May 31, 2015
I had a pretty rotten and miserable day working on the tiny house yesterday. It was probably the worst day of working on the house that I can remember. By the end of the day, I felt like I had been a knock-down, drag-out street brawl. I was mentally beat up, battered and worn out. The proportion of problem-solving to actual productive work on a tiny house is so high that I can only take so much of it before I need a break. Since I only work on my tiny house about two days a week, the other five days are usually enough for me to recover. However, for the past couple of months, I have been getting more and more run down each week. Yesterday was so bad that I’ve decided I need some real time off from the tiny house. I think I need about a month.
One nice side effect of deciding I wasn’t going to work on my tiny house for a while was that I actually got a full night sleep last night. I haven’t had more than a handful of good nights of sleep since I started working on the house again at the end of March. The tiny house is so extraordinarily good at manufacturing nearly impossible problems that I’m constantly being woken up in the middle of the night by my brain trying to come up with solutions. The only way I have ever found to stop trying to solve problems in the middle of the night is to simply decide I’m not going to the house anymore. There must be some way that I can both work on the tiny house and sleep at night at the same time, but so far I haven’t found it.
My sleep pattern this week has been disrupted by dreams of interior siding. Two days ago, I spent whole day cutting out interior siding. I did everything based on measurements I took of the ceiling on Thursday. When I finished cutting up all the wood for the ceiling, I went back over to the tiny house and took measurements for both gables and started cutting up those pieces as well.
I made my siding cut lists by making a rough sketch of each section of the house that I needed to cover with interior siding, adding the dimensions and then figuring out what siding would be needed to fill the space. When planning, I was careful to make sure that all of the vertical seams between pieces of siding didn’t fall in exactly the same place. If I knew I needed to fill an area that was more than 8 feet long and 3 1/2 inches high, I would fill the space with strips containing pieces of varying lengths. There were a limited number of combinations I could come up with because I also had to make sure that every seam fell on top of a stud or a rafter. Usually, I came up with a pattern that had repeated once every four strips.
One thing I was surprised by was how little scrap wood I ended up with given the generally poor quality of the EverTrue ¼” Economy Plank Paneling I was able to purchase at Lowe’s. Each package came with six pieces of 8′ x 3.5″ siding. Of those six pieces, I would say only about two were high enough quality that the whole piece could be used. All the other pieces had had holes, gouges or some kind of damage to either the tongue or the grooves somewhere. However, even the ones that were damaged were only damaged in certain places, so they could still be cut up and used as shorter pieces. My process was to open a bunch of packages and sort all the wood based on the longest piece of good siding I could get out of that strip. Then, I would look at my cut list, figure out how long a piece I needed, pull it from the appropriate pile and cut out what I needed.
After spending ~12 hours measuring, sorting and cutting my interior siding, Sheila and I finally attempted to install some of that siding yesterday. I was actually looking forward to this. I thought it would be fun. I remember it being fun to hang the exterior siding. I remember that it took hours and hours to prepare and stain the exterior siding, but only a few minutes to actually hang up. I just had to drive a few screws and suddenly the whole character of the house was transformed. That was what I was expecting for the interior siding. I spent the last day and a half carefully measuring and cutting up all the siding. I thought I had done all the hard work. I thought all I had left to do was nail it in place. I really wish that had been the case.
Part of the problem yesterday was that because of the attempted theft of my tiny house last week, the tiny house is now living back in the RV lot for our townhouse complex. Unfortunately, the RV lot does not have power. That means I can’t run a compressor which means I can’t use a nail gun. Yesterday morning, I didn’t think that was a big deal. The interior siding doesn’t require that many nails and I figured it wouldn’t be that much harder to just hang it by hand. I bought a five dollar box of finish nails at the hardware store in the morning and thought I was good to go. My tiny house is very good at teaching me new lessons about expectations. Yesterday was to be no exception.
After spending about 45 minutes loading all the tools and all the carefully cut interior siding into our car, driving everything over to the RV lot, unpacking and sorting all the pieces for easy access, we finally tried to nail our first piece in place. Right away we had problems. The nails were so small that they were extremely hard to drive straight unless you hit them exactly right. They were also coated with some kind of fine dark powder that got all over our fingers, the hammer and anything our fingers or the hammer touched, including the pristine interior siding we were trying to install. I managed to get two nails in before trying to secure a piece of siding at the lower right corner of the loft. It was a tight corner where there was no room to swing the hammer. I managed to get the nail only a short way in before I couldn’t get it any further without bending it. The space was so small that I couldn’t get the nail back out either. I got so frustrated that Sheila decided to take a try at it and it took her over two minutes of very careful hammering to finish getting that single nail in place. That’s when we finally gave up. It was quite clear that if we continued on the hand nailing path, we would not only make a mess of all of our interior siding, it would also take us about 400 more hours to finish the job.
At that point, I probably should have quit for the day (or for the month). I was starting to get the strong sense that working on the tiny house was not quite what my spirit had in mind for me for the day. However, Sheila came up with a way that we might be able to continue and at the time, it sounded pretty good. Our friend, Joy, owned a cordless finish nail gun. So she texted him to see if it was available to borrow and he said it was. Playing with my friends cordless nail gun actually sounded like fun, so we made a short trip over to Sunnyvale to visit Joy and pick up the tool.
I really thought that once we had the electric nail gun, everything would get easier and I would regain my energy. Unfortunately, that was not meant to be. Even with Joy’s incredibly awesome nail gun (I have got to get me one of those), hanging the interior siding was still so much more difficult than I expected. It seemed like every single piece we tried to install presented its own little challenge or problem. Sometimes it took us more than 30 minutes to figure out how to install a single piece. Over the course of four hours, I think we only installed about a dozen pieces. I imagine that it will get easier as we go along, but getting started yesterday was pretty rough.
Note: I decided to install the interior siding starting at the transition between the wall and the ceiling and then work up the ceiling and down the wall. This allows me to use two full strips of siding next to each other at 45° transition between the ceiling and the wall. It also places my partial pieces of siding at the very top of the ceiling and the very bottom of the wall, two areas that will be less obvious because they are both out of the normal sight line and partially covered by trim.
Here are the big problem we ran into yesterday:
- First, we didn’t exactly start with the easiest part of the house. We started at the loft level and worked up along the ceiling which is hard for all kinds of reasons. It requires you to be on ladders, the siding won’t stay in place on it’s own, it requires you to hold siding and tools above your head simultaneously and it includes a transition across a 45° angle between the wall to the ceiling. Also, my ceiling is covered with a plastic vapor barrier which we had to be careful not to puncture. I might have started installing siding on the walls instead of the ceiling. However, many parts of my walls are still open while I tried to figure out how to finish the electrical and plumbing work and that is a whole other set of problems I don’t have the energy or inspiration to deal with yet.
- Second, we discovered that the siding does not install well unless the wall you are nailing it to is perfectly flat, especially going over a 45° transition where the tongue of one piece of siding does not fit over the groove of the piece below it, but just presses up against it. In this case, if the lower piece is not perfectly straight, but bows in even a little bit anywhere, then that inward bow creates a visible space between that piece and the piece above it. Once we discovered this was happening, we had to pry off some of the lower pieces of siding, install shims, reinstall the piece making sure the strip was perfectly straight and then finally install the next piece. Figuring out why the pieces were not coming together flush and then figuring out how to solve it led to much cursing and swearing on my part which Sheila was very good to put up with.
- The final complication was that at the corner where the ceiling meets the gable, there is actually no wood to nail the interior siding to. In the middle of the ceiling, there is a rafter every 24 inches. But on the far edges of the ceiling where the strips of siding end and really need to be nailed down, there’s just open space. The final rafter is on the outside surface of the gable, next to the exterior sheathing, not the inside. I don’t know why the Tumbleweed plans I purchased didn’t specify some kind of nailing block along the edge of the ceiling, but they didn’t and by the time I discovered this was a problem, there was nothing I could do to add one. In the end, the only way I could figure to secure the interior siding at the edges of the ceiling was to simply press it into place with the edges of the interior siding on the gables.
My tiny house is so good at generating difficult problems to solve that when we finally quit at 5:00 PM, I was so depressed and exhausted from trying to solve these problems that I could barely function. I considered calling our co-owner, Sabine, to cancel on the dinner we were planning to have together. I’m glad I didn’t because seeing her really lifted my spirits. Well, seeing her and eating in our favorite Thai place, Dusita Thai in Santa Clara, really lifted my spirits. Actually, I think just doing anything other than working on my tiny house lifted my spirits.
Since I’m taking a break and this might be my last post for a little while, I feel like I need to finish on a high note. I won’t lie. Building a tiny house is extremely difficult – much more difficult than I expected it would be. However, it has its moments. My moment yesterday was looking at just the few strips of siding that we installed on the front gable and realizing how good it looked. Just like the exterior siding, the interior siding is totally changing the character of the house. It’s making it look like a real house. It’s making it look beautiful.
Last weekend, Sheila said something both wise and funny about the house. She said that a in some respects, building a tiny house is like having a child. You make a spur of the moment decision to create it and at the time, it seems like a great idea and a whole lot of fun. It is not until it’s too late that you fully understand the level of commitment you have undertaken. Tiny houses don’t come with instruction manuals, they take huge amounts of time and they regularly keep you up at night. Sometimes they drive you so crazy that you just want to give them away. However, you also obsess about their safety, especially when they try to run away from home, like mine did. But every once in awhile, you look at your tiny house, realize it’s the most beautiful thing you have ever created and your heart just melts.