A chronicle of Mike and Julia's adventures creating a home on the Missouri range...

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Raising the roof

     A week before Thanksgiving our house looked like the above images, framed out roof with bottom fascia attached, about... oh.... one month behind schedule. Daytime temperatures were between 15-35 degrees the week leading up to this point, Mike had left to begin work in NYC, and I was beginning to feel a bit hopeless and worn down from weeks of pushing hard to get it even to this point. Enter: my super family. I suspect that my parents and sister possess the same "fool-hardy determination" DNA that I have that seems to lend itself to giant DIY home projects, because we all gravitate to them in a big way. And my sister's handy boyfriend Danny? This is the second major Jack-Scott family home-renovation project that he has been coerced into, so I suspect by now he knows full well what he is getting himself into with my sister, or rather her family. But if he thinks she is worth clambering around on a steeply pitched roof in below-freezing weather until he can no longer feel his extremities, then we think he is worth her... and she is pretty awesome.

     So in short, for a week, my parents, sister Emily and Danny all helped me get our roof ready for the final layer of metal to go on. First we had to lay down our 2" rigid foam board, tape the seams, and staple tar paper over top. After that was down, we screwed in oak furring strips parallel to all the rafters. These provide an air gap between the metal and rigid foam board so that air entering the bottom eaves (there will be some grill-type material so mice/birds do not get in... hopefully) can move up to the ridge cap, which allows the air to pass back out, keeping the whole roof assembly cool in winter. If it gets too warm from hot air in the house rising and leaking out, then you get roof snow melting into ice, and forcing itself under the roof, into walls, and generally reeking havoc. Hence, the extra step. On top of the oak furring strips, we ran 2x4s perpendicular, every 2 ft. up to the ridge. As they went on, we could use them as a ladder, working our way up to the top. Their actual purpose is to fasten the metal roofing onto, and level out any minor inconsistencies in the levelness of the rafters below.

     As the days went by, the weather started warming up, so that by Thanksgiving day, we could be outside comfortably (thirty-forty degrees?) We took the day off to cook and spend time with our neighbors at the Possibility Alliance, where we experienced a true Thanksgiving potluck feast. Turkey, duck, chicken, venison, mincemeat pie, a dozen vegetable, mushroom and grain dishes, homemade bread, butter, cheeses, preserves, pickled things, deviled eggs, on and on... ALL raised/grown/gathered from the land! Even the "cranberry sauce" was substituted by a very tasty wild autumn olive sauce. Our community tradition is to spend a few hours walking the land, giving thanks for all of the abundance we receive from it, and with such a feast to be had, it is not a stretch to feel in touch with such gratitude. After the walk, we had all cleared appropriate room for the many pies, cookies, whipped cream (from Leila the cow) to follow. Candlelight from handmade beeswax candles lit the whole affair, and as the night went on, stories, singing, instruments came out and more friends stopped in to visit. I love Thanksgiving in general, and this year felt even more special somehow. I suppose it's because both Mike and I have a lot to be thankful for, between Mike's recovery from a serious accident and the fact that we have received SO much support from our families and community in our home building efforts. What a year!


      And the support was not to end yet! A few days later, our roof was fully ready for the metal to go on. We finished on the last night by flood light (run by generator) in the dark. My parents and Danny had to return the next day, leaving my sister and I to the metal roofing, which had arrived just in time. Mike and I had decided on a standing-seam metal roof, because it would be easy to install (haha), relatively affordable, and we could collect drinking water in a cistern from it, and oh, it is pretty darn long-lasting. We reasoned that we want our roof to be functional as long as possible before being replaced, and while asphalt shingles are much cheaper and easier, they last only 15-20 years before hitting the landfill. On the other hand, a slate single roof that lasts multiple centuries was a bit out of our price range, hence the second best option: standing seam. My grandparent's old farm house has a standing seam metal roof that has been around for their entire lifetimes and still going strong with only periodic need for repainting. Ours came with a forty year guarantee on the baked-on paint finish, with hopefully many more years after that once repainted. As for the color? We actually had an instantaneous agreement for once in the entire building process... burgundy. Settled. I ordered the metal and it came, and then I started worrying... what if we got down to the last piece and we were short still? What if I didn't order enough? Or the lengths I ordered were too short? Plagued with such anxieties, I was not sleeping very well at the time. It felt like the next few days were going to make or break something. Probably our bank accounts since it would be an expensive mistake if I mismeasured. And only one way to find out for sure.

        Okay, never fear, everything works out for the best, usually, and our roof was no exception. Turns out our wonderful Amish neighbor Jake called in two of his talented young sons (of a fleet of six, all exceptionally good at building and such) to help with the project... he foresaw that we would need backup. Smart man. We did. Joe and Amos took to the roof like mountain goats--while Danny and I had been moving slowly and cautiously around up there, maintaining three points of contact at all times, not to mention wearing safety harnesses, Joe and Amos would run up and down the purlins, dangle half off the ridge ends, or straddle the ridge as you see in the above photo. As one of them told me, "well, in the spring, when I've been off a roof for the winter, I am a little slower up there, but then I get used to it after a few weeks and its nothing." Yeah... that's how I am in the spring too.

      Anyhow, we all made a good team. Emily and I were mostly on the ground custom cutting each weird notchy triangular piece for the dormer, while the boys ran around up top. Jake slowly chipped away at the massive inconvenience of the dormer and all its trimming. (See that small little triangular protrusion on the one side? It single-handedly turned this from a one day to a two long day project. Think twice before popping one of those suckers in your building plans!) But it came together. The weather was cooperating beautifully, with balmy temps in the fifties and no rain. As we were closing in on the finish the second day, the most amazing sunset lit the low hanging clouds ablaze in pinks and oranges, which was good, because we needed as much light to finish as possible. It ended an hour later, in darkness, with the lightest/youngest guy wearing a headlight being lowered by rope down the side of the last panel, screwing in the last little piece. Thank God. Hallelujah. The next day, temperatures plunged thirty degrees in almost an hour and stayed low, we got our first snow flurry a day or two later. In those next few days, Emily and I did the most insane close-up-camp sprint you can imagine (with help from saints in our community who braved the freezing cold to come out and help us) and then we were on the road headed east. A week sitting in hot tubs at Myrtle Beach in the company of our wonderful aunt and uncle thawed out all of our frozen bits and aching muscles. I guess it doesn't take much to bounce back to new. Still, I am glad I don't have to face our house again for another season. May it still be there, standing, when we come back!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Roof framing

Mike pegging in the ridge poll ahead of the first rafters going up

        For the last few weeks we have been working almost every workable hour of every day, rain or shine. Make that the last month. This definitely constitutes "the final push". For that reason, I am sorry to be a few weeks behind on my posts, and I am rewinding somewhat to get caught up to the present moment!

      Framing out the roof has been a challenge to say the least. It has been the union of square, dimensional roof planes and factory milled boards to our curvy, irregular round-wood timber frame. Imagine if you will what would happen if an uptight, orderly banker-type had an arranged marriage to a free-spirited, woodsy folk artist-type. The union would not go smoothly, without a modicum of frustration and struggle, and neither has our roof framing. 

Julia notching wall plates so that rafter birdsmouths will have a seat to rest on

      Mostly, we have had to figure out how to define level and square within our long, curvy wall plate timbers. Typically, in a conventionally framed house, you are working with straight and level 2x6 or 2x4 wall plates that run the perimeter of the walls. The rafters each get a little notch called the "birdsmouth" that keeps it from wanting to slide off the top of the wall plates, and the birdsmouth is notched at exactly the same place on each rafter, screwed or nailed into the wall plate and a perfectly level and consistently pitched roof is achieved. Wah-la. But not so with our  wall plates. Fifty-some individual notches in our timbers at varying depths later, I can say with some certainty that ease of roof framing is not one of the advantages of round-wood timber framing. Perhaps we should have stuck with roundwood rafters and embraced a curvaceous roof line. But since we are putting on a metal roof, we needed something really, really straight. 

Mark and Mike installing the first rafters

     Thankfully, we have had some really great hired help for a few weeks in the form of our friend Mark and his brother Kent, both very skilled builders of a more conventional type. Mike worked the ridge poll, I notched the wall plates, trying to keep ahead of the rafters as they processed down the length of the building, one by one. Kent manned the cutting the station on the ground and Mark up along the wall plate. And somehow, it mostly has worked, with a minimum of undulation along the roof line (nothing a few shims couldn’t take care of anyhow). We got the last of the rafters in just as Mike had to depart early for his early migration east. Thanks to his Dad Sam, who came out to help us for a few days, we also got the last of our pegs in, thus officially completing the timber frame portion of our building. It looks beautiful, for all of the occasional frustration it has caused us. I think I would still choose to build this way, if I had it all to do over again, but, well, let’s hope that’s not anytime soon. 

      At this point, Mark and Kent and I have framed out a finicky little gable dormer in the center of the south roof side, we have our sub-facia and facia boards attached to trimmed rafter tails, and we are preparing for our final week of roof work. I am wearing down stamina-wise and budget-wise at this point, and each day gets a little harder to get through as the temperature drops and working conditions are less than ideal. Far less. What I wouldn’t give for another month of September. But thankfully, my wonderful family is coming in to reinforce me and help me get through the last hurdle—the roof purlins and metal. As my sister Emily said to me on the phone the other day, “don’t worry Jules, the cavalry is coming…. ” An alternative Thanksgiving gathering is in the works, and for that I am most thankful!

Mike pegging braces and jowls into wall plates

Mike's dad Sam came to help us for a few days, here planing down pegs

      So I am preparing all the ingredients here—rigid foam boards (expensive!) oak nailing strips, purlins, tar paper, plenty of fasteners, and oh, the roof metal. The single most expensive purchase of my lifetime so far and I had to pay in cash to a local Amish distributor, thanks to my checkbook run prematurely dry. Imagine the funny interaction between his sweet, polite wife laden with small babes and I, as I nervously passed her a very fat envelope to give to her husband, out hunting or something. Me: “Uh… could you make sure he gets this? It is important.” Her: “Oh yes… (as she checks it)… oh my! Yes, that’ll be fine.” The Amish are a rather understated, even-tempered bunch who rarely demonstrate emotion in word or facial expression so it can be a bit hard to read them sometimes. Still, I think that was Amish for surprise. 

      One final note—thanks to our neighbor Beth, we have been tiny house-sitting for the last few weeks, and thus, staying quite warm and cozy on these freezing nights. Two years ago she was doing her own mad-house-building-marathon as I recall, so it is nice to be reminded that it really does end at some point, with a beautiful and cozy place to call home as a result. Home, sweet home... here we come!