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Thread: The Pila From Hell Part 1

  1. #1

    Default The Pila From Hell Part 1

    We decided to build a pila at the highest point on the farm.

    This point is actually a few feet higher than the source of our water, so first I built a pumping station to push the water the rest of the way up. The water arrives in a strong stream, at 60 psi.
    Then we brought electricity up.
    The run is long, and I used #6 drop cable encased in 2" sanitario and buried. It wasn't a perfect solution, but it runs just about everything without issue. The inverter voltage of 123V helps; there is room for some loss here.
    For the big electric hammer we still have to use the generator. We will eventually have a Disnorte connection there.
    The pole is already in place, but we really haven't needed it yet.

    The farm is a series of descending "benches".
    A downslope, a bench, downslope, bench, etc

    We sited the pila on the first bench.
    I wanted to leave as much open as possible, so we built a retaining wall on the down slope side.
    We had to remove or at least, cut down, some pretty good sized boulders.
    The electric hammer works well for this,, just time consuming.
    It runs on a rated 110V, but consumes 20 amps.


    Once we had the retaining wall and a block frame aound the rest of the rectangle, we filled the hole with balastre, broken rocks, small boulders. We beat this down, hosed it, tamped it some more, and ,, repeat.
    We spend about a month on this part, hauling rocks from all over the farm.

    I'd ordered in 5 meters of balastre for the final fill, to level what we had, and we beat that down too.
    Two inches of gravel, and a combination of that steel mesh used for driveways, and some rebar to tie it together.
    It was all welded together.

    Jayro and I taught Enrique to weld, he's like that story about the nail in search of a hammer now.
    He wants to weld everything.


    We finished everything yesterday in terms of prep.
    As anyone who has done concrete work knows, it's all in the prep.
    The pour then goes fast and easy.

    We poured the 5" floor this morning.
    The mixer was positioned so we could, for the most part, pour directly into the form.
    I made them show me their mix before they started in earnest. It looked good (wheelbarrow pic).
    Nicaragua is famous for "sopa de concreto" .
    It has no compressive strength, cracks easily,, but that is what repello is for, I guess.

    We'd hired a couple of extra guys, it can get really busy.
    They started at 8:30 and the pour was done by noon.

    It's a big slab. It came out out be 11 x 17. Eight feet tall the pila will hold 10,000 gallons.
    There is a center divider to help tie the two walls together.
    The footing was poured separately.
    It's under the gravel,, but you can see the extra rebar in some of the pics.

    If it were anything but the floor of a pila we would have broken it into sections
    There is always a chance of cracking, just from the heat generated.
    Shelley is going to keep it hosed down through Sunday afternoon.
    If it cracks, we can always fix it with a cement rich repello.
    With all the steel we put into it, we're hoping to avoid that.


    They broke for a lunch of a slow roasted "Chuck Butt" and returned to finish it after lunch.
    Attached Images Attached Images

  2. #2

    Default Re: The Pila From Hell Part 1

    This is what we wound up. I suspect that there will be beer all around this afternoon.
    Shelley is pretty pleased with herself.
    Our work day is 8AM to 4PM, with a half hour break for lunch we provide.

    Now if you and I were pouring this slab in the US we would use the top of the form to screed the concrete.
    Anyone who knows about Nicaraguan dimensional lumber would be ROFL at the thought of leveling the slab to the top of the form.
    You'd wind up with a slab you could use for a roller coaster

    Perlins do work well,, and that is what they use when they build roads with the adoquines
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  3. #3
    TRN Science officer bill_bly_ca's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Pila From Hell Part 1

    All lumber in Nicaragua is dimensional - All be it each piece has its own dimension.

    We paid 340 per bag Monday how much up there?
    Last edited by bill_bly_ca; 12-03-2021 at 09:54 PM.
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  4. #4
    Viejo del Foro el duende grande's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Pila From Hell Part 1

    Went back to my old lumber yard recently. Had been using a mom and pop outfit closer to home but the cuts were too uneven. Even so , for my little walkways and such I run the wood thru the table saw to make it straight.

    PS-- albanils here don't seem to understand pour, tamp, screed, float, broom. They have their own way which kinda reminds me of squashing grapes barefoot if you know what I mean. Somebody must know how to do it if you look at the floors at MaxiPali. Maybe somewhere in Managua.

    I added a second 1100 L plastic tank at our country place, Designed to catch rainwater from the house roof part of the year. Should get me thru the canicula and november each year with rain water. In the dry season we will have to fill it with tap water. The other tank is tap water but we don't have it plumbed to the house because we don't have a drain.

    Private sector aquinaldo is rolling in, complete with traffic and parking mayhem. A couple months ago MaxiPali put in taller shelves and loaded them with more stuff than ever. They must be planning on a great 4th quarter. 5 or more rt flights into mga daily so there must be xmas visitors arriving. Nicas wanting to go to the US legally (silly folks) are looking at 2023 Consulate dates. Now Brandon has been forced into the See Mexico First Policy so that is more problematical for Nicas and others.
    Last edited by el duende grande; 12-03-2021 at 05:40 PM.

    "Support mental health or I'll break your head"

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  5. #5
    Para aquí para acá Jonh's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Pila From Hell Part 1

    All concrete cracks, always. The control joints you add merely suggest to it where to crack near.

  6. #6
    Viejo del Foro Daddy-YO's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Pila From Hell Part 1

    Quote Originally Posted by KeyWestPirate View Post
    It came out out be 11 x 17. Eight feet tall the pila will hold 10,000 gallons.
    Sounds like you've built the neighborhood hilltop swimming pool.
    They'll love ya.

  7. #7

    Default Re: The Pila From Hell Part 1

    Well,, as long as they don't pee in it.
    Seriously,, we will cover it.

    But I do have a friend in Mozonte who uses his pila as a swimming pool.

    I'm more of a hot tub guy, love hot water.

    "All concrete cracks, always. The control joints you add merely suggest to it where to crack near. "

    Yes, you are right.
    We will do a repello of the entire inside after we get the walls up. Including the floor. Let everything settle in a big.
    The extra effort will pay dividends twenty years from now.

    We had to repair a large pila this year.
    We chisled out all the bad areas, cracks,, pressure washed it, painted the damaged area with the blue "Bondem" , filled it,,
    let it dry well,, then painted the entire interior with bondem, and then plastered it with a rich cement and fine sand mix.
    The adhesive comes from either El Salvador, or Costa Rica, can't remember which,, cheaper than the Home Depot equivalent


    So far this morning no visible cracks,, another day or two before it's cured sufficiently to know what we have.
    Enrique spent the time after lunch troweling the excess water from the surface.
    It won't look like the floor at Home Depot, but it will be a solid serviceable slab
    Attached Images Attached Images

  8. #8

    Default Re: The Pila From Hell Part 1

    The concrete blocks (as opposed to a 5" reinforced concrete slab floor") are very porous.
    And Nica blocks might be even worse that what we are used to here.
    Less dense.

    If the water penetrates the blocks, the rebar will rust, and separate from the concrete structure.
    I think that is what you saw happen in that condo collapse in Florida ?

    I think too that this is the problem I had with the pila that we had to fix this year.

    There is a lot of high tech -and expensive- shit available in the US, but not so much in Nicaragua.

    I thought that I had hit on a solution with that Siliconizer elastomeric paint. It dries to a thick, rubbery consistency.
    It insulates a zinc roof and provides a lot of sun reflectance. The temperature difference is amazing.
    But Lanco the manufacturer specifically warns against using it where it will be immersed in water, like a poorly drained roof.

    So,, back to the drawing board.
    A cement rich, fine sand plaster, is probably what I want.
    Even with the center divider for structural strength (to relieve outward stress on the two long walls),
    all the rebar, the blocks grouted with 1-2-3 , there will still surely be some settling as the pila is filled.
    The weight of the water will be 70K, 90K,, or 110K pounds, depending on the final height we choose,,
    and while the bulk of that force will be downwards,
    there will be some significant force exerted on the side walls.


    I have a large pila of 8 x 16 x 7 that initially captures the spring output.
    It's basically the same design, but without so much steel.
    I built it about 7 years ago, and it seems to be in good shape.

  9. #9
    Viejo del Foro el duende grande's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Pila From Hell Part 1

    Sinsa has some waterproofing stuff specifically for walls but I would start with your process first. I.ve used the elastomeric patch and paint on roofs to good effect.
    Like a lot of things, you have to ferret out what works. A lot of the tradespeople are on dinosaur or cheap mode.

    Man coming today, so far 2 hours late, to fix the refri. Wish us luck!

    "Support mental health or I'll break your head"

    Covid was an intelligence test and we flunked.



  10. #10

    Default Re: The Pila From Hell Part 1

    Quote Originally Posted by el duende grande View Post
    Sinsa has some waterproofing stuff specifically for walls but I would start with your process first. I.ve used the elastomeric patch and paint on roofs to good effect.
    Like a lot of things, you have to ferret out what works. A lot of the tradespeople are on dinosaur or cheap mode.


    Man coming today, so far 2 hours late, to fix the refri. Wish us luck!
    There is a good refri guy in Estelí, does a lot of commercial refrigeration.
    He does washing machines too.
    With luck,, that's him.

    In the US,, almost no one tries to fix a household refri beyond replacing a thermostat or timer.
    We had an old Mabe that I fixed myself, gave it away to an ex-employee and bought new.
    Wish now that I had kept it.

    Labor for some guy who has the tools and knowledge in the US will come to a substantial piece of a new refrigerator.
    Parts for some electrodomesticos can be pricey too.

    But I've heard of refrigerators being successfully repaired in Nicaragua.
    Even the oldies with freon leaks. Arielka had an oldie with a tiny leak from the condenser.
    She had freon added a couple of times (that is easy enough to do), but finally found someone to sniff out the leak and braze it.


    Good luck!


    Like a lot of things, you have to ferret out what works.

    So true.
    Sinsa has swimming pool paint too. About $50/gal.
    The thing is,, cement does really well under water. A cement rich repello makes sense.
    I can always drain it next winter,, pressure wash it, apply the bondem adhesive and put on another repello.
    By then it will have settled well.
    Here again, labor for this kind of work in the US would kill you.


    My tendency always is to look for some high tech solution. It's often a mistake.

  11. #11
    Viejo del Foro Daddy-YO's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Pila From Hell Part 1

    Portland Pozzolana Cement is used in hydraulic structures, marine structures, construction near the sea shore, dam construction etc. Used in pre-stressed and post-tensioned concrete members. Used in masonry mortars and plastering. As it gives better surface finish, it is used in decorative and art structures.
    Pozzolana is a volcanic powder found in Italy near Vesuvius.
    https://theconstructor.org/concrete/...-cement/23161/

    As I came to settle down - half-year at a time - in Nicaragua, I considered investigating local volcanic materials as candidates for pozzolan cements. I'm a chemist. Had my eye on UNAN in Leon. But with the tropical heat and other earthly delights that idea evaporated.

  12. #12

    Default Re: The Pila From Hell Part 1

    A quickie update on the pila.
    A month behind schedule,, but given my requirements,, perhaps my fault.
    It should still be finished by the end of the month.

    This thing will have more steel in it than a 1950's Buick before we're done.
    The key to longevity will be protecting the steel from any water intrusion.
    That is apparently what happened to that condo in Florida

    Detail shows the center divider.
    The outer walls are "Tee'd" into the center wall with more steel.

    I plan to carefully measure the dimensions before it's filled, across the centers,
    then after it's filled,
    to see if I can detect any expansion

    It's ten thousand gallons, but with luck we can drain it next year and go another 5000 gallons.

    I found some cheap inline water meters on EBAY to use to measure actual consumption.
    We have no idea how much water we use.
    Attached Images Attached Images

  13. #13
    Viejo del Foro el duende grande's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Pila From Hell Part 1

    Way back when we started a pila at our country place. The hole was dug to bedrock which was only about 3 feet. The neighbors recommended a local mason with the presumptuous name of Juan de Dios. Should have seen that coming.

    Neighbors forgot to mention he was a binge drinker. On the day construction was to start he disappeared into the bottle and was never seen again. We were not out any money but the rains were starting and there was no time to find another mason and continue.

    Subsequently, a community water system was started/ It turned out to be a minimalist thing, but at least we have a whole pipe full of water for 2 hours every other day. I added (4) 55ga barrels connected to the roof gutters and we got by until I added a 1100 L plastic tank connected to the community system. Later, in fact just this year, I added a 2500 L (?) tank to the roof drain. It pays to price different size tanks as the second one cost about the same as the first one even though it was twice as large.

    Our tanks are only 3 ft. above the ground as they are mostly for watering our plants and dog. As we are sslloowwllyy finishing our new kitchen I have to think of another small tank higher up to service it, even though the drain may be a 5 gallon bucket.

    "Support mental health or I'll break your head"

    Covid was an intelligence test and we flunked.



  14. #14

    Default Re: The Pila From Hell Part 1

    We want to capture rainwater too, as we have a lot of roof square footage.
    It rains regularly during the "dry" season in the mountains.
    As you increase in elevation the landscape changes dramatically from brown to green.

    The clouds back up against the NE side of our mountain
    and both provide moisture from the heavy cloud cover and drop occasional rain.

    Some problems: I need to keep the two sources of water separate.
    The spring is pure and clean,,
    The initial rain has a lot of dirt in it. If it rains heavily,, not a problem.
    The first rain is really dirty.

    We see that on the solar panels. A short rain deposits a greasy residue that has to be mechanically removed.
    You need someone responsible and sure-footed to do the cleaning.
    Krisnia used to do it; Shelley does it now, monthly.

    The monthly "chore" includes the solar panel cleaning,, watering the batteries,, and starting and running the generator briefly.
    We very rarely use the generator now,, but it needs to be started so it's available in case it is needed.
    It's been moved into the first bodega because of a gasoline theft problem we were suffering

    So it's involved: gutters to capture the water.
    Some intermediate tankage to capture the water initially.
    Some manner of coarse filtration.
    And eventually a pila up at the highest point so the water is usable.
    And a different pipe delivery to keep the drinking water separate from the rain water.

  15. #15
    Viejo del Foro el duende grande's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Pila From Hell Part 1

    There is a system which includes a vertical standpipe with a hose bib drain valve to catch the first dirty rain. As it fills up the water is diverted to the main tank. It is a standard of rainwater catchment so you should be able to see pix online.

    right now I have a piece of 1/4 inch hardware cloth over the entrance to the downspout. This water is for irrigation, I just don't want the tank full of eucalyptus leaves and dirt. Probably need to clean the gutters once a month during the rainy season.

    In the western edge of the mountains there is often zero rain Jan-April so if I am lucky my tank will only serve during the canicula and maybe December. The rest of the year we will fill it with tap water as it is in a convenient location for part of the yard.

    Plastic tanks are the only way to go--look at new commercial developments. As the tanks get bigger the price per gallon goes down rapidly. If I gave a D---, which I obviously don't, I would stucco over the tanks like I did my 55 gal barrels. At least it keeps the thieves away.

    Some friends in town have a 5000 L potable tank on a slab in their back yard with a pump to pump it up to the second story. Don't know if they have a backup generator.

    "Support mental health or I'll break your head"

    Covid was an intelligence test and we flunked.



  16. #16

    Default Re: The Pila From Hell Part 1

    The pila is almost done.
    We have to plaster the inside carefully yet,, and then cover it.

    Then tie it into the water system so it all works transparently.

    I've come up with a scheme to fill and drain it with one bottom connection.
    Using a switch on a float valve to control the pump

    It will still require someone to decide to fill the pila, but the float vale will shut the pump off when the pila is filled.

    I apologize for the pictures.
    Shelley and I are a bit on the outs at the moment.

    I'm fighting with Enrique about cutting the rebar flush with the top of the blocks
    and covering the top of the blocks with an inch of concrete.


    If you have spent any time in Nicaragua . . .
    you are familiar with rebar sticking up and out from every form of construction.
    It's like a trademark of Nica construction.


    I'd rather break off the concrete cap and weld to the existing covered rebar if we decide to go bigger next year.
    We may not need to. 10,000 gallons may be enough.
    With this new pila I have a total of 25,000 gallons of water storage
    Attached Images Attached Images

  17. #17

    Default Re: The Pila From Hell Part 1

    Final Pila pics..

    A month or two late,, but with plenty of time to fill it.
    We are still getting quite a bit of rain and the spring is producing nicely.

    Now I just have to decide how to cover it.
    A big deck to complement the restaurant I always wanted to build some day ?
    The restaurant in the pines with a sun terrace?

    A simple sloping zin roof would be quickest and easiest.
    It's going to be a long time before the tourists return to Nicaragua,,
    in the numbers we have seen earlier
    And probably even longer for that last 5 Km of road to be paved
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by KeyWestPirate; Yesterday at 02:58 PM.

  18. #18

    Default Re: The Pila From Hell Part 1

    OK,, one last pic.

    The icing on the cake is this bypass (blue handled gate valve).

    It's closed when the pump is pumping water from spring pila up to the gate pila.

    Then,, when pila is topped off,, the bypass valve is opened and the gate pila (pila we just built) pressurizes the entire system.
    Only one valve has to be manipulated for it all to work transparently.
    This is Nicaragua,, after all. KISS reigns supreme.

    The gate pila --(which when full holds the water at a higher level than the spring pila)--
    cannot flow back into the spring pila thanks to a check valve I put into the new piping I installed last summer.

    We have a bit of a water theft problem.
    Eventually I will enclose the spring and the spring pila with cyclone fencing and close the valve on the spring pila when we are not pumping water from it.

    There is more water to be developed from the area around the spring.
    I don't know how much,, but I suspect that it is significant.

    More is not more if I encounter political pressure to share "my" water.
    "Water is a Human Right" say my vago neighbors. Implying,, you should give me some of yours.
    "I have barely enough to brush my teeth", say I


    I have another flat topped hill to the NW where I would like to build another good sized pila.
    It's the second highest point on the farm.


    This would be filled from the lake, and would be strictly irrigation water, and water security for cattle.
    I have a couple of smaller springs that the horses drink from, but I wouldn't feel comfortable without a significant reserve.

    Excess water I develop from the spring would be wasted into the lake, and then be pumped from the lake up to the "Cow Pila"


    The combined water entrance/exit was a bit of a struggle. Enrique couldn't understand how this was going to work.
    He installed a conventional upper water entrance pipe that would accept a float valve -just in case I was wrong.
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by KeyWestPirate; Yesterday at 04:00 PM.

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