Electrical

In our patience with finances, the electric company, and many end of summer activities, I’ve grown quite restless. When others ask how the house is coming along, my response is always “slowly, but surely.” However, Faith and I have been very blessed recently with her new job. We’re now making twice as much as we used to and we’ve been able to kick things in gear again.

Good thing, too, because building supplies are impossibly expensive anymore. Electrical work is no exception when it comes to draining your bank account.

The power company finally hooked up service on the house about a month ago and I was wiring up the basement within a couple of days. I find electrical work quite pleasing work. Despite my love for an unplugged lifestyle, electrical work is instantaneous gratification. You hook up some wire and all of the sudden, there is light. And with my father-in-law being an electrician, I have the added comfort of knowing what I’m doing is guided professionally.

The basement received two outlets and two lights. Since it will be not much more than a root cellar, I didn’t give it too much attention.

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The overall service is 200 amps and I purchased a box with enough space to accommodate the addition for the house in the future.

IMG_0527Just about everything is wired into the box in that picture other than the water heater, which I do not have yet. (Another $500)

I’ve heard from many different tiny home projects that building a tiny house is very similar to building a regular sized home in price because you still have certain necessities that will cost lots of money despite the size of your home. I now know what they mean. I spend much less money on lumber and other bulk goods, but there are certain amenities that cost no matter what. If you plan to live in comfort and with low maintenance, you will spend thousands and thousands, regardless of the size.

The wiring upstairs was rather extensive. In our current home, it’s amazing how many things have been thrown on to single circuits. Knowing what I know now, it’s essential to make sure you don’t overload your circuits. And while I could read lots of material on circuit loading, it’s been much easier to have my father-in-law tell me what can and can’t go somewhere.

The main barrier we had in wiring was making it around my behemoth timbers. I came to the conclusion quickly that there was no way around them. So we went through them.

IMG_0533This part of the project was a great pain, but it makes a nice job now that it’s finished. We had to use a right angle drill and come from both sides slowly until it met in the middle. In retrospect, I would have bored these holes while I was cutting the timbers.

All in all, there’s not much else to say about the wiring. I added a fan in the bathroom vented to the outside to deal with humidity, but even that was fairly straightforward. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

IMG_0522The bath fan vents directly to the outside wall. It seemed to be fairly quiet when I fired it up.

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IMG_0521The electric stove outlet required a 6-3 wire to a 50 amp double pole breaker.

IMG_0519These lights will eventually be single head track lighting that angles towards to rafters to light up the ceiling.

IMG_0518The two switches on the right are for the interior track lights and the one on the left is for the outside lights.

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Aside from electrical, I’ve finished the aluminum fascia cover and installed plywood underlayment to prepare for our finished flooring.

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This place feels more like home everyday.

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Porch Loft and Overhangs

Once the mad rush of the timber framing was finished, I still had plently of framework to complete. First, I had to go back and fix the brace that was in the wrong position on the post. I cut off the tenon on the bottom side of the brace and fitted the top joint in. Once it was pegged, I screwed many screws into the bottom of the brace going into the post. Since the joint for the brace won’t be exposed in the end, it won’t show and I consider it plenty strong enough for the application.

Faith came up with the idea to make a large porch off of the front of the cabin that could house a loft above it. This way we could have dual matching lofts which seems to be a bit of a staple in the tiny house movement.

In order to do this, I had to come up with some tricky carpentry and decided to over-engineer the whole thing since I’m not an engineer. A few months ago, I poured large concrete footers, two feet in depth and diameter that the posts for the loft sit on. The posts were attached to the footers with a stainless steel post anchor that bolts into the concrete and screws to the post.

These anchors keep the wood up off of the concrete which dramatically increase the longevity of the pressure treated wood.

Once the posts were set and plumbed, I ran floor joists to the posts coming from the crossbeam, leveling each one as I went. I rabbeted the top of the posts where the floor joists met them on the outside so that the load of the loft is more directly transferred to the post instead of the screws set in the post.

Once the two oustide floor joists were set, I screwed 4×4 braces to help stabilize the posts while setting the rest of the floor joists. In the end, I used a total of six braces; four for the front and two for the sides.

After the floor joists were set and the braces were in, I layed 3/4″ tongue and groove OSB flooring in the loft. Building a tiny house is really great when you only have to buy five sheets of subfloor. The total footprint of this loft is identical to the opposite loft, 8′ x 16′.

Following the subfloor, I started framing the 2×4 knee wall that supports the rest of the rafters. This was just conventional framing, but I made sure that I overlapped my top plates to brace the outside corners of the knee wall effectively. When using 2×4 truss systems, that isn’t too much of a concern, but it is when you have 4×6 rafters of red and white oak. (For the record, white oak is crazy ridiculously heavy.)

The knee wall on the gable face needed a double stud design at certain points to carry the load of the window that will be in the loft.

After the knee walls were completed, I had eight more rafters to place. Having Wednesday off and it being a gorgeous day, I decided I would try the first couple sets myself. Yes, I am aware that was stupid, but I pulled it off without any injuries. I carried the rafters individually up to the loft and pegged the joints on the knee wall. Once pegged, I tipped them into position by hand, leveled them, and screwed them into the knee wall. This was tough, but doable.

The last two sets hung out too far off the loft and I needed Pa’s help. He pulled the tractor down and put a pallet on the end of the forks. I stood on the pallet and pegged the joints, and then he pulled a block and tackle to tip the rafters into position. If you had seen the sight, you probably would have started video recording waiting for my impending doom, but luckily, it didn’t happen.

I didn’t get pictures of this process because I was using as many hands as I had available.

After the rafters were set, I created 12 inch overhangs for the gable ends by ripping down some 2×4’s. My father in law showed up at just the right time and we were able to get the front gable done by the end of the day Wednesday. I believe it’s fair to say that Wednesday was one of my most successful days of this build.

Next up, building up the roof, starting with tongue and groove planking. Looking forward to seeing some enclosure on our tiny abode.

The Barn Raising

It feels so surreal to have this behind me now. Saturday was one of the most stressful, yet fulfilling days of my life. I was able to see months of timber work turn into a day of community and craftsmanship. Overall, it went very well. There were a few snags here and there but they were easily corrected.

To start with, at the beginning of the day, the crane had difficulty starting and needed to be jumped. Once it was jumped, the throttle cable wouldn’t work either. With the help of some mechanical minds, a dog chain was hooked to the throttle and was pulled when it was needed to make the hook block move.

So with that issue, we had to assemble a portion of the frame the old fashioned way for a little over an hour while the mechanics worked on the crane. Going into this ordeal, I was actually afraid I was going to have too many hands on deck. However, with the crane out of commission at first, these hands got the work done. We were able to feel Amish for a small stent of our lives.

The very first post and crossbeam that were brought onto the deck had me very distraught. While looking at the post, I noticed that the brace mortise for the crossbeam was facing the wrong direction. This was the very first joint that we attempted to assemble. You can imagine my worry as I thought the entire frame was going to go accordingly. But we decided to press on without the brace on that side and that I would return to it later and mend my mistake. After that hiccup, every other joint was in the right location.

You can see the missing brace on the left of the bent. The first three bents went into place without much problem. The last bent was put in place by the crane since it was working by that time.

After the bents were assembled and temporarily braced, we moved on to the top plates. These two proved to be a little burdensome since there were five joints to engage in one timber. It took some slacklines, a person on each joint, and a lot of patience, but it went together pretty well. The tenon for the middle post had issues when we drove one of the pegs, but the joint is still very strong and more than adequate.

After lunch, we moved on to the rafters. All in all, the rafters look awesome and came together great, but setting the first one safely was a chore. I had neglected how much preparation it would take to brace the first set of rafters effectively before moving on to the next set. If it wasn’t for the crane, that would have been a very dangerous job. Once the first set was secure, the rest went along quite smoothly.

The end product looked amazing. Timbers have such a natural elegance to them. Not as much as trees in their natural habitat, I admit, but enduring the manipulation of man, they still can be creatures of great magnificence.

At the end of our venture, there were many smiles and hugs shared. Pictures were taken and the frame was christened with the branch of a spruce. Although only poplar and oak exist in this frame, not many poplar and oak leaves are available for the showing at the end of February.

Next up, the porch posts, knee wall for the loft, and the rest of the rafters. Weather has been horrid, so I’m really looking forward to Spring.

Some more pics of the day:

References

I’ve had many people ask where I got the plans for our cabin. Truth be told, there weren’t really “plans”. There was a basic layout from a book that I read. This book is, by far, the best reference book for any mode of construction I have ever read. It’s called Timber Frame Construction: All About Post and Beam Building by Jack Sobon and Roger Schroeder.

In the book, it describes the basics of timber loads, joint design and includes the lumber list and details for a 12′ x 16′ garden shed. All I did was turn the garden shed into a tiny cabin. In the book it states that the garden shed can be sized bigger, up to 4′ wider and 8′ longer, so long as you beef up the timbers or add supports on long spans. I used this and turned the cabin from a 12′ x 16′ to a 16′ x 20′. The only place that I will need extra support is in the basement where I will place a couple jacks and a support beam to carry the load. Upstairs, I will be placing a subframe in between my timbers for electrical, plumbing, etc. This subframe will help carry the load of long spans.

Once I had the basic layout of the cabin, I used Google Sketchup and put the plans in 3D. This is where I really gained a full knowledge of the joinery. I was able to get down to the millimeter and make sure that every thing matched up like it was supposed to.

From here, I was able to create a notebook of dimensions that I keep with me on the job site. The dimensions make it simple and the pictures take away the guess work. It’s much better than looking at a cut list and hoping everything is cut on the right side of the timber.

Although it may look confusing to you, since I created it on Sketchup, it gives me a great knowledge of what I’m working on.

There are a great number of other books that you can read on timber framing that will increase your understanding of the art and I own a couple of them. However, I really feel that you could stick to this one book and build just about anything. For the fancier timber frame home, I recommend the book A Timber Framer’s Workshop: Joinery, Design & Construction of Traditional Timber Frames by Steve Chappell. This is the nerdy timber frame book that contains lots of load span charts, sheer stress formulas and all that good stuff. It gives good knowledge concerning fancier joints like hammer beam trusses and wedged dovetail joints. I plan to reference this more often once I finish building our home. That way I can maybe make a living of this one day… maybe not… or maybe.

For foundation, plumbing, windows, roofing, siding, and all other sorts of magic stuff, I reference YouTube an awful lot. Now I realize that this is like saying your reference for your college essay is Wikipedia, but YouTube can be an amazing resource. You just have to know where to look. I always take the same approach: find a video with lots of views and one that has a lot of thumbs up and hardly any thumbs down. Usually, it never steers me wrong.

Although, the greatest resource is usually people you know that do the thing you’re wanting to do. With a timber frame home, there’s not many people that do that or will ever do that, but when it comes to general construction knowledge, you usually know a guy… or gal. Don’t be afraid to ask. Building a house is really just a lot of fun and shouldn’t be limited to the people that know how to do it. Learn by asking and share the love for future generations.

Drains And Staking

Today wasn’t full of much action. The day started off rainy and it being a holiday made the weekend activity go by fairly slowly. I did have opportunity to install some of the drain connections to prepare for the pipe runs. For the pipe that was buried at the beginning of the dig that runs off the hill, we plan to tie in the basement drain, french drains and downspouts.

     The lowest drain of the three is the basement drain. It will be flush with the concrete floor in the basement. In order for this to happen, I need to come straight up through the gravel base and the 4″ concrete pad. When first purchasing a floor drain, I grabbed a hefty one that was meant to connect to scheduled 40 pipe (its all they had for large floor drains) and bought the reducer from sch. 40 to 35 in order to connect to the existing pipe. This posed a problem in the end, though. With all of the fittings, I was 4 inches higher than I needed to be. So I made a return trip to Ace and purchased a small 4″ drain that fits into the inside of sch. 35 pipe with a super tight fit. (It worked out well because the second drain was about 12 bucks cheaper.)

     The only downside I believe it will pose is that it will be very difficult to remove the grate to clean out the pipe. But it could be done. Make sure that all of your drains are sloped to encourage water to leave your home instead of entering it.

The second drain to tie in will be the french drains. Seeing as these will be on top of the gravel base that sits 8 inches thick, I created a Y to tie into the french drains once they were in place. I left it oversize so it could be cut to length and fit at the appropriate time. I also placed a pipe coming straight up out of a T in order to connect the downspouts later on. I made sure the pipe went high enough to clear the ground even after the surrounding landscaping was done. This way it wouldn’t take much at all to dig a bit and make a clean connection.

     The rest of the day was spent staking out the house. I didn’t have fancy equipment, so I resorted to Pythagorean’s theorem. To keep from boring you with math, if you’re trying to find square while staking out any site, measure 6 ft along one section of the string and place a temporary stake. Then measure 8 ft along the other string and place another temporary stake. Measure the distance between the two temporary stakes and the distance should be 10 ft. If it’s not, adjust one side until it is. Then you have a square corner.

     Once all stakes were placed, we called it a day. Next step will be a crusher run gravel base. There’s been some major changes in the design and foundation construction which I’ll explain in the next blog.

The Tiny Cabin

So here goes nothing. My wife and I are going to build a tiny home. It’s been in the planning for a few months but we were hesitant to spread the word until we were for sure it was going to happen. We have the deed to a small piece of property on Bunner’s Ridge in West Virginia that amounts to about 1/3 of an acre. It is a wooded lot directly across from my wife’s grandparents’ house. It’s just gorgeous, too.

   When I say tiny, I mean tiny. So tiny, it makes us a tad uncomfortable. The plan is for this tiny home to be temporary until we had the funds to build something bigger for our future children. In the end, we hope for the tiny home to be a guest home.

It will be 12′ x 16′, approximately the size of our living room. There will be a loft for sleeping, and half of the ceiling open vaulted. A tiny kitchen and a tiny bathroom will accommodate this home. The only thing we won’t have room for is laundry appliances.

The home will be a timber frame (as of right now). I could very easily botch the joinery and make a large pile of firewood for myself, but that is a risk I’m willing to take. The posts and beams will be of 8″ x 8″ poplar aside from the floor sills and joists which will be of oak.

It will sit atop a field stone basement foundation with only an exterior entrance that is designed to make it a root cellar. Here is a proposed sketch of the cabin:

   Though it is very very tiny, I will be able to fit my 6’2″ self in the center of the loft standing up due to the pitch of the roof… My wife and I realize that there are going to be many challenges to this project with most of them beginning once we move in. We currently live in a 722 sq. foot home with a full basement that is partially finished. This would most definitely make us prioritize. As much as I hate storage units, I believe we might have to utilize one until we were to build the bigger home.

For now, we’re looking forward to this tiny adventure… We think. I plan to make updates as we go along. Currently, we’re spending a lot of time gathering stone, cleaning up the property and staking out the excavation site. Stay tuned for progress.