There came a day where there was absolutely nothing we could think of to do on the house. No, not because we were finished (we wish), but because everything was waiting on something else to be done before we could continue. For example, we couldn’t finish paneling the ceiling because we were waiting on our wood-stove to arrive so we would know where the chimney goes. We also couldn’t do any more on the bathroom because we needed to order stainless steel sheet metal.
So, we decided to get a head start on trim.
Why not, right?
We decided on 2 3/4″ wide by 3/4″ thick boards for our windows. Remember, we’re making this all by hand, so we have no idea what industry standards are for these things. After some research, we found we were, luckily, in the ballpark. We decided on using poplar wood for a few reasons. For one, poplar is a lighter wood and is easier to work with compared to other hardwoods. It’s also much cheaper! We definitely appreciate that. And next, my favorite reason, is that we got to salvage some poplar wood that means something to me.
I (Sierra) was one of those kids who was outside all the time, playing tag, building forts, having water wars (my house was known for awesome squirt gun water fights) and having other random outdoor adventures. There was a plot of land in my neighborhood that nothing was built on that my friends and I liked to explore. In the center of it was a giant poplar tree (you see where this is going). It was simply gorgeous. You’d walk by the lot and your eye would immediately be drawn to it. A lot of wildlife lived there too, and apparently once when I was out of town it was struck by lightning (shook the ground, the neighbors said). Anyway, when I became an adult (though I’m still trying to figure out what that means), a builder bought the lot and cut down the tree. He decided to mill the wood himself and use it for the interior trim of his own new house. And let me tell you it is beautiful! Anyway, I told him about my tiny house project and he kindly offered to give us some of his leftover wood from that tree. So for me, having it in the house is kind of like having part of my childhood home with me wherever I go.
Cue “D’awww…” in the audience.
Okay, the hokey moment is over. Back to the originally scheduled programming.
So we milled the wood down and created the trim boards. Next we wanted to sand them and then apply a color. A few years ago we visited a tiny house where the builder gave us the idea to apply paint and then wipe it off in order to still show the grain pattern and natural beauty of the wood. So we decided to do that with our green trim paint.
And here is the result! We like it. It will match the green accents we plan to have throughout the house. We’re waiting to add trim in the bathroom and kitchen because we’ll need to work around the counter, back-splash, and bathroom sink, but so far so good! It’s coming together!
We now have a cute little woodstove! Isn’t it adorable?
It’s not just a pretty piece though, it’s a heavy duty stove. After trawling the internet for months on end, we finally uncovered a small bit of information that led us to the Cubic Mini wood stove. Cubic Mini is a Canadian business that makes an excellent micro-sized wood stove for boats, cabins, and tiny houses! Not only was this one of the highest quality wood stoves we found, but it was also one of the most reasonably priced, beating out even the Dickinson Marine wood burning stove. The stoves are designed to mount on the floor, or on the wall using a special wall-mounting/heat reflective system that keeps your walls safe from high heat. The great thing about this stove is that you can heat water on top, or on the larger size, you can even use the cookstove as an oven!
We also love how you can see the flame through the front – not only does it serve to tell how the fire is doing (needing more fuel, etc.) but it really adds to the atmosphere on a cold winter night.
Many tiny housers use Dickinson Marine stoves because of the size and cost, but we chose not to for a few reasons. First of all, the use of propane made us a little nervous. What if the gas line ruptured? What if it became loosened because of vibration on the road? It was these concerns that led us to the Dickinson Marine wood-burning stove, which appeared to be a perfect alternative to propane until we started looking up some reviews online. Most modern wood stoves are airtight to the outside with the exception of the air intake valve for controlling the burn-rate of your wood. However, in reviews we found, the Dickinson marine wood stove had no way of controlling how quickly the wood burned because Dickinson had not properly sealed the ash pan or the door. We saw some videos showing how the steel of the stove pipe had turned red hot because the home owner could not dampen the flames that were flying into the flue. This could have led to a very dangerous chimney fire as there was no way to properly control the airflow! Also, what was worse: the Dickinson Marine didn’t have a fire window!
This was not a concern at all with the Cubic mini. The makers of this stove had basically taken every standard precaution you would see in a normal sized wood-burning stove. The ash drawer and the door were properly sealed, and the stove had all of the standard air-control systems. We were very impressed with how well these stoves were made, and to add to it, we ended up spending less on it than we would have for the Dickinson.
You know those dreams you have where you’re slogging through some sort of hypothetical mud and can’t seem to get anywhere? That’s how the past few months have gone for us.
This is mainly due to both of us working all the time, and that makes it so that our schedules rarely line up to where we can both work on the house. This has been especially difficult since we’ve been working on installing the walls, which really is a two person job. We’re lucky if we can get in one day a week where we can actually make some progress.
Anyway, I hope that helps explain why our blog posts have been so rare the past few months. We know we’re getting closer to the finish line, but man has it been slow. Especially compared to the first few months we worked on the house when we were able to get the structural walls up in about a month. Let it be known to all people who wish to build a tiny house, your finish work will take a long time and will require a lot of patience! Just keep at it!
So as we mentioned in our previous post, we finally finished creating all the boards for the interior walls. Next came installing them. This went rather smoothly – the main challenge was working around outlets, light-switches, and windows.. especially when we had to deal with all three on one board. Three cheers for jigsaws!
We started with the right long wall that extends into the kitchen. We started at the floor (keeping it in the gap we had left for such occasion when we installed and stained our floors). we worked our way up until the lofts and roof began. Drew had the fun job of installing smaller pieces between each of the rafters. We think it turned out well.
Behind each board we would install our wool insulation (remember this?) We had to retrieve our random bags and boxes of wool from all over the shop, hidden away after the subfloor disaster. Installing the wool went well – as long as we avoided the nails sticking through the plywood. Ouch.
Predictably, we then worked on the left long wall. We stopped where the bathroom starts, because we needed to use a special waterproofing system for the walls there. From there we were free to work on the nook area and the back wall. We managed to get this far over the course of a few weeks.
Next, it was time for playing with ladders! Our favorite. We began installing our gable roof ceiling panels, which was tricky for many reasons. For one, we have all our finished boards in a giant stack in the center of the house. It is a tiny house after all, meaning there’s not much space to maneuver around a giant stack of wood. So aside from needing to move ladders around the pile, we needed to have a box of wool high enough that we could reach it to install while standing on the ladder, and we had the awkward angle of the roof to contend with. We’re essentially installing the panels upside down. Somehow we managed to do one whole side of the roof. At the top near the ridge beam we had to be clever about installing the wool. We only had a small space in which to get it in there, so it did rain wool in our house as we tried to fit it in the small crack. Overall it turned out well.
We only did one half of the ceiling because we’re waiting for our new woodstove! We need to know where the exhaust pipe will exit through the ceiling before we can work on the other side of the roof. In other news, we ordered our cute little woodstove! More on that in another post.
Onward to the dormer walls. Again, working around the windows was tricky, but thankfully we actually had something to sit on while working. The half circle window in the dormers actually went more smoothly than we thought it would. We cut a piece to fit the length, cut the outlet holes, and then traced the outline of the window on the back and cut it with a jigsaw. Voila.
The cheek walls (the triangular walls created between the dormer and gable roofs) were a little more tricky too, but we employed the same technique we used with the half circle dormer window and traced each board to fit. All these rough edges will be covered with trim, which helps.
We also finished the dormer ceiling! We may not have dealt with ladders, but we still had fight gravity.
So that’s as far as we are now! Making progress, slowly but surely. And now winter’s here. At least our house will be insulated for it. Onward!
Just a quick update: You know all that trouble we had finding a bathtub? (And our lovely friend Holly’s adventure bringing the original?) Well we finally have a solution! We ordered a large stainless steel utility sink for around $200! The interior is 24×24 and the exterior extends to 30″, which makes it a perfect fit. We were a little worried that we weren’t going to be able to get it into the house – literally. But luckily our nook window was wide enough to fit it through.
Once we finish the walls we’ll start installing cabinetry and this lovely piece. We’re making progress, slowly but surely!
Well, we’ve (mostly) completed plumbing, we’ve (nearly) completed electrical, now we’re onto installing the walls! It really is a relief to finally be working on something a little less technical.
First, we need to decide on a look for the interior. (That whole “wanting the house to look nice” thing.) We both really like the aesthetic of varnished wood, but didn’t want all the knots and spots you tend to see in pine. Pine is often used in tiny houses because of the cost and weight, but we really dislike the chaotic look. We considered painting the interior, but decided against it because we preferred a more natural appearance. So we knew we needed a wood species that looked really good. We looked around. We thought about milling hardwood like we did for our floor boards, but found that because of the way hardwoods are sold and processed, we would have had to buy boards that were twice as thick as we needed. This means we would have to plane the boards down, turning half of our investment into sawdust. So we began looking into high-grade hardwood plywood. At first we were hesitant about using plywood. We’ve read a lot about how plywoods tend to be made with heavy-duty adhesives that contain high amounts of urea-formaldehyde. Normally, because formaldehyde is natural and commonly found in in low levels in most building materials you just have to learn to live with it, but in such high concentrations in such a small space, we had to be careful. However, we found a type of birch plywood called PureBond Hardwood Plywood made by Columbia Forest Products that sold itself on using formaldehyde free adhesives and zero voc processing methods. After a little research, we decided to try it!
We both really like the look of birch (just see our flooring) so we bought a stack of ½ cabinet grade hardwood plywood. All 28 sheets of it! Afterwards, all we needed to do was decide on the board width. We looked around online at other tiny houses and decided we liked the look of wider boards. We determined that we could cut our boards into roughly 9” wide slats and leave ourselves with only half an inch left over. Talk about efficient! This took only a few hours of work. We also decided to add an extra dimension of texture to our walls by making a small horizontal groove at the top of each board to make it appear as if there was a small darkened space between each board. This created a strong dark line along each board that made the final look appear much more modern and clean. After that, we had our boards! Now we had to varnish them…
We decided to finish our wall boards with a simple zero voc furniture varnish from ECOS Paints. We sealed our floors with a very similar product from ECOS, and we were very happy with how easy it was to work with and how clean and good looking the final product looked, so we ordered a little bit more for our wall finishing.
We then made an assembly line for processing the boards. We would sand each board, varnish it, put it up to dry in the house (in our excellent holding racks made of leftover 2x4s stacked all over the house), wait til they dried, sanded the boards again, varnished again, and then repeat it all over again.
What made things even more complicated was that only half of them could fit in the house at one time to dry… which meant we ended up with two stacks of boards, one a step further along in the process than the other. Just to make things more confusing. You KNOW how much we love confusing.
Next we’ll be installing the boards, and finally we just might get to really work on the interior! Woohoo!
Electrical was a bit more complicated than plumbing. For one, we had to determine ALL the fixtures we’d be using, where exactly they would be going, how much power they would draw, etc. Lighting the great room turned out to be the most difficult. Like we’ve mentioned in earlier posts, we are looking for low impact, and off-grid ready appliances, so we shopped around for LED lights. Drew’s parents had a large collection of left-over light fixtures from their kitchen and bath business that we were free to choose from. These came in handy on several occasions.
We thought about having recessed can lights like traditional homes, but decided against it once we realized that the recessed part of the light almost always required a 6” deep ceiling stud, which we simply did not have room for in our 2×4 roof. We found a large box of task lights in Drew’s parents’ shop that we initially thought would be perfect for the great room. Drew rigged up a few lights and hung them up on the ceiling. For 12v lights, they lit the room up like they were 60 watts bulbs! They looked great in the space, but they seemed to heat up rather quickly, which we thought was odd for LED lights until we realized they were xenon lights. Oh well…
Then we saw a design online where a tiny home used LED strips along the tops of the walls on either side of the great room. It lit the room up with the beautiful looking glow of reflected indirect light. Perfect! We definitely want to use LED because it uses less energy and produces less heat.
We chose a very small ceiling fan (that hopefully won’t hit our walls when it spins), two wall sconces for the dormer walls, one sconce for over the half circle window, a set of decorative track lights for the nook, two kitchen lights, and a sconce for the bathroom. Plus, we bought an outdoor light for the front door as well. We lucked out with the track lights because a builder Drew ran into had some extra lighting he didn’t need, so he gave it to us. (Thanks again!)
We decided to run our house on 120 volts AC because this was the most common, most easily managed type of electrical setup we could create for ourselves. Simply put, more, better, and cheaper appliances are available when you use a traditional electrical load. This means you have more choices for energy saving appliances once you start looking for them. Since we had a tight space for our kitchen, we decided to splurge on an under-counter refrigerator that was much larger than your usual dorm fridge.
It should be mentioned that there are some great and ingenious food cooling solutions for totally off-the grid homes. We’ve seen propane powered fridges, flexible power fridges that can take 110v AC and 12v DC. There was even a time we were convinced we were going to convert an old chest freezer into a super-efficient refrigerator that used less than $12 worth of power in an entire year. (Thank you Internet.) However, in the end, we decided we could afford a larger, foodie-friendly fridge at the cost of an extra solar battery or two once we made the switch.
Speaking of solar, we are looking into using a portable all-in-one solar station called the SolMan. It is a box that contains all of the batteries, solar panels, and related equipment needed to charge a few computers and run a few small appliances off the grid. It can be upgraded with more battery storage or solar panels and all you need to hook your house up to it is an extension cord! There is absolutely no need to install those puppies on your roof and clench your stomach (and your wallet) every time you drive your house under an exceptionally low-looking overpass.
Because we were mentally exhausted from all the plumbing research, and we were both busy with jobs and life, we decided to play it safe and hire an electrician for this part. Because Drew’s parents work in the construction business, they knew a contractor that could help. And that’s how we met Tom.
Actually, that’s a bit misleading. I (Sierra) have never actually met Tom. For all I know, Tom doesn’t exist and never has existed. Due to busy work scheduling on my end, Drew is the only one who ever actually interacted with him. Ever. Drew also tends have uncanny knack for understanding technical stuff, so as far as I know Drew made Tom up and did all the electrical himself. It’s become a running joke with us.
So Drew met with Tom and showed him a diagram he’d mapped out of our electrical system. Tom then gave us some wire to get started (thanks Tom!) and taught Drew how to install it.
Then he left Drew and I to install our electrical boxes and the wires leading to them. It was actually pretty easy. It also made everything overall easier for us since we knew the plan backwards and forwards and we didn’t have to explain our incredibly complicated and amateur electrical plan to a professional who had other things to worry about.
Then we (meaning Drew) called up Tom and met with him to look over our work. From there, Tom installed our electrical box and “did all the complicated stuff” of building a circuit box, installing all of the breakers, wiring the supply line to the box and explaining 3-way switches to Drew. Then Drew and I finished up the rough wiring by installing some junction boxes. We also went through the house and installed these metal wiring plates that get installed directly over a wire or a pipe so it will be impossible for us to drill into a live wire. Ouch!
And that was it! Working with Tom (I guess indirectly on my part, haha) was fantastic! It was nice for something to go smoothly for once. Honestly, this was way easier than either of us had expected for having hired a professional. We were thinking we would have to explain the whole project to Tom and then watch over his shoulder to make sure he was installing it the way we needed it. Nope! No such troubles. Tom, just as calm as you please, explained how to wire an outlet, how to wire a switch, and how to put together an electrical system in the simplest way he could, and then left us to install our plan the way we wanted. It was a great arrangement for everyone.
Now we’re working on the walls. We’ll dedicate a whole post to that coming up. Stay tuned..
Long time no write. Things have certainly been busy! Just, not so much house-wise.. Though I will say we’re currently we’re working on the walls! I’ll get to that in another post, but for now let’s focus on tiny house plumbing.
Plumbing. Where on earth to start? First, we had to determine the piping layout/design. We finalized where we wanted our tub to be (whatever we end up using) and chose the definitive spots for our bathroom and kitchen sinks.
We also determined what sort of water pumping/filtration system we would be using. Being that we are considering going off-grid sometime in the future, we were looking for a system that minimizes our electrical usage, and preferably does not require in-line water pressure. We found a few gravity powered filtration systems that seemed to fit the bill. We decided to go with Berkey water filters. Berkey makes a kind of water filter that has been shown to be so effective it can remove protozoa, trace minerals, bacteria, and even viruses in the water. Being that viruses are so incredibly small, this is a very impressive feat for a filter that only requires gravity to operate. We’ve also read that a lot of tiny housers have used Berkeys for its convenience and safety, which helped back up our decision.
Our plan is to rig up a stainless steel tank with about 4-6 of these filters (since the number of filters increases the amount of available water). This tank will drip into a large 40 gallon fresh water holding tank that we’re going to store in the dead space in the corner of our kitchen. Most people don’t realize that this is prime real estate in galley-style kitchens! Many big homes have a lazy Susan (or a corner pantry), but since we don’t need one, we can use this space to store our water filtration.
After all that was figured out (which took a boatload of research), we then had to determine what materials we wanted to use for our piping. We knew we were against using CPVC because of the chlorination process and the use of pthalates and heavy metals needed to produce the pipe. We also determined copper wasn’t that great either because it could leach copper into the water supply – and while this is good for anti-bacterial applications, our water would already be pure because of our pre-filter. High copper has also been connected to Alzheimer’s and other related cognitive conditions, so we figured we wouldn’t take our chances. Besides the possible health concerns, a few studies have found that copper pipes have been failing far sooner than previously expected because of premature pin-hole leaks.
We would have loved to use stainless steel, but not only could we not find any, what little we did find (for like dairy production and such) was way too expensive and hilariously difficult to work with.
So we turned to PEX.
(Warning: mildly intensive chemistry discussion for the next few paragraphs. If you’re into that kind of stuff, stick around, if not, scroll down to the picture of the PEX pipe.)
For those of you who don’t know, PEX is a fairly new plastic piping product. The fact that it was plastic made us discount it almost straight away at first, but the more we looked around, the more we learned about it.
We initially hesitated on PEX because we’ve read a great deal of research about plastic leaching harmful chemicals into drinking water. This is to be expected with almost any product, plastic or metal. However, there is no 100% conclusive way to determine what will end up in your drinking water through your pipes, or even where it came from in the first place.
PEX, however, is a little different than other plastic pipe products. Unlike PVC, which is one of the most toxic plastics out there, PEX is made from LDPE, which is #2 plastic. Several types of food-service containers are made out of this sample plastic, and as far as plastic goes, this type tends to be pretty safe. However, even if LDPE is a fairly inert plastic on its own; the toxicity of a given plastic has less to do with what type of plastic you’re using and everything to do with the additives.
PVC, for example, is rather brittle or soft and rubbery depending on what it is used in. In order for PVC to have any of those properties, additives need to be mixed into the plastic and chemically bonded with the plastic in order to reinforce it and prepare it for sale as a certain product. These PVC additives can very often be hormone-disrupting chemicals that can throw off human biochemistry, or the biochemistry of chemical-sensitive animals. Sometimes these additives can even be heavy metals like lead. In the case of PVC, the additives are typically loosely bonded to the plastic, which means they can fall out of the pipe into drinking water.
PEX stands for “cross-linked polyethylene”, which means “plastic that has been chemically bonded to itself”. You don’t need to know how this process works, but suffice it to say, this plastic is produced by making plastic arrange itself into a shape like a roll of chain linked fence. This can be done by either adding chemicals to the raw plastic, or, even better, by irradiating it with a high frequency light. This final type of PEX is called PEX-C, and has recently replaced copper and PVC piping in terms of availability, ease of use, and, best of all, cleanliness!
We found a recent study headed by Dr. Andrew Whelton of Perdue university that tested several different types of PEX pipes and seemed to demonstrate that PEX-C pipes were more resistant to abrasive chemicals used in water treatment, leached fewer chemicals and less harmful compounds than other types of PEX pipes, and proved to be more chemically inert overall. Not only were there fewer chemicals used in its production, but fewer of them made it into the drinking water! This sounded perfect to us after several weeks of botched research.
Now we had the hard part done. It was time to install everything! We drilled 3/4” inch holes in all of the studs where we wanted the pipe to run. Another great feature of PEX is that it feels like playing with LEGOs. It can be cut with a simple utility knife, and it can be bent around corners without fittings. We bought a few 90 degree bend moulds that allowed us to bend the pipe and keep it held at that angle whenever we needed the pipe to stick out of the wall or curve around a corner.
The fittings for PEX are also hilariously toy-like. Shark Bite makes a fitting that you literally just push onto the pipe for a permanent fit. Kinda like tinker toys. However, we went with crimp fittings from Viega because they are made with an even lower lead content than the low-lead fittings sold off the shelves these days. Crimp fittings are only slightly more complicated and require a vice grip to install, but they go on very quickly and without much of a fuss. We were able to pick them up locally from a Ferguson plumbing supply store.
Wherever we had an appliance, we installed a support plate that installed between the studs and provided a hole that the protruding pipe could rest on for support. This makes it so the water pressure doesn’t vibrate the pipe so much that it gets damaged. We also added foam insulation around our hot water lines.
And now that’s mostly done! We left a pair of pipes hanging out of the wall for the hot water heater that we will attach once the wall where the heater goes is installed. All that’s left now is the drainage system, which we can install once we know the dimensions of our tub…