The Calm Before The Storm

It has been a few weeks since you’ve heard from us and even longer since we have visited the SHED build site but all that is about to change…

Work has been getting busier due to unseasonably warm weather that has sparked prospective home owners and contractors alike needing home designs in order to begin building this spring and my normal design & drafting work load has been supplemented with multiple recent inquires about small space design. Yakima Maker Space has been busy gearing up for a spring of progress and unique opportunities for our community including workshops like the Naked Raku pottery workshop (That Samantha and I participated in last weekend as shown below) which is a fascinating combination of fine arts and pyrotechnics and YMS is offering its first ever co-build workshop in which attendees each build a wooden kayak! Naked Raku I finally took my 5th (out of 7) Architecture Registration Exam (results pending for a couple more weeks) which finally put an end to a few weeks of intense studying, only to have the next one scheduled in less than 1 month from now. And in the spirit of always planning and looking forward to a new adventure & experience Samantha and I have been organizing a 10 day epic in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California that aims to include a visit to Sequoia National Park, Death Valley National Park (which at 200’ below sea level is the lowest elevation in the United States)  Mt Whitney’s summit (which at 14,500+/- is the highest point in the contiguous United States) as well as rural hot springs and anything else we stumble across as we navigate the Sierra Nevada and live out of our tent.

Because we have been so busy it hasn’t felt like a very long time but one glance at the calendar lets us know that it is time to get our hammers in gear and start building vertical. Two weeks ago we re-signed our apartment lease for one final year and if anything is providing incentive to start moving it is the fact that our 1 year clock is officially counting down. 50 weeks until SHED needs to be completed and situated for our full time occupation to begin.

In the last 4 weeks, two notable things have happened:

The first is that we made decisions about and detailed our wall assembly. This was a big step as our walls are our only layer of material providing structure, security and protection from the elements and are also the biggest source of weight. As you may have read HERE we have strayed from some of the “standard” building practices of tiny homes including the decision to use a 2×3 structure instead of 2×4 and to add a continually insulated panel sheathing in an attempt to reduce weight and increase thermal performance without increasing the wall thickness.

The second thing that happened is where the “problems” start. We learned that our proposed system strays far enough from conventional building material sizes that it is nearly impossible to find the required materials. SHED has a unique form with a roof line on a rake (angle) and our decision to frame our project with a hybrid system that combines the old “balloon framing” method with the “advanced framing” method means almost half of our vertical lumber is over 8 feet long. After numerous phone calls to big box retailers, lumber yards and contractors we were left with zero leads as to where we could acquire 2×3 studs longer than 8 feet unless we wanted to spend over $1000.00 dollars to buy a custom order 400 piece bundle from home depot that would take over two weeks to arrive, not to mention it would be about 7 times the amount of lumber we needed. In addition to that small hang up, our conversations with energy experts (remember Gary?) revealed that the manufactures do not currently manufacture and are not willing to custom laminate a C.I. panel to our dimensions using our preferred materials, not to mention their minimum order is twice as many panels as we need.

This has presented a unique challenge for tiny house builders that we did not initially consider. We had always thought that acquiring materials for a micro dwelling would be easier and less expensive because the small quantities would allow us to take advantage of cut-offs, left-overs and over-orders. While this still is the case in some instances, if you do need a specific material or are buying new, you may not meet the minimum quantity requirement and it can be hit or miss as to whether a large company will tweak the “rules” for you. This also has me thinking about why innovation or experimentation in building can often be stifled. The fact that the majority of the building industry uses an extremely time efficient and relatively inexpensive systematic procedure for the construction of perfectly suitable houses built to code minimum using standard off the shelf materials and sizes makes it very difficult to progressively evolve. People are making money, the system is working and this is how we learned how to do it, so why change? I have noticed the same trend happening in the very new movement of tiny houses on trailers propelled mostly due to inexperienced D.I.Y’ers using readily available plans and repeating the techniques they find on youtube and google.

We are in no way considering ourselves experienced builders and this is certainly not meant as negative commentary towards any one bold enough to take on the construction and subsequent living of a tiny house on wheels. I mean to say that to be shackled by only sticking to the path that was paved before you is to potentially miss some creative opportunities thanks to the freedom afforded by the lack of a building code in projects like this. Of course the primary goal is to build a suitable structure that is functional and safe for the inhabitants and others around it while it is being transported but that still leaves a lot of freedom to explore alternative options for design and construction of our alternative dwellings. Sometimes small explorations shift an entire movement in a particular direction and sometimes they just become individual failures that are valuable learning experiences of “what not to do.” It is usually not any single individual or project that breaks through and shifts the paradigm but the sum of small out-of-the-box explorations and implementations of untried techniques and materials could result in a larger positive evolution.

Solutions: With that said, we are sticking to our plans about using our proposed 2×3 + C.I. panel wall regardless of the material acquisition problems and have been talking about a few ways to move forward. For the structure, we can make our own 2x3s by purchasing half as many 2×6’s and ripping the boards down to the size of a 2×3 on a table saw. We will be taking the same approach to creating the C.I panels but the process is still to be determined. After buying the plywood, rigid board insulation and adhesive we may try to laminate them on the ground by stacking the layers with glue in between and placing weight on top. The result would be a C.I. panel installed as a single unit. Our second option is to sheath the structure with the plywood and then glue the rigid board insulation to the ply wood after it has been installed vertically on our walls similar to what I have seen done on standard homes.

If all goes according to plan, those processes start this weekend with pictures and videos to follow!

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