Posts Tagged tumbleweed

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?


Jay Shafer’s New Venture – Four Lights Tiny House Company

Not too long ago I covered how Jay Shafer, founder of Tumbleweed, will be leaving the company for his new venture.  I just got word from Jay about what his new project will be.

Jay is founding a new company called Four Lights Tiny House Company and will be launching – are you ready for this? – 8 brand new tiny house design, a Tiny House village to be done by 2015 and extended hands on workshops.

UPDATE:  Jay has changed their plans for the launch. they are going to start by releasing just one 280 square foot house instead of three houses.


Jay Shafer will be unveiling what he calls his, “best tiny houses yet”, at this Tuesday, December 11 at 9:00 am EST.  Jay has resigned from his position at Tumbleweed Tiny Houses to form Four Lights Tiny House Company.

When asked why he split with the business he founded in 1999, Jay says, “For some of the same reasons I started designing, building and living in small houses in the first place – for more freedom and more manageability. The message and design philosophy I’d built my original company on had become harder and harder to maintain as the business grew from a one-man operation into what it is today.”

Four Lights will launch by offering Jay’s first-ever unabridged, hands-on building workshop, his plans for a tiny house village (slated for completion in 2015), and three portable houses ranging from about 100 to 500 square feet (including lofts). An additional house will be unveiled every month for the next five months. Jay’s designs for compact furnishings and his system for “design-it-yourself” tiny houses will be released thru on January 31.

You can receive a schedule and reminders of these events by signing up at when it officially launches this Tuesday.




 Your Turn!

  • What do you think about his new venture?
  • If there could be one new thing you’d like to see in Jay’s new house, what would it be?

Jay Shafer Is Leaving Tumbleweed And It Might Be A Good Thing

For those of you who don’t know, Jay Shaffer the founder of Tumbleweed Tiny Homes is going to be leaving the business to his partner and starting a new venture.   Jay clued me into this past summer when I saw him in Raleigh, but he didn’t make it public at the time.  He has now gone on the record through Tiny House Design’s Facebook Page (brought to my attention by Tiny House Talk).

Before people get all up in arms about my title, hear me out.  What Jay had done for the Tiny House Movement, is huge, in fact many would argue he created the movement.  In my mind his major contribution was developing a vernacular of living in small sensible housing and then bringing it to the public.  His house designs are very aesthetically appealing, combined that with the cookie cutter homes of today that lack any character, his designs instantly have wide spread appeal, even if we aren’t going to live in one.  Finally he started a larger conversation, one that questions values, goals, priorities and the way we live life all in a approachable way.

So why am I saying that Jay leaving Tumbleweed is a good thing?  Well first I need to point out that it might be a good thing, it might not though, but the potential is there.

One thing I have come to learn about people is that they do their best work when they follow their passions; that pursing what you feel  in your heart and what excites your mind is a very powerful force.  With Jay moving to his next venture, he has the potential to bring his creativity and charisma to a whole new area.  I wish him the best of luck and look forward to what will come of it.

The main point of today’s post is that for a long time Tiny Houses have been synonymous with Jay’s name.  This will continue, but it also allows others to enter into the space.   There are many advantages to have a single point of representation for a movement, but I also know that for the movement to grow and mature, it must grow beyond that single person.

To have a single person means there is a lot of pressure and demand placed on one person.   Jay has represented us extremely well and I am sure he will continue to, but we need to grow and find our own footing.  This will allow, as a group, for the best ideas to rise to the top, for our group to become more organized as a movement, to have more tiny houses in all forms, and to have more people building Tiny Houses.  Laws need to be changed, codes need to be re-written and research / publications need to be done; these lofty goals that cannot be accomplished by a single person alone.

So we here at The Tiny Life wish the best to Jay and we look forward to what will come, but we firmly believe that this is simply a step in maturation of the movement!

Tumbleweed Gifford Tiny House

So I just got an email from Jay about his brand new house, The Gifford!  The house is designed to be under 120 square feet because many municipalities don’t require a permit for structure under that size.  The looks of this house are amazing!  Jay has done it again!  What is interesting about this house is that Jay has left the interior open to however you want to do it.  It is an interesting twist in his approach as Jay strikes me as a person who likes every detail to be planned out.  The house has the ability to outfitted with a sleeping loft or however else you see fit.  The fully built house will run you $13,999.  The one thing that jumped out at me is the cost of the window options, while I know good windows are a great investment and these look very nice, a 4 foot by 3 foot window for $900 window seems like a lot!


The Great Debate: Jay’s Beard

Many of you have seen Jay Shafer’s spotlight on Fox Business News which featured the Pompo Tiny House.  For those of you who haven’t seen it, it is a great video showing the house and brings the Tiny House Movement to the mainstream somewhat.  Below is the video.  I was sitting in Google’s new “hangouts” video chat with a few Tiny House people.  We took a moment to watch this video and the first thing that came out of someone’s mouth was “I’m not sure about the beard”  oddly enough it started a 15 minute conversation on Jay’s facial hair, who essentially is the spokes person in some ways for the Tiny House Movement.  So in addition to checking out this great video, vote on Jay’s beard.










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