You're Going To Build A What?

The saga of J building his tiny off-grid house

Archive for the ‘planning/design’ Category

One step forwards, two steps back.

with 13 comments

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 While looking for brake shoes to replace the broken ones this morning I found that they’re an old, out of date design, and will cost £50 per wheel to replace.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

Powering up.

with one comment

The bad news is that my welder is definitely knackered, so I’m looking at alternatives to get the trailer fixed and finished, probably I’ll just either hire a welder if my brother can make it down soon or I’ll just find a friendly welder to come over and do the welding for me.

In the meantime, I finally got half the power system up and running. The batteries have been in storage for a while, which isn’t the best thing for them, so the first 6 are now wired up and connected to one of the panels. It’s only temporary, which is why the cabling looks shoddy, but at least they’re under charge and being taken care of properly. In a week or so I’ll have the other 6 in place too. I can then monitor them to see what condition they are in as I have a couple of spares if any of them have been damaged by their storage time. All the cells were reading between 1.98 and 2.02v, which isn’t too bad, but we’ll leave them on charge for a week and then remeasure them when I take the next lot up.

IMG_0058

IMG_0060

IMG_0061

One of my next jobs will be to design and build a decent support frame for both panels. They’re going to stay on a ground based frame so they can be moved when needed. If they were mounted on the roof and I had to park the house anywhere that I can’t get the best angle I’d lose a lot of power generating ability. The solar hot water panel will be on the roof as this is less susceptible to angle changes.

I’ve also managed to pick up a few days work this week and next, so that will pay for a short holiday I’m taking later this month and put a bit of money back in the coffers for continuing the build. However, it also means I won’t be doing much on the house for the next week or so.

Swings and roundabouts.

Written by justin

September 1st, 2009 at 11:34 am

Sometimes the old fashioned ways are easiest.

without comments

You’d think I’d be using a computer for this, being a bit of a geek, but for planning layouts I’m old fashioned and still prefer to use graph paper and a pencil. I haven’t found a program that’s as easy to use as paper and pen for drawing up and playing with framing/floorplans, so today my desk was covered in sheets of paper while I figured out the best way to frame up the house.

12072009079

I need to get the framing plan done so that I can work out how much lumber I need to actually order. Normally I just sit and figure it out as I go along but that won’t really work here, plus I’ll save money and hassle by getting it all in one go and having it delivered. So, I have the plan pretty much finished, I just need to futz with the roof framing a little and I’ll be ready to order.

This lot should be everything I need to get the walls and roof done, so it’ll make a big change to what’s been happening so far.

Cheers, J.

Written by justin

July 14th, 2009 at 7:12 pm

Posted in planning/design

Tagged with

Guerrilla eco-builder told to demolish his house!

without comments

Jim Wallis built a small low-cost eco home for himself which he’s lived in for 8 years, he did it because he couldn’t afford a house any other way. This is very much what I’m doing right now. 3 years ago his local council found out about it and have ordered him to have it demolished because he doesn’t have planning permission for it.

Here is a short interview and report from the BBC.

If he’d applied for planning permission he’d have been denied. I’ve been saying for a while that this is the only way some of us will ever own a house of our own, and the reason that I’m choosing eventually to leave Britain for somewhere that will allow me to build in a way and at a cost that I can afford.

I would love to find out where he is and go visit him, see if there’s any way the tiny house community might be able to offer some support.

J.

Written by justin

June 26th, 2009 at 5:53 pm

Posted in planning/design

Tagged with

Quick update.

with 3 comments

Not much happening of late, work’s busy as is the rest of life. Weekends are solidly booked over the next month or two with little work being done on the project. However, the wombling has offered up a couple of new items. One is some cork floor tiles which should be enough to do the kitchen and bathroom area and give a warm feel underfoot, plus some old floorboards which I’ll plane down and might be enough to do the living area. I also have a pack of wooden parquet floor tiles which should be enough to go under the area where the woodburner will be and make clean up a bit easier. That should be all the flooring apart from the loft.

I also should be picking up a solar hot water panel I’ve been offered by a member of an alternative energy forum I’m on. I’m not going to plumb this in directly to the house, as that would need a pump and storage cylinder and would have to go on the roof making plumbing more complex. Instead I’m going to connect a water tank to the top of the panel and run it as a thermosyphon system on a frame outside. I can then just run a couple of pipes to valves in the side of the house which connect it to the water system. The plan is that when it’s warm enough I just turn the valves and the water enters the system before the gas water heater, preheating it and reducing gas usage. In the summer I may not need to use the gas at all. When it’s cold and not getting much sun I can just close the valves and isolate it. We’ll see how that works when I have it and can test it.

Hoping to get over and do some work on the trailer on Monday. Have decided not to go away as planned in July and take the week to work solidly on the house. If I can get the trailer sorted before then I might be able to get the walls and even the roof framing done with a little help and some good weather. Can’t wait to start on that, it’s when it really begins to look like a house.

Cheers,

J.

Written by justin

May 29th, 2009 at 2:41 pm

Two steps forward, one step back.

with 6 comments

It’s been a very busy couple of weeks here, but there’s less progress than I’d hoped there would be. Let’s start with the good news, my Ebay-fu is still rocking. The recent purchases are as follows:

Shower door: £10.50

I nipped up to oxford to collect this last week, only took 45 mins to get there and also allowed me to drop in on some friends who lived nearby for a quick cuppa and a chance to catch up. The door just needs a clean and the frame just needs the silicon sealant removing and it’ll be perfect.

Chimney Flue: £228

Now this comprises of 6 sections of double-walled, insulated, stainless-steel flue, plus the cap and a couple of 45degree bends. Each section is about a meter long and in the shops would cost around £100 each, so that’s £700-worth of flue. Found a courier company to pick them up from Kendal and bring them down to London for £30. Bargain. Just need a bit of a polish and they’ll be as good as new.

chimney-pipes

Kitchen Sink: £26

Another Ebay bargain, this is a Kohler sink, brand new, still in it’s box and which retails for £285. I was actually bidding on another, identical looking, sink but which in actual fact was smaller. That went beyond my set budget (£30) so I started bidding on, and ultimately won, this one. It wasn’t till I picked it up that I realised it was a chunk bigger, as the seller had used the same photo for both and just changed the size in the description. Still, although it’s a bit bigger than planned, it’s a really solid sink for an absolute steal and, in emergencies, I can use it as a bath.

kitchen-sink

Construction was planned for a bit of a boost this week as I took delivery of a mig welder to repair the trailer. Once again bought from Ebay for the bargain price of £136. It’s a bit rough around the edges and, when we plugged it in, it decided not to feed wire out. Opening it up and blasting away years of dust and assorted crud with the air blaster and winding off the first couple of layers of rusty wire soon had it running smoothly.

welder1

welder2

We spent a morning chasing around to find some gas for it, turns out you need an account with BOC to buy gas, as you have to rent the bottles from them and that’s about £60/year plus the cost of the gas. Found a place that does it’s own bottles and for £103 picked up a big bottle of Argoshield gas, got three years rental on the bottle included and can swap out for gas at £20 a fill for the next 3 years any time I want. Nice.

It’s a big beast of a welder and you can’t run it at full power off a 13A plug but it seemed to be fine at lower power so my brother Nicky sat me down and taught me the basics of welding. I had some offcuts of steel from the trailer sides that we’d removed so we cleaned a couple of those up and got stuck in. It’s fun, I’m going ot enjoy doing more of that and you can see my efforts below. Need some more practice, but I think they’ll hold things together.

first_welds

The next morning we were up bright and early to go and collect the steel pieces we’d ordered and then set up to cut out the bad sections and weld in the new. That’s when we discovered that the power was out to the garage where I’m running my extension from. There was no-one home to ask if we could check the breakers so that was that for the day. Nick had to leave at lunchtime so we decided to leave everything as it was. I’ve got plenty to be getting along with in the meantime such as practicing my welding, fixing some other bits of the trailer etc.I’m considering picking up a small generator off ebay (wherelse) so that I can guarantee having power in future.

We did measure everything out properly so that now I know exactly how big the house is going to be, where I’m running the framing out to and how wide I’m going to extend the house out to (just a little bit less than the wheel widths. I can now sit down and properly plan the framing. I may even start building some of the framing as individual panels, getting them nice and square and cladding them in OSB, this means I can effectively pre-fab them, store them and then put them up once the trailer’s done, it also means they’ll be straight, true and, hopefully, will go together quickly and without gaps.

Meanwhile, Nick has managed to sort a new job out this week and will be moving to Sheffield in a couple of week’s time. This means that instead of being in Ireland, he’s a couple of hours up the motorway and can come back down soon to oversee the cutting out of the trailer parts and do the main structural welding for me, something that makes me a lot happier about the longevity of my tiny house being towed around the place.

In hindsight, I should have bought a better, more expensive trailer. This has set back the building several weeks and added to the cost, something I could well do without. That said, I’m learning new skills and collecting new tools. I may sell the welder when it’s all finished to recoup some cost, or I may keep it and add it to my workshop. I said originally that this wasn’t about the end product, it wasn’t about building with the absolute minimum cost, it was much more about the ethos of building small, about learning new skills and the journey of actually building my own house. Some of these things are priceless, such as sitting with my brother and learning a new skill from him. I wouldn’t change a thing about what I’ve done so far.

Peace, out.

Written by justin

May 16th, 2009 at 1:33 pm

That’s the hot water sorted then.

with 2 comments

I’ve been thinking about the best way to heat water for the tiny house this week, and have finally decided to go with gas. I had considered solar, which is in keeping with the green theme and off-grid nature of the house, but it would involve a lot of extra equipment and expense. To start with I’d need a water tank to store hot water in, and that takes up a fair amount of space, the panel would be large and, unless I built my own, quite expensive. I did think of building my own, that was my original way into green technology when I was about 14 and built solar water heaters that could provide hot water for washing up etc. But in such a small house it’s not really practical.

I then looked at a back boiler for the little woodburner I’ll be fitting for winter heating but again you need storage and additional plumbing. So I’m going to go with an instant gas water heater, which will be simple to install, cheap and efficient. Ideally I’d like one of the Bosch ones designed for off grid homes but you can’t buy them in this country and that makes it expensive to install.

Interestingly, there seems to be some confusion amongs manufacturers as to what you would need in a mobile environment and how to provide a suitable device. Ideally, you want a room sealed heater, ie one that takes it’s combustion air from outside and pipes it’s exhaust outside too. In fact, if you’re selling a device for motor homes, caravans etc, this is a requirement. It’s strange then, that the only one of these I can find requires mains electricity to run the igniter, whereas the heaters that aren’t room sealed (ie are for things like static caravans etc) are generally powered by a couple of batteries. Surely it should be the other way round.

In the end, I’ve decided that I’m going to go for a heater that isn’t room sealed, mainly because it will run for such a short time that there’s not going to need to be much air supply drawn from inside the house. It will only be one when I’m running hot water from the kitchen tap for washing up or when I’m in the shower, which won’t be for that long as I’ll be aiming to conserve water as much as I can. The heater I’ve found that looks a good buy is available direct from China on ebay

and details can found here

I’ve been working on designs for two water systems and the rainwater capture which I’ll post next time. Undecided on which one to go for right now, so more pondering to do.

Written by justin

April 27th, 2009 at 5:04 pm

A big day! Moving the trailer to it’s temporary home.

with one comment

Since I bought the trailer a few weeks ago it’s been parked outside where working on it wouldn’t be possible. Not wanting to annoy the neighbours I’ve been sitting and waiting until I could find a place to park it for the duration of the build. Thanks to an incredibly kind couple who have offered me a piece of their land for the duration of the build, I have the most lovely little spot to work.

New home 1

New home 1

New home 2

New home 2

As you’ll see from the photos, it’s set amongst trees, away from the road, secure and sheltered. My first job will be to strip the wood off the trailer and lay it out as a base on the flattest part of the ground and then push the trailer on top of it. Once that’s done I’ll be getting some axle stands and using those to make it nice and level so that I can make easy plumb checks as I start building the walls and pull the wheels off to clean out and rebuild the wheel hubs. Once the wood is off and the trailer set in place I’ll spread a couple of tarps underneath to catch any debris and start cleaning down the metal work, checking for any structural issues etc before painting it with something like hammerite and possibly a coat of underseal.

Once that’s all done I can finally start on the fun stuff such as putting the floor on and getting the walls up. It seems to be slow progress so far, with planning, searching, stockpiling etc, and I’m itching to get to the point where I can start cutting and nailing wood. Still, planning is vital and it’s giving me time to search for particular items, research more on some of the trickier parts of the coming build and get everything ready for when the really fun stuff.

Written by justin

April 6th, 2009 at 4:37 pm

I shall be clean in the tiny house!

without comments

One of the things  that I’ve been trying to figure out is how best to build the bathroom in my tiny house. In the US, it’s common in new houses or renovations to use a shower enclosure that’s made out of a single fiberglass moulding. This makes it seamless and ensures there is no gap for water to leak through. Unfortunately these aren’t common in the UK and, when you can find them, they’re several hundred pounds, which is outside my budget. So, I figured I’d put in a shower tray and find a way to waterproof the walls.

I had considered just using plywood and coating it in marine epoxy. Not the prettiest answer but wouldn’t be too expensive, and would be reasonably easy to do. I don’t want to use tile because it’s too heavy and I need to keep the weight down to the trailer limit. I’m also not looking for one of the heavy ‘stone’ shower trays which are most  common now. Then I discovered plastic wall panelling: It’s lightweight, warm to the touch so there’s very little condensation and available in nice designs. It’s still quite expensive though, and looking round suggested about £300 to make a 3 sided enclosure.

However, Ebay has, once again, helped me save money. I picked up a brand new shower tray for £12 from someone nearby. It’s white, 76cm on a side and will define the width of the bathroom. I also found some reduced wall board, probably and end of line, but enough to complete the shower, the ceiling above and possibly a splashback in the kitchen. It looks like blue tiles. With the edge seals and fittings it came to just over £100, and now all I need to do is keep my eye out for a suitably sized shower door,  mixer valve and waste trap. I already have a low flow shower head with an on/off button. Now, how shall I heat the water….

Written by justin

April 2nd, 2009 at 1:10 pm

Posted in planning/design

Tagged with ,

A few pictures

without comments

Nice clear glass on the good panel

Nice clear glass on the good panel

You can just see the crazing on this shot of the damaged panel

You can just see the crazing on this shot of the damaged panel

close up of the cracking.

close up of the cracking.

I have two of these smaller windows which will probably go in the kitchen and bathroom

I have two of these smaller windows which will probably go in the kitchen and bathroom

The two larger windows will be for the living area.

The two larger windows will be for the living area.

Power!!

Power!!

batteries2

Written by justin

March 24th, 2009 at 6:10 pm

Posted in planning/design

Tagged with ,