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Monday, March 27, 2017

Chicken Coop... The Build, Foundation

I've never done this before.  I can sit and plan for years and tinker with the concept forever and never actually build the structure.  With the looming deadline from the wife (not to mention egg delivery, incubation and the eventual hatching of chickens...in our living room), and the hole in the back yard, it's now time to make this work.
 
I ventured over to my nearest big box store to start pricing things out.  I knew that I needed to get concrete for the foundation and wood to form it.  Concrete can be purchased in a multiple of ways:  by the bag, by the truck, and individually by component.  Concrete is comprised of four basic components.  They being cement (glue), large aggregate (stones), small aggregate (sand) and water (catalyst).  Mixed together in different ratios and sometimes with admixtures (extra ingredients for slowing the chemical reactions) yield different strengths.  For a chicken coop, that's more than enough information without sidetracking to the engineering side of things. 
 
Purchasing by the bag, at the time of construction, was the most economical.  The other methods were either too costly (by the truck) or overly cumbersome (by the component) for my needs.  However, if one were to price compare, realize that by the truck method has two options.  Either, buying a minimum of 3 cubic yards from a drum mixing truck (typical concrete truck) and throwing away whatever wasn't used; or, hiring an onsite truck mixer which humorously sounds like a Willy Wonka machine.  The onsite mixer can deliver any quantity to your project, but the advantage is the higher cost and a limit in cubic yard production, which honestly wouldn't be reached for a chicken coop.  Buying each component individually, combining them in the right proportions each time was just too cumbersome for a placement as large (small?) my project.  Purchasing by the bag with all the ingredients mixed together already in the right ratio in bags that all weighed the same worked out just perfectly.
 
I was lucky enough to stumble upon a long-term sale at Home Depot for 80 pound bags of Quickcrete.  Quickcrete is a premixed bag of all the necessary components (minus water).  The sale had the bags at $2.88 each!  Normal pricing in my area is around $4 to $5 for each bag.  My Jeep can handle only so much weight so I could only purchase 10 to 11 bags at a time.  I computed the quantity of concrete needed, which at 0.60 cubic feet per bag required in in excess of 50 bags.  Over the next few months, I purchased 60 bags making roughly 6 trips.  We returned the bags that we didn't use (probably should have kept them due to the affordability... oh well).
 
Next, I needed to form out the foundation for the concrete to be placed within.  I purchased about 10 sheets of OSD board and cut them to shape.  The below photo as the perimeter of the formwork installed.  I placed a width template made from a 2x3 with two OSD sourced scrap to make a hook.  The template kept the outer walls at a fixed distance while erecting. 
 
Side note, the Honda Odyssey's cabin is coincidently the perfect size to lay a full size 4'x8' sheet of plywood flat.  Just incase your looking to purchase a family vehicle and your wife doesn't consider a pickup truck as a "family" vehicle...

Due to the slope in my backyard, I also purchased six 8"x48" sono tubes (seen above).  Sono tubes are typically used as a cylindrical footing for decks or perhaps even small barns.  Dig a hole slightly larger than the sono tube with a post-hole digger to the depth required (for me, roughly 4' to 1.5' depending on location), insert the sono tube, place a couple inches of stone for drainage at the bottom, then concrete.  For my application, I wanted some additional support due to the slope of the yard.  Overkill, perhaps, better safe than sorry, right?







With the sono tubes and formwork in place, I put stone along the bottom of the form and compacted with a heavy rod.  I placed braces (they look like an upside down "L") around both perimeters.  The bracing was measured for the height of the form plus an extra foot to pound into the ground.  It was made up of 2"x3" lumber purchased with the OSD boards.  In hindsight, I should've made the bracing much stronger; concrete is heavy and the form will want to move as it is filled.  


As cost effective as it was to purchase the bags of concrete (seen under the blue tarp), renting a concrete mixer from them was a nightmare.  The tool department does not make reservations so first come first serve.  On a Saturday morning, these mixers apparently go rather quickly.  I arrived and was unable to rent the large sized mixer, instead, I was given a smaller one.  I didn't fret to much about it, I figured its better than mixing by hand.  Freshly mixed concrete has a limited time; it starts to cure as soon as it is mixed.  Within a couple hours, it sets up and becomes very hard to work with.  Having a mixer saves on the time.
 
After roughly 20 bags, the mixer died.  Not wanting to loose time, I pulled out my wheel barrow and started mixing by hand.  My wife called Home Depot's rental department and I had to relay the issue while I was mixing and pouring the next load.  The gentleman (let's call him what he was, the manager) said that there are no other mixers on reserve.  He drove out to my home and proceeded to diagnose the mixer as inoperable.  I helped him load it back onto the Home Depot rental pickup truck that he drove to our home and he proceeded to leave.  As he was leaving, he asked how long I used if for.  Despite the hardship I was about to endure, the manager felt compelled to charge me a half day's rental, instead of a full day as initially rented.... gee, thanks Mr. Manager, how kind.  I didn't finish my little pour until 12 hours after starting with the mixer. 





By night fall, I was done.  Along he way, I inserted 12 anchor bolts, troweled the exposed top level and smoothed over everything for a clean finish.  I washed up my tools, placed the wheel barrow and horses as support for the tarp, covered the concrete, showered and passed out.

The next morning...it rained.


The following week was very humid and muggy... PERFECT weather for the concrete to slowly cure to full strength.  Typically, you can wait 24 hours to remove the formwork, however, with the amount of moisture in the air, the concrete was too "green".  The form needed to stay in place until the concrete reached that pale gray color.  Besides, I had plenty of time before the flock moved in, so I waited until the following weekend to strip the forms.
 
Here are shots of the form in place just before being stripped.  In the following photo, you can see that the form did move slightly out of square due to the inadequate bracing used.  This would eventually lead to a slightly out of square coop.








 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Chicken Coop... The Design/Breaking Ground

So it's been a few weeks now and progress has been slow.  Being a "weekend warrior" means that I only have 24 hours at most over a weekend to work on the coop design and construction.  As the weather improved slightly, the ground thawed just enough to start digging out a foundation on February 28, 2016.  My plans are not yet complete, but I knew that I needed to dig down for stability and security.

My property is on a slope, roughly 13o. This means digging deeper on one end of the structure's base to level the foundation.  Since everything is dependent on a sound foundation, time is being spent to ensure a proper footing is in place. Once dug out, the area will be leveled and formwork will be added in preparation for concrete.  I know what you're thinking:  "Concrete?  Really? Isn't that overkill?"  My response is only that I have to make sure that the coop will be stable in strong winds and be able to keep out critters that will kill the flock.  Those critters include ones that burrow under fences.  A concrete base will help mitigate that potential.

So far, I've managed to dig down roughly two feet at the east end and one foot at the west of the coop base.  In doing so, I've come across two layers of "trash", compressed over the decades/centuries.  It's quite intriguing finding broken porcelain dishware, glass bottles of varying sizes, wrought iron components, an older version of a spark plug (I think) and yes, even a coin (1911 wheat back penny)!  We're considering getting a metal detector to find more "treasure" (as my son had called it).  We've also found discarded architectural details from our home:  a stone fireplace lintel, similarly as found in our parlor (seen here).  Another find was what I can only assume to be the daily meal of my home's former occupants.  Oysters and clam shells were found in extreme quantity throughout the trash layer with random bovine bone fragments.  My father, forever the pessimist, has kept fretting over my property being condemned for finding human remains... hasn't happened yet.
 



The coop/run design will have a footprint of roughly 12 feet by 6 feet and orientated west to east.  At the east end, an elevated coop "living" area will be built.  It will be 6 feet wide, 4 feet long and will be 2 feet above the ground.  The height of the coop will vary from roughly 4 feet to 5 feet.  The idea for it being elevated is to give the chickens a shaded area under the coop while in the run as well as making it harder for predators to gain entry into the more secure coop at night. The roof of the coop portion is still being considered.  I'm weighing the pros and cons of using asphalt versus cedar shingles.  The extra expense of cedar is just too hard to ignore, but cosmetically, more appealing.

The run potion of the design will be open on all sides not taken up by the coop to take advantage of as much fresh air as possible.  The roof will be either a clear corrugated panel system allowing sunlight to enter yet stopping rain and snow, a solid metal panel for strength or a plywood/shingled roof.

Conceptual views using Google's Sketchup CAD software (free download here):





A general list of materials being used will be ready-mix concrete bags for the foundation, embedded concrete anchors, Douglas-Fir 2x4s, pressure treated 2x6s, corrugated polycarbonate roof panels (maybe), CDX plywood sheeting, roofing nails, felt and shingles, exterior grade construction screws and washers, wood weather protectant stain, door hinges, vinyl flooring, masonry sand and pine shavings.  There are also miscellaneous wood components and hardware needed for the hatch and ramp (to be made from scrap).

Next up, the build.