbers we are using (myself included), as they are very burly 8×12 white oak beams. They are no joke. Lately I’ve been thinking about a concise way to describe our foundation design, and I’ve decided to make clear sense of it by explaining that we are replacing concrete with wood. These are serious pieces of wood, and they ought to be as they are supporting a heavy straw bale house with a living roof.

Anyway, we’ve had a lot of excitement the past week wrangling with the 8×12 beams, and setting the first three onto our concrete pier foundation.

Pier and White Oak Beam Foundation

The perimeter of the house is composed of 8×12 white oak beams. Basically, we have been able to eliminate a large quantity of concrete (in the form of a concrete slab or stemwall) by using wood instead. Much preferable in my eyes, as I really dislike using concrete.

8x12 White Oak Sill Beams

Working on the big ol' 8x12 sill beams in our "wedding tent"

The 8×12 beams will have 3×10 floor joists set atop them, as well as two 8x10s in two key locations where the weight of the walls is greater than elsewhere. There are two scarf joints (positioned above piers) to make the 26 foot east-west span, and there are two additional interesting joints on the east side of the house, where the shape resembles half of an octagon. These we have not yet worked on, but tomorrow we will lay out the 45° mortise and tenon joints.

Timber Frame Scarf Joint

One half of a scarf joint in the sill beam

Monday we gathered a group of 12+ people to help with moving the three longest 8×12 beams, and one of the 8x10s to the pier locations. Timber carriers are our best friends around here (and, er, the friends willing to take command of the carriers, of course!)

Pier and Beam Foundation

Moving the sill beam onto the foundation

It was a lot of fun, and it’s always great to see visual progress.

The most exciting thing? Our beams are very damn level, indicating that we did a pretty good job on pouring the concrete piers. Check out this shot! Look at that bubble. Happiness.

Sill Beam Foundation

Check out that bubble... now that's level!

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