Interior Wall Boards – Part I

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Well, we’ve (mostly) completed plumbing, we’ve (nearly) completed electrical, now we’re onto installing the walls! It really is a relief to finally be working on something a little less technical.

First, we need to decide on a look for the interior. (That whole “wanting the house to look nice” thing.) We both really like the aesthetic of varnished wood, but didn’t want all the knots and spots you tend to see in pine. Pine is often used in tiny houses because of the cost and weight, but we really dislike the chaotic look. We considered painting the interior, but decided against it because we preferred a more natural appearance. So we knew we needed a wood species that looked really good. We looked around. We thought about milling hardwood like we did for our floor boards, but found that because of the way hardwoods are sold and processed, we would have had to buy boards that were twice as thick as we needed. This means we would have to plane the boards down, turning half of our investment into sawdust. So we began looking into high-grade hardwood plywood. At first we were hesitant about using plywood. We’ve read a lot about how plywoods tend to be made with heavy-duty adhesives that contain high amounts of urea-formaldehyde. Normally, because formaldehyde is natural and commonly found in in low levels in most building materials you just have to learn to live with it, but in such high concentrations in such a small space, we had to be careful. However, we found a type of birch plywood called PureBond Hardwood Plywood made by Columbia Forest Products that sold itself on using formaldehyde free adhesives and zero voc processing methods. After a little research, we decided to try it!

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We both really like the look of birch (just see our flooring) so we bought a stack of ½ cabinet grade hardwood plywood. All 28 sheets of it! Afterwards, all we needed to do was decide on the board width. We looked around online at other tiny houses and decided we liked the look of wider boards. We determined that we could cut our boards into roughly 9” wide slats and leave ourselves with only half an inch left over. Talk about efficient! This took only a few hours of work. We also decided to add an extra dimension of texture to our walls by making a small horizontal groove at the top of each board to make it appear as if there was a small darkened space between each board. This created a strong dark line along each board that made the final look appear much more modern and clean. After that, we had our boards! Now we had to varnish them…

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We decided to finish our wall boards with a simple zero voc furniture varnish from ECOS Paints. We sealed our floors with a very similar product from ECOS, and we were very happy with how easy it was to work with and how clean and good looking the final product looked, so we ordered a little bit more for our wall finishing.

We then made an assembly line for processing the boards. We would sand each board, varnish it, put it up to dry in the house (in our excellent holding racks made of leftover 2x4s stacked all over the house), wait til they dried, sanded the boards again, varnished again, and then repeat it all over again.

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

What made things even more complicated was that only half of them could fit in the house at one time to dry… which meant we ended up with two stacks of boards, one a step further along in the process than the other. Just to make things more confusing. You KNOW how much we love confusing.

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

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

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Tiny House Electrical – You Conduit!

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The bathroom wall with its electrical and plumbing mostly done.

Electrical was a bit more complicated than plumbing. For one, we had to determine ALL the fixtures we’d be using, where exactly they would be going, how much power they would draw, etc. Lighting the great room turned out to be the most difficult. Like we’ve mentioned in earlier posts, we are looking for low impact, and off-grid ready appliances, so we shopped around for LED lights. Drew’s parents had a large collection of left-over light fixtures from their kitchen and bath business that we were free to choose from. These came in handy on several occasions.

We thought about having recessed can lights like traditional homes, but decided against it once we realized that the recessed part of the light almost always required a 6” deep ceiling stud, which we simply did not have room for in our 2×4 roof. We found a large box of task lights in Drew’s parents’ shop that we initially thought would be perfect for the great room. Drew rigged up a few lights and hung them up on the ceiling. For 12v lights, they lit the room up like they were 60 watts bulbs! They looked great in the space, but they seemed to heat up rather quickly, which we thought was odd for LED lights until we realized they were xenon lights. Oh well…

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Our attempt with can lights.

Then we saw a design online where a tiny home used LED strips along the tops of the walls on either side of the great room. It lit the room up with the beautiful looking glow of reflected indirect light. Perfect! We definitely want to use LED because it uses less energy and produces less heat.

We chose a  very small ceiling fan (that hopefully won’t hit our walls when it spins), two wall sconces for the dormer walls, one sconce for over the half circle window, a set of decorative track lights for the nook, two kitchen lights, and a sconce for the bathroom. Plus, we bought an outdoor light for the front door as well. We lucked out with the track lights because a builder Drew ran into had some extra lighting he didn’t need, so he gave it to us. (Thanks again!)

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Our new porch light! Note, the white paint line on the half circle window above is from when Sierra attempted to paint the shakes surrounding the window, and the bees living in the eaves decided that wasn’t the best idea.

We decided to run our house on 120 volts AC because this was the most common, most easily managed type of electrical setup we could create for ourselves. Simply put, more, better, and cheaper appliances are available when you use a traditional electrical load. This means you have more choices for energy saving appliances once you start looking for them. Since we had a tight space for our kitchen, we decided to splurge on an under-counter refrigerator that was much larger than your usual dorm fridge.

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Electric setup for the nook. The wire will be hidden by a trim piece we’ll be installing later.

It should be mentioned that there are some great and ingenious food cooling solutions for totally off-the grid homes. We’ve seen propane powered fridges, flexible power fridges that can take 110v AC and 12v DC. There was even a time we were convinced we were going to convert an old chest freezer into a super-efficient refrigerator that used less than $12 worth of power in an entire year. (Thank you Internet.) However, in the end, we decided we could afford a larger, foodie-friendly fridge at the cost of an extra solar battery or two once we made the switch.

Speaking of solar, we are looking into using a portable all-in-one solar station called the SolMan. It is a box that contains all of the batteries, solar panels, and related equipment needed to charge a few computers and run a few small appliances off the grid. It can be upgraded with more battery storage or solar panels and all you need to hook your house up to it is an extension cord! There is absolutely no need to install those puppies on your roof and clench your stomach (and your wallet) every time you drive your house under an exceptionally low-looking overpass.

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Lightswitch for the nook light. Since we have so many boxes we took to labeling the wires for clarity.

Because we were mentally exhausted from all the plumbing research, and we were both busy with jobs and life, we decided to play it safe and hire an electrician for this part. Because Drew’s parents work in the construction business, they knew a contractor that could help. And that’s how we met Tom.

Actually, that’s a bit misleading. I (Sierra) have never actually met Tom. For all I know, Tom doesn’t exist and never has existed. Due to busy work scheduling on my end, Drew is the only one who ever actually interacted with him. Ever. Drew also tends have uncanny knack for understanding technical stuff, so as far as I know Drew made Tom up and did all the electrical himself. It’s become a running joke with us.

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Drew’s electrical design

So Drew met with Tom and showed him a diagram he’d mapped out of our electrical system. Tom then gave us some wire to get started (thanks Tom!) and taught Drew how to install it.

Then he left Drew and I to install our electrical boxes and the wires leading to them. It was actually pretty easy. It also made everything overall easier for us since we knew the plan backwards and forwards and we didn’t have to explain our incredibly complicated and amateur electrical plan to a professional who had other things to worry about.

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The red and black wires are for the LED strip lighting. The white wire leads to the loft. The silver metal pieces are the wire guards.

Then we (meaning Drew) called up Tom and met with him to look over our work. From there, Tom installed our electrical box and “did all the complicated stuff” of building a circuit box, installing all of the breakers, wiring the supply line to the box and explaining 3-way switches to Drew.  Then Drew and I finished up the rough wiring by installing some junction boxes. We also went through the house and installed these metal wiring plates that get installed directly over a wire or a pipe so it will be impossible for us to drill into a live wire. Ouch!

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We set it up so we can turn on/off the loft lights from downstairs, as well as from upstairs, for convenience.

And that was it! Working with Tom (I guess indirectly on my part, haha) was fantastic! It was nice for something to go smoothly for once. Honestly, this was way easier than either of us had expected for having hired a professional. We were thinking we would have to explain the whole project to Tom and then watch over his shoulder to make sure he was installing it the way we needed it. Nope! No such troubles. Tom, just as calm as you please, explained how to wire an outlet, how to wire a switch, and how to put together an electrical system in the simplest way he could, and then left us to install our plan the way we wanted. It was a great arrangement for everyone.

Now we’re working on the walls. We’ll dedicate a whole post to that coming up. Stay tuned..

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!

Our Cute Little Front Door

I must proclaim that we have the cutest, most adoorable door in all the land. Just look at it!

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Drew’s dad Sam kindly put the door together for us. He used birch for the sides and pine for the paneling.

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Here the unfinished door is being held by clamps as the wood glue and silicone dry.

Drew and I ordered paint from ECOS because it was a non toxic exterior-grade paint. Unlike many other name brand paints, it lacks many of the heavy duty curing agents that make cause headaches, allergies, nausea, fatigue, and that infamous “wet paint” chemical smell. Ugh. We chose a barn-red color because we thought it’d go with the natural look of the cedar and would match our house well. We still may end up painting the exterior of our house because linseed oil isn’t a long-lasting solution, but if we do paint we’ll probably stick to a color close to what it is already – which goes well with the barn red.

After we painted one coat on the door we let it dry overnight. It was then time to work on installation! Drew worked with Sam on this. First, they measured the rough opening of the door, and installed a 1/2″ jamb around the top and sides. From there, they squared it up using shims to make the opening a consistent width all the way up and down. Inside, they mortised the door hinges into the door. Mortising is a technique used in door-making where the places where the hinges sit are actually cut into the door and door frame so they are flush. This part is super important to get right – everything needs to be square or the hinges will not work as smoothly. From there, they took the door outside and shimmed it up to just slightly above the height of the threshold and screwed the hinges in just to mark where they would sit. From that point on, it was a slow process of sanding and planing the door to just about 1/8th of an inch smaller than the door jamb on all sides. Once that was done and the door swung completely closed without any force, they took the door off the jamb and gave it a second coat of paint.

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Doesn’t it look amazing? They did a great job.

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Even though the door looks wonderful, we unfortunately have some issues with our beautifully small door.

For one, the window is slightly too large… Don’t worry, it fits just fine, but it makes installing a door knob and lock a bit more complicated. Here’s the deal: our window is so tall and wide that it actually makes the first available place to install a handle and lock very low. Lower than a standard door, for sure. Not only that, but we have a very limited amount of vertical space to install our hardware. We calculated that there is about 4 or 5 inches of vertical space to place both a deadbolt and a door handle. That is simply too little space for two large pieces of hardware that need big holes. We decided to keep a standard locking handle, but to look for something non standard for the deadbolt.

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The final placement of the door handle and lock

We discovered that over in jolly old England they make a kind of lock called a night latch, which is a kind of deadbolt lock that automatically locks behind you and can be opened with a key from the outside. The great part about these locks is that they are standardized which means they have many of the modern security functions of an American deadbolt like being bump, jimmy, and kick resistant. However, the best part is that they only require a 1″ hole, and the bulk of the hardware mounts on the interior surface of the door! This means it will take up less space than a standard deadbolt, and be just as safe.

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We put a wooden shim in the top of the door to keep it from opening in the wind. It’s working so far.

Next we installed the door handle and lock, which took a while to arrive by mail. In the meantime, we had to use a plastic sheet to keep water from getting inside. (Ever tried to keep a door without a handle or anything to grab onto from opening in the wind? How do you keep it from opening on its own? It’s a weird problem.)

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Our protective plastic monstrosity. This surprisingly-durable plastic sheet has been with us through thick and thin since the beginning.

Because of the predicament mentioned earlier we ended up installing our deadbolt at the top of the door and the door handle in the middle. It’s still shorter than the average door handle.

Next, we needed to install weather stripping. This was a challenge. We’re trying to build this house as green as possible by sourcing as many plastic free, green materials that we can find, but as you can guess this is not easy. The majority of weather stripping we’ve found is either vinyl or PVC, both of which can leach toxic chemicals. Plus, the majority of them had Prop 65 warnings, which we also wanted to avoid. After hours of searching we finally came across rubber ones from Home Depot without a Prop 65 warning. Installing them was easy, as they just fit into the grooves (also called “kerfs”) on our doorstop. We needed to adjust our doorstop a few times for a secure fit, but in the end we had a tight weather seal all the way around the door.

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Things will slow down from here as we begin on the plumbing and electrical. We have a large learning curve ahead of us, especially when searching for green plumbing materials…

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!

8 Tips For When Paring Down Gets Sticky

There are bloggers, and authors, and speakers, and just TONS of information about how to get rid of/organize about 85% of your stuff. However, when I was in the thick of it, I ran into some interesting aspects of paring down that I never found addressed anywhere else. My hope is that by explaining some points here, you’ll be able to work your way through the paring down process much easier than I did.

So here are some steps that might help:

1) First off, you’re going to feel crazy. Like, really really crazy. Is it mad to get rid of those 15 shirts? Or that leather jacket your mom gave you? Or even your coin collection? I’m here to tell you no, no it’s not at all.

Every year for as long as I can remember I’d do a big spring cleaning. It would be when I’d switch out my winter clothes for my summer ones. You know the process, pulling down the dusty, hopefully-not-spider-ridden trashbag from the depths of the closet, and making the switcheraroo. ‘Oh, I forgot about that old sweater! Aww, there’s my old softball uniform!’ – that kind of thing. I’d go through my stuff and get rid of a few things; mainly things that didn’t fit anymore or I was too embarrassed to wear. I’d be proud of my small donation stack. But then one year I made the awful mistake of arming myself with knowledge by reading a book about the clothing industry. I read one-too-many facts about synthetic clothing, pesticides, and heavy metals. I even performed a burn test (if you’re ever curious, take a thread of polyester clothing and a thread of cotton clothing and burn them separately – see what happens. Give it a sniff too. That’s pretty fun), and decided I was going to get rid of all clothing that wasn’t cotton.

Performing a burn test on a polyester (synthetic) thread.
Performing a burn test on a (synthetic) polyester thread. It crumpled up and fused to itself, like it would to skin if worn. As it beaded up, it smelled horrible.

SO MANY CLOTHES.

So yeah, I felt crazy. I felt like everyone I knew would think I was insane for trying to get rid of most of my clothes, and I actually didn’t tell many other people about my minimalist mindwarp because I didn’t think they’d understand. Or, at best they would understand, and then promptly commit me to an asylum.

But the reason it felt crazy to me was because we live in the land of abundance, where consumerism is wrapped around every telephone pole and silver screen. So when you’re going against the grain by actually getting rid of stuff instead of accumulating it, yeah, people are going to think it’s weird.

But (plot twist) you’re not.

You’re actually freeing yourself.

But more on that in a minute.

2) Don’t worry, getting rid of stuff is hard at first, but it becomes a snowballing effect. The stuff you don’t think you can approach now, like sentimental items or stuff that others have passed on to you, will become easier to face later on down the road. Trust me. It took me months to finally pare down all my office stuff to tiny-house-level.

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Proof.

What if I need this binder for grad school? I don’t want to buy another one. What about all these pens? Those are useful, right? The hole puncher? Just in case I need one? I know it’s ridiculous, but I swear it took Drew two months to convince me that I didn’t need three calculators (Drew’s note: and three staplers)…

3) Do the process in waves. Do a thorough cleaning, then, when exhausted, wait a few months. Then once you have your energy up for it again, go through what’s left and get rid of more stuff. I promise this works. I’ve been doing it for years and still find things to get rid of. It’s like you will see whatever you didn’t clear out the last time and ask, “Why did I keep this?”

4) Keep only the things that bring you joy when you touch them. This method comes from a book by Japanese author Marie Kondo called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. In terms of books on organization, I feel this is probably the most effective book I have read in providing tips that actually work. Why? Because the author isn’t trying to sell you some kind of huge trip that only works if you buy better organization products, or use a strict one size fits all system. I think the best part about it is how she debunks so many of the commonly held beliefs about tidying like the advice that you should only tidy one room at a time. Rather, she advocates for a one time, thorough, clean out of every room in the house. I know: it sounds intimidating. But, she places a lot of emphasis on the order in which you tidy to make sure you start with easy stuff and build up momentum along the way.

It works long term too because you’re keeping only the things that make you the happiest, so you’re satisfied by whatever you look at in your home: you have no feeling of need for anything else. It’s a fascinating read that came at the end of my paring down experience, but I wish I had read it earlier.

5) Get a no-B.S. friend to help you out. Ask them to follow you around and ask things like “When do you use that?” “Does that actually make you happy to keep?” “What kinds of memories do you have with that?” “Where did you get this?” “Didn’t I just see two more just like this in that drawer?” (No Drew, you just imagined that those calculators magically appeared back in the drawer…)

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Still not sure what to do with these.

6) It is going to be really hard to get rid of stuff responsibly. Okay, I’m a green nut, I admit it. When Drew and I got rid of stuff, a lot of what we came across was really hard to get rid of, not because we were attached to them, but simply because the items have little to no retail value, and few people, if anyone, still want them or even have a use for them: spare lightbulbs, packing materials, obscure books, old computer hardware, paintings and artwork, wires, assorted art supplies, VHS tapes, pens, pencils, binders, rugs, half-used cosmetic items, etc. In fact, once we started getting rid of stuff in large quantities, our families started giving us stuff to get rid of too! And now we’ve sort of ended up with a small pile of things, “the dregs” of decluttering that are almost impossible to give away to someone who needs/wants them. What do you do with out-of-date textbooks?

It’s so easy to attain possessions. Just go to any sort of expo or fair and get free pens, bags, notepads, business cards/flyers, etc. In college I used to go to these fairs just to stock up on pens. Look around in the room you’re in right now. Did at least one thing come to you for free? Was it really “free?” or is it just taking up space now?

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Avoid trashing things if you can help it. Many much better alternatives are available.

Yes, it would be easy to approach everything with trashbag in hand, but I could rant for hours on why that is a really bad idea. I’ll spare you the details here, so let me instead present you with some alternative ways to get rid of things:

  • Yardsale. If it’s still in decent condition, try to sell it. Why not? Get a bunch of stuff together, post a listing online, maybe even mention some prize items in the ad, and go for it. This is a good step for after you’ve worked for a long while going through cycles of getting rid of things.
  • Amazon or Ebay. If you can find the item on Amazon and it’s in a good condition, sell it! I’ve had a lot of success with this option. And you can list everything from books to video games. Ebay is better for those more obscure items. You can make a nice bit of pocket change if you’re willing to put in the work on this one.
  • Still stuck with an item? Now to try resale stores. Try consignment shops (furniture is great for these, or clothes), used bookstores, and more.

Can’t sell it? Is it just past that point but you don’t want to dump it? Here are some options:

  • Charity – Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity, Salvation Army, your local library, etc. Goodwill even accepts old torn up clothing and rags for rag recycling. Just put it in a bag labeled “rag recycling” and give it to them.
  • Recycling groups – Where I live we have hard-to-recycle collection events. They take everything ranging from Styrofoam and old batteries to broken plastic flowerpots. Check with your local green organizations and see what you have available. Have an old rug or carpet? Donate to a pet shelter. You’d be surprised what can be of use.
  • Chain stores – Best Buy will recycle old electronics, DVDs, CDs, cables/cords, etc. Lowes Home Improvement will recycle CFL light bulbs and more.
  • Freecycle – a great resource where people list things they’re giving away for free. I acquired some wood for my build from someone through Freecycle. I also gave away 20 wooden Clementine boxes and a box of dried up art supplies. It’s amazing what people can use. Look up Freecycle to find a group in your area.
  • Earth911.com is a wonderful resource! You can look up different items and see what places will take them to recycle. I’ve recycled pens, shoes, VHS tapes, everything. Another place to look is Terracycle.
  • When all else fails, do an Internet search. Through this I was able to recycle dryer lint.
    IMG_2074
    Yep, even dryer lint can be re-purposed.

    (There’s an artist who makes sculptures out of them). I’m not kidding, this stuff works. All you have to do is look. If you’re still stuck, write in the comments and I’ll try to help you out.

7) I know it’s pretty obvious, but don’t buy new stuff you don’t need. Think about it critically. When holding the item in the store (or mentally online), imagine using it in a tiny house. What will it replace? Does it have more than one use? Utilitarian thinking is key here. If it’s a single-use item like straws or paper plates, consider buying a metal reusable straw (yes, they make them), and using real plates. Don’t worry about doing the dishes. You won’t have many in a tiny house.

Also, consider alternatives to buying things. I used to hate using the library, but now I use it all the time instead of buying books. I at first feared that I’d want the book later on as a resource, but I found that my library carries just about everything I need. And if it doesn’t, worldcat.org (a worldwide catalog of all books from all libraries with internet access) does. However, I did come across a couple books that were such great resources that I did end up purchasing (second-hand at a local used bookstore), which I can always sell back if I decide I don’t need them.

One good thing that is on your side in this step is that you won’t have much room for anything else. If you’re already living in a tiny house and you find that the place that was once so spacious doesn’t seem so roomy now, consider what new things have accrued in the space.

Now, I’m not saying to not go out and buy that fancy clock you’ve been longing for. I’d say wait a month or two, and if you still want it, by all means buy it. You’ve just prevented an impulse buy while also proving to yourself that it’s worth the cost and will bring you joy. After all, it’s your space. It’s best to fill it with things that give your life meaning. Just make sure you have a plan and a space for it.

8) Most importantly, do not feel guilty for getting rid of stuff. If you haven’t played the guitar for 10 years, but maybekindasorta hope to take it up again, maybe, someday, at least your high school self wanted you to, then get rid of it. You’re guilting yourself into keeping it by holding on to outdated standards of yourself. Have a family heirloom that was passed down to you that you don’t really understand (or, dare I say, care) what it means? It may be that your family member was just trying to get rid of it him/herself. Or maybe it really does mean something, I couldn’t say. That’s up to you to decide. But do know that it’s okay to get rid of these things. You don’t have to keep it just because someone gave it to you, or you feel like you should. This applies to heirlooms, gifts, hand-me-downs, wedding keepsakes, the whole lot. It’s okay to let it go.

But you can’t just get rid of it! You say. I agree. Again, don’t just throw it away. If it’s something historically relevant, try donating it to a museum that specializes in that era of history. That way many more people can enjoy it instead of it sitting in your closet for the next 20 years causing you grief every time you see it. Or, if you’re lucky enough to have a relative or friend who geeks out at this stuff, pass it along to them.

IMG_2137
Photo albums – what can you do?

One item that I’ve been particularly caught up on is old pictures. What do you do with pictures that are relevant to the people who passed, but don’t hold memories for you? For example, say you have a picture of your parents with an old friend of theirs you’ve never met. Maybe you have 50 pictures from this party they all went to. Would it be possible to hunt down the person in the picture, or maybe their family? How cool would it be to surprise them with a photo of their relatives or old friends? Not only have you now met some interesting people, you might hear some cool stories about your parents or from that time period.

Or, if that makes you nervous, go ahead and make a digital copy. Scan it, or take a photo of yourself with it and keep that instead. Then donate the item to be enjoyed by someone else.

Now again, note that these are merely suggestions. It’s up to you to determine what’s important enough for you to keep. That heirloom might mean the world to you. If it brings you joy, then by all means keep it. I will never try to convince someone to get rid of something that means a lot to them. All I ask is that they think critically about it before they make the decision. I have many scrapbooks I made in high school that I can’t bring myself to part with just yet. They still bring back intense memories that I would forget otherwise. Maybe one day I’ll turn them into digital files, or maybe I’ll get rid of them altogether. But even if I do keep them in physical scrapbook form, I know that I’d be making the right decision for me.

Be creative, you can come up with all sorts of cool ways to get rid of things. After all, they’re just things. The stories around them are timeless.

~~~

By freeing yourself from possessions you’re giving yourself more room to live. You’re creating an environment filled with possibilities. Years ago I came up with my own version of a Room of Requirement, based on the idea that one room can turn into any numerous meaningful uses a person would like it to. It’s a room shaped by the people living in it, not the objects it holds. By paring down, your life isn’t about taking care of possessions anymore. I read a statistic a while ago that said we use 20% of our stuff 80% of the time. That really stuck with me. Imagine if you didn’t need a storage unit anymore, or an attic, or a basement. If you didn’t need an alarm system to guard your stuff while you’re on vacation. If it only took you 15 minutes to clean your entire house, or 3 minutes to do dishes. What would you do with all that free time? Or all that money you’re saving by not buying, guarding, and maintaining new things? Would you finally write that book? Would you travel? Visit friends and family more often? The possibilities are limitless, and it all starts with a new mindset.

Plywood Vs. OSB or Is Cheaper Really Better? or How To Keep Your House From Exploding On the Highway

Today we went shopping for the final bits of lumber for our build: plywood sheathing. We decided to buy plywood from a lumberyard instead of the big box stores because the online reviews from contractors and homeowners for plywood all seemed to say the same thing: big box store plywood is a gamble. Sometimes you could find top grade plywood good enough for cabinets at an unbeatable price, but most of the plywood was the stuff that would delaminate the first time you sneeze on it. Since we knew we couldn’t tell the difference, we decided we didn’t want to take the risk. That’s why we went to our local lumberyard and paid a slight 3%-5% premium for the stuff contractors use.

When we arrived at the lumberyard, I spoke to an employee there and told him I’m building a tiny house and was looking for a few sheets of 15/32 plywood (used for the sheathing), and a few sheets of 19/32 (for the roof). The clerk thought this was pretty neat, because he was thinking of building a tiny house himself.

That was when he asked “So, I’m just curious, what are you guys going to use this stuff for?” I replied the plywood was going to be for framing.

“Interesting,” he said “have you guys thought about using OSB (oriented strand board)? It’s stronger. Might be better for a tiny house.”

“What?” I asked, perplexed. The plans we had called for plywood, not OSB. I didn’t remember why at the time, but that’s what it had said. That, and my research (which I had hopelessly forgotten when the clerk started talking to me) indicated that plywood was in fact better suited for tiny houses (more on that later). My dad, who was even a woodworker, said he wouldn’t trust OSB as far as he could chuck it. “But, I thought plywood was stronger?” I asked the clerk, trying to remember why I was buying plywood in the first place.

“No way,” his fellow co-worker said. “OSB is stronger. True story.”

Sierra and I looked at each other. I had this vision of our house speeding down I-40 hitting 60MPH and suddenly shredding into thousands of 4×8 slices of plywood, like a Webster’s Dictionary in a tornado. “What are we going to do?” I asked. She shrugged.

“OSB is less expensive than plywood too,” the clerk offered. “Might save you some money.” This struck me as a strange thing to say. Wasn’t he just trying to sell me on OSB? Shouldn’t he be trying to get me to pay for a more expensive product? Whatever happened to working for commission? I decided to go back to the truck and fetch the plans to see why they recommend plywood over OSB– take a break from their word-jazz.

When I got back, I read to the guys behind the counter how the plans recommend plywood because it is less prone to moisture problems. The clerk’s buddy said “It shouldn’t matter as long as you use the right vapor barrier.” I was getting a little freaked out. I kept trying remembering vague bits and pieces of why I wanted to buy plywood and not OSB, but I couldn’t remember any of them. OSB just seemed like a better buy.

That’s when I remembered something. I asked “What about weight?” The clerks looked at each other and said “Why don’t we run a weight loading comparison on the computer? The system has the weight written into it, right?”

It turned out, after comparing 1/2″ boards of plywood and OSB on the computer that OSB was about 13lbs. heavier per board. Wow! For the amount we were buying, that would have added up to about 350lbs. of dead weight. Based on that, and my sneaking premonition that OSB was somehow inferior, we agreed to just go with the traditional plywood. We loaded the van up on plywood and hitched it back to my dad’s shop. That sneaking feeling of suspicion stuck with me until I got home and remembered why we wanted to use plywood in the first place.

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Before we went, I read this great article about how to select high grade plywood. The article was written for cabinet makers who usually need the highest grade plywood products they can find, so a lot of it is written with the cabinetry market in mind, but it also touches on the top brands and overall trends in structural-grade plywood.

To be honest, I was pretty surprised by the article’s overall claim: plywood products are slowly becoming worse. It seems that the housing market’s trend towards affordability and price-point are driving down the worldwide quality of plywood products, and every industry involved is having trouble finding quality plywood.

I certainly thought this must have been the case when I recently traveled to Washington state and found that just about every single new housing project I saw on the Pugent Sound was made with OSB. I thought this was crazy, especially considering what I had heard about OSB crumbling in a matter of a few years when exposed to high humidity. I thought the developers were just trying to cut costs, but that was before I went shopping for plywood myself and spoke with those two lumberyard employees who claimed that OSB products, which actually used to be inferior to plywood, had recently surpassed plywood in terms of quality and affordability.

While in Washington, what surprised me more was the type of housewrap they were using on top of the OSB: it was all Tyvek. From what I had read in online forums about Tyvek was that it worked alright in concept, but that it worked differently in practice, especially with cedar siding. This made it all the more important to pair the right sheathing material with the right house wrap. This, and the fact that Tyvek is plastic is what made Sierra and I choose the more breathable tar paper over plastic products. I can speak more to this decision in another post, but our whole anti-plastic thing is a topic of its own.

Tyvek’s claim to fame is its ability to allow water vapor through its membrane, but reject liquid water from reaching your sheathing. However, the million dollar question is: what if liquid water somehow, someway, makes its way past the housewrap? This is not supposed to happen, but from what I’ve seen in recent home building practices in my neighborhood alone, it probably could.

Dow Chemical, the manufacture of Tyvek, recommends that all seams be taped with a special Tyvek tape that protects the seams from water leakage. However, most of the new houses I see using Tyvek almost never tape the seams. And, if they do tape the seams, I’ve certainly never seen anyone tape over the staples used to hold the housewrap in place. That means many houses wrapped with Tyvek, or some equivalent, are probably filled with hundreds of tiny holes where liquid water could bypass the housewrap. Not only that, but the sugars and tannins found in common siding materials like cedar or douglass fir can actually act as a surfactant in water droplets, lowering their surface tension thus making them able to pass through an otherwise impassable house wrap.

At that point, from what I have heard some professionals say, the water is trapped and has ample opportunity to soak into your sheathing. And if your sheathing is the supposedly moisture-prone OSB, you’re in trouble. OSB, as it ages, and especially as it is exposed to moisture has the tendency to release a fine dust, which over time accumulates at the bottom of the housewrap where it acts like a moisture sponge holding on to large amounts of stagnant water. At this point, it acts kind of like a petri dish: an isolated sample of moisture sitting for long periods of time in a dark, damp place. That’s a renovation waiting to happen. That’s why not only are Sierra and I planning on using tar paper, we are also planning on making a rain-screen to allow the siding and the sheathing to breath and dry out when it gets wet.

The problem was, Sierra and I learned all of this after we had already purchased six Zip panels for attaching underneath the subfloor. Zip panels, for those of you who don’t know, are a new product where 4×8 sheets of OSB are painted with an acrylic finish that acts as a moisture barrier, not unlike Tyvek housewrap. The difference being that there is no air gap between the OSB and the painted surface, making it less prone to the problems posed by traditional housewrap products. The seams are taped together by a special Zip tape that prevents water and moisture from passing through.

We thought this system, which seemed to be used successfully by many tiny housers, would be a good way to seal the undercarriage from moisture damage. The problem though, was that it was still made of OSB, and the unfinished edges of the boards would still face moisture problems. So we decided to tape all of the edges and the nail-holes too, and as an added barrier, we plan to also use the aluminum flashing you see most tiny housers use. We’re just going to put that underneath the Zip panels to keep rodents, insects, and great slopping splashes of water from ruining all of our hard work. However, we’re going to go one step further and seal all of the seams of the aluminum and the nail-holes with heavy duty, weather rated, exterior grade aluminum tape. That, we hope, should do it.

So anyway, this whole plywood experience has been pretty interesting, and we’ve learned a lot so far about building while scanning articles and internet forums. What have you seen or learned? Please let us know if you have any relevant experiences!