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The House That Grandma Built: Step by Step Instructions for Building a Playhouse
I Had Two Girls Who Had Two Girls
When I first became pregnant many years ago, before the days when we could easily find out the sex of the child, I had no preference for which sex I would have. Unfortunately, we lost that baby soon after birth. But she was a little girl and my heart went out to her as soon as she was born. I've been partial to little girls ever since.
The ache I felt after our baby's death was partially assuaged by the birth of two more little girls. When those two little girls grew to adulthood, they each gave birth to two little girls of their own.
When I became a grandmother of four little girls, I decided they needed a playhouse at Grandma's house. As Papa John (who keeps insisting we need some little boys) and I began construction, I asked the two oldest granddaughters (the other two were still babies) what color the playhouse should be, and they said pink and purple—or maybe all the colors of the rainbow. We now have a playhouse in our back yard that is white trimmed with all the colors of the rainbow, especially pink.
We have tackled do-it-yourself projects before, and have put together a couple of sheds that came in kits. But we had never built any type of building from scratch, so there was much about the building process we did not know. We researched online and found several plans for playhouses. We found ideas we likes in more than one plan, studied the plans and worked slowly through the process, learning as we went. It took us several months of trial and error to complete the house. We worked slowly, step-by-step, learning as we went along, doing a little each day as time permitted. We were also delayed along the way because Papa John had to have open heart surgery.
Here's how we did it:
Building the Floor
We began construction by finding a fairly level site. We leveled it off a bit and then began construction of the floor. Since we were novices at this process, we first studied the plans we had looked at and tackled each small section at a time. We would then go to our local lumber store and get the lumber we needed for each section. We began with the outer frame for the floor. For this project we purchased four pieces of 8'x2"x6" pressure treated lumber.
- Framing the Floor:. To build the outer frame for the floor we used two of 8'x 2"x6" pressure pieces of treated lumber for the front and rear joists. Then we cut the other two pieces to 7'6" and nailed these to to front and rear joists to make the outer floor frame..
- Leveling the Site After the outer floor frame was complete we leveled the frame by digging out where necessary and adding concrete blocks to the corners. We then moved the frame off and added ground cover underneath to prevent weeds from growing.
- Inner Frame For the Floor: After we leveled the site we purchased several more pieces of 8'x2"x6" pressure treated lumber. We cut five of these pieces to 2"x6"x7'9" long and nailed them to the outer frame at 16”, 32”, 48”, 64”, and 72” from the back joists. We then measured between each joist and cut pieces of 2”x6” lumber and nailed them to the inner joists for support.
- Floor After the frame was completed we bought two pieces of pressure treated 4'x8'x 3/4" plywood, cut them to fit and nailed them to the frame to make the decking for the floor. As we nailed these into place, we used the edge of the plywood to square up the floor framing.
Voila! We had a floor. Our first section was completed.
Building the Walls
When we built the house we now live in, we contracted our home ourselves, which means that we found and hired the subcontractors. We did some of the jobs ourselves, but we did not do any of the framing. However, we were on site and watched the framers as they worked, so some of this was not new to us. Still we always had to use our online resources while working. Some of it was trial and error, but the framing of the walls was fairly easy.
Framing the Walls:
- Rear Wall
We used 2"x6" lumber for framing the walls. The height of all of the upright studs was 5' 6", and two 8' lengths were used for the top and bottom plates. We laid the wall out flat on the floor and nailed the five studs to the top and bottom plates. We then stood the wall up and nailed it to the floor, flush against the rear floor joist. We temporarily propped this wall up using a 2” x 4”.
- Side Walls For the side walls the top and bottom plates were 2”x4”x65”. This was the length we used because we wanted to leave room for a small porch in front. We used four of these, two for each side. We then used four wall studs (5'6" ) for each side. Just like the rear wall, we laid all of these pieces down and nailed them together then stood them up and nailed them to the floor. We decided we wanted windows in our playhouse, so we bought these and fit those into our framing for the sides. The distance between these studs was determined by the size of the windows we purchased. We set each side wall in place flush with the side of the joist. We then butted these up against the back wall, using a level to make sure it was plumb, and nailed it to the back wall. We then nailed each side wall to the floor.
- Front Wall: For the front wall we used two 2”x4”x8' pieces of lumber for the top and bottom plate. We cut six 2”x4”x66” pieces for the studs and nailed them to the top and bottom plates. We nailed the first two to the ends of the two plates. From the right side of the front we nailed the second stud 22” from the righ end. The third stud was nailed at 48”. This was to be the outside framing for the door. The other two studs were nailed to fit the dimensions of our window. e then set the wall in place on the floor, butted up against the side walls and flush with the front rim joist, and nailed it to the floor. Next we checked front and side walls for plumb and nailed the walls together.
- Porch Posts: We cut three 4”x4”x6 2 ½” posts for the porch. All three of these posts need to be notched on the top front—3-½” long and 1-1/8” deep. The three posts also needed to be notched on the bottom front—5 ½ inches long and 1 1/8 inches deep. Also for the two outside posts we notched the bottom left side of one and the bottom right side of the other. This allows the base of the post to be flush with the joists. We then stood the posts upright inside the rim joists, checked for plumb and nailed them to the joists.
- Top Plates: In the top notches of these three posts we inserted a 2”x 4”x8' piece of lumber and nailed it to the three posts.Next we cut two 2”x4”x7'9” pieces and nailed them across the sides of the each top wall, from back to front. We then cut three 2”z4”x7'5” pieces for the front, middle, and rear plates. These were set between the two side plates over the front wall, the rear wall, and the ledger and nailed in place.
- Window Framing: We used three windows for our playhouse, of two different sizes. We cut six pieces of 2”x4” lumber to use as nailers. The bottom nailer for each window was placed 24” from the floorbetween the studs that were used as side nailers. Each window was set on the bottom nailer and the top naileret in place over the window. The window was then removed and the top nailer fastened in place.
Building the Roof
The framing of the roof was the hardest part for us. We went online for much of this information, but also sought the help of personnel at our local lumber company. They could often give us valuable information about what products to use for each step. This was especially true for the roof. Learning the difference between a ridge rafter connector and a hurricane tie was an important step for us.
- Ridge Beam: For the ridge beam we used a 2”x6”x8' and attached five ridge rafter connectors to each side. Starting at the front we placed these at 2”, 24”,48”, 72”, and 93”.
- Hurricane Ties: We then set the ridge beam on top of each side wall, and nailed the hurricane ties to the side walls, aligning them with the center of the ridge rafters. The ridge beam overhang by 1 1/2 inch at the front and back wall. This was where the information from our helpful lumber store employee came in handy.
- Porch Ceiling: For the porch ceiling we cut a 4'x8' sheet of tongue and groove sheathing in half, lengthwise, and set half the sheet, groove side down flush with the front posts and over the front wall, notching out for each of the hurricane ties. We then secured the sheathing to the wall plates.
- Front and Rear Ridge Support Posts: From a 2”x4” post, we cut a 17 7/8” piece for the front ridge support post. This was attached to center of the porch ceiling, flush with the front edge,using a 2”x4” fence bracket. To the top of edge of the post, flush with the front, we attached a 2”x 6” fence bracket. The rear support post was cut 18 1/2” and attached to the center of the rear wall plate in the same way as the front support post, with a fence bracket attached to the top.
- Fastening the Ridge Beam:We then set the ridge beam in the fence brackets on top of the support posts with the rafter ties up. With the beam overhanging the posts 2” in front and 1” in back we secured the beam to the brackets.
- Rafters: We used 2"x4" lumber for the rafter. We had ten rafters cut 55 1/2" long. We angle cut the ends at a 67 1/2 For the rafters we cut ten 55 ½” parallelograms from 2”x4” lumber. Each end was cut at a 67 1/2 degree angle using a miter saw. We then secured one rafters to front ridge rafter connectors and set the other end of each rafter into the appropriate hurricane tie and nailed in place. We set each of the remaining rafters in place in the same way and attached.
Decking and Sheathing
- Decking: The decking for the porch was cut to 21". We used 17 of these pieces and notched out for the porch posts. .
- Sheathing: For the sheathing we used 4'x8' sheets of tongue-and-groove sheathing. These were cut to fit, nailed loosely, notched to fit and nailed in place on all side. It was important to be sure these sheets met in the middle of a stud, so we had to adjust some as we went along. We then cut the gable pieces for front and back and nailed them in place.
Constructing the roof was by far the most difficult part of this construction for us. We studied plans, talked to personnel at our local lumber supply store, before beginning, but still had to do a lot of trial and error. Putting the roof deck on for us was difficult because those pieces of plywood were fairly heavy.
- Laying Out the Deck Sheets: We used 4'x 8' sheets of 1/2 inch plywood for the roof deck. We cut these into 4 pieces, two for each side of the roof. Each piece measured 4' x 4' x 11". We placed two of these on the left side of the roof, being sure they met in the center of the middle rafter. The top of each sheet was positioned over the center of the ridge beam. We tacked these two sheet in place, leaving a 1/16 inch gap. We then placed one of the two remaining sheets on the right rear side just so we could adjust the sheets until they met at the ridge.
- Nailing the Roof Deck: After this adjustment was made, we removed the sheet on the right side, stood a ladder inside the playhouse and nailed the left side of the decking in place. We then placed the two decking sheets on the right side and nailed those in place.
The roof and decking were the most difficult parts of the construction for us to complete. After these tasks were completed, the finishing up and decorating were just fun.
Windows, Doors, and Trim
- Windows: We found three inexpensive small windows of two sizes that were on special at our local lumber company and installed one in front and back and one on one of the sides of the playhouse. To install them we drilled holes from inside the playhouse at the four corners of the frames for each of the three windows we used. On the outside we drew lines connecting the four holes for each window and cut out the openings.. We then inserted the windows and secured them in place. For the outside facing of these windows we used 1”x4” lumber and cut these to fit the outside dimensions of each window.
- Building and Installing the Door: We built a jamb for our door opening using 1"x 4" lumber. We used a 2' piece across the top and two 5' pieces for the sides. We nailed the 2' piece to each of the 5' pieces, inserted this into the door opening and nailed the jamb in place. We used a piece of leftover plywood from the floor and cut a door 1' 11 1/2" x ' 11 i/2". We used some 1" x 4" lumber to rim around the door open and hung the door on the left side with some tee-hinges.
- Fascia and Corner Trim: We used some 1" x4" lumber to cover the exposed edges of the rafters on the sides of the house 1” x 4” boards cut to 7' 11”. We finished trimming by placing some 1" x 3" and 1"x 2" pieces around each corner.
Adding the Finishing Touches
This was the fun part. After we painted the house and added some gingerbread trim, the two oldest granddaughters came to help with this project. Dressed in a couple of Papa John's old tee shirts, they painted some wood letters for their names and their baby sisters' names—in rainbow colors, of course—and attached these to the front of the house.
We had an electrician install an overhead light and switch inside and decorated the inside in pink and white.
Mistakes Were Made
The biggest mistake we made in building the playhouse was not to wait until those two youngest granddaughters were old enough to voice their opinions about what the house should look like. The youngest of these has made it clear from a very early age that she is not fond of pink and purple. Orange is more her color. I had found a stick on chalkboard with princesses on it to put on one wall so they could write messages. The youngest, Sadie, recently told me i needed to get a chalk board with Power Rangers on it to put on the other side. I'm still looking. When her older sister decided on a recent trip that we needed a couch in the playhouse, she and I built one. We did not use pink or purple for the upholstery. We used blue. Sadie is teaching us a thing or two about gender identity.
We built this playhouse several years ago, and the girls continue to enjoy it when they visit. Over the years, though, they probably have not enjoyed playing in it more than we enjoyed building it. One day toward the end of the building process when we had finished our project for that day, we stood back and admired our work.“The girls may never appreciate this,” I told my husband, “but we sure have enjoyed building it.” Besides making something our granddaughters would enjoy, it was a learning experience in building and something we could look at and say "We built that." We still do that.
The girls are growing up now, and they will soon outgrow this playhouse, but I hope they'll have lasting memories. While we were building the playhouse, I found a little mailbox that I painted and put on the porch. On the side of the mailbox I painted "J.A.M.S", the initials of their first names. They like calling themselves the 'Jams' now. I think they plan to have a rock band someday with that name. They recently painted some more, larger letters to place on the front of the house spelling "Jams". They're not pink and purple.