We’ve pretty much done it. We have manhandled a 125kg steel I-beam from the front lawn into the big bedroom upstairs. There were no more than three people working at any one time. And I am relieved to report no injuries.
This was a job we didn’t expect to have to do. All we wanted was to move a partition to make space for a bathroom under the eaves. Thankfully, we found out in time that the partition was actually holding that part of the roof up. So we needed to replace it with something substantial.
That is where the steel I-beam comes in. But this presented us with a number of questions. For starters, our drive has a tight bend in it, and comes off a narrow country lane. No lorry of any size can drive onto our property. Neither could we get any major lifting equipment onto the back lawn. And what happens once you’ve got the I-beam in the room but not up at ceiling level, supporting the rafters?
We would have to do this by hand, with only minimal equipment. In the end we used
- a home-made dolly on wheels
- a scaffolding tower
- blue rope
- lifting eyes and pulleys
- bits of wood
- bottle jacks
- sheer muscle
The first hurdle was the delivery of the I-beam. Alex wondered how he would even get the thing off the delivery lorry. But the driver soon put him straight: just throw it off. It made a big clanging noise, but nothing was damaged. The dolly, with the two of us pushing, took it the rest of the way up the drive.
That little exercise made it obvious that Alex could relatively easily lift one end of the beam on his own, as long as the other end was supported. While he was preparing the room upstairs to receive the beam, he cooked up an elaborate plan.
He put in place additional wedges and pieces of wood so the roof could be supported with acrow props. He also built the scaffolding tower underneath the balcony window (where a balcony is yet to be built) which would be the entry point for the beam. He also made holes in the walls, ready to receive the ends of the beam. We mocked up the entire process with a 2×4 of equal length to make sure there was enough room to manoeuvre the beam into place. All looked well.
The first task was to simply get the I-beam from ground floor level into the room on the first floor. It was a stressful day, as it was all too easy to drop this heavy thing quite a long way. We made sure that the beam was always attached or supported in at least two places, so that we wouldn’t lose control in the event of anything failing.
We started by attaching a pulling eye to one end of the beam. With a simple rope and pulley, we managed to get it quite a long way up. We also needed to do some pushing at the other end, which was resting on the dolly. Our friend Tim helped us with this.
When the beam’s nose was resting on the edge of the scaffolding platform, we needed to lift it higher. Alex added another element to the scaffolding tower so the pulley could be attached higher up. With some more pulling and pushing, we got it even higher.
By then, we needed to start lifting the other end. We did so very carefully, resting the beam on trestles that got progressively taller.
At one point, we had a little incident where the trestles gave way and the end of the beam clonked to the floor. Thankfully we had been careful to not go and stand in the way of it, so no harm was done.
Eventually, we got the end of the beam as high as we could, and as far into the room as we could. Alex’s dad Roger came over to help us with that bit. Now, we could put pressure on the end in the room to level it out and just pull it inside, sliding across the scaffolding platform. Getting it inside the room was easy after all that, and we called it a day.
On the second day, Alex’s friend Andy came to help us out. Now that the beam was in the room, we needed to get it resting on the walls on either side. It was a slow process, where we slowly and carefully lifted the beam, always making sure it was attached to something solid. Even if one end dropped, it could never go very far. That day, we managed to get it resting on the wall on one side, higher than it should be. The other end was nearly up to the other wall, dangling from a rope.
The third day, we did the same again, carefully inching the beam further up, securing it every time. Eventually, the beam was resting on the wall on both sides, raised on some bricks. It was more or less at the level that we needed it, but not quite in the right place. This was when we took the partition stud work out, making sure the roof was supported with acrow props either side.
On day four, we slowly inched the beam sideways, until it was resting under the wooden wall plate where we need it to be. The next puzzle was how we were going to crank it up so far that it was pushing up the wall plate and effectively lifting the roof. Alex decided the way to do this was to use bottle jacks to push the ends of the beam up, while supporting them with acrow props further towards the middle. With every pump of the bottle jack, the acrow props were tightened too.
Today, one concrete pad was cemented into place under the end of the I-beam. It took some working out how to cement it in while it is tightly in place under the beam. Alex cleverly lifted it on some wooden pegs, and pressed the mortar in with a thin plank.
Tomorrow, the second pad will go in, and when all the cement has gone off, we can take away the acrow props. I’ll let you know if the roof stays up after that.
A few months ago, we discovered we are going to have to do some work to keep the roof up. This is an unforeseen complication to our project, and we’re having to do some critical things before the work can be done.
We had it all beautifully planned, of course. We are going to super-insulate the house, which involves making an airtight envelope around the spaces we live in. We’re going to wrap the floor, the walls and the loft in hight quality insulating material.
We decided to start the job by taking the old insulation out of the loft. When Alex and his dad, Roger, finished that job, they discovered a distinct dip in the joists over the extension. A worrying dip, in fact. The roof was’t about to cave in, but we would have to do something about it before we could go ahead with the rest of our renovation work.
When a professional came to look at the problem, we also learned that the partition upstairs, which we wanted to simply move to divide the rooms up differently, is actually partially holding up the roof as well. It needs to be replaced by something more sturdy.
The solution suggested by the structural engineer is to replace the partition with a steel I-beam. This is something we can do as a DIY job, with a little help from friends. 125kg worth of steel beam isn’t actually as heavy as it sounds.
But. We will have to get it up to ceiling height on the first floor and install it securely. There are a few practicalities obstructing this process.
We had not planned to do anything to this side of the house until after the insulation was in place. So we had stored our belongings in the big bedroom upstairs, certain that we wouldn’t have to move any of it until we could move into the renovated older part of the house. (Currently we live in a small flat in the extension.)
But because the beam has to go in, and the partition has to come out, and the ceiling has to come down to replace the bendy joists, we need to completely empty the room we never planned to empty. Alex has taken a few days to do just that, and puzzle all our belongings into the other two bedrooms.
Furthermore, we had also started constructing a raised vegetable bed outside the extension. In order to get the I-beam in place, we need to finish the foundations up to ground level, so that can be made good for the scaffolding to go up. The scaffolding we need to get the I-beam to ceiling level on the first floor, remember?
This wouldn’t be a problem if we weren’t having a typical English winter: either too cold or too wet for brick laying.
You probably knew that you can’t build a wall when it’s freezing. All the water in the mortar would just freeze and break apart your wall faster than you can build it. And the kind of rain we had recently flooded the foundations so we had to pump them out. If you tried to build in that kind of weather, your wall would be just as ruined for being too wet.
Did you know that you can’t build a wall with wet bricks? When you are building a wall, the moisture from the mortar is drawn into the brick, which helps to bond your wall together. If the brick is wet through, this can’t happen and you get a really weak wall.
So for that part of our critical path to holding the roof up, we will just have to wait for a couple of dryish, mildish days. Hopefully they will come soon.
Alex has spent several days digging foundations for our new raised bed. We’re going for large and tall. Raised beds have many advantages, but the hight we are going for is a bit of an experiment.
People have been constructing raised beds for vegetable growing for many years. Here are some of the very good reasons to do so:
Raised beds, when used with a no-dig system,
• improve drainage: the organic materials that fill them are ideal moisture regulators.
• save labour after the initial build.
• easier to get to: not as much bending over.
• contain the ideal nutrient mix for your veggies if you add mulches and natural amendments.
• usually improve yields.
• add different levels to your garden, making it look interesting.
We’re going for a multi-level raised bed, with the larger part of it quite high indeed. We’re making it about as high as a kitchen counter, but narrow enough that we can reach all parts without stretching. To contain that amount of soil, we are constructing sturdy walls. Hence the digging.
One of the main aims of our gardening project is to grow more food. This raised bed will help us do that, in various ways.
- We are adding a significant amount of vegetable growing space.
- The bed is located by the South wall of the house, one of the few sunny spots in the garden.
- It’s close to the house, so we’ll be able to keep an eye on our plants very easily, weeding as we pass.
The raised bed will make it easier for us to reach our goal, to grow more vegetables, in different ways. And that is a principle of good permaculture design.