too many words by laura lemay

How to Convert an Old Shed to a Chicken Coop in 45,732 Easy Steps (Part Three)

(Part One, Part Two)

A number of years back the roller on a drawer broke in our old refrigerator. This wasn’t that big a deal; the fridge still worked, but it was kind of a pain that the drawer didn’t open easily. But since the fridge was old, and cranky, and used a lot of electricity, we decided to just go ahead and buy a new one. There was this one small problem: the space around our kitchen cabinets for the refrigerator was designed to fit the original fridge. Newer refrigerators were all going to be too tall.

Our next plan was to take out the cabinet above the refrigerator and replace it with a smaller cabinet, thus making the height of the space for the fridge bigger. This would be a huge pain in the ass but workable. I found the manufacturer of the cabinets, found a dealer, and discovered that manufacturer not only did not make cabinets in the same style as the ones we had, but they didn’t even come in the same color. So then the thought was well, we could remodel the kitchen and replace ALL the cabinets, and get new appliances and a new floor and hey! maybe we could bump out the wall a few feet and make the whole thing bigger!

And thus a $10 refrigerator drawer part dangerously came very close to spiraling into an unbelievably expensive construction project. This story is not unique. I often wonder how often large remodeling projects start from very minor fixes to existing problems. (For the record, we bought the smaller non-matching cabinet and a new fridge and put off the kitchen remodel to another time.)

I bring up this story because this is where my free shed turned not so free. Now that I had the shed in various parts on the ground I knew the extent of the rot and what I could use and what I had to throw out, and it was worse than I had originally thought. There was a lot of rot. There was a lot of building to be done. I had to keep reminding myself that this was a chicken coop, not a cottage, and the chickens really were not going to complain about my construction skills.

Foundation and Empire

The original base of the shed was made from 2×6 dimensional redwood (actual 2 inch by six inch planks, as opposed to the 1 1/2″ x 5 1/2″ trim we use today). The joists were held together by short chunks of wood on the long side toenailed in, like this:

This made the base less than sturdy. A number of the shorter chunks of wood had gone missing, and one joist had broken off on the end of the foundation altogether. So my first plan was to replace all those shorter boards with long end-boards, nailed straight to the ends of the joists in the way all foundations are made today, like this:

Cost of 2×6 x 10 foot pressure-treated end boards: $21.94

Cost of framing nails: $2.54

But before I built the foundation I had to come up with a plan for how to put the shed onto the ground. There are a variety of ways of doing this, from a full concrete pad to skids (6×6 or larger posts, laid on the ground), to just putting it down flat on the dirt (which I didn’t want to do). I settled on a compromise with these concrete blocks, called bond beam blocks. They have slots in them to fit (conveniently) 2-by lumber.

I dug small foundation holes, filled and tamped them with gravel, and set the blocks on top of that, levelling the blocks across the high and low points in the spot where I was going to put the coop (fortunately, it was already mostly level). The chickens helped by making sure that every hole I dug was rapidly filled in again, often before I could put a block into it, and by eating the gravel.

Cost of 8 blocks, and 6 bags of gravel: $28.36

Cost to replace stupid chickens that died from eating rocks: $0 (luckily, so far)

Then I built the foundation right on top of the blocks. A few of the joists were rotted on the ends, so I had to cut them a little short and nail on incredibly ugly but stable extensions I cut from the discarded long ends of the shed. “It’s a chicken coop,” I kept reminding myself.

I was rewarded for all my hard work with a torrential rainstorm that lasted more than a week. But despite the rain and the mud, it all remained level. I was pleased.

You may note from this picture my apparent inability to evenly space the joists across the width of the shed. There’s a reason for that; I was planning on reusing the original redwood planks for the shed floor, which were in good condition (and I had been careful when I pulled them up). The planks were all of specific lengths, so I spaced the joists to fit the planks. Setting the floor went quickly, and the foundation was done.

The Frame-Up

Next up was framing. I was planning on using most of the original frame, which was lying in chunks in my driveway, although I did have to replace some parts that were rotten, and I wanted to make the front door wider. I reused as much as I could, but I did buy more 2x4s to make the repairs.

Cost of many 2x4s: $22.36

Cost of more framing nails: $2.65

The astute reader will have already noted a problem I ran into at this point because of lack of foresight. The original shed was 10 feet by 7 ft 3 inches. That was with the shed foundation built with the short lengths of wood inside the joists. By replacing those short lengths with long boards on the ends of the joists I had widened the short side of the shed to 7 ft 6 inches. The frames of two sides of my shed were three inches too short.

The solution? I replaced the sole plates (bottom board) of all the framing with new 2x4s at the right length. For the tops, I added more unbelievably ugly nailed-in frame extensions.

I win no awards for construction talent, but I get a gold medal for kludgy hacks.

Engineering Technique, circa 3000BC

I put together all the framing in the driveway, on level pavement, on the other side of the house and the other side of the property from the chicken coop. My next problem was getting the completed framing sections up the driveway, past the house and the garage, around the corner, through a four-foot gate into the garden, and into the chicken pen.

Here’s where if I were smart I would have asked for help. Even the long sections of the shed would not have been that heavy to carry with two or three people, maneuvering them through the more complicated narrow parts of the path would have been much easier with help, and setting them upright and plumb would have been a piece of cake with someone to hold the walls in place.

But I got a notion into my head that this was going to be my chicken coop project, and I was going to do the entire thing myself, with my own two hands, and absolutely no one was going to help me. So why bother asking for help from one’s husband, or one’s neighbors, when I could pick up a wall and physically drag it the long way around the house over the lawn (once you get it moving it’s not too bad…) I could set it upright, carefully balanced on edge, and then painstakingly wiggle it through the narrow gate, a few inches at a time. And then through the garden I could just rotate it end to end to corner to corner over the raised beds and paths until it was in place on top of the foundation. Then I could tip it up and brace it mostly plumb with random bits of wood and bungie cords tied to the fence, and if I was really lucky I could manage to get it nailed securely down before it fell over on top of me.

I only really hurt myself twice doing this. But bull-headedness is its own reward.

(Continued in Part Four)