A Roof In Time

In addition to getting the water well up and running, Armando and I recently worked on building the roof over the 12-foot by 40-foot open space between containers 3 and 4 (the two back containers).

This is a simple shed roof that rises up from the south (low side) to the north (high side). I framed the end triangle gable walls from metal 2×2 square tubing, and the roof itself is framed up mostly from metal 2×4 carriollas (“C” shapes that are open on one of the four-inch sides) that I welded together. I cut some side wall metal from container #4 to make the north four-foot high, 40-foot long wall under the high side of the roof, and I will do more of the same to make the two-foot high wall on the south side. These walls will keep the stiffness of the container roof when the container wall is cut out below.

This shed roof makes a high ceiling (11-feet high up to 13-feet high) in parts of the master bedroom and in my workshop. With clerestory windows above, these should be nice spaces to sleep or work in; we’ll be able to see the night sky in the bedroom, I can use less electric lighting in my shop, and any heat gain in the rooms will be whisked up and out the high windows.

Armando and I installed a simple roof sheathing of corrugated zinc roofing metal. It fit the budget and will reflect a lot of the sun’s heat. I have some six-inch thick Styrofoam panels kicking around, so I figured that I can cut them in half to make 3-inch slabs that will fit in the four-inch space of the 2×4 rafters. Underneath, for the ceiling surface, I plan to use tile backer cement board, probably 1/2-inch thick. In my opinion, drywall should be shunned in the tropics unless it is installed with an air-conditioned space on either side of the drywall. Otherwise, the paper backing on the drywall can become damp — a tasty snack for mold.

I like to design and build in a specific way. I design the broad brushstrokes of the building on paper, before buying any materials. After, when the bones of the structure are up, I stop work for a while and sit on a five-gallon bucket in the middle of the open space, pondering. It doesn’t matter if the bucket is right side up or upside down, in case you are wondering. The longer I can sit the better. I look for design elements that may already be part of the structure and see if I can use this to create a theme in the house. I look to see what shapes can be repeated to create a common element throughout.

Some years ago I read a small book on graphic design titled The Non-Designer’s Design Book, by designer Robin Williams. She has an easy-to-remember design mnemonic called, CRAP. It stands for Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity.

  1. Contrast: differing colors, shapes, elements that take away boring swaths of area
  2. Repetition: a design element repeated to create cohesion
  3. Alignment: creating a restful feeling by aligning elements
  4. Proximity: things that belong together should be presented together

In graphic design if you are designing a business card, advertisement, or an annual report that follows CRAP, then you will have a piece that people will like to look at. Similarly, I have found that buildings can benefit from these same principles.

So while sitting on my bucket, I noticed the framework of the gable end wall of the bedroom. It is a grid. Hmmm. I was going to sheath the framework with tile backer. But it is a grid and a perfect place for windows, stars visible from the bed. I was going to weld in a section of the shipping container wall scrap to create the wall under the gable. But what if I continued downward the 2×2 metal framework of the gable, making the entire 12-foot wide wall a square or rectangular grid. Windows and pieces of 3/4-inch thick tile backer can be placed in the grid. Do I have a design element that fits the Repetition part of CRAP? I think so. I’ve been thinking about other areas of the house where this can work — windows and even the driveway front gate.

As I have mentioned, we are renting and living in a house nearby. We’ve never liked renting as you can’t count on the landlord not to change your life at any given time. Our landlady is in her 80s and we just don’t know when any of a number of things might happen. Cynthia and I, and Armando and I have been having this discussion: Is it better to build all the roofs now, in the dry season, then go back and do all the other work of creating living spaces, such as pouring the concrete floors and installing all the windows at once? Or, is it better to get one area habitable? The back two containers (numbers 3&4), for example. We would have a big bedroom that could have a temporary computer/sitting area, a full bathroom, a large closet, and my shop, all up and running. The only thing missing is a kitchen, and I could make a “camp kitchen” pretty much anywhere. It would end up being an efficiency apartment if you will.

Thinking about which tack to take, I thought of the old TV sit-com, All In The Family. Archie and Meathead were having a “discussion” about whether it was better to put on both socks at once and then both shoes, or to put on one sock and then that shoe, then the other sock and the other shoe. I liked Meathead’s argument the best: one sock and the related shoe.  (paraphrasing Meathead) “At least, Archie, if you have one sock and one shoe on, you can hop out of the house over hot coals in case of a fire.” If you never saw the show or want a nostalgic jaunt, here is a classic clip: Archie Bunker meets Sammy Davis Jr. Another of my favorites is when the show opens, Archie & Edith are returning from the movies. Edith with a look of shock on her face, turns to Archie and says, “But Archie, I thought it was a religious movie, Cardinal Knowledge,” the show of course referring to the racy-for-the-time movie, Carnal Knowledge.

So from this point on in the construction, we are going to focus on one area that we can move into and call home if the unthinkable should happen and we have to vacate our rental.

Back to construction of the roof, as I said, I cut some of the siding from container #4. This stuff is heavy and floppy and has sharp edges, much like bringing a big flopping fish with gnashing teeth into a small boat. Not that I have any experience in that vein. The only time I ever fished was as a young boy. I cast the line out over my head the first time and two of the three hooks on the lure drove themselves deep into my scalp. A trip to the hospital was involved. Anyway, we used a rope on the first piece of siding, but employed a pulley system on the second panel and it raised much more easily. Since then, a neighbor has loaned me an electric winch which I can use in the future.

Once the metal pieces were on top of the container, we moved them into place and tack welded them here and there. The next day I set about welding them more securely. The panels have a mind of their own, twisting and turning out of alignment, especially if there is a dent in the corrugations. So I welded what I could easily get into place. Armando was working elsewhere that day so I was alone on the job. The question became, how to get the out-of-alignment areas into alignment and weld them into place by myself; it was a four-hand endeavor but I only have two. I worked most of my carpentry career by myself, so I called in some of my old silent partners from the firm of Rope Stick Clamp Hammer Ladder & Wedge. I created an adjustable stick and wedged it from container #3, the 12-feet over to container #4, pushing the belligerent siding into place with pressure (photo below). I welded that spot into place, then moved the rig to the next area. I like my silent partners. They work for no money beyond the initial contract (purchase) and can hold their arms up in the air without complaint even if I break for lunch.

I titled this entry A roof In Time, referring to the shift in the seasons. After a long dry spell, we have recently experienced afternoon rains, thunderstorms, and nighttime rain. Over the next month or so, the low pressure of the Intertropical Convergence Zone will move more on top of us, dropping more and heavier rain at any time day or night. Oh goodie. Break out the rubber mud boots.

Here are some photos of the new roof:

Here's the framework of 2x4 carriollas all welded together and before we put two coats of anti-corrosive paint on the weld joints.

Armando grinds an ugly weld flat. I used some flat stock and made an X brace to stiffen the roof. Armando is holding on to part of it with his left hand.

Here, Armando and Hernan haul up the first sheet of cut out siding. Without the pulley, we needed a break! In the real word, one might logically build the wall, then build the roof on top of it. But we were having some significant wind, the sheet of steel became a sail, so it was easier to frame and brace everything first, then fill in the empty wall spaces.

Here I am under the new roof, working with silent partners Stick, Wedge, and Ladder. As I pull down on the brace, the siding is moved into place for welding. The big dent at the bottom of the container? It was artfully created by the malfunctioning crane during placement on the columns. I deducted $150 from the bill and didn't hear a word about it.

Here are a couple of my welds. I will go back and fill in the rest to make the joint watertight.

Let’s talk soon.

2 thoughts on “A Roof In Time

  1. A couple of things: First, why not use green gypsum board rather than concrete tile backer? I think the green stuff is for wet/humid environments? Second, I know once the wet season is upon us, the roof will be a huge asset, as you can continue to work without having to stop and wait for everything to clear. I know this because I’ve had to wait for the dry season to put my roof on my own house. It can also create problems for whatever you’ve already built if it gets wet. Also, I don’t know much about welding but will water not pose a problem if the metal gets wet? Or can you weld wet metal?

    Lastly, I had to build my septic system during dry season because the water table is lower so I would not have any problems building the concrete septic tank. (we have a high water table during the wet season) Have you built the septic system for your house yet?

    • Hi Alan, Yes, I think that green board would be fine for this climate, although I have seen it disintegrate when someone set bathroom shower tiles on it. I think it is made for damp, not wet environments. The tile backer would make it through just fine in the (likely) event of a roof leak. Seems that everyone I know, no matter the roofing type, is up there once a year patching leaks!

      The rains have set in as an afternoon thing, starting at about 1:00. Today Armando and I got caught with two wheelbarrows of mortar when it started to rain. I stood there like a scarecrow, holding one umbrella over him and one over me.

      Yes, you can weld in wet, even underwater. But you have to be damn careful not to ground yourself or the current will choose you every time.

      You can see my tale of the septic system at my post Septicly Speaking. I actually built the drain field quite high because we also have a high water table. I made a drainage ditch just uphill of the system to try to control the groundwater.

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