Our New Woodstove!

Friends, Romans, countrymen,

We now have a cute little woodstove! Isn’t it adorable?

 

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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!

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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.

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 We can’t wait to install it!

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

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

PLUMBING/BARREL

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

ELECTRICAL

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

PAINT

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

Tiny House Flooring – Part III, Stain and Varnish

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

Which has actually come in really handy in our build.

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

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

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

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

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

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…And hours, and hours.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here is the finished product!

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

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

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Applying the first coat.
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After one or two coats.

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

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The final layer!
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It goes well with our door…

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

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

Next we FINALLY get to start on plumbing!

Tiny House Flooring – Part II, Installation

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We recently bought and made all of our own flooring by hand. (Read part one here.) Next came the installation!

The first step was to lay down a water barrier so that any water that made it through the floor would be stopped from hitting our subfloor. (We did NOT want to deal with a soggy subfloor ever again.) We nailed it into place using roofing nails with flat tops. We overlapped the tar paper around 3″ on the long edges. The annoying part was that we were able to use up our last roll of tar paper left over from the roofing, but ended up being short about 18 feet, so we had to buy an entire new roll of tar paper just for that one bit. …So if you’re interested in buying only a partial roll of tar paper, do let us know.

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After this we measured 3/4″ from the wall to allow for expansion and for molding and the wall boards. And made a chalk line. From there we face-nailed the floor to the subfloor along that line.

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When adhering the floorboards to the ground, we nail through the tongue of the boards so that the nail is not visible when the groove of the next board fits over it. However, on the edges of the room (against the wall, as seen here), there is no tongue to nail into and so we instead “face nail” the board, meaning we nail into the top of it. This will be hidden by our molding.

Next, we laid a row of boards and nailed them in one at a time with a manual nailer we rented. We chose a manual nailer at first because it was cheaper seemed safer to use. However, what we didn’t consider was ease-of-use. The manual nailer drives nails just like an air powered nailer, but the crucial difference is that you have to hit a manual nailer VERY hard and very squarely to get it to set a nail deep enough into the flooring. The next time we rented a nailer we used a pneumatic nailer. The rental was somewhat more expensive, but it was far easier to use and much less strenuous.

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Here he’s using the manual nailer.
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Here is the pneumatic nailer.

We continued this pattern, Drew nailing in the boards and me laying them out in an aesthetically-pleasing pattern. This is where my meticulous organization came in handy. I rested all the boards against the opposite wall of the house so I could see them, separating them by dark spots and plain. From there I was able to space out the darker spots so the floor looked more balance.

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You’ll notice that in the top right of the photo the floorboards don’t have many dark spots. This is because this area will lie under our kitchen counter.

Some things I needed to consider:

1) Where the cabinets would be. I put the boards with incongruities/general weirdness in those places. Same with the nook where they’ll be a couch hiding it, and bathroom where our giant barrel tub will be.

2) I needed the darker spots to be spread out so that I didn’t run out, so I had to pace their placement.

3) What the focal points of the house are. For example, I placed a set of two boards with a long, dark spot running from one to another along the middle of the walkway in the kitchen, and another self-contained dark spot in the bathroom near the entrance. I tried to consider where eyes would wander while sitting in the nook, and when sitting in the sleeping loft looking down at the rest of the house. What boards did I want to accentuate and what ones did I want to disguise?

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I found two boards that had dark spots that worked well together, so I placed them together.

We continued the pattern all the way across the floor. (Luckily, our house is a square.)

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Adhering more tar paper.
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Our mostly finished floor with our cardboard cutouts laid out. The top left one is our giant barrel tub. The top right one is our sink basin and the bottom right one is our cabinet. The long thin piece of wood on the bottom left marks where our sleeping loft ends, which also signifies where our bathroom and kitchen will end.

Once we got to the end, we trimmed down the last row to give us 3/4″ clearance between the wall and the flooring, and installed the final pieces. Next we sanded the whole floor with 100 grit sandpaper. Here is the result!

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The yellow lines were an experiment with linseed oil we’ll address in a future post.

Next we’ll stain the floor and then finally get to plumbing. We have the majority of our materials now. Wish us luck!

The Adventures of Finding a Wine Barrel Bathtub

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It’s wonderful having great friends, isn’t it? I have one friend in particular that I grew up with named Holly. (You may remember her from the subfloor disaster.) About seven years ago she moved away and now lives a state away from me. Luckily her family still lives in the area, so she’s able to come visit from time to time. Fate must have aligned for her to come back to town for a visit a couple weekends ago…

Let me back up a bit. As we have been doing for what feels like forever now, Drew and I have been researching plumbing. Part of that has been trying to determine what we want to use for a bathtub/shower stall. We’ve been looking into multiple options: ofuro tubs, which are wooden tubs (highly expensive), horse troughs (galvanized steel, which is coated in zinc and could be toxic to bathe in), and fiberglass, which could break on the road and isn’t a very green material. Another option we learned about were wine barrel bathtubs. The interior is food safe, plus we’d be reusing a material that would otherwise be discarded.

The great thing about wine barrels is that they don’t need any sealants, so you’re basically just bathing in wood. You may be asking yourself “but wouldn’t a wine barrel leak? It’s not a solid piece of wood!” This is a good question. We called a few wine barrel sellers and manufacturers with this question and their answers were basically the same: all new wine barrels will leak for a little while, but because they are made of wood which is always swelling and expanding, the unsealed wooden staves will swell and seal the gaps between boards when you fill them with liquid and keep them humid/wet. Thus the barrel becomes watertight. There are still a bunch of factors to consider, like how much tension the boards are under from the steel straps, and how much humidity the wood should be exposed to in ideal conditions. To better control these variables, we got creative. We bought some stainless steel cable to hold the staves together at the top of the barrel (where it was cut) to reapply some of the lost tension from the top half of the barrel. We are also looking into buying some kind of metal pan for the barrel to sit on top of so if it ever does leak, we can catch the water without much incident.

This all sounds great until you look at the size of the most common types of used wine barrels. They hold about 59 gallons, and are kinda small, about 22″ at the base and 27″ at the top. That doesn’t make for a very comfortable shower, and because we wanted to be able to use our barrel as a deep soaking tub, we searched around to see if we could find a larger one.

It turns out there are a bunch of different sizes of wine barrels. The kind we were looking for was a puncheon barrel, which is 34″ wide at the bulge. Our shower stall area is about 36″ wide max, so we thought that would fit nicely. So we set out to searching for a barrel.

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We decided to write a bunch of local wineries. And by bunch, I mean at least 20, and by local, I mean within a three hour drive of here. Although the wineries didn’t have anything themselves, they all were really supportive. Some wineries referred us to other wineries, while one referred us to a website that sells them online. Many wished us the best of luck and said they’d like to see the house if they’re ever in town. Pretty cool! Unfortunately it all led to dead ends… None of the wineries we asked had anything that big, and the ones we found through that website were very far from here and very expensive to ship (more than the cost of the barrel itself in some cases).

Meanwhile, I’d been emailing Holly back and forth figuring out our plans for when she was back in town. Since she has experience welding, we’d been asking her for advice on how to weld a deck together (more on that in some future post). As an afterthought, I also asked her if she had any ideas as to where to get a wine barrel. You never know, right?

She sent me a couple Craigslist ads from this area, but they weren’t the size we were looking for. I did one final Craigslist search and found a man who sells them that looked promising. I found his Facebook page and lo and behold, he had two available that were 34″ wide! Jackpot!

The problem was, he was about 7-8 hours away.

….

Conveniently on Holly’s way back to town.

……….

It’s a good thing we have a strong friendship.

The next several hours turned into Drew and I writing both Holly and the guy trying to figure out if if it was even feasible to buy the barrel from him and have Holly lug it down. Holly said it wouldn’t fit in her car, so we asked the guy if we could cut it in half. He said yes, but the price would be the same since he couldn’t use the other half of the barrel. Plus he’d charge us for cutting it. So Holly agreed to cut it in half and bring us both halves, assuming they’d fit. We promised her food, beer, and a parade.

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Holly decided to pick up the barrel a few days early. She later wrote me saying everything went well:

“I can’t see out my review mirror so it’ll be a fun trip home, but my car now smells like fresh cut oak and cognac and it is AMAZING.”

When telling me about her adventure she also mentioned this bit of news: “The next challenge was getting it into the car! Turns out the diameter of the TOP of the barrel was 34″. So, as barrels do, it actually ballooned out to 40″ around the middle where I was cutting it. But between the two of us we were able to successfully wrestle it in there.”

……

What?
The barrel is actually 40″ wide??

Oh crap.
We were planning for a 34″ barrel.
How the heck are we going to fit it in our house??

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Drew and I went to the tiny house and began to draw everything out to see if it would fit. As it is now it would be pushing into the kitchen a bit. After a while we came up with a solution: the edge of the barrel will fit under the kitchen counter, leaving us our counter space and not taking too much extra room from the kitchen. Also, in case you were wondering, we can in fact fit it through our front door if we roll it in on its side.

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With that figured out, we next needed to prepare for Holly’s arrival. The promised food and beer were easy. The parade was the fun part.

Since there were only two of us (Drew and I) to host an entire parade, we decided to make her a banner with streamers, attach it to thin wood boards, and run over her car with it when she arrived. I wish I had pictures of her face when she saw it. It was priceless. Unfortunately we were too busy cheering like idiots to have a camera out.

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So we rolled the half barrel out of her car and up the stairs into the shop. It wreaked of cognac, which was pretty entertaining. Right after we got the barrel inside I went out to the car for a minute, and when I came back the smell was overwhelming. I love our barrel already.

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So now it’s time to work on the barrel and figure out how to fit it into place. It will be a while before we get to this, because we still need to finish the floor and work on plumbing.

Thanks Holly!!

Tiny House Flooring – Part I

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First comes flooring, then comes plumbing,
Then comes electric which is pretty stunning.

Anyway, it’s been a while since our last post, so let me back up a bit and get you up to speed. Drew and I have been working on plumbing. When I say working, I mean we’ve been researching like mad trying to figure out the greenest, long-lasting materials to use. (Drew will go into more detail on this in a blog post soon.) In the process, we also discovered that we had to install our flooring first before doing plumbing so that our water tank(s) have something to sit on for installation. …Yeah. So we had to backtrack and figure out flooring.

I’ve realized that there are two very separate aspects to building the house. One is the technical throw-boards-around aspect, like framing. In framing it doesn’t matter (too much) how the structure looks, as long as it’s structurally sound. You can use weird looking boards and leave obvious nail holes and not worry too much about it. Plumbing is similar. In plumbing, it doesn’t really matter how it looks – what’s important is that it functions the way it should. It’s all hidden away in the cabinets and walls.

The other category is aesthetics. The first time we ran into this was when we installed our cedar loft beams. It was surprisingly jarring to switch modes. It made us think, ‘wow, now I need to actually consider how these things are going to look in the house’. So we bought nice-looking beams, then had to decide what placement/order they would go in. ‘Well, that beam has a nice lighter area that curves in the front, so uh, I guess that one should face the great room?’ We haven’t had too many of these tasks so far (except for maybe when we worked with the cedar siding and shakes on the exterior).

Flooring is different. While yes, it must be functional and we must consider the tech involved, I would mainly put flooring in the aesthetics category. It’s something we see everyday and influences the entire aesthetic atmosphere of our house. We’ve been debating the interior color scheme/feel for months now, and weren’t really ready to commit to a flooring scheme yet. (I was hoping to delay it at least until plumbing and electrical were finished. So much for that grandiose plan.)

So we explored our options. We found a local lumber mill and looked at their options online. Luckily there were different varieties of local wood samples laying around our shop, so we stained them with lineseed oil to see what they would look like.

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Wood samples from left to right: cherry, birch, white oak, maple, poplar, walnut

We were particularly partial to the red birch flooring; we thought it’d go well with our red door.

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Birch sample under the door. The door really brings out the red hues in the wood.

So we went to the lumber mill’s showroom to see what they had. We spoke with a very loquacious saleswoman about our different options and noticed that we really liked the look of the hickory samples they had. So we brought one back to see how it looked.

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Nice, huh? Hickory is a really beautiful wood.

We loved the design of it with the darker markings throughout, but after further research found that hickory is a much heavier wood than most. We need to consider weight because our trailer is limited to 10,000lbs. Meanwhile, Drew had been doing research on how we could make our own flooring. (It would save us a few hundred dollars.) Since we had access to Drew’s dad’s woodworking shop, we had access to all the tools needed to make our own (planer, tablesaw, etc.). So we decided to visit the lumber mill once again and buy the lumber needed to make our own flooring. (Thank you Diane!!)

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Our new birch lumber.

We selected the straightest, cleanest boards we could find and brought them back to the shop. From there we had the challenging job of planing them all to 3/4” thick by 3.5″ wide and making them straight. It wasn’t as easy as we thought it’d be.

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Here we’re passing the boards back and forth as we run them through the planer to maintain a consistent thickness.
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We also tried using a joiner for a while, but it wasn’t as uniform as the planer so we went back to what worked.

Then it was time to cut them down to size on the chop saw and cut tongue and grooves in the boards using a tool called a dado blade. A dado blade is essentially a special blade for a table saw that allows you to stack multiple blades together to increase the size of the cut on a table saw Most table saw blades leave cuts that are 1/8” thick, but with a dado, you can stack blades up to make cuts just under an inch. They’re great for mortise and tenon joints, and for making consistent tongue and groove joints. We used the dado to make cuts that were ¼ inch thick so we would only have to pass the boards trough a few times instead of a few dozen times to get our tongues and grooves.

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A rather large (and blurry) photo of me using the chop saw. I divided the boards evenly at about 3 feet long each for consistency. Our lengths ranged from about 2-4 feet. I tried not to chop up the dark patterns too much.
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Drew cutting the trimmed boards down to width on the table saw.
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Next he added the tongues and grooves to each board. This took a while.

After that step was finished, we cut grooves into the bottoms of the boards to allow for expansion. If you look on the bottom of most wood flooring, you will see these rounded grooves running lengthwise on the bottom the board. This is to take some of the bulk out of the wood so when it starts expanding (as wood does) it doesn’t make the wood buckle so much that it breaks.

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A test to see how the boards fit together. Looks good!

Then we put all the boards in the house to acclimate to the house’s temperature and humidity so they would be ready for installation.

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Next comes installation!

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…