Build: Day Four

Today featured SO MANY WALLS! Today was also the first day I actually got to assist in the honest-to-god framing: the last few days I’ve sort of shown up and been like, “Oh, huh! Some walls/a floor!”. It was pretty educational! Primary lessons of the day were as follows: 1) building a wall is basically like building a big slatted box. It’s pretty much the same idea as building a raised garden bed, except in some ways, it’s less complex. 2) Framing a wall involves a lot of cutting boards exactly to size and squeezing them together to form the interior box/es: a lot of what’s holding the wall up is the rest of the wall. We nailed everything together, of course, but even without nails, most of our wall framing would have held together just by physics: that’s how squeezed together almost everything was!

I got to the site maybe 45 minutes later than Jeff did, as I had dogs to walk: by the time I got there, the back wall was up!DSC00009Please note the freaking ginormous window on that back wall (it’s 4’x4′): that’s my egress window in case my kitchen blows up or something. It’s going to let so much light in, and it’s going to create a great crossbreeze with the bay window in the front. There is one major problem, which is that that’s going to be the future bathroom (if you are visualizing, the shower is going to be in the left corner there). The plans, as it stand, have the toilet basically directly in front of the egress window, with a tiny sink and the utility stack to the right. I am gently but firmly trying to get Jeff to move that somehow, because a) that’s going to involve a lot of curtain raising and lowering and/or a lot of accidental public nudity and b) if I am trying to get lots of light and crossbreeze, the bathroom door will have to be open, and that means that when you walk in the front door, the house’s focal point will basically be a toilet. Not awesome.

Anyway, next, we framed the third wall (on the right in the picture below), and that’s something I got to help with.

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It went amazingly fast! We laid the frame out right there on the bed of the trailer and nailed it together (Jeff has an enormous, hard core air-powered nail gun that has its own compressor, which meant that it took about three minutes to nail it all together). Then we measured out where we wanted the studs to go, squeezed them in, nailed them in. Then we built a box for the window that went between two studs: the sides were 2x4s, just like the studs, and the top and bottom were thicker to support the weight of the window. Squeezed that in, nailed it, then raised the whole thing up and attached it to the lower support that Jeff had already bolted into the fender/the trailer deck. Then we nailed it to the back wall, and boom! a new wall had gone up. INCREDIBLY satisfying, and it took maybe an hour?

Anyway, now we come to the part of the story where Mistakes Were Made, so let’s just have a brief lacuna to look at Construction Pit Bull, who had to be tethered during the wall-building part of the morning (so she didn’t get squashed) but had a great time supervising from Ft. Nellie anyway.

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[That Noz2Noz collapsible fabric crate is seriously one of the greatest things I have ever purchased. Totally worth the money even if you don’t win it for $20 on ebay like I did]

So. Go look at the picture above the one of Nellie. Look specifically at the corners where the three walls intersect. See how the back wall and the wall on the right intersect? Now look at the wall on the left (the first one Jeff built) and the back wall. NOT IDENTICAL. I wish I could say that I noticed that the left wall was like eight inches higher than the other walls and had assumed that it was deliberately sloping to let off rain water or something (note: the roof IS going to slope a bit, but in the other direction, so towards the front). The truth is, though, that I was so excited about Framing! My! Wall! that I hadn’t even noticed. Jeff had been freaking out about it for 36 hours, though (quietly. to himself. he is not a talker). It was just a calculation error, and since it was the first wall, he didn’t catch it until the others went up. But it was a problem, because the extra height of the too-big wall made the house too tall to safely travel (there’s a legal max height of 13’6″ from the ground, so you can get through tunnels, etc.), and that meant I couldn’t just work it into the design or build the other wall up or something. And of course taking it down was easier said than done, as it was by this point built into the rest of the house.

Now, this is where I am glad I had Jeff: I know he made the error, but honestly, if it had just been me, I totally would have done something just as stupid. However, if it had been just me, I would have been like, “Welp, everything needs to come down so I can fix it, so let’s do that and then I am going to drink Scotch for three days and feel sorry for myself.” Not Jeff. Jeff looked at the too-big wall, measured how too-big it was, and then decided that he was just going to cut the wall off at the ankles and then nail it back into the frame. This idea sounded crazy to me. But, here’s how it went down in pictures.

See those cuts in the studs at the bottom of the wall? Yep! We were going to cut them off and then just let the wall fall straight down, kind of like when you get a row of blocks in Tetris.
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Here’s Jeff cutting them off with his crazy saw that saws through nails. Please note how the studs to the right of Jeff are just stone cold HANGING IN SPACE.
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He cut the studs that were over the trailer fender all the way first: he cut the last one, thinking that he would slowly lower the section down, but the whole wall immediately went KERTHUMP and fell straight down (Tetris-style): just like he thought, but a little prematurely. Please note how the top support now looks like a pagoda.
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After he re-nailed/re-bolted the studs to their new position, he repeated the same kind of ankle-chopping on the other side of the wall (the side that hit the actual trailer deck). And wouldn’t you know it? That side KERTHUMPED, the pagoda board unbent, and voila, we had three walls that intersected perfectly at the corners. A couple of nails later and you never would have known that the wall had been shrinky-dinked! It was extremely awesome, and took like 45 minutes.

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Anyway, after that it all went very smoothly. We added beams to the top edge (extra support) and put a large joist between the left and right walls…
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…built a little frame for the top-front (same as the wall: built a box, ran studs between the top and bottom of the box)…
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…and nailed it up. Yay!
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So if you can visualize this, everything above that big center joist is going to be the sleeping loft; the ceiling for the kitchen and bathroom will be below the center joist (or rather, kind of in the middle of the joist, but that’s the general idea.) This is where I had my first quiet freakout about size (I think if you’re building a tiny house, you’re allowed one or two). The kitchen/bathroom ceilings are going to be LOW (in what is otherwise going to be a high-ceiling’ed and open-feeling space), mostly to accommodate a comfortable loft. When I was designing the thing on paper, I put the kitchen/bath ceiling at 6’6; on paper, that seemed reasonable, but it’s quite a different thing to be standing in the space and thinking, “Holy shit, that’s only a foot above my actual head.” So I freaked out for a second, until I got myself together and realized that actually, it was going to be fine. It was actually a little taller than the galley kitchen on my ex’s family’s boat, and that felt cozy but not impossible, the appliances and the storage cabinets (pantry, etc) were going to be the major thing under the short ceiling (the counter space extends out from under the loft, and also, that I am actually a short little 5’6 person, and I am the one this house is for and if the Jolly Green Giant came in and felt a little claustrophobic getting ice out of the fridge, well, too damn bad. So then I felt better. And having a loft that doesn’t feel like a coffin is going to make it allllll worth it.

So here’s what we have at the end of the day!
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The whole back section of the house is framed out successfully, including all the spots for windows (seven windows so far!) That’s the loft (which still needs to be internally framed), the bathroom and the kitchen. The front of the house (the rest of the floor, as currently framed out) is the living area, and then you will take a few steps up (over the support bar in front of the trailer) and walk into the bay window ‘room’, which will extend over the hitch (this is the ‘library’/’solarium’/’other grandiose name’, with its built in bookshelves below the bay window and probably this chair hanging from the ceiling). Can you kind of see it a little bit? It doesn’t quite look like a house yet, but it’s beginning to come together!

The next thing to do is to frame out the front, of course, but I am not sure when that’s going to happen, because GRIM NEWS.

the weather

I live in the desert. Except for briefly during the monsoon season, you never see four day rainstorms! It’s already sprinkling now, and tomorrow’s supposed to be a doozy, involving Actual Thunder and Actual Lightning. Poor exposed tiny house! I am glad I painted the subfloor. So anyway, we’ll see what happens between now and Monday. Watch, I’ll get there and it’ll turn out that Jeff framed out the whole front end by himself in the middle of a lightning storm. And he probably will have insulated the whole thing with foam, the jerk.

STATS!

Mom, Jeff and I just did our big monetary breakdown today (which we’re going to do once a week), which I thought I would share with you guys:

Trailer, tax, delivery: $5063.79
Permanent title/license fee: $159
Padlock to lock generator to trailer while it’s at the build site: $15.90
Generator rental (for a month, including tax): $241.91

Wood, nails, building stuff: $777.13
Labor (Jeff: $30/hr.): $720

2 gallons of expensive fancy floor paint, metric ton of painting supplies: $86.16

Total: $7063.89.  If you don’t factor in the trailer cost, which I think is one of the most variable aspects of the project*, that’s about two grand for a house that’s a little less than 1/2 framed. See also: two months of rent in my shared apartment in Santa Monica, 1.5 months of rent in my way-too-large-and-expensive house in Richmond.

*I love my trailer and am very very glad to have gotten something new and large and comparatively fancy, but lots of people start a tiny house by ripping down an old camper shell, or by buying a used trailer, or by buying a 16 ft utility trailer for $1000 or so. Admittedly, they usually spend a bunch of money retrofitting their trailer, buying new brakes and tires and lights, reworking the electrical, etc. But it can be an area of cost savings, if you’re thinking about doing this yourself. I got a good deal on my trailer, but the initial outlay was still at the higher end of the spectrum.

We’ve used 77 24-ft. boards so far (give or take: there are a bunch of short scraps left over that will eventually be turned into something else). Not counting the ply (which was too complicated to calculate) and assuming an average-sized Douglas fir (the bulk of the wood we’ve been using), if I did the math right, I think we’ve used about 4/5ths of a tree. Thanks, tree.