The Phasmatodea are an order of insects, whose members are also known as stick-bugs, walking sticks or bug sticks. They are the longest insects in the world and if viewed from an engineering perspective, are miraculous creations. Imagine trying to construct a 3D model of one. What materials would have the strength to weight ratio to hold up? Normally their camouflage makes them virtually impossible to spot in nature. Not so much when this one chose to climb onto our back door where Jeanine alerted me to its presence.
With Maya off to college, Kyle has stepped in to partner with me for the remainder of the tiny house build. He too is interested in learning the construction skills needed to build a house. We started today with interior walls. Normal homes use gypsum board (sheetrock) with joint compound to hide seams. The racking forces on the frame of a trailer during towing would almost certainly produce cracks in such joints over time. We are using 1/2″ thick MDO plywood with flexible caulking between them. To hide the seams we rout vertical V-grooves on 8″ centers and half a V at the edges of each panel. Seams will appear the same as the other grooves. When painted this will look like wide tongue and groove boards. Preparing each 4’x8′ panel is very time consuming and requires precise layout for windows, outlets, switches other such features followed by the routing operations to create the grooves. It takes us about 2 hours per panel so this phase of the build is going to proceed slowly, especially in light of the fact that we plan to only work half days.
I have replaced Maya as Kyle’s workout partner joining him early this morning for a 90 minute session at the Thoreau Club. For all the strength I have gained while constructing the tiny house, my cardio has not experienced similar improvement and is not where it needs to be for the upcoming soccer season. I focused my workout on the elliptical machine and will do so for the rest of the week before even thinking about weight training.
After returning, I insulated the trailer fenders (wrapped in 2″ thick foam core) and installed the strike plates for the front door (the door strike was precut but I had to cut the deadbolt plate recess by hand). I also built a router jig that will be needed for interior wall installation which I hope to start tomorrow.
Maya’s team was two of nine who successfully completed their first engineering project as part of freshman orientation. The details are not clear as I learned of these exploits by way of texts from Maya to Jeanine. Something about building an enclosure to protect an egg dropped from a great height.
On the home front, Kyle assisted me as we continued work on the interior of the tiny house. Like his sister, he is also interested in learning the skills needed to construct a house. We tackled some of the most difficult remaining tasks (interior triangular walls for the end caps and the flooring for the storage loft behind the sleeping loft including a cutout and access panel for the circuit breaker box).
The day has finally arrived. Our youngest child is off to college. Jeanine, Kyle and I helped Maya to move into her dorm at Olin College of Engineering. Somehow, knowing she is only 30 minutes away made the occasion less traumatic than it was for the boys who chose schools half way and all the way across the country. After initial setup, I returned home to build a two step ladder so Maya could climb into her ridiculously high bed, a 46 inch tall, 5 shelve, night table to augment the limited room storage, 6 drawer dividers, and a perfectly dimensioned piece of lumber to prevent her poorly designed dresser from tipping over with a drawer fully extended. I used up all the leftover plywood from the tiny house project and finished just in time to arrive late for dinner with her roommate and her parents.
It was 7 weeks ago to the day that the trailer for Maya’s tiny house arrived. Maya was a recent high school graduate with no prior construction experience. I weighed 22 pounds more than I do today. This summer has been the most physically demanding and exhausting of my life and I will cherish it like no other. Working side by side with Maya, watching her acquire new skills and confidence every day, building something of real substance and beauty has been one of the highlights of my life. When Maya leaves for college tomorrow, I will continue work on the interior at a much reduced pace and will plan to finish before winter arrives.
Not the most attractive addition to Maya’s tiny house, an essential component nevertheless, the external half to the mini-split system that will heat and cool the interior. With the addition of a pan heater that I installed, it is rated for operation down to -15F. Mounting it high will protect it from incidental damage and allow for operation with snowfalls up to 6 feet. Although this is the front of the trailer, it is the back of the house and the least objectionable location we could come up with. Today was our last day working on the house together. Maya leaves for college on Saturday and needs the day off tomorrow to pack. Our ambitious goal for the day was to complete the interior ceiling and we managed to do so thanks to the efficiency of my new track saw and Maya’s clever idea for templating the triangular dormer side walls.
Over the course of the summer Maya has developed from a good craftsman to an exceptional one. Pictured below she proudly shows off the hand cut circle she cut in one of the ceiling panels for a light fixture. I don’t think many professional woodworkers or builders could match her precision. She brought this level of craftsmanship to every aspect of her work and I took great pleasure bearing witness to her development.
With an early start and late finish to the day, Maya and I reached an important milestone this evening by completing the exterior of the tiny house. Although the interior remains to be finished, the tiny house can now be sold in its current state of completion to a buyer who would like to do the remaining work themselves. Maya has several interested parties already. Kyle helped me to suspend the external half or our HVAC min-split system on the back of the house and I will make the refrigerant line connections tomorrow.
Normally, the opportunity to photograph a solar eclipse would have me preparing for days and traveling to a location in the path of totality. The tiny house project, however, has been all consuming and when Kyle asked if we had any glasses or way of safely viewing it, I sadly had to answer no. Determined to see the rare event, Kyle did a bit of internet research and constructed a pin hole camera from a cardboard box and aluminum foil. It worked perfectly despite efforts by his sister to spin him around and point him in the wrong direction. At the last minute it occurred to me that I could stack several neutral density filters I own to create a 14 stop optical filter (this reduces the intensity of all wavelengths of light passing through it by 16,000 times). We shared this contraption to get a great view of the eclipse as it peaked in and out of the clouds. I then used it on my camera for a couple hand-held snapshots.
With limited interruptions today, Maya and I made serious progress on hanging clapboard. If not for the fact that we paint each board end after cutting it to size, we would already have completed the entire house. Waiting for the paint to dry slows the entire process down tremendously. Tedious as this step is, it protects the clapboard from water damage. End grain absorbs water 250 times more than any other face of the board (think of wood grain as a bunch of straws running parallel to the length of the board). Pretty sure that few commercial builders take the time for this very important step. With one side of the house almost done, Maya is extremely happy with her color choice and glad we took the time to change it from her first selection.
Painting was the main accomplishment for the day. Maya finished painting the uninstalled clapboard while I started in on the trim. By late afternoon we were back to hanging clapboard which should keep us busy for the next few days. I don’t care so much for the repetitive tasks on our tiny house project and much prefer the one-off precision work. After Maya left for an evening party, I fashioned an exit cover for the refrigerant lines to cover the expanding foam insulation used to seal the opening. It required two overlapping 1-1/4 inch holes drilled at a an acute angle. Once I built a jig to hold the workpiece the rest was fairly easy. These are the kinds of details I enjoy working on and I am very pleased with the way this one turned out. The electrical wires from the code required circuit disconnect box will be run through a liquid tight tube when the HVAC unit is installed.
Thus far into our tiny house project we have had all the tools needed for our work. Today I invested in a new track saw to replace a home built version I made more than a decade ago. My version (pictured below) continues to work just fine and has been used to cut all the sheet goods we have used thus far. It is, however, time consuming to set up for each cut and cannot be used safely to make plunge cuts. With at least 40 more 4’x8′ sheets to machine, including many requiring plunge cuts, I decided to invest in a new tool purpose built for the job. I decided on a cordless Dewalt for its capacity, power, and compatibility with my other cordless tools.
Rain forced Maya and I to work inside the house for most of the day. Maya installed all of the electrical outlets and inside window trim on the four loft windows. I did the first floor inside window trim, hung the front door that Maya painted yesterday and built a set of temporary stairs to the front porch.
You will recall that Kyle and I spent the better part of a day painting all the siding last week. After seeing the clapboard next to the charcoal colored roof, Maya decided that their was not enough contrast. She invited Sarinnagh, Fiona, Ben and Caleb over to help repaint all the clapboard to a new color which I would describe as gray with a hint of blue. The group finished about two-thirds of the boards while I finished caulking all of the windows and trim. Maya also painted the front door and frame which we installed yesterday. If the weather cooperates we should be finished with the exterior by early next week and ready to start work inside.
In retrospect, installing the metal roof ourselves would have been a massive undertaking. Pictured above is the machine that spit out perfectly sized panels one after another. We would have had to purchase panels longer than needed and cut them all by hand. This is but one of the specialized metal forming tools that the crew used in addition to their arsenal of properly sized ladders. The roof would have been completed yesterday but for an incorrectly dimensioned ridge cap. The temporary one that is installed now is quite ugly and I will wait until it is has been replaced before posting a photo of the finished installation. Other than this small delay, we are extremely pleased with the outcome. We spent the day finishing the trim and installing the front door.