Simple made Complex

A complicated mix of sawn lumber, structural beams, metal connectors for a straightforward roof.

Carpenters are typically very good at producing in the field what they’ve been asked to produce, whether by customers, architects, engineers or the set of construction plans. Frequently we disagree with the design as-drawn but follow along nonetheless – either for expediency or out of a sense of obligation. Recently I was faced with just such an instance.

My most recent project, at the “day job”, involved the addition of a 16’x16′ shed-roofed master bedroom to the footprint of a mid-90’s home. Both an architect and a structural engineer were involved with the planning, so I had a clear set of marching orders, but a less-than-clear set of construction documents.

To a carpenter a shed roof is among the simplest roof designs to execute – one basic rafter shape repeated across the width of the building. In this circumstance however the engineer wanted to reduce the load that the new roof would add to the existing structure and spec’d a substantial load-bearing beam to carry the roof load. Concern for snow loading lead to massive 3-ply LVL beams taking the place of most of the standard rafters. Worries over carrying the load of the eave overhangs led to cantilevered outlooker rafters running perpendicular to the main rafter layout. All of this was tied together with a veritable hardware store of specialized metal connectors, structural screws, and nails. And time. Lots of time.

In the end, the structure is complete. We were capable of the work, the home will never be challenged by the stresses placed on it by snow or wind, and the project continues. Was it worth it financially, time-wise, to “complicate” a simple roof with massive (some might say overwhelming) structural interventions? Hard to know how that will wash out in the end. As a carpenter, I feel like I added some new tools and techniques to my repertoire. As builders we had a productive back and forth with the architect and the engineer, in the end submitting to their design choices as their names and professional certifications were really on the line, not ours. The real answer, I’d guess, is somewhere in the middle.


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