Introduction: Celebrate Sukkot With a New Sukkah
The weekend before last, my husband and I visited the home of my sister with the intention of meeting there to go for a walk in the park. When my husband went around to the backyard and saw my brother-in-law (B-I-L) in the process of building a brand new Sukkah, he couldn't resist lending a helping hand. So much for our walk in the park! The others went and we stayed behind (I thought it would be great to document the process to inspire others who might want to build one next year).
The dog would have gone to the park too, but she decided to get in on the fun and steal the door plan. Watch the video under 'Step 6: Prepare the Door Frame' to see the jocularities unfold!
Corrugated plastic makes this Sukkah a lightweight build; easy to put up and take down to store.
Step 1: A Bit About Sukkot
A Sukkah is a temporary structure used during the week-long festival of Sukkot. Sukkot is celebrated to commemorate both the harvest and the shelter provided during the 40-year exodus from Egypt through the Sinai desert (as you may have seen in a little movie called the Ten Commandments)! Sukkot is celebrated by eating, and sometimes even sleeping, in the Sukkah (although in cold Northern climates such as Canada, that's rarely done because of the weather).
It is considered a 'Mitzvah' or a good deed to invite guests to share a meal in the Sukkah so food plays an important part in the festivities!
In some communities around the world, 'Sukkah Hops' have become a fun way to enjoy a progressive meal by visiting the Sukkah of several participants within walking distance of each other! Each Sukkah host provides a little something to eat (and treats for the kids) along the way.
One night when we were invited over to the Sukkah, I was surprised to look out the window before dinner and find horses in the street! This year, the community arranged a Sukkah Hop for the kids; they gathered them in the horse drawn cart shown above to transport them from Sukkah to Sukkah; how fun is that?
Step 2: What You Will Need
There are a few guidelines to be followed when building a Sukkah. One is that the Sukkah is constructed outdoors in a spot where there are no obstructions to the open sky (i.e. clear of any overhead trees or overhangs etc.). It also has to have at least 3 walls and a flat roof covered with natural vegetation that still allows one to look up and see the stars in the sky (the roof is typically bamboo, pine boughs or palm branches). The walls of the Sukkah can be made of any material that is sturdy enough to withstand the wind.
For a 12 x12 foot structure, here's what you'll need.
- 9 - 4'x8' sheets of corrugated plastic (we used Plaskolite)
- 36 - 2x2x8' lumber (for panels)
- 2 - 1x6x12' lumber (for roof)
- 6 - 2x4x12' lumber (for roof)
- 36 - 2x2 galvanized rigid tie angles (we used Simpson Strong Ties)
- 6 packages of 8" x 1 1/2" construction screws
- 2 packages of 8" x 2 1/2" construction screws
- 2 1/2" zinc barrel bolt (for the door)
- 2 pack of 3" hinges (for the door)
- Roll of twine (for tying on the bamboo roof)
- 4 L-brackets (and tapcon screws if attaching to a brick house)
- 2 - rolls of bamboo mats (for roof)
- 24 - 1/2" wide x 5" nuts, bolts and washers
- 525' roll of sisal twine (to secure bamboo roof)
- 1 - plastic door handle
- 2 ladders
- Utility knife
- 9/16" spade bit
- Mitre or circular saw (to cut lumber)
The first picture gives you some of the UPC codes of the products we used so you can find comparisons (we got our materials at Home Depot).
I didn't provide instructions on the lighting because doing electrical requires a knowledge of safety practices - even if it's only temporary - but I can advise that if you decide to add lighting to use outdoor-rated fixtures, bulbs, cords and a timer.
Step 3: The Plan
To improve upon his former wooden structure, my B-I-L wanted something easier to put up and take down each year. He decided on lightweight 4' x 8' panels built out of 2x2's and finished with corrugated plastic. Reducing the weight is a good idea since he usually ends up building most of it by himself (funny how the kids suddenly get 'busy' and drift off when the Sukkah is going up)!
With no overhangs off the back of the house, he was able to make the Sukkah 3-sided; it's a convenience to have direct access through the patio door from the kitchen with a 3-sided structure.
The structure is attached right up against the house using L-brackets, saving both time and materials. If you don't already have pre-existing L-brackets, you'll need to drill and install them with tapcon screws if you're attaching the Sukkah to brick.
The white plastic allows natural light to filter in during the day and the colour reflects the light at night too. This feature is beautiful from the inside: the previous Sukkah was clad with chipboard which was dark and somewhat claustrophobic.
The total size of the Sukkah is 12 feet by 12 feet. We built 8 - 4'x8' panels out of 2x2's with a cross beam in the centre (held by screws at the ends). We used Simpson Strong Ties to hold together each of the four corners. We built one more 4'x8' panel for the door (the inside frame held together by screws) for a total of 9 panels. The panels are attached together using 1/2" bolts, which were saved from the previous Sukkah (1/4" bolts would be fine too.)
The roof consists of 6 - 2x4's with 2 - 1x6's laid across them at a 90 degree angle to support bamboo mats.
Step 4: Build the Frames
Before we got to the house, my B-I-L had already finished all the individual panels with the exception of the door, so I didn't get step-by-step pictures. However, it's a very easy process and I've provided a sketch to illustrate how it goes together. Essentially you just cut 2x2s so that they form a frame measuring 4'x8': cut three cross pieces at 45" each (two for the end and one for the middle) and sandwich them together using two pieces of 8' lumber for the sides.
Working on the ground, lay out the 5 pieces of lumber with the cross piece in the centre. The corners of the lumber are attached to each other using the Simpson Strong Ties and seven 1 1/2" screws. The centre support is screwed in from the ends with the 2 1/2" screws.
At this point, you can mark the holes for the bolts (two per each side equally spaced). You can also drill them now or wait until the corrugated plastic is on (we waited). Note that you don't need to drill holes for the side of the panels that will be attached to the house with L-brackets - but you can use the same spacing.
Step 5: Attach Corrugated Plastic
Once you have a frame put together, you can flip it over to the other side and attach a 4'x8' sheet of corrugated plastic. Screw the corrugated plastic onto the frame securing each side with 5 screws as illustrated. Also put one screw in the middle of the centre support.
Step 6: Attach Panels Together
We used 1/2" bolts from the previous Sukkah.
Lay the panels side by side on a flat surface (patio or garage floor). Use a 9/16" spade bit to drill a hole from one panel to the other. Insert a washer, bolt, another washer and then fasten tightly with a nut. Attach three panels together in this manner if you have help to carry it. If not, you can also assemble the pieces together one-by-one: start with securing the first panel to the house with L-brackets (work on the section that's opposite from where you want the door first). Then use clamps to help you hold the panels together as you drill and secure with the bolts.
At the corners, use a clamp to hold the panels at 90 degrees. Drill holes for the bolts and attach. As you can see in the 5th picture, when we turned the corner we initially installed the end panel on the outside of the 3-panel run. We had to take it apart and correct it because it didn't line up with the L-brackets we installed on the house for the old Sukkah. Keep that in mind and be consistent as you build because it makes a difference of several inches and can throw the Sukkah out of square.
On the side where the door will go, there will be one panel attached to the house, then a gap for the door and then a corner panel.
Step 7: Prepare the Door Frame - the Dog Gets in on the Action
A door is essential if you have a dog that you have to let out into the back yard. Start the door panel the same way as the other eight - using the Simpson strong ties. The size of the door panel is the same 4'x8' as previously built.
The dimensions of the door frame are shown in the second picture (it surrounds a door that's approximately 6 feet high by 31.5" wide). As my B-I-L was assembling the 2x2's he stepped on the cutting plan and the dog took a sudden interest in it. As soon as he stepped away, she snatched the plan and ran off. Watch the video to see what happened next!
Step 8: Build the Door
Once the outside of the door frame is done, you can measure and cut the the pieces for the door (cut them 1/4" less in height and width to leave a 1/8" gap so the door opens easily). While I was chasing down the dog, the guys realized that it would be better to beef up the hinge side of the door since it will be holding all the weight so the side piece was re-cut with wider 2x4 lumber. All the pieces were attached with 2 1/2" screws through the ends (use 2 screws on the wider hinge-side piece so it can't pivot and twist).
We used scrap pieces of wood to elevate the door from the frame so we could screw into the ends, as shown in the first two pictures.
Measure equal distance for the hinges and screw them into place (a foot acts as a handy weight to keep it from shifting while you do that). The door should now look like the 6th picture. Test the door to see which way swings out and attach the last piece of corrugated plastic onto the opposite side with screws.
Be sure to keep the job site clean if you have a dog. Poor Brit may have stepped on something because she started limping. We stopped to let the dog in the house so my sister could tend to her paw (she didn't find anything and Brit was fine again the next day).
Step 9: Cut the Plastic and Install Door Panel
Use a utility knife and run the blade between the edges of the 2x2's so the door can swing open. Lift the door into place and clamp it to the adjacent panels.
Test it out and have some fun making puppet shadows! Measure and drill two holes in one side and install the bolts. You'll need a ladder to do the upper one. Move to the other side and repeat.
Step 10: The Roof; False Start
We were ready to install the roof when we realized that the 1x6 boards wouldn't be sturdy enough; they were sagging in the middle. Back to the store we went! We kept 2 of the 1x6's to use as cross beams and took the rest back to exchange for 2x4x12's. By the time we got home, it was getting dark so we left the roof for the next day.
Step 11: Rocking Out the Roof
Watch the video to see the roof of the Sukkah come together!
Grab two ladders and a friend to help; it'll go so much faster! Gather your materials (6 - 2x4x12's and 2 - 1x6x12's).
The next day we squared the structure before installing the 2x4's for the roof. To square, measure corner to corner on each side using a retractable tape measure. If the structure is square, the two measurements will be equal. If they aren't, shift the structure and try again until you get it the same measurement corner-to-corner.
Measure and install the 6 - 2 x 4's to support a pair of bamboo mats. As one person measures, communicate each measurement to your partner so you they can mark their side too (otherwise you'll end up with lopsided measurements as you lay your pieces across the Sukkah). You won't get the 2x4's perfectly equally spaced because of the door so do your best to make them consistent. Drill and bolt one side and then the other, then install another 2x4 until you are done.
As we were finishing the 2x4's, it started to get dark (we did the roof after work on a weekday) so we turned on the porch light.
Before installing the bamboo mats, place two 1x6x12's across the 2x4's. We initially forgot to add them and accidentally dropped the roll of bamboo into the Sukkah! If at first you don't succeed, try, try again!
Step 12: Ready to Welcome Guests (Please Vote)!
The last step was to add a deadbolt and handle onto the door and decorate the inside of the Sukkah with the kids' artwork. Then it's finally ready to celebrate Sukkot with friends and family (even the dog gets special treats)!
The initial build took 2 days, but next year it will go a lot faster since everything is predrilled and ready to go.
At the end of Sukkot, just remove the bolts and break it down into the individual panels again. It's super easy to store until next year: because the panels are so lightweight, they can be stacked in the garage on the rafters or shelf, if you have one.
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