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PBG Observatory - My Exploradome Adventure!

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#1 SFGagnon

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Posted 22 June 2013 - 01:11 PM

December has been a dangerous time for me... I tend to have weeks of vacation time I need to burn before the end of the year, so the last half of December turns into a staycation. Lots of time at home... Nothing much to do... My thoughts can wander. Last year, they wandered into 'I want to build an observatory!' land. However, work was busy enough the following January that the thought never took root. Not so this year. So, due to an unusually quiet January, and since I told so many people that I was doing this that there was no good way to save face if I didn't follow through, my Exploradome Adventure began!

I decided on building my variant of the Exploradome 10' x 10' building, heavily depending on the instructions found on their site (the 11-2012 version of the document). The instructions could really benefit from editing... There are a few inconsistencies and the writing isn't the easiest to follow. But, the diagrams and photos help compensate for this.

I'm not a carpenter. Up until this, I didn't own a circular saw. Or a level. Or a square. I've never built anything of this scale before. I also started without having everything completely planned out, much to the chagrin of one of my engineer friends. Honestly, if I had to plan every last detail in advance, this project would have died again. Although this led to a few "Well, now what?" moments, the project is complete enough that I'm sharing it with you!

A few other details... I'm using Exploradome's 8' dome, aluminum ring and roof panels. While I wasn't completely thrilled with the documentation, a have no complaints whatsoever with the products or people I dealt with. I don't have a neighborhood association, and the county doesn't require a permit on sheds less than 200 sq. ft. So, as far as the county is concerned, this is a shed. I'll be running an extension cord from the house to the observatory, mainly to avoid permitting issues. I'm located in southeast Virginia, within the light dome of Newport News, Norfolk and Virginia Beach, and maybe 20 feet above sea level. Humidity is an ever present annoyance and a main function of the observatory will be as a dew shield. 'Cause, why buy a $500 anti-dew system when one can build... this?

First step: Download SketchUp and 'build' the building using ED's instructions. The theory being "If I can draw it, I can understand it. If I can understand it, I can build it."

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#2 SFGagnon

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Posted 22 June 2013 - 01:15 PM

First thing I needed was a pit for the concrete. Not a problem, I can dig a hole. Groundbreaking took place on March 9th, 2013!

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#3 SFGagnon

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Posted 22 June 2013 - 01:20 PM

From reading what others have done on this forum, I was aiming for a 3' x 3' x 3' hole. It ended up being a bit larger than that. Unlike what I've see elsewhere, where people have excavators attacking layers of rock, there's nothing but clay and sand here. Didn't find so much as a pebble in my pit. Easy to dig, but a bit worrisome for stability...

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#4 SFGagnon

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Posted 22 June 2013 - 01:23 PM

Made a semi-random rebar cage and plopped it in the hole. This was a miserable day... Concrete truck is showing up the next morning and it's cold and -snowing- and I'm trying to wrangle chunks of metal bare handed. Not fun.

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#5 SFGagnon

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Posted 22 June 2013 - 01:27 PM

Pit and form ready to accept concrete!

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#6 SFGagnon

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Posted 22 June 2013 - 01:32 PM

The truck arrived about half an hour early on a chilly March morning. It couldn't get through the fence, so the driver and I hauled the mix the 80' to the hole. Ended up taking 2 yards and about 45 minutes. Cost $25 extra for the driver's help and $5 for the company's wheelbarrow (in addition to my little red one). Totally worth it.

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#7 SFGagnon

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Posted 22 June 2013 - 01:34 PM

The ruts will last forever...

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#8 SFGagnon

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Posted 22 June 2013 - 01:36 PM

Yeah, I really don't know what I'm doing with this. I swept the little finishing tool around from time to time with the hope the that concrete was smarter than I was...

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#9 SFGagnon

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Posted 22 June 2013 - 01:38 PM

I -did- know enough to carve my markings and the date into the concrete before it set completely!

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#10 SFGagnon

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Posted 22 June 2013 - 01:41 PM

Of course, it got cold right after this. Like, for the next week. While the ambient temperature was 45-50, I used some cardboard and the padding one uses underneath one's sleeping bag to insulate the pad. It nearly hit 70 under there. This also helped keep everything wet while I was away at work.

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#11 SFGagnon

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Posted 22 June 2013 - 01:43 PM

We have very aggressive dandelions here in Virginia.

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#12 SFGagnon

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Posted 22 June 2013 - 01:48 PM

Things remained at this point for a time. Then, NEAF rolled around and the folks from Exploradome announced that, if you were on the east coast, this was the time to place your order. I placed my order.

I got a call the weekend of NEAF that the dome would be delivered that Monday! In a day that will forever be known as 'Dome Day,' I finagled time to get away from work to be at the house for their expected noon delivery.

It's odd how things work out. I passed their truck four blocks from work!

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#13 SFGagnon

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Posted 22 June 2013 - 01:50 PM

Now that I had the dome, it was time to get serious...

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#14 SFGagnon

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Posted 22 June 2013 - 01:51 PM

Had the lumber delivered later that week...

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#15 SFGagnon

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Posted 22 June 2013 - 01:54 PM

And rented an auger to dig the holes for the deck supports. Let me tell you, it is a -lot- easier drawing 18 support posts than it is digging out the holes and installing them. Yikes. It would have been less painful impaling myself on the auger bit...

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#16 SFGagnon

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Posted 22 June 2013 - 01:57 PM

After days of adjusting and leveling and backfilling, an almost square frame was completed!

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#17 SFGagnon

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Posted 22 June 2013 - 01:58 PM

1/2" galvanized carriage bolts attach the 2x6s to the 4x4s.

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#18 SFGagnon

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Posted 22 June 2013 - 02:00 PM

Since I wasn't especially careful in aligning the building with the pad, I needed to find the offset.

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#19 SFGagnon

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Posted 22 June 2013 - 02:06 PM

The plan was to have the base of the pier on-hand so I could use it as a template to drill the holes for the anchors. However, the shop ran into some issues, so I decided that I could build the building as long as I didn't complete all of the subfloor. This is also where I deviated from ED's plans. I didn't understand why they arranged their joists the way that they did, so I did what made sense to me. I came in from each side spacing the joists 16" on center, leaving a 2' gap running down the center. The joists bordering this gap are doubled and I added a couple of cross members, again doubling the ones that border the opening for the pier. By leaving out the cross members closest to the door, I could complete the building and still have access to the pad.

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#20 SFGagnon

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Posted 22 June 2013 - 02:07 PM

This was a mistake. I though that I should install plastic sheeting between the joists and the floor. Seemed like a good idea at the time...

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#21 SFGagnon

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Posted 22 June 2013 - 02:08 PM

...and the floor seemed quite happy with it...

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#22 SFGagnon

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Posted 22 June 2013 - 02:10 PM

But then it rained. And, wow, did the water ever collect. How long would this take to dry out? Weeks? Months? So, up came the floor and out came the plastic.

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#23 SFGagnon

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Posted 22 June 2013 - 02:13 PM

Once that was sussed out, time to start the framing. I personally have a very difficult time telling when I have the piece aligned with the blade so that the cut happens where I want it. Read about this method and happily used it. In essence, a sacrificial piece is mounted to the saw's fence and cut through...

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#24 SFGagnon

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Posted 22 June 2013 - 02:14 PM

...the cut is then used to align the work. Easy peasy.

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#25 SFGagnon

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Posted 22 June 2013 - 02:16 PM

Here's another point of departure from ED's plans. I -think- they have their studs set for siding that 'wraps around' the building, as you would have if you were building their metal building. I adjusted the spacing for standard plywood T1-11 siding.

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