Thursday, May 9, 2013

Building a cabin in Maine

OK, I know this is late. With some help, no, a LOT of help from two very good and patient friends who knew what they were doing (I didn't), we constructed a simple 12 x 12 foot (4 x 4 meter) spruce cabin on 7 beautiful acres (18 rai for my Thai friends) of wooded Maine coastline. I call it my "expensive tent." I was tired of camping, especially sitting through cold rains. Eventually a cottage will be built on up the drive, but for now, this will be our summer abode while we work overseas.

It was a lot more work than I thought it would be, but not too expensive. Built for around $4,000 (plans to use recycled materials vanished when my time in Maine was whittled to three weeks--it would take me that long to just gather them), it still needs insulation, but I'm not sure I'll even connect it to the grid for a while. Following is a chronology of the project.

The property is just off U.S. Highway 1 in Washington County, the easternmost U.S. county. It is an incredibly beautiful piece of land.

Pete and I removed some bushes and a few small trees from a clearing next to the drive, and marked the corners and spots for concrete footings using simple geometry, ropes, spray paint and measuring tapes. 

Digging the nine holes for pouring footings.
We left as much of the beautiful vegetation in place as we could.

We cut up a cardboard tube to use as molds for the concrete, placed a board across the top and used a laser leveler to be sure the tops of all footings were even. Here Pete mixes concrete in the rain.

While the forms were curing, the shell wood, roofing and hardware were delivered from a local lumber yard. I made so many trips afterward for things we forgot or needed, I lost count. The folks at the lumber yard were incredibly helpful throughout the project.

We left the cardboard on the footings. The differences in height are due to the slope of the land. Drainage tile will be put across under the cabin and the area around the building filled with gravel to lessen the slope to the driveway.

Next, support beams were added. In hindsight, an option would be to extend the ends a bit over the edges of the forms to hide them, but they will be covered with gravel anyway.

Plywood was laid over the support beams

Floor joists are added...

filled with fiberglass insulation, and covered with another layer of plywood. This was done to discourage insects and rodents from chewing through the floor, as well as to insulate the floor. The seams were then sealed with duct tape.

The stud walls were assembled, then raised into place.

We decided on a 12 foot front wall, and 8 foot side walls. The reason is that we wanted it simple, so a shed roof required only that we put on a flat roof. We also figured a loft would fit nicely above the front windows.

All four walls in. The two side space triangles were completed with more studs above the wall sills after the roof joists were in place.

Roof joists go up, held in place by hangers and driven screws.

Shell nearly complete with windows and doors (we put two doors in because a door with a window was cheaper than a window). In retrospect, I would opt for two windows instead of one of the doors.

Yes, this actually happened. My bad. One needs to concentrate at all times!

Interlocking spruce siding 
Despite our application of geometry, the cabin was a bit skewed, so my friend and master builder Wes straightened the building using braces, then put on the roof sublayer. The roof could not have gone on with the cabin not square. Note the space fillers between the joists. They were siding pieces with silicon sealing the seams. 
Wes made all of the scaffolding so I didn't have to rent any. He put the roof on in a matter of a few hours, saving me hundreds of dollars in labor costs. Roofers charge $200 per hour just for the labor.

Wes celebrates completion of the roof.

I put everyone to work, including my son Jonathan, who took time out from his flight schedule to come where he thought he would be relaxing.

And shamelessly, I had my mother work on caulking the windows.

About two weeks after starting, I put on the final piece of siding. The trim had yet to be finished.

Phase I completed. Next comes staining, insulating, and putting in the loft, with a small window above these. It's simple, but weatherproof and cozy. I got a good deal on the windows, as another homeowner bought them, then decided he didn't want them and sold them for $100 each. Unfortunately, we only got four, and amazed that any were left.

The view from the cabin. I can handle doing nothing but look at it. And no mosquito bites.

View from the drive. Beyond the storage shed at the top of the drive is the building site for the eventual cottage. This cabin will then be the guest accommodation.
Additional note: Inside, the walls are supported by six 4 inch (10 cm) diameter spruce beams, cut from young straight trees and notched on site.

If you want to do something like this yourself, you can. It helps to have someone experienced in construction help or at least supervise. Be very careful: despite the seemingly easy project, it is hard work, and dangers lurk everywhere from falls from ladders (we each had one) or the roof, to mishaps with power tools (fortunately none during this project). 

I do not plan to build anything larger, or probably not anything else, period. It was like my one and only marathon. I did it, but once was enough.

Please don't bother posting any "should haves." I have a long list already, and there is nothing I can do about it anyway!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Ayutthaya 3

The ruins of what was Siam's capital for 400 years draws crowds of tourists to the city of Ayutthaya just north of Bangkok to view the remains of the most powerful world capital of its time. Despite its sacking by the Burmese invaders, followed by antique hunters who removed most of the heads from hundreds of Buddha statues, the historical park's many sites still evoke a sense of quiet grandeur.

I have visited Ayutthaya many times, usually when showing it to visitors, and each time I see something different, marvelously appearing where I had previously looked, but not seen. This visit was no different.

Beautiful branches framed by a brick window. 

Stately "chedis" (pagodas) at the Grand Palace

The iconic Buddha's head entwined by tree roots at Wat Mahathat

The original walls were built of brick, then covered by a type of white concrete.
The city must have gleamed in the sunlight.

The brick infrastructure of a huge Buddha statue, now without a head and its white covering.

At a temple next to the park's Grand Palace, water is poured over a Buddha statue as a sign of respect and hope for a good new year.

The most popular way to get to Ayutthaya is by train.

In the non-air conditioned third class cars, the heat and swaying lulls many to sleep.