A hobbit-hole in my backyard? It may sound crazy, but I can tell you that my kids love it. It is the coolest playhouse ever. Plus, they can enjoy the grassy hill for sledding in winter and water sliding in summer. This was all my wife's idea. She dreamt it, and I got to be the one to bring it to reality. I'm not a construction expert; this was a total do-it-yourself job by a complete amateur. It has turned out rather nicely, I think. Here is the story of how it came to be.

Since this is in blog format, the posts are in order from newest to oldest. To read this in chronological order, start with How it all Began and use the "Newer Post" links. Or click on the links under Blog Archive, in order.
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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Retaining Wall + this hobbit revealed...

I built the first of four retaining walls, to come off the sides of the front and back, which will keep the hill in place. I chose a terra cotta color that I hope will compliment the entrance, which will eventually have a brick and stucco exterior.
The hobbit building this hole finally consented, reluctantly, to pose for a photo.

Rear Window

At long last, the hobbit-hole is completely enclosed. I installed the rear window before the mortar had even tried on the wall. I have a lot more work to do on this rear part to completely weatherproof it. Then there is finish work left to do on the front, back and inside. There some architectural details to add. Some of those may need to wait until next year. The kids were so excited to have the window in that they slept in the hobbit-hole again that very night (even though it is October). It was a lot warmer and quieter without the wind blowing through that opening. The moon was big and bright, shining through the window and bathing the hobbit-hole in moonlight.

Low reinforcement wall

I can't help it; my blog post titles are getting more and more boring. (Oh well.) Using cinderblocks, I built a low wall. Not only does it look really cool, but it also serves to keep the OSB flush with the pipe. It's too bad it's going to be partially buried with dirt.




Rear wall

The rear wall starts to take shape, starting with OSB cut to cover the entrance, with a hole for the window.
This is actually two layers of OSB. You may recall that the pipe is not totally level. To compensate for this, the two layers of OSB are in a narrow V shape. They are connected flush at the bottom, but taper out until they are about 2 inches apart at the top. So the inner layer is flush with the pipe opening, which is no level, while the outer later is level. The inner layer is also covered with heavy duty black pastic to weather proof it against the dirt, which will come right up against it.

Starting on the back wall

Now that the front is far enough along that it can withstand the winter, I'm starting on the back. As I did with the front, I poured a foundation for the rear wall.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Weatherproofing the Entrance

I am anxious to start on the back wall, but first I needed to get the entrance far enough along that it could survive the winter--in case I run out of time before it starts to snow. I finished building out the wall on the left and right sides, so there is no longer a gap, then I sealed all the seams and cracks and stained it all. This is not the completed entrance, but it should be good enough to make it through the winter, just in case. Now I am turning my attention to the back wall, which will include a large window. Once the back is done enough to be at least weatherproof, I can get the dirt put on top of the tube. Then it will be down to finish work on the exterior and interior.
Here is another angle on the entrance. I may be giving away my location here, for those familiar with that mountain. ;)
Here is a bird's eye view, taken from up in the cherry tree. I can't wait until I can cover up that unsightly tube!
Maybe in my next post, I will include some people, so you can get a better idea of the scale of this. The tube is 6 feet diameter and 15 feet long, which should give some idea. I have to duck pretty low to enter, as the door itself is only a little more than 4 feet in diameter.

A Couple of More Looks

Here are a couple of more looks at the interior as it stands now.

Looking toward the front...


... and toward the back.
Obviously, the ribwork to support the interior, rounded walls is not complete. I only have it installed on the left side of the entry, as you come in. It will be installed throughout eventually.

A Peek Inside

I finally have some progress to show on the inside of the hobbit-hole for a change. Here you can see where I have installed that interior partion wall that I built a few weeks ago. Notice how it separates the space into two "rooms". I am sitting down on the floor in the second room (the parlor), which is larger than the first (the entry).

I have another piece of wall going in later that will cover up the studs and wiring. And of course, I will finish the wall surface off nicely so that it looks really cool, rather than that ugly OSB.

You can also see the horizontal boards running along the inside of the tube, like ribs. I will be attaching flexible wood paneling to this ribwork, so that the round walls have a wooden look, rather than corregated metal. Herein lies another reason for the interior partition wall: it also serves as a key support to the rib structure. (And the rib struture in turns gives more support to the partion wall.)


Here is a closer look, showing the ribwork and also the beginnings of a built-in bench. The bench was an immediate hit, not only for the kids, but for myself and other adults wanting to check out the place. It is sooo nice to have a place to sit down in there, especially for those of us with stature more resembling a wizard than a hobbit.

Of course, this will all be finished off nicely with wood to cover up the studs, wiring, corregated metal, etc. Also, I will be working on the doorway, so that it looks nicer, and so the studs are not exposed. I have a nice floor covering planned as well.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Extending the patio

Every time I work on this project, I get less done that I plan. This time, I only managed to add another row to the patio. It will eventually extend out as far as the sand there. Those are chunks from an old concrete pad that my brother-in-law got rid of. Man those things are heavy! I also am toying with the idea of having steps lead up the hill to the left. I put three there just to remind me. I think I will need to reposition them a bit later. The kids think the stairs idea is awesome.

Wiring for the lights and fixture

You may wonder what this is. Well, hopefully later pictures will make it more clear, but I will try to explain. Inside the hobbit-hole right now, there is nothing but a 4-foot wide by 15 foot long floor in what is otherwise an empty corrugated metal pipe. In order to get lighting in there, and also to separate the space inside into two "rooms" I am building a rounded partition wall, to be placed a little short of half-way in the pipe. There will be no door in this wall, only an opening. The first "room" will be like an entry, with a bench, and hooks for walking sticks and pointy hats and such. The second "room" will be sort of a parlor, with places to sit, and probably a small table.

Wiring from the outside will pass through the front of the hobbit-hole and run hidden under a bench/shelf that I will build on the left side as you enter. From there it will run into this partition wall. You can see the guts of that wall, pre-assembled here. I have wired it for a fixture and four lights (only two boxes for lights are visible; the other two are on the opposite side. This way, both rooms will be lit with two light fixtures. They will be old fashioned looking--reminiscent of old lanterns, to be more consistent with a real hobbit-hole (which of course has no electricity).

This is just about ready to haul out and install in the hobbit-hole. It will be a tight fit, and will take a bit of clever maneuvering to get in place, but I have done a dry run, so I know it will work.



Saturday, July 12, 2008

"... a perfectly round door ..., painted green..."

It finally cooled down to the 80s, so after a 3-week hiatus, I finally made some more progress. Today, I painted the door green, put a brass door knob in the middle, and attached the pre-constructed (by me), round door jamb/threshold. This not only adds some dimension to the door, but it also ensures that it won't swing outward. (There is a gap on either side which I will fill in. The threshold structure itself wasn't wide enough to cover the full space. I just needed it to be wide enough to accomodate the doorway.)

Below is what the door looked like right after I painted it this morning, and before attaching the threshold. The last time I worked on it, I had added a stud on the left, flush with the door, and installed a ball latch, so the door will shut and stay shut, but can be simply pushed open with a little shove (or pulled open with a little tug from the inside.)

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Best & Worst of Middle Earth

I'm starting a list of the best and worst of Middle Earth, which I will keep posted in the left sidebar on this blog. Please comment if you have more best and worst suggestions.

Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire

As I mentioned in my last post, this is the chapter I just read to my boys from The Hobbit. It also is an apt description of the weather for the past 3 weeks. After an early spring, and a cool May and early June, it suddenly jumped up to 100+ degrees and has stayed there for weeks. So, I'm afraid I have not made any progress on the hobbit-hole. It is hard to feel motivated to work on it when it feels more like the slopes of Mt. Doom than The Shire.

(It finally cooled down today, so I hope to be able to get back to work on it this week.)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Happiness is...

... reading The Hobbit to your 5 and 7 year old sons inside of their very-own hobbit-hole.

The other night, I slept out in the hobbit-hole with my two older boys. We stayed up late reading from the chapter, "Out of the Frying-Pan and into the Fire", when the eagles save Bilbo, Gandalf, and the Dwarves from the goblins and wolves (wargs). Although the hobbit-hole is far from finished, it was still a lot of fun to spend the night in there. Even without the back wall, and with the door only partially done, it is dry and comfortable. It is just wide enough for two adults or one adult and two small children, to lay there with their sleeping bags. It is long enough that we could fit six of us in there, three on one end and three on the other. The only trouble is that we get strong canyon winds, so without the wall and door finished, it was pretty loud. Although we were protected from the wind itself, the noise of the wind in the trees outside was bothersome. I look forward to finishing it, because it will be pretty quiet in there once it is done.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Door Takes Shape (Round, of Course)

I am finally getting to the most characteristic part of the hobbit-hole (aside from being under ground): the round door. Actually, truth be told, it is not going to be a fully round door. To make the door a complete circle would be an engineering feat. It is possible, but it would require that I spend a lot more money on a very large, specialized hinge. I decided to go a simpler route, and make a mostly round door, in sort of a "D" shape, but finish it out round to create the illusion of a full circle.

Above, you can see the same, where the hinges are located. Below, you can see how it opens inward. Once I paint it green, and put in some weatherstripping (also painted green), in the seem, it will look pretty seamless, like a fully round door when closed.


The next step is to frame in the left side and install a ball latch, so the door will shut and stay shut. Then I will prime it, paint it, and put on a brass doorknob in the middle. Then I will build out from there to create a door jamb, and a recessed look to the door.
With this much of the door completed, the kids excitement about the project more than doubled. The door, I guess, even unfinished, makes it seem that much more real to them. Since I built this, they have slept out in the hobbit-hole in their sleeping bags 5 times (in less than 2 weeks).

Monday, June 2, 2008

Looking Good, But Far From Finished

At this point, I am starting to feel a little bit like Frodo, or rather Sam did, at the Last Homely House in Rivendell. He thought that after their long journey to bring the ring to Lord Elrond's house, their part in the quest was done, and they could go home. Little did he know that their adventure had just begun. This is really starting to look like a hobbit-hole, but I'm afraid I'm not even half-way finished with it yet. My goal is to get this to look good enough to be mistaken for a real hobbit-hole in the shire.
What's new since my last post? I finished the flashing on the roof, and went ahead and put some dirt up there, just to get a little bit of a sense of what is to come. Ultimately, of course, all that dirt around will be up on top of the pipe, completely hiding it. The hill will come right down onto the roof, and there will be grass growing all over it.

Other changes include shingles down the sides. These sides will be mostly covered with dirt. They needed to be waterproof as well, but also the parts that stick out from the hillside needed to look nice. I hope this will do the trick.

I started building out the patio, using chunks from an old concrete slab that my brother-in-law tore up from his yard. These things weigh a ton, and he and I carted about fify of them to my place in a tiny pickup truck with a rickety wood trailer. (I'm surprised the truck and trailer axles didn't break.) They have been piled up on my back patio for over a year and now I finally have a use for at least some of them. I'm going to build the patio out several feet, and also extended it a little to the right. The cracks will be filled with topsoil, and eventually ground cover (moss or something). I bought this tiny, hobbit-sized park bench, which will sit right where you see it, but with the patio under it.

So what's left? Tons. Stay tuned.

Hobbit-Sized Roof

The entry way needed a little roof over it, both for practical and aesthetic reasons. The challenge was to get the roof to look rounded, when it actually consists of straight angles.

I cut the two middle pieces so that they would jut out further than the sides, and gave them a curved line using the jigsaw.
Here is a top angle view. You cans see the rounded look to the roof line. You can also see more of my cludge waterproofing/drainage work here. The wood piece abutting the pipe is wrapped in black plastic and landscaping fabric, and behind it, laying on the edge of the pipe, is more drainage pipe, wrapped in landscape fabric, to help take water away from this seam. It may have invented my own method, but I know it works, because I ran a hose all over this full blast for 15 minutes, and there are no leaks underneath. Here is another angle on it. It is starting to look more and more hobbit-like.
This turned out to be the only shot I took of the shingled roof before I mostly buried it with dirt (see next post). You can see the flashing and the shingles. With the shingles on there, it really gives it more of a rounded look. I later put more flashing along the seam between the roof and the veritcal piece, and took the flashing up and over the lip (top) of that verticle piece. Later, I will paint the flashing with some earthtonee, so it doesn't stand out so much, shining in the sun.

This Hobbit-hole is Wired

Bilbo and Frodo had their adventures long before electricity was invented. However, since oil lamps and candles are a fire hazard for children, I decided I had better use electric lighting instead. So I ran grey conduit pipe and pulled 12/2 UF Burial Wire through it. (Yep, it was hard to pull it through, especially with turns like this in the pipe. And, yes, I know it is redundant to run wire that is already rated for outdoors (above or below ground) through grey conduit. But I figured that I might as well make it extra safe.) The wire is not yet live, and since this picture was taken, I dug a deep trench to bury it. Finishing the wiring inside will be a later task. I plan to put in four light fixtures (extra-cool, old-fashioned, hobbit-looking ones) and one GFCI outlet (with a nifty, antique-looking faceplate).

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Floor

Next it was time for the part the kids were waiting for most: the floor.

I built what amounted to a reverse truss system. The main support comes from four cinder blocks anchored to the floor with cement, with 2x4s attached to the sides (with cross braces) and the top (anchored into the cinderblock cavities with brackets in cement). 2x4's cut at an angle support 2x4's on the sides, which are flush with those in the middle. Once this structure was all level and solidly in place, I slid in pieces of 4 ft wide OSB and secured them to the support structure. The completed floor! I put in a second layer of OSB over, and offset from, the first, for additional stability. Once the two ends of the pipe are done, I will put in a nice floor covering.

Boring Stuff: Drainage

The pipe is structured so that water is directed to either side and away from the opening. However, the wall structure on the end is vulnerable to moisture damage to the foundation, so I put in some drainage pipes on either side to help take water away from the foundation. You can see from these pics that I also began attaching a water barrier to the wood on the back and sides.




Now the Fun Begins

My wife came through with a pipe and dirt. Now it was time for me to roll up my sleeves. This is where the fun begins--or rather, the backbreaking, hard labor. Remember, I am not a professional, so I have made mistakes, and done some things the harder/more expesive way than perhaps I could have done. I hope it will all hold together in the end. So far, so good.

The first step, was to start building the front wall and (round) door frame.

I dug down to pour the concrete for the foundation.
Once it was poured and smoothed out, I put in a couple of brackets to hold posts.
When it was all dry, I placed a large piece of OSB, which I had cut previously, flush against the pipe. It is just resting on the foundation and will be held flush against the pipe by the wall structure to be built in front of it. Having that basic shape to start with, suggestive of a hobbit hole, really motivated me, even though this piece will be nearly completely covered up by the time I am through. One crazy problem I have had to deal with is that the pipe is not completely level or square. The top lip on this end is about 3 inches further out than the bottom. There was no way to fix that short of bringing back the crane and lifting it up an inch or so on this end, and possibly cutting part of the lip to make it square. I decided I would just deal with the crookedness. Besides, it gives it more character. (When I get to the back wall, I will have the same problem in reverse.)

Next I installed the first two posts, and built the wall up a bit with cinderblocks. This will all eventually be hidden behind other wood, stucco, etc. Because of the 3 inch variance mentioned above, getting those posts in with the cinderblocks around them was a real puzzle. It took me most of a day just to figure that out, but as you can see, I finally got it together. The posts are totally level. The top is tight up against the OSB, but the bottom is about 3 inches out. That's why the posts could fit inside the cinderblocks.

To complete the basic structure for this wall/door opening, I put two more posts in front, cemented into the front holes of the cinderblocks, and secured two cross beams across the top. I also attached boards vertically to the posts on the two sides. This structure is rock solid, and totally flush with the pipe. I sealed the joint between the pipe and the OSB with Great Stuff. (Additional water/weather-proofing would come later.) I also put in a threshold, which is bolted into cement in the cinderblock cavities.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Got Dirt?

As my wife mentioned in her newsletter message, we were twice blessed: a pipe and dirt all in the same week. The same neighbor who let us drive a truck and crane over his property also had a ton (or rather, several tons) of unwanted dirt. We were able to have yet another neighbor friend (Do we have great neighbors, or what?) bring his loader and just dump it over onto our side of the fence.

Cool shot, eh?
Now, if that is not enough dirt, I'll eat my hat.
This hill was destined to become a favorite play structure in its own right.
It is finally starting to resemble a hobbit-hole (a little).
Now to pour foundations for the walls on either end, build a floor, frame in a round door on the front and a window on the back, roof the ends, waterproof it, figure out how to finish off the inside walls nicely (bare corrugated metal is not suitable for a hobbit), wire it, put in fictures.... (Will it ever end?)





Got Pipe?

Here are some pics of the pipe delivery:

They were able to back the truck and crane right up to the edge of our property.


Easy does it.
Perfect placement!
Once it was in place, I put up some temporary retaining walls (to keep dirt from falling into the pipe). We had another neighbor friend push the existing dirt up against it, so that the kids couldn't rock it anymore (which had quickly become a favorite pasttime).
Now all we needed was more dirt. (Well, not ALL. The real work was about to begin.)

What Women Want: Corrugated Pipe

Well, I had pretty much given up on the hobbit-hole myself. My wife was feeling pretty discouraged. Her hopes for the most awesome playhouse for our kids were dashed, and I didn't seem to be very concerned about it. Just when all hope seemed lost, a small miracle came through, thanks to my wife's persistence, and even prayers. Man, she really wanted this bad.

Here is what my wife wrote about it in our family newsletter, in her own words:

So, how do you make a hobbit-hole, which everyone knows must have round walls? We finally settled on a large-diameter pipe for the structure. We found out from a nice neighbor who deals in large-diameter pipe that the one we'd need is around $1500. OK, maybe dreams are dreams for a reason. So we looked around for a nice used pipe (anybody got a 6-foot diameter pipe lying around?) all the while praying (yes, praying) that we could find something for a better deal. Just as we were deciding to bite the big $1500, our nice neighbor called me up and asked if we'd gotten our pipe yet. "No," I said. "We're looking at our options right now." "Well," he said, "I was walking around my yard the other day and there was a 6-foot diameter pipe!" In your yard? I thought. "You're kidding," I said. Then it dawned on me: his workyard! He wasn't kidding! He said, "I don't need it, so if you want it, I'll sell it to you for 50% cost."

Oh, boy! God does want us to be happy! So I got on the phone with our next-door neighbor, to ask if we could drive a flatbed trailer and crane over their lot to get the pipe into our yard. "Oh!" he said, "we're grading our backyard for sod tomorrow." Thud, went my heart. "But if you can skirt around the edge, I don't mind you doing it, he added." "Oh, thanks! You're an angel! I don't know how we're going to 'skirt' with a flatbed and crane, but we'll sure try." Well, the next morning my large-diameter pipe neighbor called and said, "We've got time to deliver the pipe this morning." Thump, thump, thump, went my heart. "Really! OK." So they brought the pipe across the weed patch and I'll never know if you can actually 'skirt' with a flatbed and crane.

As they lifted the thing into place, my phone rang. "Hello? This is your back neighbor," (who I've never heard from and don't even know her name). "I'm just curious what you're putting in your back yard?" Suspicion laced her voice, like she thought we were installing the mother of all drains, or a highway culvert. I toyed with the idea of leading her along, but since I don't know her and since she is likely to be my neighbor for the rest of my life, I just told her the truth: we thought a hill with a tunnel under it would be fun for the kids. She was pretty relieved, but I believe I could see her face in the window the whole time they positioned the pipe.

The next week our weed-patch-now-graded-for-sod neighbor called to ask if we wanted the pile of dirt from his yard to cover our pipe. "The guy can just dump it right over the fence for you," he suggested. Well! That beats wheeling it around the house barrowful by barrowful! So we got free dirt dumped almost right where we wanted it! So now we just need to hire a backhoe to get the dirt right where we need it, figure out sprinklers, sod it, and we've got a hill for sledding and water sliding, and the structure of our hobbit hole.

Well, let's just say there was a bit more to it than that...

Despair

The additional dirt had helped me get the vision, but turning it to reality was still a stumper. I had a lot of ideas, but they all seemed too expensive, structually unsound, or un-hobbit-like (not round). The more my wife and I puzzled over it, the more we came to the conclusion that we needed a big section of pipe. Yep, that would to it. It would be structurally sound, waterproof, and, most importantly, round. But would it be inexpensive?

We priced pipes, and quickly gave up on that. Pipes 6 feet in diameter and 15 feet long cost around 2 grand--1500 if we skimped on the length. Ouch! So the next thing to try was a 2nd hand pipe. Perhaps there was a wrecking yard, or a construction company had some used pipe they would be willing to sell as scrap.

You know how, when you are looking to buy a house, and you find your head turning every time you see a for sale sign? Even if the house is a dump, you always look. You start being able to see for sale signs in back of your head. My wife and I started to be like that with culvert pipes--metal or concrete. We would see some in a yard, or on the side of the road, and we would wonder whether they were wanted. I stopped at a few places, and they either wanted to much, or else they weren't selling. My wife was so desparate for a pipe that once she had me go on Google Earth to try to find one she had seen somewhere along Highway 6 in Price Canyon. First we had to find it, then find out who owned it, and figure out how in the heck we were going to get it home. Lucky for me, we couldn't spot it in the satellite photos.

Despair was beginning to set in for my wife. It seemed her dream would never come true, all for lack of a pipe we could afford to buy and cart home. I was less desparate, even a bit ambivalent. If it didn't work out, at least that was one less job I needed to tackle. It was a cool idea, while it lasted.

But my wife would not give up...

"I'm starting to see it, too."

When we dug the sandbox out, we found out we had a lot more dirt than we anticipated. As I saw the pile getting higher, I finally began to see what my wife had been seeing. I asked the backhoe guy to make a channel in the middle of two piles, to make way for the hobbit-hole structure, whatever that wound up being.


From this point on, I started to actually get excited about the idea. I started to think harder about how to get it accomplished. Everytime I looked at those two piles of dirt, I envisioned a hobbit hole between them, and more dirt on top. I still did'n't know how I was going to do it, but at least I was motivated.

The Mother of all Sandboxes

Our next project was the sandbox. (This turned out to be an important step forward toward the hobbit-hole, as I will explain in my next post.)

The area for the sandbox started out as an old play area, with a worn out play structure on what used to be wood chips--now a nasty weed patch, 28 feet long by 14 feet wide.

We hired a guy to come and dig out the weeds, wood chips, and about 1 1/2 feet of dirt to make way for the sand. We also moved the play structure.



We put down a weed barrier...


We bought 15 tons of cyclone sand, which we had dumped onto our driveway. (The sand was only $10 a ton!) And, with the help of several family members, we filled up the sandbox using shovels and wheelbarrows. (Big job!)

The kids love the sandbox. At least someone plays in it every day, and you can fit a ton of kids in there. (Notice that I even put in a water fountain. The pipe and the base were there when we moved in. I added the fixture.)