Thursday, May 23, 2013


A lot of framing happened last week, with some more to come next week (this week was a scheduled down week).  I'll let the photos with the captions do the explaining, but I will say this:  It is a pretty cool feeling seeing what we designed on graph paper come to life.  Being involved in theater, I can only imagine it being similar to something a playwright experiences when hearing a first read of a play they wrote.

Anyway, I had a great time being involved in the framing process and I can't wait for it to resume next week.

When I say "involved" with the framing process, for the most part I mean things like, carrying lumber around and handing someone something when they needed it.   The big highlights, though, were helping to raise the walls and helping to lift the support beam into place which used muscles I haven't used in a long, long time.

Here's some pics:

On Monday, the floor was framed out on top of the foundation.

When the floor was complete, they laid out the first wall (also on Monday), the East wall.  We raised it the following morning.  See the video here:

Shortly thereafter, two walls were up; the East and West walls.

Soon after that, the South wall went up (the wall towards the view).  This was actually the heaviest wall to raise which may seem counterintuitive due to all the window openings.  The headers across the windows and sliding door weigh a lot!!  Here, the builders are securing the wall into place.

The first floor framing is complete!  This is still Tuesday.

Support beam is in place with second floor floor joists running over it, with "blocking" between the joists.

A quick note about the support beam:    If you can't tell in this photo, this beam is quite ugly.  That's because the lumber yard delivered the wrong beam.  The beam they delivered, shown here,  is a beam that is NOT meant to be seen (somewhere where it is not exposed).  The beam in our cabin is going to be exposed.  We were not there when it was delivered on Wednesday which was a rain out day for us.  So, when we arrived on site first thing Thursday morning, John, the builder, took one look at it and said, "that's the wrong f#!*ing beam!" I was glad to hear him say that right away because I was thinking the exact same thing.  He placed a call to the lumber yard telling them we needed a replacement beam a.s.a.p.  They said they would try to get one out but couldn't say when.  Seeing as we were planning on beginning work on the upstairs floor joist that day, it would have put a huge wrinkle in our plans if we didn't have a beam to put in place.  We then began sheathing the first floor.  A short time later, the lumber yard called and said they no longer carry the beam we had ordered.  Wow! Now what to do?  There really wasn't a whole lot for us to do without that beam.  As John was relaying his disbelief with the guy on the other end of the phone, and I was beginning to feel my stomach turn in knots,  I heard someone in the background say, "you could always box it out."

Long story short; I asked John while he was still on the phone, can we box it out in barn board, or something like that?"  "Sure, he said"  "Let's keep it'" I said.  "Perfect," he said, "that's the beauty of having the owner on site."  We were able to use it and continue on with the day.

Steve nailing the joist hangers. 

Most of the upstairs subfloor is in place and John is calculating the stair case layout in the back corner

Working on installing the rafters (taken from the back of the cabin). 

How she's looking from the road.  

Pic from front yard showing the front of the house.  It's not going to be green in the end; that's just the sheathing color.  8x8 sliding glass door in the middle with two large windows on either side (living area on the left, dining area on the right).   Below is a video taken from inside those windows from the living area.

Thanks for taking the time to look through this!  Most of the framing should hopefully be completed by end of next week.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Plans

Hello!  Since starting this blog, several people have expressed curiosity about, and interest in seeing the actual plans.  Seeing as we are now starting the framing process, I suppose this would be a good time to share the plans and some thoughts behind the design and layout (see below).

Several people have also asked how we were able to obtain a building permit without plans from a licensed architect.  In rural areas, regulations around these sorts of things are a little more lax, and in our town, owner designed plans are allowed for any structure under 1500 sq ft. as long as they’re up to code, of course. Our cabin comes in around 1150 sq ft, depending how you count it, so, my graph paper drawings were sufficient enough.  And we have a licensed General Contractor heading up the project which made obtaining the permit much easier.  In fact, the permit was approved two days after I submitted the plans and application.  

If you're thinking of designing a cabin in this size range, and have questions about building code requirements (maximum floor joist spans, weight bearing loads, etc), it's actually fairly easy to research all that stuff on the internet.  And, seeing as code requirements vary somewhat from region to region, you can always contact your local code inspector; ours was quite helpful with several questions I had during design.  

Ultimately, though, you're going to want a builder who knows all the local code requirements so I'd recommend going with someone as local and reputable as possible.  You can always ask the local code inspector to provide a list of builders in the area.  Code inspectors are not allowed to "recommend" someone, and ours didn't by any means do so.  He did, however, make it clear that the builder we wanted to go with was known for doing good work and that he has inspected several of his homes.  I would also highly suggest that in addition to finding a qualified builder, and there are many out there, it is equally important to find someone you trust and have a good working relationship with.  Actually, the easiest part is finding a "qualified" builder, meaning someone capable of building a cabin to code. But like any business relationship, you will find the whole experience less stressful if you find someone who is attentive to your questions, returns your phone calls, and is someone you generally enjoy working with.  So far, we have been extremely happy with how that aspect has been going.

So, here is a scanned copy of the complete set of plans I submitted for the building permit, and to the builder, with some explanations for each image.  It's a fairly simple: 26 X 26 foot print with an open living and dining area downstairs with a half bath tucked under the staircase.  There are two bedrooms with a full bath upstairs.  

I'll start with how the cabin will look from the front exterior.  It's your basic, cottage/chalet style design.  Because the house faces a nice open view, the obvious goal was to capture the view from as much of the inside of the house as practically possible.  The open floor plan downstairs allows for a "wall of windows" in the front of the house, made up of a large sliding glass door in the middle, flanked by two large windows on either side, all spaced very closely together.  There will be a wooden deck (not shown here) that runs the length of the house and about 10 ft deep.  Both bedrooms upstairs are in the front of the house as well.  

This is the downstairs floor plan.   It"s an open plan with a support beam as shown (dotted lines) to allow the kitchen, dining, and living areas to be essentially, one room.  The staircase wraps around the closet and passes over the half bath.

What's a little unusual (but not entirely uncommon in cabin design) is that the "front door," or the main entry door, is actually in the back of the house.  We wanted the parking area to be in the back so that the cars will be out of site from all living areas.

That round thing in the corner is a wood stove (Morso 7648 model).  Wait! A round wood stove?  Yes,  we're going for a little mix of contemporary and rustic charm.  And, that particular model has a built-in heat shield that allows for incredibly low clearance requirements from combustible materials (walls) so we can place it as far into the corner as possible so as not to take up valuable floor space. And, it has a large glass front for viewing the fire.

That little "bump out" in the floor plan in the living are next to the wood stove will be a recessed entertainment center with built-in shelving, again, so as to take up less floor space (you can see how that "bump out" will look from the outside from the exterior house drawing above).   Also, you'll notice a window in each front corner of the living/dining area.  That is meant to act as a bit of a wrap-around continuation effect of that front wall of glass.  Basically, the front of the house will feel like one big bay-window.  

This is a drawing of the back wall in the kitchen area.  There is also an island counter with the sink (not seen here). The slim-line refrigerator takes up less floor space but has as much storage as standard refrigerators as it is extra tall.  As you can see, there will be open-shelving which should provide plenty of space for day-to-day glasses, dishes, etc.  There is also a pantry closet for kitchen storage and we'll have a hutch in the dining area for extra plate/china storage.  Between the base cabinets shown in this drawing, and the base cabinets in the island counter, there will plenty of storage for pots and pans, etc.  A really nice thing about this whole project is that my Dad and I have been building all the base cabinetry over the past year.  We live three hours apart, so we've been working on them gradually over time.  They are nearing completion.  I will eventually do a post on that process more specifically.

On to the second floor:

This is the upstairs floor plan.  As you can see, the stairs will end at the back of the house into a hallway that accesses  the bathroom and two bedrooms at the front of the house.  At the top of the stairs there is a "closet" for the stackable washer and dryer and a little linen closet beside it.  Also, you can see we will have a decent sized room for storage.  I tried as hard as I could to make that big enough for a third bedroom but as they say,  "for every action, there is a reaction," meaning, trying to expand that room (adding space) simply means taking away space from areas around it.  We decided we'd rather have two bedrooms of comfortable size than three tiny bedrooms, and an uncomfortably narrow hallway.

If you're confused about what appears to be an inner wall running the length of the house with the word "storage" behind it, those are the knee walls.  I'll explain those in the next image; the cross section.

This is a rather crude drawing of the cross-section but it captures what is required for a permit, which is, the key elements of the structure and what the spacing of things like floor joists, studs and rafters will be.

So, on to those "knee walls" I mentioned in the upstairs floor plan:  As you can see, the exterior walls of the house will be 12' high.  The downstairs ceiling will be 9' high.  That leaves 3' left over.  Subtract about 1' more for the 2x10 upstairs floor joists, and floor coverings and there is just 2' left over.  Seeing as 2 feet is not high enough for a wall in a livable room, we have to build the upstairs walls "in" a couple of feet.  Our roof's pitch is 12/12.  That means for every foot we build "in," that wall gains a foot in height.  As you can see, we will build "in" 2 feet so the starting height of the knee wall in each bedroom will be 4 ft.  This means the headboard in each bedroom will go into the knee wall.  I know that doesn't sound very high, but think of it this way;  the next time you are getting into bed, observe how far from the wall you are standing.  It's about 2 1/2 feet.  That means the ceiling height will be about 6 1/2 feet where you are actually standing when getting into bed.  The height for most of the bedroom's floor space will be 7 1/2 ft.  The knee wall arrangement is very common in the upstairs of small cottages/cabins with pitched roofs  and will definitely give the upstairs it's own cozy feel, whereas the downstairs, with higher ceilings and openness will have it's own feel.

These are some drawings that were not required for the permit but they illustrate how the shelving units will work. I wanted to include them to again illustrate the knee wall effect upstairs, in regards to the built- in shelving (I'm a big fan of built-in shelving).  The upper middle drawing shows how the built-in shelving will work in each of the bedrooms as they start from the knee walls (reverse angle for bedroom 2).  The top left drawing, by the way, is the recessed, "bump out" built-in entertainment unit seen in the living room floor plan.

This is a very simple way to illustrate the interior elevations for windows,  ceilings heights for the builder.   The same idea exists for the second floor with different dimensions, but I think you get the general idea.

This is a drawing of the North side/back of the cabin where the main entry is located.  It looks a lot more sparse than the front of the house.  The parking area for the cars will be in this location and because the house butts up against the back of the property, and the floor plans are the way they are, there is no need for additional windows in this part of the house.   Those two bare walls on either side of the door will look a little less bare when firewood is stacked there.

I tend to be a bit obsessed with symmetry when designing.  That off-center upstairs window is placed where it is because it is centered in the upstairs hallway, at the top of the stairs.  It took me a while to accept the fact that it would have to be off-center from the outside.  But, this is a part of the house that will not be seen much, and the front of the house will be the first thing seen, thus first impression when driving up the driveway so I was able to get over it.  

The East side of the cabin.  The window on the left is the corner window on the front part of the dining area.  The window on the right is the kitchen window.

This is the West side of the cabin.  The window on the left is the hallway window where the stairs case begins.  The window on the right is the front corner of the living area.  

Well, that's pretty much it for the plans.  I really appreciate your taking the time to read this!  We are heading up to the property this morning.  The lumber was delivered on Friday and the framing begins today!  We are terrifyingly excited!