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Getting the walls up was a little more challenging then you might imagine with a small house. We had to work smart and try to use ropes and pulleys to raise the walls. We did have an extra person for raising a particularly heavy and large section. A few 2 x 4s doesn’t seem like much but we used 2 x6 boards so we could insulate better and have a sturdier structure.
On the side of the mountain, the building inspector required us to build to withstand 120 mile per hour winds. That is a lot of wind! I am glad we had to do this because it is rare indeed when our house shakes in a wind. We could have met specs without the 2 x 6 but we really did want better insulation. You can get away with using R-13 in the South. We used 19 in most and 15 in the living room/sunroom area,
It is important to think about how all the layers of your house come together to form a single body. The size of wall joists influences the overall square footage you are getting for your given footprint. The cost is higher for 2 x 6 but many people think it is worth the upgrade.
I might have got ahead of myself a bit too. The lower walls had to at least have sheathing on the corners to make them more sturdy.
Floor joists to support the roof and loft had to be placed before any readers could actually be placed. Joist hanger nails cannot be put in with a nail gun but you can sure put your walls together fast that way. This is one of those things we came to regret later, not just buying a framing nailer at the very beginning,. We used screws and hand nailing and that was time-consuming. You do have to get an air compressor too. Of course, I recommend getting a complete air tool kit when you start framing. It is a lot cheaper than renting for more than a few days and you will need all of these tools constantly.
This kit contains an air stapler, brad nailer, and finish nailer. Framing nailers are much larger and have to be purchased separately. We have a Hitachi that was just purchased at Lowes and it seems to be holding up well. We just wish we had got it sooner!
While I thought the second story joists and supports were not as terrible as an I once would have, I still did not know how on earth I was going to manage to help Matthew get the roof joists up, especially that main beam that had to be raised into place. I remember the day we raised it that Paul, an employee of Matt’s parents was there with us because we ware concerned about the overall weight, especially that far off the ground. The story is concluded when the solutions are to bolt or screw down a ladder tot he “platform” that would one day be our bed area, and I was to climb this ladder and put my end into place. When it was over I was so relieved I did not know what to do with myself.
Sheathing for the house
We just used OSB for the sheathing since we were covering it with Hardiboard. Our floor is the 50-year Advantech subfloor with mostly hickory on top and a bit of granite and ceramic.
Roof rafters are challenging
The roof joists were a bit hard to figure out because we miscalculated on some boards and that made the ceiling size or height different. When the right angle was found everything was okay but that took some trial and error. I can say that Matt worked really hard on this. Sometimes I was helping but there were times I had other duties. I was not writing near as much as I do now.
The sheathing for the roof was difficult and heavy to lift. You have to be careful on a site and not drop something on someone or cause it to slide down and hurt someone
These were put in using screws I believe This was an exciting step because getting that and roofing paper on would mean that the floor and frame were not getting drenched every time it came a thunderstorm.
The metal roof was one time we hired someone to help put sheets into place for a day or so. I would clamp sheets with a C clamp and they would haul them up with a rope. You have to be careful and not get cut or let go too soon. There is an art to moving away as the sheet goes up. Metal made it look like a real house and we were glad that the wood did not have to deal with any more weather getting to it. I know that the Advantech is water tough but still.
So getting the main frame is great but then there is a lot of fire blocking and other work like running all your electric wires before putting up your insulation.
Electrical work takes a lot of wire
Wiring even a small house takes a lot of wire. I think we have over 600 ft of copper running through this 480 sq ft print plus loft. It is s nervewracking because although the nailing in of wires is not so bad, you want to be sure that you don’t get a wire and go through it with the electric staples.
Our Water System
The water we have now comes from our own well but there was a time for the first 8 years or so that we were on a shared family system. Well, you can imagine how well things like that work out. For a while it was fine but then others moved in and the wear and tear on the road would get worse and expose water lines and then there was the fact that the entire set up hinged on the person living at one particular house making sure to pay their light bill all the time. We ran 600 ft of water line from the neighbors and relatives 500-gallon tank. We used a ditch witch that fairly quickly blew a hydraulic line and had to be repaired by a very nice rental company employee that had it going pretty fast. It was a lot of work and we had to piece it together, glue it check for leaks and then cover it all back up. At least a ditch witch cuts a small ditch so you can use any type of shovel. Sometimes a trenching shovel was nice to have. The steepness was part of the challenge.
Moving in too soon was totally my fault
It was cold for a bit before we got the insulation in. I almost moved back down to the camper but Matt and I toughed it out. I have told some of you in previous posts about how the chimney got put in the wrong place. We trusted someone that did work with contractors and perhaps we could have got away with it but the stove was put in too close to the wall. The roof had to be patched and the whole chimney moved. This set us back in inspection time a lot and was upsetting considering it was one of the few times when we had hired help.
The woodstove and hearth hassle went beyond moving a chimney
Again hassles like wall clearance with wood stoves are why so many do not install before getting a final inspection. If you choose to have wood heat in your home the inspector still requires you to have another source of heat such as propane, electric, or oil. They don’t want someone just relying on fuelwood, especially if they do not have a woodlot. We found the rule a little annoying that the time because we were young and figured that if we wanted to rough it with wood heat and have some plugin heaters for a while, that was our business.
The hearth was challenging because we were told to do something that was harder than it sounds for a heat barrier and shield. Matt designed this hearth and did an amazing job making it beautiful and following all the crazy rules. There is the regular wall with insulation there but also concrete board. Metal spacers for a 1-inch air space then another layer of concrete board and 1/4 thick granite and Italian marble. A bit overkill but when your house is small the key is having some built-in decoration. Let the house just be beautiful!
Dealing with no indoor plumbing to bathe and limited cooking space
To bathe we would gather downed wood and heat a 55-gallon barrel of water and then dunk it out into a 100-gallon stock tank. It could actually be quite relaxing but it was a lot of work and fire tending while doing other tasks. We used the garden hose a lot in the summer. You could always hat a small amount of water on the gas stove and clean yourself up that way. Laying a garden hose in the sun for hours yielded a hot shower. If we each gave it a chance through the day it was not hard to get that shower. In fact, the water could get a little too hot on some days. I cooked more outside and on a few electric eyes until I got a gas oven at the new house. We could roast hot dogs on brush fires too with ease. We ate well and a lot because we were working such long days.
Looking back I wish that I had used more paper plates and stuff like that. We really did keep dishes washed but we stuck to the rule of each of us had a big plate, small plate, cup, and a few pieces of assorted cutlery and then, of course, the pots and pans from cooking, I utilized my 2 gallon Bayou Classic Dutch oven for cooking over a fire THe tripod was a good investment and was great for summer cooking.
Choosing siding for our house
There was no question that we wanted to do Hardiboard siding for our house. It is tough, affordable, and it can be easily painted. I like that it looks like wood siding but holds up so much better. The biggest problem with Hardiboard is that it is hard to haul and install. The planks are 12 feet long and they are not that strong until they are put up and installed on the side of the house or other structure. It is easy to bend one too far and break it. The solid sheets are very heavy but maybe easier for some to haul in medium to large trucks. The Hardiplank went up with nails and I was surprised how fast it went. My only regret was not getting Hardiplank that was a solid color all the way through. Ours does have to be painted. We also have some wood trim and supports where we turned what was to be a porch into a sunroom and living space.
Changing plans happens a lot during home construction
I bet you change at least a few things from the main design you are using to build your home. Matt and I changed some stuff to better suit our needs at the time.
Just be careful when making changes since they can have a bigger impact on how something comes together than you might think. Look at the whole design and think about what you are doing. Changes can increase or decrease the cost of construction. Make sure you are okay with how the change affects your budget.
Planning your plumbing and electric
I mention us doing our plumbing and electric work. You will need to check regulations in your area regarding how much of this work you are allowed to do. You may have to have a licensed electrician sign off on all of your work, and most are not going to risk doing that without doing the work and getting paid themselves. There may be exceptions if you are building the home for you to live in personally and not just flip it around for a profit.
I want to be clear that we were not allowed to do our own septic systems and you will not be allowed to do it either. I could tell you how to make a temporary one but that will not ever be considered okay by your building inspector. Our septic system cost around $4,000 but that is because we did some of the prep ourselves. That was also back 7 years ago or maybe 6 and things have gone up in cost. It is important to get quotes from multiple installers. if you are comfortable doing some digging and laying lines yourself it may be a way to save some money.
When it comes to planning out where the sinks, showers, toilets, etc. are going to be you may want to keep it simple. This means running a lot of the water on a single section of the house instead of totally across the house from each other. For example, our kitchen and bathroom are all on the same side which made the plumbing easier for a novice builder to take on. PEX plumbing parts are flexible so they make it easier for someone to plumb there own place without the hassle of so many rigid and hard to get in place PVC pipes.
Light fixtures can be a money pit if you are not careful
We added these a little at a time. To be honest I caught a lot of sales and got some ridiculously good deals on stained glass light fixtures. We wanted to stick to an Arts and Crafts cabin style which is pretty common in our area. Installing light fixtures is one of those situations where you can go and spend $500 and have your fixtures installed in a few hours and have no money left to do other building tasks. Don’t get the cheapest fixture in the store but don’t think you need to spend $100 or more on every single light you wire into your home.
Finding Deals On Building Supplies
We learned a lot about buying various supplies for our house.
Nicer isn’t always as expensive as you might think. You are just used to paying a lot of middlemen.
One thing I learned building our house is that the expensive finishing touches you see on fancy homes are not as badly priced as you might think if you do it yourself. Contractors have a lot of overhead like insurance, taxes, and all the other fun things that go along with having a legal business. Doing things yourself and sourcing them yourself means that what would be a $200 upgrade from a contractor may only add $50 to your cost.
Matt and I would pick up our special orders at the mill. If we had a contractor doing all that running around and sourcing supplies for us there is no telling what it would cost. Even if you have help, the more you do yourself the less it will cost you in the long run.
Lowes is far more expensive than a finish mill.
Unless you just need a single tiny board, never go to Lowes or Home Depot for hardwood lumber. The price for pine boards at those stores is as much as oak finish boards at a mill. I found it a bit amusing when everyone seemed to think that we paid a lot for our Black Walnut Trim but the truth is that it was less than buying Oak at Lowes or any of those little fancy trim boards.
Sometimes you just have to special order things
Even the big building supply stores have to have some time to get you things. There are so many custom colors and materials out there because everyone wants to design a unique home. This means waiting for a week or possibly more. During certain times of the year, service can be fast or slow. Matt and I were sometimes lucky as we had started building around the time there started to be a construction lull from the recession.
Shop around for any major order
I can tell you from experience that the cost of supplies can vary a lot between suppliers. You have to know all your options and choose accordingly. For example, the really big building supply and glass seller wanted more money for single pane windows. The local smaller shop came out and measured the spaces we needed to cover which were al terribly odd sizes and ordered the glass. We got double pained for $250 less than the big supplier wanted for single. It was so much of a better deal and one that taught us what a difference making a second phone call can make.
Beware of the appliance rip off
I bought a more expensive gas stove range than I had to because I wanted a specific size and a good stove since we cook all our meals at home. While you may not need appliances right away, you do need to plan on what size you will have so you can get your kitchen planned out as precisely as possible. You don’t need the $2,000 fridge to start with. I am still using my $500 fridge, and while it is not what it used to be, it works.
Have supplies delivered whenever possible
I know that money and budgeting is always an issue on a building project but if you can try to plan things out so that you can get medium to large loads of supplies delivered. Even if the delivery charge is $60, think about all the time and energy you have to spend to go and pick out things and load them and drive them back yourself. This does not include the gas and wear and tear on your vehicle. Sometimes you do just need something right then but try to get some inexpensive help when you can.
Looking back I would have just bought some brand new scaffolding at the very beginning of the project. It would have made things easier and saved us money on rentals on down the road. I think two full courses and two walk boards with four levelers is around $500. There are plenty of ladders that cost this much and don’t offer you the freedom a scaffold.
Consider not moving into your house too soon
I got excited about our house, and I was getting tired of the camper when I had a house with a roof and siding all waiting for me. It was warm out so why not. Well, the insulation was not in until it was already cold so we would have been better off in the camper for a bit longer but we had someone staying in it to help out with a few small tasks and get away from their daily life.
Be very careful hiring any help
One could definitely blame us for not hiring licensed contractors We hired guys that worked for the licenses guys sometimes. This was all under the table so to speak since these folks had no insurance or credentials. We both know that we should have been more careful. One person did the porch wrong but also did not glue the plumbing together right even though I told him to not worry about the expense to take his time and use as much glue and whatever was needed as possible.
Matt had to reglue the entire water out system. This also meant cutting into PVC pipes and having to purchase additional supplies since you cannot reuse everything.
It was still less expensive than a real plumber would have been but we would have been better off just doing it all ourselves with no outside help. It was a different person that put the chimney kit in the wrong place.
Be sure to check back for Part III and IV of this series. It is hard to fit it all in 4 parts but I am going to give it a try!
Here is a pic of me in front of the house with solar panels in Fall 2018. I need to put a pic of it done so you know that all this actually paid off!
Samantha Biggers can be reached at [email protected]