Preparing To Plant A Pepper Plant ~ I Wonder How I Can Over-Complexify It?

PART I ~ A Very Long-winded Introduction To A Significant Project

Sorry, no pictures this post.

Time sensitive note: I’ve wanted to write this post for some time, but the COVID-19 pandemic kinda knocked the wind out of my sails. But today I determined to sit down and write. I hope you are all well. We are watching the world change in front of our eyes.

For some years now, I have wanted to grow our own veges. But our soil is rock hard and would need significant augmentation to be successful soil. And if the bugs flying in the air and/or the leaf cutter ants marching on the ground don’t eat the leaves, then the grubs underground will eat the roots. And then there are the rabbits. And the windy season would leave the leaves in tatters. And the dry season requires constant watering as the soil turns to stone. And the torrential flooding in the rainy season is no help either. And who wants to bend over and work the soil at 70+ years old anyway. The only dastardly thing we are missing here is deer! So I tabled the desire. Continue reading

The Big Roof ~ Part 6

Since my last post, we have covered quite a bit of ground. I completed the rafters over the roof deck and welded on a facia around the south and west. Like this:


This front elevation is in the ugly dinosaur stage. I can’t wait to see windows installed and some color applied…

And this:


The afternoon rains are now frequent and heavy, so Armando and I start our day at 6:00 or 6:30 a.m. Here is a video of a 12:30 rain running off the new roof on container #3. There will be even more after we finish installing the rest of the roof panels on the Big Roof:

Yesterday (Thursday) we got a delivery of a big stack of roofing metal. Armando and I climbed onto the roof early this morning and laid them out and screwed them down. I have to say, the Big Roof is really, really BIG! I mentioned to Armando that it might be fun to play soccer on the roof, although be careful of going off side… Here Armando is busy screwing in the last of about 2,000 screws (at eight cents each…):

I'm taking this picture from the carport roof.

I’m taking this picture from the carport roof. We’re leaving the undone corner as is for now because I still have to build a small section of roof over the walkway below.


We still have to cut the angle, but we are just about done. The sky changes minute to minute; you never know when the rain will pelt down…

We managed to get the front angle cut just before the rain started:


After two months of welding on the roof, I am very happy to see this photo! I really like the line of the house, now visible for the first time in three years of work on this project!

In the next picture you can see that there is an area of outside walkway that is not covered; one cannot walk from the house to the carport without getting wet. I’ll tackle that small section next week:


Here are a few more pictures of our progress:


From the front door.

From the living room:


From the front door into the living room:


The first doorway in the container wall goes into the kitchen. The second doorway goes from the kitchen into a half bath that will tuck under the yet-to-be-built staircase in the living room (going to the loft and roof deck).  And the big window wall in the living room… do I have a surprise for you (later)!

And here is the best overview of the project to date:

Panorama -- 21 June 2013 -003

It sure will be wonderful to pour the Big Floor and get those piles of sand and gravel out of the driveway…

In other news, while it rained the other day, I worked on the window in the second bedroom. Here’s a short video:

That’s pretty much it for this week. More next week including the last roof section and preparing the Big Floor for the Big Pour. Concrete that is, not rain… Thanks for stopping by.

The Big Roof ~ Part 5 ~ And Thank You Zach!

First, I want to shout out a big thank you to friend Zach. Zach reads my blog and saw that this site was having difficulty staying live. Zach, being the very good Geek that he is, volunteered to move my blog to another host and server where I might have better results. In the process of starting the move, he did a chat with the current host, DreamHost. During the chat, it was discovered that PageSpeed Optimization, whatever that is, was enabled, and that doesn’t work well with WordPress. They unchecked the box and this site has been up and stable for days now. So thank you Zach for speaking fluent Geek and helping me with this!

Now on to the big roof: In Part 4, we were left with something that looked like this:


It was time to weld that upper left corner of the roof (previous photo) that I have been putting off because of the swarm of bees in the trees. The bees were fewer, but still a threat, so I set up a tarp on a plank. I wormed my way under the tarp and made the weld. The bees didn’t even know I was there:


I thought I was in a B pirate movie; Arrrrrrrrrr, crawl the plank, matey!

Working at the very top of the ladders, I welded the rafters into place. Then Armando and I placed five more roofing panels. I used the sawzall to cut the panel on the angle:


Armando screwed the edge of the panel to the beam.

At this point the roof looks like this:


The next part of this Big Roof task is to frame the roof over the roof deck on container #1. This involves raising this long beam above the outside edge of container #1:


I decided to sit the beam on four 2″x2″ columns, and these 2x2s will be integrated into the railing that will go around the deck. You can see the columns welded into place in the next photo. You can also see that I have moved the beam closer to where it will go, set up a ladder at the right end of the container, and am assembling a scaffolding at the left end of the container:


Now we have arrived at an interesting (difficult, dangerous, and dumb-if-I-do-it-wrong) point. I have to balance the heavy beam on top of the 2×2 columns and weld it into place. Hmmmm. That’s not going to happen with just Armando and me. With metal against metal, the beam could too easily end up on the ground and I hate it when that happens. So what I decided to do was to cut four square 2″x2″ (plus a whisker) holes in the bottom of the beam; the beam will then just slip over the columns and give me all the time in the world to weld the beam to the columns.

I moved the beam a bit closer to its final resting point and called Armando into play. In the next photo I explain the process to him: we’ll lift the beam onto the top of the scaffold and the ladder and then onto the top of the columns. He, on the scaffolding, will slip the first column into the first hole, and I will keep my end high enough for him to then move and place the second and third columns into their sockets. Then I will drop the beam over the remaining column. Here we go:


Discussing the action plan…


Lifting the beam into the air…


Now my end…


Just a little more… 


Today, Armando…


One down…


And another…

And here we admire our handwork:


The beam sits about twelve-feet off the top of the container.

With the beam in place, we can now extend the long, angled beams. Here is the first one:


If you take a closer look you will see that I cut away the top and bottom of the beam so that it would slip into the end of the already-in-place beam and reduce to zero the time Armando would have had to hold it in place while I welded it:


Tab A into socket B, like this:


Here it is all placed in its socket and ready for me to weld it tight:


Now you can see that the roof continues to sweep up into the air. This beam is now 52-feet long!

Rinse and repeat three more times:


Next it is just a matter of welding the rafters into place just as I did on the rest of the roof. Here I have a good start:


I’m beginning to see the end of this Big Roof project. Now I need to weld in the rest of the rafters and then frame the far end of this part of the roof. When it is all framed, I will trim the ends of the beams that are sticking out on the left (above photo) and weld on a 2×6 facia. Armando and I are chomping at the bit to get the last of the roof panels in place. You know what that means? No rest for the weary; time to tackle the Big Floor!

In the mean time, Armando has been building a kitchen onto his house and he needed a door. Manufactured doors can be bought for around a hundred dollars, but that is out of his price range. So he bought three pine boards for fifteen dollars. I helped him cut them to size and assemble the door. Here is the outside of the door:


To take the warping power out of the wood, I made a cut (about one-third of the thickness of the board) down the middle of each of the three boards.

We assembled the three boards with bevel-edged cleats attached with drywall screws. The screws stuck through the other side a little bit so I had him grind them down with the angle grinder:


On this side of each board I made two cuts about a third of the way through the thickness of the board to further control any warpage. Armando was mighty happy and proud to take the door home for his wife’s kitchen. “Better than a store-bought door!” he proclaimed (even if the screw pattern isn’t quite perfect…).

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by and THANKS AGAIN ZACH!

The Big Roof ~ Part 4

The Big Roof isn’t done yet, but progress is perceivable. I like the next photo that Cynthia took of me welding an X brace onto the roof. I used 1/16″x1″ flat stock (called platina), welding it to each rafter as it crossed the roof. This will keep the roof “square” and keep it from wracking in the wind:


I’ve welded in a lot more of the rafters:


One nice day Armando, our neighbor Tomas, and I started at 6:00 a.m. and screwed down nine, twenty-foot roofing panels. Each panel is 42-inches wide. Although that’s a lot of sheets and square feet, you can see that there is still a lot to go. It’s a big roof!


Since I took this photo, I have completed the rafters in the little square area to the left of the sheets.

The next picture gives a better perspective on the size of the roof. I still have to weld in the rafters on the left section, plus I have to build the roof that will cover the roof deck:


The rains have been washing the tree blossoms away, so that means that the bees are almost gone too. I am going to try to get to that upper left corner of the roof (previous photo) tomorrow and see if I can weld without raising the ire of the remaining bees. Wish me luck. If I can, then I will start welding in the remaining rafters in that area that overhangs the front of the house. Then more panels, then the section over the roof deck. I figure that I have until the fifteenth of June to work on the roof, then I’ll have to start working on doors and windows so that we can move in the fifteenth of July. Maybe the end of July.

Here is what the place looks like from the front steps:


I took a short 360-degree panarama video from the Big Roof. I can’t believe that we live here:

In other news, Armando has been digging the fish pond. He is putting the dirt in the big gardens and also across the street to improve his yucca and guandu (wan-doo — pigeon pea) garden:


We have a pump to extract the water when it gets too deep.

And he has been cutting the grass and weeding the gardens, both growing rapidly with the arrival of the rains:


Where’s Armando?

The photo above reminds me of one of my favorite artists, Henri Rousseau (link):

Henri Rousseau 2

And when it has been too rainy for me to weld outside, I’ve been doing odds and ends inside, including preparing the stuccoed walls for paint by wet grinding them. This process uses an angle grinder with a diamond grinding/polishing pad. A garden hose is attached to the grinder to wash away the gritty debris. It is all a big mess and is quite scary — water and electricity is never a good idea — even though I have the tool plugged into a GFCI protector. Here are a few photos that Cynthia took:


I’m wearing the latest in fashion: rubber gloves, rubber boots, boxer skivvies, and a plastic trash bag cut for my head and arms.


Cyn insisted that I post this photo. She said I was “cute.” Go figure!

And then there is this NSFW atrocity:


I’ll leave you with that last photo to ponder. What I will do for art. That’s all for now.

The Big Roof ~ Part 3

The roof shows progress, but not enough, not fast enough. Whenever you work off the ground, multiply the time times two. Or three. For every rafter that I weld into place, I have to move the scaffolding, advancing two feet at a time. So it is up the scaffolding, down the scaffolding; I’m getting more-than-enough Jungle Jim Fred time in on this project! And sometimes I get to the top of the scaffolding and find that I have forgotten to turn on the welder. Down the scaffolding, up the scaffolding.

And the rain is making its debut. Friday and Saturday I lost much of the day to huge downpours that lasted several hours. But I am not complaining, we need the rain; Panama is currently in a drought because of the several-week delay in the seasonal rains. We get 50% of our electric power from hydroelectric dams, and the reservoirs are perilously low. School has been cancelled and government offices have shortened work hours. Air conditioning in businesses has been restricted, fish are dying in rivers because of low water and/or warmer water than usual, and cattle are dying due to the lack of water and grass. If we all don’t cut back enough, there will be rolling 4-hour electrical blackouts. So I won’t complain about losing time; the greater good is much more important.

In my last post, I had three of the main beams in place. In the next photo I have a lot of the rafters welded in place and I am in the process of sliding the east beam into place:


Looking down, you can see the welder on the top of container #2 — the future loft. Yes, I’ve been wearing my safety harness!

I had difficulty getting the eastern-most beam into place. There are a lot of bees in the trees at the front of the house, and all bees in Panama are Africanized. They were paying a bit more attention to me than I would like, darting rapidly closer and closer to me; they even swarmed at the end of the carriola where I had placed my hands. So I moved the beam the last few feet with a long 2×4, then tied the beam into place. I’ll weld it later when/if the bees go away. Here is a photo taken from the carport roof:


The yellow tow strap and the come-along are holding the roof “square.”

Because of the bees, I decided to work at the far end of the roof. I welded together two more 40-foot 2x6s to make the last beam, plus I welded together two, 8-foot 2x4s for a column on top of container #2. Armando and I raised the beam to its perch and I clamped it, then welded it into place:


Here is the last beam, ready to receive columns below to create the west wall of the living room:


Because there isn’t much Armando can do on the roof while I weld, he has been busy digging the fish pond that will be near the hydroponic greenhouse. No photos yet, it’s just a hole in the ground.

In other news, I couldn’t sleep last night (Saturday) so I decided to take a walk around the neighborhood from midnight to about 3:00 a.m. With the recent rains, the frogs and toads and other water-loving night creatures have come alive. Here is a video of the raucous sounds of nighttime in the tropics just a few steps from our rental house. Actually, it was too dark to make a video but the audio came through loud and clear. Turn up your speakers:

And by the way, Ramiro (with the head injury) just came to our house with a big bag of star fruit (fruta de china [chee-na]). I gave him an extra hardhat that I had. The wound is healing very well and he plans to be back to work soon.

It is now 2:00 Sunday afternoon and the sky has just opened to a downpour. I guess that Armando and I will have to switch to our rainy-season start time of 6:00 or 7:00 a.m.

That’s all for now. More welding next week.

The Big Roof ~ Part Two

Monday I moved the welder back onto the top of container #1. Although the welder is really heavy, I pretty much lifted it with just one finger:

Once the welder was on the roof, I wanted to move it to the other side of the wall. How? Cut the doorway between the roof deck and the loft, of course. I felt my anxiety level rise because if I spent time cutting the doorway, I wasn’t working on the big roof. And if I wasn’t working on the roof, I was losing the race against the rain.

But as I have said elsewhere in this blog, I don’t run the job, the job runs the job. It takes the time it takes; you have to do things in the order that makes sense. Otherwise, you will work a lot harder to accomplish the same results.

Here is the doorway opening completed:


I made a video of me cutting part of the doorway. Notice how I let the heavy angle grinder and gravity do the work. You may also notice that I take breaks to gasp for air; I hold my breath as I cut. I would wear a mask, but I am allergic to latex:

Ever wonder what a latex respirator allergy looks like? Check this awkward mug shot of me taken about six years ago:


Yes, it is painful and burns like a bad sunburn. Itches like crazy too. My eyes are watering. It took a good three or four days to go away.

Now back to the roof… Um, not yet. First I needed to weld more of the big wall to the containers below; when I raised the wall I had only tacked it at the floor in a few places. That took about a day of welding on my hands and knees. This was a hot job with the sun beating down and the heat from the metal roof reflecting up at me.

Finally it was on to the roof. Armando and I lifted the three beams that I had previously welded together, onto the roof. Armando went back to cleaning the drainage ditches, and one by one I nudged two of the beams into place, each ten-feet from the previous one. I temporarily affixed them with clamps and ratchet-straps. But before I welded the beam to the 2×2 frames under the beams, I had to make the wall plumb. I used a tow strap and a come-along to ratchet the wall to be perfectly vertical. The next photo is a panorama composite; the beams really aren’t curved. But you can see the first of the three up in the air, as well as the come-along and the yellow tow strap connected all the way over to container #3:

Panorama -- Roof Rafters

When I was happy with the plumb of the wall, I spent an hour or two welding the ends of the beams to the supports below. I paid quite a bit of attention to this task. I would look darn silly if a strong wind sent the roof flying; this is a big roof and the lift on it will be substantial. Here is how it looks with the front wall done and the two new beams in place:


I find it hard to believe, but plumbing the wall and affixing the two beams took an entire day. Much of the time was eaten up playing the Up-The-Ladder-Down-The-Ladder game. There went Wednesday!

Thursday was taken up with other business. Friday morning I noticed that the two new beams were bouncing and swaying in the wind. Here is a video of how much a 40-foot, unsupported double carriola bounces. The birds in the nearby trees are my constant companions:

I decided that this was the appropriate time to install a previously-planned-for column, at the edge of the loft, for each of the two beams. Again I paid a lot of attention to detail making good thick welds, difficult to do without burning holes in the thin metal carriolas. For each weld, I welded for a while, then ground the weld with the angle grinder to make sure the weld was sound, then welded and ground some more. I’m not a stress engineer, but I am sure that thin, wimpy welds wouldn’t stand the test of time; metal fatigue, generated by any roof flexing in the wind, would tear inferior joints apart. These welds took a lot of time. Here are the two columns in place:


That’s where the roof stands as of Saturday afternoon. Next week I’ll be welding the roof rafters in place.

In other news, Armando is nearly done cleaning the drainage ditches (cunetas [coo-net-ahs])We are adding one new ditch; when it rains, all the water has to drain from the hills behind us, past our lot, flow under the road, and work its way to the main road where it goes under the road and starts a new river.

One of the several bottlenecks is where the water crosses the dirt road in front of our house; the water backs up into our yard. Our neighbor to the east and I replaced the twelve-inch under-the-road drainage pipes at our adjoining lot line with eighteen-inch pipes; better, but the water still backs up. Much of the water comes through the lot to the west of us, so Armando and I decided it would be a good idea to put another under-the-road drainage pipe at our west lot line. Here’s Armando hard at it:


Photo taken from the roof deck on container #1. By the way, that square of concrete is the top of our well.

Mango season has started. Down at the lower elevations, the mangoes are already in. These are big mangoes and cost a dollar and a half to two dollars if you buy them at the market. Better prices can be had by buying from small roadside stands. Mangoes at our elevation of about 2,200 feet (670 meters) will be ready closer to June. Here is one of the super-sweet beauties I bought the other day. Made a great breakfast:


These mangoes are big. How big? So big that the mango can’t fit through the mango slicer!


One mango fills a soup bowl. Ripe, sweet, and juicy. Delicious!

That’s all for now, more next week.

Alan Gets Blog Cred ~ Rethinking The Roof on Container Three

In this post I talk about the roof over container three. I planned to pour a concrete slab.

In my previous post, Wallito, reader Alan wrote an extensive comment* (repeated below in its entirety) about the roof on container three. Thank you for going out on the limb to suggest an alternative solution. Most guys won’t give another guy suggestions or advice unless we ask for it. We don’t want to cut in on another guy’s turf. But thanks Alan, you did, and you did it with grace and class.You made me think, especially when you mentioned the half-life of caulking.

And another thing happened. We have had some wicked heavy rain since I applied the urethane caulk yesterday and the caulk all washed away. I thought it was urethane, but it turns out that it is urethane enhanced elastomeric caulk in a latex base. The urethane caulk that I have been using elsewhere on the containers is sticky-gooey in a non-latex base. It cures fast and remains flexible. Water doesn’t affect it even if it isn’t cured, but this elastomeric caulk didn’t have enough time to develop a water-resistant skin. Bye bye three tubes of caulk.

In my construction career I learned not to trust caulk of any kind for any mission-critical project. Make joints tight and right. But I guess I forgot or got lazy. Reminds me of the painter’s saying, “A little putty, a little paint, makes a carpenter what he aint.” Thanks Alan for bringing this to my attention.

Alan also mentioned that the concrete slab would accumulate heat during the day. Very true, and I was going to put a sheet of foam insulation under the concrete.

I was going to use the concrete slab on the roof of container three to direct water off the roof. This roof will handle a lot of water. If we look at the photo of the model again, you can see that two significant roofs dump onto number three.

The model is somewhat lacking, as there is actually a two-foot high wall on the right side of container three, and that wall is the tilebacker wall that I just detailed in Wallito:

I am going to duplicate this wall on the left side of the container for the other roof to sit on.

The concrete slab is now off the table. Alan suggested installing a sloped roof using cement board roofing tiles. Alan, I’m going to take your sloped roof idea, thank you, but I think I’ll use the corrugated metal roofing sheets that I am using on the other roofs. Several of our friends have the cement board roofing panels and they seem to need more maintenance to keep the green slime pressure washed off the roof. Also, it is slicker than slick to walk on and I see a lot of broken tiles. The metal roofing is not elegant in any way, but it is economical and the only potential leak points are where the screws penetrate the metal making it easy to diagnose and maintain. Another advantage of the metal roofing is that it is highly reflective and doesn’t accumulate a lot of heat.

With the two-foot high walls, I can easily construct a roof over number three that slopes from about eighteen inches at the high end down to nothing at the other end of the container.

The metal roofing is flexible and I can roll it up the wall and screw it in place. The screws won’t hold in the tilebacker, but I can place a carriola behind the tilebacker to receive the screws. Armando and I can work together; he on one side of the wall and me on the other.

I can also use Alan’s idea of the roll insulation placed directly on the container roof below the new sloped roof.

In other happenings, today was a near washout with torrential rains beginning at 10:30 a.m. But I did manage to spray two coats of white paint on the exterior of the 12-foot wall between three and four, and between raindrops I got one piece of tilebacker up on the triangular wall section.

That’s all for now. Thanks again Alan.

*Here’s Alan’s comment in its entirety:

Hi Fred,

Thanks for your most recent update. I’m enjoying the process of your build and I am taking notes for that day when I will also build a container home or container something.

In any case, I wanted to chime in regarding your roof and give you an unsolicted opinion. You know what that’s worth!

You may have already thought through your process so please don’t look upon my advice as expert, other than I’m building my own home and have lots of experience with leaky buildings especially where I come from (Pacific Northwest). I am also building a home in Panama and it’s a learning experience for me also.

With regards to mixing different elements like concrete, caulking, and metal; these are all materials that expand and contract differently. So it’s almost guaranteed that eventually your caulking will separate from your metal. If you put concrete over the seal, it may help but the mass of the concrete will expand at different rate as the metal on the roof. If the concrete cracks due to this dynamic, it’s possible water could penetrate the concrete and this will require you to seal and paint the concrete regularly to keep it from taking on water.

So, my thought is to suggest a slightly sloped roof for the top of our container made from concrete board (plysem) that is corregated and also conveniently stained red. The plysem overlap each other in the installation so you have a sealed, overlaping joint wherever they meet. The corrugated look may not be what you are looking for so this is also a consideration. I have installed on my own roof and it looks good the way it is despite the fact that I am installing reclaimed clay roof tiles on top of the plysem.

With regards to where the plysem meets your newly installed concrete board wall, you would simply install an L shaped flashing that covers the top of the plysem where it meets the wall by at least 5 inches and goes up your concrete board wall by the same amount. You can later cover your concrete board with a repelo to hide the flashing that’s attached to the concrete board wall. Ideally, the flashing would have been placed behind your concrete board and extended outward to cover the plysem but you’ve already got your board up and this will work just as well.

This should also allow you to install a radiant barrier (plastised aluminum sheet ) underneath your plysem directly on the top of your container roof. This is a cheap way to reduce your cooling and reduce the temperatures of your house. You can pick radiant barrier at Hopsa for about $96 per roll 4′x100″.

The other thing you need to be aware of is if you choose to use concrete to cover the top of the container, it wll also collect heat all day and dissipate into your interior as it will be directly connected to the metal on your roof that I believe is also the ceiling in your rooms.

You can overlap and tape the radiant barrier by a few inches and it also acts as an emergency secondary barrier for any leaks that may come through your plysem roof. The radiant barrier will most definitely reduce the amount of heat entering your home as it acts to deflect infra-red heat back up and into the plysem. You need to make sure there is at least one to two inches separating the radiant barrier and the plysem and the corrugated part of this concrete board provides sufficient space between the two.

Again, only a thought and most likely not what you’ve spec’d but may be worth the consideration.

Wallito (The Little Wall)

In Spanish the word ending -ito signifies affection or diminutive stature. In this post, I tell about the short wall I just built, hence the new English word I coined; wallito.

There has been a lot of rain recently, including a few complete rain-outs, so progress has been slow. But I have managed to work on the two-foot high wall above container three that holds up the low end of the roof between three and four.

Originally I was going to use some of the 20-foot scrap wall section cut from container three for this new wall, but we have amended the plan and now are cutting only doorways from the container. Because we decided to use tilebacker (cement board) for the interior walls, it seemed like a natural to use the tilebacker for this little wall overhead.

First I cut eight 2″x2″ square tubing “studs” and welded them in place to receive the tilebacker. Because I was working by myself, I made the runway scaffolding so I wouldn’t have to lift the welder.

The wall will go in that long open space above the container.

Speaking of the welder, I got tired of the anemic factory-installed wheels and put on some wheelbarrow wheels. Now I have an ATW (all terrain welder).

Some difference, huh?

Then Armando and I hauled the four sheets of 3/4″ tilebacker from container one to container four (it’s always a treat to carry heavy stuff through the mud). I cut them to shape with a tile blade on my circular saw and Armando sponged on the first coat of sealer. The sealer will resist water and dirt stains.

For the sealer, we decided to go with a wet-look acrylic polymer. Two coats sponged on quickly is all it takes to protect the surface. Ask me in three years how it worked. Here’s the sealer sitting on top of a piece of tilebacker after the first coat. The second coat brings up the shine.

Rain stopped production for the day, but this morning I swept the water off the top of the container roof and installed the tilebacker sheets on the studs. I used the same sheetmetal roofing screws that I used to screw the roofing to the steel framing. Here’s the wall all finished except for the second coat of sealer.

I sealed the tilebacker to the top of the container with urethane caulk. To control water runoff from the roof, I will make the standard Panamanian roof gutter system: take a piece of 4-inch PVC tubing and slice the length of the tubing with a saber/jig saw. A circular saw is faster, but the PVC will most likely shatter, making a mess of the tube. Out in the pueblos in the mountains, they use an old rusty handsaw. Tedious work for sure.

Anyway, after the cut is made, you spring open the tube a bit and slide it over the tail end of the roofing metal. Pieces of bailing wire wrapped around roofing screws holds the gutter in place. You can paint the gutter any color you want, but our previous gardener Miguel liked to use tar thinned with lacquer thinner as the paint. Any color you want as long as it is black.

Ultimately the container roof will be covered with a concrete slab, sloped toward the center of the container and down and off the back end of the container. The slab will cover and protect the urethane caulk. I hope.

I am concerned about the corrosion/rust between the metal container roof and the concrete slab, so I am considering painting the roof with an elastomeric roof coating. I could paint the coating up over the caulk and a few inches onto the tilebacker, then pour the concrete slab. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Here’s a picture of the wall from the inside:

Later, when I work on the interior of the house, I will apply a second sheet of tilebacker on the inside of the studs. For protection from potential smashers/robbers, I will probably weld a couple pieces of 1/2″ rebar in the stud cavity. The tilebacker is strong for the elements, but probably is no match for a big boot and would be a weak point in the building envelope. But for now I am only interested in getting the building dried in.

Tomorrow I will work on putting tilebacker on the triangular section you see up in the first photo. Before that, I need to paint the exterior of the wall below the triangle with white paint.

When I don’t need Armando to lift and tote, he is busy working on leveling the lot and preparing it for grass. Sod grass can be had here, but it is expensive. Armando said that he wanted to clear out some of the grass close to his house because he has had some close encounters with the slithering kind in his house lately. Replacing the grass with gravel will slow the critters down. So early one foggy morning, I went to his house to get a pickup full of grass. He lives on a dead end off a dead end off a dead end, and by the time I get within a few hundred yards from his house, the road is very narrow. I can’t make the turn into his “driveway,” actually only a wide path. So we worked for an hour with two wheelbarrows and got the truck loaded.

Sod from Armando’s yard is somewhat of an exaggeration, as he dug up the grass shovel by shovelful, pieces breaking, some only a few inches square at best. We kidded that planting the grass in my yard was like getting a hair transplant, hair by hair. But he got the job done in two days, and now the yard is starting to look like a yard.

(Normally when I write these blogs, I re-size the photos to be a bit larger on the page. This time, the re-sizing option doesn’t exist. Sorry. You can always click the photo to make it larger.)

I’m glad to have this little wall out of the way. Soon I can haul the welder up to the roof of container four and finish welding the upper wall to the container roof. That’s all for now.

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.