Interior Wall Boards – Part II, Installation

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You know those dreams you have where you’re slogging through some sort of hypothetical mud and can’t seem to get anywhere? That’s how the past few months have gone for us.

This is mainly due to both of us working all the time, and that makes it so that our schedules rarely line up to where we can both work on the house. This has been especially difficult since we’ve been working on installing the walls, which really is a two person job. We’re lucky if we can get in one day a week where we can actually make some progress.

Anyway, I hope that helps explain why our blog posts have been so rare the past few months. We know we’re getting closer to the finish line, but man has it been slow. Especially compared to the first few months we worked on the house when we were able to get the structural walls up in about a month. Let it be known to all people who wish to build a tiny house, your finish work will take a long time and will require a lot of patience! Just keep at it!

So as we mentioned in our previous post, we finally finished creating all the boards for the interior walls. Next came installing them. This went rather smoothly – the main challenge was working around outlets, light-switches, and windows.. especially when we had to deal with all three on one board. Three cheers for jigsaws!

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In the loft on the right side.

We started with the right long wall that extends into the kitchen. We started at the floor (keeping it in the gap we had left for such occasion when we installed and stained our floors). we worked our way up until the lofts and roof began. Drew had the fun job of installing smaller pieces between each of the rafters. We think it turned out well.

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A crappy picture lighting-wise, but at least you can see the board layout. It looks a lot better in person.
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We painted the heads of our screws to match the wood. Now our panels are removable in case we ever need to get behind them to fix something. Also, this window edge will be refined and covered with trim.

 

Behind each board we would install our wool insulation (remember this?) We had to retrieve our random bags and boxes of wool from all over the shop, hidden away after the subfloor disaster. Installing the wool went well – as long as we avoided the nails sticking through the plywood. Ouch.

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So much wool. Wool everywhere.

Predictably, we then worked on the left long wall. We stopped where the bathroom starts, because we needed to use a special waterproofing system for the walls there. From there we were free to work on the nook area and the back wall. We managed to get this far over the course of a few weeks.

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Yet another crappy picture, but this shows you the left wall up to where the bathroom and closet start.
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The wheel well will be covered with a piece of our wall plywood and framed with trim.

Next, it was time for playing with ladders! Our favorite. We began installing our gable roof ceiling panels, which was tricky for many reasons. For one, we have all our finished boards in a giant stack in the center of the house. It is a tiny house after all, meaning there’s not much space to maneuver around a giant stack of wood. So aside from needing to move ladders around the pile, we needed to have a box of wool high enough that we could reach it to install while standing on the ladder, and we had the awkward angle of the roof to contend with. We’re essentially installing the panels upside down. Somehow we managed to do one whole side of the roof. At the top near the ridge beam we had to be clever about installing the wool. We only had a small space in which to get it in there, so it did rain wool in our house as we tried to fit it in the small crack. Overall it turned out well.

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Working our way up the ceiling.
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Working up over the storage loft.

We only did one half of the ceiling because we’re waiting for our new woodstove! We need to know where the exhaust pipe will exit through the ceiling before we can work on the other side of the roof. In other news, we ordered our cute little woodstove! More on that in another post.

 

Onward to the dormer walls. Again, working around the windows was tricky, but thankfully we actually had something to sit on while working. The half circle window in the dormers actually went more smoothly than we thought it would. We cut a piece to fit the length, cut the outlet holes, and then traced the outline of the window on the back and cut it with a jigsaw. Voila.

 

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The cheek walls (the triangular walls created between the dormer and gable roofs) were a little more tricky too, but we employed the same technique we used with the half circle dormer window and traced each board to fit. All these rough edges will be covered with trim, which helps.

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We also finished the dormer ceiling! We may not have dealt with ladders, but we still had fight gravity.

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We had to install wedges in order to create the curve in the ceiling to go over the ridge beam.
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Our finished dormer ceiling! (Sans trim.)

So that’s as far as we are now! Making progress, slowly but surely. And now winter’s here. At least our house will be insulated for it. Onward!

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Rainy Day Weather

So, I wanted to write a post about how we started building one of our walls– how we measured out the trailer and then customized most of the original framing plans so they would fit our trailer’s dimensions. I wanted to write a post about how easy it is to build something square when you’re using spacers for each stud. I wanted to write a post about how we’re getting along with the palm nailer (pretty well, although, sometimes the speed of a framing nailer seems appealing). I definitely wanted to write a post about progress. P1000903

However, I’m not writing that post. I’m writing about how our subfloor got flooded by a rainstorm, and I’m writing about how we found it the morning after the storm: soggy, somewhat moldy, and holding about an eighth of an inch of water in some parts thanks to our amazing job of sealing each cell of the floor with silicone (“Just like a bunch of little pools,” Mike said). Sierra and I arrived Tuesday morning with a half-finished wall sitting on top of our trailer and a serious problem on our hands: we hadn’t properly anticipated the permeability of our covering tarp. Underneath the tarp, the plywood had a little bit of thin surface-mold blooming out from the center of the wheel P1000917wells, and we knew right away that meant we had to replace the plywood. However, once we got the first layer of plywood off, we found that much of the wool had soaked through with rain water and the rain was also soaking into the Zip panels (which work well enough as water repellents as long as the water isn’t coming from the wrong side).

We were certain we would have to start over– just rip up the whole thing, save what materials (and money) we could, and start from scratch. It was pretty dicey. We hardly had the budget for it, but what else were we supposed to do? We had no idea how deep the water had made it into the Zip boards, or if it is now sitting between our flashing. We had no idea if mold will continually resurface in the future like some bad joke. So we did what we thought we had to do, and set to undoing our work.

We spent all day Tuesday, and most of Wednesday (with a lot of help from Sierra’s friend Holly) cutting open each cell like some huge advent calendar, pulling out what dry wool there was, and throwing the wet stuff into a fifty-five gallon drum.

Ripping up the subfloor.
Ripping up the subfloor and wringing out wool.

It was tedious, unpleasant, and yet regretfully necessary work. Sheep’s wool is not terribly absorbent, unlike cotton or paper, but it does hold onto some water via the science of capillary action– the same physical force that allows for blood to circulate your veins, and the same force that allowed our house to soak up water in the first place. Wool also has the added curiosity of smelling even more strongly of sheep when wet, like wet dog fur. We wrung out the wool onto the already deeply saturated ground and threw all of our plywood into a corner of our enclosure as I crawled underneath the trailer and prepared to detach the entire subfloor by removing all of the bolts we had recently placed.

It was like some kind of bad dream. No, I really mean that. Like one of those dreams where you have this urgent task that is incredibly tedious and is almost certainly pointless and probably disgusting as well. You’re in a haze, and you’re tired. You have no idea why you’re doing it, or when it started, but you have to do it or something worse will almost certainly happen, and when you look up you find you have much more work ahead of you. It’s almost like you never even started.

That was about the same time Mike and my dad, who had been watching us work solemnly for the past two hours, told us that we may not have to scrap all of our hard work.

“In standard-sized homes,” Mike said, “the framers will set up their decking and then let it sit for weeks in the rain! It happens all the time.”

This, of course, is before they install any kind of insulation, but we had the advantage of being able to dry ours out and re-use it, possibly at a laundromat. However, with enough work, we could re-use the existing subfloor and two-by-fours. We all had observed that no mold had made its way to the interior– it was only the exterior surface that had any signs of mildew or mold.

They said the Zips would probably need to sit in the sun to dry out (this would hopefully coax out any water or vapor hidden inside of them via that wonderful force, capillary action), and we would need to go underneath and check all of our flashing seams for water, but it would more than likely be recoverable without serious incident. Besides, we had heat guns and hair dryers and elbow grease. Who can go wrong with that?

This was exactly the kind of news we needed to hear: we wouldn’t break the bank buying new materials for everything. The challenge, however, was both getting the subfloor back to a useable condition, building and raising all of the walls, AND keeping it all dry during a week of scattered thunderstorms and random showers. Funnily enough, our region is considered a deciduous rainforest since we get about 40-50 inches of rain per year, so we realized we had a lot of long term rain-headaches in our future, and a single tarp wasn’t going to cut it for the next few months.

Sierra and I brainstormed how best to accomplish the task of keeping everything dry during the coming days and set to searching my dad’s shop for any and all kinds of plastic coverings and weights so as to keep the trailer covered with several barriers and layers of protection. We found some painters’ drop tarps, and some sawhorses to act as a slope for the water to run off of (a tiny tiny-house roof?).

This is our new answer to rain. It looks like a spaceship.
This is our new answer to rain. It looks like a spaceship.

We even went so far as to cover our nearly finished wall should it befall a similar fate.

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Yay! It’s ready to be built again!

The past two days, we’ve finished removing all of the soggy wool, and we’re currently in the process of drying it out one laundry load at a time. I’ve been throwing it into pillow cases and then into my family’s dryer for about an hour at a time, and then driving it back to the shop to our de-humidifier room so it can finish getting a deep dry. The framing has been cleaned of debris (from cutting open the floor), scraped clean of glue, and then sanded back down to an even surface. Our next steps are to purchase some new plywood, cut it back to size, then (correctly) re-install the wool, and finally silicone the crap out of everything that looks like it may allow water through.

(Sigh) It’s been a long few days. Luckily, this wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened. Sierra offered it could have caught on fire! Or it could have been stolen! At least we get to keep the trailer!

I hope we can get back to building! Actually building! Like with walls and stuff so we can put a roof on the thing and start repelling water like professionals instead of cave people with tarps and rocks. I’ve been peeking out the window for the past hour while I’ve been writing this looking for clouds, and I’ve probably visited Weather.com enough times today to pay for their daily operational fees. We’ve got whole stack of lumber and tar paper that are just waiting to do their jobs and save us the trouble of rainstorms– it just seems like we can’t get to that stage soon enough. I just hope we don’t have to go through something like this again in the future. Here’s to some dry weather!

All aboard the rain-train!
All aboard the rain-train!

Subfloor: Day Four – Lifting, Stuffing and Sealing

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The finished subfloor

I’m horrible at estimating how long these processes take. I definitely was not expecting this day to last 13 hours, but alas, it did.

So after successfully framing the house on day one and installing the zip boards and flashing on days two and three, it was now time to lift the entire structure back onto the trailer and get it secured.

Drew, Evan and I arrived on site around 8am and prepped to lift the subfloor back onto the trailer. You’d think we’d be old pros at this by now, but it still took a bit of maneuvering and planning to get it to work. Luckily we had Drew’s dad Sam and his associate Mike to help us, both experienced in construction. We lifted and placed it without a hitch.

Because we had moved the subfloor both on and off the trailer, our framing was now out of square – meaning the corners didn’t line up measurement-wise. To square the floor, we took diagonal measurements between the two corners, then the measurements between the two opposite corners. If they matched, the structure was square. If not, well, better start pushing. That, or smack the crap out of it with a log. I’m serious!

Mike told us about how in timber framed housing, the builders use something called a “commander” which is essentially a log with a hole drilled in it to make space for a handle, and then they just use it like a mallet to help square the frame. Mike told us how, when you start working with the amount of weight we’re using, you need to start thinking out of the box to get it square the way you want it. He even suggested placing a 2×10 against the wall and then backing the trailer into it using the truck to square out one side! Wow!

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Testing the first piece of plywood to make sure it would fit.

It turned out that it was our middle section (that darned thing has been nothing but trouble) was out of whack. We got it as close as we could, then continued on with building. When it comes to squareness or, heck, even leveling, you have to pick a happy compromise and move on instead of beating yourself over the head with the level all day. From there, Evan and I added some more cripple studs for nailing edges and support while Drew cut the flooring on the tablesaw with his dad. Then we used 100% silicone to seal every seam we could find – in between all the studs, along the edges, along the wheel-well, anywhere we thought water might try to creep in.

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Evan caulking the interior of the subfloor
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One of our eight boxes of wool. How pretty is that?

After that, it was time for my favorite part – wool-stuffing! We chose to use wool for many reasons – one being that it’s non-toxic – so thankfully we didn’t need to use any sort of special installation or respiratory equipment. We had ordered eight  boxes of wool for the entire house, but at this point, we had forgotten all our original calculations and had no idea how densely we were supposed to stuff the sections. We did the best we could, and figured that too much would be better than too little. We ended up using 3.25 boxes. Later we found out we had used way too much. We were supposed to use one box for the entire subfloor. Oops. Well, our floor will either be super-insulated, or it’s going to cause us problems further on down the road. But hey, having never built a tiny house before, mistakes are expected. We’ll definitely follow the rules when it comes to stuffing the walls. We did end up initially ordering too much wool, so we’re hoping we’ll still have enough for the rest of the house. We’ll see once we get to that point. We have time before we need to order any more, because we’ll need to do plumbing and electrical before we insulate the walls.

P1000834So after stuffing the subfloor, we installed the plywood on top by gluing all the edges with a low VOC subfloor adhesive and then nailing it down. Then the rest of the day was spent bolting the subfloor to the trailer through the pre-drilled holes Drew had made the previous day, caulking the remaining edges, and viola, the subfloor was officially done!

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Securing the bolts through the trailer and into the subfloor.

And now we’re taking a well-deserved break. The subfloor was very challenging and was quite a learning curve. But we managed well. So we’re taking a break before starting on framing the walls. It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come. I’m still in awe that this thing that was once just an idea is becoming real! I’m not imagining this, we are actually building a house, something I never thought we’d do. I can’t wait to get started on the walls. Man, what a journey.

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