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December 31, 2010

A New Decade at Midnight

prayer flags

It’s been a decade of personal trials, transitions, and transformations unlike any previous ten-year period. From seemingly insurmountable lows to highs that I’d never dreamed possible, it has been life at its fullest. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Today, with a glorious late-December sun warming a snow-covered landscape, I opted for a blend of traditions and celebrated the New Year a bit early by hanging a new set of flags on the wind. (The traditional date for hanging new prayer flags, the Tibetan New Year, falls on March 5th in 2011.)

From high on the hillsides of Vermont, Happy New Year!

prayer flags 

December 19, 2010

Calculating Self-Worth in a Modern World

worth

The equipment shed is complete (with the exception of various finishing touches). Winter’s cold is upon us and I’m taking a few days (okay, it’s been a week) to relax before beginning the next project, the tool crib. During the down time, I’ve been browsing various building publications, gathering ideas, and educating myself on the many new elements I’ll be tackling on our next barn project. (We’ll break ground sometime in the coming year.)

Within the articles I’ve read, a figure typically cited is “cost per square foot” (represented in terms of the cost to the buyer). As might be expected, those numbers cover a very, very wide range of prices. I couldn’t help but wonder how those numbers compare with our cost to build the equipment shed. More importantly, however, I was curious about how much we’d earned in the process. Or, is it that I’m seeking something more – perhaps a way of “measuring up” in a modern world.

worth

In this day and age of work-a-day routines we have come to value our worth in terms of the dollars in our pocket after a paycheck arrives. With self-worth assured, we use those monetary rewards to purchase the necessary stuff of life – a shelter in which to live, fuel to provide heat (for those of us in northern latitudes), food for sustenance, and the transportation which gets us from our homes to the workplace and back again. (Of course, in our affluent society, much of the spending goes well beyond basic “needs.”)

That’s not the only model, of course. In fact, we don’t have to go too far back in our history to find lifestyles of lesser monetary dependency and greater self-sufficiency, but the economics of that bygone era are sometimes hard to grasp in this modern world of profit/loss accounting. In my family, I only have to go back to my grandfather to find an example of an essentially subsistence based way of life. My mother recalls little disruption in her lifestyle during the Great Depression years as there never was much money in the pocket but there was always food on the table. Most of that way of life was left behind over the course of two subsequent generations, including the measures by which we evaluate self-worth.

worth 

As I’ve tended back in the direction of my grandfather’s day, there have been many who’ve tried to enlighten me by urging, “You could be earning $XXX,XXX if you did “this or this” for a living,” In response, I ask them, “Why would I want to give up doing the things that I love to do so that I might earn a paycheck so that I can pay someone else to do the things I love to do? It just doesn’t make any sense!”

In a typical year I receive a paycheck for about half of my working hours. The other half of my time is spent providing for myself – services that would otherwise require monetary expenditure – i.e. building shelter, cutting wood for fuel, growing food, performing repairs, maintaining vehicles, etc. Last year the bulk of my energies went into the building of our equipment shed, so I’ve decided to take a look at what I’ve “earned” in that process.

A traditionally built timber frame barn is certainly not the least expensive option in today’s market. In fact the opposite is true. But, to our advantage, most of the cost of a timber framed barn is the labor required for building. The raw materials are relatively inexpensive, especially here in a state where forests cover 75% of the land. For our project we used locally grown hemlock that was rough sawn in a local sawmill, then transported to our land via a trailer behind my poor overworked pickup truck. The earthen fill required to level the site was hauled in by my neighbor (who owns a dump truck) from the village pit a few miles away. The crushed stone for the final layer of the floor was hauled from a quarry about 10 miles away. The oak pegs were turned by a woodworker not far south of us in Walpole, New Hampshire. The forms for the foundation piers, the concrete, and the steel rebar encased within came from places unknown, as did the metal roofing – the component requiring the most manufacturing energy. (Perhaps someday I’ll trace its path from raw material to rooftop, but for now I’ll remain blissfully ignorant of its origin.)

worth

Adding it all up, our out of pocket costs were just over $5,000 (about $1000 for the site-work and foundation, $3,000 for the wood, $1000 for the roof, and another couple hundred dollars for assorted hardware). That translates to about $8.50 per square foot. The bulk of the value added to the project came in the form of our own labor.

So, what did we earn on our investment of time in this project over the past year?

If we’d had to pay contractors for a completed building, we’d have been looking at a price tag upwards of $75 per square foot of ground floor area for a timber framed building of the same quality. (If the loft area were included in the calculation, the price would have been about $50 per square foot.) That price includes all labor and materials for design, site-work, foundation, timber framing, siding, and roofing.

Adding it up, the total market value of the building is approximately $45,000.

On an income/expense sheet that gives us net earnings of $40,000. But here’s another way to look at it. That’s $40,000 we didn’t need to earn in a paycheck (after taxes) in order to pay someone else to build for us (again, doing something that I love to do).

Those numbers assume, of course, that one has the cash on hand to pay up front. If one had to finance a $45,000 project, say with $5,000 down over a ten year period at 6% interest, the total out of pocket cost would be $58,300, making the value of our time worth significantly more.

Alright, I feel better now. I’ve determined (rationalized) my self-worth. I have a dollar value, therefore I am. I’ve found justification for this mini-vacation. But now it’s time to put this Sunday morning exercise to rest. Where was I? Oh, yeah, the pros and cons of dry laid stone vs concrete block vs poured concrete vs insulated concrete form (ICF) foundations . . . I’ve got another barn to build someday.

 

 

December 09, 2010

Siding - Closing In on the Finish

siding

As I write this post the mercury in the thermometer outside my door is dropping steadily toward zero. Tonight will be the first night of the season with sub-zero temperatures. It hardly seems possible that just three weeks ago, when we put the siding on the equipment shed, the days were still reaching 50 degree highs.

The final stages of the equipment shed were on a tight schedule. We had to have the building complete enough to move into by the week before Thanksgiving or we’d risk having to wait until spring before transferring belongings from (expensive) storage units in Burlington. We were lucky that November was mild and relatively dry (as Vermont Novembers go). On November 11th we put up the first of the siding boards along the front of the loft.

siding

Marion cut the boards and passed them to me. I swung a hammer and cursed the narrow ring-shanked siding nails. The work took longer than I’d anticipated. By the end of the day we had only completed one side.

siding

The end wall siding involved 26.5 degree cuts at the tops of the boards and more rungs up on the ladder. In the photo above, I’m trimming the pegs in the rafters flush to accommodate the siding.

siding

In order to prevent water from flowing between the posts and the concrete piers we installed flashing at all of the post bases.

siding

By November 14th we were closing in the final side along the back of the barn.

siding

For rough sawn hemlock, the fit had been incredible. The only piece that needed trimming was the final plank. Siding complete!

siding

Before moving in we wanted to get the shed’s floor laid. On top of the base we placed a layer of “driveway fabric” which functions to keep the final layer (crushed stone and stone dust) from being pushed down into the fill below. We’ll likely haul in another 7 yards of the material in 2011, but for now we have a useable (and level) floor.

siding

In the photo above, the fabric can be seen extending down the bank behind the building where it will help prevent erosion under the stone retaining wall that we’ll put in next year.

siding

Nothing left but the final touches, but ready for moving in.

siding

In the spring we’ll trim the siding along the base of the walls and around the bays. We also plan to install trim under the eaves and along the gables. Those details can wait for warmer days.

siding 

After roughing out the loft door there was no time to spare. We were off to the U-Haul rental in Burlington where we hooked up a trailer and made two trips across the state with stored belongings. We moved in, despite a hard November rain and yet another skidding, sliding U-Haul adventure. Then, it was off to Boston Harbor for two days with my high school rowing crew for the Northeast Championships and, finally, a well deserved Thanksgiving break (during which my body announced, “I’ve had enough” and succumbed to a week-long head cold).

Winter weather has since settled in. We’re ready.

December 02, 2010

Raindrops on a Tin Roof

roof

Compared with the standing seam roof on Gypsy Rose, the metal roof on the equipment shed was quick and easy.

We had purchased the roofing material from Michiana Building Supplies months earlier. (That was back in the day of wishful thinking that we’d have the building up by early summer.) Michiana cut the panels to length (19-foot 10-inches and 8-foot 6-inches) and delivered them from their Rome, NY facility. The truck they were shipped on, however, was 75 feet long. There was no way to bring such a rig within miles of this job site. Instead, I’d arranged to take delivery at a truck stop near a main highway, 16 miles away. I strapped 15-foot-long timbers to the racks of my kayak trailer, forming a platform to carry the roofing. The trucker was very accommodating and the transfer was straight forward.

The roofing we used is ABC Roofing’s Imperial Rib model – a 26 gauge unpainted galvalume material. It is installed using external fasteners - self-drilling screws with neoprene washers. Care must be taken to get the first panels perfectly aligned so that subsequent panels run square with the building. Beyond that, it’s just a matter of driving hundreds of screws at regular intervals. I’d designed the roof width to use eleven full-width panels so there was no panel cutting required.

roof

In order to reach the peak to install the ridge cap I used the same technique that I use for cleaning the chimney on Gypsy Rose. A ladder, padded with closed cell foam to prevent damage to the roof, is supported by the front end loader on the tractor. A step ladder gets me from ground level to the ladder base.

roof 

The total time required to install the roof was 21 hours. Once completed, we enjoyed the simple pleasure of listening to rain plinking down on a “tin” roof.