Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Barn Project

I can't motivate this morning. I have wooden storm windows to build, a barn to organize, window sashes to paint... and all I want to do is lay around and veg. Well, I can paint later, and I can build the windows tommorrow.

The barn. I think I'll veg and transcribe a blog entry about the barn.

This was my first 'project' at This Old Farmhouse. A farmhouse should have a barn, shouldn't it? Unfortunately, mine didn't come with one. Over the years, barns have come and gone on the property.

The previous owners had a 2-car 'garage' on the property which fell into disrepair and they later tore it down, replacing it with a small utility shed. The 24x20 concrete pad still existed (also in a state of disrepair, mind you) where they had the shed.

A utility shed will not 'cut it' for me, so the first project I knew I had to undertake was building a barn. I actually knew this when I bought the home, and adjusted my purchase price accordingly.

I figured a 36x24 barn would do everything I needed, and then some. Yes, that sounds large, but it really isn't. Its only 864 sq ft.

I took a trip to Home Cheapo, wrote down lumber prices, and constructed an Excel spreadsheet, thinking in my head all the pieces I would need to construct a barn that size. I had to make a few 'guessitmates'. I came up with a price of $9500. That is, naturally, with me doing all the labor myself.

Early June, 2007. Step 1: Draw building plans and get a building permit. This process took several steps to the building inspector's office. My first trip I met with the building inspector and asked exactly what he wanted in the way of building plans. Thankfully, he was willing to accept plans drawn on regular 8.5"x11" paper, rather than those huge sheets you get from an architect's office.

Here I also encountered my first "problem". My Home Cheapo estimate was based putting in a full foundation and concrete slab. By full foundation I mean I have to dig a minimum 42" below grade, pour an 18x12" keyed concrete footing, and then either poured concrete walls, or (legal, but he didn't like it) concrete block foundation with concrete-filled voids.

I really wanted a way to get the $9500 cost down, so I could take some of the funds and buy insulation -- as somewhat expected, there is absolutely zero insulation in This Old Farmhouse. I also needed to do some immediate repairs on the windows to prep them for winter, so even though I stocked $12.5k in my project 'kitty', I wanted to see if I could save some additional funds.

Plus, a full foundation is a *lot* of work. I calculated out I would use close to 600 blocks. So first I would have to hire an excavator, dig the trenches, pour the footing, and THEN I would have to manually carry and place 600 blocks (then rebar, then fill them with concrete) to "build" a foundation. My buddy Joe did it for his 18x24 garage, so it is doable.

A far better solution, though is to build what is referred to as a pole barn. With a pole barn, you place the entire structure on sonotubes which are sunk 48" into the ground. You then use a 6x6 sill "beam" between the sonotubes to distribute the building weight.

We've built tons of these in Ohio, they work well, and they have the added benefit of going up fast. With a post-hole digger you can easily drill the holes for the tubes in a few hours. Then sheath the hole with the sonotube, and pour the concrete. Voila, done. Not only could I save a ton of money (when I crunched the numbers, I came up with roughly a $1000 savings) I would save a ton of time.

The building inspector wasn't too keen on letting me build a pole barn. While I could build a building with a 'regular' foundation with no special building plans, a pole barn would require me to hire a civil engineer to stamp a foundation plan.

I left the BI's office somewhat discouraged. Getting an architect involved means spending money on something which IMO is a complete waste, and it would certainly involve more than the $1k savings. I mulled it around for a day, and figured since I would be spending the $1k either way, it would make sense to spend the $1k and save time.

I asked around at work (I work with a bunch of scientists some of whom are PEs) and eventually I hooked up with a guy in RI who charged me $600 "cash" to stamp a pole-barn foundation plan. Gotta love New England, everyone gets their graft.

Back to the BI's office I go, plans in hand. Ka-Ching. Another $210 for a building permit.

It is now the end of June, and off to Home Cheapo I go. The foundation plan by the engineer calls for a sonotube every 4 feet along the building perimeter. This is overkill again, IMO, since in Ohio we built these every 8' "on center". It also effectively doubled my materials cost from my original savings estimate -- with the additional concrete and sonotubes, there really is zero savings at this point. Oh, and I have to buy rebar, and put rebar in the concrete piers (again something we never did in Ohio). Another $125 expense.

Naturally, Home Cheapo doesn't have everything in stock. I leave with a partial order (June 27th) and an estimated delivery date of a week on the remaining materials. The week comes and goes. And goes.. And goes... Finally, I get the remaining material I need in the middle of July.

The interim wait wasn't without benefit, though. I now have 24 piers I had to place in the ground, and I had to build a rebar 'cage' for each pier. This involved a fair amount of welding -- 14 hours in total over the course of two days, to create 24 4'x8"x8" rebar cages out of 96 4' pieces of #3 rebar and 384 8" pieces. Thank god for tack-welds.

I also had to arrange for removal of the old concrete slab. It was pretty beat. In addition, the Title V septic work on the home required access to the back of the lot, which the contractors decided was easiest if they simply drove over the slab with all their heavy equipment -- effectively pulverizing it further.

First I had Joe come over with a flat-bed trailer, and we were able to drag the 10x12 utility shed onto the flat bed, and move it 15 feet to the north. The barn would be my domain, the utility shed Koren can use to do all her gardening and girly stuff.

One day when the septic folks were here with an excavator, I asked for a price to remove the slab. The site foreman couldn't give me a price, so I gave him my cell number and asked for him to call me with a quote. I never received a call, but 12 hours later when I got home I found the slab had been removed. "Wow," I thought to myself, "they did it for free."

After the septic people removed the old concrete pad, Joe and I rented one of those gas-powered augers to dig the post holes. This was an experiment which ended in abject failure. Every time we attempted to dig a hole, we ran into a rock the size of a softball. After wrestling with the auger for 2 hours, and digging exactly 1 hole, we gave up (if you look close towards the bottom right of the slab, there's the one hole we managed to dig with the auger.)

I needed another plan. I let my fingers do the walking. I found a local guy with a backhoe who did small jobs, "Hire A Hoe". Since all dudes need to hire a ho from time to time, I gave him a call. He came out and quoted me $300 to trench a square for me, and i could then put in the sonotubes and backfill myself. However, he wouldn't be able to 2 weeks. That put me out to the beginning of August.

Hire-A-Hoe shows up on 8/4 at 8am. Previously I had sprayed with landscape paint where I wanted him to dig. He started digging, and 15 minutes later I hear a knock at my door. Can't do it, he says. Takes me out to where he was digging, and bolders the size of a yugo were in the ground. "Glacial Till", he says, "if you want this excavated out, you'll have to hire a large excavator. You'll have to pull all this out, and then truck in clean fill to backfill, because you're not going to be able to backfill with these".

Great. His estimate (he doesn't do it, mind you, he is just a guy with a small hoe) is a minimum of $5k to do what I would need to do. Even if I wanted to go back to my full foundation plan, I'd have the same problem. I wouldn't be able to backfill with what I would pull out, so I would have to excavate out the large stone and then bring in fill, after doing the foundation work.

Nix that idea. Back to the drawing board.

I go back to the building inspector, and sit down with him one nite. My conversation basically started off like this: "You gotta help me out. I need a barn. I can't build one with a pole barn foundation, nor would it be cost effective for me to do a full foundation. So we gotta come up with a different plan, otherwise, I'm just going to call this company in Worcester and have 3 40' shipping containers dumped in my yard, at a cost of $2200/ea. I'm sure my neighbors would just love to see that, but hey, its legal and doesn't require a foundation, since they're temporary structures".

I wasn't kidding either. An 8'x8.5'x40' shipping container costs $2200 delivered to your door. For $6600, I could end up with a 24x40 "structure", putting them side-by-side, for less than what I was intending to pay to build the barn. Oh, they're ugly as sin, mind you, since they're containers retired from active shipping service, surplus from companies that have gone out of business, etc. But they're waterproof, and you can actually work inside them, although the 8' width makes it a little difficult, and once you get more than 20' into one, you start to feel like you're in a tin-can.

"How about 2 20x20 structures instead?" he suggests. As it turns out, the maximum size of a structure you can build without putting in a full foundation is 400 sq ft according to the building code. Up to 400 sq ft you can put on a floating concrete slab.

I leave with a new plan: build 1 20x20 "utility shed" this year, and next year build another one right behind it. Then I effectively end up with an 800 sq ft building(s). A little less than my original 864 sq ft, but heck, I can deal with it. Besides, my work tends to be compartmentalized anyway, the "front" building I can use for working on my vehicles, while the "back" structure I can use for other hobbies.

A week later (now mid August) I return with revised drawings I put together myself. My revisions are approved, and on I go.

Since no foundation is involved, it was recommended (although not required) that I put in a base of crushed stone for drainage, and then pour fiber-reinforced concrete to aid in crack prevention.

First I squared off a 20x20 foundation with 2x6's, and then had 5 tons of crushed stone trucked in as a base. This ended up costing me $40 more than I expected ($200 total) because normally I deal in "yards" whereas stone is delivered in "tons". When I ordered the stone, I told the dispatcher I needed enough to cover "2 yards", which they translated as "2 tons". Suffice to say, I was short, and had to order another 3 yards (and another $40 delivery fee) to finish leveling off the grade.

After the stone was complete, I ordered 7 yards of concrete. I actually needed a little over 6, so I knew I would have some extra, which was fine, I could build a little ramp in the front. I didn't take any pictures of the concrete. Honestly, I've never done anything so exhausting in all my life.

I built a 24' "screed board" out of some 2x6's. The concrete truck driver did a pretty good job of dumping the concrete fairly evenly within the forms, however, I needed to screed the concrete to make it even. This meant using a little shovel to take concrete from "here" and put it "there" where the level was a little low, or simply take off the high levels and dump it over the side.

Joe on one end, Koren on the other, and me in the middle (in the concrete), we slid the screed board from side to side, back to front, dragging it across the tops of the concrete forms to make the concrete "level" with the forms.

This process took us about an hour, with several "passes". I honestly don't know how people do it for a living... It was utterly exhausting work. The end result was a 20x20 pad with a little "ramp" in front, to make driving vehicles in and out easier.

Pause for a week... Concrete has to cure. Although you can walk on a slab the next day, you're supposed to keep it wet for a week to prevent excessive hydration, the chemical process which strengthens the concrete as it dries out.

The following week, I start framing work. On Saturday while Koren is at work, I frame all four walls on the ground, so Sunday when she's home she can help me lift them into place and secure them. Turns out I opted to do this on the hottest weekend in August. I consumed many gallons of pink lemonade.

With Koren's help, I was able to lift the four walls into place, square the structure, and brace them. I placed a few pieces of T-111 on the outer walls to provide additional stability while I continued to frame the roof.

The roof consists of 2x8 construction. I constructed a ridge beam by sandwiching a 1/2" piece of ply between two 20' 2x8's. With a 5/12 pitch, I calculated the height of the ridge beam above the top sill, and created two 4x4 "posts" which I mounted at each gable end, so that I could lift the ridge beam into place.

Prior to doing this, I attached joist-hangers every 24" O.C. on the ridge beam, to make it easier to attach the rafters. I also pre-cut the rafters to make assembly of the roof go easier.

Construction of the roof framing actually went fairly well. Joe and I were able to lift the beam into place, using some construction staging he owns. Then, we were able to get all the rafters into place fairly quickly. All told we had the roof framed in under 3 hours.

At the end of the day, disaster struck. While cutting some 2x4's to stud out the gable roof ends for sheathing in T-111 siding, we were on the very LAST cripple stud when Joe fell off the ladder, breaking his ankle. Ouch. He's been in a cast now for 2 months! (I think he intentionally did it to get out of doing any more construction!)

While Joe was at the hospital, I had to drill and place galvanized lag-screws every 4' along the perimeter of the barn to anchor it to the concrete slab.

Joe's inconsideration for my needs meant Koren and I had to finish all the work ourselves, which meant taking her off other important projects which would have to be delayed, and instead have her help me finish shealthing and shinging the roof, finish the T-111 siding, build the barn door, and finally hang the interior collar-ties on all the rafters.

During the week, when I come home from work, I spend the evenings finishing my T-111 sheathing all around the outside of the structure, including the gable ends. Fortunately all of this work I can do myself, even though manipulating a 5/8ths sheet of T-111 is a cumbersome task.

It is now Labor Day weekend. Koren works on Saturday, so I spend the day ripping lumber on the table saw and putting on all the pine trim. We're going to start working on the roof Sunday and Monday. Rather than putting on trim pieces on the rafter ends, I instead put a 1x3 on the edge with a slight overhang, to catch the pieces of OSB we have to lift into place.

OSB (oriented strand board) is the latest construction trend. Google it. It is cheap, but, it weighs a TON. Using the staging equipment, on Sunday we were able to lift 6 4x8 and 3 4x4 sheets of 23/32 OSB into place on the north side, nail it down with the framing nailer, and tack down several strips of 15# felt to prevent water damage in the event of rain.

This is where I know that bastard Joe broke his ankle on purpose. Lifting that damn OSB was almost as much work as screeding the concrete. I stuck Koren on the roof, and I carried the OSB from the lumber stack and lifted it up to her. As each row went up, we had to nail "dead man" blocks into key pivot points so we could manipulate the boards ourselves and "slide" them over the roof into their place.

We really needed a third person, and had one of the dead-man blocks fail I would have been a dead man as a 4x8 sheet of OSB would slide off the roof, slamming into me in the process -- or worse, knock her off the roof.

Monday she had to work a 1/2 day in the morning, so I worked on the south side while she was at work. By the time she got home at 2pm, I had the first row of sheathing done on the south side of the roof. I was able to accomplish this by lifting the OSB onto the staging in such a way that once I stood on the staging I could lift and slide the OSB sheets onto the rafters. The lip I created with the 1x3's prevented the OSB from sliding off the end.

I had just started the 2nd row (there are 3 rows total) when she got home, so the two of us were able to finish lifting the remaining OSB into place, and then felt it.

The remainder of the roofing process went fairly normally. Other than carrying 17 80 pound bundles of roofing shingles up there, that is. Once again, its all that bastard Joe's fault for making me do all the work by myself.

I installed drip-edge along all the sides, a starter course of shingles (upside down) and then another 30 courses on each side, all the way to the top.

Thank god for pneumatic nailers. Koren did all the nailing, I did all the lifting and positioning of the shingles. Overall it went fairly smoothly.

Structure is done. All that remains is putting on the barn door. Try finding hardware to mount a barn door. Lowes? Home Cheapo? They look at you like a deer in the headlights when you say you want a sliding door track and trollies.

Fortunately, living in the "Right To Farm" community has some benefits. I stopped at the local grain and feed shop, asked where they bought their barn door hardware, and voila. An hour (and $150) later I had my galvanized steel track and a set of trollies to mount the door.

Framing the door is simple: Just build a 2x4 wall, sheath it with some T-111, and mount the trollies. Then, mount the steel track, put the trollies in the track, add a stop at both ends, a door handle and a lock. Finito! One completed barn door.

That's it. It is pretty much a done deal. Next year, I can "extend" the barn out by building another 20x20 building "behind" this one.

I managed to keep this project, despite all the cost overruns, under budget. I waited until "Tax Free Day" in Massachusetts to buy all my building materials. In addition, Home Cheapo had a "open a new account and get a 15% discount" deal. I always over-buy on building materials -- I spent $3000 that one day alone on all my lumber, roofing materials, etc.

Couple this with the concrete costs ($750), the aborted foundation building plan ($600), building permit ($210), rebar ($125) and crushed stone ($200), the total cost came in at $4885. Might as well round it up to an even $5k since I'm sure there are things I've forgotten in there.

Figuring I won't have to buy the rebar nor foundation plan for the "2nd half" next summer, that would put my cost at just over $4k for "part deux". I'll have to wait for "tax free" day again, and I'll have to use one of those "10% off" coupons to get the cost down, but it'll definitely be workable. This would put my total cost at just around $9k.

Soon I'll follow this blog posting with an article on the interior work, once I get it cleaned and organized. Right now, it is an organizational disaster and everything I use for projects are laying all over the place (as you'll see in my next blog posting on the window project.)