The Four In One Closet – A Design Adventure

Take a moment and think about a tiny house. Now back to me. Now back to the tiny house. (Just kidding.) Now think about all the possessions you’d need to put in it. Your mind might wander to kitchen gear and a toothbrush, but what about clothing, a router, a modem, laundry, and a full-length mirror? Where can you keep small things like that? Unfortunately, we find that a perplexing number of tiny houses seem to lack simple storage for daily items. That’s where we got to thinking, and building. Behold our new closet!

We recently embarked on building more walls in our tiny house. (Because, you know, every house needs more walls.) We decided to turn this closet into a wall as well!

About a year ago I (Sierra) made up a design for our closet, based on a combination of designs I had seen in other tiny homes. We decided we wanted to have our closet on the back of the bathroom wall. While this took a little room in our bathroom, it was well worth it to have that closet space. We’ve noticed on a lot of tiny house TV that show the builders/designers often forget about clothing storage. They’ll remember storage for kitchen gear and hobbies, but clothing is often overlooked or at best tacked on at the end. We’ve seen people who move into the TV houses who have to buy storage solutions for their most basic amenities! We wanted to make sure we had the space we needed (which luckily isn’t much since we’re both minimalists and we’ve been paring down for years), plus we put in a little extra just in case we lapse in our minimalism…

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As you can see in the photo above, there are shelves in the top part of the closet. Those are for folded clothes. Being the detail-oriented person I am, I folded all of my clothes and double-checked to make sure they would fit when I was designing the cabinet. (Same for Drew’s, but he kind of just made an “eh, it’ll fit” statement when he looked at his. But to be fair, he does have less clothing than I do.)

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I did the same process with hanging clothes, which hang on a rung in the open space in the bottom of the closet:

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Now check out the bottom of the closet. The compartment on the left is for the modem/router for our Internet. We knew we needed a hidden space for those that was out of the way that wasn’t taking up space in our nook couch. (Details on our couch will be in a future post.)

On the right is a box where we’re going to put our laundry. We’re going to build up the trim on the box to match the height of the Internet box, and then install doors on the front of the entire closet. On the inside of one of the doors we’re going to install a full length mirror:
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Ain’t it a beaut?

Now the fun part… Building it all!

It took us around 4 full days of working for the closet to be finished. We took 3/4″ pre-finished maple plywood and created a basic box that fit our maximum exterior dimensions. Then we installed more plywood for shelving. We lucked out in that both sides of our closet would be covered, so we could screw in our shelves for a permanent fit and we could still hide the screw holes. We made sure that the shelving was set back ¾” from our maximum depth so that we could add trim on the edges to hide the layered core of plywood.

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We then added in the poplar rod for the hanging clothes and built the router/modem box in place. We added a hinge to the box for easy access. It actually makes for a cool place to sit in the closet. Not that you’d ever want to, but hey.

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Then the fun part was installing the closet in the house! And by fun I mean tricky. The problem was that our loft beams above the closet required us to cut down our design by a few inches. We wanted our closet to go all the way up to the loft boards for extra room, but we couldn’t install the closet around the loft beams. So we instead cut the height of the closet down to fit underneath the loft.

Then we screwed the box into the floor, the house wall, and into the bathroom pocket door wall to secure it. Then it was time for siding!

We went about installing the same boards we used for our walls along both sides. We had to use shorter screws in order to make sure we didn’t accidentally punch through the frame’s very thin wood and into the cavity where the door was.

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Lo and behold, it’s installed! Success!

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Tiny House Flooring – Part III, Stain and Varnish

A few months ago we found an ad on Craigslist from a woman selling a two-burner marine stove for a great price. Already there was a scheduling challenge – she lived further away, but could pass it off to her friend’s son who went to a college closer to us (still about 4 hours away) and we’d work around his class schedule to pick it up. So we drove there, searched the school’s giant library for some random stranger who goes by “Levi,” not having any idea what he looked like. A few hours later, we finally found him and bought our new stove.

Which has actually come in really handy in our build.

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The nice thing about an Origo marine alcohol-burning stove is that it’s portable. It runs on denatured alcohol and doesn’t need any sort of electrical or gas hookup. We’ve tried it out a few times and it works great!

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Each of the stainless steel canisters are filled with wool, which soaks up alcohol and allows it to slowly evaporate. The stove has a few knobs that allow for the gas to come out at different rates. All you have to do is light it with a match.

So how does this relate to our floor? What’d we do, cook it? Well not exactly, but we did make our floor stain using it.

Okay, let me backtrack a bit. As you know, we first made our own flooring and then installed it ourselves. Our next step was to stain and seal it. So Drew and I spent a long time researching stains. We wanted something that was non-toxic and durable. We searched all our favorite green companies, but they all had VOCs and other contaminants. We thought linseed oil might work, but then we realized our water based varnish wouldn’t properly adhere to it, so we scraped that idea.  So we decided to make it ourselves, like we’re doing all too often these days. Why not, right?

So we researched DIY solutions to making our own stain. We wanted a darker floor, so we ordered some ground walnut hulls. We bought a second-hand cooking pot, some remnant muslin fabric, tied it closed, and used our fancy new stovetop to boil it for hours.

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…And hours, and hours.

In the traditional method of making a walnut stain, a thicker stain is often preferable over a thinner, lighter stain. As time passed, we would test it on spare pieces of birch boards to see what the finished stain would look like. We were hoping for a more reddish-brown color, but it ended up being a brownish-gray. We wanted something to match our door – what could be do?

Then Drew had a brilliant, yet crazy idea. How about we add some of our leftover door paint to the mixture and see what happens? It is red and water-based, after all…

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This could have ended really badly, but it didn’t!

We tried it out in a smaller mixture of our stain with the paint to figure out a good ratio. It almost looked purple, but when we tried it on a sample of wood it looked pretty good!

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The large section of reddish stain was from our test. The darker version below was without the paint added in.

We decided to go slightly less red, so we mixed it together in a smaller proportion within our main pot, and decided to apply it to the floor.

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The stain color would go on really light brown, but then would dry more reddish. We still aren’t sure why that is.
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The first coat of stain as it finishes drying.

We applied our first coat with a paint roller. Once it was dry we decided to go ahead and apply a second coat to make it darker.

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Applying the second coat. We would wipe off the excess so it didn’t create darker stains where we didn’t want them.
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See how differently the stain dried after it was coated?

And here is the finished product!

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Unfortunately the stain covered a lot of those nice deeper hues in the birch, but we think they may still be subtly highlighted after applying the varnish.
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The final coat of stain after it dried.

After it dried, we went ahead and applied a wood varnish to the floor to protect it for durability. Luckily we found one that was zero VOC and had a safer MSDS report.

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Applying the first coat.
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After one or two coats.

We applied a coat every two hours for three coats in total. We took a full day to finish applying all the coats.

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The final layer!
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It goes well with our door…

After that, we covered the floor in ram board and cardboard to protect it while we work on plumbing. We even laid out some of our cabinetry to see how it would fit.

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This is a very crude layout of how our kitchen will look. The large barrels in the back corner will be our water filtration system. The bathroom will start about where the green tape line is on the left. The piece of cardboard sitting on top of the cabinet represents our counter. Like I said, very crude layout indeed.

Next we FINALLY get to start on plumbing!

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!

Routing Holes and Tricky Windows

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The half circle window installed over our storage loft. I can’t wait to sit there and read.

In a recent post we talked about how to install standard rectangular windows – it helps that it’s mainly a bunch of straight lines you’re dealing with. In our tiny house, we have two windows that are a little more complicated. At each end of the house, we have windows that are curved at the top. The one in the dormers is even square on the bottom and sides, and then curves on the top, adding two extra faces to deal with. So, in the words of a friend of mine, ‘what do?’ How do we recreate the hole we need to route?

Cardboard.

When in doubt while building a tiny house, the answer is either ‘use a hammer and make it fit,’ or ‘cardboard.’

Just kidding. Though cardboard is generally very handy to have around. (The hammer thing is still half true.)

Now unfortunately I do not have many pictures of this process, so I’ll describe it in vivid detail and leave it up to your wildly creative imagination. Basically it’s this: Get a large piece of cardboard, lay your window down on it, and draw a line around the window jamb. Then trace another very slightly larger line around the edge of that one to give yourself the R.O. (The R.O. is the rough opening of the window.) This gives you room to insert the window so it’s not a super-tight fit when installing, and also allows for some wiggle room when your house expands/contracts due to everyday wall fluctuations. This way the pressure won’t crack your window. But you don’t want it too loose either (otherwise the window might fall out..) So a good R.O. to go by is about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch.

So after you’ve drawn these lines, use a razor, scissors, or some other sharp device and cut on your line. Voila, you have a stencil for your window!

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Our cardboard template held up to where the half circle window will soon be installed.

Next, take the stencil and hold it up to your wall that you’re planning on routing your window hole in. Take a level and make sure the base of your cardboard is level with the house. (Don’t want a crooked window – unless you’re the crooked man living in a crooked house with a crooked cat and crooked mouse – Mother Goose, anyone?) Once you’re sure it’s level, trace an outline around the cardboard on the wall, then cut it out with a jig saw or a skill saw (or both). And you’re done! A lot easier than trying to calculate angles and such.

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We drew a line around the cardboard template on the plywood so we knew where to cut our rough opening.
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The window is installed!

We repeated this process for the window in the dormers as well.

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Drew used a sawzall to cut out the dormer end window.

Here is the finished product!

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Does it not look like it has eyebrows? That’s all I see when I look at it.

PS. We had a visitor come by while we were installing windows. We think she approved of the view.

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Until next time!

Installing Metal Roofing (Or: How to Avoid Buying Fancy Tools You’ll Only Use Once)

Got the harness, got the the tools - all ready to rock.
Got the harness, got the the tools – all ready to rock.
One thing they don’t tell you about building a tiny house is how strange it is to be about 13’5″ feet in the air on a 42-degree-pitch roof, trying to get a roof into place – all the while trying to balance yourself as you work underneath your own two feet.
Roof sheathing (the plywood on the studs), was difficult enough using ladders. But installing tar paper? And then roofing?Better brush up on your pre-school gymnastics lessons.

We unfortunately did not get too many pictures of the process, mainly because Drew and I were both so busy trying to figure who had which hammer and how best to not get tangled up in our roof harness rope. We had a pretty good system going. We bought a roof anchor that many roofers use to attach themselves to a roof for safety in case of a fall. Then we used some harness gear and set it up so we could get around the roof. The harness attachment was mainly a last resort precaution – if we fell, we’d swing instead of landing on the ground 13’5″ feet below. So the majority of the maneuvering was all balance, gymnastics, and focus.

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Yeah, lots of focus.

I’m getting better with heights. After working on the roof for a few weeks, I’m not as freaked out by it. The dormer roof is only 12 degrees, so that one is easier to move around on. It’s very close to sitting on a flat surface. We can exit our skylight opening and reach most of the dormers from there. Since we decided we didn’t want a skylight in our main room under the gables (mainly due to cost), we had to figure out how to work on the gables. If you ever wanted to know, it’s like riding a very big, very pointy, horse.

So my task was laying tar paper on the roof. The way tar papering the roof works is that you start with the bottom layer horizontally along the bottom edge of the roof and layer your way up, with an overlap of about six inches. You do this so any water that hits the tar paper will flow down and off the roof instead of under the next layer of tar paper.
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So Drew, up on a ladder, installed the first layer, and then we attached a 2×6 ledge as a foothold on the end of the roof. Basically a trick we found that roofers use is screwing a 2×4 into the roof to use as a ledge to stand on while working. At first I was skeptical – how much could 1.5 inches really do to prevent my fall – but it proved to be very useful in the end. We worked on both sides, nailing it in with the same roofing cap nails we used earlier for the tar paper on the sides of the house. Once we got to the ridge beam, things got a little tricky. Tar paper tears very easily, even the 30lb stuff we were using, so the less contact I had with it, the better. We basically draped one long piece over the top, nailed the edges, and we were done. We repeated the process with the dormer walls without much trouble.

Next was the metal roofing. We ordered from a local company that pre-cut the roofing into the sizes we needed. That helped a lot. This time, Drew was on the roof.

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We probably need to work on the whole focus thing..
Before we could get to installing the metal roofing, we had some other work to do. First, we needed to create fascia board that would attach to the ends of our rafters along the sides of the house. Then we installed the drip edge along the sides of the fascia, so that rain would have a place to drip off of our house. We later plan on installing gutters too, so they would be collecting the water from this drip edge as well. For the fascia, we bought long pieces of cedar and coated them with 100% linseed oil. Pure linseed oil provides a protective coating that preserves the wood and protects it from water damage, mold, insects, and UV damage. It also helps the wood retain its color. Unfinished cedar (over time) turns grey, because the outer cells of the wood dry up, turn grey, and flake off.
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The fascia board (after we’d installed the metal roofing in this picture). This is along the edge of the gables. A great room window sits below it.

Then we needed to install the drip edge, which sounds easier than it was. There are a couple of layers to it. First, we had to install a metal cleat that the drip edge can slide onto. Then came the drip edge. It was time-consuming and showed little payoff initially, but it helped us get to the next fun part.

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The bottom level of metal is the cleat. Next is the drip edge, which clips into the cleat on the bottom and screwed into the roof on the top. Overlaying that is the roof panel. In this picture, the end of the roof panel has already been bent over the drip edge.

After that, it was time to work with the metal.  We would take each long piece, cut 1″ notches into the corners, and remove those pieces so the metal could later be bent and crimped. We’re supposed to use a fancy metal bending tool, because this part wraps over the drip edge, but we didn’t want to spend the money on a tool we’d use so briefly. So Drew came up with the great idea to take two 2x4s and a couple clamps and make a makeshift bending machine.

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First we cut 1″ notches from the two edges of the metal, so that the flap could bend over and around the drip edge.
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Then we placed a spare 2×4 under the edge along the line we’d just cut.
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Next, we put another 2×4 on top to make a sandwich.
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Then, instead of using fancy metal-bending tools, Drew came up with the idea of putting clamps on the boards and bending the edge down.
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The finished product – his method worked perfectly!

After this, we installed the pieces so that the screw holes were toward the outer edge of the roof. After screwing it in, we’d snap the metal into place and then screw in the next one.

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We started at the cheek walls that separate the dormers from the gables. The first board we installed with gasket screws (pictured). Then we put pancake screws in the holes and then took the next piece of roofing and snapped it over the ridge to make it seamless.
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Here is a picture of the pancake screws before we put the next sheet of roofing over it. (Note, this is on the opposite side of the roof from the last picture).

A note on types of roofing: We decided to use standing-seam metal roofing instead of Maxrib for multiple reasons. For one, standing seam has a longer warranty and is expected to last 40+ years. With Maxrib, the screw holes are exposed, making it so water has a better chance of entering into the holes and damaging the roof. Interestingly, we read that manufacturers often won’t even stand by Maxrib products because the exposed fasteners present a constant liability for water to enter your home. Another great feature of standing seam is its hidden fastener system. If installed correctly, there should be no fastener left exposed to the elements. Therefore it represents a far less likely entryway for water.

The process will get a little more tricky around the cheek walls because there are a few specialized pieces of flashing that we will need to install to make the roof-wall transition safe and leak-free. We’ll keep you posted.

How We Installed Windows in Our Tiny House

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Well, we’ve routed our holes for our windows, covered the whole house with tar paper, and installed roof sheathing. Now it’s time to get going on the windows!

After much research, this is how we did it:

First, we took a razor and made an inverted “I” shape in the tar paper. We did this from inside the house, and then bent those pieces inwards around the frame. (We basically made a peace sign without the bottom vertical line – maybe a pie of thirds?) We also cut two diagonal lines at the top corners of the window opening, so that the window’s nailing fin can fit underneath the paper. This prevents water from slipping behind the fin on its downward path.

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Next, we nailed in the tar paper with 4D nails (small nails we happened to have leftover from working on the rafters). We used 2-3 on each section, depending on how large the window was.P1010342Then, we made pan flashing out of window flashing tape and attached it along the bottom sill of the window. We made sure 1/3 to 1/2 of it was hanging out the window, and then used the razor to cut the corners so it would fold down onto the paper. The ends of each piece of tape extended 6 inches above the sill for added protection.P1010354

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For tape, we chose to use a butyl-based tape. We researched flashing and found that aluminum is easily corroded by the tannins found in cedar (what we’re using for our siding), and that PVC tape is toxic (because, well, PVC is usually full of all kinds of additives like lead and pthalates). So we chose a standard butyl-based tape, which uses a simple poly-propylene backer, so it’s not quite as toxic. But, as we found, it doesn’t stick very well to tar paper. Drew used a heat gun to better adhere it, which helped, but we’re still working out how to increase its adherence to the tar paper. It probably would have worked even better had we used plastic house wrap for our house, but cedar siding is notorious for tearing that to shreds. So, for now, we’re happy with the tar paper.

After this, we siliconed around the top and side edges of the window. We siliconed as close to the edge as possible, since we’re using windows with different size nailing fins. On the top edge, we siliconed underneath the flap we had cut earlier.P1010369

Next, it was time to insert the window! We made sure it was under the top flap and that the nailing fin rested on the silicone.

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Then, we inserted shims from the inside of the house to make the window angle outward slightly, so that rain won’t pool up on the edge or underneath the window frame. Shims are also used for making the windows level. (Note: before we began this process, we made sure our whole house was still level on the trailer, so that our window leveling would be accurate… There’s a lot to think about.)

For the shims, we used some cedar shims Drew’s dad offered us. If you want to make your own, Drew’s dad said you can cut pieces of wood at a very shallow angle (~4 degrees). We usually inserted only two shims per window.
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P1010379Once that was complete, it was time to nail in the window. We used 8D nails and nailed into all the nailing fin holes around the edge. We ran into problems where our metal house strapping is, because we couldn’t get the nails to go all the way through. In these places we ended up pre-drilling the holes before nailing.

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Then, it was time to tape the edges of the window. We taped the bottom first, going about six inches past the ends of the nailing fins, for extra coverage. Then we taped over the the vertical sides, covering the bottom tape (again, water always flows down). We cut a smaller piece of tape and used it to cover the top, and also attached a couple along the lines we had cut diagonally in the tar paper earlier.

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And here is the finished result:

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Leave questions and comments below!

Next, we will be installing our metal roofing. Wish us luck!