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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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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:

tiny_trailer_viewFirst 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

Main compartment flashed and taped

Main compartment flashed and taped

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!

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