The 57 acres that comprise Cedar Ridge Farm are located in the beautiful rolling hills of South Central Kentucky. My wife, our four children, and I are on a homesteading adventure as we work toward increased self-sufficiency. We grow much of our own food and enjoy being in touch with the agrarian roots of our lives.

One of the major projects we have undertaken is the building of our own home. The house we're building has three major distinguishing features: 1. we're building it without incurring any debt; 2. it is a timber frame structure; and 3. the exterior walls will be plastered straw bales. We live debt and mortgage free, and building our house with that approach makes perfect sense. Large timbers in a home possess a beauty and project a sense of strength, stability, and warmth that we want in our home. Straw bale walls provide insulation and make ecological sense. This blog is a record of our home-building project.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Roof design

I've been thinking about the roof. It will be a metal roof for which I've already purchased the metal in ten foot lengths. I got it for about half price because it's 'rainbow' colored. That means it's mostly green because it was painted as they switched from one color to the next. That's not a problem because it will eventually be sprayed with a ceramic coating by a friend of mine.

What I've been thinking about is how to construct the rafter system for the metal roof which allows me to blow cellulose insulation to an R-value of 50 or more (I don't want super-insulated straw bale walls without a super insulated roof as well). A 14 inch space for the insulation should allow for the R-value I want. This week I designed on paper the rafter structure that will allow me to accomplish this. My design looks like the picture to the right.

I calculated how many 2x4s it would take to construct these and shocked myself with what it would cost. My budget for this year is rapidly dwindling, and my class load this semester (only one section) doesn't allow any extra money beyond what's needed for monthly expenses. So, I did an assessment of what I have that is usable. I have nearly 200 2x3s that I milled several months ago. I was going to use them for other parts of the house, but they will work for this roofing need. So, that saved several hundred dollars.

The other part of the roof design that I've been pondering on has to do with condensation and venting the roof. A metal roof can more readily have condensation problems than many other roofing systems. My original idea for the roof was to build the rafter system on four foot centers and use 2xs for purlins on two foot centers to which the metal would be attached. This plan didn't allow for dealing with potential condensation problems.

I could use OSB or plywood sheeting on top of the rafters. Then, the metal could be attached to that on top of a moisture barrier. That would still not deal with space between the roof and the insulation for venting (a 1 inch space is the minimum). Also, 50 sheets of plywood or OSB isn't cheap (and my budget is thin). Sheeting would also necessitate a change in rafter spacing, but that's not a problem.

So, at this point in time, here's my plan: I will build the rafter structure as designed on 3 foot centers. Then, I will sheet the roof with 'slab wood' from a local pallet company. This 'slab wood' is actually boards resawn for pallets that come in 4" or 6" widths, 3/8" to 1/2" thickness, and usually 42" lengths. They sell a pallet of these for $2.00. I will buy several pallets of them, cut them to 36 in lengths, and then staple them to the rafters. On top of this sheeting, I will put down 30# roofing felt.

I will also buy about 150 1x4s from Cub Run Hardwoods. I'll cut most of these to 6 foot lengths which will span across three rafters. The 2 foot lengths I cut off, I will rip into 1x2s. I will attach these 1x2s onto the sheeted roof above the rafters as vertical stringers. The 1x4s will be placed horizontally across the vertical stringers to serve as purlins for the metal to be attached to. The vertical strapping will provide the ventilation space and the ability for condensation to drain to the bottom of the roof and out the venting.

That's my plan right now. It is contingent on a few things, like acquiring the pallet wood and the 1x4s, but that shouldn't pose a problem. It should create a roof system that will meet all the necessary objectives, things like keeping the rain and snow out, controlling condensation, and providing space for insulation.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The cathedral ceiling, part one

For various projects during the last few years, I've purchased bundles of cull lumber from Cub Run Hardwoods in Cub Run, KY. These bundles consist of 600 to 800 board feet of 1 inch thick lumber in various widths that they cull out for various reasons while operating the mill. It's great lumber and a good deal ($100/bundle) for barns and other buildings. Some of the boards are not usable, but usually most of the bundle is nice lumber, maybe with a blemish or a couple of knots. The bundles are made up of whatever species of wood they are milling at the time. Often, there is a mix of woods.

I purchased several bundles last summer and sorted through them, separating the ones that were potentially acceptable for use in the house. One of the uses I had in mind was the cathedral ceiling. After drying about 800 board feet in my greenhouse using a couple of box fans to circulate the air, my dad helped me to plane them to the same thickness (7/8"). We primarily planed only one side (some were thicker and were planed on both sides) since only one side is to be seen -- that inside of the house. We stacked these planed boards on the shed side of my garage where they waited until a little over a week ago.

I cut these boards to 4 foot and 5 foot lengths (they varied in length from 8 to 13 feet). These shorter lengths fit what I need for the ceiling, and they are a lot easier to work with than longer lengths. I set up a 9 foot fence on the table saw and squared the edges, trying to remove as little wood as possible in the process. After squaring the edges, I put a stacked dado head blade in the table saw in order to cut a rabbet on the edges. After about two full days of work, this is what I had:

The boards stacked on my trailer.

Stacked in the frame ready to be tarped.

I alternated the boards to calculate their total square footage.

I had almost half of the boards I need completed. I need to plane more that are dry for the rest of them. That job is waiting for either my new planer knives to arrive or the ones I sent off to be sharpened to return (they were quite dull).

I decided that I would put the boards I had completed on the back section of the ceiling on Friday. I used a framing nailer with 2" nails to attach them to the frame purlins. The boards' length allowed them to span across three purlins. They butt up against one another for each row on the purlins. This worked well since they are of various widths. Here's how it turned out:

There are several different species in this ceiling. As near as I could tell, there is oak, maple, hickory, and locust. The different colors and shades of the wood work well together with their random placement.

This is the view from on top looking toward the west. You can see the joints between the rows of boards. This side of the boards was unplaned except on a few of them.

This is the view off of the other corner toward the east. I thought it was pretty, so I'm sharing it.

It really didn't take long to nail the boards down. Yesterday, I put some 30# felt on the top of the boards to help keep rain water from staining them. I hope to have the front slope of the roof put on within the next two weeks. It'll depend upon when I have sharp knives for the planer.

Eye injuries and the Great Smoky Mountains

Alas, it has been several weeks since I last posted to my blog. It was a lot of work getting ready for the raising and then getting the frame completely assembled after the work on Labor Day weekend. It was great though! I had as my goal to get the roof on before the end of September. At least in the theoretical sense, it was an achievable goal. However, it didn't happen. I can explain why, of course.

In order to get the roof on, I needed to do several things. First was to get the boards for the cathedral ceiling prepared. This involved edging the boards I already had planed and cutting a rabbet on the edges in order to lap joint them on the frame. After that was completed, I needed to build a framework to hold the metal roof at least 14 inches above the ceiling boards (gotta have room for the blown in cellulose insulation). Then, the metal roof could be put on. So, naturally, I started at the beginning by beginning the work on the ceiling boards.

At this point let me offer some important advice: when using a table saw, wear eye protection.

I had barely begun the process of edging the ceiling boards when I wished I had taken my own advice. A piece of board chipped off of the edge and hit me squarely in my left eye. Had I been wearing the eye protection I knew I should be wearing, I would've been fine. But, I wasn't. My eye was injured. It hurt. A noticeable indentation or scratch (corneal abrasion) was left across the pupil of my eye and my vision was blurred because of it. Since my left eye has been my dominant eye, the blurred vision affected what I felt comfortable and safe doing. Driving and using the table saw were two things I wasn't comfortable doing for a couple of weeks after the accident. Currently, six weeks later, my vision is still affected, but I have adjusted so that I am able to do things that I did not feel safe doing in the first couple of weeks after the incident.

So, I didn't get very far on the roof. Then, at the end of September, my family and I left for a week long visit to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We rented a house and spent a week there three years ago, and the children have wanted to go again. So, we saved some pennies and did so. We stayed in a nice house near Cosby, TN, which we rented through Smoky Dreams Cabins (very nice). We visited several areas of the park and walked a few miles on trails to see some of the old buildings they've preserved in the park. We had a great time.

Here are three photos from our trip:

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Newspaper ariticle about the frame raising

We made it onto the front page of Sunday's edition (9/9/07) of the local newspaper:

The article was written by Shirley Mayrand. She's been waiting to write about our house project since I told her about it shortly after meeting her three years ago. It was a nice article. If you are visiting my blog because you read about it in the paper, leave a comment to let me know!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Some photos of the frame

Purlins and floor joists

My goal for last week was to complete the frame by the weekend. So, after all of the great help on Sunday and Monday, there were two major things to complete: purlins and first-floor floor joists. We had already put in the second-floor floor joists because we needed them to put down a temporary floor for assembling the rafter sets. Mark and I had spent a few days cutting one end on each of the floor joists and the purlins. Once the frame was raised, we only had to measure for each one and cut the other end.

After squaring and leveling the frame on Wednesday (we did some other work on Tuesday), we made sure the rafters and upstairs posts were plumb. We used 2x6s to brace them in place, and then we measured for the purlins to go in bay one (the west side of the house). My dad, Mark the intern, and I set up an assembly line to cut the ends of the purlins. Once they were cut, Mark and I hefted them up and put them in their mortises. Dad stayed on the ground to hook the purlins on the ropes we used to lift them up the second floor level.

Once we completed the purlins in the first bay, we moved to bay three at the east end of the house. The procedure remained the same. Lifting with the ropes worked well. We didn't have a lot of room at the edge of the frame, but there was enough to set them down, unhook the rope, and then set them in place.

Here's how the frame looked with the purlins in bays one and three:

On Thursday morning, Dad, Mark, and I began on the middle bay purlins. We measured their needed lengths and cut the dove tail tenons and curves on the ends.
Inserting them into their mortises was a much more nerve-wracking job than the other two bays. There is no second floor in the middle bay. So, we had to work from the outside edges on top of the other purlins. We took an hour and a half to just put these 13 purlins in.

Mark and Dad began cutting the floor joists for the the first floor in bay one while I climbed drove wedges into the dovetail joints on the purlins. We purposely cut the dovetail tenons smaller than the mortises. This allowed us to use wedges driven in on the sides of the tenons to draw the joists and purlins tight. It worked well.

By the end of Thursday, we had all of the purlins in and wedged and the first-floor floor joists in bay one. Friday morning we started with the floor joists for bay two (the middle bay). We completed these and the joists for bay three before lunch. Then, while Dad and Mark drove wedges in to tighten up the first-floor joists, I drove pegs through the knee braces that we hadn't previously pegged. So, by lunch time on Friday, September 7, 2007, the frame was completely assembled and pegged!

After taking a few pictures, we put a tarp over the frame on Friday afternoon, in order to keep some of the rain that we hope to receive off of the frame (it's been very dry here, with no appreciable rainfall for the last six weeks).

Squaring and leveling

After raising the frame on Labor Day weekend, the first thing to do was to make sure the frame was square and level. In order to square it, I had to move one bent forward a few inches, another bent toward the back an inch or two, and move the center line of the house toward the west a couple of inches. If the frame had been set on a sill with mortises to accept tenons on the bottom of the posts, there wouldn't be a need to square up the frame. Having the bottoms of the posts sitting on concrete piers allowed for some things to be out of square depending on how close to the center they each stood on the piers.

The first thing to do was to insert pieces of aluminum under each post to act as a moisture barrier. I don't want moisture to wick up the piers and into the posts. Rot wouldn't be a good thing. I had plenty of aluminum from the siding off of an old mobile home that I deconstructed this spring. I used a hydraulic jack to lift each post just enough to slide the pieces of aluminum underneath.

The aluminum moisture barrier helped to provide a smoother surface under the posts for moving them into square. Mark the intern and I attached a come-along from the bottom of a post to the next concrete pier. Applying some pressure with it allowed a few judicious knocks with the 'commander' (aka a beetle -- a large mallet) to adjust the intended posts toward square.

After squaring the frame, we checked the level. I rigged a water level using a hose and some clear rubber tubing at the ends. However, it didn't want to work for some reason. The water in the level wouldn't stabilize. Something was going on. So, we used a line level on a taught string. This revealed two posts that were about 1/2" higher than the other 10 (it was level between these 10 posts). Rather than block up 10 posts with hardwood wedges, we jacked the two high posts about and inch off of their piers, and I then used a chainsaw to shave off enough from the bottom of the posts to bring them into level. This worked great.

Once the frame was square and level, we were ready to move on to the next project: purlins and first-floor floor joists.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Raising the frame: day two, September 3, 2007

On Monday, September 3, 2007, we continued with the raising. We were blessed with the help of eight people. My goal for the day was to get the rafter sets up. We accomplished that. Here are some photos of our work:

We have the first rafter set (the set includes two rafters, two posts, and a collar tie) assembled and are getting the rigging attached to raise it.

The first two rafter sets are up!

Another view of the first two sets raised. We completed this by lunch time.

The same thing from another angle.

It rained for ten minutes in the early afternoon. We were working on the second-floor floor joists and got rained on a bit. We took a break until the rain stopped.

We lifted the floor joists with straps on either end. Once we had them up, we set them in their mortises.

We had the floor joists in and then inserted wedges in the dovetail joint to tighten them up.

Our third rafter set up. We used the gin pole on the middle two sets. The outer sets we lifted by hand and some help from the ground via a rope.

We lifted the pieces for the rafter sets up with straps like we did the floor joists. Four people were able to lift the 16 foot 6x8 rafter. One of the posts is being lifted in this photo.

A view of the rafters from below. Just a cool photo.

We're lifting the last rafter set. We secured the ladder and attached a block at the top to help with the lifting. There were three people on the rope. Their job was primarily to help keep it up once it was vertical.

After the rafter set was up, we lifted the girt into place. We had to lean the rafter set on the right out in order to get the tenons in their mortises. Then, we pulled it back together and pegged the girt and braces.

I'm driving a peg into the rafter foot. we used a come-a-long to pull it down so that we could get the peg through the hole. I had also draw-bored (or attempted to) the joints which does put a lot of pressure and pull them together.

Our work for the day. The rafters are all up! There is a second floor!

Another view from the front. The gin pole stands in the middle of the house, waiting to be removed later. No purlins yet, but the rafters weren't inclined to move anywhere.

I took this photo early the next morning. The sun shining through the morning fog added a nice touch.

This is what we accomplished in two days of work! Everyone that helped has a right to feel proud of their work. I am extremely grateful for all of the help!!