Men of steel

Men of steel

The Ontario Building Code allows a distillery to be constructed with combustible materials like wood if it’s under 300 square meters. Since our distillery’s footprint is under this threshold, I thought there would be little steel in the building. Boy was I wrong. The engineers ended up calling for a ton of steel. Luckily, there’s a steel manufacturer just down the road from us. A family business, Branje Metal Works has been supplying steel to Almonte for decades. I worked with Chris Branje who committed to deliver the 12 steel posts and 3 moment frames I needed in less than two weeks. Chris Branje at his shop Chris delivered the steel as promised. A crane arrived to help his team put up the posts. I noticed one of the steel workers putting steel plates on each concrete pier. I asked him what was he doing and he explained that they put a 1″ steel shim to help level the posts. I almost fainted when hearing this. I thought I only had to leave enough of the anchor bolts exposed for the plate and nut (1.5″). Adding the shim wouldn’t leave enough bolt to screw on the nut. Luckily, I left almost all the bolts higher than planned since the rebar stopped me from putting them lower. If I hadn’t left the extra space, I would have to redo all the concrete piers at a cost of thousands of dollars and weeks delay. I felt queasy the rest of the day at the thought of how close I came to disaster. It took Chris’s team a couple days to get all the posts and beams installed. No chance of the distillery falling down!

Pounding the ground

Pounding the ground

This week Merv took us "out of the hole" by back filling the foundation. It was a tedious task since the gravel had to be compacted every 12" to make sure the concrete slab doesn't crack. As usual, Merv did an amazing job and left us with a perfectly flat working area.

Pouring foundation and building wall of Dairy Distillery

Just like lego

Less than 24 hours after pouring the footings, we were back at work on the foundation walls. I spent a lot of time debating what I should do for the foundation. Since the building doesn't have a basement, I could have poured the concrete floor on compacted gravel. This is known as a 'slab on grade' foundation and it's often used in the arctic where it's impossible to dig below the frost line. Insulation is extended beyond the footprint of the building to prevent frost from forming under the building. While slab on grade would have been cheaper, my dad and the engineers were worried about frost moving the slab so I went with a foundation wall to support the building's structure. We used insulated concrete forms (ICF) to build the foundation walls. ICF is the same product Perry used to build my house. The forms look like Lego blocks made from rigid insulation. A plastic web holds the two sides of the block together and is used to support the rebar. The 6-inch center of the block is filled with concrete to create the insulated wall. A really neat system. As part of the foundation wall, we had to build six concrete piers to support the steel moment frames. The moment frames are designed to transfer wind or seismic forces on the production walls/roof down through the concrete piers to the bedrock. The moment frames are attached to the piers with massive 1-inch bolts. The steel maker gave me plywood templates so I could position the bolts before they are cast in the concrete. I asked him how much of the bolt should I leave above the concrete and he said 1.5 inches would do. On the day of the concrete pour, it was my job to place all the bolts. I struggled to get the bolts past the rebar in the walls. Most of the bolts were sticking up 2 inches more than they should be. My dad was concerned about this but I said we could cut them afterwards. Friday turned out to be a perfect day for pouring concrete. The Cavanaugh trucks started to arrive at noon and Perry proceeded to guide the pumper and fill the walls. My job was to keep the anchor bolts straight during the pour. After Perry filled the pier with concrete, it was impossible to straighten the bolts until Claude used a concrete vibrator. The vibrator looks like a snake and liquefied the concrete so I could move the bolts by hand. My dad followed after us cleaning the concrete off the bolts. Except from one pier, all the bolts were dead straight. After filling the walls, Perry and Claude adjusted the bracing to make them perfectly plumb. It was nerve wracking to watch the concrete slosh around as Claude jostled the wall. I measured the distance across the production space with a laser and found the walls within 1/16-inch of plan. A good thing.

Gaining our footing

Gaining our footing

As the surveyors finished pinning the outline of the building, Perry moved in to put in the forms for the footings. Perry Rouseau is an ICF specialist and framer. He built my house and we've remained friends since. What I like about Perry is that he's curious and willing to try new things. When building my house, Perry's daughter Jessica was his assistant. Fifteen years later, his youngest son Ethan is now filling that role along with Neal and I. Building footings is pretty straightforward: 2X10s are overlapped and screwed together to make the sides of the form. Neal and I had to redo a couple joints since we didn't level the studs properly. Strapping cut to the width of the footing (30 inches in our case) is used to keep the 2X10s upright. Then a laser is used to level the tops of the forms. This is done by moving the 2X10 up or down until the laser says it’s right. A piece of strapping is then screwed to the side of the 2X10 to keep it from moving. Gravel is then placed to fill the gap at the bottom of the footing forms. Rebar is then placed at the bottom of the footing and lifted off the bedrock using a rock or by hanging it from the strapping. We also had to prepare some concrete pads for the moment frames that will make up the building's structure. These pads have two layers of 20mm rebar tied in a grid pattern. We placed the first grid in the pad forms and the second will be dropped into the concrete during the pour. It took us two days to complete the footing forms and we were ready for concrete on Tuesday. I ordered the concrete from Cavanagh Concrete in Carleton Place. Their bright shiny trucks arrived just after Perry's pumper finished setting up. It took 64 cubic meters of concrete carried by four trucks to fill the forms and pads. Certainly a solid footing. After the pour, Perry put vertical rebar in the concrete for the future walls. Neal and I waited until the concrete had set a bit then covered the footings with thermal tarps to protect them from the cold.     The rebar grids for the pads.   Giving the concrete pumper a try.   A one hand job for Perry.  

Preparing for the 1 in 100 year flood

Preparing for the 1 in 100 year flood

To build in the Almonte business park, the town requires a stormwater management plan. This plan must show how we’ll manage rain runoff from the lot so that it doesn’t exceed a certain rate (i.e. cannot be more than X liters per second per hectare). I tried to argue that I don’t need a stormwater management plan since my building will occupy less than 10% of the area of my lot. But the town wouldn’t budge. Luckily, the engineer working on my electrical and mechanical plans, Ian Clapperton, was able to also do the stormwater management plan. I can’t remember who introduced me to Ian but I’m lucky to have been connected. Not only is Ian a sharp engineer, he lives in Almonte and enjoys his spirits. The stormwater management plan Ian came up with divided my two acre lot into a developed half and an undeveloped half. The developed half will be graded to direct rainwater to a “stormwater detention area” at the SE end of the property. Rain water in the detention area is released into the municipal drainage ditch through a weir that limits the flow of water. This is exactly the setup my neighbour Matt at Sports Systems had to install on his property. The sad thing is that even in the heavy rains we’ve had this past summer, Matt’s weir was dry. Looks like most rainwater is absorbed by the ground. So I will most likely have a useless $25,000 civil engineering project as a feature of my property.

Safety first

Safety first

My architect, Paul, suggested that I hire a code consultant to review the distillery plans to make sure they meet the Ontario building and fire code. I’ve read several stories of distillers running into code issues so I hired Morrison Hershfield, Canada’s top code consultant to advise us. Matt Jardine, a fire code expert at MH, prepared a very comprehensive report for me. The Ontario Building Code doesn’t have any specific requirements for distilleries, however, the Fire Code has an entire section for them. Matt explained that the Fire Code was written for very large industrial distilleries so some of the requirements are not appropriate for a smaller operation like ours. Explosion venting is one such requirement. An explosion vent allows an explosion to exit the building without damaging equipment or the building structure. I’ve never heard of an explosion vent before but found several cool examples on YouTube. So can you blow yourself up distilling? Yes, it’s possible. Ethanol vapor at the right concentration is explosive. If our still had a leak and the ethanol vapor left to accumulate, it could be ignited to cause an explosion. The team at Mythbusters did exactly this in this video. One of Matt’s recommendations is to have continuous ventilation to prevent an accumulation of ethanol vapor. In addition, he suggests a system that triggers a second ventilation system if a dangerous amount of ethanol vapor is detected. As a further precaution, Matt recommended that all electrical equipment within 1.5m of the stills be “explosion proof” to remove any possible ignition sources. With these precautions in place, we would practically eliminate the chance of an ethanol vapor explosion. To completely rule out the need for explosion venting, Matt modeled the force of our worst case ethanol vapor explosion and found it couldn't damage the building’s structure. I feel much more confident manning the still after this due diligence.

Merv canyon

Merv canyon

After starting my project, I quickly discovered that there is only one name to know in Almonte when it comes to excavation: Merv Logan at LBL contracting. Merv has been running his business for 38 years and knows everyone in town. After a few minutes reviewing the plans, Merv got to work scraping the building site, laneway and parking lot down to the bedrock. He found bedrock less than 2 feet down and it was surprisingly flat. It took Merv just over a day to have the site ready for footings. What did slow Merv down was digging down 6 feet through solid limestone to get below the frost line to connect the building to the sanitary/water at the property line. It took him 3 days and once he cleared the rubble I had limestone canyon going through my lot. I called it Merv Canyon. The town had to cut the road to dig down to the main sewer line to make a repair to the lateral servicing my lot. The main line runs deep at 12 feet below the street. While the main sewer line was being serviced, Merv took the opportunity to upgrade my water service from a 1” to a 2” line. I’ll have no problems with water pressure in my shower.

Setting up shop in the Almonte business park

Setting up shop in the Almonte business park

One of my motivations for blogging is to pass on what I have learned. If you’re planning to build in the Almonte business park, here are some tips: Get your survey done by GA Smith Surveying. Tony has surveyed most of the lots in the business park and is close by in Carleton Place. You’ll need a stormwater management plan. I’m going to do a dedicated blog post on stormwater management but in summary, you need one for any new build in the business park. Be prepared to write a big check to the municipality of Mississippi Mills. As part of the site plan agreement, you’ll need to prepare a budget of all the “site works” done on and off the property. Site works includes landscaping, paving, curbs, the water/sanitary connection and road cuts. Once the town approves the budget, you’ll need to write a check for 100% of the off site works and 50% of the onsite works. The town will hold this money until all the works is done. It's a strong incentive to finish the job quickly! They want it to look pretty. All the buildings in the business park must have paved laneways with proper curbs. If you’re looking to put up a storage shed, the Almonte business park is not the place for you. The rock goes deep. Our excavator discovered that our site is sitting on solid limestone. So it won’t be cheap to connect to the water/sanitary. Lots in the business park are serviced with 1” water supply. No one at the town could confirm this before we dug. I have absolutely no regrets setting up my business in Almonte. I’ve experienced none of the red tape I’ve heard about in Ottawa. Sure there are rules and paperwork but it mostly makes sense and the people are city hall are always willing to help.

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