Flooring

This post is long overdue, as well as some other posts. I saw the end to the home build in site and pretty much ran with it as fast as possible. On this day, May 20th 2016, the construction of the cabin is complete. Faith and I are waiting on a septic system before we can move in, so I figured this would be the perfect time to catch up on the blog.

For the floor in our house, we had three requirements: wood, cheap, and rustic. This led us to a somewhat unpopular decision in pine tongue and groove. I say pine is unpopular for good reason; it’s so soft that to call it hardwood floors would be a lie. Also, pine has a tendency to splinter a bit and, over time, can really start to look barn-ish.

With all that said, it was very cheap and I really like the character that pine flooring gains over time. A well worn pine floor has a sheen and oily smoothness to it that is hard to find in harder species. Just within the installation of this floor, there are plenty of scratches in it to write home about. So my initial reaction is that I don’t have to baby this thing because no amount of tending will keep this floor looking pristine.

I sourced my floor from Lumber Liquidators and received all of it for 1.29 a square foot. Seriously, that’s an insane price.

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About 10% of the pile was rubbish, but I was able to put the bad parts under the kitchen cabinets and the built in bookshelves in the loft. I ended up with much more flooring than I needed, but I never complain about that. There are tons of projects you can use left over tongue and groove for.

First I put down 15 lb felt paper as my underlayment and barely overlapped the seams. Once the paper was down, I started in the lofts where people wouldn’t see as often and laid the first row with a chalk line. The first row I had to face nail first and then nail into the tongue. Every row after that, I just had to nail the tongue since the groove held the other side of the board.

I nailed every board by hand. I could have used a nail gun, but I decided against it for a couple reasons. First, I’m stubborn. When I had a perfectly good hammer and not the right nail gun for the job, I just suffered with the tools at hand. Second, I had more control with a hammer and nails. My subfloor is oak and poplar. If I used a nail gun, I would have to set the pressure really high to sink the nail far enough into the subfloor, but that would also potentially blow right through the tongue on my flooring. So I resorted to nailing a nail in so far, and then countersinking the nail all the way with a nail punch.

The process was deathly slow, but I prevailed in the end.

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Once the floor was down, we stained it with a dark walnut stain to really make a contrast between the lighter timbers on the walls/ceiling to the floor. After staining it, we finished the floor with a product called Waterlox. It’s a premium tung oil mixture that leaves a natural matte finish. I don’t have any pictures of it done, but be sure to see the youtube video for more details.

Thanks for tuning in again, and be sure to comment with any questions you have.

Bathroom Tile

If you’ve never done tile before, listen up… It’s not as much fun as the TV shows make it out to be. When it’s finished, it’s lovely, but until that moment, it’s messy and a tad stressful. Tiling a floor is cake compared to tiling a wall, and in hindsight I probably should have chosen an acrylic surround to save time and money. With all that said, this tub might last my lifetime and that’s a good thought to have.

Before I began any tile, I had to waterproof the shower walls. There’s a couple different ways you can go about this. One is a polyethylene uncoupling membrane that mortars to the cement board and creates a physical barrier between the tile and the board.

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From what I’ve seen, this is the method that is really pushed by TV shows. It’s also, consequently, the most expensive. I know it does a great job, but there was another system that struck my fancy a bit more.

I went with a product called Redgard. I got it at Home Depot and it was 50 bucks for one gallon at the time of this writing. Yea, it’s pricey, but it was miles cheaper than the polyethylene membrane system when you factored in all of the other things that went with it.

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This stuff just paints on. Seriously, you just paint it. It goes on pink and dries red. Once it’s dry, you have a thick rubbery membrane that is very waterproof. It takes two coats to make sure the cement board is sealed, so the first coat is applied with a roller left to right, and the second coat is applied up and down. This way, you can seal the board in two different directions. Make sure you have good ventilation as this stuff can leave you trippin’ something awful.

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I actually painted the Redgard over the lip of the tub so that there was one continuous membrane from the base of the tub to the top of the cement board. I bought two gallons of the Redgard and had to open the second gallon to finish off the tub, so I used the remainder of what I had on the floor.

After waterproofing, I took to tiling the large porcelain tiles in the tub surround. The greatest amount of difficulty I had came in cutting these tiles. I tried using my buddy’s score and snap tool, but with the 3/8″ porcelain, the line was very apt to drift and rarely snapped it straight. So, I borrowed a wet saw from a contractor friend of mine that he wasn’t using.

When I first tried using the thing, I had an awful time. The tile wanted to pull to one side of the line and never cut square. After examining the blade, I quickly determined it needed replaced. Here’s a key point I feel I’ve said 20 times in this blog: sharp tools make all the difference. After changing the blade, it worked flawlessly.

Mortaring the large tiles on the wall was only a pain because of the type of mortar I had to use. The tiles required a 1/2″ thick bed of latex modified mortar. I imagine the latex was essential so that the mortar could flex a bit to deal with the large size of the tile… but that’s no scientific observation.

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Towards the end of laying the tiles, I settled on just back buttering the tiles since I wasn’t good at all at mortaring the wall. I also might have had too thin of a mix.

When it came to the holes that needed cut out for the shower handle, spout, and shower head, I used a 1 3/8″ diamond tipped hole saw. For the large hole, I made a series of holes with the 1 3/8″ and it came out pretty good. In the video, you can see how horrendous the process was, though.

After the tile was done on the wall, I jumped right in to the floor. I used a glazed ceramic classic design that features diamond and octagon shapes. The tile is glued together in 12″ x 12″ sheets which made the process a quick and somewhat enjoyable process. When it came to making cuts in the tile, it got a little more difficult. Sometimes I was just able to cut out certain tiles by cutting the rubberized glue on the back side of the tiles. Other times, I had to make scary rip cuts on the wet saw. There were times I felt my fingers were too close for comfort just holding the sheets on the sliding table of the wet saw.

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Now that the tile is finished, I’m going to quickly finish out the wood trim in the bathroom and install the toilet and vanity.

Quick Update

Hello everyone! Just wanted to tune in and give a pinch of what’s been going on with the house. Most of the projects I’ve been doing are rather monotonous ones such as drain lines, painting, staining the deck, etc. I wanted to make sure the material on the blog was truly something of an update, so I’ve been rather choosy on what I log.

AND, in between Christmas presents, saving for a septic system, and buying our pellet stove (yes I got a pellet stove and I’ll explain in the next blog) we’ve been moving at a painfully slothful pace. However, progress is good and I’d say we’re still on track for moving in during the spring… maybe early summer.

I am excited to say that I got an early Christmas present, a video camera with HD capability. I plan to make lots of video updates on the house in the future. Faith and I already made a video with mostly us ranting about life now and what we would like life to be like in the future. Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sdjgz_i4OOY

So stay tuned and God bless!

A Wool Sweater with Some Gypsum on Top

In the past, I’ve approached insulation with a general dreariness. Minuscule particles of fiberglass stinging my arms like a thousand tiny splinters and a nasty hacking cough are the first things that come to mind. On top of that, my insulation job was going to be horrendous. I had random widths between 2×4’s and lots of triangular spaces to fill (between braces).

After a lot of research, I figured it would be worth the investment to go for stone wool insulation. While this stuff leaves you with plenty of itching and coughing, it still has a ton of advantages over fiberglass.

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First off, it’s stone wool, not fiberglass. The tiny particles it lets off are hazardous to your lungs but not much more than sawdust would be. It’s not tiny shards of glass. There was an added piece of mind with that knowledge. Secondly, it installs with a friction fit between studs. There’s no face on it, which means you don’t have to staple anything. And since I had many odd shapes and sizes to fill, this stuff was perfect. Thirdly, it has a slightly better R-value (R-15) than the 2×4 equivalent in fiberglass (R-13).

I’m not sure if it’s the size of the house, or the good insulation, or perhaps a combination of the both, but our tiny home is now very easy to warm up. This morning, the temperature was 51 degrees when I arrived on site. After plugging in a small electric, oil-filled space heater that is rated for about 300 square feet, the entire place was heated up to 67 degrees in an hour and a half. The temperature outside hadn’t changed.

So what’s the downside to this stuff? The price. It’s easily double the amount you could expect to pay for fiberglass insulation. But I will never use fiberglass again. This stuff is awesome.

Then came the fun part… (sarcasm). Two items that do not go together are “timber frame” and “drywall”. Every single piece I’ve installed, yes every one, has needed cut at least once and usually about three times. When you’re working around braces, lots of electrical outlets, and most of your walls span less than three feet, you will be left with LOTS of scrap drywall. By the way, if anyone needs some scrap drywall, I have enough for a decent-sized doghouse.

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While I could have used many smaller pieces on certain sections, I made it a point to have the least amount of joints to mud as possible. I’ve done drywall before, and once was enough to know, the less mudding, the better. So seriously, anyone need any scraps?

I still have a small portion of the living room to hang and after that, the finishing begins.

I’ve decided that once the drywall is finished, I’ll try to complete the bathroom first. So far, I have the tub installed and the cement board shower surround and the cement board on the floor. Installing the bathtub was a chore, but I was lucky enough to have my dad lend me a hand. The tub I purchased required a bed of mortar under it to give it full support. It makes for a nice solid job, but installation was certainly stressful. Me and concrete don’t do well together.

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I also added a bit of extra electrical before finishing the insulation. Faith wanted a chandelier (cue Sia) in the library loft, so after some brain racking, I came up with a decent solution.

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Electrical

In our patience with finances, the electric company, and many end of summer activities, I’ve grown quite restless. When others ask how the house is coming along, my response is always “slowly, but surely.” However, Faith and I have been very blessed recently with her new job. We’re now making twice as much as we used to and we’ve been able to kick things in gear again.

Good thing, too, because building supplies are impossibly expensive anymore. Electrical work is no exception when it comes to draining your bank account.

The power company finally hooked up service on the house about a month ago and I was wiring up the basement within a couple of days. I find electrical work quite pleasing work. Despite my love for an unplugged lifestyle, electrical work is instantaneous gratification. You hook up some wire and all of the sudden, there is light. And with my father-in-law being an electrician, I have the added comfort of knowing what I’m doing is guided professionally.

The basement received two outlets and two lights. Since it will be not much more than a root cellar, I didn’t give it too much attention.

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The overall service is 200 amps and I purchased a box with enough space to accommodate the addition for the house in the future.

IMG_0527Just about everything is wired into the box in that picture other than the water heater, which I do not have yet. (Another $500)

I’ve heard from many different tiny home projects that building a tiny house is very similar to building a regular sized home in price because you still have certain necessities that will cost lots of money despite the size of your home. I now know what they mean. I spend much less money on lumber and other bulk goods, but there are certain amenities that cost no matter what. If you plan to live in comfort and with low maintenance, you will spend thousands and thousands, regardless of the size.

The wiring upstairs was rather extensive. In our current home, it’s amazing how many things have been thrown on to single circuits. Knowing what I know now, it’s essential to make sure you don’t overload your circuits. And while I could read lots of material on circuit loading, it’s been much easier to have my father-in-law tell me what can and can’t go somewhere.

The main barrier we had in wiring was making it around my behemoth timbers. I came to the conclusion quickly that there was no way around them. So we went through them.

IMG_0533This part of the project was a great pain, but it makes a nice job now that it’s finished. We had to use a right angle drill and come from both sides slowly until it met in the middle. In retrospect, I would have bored these holes while I was cutting the timbers.

All in all, there’s not much else to say about the wiring. I added a fan in the bathroom vented to the outside to deal with humidity, but even that was fairly straightforward. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

IMG_0522The bath fan vents directly to the outside wall. It seemed to be fairly quiet when I fired it up.

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IMG_0521The electric stove outlet required a 6-3 wire to a 50 amp double pole breaker.

IMG_0519These lights will eventually be single head track lighting that angles towards to rafters to light up the ceiling.

IMG_0518The two switches on the right are for the interior track lights and the one on the left is for the outside lights.

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Aside from electrical, I’ve finished the aluminum fascia cover and installed plywood underlayment to prepare for our finished flooring.

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This place feels more like home everyday.

Front Porch and Financial Patience

Coming from an inpatient person, this project has been a valuable lesson. Patience is an incredible virtue when it comes to construction and I’ve been given plenty of opportunity to exercise it. There’s been days where I would buy a few boards, install them the next day, and then wait a week for the next paycheck to get some more boards. And while I’ve been tempted to use a credit card at times, I know it will just lead to a steady hill climb of debt. So far, we’re entirely debt free on the build.

When last we left off, I had begun the frame work for the front porch. I had no clue how much money and time were involved in a porch. It’s rather insane. Just the framework for the deck was over 200 dollars. The deck boards, posts, and stringers for the stairs were another 250. Screws are easily 25 dollars per a 5lb box and you go through many of them. The railing is a good 75 more. The skirting around the deck to keep critters and children from playing under it requires almost as many deck boards as it took to do the surface and adds up fast.

I’ve decided to skip the skirting around the remainder of the deck this year until we’re moved in. It can be finished anytime and getting the interior finished is higher on the list at the moment. Luckily, I was able to source some used stiles for the railing from a friend of mine for 20 dollars. With some pressure washing, the stain came off pretty easily and should look uniform when we put the stain on our deck.

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Stairs are a secret beast in the construction biz. I had my introduction to them a couple years back when I tried to widen the tread on the stairs going to my basement in our current house. What I learned is that if you start to overthink stairs, you’ll screw them up. I won’t try to explain them here because I’ll probably confuse the heck out of you. But I encourage you to buy a book that does a great job of explaining them. That book is ‘How To Build A House’ by Larry Haun. It covers the basic construction methods used on homes made for Habitat for Humanity. Larry was a carpenter by trade (I believe he’s passed) and is great at explaining basic carpentry. I also referenced this book a good bit when it came to the roofing.

My grandmother tried out the stairs a week ago and gave the big stamp of approval, so I think it’s safe to say I have overcome.

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As with any post I put out on the blog, if you want more specifics about the way I constructed things, don’t hesitate to comment or email.

There’s been a few other things I’ve tackled since I last left off. I made the trap door for the basement and installed the 200 amp electrical service entry wire. The trap door was simpler than I thought it would be and will have a couple inset handles that will be recessed into the floor. This way, a rug will lay flush and the trap door will give us a way to get canned goods out of the basement in the dead of winter.

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With the electrical, it’s been hurry up and wait. I got the conduit ran, ground installed, and everything inspected and now have been waiting three weeks for the company to hook up my service. Hopefully, I’ll have some lights in the next blog.

Cedar Siding

I understand the lure of modern building materials, I really do. I understand that vinyl siding is incredibly maintenance free. I understand that fiber cement is practically fireproof. And yes, I understand that wood siding is outdated. However, it would have been a crime to wrap a timber frame home in anything other than a natural material.

And before you ask, yes it was fairly pricey, but I find it well worth the investment. I sourced cedar bevel siding from a distributor out of Scottdale, Pennsylvania. The customer service was greatly lacking and I am thrilled that I’m done dealing with them, but the product is very nice and there were only a handful of boards that were unacceptable. The total price for 900 square feet was $2,200. It’s much cheaper than what I could source anywhere else.

The size of the siding was 1″x8″ and came in varying lengths up to 12′.

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The initial row was the most important and had to be equally distanced from the eaves of the roof. Keeping the siding level was important, especially when it came to trimming around windows, but an entire house from front to back tends to be out of level here and there… especially if I’m the carpenter.

So once my starter strip was installed (just like you would with shingles, but this helps create a rain flare on the base of the wall) I was able to go right up with the siding using a jig I had made. You can purchase a special jig online that is meant for fiber cement and wood bevel siding that allows you to clamp both ends of the board ensuring that they are spaced correctly. However, they are expensive and I was able to have help when installing the siding. With two people, a jig works fine.

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As you can see, it makes a drastic difference to the overall appearance of our tiny home.

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There were some special techniques I had to use for certain parts of the install. When installing vinyl siding, there are no butt joints. One piece simply slides over another. With wood siding, you don’t have that luxury. Some installation manuals recommend that you caulk the end of each board where the two meet. And while this would certainly suffice, the proper way is to put a piece of flashing behind each butt joint that overlaps the next course of siding so that every little bit of water that gets in the crack finds its way out. This took some extra time, but I’m pleased to know that it’s that much more weatherproof.

The next thing to consider was the point of contact between the top of the window trim and the siding. Caulking will eventually fail and windows are the number one places for leaks on a wall. So I installed some homemade aluminum flashing above the window that I shaped into the form I wanted. I could have bought the flashing in the big box store, but this saved me a few bucks and I kinda like the metal-worked look it has to it.

The last technique I had to consider was whether I would face nail or blind nail my pieces. I understand the argument that comes with blind nailing, but I just couldn’t bring myself to leave that much of a board unsupported. Plus, my siding tapered to around an 1/8″ on the top of the board. With that little material to work with, the nails were very prone to split the boards. So yes, nails are exposed on my house, but no, it does not bother me one bit.

What we did next made many people, including ourselves, sick. We painted the gorgeous stuff. I know what you’re thinking… “How could you??” Well, let me defend myself. I want this siding to last as long as possible. Stain/sealer will extend the life of wood siding by many, many years; but only paint can give a true waterproof protection that makes it last for 100 years. I didn’t want to re-stain my house every 3-4 years and I like the option of being able to change the appearance of our home with a few coats of paint in 10 years time.

So, we primed it, and painted it an earthy green. Pa calls it OD green (which I’ve concluded is some kind of green he was very familiar with in the Army). With the rustic cedar trim, which is stained, it really pops. Faith and I love it a great deal.

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Now that the siding is done, I’ll begin electrical and add a front porch before my Summer runs out.

Here’s some finished pics with my wife’s phone. Not as good quality, but it’s the finished result. Eventually we’ll add a stone veneer to the foundation.

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Loft Bridge and Finishing Timbers

I wish that I were as organized as some contractors I watch or read about. Then I would be able to pass from one project to another with ease, without hesitation, waiting for funds, or researching how to do what I’m about to do. Alas, I’m not a contractor, I do hesitate, we are building debt free, and I have lots to learn. So while others are moving in to homes two months after a build begins, we’re still trudging through the elementary steps of basic construction.

We have, however, made leaps of progress on the interior. As I stated in the previous post, we decided to make a bridge to stretch from one loft to the other. This way, we only need one ladder on the main floor space. I kept the design as basic as possible but used timber frame construction, simply adding two more floor joists a couple feet off center. I then used oak planks with a 1/4″ gap between the planks to span the distance.

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We hope to incorporate a rustic railing to the design that uses rebar and more rough timbers. It’s still in the planning process.

As much as I would have liked to let my timbers age naturally and receive their gray hue of antiquity, I felt it necessary to give some sort of finish to them. This is mostly due to the fact that our ceiling is pine and pine tends to yellow over time. Since the rafters are oak and poplar, were I to let them age, the contrast from gray to yellow does not seem appealing to us. So we decided we must finish them.

There are many different ways in which I could have finished the timbers. The first that I considered was to stain both the tongue and groove ceiling and all of the timbers to give a uniform color throughout. While I think this would be attractive, it felt a crime to take away the natural color of our timbers. And once they were stained, there would be no going back.

The second option we considered was to oil the wood with a natural oil. I certainly entertained this idea for quite some time but decided against it in the end. The only reason was that oil is much different than other finishes in that it soaks into the grain of the wood. It leaves a dark rich glow to the natural color of the timber but does need re-oiled within a few years. I didn’t want to setup a scaffolding in the center of my house once it was finished in a few years to redo the whole interior.

Long story short, we decided to go with a clear satin polyurethane. That being said, I rather hate the stuff and I’ll be the first to admit it. It’s quite unnatural, requires much prep work, and stinks to high heavens. But once the timbers were finished, they were finished, and my mind can be at ease for quite some time. We went through about 3 gallons worth, but that is less than I had anticipated.

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The siding is also done now, but that is the topic of the next blog.

Windows and Front Door

We’re getting there. Little by little, our cabin is starting to look like a home. I never thought that by the middle of May, I would have windows and a front door installed. It seems like Spring is screaming by, but I’m pretty satisfied with the progress.

Before I put the windows in, I had to install the house wrap. I’m really impressed with the quality of this stuff, but then again, the price is fairly outrageous. It lays really flat and I imagine will help with water penetration a ton. These are not vapor barriers, as they allow vapor to pass through their membrane, but they keep solid liquids out while maintaining the breathability of the wall. This is super important when it comes to a timber frame home.

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I have to say that when planning our home, I had many fears and many feelings of inadequacy. There seems to be many items on the to-do list that can frighten someone away from building their own house. For me, one of those items was putting in a window. I don’t know why, but I had a decent fear of putting in windows incorrectly, and since literature varies from book to book on how to do it, I tended to overthink it.

Really, there’s not that much to it. I watched a couple videos on YouTube that were incredibly helpful. As I’ve said before, find a video with a lot of views and a lot of likes. Usually, you’re getting some quality instruction.

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After the windows were in, I started planning the build for the front door. Now doors are tricky. As a matter of fact, they’re much more complicated than windows, if you plan to build one. When I picture a front door, I picture something that is going to keep every bit of the cold winter air out. So when planning a solid wood entry door, I had to be especially particular as to how I would build it.

To make a long story short, I bought one. I really wanted to make one, but I didn’t want to devote a couple of weeks time to getting the thing absolutely perfect and make sure that it wasn’t going to let any air in. The door that I built for the basement has held up fine, but it has shrunk and no longer latches. Now I have to go back and adjust the casing and latch for it. I really didn’t want that to be an issue with the door upstairs.

I purchased my door from Lowes. It is a solid wood door with a panel design and is made of Douglas Fir. For $170, I really found it to be a great deal. It came unfinished and we applied a rustic cedar stain/sealant on it to match the exterior trim around the windows. I see this door lasting a very long time.

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As you can see, I’ve already begun some trim work on the exterior with some western red cedar. I’ll save those details for when we install the siding.

Since I’m still waiting on the siding from the distributor, I’ve done a good bit of interior work. Faith wanted a bridge to go from one loft to the other, so I’ll be sure to show that process in the near future as well.

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Shingles and Enclosure

Heights and I are getting to be more comfortably aquainted with each other every day. A roof with a 12/12 pitch is appealing when it comes to longevity, but not so much when it comes to installation. My scaffolding on the eaves of the roof allowed me to install the drip edge and up to eight rows of shingles from the bottom, but I needed something else to help me get up higher.

Working with my chicken ladder was out of the question because there was way too much climbing up and climbing down without much result. Plus, I needed to establish some chalk lines across the length of the roof. The only way to do this was with the help of roof jacks.

Roof jacks are simple and amazing tools. They slide up under an existing shingle and nail down into the rafters. Another roof jack is then installed less than eight feet from the previous one and a board is stretched in between them. This gives the worker a scaffolding of sorts to work on that can be removed after you’re done with it. The nail left is driven home in the shingle.

Once the roof jacks were in place, the shingles went on in a couple days. I didn’t take extensive pictures of this process because there are many resources that show how to install shingles and the procedure will vary depending on the brand and type of shingle. The process was simple, though, and I rather enjoyed shingling.

As I’ve said before, I was able to source my shingles for a very good price, but it came with a little setback. The shingles were the same brand and color but were not from the same batch. Whenever you get shingles from different batches, there will be slight variations in the color and finish. You can’t really tell at first glance but it is a tad noticeable. I’m choosing not to worry about it.

Now that the roof is finished, I have moved on to closing in the walls with OSB. I very much dislike this part of the build as it is rather difficult to install sheets of OSB on your own without a nail gun. But the challenge is usually met with optimism and I’ve finished closing in half of the frame. Typically, OSB is installed on the ground while you’re framing up your walls and is raised into place all at once. However, I didn’t have that luxury with the timber frame.

With my walls enclosed and the window openings cut out, the house wrap, windows, and a front door are next in line. I’ve ordered some western red cedar bevel siding from Pennsylvania but I’m not sure how long it’s going to take before it comes in. I might have to begin work on the utilities and interior before I install the siding.