Green Dream: Fun With Tons of Steel!

The build gets interesting when thousands of pounds of structural steel arrive

With the first-floor walls poured, it's time to erect the structure for the rest of the house before my panels show up. Does this look a little overbuilt? Well, there's a very good reason why folks don't build flat-roofed houses in the Great White North: It's called snow, and it's heavy. It makes little sense to design a house that would allow snow to sit on the roof, stressing the structure, instead of just sliding off.

Quick Cuts

This is why you build the shop before the house.John B. Carnett

But I'm a man of little sense and I really wanted a green roof, which needs a flat surface with no run-off. So I consulted the engineer, who coldly delivered the facts: You can have both, but there's going to be a lot of weight up there and you'll need structural steel to hold your roof up. Lucky for me, steel prices have been down a bit lately. I still spent more than I wanted to on the steel, but I hope to make it up with my future rooftop corn crops.

Hole In One

Drilling with a plasma cutter is ugly, but it's quick.John B. Carnett

John B. Carnett, PopSci's_ staff photographer, is using the latest green technology to build his dream home. Follow along as the project progresses on his Green Dream blog: popsci.com/green-dream_

Definitely not FedEx

The steel showed up on a truck that was loaded by an overhead crane. Sadly, I didn't have a crane, but I did have a forklift. So in typical Carnett fashion, I made a very non-OSHA lift that I'd never do again. But it was very exciting at the time.John B. Carnett

Steel Supports

The structural steel for the primary house was so well designed by Traves, the designer at LightShip Group, that it went together like a big boy erector set.John B. Carnett

That's a Solid Joint

Traves went a bit nuts and used seven structural bolts and nuts to make each joint. I do love overkill.John B. Carnett

The Beginnings of a Heavy-Duty Staircase

I can't say the same for the structural steel that holds up the staircase tower. (Traves was not involved in the tower steel.) Those sections of steel were designed by a guy that was new to the world of steel and let's just say that his lack of experience showed.John B. Carnett

Just a Little to the Left

It required that we recut all the steel on location, then bolt it all together thru fresh holes, weld it and lift the 2,200 pound platform into a final position that had to be within 1/16 of an inch.John B. Carnett

Steel in Place

This cost me three days of my life and three times what it should have cost, but we got it in.John B. Carnett

DIY Forklift

When you're moving steel around, it's gonna be heavy. So Vin and I welded up some forks that could be bolted onto the front-end loader of my Kubota tractor. This proved to be a highly useful rig that solved many problems: I could lift up steel in a tight space and used it as a mobile workbench.John B. Carnett

Slicing the Steel

We needed to make 10 6-inch steel brackets to join up some of the steel, so I cut them down from larger sections of angle with the cold saw. It uses what looks like a traditional saw blade to make really clean edges with almost no sparks.John B. Carnett

My Plasma Drill

Unfortunately, each bracket also required six ½-inch holes. I started drilling and the bit was making this horrible high pitched sound. I kept adding oil but it was just a freckin' mess. My neighbor came over and was about to call the cops. So I grabbed my tiny Miller 625 Extreme plasma cutter and in no time at all, I had burned all 60 holes.John B. Carnett

Hole In One

Drilling with a plasma cutter is ugly, but it's quick.John B. Carnett