Ken Bogart, who lives in New York, was inspired to build a slip-formed stone home and has graciously agreed to be guest interviewed for this blog. Following is an informal interview with Mr. Bogart. He promises he will start his own web page for those who want to explore more possibilities with rock homes. Thank you, Ken, for sharing your story here. When his website becomes active, I will happily provide a link to it.
Dani: How did you decide to build a slip-formed home?
Ken: I saw your house on Tom’s (Elpel) web page. My wife thought the idea was crazy until I showed her your story, and your home, and then she was all for it. She even bought me the cement mixer for Christmas and said “Go for it.”
Dani: Wow! Only a fellow stone home builder can appreciate a gift like that! So, what size is your home and how long did it take you?
Ken: It took me two summers to complete my 32′ x 48′ house. I worked my full time job during the week, and built mainly on weekends. Usually the weeknights were spent gathering stones.
Dani: That is fast! Especially since you were working full time, too.
Ken: It seemed to have taken forever! How long did it take you to build your house? Your house is so much bigger than mine, it should have taken longer to build. I love the looks of your house. Those turrets are beautiful, and it really sets it apart from anything out there. You went up one-and-a-half stories with stone. What were you thinking! When I got up to the first story I had gone up far enough for stonework.
Dani: (Laughing) My dad told a friend that I would get smart after laying a couple feet of rock. He suspected I would realize rocks are heavy and quit. After we were setting rocks 14 feet above the ground, dad maintained I never did get smart. That said, I was not holding a full-time job at the time, as you were. My rock work was done in two seasons, but I did run the “seasons” long—from April to November.
Ken: Mine was two summers of laying stones. The first summer didn’t go very well and I got frustrated with the process. The stones weren’t right, the concrete oozed out, it was kind of disheartening. After thinking about it over the winter and reading and researching and thinking of different ways to make it better the second summer went great. I very much enjoyed it, and would do it again, and I may someday on a smaller scale.
Dani: Did you have any help on this project?
Ken: My wife and kids were always out there handing me buckets of cement, and my nephews sometimes showed up to wheelbarrow concrete.
Dani: Did they all believe this project would be a success? Or was there concern that it might be a disaster?
Ken: You stated that if it didn’t work you promised to bulldoze the entire thing in. I felt the same way, not really sure if it was going to work, but knowing that any house needs a foundation, so at any time from the footer to the first couple of feet out of the ground, I always felt I could level it off and stick build something on top of it.
Dani: I remember that fear. I had invested so much of myself into this project working that I was sweating blood for fear it would not turn out. In fact, my family had lived in the house for a couple of years and I was still scared the turrets would blow off! Were there other concerns?
Ken: I agonized over how to mix the concrete. I had quite a few coffee cans, and made sure I used these cans to precisely measure the right amount of Portland (cement), gravel, and water. I even told the wife and kids how to mix it precisely. Then dad showed that his mix was to just shovel it in and measure it by the shovelful. He had been doing it like that for years and never had any problems. He looked at me with all of the coffee cans like I was crazy, but he never said it.
Dani: That’s funny because my dad measured with shovel fulls too. I think his mixture was 4 shovels sand to one-and-a-half shovels of cement. It’s been a number of years, so I would urge readers to read the package because the cement shows the ratio, but shovels measure as precisely as one needs to measure. Did you receive support from other people on your project, or were they dubious of your technique?
Ken: It looks very daunting, and most people will try to steer you in another direction, but a few of us are living proof it can be done, and concrete shouldn’t be a scary medium to work in.
Dani: I agree. I had all sorts of people assuring me that this was a terrible idea. As I said in another post, my husband, mother and dad were the top contenders, but they had ample company. Then, I say this with the utmost respect, but some friends of ours ridiculed us building it ourselves. They had bought a rock home already built. They lost it to foreclosure this past year, so I am glad I didn’t pay the up-charge for someone else to do it! I bet you are glad, too.
In what part of the country is your home located?
Ken: I live on the southern shore of lake Ontario, and the lake has a very rocky shoreline in this area, perfect for slipforming. I think building using slipforms puts us in a slightly crazier category than most home builders, so as I said, I make myself available to others that may need some answers. Someday I should have a webpage.
(I will happily pass on Ken’s contact information, but do not want to load him with spam by posting his email address here. For those wishing to contact Ken, leave a comment, and I will forward by private email the contact information to him. I will post a link to his website when it is available.)
Dani: Did you use foam panels as your interior forms?
Ken: I didn’t incorporate the insulation when I did the slipforming. What I ended up doing was studding up the interior walls and insulating it that way. I would have loved to have used the panels as you did, but when I was doing my research you were the only one that had tried that technique and there were too many unanswered questions. How to run the electrical, for example. That and the fact that I couldn’t find any insulation in my area that was reasonably priced. Also, when I started researching, I began to get confused on the whole open cell, closed cell insulation debate….it all made my head spin so I elected to just slipform the walls and go from there.
Dani note: For those feeling the same way, the electrical concern was easy. The insulation panels I used had one-half inch of beadboard attached to five-and-a-half inches of foam. Once one decides where to put their electrical, one can easily cut through the walls and insert the lines to where they are needed. It is important to relate that I covered my interior walls with sheetrock, so I was covering the beadboard electric channels with a finished wall surface after the electric was in the wall.
Dani: A question that often comes up is how long these projects take. How long did it take you to finish your home?
Ken: It actually took me three summers before we could move in. Summers here are short, probably like Colorado. Usually October is the end of the season for pouring concrete.
Dani: What kind of rocks did you use?
Ken: I started with flat sharp stones from a stone wall on the property, but I really didn’t like the looks of them. So I switched to the flatter stones on edge and the mess that I made with the slipforming depressed me because I had oozing all over, and it was messy and gross looking. It wasn’t until I read another book by Joe Kohler that it really started to take shape. He recommended using flatter rocks, and pouring about an inch of sand between the rocks and the voids in the forms. when you remove the forms, you wash the sand away and there wasn’t the mess. Also about the same time, I started gathering rocks from the lake shore that were clean and had more of a tumbled edge to them, so my technique changed, but for the better, and I really began to like the look. It was so much fun to remove the forms, and wash away the sand and see the pretty stones, and no messy globs of concrete. I finished the entire outside towards the end of July of the second summer.
(For those wishing to purchase the book Ken mentions, the title is “The Art of Building a House of Stone,” by Joe Kohler and Mona Anderson. It is self-published, and can be ordered by clicking here. *This referral is a courtesy. We are not paid to endorse this book.)
Dani: Did you do any rock work inside your home?
Ken: While I was finishing up, I told my wife that we needed to incorporate some stone inside because we had such a lovely stone house, but when we walked inside we would see nothing but drywall. That was the idea behind the interior wall, which I absolutely love. I cannot tell you how good it makes me feel to sit there and look at that wall.
Dani: You don’t need to tell me. Some days, when I am overwhelmed at what life has thrown at me, I go outside and look at our home and appreciate the hard work that went into it and the fact that we survived it, and will survive other challenges, too. It usually leaves me feeling so much better.
What about plans for your home? Did you hire an architect, or did you design it yourself?
Ken: It’s funny that although I had a set of plans, the final product really doesn’t look at all like the plans I started with. We bought a piece of land and had a double-wide on it that we lived in while we were building. This worked out great because my family was always around while I was working. So, when I went to apply for my building permit, I told them I was building a large garage. I was honest, and told them what my plans were, but building a shell first allowed me to vary my plans as I went.
Dani: Who helped you?
Ken: The first summer, dad mixed concrete for me all summer. I thought he was going to work me into the ground. I set up the mixer in the shade for him and he would mix it all day long. He was 76 at the time. When he was younger he had an old dump truck that he would load by hand, a shovelful at a time. He would tell me of a guy that had a standing order for gravel. Every week he brought him a load of gravel, and every weekend the man would come home on leave from the army and build his house in the same manor we were. I imagine the guy was building in slipforms way back then. The house still stands today and its lovely.
Dani: You mentioned earlier that you may someday build something in rock again. Would you do it differently?
Ken: I think having the full sized foam panels like you had would be the best. I like the idea of bracing them, making them plum and building to them. I had to wrestle with the forms inside and out. I tried removing the forms after a few hours and chipping out the unwanted mortar, and that made setting the next row of forms difficult. When I started putting the sand in front of the stones, there was no chipping necessary, and that allowed me to leave the forms up as long as I wanted. That worked a lot better because I could rest form on top of form. Also with your method, the panels are already insulated and interior walls are done. When I was done slipforming, I had to go back and stud the walls up and insulate. The insulation is expensive either way, but it seems that the foam panels with the OSB would have saved a lot of time in the long run. Another thing I should have done would have been to put log cabin logs on the second floor…again, studding and insulating, what a pain.
Dani: Would you mind if I shared your comments as a guest post on my blog?
Ken: I would be honored to make a guest contribution to your web page. Building a house the way we did makes us a kind of family. As I said when I first contacted you, you were an inspiration to me to keep going and I would like to share that with others. I should also get some sort of web page out there so I can assist others that may have questions.
Dani: Bring it! When you do, I’ll post a link here!
More photos of Ken’s home can be viewed at his flickr account: http://www.flickr.com/photos/12531305@N07/sets/
(See Slipforming, part 19 – for the next thread. If you do not see a Part 19, keep checking. I’m still working on it.)