Week 2 at Mesilla Valley Habitat for Humanity and a Care-a-Vanner Thanksgiving
Note: This post is a fairly detailed recounting of our second week of building in Mesilla Valley that includes some explanations of the ongoing projects so if you missed my post on Week 1, you may want to start there.
Our second week of building with Mesilla Valley Habitat was an exceptionally short one due to the Thanksgiving holiday. Most Habitat for Humanity affiliates build Tuesday through Saturday in order to give local volunteer groups an opportunity to participate on Saturdays, and Mesilla Valley is no exception. Thus, because we don’t work Mondays we ended up with only a 2 day work week before the Thursday of Thanksgiving.
With only 2 days of work, Pete the Construction Supervisor had us concentrate on getting the roof on the 4th house, installing windows on the 3rd and 4th houses, and working on fascia. As usual there were other small jobs going on somewhere on site that I’m sure I missed, probably more so than usual since I spent the whole of Tuesday up on the roof where I was nailing down decking and papering. Wednesday I teamed up with Tony – who is probably my favorite person to work with – in making bird boxes for both houses, picking up where he had left off the previous day.
Tom mentioned to me after reading my blog post on the first week that I kind of wrote a laundry list of what was going on around the site without explaining; for example, mentioning “hurricane clips,” which likely wouldn’t mean much to anyone who hasn’t built a house before and could arouse puzzlement of the reader who would rightfully be thinking that New Mexico doesn’t have hurricanes. And in the above paragraph the term “bird boxes” also likely deserves an explanation. But, I’ll start with some general explanation on some of the first week’s activities: As you may recall, we began the week by raising trusses, which supports the roof and ties the walls together at the top. After the trusses are nailed into the walls, metal ties – “hurricane clips” – are nailed to each truss and the wall which transfers load and prevents wind from uplifting the roof structure. Once the four outer walls are secured to the roof trusses, three major things happen: 1) rafter tails (which are the unneeded parts of the trusses overhanging past a certain distance from the house) are trimmed and connected by horizontal pieces of 2x4s (fascia) to create overhanging eaves, 2) sheets of OSB (a type of composite board, or a type of what is commonly called plywood) are nailed into the trusses creating a roof surface called sheathing or decking, and 3) interior walls can be raised, plumbed, and nailed to each other and the frame of the house. These interior walls can be built ahead of time; it is only necessary to have the layout of the house marked on the concrete in order to transfer the plan to the top and bottom plates of the walls. Once these top and bottom pieces have been cut to length and marked, the 2x4s and 2x6s that will be the wall studs can be nailed to the plates. Transferring the layout of the house from the markings on the slab to these top and bottom plates was what I did on my second day of the first week.
Going back to the raising of the interior walls, each wall must be placed precisely on the layout on the slab, then plumbed and nailed to the exterior walls, and then each other. They are then bolted to the slab using compressed air gun (called a hammer gun or a ram set). The last step to further secure and tie the walls to each other and the frame of the house is called top-plating. This is basically nailing 2x4s and 2x6s on the tops of the walls, overlapping the seams between them and between the interior and exterior walls. During this process we add blocking or nailers in some places where there was more than 6” space between a wall and the truss above in order to provide a surface to screw drywall into.
Other things happen during this stage of construction too of course: Gables, the triangular spaces on the front and back of the house created by the trusses can be sheathed in OSB, “rat runs” or horizontal walkways between the trusses can be added to create additional bracing perpendicular to the trusses and to also assist in roofing, exterior bracing that once supported the exterior walls can be removed, and probably some other things that I am unaware of. This brings us back to roof, which after the surface has been created by nailing sheets of OSB to the trusses, needs a water proof barrier for under the shingles. This is what I did Saturday of my first week and also this past Tuesday afternoon on 2 of the houses, and is where the roof stands at the end of our second week.
Meanwhile, decorative fascia board (previously painted by Chris and Tammy) went up at the ends of the rafter tails and what is now the bottom edge of the roof. From here, the underside of the eaves up to the side walls of the house will be covered by soffit in order to prevent moisture and dirt from entering into the house under the roof. However, the soffit board, which will be parallel to the ground, needs a bracket or something to be nailed into; this is where the bird boxes Tony and I made come into the picture. These bird boxes also provide a visual transition from the horizontal soffit to the pitched line of the roof. The theory of their construction is quite simple, but unlike the nailers or blocking tacked onto the tops of walls to give additional surface for screwing in drywall, bird boxes must be a precise fit under the corners of the eaves of the house and must be plumbed in 3 dimensions because they will be seen. The longer piece of 2×4 must be a precise fit between the edge of the roof (where the rafter tails end) and the sidewall of the house first of all, and this 2×4 will need to be plumbed vertically, aligned with the plane of the wall it runs parallel to, and nailed flush with the bottom of the rafter tail, all so that the soffit has a flat surface to be nailed up to and doesn’t get pushed above or below the edge of the fascia board or overlap the line of the wall on the corner. The second component involves cutting a triangular piece to match the pitch of the roof and cutting it to the distance between the point of the roof and the outer edge of the 2×4; cutting a ~5 inch triangle at an exact angle is unfortunately a little more difficult than one might think. This part gets trickier too as the 2×4 triangle piece has to be reduced in depth so that the fascia board can sit just inside the eave, flush with the edge of the roof. Tony and I joked that we’d get a system on the last one of the second house as we were struggling with some of the angles and precise plumbing; that turned out to be accurate. Luckily he and I both enjoy problem solving and have the patience to get things done to the best of our ability even if it takes us awhile; it needs to be noted too that Pete gives us the time and support to make sure we do things the right way which I am grateful for.
As am writing all this I am realizing that me relating even my basic-level understanding of everything is a bit taxing on the brain, not to mention I am completely unsure of how successful I will be at making any of you all comprehend what we’ve been doing on site. But I’ll try and find a balance and do my best in the upcoming weeks. I’ll also take no offense if anyone skims all this. In any case, 4 of the 5 houses are well of their way to being dried-in (weather-proofed) before the Christmas break!
After our short work week us Care-a-Vanners along with Pete, Dyana, and Paula (the former MVHFH accountant) got together for a pot-luck Thanksgiving dinner in the Habitat office. It was a wonderful way to end our group’s time together. As in any traditional Thanksgiving dinner there was way too much food – and just the right amount of laughter. I of course made a vegan dish (stuffed portabella mushrooms) to share, but what I was not expecting was the stack of tupperware containers sitting by my plate, full of modified or plain veggies and potatoes that had been set aside an prepared special for me by Brenda, Tammy, and Chris. Dyana also brought a vegan salad dressing for her green salad. Needless to say too was able to participate in the tradition of Thanksgiving overeating, and am incredibly thankful to have been able to celebrate with such thoughtful, kind people.