Thursday, August 22, 2013

Razing the Roof

In October 2011, I was facing down the inevitability of another Texas winter. My tropical potted plant collection had grown to epic proportions, and I just couldn't face the idea of trying to squeeze all my plants into the house again. The previous winter plants filled every nook and cranny of my home and made it difficult at times to get to the back door. Yep, I'm not exaggerating. Something had to give.

I had been wanting to build a greenhouse for a long time, but I couldn't find the right plan.  I finally found a greenhouse plan on the Build Easy web site that I really liked, and a contractor who seemed to think he could build it. Here's a sample photo of what the Build Easy greenhouse plan looks like when constructed. 

The plan on the internet was for an 8 X 12 structure, but I needed something more in the 16 X 24 size.  The contractor extrapolated out the plan to the larger size and that's where everything took a wrong turn.  I should have hired an architect or engineer to create a new plan, but I did not. Hind sight is 20/20.

The greenhouse was completed in November 2011 just in time for the cold weather to arrive. Here's my blog about the completion: Greenhouse Build - Week Four.  I was pretty darn happy the day that project was completed, but that happiness was short-lived.

I had problems with the greenhouse immediately.  The clerestory windows did not come close to sealing shut. It soon became obvious that heating the greenhouse would be a huge challenge with these gaping holes.  As an emergency stop gap measure, we bought scads of foam air conditioning insulation and filled the cracks as best we could. As luck would have it, we had a very mild winter.

I didn't have the funds to pay someone to rebuild the greenhouse clerestory windows, so the next winter I decided to press my luck and hope for warm weather.  The winter wasn't too bad, and thank goodness, because things went from bad to worse.

By late winter 2013, the roof had started visibly sagging which prevented the middle clerestory window from closing at all.  The situation was pretty dire when I chanced to meet a friend of my husband's. This friend is very knowledgeable in the field of engineering, so I asked him if he could tell me what was going wrong with the greenhouse.  Ah, where to start...

There were 2 main problems: failure to properly size and install the roof beans, and failure to properly execute the installation of the windows in accordance with the original plan.

Since the building is larger than the original plan, the roof needed 2 X 6's instead of 2 X 4's, but the problem was compounded by the fact that the builder did not make proper use of the 2 X 4's.  See how all the beams have been shaved down to a little point.  With all the 2 X 4's standing on tippy toe, the roof supports are weakened. He might as well have used 2 X 2's.

After explaining all this to me, my husband's engineering friend offered to help us fix the greenhouse.  I was just hoping for a contractor referral, so this offer to help solve my problems thrilled me to no end.  My wonderful husband and his talented friend were going to fix my greenhouse for me. YAY! MY HEROES!

With construction underway, you can still see the visible sag of the roof.  Later they will use a jack to lift the roof back into position.

The windows will be reconstructed to retract flat against the building instead of stopping when they hit the roof.  In order to do this, the front roof will be lowered slightly and rebuilt with the 2 X 6's. Watching all this occur is pretty amazing.

Fortunately, I'm now in good hands.  I have every confidence that my greenhouse will be in tip top shape very soon.  It might not seem like it in August, but another winter will be here before you know it.


  1. Great info to know since we are planning on building a greenhouse. Ours will be small, more in the 8 X 12 range.

  2. It's a beautiful greenhouse and wonderful to see it's going to be working for you this winter. Thanks for sharing this, I know it will be helpful to many. Only through sharing stories like this along with our successes can we learn the best way to do things.

  3. Sure that now everything will go well and the winter will not affect your plants, greetings

  4. Holy moly. That's an impressive sag in that roof. You're lucky it didn't cave in on you. Heroes indeed!

  5. There's nothing more disappointing than a contractor who doesn't do the job right the first time. How fortunate that you have a talented and generous engineering friend and a husband who doesn't mind helping! It's a beautiful building - and even better once it works right.

  6. So true it will be here soon enough but it just doesn't seem like it.... hahaha. What a great greenhouse!!!!! Nice job!

  7. that sag is pretty scary looking - good thing you're getting it fixed.

  8. It certainly is an amazing building and I am sorry you had such a problem. You do expect contractors to know what they are doing but unfortunately most don't. We have a bit of a sag on our greenhouse and it is all metal and not so large. Ask me about things that have happened to us in the past. Fortunately we had an engineer when we built our house and they did install the steel beams. I just hope they did everything else they had on the plans!

  9. Didn't you complain about the installation failure to the contractor who built the greenhouse? He sure owed you an explanation for what went wrong. By the way, was your hubby's friend able to fix it? I hope he did, it would be a waste to let this greenhouse crumble in the middle of winter. Noreen @

  10. Good job on ensuring every aspect of your roof is coming along nicely. A roof is like a shield that protects your house from harsh weather and other outdoor elements. Making sure that they are sturdy enough to withstand both should be a priority.

    Soo Eaton @ Willi Roofing

  11. It's going to be winter in a few months, how's the greenhouse roof going? Too bad that contractor didn't perform up to par. Why didn't you demand him to correct it? The error is quite obvious. Good luck to your husband and friend re-mediating this. Kate @

    1. I didn't realize the extent of the problem until he has been paid in full. He offered to come back and fix the problem, but wanted more money. I wasn't about to give that man a penny more. Live and learn. There were warning signs I ignored. Next time, I'll be more prepared.

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