You're Going To Build A What?

The saga of J building his tiny off-grid house

Archive for the ‘problems’ tag

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 While looking for brake shoes to replace the broken ones this morning I found that they’re an old, out of date design, and will cost £50 per wheel to replace.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

Two steps forward, one step back!

without comments

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.


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.


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


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


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.


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

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.


Written by justin

June 26th, 2009 at 5:53 pm

Posted in planning/design

Tagged with

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:


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

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.


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.


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.


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.


Written by justin

May 3rd, 2009 at 8:34 am

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 , ,