Monthly Archives: September 2013

Drywall and Wiring: Two Firsts for a Learning Builder.

This is all too much. This is where it gets interesting.

I’ve been peeling back the layers of the onion ever since it started getting warm outside. Now the summer is over, and the temperatures are starting to get cool again. When I started building, I kept reminding myself that it was just a series of small steps. I didn’t have to build a house in a day – I just had to learn how to complete each step before moving on.

As the house gets closer to completion, it gets more difficult to view the project as a series of steps. As I get closer to completion, more unfinished details float to the surface. I am having difficulty focusing on one step at a time, and seeing all of the work that I have left is intimidating to say the absolute least.

I’m putting up drywall. We decided on drywall because it is cheap, easy, and I could get it right before installation – it’s one less thing to store in my parents’ house or on their land. I might have preferred to use reclaimed boards of some type, but the thought of where to put them until I install them seemed nightmarish.

I have leftover siding stacked in the driveway, and a stack of leftover foam board insulation in my van. I have a couch and an RV stove stashed in the basement. I am using an entire guestroom and walk-in closet as my eBay / Amazon selling headquarters. My van looks like an old beast in the driveway, and my new Ford Festiva is a dirty little unlocked presence in the cul-de-sac.

My folks live a very clean and organized existence. I invited myself back into their house and onto their land. So far I’ve been a tolerable tornado, but soon it will be time to show them the benefits of having me around and not just the costs. Along these lines, I owe them at least $200 worth of cereal. If you’re ever wondering who has some great parents, consider me. Throughout my life, they have made my weird existence possible many times. And they invite me along when they eat dinner at Perkins.

Back to the drywall. This is the first drywall I’ve ever hung. Before starting, I took a good look at the ceiling above the loft, and realized that I didn’t include any framing or blocking to anchor the drywall to where the roof meets the gable ends. No surprises there.

I did some quick reading, and found that I could install furring strips perpendicular to the rafters, and screw the drywall to that. To get the furring strips in place, I had to remove the insulation from the gable ends. It’s times like this that I wish I could borrow a brain without ADD.

The further I get into the project, the more ADD-rattled my head starts to feel. When I was building the subfloor, I had very little to distract me. Now I have a whole house worth of micro to-do lists. My brain is buzzing. Coffee and smuggled ADD meds can only keep me focused for so long every day. I also need to keep making money, which means time off to buy low and sell high. Sometimes I feel like I’m juggling jugglers.

I have about a quarter of the loft covered in drywall. It’s not a professional job, and I’ll leave it at that. It’ll be fine.

I didn’t “rough in” the electrical wiring, because I’ve never wired a thing in my life. I have a lot on my plate. While putting up the drywall, I realized it would probably be a good idea to figure out where some wires are going to run and where some lights are going to go. At the last minute, I made some decisions about that. I have the wiring for a few circuits in the loft running behind the drywall.

“There’s a first time for everything.” I have to keep reminding myself. Of course it’s hard. Every professional electrician and drywall hanger had to run their first wire and drive their first screw. It doesn’t have to be easy, but it has to be done. Now. I’m forging ahead.


Furring strips, because I forgot to put nailers at the gable ends. At least it’s easy to run wiring behind the furring strips…


First piece of drywall. Good enough!

th furring nightmare

This is what your furring strips look like when you’ve done too much acid.


th wiring

First time wiring a house. What can go wrong?


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The Genesis of our Tiny House on Blocks.

In November of last year, I was in need of change. I was thirsty for it. I wanted to buy land and build a house, but my savings account was only filling by a slow trickle. I knew I did not have ten years to wait. Desire threatened to snap ribs and explode from my chest. I had to choose a date to leave Philadelphia, and the need to build a house became urgent.

I had been learning to use Sketchup to create 3-D models, and my first project was a 6’x8′ structure I called the “Study Shack.” There would be just enough space for a chair or loveseat. There would be no bathroom or kitchen, and the structure would provide shelter, respite, and little else. Having spent long periods of time living in a van, I knew that this arrangement would be a healthy choice for me. I would be returning to a simplicity I had already known and loved. The need was strong, and plans began right away.

I would build the structure on my parents’ property, and live in it until I could find parking elsewhere. I would look for a grassy pasture after completion. A 6’x8′ house would fit on a small trailer, and the house could be supported on deck blocks with no need for a permanent foundation. This would be the perfect size to learn building skills without spending an enormous amount on materials. The portable size would make moving and finding a location relatively straightforward and easy. I had a project. I was in heaven.

Kristin saw no wisdom in this plan. The plan seemed reckless and without merit. When I invited her to join me on my adventure, she was a step beyond incredulous. I have lived in small spaces. As a temporary solution allowing for a change of location, a cessation of paying rent, and an opportunity to save for bigger ideas – the Study Shack seemed perfect. To Kristin it sounded like a crowded tent. No dishwasher is one thing, but no dishes is going too far.

There was a stalemate. I only have one life to live, and I made a commitment long ago that whimsy is a critical component of my decision-making process. I have to listen to my instincts. I have a great fear of letting regret gain a foothold in the present to taunt me in the future. The time of rent and roommates was coming to an end. I would be building a house… now.

A safety net of promises was not enough to assuage Kristin’s apprehensions. I promised that if the experiment failed, then we would get an apartment. Nothing would be lost – we’d be right back where we started. I would scratch my great itch to build a structure, and we’d save at least a few months of rent. What seemed logical to me sounded burdensome and unconvincing to the person who I love.

Spending most of the daylight in coffee shops and public places, and being home only to read, sleep, or cook a simple one-pot meal – that is the life of a vandweller. Being socially adept and unencumbered by many of the challenges of a material society – this is the life I have known. This is the missing simplicity I was yearning to embrace. If I can just get her to try it, I thought, she will be able to understand that happiness is possible – maybe even easier to attain – when the distractions and frustrations of a cluttered life are abandoned.

You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make her drink. Well, Kristin isn’t a horse, and she was having none of this shit. No means no. I was forced to concede to the fair merit of her intractable opinions, which then forced me to re-evaluate my priorities. We held hands as we walked to the neighborhood coffee shop.

I sat across a small table from Kristin and asked her a question that I was afraid to hear the answer to.

“What is the smallest house you can picture yourself being comfortable in?”

Posed as a mere hypothetical, the urgency I felt was not given away in my tone. Kristin’s answer would be honest and complete. This was not a forum for debate, and a difference of opinions or perceived needs would have to be accepted as a valid and possibly deeply disappointing reality.

“I think maybe 8’x12′,” she said. “How big is the Epu, again?”

“I’ll build it!” I told her, leaving no time for her to reconsider. “The Epu is 8’x12′.”

The decision was made, and the coffee tasted better. We talked about living in a tiny house together, and discussed when we might be able to leave the city. I knew that a bigger house would tighten the budget too far. My savings might not cover it, but the thought of waiting caused a dull ache. But! My girlfriend was on board with a measure of lunacy, and I could hear the chimes of whimsy inviting me to rejoice.

In that coffee shop meeting, I agreed to bite off more than I can chew. I knew I would be stretching the limits of not only my bank account, but the patience of my family whose land I would be using as a place to build. Moving the house would become triple-difficult, requiring permits and probably a flatbed truck. Roaming code enforcers would be twice as likely to alert to the scent of permit-free construction. Bearing the weight of these worries is a compromise that I have not regretted for a moment. I could sense the relief and excitement when I promised to build a bigger home.

“A house is still a home if it don’t have a kitchen, but a house with no Kristin has somethin’ missin’.”

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