Can a city boy build his dream homestead on a mountain, by himself and with no mortgage?

Archive for October, 2009

So pretty, but so evil

nu door sm

The new door, she’s a vixen. Pretty, strong yet welcoming… she’s just plain lovely

…and evil.

The special-order door arrived and since I have a job next week, I grabbed it and ran to the mountain to install.  It looked simple enough, a pre-hung steel door already in the frame. Put in place, tweak a bit, screw down, go home. I had no idea that it would be an all-day PAIN IN THE ASS!

It took almost 5 hours to get it square and swinging easily. Add in 2 walk-away frustration breaks and it chewed up my whole day.

Apparently you need to have the exterior siding in place so the door is in the correct position or there’ll be an air gap on the outer edge. I did this by laying in some 5/8″ boards as siding stand-ins. Then the shim/squaring begins. What they don’t tell you in the instructions is that each time you shim one end, the others go out of square, the outer siding boards fall off and the door starts to sway and wants to crush you as it falls. Hanging a door is not for amateurs, that’s for darn sure.

I eventually got it square and swinging but then the pre-drilled lock/knob holes won’t line up with the jamb holes. After much swearing and getting clobbered by the falling steel door again, I screwed the damn thing in and re-cut the holes in the jamb so the latch and lock would hold.

Lesson for the week… never install a door again without an experienced carpenter and a six pack of October pumpkin ale.

The next step is the metal roofing, going up after I finish a freelance TV commercial this week.

I laid out a few panels on the floor of the Lowe’s (it’s a new store by me and never crowded) and realized I under-estimated the cost of the metal panels.  Since I only get 32″ of coverage on a 36″ wide panel I’ll need 2 more for coverage. This means more money and in my rush to weatherproof, my focus may be slipping. After the door fiasco, I need to give myself plenty of time with the roof.

Rain, rain, stay away (for at least another week and a half!)

You can read my entire cabin blog HERE…

a weatherproofing rush warrants an update

paper windows

All this hammer swinging has given me a pretty bad case of carpal tunnel pain, my fingers have been numb all week. Lots of rest, ice, compression and elevation have finally brought back feeling to both hands. In spite of my own personal whining and hand-tingling, the local weather report at my ranch shows night temps in the low 30’s this week. The threat of snow is rearing it’s fluffy white head so I need to step it up and finish the lock-out asap.

I move boldly forward…


I ordered a one-lite glass and steel door at the Lowe’s, should be ready to pick up tomorrow (Thurs Oct 29).


Lowe’s also has some really good-looking galvalume panels that I’m going to use on the roof. The panels come in 12′ and 8′ lengths, I’ll need to overlap them on the vertical side to get the full 16′ of coverage. They’re fairly inexpensive, about $275 to cover the roof (including trim and screws).

I’m a little stuck on my siding choices.

Ipe (aka Ironwood) is what I really want to use on the glass wall, it’s hard to find already routed for siding and it’s quite expensive.


Rocio Romero’s LV House

The Kithaus K-1

Rocio Romero and Kithuas both use these materials beautifully, I need to take some time with Photoshop to come up with an affordable and great looking design.


a GREAT shed comp from

I like this Shomera comp I found online at shedworking, the vertical wood feels very masculine and modern. I’m experimenting with using the inexpensive engineered wood panels and corrugated galvalume that Home Depot and Lowe’s both sell but I really want a bit more glamour.

Soon as I get my idea together I’ll post it for review (or just build it if I’m up there, LOL!)

Click HERE to read my entire cabin blog…

Steers, stars, tars, and the space station

Well I’m completely unemployed now so what better thing to do than work on the cabin? The weather has been stunning and my newly acquired carpal tunnel issue seems to be on the wane.


The guys at Lowe’s are glad to see me, (apparently I made an impression last time) and I buy some 30 lb roofing felt (yucky sticky gooey), some tar paper house wrap, nails and staples to install it all.  One large cart and I’m out the door.

I was torn between using the Tyvek-style house wrap and plain old tar paper wrap. I searched around online for some comparisons and almost everywhere I looked, experts say that they basically work the same. A roll of Tyvek 9′ x150′ is $98 and will leave me stuck with an extra 100 feet lying around to play with. A 3’x 240′ roll of tar paper is $25. Hmmmm.

By the time I get up to the ranch, it’s too dark to work. I settle in and watch TV shows on iTunes on my laptop. Yes, this is the life!



My first task of the morning is to finish the OSB sheathing and get the rafters and roofing up. Rain is always a possibilities in the mountains here, we have our own micro-climate. The OSB slams on easily with a few cuts. The new generator and power saw combination is a God-send.

The rim joist on the top and bottom edges of the roof present a challenge. Since I’m alone, I can’t figure out how to hoist a 12′ 2×6 in the air (9′ high in the back, 12′ in the front) and nail it in place. For the rear, I nail a pair of sketchy 2×4 legs on it, tilt up and nail. Works wonders! The front is too high for me to reach with my 8′ ladder, matter of fact, I can’t get onto the roof without praying and boosting myself up through the rafters.

I figure that I’ll put on the roof ply and then lay down on the roof and hang the front rim 2×6 over the edge (12′ up in the air is kinda scary when you’re alone). I can’t get the roofing OSB up on the roof, my ladder is too short. This is a good time for lunch.

I decide to drive into town to rent an extension ladder for the day. There’s no other way to get up and down from the roof without falling. This takes an hour and a half out of my day but will help me avoid a tragic fall to my death.

roof barrier

With the new ladder, the roofing OSB goes up quickly, you can see the metallic radiant barrier in the picture above. It’s pretty cheap at $24/per 4×8 sheet.

The dreaded front rim joist (missing in the pic above) needs to go on next. I have to attach the roof ply to it before laying the roofing felt. I drag the 2x6x12′ up onto the roof, lay it in place above where it goes, nail 2/2x4x12 legs onto the sides and pray. I scurry back down and run from side to side, moving each leg a few inches until the board drops down into place. Miraculously, it wedges itself under the eave, exactly where it belongs. The Gods are helping today!

roof tar

Roof felt is next and I need to get the ladder back to town by 6pm so I need to hustle.

This stuff is simply felt soaked in tar. Yech! It’s not as fun to work with as it sounds. You roll it out lengthwise side to side, starting at the bottom of the pitch. Using roofing nails, tack it down and apply some nasty tar-in-a-tube adhesive to the edges to keep any stray moisture away from the OSB.

This is fast but not fun. The tar reflects the sun on me, it’s 80 degrees to begin with and I seem to be getting tar adhesive all over myself. Fortunately it washes off with soap and water, NOT.

The roof is tarred, I have 45 mins to return the ladder and I’m covered in sunburn and tar. I decide to clean myself up and change clothes, drive like a bat outta hell to the ladder place and stay in the nearby town for a nice calorie-rich dinner.

Dinner and some beers. It’s been a long, hard day and I’m back to the trailer at 10pm. No sign of mountain lions but that darn dog is always around, sniffing out critters. The stars are out and they are spectacular. It’s a cold, clear, brisk night with swirling galaxies and constellations everywhere. It’s those Gods again.


Window Day!!!

6am and something is banging against the trailer. I figure it’s that hound or a raccoon or a woodpecker. I’m kinda hung over and the sun doesn’t come over the mountain til 8 so I go back to sleep.


It’s a ccccold morning. I make my coffee and slowly eat my oatmeal inside. When I finally get outside to begin, I notice there’s a steer standing next to the trailer waiting for me. The local cows are pretty mellow and will scatter when shooed away. Not the steer. He is standing and staring. I suppose he was banging on the trailer since there’s a new dent near the door. He has horns and appears ill-tempered. I go back inside for more coffee.

I am not going to be scared of a cow, even with large horns so I go outside and have a talk with him. We reach an understanding, he can mow the grass and I can build the cabin.

tar paper

I install the side window in 5 minutes. It sits easily in the opening and needs no shims. The cabin is VERY level and square, it def pays to be careful measuring and framing!

I roll out the tar paper house wrap and start stapling it according to the directions I got off the Internet. The steer’s girlfriend shows up and starts to mow the grass on the hill above the cabin. Unlike him, she is very pleasant.


I quickly realize I’m running out of tar paper and need to head down to the hardware store in town (another hour wasted). Turns out they don’t carry any so I’ll need to make a trip to the Lowe’s, another 45 minutes further away. It’s now lunchtime so I decide to put in the large glass wall of windows first. I can drive to Lowe’s after dark and do the tar paper in the morning.

The windows come in 3 panels and simply snap together, tilt up into place, get shimmed and screwed in. Piece of cake.

The view is magnificent and I LOVE this cabin!!

window int

The evening’s trip to Lowe’s was uneventful, I got resupplied and had a giant plate of fried things for dinner.


The tar paper staples on easily and it will be a day of details. I cut & install the remaining 2×6 blocks under the rafters, shim and secure the glass wall, and start to clean up the grounds. Most of the lumber has been used so I consolidate my work area. There is much clean-up of trash to do and I need to lay out the rest of the gravel.

While at Lowe’s, I bought 2 large solid concrete blocks to place under the front corners. The cabin is extremely heavy and I’m concerned that when the rains come, the skid it’s all built upon may settle a bit on the downhill side. The blocks will keep that from happening.

closeup paper windows

I take some pictures as I’m cleaning and hot-damn, my little dream cabin has a face!!

I really need to get the lock-out complete soon…siding on, door hung and to finish off the roof with shingles or metal. Once these 3 things are completed, the cabin will be locked out and weatherproof. Let the snow and sleet and rains come, bring on your blizzards!

It’s been an amazing week for me.

All in all to date, I’ve spent my $1,800, $1,820.56 to be exact. I’m over budget a bit due to upgrading and underestimating materials but when I look at the cabin and realize that I built it completely alone (and I’ve never built anything like this before), I know the Gods are definitely cool with all this.

One last picture before I drive back to LA, the space station is doing a fly-over.

Come on, how cool is that?!

first star

OMG, it works!…part 2 (wildlife on parade)

my long weekend of construction continues, despite my aching arms, legs, wrists and back…


Morning:  First order of the day is to finish the other 2 walls and get the cabin all boxed in. The rear wall is a simple 8′ high x 10′ long and slams together in minutes. I lift it into place easily (no headers, 4×4’s or 2×6’s, LOL). The final wall has the door in it so I am very careful measuring the header and stud placement. It slams together quickly and also lifts into place with no back strain!


I notice a mother cow and her baby have wandered over to eat my grass, it’s only 10 am and I’m off to a roaring start!

With the sky looking ominous and rain coming tonight, I decide to hold off on the OSB sheeting and put up some rafters so I can drape plastic sheeting over the structure. I’m using Simpson connectors (H-1Z) to attach the rafters.  I didn’t want to notch out each end of a 16′ long 2×6 and these metal plates will simply connect the boards to the top of the walls.


I get a few up and notice that the measurements are off on one side by 1 1/2″. This means that the last 3 rafters on the driveway side will be cock-eyed. I re-measure and somehow the math doesn’t add up. Hmmmm? Turns out the overhang on the front driveway side is 1 1/2 shorter than the others (all should be 12″).

I rip off a few mis-nailed connectors and head to the hardware store in town (9 miles over windy 2-lane roads) for some replacements. Upon my return, a large older man on an ATV is waiting at my gate.

He introduces himself as Bob, the owner of the ranch across the street (200 acres and his house is on the back side of the mountain). He’s quite jovial and heard my hammering and wanted to see what’s up. He is very interested in my cabin and then blurts out the following…”Have you seen my dog, a speckled hound? She keeps chasing that darn bear down onto your land”.

Now I would have said “Run for your life there’s a bear on the loose!” but I remain calm and ask about the bear.

“Oh those darn things? They’re always getting into my trash and tearing things up. Molly (his hound) loves to chase them!”

So now I know why there was a hound dog running around my property for the last 3 days.


Sure enough, Molly comes tromping up the hill, tail-a-waggin’. They leave and I suddenly have the uneasy feeling that I’m being tracked by a family of irritated displaced bears. Now I’ve never seen a bear up there but there were 2 major bear attacks on people last year after a forest fire burned through a few ridges over.

I convince myself that between the hammering and the generator noise, the bears are scared of me.

With one eye looking over my shoulder, the rafters go up without a hitch and by 2pm I’m sheathing the walls with OSB!


By 5 pm, the sun is setting and my work today is done. Time to cover everything in plastic, have a beer, start cooking dinner and contemplate the day.


I stand inside the cabin and marvel at how quickly and easily it is all coming together (in spite of the threat of bears). It starts to drizzle so I throw up the plastic tarps. I need to cover my other lumber pile so I head behind the trailer into the hollow.

I’m back there in the dark, in the hollow and start to think, ummm, what about those darn bears? I get a little frightened as it’s now pretty dark out and start shining the light all around me at the clumps of underbrush and low-growing oaks. Kind of spooky.

I head back up the hill and shine the light off to the right and straight into the eyes, (head and body) of a full-sized mountain lion, standing not 50 feet away. OMG. WTF. I freeze, all goes still and my adrenaline kicks in. I start to scream and swear…”GET THE F#*K OFF MY LAND…WHAT THE F@&K ARE YOU DOING!!!”…on and on.

The lion runs off away from me and I walk quickly (not wanting to run and become prey), back to the trailer.  I lock myself in, shaking like a leaf and start to open beers.

Bears, my ass.

It’s a long cold, wet, sleepless night.


Morning: The threat of wild animal attack has me a bit shaken so I sleep in late. I enjoy coffee locked in the trailer while the rain washes away my scent from the ground.

A break in the rain gets me out to put up some more OSB but my body is exhausted and my wrists can barely hold the hammer. It’s time to pack it in, head to the hot springs and get a good congratulatory soak.

I drive into town and eat a HUGE meatloaf special lunch, call home to alert my loved ones that I’m still alive and finally head back down to Los Angeles. The framing is done, the sheathing is almost done and I am proud as a peacock for not getting eaten alive.

If my newly-acquired hammer-caused traumatic carpal tunnel syndrome heals quickly, I’ll be back up there this weekend to finish up the roofing, door, windows, and house wrap.


Budget note… I brought $800 with me and spent all of it, including meals, truck and gene gas, extra saw blades, a few tools, more nails and the plastic sheeting ($100, yikes!). I still need to buy the door ($250 steel door with one lite glass), the house wrap ($100) and roof felt ($50).  I’ll post my spreadsheet on costs in a few days, once I get it all entered.

I noticed that since Tiny House Living and Rowdy Kittens linked to me, my reader traffic is going through the roof!

Thanks to Michael Janzen, Tammy Strobel and everyone who’s following me for the support…I’m throwin’ a big party at the cabin when it’s finished!


Click HERE to read the entire blog…

OMG, it works!


It’s amazing that all the framing lumber for my cabin will fit in the bed of a pickup truck. I drove up to the mountains on Saturday, alone, to put up my cabin over the long Columbus Day weekend…


Morning: Drive in weekend traffic to the mountains, hit the local Lowe’s to load up all the lumber, nails and supplies. Took 2 1/2 hours to load up a cart, pay, load lumber into truck, repeat this process for 4 lumber carts and one shopping cart.

Afternoon: Unload, layout the wood and tools, set up the new generator, have late lunch, enjoy the view.

Evening: Too dark too soon, exhausted from the 3 hour drive and moving all that wood. Drink beers & star gaze for hours.



Morning: A trip to the local lumber yard to get the 10 roof rafters. Since they’re 16′ long, they’re too unwieldy to transport on the freeway and through town. With a 6′ long bed (8′ with the tailgate down) it’s pretty hilarious that they’re as long as the truck.

Afternoon: I wanted to put up the most difficult wall first. The front wall of 8′ high windows requires a double 2×12 header to span the 7′ of open space. I also need to use 4×4 supports and frame the wall with 2×6’s. This will be one heavy wall. It takes me several hours to lay it all out, measure twice, cut, nail and admire.

The “DUH!” moment comes when I realize this wall is too heavy to lift (and I’m alone in the middle of nowhere).

After much thought (and a beer), I devise a way to use leverage to get it up. I can get the corners up about 6″ before my back starts to scream. One corner at a time, I put progressively larger blocks of lumber under each corner and finally get one side of the wall onto metal sawhorses. This is exhausting.

I’m ready for the big push. I give a big “heave ho” and the entire wall slides off the deck onto the ground with a big THUMP.

Apparently I need to foot the wall.

Using the “see-saw” effect, I manage to get it back onto the deck. I then nail some 2×6 vertical blocks onto the foundation to keep it from sliding when I lift it up. I repeat the wood block dance, corner then corner, then the saw horse dance til the wall is leaning up waist high. I am once again exhausted.

Using 2x4x’s I go from corner to corner, tilting the wall up and blocking it into place by wedging the 2x4s into the dirt. Since the double-deck is 18″ off the ground, I soon swap out to 2x4x10’s, then 12’ers until the wall is tilting up at more than a 45 degree angle.

I feel great. The human mind has overcome the 800 lb. wall! Now the final push to tilt it fully upright.

I gather up all the ratchet straps from my truck and loop them around the header, across the work area and onto the trailer hitch of my truck. I am going to use the power of the Chevy V-8 to hoist the wall.


OMG, it works!

The wall flips up and drops perfectly into position. Since it’s framed with 2×6’s it has a wide base and just sits there, upright and proud. I rush to secure some side braces and do my happy victory dance.

I need to get a second wall up to keep everything from collapsing in the wind. The second wall frames out quickly and is light enough for me to lift up into place by myself.


End of day 2 and I have 2 walls up. Beer time. Stargazing time. Damn my arms are sore.

The radio is reporting a big rain storm heading into SoCal on Monday night/Tuesday morning. 2-3 days of heavy rains are forecast for my mountain. I need to get some sleep and slam the rest of this puppy together tomorrow before the storm hits.

More beers, more stargazing, and btw, who’s hound dog keeps running through here all the time?

You can read my entire blog by clicking HERE!

Power to the people wit me new generator


I feel very powerful today…

This morning I bought a 5250 watt generator off a guy on Craig’s List for $300, about the same cost as a two-week rental from a tool rental yard. I’d been using my cordless Makita circular saw to do all my wood cutting but when them batteries run out, construction is over til I find a 120V outlet!

This new gene will easily power up my saws, compressor, heat or a/c in the trailer, chili pepper lights, disco music and even the well pump (when it’s installed). A Google search tells me I got a great deal on a strong and sturdy unit. It should run about 10-11 hours on a tank of gas (5 gals), long enough to keep that party started.

I also opened a spreadsheet to track my costs to date. All in so far including materials, lumber, the generator, framing book and my mocha lattes, I’ve spent $970. My estimate to get the place to lock-out condition is an additional $900. Slightly more than my original estimate of $1,800 but WAY below the $3,500 the local shed building place wanted to charge me for a less substantial version.

Soon as the next paycheck hits the mailbox, I’m outta here to put up the walls!

Who knew… insulation is a bargain and the door is wrong?

insulated floor batts

Wow, I just finished building the insulated floor deck and am ahead on money. The total cost for the extra studs and insulation was only $89 and that included a new framing hammer, chalk line, steel carpenter’s square and a Mocha at Starbucks. So far that brings my total out-of-pocket up to $439, still under budget!

Installing the insulation was a breeze, simply lay it down, cut with a utility knife, staple the edges, repeat. Just make sure you wear long sleeves and gloves to keep the fiberglass off your skin (trust me on that).

The finished double-deck is still solid as a rock, level and square. The extra gravel really helped to keep the foundation from shifting. Although rain and snow don’t usually come til mid-November, the weather has already turned cold (was 34 degrees yesterday morning) so I need to get the walls and roof up quickly.  I’ll be up there all weekend for the big push forward.

finished floor decks

The finished insulated deck, a thing of beauty!

I’m having some doubts about door placement. I noticed, once the deck was done, I kept climbing up on top using the nearest corner on the driveway side. The patio sliders are designed to go on the opposite wall to take advantage of the view but feng shui is subltly dictating that the door should go on the other side.

I’ve decided to listen to my screaming inner voice and put the door on the driveway side.  I’ll move the large sliding window to the view side, replacing the patio slider. I’ll still be able to get a cross breeze AND see the twin oaks to the east. Since the door is now on the side with no view, I can save some cash by not using expensive sliding doors. I’ll get an insulated one-lite glass and steel door (because it’s way cooler than a solid slab) and save $250!

The arbor that was planned for the driveway side will now be useful as a shade cover over the door and will integrate with the deck in front of the wall of glass out front. My SketchUp skills are not “arbor-ready” yet but here’s the new door layout…

front view from trailer2

next… a long weekend getting to know the new framing hammer!