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My Dad Built a Formidable Shed

My Dad Built a Formidable Shed
By Gordon Chaffin • Issue #148 • View online
I’m Gordon Chaffin and this is my newsletter to friends and supporters. Follow my photography on Instagram and current events commentary on Twitter. I take freelance audio/video gigs such as virtual and hybrid meeting production or livestreams - bit.ly/GordonChaffinResume. Hit reply or email me at gordonchaffin@gmail.com if you have thoughts/leads/ideas.

My dad, Mark, stands next to the shed in February 2021. We put up the roof beams that day.
My dad, Mark, stands next to the shed in February 2021. We put up the roof beams that day.
How My Father Built a Kickass Shed
Today is my father’s birthday. Mark Chaffin is 63 years young, a new e-bike rider, and retired. For his birthday, I’m sharing with you all a photo essay: how he built an 8’ x 16’ storage and work shed this winter in my brother’s Jacksonville backyard. I stayed with my parents at that house with his two dogs. I helped a bit on several, significant home renovation projects like the shed. I miss my brother dearly – I was glad to spend time with his girlfriend – and I love my dad for how he deploys talents selflessly for his sons. I’m glad my brother has a “backyard oasis” for their total of four dogs.
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The shed sits on concrete foundation. The contractors made a mistake and only poured it 7'10" wide, so my dad had to change his plans last minute.
The shed sits on concrete foundation. The contractors made a mistake and only poured it 7'10" wide, so my dad had to change his plans last minute.
My dad spent most of his career as an IT professional – a computer programmer and a database administrator. He built important software tools for the human resources backend of a Big 3 automaker. A very Southeast Michigan, Baby Boomer story: former factory worker gets a bachelor’s degree at night and ends up working a stable white-collar job that allowed his spouse to work part-time.
My dad built the 4 walls, then raised them up. The picture was taken the day arborists came into to trim the extremely tall pine trees in the backyard.
My dad built the 4 walls, then raised them up. The picture was taken the day arborists came into to trim the extremely tall pine trees in the backyard.
IT wasn’t my dad’s dream job. He wanted to be an architect. He’s been handy his whole life, picking up skills and tools starting from when he helped my grandpa built their house at 10 years old. He built a hanging bike mount for my college dorm room. He’s built and restored dozens of furniture pieces and constructed a heavy-duty loft bed for me when I moved into a shipping container.
Those are hurricane straps -- corner brackets that anchor the roof to the sidewalls and prevent high wind damage. 10 nails in each strap and more fortification than most houses.
Those are hurricane straps -- corner brackets that anchor the roof to the sidewalls and prevent high wind damage. 10 nails in each strap and more fortification than most houses.
My brother’s garage is barely large enough to fit two cars. His moderate-sized truck fills it up with only some bike and outdoor gear space left over. So, a shed was necessary. The TUFF SHED-type kits you can buy are fine, but extremely expensive for what you get. Even with the beginnings of our current lumber price surge, my dad built this shed for about 25% of the materials cost of a kit. My entire life, he’s done this: donated his labor and time to us and “did it right.”
My dad installed two of those whirly gig air vents. Wind rotates them and the air pressure differences between outside and inside the shed create circulation.
My dad installed two of those whirly gig air vents. Wind rotates them and the air pressure differences between outside and inside the shed create circulation.
This shed is better ventilated, and has more natural light, than any apartment I’ve ever lived in. It’s supremely weather sealed, with every material in the above photo added to be weather resilient.
My dad installed two of these ice cream shop windows and four clear plastic portal windows in the loft. Notice the weatherproof flashing tape, which he used all over the trim and any place water could get in.
My dad installed two of these ice cream shop windows and four clear plastic portal windows in the loft. Notice the weatherproof flashing tape, which he used all over the trim and any place water could get in.
Something I learned this winter: you paint the trim first. Also pictured are soffit and fascia my dad added. I used to pretend to know what those words mean.
Something I learned this winter: you paint the trim first. Also pictured are soffit and fascia my dad added. I used to pretend to know what those words mean.
I’ve interacted with lots of architects in my career. Most of their day jobs these days are spent in 3D modeling software and serious engineering tools. But, like with my dad and this shed project, I’ve never seen architects as happy as when they’re designing something small they can physically build. AIA|DC has an annual canned goods architecture/art fundraiser for DC Central Kitchen. Those teams get so freaking pumped to create things at a very small level – instead of their day jobs, where they trade documents with silly file extensions and have long meetings with contractors themselves several degrees of separation from the guys who put shovels in dirt.
My dad made sure that porch sat level, using weather-treated boards to sit on paving stones and anchor bolts into the concrete pad.
My dad made sure that porch sat level, using weather-treated boards to sit on paving stones and anchor bolts into the concrete pad.
He used excess wood to build heavy-duty shelves that run the length of the shed and overhead rafters for storage. Note the two lower vents on each exterior side.
He used excess wood to build heavy-duty shelves that run the length of the shed and overhead rafters for storage. Note the two lower vents on each exterior side.
My dad trenched a 110V power line from the house out to the shed. Pictured there is one of several outlets.
My dad trenched a 110V power line from the house out to the shed. Pictured there is one of several outlets.
Every possible tool has its place. My dad built a work bench there -- stage left -- with a shelf, a trash can cubby, a surge protector with USB charging, and an air compressor hose ready to use with the ON/OFF switch inches from your knees.
Every possible tool has its place. My dad built a work bench there -- stage left -- with a shelf, a trash can cubby, a surge protector with USB charging, and an air compressor hose ready to use with the ON/OFF switch inches from your knees.
The border collie in these photos is Dottie; she's a frisbee catching machine. So, my dad built a frisbee shelf. You have to take them away because Dottie literally wants to play all night.
The border collie in these photos is Dottie; she's a frisbee catching machine. So, my dad built a frisbee shelf. You have to take them away because Dottie literally wants to play all night.
Before brunch on Easter, Dad got to show the finished shed to my brother's girlfriend and her family. His emotional range in public is limited, so I love the smile on my dad's face.
Before brunch on Easter, Dad got to show the finished shed to my brother's girlfriend and her family. His emotional range in public is limited, so I love the smile on my dad's face.
My dad is old, but still young enough to live a long retirement in his own garage workshop. This shed project really made me want to design and build a house with him. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to afford one, but I’ll be keeping my eye on empty lots around the District. Something modest, maybe three bedrooms with two baths. Something where he and I can nerd out and use every modern energy efficiency technology. We’ll build something that won’t flinch in a derecho and shrugs off a snowmaggedon. We’ll mount rooftop solar and install battery storage – maybe a rooftop wind generator. We’ll trade a smaller size for better materials. Flood wiring so you can get 10 Gigabit wireline internet in the bathroom if want it.
We put down seven palates of sod before leaving Jacksonville. My brother added five more to completely re-do his large backyard. That little palm tree with mulch -- one each flanking the new patio -- was my dad's installation, too.
We put down seven palates of sod before leaving Jacksonville. My brother added five more to completely re-do his large backyard. That little palm tree with mulch -- one each flanking the new patio -- was my dad's installation, too.
I’ve been begging my dad to start a YouTube channel where he walks you through basic, intermediate, and even complex things. He’d be fantastic putting content out in formats like Rainfall Projects. Mark Chaffin, the Everyman Architect. He’s done a million video-worthy projects. He installed a urinal in his workshop that directs waste down into a dry well where it gets metabolized safely. Over many years, he’s turned almost every light, switch, sensor, and camera into a smart system connected to Alexa – whom we call Sally because using her real name would trigger something in every room. As of last week, we literally have a Sally-enabled sensor in the hallway for carbon monoxide and smoke.
My father completely re-trenched most of the sprinkler system. This was his massive overtaking to re-direct city water to the front yard because the pumped well water leaves terrible mineral deposits on the driveway and sidewalk.
My father completely re-trenched most of the sprinkler system. This was his massive overtaking to re-direct city water to the front yard because the pumped well water leaves terrible mineral deposits on the driveway and sidewalk.
I love my father for many reasons. The shed and all of these other projects at my brother’s house demonstrate how my dad has always been there for us as a resourceful builder and thinker. I’ve had jobs in different fields than him. I’ve dealt with professional headwinds new to – frankly – the whole Chaffin/Jones family. From Glasgow to Detroit to the grandson sharing an elevator with Ben Bernanke in 60 years. New frontiers haven’t phased me, though. Because, my dad and mom have always been there to help me move, to figure the most important things out. I’ve had to learn many things myself, but I’ve never been alone.
It's Saint Augustine grass -- heat tolerant with tough-as-nails, tree-like roots. Pictured there are two brand new sprinkler control boxes, tastefully landscaped and easily accessible to maintain.
It's Saint Augustine grass -- heat tolerant with tough-as-nails, tree-like roots. Pictured there are two brand new sprinkler control boxes, tastefully landscaped and easily accessible to maintain.
My dad hasn't had formal design training, but every detail of this shed is beautiful -- down to the way the outdoor lamp shades cast light onto the porch.
My dad hasn't had formal design training, but every detail of this shed is beautiful -- down to the way the outdoor lamp shades cast light onto the porch.
Artistic rendering of the shed my father build.
Artistic rendering of the shed my father build.
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Gordon Chaffin's Resume
Gordon Chaffin's Resume
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Gordon Chaffin

This is Gordon Chaffin's newsletter. By day, he's a local journalist and current events storyteller living in Washington, DC. The goal: produce writing and multimedia -- civic participation resources -- that include, inform, and equip stakeholders with the least power to improve their community. On evenings and weekends, Gordon is a freelance audio/video producer and photographer. Topics of interest: transportation -- especially non-car transit -- plus housing, environmental justice, social and gender policies like family-medical leave, and education -- especially early childhood. Please send news tips to gordon[AT]streetsensemedia[DOT]org and freelance job inquiries to gordonchaffin[AT]gmail[DOT]com.

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Gordon Chaffin, 3401 12th St NE #4466 Washington, DC 20017