Drywall Begins

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This weekend was one of those times when it feels like you worked really hard and have very little to show for it.  The weather was hot and humid with very little wind.  It was a perfect time to test out my insulation and AC.

I ran the AC unit on and off all day Saturday and Sunday.  It turns out that the table saw and AC unit do not play well on the same generator.  I have been using the battery box as a saw stand so its easy enough to use the disconnect switch to switch off the house while I run the table saw.

The AC unit was probably running half the time and it kept the place very cool. Even with the AC unit off the cold persisted for several hours.  My hope was that in the heat of the summer I could run the AC unit for a few hours each night and have the place stay cool all night.  Based on my very unscientific test, I think this idea is going to work out well.

Another Inspection

The building inspector wanted to see my insulation work before I cover it over….its a required inspection.  He’s looking for the correct R value in the walls, correct installation (no gaps etc).  He’s also looking to see that each wall cavity has fire blocking where wires run thru it.  Unfortunately, my inspector was tied up all weekend with other duties and could not come by for an inspection. I was only able to work on drywall that would not block the insulation.  Turns out this was not the problem I thought it would be.

Staging

In order to work in the cathedral part of the house, I rented two sets of staging and levelers.  The levelers give you an additional 18 inches of height so that your staging sits 8ft off the floor.  This height is perfect for attaching  sheetrock to the high ceilings.

Chimney

I needed to take some special insulation precautions around the chimney to maintain a 2 inch clearance.  Using some fencing material I made a 12 inch diameter tube (insulation shield) that could be fastened in place around the chimney.  At this point it was also important to make sure the chimney was vertical.  Since it was a little off, I spent some time tweaking things with wooden blocks to get the chimney positioned correctly.

With the chimney and insulation shield in place, additional insulation was stuffed into the areas around the chimney.

Windows

Each window has a 5 1/2 inch “lip” around it that needs to be covered in drywall.  The guy that installed the windows (me) did not put them all in exactly the same place.  That required me to cut different thickness shims for each side of every window. Thats 54 different sized shims.  Makes me wish I had taken more time installing the windows!

Bathroom

By late Sunday afternoon all the windows and doors openings had custom fitted drywall.  I also injected foam into the seams for some additional insulation.  The next step was drywall in the bathroom.  With the bathroom wall being a funky combination of kitchen cabinet, plumbing, and medicine cabinet there was a lot of detail framing that needed to be done.

In the end, the kitchen/bath wall has been configured for a medicine cabinet and small shelf over the toilet on the bathroom side.  On the kitchen side there are two large cabinets on either side of the sink and possibly a shelf or two between them.

Converting AC LED Lights to DC

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They are doing some pretty cool stuff with recessed LED lights these days.  Unfortunately, this style of LED light requires 120V AC not 12V DC.  Some of the smaller track lighting does run from 12V DC directly.

Internally these lights do run from DC, there is just a converter circuit inside that makes the 120V AC into a DC voltage.  Some lights have this circuit built internal to the light and it’s not easy to get at.  Others have this circuit in a box that is very easy to get at.

A couple of weeks ago, I found some LED lights on clearance at Home Depot for about 10 bucks each.  I opened the package and saw that the AC to DC converter was in a small plastic box bolted to the back of the light.  I immediately, bought up 7 lights for use in my Bodega.

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Constant Current LED Driver
LED’s operate on just enough voltage to make them draw their rated amperage.  For some LED’s this will be 8.5 volts, others might be only 6.  You need a special circuit to drive them called a constant current LED driver.

In my case the LED’s I bought require .6 amps.  I needed a constant current driver that would accept 12V DC and drive an LED at .6 amps.  I found the LDD-700H at Jameco for $6.95 in single unit quantities (data sheet here).  It will supply .7 amps to the LED which is a bit more than the driver I removed, but still within the tolerance for the LED’s.  There are other versions of the LDD that can supply less current if that’s what your LED requires.

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THe LDD-700 has 9 small pins on it for electrical connections.  Don’t let the small pins scare you, it’s really easy to connect to.  The outside two pins on each corner are connected together so you actually end up with a pretty big target to apply solder.  One corner has 3 pins.  This third pin is for a dimming function that you will not use.  The spec sheet says to leave this pin open.  I suggest you cut this pin off flush with the case and put some electrical tape over it.

Making Connections
My lights come with an adapter that screws into the light socket with an orange plug.  The light has an orange plug and a white box.  I cut the wired from the box and removed it.  The remaining wires get soldered to the LDD.

The LED wires (white and grey) are connected to the Vout terminals [white to (-) and black to  (+)].  Colors may vary so do your research.

The input wires go to the orange plug.  I decided to install a 2 amp blade style automotive fuse on one line “just in case”.  One side of the fuse is soldered to the pins and the side to the orange plug wire.

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When all the wires are connected I applied some electrical tape to keep things secure.  Over the electrical tape I used some large heat shrink tubing.

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Its Alive!
I screwed the adapter into my recessed light fixture and attached the orange plug making sure the on/off switch was “off”.  I connected my amp meter across the switch to measure the current draw of the light.

My first measurement read 1.6 amps, the light did not go on, and the LDD got really hot.  It turns out that I’m a dumbass and swapped the plus and minus wires.  In the realms outside of house wiring, a black wire is generally the minus side of a DC circuit, in-house wiring its positive.  subconsciously I connected it without thinking because my brain is wired that way.  If someone with 20+ years of experience can screw up, you can too…..always double check your work (and buy a spare LDD just in case) :).

After replacing the LDD, the fixture lit up and drew .659 amps.  Multiplying my battery voltage of 12.22 volts with .659 amps we get 8.05 watts of power being consumed by each fixture.  The light output is excellent and just right for the size of my kitchen.

Now that I have lights, I can work late into the night without having to operate the generator.  Very happy with the results of this project.

Insulation Complete

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Now that work has moved indoors, the weekend weather has improved dramatically ;).  This weekend was no exception and I was able to get a ton of stuff accomplished.

Inspections

Bright and early Saturday the building and electrical inspectors came to marvel at my tiny spectacle.  Actually, I think the building inspectors exact comment was “looks like it won’t be any trouble adding a couple of rooms to it”.  That comment and his signature is all that I needed to begin the next phase of construction.

The electrical inspector was happy with my wiring and signed off as well.  The neatness of my wiring and having a set of wiring diagrams seemed to smooth out the process.  He focused more on seeing that all the outlets were in the right places rather than the wiring itself.

Insulation Begins

The first step was to inspect every wall cavity for fasteners poking thru.  These fasteners are exposed to the outside and can “sweat” during cold months.  I cut them flush with a cut-off wheel and covered the stump with foam-in-a-can.  At the same time I filled in any gaps and cracks that seemed to need it.

I cut blocks of rigid foam and stuffed them behing every outlet and switch box.  Its tough to get fiberglass behind there and you typically end up with cold spots.  The foam blocks prevent this from happening.

My walls will be filled with R19 fiberglass, and the ceiling will have R38.  I am using unfaced insulation since the wall sheeting is air tight.  My walls with “breathe” inward towards the living space. and you don’t want an air barrier trapping moisture.

The Right Tools

Having the right tools will help make your insulation job go a whole lot faster be more comfortable.  Fiberglass insulation “sheds” little particles of fiberglass all over the place.  These fibers are itchy if they get on your skin and are not that healthy to breathe.

Start with clothing.  You want to cover up as much as you can.  I dressed in a long sleeve shirt, gloves, hat, and shorts.  Naturally, I wore a dust mask to keep from breathing in the fibers.  If I had to do it again, I would have bought a Tyvek suit they sell for painting.  I really hate fiberglass, but I’m too cheap to buy the alternatives.

For tools you need a good knife, a 4ft straight edge, and an 8ft straight edge.  The straight edges can just be pieces of strapping.  The knife can be any knife with a razor blade but honestly, typical utility or snap blade knives suck for insulation.  Before this build I used them, but never again.

I found a knife call the Superkut made by Vintool.  A long time ago in a galaxy far far away there was this guy named Vince who was an insulation contractor.  Vince thought that all the knives for cutting insulation sucked so he made his own.  It costs $25 and is sold at http://www.vintool.com or at Amazon.  It kind looks home made but looks are deceiving.

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The Vintool knife is the best 25 bucks I spent on this project!  I was making factory looking cuts in a single pass thru R38 insulation.  At one point during the day I left it downstairs and only had a utility knife on me and I needed to make a cut.  It was this point when I realized how bad utility knives suck at cutting thru insulation.  It’s a pretty specialized tool, but it’s not a ton of money, and it works really well.

Another tool you will want to manufacture is an outlet cutting template.  Take a piece of scrap plywood about 10 inches wide by 18 inches tall.  Cut a square notch out of it in the exact location of your outlet boxes.  Make the notch about 1/2 inch smaller than the box.  You simply line this template against the edges of the insulation, press down firmly, and cut the notch out.

Installation

I set up a piece of plywood as a work surface and made some marks corresponding to the lengths I would need to cut.  The pro’s cut insulation up on the spot against the wall…I am not a pro and prefer to measure and cut as needed.

The process I used was to cut a piece to the height of my wall plus one inch.  If it needed to be trimmed lengthwise I added an inch to the actual width and used an 8ft length of strapping as a straight edge to trim the sheet.

It seems fairly easy to “hide” 1 to 1.5 inches in the bay without having it bunch up on you.  You want the bay completely filled without bunching up as this decreases the R value.

When you encounter wires, you simply split the insulation and place half of the insulation behind and half in front.  Switch boxes I used the vintool to cut them out on the spot.  You just sort of compress the insulation and feel for the box edges and make some slices.

Saturday I was able to install all 6 rolls on the walls by days end.  Sunday I went to the building center and picked up 6 packages of R38 for the ceiling and had them installed well before the day ended.  All totalled, I would estimate the insulation took about 10 hours to install.


Whats Next?

After work this week I will install sheetrock around the windows and doors.  I also have some last-minute wires to run for the phone, speakers, etc.  Next weekend, Tim and I will begin hanging sheetrock after the building inspector comes by to sign off on my insulation.

Electrical Complete!

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Busy weekend at the Bodega.  saturday I put most of the finishing touches on the electrical system.  Sunday I spent the day running errands like a much-needed oil change for the Spark.  In the afternoon I met up with the Tumbweed guys at the workshop and gave my presentation to about 30 (hopefully) future tiny home dwellers.

Executive Decision

I have made the decision to use sheetrock rather than tongue and groove pine for the wall coverings.  I was not sure about the look of so much pine on the cathedral ceiling.  I think its going to look like an upside down boat when sitting in the living room.  I will sheetrock the place and then apply a T&G pine as an accent in the kitchen and maybe carry it around to the front wall.

If this were a trailer based tiny house, the decision would have been different.  For something fixed drywall will hold up very nicely and is durable enough.  I also will have the luxury of changing paint colors if I want to do something a bit different.  I have started watching YouTube videos on drywall installation and taping to prepare myself for what I am sure will be a dusty month of hell putting my wall covering on.

Final Electrical

With my battery enclosure installed, I needed to run wires to the disconnect.  I bought some 2 gauge welding cable from eBay to complete these runs.  I bought a bit extra so I could rip out the very stiff 2 gauge wire in the breaker panel as well.

Welding cable is an excellent type of wire for DC applications.  It’s very flexible, the insulation is very abrasion resistant, it handles temperatures up to 105C. Due to its high temperature rating, the NEC will allow it to carry 130 amps, but it will actually carry 200 according to manufacturer data.

The only downside to welding cable is fishing it thru conduit.  The rubberized jacket grips the conduit and is a real bitch to pull.  I attempted to fish thru a 20ft bundle and got stuck about 4ft from the end.  Fortunately, I was not stuck that bad and was able to pull the bundle out.  A $8.00 bottle of pulling lube from home depot liberally applied to the cable cured this issue and I was able to get my wires thru.  Reminded me of cow insemination as I slathered the bottle of goo all over my cable.

The disconnect that I bought came equipped with fuse holders that were not for type R fuses.  I could not locate the type R parts from Square D, so I just ordered a 3 pole fuse holder from McMaster Carr and removed the fuse blocks.  The terminals from one end of the fuse block replaced the fuse holder on the switch side of the disconnect without any problem.  They make these disconnects with a number of options, one of which is no fuse holder…the configuration I have it in now.

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I have a total of 5 wires into the disconnect.  Two are for my 60 amp 12V DC circuits (+ side) that run the house.  One is a 60 amp circuit that will deliver power from my panels in the future.  There is a black wire used as the minus side of the 12V DC circuit.  Last, there is a large green wire for earth ground.

The three red wires are switched thru the disconnect, and the black wire is via a shunt to the panel.  The shunt allows me to measure the amount of current going into and out of the battery.  The ground wire connects to my ground rod.

My secondary panel holds the charge controller and pump controller (not installed).  I’m sure a bunch of other doo-dads will make their way into this panel…which is why I bought one that is a bit larger because you never know.

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“There are four lights”

I ripped out the ceiling boxes I originally installed and replaced them with 4 inch recessed lighting boxes.  I managed to find some LED lights on clearance that I can modify to meet make some kick ass lights for my kitchen and bath.  These lights have a nice nickel finish and fit in 4 inch housings.

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They are intended to replace 120V lamps and have a small plastic power supply box mounted on them.  The box says 120V AC in, 12VDC out at .6 amps.  I will be ripping that out and replacing it with a LDD-700 constant current LED driver which costs about 6 bucks.  It will require some soldering skills, but in the end I will have a nice set of 4 really bright lights in the kitchen and bath that run from 12V DC.  I powered one up just to see it in action and it looks sweet (I was over-driving it by a ton, so it might end up a bit dimmer in the end).

Generator Connection

The last bit of electrical work I wanted to complete was a 120V generator curcuit that can be used to power the AC unit and whatever else I need.  I installed a plug and disconnect to the generator box and ran a conduit thru the wall to a dedicated 120V outlet.  I then ran another outlet to the laundry room in case I want to power a washing machine in there.  I’m not sure how my little “bonus” circuit fits into the NEC.  I don’t see any reason why it would be an issue.  I have two disconnecting means within sight of the generator and it’s not connected to the houses electrical system….its just a fancy extension cord.

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Tumbleweed Workshop

Sunday I spent a couple hours talking to the folks attending the Tumbleweed workshop in Boston.  I gave about an hour long presentation and showed off the Bodega and my XS house.  The atendees had lots of great questions.  Attending these workshops helps me to get a better sense of how I should present my info here on the blog.   It was also pretty cool to meet Deek from Relax Shacks in person.

Inspections

This Saturday morning I have my final framing inspection and the electrical inspection.  The building inspector has already seen everything so I don’t think he will have any issues.  The electrical inspector I have no idea what he will care about….hopefully nothing.

Weekend Work

This weekend I will be prepping for wall covering installation and installing pink insulation.  I’m not sure how much insulation I can install but I hope its all or most of it.  I would really like to start hanging drywall.

Bodega Outside is Complete!

It was a hot, sticky, and humid weekend in New England.  It was so hot the only thing Ajax did was to take a nap in the shade.  My plan was to finish up some lingering tasks and take some relaxation time.

Before and after

I was going thru some old pics and found my mockup of the Bodega that I set up last year….thought it would be cool to share:

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Grass
During the week I received another truckload of loam and finished spreading and seeding just in time for rain.  Turned out the rain was pretty intense and it ended up washing out some sections.  My expensive EZ-Seed was gone and I had to fix the washouts.  I also bought a bunch more seed and reseeded the entire lawn again.

This morning I have a fair bit of grass poking up.  I suspect this is from the original planting.  I expect to see other sections start growing soon.

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Telephone Line
I needed to dig a small trench to run my telephone line over to the pole.  The total distance was about 60 feet, so I picked up seven sections of conduit.

Since it was only phone line and protected inside 1/2 inch conduit, I was not too concerned about the depth of the trench.  In the grass section I put it a good 12 inches down.  Thru the woods I put it down six inches or so.  The section that passed under the driveway ended up pretty deep as well.

This was not a very fun job.  It was 90 degrees and humid, there are rocks and roots everywhere, and the bugs were just awful.  I’m really glad to be moving the work indoors.

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Air Conditioning

With long periods of muggy weather on the horizon and work moving indoors I decided to deal with air conditioning.  I have a Honda EU2000i generator to run an AC unit. I was very concerned that it would not be able to handle the startup load of an AC unit….they  typically require a lot of current.

I picked up a 5000 BTU unit made by Fridgidaire model# LRA050XT7 for $119 at Lowes.  After unpacking, I connected it to the generator and it powered up and ran flawlessly! In fact the generator didn’t even rev up when the compressor kicked on.

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I installed it in a window and had cold air in my Bodega.  Based on the hour or so that I ran it, I think 5000 BTU’s will be enough to provide adequate cooling.  I still have additional insulation to install so things can only get better from here.

I needed a heavy-duty extension cord to run to the generator and wanted to buy a manufactured unit but discovered that they cost a small fortune.  I had some spare 10/3 romex in my junk box, so I just picked up some heavy-duty plug caps and decided to make my own.  For $12 in plug caps and $16.50 in romex I had an extension cord for 1/4 the cost of a store-bought one.

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Whats Next?

I need to finish up my electrical wiring.  I ordered welding cable and some other odds-n-ends from eBay.  My next goal will be to have the house powered up and ready for the electrical inspector.  This weekend I will be speaking at the Tumbleweed workshop in Boston so there won’t be a whole lot accomplished.  The following weekend I expect to get some pink insulation on site.

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