The House: Boots & Hat

Work on the house started with the foundation.  There is no point in fixing anything else if the whole thing is going to collapse. In our case, the house was built in two stages. The original house is sitting on a block foundation which had deteriorated in places. To make matters worse, the last owners had decided to remove some of the backfill in order to make the crawlspace under the house taller. This may sound like a great idea, but removing the backfill allowed some of the foundation wall to start to cave inwards. The end wall (which fortunately doesn’t bear the weight of the roof) had collapsed entirely. The other portion of the house was an addition. On the plus side, it is a poured foundation still in great condition. On the downside, there is less than a foot of clearance underneath and while it is open to the original house crawlspace for ventilation, there is no way for a person to get under that part of the house.

The last issue with the foundation was actually the one I dealt with first. Come spring, the water can’t move quickly enough through our heavy clay soil and under the house turned into a swimming pool. Fortunately, the house is above the level of the ditch at the road, so I dug a trench and layed out lengths of 4″ ABS plumbing to allow water to drain by gravity from underneath the house to the ditch. This brought the water level below the ground level.

After the drainage issue had been settled, I set to work repairing the foundation. This involved a few localized patches as well as the construction of two poured piers at the corners of the house and a center pier to support the center beam of the house at its end. This precluded the need to build a full-length end wall to replace the one that had collapsed. I then put in several other poured piers along the center of the original section of the house to reduce the flex of the center beam. I then levelled out the soil backfill to prevent further inward movement of the foundation. As an aside, digging with a short shovel in a crawlspace in which you can barely lie on your side is a great work-out if anyone is looking to get into shape. Lastly, I covered the exposed earth in vapour barrier to keep the amount of humidity reaching the wood structure down and to make it a cleaner environment for future incursions.

Metal Roofing

Metal roofing with snow guards.

The foundation fixed, the next step was the roof. The shingles on the roof were not in great shape and were starting to fall apart. Fortunately, this came at a time when the price of steel had dropped substantially and I managed to find a great deal on new steel roofing through a local scrap/salvage yard. Although their primary focus is on demolition and salvage, they are also dealers for a few different new products and I was able to purchase the steel for the roof at around the same cost as high quality shingles.

Steel roofing is, in many ways, substantially easier than shingle roofing as a DIY project — once you figure out a few tricks. The first trick is to have the right tools. I broke lots and lots of drill bits until I found these nice little stubby drill bits with two sharpened ends. The shorter length reduces the chance of flex and subsequent breakage. Combined with a lubricant (tapping oil, silicone spray, wd40 .. not critical) it makes for quick work. You will also want some metal cutting discs for a circular saw and boards/clamps to ensure a straight line when cutting.

The first step for steel roofing is to strap your roof. This is when you do whatever you need to to make things even, level, plumb etc. It easily took me three times as long to prepare the roof than it did to apply the actual metal. Once your strapping is up, you want to drill all of the panels on the ground, stacked up. Measure carefully and drill through all the sheets, keeping the drill upright. This ensures that all of your screws will be in straight lines and that the holes from adjacent sheets will overlap. Overlap your sheets so that the prevailing winds aren’t pushing up under the leading edge and away you go.

Vented soffits and a vented caps and you’re set. Never underestimate the importance of ventilation in an attic.

Once the metal roofing was on the house, eaves troughs could be put in place and run into the cistern, allowing us to collect rain water. Previously we had had to order water for the cistern a few times a year, but subsequent to the roofing we went for five years without ordering water. With the later addition of a few water-intensive tasks like laundry — which we had previously been doing at the laundrymat — and watering the garden, we actually did run out of water last year. Having learned our lesson, we now more carefully monitor the cistern level in late summer/early fall and adjust our usage accordingly. I am currently in the process of adding water collection and storage to our garage, which should help provide some of the water needed for gardening and relieve the pressure on the cistern.

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