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…

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“That’s Pretty Darn Fancy for a Fart Fan.”

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Well, we’re officially back to working on the house after quite a hiatus. After being away for a few months we now see the whole thing with new eyes. We’ve conveniently forgotten how difficult and tiring the whole process has been and are simply amazed at what we were able to accomplish before we left. “We’ve built most of a house, Drew! An actual house!” Every nail was hammered in and every heavy wall lifted and secured into place (with some help, of course). It’s amazing.

So after we stared at our house a bit, we started planning out what we need to start on. It’s December now, and luckily it’s been a relatively warm and dry one so far – so best to take advantage of it while we can and finish the exterior. We long for the day we’ll never have to deal with the torn up tarps ever again. They’ve been nothing but trouble.

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We first mapped out how the front of the house is going to look. This has been tricky because we’d like to create a covered porch, but our dimensions are a bit narrow due to how large our half circle window is. Plus, we’ll need to maneuver it around the fascia board. We’re still in the process of figuring this one out; if you have any ideas, please let us know. On the front, we’re also adding a fold-down porch. Sam is kindly building a custom front door for us and we’re looking forward to seeing how it all goes together.

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On the back side of the house we are building a bicycle box to, you guessed it, hold our bicycles. This was another challenge because it will need to fit under our kitchen window and only extend out on the tongue of the trailer to the edge of the pull-away cable attachment. Since our bikes are around the same height, the roof pitch of our bike box could end up being very shallow, which means water could pool on top. The way we’re getting around this is by Drew removing his front tire (since he has the taller bike) whenever he puts his bike away. We’ve tested this and it’s a pretty fast process, so we think we’ve solved this issue for now.

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So after figuring all that out, it was time to work on the siding. With Sam’s help, Drew and I installed about half the siding on the large left wall. We stopped part way up so that we’d have the space needed to install our bathroom fan.

Now you need to understand that we bought the fan back in August and have only just now opened the box. While everything looked to be in good shape, what we didn’t expect was how big the fan itself was. It’s about a square foot, which for a tiny house wall is huge! We figure we’ll disguise it somehow later on once we have the interior walls finished. The fan vent that extends outside, however, isn’t the prettiest thing either. It’s basically a white plastic cover with a lid that opens. We didn’t really like the way it looked so we got creative.

Hence, the quote from a friend of ours that is the title of this post. I now introduce to you our wonderful birdhouse, the prettiest darn fancy fart fan cover you ever did see:

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Introducing our brand new birdhouse fart fan!

Drew designed and built the whole thing. Isn’t it gorgeous? It’s not just a pretty cover, though. First off, it has no bottom, so real birds hopefully won’t find a way to live in it. Also, this allows the fan’s air to escape the house easily. In addition, the ‘door’ of the birdhouse allows airflow, as do the vents Drew created in the top of the house. He made it wide enough so the cover opens easily. Magnifique!

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Next we worked on the cedar shakes that go on the walls around the dormers. In a similar painting process to the siding, we painted one side with milk paint and stained the other side with linseed oil. This process took a couple of days, but once finished I could begin adhering the shakes to the walls. We allowed an overlap of about half an inch over the cedar board below. This was so the rain screen had a top cap that allows for the airflow to have a continuous vent.  

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Some of the boards involved very intricate cuts around the window framing. Cedar is a very flexible wood, which can be both good and bad. It’s good because it allows us to cut it with a razor if needed, but bad in that it tends to break when working with a thin piece. I had to redo a piece three times because both the jigsaw and razor kept breaking the thin pieces I was working on. Overall I think it’s a nice material to work with. I’m enjoying it.

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So now the overall goal is to get the exterior of the house done before the cold weather really sets in. So far the weather has uncharacteristically cooperated and we have been able to work outside easily. Drew’s been putting some last finishing touches on the roof, and once the front and back walls are a little farther along we may actually be done with the tarps once and for all. Fingers crossed!

Routing Holes and Tricky Windows

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

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

Cardboard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the finished product!

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

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

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Until next time!

A Trial of (Minor) Errors

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Well.

I suppose I should start with what we’ve accomplished since our last post on roofing. We’ve finished sheathing the roof, put rafters up in the dormers, and tar papered the sides of the house. It’s been a lot of off and on work, scattered by rain.

We’ve definitely had our fair share of minor errors lately (luckily all fixable).

For example, a couple days ago we looked at the hourly weather forecast (side-note: never trust the hourly weather forecast) and saw we had supposedly three clear hours until it was going to rain. So we got an early start and headed to the blue supply store looking for flashing for the windows. We wanted to get a kind that didn’t have aluminum, because aluminum corrodes when exposed to cedar, and we plan to use cedar siding. So we searched, and of course they didn’t have anything of the sort.

So we went down the road to the orange supply store. As we looked around, a guy in a blue shirt carrying a weed hacker, asked us if we needed help finding anything. He wasn’t wearing an orange apron so we didn’t think he worked there, but hey, he was willing to help, so why not. So we told him about the flashing, and he had us follow him to the other end of the store. There, he asked a guy (this one donning the famed orange apron), who pointed us in the direction we had just come. “It’s the black stuff, right? Go to the end of isle 19; it’s about eye level on the left.” So we headed that direction. The weed hacker dude passed isle 19, so I asked, “Um, didn’t he say isle 19?” “Oh, he did,” the guy replied. We made our way down isle 19, and lo and behold, there was no flashing. So weed hacker dude found another guy, who pointed us down another isle to “the black shelving”. As we turned, weed hacker dude disappeared, and the new guy came with us. It turned out instead to be at the end of the isle, along the back wall. And of course, they didn’t have the stuff we needed either. Just then, the first orange apron guy came up to us with black stuff in his hand. It was zip tape. “Is this what you were looking for?” “Not quite, but thank you.” So half an hour into our adventure, we still had no window flashing.

So we decided that we’d need to order it. We still had around 2.5hrs before rain was to come in, so what should we do? We decided to work on the hurricane ties, but we needed a drill bit.

A drill bit they only carried at the blue store. Of course.

So we headed back to the blue store, picked up the bit, and made our way to the build site…

where we discovered our tarp was breaking, and we had a nice little drippage puddle in our sleeping loft.

Yeah.

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Not the ones we were having trouble with, but an example of the hurricane ties we are using. Luckily this one went in okay around our wheel well.

So after dealing with that, I tried ratcheting a hurricane tie into a tight spot (between two wall studs) while Drew wrestled a drill bit that eventually decided it would prefer to live deep down in our trailer for all of eternity rather than come back out again.

So now we have a drill bit stuck in our trailer.
Awesome.

At that point, we called it quits for the day.

The following day was better. Besides the fact it decided to rain every fifteen minutes, off and on (I wish I was exaggerating), we still managed to install the dormer wall sheathing and attach the dormer rafters. We’d undo the tarp just over the dormers, work about 10 minutes, then cover it up again and sit underneath until the rain passed. Surprisingly we still managed to get a lot done.

Wrapping tar paper was an experience. Note: to any of you planning on putting tar paper on your tiny house, make sure you keep your line completely even. Otherwise, if you’re wrapping one whole layer all around the house, it will likely be uneven by the end of it. We were off by a few inches, but we kept our diagonal course and covered all the walls.

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Working on layer two. We worked our way upwards so that when water hits it, it will roll off the trailer instead of underneath the next layer of tar paper.

Next, we began sheathing the dormers. This process was similar to that of sheathing the walls, only made more difficult by height. Everything went smoothly though, thankfully. The coolest part was when we routed out the holes for the dormer windows and the skylight. Being in the loft felt like a tree house. It doesn’t feel small either, which is surprising for a tiny house. I guess because we have so many windows.

We’re moving along, slowly but surely!

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Drew standing in the skylight opening he’d just routed.

Good Ol’ Fashioned Barn Raising

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Well, we did it. We got all the walls up.

But man, has it been a crazy few days.

Let me catch you up.

P1010035A few days ago, Drew and I had a 17 hour workday, trying to get all the walls sheathed so they would be ready to raise into place. We didn’t plan on having a 17 hour workday, but the weather cooperated for once and so we took advantage of it. Around 10pm, our friend Evan graciously joined us to work in the dark, until we all left exhausted around 2am.

P1010037Sheathing a wall can be a bit complicated. For us, it involved measuring the plywood we needed, cutting it down to size, then screwing it temporarily to the frame. Once we’d done this to all the boards, we’d unscrew one at a time, mark where the studs were (that in of itself was a task, especially when I was attempting it at midnight in the dark), put subfloor adhesive on the wood, put the board in place, then nail every 8 inches or so along the studs with our palm nailer. After this was completed all across the wall, Drew would use a router to cut out the window holes, to make the wall lighter when we decided to lift it into place.

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So in the 17 hour workday we managed to get all the walls finished. Our end wall that goes near the hitch was still inside the shop, so Drew, Evan and I unwittingly tried to carry it down the stairs and onto the ground. We didn’t even make it to the stairs before Drew got really scratched up by the plywood. So we left that task for another day.

Then came the day to put up all the walls and make this thing actually look like a house.

We gathered our army, which consisted of a total of six lifters and one photographer (and later two others, but I’ll get to that escapade in a minute). I’ll take this moment to thank Diane, Z, J, Kas, and Evan for their amazing help that day. Whether it was lifting, bringing food, taking photos, etc., everything you did was all very much appreciated. You all are what made it happen, so thank you thank you thank you!!!

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Removing the front wall.
So of course, like any great project, we started out by running into a huge problem. We had built all our walls on top of one another. We needed to start with the bottom wall (the “left” long one), so we decided to take the others off and lean them up against the side of the shop until needed. Simple, right? Except for that the walls all had a thin lip of plywood along the bottom that we were afraid would break if we rested the entire wall on that surface. (This plywood was needed to hang over the side to cover the trailer when lifted into place.) We ended up screwing ‘feet’ onto the large right wall (which we needed to flip over in order to get off the trailer) and putting it aside.
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Taking the right wall off the trailer and putting it on the ground.
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Lifting the left wall into place. Drew and I stood in the window openings for leverage.
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I made sure the wall was level before Drew attached the braces that hold the wall in place.

Once the walls were off, we rose the left one into place. While we all held it, Drew screwed it in and created braces with 2x4s to keep it up. Now keep in mind, Kas the photographer was over under a canopy tent we had put up. Over it, I had draped a tarp (the same one that failed us with the subfloor) in order to make the underside cooler. It was a calm, clear day, so of course something had to go wrong. As we were standing there holding up the wall, out of nowhere we had this wild gust of wind (we all later called it a mini-tornado). Kas was sitting under the tent when the tarp suddenly flew at least 15 feet into the air. Everything happened in slow motion. Kas was looking around, completely unaware of the tarp flying up behind him, but definitely aware something was up. Suddenly, up the tent flew, knocking itself over as the tarp flew into the barbed wire fence, where it promptly stuck itself and refused to get off until we later confronted it with scissors.

Drew leapt off the trailer and ran over to the tent. “Help!” he yelled. I bolted off the trailer, and apparently everyone else did too, completely forgetting about holding up the wall. We caught the tent and pushed it back onto the ground (Kas was totally fine, apparently he figured he was safe where he was), and then realized we’d walked away from the trailer. Oh crap. But luckily the wall was already mostly bolted, so it was still standing! That could have been disastrous, in more ways than one.

Drew then quickly attempted to climb up the barbed-wire fence and free the tarp from its grasp, before it ripped any more. His hand caught on the top wires and tore his palm up. When he jumped down, his hand was bleeding pretty badly. We went inside and fixed it up. Luckily there was a med-kit on hand (no pun intended).

We decided then was a good time to take a food break and reassess our plan.

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After a wonderful lunch (thanks Diane and Z!), we decided we wanted to put up the right wall, the one we had previously put on the ground next to the trailer. This turned into a complicated process. Not only did we have to dead-lift the entire thing straight off the ground, but we also had to turn it on its side and raise it 2-3ft to put onto the trailer, making sure the plywood lip was hanging off the side. We put down a couple cinder blocks in front of the trailer and tilted the wall onto them so that the lip was still hanging off the side, but then we couldn’t figure out how to lift the whole wall onto the trailer from there. For one, there was nothing to really hold onto to lift on the side with all the plywood siding. We had two people at the ends, one on the trailer, and two on the bottom. We tried to lift it, but the person on the trailer didn’t have any leverage, and we couldn’t really do it safely. We needed more people.

It was then our build site location came in really handy.

So: Where do you find incredibly fit people who enjoy lifting heavy objects and are willing to lend a hand?

At a gym, of course!

And we lucked out (again), for there was a local gym literally right down the road from us.

So Evan and I went on an adventure to ask for help, while the rest kept the wall vertical. “So um, we’re building a tiny house, and we need help lifting one of our walls onto the trailer…” Not the most common conversation starter, but it worked! Aaron, a very buff and kind man, and Alissa, an equally buff and kind woman, came to our rescue. With them, lifting the wall was very easy. We couldn’t have asked for better help. They said that if we ever needed more assistance, we know where to find them. How cool! We thanked them and they were on their way to lift more weights, probably something equally as heavy as our tiny house walls.

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After the right wall was bolted in place, we repeated the process with the two end walls. The end wall that was in the shop took a lot of finessing to get out the door and down the stairs, but we managed it okay. After everything was bolted, I was able to take a step back and finally see the whole structure. And it hit me.

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Interior view through the front door.

Woah, look. It’s a house.

It actually looks like a house.

All those annoyingly crooked nails that refused to go in, all those boards that put up a fight, all those long hours hammering late into the night where I can’t see a thing I’m doing, those late night races to the hardware store to pick up non-treated plywood because the guys at the lumber yard messed up our order, those sudden rainstorms that chase us inside drenched after panicking while trying to get the 5-7 tarps/plastic sheets onto the trailer, and bring in all the electronic tools inside before we electrocute ourselves — all those moments added up to this, this weird-looking mini house standing in front of me.  And yes, I know we’re not even close to done, but I’m amazed by how far we’ve come in a month. We’ve worked our butts off on this, had a zillion setbacks, and yet we’ve hit a major milestone. The walls are up. The walls are up.

Now onto the roof.

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Three Walls and Sawdust

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I keep dreaming about sawdust.

And in typical dream style, it changes each time. First, I was working with Evan and Drew building a wall, but the shop was now my room and sawdust was getting all over everything. I knew I had to sleep, but I couldn’t find my face mask to keep the sawdust out. So I put my nose under my pillow and tried to breathe as normally as I could.

Another one involved not being able to see across the shop because of all the sawdust in the air, so I couldn’t finish nailing the wall I was working on. Heck, I couldn’t even find the box of nails. Nor my face mask. I was wasting so much time.

Sensing an anxiety theme here?

In real life, we’re doing really well. Drew and his dad Sam teamed up and finished the subfloor in five hours. I’m not kidding, it was incredible. That included all the plywood, siliconing, gluing, stuffing with wool, etc. When Drew told me, I couldn’t believe it. We’re finally caught up!

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Nope nope nope nope nope stop this instant.

The next day we were on a roll. We got moving on the walls. We tried to finish the first wall we built, but rain caught us off guard. The weather this week has been horrible. Thunderstorms every day, and the hourly weather forecasts are no help. I was downtown earlier this week when Drew was working on the subfloor, and it started raining. I texted Drew, who was working at the time, and he said it was clear skies where he was (about 10 minutes from downtown).

We’ve been doing this weird dance with the weather. First off, weather always wins. (Weather always winds, too.) That’s one aspect that’s amazing about nature. It’s one thing we humans have yet to control. And while I greatly respect the weather, it can be darn annoying at times. We’ve been trying to finish the first large wall for a few days now, and every time we try it rains about 10-20 minutes into working (and we start in clear skies, too). Which makes for one heck of a hustle to get our five plastic sheets on top of the subfloor. Yes, five. We’re not taking any chances.

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Drew in the bay window. The gap on the right is where the door will go.

So yesterday we managed to finish the large wall, which included nailing on the metal strapping to prevent our house from bellowing. Also, over the past few days, we’ve managed to finish the framing for our two smaller walls! Woohoo! It looks really good, too. The strapping was difficult (no matter what I did that stuff did not want to bend into a straight piece), but manageable. The most difficult wall was the one that holds the front door and the bay window, because it needs to be very structurally sound. We cut down the parallam to size and made notches so that the pieces would fit together snugly. That in of itself was a daunting task. Parallam is very dense, large, and difficult to work with. Drew pointed out that our front wall is made of three different types of board: parallam, 2x4s, and a 4×4. We still need to add in an all-thread rod below the bay window for support as well. Hopefully we’ll get started on that today.

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Check out the pattern at the end of the parallam board. Gorgeous!

It’s interesting how the house has taken over our lives. I mean, I’ve done a lot of filmmaking, and every time I direct a new project, I obsess over it for months and it’s all I think about. And since Drew is usually my Assistant Director on those projects, he’s sucked into it too. Like those film projects, the house is all we think or talk about. Constantly. If we’re not working, and indulge in the creature comfort of sleeping in, we feel guilty, like we’re wasting time we could, should, be working. It’s been especially hard because of all the rain. If it’s clear outside and we’re not at the shop, we’re losing valuable time and we need to get over there now. Maybe part of it is because we lost so much time (and money) by losing a large part of the subfloor. We feel like we’re in a perpetual rush. Don’t get us wrong, we do enjoy building (and seeing our house come together), but it’d be nice to take a break for a short while. Even an afternoon would be nice. We just don’t have that luxury at the moment.

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Testing the end wall to see how the window would fit. Perfect!

So the next step is trying to get all the exterior plywood onto the three walls we’ve built, and perhaps cutting out window holes. The plywood will make the walls heavier when we decide to launch them into place, but we want to prevent them from racking and getting out of square. (Brief deconstruction of construction speak: Square means the walls are 90 degrees at the corners and the diagonal measurements across the structure are equal lengths. This means they’re not racking, meaning they’d be leaning to one side.) We also want to get as much of the work finished inside the shop as we can, so that when the walls are up and we’re racing against the weather, we’ll have a head start.

So here’s to hoping for more clear weather and less sawdust.

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Testing the door. It works.