You're Going To Build A What?

The saga of J building his tiny off-grid house

Archive for the ‘Construction’ Category

One step forwards, two steps back.

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My tiny house is officially on hold for a while. While looking for brake shoes to replace the broken ones this morning I found that they’re an old, out of date design, and will cost £50 per wheel to replace. Worse than that though, the guy at the trailer place finally managed to uncover some information about the suspension hubs that are on my trailer and the news isn’t good.

When I bought the trailer I was told it was rated to 2700Kg which is quite a long way from the truth. The absolute max these hubs can take is apparently 2000kg, and they may not even be rated that highly. The hitch is rated to 1700 and the manufacturer won’t sell me an upgrade unit without having proof that the hubs can match it.

Replacing the hubs and suspension unit would cost in excess of £700, plus another £250 for the hitch. This is in addition to any welding work still to be done on the trailer. I’m looking at £1000 just to get the running gear sorted and the trailer still wouldn’t be ‘as good as new’.

I’m currently evaluating my options but I’m seriously considering what I should probably have done in the first place, which is increase the budget and instead of finding a trailer designed for another purpose and modify it to my needs, just have a trailer custom made to be exactly what I want. To this end I’ve sent out enquiries to some trailer manufacturers today to have one built to my design, with a full 3500kg load rating, an 18′ length (2′ longer than the current one), all new wheels/suspension/brakes/tires etc, a brand new chassis with the load bay built to take a flat floor and extended around the wheel area for the house which I can then get on with building straight away.

I’ve had one reply already with a price of £2500 + tax (15%) and I’m waiting to see if the others are significantly higher or lower. It would take 5-6 weeks to be built which would put me well into November before I could do any work on it, so I also have to decide whether to get started straight away or try and get whatever work I can find over the winter and start again in the spring.

As you can imagine, I’m incredibly fed up and somewhat despondent right now, but I’m trying to see this as a good thing in that I may end up having a really good foundation to build on and one that I know will last me many, many years to come, even if it does put me an entire year behind my original schedule and add 50% onto my budget. I’ll let you know my thoughts over the next few days, but I think this is probably the best way forward right now.

Peace, out.

Written by justin

September 15th, 2009 at 6:05 pm

Braking news…

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John came down for a couple of days and we worked on the trailer brakes. Pulled the hubs off and cleaned everything out as they were in quite a state, gunged up with dirt and grime to an almost unrecognisable degree. A can of suitable solvent and a roll of rags later and they looked much more reasonable. Almost no wear on the bearings so back in they went along with a large amount of high temperature grease.

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In the process I discovered that one of the hubs didn’t even have brake shoes in it which, after some of the other things I’ve found as I’ve worked through the trailer renovation, doesn’t come as much of a surprise, and another set of shoes came apart in my hands as I removed them. I’m off to the trailer spares place tomorrow to get some new sets.

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The other puzzle to the brakes is that the actuating rods seem to have been connected backwards, as I can’t find any way that they could work in the correct manner in their current state. I’m hoping to have a look at a trailer or two at the spares place and see if I can figure out the correct way to put it all together.

I also took the other 6 batteries over to where they’re currently living and swapped them onto the panel. The first 6 seem to have charged up to where I expect them to be after the past couple of week’s sunshine which bodes well. Another couple of week on the panel for the new set should put them in good shape too and then they can all be tied in together and left to stay topped up until such time as I can put them in place. Which reminds me, I should think about designing a folding stand for the panels to ensure they stay securely positioned.

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I’m thinking I may just rent a welder for a couple of days and do the trailer welding myself after my holiday. Nick taught me the basics and I reckon that if I work on the side supports first, of which there are 14, then I should know whether I can safely tackle the main structural members after that. Otherwise it’s going to be winter before I’m getting anywhere and the delays are just driving me nuts. Besides, it gives me a chance to play with things that make fire and sparks and, after all, what could possibly go……… oh!

Peace, out.

Written by justin

September 14th, 2009 at 2:46 pm

4 Walls.

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Lovely day to be outside today, sunny, warm and my office is quite a special place to work, I’m very lucky.

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Framed up the fourth wall today, which was very satisfying. Managed to put all of them up and temporarily screw them together. Like yesterday I spent some time just walking around in the space, getting a feel for it, imagine the things that will fill it and looking around to see if there’s anything that needs changing.

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I marked out the bathroom wall roughly, penciled in where the shower and toilet will go and realised that the bathroom window would be better positioned if I moved it 3 inches towards the back wall. That’s the nice thing about this sort of framing, it makes for easy changes. Took about 10 minutes once the walls were back down to actually shift the framing. The window in question is the left frame space in the photo below.

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You can see the floor layout below, the wall between the bathroom and kitchen is marked by the 2×4 on the floor, the shower tray will go in the corner. To the right the 2×4 on the floor marks where the kitchen counter with the sink will be.

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At the other end is the living room with the two big windows. I was surprised just how big they looked like this, but then remembered that the frame and dividers will take up a chunk of that space but, even so, that corner is going to let a lot of light in given that one window will face south and the other west. I keep imagining the evening light streaming through them and giving the place a real sunset warmth.

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I’m thinking of making a stable type door with a window in the top. I think it would be lovely to be able to just have the top part open to let in the breeze. I’ve been keeping an eye out for doors on ebay and have seen some nice ones but I’d have to cut them down to fit. The height between the top and bottom pieces of the frame is 6 feet and there’ll be a frame to go in too, so the door will only be about 5’11″ high, although there’s room for a 30-32″ wide door so perhaps I’ll buy one and cut it down. You’ll have to duck slightly going in but once inside the headroom should be about 6’2″. Given that I’m 5’11″, that’s fine for me, plus the living room will have a cathedral roof about 11′ high.

Had to take the walls down once I’d finished walking around and dreaming and until the trailer’s finished that’s the end of the woodworking. I stacked the frames on the trailer and tucked them up as there’s rain forecast. It’s been a very satisfying day and I have a real feel for how my tiny house is going to end up.

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Before leaving, I took advantage of one of the nice things about my office and picked a box full of fresh blackberries from the field next door to add to my breakfast muesli.

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Peace, out.

Written by justin

August 25th, 2009 at 6:02 pm

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Another wall is finished.

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I’m really enjoying the framing, it’s best done alone where I can take my time and think it through, there’s a real sense of accomplishment seeing a wall going together and, if you do make a mistake, it’s generally not difficult to undo it and fix it.

Today was the turn of the North wall, this will only have one small window in, for the bathroom, so its a fairly simple and straightforward build. Once it was all put together, I couldn’t resist standing it up to have a look at it. Fortunately the wind was light and it just stood there, being all wall-like.

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Of course, once that one was up, I couldn’t resist putting the other two in place as well, and then walking around within the space it enclosed. Tomorrow if the weather stays good, the final wall will be done and I’ll really be able to feel the space properly.

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It looks like I’ve found someone to fix the welder for me, they’re going to look at it tomorrow and give me the verdict, so hopefully the trailer won’t be holding me back much longer. I’m picking up the last pieces of steel on Wednesday so fingers crossed the welding will be complete shortly.

Peace, out.

Written by justin

August 24th, 2009 at 5:17 pm

Floors and walls, oh my!

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Another productive afternoon at the tiny house. I started out by building the two end walls, taking pains to make sure they’re as square as I can make them, the diagonals are within 1/4 of an inch, which I think should be ok. I expect it to be tougher to get the longer walls as accurate, but we’ll see.

This will be the west wall, showing the door and where one of the large windows will be. My desk/workbench will be at that window.

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On the right is what will be the east wall, no windows in this one.

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Once I had them done I starting thinking about how I was going to build the longer walls and realised that a solid flat surface would be pretty much essential, so I screwed the 3 floor frames together and then cut the osb sheet to fit around the wheel wells. I discovered it was actually faster to trim them by hand with a decent hand saw than to go down to where I store my tools and bring the circular saw up, plus it added a bit more exercise to the afternoon. I then screwed the floor panels down with a few screws to hold them in place.

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For the first time I could really get a feel for the size of my tiny house and spent a while just slowly walking around the space, seeing in my mind’s eye where the different rooms would be, turning from one surface to the next and seeing how it fitted around my body. I may take a big magic marker over one day and sketch in the outlines of the walls and fixed units. Then I just sat looking out of where my windows will be and imagined the views.

At this rate all the walls will be done in another couple of days work. However, I can’t do anything about putting them in place because the trailer’s not fixed. Having the floor in place made me realise just how fast this will come together once I get the welding finally done. I’ll be picking up the aluminium sheet for the underside of the floor early next week, I have the insulation stored on site, I have the walls and sheathing sitting there. If I could only get the trailer sorted I could be putting the roof on by the end of next week. I need to either find someone local to look at the welder or just rent one for a day, or perhaps pay a welder to bring one and get the damn thing finished. Mind you, I also need to get the brakes sorted before I bolt the floor on.

This is really starting to move now, and it’s exciting. I know there’s a long way to go, but just having the walls and roof up will be such a big step. I couldn’t resist taking a photo of myself standing in my tiny house.

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Peace, out.

Written by justin

August 20th, 2009 at 5:55 pm

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At last the framing starts.

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Had a busy day today and finally got started on the framing. Went over to the tiny house and started off by building a couple of sawhorses so I could put the chop saw at a comfortable height. For now I’m using a piece of old plywood that came off the trailer when I first bought it, but when there’s a suitable offcut of osb and 2×4 I’ll probably switch to that as it’ll be more solid and flat. In the meantime, I have a bench to work at that doesn’t make me bend down and knacker my back.

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I’ve built the floor frame in 3 pieces so that it’s easier to manhandle, and  because I have to keep taking it off as the trailer isn’t finished yet, there’s still some welding to do. When I’m working on my own I simply can’t lift the entire floor up and over the suspension posts so this is the best way for now. I’ve finally found somewhere selling 4×8 sheets of 1mm aluminium which I’ll put on the underside of the floor. I can’t find anywhere locally that sells the wide aluminium flashing that seems to be popular in the US, so this is the best option to prevent road grime and rodents from getting into the framing. I’ll probably shoot some underseal over the aluminium to add an extra layer of protection.

Once the welding’s finished I’ll be able to bolt the frame to the trailer and start insulating and putting down flooring, then screw the walls in place. Those will be the project over the next week or two, starting with the easy wall that has no windows and working my way up in level of framing difficulty. I do have a new best friend in the framing business though…

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This is a battery powered impact driver and a box of square drive, self-drilling screws. I am more enamoured of these things than any man should probably be of something inanimate. If you’re ever going to do framing, buy these. No, seriously, trust me on this. The screws self drill due to a cutting tip which means you don’t have to pre-drill any of the timber. The impact driver is so much better than a regular cordless screwdriver that you have to experience it to believe it. Instead of having to use lots of force and eventually the driver gives up, this thing is almost effortless and just keeps driving away repeatedly. You don’t even have to hold it tight, just place in position and hit the go button. I’ve never used one of these before but it was recommended to me and I can only say ‘why the hell didn’t I get one years ago?’

Right, so without further ado, the floor framing, in all it’s glory.

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Peace, out.

Written by justin

August 18th, 2009 at 5:25 pm

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Got Wood?

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I have!

24 sheets 4′x8′ osb2

80 3m CLS 2×4

57m (total) of tanalised 2×4

plus screws and glue.

Took the afternoon to carry it all from where the truck delivered it to where it’ll live for the next few weeks, but it’s tucked up out of the weather until I need it. Should be starting later this week. *bounce bounce* excited.

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Written by justin

August 11th, 2009 at 4:01 pm

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Biggest spend so far.

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I’ve just been down to the builder’s merchants and spent more money than in any one go so far £700. Tomorrow the lumber arrives: 24 sheets of OSB, a whole raft of 2×4′s along with boxes of nails, glue etc. Later this week I’ll start on the framing. I’m going to stop thinking about the welder and trailer for a few days and concentrate on something more constructive. I think this is going to start getting fun.

Oh, and I also had a piece published in the latest issue of the Small Living Journal. I enjoyed writing it and I’m hoping to continue submitting articles when I can think of something to say that matches their themes.

Peace, out.

Written by justin

August 10th, 2009 at 5:05 pm

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Two steps forward, one step back!

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Unexpectedly on Saturday morning I had a phone call from my little brother Nic to say he was free on Sunday and how about he came down to do the welding. Jumping at the chance to get the trailer finally finished I gave an enthusiastic ‘hell yes!’ and ran off to find a hire shop that had a suitable generator I could get on short notice. Fortunately it turns out there’s a very helpful rental place in Harrow who had a 5Kva unit available for the princely sum of £25 that I could collect before 5 and return Monday morning. Things were looking up.

Sunday morning came and I texted Nic to see how he was doing on the drive down from Sheffield. Time went by and eventually I rang at lunchtime to find a rather bleary Nic en-route but running a little late. Something to do with falling asleep at the kitchen table while drinking his morning tea, where he was found by a housemate some hours later still manfully holding his tea, dead to the world. Ah the joys of youthful carousing on a Saturday night :) .

Once he arrived we headed over to the house and set to work. First up was cutting out all the bits we no longer wanted, which is where two angle grinders come in very handy. Here you can see Nic working on the old, rusty and bent front section, along with the generator and the big welder.

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And a closer view of the front bar, you can just see the cuts through it and Nic finishing off the final cut with a hacksaw, as we couldn’t quite get the grinder into the gap.

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Now you can see just which bits were taken out, quite a lot removed.

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With that clear it was time to start welding the new pieces in.

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Shortly after that though, the welder started playing up. Not sure what’s wrong with it, just doesn’t seem to be creating the arc properly, it feeds wire, starts to spark and then just fades out. After poking and fiddling with it for a while we realised it wasn’t going to magically fix itself, despite the percussive maintenance we tried (i.e. hitting it) so we packed up for the day and went home.

The main front bar is on but not the extra pieces of the drawbar and supports.  Yesterday Pinky came over again and we finished grinding down the old support sections and tidying them up, plus painting all but the bits that don’t require welding, the silver sections are covered in weld-through primer to stop them going rusty where they’ve been ground down. I sat and drew up a slightly different front end configuration that will fit better and be stronger, though I need to pick up a couple more pieces of steel for it.

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So, progress, but I have to admit I’ve become quite fed up with the trailer now. I wish I’d spent the extra on a better second-hand unit in the first place. It’ll end up costing me the same, just taken months longer getting it all ready. Now, admittedly I’ll have learned a bunch of new things, but it’s putting a strain on the budget and the time. I want to have the roof and walls up by the end of September if there’s to be any hope of moving in before the winter arrives, which is my big hope. Next week I’ll be starting on the floor and wall framing, using the trailer as a construction base and then putting the panels aside until the welding’s finished. In the meantime I need to find someone who can service the welder without it costing me more than the thing’s worth.

Ho hum.

Peace, out.

Written by justin

August 4th, 2009 at 9:10 am

Things are hotting up!

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A little more progress on the house this week, finally finished stripping all the old rust and paint off with the help of my friend Pinky who comes and helps when she has some spare time.

Now my angle grinder’s quite old, it belonged to my grandfather but, being a Makita, it just keeps going. However, it doesn’t have a safety guard and it’s smaller than the current ‘standard’. The wire brush I had bought didn’t fit. I have the use of my friend Benjy’s grinder but the switch doesn’t stay on, which leads to a very sore thumb after a while trying to hold it, particularly when doing a job as big as the trailer.

I looked around for a new wheel for my grinder but couldn’t find anyone doing them in the smaller size at anything like a reasonable price. Then a helpful coincidence arose, each week I get the special offer emails from Aldi and Lidl, two discount supermarkets here in the UK, and last week Aldi had a heavy duty angle grinder for £15, less than the cost of a new wheel for the other grinder. Couldn’t resist that and so I have a new best friend for trailer prep.

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However, you do have to watch cheap things sometimes. The grinder, which appears solid and powerful also came with a couple of diamond cutting disks which I thought would be just the thing for removing the old mudguard supports which I won’t be using. It didn’t take long before I discovered that while the grinder might be a great piece of kit, the disks were actually anything but!

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The regular cutting disks made short work of the mounts and I have learned to be careful of diamond disks, at least cheap ones. So, there followed some grinding and the rapid removal of much old paint and rust. However, it also wore out the wire wheel quite rapidly given that I could easily spend an hour or more solidly working away quite happily. In short order I needed another wheel. You can see the old and the new wheels below. I try and get the most out of any consumable and this was no different.

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It wasn’t a fun job, being damned awkward in places lying underneath the frame with a wire wheel going hell for leather a few inches from your face while you get at all the really innaccessible bits of the chassis, but at least it’s been done properly and, apart from the bits that need welding, I know it’s finished and should last a good long while now. It’s all been primed and half’s been topcoated. I just need to put the finish top coat on the final half, but rain prevented that on Wednesday. I did score another good deal though on the top coat paint. I had planned to use hammerite, but that’s £20 a litre and I reckoned I’d need two liters to do all of it. Then the Lidl email letter came in with an offer on a different brand of anti-rust metal paint, so straight down I went and secured 3 liters for the princely sum of £12. Bargain.

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In the meantime I’ve decided that I reckon I can do without a gas water heater and go with the solar panel instead, so I’ve been on a steep learning curve to understand how solar hot water systems are designed and installed. I reckon I can do that, what could possibly go wrong? :D

Peace, out.

Written by justin

July 31st, 2009 at 4:12 pm

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