Four More Words.

“Hey! Congratulations! I hear congratulations are in order! Do you have a date set?”

Weddings are an enormous to-do. I knew I was getting married. I knew who I was going to marry: Kristin. There wasn’t any reasonable doubt. The only missing element was the official asking: four words.

People tend not to blurt the four words out. You don’t spill the question over oatmeal. Usually, you go skydiving, and somebody spells the words out with colorful flags back on Earth. Or you can make up a phony reason to get on tv and ask the question there. Much planning goes into preparation and venue.

What a to-do.

I built a tiny house, and by the end of last year, it was mostly complete. When I installed the final propane heater, there was no longer good cause to sleep in the giant house up the little hill. I moved the mattress to our loft, and though incomplete, our tiny home was quiet and cozy.

We had been in the house many times, but shuffling down the small hill in the dark was the first time we were going home. Our home; together. We sat on our little sofa. It was December 15th, and the air was brisk and silent. This was the test ride, but the product was sold. The home became ours the moment we crossed the threshold.

We sat close and watched the tiny flames in our scratch-n-dent direct vent wall mounted propane heater. The dim 12v light pointed up toward the peak of the roof; it cast romantic shadows. I began to recount the changes in my life over the past two years. I told Kristin how thankful I was that our paths had crossed; how grateful I was for her insight on being. As soon as I finished my thought, I added four more words.

She was startled, but her answer was immediately YES.

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The Complications of Simplification.

(This post is copied from my ‘real’ blog, but I think it’s appropriate here as well.)

Everything is great. I have a tiny house that I built, and a plan to simplify my life. Naturally, it is much easier to say “simplify” than it is to make it so. To actually perform the act, I will need to throw away, donate, and sell a ton of stuff. I’ve begun.

Two trailer loads so far have gone to the landfill. I don’t love hiding my mistakes and problems under a layer of earth, but it is an effective approach when it is not possible to travel through time and abstain from the initial acquisition. I have a tendency to hold onto items for later projects or other imagined uses. I’ve recently had to remind myself that I am full of shit. It is more important to be rid of this stuff. Some of it was big. Rotten siding and windows had to go; I’m not going to dismantle a desk to harvest the wood for anything. Got. To. Go.

I’m a collector – or at least I always have been one. I have half a closet full of Mad Magazines and ephemera. That was my first collection. Since then, I’ve started at least a dozen others. “Please Wash Hands” signs, from the time in my life where ripping signs off walls was funny. In that vein, I also have my collection of carpets with the logos of the businesses that I took them from. (This was a ballsy collection, but admittedly still a totally awesome one.) I also have about ten miniature guitars; none longer than 32″ overall. I don’t play guitar. Mini Band broke up in 2005. I have a world famous condiment packet collection. Most of them are preserved in plastic baseball card-style cases and sleeves. Thousands of packets didn’t make it to the site before I quit. I had four medium boxes of full packets, some of which were starting to stink. I had unopened correspondence from admirers, and unanswered letters from children who love the site. It was heartbreaking to let this go, but those boxes had to go.

That might not sound bad. But – as you might guess, someone with that list of belongings probably has a lot of other shit lurking around as well. You would be correct. I do.

My belongings have become a burden. I need to let go to be free. I have an unnatural sentimental attachment to bullshit. I am hacking at these ties like a bushwhacker with a machete. 

By way of explanation for the last grim update here, I’ll say that the ADD pills I’ve been taking might be partly to blame. I quit taking them when I suspected they might be making me angry-sad every time they start to wear off. The past few days have been better. My brain is still a muffin floating in cake batter, but at least I haven’t been taking the fact so hard.

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A Re-Focusing on Where to Begin Again…

My builder-blog friend, John, just contacted me. Talking to him reminded me that I stopped talking over here.

Hey! I’m alive. My house is standing, and my wristwatch confirms that time still passes at an even pace.

For personal reasons, I did not work on the house much during the winter months. I hibernated. It was an angry dissatisfied sort of hibernation – and from this, I’ve only just woken up.

Kristin and I have been sleeping in the tiny house for months, but I am ashamed to report that we are not yet full-time fort-dwellers. We lean heavily on the large cumbersome dwelling just up the hill. Our own house is nearly complete, and with a few hammer-strikes and twists of the wrench, I believe I will soon wear proudly the badge of owner-builder.

First, I have to install this fucking fridge.

I bought a fridge on Craigslist. It’s a propane fridge from an RV. It’s bigger than I expected from the photos, but I have it halfway installed, and I’ll be damned if I’m willing to change the plan now. On the second day of the installation, I spent several hours trying to frame around the fridge and run a copper line. After much delicate fussing… I kinked the pipe. That was weeks ago. The only change has been a slight accumulation of dust.

There are several tasks to complete before we are living full time in the new house. Taken separately, the work is in no way insurmountable. The half-full view would be an end in sight. I’m squinting and adjusting my vision accordingly:

1) Fridge. I have a great fridge. I need to run the copper through the floor and to the trunk line under the house. I have to run a couple wires to our fuse box to work the controls. I have to seal the insulated cabinet around the fridge, and I’m done. 1-2 days? Not bad.

2) Trim work. I have all kinds of cheap and handsome rough cut wood. I went to the Corporate Wood Store, and bought the cheapest materials they had. The wood is intended for use as fence boards, but should also be suitable for anything else that’s wooden. Trim? Great.

3) Bathroom. This small room is where we keep our trash, mops and spiders. I need to build a door for it. I need to make the shower drain go to a vessel of some sort. I need to get something like a dry-flush (you have to see this toilet.)  The shower is going to be something like a solar shower bag which drains into a big jug under the house, passing through the cast-iron sink that you stand in. Huh? Right. I don’t know how it’ll end up, but I need to begin the process of experimentation. Same with the kitchen sink.

4) I need some more outlets and lighting. USB outlets and 12v outlets need to be added. No big deal. Just a little tedious. Here is another area where I need to think less and strip wires more.

All-in-all, I’m exactly where I was before winter. I’m a nutty nut bag that needs to finish the projects which he starts. Time will pass, and several moons from now, we will see the result.

I’m pleased that so many people have signed up to ‘follow’ this blog. I feel a certain responsibility to create informative, or at least illustrative content, but at the same time I have to remember to wake up and put on my pants.

How are you? Do you want to build your own tiny house? Build it! You’ve got to be more qualified than me! And I’m almost done!

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Installing an inlet; wiring an oulet

What a difference a pill makes. In spite of a cold wet day, I managed to get some work done.

First up on the chopping block: an alternative to running an extension cord through an open window.

I bought a weatherproof “inlet” for the side of the house. An inlet is like an outlet, but it has three prongs instead of three holes. Since I don’t know the professional way to complete most tasks, I had to piece together a plan from Youtube videos and bits of forum threads. Mix that information with some common sense, and you’re ready for tools.

15mg of borrowed Adderall worked like a charm. Without it, I’d be muttering and cussing. A project like this might bring me close to tears. With it, I’m focused. I know my methods are cobbled together and inefficient, but isn’t that the nature of all self-directed learning?

I slipped a Sharpie out of my pocket, and traced a circle around the guts of the inlet. The circle was two inches in diameter, and I only had a 5/8″ bit. Not to be slowed down, I drilled several little holes instead. I retrieved my new Rotozip to clean it up. The Rotozip didn’t like my siding too much, so I walked back through the snow once more to retrieve a jigsaw. Better. I only had to hack away for another five minutes to get a good fit for the inlet’s guts.

Any person with skill or experience would be done by now. I was still getting started.

From the outside, I ran my 5/8″ bit up at a slight angle, and towards the general area where I wanted to install an outlet inside. The bit broke through the drywall pretty close to where I was aiming. Close enough, anyway – and I allowed myself a wide margin of error.

The next task was to install a plastic outlet receptacle on the inside wall. The Rotozip was right at home for this part. I Sharpie’d around the box, plunged the Rotozip’s bit through the drywall, and found almost immediately that I had traced the box over a stud. That’ll need to be touched up. I traced again, and cut out a rectangle the size of the box. The size was about right, but the depth was about a quarter inch shallow.

Here’s where I started getting fancy.

I used a big flathead screwdriver to slash a bunch of shallow grooves into the foam board insulation. I clawed the insulation out with my fingernails and the flathead blade until the box fit. I know there was a better way, but sometimes the best way ends up being any way that doesn’t stop the project. The box fit.

But I wasn’t done yet.

This type of receptacle – the blue plastic type – attaches to a stud with two pre-installed 3″ nails that are at an angle nearly perpendicular to the face of the box. Maybe a 15 degree angle. The box itself fit the hole, but the nails did not. Even if the nails did fit into the recess I’d carved out – how could I pound them in without cutting out way more drywall?

I cannot recommend this solution, but it worked:

I used the Rotozip to carve out two extended recessed lines where the nails could be nested. The receptacle and the nails were now recessed in the wall where I wanted them – but how could I pound in the nails? I walked through the snow again to retrieve a nail set. A nail set is used to push the head of a nail neatly flush with a surface without damaging the surrounding material. In my case, I eyeballed the angle of the nail and estimated where the nail set could go to line up with the head. Then I jammed the tip of the nail set through the drywall at an angle, and forced it to line up with the head of the nail. This took minor violence. I pounded the nails in using the nail set jammed through the surrounding drywall at a shallow angle. It worked.

I can probably fill the hack-job drywall damage with some spackle – much easier than patching. My drywall job is far from pro, but it looks alright with paint on it. You can see all the joints and a good percentage of the screw heads, but I’ve moved beyond caring about that. I can hang drywall, but it’s going to have some character.

I walked through the snow again, and took a fifteen minute break to review outlet wiring. Brass = hot; silver = neutral; green = ground. I got a clean scrap of Romex, stripped the three wires on one side, and with inefficient meticulousness, I attached the wires in a correct and respectable manner. I slipped the wires into the wall-hole from the outside, and attached the cover plate of the inlet making sure the waterproof gasket was evenly compressed against the siding. I moved inside, stripped the other end of the Romex, and attached the wires to their corresponding outlet screws.

A careful idiot could do this. A careless idiot might get injured, but a careful idiot will do just fine. Double check your work, and plug in something you don’t care about. I had no issues. Now I can plug an extension cord into the outside of my house, and the outlet on the inside will have power. The battery charger is always plugged in – so when you plug in the extension cord, you are “plugging in the house.” I love it.

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Chim-chim, chéri. Look at my Dickinson P-9000.

I got the chimney on the Dickinson P-9000 marine heater installed. Drilling a 3″ hole right through my beautiful wall was an event. I got a hole saw bit and plunged right through.

The p-9000 comes with a fairly short length of flexible chimney pipe. You can buy extensions, but I like to avoid costs. I confirmed that the chimney can exit a wall horizontally, and the “deck fitting” can be screwed horizontally onto a side wall.

In fact, a representative from Dickinson sent me a photo to illustrate this point:

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I love people.

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I want one in my Ford Festiva.

So, I squinted one eye and did what I had to do in the name of progress. I picked a spot, and drilled a big ol’ hole.

Seeing each layer of building materials come out of the hole in reverse order was novel, but what really piqued my interest was that I couldn’t get the chimney to line up with the fittings on the heater. Huh. Maybe I should have squinted both eyes, or stood back further when I was throwing darts at a board.

To fix the problem, I went to my new best friend, Rough Sawn Cypress. RSC told me to just screw a couple boards into the studs, and install the heater wherever it wanted to go. Great. So now I’m listening to objects for advice, and I haven’t even smoked any pot.

All’s well that ends well. I put more cypress in the house, and the heater didn’t land anywhere too absurd for comfort. The deck fitting doesn’t look too bad where it ended up, either.

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Yep… that’ll work.

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Cypress “rails” in action. Wish I used it for the whole GD wall.

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School bell? No. “Deck Fitting.”

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Cut a sliver of siding to slip in and shim. “Precision.”

As these photos will no doubt demonstrate, you do not need to be a skilled genius to build a tiny house. You just have to keep… moving… along.

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The heavy lifting is over. Time for pipes and wires.

My brain is a tornado no matter what I do to it. Drugs and logic are lost like bb’s fired into a maelstrom. Trying to keep my mind on target is like prodding an elephant with a stick of spaghetti.

I’ve developed a love/frustration relationship with my house. I look forward to getting it completed. I am proud of what I have finished so far. I have painted myself into 1,000 corners. My tender and easily-frazzled mind is awash. I’m still learning.

Since my last post, I’ve installed flooring. I have nice flooring that I pulled out of the trash. When I made some money, I bought some wood. I covered the bathroom walls with rough-sawn cypress. It smells good and looks good. I bought more cypress to build a porch. The porch extends four feet from the front of the house. There is no roof above it, but I will get to that. I saved up $2,000 and spent most of it at a bicycle swap meet. Two weeks later, when my eBay auctions began to bring in money, I purchased $678 worth of Trojan T-105 deep cycle batteries. I built a handsome box for my battery bank, and put it on the front porch. It will double as a bench. It is topped with rough sawn cypress – my new favorite wood. I brush my teeth with this shit. I shower by rubbing it on my body. I talk to it when I’m lonely.

I quit drinking on my birthday in 2011. My birthday in 2013 saw me buying a quarter keg of beer. I won’t let sobriety prevent me from enjoying a good kegger. Tiny House – tiny keg. I invited a slew-and-a-half of my favorite people over to celebrate what I’ve accomplished so far. I have work ahead of me, but a birthday and a mild-weather respite was good cause to celebrate the present.

To do: install electrical system and propane system. Golly gee…

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The World Keeps Giving.

I have a cute girlfriend and a tiny dog. I live on the periphery of a cute little town in Pennsylvania, about slingshot-distance from the Delaware border. On average, there are better places in the world. In the fall, however, my current perch on the Earth is hard to assail.

Hands held and a small dog exploring beside us, we made our way to the coffee shop. I feel like I am in the 1%. I am in the 1% of the luckiest people currently, and I know it. This is not a money-based measure, but rather an algorithmic output based on many variables including what I’ve seen, who I know, and what I’ve done. I’m a lucky guy, and my only job is to keep my head out of the muck.

With clasped hands and a curious small-dog, we took a right turn to travel up the alley between Broad and Union. I like this alley because traffic is infrequent, and it gave me a vintage tuner last month – a tuner equipped with an 8-track tape deck. It’s a good alley. People line the sides with spoils; awaiting the victor. That’s me. I have a van.

In tiny house news, I’m a skilled procrastinator who just bought paint for the interior. After paint comes flooring, and I was planning to use an old rug. The alley-of-spoils had another plan. A small remodeling project was reaching completion near Juniper Street, and the “old” laminate flooring was being discarded in neat manageable stacks.

I called dibs mentally as our party-of-three continued our saunter towards coffee. After some small-town smiles and what’s-ups, we headed home for the van. Twenty minutes from then, I was sliding stacks of flooring out of the trash and into the back. I pulled the stacks vertically from a reasonably clean trash can. As the stacks cleared the rim, I rested them above my knee while improving my grip before easing them into a horizontal position in the van. Clearly, I was not careful enough about splinters.

Nothing hurt, but when something felt a little funny, I looked down and saw a toothpick-sized spear sticking out of my leg. I pulled it out carefully so it wouldn’t snap off under the skin. To my surprise, about a full inch slid out, giving that strange sensation of a body part vomiting remotely. Without these minor technical injuries, there would be little in life to make me feel like a real man. It felt goooood.

Laminate flooring from le trashe.

Laminate flooring from le trashe.

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Re-used or Be used.

Tiny Houses need fewer materials. Often we can complete a job with leftovers from someone else’s bigger job. Smaller structures are easier to build with strength – shorter spans can carry more weight. Less material also means far less expense. These are some of the factors making a tiny house a manageable building project for almost anybody who can work a saw, a drill, and a hammer.

The biggest thing I built before my house is a set of shelves. I am not an exceptional person – building a tiny house is exceptionally possible.

Giant houses are being built by developers who hire construction crews. The materials are brought to the jobsite by the truckload. When ordering materials, it is standard practice to over-estimate because of likely mistakes which will need to be re-done. Developers are rich and new homes are expensive – there is plenty of money to pay for the wood in the dumpster. The workers have no personal investment in or attachment to the materials, which creates an environment that is ripe-to-bursting with dumpsters to harvest.

Have you taken a peek inside a jobsite dumpster? Long two-by lumber and half sheets of plywood abound. I have also seen unused buckets of joint compound, unused lighting fixtures still in the boxes, many pounds of unused nails, unused caulk – it’s somebody else’s money, so it goes in the dumpster with no hesitation. The crews make the most money by being wasteful-but-quick. Time costs much more than wood. A contractor can’t afford to pay a carpenter to puzzle over where to fit a half sheet of plywood. Measurements are made on a fresh new sheet, while a workable cutout waits for the landfill. If 10% of the full sized studs are a little twisted – toss them in the dumpster.

It’s time to get pro-active about re-used building materials. I’m talking to myself, I’m talking to you, and I’m shouting into space.

There are good reasons to use building materials that are not purchased directly from corporations. Corporations distort our sense of what we need. Corporations do this because they are human-built monsters which have been programmed to profit and have no ethics or morality to make them hit the brakes. This dangerous arrangement pulls humans under the wheels of the bus, and allows Earth’s resources to be plucked with abandon. Worse yet, now that they exist, it is not feasible or prudent to dissolve a company that is creating jobs and holding a stabilizing arm under our nation’s economy.

Beyond ethics and sustainability are the equally compelling forces of cost and aesthetics. Personally, I prefer the look of a tiny house that reveals something about the builder. A tiny house constructed of all-new materials from Home Depot does not have the same charm and character as a home with beams cut roughly using a chainsaw. Both are functional, but only one of them inspires me.

I don’t have a chainsaw that can rough-cut timbers, but I have an old pair of shoes, and I can dodge nails inside a dumpster. When I think about money and myself, I think in terms of opportunity costs as often as income. If I can get materials for free, then that is a direct amount of money that I do not need to earn in some other way. If a corporation loses a sale, and a landfill loses potential mass – that is icing on the cake. It’s a game. The more I re-use materials and avoid corporate product streams, the more I win.

The more we care about the Earth, the less we should care about straight lines and flat surfaces in our homes. Carpenters need to be concerned with straight lines. Straight lines make easier work for the drywall and carpet guys. Straight lines show skill and quality. Straight lines are necessary to sell the house.

A tiny house built by its owner can handle some lumber with a personality – as long as it keeps the rain out and the owner stays warm.

Tiny House owner-builders have a choice to make. We can try to emulate the skills and styles of specialists with decades of experience – with likely disappointing results for those of us who are first-time builders. Or – we can try our hardest to remember that imperfection does not equal weakness. A twisted stud will hold up a roof. Knots in wood – not a problem. With an open mind and a dedication to finding creative solutions, we can reduce cost and waste much further than we already are. We can photograph our progress and explain our decisions. We learn from each other. With more information about the creative sourcing and use of materials will come an increased confidence in would-be builders that they too can build a happy home.

I am proud of my tiny house’s cost-quality ratio, and I am proud that my windows, siding, and insulation were 100% used materials or headed for the trash. Given more time and energy, a larger percentage of my total materials would have come from scraps and bargains. Expediency also has a value – you can’t always wait a month to avoid buying a $2 cinder block, but you can remember to look for a free one first. Or use some old bricks instead. I couldn’t find everything in a dumpster or on Craigslist, but I made a strong effort. Basic lumber is so inexpensive that we conveniently forget how much energy is being wasted to harvest it. I didn’t forget, but to be honest, I’ve spent thousands of dollars at Lowes that I wish went somewhere else. It’d be nice if there were universal access to used lumber and sawmill seconds, but that isn’t currently realistic. So I shopped in some dumpsters, got some fantastic bargains, and bought the rest with plastic and carried it home in more plastic. I’m a faulty human American. The trick is to do your best – strike a comfortable balance while maintaining a willingness to improve.

I know of four major ways to get building materials outside of the new-production stream.

1) Dumpster-direct. Find out where new construction or renovation is happening, and go to the dumpsters when the workers are gone. Watch out for nails; bring gloves. I got loads of plywood and studs this way.

2) Craigslist. That’s where I got my insulation, siding, and most of my windows. I got the siding for free from a guy who pulled it out of a dumpster on a jobsite. I got insulation that was pulled out of a gymnasium ceiling and would have gone into a dumpster if a worker didn’t catch it on the rebound. I paid $8 per sheet, and the enterprising employee had thousands of sheets. If you see something of value, you can sell it on Craigslist even if you don’t need it yourself.

3) Call around. Window installers throw away the windows they remove. This is America – most of those windows are absolutely fine. If you can speak well on the phone, then you can figure out how to get in touch with the person most likely to help you – usually someone further down the chain without a personal stake in selling you something. Talking in person is best, and talking to management usually doesn’t work. I adopt a friendly lilt in my tone, and speak as though I have an unassailable zeal for life. I speak with put-on confidence and use any leverage to make it hard to tell me “no.” You’ll have to find what works for you. Simply asking people for what you want can be surprisingly effective. And a shutdown can be brushed off.

4) Shop at the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store, or look for other “salvaged” or “reclaimed” building material businesses. The Re-Store in my town is a great source for doors, windows, lighting, electrical, hardware, tiles, furniture… all the construction basics. An “architectural salvage” business might cater to fancy people and only offer expensive accent items, but some are a good resource for the basics as well. I even found one place that had a small stock of used 2×4’s – rare indeed, but admirably thorough.

If I am missing any major (or minor) sources of not-new building supplies, let me know in the comments.

I am writing these words with the empowerment of individuals close to my heart. I am not writing this to condemn corporations. But these are often two sides of the same coin – and I like humans better than monsters. If a monster does an ounce of good in the world, it is not out of benevolence. Wake up, smell the self interest, and lets all try to wean ourselves from our connections to a larger network of greed and suffering.

If you are reading this, and you are in charge of a large, powerful company – please look at your feet: if you are standing on a pulpy mound of the bones of suffering humans, please adjust your business practices accordingly. The fall weather is pretty, but some of us are still having trouble breathing down here.

Good luck with your tiny house building project!

Love,
Chris

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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.

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

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First piece of drywall. Good enough!

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

 

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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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