Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Shed dormer and Lookouts

Nancy's dad Lou wrote with a couple of questions. The first question was in regards to the shed dormer. The dormer is the space created by the bit of roof that extends out from the main roof at a lower pitch, allowing for more floor space inside and room for a window looking out to the west. The photo shows a nice profile view of the dormer. Its a "shed" dormer because of the style of roof--a flat surface at a low pitch.The shed-style dormer

Another view showing the dormer

Lou's next question was about the lookouts. The photo below shows them: they are the spiky things coming off the end of the gable wall and will allow the roof to extend beyond the edge of the building. In other words, they are the structural members of the roof overhang and intersect perpendicularly with the main roof rafters. You might notice there are still two lookouts we need to install on this end of the building. Its also worth mentioning that I was mistakenly calling the lookouts "fly rafters" for a while--I now stand corrected.
A view of the lookouts

Today was a bit of a slow day for us. It was raining on and off throughout the day. Our main project was cutting and installing the blocking between the roof rafters. The photo below shows the blocking installed in all but one of the rafter bays. This essentially serves the purpose of extending the wall up through the rafters to where the roof will be. On something of a whim, I decided to install them so that they are at a 45 degree angle to the top of the wall, which makes them tilt out rather then come straight up through the rafters.

Blocking being installed

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Roof


Joe and Adam in the dormer preparing to put on the shed rafters

Me, installing a lookout

The house with almost all the framing in place, save the shed dormer rafters

Adam, having just installed Joe's expertly cut rafters that form the shed dormer roof

Sunday we received an email from our friend Adam wondering if we'd like a little help. Adam lives down in western Massachusetts and wanted to come up our way for a concert in Burlington and offered to help out while staying at our place.

Of course we said "Great!"

So today Adam showed up just around lunch yesterday and he joined Joe and I as we continued closing in on completing the roof framing. Today all three of us went at it again and completed the framing. This means we still have to install the roof trim and rough-sawn perimeter sheathing before we actually sheath the whole thing, but Adam's help is just what we needed to move us very close to this important milestone. The three of us made as much hay as possible and got a lot done. I was just struck with a feeling of gratitude for the efforts of both these guys helping to make our dream become reality. (It also occurred to me that the three have contra dancing as a common bond between us, among other things, and, with Nancy nearby in the yurt, that there was an uncanny density of contra dance talent present on site today.)

Joe is headed to Louisiana this weekend for a Cajun dance event on Friday and Nancy and I are headed to a couple of events in Massachusetts Thursday afternoon, so we are temptingly close to closing in the house. I suspect it'll happen early next week, but we'll just have to see.

Behind the scenes

So, we recently had a comment from our friend Wendy who wondered just what Nancy is up to while Joe and I are getting all the attention while building this house. Excellent question, and I'm glad Wendy asked. Its easy to focus on the visible aspects of the project, but there are many important elements that have had to be lined up in order to make this all happen and Nancy is responsible for much of that work.

This project has been a collaboration from day one when we decided that we were going to build a house. We met with others who had built houses, talked about what we wanted together in a house and debated and reviewed the plans as I worked on them. The planning and design process was a team effort with me doing the day-to-day footwork.

Nancy engineered the whole loan process from start to finish. This included visiting various banks and narrowing down the field and finally deciding on which bank to work with. That of course led to the massive amount of financial information that needs to be organized and submitted. She's good with that kind of stuff and if it'd been left to me there'd still be some nice looking grass where the house is now standing. The loan process was quite stressful and required some extended effort to move the pieces along to get to closing.

While I'm responsible for the the execution of the project, Nancy is sort of the organizer overseer, checking in, making lists, asking "Have you thought about what's coming next once the walls are up?" or "Do you have everything you need for tomorrow when Joe gets here?" We check in frequently, both formally and informally about how things are going and what needs to be done.

Lastly, she's paying the bills and keeping track of our budget and expenditures. We make a great team.

In 2003, we built the yurt together and had a great time. It was a small project compared to the house, but it was a harbinger of things to come. Our realities are a little different now; we've structured things so that the house is essentially my "job" while she's out there earning the bucks to keep the engine running.

Last but not least, she is the best come-home-and-check-out-the-day's-progress cheerleader!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Main Roof rafters

This week we've been working on the roof rafters over the main part of the house. We've got a few common rafters in (common rafters are the full length typical rafter that's not altered or modified in any way) and today put the valley rafter in place. The valley rafter is the crucial junction at the intersection of the two roof planes. Its a non-intuitive piece of wood and has a bunch of cuts. Joe and I discussed it for a bit this morning and then I let him puzzle it out. The thinking and planning takes way more time then the actual cuts, and to Joe's credit, it came out dead nuts. There are other complicated pieces to go in, but the valley rafter is the biggie.

Meanwhile I've be shaping, priming, and painting the fly rafters that'll project off the main roof gable ends. 34 of them in total. Its a repetitive process, but it's fun to get into production mode and work out the most efficient sequence of actions to mark, cut, shape, move, trim, prime and paint each piece in a series. Tomorrow morning these will start being installed in conjunction with more of the rafters.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Our Aunt Mary wanted to get a little more clarity about where the house sits on the property. I did up a Sketch-Up drawing that hopefully will clarify things a bit more; the relationship of the buildings can be a bit hard to discern from photos since everything is so close together.

The garage/breezeway will be coming down as soon as is feasible, so when looking at this site sketch, imagine the long blue structure in front of the house gone. Also picture the circles (current and former locations of the yurt) gone and things start to look a little calmer and less crowded.

The challenge we haven't really solved is what to do with the driveway. We don't really want to look at our car(s) right out in our front yard, so we'll need to play with our options once the space is opened up.

(For a large scale version of the drawing, click on the image and you'll get the big view.)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Kitchen Roof Complete

The rough sawn 1x6 planks run over the roof overhang.

The Zip system sheathing taped

Joe, testing the laws of gravity.

The kneewall on the east side in place.

View from the driveway

We wrapped up the roof over the kitchen yesterday. In order to create the visual effect of looking up and seeing pieces of rough sawn lumber coming over the end of the building --over the gable wall-- we've had to plan for the intersection of the rough sawn lumber with the Zip system roof sheathing. This worked out pretty well. (The Zip system sheathing is the brown material in the photos).

After the rough sawn lumber was in place we then put up the Zip sheathing. This was one of those times where it feels like you move in slow motion for a day or so and then BAM you go into fast motion and things seem to fly for a while. In a short day Joe and I had the roof sheathed and taped. This means it's watertight and ready for the standing seam roof to be installed. We're storing tools under it now since its dry.

This morning Joe was away closing up his families' camp up in the islands with his brother, which gave me a chance to do a little cleaning up and organizing. I stickered some lumber that needs to dry a bit before being painted, cleared a storage space for our immanent window delivery, and prepped the next round of fly rafter for shaping and painting. In other words, I tried to organize a bit in order to keep things moving smoothly with oncoming work.

Joe showed up in the early afternoon and we continued cleaning and organizing for the next round of work (the roof rafters over the main part of the house). We then laid into completing the remaining kneewalls along the east side of the main part of the house. The weather has been chilly - in the 30's during the day and there's snow all around on the mountain tops. We'll take cold any day over cold and wet.

By the way, I'm pretty wrapped up in this whole process and if any of what I'm describing doesn't make sense, please feel free to write a comment or an email and I'll be happy to try to clarify things. If you want to write a comment, just choose "Name/URL" and enter your name. You don't have to have a URL address.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Roofing begins

Joe and I got the rafters over the kitchen in place at the end of last week. Yesterday we put in the blocking and fly rafters to create the 2' overhang at the gable end of the roof. The fly rafters are the short rafters that extend out from the end of the gable wall, creating a sort of ladder up the edge of the roof. With these in place we were able to install the rake board trim and then start installing the rough sawn 1x6 lumber that will be seen from below when looking up at the roof overhang. With the snow this morning, working was a bit of a challenge since we were pretty much wet and cold all day. A little warmer or a little cooler would have helped, but rain in the 30's is not fun. Suffice to say we enjoyed the hot meal Nance heated up for us for lunch along with a cup of hot cider.

The work we've done the last couple of days sets us up to sheath the roof over the kitchen and then move onto the main roof. That'll mean we're back to cutting rafters and working out the intersection between the two roofs. I'm psyched to do work this stuff out. Lets hope for some dry weather and sunshine. Getting the roof over the kitchen is perfect timing as our window order is scheduled to show up late Thursday or early Friday and we need to be able to insure they are kept dry. The roof will be a big help.


This morning we woke up to our first snow of the season.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Roof Rafters

Friday Joe and I got the roof rafters in place over the kitchen. It went smoothly and they look great. Being able to see the shape of the roof over the kitchen area helps tie everything together and gives the high roof area something to help proportion the whole as a unified entity.

Having a series of rafters together lets us begin to see the alliteration of the rafter tail detail. In other words the fun of the rafter detail begins to show when you see them in a line. Once the house it done, you'll be able to look up and see the rafter tails from below and I am particularly excited about this detail. It's a little rustic, camp-ish, but it'll be painted and a little more on the formal end of rustic. I just love the play of rafter tail design too much to cover it up with a formal sofit. The last photo shows one flying rafter coming out of the gable end through the notch. There will be one of these in each notch and these will create the overhang on the gables.

Some of these rafter weigh a ton. They are a mix of hemlock and pine and the green hemlock weigh a lot. As usual, we figured out a step-by-step way to get them up there, but it took a little umph each time.

Happily, we received a call from our window supplier, Thermotek, yesterday to tell us that our windows will be arriving next week. This is great news and the timing is perfect, as we really should have had our order in earlier then we did around September 1st. Our doors arrived yesterday.

Next up, roof sheathing over the kitchen and continuing on the roof framing of the large part of the house.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

East Gable Wall-The last

We've been seeing great flocks of geese flying south. (Click on the first photo and you'll see the line of them across the sky).

Since the last post, we raised the kneewall along the west edge of the second floor (seen in the last photo above). Today we put up the last of the three gable walls (over the kitchen on the second floor), which is the last exterior wall of any serious magnatude; we have partial kneewalls to fill in once the roof framing take shape, but that'll be quick fill-in stuff. So, this means we are effectively onto building the roof, and to that end we put up a pair of rafters at the end of the day on the lower roof over the kitchen. It feels like we're turning a corner where we'll soon be done with all the framing and moving onto the next phase, which will be the trim, siding, windows and doors--but we're not there yet. The roof is it's own project and will offer some interesting challenges to make the roof framing come together correctly. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 5, 2009


My Aunt Ruthie, in Maine, wrote a note asking me to explain what "kneewalls" are, so I did up a little drawing in Sketch-Up to try to make it clear. Basically they are the walls that connect the gable end walls along the sides of the house that the rafters all land on. They support the roof. They can be any height, but are usually fairly low, so I think the term kneewall comes from the fact that they are generally around the height of -you guessed it- your knees. I guess that would make our walls "chestwalls". The lower the kneewall is, the sooner you bump your head into the ceiling as you walk towards it. With our extra thick roof lowering the ceiling, I wanted to maintain a reasonable amount of useful space under the eaves of the roof, so our kneewalls are 4'-6" high.

The orange band in the drawing shows the kneewall along the second floor west wall. The blue bands represent the first and second floors.

Siding details

Joe had to deal with some stuff around home today so we ended up taking the day off, which I was fine with. It gave me a chance to putter and take care of some neglected tasks. Part of what I did was play around with the siding detail along the rake of the roof. If you read the last post you'll know we were struggling with the height of the house; one way to visually lower things is to add a frieze along the rake. The frieze is the horizontal band that runs under the rafters across the top of the wall.

I did a couple of mock-ups. The photo above shows about a foot of the frieze to give me a sense of the size and how I'd want to change it. If we go ahead with this detail, imagine the wooden parts running leftwards in a line to the back corner, under the rafters.

The first version I built up was clearly too short and the shelf went way too far out. This is shown in this photo(click on photos for a better view):
The next version extends further down the wall and brings the shelf in a bit. Its better, but I think the shelf needs to be even smaller and the band that the shelf support lands on should be not so wide.

Nancy has long been advocating for some detail that would liven up the exterior and I think this may serve that goal. I've been sort of in favor of a more austere look, but I'm finding that the prospect of doing all this detail stuff is really fun.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

C'est bon

Yesterday, after some delay while affixing the sunburst and surrounding clapboard, we stood up the second gable wall. It was a dramatic moment as the scope of the house really has begun to take form. Event though the rest of the roof still needs to be built, you can now envision the form. As soon as the wall was up we launched into building the kneewall and worked until dusk when it was nearly completed.

Since the first gable wall went up we've been grappling with the height of the house. Having lived in the yurt for many years and only having the low garage to compare to, the house seems quite tall. At first I was nonchalant about this, but after the second wall went up yesterday, something gave and my confidence broke. We spent much of last evening, and some time in the wee hours, anguishing over it and imagining what our course might be. By morning I had devised a means to lift and cut the two gable walls in order to lower the whole second floor kneewall height. I also decided it would be useful to call Harrison"Snapp" Snapp of Weather Hill Company, who lives nearby and is a friendly guy, to get some experienced perspective. Weather Hill's stock-in-trade is doing historical building well, so I knew he'd be able to see it as both a builder and someone who is tuned into proportion and detail. As luck would have it, he and his wife Valerie were headed out of town for vacation but were able to stop by and look things over with us. Snapp was able to reassure us that we're doing fine and that the proportions work. Beyond that, they were able to suggest ways that we might treat the siding such that the large area of clapboard along the upper west wall might come down a bit, or appear slightly lower, with a freize board.

I now need to do some work to see what will look good before we start on the siding.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Although I never drew it in the plans, I've been toying around with the idea of doing some sort of sunburst or decorative element in the triangle of the south gable. Looking at the wall yesterday I decided to go ahead with a triangular frame with a sunburst pattern inside.

This morning I launched right into it and a few hours later it came together. It'll be interesting to see it once the wall is standing, but from looking at it on the flat I think it came out really well. Once this little project was complete we installed a bunch of clapboard siding up through the gable so we won't have to do it from the ground once the wall is raised, which will happen tomorrow morning.

The circular piece of wood is from an unused bee hive part I made from northern Vermont cedar, and the "upside-down necktie" piece at the center of the sunburst if from an old wooden dresser that Nancy and I took apart last spring. I saved the nice pieces of wood and this once was a suitable width and thickness, so we just went for it. Its fun to think that a piece of wood that lived for many many decades in a old wooden dresser is now living a new life as the keystone to a sunburst on a house built in 2009.