There came a day where there was absolutely nothing we could think of to do on the house. No, not because we were finished (we wish), but because everything was waiting on something else to be done before we could continue. For example, we couldn’t finish paneling the ceiling because we were waiting on our wood-stove to arrive so we would know where the chimney goes. We also couldn’t do any more on the bathroom because we needed to order stainless steel sheet metal.
So, we decided to get a head start on trim.
Why not, right?
We decided on 2 3/4″ wide by 3/4″ thick boards for our windows. Remember, we’re making this all by hand, so we have no idea what industry standards are for these things. After some research, we found we were, luckily, in the ballpark. We decided on using poplar wood for a few reasons. For one, poplar is a lighter, inexpensive wood that is easier to work with compared to other hardwoods. We definitely appreciate that. And next, my favorite reason, is that we got to salvage some poplar wood that means something to me.
I (Sierra) was one of those kids who was outside all the time, playing tag, building forts, having water wars (my house was known for awesome squirt gun water fights) and having other random outdoor adventures. Back then, there was an empty, overgrown plot of land in my neighborhood that my friends and I liked to explore. In the center of it was a giant poplar tree (you see where this is going). It was simply gorgeous. You’d walk by the lot and your eye would immediately be drawn to it. A lot of wildlife lived there too, and apparently once when I was out of town it was struck by lightning (shook the ground, the neighbors said). Anyway, when I became an adult (though I’m still trying to figure out what that means), a builder bought the lot and cut down the tree. He decided to mill the wood himself and use it for the interior trim of his own new house. And let me tell you it is beautiful! Anyway, I told him about my tiny house project and he kindly offered to give us some of his leftover wood from that tree. So for me, having it in the house is kind of like having part of my childhood home with me wherever I go.
Cue “D’awww…” in the audience.
Okay, the hokey moment is over. Back to the originally scheduled programming.
So we milled the wood down and created the trim boards. Next we wanted to sand them and then apply a color. A few years ago we visited a tiny house where the builder gave us the idea to apply paint and then wipe it off in order to still show the grain pattern and natural beauty of the wood. This is an old wood finishing technique called “pickling”. The term comes from a 16th century technique of whitewashing woods with caustic lime and other such corrosive materials so as to make wood resistant to insects. The process left behind a light, brushed on look that made the wood seem both aged and somewhat ethereal. That look really is making a comeback today, but we didn’t need to use harsh chemicals to achieve a similar look. The process today simply involves brushing on a coat of paint, and then wiping it off before it dries. You can also lightly sand the paint off for the same effect. So we decided to give it a shot with our green trim paint!
And here is the result! We like it. It will match the green accents we plan to have throughout the house. We’re waiting to add trim in the bathroom and kitchen because we’ll need to work around the counter, back-splash, and bathroom sink, but so far so good! It’s coming together!
We now have a cute little woodstove! Isn’t it adorable?
It’s not just a pretty piece though, it’s a heavy duty stove. After trawling the internet for months on end, we finally uncovered a small bit of information that led us to the Cubic Mini wood stove. Cubic Mini is a Canadian business that makes an excellent micro-sized wood stove for boats, cabins, and tiny houses! Not only was this one of the highest quality wood stoves we found, but it was also one of the most reasonably priced, beating out even the Dickinson Marine wood burning stove. The stoves are designed to mount on the floor, or on the wall using a special wall-mounting/heat reflective system that keeps your walls safe from high heat. The great thing about this stove is that you can heat water on top, or on the larger size, you can even use the cookstove as an oven!
We also love how you can see the flame through the front – not only does it serve to tell how the fire is doing (needing more fuel, etc.) but it really adds to the atmosphere on a cold winter night.
Many tiny housers use Dickinson Marine stoves because of the size and cost, but we chose not to for a few reasons. First of all, the use of propane made us a little nervous. What if the gas line ruptured? What if it became loosened because of vibration on the road? It was these concerns that led us to the Dickinson Marine wood-burning stove, which appeared to be a perfect alternative to propane until we started looking up some reviews online. Most modern wood stoves are airtight to the outside with the exception of the air intake valve for controlling the burn-rate of your wood. However, in reviews we found, the Dickinson marine wood stove had no way of controlling how quickly the wood burned because Dickinson had not properly sealed the ash pan or the door. We saw some videos showing how the steel of the stove pipe had turned red hot because the home owner could not dampen the flames that were flying into the flue. This could have led to a very dangerous chimney fire as there was no way to properly control the airflow! Also, what was worse: the Dickinson Marine didn’t have a fire window!
This was not a concern at all with the Cubic mini. The makers of this stove had basically taken every standard precaution you would see in a normal sized wood-burning stove. The ash drawer and the door were properly sealed, and the stove had all of the standard air-control systems. We were very impressed with how well these stoves were made, and to add to it, we ended up spending less on it than we would have for the Dickinson.
Well, we’ve (mostly) completed plumbing, we’ve (nearly) completed electrical, now we’re onto installing the walls! It really is a relief to finally be working on something a little less technical.
First, we need to decide on a look for the interior. (That whole “wanting the house to look nice” thing.) We both really like the aesthetic of varnished wood, but didn’t want all the knots and spots you tend to see in pine. Pine is often used in tiny houses because of the cost and weight, but we really dislike the chaotic look. We considered painting the interior, but decided against it because we preferred a more natural appearance. So we knew we needed a wood species that looked really good. We looked around. We thought about milling hardwood like we did for our floor boards, but found that because of the way hardwoods are sold and processed, we would have had to buy boards that were twice as thick as we needed. This means we would have to plane the boards down, turning half of our investment into sawdust. So we began looking into high-grade hardwood plywood. At first we were hesitant about using plywood. We’ve read a lot about how plywoods tend to be made with heavy-duty adhesives that contain high amounts of urea-formaldehyde. Normally, because formaldehyde is natural and commonly found in in low levels in most building materials you just have to learn to live with it, but in such high concentrations in such a small space, we had to be careful. However, we found a type of birch plywood called PureBond Hardwood Plywood made by Columbia Forest Products that sold itself on using formaldehyde free adhesives and zero voc processing methods. After a little research, we decided to try it!
We both really like the look of birch (just see our flooring) so we bought a stack of ½ cabinet grade hardwood plywood. All 28 sheets of it! Afterwards, all we needed to do was decide on the board width. We looked around online at other tiny houses and decided we liked the look of wider boards. We determined that we could cut our boards into roughly 9” wide slats and leave ourselves with only half an inch left over. Talk about efficient! This took only a few hours of work. We also decided to add an extra dimension of texture to our walls by making a small horizontal groove at the top of each board to make it appear as if there was a small darkened space between each board. This created a strong dark line along each board that made the final look appear much more modern and clean. After that, we had our boards! Now we had to varnish them…
We decided to finish our wall boards with a simple zero voc furniture varnish from ECOS Paints. We sealed our floors with a very similar product from ECOS, and we were very happy with how easy it was to work with and how clean and good looking the final product looked, so we ordered a little bit more for our wall finishing.
We then made an assembly line for processing the boards. We would sand each board, varnish it, put it up to dry in the house (in our excellent holding racks made of leftover 2x4s stacked all over the house), wait til they dried, sanded the boards again, varnished again, and then repeat it all over again.
What made things even more complicated was that only half of them could fit in the house at one time to dry… which meant we ended up with two stacks of boards, one a step further along in the process than the other. Just to make things more confusing. You KNOW how much we love confusing.
Next we’ll be installing the boards, and finally we just might get to really work on the interior! Woohoo!
Long time no write. Things have certainly been busy! Just, not so much house-wise.. Though I will say we’re currently we’re working on the walls! I’ll get to that in another post, but for now let’s focus on tiny house plumbing.
Plumbing. Where on earth to start? First, we had to determine the piping layout/design. We finalized where we wanted our tub to be (whatever we end up using) and chose the definitive spots for our bathroom and kitchen sinks.
We also determined what sort of water pumping/filtration system we would be using. Being that we are considering going off-grid sometime in the future, we were looking for a system that minimizes our electrical usage, and preferably does not require in-line water pressure. We found a few gravity powered filtration systems that seemed to fit the bill. We decided to go with Berkey water filters. Berkey makes a kind of water filter that has been shown to be so effective it can remove protozoa, trace minerals, bacteria, and even viruses in the water. Being that viruses are so incredibly small, this is a very impressive feat for a filter that only requires gravity to operate. We’ve also read that a lot of tiny housers have used Berkeys for its convenience and safety, which helped back up our decision.
Our plan is to rig up a stainless steel tank with about 4-6 of these filters (since the number of filters increases the amount of available water). This tank will drip into a large 40 gallon fresh water holding tank that we’re going to store in the dead space in the corner of our kitchen. Most people don’t realize that this is prime real estate in galley-style kitchens! Many big homes have a lazy Susan (or a corner pantry), but since we don’t need one, we can use this space to store our water filtration.
After all that was figured out (which took a boatload of research), we then had to determine what materials we wanted to use for our piping. We knew we were against using CPVC because of the chlorination process and the use of pthalates and heavy metals needed to produce the pipe. We also determined copper wasn’t that great either because it could leach copper into the water supply – and while this is good for anti-bacterial applications, our water would already be pure because of our pre-filter. High copper has also been connected to Alzheimer’s and other related cognitive conditions, so we figured we wouldn’t take our chances. Besides the possible health concerns, a few studies have found that copper pipes have been failing far sooner than previously expected because of premature pin-hole leaks.
We would have loved to use stainless steel, but not only could we not find any, what little we did find (for like dairy production and such) was way too expensive and hilariously difficult to work with.
So we turned to PEX.
(Warning: mildly intensive chemistry discussion for the next few paragraphs. If you’re into that kind of stuff, stick around, if not, scroll down to the picture of the PEX pipe.)
For those of you who don’t know, PEX is a fairly new plastic piping product. The fact that it was plastic made us discount it almost straight away at first, but the more we looked around, the more we learned about it.
We initially hesitated on PEX because we’ve read a great deal of research about plastic leaching harmful chemicals into drinking water. This is to be expected with almost any product, plastic or metal. However, there is no 100% conclusive way to determine what will end up in your drinking water through your pipes, or even where it came from in the first place.
PEX, however, is a little different than other plastic pipe products. Unlike PVC, which is one of the most toxic plastics out there, PEX is made from LDPE, which is #2 plastic. Several types of food-service containers are made out of this sample plastic, and as far as plastic goes, this type tends to be pretty safe. However, even if LDPE is a fairly inert plastic on its own; the toxicity of a given plastic has less to do with what type of plastic you’re using and everything to do with the additives.
PVC, for example, is rather brittle or soft and rubbery depending on what it is used in. In order for PVC to have any of those properties, additives need to be mixed into the plastic and chemically bonded with the plastic in order to reinforce it and prepare it for sale as a certain product. These PVC additives can very often be hormone-disrupting chemicals that can throw off human biochemistry, or the biochemistry of chemical-sensitive animals. Sometimes these additives can even be heavy metals like lead. In the case of PVC, the additives are typically loosely bonded to the plastic, which means they can fall out of the pipe into drinking water.
PEX stands for “cross-linked polyethylene”, which means “plastic that has been chemically bonded to itself”. You don’t need to know how this process works, but suffice it to say, this plastic is produced by making plastic arrange itself into a shape like a roll of chain linked fence. This can be done by either adding chemicals to the raw plastic, or, even better, by irradiating it with a high frequency light. This final type of PEX is called PEX-C, and has recently replaced copper and PVC piping in terms of availability, ease of use, and, best of all, cleanliness!
We found a recent study headed by Dr. Andrew Whelton of Perdue university that tested several different types of PEX pipes and seemed to demonstrate that PEX-C pipes were more resistant to abrasive chemicals used in water treatment, leached fewer chemicals and less harmful compounds than other types of PEX pipes, and proved to be more chemically inert overall. Not only were there fewer chemicals used in its production, but fewer of them made it into the drinking water! This sounded perfect to us after several weeks of botched research.
Now we had the hard part done. It was time to install everything! We drilled 3/4” inch holes in all of the studs where we wanted the pipe to run. Another great feature of PEX is that it feels like playing with LEGOs. It can be cut with a simple utility knife, and it can be bent around corners without fittings. We bought a few 90 degree bend moulds that allowed us to bend the pipe and keep it held at that angle whenever we needed the pipe to stick out of the wall or curve around a corner.
The fittings for PEX are also hilariously toy-like. Shark Bite makes a fitting that you literally just push onto the pipe for a permanent fit. Kinda like tinker toys. However, we went with crimp fittings from Viega because they are made with an even lower lead content than the low-lead fittings sold off the shelves these days. Crimp fittings are only slightly more complicated and require a vice grip to install, but they go on very quickly and without much of a fuss. We were able to pick them up locally from a Ferguson plumbing supply store.
Wherever we had an appliance, we installed a support plate that installed between the studs and provided a hole that the protruding pipe could rest on for support. This makes it so the water pressure doesn’t vibrate the pipe so much that it gets damaged. We also added foam insulation around our hot water lines.
And now that’s mostly done! We left a pair of pipes hanging out of the wall for the hot water heater that we will attach once the wall where the heater goes is installed. All that’s left now is the drainage system, which we can install once we know the dimensions of our tub…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 uspage. We’re happy to help.