Unexpected Progress!

The day after my last post about tiling the walkway, we tiled the bottom step to the carport floor and installed a few missing tiles here and there. I thought that that would be the end of our supply of tiles, as I had estimated the job with a very sharp pencil.

But we did have nine tiles left over, just enough to tile the ramp to the back yard with only the tiniest bit of scrap left over:


To fill out the day, we moved operations to the electric meter wall at the corner of the property. Armando and I had tiled it a couple of years ago, but the stucco at the top of the roof line was too smooth to bond the tiles to. One-by-one and over time, the tiles loosened and fell to the ground. Francisco roughed the stucco with a hammer and chisel, then Anibal painted on a bonding agent, and we cut and fit the tiles. Here is a photo that Cynthia took of the crew:


At the end of the day our tile crew was all caught up until time to tile the carport floor, and I was about to dismiss Anibal and Francisco for lack of work. But I really didn’t want to lose them as it may be some time before I could get them back.

Anibal and I got to talking; he still had no other work on the horizon, so we decided to start the carport floor the next day. I had previously purchased the rebar for the floor, but we still needed sand, gravel and cement.

There still isn’t a lot of mixed sand and gravel deposited on the river banks, but Ramiro’s brother, who lives next to a river, had the ten-yards that we would need. He promised it for the next day. Then I went to town and ordered 30, 94-pound sacks of cement that were delivered the next day.

The next day, Armando, Anibal, Francisco, and I prepared the carport area for the pour. We have used this area to mix concrete on for five-years. Some areas were quite thick with remnant concrete and mortar, and to level the floor it was tough work with pick-axe, sledge-hammer, and shovel. We used a string to determine the level of the floor and picked away at the high spots and filled the low spots with the chipped-out debris. This took most of the morning. Here are some photos:



We dug a trench along the front edge of the slab to allow for more concrete here — I don’t want the slab to crack the first time I drive over the edge! In the next photo I am driving rebar into the ground, making support for a 2″x4″ metal cariola form for the concrete:


When we had the earth scraping and filling done to allow a five-inch concrete slab, we moved on to the rebar. Here Armando cuts some rebar with the angle grinder:


We measured for the cross-pieces of rebar:


Then we cut all of the cross pieces:

P1020706-002Now with the grid of 1/2″ rebar, spaced at 16″-on-center, we tied the rebar intersections with wire. Cynthia got in on the action, too, cutting and bending the 300-plus tie wires:


Here the guys wire the rebar together:

P1020716-001After the rebar was in place, we drove some long pins of rebar into the ground, then I welded angle iron to the pins. Using a string from front-to-back of the carport, we adjusted the angle iron (by hammering on the pins) to set the top of the slab:



You can see the angle iron — one at either edge and one running down the middle of the carport. We’ll use the ten-foot length of aluminum tubing to strike the concrete level.

Now we are ready for concrete.

The sand and gravel mix didn’t arrive in the afternoon as promised, but I was told that it would arrive early in the morning tomorrow. Tomorrow arrived, along with the men at 7:00 a.m., but still no material, so Ramiro called his brother. It seems that the two-block-long road down to the river was too washed out and the truck couldn’t use it. So, the delay was caused — if you can understand how much work this must have been — by the three men having to physically wheel-barrow all ten-yards uphill on the deeply-rutted two-block “road” to the truck. Uugh!

The truck arrived with the first four-yards at 8:30 and we got right to work. Spreading out the entire four-yards, the men then added the cement,:



then they mixed and added water:


They make little troughs throughout the pile to contain the water. Anibal, the oldest on the crew, was assigned hose duty.

After the pile was mixed, Armando grabbed the wheelbarrow and kept at it all day long:


Anibal and I placed the concrete and struck it off using the angle iron guides:


We caught little breaks when we could:


We ran out of concrete when we were almost done with half the floor, and had to wait an hour-or-so for the second four-yards to arrive. Here is the floor half-done and starting on the second half:


With just a bit left to do on the floor, we waited again for the arrival of two-more yards of sand and gravel. This was a lot of mixing in one day for our small crew:



The next photo shows the slab ALL DONE! Also, note that the driveway is a mess of sand and cement (this stretches all the way to the front gate), making it difficult to walk into the house without bringing in a bunch of junk on your feet:

P1020759-001So I sent a WhatsApp message to Jesus (man with truck) and ordered four-yards of gravel for the driveway. Yesterday, Armando and I spread the pile. We’ll still need at least another load, but I’ll wait until we are all done with the sand pile Here’s a panorama with the driveway almost all graveled:

Panorama --041

So having the floor slab done was a big surprise for us, we thought it would happen in June or July. But here it is at the tail end of May and it is in and done. Now just to tile it…

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

13 thoughts on “Unexpected Progress!

  1. Again I ask myself how can I get excited about the details of watching the pouring of a carport floor …but I am…and fascinated!!! What a team you seem to have been able to assemble, and what a job! Bravo to you all, including Cynthia, who smiles through all the cement dust and …noise! She is a better woman than I am! Tiling the carport too … we are hoping to do that too and I know of only the ‘blue stuff’ that allows one to adhere more cement to older cement, but look forward to that posting. Thanks. What ARE we going to do when your posts stop!?

    • Oh, gee, gosh Patricia, thanks so much for all your compliments and comments.

      The blue stuff, “pega azul” as we call it here, is useful for smooth concrtete. If the floor is just rough troweled and has enough “tooth” as our new carport floor is, then no blue goo is necessary.

      Cynthia is a trooper. Most days.

      When my posts stop — yes, it has me in a bit of a panic, too.

      Thanks again Patricia, Fred

  2. I am beyond impressed. I have watched several crews in Panama mix, set, pour, strike, and finish concrete but I can not remember this size project with so few workers. You guys (and Cynthia) are dynamos.

    It is probably just as well that you got it done before another rainy season, should help to avoid some of the mess that always brings.

    I think you should start building a guest house. That will keep you busy for a while longer. (Pale green walls are my favorite! hahaha)

    jim and nena
    fort worth, tx

    • Hi Jim & Nena,

      Did I say that we were all tired at the end of the day? Really tired! It was a big pour and thicker than the locals are used to doing — three-inches is a good thickness of floor for them as even that is more than many of them can afford.

      It is raining this afternoon, thunder working its way up the mountain to our place here on the rim of the volcano. Always dramatic.

      About your guest house — do you want a jetted tub or will a shower be ok?

      As always, thanks for your comments and compliments. Fred

      • The tub would be great but don’t start on it yet. I’m preparing to put on in on our back porch and I’ll be able to help if I figure this one out. Ha

        As for rain, we may need to come for a visit just to get dry; setting rain records every day in Texas.

  3. My back aches just reading about the physical effort of concreting that large a space. What a team you have! Congrats on the progress. I love the new panoramic picture with all that lush green. Take care. Lisa.

    • Hi Lisa,

      My back is still aching, too!

      Although we water during the dry season, the rainy season, now, is when the plants really take off. Except for the really rainy months (especially November), we like the rainy season better than the dry season here.

      Thanks very much for your comment and compliments. Fred

  4. fred, great job. it’s amazing to see the concrete mixed that way. having used a wheelbarrow to move concrete many times, i can just imagine what your back feels like. keep doing!

    • Hi Dee,

      Yes, I am still not used to mixing it on the ground. I actually contacted a concrete company to have it delivered in a mixer-truck, but they never got back to me with a price. Their loss, our hard work! I’m still sore.

      Thanks for your comment Dee, I’m like a Timex watch — keep going and going and going… Fred

  5. Fred,

    I am an architecture student and am working as an intern for a general contractor this summer. He has put me in charge of developing/ designing a container home development in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. We are currently talking to the city right now discussing discrepancies with code and showing them our vision for this container home development. Basically we have to show the planning and zoning committee here in Cedar Rapids exactly how these container homes work. Since you have so extensively and beautifully documented your progress, I am using your home as an example of a container home, to show them. Could you post your final floor plans that were approved by the architect and governments? Or a more detailed floor plan than the one you previously posted in the blog? Do you have elevations? 🙂 If you can help I would appreciate it so much. What you are doing with your design is inspiring! I can not thank you enough already for blogging all of this.

    • Hi Daniel,

      Sorry for the delay in answering you. I banged up a finger and it was difficult to type for a couple of days.

      Thanks very much for writing and also for choosing our shipping container house as an example. Shipping container housing can run the gamut from the very utilitarian to the very, um, different. I like to think that our house is on the different end of the scale.

      From my five-year experience in our owner design-build effort, I can say that there is a lot to like about the method. Now living in the house, we feel energized, enlivened, and connected to our place on the land. And isn’t that what architecture is all about — being supported by the structure that we live in?

      I understand that you need to teach, show solutions, and explain the vision to the city, and this can be difficult because the officials don’t want to go very far out on the limb of the new. Your job will be to show them engineering solutions, design benefits, and basically to relieve their fears that this will be a blight or a disaster that will come back to haunt them. I know that other builders have had to go through this exercise and have put together good packets for presentation, a good query for Google (or better yet, DuckDuckGo).

      As to a final floor plan or elevations, we are in a very different atmosphere here in Panama. Yes we had an architect and an engineer, and yes, plans were drawn and approved (based on the detailed set of plans that I drew and gave to the architect). But we have made drastic changes to those plans for various reasons, but we did not have to have the plans redrawn or augmented. Once you have paid your various fees here, it simply doesn’t matter what you build as long as the basic premise is similar to the original. In the five-years that we have been working on this project, we have yet to see an inspector, or indeed our architect! Here, you pay for the process and then go about your business. There will be one inspection — when we are all done, we have to register the improvements to the land with the Public Registry. This will make the tax basis for the property. In this process, an inspector from the regional fire department will inspect the main electrical connection to the grid — that’s all!

      And so I am sorry, but we don’t have any drawings beyond my scratchings on a napkin if you will. Very sorry. But the house is on a grid provided by the containers (by the way, we used the high-cube containers). The glass wall at the front door is on a 22.5-degree angle, and the back glass wall of the living room is on a 45-degree angle. I liked playing with the push-and-pull aspect of this design, although it did add a lot to the complexity of the build.

      I’m not an architect, but I have had a life-long career in construction. I try my best to balance the aesthetic design, engineering, and construction aspects into my works. I always focus on how-do-I-feel-in-this-space when I plan and build. Recent influences for me have been the old standard, “A Pattern Language” and the books by Sarah Susanka.

      Daniel, I wish you success with your project. Understand it well and you can explain it well to the officials. Good luck. Fred

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.