Tiny House Construction – Week 1

Tiny House Construction – Week 1

I had been very sick for the best part of a month and excessive coughing had left me with a cracked rib, all of which delayed the start of the build. Despite some mild pain my doctor had given me the nod to start some work, as long as I didn’t get too carried away. It feels like I had to wait forever, but finally I can start!

This trailer needs a house on it

This trailer needs a house on it

Watch a time lapse to see what I got up to this week:

Getting set up

Waking up on the morning when I took possession of the barn (where I will start the build) it felt like my first day of school, or a new job. When I mentioned this to Carly over breakfast she commented that really it was both! There are many reasons why I want to build a tiny house, a big one of them is to try out a different kind of work, to get away from sitting in front of a computer. I was excited, I am excited.

I am building in a barn because it rains a lot over winter in the Pacific Northwest… and it’s January. Once I was able to get in to the barn and assess what I needed to do to get set up, I found that it was a little more than I had expected: the lights didn’t work, the roof leaked more than I had anticipated (luckily it had rained the night before so I knew where the worst leaks were) and the gate which needed hanging to secure the space turned out to not be big enough to space the width of the barn. Luckily I figured something like this might happen.

The barn ready to go

The barn ready to go

I was very lucky to have Carly helping me set up. We bought some work lights and rigged up a tarp to redirect a leak which would allow an area big enough to ensure the trailer wasn’t going to get too wet. This sounds easy, but it involved a complex system of rope and bungies and several trips up high ladders (and the van).

Who needs a ladder when you have a van?

Who needs a ladder when you have a van?

Tarp set up to redirect one of the worst leaks

Tarp set up to redirect one of the worst leaks

Next we moved the trailer from the driveway to it’s new home in the barn. Again Carly was a huge help. I couldn’t have done all of this without her.

Finally moving the trailer out of the driveway

Finally moving the trailer out of the driveway

I was ready to start!

Build Day 1

I woke up early so I could get a good start to the day, having planned for a slow start on day one. The barn is conveniently located very close to a local builders merchants/lumber yard so this was my first stop of the day. I filled the van with 2x6s and started preparing to build the framing which would make up the house floor.

I raised the trailer up on it's levelling jacks ready for work

I raised the trailer up on it’s levelling jacks ready for work

As late as the night before I had been flip flopping about how to build the blocking which would support the floor, in the end I had decided to go with a (what I thought) simpler method than I had originally planned. Almost as soon as I started work I ran into issues, so I had to make another trip to the builders merchants. After several conversations with the helpful staff there (they are starting to know me already) I decided to go revert to my original method.

It rained hard all day and I discovered that the barn has many many slow drips. This was mainly a small inconvenience, but I had to be careful where I left my laptop, which I am replying on heavily to take measurements from my 3D model. I may have to rig up another tarp over the workbench.

After the false start, progress on the floor framing went well. I had to familiarise myself with joist hangers and figure a few things out through trial and error, but I was happy with the amount of progress I made, which was more than I had anticipated.

Blocking which will support the subfloor

Blocking which will support the subfloor

The barn is quite dark even in the daylight, so lighting was a bit of an issue towards the end of the day. More work lights might be a good call!

Build Day 2

Then weather today couldn’t have been more different than the day before, with clear skies and sunshine. I was thankful to have Carly helping me again today, so we again achieved more than anticipated.

I managed to finish the three floor blocking sections and with Carly’s help we did half of what will act as the insulation support. I decided to raise the floor blocking about an inch and a half off of the trailer base as I was concerned in the potential for it sitting in condensation on the cold metal (the trailer is sealed at the bottom by a galvanised bottom pan). The insulation I am using is water resistant, but I didn’t like the thought of it sitting in water, and as my dad taught me: “if you are going to do something, you may as well do it right”.

As the blocking is suspended I used joist hangers to make up the blocking, this also meant that the insulation would have an air gap underneath it with nothing to support it.

Carly finishing of attaching the insulation supports to the first of three blocking sections

Carly finishing of attaching the insulation supports to the first of three blocking sections

I came up with a solution to keep the insulation in place which involved using a roll of plastic fencing affixed to the underside of the blocking which the insulation can sit on and be held flush with the subfloor above. Carly attached this in place with staples and we were happy with the results. We will see how it performs when we install the insulation in a day or two. This is certainly more complicated then just building the floor directly in to the trailer, but I am happy I decided to go with this approach.

The next step will be to bolt the floor blocking to the trailer. With progress going so well I need to think about purchasing the insulation and plywood for the subfloor.

Build Day 3

Today started with visiting shop after shop to gather materials and equipment for the build, which I am learning always takes longer than I think it will. I had to do some non tiny house related tasks this morning (the house isn’t going to pay for itself you know), so I was very eager to get working on the house in the afternoon. Looking forward to putting in hours of hard work on something you are enjoying it a nice feeling indeed, and not one I have felt for a while.

Buying insulation. I should have chosen a bigger cart

Buying insulation. I should have chosen a bigger cart

Carly was with me again today, so she managed to finish attaching the insulation supports, which we tested with some newly purchased insulation with pleasing results. While she was doing this I closed up the trailer corner holes (which help drain the trailer before it has a house on it) with waterproof tape. Next I spent some time figuring out how to clamp the floor blocking in place once I got it levelled, so I could drill holes and fix it in place with bolts. With Carly’s help we got the section of blocking in place and once clamped we managed to level it ready for bolting tomorrow.

Using clamps to hold the blocking in place so holes can be drilled to attach it to the trailer

Using clamps to hold the blocking in place so holes can be drilled to attach it to the trailer

Build Day 4

I woke up with something called ‘thermal bridging’ on my mind, I guess this is my life for the next year.

My trailer is metal, but I am building a wooden floor in it. Wood transfers heat quite well, so this connection will act as a cold spot in the house, sucking out the heat, known as a thermal bridge. To stop this, you need to put something between the two materials to avoid direct contact. I had seen some videos on how to avoid this, which involves adding a tin layer of insulation was added but I for some reason had decided this wasn’t necessary. This morning I decided it was, so I had to scramble to find the materials I needed. Luckily I found some underlay that I thought would do the job, and upon taping it to the trailer I was happy with the result.

Blocking in place, ready to be bolted

Blocking in place (again), this time with extra insulation

Showing the foam underlay which prevents the metal and wood touching

Showing the foam underlay which prevents the metal and wood touching

Richard gave me a hand getting the blocking into place, which needed some persuading. I had tried to get it the perfect size so it was snug in there, but not too tight. I got it pretty good, but a bit of hammering was needed. Once it was level I clamped it in place and started drilling holes in the wood to accommodate the bolts that would fix it to the trailer.

A good day all in all. I also met Paul, my neighbour in the barn and the to co-builder of the other tiny house. I enjoyed chatting about alternative dwellings and even got a tour of his house, which really got my excited for my build and what is to come.

Just to end on a quick shout-out to Richard, who has been very generous with lending me his tools. I really appreciate it my friend.

It’s been a great week and I can’t wait to get going again.

6 Comments

Mama Fergs

about 2 years ago

I am so enjoying this blog!! It is so interesting and brilliant!! You kids are awesome!! I can't wait to come see it myself. Big hugs and much love. xoxo

Reply

Joe

about 2 years ago

Thanks Ruth, yes it has been great fun so far. I'm looking forward to having an extra pair of hands to help out :)

Joe

Reply

Brady Faught

about 2 years ago

Looks awesome Joe! Wow can't wait to see it in a couple weeks. I think any time different materials meet like wood on steel is a great place for condensation, so a great idea to separate them. Do you put a vapor permeable membrane on the subfloor that allows the condensation in the vapor to permeate out should it get in there somehow? If you have a vapor impermeable membrane any water that gets in there, even with an air gap could cause mold in the insulation I would think? It needs somewhere to escape but it ideally never gets in there in the first place I suppose. Good call on the thermal bridging too, whenever I read about energy efficient house design it seems like the best bang for your buck in terms of savings is adding an unbroken wall of insulation to either the interior or exterior wall to cover up those wood studs which suck heat out. All the best!

Reply

Joe

about 2 years ago

Thanks Brady. After reading up on this I'm not planning on having a vapour barrier between the insulation and the subfloor, but instead allowing the components to breathe. The trailer is mostly sealed from below, but does have some air holes which should allow air to circulate. There is then an air gap between the trailer and insulation, so it won't be sitting in any condensation. The insulation is also meant to be water resistant, so in the event that there was some kind of flood in the house, it should be able to escape out of the holes in the trailer and then dry out. I saw some people (like Tiny Nest) use a vapour barrier underneath the subfloor to protect against leaks from above, but to me that seems like it would trap the water in the floor in the event of a leak. That is my thinking at least. Please do let me know if any of that sounds off as it's hard to get definitive answers when you are building an unconventional house!

Joe

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MOG

about 2 years ago

Great to see that you’re on your way at last, but I’m a little confused about this thermal bridge thing.

There may be a point about wood being a “poor” insulator and creating a bridge, when talking about a well-insulated exterior stud wall but that isn’t the situation here.

Left uninsulated, the steel trailer frame with its large sheets acting like radiators would certainly have drained heat out of your house at a great rate of knots. But your wooden floor frame and insulation should reduce that immensely. Compared to steel, wood is in fact a very good thermal insulator, (Steel conducts heat about 500 times better than wood), so I doubt that adding a few millimetres of underlay will have changed the thermal situation very much. On the other hand, it won't have done any harm either. ;-)

Bottom line: I think your first instincts were right.
MOG

Reply

Joe

about 2 years ago

Thanks for your input Dad. While I am no expert, as I understand it having an unbroken wood-on-wood connection from the inside of the house to something very cold on the outside is a bad idea. Perhaps there is some nuance that I am missing, and therefore didn't include in my write-up. From my research and also speaking to a couple of people much more in the know, breaking this kind of metal-wood, or even concrete-wood connection is a 'thing'.

I can foresee many more of these kinds of decision down the road, where I need to defer to what I find in my research as I am unable to make the call alone. This is made more complicated by the fact that there is nothing 'standard' about these houses, so information can be scarce. When it comes down to it I'm going to err on the side of caution and see how it goes. I think this will end up with an over engineered house, but also a big bag of knowledge and experience for next time (if there is a next time).

Joe

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