Through Monsoon and Sun
After the massive, 5x-record-breaking rains we had in September that showed us where all the leaks were, the house has been thoroughly caulked and weatherproofed. Oddly I discovered that we haven’t taken any pictures yet of the finished siding on the long wall, so we’ll post that soonish. We both really like the window frame style we chose, even though it is one more reason our house will not have a unified style. The French doors have proved to be the most challenging of the wall openings we have in terms of waterproofing, so beware if you choose to add them to your house! May be one of the reasons why many tiny houses with French doors have a porch covering them…
We did put up the lap siding, board and batten on the front door side, along with a small drip edge, although nothing is stained yet, so it is various shades of cedar. The white areas will soon be covered with cedar shingles, which will be gorgeous when done!
We also made good progress on the 12 v system, which is important in order to have the water pump up and running. Part of that included the biggest dang breaker I’ve ever seen, for 275 amps (!) DC:
That breaker weighs several pounds. We procured it to protect the inverter/charger from excessive 12v input, whether from the batteries, solar panels, wind turbines, or generators. We also made a breaker cabinet for the 12 and 120 v breakers feeding the inverter/charger for easy access from the outside:
And made a bunch of custom cables to run between the batteries, breakers, and inverter/charger. Got a lot of raised eyebrows at a Big Box store when I asked for 2/0 wire. (Guy looks at chick, thinks she’s confused, and says, “You mean, like 12 or 14 gauge wire with 2 wires? Like, you know, the kind in your house?” Sees my face, then asks, hesitatingly, “Or you mean, really big wire?” Similarly, the lady at checkout asked me no less than three times what I was using the wire for, but first asked me if I bought it there. That wire weighed a lot and made about a 30″ dia loop when coiled, so you guess how likely it would be that I brought it from home. When I told her it was for a 12v system, she looked even more befuddled). Bought their last 15 feet of the stuff, and proceeded to find that they do not carry terminals in 2/0 size, only #2 size. Auto shops are not helpful, as they carry #2, at the largest, of both wire and terminals, in my experience. Ace Hardware to the rescue! They carry an array of all-copper, 2/0 ring terminals, for a cheaper price than buying off Amazon. Man I love those guys. We could have bought even bigger terminals, or in different styles if we wanted, because they’re that cool, and carry it all. Then to attach said terminals to the cables. For this, there are many professional-grade, hydraulic-assisted lug crimpers out there, and they cost a few hundred dollars. Harbor Freight sells one with individual dies for the differing gauges for $80, online only. My dad told me about this mysterious metal block thingy with a plunger on it that you hit with a hammer, and after much hunting, found a single specimen at a big-box auto shop. It truly is just a heavy pin in a jig that you use to smash the lug with when you hit it with a hammer, called an “auto lug crimper.” Works great though, and cost $21. Ended up saving quite a bit of $$ making the cables ourselves, not to mention 2/0 cable is not too flexible, so you want exact lengths anyway. It’s stupid the things you view as triumphs, but we were pretty proud of that.
Successfully tested the gas lines, which held pressure beautifully after 5 min of final tightening. Used a little gauge from the Big Box store on a plumbing tee with a bicycle pump fitting on one end. A beautiful sight after several hours:
Also installed the last stained-glass window, over the kitchen sink. Like the other one, it is an antique from an English pub. We thought the goblet design was appropriate for the kitchen, set into a custom-made new cherry wood frame, with room left to install a second plate of glass on the outside to protect it and insulate better.
And we talked to Monty, and he mentioned a few things that we will have to do before he *might* be able to pass us on inspection of the house for a homemade “park trailer” – vents are required on the sinks and tub, which he said can be “auto vents” which vent via a tee just past the P-trap to a side wall, and are one-way vents. They look pretty inexpensive and easy to install, so we will probably try to do that. He also said a 30amp main breaker in the breaker panel is necessary, which I was thinking was a good idea anyway. And lastly, besides the smoke, CO, and LP/gas alarms which we already have, a “5BC” rated fire extinguisher, mounted near the front door, in a clearly visible place, is required. So maybe there is hope yet that we can have our house certified as a park trailer. We’ll keep you posted.
Overall, we have not once felt that our house was too small for our needs, though. Which is funny, because that seems to be everyone’s concern. Our difficulties currently lie in working full time while completing our house, when neither of us are a plumber, electrician, sider or roofer. Perhaps it will be different once we have more built-in furniture, but we don’t think so. We’ll just be happy to be living less like transients.
And if you are fecophobic or otherwise squeamish, do not read this last portion. For those who are not, and/or are contemplating a composting toilet system, read on:
We have gone through several phases of toilet-care philosophy. Much like Cat, featured on The Tiny House Blog recently here, we have decided that much of the toilet hype is just that. Phase 1 was the Humanure Handbook philosophy, which goes something like: “Put it all in one bucket, cover with several inches of dry sawdust or similar, and then throw into a massive compost pile when the bucket is full.” Except since we are on a small, narrow lot, there is nearly nowhere to place a compost pile that wouldn’t be too close to a neighbor’s yard, so we were going to garbage-bag it into the trash. Problem was that unless you covered every single time (regardless of #1 or #2) with a large amount of mulch, it stunk, bad. If you did, the bucket filled up within a few days, and let’s face it, no one wants to be the one to change the bucket out, or deal with a really massive compost pile if you don’t have lots of property.
Separation of #1 and #2, cover #2 with mulch, hang a separate cup in the front of the bucket for #1. Worked really well to decrease changeover of the bucket. Discovered that humans make a tremendous amount of urine daily, and that almost all of the bad smell from the toilet was from the urine, not #2. So instead, now we are emptying the pee pot daily, in loo of the bucket weekly (haha, get it? moving on…). Not a huge amount better, but slightly. If you slack off, there is, as the Scandinavians delicately put it, “A sulfurous odor associated with outhouses.” Not terribly nasty, but not really nice, either. So, we thought, there is a reason all those fancy expensive toilets (Airhead, Nature’s Head, etc) have urine separation and a closed urine collection system! Whaddya know? But, as Cat pointed out, those guys are spendy, and not the greatest. Some people we know with a tiny house have a Nature’s Head, and they said the urine bottle fills up almost daily, so aside from an improvement in smell, maintenance levels are the same.
Should have happened a long time ago. Looked high and low for a reasonably-priced urine separation/diversion setup. EcoVita.net has the best selection of the main brands we have found in the US. Separett (Swedish company, of course) seems to make all of the low-end, basic urine diverting setups, but the cheapest ones are hideous, and $120 if you include shipping. A lot for a bit of plastic, but I guess that’s because of importation costs since the US can’t seem to get their you-know-what together, pardon the pun. They can market them in the US as “emergency toilets” and thereby get around all of the stupid laws that abound regarding home toilet composting. Interestingly, in continental Europe Separett markets a model called “Dass Isak” which is a holdover model from their former competitor Isak. Although mostly made of styrofoam, it has a fitted lid, an attractive shape, and a one-piece urine diverting seat out of white plastic, instead of bright blue. It is even cheaper than the “Privy Kit” but Separett politely informed me that it is being phased out and is not exported to the US. The only company that was willing to export it seemed to charge a “stupid American tax” of around $40, plus shipping, which came to around $200. Sadly not worth it. What we opted for was available on Ebay for $50, and is a basic black plastic funnel that flares out so you can nail/attach it to the underside of your toilet housing, and has a neck that fits a standard-sized hose. It seems to be made by a company out of the UK. Ours will arrive later this month, and we are inordinately excited about it. We are seriously thinking about running said hose to the tub drain just past the P-trap, and never having to empty any urine container, inside or out, ever again. It seems that everybody eventually arrives at the conclusion of running the urine directly to a drainage bed, or to a large holding vessel outside, that is then emptied periodically. Urine doesn’t stink until it’s sat for a bit, so much like grey water, I suspect storage, for any length of time, is not a good idea. Here is the big fuss:
Many Scandinavian webpages recommend “washing down” the urine with a small amount of water, to dilute it so it doesn’t burn any plants in your drain field and also to prevent crystal buildup. We think that is folk wisdom to be followed. Incidentally, the Scandinavians seem to be really passionate about their outhouses (just look up “Torrdass”), their history, styles, and construction, so they seem to know what’s going on better than most. I’ve read that bamboo is especially tolerant of high nitrogen and salts, so not sure if it’s better to make a native rain garden to drain our mixed waste water to along with excess rain runoff, or have a separate mulched and planted area for it. Ideas on that front are welcome!
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 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…
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.
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.
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.
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!