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

Archive for May, 2010

It’s a happy day on happy mountain!

The exterior of my Tiny Cabin is finished and I am happy happy happy! I’m sitting here in LA waiting for the arrival of the new wind turbine and I thought it might be a good idea to answer some common questions that have popped up in e-mails.

1. Have you drawn any plans for the cabin so I can build one?

WOW, I am WAY flattered! Since I made the cabin up as I went along, I don’t have any actual plans. I started with a 10’x12′ footprint and some reference pictures of modern sheds. I played around in SketchUp and PhotoShop until I came up with a simple design that looked nice and would be simple to build. If you read through the whole blog, I think there should be enough pictures and notes for someone to build a similar version. The main points I learned in “building-as-I-go” were to

A. follow the framing book and use 16″ on center construction (for maximum efficiency in materials)

B. design the framing plan around whatever materials I had in hand. All my windows were free (as well as some of the lumber)

C. it will take longer than you think

D. I underestimated costs for things like replacement tools, blades, nails, screws, band-aids

E. bring a friend, even if you’re building it by yourself. It gets lonely out there and since cows make lousy conversation, having someone to talk to (and drink beer with) is a God-send (drunken cows will never leave)

F. When in doubt, look it up on the Internet!

2. How much did it cost?

So far with the exterior finished I am in for a total of $3,640. This takes into consideration that the large and small windows were free, The deck lumber was free, and I already own a good tool kit. I’ll post the line-item budget at the end of this post in case anyone wants to see the details.

3. Where is your cabin?

It’s just outside metro Los Angeles, a modest drive from Hollywood. I’m keeping the location a secret for a few reasons. As I’m dancing on the permit line with the county’s building department, I need to stay under their radar. While the cabin…I mean “storage shed”…stays within the letter of the law, I really don’t need any unwanted attention from my neighbors or the inspectors.

4. What about a kitchen and bathroom?

My plan is to build a larger, adjacent cabin which will house the kitchen, bathroom, dining/living room. In order to do this, I will need a building permit (another reason to keep the tiny cabin “street legal”), a water system installed, engineer-stamped seismic-4 compliant plans, and, the money to do it.

5. What’s next?

>My immediate “to-do” list is… to re-build the small nearby tool shed. In order to finish off the interior of the tiny cabin, I’ll need to relocate and store the stuff cluttering up the interior. I need a real storage building to avoid everything getting chewed up and covered in mouse urine so I’ll close-in and mouse-proof my open-air 6’x8′ tool shed.

>Next I will finish off the drywall, install a T&G pine ceiling, install a proper floor, paint and add furniture!

>Build a battery house and install the wind turbine. I’ll need to buy a tower pole kit (about $400) so I’m currently sourcing them and trying to figure out the most affordable option.

>Build an outdoor shower pavilion. Currently I take showers using the outdoor shower on the back of the trailer. I need to set up a semi-enclosed stall so I can shower regardless of the time of day or temperature. The cold and wind often make it unpleasant to be naked and wet on the hillside.

……………………………………………….

I cannot express how grateful I am for all of you reading, emailing and being so supportive of my crazy scheme. It’s been a rough year for me career-wise. Money is so tight and paying work has been very hard to find. The tiny cabin has been a therapeutic adventure for me as well as a source of pride, solace and security.

Thank you all so very very much.

Elroy

…………………………………………………

My hard costs…

FOR WHAT AMOUNT
GRAVEL 34.42
NAILS 21.09
LUMBER- 2X6X10 PRESSURE TREATED 14.94
LUMBER- DECK FRAMING/T&G PLYWOOD/NAILS/TARP 301.21
LUMBER-ADDITIONAL SHEET T&G 20.87
FRAMING BOOK 19.44
GRAVEL-3/4 TON /BAG DEPOSIT 93.02
GRAVEL BAG DEPOSIT RETURN (21.65)
LUMBER/HARDWARE/HAND TOOLS/FRAMING HAMMER 118.89
NAILS/SUPPLIES 17.47
USED 6500W GENERATOR 325.00
PLASTIC SHEETING/NAILS/SCREWS/SAW BLADE 152.63
FRAMING LUMBER- 46/2X4X92″ 75.69
FRAMING LUMBER- DIMENSIONAL & ROOF OSB 199.76
LUMBER- 16′ RAFTERS/GRAVEL/SAW BLADE 112.16
NAILS/SIMPSON CONNECTORS 31.51
NAILS/SIMPSON CONNECTORS 29.62
ROOF FELT/STAPLES/TAR PAPER 64.00
NAILS 10.19
RAFTER TIES 32.06
16′ LADDER RENTAL (FOR ROOF) 20.00
ROOF FELT/ADHESIVE 46.73
NAILS/ROOF BLOCK LUMBER 29.03
ROOF FELT/INSULATION 102.11
RETURNED ROOF FELT/WRONG TYPE (71.21)
RETURNED TAR PAPER/OVER-BOUGHT (13.45)
TAR PAPER/WINDOW FRAME LUMBER/CAULK 78.85
RETURNED TAR PAPER/OVER-BOUGHT (24.38)
DOOR HARDWARE/INSTALLATION MATERIALS 67.36
STEEL & GLASS ENTRY DOOR 335.84
POWER INLET 67.55
PHONE INLET 10.96
METAL ROOF/SAWZ-ALL BLADES/ROOF SCREWS 450.56
RETURN 2 METAL ROOF PANELS (68.11)
SCREW GUN SOCKET SLEEVES 10.79
HARDI-PANEL SIDING (2 WALLS)/SIDING NAILS 182.38
EXTERIOR TRIM PAINT/SIDING STAIN/BRUSHES 88.85
EXTERIOR STAIN 35.68
SIMPLE BOARD SIDING/EXTERIOR SCREWS 133.67
PHONE LINE BURIAL SUPPLIES 27.85
INSULATION-R-13/R-19 108.08
STORE CREDIT/RETURNED INSULATION (108.08)
STAPLES 8.64
SAW HOLE/TELEPHONE/ELECT INSTALL EQUIP 55.94
STORE CREDIT/RETURNED TOOLS INSTALL (34.75)
DRYWALL, SCREWS, JOINT COMPOUND, UTILITY CONNECTORS 158.63
RETURNED DRYWALL, EXCESS HARDWARE (57.24)
UTILITY BOX SPACERS 3.20
SIDING STAIN, EXTERIOR SCREWS 77.41
DECK FOOTINGS, EAVE SIDING PANELS 74.16
DECK STAIN, PAINT, SIMPSON CONNECTORS 71.66
DECK NAILS, SIMPSON CONNECTORS, TRIM BOARDS, FOOTINGS 114.94
TOTAL SPENT SO FAR $3,635.97

All I need now is a lawn deer, a 30′ long pole and a terracotta bunny with a gingham basket

Well it’s been a monumental weekend up on my mountain. I finished the siding on the front window wall (I think it looks just grand!), I added onto the front deck (Margaritas anyone?), and I WON A WIND TURBINE from the Jetson Green contest (OMG, I’m gonna faint!!!!!)

Being a low-key dude, I thought I’d talk about the challenges of completeing the work on my cabin, then work in a reference to winning the turbine but I’m so excited, I gotta go outta order…

I didn’t get back into LA until almost 11pm on Sunday night. After all the weekend’s heavy lifting, the whole “dog drama” thing and being exhausted, I still decided to check my email before collapsing in bed. The first email I see is from Preston at Jetson Green, I won a 400 watt wind turbine in their online contest!

Now I’ve been a fan of Jetson Green for a while now and I entered the contest on a lark (I never win anything and I REALLY need some off-grid power so there was no way I’d actually win). This small turbine will be PERFECT to power my tiny cabin. I get a fairly constant breeeze blowing through the valley and the 400W micro unit looks easy enough for me to install and maintain!

I’ll need to get a tower to put the thing on but I’m sure my crafty mind will figure something out. In the meantime, I’ll post updates on my progress. Thanks ever so much to Preston Koerner at Jetson Green, Sam’s Club for sending the unit and to all the folks who have been so supportive of my efforts!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Now back to our regularly-scheduled tiny house building blog…

…so after NOT getting a huge high-paying job (they said I was a shoe-in) and then NOT getting a lower-budget but very cool TV job (they said it was mine if I wanted it), I decided to split town and nurse my bruised ego by doing more construction on my cabin in the blazing, punishing, self-flaggelating sun.

My first task was to re-skin the front wall with roofing felt. The tar paper was wearing down after a harsh winter so I stapled on a new layer over the old.

Next up, I needed to finish closing in the side eaves. I ran out of energy last trip so I never got to finishing them.

Once these 2 tasks were done, it was time to install the ship-lap siding on the window wall.  I simply set the lowest piece so that it was level (to the eye) and nailed it to the wall. Each strip simply sat on top of the previous one. In a stroke of pure luck (I sense a theme starting here) the side pieces were exactly sized to the height of the window AND the soffit so that I didn’t need to cut any partial sections. It basically went up in 20 mins and fit exactly, to a “tee”!

The next day was to be crowned “Deck Expansion Day”. It was changed to “Barking Dog Day” at 5:45am.

A pair of hound dogs on a nearby mountain (I’m not pointing fingers at my neighbor Bob, I’m just sayin’…) started HOWLING and BARKING at 5:45am. Now they’re quite far away and in the woods where I cannot walk or drive (to shoot them) but dang they be LOUD. They barked constantly until exactly 8:15 when they were quiet and not heard from again (did my other neighbor pay them a visit with a machete? I’m just sayin…).

The barking-festval got me up and out (and a headache) earlier than normal. I was hard at work moving lumber around by 7am, crack-o’-dawn by my watch.

I wanted a deck to run under the window both for visual appeal and comfort. I thought it would be good to build an outdoor fireplace in front of the window, one could then sit on the edge of the deck and enjoy the fire up close and personal, while the more “city-mouse” types could enjoy the fire through the window.

I cut and pre-painted the lumber with Olympic Solid Stain and Wood Protector, Autumn Brown color. I leveled and set concrete blocks as footings, packing in gravel when they were level.

I laid the pressure treated 4×4’s and the 4×6 frame down and attached it all with Simpson Connectors. Notice that I built the deck in 2 sections (there is a split at 9′ over). Since the deck is NOT attached permanently to the earth, it will be easier to maintain the deck if I can turn the sections over and paint them underneath, plus the free 4×6’s I got were only 9′ long and the deck is 14′ long!

I hammered on the deck boards, moved the scrap lumber piles, raked and cleaned up the area and Abracadabra, the outside is almost complete. I only need to paint the door frame, add some trim boards, get a lawn deer and some terracotta bunnies with flowers and my tiny house will look like a tiny home!

just for reference, here’s the original SketchUp design I did last October…

of course, the interior is whole other story…


a solitary man

Everytime I get back home to LA after working on my cabin, I end up being completely wiped out. Now it’s true, I AM over 40 (barely) and I’m not as spry as I used to be (so maybe I enjoy a beer or two now and then), but after a weekend working up on my mountain, my ass is grass.  At what point will my body just get used to all this manual labor?

I really need to get the front wall’s siding up and I’m still unemployed, so off to the lumber yard I go. I decided to use 1×6 spruce shiplap siding for the front wall. It’s more affordable than the cedar I dream about and really, I’m gonna stain the life out of it anyway. $124 to the grumpy old guy at Stock Building Supply and I’m on the freeway before noon.

The weather is spectacular and the air is clear as I hit 4000 feet on the mountain roads. It’s going to be a grand few days! First thing I do is start to clear all my supplies out of the cabin. Tools, stains, sawhorses, screws, nails, all of it. Getting in and out of the cabin is tough, there’s no steps and the door is 18″ off the ground. Could THIS be the source of my tired, aching legs and butt? I go in and out of this cabin constantly, heaving my manly frame up and back down over the threshold. I really need some steps.

AHA!

I’ll build a stoop, a mini-deck so I can step gingerly onto it, then into the cabin! My sore glutes will be gone forever!

I have a good pile of 4×6, 4×4, and 2×6’s that I’m saving for the deck. I already have some Olympic solid stain in Autumn Brown that I bought, I can use this for the deck boards. Since the weather is blustery and I need to paint all 6 sides of each board, I decide to paint them first, before heading into town for supplies.

It takes an hour to paint all 15 deck boards and the 4×6 joists, then I head down the mountain to the local hardware store for Simpson connectors and concrete footing blocks.

$30 for connectors, blocks, a $10 dinner and 90 minutes later I’m back on the mountain.

DAY 2

I grade the area with a shovel and hard rake, lay the footings down, level them and pour some gravel around for stability. I put down some pressure-treated 4×4’s to keep the joists off the concrete (or they will rot). Check my level again, all is perfect!

I bought 4×4 Simpson connectors to attach the 4×6 joists to the 4×4’s. They are cheap (about 4$ each) and make the deck rock-solid stable.

The deck boards nail down and VOILA! A stoop is born.

Before I can put up the siding on the front wall, it needs to be stained with 2 coats and sealed on the back side (heeh heeh, he said “backside”). In this chill weather, I need 24 hours between each coat so I lay the siding out and stain away.

I notice that in the eaves over the large glass windows, there are 2 bird’s nests. Now I love all things feathered, fuzzy and furry but I’d prefer that critters not share my cabin with me. I’ll need to close in the eaves before the siding goes up. Back into town for some more lumber.

I decide to use 4×8 composite siding panels for the eaves. They’ll look more consistent next to the panels already installed, plus it will be simpler (and WAY cheaper) to install than tongue and groove pine boards. $60 for 2 4×8 sheets and I’m back.

I measure and cut the panels to fit under each eave, tomorrow I’ll paint the un-primed backs with semi-gloss trim paint in case water seeps in (I don’t want the composite fiberboard to warp).  I paint the back of the spruce siding with Olympic clear waterproof deck sealer.

Once this is dry to the touch, it will be 24 hours since the first stain coat and I’ll re-coat the spruce siding with more Olympic Oxford Brown Semi-Transparent stain. They look gorgeous!

Sun is setting, temps are dropping (already in the 40’s, brrrr!) time to head into the trailer for the night.

DAY 3

Morning is tough, I’m groggy and sore. I spill coffee grounds all over the trailer floor. The grey water tank is full, the battery is drained. Uhghh.

I cook up some sausages on French bread, mmmmm. The birds are singing, rabbits are hopping, sun is shining, I cheer up.

The eave panels install easily, if by easily you mean hanging them upside down, 12 feet in the air, dangling off a ladder (alone in the remote woods) holding a screw gun in the same hand as the panel. I slap some trim paint on everything and it looks pretty darn great!

I do the rear eave easily and it looks great as well!

In order to close in the side eaves I’ll have to install an inner surface to nail the panels onto. This will be a 2×12 laid horizontally across the roof supports and nailed onto the siding. I have no desire to do this. I’m tired, it’s hot and I wanna get home to a warm bath and my giant plasma screen TV.  I wuss out, clean up and take my tired butt back to LA.

Building this cabin by myself is teaching me several things…

#1, I really can do anything if i set my mind to it.

#2, The devil is in the details

#3, There are LOTS of details and…

#4  This is taking WAY longer than I ever imagined.

I started clearing and grading the land for this cabin last September. I need to be done with the darn thing by this September. Am I getting discouraged? No. I’m simply getting tired and although it’s beautiful up there, I get lonely all by myself. My mates all work during the week and can only come up for a day or two now and then. With a round trip costing over $120 in gas, I need to be practical.  I really need to spend at least 2-3 days there and get as much work done as possible. That kinda makes it difficult for my buds to join me.

Once the cabin is finished, there will be a comfy bed to rest my tired back (maybe even a 12-volt TV), but until then it’s just me, my unemployed aching bones, my dwindling pile of pennies and a dream that just doesn’t seem to die.

Viva la Cabin

E. aka UrbanRancher