Interior Wall Boards – Part II, Installation

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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!

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In the loft on the right side.

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.

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A crappy picture lighting-wise, but at least you can see the board layout. It looks a lot better in person.
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We painted the heads of our screws to match the wood. Now our panels are removable in case we ever need to get behind them to fix something. Also, this window edge will be refined and covered with trim.

 

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.

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So much wool. Wool everywhere.

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.

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Yet another crappy picture, but this shows you the left wall up to where the bathroom and closet start.
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The wheel well will be covered with a piece of our wall plywood and framed with trim.

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.

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Working our way up the ceiling.
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Working up over the storage loft.

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.

 

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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.

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We also finished the dormer ceiling! We may not have dealt with ladders, but we still had fight gravity.

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We had to install wedges in order to create the curve in the ceiling to go over the ridge beam.
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Our finished dormer ceiling! (Sans trim.)

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!

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Interior Wall Boards – Part I

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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!

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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…

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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.

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I must say, I did enjoy traversing through the boards while humming the Mission Impossible theme song as I tried to scale the boards to access and pile the dry ones in the back.

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.

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We ended up with five separate layers of boards in the house, many carefully balanced across 2x4s as shown here.

Next we’ll be installing the boards, and finally we just might get to really work on the interior! Woohoo!

Tiny House Flooring – Part II, Installation

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We recently bought and made all of our own flooring by hand. (Read part one here.) Next came the installation!

The first step was to lay down a water barrier so that any water that made it through the floor would be stopped from hitting our subfloor. (We did NOT want to deal with a soggy subfloor ever again.) We nailed it into place using roofing nails with flat tops. We overlapped the tar paper around 3″ on the long edges. The annoying part was that we were able to use up our last roll of tar paper left over from the roofing, but ended up being short about 18 feet, so we had to buy an entire new roll of tar paper just for that one bit. …So if you’re interested in buying only a partial roll of tar paper, do let us know.

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After this we measured 3/4″ from the wall to allow for expansion and for molding and the wall boards. And made a chalk line. From there we face-nailed the floor to the subfloor along that line.

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When adhering the floorboards to the ground, we nail through the tongue of the boards so that the nail is not visible when the groove of the next board fits over it. However, on the edges of the room (against the wall, as seen here), there is no tongue to nail into and so we instead “face nail” the board, meaning we nail into the top of it. This will be hidden by our molding.

Next, we laid a row of boards and nailed them in one at a time with a manual nailer we rented. We chose a manual nailer at first because it was cheaper seemed safer to use. However, what we didn’t consider was ease-of-use. The manual nailer drives nails just like an air powered nailer, but the crucial difference is that you have to hit a manual nailer VERY hard and very squarely to get it to set a nail deep enough into the flooring. The next time we rented a nailer we used a pneumatic nailer. The rental was somewhat more expensive, but it was far easier to use and much less strenuous.

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Here he’s using the manual nailer.
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Here is the pneumatic nailer.

We continued this pattern, Drew nailing in the boards and me laying them out in an aesthetically-pleasing pattern. This is where my meticulous organization came in handy. I rested all the boards against the opposite wall of the house so I could see them, separating them by dark spots and plain. From there I was able to space out the darker spots so the floor looked more balance.

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You’ll notice that in the top right of the photo the floorboards don’t have many dark spots. This is because this area will lie under our kitchen counter.

Some things I needed to consider:

1) Where the cabinets would be. I put the boards with incongruities/general weirdness in those places. Same with the nook where they’ll be a couch hiding it, and bathroom where our giant barrel tub will be.

2) I needed the darker spots to be spread out so that I didn’t run out, so I had to pace their placement.

3) What the focal points of the house are. For example, I placed a set of two boards with a long, dark spot running from one to another along the middle of the walkway in the kitchen, and another self-contained dark spot in the bathroom near the entrance. I tried to consider where eyes would wander while sitting in the nook, and when sitting in the sleeping loft looking down at the rest of the house. What boards did I want to accentuate and what ones did I want to disguise?

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I found two boards that had dark spots that worked well together, so I placed them together.

We continued the pattern all the way across the floor. (Luckily, our house is a square.)

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Adhering more tar paper.
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Our mostly finished floor with our cardboard cutouts laid out. The top left one is our giant barrel tub. The top right one is our sink basin and the bottom right one is our cabinet. The long thin piece of wood on the bottom left marks where our sleeping loft ends, which also signifies where our bathroom and kitchen will end.

Once we got to the end, we trimmed down the last row to give us 3/4″ clearance between the wall and the flooring, and installed the final pieces. Next we sanded the whole floor with 100 grit sandpaper. Here is the result!

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The yellow lines were an experiment with linseed oil we’ll address in a future post.

Next we’ll stain the floor and then finally get to plumbing. We have the majority of our materials now. Wish us luck!

Tiny House Flooring – Part I

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First comes flooring, then comes plumbing,
Then comes electric which is pretty stunning.

Anyway, it’s been a while since our last post, so let me back up a bit and get you up to speed. Drew and I have been working on plumbing. When I say working, I mean we’ve been researching like mad trying to figure out the greenest, long-lasting materials to use. (Drew will go into more detail on this in a blog post soon.) In the process, we also discovered that we had to install our flooring first before doing plumbing so that our water tank(s) have something to sit on for installation. …Yeah. So we had to backtrack and figure out flooring.

I’ve realized that there are two very separate aspects to building the house. One is the technical throw-boards-around aspect, like framing. In framing it doesn’t matter (too much) how the structure looks, as long as it’s structurally sound. You can use weird looking boards and leave obvious nail holes and not worry too much about it. Plumbing is similar. In plumbing, it doesn’t really matter how it looks – what’s important is that it functions the way it should. It’s all hidden away in the cabinets and walls.

The other category is aesthetics. The first time we ran into this was when we installed our cedar loft beams. It was surprisingly jarring to switch modes. It made us think, ‘wow, now I need to actually consider how these things are going to look in the house’. So we bought nice-looking beams, then had to decide what placement/order they would go in. ‘Well, that beam has a nice lighter area that curves in the front, so uh, I guess that one should face the great room?’ We haven’t had too many of these tasks so far (except for maybe when we worked with the cedar siding and shakes on the exterior).

Flooring is different. While yes, it must be functional and we must consider the tech involved, I would mainly put flooring in the aesthetics category. It’s something we see everyday and influences the entire aesthetic atmosphere of our house. We’ve been debating the interior color scheme/feel for months now, and weren’t really ready to commit to a flooring scheme yet. (I was hoping to delay it at least until plumbing and electrical were finished. So much for that grandiose plan.)

So we explored our options. We found a local lumber mill and looked at their options online. Luckily there were different varieties of local wood samples laying around our shop, so we stained them with lineseed oil to see what they would look like.

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Wood samples from left to right: cherry, birch, white oak, maple, poplar, walnut

We were particularly partial to the red birch flooring; we thought it’d go well with our red door.

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Birch sample under the door. The door really brings out the red hues in the wood.

So we went to the lumber mill’s showroom to see what they had. We spoke with a very loquacious saleswoman about our different options and noticed that we really liked the look of the hickory samples they had. So we brought one back to see how it looked.

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Nice, huh? Hickory is a really beautiful wood.

We loved the design of it with the darker markings throughout, but after further research found that hickory is a much heavier wood than most. We need to consider weight because our trailer is limited to 10,000lbs. Meanwhile, Drew had been doing research on how we could make our own flooring. (It would save us a few hundred dollars.) Since we had access to Drew’s dad’s woodworking shop, we had access to all the tools needed to make our own (planer, tablesaw, etc.). So we decided to visit the lumber mill once again and buy the lumber needed to make our own flooring. (Thank you Diane!!)

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Our new birch lumber.

We selected the straightest, cleanest boards we could find and brought them back to the shop. From there we had the challenging job of planing them all to 3/4” thick by 3.5″ wide and making them straight. It wasn’t as easy as we thought it’d be.

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Here we’re passing the boards back and forth as we run them through the planer to maintain a consistent thickness.
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We also tried using a joiner for a while, but it wasn’t as uniform as the planer so we went back to what worked.

Then it was time to cut them down to size on the chop saw and cut tongue and grooves in the boards using a tool called a dado blade. A dado blade is essentially a special blade for a table saw that allows you to stack multiple blades together to increase the size of the cut on a table saw Most table saw blades leave cuts that are 1/8” thick, but with a dado, you can stack blades up to make cuts just under an inch. They’re great for mortise and tenon joints, and for making consistent tongue and groove joints. We used the dado to make cuts that were ¼ inch thick so we would only have to pass the boards trough a few times instead of a few dozen times to get our tongues and grooves.

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A rather large (and blurry) photo of me using the chop saw. I divided the boards evenly at about 3 feet long each for consistency. Our lengths ranged from about 2-4 feet. I tried not to chop up the dark patterns too much.
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Drew cutting the trimmed boards down to width on the table saw.
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Next he added the tongues and grooves to each board. This took a while.

After that step was finished, we cut grooves into the bottoms of the boards to allow for expansion. If you look on the bottom of most wood flooring, you will see these rounded grooves running lengthwise on the bottom the board. This is to take some of the bulk out of the wood so when it starts expanding (as wood does) it doesn’t make the wood buckle so much that it breaks.

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A test to see how the boards fit together. Looks good!

Then we put all the boards in the house to acclimate to the house’s temperature and humidity so they would be ready for installation.

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Next comes installation!