Posts Tagged building

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.

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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?

 

Framing My Tiny House

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.

Part 1:

Part two:

 

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The Planning Stage Of Building A Tiny House

So I thought I would tell a little bit about my planning process before I even picked up a hammer.  This is a very important step in building your home and shouldn’t be overlooked.

What's the Plans?Before you even think about what your Tiny House is going to look like, how you are going to organize things, colors, etc.  You should sit down and list everything you do in your home right now.  Too often people plan for what they THINK they’re going to do in their tiny house, but few realize that the best indicator of what they are going to do is what they’re doing now.

Think about what you do in your home every day and make a list of all those things.  Then create a separate list of those things that happen every now and again. Take these list and order it in terms of priority and then start to think about what you will need to achieve those things.  From this line of thought the form of your house will emerge, because form follow function.  If we focus on what the house need to do for us, it will begin to take shape.

Experimenting With Floor Plans

At that point start sketching various floor plans until you come up with something you like. Think about how you can group related things to one area.  For example, if you walk into your house, take off your shoes, jacket and hat, those things all should be stored together and ideally by the door.  In the kitchen we need want everything in arms reach. the fridge, sink and stove make up the “work triangle” but we also want to consider where our trash can will go, how are we going to store food items in a pantry and so on.

Once you have something that seems reasonably close to what you want, grab some masking tape and map out the entire floor plan to scale on the floor or in your driveway.  Make sure it’s life size so you can get a real good sense of the space.

From there act out an entire day of your life and see how things work out.  You might feel ridiculous playing house in a fake tiny house, but you’ll soon see how this exercise will help your design. Consider things like where your trash or dirty laundry goes, clearances for doors, how wide doors and passage ways need to be for you to pass through them comfortably.

Make Adjustments

It is at this point that you will discover things that don’t work and need to be changed, make them and start the process over again.  After you have worked out a solid plan, set them aside for a while and then after a few days, revisit them.  It will be surprising what things jump out at you that you were blind to before.  You can even enlist friends to get feedback from them on the design; sometimes a fresh pair of eyes will be useful.

Consider Already Made Plans

Tiny House Plans

At this point I would take a look around at some of the tiny house plans that are out there and see if one of them is close to what you have come up with.  It might be worth purchasing plans if you are new to building if it matches your needs and budget.  If you opt to come up with plans yourself then be prepared to do a lot of research and work to come up with a solid plan.  I would strongly suggest learning Sketchup to design your tiny house, which is free and pretty easy to learn.  Finally draft a parts list of everything you will need.

Envision The Build Process

Once the plans are pretty firm, set a few hours aside to mentally work through how you will build the house.  Think about the process of building, envision it, where do you start, then what is after that and after that?  You will inevitably find some things that need to be rethought or given some thought when you discover the order will impact other parts.

tiny house planning

From there consider work flow and your building site, where will you build?  Where are your tools stored?  Where will the materials be stored?  Is there power on the site, if not how will you get it there?  How will you handle trash?  Where will you setup your work station?  How will you get the trailer in and more importantly think about how you will get it out if you do have to move it?

If you need to get materials brought to the site in the back of a truck or a delivery vehicle, can they get close enough to where you need them to be? There are a million things to think about, but take the time to work it all out.  All these things are important and if you don’t plan for them, you’ll find that it’s going to be a lot harder than it needs to be.

Sourcing Materials And Scheduling

Next consider where you are going to source your materials.  The big ones are your windows, trailer, roofing, dimensional lumber, siding and any specialty items.  Windows, trailer and roofing often take a few weeks to get delivered if you are special ordering them, so consider the time line on things.

stack of wood

Since we have already broken down our plan to develop a detailed parts list, I would take your parts list to the store where you plan to purchase the bulk of your stuff and get prices and lead times on it all.  It’s important to consider lead times, how you’ll transport it to your house and any other materials that you’ll need to install it.

If you are trying to use reclaimed materials then hit craigs list, restores and other sources for the parts.  For those going this route, I’d strongly suggest getting all your doors and windows first, then drawing your plans.  This is because if you design your windows and doors ahead of time, you’ll never find a part to match it.  So going this route design around the reclaimed materials and if possible choose doors and windows that are standard sizes and shapes.

Final Words Of Wisdom

One of the best tools in my tool box was a lawn chair that I would sit in and contemplate a problem I was having.  If you run into a problem, don’t be afraid to give yourself some time and space from it so you can come up with the best solution.  It’s important that you do it right the first time.

When we are tired from a long day of working on our tiny house, it can be easy to want to just get it done or rush through something.  Whenever I got like that I knew it was time to call it a day, no matter what time it was.  There was even some days where I had only been there for an hour and I knew I wasn’t in the right head space.

Your Turn!

  • What are you thinking about for your design?
  • What tips can you offer to help others?

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Tiny House Chat – Building Details In Various Climates

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After talking with tons of Tiny House builders Macy and I started exploring the different strategies and materials that you use for a cold climate, or a hot climate, but then what about places like NC, where it gets really hot and humid, but still gets to 10 degrees with snow in the winter?  This month we will be getting down to the nitty-gritty and tackling some details of building your Tiny House for various climates.  For anyone who is considering building a Tiny House, this is a must see and its free!

Our guest hosts this month will be tiny house builders in the north, Noreen and Jill from Chestnut Street Small House Co., and tiny house builder in the South, Dan Louche from tinyhomebuilders.com, along with Ryan of course in North Carolina, and myself in the Pacific Northwest. We will have some details to share and discuss. Join us with all your questions and insights about how to handle moisture, ventilation, wall systems, attachment methods along with whatever else you can think of for each climate region. Not all methods are relevant or even ‘good’ in each climate, join us to understand why!

This chat will be:

Monday, January 14th, 2013

8pm-9pm Eastern Time (5pm-6pm West Coast)

http://www.anymeeting.com/tinyhousechat1

Mark your calendar!

Tiny House Chat is a space for Tiny House enthusiasts to come together and share ideas and stories. The concept of this is to be for the Tiny House community and facilitated by the community. We hope that this platform will achieve the following:

  • Develop lasting connections among the Tiny House community.
  • Strengthen and expand the community.
  • Foster the sharing of ideas.
  • Provide a resource for the various stages of a tiny house, from the ideas stage to the ‘is-this-working-right’ stage.
  • Have a lot of fun and get to know each other better!!

The Hardest Part So Far…

If you had to guess what the most complicated part of building a tiny house is, what would you say?  Building the walls?  Making sure it’s all square? Putting in the gas and electrical?  Nope….

This one thing has been a lot of fun, but a major pain at the same time!  There are times that I feel like I spend more time on this one thing then I spend building my house.  So what is it?

wpid-life-friendship-wallpaper-quotesFinding all the materials to build my house has been the most difficult and near the top on the rewarding experience so far.

What I have found is that when you tell people about your tiny house, they are often really excited and really interested.  It is here where you can forge some great connections and maybe even friendships, in the end having people as your advocate goes a long way.  At this point when I walk into my local hardware store, everyone there know me.  To some I am the Tiny House guy; To most, we know each other on a first name basis and in part it’s because how much time I spend with them finding the right materials for my house.

There are times that I feel like I spend more time at the store searching the various vendors for the perfect fridge, flooring, flashing, or a million other details, but it is worth it.  The details that go into building a tiny house is mind boggling.

I would argue that I spend more time on the details in my 130 square feet than a person does in a McMansion.  The reason why?  Because when you have such a small space, every little thing matters, you have to consider how things will fit together perfectly because the tolerances in a Tiny House are much smaller.

Another thing to consider is that traditional building materials are of a scale for a larger house; there have been many times where traditional materials won’t work because of the size or the scale would look weird on a house so small.  When you get into the building process you see how substituting one thing for another could have a ripple effect throughout the whole house for various reasons.

One factor that I am constantly grappling with is the timing of ordering all the materials.  While I have a great space to build my house, I don’t have a lot of space to store stuff out of the elements.  This means I have to time things to arrive just when I need them or sweet talk the warehouse manager at the hardware store to hold onto them for me.

jared-spool-quoteTo give you an idea of how much time it takes to do all this, take for example ordering windows.  I literally spend 10 hours reviewing different vendors, choosing various options, matching colors, and so much more.  Today I went in and spent 3 hours ordering all the parts to my roof, but before that, it took 3 weeks of phone calls to get a color sample to make sure it matched my windows.  By the time I had selected my roofing I had considered 10 different metal roof manufacturers, collected 6 different color samples and spent a lot of time on the phone.  The reward was when I opened that last packet to find the perfect shade of red to match my windows.  It is identical, even though its two different companies and it is going to look great when brought together!

So just know going in that finding the perfect materials for your house will be a daunting task, but in the end, it’s worth it!

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