Weathering the Storm

As Hurricane Matthew moved northward up the eastern coast of Florida, we prepared for the storm. Forecasts predicted a category 4 with sustained winds in excess of 100 mph. After securing the main house with storm shutters my Dad helped me to strap down Arborion.

As tough as this tiny house is built I did not want to take any chances. We removed the AC unit from the dormer window so it could be shut up tight.

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AC unit removed form dormer window

Next we used earth anchors at each corner of the trailer and attached them to the trailer frame with steel cord and saddle clamps.

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Earth anchors

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Securely attached to the trailer frame

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Steel cord and double saddle clamps

And finally I let out some of the air from the tires to keep the trailer from “bouncing” in the wind. This placed more of the weight on the jack stands.

Arborion withstood the hurricane force winds without damage and for that I am very grateful.

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Lofts, Ceilings & Finish

The ridge of the 10′ ceiling is complete all the way into both lofts.

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Sleeping loft decking

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Back of Arborion

The lofts now have the bottom side covered with the 1/2″ maple plywood. This makes up the ceiling in the kitchen and bathroom as well as the reading nook (otherwise known as Carrie’s Corner) under the storage loft. The tops have been decked over with 5/8″ plywood on the sleeping loft and 1/2″ in the storage loft. The same bronze can lights are installed in the kitchen and bathroom ceilings as I used for the porch landing.

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Storage loft decking

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Front of Arborion

For the finish on the maple I used three coats of water-based matte polyurethane. The walnut was coated with a mixture of paraffin and linseed oil to match the door.

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Maple & Walnut Walls

For several weekends my Dad and I have been installing lightweight 1/2″ plywood as the finished walls inside the tiny house Arborion. Other than a few trim pieces, the walls are complete. Many of the pieces were fairly complex. They required careful measuring and several trips back to the work area under my carport to fine tune the shaping of each section. Like the ceiling, each section was installed one piece at a time with super construction adhesive and finish nails.

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My Dad applying construction adhesive before attaching the maple plywood panel

My brother, Daniel, was able to to help out during the first weekend of wall installation which was awesome. Having an extra set of hands and eyes on some of these large intricate sections was very helpful.

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Daniel and Dad working together on a complicated panel section

The walnut portion of the walls make up the lower 30 inches in a wainscot sort of appearance, while the maple fills the rest of the walls and ceiling. I am currently in the time consuming process of filling the small nail holes in preparation for the finishes I will be applying soon.

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Walnut panels in the bathroom

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Back of Arborion and bathroom

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Front of Arborion and reading nook

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Wall sections complete

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Maple-Paneling: Ceiling

I have been really excited to share this latest step in the tiny house build. Arborion has really taken on a beautiful look with its ceiling clad in light maple.

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First two panel pieces glued and finish nailed

I’m using half inch maple plywood with a garnica core that makes it very flat and light weight. The quality of the maple is such that the wood grain is very subtle, which is good since it covers such a large area. There is a warmth to the light that bounces down from the dormer windows off the angles of the maple ceiling.

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Sleeping loft complete except for a thin ridge panel

Fitting the panels to the angles and shapes of the ceiling and gables is a slow and painstaking task. By making cardboard templates of the trickier areas we saved making mistakes with our more expensive materials. We used construction adhesive and small finish nails in order to make a strong and permanent bond and keep a cleaner finished appearance.

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Main ceiling is coming along

On a separate note I must add that shaving down the closed-cell foam insulation is messy and time consuming work. The installers did wonderful work, but there are always areas that need more attention and trimming in order for the paneling to be installed properly.

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Storage loft looking good

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Stringing up tomato plants

I tried an experiment with my tomato plants this season that I wanted to share. Based on my earlier raised bed garden design, I thought I could improve on the typical tomato cages that I had been using. I used a 6″square field fence and zip tied panels of it to the PVC frame, folded it over the top and down the other side.

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Tomato plants in place

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Hanging strings offer support

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Carefully wind the plants around the strings as they grow

As the tomato plants grew, I hung a string of jute, or any other cord I had handy, above each one. When the plant needed support I looped it loosely around the base of the plant and carefully wound the plant around the hanging cord. As the plant grew taller I kept winding the plant around the cord until it offered enough support.

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Keep winding the plants around the strings as they grow

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Some of the tomato plants just climbed the field fence

This was my best harvest so far with well over 200 tomatoes from about 18 plants. This does not include the dozens that were lost to the squirrels.

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Purple Cherokees on the right and Campari on the left

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Happy tomatoes!

 

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Making room for less stuff

This weekend Carrie and I addressed our built-in storage areas and their intended purposes. In order to make sure that there will be enough room for our necessities and to make sure that we both feel comfortable with the spacing and arrangement of all the cabinets and other built-its, we created cardboard versions of most of the pieces.

Kitchen Cabinets – dishes, pots, utensils, food pantry, small appliances, cleaning supplies, garbage/recycling/compost bins

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Kitchen sink upper and lower cabinets

 

Tansu Stairs – clothes, shoes, broom closet

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First design of tansu stairs

 

Folding Table – eating, working, art and project center

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Folding table

Sun Bench (Couch) – sitting and reading area, Scout’s bed underneath, pull out bed

Linen Cabinet – towels, wash clothes, cleaning

Bathroom Vanity –  toiletries, grooming

Foot Lockers – storage loft and bedroom storage

Storage Loft – misc. storage

We were able to find out the many key things by conducting this practice. The most important discovery was the best size steps to build on the tansu stairs for the amount of floor space we were willing to give up. This also lead to the number of steps and the size of the storage area underneath. Other useful findings included counter height,  the location of the kitchen faucet and knobs along with the optimal sink size.

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Kitchen sink mockup

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Folding table extended

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Kitchen sink upper and lower cabinets and tansu stairs

 

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Insulation Installation

The choice of using a closed-cell spray foam insulation for Arborion did not come easy. I logged countless hours of research into many of the more commonly used tiny house insulation options. The main points I considered was cost, R-value, environmentally friendly, weight, ease of installation, water absorption/mildew.

Closed-cell spray foam was definitely the most expensive option because it requires professionals to install it properly. The R-value is the best by far achieving a rating of 21 in the 3.5″ cavities of the walls and roofs. Although the foam itself is not environmentally friendly, if used responsibly it can provided a life-time of energy savings. The weight is slightly heavier than other insulations, but that was a minor difference. The installation is part of what makes this insulation so expensive, but that makes the installation effortless my part. The closed-cell spray foam was the only insulation that does not absorb any water meaning it also provides a waterproof seal. There was even a bonus advantage of this particular choice – added structural strength. It’s hard to explain just how much more rigid this dense foam has made everything, but think of a lightweight glue holding every structural component in it’s place. One last detail I’d like to share is that this stuff is messy until you get the interior wall sheathing up.

Having been through the experience, I would highly recommend giving closed-cell spray foam your consideration. If you are in central Florida then ask Tailored Foam any of your spray foam questions.

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Tailored Foam installers Jose and Joey

Thank you Joey and Jose for your excellent work and attention to detail.

 

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Pressure Testing & Insulation Prep

The countdown has started for the closed-cell spray foam installation. This will be the first, and probably only, step of the tiny house construction that I will sub-contract to professionals. The plan is to have Icynene insulation applied to all exterior walls and roof in the last half of February. To be ready for this step the rough-in plumbing, propane, and electrical must be complete. Once the spray foam is installed there is almost no chance for corrections. There will be more on why I chose to use Icynene insulation in a later post.

The main test that had to be conducted was a pressure test on the plumbing lines inside the walls. Due to the shower assembly, this is the only spot where there are any Pro Pex fittings within the walls. These fittings are the only ones that I will be unable to access after the spray foam installation. After several overnight tests and replacing the shower faucet neck, we finally had a successful week long pressure test at 50psi.

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Pressure testing the entire plumbing system

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Pressure testing the plumbing inside the walls with air

In the meantime, several other small projects needed to be addressed to be ready for the spray foam as well. Boxes were built to enclosed the wheel wells and receive insulation. The flush mount porch light was hung and boxed in since the area over the porch would also be spray foamed.

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Wheel well boxes

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Tight fit with front door open

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Completed wheel well box

Work has taken place in the utility annex as well. The Ecco Temp L5 tankless water heater was installed. Also, the electrical panel was framed in and fitted.

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Electrical panel

 

 

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Learning Curves and Flexible Pipes

This step of the tiny house build involved an enormous amount of research. I had never before roughed in plumbing, electrical or propane and now I was going to tackle all three. Since each of these systems was to be permanently sealed up inside the walls I had to be sure I knew what I was getting myself into. Searching for what I thought to be the very best of each system for my needs and the space available, I invested countless hours getting advice from professionals in the trade, watching you tube how-to videos, product demonstrations, online browsing/shopping and visiting home improvement and specialty stores. It was a huge learning curve.

Plumbing

I kept all the plumbing in one corner of the tiny house which made things simpler. This includes a kitchen sink, shower/tub, and bathroom sink. The water lines had to be tough and yet flexible since I wanted the entire run of each pipe to be without joints in the walls. This is just one less thing to worry about going wrong inside the walls years down the road. For these reasons I chose to use the Uponor Pro Pex. My cousin, Russell, a general contractor and draftsman, highly recommended I use this product as well. It does not use the crimp rings like other pex styles. Instead it uses expandable pex couplings that contract around the pipe and fitting for a very secure and long-lasting bond. More on this system when I get to the finish plumbing.

Pro Pex

Pro Pex

Shower plumbing

Shower plumbing

Electrical

This was the most labor intensive of the rough ins, but in my opinion it was also the easiest. The wire had to be run through the walls to every corner and in the lofts, but careful planning made that task easy and fun. I used standard 12/2 Romex-type wire for all connections. There are a total of six circuits inside the tiny house and one in the utility annex in case I want to power something outside. Each circuit is on a 20 amp breaker. The six inside circuits are divided according to load. The outlets near the ac unit and toaster oven are on there own circuits.

Driiling a hole for the wires to enter the utility annex

Driiling a hole for the wires to enter the utility annex

Dad drilling holes to run the wires

Dad drilling holes to run the wires

Tricky corner threading

Tricky corner threading

Running the wires

Running the wires

Sleeping loft

Sleeping loft

Propane

My propane requirements were similar to the plumbing.  I needed two continuous lines each run to either side of the tiny house. One will supply a double gas range top in the kitchen and the other for a possible future heater. Since I did not want any fittings inside the walls I went with Home Flex stainless steel flexible line. Bending it through holes in the corners of the tiny house was a challenge, but it worked.

Kitchen wall

Kitchen wall

Propane termination flanges in utility annex

Propane termination flanges in utility annex

In the end I feel I learned so much and made some really great choices. These choices were not cheap, but since it will be sealed up in the walls, and buried permanently in closed-cell spray foam, I wanted the confidence of knowing I assembled everything to the best of my ability. Everything is now in place for the spray-in insulation.

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No Sweat Air Conditioning

With the front door in place, I could finally close up Arborion. This meant that I could put the AC unit to use keeping the inside cool as we worked. The AC unit was the smallest I could find both dimensionally and in terms of BTU rating. Rated at 150 sq ft, it would be just enough for the 140 sq ft tiny house – especially after it is properly insulated.

Attaching stainless steel cables to the support frame

Attaching stainless steel cables to the support frame

AC support frame extended through dormer loft window

AC support frame extended through dormer loft window

We installed it in one of the dormer windows in the sleeping loft area. Supported through a frame placed in the window and from above with braided stainless steel cables that anchor into the cypress facia, it sits proudly humming along and keeping us cool as we work on the inside of Arborion.

Window frame support for AC unit supported by cables

Window frame support for AC unit and cables

AC unit in place with support cables anchored into the facia

AC unit in place with support cables anchored into the facia

I chose to install the AC unit in a window because I wanted the option of removing it when the weather turned cooler and it was no longer needed. Also, it would need to be removed anyway once I move the tiny house.

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