I work for my family’s company building spec homes. We don’t sub-out the framing, foundations, and siding. That’s my role. In this video series, I'll show how our crew approaches the construction of a spec home, starting with clearing the land and followed by videos on the foundation, framing, siding, roofing, and other features. Along the way, I'll cover some of the high-performance features of this house and our focus on energy efficiency, but I'll also talk a lot about our methods of work and many of the decisions that have to be made during the building process.
We used to hire excavators to clear and grade our sites, but recently we haven't been able to find that service in a reasonable time. So we took that on ourselves, too. In this first video, I show how we cleared the land.
The weather wasn't that great when we poured the footings, but then again, it could have been a lot worse. The concrete mix we use is a 6 sack 60/40 pea-gravel mix and tests at north of 4000 psi. The house will disappear when an asteroid hits, but the foundation will still be there.
It is difficult to form foundations, frame the house (including hand cut roof), side it, and do concrete flatwork like garage slabs and patios when there's a labor shortage. So how do we stay productive with a small crew? Two things: Invest in tools, and invest in equipment. This video covers how we formed and poured the foundation walls for our Lakeshore house.
We start framing in this video. We're building over a vented crawlspace, so we needed to square up the mudsill and build pony walls before rolling floor joists, which allowed us to use up all our footing boards. Since we have some shear walls in the crawlspace, we used up our left-over Zip panels there. Above them are shear walls in the house. Because we have walls spaced about 10 feet apart and I-joists are currently about twice the cost of Doug fir, we framed the floor with 2x10 Doug fir floor joists. There is no loss in quality to the floor system, we save money, and using sawn lumber here is faster because the lengths are all about the same and there is no sorting through the I-joist pile.
Working smarter and not harder is efficient, not lazy. Construction is hard, but we can make it less hard. The right tools, techniques, and equipment can increase the longevity of our bodies, lower stress, and streamline efficiency. In this video, we take a look at how we frame exterior walls with efficiency in mind. One of our goals is to do as much to a wall before lifting it as we can. It's always faster to frame big walls on the ground and eliminate the ladder work.
In this video, we move from framing and lifting the biggest rakewall on this project to laying out and framing interior walls. Finally, we plumb and align, but we do it with a bare minimum number of braces. You'll also see how we frame soffits, install the belly band, and side the gable before lifting.
With the walls framed and braced, the next step is to start framing the roof. Since this is hand cut (that is, no trusses but all rafters), the first step is to set all supporting beams and install ceiling joists and ridges. Lots of big glulams that are far to heavy for the two of us to lift and set. Good thing we've got the equipment. The Ingersoll Rand 1056 (2002) is a beast. Add to that a swing carriage and truss jib, and we can set beams from the front yard all the way over and to the back of the house.
After setting all the beams, rolling the ceiling joists, and finishing all the remaining prep work, it's time to cut the rafters and stack the roof. Our roofs are typically framed with 2x12 Douglas fir and we can easily order up to 24-foot lengths kiln dried. Before lumber prices skyrocketed in summer 2021, I could order 26-foot 2x12 DF KD without a major price jump. You might be wondering, why are you hand cutting a roof? Wouldn't trusses be faster or less expensive? I got a truss bid in fall 2018 for this same house plan and the price was higher than the framing materials here for the roof. When we factored in Kyle's and my labor of cutting and stacking this roof versus setting trusses, we confirmed this is less expensive for us. If we had a third framer it might change, but two guys rolling 42-foot common trusses would take awhile plus we have to frame in all the valleys anyway. Since we work directly for the GC (www.pioneerbuildersonline.com) building spec homes, we prefer open attics and the ability to vault ceilings inexpensively and add features like the primary bedroom ceiling in this house.
More roof framing, this time California or over frame valleys. We get into roof sheathing with Zip System, cutting and stacking over frame or California jack rafters, beveling the sleeper valley, and using fall protection. I'm always glad to get off the roof. It's a major milestone in the framing process--the most dangerous, but also the most satisfying. When it comes to fall protection, we prefer to wear harnesses for sheathing the roof. We stay in fall restraint nearly 100% of the time. Fall arrest doesn't work on single-story houses because there isn't enough height for the decelerator to work.
We are big fans of LP SmartSide and have used it for many years. A big advantage to Zip System is that we don't need to install a WRB. So in this video, I can jump straight to layout for the sides and rear of the house. Layout for lap siding is very easy and there is no need for a laser to establish control points on this house. We prefab our window trim when we can, but we don't use time-consuming techniques like pocket screws or biscuits. Instead we use a corrugated fastener tool. Square cuts are preferred with LP SmartSide and these joints are nice and strong, but the taller and wider your trim, the more likely you'll need a second pair of hands to help carry it.
On the front of the house, we installed SmartSide vertically as "board on board." First, though, we install a rainscreen product by Benjamin Obdyke called Slicker Classic. To increase the drying potential of the wall, a rainscreen provides a gap between the wall and the back of the siding. In our climate zone, the IRC requires a ventilated cladding. Slicker Classic is basically an idiot-proof way of providing a gap for when we install sheet goods, or in this case, 12-inch pieces of SmartSide directly against the Zip Wall. A portion of this house gets preprimed cedar shingles, so Slicker Classic is installed there too.