Skylight Details…..A Kentucky Derby Fiasco

Hello again friends, Romans, countrymen, and the free folk of Middle Earth. Man, I need a coffee before I get started. I’ll be right back…….

That’s better. The old Keurig. 1-2-3- done. Actually, I have a theory about the old Keurig. I really think it’s part of the coffee companies ploy to make more money by fleecing the consumer. We got this thing for Christmas and I’m thinkin’ this is great, now when I  want a cup of joe I pop in the little k-cup and I’m good to go. Wait a second. What? What did you say those dopey k-cups cost? When they’re on sale I think a cup costs about $.75 cents each!  I’m a Maxwell House good to the last drop guy and I think my tub of Maxwell House gives me a cup of coffee for under .05 cents. I’m still making my thermos full of coffee everyday. The only good thing is that my wife has stopped going to Dunkin’ Dounuts and spending $1.94 for a cup. I think Americans are spending a couple of hundred dollars a year extra on coffee now. But I digress.

Let’s move along shall we?

Oh yeah,  the damn Derby. It happens every year. For some reason I actually think I’m gonna hit the trifecta and make a killing. I’m not a gambling man either. So can someone please explain to me how the 50 to 1 shot comes in second? So, I take a look at the odds and put together the top four horses and bet on who’s going to come in first, second, and third. This is what they call a Trifecta and I boxed it meaning I didn’t have to guess the correct order just the top three horses. So like I said, I picked California Chrome, Danza, and Wicked Strong. I think Wicked Strong fell asleep on the rail and woke up too late. He comes in fourth and this horse Commanding Curve comes out of nowhere at 50 to 1 and ruins it for me. The trifecta paid out $1700 on a $1 bet, people! I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t bet a dollar though. So I gotta go back and check out how much I would have won. By the way, everyone I got tickets for lost. So I’m going through all these tickets and I can’t find my trifecta ticket. There should be two of them. It was then I realized the cashier at OTB (Off Track Betting) never turned my ticket over to see if I had any bets on the other side. I never checked either. Imagine if I had won but had no ticket to prove it? That would have made for an interesting post. Post title: “Hobbit Hollow Jim Pays a Visit to the Insane Asylum”. That would have definitely been tough to take.

So let’s get back to the business of building this Hobbit house shall we?

Okay so,  I was beat. I mean really beat by the end of the day Saturday. I don’t know what it is but laying out these design  details on the skylights  was brutal.  Really brutal. It’s like you’re always in a weird position or sliding down the roof and/or kneeling, squatting, laying down. Man, was I sore by the end of the day. Take 2 Alleve and call me in the morning. I think part of it was I wasn’t 100% sure what I was going to do. I wanted each of the four skylights to have a different detail and I actually came up with about 20 different ideas on paper. But you know paper is one thing and putting it into action in the field is sometimes different.

Initially I was thinking that I would use the full height of the plywood for my design. But on the drive over Saturday morning, when I really started to think about it, I realized that the sheetrock return on the skylight are going to have to go down a bit into the well of the skylight. This means that the centerline layout I had done when I built the skylight was in the wrong place now and I would have to refigure out exactly what and how I wanted to do this. Oh well. To be honest this was really just a minor detail.

The main thing I wasn’t sure of was the way we have to pour the skylight. Which really could effect the way the details come out. This will be difficult to explain and it will become clearer later. Anywho when we pour the roof we will not be able to pour the skylights to the top as we are pouring the slab around it. What will happen is we will pour about halfway up the skylight and then  the weight of the concrete will force itself out through the bottom of the formwork. I know for a fact that my editor is lost right now and I’m sure most of you are as well. Trust me on this one. We will only be able to pour about two feet up the skylight well at best and that also depends on the slump of the concrete. So what I decided to do was put a reveal at the 21 inch mark and use this as a centerline. What this does is create a joint where we pour out the first round of concrete  to and establishes a cold joint that will not be seen later. After we’re done with the roof pour we’ll go back and top off all the skylights. This will not be easy but if we set it up correctly it should be no problem.

Hmmm. I lost you didn’t I? Don’t worry this is reinforced concrete at its best and you’re going to be surprised at what happens.

So I got to work around 7:30 and set up shop.  Started laying out the first of the skylights and this little guy falls out of the sky and lands right next to me.

Shelob's heir.
Shelob’s heir.

I like spiders so I had to take a picture.

So layout is always kind of interesting. At least to me anyway. I made up a couple of tools to help me out. The first is a square that you can slide along the top of the formwork so you can layout a perpendicular line to the top of the form. It worked really well, too. Check it out.

Homemade traveling layout square.
Homemade traveling layout square.

The other item I made was a little circle layout tool. This came about as I was looking at this particular skylight. I knew there was something missing and I thought if I could somehow get something circular in there it would really dress it up. It’s just a piece of scrap plywood with a nail driven in it for the circle’s center point. I set it up so I could also layout the center of the radial lines I wanted to layout,as well. It worked really well. The segmenting of the circle was a little tricky but once I figured that out it was a snap. Check out this little helper.

Circle layout tool.
Circle layout tool.

If you look close you can see the layout lines. Like I said I kind of thought of this idea after we started installation and that’s why I had to pack it out over those detail blocks.

Jumped a little bit ahead here. Let’s back up.

The other issue with the skylights, and this is a big part of thinking this through, is the whole concept of the tapered slab. Oh yeah, the tapered slab. You forgot about the tapered slab didn’t you? Well this is how this whole house stays together. Anyway the slab depth on one end of the skylight is different than the depth at the other end. So how do we know how to cut our close up plywood for the skylight? Very good question and I’m glad you asked. Full scale layout. That’s the short and sweet answer. Check out this thing I built to mimic the tapered slab.

Tapered slab jig.
Tapered slab jig.

So where that block of wood is, is where the 9 inch slab is. At the other end the jig sits on the wall and gives us a 16 inch slab. So all I did here is put my close up plywood on the skylight, secure it, put the jig in place and then scribe the slab on the close up plywood. 1-2-3 done. Almost as easy as using a Keurig.

Oh yeah, the crew got there around 10 and I set them up doing various things. They got a lot done for me. Quite capable this crew is. Jude did the trimwork with the chopsaw, Terence took care of the detail block installation, and the editor cut the small trimwork that we have been installing. Here’s a quick look at the three of them.

Jude working the small chop saw/
Jude working the small chop saw/
Terence screwing in the detail blocks.
Terence screwing in the detail blocks.


Editor doing the heavy cutting. Boy is she cute or what!
Editor doing the heavy cutting. Boy is she cute or what!

So, we’ll leave it at that for this week. Here’s a final picture of the one skylight that is completely trimmed out.

Kitchen skylight trimmed out.
Kitchen skylight trimmed out.

The trim that runs sort of horizontal (about halfway up the skylight) is where we are going to pour concrete to initially,  like I was telling you before.

Well I hope you all have a wonderful week.

I wonder if the Riders of Rohan bet on horses? Hmmmm.

Wicked Strong….Geesh. Stay away from that derby betting. Ah, it’s just a bit of fun!

Take care,



2 thoughts on “Skylight Details…..A Kentucky Derby Fiasco”

  1. Sally: How’s everything and thanks for the comment, much appreciated as always. I’m sure there are one or two others out there with the same question.

    The pour is actually going to be what they call monolithic. Meaning one pour. What we will do in the coming weeks is quote unquote hang the form. The first pass of concrete will seal the bottom of the form and then we will top it off with the last truck of the day. I think it will become clearer once we close up one of the skylights.

    As far as the skylights and the depth of the wells is concerned we just have to do the simple math. 12 inch slab on average plus 12 inches of styrofoam insulation, plus another 12 inches of soil plus the height of the pachysandra, call that 8 inches and you’re at roughly 3 foot 8 inches. Only 4 inches of concrete showing above the top of the vegetation. (I might only go with 8 inches of soil.) So when all is said and done they will project above the roof line but I don’t think they will look like chimneys.

    I do have a chimney planned and that will be for another post. It will look like a conventional Hobbit house chimney but is going to be used as our plumbing ventilation and our heat recovery ventilator exhaust port.This was an interesting design feature I came up with that I think will add an interesting element to the house.

    I hope I answered your question and I really appreciate your interest in the project.

    Keep those questions coming!
    Thanks again your friend,


  2. The interior designs on the skylights are going to be so cool! Go you!

    Do I understand correctly that the bottom bit of the skylight box (9″ – 16″, depending on where it sits on the roof) will be an integral part of the roof pour, and then you’ll come back, build an exterior form, and pour the rest of the skylight wall. So that when the whole house is finished the skylight wells will resemble chimneys from the exterior. But why so very much extra height? Room for concrete, then sod, I understand, but it looks like you’ve got a whole lot more room than that. Or is it just that you do want them to look like chimneys?

    ps. My project has been put on hold. Husband is looking for a new job (still has the old one) and if he finds the right one we will need to move, so….. Someday I’ll have a blog about building too, just not someday soon.

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