What to do when your walls are out of plumb

Posted on August 16, 2016

So this thing happened this one time where we moved the tiny house and two of our beautiful walls went from plumb to out of plumb.  One shifted by an inch over nine feet, the other by a half inch over the same. To the practiced eye, the house looked bow-legged.

I consulted with one of my friends and coworkers, a resident building expert with more than 60 years in the business.  “Oh no big deal,” he said, “Just drill a hole in the two walls, use a come-along and ratchet it in, put up your collar ties, and release the come-along.  Make sure you tighten them a bit more than they need because they’ll snap back when you let’em go.  The collar ties’ll keep’em in place from here on out.”

Ha ha, I said.

I shouldn’t have doubted.

Seth proceeded with what sounded like a half-cocked plan that actually worked.  He did just as my friend suggested.  He bought a heavy duty come-along, used it to ratchet in the walls, put up the collar ties, let the come-along go, and each wall came in by a half inch.  One wall is now plumb.  One is out by a half inch over 9 feet.  And as my googling suggests, that’s ok. I can’t believe it worked without dropping the house on Seth’s head.  I’m glad I wasn’t there.

As for Seth?

Never again, he mutters, never again.

 

Inwards and Outwards

Posted on August 7, 2016

There has been a division in our life lately.  A natural division for us, I think.  It started in March when we learned that we are expecting our first baby this December, and culminated at the end of last month when some very kind folks moved our tiny house to their property so we can finish building. The division is this: Seth is focusing on the outward, aka the house, the house, the house.  It’s a big task!  Especially if we’re going to finish it in time for this baby we’re brewing.  And I’m focusing on the inwards, which (thankfully) means resting, researching house details, and daydreaming over things to sew.

It’s one of the more ancient divisions: woman inside, man out.  It feels very Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Seth comes home and tells me what work he did that day.  We pore over the research I’ve come up with and we make decisions for future building purchases and methods.  Of course, our days involve power tools, iPhone photos, and Google, and Laura’s involved hand sewing and barn-raising with the neighbors.  So not exactly the same, I guess.

Since our last blog post, we’ve finished wrapping the house with air barrier.  We’ve installed the roof panels.   We used threaded rods to attach the house to the trailer in place of hurricane ties.We sat at the experts’ table at a tiny house festival.  We moved the house from and cleaned up our old build site.  We’re about halfway through prepping all 10 of our windows, and Seth is out there today, putting up the final pieces of roof trim.  This week marks the first of our windows going in.  Not bad for one day a week.  Until now.

We’re building this tiny house and we have a ways to go.  And quite frankly, we need help.  I can’t help on the weekends anymore, so Seth has taken to working on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays during the day in addition to Sundays.  Are you free?  Can you come by and help?  Your tasks will be holding things level and plumb, fetching equipment for someone up a ladder, or if you’re comfortable using power tools, installing things alongside Seth.  We work best with one or two helpers at a time, since each task is fairly small and doesn’t require a crew.  If so, shoot us an email via the Get Involved page of our website, and thank you in advance!

On the home front, we’ve had two ultrasounds and learned the sex of our baby.  We received our first baby gift and purchased our first baby purchase (cloth diapers.  Don’t crush our optimism). We’ve fallen into the cycle of summer farm abundance.  We’ve been exhausted and frustrated and hopeful and exhilarated.  Same as everyone, right?

 

 

 

Attaching the house to the trailer

Posted on June 25, 2016

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There have been times we thought we’d never move into the tiny house.  A lot of times.  I think Tara and Tyler write about it well in their post, Despair, which I read last year when they posted it but didn’t fully understand.  It’s hard to understand what it is about building a house that makes you want to give up completely.  I can now say it’s because so many little things constantly wear away at you and you feel like you’re never making progress.  You just want to be in the house.  You want to feel like it’s looking like a home, when it really looks like a pile of bones and the weather is conspiring against you along with your suppliers and your bank account your stupid jerk brain that can’t compute basic geometry all of a sudden.  And meanwhile, twice a week everyone asks, “How’s the house coming along?”

We were just at the part where we were going to make progress: put in windows, start siding.  Sounds great, soon to look great! When we learned that we had to move the tiny house a few months sooner than planned.  And it felt like back to square one.  In order to make the house safe to move, we had to firmly attach it to the trailer.

This is not a problem that all tiny-housers have.  For example, Tumbleweed welds threaded rods onto their trailers, and as you build the walls you drill holes in the bottom plates and slide the rods through those.  Tighten down with nuts and done.  Other tiny house builders use strong ties like these, which connect to studs and use anchor bolts through the trailer. We had neither option, and so we went with threaded rods drilled through the trailer, up through the bottom plate, and then reaching all the way up to the top plate as well.  We went with this approach because we needed to attach the walls to the pieces of metal channel that run perpendicular to the trailer’s length.  The bottom plates have nothing to sit on otherwise.  Might as well be secure, you know?

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It was a process to figure out.  We had to figure out how many attachments we needed, where they would sit that wouldn’t interfere with windows and yet still give us a rod every 6′ (as per building code), special order the rods, cut them to length, drill through the bottom plate, drill through the trailer, drill through the top plate, thread the rod through all the holes, and tighten down the bolts at both ends. Meanwhile, our suppliers conspired against us by providing the wrong size rods for two locations, along with our bank account which cringed at having to run to the hardware store four times for the correct tools to account for the change in sizes in our long lead time rods, and our stupid jerk brains that suddenly couldn’t do basic geometry.  Yes we did cut that rod too long, and that other one too short.  Building a tiny house is hard!  Who knew, eh?

Eventually the rods were in.  We tightened them down.  We felt secure.  We moved the house.  And one of the walls shifted anyway.  If there was ever a time I felt like giving up on the tiny house, threaded rods would be it.

Tiny house windows

Posted on May 1, 2016

There are 9 windows in our tiny house, and only 2 of them are the same size.  I think I said this sentence a dozen times over the 2 month stretch it took to get window quotes.  It’s an important sentence.  It tells window salespeople that my house is not a normal house. It also reminds me that we are not climbing Mt. Everest.

Windows are kind of a big deal in terms of energy efficiency for the home.  Windows are a weak point in walls.  They have almost no insulation value, and so if you have a lot of windows in your house, chances are good that you’ll have cold spots in your house.  You can more or less mitigate this by purchasing double-paned windows (at least), and buying a good brand that won’t shrink or crack or leak.  Now, I may be spoiled by working in a construction job, but I wanted good windows, and to me that meant Marvin brand.  By reputation, they are among the best off-the-shelf window brands.  They are also ungodly expensive for two tiny housers building on a budget.

No matter, we told ourselves, we’ll get sponsors!  We guessed windows would cost a company maybe $3000 on the high end and that they would jump at the chance to throw some windows our way.  Guess again! We received quotes ranging from $6000 to $14,000 for our 9 windows.  At those prices, I can see why none of the window companies wanted to give us anything for our house, despite our house being only 9 windows large.  A few folks offered generous discounts when I told them they were out of our price range, which is a good strategy if you were planning to spend the money anyway, but we weren’t.  We couldn’t make them fit our budget.  On to plan B then.

Plan B is always Craigslist

Ah, Craigslist: the friend of the budget conscious, eco-friendly builder.  Also friend of poor college students.  But I digress.

Using the materials search function on Craigslist, we found windows upon windows.  Old windows, new windows, vinyl windows, double-paned, triple-paned, mullioned, triangle-shaped, fixed, double hung, single hung, aluminum clad, fiberglass.  If you can imagine it as a window, we found it on Craigslist.

Thankfully, we found windows at a time when our framing was still somewhat flexible.  Because that’s the risk you take with Craigslist, of course. What you find on Craigslist isn’t perfect.  And most Craigslist treasures need a bit of spit and elbow grease before they can work.  Ours were no different.

We got Craigslist windows from 2 different sources in our approximate sizes for most of our locations. Along the way, our 9 windows turned into 10.  Our triple mullioned window became separate asymmetrical windows overlooking our living room (one of my favorite features), and we had to resize our stove-side kitchen window rough opening. Not too bad, all things considered.  But we couldn’t find loft windows anywhere.  Time for plan C, I guess?

What exactly is Plan C?

Construction friends came to our rescue once again.  One of my coworkers suggested contacting an area window distributor to see if they had back stock they’d be willing to sell.  And so on a wintry day, Seth traveled to JB Sash in Massachusetts to poke through their piles of windows for something suitable.  He came away with 4 windows for the loft, slightly smaller than our rough openings which meant a bit of re-framing, but very cheap.  And wouldn’t you know it: most of our windows turned out to be Marvin brand.  This makes for a very happy Christine.

Above all, the tab

In total, we spent $1200 for 10 windows.  Not bad, I’d say.  Not exactly free, but well worth the effort it takes to procure good windows.

Air sealing the house

Posted on April 18, 2016

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When it comes down to it, we’ve probably spent the most tiny house research time on building envelope systems.  The building envelope is what protects the inhabitants of the house from wind and weather, and it’s made up of siding, air barrier, sheathing, and insulation.  And if you ever talk to any architect about this, they’ll tell you that building envelope science is a murky world of half-truths and maybes.  Folks, this ain’t easy.

Using information from articles like the ones here, here, here, here, and here, we determined that we want a vapor-permeable air barrier to wrap around our house.  This will keep drafts and water out, but will allow water vapor to diffuse in and out of the house.  We decided against a vapor barrier on the inside of our walls thanks in part to the sheep’s wool insulation we plan to use.  We came up with these decisions because we’re concerned about water condensation and mold buildup in our tiny house, which are issues for tiny houses in general, but also for Christine in particular.  We’re happy to talk about this in more depth!  But frankly, building envelope science doesn’t interest most people, so if you want to know more please ask in the comments.

We decided to use the product Henry Blueskin VP100, which is a residential grade vapor-permeable air barrier that is locally available.  It’s self-adhesive, like a giant sheet of sticker, and it seals itself at the seams.

For our first step, we routed out each window opening, and then spent the better portion of two weekends sticking the Blueskin to the outside wall sheathing.

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The difference it made to the inside of the house was noticeable immediately. Stepping into the house at mid-morning this past weekend, we realized the house felt stuffy.  And this with a gaping hole where the door goes!  No more airflow through the cracks between our sheathing.  I’d call that a success.

One area of the house where we paid particular attention was at the wheel wells.  We left a 1/4″ to 1/2″ gap between the plywood and wheel wells of our house.  This is so water can’t condense on the metal wheel wells and then be absorbed into the plywood, making for a weak point in the walls where mold can occur.  However, we also wanted to make sure water couldn’t migrate into the house through this gap and soak our insulation.

This is another problem particular to tiny houses.  Tumbleweed doesn’t address this with their trailers (although they might in their house plans, I’ve never checked), but there is a trailer company that has an optional welded flange all around their wheel well.  You’re supposed to build your walls so that the plywood sits just on the outside of the flange, which prevents water from creeping in to your house. It’s a pretty cool solution, but it’s one that we didn’t have, and I’d still be concerned about water condensation where the metal touches the plywood.

We opted to use EPDM rubber roofing flashing tape at our wheel wells.  It feels like a long rubber sticker, and we stuck it to the wheel well and then up onto the walls.  Our housewrap came down over the EPDM.  We’re not sure how it will hold up long term, but it seemed like a good option, and it provides a thermal break between the metal wheel well and the wood walls.  We’ll see how it goes.

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You can see that it pulled away a little bit from the corners after a week or so on the trailer, so we did have to cut and patch it once already.  But overall, we’re pleased with how it came out.  We’ve got high hopes!

Next up is roofing, and after that will be windows, the door, and siding. And then we can start work on the inside.  Is that supposed to be the easy part?

All links in this post are non-affiliate.

Putting a halt on progress

Posted on March 9, 2016

Since the local newspaper published an article about our tiny house last month, we’ve had a lot of traffic headed our way.  Mostly, this has been great! We love chatting about the tiny house with new people and having people recognize Seth in random places.  But the added attention did come with a snag.  The local building department investigated our house and issued us a stop work order in the week after the article, which meant we couldn’t do any work.  Unfortunately, this happened during one of the warmest Februarys I can remember, putting a halt on all things tiny.

The building department gave us the stop work order because, like in most municipalities, the tiny house falls into a gray area in zoning by-laws.  We don’t need a permit to build in our location since we won’t be living there once the house is complete, and this is something we knew since last year when we had talked with the building department before beginning construction.  However the building department still wanted to make sure we’re not infringing on anything zoning wise.

Fortunately there was a simple solution for us.  Once we got the trailer registered and put on the plates, we were out of the building department’s jurisdiction and able to move forward with our work, provided we relocate at the end of our build.   At that time we’ll join the throngs of other tiny-housers trying to find ways to live legally in our chosen towns and cities.  It’s not as easy as parking in someone’s driveway or paying rent for a backyard.  In many towns, there are zoning by-laws preventing houses of a certain size (typically smaller than 1000 sq. ft.), or preventing more than one house on a plot of land.  If we are classified as a custom RV, that won’t necessarily help us either as most towns have a limit of a 30-day stay on someone’s private property.

These by-laws are generally in place to prevent the “lowering of value” of neighborhoods.  The idea is that no one wants a typical fiberglass RV living on their street permanently, and a small house can skew average square footage values of houses in the neighborhood (which is why you don’t see McMansions being built in neighborhoods full of 1950s ranches and cape cods).  Then, too, the minimum square footage of homes means a larger fee for the local building department when it comes time to file for permits.  After all, building departments charge by the square foot for building permits.  These regulations can make for a bureaucracy that is resistant to change.

Some municipalities are taking steps to welcome tiny houses.  Spur, TX, became the first city in the United States to openly welcome tiny houses, and other cities are looking at labeling tiny houses as “accessory dwelling units,” similar to in-law apartments.  And as for us?  I’m not sure what the future holds.  When the time comes, we’ll ask our network for help, trusting that the universe will provide.  And maybe make sure that our location stays out of newspaper articles.

Roof! And a newspaper feature

Posted on February 9, 2016

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Welcome, readers of the MetroWest Daily News! We’re delighted you’ve stopped by to check out our little project. Please read on for one of our progress updates.  If you’re not from the MetroWest Daily News, click here to read the article and watch the video featuring our tiny house!

Thanks to Seth’s hard work over the last week or so, the roof deck of the tiny house is in place just in time for this week’s rotten weather. We’re still keeping the tarp over the everything to protect the plywood from moisture as much as possible, but we’re in decent shape for snow.  Unfortunately, we managed to not take any pictures of the house with the entire roof on, so you’ll have to believe us when we say it looks pretty darn good.

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Seth did most of the roof sheathing by himself. Somehow he was able to lift sheets of 3/4″ plywood up a ladder (75 lbs. a sheet!), hold them in place, and nail them down without another person’s help. In related news, Seth is Superman.  Christine, on the other hand, helped out with the dormer roof and considered the day a success after standing on the loft without panicking at the height.  Go team.

We’ve been spending these last few snowy days by working on the reclaimed windows: scraping up the old paint and making note of which windows need new hardware.  When the weather swings back to above-freezing temps, we’ll begin installing the metal roofing, then the house wrap, and then the windows.  We are also getting our shipment of cedar clapboard siding in the next week or two, which will need to be stained to maintain its coloring and to protect it from warping and splitting.  Plenty to do during these snowy days!

The aftermath

Posted on January 18, 2016

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Lily had surgery one week ago to remove three tumors, and she came home groggy and looking like Frankenstein’s monster.  Poor kiddo.  The doctor said she did well.  The x-rays revealed no metastasis of the cancer to her lungs.  And in true Lily style, she bewitched everyone at the vet’s office to fall in love.  Or maybe the doctors say that about every dog.  Either way, we certainly think she’s the most lovable dog on the planet.

Then came the waiting game.  The doctor said to keep her coned for the next 12-14 days, and he would call with the biopsy results in 3-10 days.  Give her antibiotics and pain meds, keep her from scratching or licking, and for goodness sake keep that cone on!

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We finally got the biopsy results today.  Lily’s belly tumors are just fat, and her face tumor is probably stage 1 cancer.  Apparently if your dog has cancer, you’re looking for definitely stage 1 cancer to avoid chemo and radiation. Even with the biopsy and histopathology, Lily’s results are not crystal clear.  The doctor, however, thinks that she’s going to be fine.  The doctor took a large swath of skin and flesh from around the tumor, as evidenced by the enormous line of stitches, so there’s a high likelihood that he got the whole thing.

If we want, we can go to a cancer specialist who will probably recommend chemo to be on the safe side.  Or we can wait and watch to see if the tumor comes back in the same approximate location.

We’re not sure next yet of what’s next for Lily.  But what I do know is that she is awfully tired of the cone.  She wears the inner tube during the day, and a cloth cone with boning in it at night.  If we take the tube off her for a break and she scratches her face, the tube goes right back on, much to her chagrin!  I wish we could tell her it’s not forever, but you know dogs: in one ear and out the other.

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Unexpected from Lily

Posted on January 2, 2016

In one of life’s twists, we found out this week that Lily needs surgery to remove a cancerous lump from her face.  We’d noticed it growing over her eyebrow this summer and lamented that our little 6-year-old puppy was old enough to grow fatty lumps.  All dogs get fatty lumps, don’t they? And she’d already grown one on her chest that the vet said was probably nothing.

Then we noticed another lump growing in her teats, and we figured it was time to bring her in.  She was due for a checkup anyway.  But when the vet looked at samples of all three lumps under the microscope, she said that the one on her face was mast cell cancer.  She also said that mast cell cancer has a tendency to spread to the lungs in dogs, so we should get her in for surgery as soon as possible.

Lily goes in a week from Monday to remove the cancer, which they’ll take down to the bone, and the other two lumps to play it safe.  She’ll need x-rays of her chest to determine if the cancer has spread, and they’ll send away samples of all the lumps to get more information.  All in all, this will cost a little more than $2000, which is about one-tenth of the tiny house budget.  Oh you money dog.

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There was never a question over whether or not we’d get the surgery.  Lily is a part of our family, and a big part of our farm life.  She’s the reason why I began thinking about a farm in the first place, when I was at my sickest with migraines and sick building syndrome, and it was all I could do to walk a mile with her across the fields of Wagon Hill park.  I felt my best outside.  She did too.  And five years later, she became Seth’s farm buddy, trotting by his side in the fields, guarding against voles and bunnies, greeting guests as they drove in.

So here we are, facing surgery in the season of rest. We’ll figure out the money part, just like we’re figuring out the tiny house part and the farming part.  In the meantime we’ll love up Lily like there’s no tomorrow.  Like always, in fact.  But if you could throw a little love our way, we’d like that too.  Keep your fingers crossed that the surgery goes well, that the x-rays show a set of healthy lungs, and that the histopathologies come back with good news.  Thanks, friends.

The return of the light

Posted on December 22, 2015

Happy winter solstice! I can think of no better way to celebrate the light’s return than at a farm.  We spent our solstice morning helping out with a  friend’s grain threshing day.  This 5-acre farm grew rice, wheat, and dried beans this season, and hosted a party for those of us who wanted to try our hands at hulling, grinding, and processing the grains to make them ready for human consumption. There were old exercise bikes mounted to older milling implements, an 1851 wheat chaff separator, a fire barrel, and some tinkering and ingenuity as we kept breaking down and starting up again.

We drove to the tiny house after lunch to close it up for this week’s rain. Just before the light left for the day, we burnt some herbs and our intentions for the year 2016, and then rounded out the evening at home in our pjs eating an all local dinner.

Sometimes, friends, we just get it right.  And we’re wishing you a good winter season full of things you get right too.  Happy solstice.