Custom plans, drafting + Design


San Juan Island Small House Update

Shawn A. Dehner

Today is a very strange day because I am at home for the day…the first day in ages I haven’t been on the building site. We are at a transitional point in our build and must take some time to build the eave bracket components of the roof assembly. There are twelve to build so it will take a couple or three days to do it. Frankly, we are having a west coast heat wave and it’s not such a bad thing to be able to work from home in the shade, so that’s what we’re doing.

This week we wrapped up some various projects. Shawn did a tremendous amount of blocking, installing bird blocking (no holes drilled yet, but all installed and waiting final preparations) and also blocking the entire first floor. I did a lot of caulking and air sealing while Shawn was installing 1 ¼” 20 gauge metal strapping over the rafters to tie the rafters to the ridge (performing a function similar to collar ties in that it prevents uplift). This was a preferred method for us as it will allow us to have unbroken bays for insulation. We also built dummy rafter tails and installed them under the north and south dormers. Dummy rafter tails are non structural but important aesthetically as they allow the rafter tails to continue on despite the fact that the actual structural rafter tails only appear above the dormer (where they are performing). Once those were in, it was time for me to apply their two coats of primer in preparation for painting later this summer. I needed to do this before we install the decking over them and it becomes too hard to do. We ordered the ⅝” plywood sheathing for the roof, though it will be a bit before we can install that. We also have the eave decking on order and will get that into place once the brackets are built, primed, painted and installed. This week we also built the gable end walls, installed the second floor plywood up to the point where we can put the brackets on. It was so amazingly easy to do with a framing nailer that I found myself thinking the absolutely bizarre thought that putting up plywood sheathing was fun. The building being square made the installation easy and straightforward and it’s nice to have things getting closed in upstairs. Lastly, we visited a local cedar and fir mill and officially placed an order for the materials for the pergolas and the front entrance. Building these will be an exciting and enjoyable (and very useful) experience. We think the wood is going to be just beautiful and amazing!  The cedar pergola timbers will be gorgeous - can’t wait to see them!

It feels as though we did a lot of little things this week. It’s awfully strange to be at home for a few days but nice to catch up on component building in the shade at our rental.

More to come next week…hope that you will join us again.

San Juan Island Small House Update


It seems like the weeks are flying by and we are making such good progress that it’s hard to believe it isn’t later in the season. Good weather, recently a little cooler even, continues to be on our side, and it FEELS likes summer! 

This week we finished our temporary stairs, installed rafter plates on the north and south side of the house and then spent a couple of *hot* days installing ¾” tongue and groove plywood on the second floor.  The process went smoothly… though it was a pleasure to install the last piece, to be sure! 

From there it was time to move on to raising the ridge beam and installing rafters. It is always somewhat harrowing to work at elevation. Shawn actively (and vociferously) dislikes heights but works at them when required (hence the extra vocalizations?) and fortunately, I do not have too much issue with heights, unless my ladder is bouncing. Fortunately, there was none of that this week!  We installed temporary bracing and supports for the ridge beam, which consists of two 14’ ¾” two by tens scabbed together in the middle. The clipped gable ends will be installed later so the ridge is dimensionally shorter than the width of the house. Because there are two dormers on the house, we cannot lay the rafters all the way across but we started by installing some of the rafters to support the ridge. It is still phenomenal to me that wood will basically hold itself together when pressure is applied in the right way. I marvel over this each time we build. What seems impossible is possible though we won’t remove all the supports till the entire roof system is in place.

We were also pleased to note that Shawn got his cuts on the birds mouths, which is where the roof rafter sits on the bottom plate, on the first try with no hitches. It is nice to see our skills build, and both here and in the cutting of stair stringers, we noted some real progress! The rafters fit both at the base and the ridge perfectly. We also finished the small amounts of first floor plywood wall sheathing that needed doing along with the last of the first floor caulk air sealing.

Today, Saturday, we built the north facing gable wall, sheathing it on the ground to save us some time up on a ladder with the framing nailer. We were able to position it without much trouble, anchoring it with 5 inch structural screws along with nails. It is nice to have it installed and now we can continue with the rest of the north wall rafters.

What's next? This week we should finish the full length rafters and build the larger south facing dormer that is part of the main bedroom. From there we’ll need to install the shorter rafters over both dormers. Then the gable end walls will be framed up and at that point, it’s decision making time. We have not decided whether to then break and build the pergolas on the east and west side of the house (which will also provide us with built in staging to do the clipped gable work) or to do that work on ladders. I’m thinking the pergolas will be a good idea. We designed them into the house partly for that very reason…it seemed a practical and elegant solution to working at heights. With a piece of sturdy plywood laid across the pergola, we have a nice wide staging area for a ladder, paint buckets, etc. Time will tell. We hope you’ll check back in and see next week’s progress! Seeing the rafters going in is a real milestone, very exciting!!

San Juan Island Small House Update

Shawn A. Dehner

It seems like I was just writing up last week’s progress report!  We started the week with cooler, cloudy temps and even got some rain on Monday, much needed. It also gave us a chance to take a day off, also much needed.

This week we finished all of the joists for the second floor and completed all of the interior walls, including those that helped frame up the stairwell and the cabinets and closets beneath it. The stairs were the final big project of the week. Shawn cut all the stringers yesterday and we were reminded of Roy Smith, a retired builder in Belfast, ME who answered questions for us along the way as we built our first house there about a decade ago; we raised our hammers in toast to him and appreciated once again his tips on stepping out stairs many years ago that helped us cut our first stringers. 

By Saturday we'd completed the main straight run, installed temporary treads and also the second floor landing. We also got our risers spot on at 7 ¾ all the way up - an important calculation for us and pleasant to achieve without trouble. 

While Shawn stepped out and cut the stringers, I spent a good amount of time carefully air sealing the interior walls by running a bead of caulk along any place where studs, trimmers, sills or headers met each other. We have also air sealed the exterior in a similar way. A blower door test is now required to pass the final building inspection and this extra bit of work will help us pass and make the house more energy efficient by preventing air leakage.

This coming week we will be laying out plywood on the second floor and will be feeling very grateful as we hustle it up comfortable stairs rather than hoisting it through the stairwell, one of us up and one of us down. After that’s installed and square, it will be on to framing up the second floor dormers. It is hard to believe that the roof assembly is in close sight. This is the earliest start we have ever gotten on a building project and quite possibly the finest weather we have ever had for one. Please check in again next week for some additional photos and another progress report.

2015 Small House Project Update


Although it ended with clouds overhead (and boy do we need rain) we enjoyed another week of sunny skies to work under. We started the week sheathing the exterior of the first floor with plywood and used a router to open up the windows and doors. Then we move inside where we began framing and lifting interior walls, starting with our two load bearing walls and tying them into the corresponding wall plates. Next we framed up the non-load bearing walls, a lot of fun as it gave shape to the layout of the first floor - it’s very spacious! 

We also tried something new with the transition between the mudroom and the living room: we framed out a 2 x 12 dividing wall between the two rooms. On the larger half of the living room side, there will be bookshelves built into this extra deep wall, and on the mudroom side we are going to install site-built drawers to hold hats, gloves, scarves and other “mudroom stuff.”  Once trimmed out it will also give the house an extra deep entrance between the spaces.

Today, to close out the week, we started installing joists for the second floor and we expect to actually have them finished tomorrow. 

Finally, the garden we planted last week in traumatized soil has begun to sprout! A new garden is always a joyous occasion and this one's sprouting so fast.

More next week!

2015 Small House Project Update


planting our first garden

After completing the subfloor and plywood layout over our slab and then taking a long weekend, it was time for us to get to work on the house. Monday we started framing the first walls. By Thursday they were all standing and by Friday it was time to finish air sealing the exterior wall seams with caulk and interior corners with spray foam. We spent the day yesterday hooking up a hose spigot for the soon-to-be planted garden, as well as installing wall cripples and insulating the headers. Today, we plant our garden, our latest start ever, but still very traditional, and should getting the rest of the cripples installed and perhaps tie the walls together with the top plates. Next week…on to plywood sheathing and building the interior load bearing walls.

Some notes:  We raised these walls ourselves in mostly 12 -14 foot sections, which is why we left almost all of the plywood off the exterior; it’s far easier to sheath on the ground, but with just the two of us raising the walls, we didn't want them to become impossibly heavy. We also left off building the full headers until standing to save on weight. It worked well and we were able to keep the walls in great shape in terms of being straight, plumb and level. We’ll be applying plywood vertically rather than horizontally because it is stronger this way as there are fewer seams, an important consideration in our high wind, earthquake prone area.

All in all, it was a fun and satisfying week with straightforward work and lots to show for it. Hope you’ll join us for another update next week!

Garage progress report


A week ago Saturday, the concrete work finished, it was time for us to get down to galvanized nails and start framing. We are building a garage to start the process, which will serve as not only a garage, but a place to store tools and do work that requires a flat surface. This is a luxury we are pretty excited about as the last couple of builds have been complicated at times from this particular lacking!  In addition to beginning the garage framing, we are winding up the electrical conduit project. This particular project involved a lot of digging trenches, followed unsurprisingly by a lot of rainfall that made the job just a bit more fun. :-)  We connected all of our conduit, hooked up the electrical meter base, sunk it in quickcrete and with the aid of some friendly folks at a local electrical supply company, were able to borrow a pounding tool to sink the 2 eight feet ground rods into the earth. Photographs taken and L&I called for inspection, we were able to fill the trench back in  (hello again to the sunshine) and now are awaiting inspection and the energizing of the unit by the local power co-op. That will be nice since we’ll have a power plug in and won’t have to rely strictly on battery tools.

Speaking of battery tools, however, please look forward to a couple of reviews in the following weeks of the two battery powered tools, a Bosch circular saw and DeWalt nailer, that have enabled us to make so much progress this week.

We have the garage framed and sheathed on the first floor (though windows are not yet cut out), the ridge beam is up, rafters installed and rake walls framed. We also framed in a loft space for storage. The framing was straightforward and over the course of the week we have been getting our framing physiques going again…it’s amazing what different parts of the body each project utilizes. Hands are a bit sore, but we are well on our way and framing feels very intuitive this time around. Perhaps by the third time you do anything, you are really getting the technique into your bones and consciousness. In any event, it feels good to be out and doing it again.  Please see the progress pictures below and check back in as we proceed. This coming week we begin the second half of the roof installation, merge and barge rafters, overhangs, brackets, etc.

Some thoughts that have occurred to me along the way this week…not all parts of the building process are fun. Some are boring. Some are frustrating and there are times when it seems things just aren’t going smoothly at all. After a build is done, you tend to forget these parts (if you are lucky!) because the overall experience is so gratifying, creative and rewarding. I am reminded of mothers who mention that if they weren’t able to forget the pain of childbirth, they wouldn’t have had more than one child!  Building has this character as well. There is worry and frustration and difficulty along the way. There are also days when the sun is shining down on you and you can’t believe you are doing what you are doing. Every step is one forward, and there are so many steps involved. Being a part of the process is an amazing educational experience and profoundly satisfying (especially on the smooth days!)