Monthly Archives: May 2013

Bargain on insulation and a night in the van.

When an opportunity presents itself, you have to jump at it. I’m speaking specifically about finding foam-board insulation on Craigslist, but this might also apply elsewhere in life. Like with love and job opportunities. But right now I’m focused on insulation.

In my perpetual scanning of available building materials, I found a guy selling used sheets of foam board insulation. The sheets are 4’x8′ and 1 1/2″ thick. He has truck loads that were taken out of an enormous roof somewhere, and he wants to get $8 per sheet. A comparable new sheet goes for about $27 retail. I was dialing his number almost as soon as I read the title of the ad.

There’s usually a catch, but in this case the only downside was that he was in Shamokin, PA. That’s about two-and-a-half hours from headquarters. Sounds like an adventure.

The guy selling the insulation works a third shift job, and wanted to meet early in the morning for the transaction. I don’t like to wake up before 6am if I can help it – and certainly not to get behind the wheel and drive for five straight hours. I Google-mapped a Wal-Mart a couple miles from the guy’s house and prepared to drive up there at night. I’d sleep in the van, wake up early, and use the Wal-Mart for coffee and morning bathrooms. I love sleeping in the van, so the plan was seamless. It would break a long drive into two manageable pieces.

Kristin got home from work around 9pm. I thought I’d give her a kiss and say goodbye until tomorrow, but she asked if she could go along. Absolutely, I thought. Certainly I could use some company on the drive. I re-doubled my efforts to prepare the van’s interior for people with actual standards. It was nice to see the interior looking clean. It was nice to use the full curtain that my mom sewed for me years ago before I headed down to Key West for the second winter in a row.

Kristin and the small dog joined me as I finally pulled out of the driveway at about 10:30pm. We had a comfortable sleep in the van, and rose early for a modified morning routine. I love waking up in the van. I love the feeling of opening the side doors and stepping out into new surroundings with a blast of fresh air. I enjoy keeping the secret that I slept soundly in a beat up van. I enjoy a modified morning routine of using corporate amenities like I own them.

“How many sheets do you want?”

“Thirty-six,” I told him. “More if they’ll fit.”

He told me that the last guy with a van only got fourteen. One of my eyes squinted suspiciously at this, and I assured him I’d damn well do better than that. The two of us slid in twenty-six sheets flat with no hiccups. I’d taken measurements, and this is exactly what I’d expected. I knew going in that the next ten would take some smooth maneuvers. I hopped up on the trailer with my razor knife and scored the next sheet down the center. I snapped it in half and slipped both pieces in the side doors and on top of the pile. It was a tight fit going in, but I had a decent-sized cavity to fill. The next six sheets went in the same way, but the seventh wouldn’t have it. I hopped back up to the trailer and scored the next sheet long-ways and snapped it into two long strips. There was enough space beside the first pile to slip these in. The remainder of the sheets went in the same way.

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“I would have bet against you,” he said. “You’re determined. I wouldn’t have believed it.”

I thought of a few boastful phrases, but ultimately just shook his hand and thanked him for helping me load up. I was feeling great. I handed him $288 and calculated in my head that I’d just saved over $700.

Kristin, myself and the small dog enjoyed a scenic ride home with a stop along the way for iced-creams. I was proud and confident that not a single additional sheet of insulation could be tucked anywhere in the van.

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Snapshot of an Under-Motivated Basketweaver.

There’s ups and there’s downs. That’s as scientific an explanation as I can eek out at the moment. Maybe I’m on the wrong dose of smart-drugs. Bumping up my dosage isn’t much of a solution – you can only go so far with that. Some days I just feel sluggish. If I take a break from the drugs, I won’t leave the house. If I take a day off of the Modafinil / Adderall / Ritalin etc, I don’t feel different at all – I just don’t leave the house. Certainly not to work on any projects, anyway. How can I get something done without stimulants? I wouldn’t know which foot to step with first. Left or right? I could happily waste a whole day calculating the merits of each. By the time I decide which foot should start the stepping, the sun will be going down.

It is in this misty fog that I forced myself up a ladder. A decision about my feet could not be made, so I hastily shoved them both out the front door. I poked around with a rattly tape measure and promptly cut a useless triangle out of plywood. That’s when the decisions got heavy. Should I drive to the store to get another sheet of plywood? (I could get coffee on the way back and take a break in the parking lot to watch cars drive by!) Should I keep working with the other sheet of plywood that I have and go to the store later? Could I skip buying more plywood, and use several scrap pieces to get the coverage that I need?

I must admit, a decision could not be made. I bumbled around a little bit longer. I cut one triangle correctly, and affixed it to the framing with about half the screws it would eventually need. Faced with the task of scooting the ladder over another six inches, I decided to hang it up for the day. It would be getting dark in about six hours anyway.


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Gable framing and gained confidence.

I’ve been stalling on building the framing for the gable ends of the roof. Cutting the 2x4s for the “A”-shaped gable ends requires taking two passes with a saw and making an angled cut at a fixed depth. It’s fairly elementary, I admit, but still more complicated than the walls. I tend to stall before tackling any step that requires trying something new. I study-stalled forever before working up the nerve to cut rafters.

I woke up feeling good and I cooked eggs for breakfast. Whenever that happens, any number of planets could be aligned. With surgical focus, I prepared to take measurements and cut wood.

The work wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might be. It was only as difficult as I imagined it ought to be. Perfect. I strapped on my thinking-brain and systematically laid out the cuts.

Instead of taking all of the measurements from my Sketchup model, I only completed the framing as far as I was certain would work. Before trimming excess and making the angled cuts where the gable-framing meets the rafters, I carried the unfinished product to the house. I propped up the framing in the open end of the roof and measured to make sure it was properly centered on the actual house. I marked the gable framing with a pencil to make a line where the framing meets the rafters on the actual house.

I allowed myself a pat on the back, because everything was going well. I wasn’t getting tired and confused, and finally I was beginning to feel comfortable. I made my cuts fairly quickly and returned to the house to screw the framing into place. Both ends of the roof now have completed framing with a rough opening for a window at either end. Though the work doesn’t look 100% snug and perfect, I know that the work is strong enough to last forever and nobody but me or the people reading this will know there are any gaps. And if I back off the modesty for a second, I can honestly say that from the ground it looks damn good. It was a little bit challenging, and the successful completion of this step gave me real pride.

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Finishing the roof sheathing.

I got the rest of the plywood screwed onto the roof. What I really want to have is a little white angel on my shoulder telling me that all of my crude work will look and function well in the end. My own brain serves the function of the little black angel. The gaps in my work give me pause and I often have great difficulty imagining how I will ever sleep and read and breathe in this structure. It takes all of my faith and imagination to climb up and down the ladder.

To be honest, the rafters have pretty big gaps at the ridge board intersection. The plumb cut is just not flush. The plywood doesn’t look perfect by a long stretch. These facts do not make the roof unsafe, and the gaps will be covered and invisible several times over by the time I am finished. Still, I wish that I could magically produce perfect cuts on my first try ever. I wish I could pick up a bat and hit the first pitch right out of the park.

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Roof sheathing, balancing, and wishing I had three arms.

A one-man band can be fun to watch, but when multiple musicians collaborate, it usually works better. One guy can get the job done, but the interesting part is that he’s doing it alone, not that it sounds fantastic. Sometimes I feel like a one-man band.

Yesterday, I lifted the ridge board into place by myself. I made fork-shaped cutouts in scrap 2x4s and raised them to the correct height over the top plates and screwed them into place. I stood in the unfinished loft and hoisted the ridge up and rested it into the slots. Then I took some crude measurements and started lifting rafters into place. I banged nails into the rafters, constantly feeling like I was using two hands to do the work of three or four. More than once, I held a rafter in place by awkwardly draping a leg over it while trying to get a nail tapped in far enough to keep the rafter from slipping. It was a perfect model in inefficiency and frankly it was a goddamned headache.

Today, I began to lift sheets of plywood up to the roof and screw them into the rafters. It made yesterday seem easy. I didn’t get much coverage with the plywood before I had to take a deep breath and quit for the day.

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