Move That Dirt, Baby!

backfilling ICF basement walls For a chronological listing of our ICF (insulated concrete forms) building, please see the ICF Building Index found in the menu bar.

Our ICF (insulated concrete form) basement is finally beginning to look like a basement! There is now dirt against two sides rather than just dirt mounds. It looks amazingly better!

After finishing the first coat of the EIFS (exterior insulation finishing system) we decided to wait about the final color coat until the roof is on. But, until the lumber is delivered for the roof and interior walls, we began back-filling the walls that will not be exposed.

Disclaimer: This is one of those times that I use “we” loosely – I actually did not move any dirt but I was there to cook for the fellas, bring them water (hydration is important) and take pictures!

[Continue Reading]

3 Steps to Beautiful Stucco – DIY!

3 steps to stucco collage

I love the look of stucco!

Especially since we are going for the “Tuscan” look in our vineyard home, stucco is what I want!

Real stucco is applied in multiple layers and is very labor intensive. But, we have found something that gives the same look as stucco but is more durable and easy to apply – great for do-it-yourself’ers like us – it is the exterior insulation finishing system or EIFS for short.

For a bit of background, we have done several building projects using insulated concrete forms (ICF) including our house overlooking the vineyard, filter house, barn, and greenhouse. You can find a chronological index of these projects in the ICF Building Index tab in the menu bar.

[Continue Reading]

ICF Basement Expansion

icf building blocks - great for diy'ers

For a chronological listing of our building projects with ICF (or insulated concrete forms), be sure to look through the new ICF Building Index tab in the menu bar.

In January 2012, we finished phase 1 of what will eventually be our basement built out of ICF (insultated concrete forms). We have been enjoying being in our own home but are so excited to finally be expanding it!

During my absence from Cultured Palate, we did some work you don’t know about yet so, let me fill you in before I share what we did last week!

[Continue Reading]

Building with ICF – Phase 2

digging with the backhoe


I really can’t believe we have started!

Yes, this week John began digging out the dirt to expand the basement walls of our home which overlooks the vineyard! If you have been following our adventure of starting the vineyard and building our own home, you know that we are now living in what will eventually be the basement – we finished phase 1 at the end of 2011.

As you might imagine, we have saved a lot of money by building ourselves and had a lot of fun in the process! But, like everything it takes time and patience. Building the house must fit around vineyard work which pays the bills! So, our primary time to work on the expansion is now, after harvest and before pruning which will begin in late January.

[Continue Reading]

The Barn Completed – EIFS and All!

ICF barn with EIFS completed

Yippee! The EIFS on our ICF barn is now compete!

It looks as though I am speaking in code doesn’t it with all the acronyms!

Here is the code:

  • EIFS = exterior insulation finishing system – It is like a synthetic stucco only more durable.
  • ICF = insulated concrete forms – They snap together like big legos and are used for their insulation value.

When I shared weekly the updates on the ICF filter house and the ICF greenhouse, each week was a progression of steps. So, I thought for the barn, I would just post pictures that had been taken throughout the process.

[Continue Reading]

ICF Filter House – EIFS Completed

I have posted over the past several months about the progress on our filter house. You have shared the start of the project – taking down of the old metal building, putting up the ICF (insulated concrete forms) walls, pouring of the ICF walls and the first coat of the EIFS (exterior insulation finishing system) exterior. Now, the second and final coat of EIFS is finished! This last coat has the color and has made such a difference in the way it looks! No longer does it look like a concrete bunker!

If you are new, we began using ICF when building our home overlooking the vineyard – we are living in what will eventually be the basement and hope to begin the second phase of the house after next harvest. We also used ICF for our barn which we built this fall after grape harvest (2012). Because of the insulation value of the ICF, it was a natural choice to use for building our filter house. We have underground drip irrigation in the vineyard and the filter house houses, as you probably guessed, the filter system for our irrigation. Now when the weather is below freezing, it is unlikely that any pipes will burst!

ICF is great for DIY’ers like us. Not only are they quick and easy to put together, it is fun. They are like big legos and simply snap together, except, these legos are for adults!

The filter house is octagonal and the front sports a door which John made. I had seen this style in some pictures from Italian real estate and wanted to see how it looked – needless to say, I am pleased with the way it turned out!

We mounted a sun dial made from hand-painted ceramic tiles that I purchased in Spain years ago. Finally, it has a home other than a drawer!

We used glass blocks for a window. They provide light inside without having a traditional window.

Pruning the vineyard begins soon, so, the roof and banister of the pavilion (which will be on top of the filter house) will have to wait until later.

I love seeing the progress and the beautiful west Texas sunsets from the pavilion!

ICF Barn Roof Finished!


We are still in the process of finishing the ICF (insulated concrete forms) barn. If you remember, we contracted the concrete floor and put up the ICF walls ourselves. This was no small feat as they are 16 ft high! With everyone working, the walls were up in 2 days and we filled them with concrete on the third! Now that the walls are finished we have been waiting on the contractor to finish the roof – which he has done! The peak of the roof is 23 ft tall and as you can see, it is red. With our flat terrain, it can be seen for miles!

We are now waiting to have blown-in insulation installed in the roof of the barn, as well as, doors – 2 normal walk through doors and 1 large roll-up door wide enough to drive the grape harvester through. Once these are completed, we can begin keeping equipment (harvester, sprayer, tractor and …) in the barn and out of the weather. Oh yeah, we will also be putting EIFS (exterior insulation finishing system) on the outside.

You might wonder what is being done with it until that point – the children are playing street hockey (on roller-blades)  with every spare moment. The younger ones included!

It seems a shame to clutter it up with farm equipment!



ICF Barn Raising – Roof

Progress continues this week on our new ICF (insulated concrete forms) barn! Last week in ICF Barn Raising, I detailed how we contracted the foundation preparation and the concrete floor being poured and finished. Then, we erected the 16 ft tall ICF walls and poured concrete into them ourselves!

This is how it looks now from the vineyard. As you can see, it towers above the vineyard and can be seen from quite a distance!

For a close up looking into the barn:

The peak of the roof stands about 23 ft. high and are all welded together. And finally, to give a bit more perspective:

Once the metal beams are all in place, the roofers will put a rustic red metal roof on it and a large door in the front. Finally, we will finish the outside with a stucco like finish,install the two remaining, walk-through doors and put glass block in the front windows. We are almost done!

ICF Barn Raising

As you may already know, we are sold on ICF (insulated concreteforms) building. For the do-it-your-selfer they are easy to use – they literally snap together like big legos and the insulation value is amazing! We have used them for the first phase of our house here at the vineyard which will eventually be our basement, the filter house/pavilion, greenhouse and now a barn.

In the past we have used the Rewards ICF but our supplier has changed to Fox Blocks. Slightly different in dimensions, they are put together the same.This time, instead of gluing each course (or layer) together, clips were used which made them even faster to put together. The barn is 40ft x 60 ft and we put the walls together in 2 days and poured the concrete into them the third!

First, however, we contracted the concrete pad. The site was leveled and forms built for the concrete floor.

It was exciting to see the concrete being poured and know that we did not have to do any of the work – this is definitely the way to do it!

We had them order extra concrete to pour the stairs at the filter house/pavilion. Now, all that remains is the final coat of the EIFS (exterior insulation finishing system) and it will be completed, except for the roof above the pavilion and banister!

After several days allowing the concrete to cure and harden, work on the walls began. The first day, half of the 16 ft high walls were finished and bracing was put into place for added support especially once the concrete was poured.

The second day the remainder of the 16 ft walls were completed. For our house, John built walk boards around the top for access, but this time we rented a scissor lift from the builder who completed the floor and will return for the metal roof. The large opening is for a 14 ft x 14 ft roll up door – large enough to drive the harvester through.

The real work came on the third day when concrete was poured to fill the walls! Well, to  be honest, it was easy for me – I just watched!   ;)

If you remember, when we poured concrete for the filter house/pavilion, we bucketed it from the truck’s shoot to the top of the walls. This was a relatively small amount and we did not feel it warranted the expense of a pumper truck. But, the 16 ft barn walls were definitely a job for a pumper!

As you can see, the pumper truck set up to the side of the barn and the concrete was pumped through the hose high in the air up to the top.

On the scissor lift, John held the hose and guided the concrete into the wall opening. The walls were filled in 3 rounds which took about 6 hours! Needless to say, everyone (including John’s brother, Joe who came out to help) was extremely tired and dirty by the end of the day!

Next week the contractor returns to finish the metal roof!









ICF Filter House/Pavilion Progress!

We are becoming quite competent building with ICF (insulated concrete forms)! The ICF filter house/pavilion has taken the skills learned so far to a new level – we are applying a stucco finish. Actually, we thought it would be good to practice on something small before we complete the final stages of building the house! So, the octagonal filter house is the ideal project.

If you remember, last week we poured the concrete to fill the ICF walls. This week has been spent on finishing the inside and outside stucco. We decided on stucco because we like the Tuscan style, it gives a nice finished look and protects the styrofoam of the ICF. Rather than traditional stucco, we decided to use a synthetic stucco which is not only a fraction of the thickness of the traditional version but is also stronger, lasts longer and adds insulation value.

EIFS (exterior insulation finishing system), is applied in three steps over the ICF blocks. The first coat is a polymer modified cement. It is a mix of cement, fine sand and a polymer which adds strength and prevents cracking. It is applied in a thin 1/8 inch coat over the styrofoam blocks using a trowel.

Working in a small area, a fiberglass mesh which is bright yellow is embedded in the wet cement. The trowel is used to press and smooth the concrete over the mesh covering it.

The mesh is 3 feet wide and one person holds the roll of mesh to the wall while another presses it into the cement.

After the fiberglass mesh is completely covered with the cement, a wet sponge trowel is used to further smooth the cement coating. This prepares the surface for a smooth finish coat.

Since the walls are 8 ft tall and the mesh is 3 ft wide, it is taking two passes of the full width and one with a cut section.

To cut the mesh, it is laid on a board and cut with a utility knife and straight edge at the desired width.

The final step to complete the stucco is a waterproof finish coat which will be applied after the concrete stairs are finished. There have been a lot of tired and sore arms, necks and backs around here this week! On the bright side, a lot has gotten done, everyone got a great workout physically and we did not have to pay for gym memberships!

So, for now, you can see the stairs are being formed on the right side of the picture below and the filter house/pavilion is gray except for a Spanish tile sundial that was cemented to the wall – can’t wait until it is a pale yellow!