Sunday, November 29, 2009

Guest Carpenter

This holiday weekend we were graced with a little extra help. Nancy's dad Lou declared before visiting this weekend that he was interested in hammering a nail in the house. Before getting to the nailing bit we found a suitable location for our bird feeder sculpture and put it in the ground. Nancy said it was slightly premature to actually put up any bird feeders, but at least we have it ready.

From there, we went onto the nail thing.

We are done with the significant nail-intensive aspects of the project --at least for the time being-- but after looking around a bit I noticed there was some blocking that still needed to be installed. We got out the needed tools, cut up some pieces to fit, and then Lou went to town with the air gun. Having only wanted to put in one nail, he was ended up putting in maybe 30. Air guns are like that, they make it easy.

Thanks to Lou for some well installed blocking and a carefully considered location for the bird feeder!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


We've been wrapping up some odds and ends as we pause for Thanksgiving.

I cut the rest of the star pattern in the porch roof, which we then covered with (painted) tar paper. The effect is definitely diminished, which I'm kinda bummed about, but I'm glad they are there nonetheless. I wish I could think of some way to have them shine without having a translucent roofing material. Any ideas?

We cut holes for three vent pipes that pass through the roof as well as the stovepipe for the wood stove. The stovepipe will stand higher then it is shown in the photo when we add another segment from below and push it up and out a few more feet. We also taped up a couple of leaks revealed by a recent rain and added some more ice and water shield in the roof valleys for a bit of added security against future leaks.

To my satisfaction we engaged in a bit of materials management. Back a couple of months ago I ordered the wrong kind of rigid insulation for the basement. Its been sitting down there waiting to be returned for a long time, so we finally hauled it all out and had the lumber yard take it back, along with various other materials that we don't need. We moved the remaining 6x6's that will be needed for retaining walls on either side of the basement hatchway to near where we'll need them. That has opened up some space around the house that starts to let us feel the building as an entity on its own.

Today I spent the whole day cleaning up, organizing lumber stacks, gathering tools, clearing clutter, stacking rocks, separating and storing burnable lumber, sweeping, etc.... It felt really good to take care of all this stuff. It puts a little order and polish to our hard work.

Nancy's parents are coming for a post-Thanksgiving visit and I'm excited to show them our work. Before they get here I want to cut out a hole to get to the second floor from inside. As it is now its a little high climbing from the outside. From the inside it'll be an easy climb.

The weather continues to be generous to us, for which I am grateful

Friday, November 20, 2009

I'd like to lay my weary bones tonight, On a bed of California stars

Joe and I wrapped up the rest of the porch roofing yesterday under continuing balmy November clear skies. We decked the roof with alternating 1x6 and 1x1 runs of rough sawn material. We could have just made it easy and done the whole thing in 1x6. but that woulda been boring and I find it so compelling to take some more time to make it interesting when I see the opportunity.
What this means is, when you look up from the porch, you'll see a wide-narrow-wide-narrow pattern of planking that repeats left to right all the way up. You'll notice this pattern in the photos.

This afternoon not only did I make stars, I saw stars...

To make the porch detail even that much more fun, today I spent the afternoon cutting a star pattern into the roof. Our original plan was to have translucent roofing material which would allow light through the star cut-outs, but somewhere along the line we decided that it would look a little less attractive to have semi-clear corrugated plastic as the roofing material over this one portion of the house. The drawback is that when the finished roof goes on over these stars, light will not shine through, so they'll be less apparent. What I might do is paint the underside of the tar paper which we'll put down before the metal roof is installed. That way there will at least be some brightness on the surface at the top of the cut-out. We'll see these when we are in the kitchen doing dishes.

Half of the fun of this whole house project is the opportunity to make little details like this happen. It would pain me deeply not to be able to do this. You could go and paint some stars on the underside of your porch roof if you wanted -- and that would be fine, but how much cooler is it to have them built-in as a part of the building. Paint fades, cut-outs are there for the long haul.

The bit about seeing stars... I took a good bonk on the ol' cognator this afternoon that drew more blood than you'd guess and sort of put me out for an hour or two. I think I'm all better now, but it doesn't look that way to see the notch on my head.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Porch Roof part III - Assembly!

Today was fun.

To begin the day, we had almost all the parts that will be the roof over the porch cut and ready to go. On top of that we had the warm glow of the morning sun to take the November chill off.

When we were ready, we cleared the deck off, attached the little flat bases to each of the three posts and then stood them up.

Next came the beam that connects the posts. The beam sits in the pocket at the top of each post, and was installed in two parts with a lap joint over the center post, shown in the second photo.

After the beam came the rafters, and when they were all attached, we installed the lookouts at the two end rafters.

Once we had everything squared away with the post-beam-rafter assembly, we still had some time left in our day, but the sun had already set and the last glow was quickly fading. Having initially decided to call it a day, we rallied, pulled out the halogen lights, and put the trim on.

To finish off this little project we have the put the rough-sawn sheathing on, the last bit of trim and drip-edge and we're good. Oh yeah, we're going to peg some of the connections as well between the posts and beam.

Porch Roof Part II - Shaping the timbers

On Friday we made the rafters for the porch, and yesterday we shaped the posts, beam, lookouts, and post bases. This is a good deal of somewhat careful work because everything will be visible once the porch roof is assembled. There is a lot of detail as well, so there was a lot of time just making all the cuts and working out the arrangement of parts.

Above are some photos of us shaping the lumber. The next post will show the assembly.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Porch Roof

On Friday we began work on the porch roof. In designing the house I'd done some basic dimensioning to make sure everything would fit as it needs to, but beyond that figured we'd work out the details when we got to it. Well, now we are at it and Joe and I spent some time setting up a mock-up of the post and rafter to make sure we liked the height. I had drawn the posts at 8' and thats what we set up at first but it was immediately obvious that that would be too high. I chopped off about a foot on the post height and that seemed better. We screwed the parts into place and I had Nancy feel it out with me and we decided that what we'd set up felt about right.

On Monday we'll set about shaping the posts, beam and then setting up the rafters, which Joe cut Friday afternoon. Like the roof on the main house, there's a certain level of finish detail which will make this take a bit of time, but I think for the most part it'll fall together pretty easily.

Stack Framing

We are employing a technique of framing in building our house called stack framing, which is a little different than how your average home is built in terms of how everything is aligned. The reasons for doing this are: reduced material use, simpler and quicker construction, and improved insulation performance.

In a typical house wall, the studs are spaced 16" on center with a top and bottom plate (plates are the horizontal pieces of wood that connect studs at the top and bottom of a wall). Once the walls are built, a second plate goes on top of the wall to tie things altogether and then the next floor goes on top of that.

What we are doing differently is that our wall studs are spaced at 24" on center, and as we build each successive layer of the house going up, we make sure the framing is lined up with the framing below; we carefully align all the studs so that they are effectively stacked on top of each other going up through the building. The illustration above shows how the studs, the floor joists, and the roof rafters are all lined up in a vertical stack.

There are a number of benefits to doing this. The first is the reduction in lumber. Have framing members every 24" simply reduces the total quantity of lumber to build the house, saving some money. In addition to cost savings, this allows more room for insulation. It also lessens the number of thermal bridges from the outside to the inside of the wall envelope, i.e. less pathways for cold to reach into the wall via the wooden studs.

Think of this:
-In a 28' wall with studs every 16" on center, you'd have 22 studs. The studs are 1 1/2" wide, so if you pushed them all together they'd take up 2'-11" of space in your wall.
-In a 28' wall with studs every 24" on center you'd have 15 studs. Pushed together, they take up 1'-11 1/2".

By spacing our framing this way, we eliminate about a foot of lumber in our 28' wall that would otherwise be taking up valuable insulation space. These quantities really begin to add up when you think of all the walls and roof framing throughout the house. As I mentioned before, stack framing also allows us to eliminate a second top plate, again allowing for less lumber and more insulation.

Related to all this is modular layout. Modular layout means you design your building in dimensions that conform to standard building material sizes. An example would be something like making a wall 8' long rather then, say, 9'-2" because you can then use the full length of a piece of 4'x8' plywood. I made a point of using full 2' dimensions throughout our house plan, and there have be many instances where I noticed how it made our work easier, created less waste, or there is less cutting. This isn't to say that non-standard dimensions are a problem or bad in any way, but they create more work and waste.

The last element related to this is noted in the diagram above, which is leaving out window and door headers on non-load bearing walls. Headers are short beams that cross over any openings in the wall to receive and transfer load down and around the opening. If you think about the downward force of gravity pushing down on the roof, the pressure is transferred from the roof to the kneewalls and then down through the house to the foundation. The gable ends do not carry any of this pressure, so there is no need to put substantial headers over openings when they are located on gable-end walls. The photo below shows various window and door openings as we were building the first floor. The window opening at left is on a gable end wall, so there is no header above it, just a piece of lumber that frames out the top of the window. Moving to the right the two windows in the middle both are located in load bearing walls, so have headers over them. The door on the right is again in a gable end wall, so there is no header here either. This, like the other techniques mentioned above, saves on time in construction and materials located in the wall that would otherwise be insulation.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The roof is done!

After a long effort we finally finished the roof on Wednesday!

This means that the house is dried in, which is a major milestone in the house building process. Before we can completely be done on the roof we have to cut holes for the various vents that come through with what are called boots, which are the sleeves that the vent pipes pass up through. To celebrate, Nancy, Joe, and I went out for dinner at the Den and raised our glasses "to the roof!"

Sally and Silas dropped by to say hi and it turns out that although the roof is cool, Silas is really what everybody wanted to check out. Even Motion.

Yesterday we worked most of the day on the rafter ties. This started off with a little consultation amongst the future homeowners about the height they should be placed at. I designed them to be installed at 7 feet off the floor. Joe and I put a few in at this height and we all had this feeling that it was just a little low, so yesterday morning Nancy and I discussed it and decided that it was worth pulling out the ones we'd already installed and moving them up about three inches. Joe and I spent the rest of the day putting them in and at the end of the day it was clear that moving them up that 3 inches made all the difference. It was worth it to back up a little and re-adjust.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Today was another day of great weather and we got as much done as we could, leaving part of tomorrow to finish up the roof. Yes!

We had some visitors today.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Roof roof roof

We spent the better part of last week doing all the trim/rough sawn edge work around the perimeter of the whole roof. This includes the drip edge, the roof trim, the ice and water shield and the visible rough sawn overhang sheathing. This is labor intensive and, once done, sets us up to install the plywood over the main part of the house and run right up the roof in short order.
This morning we polished off the very last of the pre-plywood work and then installed a few rafter ties. The rafter ties serve two purposes: mated to the rafters they complete the triangle that becomes the structural unit of the roof, tying the rafters together so they resist spreading from the downward force of gravity; their other purpose is to create a lowered ceiling effect on the second floor while still providing an open view up to the cathedral ceiling. There will be rafter ties on each set of rafters all the way down, so they will act in effect like a loft floor above the second floor. The ties need to be placed within the lower third of the length of the rafter which puts them about 7 feet above the floor.

I am particularly excited about the creative possibilities created by this element of the house design. We can hang things from them, create a loft on top of them, put lights in, on, or around them--whatever we like. They are going to give the second floor a playful and spacious quality that feels great to me. We only installed a few of them today. Once we've got the plywood up on the roof we'll put the rest up.

The weather today was an astounding 65 degrees. It was the first day in weeks that we actually felt hot. I kept joking with Joe that it was too much for me to take and that I thought we'd have to quit early. Given the fact that we are working up high and you have a lot to manage at the same time, its a blessing to not be fighting the cold at the same time.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Give us a couple of days...

We're hard at work on the roof and making progress. We spent much of today working out the trim details around the dormer; that stuff takes time. We have high hopes for lots of progress tomorrow and I think we just may get this thing roofed by Friday.

Now to sleep...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

All Hallows Night After!

Our faithful Canon camera bit the dust from too much, um, dust, dropping, maltreatment, rain, etc.. so we bought a new one and we're (me) gonna treat it like a precious jewel. It has a cool feature that allows long (up to 15 seconds) exposures, so I just went out and played around a little. These seem appropriate to the spooky mood of the season.

Ah ha ha ha ha ha HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!!