Habitat for Humanity is building a house in East Montpelier. Last fall I tried to contribute to this project as an engineer, but a team of Norwich University students designed the house and I wasn’t needed. Now that it’s under construction, I can lend a hand in a much more literal way.

It’s been more than a year since I last worked on rough framing, and it felt great to lug materials and climb around like a monkey. Even better, I got to test my competency. Head carpenter Chris put me in charge of a roofing crew: a team of five from the Montpelier USDA office who took an outing to join us. Also on site were longtime volunteer Lisa and project manager Bruce.

Our primary task for the day was to install as much tongue-and-groove sheathing as possible atop the scissor trusses that support three quarters of the roof. Chris and Bruce snapped a chalk line on the south side of the gable to get us started. For our first row we aligned each tongue (pointing uphill) with the chalk line. Subsequent rows we pounded into place with a sledgehammer and beater board. While Chris, Bruce, and Lisa puzzled out the geometry of the remaining rafters, the task of the roofing crew was relatively simple.


Chris and Ben install a rafter in the southeast quadrant of the roof.

But no carpentry task is without pitfalls, and we encountered plenty. The scissor trusses are pretty squirrely on their own, free to sway until the sheathing provides shear strength. So we had to take care when we walked on them, and as we nailed down the sheathing we had to continually straighten the trusses so they’d line up perfectly. Usually we accomplished this task by marking the sheathing two feet on center, measuring periodically from the previous seam. Getting those seams right took some sledgehammer magic, too. When we hit one end in, the other end liked to seesaw out, unless we hit in just the right place or tack-nailed a corner to keep it from sliding.


Snapping a chalk line to align the remaining sheathing panels.

The USDA team was a delight to work with. Ben actually built many houses while he was in school, and I appreciated his problem-solving intuition and acrobatics. Polly, Megan, Mike, and Ted learned fast, and what they lacked in experience they more than made up for in enthusiasm. Fears were overcome as everyone got up on the roof; the adage “many hands make light work” rang true. By day’s end we had over 90% of the roof sheathed – major progress toward getting the interior dry for the electricians who arrive next week.

(Did you know? The USDA provides rural housing mortgages and renovation loans with super low interest rates! Apply here and see if your income qualifies you.)


Mike and Megan nail the last panel of the day into place.

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