Thursday, December 8, 2011

Tiny house is looking like a tiny house!

Finally, a blog update! As it tends to, life has gotten in the way of progress on the project and as always, its been slow going.
Some more major milestones though: door and windows installed, tar paper applied and siding and trim is installed (on the south wall) and we are now living in the tiny house! Its been a week living in it so far and its been great. So weird and exciting to live in the project you've put so much sweat and energy into; feels good. What also feels good is the 15 degrees warmer it is in the tiny house compared to the main house! The south facing glass and insulated space really makes a huge difference, we haven't had to turn on the electric heater at all.

Door and window installed and tar paper


Here's a picture of the 1" foam sheathing that was applied over the tar paper

And here's that wall complete with fiber cement siding


The fiber cement siding is pretty interesting; was somewhat of an experiment. The price is similar or less than wood but unlike wood, this never rots and paint will last much longer. However, wood is much easier to work with and less messy. The fiber cement siding dust is rather harmful if inhaled and it drys out your skin like crazy. Best is to wear a good mask and to avoid cutting it with power tools when possible (you can score it and snap it like drywall).
The yellow color above is just the primer, although it actually doesn't look too bad. Still thinking about the color scheme

Planted the green roof with some carex grasses and spread some CA wildflower seeds which have sprouted. Not sure if the wilflowers will thrive in such shallow soil but I figure it is worth a shot. Its a lot easier to cover the space with seed than individual plants. Im amazed at how much water the roof can soak up! Theres been a few big rain storms and theres hardly any runoff; just a few drips from the drainage trough.

So, we are going on winter hiatus, doing some traveling, and will be back in the Spring, so the project is going to sit fallow for a while. Then hopefully in the Spring, I can get the utilities connected and work on the interior

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Green roof nearing completion

I had hoped to beat the rain...of course I didn't. The tiny house got rained on a couple times but had time to dry out after luckily. In typical fashion, the plans were once again changed mid-build. Now that our walls were sheathed (mostly) an the roof was on, we got our first glimpse into how much light would be in the house....and we though it might need more. So, we went skylight shopping. Chose a Velux 14x56 dual pane lowE curb mount, pretty inexpensive actually, around $160.
I laid out 7/16 OSB for the roof then put 2" rigid foam insulation on top (plus one scrap 1.5" piece mostly over the overhang)

Also seen in the picture is the roof edging to keep the soil in place. I ended up with some nice looking redwood 1x8 fence boards; way cheaper than "regular" 1x8 stock at about $4 for a 6' length. The front edge board is held in place by L brackets secured to the rafter tails.
A drip edge was installed and a "drainage basket" was made by securing wire mesh from the front edge board to the roof (for strength) and then filter fabric applied over that (to keep soil from washing out). I've seen designs that use gasketed shower drains but I wanted something a little more fail-proof and with more drainage.
Next came the EPDM liner. We bought a 15x15 liner from a pond supply for $130 but they're apparently also available at roofing supply places. Pretty awkward lugging up and unfurling a 100lb sheet of rubber, getting it positioned correctly isn't the easiest.

The skylight unfortunately adds some complexity and ripples an wrinkles in the EPDM are unavoidable. Should be fine though (famous last words)
Decied on a soil mix of 1/3 compost, 1/3 perlite an 1/3 coconut coir. I calculated I needed about 60 cu ft total. The compost I can get for free from the city but the coconut coir and perlite set me back $125. I weighed the mix to make sure it was within spec and a wet 4 inch layer weighs in at 6.3 lb/sq ft; well within range

EPDM degrades under UV so its important its covered in all places

Still don't have the wall sheathing 100% done but that's next up and it's then getting tar paper up and really getting this thing weather-proof


Cost total so far: $1,727.42

Friday, September 23, 2011

Plumb sheathed walls and rafters

Keeping with the trend of slowww progress, inched along a bit more into the project. Big step was getting plywood on the walls and getting them plumb. For certain sections we needed three people: one doing the nailing, one checking plumb and pushing the top of the wall into position with a 2x4. Went together well and its really amazing how flimsy stud walls suddenly turn into rigid shear walls that don't budge a millimeter.
Next got the rafters up. Was a bit of fudging around with the birdsmouth notch but eventually figured out how to use my speed square properly (hey all those numbers mean something). The rafters will be visible on the inside so I gave them a coat of oil for looks. 2x6 rafters mounted with Simpson HS24 ties


Put in an order for the EPDM pond liner for the green roof. Will be tackling that whole can o' worms soon. Really hoping I can get this buttoned up before the winter rains come. I'm seriously slow at getting this done

Saturday, August 27, 2011

And I Said, "Let There Be Framing!" (and it was good)

Wahoo! Feels good to finally see what has only been a digital representation now turn into a tangible visible accomplishment. Of course, still tons of work yet to do

Framing was pretty fun (especially compared to concrete work). The process went very smoothly with the exception of one big issue: warped, twisted and generally not straight lumber. Terrible! What a pain in the ass to work with! Trying to salvage warped lumber seems a lost cause. I did my best in a few instances but in a few others, I just bought new lumber (unfortunately). I used the form boards from the concrete pour as wall studs but because of the water they took on, they went all out of shape, especially the long boards which had ends twisted a full 45 degrees.
Lesson learned, from now on, I won't try to reuse form boards and I will only buy kiln dried lumber. Like so many things, the extra cost is worth it to spare the frustration.

Next up, squaring everything up and sheathing with plywood

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Last minute framing design changes

Figures I make drastic changes to the framing design JUST as Im cutting and laying down the sill plates

I originally drew the plans for top plates on top of 9' studs with bird mouth cut rafters but recently switched to variably sized full length studs mitered at their end. Here's what that looks like:


Im no expert of course, but this seems like it would pose no problem; certainly not traditional though.
I could use a second set of eyes on the project so if anyone has an opinion about this design change, please let me know!

I'm also toying with the idea of using Simpson HH4 header hangers to eliminate the need for jack studs but Im not certain if this is feasible or worth it.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Earthen floor DONE

Finishing up a grueling multi-round epic of various concrete and earth pours, we have finally finished! Did I mention I hate concrete? Ya.


First we laid down 6mil polyethylene plastic sheeting as a vapor barrier. The barrier extends over the edge of the stem wall to give the sill plates a vapor barrier as well. Next went on the insulation. We used R-Max 1.5" rigid foam board from Home Depot. HD has cheaper stuff but we went with this one since its a tighter more uniform foam that has a lot more compressive strength. At the edges, pieces of foam were beveled at a 45 degree angle giving the slab total isolation from the ground and very good insulation. We are aiming to passively solar heat the house during the winter and this should go a long way to keeping heat in the floor.


Little unorthodox and probably not recommended but we loaded the slab with small pieces of broken up concrete (also referred to as urbanite). We figured as long as there was space in between the pieces for our mix to fill up, it'd probably be fine...probably. The concrete pieces helped us recycle more of the old patio slab and lessened the amount of material we had to pour. We also placed 6" square welded wire mesh within the slab (scored this for free on Craigslist).


The slab is a mix of clay/sand/silt from on site, aggregate from on site and collected from Freecycle and cement. The mixing was by no means scientific but cement comprised only about 1/15th of the mix by volume. We felt some creative liberty in our methods given the floor has zero structural requirements and just needs to be solid enough to walk on. The bottom mix is aggregate rich and uncolored while the top layer is a mix of fines and has red pigment powder added to it; this will be our finished floor


Looks pretty good! It definitely has some "character". We did a terrible job of leveling it which is going to make putting in furniture and cabinets hellish (oh well). The mix is going to take a long time to fully dry so the color should even out and become lighter in time. Its surprisingly strong for being mostly earth. Of course not as strong as concrete but it is fortunately easy to repair if needed.

Next step: framing!
Looking forward to getting some walls up!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Progress! Foundation completed!

Finally finished up the foundation; poured the stem wall. Was lucky to have two housemates help out and we made quick work of it and my bagged concrete estimate was dead on (somehow)

Working with concrete...ugh, not my favorite task. If I ever build another of these I'll use precast piers and wood girders; concrete sucks. Its stressful when you have an irreversible ticking time bomb quickly drying in the sunlight.
Unfortnuately since we're total amateur hacks, we got a lot of "honeycombing" in the pour; we were not as dilligent as we should have been about tamping the mix in and getting all the voids out. I'm going to have to go back and patch a few places with a mix of cement and sand.
Next up is the slab. Im determined to use native clay and make it a mostly earthern floor with some cement in the mix to make it harder and dry quicker. We'll see how that goes. We're also going to experiement with adding color pigment to the mix (since the slab will be our finish floor)

Stay tuned :)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Door to nowhere


We bought a door! Picked up from The ReUse People, an awesome warehouse full of salvaged building materials. For a massively tall prehung dual pane glass door like this we got a total steal at $150 (the mini window by it was a freebie too)
Still no pour yet but getting so close. The form is finally done and now that I have the door, I can finalize the framing layout and figure out where the anchor bolts need to go

Some serious redneck hillbilly vibes going on in our yard right now, yikes

Sunday, April 17, 2011

I'm still alive - foundation stem wall being worked on

Still alive over here; sorry for the radio silence. It looks like our rainy season has officially come to an close so I can get serious thinking about construction.
Borrowed a rebar bender again and bent a perimeter of what will be the stem wall tying it to the verticals left sticking out form the previous pour. Also bought my first batch of lumber: some 2x from the big box. I'll use this to form the walls then after the pour, they'll be re-used as studs and top plates


Whoaoaoa aerial view!! Lumber + rebar bent and tied + tonsss of welded wire mesh scored for free on Craigslist that will be used for the slab floor (and already in use as trellising material in our garden)

Stem wall will be either 6" or 5.5", haven't decided yet, but this is what I'm thinking


Sill plate (with a thermal bridge breaking gasket), 1/2" ply, 1" foam, weather resistive barrier (not shown), weep screed at the bottom, stucco lath, stucco

Next update: poured stem wall

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Politics of Tiny Houses - Interview of Jay Shafer

Just a little update on my progress...there is none! Theres been a lot of progress elsewhere on the homestead but unfortunately none on the tiny house. I hope that once this persistent rain lets up, I can put my nose to the grindstone

I will leave you though with this excellent interview with Jay Shafer of Tumbleweed Homes. Definitely admire him a lot more than I already did after listening. Check it out.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Concrete foundation: Phase 1 complete

Phase 1 (of 3) is now complete on our concrete foundation!

First, 1/2" rebar was bent and cut to reinforce the footing and to add vertical tie-ins for the stem wall (to be poured later).

I ran two lengths around the perimeter consisting of four 20 ft sections and some scrap I scored free from Craigslist. To get the rebar off the ground, I could've used metal "chairs" or concrete dobies but opted for suspending it with wire and wood.

Every 4 feet, I put in a small horizontal section and then a vertical L shaped piece that is the tie in for the eventual stem wall.
With the rebar in place, yesterday in the wee morning hours to beat the freaky unseasonable heat, Kendra and I got to work mixing, pouring and troweling concrete for the foundation's footing.
Getting the right consistency. Also, Weber grill on pile of rubble....ya
We ended up using around fifty 80lb bags. Total pain in the ass to move that kind of weight around! 4000lbs lifting in the store into the cart, cart to the car, car to the backyard, backyard to the mixer, ugh. Ok enough whinging haha
Carefully eying the changing consistency. Lots of emptied bags
We got a good system going where I'd be busy lifting and mixing bags while Kendra moved the concrete where it needed to go and troweled.


After it was all laid and roughly troweled (doesn't matter how it looks, just need to get out any voids), we laid plastic down to keep moisture in and prevent drying. The slower the concrete drys, the better; if it dries too quickly, its prone to cracking and is more brittle.
Today we uncapped the plastic and behold, our new concrete moat!

The footing is approximately 16" wide (a bit wider on the load bearing ends) and 8" deep. Should be plentyyy of support for our tiny house.
Next phase, chalking out lines for the final layout, bending and cutting more rebar, building the form for the stem wall (not looking forward to this) and then finally pouring the stem wall.

Stay tuned :)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Framing sketch and design updates

Tiny house framing in SketchUp
Been messing around with SketchUp a bit more and made the above framing sketch. I'm still not exactly convinced investing time in sketches pays off, I was after all getting by just fine with paper, but it is fun to play with and visualize three dimensionally.

I should also update you on the various design changes made: I've scrapped the staggered stud arrangement. I still like the idea but its needlessly complicated for this project. I'm instead going with run of the mill 2x4 studs at 16" and to prevent thermal bridging, I'l have 1" of rigid foam sheathing over plywood. A side benefit of the foam board is that it will act as a drainage plane so I won't need a Tyvek type building wrap.
Second big change I've made is no more monolithic pour slab on grade. Its great in theory (I love the one step process) but for what we have in mind, it just wasn't the right choice. To make it work for us we would had to have laid foam board around and under the entire foundation. I was particularly concerned with placing foam board directly under the concrete footings supporting the weight of the structure. I was told by a foam board manufacturing company that their stuff is rated for such an application but it still left me feeling shaky about the idea. I just can't help but wonder what if that foam degrades over time? Direct contact with the soil for years could potentially take its toll; moisture and termites and the like. So instead, the foundation will be a standard footing with a stem wall (3 pours instead of 1, ho hum). Then we'll prepare the floor slab by first laying down a vapor barrier, then 2" foam with a beveled edge (the picture below will explain this).

Doing the floor slab this way we'll be able to make our own custom tinted concrete mix with plenty of excavated soil in there (no cost filler and a little extra insulation)

Yesterday I picked up some 20ft 1/2" rebar and had a terrifying ride home in my compact truck with 5ish feet of metal poking out the back with a couple whimpy red flags attached; kept imagining someone getting impaled by my rebar everytime I stopped at a light.
Spent most of today bending, cutting and tying rebar and positioning it in the trench. I've run two lengths around the perimeter and have several L shaped vertical pieces to tie into the stem wall.

Pictures and more coming up after we do the pour!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why this will be a slowww process

This may not be a project where every day something new gets done; possibly not even every week.

Foremost, we have the weather to contend with; Northern California is getting their annual dose of rainfall right now. Some rain here and there shouldn't hold up progress on the foundation pour though, it will actually help keep the concrete from drying too quickly. I'd like to finish the foundation during the winter and then once the rain lets up, begin framing.

Then there's the array of projects we've insanely started. We're building some new raised beds in our side yard with a mix of compost and soil excavated for the tiny house. Lots of stones so lots of tedious sifting




We've also been getting seeds started for our winter garden, it's a little bare right now,




and we've been finishing our chicken coop/fortress



Big side project I'm working on is converting the main house's basement into a bicycle shop. Been slow progress on this project also but I'm getting there. Bike season doesn't really start until it gets warmer so I have time anyway


The only other thing that delays the process is me constantly going back and forth about ideas. As I've said, this whole design is not ironed out, so day to day Im thinking about my options. Do I want to do the green roof or do I want a simple lightweight metal roof. Do I want footers and a stem wall or do I want a monolithic pour. Roof slope forward or back. On and on endlessly. It would be great to have a construction minded buddy to bounce ideas off. There is definitely not a set way to build a house

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Design details

Details are still a bit slim honestly but here's some stuff we were thinking

I just started learning how to use Google Sketchup so this is terrible but it gives an idea



In the interest of simplicity, we've chosen a shed roof...but may end up making it complex anyway by making it a vegetated roof (aka green roof). A vegetated roof would greatly increase the life of the roof waterproofing (possibly indefinitely) but its, as said, more complex and its more expensive. On top of that, I the builder/architect/engineer need to be mindful of the additional roof load (especially when wet) and build suitable support for it.
Another possibly stupid complex idea I had was to use a staggered stud arrangement. Picture explains below:
This method is a compromise between traditional 2x4 stud construction and 2x6 "advanced framing" construction with the added benefit of reducing thermal bridging; you'll notice that none of the studs extend from the outside to the inside, there is always a gap that can then be filled with insulation greatly increasing the performance. The cost is of course using more 2x4s than traditionally and some added general complexity, especially for openings like doors and windows. Id space the studs every 12" on center on the stagger which would be every 24" on the interior/exterior. Another plus is all this lumber would surely support even the heaviest roof loads.

Our little Sketchup drawing shows a rough layout of what we'd like, small kitchen area, micro bathroom with composting toilet, sleeping loft and a small seating area.
We'd like to maximize solar heat in the winter so we're putting a big glass double door and a big window on the south side.

All of this is incredibly rough, nothing set in stone yet, but at least some direction to march forward in.

Construction of the tiny house begins



Welcome to our tiny house blog where we hope to chronicle this adventure from start to finish.
My girlfriend Kendra and I (Dan), have embarked on this project to give us our own private living space outside the main communal house. We're in our mid 20s and live in the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area. Both the constraints of our rather small lot and our interest in living simply led us down the tiny home path. Both of us have zero background in construction so we're learning as we go with generous amounts of help from the internet and our local library. It will definitely be a challenging road ahead but we think we can do it!

So we've decided on a 12x10' concrete slab on grade insulated with 2" rigid foam.
The photo above shows our progress thus far clearing the land (including that giant tree mass pictured) and digging footers and raising the slab height level and 6" above grade. Judicious amounts of tamping later, there it stands.

Next step is to layout the foam, support it with rebar or lumber so it acts as a concrete form, then start pouring concrete. We'll be bringing in an electric mixer and mixing bagged concrete; hopefully that works out fine.


Not a great picture but here's what the concrete covered yard used to look like over there (and me cutting up a door for a work bench project)