07 September 2014

Weekend Update

After a busy workweek and being sick earlier in the weekend, today I finally moved forward with the new foundation plans. I'm much happier with how this approach is working and was able to cut and jigsaw out all the notches of the joists and even screw a few pieces together, all while listening to my favorite baseball team move steadily toward the playoffs.

Unfortunately, the table saw is still giving me fits - I don't seem to have the arm strength to get the bolt loosened to change out the old blade for a new one. Then again, the blade probably hasn't been changed in the 15 years since my dad died, so it's very possible it may take a bit more than elbow grease to get it loose. We'll see how friendly my ACE Hardware staff is - they have been wonderful in the past in giving advice and if all else fails, I may bat my eyelashes and get one of the younger guys to come to my house and change it for me (or cash, yeah, cash works too I suppose)! Therefore I didn't get to rip the side 2x6s down to size, so I moved on to a few other tasks.

First I hosed down the corrugated steel panels. Sometimes it is advantageous to wake up in the middle of the night and mull things over in your head as you try to get back to sleep. Last night I realized that I didn't have to worry about completely sealing the corrugated steel panels to the wood foundation sides. They exist in the foundation "sandwich" largely to provide a durable guard against road debris, so if I were to stretch a piece of heavy-duty plastic sheeting (like a 3 mil paint tarp) over the foundation before securing the foundation in a few spots to the metal panels, the plastic would seal out any moisture regardless of whether the "bumps" were flush with the wood or not.

Next I moved on to the shower pan and shower mat. Now that the joists were in place, I found that I did not need to double up on one particular side of the shower pan and could use one joist alone to support the sub floor AND secure the pan - this also results in less foundation weight! Keeping weight in mind, I also stepped on the bathroom scale (ugh!) both with and without the pan and was pleasantly surprised to find it weighs only four pounds - I suppose since it was made for RV use the manufacturer was much more attuned to this issue. So far I've calculated the foundation sandwich - metal, insulation, wood sides, hardware, plywood sub floor, shower pan and mat (see below) to be right at 260 pounds. It's all going to add up quickly, so I'm trying to be very careful every step of the way.

My plans call for the shower pan to be recessed into the foundation and a teak shower mat to float above it at floor level, allowing water to drain through to the pan below, all while appearing more like an actual floor (or door mat as the case may be, considering it is placed right as you enter the house from the front door). Lots of Internet searching found a very affordable mat ($45 with shipping!) that was just the right width to span the shower pan in one direction, but just a bit too short to span it in the other. However, I figured I could saw it apart and space the slats a bit further apart. When the mat arrived Friday, I was pleasantly surprised to find it wasn't just tacked together, but rather screwed, so with some unscrewing and a bit of hammer tapping to loosen the glue, I now had 14 teak floor slats at the fraction of the cost of purchasing the raw lumber. They will of course need to be reinforced at some point with cross rails, but I may be able to re-purpose the ones I removed in a new configuration - I'll just have to do more middle of the night thinking I suppose to solve that problem!

All in all, it was a short work period this weekend, but a satisfying one.

06 September 2014

Laboring Away

Going into Labor Day Weekend, I knew I had three days off in a row, which is a rarity when you work retail. Sitting down at my spreadsheet, I juggled some more budget numbers and sure enough, was able to come up with the first $50 lumber purchase so I could actually begin laboring away on the Teeny Tiny House!

Saturday morning I borrowed my neighbor's truck and headed out to Home Depot. It was a little intimidating driving such a big beast compared to my Jetta, especially on the way home with a few 12' boards hanging off the end of the tailgate. But it was also an empowering trip, as I got a great compliment from a guy while I was trying to pick out some nice straight boards - "I like a woman who can sight lumber."

Then I got to work on getting rid of those unneeded metal side rails on the trailer. With the sun blazing down and the Sawzall running at its max, I finally got all 15 cuts made. Sadly, steel is a pain in the butt to cut through, even using two different metal demolition blades, and my hands took the brunt of all the saw vibration and I ended up with blisters all over my palms (bandages applied to keep from grossing you out entirely!).

But the end result was worth it - No Rails Man!

Finally I had a clean slate and on Sunday morning I started creating rather than destroying!

My foundation plans call for a sandwich of sorts - metal flashing on the bottom, rigid insulation in the middle with lumber sides, and then the plywood sub floor on top. As reference sources, I have been using a combination of Dee Williams' "Go House Go" and Dan Louche's "Tiny House Design and Construction Guide," and both use aluminum flashing for their foundation base. However, they are presuming one is building on a larger utility trailer where there would be very little contact between the flashing and the steel cross and side rails. Somewhere along the way, I had heard that aluminum would oxidize upon contact with steel, and after a quick phone consult with my uncle, a retired welder, I indeed learned that since I am keeping the metal grate floor of my trailer, aluminum would not be a good idea. Serendipitously, just a few days earlier on a dog walk, I noticed some corrugated steel panels set out by the curb and somehow wrangled both them and four leashed dogs for the half-mile walk home! I'm still not sure how I am going to seal the corrugated "bumps" so that they are flush with the wood foundation sides (perhaps a combination of nailing the bump down and then sealing the rest with caulk?), but I at least now could lay them on the trailer bed and determine how far they would raise up the wooden sides relative to the steel trailer sides.

Determining this height is important because the metal edges of the trailer are not square tubes, but rather L-shaped angle iron, 2" on each side. To maximize the width of my trailer, I'm going to build out over these edges and had planned to lay a 2x4 flat on the trailer bed next to the angle iron, then cantilever a 2x6 off of the 2x4 and then add another 2x4 on top, at the outside edge of the 2x6, to create a "stair step" sort of effect and achieve a 56" total width, rather than the 48" width of the trailer. Unfortunately, when building a tiny house, you quickly learn every trailer is different and there are no exact instructions out there that will account for all the idiosyncrasies of each and every trailer. In my case, I also have to account for a steel tube installed on the sides of the angle iron to house the trailer light wiring. This would necessitate jigsawing a 7' long 1/2" wide notch out of the base 2x4 and then chiseling out a channel on the underside of the 2x6, because even accounting for the corrugated steel panels and the 1.5" thickness of the 2x4, the steel wiring tube (as well as the spots where I had cut off the side rails) protruded just enough above the 2x4 that the 2x6 would not lay flat otherwise. 'Twasn't pretty, but chisel away I did:

Now I began to rip some of the 2x6 lumber for the two short ends of the trailer, since the thickness of three pieces of 2x dimensional lumber is only 4.5". Using my dad's table saw for the first time is somewhat bittersweet, as he died of cancer 15 years ago this week. Yet, at the same time I know he would be very proud of me for what I am attempting to do and that makes all the difference in the world when I get frustrated. Because frustrated indeed I got when the table saw began to bind up.

For years I have been scared of power saws, so I am NOT going to take any chances with this project. After each cut, I unplug the saw and of course wear safety glasses and got a nice set of ear plugs with the "leash" so they can hang around my neck and be accessed conveniently. Of course it takes more time to unplug, then plug in, then unplug, but I would much rather have all my fingers at the end of the project than "save" a few minutes here or there. So I decided to call it a day and wait for a friend to get back to me about what might be causing the table saw issues. Cleaning up was actually very therapeutic - I'm a bit of a neat freak and although I try to keep my work space organized, that doesn't seem to always happen!

Labor Day morning I woke up really depressed. Things just weren't going the way I wanted them to. Overnight I realized I had miscalculated how some of the boards would line up at the corners and would need to go buy a few more pieces of lumber to correct a poor initial engineering job. And those jigsaw cuts on the base 2x4s (to accommodate the trailer wiring tube) were just a bit wide and not very straight and as a bit of a perfectionist, I was just not happy with them - two new 2x4s were going to be needed.

Remember how I had written in my previous post about it being a good thing I have to work slow because of budget issues? Working slowly is also a good thing for your mental health. A two hour nap and a good lunch later and I was ready to "climb back on the horse." Still no answer from my friend about the table saw issues, so I stuck to the chop saw, cutting appropriate lengths, and concentrated on determining how exactly that shower pan would fit into the foundation framing, as well as how to attach it.

Throughout this whole process, I've been keeping very close tabs on the weight of my build, as my trailer is rated to only 2000 pounds. Every time I add a piece to the trailer, I add it to my spreadsheet - did you know a cubic inch of pressure treated lumber weights .024 pounds? (Pressure-treated lumber is being used only in spots where it might come in contact with the elements - regular pine dimensional lumber weighs less - .020 pounds.) While laying in bed Monday night, I made rough estimates about all the weights to be added and fretted immensely. Tuesday morning came and once again I realized working slowly is a very good thing. Overnight I had an epiphany and realized there was yet a better way to build my foundation that would actually weigh less and be stronger!

Lumber is strongest when placed on edge rather than flat - thus why you always see floor joists on edge. If I turned those 2x6s on their edge rather than flat and secured them to the end pieces and the interior joists rather than the base 2x4, I would actually be able to eliminate the top 2x4 and also provide just a bit more depth for thicker insulation under the shower pan (as well as increase the strength of the whole foundation). Excess corrugated metal could then bridge the gap between the base 2x4 and the bottom edge of the now-vertical 2x6, also eliminating the need for all that chiseling. Securing the foundation to the trailer has always been a big concern, but I would be able to attach my Simpson Strong Tie 12-gauge angles to the trailer at the end pieces and at the joists, spaced 24" on center, as well as bolting the base 2x4s to the trailer. Bingo!

Heading into a busy work week, I felt good in the end. Recalculating my lumber cuts so far, I would need to buy yet another 2x6 (as well as a new table saw blade, which I finally discovered to be the cause of my table saw problem), but I would also be able to re-use some of my previously allotted lumber purchases later on in my wall studs rather than in the foundation. Mentally I have also come to terms with two very important things:

Prior to this project, the most woodworking experience I have ever had was building a shoeshine kit as a 4-H project.

Engineering a foundation for my particular, unique trailer is a one-off experience - no one has ever done this before!

Keeping these two things in mind, it is much easier to accept that yes, of course I am going to make mistakes. Yes, I am going to have to buy extra pieces of lumber. Yes, I am going to have to re-do things. Yes, it is going to take longer. Luckily time is what I have on my side.

26 August 2014

Scribble, Scribble, Scratch

One advantage to having very little to spend on building my Teeny Tiny House is that it's going to take a long time.

What? That's an advantage?

In the past, I would have said no way, but I've discovered in this case it's a good thing. During Dee Williams' Tiny House Workshop that I attended earlier this month, one of the participants had said at the beginning that he moved slower than molasses when it came to actually building things. At the end of the day pow wow, we discussed how this trait turned out to be beneficial when this guy, who was just standing back as everyone else was hammering and drilling away like good little worker bees, noticed something about the trailer foundation that none of the rest of us had. If we hadn't fixed it, it would have affected everything else in the build. Rather than rushing right in, he contemplated the task at hand first.

When you're only able to afford $50-75 each month to accumulate building materials bit by bit, you're going to have a lot of time on your hands to contemplate the task at hand.

Shopping was the focus of my last post, and indeed since then I have picked up the rest of my needed power saws on Craigslist for a steal ($65 total for a chop/mitre saw, reciprocating saw, circular saw and jigsaw!). However, I've been spending most of my time over this last week or so contemplating how I'm going to start this project, breaking it down into chunks and then tackling each task at a time.

You would think that formally drafting out that floor plan that is rumbling around in my head would be the first step, but in the end the "work slowly" mantra holds true and I'm glad I contemplated other things first, namely the foundation. While awaiting the correct size ball hitch from the friend who donated the trailer (which in the end didn't fit in the hitch on my Jetta - arrrrgh!), I had driven back to the lonely shed outside of town where it was being stored and took some quick rough measurements and a few photos. Promptly I spent several evenings drawing the foundation elevations and setting up a spreadsheet to calculate the required materials and estimate weights (the trailer is only rated for 2000 pounds).

Then the trailer FINALLY arrived safely in my garage (thanks to the friend with the correctly sized hitch who ended up towing it using his truck):

Oooops!!! It seems out I had based the entire foundation upon the presumption the side rails were made of square tubes, when they were actually right angles. Plus the trailer wasn't exactly 48" x 96" - good thing I hadn't drafted that floor plan yet (because of course when you're working this tiny, every quarter inch counts!). Back to almost square one.

After many, many trips with the measuring tape back and forth to the garage from the living room couch where I spent more hours scribbling and drafting and calculating, I now had the final foundation plan, and could move on to the walls, right?


Because when I started thinking about the wall framing and started measuring the door, I realized the door jamb was set up for 2x6 wall framing, not 2x4s. Again, back to almost square one.

More scribbling, more measuring, more calculating, and then I realized I forgot to see where the shower drain would exit the trailer and whether it would interfere with one of the cross rails. Yup, I had to shift things by two inches - more erasing ensued. Next it was space for the plumbing vent stack - oops, forgot about that too. Several hours of internet surfing about wet venting later (as well as another hour chatting with my neighbor, who just so happens to be a plumber), and that problem was solved, at least for now. Much like thinking just a bit ahead about the walls revealed the door issue, thinking a bit ahead about the plumbing revealed yet another foundation change.

Contemplation. Contemplation.

Finally last night, this giant pile of scribbles and scratches:

Turned into these three sheets of gorgeously drafted plans, cross sections, detail drawings and materials schedules:

The aforementioned spreadsheet has also been updated and the current projected cost for the foundation, including insulation, subfloor and shower flooring (which in the case of my plan is integrated into the subfloor) is a whopping $339.37 including tax and shipping. Although I have yet to physically see the shower pan (a friend has graciously purchased a 24"x32" RV version for me), the website had a great technical drawing from which I was able to draft my plans. So yeah, those foundation plans might need to be tweaked yet a bit more when I finally have the actual pan in hand (you'd think I'd learn after the "finally having the trailer in hand" debacle), but overall I'm hoping they're pretty much good to go.

Now it's time to start squeaking out the lumber and fastener purchases, as well as hopefully snatching up a good online deal I've spotted on a teak slatted shower mat which will be transformed into the entryway floor that floats above the recessed shower pan.

And lastly, speaking of good deals, look what I found at a local lumberyard via Craigslist:

Two Jeld-Wen double-pane windows! Originally the steal of a deal price was $65, but when I explained to the guy what I was using them for, he charged me only $32.63 with tax. His reason - "I kind of like microhouses." Guess it pays to babble on about this crazy Teeny Tiny Adventure after all!

15 August 2014

First Steps

Within an hour of learning I'd been given a trailer for my Teeny Tiny House, I had a rough plan rumbling around in my head - a window seat, small kitchenette, loft with a twin futon and a wet area for a shower and composting toilet. But it has remained in my head rather than on paper, as I have yet to get accurate measurements of the actual trailer. Why?

Because the trailer is still stuck in a shed in the middle of a field twenty minutes away!

After double-checking my trailer hitching skills by watching a handy-dandy YouTube video, yesterday afternoon a friend and I took off in my Jetta to go pick up my new baby.  Unfortunately when we got there, we discovered my ball hitch was too big. Grrr. Now I have to wait until next week when the friend who gave me the trailer can get me his smaller (and correctly sized) hitch. Of course I hadn't bothered to bring a tape measure, so I couldn't even take good measurements. Oh well.

So what did I do next? Go shopping of course!

Actually I started shopping a few days ago, perusing Craigslist and the Habitat Restore, trying to get an idea of what types of building materials were out there and what they were going to cost. Plus I was going to need a few more tools, namely saws. I had inherited my dad's table saw and DeWalt drill, but a chop/mitre saw and a circular saw were going to be necessities as well. Lo and behold, a chop/mitre saw showed up on Craigslist that evening. Turns out the local community theater had just purchased a newer and better saw, so their perfectly serviceable Craftsman was up for sale for a whopping deal of $20. SOLD!

Next up: My biggest potential expense for the project - a door and windows. It is going to take some time to find the right sizes at the right price, and I'll need to know the exact dimensions before I can start framing, so I started looking right away. There's a little wiggle room in the window sizes, but I'm going to need a really small door to fit in my plan. While out searching for one of my dogs who decided to jump the fence and go for a leisurely roam around the neighborhood, I happened upon a free 36" steel exterior door on the curb. It had a window in it and of course the price was right, so I loaded it up.

However, the more I researched how much it was going to cost to get all the necessary accoutrements - door frame, jamb, sill, weather stripping, etc. - and the more I realized 36" was just going to be too wide, the more I realized I really, really wanted another door that was at the Habitat Restore. Unfortunately, it was $80 and I wouldn't have that much money in my account until I get paid next week. I called a friend with construction experience and was discussing the pros and cons of the free door and describing the one at the Habitat Restore and he immediately said "GO GET THAT DOOR BEFORE SOMEONE ELSE GETS IT!" With only 15 minutes before the Restore closed, he met me in the street as I drove by his house, he handed me some cash, and I careened out to navigate rush-hour traffic.

Twenty minutes later, this beautiful baby was in my garage:

It's a 30" Pella door completely prehung in its door jamb, with the door sill and everything! Plus it already has a gorgeous brushed nickle-finish lockset (no key, but getting someone to change the lock will solve that problem). I'm pretty proud of my purchase if I say so myself.

Total invested in my Teeny Tiny Home so far: $100. Off to continue searching for those windows!

13 August 2014

Prelude to An Adventure

In early 2011, I went on a date with a guy who traveled to a new location every few months for his job. He had decided to live in an RV so he could take his home with him, but he mentioned there were these cool little houses on trailers that would be a lot better. Although there was no second date, he had sent me the link to Jay Shaffer's Tumbleweed Tiny Houses and an obsession was born.

It wasn't an entirely new obsession - I've always been a house "junkie." At the age of seven, my dad, a draftsman, taught me the basics of drawing house plans and I eventually ended up with an architectural theory/history degree. A 13-year marriage to a corporate husband meant moving pretty much every two to three years, so I was constantly planning the "next" house. When we divorced ten years ago, I moved into my current home and promptly changed every surface so the house truly reflects my personality and the way I live. Finally, with no plans to leave my totally customized home until I died, I figured the house "thing" would eventually fade.

But that was obviously not the case.

At pretty much the same time as my introduction to Tiny Houses, my financial situation changed as I became disabled and began to live on a fixed income with no savings. I'm luckily able to (barely) pay my mortgage and all my bills and keep up most of the appearances of a middle class life. However, to do so, I constantly have to make choices about what I can and cannot purchase and to simplify many things in my life. After five years of this new and simpler lifestyle, I've discovered that I'm honestly happier with less.

So as I perused all the Tiny House websites, I would dream of what it might be like to build a simpler, Tiny House of my own and how it would reflect my now-simpler lifestyle. I would spend hours upon hours with a pencil, eraser and graph paper, drawing plans, elevations and cross sections. It was a giant puzzle and my plans became more ambitious (finding room for a piano and rowing machine!). But I realized I needed to learn more about the actual engineering of these things, as every precious half inch began to count. I found used books on house framing and building construction, but still had questions about things specific to Tiny Homes, like the trailer foundation.

And then I happened to discover Dee Williams, one of the "founding members" of the Tiny House Movement, was going to be offering a one-day hands-on workshop in Iowa City, a not-too-far-away drive and heck of a lot closer to my home than Portland.

But seriously? Why would I need to go to this workshop? It's not like I would ever have the finances eeked out of my budget to build one of these things. I would just have to be happy drawing my little plans with my pencil and eraser.

But I WANTED to go. And somehow I juggled my finances and somehow found the money for the workshop fee and two tanks of gas.

And going to that workshop was the BEST. THING. EVER.

I got over my fear of power saws. I got answers to a lot of my engineering questions (how far CAN you build out over a trailer tongue?). I got to meet Dee Williams. I got to see my first Tiny House in person. I was inspired.

And I came home and posted about it on Facebook.

And then I got a message from two dear friends:

They had a very small (4'x8') utility trailer they weren't using.
They wanted to see what I could do with it.
They wanted to give it to me.


I will be honest, I am SCARED S***LESS. Because I HAVE to do this now. Sure, it is going to take years to build as I slowly find the money to purchase one 2x4 each month. But somehow I still HAVE to build it because my friends have faith in me and what I can do, not just on paper, but also in wood and nails and sweat.

Let the Teeny Tiny Adventure of building a Teeny Tiny House on a Teeny Tiny Trailer begin!