You can’t build a wall by yourself. At least, I can’t. Building walls requires many hands. Helping hands speed up putting them together, but strong backs are absolutely essential when you try to stand them up.
With the foundation done and the slab poured, the next job was framing the house. Larry came over with his chalk line and tape measure to start laying out the walls.
I messed up the very first chalk line. As I erased it to do it again, I told Larry, ” I must be some kind of penance for you.” He replied,” Don’t bother about that spiritual stuff. You’re just a rookie.” We both laughed and popped the chalk line a second time.
The chalk lines serve to transfer the blueprints to the slab and enable us to lay out the walls. We would use them to design walls that matched the plans that we’d made for the addition.
A pile of old tools.
Around that time, my brother-in-law David called me. He used to work full-time as a home builder and had an old broken framing nail gun that he was willing to give me. It just leaked air. If I could fix it, I could keep it.
It was an old Senco 702XP. These things are beasts. When I mentioned it to the guy at the builder’s supply, he said that he’d seen guys come in with 702s older than he is. The nice thing about professional-grade tools is that they are designed to be fixed. David told me that the gun was leaking air, so perhaps replacing the seals would get it back in working order.
I ordered a set of replacement seals and prepared to take the gun apart. Only a few days passed before I had the broken nailer and the replacement parts in my possession. Opening up the back with a hex wrench, I discovered that one of the plastic parts had shattered into a million pieces. It looked like plastic sand from a children’s toy. Not good. Luckily, I had the replacement part.
I cleaned out the sand, checked the rest of the seals, and put it all back together. I took it across the street to check if it leaked using Larry’s air compressor. Not only did it not leak, but it also fired nails!
I got another call, this time from my Uncle Tom Krupa in Connecticut. He told me he’s been watching my progress on the house and had a bunch of tools that he didn’t need lying around. If I wanted, he’d toss them in his vehicle and drive them down. I told him absolutely and “thank you!”
He showed up a few days later with a truckload of tools. I was blown away. Table saw, circular saw, router, drywall screwgun, sawsall, chalk line, a bunch of assorted clamps, and other things. To top it all off, he ran with me to Harbor Freight to pick up an air compressor and some other assorted hand tools. I was blown away by his generosity and am so grateful.
The time came to order the lumber. I’ve never ordered a house before, so I sat down with Larry to calculate how much wood I would need. He’s old school, so he has a little ruler that measures scale drawings and shows you where the 2*4 studs will go. Standard spacing is every 16 inches (16″ on center) so the plans can tell you just about how much wood you’ll need.
Once I had the materials list, I sent it to a couple of places for price quotes. This was very important because lumber prices have skyrocketed over the last year and a half. A sheet of plywood sold for $13 before the pandemic reached nearly $60. Thankfully, prices have dropped considerably since that peak, to about $32 for that sheet of plywood. Still expensive, but not quite extortion.
The first price quote I got was for about $6,200. It sent me looking for better prices. I started shopping around and finally split the order in two and got it from two different suppliers. I had to pay two delivery fees, but it still brought the price down below $5,200.
This is what the Lego kit for a new home addition looks like. I didn’t realize it the day it showed up, but the plywood was the wrong size. 4*9 instead of the normal 4*8 sheets. The company I bought it from, Maner Building Supply, replaced it with the right stuff a few days later.
I love summer hours. When I get home in the summer, I still have a few hours of productive daylight. I had a couple of projects that I needed to complete before starting to frame. The first one was taking down the electrical mast.
Our electrical mast is a 10′ galvanized steel pipe that pierced the roof to provide a safe connection between the house and the electric grid. Not all homes have them because many new neighborhoods have buried electrical lines. The pole has an aluminum cable inside that is slightly thicker than my oldest son’s wrist, which means it is heavy.
My father-in-law Jerry found me one evening struggling to pull this giant steel pole out of the hole in my roof. I had it most of the way up but just couldn’t get the last 6 inches out. He came to put a hand on the precarious ladder that served as my connection to the ground. He suggested that we lower it down and take a look at the pipe.
Sure enough, I had accidentally left a metal collar on the pipe that was too thick to go through the hole. Jerry wandered over to his basement and returned with a pair of heavy pipe wrenches. We shortly had the collar off and this time the pipe popped right up out of the hole. It nearly took me with it as it toppled off the roof, but I was able to slow it down enough so that neither of the pipe nor I fell to the ground. The wood rotted where the pipe came through the roof, but I knew that we would cut most of that off, so I didn’t worry.
My other projects were removing the soffit and fascia and beginning to tear off the sheathing. The soffit and fascia weren’t too big a deal, just a couple of hours on a ladder with a hammer and prybar. The sheathing was a different story. The sheathing covers the fiberglass insulation on the inside of the house, and on the other side of the sheathing in the backside of the drywall that is the interior wall for my existing house. I actually tried to remove the bare minimum that I had to so that I could have insulation and weather protection for as long as possible.
Friday night I sent out a bunch of text messages. “I need help building walls tomorrow. 8-11.” Now, this might sound like a short amount of time to work. The fact was that a family friend was getting married that Saturday afternoon, so I had to end the work party early.
Saturday morning, I got up early to get out my tools and prepare the job site. By 8:00, it was swarming with activity. I think eight guys showed up to help. The nice thing about having a lot of hands is you can divide tasks and put smaller crews on each task.
Larry and I started dividing up tasks. One of the first jobs was building headers for the windows. When framing a window in a wall, you build a header made of two 2x10s sandwiching a piece of 1/2″ plywood. This gives the wall enough structural strength to protect the windows from the weight of the roof.
I have to say with some embarrassment that I learned at this point that a 63″ header is not the same thing as a 6′ 3″ header, which is actually 75″. I only realized this when I tried to put the 63″ header into the 6′ 3″ window frame. Rookie move. Very disappointing. They have yet to invent a board stretcher, so I had to send one of my buddies out to the lumber store to pick up another pair of eight-foot 2x10s so I could try again. Measure once, buy twice. The real carpentry proverb is “measure twice, cut once.” This is not a lesson that I hope to repeat.
In that little three-hour block of time, we managed to build two walls and put one in place. At this point, we discovered that one of our tools was broken. With a concrete slab, one of the ways that you can secure a wall is by using a powder-activated nail gun. It’s basically a nail gun that uses a .22 caliber cartridge to fire the nail through the board into the slab. We had everything ready to nail down the first wall, the kids had their fingers in their ears and… nothing. Where was the earth-shattering kaboom? We had to shut it down for the day, and I had just enough time to shower before Mary and I headed out to the wedding.
Another work party.
The Food Bank did something awesome this summer, which is to give the staff alternating Fridays off. Every other week through the end of July will be a three-day weekend. Amazing. And very useful. The next Thursday night, I started sending out more text messages, hoping beyond hope that I’d be able to get enough guys together to be able to put up the remaining exterior walls.
My buddies came through big time! I ended up with a crew of eight that included three generations of men from high school age to grandpas. And they came ready to work.
There’s something so satisfying about standing up a wall. First, you lay it out on the ground and nail it all together. Then you put on the plywood. Then, after laying down a nice bead of silicone caulk to keep out the water, you get a big group of guys to lift it up in place and nail it to the existing wall. It was great.
Earlier in the week, I’d made a bunch of phone calls looking for a new powder-activated nail gun that worked. My neighbor Ben Suer gave me an old one that he had. He said never used it, and if he really needed it, he would know where to find it. This one worked, so I was able to nail the walls right into the concrete. When you do that, they start feeling really solid. They aren’t going anywhere.
Mary got pizza for lunch, and we attacked it like a horde of locusts. By about two that afternoon, we’d finished the rest of the exterior walls and needed to call it a day because it got too darned hot.
It was so satisfying to see this big open shape begin to take form with walls on every side.
A Divine Appointment.
That following Monday, I decided to take a little break by watching the new Top Gun movie with a bunch of my friends. I don’t think I’ve seen a movie in the theaters for at least 5 years. Maybe more. Fr. Jacob Almeter, who grew up with Mary, was the instigator and about 8 of us showed up. We ate some delicious Vietnamese food at a restaurant called Pho Viet. I sat across from a seminarian named Jared Miller, who is stationed in Augusta for his summer assignment. We got to talking and I learned Jared did carpentry competitions in high school before he heard the call to go to seminary. My ears perked up. I asked if he’d be interested in helping to build my house, and he said sure.
Friday night was not kind to me. I woke up at about four o’clock in the morning and started thinking about the work of the day. I needed to break through into my children’s bedroom in such a way that they still have a wall until the rest of the house exists, AND change the structure of the wall to bear the weight of the roof over a hallway door. I had no idea how I was going to accomplish these things. I thought about it for the next two hours before deciding to get up and start the day.
Jared showed up at around 8:00m and so did Jerry, my father-in-law. We started by ripping down the sheathing so we could get to the window. The window frame was just four rotting 2x2s nailed in place. The window itself was held in place by nails at the corners and a thick bead of caulk. That’s it. My kids were so entertained when I ripped the window out of their wall.
I learned that a sawsall is great for cutting the nails that hold studs and headers in place. Ripping out the studs and header left just the drywall and a big open hole to the outdoors where a wall used to be. We laid out the new studs and used screws and nails to put them in place. I took a sheet of plywood and wrapped it in plastic and screwed it in on the inside. A strip of 4-inch tape helped to restore the barrier to the outside world.
I can’t begin to tell you how relieved I was to get this done. That frame looks really simple, and it is. But when you have no idea how you’re going to do something important, anxiety runs wild. I took Jared out for burgers and we came back to put up the walls that would create the two closets between the kids’ rooms. At that point, Jared had to get back to the church to get ready for Mass. It was also only slightly less than 100,000 degrees out, so I called it a day.
Even More Walls!
On Monday, June 20th the Food Bank celebrated Juneteenth (Yay, the end of slavery!), so I decided to try to do another work party. I wanted to get the interior walls done as quickly as possible. The trusses for the roof were scheduled to be dropped off the following day, so I needed to have all the walls up if I wanted to do roofing on Saturday the 25th. Larry told me Sunday night that I wasn’t anywhere close to ready for a roof yet.
So I hopped on the phone and sent out some more text messages. Praised be to God, my brother-in-law is my banker and gets federal holidays off, and his brother is a priest who gets Mondays off (the aforementioned Fr. Jacob who invited me to Top Gun). The addition of their nephew and Jerry got me a full crew and we went to work.
Together we laid out the three largest remaining walls and nailed them together. The only problem we had was that I laid them out backward, so we had to flip them around. When you’re talking about a 26′ wall, that is easier said than done. Since it was only 2x4s, the walls were light enough for my small crew to do the work, and with much grunting and laughter we put them into position and nailed them down.
While working on the third wall, I shot myself right in the finger with a nail gun. The gun I used has a rapid-fire trigger, which means it can accidentally ‘double tap’ if it bangs twice again the wood. That’s exactly what happened, only my finger was in the line of fire instead of the wood. Thankfully, the head of the nail bit into the 2×4, so the nail didn’t go all the way through.
All the guys laughed at me when they saw me bleeding and started telling their own nail gun stories. Fr. Jacob and Anthony’s father Joe once shot a nail behind his kneecap. Larry topped that story by telling about the time he shot a nail THROUGH his kneecap. He had to use a hammer to pry it out.
By the end of the day, we’d completed enough that Larry felt comfortable that I’d be ready to do the roof on Saturday. I had another free Friday off, so I’d be able to finish off the final walls and get everything else ready.
Finishing the walls.
Friday didn’t require a work party. I wanted to save my volunteers for the next day when they’d be really important. By about 7:30, I was out building the last two walls, which separate the bathrooms and the walk-in closet. These were small enough that I could lift them in place and get them installed by myself.
My father-in-law Jerry wandered over when I was getting ready to brace the walls and put on the double top plate. Bracing the walls is very important because the crew needed them not to move or wobble when we were putting up the roof. We took an hour or so staking 2x4s into the ground outside and screwing them into the walls so they were straight up and down.
Then we started working on the double top plate, which is a series of 2x4s that connect the tops of all of the walls together. I was up on a ladder with a nail gun and a tape measure, and Jerry was down at the chop saw cutting pieces. It was about a million degrees outside, so at around 12:30 I had to stop. My heart was pounding, sweat dripped off every part of my body, and my arms were starting to shake. I rested for several hours and went back at around 5:00 to finish off the work. Jerry heard me working and came to help me finish the work. I think he deserves an award for being the best father-in-law in history.
And that was it. The walls were up. The frame was braced. We were ready to put on the roof. The next day would be quite an adventure.
Everyone’s generosity during this process has blown me away. If you don’t have time or tools to donate, but would like to help make the House of Krupa a reality, a financial gift would be a great blessing. This is kind of like a do-it-yourself GoFundMe. DIY is my style.
If you want to read more of my adventures building the House of Krupa, check out the archive!
Jesus snatched me out of the darkness and saved me from complete madness. If you want to hear more of that story, check out Demoniac, now available on Amazon.