Category Archives: tiny house thoughts

Building a Window Header

A light rain was falling early this morning as Joseph and I drove to the airport.  He will be in New York until the end of the year, and I’ll be joining him there soon.  We left our tiny house behind, parked snug in the barn on the sheep ranch.  We had a lot of sheep-related work in the past few weeks, which probably slowed down our housebuilding.  But it all feels like part of the same life-building.

Yesterday while we were fixing and clearing the electrical wire that runs all around the sheep pastures and protects the sheepies from coyotes, I made up a new phrase, which will be quite useful in ranch life and building life.  We were looking at a little plastic piece which snaps onto a fence post and holds a groove for the electrical wire.  This little piece is perfectly designed to attach to the fence and to hold the wire the right distance, the right height.  It’s “Just Right Tech.”  It’s not high tech; it’s a simple plastic piece.  It’s not low tech; it’s been manufactured to snap onto a fence post in just the right way.  We’re calling it Just Right Tech, and looking forward to opportunities for adding more Just Right Tech to our tiny house.

While we are away, we’ll be updating a little less frequently but we do have some build videos all set for you and ready to send out.  Today’s video shows the process of building a header.  The header is the structural piece which distributes the weight of the roof down the studs, rather than that weight resting on your window.  We’ve built a number of headers (for just about each of our windows), and we’ve gotten pretty good at it.  Check out the video for the step-by-step process and Joseph’s explanation of headers.

And if you’re wondering about the photo at the top of the post… yes, we did bring our Lambie over to visit.  Lambs are pretty dirty, so she won’t be able to visit once we’re further along.  But we wanted her lovely lambie-ness to have been inside our home!

Learning to build, then building, then learning to fix our mistakes

by Sarah

So this house-building thing takes a long time.  The house may be tiny… but it still takes a long time!

After reviewing the Tumbleweed DVD this morning, we realized we’d missed a little detail… the sheathing that we’ve put up on the three walls we’ve constructed was supposed to overhang above and below the wall in order to attach to the roof and trailer’s fascia.  We made an overhang below the wall and not above.  It’s probably not that big of a deal.  As in, we won’t have to re-do those walls.  We will figure out a way to fix it, to attach small pieces of sheathing to something, to make it work.

After this little setback, and the ensuing disappointment, I reminded myself that:

1.  It’s got to be about the process and not just the destination.  Because the destination is far away, sometimes it feels very far away.

2.  We are learning how to build.  This is a useful and transferable skill.

3.  We are learning to work together.

4.  We are learning to be humble and to learn a new thing.  How often in our adult lives do we get to learn something totally new, to be complete beginners again?  Not that often.

I hesitated writing this post, because I want this website to be fun, and not to focus too much on the frustrations.  At the same time, frustration is a big part of building a tiny house if you’ve never built a house before.  I want to be honest about this.  It is hard.  It’s not obvious.  There are many little pieces and no clear and simple recipe.  Building is an art, and it’s vast.  We are sloppily finger-painting our ways towards something.  I hope it will be a house that stands straight, resists rains, and keeps us warm.

I did feel encouraged when I ran through those four points, though, reminding myself of all the ways we are learning and growing, even when the external progress on the house appears so slow.

Also encouraging, we’ve had company this week!  Joseph’s brother Adam stayed with us for the past ten days and it was so fun to have another person to build with.  Since we left our Sonoma build site, it’s just been the two of us (and sometimes only Joseph!).  Having Adam here reminded us of how fun and energizing it is to do things with other people!

Here are some photos of our build progress.

Building the latest wall
Building the latest wall

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Adam and Joseph cutting the plywood to fit around the wheel well.
Adam and Joseph cutting the plywood to fit around the wheel well.
Adam
Adam

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We've got three walls!
We’ve got three walls!

Moving Half a House

There we were: going along building our house, thinking about walls, about windows, about roofs… when we arrived one morning to a  Cease and Desist order from the Town of Sonoma!  What happened?

When we had researched the legality of building on our group build site everything looked good.  We found many instances in the Sonoma building code in which what we were doing was not actually “building,” because our houses are on wheels, the build site was temporary, and more.  We thought we were good to go.

However.  While we were not in violation of the rules around building, we were in violation of the rules around the stuff you can do in that zone of Sonoma.  Our build site was located in a Multi-Use Zone.  In the Multi-Use zone you can do X,Y, and Z.  And you can’t do A,B, or C.  And even if you are doing “J” or “12” or “Tiny House,” which is not specifically prohibited, since it is also not specifically allowed…. we are not allowed to do it!  After a number of long conversations with the very helpful, courteous, but firm professionals at the Sonoma City Planners Office, we accepted it.  We had to Cease and Desist; we had to build elsewhere.

So, bright and early one warm Sonoma Saturday morning, Joseph and I arrived at the build site.  We re-attached the taillights to our trailer (which required some amateur electrical re-wiring), we nailed on some kickstand 2X4s to support our two walls, we strapped our walls into place with yellow straps tested at 10,000 pounds and snugged them up tight, we piled all the materials we could manage into the bed of the truck, and we headed off on a slow journey back to the sheep ranch where we live.

Serious straps on our plywood sheathing.
Serious straps on our plywood sheathing

In case you were wondering: No, it is not a good idea to move half a house.  It is not a good idea to go flinging down the backroads of Sonoma County with two heavy walls, attached in an L-shape to each other and to your trailer.  Not recommended.  But we didn’t want to deal with taking the walls down, and then somehow getting them up again by ourselves, so we went for it.

It was a slow and occasionally harrowing journey.  At the last moment, only about 100 feet from it’s new site, one of the walls buckled and a kickstand snapped off.  But, on the whole, we got our house home in one piece.  Huge sighs of relief.

New location for the tiny house build
New location for the tiny house build

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As you may know from our last post, we live on a sheep ranch near Petaluma where we are caretakers for the sheep and the property.  The owners and leasers of the ranch were generous enough to allow us to continue our tiny house build on this property, and here we are.  Our group build-mates are not sure where they’ll move their builds.  They are still waiting on their SIPS, so they have some time to figure it out… but let us know if you have some Sonoma property where they could build!

We’re now embarking on a new stage of our build process, Group Build 2.0, so to speak.  We are still cooperating and helping each other out, but now our process is spread out across the county, with our little house going up right outside of our current house.  In the video below we show the tiny house in its new location, and talk a little bit about the pros and cons of this new situation.

Lessons learned:  Check out all applicable municipal codes very carefully.  Don’t move half a house, or if you do, breathe deeply and drive slowly!

If anyone else is planning to build in the town of Sonoma, we would be happy to send you all the relevant and well-researched details of what we know now about building there, just ask!