Task Flexibility

This past weekend Char and I had been planning to start installing the siding on the house, but it was forecast to rain for three days straight.  We had already put in requests to take a vacation day on Friday, so we had to find other work we could do on the house.  Thankfully I’m learning to plan ahead, so we had some interior building tasks saved up.

First, we picked up the propane fireplace that will heat the house in the winter.  It’s large, but one thing we heard early on is that the mini boat heaters just don’t cut it in New England weather.  This fireplace can really pump out heat when it’s cold, and the turn way down so we don’t overheat.  The guys at the fireplace company thought there was no way all the boxes would fit in my car, but I showed them!

I am excellent at packing-Tetris
I am excellent at packing-Tetris

Also to help prepare the house for the fireplace, I cut a hole in the side of the house for the exhaust vent.

The heater goes in the yellow rectangle, and the exhaust goes out the hole.
The heater goes in the yellow rectangle, and the exhaust goes out the hole.

Char and I also installed the studs for the bathroom walls.  The interior is starting to really take shape!

Peeking out of the bathroom doorway
Peeking out of the bathroom doorway

On Sunday, it didn’t actually rain at all, so Char and her friend Ruth worked on cutting furring strips for mounting the exterior trim.  Despite not having a lot of circular saw experience, they both did an excellent job.

Circular Saw Badasses
Circular Saw Badasses

Despite the rain, we really made a lot of progress this weekend.  Soon enough the siding and trim will be up and the exterior will be done!

Burning down the house

No, not really.

One early decision we made was not to use the typical shingled cedar siding that most tiny houses employ.  Instead I wanted the siding to be smooth by using shiplapped or tongue and groove siding.  We also decided to get reclaimed wood for our siding, which is a very hip thing to do but darn if it doesn’t look fantastic.  We were unable to find affordable1 reclaimed boards that could be used for exterior siding without treatment, so we decided to save some money and spend the time to treat them.

Our reclaimed wood dealer, J from Jarmak Corporation, suggested we try a Japanese method of treatment called shou-sugi-ban.  This involves briefly torching the wood, giving it a slightly charred surface.  This technique has also been used by tiny house builders:

In our case we are also applying a special exterior-grade oil on the wood to further protect it from the elements and insects.  Although it’s expensive, our speciality hardware store said it’s the right stuff for the job.

After a little practice the treatment process was fairly straightforward.  First, friend of the house David put his knowledge of flame management to work and did the actual singeing, achieving a very lovely even finish.  The boards, being reclaimed, responded very individually to the flame.  Some singed easily, others really didn’t want to blacken.  Although you can’t see the flame, the heat coming out of the torch was intense.  Occasionally the dry grass would catch fire and we’d stamp it out.  We also had a fire extinguisher nearby in case it got out of hand.

David singes the boards

Next, I took a stiff steel brush to the boards and removed the loose soot.  You can see this more easily in the youtube video above.

I’m in the back working on recently-singed boards

Lastly, Char applied the oil to the boards.

Char applies the oil

The final result is some very nice blackened boards, and a man absolutely covered in soot.


  1. It turns out, reclaimed wood is relatively expensive. []

Roof finished

As of last week, the roof is done1! Cutting, lifting, and drilling all of that metal has been the hardest part of the building process so far. The small margin for error was really stressful — you can’t change the position of a screw once you’ve put a hole in an expensive piece of metal. Only time will tell whether I did a good job or not, but I’ve already gotten a number of compliments from the neighbors about how it looks so that makes me happy.

2015-07-22 18.00.47
Installing metal around the skylight was very hard.

The finished roof
The finished roof

One mistake I made was during installation of the metal around the skylight. I didn’t measure precisely enough, so although the metal below the skylight lined up correctly, the metal over it did not. Because of that, the ribs of the metal didn’t line up and I had to cut one of the pieces. This left a gap where water could get in below the metal, so I had to use caulking, butyl tape, and an extra piece of metal to try to mitigate the problem. Fingers crossed.

Update: OK now the roof is really, really done :-).

  1. Not quite, there are a couple small pieces of roofing metal I still need to add to the stern end. But these are so minor, and something I only recently decided I wanted to add that I don’t really count it. []

Making Progress on the Roof

I am tired of the tarp. It’s been up for over half a year and it’s full of holes. So, we are prioritizing roof work — it must come above all else (get it?). Roofs are the first line of defense from the rain and snow.  So, the “order of operations” for installing all the roof parts must be followed, or else the finished roof may leak.  For our roof, the order is:

  1. Eave drip edges
  2. Underlayment1
  3. Rake drip edges
  4. Roofing panels
  5. Hip ridge covering
  6. Roof ridge covering

With each of these steps, we have to do the installation low-to-high, and back-to-front. So the very first things to install are at the back of the house close to the edge, and the last things to install are at the front of the house toward the ridge. At every step of the way, a raindrop should fall gently from one surface higher up to a lower surface below. At no time should a drop of rain encounter a seam where it could puddle and leak.

The underlayment is designed to be walked upon
The underlayment is designed to be walked upon

Because a roof is a dangerous thing to walk on, I built my own temporary scaffolding to make it easier to work up high. I borrowed the design from a clip of This Old House on youtube:

I bought so much extra wood last year, mine was entirely constructed from leftover pieces!

The scaffolding
The scaffolding
Measuring a detail
Measuring a detail
Underlayment installed
Underlayment installed

We hope to have all the underlayment installed over memorial day weekend, then we can start working on rake edges and the roofing panels.

  1. A waterproof, heatproof, self-adhesive rubber layer that says in big letters that it contains cancer-causing agents.  This is what really keeps the house dry []

Mistakes Were Made

This is what can happen when you (I) misread architectural plans. Here is the finished framing for the loft skylight, after I fixed my problem:

Finished skylight framing
Finished skylight framing

Can you figure out what went wrong?

Here are the plans. Which dimension is 21″, the green, or the red?12


Green, you say? That’s what I thought until I went to buy the skylight, and they didn’t sell one that would open along the red dimension. Confused, I looked at the plans and took the full rafter length, 68.125″, and subtracted the length of the cripple studs (17.75″ and 17.75″) as well as the width of 2 double studs, 6 inches:

68.125 – 17.75 – 17.75 – 6 = 26.625,

And that’s suspiciously close to 26.875, which what I had thought was the red dimension.

What happened? The plans are a top-down view of the roof, so the horizontal dimension of the plans is a projection of the 45 degree pitched roof. This projection compresses the true length of all lines in the green direction, so the green dimension of the window is longer than it looks.

If I’d left the framing as it was, the skylight would have been oriented incorrectly and probably would have leaked. So I spent a good long while staring at the framing and figuring out how to reframe the opening for the correct orientation.

The plans aren’t technically wrong, but the author could have rotated the text for the skylight dimensions to make it clear. Ultimately no harm was done and I fixed the problem before I’d cut a bad hole in my roof.

  1. Apologies to colorblind folks — green runs horizontally and red runs vertically []
  2. Apologies to folks who can’t tell horizontal from vertical and are colorblind — you’re SOL []

Work resumes!

With the snow melted and the thermometer finally above freezing, Char and I have resumed working on the Tiny House.  The first order of business was to start clearing away scrap wood left over from last year, and generally clean up the work site.  Char graciously did most of this work, carrying ruined scraps from the heap in the back yard around to the Junkster we bought.

A mostly-full Junkster bag
A mostly-full Junkster bag

The junkster isn’t especially cost-effective. 3300 pounds may sound like a lot, but at ~160$ including pickup, it’s a pricy way to get rid of waste. Next time we will probably get a regular dumpster instead. Dumpsters charge by the pound instead of a flat fee, and they hold a lot more stuff.

After we got things moved out of the way, I got to work on framing the loft window and cutting the last funny-shaped pieces of sheathing. It was good to pick up the tools again and find that I hadn’t forgotten how to use them.

The loft window is framed and ready for sheathing.
The loft window is framed and ready for sheathing.
Various triangles and trapazoids
Various triangles and trapazoids

The last pieces of sheathing are for the hip roof. The whole hip roof is a little warped and uneven due to my inexperience with double-angled cuts, so there will be some annoying gaps when we go to attach the sheathing. I’m hoping we can just fill in the gaps with some shims to get everything to connect.

Tiny House Electricity

One of my more ambitious goals with my Tiny House is to make it work off-grid — that is, livable even in a location with no dedicated power, water, or sewage connections.

My vague (mostly uninformed) plan has been to buy a large, deep-cycle marine battery or perhaps a high-end high-capacity Li-Ion battery, occasionally charge it with a generator with DC output, and run as much of the house off of that 12V current as possible.  So far I have found all the necessary utilities that run off 12V, including a water pump, water heater, propane stove, and even a propane refrigerator.  And, in my ignorance, I thought I would just run 12V DC all over the house for LED lighting.

Turns out, that’s a bad idea:

Many people when first contemplating going off grid expect to use 12V DC power because they see 12V batteries and 12V lights used in RV; so they think this is how power is used in off-grid applications. It’s is a reasonable assumption but fraught with technical problems.

If you choose to wire with 12V you will need specialized hardware, fuses and or breaker or breakers. In many cases special (read expensive) terminals bus bars and definitely larger and thus more expensive copper wires. The cheap stuff is simply an invitation for a fire down the road.

— Electronic Navigator, Why Not Use 12V DC For Off-Grid

After doing more reading, it sounds like the best thing to do is use an inverter to convert the 12V DC into standard household 110AC, and use standard wiring all over the house for sockets and lights.  I still have to do more research to make sure that everything will be safe, and the battery won’t be working too hard, but at least the general plan is still sound.

It’s very easy for me to gloss over details, and building the Tiny House has helped me learn when to recognize when I’m doing that, and instead focus and really think deeply about a small aspect of a large project.  Getting the electricity right could mean the difference between a livable house and one that’s frustrating, or worse, one that’s burned to the ground.

Snow update

Some of you were wondering how our Tiny House fared after the record snow we received in January and February. Thanks to the slippery blue tarp, pretty well!

This is actually after a full day of melting!
This is actually after a full day of melting.

Since the snow was so light and fluffy, it never accumulated on the roof. Instead it was all shed to the sides, piling up some pretty impressive snowbanks. At this point it’s not really possible to get to the back yard — the snow is up to the edges of the tarp, so I have to crawl underneath or dig through the snow. The tarp is in sad shape, with a large hole and almost half the grommets ripped out. But I’ve been tending it as I go, and it’s still doing its job.

The presence of the snow will slow down construction because we have to wait for it all to melt before we can really start building again.

Scene from February 11th.
Scene from February 11th.

Anticipating a Blizzard

heavy snow and strong winds will result in the potential for blizzard conditions with near zero visibility. Along the southeast New England coast…the snow may be wet enough to result in some downed tree limbs and power outages. Travel may become impossible and life threatening across the entire region. This has the potential to be a historic storm.

— National Weather Service

Is this Tiny House ready for 12-18 inches of snow?  I hope so.  We got 4-5 inches of wet snow over the weekend, and the tarp shed it all quite easily.  But there was still a lot of tension on the ends of the roof, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the small hole that’s already there gets bigger.  I tried to adjust the tarp to cover up most of the hole in the front of the house, but if the wind is high enough it may not make a difference and the loft could get covered in snow.  We’re definitely crossing our fingers on this one.

Hopefully not too much snow will blow in the front.
Patience, little house.

Hibernating for the winter

2014-12-13 15.40.02

Things are quieting down on the work site now that the sun sets at 4:30 and the temperature is regularly near freezing.  But that doesn’t mean we’re not still working on the tiny house!

The most important thing I’ve been doing is checking and rechecking the tarps and weatherproofing.  I have the tarp hanging pretty much down to a science now, so I no longer have problems with holes in the tarp or water collecting anywhere.  It has even snowed once, so I could see that the tarp shouldn’t have any major problems with snow cover either.  Most of the wood still in the yard is scrap.  Anything that I will need has been moved into the house itself or underneath it.  I bought a Junkster, which I will fill with scrap to clear out some of the mess.

Char and I have been pushing forward on planning some of the eventual finishing details.  We’ve been working on a design for the vertical post that will go on our front porch, and we’re also moving ahead on having a master carpenter build our front door.  Some time in January we’ll go to Ikea to look at counters for the kitchen.  I’ll also start getting serious about ordering appliances and the windows, too.

I also plan to do small pieces of work on the house itself — there’s still one more window to frame, for instance.  Also I could cut out holes for the windows and affix the house wrap to help protect the structure from weather.  And I don’t just want to leave it out there for 4 months without checking on it once in a while!

It’s obvious why most people try to build their tiny houses in one summer, but that was never a realistic possibility for us given our full-time jobs.  I look forward to spring when we can finish the exterior and get rid of the tarp for good!