Sheathing & Roof

Once the walls were constructed and extra cross-braces were in place to support our choice to use larger windows, we were ready to apply the sheathing and construct the roof. 

We got 3/4" CD Plywood for sheathing the walls, which went up quickly with the help of gracious family members. Once it was tacked on, Mike and I were able to continue the work by using 2.5" ring shank nails to attach the sheathing every 4" on the edges and every 6" in the field.

For the roof, we used 2x6x10 pieces of wood to construct the roof, notching each end to sink into the top sill plate. Once that was through, Mike spent hours throughout the week blocking between each 2x6x10 to enforce the structure of the roof. Once that was finished, it was time to apply 1/2" CD Plywood on the roof, install the windows and door, and apply weatherproofing to the house! Once we finished that, Mike and I will be off to Oregon for a week and a half to move me into school for the semester, and Mike will return to work on the house during the school year.

Framing the Walls!

Early on in this project, we bought tiny house plans and have been referencing them, up until now, only occasionally.  Some people decide to build their tiny houses straight from professionally-made building plans, saving planning time.  Others opt to make their own plans and build their tiny houses completely customized to their unique desires.  We, however, decided to do something different.  Before finally deciding to buy plans, we searched long and hard for a set of tiny house plans that we really liked.  Because we didn't want to build our house to plans that we didn't absolutely love, we decided to buy plans and use them only for specific parts of our build.  We particularly liked the interior of this house (Loft Edition) and the exterior of this one (Hikari Box) so we bought the plans for the the Hikari Box and went from there.  Our plan is to use the Hikari Box plans for the walls and roof, then design our own interior and windows, drawing inspiration from the Loft Edition, other tiny houses, and our personal preferences.  We'll talk more about our interior plans in later blog posts but we just wanted to make our plan clear.  

Since we'd already marked the location of each stud on the sills, the next step was to place/attach the corners and studs.  (Our first vertical pieces!  After spending weeks working only on the trailer, it felt so good to finally be building upward!)  At each corner of the trailer we strengthened the walls with four 2x4s glued, screwed, and nailed together to form solid corners that would give us maximum stability. We then placed studs at intervals, no more than 16" apart, along the perimeter, and framed for each window, the wheel wells, and the door.  This part of the build is more straightforward because it's so similar to building any kind of structure.  One day, Mike's uncles came out and put in hours of their time to help us get the walls up and teach us a few things so that we would be prepared for continuing our work for the following week. By the end of the day, we had formed the structure of three of the windows, the door, and a good portion of the walls. That left us with a week's worth of work filling in the studs for the walls and finishing out the framing for the remaining windows.

One of our biggest priorities is good lighting and that means, big windows for the inlet of precious natural light.  We picked up six double-paned, giant windows at Habitat for Humanity Restore for $250 (total), and were able to use four of them in the build!  Putting in many/large windows compromises the structural integrity of the walls so we cross-braced the walls with diagonal 2x4s to compensate (the cross-braces aren't pictured here because we put them in later, while sheathing the walls).  We'll have two kitchen windows, one very large center window near the open space area, one bathroom window, one office window, and one loft window (we haven't framed for the loft window yet because we haven't found one we like yet).  

 Back when we installed the flashing and drilled through the steel trailer, we dreamt of the day when we wouldn't have to work with metals.  Now, we're stoked to be working with only wood (especially because the chop saw is so fun to use!).  This part of the build has definitely been the most satisfying thus far.  The house finally looks like a house instead of just a trailer with a subfloor and sills.  After building the walls, the next step is to construct the roof and sheath!

This was our first vertical piece! 

Jen gluing the top of the jack stud where the 4x4 header for the door will go.

Framing around the wheels.  Also, you can see how the hold downs connect the studs to the sills.

Framing the front door.  4x4 header.

Getting closer to looking like a house! It was fun to see the transformation from trailer to structure.

Climbed on the roof to get a shot of the worksite (Jen's parents' backyard).

Passenger side view.

Front view. (& puppies)

Driver's side rear view.

Done! Next comes the roof and sheathing!

Subfloor & Anchoring

Once the aluminum flashing and insulation were finished, it was time to cut and install the plywood subfloor.   We walked into Home Depot fully intending to pick up the necessary materials but instead of plywood, we mistakenly bought a cheaper version of plywood called OSB (oriented strand board, or pressboard).  OSB is a common material used for subflooring and wall sheathing and is popular due to its lower price tag.  It's not as strong as plywood and much less water resistant.  Now, the subfloor shouldn't really ever get wet, but if it ever does, a plywood subfloor would react much better than an OSB subfloor.  When in contact with water OSB swells, causing problems.  We didn't realize that we'd used OSB instead of plywood until we'd already cut the 4x8 pieces to size, so we decided to stick with the OSB and make a few changes to compensate for it.  Originally, our plan was to anchor the sill plates on top of the plywood subfloor then build the walls on the sills.  Because the OSB is sensitive to water, we decided to do a bit of extra work to shield the OSB subfloor from unwanted moisture.  On top of the trailer, we cut the OSB sheets 3.5" short of the perimeter of the trailer frame to allow space for the 2x4 sills to be anchored directly to the steel trailer frame.  We also installed strips of  L flashing between the sills and the OSB subfloor to prevent any rogue rainwater from getting to the OSB.  If water somehow got into the walls and down near the sill plates, it would be stopped from entering the subfloor and instead, would be guided out of the bottom of the wall by the  L flashing.  With this flashing installed, we then installed the pressure treated sills and prepared them to be anchored to the trailer.  Anchoring is one of the most important parts of the tiny house building process because it is how the structure and all of its weight is connected to the trailer.  By firmly anchoring the sill plates to the trailer frame, everything built on top of the sills is held strongly to the steel trailer frame.  Instead of welding threaded bolts to the side of the trailer frame, we opted to bolt down the sills by drilling holes through the sills and trailer frame, dropping in 4" long 5/8" bolts, and fastening these bolts with heavy-duty washers and nuts.  We temporarily removed small areas of the insulation in order to reach down into the trailer frame to tighten the nuts.  We placed the bolts no more than 4' away from each other along the perimeter of the trailer and a bolt within 12" of each corner.  We also chose to place our hold-downs at this time in order to maximize the strength of the walls. To do that, we marked on the sills where each stud would go followed by a mark for each hold down.  

Here's the trailer as it looked while we were placing the subfloor.  This was before we changed the plan to account for the sills around the edges of the subfloor, not above the subfloor.

This photo shows a mistake we made in cutting the OSB to fit around the wheels of the trailer. 

Picking up the sills, L-flashing, bolts, and tie downs.  We've been making trips to Home Depot about every other day to pick up materials.

This is a shot of a corner with the L-flashing and sills in place, waiting to be bolted down to the trailer frame.  The white nails mark the locations of the anchor bolts.

We fashioned our own tongue and grooves for a few pieces instead of buying new sheets.

We fashioned our own tongue and grooves for a few pieces instead of buying new sheets.

We were stoked when the home-made groves worked!

Once the anchor bolting was done for each side, Mike drilled holes for each hold down with 5" long, 5/8" bolts.  We wanted to ensure the integrity of the trailer itself so we chose to bolt the hold downs on the inside edge of the sill plate, avoiding the c-tubing, and attaching them to the trailer by using a 2" by 2" metal plate, sandwiching the c-tubing and another piece of metal to keep it flat and secure. Once all twelve hold downs and sixteen anchoring bolts were tightened, we set the subfloor back in its place and we were ready to screw in the subfloor and build the walls!

Some of the tools and materials we used to anchor the sills and hold-downs.

This is one of the finished bolts which holds the sill to the trailer.

Here's one of the washer-like plates we used to serve as the bottom washer under the hold-downs.

A couple of the most common questions we receive about our tiny house project is "How do you know how to do all of this?" and "How much construction experience do you have?"  I understand why people ask this.  It seems like only people with lots of experience in the field can do this (that's what I thought too).  We were asking ourselves these questions before we started this not-so-tiny project.  We were intimidated by the amount of learning we had ahead of us.  There is so much that goes into building a house and we knew about none of it.  Going into this project, we had absolutely no experience in construction but we do have family and friends who've consistently been helping us plan for and work on this project.  Specifically, Jen's dad and my uncles have been helping us a ton.  They've invested their time and effort into our house.  Furthermore, many people have offered us tools to borrow and whatever knowledge they have about construction.  We just want to make it clear that without the help of everyone who have invested in us, we would not be able to build this house the way we are.




Flashing & Insulation

Aluminum Flashing Attachment

We began our first day of construction with much anticipation and a carefully thought out plan for what our first few hours of work would look like. We were quickly faced with halting obstacles, unanswered questions, and quite a bit of cluelessness. 

Let's take a few steps back. When considering the beginning steps of the build, the first decision to be made regards the subfloor.  Most tiny house builders choose to build their subfloor frame with 2x4s, similar to the way houses on foundations are built. We, however, opted to use our steel trailer frame itself as our subfloor.  Using our trailer as the subfloor allowed us to gain a few inches of headspace, save money, be more weight efficient (our trailer is rated for only 10,000lbs), as well as save the time it would take to build a separate subfloor. We were able to do this because we designed our trailer with the cross-members flush with sides/edges, as well as spacing cross-members every 16". 

The first step of our build was to apply aluminum flashing to the trailer.  The flashing (sheet metal) is meant to keep small critters out from under the trailer, as well as serve as the first barrier to water and insects.  Because we used the trailer frame as our subfloor frame, we couldn't put the flashing on top of the trailer as most tiny house builders do.  We needed to flash underneath the trailer to allow room for insulation between the steel crossbeams below the top of the subfloor.  This meant crawling underneath the trailer to attach the flashing directly to the underside of the trailer.  Jen assumed this difficult/unglamorous job because she's a stud and also because her fingers are small enough to hold the screws while hammering.

Initially, we tried using self-tapping screws to attach the flashing but quickly realized that the 1/4" steel C-Channel Tubing was too hard to penetrate using the self-tapping screws we had.  This was our first obstacle.  Our solution, then, was to drill pilot holes in the 1/4" steel.  We bought a couple of 1/8" drill bits and went at that trailer frame with blind aggression.  I should note that I, Mike, took on the task of drilling the pilot holes while Jen had the more difficult job of cutting, placing, and attaching the aluminum sheet metal flashing.  I didn't do much research about drilling through steel before I started.  I mean, I read the back of the drill bit package noting that when drilling though metal, one should spin the bit at a higher RPM than most other materials. The first hole went well.  The bit sunk into the steel frame slowly but effectively, eventually cutting through after about 5 minutes. Drilling the second hole was much less successful.  It took a more strenuous 20 minutes of rigorously pushing the bit (now dull due to improper use) into the steel at full speed (~1300 RPM).  I drilled these first two holes while laying under the trailer, pushing the drill upward.  My arms hurt from pushing continuously for those few minutes but once the second hole was done, I tried putting a screw into one of the pilot holes only to break the head off while tightening it.  Frustrated, I tried to remove the shaft of the screw to no avail.  All of that miserable drilling with nothing to show for it but a couple of holes, one of which I had just rendered useless with a broken screw.  This was during the late morning when there's no shade over the worksite and the temperature climbs rapidly.  I thought of all the drilling I'd be doing from underneath the trailer. I quickly and angrily deduced that if one hole takes 20 minutes to drill, it'd take me a lifetime to drill the rest of the ~200 holes necessary to attach the aluminum flashing.  Hot and irrationally frustrated, I went inside to report the hopeless situation to Jen.  She was ready to solve the problem and eventually after researching steel drilling techniques, we realized that I'd been doing it all wrong.  When drilling through steel, or any hard metals, one should spin the bit slowly and put little pressure on the drill, allowing the bit to work under its own cutting power.  I was pushing hard and running the drill at a high RPM, the exact opposite of what I should've been doing.  

Once I'd formed a game plan for more effectively drilling the pilot holes, I began again, this time using cobalt tipped drill bits, a lower RPM, cutting oil, and very little pressure on the drill.  It worked like a charm!  The bit stayed cool due to the reduced friction of the slower speed and the lubrication of the cutting oil.  I also decided to drill downward from above the trailer instead of upward from underneath.  The holes were at an angle due to the shape of the steel beams but the added difficulty of screwing in the screws from underneath was worth the added ease of drilling from above. Once I got into a groove, I was able to drill each hole at an average of about 5-7 minutes and only going through 6 bits in ~200 holes.  Success!

I drilled the pilot holes while Jen slid under the trailer to attach each sheet of aluminum to the trailer after cutting each length of flashing to the correct size. We worked in the cool of the morning, broke during the hot noontime hours to research/plan for future building stages, and resumed working during the afternoon when the shade made working in the high temperatures bearable. This is how it went for 4 days until we finished flashing the whole underside of the trailer. Then, we taped every crease and overlap with a layer of foil tape and another layer of all-weather duct tape. After we'd sealed it all up, we were finally ready to lay in the insulation!

Getting started. These are the first few pieces being attached.

We've since put the all-weather duct tape over the foil tape underneath the trailer to ensure that its all sealed.

The pups hanging out with us while we work.

Here's a closer look at a smaller area at the rear driver's side corner.

Here's a closer look at the edge of the trailer.  This is all filled with insulation now.

Finished! Foil taped, all sealed up, and waiting for insulation.

Insulation Installation

The process of adding in the insulation was straightforward and fairly easy compared to flashing. The dimension between the c-channel to fill with insulation was 2.5", so between each crossmember we installed one layer of 1" insulation and one layer of 1.5" insulation. We opted for the more expensive, but most effective rigid insulation. This material also seemed to be the easiest type of insulation to work with. The three days we spent installing insulation consisted of Mike cutting each piece to size with the table saw, while I, Jen, followed up with installing each piece in the proper place. Once I got the first layer in, I applied PL Premium to all edges and gaps, followed by a strip of all-weather duct tape to ensure that it was completely sealed. Once we were almost finished with the larger crossmember insulation installation (say that three times fast, hah!), we finally nailed down the best and most effective cutting method of insulation.  Cutting notches on all edges made for easy installation by allowing us to slip the insulation in-between the cross members and still fill up every gap, making sure it was tight in its place. Every cut was a little better than the last, and we had it perfect by the end! That definitely seems to be a trend. Once we filled in every gap, we were ready for plywood flooring!

Mike getting it done on the table saw that we bought very cheap at a garage sale.

Glueing for the top layer of insulation.

Almost done! 

This is how we notched out the edges so we could fit the insulation all way into the c-channel steel crossbeams.

We used a razor to open finish the cut so that we could fit the insulation into the c-channel.

The final product of the notched out insulation.

Jen prepping for a piece of insulation to go in.

Final product! It looks so pretty! ...but maybe that's just because we spent so long working on it.  It felt good to finish this step.

We learned a lot during this part of the build.  We learned about drilling techniques, insulation options, using a table saw, different types of glue and many other construction related things.  It's been so fun to learn about these things, overcoming small obstacles and problem solving on the fly, but we've also noticed that while working together on this big project, we're learning more about each other.  We're learning about each other in ways that we hadn't expected.  We're learning to communicate more efficiently.  We're learning to help each other avoid irrational frustration.  We're learning to argue respectfully and to work through conflicts more easily.  We're learning to love each other better and keep our focus on glorifying God through our interactions with each other and our tiny house project in general.  We're thankful for the opportunity to be spending this summer building our tiny house but we're also learning to be more thankful for this great opportunity to work on our relationship and build a foundation for our lives together, ultimately in pursuit of helping each other become more Christ-like.

-Mike & Jen

Picking Up Our Tiny House Trailer!

After waiting 5 weeks for our custom trailer to be made, we were eager to pick it up and start working.  We had a rough idea of when the trailer would be ready so we prepared the backyard for the arrival of our trailer, the foundation of our house.  The last couple of days before we picked up the trailer were spent researching and locating the materials and tools we’d need for the first few steps of the build.  

On this trailer, we'll build our house!

On this trailer, we'll build our house!

We especially spent a lot of time considering how we wanted to construct our subfloor.  Most tiny house builders choose to construct a wooden subfloor much in the same way normal buildings’ subfloors are designed.  We, however, opted for a more uncommon approach to subflooring.  We chose to use the trailer itself as our subfloor, allowing the steel beams of the trailer bed to be the subfloor framing.  We’d designed our trailer with the crossmembers flush with the side of the trailer so that we could do just this.  With this plan, we will gain an extra four inches of vertical height because the wooden framing will be absent.  This is especially valuable because in California, and in most other states, the legal height limit is 13’6’’.  We’ll talk more specifically about this subflooring plan in further posts.

It was a tight fit, but the trailer made it into the backyard with about one inch of clearance on each side.

It was a tight fit, but the trailer made it into the backyard with about one inch of clearance on each side.

Once we got the notification of our trailer’s completion, we borrowed a friend’s truck and headed down from Granada Hills to Gardena to pick it up and tow it back.  The pickup and ride home went smoothly but getting the trailer into the backyard, our build site, proved to be harder than we’d expected.  Knowing that it'd be a tight fit, we removed the gate doors from their hinges, allowing a couple of more inches for the trailer to squeeze through.  As it turned out, we needed every single inch of clearance.  Getting the trailer into the backyard took three hours and lots of starting over to get a better angle but once we finally got the trailer settled into its spot, we were stoked and ready to start the build!


Parking Plans

One of the most frequent questions we get asked is regarding where we will put our tiny house. For now, it will stay in Granada Hills until the build is finished and Mike heads down to Irvine for the Fall. In order to answer this question in full, we have to back up to why we decided to go tiny in the first place. Mike will have two years at UCI before he is through with school, the second being while we are married. It's too far for him to commute from Granada Hills, so the only option we thought we had was to rent. Once we realized how expensive renting would be, building a mobile tiny house became an increasingly desirable option. Renting a one bedroom, one bathroom apartment close to UCI would cost roughly $1,500 a month. Two years later, we'd be down $36,000 and be looking for another place. The cost of building our DIY tiny house will be about $20,000 - $27,000 and will provide us with a house of our own that we can live in for as long as we need to in our transition period of moving to Oregon after Mike finishes school. So that clearly made the most sense to us, and provided us with the most adventure.

Here we are now, starting the build and still looking for a parking spot.  One option is to find someone willing to rent out their backyard or land to us. We've posted on a few Facebook groups, land rental websites, and Craigslist in search of a parking spot but our concern that nothing will come up has us searching for an alternate plan.  Another option is to buy a house with a backyard near UCI, rent it out to pay the mortgage on the property, and keep the backyard as a parking spot for us to live in our tiny house.  If all else fails, we could always rent a spot in an RV park while we continue to search for a parking spot.

As for the long-term future of the tiny house, we have a few options down the road once Mike finishes school and we're ready to move to Oregon. One is to sell it, making our building costs back and perhaps a profit - similar tiny houses go for about $20,000 - $50,000. Another option is to park it in Oregon on our property and rent it our as a vacation rental, or simply keep it as a guest house for visitors.

For two twenty year olds, this probably sounds pretty daunting. It is. But we're excited about investing in our future and looking forward to see how God will use the plans He has for us for His glory!

-Mike & Jen

Why a Tiny House?

We'd always admired tiny houses for their simplicity and functionality but hadn't seriously considered living in one ourselves until a few months ago when we were planning for the next couple of years.  

I was finishing up my stay at community college and in the process of choosing a university to attend for my final two undergraduate years.  I really wanted to go to the University of California, Irvine because of their prestigious criminology department.  Other universities presented more inexpensive housing options but we both liked UCI for various reasons.  We will be married and living together for my final year of university so we knew that we'd be wanting our own place near the campus.  Although we knew we wanted to end up in Irvine, we weren't excited about the high cost of housing so we started looking at alternative living options.  That's when we had the idea to build and live in our own tiny house on wheels.  

To build our tiny house, we will spend about the same amount of money as we would if we rented an apartment for the two years but we'd come away from undergraduate school owning a house that we could take anywhere we want.  We did some research and preliminary planning before talking it over with family and finally deciding to go for it.  We lined up a build site and a general plan by the beginning of the spring semester 2016, deciding to start the project at the beginning of our summer break from school.

Our plan is to work on the house full-time from May to August, finishing most of the big parts of the build before Jen moves back to Salem, Oregon for her senior year of undergraduate school.  If all goes according to our plans, I will live in the house during my first year in Irvine.  Then, one year later, we will both live in the house for our first year of marriage, my final year of undergraduate school.

We plan to post on this blog regularly with updates about the project, our successes, and struggles.