So I recently had the fortune of getting to tour what might be one of the biggest shipping container building companies in the US. Which happens to be right here in Charlotte. While they happened to be local, they have been developing container buildings all over the place. A lot of what they do is pop up trade show booths, but I was clued into some neat full building projects on the horizon. Here are some photos from my tour, check them out here
Playing catch up with the posts about building the house. I went and ordered my sheathing for the walls and roof. There is a newish product that I am using called the Zip system. (zipsystem.com) Basically it is wall and roof sheathing with the house wrap/roof felt already on it, which is pretty fancy.
It also has these little nubs on the edges so you don’t have to worry about expansion gaps like you would with traditional sheathing. Along with the spacers, the board is printed with markers so if you do your walls correctly, you can just follow the guide on the boards and you hit a stud every time while securing it from the outside where you can’t see where the studs are. The kicker is that not only does it have some major time and labor saving factors, it costs a lot less! You have to use their special tape, but its about 1/2 the price of tyvek tape, so that isn’t a big deal.
I priced it out and its much cheaper and then you don’t have to spend all that time house wrapping. The vapor barrier on the zip panels does the exact same thing as tyvek, but its more durable and isn’t prone to being pulled off by inclement weather. It also apparently makes a much better air seal and is LEED Credit Certified.
Traditional sheathing: 18 sheets @$28
Tyvek Wrap: 1 roll $150
Tyvek tape: $100
Roof Felt: $19
Capped Nails: $7
zip boards: 12 @ $19.50 and 6 @ $26
Zip Tape: 2 rolls @ $27
So when it comes to sheathing (which is what the plywood on the outside of the house are called) the trick with it all isn’t the actual plywood, but that you did your framing correctly. If you have done your framing correctly, then the seams of each of your pieces of plywood will land right on the stud. This is important because you need to be able to nail the edge of the sheathing to that stud. There will be some cases where a panel lands on a window, so you will need to place an extra 2×4 piece to have something to nail into, you can see below an example of this.
This photo also shows how in tiny houses we screw and glue our sheathing. Here I used liquid nail on the studs. A piece of advice for anyone who is doing this, help yourself and spring for a air powered caulk gun. I tried to do this for one day and by the end of it I swore I gave myself arthritis because how hard you have to squeeze this stuff. They have a lot of better powered caulk guns for $150-$350, but this gun is $35 and well worth it. To give you an idea of how much you’ll be doing this, I went through about 40 tubes of this stuff while building my tiny house. As far as fastening the sheathing, I used 2.5″ exterior grade screws, every 6 inches on the edges and 12″ in the center (field).
In the video and some of the photos you can see that the sheathing is actually larger than the wall frame. I had the sheathing extend below the wall framing to hide the trailer so that you’d really only see the tongue and fenders, the rest of the trailer is hidden behind, once finished, nice looking cedar siding. I also had it extend above the framing because I could wanted the sheathing to tie into the loft beams, flooring of the lofts, and the silplate. So I carefully calculated the height of all the components listed and a few others, so that when I installed the silplate (that the roof rafters sit on) it was perfectly flush. This
The other key thing to know about the overhang and extension was that this then tied all three systems together to be a very strong unit. Effectively the floor framing, the wall framing and the roof became a unified piece because they all were brought together by the sheathing.
During the building process, no matter how meticulously you select your lumber, it will never be perfectly straight. It is something that first time builders don’t consider, that your materials will be imperfect, which can result in your house being off.
The longer the board, the less straight it will be.
Another common first time builder assumption that is incorrect is lumber dimensions. To add to the confusion lumber is milled smaller than their names might indicate. A 2×4 isn’t actually 2″ by 4″, it is actually 1.5″ by 3.5″ and this is the case for all milled lumber.
What I hadn’t realized when I started is that lumber isn’t all milled the same. For example I picked up some 2×4’s that were the higher grade studs to find that they were in fact 1/8″ smaller in each dimension. Also 8 foot boards are often longer than eight feet. When it comes to ply wood, usually the thickness is the same thickness indicated, but the 4′ by 8′ panel isn’t always 4 feet by 8 feet. Plywood is also seldom flat, it often has a bow to it, I found digging into the stack of plywood and pulling out the middle sheets of the pile are often flatter. Also the thicker the board, the flatter it stays.
So today I wanted to share these video on how to handle warped and twisted boards.
Unless you are building a round or organically shaped house made from cob or adobe (in which case, cool!), keeping the corners of your floor, walls and roof square is a critical task that lasts for the entire construction process. Constant re-evaluation of your squareness will make your life easier at each subsequent step of the building process.
Or so we’ve heard.
There are many good reasons to “square as you go,”and I think we can all agree it’s a best practice for building anything, but there are many forces working against square corners, including:
- Lumber is seldom straight,
- Fasteners (nails and screws) seldom go in level,
- Weight or pressure can shift boards,
- Existential chaos and entropy
Of course, understanding you need square floor joists is a completely different animal from having square floor joists. Here’s where I reiterate that Alan and I are far from experts and can only share our unique trial-and-error experiences. When we began our procrastiprepping, we agreed we’d need to check for squareness frequently. What we didn’t realize at the time was, this checking and rechecking would also require fixing and refixing: if something is out of square, you have to do something to correct it, something that may interrupt your building timeline. It can be incredibly frustrating, repetitive and disheartening, but also necessary. I don’t want to be on the roof six months from now, realizing I have to cut a weird miter to fit my non-square upper left corner 12 feet in the air. I mean, we’ll probably have to do that anyway, but at least if I make efforts now, I won’t be blaming my past self, just my present/future self. Talk about existential chaos.
Anyway, there are a number of references and established processes for checking the squareness of your floors and walls while building. As a hobby painter (one who has built her own canvases), I like the “measure your diagonals to see if they match” method:
And my high school friends thought we’d never need geometric theorem notation! Ha!
What this means is, if the length of both diagonals match, the square or rectangle has 90-degree, or square, corners. If one diagonal is shorter than the other, then the corners with the shorter length have an “obtuse” angle, or an angle wider than 90 degrees.
Another way of telling whether you are in or out of square is the Pythagorean Theorem:
This method is helpful when you can’t access all corners of your square or rectangle, like tall walls, or if you are working alone. The shorthand version (demonstrated at the bottom of my most excellent drawing), the 3-4-5 rule allows you to just measure off three feet on one side, mark it, four feet on the other side of the angle, mark it, then measure the diagonal between the two marks. If the diagonal is equal to five feet, you’ve got your 90-degree, square corner. The 3-4-5 rule works because Math.
Once you’ve determined you’re not square, which is most of the time, there are several ways to fix it, most of which involve propping, pushing, pulling or yanking. John Carroll’s book, “Working Alone: Tips and Techniques for Solo Building” and the This Old House website are good resources for time-tested methods. But our Fencl floor proved a special challenge, and not in the good-special way, because the wheel hubs got in the way and prevented us from squaring the whole floor at once. Plus, the steel rods that hold the house to the trailer frame also held everything pretty firmly in place, so we didn’t have much control.
Here’s the problem we faced with the floor’s left-hand corner, closest to the trailer tongue. You can see that the corner is about a quarter-inch out of square in comparison to our speed square. Oh Noes!
Incidentally, I heart speed squares. They’re invaluable. We have this big orange one and a smaller steel one. When we get to the roof rafters, we’ll probably get a big framing square too, the one that look like the letter L and has all the rafter dimensions printed on it.
Our problem was compounded by the fact that one of the steel rods held runs through the sill just a foot or two away from this corner. Therefore, we couldn’t just push the far corners closer together, because the rod was holding the outside of the sill in place. The wrong place, but in place all the same.
We adapted one of the classic squaring techniques (attaching a diagonal chain and tightening it to pull opposite corners closer together) to a smaller area. We attached the chain to the sill in two places with several nails, then attached a turnbuckle to the chain. You can see the welded steel rod under Alan’s right arm in the third photo.
Sorry for the changing POVs in these photos… it’s making me a bit motion sick.
Another aside: The guy at Lowes didn’t know what a turnbuckle (the hooked thing in the middle photo) was when we asked, so it took us 20 minutes longer to find them than necessary. If you need to know where to find turnbuckles in Lowes and probably Home Depot, they’re with the door and gate hinges, instead of the rope and chain.
By tightening the turnbuckle, we accomplished the bending of nails most efficiently. But we also managed to bring this corner into square, so the sacrifice of six nails was glorious indeed.
Success! Mostly! At least it’s noticeably better than it was! Beer for all!
Ok, so it’s not perfect, but it’s within our arbitrary tolerance of “less than 1/8th of an inch.” It’s also not perfect because we accept that, although the corner is close to square, the sill will bulge out around the steel rod a bit, meaning the wall won’t be perfectly straight, but I think we can work with that problem better than kerflunky corners. At least, I hope we can.
- What rules, such as “always check for square corners,” have you given yourself?
- What is your preferred method of squaring frames?
- How do you decide when good enough is good enough?
Framing is a really exciting time in your building process. When you tip that wall up for the first time the change is dramatic, the next wall goes up, then the rest and before you know it your home has a form. It’s an inspiring time in building your home, so here are some of the details on how to frame. In these two videos I show the process of me framing the rear wall of my Tiny House. You can see the whole process and the concepts your see here can be applied to the rest of the walls.
The one difference you will see in these videos from traditional house framing is that all of my cross pieces (fire blocks) are all in line, which usually are staggered. The reason for this is I later went through and wrapped the whole house with structural grade hurricane strapping.