Monthly Archives: June 2013
I was on the website for a Swedish cabin and “barn-house” company named Arvesund, and noted that one of their traditional hunter’s cabins had a spiffy setup: a cast iron stove/kitchen with cook burners, and a stainless steel water tank with spigot that wrapped around the stovepipe, looking almost integral with it. And I thought to myself, I want one. Bad.
We do not like propane dependency in the slightest, and the idea of wood-heated hot water is very appealing to us. We have a propane stove and water heater out of necessity at this time, but we would love to move away from those when we can. We chose to have a wood stove (a Jotul 602) as well as the option of electric heat for many reasons, but control over where our energy comes from is one of them. The establishment tells us wood-heated houses “Are bad for the environment,” “Wood is a scarce resource and burning it pollutes the air,” and “Wood heating is inefficient,” and about wood-heated water systems that, “They aren’t safe.” We thought, what have people done for thousands of years to heat their water? And what happens in a forest fire? And have you checked where we live? We supply lumber to the world – what would be better than using wood that grows here, and returning the ashes to where it was grown? Isn’t that completing the life cycle better than anything you would do?
In answer to the statement “wood heating is inefficient” I would agree that the way we commonly burn wood in the U.S. is. Most Americans are unaware that the way we burn wood now is not the best or even the traditional way, merely the easiest-to-sell way. And if they are aware of the former, they assume there must be a very expensive, over-engineered catalytic woodstove that is the answer. There is no awareness of how woodstoves work, or don’t, as it were. However, the masonry-heater, kachelofen, kakelugn, hypocaust, or rocket-stove (versions of the same thing) that has been used since Roman times is so efficient that the air that exits your house is barely warm, and invisible because all of the gases were completely combusted. Those hand-built stoves are the old way – burn the wood so hot that even the volatile gases (smoke) burn, and store that heat in a thermal mass – tile, stone, cob, water, etc.so the heat is not lost, but slowly radiated back, in the form of conductive heat, the best kind for heating people. Of course, as with life, the answer is not so simple as burn wood, without thinking, as much as you like. Wood-burning fits in well with passive solar and heavy insulation as part of the solution. I see the drawbacks to wood for heating your house or your water as: you have to use your head when heating that way – it is not idiot-proof. You can burn yourself, asphyxiate, destroy your water-heater, set things on fire, or melt them if you don’t know what you are doing. You have to live in an area with many trees to make it ecologically sound. Ideally, you burn your wood as close to 100% efficiency as possible, and with all things tiny-living, the stove should perform more than one function to justify its space. But I can only assume that the reason we are told, in the Pacific Northwest of all places, that wood heat is bad, is out of ignorance, belief that we are stupid, or because they would rather sell us something than have us be self-sufficient. I suspect it is a mixture of all three.
Well, a masonry heater is awesome and I would totally have one in a tiny cabin if that’s what we were building, but thermal mass is heavy. Water is too, but you can drain it out of your house when you move it. Most wood-fired water heaters rely on an existing water tank system to work, which we don’t have (not even a 6 gallon RV one – we went tankless). I looked and looked at Arvesund’s catalogue, and could find no mention of these beautiful tanks or wood stoves. So I emailed them, the annoying American. They were very helpful: Harvia makes the tanks, a Finnish company that manufactures saunas and associated gear. The tanks run around $400, so we will probably wait to buy one until fall. But we have a local Harvia dealer, so we could acquire one easily.
So our current solution to the heating/water heating problem is: use our Jotul 602 but line it with firebricks to insulate the firebox and thereby increase the temperature of combustion to make it more efficient, and capture that extra heat escaping up the stovepipe in the form of mobile thermal mass – a water tank, wrapped around the stovepipe, that we will use for bathing and dishes. And when we don’t feel like dealing with a fire, we use electric heat. Here she is, fresh from the Harvia website:
This beauty holds 22 liters, measures 14″ w x 16″ h x 7.5″ d and her pipe inlet measures approximately 4.5″. Made entirely of stainless steel. Joy! Anyone have one that can comment on performance?
The weekend of the Super Moon – and much rain. We had grand plans to start the loft this weekend, but alas, we mostly just worked on the roof, in the rain and in between the rain.
Roofing generally goes in this order: apply braces and measure to make sure your walls are square and sturdy. Make your rafters if you are building a house with a curved roof like ours. Toe-screw your rafters in place, make and apply bird-block (so-called because the blocks have holes with metal mesh over them, to ventilate the roof without allowing birds to nest in it) and apply hurricane clips. Drill small holes in the peak of the rafters to allow cross-ventilation of roof spaces. Apply fascia (we used cedar) as a drip edge, apply 3/8″ exterior-grade plywood to the roof in the rain with staples, follow up with screws. Try not to slip off the wet, slick roof and die.
For those not on the roof in the rain, stand in the house with 5 gallon buckets and towels trying to keep up with the flood before it soaks into the floor. Re-cover the roof with non-perforated plastic, tack down. When all done, stand in your house and sip hot tea, wet and tired but so stoked with the feel of the space. Or at least that is what we did. In pictures:
Started researching propane systems, and since the dad had concerns with the weight of galvanized electrical boxes, I looked up alternatives to steel. And guess what? All of the alternatives are made out of… PVC. The current standard in natural gas lines is CSST, or corrugated stainless steel tubing, which is made with flexible steel, covered in PVC. Extra flexible PVC, which we know has even more scary plasticizers in it than plain PVC vinyl. And the “thermoplastic” blue boxes are made from PVC as well. It’s starting to make me mad. Just say No! to #!&@ PVC in your house! So… we will deal with the heavy metal electrical boxes, and only run short lines of black steel pipe for the stove and hot water heater. We were going to run a line to the back of our fridge area just in case we could find a propane RV fridge, but you know, the more I think about propane and the fossil fuels it represents, and also the chemicals it releases when burned, I would rather not have a fridge than propane dependency. Or hold out until we can afford a 12v solar fridge. Eventually we may replace our adorable propane stove with an alcohol one as they look promising, and find a water tank that fits around the pipe of our wood stove like the Swedes do in their hunter’s cabins. Dunno. The non-toxic choice is always so HEAVY, and it has me panicked about weight. Suggestions?
This weekend doesn’t look like much progress in pictures, but it was a lot of preparation and the hard stuff; we worked on the bathroom bay window/utility closet, and started on the Dutch door retrofitting. Eventually we will cut a round top in the door, and lap end pieces to the cut edges of the Dutch door to make it strong and air/water tight. Sounds really simple but we had a huge debate about how best to do that. All agreed that it will be gorgeous when it is done; in fact it is such a pretty door it was fairly intimidating to make that first cut. The door is solid teak, after all – you’d have to try really hard not to have it look beautiful. Another awesome Craigslist find.
Some of us worked on plumbing/electrical logistics to stay out of the way. To our horror, our RV water inlet had this little sticker on the back (and we even went out of our way to hunt down a mostly metal water inlet instead of a plastic one! It’s a conspiracy…)
We also put together the rafters and raised them, temporarily screwing them down, mostly so we could feel good about our progress on something; next week we will put in blocking and attach hurricane clips (H 2.5’s) to make it really sturdy, and finally sheet the roof and put up fascia board. We decided to make our walls narrower so we could actually have eaves and rain gutters since it rains a heck of a lot more where we are than in Jay Shafer’s part of the world.
It was really good timing on hindsight, as we saw dark clouds coming and decided to tack down the black plastic over the roof in case it rained a little. It usually doesn’t rain a lot, but we didn’t have a good way of covering the floor any more since we had put up criss-crossed supports for squaring and stabilizing the walls in preparation for the roof. We had just gone inside when it POURED for about 20 minutes! We checked afterwards and there was some pooling of water but only where the North-facing windows were, so we tacked up coverings for the windows, too. The doorways will have to stay open until next week. Hopefully it doesn’t rain that hard again for at least a week!
In other news, we picked up some sheets of Magnum Board from a very nice fellow named Jim of EcoAbode, LLC in Tacoma who specializes in green building materials. Evidently he is familiar with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, and he was very sympathetic to our cause. He’s the closest supplier of magnesium oxide board to Oregon (the next closest is in Northern California), so I will put his info on the Materials List page for those interested.
Also, I talked to a lady in Portland at a place called Brush & Trowel who is a great resource for questions on non-toxic plaster finishes. We are thinking of doing tadelakt for our shower stall instead of the usual galvanized steel or aluminum sheet, and she recommended a system called EcoStucco, which carries a very fine plaster suitable for for it, and the elusive “Savon Noire” recommended for burnishing and waterproofing. Normally I shy away from patented “systems” but in this case, I don’t want to deal with a DIY lime plaster debacle, especially for such small square footage and a short time frame. She said she had tadelakt installed for her shower and loves it, and didn’t see why we couldn’t use it, so long as we keep the whole thing really rigid to prevent cracking. The demo tile she showed us used a stiff cement board backing, followed by what appears to be an entirely superfluous layer of nasty paint, and topped with at most 1/16″ of plaster. Since the Magnum Board is really stiff, I think it would work great if it has solid framing behind it. The Magnum Board is 60 lbs per 4′ x 8′ x 3/8″ (9 mm) sheet, so the plaster won’t add much more weight, and we wouldn’t even use a full sheet. If we like it, we were thinking of doing the floor in Magnum Board with plaster as well, since our house will be a shoe-free area anyway, and the dog hates bathrooms (they are scary places, with BATHs and the site of a very mysterious but offensive habit of pooping in the same place, inside your house – very unhygienic) so no worry of dog nails. And there is certainly no worry of high heels in this household! We have not seen any tiny housers do anything similar, so hopefully there isn’t a very good reason not to – if anyone knows why we shouldn’t, do let us know!
We finished the wall siding this weekend, and mostly finished up the bay window framing. As soon as the sheeting was up, it was much easier to visualize the space, and you can start to feel the size better. The house seems massively tall standing in the driveway (which had me freaking out a little bit thinking about transport), but inside it feels just right. We also installed the Simpson Strong-Ties with our cool little no-weld brackets, and they work great! Although we did discover that the location of the cross-members NEVER coincides with the 16″ o.c. studs (which line up with our 48″ wide sheeting), of course. So if you are designing your own house and you really have it together, maybe you could get the builder to weld the cross-members every 16″. And to build according to code, the strong ties should be nailed to doubled studs, which are not located beneath a window. So we had to add a whole lot more studs than we would have liked. We had to skip one due to the French doors, so only 7 were installed.
We also “screwed and glued” our sheets to the framing, to give added shear strength. Since the Hi-Omega Epoxy STILL hasn’t arrived (in fact, it had not even been shipped) we bought some glue called Eco-Bond Heavy Duty Adhesive in 12 oz tubes, and that stuff works great! You can special order it through Big Box Stores, and it is zero VOC, non-petroleum based, and has almost no odor. In fact, I accidentally got some on my hands and found that I could detect no odors until I had it 1″ from my nose, and even then, it was faint. No headaches for me! And it is 1/4 as expensive as the above special glue.
The other thing we spent a lot of time doing this weekend was stripping the many layers of lead and latex paint off of our antique windows, to get down to the beautiful vertical grain fir that was standard for windows back in the day. We used CitriStrip (available at Big Box Stores) and it works well… to strip one layer off at a time. Next weekend we will sand the windows and apply sealant. No pictures, as it was pretty boring to look at.
The Furry Assistant mostly chilled out. Here she is, napping on the couch in the shade. Lucky dog!
After working in the Big City over Memorial Day weekend, we happily drove back to our Tiny. It felt like a vacation. The last weekend we were in town we built one and a half of the four walls, so this week we built the remaining ones: the long wall which we designed with passive solar in mind (i.e. lots of windows, to face south), the front door wall, and the bay/bathroom wall. The long wall we raised in three sections (in front of, in back of and over the wheel well), so before we placed the header over the wheel well we applied rubber door weatherstripping as before. We figure that will help prevent any stray water from infiltrating our wall and keep things warmer.
Then we raised the last wall, the one for our front door. Instantly, we have what feels like a house. Several of our relatives came to visit, and like anyone would, they tease that we are crazy, and then start dreaming about their own tiny house… We decided it is too big, and too small, so it is perfect! Standing inside it we can finally visualize the space, and all the windows that didn’t look like enough on paper look like fabulous natural light washing everything now. A pleasant surprise! One of our dads is also a handyman with a welder, so he made us some awesome brackets to tie the Simpson Strong Ties to our trailer frame without having to weld bolts on and destroy the finish, encouraging rust formation. The Strong Ties will in turn be thoroughly attached to studs so that our house doesn’t just rip off the subfloor while we are towing her. We have heard that would be bad.
While the boys were playing with the power tools, some of us spent time stripping nasty Latex, then lead paint, off of our antique windows. When they are clean & sanded we will seal them with linseed oil on the inside and a water-based sealer on the outside.
We also cut the roof joists (“we” being our other awesome dad), and ordered some very special glue from Canada last week made from linseed oil, which should hopefully arrive by the end of this week. It is surprising how much we take adhesive for granted – we are so glad we found the glue we did, as we obviously had concerns about nasty chemicals right above our sleeping loft! Once the epoxy arrives, we can glue our homemade joists together and put up our roof! We’ll spend most of next week sheeting the walls, finishing framing the bay window and utility closet, and putting up the roof. We hope to be able to sleep in our loft in two weeks!