The Need for a Roof.
We tried to do without a roof over the deck for three years.
The first year we had nothing. There are some great advantages to having an open air deck such as lying on your back and looking up at the stars. They aren’t worth the fact that every time it rains everything gets wet and around this part of the world, it rains a lot. Sometimes all day for a month or more.
The second year I tried partially covering the deck. I used a teepee that we sent back from India on our travels. I strung it up between the trees and the palms. The size was perfect and for a while it looked grand! It also functioned well. But was a temporary solution. Soon it grew mould, and pooled water that would then drip through and slowly but surely it lost its splendour.
Being in the weather takes a toll on the life of the structure. Every time wood gets wet it expands a little, then it dries out and contracts, cracking a tiny little bit. Then it rains again, the water gets into the tiny cracks and they get bigger. When it rains a lot, moulds and fungus start to grow as the natural processes of the forest decomposition begin. A properly weatherproof timber building can last over a hundred years, indefinitely if it is actively maintained. In the open it can become dangerous and in need of a rebuild in just 10 years.
In the third year we covered the teepee with a poly tarp. The water repellent qualities were excellent but it had the unfortunate side effect of preventing any light whatsoever from entering our house. The deck had transformed from an open air garden paradise to a cave.
We finally realised the folly of our ways and began to plan a suitable, permanent and beautiful roof. Due to the split level nature of our house and the slope of the land an extension of the gable was going to need some enormous posts. The roof would be very high. We toyed with alternative roof styles but they also seemed difficult.
Through serendipity a friend of ours who had helped us previously with building our compost toilet had another friend who was a travelling journeyman carpenter. He had arranged a place to stay and some work, but the job had fallen through at the last minute and he was already on his way. Of course we said he could come stay and work with us!
Kirrah picked Andy up from the airport. He was very eager to start work which we thought was fantastic. Not knowing much of his skill we slowly built up to the main project. First the fixing up of the hut he was staying in. He lined the roof, made shelves and built a small brick surround for the fireplace. We were very impressed with his efforts so we moved on to a bigger project. We extended an annex out the front of the studio and extended the carport. Both jobs went very well and deepened our appreciation for his skill. This was surely the man to help us with our biggest undertaking so far.
We set to work making a plan. First on paper and then once we had drawn too many crosses through each others measurements moved onto the computer. I had first made 3d models for the toilet and it was time to take those skills to the next level.
I used free program called Sketchup by Google. It has a PROfessional version that I intend to buy when I finish my studies. They do offer a student version of the PRO package, but only for those with .edu ending email addresses and here in Australian our educational institutions have .edu.au. Quite an oversight.
Not to worry, the free version is quite capable for my needs. It is also very extendable with many people making ruby scripts and fancy rendering tools.
The beauty of the 3d model is that it allows for rapid changing and updating of the elements. It also makes it possible to experience the space, especially for people who have not developed their mental 3d imagination from plans. You can check sun angles throughout the year, which is very useful when designing for maximum solar gain.
We decided in the end to go with the gable extension, despite the lofty heights it was the easiest way. It also allowed us to design for maximum solar gain, a critical factor on this overgrown east side of the house. We were going to use some large gum trees (over 20 m tall) that were very close the house as the posts. Due to some interesting design decisions made earlier the centre deck foundations were off aligned with the house, luckily the tree we intended to fell had a similar perfect bend it in. In any other structure this would have posed a problem but for ours it was perfect!
Once we all agreed on the plan we got to work.
As the trees were so close to the house we had a professional climb up them, attach a rope and we pulled them in the direction we wanted them to fall. In more difficult cases you can use the torque of a tractor and in the extreme a bulldozer.
Once the trees had been felled we immediately removed the bark. If this is done the same day it is very easy, any longer and the cambium layer dries out and fixes the bark to the wood of the trunk making it difficult and sometimes impossible to remove cleanly.
With the posts cut to their approximate size we used the ute to snig (pull) them up to the driveway.
Here the skilled carpenter could work his wood magic to prepare them to fit perfectly in the holes in the deck and attach to the existing structural pieces.
I wish I got a copy of his notes for this, they were scribbled into a little black book that went when he did.
I ordered the dimensional timber we needed from Hogans Mill in Kyogle using the plans we had made (plus a few extra in case there were duds).
This was a very intense build and the pressure to have all the parts in place was strong. We had tried to arrange for a human powered post lifter that had been built by someone on the community, however some internal politics prevented that from happening. So the plan B was to use the skills and tools of Tree Fellas’ Bill Cox and his bright firetruck red crane. Bill needed to be organised well in advance. I was using several project management tools to keep it all together and on track.
Born into the digital age, a lot of my resources are computer based. I also love the quality of Apple’s design so I use a mac.
The calendar is invaluable. I like ical the apple computer based one for ease of shuffling dates around, adding notes and setting alarms + reminders.
I also used Merlin, a project management package that helped keep the bigger picture in perspective.
There is numbers, a spreadsheet for keeping track of materials and costs in an easy to view manner.
House Deck Roof Materials
Project Deck Roof Labour I also kept a physical journal. There is something about hand writing a journal that I find comforting. I also keep a computer journal, as I can type faster than I can write and sometimes my hand can’t keep up. There are other benefits too such as an easy jump to online publishing, editing and searching. It is much easier for me to pull up all digital records of the deck building process for publishing than it is to find all the little doodles, plans and sketches drawn in the margins of my paper journals.Back on the Building SiteThe big day arrived!
I called around for extra hands to help us and was disappointed with the result. It seems that the barn raising spirit i’d read about on the internet is localised around Amish communities. Undeterred the small team I had assembled was confident we could get it up. The first issue was getting the crane happy. It refused to operate unless it’s stabalising arms were both fully spread, lowered and locked in place, this was only just achievable on our narrow driveway.With the crane computer satisfied we weren’t going to tip the truck we lifted the farthest post into the air. It weighed in at 180 kg, I expected it to be heavier, but was also glad that we didn’t have to lift it by hand. Unfortunately the crane just wasn’t quite long enough to drop the post into the hole vertically, so we manoeuvred it into place as best we could and then did the last bit with human pushing power.The centre post was no more co-operative requiring a few cuts with the chainsaw and some whacks with the sledgehammer and finally a truck jack to raise the deck and to get it to fit. We expected to have the posts in a few days earlier and removed the existing posts but rain halted things and in this time the deck must have sagged a couple of cm.Once the posts were all up we used the crane to lift the beams that it could reach. Everything had been cut in preparation for the machine’s assistance.Once the beams were up we bid farewell to Bill, the crane & our friends. And immediately get on with the job of getting the roof timber on.These too had been cut ready and it should have been a quick job to get them up. There was a problem however. The chunky drill we used to drive in the long batten screws to hold down the rafters was tripping up the solar power inverter. It was such a hold up that I finally relented and bought a petrol generator after 3 years of bush living. My patience and willingness to use less was trumped by the fear that the building would be left unfinished and our carpenter would have to leave. He had been staying with us for nearly 10 weeks now and was getting impatient too.My previous experience with generators had all been bad so I was keen to get the quietest model I could. There was a new generation of inverted generators that can raise or lower the rpm of the motor based on the load, this is a great idea as often generators run underloaded and cause themselves damage as well as being noisy. I bought the honda model that was available locally. I’d actually done my research beforehand and was waiting for the catalyst to buy.With the generator the work could proceed, but pressure remained on. We were both ready for some time off away from building site.Our eagerness to finish the project contributed to a few problems. Our general jovial banter was cut back as we focused on the task at hand and a few shortcuts were taken. We didn’t pre drill the holes for the batten screws to attach the battens to the rafters and this split the rafter ends in several places.With the battens on we could almost taste the ginger beer.
The one that matters of course is to get the roof on. We chose to make the entire roof ampelite clear polycarbonate. The very obvious downside to this is that it is almost completely “untrafficable” and thus difficult to clean. The obvious upside is that it lets 90% of the light through onto the deck and into the house. The difference this has made is incredible. In a similar situation next time I would make every third piece a sheet of tin, this would still allow a lot of light through but would also allow the roof to be cleaned.
Poly expands and contracts more in the heat than tin so you need to pre-drill a large hole first and use a special domed tek screw. It also has a UV protectant coating on one side only, so you need to be careful when installing it.With the roof done we could relax a little, there was still the gutter to attach, the water to plumb away and a whole lot of cleaning up to do. The water we were going to be catching on this new roof was going to be run off into fruit trees. I couldn’t find anything definitive about using it for drinking tank water, so I went with my gut and chose not to. We have sufficient household water from the existing zincalume roof anyway.Lessons Learned
I have a friend who is a builder and he offered to buy some of the materials from a supplier he uses regularly and gets a discount with. I thought this was a great opportunity to save a little bit of money so I told him what I wanted and waited for the estimate. It came back higher than I was expecting, but still I appreciated the time my friend had used so I accepted and put the money in his account.
On the day the goods arrived I looked through the pack and the order sheet and noticed that some of the items I wanted were not even there!
I quickly called up the supplier and explained the situation, and was told that they did get those items originally but was waiting to hear back from the builder to confirm them. They never got the confirmation so they didn’t deliver them.The high quote I originally received wasn’t even for everything I thought I had ordered. I called the builder to ask, but he told me that he didn’t know what they were talking about with any confirmation. I bounced back and forth several times before I realised the futility of the “he said, she said“ situation and marked the experience down to a lesson.There must be a really good reason to warrant adding another person between you and the other party you’re trying to communicate with. Children play this game at school, evidently I wasn’t paying enough attention that day. When you tell somebody something and they then tell someone else the message is inevitably changed. Often only slightly and inconsequentially but sometimes dramatically.
The handling of the situation by the supplier left me unsatisfied, so for the next leg of the project I used their competitor.Final Thought
On the whole we are thrilled with the result. It has transformed the deck space into something so much more usable for us. For most of the year it is the busiest room in the house. We eat breakfast out there, we have friends for tea out there, we do yoga out there, it is a wonderful space to be.