August 30th, 2007
Smarter Than a Fourth Grader

garden house project
Somehow it didn’t all add up.

In fourth grade, Sister Florence introduced me to the wonders of multiplication and division–concepts that thrill any gardener when it comes to bulbs and perennials. Even as a child I found these concepts interesting in the abstract, despite being forced us to recite the times table up to 12 in front of the class. Arithmetic is pleasingly exact. And unlike Peggy Sue’s algebra, simple arithmetic is useful in all the practical sciences: cooking, sewing, building.

The man who came last month to measure the garden house for the screens was a confused when he looked at the framing. The strips for the rectangular wall screens are indented so that the screens will be flush in line with the columns. But the strips for the triangular gable screens are nailed to the outside of the beams. And so, they are not flush; they hang out over the edge.

garden house project

After examining this anomaly, I decided that it must have been done because the rafters were also doubling as the top edge of the frame for the gables. Unfortunately, the rafters did not line up with the beams and supporting columns. So now the only way to screen the mosquitoes out was to nail wood on the outside of the wall, to line up with the rafters.

When I asked why the rafters hadn’t been spaced to line up with the walls, I received this reply:

I was going to run wood on top of the screen and the frame would not be showing. Otherwise the frame would stick out much further than the others. An error that was revealed after framing as 18″ on center did not work out all the way down the line, as we have an overhand [sic] of 2 ft, and so forth..small 1 inch fudge.

So here’s the story problem. The house is 20 feet wide. If you want the rafters to line up with the walls, is there any way that 18 inches on center will work? If not, how far apart should you space the rafters? What is the standard spacing for rafters anyway?

The standard spacing for rafters is 16 inches on center. Perhaps, not coincidentally, 20 feet (240 inches) is evenly divisible by 16.
240/16 = 15
240/18 = 13.333333

I was pretty annoyed that this calculation hadn’t been made on paper in the planning stage before the roof was installed. Why 18 inches on center? The explanation was that the roof panels are 36 inches wide.

Well, I thought. That’s something to consider. For a moment I was stumped. Then I remembered…The roof panels aren’t screwed to the rafters. They’re screwed to the cross-pieces.

garden house project

by M Sinclair Stevens

5 Responses to post “Smarter Than a Fourth Grader”

  1. From Kathy (New York):

    This is why none of my menfolk will do carpentry work as a sideline. The potential for mistakes is always there, and they can’t bear the thought of inflicting mistakes on paying customers.

    I bet you felt like throwing something when you figured it all out.

    Mistakes themselves don’t necessarily upset me. Mistakes made while experimenting and exploring are part of the learning experience. However, I’m frustrated by mistakes easily prevented by planning or adhering to standard practices. Mistakes that result from thoughtlessness (that is, not researching, thinking ahead or following a known process) make my stomach sink. I feel faint from the wastefulness. — mss

  2. From M2 in Bothell:

    In high school, my art teacher said that any mistake was an opportunity for real creativity, as we thought of ways not simply to fix the problem, but to make it unique and better. I saw that in action in my old house, when my front room cabinets were hung too high, and when they lowered them, (for free) they turned the space at the top into a book shelf with funky knick knack cubbies. Your guy seems to believe kluge, kluge, kluge. 🙁

    In my career, I’ve had long years turning bugs into features. If this were a matter only of aesthetics, I could work around it. As Edward Tufte says on information architecture, “Cosmetic decoration will never salvage an underlying lack of content.” And so with buildings, no amount of prettying up will salvage an underlying lack of structural integrity. — mss

  3. From Steve Mudge (Dallas):

    This is why I’m loathe to take on too much wood construction in my landscaping business…can you create a new frame on top of the beam and an extension attached to the inside the rafter so that the gable screen is flush with the others? Then you could remove that strip that is overhanging and things would be more in line aesthetically perhaps.

  4. From Ki:

    What a debacle. You hire a pro? (“small 1 inch fudge”) and think they can easily frame an outbuilding. The building inspectors in our town would be at the site almost daily to see whether the construction was up to code. Interesting that your inspectors come only when the job is finished to check on code violations. Much easier to correct errors before the job is complete then having to disassemble much of the already completed building.

    In Austin, the owner or builder has to schedule inspections at various stages of the work. We barely have enough inspectors to track violations. — mss

  5. From Jenn:

    AKH! Poor you.

    Drawing first is my trade – I’m a CAD Draughtsperson. It’s amazing the things you discover when you detail out (in drawings) all of the pieces of the building… and all of the connections

    So sorry you got taken.

    Guy reminds me of one of my schoolmates. Never followed the assignments, kept getting ‘A’s on his work. It was disgusting. I imagine he is now much the same sort of person as this fellow.

    I’m a big proponent of prototyping, drawing detailed plans, and building models. As such, I’m surprised that I let someone else’s reputation and personality overcome my own tendency to have things down on paper before proceeding. Hard lesson learned. –mss