Today was a great day to build a house. Our Presbyterian Coalition Habitat for Humanity build got off to a very good start – walls up, squared and covered. The weather was just perfect. Cool, overcast and not as humid as it should have been considering it rained during the night. We had perhaps 35 to 40 people show up – smaller than normal, but considering the rain during the night drove a few away, it was more than enough to get the day’s job done. We build rain or shine and many dedicated volunteers will slug through downpours and deep mud all day for the joy of helping. Others will look out the window, see the ground wet and say “They’ve got to be kidding.”
The day always starts with a little talk by the site project manager (SPM). The talk has a little of everything – a little orientation for first-timers, a little pep talk to wake us up, a good safety presentation for everyone, and a brief introduction of the various crew chiefs and an outline of what he expected to be accomplished. A coalition member provides a prayer and then we start work. Everyone on site today was a volunteer. Everyone.
First order of business is to build the walls. The wall plates have already been put together the previous weekend. At that time, the slab was laid out with colored marking for where the walls go. The technique is for the SPM and a few volunteers to use the house plans to mark all the walls on the floor, then cut 2×4 boards to match the plan and lay them out on the floor. Matching top plates are placed on top and the top and bottom plates are then tacked together with nails. Then the location of all the studs, doors and windows are marked on the bottom plates (pressure treated wood) and also on the top plates (white wood). The plates and the floor are numbered so volunteers that come for build-day can simply begin pounding nails into studs placed on the marks. That pounding part we did today.
The previous weekend the SPM and the volunteers also had a little extra help and time on their hands so they had also built all the door and window headers and attached the side studs. Often that is done by the volunteers on the first build day. Since we had fewer than normal due to the overnight sprinkle, having the window and door frames ready was a very big help.
First Wall Photo OP. So the walls were built on the floor, then carried off the slab and piled up haphazardly into two stacks, exterior and interior. Once all the exterior walls were finished, the first wall section was carried back in and the “first-wall-up celebration and photo opportunity” was announced. The homeowner (in this case Joi) is always allowed to put in the first nail in the first wall and as many as have cameras get a good shot. I have pictures and will share them in the next post. Walls on a slab such as this one have a foam-like material attached to the bottom plate (pressure treated wood). Then they are nailed down with wedge-shaped nails (called cut-nails) designed to lock into concrete.
At some point the exterior walls are nearly complete and the remaining interior walls are carried onto the slab so they don’t get fenced outside. Today we brought too many inside and ending up carrying three or four back out and around the building because they belonged in the store room and/or the laundry room which are in a wing already outside the walls that were already up. Volunteers are never happy unless they are either toting something or pounding nails, so this is a not a problem.
Devotional and Lunch As noon approached, the cry was – “No food until all the walls are up!” However it worked out that we were standing around for the devotional at 12 noon and the walls were all up. The church that provided food today was First Presbyterian. They usually provide the first build-day lunch because they are the biggest of our churches and the build day usually has the most people show up. There is always a short devotional talk followed by a prayer asking blessing of the food. Some of the more experienced volunteers bring soft fold-up chairs. Everyone else finds a lumber pile, window sill or a cool place to sit. Eat, chat, rest, then back to work.
Squaring the Corners. When all the walls were up, the SPM and a few experienced volunteers squared the corners with levels and cross braces to get the corners exactly vertical in all directions. Part of the process of squaring the corners involves putting OSB (4×8 sheets of sheathing) in the corners to keep them straight. Then crews are sent around the entire house to finish covering the outside walls. Two volunteers were assigned to reopen the doors and windows with a saws-all. Essentially they go inside and cut the sheathing out of the windows and doors after others cover them up.
Small Work Crew Activity. Also there were a number of small crews doing specialized work – such as putting blocking on the side walls for nailing the bottoms of the roof trusses and for providing a nailing shelf for sheet rock on the ceiling around the perimeter. There was also a crew putting on Z flashing around the bottom of the walls to set the sheathing in. Each bottom of each piece of sheathing is set into a channel of metal that has a bed of silicone caulk to seal it from any weather leaks. Another crew or two is moving around the house on ladders putting on a cap plate on all the walls to tie them together and to provide a strong resting place for the roof trusses to come later. Others were simply picking things up or sweeping out anything accumulating on the floor or running the “chop saw”.
Saw Man. The chop saw work is always a dedicated “saw man”, in this case, “Pretty Boy” Miller, AKA “Nine Fingers” our most beloved SPM from previous builds who is helping us today by special request. The official SPM for this site is “Be Safe – Have Fun” Jeff Vanderlip who brought along his wife and son.
Straighten the Walls Two small crews were detailed to “straighten the walls”. That involves placing blocks on each outside top corner of the house, tying string from block to block, then using a ladder and a block of wood to gauge the wall spacing to the string at various points and then adjusting them with braces to get them absolutely straight.
Porch Beam Pockets. Someone forgot to provide porch beam pockets during layout so those had to be cut out with a saws-all and re-framed. Just a few minutes extra work. The pockets are rectangular openings that allow the front porch beams to extend well into the frame of the house so that they are well anchored and will never be able to pull away. The porch beams for the two sides were slid in, leveled and braced.
End of Day The day ended about 5 PM with all the walls up and covered and all tools put away and the site cleaned of any left over debris. Next week will be rafter day – actually these are prebuilt engineered trusses that are made off-site and trucked in. One of the things we did today was to install a temporary cross walk across the main family room to help the truss walkers to get back and forth somewhat safely “up there”. Next weekend we will put them in place, install cross bracing, deck the roof and dry it in, ready for shingles. Maybe even shingle it.
Always Something New. Every build has a new feature or new challenge to overcome. This time we were pleasantly surprised at the retainer wall. It is beautiful – attractive engineered blocks of stone to create a retainer wall for the house next door which sits above “ours”. Out of the 20 homes we have built previously, we have always contended with graded slopes between houses or between yards. The retaining wall is a nice feature. I understand we will have some changes in the way we do the trusses (engineered steel spacers) and a different design for the trusses. New features added in previous years include tapered round columns instead of rectangular posts for porches, Hardi-plank siding instead of vinyl, bigger floor plans, engineered trusses, engineered floor joists, Z flashing, and a number of neat improvements in design and detail to make the homes more distinct and attractive.
Stay Tuned. Selected pictures for the first day to follow in the next post! I have 92, but they take up more than 250MB and so you will need to be satisfied with a few reduced format samples.