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Tiny House Construction Waste

In an effort to tell the whole story about tiny houses I felt it necessary to show the not so pretty side of tiny houses.  Namely, how much waste a tiny house generates in its construction.  The reality of how much waste I have created in building my home really shocked me when I saw all the scraps loaded up onto a single trailer, ready to be hauled away to the dump.

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This was a real reality check that even tiny houses have an impact, which of course I knew, but knowing something  and facing the reality in the face are two different things.

A parallel for me personally – which may seem odd and obviously a much greater moral implication – was the first time I personally participated in “processing” a chicken.  To be standing there, a knife in my hand with a live chicken before me, there was real coming to terms with what I was about to do.  As a meat eater, it was the first time I personally had to grapple with the reality of eating meat.

I had a very similar experience when I stood in front of that trailer and was processing the fact this trailer was going to be taken to a dump and I was the cause of it.  That I was creating a large amount of trash that later generations would have to contend with.  Do I have that right?  Am I okay with that?

So the above shot is pretty much all of the waste that my tiny house created.  In this trash there is all the scraps from the framing, sheathing, roofing, siding, etc.  Also here you’ll see the packaging that comes with some building products, along with some plastic sheeting that I used to cover materials that has since been torn or degraded to a point that I can’t use it any more.  In total it’s about 400 lbs, it looks like a lot more, but it isn’t stacked very efficiently.

I also wanted to provide another side of this story by comparing how much waste I created to that of a traditional home.  The typical home in America is about 2,600 square feet and in its construction generates about 2.5 tons  (5,000 lbs) of garbage.  It’s important to note that this is the onsite trash only, components like trusses and roof farmings are built elsewhere, but not accounted for.   You can read about these statistics in this study.

Now I think its also important to talk about how I could have done better, while I need to come to terms with this amount of waste, hopefully I can help others reduce their waste.

First off it is important to note that it honestly is impossible to not have waste.  We can also use reclaimed materials, which can help us reduce our waste and even offset the waste we create; the ultimate would be to have a net negative impact, but I think that would be tough.  There is also a strong argument for inhabiting houses that are already built or could be rehabbed with less impact.

Our writer here on The Tiny Life, Andrea, told me once that she thought it would be impossible to have a house built of more than 95% reclaimed materials.  Her house was about 80-90% reclaimed, but she had one huge advantage: She built her tiny house in a warehouse that was a building materials reclaiming company!  That’s all they did, was reclaim materials and even with that, she was not able to achieve more than 80%.

Other things that might help you reduce your impact is being more efficient with materials.  I think it would be tough to improve upon how I utilized my materials, but I figure I could have been better at it with enough practice.  I also think that if I had a good storage space, I could better save and organize the scraps so I can keep the quality up and utilize them better.  There were some pieces of wood that got damaged by rain after a tarp blew off in a storm, leaving the wood exposed to the elements and water pooling on it.

Finally, if I had chosen all my materials to be chemical free (no glues, resins, treatments) I could at the very least used the scraps to burn for heating or campfires.  But in some cases I opted for treated lumber (which I still feel like was the right choice), but it meant that I shouldn’t burn it.

Your Turn!

  • How would you go about reducing your waste?
  • What are some tips to reduce waste during construction?

 

Tiny House Sheathing

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.

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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
______________________
Total: $780

zip boards: 12 @ $19.50  and 6 @ $26
Zip Tape: 2 rolls @ $27
_______________________
Total: $444.00

Me happy about saving money and getting the sheathing done!

Me happy about saving money and getting the sheathing done!

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.

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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.

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Fixing Warpped And Twisted Boards

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.

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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.

 

Tiny House, Squared

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

squaring the floorOf 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.

P1060304Anyway, 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:

P1060306 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.

corner out of squareHere’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.

P1060274 P1060275 P1060279

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

squared corner

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.

Your Turn!

  • 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?

 

Tiny House Building Guide

So a while ago I introduced the “Ryan’s Tiny House” section which outlines the process of me building my tiny house, since there there hasn’t been much activity on that page except for my Tiny House Checklist.  Well I had some time to get a bunch of website work done and was able to start the Building Guide section.  You can access it by clicking “Ryan’s Tiny House” link in the menu or click here.

The guide is a chronological order of my building process that includes all the posts I have done to date on my house.  Each section has a “read more” button to get into the details.  Hope you all enjoy!

building section

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