Thanksgiving Weekend 2013 in my new tiny house

Funny-Thanksgiving-image-quoteI like looking at my blog to see what I was up to a year ago. During Thanksgiving break 2012 I was putting on my roof. I’m thankful to be done with all that!  This year Deek Diedrickson and his brother Dustin stopped by to take pictures and videos. I’m sure deek will post some of them over at RelaxShacks.com.

In preparation for Deek’s visit, I spent time cleaning and finishing little details. I added curtains to all the closets that needed them. I like curtains rather than doors as they are more functional in a small space. I also went thru another purging ritual to rid myself of junk that I no longer need. It is truly amazing how much crap we collect over the years.

The Great Purge

During my building project I had a fairly large storage unit filled with stuff that survived many purging rituals. I have been forced to become ruthless when purging my stuff. The stuff I have been purging lately has some value which is why I still have it.

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I had three large tote bins full of tool, and other assorted power tools that were too nice to toss. I made a call to Jim at the tool shed who runs a business selling used tools. He came out to my storage bin and left with a truckload of good tools. I left with a wad of cash.

I also ended up with a pile of stuff that I no longer need but can be sold on Craigslist or ebay. I put up my cell phone booster and a AT&T microcell that I no longer have a use for. The booster is getting good bids…I hope to get enough cash to buy some snow tires.

Honestly, I was still not able to purge all my stuff. A lot of it ended up in my 8×16 barn which *used* to fit my tractor. I will no doubt need to perform several more of my purging rituals in the coming year. At this point I am left with a house containing only the essentials and a barn full of the tools that I will use to complete work on my property.

Farewell Mr Tacoma

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Another purge I made this weekend was to sell off my 2011 Toyota Tacoma. Its been an invaluable vehicle for building my house. With the house built, it’s just a $10,000 vehicle sucking up monthly payments, insurance, and excise tax. I will have to get by with the Spark over the winter. My goals of debt reduction are more important than having a 4×4 for the dozen or so storms where it is needed.

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I went to the Toyota dealer where I bought it and the sales manager was an asshole (and lost my business forever BTW). So I ended up at the Dawoo Superstore in Lunenburg where I bought a vehicle in the past (ratty old Isuzu Hombre…which served me well). The owner treated me right and gave me a very fair price. I was in and out in 30 minutes!

Stay tuned….in my next post I will talk about a cool passive lighting system.

Tiny House Heating Performance

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As you read this blog you will see that an awful lot of thought, money and time was spent on insulation. I wanted the tiny house heating to be done with a wood stove running just a few hours each day. There is nothing worse than waking up at 3AM to add wood to the stove, or worse get the stove going from scratch.

Primary Heating System

My primary source of heat is a Jotul 602 wood burning stove and chimney made from class A chimney pipe. The Jotul 602 is a proven design that has been around forever. There are about three or four different version of it in circulation.

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Current Model

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602B

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Original Model 602

The most recent version is the 602CB “clean burn” which meets current EPA standards. I have the 602C version which is an older model because I’m too cheap to spend $1400 on a new stove.

I found my stove on Craigslist for $200. For that price point you can’t expect a perfect stove. Mine had a cracked back plate and some rust. The rust is easily taken care of with a wire brush and stove polish. The back plate needed to be replaced. Having burned this stove for a month now, I think I could have gotten away with the cracked back plate had I just applied some stove cement.  The stove is very controllable and a couple small cracks would not have caused me any problems due to the additional combustion air.

In any event, I replaced the back plate which I ordered from the web site Woodmans Parts Plus. It was about $150 shipped. Installation was a bitch since some of the fasteners broke off due to age and heat stress. I ended up drilling and taping a number of 5mm holes in the top plate to get everything back together.

Firewood

When I cleared the land for the Bodega build there were a number of small trees that needed to be removed. Most of them were in the 2-8 inch size range as this lot was cleared by a previous owner many years ago. Many wood burners will discard small trees and branches and focus on larger logs that can be split.

This practice strikes me as wasteful so I have decided to use all wood down to about an inch in diameter. To cut this small wood I use a chop saw rather than a chainsaw. I leave the small wood in the longest lengths possible and feed it thru the table on the chop saw. A small tree that is 20ft long can be cut up in just a few minutes using this method. For larger logs I use an electric log splitter and cut them into splits that are about 4 inches in size. The combination of small splits and small rounds works nicely in the Jotul 602.

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This person has the right idea…

 

To get my fire going I use construction scraps or pallet cut into small chunks. The chop saw with a carbide blade cuts this wood nicely. An occasional nail is handled by the carbide blade without any damage…I do attempt to avoid nails when possible. Since I need this wood to be dry it gets stored in 30 gallon HDPE drums that have rain tight covers.

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Another source of firewood similar to the product used in pellet stoves are called Bio Bricks. Other companies produce them in various sizes with different names too. I bought a pallet of them last season for burning in the XS house. They come shrink wrapped in small packages that are easily transported into the house. The stack nicely and are clean so I have a pile of them on my front porch. On weekends, I will toss in a brick here and there to maintain the fire during the day. Bio Bricks can burn very hot so be careful. If you have a stove with a leaky door, you can over fire quickly.

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Running the stove

Each night I go out to the wood pile and gather a five gallon pail full of wood. I pick out 2-3 small splits, some small rounds, and a few pieces of pallet wood. This will be all the wood I use for the nights burn.

The stove first gets filled with old newspapers. Then I take a small hatchet and split the pallet wood into small pieces. The small pieces are placed on top of the newspaper. The newspaper gets lit and the door is closed with the vent open fully. After a few minutes the pallet wood catched fire. After it gets going, I drop on a couple large pieces of pallet wood and a small round or two.

In about 10 minutes the stove will begin to heat up. Once the stove warms up a bit, I drop on more small rounds and a small split that will warm the stove up to operating temperature. If its cold, I leave the vent wide open to get things going quickly then I close the front vent to about 40%.

When the stove is up to temperature, I usually add another small split and close the vent to maybe 5%. If you close it too much the fire will smother and go out barely consuming the wood. After the first load of wood is about 75% consumed I load up what ever is left in the bucket of wood. That final burn will last until about 1AM and the stove will be fairly cool by 3AM.

House Temperatures

We recently had some very cold weather and I was able to get a good sense how well my insulation performs. Using my typical burn described above, the house temps went from about 50 degrees and topped out between 75 and 80. The loft ends up being hotter than the first floor, so I often will crack the window up there. By 7AM the next morning the house is still above 60 degrees which is good enough for me.

This result was obtained with a 16 degree outside air temperature with very strong winds. With outside temps of 15-35 degrees, I make no attempt to load the stove up for an overnight burn. I end up with a strong burn going from about 6PM to 11PM and winding down by 1AM. In the dead of winter on especially cold nights I expect that I will load the stove up at 10-11PM for an overnight burn. I see no reason why I can’t maintain 68-72 degrees by morning even in the coldest outside temperatures.

November Update (I’m Done)

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I have been slow at updating this blog since I have been busy getting settled into the new house. I will post a bunch of updates to get you caught up.

Occupancy Permit

In order to start moving in, you need something called an occupancy permit. It just means that all the required inspections have passed. In my town they give you a piece of paper that gets signed off as you build. Once all the lines are signed off it magically turns itself into your occupancy permit.

In the last week of my build I had a total of 5 inspections that needed to be done:

  • Fuel storage inspection for my propane tank
  • Smoke detector
  • Driveway inspection
  • Plumbing inspection
  • Final building inspection

The first three inspections are all handled by the same person in my town as he runs both the highway and fire departments. The plumbing inspector is a regional guy that handles several towns. The building inspector is a local guy and I have dealt with him throughout the build.  The smoke and fuel permits cost me yet another $50 for the permit fee. There were no issues found and I was able to begin moving in on the 28th of September.

My goal was to begin moving by Oct 1 so I’ve met that. I did have a couple issues to take care of on my move in day. My well pump controller, batteries, and PV panels were still connected to the XS house. If I wanted real power or water they all needed to be moved. I left this to the last minute on purpose.

Batteries

Prior to moving day I had been running the Bodega from a spare marine battery that was in pretty bad shape. After removing the batteries from my XS house, I realized that they were probably not it the greatest shape either.

They are a bit difficult to get at in the XS house battery compartment, and the fill caps are obscured by my garden hose size battery cables. I discovered that the water levels had fallen to the point where both batteries required nearly half a gallon of distilled water. After filling, I left each battery on a charger to top them off independently (as in not connected in a bank). Having used them for six weeks, I can say that their time on this planet has come to an end.  At one time they were 100 amp hours each, now i’d guess that they are about 20 each. I’m muddling along with them for the time being since I need to spend my money elsewhere.

Well Controller

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My well pump is powered by an 8 gauge 3 conductor black jacketed cable. My installation in the XS house consisted of burying it in the driveway and on the surface thru the woods to the house. For a temporary installation, this worked out fine. Now I want a permanent installation and needed to trench from the driveway to the house. Where the cable is close to the house and a bit shallow, I laid down some 1.25 inch PVC conduit. In the trench I made a point to remove all rocks and put sand around the cable to help prevent damage over time.

The control box was removed from the electrical cabinet of the XS house and mounted in my auxiliary panel along with the charge controller and other stuff. There are seven connections needed to make the controller go (+12V in, DC -, Pump Out +, Pump Out -, Ground, Pressure Switch A, Pressure Switch B). The large wires and small box make this a bit of a challenge, but a little patience and some cursing it all fits in there.  Here’s how it gets wired if you are interested:

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PV Panels

I needed to connect my existing rack of PV panels to the Bodega but I don’t have the cash to put in the cabling that I want to use. In fact, I need a couple more panels to complete my system. My challenge is that I’m in a wooded area and my panels are located about 175 feet from the house on the sunny edge of a small wetlands.

Many people will tell you that long low voltage runs can’t be done and you’re better off inverting to AC and other nonsense. Its just ohms law, you need to calculate the voltage drop and run the proper size cable for the charge current you will be working with. Direct bury aluminum cables are readily available and while not free…they are not that expensive either. I will be using some scrap wire over the winter and then scrounge up some some super sized aluminum cabling in the spring.

The XS house used pair of 12V low voltage lighting cables for power which worked but were rather inefficient. My goal was to beef up the run to the panels using spare wire I had from the well pump installation. I also was able to recycle a 50ft length of 8 awg cable from the XS house. The well pump cable was a three conductor cable, so I connected the black and green wire together to reduce the resistance of one leg…every little bit helps. I had several splices to be made along the length of cable which I liberally covered in spray on electrical tape and then with regular electrical tape. These splices only need to survive the winter so I’m not too worried. The voltage on the cable is only 14 volts so there is little risk of electrocution. If the joints did become waterlogged, the copper joints would corrode…but would take a long time.

At peak sunlight I am getting well over 6 amps from my 140 watt PV array which is much better than the old run of cable. I did the math and at 13.8 volts I was getting about 6.5 amps that’s 90 watts of power from a 140 watt fixed array. Depending on conditions, It seems like I’m harvesting about 14-16 amp hours per day. With a better run of cable and the addition of a panel or two I should be able to harvest close to 30 amp hours per day. My window of sun is somewhat limited so I will need a setup that is a bit heavy on PV panels.

Getting Close Now…

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This past weekend was the last chance for me to do cleanup work before I install the flooring. I wanted to get done anything that would create lots of dust or drip on my new hardwood.

I first went around with a putty knife and patched all the wall dings. Once sanded, I went over the entire house with a small roller and spot painted anything that needed it.

Bathroom

A towel bar, paper holder, and mirror was installed in the bathroom. I also added a shelf to the medicine cabinet along with a door.  I used some interesting fasteners to attach my items since there were no studs in the walls where they needed to go.

The first one is a plastic screw in fastener. you poke a little hole in the spot where you want to install them and then “drill” the fastener thru the wall with your screw gun. I like to screw it in half way then put a couple drops of gorilla glue on the threads and then finish screwing it in. Be careful not to overdrive it or you end up with a real big hole and and the fastener won’t hold much of anything.

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The other drywall fastener is new to me and is pretty kick ass. Its a plastic version of a toggle fastener. You start by drilling a fairly large hole and squeezing the fastener “wings” to insert it. The screw expands the wings to provide a super strong attachment point. You are not pulling out one of these things without taking a bunch of sheetrock too.  I used these on my towel bar.

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Electrical

Another task was to complete the wiring in my control box. I installed the Xantrex LinkLite system monitor so I can see how much power I am harvesting or using. I pre-wired the pump controller so it can be installed quickly when I decide to do it.

There are also several circuits and switches for the DSL modem and LED projector. It’s very important when off grid to be able to shut things off. The switches on the control panel let me shut off things that would not normally have an on/off switch like the pump.

Kitchen

The cabinets were outfitted with two shelves each. I used pine panels from Lowes that are manufactured from small scraps of pine finger joined together. The edges are from a single piece of wood but the middle is a patchwork of small pine pieces.

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I used 12×36 and 12×48 panels to construct the shelves for the cabinets. The shelves were installed with shelf pins to allow for future adjustment. You simply drill a 1/4 inch hole at the level you want the shelf to be and the pins get stuck in the holes. The shelves rest on the pins and force them to stay snug in their holes.

shelfpin

 

Driveway

Yet another stupid expense mandated by the town was to have an apron installed at the end of my driveway. The theory was that the road pavement would break if I were to drive on it every day. Well after a year of driving on it with cement trucks, dump trucks, well rigs, and anything else you can imagine it has not been damaged at all.  Still I was forced to spend $350 to put down a strip of dead dinosaur brew on the end of my driveway.

Whats next?

I picked up 14 boxes of oak flooring and have it on site to acclimate to the house. This weekend it will be nailed down.

On Thursday the gas company will deliver my 200 pound propane tank (smallest they had). Once installed, the plumbing inspector will stop by to give me some grief and sign off on the plumbing. All that’s left is the final cleaning and final inspection.

Final Odds n Ends

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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).

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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!

Progress Report

Lots going on, been focusing on getting work done rather than blogging about it.  Here’s some pics of my progress in the last 2 weeks.

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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Siding…getting close to done

Excellent weekend for working on the bodega.  The weather was sunny and warm, the birds were singing, the bugs were bugging.  I started the weekend with a pretty big pile of siding and ended it with a much smaller pile.  Like everything else on this project, I expected to get more done then I was able to do.

As of this writing I have three sides complete and then some.  The section over the porch will have many  odd cuts with the octagon window.  The upper sides over the porch have some steep angle cuts.

Tips and Observations

When you cut a notch out of the siding for a door or window the siding will bow more than normal in the “weakened area.  Just be sure to measure the overhang at the notch or you might get 1/16” out of whack.

I paid very close attention to the siding on each side of a window or door to make sure the gap would be even at the top.

If your door or window is a bit crooked you can adjust the overlap by 1/16 – 1/8 inch over several rows to compensate.  It is impossible for anyone other than my dog Ajax to notice these “corrections” so don’t worry.

When you get to a section where all the pieces are the same for a couple of rows it speeds things up to cut them in a single batch.  Doing the same thing over and over makes you work a bit faster.

This Week

I have a limited window of time each night to do things after work.  I really want to finish the siding above my porch, but setting up really eats up a lot of time.  The bugs are especially bad at dusk making it tough to work.

My dumpster arrived on Friday and I only have it for 10 days so I think most after work activities will revolve around filling it.  It’s also a good task to avoid the bugs since you are walking a lot.

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Porch

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Back Door

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Wish I had another 4 hours to finish above the porch…working sucks sometimes!  That pile of foam will be gone this week, Woohoo!

Mini Update

I have not posted a building update for a while because I have mostly been cleaning up odds and ends that are not that exciting.  I do have my electrical 95% complete at this point.  This weekend I will be installing trim and getting ready for siding.  I will post pics and a video tour early next week.

blizzard of 2013 Update

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The blizzard of 2013 has come and gone.  Even though we have not had much snow, I’m sick of shoveling and want spring to get started.  During and after the blizzard I managed to get started on the Bodega’s screened porch.

Roof Pitch Issues

The original Bodega plans called for the place to be 24 inches taller than it is.  This would have extended the headroom in the loft.  It also would have made the cathedral ceiling over 17ft tall, with all my insulation on the roof it would have topped out at over 20ft.

Deleting the 24 inches from the design makes the addition of the porch roof challenging since you need enough pitch to allow shingles to work.  The minimum pitch of 2:12 is needed to use shingles at all, and most roofing contractors won’t install shingle on anything less than a 4:12 pitch roof.

With strategic ceiling height selection I have been able to design a roof that will get me just a bit steeper than a 3:12 pitch.  To make sure water goes where it should, I will be using Grace Ice and Water, 2 layers of synthetic underlayment, and solid starter strips on all three edges.  I think it will work just fine.

Walls

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My pics this week show the three porch walls.  I will be using siding on the lower 3 feet and custom screens for the windows.  The window and door locations are where they are because I thought it looked nice and no other reason.  I could have made the front windows equal size but wanted large screens on the corners.

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Theres nothing really special about the construction.  The wall sections were framed on the ground, lifted into position, and nailed down to the deck frame.  I used headlok fasteners to attach the side walls to the house framing.

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Whats Next?

This weekend I will be adding a roof and hopefully putting shingles on it too.  If I get that done, I’m going to frame one of the bathroom walls which also happens to be the kitchen wall.  The kitchen wall has my built-in cabinets, so there is a bit of interesting detail there…talk about it in my next post.