When Roby and I applied for the position at the Solarliving Institute one of the benefits was the free room and board. We were excited to have the opportunity to live in another sustainable community. The website showed the intern village with cob and straw bale buildings. Sarah, the site manager, who offered us the position however informed us those houses were for the interns and our accommodations were going to be in a Tumbleweed Emu House, which is a Tiny house on wheels. Because the Solarliving Institute is in a floodplain it is limited to the number of stationary buildings permitted on its site. She sent us the website: www.tumbleweedhouses.com to check it out.
Once we took a look at the pictures we figured we needed to pare down our belongings. Although we had become accustomed to living out of our backpacks, we were going to have to narrow it down even more. The Tiny House as we affectionately call it is a very space efficient home but you really can't own or store much of anything that isn't absolutely necessary!
Before we arrived we had the visual image from the website in our head of a completely equipped, cute cabin-style, landscaped house waiting for us to move in. Unfortunately, when we arrived it was covered with a tarp, had only roughed in electrical and plumbing and was no where near ready to move in. Although a bit disappointed we were troopers and rolled up our sleeves and volunteered to help build our new home. In retrospect we are glad we are having this opportunity because we are learning so much and I am loving playing with the power tools. We've always wanted to do some volunteer construction work for Habitat For Humanity but this is like Habitat for HumansPattiandRoby.
Our first siting was of with a tarp covered, corrugated metal shell on a 9x12 trailer sitting in a muddy bone yard next to the work shop. The previous interns and work-traders have been putting it together for the past year. When you are building a house out of either donated or recycled material the job takes much longer. Only the framing and electrical work with some of the plumbing was completed. It was still quite a ways from being habitable and we needed to have at least the loft completed by March 1st because we were going to lose our temporary accommodations when the interns arrived.
The first task was to design the interior space. The owner of the company provides architectural drawings where no space or corner is wasted. However, when the framers put this house together they did not follow the original plans so we had to make changes to the interior setup. Sarah, Roby, Kieren and I put our heads together and designed it. Following the owner's philosophy, we have used every nook and cranny for storage.
To give you a walk-through: As you approach the house we have a small covered porch. You enter through the front door and on your right is going to be a desk with a fold-out extension to double as our dining room table. On the left will be a window seat with drawers underneath it. Next to the seat will be a miniature wood pellet stove. There will be a dual-purpose closet to store our two pairs of jeans and 4 shirts, and it will also act as our backrest for the window seat. You exit the "great room" after two paces and enter the kitchen. You need to be careful though because the walk space is only big enough to be maneuvered through sideways. It will be a fully functioning kitchen with a 30 inch dorm-room size stainless steel refrigerator/freezer, two-burner stove (much like our coleman camp stove), a small sink which I think will hold two glasses, and counter space big enough on which to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Don't turn too quickly in the kitchen or you will hit your head on the ladder up to the loft. If you step sideways you will enter the bathroom. This will consist of a compost toilet-basically a five gallon sawdust bucket with a seat on it and a shower. Again watching your head you will then climb the ladder to the second floor loft for our bedroom. Once you get through the cubby hole you will find a cool bamboo shelving system under the window which has a view to Duncan Mountain. Flip around on the ladder and our queen-sized futon mattress sits under the peaked ceiling. That's our house or will be soon.
The first week on site we were eager to get started. We had a few days with Gene to finish up the electrical work. Roby and I got our first lesson on homebuilding. We wired a few of the electrical boxes under Gene's supervision. Our true indoctrination came later that week when Sarah gave instructional lessons on several of the power-saws. I am now a big fan of the chop saw, but can handle myself with a rip saw, jig saw, and skil saw. "Tool time with Patti" might be the next reality show! Our first weekend Roby and I put in the eco-friendly hickory pecan wood flooring in the loft. We got lucky because the pieces measured exactly to the length of the loft, however, the tong and groove did not match perfectly. Therefore, the easy installation became a two day project. The pieces needed to be hammered together but we needed to find a rubber mallet to pound them in but none was to be found. After racking our brains for an alternative weapon, we took a large chunk of wood and placed it between the flooring and a hammer and pounded away. We each took turns slamming the pieces into place. Once we reached the loft opening we had to rip a few pieces and line it up. The biggest dilemma came when we reached the last two sections. No problems would have occurred if the pieces would have slipped into place, but because of the inconsistency and warping, how were we going to swing the hammer back and forth to get them to meld if we only had two inches to spare before we reached the end of the trailer. Options ran through our heads; 1)hit from outside the window while standing on a ladder? 2)swing from the opposite direction? None of those were going to work so we pulled out a sander and put in a special blade and dremeled out the groove further. Whoola- the pieces slid right in!!!
We were on a roll and feeling overly confident with our carpentry skills but we hit a standstill-no more material. The local "home depot style" store was procrastinating on its donation of ceiling and wall material. Despite Sarah's best efforts they kept delaying and would not give us an answer. It was unfortunate because we had a great volunteer Travis ready and willing to work. He at least was able to get the balance of the plumbing for the shower and sink completed.
Getting desperate with only a week left before the interns arrived and still nowhere close to moving into the loft, we broke down and walked next door to the local lumber mill hoping to beg for some free lumber. Once we were able to locate the owner we explained what we needed. He pointed us to a pile of panels he had on a pallet and said they would be 50 cents a piece. We took one look at them, and although they were redwood, they were not worth even 10 cents a piece. Many of the pieces were cracked or the tong/groove were either broken or not consistent and not to mention, had been sitting out in the rain for months and were warped. But again we were desperate, so we sent Sarah to beg him to donate the wood. He did. The power of womanly persuasion! Not only did we load up the pallet of redwood but Roby and Travis climbed into the 20 foot containers and pulled out a bunch of scrap wood that might come in handy. Very successful day.
We got the wood unloaded and stacked it in the yard under the trailers. Unfortunately we had a huge storm that evening and the wood was drenched. Another day without work. 7 days and counting to D-Day for move in. The next morning we laid out several pieces underneath the 20 foot tool trailers hoping to get them to dry out. The weather was not cooperating and it continued to rain for several days. Nevertheless, we started putting the panels up in the house. Unfortunately the wood could not be used for the ceiling but we at least got started on the interior walls. Roby and I had a process set up. He would measure and I would chop. Then we would both tack them to the wall. I now got to use a nail gun. Talk about the coolest invention. Who needs or would want a hammer anymore, when you have a nail gun! We were so excited we were getting the wall done in record time, but then realized because of the faulty tong and groove the pieces were not going in straight. Thankfully we realized our mistake quickly and started using a level. You can definitely see an improvement in our work as we progressed. Unfortunately our "pretty" section is going to be covered up by cabinets and shelves.
It was Friday and still no word from Friedman's regarding the ceiling material so Sarah pulled out the checkbook and bought some cedar planking. With 2 days the three of us cranked all weekend getting the loft area completed. We learned the value of a good framer and realized we did not have one. Sarah was putting on the gable siding and wondered why she was having so much difficulty getting things to line up. After some investigation she realized the window was put in crooked. This led to another delay to fix the alignment. It turned out great. She used some old "Real Goods" signs to cover the gables and the window was trimmed in scrap wood from the flooring. Our goal is "No Waste". Her next task was to figure out how to design some shelving so we could get some of our clothes stored. This would have to wait until Sunday. We sent her home at 6:30 pm and told her to sleep on it. The next morning she came with plans in hand. She is dangerous when you give her a little time to think it through. Now that Roby had discovered his router skills on the beveled edge for the baseboards,Sarah decided we could router out slates for her bamboo shelving. It was a great idea using all scrap material until we learned we had to steel wool 10 foot long pieces of bamboo to get off the mold and then cut them into 16 inch slates. After 30 pieces and one aching wrist we had only accomplished filling two sections of the shelf. Next batch we would space the bamboo out a bit!
While Sarah tackled the gables, Roby and I tag-teamed to install the ceiling. This was no easy task. The loft ceiling was barn style-double pitched so we had some weird angles to address. Should we "rip" pieces to get them to fit the hinge points or should we say "screw it" and just cover over them. With only 24 hours to D-day-you can guess which option we chose. After reaching the mid-point on the ceiling we reached another obstacle, should we keep going in one direction or start from the bottom on the other side and hope we match at the apex. Being risk-takers we took the second option. Keeping our fingers crossed we plugged away and said a little pray before we put in our last piece. Due to our excellent workmanship (ha-ha)ceiling and floor did not match up but our motto was "no problem it was going to get covered up". Thank God for baseboards! Roby wanted to get fancy and pulled out the router. He knew you could bevel an edge with it so we rigged the tool up and created an incredible detail on the loft baseboard. Nothing like trying to make things simple when time is running out. Things were going well until we hit the electrical outlets. The installers obviously did not think about baseboards. Therefore, our beautiful work took a turn for the worse when we had to notch out part of the baseboard to get past the outlet plates. Note to self-raise outlets!!
Time: Sunday afternoon-4:00 pm-loft ready for move-in. We quickly swept it out with a little whisk broom; packed up our stuff of which 50% of our belongings had to be stored in the truck because we had only one bamboo shelf built so essential clothing only. Next was moving the futon. Unfortunately the framing for the bed would not fit through the ceiling hole but we figured the wood floor would act similarly. We rolled up the mattress and stuffed it through the hole. With only an inch on each side between the bed and wall and a slanted ceiling, making the bed was a challenge. With a little experimentation I found that I could fit the sheet on one side and then rollover to the other side of the bed with sheet in hand and then slip it on the second side. Bed made-check. Sarah gave us a little table and Roby found a couple of chairs. Makeshift computer table-check. Once we had "home sweet home" it was off to the intern house to set up the beds for the girls. Intern Village completed-check. Final time check-7:00 pm.
Cheers to Sarah she gave up her entire weekend to help get us settled.