Tyvek: A Giant Gift-Wrapping Escapade.

The Walls

Tyvekking the tiny house was a really fun task. It was a moment where all previous Christmases and family members’ birthdays culminated into a pinnacle of miraculous large-scale gift-wrapping, putting all my skills to the test.

Just to bring you up to speed, Tyvek, a brand of house wrap, is semi-permeable membrane that kinda just looks and feels like paper with a plastic-y coating on it. What it does is allow water vapour to move from the inside of the house to the outside world, while simultaneously blocking liquid water (rain) from coming in through the walls. A lot of other blogs and videos I’ve seen recommend using a particular type of Tyvek that features vertical ridges which are supposed to allow water to easily drain out from behind it, but we couldn’t find that. As with every task relating to the tiny house, there is a balance to be found between recommendations from others, and best / common practices for the area you live in.

Through the jigs and the reels, we ended up Tvekking our tiny house twice. I’m going to use our first time as the demonstration for our methodology, since it was very controlled, and done inside a warehouse where the wind couldn’t bother us. It took us 4 hours to complete on the afternoon of October 21, 2015. We bought a 100ft roll of Tykvek (9ft wide), and that covered our needs just perfectly.

We picked a place to start, NOT on a corner…


Made it all the way around once…


Cut our roll in half…

And then went around a second time to finish.


We used a staple gun (the normal kind, not the fancy hammer stapler) to attach the Tyvek to the plywood sheathing. We tried to use as few attachment points as possible, in order to limit the entry points for water. If we were doing this outdoors, we’d likely have to use a bunch more staples and wooden strapping to protect the Tyvek from being ripped off in the wind. But of course, every time you pierce this membrane, you’re taking away from its ability to do its job.

You definitely need at least two people for this task. One to hold the roll and unfurl it, and one to smooth out the wrinkles and staple. The goal is to get this Tyvek as snug and straight as you can, to prevent any bunching. We found having a milk crate handy to rest the roll on from time to time was a huge help. This allows the person whose job it is to hold the roll an opportunity to step back and survey the situation (it’s hard to tell if you’re going straight from up close), or to assist the stapler. A tiny misalignment early on can translate to a huge gap down the line. Readjust yourself as early as possible if you notice you’re getting off kilter.

To seal in the seams where two ends of Tyvek met, we used red tuck tape – standard practice. It’s important to overlap the ends (we overlapped by a good foot or so), to ensure a good seal, and equally important to pay attention to how your horizontal seems are layered. BE THE WATER DROP! That second go-around on the top portion of the house had to overlap the first one, again, by about a foot. This prevents any water from getting in behind the Tyvek in the case that our tuck tape failed at some point in the future.

When considering how to tape down the loose edges at the top of the house, on to the roof sheathing, the same logic applies: be the drop of water.

1. Tape down the edge on the lower end of the sloped roof


2. Pleat the bottom corners so they overlap the straight edge at the lower end (just like            a present!)


3. Tape down the edges on both sides of the roof


4. Pleat the top corners, so they overlap the side edge. DO NOT tape down these pleats,          or the top loose edge of Tyvek at the higher end of your sloped roof.

In order to maintain that shingling effect with your layers, so water won’t have an opportunity to get behind anything, you’ve got to slip the top edge of tar paper UNDER the edge of Tyvek at the higher end of your roof. Tar paper goes on your roof sheathing, underneath your finish roofing material, but this step wasn’t going to be happening for a little while longer. We just left that top edge loose until we were ready.


Next, we cut an upside down Y into each door / window opening. At this stage, it’s enough to just wrap the flaps around the trimmer studs and staple them back out of the way, to the inside. Done! Key things to remember: limit the number of seams, staples, wrinkles. Layer top over bottom, and face your pleats down-slope.

Fast forward to September 2017. Our tiny house had been in storage from November 2015 until March 2017 inside the warehouse, while we were gone to India and Japan. Then, it had to come outside to make room for other things going on inside the space. This happened a few weeks before we arrived home, but had we been there, we definitely would have have strapped the Tyvek with wooden furring strips and added more staples right away. The wind, of course, doesn’t waste time. By the time we landed in NL most of the Tyvek had been ripped off or shredded, save a narrow strip around the top perimeter along the roof-line and around the door and few windows we had installed before leaving it in 2015.


We would have loved to jump right back into the build at this point, but Tim found a job in St. John’s, making it impossible for us to live near the build site. One of us needed to be working to put food on the table. It sat in the yard, waiting for us to find a new temporary home for it, or ideally, its forever home. And we were less than successful in finding a new place until the fall. Over the summer, our lovely fresh plywood also got bleached in the sun. It was a sad time. But, not the end of the world. Battling the elements is the reality for most construction projects in Newfoundland and Labrador. Not many people have the advantage of building inside a warehouse, and we knew it had to end at some point.

Navigating our new outdoor building space took a few days, but we found a rhythm in short order. We started round 2 of Tyvekking on October 20th, 2017 and finished the following day. It took 7 hours this time (cursed wind!), so you could still do it in one day. At this point I had also found a job, so both of us were only available to work on the tiny house during weekends and evenings.

In the end, we were able to fix it up good as new. We were generous with our tuck tape, and gave a little extra care to the seams. It was a good lesson in accepting fall-backs and not letting them slow you down. Everything is workable. You just need to find your path forward and get moving. That’s a wrap! ‘Till next time.

The Inaugural Tow

Making our Tiny Life a Reality

After an entire summer of futility in searching for land, and with my mom on the cusp of moving to Ontario (thus putting her house up for rent), we needed to make some big decisions. The tiny house had been sitting, waiting, in the lot outside the warehouse where we had been building, and it really couldn’t stay there any longer. It wasn’t in the way, but I felt bad about it being there unattended to for so long. In addition to that, since our tyvek had been ripped off in the wind and we’d only installed 2 out of the 12 windows in the house, it was just one big leaky box! Every week that went by was adding to my mounting stress. Also, when the tiny house had been moved outside in the spring, it wasn’t levelled up with our jacks, creating an opportunity for water to pool in one corner. We went out there after a rainstorm one weekend to tidy up, and I literally had to bail water out of the back right corner with a cut off plastic jug. Needless to say, I was freaking out. We’d gone from a perfect, dry, controlled build to a vulnerable, wet, and unpredictable situation. Blaarrhgg.

Fortunately, before too long at all, we found a great 1 bedroom apartment for rent on Bauline Line, which is only about 15 – 20 minutes from downtown. The landlord and his family own some 80 acres of land and run a heavy equipment company (similar to the father son duo who helped us out with our initial build site!). They didn’t mind us parking our tiny house nearby and continuing to work on it. Huzzah! So we signed the lease and started carting our belongings over there. Even after having done a significant cull before leaving for Japan, we still have too much stuff. Definitely in need of doing another cull before the final jump to tiny life.

We were hoping that the family friend who had towed our trailer from St. John’s out to our build site in Chapel Arm could help us again. He wasn’t available until near the end of September, and we were really hoping to get it in sooner. But, another lucky thing – the job that Tim scored upon our return also employed a great deal of mechanics. It seems that mechanics, at least around here, are pretty comfortable with towing things and often own big sturdy trucks. One of Tim’s work buddies in particular had experience towing RVs from a dealership near St. John’s out to the Argentia ferry on the regular. He was available on Sunday morning, September 10th, and agreed to tow it for us! So off to the NL Motor Vehicle Registration building we went to obtain our second In-Transit permit for a homemade trailer.

Tim’s friend told us that if wind can blow into something being towed, it’s gotta find a way out. It can build up a lot of pressure and potentially blow the walls out. Imagine! So,
the day before the tow, we went out to Chapel Arm to board up the window holes. Before starting, I had to once again bail out the back right corner of the tiny, holding back melodramatic tears from adding to the giant puddle. It poured rain the entire day, and we got thoroughly soaked. We had enough scrap plywood left over from the build to do the job, but no more scaffolding. Two ladders would need to suffice. What a different experience! By nightfall, we’d finished the bulk of the work, but we still needed to jerry-rig some wheel wells in order to prevent the tires from splashing a thick film of mud up inside of the tiny house while being towed, and, connect the wiring for the tail lights. We decided that rather than fumbling around in the dark, it would be best to go home and come back bright and early in the morning to finish these last few tasks before our guy arrived.

20170910_105318And that we did. We didn’t have much time, so I took on the wheel well project with some 2 x 4s and a big tarp while Tim took care of the lights and wiring. I literally just banged some boards together into a skeleton box, and stapled a tarp around it and then to the floor. Good to go.

When Tim’s friend arrived it had just started to rain, yet again. He was super kind and came out to help us hitch up the trailer to his truck. He even brought an extra wrench so we could move the adjustable hitch and get everything nice and level. We couldn’t believe how bad the weather was… we’d watched the forecast and knew that it wasn’t going to be great, but it was just downright miserable (and the tiny house miserable looking…). After having an exceedingly nice summer it just seemed too ironic that this was the day we were going to drive out over the highway with our baby of a house.

th before towing

Everything up to this point was theory… and although the guy who owned the warehouse had moved our tiny house several times without us to re-position it, we had never seen it move before. Watching it roll for the first time was pretty surreal. It was hard to believe that we had built that thing with our own hands. Now it was going to go hurtling down the road at up to 100 km / hour, and, for the next hour, its fate was out of our control. The adrenaline was crazy, I was all shaky, and my concept of time was all messed up. I guess to anyone else, including our guy towing, all this wasn’t that big of a deal. It was just like towing an RV and we needed to get it done so we could all go home out of the rain. To us however, it was really intense.

We had a few last words with our driver, and then he set out on the road. Hurriedly we followed, but first, had to lock up the gate, and of course, it was like I had two left hands. I got into our car and we took off after the tiny house, but at this point, we couldn’t see it anymore. We headed onto the ramp and merged into the highway, and still, couldn’t see the tiny house. 20170910_112244A minute later, there it was, rolling along leaving a big wake of rainwater behind it, looking very tiny indeed in the surrounding envelope of fog. There must have been at least 40 or 50 km of wind and more during the gusts. The entire ride was a blur with our eyes fixated on the tiny house in front of us.  We defended the space directly behind it, not letting anyone separate us.

Our driver’s girlfriend was sitting in the passenger seat of the truck, and even though we’d only just met, I called her several times on the phone during the ride. She kindly and calmly answered all my questions about how it was towing and if there were any issues. Everything seemed to be just fine!

20170910_124522When we arrived at our destination we had a short drive down a dirt road to the final parking place. The rain had washed a channel perpendicularly through the road, and probably had been doing so every time it rained for quite some time. The truck went over it, but as the tiny house wheels headed down into the miniature valley, the tail end of our trailer brought up on the road, suspending one set of tires, spinning, in mid air. Normally, I probably would not have reacted so calmly, but in that moment, it didn’t feel like a big deal at all. Maybe it was because I was in disbelief over how smoothly the journey had gone and in comparison to what could have gone wrong, it was really pretty small. We grabbed some 2 x 4s and strips of plywood that were lying around and built up the valley so that as the wheels went over it a second time they would be propped up higher, lending clearance space for the back of the tiny house.

It worked! The corner that was dragged on the ground prior to our bridge building ingenuity had had its flashing peeled back a bit, but the insulation behind it was unharmed. An easy fix. With that, we decoupled our future home from our friend’s truck, walked away with big smiles, feeling very much in need of a pint and a warm dry place to relax.  To the Duke of Duckworth it was!


The Search Begins for the Tiny House’s Home

Red Tape
st. john's

St. John’s, Newfoundland. A cityscape. Source: https://itsablogaboutnothing.com/2015/12/22/st-johns-newfoundland/


We have returned! Back to the cold north strong and free, after bidding adieu to the land of the rising sun. In April we touched down to a slightly snowy St. John’s, jobless, and just scratching the surface of a thick, sticky pool of reverse culture shock. The reverse flavour is not quite so bad as the regular flavour of culture shock, I suppose since you are already intimately aware of the successes and failures of the local world you grew up in. Coming back to it just heightens your awareness and allows you to define it better, now having something to compare it to.

We were really itching to get going again on the tiny, but alas, it was way too cold. Prior to leaving for our ‘Japanadventure’, we paid to have tiny stored in the warehouse where we were building it. We were really grateful to have been able to do this, because it took some of the pressure off during the ramp up to our departure. We are planning on doing Shou Sugi Ban for the siding, which is quite time consuming. Not having to rush this in November, in Newfoundland, was definitely for the best. And since it was going to stay indoors, we didn’t strap the tyvek – having to do that would have eaten away at our precious width limit. Anyway, fast forward to April 2017, and unfortunately, the time we’d secured for indoor storage was at a close. The tiny house had to be brought outside. This happened a little before we were aware of the situation, which resulted in our lovely tyvek job being obliterated by the spring winds of the North Atlantic.

We weren’t too worried though, since we were ready to buy land at this point, and should have been able to get back at it in a hot minute. So we began scanning Kijiji and NL Classifieds for land for sale, anywhere within a 20 minute radius of the city. Our search was sadly not producing any worthwhile results, and after a month or so, we started to get worried. We decided to branch out and get the help of a couple of real estate friends. This was a great idea.


Land #1: View from the road. Old foundation on the left.

We found a piece of land that seemed reasonably priced and reasonably located, but there were some potential issues. This is the piece of land that I ‘cut my teeth on’ per se. I learned the basics of real estate, what types of work need to go into a property to bring it up to par, as well as the types of permitting and by-laws that must be met in order to happily and lawfully live on your land.



Land #1: View from the centre.

The land itself was dry, had only a slight grade, featured an existing dug well on site, as well as an old root cellar and the foundation of a house long since torn down. The problems included an old rusted out vehicle that had been parked amongst the alders near the back of the property, and the fact that nobody could give us any information about what the people who lived in that old house many moons ago had done for their septic situation. These two things posed significant potential environmental hazards that would need to be dealt with by the buyer. Having worked as a geo-environmental scientist for 2 years, with a large focus on environmental site assessments, I knew the kind of remediation work that might need to go into this property in order to make it safe and healthy for people to live on it. Especially given the fact that we’d like to be growing our own veggies, and we would need to rely on local well water.

service NLI did an archive search with our local service district, I inquired with local people who may have known the previous owners, and I consulted excavator operators to give me quotes on how much it would cost for the worst case scenario. I also downloaded and studied town plans, zoning regulations, and local by-laws that dictate how properties and buildings are allowed to be developed.


Land #2: View from the dirt road.

Then, we found another, more beautiful piece of land. It was larger, had no pre-existing issues, and was cheaper. But as I learned with the first potential piece of land, you need to do your homework. According to the land owner, the most recent version of the town plan states that in order for a residential property to be granted an occupancy permit, a paved road (up to specifications defined by the town) must be in place, extending 50 feet beyond the driveway. The road must also include a turn around bulb at the end in order to facilitate emergency vehicles. All of the work and materials would have to be paid by the land owner wanting to live there. He was absolutely correct. The unfortunate part of this, was that this kind of work for that particular location could cost up to $100,000. The land was breathtaking, had access to a nearby pond, had a myriad of wild berries growing on it, and plenty of mature trees, but the price tag made it impossible for us to consider the property any longer.

Meanwhile, as I carried out all this groundwork and searching, I was simultaneously working on a power point presentation about tiny houses; specifically, what our tiny house would be all about and how it would mesh with the community we eventually settled on. Just through working this due process and figuring out what ducks needed to get themselves in a row for our tiny life to become reality, I realized that before actually purchasing land, we needed to get the town on board. In Newfoundland, it seems that incorporated towns tend to rely on a set of basic by-laws produced by the department of municipal affairs, a provincial government body. Generating a comprehensive set of by-laws independently is likely too much of a demand for small towns with only a few staff and volunteers. So, the default by-law that is of most concern for wannabe tiny house people in Newfoundland is the little known ‘minimum dwelling size by-law’. It states that any dwelling must be at least 80 m² (which works out to about 860 ft²). We totally get the reason why such a by-law exists – a long long time ago when North America was first being established, there were greedy landlords who wanted to make as much money as possible on the backs of the working class by building little shanty dwellings and cramming lots of people inside for unfairly high rent. Government rightly established legislation to protect people from this kind of injustice.

With this said, I want to make an important point that I think citizens, businesses, and government need to seriously consider: with any law, it is most important to satisfy the intent of that law. Not necessarily the black and white definition of the law itself. At one point in time, every law that currently exists, did not exist. Every law was created and written by people who wished to allow or prevent certain things from happening. And any given law does its best to define how to meet that goal. However, it is inevitable that there are situations in life that don’t fit within the parameters of a law but DO satisfy the intent of the law. Tiny houses are the perfect example. Are we trying to make money from our tiny house? No. Are we taking advantage of marginalized people? No. Are we creating an unsafe or unsanitary living space? No. Therefore, there is perfectly good reason to grant an exemption to the minimum dwelling size by-law on a case by case basis, or draft an amendment to the by-law for those who voluntarily wish to live in a small space and have reasonable and affordable alternatives around them.

20170704_122430Unfortunately, summertime in Newfoundland is not the best time to get things done that require the attention of government, since it is the only time for people to get outside and enjoy themselves. Newfoundlanders like to go out to the cabin, or out salmon fishing, or out to visit family around the bay during the few warm months we get after the seemingly never-ending winter we all endure here. There are weddings to attend and family vacations to embark on. You can’t blame them. Compounding this, it is definitely not the best time to expect action on a novel project such as ours when municipal elections are approaching quickly, and existing councils are finishing out their mandate with no guarantee that they will be returning for another 4 years of service. 20170704_161357With this said though, we were able to sit down with the building committee of Pouch Cove, and the entire town council of Flatrock, and I must say, we got very positive responses from both. I can’t advocate enough for taking the time to inform and educate the leaders in your community on why tiny houses are good and safe, and why you want to live in one. I was nervous going into these presentations since my experience dealing with government officials, be it municipal, provincial, or federal, is very limited.And you always hear such negative things about politicians and their ability to get things done. But you know what, I am feeling quite optimistic at this point in our journey, having spoken with the people we have, and seeing the evolution of their opinions.


Politicians are just people! Don’t be afraid of them. They are often willing to listen, and you can make progress with them if you put in the effort and be patient. If you are prepared, have lots of transparent information, and take an attitude of inclusion on seeking options for various aspects of your build, government will often find that refreshing and admirable. Rather than flying under the radar and taking the risk of pissing off the people in your community who are elected to keep things safe and fair for all residents, just talk to them and figure out how and where you can make it work.

Here’s a sampling some of the information-focused slides from my presentation:

In addition to this texty stuff, I used lots of eye catching photos, I organized information into tables, and most importantly, I did a lot of research (and contacting other officials and builders in Atlantic Canada) to capture relevant and significant examples that demonstrate why it wouldn’t be so scary to allow us to live in our tiny house. I also included a tonne of relevant news articles to show how widespread the Tiny House movement is, and that it isn’t going away. It took me 45 minutes to get through the presentation the first time, which flew by, and I was told by at least one leader that my presentation had changed their mind. I think if we had skipped this step and gone straight to requesting permission,  we may not have found ourselves in such an agreeable position.

As of now, we are waiting for elections to be completed so that we can get down to business with the new town councils. We’ve found another piece of land that has no pre-existing issues, is closer to the city, and still within out budget. One good thing about this process taking much longer than we expected is that we aren’t just going with the first piece of land that presented itself – we have time to really weigh our options and wait for more possibilities to jump into the ring. Buying land shouldn’t be a hasty decision, not unless it sings to you in just the right melody with just the right time signature.

Since we returned, we’ve had the good fortune of being able to crash in my mom’s basement while we waited to buy land. We wanted to avoid signing a lease on a rental property that may need to be terminated relatively soon, depending on when we completed the transaction for our chosen piece of land. However, I believe that we were a bit naive in thinking that we could have this all clued up and get the tiny house livable before winter set in. It’s going to take a bit more time yet. So we signed on an apartment on Bauline Line, just outside the city. The landlord works in landscaping and owns a tonne of land out there – just the sort of person we needed to cross paths with. He totally digs our tiny house project and will allow us to park it next to the house and continue working on it while our search for municipal approval and land continues.

After the elections are finished and we resume our dialogue with government, I will write again with another update on our saga of tiny living! Until then, I hope you all enjoy this lovely transition into cooler weather, sweaters, and hot beverages!

Meanwhile, in Japan.

Research Phase

This post begins with an apology to all our readers and supporters. In December 2015, we left Newfoundland to travel to India for a friend’s wedding, and two months later, continued on to Japan where we have been living ever since. During this time, we have been living in the moment as best we can while observing and taking notes on so many different housing and living choices.

In India, we were able to truly realize what we did and did not need in order to travel comfortably, and find purpose in what we were doing. Not surprisingly, this surmounted to very little. We found that as long as we had a shower, clean water to drink, and a place to sleep at night, we were totally fine. Food was never a problem. The things we brought in our packs (in no specific order), and could not compromise on, included the following:
[I included links to Amazon for both my American and Canadian readers – sorry to everyone else!!]

As long as we had these things, we were ok. We actually had a bit more than that in our packs, and we did buy souvenirs (mostly for friends and family), but next time we know what we’d leave at home.We never missed having an expansive wardrobe or my shelves of books, nor did we feel our lives were lacking because we weren’t surrounded by our possessions.

In Japan, we were able to truly realize what we did and did not need in order to live comfortably, and find purpose in what we were doing. Not surprisingly, this amounted to very little. This sounds crazy, but our apartment in downtown Nagoya (the 4th largest city in Japan) is smaller, less convenient and less efficient than what our tiny house will be. It’s only 190 sq. ft. – 9’2″ by 20’8″. It was arranged for us by the school I’m teaching at, so we didn’t really have a choice in the matter if we wanted to be living together in the same apartment. But it was just fine for us, given our tiny aspirations and all.


Our kitchen is less than the size of what our tiny house bathroom vanity will be. It consists of a stainless steel sink with a cupboard underneath and a one-burner induction stove top; only 6 inches of counter in between the two. Above the sink is a drying rack for dishes, built with stainless steel rods to allow for water to drip back down. Above this are two shelves, about 22 inches wide and 10 inches deep. Between the side of the shelving unit and the side wall of this odd little kitchen unit, we’ve put in spring-loaded expandable poles. On these, we’ve been able to hang most of our utensils and useful things with hooks. Outside of said utensils, we have two titanium sporks, two sets of chopsticks, two large shallow bowls, 3 small bowls, two soy sauce dishes, two wine glasses, two titanium mugs, one saucepan, one frying pan, one steel mixing bowl and one sake decanter with two small cups for drinking. That’s it! We put a suction-cup towel rack on the front of the shelving unit for dish towels. In the space under the stove top, there is a small, cube-shaped bar fridge with an interior volume of about 1.2 cubic feet (35 litres). That’s about enough space for 3 days worth of groceries.


Our bathroom is also smaller than what our tiny house bathroom will be. The apartment is quite old, probably built in the 1970s or thereabouts, so the bathroom is kind of a one-unit module that has the toilet box, sink, and tub all in one piece. Even the floor, walls and ceiling are moulded together to form one continuous plastic box. The sink faucet swivels and can reach out over the edge of the tub to fill it up if you want a bath. There is no real counter space, but we have used the space on top of the toilet box effectively with some organizers for our personal items. There is another shelf/rack thing above the toilet – same as the one that’s above the kitchen sink, built from steel rods. We keep extra supplies up there, and have hung some small decorative containers from it with hooks for extra storage. I hate all the plastic, but it works. One benefit from this set-up is that it acts like a wet-bath. You don’t have to worry about anything getting wet, and if water spills onto the floor, it’s slightly tilted towards the drain located under the sink (a gap exists at the bottom of the sink unit for this purpose). You’ll also notice a ceiling fan, and an access hatch in the ceiling for the pipes. We did have a leak once, so this was incredibly useful.

dsc00958The entrance way is a typical Genkan, a slightly sunken square of tiled flooring where you must awkwardly take your shoes off with no hands, while you have no where to put down your things, and simultaneously avoid trodding on anyone else’s shoes or the recycling that needs to be taken down to street level. I’m all for taking your shoes off, like you would being from Canada and all, but you need a bit of space! On one side of the Genkan is a closet of sorts, with multiple shelves inside supported by more of those spring-loaded expandable poles (read: they can’t hold a lot of weight). On the other side is a narrow rectangular alcove, with one shelf in the middle of it. We keep umbrellas and that sort of thing underneath it. A friend of ours who’s been living in Japan for a decade and has lived in these type of studio apartments before let us in a sweet bit of info – the front door is steel. That meant we were able to get magnetic hooks and hang up our sweaters and jackets. There’s literally no other place for them, so that was a win!

dsc03207As for the rest of the apartment, it’s just one ‘big’ room (lolz). When we arrived, there was a twin bed on a wooden frame, a modern-ish desk with filing cabinet and folding chair, and a small chest of 4 drawers – 1 drawer for Tim, 2 for me, and 1 for out of season clothes. We added a full length mirror, a metal shelving unit for storage and extended kitchen prep-space (the shelves are adjustable, so we put one right at counter height), a collapsible coffee table, a TV (for movies, we don’t have cable or satellite) and a small sectional couch. Everything we bought was second hand. Bought new, we acquired bed clothes and some canvas storage bins. There is a small balcony with just enough space to hang up your washing… I would have liked to put a small table and stools out there to enjoy the evening sun, but there’s really not enough space. The balcony has nice big glass sliding doors though, which let in lots of light. We’ve left them open from April – June and now again from October – December. During the winter, I can count on my hands how many times we turned the heater on, but in the summer, we used the air conditioner daily. It gets too bloody hot in this country for my constitution.

In conclusion, we have been living on a shoestring for almost exactly a year, and we’re really quite content. The things I miss the most are

  1. Having an oven
  2. Having a freezer
  3. Having enough space in the fridge for leftovers
  4. Personal things, like artwork, that remind us of our past and our travels

These, we know we need and plan to include in our tiny house. Outside that, Tim laments not bringing his safety razor. He bought a cheap one here in Japan, so it’s alright, but a nice quality steel safety razor body saves a load of money on disposable razors. He also wishes he brought a pair of jeans (I did :P). Tim has been doing a lot of online work with respect to his photography and building a website so he has relied on my laptop. It is nice to have your own personal laptop and not have to share with anyone, but again, we have made do and it hasn’t been unworkable. The same can be said about smartphones. We’ve shared just one the entire time, and it’s been fine. I’ve actually really enjoyed not having one on me when I leave the house, it has been very liberating. I could have gotten one in Japan, but I decided it was unnecessary. The only time it’s really a pain is if I go out after work with friends, but in that case, I just ask to borrow someone’s phone to shoot Tim a quick message to let him know.

We haven’t signed an internet contract for our apartment either – the whole time we’ve just been hot-spotting from Tim’s iPhone to the laptop. He bought a sim card with unlimited data when we arrived in Japan, so we never have to worry about going over. For a 6-month term, it costs $174 CAD (¥14,400).  Although this method makes for very slow download speeds and inconvenient browsing, we choose to visit a local cafe once a week for heavy internet use, where we can relax with a coffee and piece of quiche. This might seem wasteful (you can make coffee at home!), but it’s an awesome substitution for having an internet bill.

For the sake of people who want more concrete evidence on this whole concept, i.e. ‘living tiny is a lifestyle choice that allows you to have so much more’, I’m going to continue to lay out costs and expenditures, specifically. I’ve read lots of articles that present tiny living as either extremely luxurious and trendy, or as a solution for homelessness, without any reference to people in between the two. I’m not criticizing either of these scenarios, tiny houses are means to so many different ends!  But I think a lot of the criticism that is directed towards tiny houses / tiny living results from a lack of detailed information about how the lives of people on this path play out, and how these decisions translate practically. “The house is so cute, but are they really happy?”, they ask. I say yes, it requires some compromises, and yes, you do have to make some sacrifices; but, it also allows you to spend a lot more of your time (and money) having fun because you don’t have so much financial baggage!

Rent for us is $478 CAD (¥40,000) per month. Our monthly electric bill has come to an average of $34 CAD (¥2800), our gas bill is around $23 CAD (¥1900), and water works out to about $13 CAD (¥1100). Conservatively, groceries surmount to no more than $478 CAD (¥40,000) per month as well (for two people) but you can do it for less than that (we like treats). My subway fare to get to work and back every day comes to $124 CAD (¥10,400), but I am reimbursed for this by my employer.

So, our monthly utilities costs run us about $100. Including rent and food, in total, we pay ~$1,067 CAD (¥89,285) per month to live in Japan, with no frills. Remember, this covers two people. The total one-time investment we put into making our tiny space livable with furnishings came to $445 (¥37,200).

Now of course, there have been a few frills! We’ve gone on a week long camping and hitch-hiking trip through Aichi, Gifu, Nagano, and Niigata Prefectures. This cost us about $417 CAD (¥35,000). We went on another such trip down to Nara and on to Kobe, which cost a bit more (around $620 CAD (¥51,900)) because we stayed two nights in a hotel. We went to the Summer Sonic music festival in Osaka, which cost about $980 CAD (¥82,100) (including tickets). We went to Kyoto for Tim’s birthday in July, which cost only $380 CAD (¥31,800) because we camped both nights. For my birthday in November, we went to Tokyo, which was our most densely expensive trip – 3 days and 2 nights, no hitch-hiking or camping, and travel by bullet train, we spent $975 CAD (¥81,600) (we did A LOT of cool shit). Oh, and we hiked Mount Fuji in September, that trip cost us $465 (¥39,000). A few smaller trips include going to Ena, Gifu in the spring for rice planting and again for harvesting in the fall; and we went to the same town to stay overnight in an old traditional thatch-roofed inn in July. We went to a firefly festival about an hour away in June, and the Toyota Rock Festival in September. In October we went to an expo park to see a re-creation of the house from My Neighbour Totoro (Japanese animated movie). All of those experiences cost us between $60 and $120 CAD each (¥5,000 – ¥10,000). Halloween night, summer festivals in Nagoya, and various parties and evenings on the town were had as well.

Due to the fact that I still have 4 months left on my contract, I’m not yet allowed to divulge my salary, but I can tell you that my plan is to have $10,000 CAD saved by the time we leave to go home to Canada (after a little more than a year of working). It’s looking like this goal will be achieved even before it comes time to leave. We’ve lived extremely modestly (two people on only one salary), but have had a LOAD of fun times, as you can see.


My point in all this is that by having a tiny house (and a tiny amount of possessions) you can actually live very large. This is our aim. This is our mentality. The past 12 months have proved to us that not only is it doable, it is enjoyable, and allows us to have so many more new experiences that we would otherwise not be able to afford. I feel ready, prepared, and motivated to return home and complete our build, so we can try out this life on Canadian soil. The part that blows my mind is that our tiny house will allow us so much more efficiency, beauty, and quality in our living space than our Japanese apartment does, and we will own it outright when it is finished. I will forever be grateful that I discovered this path as early on as I did, and didn’t waste my time and money on a McMansion, mortgage, and material possessions. Cheers to tiny house living!


Truss Me, the Roof is Not as Hard as It Looks

Exterior Shell, The Roof

Now, I understand that what I’m about to describe is going to seem really overkill to people who are experienced in construction. Although building code varies from place to place, we kind of made an executive decision at the beginning of all this to follow our bought plans and blueprints as closely as possible – at least this time round. At this point in our tiny house build, we both agree that if we were to build another one there are some things we’d do differently. But we only got to this place of clarity by trying the methods we tried. If we had followed the plans for half the steps and improvised the other half, there’s a big possibility that somewhere down the line we would have ended up in hot water. This is because building is a big picture type of thing. Each step is connected, and sometimes that connection doesn’t make itself clear until 6 or 7 steps down the road, and you end up sitting there saying “ohhhhhhhhhh it all makes sense now”. I don’t think we are experienced enough just yet to have the foresight one needs to successfully alter plans and know for sure that it will pan out in the big picture.

IMG_9790With that said, I introduce you to our roof. The skeleton of any roof is the trusses, and ours called for twenty-one 4″ x 4″s , set on 16″ centres, that span the distance from the front wall to the back wall (8’1″ish long). Typically, people often buy their trusses because the angles can be tricky. Our plans came with instructions though and the roof isn’t peaked in the centre, so we made our own. Building a house on a small scale like this, I would highly recommend trying your hand at it yourself! But there is absolutely nothing wrong with hiring certain things out during your tiny house build. Doing a DIY project like this, with limited to no experience, is a balancing act between pushing your comfort zone and knowing when it’s time to ask for help. Take lots of time and draw lots of pictures!

IMG_9755IMG_9764Unfortunately, the hardware store didn’t have any 4″ x 4″s in stock, and we needed to start this work right away. On the bright side, they gave us a great solution – laminating two 2″ x 4″s together to form a slightly slimmer, but structurally stronger version of a 4″ x 4″. We used 2.5″ zinc coated deck screws every 12 inches (and a pair at each end) along with a thick bead of PL Premium between the two pieces to ensure a strong bond.

The following video gives an explanation of preparing each truss for installation.

This is a mock up of our roof framing I made in Microsoft Paint. The orange parts are the rim joists, and the green ones are the trusses. It's not to scale, and in reality there are way more trusses, but you get the picture!

This is a mock up of our roof framing I made in Microsoft Paint. The orange parts are the rim joists, and the green ones are the trusses. It’s not to scale, and in reality there are way more trusses, but you get the picture!

It took us a day or two to get all the trusses prepared and cut, but only one day to install them all! We used two 3.5″ galvanized nails (the same ones we used for wall framing) in each end of each truss to secure it to the rim joists on the front and back IMG_20151011_135639of the house. In the sketch, the trusses are the green parts and the rim joists are the orange parts. The rim joists basically form a box, the same dimensions as the perimeter of the house, and are toe nailed into the top plates of our walls. They provide a surface for the trusses to attach to. They are 2″ x 6″ boards, and we bevelled the tops of each one to reflect the appropriate 10° angle, sloping down from front to back.

IMG_9801Getting the roof components all up there and solid was a huge step, and it was just in time to race back to St. John’s for Thanksgiving turkey dinner 🙂 When we came back on Tuesday, October 13th, we beefed up the connections of the trusses to our walls with some hurricane clips – two per truss. The ones we used are called H-2.5 Simpson Strong Ties. We spoke to a friend of ours about our method and he told us that our house would be ready for the meteor that will strike Earth and cause another mass extinction.  Be that as it may, at least we don’t have to worry about heavy snow loads if we get some harsh winters in our future; which, let’s be honest, is pretty likely living in Newfoundland.

Top ends of our trusses with hurricane clips installed.

Top ends of our trusses with hurricane clips installed.


Low end of a truss with hurricane clip installed.

We filled all the holes in the H-clips with 1 1/2″ roofing nails – they were a touch fatter than the holes, so when they were hammered in, they really bit into the metal and wood making it basically impossible for them to come out. These H-clips are designed for 2″ x 6″ boards, which meant the top two holes were not able to be nailed through in our situation; the top of each clip was sticking up proud of the top of each truss. So, we just bent them down over the top of the trusses with a hammer.

IMG_9810Next up was the upper layer of roof insulation. I say upper layer because, as you might have guessed, there is a lower layer! The lower layer will be composed of Roxul, and will fill the bays in between each truss. That won’t happen until we start the interior portion of the build. Anyway, we laid down 7 sheets of 2″ thick 4′ x 8′ rigid insulation on top of the trusses creating one continuous sheet, the size of the entire roof cavity, which brought everything flush with the rim joists. Using a few cans of expanding spray foam around the edges helped to prevent any gaps (aka heat leaks).

IMG_20151016_145742Then, we laid down small, 1 1/2″ x 1″ furring strips on top of the rigid insulation, directly above where each truss is located. We ripped 23 of these strips from 2″ x 6″ x 9′ boards, and fixed them into position with small pieces of tuck tape. The purpose of these furring strips is to act as spacers, creating a 1″ air cavity above the rigid insulation and below the roof sheathing.

Having an air cavity under your roof sheathing is important due to the condensation that occurs when cold outside air meets warm inside air rising up and out of your house through the roof. This condensation will form on the underside of the plywood roof sheathing and if it doesn’t have a way out, it will cause mould growth and rot. Creating a layer of air and installing vents along the front and back sides of our roof will allow fresh air to move into the roof cavity and out the other side, wicking and transporting the condensation along with it. In other words, we have a 1″ tiny attic! Lol.

IMG_9832With the furring strips on, we could then lay our 1/2″ plywood sheathing. This process was basically the same as the wall sheathing, with a few small differences. We bevelled the front end of the sheets of plywood along the highest part of the roof, and the back end of the sheets along the low part of the roof, to maintain our 10° angle throughout.

IMG_9838Also, we used screws instead of nails – 2 1/2″ yellow zinc construction screws around the perimeter where the sheets tied into the rim joists, and 5″ galvanized deck screws in the field. These were big screws! They had to go down through the 1/2″ plywood, 1″ furring strip, 2″ of rigid insulation, and anchor down into the trusses by 1 1/2″. We followed a pattern of every 6″ around the edges, and every 12″ in the field.

This is a whole lot of building talk – if you’ve made it this far into my writing, thank you so much! We’ve gotten so much support through the blog and it keeps me motivated to continue writing, and building! For the sake of not forgetting what we’ve done and for the benefit of any fellow tiny housers out there, I feel the need to lay it all out in detail. Hope it makes sense, drop me a line in the comments with any Qs or to let me know what you think!


Exterior Wall Sheathing

Exterior Shell, The Walls

Prior to starting our wall framing, we checked in with Tim’s dad Kerry for a few tips and pointers on how to go about it all, and he mentioned that he likes to sheathe his walls while they’re still on the floor. It’s a lot easier to line everything up that way, with gravity working on your side. We liked that idea, but were nervous that the walls would be too heavy for us to lift with all that plywood nailed on, so we decided to wait until after the walls were raised to do the sheathing. I am happy we did this because the walls were heavy enough with just the studs; however, if we had easy access to a few more bodies to help on short notice, I would DEFINITELY sheathe the walls while they’re on the floor. It would have been a lot easier.

The first sheet!

The first sheet!

1/2″ standard plywood was our pick for the sheathing rather than OSB because it is lighter, will not soak up as much water, and is generally more durable and strong. Plywood is more expensive, but again, with the tiny house you can choose quality over quantity. Also, if you remember me discussing during the subfloor stage the requirement to orient plywood so that its long edge is perpendicular to the strength axis of what it’s being affixed to – the same applies here. Plywood comes in 4′ x 8′ sheets, and since our vertical wall studs are our strength axes, we made the 8′ side of our plywood sheets run horizontally. Also, like the subfloor, it’s important to stagger your pieces from row to row, like how bricks are laid, so that you don’t get seems lining up and forming major linear weaknesses in your wall.

IMG_20151001_180518Starting at the bottom, we did an entire row all the way around and then did another run above that, working our way up to the top plates. Fortunately, we have scaffolding to work with. I can’t stress enough how much of a blessing it was to not have to work from a ladder and be constantly moving it.


We actually cut our pieces of plywood such that the door and the big 6′ window were left open, but all the other windows we sheathed over because it is a lot simpler to just cut them out afterwards. Unfortunately, since the overall length of our long walls is 28’4 1/4″, we couldn’t have nice round 8′ and 4′ pieces the entire way… we had to divide it up a little oddly (three 8′ pieces, and a 4’4 1/4″ at the end; or, two 8′ pieces, a 6′ piece, and a 6’4 1/4″ piece). CONFUSING! Additionally, we also wanted to make sure to maintain the ~1/8″ gap between all the sheets to allow for swelling in the case of moisture absorption. Throw in the desire to minimize waste by using up our scrap pieces, and a seemingly simple job turns into a weird wooden version of Tetris.


The process generally involved the following steps:

  1.  Measure the space on the wall – the required length of the sheet going in.
  2.  Transfer that measurement in pencil to both the ends of the plywood sheet (which has been patiently waiting on the saw horses while you took your sweet time double checking the measurement :P)
  3. Snap a chalk line to follow when cutting to size.
  4. Fire up the circular saw and zip off your waste.
  5. Hoist the sheet up to the platform on the scaffolding.
  6. Hold the sheet into position, one person at each end, using your hands, knees, feet, head, whatever works in order to make it straight and square. Simultaneously, wedge a 2 1/2″ nail under each corner between the bottom of your sheet and the top of the one below, to act as a 1/8″ spacer.
  7. Nail the top left corner, the top centre, and the top right corner, quickly but carefully. Leave the nails sticking out a little so you can remove them and re-position if necessary.
  8. Check all four sides for level and square, and that enough space is left on the end stud for the next sheet to join in. If any issues, re-position and try again, with copious curse words.
  9. Permanently nail the sheet in – we used a 6″ nailing pattern on the edges and in the field.

In total, it took us four full, long, draining days to get the sheathing up, but by the end of it we had a structure that somewhat resembled a house. The walls were opaque, relatively sturdy, and you could no longer walk or see through them! At this point, we decided to bring all of our scrap material and tools into our house, organize it all so we knew where to find things, and be as out of the way as possible.

IMG_20151007_131607On October 8th, we cut out our 11 remaining windows, using a reciprocating saw. This was harder than it looked, and you have to have some serious upper body strength to wield that tool overhead for extended periods of time. We wanted to cut the windows out from the inside so that we could see exactly where the perimeter studs were located, so we used a ladder inside the structure to get at the windows.


It’s funny how exciting and joyful new chapters on this build are, and to notice how they become more routine and easy as they approach their close. In addition, each new task brings renewed enthusiasm, but a sort that only lasts a short time. The focus and commitment required to finish each task after the sparkly beginning wears off can often be draining. And the draining feeling seems to be cumulative. During the first month of the build it was easy to bounce back from challenges and get immersed in each new task as it presented itself. As time marches on for this project, it seems harder to keep on initiating the new tasks because we have obtained a very clear understanding that (A) things always take a lot longer than you expect and (B) things will likely not go smoothly and perfect like they do in the YouTube / instructional video. With that said, it is crucial to not let yourself get bogged down in the frustrating side of reality, and focus on the sparkly part 🙂 It has been really important for us to take little breaks now and again to recharge / switch off from the Tiny House and go be around people who can distract us entirely from the project.

Framing is Complete – The Bones of the Tiny House

Exterior Shell, The Walls

At the time of the last post I wrote, we had the front and back walls built and raised, and needed to complete the smaller left and right walls. Well we finished everything on Friday evening, September 25th – a month and five days after our first day at the build. The framing took 8 days in total, and we certainly became more proficient at it as time went on. Here’s a video we made showing all four walls going up!

The first nail (we used 3 1/2″ galvanized nails) I drove took somewhere around 25 smacks… pretty bad accuracy haha. My best now is 5!! On the topic of nails, we weren’t sure how many to get and started out with a mere 10 lbs. These lasted about a day and a half, and we went back to the store and bought an entire box – 50lbs. It is cheaper by almost $30 to buy the whole box compared to the same amount using the per pound rate. Lesson learned! By the end, I estimate we used about 35 pounds for all our framing needs. We also bought 3 lbs of 2 1/2″ galvanized nails for toe-nailing, which was definitely sufficient. Toe-nailing is when you attach a vertical stud to a horizontal plate using a nail on an angle.



Using Pythagorean theorum to solve for the hypotenuse – our top plate 🙂

Gradually, we relied on the computer model less and less as well, because it was just
easier to decide exactly where the windows were going ourselves based on the centre line of a wall. Once you’ve logically thought all this through, it’s easy to then mark out the studs accordingly. The narrow end walls were interesting to design since they connect two parallel walls of differing heights. The front, high wall, is 10’11” and the lower back wall is 9’8″. This meant that the top plate had to be positioned on a 10° angle, and each stud running from bottom to top had to be a different height. It also meant that each stud connecting with the top plate needed to be angled (mitred), to fit snugly into place. The best way to lay this out is on the floor, using chalk lines, outlining the angles and various heights of studs. I even did a little bit of math in order to get the exact length of the top plate – imagine that! Although these walls were smaller, they took a day each to complete because of the added complexity with the angles. We were so glad to be completely done!

To give you some perspective on the process of actually framing a wall, we made a video of the fourth wall coming together. It’s the rake wall on the right hand side of the house, where our guest loft and bathroom will be located.

A few words on window placement: the windows that are located in the loft areas were easy to position, because we needed them as high as they could go in order to have as much wall/floor space as possible up there. The windows on the main floor area were a little trickier. Given that we are having two lofts at either end of the tiny house, we had to find a happy balance between headroom under the loft, headroom in the loft, and the height of counters, and couches. The size of our windows had been decided on, based on our Google Sketch-Up model we had designed. So those were fixed variables that could not be changed at this point; but of course, you can’t have a window intersecting the platform that forms your loft floor. IMG_20150922_145226To make it easier to visualize, we actually got a piece of 2′ x 4′ and suspended it from the tops of our front and back walls using rope, at various heights, until we were happy that we had enough space downstairs and upstairs for everything we needed. At first, we assumed that we were going to install standard height counters (36″ from the ground), but during our window positioning process, we realized that since we are building this ourselves, we can actually venture away from the standards and choose something that fits us better, personally. I did some reading and found out that the standard counter height of 36″ has been around since the early 1900s, at a time when people were on average, much shorter. Ergonomically, the best height for a counter is that which results in your forearms being positioned at a 45° angle when your palms are placed flat on the counter top. Keep in mind – to achieve this, it isn’t how tall you are overall that is important, just the height of your elbow since it is the lower arm that does (or should be doing) all the prep work when at a counter. When a counter is not at the correct height for your body, you will compensate for this unconsciously by changing your position in order to get your arm into the right position for working on the surface. If the angle is greater than 45° (counter is too high), approaching 90°, you will have a tendency to step or lean back a little; and if the angle is smaller than this (counter is too low), you will have a tendency to lean forward. Both of these scenarios end up in pain – upper back and shoulder pain with counters that are too high, and lower back pain with counters that are too low. Here’s a good source that I found very useful on this topic.

We decided that we are going to go with 38″ counter tops, as we are both a little taller, and I do spend a lot of time experimenting and creating in the kitchen. Might as well make it more enjoyable since we have the option! Our kitchen window sill will then be positioned 2″ above the counter height, which means our loft platform allows us a total vertical space of 6’5 1/2″ in the kitchen and bathroom. All our ‘downstairs’ windows are 3′ high, so we positioned them all at the same height from the floor based on this carefully calculated kitchen window position. It works out great for the height of our sectional couch and living room window as well, and the window in the bathroom. Remember to factor in the thickness of your finish flooring when making this decision for yourself!

Once we had all four walls framed, we had to permanently attach them to one another at the corners before we could remove the bracing. This part actually wasn’t incorporated into the plans we bought, but we emailed the designers and they were able to explain what to do via email! Such a relief.



You basically have to shove the walls into place so that any given corner will be level and square. This was made easier by ratchet-strapping the left wall to one of the axles. Ratchet straps are awesome! Tim and I have been maintaining some really good teamwork throughout the framing process, but of course, we have our ups and downs. We are getting better at being able to read when we’re too tired or too hungry, or experiencing the dreaded h-anger (when you’re so hungry that you start to express anger in a seemingly unwarranted manner)…. ok I’ll admit that I am the bigger victim of feeling hangry (lol). I feel like I’m in a snickers commercial sometimes. I’m just not myself when I’ve worked for 9 hours and I’m hungry! We’ve both become more forgiving with respect to differences of opinion if it means that one of us will be a lot happier if we do something a certain way. Sometimes it is likely unnecessary or redundant, but our comfort level and the gift of being on the same page is totally worth it!!

Wall Framing, The First Hint of a House

Exterior Shell, The Walls

We have been long awaiting the day when we would raise our first wall of the tiny house, and it finally arrived! Right after we finished the subfloor we though we were ready to go, but quickly realized that we needed to do a bit more planning. As I’ve mentioned, we bought the plans to hOMe, built and designed by the Morrisons; however, with the drastic changes we made to the interior floor plan came a few small tweaks to the framing in terms of window positioning and the exact location of the front door. The little tweaks were enough to prevent us from completely following hOMe’s framing plans though, and we had to go back to the drawing board. As a fun little add on before heading back to the house to crack open Google Sketch-up, we decided to lay out our floor plan on our completed subfloor using painter’s tape. Here is the very first tour of our tiny house, on YouTube!

So, we went back to the drawing board and confirmed the position of each and every stud, and the exact position of each window and door. Tim is the SketchUp guy, so he worked on this, and it was very time consuming. I would highly recommend this software program though, it has been instrumental in our planning. Tim will write a post about his experience with it soon. We made an estimate for how many 2″ x 4″s we IMG_9489would need, and the number of those that would be 8′, 10′, 12′, 14′ and 16′ long.
The next day, we purchased the 2″ x 4″s, and organized them into stacks according to length, under our trailer – a great way to keep them out of the way and accessible at the same time. At that point, there really wasn’t anything standing between us and our first wall anymore. I don’t know why this was so intimidating… I feel like everything up to this point was just manual labour, that really anyone could do if they have time and willingness. There was something about the framing though that make me feel like we should have someone else there to at least supervise. As it turns out, of course, my worry was all for naught. Framing is SUPER fun, and very straight forward once you just dive into it. It’s sort of comparable to a puzzle of sorts, figuring out where everything goes and each piece fitting perfectly with its neighbours.

Labelled photo of framing for one of our windows. The bottom plate is down below the field of view. I love Microsoft Paint :)

Labelled photo of framing for one of our windows. The bottom plate is down below the field of view. I love Microsoft Paint 🙂

I’m no carpenter, but all you really need to know is that there are four types of studs: a regular stud, a king stud, a trimmer stud, and a cripple stud. Regular studs run through the entire wall space from the bottom plate to the top plate, and provide the structural skeleton of your wall. Often, they’re positioned on 16″ centres, but in our build we are using 24″ inch centres. The remaining three types are used to handle windows and doors. Since windows and doors are not meant to be structural, load bearing surfaces, they need help from the framing. The window header acts like a bridge that runs over the top of the window, transferring the above load to two trimmer studs at either end of the window. Trimmer studs run from top plate to bottom plate but they pinch a header, and in the case of a window, they also pinch a sill. This breaks the trimmer into three pieces. Trimmer studs are also called jack studs by some people, and they are always buddied up with king studs. King studs, one on each side of the window (outside the trimmers, header and sill) tie together the entire window framing assembly to keep it all nice and straight, and add additional rigidity.

Cripple studs are just like regular studs, except they run from the bottom plate up to a window sill, OR from the top plate down to a header. They are positioned on the ever important 24″ centre lines, and would normally run all the way through the wall space, but windows and doors get in the way sometimes!

Google Sketch-Up framing model open on the laptop, and laying out our studs according to the plan.

Google Sketch-Up framing model open on the laptop, and laying out our studs according to the plan.

It is possible for a window and a door (or two windows!) to share king studs, which we did on both sides of our front door. If one of your window/door assembly studs lands close to a 24″ centre, it may be tempting to forgo putting in a cripple or another regular stud, but it is really important to do it anyway. When it comes time to put the exterior (and interior for that matter) sheathing up, you need to have studs right on those intervals as a nailing surface. If you don’t, you’ll have floating edges of plywood, and that will create major weaknesses in your wall with respect to moisture, and structural integrity. WITH that said though, it is possible for a king or trimmer stud to land on a 24″ centre, and act as a nailing surface for the sheathing. We also had this situation many times in our design, which is great, because studs that run double duty let us use less wood, and the wall is that much lighter.

18" (height) x 60" (width) window header dimensions.

18″ (height) x 60″ (width) window header dimensions.



A note on headers: the size of a header is proportional to the width of the opening it is bridging. The instructions in our plans communicated that a 4′ wide opening would need a 4″ x 4″ header, a 6′ wide opening would need a 4″ x 6″ header, an 8′ wide opening would need a 4″ x 8″ header, and so on. Of course, like regular ol’ 2″ x 4″s, all these call outs in reality are 1/2″ smaller in both directions. It seems though that you can’t always buy wood of these dimensions, so you have to get creative. The three windows that go along the top of our front wall are all 5′ wide, so we constructed 4″ x 6″ headers using two 2″ x 6″s, with a strip of 1/2″ plywood sandwiched in between. The three pieces were nailed together liberally.

First piece of the front wall, ready to raise.

First piece of the front wall, ready to raise.

So, with that information, we went about building the first piece of our wall, flat on the deck of the trailer. Once it was built, we then lifted it up and stood it in place where it needed to go. From start to finish, this first 16′ long piece took us two days to complete. The second piece, which was just over 12′ took us only 7 hours to build and raise. Thank you, learning curve 🙂 It’s important to have a brace ready to go once you get your wall raised, so it can stay in place without needing someone to hold it. It’s also equally important to nail on some blocks to the edge of the subfloor, to prevent the wall from sliding off the edge of the trailer when raising it.

Wall #1!

Wall #1!


Tim, securing one piece of a wall to another. Using a ratchet strap around two studs of the adjoining pieces allows you get everything nice a snug before driving nails.

Tim, securing one piece of a wall to another. Using a ratchet strap around two studs of the adjoining pieces allows you get everything nice and snug before driving nails.


Tying the two pieces of wall together to form one cohesive unit wasn’t too hard. We are using what’s called a double top plate, which means that for each piece of adjoining wall, there’s an extra 2″x4″ stacked on top that is either longer or shorter than the regular top plate. Our first piece of wall was 16′ long, with a 12’3″ double top plate stacked on top. Our second piece of wall was 12’3″ with a 16′ double top plate stacked on top. When the two pieces come together, we can nail the double top plates together from above, and the seam between the two lies staggered and away from the seam of the two pieces of wall.

View from the tongue end of the trailer, front wall is on the right and back wall is on the left.

View from the tongue end of the trailer, front wall is on the right and back wall is on the left.

As you can see in the picture, the front wall is higher than the back wall – a difference of about 1’3″. This difference allows the roof to be sloped towards the back of the house, which is essential to prevent rain or snow from pooling on the roof. It makes sense for the slope to angle away from the front door too, so you don’t get soaked trying to get in on rainy days. The angle of the slope is what’s called a 2 and 12 (for every 12″ run/horizontal, there is a rise/vertical change of 2″) which converts to about 10°. A lot of people building tiny houses, and any house for that matter, use a gable style roof (peak in the centre, sloping down to either side). We think it makes more sense to go with the style in our plan, also known as a shed roof, because it allows the maximum amount of head room in the loft to be concentrated at one end. If you’re sitting in bed, chances are you’re going to be leaning against the headboard / wall, and your feet will be at the opposite end, so this configuration for head room is the best. Having the maximum head space in the centre would work if you like sitting in the centre of your bed, but really, when do you ever do that?


Subfloor finitum.

Exterior Shell, Sub-floor

After much ado, the subfloor and its many components are finally done. It’s one of those things where a lot of hours go in, with not a whole lot to show for it. The last step after insulating all the spaces between the steel joists of the trailer was to lay down 3/4 inch tongue and groove plywood to cover the entire surface.

The first sheet of plywood!

The first sheet of plywood!

We started on September 10th (Day 16 of the build since bringing the trailer out to our site) and finished on Saturday, September 12th. It was the icing on the cake so to say, but even with the reward of having that clean slate to start raising walls on, my energy was waning during this part.

It is very gratifying to complete each step, but it is a challenge constantly having to check your expectations at the door in terms of how long things take and how tricky they will be. Little failures or overlooked details are constantly acquainting you with the many shades of humility.

OOPS! Nothing a little PL Premium won't fix.

OOPS! Nothing a little PL Premium won’t fix.

Mental fatigue is definitely a bigger challenge than physical fatigue with all of this, which is something I never would have guessed. A steady effort of holding objects in your mind in 3D and moving them around in different positions to be correctly placed is exhausting!

First thing first, we laid down more sill gasket on all the steel that would be in contact with the subfloor plywood. This is to prevent thermal bridging – a fancy term describing how a more conductive material (steel) creates a pathway for heat to be quickly transferred through a thermal barrier (the insulated subfloor). It makes sense… the steel joists are going to get cold, and they IMG_20150910_155249run up through the insulation to touch our floor. A heat thief if I ever saw one. So the sill gasket provides an insulating break between the steel and our floor. It should help a good bit. We tried using PL premium as an adhesive to stick the strips of sill gasket down, but it didn’t work very well. A few pieces of tuck tape were much more effective.

The 3/4″ tongue and groove (T&G) plywood came in 4′ x 8′ sheets. Each sheet has tongue along one of the 8′ sides, and groove along the other IMG_94388′ side. The top and bottom (the 4′ sides) are square. Each sheet is also
stamped with a “This Side Down” marker, which results in each sheet lying concave up. In the instructional video that came with our plans, it
was explained that the sheets of plywood must run their length perpendicular to the underlying strength axes (which in this case are the steel joists of the trailer).  It is also very important to stagger the sheets so that the seams don’t line up with one another, creating sustained linear weaknesses along which the structure can bend. Alternating our seams at 4′ intervals gave us the maximum strength and unity our subfloor was capable of having.

So to be clear, it wasn’t just me who was tired, Tim was pretty tapped out as well. He was in go-mode though to just power through, and didn’t even stop to take many pictures. I tried to snap a few here and there to make sure the process wasn’t completely lost in time. The fact that each sheet had to be oriented specifically to face down the right way, and to have the tongue of one sheet tying into the groove of the next meant that we had to be really careful about each individual cut we made with the circular saw. Once that cut was made there was no going back, and, like the rigid board insulation, each sheet of plywood is worth a pretty penny!

We used 1.5″ screws to tie down the sheets of plywood. Every six inches along the perimeter (into the wooden side rails) and every twelve inches in the field of each sheet was our pattern. For the screws in the field, we were back to those #$^*)(@$% self-tapping screws again, since we were attaching to the top sides of the steel joists.

Fifth times a charm?

Fifth time’s a charm?

I really SERIOUSLY can’t stress this enough: invest in your fasteners. It sucks to pay a premium on the small stuff, but it will be so, SO worth it. The same goes for drill bits. If you buy (unknowingly or not) poor quality screws and/or drill bits, they will snap. Repeatedly. We used over 200 self-tapping metal screws and maybe 150 wood screws in total, and I didn’t count how many of those were duds. After this though we’ll be done with metal, and be able to work exclusively with wood (at least until the metal roof goes on, but that won’t be nearly as thick as the 1/4″ steel in the trailer joists).

Mind the gap! Lolz

Mind the gap! Lolz

As was the frustration with the 2′ x 4′ side rails, the plywood was pretty bowed, which made it difficult to fit the tongue and groove together completely, and to keep all four corners square. An important thing to remember with this is that wood swells, so you can’t abut adjacent pieces tight to one another – leaving about 1/8″ gap all the way around each sheet allows the plywood room to swell and shrink with varying moisture levels. Not doing this can result in your floor buckling under your feet, which is obviously undesirable. Our carpenter’s square is 1/8″ thick, so that made it quick to check our placement. The thing to keep in mind with these gaps is that they are constantly adding on to your total length, with each piece that is laid. This slipped our minds at first, and actually caused us a bit of hassle.

This sheet didn't line up properly. We had to take the screws out and skim a strip off the end of the sheet in order to make room for the next piece.

This sheet didn’t line up properly. We had to take the screws out and skim a strip off the end of the sheet with the skill saw in order to make room for the next piece.

The steel joists are on 2′ centres, so, the ends of two neighbouring pieces of plywood must meet each other equally at the centre of each joist in order to have enough room for the screws to bite into the metal on each side. These joists are the only surfaces on which the pieces of plywood could be attached in the field, so each one needed to be shared 50/50. Successive 1/8″ gaps add up fast, and without taking them into account, you can end up with one piece of plywood hogging a steel joist, with no room for the next sheet to tie in!

Other mentionable quirks include routing holes to accommodate the pieces of threaded rod, and cutting out pieces to IMG_20150910_221159allow for our wheel wells. It seems that with rough carpentry, it doesn’t matter how precise you try to be, it’s impossible to have everything just so. What a positively fantastic exercise for the nit picky hair-splitter in me!

As you can see in the header photograph for this post, on the right hand side of the trailer we ended up having to cut narrow strips to finish off the entire surface – much like with the aluminum flashing on the underside of the trailer. It would have been so much nicer to have the trailer a perfect 8′ wide by 24′ long, side rails included; then we could lay full sheets with no modifications required. But I digress… Again, since the tongue is only on one side of each sheet, we were left with a lot of wood that didn’t have a tongue for us to work with. Tim being Tim (economical and creative) decided to fashion a tongue himself on the long 10″ wide strips we had cut to fill out that right hand side. All it took was a table saw, a bit of cleverness and elbow grease.


A really great tip: take a speed square and pencil, and trace the edges of the steel joists onto the side rails prior to laying your plywood.IMG_20150910_174006 These lines can then be extended along the tops of your plywood so you can know exactly where the steel joists lie, and hence, where to sink your screws. It was a big help for us! We finished up the last few pieces and finally swept off our floor for the very first time. There were a few housekeeping tasks to clue up then, like trimming some of the perimeter overhanging edges of plywood, and using the grinder to cut off any of the snapped screw shanks left sticking up out of the floor. We also caulked around the threaded rod for good measure. All the cursing and frustration has been worth it, and we can now put in our order for 2′ x 4’s for our walls. Before you know it we’ll be raising the roof!



Tim taking it easy after a hard day's work.

Tim taking it easy after a hard day’s work.

Me, feeling proud :P

Me, feeling proud 😛



An Insulation Sandwich to Stand On.

Exterior Shell, Sub-floor

After we finished installing the flashing, we had to close up the seams between all the lengthwise sheets, as well as gaps around hangers and the tongue. To do this, we used a special kind of duct tape IMG_9245made by IPG that is typically used in duct work or on chimneys. It’s heat resistant, which I thought was an added bonus, and it came in a roll of about 45 m (omg, finally something in metric). It also came with a hefty price tag though- $15 per roll, so we bought just one to see how it went. Turned it to be perfect for our needs, and we were able to do the entire trailer with just the one roll! The ‘aggressive adhesive’ lived up to its hype and I feel very confident that we’ve been meticulous enough about moisture and tiny intruder prevention. As a side note, it’s miraculous how well the volume of our purchases have been working out. Little waste makes us happy campers.

There was something very oddly pleasing and enjoyable about peeling the backing off of each strip of this stuff and sticking it to our flashing. Smooth lines, and no more IMG_9266gaps! Simple joys 😀 There was a scattered spot (in the area where we first began our flashing, when we still sucked at it) where the flashing was bowed a bit extra – in those places we beefed up the closure using caulking; PL Premium, to be exact. This stuff worked really well, I’d recommend it. IMG_20150903_154529We also used this stuff all around the perimeter of the axle section, and the hangers belonging to the leaf springs and equalizers. If there’s anywhere on the trailer with a higher risk of water infiltration, we figure it will be around the wheels, so that’s why we did that.

Ready for insulation!

Ready for insulation!

Since the caulking takes a little time to dry, we had to space this out a bit, and did it over two days: September 3rd and 4th. We were going to head straight home for the weekend then to recharge our batteries, but we decided to spend the afternoon on Friday the 4th getting the subfloor insulation started. Now, since I did the post on insulation in the research phase, I’ve learned a good bit more about it all. You might recall that we had said we were planning on rigid board (also known as code board) throughout, but at that time I had no idea how expensive the stuff was. Turns out, a 2″ thick 4′ x 8′ sheet is around $50 a pop. So to cut down costs, we tried to come up with a compromise for our subfloor, since it is probably the lowest risk area for heat loss. A lot more research ensued, and to be honest, I wasn’t really able to get a straight answer on anything.

In the plans we bought, the instructions did not include the seam taping that we did on our flashing. They said to use one layer of 2″ thick rigid board, and another layer on top of the first, of 1.5″ thick rigid board with a radiant barrier (shiny silver backing) on the side facing upward. This would allow for the required air space between the radiant barrier and the plywood subfloor in order to properly reflect radiant heat back into the house. No vapour barrier was used in their method on either side. My issue with all of this was that not taping the seams left the underside of the trailer too vulnerable. Also, using a radiant barrier in the floor didn’t make a whole lot of sense since the majority of heat loss would be happening through the roof – I would consider it up there but not in the floor. And lastly of course, the cost of all the rigid was daunting. So we bought some Roxul mineral wool batts – really cool stuff! IMG_20150827_162456IMG_20150904_140455It’s made from volcanic rock (basalt) and steel slag, spun into a fibrous mass which is basically fireproof, highly moisture resistant, and much healthier and practical than fibreglass. It is recommended to install a vapour barrier with it though.

With all of this insulation research, my biggest concern was vapour barriers and if / when to use them. Theoretically, in a predominantly cold climate, you want to place a single vapour barrier on the warm side of your insulation (towards the inside) in order to block moist air moving from inside the house, into the wall / floor space and condensing on the insulation or exterior sheathing once it meets the cooler temperature towards the exterior. Since we had sealed the bottom, moisture and water vapour were effectively blocked from that side, so if any moisture got in, it would be kinda stuck with a vapour barrier on top as well. I was worried that putting that vapour barrier / retardant on the top would run the risk of turning our subfloor into a big ziplock bag of mould, if any vapour was able to sneak inside somehow. Oh the stresses… we decided against it in the end and went back to plan A to fill the entire trailer with rigid board. IMG_20150904_143856That way we don’t have to vapour barrier, and we’ll be adding extra structural integrity to our base. The rigid board is closed cell foam, and it is petroleum based of course, so it is intrinsically very adept at preventing moisture intrusion (and mould development). It’s printed on each board that at least 20% is recycled material, too. Our floor is going to be R-20!! Hooray for warm feet. The roxul won’t go to waste though because we are going to put it in all our walls 🙂

We have an account at the hardware store now, so we’re feeling very professional and important being able to say “Yes, put it on my account, please”! We bought our stack of insulation and the very nice people working in the yard offered to bring it over to our warehouse with their forklift! Gotta love rural Newfoundland. IMG_9276

Each (standard) bay in the trailer frame is 4″ thick, 23 3/4″ long, and 91″ wide. This meant we would get two pieces from each sheet of rigid board, and each bay would accommodate two pieces stacked on top of one another. There are a few exceptions to this, such as in the axle section, and the two end bays, so we adjusted measurements accordingly. We first started out cutting our pieces to size using our circular saw. This achieved very straight lines, and it was ok, but the IMG_20150904_163058blade spins so fast that it actually burns the foam a bit along the cut, and also, I find it a bit overkill / aggressive for this kind of material. The weight of the saw causes the sheet to bow in the centre along the axis where it is being cut, and this sometimes causes the blade to get pinched by the foam, resulting in the saw kicking from time to time. This is not fun. It is a pretty amazing machine though, I enjoyed using it when it was cutting smoothly, and it will be much better when using it on wood.

On day 2 of insulation, Tuesday September 9th, we incurred a power outage for the majority of the day, so we had to try a different method. As it turns out, using a utility knife blade to score the rigid board and snapping it along that cut works beautifully! I’d say even cleaner and faster than the circular saw, and safer as well. We kept this up even when the power came back on. Getting a really snug fit for these pieces of insulation is really important in order to block drafts and to have an efficient and economic subfloor. Why pay for heat if it’s going to escape out through gaps? I took a segmented video laying out the whole process of preparing a sheet of rigid board to place within the trailer frame- you can watch it below!

Using a regular handsaw works well too, and we used one for some of the smaller, thinner trimming we needed to do on certain pieces. And that bread knife… I gotta say, it was essential for those notches. If you’re a good hand at cutting homemade bread, you’ll be great at slicing insulation with the same knife. We finished insulating on September 9th, and bought our stack of 3/4″ 4′ x 8′ tongue and groove plywood for our subfloor as well. We’ll very soon have something to stand on!

Finished job!

Finished job!