Hut building

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Here's some thoughts you should think about before you build a Hut. The item in brackets is an example where this step wasn't properly followed, with bad results.

Site Selection & Planning

You need a reason for building a Hut. Maybe skiing is great nearby, or it's a good destination for a weekend hike. Bad reasons for building a Hut are "we were just awarded this money providing we use it to build a Hut", or "we need to make a memorial to X". If its for beginners, make it beginner-accessible, and heat it so you can dry out these beginners.

You need some people who are keen to do the job, because otherwise you will be stuck with doing all the work yourself. These people have to agree on what they are trying to do, or chaos ensues. They have to be around for long enough to do the job. Various skills, as well as enthusiasm, are desirable.

You need a realistic budget (estimate of what it will cost) and sufficient funds that you don't have to do a half-assed job.

You need a general area to build at. Make sure there is some way to get to the area at the times of the year when it is to be used (Harrison Hut).

Within the area you must choose a site and visit the site half a dozen or more times throughout several years to find out if the proposed Hut will be destroyed by avalanches (original Red Tit), or by snow creep (Brew 1, Neve Hilton), or will be buried (Brew 2, Sphinx), or be blown away (Wedgemont Lake), or flooded (Sphinx).

Design

Once you are confident that you actually want to build a Hut in a specific location, you should carefully consider what design you want to use.

Gothic Arch

The Gothic Arch style uses curved beams that meet at a point at the top of the roof. Because the side walls are curved, normal plywood sheathing cannot be used. Instead, solid tongue and groove boards are used to form the side walls. The end walls are usually built as normal stud walls.

The Gothic Arch is not cheap because you need laminated arches, and tongue and groove siding, but it is pretty easy to put together. It cannot be insulated readily unless you want to hide all that expensive siding. Space efficiency is better than A Frame, but worse than methods with vertical walls (stud wall, post and beam, log cabin). Side windows are not possible.

examples:

  • Wedgemount Lake
  • Russet Lake
  • Mountain Lake
  • Burton (Sphinx) Hut
  • Wendy Thompson Hut
  • Brew Hut 1 & 2 (destroyed)
  • Neve Hilton (destroyed)
  • North Creek Cabin

A Frame

An A-frame is also simple and strong but doesn't provide space efficiently. See the shelter on Golden Ears, or Magnesia Meadows. These were very expensive, and hold four comfortably.

Stud Wall

This is your standard "backyard shed" construction method. The outside stud walls bear all the load, and the floor joist span from wall to wall. Plywood sheating on both sides of the walls handle the shear loads. The width of the hut is limited by the floor joist span. The length of the hut is limited by the ability of the smaller end walls to handle shear loads from wind and snow. It's easy enough to build a really strong load bearing wall to support whatever is above it.

examples:

  • Brew Hut 3

Post and Beam

Post and Beam construction allows larger structures to be built. Though the finished product may be beautiful, keep in mind that the frame timbers must fit together perfectly, and there is a lot of heavy lifting involved. For these reasons, it is probably not suitable for amateur construction.

examples:

  • Brian Waddington Hut

Log Cabin

Nowadays log cabins are made in a central facility, then taken apart and trucked, then helicoptered, to their final destination. This is extremely expensive and is justified only if, say, National Park regulations require a "historical" appearance of the finished product. Of course historical log cabins were not insulated, and were often drafty.

examples of historical cabins:

  • Lizzie Lake
  • Tenquille Lake

See also some huts in the Rockies.

Materials

Don't try to re-use old materials especially if the Hut is being assembled by amateur carpenters. It takes a lot of skill to build something good and strong from used materials.

Try to find a design that does not use expensive custom-made materials such as laminated beams or clear lumber. Standard construction-grade stuff such as is used for building in the city will be way more cost effective.

Avoid using things which are cheap in the city but are heavy, so expensive when you add the cost of helicoptering (for instance, concrete).

Control costs aggressively. Don't buy second-hand just because it's a bargain. It may not end up in the final Hut. Mis-tint paint is an incredible bargain. Sheathing grade plywood might cost you $16 per sheet, and G1S grade will cost you three times that.

Buy double-glazed windows in vinyl frames Don't try and build your own windows from recycled Plexiglass or Lexan. It's a lot of work and results will not be satisfactory.

Make sure all recommended vapour barriers are in place. Adding waterproofing later is a lot of work and generally not satisfactory.

Sheet metal doesn't need painting. Paint cannot be relied upon to make a waterproof barrier in most mountainous situations.

Buy a residential grade steel pre-hung door. This will have weatherstripping already applied, will be insulated, and if you do an ok job of installing it, will close with a very satisfying click. If your clients tend to wreck doors (and you didn't build a porch with a roof), consider getting a commercial grade steel door, painted, made to size, probably $600.

Assembly

You can fly in a generator and cut everything on-site, but if you do, you will probably need to rent a generator, pay to fly it in, pay to fly it out, you will be cutting under sub-optimal conditions (in a snow storm?), your saw will likely not be a precision tool, and you will make cutting errors which means you will either need more wood initially or you might even need another expensive flight if you make enough errors. If you cut everything to size in the city and then fly it up, the work conditions may be better and you can apply lots of coats of paint in your spare time. But you need to check the very detailed plans to ensure every piece of wood is accounted for.

Building complete walls etc in the city is another way to go if you can figure out how to move these somewhat heavy pieces, and how to connect them together in a very strong structure.