Monthly Archives: May 2013
We were so excited for week three because
We were so excited for week three because it was time to start putting up some walls! After the deck was screwed down, squared up, and some lines were snapped for our walls we set out our new jacks. It is very important to start framing from a square and level surface. We set our jacks in each of the four corners and lifted each one just a little bit, then we got out a 6′ level and raised or lowered each corner to the appropriate height.
There were many factors that went into determining which wall we would start with. Unsurprisingly, one of the primary factors was which wall would be simplest to compose and frame. The rear wall, nearest the tongue of the trailer, was ideal because there wasn’t much going in the wall that we needed to plan out right away, but it gave us a great visual reference for flushing out many of the details that still needed to be worked out. There is a 5′ wide window in the middle of the loft, so we put a header in at the top of the wall. We left the rest open because we will be framing out a bay window over the tongue later on.
The second wall was a little more complex. It has three windows, all of which had their own little puzzles to solve. One window is in the shower. We wanted it to be as high as possible but it also has to be underneath the loft. We had to first figure out how high it was to the bottom of the loft, then put in the header so the loft joists could sit on top of it. The second window is nestled in the stairwell, so to figure out where it belonged we had to calculate out a rough idea of where each step would be falling. The third window is in the kitchen. It sits between the sink and an overhead cupboard. We wanted to make sure the cupboard was low enough to be useful and the window had to clear our wall-mounted faucet.
We actually framed the wall as two 10 foot walls to keep things easy on our backs. Once the walls were up and braced we had to frame in the wheel-well. This was a little tricky as we had to make our framing water-tight around the fenders.
We used some exterior door rubber weather strips. The strips have a little adhesive on the back that we snugged up against the metal fenders, then we pressed the header down into the gasket to seal it. Once it was all framed in we used a ratchet strap to cinch the two walls together before joining them with the top plate to give ourselves one beautiful wall!
Weekend 2: Subfloor finished!
This weekend was much better for working outside in, as it was a little breezy, and sunny but not beating down. Metal flashing with sun on it is fairly blinding.
Bought the 3/8″ plywood and laid it down, feeling much better about that than only flashing. Finished boxing in the 5 compartments of the trailer, making sure that we “boxed in” the spots for all of our plumbing drains (in our case, the tub and the two sinks, as we will be treating greywater on site for irrigation). No toilet drain needed, as we are going the humanure route (I’ll post pictures of our potty at a later date). We also ran 5/8″ all-thread through the outside stringer in the main compartment, and through both boards in the fender compartments, bolting everything together securely. Another nice feature of the Iron Eagle trailer is that they ask you where you want your bolt holes, and weld washers in place on either side of the box beam so that it is powder coated with the rest of the trailer. That way there is no damage to the finish, and nothing can rust!
A side note: if the ceiling under your loft is only 6’2″-6’4″ as most are, did you think about how your tub drain sticks out? Don’t want to hit your head on the ceiling because you forgot to account for that stupid drain outlet when plumbing in. Of course our tub drain landed exactly on a floor joist, so we had to cut it and box the area in, but better realizing it now than later…
Once the drains were boxed in, the floor screwed together and bolted to the frame, it was time to “sheep and sheet” as we said! The wool smelled like clean sheep, and no gloves, respirator or goggles are required; even the kiddies helped “fluff fluff” the insulation:
As we insulated each compartment we sheeted over everything with 3/4″ thick subfloor plywood, which is expensive but really the best; PAD and Tumbleweed agree on this. I thought maybe 1/2″ thick flooring would be fine, to save on height, but everyone says you’ll feel the floor sag if you do anything less. So shell out for the 3/4″ sheathing!
We were frustrated at first that it took us two whole weekends to do the subflooring, but many tiny housers say it took them more time too, so we are trying not to panic. Since we are doing a curved roof that will probably also slow us down a little as well. But she sure does look good, all fleshed out with no more ribs showing!
Weekend 1: Subfloor Underlayment and Sealing
So we hauled the trailer over the mountains with much trepidation, and arrived without a problem. The trailer actually tows very well. Everyone who sees her says she’s beautiful! Here was the view welcoming us:
First step, laying the subfloor. Since we have fancy extendo-crossmembers we actually have to frame in 5 boxes, two on either side of the fenders plus the main area. Which brings us to the first conundrum: what type of underlayment do we want? It needs to be strong enough to handle the errant stick, keep out moisture, rodents, and other would-be residents, and protect the floor insulation.
Tumbleweed recommends aluminum flashing nailed to pressure treated lumber stringers laid on their flat side, framing, followed by extruded polystyrene foam with expanding foam insulation to fill in the cracks. Nasty chemicals, the whole lot, and would definitely off-gas! And we discovered that to use aluminum flashing would cost $200. Ouch.
PAD recommends marine grade coated waterproof 1/4″ plywood, followed by wool insulation (treated with only borax). We really like the wool idea (especially since it is grown in Oregon, and sold in Ranier!), but coated marine grade plywood is, again, nasty stuff. In general, adhesives and sealants are the hidden bugaboos for MCS-ers trying to build a house, and marine-grade plywood fails on both counts, although it is thin, lightweight, and waterproof. Traditional construction adhesives all typically use solvents that off-gas, at minimum, a lot of formaldehyde. Now, the pig-headed construction orthodoxy will argue that natural wood off-gasses formaldehyde too, and technically they are correct, so if you see a wood product that says “No VOCs”, they are lying. However, the RATE and AMOUNT is so tiny as to be almost unmeasurable, so as close to natural wood as possible is the way to go.
So about plywood. Interior grade plywood often uses urea-formaldehyde adhesive, which is the worst of the adhesives; ironically the very stuff you would have closest to you, breathing in the goodness. No surprise, as once again, most construction adhesives are derived from fossil fuels. Exterior grade plywood typically uses phenol-formaldehyde, which still off-gasses, but at a much lower rate. You can find interior plywood at greater cost that is urea-formaldehyde-free (meaning they use phenol-formaldehyde), but you cannot find a lo-VOC exterior grade plywood. At least we couldn’t. OSB (oriented strand board) is, along with particleboard, the nastiest of all the plywoods, heaviest, and turns to oatmeal when wet, so no OSB anywhere in our house. It’s only benefit in construction is that it is a little cheaper.
So we went for the least of evils:
Galvanized steel flashing, which cost half as much as the aluminum, a 3/8″ thick sheet of CDX (a type of exterior grade) plywood on top of that, followed by our stringers of 2×6″ pine. To seal the cracks in the flashing, we used a type of adhesive flashing tape… joy! Back to the computer, looked it up, and there are two large groups of flashing tapes, those made with asphalt and those made with butyl rubber. Apparently the latter is not good, but not terrible as it does not off-gas any VOCs unlike asphalt tape. Here’s the article for your interest: http://www.bestmaterials.com/PDF_Files/flashing-tapes-manual.pdf
And for your information, metal flashing is a pain in the butt to get tight enough if you are just screwing it straight into your cross-members, which is probably why Jay used the stringers as he did. We found out the hard way that it leaves lots of gaps around the edges, and a lot of gaps in the middle if it is not perfectly tight, which is fine if you’re using polystyrene board, which no creature is terribly interested in. So we added the 3/8″ plywood the weekend after, as we thought it would be better able to protect the wool insulation, and likely why PAD used a solid wood underlayment. Next week: finish the subfloor!
Choosing Your Trailer
There are as many trailer types as there are types of people. The questions we wrestled with:
Do you want a house on wheels, or just the freedom from debt, and the ability to live and build tiny as you like?
In other words, are you better off building a <120 square foot house to lower costs and avoid building permits? The International Building Code (which is really a misnomer – it’s used pretty much only in the US and Canada) specifies that permanent structures under 120 square feet and 11′ average roof height do not require a building permit, thereby fulfilling most of the goals of tiny housers except mobility. If a tiny permanent house is really what you want, but you didn’t know you could do that, I recommend you read The Hand-Sculpted House by Ianto Evans about cob house construction. Don’t know what cob is? Then you definitely need to look into it. Oregon cob is awesome, and a true green building material!
Length – most tiny houses that are lived in full time are between 16 and 20 ft long (trailers are measured by deck size, not total length, so a 20′ trailer may actually be 24′ feet long). Maximum road size for a trailer with a fixed load, such as a tiny house, is 13’6″ high from road to rooftop, and 8’6″ from side to side without needing special licensing or permits. I believe this is all states, but check into it.
Axles – how many, what type, and how much weight will they carry? Single axle trailers are for the super-light-living tiny housers, or for vacation teardrops or tinies such as this one. The axles are generally rated for somewhere between 3,500 or 5,000 lbs GVW, or gross vehicular weight. This means that the weight of the trailer must also be counted when you are figuring the weight of your house carried by the axles. The weight rating depends on a few things, such as the thickness and shape of the axle, and can often be told by the lug pattern on the wheels – 5 lugs usually means 3,500 lbs and 6 lugs 5,000, but the safest way to find out is to look on the axle itself for a label or a stamp with the mfr info. You also want to know what kind of suspension the axles have – traditional steel leaf springs, or Torq-type axles, which contain rubber and will age and crack as all rubber does, but bounce better while they last. I don’t know of any commercial trailers I looked at that had Torq axles, so probably not something to worry about. There are also drop axles, which generally allow the deck to be lowered by 4″, but interfere with maximizing the space between wheel wells, and give you less clearance under your house but more height to work with.
Style – There are flatbed utility trailers that have the deck mounted between the wheel wells, or over them, some with dove tails on the back. There are also used RV trailers that have had the upper parts removed that you can sometimes find or salvage, or custom trailers made just for tiny houses!
Flatbed utility – If you get the utility type mounted between wheel wells, you either have to contend with framing in the wells that stick out from your walls internally, or having a house that is very narrow built between the wells, but you get more head room for a loft if you want it (remember, 13’6″ for road height).
Over-the-wheels decked trailers – The over-the-wheels flatbeds are easier to frame in and nice and wide, but you lose a ton of head room so you might have to compensate by having a longer trailer. More air movement under the house could also cause excessive cooling if you live in a cool climate, but might be good for a hot one.
Dovetailed trailers are a pain, but you can use them if you’ve got the patience and time to frame them.
Used RV frames might work, but they are often heavily rusted and you would have to check out the condition of the axles/wheels and the weight rating. They don’t always have heavy duty axles suitable for a heavy tiny house. Interested in salvaging an old RV for a trailer? See Zyl’s post on the tinyhouseblog: http://tinyhouseblog.com/tiny-house-concept/recycling-old-rv-trailers/. He gave a really realistic table of the costs and benefits.
Custom tiny house trailer – Awesome. We originally bought a regular 10k 18′ utility trailer, but after reading Go House Go and visiting all the people we could living in tiny houses, we decided the drop deck style with extended cross members was the best idea. That way, you get the benefits of the over-the-wheels deck stability with the preserved head room of the typical flatbed.
– Electric lights, electric brakes, and an emergency breakaway kit. Just because it has electric lights does not mean it has electric brakes. The emergency breakaway kit is a tiny battery with a mechanism that is wired into your existing axle brakes. The mechanism has a cable which you attach to your vehicle just like the chains. If your dear little house should ever come unhitched while being towed, come unplugged, and the chains break, it will trip the little mechanism when the cable is pulled, and engage your trailer’s brakes for you, so you don’t have a runaway tiny house going too far. Really important, don’t you think? You can buy the kits online, or if you are lucky enough to have a trailer company that specializes in tiny house or heavy trailers, they might come stock or install it for you.
–Look for quality. Do the welds look like crap? Don’t buy it. How about the electrical system? Does the electrical harness look sketchy? Does it work? Is the trailer frame made out of I beam, C channel, or box beams? (in order of quality and strength). How far apart are the cross-members? Fewer is better for keeping the trailer light, but closer together is better if you want to carry more weight. Usually you want them no farther than 24″ apart, but 16″ o.c. is overkill. Is the electrical system safely tucked into the trailer frame, or is it flopping around to get torn loose and run over? Do the tires look worn or old? Is it rusted? If it is, is it surface rust you can remove and paint over, or do you have structural damage? Does it have a warranty so if you have problems you can get help? Does it have a grease system that is easy to use so you’ll maintain your axle bearings properly? Also, is it registered? Is the title clear of problems (e.g. is the current seller’s name the last one listed on the title? If not, be afraid!)
What You Don’t Need:
– Railings of any kind above the decking, “sticker pockets”, ramps, or full decking (you may save some of the boards to use in your subfloor and bottom plates if you don’t mind the horrific chemicals in pressure treated wood, or if you were lucky enough to get a cedar deck)
For reference, our trailer is a dual axle HD 10k, which means each axle can carry 5,000 lbs, for a total of 10,000 lbs weight. In Oregon, anything over 8,000 lbs is considered a “heavy trailer” and must be registered as such. The trailer guy we bought ours from said over 10,000 lbs you need a special permit – I don’t know if that is for all states or just Oregon, so check with your Dept of Motor Vehicles. Our trailer itself weighs around 1,430 lbs, which leaves us with around 8,570 lbs of house/stuff weight to work with. It came with an emergency breakaway kit, squared off wheel wells for easier framing, maximized space between the wells and a maxed-out road width of 8’6″. The best part for us is that the cross-members, or the welded joists between the framing, are actually welded below the frame, so that we can have a nice insulated floor that is 6″ thick without losing all the head room, and the cross members extend out flush with the wheel wells, so our walls are weight bearing on steel, not the suspended subfloor built on top of the trailer frame like in the Tumbleweed designs.
A word about cost:
DO NOT SCRIMP ON YOUR TRAILER. Really. We are not made of money either, so believe us. We bought as much as we could secondhand, but the trailer is where you should splurge, and it should be the biggest expenditure you make on your tiny house. If you buy a crummy trailer, you will worry about your house forevermore, especially when moving it, even more so if you don’t/can’t get insurance on it. Save up and buy the best trailer you can. You can always upgrade your appliances or your furniture or even your windows but you can do little to improve your trailer once it is built. We were stupid, and learned the hard way. Learn from us. We really liked Iron Eagle Trailers, if you want a place to start, as they do really high quality work and they went the extra mile for us. The cost was worth every dime.
Hope this helps you as you ponder buying new or purchasing that Craigslist gem!
So You’ve Decided to Build a Tiny House
Here’s the books we used and read (and drooled over) that informed our choices, along with our favorite blogs:
– The Small House Book by Jay Shafer, the founder of Tumbleweed Tiny Houses, now the innovator behind Four Lights Houses (all good websites to visit, too). This book has tons of inspirational pictures, information about legal issues, and is something of a manifesto for the tiny house movement; however, the number of pages devoted to the actual how of tiny house building are very few, with little detail for those that need hand-holding on construction issues. No information in there about wiring, plumbing, or gas, as “Experts” are recommended for those things, which I find really annoying and contrary to the spirit of the movement, but ah well. A great book to start with.
–Go House Go, an e-book by Portland Alternative Dwellings, for $20. Well worth it. Dee Williams wrote it, and based on all of my obsessive review of the different methods of construction, has one of the best, described in detail within. It’s what we’re working off of for our house. Not as pretty to look at, but something you’ll have with you on the construction site. Also bails on description of utilities installation.
– Tiny Homes, Simple Shelter by Lloyd Kahn. If you haven’t read his original book Shelter, you really need to. He is a legend from way back. This book, like all his others, is about documenting the grassroots movement with personal stories and LOTS of pictures submitted by those living the dream and their friends who volunteered them. I just love to look through the pictures when I am feeling alone and defeated in my efforts.
–Rolling Homes: Handmade Houses on Wheels by Jane Lidz. Published in 1979, it is a great picture-book featuring awesome hippie houses made out of schoolies (school buses), logging trucks and what have you from the 70’s. Great inspiration.
–Tiny Systems for Tiny Houses – by Abel/Zyl Zimmerman, perpetually in a state of almost being published, when it does come out I’m sure it will be good, since it is the ONLY book thus far that claims to tackle tiny house utilities. Zyl is something of a Renaissance man, and makes beautiful wooden vardos and lives in one, so you should check out his gallery. He also does consultations.
www.tinyhouseblog.com – probably the best and least commercialized tiny house website, with pictures just for fun, blurbs on new tiny house businesses, and lots of articles submitted from readers all over the world. Kent Griswold does a great job with this blog.
www.tinyhouseswoon.com – ’nuff said. Some of the best pictures out there of tiny houses.
www.pinterest.com – search “tiny houses” and you’ll find all those plotting their escape in pictures.
There are many blogs by individual tiny housers, so see the side bar for some good ones.
We created this WordPress page as a journal of our project, the creation of a daedala, a well-made thing, in the form of a tiny house. A tiny home that is beautiful and vital, a house made by clever craftsmen and women, with our experience shared so that others may learn and be inspired. There are so many good reasons we want to do this, but chief among them was our realization that the math of American cost-of-living vs. quality of life does not add up favorably for our generation, is worsening with each year, and is unlikely to change without a radical change of Zeitgeist. As we see it, the driving force behind the first-world economy are the people fighting the tide of debt which we are all entrapped in, the ends justifying the means, although the end is never known or chosen. Our sense of community, of responsibility, and the honest wealth of family & friends, of simplicity, of time and self-sufficiency, is lost and forgotten. We choose to fight, to live and revive those things, to make a path so that others will follow and way will be made easier.
We choose to exit the vicious cycle of blind consumption and live; we want to die leaving behind children that we raised ourselves, a life lived meaningfully with uncluttered minds and souls, and no debt, in any form, to pass on. We feel lighter already.