Update (June 17 & 18)

One of the biggest and earliest obstacles for this project is setting footers for the shed. The winters are cold and long in this part of NY, and there is usually a lot of snow thaw and freezing. So anything just plopped on a gravel pad will heave up in just a few years.

My road becomes very narrow and uneven about 1,000 yards from the build site. There is no practical way to expect a cement truck to make it up and down the hill. I called a concrete company to ask a few questions and those folks were talking excavation and road improvement, so I knew right away it was out of the question. Even if I were I in town, I don’t want or need a full slab, so getting a delivery as small as I require is hardly ever likely.

I could construct footers, but that requires building forms (and lumber right now is the most expensive I can ever remember). I could go the route of pillars and utilize those popular cardboard tubes to form them, but I don’t trust myself working mostly alone to get pillars reinforced, leveled, and squared to grade on a slope that drops about two inches or more per foot. Also, it rains a lot in the Catskills, and mixing cement while minding the weather is always tricky. That’s a lot of potential for mistakes.

Also, there is the matter of water. We have plenty of spring water for drinking, cooking, and bathing but it’s a bit downhill from the build. Hauling buckets is fine in twos and threes, but the water I would need for cement is another matter.

So Thursday, when the Techno Metal Post of Central NY folks showed up, I was really, really happy. I scheduled installation back in March, and they gave me a few days advance notice so I could schedule off from work and make the drive. I left the dogs and tools at home this time, and even cheated by pitching the tent in the bed of the truck.

I could tell right away that it was going to be fun to watch. I sensed folks who really knew what they were doing, so I just took a few photos, asked questions from pure interest, and spent the morning as spectator. The robot handles the super rocky ground on site like it’s nothing. The machine has internal sensors that keep the post true, even when it needs to tilt hard to break stones or push them aside. The massive thread on the base of the post, and the powerful hydraulics make quick work of anything down below ground.

What I get from these six steel posts will last 75 years or longer. I didn’t need to do any earthmoving, so there is zero disturbance and no sediment getting into the pristine water down slope. And while there are some carbon costs for the steel, the transport, and the operation of my robot friend — it’s minuscule when compared to cement. David Wallace-Wells’s book, The Uninhabitable Earth has a long section on cement and its contribution to climate change. Here is a tweet that persuaded me to seek other construction methods like the helical posts from Techno Metal Post:

So for all these reasons: zero disturbance, ease of installation, carbon costs — I feel really good about the selection of helical posts for my foundation. Not all the critters were happy about the situation, though. This young brown snake was startled by the vibrations and decided to find another place to spend the day. Sorry, friend!

Young brown snake, about 18″ long, startled by the shaking of the posts going into the ground.

It took about two hours to place the posts. Then, the technician brought out a laser level and marked a level line across all six posts. Then he brought out a nifty battery-powered bandsaw and cut everything to the mark. The final steps took about another 30 minutes.

Cutting my posts to level. So awesome!

What would have taken me about a week of steady work (or more) was completed in about 2.5 hours. Based on my estimates factoring the high price of lumber, when I account for materials and equipment the cost is maybe $50 more for helical posts than concrete. The copay and deductible for a busted back is worth that extra $50. No doubt.

I found myself remembering the lyrics of a Paul Simon song, the first track on Graceland called Boy in the Bubble. These really are the days of miracle and wonder, with lasers in the, well, forest somewhere.

Once in, the posts accept any kind of bracket you might need for your circumstance. I need 6×6 brackets to hold the 20 foot 6×6 skids that serve as support beams for the entire shed. After the two folks from Techno Metal Post loaded up and drove away, I pulled out my string and levels just to make sure. I mean, it all seems too good to be true! But there’s the proof in the form of a little bubble floating between two pairs of parallel lines. So much better than anything I could have done.

Early on, when trying to estimate the time required for this project, I gave a third of the total time necessary to digging out and fashioning the footings. Now that this is done, I have a lot more slack in the schedule to address the inevitable hiccup. Things I thought might need to rush or wait (like the trim work) can now get the time and attention they’ll deserve. It’s a huge relief to know the project is off to such a great start, and now I can’t wait for delivery of the kit in late July.

Check back soon, though. I’ll be heading up again in a few weeks to build a camp toilet and camp shower that should be able to handle the 25 or so folks we expect to come out and help us build and celebrate completion later this summer. I’ll post updates and photos of that work soon.

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