Plumbing

I shouldn’t have waited so long to write about the plumbing.  We did the majority of the work back in November and it’s not fresh in my mind.  I will do my best to recall the steps.

The first step was convincing dad that PEX was the way to go.  PEX was not commonly used when he was in the building business so this was a learning experience for both of us.  I had originally planned on going with a “home-run” layout, using manifolds for the hot and the cold but, as I started laying the foam in the floor, I realized how hard it was going to be to cover the pipes and, as a home-run layout has many more individual pipes, it would be very time consuming.  Plus, I didn’t really have the space in the interior walls to house the manifolds.  Dad was against the home-run setup from the start so he was very happy I came around to the traditional trunk-and-branch layout.  FineHomeBuilding.com has a simple explanation of each system here.  The benefit of using the trunk-and-branch is that only the main lines are run through the floor joists with short lines off them to each fixture.  With such a small house, I really don’t see any downsides to this method.  The reason we chose to run the pipes through the floor was because we had a deeper space to insulate there, 6″ as opposed to 4″.  We did shim the shower and toilet wall out to accommodate the insulation and the pipes.  We also shimmed out the interior closet walls to make room for where the sink PEX lines overlapped the PVC drain.

Thankfully, while I was still in the design phase, dad clued me in to how much simpler and cheaper it’d be if I kept all the plumbing on one end of the house (i.e. bathroom, kitchen, and water heater as close as possible).  With my bathroom sink being about 4′ of pipe away from the water heater, I have instant hot water.  Ironically, I never use hot water in that sink.  Some people seem to be sketched out at the idea of having a bathroom so close to the kitchen…  I don’t see what the problem is if you have a door between the two.  Then again, I live alone…

We borrowed a cinch-ring crimper tool and a tubing cutter from my dad’s friend.  The connections are very easy to make, it just takes a little muscle.  After seeing how fast everything connected, dad was a believer.

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We put together a gauge to check for leaks with a PEX fitting on one end and a ball valve and compressor nipple on the other end.  We capped the ends of the pipes, connected the gauge, hooked up the air compressor, filled the pipes to 100 PSI, and shut the valve.  I nervously kept checking the gauge.  Overnight it dropped about 15 pounds so I filled a spray bottle with soapy water and methodically sprayed every fitting.  I remember thinking “this doesn’t work, it’s not high-tech enough,” as I had sprayed all the fittings and didn’t see any bubbles.  I called dad up and explained the situation and he asked if I had sprayed the gauge.  I had not.  Dad was the brains behind the gauge but the problem was he left me to put it together.  Sure enough, I sprayed one of the seals on the gauge and bubbles galore (that sounds like a Bond girl).  We swapped out the fitting and the pressure held!

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Don’t worry, we used a braided stainless steel connector for the hot water.

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Washing machine lines.

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Main trunks and lines for bathroom.

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Kitchen sink lines.

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Kitchen sink vent.

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Vent pipe through ceiling.

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Washing machine vent and drain.

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Washer hook-up box.

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Sink support and drain.

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I hired a plumber to make sure we were up to code and he connected the rough plumbing PVC drain and vent pipes.  The shower P-trap hangs below the foam in the floor and I wrapped that with fiberglass insulation.  If I had to do it all over again, I would probably build the floor up or at least put the shower on a riser so I could keep the plumbing within the floor and insulate around it better.  The sewer drain pipe is suspended from the trailer frame at a 3/10 pitch and connected to mom and dad’s new septic tank by a pipe that comes up through one of the boxes we built into the slab.  The drain pipe was a major source of stress for me when we were moving the house onto the slab.  There was barely any clearance and I would definitely have to modify this if I planned on moving often.  The main water pipe comes up through another box in the slab at the opposite end.  This pipe runs underground into my parent’s basement and connects to their pump.

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Scary moment during the move.

When the sheetrock was up and we were ready to put in the shut-off valves on all of the fixtures, a lot of time had passed and we had returned the PEX tools.  I ended up borrowing a crimper from my niece’s mom, Carri (the noted out-law whom I still call sister).  It had belonged to her stepdad, Tony, who passed away.  I feel fairly confident in saying Tony would’ve loved the tiny-house movement and would’ve been my go-to guy for all things plumbing.  He was dedicated to his trade and I am honored to have been able to use his tools and have him on the job, in spirit anyway.

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Tony’s tool. The PEX tube extension was his invention for better leverage.

My water heater’s capacity is 30 gallons, which is more than enough for me.  My showers average around 5 minutes, I use the “ecowash” setting on my washer, and I hand wash my dishes as I dirty them.  I’ve never understood why anyone would waste precious space in a tiny house with a dishwasher.  Even if I washed every dish I own at the same time, I still wouldn’t have half a load.  I guess it would make sense if you were washing baby bottles or had a large family…

I thought maybe plumbing would be my forte, and I do like designing the layout of the pipes, but I can’t handle the anxiety of possible leaks.

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Countertop and Bathroom Door

I sent the subcountertop up North to my brother’s shop where he had a sheet of stainless steel earmarked for me.  The steel was surplus from a plow fabricator.  Mike cut out the shape and sink hole, and had a local metal shop bend the backsplash up, and then he welded ALL of the sides.  It looks like one continuous sheet of metal, you cannot tell that the sides were once separate pieces of metal.  He did an AMAZING job!  I am told that welding stainless is a tricky process (something to do with the heat), which makes it even more impressive.  When we got the countertop back home and put it in place, there were a couple spots that had warped away from the subcounter and flexed when you pushed on them, making that metal-bendy noise (that is so a technical term).  Dad cut off the corner braces and angles that Mike had welded to hold the stainless to the wooden subcounter and we spent a couple hours sanding the grinding marks and scratches out.

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Thanks for the pics and video, Jess!

Mike sent a scrap of the stainless down for me to test different glues and see which had the best holding power.  I spread contact cement on one half and Loctite Ultimate Power Grab on the other and clamped a scrap board to each side and let them cure for 48 hours.  Both boards were solidly cemented when the clamps came off.  I decided to go with the Loctite because it was easier to apply and wasn’t as smelly as the contact cement.  Dad and I screwed down the subcounter, spread the Loctite evenly over it, and set the stainless top in place, clamping the edges and spreading out the pressure as best we could to get as much uniform adhesion as possible.  The next day we took the clamps off and it was rock solid and level.

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Next we tackled the sink.  I had searched the internet, trying to find the biggest sink that would fit in a 24″ base cabinet and this particular sink said it would and it did; however, there was no room for the clips that hold it in place.  Again we turned to our old frenemy, silicone, and applied a generous amount to the underside of the sink rim and clamped it in place.  We installed the faucet and hooked up the drain with no leaks.  The next day I took the clamps off the sink and it was fully adhered with no flex.  I spent the rest of the afternoon hand sanding the countertop.  I started with 150 grit and worked my way up to 800.  Sanding metal is very messy but very rewarding.

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I made a butcher block dropleaf using sixteen 1×2 pine boards on their edges, gluing their faces together.  Dad drilled 2 holes through the width of the piece and I glued 3/4″ dowels through the holes, leaving a quarter of an inch of the dowel poking out on both sides.  I drilled corresponding 1/4″ deep holes into 1x2s I had saved for face pieces on the front and back and then glued those pieces as caps.  I’m not very patient when it comes to gluing and clamping but I dutifully let each stage set up for 24 hours.  I had originally planned to run the leaf through the planer to get a uniform thickness but it ended up being about an inch too wide to fit through the planer so I had to block plane it by hand.  Hand planing is one of my favorite things to do, so I didn’t really mind.  I was limited to 2 bar clamps and 2 wood clamps when I was gluing the pieces together and had to make it in two sections of 8 pieces (plus the 2 face pieces) and, when I glued the 2 sections together, I ended up with a pretty big cup to the leaf.  I started out with a thickness of 1-1/2″ and by the time I was done planing, it was down to 1-1/4.”  I sanded it, softening the side edges and making a full bullnose edge on the front.  Mom mixed up the perfect shade of stain and I stained it and she added 3 coats of water-based poly to it.  I mounted the dropleaf to the edge of the counter with a piano hinge.  I had found sliding table leaf supports at Rockler and screwed them into the underside of the counter, cutting out a hole through the back of the fridge cabinet for one of them to slide through, and used these to support the leaf but it doesn’t feel very sturdy.  I plan to make hinged brackets to replace these.

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Side note:  A few weeks after we finished the counter, dad had one of his friends try pulling the boards off our test piece of metal, to show how strong the glue was, and the Loctite side popped right off.  This is kind of scary but dad had left it out in the rain and changes in temperature, and that was almost 2 months ago and my countertop is still holding strong.

I had stupidly ordered my bathroom door as though it were fitting within the door frame, not thinking it would need to overlap anywhere when I mounted it to the sliding door hardware.  I ended up adding an inch to the top and adding 3/4″ strips on the sides to add privacy.  I also hadn’t considered how far down the mounting bolts would be and ordered a hollow-core door.  Dad fixed this by cutting tubing the thickness of the door and we drilled holes in the door the size of the tubes, inserted the tubes, and ran the bolts through them with big washers on the back side.  This worked perfectly!  Dad also cut down the door hangers to end where the middle panel starts on my door.  I mounted the track above the door and installed the floor guide.  I found a neat door handle in the cabinet pull section of Home Depot.  I still need to pick up a pull for the bathroom side of the door.   This was the cheapest barn door kit I could find and I was pleasantly surprised with how smoothly it slides.  I mounted a cheap full-length mirror to the back, using Command strip velcro picture hangers.  I love everything Command strip!  When these first came out I was very wary of using them but I had my hair dryer hanging on a Command hook for years and years and it left absolutely no mark when I took it down.  They’re magic!

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It’s Electric!

I have done some wiring in my vehicles and can follow a wiring diagram but I hired an electrician because I am terrified of getting zapped and I didn’t want to wire something wrong that might mess up my computer someday.  My electrician, Everett, used to work with my dad and grandfather when they built houses back in the day and is good friends with our cousin, Wayne, who stepped in one day to help run the wire.  He ended up using way more wire than ever anticipated because, instead of running the wire through the walls, he brought the wire up through the floor to the outlet and then back down so the majority of the wire is run through the floor joists.  I believe this was because most of the outlets and appliances are on their own breaker.  I’m not even going to pretend I know anything about this.  Everett said you might think it’d be easier to wire a tiny house but, since my house has all the same electrical connections of a normal-sized house it took about as long.

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Safety Supervisor making sure Everett wasn’t going anywhere.

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Everett, Dad, and Wayne on a not-so-fun day.

I have a 100 amp electrical panel.  The main wire comes up under the trailer through one of the boxes in the cement pad.  This wire runs underground and is connected to a service disconnect box on a post about 15 feet from my house and, from there, runs underground and through dad’s shop to its own meter.  I have an outside outlet on the front of my house and 3 more under the trailer, one of which is for the heat tape I will be wrapping around my water pipe this winter.  We had originally hooked the main power in on dad’s shop service but every time he used his welder my lights flickered.

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Electrical panel, schlemetrical panel

I did get brave enough to wire my lights and that was kind of fun.

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I had coax cable running underground from the “big” house to underneath my trailer and had mistakenly thought I could hook up a new modem to this and share the internet.  I was wrong.  Apparently this is possible but you have to register your modem with your cable provider and pay like it was a new service.  After I scratched that idea I looked into MoCA (multimedia over coax), range extenders, access points, etc.  Because I will be working from home, I need a reliable internet connection and all of these options were iffy and too expensive to try.  I decided to go with a wired connection and then spent days researching fiber optic, cat5, cat5e, cat6, and so on.  Cat5e was the cheapest option that met my needs.

Because of some sick gremlin that lives inside of me, I decided to wait until the temps were in the 80s and mom had laid grass seed before digging a new trench to lay the cable.  The details are kind of hazy (repressed memory, perhaps?) but, in short, I couldn’t pull the cable up through the pipe the coax ran through and, in the process, I ended up pulling the coax out of the pipe and couldn’t get it back through.  I had to extend the trench below the cement pad while dad used a hammer drill to make a new hole to pull both cables up through the pad.  Then I had to cut out a chunk of sheetrock around the old coax outlet in my house and make a bigger trough in the foam insulation to pull the Ethernet cable up through the wall with the coax.  I bought a stripper/crimper tool and tester and connected the Ethernet cable to the wall jack.  Lo and behold it worked!  I can’t even begin to tell you how relieved I was.

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Where’d that backhoe go?!

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On a side note… after filling the trench back in, mom sprinkled grass seed and, because it was freshly “tilled,” we had a lush strip of grass between the houses well before the rest of the lawn filled in.  You’re welcome, mom.

Orange is the New Black?

I probably spend more time at Home Depot than I do with my family and friends.  While I believe in supporting your local lumber yard, I have to say I’m a little intimidated shopping there.  What I like about “big box stores” is that I can browse and compare products, buy as little or as much as I need, and can shop and compare prices online.  Lowe’s is fine but the closest store is 30 miles away.  You all know how I feel about Menard’s… (picture the movie Clifford and his obsession with Dinosaur World) but the closest store is 800 miles away!  The HD is 11 miles from home, much more doable.

Home Depot also offers many perks that I was unaware of before I started my build.

  • Volume Pricing Discount:  Don’t be afraid of the Pro Desk, it’s not just for contractors.  If you know you will be purchasing more than $2,500, take your material list to the Pro Desk and ask for a bid and they will give you a quote of how much you’ll save (usually at least 10%).  It may take a while to get the quote, which is fine if you prepare your list ahead of time.  I’ve had them call me back within a day, yet, they’ve also prepared the quote while I shopped around.  I’m not sure what dictates the wait time.  This service is a great benefit if you group different phases of your build purchases together.  One big drawback is that you can’t get a bid for online-only items.  There are exclusions to what can be discounted but usually anything in stock is included.
  • Pro Xtra Loyalty Program:  I’ve had mixed success with the Pro Xtra program.  In theory, it should be a great tool for contractors, though you don’t need to be one to join.  It boasts you can manage and track your purchases, and receive volume discounts on $1000 purchases, bulk pricing, and coupons.  The coupons are great and I use those frequently (usually something like $10 off $75).  I haven’t had luck with being able to manage my purchases.  When I first started placing orders, I’d tell them I had a Pro Xtra account.  This didn’t seem to mean anything to anyone, so my purchases never were linked to an account where I could view my history.  Eventually I stopped mentioning it.  All in all, I do suggest signing up for this, if only for the coupons.  You will also get notifications of times when they will be offering the volume pricing discount for purchase totals as low as $1000.
  • Price Matching:  Like many stores, they will match competitor’s prices and beat it by 10%.  Of course, there are limitations and exclusions but this is pretty honorable and I find they do their best to keep their prices comparable to or lower than the other chain stores.
  • Special Buy of the Day:  This is a limited time offer that changes daily.  You can sign up to receive emails notifying you of the daily sale.  These discounts can be significant, i.e. 70% off; however, they are only good till midnight or while supplies last and they may not be something you need at that time.  Yet, sometimes the fates align and the offer is for flooring that you had your eye on.  You never know…
  • Project Loans:  This is pretty much a limited time store credit card to use while working on a project.  The card is good for 6 months and you are not charged interest during that time.  The APR is fixed and super low, 7.99% as of writing this and you have 84 months to pay off your loan, though you can pay it off at anytime.
  • Veteran/Military Discount:  You receive a 10% discount if you show them your military ID.

There are also drawbacks to shopping at Home Depot, as there are with any chain store.  My first large order had a few mistakes but I wrote a letter to the manager, explaining my situation and all the errors, and he was quick to contact me and make up for the inconvenience and discrepancies in costs.  In fact, I think my letter was well circulated throughout the store and I felt like all eyes were on me when I went in after that, though, that might have just been my paranoia.  I was very nervous but everyone was super nice and went above and beyond making sure I didn’t have anymore trouble.