Q&A / 

Angel Builds a New Dormer

new dormer rough framing

Imagine a young woman mother of three young boys cutting a hole in her roof like this to create a dormer. If she can do a big job like this, so can you. Copyright 2023 Tim Carter

Angel Builds a New Dormer - With a Little Help From a Friend

One of the most fulfilling moments of my career happened just a few days ago. It’s a story worth sharing for so many reasons, not the least of which it should inspire you to do something up until a moment ago you thought impossible. It’s a tale of the three Ds: diligence, determination, and dedication mixed with a heaping spoonful of courage.

Just before dinner, the perky tone of my phone indicated a text just arrived. I looked at the screen and it was from Angel Lovings, a 28-year-old mom of three mischievous boys, four if you count her husband. They live in Schenectady, New York.

Just before Christmas of 2021, Angel purchased a consult phone call from me that would change both of our lives. She typed, “I am trying to build a dormer and wanted to know if it would be possible for you to give me step-by-step instructions of what I need to do and a list of materials…I really need your help.”

Having completed thousands of phone calls like this in the past, my responsibility is to assess a homeowner’s skills and expectations in the first few moments of a call. The last thing I want is for you to get into a situation where a contractor will swoop in and pick your bones and savings account clean. Angel’s burning desire to complete this project was more intense than the largest bonfire I’ve ever stood next to. Five minutes into the call I knew her boys were going to have a bright and delightful attic playroom made possible by their mom’s sweat and sore back.

It’s important to realize when I looked at the text I saw a photo of a completed dormer poking out of a steep slate roof of a 100-plus-year-old home. Angel wrote, “Hi friend. It’s Angel… the dormer went really well…no leaking and we made it through the winter pretty good…”

I was bursting with excitement and replied, “…No leaks!!!! VICTORY! I’m so proud of you!!” I shared this news with my wife Kathy and she was just as excited as I was. I decided to interview Angel so you could tap into her inner strength. Using some of her inspirational nectar, you’ll be able to tackle a project and save yourself tens of thousands of dollars.

Once on the phone, I discovered much more about Angel. She and her husband both work full-time. They have three sons, although Angel had hoped her last child would be a girl but God had other plans.

When I dug deeper into how much DIY experience she and her husband had she said with no hesitation, “We didn’t know how to do anything. We built bed frames for our kids.” Let that marinate in your brain for a moment and then try to picture cutting a hole in your roof that measures ten feet wide by 12 feet long.

hole cut in roof for future dormer

If you have a guardian angel like me as your lifeline, you can do a tough job like this. Copyright 2023 Tim Carter ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Angel was quick to offer up, “We didn’t hire a contractor because the bids were too expensive and in our immediate metropolitan area no one could do the job.” I know you’re likely in this situation. I get about fifty emails a week at my website complaining about high prices and contractors that won’t return phone calls. Angel didn’t let that huge obstacle stop her from reaching her goal. Nor should you.

Sixteen months earlier on our first call Angel shared she had gone to the library to read books about framing and building dormers. I wanted to know what finally gave her the confidence she could start to take slate off a steep roof. She surprised me saying, “I read a lot of books about how to frame and build dormers, but they left many questions unanswered. The most important thing was being able to get in touch with you.”

I wondered about fear because it can be paralyzing. When I asked Angel about this she replied, “My biggest fear was what happens if something goes wrong. Having someone like you to talk to knowing you have my back allowed me to contain my fear.“

As the conversation unfolded, Angel told me they only bought a circular saw, a reciprocating saw, and a nail gun to build the dormer. They already had a 4-foot level, a tape measure or two, and a ladder. Believe it or not, you only need all of that and a few more simple tools to build a dormer.

I was curious as to what Angel would have done differently if she could go back in time. As we all know hindsight is 20/20 and she didn’t hesitate to say, “I would have started earlier. We let the summer and dry weather slip by. Once we cut the hole in the roof it rained every day and we kept the house dry using a big tarp. Had we started two months earlier it would have never rained a drop on the job.” You’re preaching to the choir, Angel! Rain is something most contractors fight on a routine basis.

I congratulated Angel at the end of the call and once again told her how proud I was of her and her husband. We said our goodbyes and I sat and thought about what she had done in just four months' time working on the weekends. An hour later, my phone rang and there was Angel’s excited voice saying, “Tim, guess what? I just found out I’m allowed to do all of the electric and plumbing too! I know you can help me and you’re going to save me an additional $10,000.00.”

Indeed I will. Along the way, Angel is going to become even more confident. I wouldn’t be surprised in several years she decides to build her own home like I helped Zoe do in New Mexico two years ago. Trust me, you can do things you think are impossible!

finished dormer with vinyl siding

This is the finished dormer. It's not perfect but it's better than most remodelers might achieve. The most important part is there were no leaks all winter. Copyright 2023 Tim Carter

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