You're Going To Build A What?

The saga of J building his tiny off-grid house

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 While looking for brake shoes to replace the broken ones this morning I found that they’re an old, out of date design, and will cost £50 per wheel to replace.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

Braking news…

without comments

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.

photo1

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.

photo2

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.

photo4

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

Another wall is finished.

with 2 comments

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.

IMG_0035

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.

IMG_0036

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

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.

02082009107

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.

02082009106

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

02082009108

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

02082009111

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.

03082009113

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!

without comments

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!

diamond 1

diamond 2

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

Posted in Construction

Tagged with , ,

Finally some trailer progress.

without comments

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.

03072009073

03072009074

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

Posted in Construction

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

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 , ,