Happy New Year! Tiny Surprises Ahead in Spring 2017

We want to wish you all a Happy New Year!  Renee and I have been very busy working on the tiny house this fall & winter since my last post in August (sorry about that- grad school is just CRAZY sometimes!).  We plan to finish all interior work by May.  I hope to blog some of the “rough-in” and interior progress we made soon.  In the meanwhile, stay tiny friends!

Our super-insulated tiny house is all roughed-in and doing well in the winter with a propane heat furnace!
Our super-insulated tiny house is all roughed-in and doing well in the winter with a propane heat furnace!
TINY House, but year-round BIG Christmas spirit! :-)
TINY House, but year-round BIG Christmas spirit! 🙂

Tiny House Wall Framing, Corner Sheathing, and “Plumbing” of Walls

The end of May we finally got around to wall framing once our subfloor was completed. If you have your lumber delivered on-site, the lumber is usually strapped together.  Do NOT unstrap whiteboard until you are ready to use it, as it will bow and twist really easily with temperature/moisture changes. At this point, make sure your trailer is leveled and subfloor finished.

our wall lumber has been delivered

You will also need to have headers ready if you plan on having windows (or a door), which I assume you’ll likely have at least one! I will explain how to create window headers in a separate blog post.

two constructed headers example

Every lit bit of your house is going to contribute to weight. With that in mind, we did 24” studs on-center instead of the typical 16” on-center.  We recommend laying at your wall studs on the trailer itself, which will make it easier to hang in place.  There’s a science to determining which walls to hang and move in what direction first as you’ll have support braces in the way too, so don’t hang your walls randomly- plan.

Speaking of weight, write down or take a pic of your starting wheel well distance between the frame and tire; it wouldn’t hurt to know as you build how well your trailer is stabilized and holding weight as it should.

starting wheel well distance

Our walls were done in three sections, starting with the rear of the trailer that had the more complicated pieces (dealing with wheel well).  Since we have a shed-roof design, we start with high-side wall first.  Using a speed square, you can carry over your stud measurements marking 2’ centers.  We used pressure-treated lumber for our bottom kick plate that touches the trailer; the rest was regular whiteboard.

laying out 2 foot centers for top and bottom plate
We decided to use pressure-treated lumber for our bottom kick plate touching the trailer.

Unless you do this for a living, planning goes a long way! People may disagree, but planning a tiny house layout is 10x harder than building a 2000 sq ft home, so allot enough time to ensuring blueprints are ready on build day; a pencil width makes all the difference! Our wall layout changed dozens of times and took 5 months.  Your blueprints will change once you have trailer in hand too.  Have these blueprints accessible on build day.

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Renee and Larry going over the fine points of our stud layout.

We used mostly nails for wall framing/toe-nailing.  Some tiny house goers prefer the use of screws; there are advantages and disadvantages to either one, so ‘pick your poison’ after some homework and go with it.  We did use self-tapping metal screws for the bottom kick plate, and Headlok bolts in strategic areas to secure walls corners together.  Maybe it goes without saying, but I wouldn’t try to do this (all wall framing) yourself; invite a friend up or family to help on this important day.  Not all is going to sit nicely on your trailer for nailing, nor always get the nailing right (as Renee points out below!).  In our defense, we have gotten A LOT better with a nail gun since then!

Add headers above window openings and door frame:

placing window header in frame 2

When framing windows, use rough opening dimensions (as opposed to actual opening dimensions). If you never done this before, sketching out a typical window rough in helps:

When our frame was together, we measured diagonals (one corner to the other) to ensure equal measurements.  You do not want to put up a racked wall.  You may need to screw the wall to the trailer frame temporally with decking screws to move the top or bottom frame to where it needs to be without the whole wall moving on you.

Once we knew all wall dimension were correct, we put a diagonal brace on to keep it in place without moving on us. Just use decking screws (you’ll want to be able to remove it!).

diagonal cross support for wall frame

We leveled our wall before securing into place with cross supports.  The larger the level (such as a 4’ level) the better for this task. You may find you’ll need to re-adjust these before final “plumbing” of the walls.

use level with wall raising

Our first raised wall!

We didn’t intend to do this below (and maybe will work out better!), but the high-side of our trailer ended up with a double kick plate at the wheel well (just in case you notice in photo above). The low-side only had one on the wheel well.  Nonetheless, communication when making cuts is key!

Don’t think you’re getting carried away with supports- you’ll need them! This is why choosing what walls to do when is important.

lots of cross supports back wall

Let’s talk corner walls. You’ll see many tiny houses carry their “long” walls out to the end.  We believe for better support, let your corners carry more of the support by having a full corner kick plate from end to end.

illustrating that will make back and front plates carry across for better support.JPG
Why carry these walls out when you can make your tongue & rear walls more load bearing?

There are also different arrangements your corner studs can come together (two examples below). We sandwiched our corner studs so that you can place insulation between them and so wiring can be run easier.

After finishing the high and low side of our “back walls” (note we saved corner walls for very last- I only mentioned it sooner to see what we did with this section), the next section was the high-side wall in the front. The middles (which had the wheel well) was the smallest section and done second to last.

Given our space, we needed to build two of our walls on top of each other:

building walls on top of each other

Having temporary “side support” brackets will help ensure your wall doesn’t fall off the frame when inching it near the edge:

Some tiny housers will bolt the walls to the trailer.  As mentioned before, we used several 3” self- tapping wood to metal screws.  We also used wood to metal adhesive underneath. If you take this approach, you’ll need to pilot drill a hole big enough that the screws will want to anchor, and remove any shavings while you pilot. These shavings we found will just cause the screws to spin and not anchor otherwise.

And here are the screw bolts (Headlok) we used for securing corners and wall sections together:

You’ll eventually need a door, and should indicate where that kick plate will eventually be cut out. Almost all contractors just cut this once the walls are already up, and someone could cut or damage the floor.  One cool trick of the trade is to precut the bottom of this plate, so later when you go to remove it by sawing, the saw never comes close to the floor. Just make sure to change the depth of your circular saw when you “kerf” the pressure-treated bottom kick plate.

The tongue and rear walls were “fun” as they have an angled piece that must incorporate our 2/12 pitch of the roof. Keep in mind 2/12 is really the minimum you should do.  If you go with a standing seam metal roof like we did, some companies require at least 3/12 pitch or can compensate with customized peak trim.  We laid these out on the ground since there was no room on the trailer (or for error!). Constantly measure diagonals to keep measurement lined up, but remember your high and low walls studs are different measurements (if shed-style roof), so temporarily brace a board across at your lowest point to get a perfect square; once the “U” is where it needs to be, then you can prep for the top piece.

laying out front and back

You will need to notch out where the angled piece goes on your corner studs. A giant T square can help you when placing your pitch. Roof rafters will eventually be “bird-mouthed” onto the top of the angled whiteboards.  When moving your finished wall, don’t make the same mistake we did where a diagonal brace is in a place that either needs removed or will get in the way (pictured brace was okay).

brace on front wall

angled tongue wall in place

Some other tidbits before showing finished photos! Where your wall sections come together, particularly the middle of your layout, try to have extra support for keeping these walls together as one unit.

We used structural insulated sheathing (SIS) which is normally near the weight of regular sheathing, and also has some R value; we also used SIS when insulating our wheel well undercarriage.  At least the corners of sheathing need support, so we added some 1x wood which were added using a Kreg system.  We’ll be using it a lot more in the future for cabinetry and picture framing other tiny house structures. We attached some of our corners before the walls went up.  Follow whatever staple layout is recommended for the sheathing you are using.

staple layout
Example of the two staple layouts we must follow when using structural insulated sheathing (SIS).

We went ahead and remove part of the vapor barrier we no longer needed on the  walking subfloor face:

removing vapor barrer plastic from middle of subfloor
In addition to the subfloor, our walls will eventually have a vapor barrier as well.

Below are pictures of our wall framing! Your last step is “plumbing” the walls using Mason string by attaching blocks and running a 2×4 in and out of the string starting in the back and moving your way forward.  You will need help with this step for someone to pull in/out on the walls and re-brace if one of your wall sections is more bowed in/out, etc.  Any specific questions about the process? Comment below!

plumbing a wall with string block on outside
In this picture, we’re were trying to make sure our tongue and rear wall sloped pieces were angled correctly.  If the string is looser or tighter in some spots with your whiteboard, then you may need to re-cut.
plumbing back wall see mason string
Showing mason string going across where one of our shed-style slope cuts was going to be placed.  Once all walls our up, you place the mason string outside of the walls & run a 2×4 block in-between systematically from back to front to move walls into plumbed positions with your braces.
mack and renee wall framing
Any pictures I seem to take of Renee and me end up blurry or out of focus do to the habit of placing my phone by the chop saw.  Perhaps it’s about time I clean out the camera lens (and stop doing that!).
renee in wall framing
Renee enjoying the house being framed and coming together.

 

rear wall
Rear wall.
tongue wall front
Tongue wall (never really know what to call front or back or “sides” on a tiny house!).
low side wall framing
Low-side wall, in the direction our shed-style roof slopes.
all walls up but three side view
High-side wall with all sections up except for a section over the wheel wells.
tiny house all wall framing done side view
Completed wall framing! In this pic, there is mason string blocked on the rear wall. Once that was plumbed, we moved to the rest of the tiny house.

 

 

Tiny House Thermal Bulkhead for Subfloor Within-Trailer Frame

One reason people build a tiny house subfloor on top their trailer is to have a complete thermal barrier from floor to wall.  We bought a tiny house trailer that would allow us to sink our subfloor within the frame to have extra head (loft) space. While building a thermal barrier for these kind of trailers are very customized, you’ll see building a bulkhead is really not all that difficult, and can be built with minimal lumber and foam insulation. Wheel wells can also be insulated.

where insulation normally doesnt occur thermal bulkhead.jpg
A con to subfloors within-trailer frames is that your walls are not continuously insulated with the floor- the outside trailer frame is essentially large angle iron welded on. We can create a thermal barrier in this space, as well as the undercarriage of the wheel well.

Your frame that will hold a bunch of insulated foam board and spray foam consists of pressure treated 2x4s.

bulkhead framing with joists in place
The basic frame support. A ripped pressure-treated 2×4 with blocking at the width of your metal overhang.

Here is the schematic of what we’re trying to achieve. Above the frame we have 3 inches in foam blocked out, with another 1 inch of foam insulation that sits perfectly underneath.  This is all covered up at the bottom with pressure-treated sheathing. Any gaps, such as where support braces are, we use open-cell spray foam insulation (like the kind used for windows and doors).  Many cases you’ll want open-cell over closed-cell to allow natural expansion/contraction, and a way for any potential water/moisture to escape.  More on spray foam differences down the road!

basic thermal bulkhead setup side view
The thermal bulkhead at a side view.

The frame is held into place with wood-to-metal self-tapping screws. We made it to be flush with the angle iron.  We welded some additional support brackets underneath to support the weight of the walls (we suggest you do that too- do you really want that angle iron with a few spot welds to be the only thing holding up your walls?). Because of this, we had to customize the fit somewhat.  Tedious but worth it!

Your trailer may be set up differently, but parts of our overhang had areas where we could put additional insulation above the frame.

When we placed the first layer of 1 in foam, we allotted room for the support braces, and made sure to place foam behind the support braces too.  Foam board of these small sizes you can just score/cut with a utility knife.  The supports are screwed in with typical decking screws.

Add your other foam board layers to a tight fit; you may need a block and hammer to tap it in without breaking the foam. Then add within the bottom of the frame another 1 inch foam board that will be covered up.

Final step was to nail gun pressure-treated sheathing to the bottom.  Leave room for any wiring!

Our completed thermal bulkhead! Now we have continuous insulation across the floor, removing the disadvantage of a subfloor within trailer frame.

complete trailer finished bulkhead vapor barrier
Our completed thermal bulkhead on each side of the trailer.

Whenever you get to placing outside sheathing, you will want to cover up the thermal bulkhead.  In our case we have thermal structure sheathing. So we dropped down all our sheathing to be almost flush with the bulkhead.  The sheathing is about 0.25″ higher than the pressure-treated sheathing on the bottom of the bulkhead to further prevent water from running into that cavity.  Let us know if you end up trying a version of our thermal bulkhead!

covering thermal bulkhead with oxboard
The thermal bulkhead is further covered up with structural insulated sheathing (Oxboard). Another R3 surrounding the bulkhead for continuous insulation, raising the dew point in your wall cavities.

 

 

Positive Examples & Teachable Moments: Saving the World through Environmental Education. Interview with Carolyn Waters

{Annually we feature & interview people in our ‘tiny’ community that engages our minds and hearts in what it takes to leave a tiny footprint}

Our first Tiny Steward interview is with Carolyn Waters, Environmental Educator and Artist, of Where it Stops, Nobody Knows.

First cool thing we noticed about your blog is that you hope that it “will save the world,” something we hope to see happen too! What would this new world look like to you?

My vision for a “saved” world would include a mixture of old practices that our society has largely forgotten, and new ones we haven’t imagined yet, with the result of eliminating large-scale negative human impacts on ecological systems. It will require collaboration between so many different people that I can’t see the full picture by myself. So often we focus on the negative impacts humans have on our environments, but it can be more productive to focus on the positive examples and how we can make more of them. A student recently showed me a project where artists restore coral reefs with sculptures that act as a substrate for the coral to grow on – that’s an example of the kind of creative, positive human-ecosystem interaction I’m talking about that will save the world.

I see you are an environmental educator.  How did you get into environmental education, and how does this shape your decision to build a tiny house?

You’ve really opened up a can of worms with this question. My interest in environmental education started eleven years ago when I got my first “real” job after college as a tutor for ELL students in a public high school and middle school. I was also doing a lot of rock climbing at the time, and through that I was learning about public lands and natural history. On my first day of the tutoring job, I was basically dropped into a classroom of students and handed a roster – no curriculum, no supplies, and no training. So I quickly had to figure out what to do with the class periods. I asked myself, “what is the most important thing I can teach new immigrants and first-generation students?” The two things that first came to mind were management of public lands and creative arts. You’re probably not surprised to hear that the year could have gone better. I was one of those teachers who would cry on my way home from work. I loved working with kids, but I couldn’t stand the environment of working in those schools. Here’s an interaction with a student that illustrates my frustration:

Me: Have you ever run away from home like the character in our book?

Amos: Yes, when I was mad I used to run away into the forest in Kenya and sleep in the trees.

Me: (Whoa, crazy) Didn’t your parents worry about you?

Amos: No, they taught me which bugs to eat and they gave me a knife to fight off lions.

I struggled every day to find ways to help students in my class like Amos connect knowledge they brought from their first homes to the environment they now lived in.  He had moved to a small town in Indiana from a dramatically different place.  How could I help Amos feel like it was worth his time to spend every day in a cinderblock classroom only to return to a small, urban apartment each afternoon?  During that school year, I Googled “teaching outdoors” and a perfect graduate program popped up – a Master of Education focused on Environmental Education. I ended up attending that partnership program between Western Washington University and North Cascades Institute the following year.

What is your favorite part of environmental education?  Do you think age matters to instilling an appreciation of nature into someone? And do you think enough is being done to connect people with nature?

Of course we’re not doing enough to connect people with nature. Actually the opposite; it’s becoming easier every day to distance ourselves from nature. That’s why we have the environmental problems we have.

My favorite parts of environmental education are the teachable moments that come about spontaneously, especially when I’m learning as I teach. One of my favorite memories is from leading a small group of fifth graders on a hike. They had named themselves “The Read Headed Sapsuckers”, after a native species, to differentiate their group from the others. Coincidentally, I was starting to learn sapsucker behaviors around the same time. On the first day of their overnight field trip, I taught them to practice making the territorial noise of a sapsucker drumming on a metal light post. After a few minutes of practicing, three sapsuckers flew into the trees in front of us, and the group got to know their mascot face-to-face. I know that as a professional ornithologist you probably frown on calling in birds… but I didn’t actually expect it to work!

As far as the issue of age – lifelong learning is essential to being a person who is ecologically literate. So in that sense, age doesn’t matter. However, many research studies have shown that there are certain developmental stages in a person’s life that are especially important for developing relationships with our surroundings and understanding the roles we play in ecological systems. Our country does an okay job of teaching young children about their environments, but as we get older there are fewer and fewer opportunities, especially for adults, and even more so for marginalized communities.

What does a “tiny steward” look like to you?  How/what do you feel is the best way we can make environmental stewardship a natural and integral part of our communities?

A “tiny steward” is probably no more than three inches tall, wears a red gnome hat, and goes around sprinkling moss spores on the north side of trees. But seriously, I think the first part of this question is about how stewardship and tiny house living are connected. It means making a commitment to reducing consumption of resources at a drastic rate. There are lots of ways we can work toward making stewardship part of our communities. One is to integrate it into school curricula and work responsibilities. It’s too easy to live our lives without feeling like we’re making meaningful contributions to our communities. Even small steps can make a big difference in changing that. Another thing we can do is to design our urban spaces to highlight a place’s ecological values. Instead of hiding a creek in a culvert when building a new road or path, build it in a way that shows off the creek’s beauty and integrates it into the way we go about our daily activities.

What preparations (if any) have you and your partner made for tiny home living? Is the tiny home meant to be a permanent dwelling or is that still TBD?

Our tiny house is intended to be a permanent dwelling (as much as anything can be permanent) for both of us. We do not have heavy time pressure to complete our project, so we have been taking small steps to prepare for almost two years now. We are constantly building a donation pile and getting rid of those things, we have changed the way we think about and talk about gifts, and Robert especially has put a lot of research into appliances and furniture options. We have both lived in small spaces for much of our lives already, so the idea of “living tiny” isn’t completely new to us.

What has the reaction been like of people you know/don’t know to build a tiny house? Has this drawn any attention in your community?

Most people say “I love watching those shows on TV!” Generally people are fascinated. It’s the first thing most family and friends ask us about when they see us. Sometimes at parties I feel like how I imagine being a celebrity feels – one person finds out that we’re planning to move into a tiny house, then they whisper it to the next person, and pretty soon I’m surrounded by a bunch of squealing women who want to know how many square feet the house will measure, but aren’t worried about asking me what my name is. We haven’t gotten any formal press about it, but that’s because there are a handful of others around Louisville who are also building tiny and are intentionally seeking press attention to further their projects.

The only negative feedback we’ve had so far has been related to finding a place to put it. Louisville’s zoning code is relatively old, and does not have regulations specific to this kind of housing. Louisville’s culture as a whole is pretty averse to any kind of change, so the idea of doing anything that pushes boundaries is scary and uncomfortable for a lot of people. The people who are interested in our project tend to be interested mainly in the aesthetic parts, and in general the conversation becomes uncomfortable when we start to talk about the social or legal implications.

You seem to have an appreciation for art and its connection to nature.  What role has that played/continue to play in your life and occupation?

One of my majors as an undergraduate was studio art, with a focus in oil painting. My other major was anthropology, focusing on photoethnography. Soon after I graduated college, I went to spend a summer at Earthaven Ecovillage working as a muralist in exchange for experiential learning in intentional community living. That was one of the first challenges outside of school where I used my skills to attempt to represent a subculture through art. Later in life, I worked in marketing for a nonprofit dedicated to environmental education, and much of my job was to build a visual brand for the organization, often through photography. I continue to use photography and illustration as means for teaching people and marketing the programs I work in. I’ve been toying with the idea of designing a semester-long class about marketing for environmental causes or art and environmental activism.

What’s been the most challenging part of your tiny house building experience so far?

Oh dear. There have been a lot of challenges! The most memorable was needing to move the house on short notice. Up until that point, a friend had been very generous in allowing us to use part of his business property to work on the project. In a quick turn of events, we needed to move the house with only a few days’ notice. After a lot of frantic phone calls we did find a great spot to continue the work … The drive to the new site meant going through downtown. By this time, it was nearly midnight, so luckily there wasn’t much traffic. Aside from our worries that the structure would wobble and rack, we were also worried about the accuracy of our measurements for going underneath of the several overpasses between us and the destination. Each time, we stopped in the middle of the road, and one of us got out to made sure the roof wouldn’t scrape the overpass. What a celebration we had when we finally got the house to its new site!

What do you hope to gain most out of tiny house living?

More time outdoors, accomplishment and challenge as a couple, freedom, a life less invested in material belongings.

Finally, the name of your blog is Where It Stops, Nobody Knows. If one wants to start living and thinking in an environmentally-friendly way, any advice on where it should begin?

There are so many options! Here are a couple of recommendations, from easiest to slightly less easy: 1) Get up right now and go for a walk outside. 2) Choose one resource that you use every day: water, potato chips, your car are just a few examples. Start there. Find out as much as you can about where that resource that you are using came from and where it goes when you are finished with it. For bonus points, choose an alternative source or disposal method. Then report back to us. – Carolyn Waters

 

Tiny House Subfloor Framing, Insulation, and Sheathing

After leveling our tiny house trailer, subfloor construction had begun!  In order to gain more headspace in our lofts, we have a subfloor that is built within the trailer instead of on top.  While there are several cons (https://www.tinyhomebuilders.com/tiny-house-trailers/additional-information) to having a subfloor within the trailer, we have overcame these with our construction design. One of cons we overcame with a thermal bulkhead will be explained in our next post.

For the bottom of the subfloor, we decided to use ½” pressure treated sheathing instead of aluminum/steel flashing. Let’s be real- water is going to find its way somehow into your floor during construction. With metal flashing you’re just asking for your framing to be a bucket. You will add the sheathing after you constructed your framed box.

pressure treated sheathing on bottom of trailer.JPG

In preparation of your first frame, make sure to have the “crown” of your wood facing up so when weight bears down on it, the wood will “level” out. Also mark where your studs will go.

We had four framed boxes.  The back one was framed differently to allow for plumbing. Joists were framed every 16”. We used 2x6s since our frame was designed for them.  If you have a similar design like ours, you can measure the inner joists on the fly within the frame.

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We used a chop saw to get everything to the dimensions we needed. A chop saw will become your best friend- buy or borrow one somehow.  Fortunate for us, my father-in-law has many contractor friends that are willing to let us borrow tools! Larry seen in most of these pictures is a jack-of-all-trades electrician that can literally build anything. It is safe to say that without him our build would be going a lot slower with many, many more mistakes! We are grateful for his help and expertise.  There is probably a father or father-in-law behind many tiny house builds!

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We used a nail gun to secure all joists and for the bottom plywood. Ten penny (galvanized) nails (3”) attached the outside framing to the joists. Six penny (2 3/8”) nails were used to secure the sheathing.  Chalk lines can be used to keep track of where your joists are.

Our framed boxes required a full 4×8 plywood plus another cut to size.  We also notched out where bolts stick out in the frame that hold scissor jacks on the trailer.

Wood-to-metal tapping screws held the boxes in place within the frame.

tapping screws wood to metal joist box.JPG

To cut foam board insulation to size (quickly), we highly recommend a table saw with adjustable fence.  The only downside is you can’t easily cut foam boards by yourself as it more easily “binds” on the saw than wood.  If you happen to have 2-3 people working on the project though (like in our case), one person feeds, another person helps keep the cut portion along the fence, and another holds on the receiving end. You also will want to use a separate blade just for foam rather than use the same one you do for your wood.

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We were able to accommodate 5 inches of foam board (two 2”& one 1” pieces) into our frame, giving us an R value of 25. We also used expandable window/door spray foam around our boxes & eventual plumbing.

Our box in the back was designed a little differently to accommodate plumbing.  We highly recommend creating a design to have all your plumbing on one side of your trailer (or at least close to).  Trust us, it’ll save hassle later.  Same goes for running propane lines, keep it to one side.  We chose driver’s side since that is more to RV code standards.

last box different for plumbing.JPG

Since our joists no longer followed across the metal frame, we created a doubled “header” secured with headlock screws.  These joists were attached with joist hangars.

Look for a thorough blog post in the future about plumbing. However we will briefly explain here what we did and why.  In a northern climate, we did not want any plumbing exposed/underneath the trailer like you typically see.  Our drain pipes are in an insulated subfloor. We plumbed for a flush toilet to have the option, but we will have a composting toilet above with urine divider attached to the drain line. We accommodated lines for a vent (air inlet), washer/dryer, shower with p trap accessibility, and bathroom faucet.

 

subfloor plumbing
General layout of our plumbing. Unlike most tiny house builds, our drain lines will be mainly in the subfloor, and pipes in the house will not be in external walls, only internal ones or knee walls.

Attach pipes with the slope you need. You can use PVC scrap as bracers until you have insulation place.

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Before placing insulation, run a leak test. Plug your drain and run water from a hose through your lines.  Hopefully you won’t see leaking!

Place insulation where you can, including spray foam, but make sure it doesn’t mess with the slope you tried to achieve.

Remember you’re going to need to attach to these drain lines later.  We added a pipe that will be slightly above our AdvanTech once in place.

Once insulation is done, it’s time for AdvanTech (tongue and groove TNG plywood).  Keep in mind you lose part of your sheet from the tongue and groove coming together, so if you have a 28ft trailer like us, in the front & back you’ll need to compensate with using smaller sheets. We decided to start with our most difficult piece, one that had our plumbing and needed to hug the wheel wells.

We recommend chalk lines to know where your metal seems & wooden joists are for fastening.  We also used painter’s tape on our trailer to where metal seems & wood joists were at times.

We nailed AdvanTech into place.  We also used wood-to-metal tapping screws to secure.  When placing one sheet into another, you may need to use a hammer and wooden block to adjust it into place & make sure the sheet is flush on both sides of the trailer. Our last shorter piece was next to where we placed our first sheet. See that we used subfloor adhesive as well.

Lastly, we stapled a plastic sheet over the AdvanTech to serve as a vapor barrier. We placed scrap blocking on top of it so wind wouldn’t rip it away.  Good thing we finished the subfloor and vapor barrier because the very next morning was a torrential downpour!

Have any questions or want specifics about our subfloor build? Feel free to ask below!

mack and renee closeup during subfloor build.JPG
Feeling rejuvenated that our tiny house build is finally getting somewhere.

Insulating Your Tiny House Wheel Well Undercarriage

Before too much weight is on your trailer, you may want to consider insulating the undercarriage of your wheel wells.  If you desire a really tight house, and very likely will have walls built on top of your wheel wells, you may want to consider this additional (but in our opinion necessary) step.

Some of the items you may need (which may or may not apply to you based on your trailer design) are:

  1. Foam board insulation (1″ & 1/2″) 2) Rubberized undercarriage paint 3) Glue (in our case subfloor caulking) 4) Wood to metal screws w/ washers 5) Oxboard.  What is Oxboard you say? It’s really awesome structural insulated sheathing; we will discuss Oxboard more up the road in an extended insulation post. We used 1/2″ which provides R3 insulation in the wheel well in addition to the foam board.

In our trailer design, the wheel wells were customized (through Wishbone Tiny Homes to be watertight, structural wheel wells. In between some of the plates were areas we placed 1″ foam board, which formed the first layer for the top and sides of the wheel wells.  While it may be obvious, you’ll need to remove the wheels to do these steps, so do it all before there is a heavy load on your trailer!

foam board added to wheel well undercarriage
Subfloor glue to hold the next 1/2″ foam board in place.
undercarriage wheel well foam board
1″ foam board in undercarriage of structural wheel well.

 

 

 

 

 

Our second layer was 1/2″ foam board cut to fit. You want to place these like you would drywall so they help anchor each other in place. The third layer is the 1/2″ Oxboard (structural sheathing). So right off the bat, we have between 6-11 R value to insulate the bottom of our walls, in addition to whatever insulation you’ll have above & in your walls. Self-tapping wood to metal screws (2 3/4″) with washers were used to anchor it all into place:

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This is what it looked like before going to our next step. Keep in mind you’ll want some wiggle room behind your wheel drums, and that while you may have so much cavity room above your wheels, that will be subject to change. Even with the 1.5″ of insulation above the wheels, we allowed enough room for the wheels to raise from weight and when traveling:

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Next you’ll want to seal your insulation somehow.  We just used Gorilla duct tape; anything that acts like flashing tape should do.  This is because rubberized paint will be added on top. Tape was added around the wheel well, all seams, and underneath:

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Last step (other than placing the wheels back on!) is the undercoating paint. We gave everything two coats (just to be safe):

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If your wheel wells look exactly like how they started (despite all the work you did), then you did your job!

insulated wheel wells
Insulated wheel wells- done!
insulated wheel wells
What it looks like once your wheel well undercarriages are insulated… exactly the same as you started!

Do you have a similar trailer design and insulated your wheel well undercarriage some other way? Let us know!

Leveling Your Tiny House Trailer

Last week of March when the weather broke we leveled our tiny house. Below is what we did and some general guidelines to follow when leveling your tiny house trailer…

We did not have the luxury to park our tiny house trailer on level ground or pavement.  If the ground is even remotely unlevel, your equalizers (the yokes that attach between wheels and have the leaf springs) are going to pivot wildly as they’re meant to operate with a heavy load on your trailer. To stabilize the equalizers and have a level surface for building, you can use pressure treated lumber to fit under your wheel wells; you don’t want your wheels to eventually sink in a soft surface once bearing weight.  In our case, we used two 10’ boards for one wheel well & three on another:

wheel wells leveled

We didn’t want to have our tiny house sitting too high off the ground before it needs to move, so we staggered the boards to make the transition easier.  Hopefully your ground is more level than ours where you won’t need so many:

staggered walkway

We determined if the trailer was level using a 48” level.  In this case, the larger the better to account for any abnormalities in your trailer frame.  If you have access to a 72” level, this would be even more helpful.  We didn’t but the 48” level worked just fine.

truck attached to trailer with level
We leveled our trailer while still hitched to a vehicle. On trailer a 48″ level (this size or larger recommended).

We used your standard floor jack for raising/lowering the trailer, and did this with the trailer still hitched to a vehicle.  We placed the jack on wood blocks and used an additional wood block on the saddle to get the height we need:

hydraulic jack with blocking 1

If you plan to use scissor jacks or if your trailer came with attached scissor jacks (like ours), do not fully extend them; these are not meant to bear weight for long periods of time. We placed patio stones at the base of each scissor jack, and additional concrete blocks where necessary. For concrete blocks, keep in mind these easily break & crumble, so the “reinforced” (as opposed to lightweight) core ones would probably hold weight better.

scissor jack not fully extended stone block

Under the patio blocks we used a combination of gravel & sand to level them the way we wanted. Just add/move or take away gravel to get the blocks sitting the way you need.

gravel sand sand to create smooth surface for stone block

 

 

 

Support your hitch jack as well, and raise or lower to where you need. Ours was removable and we did this step last. I recommend getting the rest of your trailer level as much as possible so you don’t need to rely too much on using the hitch to fix your pitch (hey, that rhymed!).

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Finally, even though your trailer likely isn’t going anywhere fast, chock the back of your wheels- just in case!

chock behind wheels

A leveled tiny house trailer ready to build! If you have any questions about what we did, feel free to post below.

Leveled tiny house trailer on pressure treated wood and stone blocks, with additional support from scissor jacks. Some tiny house users will also use bottle jacks and/or a floor jack on site.
Leveled tiny house trailer on pressure treated wood and stone blocks, with additional support from scissor jacks. Some tiny house users will also use bottle jacks and/or a floor jack on site.

Downsizing to live in a tiny house space: The Realities and A Lifetime of ‘Stuff’ Accumulation

Late fall last year is when Renee and I decided to officially go tiny. We currently live with Renee’s parents saving “until it hurts.” Most families do annual spring cleaning and “purge” of unwanted material items, only to re-accumulate stuff they either don’t need or forget they have. My in-laws built their own home 30 years ago with lots of heart and hard work. In that 30 year period, they never did a spring cleaning like others do and finally decided it was time to clean out the garage and crawl space. Since Renee and I also just made the decision to build a tiny house, we thought it perfect timing to try to downsize our living quarters and what we own to make the transition easier. We were told by our in-laws that whatever we own would have to fit in the tiny house, and understandably, couldn’t keep anything as storage in their home once living in a tiny house.

The following pictures are to illustrate two points: 1) we are all guilty of keeping things that we think we need but don’t really; in other words, you have more stuff than you think, and 2) learning to live with only what you “need” and nothing more can be tough if you never knew any other way, but is completely achievable! Learning how to think tiny doesn’t need to be anything drastic like below- it can happen slowly within a realistic time frame until you’re fully and mentally prepared.

Our family rented a 30′ dumpster and had exactly a week to ‘clean house’ of anything we didn’t need. It’s important to note we donated whatever items we could give away (e.g clothes, books, etc.). The container was HUGE but you would be surprised how easily one can fill up:

The 30′ dumpster we rented for our family to purge 30 years accumulation of stuff. You begin to realize it’s too easy to fill what at first seemed like a huge container.

Dumpster after 1 morning…

Dumpster day 2…

day 2

In the meanwhile Renee and I used to have our own closet space of about 5’ in separate bedrooms. We decided to move all clothes we own into one closet and get half of a closet space each. We assumed that we wouldn’t have any other space to store summer/winter clothes. Although we periodically donate clothes we don’t wear in over a year, it can still be tough keeping only one of certain items. If you are serious about going tiny, I highly recommend going through this exercise as it’s hard to put dedicated full-size closet space for clothes in a tiny house (we’ve seen it but takes A LOT of space):

We went from having two 5' closets to half of one per person. Closet space is extremely limited in most tiny houses.
We went from having two 5′ closets to half of one per person. Closet space is extremely limited in most tiny houses.

Renee and I love books. All our books alone would *literally* fill half of a tiny house. We knew we needed to depart with any books we have read or possibly could live without (We also plan to go fully digital with books, so plan for that in a future blog post). We were able to get rid of half of our books so far, but we still have another full bookshelf not depicted here, and I have a graduate office full of textbooks. In the wildlife/forestry field, not all books, especially older field guides, are in digital form yet. Keep this in mind when buying new books to only buy in print if no other option. This will be a difficult transition for me, as I think and enjoy a book better I can feel, hold with crumpled pages, and write in with a pen:

We got rid of half of our books, but still have plenty to go. Keep in mind not all books are available in digital, which means you need to allot shelf space for it.
We got rid of half of our books, but still have plenty to go. Keep in mind not all books are available in digital, which means you need to allot shelf space for it.

What do you do about sentimental items? Photos take up significant space too. We are currently trying to scan old family photos onto a computer since we simplify don’t have the room. I also have sentimental pieces like a hard hat I’ve had (but not used) for 7 years. The hard hat reminded me of the first Point Park University sponsored alternative spring break trip I went on. We were creating a house for Habitat for Humanity in Biloxi, MS where residents were still affected by Hurricane Katrina. The hard hat reminded me of that experience, and our main on-sight supervisor was a former NFL player (with his signature on the hat). Did I have room for this in a tiny house? No. Could I have made room? Possibly. I had to depart with it:

Point Park University students who volunteered to help with rebuilding efforts for residents still affected years later from Hurricane Katrina.
Point Park University students who volunteered with rebuilding efforts in 2009 for residents of Biloxi, MS still affected years later from Hurricane Katrina.
Everyone received a hard hat as part of participating in Habitat for Humanity, Biloxi, MS in 2009.
Everyone received a hard hat as part of participating in Habitat for Humanity, Biloxi, MS in 2009. Can you depart with sentimental items like this in a tiny space?

On top of that, I used to be a paid professional magician, but from grad school had no time to put into it, even as a hobby. I had to depart with wishful thinking and be realistic that at no immediate point in time will I be able to get back into it:

Twenty-five lbs of magic from being a professional magician and into magic since the age of 5
Twenty-five lbs of magic from being a professional magician and into magic since the age of 5. If you have hobbies that take space, try to incorporate room for it in your tiny house plans.

A final realization for Renee and me was that big house plants can’t fit into a tiny house. For example, we have a split-leaf philodendron named Biggie Smalls we raised from an inch tall that now needs a home (and btw still looking for a home!). We love our plants like people, and simply can’t pitch them:

Our plants are like children. Where can these 'big kids' go in a tiny house?
Our plants are like our children. Where can these ‘big kids’ go in a tiny house?

After a week we easily filled up the dumpster with ‘stuff’ from a period stretching over 30 years. We probably all have more stuff than we realize. When it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind:

After a week, we very easily managed to fill up a dumpster with stuff we didn't even know we had, or simply sat in storage and didn't need.
After a week, we very easily managed to fill up a dumpster with stuff we didn’t even know we had, or simply sat in storage and didn’t need.

So what to take from all of this? Take an assessment of all your stuff at home:

What do you need? What do you think you need but really don’t? If I go tiny, can I actually fit that in my house? When making future purchases, how often will I use xyz? I recommend to start asking these questions and downsize early before reality sets in about what you can and cannot take with you.  Make living simple… simple!

Want a 3D Model of your Tiny House Plan but too busy to learn SketchUp? Try this cheap and easier alternative

A trendy choice for tiny house builders is to build a 3D model of their tiny house using SketchUp, whether in the planning stages or as another way to ensure your 2D measurements will turn out the way they should.  I’m currently trying to learn SketchUp, but when you spend 60+ hours on research (or work in general), you know finding that time to devote completely to something is tough- especially is there is a steep learning curve.

We have a cheaper (in terms of time) and easier alternative that works just as well, and arguably more fun.  What would that be? Foam board and balsa wood! Yes, as adults we are going to play Doll House.

The first step is to create everything to a scale that will be easy to visualize.  We decide to make plans that were 1″ scale on blueprint paper. A 3/4″ scale works just as effectively.  You likely already have a floor plan available just not at this scale and need to bump it up!

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The first step is to create everything to a large scale such as 3/4″ or 1″ on paper, then create the form board pieces to match!

Once everything is to scale, all you need is foam board and a glue gun.  If you already know what appliances you want, create these to scale as well:

appliances closeup
A 10 cu. ft. fridge, composting toilet, and 30″ range to scale so we can re-arrange our floor plan as many times as we’d like!

We are playing around with different stair options in our tiny house.  We know for sure we want an actual staircase leading to our bedroom loft rather than a ladder.  The question is h0w much space would that really take up if you try to get it as close to code as possible?  Now you can see for yourself!

staircase closeup.jpg
A 3D version of your staircase really puts into perspective how much space a staircase really takes, and what kind of rise/run you want to live with- will you keep it close to code or not?

For the secondary loft above the bathroom, we are considering a fold-out ladder and a spiral staircase of some kind.  You can create working versions of these with wire and balsa wood:

Constructing spiral-style staircases are not the easiest thing to do. Making one in mini will save you lots of swear words and money if you decide to go that route:

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One style of functional spiral stairs that swivel we’re considering

Make sure when you are gluing these together that you allot for the fact that the foam board pieces are roughly 3/16″ thick. For instance, if you are building a cabinet that is 3′ tall with a top and bottom foam piece, and your scale is 1′ for every inch, you will make your cabinet 3′ 3/8″ tall when you glue all your pieces together if you don’t factor that thickness.

Once all is said and done, you will have a large-scale tiny (doll) house where you can re-arrange your bathroom, kitchen, etc. to your heart’s desire without having to make a new sketch each time and without SketchUp know-how.  If you ever make a 3D version of your tiny house this way, I’d love to see it and would post it here!

Happy New Year! Santa Thinks Tiny Too

I hope everyone had a very enjoyable Christmas holiday season and a Happy New Year! Renee and I on Christmas Eve by tradition left Santa a note in case he may stop by our house:

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Our letters are usually well-received (although I actually have been given coal before, probably deservedly).  We are very fortunate to report that despite Santa’s larger-than- life, er, “body frame,” he believes in the tiny movement…

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I have never seen a reindeer pull a sleigh or anything for that matter, so can’t dispute Santa’s weight limit claim.

Renee and I are very fortunate to be proud new owners of an impact driver (a tiny house tool probably used the most), a speed square which will be extremely handy once we learn how to use it, heavy duty tape ruler, and utility pouches.

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Santa thought we were good this year. BOY we must have tricked him. I guess trying counts!

We will have our floor plan figured out pretty soon. Arguably the planning stages are the most important.  Stay tuned for more content on tiny house design and planning soon!

In the meanwhile as Santa said, Think Tiny My Friends!