Sukkah 2017

Two years ago I built a temporary outdoor room in celebration of the Jewish holiday Sukkot. Last year I missed my chance because I traveled to China for the duration of the holiday. This year it was time to plan and construct a new sukkah.

I salvaged some 4×4 posts and decking lumber from another job, and used these for the four corners of my 6-foot-by-6-foot sukkah. I cut points in the ends of the posts hoping to drive them into the ground, but the earth was too rocky and so I dug postholes instead. I buried the posts leaving a couple feet exposed, tamping down the surrounding soil so they wouldn’t budge.


Four posts and four columns.

Next I attached a board to each post raising the height to 7 feet. I used screws for easy disassembly. I framed the top of the boards with four fallen branches, again with screws, to support the roof. Then I laid a fifth branch across the middle to keep the roof from sagging.

One of my two purchases for the project was a pair of 2-foot-by-8-foot trellises, which I used as the starting point for the roof. I laid them across the branches and secured them with a couple of screws. Then I covered the top with some leafy branches. It feels a little like having a pile of yard debris on the ceiling, so I’ll think of something more deliberate for next year.


Roof trellises and support branches.

The other purchase was six yards of white cloth, which I used to wrap three sides of the structure. I stapled the cloth to the four corner columns with an ordinary stapler, wrapping the ends around and reinforcing them with extra staples. Because the cloth is only 42 inches wide, there’s a space around the top and bottom, giving the sukkah only partial privacy but a pleasant airiness.

Alas, Sukkot ended Thursday night and I will disassemble the structure soon. Looking forward to next year!



A Shed Removal

Jas is building an external apartment, for rental or long-term occupation, with the help of a class at Yestermorrow Design/Build School. Before they could site the apartment and build foundations, Jas needed to get rid of a shed on the site. Jas elected to demolish the shed piece by piece with the hope of salvaging as much building material as possible.

I helped him plan and execute the first stages of demolition. We quickly discovered the shed was built in two stages. The original building had insulated walls and a chimney, and an uninsulated L-shaped addition was built around it.


Removing the first few siding panels.

We started by removing wall coverings on the addition, which consisted of drywall on the interior and siding panels on the exterior. We made quick work of the drywall with a pry bar (to break the sheets into pieces and pry them from the studs) and a drill (to remove the screws), and then we used a sledge to hammer the siding free. Next we proceeded original building and removed some lovely tongue-and-groove paneling inside and lathe boards outside. Once Jas cleared the shed of everything he values, we proceeded to the roof, unscrewing the corrugated metal panels and tossing them down.

With the walls and roof removed, we did some experimental disassembly of the structural frame. I salvaged most of a rafter by cutting the top and bottom with a sawzall, but I felt uncomfortable removing cross-braces in the roof because it destabilized the remaining rafters. That’s when Jas decided to avoid the danger, and save a WHOLE lot of time, with the help of heavy machinery. He invited over his neighbor Francis, who stretched a ratchet strap around the whole building, attached the ends to his backhoe, and… it came crashing down in seconds.

A few hours of cleanup, nail removal, and sorting followed. We may have lost some salvageable material in the controlled collapse, but it was worth it to avoid many days of labor and peril. Time to break ground on the new construction!


R.I.P.: Rest In Pieces

Tiny Tuesday: Built for $8000

Wesley Birch wanted a tiny house on wheels, but he was frustrated by the options. By and large, the models offered by companies like Tumbleweed command a high premium on craftsmanship and a correspondingly high price. A ready-made house would’ve cost $30K at least, and even a DIY house with new materials could easily hit $25K… so when Wesley went to build his, he largely avoided the lumber yard and instead did some aggressive scavenging. Total cost: $8000.

In this article on Tiny House Builders, Wesley leads a tour of his new house and offers tips on how you too can save money while building or remodeling. The majority of his advice concerns finding and using secondhand materials, often excess purchases from bigger projects. Among the more useful tips: DIY as much as possible, because labor is always expensive. Use craigslist religiously to find free materials… and consider investing in a used truck to pick them all up. Search for windows early, then build your walls to fit them.


Outside Wesley Birch’s $8000 house on wheels.

Wesley’s structural shell and floor plan derive from a tiny house called the hOMe, developed by Andrew and Gabriella Morrison (who previously appeared in this blog as leaders in strawbale construction). In contrast to the ultramodern beauty of the original hOMe, I don’t care for the style of Wesley’s house – the outside has a manufactured-home aesthetic and the interior finishes look cobbled together, which of course they are. Nevertheless, it’s a complete standalone house, sleeping six with a fully functional kitchen and bathroom. I find the reliance on scavenged materials particularly inspiring because the practice cuts down on waste and embodied energy, making it a win for the environment along with your pocketbook. (Funny how those two things so often go together.) I’d love to see a shopping list of how that $8000 breaks down.