On The Level (Or, How To Raise The Roof)

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It is officially fall a beautiful time of year. The wind has been blowing in and knocking off the leaves, once colored from the late summer frosts, now almost gone. The green of the pines remain and we get to enjoy those as we work. Cassidy and I spent the last day of summer celebrating the change of seasons by finishing up a foundation; a finish line that had been on the horizon for a long time that we have now reached.

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I have not posted in a bit due to a busy time, plus a lot of monotonous work. A day of lifting heavy cement bags is the definition of exhausting and feels rather boring to go on about.

After carrying, mixing, and pouring about 105 sixty pound bags the future of work becomes to appear a little bleak. When asked “hows building?” I began to respond with a long drawn out “ughh” before soliciting the help of friends and strangers inquiring on the matter.

We mixed concrete with two shovels and a wheelbarrow. We would mix (about) two at a go, avoiding the dust by not breathing in too deep. I was the water gal, measuring out the (about) six quarts needed for the 60 lb bags of premix we had on hand. Cassidy was the heavy lifter.

When it came to tossing the mixed mud in the hole we wold pour the footing and lay down a cross of rebar. Then we would grab our precut sono-tube and screw in a scrap piece of wood to hold it 8″ above the ground, just above the footing. We then would level the sono-tube, toss on another scrap of wood, and commence on filling the hole. Cassidy wold shovel in the concrete and I would make sure the pier always stayed level. Pouring 15 piers as perfectly level and straight as we could was a time-consuming task.

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We finished those piers on Wednesday September 21st. It was a wonderful feeling to be done. We worked late into the evening, using up the last light, and the very last drop of concrete that we had mixed. Our 5 gallon water bucket was empty, drained of the last drop. We put the last bracket in the last pier, and then went to celebrate with our last ounce of energy; beer, pea soup, and exhausted, excited, conversation about the next day when we would get to do something else 🙂

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The commencement of fall rang in the tidying up of our work site. We set to insulating our piers and tossing all dirt piles back into the holes where the piers were now set and formed.

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1 inch insulation was cut into custom fit pieces, then placed around the piers, forming a frost barrier. We then shoveled dirt back in to the holes, packing it tight to prevent sink holes and weak spots.

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This took no time at all and proved to be rather fun. There was some time spent picking up large rocks that had come from underneath the building site, and then I took the opportunity to load up all the extra dirt and gravel and haul it off the site.

What comes next? After all the insulating and dirt moving? The posts. The skeleton of our house was soon to be raised. We started on September 24th.

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Most of our house was located up by the meter box, approximately 175′ away from the building site via our cleared trail. The parts and pieces were covered in tarps and left where the big truck dropped them off after we pre-ordered most of our lumber. Included in this pile where the posts.

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We started with the short, North, side, and so we got a chance to practice our lifts and carrying methods, with the 8’ lengths. We carried them from the tarped piles back to the home. We laid them down, debated the pros and cons of the different ends (which would be better on bottom where nails would be pounded quite close to concrete piers?). We took the less warped ends and the least knotted ends and pointed them down. This was a difficult task in which Cassidy bear-hugged the post, and shuffled it into place, lifted it into the bracket, and then my eyes were put to work making sure the post was as centered as possible. Then it became my turn to hold the post.

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We have a corner level (best $5 tool a person could own) and I banded that around the post and watched it as I made sure the post was straight. Cassidy then took a  couple of small stud boards and screwed them in on either edge to brace the post while he pounded the 16D pole barn nails in.

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Cassidy and I were able to get two up on the 24th, and then had to call it a day. It proved a good conclusion to the work week, as we headed home to the Woodshed to prepare for a few days of normal jobs.

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We came back on Wednesday the 28th and were able to complete the last 13 in one day. The middle row was made of 10’ posts, and the South wall had 12’ posts. The work got steadily heavier but we seemed to get steadily stronger. The day got dark as we neared the very end of the raising of the 15 posts. I brought out our work light and plugged it in for Cassidy as he finished the last nails on the last post. It was a grand day that had us in bed early after a large meal.

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The next day we woke up early and started on the floor beams. These we screwed into the posts a foot above the pier. The screw was used as a fastener as we made sure that the beam was perfectly level (leveling was – once again – left to me) before pounding our pole barn nails in. After realizing how slow this was we started to forget the nails and stick to the screw with the plan to pound nails in later. I held and leveled the beams as Cassidy attached them.

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The building changed from being defined by weeks to finish a project into being defined by days and hours. Before the week was out we had all the floor beams up, and we were able to check the height of the posts. Cassidy climbed a ladder and marked the posts at exactly the height we needed and used a sawzall to trim off the rest.

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The next week we raised our attention from the floor to the roof. I was busy working, I work for Special Olympics Minnesota and the beginning of October was my Bowling season. While I was inside the camper, utilizing the newfangled wifi hookup we had, Cassidy was outside pushing very long beams up to the south side posts.

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We planned it out so that we would have two brackets for either post, nailed right on top, to hug the beams. The beams were made up of 2” x 12”, two thick, alternating between 8′ and 16′ boards. When we ordered these Cassidy told me it was because they would be easier to lift to the high heights of the posts, and after I saw how he planned to do this I understood why. Cassidy would first attach brackets to the first post so it he could slide the beam in and then after he got it in place he would put up brackets on the other posts. He would tack the beams lightly so they did not move, but waited to nail them in place until the beam was complete with all of its parts.

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Cassidy finished the first beam by himself. The second beam he enlisted the help of our good friend Seth, a tall, hardworking, Norwegian with a hardy spirit. The two guys used their combined super strength to push the long boards up on the 10′ posts, that were actually about 11.5′ in the air, while I pounded nails into  floor beams (something that Seth also helped with, and I am ever so grateful!).

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After that beam the week was done.

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The next week Cassidy’s Mother visited from Seattle. Kristin was a blessing. A wonderful person to meet, I can see where Cassidy gets it. Her boyfriend, Stewart was also a sweetheart, and I was very grateful for the quality time. Their visit was the first vacation that either one of us has had since before the foundation, and we made the most of it. Cassidy was so happy to see his mother, and it was fun to take them out to the homestead and showoff. The next time they come to the Northwoods we will be able to invite them in 🙂

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They spent a day and a half with us, and left on a Friday. Friday was my last day of bowling competitions with SOMN so I missed a final goodbye. I worked a long, enjoyable, day at the bowling alley, and then headed out to the homestead where I was greeted by the smiling faces of Cassidy and Seth. “Let’s do it,” they declared.

“What?” I asked.

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After the last beam Cassidy had some reservation about the final, towering, row of posts that they would have to slide the beams up on.  He and I had some serious discussion about it. It was a 13.5′ height that he would have to push the heavy boards up to. Even with help he was not sure if his body could handle it after how hard the middle one was. “Scaffolding?” I asked.

“How do we bring it in and park it among the trees and uneven ground?” he asked.

We carried the discussion to Brigid’s Pub (a place I mentioned before as the most stellar food joint in town) where we had dinner that night. We had little to no solutions. I saw my beloved pal Dan and his wife there. We have not had a lot of time to hang lately, because, you know, we are building a house, so his first question was how it was going. I told him our plight. He suggested a sheet rock lift. He had one and offered to let us use it. It would lift the beam 10′. Cassidy and I discussed this, but it was determined that might not be the easiest thing to bring into the trees either.

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We thought about it, and reluctantly determined that we should probably give up the shed roof idea. We could minimize the bodily damage that Cassidy might go through if we choped of the top few feet of the South row of posts and make a double pitch roof. When Cassidy’s mother came by that was the new design. I had become used to the idea and assumed it was settled.

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That Friday night when I came home I did not see the top of the posts cut off, they were still as tall as ever, towering over the smiling, motivated, boys that greeted me.

“Do what?” I asked.

“We are going to put up the last beam!” Cassidy told me.

“What, how?!?!”

The boys explained their brilliant idea to do the single pitch roof just the way we always wanted by.. simply doing it. I watched as they screwed up some temporary boards between the posts. I helped a bit, and then watched as they used the new braces to set the beams on before climbing up their ladders and hoisting the boards up the rest of the way. Both guys would also use the board for bracing, as they kept one leg on the ladder and put the other on the temporary scaffolding. It was brilliant and badass, and I watched with tired ecstatic eyes as they made my Friday evening.

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My dream for a shed roof was realized and I could not be more grateful.

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Now that the basic skeleton was up we moved onto filling it in. Saturday, October 15th, Cassidy started on getting ready for rafters by securing and nailing the boards of the beams together. I started putting up plates for the walls. The plates are the bottom of the wall, they are what a person builds the framing for windows and door off of. They also keep mice out of your house if you have a raised floor like we do.

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The next Wednesday Cassidy was able to start on the rafters, and I started on the joists. We have brackets for rafters that make life easier. They have a built-in angle so a person does not have to cut a bird’s mouth into the beams. The “bird’s mouth” is an angle cut in the beam that holds the rafter at an angle, hugging it and insuring correct weight distribution. However, like I said, the brackets have this built-in. Cassidy attached 17 of these to the North beam, spaced two feet apart.

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After this was completed we carried the 20 foot rafters from the tarped piles to the house, slid them into the first bracket and — from there — onto the other beams. Cassidy then put the brackets under the rafter on the other two beams, making sure everything was square and spaced correctly.

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I worked on joists. However, I did not do joists all that week, I also dug a trench for bringing electricity back to the house from the meter box. I found trenching to be an arduous task. I really wanted to be back to my saw  and drill, and this week I got the opportunity.

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I used a skill-saw for the first time on October 15th and I found that I am a pro. Besides being skilled at it, I also found that I like it a lot. I like being good at things and creating so the skill-saw is my new best friend.

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After reuniting this week, the skill-saw and myself nearly finished all the joists, nearly. I have a 8′ x 8′ section under the soon-to-be kitchen left to complete, but that might have to wait.

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The house skeleton at night.

While I was working on joists, my main man, Cassidy, started on — and completed — the roof. We used 4’x8′ sections of OSB, which are quite hefty. Cassidy rigged up a tall ladder at an angle, leaning it on the North beam, and then pushed the OSB up the ladder while he stood underneath. The first one was the most difficult because it had to be perfectly laid down to cover a portion of the roof without slipping or sliding off the bare rafters. He pushed it up, stood at the top of the ladder for a bit eyeing up the target and then let it drop with a BANG. The rest were easier and quieter 🙂 However, I don’t care how many OSB boards you move , they never seem to get lighter. Cassidy moved the majority by himself, but enlisted my help when he got tired.

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Finishing a roof is an exciting and tiring process. After finishing it we had to pick up the roofing that we would use to cover the OSB. Much thought was put into which kind. We were partial to cedar shakes but realized the extra amount of work they would create for our roof which doesn’t have a super steep pitch. Shingles were considered, but I did not prefer the idea. After debating the longevity as well as the speediness of application we determined steel was the best option, and we both liked the idea. We ordered up some Emerald Green steel and then planned to pick it up Saturday, the 29th.

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The day was a long one in the truck. Because of the weight of the steel and the lightness of the trailer we borrowed we took it easy, and only hauled 18 pieces at a time. The only place that had our steel in stock was Menards, which is a 25 minute drive (or more) from the homestead. Two trips meant that the hauling would be an all day job. We picked up the trailer, checked the tire pressure and headed to the store. We loaded up the first half of the purchase with the help of a sales associate. Cassidy and this man saved my muscle strength for the unload, which took much longer as I realized complaints about OSB were minor in comparison to the real roof. The steel is not super heavy so we carried it in stacks of three to expedite the unload process, however it is bendy and 4′ long. Our driveway is not ideal for trailers yet so we left it at the front of the driveway and hauled the steel 300′ to the home. We laid it down on the joists and walked back for more. We had to be careful not to scratch the stuff (not my specialty), and I found that my arms did not like moving malleable steel at awkward angles to keep it safe. But, after the unload, we were back in the vehicle. We snacked and relaxed and prepped for the next load. When we got back to Menards we were welcomed by only 1 piece of 4’x8′ emerald steel on the shelf. Someone had come along and snagged it while we were gone. We informed the sales associate. He was ever so nice. They had no more of that size in stock in the Emerald Green color so he let us take 6 each of 4’x10′ and 4’x12′ pieces with no extra charge. We were ever so grateful. By the time we got all this worked out it was getting dark, and we still needed to tarp the roof for the week. It took awhile, but we got it tucked in for our three days away and then unloaded the trailer.

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The week was a heavy but satisfying one.

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Since the last time I posted until now we have built a skeleton and capped it with OSB and tarp. Wednesday we will start the steel cap, and then it will be the floor, frame, windows and walls!

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6 thoughts on “On The Level (Or, How To Raise The Roof)

  1. Oh my what a wonderful adventure to be with you step by step in the birthing of a home!!!

    I believe that you have written a syllabus for all the rest of us !!! Good for you—-happy and proud of your accomplishments and just before snow will surely fall and you’ll be snug in your home—-xoxo, marilyn

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  2. Oh my god, Diamond,my body aches for you! Please be careful! Just say no if it’s too much for you. Please don’t pull out your shoulder or screw up your back! I have just had two really painful cortisone shots in my back today, due to stenosis(calcium growths which pinch the nerves). A possible reason is the work I did as a landscape contractor from age 29 to 40, hauling concrete sacks, lumber, building rock walls, etc. It’s tough work for a girl! OK, enough advice! This is so exciting and I hope Cassidy knows what a good woman you are pitching in like this. You two will have a very special place for years to come!

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