by Steve Thomas
deal with it
winter building has its challenges—no matter where you live
e are currently building a small, elegant studio on an island in Maine. The island is accessible only by skiff, so all tools, materials, and supplies have to be brought over by small barge, unloaded on the beach, and then hauled up to the build site on the forks of a tractor. It’s challenging . . . and even more so as the wind picks up, daylight dwindles, and the temperatures drop. Winter building—whether on an island in Maine or a mountainside in New Mexico—is not for the faint of heart. It requires preparation, persistence, the right clothing and equipment, and often a major attitude adjustment. A couple years ago, while renovating my little Victorian Shingle-style house in the Maine fishing village where I now live, I muscled up a stack of siding, a nail gun, a saw, extension cords, and an air hose to the top of the scaffolding. As I ascended the ladder with the last load, a piercing gust of wind sent the clapboards spiraling over the house and into the parking lot of the post office next door. It was about eight degrees, and with the wind chill well below zero, all I really wanted to do was just get in my truck and go someplace warm—like 20
S U C A S A W I N T E R 2018
Winter building is not for the faint of heart. It requires preparation, persistence, the right clothing and equipment, and often a major attitude adjustment. Just the other day, while working on the island, the northwest wind kicked up to about 40 mph, turning the harbor into a mass of whitecaps and rolling swells. The temperature was dropping, too. Eyeing the sea and the NOAA weather forecast we worked a couple more hours then headed across the harbor. The sky darkened and the wind kicked up for another rollicking blast. “Oh brother,” I thought, as we tied up and unloaded the boat. “And it’s only November.” So why bother? Well, when you have a project to complete, you’re obliged to keep at it. But there’s also for me a certain pride in being able
Think your daily commute is a hassle? Be thankful you’re not Steve Thomas, for whom getting to a job site is a little more complicated than scraping ice off the windshield.
to do high-quality work in adverse conditions. To do this you have to bend to the forces of nature, and not fight them. Believe me, I’m no hero; there are some days I won’t cross the harbor. But ultimately it’s about the incredible beauty you can witness as a builder, outside in all the moods of winter. In New Mexico, where I did a winter project a half dozen years ago, I could look up from my saw or nail gun to see the wind ripping clouds of snow off of the high peaks of the Sangre de Cristos; here in Maine we catch the winking lights of the village, offshore fishing boats ghosting through the sea smoke, and the last of the rose sunset on Marshall Point Lighthouse. But I don’t always wax so poetical. The winter before last I was heading over to the island to work on another project when I was defeated— by the wind, the cold, and the ice in the harbor. At the town dock I complained to a fisherman shoveling snow out of his skiff. He looked out at me from under the hood of his Carhartts, his nose running into his beard. “It’s winter,” he growled. “Deal with it.” Steve Thomas is a home renovation expert. The former host of This Old House and Renovation Nation, he now heads up Steve Thomas Builders.
Hawaii. Instead I climbed down, retrieved my clapboards, threw away the broken ones, and went back to work.