You're Going To Build A What?

The saga of J building his tiny off-grid house

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.

grinder

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.

wheels

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.

trailer paint

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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Sometimes the old fashioned ways are easiest.

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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.

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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

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Finally some trailer progress.

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Last week my lovely friend Pinky came over to spend the day working on the trailer with me. We both came armed with angle grinders and spent a very happy afternoon cutting bits of unneeded trailer away, grinding sections back to flat and finally using my new best friend the wire brush wheel to strip off all the old paint and rust.

The wire wheel leaves a lovely burnished look to the steel frame which it seems a shame to paint over, but rust doesn’t care for looks and so a thick coat of rust-killing, undercoat was applied generously.

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We found a couple of small areas of rust that will need patching, but they’re minor and a simple plate welded over the area will suffice. Next week will be devoted to getting the rest of the trailer finished to the point where only the main welding is left, for which I have to wait for my brother to get some time off work.

In the mean-time, I’ve been working on the framing plan, which is complete except for the roof. I’ll be heading down to the local Jewson branch this week too, so that I can order and pay for the 2×4′s and osb sheets which they’ll deliver for a very reasonable £15 charge. Then it will be stacking that lot away under a tarp and getting on with building the floor and wall frames. I can do that before the trailer’s welded up, but I just can fix them in place. Still, should mean a load of fun construction that will quickly become house shaped once I’m ready to build.

Here’s hoping the weather stays fine this week.

J.

Written by justin

July 12th, 2009 at 12:23 pm

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Guerrilla eco-builder told to demolish his house!

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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

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Quick update.

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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

Quick update.

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I’ve been playing with some notification options and you can now subscribe to updates of this blog via RSS, Twitter and email by clicking on the links in the sidebar or entering your address in the email subscription box. I’m as paranoid as anyone about online privacy and I promise not to give away, sell or otherwise disseminate your address to anyone.

J.

Written by justin

May 18th, 2009 at 11:14 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Two steps forward, one step back.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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