Renovation video #1. The kitchen. Slow going…

See video here:

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1419242641499618&id=100002416879566

I am obsessive compulsive regarding my kitchen and my bathroom.  Isn’t everyone? These are the two spaces where I get most intimate with my living space, like most people do.  These are the two spaces in my mind, where there is the greatest opportunity for encountering germs and potential illness–if these two spaces are not as sanitary as possible, I feel vulnerable.

My renovation plan is to go room by room–fully completing one room before starting the next. Start in the kitchen: completely renovate it to my expectations. Move into the living room. So on and so forth.

Well, I started with the kitchen three weeks ago and I am still in the kitchen.  This kitchen was filthy with brown, nicotened walls, a yellowish-orange ceiling, and the original linoleum stained with decades of yuck and unidentifiable stuff hiding under the floor cabinets. As this is the place where I will nurish my body, the herendous state of this kitchen cannot be overstated. I must comb over every inch of this kitchen–ceiling, walls, cabinets, floor, every nook and cranny–cleaning, painting, installing fresh components, and making anew every surface that is a probable germ factory just waiting to destroy me.

What can I say?  This old kitchen is just gross–it is taking longer than I expected to make it new again.  I hope the living room is easier.  I need a break.

I hope this video is at least helpful and not too boring.  Happy remodeling, all. 🙂

tiny house dreams…tiny camper dreams…

On May 11, 2017, I turned 50 years old.  At my age, half a century, I can state that I have never owned my own home.  😦  This is the thing in my life that keeps me from fully being happy.

Renting apartments, half doubles, and houses has become the thing I loathe most in this world–well it is one thing that I loathe, truly.  I am not a person who allows room for hate in my heart, not really.  With age, I have learned to live in peace and to not hold grudges.  However, I really do hate renting a home.

Having said that, I would like to elaborate upon “the life of one who rents a home perpetually”.  I believe there are places in this world where renting is the norm and there are wonderful places available for rent that allow individuals to fully enjoy their lives.  I am sorry to say that where I have spent the majority of my adult life, renting a home absolutely inhibits fully enjoying life, unless, I suppose, a person is wealthy and renting.  I suppose the more a person can afford to spend upon a rental home, the more amenities and freedoms accompany a rental home.  I guess.  I don’t know for sure.  I am not wealthy.

If you’re an average Joe or Josephina, like me, and you are residing in the midwest, surviving on middle class wages, renting a home is fraught with pitfalls and stifles the essence of life.  While renting, I always have a landlord figuratively looking over my shoulder, dictating my personal space, dictating who may come in and out of my home and my life, dictating the color of my decor–the ambiance of my personal space, dictating whether or not I may have a furry companion, dictating whether or not I can plant a tree, a bush, or flowers for that matter.  Renting is a gamble, regardless how low or how high the rent is, you can never know how concientious a landlord will be until you have signed that contract and are living under the mercy of the owner of the property, who may or may not care if there is water leaking in from above, who may or may not care if there is black mold growing in the basement, who may or may not care if your plumbing works properly.  If you get a cheap, unethical landlord, getting things repaired can be a struggle until you give up and move out–and then you hope and pray to see again the hundreds or thousands of dollars you paid up front.

As a home owner–the onus is on me to manage my immediate living environment.  As a home owner, I dictate how nice my space is–I decide what colors make me comfortable.  I make nearly all the decisions about my personal space.  Having said all this, I am happy to announce that finally, I have purchased my own home.  I was hoping to get my camper remodeled within a 10 month period, so that I could move into it and use it as a transitional tiny home until I build my tiny home.  However, the renovation proved to take much longer than I anticipated.  And so I had to develop a better plan to get me out of the rental cunundrum.

Building a tiny home costs a minimum of $25,000 and at age 50 I just do not have the savings or the means to build my own home or buy a modest bungalow.  I just cannot stand living in a rental situation any longer and cannot stand having a huge portion of my immediate personal space dictated by another party.  I took the plunge.  I decided to start looking at mobile homes and as it turns out, where I live, near Dayton, Ohio, there are quite a few nice parks for those 55 and older.  I guess I am close enough at age 50 because a nice park manager let me into this lovely mobile home park and sold me a 1974 New Moon mobile home for just $5,000.  Wow.  Of course, at this price it needs a major remodel; and so my next journey begins.

I will be chronicling my process here.  I calculate that this remodel should not cost more than $5,000 and so for $10,000 or less, I will have a “new again” 1974 New Moon 550 square feet mobile home of my own in a lovely small town near a bike path, a lovely river, and an arboreetum for the modest cost of $345 per month plus utilities.  It is not the tiny house I have dreamed of…but I am now my own boss, a home owner, and I no longer have to be tortured by a landlord.  Besides, my main motivation for dreaming of living in a tiny home has always been cost savings and financial security–in other words, I wanted to reduce my living expenses as much as possible.  Done.

All I ever wanted was a place to call my own and now I have it.  I am happy.  Now, it is time once again to roll up my sleeves and get to work with my tools.  As I discover the anatomy of a mobile home and figure out how to polish her up, I hope my process is helpful to others.  Tiny on!

Oh, I almost forgot…Daisy Do little, my camper–there is a place for her here as well.  She is going on the back burner until I get “Agnes Do little” up to speed.  As I see it, this mobile home needs:

All ceilings and walls painted and trimmed

New kitchen floor, some new kitchen cabinets, new gas stove, new kitchen countertop, new kitchen backsplash

New carpet throughout living room, both bedrooms, and the hallway

New light fixtures, a couple built-in shelves and a built-in desk

Power wash on the exterior and new exterior paint plus trim

A new deck and a handrail on the front steps

Some landscaping and more rocks to accentuate the beautiful rock garden out front

Here is Agnes, my modest fixer upper. That front door is to die for… I am in love with her.  🙂

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Travel trailer renovation: tips on wheel and tire care and some other odds and ends…

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This Wilderness travel trailer that I am nearly completely renovating is, in fact, 40 years old+++. What unsightly wheels she had when I took ownership of her! And, her tires were dry-rotted/deeply cracked all over—pretty standard predicament on such an old trailer.

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One of the first things I discovered about my camper is that the wheels are peculiar. In other words, they don’t make them like that any more. My wheels do not have anything like universal wheel studs and lug nuts. No. The wheel fasteners for this ’77 camper are downright weird. The wheel studs and lug nuts are one unit, sort of like giant bolts that screw directly into the mounting plates of the wheel/axel assembly. All five of my wheels (spare tire wheel included) were pretty rusty and not very attractive at all. Originally I planned to try and sand blast them myself and then primer and paint them with spray paint. Man, that sounded like hours of hard work and with not great results afterwards.


One thing I have taken seriously throughout this process is how the aesthetics of my camper or lack there of can impede my ability to procure a nice parking spot at a classy RV park where I can reside year round in comfort. In other words, the nicely cared-for RV parks “don’t want no trailer trash hanging around their facility”. So, this camper needs to look nearly like new when I am finished with it, if I expect to have an easy time living in it.

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About these weird wheels, I spoke with several experts in the camping industry—and they all advised me that I’d be hard pressed to find identical replacement wheels for my camper any where, short of spending a lot of time and money driving around to junk and salvage yards trying to find antique camper wheels or vintage car wheels that are identical to my camper wheels. They also informed me that it might not be so easy to change my weird wheels out for modern ones. So, I decided to give my wheels facelifts.


Luckily for me, there are some perks to my job as a local truck driver. One perk is that when I was delivering truck trailer tires to a tire shop one day, I saw a sign advertising “wheel powder coating”. I promptly asked the guy there, “What is this process?”. He informed me that they can take an old wheel that is covered in rust, sandblast it, powder coat it with zinc oxide, and then coat it with industrial enamel, and then bake this coating on in a special oven—this process creates a pristine, hard, and nearly impervious coating—making old rims look better than new. This process is commonly performed upon wheels for big rigs, as truckers put millions of miles on their 18 wheels and this strong coating protects the wheels and helps them last much longer and helps them to look new for a very long time.

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I shopped around and found a company nearby that agreed to powder coat my camper wheels for $25 per wheel—so I pay $125 for all five wheels and basically there is no effort on my part, excepting dropping them off and picking them up a few days later. Well worth the money.  After picking up my now new-looking wheels, I dropped them off to get brand new trailer tires mounted: $72 per tire mounted and balanced with new valve stems—not bad, not bad at all.

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My camper is sitting in my driveway which flanks my next door neighbor’s driveway. So, I have to be conscious of what I am doing over here that might impact my nice neighbor. My camper has double axels and is currently suspended on jack stands, sitting slightly above where my tires touch the pavement. I don’t have the corners of the camper secured with tie-downs—although I think that I should. And so, when I began removing the wheels to accomplish this process, I decided it is a good idea to do one axel at a time (only remove two wheels at a time)—so that if a strong gust of wind comes along, the camper will not fall off the jack stands and hit the concrete with no tires to rest upon–nor will it fall off the jack stands and tip over, as I make sure to leave the wheels and tires on at least one axel at all times.


I am elated about the results of getting my weirdo wheels powder coated and baked-on with white enamel. They look fabulous. I think I am going to go ahead and also paint the wheel axel caps and the heads of my lug/stud nuts. Next, I plan to purchase some wheel covers to protect my investment, as I do not plan to move this camper for another four months. I do not want these new tires to dry rot.

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In other projects, I made a trip to Menard’s the other day to look at their steel roofing. I had to remove a pretty large section of aluminum siding from the bottom front end of my camper (it was damaged). The guy at Menard’s hooked me up with some very nice-looking steel roofing to replace my siding. It comes in 16 inch wide sections (special order exact length prre-cut) with shallow grooves and is available in several nice colors.  This roofing is more durable than what was on there and will only cost me $30 dollars for two pieces, making up an area that is 92 inches by 30 inches. Sweet.

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Also, while at Menard’s, I found my ceiling lights! Patriot lighting, I love you. Flush mount, very shallow, minimal impact to lowering head height in this tiny camper: $24 per light fixture. I need two of them—so $48 and we are done with ceiling lights. Great price.

Over at Lowes, I also found these vintage-looking, very simplistic light fixtures to flank my tiny bathroom cabinet that I bought for $5 at a yard sale. These 1970’s looking light fixtures are $7 a piece. Although, I think I would like to find some globes for them that are a little less country looking and a little more psychedelic ‘70s meets modern simplicity motiff.  You can harldly beat that price as well.

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Well, that’s all for now, folks. Happy glamping!

Almost back together and dried in for winter, almost…

After several weekends trying to repair/replace the framing on the front driver’s side corner of this camper and having the entire front end covered in plastic and having to stare at a gaping hole for many weeks…this old camper is completely framed in, repaired, and ready for a new piece of aluminum on the front end.

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I am hoping that I can get this exterior sealed up by next weekend.  I placed a smaller piece of plastic over the bottom of the front end: I secured the trim with one screw on each side: and I caulked both sides to keep water out.  It was difficult to get the trim back in place on the repaired side.  For a moment, I thought I was going to have to redo part of it; but with a little force, it all came together.

I was so elated that I layed back on my driveway and breathed a sigh of relief.  Then looking up, I spotted a small rainbow–it felt like a positive omen. Considering it has not rained in a few days, it was bizarre that a rainbow appeared as soon as I succeeded in putting my front end back together.  So many weeks it has been in pieces.  I could not be more pleased.  🙂

Come to think of it, an upside down, quarter of a rainbow–very strange.  Hmmm.

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As an aside…tiny camper, tiny camper, tiny camper…

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Something has happened to me in the process of renovating this 40 year old camper—I have acquired some new skills. Woot!

I have always wanted to get into woodworking—to get into any kind of building medium, for that matter. And now, I’m really diggin’ it! For the past three months, I find myself revamping this old camper and learning so much that I never knew before.

In the beginning of this process, my intentions were simply to establish a transitional tiny home for myself from this old camper and to dramatically reduce my living expenses. However, an unintended result has occurred—I have learned how to build a camper from the ground up. I guess when you de-construct something and then put it back together, the design process becomes pretty obvious. Turns out, campers are rather simple. My mind craves more…

Another thing…funny thing happened when I bought this old girl—my first camper—I got hooked and now I want another one. I figure—this old camper has been around for forty years and is still going strong—why not borrow the design and go ahead and create a smaller version of it—while I am on fire and am feeling very creative!

I will need to buy some more tools.

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Fall update on the camper renovation…

Latest video update here:

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1196928490397702&id=100002416879566

Almost three months into this restoration—I thought I was done with the demolition. Not quite. After removing the refrigerator, the stove, the bathroom, the ceiling, all upper cabinets, most of the built-ins, and all the rotten framing in the front left corner, I decided to go ahead and remove the old propane furnace. I feel safer knowing that there are zero propane appliances that can pose a risk to my dog and cat when I am not home. So, boom! I ripped out the propane heater and by the way, the pile of dirt that was trapped underneath that sixty-five pound heater—pretty disgusting. Good riddance. I am looking at an electric fireplace heater to replace it.


At this point (thanks in part to taking a very short vacation), I have been able to install a new sub-floor with insulation. I also built a second interior frame along all four walls (to be lined with foam board insulation). The walls are ready for new electrical outlets, new switches, new light fixtures, thicker insulation, and new plywood for a fresh start. My brother is re-vamping the electric to be sure it is safe.


I have picked up a few things for the camper that I think are worth sharing. I found electrical outlets at Lowe’s that have USB ports in them—very cool. I also found some very beautiful painted metal outlet covers that I could not resist buying for the camper.

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Electricity concerns–because I am converting this camper over to electric, I feel it is a good idea to minimize use of electricity, as it runs on 35 amps total. So, I found some pretty neat battery powered overhead lights for my kitchen area and also for under the bunk bed area.  One set runs on AA batteries, just like a wall clock–the other runs on AAA batteries. Pretty cool product. I am also getting ready to refinish a set of two 1940s kitchen chairs that I acquired for free a few years ago—I found some amazing elephant fabric that I am going to use to re-upholster the chairs once I refinish the woodgrain.

Nearing the completion of this demolition and complicated frame repair, I am feeling pretty accomplished. There was a moment that I doubted whether I could fix this camper. Over the hump now. I am looking forward to the really fun part-creating a warm living space.  I hope this post is helpful.  🙂

Getting to know you… Getting to know all about you…


Alrighty…in process of renovating this 1977 travel trailer. Let me just say a few things that I think are really important. Originally, I was hoping to find an older travel trailer in pretty good condition for around $3,500. Not very realistic. I found a very nice 2003 that was near perfect condition. The 2003 camper was pretty neat. I loved the flooring. I loved the walls and it had a bunk room—great for grandchildren. However, they were asking $5,000. Had I purchased that one, I would have had to sink another $1,500 or more into it, in order to insulate and to reconfigure it a little bit. Sure, that camper, at 24 feet in length and with extra sleeping quarters, would have been perfect for living and entertaining family; however I must stay focused on the purpose of buying a camper—it is not meant to be a permanent home for me, but just a transitional one. I do not want to get into the process this deeply financially, as the purpose of this camper is to greatly reduce my living expenses right now in order to afford me about 18 months of living super cheap so that I can save $$$ for my tiny house build next year. The more money I spend on a camper now, the less I get to direct towards my tiny house build later.

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So, this 1977 camper that I settled upon which looked pretty great at first, only cost me an initial $1,300. However, as I began removing components in order to insulate the camper for winter living, I have discovered so, so many finer details that are, well, deteriorating. The good news is that the metal frame underneath is sturdy and the exterior aluminum siding is practically pristine. Also, most of the wooden framing inside looks like new.

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Here is the main point that I want to share. Details—fine details—as I go through this process of first gutting the camper and now re-framing a couple rotten spots, adding some new framing/a new subfloor, installing a second layer of insulation, re-sheathing the interior with more attractive finished birch plywood, and constructing new real wood built-ins—and while doing so, I am literally combing over every centimeter of this camper from top to bottom and inside out—I just keep finding little things that stand out to me. Last weekend I spent no less than nine hours up on a ladder scrubbing all the fixtures upon the roof and scrubbing every inch of the exterior, giving her a much needed wash, removing some moss and mold, paying close attention to the aluminum windows and making sure that every part of the surface got cleaned thoroughly. Up and down the ladder with countless buckets of soapy water, I went—I cannot tell you how many times. Here is what I discovered.

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By examining every inch of this camper, I am becoming so very familiar with it. I am learning much more about how it was put together, how all the utility components function and I am discovering where the weaknesses are…finding parts that are really worn, plastic that is brittle, gaps in the seams, missing screws… I feel that if I had not, if I do not continue to detail this 40 year old camper in this manner—every nook and cranny—there may be some issues that I’ll miss going forward. If I had just purchased a camper that is newer, I doubt that I would have been so detail-oriented and I likely would have just moved into a newer camper—not noticing hidden issues that need to be addressed for full time living. It is incredible how much one can learn about the construction of a travel trailer by de-constructing one—taking the interior panels out and looking inside the walls, looking behind or under the built-in appliances, and crawling underneath to examine every inch of the undercarriage.

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I’ll give an example. Two of the first items that I took out and got rid of were the propane stove and refrigerator. They were not in good condition. I discovered that the vent behind the refrigerator which is louvered metal, leads directly to the outside. In fact, this thin, louvered plate is a huge area (18 inches square) that would be a heat deficit in winter and a cool air deficit in summer. The original refrigerator was incased in a built-in that was sheathed with thin paneling and no insulation—as refrigerators need air around them so as not to overheat. The thing is that the vent behind the old refrigerator—you can literally poke your fingers through to the outside. So, I need to address this issue—keep the vent; but put up a breathable barrier that does not let in bugs, but insulates better. I never would have known this had I not removed the built-in around the old refrigerator and had I not removed the appliance itself. I believe it is important to remember that these campers are built to be as light as possible, are only insulated for the comfort of brief, warmer weather outings, and are definitely not built at all like a full time house.

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Here are more little details revealed by getting up close and personal with this camper—my fenders are faded and have some rust spots where they are bolted on. Upon closer examination, I realized that many of the bolts had worn the plastic through and were no longer holding the fenders on at all. I thought about buying new fenders—but what business would carry these 40 year old fenders? Camper World does not even carry sealant for aluminum roofs any more–I doubt they stock 40 year old fenders.  I decided to jazz them up a little instead and of course, I made a trip to the hardware store to fetch some nylon washers and some new galvanized screws. So, I removed them, cleaned them thoroughly, and painted them a nice light green color. Had I just let them be, it is quite possible that they might have broken off completely at some point. Paint $12, screws and washers $12—a good savings for me and much improved aesthetics.

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Another thing I came across was the off-grid water tank in the front under the couch/fold-out bed. That tank was taking up thirty-two cubic feet of what could be storage space for all of my clothes. There is also a nice little water pump located there next to the tank. That water pump may come in handy in my tiny house.  I determined that I don’t need the water tank or the pump and when I removed them, I noticed that the tank was full of mud and was also pretty old and brittle—not very usable anyway. Had a never removed the built-in couch/bed, I would not have gotten such a close look at the tank and maybe would not have been able to determine it’s obsolescence.

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Another example of an important detail is when I examined the roof. I discovered that the previous owner only coated the two far ends with sealant and not the entire roof: plus, the sealant is peeling up in places. So, I went out and bought a 5 gallon bucket of sealant (for metal roofs) and am going to thoroughly clean and recoat the roof to ensure that I hopefully do not have any leaks. I also bought pliable caulk that is specifically formulated for patching and repairing metal roofing and I am going to go over the interior and exterior seams and all other exterior surfaces to ensure the integrity of the outer envelope of this camper.

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One of the last discoveries that I’ll mention here, I stumbled upon entirely by accident. After removing all the thin paneling from the ceiling and after removing some of the baton insulation that was moldy, I got a good look at the aluminum siding from the inside; but I also had to remove half of the lighting fixtures to accomplish this step. This necessitated purchase of a work light. I purchased a contractor’s flood light which is so bright that I can now easily work on the interior even at night after I come home from work. One night, I was doing some work and when I walked outside the camper, I noticed a few pin holes in the exterior of the camper where that bright work light was shining against the interior and beaming through to the outside. It occurred to me to test for more pin holes in the exterior by repeatedly repositioning this bright light on the inside and then repeatedly going outside and examining the exterior to detect any more pin holes that can let in water. I definitely do not want to have any future leaks after all my hard work. Had I not removed so many interior lights, I probably would not have felt the need to purchase the incredibly bright work light that really helps reveal any problem areas.

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All I am really trying to get at is this: By jumping into this renovation with both feet and by trying to be as thorough as possible, while still maintaining a frugal budget, I am getting a firsthand education in travel trailer construction and repair. This will help me operate this camper properly and this will also teach me much about carpentry work for when I begin my tiny house build.
I hope this is helpful. Happy glamping all!

Travel Trailer Renovation Update!

So, the other night, I tore out all the paneling on the ceiling in my camper.  Why did I do this?

Well, It turns out that the paneling is pretty thin.  Yes.  Why do they install thin paneling as ceilings inside these campers?  I suppose they aim to keep them as lightweight as possible.  Here’s what happens when a little moisture gets trapped between that thin paneling, the ceiling framing, the insulation that is also paper thin, and the exterior aluminum sheathing:  You end up with unsightly sagging and soggy ceilings.  Not very attractive.

I plan to install some lovely furniture grade, polyurethaned, thin, yet sturdy smooth birch plywood on my ceilings.  Yes, it is true that plywood is a little heavier than what was in there.  This is another reason I decided to remove most of the built-ins and all the propane appliances, save the furnace–to get rid of about 1,300# of weight from this camper so that when I finish it out with new, better quality, and sturdier materials, I won’t be adding more weight, I’ll just be exchanging old materials for new materials–“one for one” in terms of weight. 🙂  I also plan to install four new leaf springs underneath in the suspension in order to bring the undercarriage up which is also sagging and in order to give the old girl much needed lift and support.

Here we are at the lowest point in this demolition or should I say, here we are at the end of the demolition.  Time to rebuild now.

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Now that the ceiling is out, I can see that there are actually three bad spots in the ceiling framing: two tiny spots and one hefty rotted spot.  So, next step is to repair the bad and then I’m going to get busy installing a new floor and a new ceiling.  I have been searching for flooring, waffling on whether to go with wood, square tiles, or sheet vinyl.  I determined that wood flooring will add an unnecessary 700# to this camper.  So, wood is out.  😦  I will just have to wait for my tiny house build to enjoy wood floors.  I have chosen rolled vinyl and I have luckily found some vinyl flooring that looks sort of retro with one of my all time favorite patterns: square tile mosaic.

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I have been perusing some paint colors, some green ‘linen-looking’ formica for the kitchen counter, a mural for the kitchen backsplash and bathroom wall, and some possible lighting ideas.  I like this birch forest mural.  It is bright, cheery, and natural and has some great colors in it that will allow me to add some pops of spring green, orange, and yellow to my built-in seating areas.  🙂  Moving right along.  🙂

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Tiny House Moving Tips from a Professional Driver

A pickup truck and tiny home on a trailer respond on the roadway nearly the same as a commercial truck and trailer combination.

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Typically, a big truck and commercial trailer have an overall length ranging from 40 feet up to 70 feet.

A tiny house on a trailer combined with a pick up truck can range from 30 feet up to 45 feet or longer, give or take.

In both cases, usually the vehicle combinations have a height from road to the tip top of 13 feet and 6 inches–with a width of 8 feet and 6 inches.

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commercial truck and trailer weigh around 15,000# up to 80,000#, compared to a pick up truck and tiny home on a trailer, which weigh around 10,000# up to 25,000#.

A bit of a difference–but in both instances, there is substantial weight being moved on the road. Both require special consideration.

So, here I will share what I have learned about hauling trailers on roadways across the U.S. and Canada and hopefully you can benefit from these tips when moving your tiny house. 🙂

CHECK THE ROUTE FIRST

Know the route you are taking. Before going, check for low bridges and bridges with weight and width restrictions. Also check your route for rural roads that might be very narrow, such as one lane wide or rural routes that may not be paved—small county roads and gravel or dirt farm lanes. Type of road, combined with the season, region, weather, and road conditions can present challenges that may get you stuck in a difficult situation and might necessitate a costly extraction via tow truck or worse yet, crane.

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To investigate your route, a commercial motor carrier’s atlas comes in handy or a commercial GPS, which will give you simple-to-follow specifics of each road you plan to travel along with your equipment and tiny house on a trailer. Most commercial motor carriers’ atlases have a section in the front, categorized by state, that provides a list of low bridges, weight restrictions, and other details about roads.

Keep in mind that some roads are so narrow or perhaps have turns that are so tight, that you might not fit. Backing up a two-part unit for several miles is never any fun.

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OBSTACLES ABOVE AND BELOW YOUR VEHICLE/TINY HOME WHILE IN TRANSIT

As you make your journey on the roadways hauling your tiny home, pay close attention to the clearance between your undercarriage and the road surface.  Every turn you make, every entrance and exit ramp you traverse, every driveway, each road surface–all alter the angle and clearance between the underside of your trailer and the surface you are driving upon. So, assess what is coming and adjust accordingly. When in doubt, simply set your four way flashers, stop if you can safely do so, set your brakes, and get out and look. You’ll be happy you did so.

Once you get off a main interstate or four lane divided highway, the fun begins. Whether you are hauling your home through a residential area, through a city or small town, or through a rural countryside, there are many obstacles from above and from below that can trip you up when your home is at or near the DOT specified width and height limitations.  Please watch out for low-hanging awnings, signs, billboards, and objects that are protruding out from the sides of buildings and above that you might not notice. Watch out for  utility poles, power lines, cable lines, and the like.  You would be surprised what is above your truck and trailer. Making a pit stop at a small gas station, a family-owned restaurant, or strip mall can turn into a crash course in learning how to avoid things just out of your peripheral vision that you don’t notice and you might drive right into when you think you are clearing the side of a building, for example.

Always pay attention to your clearances from both sides, from above, and from below. Check and re-check…and get out and look when in doubt.

Never underestimate the ability of a tree branch, even a small one, to wreak major damage upon wood, steel, aluminum, plastic, or any material that is softer or harder than a tree branch. When you are traveling at speeds of 15mph, 35mph, or 65mph, even a seemingly small, soft tree branch can cause serious damage to your home.

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Depending on the length of your home, the length of your tow vehicle, the width between your wheel bases, and the low clearance between the underside of your trailer and the surface you are driving across, you might not clear every driveway, ramp, and unpaved or paved surface that you travel across. So, when in doubt, again, set your flashers, set your brakes, and get out and look. Physics is unforgiving.

LOW BRIDGES AND BRIDGES WITH WIDTH AND WEIGHT RESTRICTIONS

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Don’t be a can of chicken noodle soup. There is a bridge in Durham, North Carolina that YouTube enthusiasts affectionately call the “Can Opener Bridge”—as this low bridge, 11 feet 8 inches, eats trucks for breakfast, lunch, and dinner almost daily. Surprisingly, within our modern infrastructure in the United States, there are still hundreds, if not thousands of low bridges and old bridges with weight limits, especially in older parts of the country, such as New England and in older towns all over the country and in rural areas throughout the Midwest and many far-flung, less populated parts of the country.  Let’s face it, there are old bridges all over this country.  You never know where an impassable road, bridge, or overpass might be lurking. So, beware of low clearances and be aware of bridges that have weight limitations. I have seen bridges rated for as low as 10,000#.

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RAILROAD TRACKS

A familiar foe to truckers nationwide…there are countless railroad tracks across the United States in small towns, larger cities, and in rural areas that are “built-up”.  I am sure you have seen them and have crossed them—the tracks present a giant “hump” in the road which might feel like a fun roller coaster ride if you’re enjoying a spontaneous road trip on a weekend; but when you try to haul a low-riding trailer over one—not so much fun any more. Tiny houses usually sit upon “low-riding” trailers and a railroad crossing can be your worst enemy. You do not want to try and drive across a set of railroad tracks, only to get stuck in the middle. In the commercial hauling industry, trailers tend to sit pretty high off the roadway (on average, about three feet above the pavement) and even commercial trailers get stuck on these railroad crossing humps frequently. Imagine how easily a low-riding trailer (such as a tiny house trailer that might only sit 18 or 20 inches above the roadway)–can get stuck on a set of railroad tracks.

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If you get stuck on a set of railroad tracks, there is recourse. Each railroad crossing has a call box that that can be used to contact the authorities so that a train conductor can be informed immediately. Also you can simply call the police and they will immediately contact the train conductor and stop the train.

Some railroad crossings can be avoided by looking on a map and re-routing the trip to avoid railroad crossings altogether by taking a road or highway that overpasses the tracks. Whether looking at an atlas or GPS, you can identify railroad tracks as continuous lines with perpendicular or cross shaped images on them. Of course there are thousands of new, well-designed railroad tracks that are easily passable also.

MAKING TURNS

When hauling a trailer and tiny home, making wide turns might seem obvious. However, there are some other elements to consider when making a turn—such as impatient drivers who might be turning beside you and possibly, the swing of the rear of your trailer that is extending beyond your rear axels. In the trucking industry, this is called “trailer swing” and many a driver has wacked, smashed, and literally wrecked countless buildings, vehicles, and road signs by not remembering to take into account the swing of the portion of their trailer that extends beyond their rear axels.

Even though a tiny home may be shorter than a commercial trailer, there still is “trailer swing” on the end of most tiny homes on trailers. Not only can you hit something with that swing, you can also damage the rear of your home. One way to ensure it does not hit anything, again, is to give yourself a wider berth and simply make sure there is not another motorist in the vicinity of the rear of your trailer when you turn.

When setting up for a turn, you always have the option of slowing down, setting your flashers, or maybe even pulling into a “middle turn lane” and pausing to assess the roadway and traffic flow and solve an impending situation with an obstacle or motorist before a problem occurs.

It is fascinating how quickly traffic will vacate the roadway as soon as you click on your flashers. No one wants to be stuck behind or next to a vehicle with flashing lights of any kind, after all.

BACKING UP

Good luck!  (Lol)  You know the drill. When backing, turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction that you want to go.  Mastering backing is just a matter of practice.

AVOIDING TIP-OVERS: VERY IMPORTANT

Turning too short and clipping a curb—often, when you clip a curb when turning, nothing happens, unless your trailer is top heavy or the weight of your trailer is not equally balanced. Physics and gravity, working against us. By their nature (lofted tiny homes especially), tiny houses tend to have a good amount of weight up high. In the commercial industry, top heavy loads are practically non-existent by design—top heavy loads are avoided because they destabilize the balance of weight on a trailer. When necessary to haul a top-heavy load, it is important to be aware of how much that top heavy weight is going to sway when compromised by traveling over an un-level surface, such as clipping a curb, going around a ramp, going up or down a driveway, or maybe, simply the necessity of pulling off to the side of the road in an emergency. The equipment will lean and we don’t want it to tip over.

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Here is an example, to illustrate. You have probably seen a tractor-trailer laying on its side on the side of an exit or entrance ramp or perhaps you’ve seen one on its side in a city on a road with stepped-up concrete medians and you wondered how that happened. In the industry, this is called “load shift”. Simply put, the equipment’s center of gravity has been compromised and once the trailer starts leaning to the left or right, it pulls the entire assembly down, truck, trailer, and all. You might think that your light-weight tiny home can’t fall over; but, it can easily fall over, as most tiny homes are even taller than your typical truck trailer. Tiny homes are lower to the ground than a commercial trailer, but are usually the same height as a commercial trailer.  Tiny homes are not as well balanced as a commercial trailer and do not possess the same level of anchoring as a commercial trailer does–these freight boxes sit upon heavy gauge steel cross members.

Tiny homes are usually tall and narrow, comparatively and are relatively top heavy.  A regular commercial trailer, whether a car hauler, flatbed trailer, tanker, or box trailer, is designed to be used so that the freight is low and tight–compact and well-balanced, meaning that the weight of the load usually has a low center of gravity which helps the trailer stay upright when moving on un-level surfaces, when traveling around embankments, or when exposed to heavy side winds.

Tiny homes on trailers are not specifically designed so that the weight is low, compact, tight, and balanced for road travel. Rather, they are usually designed to have a “load” that is quite spread out often unevenly, with much vacuous space in the center, uneven weight distribution from side to side, and maybe with more weight in the back than in the front. It is an excellent plan when designing your tiny house to keep more weight towards the front then you have in the rear and also to try and balance your weight from side to side and to avoid alot of weight up high.

Just be sure to think about your “load” that is your tiny house and be aware that if you start to tip a little from one side or the other or if you feel your home swaying, slow down, take it easy, and ensure that road pitch, weight distribution, or threatening weather does not push you and your tiny home around on the road. After all, tiny homes are not usually designed to travel around a lot, but just to travel from point A to point B maybe a couple times and just be lived in. Of course there are exceptions, such as compact tiny homes specifically built to be like RVs. On the other hand, there are many tiny homes that are rather large, rather long, tall, and heavy and that require careful consideration to move safely and arrive in tact. 🙂

ROAD SURFACE, PARKING SURFACE, WEATHER, TOW VEHICLE, TRAILER, and A SHORT STORY

This topic is giving me a sinking feeling. In the commercial industry, professional haulers usually develop a healthy respect for road surfaces, parking surfaces, and weather. This is a given; but until you’ve hauled something, you might not have experienced how these elements can impact your ability to move and park and move again your truck/van and tiny home/trailer.

Wet, icy, snow-covered, graveled, and muddy surfaces will trip you up. Again, no one wants to pay for a costly tow, or at worst, a crane—to get out of an unwanted situation. Weather–when in doubt, wait it out. Surface conditions can dramatically change from hour to hour, from day to day, and from season to season. I would plan on hauling a tiny home during optimal weather and via an optimal route. No sense taking a risk with your home after all that hard work.

Lots of things come into play regarding your ability to tow your home—such as having a tow vehicle that is properly rated with adequate tow capacity. If you have a half ton pick up truck that can barely pull your house, you probably are not going to make it up a hill or be able to pull your trailer and home out of soft ground, out of a muddy situation, or through ice and snow. Weight capacity and viability of the actual trailer is so important to take into account from the beginning of the build. Again, simple physics and gravity working against us here. If you are at maximum weight capacity for your trailer and/or you are at maximum tow capacity for your tow vehicle, the likelihood something is going to go wrong in transit, even if you are only traveling 60 miles, is greatly increased.

We witnessed a stressful story a while back of a young couple whose tiny house trailer broke both axels while in transit, stranding the couple on the side of the highway. The tiny house could not be towed to a shop because the couple built a section out beyond the end of the trailer. When the tow truck driver tried to hook the home up to his tow vehicle, the tail end of the tiny home met the pavement and was dragging on the road.  It could not be moved. So, they incurred a very costly on-sight repair via mobile mechanic while battling state troopers who were threatening to haul their home off to be impounded—you can do the math at how costly it would be for a jurisdiction to remove a tiny mobile home that is built onto a broken, immoveable trailer and is over the height limit to haul away on a flatbed wrecker.

This is an important consideration. Because most tiny homes are built at the height limit for legal travel on roadways which is 13 feet 6 inches (in most states), if something goes wrong with the trailer in transit and a person needs to have the tiny home hauled away on a flatbed wrecker, it is illegal to do so and most tow companies will not accomodate.  Putting a tiny home up onto a flatbed wrecker increases the height by about three or four feet, which is not a legal height for road travel.

I have never heard of a tiny house on a broken trailer being towed behind a tow truck and I am not certain that this is something that can be accomplished if the tiny home has a broken axle or some other structural trailer failure.  A tiny house on a trailer is very different from a car when it comes to towability. Something to keep in mind. It is always good to have a backup plan such as extra mounted tires or perhaps emergency savings to cover a break down on the road. Mobile mechanics are much more expensive than simply going into a shop somewhere with your equipment.

So, make sure you have an adequate tow vehicle and a viable trailer with adequate weight capacity. It does not hurt to have a back-up plan in case you get stuck. Avoid situations where the road will be slick with rain, snow, or ice and avoid situations where the surface you are traversing will be soft and muddy.

Also, make sure that your parking surface can withstand the overall weight of your home over time—by creating a larger, harder surface area for parking which can be done simply with some large sections of thick plywood under each tire and under jacks or dolly legs–a concrete slab or concrete footers. The home will settle over time and will sink, making it difficult to move in the future.

TRAILER SMARTS

Here is something I have seen quite frequently: novice trailer builders that may or may not weld trailers to specs, might not position axels in the proper location, and might not ensure proper weight rating for mobility on the road without incident.

Another trailer safety isssue that I have seen often is salvage RV and mobile home chasses being converted into trailers for building tiny houses.  It is true that an experienced welder can beef up a salvage chassis by adding angle iron or another axle. However, a salvage chassis may not be in good enough shape and may not have an original weight capacity rating that can withstand the gross weight of a tiny house build.  A person who possesses a lot of welding experience does not necessarily have the ability to convert a salvage chassis into a functional, viable tiny house trailer that can stand the test of time or that can handle the stresses of road travel.

It is probably a good idea to skip that backyard trailer building guy and go to the little more expensive, licensed trailer manufacturer and purchase a reliable trailer that is being held to a legitimate nationally recognized safety standard. Or perhaps obtain a used trailer that was built by a well-known and highly-regarded trailer manufacturer. We have all heard stories of broken axles and the like. The tiny house trailer must be the most important component of any tiny home.

It is of paramount importance to use the trailer for its indicated purpose. In the story of the young couple that ended up with two broken axels, the first thing that went wrong is that the trailer was inadequate to carry the weight of the home in transit. The second thing to go wrong was that the couple assumed they could add more space to their home by building out beyond the end of the trailer, which not only created a weight imbalance, but caused the rear end to drag on the ground–as soon as the tow truck driver raised the front end of the home to tow it, the rear end that extended too far beyond the rear axels, dragged on the roadway.

A good rule of thumb is to leave yourself a little “cushion” with the tow capacity of the tow vehicle and leave a little cushion with the weight capacity of your trailer. Use a tow vehicle that can pull a little more weight than the final gross weight of your tiny house  and start with a trailer that can hold a little more weight than your “projected” final gross weight of your tiny house. If you do this, you really cannot go wrong. 🙂

HAPPY TRAILS…

As I recall all the videos I’ve seen of people hauling tiny houses and the stories I have read, I notice a common theme.  People are often trepidatious at the prospect of hauling their tiny homes. Hauling a tiny house intimidates me as well. These tiny houses are born from our imaginations and when we get ready to haul them down the road, we don’t know what to expect.  There is not a smiling salesman handing us the keys and reassuring us that our homes will travel down the road safely–not usually, anyway. We are kind of on our own out here. The task of moving a tiny house should give us pause.

So–be safe, have a backup plan, and tiny on.   🙂

Heidi Dotson: writer transitioning to tiny house living

A Point of No Return…

So, I am two weeks into this travel trailer demolition/rennovation.  Some interesting discoveries about Daisy and about myself.

There is some rot in the front ceiling on the driver’s side.  I knew this when I bought her. I also found some moisture in the ceiling above the bathroom and above the refrigerator.

I can recall lots of suggestions from everyone.  “Leave everything in tact and just live in it as is” is a line I heard.  “Don’t get rid of the propane refrigerator” is another. “Why would you want to remove the propane stove?” is yet another common remark. And let’s not forget the ever popular, “Don’t remove the upper wall cabinets”.

It is important to note that in order for me to thoroughly insulate these walls, ceiling, and floor–for winter living–I have to get to the walls, which includes getting most of the built-ins and cabinets out, so that I can install an interior frame and insulate in between the studs. Then, the camper gets new sheathing throughout which will be much better than the original thin panelling that covered the walls and ceiling when I started. 1/4 inch plywood ought to suffice very well.

Here is what happened to me when I started taking things out.  I discovered alot of trapped dirt under built-ins, dead wasps, mold, rust, brittle plastic, osb paneling and pine framing that is all but disintegrated, a cracked toilet, a cracked shower pan, a rotted shower head fixture (as in, not functional), half the ceiling panelling is rotten. The refrigerator which, by the way, weighs upwards of 100 pounds is rusty, smelly, foul, and has rotten seals caked with rust.  I also discovered that there is not any insulation, nor much of a wall behind the refrigerator. The stove is rusted throughout and is very weighty.  When I think of old propane appliances not in great condition, I think fire hazard.  Good riddance to those.  Right now, there is a five feet tall and eight feet in diameter pile of rubble in my driveway–contents/what was inside this camper.  And, I have already put out to the curb  two large piles of rubble in the past two weeks.

Fortunately, the walls and wall framing look great and most of the framing in the ceiling looks like new.  Here is my point.  When I inspected the interior and exterior of this old girl before the demolition, most everything looked pretty great.  Had I not been so thorough in my rennovation ambition, had I not chosen to rip out most of the interior built-ins and all the appliances and the bathroom in its entirety, surely I would never have fully realized just how bad a shape the majority of the interior of this old camper really is in… I am very pleased that I have made the commitment to truly rennovate this camper practically from the ground up.

Having said that, I must admit that now that I take a good look at what remains of this “shell” of a camper, the sight of it is pretty intimidating, even frightening. I have been very carful to not disrupt the wiring and remaining plumbing.  I now have the task of putting her back together with new and stronger materials.  I must also check all the electrical and plumbing fixtures and I must seal her up better than new so as not to have any leaks in the future.  I must get her dried in before winter sets in.  I feel pretty confident that she will be completely finished by late fall.  I am not claiming any expertise, as I have nearly zero carpentry experience.   What I do possess is an extreme drive to accomplish my goal and I do have expert help and expert advice at the ready and lots of common sense.

I am including some images. A warning: she looks a little worse for the wear right now.  🙂

Here is a lovely image of part of the frame from the nose of this old camper.  Water can do just as much damage as can fire.  This black thing used to be a pristine piece of pine–framing–it now crumbles into a pile with a slight graze of the finger. Next to this black rotten wood is a healthy piece of wood framing from one of the built-ins for comparison.

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Here is the front  corner (driver’s side) of the camper where there was a leak.  😦

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And…here is the spacious remaining inside of this baby.  Lots of potential. 🙂

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Brighter days ahead.  The worst is over.  🙂  Glamp on!

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