Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Drying in the Windows

  John always has the best post titles and I am , frankly , quite jealous. With him out this morning helping the guys install the roof  ( what! whoot! whoot!!) I come up with " drying in the windows"?! I can do better than that right? How about

Raindrops keep fallin on my windowsill?  no.... that's just not true.  or

Who ya gonna call? MoldBusters! 

Never the less, our windows are in and I took some pictures of the proper way to wrap them to keep moisture from getting in, while still allowing inside moisture to get out.  This is evidently the biggest thing we do here in Washington, fight water.  Now your house produces moisture, when you cook, shower, wash dishes, water your plants, breathe, etc, but this moisture needs to escape or it becomes trapped in the walls and produces mold. This was the major problem with Tyvec. It did a really great job keeping out moisture, but it sealed the houses too much and created a lot of problems. We have met some old time builders who tell us about 30 year old houses rotten to the core, sealed up tight with Tyvec.

Anyway, we are using felt paper and that does seem to be the standard for all thinking builders. The paper for the siding is 60 minute paper and it refers to the amount of time the paper can be fully submerged in water before water begins to seep through.

So to start you wrap the insides of your rough opening with the felt paper. You staple down the two sides, leaving the bottom flap loose. Do not wrap the top. Install the window, making sure it is level and plumb and then nail it in place through the flanges.  Every carpenter we have met has said not to nail in through the top and many windows do not even have a top flange.

Using window tape, tape the top flange to the plywood wall.

You next step is the wrap the plywood up to the window. You will want to do this as you side so that your paper isn't just hanging out for weeks in the weather. It doesn't hurt the paper, but it may bubble causing undue heartache when siding.  On the bottom, you are going to want to lift up that flap you left loose and paper under it. Then staple your flap down on top of it. On the sides, go right over the window wrapping and go all the way to the edge of the flanges.  It should look like this.  The idea is that you are constantly shingling your materials. In the case that water makes it's way in, it can't just keep running down and into any creases or seems. You layer the material like shingles.

Now is the time to cover above the window with felt paper, being sure to paper over the tape that binds the window to the plywood.

The next step is to tape all of the paper to the windows using the window tape.

As an extra precaution, as you side and you get to the window edge, run a bead of silicon caulk so that you bind the flange, the tape, and the siding material.

  If you go through these steps you will have created an environment that won't allow any moisture to seep through, but you also will not collect moisture from the inside.  The window breathes!

Maybe that should have been the title.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Eyes on the Prize

I threw my back out a few days ago.  I'd like to say I was doing something hugely constructive, like hoisting a huge rafter into the air or chopping a tree up for fire wood, but I was actually moving a small cargo trailer with a flat tire.  It seems back injuries always stem from mundane tasks.  As a result, I've spent the last two days sitting in either a chair or a bed with frozen green beans on my sacrum and a purring cat on my sternum.  It was a nice respite for the first few hours, but quickly evolved into a maddeningly monotonous time-out from the rapid-paced progress I've grown accustomed to.  Christy has been working at the restaurant, so I've been alone in the yurt with nothing to do but introspect.  If you've read any of my previous long-winded, thoughtful posts, you know that I can introspect with the best of them.  If you haven't, then buckle up because we're overdue for a post and this is my only task for the day.

I realized today that this project of ours has a life cycle.  It started as a simple, idealistic thought:  Let's create a life for ourselves better in tune with our beliefs, less entangled in the consumer world and more self reliant.  It started with romantic thoughts of shaping logs with axes, cooking meals on a wood stove in a yurt and learning to commune with our soil and plants.  "Sustainable" was the key word, and became the litmus test we put our ideas to.  We would do it all ourselves, we would learn the necessary skills as they became needed and we wouldn't compromise for the sake of convenience.  We're stubborn, god damn it, and if it can be done it, we'll do it!

Now that we're in the thick of it, the romantic thoughts look a little different.  We've been force to make compromises by both County officials and reality.  To get a building permit we needed building plans, which we couldn't produce.  We needed a septic system and a water infiltration pit.  Biggest insult of all, we couldn't live on our land while we built.  Once framing started, we realized that we didn't have the skills necessary to finish and hired someone who did, and worked in the food service industry to pay them off.  We could have taken the time to do it ourselves, but now we were living on someone else's property, commuting, spending money...

The idealistic adolescence of our project is now beginning adult hood.  There's an anxiety in this transition.  Have we lost track of our romantic roots in all of this compromising?  Has what started out as something so exciting and progressive become dulled by impeding forces?

It's a common thing to wonder if you've lost tracks with your roots.  Christy and I were both pretty radical, free thinking youths and young adults.  Now that I find myself with a wife, building a home and embracing a community, I occasionally feel my younger self peering over my shoulder, wondering why I'm not living on the road, being a gypsy, sleeping in the back of a rusted-out car with a guitar in the trunk and just enough money for the next tank of gas.  Perhaps Christy has similar thoughts from time to time, having passed up an opportunity to go on the road with Cirque du Soleil as a builder.  "Have I sold out?"  "Have I compromised too much?"

What brings these thoughts together in my mind is the unifying theme of everything we're doing.  Sustainability.  Radical, lofty ideals are fantastic, but are rarely self sustaining in and of themselves.  When put into real-world situations, they need to be a able to compromise and adapt, all the while keeping in mind the internal goals they started with.  No, it's not romantic to be filing for permits, running to the store for a box of 10D framing nails or making sure that all of our shear walls are nailed at sixteen inches on center, but these are just hurdles on the road to the exciting goal we started out with.  We are creating a life for ourselves more in tune with our beliefs, we are separating ourselves from the consumer society.  We are doing something radical and exciting.  At the moment, this is just what it looks like.  Buying silicone calk.

The compromises we've made are merely the means to our original end.  It's been easy to lose sight of that, spending all of our time worried about the labyrinth of details each day presents.  I suppose it's a good thing to be forced into these moments of reflection, to bring the larger picture back into focus.

I feel I should clarify about the persistence of the voice of my younger self.  It's a fleeting sensation, the thought that I'm not being as radical or free floating as I thought I one day would be.  The truth is I'm extremely comfortable with who I am and the decisions I've made.  Those ambitious ideals I grew up with are still there, they've adapted themselves.  I'm just as idealistic and eccentric as I always planned to be, I just didn't know what that would ultimately look like.  Now that I've come to terms with my own adolescent ambitions and the adolescent ambitions of the Grand Scheme Christy and I embarked upon, I'm ready to get back to siding, roofing and planning.  Does anyone know a secret trick for back injuries?  I seriously don't know what the hell else I'm supposed to do with all this down time!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


We managed to get in all of our exterior doors this week.  The back door went in first.

That went in without a hitch, leaving us feeling pretty confident and optimistic as we started on the french doors to the patio.  It was a fleeting sensation.  We soon learned that our door jamb was the exact same size as our rough opening.  A rough opening for a door is supposed to leave enough clearance on all sides of the door jamb, hopefully between 1/2'' and 1'', so that it can be shimmed into perfect square, allowing the door to open and close without rubbing anywhere.  French doors are particularly finicky, since you're trying to line up two doors to meet perfectly in the middle.  The point is, the doors were not going to fit.  We cursed and fumed for about an hour before we came up with the following solution:

First, a 2X6 stud was pried off of each side of the opening, and one was pulled from underneath the header.  The doubled sill plate had to be cut through with hand saws, and finally, a chisel.  Sounds pretty simple, but it took about two and a half hours just for the demo.  The header still needed to be supported by something, so we planed 3/8ths on an inch off of two 2X6s and put them back in the rough opening.  That was the most we could comfortably take off of a stud without questioning it's structural integrity.   With a total of almost four hours worth of work, we had gained the hardest 3/4'' in history.  It was just enough to get the jamb and carefully shimmed into square.

Compared to that fiasco, preparing our salvaged front door was a piece of cake.  It wasn't designed for a slab-on-grade, like our house.  The bottom of the door jamb was offset to sit on top of a sill.  A few passes with a planer was all it took to level it out.  The bottom of the jamb was then covered with a sheet of flexible metal, to prevent the wood from wicking up moisture from the cement.  We also put a piece of weather sealant down underneath, and will be caulking the ever loving hell out of the entire connection.  Each of the doors got this treatment.

Part of me way afraid that the door was just too strange, or at least stylistically bold to fit in with the rustic character of the architecture.  Once we had it installed, though, I fell in love with it.  It's hard to capture how magical this door is, or how bizarrely it lights up the entry way from the inside.  A front door says a lot about a house, I'm glad that ours is proudly eccentric.