For the past year, I’ve felt that we’ve only been making baby steps forward in the ever-growing list of things that need to get done at the cabin.
Things fell apart last spring when Soldier Boy and I couldn’t get well. I fell ill with everything and anything. He was still having problems with his ankle. Work was insane and then, when we were on holidays, we travelled for two weeks to Iceland. The only major thing we managed to accomplish at the cabin in the past year was ripping out all the walls in one of the back rooms, leaving it a shell filled with random tools, firewood and bags of new insulation. Some successful smaller projects were the deck extension on one side of the cabin and the stone patio. And then Soldier Boy’s second reconstructive ankle surgery happened in August and everything came to an absolute standstill.
We had big plans for this spring. We don’t have much time because I’m leaving in July for Spain to walk the Camino. And the weather hasn’t been cooperating. A cold spring kept us from driving into the cabin until May (when two years ago, we took our first swim in the lake), then the rain came and didn’t stop for three weeks. Ugh! You know, it was just one of those years.
But in the past two weeks, we’ve FINALLY made progress!! And while it wasn’t major, it was really significant! We finally booted ourselves out of the emotional rut we were in and actually took a step forward!
First of all, we hired a roofer. And while we still have to wait a month to get the new roof, it’s nice to get that checked off the list and know that it’s in good hands. This aspect took up a lot of brain space because we were trying to decide whether to hire someone (and who to hire) or do it ourselves and whether we should get metal or shingles. We spent a lot of time online and on the phone, getting estimates, calculating and just researching roofing. We got prices and gasped! (We decided on shingles instead of metal.) We wondered how much we’d save if we did it ourselves. But in the end, we decided, for many different reasons to hire a local company that is used to doing work in off-grid settings and has great reviews online and in the community. We stopped by the shop last weekend, picked a shingle colour and now we just wait.
Last weekend, because of the rain, we put all the outdoor jobs on hold and started on the inside.
DISCLAIMER: WE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT WE’RE DOING. Anything written in this blog is knowledge gained by listening to hearsay and watching YouTube. We have friends who have done a lot of construction and reno work and they gave us lots of good advice. But in the end, it is just us doing the work. We made a lot of mistakes and tried our best to fix them. We will make a lot of mistakes in the future, I’m sure. In fact, half the time, I’m not even sure if I’m using the right vocabulary. Please read this blog for the pure enjoyment of it and not at all as instructional. (Unless you want to read about what NOT to do.) Please don’t judge. Please don’t say that we are fools. We are fully and completely aware of what we don’t know. That being said, it’s an old cabin and judging from what we are finding every time we take something apart, the previous builders knew even less than we do.
Ok, here we go.
Right now, our cabin has three tiny bedrooms (two are about 10×10 and one is 8×10) that basically only hold a bed in each room. We’d like to put a small, wood-burning stove in so we can have more sustainable heat in the winter. So we are planning to remove some of the walls and make the three bedrooms into one big(er) room with the stove in the middle. To do this, we need to add supports to the roof, then remove the walls, insulate, and then finish everything.
It would be lovely to have all the time and money in the world to do the renos on this part of the cabin all at once but it’s just not going to happen so we’re doing it one room at a time. We started with the room we had managed to rip apart last spring.
The past weekend, we didn’t have any lumber so we decided to start with insulating. We were given insulation from a couple of friends and Soldier Boy found some on Kijiji for dirt cheap, leftover from a house renovation. So we cleaned the walls, removed all the nails (millions, it seemed), cut flashing and put it at the bottom of the wall between the studs where small critters would be tempted to come in, put in the insulation and then installed the vapour barrier. Even without interior walls, the room looks a hundred times better and it really feels like we have been successful. Not to mention we have so much more room now that we aren’t storing bags of insulation!
There were some unorthodox yet easily-solved issues that we were faced with. First of all, the studs were not evenly spaced so almost every insulation batt had to be cut to fit. Also, some of the insulation we had was a high R-value so we needed to split it so it would fit between 2×4 studs instead of 2×6. It’s not the best insulation job in the whole world but I can guarantee that it will probably be as good as it gets for this little rustic cabin. This isn’t a lake house. It’s not going to be in magazines. We’re not doing it to prove anything to anyone. It’s just our little getaway in the woods.
This past weekend, we continued. First, let me explain a bit about the structure of the cabin itself. There is a “main room” and this was the original cabin in its entirety. Then, someone decided to add on the three “back” rooms. So the exterior wall of the old cabin is now an interior wall and a support wall.
Between this new interior/ former exterior wall and the “back” rooms is a hallway. We needed to remove this hallway wall to make the rooms larger. However, we still wanted to make sure we kept any support that the extra hallway wall had added, if any. Which we could never determine with any certainty because parts of it weren’t exactly straight or fit properly.
We had some lumber delivered from the local Timber Mart and we started on Saturday. And after almost the whole day of working, we were not happy at all with any of it, so on Sunday, we started again. We laid a 2×4 across the floor joists, along the “main room” wall. This is when we discovered that the addition was not built square to the pre-existing cabin. This is when we also discovered that the floor was not level. And judging from the pre-existing structures and supports, it was NEVER level. I mean, it actually looks like the builders knew fully well that the floor was not level and they continued to build anyway.
Then we added two 2×4’s to the rafters. After completion, we realized that when putting in supports, the beams should be vertical, not horizontal for added strength. We installed them horizontally only because that’s the way it was in the wall we are taking out. We doubled it because we could no longer assume things were straight so when we put the 4×4 support posts in, we didn’t know if they’d actually be centred when plumb. We installed two, one to support every second rafter.
Finally, we attached a 2×6 joist from the sloped roof to the 4×4 support beam. Now, we felt it was safe to remove the old wall structure. Ta-da!
Once we were fairly certain that the roof was supported, we set to work removing the wall. As it turns out, it was attached to the roof with only two nails. So we can now say that it was definitely NOT a support wall. It was quite easy to remove. A few cuts with the reciprocating saw and we were done! We had a room that had an extra two feet in length and a supported roof.
We also found time to replace one of the windows that we had purchased last summer and never got a chance to install. Not only are the old windows cold, but the paint is chipped and peeling and would take a lot of work to get them back into shape. One of them didn’t even open. This was the one we decided to replace with a new window that does open. It turns out, it wasn’t even affixed into the frame. It was just shoved in. So my stepson braved the blackflies and stood outside, pushing the window into the inside of the cabin. Pop! Easiest extraction of a window ever.
We installed a window last fall and the measurements had been way off and we’d had to spend a long time ripping out the frame and rebuilding it. This one, I’m happy to say fit perfectly. I held it in while Soldier Boy pushed shims in and then affixed it to the frame. We couldn’t insulate it or finish it because the foam insulation should be used above 15°C and we have been getting really cold, crappy weather on weekends. I was able to add foam insulation the next evening as it was warm enough.
It’s been a very eventful two weekends at the cabin. We are proud of ourselves and of what we’ve accomplished. Perhaps those of you who know a lot about construction or renovations will read this and shake your heads in despair at our folly, but for us, these gains are huge. It’s such an incredible feeling to have an idea, to be able to put it together to the best of your ability and to have it turn out well enough that you are happy with it.
And we didn’t kill each other. Always a bonus.