Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The plan

I went out back today and looked down the alley and saw that as it appeared in the picture I saw in the zoning office, all of the nieghbors' fences and the immediate neighbor's shed are in a nice line. I didn't bother measuring from the front of the house, I think it is safe to assume that that is the property line. Unfortunately that line is about 2 1/2 feet closer in then I thought. Fortunately, my new back posts (the old middle ones), are about six and a half feet from that line. That means that I cannot do what I originally planned and put all of the posts inside of the wall, but it is also not a huge problem. Here is an arial view with just the walls and posts:
My front two posts will exist inside of the bale wall and the back two will exist outside of it. That is not my ideal situation, because now my cross supports will intersect the bale wall, but I think that is going to be fine.

My next two steps are fairly straight forward. First I need to move my trench, and by move I mean I need to dig a new trench, shovel all of the gravel out of the old trench, then fill the new trench with gravel and the old trench with dirt. Then I need to take down the left most set of posts and the beam. Then for the other two beams, I need to take them down, cut off about five feet, flip them the other way and put them back up. Since I am not centering the beam on the posts I don't need to cut new notches. I just need to have the over hang on the other side. Carlton also recommended getting more substantial brace plates for the beam. The ones I have area a little dinky.

Once the beams are in their new position it it time for the cross bracing. I was thinking that I wanted to do this timber frame style with notches and things because it is really beautiful and also strong, but I think that it might be more work then it is worth. Actually I am not convinced that I think that. I am going to do some research on timber frame construction tomorrow and see what I find out. If I do it that way I think that the bracing will need to be done before the top beam is put back on. I cannot imagine how I would get the braces in place without the posts having some wiggle room.

Either way, my plan is to have another work party this weekend to move some beams and possibly notch some posts. I have some prep work to do before then, both with the trench and with planning.

Also, with my new plan I am actually under the 150 sq ft that allows me to build without a permit. That is exciting.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Information update

After my first bout of information gathering, I was moving forward, but got to a point that I didn't totally know what to do next. I had the verbal description of the property, but no way to translate that into a real world physical description of the property. I studied the strange document I was given at the court house, and then showed it to Carlton. He explained to me that even if I were to pay for a survey (they are very expensive) I would not have a legally recognized property line. To have a legal property line I would have to take that survey to the city, then the city would get the survey approved by my neighbors, and then it would be a legal document. For that reason he recommended that I go down to the zoning office, show them what I have and tell them what I want to do and then see what happens. So I did that.

I put myself in the zoning office with the deed paper and I explained to the man behind the counter that I want to build a shed and that I want to place it in the yard legally. I told him that I was told that i needed a five foot set back on all sides, and that I didn't know how to figure out where the property line in the back is. He said that there is not a way to be one hundred percent sure with out a survey, but he said that he would do a little bit of research, and see if we could get a reasonable idea of where the property line is. He pulled up the information for my address and it said that the plot was 125 ft deep, there was no more or less. That made me feel better. He also pulled up a map of my street and all of the properties are exactly the same depth. One of the maps we looked at had an aerial view of the street with green property lines over top. In that view the the property line ran exactly over top of the back fence of all of my neighbors, and was even with the back wall of my immediate neighbor's shed. That is a good reference point. What the zoning guy recommended that I do is to mark where the fence line is, then measure back from the front fence 125 ft and see if these are the same. Assuming that they are, or that they are pretty close, then he recommended that I build six feet back from that line and not hire a surveyor.

I think that sounds like a good plan. I am worried that my middle post that I want to become the back post is still too close to the line. I am just going to keep my fingers crossed until I get home and can do some measurements.

I nearly forgot, the zoning man also told me that I only need a 3ft setback from the side and that my shed can be up to 20ft tall.

Information Adventures

This morning I began my search for the plot survey of the yard where I am building. I thought that it would be a pretty simple process, but I seem to have begun a big mission. I went down to the John C Marshal courthouse, found my way into the records office and asked if they had a survey for my house. The woman behind the counter typed the address into her computer and pulled up the deed for the house, then flipped through the PDF and made a sort of disappointed noise. She pointed to the screen and said that if a survey had happened that it should have been referenced there. Then she said she could check one more place and she pulled up another deed for the property and it was basically the same screen. I peeked at her computer to try and understand what she was looking at, and she told me that I could have a print out of that digital paper, and that I would need to hire a surveyor for the property.

The print out she gave me is fascinating:
I am pretty sure that this is the legal document describing what land is owned and by whom, and it is so fuzzy. The depth of the plot is "125 ft, more or less". I had no idea that deeds were such silly documents, this one is so vague.

While I appreciate this strange discovery, it is a bit of a problem for me. Unless a survey happened prior to this document, I think I need to hire a surveyor to come out and declare where exactly the property line is. That is another interesting thing. This legal document's soft description of the property line maybe the only description of the property line that exists, and that can only be turned into a hard line by a surveyor.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Headed in the right direction

After months of bumbling about, and doing things the dumbest way possible, I think I am starting in a direct path toward the finish. This project has been marked by me doing incompletely research and not fully understanding what I am doing, but moving forward as best I can, both hoping that everything will work, and expecting for a lot of it to fail.

Today two of my instructors, Liz and Carlton, along with a friend of theirs came over for what was planned as a work day, but ended up being a consultation. Carlton has a lot of experience both building houses and dealing with bueracracy related to building structures, and he gave me an outline of an action plan.

Firstly, I need to really be sure that I am inside of the property by five feet. To do that I need to know exactly where the property line is. To find that out I need a survey. This information may be easy to obtain. Surveys should be on file at the courthouse downtown, so tomorrow I will head down there and see if I can talk the people working there into helping me find the survey of the property where I am building. If this information is not there I am in some trouble. Not big trouble, but I will need to hire someone to survey the property and tell me where the line is, or move the structure to the middle of the yard, or just build it and hope for the best. Seeing where that has put me before, I think my best plan is to find out exactly where the line is.

Once I have the exact location of the line, I can figure out what kind of situation I am in. I feel pretty confident that the side yard fence is on or within a foot of the property line there, but the back of the yard is a mystery. The fence sticks out further then all of the other fences on our street by about two feet, so the property line might be two feet closer then I thought. I don't even have a good guess. When I know, I will be able to evaluate my remodel plan.

Here is how the building looks right now:
If you where looking from above it would look like this:

I plan to keep the four innermost posts where they are, and move their beams forward, centering them over those four posts:
So I will be ditching the left beam, and the five outside posts. Once I have done that, I will put up the joists and the rest of the roofing as I had planned before:
My big concern here is the distance from my back overhang to the property line. When I know where the property line is I am going to have to figure out if my overhang crosses the five foot rule, and then go down to the permit office and ask if that is a violation or not.

My other concern is about the amount of cantilever of the beams and joists and if that is going to be ok. I talked to Carlton about that and he said that he has some books detailing the method of doing those calculations, so I am going to sit down with him this week and see if we cannot work it out.

Carlton also told me that my building is going to need some cross bracing, so I am going to do some research on timber frame construction and come up with some good drawings of my frame with proper support.

I am feeling very good about this. I think I am finally going about things in the right order and maybe the physical progress that is made from here on out will actually be progress instead of work that has to be redone.

Monday, September 21, 2009


If you are thinking about building a shed, or any building, you should check out zoning laws. Even if you think you don't need a building permit, you should look at zoning laws and find out where you are allowed to build. In my neighborhood you cannot put any structure within 5 ft of your property line.

Last Thursday my roommate called me and said, There are a bunch of building inspector men in the back yard, and I don't know what to tell them. I called her back and she explained that the inspectors came by and gave a work stop order and left a number where I could call. I called them the next morning and the man was incredibly nice. He explained that my structure was in fact too big to build with out a permit, and that I would need to come down town and get one. He also said that I was doing a good job building and that everything he saw looked great. I was happy to hear that, but then he said that I was probably too close to the property and that when I went down town they would tell me the zoning laws.

So I went down town, and had another really good encounter. The building permit man explained everything I would need and gave me the application. He told me that since I am only building a shed that all I need to do is have some drawings that show the size of the building and the size of all the materials and fill out the application. That was great, and then he checked on the zoning laws, and told me about the 5 ft rule.

Right now my posts are pretty much on the property line, which means I have a couple of options. I can take everything down, dig the concrete piers out of the ground, find a way to get them out of the hole, dig new holes and move them in, then re-erect the structure. I could try and brace the structure to itself and move it as a single unit, and do the same thing with the piers. I could also re-design the building to try and use as much of the existing structure as possible.

I have elected to redesign. For one thing, the owner of the house where I am building does not want this shed right in the middle of his yard. He has quietly expressed concern about it encroaching on the rest of his space. For another thing it will be an amazing amount of work to move everything. Moving the wood would definitely be a big job considering the work it took to get it up, but moving the concrete is the part that I think would be truly miserable. Each pier weighs at least 200lbs and getting that big heavy cylinder out of one hole and into another is a feat of engineering that I am not willing to undertake. Out of everything I am probably most upset about the wasted concrete. It is a terribly energy intensive (fossil fuel energy, not mine) material, and I have wasted a lot of it. In the redesigned shed I intend to use four of the nine posts and piers. That means that I have wasted 5 of them, which is at least 1000 lbs of concrete. That is pretty bad. I feel fairly guilty. The extra wood is not a worry. I'll use that for something else, and it was already saved from a mulch destiny.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Great Success

This past weekend was the house raising take two, and it was wildly successful. I owe this in no small part to the contributions of a very talented and generous man named Blake Huff. I believe that it might have been near disaster take two had he not been there.

By the end of the day we had up the main support for the roof which consists of nine posts, and three stupidly huge beams.

Erecting this monster was no simple task. After the failures of the last attempt I was very concerned with doing this safely. I spoke with many of my friends and colleagues and we decided that the first attempt was not totally misguided, we just went about it the wrong way. Here is what we did the first time:

We put the beam up on the three posts then started pushing it up while walking up the legs. At about the point illustrated in the diagram the weight of the beam end was much heavier then the other side of the post so it started to tip back behind us. As you may know everyone baled at this moment and the whole thing came crashing to the ground.

The revised version is actually quite similar except that we use physics to our advantage:In this plan we are pushing on the beam itself so there isn't a big cantilevered weight, and we have ropes pulling from the other side. The pushing for the beam is done with what are essentially notched battering rams. In this plan even if it does crash no one is in the danger zone. At least, no one is directly under the beam like last time.

This was my plan until the day before the house raising when my dad emailed me with this wonderful invention that he found on the internet. I don't know if I am allowed to publish this image because it is from someone's patent, but all of the patent information is on the page and the whole thing can be found here

So this patented device is a wall lift.
It is like a little elevator with a pivot at the bottom. It starts with the elevator down and the wall lying on the ground. On side of the wall is resting on the lip of the elevator car Then the elevator starts raising and the elevator shaft starts to tilt forward, as shown in the image bellow. Eventually the elevator reaches the top at which point the wall is vertical and the elevator shaft is leaning over supporting the wall like a brace.

To me this seemed like a wonderful invention that would save a lot of potential heartache and injury, so after receiving the plan, I went about making a quick and dirty version of this device.

I got some 16ft 2x6's and chopped up some scrape 2x4s from the wood shop at school to make the elevator shaft, then I secured some pulleys to a steel plate on the top. Then I realized that I needed some kind of guide to keep the elevator car from popping out of the front, so I ripped some more scrap wood into 1" strips and screwed them onto the front. Then I went about making the elevator "car" out of scrap wood and scrap steel. I worked until about three in the morning on this thing. Then I got up at six in the morning to finish it. By the time I left to meet everyone to raise the roof, I had a functioning lift, but no base for it. I figured that I could enlist some help and finish it on site.

As it turned out, the amount I finished was exactly what we needed. I mentioned earlier that Blake saved the day. I explained the lifting contraption to him, then showed him what I had built, he laughed and said "that thing is as over built as these beams". He meant, I assume, that as with the roof, I made it far beefier then it needed to be. After a few minutes of thinking he told me that he thought it would be easier and safer to put the posts up first, then set my winching mechanism up right and raise the beam. I told him that I trusted his judgment far more then my own.

So we started.
Blake taught us how to get the posts in place and secured with braces.

Then he instructed us to lift the first beam onto some scrap 6x6's which were both about four feet tall. This was to take some of the work off of the lift.

Once the beam was secured in place we went about setting up the lift.

We got the lift into position, then tried to lift the beam with the "elevator car" that I had built. That did not work because it got bound up in the shaft, so we tossed aside my sleepless night and more intelligently tied the ropes directly to the beam.

To my shock, it worked. The ropes that tied to the beam were looped over pulleys at the top of the lift, then tied on the other end to a cable winch. A ratcheting device that looked a lot like this:
I was able to just crank on the winch, and the beam went up in the air. It was kind of magical.

After we got the beam in the air, Blake and my father got up on ladders and shimmied the beam into place, then nailed it down with some gusset plates.

We used the same method for the rest of the posts and beams with great success until the very end. All of the beams are notches to fit over the posts and these notches are of varying depth due to the fact that the concrete piers are not level. For the first two beams the notches were at exactly the right depth for each post, but on the last one, the end post was a little short. The beam was floating about two inches above the post.

Blake looked at that, then said "get a rope". We were then instructed to hang on the rope to pull the end of the beam down, while blake draped himself over the top of it and my friend Micheal nailed it into place.
It was a spectacle, but it worked. All of the posts and beams are in place. Now I just need to organize another little party to get the joists in the air.