Deep Dive: Problems and Solutions

Design

The most challenging areas of the floor plan, odd as it may seem, were the bathroom and closet/laundry doors; their placement and orientation became a design puzzle.

Option A (top left): The "traditional" approach would be to make a short hallway, with doors on either side. But a hallway is a space pigólook at how much of the closet gets eaten up, not to mention that the open area needed behind the closet door completely kills the recessed portion of the entertainment center.

Option B (center left): Doing away with the hallway and just making the doors flush with the living space wall is better in terms of space utilization, but it pushes the bathroom door closer to the bed, which is a bit awkward, as is the shape of the passageway into the closet. Besides, the long, flat living space wall (along the bottom) is kind of boring.

Option C (bottom left): Orienting the two doors at 45 degrees to the living space wall, and at 90 degrees to each other, utilizes the space more efficiently, creating enough extra room for a little linen closet right behind the bathroom door; the bathroom also feels more spacious. Furthermore, it looks more interesting than either of the previous designs, and it creates a symmetrical shape around the entertainment center.

Construction

Building a house all by myself was a challenge I've looked forward to for most of my life, and one that I've also been preparing myself to face, so it wasn't at all frightening or daunting. It did, however, present some physical challenges, given that I'd never built anything this big before, and one of the first problems I faced was handling large objects; for the most part I simply had to build up my strength and stamina, little by little. As an example, going into the project, picking up a twelve-foot-long two-by-four was a strain; by the time the framing was done, I could easily handle a 28-foot-long two-by-twelve.

My first big hurdle was the ridge board for the garage roof. I could just about lift one end of it, so I dragged it into the garage. I located a stepladder at each end of the garage, and placed one end of the ridge board on the highest rung of a stepladder I could manage. I repeated this on each end alternately until both ends were atop the wall framing. Then I placed each end into a pre-assembled support that held it in its final position, and secured it in place.

The garage roof rafters were nearly as challenging, although I could handle them a little better. I'd place one end on top of the garage wall, then shove it toward the center until it was perfectly balanced on the wall. Then I'd move inside, climb up on a stepladder, and drag it the rest of the way into place. One thing that also helped this process was plenty of rest: after I installed each rafter, I stopped to take a photo of it. This kept me going at a steady but relatively gentle pace that prevented me from straining myself or becoming exhausted too quickly.

One step that at first seemed truly daunting was the garage roof sheathing. Four-by-eight-foot sheets of 3/4-inch exterior plywood are massive things I could barely lift even at my best. How was I ever going to get them up onto the roof? I solved the problem by making a ramp from a pair of two-by-eights, to which I attached wedge-shaped slices of lumber to act as slide locks. I'd wheel a sheet of ply into position on a hand cart, and drop it at the bottom of the ramp. Then I'd shove the ply up the ramp a few feet at a time, setting it against the locks to keep it from sliding back down. One last push got the sheet onto the roof, and from there it was relatively easy to shift it into place. This might not have been possible, however, had the roof pitch been much greater than the gentle 12:1 I'd chosen!

The ceiling joists of the living space presented a unique challenge, not because they were difficult to handle, but because they posed a purely aesthetic conundrum I had to solve. I'd planned on having a freestanding wood fireplace in the center of the wall of windows since the beginning. The problem was the flue: if there was a beam down the center of the ceiling, the flue would have to jog to the left or right on the way up, and this was unacceptable to me.

The solution was to run two beams across the ceiling, one each to the left and right of the center, to allow the flue to run straight up through. It would still need to jog to one side in order to avoid the ridge beam, but this would take place in the hidden space between the ceiling and the roof (below).

It may look strange, but it's actually stronger than it might have been if built more conventionally: instead of just one beam across the span, there are fouróthe two beams are doubled, and directly contribute to the support of the roof. Given the roof's 12:1 pitch, I considered the extra support a prudent step. Deflection at the center is less than half of the acceptable limit.

The roof itself was a big problem overall, since I knew it would be some time before it could be clad in steel, as planned. The solution was to use a roofing material, which was designed to help prevent ice build-up along eves, as a temporary roof (an acceptable alternate use of the product, evidently). The material is self-adhesive and comes in rolls, making it a snap to install.

Owing to my unfortunate financial circumstances, the temporary roof has had to survive much longer than expected, but thankfully it's held up well so far. There were plenty of additional challenges I faced along the way; some are detailed in other sidebars.

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