Final Odds n Ends


This weekend I began what will be 2 weeks of punch list work.  Meaning I finished all the little odds n ends that were too time consuming to deal with when I was building.  It also means that I was fixing things that I broke when building other things (wall dings etc).

The weekend began by renting a 12ft ladder from Home Depot.  I could have bought one, but they are $280 and I just don’t see the need when a rental was 22 bucks.

Fan Fix

When I originally installed the fan, very little air was blowing.  I speculated that it needed some room away from the ceiling to let aerodynamics work properly.

I pulled down the ceiling fan and installed a 24 inch rod on it.  I also decided to install a special switch that would reverse the direction of the fan.  That is a very useful feature in the winter heating season where you want the fan sucking instead of blowing.  Here is the circuit diagram in case you want to add one to your DC fan (I did not draw this, just stole it from a google search).


With everything back together I tested the fan and guess what?  It actually blows and sucks air!  Lesson: make sure you have enough space around your fan….tough in a tiny house, but important.

Stove Trim

The other task I needed the ladder for was the trim around the stove pipe.  This was a very complex piece since the pipe goes thru both the flat and sloped ceiling.  I had my friend Tim make me templates on his CAD system so I could trace them onto cardboard and then metal.

The trim is made in two pieces and are different sizes.  I made cardboard ones first, then when I thought I had it right the cardboard helped me mark the sheet of aluminum.  I use thin gauge aluminum and scribe it with a sharp utility knife.  If you scribe it deep enough, the pieces can be wiggled a bit and will break at the scribed line.  The process was a real pain in the ass let me tell you! If possible install your chimney so standard trim can be used.

Kitchen Trim

I wanted something to break up the walls of the kitchen and make the control panels not look so much like well….control panels.  I decided to use up the leftover paneling from the porch project.

Using a liberal amount of Liquid Nails paneling formula and a few strategically placed finish nails I added about 24 inches of paneling.  I will add some nice black coat hooks and who knows what else.  Might find an old school telephone for the wall as well.

Water Tank

The last thing needed before the plumber comes is the water tank.  I built up the “tee” pipe with all the doo-dads you need.  It starts with a gate valve which lets me block the pipe so I can force water to the other house.  Then a check valve is installed so that the tank can’t push water back into the well.  Next a connection to the tank, pressure gauge, relief valve, and pressure switch is made.  The pressure switch “switches” at 60 PSI which will command my pump controller to shut off.  The relief valve opens if that fails to happen.

After installation I discovered that there was a leak which sucks since this stuff is really packed in there.  The cause was the plastic fitting on the tank.  The instructions to hand tighten and then some are totally bogus.

My solution was to rip out the tank and use a pipe sealant rather than teflon tape.  Then I tightened it pretty darn tight.  After pressurizing it for the second time….there was still a leak!

For the third attempt, I decided to leave everything in the hole and tighten it in place.  Using a mother adjustable wrench I tightened it to the point where I thought it was ready to crack.  After pressurizing the third time, it was still leaking a tiny bit.  I’m going to let it be and see if the pipe sealant stops it up.  There is nothing in the hole that can be damaged, so a little drip is not an issue.  During humid months the tank will sweat which can produce a lot of moisture….so a little drip is acceptable (to me anyway).

Whats Next?

This Thurs the plumber is coming for final plumbing work.  The propane company will be coming by next Thurs to install a 200 pound tank.  This weekend, I will be doing more punch list items, cleanup, and hardwood floor shopping.  If all goes well, I should be installing the flooring by the third week in Sept.  A move in date of Oct 1 looks to be doable.  Stay Tuned!

Plumbing Rough-In Complete

Lots of activity this weekend.  The plumbing rough-in is 100% complete and the electrical is moving along nicely.  Today I will report on the plumbing and my next post will show the electrical work.

Rough Plumbing

Friday I spent the day watching over the plumbers.  I’m glad I spent a bunch of time prepping for the plumbers or it would have turned out much worse.  I ended up losing my built-in medicine cabinet, part of a closet, and one cabinet has a pipe going thru it.

photo 1

photoYup, that hole in the roof is a bit ragged…easy foam will be required!

The closet I expected to lose a bit of space to pipes so I’m not that upset about it.  The Medicine chest was lost because the plumbing code says that there needs to be a “future vent”….I guess the future of that vent will be spent where my medicine cabinet would be.

The pipe thru the other kitchen cabinet didn’t need to be there and will be “relocated”.  I had not counted on needing to vent the laundry box but it needs to be vented or the sink will suck all the water out of the laundry trap and the house will stink.  I’m just going to move it under the cabinet…no big deal…looks like there is room to squeeze it in there.

I did manage to screw up the hole in the roof which needed to be a 3 inch pipe and I only cut the hole for a 2 inch pipe.  Worse still, I installed a 2 inch boot which needed to be cut out and replaced.  The replacement boot is mostly held on with Lexel and a couple nails.  Not the installation I wanted but I doubt it will leak

Plumbing Inspection

There were three things that needed to be done to inspect the plumbing:

1) The stack gets plugged  at the bottom with an air bladder device and filled with water.  I have no water in the house yet so I had to lug a 30 gallon drum filled with pond water to accomplish this task.

2) The water pipes are tied together and pressurized to 120PSI.

3) The gas pipe is plugged on the end and pressurized to 3PSI.

If no joints leak from the stack pipes and the pressures stay constant in the other pipes, then they pass.  The inspector also looks at the pipes and locations to make sure everything that’s required has been installed.  There are some critical heights that need to be adhered to or bad things can happen if a drain plugs up.

The inspector came by this morning and signed off without finding any issues.  I took the time to get advice on the placement of the propane tank and a few other things.  I probably won’t see him again until the final inspection.
photo 1(1)

Hose to pump water into the stack

photo 2(1)

Ajax supervising the water pump as the stack fills

photo 3

Shower controls plumbed with PEX piping

photo 2

Here you can see the vent pipe that was run thru the cabinet space.  I’m going to run it thru where the medicine chest would have been.

Who is John Galt?

I went to visit the building inspector last night and had an epiphany.  Here in MA at least, we are living the novel Atlas Shrugged.  State regulations are stifling innovation and I don’t think they are keeping us safer or protecting the environment any better.  We’re just creating regulations because we have a machine that can manufacture them very quickly.

Building Permit

I have a building permit and can officially begin building my Bodega!  The inspector wants to see my slab before I pour concrete which I think is a pretty reasonable request.

I am shooting to be ready for a pour on the 25th of this month.  Lots of work still to do so I can be ready by then

I ordered 8 yards of bank run gravel for the slab this morning.  Total cost $159 not too bad I would say.  I’ll be renting a plate compactor Saturday afternoon for $85/24 hours.  So the logistics of this weekends work are in place.


The plumbing inspector was in the office last night so I took a few minutes to speak with him to see what I could learn.  Speaking with the him is what has me all riled up today.  Our inspector is a nice guy and was very helpful (he really was).  The state of MA makes the rules he has to live by and he really has no say in the matter.

I want to install two generators in a steel enclosure for AC power.  I want those generators to run from propane or gas.  I learned that in order for the inspector to approve the installation for propane, the item that the propane is connected to must be approved by the state!

Do you really think that a propane conversion kit for a Honda generator has been approved by MA…I doubt it.  Bottom line is that I cannot legally run a Honda EU2000i generator from a 500 gallon propane tank in MA.

It seems to me that this sort of thing actually causes homeowners to be less safe.  In this situation I have 5 choices:

  1. Hook up the generators myself
  2. Run the generators from a 20 pound propane tank
  3. Install a gas grill connector and then connect the generator to that (secretly)
  4. Buy a MA approved generator
  5. Forget using propane for my generator

Option 1 puts me at risk of blowing myself up.  Option 2 would have a propane tank three feet from a hot running generator.  Option 3 is probably the one I will have to use.  Option 4 and 5 are totally out of the question.


So two out of the three viable options have me running my generator in a manner that is less than optimal.  I conclude that these laws don’t make us safer at all….there must be some other reason they exist…maybe I should follow the money.

Bodega Septic System Installation

I arrived to the site Friday afternoon to discover a completed soil absorption system, tank, and distribution box.  It looks like the last thing to be done is filling in all the holes and final grading.

Here’s a flat panorama you can view the interactive active panaroma here:




I’ll have the final finished product pics up when I get them.

Permit Day

In a couple of hours I will be visiting my local building inspector to go over the plans and get a building permit.  This being an “odd” project I thought it best to put together a complete set of plans that show a lot of detail.  The theory is that if I look like I know what I am doing then the inspector won’t ask too many questions.

The plans are based on Jay Shaffers Bodega design, but I have heavily modified them.  His basic design is good but there are some things that IN MY OPINION need to be changed.

My Bodega Changes

The first thing is the square footage which will not meet the MA building codes which is one room of 150 square feet.  I worked around this by opening up the space between the kitchen and living area.  My building inspector was ok with that.  They all measure square footage differently so you need to ask your inspector.  I also had to add a 32 inch back door to meet code (think this is a MA code).

The second major change was to use a ridge beam for the roof.  Based on what I read, Jay’s design does not meet code without adding collar ties to the cathedral ceiling.  This might be a recent code addition I am not sure and neither am I a structural engineer.  Another issue is the lack of space for insulation in a 2×8 cathedral ceiling.  In warm climates its just fine, but here in New England we need at least R38 insulation in ceilings.  Since we also have pretty serious snow loads here it can’t hurt to make the roof stronger either.  My modifications include adding a 3 x 18 inch engineered ridge beam (17′ span) and 2×12’s for the rafters.  EDIT: Since writing this I realized that it is possible to get R38 in a 2×8 space with the use of foam insulation.  I think I rejected this idea due to the high cost of rigid foam compared to blown in cellulose.  The downside of using 2×12’s is that the soffit areas get a little tricky.

The last big change is to switch to 2×6 framing based on energy efficient framing concepts and the addition of 4 inches of exterior foam insulation.  Energy efficient framing puts all the framing members on a 24 inch grid which reduces the amount of material used and thermal bridging.  The 4 inches of foam will place the dew point in the first 3 inches of foam which will eliminate the formation of condensation in the wall cavity.  Read more about this at the Building Science website.  When completed I hope to have an R64 roof with R46 walls.
I expected the septic installer to be on site yesterday but he did not show up.  In retrospect he did say Tues or Wed, so maybe he is there now digging holes.

Drilling The Well

In order to get a building permit I needed to drill a well.  It is possible to dig a shallow well in some MA towns but it is frowned upon due to surface contamination.  I decided to drill my well because I was concerned about quantity of water during the summer months.

I began my quest for a well by contacting Travis at Petersham Pump and picking his brain about off grid pump solutions.  He had lots of luck with the Grunfos SQ series of pumps.

Yet Another Permit

In order to drill a well in MA you need yet another permit….well drilling permit.  So I visited the Board of Health once again with a $50 check and the well drillers number and was given a handwritten piece of paper.

Well Costs

The things that cost money when drilling a well is 1) well casing, and 2) depth.  Everything else is nickels and dimes (mud pit, drive shoe, etc).  The well casing must be long enough so that it can be driven into bedrock so you want bedrock close enough to the surface so that you don’t need much well casing which costs $15-18 per foot depending on the price of steel.  Having bedrock too close to the surface is not a good thing when installing a septic system.  I would say that 30ft to bedrock is a good number.

Prep Work

First we needed to pick a location for the well.  My septic engineer gave me a location for the well which I moved a little bit to get it away from the driveway.  The drillers required a mud pit that was 4ft by 6ft and about 5ft deep.  My Kubota BX25 took about an hour or so to dig the hole.

The technical reason for the pit is that when you drill a well through sandy soil the dirt wants to collapse around the drill bit.  So the driller pumps a slurry of “drilling mud” into the hole.  This drilling mud packs the walls of the hole with small grains of clay and whatever else which keeps them from falling into the drill hole.

Drill Baby Drill!

Drilling day arrived and so did Travis and Chris from Gap Mtn to install my well.  I arrived on site and they had about 30ft of drill rod in the hole.  The neighbor to the rear of me was 30ft to bedrock so I expected the well casing to be installed pretty quickly.  After a couple of hours they were down 50ft without hitting bedrock and my hopes of 30ft to bedrock were dashed.  After several hours of frustrating drilling they finally hit bedrock and installed about 70ft of well casing.

The hole for the well casing gets drilled about two inches bigger than the well casing which is 6 inches.  When they hit bedrock they pull out the drill bit and lower the well casing into the hole.  During this process the drill rig makes a lot more noise than usual.

With the well casing installed they lowered in a smaller drill bit to “shoot for water”.  This drilling went very quickly and I could see the drill rod being driven into the hole.  After a rod or two (40ft) we began seeing signs of groundwater coming up the hole.  After six or so drill rods we had hit about 10GPM of water.

With the drill rig out of the way we checked the static level of the water which was at about 70 feet.  Travis has this pretty neat gadget which shoots sound waves down the well pipe and measures the distance to water by timing how long the sound takes to “bounce” back (an ultrasonic range transducer for you tech minded folks).

After 15 minutes or so out of the fog I could see the water in my well!  It was at about 40ft and rising.  Since my home will be 100% off grid having a high static level is important to keeping my power usage low.  The next morning I checked and the static level ended up at about 8ft from the top of the well pipe.

I installed a pitcher pump with 10ft of pipe on it, primed the pump, and started pumping water from my well.  The cheap imported pitcher pump was able to pull over 5GPM.  Based on my pumping I would guess that I could pump at about 2GMP and the static level would only drop about 18 inches.

The Results

After a couple of days Travis did a pump test and took a water sample (required by MA law) and mailed the results to me.  When all was said and done, I had a 205ft deep well, with a 10ft static level, producing 10GPM, with excellent quality water.  In short I got the perfect well for about $4500.

Septic Systems in MA

I this post I will rant about the Title 5 laws we have in MA which govern private septic systems.  They make it impossible for a new construction to use anything other than a concrete tank which empties into a gravel pit.

In my prototype tiny house, I installed a composting toilet made by natures head. I planned to capture my greywater for use in watering the lawn, plants, etc.  Under MA law composting toilets are 100% ok, but you need to have a system for greywater installed and your lot must be capable of having a traditional septic system installed.  Problem is, the only system allowed (not costing a fortune) is a traditional septic system with a smaller than normal leach field.

How stupid is that?  I’m going to pay all that money for a system that is $500 away from being a full size septic system. It does not make economic sense to use composting toilets in MA.  I’m sure that’s exactly how the “powers that be” want it.

The Survey

I contracted an engineer Liz from Clear Water Environmental out of ME to design my septic system.  Her and her husband came out to my property to do a survey and a perc test.

For the perc test they dug two very deep holes  and took soil samples and also looked for signs of groundwater.  They also dug two shallow holes for the actual percolation test where they fill the hole with water and see how long it takes for the water to drain off.

In my case I have very sandy soil and a perc rate off the charts meaning that the perc hole drained out very quickly.  This can actually be a bad thing since it requires that I have five feet of soil rather than four between the system and groundwater.  Fortunately my water table is low enough so I don’t need to add fill to the site to meet the five foot requirement.


The Plans

About a week after the survey I got a call from Liz telling me I better pay up or else 😉 and that my plans were done.  So I mailed her out a check and got a set of plans and all the state mandated forms filled out for me.

After examination of the plans I realized that I would be buying a 1500 gallon septic tank.  Some back of the napkin math was very revealing.  The average person produces 1 ounce of fecal matter per 12 pounds of body weight.  For me that would be 1.3 pounds per day.  A very rough guesstimate would mean that I produce about one gallon of poop every 5 days.  That means that a 1500 gallon tank would hold 7500 days worth of poop or about 20 years.  I’m 44 so I won’t need to empty it until my 64th birthday.  No overkill here….nope!

The Dreaded Conservation Commission

In MA each town has a group of people that are basically used to enforce wetlands laws and a few other things.  Initially I was dreading my meeting with these folks as many of them are what I would call “Eco Nazi’s”.  Yes there are a group of people in each MA town that think its their job to prevent landowners from making use of the land that they own.

Fortunately the Conservation folks in my town are very nice people and very practical.  They looked over my plans and were especially helpful in getting my project underway.  I’m sure it helped that my project was a good distance away from wetlands and very green compared to other homes in the area.

Quotes and Permits

After receiving plans and having the Board of Health approve them I was able to send out request for quotations.  I sent out four packages and only got back a quote from one company.  I even called the fellow that did the excavation for my perc test to remind him and never got anything back.  Word of advice to contractors: “If you can’t send me a quote in a timely manner, I can’t trust you to do the work in a timely manner”.

Years ago William Proctor did a septic system for my current residence and did a really great job.  He is a bit outside the area for my new Bodega, but I asked him to quote on my new system and a Title V inspection for my current residence.  Bill got me a quote in just a couple of days and gave me a very fair price so I’m using him.