Hybrid House, Part 1

Hybrid means a mixing of unlike parts.  In this case, the mixture is that of wood and metal.  The next few posts about the house will show you how I’m getting that done, with my trusty builder.  And remember, folks, you heard it right here on BW first.

This house has been a long time coming.  The history of this house is going on six years old, including running into detours and dead ends, the details of which you will be spared, unless you dare to ask.  I will share one little part of the history with you, though.

Two months after Hurricane Katrina ripped through southeast Louisiana, I traveled down to the lower parishes of St. Bernard and Plaquemines, which the national news was not mentioning–New Orleans got all the attention.  What you don’t know is that a storm surge, estimated at 25 feet high, swept across the southeast tip of these parishes, wiping everything in its path into oblivion.  So, I went to see for myself.

What I found down in Hopedale, a little fishing community that resembled my bayou community, caused me to weep so much that I had to pull over to take it all in.  Where there were once homes and camps on pilings, there were only slabs of concrete or empty lots.  In some places, the pilings were snapped off like toothpicks, with no indication as to what had sat atop them.  As I drove along the roads, only two buildings remained  standing–both of them of metal construction.  Call it steel, call it iron, it matters not–they were some kind of metal.

That discovery further implanted in me the desire to build a house similar to a commercial metal building, that would withstand wind speeds of 140 mph.  Every company I called gave me the same answer, “We don’t do residential.”

Then, there was the question of the foundation.  The infamous 2005 Katrina-Rita double whammy hurricane season brought about even more stringent building requirements.  One of which was the required drilling of soil samples to be used by engineers to design foundations for the now-required houses on pilings.  Add to that the cost of the now-required stamped and sealed architectural house plans and the new structural codes, and it looked like we would never, ever be able to build a house.

In spite of all that, here we are, building permit in hand, and I have to pinch myself to be sure this is not a dream.

The builders left an extension ladder in place for me so I could climb up into our new house.

Here’s the view from the new living room . . .

No, that is not a lovely sky gray ceiling with beams running across.  This is the view as I lie down looking up through the purlins at the sky, and what a lovely view it was.

And then there is the view of the front end of the roof of the house . . .and the old oak tree.

and the back end of the house, and the top of a tree.

This is the view from the master bedroom, facing northwest.  And if Steffi looks really, really hard, she can see the rigs docked at the edge of Lake Decade.

Oh here, I’ll show you a closeup.

Those rigs out there mark the edge of what was once my favorite winter trout fishing lake.  This winter hasn’t been so great, but I digress.  Back to the topic at hand.

It all began like this.  10 x 10 pilings cemented deep in the ground, with 4 x 12 beams bolted to them.  The floor joists were nailed to the beams, and further attached with hurricane straps.  Tongue and groove exterior grade plywood was nailed and glued to the joists.  The sky lift, surrounded by red iron rafters and purlins, waits for the workers to arrive.

Seven eager workers arrived before 7 a.m., and quickly set about in a flurry of activity.

How about a photo story?

Iron plate bolted to 4 x 12 beam, through plywood subfloor.

Metal post being cut to length.

Metal post being set to level and welded to plate.

Red iron purlins being cut to length.

Red iron purlins being welded between the posts

Sky lift hoisting red iron rafters into place on top of posts, where they are welded in place.   Purlins are then welded between the rafters, holding them together forming the rough structure.

Reality hits as the roof structure begins to take shape.  This is what things looked like at the end of the day.


To dreams coming true and hybrid houses,


To be continued

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  1. Looking good! Are you getting some of these heavy rain storms? I was hoping they would hold off for you while the workers got more done on your home. I haven’t had time to look at the weather today to see how far reaching this ice front is.

  2. Most of the world thinks Katrina only happened to the City of New Orleans simply because of the concentration and huge numbers of people in the Dome which is a shame. My first crew boat job had me working out of Hopedale for a couple of years and my last two years in Louisiana I lived on a houseboat in Chalmette. Depending on what report you want to believe, only between three and nine buildings in St. Bernard escaped without major damage.

    People also don’t realize the enormous area that was devastated. I tell people to get a perspective, imagine getting in your car at the western-most suburb of the New Orleans area, Kenner, and drive east at 70 mph on Interstate 10 for the next FOUR HOURS until you get to Mobile, Alabama and there will be NOTHING that hasn’t been damaged by the storm along that route and the area impacted by the storm still extends east and west of your drive.

    I remember my first drive along Highway 90 through Pass Christian, Bay St. Louis and Gulfport and on over to Biloxi and seeing the slabs and foundations of houses that disappeared in Camille that were never rebuilt.

    I loved New Orleans and the entire south Louisiana area, but I will never be back. EVER. It would break my heart. One of my favorite authors, James Lee Burke, wrote about Katrina in “The Tin Roof Blowdown” and I think he was right when he said New Orleans will NEVER be the same again. It will only be a Disneyfied version of what it once was.

    1. I can confirm everything you say, of course, Richard. When I drove to Hopedale, it was my first trip to New Orleans post Katrina, and I made a big circle up through Chalmette to I-10 New Orleans east back through to the West. Chalmette looked like a war zone, no kidding. And driving along I-10 was like driving through a ghost city. Huge apartment buildings empty, dark. Dead cars in the parking lots, still covered in mud. Dead trees everywhere, killed by saltwater intrusion. Most Americans have no clue the extent of the suffering and damage down here. You can hear it. You can read it. But unless you see it, you just can’t imagine.

      Coming back to the bayou and staying on the bayou is not for the faint of heart. But just remember, we are different from city dwellers. We can’t do what we do anywhere else, unlike the city dwellers, who can do what they do in any other city or suburb.

      As far as New Orleans goes, Burke could be correct, but it remains to be seen, yes? I believe those who returned to New Orleans and reopened their businesses don’t see their city as a Disneyfied version. Those are the people who are genuine New Orleanians who love their city. Thanks so much for your heartfelt comments, Richard! BW

  3. Make they get the tree drawn on the rafters for good luck.

    Having a battle with the intestinal flu bugs that are being passed around workplace. Not good at all.

    Change is good.


    I think the contractors charge more money when they get helped. As to the hybrid, one word INSULATION.

    Camille was nasty, so was Betsy and Hilda. Camille was so bad because it has been 10+ years since a major storm hit and no one took it serious, ie too many hurricane parties and people staying home on the coast. I figure you get a nasty hurricane season three times in life. When as a child when you are in total awe of all the attention toward fools, When in mid-life you’re in total awe of the destructive power, and Then in late life when you are in total awe of why we don’t ever learn. And I drove that Hwy 90 also, we delivered an huge natural gas aux generator to Pascagoula to power their city hall and one fire station, and a lift station. The state cops escorted us where we had to clear debris off 90 to drive thru, (we also got a short drive on I-10 before it was opened)..

    When the country is crying for work why not improve the defenses, why not change from proactive to active. Build to storm codes, make sure the pumps work, strengthen levees, build breakers or surge protectors, lay more mats, look at would can be made better and do it now while people need the work. Lay new water, gas and sewage lines which the storm can not influence, Sorry, my mind wanders and sometimes I can’t help but follow it.

    New Orleans? Thats tourist Louisiana, thats not my Louisiana, nor its more important inner strength, its the land, its the people, its what Capt. Wendy captures in her pictures so impressively (is that a word?).

    I hope there are no more storms, but I hope more that, more people will do as BW and at least try to plan and engineer a better tomorrow so they are not so devastating as they have been.

    But most of all, I hope that BW finds a plumber who needs a Coast Guard approved apprentice.

    1. Your comments are also greatly enjoyed, Foamheart. I’m not even put off by your comment about contractors charging more for help like me! I’ll have you know, I only need a plumber for the stuff inside the walls and the vents through the roof. I can do all the supply PVC and drain PVC myself. I can install tub faucet and drain, shower head; all sink faucets and drains; vanity with sink or pedestal sink; toilets, and a water heater. Heck, forget the plumber. I’ll learn how to do the rest!!!!

      1. Got some “do it your selfer books” I can loan ya! Poop, scratch that, I donated them to the local library when we got the DIY Network.

  5. Wonderful to see the progress on the house – those are great, evocative photos. And you’re quite the handywoman, I’d say.

    I laughed at the comment about contractors charging more if “helped” by their customers. There’s a sliding scale for that sort of thing – but it usually only applies to customers who don’t know what they’re doing 😉

    I’ve been back to the Gulfport/Biloxi area three times since Katrina, and even at my last visit the bitterness at being the storm’s “step-children” was apparent. The Sun-Herald did quite a series on the anniversary of the storm last year, as well as some pointed editorials – the national media’s insistence on focusing on New Orleans probably still irritates folks in your area, too.

    It’s hard for me to judge, but I think James Lee Burke might be right when he says things never will be the same. Of course, the truth is that noting ever is the same after significant events, and trying to re-create the past is fruitless. The good news is that new life can rise up out of the ashes – and new houses can rise up, too!

        1. Yes, we are okay but it was tragic. The family lives just about a quarter mile from us. For those of you reading this from elsewhere, there was a hunting accident Sat. morning, and a 32 year old father was killed.

  6. I watched the house that I am in now being built 18 years ago, but yours is much more fascinating! Looking forward to future installments and I hope to get a chance to see it when I come down in a few weeks.

  7. Looks like it’s going along fairly well, although I’m sure not fast enough! When the F4 tornado took out the town of Picher here the destruction for miles and miles was something out of a horror movie. I got clearance to gain access 36 hours later and the bodies were still being gathered up. I can only imagine what the destruction was there.

  8. Hello. I stumbled across your web site while I was looking for something else. While I don’t agree with everything you posted we do have similar thoughts by and large. I have bookmarked your web site and will visit again in the near future to see what you are talking about in 2010!