Preparing to build your home: tools and materials

July 29, 2015

When building your home, tools and materials are of the utmost importance. They will help build a solid foundation so you can live in your house for years to come. Follow these guidelines to know what to expect when planning your dream home.

Preparing to build your home: tools and materials

1. The handiest tool

The most useful tool the owner-builder can have is a builder's square, a larger version of the triangle in the geometry set you used in school.

  • To make one, nail together three pieces of lumber to form a triangle with sides in a ratio of 3:4:5.
  • The units chosen can be anything of your choice, but two metres (or two yards) for the shortest side is a sensible minimum.
  • A square of this size will help square up site pegs, shed or garden layouts and help avoid "wandering" angles.

For an efficient and trouble-free operation, take the trouble to clear and level a good-sized working area all around your pegged house site before you start building work.

2. Material matters

To order your materials you first need to know how they are supplied.

Earth, bricks and concrete.

Earth for earth-wall construction is calculated by the metric ton (a metric ton is 2,200 pounds).

  • A wall 30 centimetres (12 inches) thick requires approximately half a metric ton (1,100 pounds) per square metre (or yard).
  • Normally you would dig this from the site, but some people buy it.
  • A single thickness brick wall uses approximately 50 bricks per square metre (or yard).
  • For 1,000 bricks you will need about 0.75 cubic metres (26 cubic feet) of mortar and one metric ton (2,200 pounds) of sand.
  • A concrete slab 10 centi­metres (four inches) thick requires one cubic metre (35 cubic feet) of concrete for 10 square metres (108 square feet) of slab.

3. A basic requirement: sound foundations

Constructing solid foundations requires attention to detail — a mistake can lead to movement and settling of the structure, causing cracking. Even worse, openings in walls may go out of square, causing doors and windows to stick. Rigid finishes such as tiles may work loose. In some cases, a whole building can become unstable and may even collapse.

The real foundation of a house is the earth or ground on which the structure is built. Generally, the earth can withstand enormous loads, but there are exceptions.

  • Be wary of fill sites, sites with clayey loam surface soil (perhaps close to rivers or swampy areas), sites with unconsolidated sand, earth with high salt levels, or sites with river and lake frontages.
  • Ask the municipal planning department and neighbours about the ­ability of such sites to bear a load. The earth on which the house is built can be classed as either stable (non-reactive) or unstable (reactive), depending on the clay content of the soil. Soil with a high clay content is unstable and will swell and shrink markedly between wet and dry periods.
  • For a house built on unstable soil use ­special footings such as piers to allow the building to ride the movement like a raft.
  • Bedrock makes the best foundation.
  • Even soft rocks (such as shale) offer good bearing capabilities for houses. A '"loater" — a rock lying on unstable soil — can often be detected by dropping a heavy crowbar on the rock and listening for a ringing sound. If there is a dull thud, the rock is probably not bedrock and may need to be removed.
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