Deb’s tiny house build begins!

Many of our friends and family have heard Mike and I talking about possibly building a tiny house for me for some time now. I’m happy to announce that the building of my tiny house has actually begun! It was at some point early in the year that I finally made up my mind that I wanted to live in a tiny house. I had continued living in ‘ol Betty (my RV) after I got back from my road trip last summer. The winter was harsh with basically nonexistent insulation, and certain aspects of the living space design in the RV was just not working for me anymore, especially as a long-term living situation. I enjoy and prefer living in a small space, but I began craving something that was customized for me and would be suitable for my needs like a functional kitchen and a better bedroom space.

When I finally decided this was what I wanted to do, I began my exhaustive research on how to proceed. Dozens of hours were spent designing a floor plan that used the space well and was suited to my needs. In the beginning of May, I made my first concrete step to making this dream a reality: I ordered and put a deposit down on the trailer for my tiny home. The next two months while I waited for my trailer were a roller coaster ride of emotions, wondering if I had made a terrible mistake and getting in way over my head. I was also very aware that I would be relying on Mike for the majority of this process, which created quite a bit of guilt knowing this would take up most of his life for the foreseeable future. But the thought of having a beautiful and welcoming home to call my own that we could both enjoy often calmed my guilty feelings. I also knew that this project would be a hell of an amazing experience for both us that we could do together.

My nerves were exploding like bottle rockets once again when my brother dropped off the trailer at my building site. This was no joke FOR REAL now!! We are really doing this! A few days later, Mike and I went to the local building supply store to put in our very first order of lumber for the framing. Unexpectedly, we ended up handpicking a handful of lumber which will serve as the exposed floor joists for the lofts. It wasn’t until that moment that I started to feel at ease. This might sound a little cheesy, but it was a very sentimental feeling knowing that I was consciously choosing something that would be an integral part of my own home. Since then, I’ve finally started to feel the excitement that everyone around me seems to feel for me and this project. I was starting to worry the excitement would never come. A sigh of relief!

Trailer being picked up from Tiny Home Builders' facility in Logan, UT
Trailer being picked up from Tiny Home Builders’ facility in Logan, UT

 

 

I knew I wanted to build my tiny home on a trailer for ease of being able to move it around from place to place. Though I don’t have any intentions of traveling with it, I need the ability to move it since I currently don’t own my own land, and I would like to be able to take it with me wherever I go.

I lucked out with my current living situation. My landlord (I am renting a space on his property) was gracious enough to allow me to build the tiny home on the property while continuing to live in the RV.

I spent many hours researching where to purchase my trailer. Many people on a budget go the cheap route of finding a used utility trailer, often on Craigslist. They might find one for less than 2K. The problem with this is that you don’t really know what you’re getting. More often than not, the trailer is not suited to withstand having a house built on top of it, let alone be towed safely. I’ve read how many people end up having to replace axles and make other improvements and adjustments just to make it safe and worthy of being a solid foundation for a house. This leads to putting more money into it anyway and then all that time and energy is wasted on the trailer when it could have been better spent building the house. Once I was aware of this, it was a no-brainer for me to go with a reputable company that builds trailers specifically for tiny home construction, even if it costs me a little more money. This is the foundation for my house—this is not where I want to be cutting corners. In the end, I decided to go with a standard 24’ trailer from Tiny Home Builders. Tom, with customer service was great, and another guy on their team, Dan, happened to be the author of Tiny House Design & Construction Guide, a book I had bought in my early stages of research which has been an invaluable resource for Mike and I throughout the planning and building process. I ordered the trailer in early May and it was completed just about eight weeks later.

My brother, David, and his girlfriend, Kim, delivering my trailer
My brother, David, delivering my trailer

 

 

The Tiny Home Builders is based in Georgia, but they have a facility in Logan, Utah where they build trailers. Since my little Subaru Outback isn’t quite up to par for towing a trailer that size, I was set on having the trailer delivered for an extra 1K. But when I mentioned this to my awesome brother, David, he said he and his girlfriend, Kim, might be going to Utah to visit her daughter, so he could potentially be able to pick up the trailer for me. The stars aligned and my trailer was soon in its new home.

I was actually very glad that it was David who was dropping off the trailer. It was all on our minds that whenever the time came to move the house from its build location it would be a challenge. The site where my RV is and where we will be building the tiny house has very little room for maneuvering a truck that is towing a trailer. In one of the pictures below, you’ll see there is a huge grassy yard surrounding the gravel pad and driveway. Well, that yard turns into a swamp in the winter. I actually got the RV stuck in there last winter when I had to leave the property to fill the RV’s propane tank. The other big obstacle is the driveway leading to the site. It is very narrow and bumpy with two pretty tight turns and tall trees hugging the driveway on either side. Fortunately, coming in is much harder than going out. So, once I’m out, I’m out for good!

David’s really good about thinking and planning ahead, so with him there we spent a good hour or so going through different parking configurations with the trailer and the RV so that when the time comes, I can easily get both the RV and trailer out with minimal issues.

Final parking configuration. There is very little flat, solid surface at the site. The gravel driveway starts going up an incline just to the right of the trailer and Mike's motorcycle.
Final parking configuration. There is very little flat, solid surface at the site. The gravel driveway starts going up an incline just to the right of the trailer and Mike’s motorcycle.

 

 

The week following the trailer delivery proved to be a slow start in the construction phase. Mike and I were spending many hours in last minute design prep work which often makes you feel like you’re not productive because you’re not seeing any results but is such an important part of the process.

The first step once you have your trailer is to prep the trailer to be able to begin the actual housing construction. First and foremost, we had to level the trailer. We did this by installing various amounts of cement pavers at each corner with jack stands propped on top of them and then settling the trailer on top of the jack stands. Getting the trailer level front to back and side to side was a bit of a tedious process but wasn’t too bad.

Next, following the recommendations of the Tiny House Design & Construction Guide, we had our plan of installing aluminum flashing (strips of heavy duty aluminum) directly to the trailer, and on top of that we would begin building the subfloor framing (the floor framing of the house that is made up of floor joists and subfloor sheathing). Not too long before we were ready to start installing the flashing, someone (who comes from a residential housing construction background) suggested taping the seams of the aluminum flashing so there would be no open gaps between each strip. Then, recommended adding a layer of vapor barrier between the aluminum flashing and the subfloor framing to act as a secondary barrier to keep debris and water from ever coming in contact with the lumber in case the aluminum flashing was compromised while being towed. I thought it was curious that our Tiny House Design & Construction Guide had not mentioned this, nor did a few other blogs on tiny house construction that I’ve seen. Nevertheless, we updated our plans to include a vapor barrier.

A day or two later, we got to work on installing the aluminum flashing which basically consisted of overlapping strips of the flashing atop the entire deck of the trailer and screwing them into the metal frame. Once that was done, we taped all the overlapping seams to prevent any sort of water from the ground coming up and contacting the lumber. Since we did not have any of the vapor barrier material yet, we called it a day. I also wanted some time to see if I could find anyone else who had used this stuff on their tiny homes since it wasn’t even mentioned by Tiny Home Builders in their book or on their website.

Mike doing some screwing while a honey bee looks on.
Mike doing some screwing while a honey bee looks on.

 

Completed flashed trailer.
Completed flashed trailer.

 

The next morning, after taking a habitual look at the upcoming weather for the week and saw some chance for rain, I began picturing in my head what the trailer will look like with the seam-taped aluminum flashing, then a layer of vapor barrier (which is an impermeable material) on top of the flashing, then the subfloor framing on top of the vapor barrier, and then rain pummeling down and collecting in each of the floor joist pockets (sorry, this is hard to explain without pictures but as soon as I get those up, you’ll see what I’m talking about). Where is the trapped water to go? The thought of somehow suctioning out the water from between all the joist framing didn’t seem right. Upon asking Mike about this puzzling scenario, it led us to a day of near frantic researching on whether this vapor barrier was imperative or not. To me, it was a huge and extremely important decision because this would ultimately determine the integrity of my house’s foundation. If we get it wrong, I could end up with a rotting foundation years down the line.

In our research, we found one person who was building his first tiny house and was so paranoid about moisture getting up under the trailer and into the lumber that he added a layer of vapor barrier on top of the flashing. So why does the author of our tiny home construction guide not say anything about this?? On the other hand, what we did find among multiple sources (including the Tiny House Design & Construction Guide) was the importance of allowing trapped water in the subfloor framing to be able to escape through the trailer. We found the sad story of one couple who found out the hard way. They had built their subfloor framing which was completely sealed and had several days of downpours while everything was still exposed. In the end, they had to rip everything apart to thoroughly dry everything out, including the wool insulation they had installed.

So, after hours of researching and utilizing Mike’s smarts, we deduced that installing a vapor barrier directly on top of the aluminum flashing would not be a good idea in this particular application. To be properly installed in this instance, it would need to be installed above the floor insulation, and at that point the vapor barrier would be unnecessary. I will do us all a favor and not try to explain the physics of how this was determined but the take away here is that building a house on a trailer which has an open and well vented space beneath the trailer is different than a residential house that is a fully enclosed structure. We learned that vapor barriers are widely misunderstood and often misused and require a good deal of understanding in varying types of uses and climates.

Coming up: prepping the loft floor joists and building the subfloor framing.

Author: Debora Schwartz

I am a traveler, a writer, an outdoor enthusiast and a tiny house dweller.

6 thoughts on “Deb’s tiny house build begins!”

  1. How Awesome to see your dream finally becoming a reality! I’m super excited for you guys and look forward to following the process and seeing the finished product! It’s been too long! We need to get together soon! ….when you take a break from building your tiny house of course. 🙂

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  2. Hey Debora =) I was just thinking about you and wondering what you were up to, it’s nice to see you’re still blogging your adventures. Best of luck with the home building! We miss you at Ballena.

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