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August 19, 2007
Getting back to zero

Gail constructs sunshades for the windows using aluminum foil and painters tape. We thought we had passed the peak of the summer heat two weeks ago, but it's still hot up here.

Two weeks ago, Gail and Russell spent a wonderful, productive and relaxing week alone up at our mountain-top building site. At the end of the week, our friend and inspector Dennis informed us that we have a lot to do before our next milestone inspection in January. For both of these reasons, we have decided to return for two weekends in August and four weekends in September.

Our first chance to return was Friday, August 17. We left the Bay Area early – at 2:30 pm – and still got stuck in the notorious East Bay traffic. We had planned to begin work in the afternoon, but by the time we arrived in Calaveras, it was already almost dusk.

In another omen of things to come, we discovered that a tree had fallen across the road just after we crossed onto our property. The early work agenda was out the window. Instead, we had to leave the car, crawl through the tree, walk the rest of the way up to the house, and return with several saws. It took us half an hour to get the chain saw started (the last time we’d used it was when Russell’s brother-in-law Matt felled a tree with it in May 2005). By the time we got the van through the road and up to the house, the day was gone.

An omen of things to come: we discovered that a tree had fallen across the road on the way to our house. We spent Friday evening clearing it out of the way.

We made up for it by starting work bright and early on Saturday morning. Dennis had informed us of several significant construction errors we had made. We would have to repair these before we could go any further.

The first error was that we had cut the top plates of our walls in sections that corresponded to the walls themselves. Instead, we should have staggered the top plates, so that they would overlap the walls and make the whole structure stronger. (Think of how a brick wall is properly constructed – each row of bricks staggers the bricks below it).

Top plates the wrong way. Note that both top plates have been cut the same way, in sections that correspond to the walls. There's nothing to stop the entire wall from falling over if the nails fail.

Unfortunately, Russell had constructed two rooms full of ceiling joists by attaching them to these top plates. Russell had spent the last day of our previous work week uninstalling half of the joists. He spent Saturday morning uninstalling the other half.

Top plates the right way. The second to plate now spans multiple walls. It is also turned on its edge, creating a rim joist.

As small consolation, Dennis had showed us an alternative (i.e. better) way to install joists that does not require joist hangers. By turning the top plate on its edge instead of laying it flat, we could create a “shelf” upon which to rest all of our joists. (Dennis informed us that when the top plate is turned this way, it is called a “rim joist.”)

Joists the wrong way. While not technically "wrong," it's not the way that contractors normally install them. This method requires joist hangers that are attached to the two top plates.

Russell spent the rest of the weekend working on this task, and by Sunday afternoon he had removed all of the top plates and rebuilt half of the joists. Unfortunately the new joists each had to be 4” inches longer than the old ones (2” on each side to account for the rim joists being turned on their edges), so he had to cut all new lumber.

Joists the right way. The rim joist creates a shelf that eliminates the need for joist hangers.

While Russell worked on Dennis’ first problem, Gail worked on the second. When we had constructed our walls, we placed the upright studs 16” apart according to construction standards. We used this spacing regardless of how any two walls connected with each other. Dennis pointed out that without studs spaced deliberately in every corner, we would have no place to connect the drywall later on.

Wall studs the wrong way. The left wall has a stud in the corner, so dry wall can be secured. The right wall does not.

Unfortunately the walls were now assembled, so Gail had to insert new studs after the fact, by shoving them into place and then toe-nailing them. Gail also had time to rig better sun shades for the windows out of aluminum foil, and put bug netting around our latest gazebo.

Wall studs the right way. An additional stud has been installed just right of center. Now the right-hand dry wall can be secured on the inside of the corner.

When we finally departed Sunday afternoon, we realized that we had spent the weekend basically getting back to the same point in construction that we had already reached two weeks ago. Of course, the difference was that we had built things correctly this time.

As Gail remarked when we were driving off, “It may not look like it, but we worked really, really hard this weekend.”

Gail installs bug netting around the gazebo. Ironically it's almost invisible, so it represents even more work that's barely noticeable.


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