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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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.)



Dream On

My wife dreams big. She gets a picture in her head of what something could be and it quickly becomes very real to her. No sooner had the idea struck her to build a hobbit-hole in our backyard, it became one of her main ambitions. We were going to have a hobbit-hole in our backyard. We just were.

My wife is the dreamer. I am the doer. I get to be the one who turns the before picture into the after picture. Usually, I just can't see it (at least at first)--whatever the idea is. It's not that I think her ideas are bad, it's just that I can't see a realistic possibility that I will be able to achieve her vision. But through our marriage, she has proven time and again that if she can dream it, I can do it.

For a long time, I kept telling my wife that this is one dream that would have to remain a dream. I thought it would be totally awesome IF we could do it, but that was a really big "if." I ran countless scenarios through my mind on how this could come to be, and each time I thought, "There is no way." Whatever design I thought of seemed like it would be either structurally unsound or else ridiculously expensive.

I tried to put it out of my mind, but my wife was persistent. She didn't prod me or anything. She just continued to talk about it as if it were a matter of fact--to family, to friends, to the kids and me. "It is going to be so great when we get the hobbit-hole built," she would say. I wanted it to happen, too, but I lacked the vision.

Trampoline Project (Genesis of the hobbit-hole idea)

As mentioned before, the idea for the hobbit-hole was sparked by a pile of dirt resulting from an in-ground trampoline project. Here is a brief summary of that project.

When we first got the trampoline, we just stuck in on the corner of the weed patch.

We hired someone to dig a pit for us, and I rounded it, flattened it, and built the retaining walls.


When the trampoline was done, we no longer had a weed patch, but a mound of dirt. This we had flattened out, as we weren't sure what we were going to do with it yet. Looking at this raised region of dirt, my wife began to envision a hill sort of "growing" up from it. And then she realized, "Hey, if we are going to put in a hill, why not make it into a hobbit-hole?"


You may be wondering about now how a person can look at a dirt patch like this, raised only about a foot and a half above ground-level and think hobbit-hole, but you don't know my wife....

Before... (a weed patch)

When this is all done, I will have before and after pics. For now I have before and in-progress pics. This is what the area of the hobbit hole looked like when we first moved in. (It's the weedy patch to the right, in front of the fruit trees.)

Apparently, this lighter green-colored area used to be a garden spot, but at the time, it was overgrown with some nasty weeds--goat heads and burrs everywhere. It was the furthest thing from a fun place for kids to play.

To the left was a dilapidated play structure, standing in another weed patch. This used to be a play area, with wood chips as a ground cover. This area would also factor into the genesis of the hobbit-hole as I will explain later.

How it all began...

My wife and I are huge fans of Tolkien, and so are our kids. I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to my daughters when they were 6 and 7, and have now started reading them to my 5 and 7 year old boys. We all love the movies as well.

Like most kids, ours have active imaginations and they love to play outside. We have a big backyard and ever since we moved into our home, we have wanted to make it a fun and adventurous place for our kids to be. At first we were thinking along more traditional lines: a sandbox, a swingset, perhaps a trampoline. The idea for building a hobbit-hole in our backyard was not in our original plans.

We had friends in our previous neighborhood who had a small man-made hill in their backyard for sledding and water slides. We thought that was a neat idea, but at first we did not seriously think of doing something like that ourselvses.

Then a family member unexpectedly gave us their trampoline. Our first project was to put that in the ground, which resulted in a pile of dirt. It was that pile of dirt that sparked my wife's imagination...