Wednesday, September 04, 2019

2019 Summer Projects

Well, that's it. We are back in MA after a long summer spent primarily in the NEK of VT once again. In many ways it was long, despite a someone historically late start heading back up North due to the prolonged foul spring weather. Still, as always sitting in this seat typing I realize how incredibly quickly the time flew by. The blink of an eye, one moment thinking when will it end and the next recognizing that it and the time that tracked with it has once again escaped.

Fresh grade from the top corner of the drive.
If last summer was built on metamorphic transformations for the camp, and it was, then this year was more about subtle changes and additions as well as the start of a fun project that is new and different. That may not have been the plan going in of course. I'd planned another big project, an addition of the front that would make use of a slightly pared down version of the existing deck. That idea posed many challenges of course and frankly, I was intimidated by it, scared by it. As such I waffled back and forth on just what the scope would be day after day and kept putting off starting it. Starting never happened.

From the mid point down.
Instead, the summer started out with some more landscaping as it often seems to. Landscaping is an easy re-entry as I just have to go out and start cutting. It takes little or no prep or deep forethought. Visceral in ways. This included a bunch of pruning and thinning out of the massively overgrown soft and hardwood we have abounding at our small place. Many, many hours running the chainsaws and hauling slash and brush into large piles. From there I moved onto some driveway work trying to grade it out a little bit better with a small York rake and a bunch of manual labor.

At that point it was time to get started on some real tasks. The first was to plumb in and build an outdoor shower attached off the back side of the main house. I wanted to make it fit in with the structure and look as I'd spent so much time last year trying to get it just right. I wanted an outdoor shower to take some of the burden off from our septic system and to make it easier to deal with the many, many guests we have throughout the course of the summer. I also wanted to make it easy to drain and inexpensive, similar to the one I'd built previously at our old place in Maine.

Shower plumbing.
To start, I plumbed an addition hot water line and frost free outdoor faucet next to the cold water faucet I already had for a garden hose. This was pretty easy as it came directly from the basement behind the wall through the sill. The water source was also already plumbed in Pex tubing, making it easier to deal with. Then I used stainless washing machine hoses to connect from the faucet to a home made copper to Pex to copper male to male nipple adapter to connect to hose to the inexpensive industrial outdoor shower head unit I purchased. This was the same unit I'd purchased in the past. All that I have to do in order to drain the connected unit is shut off the frost free faucets and disconnect the washing machine hoses from them. If I open the valves on the shower head faucet unit then the water gravity drains down onto the ground. Simple, clean and effecting.

The outdoor shower.
For the structure I built the frame from PT 2x4" attached to 4x4" uprights and notched cross arch that I simply sunk in the ground. I thought about putting in cement footings but realistically, that is a bit overkill. Yes, the structure will float but it should be fine. For the sheathing I used pine shiplap with the rough side out and pine trim boards, same as I used on the camp. I then stained it all to match as well and the finish product fits well with the rest of the structure.

In terms of the base I went with 12" square patio pavers contained by a 36x48" PT 4x4" border that I leveled with a slight slope outwards away from the camp. I have crushed rock all along the outside of the foundation down to the frostwall and have have drainage to evacuate any water away from the foundation. I used a bed of tiny pebbles under the pavers to help move the water away as quickly as possible and yet still effectively level and bed the pavers. It has worked very well and has gotten a fair amount of use over the course of the summer. It also quickly drained out when I disconnected it before leaving a few days ago.

Porto enclosure and bunkhouse.
Next up was a simple project that I'd considered. In the past, Cathy and I have had a portable outhouse on site at camp for special occasions or when we have extended guests. This just makes it easier using the bunkhouse or camping on the lawn as folks don't have to come inside. More and once again, it also removes burden from the septic, a common theme of camp life. The down side is that a porto is not the most attractive thing to have in your yard, especially if you have spent lots and lots of time working on the aesthetics of your place, which I have. My idea was to make an enclosure that I could put the porto in that would fit in with the surroundings and hide the big blue plastic beast such that I didn't have to look at it.

Porto enclosure.
For this I went rustic making a 2x6" PT deck with rough cut 1x6" hemlock. On that I framed 2x4" PT walls on three sides and sheathed them vertically with the same 1x6" rough cut hemlock. The nice thing about hemlock is that it is rot resistant and is cheap. When wet, it is also heavy as sin. Fortunately when it dries out it is much easier to manage. Nothing fancy but it hid the blue beast that sat at our place all summer long. I think that next year we may just buy one and pay to have it pumped occasionally, which doesn't need to happen very often for us as it gets very limited usage.

Then I had the idea that I really needed a screen porch on the bunkhouse. I'm not sure why as we don't even stay in it but I couldn't seem to let the idea go. Nothing huge, just a 4' extension off the front which continued the existing roof line. I'd then frame it up with 4x4" PT and use 2x4" PT connectors. First I had to build the deck on which I went minimal structurally since it was so small. For footings I dug post holed until I hit ledge, which was 12" on one end and almost 3' on the other with the middle footing somewhere in between. I then simply ran 4x4" PT up and lagged the deck into it.

Framing porch deck and rafters.
Completed screen porch.

This project took about a week to complete and when it was done and you could sit inside, away from the bugs, proved very rewarding. I need to circle back around next year and put in railings to keep people from going through the screen, which a guest did just as we were getting ready to head home this past Sunday. Luckily I used screws everywhere and was able to get it fixed in short order, otherwise it would have still be bugging me. I can't leave projects like that incomplete.

Fairly large stump.
Next up on the agenda was some excavation and more extensive driveway and parking area work. This required some heavier equipment, namely my brother's tractor and backhoe. The plan was to widen and level the main parking area up top so that we would have room for three vehicles across the front. Also, I planned to add another spot out beside the end of the camp. The latter involved removal of the existing turf and top soil and replacement with gravel. The former required a new front retaining wall, which I toyed with the idea of building a nice, PT 6x6" low height retaining wall for but instead decided to go cheap and use material on hand. That mean big logs, which at 24' long and about 14" in diameter at the stump proved a challenge. Luckily we were able to skid it out of the woods and up the driveway with the winch on my other brother's truck. The tractor wouldn't pull it uphill.

Driveway parking area and extension.
With that I leveled and built a retaining wall for the left and front of the driveway parking area so that I could level it a bit better. This wall was about 8" higher than the old log retaining wall I had, allowing for a much more level area. The main side log was also longer and I dug it in and trigged it against trees on the other side of the drive so it couldn't move out. Over time it will rot and I will have to replace it but it should work fine for quite a few years, given the size. Cheap and effective. To level it out I ordered yet another 20 ton of gravel. The resulting product came out pretty good with much less slope than before and a much smoother and significantly larger area to park in.

While I had the tractor I also built a road and a flat spot up into the back meadow. The idea was to give me a permanent place to put the large tiny house trailer and platform I'd acquired from my brother last year. Over the course of a couple of days I got that flattened and then seeded and mulched it to try and get some grass growing. I then had to try and get the 8x17' dual axle trailer up there. The smart person would have done this before building the outhouse enclosure and the porch on the bunkhouse. Yes, but that isn't how things worked out. Luckily I had 8" to spare between the two and the width of the trailer. Given the angle, the lawn and the 90 degree turn needed to get the trailer into the spot I had little hope for success. A couple of attempts later and some direction from Cathy and the trailer was resting in it's new home. I honestly never though that would work, but it did.

Trailer in place on leveled, seeded and mulched plot.
Now that the trailer was in place and I'd had to strip off the temporary roof I'd put on last year to store it over the winter in order to move the thing, I had to do something. Was I going to just button it back up for storage or pull the trigger and start construction? I really wanted to start on it even though it was now the beginning of August.

With less than one month of the summer left I decided to get rolling on the tiny house build. My plans were vague at best, mostly simple line drawings to try and figure base materials and window sizing based on availability. I kept changing my mind in terms of what I wanted to do for the roof. Ideally I was thinking multiple pitches as it would look better but would also be more work. Same with dormers. Honestly, I didn't need to make that decision yet as the wall framing would be the first step anyhow and I had all the information I needed for that. I'd go a full 8' from the base of the trailer platform to the top of the sill such that an 8' sheet of material would fit. This would give a 7'7". wall height inside before the finish flooring went down.

For tiny houses on trailers that you have any intent of moving on the roadways, the dimensions you need to adhere to in order to avoid an over sized load are 101" wide and roughly 13' high overall. That height depends of course on the particular roadway but 13' is the accepted low norm. I don't necessarily plan to move it on the road but I want to be able to. Who knows, maybe we will buy another chunk of land and plop this on it or maybe I'll decide to sell it. Of course, getting it down from where it now sits will be a challenge and will require me to build a road out of the meadow. I plan to do that next year anyhow.

Lower framing complete.
Framing, for which I chose to use 2x4" pine studs, went quickly, even though I had to tear some of it back out and re-space the studs due to human error. No question that a professional I am not. Learning as I go, mostly the hard way. Luckily I built it all with screws so it was easy to take apart and put back together. Every aspect of tiny house design requires concessions toward size. I even considered using 2x3" studs to gain the extra 2" interior space and save weight, another major concern, but scrapped the idea. Same with the siding, trying to minimize weight and cost. A friend who is a professional reminded me to build square, not plump even though I did my best to level the trailer beforehand, putting it up on jacks. Sound words that reminded me of my days working in a box shop making industrial crates, pallets and skids. You always checked everything for square with diagonal measurement and comparison side to side. This tells if the rectangle you are building is racked or not. I made sure to check as I tied one side to another.

External finish sheathing installed.
As usual, I used a just in time material purchased plan where I was never more than a few days out on material I had on hand. This meant lots of trip to the supply center but allowed flexibility and didn't force me to plan very far in advance. I struggle with large scale projects and estimations when the planning goes too far out. I need to be able to visualize an individual task and plan accordingly. One day at a time, if you will.

Within a week the lower framing was done and the sheathing, which was 4x8' sheets of a 7/16"  exterior grade, molded v-groove wood look pre-primed hard board with overlapping edges. I've used this material before and it works well, is stable and an inexpensive way to combine sheathing and siding in one. I simply screwed in to the framing studs. The sheets were heavy as sin but I managed to get them up in place using either jigs or with the help of Cathy. By the end of the first week I had a completed box with holes frames for four windows and a door, minus the top.

Cripple and gable ends framed.
Now came the time where I had to decide on the roof plan. I went with the easiest way out and did the same pitch roof throughout, a shallow pitch roof that would maximize space. This meant I'd need to also frame a cripple wall on top of the existing wall sides to build the wall up another 16" overall. This would give me a super shallow 12/48 pitch but because I had tin and because the roof was so small, I wasn't really worried. I had the same pitch on a lean to I built off the side of my shed in Maine only it had an 8' run. Never had a problem with that even in crazy abnormal snow years.

I framed the ends with a small window in the center of each and then framed the short cripples. For sheathing on the cripple and gable ends I chose cheap and light 7/16" OSB. Poor mans plywood it was going for $7.85 a sheet this summer in Littleton NH at Home Depot. I planned to side over it anyhow with cedar shakes and would also put a layer of house rap on it as well. Then I built the two piece center beam from two 2x6" sandwiching a piece of 7/16" OSB that I glued and screwed.

Ridge beam and central main carrier detail.
The main cross carrier beam in the center(ish of the trailer because the wheel well occupied the actual center space) was made from two pieces of 2x10" fir that I also sandwiched OSB between, glued and screwed. That was, heavy, even though it was only 8' long and was all that I could do to get up into place atop the cripple wall. To attach the beam to the wall I used angle iron pieces and lag screws on both sides of both ends. I also dropped carrier studs in below the beam to carry the load back down to the deck through the exterior wall. Then I set the main beams one at a time and got them in place. I left an overlapping tongue of OSB on one beam and left the sandwiched OSB short on the other such that i could splice the two together to help keep the beamed lined up and joined in place while I affixed it more securely.

It all went in well and gave me my center point from which to start dropping in the short, roughly 4'  rafters. Part of the reason they are so short if because of the low pitch angle but also because there is almost no overhang and eaves. Though not idea, a mobile tiny house has to conform to the width standards at it's widest point. You either have nice wide water pitching eaves or you have, living space. More concessions.

Rafters in place.
The rafters went up fairly quickly, tying them into the top at the ridge beam and then at the bottom on the cripple wall sill. On the gable ends, to meet the desired length dictated by sheets of 36" coverage tin plus 2" extra coverage for the final sheet which doesn't overlap meant that my wing rafters on each gable end were simply a pair of 2x4" sistered together with no blocking between them and a piece of 1x5" pine for the fascia. Nice and easy. Then came the roof sheathing for which I used OSB once again for it's lightweight and inexpensive nature. Luckily the roof proved pretty darn true and square and the sheets fit and matched pretty well. If you have ever worked with sheathing a roof you know that it is often challenging, especially old stuff that is rarely square and whose rafters are not always on center so they don't match up for spacing. In all honesty I had to sister one rafter to hit on center though I really should have just popped the rafter out and re-positioned it. Cathy helped and we got the whole thing complete in an afternoon except for the final partial piece because a massive rain shower moved in. I had to scramble off the roof in the pouring rain, which I could hear coming through the trees across the valley toward me.

Roof decking installed.
The roof then got a coat of weather shield underlayment on the entire sheathing surface before I put the tin on it. I did this just in case I had water backup under the ridge cap given the shallow angle of pitch for the roof. Once that was done I put the fascia boards and drip edge around the entire perimeter of the tiny house roof edge. Then I ran the tin, which was used and leftover from when I replaced the roof on the main cabin last summer, long such that the ends nearly butted each other. The ridge cap then sealed it all in.

Finished roof using recycled tin.
By the way, the tin I had was in 10' lengths. I needed 52" pieces of tin which meant that I had a hot date with a pair of tin shears. This made for a fun morning and an excellent right hand workout. That said, I've cut many, many sheets of tin by hand. With a good set of shears it is no big deal. I've used a tin nibbler as well which works great but isn't that much faster plus I didn't want to go borrow it from my brother.

Next up was building the framing structure to encase the wheel wells. This was a mass of small blocks of of 2x4" screwed to longer lengths of 2x4" with two sides and two ends. Not complicated but lots and lots of pieces and then exterior grade sheathing covering the inside sealing it up to the elements and the wildlife. The whole unit then got attached to the platform and the walls. Having the wheel wells is not ideal as it eats into the living space. The alternative would be to have the deck platform above the tops of the wheels and tires, which would mean significantly less overall height. Some things you just deal with. Concessions.

As it currently sits with one end completed.
By this point the summer for us in VT was getting a bit long in the tooth and our time was getting thin. We lost a couple of days with a side venture to Quebec to participate in the Master's Mountain Bike World Championships. Once back we almost immediately had company for almost the entire next, and final week of the summer proper. Before the company arrived though I helped my brother put in a new front door at his house. He let me have his old front door which I immediately installed on the tiny house. A quick cleaning and the thing is more than functional plus the price was right and it kept the door out of the landfill. I consider that a win all the way around. I plan to paint it a wildly vibrant color once I get a chance to get back on site to do some more work later this month. I know, I said it was put away for the winter but I really want to keep moving if I can.

The most was made of the situation and we did get some work completed with the help of additional friends. We got two coats of the finish paint color on most of the lower portion of the tiny house. Then we got the windows in, centered and installed with weatherproofing. From there we were able to get the rest of the trim boards, which covered up the seam between the bottom level and the top level around the gable ends and along the cripple wall. Over the top I installed metal flashing and then ice and water shield strips to seal it all up tight, hopefully. Those trim pieces also received two coats of outdoor stain sealer before we installed them.

With a morning left to spare I took the opportunity to finish side one gable end with cedar shakes. If you have ever worked with cedar shakes or shingles you know just how time consuming it is, especially when it is a gable end with angled cuts and a window. It took hours to finish up. I used 16" long mid grade shingle material that I had left over from, something, and gave a 5" reveal. Ideally it should have been 4" but I figure the 5" is going to be fine for this application and will overlap all the gaps without issue. As I'd been hoping, the cedar gave just the look that I was hoping it would, giving a contrast and compliment to both the trim and the bright orange tone of the lower portion of the structure. I was very happy with the end product.

Current state of the project.
I still have so much left to do on the #GravelCampTinyHouseProject but it is happening and it is well on it's way to realization. The first thing that I did when I got back home was to order some windows for it, for the top. Nothing fancy, just 12" square fixed windows that I will put in the top sides. One each side in the back end, which will be where I have a high storage loft area and two each side in the front end, which is where I will have a low hanging loft over the bed, which will be the living area. I want that to be bright and light as I plan to put a low sitting futon up there. At least, that is the plan. Who knows where it will all end up though.

Note; at present the running total cost is just over $1900, which is a bit more than I thought. Given that I have some bigger expenses coming up such as the insulation and interior sheathing, I'll need to monitor the costs closely moving forward.

And that's it. That is what I did on my summer vacation in VT. Making steady progress toward having a usable compound for showing off the best that the area has to offer. Or something.