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Our Super-Insulated Cabin Roof–The Never-Ending Project

Super insulated cabin roof

We finally decided to take the plunge and get our Off-Grid Cabin fully roofed. We’ve had some water leakage, despite the house wrap and plastic sheeting over the whole roof.

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Super-Insulated Gambrel Roof

Super insulated cabin roof

When we built our Gambrel roof, we had no idea of the ins and outs of how difficult this thing would be to cover. First of all, it’s so tall, which makes accessing the roof more difficult than a standard roof. Secondly, the steep pitch makes it impossible to stand on the first layer, so doing anything up there gets to be quite dangerous.


We actually took a break in our construction for several months just to catch up some on finances. That’s why we opted to cover the roof with plastic and let it rest. With the summer sun, however, the plastic quickly broke down, and literally began to peel off in large sheets recently. We could have replaced it, but at $100/roll, and knowing it would only gain us a few more months, we knew we’d need to move forward with our roof.

Here’s a little peek into what we did previously, where we show how we made the barn doors and camper canopy.

Plans? Yeah, we’ll come back to those!

Our plans for the house contain front and back shed dormers, two on each side. For the sake of time, money, and practicality, we will put these in later. Our first goal is to get the roof completely covered ASAP

Why a Super-Insulated Cabin Roof?

Frugal Living at its Best

Because my husband is a frugal man, and conscious of heating/cooling costs, plus very interested in energy efficiency, we are making a super-insulated home. Yes, even in our mild East Tennessee climate, we wish to maximize our heating and cooling and minimize the losses. For this reason, we are using rigid foam insulation sheets inside and out on our super-insulated cabin roof.

Super insulated cabin roof

Rigid Foam Insulation

For the roof, we are using 3 1/2″ of rigid foam insulation, then we are adding another 1″ to the roof between the purlins. My husband struck up a deal with a friend who’d come across a good deal on the foam, so that helped us substantially, especially when he and his family drove the insulation sheets down to us from Indiana! Then we had fun+foam+families!

Rigid foam insulation Here we are in our Foam Cutting Factory

Week One

This week, our focus has been getting the foam attached, making purlins, and attaching the metal roof. It’s Wednesday, and we are still working on the foam, so our progress, although steady, has been slow. But, slow and safe is way better than speedy, with possible breaches in safety!

Phase 1–Foam Insulation

First, we made support strips for the edges, and placed two layers of 1″ foam between these. Over this insulation we put 1 1/2″ sheets of foam insulation.

Super insulated cabin roof

Next, we filled in the middle section with 3 1/2″ foam insulation, and added purlins on top to screw the footing metal onto. This proved to be a small challenge–finding the trusses through the foam and wood sheeting was a little bit difficult. My job was to stand inside the cabin to watch for the screws to make sure they hit studs, not just OSB.

Friends are Great!

For our first day and a half, our friends came, and we moved along pretty steadily. Then, right after they left, the bucket truck went out, so progress slowed considerably. We hope to get up and running soon, because the boom makes accessing the steep part so much easier! There are real benefits to a husband in the tree-cutting industry! Just have to get that truck fixed quickly!

Measuring and cutting lumber

Lift Us Up!

At first, we stalled progress, then realized we could make the best of it. We rented a scissor lift, which made reaching the roof possible in most spots. We can’t safely do the second pitch of the roof with this lift, though, we are working on some alternative plans there. Our 14 and 16 year old sons pretty much singlehandedly tackled the first layer of foam and purlins themselves! This has really been a team effort!

Scissor lift and gambrel roof cabin

My job, along with our 13-yr old son, has been to keep the foam cut, oversee the purlins cutting process, and, of course, monitor the purlin-screwing process. We are runners, keeping screws coming, plus moving lumber to cut. Never mind.  My job is helping everyone, and generally overseeing to make sure supplies keep moving to the right person.

Rustic Rough Cut is Our Style

We are still excited that 100% of our lumber for this cabin comes from sawmill lumber that my husband has cut down in his tree business. It may not be as smooth as store-bought lumber, but I honestly like the rough-cut, rustic look. It’s a cabin, after all, not a mansion!

We plan to use this rough-cut lumber for the interior walls as well, and I believe it will add to the homey feel of our cabin! I’ll leave most of them plain, as in not painted. A few years back, our boys were gifted with a planer and router, so we can get the rough wood a little more civilized!

We will do either ship-lap or horizontal planks, but I do plan for the bathrooms to do a whitewash finish to brighten things up. We just like natural wood, and are so thankful for the abundant supply of various types of hard and soft woods available to us! I don’t believe we will get tired of wood, even though our walls, flooring, ceilings, and even countertops will be made of wood!

Progress on our Super-Insulated Cabin Roof.

Thursday came and went. Another two lift breakdowns, still no bucket truck, and work has been very slow as a result. But now, my husband rigged up a harness tie in system, so the work can move forward little by little.

We had to firm up the ground where the lift dug deep ruts into the soft ground.

Did someone say we need rocks? Alrighty then!

Super-insulated roofRocks? We got rocks, and plenty of them!

Our property grows rocks like grass! In fact, we don’t have grass, but we do have rocks! Big rocks, Little Rocks! We all pitched in (literally) to fill the muddy spots with rock off the hill and around the ridge. Then Greg smoothed things out with the skid steer. We hope that will firm up the ground enough to handle that heavy lift machine!

More Home Education

When machines break down, it just adds to the education happening all the time. Our boys worked on troubleshooting, but since it was a rental, the mechanic came right out for a service call. This provided great hands-on learning opportunities to talk to him, brainstorm, and observe him in action.

Cutting metal for roof

Sometimes I don’t know where work ends and schooling begins, as all of this seems like good learning to me! Life provides many practical learning experiences naturally. But we will get to the books! Eventually!

Hello–Week Two of our Super-Insulated Cabin Roof Project…Will we ever finish?

Its Thursday of the next week now. Whoa, are we slow, or what?

Yep, we are slow.

Super insulated cabin roof

Progress has been good but slow. We have the metal on the whole front except for one little section the lift won’t reach. Gotta wait for the bucket for that, and for some reason, Greg feels like he needs to use that for his tree work.

The View From The Top–It’s Scary!!!!!!

Trust me on this one. This is no place for a scaredy-cat like me! Afraid of heights, and feeling a little woozy about being up on this lift–that’s me! But I’m doing my best to lend a hand, even if my other hand is tightly gripping the railing on the scissor lift! ?

I penned those sentiments while helping out at the top. Not my comfort zone for sure up there! Let me just say I have a whole new sense of respect for my boys who appear to fearlessly perch atop that very tall lift! Whew! Not me!

Rigid foam insulation on super insulated cabin roof

Awesome Boys, Talented Husband!

We are on the home stretch! Everyone worked so hard on Friday, but we could not quite get it all finished by sundown! Had to let it rest and pray that the rain would pass!

Well…it did! That rain storm veered away, much to our thankfulness! Praise be to God for hearing our prayers! No rain!

There is more to a roof than just the metal sheets, like drip edge,, ridge cap, gable flashing, and more! I am so confident that my boys now know the ins and outs of putting in a roof–and from what I’ve heard, this type is one of the more difficult styles because of the pitch! So…give us a call if you need a hand with your roof! I have 3 very capable young roofers here, plus one big one! ?

Safety First! Or…Look Out Below!

We managed to get this roof done with no major blunders, nobody hurt, and minor actual oopsies! On our *almost* last day, something happened, and things broke loose a bit. Thankfully, nothing major, but we did encounter:

  • One flying Kobalt Impact Driver (brand new). Plummeted 30 feet and now has battle scars.
  • Two sailing sheets of roofing metal, plunging same distance. Landed in back of bucket truck, and became twisted and mangled beyond use.
  • Another flying Kobalt drill
  • Falling lift gate which crashed onto Andrews ankle. Some bruises on that one.
  • A new Kobalt battery sliced by the circular saw. Oopsie!!
  • A falling screw from 30 feet up that hit my knee’s funny bone. Hey–it really did hurt!
  • Impact driver got jammed onto controls of bucket truck’s boom, causing my DH and I to crash into the front of the completed roof! Aargh! We ended up with a big ugly dent right up front. Greg made a roofing bandaid, but we will have to fix that section better. ?
  • Our 16-yr old son got to test the efficacy of the tie-in system when he slipped off the edge. Thank God it worked, but I got a thousand gray hairs over seeing him slip.
  • We made small boo boos on the gable rake trim and gambrel flashing. Cuts at wrong angles and strange bends in the metal, stuff like that.

The project did stretch out more, and we had that near-miss from the top. I am eternally grateful to God for protecting Austin, our 16-yr old as he slid on the roof. Without the tie-in system, I shudder to think of what would have happened. We have stressed to rope in EVERY TIME!!! So important!

All in all, though slow, it was safe! We have a beautiful hunter green roof atop our cabin, and it feels really good!

We all worked together, everyone did his part, and we did it!

Great Job, Boys! Great Job!

Below is a list of tools and items that we found to be essential for our project. Many we already had, some we had to go out when we realized that we needed “one more thing”. We are a Kobalt tool family. ?

  • Chalk line and refill chalk--at least 2. Red was the color that showed up in the insulation panels and the green metal roofing. Blue did not show up. These were used quite a lot to snap lines on foam, to snap lines on roof for lining up purlins, to line up screws and metal, and just about anything where we wanted a nice, long, straight line. Our boys have become very proficient with snapping chalk lines!
  • Impact driver (several will make your life easier)
  • Drills with extra bits
  • Extra Kobalt (for us) batteries and chargers–keep those babies charging!
  • Sawzall, cordless with fine (cutting foam) and rough blades (trim purlins, etc)
  • Circular saw, cordless and corded
  • Builders squares, small and large
  • 2′ & 4′ level
  • Tape measures–several
  • Stud finder and batteries
  • Building pencils and Sharpies
  • Utility knife with fresh blades
  • 4″, 5″, 6″ screws for first layer foam, second layer, & purlins over thick foam. We found the best price by far for the bulk 4″, 5″ and 6″ screws on amazon. They were super expensive at all of our local home improvement stores.
  • A bunch of wood 1″x6″ for purlins
  • Rigid Foam insulation. We used 1″, 2″, 3.5″
  • Roofing nails to hold on foam
  • Great Stuff to fill cracks–get a bunch
  • Tin snips, also called Aviator snips. Get the offset pair. We didn’t and it was harder–a real pain, actually.
  • Bucket Truck (husband owns)
  • Scissor Lift (rented from Boomco)
  • Cordless air nailer and nails. We picked up this one on sale, and, aside from jamming one time, it has worked well!
  • 1.5″ and/or 1″ roofing screws to match your roof’s color
  • Metal sheeting for roof
  • Gambrel flashing
  • Gable rake trim
  • Ridge cap metal trim
  • Drip edge trim (maybe not essential because of steep roof pitch)
  • Butyl tape
  • Foam for ridge cap

Tips from the Newbies:

  • Do the back first! Practice where it’s not so visible, then roof the front when you’ve figured it all out!
  • Work from the bottom up
  • Get a fully functional safety system
  • Allow plenty of time if it’s your first roofing job
  • Pray a lot
  • If we did it, you can too!

And now, here’s our Super-Insulated Gambrel Roof, in all its glory!

Super insulated cabin roof
Roof all finished!!!!

Thanks for sticking with us!

We are moving along, now onto the board and batten siding!

To follow our progress on the cabin, be sure to follow our blog by subscribing!

Little by little, inch by inch, we are getting there!

11 Replies

  1. We have the foam board insulation too, both in the roof and where the underground walls have an air space before the dirt wall. It is SO easy to work with in odd places and does a really great job!

  2. Having fun catching up on your posts! Did I read right somewhere that you ware putting some type of enclosure and a wood stove next to the camp trailer?

    1. Yes, Alison!
      That is finished, mostly. Could use a little tweaking, but it is helping our camper a lot! Helps dry out the moisture that accumulates with the cold outside and warm inside temps.

      And it provides a nice place for our shoes/boots, and to hang out coats. And our dog hangs out in the enclosure and almost never leaves because of the warm bed she has inside.


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