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.