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!



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.