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Fast Framing with Panels

Continued

Fasteners. To avoid having to drag an air hose around while setting the panels, I'd planned to tack things together with a few fasteners from a Paslode Impulse nailer, then go back and finish up with a regular air nailer. As things worked out, though, we relied on the Impulse nailer almost completely. The absence of air hoses running over the deck made it easier to jockey the panels around. Finishing up. It took two more return visits from the crane to get the structure closed in. The first came after we'd finished gluing and screwing the second-floor deck, when we set the second-floor walls (Figure 4, next page). Once the two of us had finished setting the exterior walls, we had the crane place the interior walls in the center, then sent the operator home.

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Figure 4. Second-floor exterior wall panels were lifted individually into place from the ground. The gable wall panels were framed floor to roof as single units to avoid a potential hinge effect that might arise with separate wall and gable panels.

The second session came after we'd finished setting the second-floor partitions and were ready to begin on the roof trusses. The crane lifted the bottom halves of the piggyback trusses into place one at a time as we nailed them off (Figure 5). We braced the trusses as directed by the manufacturer, loaded the roof sheathing on top, and raised the top halves of the piggyback trusses into place. That was it for the crane. At that point, we just had to slide the top sections into place, nail them off, and apply the sheathing.

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Figure 5. The top half of the piggyback trusses went up next (above). The shed dormer houses the master and guest bathrooms. At left, the nearly finished house.

Finally, I hired a three-man framing crew for a day to set the windows and exterior doors and run the plywood band between the first and second floors.

The Bottom Line

Overall, panel quality was very good. All the pieces were cut to exact measurements, and the panels fit perfectly as drawn, except for the one I should have corrected at the proof stage. In a few cases, the panel sheathing overhung the end of a panel by a quarter inch or so, but this was easily corrected with a power plane. One minor annoyance was the quality of the factory nailing at the partition backers. The toe-nails were left protruding and had to be hammered down by hand. I was very happy with the quality of the finished shell, which was comparable to one put up by a custom framing crew. No crane, no crew. Panelizing cuts your labor requirements to the bone, but it increases your reliance on a crane and operator. I hired a crane service that had several machines available and was willing to give my job first priority in scheduling. In return, I agreed to give several days' notice when I needed the crane. Although the company was about 20 minutes away, the $65 hourly rate covered only the time on site, not travel time. Even so, there was some unproductive crane time. At one point, we had to spend an hour or so straightening walls while the crane and operator sat and waited, because it didn't make sense to have them leave and come back. Next time, I might try to tighten up the crane schedule by adding another experienced carpenter, for a total crew of three. Costs and savings. In all, the bill for the crane and operator came to just under $2,000. The panelized walls, floor trusses, and roof trusses came to just under $15,000, including $1,000 for trucking. (Sprowl makes local shipments with its own trucks, but because my site was a six-hour drive from the factory, I had to pay for shipment by common carrier.) The complete materials package -- with me supplying the 11/8-inch plywood subflooring, 5/8-inch plywood roof sheathing, and 2x bracing -- came to less than $8 per square foot of floor area, or about what it would have cost for the materials to stick-frame a comparable structure. Because I had to pay only myself and a low-priced helper, though, labor costs were far lower. Our combined wages for the four-week job came to less than $5,500. If I'd been asked to bid on stick- framing an identical structure, I would have charged $10 per square foot for labor, or about $24,000. Fringe benefits. I figure that going with panels saved me a good $18,000 in labor. I saved another $500 by doing away with the usual job-site dumpster, since panels generate virtually no waste. By not having piles of framing material on site, I also simplified material handling and pilferage. I wouldn't hesitate to go with panels again.

Lee McGinley

is a builder living in Addison, Vt.