Monday, April 27, 2015

(Apr 27) Really Productive Saturday. :) Sunday, not so much. :(

Saturday was a really good day. Lots of progress.

We finally picked up some more T&G so we could finish installing the ceiling. I'm really happy with how it looks. Now we've got to decide whether to finish it or leave it natural. If we decide to do anything to it, we're leaning towards just a light coat of polyurethane. I really want to keep that light honey color.

We'll also need to come to a decision on how to transition from ceiling to wall. Most likely will be some type of crown molding. We don't want it too large or ornate though. We've still got lots of work on the walls to get done before we get to that though. We did some work on the East wall Saturday and nearly have it ready to paint. I'm not going to punish myself trying to get it all perfect behind appliances and cabinets. No place to rearrange them to anyway. :)

Next, we turned attention to the kitchen counters. We were not happy with the "adjustable" feet that came with our IKEA corner cabinet so we cut some 2x4s and made bases for it to set on. Feels very stable now and level to boot. What a concept. We love the room the corner cabinet's going to provide but save your $12 on the feet and build your own.

We measured outward from the edge of the cabinet (in place in the corner of the kitchen) and started subtracting the appliances and gaps they would need. This left us with our workable countertop lengths. We confirmed that our Elfa drawers would fit and cut the countertops on the table saw. Since the blade would not raise high enough to cut through the backsplash we had to get a little creative. We made a practice cut with our metal chop-saw. It was OK but it was difficult to get it line up perfectly with the cut that would be on the bottom with the table saw. I filed the two edges smooth but still wasn't happy. We eventually stood the countertop up on it's back edge so that the backsplash was laying flat on the table saw. We cut through about an inch and a half and then laid the countertop down and lined up the blade in the slot left from the 1st cut. Since they were both flush against the rip fence, the cuts lined up perfectly. To help it glide smoothly, we put a 2x4 on 2 roller guides to rest the far end of the countertop on. As I pushed the top through the saw, the long end rolled smoothly out past the edge of the table.

I must say it was harder to get the countertops glued together smoothly than it was to cut them. The mitre cuts from the manufacturer were not perfect and they ended up off just a bit at the backsplash. Not so much that we couldn't live with it and definitely not worth taking them back and starting over. We slathered both edges with the strongest wood glue we could find and used mitre bolts to secure the seam. Considering we'll cut most of it out for the corner sink, it came out pretty smooth. We'll brace it up next week after it's had a chance to cure.

Next, we cut the final Elfa drawer set down to the proper height and attached the casters so that it can roll out from under the countertop. Best of both worlds. We get drawers for kitchen ware and appliances AND we get a butcher top that doubles as extra counter work space.

Elfa drawers on casters with butcher top under the counter. 

Elfa drawers pulled out to use butcher top cutting board. This extra island of countertop space will be very useful! Elfa drawers on the East side secured in place. 

Sunday was quite the bust. We decided to go into town and get some lunch. We had left the truck at the front of the property for fear of getting it stuck in the driveway. We had forgotten the come-along winch so we were trying to be cautious. Destiny was not to be denied. In turning the truck around, we (I) got it stuck anyway. We worked for the next 7 hours trying to free it, even going as far as hooking up the go-kart, hoping the extra 7 horse power would help a bit. Sadly, it did not. We even engaged the neighbor who came over and promptly got his 4x4 stuck before he even made it to my truck. After freeing his truck with a 3rd, he made another run at getting to mine. This time successfully. But, alas, it wasn't to be. He tried pulling it forward. Nope. Went back to the blacktop and tried pulling it from there. It only got worse and my truck slipped into a little swampy area.

I finally admitted defeat and called a wrecker. He showed up at 10pm and promptly got stuck. Now it's getting a bit humorous. After freeing it 30 minutes later, he unloaded the monster 4x4 truck that he had brought with him. I must say, once he got it into place and hooked up his winch, it dragged my Dodge 1500 crew cab out of there like it was a toy. I have 18" deep ruts 100' from where we were stuck to the blacktop but I was free at last. Now we had to trek back and forth to the cabin 600' away to pack up and get back to Arlington. We left for Arlington at about 11pm, exhausted, filthy and smelling quite rank. I told Kim not to worry, that I smelled bad enough I couldn't possibly smell her. :) Our only consolation was that we slept in for an extra 30 minutes this morning before coming to work. I'm shopping for an electric winch before we return! We're also considering canceling our trip to Colorado this summer in favor of 100 cubic yards of road base in order to lay a driveway. What the heck, maybe the Tiny House Jamboree will be in Texas next year!

Just a wildlife note, we were excited to see the hummingbirds show up this week and they were happy to see us! :) They're a delight through the fall.

We also talked to the Appraisal District here for Rains county. They are now participating in a "Wildlife Conservation" classification of tax exemption. The problem is that you have to be classified as exempt for agriculture (crops or life stock) first and then you can switch to Wildlife. :( Not sure we could ever swing getting Ag exempt. No open land for planting crops. Fencing would be incredibly expensive to take in the whole 12 acres. We'll keep working on it as it would drop our current taxes from $850/yr to about $40. That would go a long way to helping us get to the financial situation that we've been striving for. Still, even if we don't ever get exemption status, less than $1K for land and building is not bad. How exciting would it be though to be able to say that our total monthly housing cost (mortgage, taxes, insurance, utilities) was just over $30! Most of that would be propane once we got the solar panels installed.

With all of the rain this spring, we've seen quite a crop of fungus across the property. Here were a couple that popped up on the deer trail. I didn't have my ladder or I'd have crawled up to pose with them. :)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

(Apr 14) Cistern Has arrived

Well, they warned me it big but I didn't put it together until I saw the fork lift come around the corner with a monster tank, mine. We had just purchased our 1550 gallon above ground cistern. I was really excited about picking it up and am looking forward to our first drink of rainwater.

The 100+ mile drive back from the manufacturer (Norwesco) in Fairfield was not a pleasant one! I had taken 16' straps to secure the beast but even they weren't long enough. I had to splice multiples together to get them to reach from one side to the other. Once it was synched down tightly, I hit the highway. About 60 mph was the best I could make without the wind turbulence throwing the truck around and as traffic was moving 75-80 mph, I got more than my share of stares and dirty looks.

The relief of the trip was just outside of Athens in Malikoff where I took a break from the road and toured some park model homes at Premium Cottages. I was very impressed with most of the models. Cement-Fiberboard cladding, vinyl plank flooring, full sized appliances, split mini AC systems and lots of windows. Numerous models priced in the $40Ks which I though was fair for the features. They were also very nice and spent some time talking to me about the company and the features available. The rep that was helping me said that they didn't have a lot of experience in building Tiny houses as most of theirs were between 300-400 sf but that they had built several smaller than that.

Back on the road I was comforted with the bag of brownies and cookies I had picked up at Collin Street Bakery. Delicious as always! :)

Upon arriving at our property, seeing as it had rained heavily the night before, the driveway was flooded again and I took a few moments to gather my nerve to run it with my load. After having to get our vehicle un-stuck a few weeks ago, I've been a little more cautious. I got out and walk (waded) down the path to plot my trajectory. Just get a good head of momentum and don't slide off and hit a tree! It's worked so far and got me to the cabin again today. :)  I promised myself, when (if) it dries out good, I'll get some road base delivered and cure this problem. I just need to get through the Spring.

When I reached safe ground, I got out and examined the spot that I would unload the tank. It is heavy duty plastic but it is still subject to puncture if offered something sharp. I walked the area several minutes and found a smooth and clear area. I decided that I would lay some metal wire racks that I had recently purchased at an auction down to act as steps for the beast to roll off onto rather than just letting it fall off the end of the truck. I put them in position and started to adjust the cistern. To my surprise it just started rolling and just as I had plotted, it landed on a nice flat, open area although on it's side. It didn't take much and I was able to right it. That's where it will have to stay until we get some gravel/sand laid as a pad closer to the cabin. We'll tackle the challenge of moving it when we get that far. Until then, it can just sit there and look pretty!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

(Apr 5) Tongue & Groove Ceiling

Besides the 4 hours we spent at Home Depot, it was a pretty productive day yesterday. We got all of the materials for the ceiling purchased as well as a custom door we found that we'll use for the bathroom with a bard door kit.

First, let me say. Be picky about the lumber you get for tongue and groove. We went through it pretty good and still ended up with a couple of pieces that I wasn't sure were going to work out. Even a slight bow in the wood makes the task MUCH harder.  We got through about 20 pieces of the 45 we bought but some of them were work. The other challenge is that you're working over your head. I'm not sure which is worse, holding your arms upright over your head for 3-4 hours at a time or climbing up and down a ladder several hundred times. I'm really hoping we finish the other boards this coming weekend but if we don't, it's OK. We'll work at it as we can. Don't plan on completing any significant work per day without some major aches and pains. :)

That said, I think it's really turning out nice. We had every intention of white washing it when done but now that we've seen it installed, I think we're leaning towards just oiling and sealing it. I love the honey color of pine and the oils will just pull out the depth of the grain.

Here were some pics after a batch of boards went up.

We both agreed after seeing a significant section up and installed that it's making the ceiling seem shorter. I'm glad we're leaving it light colored. I can't imagine what it would do to perspective if it were dark. :) 

I'm using a Porter Cable brad nailer that I picked up this weekend. I've been very happy with it so far. It's light weight but solid. Holds about 100 nails per clip. Reloads easily and shoots as expected, every time. Since we didn't have purlins to nail to, we went ahead and ran a bead of Liquid Nails down each board before it went up. By the next morning, it was set up nicely and very solid. 

Slept in on Sunday through the rain. We got another inch or so through the weekend. Add that to the really wet March we just got through and we've already hit about 12" so far this year. Off to a good start. Last year was a bit shy at just under 30" compared to the 44" average. To give some perspective. Just on our 12 acres, the 12" we've received so far this year means that we've taken about 4,000,000 gallons of water weighing about 32,000,000 pounds. 

1 acre = 43, 560 square feet x 12 acres = 522,720 square feet x 12" of rain = 522,720 cubic feet
522,720 cubic feet = 3,910,217 gallons x 8.33 lbs per gallon = 32,572,108 lbs of water

Our yearly average of 44" of rain will produce over 14,000,000 gallons of water, just on our land. For drinking, bathing and washing (dishes & clothes), Kim and I will use about 1000 gallons per month. I don't need to catch much to be set. We've got our cistern on the way, 1,500 gallon. Our roof size is 414 square feet. With our annual average, that's about 11,000 gallons per year plus the million+ gallon creek that fills up behind the cabin 2-3 times per year. The roof on the storage building will add another 5K gallons for the year. I think we'll be set. 

Eventually, I'd like to add a 2nd cistern in the 5K gallon range to use for irrigation. We'd fill it from the creek and use it primarily for gardening. As my wife can testify, I'm really not much into the yard thing these days. You can spend 30K-50K gallons per year encouraging it to grow so that you can spend your weekends mowing it. :( I would really like to put up a "Nature Preserve" sign in our Arlington yard and not have to touch it again but the city and our neighbors tend to frown on that kind of behavior. If they're going to spend money and time, everyone else should have to also. I understand that. It's one of the reasons I love having property in the country. No HOAs, no city codes. Everyone does what they want to do and leaves everyone else alone. Besides, the only people who see my property are friends and relatives and they show up for the BBQ, cold beer and witty conversation. :)

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Why My Wife And I Are Building A Tiny Home

My wife and I are building a tiny house (12′x20′) in East Texas. We had no desire to be mobile. We wanted a solid foundation and construction that was sturdier than we could justify on a trailer. Size was also an issue. The width constraint on a trailer just felt too restrictive. That said, 240 SF is not very large. We will end up with additional property taxes that some with “mobile” home will not but not at a huge cost. We also wanted ample room for storage and a workshop without the burden of that space being taxed as living space. 

We’ve been building it over the past year with whatever excess funds we had that month. We hope to finish it within a 2 year period of when we started. We’ll have somewhere between $11K-$12K into it. I have slowly moved down in size of dwellings as the first house I purchased years ago was 3000+ SF. We're now living in 1700 SF but on a very small lot. Our new house will be on 12 acres of woods which will provide for much of our entertainment and daily activities. 

I look back at my Grandparent’s house that was a 2BR/1Bath at around 1000 SF. It was plenty for them as they spent much of their time fishing and hunting. For me, the draw to a tiny house are the financial benefits:
1) Building costs – every square foot you add to a plan increases all of your expenses
2) Taxes – straight forward, square footage = taxes. The smaller the better.
3) Utilities – smaller footprint, cheaper to heat and cool.
4) Insurance – for permanent buildings, insurance is based on square footage & value
5) Upkeep – smaller building means easier & cheaper to maintain.

It’s not living in a tiny house that’s appealing, it’s the comparison to what we're spending now that's the huge draw.
Mortgage $1,300/mo vs $0
Utilities $380/mo vs $60
Taxes $3,800/yr vs $930 (house plus 12 acres east of Dallas)
Insurance $2,100/yr vs $390
Upkeep $1,000/yr vs $100

The $25,000 per year difference will allow us to make BIG changes in our lifestyle. If we continue working, we can put an additional $2K per month into our retirement fund. When we’re ready to retire, we’ve now stretched our funds to 2-3 times what they would cover before. That either affords us a lot of indulgences like improvements to the property, travel, or lifestyle, or it allows us to retire with a comfortable spending level nearly 10 years earlier. 

Either way, whatever your priority, it’s a win – all because we are willing to have a living room that converts to a bedroom at night. Everyone has something different that drives them, something that makes them stick out their chest and look around with pride. For some, it’s having a massive status symbol built close to the curb so that everyone that drives by will be envious. For others, it’s the peace and freedom that comes from getting out of the rat race.