5000 nails later…

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Roughly calculated, we used almost 5000 1.5” finishing nails to install the beaded board ceiling and the v-groove plank walls, both tongue in groove, throughout the house. Each nail required at least three “whacks” to get in—that is a lot of hammering. I can hardly think of a more meditative job; it is tricky enough that you have to stay focused, but not so difficult that you get frustrated. Each plank leads to the next and the next and next, and so the hours pass. Sebastienne made up a little humming song, Winnie the Pooh style: “Pick it up, slide it in, waggle, waggle, waggle, whack, whack, whack, hammer, hammer, hammer, and again.” (The whacking here refers to gently using the mallet to get the tongue into the groove without damaging it.)

By late Friday afternoon, we had finished our bedroom nook and the closet, and could sit back to enjoy our progress. The spring breeze flowed in through the open Dutch door (Thanks, Forrest!) and the Dogwood trees’ white blossoms lit up the forest. All was good in the world.

We have a tiny bedroom; the emphasis is really on the bed part, rather than the room… The nook itself is 55.5” wide and 84” long, which fits, without much room to spare, a full size bed. Here I feel the need to add something for those of you who might be thinking of downsizing and/or building your own house: Our “tiny house” is almost twice the size of most houses built on wheels because we wanted to have a separate bedroom on the ground floor, plus a closed off sleeping loft for our daughter. Since we also wanted a backdoor to the porch, we did not have the option of turning the bed sideways, which is why all we can fit is a full size mattress without filling up the corridor. We are not particularly big, vertically or horizontally or circumferencely, and we are mighty fond of each other—a full size bed is all we need, but we did think over our sleeping habits and needs carefully before we made this design decision.

Another instance when size and compatibility can make a big difference is the closet. Luckily, we are the same size and have, more or less unintentionally, developed an overlapping clothing style. We do not only wear the overalls and plaid shirts and whatnots we use during construction, but we tend to stay with the basics and share most of our clothes. I have a handful of favorite dresses that Sebastienne would not wear, but mostly, we have one closet instead of two. (Sometimes it is practical to have a same sex partner!) Ada would wear her black tights and grey hoodie every day if they did not have to get washed occasionally—her closet needs are miniscule.

We have been sorting through our closet regularly for the past year, slowly getting rid of everything besides our absolute favorites, those clothes that we fight over and that always seem to be in the laundry.  I gave most of the dresses to my dear friend Jody, and I enjoy seeing them around town, the rest of the discards went to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. As with everything else, the more we get rid of, the more the things we keep shine. To have a closet where everything is a favorite means that our clothes resemble the love worn “Velveteen Rabbit;” threadbare and a little frayed at the edges, but it also means that they feel “real.” Our goal is that all the things and beings around us, from the teapot to the dog, will feel just as loved and appreciated. (If Alma, our hound dog, did not grow new hair, she would be naked by now after all our kisses and cuddles.)

I guess that one of the secrets to a small (large) life is to know what you love, and to love it well. Then the rest is just details.

Last sheep wool insulation to be seen.

Last sheep wool insulation to be seen.

bedroom (2)

Closet with cedar v-planks and light.

Closet with cedar v-planks and light.

bedroom (4)

Math...

Math…

Installing cedar planks over the "fake" plywood beadbord.

Installing cedar planks over the “fake” plywood beadboard.

Beaded bord ceiling

Beaded board ceiling

Our bedroom nook.

Our bedroom nook.

Our bedroom nook with reading lights from IKEA.

Our bedroom nook with reading lights from IKEA.

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bedroom (10) bedroom (11)

S in the bedroom window.

S in the bedroom window.

Standing by the front door looking toward the back porch.

Standing by the front door looking toward the back porch.

Standing on the porch looking toward the kitchen.

Standing on the porch looking toward the kitchen.

First book on the bookshelf.

First book on the bookshelf.

 

Mini building push – we got hammer hands, ceiling, and walls.

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After five ten hour workdays, we got the ceiling and walls up in the kitchen / living room. As a bonus, we got “hammer hands” (something like carpal tunnel, the hands get inflamed, and the fingers fall asleep) bad enough to keep us up at night. We didn’t have a nail gun, and each and every plank needed two finishing nails every 16 inches (on every stud / rafter), which meant a lot (a lot) of hammering. Still, all we want to do is to keep on going. It is so fun, just plain fun! Most of the time…there were some moments when we squeezed up under the ceiling with aching necks and flattened thumbs that were less joyous. I asked my wifey dear if she was having fun, and the response was a humorous snort: “In the broadest sense.” Sometimes it is hard, as in complicated, difficult, heavy, and physically taxing. It goes to show that hard work and fun are not mutually exclusive. While huffing and puffing, sighing and swearing, we also look at each other with shiny and excited eyes. We are building our own house! Wow. With each and every plank we see our house coming into being, it is as cozy as can be, and we can’t wait to live there. We can feel the space now, and it feels like home.

And that’s it for now, I’m too tired to think, and my hands are too tired to write. But enjoy the pictures!

Bookshelf by sofa (bathroom wall)

Bookshelf by sofa (bathroom wall)

many many angle cuts

many many angle cuts

M on the scaffolding

M on the scaffolding

4 5

The bead board ceiling! (and the scaffolding)

The bead board ceiling! (and the scaffolding)

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the picture window over the sofa-to-be

the picture window over the sofa-to-be

9 10 11

the "hallway" closet

the “hallway” closet

13 14 15 16

the bathroom with cedar paneling

the bathroom with cedar paneling

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the kitchen

the kitchen

the built in ladder to the loft (in the bathroom wall)

the built in ladder to the loft (in the bathroom wall)

Ada's loft

Ada’s loft

loft 1 loft 2 loft 3 loft 4

the view from Ada's window

the view from Ada’s window

Ada's skylight

Ada’s skylight

push week 034

Ada’s loft – there is always spackle, paint, and “good enough.”

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Hats off to real carpenters who know how to get things straight, square, and smooth. We don’t. We do try our darndest to make things (the house and life in general) as perfect as possible, and pull out the most painfully bent nails and atrociously crooked planks, but we are okay with “good enough.” Throughout the building process, we sing the same old song: “We’ll have trim there.” “There is always spackle and paint.” “It’s good enough.” When things are looking particularly grim, we offer each other the ultimate permission slip: “It will look charming…homemade.” That’s when you know that it is really crooked.

Building the loft was no exception, especially since I was stubborn enough to start putting up the ceiling on my own while Sebastienne installed the solar vent and worked on the short walls. The bead board planks for the ceiling are 8 feet long (I had to cut them to fit the rafters, and make sure to vary the lengths so as not make all the transitions at the same place), very wobbly, and have delicate tongues, which made them quite tricky to install. I had to lay on my back, and use knees, feet, elbows, and whatever I had available to keep the planks in place while I nailed them in. I did think that there must be an easier way…and it was! Once Sebstienne was ready with her project and came to help me, it didn’t only go twice as fast, but ten times. To have a pair of hands in each end made all the difference, and suddenly the planks were much more willing to cooperate. To think that I had spent a day’s worth of work doing something that could have taken a couple of hours with help was a little laughable, but at least the end result looks “good enough.” Actually, it looks beautiful.

Leonard Cohen most certainly wasn’t thinking of house building, or meaning it literally in any way, but we still takes comfort from his words: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” ;-)

Ada loves her new room, and is already plotting her decorating scheme to be “simple, mostly white, with a little bit of blue.” Yeah, we have indoctrinated her well.

loft 002

Smiles...

Smiles…

...back to business.

…back to business.

preparing the solar vent

preparing the solar vent

what not to do

what not to do

loft 009 loft 014 loft 015

solar powered attic vent (it will get a nice cover)

solar powered attic vent (it will get a nice cover)

bent nails

bent nails

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Ada hugs her room

Ada hugs her room

the partially finished side

the partially finished side. Observe the functioning light!

loft 034

The value of gumption, generators, and knotty pine

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“Cowardice is the most terrible of vices.” (Mikhail Bulgakov)

“So much was uncertain, but the question wasn’t where to go or what was to be done; rather, to live a life of courage or to not.”  (Andy Farkas)

Two of our most frequently quoted sayings relate to courage—we both agree with Bulgakov that cowardice is, if not the most terrible vice, at least the ruin of all things good and noble. Uncontrolled fear is not only a poor decision maker; it festers behind most hateful deeds, prejudices, resentments, and insincere and petty lives. A life lived large must be one of bravery, not necessarily a fearless or reckless life, but one where fear is ridden rather than running amok.

We borrowed the big delivery van from work to pick up the flooring from a nearby town, and as we maneuvered out of the driveway we looked at each other with excited “uh oh” faces. “It feels like we are kids stealing a car,” I said, and Sebastienne agreed, adding that she often wonders: “Where is the adult?” Maybe it is because we are both girls and of petite stature, or because we play when others trudge, but we frequently feel like children out and about in the world without adult supervision. In our mid-thirties with surprise wrinkles a little bit here and there, with a daughter old enough to hit puberty any day, and with a tea drinking and early to bed lifestyle of two grandmas–one would think that we should feel legit by now. Instead we maintain a giddy sense of liberation, as if we sneaked out the backdoor of our parents’ house and took off on a neck breaking adventure.

That said, we do occasionally get scared, and the exhilarated “uh oh” turns into a worried “uh oh-oh no!” Luckily, when one of us feels like hiding in an armpit, the other has got one (two!) to offer. Yes, it is scary to build your own house without any prior experience, to wire electricity from a manual, and to spend every penny you earn on something pretty much un-insurable that could get lost in a fire or tornado, or be cut in half by a tree. Here is where courage comes in. We are the first ones to acknowledge our imperfections and weaknesses (if not, we remind each other…), but one of the things we respect about each other is that at least we have gumption. That no matter if we get weak-kneed and nauseated by anxiety–we still do whatever it is we want to do, say, or be. Cultivating courage does not guarantee an easy life, but it will almost most certainly inspire a more beautiful one.

So…the electricity worked! We are now proud owners of a propane generator, which we’ll use until we get the solar panels, and later as a backup, and to load our batteries if needed. It felt like magic to plug in the extension cord (cut in one end) from the generator to the breaker box, flip the switch and have light. And to know that we did it!

That we now have electricity also meant that we could bring the out the chop saw and jig saw—both immensely helpful as we are installing the ceiling, walls, and floor.

Starting with the bathroom—Sebastienne cut a hole for the vent and installed the duct, and that was one of those wide-eyed kid moments when we kept waiting for someone to come and scold us for cutting a hole in the wall! I installed a white beaded board behind the stairs to the loft, since it will remain visible, before I stapled and taped a vapor barrier covering the whole bathroom interior: walls, ceiling, and floor. We decided on using v-groove cedar planks for both the walls and ceiling in the bathroom, since cedar is more mildew and pest resistant than the pine we’ll use for the rest of the house. Besides being a pain in the neck, quite literally, since I had to face up the whole time I did the ceiling, the v-groove planks were relatively easy and quick to install.

The cedar smells divine, and it finally conquered the lanolin sheep wool scent that we have come to associate with home. Unfortunately, the cedar smell will most likely subside when we paint it all white—even though we love the wood, bare planks look too much like a sauna for our taste. We will use the most heavy duty water resistant paint we can find, but we still have to be careful with water, and need an all-around shower curtain for the bathtub.

Sebastienne started with the short wall in the kitchen, since she wanted some fun inspiration after weeks of time consuming electrical work that rarely gave any quick results. Once the wall and the bead board under the mini-loft were up, she installed the kitchen lamp (from IKEA), and we could stand back and Oh! and Ah! and dream of  potted herbs and hanging pans.

Yesterday we finally got to pick up our pine planks for the floor from a lumber liquidation warehouse/pick up location close to Atlanta. Besides being lightweight and cheap, we settled for New England White Pine because it is bright and simple, and fits with the classic (Swedish) country look we are going for.  We picked 6’’ wide and 8’ long boards, since they are the most plank-like planks we could think of. As we delivered the floor to the tiny house, we got so excited that we laid the planks out in Ada’s loft to get a sneak peak. The floor oozes summer, it is not as yellow as yellow pine, (which we don’t really like), but it gives off a pale golden white shimmer. A floor to inspire bare feet. One thing to add:  pine is soft and will get dented, stained, and bruised easily. We like the old and worn look, but if you don’t, pine might not be for you.

For the economically and practically interested, here is the budget for the last part:

Floor: 430 sq. ft. (220 main level, 120 for the loft + some extra for spill etc.) New England White Pine, 6”x8’ tongue in groove planks — $1.19 / sq. ft. roughly $480

http://www.lumberliquidators.com/ll/c/New-England-White-Pine-Clover-Lea-WP6-8/10005896

Walls: 400 sq. ft. 1/4″ thick, 4″ wide, 8 ‘ long, knotty pine edge v planks (Home Depot)— $17.45/pack (includes 6 boards) $525 total (link to walls)

Ceiling: 400 sq. ft. knotty pine beaded planks (Home Depot) — $17.86/pack $535 total (link to bead board)

Generator:  Sportsman 4,000 Watt Propane Generator (Amazon) — $360 (link to propane generator)

…and of course the added cost of a whole lot of finishing nails, a hole drill bit here, and some duct tape there. Still, pretty affordable for a whole house!

We hope to be able to take a week off work in the end of March or beginning of April to do another big push—now when we have the material we can’t wait to get to work! I only have to get myself out of bed first, since I’m back horizontal with yet another sinus infection/cold/flu like ailment. How much of humankind is held back by petty colds? I need gumption just to get out of bed.

wood (2)

propane generator

propane generator

Testing the first outlet--it works!

Testing the first outlet–it works!

Gumption galore!

Gumption galore!

hole for the bathroom vent duct

hole for the bathroom vent duct

bathroom light an vent

bathroom light an vent

ceiling, walls,and gutters delivered

ceiling, walls,and gutters delivered

beadboard behind the built-in stairs

beadboard behind the built-in stairs

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M installs cedar planks in the bathroom ceiling

M installs cedar planks in the bathroom ceiling

vapor barrier

vapor barrier

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our floor boards!

our floor boards!

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testing the loft

testing the loft

Beginning to see the light

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“Well, I’m beginning to see the light…woohoo!” (Velvet Underground)

As spring takes one step forward and two steps back (it was under 20 F this morning!), we are beginning to see the end. For the longest time, it made us feel faint even to try to think of finishing the house – it loomed on the other side of an unknown land filled with an impossible amount of dragons to fight, mysteries to solve, and ravines to cross. Luckily, we managed to set one foot in front of the other, and immersed ourselves with the immediate task at hand without letting the distant horizon intimidate us. We got braver with each accomplished task. Now we know that we are able finish the rest, even though we still have months of work ahead of us.

We “only” have to install the bead board ceiling, v-plank walls, and tongue and groove floor planks. Then comes the trim work, painting, cabinet and closet building, the bathroom, plumbing (we’ll have exposed copper pipes, which is why we’ll do it last), water hook-up, back porch…easy…Ha. After soon a year of building, we are well aware of that each task is so much more involved than it first seems, and that it is small detail work that takes the longest.

Take Ada’s loft floor, for example. It could be as easy as putting the planks up…but it isn’t. Since the loft will be right on top of our bedroom, we want to make sure to soundproof it as much as possible – Ada is soon to be a teenager, and though she has good (according to us…) taste in music so far (…playing our old CDs), you never know what’s coming. We started with spraying all the rafters with Concrobium (mold control spray),  which helps kill and prevent mold without any toxins. Once they were dry, we stapled a plastic vapor barrier under the rafters, since Maria’s challenge with allergy and asthma makes us extra aware of dust and mold. Then came the insulation – we used what was left from the walls and roof, a mix of sheep wool and stone wool. We also put foam tape on top of the rafters that will help prevent the wood on wood sound transfer. We are planning to do a “floating floor,” which means we won’t nail the floor to the rafters, only push the tongue in groove planks together. Finally, (before the actual floor), we decided to put another vapor barrier just under Ada’s floor to make sure she doesn’t get to inhale any dust or mold from the rafters and/or insulation. It was a long debate, since we were worried that the double vapor barrier won’t allow any moisture to escape if it does get into the floor.

The balance between water proofing and ventilating, keeping water out and letting it escape, has been one of our recurring challenges throughout the planning and building. Condensation and mold are among our biggest concerns in muggy Georgia, in particular in a small space. We did ventilate the external part of the roof, but put a vapor barrier in the ceiling. The walls are “airier” with an air space under the siding, though we have house wrap to protect the OSB. We chose not to put a vapor barrier on the inside of the insulation, since the sheep wool is supposed to help regulate to moisture. The final result is still left to see, but so far our house seems dry despite all the downpours we’ve had the past year. (No more drought in Georgia, it seems.)

Another long debate was what to put on the walls and ceiling. We knew wanted bead board and v-planks, since drywall or plywood would risk making it look cheaper and more like a trailer house. The planks, we thought, would make it look more like the little cedar cottage we wanted. The issue was the thickness. Maria is allergic (not literally, this time) to flimsy walls, and wanted the thicker 1 x 6 x 12 Tongue & Groove Knotty Whitewood Pattern Board that have bead board on one side and v-plank style on the other, whereas Sebastienne argued for the thinner and lighter Hakwood 8 ft. x 4 in. x 5/16 in. Knotty Pine Beaded Plank Kit (6-Piece) - that come in either bead board or v-plank style. In the end, the worry that our house will be too heavy to pass road inspection won over the worry that the walls would feel a little “flimsy.” We bought a trial pack to test, and because our studs are only 16″ apart on center (instead of 24″), it feels much sturdier than we thought. It looks so beautiful, and now we can barely wait to put up the rest!

We ordered a generator, too, and next week we should have power so that we can use the electric chop saw and jig saw, which will be immensely helpful for the many many cuts that awaits us. In a month or so, our house will surely be worth looking at!

We are truly beginning to see the light, but we are not hanging our hats on any exact finishing date yet (summer-ish). If we have learned anything, it is to take one day at the time, plod along, have fun building, and not to swear too much over re-dos.

M installs the vapor barrier

M installs the vapor barrier

vapor barrier (2) vapor barrier (3)

Vapor barrier in the bathroom ceiling, and the base for the bathroom vent.

Vapor barrier in the bathroom ceiling, and the base for the bathroom vent.

The vapor barrier in the bedroom ceiling

The vapor barrier in the bedroom ceiling

Foam tape on the loft rafters.

Foam tape on the loft rafters.

Foam tape on the rafter will soften the wood on wood sound transfer.

Foam tape on the rafter will soften the wood on wood sound transfer.

Vapor barrier over the insulation, not necessarily to protect it from moisture, more so that we don't have to breathe in the insulation dust.

Vapor barrier over the insulation, not necessarily to protect it from moisture, more so that we don’t have to breathe in the insulation dust.

v-planks for the walls

v-planks for the walls

Installing the first board behind the kitchen-counter-to-be.

Installing the first board behind the kitchen-counter-to-be.

vapor barrier (11) vapor barrier (12) vapor barrier (13)

Getting Warm (insulating the roof)

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Our brains seem to have a connection, which makes us know what the other will say just before she says it, dream what the other dreams. Sure, since we spend most of our time together—we do know each other’s habits and thoughts and use of words, and we get the same visual, sensory, and auditory impressions throughout the day that also affect our dreams. Still, our dreams are similar in surprising ways. Let’s say that M meets a tiger in the jungle, and, at the same time, a tiger randomly pops up in Seb’s (dream-) super market, or Seb has a nostalgic dream of her old friends, and the same friends (unknown to M) make a visit in M’s dream, too. Brain waves jump from little spoon to big spoon.

This connection, this occasionally illuminating and occasionally muddling of brain waves, is our only explanation to why both of us could have thought that all our roof insulation would fit in the Jeep, together with us, the dog, and some groceries. For being such brainy girls, something obviously went wrong with our reasoning. It was a lack of reasoning, more likely. Six giant packs of Roxul Stone Wool insulation and twenty 4×8’ foam boards do not fit in a car. Not even close.

Standing outside Lowes with the helpful loaders, it was hard not to blush when they looked at our car, then at the mountain of insulation, and back at our car again. Oh my. It took us three loads, and it took some good pushing to fit the last wool bags, and it was only with the utmost of stubbornness that the four feet wide and eight feet long foam boards squeaked even half way into the car.

It was 9 pm, and cold, dark, and windy when we finally got the last insulation out to the land. Carrying the giant boards on our heads, M sighed good-humoredly: “We’re crazy…” whereupon Seb replied: “Of course. We have to be to build our own house.” There is probably some truth to that.

But we didn’t feel so crazy when we the next day managed to finish insulating the entire roof! One of the many benefits of building a small house is that each aspect is so very manageable, even if it doesn’t quite fit in a car.

We didn’t use the sheep wool for the roof/ceiling, since we wouldn’t have been able to get a very high R-value. We only had 5.5” space to fill (the 2×6 rafters are in actuality only 5.5”), and we needed to keep 1” air space for the baffles to keep the roof vented, which only left 4.5” for insulation. We used two 0.5” foam boards (they didn’t come in 1”), and 3.5” of the stone wool insulation, which gave us a total 22 R-value. Not much, but the best we could do. We chose the stone wool because it’s non-flammable, non-toxic, and mold resistant. (More info at the bottom of this post.)

What better thing to do on Valentine’s Day than to make our house warm and cozy?!

the 4x8' foam boards just about fit in the Jeep

the 4×8′ foam boards just about fit in the Jeep

Three out of six stone wool insulation packages

Three out of six stone wool insulation packages

The 0.5" foam boards

The 0.5″ foam boards

The tools of the day - the bread knife was by far the best for cutting the stone wool

The tools of the day – the bread knife was by far the best for cutting the stone wool

Seb cuts the foam board to size/

Seb cuts the foam board to size

M cuts the wool with the bread knife

M cuts the wool with the bread knife

the baffles help the keep the 1" air space for our vented cathedral ceiling

the baffles help the keep the 1″ air space for our vented cathedral ceiling

Inserting the first out of two foam boards

Inserting the first out of two foam boards

roof insulation (12)roof insulation (13)

Inserting the stone wool

Inserting the stone wool

The loft is done!

The loft is done!

The main room ceiling

The main room ceiling

Ada made her own bow and arrow.

Ada made her own bow and arrow.

ROXUL Stone Wool In formation (from their site): http://www.roxul.com/

“ROXUL insulation is a rock-based mineral fiber insulation comprised of Basalt rock and Recycled Slag. Basalt is a volcanic rock which is abundant in the earth, and slag is a by-product of the steel and copper industry. The minerals are melted and spun into fibers.

ROXUL products are inorganic which provide no food source for mold to grow. ROXUL products are tested to ASTM C1338 – Standard Test for Determining Fungi Resistance – and pass with zero fungal growth.

A fire rating is determined by testing a complete system, such as a wall with all its components, and not the insulation alone. ROXUL products are non-combustible and have an approximate melting temperature of 2150ºF but cannot hold a fire rating by itself, as is the case with any other insulation.  If you require a specific fire rating, please contact ROXUL at 1-800-265-6878.

No, “off-gassing” is a term that was started when blowing agents were utilized in insulation materials and ROXUL does not incorporate blowing agents in their products.  The organic binders that are used in the manufacturing process are introduced to a high temperature curing phase, virtually eliminating volatile components.”

Celebrating with electricity and sheep wool insulation

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We had a really fun week, which for us currently means that we had a lot of visible progress on the house. Maria turned 35, and her generous parents gave us a generous contribution that we, of course, spent on building materials. Who would have thought that baffles (attic ventilation system), insulation, and lumber could be such a good present?! Jig worthy, even.

How lucky we are to wake up excited with that bubbling feeling of not being able to wait to rush outside. Excited or not, first we have to eat breakfast, feed chickens and dogs, make and pack lunch and tea, get on the work clothes, empty the dishwasher, and whatnot, before we can get out of the house. “Like a herd of turtles,” as Sebastienne’s grandma used to say. Once we are building, though, we both get so swept up in the work that we are reluctant to take pee breaks…in the flow of satisfying work/play we are at our happiest.

We work best when we have separate projects, since we both like to decide what to do, and then do it…neither of us make very good assistants or second fiddlers. It’s perfect to have the other one around for sharing a cup of tea or a kiss, but to be able to work on our own. Last week M insulated the walls, while Seb ran the DC wire and hooked up the distribution panel/breaker box. Seb had to wrestle with the thick DC wire for the propane vent, toilet vent, and stove vent (all RV or boat models that require DC), and she also hooked up a couple of DC outlets where we can charge the computer, for example.

We love the sheep wool insulation that we got from Good Shepherd Wool Insulation: http://www.goodshepherdwool.com/  Compared to itchy and gross fiberglass, it’s like wrapping your house in a wool blanket. Cozy enough to snuggle with. The wool is also pest, mold and flame resistant, and regulates the humidity in the house by taking up the humidity when the air is moist (without losing its R value!), and releasing it when it is dry. It arrived in bats, which were relatively easy to cut to size and staple in place.

We also put up the baffles (attic ventilation system) to be able to maintain the 1″ air gap that will vent our gabled cathedral ceiling when we later install the roof insulation. Without the air gap, our work with the soffits would have been all for naught, and we sweated enough over those soffits last summer not to ever forget them. The baffles were cheap, light, and quick to install – that’s the way we like it!

Now…damtaramtamtam…we get to order the bead board ceiling, V-planks for the walls, and white pine tongue in groove planks for the floor. Crazy fun!

Seb runs the DC wire

Seb runs the DC wire

insulation (2) insulation (3) 

DC outlet

DC outlet

insulation (4)

M cuts the whole for the porch outlet

M cuts the hole for the porch outlet

insulation (6) insulation (7)

Ada reads Edgar Allen Poe

Ada reads Edgar Allan Poe

Ada writes science haikus

Ada writes science haiku

Sheep wool insulation

Sheep wool insulation

M cuts the insulation bats to length

M cuts the insulation bats to length

M staples the insulation to the studs

M staples the insulation to the studs

insulation (13) insulation (14) insulation (15) insulation (16) insulation (17) insulation (18)

S puts together the utility box

S puts together the distribution panel

insulation (20)

M staples the baffels to the ceiling

M staples the baffels to the ceiling

insulation (22) insulation (23)

Ada's loft

Ada’s loft

insulation (25) insulation (26) insulation (27)

In Defense of Dreams

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Dreaming. Often, forward-looking phenomenological experiences such as anticipation, longing, and dreaming get classed as second-rate, devalued for their presumed lack of presence, or, perhaps more accurately, for their seeming lack of satisfaction with the present moment.  As feelings go, anticipation is not very “Zen,” but it is not necessarily the antithesis to, or even in conflict with, a peacefully present mind. Without getting too philosophically technical or becoming too assertive about what reality is or what a life well lived looks like, we can still establish that the experience of anticipation is as real as the tea we are drinking. Unless we completely dismiss the internal world, and only value what our hands and feet are doing, some of our most sublime experiences take place within the realm of the mind. Rather than dismissing dreaming, and laugh at its questionable rationality, scold its presumptions, and send it dogfaced to the closet, maybe there is a way to enjoy it without losing touch with the world around us.

The tingling day before Christmas…planning your summer vacation in January…fantasizing of tomorrow’s sleep-in-morning… finding the music for your wedding…dreaming of the first kiss…all moments of anticipation whose enjoyment, excitement, and pleasure can rarely be beat by the actual day, thing, or experience. The common fact that “reality” rarely trumps our dreams thereof (though there are exceptions when the opposite is true, too), could make us feel embarrassed and defeated, but if we take full responsibility for our dreams and learn to love the experience of anticipation for what it is, then we can suck all the sweetness out of longing without it sucking the same out of our future. In our dreams we are creative gods, playing with potentials, and just maybe something may come of it. The trick is not to confuse the excitement of expectation with the very uncertain joy of getting whatever it is you are expecting. All the joy you can count on is the joy of expectation itself. The experience of dreaming, longing, planning, hoping, anticipating—is what is now, what is real. It does not necessarily relate to future events at all, but that does not have to make it less enjoyable.

For the past week, we’ve been snowed-in in town. It doesn’t take much to be snowed-in in Georgia, two inches and some ice is enough for the schools to close and the roads to be deserted. Not that we complain, we revel in these rare days off, take long, snowy walks with our bouncy dogs, drink hot chocolate while wrapped in blankets, and chomp away at the piles of books we both have at our bedsides. We dream of our tiny house.

To design and build your own house is one of the most fertile grounds for dreaming and planning. Apparently also for hairsplitting and divorces, we’ve heard, but that is far from our experience. This is the fun part! Sure, we do look forward to (…) a day when we no longer have to use every spare penny for screws, and when we actually get to live in our little house in the woods, but we are both well aware that this might be the best part. How many nights haven’t we curled up on the sofa with a pot of tea, a pile of Swedish design and decorating magazines, the IKEA catalog, tiny house books, and the computer for the Internet research, and had as much fun as two best friends and wives can have?! This is how we play.

Once we live in the house, we’ll start our new projects (Maria will write her book, and Seb will hopefully start a PhD program), though we are sure to enjoy the lived result of our dreams manifested. It’s not much different from when you were a kid and built a tree house…does anyone remember actually playing in the house once it was done? It was the idea born among friends and the adventure of building that was fun: to collect scrap wood, the precarious climb up, your father’s too heavy hammer, nails that all wanted to bend, the laughing and sweating, and the smell of sap under your fingernails. Once it was done, we sat with legs dangling among the tree tops, and dreamed of our next adventure.

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“Moodboard” for interior design

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Picture by Famous William / West Georgia Wedding Photography, see their website: http://www.famouswilliam.com/. The rest of our photo shoot can be found here: http://famouswilliam.com/2013/04/03/west-georgia-wedding-photography-sebastienne-and-maria-portraits-famous-william-company/

AC/DC

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…so that was what the band was named after!

The past two weeks we’ve been wiring the electricity, which has been rather slow going, since we had to learn everything as we went. Here Sebastienne deserves a lot of credit (as her proud wife, I feel I can brag of my “wifey”) for being such an excellent autodidact, who can learn anything by researching and reading. From not knowing the first thing about electricity a couple of weeks back—she now talks (and works) like a pro. Well, almost. Close enough for us to able to wire the house ourselves!

We do like to do as much as possible ourselves. When we first thought of “building” a house a year and a half ago, we thought we would buy a ready-made one from Tumbleweed, or hire a constructor…then we thought we would buy a kit, or at least the frame… Soon we wanted to draw our own blueprints, and thought we might as well build it, too. At least we would hire someone to do the electricity and plumbing, we thought…but now we can’t help ourselves. Or, actually, that’s just what we can.

It’s amazing, really, how much you can do if you read instructions carefully (everything has instructions, even the smallest outlet part!), work slowly, think twice (or ten times), and work with appropriate tools. We like to figure things out ourselves, it becomes a game, a puzzle. It was fun to imagine ourselves drinking tea on the sofa (oh, we need a light there, a plug for the computer there), or reading in bed, hanging out in the kitchen, etc., so as to decide exactly where to have all outlets and light switches. There are standard heights for everything (48” from the top of the light switches to the floor, 18” for the outlets), and as much as possible we tried to stick with the norm, since it has come to feel intuitive.

We have only done the regular AC wiring, so far, but we’ll wire the DC next week for the propane heater, kitchen vent, and toilet vent—all RV or boat models, which require DC. We’ll borrow Paul (who knows a lot about this, as well a lot of other things) and his generator to check it all out, since we won’t get any actual power until we buy the solar kit.

Back home in town, we flip the switches with new awareness and appreciation – there’s a whole world hidden in the walls and behind those outlets.

figuring out the circuits

figuring out the circuits

tools...

tools…

drilling holes for the wires

drilling holes for the wires

...with a paddle bit

…with a paddle bit

nail plates to protect the wire

nail plates to protect the wire

attaching the outlet boxes

attaching the outlet boxes

a whole lot of wire (from local Southwire)

a whole lot of wire (from local Southwire)

wire through the holes with nail plates

wire through the holes with nail plates

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attaching the ceiling fan box

attaching the ceiling fan box

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light box over kitchen sink

light box over kitchen sink

more stuff to figure out

more stuff to figure out

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stripping the wire

stripping the wire

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bending the ground wire

bending the ground wire

...and attaching it

…and attaching it

more stuff to measure

more stuff to measure

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first outlet

first outlet

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tada!

tada!

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first light switch!

first light switch!

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bathroom wall light

bathroom wall light

bedroom lights and outlets

bedroom lights and outlets

Tiny house plan and budget 2014

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Preliminary time-line and budget to finish our tiny house!

January: Electrical wiring, plumbing, and vents for propane heater, wood stove, kitchen stove, and bathroom/toilet vent < $400

 February: Insulate walls and ceiling, baffles, vapor barrier, < $1000 (We already have the sheep wool insulation for the walls, but need to buy more for the roof.)

Bathroom walls, plywood, water barrier, corrugated metal. ?

March: Bedroom and bathroom ceiling, “sound-proofing” insulation, and loft floor. (Tongue in groove pine planks.)

April: Install tongue and groove pine planks for walls and bead board ceiling ~ $1000

May: Floor!Trim, built in shelves, closets, kitchen cabinets, electrical outlets and switches. Painting! ~$1000  Big Push!

June:  Simple composting toilet (sawdust bucket), bathtub, water heater, kitchen sink, water pump, pull water from Paul and Terra to our holding tank… ?

Primitively move in ready June 21st! (Midsummer’s Eve)

July: Screened-in porch, cont. kitchen, appliances, and all the little details etc.

August: Solar kit, hook up electricity <$4000

September: Incinerating or composting toilet ~$1800

October: Propane heater and wood stove ~$1500

As unexciting as the title may sound, we are big fans of plans and lists and budgets, they make us feel that we know what we are doing…or at least what we are attempting to do. With such a long and multifaceted project as building a house, not to have a plan would feel like stumbling around in the jungle without a map (Maria is a big fan of maps, too.). Not to put inappropriate faith in the plan, or cling to it when it no longer make sense, but it is a good starting point. New Year, New Plan.

It would be so easy, relatively speaking, if we had money to buy all our supplies at once, and then took a couple of months off to just build. Instead, we work four days a week at our paying jobs, home school and do the normal family/house stuff, try to save $500-800 / month for building supplies, buy a box of screws and a car full of 2x4s almost every other week, and THEN we can get down to build 2-3 days/week. Not to mention that we don’t have electricity or water at our building site in the woods. So…we are having a lot of fun, and things are progressing as they should, but next time (if there is a next time), we’d prefer it if we can build where we live (so as not always have to pack and bring lunch, water, tea, dog, kid, school books and battery tools) and could use electricity. To not rely on a weekly pay check to buy the materials, would be nice, too.

Of course, we could have saved a lot of money were we not so picky, both with wanting the best possible quality and with wanting things “just so.” We could have built our house a lot cheaper if we were willing to run around looking for recycled materials, but as it is, we loathe driving and shopping, and we are quite  conveniently inclined… And with it being our first building project, we are not sure when it is okay to compromise with quality, and when it is important to get things just right. We do know to splurge on everything that includes structural integrity, and what keeps us warm and dry, mold and leak free, and as fire proof as possible. We’d be happy to find a recycled wood floor (simple pine planks), but they can be even more expensive then the new ones. So…we’d like to say that everything is local and personal, but really, most of our supplies come from Home Depot, which has been very convenient and helpful. This project has really shown us what we are and what we are not, and made us work within our means, abilities, and inclinations.

Our budget has to match our personalities, and then our pace has to match our budget. Which is also why we can’t do big expense projects back to back. For example, it would make sense to put up the wall planks and bead board ceiling right after installing the sheep wool insulation, but since both projects go on roughly $1000/each, we’ll need a month in between. It is mildly annoying not to be able to do things in the “best” order, but we’ll work with what we got. There is always something to do, at least we won’t get bored…

At the moment, we are planning the electrical wiring, plumbing, and vents. We need to cut all the holes in the roof and walls before we install the insulation. It’s a slow and tricky phase with little visual reward for a lot of detail work. Not our favorite, in contrast to the framing, which was so rewarding and fun. But well, we do need water and electricity to make it more than a glorified tent.

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Simple blueprint of the floor plan. Electrical outlets, lamps, vents, and plumbing marked in red and blue. (Click for larger view.)

As our plan states, we are hoping that our Cedar Cabin will be ready before Midsummer’s Eve, for our wedding anniversary getaway! It will be very primitive at first, without water or electricity. The appliances (solar kit, propane heater, wood stove, incinerating or fancy composting toilet) won’t take much work, it is mostly a matter of getting them. We’ll be very grateful that we still have our apartment in Hannes’ and April’s house — a hot bath never seemed like such a luxury until we considered all it takes in getting one! We should be able to celebrate Christmas 2014 in style: warm and dry, with fully functioning kitchen and bathroom, lights and everything.

So much for the plan. Now let’s get started.

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