Building in Russia: There’s No Place Better than Home



Here in Russia they say, “Every home in history began in a similar way”, so it was we decided to build our own house. This is how the story begins.

My husband and I were married back in 2010. Being both young, and adventurous, our tiny family spent the first few years travelling. This is a normal thing in Russia, as it is almost anywhere. As almost always happens though, one day while sitting on the shores of the nearby Andaman Sea, gazing at the glowing plankton, my husband and I began to dream about how wonderful it would be to own our own house. Then, inspired by a beautiful picture of our fantasy home, we decided: “Let’s build a house!”

A sign from God? We decided it was, our plot near Pskov

A sign from God? We decided it was, our plot near Pskov in the Russian Federation

Having made the fateful decision, we decided to approach this dream with thorough planning and scheduling. First, we looked for land nearby that met the specified requirements of: being close to the city (Pskov), with village infrastructure ((shops, post office, Internet), land lines, away from the nearby lowlands, and with a most desirable item of natural gas. As another Russian adage prophesies, “Those who seek will find”, and at the end of 2014, we bought a plot.

Generator

Our indispensable friend at project start owing to the slowness of the electrical coop

One thing about these long Russian winters westerners read about, they provide ample time for  couple to design their dream home. Reading books, scouring the Internet and reference books on construction, talking with the engineers, foremen, architects and people with experience in the construction of private homes online, these activities are best done during the coldest months, when building is out of the question. Anyone who has experience building knows, the main questions revolve around exactly how to build, what to build, and how not to make the common mistakes first time builders fall prey to.

Excavation

8, 2015 a huge bucket excavator caterpillar in fragrant blossoming clovers, began to dig a trench for a future foundation

After a long winter of research, brain bashing, and brain-storming, by the spring of 2015, we had a ready house project, an approximate budget, and a the seething desire to start the building. In April, we ordered a geological study of the soil, and after receiving the results of the study and based on engineering calculations considering the local climate, we selected the type of foundation, what we call “tape-reinforced”. It was here we faced our first obstacle, as the proverb says: (loose translation) “Man proposes and God disposes.” In our case, God’s disposition meant the electric grid company, which despite a past agreement,  could not install the supports for electricity to our area. Waiting for connection threatened a delay of our plans, which is not the best thing in climates where building is limited to a few short months.

foundation trench

It was a start. We gain strength, patience, and prayed to heaven for good weather.

So, looking at the calendar, where we awaited cheerfully the month inscribed “June”, we decided to buy a 3 kW gasoline generator and begin construction of the foundation anyway. First we delivered a 3-ton container to store tools and materials in, to the site, as we live in the center of town a few kilometers away.

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After the initial excavation, we laid “netinka” at the bottom of the trench, then filled it with sand and a thick layer of gravel (60 cm). Then with huge vibration outfeed (compactors) we then stamped all the gravel down. On this first, and subsequent days of construction laying the foundations for a future home, Sasha (my husband) and my dad worked hard to quickly complete all these tasks. For me, it was the first time of any such project, and very exciting! There are few pictures by me here, as there was work enough for all, and not always time for my hands to reach the camera.

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After almost a month, we had the foundation built according to the requirements of GOST. We erected form work to a height of 1.4 m and bent rebar (8 mm) exposed, and much more. We quickly discovered what most home builders find their first time, while not easy, building is really very interesting and fun. On site, as some of you will know, there is a special atmosphere, with so many inside jokes and sayings. As they say, this is life.

Rebar

Knitting sweaters. Or gloves? Nope, rebar.

Then on the next day of construction, as the day is about to end, a friend calls and asks: “What are you doing?” I reply; “Knitting”, to which she retorts; “Knitting what, socks or a sweater?” “No”, I answer – “Rebar!” Insert the smiley here, she and I laughed.

Construction in Russia

No, I am not taking a break.

With the  temperature of the air a magical and comfortable 24 degrees (summers here are hot and muggy), things seemed perfect for the concrete work. Our friends Nikita and Alex arrived, as did the cement truck. Together, waving shovels, distributing the concrete, and of course vibrated the forms, on August 4, 2015 the foundation was poured!

Bird's eye view of our site

Bird’s eye view of our site

In September we dismantled the form-work, then admired the foundation, later beginning the waterproofing. (Insulated bitumen mastic from the sides and naplavlenie above). Then a cover of vnutryanku sand was added, so we closed the door and left the foundation until the next construction season many months away.

cement mixer

Question: Do cement trucks always get stuck in the mud?

Come the spring of 2016, new hopes and aspirations were in bud. Knowing far ahead of the this construction season that some types of future work might take more than our generator could supply, we waited impatiently for the connection of electricity by the coop. To our great joy, in May they set a proposal to the boundaries of the site, and then began the red tape necessary for authorities, in order to have the wires, sealed the flap and turned on the current. While we waited, we set ourselves to more bright chores, planing pleasant things, and tending to young apple., cherry, and plum trees we had planted the season before. Miraculously, they all bloomed in this season.

Curing foundation

I don’t want readers to think that the construction went so smoothly and seamlessly, so here I will reveal some of the unexpected problems we encountered.

  1. When we arrived in our Euro-van (13 metres in length) to unload the pallets, the driver could not drive all the was to the site because of the steep angle off the main road. So, I had urgently to seek a loader and a truck to unload pallets and deliver to the site. It took 4 hours.
  2. On the eve of pouring concrete screed sub-floor, it rained two whole days. The road to the site was so eroded that the cement mixer got stuck. So I had to once again, urgently find a tractor to pull out the cement truck. I solicited the help of many locals in securing said tractor.
  3. We made a mistake ordering boards for the formwork, and too few arrived. We had to re-order, and pay for additional shipping.

Yes, building your own home is not only a great joy, but a daunting responsibility too. But because of all the difficulties that we faced, that’s what makes us more experienced, and “Prozorova” for the future.

Bye, bye until next spring!

Bye, bye until next spring!

So it was, after a digression, we now proceed to the next stage of construction. The foundation is ready, walls — ready, we wait for the delivery of slabs and proceed to the construction of the roof of the attic. The project will be 11 reinforced concrete slab (hollow), in  3 rows of concrete, with the belt and the roof with a mezzanine.

The miracle that is Spring in Russia - our new trees kiss the sun

The miracle that is Spring in Russia – our new trees kiss the sun with their blossoms, while we wait for electrical power

The roofing material will be Finnish metal, insulation, hydro-and vapor barrier membrane for roofs — ROCKWOOL. The house we are building thoroughly, so cutting cost on materials is not even considered. There is no substitute for quality in this regard, remembering those harsh Russian winters you read about.

Walls

The walls of the house according to the project of aerated concrete (AEROC EcoTerm D400). Wall thickness 400 mm. the Whole of June were working on the construction of walls. You’ll see the openings of Windows and doors.

Our new home is well underway, as you can see. For now I would like to leave readers with a few anecdotes on our experience. As you read this, we are 24/7 on site racing the clock again.

house completion

Yes, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel!

For now though, here are som fun statistics (I love to calculate and record, so for two seasons of construction, gathered some observations):

  1. In just 2 years of construction we drove from home to the plot of 1737 km.
  2. While on site, we drank 96 liters of clean water.
  3. 16 times I took lunch to the construction site and 24 times — dinner. All the while, we had time to eat at home.
  4. In 2 seasons of construction I called my dad (an expert in construction) 4 times and said, “DADDY! What to do?!”
  5. Our design engineer (Igor, Hello!) can give 3 reasons why it was necessary to use for the walls concrete D500 and not D400.
  6. Before the commencement of construction my husband got for his birthday a concrete mixer at 132 liters. How else could I get him to start building a house?
  7. During construction, it fed the neighbor’s 3  cats and one boy named Nikita.

So, until next season, “Hold on friends we’ll soon have a new home!”

Pskov Krom

Not far from our new home – Pskov Krom, the view from the Velikaya River (CC 3.0)

Editor’s Note: This story first appeared on the Russian site 7Dach.ru, where it won second prize among contestants submitting their building stories. The story was translated by Natalia and our publisher, Phil Butler, who is also a co-founder of Our Russia Magazine.

About Natalia Polyakova

Natalia Polyakova is a graphic designer and internet entrepreneur from Pskov, Russian Federation. She is one of the co-founders of Our Russia Magazine, and an architectural design professional.