Playing with Fire

After getting the house closed up, the next task to be done was to install our woodstove. It has been said that at least in a cold climates, the woodstove is the engine of the entire modern homestead. An efficient and well-built wood burner does so much more than just heat your home and its importance cannot be overstated. A well outfitted woodstove can cook your food, dry your clothes, dry your food, heat your home and heat your water.
20180224_154128.jpgAfter using a Jotul 602 exclusively for a few years (albeit in a 330 square foot cabin) I chose to select the same model for our barnhouse. Though technically undersized for our structure (the 28,000 btu Jotul 602 is capable of heating up to 800 sq feet and our barnhouse is 1200 sqft including the upstairs), it hasn’t struggled the least bit in heating our super insulated (6″-11″ of insulation in the walls) passive solar barnhouse once it was finished being insulated. There is no insulation between the upstairs and downstairs, which allows the warm air to make its way upstairs without issue. I wasn’t sure at first if it would put out enough heat so I had a 66,800 btu stove on stand by that would could step up and switch out if we needed to, but we never needed it.

Installing a stove is not a simple task and it is certainly not an undertaking that should be done on a whim. Clearances, roof penetrations, system layout and components need to be checked and double checked to insure a safe, water tight and efficient system. Though I detest most building code, (both their substance and their principle) structure fires are a real and serious concern. I have installed a couple of woodstoves before and precisely followed all setbacks from combustibles. We were lucky to get some help from friends Anthony and Brian, which helped us power through the install and get the fire going in less than a day. The first step was to check and recheck all the measurements to get the exact location of the woodstove ensuring it was not only centered in the house but as close to the back wall as safely possible. Next we had to transfer that location up through the second floor using a plumb-bob (or a string with a weight on it).

Once I was confident in my measurements I cut a hole through the floor to allow for the support box to be installed. Installing the support box was a breeze. I slid it into the hole until it hung down far enough for my liking, had a helper ensure it was level and plumb and then secured it with a 2×4 box and some screws.

With the ceiling support box in place, I could then transfer that point again up to the roof with a string line or a long level. The easy part complete, we could now move on to cutting a hole in the roof, which I painstakingly installed months earlier. This step was very difficult, as it was very tight between the joists. We resorted to very primitive techniques to cut away both the sheathing and metal roof, including but not limited to sawzalls, angle grinders, chisels and claw hammers.

After what felt like hours we had a roughly oval hole in my roof that allowed my stove pipe to stand straight up. I built a 2×10 box to support the rafter I had to cut and moved onto the roof.

While the helpers did a supply run to grab an overlooked adapter (the part that goes directly from the stove to black uninsulated pipe) I strapped in and climbed onto the roof carrying 6 feet of triple insulated chimney pipe. I was able to drop it down the freshly cut hole and have wren hold the interior sections so I could spin the top ones and lock them together. I went to secure the boot (a cone like piece that waterproofs the hole in the roof) and immediately knew we had a problem. The 80$ piece that I had already cut to fit the diameter of the stove pipe was too small to cover our carefully cut (though admittedly ragged) hole. After looking online I realized they made a slightly larger one that would still fit our pipe but hopefully cover more area of the roof. Disappointed I wasted a $80 part, I ordered the replacement and hoped it wouldn’t rain until it came. I also measured how high the pipe needed to penetrate above the roof for proper clearance and confirmed I would need to order a support bracket for it. I temporarily attached the top cap and climbed down.

When Brian and Ant returned we were able to install the black stove pipe to the stove and complete the install (at least temporarily). The first fire was a joy to start and sleeping in the house when it was above freezing was a novel and empowering feeling. Everyone stayed warm enough considering much of the roof was still uninsulated, as was one of the walls.

Over all it went well, though we ran into some problems. In hind sight I should’ve held the boot up to the hole in the roof before I cut it then I would have realized it wouldn’t fit, returned it and not lost $80 bucks. I also should’ve changed my rafter spacing when framing to account for the stove pipe and then I wouldn’t have had to cut it. A week or so later I replaced the boot with one that was big enough to cover the hole, installed the support bracket and siliconed the whole set up which brought the install to a close.

 

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Windows and Doors

After the south siding was put up, our next step was to finally close in the house with windows and doors! For more exciting details on window selection check out this pinned post on Passive Solar. The first thing we learned about windows was that they are EXPENSIVE. Even with vinyl windows it ended up being way over budget to outfit our tiny barnhose with windows and a door.

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Wren admiring her handy work, or about to stab me. Who knows?

We picked out the biggest standard sized windows we could fit between the knee braces and put em all on the ol 2% cashback credit card. We were able to bring most of the windows down the driveway in the pickup during a winter thaw (which don’t seem so rare anymore). Which was a blessing, and started the whole process off easily. Though it was a bumpy nerve-racking ride, our padding and strapping kept any windows from breaking. As a whole, the window installation process ended up being one of the easiest and pleasant aspects of the build.

The first step is to double check the rough openings (ROs) and make sure they are within spec (I built them, so they better be). Next we would tape the seams using special window tape that would prevent water from entering the wall cavity if it got behind the window. This was tricky to do, as we were often working in temperatures in the teens. We would bring caulking, spreyfoam, and window tape in soft sided insulated cooler. Before heading to the site we boiled water and put the hot water into containers inside the cooler. First we used ball jars but after one broke we switched to aluminum screw top beer “bottles.” After scoring some of these from our best friend (shout out to Pono’s Redemption Center in West Bath Maine) the system worked extremely well. The screw top aluminum cans are cheap (free), reused, and durable. This set up kept the tape pliable and sticky, though we would still have to hit it with the heat gun to really get it to adhere to the cold wood.

Once taping was done we would unwrap the window and do a dry fit. If the window fit, we’d pull it down and run a nice long thick bead of calking all along the inside edge of the nailing fin. ***Wren was actually quite offended by me using the term “bead,” borderline outraged even. She felt the words “stripe”,”strip”, or “line” would be more appropiate, as the word “bead” is traditionally used to describe something small and round like a sewing bead, bead of water, or front site bead of a gun for instance. Attempting to reassure her by reminding her (repeatedly) that I personally did not come up with the term nor popularize it’s usage had no affect. Even pointing out it’s use in multiple This Old House episodes (the most prestigious and unsullied of sources) still fell on deaf (but admittedly cute) ears. Eventually she got tired of me not conceding and responded with her classic concession, “Well that’s dumb.” This conversation ending response is often reserved for instances where she believes she has failed to change my mind or my opinion. The reality that it is not actually MY opinion, but merely a generally excepted fact or just the way the world IS, does little to stifle her incredulous indignation. Other instances of this phenomenon include: her discovering 2×4’s were not actually 2 inches by 4 inches, or that you can’t get sheet goods like plywood in different sizes (as they only come in 4ftx8ft sheets.) She even reacted the same way when told that standard wood stove operation calls for the flue/damper to be closed once the house is up to temperature and the stove is burning nicely, or that you can’t just power household appliances directly off of solar panels but you also need a battery bank and an inverter.***

With the window caulked with a nice bead of caulking around the nailing fin,(after a few good caulk jokes of course) I’d lift it into the opening and she would run inside and check that it was equally spaced, plumb, and level. We used plastic, break-off shims (so much better than wooden ones) to level the window and once we were happy with how it sat, we nailed it with galvanized roofing nails through the nailing fin. Finally we’d scrape off excess caulking that squeezed out and tape the outer seams. After some practice we were able to install a window from bare rough opening to final taping in less than an hour. It was a step in the process that I think in hind sight we had built up to be much harder then it turned out to be. We were very surprised at how quick and easy it went.

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The only hiccups: One window just seemed too low for me, I would constantly want to crouch one inch or so to look down and out of it and even then, I could only see the ground. I am not a tall man (5′ 11″) but it just felt like it needed to sit higher. Wren was fine with it, and though shes only a few inches shorter than me, I think that’s all it took. Instead of redoing the entire opening we pulled the window out, un-screwed the header and moved it up a foot. We were then able to replace the window with one the same width but a foot taller which made all the difference! Also, the two upstairs southern windows ended up being slightly too high and the view was obstructed by the soffit. We picked up on it before installation so it was easy to fix this: I simply cut out the sill and screwed it to the header doubling it up. This allowed the window to sit directly on the beam beneath it, effectively moving the window down two inches (these were rough cut 2×6’s so they were ACTUALLY 2 inches thick!).

To get enough southern glass for passive solar we needed to ensure our southern door allowed for solar heating as well as our windows. The first option we looked at was a French door. It was beautiful, had great specs and would’ve worked perfect in the space and I was extremely excited for it…until I got the price quote back from the manufacturer: $2600! That is a TON of money to spend on one door in a house that cost less than 20 grand (not counting the foundation).

The boss never wanted a French door to begin with, and preferred the space saving attributes of a sliding glass door (I had always thought sliding glass doors were hillbilly, backwards, cheesy and a relic of the 80’s) but after the quote came back at $800 for a sliding glass door that gave us 38 sq feet of good (SHGC of 0.54 )southern glass, we couldn’t say no. However, the slider arrived when we were snowed in (or snowed out I should say). Unfortunately, The pickup truck slid down our hill and got stuck half way down the driveway on the ice during an empty transport test run. I was lucky to get it out after a few hours of come-a-longing. This resulted in a VERY sketchy solo transport operation racing an impending storm. I slid the 800$ sliding glass door down my 300 foot extremely steep icy driveway in two pieces strapped to a jet sled and then man handled it into the house shell. Somehow nothing broke, besides my nerves.

A few days later we installed the door just like a giant window and just like that, we were weather tight!! At first the door did not slide well and the rollers needed to be adjusted with a screw, unfortunately a critical nut had fallen out of the door when I disassembled it for transport, and I called Pella who sent me a new one quickly. Before it came I happened to find the nut in our kindling box and got the door sliding sexy in no time at all. Considering the place is lacking insulation in key areas, we have been impressed with its ability to hold heat so far!

Southern Charm

After getting the wall sheathing up on the North, East, and West sides of the barnhouse, the next part of the build was to button up the shell and get it truly closed in. This meant lots of time spent on our south side which is key to the build because of the barnhouse’s passive solar design. A passive solar house gains some or all of it’s heating needs purely from the sun. This is due to smart design, orientation, and materials selection. Besides being limited by the timber frame kits footprint (20×30) we had full freedom to design the barnhouse in a way to utilized the free energy from the sun. Check out this pinned post on passive solar design.

The kit comes with shiplap siding (that we also used as flooring on the second floor) that can be oriented vertically or horizontally.  After consulting with the boss on esthetics she choose to run the shiplap vertically (kind of has more of a barn look to it).
After lots of window shopping (literally) and planning we finally settled on window selection and layout for the all important southern side. We framed them all out and then got started closing it all in. First we put up a vapor barrier. We were able to skip sheathing due to our timber frame’s knee braces providing all the side-to-side racking support we needed. However, once the vapor barrier was put up, we needed to quickly get the south wall sided. Without siding over it or sheathing under it for support, the vapor barrier was at risk from tearing in the wind.

 

Luckily, I had some family visiting from Florida (in the dead of winter no less!) so in between sliding and playing in the snow we were able to help get the siding up rather quickly. Once the first piece of siding was put up plumb and at the correct height the rest fell into place rather nicely. If a piece covered a window, I would put it up and trace the outline of the window framing onto the inside, allowing me to cut the windows out easily. When a piece was bowed we would use a large 6ft pipe clamp to either the corner of the house or a window opening to squeeze it into compliance before nailing. A cordless nailgun was convenient for the task but as discussed in other posts it’s unreliability forced me to return it and I ended up finishing the job with my trusty Numax nailer.

Visiting with my Aunt and Uncle as well as meeting my cousin’s kids was awesome. It’s always great to see family and get a helping hand along the way. My warm-city second cousins Charlie and Sophia, were amazed by our shell of a home and were filled with questions and disbelief. After explaining our bathroom situation (composting toilet and rain/creekwater sourced shower and sinks) Charlie asked us, “Can you guys just get a real bathroom?.”

Foam Frustrations

Once the floor was up, it was time to focus on sheathing the house. I had already enclosed some of the easy parts when I had random time periods in-between other jobs but it now was time to fully enclose the barnhouse, before installing windows and doors.

When looking into vapor barriers and sheathing I was surprised to learn about a new way of building that was slowly becoming standard practice; exterior foam sheathing. In this technique, a layer (or two) of rigid foam is applied to the outside of the home before siding it. This effectively increases the thickness of your wall (and the total R-value) without having to step up the thickness of the wall framing itself. For instance with this technique you can easily achieve a 8inch thick r31 insulated wall while only using 2×4’s, instead of stepping up to 2×8’s which are significantly more expensive. When using this technique you do need to carefully tape your foam seams, stagger them, build out any window/door openings with plywood boxes, and ensure you are using ENOUGH foam. Too little foam can actually cause the condensation point to occur inside your wall cavity to become trapped. The foam also acts as extra air and moisture sealing to achieve a tighter home.

Most homes are sheathed with OSB (Oriented Strand Board) which is a type of flake board. Cheaper than plywood, it is the industry standard for both roof and wall sheathing. Many people don’t realize this OSB sheathing also acts as the support to prevent racking of the building (side to side movement). In my case (with a timber framed structure) I don’t need this extra support as my knee-braces already provide all the support needed to keep the structure square. Because of this, many timber framers skip sheathing all together and attach a vapor barrier directly to the framing followed by their siding (this is what I intend do on the south wall). On the North, East, and West walls I will skip the vapor barrier all together and just use two layers of 2inch exterior foam sheathing (which can act as a vapor barrier if installed carefully).


I was able to score some fall-off-the-truck 2 inch expanded polystyrene (EPS/Bead Board) for an amazing price but to be honest installing the foam was a pain in the ass. It works well as entire sheets but as soon as you need to cut it, you discover that it actually turns into Satan’s Snow. I’ve tried utility knives, hand saws, circular and table saws (with the blades oriented both forward AND backwards) yet nothing prevents a cloud of sticky snow-like foam debris from covering you and everything around you. In addition to cutting difficulties, installing multiple staggered layers of foam sheathing is labor intensive to say the least.


The first layer of foam was put on using framing nails and plastic cap/washers from left over roofing nails. This just temporarily tacks them up until the second and final layer can sandwich them on. Once the first layer is up, and nailed enough so it wont get ripped off the housebarn by wind, we tape the seams. After some exhaustive clinical studies of tape effectiveness we found that duct tape (like real duct tape…for ducts) worked extremely well. It beat out 3m duck tape, packing tape, and even gorilla tape. After taping seams the second layer was installed, and the remaining gaps and seams were either spray foamed or taped.

The second layer goes on staggered (I usually just would start on the other side of the building for the second layer and it would result in the seams landing staggered). Horizontal nailer boards (furring strips) were then bolted through the foam, into the beams and framing inside to hold the foam on. The vertical siding will attach directly to the nailer boards. I soon found that securing the second foam layer required some large fasteners as they needed to penetrate the 3/4″ thick nailer board, 4 inches of foam and still sink deep enough into the framing to hold. Because finding 7 inch screws that were affordable proved to be a challenge (until I could come up with something better) I started just using the left over 8″ timberlock lag bolts that came with my kit. They ended up working really well and after some research I found out they were actually the cheapest option I could find so I just ended up using those for the entirety of the project. Hitting 2x framing on the inside through 4 inches of foam with an 8 inch bolt was a little tricky and we had a few misses. But once we got the hang of it, it was one of the quickest parts of the sheathing process. We had a few friends show up to help as well as camp out, so they got to share in the abundant joy of cutting eps foam as well as check out the progress.

Once all the foam was installed the house felt much warmer and more secure, even though the entire south wall was still open. Because of the shear amount of windows and doors on the south wall I decided not to foam-sheath it. Building out window boxes with plywood, and cutting foam around windows is extremely labor and time intensive. Besides that, if we increased our wall thickness on our south side, the overhang of the roof would be dangerously small. I am a huge believer in large overhangs and was able to increase them on the east and west sides using fly/ladder rafters and the north side will have an attached garage which is essentially a giant overhang. But with no good way to increase the overhang on the south, and with the vast majority of windows being on that side we chose to forgo the extra thick walls there- but more on the south side in the next post.

Fortifying the Floor

Once the roof of the house was on, we took a well deserved break and dialed down the intensity on the build. The next project we tackled was a quick 2 day job, and one of the more enjoyable tasks of the build, installing the second floor flooring. My timber frame kit came with rough cut 1×10 pine boards for the upstairs floor. I was fine with that, until I really started to think about it. They would be fine for a true barn, but with us being barefoot upstairs, the floor was so rough you’d get destroyed by splinters. I decided to fix this problem by spending 300 dollars on a 12 1/2 inch thickness planer. I’ve always wanted one and was interested to see if my amazing Honda EU2000i Generator would be able to handle such a beast. The generator did great and would only trip the overload if you got too greedy with the planer and wanted to take off too much material at once.

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Ryler, the Desert Dog sporting her artic apparel while posing with my two favorite tools, the Honda EU200i geny and my Numax framing nailer.

 

Besides that fact, was the fact that the rough boards had no tongue and grove, or shiplap groove. This would mean that as the wood swelled and shrank, the gaps between them would allow dirt and debris to fall down through into the living/kitchen area down below. Defeated, I debated buying some tongue-and-groove or even buying a router. I quickly realized I was pretty much broke (after buying a new nail gun) and I didn’t want to take the time to plane and router groves into all the boards, so I decided to use some of the really finely planed shiplap siding that came with out kit, as our floor. It was smooth and had enough of an overlap that it would prevent things from falling through the gaps. After I ran it by the boss I started to wonder what I would do with all the rough milled “flooring.” After some thought, I decided I could use the rough flooring on the back of the house (as board and batten siding) where it wouldn’t be seen as much, underneath the soon to be built lean-to garage. This would make up for the amount I would use for flooring. Worried my beautiful side kick wouldn’t want mismatched siding I ran it by her, and found she could care less, especially since the board and batten would be inside the garage.

 

 

We also were faced with the fact that the nails that came with the kit would not work well for flooring either. They are what’s called Plastic Collated siding/roofing nails and though they worked great on the roof sheathing, they often exhibited “flagging.” Or the dreaded leaving behind of the plastic collation material. This would not leave a pleasant surface to walk on and is very time consuming to remove, sometimes having to use needle-nose pliers and taking a couple minutes per nail. Because of this, I wanted to use paper-collated nails but of course those are set at a different angle (33 Degrees) and would need a different nail gun than the one I currently owned. I initially thought about getting a Numax set at 33 degrees but also wanted to give a cordless-battery powered option a try. I went with the Dewalt cordless 33 Degree framing nailer, which can shoot paper nails. It is quite a handy little gun and impressed me with its power. It also can shoot an amazing amount of nails on one battery.

Once we had our materials and plan in place the floor went quick, with very little issues. It was a good activity to do together and was nice to work under the roof out of the weather for once. Wren did go rogue once and put a nail where she wasn’t supposed to but besides that, it looks great. We had much debate on if we should take the time to make a jig to ensure all the nails were evenly spaced. Wren was of course against it, and I was for it. I made a jig anyway and am happy I did, but in hindsight I’m sure it would have looked nearly as good if we did it free hand and would have definitely been faster.

I was worried the thin siding material would flex too much as it had a substantial amount of give. But once it was nailed to the joists, even a two hundred pound, tired, and homeless Italian man jumping up and down on the floor couldn’t make it budge. The cordless nailer worked well but after doing the floor with it, I have decided it was not worth it’s $400 price tag and am going to return it. Though quite reliable, it jams more often than my $90 Numax, and is a little funky in its weight distribution due to the battery, and struggles nailing through knots. All-in-all it is a great tool, but not for 400 dollars. I would definitely snatch one up for $200 though in the future if the prices ever come down. For now I will buy a Numax 30 degree nailer and if it works half as good as my 21 Degree framing nailer from them, it’ll be a great tool to add to the toolbox

A Roof Above Us

The next and arguably most important step of the build was to attach the metal roofing panels over the roofing underlayment. We went with ribbed metal panels instead of shingles for a multitude of reasons. For starters they last much longer than shingles, they are also superior for rain water collection (which will be our main source of water) as they have less chemical/mineral contaminants and harbor less bacteria. Lastly, they can be recycled or reused for many tasks around the homestead. Standing-seam metal roofing is the king of roofing but it has a much higher cost and requires specialty tools that we don’t have.

 

Before lifting the panels up onto the roof I made a marking-jig from a 1×4. Witness holes large enough to get a pencil into were drilled at 2 foot increments. The jig was laid on each panel and then used to mark a regular pattern. Once marked, the panel would then be predrilled for metal roofing screws. I have done metal roofs both with pre drilling and without, and found that predrilling not only made my life easier once perched on the roof, but created a much more uniform screw pattern.

 

The first problem I ran into was getting the panels up onto the roof, especially on days I was working alone. For this, I devised a harness that used a bent bracket as a hook, combined with a strap going around the panel width-wise. This harness could pull panels up straight, without fear of them kicking out at an angle and flying off the roof during a gust of wind. Once the panel reached the ridge I attached the harness to a ratcheting rope attached to the far side of the roof so I could do micro adjustments to the panels height.

 

Once the panel was checked for squareness and height, it was screwed down with a couple of screws to protect it from being ripped off the roof by a random gust of wind. Before completely screwing the panel down I would insert a foam gasket at both the top and bottom. The gasket is form fitted to the profile of the panels and help keeps out wasps, chipmunks and other critters. The harness was then removed and if I was lucky enough to be working with help that day, they would start marking and pre drilling the next panel, while I finished screwing down the one on the roof. Once completely fastened to the roof, the process was repeated over again.

I’ve done about half a dozen metal roofs and picked up a few tips and tricks along the way that made this one go up very quickly and efficiently:
•First off, an impact driver is a must have. I won’t even mess around with a drill/driver up on a roof anymore. It drives the screws much faster and penetrates the metal with less pushing on the drill. This is due to both the impact feature and the fact that a driver is much shorter than a drill. This puts your hand much closer to the screw allowing you to almost choke up on it, and really get your weight into it. If you are doing an entire roof and don’t own one of these suckers, buy one, borrow one, or last resort buy one from home depot and return it when you are done.
•A drill/driver holster is also a real life saver. Though they look dorky, they are much more effective than the stock hook that comes with most drivers. Being able to quickly drop the gun in and move is great, but the ability to clip the retention strap if you need to move a long distance or do something athletic really prevents accidental drops and keeps your equipment and ground crew safer.
•Having a sturdy pouch attached to your belt is much better and less painful than pockets, just make sure you can clamp it shut so screws don’t pour out while you’re doing athletic stuff. Typical fastener pouches lack this feature but I’ve found Tactical dump pouches work great. I already mentioned pre-drilling which is really a personal preference.
•Lastly, being roped in isn’t just a Safety Sally thing for me. Personally it makes me more confident and allows me to move quicker on a roof. It also lets me lean out on the rope and reach deep across panels to reach screws that I normally wouldn’t have the balance or balls to sink free-climbing.

 

After all the panels were up, I carried up our overlapping ridge caps and fastened those down, creating a nice water tight roof. Underneath the ridge cap I placed a safety tie-in bracket so I could continue to access the roof hooked-in. Once the ridge was placed over it, it was barely visible from the ground below. This will be useful for both repairs, and for when the wood stove pipe needs to be installed and cleaned.

 

Most days we were lucky to have my parents as a pre-drilling (and time saving!) ground crew. We also were blessed with a visit from my very helpful cousin Shane, our favorite dog Ryler, and our less favorite dog Aspen (all pictured above).

Protection from the Elements

Work on the barnhouse has slowed somewhat in the past month. More frequent rainstorms and a near deadly case of the “man cold” has made progress difficult, even with winter racing towards us. It is imperative that we finish the roof assembly before the onslaught of snow that is inevitable in our climate. The ample overhangs will provide us protection from the elements to safely finish the exterior walls and openings, even after first snow. On top of the rafters, the roof is comprised of 1″x8″ roof sheathing, synthetic underlayment (a tar paper alternative) and 22 metal roofing panels that are 13 and 1/2 feet long.

Installing the 1″x8″ boards for sheathing turned out to be much more time intensive than we predicted. In all, it took 4 full work days to complete once we got rolling, with quite a lot of time prior to figure out an efficient system. I found myself sheathing one whole side of the roof alone (when Wren had to work) and doing roof work solo presented all sorts of inefficiencies that slowed the process down. The best system I came up with involved lifting two boards up to the roof using pulleys, climbing up, cutting them in place (to land on a rafter), nailing them, measuring the gap left, and then having to climb down and cut a small (usually 16″-48″) corresponding piece on the ground to fill the gap. The next 2 long boards were hoisted up and the small piece was carried up with me and nailed up to finish the last row, before starting to lay down the next.

This resulted in the least amount of trips off the roof, up and down the ladder for me. I was clipped into a safety rope so climbing up and down and rehooking in every time was extremely time consuming. Some boards had a severe bow and had to be nailed where they were flush and then squeezed tight where they weren’t, to close the gaps before nailing. All of this takes twice as long when you are uncomfortable with heights on a 8/12 pitch roof. The seams also needed to be staggered which made it difficult to cut multiple pieces to one length assembly line style.

 


Once the sheathing was finally up it was time for the Ice and Water Shield. It is a very sticky membrane that is installed on the bottom 3 feet of the sheathing. It is designed as a last barrier for Ice Dams. It was extremely difficult to install alone in the heat and came out with quite a few wrinkles. In hindsight I should have precut the length I needed, rolled just that up on the ground and then unrolled it up on the roof. Working with the entire roll was heavy and tended to slide down and off the edge of the roof, leaving a sagging and wrinkly mess. It was an extra step and beyond what is required so it cant hurt.

Next up was roofing underlayment. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Jamaica Cottage Shop provided a synthetic underlayment (Grace Tri-Flex) instead of simple tar/felt paper. High winds made installation difficult and at times scary, once nearly ripping me and a roll of triflex off the roof. I was glad to have a synthetic material in this situation, as felt paper surely would have torn.

The underlayment was installed with plastic cap nails which require two hands to set. I wish I had come up with a clever way to install these nails one handed so I could’ve used the other to hold down underlayment, or hold onto my rope in tricky situations, but I hadn’t. Later research revealed that you can stick a blob of play-doh down, stick a nail into it, tap it to start it, remove the play-doh, then finish tacking the nail down. Wish I thought of that. The bottom few rows of nails were easy to install from the ladder and with Wren and I both tapping away it went quick,

Getting the underlayment installed marked a huge turning point for the project. Though the roof isn’t completely done until the roofing panels and ridge caps are installed, the barnhouse is now protected from the weather (at least from above)! Grace Triflex is approved to be uncovered on a roof for up to 6 months. I am not comfortable leaving snow on it, so I have decided to push forward and completely finish the roof before moving on to wall framing, insulation, siding, windows/doors, garage lean-to, heat, water, or electrical. Not to mention interior finishing or furniture (Damn that’s a lot of stuff left to do!)

Having only one person able to work on the roof created a huge bottleneck that in hindsight could’ve been avoided. Help from the ground is great and needed but has its limitations. If I were to do it all over again I would have asked around for help from someone who was comfortable on a roof and also invested in a caped staple gun (or invented a way to hammer in caped nails one handed). Both these changes would have cut my work time down to a third of what is was and reduced the stress on my nerves and body.

The next stage of building is installing the metal roofing panels. Finally something I’ve done before! Doing it on days I am alone will be a challenge (mainly getting the 13 1/2 foot panels up on the roof and holding them there long enough to get a few screws in them). But on days where I have a person on the ground with me I anticipate (perhaps naively) that it should go quickly!

 

Raising the Roof

The next task for the build was a tall order, literally. We needed to frame the roof which  involved lifting a 3-piece 2″x12″x30′ ridge beam up ten feet off the second floor, and attaching close to fifty rafters to it. After many failures on day one, and being rained out on day two, day three resulted in some great solutions and fast progress. First, roof sheathing (1-by boards) were thrown up to the second floor to create a temporary work station (they need to get brought up there eventually anyway). Next, two large 2″x6″x16’s were mounted vertically on either side of the gable ends, with the tops extending 2 feet above where the ridge would need to be. Pulleys were then bolted to the tops to make makeshift cranes. I got this idea from Tom Elpel’s book Living Homes where he describes a user friendly way to build log cabins utilizing a similar pole like crane. Once the ridge had the rafter layout marked, it was raised and rafters actually started to go up quickly.

 

Besides the pulleys, the other piece of equipment that really stood out was my nail gun. As the recent owner of a NuMax Framing Nail Gun I have been extremely impressed. When I stumbled upon it while researching nail guns (Bostitch vs Hitachi vs Dewalt etc) I thought it was almost too good to be true. It is highly reviewed at every single place it is sold! After pulling the trigger on it (no pun intended), I had planned to return it the second it did not live up to its  industry standard competitors, but that day never came. I have fired almost 5 thousand (rusty!) framing nails through it with only one jam. The jam was most likely a user error, as I had loaded a half clip into the magazine, right behind another half clip and had neglected to keep the gun pointed down while feeding. I had only ever used Bostitch nail guns in the past but so far this one seems to stack up. Though it is rather robust, it definitely is a little bit heavier than its more expensive brethren. Even though I cant speak to its long term reliability yet, this gun was half the price of its competitors, had a 4.5/5 Star average rating on amazon (with 630 Reviews), and has performed amazingly well. It is Wren’s new favorite tool and she has become a skilled rafter “toe-nailer”.

To power the nail gun at our off grid property, I run a Bostitch 6 Gallon Pancake Air Compressor off my Honda EU2000I Generator. The whole set up works exceptionally well, with the  compressor having no trouble keeping up with the gun and the generator having no trouble keeping up with the compressor.


For $190 total the compressor/gun team have already paid for themselves in time saved over pounding in nails by hand. Being able to hold, tweak or squeeze a board with one hand, while nailing with the other, makes all the difference. I am excited to get to the siding and see how much time the gun will save me at that stage.

One of the days I was working alone and installed nearly half of all the rafters. It was quite a challenge to do it singlehandedly but I used a few tricks to get them up to the ridge and secured in a fast and accurate manner. The main thing was to take some time initially to craft jig that acted as an extra set of hands. It consisted of a scrap board with a rafter sized notch cut out, it was clamped to the ridge, right where I wanted the rafter to go.


This worked great and held the rafters in place while I nailed them (again the nail gun was key here, pounding nails in by hand would have surely sent many of the joists tumbling back down.)

Once all the rafters were up, Wren and I installed the collar ties. I figured out how high they needed to go (as high up as I could, to maximize headspace), and temporarily screwed In two boards at that height across the rafters. These would serve as both an extra set of hands, and a repeatable reference to help create a level ceiling. Once we reached the end of these reference boards we simply unscrewed them and slid them down further, using the collar ties already up to reestablish the proper height.


Wren and I worked as a team nailing the collar ties up while passing the gun back and forth and that worked well. After these were all in place the next step was to install the fly rafters.

While we ran into some road blocks finding, assembling and attaching the fly rafters (pieces that create the gable end overhang), we made sure to accomplish some odd jobs so our days weren’t a complete wash. After deciding to push back the fly rafters to next weekend, we did some wall framing with 2x6s, framing out all the bays that would not have windows, and the one that has the door. The directions had our top nailer cut at 60″ (at a 45 degree angle) and wedged up between the knee braces. This measurement was unexplainably incorrect, so we picked our own. We utalized extra lumber to create nailers that were spaced more conveniently for insulation placement.

It was extremely fast and efficient with a nail gun and it went up quickly. I had forgotten how quickly stick framed walls can go up. Certainly not as fun as timberframing, but there is a certain practicality to stick framing that I had come to miss.

Lastly, we installed our first piece of high tech plumbing. We got the idea from Brad Lancaster, author of Rainwater Harvesting for the Drylands and Beyond. He calls this ingenious device The “Tippy-Tap”. It is comprised of merely a plastic bottle with a hole in the cap, pivot point (nail,dowel, or branch), a string, and a scrap piece of lumber.

Though simple, it works very well to clean your hands with minimal water. Wren couldn’t care less while I was explaining it, but as soon as she tried it she was impressed and even suggested we add a soap dish, which of course we did. After only one hand washing, she was converted. We needlessly washed our hands about 10 times to try it out and were pleasantly surprised by how little the water level dropped.

We will have to remember to set some up temporarily when camping or even permanently/seasonally near the Humanure compost pile, chicken coop, or garden beds. We may even paint the south part of the bottles black, to create solar heated hand washing stations.

Jumping for Joists

With all four bents up, we embarked on the task of tying them all together. The first step of this, was to put in all the floor joists. These should just drop into notches and then be tonailed in from the top later. This is one of the few aspects of the kit I was unhappy with. Nearly half of the floor joists were up to an 1/4″ of an inch too thick on one side and had to be painstakingly shaved down, to fit in the notches. To have this much run out so frequently was very disappointing and resulted in a lot of extra work. It took us a couple days just to get these all up, as very few of them dropped nicely in. On top of the dimensional setbacks, one of the giant 8″x12″x20′ beams had developed a slight bow. The kit had been sitting since February, and I was worried this could happen. It made it seem as if the joists on one side were short and on the other were too long, even though they were all the proper length.

After a lot of hammering and squeezing they all fell into place. We were lucky to have some help from my Cousin Phil, my parents and of course the steadfast Uncle Tony. Once all the joists were in, and we had a second floor (albeit a very dangerous one) it was time to put the tie beams up.

This involved lifting up six 8×8 mortised tie beams and seating them on tennons. These tie beams will be what the rafter tails will sit on. They are joined by half laps which are secured by timberloc screws from the top and a 3/4″ hickory peg in the front through the rear. After some serious head scratching we attached two pulleys to the tops of the two center bents. Rope ran from a tie beam at the bottom, to the pulley at the top and then down to the ground. We then made sure our two lines were even, and attached them to the winch on the ATV. My mom ran the winch, lifting the beam while my uncle and I guided the beam up to the second floor, manhandling it through the floor joists. Once there, we slid boards underneath it and backed off the winch. After that, we only had to lift each beam about 4 feet onto the tennon by hand, which wasn’t too bad.

Once the tie beams were up and attached, we breathed a sigh of relief. There was only 2-by material left to put up now, which meant no more heavy beams!

Our enthusiasm was quickly squashed; When sighting down the tie beams, it was evident that the entire building was bowed. The tops of both walls were crowned north, and after lots of yanking, pulling, and sledgehammer persuading it still wouldn’t budge. Finally, I decided to ratchet strap the center of the tops together so if one got pulled, it would draw the other in as well. I blocked the ATV’s tires and hooked up the winch to the building. I started winching, and even with the blocks, and me giving it throttle in reverse, it was still dragging the quad more than it was pulling the building. Next I attached a come-along to a log on the ground, pinned behind dirt piles and cranked that as tight as I could WHILE winching.

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Uncle Tony with the Rack Strap

Out of ideas I climbed up the second floor and excitedly saw the building’s bows were gone! The rope would need to stay attached until our knee braces were pegged, but for now the building was plumb and square.

Get Bent

Before raising bents on the second weekend we tackled lifting and installing the stair carry beams which support the stairs (well just a ladder for now). One or two tenons had to be shaved slightly but they all went together nicely. These beams would help square the structure and would keep the spacing between the bents. We lifted the 3rd bent on Saturday so quickly, we had time to put together the last one.

 


Three bents up and only one more to go. You can see the final bent assembled and propped up off the ground in the foreground.

On Sunday we began the process of raising the fourth and final bent. It is located on the east side of the house furthest from our lovely lifting oak. With each bent raised the task became more and more difficult due to the worsening angle. The hoisting point on our red oak could not be raised any higher due to the tree getting narrower and weaker further up. This created a situation where as we moved further and further away from the tree, our angle got lower and lower, reducing our vertical lift but increasing the horizontal pull. I attempted to combat this by using the previously assembled bents as the new hoisting point instead, but raising the new bent quickly pulled the others out of plumb and that plan had to be abandoned. Besides our lower angle, the last bent also had to be assembled and lifted off the ground instead of the slab. This meant we had to start lower than all the other bents and made the lifting even harder. Lastly we have a sink drain pipe (the only drain in the whole house) that was placed just in front of the center beam. This poor little guy was in constant danger of being crushed or snapped off. This meant we had to lift the bent completely in place with no margin for error. If it slid forward at all it would snap the pipe off and if it slid back at all it would fall off the slab. After trying many failed solutions throughout the morning the one that worked was having  3 people manually lift the bent, 1 person watch the pivot points and the pipe, and 1 person (me) running the chain fall.

Without people manually lifting the bent and getting it somewhat upright (changing the angle) our incredibly strong chain-fall would just drag our bent across the slab, crushing any sort of support we made and creep dangerously close to the pipe. The winning solution to keeping the pipe safe was to strap the bottom of the offending center post to the hitch of my uncle’s truck and pull it forward enough to keep tension on that post’s bottom. This prevented it from sliding forward but allowed the top to tip up nicely.

After half a dozen failed attempts the bent finally was standing upright and the only thing that got crushed was my nerves. One oddity was the north post of the bent was floating clear off the slab, our temporary bracing was so strong it kept the beam from settling. We put my mom on a strap, keeping the post from floating/pivoting off the slab while I removed the bracing. The post sat down in its place and all was well.

bent 4All Four bents up and braced. You can see how close the far center post is to our fragile pipe!

The center post had stayed away from the pipe but the strap we used to keep it that way was pinned underneath. I pulled out the car jack and cut a 2×4 to fit between the carjack the top beam. The jack quickly took enough weight off the post to remove the pinned strap. Eager to be done for the day, we braced the new bent to the others; prepped some materials for next week and were off like a dirty shirt (as Wranglerstar’s grandfather says).