A Little Fan for a Little House

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And by little fan, we mean little. Our fan is 24 inches across. Tiny indeed! We originally bought a 30″ wide fan, thinking that would fit, but then discovered there was a very real danger of hitting it on the way into the loft. So we had to rethink things a bit.

The fan itself is made by Monte Carlo, and we had to order it online. Its reviews said it had a lot of power for being just a little fan. We sure hope that is true; this is our only source of AC at the moment! We do plan on building a DIY air conditioner later on, but that’s a topic for a future blog post. (PS. You can find anything on the Internet.)

 

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Anyway, even for being so small, it was actually really tricky to install. It was surprisingly more tricky than our bathroom fan (aka the ‘fart fan’, as our friend called it) and that one was installed through a wall. The trickiest part about tiny fans in tiny houses is, and always will be, finding the right parts. Allow me to explain: tiny houses like ours have a beautiful pitched roof which looks great, but hanging a fan from the ceiling is a no-go unless you can buy a cathedral roof kit, which is obviously sold separately.

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I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say we had to pull up a part of our roof panels, buy a special fan kit for cathedral style roofs, buy a new electrical box, rewire the lines to the fan, and buy a specialty support rod off of the Internet. It was a bunch of work! But the end result was worth it.

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And now we have a lovely fan! Another project down!

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We’re glad to have another important part of the house finished, and this actually happened to be the last large electrical feature we needed to install before we could test electrical. Next, we only need to put in one light in the bathroom, and a few switches and outlets! Be on the lookout for our future post on testing our electrical system!

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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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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.

Roofing

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The other day Drew and I were walking up some stairs. My dad, who was nearby, took one look at us and laughed.

“I recognize that tiredness. I’ve been there.”

We just kind of blearily stared back at him.

We recently started work on the roof, and we were pretty exhausted.

Indeed, it’s been a tiring week. But luckily the roof is moving along nicely. The biggest challenge that stood in our way was modifying our roof plans. It all goes back to our trailer: it was two inches wider than the plans called for, so our house had to be two inches wider to fit onto the trailer. Because the house was two inches wider, the slant of our roof had to be more shallow to keep the same amount of headroom in the loft we wanted. That was kind of the whole reason we bought Tumbleweed plans in the first place.

That meant we had to modify ALL the plans, including the roof rafter angles, for both the dormer AND gable styled roofs.

And neither of us remember much trigonometry.

So we turned to the internet for help. Luckily there were several triangle calculators that made it incredibly easy to muddle our way through the roof. It wasn’t exactly easy getting the measurements we needed because we couldn’t know the measurements of our rafters until we knew the angle of our rafters– however, to get the angles of the rafters, we needed the measurements we didn’t have and couldn’t get. See our problem?

This was where we had the idea to make a mock-up model of the rafter; if we just made a model of what we wanted our rafters to sit on, we could theoretically just hold up a 2×4 and mark a line where to cut, right?

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Our model rafter contraption.

We took our ridge beam (two long pieces of microlam nailed together) and attached two 2x4s at the correct height were the floor would be (we’re basically switched the microlam and floor 2×4 for this model). From there, we figured out how wide half the roof would be, and moved our ridgebeam that far away from the edge of the table, where we screwed a 2×4 that represented the wall. Then we calculated the angle of the rafter in the highly technical way of put-it-there-and-draw-a-line. And it worked!

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We field tested our first two gable rafters, and stuck a 2×4 the same dimensions of the ridgebeam in between to ensure it fit.

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Then it was on to installing the ridge beam.

This was a challenge. First, this thing is 19ft long. It took a while to figure out how to maneuver it in through the door and up onto the sleeping loft, especially without scratching the floor. Once we got one end up there, we put the other end in the storage loft over the door. Slowly, carefully, we turned it over and stood up the beam and nailed screwed it into place. We left the supports on it until we put in the rafters.

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Next, it was on to building the dormers, which are the mini walls around the sleeping loft.

Luckily, that went relatively smoothly. As did the installation. It actually started looking like a house!

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The hardest part has been the rain and the insane humidity it is creating. We’re still receiving occasional torrential downpours, and our plastic sheets loves frolicking in the wind. Recently we were working on sheathing, when out of the blue rain started coming down. We quickly raced to cover our work (luckily our friend Evan was helping) and by the time we had finished, the rain had stopped. We called it a day, because it was also 95 degrees outside and we were working in direct sun.

That day was also the day we started on the gable roof sheathing. It’s been a lot of juggling ladders and games of who-has-the-nailer and where-is-the-hammer. The process was similar to that of the subfloor, in that we would cut a sheet of plywood, put glue on the beams, and then attempt to put the piece of wood on the ceiling, get it exactly where we need it, and then nail it in.

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The fun part was that the more of the roof we covered, the harder it was to get up into the rafters to work. We finished gluing the gable roof, but are having a hard time nailing it, since we can’t reach it. We considered straddling the roof and trying to work our way over to the spot to nail it, but we decided that was too dangerous, at least until we have some kind of harness system. We’re still in the process of trying to figure out a way. It will be especially hard once the roof over the sleeping loft is on. I have no idea how we’ll get up there then (especially when it comes to pulling the tarp over that part, ugh. That’s hard enough to do as it is, and our tarp is starting to fall apart. Again). I know there is a way of screwing in 2x4s on the side of the roof for support, but I need to look into it more. It seems like there’s always some new blockage we need to battle through. I think the trick is doing it frugally, safely, and timely. We’ll get there eventually, we always do.

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