Plumbing, Electrical, Paint – An Amalgam of Half-Completed Updates

So it’s been a while since we last posted… It’s mainly because we’ve been waiting to have something tangible to post about, like, you know, plumbing. In fact, we hope to have an entire post dedicated to the subject. But building the house hasn’t been a very linear endeavor lately. It turns out a lot of things co-depend on one another, which is one reason we had to finish the floor before we could install plumbing. Plus we haven’t actually been able to completely finish anything. So let me delve into the amalgam of our work over the past month.

PLUMBING/BARREL

For one, our beautiful bathtub barrel is not functioning properly.
Exibibit A:
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Yeah.. So even with the support cord (tension band) around the top of the barrel, the staves still warped unevenly so they were no longer water-tight. The wood is supposed to swell when filled with water. We filled the barrel multiple times and each time the water would stream out the sides. Over time it would hold more and more water, which was great! For a little while.. But then as it dried out it would start leaking again and would never fully fill to the top. We could hardly keep it full with a garden hose constantly filling it up (as you would imagine this incidentally makes an awful bathtub).
So we had to rethink things – which meant we were back to square one on choosing a bathtub. (Sorry Holly…)
I cannot recount the number of hours we’ve spent researching bathtubs. It really is ridiculous. First, we went through our options as to what kinds of tubs to consider. Acrylic and fiberglass are the most common options, but we’re trying to make them an absolute last resort because they typically off-gas all kinds of stuff soon after being installed. Porcelain is nice and clean, but really heavy, and typically way too big. Galvanized steel horse troughs were one of our first ideas, but after reading about zinc over-exposure, we didn’t like the idea of bathing in them. Cast iron is nice, but again, that’s a heavy bathtub.
 
 So we settled on stainless steel. We knew we wanted a tub – we’ll be doing laundry in it for one thing – and the space allows for a max of 32″x32″ tub. We were hoping for around 20″ in height.
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This is how much water was left after being filled to the top and leaking to its heart’s content.
So we searched.. and searched and searched and searched. We searched through tubs, sinks, utility sinks, and even got creative looking for mop sinks and stainless steel barrels. Anything we did find remotely in that size was around $3,000, which needless to say is way out of our budget.
I know you’re waiting for a “so we settled on this” statement, but alas, we are still searching! BUT we have made progress! We’ve contacted a local welder and are waiting for a quote back. If we can, we may just get a stainless steel box with a hole in it. No fancy curves, nothing, just health(ier) material with a drainage hole. At this point that would be a gift. We’re really tired of searching.
As for our other plumbing endeavors, I won’t go too into detail as to our material selection, but I will say that we’ve installed the majority of our plumbing! It’s been a lot of waiting to get things in the mail, finding a tub, etc. that’s been a challenge.
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The beginnings of our pex plumbing for the sink and shower.

ELECTRICAL

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We tried some button lights for the great room, but decided against them because they heated up rather quickly.
On the side we’ve ALSO been focusing on electric, since that’s next after plumbing. I found some really great articles on Houzz about lighting design. I’ve been spending hours reading through them, trying to get a crash course in lighting design. What’s weird is that while online you’ll occasionally find info on how to install tiny house electrical, you rarely see articles on what lights to install or what kind of layouts work best! I initially thought that was because tiny houses are so unique to their owners, but after reading so many great general lighting tips I thought it would be helpful for someone to apply it to tiny houses as well. It definitely would have made our search easier! Also, other tiny house bloggers don’t seem to post much on lighting decisions either. It’s weird that no one seems to talk about lighting, yet composting toilets are all the rage on blogs and forums.
I (again) hope to go more in depth on tiny house lighting and why/what we chose, but for now I will say we have two task lights in our kitchen (one over the sink and the other over the stove area), a set of three lights in the nook, 2 sconces in the bathroom, 2 sconces in the sleeping loft, a small one in the storage loft above our half circle window, and LED strips along the sides of our living room. We’ve also selected a 34″ fan for our ceiling. We’re going to need it to help cool off things. (Also, Drew has found some really cool DIY air conditioning ideas we hope to try in the future. Hopefully more on that in a (very) future post.) So after drawing up an electrical plan our next step is to hire an electrician. We decided not to do it ourselves, mainly for safety. But we do want to be there when s/he installs it so we see how it’s all put together.

PAINT

Next topic? Paint. Yes, because linseed oil is not the greatest, our siding was not doing so well due to weathering. So as much as we liked the natural look, we decided to paint it to  preserve the wood better. This decision sprouted a whole lot of research. We had to find safe paint (we settled on ECOS brand), BUT we also had to find a primer that would bind with an linseed oil finish, but allow for water based paint to sit on top (thank you orange store). The primer we chose still contained VOCs, but was better than some of the other brands we found. Also, ECOS paints are VOC-free, which is awesome.
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Our house with most of a coat of primer.
I must say that it almost took us as long to pick out the paint as it did to find a stainless steel tub. We photoshopped a picture of our house with different colors to see what worked best. Then we began the arduous task of painting. Between the shakes, eaves, and cheek walls alone there are hundreds of difficult nooks and crannies to access. Plus it’s the middle of summer, which is essentially monsoon season here (remember how difficult building the actual structure was last year? At least we have a watertight structure now!) so working around the storms has been challenging. I should also mention that both Drew and I have multiple part time jobs right now (Drew was up to 4 at one point), so finding time that we’re both free has been an acrobatic act on its own. So we hired a painter.
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Ta-da! We still have some work to do (especially in the front eaves).
Everything was going well with our painter (thanks Jerry!). That is until he discovered that we had a wasp problem.
Yes, wasps had moved into our eaves. And not just one nest, but spread out all around the house in different areas. So Jerry was able to paint the majority of the house, but the bees stopped him from getting the difficult areas.
So Drew and I became the wasp patrol. For our first few attempts we used a garden hose. We were able to get the nests down, woohoo! Then Jerry came to paint the next day and said that the wasps were still hanging out around where the nests used to be. Figures. So we went for a round two of water blasting. That worked a little bit. Jerry had to go work on another job, so Drew and I set to painting. Which was great until I got stung.
So now we were stuck with a painting job that had to work around both our schedules and the rain, and now the bees. And our painter had another job he had to work on that involved rented scaffolding. Great.
And that’s where we are now. They keep rebuilding. We know they’ll wind down toward the end of summer, but we’re not sure how long that will take. We’re hoping Jerry might be able to come back and help, but we’d need to get rid of the bees first. We really don’t want to use pesticides.
Also you know what’s weird? They don’t like the cedar wood siding, but they do like the little bit of roofing plywood that’s exposed under the eaves. That, and any nails that are sticking through – they build their nests suspended on those. Hey, whatever works, I guess.
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At this point no white paint had been added, and we were still working on green and blue.
So as you can see, everything is kind of half finished. But at least there is progress happening on all fronts, albeit slowly. I do hope we’ll be able to give more in-depth entries on these topics. If you have any questions (or ideas on where to find/make a stainless steel tub), feel free to leave us a comment below or write us on our contact us page. We’re happy to help.
Onward!
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The Back Wall is Finished!

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We all know by now how much I love working with shakes… This wall was no exception (though not nearly as complicated as the front wall!) The biggest challenge with this one was making sure we had enough shakes left to finish the project. We had pre-cut some shakes that randomly disappeared in the shop the couple days we weren’t there, which left us scouring our remainders to see if we had enough. Luckily we were able to stain some more and had enough to finish the back wall. This is the result!

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We luckily didn’t need to use a ladder (we weren’t sure how we’d lean it on the house over the bike box and without hitting the shakes). I was able to reach the majority of it, and for the last row closest to the roof Drew (who is much taller than me) could reach up and get it. It’s convenient having a tall guy around.

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We also put siding up leading up to where the shakes begin, just like we had done for the other walls and the bike box. Nothing we weren’t used to. However, like the shakes, we were afraid we’d run out. And, we did! We were one piece short. Not too bad, considering it was all guesswork in determining how much we’d need at the beginning.

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The wooden trim around the window was installed the same way we installed it for the front half circle window. What was nice about this wall was that it was a lot of repeat work from the other walls, so we didn’t face many new obstacles (which certainly makes for a nice change of pace…)

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Next we’ll be installing the front door. We may not have any tarps on the house, but we still have a large plastic sheet covering the front entryway to keep out rainwater. (That is until we finish the door.) We’re almost completely plastic-sheet-free!

The Infinite Complexities of Shake Geometry

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At long last the shakes on three walls are finally finished! I can’t say I’m sad to be done with that part of the house. Those things are not the most enjoyable thing to install. Yes, they are thin cedar boards, which means they’re flexible and easy to cut with a razor, but at the same time those same qualities lead to them breaking, cracking, and being an all-around nuisance.

Our last post on the subject was when I was working with mainly nice, big, square pieces. It was a good place to start, and relatively easy to measure. But once I started on the cheek walls (the vertical walls between the dormers and the gable roofs), things got especially tricky. For one, the two roofs are different pitches – our dormers are 12 degrees and the gables 42. So I had to take that into account when creating the pieces. Next of course, I’m leaning on the roof, so maneuvering around the ladder made it challenging to reach everything, especially since one side of our house is parked so close to the fence that it’s nearly impossible to stick a ladder in there. But, at least with the cheek walls everything was cut on straight lines. Yes, an occasional shake cracked and yes, an occasional curse word was uttered, but it wasn’t too bad. I think they turned out pretty well.

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Right side and cheek wall
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Left cheek wall

But the biggest, most challenging surface yet was the dreaded half circle window on the front of the house. Here are some of the challenges:

First, the thing is a half circle, which means lots of angle-calculating and geometry. Geometry wasn’t my best subject in school (although my teacher Ms. White was a godsend and really helped me through that class), and I’ve apparently forgotten most, if not all, of my geometry skills (sorry Ms. White…). Drew and I had recently worked on the trim for the half circle window and were clever enough to come up with a template that I could use for the shakes. So simple, right? That would make everything so much easier. Yeah. Right. What I originally thought I would do would be to lay out the template on the work table, insert shakes underneath the edges all the way around draw a line and cut them with either the jigsaw or band-saw, and then install them on the roof. That way they’d all fit against each other (since they matched with the template) and it would simplify everything.

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My initial plan for how I was going to complete the shakes

Yeah. Right.

So of course it didn’t work out that way. What I didn’t account for was the angle of the roof – because the half circle window is so large, part of the trim on two sides butts up against the roof and creates an infinitely small gap (that lessens in size as it goes) leading up and around the trim that I have to fill with some sort of shake. (Also, note that the smaller the shake, the more likely it is going to break when being screwed in.) Also, the trim wasn’t the exact same shape as the trim template, and the eave trim (which came down more than 4 inches) made it really hard to access the tight areas underneath it. Using a drill bit extender helped, but it was still difficult to access. So the method I had come up with would have worked in theory, but it didn’t quite fully make it to fruition.

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The area I needed to access… (imagine there’s 4″ wooden trim surrounding the half circle window as well.)

So, as many of these things do, it turned into a guess-and-check situation (or, as one of my other math teachers would have said, a ‘plug-and-chug’). I would create a shake using the template as best I could, go out on to the ladder, check it, see it was off, go back inside and cut it, go back on the ladder and check it, see it was off, go back inside and trim it again, etc. etc. For such a small section it took a long day to complete. Also, something else I didn’t think would be a factor but did was how difficult it would be to make sure all the shakes were oriented 90 degrees so that they were flush when installed. For example, when placing a shake under the template I needed to use the square (a triangular device that helps carpenters makes 90 degree angles) to make sure it was positioned straight up and down.

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But hey, now it is done, and the shakes are complete. (I’ve probably made it sound a lot worse than it was.) We’re getting pretty close completing the entire exterior of the house! It will be nice working on the inside, although I bet progress will slow down a ton since we face a rather large learning curve with the plumbing and electrical. (Hopefully not as much geometry.) Onward!

‘Shake’ it off

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Recently we began working on the cedar shakes that line the dormer walls and the eaves of the front and back walls. After the shakes were stained and ready to install, we began the slow and meticulous process of choosing the perfect shakes, cutting them down to size, and installing them. Luckily cedar is an easier wood to carve, so we were able to use a utility knife for the majority of our cuts. The helped make the process a bit easier.

Like the siding, we started at the base of the section and worked our way up so that the boards overlapped correctly to keep rainwater out. We pulled the tarp off the dormers while we were working, and many people stopped by to comment on our house – I guess because they’re now able to see more of it. The range of comments we’ve gotten about the house has been really interesting. Some people stop by knowing exactly what our odd-looking structure is and ask us how long it is (18ft) and other specific questions about the structure, compliment the lifestyle decision, etc. Others stare on in disbelief and ask “what the heck is that?” To which we give an elevator speech about this strange concept. “Yes, we do plan to live in it. Yes, it is small. Yes, we can’t wait! And yes, we probably are crazy (hopefully in a good way).” We even have some regulars who come by and check in on our progress. “Oh! I see you’ve added trim to the front wall!” “Yeah, it wasn’t easy! Maneuvering the ladder around the tung of the trailer was tricky…”

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Anyway, soon we will be working on the cheek walls, which will consist of angled shakes. We’ll be cutting the bottom layer of boards on an angle (conveniently the same angle as the gable roof) and work out way up. We still have odds and ends of trim we need to install before we can finish this up, but we’re working on it. Since it’s winter, progress has been slower due to the cold (at least it’s not rain!). We still need to build the bike box and finish up the siding and trim on the exterior. We’re doing as much as we can now before it gets extremely cold. Once it gets really cold we’ll go ahead and begin working on the interior of the house with a space heater. I hope we can finish the exterior before then.

It’s weird to think we’ll be starting on plumbing and electrical once the exterior is finished. We haven’t even thought about how all that will work yet. We have a lot of research to do. We’re thinking of installing the plumbing and electrical ourselves and then having professionals look it over and inspect it carefully. Is that crazy? We don’t have the funds to hire someone to install it. I guess we’re keeping our options open at the moment.

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“That’s Pretty Darn Fancy for a Fart Fan.”

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Well, we’re officially back to working on the house after quite a hiatus. After being away for a few months we now see the whole thing with new eyes. We’ve conveniently forgotten how difficult and tiring the whole process has been and are simply amazed at what we were able to accomplish before we left. “We’ve built most of a house, Drew! An actual house!” Every nail was hammered in and every heavy wall lifted and secured into place (with some help, of course). It’s amazing.

So after we stared at our house a bit, we started planning out what we need to start on. It’s December now, and luckily it’s been a relatively warm and dry one so far – so best to take advantage of it while we can and finish the exterior. We long for the day we’ll never have to deal with the torn up tarps ever again. They’ve been nothing but trouble.

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We first mapped out how the front of the house is going to look. This has been tricky because we’d like to create a covered porch, but our dimensions are a bit narrow due to how large our half circle window is. Plus, we’ll need to maneuver it around the fascia board. We’re still in the process of figuring this one out; if you have any ideas, please let us know. On the front, we’re also adding a fold-down porch. Sam is kindly building a custom front door for us and we’re looking forward to seeing how it all goes together.

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On the back side of the house we are building a bicycle box to, you guessed it, hold our bicycles. This was another challenge because it will need to fit under our kitchen window and only extend out on the tongue of the trailer to the edge of the pull-away cable attachment. Since our bikes are around the same height, the roof pitch of our bike box could end up being very shallow, which means water could pool on top. The way we’re getting around this is by Drew removing his front tire (since he has the taller bike) whenever he puts his bike away. We’ve tested this and it’s a pretty fast process, so we think we’ve solved this issue for now.

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So after figuring all that out, it was time to work on the siding. With Sam’s help, Drew and I installed about half the siding on the large left wall. We stopped part way up so that we’d have the space needed to install our bathroom fan.

Now you need to understand that we bought the fan back in August and have only just now opened the box. While everything looked to be in good shape, what we didn’t expect was how big the fan itself was. It’s about a square foot, which for a tiny house wall is huge! We figure we’ll disguise it somehow later on once we have the interior walls finished. The fan vent that extends outside, however, isn’t the prettiest thing either. It’s basically a white plastic cover with a lid that opens. We didn’t really like the way it looked so we got creative.

Hence, the quote from a friend of ours that is the title of this post. I now introduce to you our wonderful birdhouse, the prettiest darn fancy fart fan cover you ever did see:

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Introducing our brand new birdhouse fart fan!

Drew designed and built the whole thing. Isn’t it gorgeous? It’s not just a pretty cover, though. First off, it has no bottom, so real birds hopefully won’t find a way to live in it. Also, this allows the fan’s air to escape the house easily. In addition, the ‘door’ of the birdhouse allows airflow, as do the vents Drew created in the top of the house. He made it wide enough so the cover opens easily. Magnifique!

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Next we worked on the cedar shakes that go on the walls around the dormers. In a similar painting process to the siding, we painted one side with milk paint and stained the other side with linseed oil. This process took a couple of days, but once finished I could begin adhering the shakes to the walls. We allowed an overlap of about half an inch over the cedar board below. This was so the rain screen had a top cap that allows for the airflow to have a continuous vent.  

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Some of the boards involved very intricate cuts around the window framing. Cedar is a very flexible wood, which can be both good and bad. It’s good because it allows us to cut it with a razor if needed, but bad in that it tends to break when working with a thin piece. I had to redo a piece three times because both the jigsaw and razor kept breaking the thin pieces I was working on. Overall I think it’s a nice material to work with. I’m enjoying it.

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So now the overall goal is to get the exterior of the house done before the cold weather really sets in. So far the weather has uncharacteristically cooperated and we have been able to work outside easily. Drew’s been putting some last finishing touches on the roof, and once the front and back walls are a little farther along we may actually be done with the tarps once and for all. Fingers crossed!