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Island House: Wrapping up for the first rains

Island HouseJamie2 Comments

The Seemingly Endless Drought

Our island land is dusty dry this summer, unlike any summer we've seen.

Our island land is dusty dry this summer, unlike any summer we've seen.

It’s been a long and droughty summer in the Pacific Northwest, almost eerily so. It’s a quirk of PNW weather that one despairs of the rain, but when it gets dry for very long, another distress sets in as forests become tinder dry and all the moisture is sucked from the ground.

Here on San Juan Island, fire danger was high throughout most of the summer and there were strict measures in place to restrict fires of all kinds, from back yard recreational fires to campfires in public parks and lands. We watched in surprise as the fields became parched and brittle and pond levels fell precipitously all around us…it became uncommonly common to hear people say they had never seen local ponds fall so low, regardless of the number of years they’d called the island home. 

When rain appeared in the forecast late last week, I originally thought showers, the sorts that have blustered through here and there the last few weeks but amounted to very little and were parched out of remembrance by soaring temps ensuing the very next day. This rain forecast, however, was different.

Rain, and I Mean, RAIN, At Last!

And we were without the most important parts of a roof, the paper membrane and the shingles themselves. Our roofer is busy right now and couldn’t make it out to us before the rain was forecast. We decided to paper the roof ourselves, despite disliking the heights. It seemed only sensible and given the amount of rain we received over the course of the next days and really the last week straight, this was a very good choice. We spent a six hour day, the last hot day of the summer perhaps, papering the entire roof. We used 30# felt and rather than take the huge rolls up with us, we cut off lengths to fit the areas we were working on and slowly rolled and stapled it into place. Because a huge wind storm was predicted for the Saturday after our papering work (which took place on a Thursday), we were concerned about the staples holding. We also used tabbed roofing nails to secure the edges and then hoped for the best as a truly Murphy’s Law inspired storm rolled through last Saturday. Winds were around 30-40 miles per hour and gusts were reported to 50 mph. I am not sure what the accurate wind levels were clocked at here, but it was plenty windy. The storm mellowed out around 2 pm and we headed out to the property to see if our paper had survived. And it had! Hooray!!

We have been delighted with how well our temporary roofing is keeping the rain out, very little coming through the staples. We have had a couple of inches of rain this past week at least, and all is well. Hopefully (such a huge emotion contained in the four little letters spelling hope) the roofing shingles will go on this week. It will certainly be a delight to be closed in this year. Summer seems to have roared in early and is departing early as well. Sigh. Always a lot of sadness for me associated with the end of summer, although fresh corn helps. 

I have spent the week resting my shoulder a bit from a trim paint a thon that left my rotator cuff a little irritable. Shawn has been roughing in the plumbing. It’s nearly done. We had to spend some time laying out the upstairs bathroom again and got a good design in place and all the venting and draining is installed. We also ran cold and hot water lines and got many of the stub ins in place ready for fixtures, essentially. 

We are now preparing for the roughing in of the electric. We won’t have wire until after next week, but have installed the panel box and have roughly mapped out switches and boxes throughout the house. 

The Chimney Chase

After chasing down a fireplace we like, we built a chimney chase for the Valor Senator propane stove. We have ordered and will pick up this weekend. It should look pretty neat!  It was something of a decoding project to figure out the framing requirements for it, but sort it out we did and now the chase is built. We also tied up some other loose ends this week around the house, putting in ceiling catches for drywall and building in the walls for the bathroom and framing a small door from our bedroom closet into the bathroom and building the half walls between the dining room and living room.

Coming up...

Tomorrow we will begin the week by working on some small projects as we prepare to get closed in. We will be building the rest of the chase for the chimney (second floor), putting in the sloped walls for the stairwell, hanging the garage doors and assembling all the materials we’ll need for the electrical work we’ll start the week of the 14th. Windows are also supposed to arrive the week of the 14th and hopefully insulation will be going in by then…since we’re on the subject of hope, we hope to show the shingled roof sometime in the very near future as well! I think that for me this is the most stressful part of the build. We are relying a lot on others to do certain important work (relying on others in comfort is not a strong area for me though I very much appreciate the work) and the weather is changing, closing up the house is such an exciting time, but till certain things get done, we are somewhat restricted in what we can do. Still and all, good progress is being made and it’s hard to be disappointed with how much we’ve accomplished so far!

Thanks for reading along...

Forty-six sheets of plywood this week


It was a great week to be working on the roof. A lot of sunny days, and enough threat of rain in the forecast to keep our motivation alive - as if not having a roof on your house wasn’t motivation enough! We got plywood laid all the way to the ridge line on the north and south sides of the house except where the dormers are. It lined up beautifully and was surprisingly easy to install for us. The actual work requiring Shawn to be out on the plywood deck wasn’t so bad and he was pleased with how comfortable he was using his ropes to move about on a ten pitch roof. That was a pleasant surprise. Much of the roofing we were able to do from the inside out, sliding the plywood sheets up and into position from the inside, nailing as much as possible from the inside and only using the rope and/or harness when some of the nailing had to be done. All in all, a smooth and satisfying process.

We also moved on to building out the walls for both dormers and got them sheathed with plywood, which really makes the house start to look more like it does in our minds. The reality is starting to match the design pictures.

We also installed the final four eave brackets, cut, primed and painted all the merge and barge rafters for the north and south dormers and got the south dormer trim rafters installed and a even start made on the decking of them. Today was a rainy day so I painted in the garage while Shawn nailed on the fascia board for the south rafter and began decking the eaves until he was too soggy to keep at it. Tomorrow we’ll arrive on site with the north dormer barge and merge rafters primed, painted and ready to install. I even have ready several more pieces of eave decking. Hopefully I’ve primed and painted enough so that can be a finished part of the project.

We are now in the process of figuring out how to go about step flashing the dormers, it turns out that we may not install the barge rafter trim till we have the house roofed, which is sort of a shame as the dormer will look incomplete till then. However, with September approaching, we hope to be getting the go ahead to have the roofing done very shortly.

Tomorrow we will be back at it, and hope to complete the sheathing of the roof this week. It will feel good to be able to call the roofers for a heads up and get ready for our framing inspection.

Hope you’ll check in again next week and thanks for reading!

A small house roof can be BIG!


It’s been a couple of weeks since our last progress report. The week after our last update was productive, but actually hindered a couple of days due to sorely needed rainfall. Forest fire threats are still high across the Pacific Northwest and the drought is very real, so while this rainfall can’t put a sizable dent in our water woes, it was still welcome, even if it rained us out of work at the site. Still and all, it was a week with a lot of painting and trim and detail work coming together nicely. In order to begin the plywood sheathing of our roof, we had to build out the merge and barge rafters on our roof assembly and complete the short rafters for the clipped gables on the east and west ends of the house. These then needed priming and painting. The need for the pieces of the assembly to be primed and painted before installation meant that we were often measuring and cutting one day but installing the next, so the going felt a little slow at times, though really it wasn’t. Among other painting chores, Shawn gave me a big pile of 1 x 4 decking to prime and paint. This is the material that decks the eaves over the rafter tails and is visible from inside, so I was very busy with priming and painting all week. We both love the way the contrasting colors look, and the yellow and red have really turned out beautifully.

We also used this decking to cover the front porch entrance, which we completed this week with the exception of decorative barge rafters which will be installed shortly. The last couple of days have been a flurry of progress. Progress often seems to come this way…you prep and prep and prep and all of a sudden are able to move ahead strongly as a result. Shawn did all the decking over the rafter tails and trimmed all the way up the merge and barge rafters. He also decked the clipped gable. While he was doing this work, I got the paint on the garage trim. I will just say that there is great wisdom in painting your trim work before installing it. Time restrictions prevented our doing this on the garage and it is far trickier to neatly paint in place. My neck is still singing a song about the strange angles I pressed it into. However, the main painting is done and there are just a few clean ups to do. What a nice difference.

Yesterday we started installing the plywood on the roof itself. This has felt wonderful. The last couple of days have been quite hot, and so far this summer we have always seemed to have to do our work with plywood on the hottest days. The good news about this hot weather plywood work is that it provided shade for us very quickly. While a bit slow going to get started, we are now moving ahead quickly and expect to make more great progress this week. Another positive thing has been that Shawn has become quite a bit more comfortable with working on the roof. Much of our sheathing we are doing from the inside out, but the large sheets of plywood require Shawn to climb out on the roof and finish the nailing work. He is really pleased to be using a pneumatic nailer as this gives him a free hand for holding on to plywood or his rope and makes the whole process of standing out on the roof quite bearable.

So this week’s work will include finishing the plywood work on the roof, then building the dormer walls, cutting, painting and installing the dormer merge and barge rafters, and then sheathing the dormers with plywood. There are some other odds and ends to tie up, but this will remain the focus of our week’s work. That the roof is going on is almost too good a feeling to put into words. Granted, it’s not papered or shingled, but it’s not completely open to the sky, either. And seeing the roof going on really seems to give proper shape to the house, it’s starting to look more like the pictures.

Hope you’ll join us for another update soon!

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.