Category Archives: Construction

After the Fire Came a Still Small Voice

We have been told we are too long in updating our progress, and this is true, but not out of negligence, dear reader. In large part, today’s post is made possible by the recent completion of a store with wifi near our house, as our host’s internet proved inadequate to reach us (soon to be amended). This was compounded by the abrupt and complete death of the Mrs’ laptop battery upon moving to the tiny, rendering successful Internet access even more difficult. Funny on hindsight, not so funny at the time!

Moving was a painful process. As always, we were disgusted by how much stuff we had, but this time, we had to find new homes for so much of it, and organize it according to “we are using,” “we will be using,” “we need to re-home,” “we need to recycle,” and “we need to store.” We do not like to throw things away, because the landfill has enough in it already. Organizing as we packed and moved proved logistically complicated. As it turns out, Americans on Craigslist like to look the gift-horse in the teeth. We gave away a lot of our very usable stuff for free, only asking that the new owners pick it up themselves (with our help), and yet it took a great deal of effort just to make that happen. We were amazed at how well people have been trained as consumers that they don’t even want free things unless they are in pristine condition or they are gouging the other person. There is no “fair price,” only “I win, you lose.” We did find some good homes for things, eventually, but it took a lot longer than we expected.

We are also happy to report that we are bibliophiles in reform. We have finally come to the realization that you can have too many books, and we both do. We took many boxes to Powell’s, as you can see by the truck bed full of books to sell/donate. A tear or two might have been shed. We won’t tell.

Books to Sell

Books to Sell

Progress has been in the form of installing the metal flashing on the lip of the floor on the long sides of the house, to accommodate siding “hips”, in part because apparently pouring rain was the plan for late August, and it pools terrifically. Also flashing for the edges of the roof, so that the metal sheeting can finally be installed over it. No interesting pictures of these additions, because flashing is pretty boring and straightforward to install, and not much to look at. But believe you us, DRY IN your house before you insulate and panel if you possibly can. There is a reason it is always recommended in that order.

Second area of progress was the successful installation of the gas lines to the water heater and the stove. Although the name implies flexibility, CSST is indeed not very flexible. It is about as easy as routing a garden hose through a wall. The holes are almost as large, and the exterior coating over the corrugation provides an awful lot of drag. It took two people to route the gas lines through 15′ of wall, working really, really hard to yard that stuff through. And although we bought 1/2″ tubing, the actual outer diameter is at least 3/4″, so all the holes had to be drilled to 7/8″ to allow ease. On hindsight, we would recommend running your plumbing and gas lines before electrical, for this reason. The upside to the CSST is that the connections are very secure and easy to do well. As soon as possible, we will be installing the propane tank shelf in the closet and buying a very, very safe NEW multi-stage regulator. (We have heard horror stories firsthand of regulators failing and subsequent massive explosions.) We will be diligently pressure-checking the system before closing up the walls and going “live” with the propane.

Gas lines splitting off from gas tanks

Gas lines splitting off from gas tanks

We have been slowly installing lights in the house, although some must wait until the sawdust has settled or they will be immediately gross. We did install the bathroom vanity lights, which we really like. Our little medicine cabinet and sink will sit just under these.

Bathroom vanity lights

Bathroom vanity lights

And the crowning glory of the bathroom – a bonified, non-stinky, non-tippy, pretty commode! In terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I think having a secure, easy-to-use toilet spot is pretty much up there with water and food and sleeping space. Take heed.

Commode

Commode

And we finally tackled the rat’s nest known as the kitchen sink area, as it contains hot & cold water lines, the water heater, the water heater exhaust, the gas lines, and the supply lines for the water heater. All in a teeny tiny space that can’t be an inch larger than allotted for. I think we posted a picture of the sink before, but it stands to be repeated. An area of real pride for us!

Rough kitchen sink

Rough kitchen sink

In preparation for insulating and siding the interior, we insulated and boxed-in the wheel wells, using leftover Reflectix in immediate contact with the wells so that no evil water condensation is likely to happen.

Wheel well insulation

Wheel well insulation

And this was probably not immediately necessary, but the Mrs’ plants were languishing in the alternate scorching heat and pouring rain, with nowhere to go, so the bay window shelf was completed for the plants to have safe shelter.

Bay window shelf

Bay window shelf

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Who Knows What Week it Is?

Sorry we have been so long in updating our blog regarding our progress. As is usually the case, when things get really juicy, it’s when one is super busy. And such was the case with us. (We move in on Thursday!) We have been lucky to have friends come help, and the local sandwich shop guy asks every day at lunch how progress goes (he loves Lloyd Kahn, too!) And yes, we will be camping out. We have electricity*, a roof overhead, and a place to sleep, but that is where it ends, for now. But it can’t be that bad, as we are choosing to move in instead of paying for another two weeks of our current rent, which is an option. Or we’re pleasantly nuts, which is also possible. This is the theory some of our family has taken up.

 

The progress is as follows:

Reflectix installed between the rafters. That stuff is amazing. We ordered it figuring it would be a good idea given our current roofing is black underlayment, soon to be followed by aluminum sheeting, neither of which is known for good thermal cooling properties. Now we wish we had used it for the entire envelope prior to sheep’s wool insulation. Reflectix is similar to what lines your lunch bag – it has excellent radiant heat/cold insulation properties, advertised as 97% efficient. We can tell you, just by stapling that stuff up, without even the insulation to go over it yet, the indoor temperature was close to 10 degrees (F) cooler at lunchtime compared to our confused/sweaty/grumpy prior afternoons.

Reflectix insulation in roof

Reflectix insulation in roof, with crooked, cheap, Ikea light hack. Another story…

Next improvement was more paneling, and the installation of the shelf for the fridge and start of the closet underneath.

Fridge shelf and closet underneath, in progress

Fridge shelf and closet underneath, in progress

And more paneling in the loft area so we have a place to put our clothes and bed in a few days.

Also, electricity works in all circuits*. As mentioned previously, we have 4 circuits, (2) 15 amp and (2) 20 amp circuits. One of the 15 amp circuits, much to our chagrin, kept tripping the breaker when we fired ‘er up. Turned out to be a cable clamp that had been over-tightened, short-circuiting the wire. Also had a faulty GFCI circuit, new from the Big Box Store. As we closed up tonight, we realized that the kitchen circuit did not shut off when the breaker was switched, which was not cool. *We have since found that the breaker was fine; mislabeling and tired brains were at fault.The gas lines, similarly, have been a bit of a pain, which, when time allows, we will provide our reflections on.

Last but not least, the beautiful Dutch door is nearly installed. We love the rounded top, to match our rounded roof. And the hardware is all ready to go, same for the French doors.

Dutch door installation

Dutch door viewed from the stair landing

And although the bathroom is not usable yet (take that back – the bucket has been, ahem, christened), we did put up a little curtain for privacy from the street while still having a little air flow while working. It stood as a foretaste of what our little house will be, so very soon. It will be a future full of house plants. It’s a cheery, domestic view.

Bathroom window curtain

Bathroom window curtain

Next time we post, we’ll be living & camping in our beautiful house! What better way to learn what you really need in life?

 

 

 

Weekend 10 of Construction and The Big Move

This was one heckuva weekend, with mad buttoning-up of things for travel on Sunday. The doors had been neglected until now as they require extra attention (such as custom door jambs) to install; the French doors were originally fixed glazed doors, and about 18″ too tall for the under-loft area, so they had to be carefully cut down, glued, and clamped, and a jamb made. The bottom sill of the French door jamb was made from scrap white oak, with a carefully-cut slope to it so that all water would drain (you can’t buy 4′ wide sections of metal threshold/sill material at the Big Box Store). It’s one of those niceties we will appreciate although it might not be obvious to the casual observer.

The French doors, modded

The French doors, modded

The 12v DC wiring did not have a functioning breaker panel to connect to, so the Ebay boat panels were torn apart, sanded clean (’cause they’re old and made of metal, not cheap plastic), and re-assembled with the proper breaker sizes (primarily 5-10 amp). We made a little housing for it so that the rear of the panel can be accessed for maintenance. The breaker switches are also the on/off switches in this case, which works fine. We think it looks steampunk, which is always good!

And in the process, gained great respect for Ace Hardware over other Big Box Stores – we always liked that store over the Big Box, and learned that particular bias from our respective dads. Coincidentally, it seems the place is staffed with DIY dads. Well, another reason why I love them: I called the plumbing and electrical specialty store in town, and after passing me around, found one guy who “kinda” knew 12v – by which he meant, he could discuss LED lighting with you, and recommended I visit the auto electric shop in town to get advice for real 12 volt stuff. I view that as good customer service, nonetheless. But I went to Ace first, just in case, found a great selection of wire for my needs (10-16 AWG, or American Wire Gauge, wire), and the first guy that walked by I posed the same question to: “Do you know anything about 12 volt?” and he answered, “I know all about 12 volt,” as he pulled wire. This surprised me. I asked why, and he said he had previously wired RVs for a living! At this point I freaked out and asked him all the questions I could, since he was the first person I met who knew anything! Here are the highlights:

1. What is the recommended treatment for wire junctions/terminations (i.e. electrical boxes)? Answer: none. You can end the wires in the middle of the wall, just put a couple wire nuts on the bare ends, no box needed.

2. Does it matter if you use larger gauge wire than required for the load or distance? Answer: nope, only a problem with smaller gauge wire than required. It’s just a little more expensive.

3. Where is the best place to get 12v wiring? Answer: auto supply stores often sell rolls of 14, 16, and 18 gauge wire by the 25-50′ for cheaper than by-the-foot wiring. The larger or smaller stuff, get here.

4. Does the color matter for positive and negative? Nope, whatever colors you want. Many people use red and black, but any color will do. Just stick with the same colors so you don’t get confused.

5. Why doesn’t everyone use 12v systems when they are so cool and easy to use?? Answer: The power source has to be close due to losses over distance. Otherwise, no good reason. If you get shocked, “It’s not even bee-sting material.” Fire hazard is low. My note: You do, however, need to use 12v – approved switches rather than regular 120v switches due to the larger amperages, as they can actually melt the terminals of a regular switch if they arc. RV and marine stores sell 12v rocker switches, and the plain ol’ metal toggle switches seem to be used with no problems, either.

So I was stoked. If we ever do anything with the Palomino chassis, I’m doing all 12v DC, just for the fun of it. And maybe I can get my sister involved, too, as it seems 12v DC systems are a great introduction to electrical systems. Would have made my high school physics class WAY more interesting…

12 v panel front

12 v panel front

12 v panel back

12 v panel back

And we also installed the 120v, 30 amp RV electrical inlet and water inlet, in the newly lined utility closets (for vapor and spark protection). Since we are poor and don’t have our power center or inverter/charger for self-made power yet, but want to be able to plug-and-play later with solar, wind turbines, or generator, we put two gratuitous junction boxes in the utility closet and ran extra conduit through them, so that it will be easy to add those components later without having to try to run more conduit and have a messy cabinet. Messy electrical closets are ugly and bother me.

Electrical cabinet

Electrical cabinet

Water inlet on the propane/water side

Water inlet on the propane/water side

Word to the wise: you’d think there’s only one kind of 30 amp RV AC inlet. Wrong. There are two kinds – both have three prongs, but one is a regular plug and the other is a twist-lock variety. Both work, but they are not interchangeable, although they make adapters. The twist-lock variety seems a little more secure, so many of the new 30 amp RV cords have a female locking end and a male non-locking end, like this. Make sure you know what you are getting. I didn’t, and was surprised when I opened the inlet after getting it in the mail. Also, when I talked to Monty Taylor regarding “separable” vs “non-separable” power supply for RV inspection, he said he doesn’t care so long as it’s done well. However, I didn’t think about male vs female receptacles/terminals when I bought one the first go-round. I got a 30a regular 3 prong receptacle (female) for the house. Well, that doesn’t work. You need the plug (male) end installed in the house, so that when you hook up a cable, the male end is free to plug into your power source receptacle and the female end plugs into your house. Can’t have a cord with two male ends, can we? Duh. Good news: if you’re like me and you’re cheap, and you saved the cord from the pop-up camper you ripped apart (those power cords are $50 and up man!) that was permanently attached so one end is a stub with raw wires sticking out, you can buy male and female adapter heads online and at any RV store for less than $20. So that is what I did. I bought an adapter for my twist-lock 30 amp inlet to that we can use either type of plug, and bought a $17 female adapter head with standard RV 30 amp layout to attach to my raw cord. Clear as mud? Yeah, me too. Result is, we are ready for any type of 30 amp power supply! Mwaha!

Next, the utility closet got its cover and doors, and all the window and door openings were covered with plywood for the drive. Hurricane clips were attached from rafters to top plates to secure the roof, and we also added some straps to the front eave, for upward forces while driving.

Boarded up

Boarded up

For the moving day, procure yourself a heavy-duty truck to do the pulling, and a good, optimistic friend or family member to drive behind you and call periodically to tell you nothing has fallen off. And as Dee Williams says in her e-book, to also tell you, “It’s so cu-ute!” and soothe your nerves. In our case, have the calm ones in the big truck, and the documenters following behind (only if not driving, of course) and providing caravan-afforded protection from tailgaters and other silly people.

Over the mountains

Over the mountains

For those who look at our house and say “It’s so tall! Are you sure the wind won’t blow it over?” the answer is that it did great on the road. We had no concerns driving it whatsoever, and in fact it surprised all of us, in a very welcome way. The only thing that wobbled was the license plate, because it’s attached by a flimsy plastic bracket on the top only, which we can handle. Nothing flew off, nothing was broken. Sigh.

We do recommend using a truck weigh station to find out how much your trailer weighs, while you’re on the road anyway. You don’t have to pay, it isn’t hard, and the scales are always on, even if the station is closed. We found out, after much panicked calculations, that our house weighs about 800 more than we had projected, at 7,300 lbs. For those contemplating a rounded roof such as ours, do keep in mind that you will have considerably more wall height, and therefore weight, compared to a typical Tumbleweed gabled house. We did not consider that in our calculations. Oops. We are now left with less weight to work with in finishing, but with care we will still come in under our weight limit. If you look up Colin’s Coastal Cabin on The Tiny House Blog, he has a shed roof but similar high walls, and he came in at 9,000 lbs. His house is gorgeous and well-made. So be aware of weight! It adds up in a sneaky sort of way.

Now, getting our tiny house onto our narrow lot from our narrow lane with a large truck and rented power mover, that was a long story, to be discussed at a later date. The happy ending is: our house is now resting comfortably on our lot, with jacks to stabilize, and many neighbors already stopping by to ask questions, only 10 minutes away now instead of hours. About three weeks left until we move in!

On the road

On the road

Weekend 9

This weekend was the Mr. and Dad working solo for three days. They did so much beautiful work! They finished the infernal staircase, and the storage loft, made some significant progress on the fiddly-angled-but-important utility cabinet on the tongue and installed all kinds of windows. The addition of the windows really makes it feel like a house! There were also a few snafoos, with the water heater (an Eccotemp 2.6 gpm outdoor LP tankless) not being the dimensions listed on the website (on Amazon or their own website!)  … and since inches matter, the cabinet we had built for it was now a few inches too small! So we will have to figure something else out. Eccotemp seems like the best brand at this time in terms of price and size.  The two ideas are: to sell/return the one we have, and get the inside version for a little more, and keep it between the kitchen sink and shower, which in the end might be more efficient, or do a funky custom cabinet and install it where we were planning. So perhaps we will make lemonade after all. Also, the matching casement windows for the upstairs are actually made from a two-part window which we split – and we found out that the flange we really need to be intact (on the top) is exactly the one that isn’t. Hmm. Annoying, but not the end of the world. Here is our gorgeous house in pictures!

The storage loft

The storage loft

Stairs

Stairs

The stairs were designed so that the top step is really steep – so when you climb into the loft, you won’t hit your shins, and you have a place to sit and put on/take off shoes. The thick steps are reclaimed fir, the runners of cedar. All the Mr’s great ideas!

Utility Closet

Utility Closet

The utility closet is lined with Magnum Board (magnesium oxide board, similar to cement board but better) to prevent sparks from the batteries from getting to the propane tanks, and to insulate and waterproof the spaces. The plan is to keep the electrical on the left side, and the propane and water on the right. See the lovely angles of the corner cabinets? They will hopefully help make the front of the house more aerodynamic than a barn when towing. Our wooden faceted diamond.

Utility closet close up, with shelf for batteries

Utility closet close up, with shelf for batteries

Shower window

Shower window in custom frame

We bought two antique English pub windows (about 100 years old) of stained glass. However, the frames were falling apart and covered in peeling lead paint. So we carefully removed them from the frames, and the Mr. built this custom frame out of some cherry wood scrap. He really did a professional job. And it dominates the bathroom in a wonderful way that we did not anticipate.

Bathroom windows, viewed from the door

Bathroom windows, viewed from the door

Kitchen window

Kitchen window

And the window I call the “pretty window” is installed over the kitchen counter. We bought it from a very nice man who remodeled his turn-of-the-century Craftsman. It still has all the original hardware, in perfect condition.

The kitchen at night!

The kitchen at night!

Since we are in crunch time, work will re-commence within a few days, and the Big Move will be happening by the end of the week if all goes as we want it to!

Week 8 of Construction

This was a marathon weekend. Closer to a week of work, actually. We started on the 4th by cutting the 2×12’s for our couch back/bookcase/bathroom wall and installing the pocket door. Which was really cool, ’cause then we could really have a feel for the bathroom size (tiny – haha). By the way, if you decide to put your bathroom door at the end instead of the middle of the bathroom, I cannot tell you how much of a difference it made to make our bathroom 3’4″ wide instead of 3′. Seriously. Happily no one got a picture of me making the discovery by “trying out” the bathroom with a 5 gallon bucket and our wooden toilet seat, but it was suuuper tiny. Add four inches, and all of a sudden it’s pleasantly cozy. But I suppose that “inches matter” should really be the tiny-house-planning and building mantra. If you bought Tumbleweed plans, then you can grin your smug little smile and pooh to my mantra. But for those like us: your happy little pencil sketches get stretched and squeezed like you wouldn’t believe with the addition of a single 2×4, and all of a sudden it is a crisis figuring out how to allow for the window trim. That’s character and wisdom gained, right there.

But I digress. We noticed that everyone puts the toilet on one side of the door and the shower/tub on the other, using a doorway in the middle as the bathroom floor space, and then they put the kitchen under the loft next to it, so that both are claustrophobia-inducing, but very space-efficient and share the same sink. But we didn’t like the idea that efficiency is the highest good, and bathroom sinks can be really small, if you even want one. We both love Alexander’s A Pattern Language, and decided that the archaic “we have servants do all our cooking, so let’s put out kitchen in the closet” idea is stupid. So we put our space where we spend our time (in the kitchen, as for most people), and made the under-loft our “intimate” space, such as seating. We also designed our house so that the farther into it from the front door you get, the more private the space, which is also comforting and intuitive. Those two things were made possible by running the bathroom along the back, which, unlike the kitchen, makes sense to put in a closet. Plan is to make the front face of the pocket door a slightly shallower continuation of the bookcase (paperback novels, anyone?!), which also serves as the bathroom wall. We’ll put tongue and groove and/or Magnum board on the bathroom face of the bookcase, and the couch will sit in front of that, with bulk storage cabinets in the seat and the couch back, and faces out.  We have some nice French doors under the loft which, later on, will be continuous with the patio and the couch area.

Next up was shaping and cutting the loft joists out of 2×6 cedar-with-character as the father-in-law puts it, which required careful planning of what to cut and which joist went where, with what face. But we all agree that the careful planning of the joists really adds flair and craftsmanship to the design. I think it makes the house look Cascadian, or Scandijapanavian, our favorite styles 🙂

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The loft, facing the bookcase

We also had the brainwave that we could skip placing a joist over the middle of the shower stall, and just use a block across, since it only has to span 3′. That gave us a lot more headroom in the shower, which is great. Might be a good spot to showcase our large piece of copper sheet. Downside it that the small, efficient, low-noise exhaust fan/light that I was going to install between the joists now has no good place to go, because all of them are designed to fit in a 6″ deep wall, unless they are the cheesy RV variety. It will probably have its own box made in the upper corner near the water heater, and the exhaust will just have to take a slightly more circuitous route to escape. No spilt milk.

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Middle joist in the bathroom

Then we laid the loft boards, which I am in love with. They are short cuts of close, vertical-grain fir 1×6; leftovers from someone else’s project, and perfect for our purposes. We used the nail gun for a nice clean look. And as soon as it was done, day 2 was over with. Some teenagers immediately claimed the loft, located a mattress, and camped out for the night.

Image

Flooring the loft with the nail gun

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Relaxin’ on our finished loft floor

A party with passels of cousins, munchkins, and rainbows galore followed, so Saturday was a wash. Then there was the staircase. Sigh. Complicated, as it turns out, by the fact that we wanted a staircase instead of a ladder, with a wood stove underneath. Because staircases are usually well-supported at the top by a vertical wall or a heavy-duty set of joists, neither of which we are willing to concede. So it will be suspended from the ceiling, we think. Structural finish work, as the carpenters call it, can be fiddly business. So the stairs are TBD…

The other big victory was the placement of all the 120v AC circuitry in the house, made possible by another awesome dad and several trips to the Big Box of Chemicals & Sundries. That is, all the AC stuff is “stubbed in”, which means that the boxes and the wires are run, but the receptacles (outlets) and switches are not placed yet. But comparatively, that part just takes some logic and a morning of work (or so I say haha). The location of the AC panel was something of a conundrum, mostly due to lack of knowledge – in the dim hope we can get the house certified as an RV, we weren’t sure if the AC panel had to be placed within a certain distance of the power entry to the house (for boats it is within 7 or 8′, we hear), and we also did not want an electrical panel, humming with electricity in a stupidly-designed EMF-generating electrical panel, sited under our sleeping heads. For the latter, I still don’t know, because even though we bought a centered-load panel, the breakers don’t all sit immediately adjacent to the neutral bus bar. Grr. I hate being superstitious about that kind of stuff. But alas. The former requirement, I am happy to report, we do not have to worry about, as I’ll mention below.

Siting all the electrical boxes

Siting all the electrical boxes

All the little boxes in a row, waiting for the loft...

All the little boxes in a row, waiting for the loft…

Gnarly panel-in-progress

Gnarly panel-in-progress

We found out that the guy in Oregon to talk to about RV certification of a tiny house (which can, and has been done) is named Monty Taylor, the RV inspector of the Building Codes Division, and he travels all around the state. He can inspect a tiny house, and if it meets all the codes of a “park trailer” he can certify it as a homemade RV. Why would we care, you ask, since we hate permits and bureaucratic governmental interference and infernal fees? Because a recognized RV can be insured. Otherwise insurance companies view us and our houses as a hazard to their profitability. We aren’t super set on getting the house permitted, but if what is required and what we want to do are reasonably similar, then why not?

Here’s the juicy bits Monty told me, which for some reason I haven’t seen listed anywhere before (and Monty is a nice guy, so if you want to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth, call him on his cell, the number of which he lists on his office voicemail.) This is what he said: there are no structural requirements for a tiny house. For the electrical, you need Article 552 (on Park Trailers) of the National Electric Code (NEC), which can be found in the reference sections of most public libraries, and it’s only a few pages long, so just photocopy it so you can read the legalese at your own leisure. It wasn’t bad, and most of the stuff is really intuitive, like don’t have an electrical outlet within reach of the tub. Duh. For the rest of your utilities, such as humanure, propane, and freshwater, you’ll need the ANSI A119.5 2009 handbook on Park Trailers, which can be had from http://www.rvia.org for $41, as it currently stands. I just ordered my copy, so I’ll let you know how awful it is. Incidentally, there’s another book to buy on that site that looks like almost the same thing, but it costs $250. Don’t buy that one. Anyway, here’s the rundown on the electrical, in layman’s terms, in case it helps. Just think: if you don’t have any batteries, cords or solar hooked up, what better way to learn electrical safely, and have one less Expert to pay for minor house repairs down the line, than to wire your own tiny house? If not now, when? You can always have an electrician check your work when you’re done. However, do not sue me if you survive electrocution, because you read at your own risk!

1. Learn basic electrical concepts and terms:

AC = alternating current; because it alternates it can travel long distances from a power plant to your house. This is what your house is wired with: 110-120V, AC current. 120V current KILLS you if you are electrocuted, so you need to know what you are doing.

DC = direct current; this is what batteries generate, solar generates, and what RVs and boats use, because you don’t have to do anything to the electricity from your batteries/solar/turbine to run your equipment. You can get an inverter to do the job, but they are expensive and they use energy themselves, not to mention they are not 100% efficient at changing DC to AC, so you always lose power. If you’re going hardcore solar, you’ll need a whole lot of DC and not much AC. DC systems are usually 12V, which will not (usually) kill you if you electrocute yourself, which is nice.  Incidentally, those blocky things (we call them “wall warts”) that are always connected to your phone charger and laptop charger change 120V AC to 12V DC to charge the phone/laptop battery. I didn’t know that until I started reading on electrical systems. I guess I thought they were surge protectors or something. That’s why phone chargers for your car don’t have a “wall wart,”  just a cigarette plug, because they’re charging off of your car battery. Cool, eh?

amperage = amps are a measure of electricity per second. Think of it as the flow rate of electricity, like the flow of water through a pipe.

voltage = volts are a measure of the potential difference of electricity. Don’t cringe! Think of it as the pressure of water in the pipe. 120V AC power wants out of there bad, so don’t let it get you!

power = measured in watts, power is equal to volts x amps. It’s how much work something can do, like horsepower. Now practice. A 60 watt light bulb, plugged into a 120V AC standard outlet, uses how many amps?

resistance = the real-world factor. Some things are harder to pass electricity through than others. A smaller gauge wire will have higher resistance to flow of electricity, for example.

Parallel circuits – built more like a tree, with two trees with “branches” feeding the hot and neutral (respectively) of all the things on the circuit.

Series circuits – like a road trip – hot wire stops at the thing it’s feeding before starting back up on the other terminal and moving on to the next thing, neutral goes from the farthest thing on the circuit back to the panel

3 way switches – these are the kind that work in tandem with another switch to turn things on or off from more than one location. They require 3 way wire to allow the switches to work with each other

Wire  – the gauge used is determined by the amperage of the circuit. The smaller the number, the larger the wire, which is not intuitive! The second number denotes how many wires there are, excluding ground (which is not counted). So your standard 15 amp circuit takes 14-2 wire, with 14-3 wire between 3-way switches.

2. Figure out what kinds of things you want to run in your house. Really. It’s a pain, it’s thankless, and it’s really intimidating for those learning electrical, but you really need to do it. It will help you learn, if nothing else. Get a Kill-O-Watt meter (available at the Big Box stores), and start measuring the usage of everything you will use, such as your laptop/computer, cell phone, toaster/toaster oven, microwave, fridge, blow-dryer, electric range/oven, and lights. Do it for days or weeks, not just a few hours while being eco-friendly is foremost on your brain. Keep in mind that things with digital screens on them draw “phantom loads” since they are essentially always on, even when not in use. And anything that heats things, like water heaters, ovens, rice cookers, toasters, microwaves, blow-dryers and clothes dryers, use HUGE amounts of electricity. That’s why people often forgo them or use propane or other fuel sources in a tiny house.

3.  You will need to know how much energy you’re really going to use to be comfortable, because if nothing else, you need to know the size of your power cord. An extension cord only carries so much juice before you create a fire hazard or trip the breaker on your host house’s panel. Your three main choices, from what I can tell are: extension cord (look at the rating on the cord), 30 amp RV  (3 prong) and 50 amp RV (4 prong)

4. Okay, if you’re still reading, this is what you do next: figure out what actual AC fixtures you want – lights, fans, fan lights, etc. so you know they’ll all fit (inches matter!) and not be overkill. Figure out where you want them. Do you want an outlet in your closet to charge your DirtDevil? How about Christmas lights? Patio lights? (The NEC Article 552 requires at least 1 outdoor outlet). Where do you want to charge your smartphone (hopefully not right near your head, the RF waves are not good) and your laptop? Alarm clock? A nightlight? A box fan for the two weeks in August in the Willamette Valley when you are sweating like a pig wishing for air conditioning? Done? Good!

5. Mark out where you want said lights, switches, outlets (receptacles) and fans. Write on the wall. Where do you want your power to come in? The Park Trailer code says standard is left rear, but I don’t know how they define that for a tiny house. Where do you want your panel so it is easy to distribute all the power coming in to your circuits, and easy to get to? Place your light boxes, switch and receptacle boxes accordingly, securing them in place with sturdy screws.

6. Divvy up your circuits. The Park Trailer article has a category of “2-5 circuits” which I think looked easiest to aim for. Many tiny houses have only 3 circuits. Most full-sized houses have 2 20 amp circuits for the kitchen, with dedicated circuits for ovens, microwaves, fridges, garbage disposals, etc.

What we did in ours:

– 4 circuits (overkill), 2, 15 amp and 2, 20 amp circuits, the bathroom/bedroom and main room lights were on a 15 amp, the living room, stairs and teeny fridge on a 15 amp, an outdoor receptacle and indoor one designed for an oil-heater (huge hog) on a 20 amp, and the kitchen on a 20 amp

– All single-pole switches except for two lights – the nightlight upstairs, and the fan light

– Metal-sheathed conduit from the main power feed to the panel

– A “kill switch” in the bedroom that cuts power to the whole bedroom and bathroom for sleeping at night. We will use an illuminated switch so we know when it is on. We have an outlet on top of our fridge for charging cell phones, far from our bed. Our concession to EMF and RF concerns.

– We designed our bookcase to have a compartment for storing our laptops and charging them, out of sight

– We will be installing only a few 12V circuits in the house – one for the fridge in case we ever get a fancy solar fridge, one for an outlet in the bookcase, the exhaust fan/hood in the kitchen (from an RV) and the water pump (from an RV). The DC panel has breakers instead of fuses (the fused type are the cheapest to get), and will go in the battery cabinet on the tongue. We haven’t wired it yet, but we will!

Quasi-finished electrical

Quasi-finished electrical

Weekend 7 of Construction

Super_moon2

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:

Roofing

Sheeting the roof

Tiny_by_night

Sheeting the roof at night to get ahead of the rain

Fascia_front

Applying curved fascia to the end of the gable

Rain_buckets

Buckets catching the rain flooding in through the holey plastic

Roof_almost

Almost done sheeting the roof!

Covered_roof

Re-sheeted in new plastic, with all windows and doors covered. Safe from the rain!

Tired_puppy

Soaked and tired puppy that refused to go inside out of the rain. She had to be where we were!

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?

Weekend 6 of Construction

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.

The cutting of the door in half...eek!

The cutting of the door in half…eek!

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…)

Water_inletWater_inlet_front

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.

Roof_rafters_start

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!

Roof_plastic_installation

Imagination running wild...what a beautiful roof we have. The extra effort is worth it!

Buttoned_up

All buttoned up for the 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!

Weekend 5 of Construction

Tiny_house_siding_south

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.

Tiny_house_strongties 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.

Tiny_house_glueingThe 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!

Furry_assistant

Weekend 4 of Construction

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.

Wheel_well_sealantThird_wall

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.

Bracket_tinyLast_wall_tiny

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. Stripping_windows

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!

Tiny_wk4

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.

jack

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.wall 1

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.

complete

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.

wheel well

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!

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