Phase One of Building Our House From the Ground Up

Reader Contribution by Karrie Steely
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So far, building our house has been hard but rewarding work. There’s nothing easy about it. When I get tired or frustrated, I imagine what it will be like when it’s done, when we can enjoy a home that we built ourselves. The first stage is about finished. The base, frame, and most of the exterior is complete. 

We didn’t want a ‘mini-house’; just a small, efficient one. It’s about 850 square feet. A small house with open spaces is all we need, and, in designing the floor plan, we decided that it will only have one bedroom, a bathroom, and a large closet for utilities and clothes (there are other structures on the farm that we can use for storage, so that isn’t a big issue for us). The kitchen and living room are one open area. The roof is slanted rather than peaked for the solar panels, 8 feet tall at one side and 10 feet at the other. Wood and propane will be used for heat and solar for electricity. We are using super-efficient insulation, which is the largest up-front cost (more than the lumber, but it will pay off down the road).

Our biggest disagreement has been about windows. He didn’t want many at all because they aren’t efficient. After pointing out the beautiful views from the property we picked and the fact it is important to be able to see out of the house in order to protect it (not to mention sunlight and such), we were able to compromise. Well, more than compromise. I got my windows.

The home was built on wheels and will be moved to the farm from our place in town when it’s done. Starting with a trailer frame from a modular trailer, he welded extension “ribs” on, added three heavy I-beams, and cut the length down, leaving our final exterior measurement at 54 feet by 17 feet. It took several days to get the frame square and flat. The steel would bend and skew when another part of it was worked on. The heat difference from the cool mornings to the hot afternoons would warp the steel by half an inch. He finally hung weights on it and welded the frame into place.

During this process, it had been raining steadily, and we decided to move it inside so that the next step, the wood, wouldn’t get wet. When all of the supports were welded on and it was ready, he pulled it into the shop and put it up on blocks. (Of course it stopped raining and hasn’t rained much since.) It fit with a few feet to spare on either side. The top of the walls ended up against the ceiling beams, that was a tight fit. We had to lower it and remove a few blocks in order to put the roof joists on.

After getting it into the shop, the first step was to put water-proofed USB boards on the metal beams and attach them with screws into the metal frame and bolts into the steel I-beams.

Then floor joists were put in, and the walls built and put up. Screws were used instead of nails because the house needs to be particularly stable for moving, and later for storms. We used 2×6 lumber for the walls rather than 2×4 for this same reason. USB board was then attached to the walls, and then the ceiling joists were put on. USB board was put on top of that. Holes were cut out where doors and windows had been built into the walls.  X-braces were put in between every ceiling joist, and more reinforcement was added.

At this point it was pulled out of the shop, which was quite a feat, using just a skidsteer. It was then wrapped with house wrap, and the metal roofing was attached. The sheeting for the roof and sides is thicker than standard house or barn siding, it will stabilize the structure and hold up better to hail and wind. It is so much easier to work on it outside with a scaffold rather than crawling around in cramped spaces on ladders inside the shop! Still, screwing the roof panels on when it was 95 degrees and above with high humidity was brutal in the direct sun. Finally we installed the windows. We’ve begun to attach the metal siding. When this is done, it will wrap up the first stage of construction. Next we’ll start on roughing in the electric and plumbing inside.

We got all of this done in a month, while doing harvest and a million other small jobs. He did most of the work, I was in Colorado every other week with my girls. It’s absolutely amazing to me how much he got done each day. Neither of us has experience in carpentry, so help and guidance from a carpenter friend was invaluable. The carpenter would show my partner how to do something, and he would take the ball and run with it. This has been hard, hot work. So far it is coming along beautifully, and we’re starting to look at interior materials, appliances and furniture. And we’ll slow down for a little bit now that this phase is done.

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