Mezcla! ~ Walls Around The Staircase!

When a crew gets together to do a repello (stucco) job, they break into two groups. One group will mix the mortar and the second group will place the mortar. When the second group runs out of material, someone will lightheartedly yell out, “MEZCLA!” (mortar mix!), urging the delivery of more mortar. If everyone is getting tired, the mixing crew may yell out, “NO!” or “MANAÑA!” but will of course they will mix as fast as they can. Same goes for a concrete job.

And so it went this last week. Armando, Alex, and new guy Beto started the first coat of repello on the foam building panels that were already in place at the outside of the staircase. While they worked, Aramis and I placed more foam panels. He and I also used our ubiquitous 2″x2″ tubing to make railings at the tops of the walls. We welded short pieces of rebar to the tubing; the rebar will be firmly embedded into the mortar to hold the railing in place:


No, Kilroy wasn’t here. That’s Armando’s hand — he is stuccoing the other side of the wall.

In the next photo you can see that the first of two coats of repello is completed on the outside of the angle wall. You can also see that Aramis and I have installed panels that will make the loft railing. Note the holes in the panels — Aramis and I welded two-inch pieces of rebar to the container wall and pressed the foam over the pins. Then we welded scrap pieces of flat stock to the rebar and used baling wire to tie the foam panels to the flat stock:


Armando and Beto worked hard while Alex tried to keep up. “MEZCLA!”


Aramis and I stayed ahead of the mud men. After the first coat of mud, we put wooden strips at the edges of the walls. These strips set the thickness of the second coat of mezcla:


The second coat on the outside of the angled wall is just wooden floated (and not steel troweled smooth) because we won’t be painting the wall. More in a future post…

Aramis and I installed the panels in the half bath under the stairs:


We had a fan blowing to extract the welding and foam fumes.

Meanwhile, the mud men applied the second coat to the big wall:


Aramis and I were caught up, so he joined the mud crew, helping apply the second coat to the big wall and making it smooth for painting.

The big wall came out really well and dead straight:


But the stairs are a mess. We will have to use a muriatic acid solution to remove the cement scum from the metal.

The backside of the loft railing wall still needs a second coat:


While everyone else was focused on the big wall, I stole away and erected a few foam panels to make a four-foot by eight-foot closet at the far end of the kitchen:


We will permanently padlock the container end doors closed. We still need to make the door frame and weld some rebar pins to the container to support the foam panels, and then the crew can apply the mortar.

With the mezcla applied to most of the walls, we can now better see the satisfying geometric shapes in this big room. Also, Aramis and I found some time to hang the six sliding door panels in the living room west wall. We still need to order and install the glass. But all in all, we are getting quite close to being able to lock the entire house!


I took this photo from the stair landing that leads to the second bedroom.

In other news, I am thankful that we have so much inside work during these heaviest rains of the rainy season. By the way, when it stops raining, the water recedes as fast as it came:


And finally, The Trash Report — It has been many months since we have generated any real trash. Here is the spoil from the current job:


Two plastic bags of scrap foam and a small pile of foam panel scrap await the Thursday morning trash pickup. Yes, we have had some metal scrap, but it all went down the mountain to the recycle scrap yard.

And wow, I just noticed that the hit counter at the right of the page has passed the half-million page hits count. The most searched for phrases have been DIY sheet metal brake, cutting shipping container walls, and installing doors and windows in shipping container. I’m happy to have shown people what has to be the hardest way to build a shipping container house!

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Interior Walls ~ Part 4

Quick! What takes 36 ninety-four pound sacks of Portland cement, about eight yards of sand, and three weeks of work by one 29-year-old guy and a 60-something-year-old guy?

Answer: The two coats of repello (stucco) on the M2 (foam building panels) interior partitions in the two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and the laundry room in the container #4 area of the house.

You can read about building interior walls in our shipping container house at these links: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 

We are finally done and today, other than sweeping and washing the floors at the rental house, while Cyn did the laundry, I took the day off! Armando will be cutting grass at the rental and at the new house for the next few days so I will have some time to finish smaller projects such as the outside bathroom door and my sheet metal bending brake.

To bring this part of our shipping container house to a close, here are some photos of the repello process:

Armando brings a wheelbarrow full of mortar into the house and shovels it into the box above on the plank:

Obviously this photo and the next few are of applying the first coat.

Then he gets a trowel full of mortar…

and spreads it on the wall:

Rinse and repeat:

Although very rewarding when the job is done, this is wicked, wickedly strenuous work for all arm and leg muscles. Add in all the other muscles, too, as the job requires keeping one’s balance on the 2″x10″ plank and not falling into the wheelbarrow below!

Here is the laundry room second coated and the mortar cleaned from the electric switch and receptacle boxes:

The next photo was taken from the second bedroom looking into the laundry room on the left. I’m really pleased how dead flat and straight the 15-foot long wall turned out. For this wall we started at 6:00 a.m. and finished at 5:00 p.m.

Also, you can see the detail of how the door frames connect with the wall. We still have to smooth the edge where the repello meets the door frame; we’ll use a paste of cement and water smoothed on with a trowel.

The door frames are massively strong and are completely connected to the repello-ed wall; they aren’t going anywhere! The door detail in the next picture is in the master bathroom. Some of the bathroom wall is smooth for paint; we left the rest of the wall slightly rough and ready for tile or to be covered with a large mirror:

With these interior walls ready for paint or tile, this big chunk of the building is now behind us. Cynthia and I find ourselves walking through the rooms talking about color and decoration. How exciting!

Next I plan to complete installing the metal ceiling panels and move on to the floors and windows. It is starting to look like a house!

That’s all for now, more soon!


Interior Walls ~ Part 3

I had asked Armando to see if he could find another man to help with the stucco (“repello” ray-PAY-oh in Spanish), but with all the holidays, those without regular jobs were still under the weather with what I call “la gripe (grippe) de cervesa” (the beer flu). So yesterday and today he and I worked the repello by ourselves.

It wasn’t that bad, but it did make Armando run a bit more. He had to sift the sand, mix it with the cement, deliver it by the bucket full to where we were working, then spread the mortar with me. A third man could have done all the sifting, mixing, and hauling, leaving Armando and me to specialize with spreading the mortar. Maybe tomorrow he will have better luck, but any way it happens it happens.

Since my last post, I made and installed the two door frames in the laundry. In the next photo, the door frame is primed red. The wood that is attached to the frame will be the level of the second coat of repello. You can see short pieces of rebar that I wove into the wire mesh of the M2 panels; I welded the rebar to the door frame. These pieces of rebar will be embedded into the repello, locking the door frame in place:

The big wall was still a bit wobbly so I added some more bracing to keep it in place while we applied the repello to the other side:

Yesterday we spread most of the first coat of repello in the guest bedroom bath, and today we did two walls in the laundry room, or as Cynthia calls it, “My laundromat.” In the next photo Armando brings in one of many buckets of mescla (mortar mix):

In the next five pictures, at the end of our work day today, I stand in the same spot and pan around the laundry room from looking into the master bedroom to looking into the guest bedroom. What you don’t see is all the scaffolding we had to erect and take down to get to the higher parts of the walls:

We’ll spend the rest of the week spreading this first coat of repello, then next week we’ll start the second coat.

Bonus photos:

When it is time for Jabo to jump into the pickup truck bed, we just say, “Load up,” and up he jumps. But for extra special behavioral enrichment occasions he now knows a new command, “Circus dog!”

The next photo is of the small fruit and vegetable stand two kilometers down the hill. They get their deliveries on Friday mornings so I try to schedule my weekly vege run for Friday afternoons before all the weekenders pick the stand clean. This is the man who usually waits on me; we always have a laugh about something, such as when he hands me a penny change and I exclaim, “Soy rico!” (I’m rich!). He was more than happy to pose for me.

Cynthia and I have tacos planned for supper, then we’ll probably stay up way beyond our bedtime, sitting on the edge of our seats awaiting the results of the Stateside 2012 Presidential Election.

That’s all for now.



More Interior Walls ~ Part 2

About a year ago I built some interior partitions and wrote about it here. I used steel carriolas (metal 2″x3″s) and a cement board called Plycem. I used Plycem instead of drywall because of the high humidity here in the mountains. These walls were relatively quick and easy, and I used them where sound transmission from room to room was not an issue.

However now it is time to build walls between the master bedroom and bedroom number two, and we want little or no sound transmission between the two.

Of course Armando is most comfortable with concrete block construction, but the weight of the walls would be quite massive and would put too much burden on the support columns. Even he could see that blocks were not viable. We ruled this out.

We decided to use the polystyrene panels covered with a welded wire mesh, locally called M2. I think there has been a re-branding and the name may have changed, but I asked for M2 and the clerk at Hopsa knew what I was talking about. There is a producer in California that calls the product 3-D or Tridipanel. Previously I used this material on the electric service entrance wall and on the two flying buttress columns in the carport.

M2 is wonderfully light weight to work with. Cynthia and I went to the Hopsa store in Penonome, about an hour and a half away. We came home with the pickup stuffed high and long with about 20 sheets and the truck hardly seemed to notice. One person can easily move and place a 4-foot by 10-foot panel. As I was moving a panel I said to Armando, “I’m moving seventy-five concrete blocks with two fingers!”

Armando was cutting grass for the better part of a week, so I worked solo placing the panels. Although the walls go up fast, the tedious part of working with this material is that when it comes time to cut a panel to size, you have to use wire cutters to cut dozens and dozens of wires. I managed to blow out a blood vessel in one of my fingers from the repetitive snipping. Black and blue and OUCH! To cut the underlying foam panel, I found it easiest just to use a hacksaw blade. When joining panels, you use special crimping pliers and small wire crimps to join wires from the adjoining panels.

We are installing these new walls in the space between containers 3 and 4 and in number 4. The big space that we are dividing with walls will delineate the two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and the laundry room. Here is a photo of the first wall all braced and ready for stucco on the opposite side:

The metal carriolas and the wood 2″x4″s are wired to the wall to give it strength while stuccoing the other side of the panel.

Here is the same wall from the other end:

In this picture you can see from the second bedroom into the laundry room. Note also the clerestory windows twelve-feet off the floor. The airflow and light from the clerestory windows is really nice.

Installing plumbing pipes and electrical conduit is a breeze. Just pass a heat gun or propane torch over the polystyrene and the heat melts a nice groove behind the metal mesh. Then just thread the pipes behind the mesh. It all disappears when the stucco is applied. Here is the laundry room underway:

The red and blue pipes are PEX tubing. The on-demand water heater will be mounted here. A concrete floor slab will lock the walls in place after the walls are stuccoed.

I have a couple more days of installing pipes and conduits. Then next week when the current spate of national holidays (Day of the Dead where people visit and spruce up the cemeteries, and Independence from Colombia) is over, Armando and another man and I will tackle the stucco. While concrete blocks take just one coat, the M2 takes two. The first coat fills all the voids in the corrugated foam panels out to the level of the wire mesh. The second coat covers the mesh and renders everything straight and flat.

After months and months of building my shop, the carport, Cynthia’s studio, the gardens, and not accomplishing much on the house itself, it is an extreme morale booster to see the walls taking shape. Next on the list will be to complete the windows and pour the floor slabs in this space.

There is talk between Cynthia and myself about moving into this part of the house as soon as possible. We plan to finish the second bathroom and build a camp kitchen. It won’t be fancy, but we will be out of our rental house. That will free up some extra cash every month, Armando won’t have to take time to cut the grass, and it will boost our spirits immensely.

Stucco (“repello” in Spanish) is next.That’s all for now.