As we learned during our four weeks of volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in Colorado last summer, framing is the most rewarding part of house building. In just a few weeks a bare foundation and a pile of lumber take on the shape of a house — albeit the stick-figure outline of a house drawn by a child.
In our case, building a house on pilings in a coastal zone requires some extra steps and extra care. The first step is installing floor trusses across the concrete pilings to build the base of the house, securely bolting them down to the concrete to assist with wind resistance. Floor decking on top of the floor trusses creates a solid work surface to start building the vertical components (known to those of us in the trade as walls).
One of the many things we like about our builder is his willingness to let us hang around the jobsite and help out. Once the floor decking went into place, we have been welcome to participate in the build. Spending one or two mornings each week working on the house keeps us entertained, gives us the satisfaction of participating in the process, and is helping fuel our excitement about the future house.
The crew has been very adept at finding tasks that match our skill set. Sometimes our best value-add is handing up materials, moving lumber around or, recently, measuring and drawing lines on plywood sheathing. We recognize that some of this work is probably only adding 5-10% efficiency to the crew’s work, but that’s not too bad for volunteers. Frankly, our only real goal is to not be in the way. We’ve also built some corners and T-intersections for the exterior walls and helped raise walls. Our biggest contribution so far was on the day the crane was on site to install roof trusses. We served as ground crew, hooking the crane’s line to the trusses and working the tag line to maneuver the large spans into place while the pros perched on the roof and secured the trusses to the walls and to each other. The two of us collectively substituted for one pro, our best performance yet and one that earns top photo billing in this post!
Being on site while the bones of the house come together has given us a close-up view of several unusual components that make coastal houses strong and hurricane resistant. The corners of the exterior walls feature multiple studs of lumber assembled into a super-bundle of strong wood. Throughout the exterior walls there are 10+ foot long metal tie rods running from the top plate (along the top of the exterior walls) all the way down through the floor trusses. Metal brackets lock these tie rods to the floor trusses, which themselves are bolted into the concrete pilings. Every roof truss is strapped down to the exterior walls at both ends of the truss; each of those metal straps is attached to the wall with a minimum of eight nails and to the truss with a minimum of eight nails. All of this has made it very clear why we receive a steady stream of invoices for lumber and nails from the local building supply store.
Once the exterior walls and roof trusses were secured in place, it was time to finish the plywood sheathing that will serve as the decking for the roof and siding. With that layer in place, the house really takes shape. Next up: moisture barrier, roofing, and installation of doors and windows to dry in the house. We still have all our fingers and toes despite playing with power tools for several weeks, the weather is getting much nicer for outdoor work, and we are rolling along on our house build project. Things are looking up.