Monday, July 28, 2014

The Bat Shed

The Completed Shed and Side Yard
This project started in August of last year, although I didn't know it at the time. In early September Christina told me she was pregnant and that all my stuff would have to move out of the office, now nursery, and into storage/the garage. I had been pondering this eventuality for some time, and I knew that I wanted to try and build a shed to act as a spare room, office, and man cave all at once.


Initial layouts and placement options
I began seriously thinking about the shed in December of last year. At that point I knew I wanted it to be roughly 100 SF, have a wooden foundation, and I wanted to build it myself. I considered multiple configurations including options with clerestory windows, french doors, and skylights. After discussions with my mother, an architect by training, I decided to simplify the layout and go with a simple lean-to roof with a relatively shallow pitch (being in Southern California torrential rains and snow are not a serious concern). I surveyed our lot and picked two locations for placement: in the yard off of the master bedroom, and on the patio off the kitchen. After considering the loss of usable yardage and difficulty of locating utilities to the yard I settled on a spot off the kitchen on the existing patio slab.

The basic final layout of the shed
In order to make certain this shed would be as legal as possible I trolled the internet for guidelines on the California and Ventura County Building Codes. I found some good news: any structure that's less than 120SF, and is not intended for residency (i.e. no bathroom/kitchen), does not require a permit and all associated headaches that go along with that. The only concern was adhering to the city's property line requirements. I made a trip to city hall, spoke with the planning department, and found what I needed. If the structure was 8' tall or less it had to be 18" from the property line, and greater than that would require locating it 36" from the property line. With that settled, I began to do the serious work of reading up on construction methods, general code/building practices, putting a Bill of Materials/budget together, and determining what tools I would need.

It Begins

The final design would be as follows: sitting on concrete block caps mortared to the existing patio, pressure treated (PT) 2x6's and PT plywood would make the foundation. A standard 2x4 framed structure would go on top of the foundation and be capped with a 3/12 pitched roof with standard asphalt shingles. A single door and two windows would provide entrance/egress and ventilation. Now all was left was to buy the material and build the thing.

On March 8th I drove up to my alternate Home Depot (the preferred location didn't carry PT wood), purchased about $1000 of lumber, rented a truck, loaded the truck (with help), and then unloaded the truck (without) into my garage (this would start a multi-month exodus of my car from the garage). The materials sat for a week before I could get any work done, and then when I was able to put the foundation together I had a business trip to Detroit and had to let the project sit.

Late nights
When I got back the work started in earnest. When we first bought Casa Knaz five years ago we spent two months getting it into barely-habitable status. We worked two to four hours every weeknight, and eight to twelve hours every weekend day, for two months straight. That pattern started again with this project. In relatively short notice I had the walls framed and lifted (which was a challenge by myself; I had to ask my 7-month pregnant wife to hold a wall steady just so I could run and grab my nail gun [no pregnant wives were harmed in the making of this shed]).

Working late into the night was a regular occurrence until Christina reminded me that A) we have neighbors, and B) your air compressor is really loud. Thankfully the neighbors were understanding and I quit working late into the evening from there on out (with a few exceptions).

I cut every piece of the frame with my handy Hitachi miter saw, which I love, and nailed it all together with my Harbor Freight nailgun, which I loathe. As reliable as the miter saw was the nailgun was not, and by the end of the project I couldn't get through a single clip without the damn thing jamming. That's the nature of cheap tools, they're one-project-ponies.

It Continues

After the basic framing was complete I moved onto sheathing. One thing I really didn't realize was how flexible a wooden frame was. Each wall frame individually could be pushed ±1" easily when by itself. Even with all four walls tied together, there was easily a 1/4" of flex before I added the sheathing.

Me in my trusty construction sandals.
I cut nearly all of the sheathing with my circular saw. I had started out using my table saw to rip the sheathing to width, but a friendly neighbor dropped by and gave me a two-piece, 8' long aluminum straight edge guide (more good reasons to cut wood in your front driveway). After the gift of that guide I tore through the remaining cuts. Thank you neighbor.

I had originally planned on having the sheathing be the exterior surface for the shed. As such I chose to use plywood sheathing in lieu of the cheaper particle board that is used in the prefabricated sheds you see at Home Depot. To provide moisture resistance I painted all six edges of each piece of sheathing with exterior grade primer. This is what I learned about exterior grade primer: it's expensive ($25/gallon), it's thick (2x that of regular paint), it's incredibly sticky (5x that of regular paint), it's physically difficult to paint on, and it goes quickly. The sheathing was nailgunned into place and suddenly the shed was much, much more rigid.

Cat on an unfinished roof
Next up was installing the rafters, and it was here that I was incredibly happy to have designed the shed entirely in AutoCAD. Laying out a birdsmouth cut is, in theory, simple but in practice it requires (GASP!) training and experience. Instead of having to manually lay out the birdsmouth cuts with a roofing square I was able to read the angles and dimensions straight from the AutoCAD geometry I generated and layout the necessary cuts (done with a jigsaw). The rafters were cut, hoisted, and secured to the main frame with Simpson ties. The overhang rafters were attached to the edge rafters with 2x4s that were screwed into the edge rafters (that's a lot of the word "rafter"). The roof decking (3/8" thick plywood) was then added. All that remained was the multilayered roof to keep everything dry. In case you didn't know, most all roofs with shingles are layered as such: rafters/frame, plywood decking, building paper (asphalt impregnated craft paper), drip edge, shingles.

Earlier I mentioned that I was using a 3/12 pitch for the roof. That's shallow, and for a larger structure elsewhere in the country that pitch would not be advisable. This being Southern California, however, the accepted building practice is to double up the building paper and build as normal. So that's what I did.

Roofing, if you've never done it, isn't that bad. The materials are heavy, the location gets hot, you're crouching a lot, and you can easily smash your thumb, but the work goes quickly. In two afternoons I went from bare rafters to a sheathed, papered, drip-edged, and shingled roof. All it requires is a strong back, dull mind, and a ladder.

The Final Push

At this point it was mid-April and the baby was due in less than a month. I was panicking a bit. And then I flew up to the Bay Area to surprise my mom for her 60th birthday. My mom, ever the architect, asked me about the shed and how the construction was going. I told her my plan to use the sheathing as the vapor barrier and she, well, grimaced is probably the right word. The sheathing was put on without a layer of building wrap underneath. Having read this and that on the internet I was convinced that any moisture that found it's way to the shed walls would evaporate inside the shed, and that would have been true if I didn't plan on insulating and drywalling the interior.

When you insulate and drywall a structure you are creating an environment that naturally carries a temperature differential to the outside world. In a situation where the relative humidity is elevated (i.e. not bone dry like this part of California normally is), and the ambient temperature rises, the insulated wall space will be cooler than ambient and the moisture in the air will have a chance to condense inside the walls, and then due to vapor pressure and the vapor barrier of the insulation blah blah blah water will stay in the walls and grow mold that will likely end up sickening or killing you or bringing great shame when the home inspector swings by.

Now I realized that I had to add $400+ dollars to the budget and 20+ hours of work in order to properly build this thing. Somewhat deflated I flew home, headed to Home Depot and forked over more money. I wrapped the shed in Tyvek, a semi-permeable vapor barrier preferred to ye olde building paper, and installed rough cut plywood siding. Like the sheathing before it, every edge of the plywood needed to be painted, and the rough cut nature of the surface sucked in primer. I determined that each 4x8 panel required 1/3 gallon of primer. When it was all said and done I primed over 1000 SF of siding and sheathing for the shed.

Having become thoroughly tired of the poor performance of the nailgun, and wanting to use smaller head nails on the siding, I drove every siding nail in by hand. I even took a half day off of work to get the exterior finished because I promised not to make loud noises after 8PM. To simulate a board-and-batten look I attached 1x2 furring strips every 16" on the shed face, and I trimmed the corners, windows, and door with 1x4 pine. All of the trim was attached with my 16ga finishing nailgun and primed the same as the siding.

At this point, in fact before I completed the siding, I started the wiring and interior insulation and drywall. Now that I had a roof and walls up I could work late into the night doing relatively quiet work (my drill is much quieter than a hammer or air compressor). For the wiring I ran romex through holes bored in the framing (without an attic I couldn't drop power from up top, so holes were bored all the way through). To make this a proper man cave I put an HDMI cable, digital audio return cables, and surround sound wiring along with the power runs. I also added a power drop for an exterior light for the rest of the patio not covered by the shed. In order to power the whole thing I found a clever shortcut after talking with my boss at work; instead of trenching through the patio and wiring to a circuit breaker, I could run an extension cord from the shed to the house. In that way the shed was merely an appliance, and could be disconnected from the house at any time. I installed a liquid tight outlet ~8' up the wall on the side of the house and strung a 14ga extension cord supported by a chain between the house and the shed.

Windows went in, insulation went up, and thanks to my friend Justin, so did the ceiling drywall. It would have been a hell of challenge to install the ceiling drywall myself, so having a willing friend was absolutely necessary. Thank you again Justin.

Work continued. I spent many late nights installing, mudding, and sanding drywall. You may recall, from 5+ years ago, my friend Jeff helping us install our laminate flooring; well he did it again for me. Another big thanks goes out to Jeff for his help.

Pretty Much Done
The interior paint is called "Elephant Skin"

By May 1st I had completed framing, sheathing, roofing, siding, trimming, windowing, dooring, wiring, insulating, drywalling, laminating, and interior painting the shed. The baby was due in four days and I was running around like a madman preparing the nursery and house for our new arrival. As the fifth came and went I realized I had just enough time to eke out a bit more work on the shed. I painted the exterior, moved in the furniture, and even installed a custom sign on outside of the shed (the name comes from my best man Billy, always one for a good Batman reference).

I was exhausted, and I had a very pregnant (and patient) wife that needed increasingly more help as we waited for the baby to come. Knowing that the shed would be ready for its first real test, my mom spending a week living in it when she came to help after the baby was born, I called the project done enough and Christina and I celebrated with dinner, our last night out as a childless couple.

After George was born it took about a week for the sleep deprivation to subside enough that I could think. I started wrapping up the work on the shed; I painted the trim, I installed shelves, and added window flower boxes with the help of my mom. Since then I've continued to tweak and outfit the interior with more shelves, a fake bear rug, and all the other paraphenalia I've picked up over the years (posters and toys).

The shed project has been incredibly fulfilling. I don't if I would do it again (I said the same thing after I tiled the first bathroom). I found that I could, in fact, build something of this scale largely by myself with only my hands, tools, and back. It's a hell of a lesson and it makes me very grateful that I earn my living by exercising my brain and mouse hand. Thanks for reading!