Why You Should Not Build Your Own House

July, 2018

In case you’re checking this post for news that we’re done building our house, here’s what I have to say to that: WE ARE STILL NOT DONE WITH OUR ROOF! Those all-caps are a true out-pouring of the depths of our hearts, not some Internet-stoked reality-TV hyperbole. Every night when we meet around the supper table, sweaty, filthy, and exhausted from working on the roof and/or parenting our children, we look at each other over the half-cooked dinner on our plates and we say, “WE ARE STILL NOT DONE WITH OUR ROOF!”

For better or worse, here’s an update on the continuing saga of us and our roof. It is, I’ll warn you, not for the faint of heart.

It begins innocently enough, with a truck and 116 pieces of salvaged insulation. By misunderstanding, a semi-truck full of our insulation arrived from Louisiana at the local lumber mill, needing to be unloaded by hand. Our (now) good friends at the lumber mill gave J. a call and started unloading it themselves, stacking the insulation onto the lumberyard truck. They drove it over to our place and left the truck for us to unload over the weekend. Rushing against the forecast rain (I know, this story reads like a broken record), J. and I now had to wrestle the stuff off the truck and onto our pickup to drive up the hill and stow under our roof.


These sheets of foam insulation are 4′ x 8′ and 4″ thick, sandwiched between two layers of scratchy fiberglass, and they are filthy from their previous life on the roof of an industrial building. They smell like my grandma’s house. My grandma was pretty tidy; I guess it could be worse.

It took most of the day just to move the stuff: ten trips up the hill, each with a swaying stack of foam on the back of the pickup, to be unloaded and stacked sheet by sheet under the roof.

There it is: all that perfect ugliness in our perfectly beautiful house.

When we finished packing them away, we rushed to wash our filthy, itchy skins, sparkly with fiberglass, and then, oddly, both of us took a nap. The foam must have been laced with sleeping potion.

Now that the insulation was safely stowed in a dry place, we checked the weather forecast. After rain overnight, it was a decent weather day ahead, the kind J. needed to work of the roof and I needed to fire the kiln. J. graciously gave up his day of work to help me fire. The next day, already tired from the labor of firing, we checked the weather forecast again: 90 degrees and humid, with a 20% chance of rain. Perfect weather for roofing.

We dropped the kids off with the OTHER set of grandparents and got to work.

Here’s the clumsily-drawn recipe for the structure of our insulated roof sandwich:

Roof diagram

J. attached plywood fascia to the ends of the rafters to keep the sandwich from sliding off the roof. Next we had to bring some of those sheets of insulation onto the roof. J. built a giant easel:

Actually not an easel but a materials ladder. You can heft sheets of plywood or insulation up onto the ledge, to be lifted onto the roof by the person above. Much easier than carrying stuff up a ladder.

J. worked on the roof and I worked below, handing him stuff and cutting sheets of insulation to his shouted measurements.

Here’s the beginning of the sandwich, with fascia holding up the end.

At the end of a full day of work, we had not come close to finishing both layers of insulation on even half the roof. When we were done for the day, J. finally mentioned to me that he had hurt his shoulder and had been working through pain all day. Sort of made me feel a bit whiney for complaining about my skin itching from the fiberglass.


And the forecast still called for rain that night. All the bits of tarp and plastic we had used to shield the house over the winter were shredded and holey by now–useless to protect layers of foam insulation from rain. We couldn’t stomach the risk of losing our day’s work to rain, so as much as we hate plastic, J. hightailed it to the nearest bigbox for a ginormous tarp.

When we went back to the woods after supper to cover the roof with the tarp, the mosquitoes were out. Try standing on a ladder and hoisting onto a roof an 80 pound tarp that just wants to lie on the ground, while mosquitoes are humming around your ears and biting through your clothes, and you can’t complain about it because your husband is doing everything you’re doing but with a hurt shoulder. Not my idea of after-dinner-cocktails.

After I helped sling the 60 x 40 foot tarp over the roof, J. and his bum shoulder stayed until dark to tie it down.

And do you know, it didn’t rain that night.

But the tarp was worth the peace of mind it brought, since we had to take a few days off to do other stuff, in the meantime resting J.’s shoulder. And when during that time one storm bestowed 3.5 inches of rain on us (or more…it began to splash out the top of our rain gauge), we didn’t worry about the roof. So maybe plastic is good for something.

Am I whining too much? Let me put that aside for a moment and give you a pictorial representation of our progress so far.

Here’s a view of the top layer of insulation. All the seams need to be taped to prevent drafts.
And any gaps are filled with spray foam. We bought it by the case. Lovely stuff.
The first layer of plywood (covering the insulation) is mostly in place on this side.
Those are 14 inch screws. They have to drill through the pictured 2 x 4, a layer of plywood, 8 inches of insulation, tongue-and-groove ceiling, and into the joist below.
Up goes the fascia onto the gable end, covering that roof sandwich.
It’s not as if J. has been working all on his own. He’s had help from at least a couple generations of family.

All this progress notwithstanding, we didn’t imagine we’d still be working on the roof in late July. We’ve gotten bogged down in the tarry quagmire that is our roof–the work still ahead seems to stretch into eternity. Every night when J. goes to bed with sore feet from the work of staying upright on the roof, we look at each other and say, “WE ARE STILL NOT DONE WITH OUR ROOF!”

We’ve begun to suspect that those looks people give us when they hear we’re building our house by hand, the looks we used to interpret as admiration and envy, were all along closer to pity and dismay.

“Who builds their own house these days?” they say. No one. Because everyone is smarter than us.

2 thoughts on “Why You Should Not Build Your Own House

  1. We built our house and had plenty of ” WE STILL AREN’T DONE WITH OUR ROOF” moments. The first night we slept in it we had a “NO ONE IN THE HISTORY OF EVER HAS SEEN THIS VIEW OF THIS LAND AT THIS TIME OF NIGHT” moment and those are the memories that keep coming and make the whole thing worth it. 30 years later I still can’t believe we get to live in a house that we built and no one else would even THINK of doing this-except for you guys. Good for you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: