Tiny House Build: The First Two Weekends

I sort of officially started the tiny house building last Saturday, March 14th, when I bought my first load of lumber and supplies at the Lowe’s in Monroe.  There are already a lot of things I’d do differently given more time and money, and one of them is where I buy supplies.  I’d like to use better quality and better sourced wood.  I’ve been thinking a lot, “I’ll do (a, b, and c) on the next house.”  That’s interesting.  For now, I feel a little bit like I’m on a runaway horse and I’m just trying to hang on.  I spent 2 hours in Lowe’s wandering around trying to find various (apparently) obscure kinds of glue to affix the sill gasket to the trailer without melting the foam.  No one at Lowe’s really knew what I should use, but fortunately I ended up with a sweet and very handsome man who was so, so excited about my project.  A dear friend from Alaska happened to be in town and staying the night at the build site with me, so he helped me load and unload the lumber and then we had a nice dinner and watched TV until bedtime.

In the morning all hell broke loose on a personal level involving decades old family trauma which I will not make you all suffer through the recounting but sidetracked any tiny house work for the rest of the weekend and sent me on an emotional tailspin for days.  Hurrah!  Upside is that stuff got talked out with various people that needed talking out.  I suppose I am grateful for it but I still maintain that it was terrible timing on the part of the Universe.  I have a house to build!

This last Saturday building started in earnest.  In the morning I put on my Carhartt overalls and a baseball cap and spent 20 minutes trying to figure out how to get the saw popped up from it’s storage position, feeling like a complete idiot the whole time, like someone totally unprepared and unskilled to build a mailbox, much less a house, no matter how tiny.  I figured out the saw on my own and did a little dance, flipping it off and yelling “F YOOUUUU” at it in glee.  At that moment I was so full of pride and self-confidence that any witnesses might have thought the house itself was actually completed.

But then I realized I still didn’t know how to turn it on.

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derrrrrrr… saw

Anyway, things went along in that vein for awhile.  I got the wood measured for the floor joists using my handy dandy carpenter’s pencil and speed square.  I’d just started cutting the wood with the above pictured ridiculous and amazing fancy chop saw that a fisherman buddy graciously let me borrow when my build help for the weekend showed up in his red Camaro… Cap’n Fingers.  Fingers has a boat in Bristol Bay where I work in the summer and he hired me for my first actual fishing job this fall.  I haven’t gotten around to writing the story of my fishing adventure with him but when I will I’ll link it. He’s the best.  Here he is:

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Fingers and I work well together and we got a lot done.  Not as much as I’d have liked, but I read somewhere that a tiny house always takes twice as long as you think it will take, and that is thus far proving true.  We got the joists cut for 2 ‘boxes’ to drop into the recessed belly of the trailer… each box having 6 joists running parallel to the trailer, perpendicular to the crossmembers, at 16″ on center.  Except I suck at measuring or cutting or nailing or something, because they were not at 16″ oc in the end, but close enough I guess.

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We added blocking across the middle to add stability, and Fingers used the skillsaw to shave about 1/4″ off the bottom of the short outside edge of each box.  The lip of the trailer on each end is just slightly higher than the crossmembers, so without notching out the ends the joists sit 1/4″ above the crossmembers.

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Jake and Kiva of Tiny Nest cover this on one of their floor videos, and kudos to them because I probably wouldn’t have even noticed this issue otherwise.  Fingers managed to get his sweatshirt all tangled up in the saw, which scared the bejeezus out of me but he was unphased.

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Look at that face. I love this man.

Our motto for the weekend was, “Two idiots are better than one.”

We had to take the end of the back box off and cut the joists down a bit to make the boxes fit, because again, apparently I suck at measuring.  Once they fit, we took them out and applied glue and sill gasket to the sides of the trailer.  I also picked this up from Jake and Kiva.  It’s supposed to help keep moisture from forming between the metal of the trailer and the floor joists.  I think a lot of people use treated lumber to deal with this problem, but I didn’t want to because a. it’s more expensive b. I don’t like using chemicals any more than necessary and c. I was planning to use aluminum flashing on the underside of the joists and aluminum reacts badly to the chemicals in the treated lumber.  So sill gasket it was.

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No one at Lowe’s knew what kind of glue I should use, so I wrote to Jake and Kiva on Youtube and they pointed me in the right direction.  Have I mentioned how grateful I am for Jake and Kiva?

While the sill gasket was drying, Fingers and I got to work affixing the aluminum flashing to the bottom of the joists.  I didn’t take any pictures of this as we were engrossed in the work.  I had 2 rolls of 20″ x 25′ aluminum flashing.  We got into a routine of rolling out the flashing across the bottom of the joists, marking the end with a Sharpie, and cutting it off with tin snips.  Then we applied glue on the edges of the joists and nailed down the first sheet.  We used this glue:

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I learned that you should keep caulk/glue tubes in a warm place before working with them.  The glue was cold and thick and really hard to squeeze out.  We overlapped each sheet of flashing by about 4 inches.  I laid a wavy line of glue along the edge of each piece of flashing and the edges of the joists before laying the next sheet of aluminum down.  Then we snapped a chalk line so we knew where the joist was underneath (using the nails on the side as a guide) and nailed down the sheet.  We only nailed along three sides as we went, and that way only one line of nails was used where the sheets overlapped.  It took 5 rows of flashing to cover each box and I was left with just a short piece at the end.  So apparently I can measure, sometimes.

The last step was to tape each seam with waterproof repair tape, this stuff:

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It’s 6″ wide and so I cut it in half and used about 3″ on each seam.  I wanted to tape over the outside edges of the flashing as well but apparently you need to prep raw wood with something before it will stick, so I skipped it, since I hadn’t bought any of the whatever you’re supposed to use.  Primer, or something.  We then flipped the back box over and into the trailer belly, nervous that it would catch on the sill gasket since (remember I can’t measure) it was a tight fit.  It did push a small section of the sill gasket down, but most of it stayed up, so hurrah.  Then we taped the inside seams of the flashing as well.  The second box didn’t go in as smoothly.  I never checked if the boxes were square (Me: Fingers how do we check if the boxes are square? Fingers: if they go in the trailer, they’re square) and apparently this one wasn’t, because the front right corner would not go into the trailer, no matter how much we shifted, maneuvered, kicked, pulled, yanked, and tried to sledgehammer it into place.

go into your hole!
go into your hole!

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But look, shiny floorboxes!  I work the dinner shift all week, so Fingers and I are meeting back in Monroe on Thursday to get the box trimmed down (again) and then the rest of the floor can be constructed.

I am bruised and battered and bloody from the weekend.  The corners of the trailer are very sharp and I walked too close at one point and it sliced my leg open, through my Carhartts, without tearing the Carhartts at all.  Worth the money, those overalls.  And lucky I got that tetanus shot.  The carpenter gods have taken their payment in blood.

And it begins… Tiny House trailer has arrived!

Ok, ‘arrived’ makes it sound like someone delivered it to me all packaged up with a bow.

It did not happen like that.

Mom and I left Saturday morning to head down to Portland.  I’d made reservations at the Caravan Tiny House Hotel a month previous, and when I called to ask about check in times, I was told we couldn’t check in until 5 because they were running a tour of the hotel earlier that day… but we were welcome to come to the tour.  Score!  I’d signed up for a tour in February but missed it due to work, so this was an awesome bonus.  It was a gorgeous, warm day in Portland… upwards of 70 degrees.  I know it was warm elsewhere in the PNW, but it felt special, walking around Portland in a skirt and t-shirt in the sunshine past all the weirdos with tattoos and funky hair and the coffee shops and all the people on the streets smiling. I was reminded of the first time I went to Portland, in June of 2002, on a similar sunny, smiley day.  That trip, I fell in love with Portland so hard that I moved there the next week.  This time, I just missed the hell out of it.  Even with all the changes, Portland still feels like Home.

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We got to run around inside all the houses at Caravan.  I’d never really been inside a tiny house before, and it was great to see all the different layouts and design choices.  I did not take pictures, sorry.  There were usually 5-6 other people crammed inside each house with you.  But here is the hotel later, at night:

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006 005We stayed in the Kangablue, a 20′ tiny house with a sleeping loft over the kitchen/bathroom and a smaller loft over the living room area and the front door.

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It was quite spacious and comfy inside Kangablue.  I definitely do not want to live inside one with another person.  It blows my mind how many couples build and live in these together.  I would murder someone else in about 3 hours, as I almost murdered my mother when she got up at 7 and started walking around ‘downstairs’, which sounded to me like a herd of 452 elephants.  I changed my mind on a few things after being in Kangablue… I’m not going to put dormers in the loft, but instead am going to use a 9/12 slope roof like they did.  There was plenty of space in the sleeping loft and the dormers would add a lot of weight/cost/complication.  The woman who checked us in was aghast at my decision to put one huge sink in the kitchen to use for dishes/laundry/bathing, and her disapproval made me rethink… but I just feel like a shower is a huge waste of space.  If I could combine a shower and a pantry, or something… but it’s just dead air, sitting back there most of the day.  I’ll happily splash about in my big sink in the kitchen when it’s time to wash my hair.

During the tour there was a young man named Ben who built his own house with no initial skills.  I asked him what advice he’d give to another novice builder just starting out, and he said “Don’t be hard on yourself.  It’s going to be difficult and frustrating and take a long time, and you usually get really good at something just as you are finishing it.  Sometimes after taking 3 weeks to finish something, I’d realize I could have done it in 3 days if I’d known how at the beginning.  You’re at the bottom of the learning curve and you’re going to learn just as much about yourself as you are about building.  Be patient.”  Thanks, Ben.  Words I really needed to hear.

Mom and I had breakfast at Tin Shed.  Hit up the Rebuilding Center to look for insulation… didn’t find any, but I did pick up a set of bookshelves from the Powell’s remodel.  I’ll cut the shelves down to make my bookshelves.  A purely nostalgic touch.  Then, to Iron Eagle Trailers in Fairview.  As we pulled in, I was nervous and nauseous.  I finally pinpointed the emotion as the exact same terror and resignation I felt on my wedding day.  That sounds terrible, but it was the same feeling because I was happy to be embarking on such a huge undertaking… but overwhelmed and scared.  I am the world’s worst commitment-phobe, when it comes down to it.  We got to the trailer and Mom said, are you excited?  And I said… not really.  I don’t even know how to use a saw and I have to build a house on that.

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holding my tape measure with an anxious grimace

The trailer is beautiful, and well made, and really big.  In my flustered state last week I told Mom the wrong size ball for the trailer hitch.  It took the guys at Iron Eagle awhile to get the 2 7/8″ ball off our truck and attach the right size, but they did it. The owner Rob showed me all the ins and outs of my trailer, and then we hit the road.  3.5 hours back to Monroe, and stepdad Jerry backed the trailer into the carport like a boss.

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Building starts on Saturday.

Tiny House: A Spiritual/Philosophical Examination

This has been a rough week, and it’s mostly just in my head.

First of all, my truck broke down Sunday night.  This has been my greatest fear, because I rely completely on it for both income and transport from home to the build site.  I was out in Edison, WA with a friend, headed to see a country band in the early evening after work, and just as we pulled onto the street next to the bar, the truck died.  Since we were already at our destination, we pushed it onto the side of the road and went inside to have a drink and watch the band before calling the tow truck.  My roadside assistance covered all but $7 of the 16 mile tow.  It could have been worse.

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The next day I was determined to diagnose the problem myself.  I thought it was the fuel pump or something associated, and pulled out the truck manual and some tools to see about changing the fuel filter.  The manual said (paraphrasing), it’s very very hard to remove the fuel filter! With an exclamation point.  I tried scooting under the truck and got dizzy and claustrophobic and couldn’t tell one piece of metal from the other anyway.  I sat in the driveway, in the unseasonable sunshine and birdsong, and felt dejected and demoralized.  I’d set up this fuel filter thing as a test; if I can do this, I can build a house.  And conversely, if I can’t do this, I can’t build a house.

I think we all have a hard time asking for help but I have a neurotic obsession with my own independence, self-sufficiency and autonomy.  I’m a big believer in astrology and my chart says the biggest hurdle and challenge of my life is learning to let other people in, to not be so wrapped up in getting things done that I shut out emotion, to take the weight of responsibility off my shoulders and let other people help me.  I have confronted this challenge over and over in every aspect of my life.  I am much more comfortable with projects that can be done in absolute isolation.  The tiny house is not something I can do in absolute isolation.  It is uncomfortable and hard and I spent all week irrationally worrying about it and what I specifically worry about is all the ways I have to rely on other people to get it done.  Then my truck broke down, and I couldn’t fix it myself.   Bleh!

Building the house already feels like a master challenge from the universe on becoming humble enough to ask for help when I need it, accept that other people want to help me, accept that other people might offer help without 100% enthusiasm and excitement and that doesn’t mean they secretly resent me and even if they do that’s not my business, that asking for help doesn’t mean I’m a taker or a mooch, and mostly, not to think so f###ing much and just embrace being a human in all it’s annoying, complex and uncomfortable vulnerability.  Thanks, Universe.  Thanks a lot.

Oh, the truck just had a corroded wire on the battery and with the two tows it was $199 total.  Phew!

In other news, I went to the DMV to ask about registering the house.  I was nervous, expecting the woman to either scoff at me for being a commie hippie when I explained what I was doing, or have no idea what I was talking about.  Instead, when I asked if she knew what a tiny house was, her face LIT UP (thank god for the Tiny House Nation TV show) and she very excitedly got on the phone and tracked down the information I needed.  After all the aforementioned anxiety about other people, I was so relieved to be helped so willingly that I teared up and almost hugged her across the counter.  Shout out to Youa at the Mount Vernon Licensing Department.  Turns out I don’t need any kind of travel permit to get the trailer to the build site, and once it’s built I need to get an inspection from the State Patrol and they will (hopefully) tell the Licensing Dept. that I have a travel trailer.  Then I’ll get registration and plates for my house as well as pay tax on my trailer (I guess I won’t be getting away with the perk of buying it in sales tax-less Oregon).  State Patrol has a 4 month backlog for these appointments, so next step is to find out from them how done my house needs to be for the inspection, and make an appointment.  I’d like to be done enough to move to Olympia by October and might just choose October 15th, which would give me a date of completion to work towards as well.

I’ve been emailing with Dad in England about details of building the floor and went to Home Depot with a mostly final list of supplies to estimate the price.  The kid who was trying to help me knew less than I did, and a middle-aged man in chinos and a polo shirt was trying to ask me questions about a product; I guess I looked like an employee in Carhartt overalls and plaid shirt.  The whole experience was a confidence booster.  Looks like my floor will be about $600.  More details on that as it gets built.

I have a couple hours until work and am spending it with Larry Haun learning how to frame walls.  Mom and I leave tomorrow for Portland to pick up the trailer.  I am more nervous than excited.  It doesn’t seem real.

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Update: Anxiety, Time Restraints, Absent Dad, A Resource

Just a short update on the house.  Mom and I are driving down to Portland one week from tomorrow to pick up the trailer.  I’ve been working nonstop, took a trip to Portland last week to help a friend move to Seattle… almost bought a sizeable amount of leftover denim insulation down there from someone else’s tiny house build but decided against it.  It was 6″ thick and my walls will be 4″.  I have almost all the money for the rest of the trailer payment in my bank account and have to squirrel together another $100 from tips to finish it off.  Then, the next paycheck will (hopefully) cover lumber, nails, flashing etc for the floor.

Dad, aka The Experienced Builder, will be in England until the end of March, which means I’ll be starting the floor without him.  I have promised help from various friends but still… knowing Dad won’t be there at the beginning is sort of terrifying, but also fitting.  I want to learn to build a house and Dad is my crutch, so it will be scary but ultimately good to have to start fully on my own.  I’ve been reading/watching videos of other people’s tiny house builds and the reality of how long all of this stuff takes is setting in.  I hope to have the house framed, sheathed and roofed by the time I leave for Alaska at the end of May, working only on the weekends… I don’t know if that is realistic.    I haven’t decided on what kind of moisture barrier to use on the bottom layer of the house, what to do if the recessed area of my floor is 6″ when a 2×6 is 5 1/2″, whether or not to use pressure treated lumber, where to get the last pieces of 4″ rigid foam insulation I need, what kind of nails to use, whose tools to borrow until Dad gets home.. etc etc etc.  Ah!  Is how I feel.  I am utterly consumed by this project day in and day out, and we haven’t started building it yet.

It’s going to happen no matter what.  It might take longer and cost more than I anticipate, but that will be dealt with.  One day at a time!

Meanwhile, these people are my new favorite humans in the world for these wonderful, informative, and adorable videos (using the exact same trailer as mine, no less):