13 April 2016

Building a Tiny House in the Rain

How do you build a tiny house in the rain? What about in the intense sun, or wind that is so strong it feels like its going though you? Building in the elements can be very challenging. Fortunately with building mobile and tiny there are options to combat the weather. As we see it there are three options to consider:



Build your Tiny House Exposed to the Elements


Building in the rain might be fun the first time it happens but it will soon drive you crazy. The work you can do on any given day is affected by the weather, for example installing a roof in the wind is not going to be a smart idea. Some materials are not well suited to sit in the rain for periods of time and can degrade, discolour and even become unusable. This situation can also affect your morale for the build and it can be hard to draw enthusiasm when everything is soaked and cold. The benefit of choosing this method is its cheap and is sometimes the only option. A temporary trap could be used to protect while sitting. We thought about this option ourselves but realised a lot of trap or traps would be needed to cover the house. We also didn't love the idea of pulling wet cold traps off the structure everyday to work for it to start raining shortly after.

Build a Temporary Structure Over Tiny House


Building a temporary structure can protect you and your house build from the elements. This method does involve time initially designing and sourcing the materials for the structure. The time spent at the start of the build to get this right though should be able to be made up by being able to work on your house wind, rain or shine. Sourcing materials is going to cost unless you use the free variety or re purpose the materials for the tiny house or another project. For example we used and old PVC advertising hoarding that was cheap which we used to protect materials after we had finished with the temporary structure. This method also has the added benefit of keeping your tools dry which they will love. Just remember your temporary structure needs to stand up to wind, rain, sun and maybe even snow so design it well and design it for your specific environment and weather conditions. We used this method by attaching the temporary structure to and existing shed. Check out our video:




Build Tiny House in shed or workshop


This is the supreme option and if you have a choice you should do this every time. We are talking about building your tiny house in a shed or workshop environment. The benefit here is you and your tiny house are always protected from the weather elements. Having a solid level floor would be great and wheeling tables, pushing ladders around and working on the ground would be much easier on an even dry surface. Access to power and even air lines would added bonus for power and pneumatic tools. Being able to secure your new house and tools while you are offsite is excellent. Also being able to come and go and leave tools where they are half way though a job can be a time saver too. There are not many negatives with this option apart from finding a premises and maybe having to pay for it. Make sure you do your maths regarding door height and width, otherwise you may be living in a tiny house within a workshop!





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17 February 2016

How to Install an Old Wooden House Window

We looked low and high for a video how to install an old timber house window but could not find a full how too, so we made one. The video below takes you through the the following steps.




  • Cutting and sizing rough opening
  • Cutting and attaching building wrap
  • Sloped window sills and benefits 
  • Flashing rough opening to be weather tight
  • Use of tyvek UV Facade wrap and tape plus Dupont Flaxwrap NF
  • Fitting reclaimed wooden window
  • Leveling and squaring window using packers 
  • Benefits of using backing rod to fill rough opening void
  • Filling and sealing rough opening 
  • Sizing, installing and sealing window trim

Thanks to the following companies for supplying.


Quick dry undercoat
Lustacryl Gull Grey


Backing rod
Staples
Nails 
Filler
Silicon


UV Facade wrap 
UV Facade Flashing tape
Dupont Flaxwrap NF






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29 January 2016

NZ Tiny House that is Build like a Boat

This off the grid tiny house has been built with systems and fine craftsmanship in mind. The house is totally self-sufficient, generating its own power and collecting free water from the sky. The small wood burner takes care of space heating and also warms water using a wetback system.



Jeff Hobbs a boat builder and cabinet maker has designed and built the tiny house for a client. Jeffs expertise in these fields has come through in the build, using techniques like vacuum pressing SIPS walls and floors and using materials like epoxy. The floor is recycled kauri at 3mm thick laminated is friber glass to save weight.

Some simple ideas have really been thought about like having the washing machine outside in the unity box and designing an open but quite steep staircase to maximise space.

This home has been constructed for one of Jeff’s clients and has now been moved to it’s new home on Waiheke Island, New Zealand. Check out the blog roomtomove.co.nz for more info.



Watch the video tour of the house here by Bryce at Living Big in a Tiny House.


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18 November 2015

Couple Design and Build Beautiful Tiny House with Limited Experience

Young couple Brian and Joni have designed and built a very polished tiny house with little previous construction experience. Close to their 30's they were eager to settle down in a place of their own but they did not know where their fledgling careers would take them. So they devised a solution that was unorthodox but practical, and they built a house that could go with them no matter where they ended up.

3.3m high and 2.6m wide


Large skylight over loft bed

  Storage compartments in the floor

The 22 sq meter (236 sq foot) mobile tiny house cost $50K US. “We maxed out all the assets we had. Most of our family members thought we were crazy.”  Brian says.  “I thought I would knock it out in a few months,” but the project, which the couple squeezed in around their jobs, took about a year. They married in August 2014, plan to continue living in the trailer full-time until they start a family.

The cedar-clad trailer is slightly taller at the back, giving it an angular, contemporary shape.


Structural insulated panels were used for floor, walls and roof


Inside, the dominant material is birch-veneer plywood - a modern choice, versatile enough to serve as walls, floor, ceiling, and kitchen cabinets.

Simple yet stylish kitchen with full size appliances

Large sliding-glass door and two sky lights adds natural brightness

Still room for a 55-inch flat-screen television


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04 November 2015

Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) Tiny House

There are many ways to build a house and many ways to build a tiny house. Most tiny houses go down the path of traditional stick frame construction due to its relatively simple construction and easy access to materials. But is this the best approach to build a floor, walls and roof? Like most things there are multiple options, each with pros and cons. One option that is a fairly new-ish approach in NZ is (SIPs) or Structural Insulated Panels. SIPs are reasonably common for tiny house construction in the States but not so much in NZ yet. Lets find out the pros and cons, look at some examples and hear what approach we have taken.



What are SIP's?



SIPs are generally referred to as panels made from a thick layer of foam (polystyrene or polyurethane) sandwiched between two layers of Oriented Strand Board (OSB) or Magnesium Oxide (Mag). The result is an engineered panel that provides structural framing, insulation, and exterior sheathing in a solid, one-piece component. They can be used for many different applications, such as exterior walls, roofing, floor and foundation systems.


What are the benefits of SIPs over traditional timber construction?


  1. Better energy efficiently - because the construction method is very precise a near zero air leakage is achieved meaning no drafts. Due to zero thermal bridging your energy bills will be less, saving money over the long run.
  2. Durability - improved structure strength, great for a mobile tiny house.
  3. Speed - due to the standardized and all-in-one nature of SIPs, construction time can be less than for a frame home, as well as requiring fewer tradesmen.
  4. Cost -  Less man hours are required during the build but the material is generally more expensive. However the running cost will be less in the long term. These factors vary between countries, regional, location of building and local labor costs. As with any build a cost analysis would need to be conducted to compare. In general SIP's seems to be more cost beneficial. 

SIPs Specifications

Typical product specifications are:

Width: 300mm, 600mm, or 1,200 mm wide
Length: 2.4, 2.7, and 3 m long, with roof SIPs up to 6 m long
Thickness: 100mm-300mm
Density: 15−20 kg/m

They are not limited to these sizes as custom panels can be constructed.


Examples of SIPS tiny houses include. 

Minim Homes


Brian and Joni's Tiny House under construction

Leaf Tiny House


Monarch Tiny Homes


New Zealand SIP's Manufactures


There are a number of NZ SIPs manufacturers which include and not limited to:

Formance
Magroc
Method

Our approach to SIPS's


We think SIPs is an excellent option for building a tiny house for the reasons above. However we investigated this option for a long time and after some careful thought we decided for our budget this method wasn't for us, A do it yourself build methodology was a better fit for us and was better for green reasons.  

Cost: After getting quotes for a single level foot print approx 8m x 3m we were getting quotes in the order of $15k to install yourself. For a total house budget of $25k, this was not feasible for us. If you build you own I don't think you get the cost savings from the reduced labor time.   

Build mythology: We want to build as much of the build as possible to gain experience. Although possible to build your own SIP panels it did air on the risky side and required equipment and plenty of space to construct.  

Green : Not all but many SIP's use polystyrene for insulation and structure. We were not comfortable using in this material in our tiny house, see here for why. Having said that there are more green SIP alternatives available. 

We decided on a different approach that uses polyurethane and plywood sandwich see here. You might be thinking these are not the greenest materials, but there is always tradeoffs. Polyurethane and plywood do off gas initially and then become stable, and seem to be a much better option than polystyrene. The structure is lined inside and out reducing this risk also.



To conclude we would recommend building a tiny house or any house from SIP's if you can get the cost at the right point.
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07 October 2015

Moving / Towing a Tiny House Trailer

Whether you are choosing to build your own tiny house trailer or have one built for you, chances are you will be moving the trailer from the manufacturing point to the construction site. We designed and built our own trailer and wanted to share the experience of moving a freshly constructed, 9.5m long fabrication down a public road.



We chose to protect the tiny house trailer using galvanisation, see here. Once the trailer frame was completed and wheels and drawbar attached to was time to test the trailer. We used a private location to tow the trailer, putting it through its paces by turning, stopping and reversing and checking everything was ok. Once we were happy the trailer performance it was time to transport it to the local galvanising plant. Fortunately it was only about one kilometre down the road. For this reason we concluded it was safe to transport the trailer on its own wheels for coating. Our trailer is not designed to be road legal and even if it was its would be in no state without lights, brakes and number plate. So deciding to tow down a public road is not technically legal for this short distance we thought it would be safe. We did the following to ensure safely:

  • Planned and mapped out the route. 
  • Attached high vis to both rear corners.
  • Conducted the move at a quiet traffic time.
  • Conducted during daylight.
  • Used two persons, with one following with communication between the two.  
  • Drove sensibly leaving plenty of room for other road users. 

At this point in the build height is not an issue but the length can be. We found the trailer tracked and followed the tow vehicle very well. But we did have to be careful over gutters and dips as when the wheels drop you can run into danger of dragging underside the rear and front of the trailer into the road. We did not have any issues here as the route we chose was wide and flat.



Another option here is to use and truck or trailer to transport your trailer from A to B which would of course be legal and safe but most likely cost $ or a box of beers or two. Or many of the galvanisers offer a transport service like HB Galinvasing will pickup and drop off for a cost.



Once at the galinvaser we removed the hitch and wheels and unbolted the frame and pop on blocks ready for them to coat. Keep it off the ground keep it clean and dry and also aided in lifting for the galvinistors.



After galvanising we needed to clean up the axle stubs to refit the bearings and wheels. One slight error we made was leaving the coated trailer in the yard for a few weeks over which time it rained. This caused the stubs to start rusting which was removed but a bit of a pain and time consuming. Once we had the trailer back together we used the same procedures to transport it back to the workshop for finishing.



As we were traveling a short distance we decided not to grease the wheel bearings. We had the wheels on and off a couple of times so this saved time and money buying grease. Also it avoided the messy clean up in a gravel yard at the galvanises.



Overall the process worked well due to pre planning and communication with involved parties.


  
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08 September 2015

Walls and Roof Contstruction

The wall and roof construction used the same method as the floor detailed in this post. The following video details the construction process. This method is taken from the Popup House concept for permanent houses in France.



The simple materials list includes polyurethane foam, plywood, screws and glue. All panels were designed in 3D CAD software and ordered to size. This ensured everything fitted level and square with very minimal tweaking. Panel sections were pre constructed on a flat level surface before being erected and attached to the sub floor. The roof panels were glued to the walls and secured with brackets.











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13 August 2015

Importing our Tiny House Materials - Did we get Scammed?

We thought buying insulation materials from China would be a breeze. Half way through the process we had handed over 3 grand to a Chinese manufacturer who we had lost contact with and no sign of any material. What did we do wrong? Did we get our product or money back?



We researched how to import materials safely which is summarised in this post 'Alibaba Tips and Tricks for Safely Importing Materials from Overseas'. By using this process we narrowed it down to two potential manufacturers and ended up choosing the manufacturer on price (classic mistake). We carried out some checks to ensure they were a legitimate manufacturer, you can read about these checks here. As we were new to this game we did not carry out all these safeguards but from what we had researched we were satisfied the manufacturer was for real and they appeared professional. In hindsight we would say they were quite pushy in the initial stages of communication, they were wanting quick responses and looking back on it now it all seemed too eager. But... once again money came into play and they were about 2 grand cheaper so we decided it was worth pursuing.

We produced a detailed drawing of the panel sizes, material and density which we sent through the Alibaba messaging service, this ensured we had written records of specifications. Through the Alibaba messaging system we decided to pay half the total amount to start the job and the final amount would be paid upon completion. We agreed on a completion date of approx 2 weeks. The manufacturer was very keen to use western union to make the transaction but this did not sit well with us as there are no safeguards. We managed to convince the manufacturer to use Paypal which they signed up for (in the end this was a great move).

Communication for the first week after paying was good, indicating they were in production and all going well. The second week communication was limited which seemed a bit odd but we thought they must be busy and we didn't anticipate that there would be any problems. After the agreed completion date all communication dried up, this was when we started to really become concerned. We were making friendly communication through the Alibaba messaging system and getting no reply. We tried emailing with no avail. Two weeks on and still no luck we searched the internet for alternative ways to contact the manufacturer (again with not much joy), this is why it is important to obtain as many communication forms as possible early in the process (emails, phone numbers etc). Then out of the blue we got a message in broken English that everything we ok but they had miscalculated the wastage and we needed to pay another thousand dollars. Alarm bells started ringing! We had already paid half the total amount and were thinking, thankfully we had not paid the full amount upfront and now they want to break the agreement. So what to do?

Well we used common sense and asked politely if the order could be fulfilled to the existing contract. The response was 'no there was no possible way' this was incredibly frustrating to hear after we were so far down the track. So it was either to pay extra or pull the pin. We weighed up the risk and decided to cancel the order and ask for a full refund... our fingers were crossed!! We politely asked for this request using Alibaba messaging system. After a couple of days of no reply we tried with another slightly more direct message, still nothing after a few more days.

At this point after about 6 weeks from the initial order with no product, no contact and three grand being used for who knows what, it was fair to say we were worried. What can you do but keep trying. So we emailed the manufacturer's business and personal email. We kept down this route for about 10 days at which point we started a paypal dispute.

Using paypal the buyer has protection if:

  • You don't receive the item
  • The item is significantly different than the description


You can raise a dispute up to 180 days after the purchase was made. If the seller and buyer cannot work out the dispute Paypal will get involved to resolve the situation.

The next day after the Paypal dispute had been raised we heard back from the manufacturer (funny that)! They said they would provide a full refund immediately. Yes! no product and a lot of wasted time but we will get our money back. Over the next six straight hours we were in constant messaging contact mainly working out how the paypal dispute system worked as both parties had never used it. I am going to say it is confusing to use and did not help we were paranoid about losing more money. Will not go too far into the details but it was a long night as we did not want to lose contact and risk not getting the money back.

After the manufacture released the money it took a further three day for the money to clear back to our account. At the end of the day the manufacturer apologised and we did get all the money back but we're still not sure if they were legit or if they were taking us for a ride. We counted our lucky stars we used Paypal and not something like western union in this case. More about payment pros and cons in the next post.

So back to the drawing board to start the process over again. We used our second choice manufacturer who was more expensive but you know what they say you get what you pay for.
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15 July 2015

Sub Floor Build

So its time to install the subfloor onto the custom made tiny house trailer. This process is very important as this is what connects the house to the trailer. We used nutserts and bolts to strengthen the connection. The sub floor is made up of polyurethane panels glued with plywood cut down from sheet. Damp proof course and polythene were used to protect the building envelope from moisture and reduce thermal conductivity. Custom made tongue and groove plywood flooring forms the finished floor surface and braces the subfloor.



This is not a common construction method but we are keen to experiment a little and see how it goes as it is tiny and we can afford to do this to some extent. The 100mm thick polyurethane with 25mm plywood at 600mm centers yields an R-value of 4.2m²K/W, using the Construction R-value Calculator. Minimum NZ building code R-value is 1.3²K/W. The method we have used for our floor yields R-values over three times higher than the current building code.


Using plywood helps the thermal transmission and rigidity compared to pine timber due to its density and glued laminated layers. This system includes bracing and insulation in one with no air gaps. These materials are lightweight and very strong which is ideal for a mobile tiny house.


Check out this video highlight reel of the process.











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01 July 2015

Alibaba Tips and Tricks for Safely Importing Materials from Overseas

This is the second of a series of blog posts detailing how to import tiny house materials from overseas, see here for previous post. This post looks at safeguarding yourself from inherent problems associated with importing materials from another country (that likely does not speak the same language and conducts business differently to what you are use to). We look at how, with systems like Alibaba and others, this risk has been greatly reduced to make this form of supply a very viable option for most.



Some of the risks involved when importing from overseas are:

  1. Product is not within specifications
  2. Product is delivered late
  3. Product is not delivered at all
  4. Product could be damaged in transport
  5. Issues regarding customs and biosecurity 

There are a number of checks you can do to significantly reduce these risks which are detailed below.


Alibaba Safeguards


Gold supplier


Gold suppliers must pass checks by Alibaba to qualify. Look for suppliers with at least 2-3 years as a gold supplier if possible.  

Trade Assurance


Alibaba uses a free service called trade assurance which is designed to protect the buyer to ensure the product is within spec and on time. Alibaba will grant a refund if the contract is not met and will ensure the supplier is dealt with accordingly. Not all suppliers partake in trade assurance and for the ones that do there is a variation on their limits, so if one suppliers trade assurance is $9000 the next supplier could be more or less. So, to minimise the risks it helps to use a supplier who has trade assurance and to purchase under the limit of that. More info about trade assurance here.




Checking Process - is this company for real?


Website


Internet search the business name, find their website and try to investigate whether it looks legitimate. Do things like products and addresses match alibaba info? Does this website look professional? Check whether the company has any negative feedback! Use a tool like Who Is to look up the manufacturer’s website registration information. When was the website registered? By whom? What is the phone number connected to the account?  Cryo Systems the  company we used had a professional website, accurate contact info, used a poplar domain name and offered multiple products.

Address


You can obtain the suppliers address from alibaba to do an internet search. Using a mapping application we cross checked the address provided to ensure everything was lining up. Because we were using a manufacturer we made sure it was an area that was appropriate for a factory to be, it would raise suspicion if a factory address showed up in the middle of a retail shopping street. However it is important to find out whether you are dealing directly with a factory as you should keep in mind that many “manufacturers” are actually middlemen sellers so you won't always be looking up factory addresses.

Email


Does their e-mail address match the company name? Would you or should you trust a “manufacturer” communicating with a Hotmail or Chinese equivalent email address?

Company Registration


Ask for Company registration number and business licenses. We did not feel this necessary after other checks were ok.


Ask for a sample


Getting a sample of the required product in your hands serves three purposes. Firstly in helps ensure the supplier is serious and real as there is a bit of effort required to produce sample and ship it overseas in a timely manner. Secondly this is the best way to check quality of the product with your own eyes. Finally it is a good test to arrange payment, more on this later.

We chose two suppliers and asked both to send samples, they were very willing to help. We asked for a 100mm block of insulation. In most cases the supplier will ask you to pay for the shipping which we ended up doing. We asked if this cost could be deducted if we made the final order with them but this idea did not suit them (but worth asking as we have heard of it working). Both suppliers used the expression 'express' which just means shipping. We were initially quoted US$100 to ship the block in NZ which was massively overstated as we have shipped and brought items from around the world and knew it would not cost that much. We managed to negotiate the shipping cost down to US$40 which we thought was still expensive but reasonable using TNT. We didn't do this, but it might be worth setting up an account with an international courier company like Fedx or TNT. Both samples turned up within a week and were well packed with the invoice included.

Ask for photos


Ask for photos of the factory, the products, and when your manufacturing run is over, ask for photos of your finished products before making final payment. We asked for pictures of the factory, product and team. We also got a photo of our product in the container before shipping. 






Other means of contact


Ask for other means of contact if they are not already listed on alibaba. We used viber on a phone to have a conversation about their address. This takes effort and helps prove they are legit. We would recommend using alibaba for your main communication feed as it's all within one governing system and all records are kept. Other methods could be skype, phone, another email, whatsapp or facebook.

References


You can ask for references from other customers who have dealt with the supplier. If you can obtain a contact and ask how their experience was dealing with the supplier. We asked but all we could get was a few sentences from a previous customer which was positive, they also had a website in the UK which looked legit.

Invoices


Invoices should be clear, written in English and specify all clauses and guarantees. Does all the information on the invoice match the previous information you know and have collected about the company?


Be Ready to Walk Away 


Finally, with any deal or negotiation, always be willing to walk away if it does not feel right. Completing all these processes can help you have a good business experience and avoid being scammed. Remember, there is no replacement for common sense. If something feels weird, walk away. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

In the next blog we we detail our story of almost losing thousands of dollars...stay tuned.



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