Over the summer, I oversaw the renovation of an old garden shed in the back yard and the construction of a new horse shelter in the corral. The garden shed remodeling effort was like remaking my appearance by getting new clothes or dying my hair – mostly cosmetic. However, in the process I learned it’s important to examine fundamentals first, by asking why I want change e.g., am I trying to deceive someone with a new look? If one wants to have more than a decorative fix, foundational defects should always come before surface pretties, e.g. a new outfit or hairdo do not fix underlying anxiety or depression. Hidden issues encountered when remodeling the shed is a construction example of this principle.
I communicated my vision for the garden shed to the contractor, as a three-season building, to extend the growing season in the fall, and a place to start seeds early in the spring. This included adding insulation, windows, and a new door. In this discussion, I requested that they repair problems, seal the building from rodents, bugs, and moisture. I thought those were clear instructions but found I was wrong.
After the shed’s cosmetic remodeling was nearly finished, I discovered the sills under three sides were rotten. The contractor either didn’t notice the rot or decided not to tell me about it. Although he wouldn’t admit it when confronted, I believe he hoped I wouldn’t notice, and he could skip this important step.
I scraped away the rotten wood as much as possible without starting the entire project over and repaired the sills after a fashion with cans of liquid insulation and multiple tubes of calk. This important step should have been done by the contractor before the cosmetic part of the project was accomplished. I learned the hard way to be more hands-on with contractors.
Construction of a new building, on the other hand, requires beginning with a clean slate. Creating a physical clean slate is akin to emotional housecleaning where we dig into our psyche and purge jealously, mean-spiritedness, or other emotional baggage that pulls us down. It can be helpful to consult a licensed mental health professional to assist with this process. Just as we hire professional contractors to build buildings, our emotional life is worth paying a professional counselor to help us monitor our mental wellbeing.
In the new building example, over the course of several years, we made plans to replace a decrepit thirty-five year old windbreak with an open front shed that could serve more than one function; both replace the windbreak and provide stalls for horses.
To create a clean slate, an old tin windbreak was removed. Rotting posts and support pieces were piled for a future fire. We dedicated two years to removing trees one at a time, cutting and splitting the downed trees into small enough pieces to burn in the house’s woodstove, and finally removing all those pieces from the building site and stacking for future use to heat the house.
Branches from the trees we cut were added to the old lumber pile. We had a bonfire in the spring while the ground around it was wet from snow melt and we didn’t have to worry about the fire getting away.
After the trees were cut down, about two dozen tree stumps remained. During the third year a friend brought over his giant stump-grinder, and we spent a day chewing the stumps into sawdust.
My tall son, who did all the tree cutting and log splitting), requested a building tall enough to saddle and mount his horse inside during inclement weather.
At this point in the journey I hired a contractor to build the new building. He committed to a starting time and I ordered the building materials. As a novice at ordering materials, I overestimated the height of the project. The site we selected was on a slope (a flat space was not an option as every bit of land in this part of the county has rolling hills). Next, I consulted with another contractor about leveling the site. He accomplished this task admirably well and recommended adding bridge planks under the building to help with drainage. The bridge planks provided additional and unanticipated height to an already tall pole shed. It looked like it was made with tinker toys in the beginning.
The height has provided friends and neighbors with lots of ammunition to give me a hard time. This oft repeated sentiment gives everyone a laugh, “Kind of tall, isn’t it?” I laugh with them. It is kind of tall but working admirably well to house a weanling filly. There’s room for the older horses to shelter during blizzards too.
Now, time to get to work on my emotional baggage this winter while I wait for spring to sow seeds in the garden shed and begin again.