You're Going To Build A What?

The saga of J building his tiny off-grid house

Now we’re seeing progress!

with 2 comments

It’s been a busy week on the tiny house project and there’s finally some visible progress being made. This is how the trailer looked before we started:

the-beginning

After a couple of days work, it now looks like this:

trailer-after
The boards are all off, it’s up on blocks, it’s been leveled so that there’s a plumb base to work from, the wheels are off, and most of the extraneous metal has  been removed. There’s certainly more work to be done on it, and it’s going to be a busy couple of weeks getting everything done that needs doing.

Brakes: No idea how these used to work, from what we could make out amongst the twisted metal rods, there’s no way they could have worked correctly. We’ve taken it all apart and sat and played with the bits and have a reasonable idea of how it should go together properly. I need to replace one of the brake rods and bend on of the brackets into shape. I think one bracket will need replacing as the pivot rod is too loose for it to pivot rather than swing. Given the weight of the final house, I’m paying rather close attention to getting the brakes working properly as the last thing I’d want when towing is to see the house overtaking me. The wheel hubs look reasonable although I’m going to strip them down and check the bearings, repack with grease, etc. There’s also 3 different sized tires amongst the 4 wheels, so they’re going to need to be replaced. I’ll probably just find a local scrap yard and pick up 4 new wheels and tires so that they all match properly. I imagine there’ll be new brake pads going in there too.

Suspension: I couldn’t find any makers information on the axle/suspension units. They look similar to Indespension ones, but there’s nothing to confirm what load they take. Need to do a bit of googling on this and find out more.

Frame. In general, the trailer frame’s in good shape. The main frame is box section steel, with heavy angle reinforcing members below. There are a couple of sections that have rusted where additional pieces have been added later, and it appears as though they’ve just been points where water has pooled and it’s rusted.This is the worst bit, there’s only a one this bad and a couple of small patches elsewhere.

rust

Those will need to be cut out and new sections put in their place. I may also replace the front draw bar as there’s some rust where the wheel dolly was welded on badly. Nothing too serious so I’m going to hunt up some new steel stock and replace any sections that need it. My brother’s coming over in a couple of weeks and will weld it up properly while also teaching me how to do basic welding so I can weld together the folding porch, I just need to find a 180amp or so mig welder on ebay. Before then I need to sand down and paint the good bits of the frame, for which I’ve bought some rust treatment/undercoat paint, and will then top coat with hammerite.

Benjy came over, armed with his angle grinder (mine having gone missing somwehere) and we had a fun afternoon of removing excess metal from the trailer, consisting of the frame around the edge ( I need the trailer flat to be able to build the subfloor ) and the winch/winch mount from when the trailer was used for shifting cars and farm machinery in it’s former life.

bengrind1

There’s a bit of grinding to do so that the stubs are flat with the frame and some other small bits will need removing but those can wait until Nick comes over for the welding and I can pick his brain on how best to do them. I’ll put some more photos up next week as it’s often hard to describe what we’re doing or how lovely my workspace is, as you can see from John trying to explain what he’s been up to this week.

john1

28 years we’ve known each other and it doesn’t take much of a harebrained idea to get us together in the sunshine playing with tools and implements of destruction. The weather was supposed to be bad all week but apart from a passing shower on one day we’ve been really lucky and it’s been fine, warm and sunny all week. It’s officially summer now, so here’s hoping the next few months continue in the same vein.

Cheers.

Written by justin

May 3rd, 2009 at 8:34 am

Let’s pretend I’m a Formula 1 pit crew….

with 2 comments

Of course, building/making anything is always an excuse to buy new toys tools and the tiny house is no exception. I generally have a pretty well equipped tool boxes (ok several toolboxes) up to and including a tablesaw, planer, jointer etc for my woodwork hobby, but this was something new. Aldi were selling a compressor and tools at rediculously cheap prices recently, and the thought of installing all the panelling, tongue and groove and cladding convinced me to pick one up. I have attachments for shot blasting which will help clean up the trailer prior to welding, spray guns for painting (and also for sealing the damaged solar panel) etc. But today’s best bit was putting the impact driver to use.

If you’ve ever watched Formula 1 racing, this is the tool they use to bolt the tires on and off. It makes an utterly awesome ‘whiiiiirrrrrrrrrrzzzzzzzzzzzzz’ sound, and I spent a few minutes playing with it and grinning. Then it was time to put it to work and it’s superb for getting rusted down nuts and bolts out, as you can see here,

airtools1

where it was invaluable for getting the tow-hitch off the trailer frame. Today it’s the turn of my friend Benjy and his angle grinder, should be fun.

Toodle pip.

Written by justin

April 30th, 2009 at 10:13 am

Posted in Construction

Tagged with , ,

Nice article from NBC on small houses

without comments

Dee Williams is featured along with some others doing the small house thing that you can view here.

Written by justin

April 29th, 2009 at 7:45 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with ,

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

Caveat Emptor, indeed.

without comments

When I bought the trailer for my tiny house, I was told it was weight rated at 2700kg. This was a little less than the 3500kg I’d prefer, but it was tough finding one of those second hand at a price I could afford, so I figured that I could build down to that weight if I was careful and was prepared to do things like drain water tanks and take out the big pile of batteries on what I hope will be the rare occasions that I move. It had been used as a farm trailer, towing machinery, landrovers, cars etc, and seemed strong enough, but didn’t have a plate on it. Some things you have to take on trust I guess.

Cleaning it up recently, I uncovered an old plaque on the trailer hitch you can see below.

trailer plate

trailer plate

Clearly stated, is the trailer hitch load limit of 1700kg. Damn. There’s no way that’s going to be enough. It does state that the weight limit is for a single axle trailer and I wondered if it would be double that for my twin axle trailer. So, I got on the phone to the manufacturer of the trailer coupling (there’s no trailer manufacturer plate) and had a chat with their technical bod who was very helpful. Turns out all their hitches share the same body, all the way up to the 3500kg model, the only difference is the draw tube inside and the damper outside. These can be replaced/upgraded for a moderate cost of £115, they’ll also give me a new plate for the uprated weight rating so it’s nice and legal.

That all seems fine and dandy, but supposes that the rest of the trailer is up to it. So, the next thing I’ve got to do is find out what the wheelhub/suspension units are rated for. If they’re up to the job and the rest of the trailer is strong enough, I can just swap out the hitch parts and I’m good to go. It’s a worrying ‘if’ at the moment. However, the trailer is solid box section steel, has plenty of reinforcing and appears to have held the weight in the past. In a week’s time, my big ‘brother’ John is coming down to stay for a few days and we’re going to get stuck in to stripping down and overhauling the trailer, hopefully having it done in the 6 days he’s here. I’m keeping fingers crossed for good weather.

Funnily enough, yesterday I applied for an evening class in welding, only to find that all the local places were full for the coming term, so I’m considering using what it would have cost to take the course to buy a welder and get my little brother to come over and teach me to weld, I also have some other friends who know a reasonable amount of welding so it looks like if there’s repairs needed then I should be covered with just some steel cost. I’m hoping fervently that this trailer will work out, otherwise it’s going to put a spanner in the works of getting it done in a reasonable time-frame. I haven’t seen a 3.5ton trailer go for less than about £1600, new they’re closer to £3k and that’s out of the budget. After doing so well on other purchases for the house there was bound to be something not go quite as smoothly, we’ll see what the next couple of weeks brings.

Written by justin

April 17th, 2009 at 12:21 pm

Posted in Construction

Tagged with , ,

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 ,

I have my very own power station too!

without comments

One of my primary plans for the tiny house is to be completely off grid. I want to be able to park pretty much anywhere and not need to connect to anything or rely on another property for facilities. Ideally I’d like to be out in the country, away from everywhere and so to this end I’ve been designing the systems within the house to give me complete autonomy. I’ll cover the various systems and their designs one by one and today I’ll go over the power setup, as I have most of that already.

I picked up a couple of Kyocera photovoltaic panels from ebay. They’re 85w each. One of them is damaged, the glass is cracked and I need to fix this before I can use that panel outdoors. The glass is tempered, so when it breaks it’s like a car windscreen and just shatters. It’s also bonded to the cells underneath so not much comes out, just leaving it with a crazed appearance. However, this is enough to let air through to the cells and over time they’ll degrade because of it. Some online research suggests that automotive clearcoat, the stuff that’s sprayed over car paint to protect it, is good for sealing it, so I’ll need to get that done as soon as I can. I may be able to do that myself as I have a new compressor and spray gun to play with, amongst other air tools. More on that later.

Given that I effectively got the broken panel for free, I don’t mind if it doesn’t make quite as much power as the good one, anything extra is a bonus. A quick check with a meter when it arrived showed it to be putting out as many volts as the good panel but I’ll have to wait until there’s a proper load on it before I’ll know just how good it is. Fingers crossed.

Of course if you have panels you need batteries, and here I was lucky again as someone on an alternative energy forum I take part in was selling some. Most batteries that people use for small off-grid setups are either 12v deep cycle batteries or a number of 6v golf cart batteries. These are built to withstand repeated charging and discharging, which ‘normal’ car batteries aren’t. You’ll kill a car battery pretty quickly if you do that. Even these ‘deep cycle’ batteries have a limited lifespan, usually 2-5 years, depending on how heavily they’re used. For more serious battery backup setups, you want batteries that are designed for much longer life and much heavier discharge cycles. The problem with these is that they’re big, heavy and very expensive. Good options for second hand stuff is from fork lift trucks and large power backup systems in places such as telephone exchanges or power stations. I even know of people who’ve got hold of battery banks from decommissioned submarines, which have tens of years of life in them still. Not very practical for a tiny house that moves places.

What I’ve managed to get hold of is a set of second hand batteries from a power station backup. These are about 10 years old and absolutely immaculate, probably have a good 20 years left in them as long as they’re looked after properly. They’re about 25kg each, 2 volts per cell and 110ah. I have 14 of them which is enough to make up a 12v 220ah set with a couple of spares. Given that they weigh a little over quarter of a tonne, I’ll not be towing them in the house, they’ll have to go separately and, when parked, will live in a box on the back of the house with a bit of extra support under them. I’ll wire the house up using marine grade equipment which should ensure decent quality and levels of safety. I’ll cover the wiring setup in a later post when I’ve settled on exactly how I’m going to do that. I’ll get some photos up of the panels and batteries later.

Written by justin

March 24th, 2009 at 9:19 am

I have foundations!

without comments

So, after all the planning, how are things shaping up in the real world? Well, getting ready to start work on construction. The two most expensive things I expected to buy were the trailer and the windows.

Ebay has been pretty good to me so far: I have a trailer on which to base the house which I picked up for £560, it’s a second hand car transporter, 16′x8′. I’m going to strip the wood off and then all the paint, which will probably entail a couple of days with sanding wheels bolted to the angle grinder. I was after a 3500Kg max load trailer, but none were coming into my price range so in the end I went with a 2500kg model and I’ll build the house down to that weight. This will probably mean that at whatever time I move the house from place to place, I’ll drain off any water in the tank and put the batteries in a separate vehicle. More on those later.

Another reason for stripping all the paint off is to check the solidity of the welding all over and, if necessary, make any repairs. Fortunately my brother’s a qualified welder so I may get him over from Ireland for a weekend and borrow/rent a welder. I also have a great friend up in the midlands with a workshop and an industrial welder but without a regular tow vehicle it’s more difficult getting up there, though we’ll see just how it all works out. Once it’s been stripped, sorted and repainted I can get on with the building proper.

Trailer1 Trailer2

Windows are really expensive, I had no idea. I decided from the outset that I’d be looking for windows made of wood rather than upvc. I don’t particularly like upvc and have issues with the pollution caused by it’s production and disposal. Well managed and maintained forestry makes wood one of the most environmentally building materials, if you source locally. Problem is though, they’re not as common and are more labour intensive to build, which results in higher cost. I don’t mind occasional maintenance, treatment and upkeep on a house so longevity wasn’t an issue, although modern wooden windows are on a par with upvc for that nowadays. Cost though, wow they’re expensive. £350 and up, per window. All of a sudden my budget of £5k was looking seriously strained.

One of the interesting things about building is that much of the spare/surplus material can be reused elsewhere. Windows, though, are a different matter. If you want to replace a window you have to have an exact size match. If you’re building new you’ll want all your windows to be the same height and often same width. Any leftover windows are tougher to find a home for. This is good news for someone like me. I’m less worried about the sizes because I don’t have to start building until I’ve decided that. Bargains can be had if you’re prepared to wait and keep looking.

I knew what I wanted, which were windows similar to those that Jay Shafer uses on the factory built Tumbleweed houses, which are made by Jeld Wen. They just blend so nicely with the whole aesthetic of the tiny house. A daily ebay search started to come up trumps. I found a pair of Jeld Wen windows up in Stafford, unused, still in their wrapping. Starting bid of £100, I put them on my watch list and monitored progress. A couple of days went by and no-one had bid on them. A couple more days and still no bids. I couldn’t quite believe it, this was £700-worth of windows. I sat watching the last few hours of the auction convinced there’d be a flurry of last minute bids. There wasn’t. Mine for £100.

Did the happy dance.

Another week goes by and there’s two more windows, same style/make but slightly smaller. Another £100 and they’re mine. I need one last small window to complete the build, but that can wait. I needed these before I could start the framing plan for the walls, so that’s the next part of the project. I’m learning to use a home design program as so far my ideas and plans are all in my head. I’m not very artistic and drawing is something I only really do with graph paper, so this might be a useful piece of software to master as it also allows you to do 3D walkthroughs of the plans, which is quite handy for realising you’ve got heights wrong.

The budget is holding for now.

Written by justin

March 23rd, 2009 at 5:35 pm

Posted in Construction

Tagged with ,