So, I wanted to write a post about how we started building one of our walls– how we measured out the trailer and then customized most of the original framing plans so they would fit our trailer’s dimensions. I wanted to write a post about how easy it is to build something square when you’re using spacers for each stud. I wanted to write a post about how we’re getting along with the palm nailer (pretty well, although, sometimes the speed of a framing nailer seems appealing). I definitely wanted to write a post about progress.
However, I’m not writing that post. I’m writing about how our subfloor got flooded by a rainstorm, and I’m writing about how we found it the morning after the storm: soggy, somewhat moldy, and holding about an eighth of an inch of water in some parts thanks to our amazing job of sealing each cell of the floor with silicone (“Just like a bunch of little pools,” Mike said). Sierra and I arrived Tuesday morning with a half-finished wall sitting on top of our trailer and a serious problem on our hands: we hadn’t properly anticipated the permeability of our covering tarp. Underneath the tarp, the plywood had a little bit of thin surface-mold blooming out from the center of the wheel wells, and we knew right away that meant we had to replace the plywood. However, once we got the first layer of plywood off, we found that much of the wool had soaked through with rain water and the rain was also soaking into the Zip panels (which work well enough as water repellents as long as the water isn’t coming from the wrong side).
We were certain we would have to start over– just rip up the whole thing, save what materials (and money) we could, and start from scratch. It was pretty dicey. We hardly had the budget for it, but what else were we supposed to do? We had no idea how deep the water had made it into the Zip boards, or if it is now sitting between our flashing. We had no idea if mold will continually resurface in the future like some bad joke. So we did what we thought we had to do, and set to undoing our work.
We spent all day Tuesday, and most of Wednesday (with a lot of help from Sierra’s friend Holly) cutting open each cell like some huge advent calendar, pulling out what dry wool there was, and throwing the wet stuff into a fifty-five gallon drum.
It was tedious, unpleasant, and yet regretfully necessary work. Sheep’s wool is not terribly absorbent, unlike cotton or paper, but it does hold onto some water via the science of capillary action– the same physical force that allows for blood to circulate your veins, and the same force that allowed our house to soak up water in the first place. Wool also has the added curiosity of smelling even more strongly of sheep when wet, like wet dog fur. We wrung out the wool onto the already deeply saturated ground and threw all of our plywood into a corner of our enclosure as I crawled underneath the trailer and prepared to detach the entire subfloor by removing all of the bolts we had recently placed.
It was like some kind of bad dream. No, I really mean that. Like one of those dreams where you have this urgent task that is incredibly tedious and is almost certainly pointless and probably disgusting as well. You’re in a haze, and you’re tired. You have no idea why you’re doing it, or when it started, but you have to do it or something worse will almost certainly happen, and when you look up you find you have much more work ahead of you. It’s almost like you never even started.
That was about the same time Mike and my dad, who had been watching us work solemnly for the past two hours, told us that we may not have to scrap all of our hard work.
“In standard-sized homes,” Mike said, “the framers will set up their decking and then let it sit for weeks in the rain! It happens all the time.”
This, of course, is before they install any kind of insulation, but we had the advantage of being able to dry ours out and re-use it, possibly at a laundromat. However, with enough work, we could re-use the existing subfloor and two-by-fours. We all had observed that no mold had made its way to the interior– it was only the exterior surface that had any signs of mildew or mold.
They said the Zips would probably need to sit in the sun to dry out (this would hopefully coax out any water or vapor hidden inside of them via that wonderful force, capillary action), and we would need to go underneath and check all of our flashing seams for water, but it would more than likely be recoverable without serious incident. Besides, we had heat guns and hair dryers and elbow grease. Who can go wrong with that?
This was exactly the kind of news we needed to hear: we wouldn’t break the bank buying new materials for everything. The challenge, however, was both getting the subfloor back to a useable condition, building and raising all of the walls, AND keeping it all dry during a week of scattered thunderstorms and random showers. Funnily enough, our region is considered a deciduous rainforest since we get about 40-50 inches of rain per year, so we realized we had a lot of long term rain-headaches in our future, and a single tarp wasn’t going to cut it for the next few months.
Sierra and I brainstormed how best to accomplish the task of keeping everything dry during the coming days and set to searching my dad’s shop for any and all kinds of plastic coverings and weights so as to keep the trailer covered with several barriers and layers of protection. We found some painters’ drop tarps, and some sawhorses to act as a slope for the water to run off of (a tiny tiny-house roof?).
We even went so far as to cover our nearly finished wall should it befall a similar fate.
The past two days, we’ve finished removing all of the soggy wool, and we’re currently in the process of drying it out one laundry load at a time. I’ve been throwing it into pillow cases and then into my family’s dryer for about an hour at a time, and then driving it back to the shop to our de-humidifier room so it can finish getting a deep dry. The framing has been cleaned of debris (from cutting open the floor), scraped clean of glue, and then sanded back down to an even surface. Our next steps are to purchase some new plywood, cut it back to size, then (correctly) re-install the wool, and finally silicone the crap out of everything that looks like it may allow water through.
(Sigh) It’s been a long few days. Luckily, this wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened. Sierra offered it could have caught on fire! Or it could have been stolen! At least we get to keep the trailer!
I hope we can get back to building! Actually building! Like with walls and stuff so we can put a roof on the thing and start repelling water like professionals instead of cave people with tarps and rocks. I’ve been peeking out the window for the past hour while I’ve been writing this looking for clouds, and I’ve probably visited Weather.com enough times today to pay for their daily operational fees. We’ve got whole stack of lumber and tar paper that are just waiting to do their jobs and save us the trouble of rainstorms– it just seems like we can’t get to that stage soon enough. I just hope we don’t have to go through something like this again in the future. Here’s to some dry weather!