Step 11b – Lookouts and Fascia

Two other items that need to be installed before adding the sheathing are the lookouts, fascia, and subfascia.  These elements will work together to add some flair to the edge of the roof line.  The lookouts run along the gable ends of the house, and will not only give a nice look to the trim, but will also support the outer edge of the roof, which will run a couple feet beyond the walls of the house.  These overhangs help to keep rain away from the walls, and also provide some shade for the windows when the sun is high in the sky.  

The lookouts consist of 2×6 lumber cut just under 4 feet long, and are installed like cantilevers.  One end is nailed one truss inside from the gable end truss.  The gable end truss is then notched so the 2×6 sits inside of it.  The other end is left loose as you can see above, and will eventually attach to the bargeboard.  This step is easier once the roof sheathing is on.

You should be able to visualize how the cantilever works in the picture above as all of the weight placed on the outer edge of the lookout will actually create an uplifting force on the inside truss.   This force will be nicely balanced by the weight of the roof.  You can also see why the lookouts need to be installed before the roof sheathing, as half of them will be covered up with the sheathing.

The subfascia attaches to the end of the truss tails.  Not only will I be using it to line up the ends of the trusses and ensure they are nice and straight, I will also use it as a support for the fascia, which I will describe next, and to provide nailing for the soffit, which won’t be added until a few more months in the build have passed.  Like the frieze blocks, the top of the subfascia is beveled to match the slope of the roof.

Straightening the trusses out sometimes requires a significant amount of force, Imagine yourself 20 feet up in the air, leaning out over the edge of the wall, trying to hold an 8 pound nailgun with one hand and applying a ton of force with the other hand… Not a pretty thought, is it?  Clamps give me an extra pair of hands so I don’t need to put myself in those kinds of positions.  Above you can see how I used two of them – one to move the truss slightly horizontally and another to move it vertically.

A couple makeshift brackets help support the subfascia while I’m getting it ready to nail in.  The main part of it was a 20 foot long 2×6 board, which weighs in at close to 50lbs.  It isn’t something you really want to carry up a 20 foot ladder!  With the brackets, I was able to pull the board up through the trusses and then ease it over the edge of the truss tails until it was lying on the brackets.  Then I would climb up the ladder to nail it in.  Once I was finished I pulled out the nails holding the bracket to the wall and set it to the side until the next time I need it.

 

The final step before attaching the sheathing is the fascia.  The fascia is pre-primed and textured since it is one of the first pieces we are adding to the house that will still be visible when construction is completed.  As you can see, it attaches directly to the subfascia.

Just like the previous parts I described, the top of the fascia is beveled to match the slope of the roof.  The edge of the roof sheathing will sit on top of the fascia.  When the gutters are added, they will run around the fascia and partially conceal it.

 

Step 8a – Utilize Advanced Framing Techniques

To an experienced framer, the work I have completed over the last couple of days would seem wrong.  It is quite possible they would never have seen a house framed the way that I am framing mine.  A few might even claim that I am violating building codes in not following “standard practice”.  The fact is, I am utilizing a method of framing created in the 1970s in a collaboration between the U.S. Deparment of Housing and Urban Development and the National Association of Home Builders Research Foundation.  Their goal was to reduce the amount of wood used in construction, not only to save the lumber, but more importantly, to create more space for insulation and save on energy usage.  All of these small changes work to ensure the house will be net-zero!

Image result for photo of advanced framing vs traditional

As you can see above, in traditional framing you have a single sill plate at the bottom of the wall connected to a series of studs spaced 14 1/2″ apart from each other (16″ on center) which are then connected to two top plates sandwiched together.  Additional shorter studs called “jack studs” are used to support headers above window and door openings.  Even more studs are used to anchor interior walls to the exterior.  All of the wood used are 2x4s, leaving 3 1/2″ of space between the studs for insulation.

In advanced framing, on the other hand, only a single top plate is used, studs are spaced 22 1/2″ apart (24″ O.C.), and metal “header hangers” are used instead of the jack studs.  On “gable end” walls, no headers are needed at all! (see below) “Ladder framing” is used to anchor interior walls and 2×6 lumber is used, leaving 5 1/2″ of space for insulation (obviously that’s the part of the wall that looks like a ladder in the pic)

The advanced framing system is cheaper because it uses 5% to 10% less lumber, and it is faster because it uses 30% fewer boards (although they are a bit bigger and heavier). More importantly, every single year more money is saved on energy costs because over 60% more insulation can be filled in.

This is a gable end wall, meaning it will extend all the way to the peak of the roof without slanting. Because of this, you can see I don’t have to use headers above the windows. (And yes, that is just a very light dusting of snow)

Okay, so what’s the catch?  If advanced framing was added to the building code over 40 years ago, is cheaper and faster, and reduces the energy bill every single month, then why isn’t it standard operating procedure for builders?  How could I possibly be telling you that most builders don’t even know about it?  While I could devote several pages answering that very question, I’ll do my best to sum it up quickly.  Building a house is difficult.  There are very few people who have the knowledge to do it all themselves and I may very well fall flat on my face in trying.  For me, that challenge is exciting, even if it is frustrating at times.  Because of this fact, the vast majority of houses are built by a massive team of “contractors” that under normal circumstances communicate very little with each other, if at all.  These tradesman are managed by a “general contractor” who uses building plans that were probably drawn up by an architect and edited by an engineer.  Although I was able to sum up the advanced framing techniques in a couple sentences, the small changes affect every single one of these workers.

Image result for photo of advanced framing vs traditional

The architect and the engineer must design the house from the very beginning so the floor joists and studs stack up within an inch of each stud (see pic above)  This puts a sort of limiting factor on the architect in regards to wall lengths and window placements that many are resistant to.  Next, the general contractor must be open to training the contractors under him because many of them will be unaccustomed to the framing.  The framing crew will be working with a different length of wood due to the single top plate, and have to frame completely differently than they are used to.  The electrician has fewer studs to attach electrical boxes to.  The drywall crew has fewer studs to nail the drywall to and may have to hang it differently.  The small changes ripple right on down the line and affect every single person that works on the house.  As contractors are paid by the job and not by the hour, they aren’t too keen on taking time to learn this new technique.  The fewer that learn it, the fewer that are available to teach it, and the cycle continues…

As I’m building solo, I have none of these issues.  I designed the house myself from the very beginning with advanced framing in mind.  Thanks to my mentor, who introduced me to advanced framing, I’ve never built any other way.  I saved money on lumber and nails.  I saved time with fewer studs to nail together.  I saved trees because of using less lumber (I’ll be using dense packed cellulose in the spaces where the studs would have been which is made of mostly recycled newspaper and denim).  I will save money on my energy bill each month (or be able to use a smaller solar array).  I even save time building because with the larger spacing between studs I can jump in an out of the house anywhere instead of using a doorway.  If you really want to save sustainably, advanced framing is the way to go.

 

Step 8 – Frame the First Floor

After spending the weekend spraying the new slab down every hour or so, it was finally time to get the walls up!  This process of “wet curing” concrete can add up to 50 percent more strength when done for 3-7 days because it prevents the water inside the concrete from evaporating.  While many contractors immediately begin framing the house the day after the concrete is poured with no problems, I played it safe and waited until the 3rd day to get going.

The first step was to “snap lines” (see pic above) where the walls would go.  This will help me to ensure the bottoms of the walls stay straight and square to each other.  I took several measurements of the footings, including the diagonal measurements from corner to corner, to decide where to start.  The footings came out really good, but not perfect (this is my first solo build, after all!)  There will be a few small areas of concrete that stick out a bit or don’t come out far enough.  This is no problem at all structurally and visually it will be covered up by the siding, but in taking these measurements I was able to position the walls to minimize it as much as possible.

Here you can see where the concrete sticks out a half inch

The exterior walls will be framed on 2×6’s, so the first lines I snapped mark where the inside edge of the bottom plates will go, 5.5 inches in from my starting corner (for those not in the know, a 2×6 is actually only 5.5 inches wide on average)  Snapping lines is done using a chalk reel, which is basically a spool of string inside of a metal casing.  The casing has a sliding door so that you can fill it with chalk, that way when you pull out the string it gets covered in it.  I would put the end of the string on my mark on one end of the footing and weight it down with my sledge hammer, then allow the chalked string to unroll as I walked to the other side.  By pulling the string taut against the concrete and then lifting it just an inch, the line snapped back down leaving a neat line of chalk behind.

Once I had marked all the exterior walls, I grabbed the first sill plate from my pile of lumber and cut it down to 20′ (most lumber yards give you an extra 1/2 inch or so).  I lined it up on my line and marked out the anchor bolt locations, and then drilled them out.  (Remember that the bolts were embedded in the concrete footings so just the top part is sticking out)  Then I placed it over the bolts and made sure it lined up just right.  I repeated the procedure all the way around each wall until I had all 4 done.  With the placement of the exterior walls now set, I was able to measure out the locations of the interior walls and snap those lines as well.  It will be much easier to mark them now and serve as a sort of map to where my interior walls will be going.

I had to call a friend over to help me carry the 32′ long LVL top plate from the lumber pile over to the slab, and we set it on edge next to the bottom plate, which I had also turned on edge.  I used some clamps to hold them together perfectly lined up, and then used a tape measure to mark out the stud locations every 2 feet.  I had ordered the studs precut so that saved me a lot of time.  I just had to carry them over from the lumber pile and then inspect them and “crown” them.  Lumber being a product of nature is never perfect.  Sometimes they have significant bends or waves in them and I will save those for later.  The straighter ones I will use now, but even the straighter ones have a bit of a curve or “crown” in them.  I lined the crowns up all going the same direction which will make it easier to straighten them out later in the build.

 

 

 

Once all the studs were laid out on my marks it was just a matter of nailing them together.  Building codes offer several different ways to satisfy nailing requirements, and the one I chose will be 3 16D nails to connect each stud to the top and bottom plates.  I took my time and carefully aligned each stud to ensure that it didn’t stick out on either side of the top plate.  It is situations like these where even with my lack of experience I can guarantee I put together a better wall than 90% of the framing crews since they are focused on speed over quality.

For the window openings, a larger piece of lumber must be used to carry the load from the opening that is missing a stud to the studs on either side of it.  Again, building codes dictate several ways to satisfy these header requirements, and for mine I chose a single 2×10.  I will also be utilizing some metal hangers to carry the weight of the header instead of shorter studs called jack studs, although you can see that I did use jack studs for the entry door in the pic below.

The jack studs are the ones that are shorter than the regular studs on either side of the door opening

Once all the lumber was nailed together, I unrolled some “sill gasket” and placed it over the footing where the wall will be hoisted.  I also nailed some long 2×4’s to the top of the wall.  As we raise the wall, these boards will swing out and brace it.  The wall was very heavy but with a few friends we were able to get it airborne with ease.  Once it was vertical, I staked down the bracing boards and then screwed the nuts down over large square washers on the anchor bolts.

If you look closely you can see the white sill gasket underneath the bottom plate

Within a couple days I was able to finish the remaining 3 walls and raise them into place as well.  It’s so much fun to see my vision becoming reality!

The long 2x4s in front forming an ‘x’ are the bracing pieces I was talking about

Step 5b – Overview of the Permitting Process

A huge box was checked off today as I picked up my building permit from the county office.  It had been approved by the plans examiner a week earlier but it wasn’t official until I had it in my possession, ready to present to any inspector who might request it.  The entire process was unknown territory for me, and I couldn’t find much information about it online, so I thought it might be good to describe in detail what it was like and what I will do differently if I build again in the future.

The county website does a great job describing how to apply for a permit, but there isn’t any information describing what happens after you apply.  I wasn’t sure at all how much detail they wanted on my plans other than what they listed as being mandatory.  My mentor had a ton of extra information on his plans describing precisely how the building would adhere to code so I figured I had better do the same.   I spent countless hours painstakingly drawing out the fine details of my design using CAD.  Looking back, it seems that for the most part, these efforts were completely unnecessary.  The building department added several stamps and stickers to my plans that said the exact same things I had already written on them.  My advice would be to just give them exactly what they are asking for and nothing more.  This gives you more flexibility to change things if you choose to do so during the course of the build.

The first step was called a permit pre-screening.  They take a quick glance at what you want to build and check to see if there are any additional concerns that will need to be addressed.  It was during this meeting that I was told I would need to conduct a natural resources assessment.  After the NRA was complete and my site plan was submitted, the county sent me a NOAR (Notice of Additional Requirements).  This email notified me that the setbacks I had noted on my site plan were not sufficient and needed to be bigger (60′ instead of 50′).  I made the appropriate changes and resubmitted my plan, and a little over a week later I received an email that I had passed and was free to schedule an “intake appointment”.

I went through the permit application checklist on the county website and made sure I had all the required documents ready, and then scheduled my appointment.  Unfortunately, the earliest available date was over two weeks away!  If I had it to do over again I would have scheduled this the second I received notice and then prepared my documents while I was waiting for the date of the appointment.  The intake appointment was much less formal than I imagined.  I unrolled my plans on the counter and the plans examiner looked them over briefly and then let me know I would need engineering.  I explained this encounter in a previous post.  They were able to schedule me another appointment just a week away and I used the time to make the adjustments to my plans that he had requested.

The second appointment was much the same as the first.  The plans examiner unrolled my plans and checked to see that the changes had been made.  He also spotted one additional mistake but said that they would just make a note of it on my plans.  (I had used the rough opening of my egress, or emergency exit, windows to comply with the minimum opening area of 5.7 square feet instead of the area of the actual window opening)  They gave me approval and said that they would notify me when the permit was ready to be issued.

I received a call almost two weeks later that they had found one additional mistake with the front setback. (I would have disputed this but they had already come up with an easy solution)  Basically, I was allowed to shorten the setback if I agreed to plant a couple rows of pine trees at the back of the lot, something I would probably have done anyway.  A couple days later I received an email letting me know that the permit was ready to be picked up.

When I looked over my plans I saw that in addition to the stamps and stickers, they had marked several things as needing adjusting.  The first were the windows that I had made mistakes on.  The second was on the foundation plan, where they had added a 16″ x 16″ square for a reinforced section of the foundation.  This was to carry the load from the opening in the floor for the spiral stairway.  I had specified the correct amount of support on the floor joists but hadn’t carried the load all the way down to the foundation.  I’m sure they could have forced me to get this engineered but instead they basically engineered it for me saving me a grand!

Looking back on everything, this is a process that I would have started a lot earlier in the game, even though I hadn’t fully completed my design at the time.  There was plenty of time to finish in the weeks of waiting and there were also plenty of opportunities to make alterations.  Even now with the plans stamped and approved, the inspector has already told me that I can still make adjustments as long as he approves them.  The entire process of getting a building permit with no experience as a builder was surprisingly easy.  The county was very easy to work with and never gave me a hard time even though I made several mistakes along the way.  They even helped me correct some of my errors!  I’m sure this isn’t the case at every county building office but it is the experience I had.  Now I can focus on getting going on the foundation!

Using a rented plate compactor to ensure that the bottoms of my footings are well compacted. I also used it a bit on the top where the slab will be

 

Step 5a – Be Confident!

It’s been a while since my last post as I had to take some time off building to put my house up for sale and finish moving all of my belongings into a shipping container on the lot.  I also discovered that when you want to get a building permit appointment, you should apply about a month ahead!  They call it an “intake appointment” (still don’t know why) and once again the county website was very helpful in letting me know just what I needed to bring (copy of deed, septic design, proof of water availability, 2 copies of plans, etc) The website had links to download several documents to bring, but one of the links didn’t work.  I eventually decided it was probably not important.

Three weeks later the big day finally came!  I went through the checklist provided on the website one more time and double checked my plans (I ended up finding a few mistakes and had to reprint two copies of a few pages!)  I was nervous and didn’t really know what to expect but it was actually pretty simple.  The plans examiner met me at the counter and unrolled my plans.  He looked at them for about 5 minutes and then told me that I was missing one thing and needed engineering.  I was frustrated but not too surprised (I’m a beginning builder after all!)  The missing item turned out to be what I needed from the link that didn’t work that I had decided wasn’t important.  He admitted that they knew the link didn’t work and showed me where to find the documents.  He told me I needed engineering because my braced wall lines exceeded the maximum of 25′ and that my deck could only extend 6′ from the exterior wall of the house (I had extended it 12′).  I was completely caught off guard and I gave a half hearted attempt to argue that my plans followed all of the county’s building codes but I also started to second guess myself.  Perhaps I had made a mistake?  I had drawn up the plans for the wall bracing months ago and didn’t quite remember the details.  He made an appointment for me for the following week and I left, disappointed but not deterred.  As soon as I drove home I grabbed my copy of the International Residential Building Code (IRC) and double checked.  I was right!  The codes clearly dictated that my exception to the 25′ max was admissible.  Furthermore, I couldn’t find anything limiting decks to 6′ in the pertinent section (R507)

I wrote the plans examiner an email clearly stating the codes that allowed me to exceed the braced wall line spacing (for those who want to get technical, make sure you read my post on wall bracing and then read at the bottom of the post) and also asked him politely to refer me to the code that limited the deck to 6′.  Unfortunately, it was Friday, so I had to wait through the weekend to hear back.  I reluctantly called an engineer as a backup plan and he told me he would happily provide engineering for me… for just a thousand dollars…  When Monday finally came, the plans examiner emailed back and informed me that the exception I was using on the bracing could only be used on one wall, and I was using it on two.  For the deck, he referred me to code 301.2.2.2.5.  Once again frustrated and thinking I had made a mistake, I painstakingly read through the code again.  There was nothing anywhere limiting the bracing to one wall!  For the deck, the code he referred me to discussed irregular shaped houses, not decks!  My house was a perfect rectangle – one of the most regular shapes there could ever be!  I wrote him one more time asking him politely to provide the code that limited the exception to one wall and an hour later he called back with the incredible news!  He admitted he was wrong!   Sweet, sweet vindication was mine!!  For the deck, he wrote that the county had decided to apply 301.2.2.2.5 to decks as well.  This was frustrating, but only a minor setback.  I would be able to build the house without expensive engineering and I could always add to the deck later.  The engineering for just a deck would be half the price.  I would have to reprint my plans (at the price of $30) but if all goes well I should have my permit in another 4 days!  I already have a backhoe reserved for Saturday so I can start digging the foundation!
Read this next section at your own risk!  We are about to get very technical and very boring!  So for those who are interested in how I taught the plans examiner something new, I will let you know.  In review, braced wall lines are imaginary lines that are designed into the house to protect against shear forces (wind, earthquakes, etc)  The section of the IRC that discusses wall bracing (602.10-602.12) is one of the most complex of the entire code and takes up at least 15 pages.  One of the first issues covered is the spacing of these imaginary lines.  As you can see in the table above, in my seismic zone (D1), the lines can be spaced no more than 25′ from each other.  However, if you read the bottom right box, there is an exception that allows the spacing to extend up to 35′.  As I explained in my page on How to Meet Wall Bracing Requirements, these imaginary braced wall lines must contain a certain amount of braced wall panels that run parallel to the imaginary braced wall line with an offset of no more than 4′.  The exception I am using allows the spacing to exceed 25′ only if the amount of braced wall panels is increased.

For me, this was no problem.  The main obstacles to planning for a braced wall panel are large openings like windows, and garage doors.  When I designed the house, I decided to go easy on the windows so I could afford to buy really good ones.  Windows are quite inefficient when it comes to sustainability.  They let the hot sun in on hot days and let the heat dissipate through them out of the house on cold days.  These effects can be mitigated by buying windows with low U-values, low SHGC (solar heat gain coefficient), and insulated frames, but at a significant cost.  Saving Sustainably means using fewer windows, but spending the money to get really good ones and strategically locating them.

Getting back to the point, I had no problem with adding more braced wall panels to my imaginary lines.  Let’s take a look at the first table that was referenced in my exception to the 25′ maximum braced wall line spacing.

The table is quite long, but we will just focus on the section that applies (seismic zone D1).  If you look on the far right side of the table you will see the CS-WSP method.  This stands for Continuous Sheathing Wood Structural Panels.  It means that we will nail plywood (or OSB) to the exterior of the framing of the house, and wherever we locate a braced wall panel, this “sheathing” will extend all the way from the bottom of the wall to the top of the wall (with no openings for windows, doors, etc).  My exterior walls are 24′ and 32′ long and at the bottom of the table there is a footnote that says “linear interpolation shall be permitted”.  Therefore, we can find the amount of bracing necessary with some basic math. The results are….

Main Floor 24′ Walls – roughly 9’7″ of bracing

Main Floor 32′ Walls – roughly 12’4″ of bracing

2nd Floor 24′ Walls  – roughly 4’4″ of bracing

2nd Floor 32′ Walls – roughly 5’6″ of bracing

Now, let’s take a look at the second table that was referenced.

Looking at item 3, we can see that the braced wall line spacing can be increased to between 30 and 35 feet if the amount of bracing in each wall is increased by a factor of 1.4.

I recalculated the bracing, rounded up to the nearest 2′ increment, and came up with the results that I noted on my plans.

It might be hard to make out but if you look closely you can see the triangles along the exterior walls that denote the braced wall panels, and if you add them up you can verify that I have satisfied the requirements of the exception to the 25′ max.