Building a Modern Tiny House in Connecticut
Tiny House trailer delivery from Wright Trailers in Seekonk Massachusetts Tiny house trailer with galvalume sheet metal

Subfloor insulation Complete!

The completed 2x4 framing for the Tiny House floor was divided effectively into 30 rectangular spaces by joists and blocking pieces installed to stabilize them. These rectangles were of roughly similar lengths and widths, and all were 3.5” deep - the width of a 2x4.  Mikey’s plan called for each space to be filled with rigid foam insulation, to be provided in three layers of 2”, 1” and 1/2” thicknesses respectively.   A grand total of 90 rectangles of rigid foam had to be cut from available 4x8 sheets of the three thicknesses.

The bottom layer in each space, 2” thick, was cut allowing for a 1/4” gap on all sides between the rigid foam and the surrounding 2x4 framing.  The 1/4” gap was filled with Great Stuff Pro, dispensed with a handy foam gun attachment from several 20-oz. aerosol cans. A nice foam gun can be had for ~$30-$50 and is highly recommended if you’re going to be doing a significant amount of foaming. It will allow you to reuse the same container of Great Stuff until it’s fully used up. We used the “Doors & Windows” variety of Great Stuff, since it doesn’t expand as much and cures with a bit of flexibility, to hopefully allow for some shrinking/expanding of the framing.

Before installing 2” foam in all spaces, a trial application of the next layer - 1” thick - was made in 3 spaces to validate the technique and check if there would be enough room left above each 1” piece to allow a 1/2” piece to fit flush with the top surfaces of surrounding wood framing.  Two of the first spaces we had done to be re-done entirely (not easy) because the bottom piece of foam was slightly bowed and the top 1/2” piece would consequently protrude above the framing. This was before we developed a good system for installing the 2” pieces, using clamps at each end of the piece to hold it down while the Great Stuff cured.

After the trial, the thirty 2” pieces were installed -foamed in place - throughout.  Next, excess foam had to be cut away so that the next, 1” layer would lie flat on the first layer.  Once the 1” layer was complete, Michael considered a key decision: whether to go ahead with the 1/2” layer as initially planned or leave it out to ensure that the plywood subfloor would lie completely flat on the 2x4 framing.  If the 1/2” layer did not fit perfectly, some of the subfloor weight (and weight of structure above) would be supported by rigid foam rather than the framing itself!  (The rigid foam was effectively incompressible).

Michael decided to proceed with the planned 1/2” layer, and there was an immediate need for me (Jon) -who had been cutting almost all the foam rectangles to that point - to get busy and cut thirty more pieces, this time 1/2” thick.  A race was on, with Michael trimming excess foam, vacuuming up trimmings, and placing 1/2” pieces about as rapidly as Jon could cut them.   The 1/2” pieces were not foamed in place; they were cut to the full dimensions of the cavities and simply pressed into place after trimming excess foam above the 1” layer.

The cutting process itself merits some attention.  Among all the spaces to be filled, there were two different widths (wide and narrow) and two different lengths (long and short).  For each rigid foam layer, there were 16 long & wide pieces, 8 short & wide pieces, 4 long & narrow pieces, and 2 short & narrow pieces.  Width markings for cutting the 4x8 sheets were simplified and expedited somewhat by use a of a homemade marking gauge of length 17 3/16” (for wide dimension) and another gauge a half-inch longer for marking out of full-dimensional 1/2” layer pieces.  Michael’s excellent cordless Ryobi jig saw (fairly light) was used for all cuts.

When the final 1/2” piece was put in place near nightfall on 6/19/16, there was nothing but satisfaction with the decision to install all three layers. With only a few tiny exceptions, the entire expanse to be covered by plywood subfloor was so totally flush that it looked like the cavities were filled with something like reflective liquid mercury (foil backing on rigid foam was shiny).

On to the plywood!

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"The Grove"

Every house - tiny or huge - needs some kind of a yard, and Michael’s Process Tiny House is no exception.  Long before any pieces of steel were welded to start building the custom trailer, Michael had already designed and created a marvelous little idyll to serve both as a pleasing view from his future residence and as a restful place of respite.

Fondly known to him and his family as “The Grove,” this special place was carved out of a wooded area that was a small meadow just thirty years ago.  Now surrounded by tall young oaks and maples and birches, The Grove is graced by a network of apparently meandering but artfully placed stone pathways, branching out from a peaceful seating area with cedar single and double adirondack chairs.  A small fountain and a wind chime make their soft sounds; and ferns, hastas, small evergreens, and other plantings are neatly situated among the paths.  After dark, a set of six solar-powered luminaries scattered throughout the area come on automatically and can be seen from many yards away in all directions.  There is also a place for a possible future fire pit for small evening or late-night gatherings.

The Grove is an ideal spot to sit and read or just enjoy the outdoors with a glass of iced tea in shaded relief on a hot day.  Every member of Michael’s family enjoys spending at least a few moments daily or weekly in this natural retreat where their worn nerves can be rejuvenated.

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Insulation Under Tiny House Subfloor Begins

On Monday 6/6/16 Mikey decided to take the day off from work because the weather was great and he wanted to work on Tiny House. 

We started on cutting 2” rigid foam insulation pieces to fit into joist cavity spaces. We worked on saw horses set up out by the willow tree (to keep toxic dust away from places where Holly, our Sheltie, hangs out).  He tried using the new Ryobi cordless jig saw; it worked great but the blade was not quite long enough to cut completely through 2” foam.  The cut pieces were left hanging by the foil backing, so he cut through that with a small utility knife from underneath, like using a letter opener, and it made a clean cut.  

Each piece is separated from surrounding wood framing by 1/4” on all sides which he fills with Great Stuff Pro foam, squirted into the crack with a special nozzle from a tall, 20-oz, aerosol can. Each space is 3.5” deep, and the plan is to fill the depth of each with 3 rectangles of rigid foam, one above the other: a 2” layer on the bottom, then a 1” layer, and on the top, a 1/2” piece.  Not much room for error - the bottom piece needs to be perfectly flat against the sheet metal under it so that when the next two pieces above are added, the plywood flooring will not have to compress the (incompressible) rigid foam under it.

The first couple of 2” pieces were bowed slightly downward in the center, and once the surrounding foam was in place and solidified, it was hard to force the 2” piece to lie completely flat.  Solution: when first placing the rigid foam block in the space, hold the ends downward against the sheet metal with a small wood scrap held by a clamp to the adjacent framing wood, and leave the clamped scraps in place until Great Stuff foam has solidified (perhaps 20 minutes). 

About 10:15, Mikey had to leave for a doctor appointment.  When he returned, we had to pump water off the trailer tarp before we could start putting cut foam rectangles in place - lots of water from 2” rain Sunday.  At 1:40, with 3 pieces in place, I had to leave for a dental appointment, after which I went to England Hardware for some items and looked for more Great Stuff Pro, which they didn’t have.  When I got back from England’s, Mikey had completed 1/6 of the whole trailer with 2” rigid foam - a total of 5 cavities, but he was running out of Great Stuff Pro.  So then he took off for Home Depot to get more; after returning he completed 5 more spaces with rigid foam for a day’s total of 10.   

We didn’t get as far as we had hoped - a long way to go with insulation before we can start the plywood subfloor.

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Not much progress when it rains!

Yesterday and Saturday together, we must have gotten at least 2” of rain - real downpours at times. Whenever that much water collects, whichever one of us is available goes out to the trailer and pumps out all the pools formed on top of the big tarp, within the joist cavities.  The pump works great until its small inlet on the bottom gets clogged with debris (continually dropped by trees above), so I wrapped it in some fabric screening held by a rubber band, and it clogs less frequently.

We are finally done with all the details of floor framing.  Monday 6/6 is supposed to be clear, and we plan to start cutting pieces of rigid foam insulation and installing them in the joist cavities.

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Fair and Square, but one sort of goof...

Some news on the Tiny House construction front, yesterday and today…

Over the weekend, the subfloor support framing got completed, for the front half of the trailer.  The galvalume sheet metal underneath the floor joists was secured to the joists with screws from below, shortly after 10 “blocking” pieces were inserted between the joists to keep them straight and stable.  The holes in the sheet metal for the screws had been drilled (from above) already, their positions marked using chalk lines where the joists would run.

We moved on to the back half of the trailer.  First came the sheet metal again, supported by jigs freed up after the front sheet metal was secured. Then came the thunderstorm late Saturday afternoon (which I think I wrote about in the email that had a million blank lines somehow inserted), after which we were fortunate to have only broad, shallow puddles on top of the big tarp.  Next we cut and positioned the four 12-ft joists for the rear half, then cut and positioned 10 more blocking pieces between them, as was done in the front.

After we had a few of the rear blocking pieces in place, Mikey decided he could cut down further on heat transfer to/from the interior of the house by reducing the amount of framing wood in direct contact with the sheet metal.  He decided we would remove all the blocking already in place for both the front and rear, and trim about 1/2” off the bottom edge of each (2x4) blocking piece, so the blocks would be above the sheet metal and he could fill in the 1/2” gap with foam insulation.  As we had used screws up to that point for fasteners, it was not hard to remove and then replace the blocks.  Mikey did the removal and replacement; I was kept busy shuttling to the table saw in the workshop to rip each block down to 3” width (thus removing 1/2”).

Late Monday afternoon, when we finally had all the rear joists and their trimmed blocking pieces in place and securely fastened, it came time to put in the screws to fasten the sheet metal to the joists from below.  Mikey made himself more or less comfortable under the trailer, with a package of screws and the impact driver; then I heard him say, “Oh no!”    We had forgotten to mark and pre-drill the screw holes in the sheet metal while the joists were still movable!    :(     Our first and probably not last (but I hope worst ) significant blunder.

We cogitated for a few minutes, as it started to get dark, about how to mark and drill the holes from underneath - which had become our only option without dismantling a couple days’ work - then decided to call it a (long) weekend.

This evening there was one really bright spot: Mikey measured the distance diagonally from corner to corner of the overall length and width of framing done so far.   The measurement on one diagonal was 304 3/8”.  On the other diagonal, he got the same measurement, plus 1/16”.   So, both the trailer and the framing appear to be awfully close to square.

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