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June 26, 2006
Walls hard fought

Gail and Cameron ponder how to bring a wall upright -- without it falling through either the inside or the outside of the house

2006 has been a very unusual year for weather in the San Francisco Bay Area. It seems as if we went directly from winter to summer, bypassing spring. After one of the wettest rainfall seasons in history, we are now experiencing unusually extreme heat waves. The weekend of June 24 was predicted to hit 108º in the Central Valley. Unfortunately, it would also be our last chance to work on our mountain house for a month. So up we went.

Due to people’s various schedules, we had another set of staggered arrivals. Russell was the first to arrive, on the evening of Thursday, June 22. Because we had been here only a week before, we had left the tent up for the boys. This weekend, however, Russell and Gail would sleep on the lower story floor. Steve would sleep on the upper story floor.

In consideration of the hot weather, Russell had a whole day on Friday in which to accomplish a half-day’s worth of tasks. During the cooler morning, he installed the three joists on the right side of the stairwell frame, then covered both sides with an OSB subfloor. This enabled him to relax in the shade during the height of the afternoon heat. (The temperature hit a high of 98º according to the thermometer, but it felt much cooler because of the wind and shade.) Steve arrived Friday evening just in time for dinner and an evening DVD show. At 11:00 pm, the temperature was still 85º.

On Saturday morning, June 24, Russell and Steve had just enough time to install the last two corner pieces (on either side of the now-framed stairwell) before Gail arrived in late morning. She brought Cameron, Joss, and our nephew Eric. We would need the entire crew for the major task of this weekend: beginning to install the upper story walls.

The last two corner sections, on the left and right sides of the newly-framed stairwell

Because the upper story is cantilevered over the lower story, the upper story walls would be much larger and heavier than the lower story walls that we had installed last summer – each 13 feet long by 10 feet high. One of the smartest things that Gail had done last April was to ask Frank the crane guy to set the pallet of upper-story walls up on the second-story floor, before the roof had been installed. They had been sitting there waiting for more than a year.

Even so, we now had a major task ahead. Steve had even borrowed a pair of Johnson bars, eight-foot long wheeled levers made specifically for moving walls.

The eight upstairs walls (note Johnson bars on the left)

We decided to tackle the northwest wall first, mainly because it was on the outside of the pallet. Coincidentally, it would also be one of the hardest walls to install. Because it went next to the large hole for the stairway, there would be no place to stand either inside or outside the house while it was being installed.

A difficult situation: "wall number one" must be placed on top of this triple purlin -- but there is no place to stand either inside or outside of the house while we install it

We spent almost an hour after lunch discussing and planning exactly how to proceed. The first priority would be to keep the crew safe. The second priority would be to keep the top-heavy wall from falling either inside or outside the house until it was set in place. Russell and Eric would be at one end of the wall to manage both the Johnson bar and overall balance; while Steve and Cameron would be at the other end. Gail would handle a rope tied from the top of the wall to the house’s center post, another precaution to keep the wall from falling outward. Joss would handle the sticks and tracks necessary to adjust the Johnson bars as we moved, and take pictures.

Eric, Joss, and Cameron stand ready with Johnson bars, sticks, and tracks in hand

As we moved the gigantic wall from its pallet home to the inside of the house, the process became a cacophony of everyone shouting and pointing, as we tried to keep the wall perfectly upright while avoiding the low rafters and roof beams. We finally decided to lay the wall on its back in order to move it into place. Even so, Gail had us toe-nail several sticks to the outside of the stairwell’s triple purlin, as an extra precaution to keep the bottom of the wall from sliding outward.

Moving "Wall number one," part 1:
While the men try to move the wall upright, avoiding the roof beams...
...Gail holds a rope to keep it from falling outward

In the end, lifting the wall into place was a straightforward but exhausting maneuver. It lifted into place wonderfully and plumbed easily. We toe-nailed it into place, then celebrated by spending the rest of the afternoon at the reservoir to cool off. (According to the car thermometer, the temperature at the reservoir peaked at 111º.)

Moving "Wall number one," part 2:
Lifting the wall into place from its back (note the sticks nailed to the outside of the triple purlin, to keep the bottom of the wall from slipping out and falling ten feet to the ground below!)

"Wall number one" in place

On Sunday morning, June 25, we looked ahead to the second wall. We decided that it made sense first to install those walls where there were no decks on the outside – partly to keep the adjacent decks most accessible, and partly to get the hardest parts over with first. Coincidentally, the other wall on the outside of the pallet was also a non-deck wall.

Unfortunately, it was also the heaviest wall in the pallet. With no doors or windows, it was completely solid (in fact, the only completely solid wall upstairs), representing the closets between Joss’ and Cameron’s bedrooms on the northeast side. And because it was completely solid, we would have no choice but to move it completely upright through the entire process – we knew that if we ever set it on its back, we would never be able to lift it upright again.

"Wall number two" -- the solid wall -- ready to move. The rope is to prevent it from falling outward; the braces are to prevent it from falling inward

It took all morning to maneuver the solid wall to the appropriate position inside of the house. In fact, we took our lunch break before we moved it the last five feet into place. Gail took advantage of the pause to stain the wood before final installation. (She used a new air sprayer for the first time. It leaked and sprayed stain all over her.)

After lunch, the final positioning of the upright wall was another another exercise in yelling, panic, and rebalancing. However, moving this upstairs solid wall was easy compared to moving the downstairs solid wall last August... which took Steve and Russell an entire day-and-a-half.

Moving "Wall number two":
As an added precaution, Russell was positioned outside with a second rope to keep the wall from falling inward

"Wall number two" in place

Wall number three – Cameron’s bedroom wall, on the north side – posed a different problem. On the positive side, it was three-quarters window, so it was one of the lightest walls. As well, there was a deck outside, so we would have someplace to stand while installing it.

On the negative side, we knew from pre-measuring that this wall would have a very tight fit... if it fit at all.

(Back in April of last year, we had to use a comealong to warp several of the second-story support beams in order to make the roof fit. We knew at the time that this would make the eight sides of the second-story octagon non-uniform, but at the time we had no other choice. Now we would have to deal with the consequences.)

Moving and lifting "Wall number three"

Despite adjusting the adjacent corner pieces as much as possible, we could not make the 13’ foot wall fit into the 12’10” opening. We ended up having to remove the 2" side dados from both corner pieces – as well as shaving part of the wall itself – to make it fit.

Trying (unsuccessfully) to fit "Wall number three" into place, using a crowbar and sledge hammer

"Wall number three" (finally) in place

After this nightmare, wall number four was easy in comparison. This southeast wall represented Russell and Gail’s bedroom wall. With two windows, it was half air. And it was the third – and last – wall without a deck outside. Russell, Gail, and Steve were able to move it into place with minimal help from the three boys.

"Wall number four" in place

With four walls in place, we decided to call it a day. Russell and Steve secured all four walls with lag screws, while Gail prepared another one of her fabulous dinners.

On Monday, June 26, we left the mountain – Steve first thing in the morning, then the rest of us after cleaning everything up. It will be a while before we come up again. We will be travelling for three weeks, then Russell starts a new job at the end of July.

But we leave our mountain with a great sense of accomplishment. With a crew of three adults and three youths, we succeeded in moving four difficult walls into place. (In fact, as Russell remarked, we have no idea how other people have managed to install these precarious and heavy second-story walls – especially without a crane, Johnson bars, or exterior decks.)

We are confident that with two more full days of work and an able crew, we will be able to install the last four walls, finally completing the exterior shell of our mountain home. But that will have to wait for another weekend…


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