Drywall

Friday 28 April 2006, 7:15 pm


I never knew you could put drywall on a ceiling. Yow! Ouch! I also never knew that there are at least three kinds of drywall: the regular kind for walls, a thicker "fire resistant" kind for ceilings, and a "water resistant" kind for bathrooms.

There were only two of us working on this job, and Nick told me it was really a three-person job. I found out why. To put up drywall on the ceiling, someone has to hold up the piece while the other quickly puts screws into it before the first person collapses. The smaller pieces were not difficult, but the pieces that approached 4x8 feet in size were miserable. Nick held up all of those, and he said my screwing speed was pretty fast, but he did turn a greenish color a couple of times.

If there had been three of us, who could have held up the drywall easily, one at each end, while the third put in the screws. We didn't have that luxury.

What most consider the difficult part is the measurement. Not only do you have to cut the pieces to exactly the right size, but you have to cut out holes for things like light fixtures and heater vents. With only the two of us on the job, we found the measurement part to be easy compared to the (literal) grunt work. It turns out Nick was a system administrator at his last job, and he has a Math degree from Portland State University. So I guess you'd expect a couple of math/computer geeks to have no trouble putting the holes in the right places, but difficulty holding the drywall over their heads.

It also turns out there is nothing square in this particular house we were working on. When putting in a sheet, we could take measurements of all four sides, but we didn't have the appropriate tools to measure all the angles. Unfortunately, for any set of four lengths, there are an infinite number of quadrilaterals that might have those dimensions. In most cases we could be sure that there was at least one angle of 90 degrees, but without the good tools, we could not tell which angle it was. Sometimes we could put a piece of scrap "factory angle" (corner not yet cut) to see if an angle was close to 90, but if not, we could not always tell how far off.

Blech. Enough of this. It was a really fun day. Nick is a fun guy and we had a lot of laughs, especially when a piece of drywall not quite securely fastened yet fell on our heads.

Tomorrow, Nick, Roger and I are supposed to finish the carpet at the house where we were working yesterday. Mary is supposed to stay at camp and run the distribution center with a skeleton crew. We are supposed to get a crew of six contractors here tomorrow, so the next week promises to involve a lot more house building.

CityTeam's goal is to completely rebuild the insides of 50 homes. This means the foundations, frames, and outside walls are intact, but the crews will replace the drywall and carpet, add inside paint and trim, usually replace the electical system, but not usually the plumbing, which generally needs new fixtures at most. Anyway, I hear they have worked on about eleven or twelve houses, but only finished one or two. There are two problems: the labor might be very slow, because volunteer contractors generally stay here for only a week or two, not long enough to finish a job, so another contractor has to finish the work later. A more pressing problem is that it can cost $15,000 in supplies (mostly drywall and carpet, I guess) to finish a house. You can do the multiplcation yourself. That's a lot of money, and CityTeam can't really afford to buy all those supplies and pay for the plane flights too.

The real heroes here are not the "short-timers" like Mary and me, but the long-timers like Roger, John, and Nick. Roger has been here since January, and before that he was in New Orleans. Nick has been here on and off for twelve weeks since Katrina hit. Ralph and Pete have been running the CityTeam camp here pretty much since it opened, with only a week here and there to go back home to Philadelphia.

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