Mistakes happen. They are one of the few, infallible certainties that plague my doings, no matter how familiar or simple such a doing may seem. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the most difficult and least familiar of my doings to date would be no exception. The only difference is that when I mess up on something I’m relatively versed in, like sewing, I can eat the 20 something dollars it cost to buy the fabric, throw it into a corner with a few choice words and forget about the whole thing. Mistakes made on Little Yellow? Proportionally less forgettable.
And I made a lot of mistakes building my house. Most of them are cosmetic (the word ‘square’ didn’t get used much around here) and many of them actually ended up creating some lovely, unexpected outcomes, but there are a few major ones I would so love to have a time machine for. So here’s my pile of least favourite screw ups for your consideration, in the form of a list that I wish I had seen before I made them. Go forth, and don’t do what I did.
Unless I’m speaking to the unmistaken folks who have never had this sort of reoccurring disaster befall them. If you are in on this in crowd you’d best go out and build something perfectly and do some skipping while you’re at it. I would like your phone numbers before you go
1. Do not build your 18’ house on a trailer with only 7000 lb capacity (GVWR). Even if you’re lucky enough not to have your build be overweight, the fear of a fat house will haunt your every move. Every one of them. Like blinking, it’ll haunt that too.
2. Do not buy windows the exact same size as your rough openings. They will not fit. They will not. Now you will have to either widen the openings or shrink the windows, and both options suck.
3. Do not buy aluminum windows. Aluminium is a fantastic conductor and a terrible insulator. Imagine two cups of cold liquid on a hot day, one aluminum and one wood or vinyl. Condensation will form almost immediately on the aluminum cup while the wood or vinyl cup stays dry because both are better insulators than aluminium, which is in fact one of the worst insulators ever. This means watching the condensation sweat of death form on the interior frame of your windows, creating an ever evolving, unwanted hippie commune of mould on your window sills.
3 1/2. Do not buy said aluminium windows from a company called ‘Superior’ (Aha. Hahaha.) In two years of having them, you can watch in merriment as your clearly superior purchase falls the HELL apart to the point where only 4 of your 10 windows still operate properly (or at all), and 2 of which are completely broken. Like glass-separating-from-the-frames-which-are-separatinng-from-each-other kind of broken. Chalk up the change for aluminium clad wood windows or go with vinyl if your budget requires it. SUPERIOR. Jerks….
4. Worst for last: do not forgo venting your roof. Rotting sheathing and black mould are bad, bad words in the world of shelter, and that’s what waits for you living full time in an unvented shoebox. You will have to fix it later when it’s much harder after a year or so of dreading and putting it off. And then you will CRY, Ok? Remember how you don’t like mould? Vent your flippin’ roof.
When I was in the build stage I didn’t know that ventilation was a thing in roofs and regrettably, my logic did not lead me in the direction of figuring it out. Leaving holes in your ceiling may not seem obviously helpful, but believe me it is. I wrote a bit about the theory of it and the measures I took to try and make up for overlooking it here, but I knew, in my climate especially, it wasn’t going to be enough.
So I formulated a plan to rip down my entire ceiling assembly starting from scratch, and took 6 or so months to work up the gears to do it. And finally the time came.
This was one of the least pleasant things I have ever done. Second only, perhaps, to mucking several months worth of waste from at least 7 baby goats all crammed into an 8×12 Norwegian barn where the air within was so strong that any metallic object on your person tarnished purplish black upon contact and your lungs could stand maybe 2-3 minutes inside before breathing became improbable.
I may have smelled better after fixing my ceiling than I did after the goat crusades, but it was right on par with the horrible. Every item in the house; every curtain, pencil and shoe removed or blockaded in the pink room. Every intentionally placed board of my ceiling ripped down. Every fluff of my wool insulation covering my counters, dish rack, hair and floor until the whole house was a foot deep in sheep. It did awful things to my psyche to see my beautiful home turned inhospitably back into a construction site.
Like many unpleasant things, I have blocked out most of the four, 11 hour days it took to do this thing from start to finish. I suppose it’s fitting then, that we seem to have somehow lost or deleted the camera card with all the photos, so I only have a few from my phone. And they are mostly blurry…oi. Anyway, here’s the basics of how it went down.
After the insulation was out and the ceiling boards were stacked and numbered to keep the order, came the work of scrubbing off varying degrees of greyish black mould, drilling vent holes at the soffits and ridge, and putting up baffles.
I opted to make my own version of baffles with 1×1 redwood strips and roofing felt. Somehow I thought it might be cheaper, or easier or…something. I don’t know. Never works out that way. Without a chop saw on site, I ended up using an axe to hack up the wood strips. Efficient I was not, but it did make for some pretty good therapy.
Without enough electric capacity at the house to run a hair dryer, let alone power tools of any variety, my boyfriend filled the air compressor (to run the nail gun) from our landlord’s garage and drove back up to refill it whenever we ran out. After the baffles were in place, the insulation and ceiling boards went back up and we got to navigate the human errors in our haphazard numbering system. Ascension of numbers and the difference between left and right are apparently still a work in progress for me.
In the end it was a very important redo and I’m glad I didn’t wait any longer. Still, if someone asked me right now if I’d rather take my ceiling down again or wrangle that barn, it’s hands up for goat shit.