Friday, December 23, 2011


So, I'm thinking about adopting.  A cat.  Apparently the park is a magnet for lonely, orphaned animals, including cats, chickens, dogs, and, rumor has it, peacocks.  I've been noticing the cats hopping in and out of the dumpsters and sunning in the parking area, but didn't think anything of them until yesterday.  While dumping a bucket of water outside, Caroline called me over to the maintenance shop.  In the middle of all the guys was a little orange and black feline timidly bouncing from hand to hand in an attempt to gather as much attention as possible without getting caught. 

Being a cat person, I bent down to say hi.  It didn't take long before she noticed me and padded over to let me scratch her ears.  She looked perfectly content, a great addition to a house.  Wait!  I thought.  You aren't even living in your own house yet, and you're already finding four-legged roommates...maybe you should focus on actually finishing the house first!  But then I looked back at her and considered how cool it would be to have such a chipper mouse hunter roomie.  She reminds me of one of my parents' cats, Ginger Ale: stout and compact, with a smooth, powerful purr, kind of like a turbo diesel Volkswagen Jetta.  A man's cat, but cute enough too.

Last night as I was laying in the loft listening to the rain fall on the tin roof, I considered some of the challenges of tiny house pet ownership.  Obviously, there's the space issue.  A fairly limited amount of creatures or stuff can fit inside and still allow for functional movement.  I've seen some dog owners build tiny houses, which to me seems to be too close of quarters.  Like other houses, hair and dirt can definitely collect, but perhaps the small space might make it easier to clean.  When my friend Eric came over last night, I also realized that pet allergies can be a big bummer for some, and probably bigger the smaller the space gets.

So, there's a lot for me to consider before I take a big step like that.  But, on the bright and exciting side of things, once I'm done, I will have my own house, so if I want a pet, you can be damn-sure I can get one!  Until then, it looks like the dumpster kitties will have to keep hangin' with the raccoons.      

Monday, December 19, 2011

Lofts, Windows, and Floors Oh My!

Wow!  It has been quite some time since I last posted, mostly because I haven't been making any progress on the house the last few weeks.  Well, that's not entirely true.  I've been very busy gathering materials and prepping for the next project, so money's been spent, it just hadn't materialized into an increase in "housage".

That is, until this past weekend.  My dad got up early Saturday morning to make it from Rappahannock to the construction site by 8:30 a.m.  He had generously made a trip to Sam Dwyer's (the millwork guy who made the pine flooring for my parent's house) to pick up the flooring for my loft.  I could have just gone to Lowe's and bought some tongue and groove flooring there, but since I have a background in forestry, my goal has been to source as much of my wood products from Virginia.  Plus, as my dad pointed out, you can't just call up the home improvement store and ask for tiny house quantities of custom dimension, quality product.  As expected, the flooring turned out beautifully, and we were able to install it in a couple of hours.

Dad positioning tongue and groove flooring for storage loft
    I had been waiting to nail my loft end walls in place until I had the flooring, so once we were done with the first project we kept rolling onto the next.  I was a little nervous that they wouldn't quite fit, but with a bit of persuasion (it only took a framing hammer, not a sledge :p) they popped right into place!  You can see one of them in the picture below; I'm pretty satisfied with the size of the window opening- it provided a cold breeze, which during the summer will be great at night!

After a late lunch, we jumped right into window installation.  I had ordered custom Jeld-Wen wood windows from Goodwyn and Sons.  While I was very impressed with them when I picked them up from the store, I was a little concerned to read in the installation manual that the average beginner's installation time is 4 hours.  I was having nightmares about weekend after weekend spent solely on painstakingly installing windows!  However, when my dad looked at them, he estimated that we could get a couple of them done by the end of the day.  And right he was!  As it turns out, to install a window all you have to do is make sure its level, apply some sealant, and hammer it into the frame.  I'll have to go back later and spray some insulation, attach drip caps, etc., but all in all it wasn't that bad.  I think the windows are the biggest step so far towards furthering the image of a true house, which makes me happy :)

These windows are so impressive that the next door neighbors were already upgrading theirs the next morning :p

Clifton was back for college, so I tricked him into helping out on the house again Sunday afternoon.  We made good time finishing installing the rest of the windows, and moved on to cutting the pine flooring for the main floor.  My parents had some flooring left over from their living room, so I spent Thanksgiving break sanding the stain off to bring it back to the natural heart pine color.

It was tedious work, but it helped me save some on flooring cost, and I think the end result will look rather nice.  Clifton was a trooper, working with me into the night up until it was time to go to the Spanish mass at St. Augustine's.  Thanks Clif!

Practicing Christmas present wrapping on the house

It was a great weekend, with lots accomplished!  We plugged the stereo in Sunday afternoon, which really helped it feel like the beginnings of a home.  Probably the only construction site you'll hear Brittney playing!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tiny Tin

Last weekend marked one more step closer to weatherization of my house!  My dad arrived Friday night, and we got to work Saturday morning installing the galvanized roofing panels on the tiny roof.  It was cold enough Friday night that all of the metal panels were frozen together in the back of my truck, so we had to lay them out in the sun for a few minutes to let them deice.  The process of installing them was fairly simple: perched on ladders, my dad would hold the sheet in place while I put a couple rubber-capped screws in to hold it on the decking.  Then, I'd climb onto the roof using a "chicken ladder" with my dad spotting from below.  After 300 screws, my hands were pretty sore!

I ordered some trim pieces for the gable ends on Monday, so once those arrive, I can put the ridge cap on top and I'll have a complete roof! 

My dad had to go home Saturday evening, but my friend Clifton was in town for Thanksgiving Break from James Madison University.  We made a gourmet dinner Saturday night of mac & cheese with bratwurst, followed by blueberry cheesecake (my selection) and peanut delight (Clif's) ice creams.  Clif felt so indebted by this "feast" that I generously agreed to let him repay me by helping with the house on Sunday :p  With him on the project, I decided to finally tackle the framing of the loft end walls.  We had a few things going for us: a beautiful fall day, Mr. Miter saw, and Clifton's (correct) second-guessing of my measurements.  Unfortunately, we also didn't have much experience framing triangles, and the 3/4" thick loft flooring wasn't installed so we had to do some extrapolation .  The first wall took three hours to frame correctly, but was about half an inch too wide to fit smoothly.  So, on the second we shrunk everything generously, nailed it together, and fitted it in place in just over an hour.  

It was evening by the time we finished up, so Clif and I just enjoyed watching the sun go down and the lights come on all around the tiny house...Thanks a bunch to my dad and Clif for all their help to make this look and feel more and more like a real house :)


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tiny House of Tyvek

For a lot of this rough carpentry work, its almost essential to have a helper, somebody to at least hold the other end of a board, help lift a sheet of plywood, etc.  Unfortunately, this means most of my work on the house has to wait until I can get a weekend crew together.  But, in between crews, I have been trying to work on little projects.  Sunday I took on the task of Tyveking the little house.  For those who don't know, Tyvek is a waterproof membrane that blocks moisture from entering while allowing it to escape from the inside (or, as its maker, Dupont, likes to describe it, Tyvek is simply one of the "Miracles of Science").  During construction, this material will hopefully protect my house until I can clad it with siding.  After construction, the membrane will still be there, humbly performing its miracles within my walls. 

Here's the first layer going on.  I've been so excited to see my house that I've been going over there after work at night to work on it by flashlight.  This did prove to be a little difficult, especially since the wheel wells required a fair amount of cutting out.

And the windows disappeared! For those that just became concerned that I'll be living in a windowless, wheeled box, don't worry, the openings are still there!  I ordered eight of my windows Friday for a grand total of $2300 (which doesn't include the two for the loft- I still haven't found somebody that will make them small enough for me).  These should arrive by the end of the month, at which time I'll slice some holes in the openings and pop them in!

I believe I may be the first person to make a full post out of Tyveking their house...This probably comes from the fact that I've been searching for a couple of years for some pieces of the wrap to use as an ultralight groundcloth for my backpacking tent.  I've literally gone to construction sites begging for any scraps they have, only to be turned down with "Ay, no tengo..."  It is quite possible that at least part of my motivation for building a house has been to finally have an excuse to buy a whole roll of the stuff :p  Looks like now I'll have both a dry house and a dry tent!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Miter Saw and a Roof

So when we left off, David and I had managed to raise the ridge beam and hold it in place with a couple of rafters tacked on somewhat clumsily. Since this didn't provide any protection from the elements, I was getting nervous every time the sky grew overcast and rain threatened to soak my plywood floor. Since I couldn't do much to complete the roof by myself, I draped the big blue top over the structure and waited for the next weekend that my Pops could visit.

Up until this point, I had succesfully put off buying a miter saw for a couple of reasons. First, I am cheap/stingy, whatever you want to call it. I hate the thought of my funds being tied up in capital that I may barely use. Second, when I do buy things, I generally select items that are very durable and of top notch quality. When it comes to power tools, I can determine that there are items that are more expensive than others, but I'm not really sure how much this translates to quality. I really didn't want to spend $500 on a saw that I wasn't going to use after this project.

But then David pointed out after the struggle with the rafters that a miter saw would be handy and almost essential for finish work. I gave it some thought, finally caved in and brought this baby home with me:

A Skilsaw 12 in. Chop saw on sale for $169! Initially I was worried about buying a bargain piece of equipment, but I realized that my dad has some not so expensive tools that he built our house with 20 years ago and that I was using those to build my house today! As I turns out, a miter saw is a darned useful tool. We had to cut some angled pieces for the roof, which was made simple by just rotating the saw, locking it in place, and Chop! it was cut! Speaking of the roof, here it is:

Next step: install the metal roofing panels!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Raising the Roof...Or Attempting To...

My uncle had to return to his campsite to finish setting up Saturday evening, but David and I were back on the job site Sunday morning to raise the rafters.  While the circular saw was able to cut straight lines for the wall framing rather accurately, it was a bit more challenging to make the 45 degree rafter cuts with it.  Uncle Jim cautioned us that we wanted to make every rafter as close to identical as possible so that the roof would be flat and free of twists and dips.  We went about doing this by cutting a template rafter, and then comparing the others to it.  With the circular saw, we had to re-cut almost every rafter to get the angle just right, which was fine, but we wouldn't have made it very far in the sawmilling business with a remanufacturing cost that high! 

To raise the first rafters, we needed the 17 ft. long ridge beam to be in place approximately 4 feet above the walls.  Initially, we attempted to just toenail a pair of rafters on each end and man-handle the whole thing from the ground onto the top plate of the walls.  We got it up there, but wood started splitting and nails popped out, leaving us with a ridge beam barely sticking half-way in the air.

  Going back to the drawing board, we decided to attach some of our hurricane straps to the wall top plate to hold some rafters in place while we lifted the ridge beam into place.  This worked tolerably well, although there were a couple of minutes of cursing, sweating, and straining to nail each end while holding the beam at the same time.  Looking back, it may have been easier to hold the ridge beam in place with some posts and pre-attach some fastener plates that the rafters could be lifted into and tacked.  While we didn't complete the roof, we were able to at least get something to drap a tarp over to waterproof the progress of the weekend!

Walls and a Grill

After laying dormant for a couple of weeks under the tarp, I assembled another work crew consisting of myself, my brother David, and my Uncle Jim.  To maximize efficiency, I pre-cut all of the framing material so that we could slap the walls together with a roof on top to achieve some form of weatherization.  Since I've been trying to avoid buying lots of tools that I won't have storage space for (yes, you can read that as "since I'm too cheap to buy anything"), I cut everything by clamping it on the sawhorses board by board and running the Skil-saw through it.  This produced decent cuts, but it did take a little time.

With everything precut and a good amount of carpentry expertise on the team, we were able to assemble the walls fairly rapidly Saturday.  We wanted a level surface to work on, so we used the handy-dandy portable dance floor and laid each wall on top of the last one.

By around 5 p.m. all of the walls were complete, so we huffed and puffed and blew the house...up!

Into place, that is. With three people, it was a manageable task, but I wouldn't want to do it with any fewer.

After cleaning up, we retired to my apartment and grilled some chicken on my brand new Weber Smokey Joe grill (see, I'm not that cheap!).  I'll admit, I seem to forget every time that its best to let the coals burn RED hot for a good while before tossing anything on.  Needless to say, it took a little while for dinner to be cooked, but that gave us plenty of time to savor the complex flavors of some cans of Gennesse Cream Ale!

First Step Towards a House!

The building has finally started!  I guess it didn't take me all that long (5 months from discovering tiny houses to the first nail being driven), but tiny houses are just such a neat and brilliant idea that its almost unbearable to live in anything else once you see your first.

I went to Dickinson Equipment in Fredericksburg to pick up my custom built Bri-Mar right before Hurricane Irene hit Virginia.  I explained to the gentlemen there that I was going to be building a house on the trailer, thus explaining why it didn't have full floor decking, but I'm not sure they understood the full concept.  On the way back to my Aunt and Uncle's, Irene was flinging itself on us full force.  Less than a half mile from their house, I saw a wall of green descend upon the road.  A red pickup shot out from under it, but the 15 in. poplar tree crumpled the cab before it was able to escape.  Thankfully, everybody was fine, but it did make me painfully aware that my brand-spankin' new $4700 trailer was at the mercy of the storm!

My dad came down for a weekend early September to help me start building.  We established a minimum goal of completing the floor by Sunday afternoon.  While I had purchased plans from the Tumbleweed Tiny House Co., we had to make some adjustments to accommodate for the dimensions of the trailer.  Not everybody has such a "BEAST TRAILER", so the wheels were positioned a bit farther back and were significantly taller.  Working steadily, we were able to frame the floor Saturday...

and insulate and deck Sunday!  To my surprise, insulating was one of the more difficult aspects.  It takes a lot of work to cut through a 2 in. thick sheet of foam board in a straight line.  Box cutters proved to be too short, so we used a cheap Walmart pocket knife, but the handle cut into the hands just about as much as the knife cut the board.  So...I'll be looking into some sort of "hot knife" that can melt and slice through the next 40 sheets of this stuff for the walls and ceiling.

It feels great to finally be started!  I don't have a house yet, but I think I can honestly claim that its the "Finest Portable Dance Floor This Side of the Mississippii"!

Disco Dave doing some moves

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


In April of 2011, I came to a turning point in my life.  For the past 11 months, I had been living in free or minor cost housing provided by my employment.  Frankly, after having experienced the siphoning of rent payments during college, it didn't take long for me to become addicted to the notion of coming home to an abode that wasn't going to cost me several hundred dollars at the beginning of every month.  But, as with most things that seem too good to be true, this freedom was scheduled to end May 1st since the company owners required their house back for family gatherings.  Like most addicts, I wasn't going to let go easily.

And so, for the month of May, I lived out of the back of my truck.  After work each day I would take a quick shower in the locker room and choose a spot in the woods to cook dinner and bunk down for the night.  I had to be rather clandestine, particularly when pulling off the road, since my employer owned most of the land in the area.  In all honesty, this system worked fabulously, other than the mosquitoes that would gather in the pine plantation swamps at dusk.  I was content with living in this rustic- somewhat illegal fashion until my uncle loaned me "The Small House Book".

In it, Jay Shaffer (founder of the Tumbleweed Tiny House Co.) described his quest for simple, affordable housing.  Since Jay's definition of "simple" differs from that of the government's (building codes dictate minimum size standards), he was forced to design his structures on wheels so that they would be governed by the rules of the road, not the developers and building inspectors.  The end result is a house that is classic in its style, sturdy in its craftsmanship, and willing to travel as much as its owner desires.

Also on my uncle's bookshelf was a biography titled "Tales of an American Hobo".  Charles Elmer Fox, one of the last great hobos of the Depression Era, tells stories of a life on the road that will probably never be relived by future generations.  (Note: a hobo is a wanderer, "a free spirited human, who put his personal freedom ahead of his desire for worldly gain", whereas a bum is one who uses the depressing story of his life to get a dollar or a drink)

Modern America no longer accepts hobos and the spirit that inspires people to ride freight trains and trade odd jobs for steady careers.  I doubt that our country is quite ready for convoys of tiny houses rolling down the road, but perhaps this is an opportunity for those of our generation "infected with the 'rambling fever' to explore their world.  My uncle told me that if he were in my position in life, he would build one of these small houses in a heartbeat.  So, I have taken his advice, ordered a custom built trailer, and bought some framing plans.  I'm not really sure where this adventure will take me (anywhere in the Americas will be open to me!), but I invite you to come along for the ride!