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.

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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.

Pellet Stove

It’s hard to describe the comfort one gains when you know you have a way to heat your home. In a way, a house is merely just a house until it can make you truly comfortable. That’s when it becomes more of a home. After firing up my pellet stove, I just sat and stared for a good hour, admiring the coziness that ensued.

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Let me just preface this post by saying why I chose a pellet stove.

  1. It was reasonably cheap
  2. It took up a minimal amount of room
  3. It controls the temperature much better than a wood stove
  4. My wife insisted on a visible flame

Concerning finances, I was in no position to fork out the money for an electric furnace, wood boiler system or any other large heating system. I don’t like the idea of buying pallet after pallet of pellets by the ton, but I do like the renewable nature of the fuel. I certainly feel better about burning pellets than I do propane or natural gas.

I started installation with an appropriate hearth. I could have easily forked out the 50 bucks for the cheap looking hearth pads you can buy at the big box store, but I needed practice with real tile anyway. I used 3/8″ porcelain tile on a cement backer board and finished the hearth in one afternoon. I’m not overly fond of tile work but I find it much more pleasant than drywall.

After the hearth was completed, I ran holes through the wall for the flu thimble and the air intake. Installing the thimble was a bit of a chore and I used the extra hands from Pa to get the job done. I needed someone on the inside holding one side on while I threaded in the thimble from the outside. The threaded design of the thimble makes for a secure connection but it does make things a bit more complicated when you’re working with wood lap siding. Ideally, I believe these things are designed to work better with vinyl siding where you can trim it out with j-channel.

Once the outtake and intake were completed, I dry fitted all the joints and moved the stove into position. I put all of the flu pieces together and then shimmied the stove into place instead of working from the stove out. I’m not sure if working from the stove out would be easier, but I was satisfied with the general complexity of the project. It wasn’t too much trouble.

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The 45 degree joint didn’t fit together with the other joints as well as I would have liked so I added silver tape to make sure it sealed up well. No smoke in the house made me a happy camper.

I let the joints dry for a day and then fired the thing up. The stove I purchased, a Pelpro PP60, had very specific directions on “priming” the auger feed. I found out that you must follow the directions to a “T”. Basically, once the unit starts priming, don’t get anxious and switch to a comfort setting. Let it do it’s thing.

Once the unit was up and running, the house was heated to a comfortable temperature within an hour or so. It’s noisier than I’m used to, but after a couple hours, the white noise was tolerable.

 

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Next up, I tackle tile in the bathroom. Here is a pic of the backer board waterproofed and ready to go:

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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!

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.

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.

Subframe and DIY Insulated Roofing Panels

Before I could close everything in on the walls with OSB, I had to frame up my window and door openings. This was easy and pleasing work. After dealing with eight inch thick timbers, a 2×4 seems like a twig. I can certainly see the appeal, but looking back, I’m overly satisfied with the work that I put in the timbers.

My hopes were idealistic when it came to closing in the frame. When you set out to build a timber frame, you’re thinking things like “I’m building naturally.” Timber framing is certainly a natural process, but unless you utilize strawbale, wattle and daub, or hempcrete, it’s not going to be that natural at all. I really want to make a timber frame structure with an enclosure of that sort, but for our main home, I wanted to stick to what I knew. I guarantee my future woodshop will be my experiment with natural building.

Our cabin will contain eight windows: a generous one for each loft and six identically-sized windows on the main level. All are either on the east, south, and west walls. The north side contains no windows since this will be the side we place the addition on.

Framing around an existing timber frame was easy and since the timber frame carries the structural load, I was ablet to space my 2x4s two feet on center.

Headers for windows weren’t absolutely necessary since the function of a header is to carry the load of the structure above it, but it’s nice to have that extra insurance against sagging timbers.

It seems that our view of the sunset in the kitchen and loft will be rather impeccable.

Once the subframe was complete, I jumped right into the rigid insulation for the roof. I was able to locate this insulation for an incredibly cheap price even though it’s probably not what I would have selected if I were buying new.

There’s always a price to pay when you try to go cheap. My insulation was sold by the bundle for $10 a bundle. I only needed three bundles. So for 30 bucks, I sourced my roofing insulation. With that being said, it was certainly an odd product. They came in 4’x4′ pieces and tapered from 2 1/2″ down to 1/2″. To my knowledge, they’re commonly used on flat roofs for industrial buildings. The taper allows one to create a very small slope to ensure that the roofing above it doesn’t have water pooling on it.

I used them just like I would use full board insulation and installed one row at a time with the thick side on the bottom. Then the second row was installed directly over the first with the taper going the other way and the thick side at the top. With this method, I was able to stagger my joints and it aided in creating an effective thermal barrier.

My beef with the stuff is that it was inconsistent with the thickness. It wasn’t labelled correctly and some pieces were 2 1/2″ thick on the fat end, while some were 1 3/4″. This made for an awful time when it came to making a perfectly flat surface for the OSB to lay on. It took some strategic placement, but it worked out in the end… Long story short, buying used or discount items has it’s perks, but only if you’re willing to deal with sub-par stuff. Time can be money when you’re building a home.

After that adventure, I placed 1/2″ OSB on top of the insulation and nailed it in to the rafters with 6″ long landscaping nails. Screws would have been the choice of online forums, but the nails seem to seat better in the OSB and the finished result is a solid roof with absolutely no give. I’m pretty content with my homemade insulated panels.

Next in line is fascia boards, felt paper, drip edge, and shingles before I move on to the walls and windows.

Tongue and Groove Ceiling

While most people would be throwing some OSB on the roof at this point, Faith and I really wanted to leave the rafters exposed on our frame. In order to do this, we needed to install the finished ceiling on the rafters first before we added rigid insulation and the shingles.

In most timber frames today, enclosure methods are commonly dried-in with insulated panels that are prefabricated. While there is much to be said for this method, they are certainly not cost effective. Some people go through the effort of making their own panels, but that requires very accurate rafters and it’s difficult to get a tongue and groove finish on the ceilings when it’s all said and done.

I decided that I would simply build up the roof starting with the tongue and groove, then adding rigid insulation, then a layer of OSB, and finally the shingles. This isn’t the time effecient method, but it is certainly the cost effecient one.

I ordered the tongue and groove planks from Home Depot seeing as their price was significantly lower than any other source I found. At the time of this writing, one 1″x6″x8′ piece sells at $4.25. So in the tongue and groove, I had around 1200 dollars.

This is half of what I needed, sitting in my woodshop.

It was important to keep the stuff very dry. The planking was kiln dried, so any moisture from rain would really make the pieces swell and would make fitting them near impossible. This also proved to be troublesome when it came to installing the planks because the process was so slow. With the large amount of rain we had in the past couple weeks, I was covering my progress with tarps almost every day.

Another challenge posed to me was the pitch of the roof. As I’ve said before, the roof is on a 12/12 pitch and is impossible to scale without additional support. I had to work from the top, down so that my pieces at the top would run parallel to one another. If I had started at the bottom, and didn’t stay perfectly square, the pieces at the top would have to be ripped at unequal proportions. Working from the top down kept everything symmetrical and gave me a place to put my footing as I came down the roof.

To scale the roof at first, I placed 2×4’s on the outside of the rafters spaced as far as I could stretch and climbed up. I removed them as I came down the roof with the planking. I had a safety harness for this endeavor, but I still had plenty of uncomfortable moments. Unfortunately, I didn’t get many pictures of the process since I was more concerned with keeping my balance.

As I got towards the bottom, I found out quickly that I was going to need a scaffolding running the length of the eaves to make things a little easier. Pa helped rig one up on each side with two inch rought cut poplar. It makes things significantly more efficient.

Since my rafters are four inches wide, I was able to have plenty of room for error when installing the pieces. The butt joints were on the outside of the rafter, so the planking looks seamless from the inside.

Faith and I liked the look of the solid piece with no bead on the underside of the plank better, so we put the extra bead pattern on the outside. Looking so nice in the end, it was a shame to cover even that side up, but the underside looked incredible.

I have a couple places at the ridge of the roof where there is a bit of a gap, but I’ll cover those with some corner trim in the end.

Once I had the planks up, I was able to lay a layer of felt roofing paper to give me a temporary roof and to give a black back drop in case any holes or gaps were showing in the tongue and groove. This, too, proved to be difficult since I had no place to get my footing now that the 2x4s were gone. So I fabricated a “chicken ladder” out of 2x4s that hooks over the top of the ridge so that I could scale the roof with ease.

When the weather stays consistently dry, I’ll start with the rigid insulation, OSB, and shingles. In the meantime, I’ll be framing windows so that I can close in the walls.

The Barn Raising

It feels so surreal to have this behind me now. Saturday was one of the most stressful, yet fulfilling days of my life. I was able to see months of timber work turn into a day of community and craftsmanship. Overall, it went very well. There were a few snags here and there but they were easily corrected.

To start with, at the beginning of the day, the crane had difficulty starting and needed to be jumped. Once it was jumped, the throttle cable wouldn’t work either. With the help of some mechanical minds, a dog chain was hooked to the throttle and was pulled when it was needed to make the hook block move.

So with that issue, we had to assemble a portion of the frame the old fashioned way for a little over an hour while the mechanics worked on the crane. Going into this ordeal, I was actually afraid I was going to have too many hands on deck. However, with the crane out of commission at first, these hands got the work done. We were able to feel Amish for a small stent of our lives.

The very first post and crossbeam that were brought onto the deck had me very distraught. While looking at the post, I noticed that the brace mortise for the crossbeam was facing the wrong direction. This was the very first joint that we attempted to assemble. You can imagine my worry as I thought the entire frame was going to go accordingly. But we decided to press on without the brace on that side and that I would return to it later and mend my mistake. After that hiccup, every other joint was in the right location.

You can see the missing brace on the left of the bent. The first three bents went into place without much problem. The last bent was put in place by the crane since it was working by that time.

After the bents were assembled and temporarily braced, we moved on to the top plates. These two proved to be a little burdensome since there were five joints to engage in one timber. It took some slacklines, a person on each joint, and a lot of patience, but it went together pretty well. The tenon for the middle post had issues when we drove one of the pegs, but the joint is still very strong and more than adequate.

After lunch, we moved on to the rafters. All in all, the rafters look awesome and came together great, but setting the first one safely was a chore. I had neglected how much preparation it would take to brace the first set of rafters effectively before moving on to the next set. If it wasn’t for the crane, that would have been a very dangerous job. Once the first set was secure, the rest went along quite smoothly.

The end product looked amazing. Timbers have such a natural elegance to them. Not as much as trees in their natural habitat, I admit, but enduring the manipulation of man, they still can be creatures of great magnificence.

At the end of our venture, there were many smiles and hugs shared. Pictures were taken and the frame was christened with the branch of a spruce. Although only poplar and oak exist in this frame, not many poplar and oak leaves are available for the showing at the end of February.

Next up, the porch posts, knee wall for the loft, and the rest of the rafters. Weather has been horrid, so I’m really looking forward to Spring.

Some more pics of the day: