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Posted by on Jun 16, 2015 in Sweetfern | 0 comments

Sweetfern Update: Those Blasted Rocks

We’ve made some dramatic changes to our plans since the last Sweetfern update.

First, let me orient you to the building site:

Notice we now have a construction cam on site!

Notice we now have a construction cam on site!

The house has to fit between the setback line and the edge of the ridge where the land drops over a ten-foot cliff.

See the Whale? That’s a rock outcrop we really want to save.

The Whale viewed from the southeast corner of the building site.

The Whale viewed from the southeast corner of the building site.


View from the construction cam taken in May.  You can see all the rock between the whale and the garage site.


Construction Camera View - Pre-blasting

From the day we bought the property people have been telling us we should just blast those rocks. And every time we were adamant – No. We’re building with the land. We can make this work.

But, by the time we got through the architectural design, started talking to our construction manager, and got assessments from the energy modeling company, we realized we were trying to fit a round peg into a square module.

Here was the thing – it’s near impossible to construct a truly energy efficient home up on pillars. To insulate sufficiently and provide an air-tight barrier beneath a floating house just isn’t feasible.

In our case the task was made even more complex because the house went from a few inches of clearance in the back to more than 6 feet in the front.

To raise the back (north) of the house enough to work under it would raise the front edge to seven feet off the ground. That meant that when approaching the house from the lake we’d see nothing but undercarriage.


Original plan viewed from the south.

Original plan, south view. The height required stairs to enter the house from the garage, front entry or screen porch. That didn’t work with our plans for accessibility.


Original plan viewed from the west.

Original plan viewed from the west.


After a number of rounds with the architects that included a hybrid solution of putting the back of the house on a slab, we realized the project was just getting more complicated and expensive and to what end? We were still compromising on insulation and air-tightness.

The hybrid solution was expensive, complicated and solved nothing.

The hybrid solution was expensive, complicated and solved nothing.


So after a bit of soul-searching, we ditched the idea of the house on pillars and reconciled ourselves to lowering the rock to make a flat base.

I just kept telling myself, “It’s only a rock. It’s only a rock.”

And really, it was. We didn’t cut down 100-year-old trees or fill a wetland. We simply removed the top 2-3 feet of solid granite that would have been under the house anyway.

Still resistant to the idea of blasting however, we hired an excavator to just pound down the surface. But the granite proved formidable. In less than an hour the tip of the hoe ram actually melted. Work came to a standstill.


The following week we lined up the blasting guys. They made quick work of the granite. As it turned out (according to our neighbours), the disruption from the blasting was far less than the endless ramming by the hoe ram.

So they blasted the rocks, leveled the site and hauled off some 14 truckloads of rock.  Here are the results of all that.


We saved the whale!

We saved the whale!

Here’s the newest drawing set showing the house sitting on level ground.

South view

South view. Now we have a level entry from the garage and front entryway. .


West view

West view


Cutaway section from east showing insulation and air-seal details.

Cutaway section from east showing insulation and wrap.


We really like how the house looks now, more nestled into the land.  Plus the long-term gains in energy conservation will make all this rock-breaking worthwhile.

Now that that has been finalized, we were able to apply for our building permit. We expect that in the next week or two, then construction begins!

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