2019 Semester in Sustainable Design/Build - A Week in the Life

September 27, 2019
By Madi Visser, Semester Program Teaching Assistant


Written by Emma Semenuk Scott - A Week in the Life of a Yestermester Kiddo



We ventured out on a walking tour of the famed Prickly Mountain properties lead by our beloved instructor Britton and accompanied by the Woodworking Certificate students and a few interns.  It was especially exciting to see buildings like the Tack House and the Dimetrodon because they were featured in our first week’s reading, an essay by Danny Sagan published in “Architectural Improvisation: A History of Vermont’s Design/Build Movement 1964-1977.”  Though we mostly looked at the structures from the side of the road, some generous people let us get up close and explore the exterior of their house and its landscaping. Another couple welcomed our group of twenty or so into their kooky home, and we didn’t hesitate to peak into all of the crevasses we could find.  To cap off the day, a few of us stopped by the East Warren Co-Op’s 10 Year Anniversary Celebration for some goodies grilled by Britton himself.



I popped a bagel in the working side of the communal toaster; I have to find ways to satisfy my Jewish cravings out here in rural Vermont, and having to make my own meals on the weekends provides the perfect opportunity.  A few weekends back, I picked up a half dozen rosemary-salt and montreal spice bagels at Myer’s in Burlington and have been rationing them from the freezer since. Before heading out into the the no-cellphone-reception-abyss, I set my navigation for the day’s destination, Farm & Wilderness Camps in Plymouth, where my friend is interning. As I was heading out the door, our TA Madi gifted me a lemon-poppyseed scone leftover from her shift at the Pitcher Inn in Warren.  I popped it in the cup holder in the center console of my car and started my hour long drive south down Route 100. When I got back to Yestermorrow that night Madi, Hadley, and I took a spontaneous dinner outing to Mad Taco and Canteen Creamee Company.



Sunday was another adventure day for me.  I caught up on sleep, then headed over to Sawyer’s house in Waterbury for some good old DIY fun.  His family got a new black pug named Midge to join his seventeen year old pug, Girlie. Midge is not a big fan of the outdoors, so we decided to help her get comfortable by sending her down the slide on the childhood swing-set — what a sight to behold!  Afterwards, we made goldenrod dye, took a break for a pasta lunch, and jumped into kneading some sourdough bread dough.



On Monday, we began drafting framing elevations, paying close attention to the wall heights and window placements. Our instructor Mac, who is well-seasoned in construction, suggested that rather than tediously drawing in studs every sixteen inches on-center, we should just figure out their placement when we actually frame the walls. Meanwhile, up at the building site, our first subcontractor Zach and his trusty machine broke ground, carefully drilling in eighteen helical piers that will serve as the dorm’s foundation. They were sheathed in a slippery green plastic that helps to prevent the ground from heaving the metal posts out when it freezes and thaws. At lunch, Chris and I brought him a turkey sandwich atop some barbeque potato chips which he gobbled down quickly before getting back to work.



One of the cooks, Meg, packed us a picnic lunch, and we headed to Barre for a field trip to ReSource and Allen Lumber.  We were quite successful at both stops. At ReSource — a combination between the non-clothing aisles of Goodwill and Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore but with better prices — we scored seven reclaimed, double-pane windows.  Though the frames were in questionable shape, Mac assured us that they wouldn’t be hard to fix as they weren’t going to be operable anyway. He said the most important part was the lack of condensation between the panes. Then, we headed over to Allen Lumber where we snagged a parking lot’s worth of building materials — left out in the weather but still entirely useable — for 27% of their original cost.  The amount of lumber we got will last Yestermorrow for at least two projects following the dorm build.



We finally got our hands on some wood and hammers!  After a briefing on how to safely use a skill saw, chop saw, and table saw, we got to work framing two walls of the entryway and bathroom module.  We learned that though they’re referred to as 2x4s, they actually measure 1.5 by 3.5 inches, AND they’re called different names in different contexts too.  When they’re next to a window, they’re called jack and king studs; above windows and doors, they’re headers and infill; across the top of a wall, they’re top plates and bottom plates.  After class, Sawyer, Chris, and I headed out for our nightly spin and fly fishing across the street at the Punch Bowl swimming hole. We headed back earlier than usual to be on time for the “Nature-Inspired Furniture Design” lecture given by Kory Rogers — part of Yestermorrow’s free fall speaker series.



Expecting to continue framing, a handful of us eagerly arrived to class donning overalls and work clothes, but the weather decided otherwise.  It was rainy, so we continued revising our framing elevations and plans. I took on the task of creating a spreadsheet that kept track of window frame sizes, rough openings, and manufacturer’s numbers; the fancy architecture name for this is a “schedule.”  After lunch, we split into two groups to learn the basics of a user-friendly, computer-aided design tool called SketchUp. The instructors intentionally held off on teaching us SketchUp until now, about a month into the semester, because of its steep learning curve.  As a beginner, coming up with a design from scratch using SketchUp can be limiting as you’re trying to learn all of the ins and outs of the program simultaneously. So, we have been drafting entirely by hand. And, last but least, Zach returned to put the finishing touches on the helical piers, so we’re all set to start building the floor tomorrow!


Ta ta for now!

-Emma Semenuk Scott