Besides housing the well and electrical equipment, we wanted a little space
in the building to store other things. We thought it would be nice
to have the dimensions of the room in the golden ratio, so we chose 5 feet
by 8 feet as the size. (8/5 = 1.6, golden ratio = 1.618)
The next step was pouring the concrete foundation and floor. Concrete blocks are heavy, so they need a good foundation. No cement-truck delivery for this remote location, down a 4WD path. We trucked in a couple of loads of cement ourselves.
We looked into steel frames for the door, but they cost hundreds of dollars
more than wood frames. For the cost of a steel door in a steel frame, we could
buy a steel door in a wood frame, and have enough money left over to replace
it if it burns. Here is Charlie laying the first course of concrete blocks.
The trickiest thing about surface bonding is the size of the blocks. A concrete block that is nominally 8" high and 16" long actually measures 7 5/8" by 15 5/8". When built with a 3/8" mortar joint, the size comes out even. When using surface bonding, there is no mortar joint and the size comes out odd. For example, two half blocks don't equal one whole block. We went through several designs to get the right size openings for the door and window with a minimum of cutting blocks. Of course, Charlie is a whiz at math, so doing this design wasn't an obstacle.
The blocks above the doorway obviously have nothing under them for support. (The door frame isn't structural.) We built a lintel using bond beam blocks filled with cement and rebar.
Charlie is tall, so we didn't skimp on the height. We could not find any
design for the roof structure that didn't use wood framing. We hope the wood
frame roof is high enough off the ground to escape low fires. The previous
photo shows the roof framing under construction. Here is the roof framing
and plywood deck as seen from the inside. You can also see the top plate,
the wood piece at the top of the wall. It's secured using bolts embedded
in concrete poured into the blocks. Not shown are soffit vents to allow air
We chose a roof covering of tile to protect from airborne embers. Under the
tile is a double layer of felt, and battens, staggered to allow drainage in
case water gets under the tiles. Note the holes at the bottom corners of
the building. Since this is after all a well house, we thought it
important to allow for drainage in the event there is a flood due to some
malfunction. The holes are actually gaps due to the mismatch between the
6 inch thickness of the wall and the 8 inch modular measurement of the blocks.
We turned the gaps into a virtue. The holes are covered with screen to keep
critters out. The holes later proved their worth when the well pump was left
on and the building was flooded.
Here is the completed well house. We wanted a window to let in natural light, but again, we wanted to avoid wood. We decided on a glass block window, giving an elegant, if retro, touch.
Total project cost: $1900 and about 26 man-days.
Charlie's home Jim's home(c) Copyright 2001, 2003 Charles Landau