Canadian Renegade

Renegade: an individual who rejects lawful or conventional behavior

Month: October 2016 (page 1 of 2)

Buying Homestead Land: Assessment Part 2

In this second property assessment video I go further into the property to see what other features it offers. The far pasture is split by a long narrow stand of trees that I suspect (at the time I made the video) has a small ravine in it. The pasture to the north of these trees will be cooler due to the shade they produce while the pasture to the south will not only have more sun exposure but also benefit from the windbreak the trees will provide.

I also talk about the firewood potential of a stand of birch. Birch is usually the best firewood available in Alberta. I have heard that tamarack is very good firewood, although I have never personally tried it. How do they stack up in terms of MBTU’s ( Million British Thermal Units) per cord?

  • Birch 20.0
  • Tamarack 19.5
  • Black Spruce 15.3

Source: Sweeps Library

 

 

More in this series:

Buying Homestead Land: Assessment Part 1

A while back I posted about a trip I made to a property to check a gas line. Well, the good news is we bought this property!

This video is Part 1 of a series where I walk through and discuss the potential of  this property before we had even put in an offer. I touch on topics such as south facing slope, water, and the importance of windbreaks.

More in this series:

How to Evaluate a Homestead Property – 12 Important Considerations

Finding land that is ideal for a homestead or a permaculture farm can be a challenging endeavour. While there are some similarities with agricultural land the criteria isn’t going to be exactly the same. Here are some of the main points to take into consideration when hunting for that  perfect homestead property. By no means is this an exclusive list, as everyone will have different needs and wants, but it is a good starting point. I’ve included some general information and questions to ask yourself for each one as well as our personal preferences.

Location
Water
Topography
Windbreaks
Size
Vegetation
Pre-Developed vs. Raw Land
Soil
Building Sites and Road Access
Surrounding Businesses, Farms, and Infrastructure
Local Climate
Previous Land Use

Location

How far from a major center or small town is best for you? Is there a certain direction or area away from a main city that is more desirable? Do you want to be extremely close to a big city or is a secluded country lifestyle more to your liking? The further away from a major city a piece of land is located the less it usually costs per acre but amenities and services are also further away. We wanted to be about 30-45 minutes west or southwest of Edmonton ( a major center); far enough away from the city to escape the hustle and bustle but not so far that commuting was out of the question. We could afford a larger parcel of land further away from Edmonton but wanted to be close enough that marketing our products in the city or inviting people out for an afternoon U-pick would still be a reasonable drive. We also looked at growing zone and rainfall maps and noticed that west and southwest of Edmonton was in a warmer area and had more precipitation than north or east of the city.  An added bonus to moving west of Edmonton was that it would put our home closer to the mountains and the recreational opportunities we enjoy. Back to list

Water

Water is one of the most important aspects to consider when looking for land. Will you need water for personal use only or will you need to irrigate or water livestock? Are there clean reliable sources of water available and if so how much will it cost to develop them? We knew we would need water for both personal use and for livestock. We wanted both good well water and some sort of surface water, ideally a stream but a slough or pond would also be acceptable if the water was decent. Back to list

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Here, a small spring fed creek runs through the property and is surrounded by lush vegetation. Using google maps we were able to see that beavers have dammed this area in the past, increasing the spread of the water.

Topography


The physical features of the land itself are very important. Is it flat or sloped? Both can have advantages and disadvantages. In a lot of ways, flat makes for easier planning and layout, while slope can be used to capture and move water around a property. Access roads and other infrastructure can be more challenging and costly to develop when working with slope. Does the property have a low lying area that contains a risk for flooding? South-facing slope in the northern hemisphere receives more sunshine and heats up a bit more while north-facing slope has the opposite characteristic of being shaded and, therefore, cooler. We wanted a property with south-facing slope so we could take advantage of a warmer and sunnier property, especially in the winter. Slope would also allow us to use gravity to passively move water around the property.
Back to list

Wind Breaks

This is something that is critical in our area, but often overlooked.  Sometimes the difference between a cool day and a miserably cold day is as simple as being out of the wind. I am amazed at how often I see people build new houses up on a hill out in an open field simply for the view. These people fail to recognize how miserable being outside in the winter and spring is when the wind is blowing cold. Establishing a decent windbreak takes many years because plants grow better out of the wind, meaning the very trees that you need for the wind break will grow slower because they themselves have no windbreak. Finding property with existing wind breaks is optimal. Since we were especially concerned with the prevailing cold north and northwest winter winds, we specifically focused on looking for established trees to shelter this side of the property and potential building sites. Back to list

Size

The size of the property you are looking for will depend a lot on what you want to use it for. Some people may be fine with smaller plots even a ¼ acre can produce quite an abundance of food. For most homesteaders in our climate 5 acres would suffice. We were looking for 20 acres or more because we know that we want to produce an agricultural income from the property eventually and want to have enough land to leave our options open. Back to list

Vegetation

What sort of vegetation grows on the property? Are there lots of trees or almost none? At first, a bare field might seem like a good idea because it is a clean slate but remember that growing trees and windbreaks can take years. Starting from scratch is a ton of work. The flip side of this would be a fully treed property. Sure you can clear trees but this is also a lot of work. Unless the trees can be sold as timber, removal is most likely going to be costly. We were looking for a mix of trees and pasture. Existing trees can create windbreaks and favorable growing conditions for desirable plants. The existing trees can provide firewood, timber for building structures, and are great wildlife habitat. Having some pasture would also allow us to start with grazing animals right away if we wanted.
Back to list

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This property has a 50/50 mix of trees and pasture. There are also a few south-facing slopes with potential to create micro climates. This small patch of trees was too wet to cultivate and may be a good location for a pond.

Pre-Developed vs. Raw Land


There are some big advantages to buying land with preexisting structures like houses or shops. Usually for rural properties, with most of that work already done, buying pre-developed property is going to be cheaper than building the exact same structures from scratch. The big draw back with pre-developed property is that most land owners don’t build with a homesteading or permaculture mindset which makes finding the perfect set up for your needs unlikely. If a building or other infrastructure isn’t well suited for your needs it is often expensive and time consuming to fix the issue. Some challenges, such as building location, may be practically an impossibility to fix. We preferred to build from scratch, since doing so would give us more flexibility, but we didn’t completely rule out a pre-developed property either. Back to list

Soil

A perfect loam  or sandy loam soil would, obviously, be optimal for most peoples needs but a property with perfect soil that also meets your other criteria is hard to find. Luckily, soil is one aspect that you can quickly improve. A few years of rotational grazing or intensive green manure cropping can make a huge difference in the quality of soil.  We were fairly flexible with soil types on the property. As long a variety of healthy native plants were growing on the property already we wouldn’t be too concerned whether the soil was clay, sandy/gravelly or loam. Back to list

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All throughout the property we discovered thriving native plants. While the soil in the hay field had little organic matter from repetitive cultivation, the tree lines and treed areas had plenty of humus and were rich with plant life.

Building Sites and Road Access


Where are the good building sites on the property? Are they near the road? Is the land conducive to easy installation of access roads like driveways or is building these going to be difficult? Is there power or other services along the road? Bringing in services, like power, from a long distance is expensive. We wanted a property with services like gas and power along the road. Not requiring an excessively long or difficult-to-build driveway to the potential building sites was also important. We may still decide to build off grid but at least if the services are nearby we have the option to hook up. Back to list

Surrounding Businesses, Farms, and Infrastructure

There are many other factors that can affect the desirability of a piece of land. Road noise, train tracks, loud or smelly businesses or agriculture operations are just a few examples. Is there pollution from industry or agriculture you need to be concerned with? We preferred to be near a highway for ease of access  but a major one that had constant high traffic volume was not appealing.  We also preferred to be in more of a ranching area rather then in an agricultural area where a lot of highly sprayed crops surrounded the property. Back to list

Local Climate

Even within a relatively short distance, variations in climate are possible, especially in mountainous areas. One thing we found when doing research was that west and southwest of Edmonton the winters were slightly milder and had higher precipitation than north or east of the city. This difference can actually be seen in the size and variety of trees if one is observant enough to look for it.
Back to list

Previous Land Use

Has the property been used for extensive chemical based agriculture? Are there other potential concerns from previous uses of the property. Chemicals do tend to break down over time but we preferred to look for properties that were already in pasture or weren’t being used for agriculture rather than land that was being used for conventional crop production like wheat or canola.
Back to list

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Another view of the tree and pasture mixture, with the spring fed creek to the left. This field has been used for haying and the healthy vegetation around the edges of the field suggests that the chance harmful chemicals were used on this crop were low.

Want more clarification on any of these points, or think we missed something? Feel free to comment below with your thoughts!

In three newer blog posts I walk through a property we ended up buying and discuss some of these considerations as they apply to that specific piece of land: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

 

Exterior Work and Interior Framing on the Tiny House

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In this video I cover some of the final exterior details. I also talk about some of the interior framing and insulating around the wheel wells of the trailer.

 

Corner Trim and Door Installation

Installing the corner trim was a  bit tricky. The corners are covered by two pieces of trim. The inconsistencies of the exterior walls can make lining the trim up difficult if each piece is installed separately. Tacking them together first and installing them together as a unit was much easier.

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I used fairly large finishing nails and sunk them just below the surface of the trim with a punch. I nailed once approximately every foot.

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Here Aimee helps me to hold the assembled corner trim in place while I secured it to the house.

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I wish I had more detailed pictures of the door install but unfortunately I could only find a few.

The door install was fairly similar to the window install. I started out by flashing the base of the door frame the same way I did the windows.

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Once that was done I placed the door in the wall. I shimmed the sides as necessary to center the door and to make sure that it was level, square and plumb. I had a fair bit of extra space so some of the shims were small chunks of plywood. Once I was satisfied with the position of the door, and that it would open and latch properly, I secured the door frame to the wall with 3″ screws.

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Here I am measuring the side trim for the door. You can see that the bottom piece of door trim is already installed in these pictures. I installed the sides next and then the top.

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If you are wondering about the window trim I will cover those details in an upcoming blog post so stay tuned!

Shingling the Mini Mansion

When looking for design inspiration for our tiny house we didn’t see many tiny homes that were using asphalt shingles.  Cedar shingles or shakes and metal roofs seemed to be the  most common choice and there were even some fairly obscure roofing products being used.

At first we thought we would go with cedar shingles. They look great and are lighter than asphalt. There were a few problems with cedar shingles, however. The roof on our tiny house was a 2:12 slope; what this means is that for every 2 feet the roof raises vertically it will go 12 feet horizontally. This works out to a 9° slope. Cedar shingles and shakes are not recommended on slopes less then  4:12 or 18° slope. A waterproof membrane could be installed under the cedar shingles to prevent leaks but this would add weight and the shingles may not drain properly which puts them at risk to rot quicker. Cedar shingles are light when bone dry but since they absorb a fair bit of moisture from rain and snow they would lose most, if not all, of their weight savings. They also lay thicker so we would lose almost an inch of interior  head space; the maximum height of the trailer needed to be under 13′ 6″ so thicker roofing material would translate to more space lost inside. Cedar shingles are almost three times as expensive as asphalt shingles and more time consuming to install. The final straw was that the low slope makes it hard to see the roof from the ground anyway so there wasn’t really much aesthetic value to be gained.

Metal roofs are also popular. They they are fairly affordable, last a long time and are the best choice for water collection. One drawback to consider is that metal roofs can be noisy, especially in heavy rainfall and hail. The noise alone would have been acceptable to us but the big drawback for metal roofs is the height they require to install. They take up a great deal of vertical space. There needs to be strapping on the roof to help with airflow, which adds ¾”. Then the metal itself is corrugated to add rigidity, usually making the sheets about 1 ½” thick. Those two factors would have reduced our head space by about 2″ in our lofts which for us meant that metal was no longer an option.

We knew the asphalt would perform well on the slope of our roof and was the thinnest roofing option. It was also affordable. The only drawback was the weight difference but this really didn’t amount to much, only about 200 lbs more than cedar when it is completely dry. This weight gain was acceptable considering we saved much more than that by using LP SmartSiding and eliminated the need for OSB sheathing altogether.

 

Note that the ice and water shield overlaps the trim board at the top of the wall. The roof needed to be finished last because there are no overhangs to prevent water from getting behind the siding.

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Siding Our Tiny House

siding_watermark

There are many different considerations when deciding on what type of siding to use on a tiny house on a trailer. We wanted to keep both the weight of the siding and underlying sheathing as low as possible. The trailer had to be no more that 8′ 6″ wide for road travel so minimizing the siding width helped us keep the house narrow. Another benefit to less siding material was maximizing the interior space of the house as well. The siding we choose for our tiny house is LP SmartSiding. It is relatively light and doubles as a structure rated exterior sheathing. Not having to use OSB allowed us to save about 50 lbs and $10 per sheet. The LP SmartSiding width is relatively narrow in comparison to other wood, metal or vinyl siding products. We nailed the SmartSiding directly over the foam using 2 ½” spiral nails. The installation instructions noted that using this siding over the foam was acceptable as long as the nails were spiral nails and went at least 1 ½ inches into the studs.

The siding was installed vertically and has built in overlapping seams on the sides of the sheets. Our walls were more then 8′ high so we used Z flashing between rows of siding to make sure that water would not find a way in behind the siding at the seam.

We installed the LP SmartSiding on our tiny house September 2014 and so far we are happy with the way it has performed.

How to Flash and Install a Window

When Aimee and I  first started our discussion about windows we planned to find used windows or off-size new windows to keep our costs low. However, after shopping around we discovered the places that carried used and off-sized windows really weren’t as affordable as we hoped they would be. In the end, we choose to  use standard sized off-the-shelf windows. If you have a lot of spare time, you may be able to salvage windows or find them using online classifieds but we didn’t really have much free time for this type of sourcing. If you are planning to build a tiny house in the future, and have a place to store materials, cutting your costs is definitely possible by stocking up on salvaged and re-purposed materials. If you are really trying to reduce expenditures, I would even recommend spending a year bargain hunting and stocking up on supplies. When you are in a hurry, finding what you need used is very difficult.

One of the other big advantages to standard sized windows is that if you ever have to replace one it is possible to do so on short notice at a reasonable price. If a custom sized window breaks from an accident or freak weather (remember most tiny houses on trailers don’t have overhangs to protect windows from hail) getting a replacement may take a couple weeks  and will be more expensive than standard sizes. While picking up some off-sized windows may seem like a great idea remember to at least give some consideration to “what if” scenarios.

Here is how we installed our windows step by step.

The first step is to prepare the frame. We flashed the bottom of our window frames with a waterproof membrane called Blueskin.  If water leaks around your window or somehow through your window this will lessen the chance of water getting into the house and causing damage. There are many different brands of these sorts of products. The one I would recommend, at this time, is one I came across after we did our window install called Protecto Wrap. It is a bit thinner, which I like, and is super sticky. No harmful off gasses are produced during the manufacturing or installation of this product.

Start out by measuring the piece of membrane to fit your window opening. It should be long enough to cover the bottom of the window frame and go up both sides about 6 inches. You will note that I also put some small pieces of the membrane to flash the corners before installing the main piece. For best practice, start at one end of the membrane and work your way slowly to the other end, removing the backing as you go, and making sure to get the membrane tight into the corners. The adhesive is so sticky that if you remove the backing all at once, positioning the membrane properly is almost impossible. Once I had it in place I made a 45° cut in the membrane starting about ¼” from where it meets the wall at the corners and carefully folded the flaps down against the outer wall.

window_collage_1

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Once the flashing was done I prepared the window.  I cleaned the inside of the flange with a rag to remove dust and other debris and then applied a pencil thick bead of silicone to the top and side flanges. I did not apply silicone to the bottom flange to allow any moisture accumulation around the window to be able to escape and flow to the outside of the foam.

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After the window was prepared I put a shim on each side of the window frame and lifted the window into place. Having a helper for this part, if possible, would be best.  Adjust the shims so the window is centered in the frame. The frame should be slightly larger than the window to allow room for spray foam and to prevent the window from having too much pressure pressed against it should your wall shift, expand or contract. Once I was satisfied with the windows location and checked that it was level I nailed the window into place with roofing nails. Stainless steel screws, with flat heads, are also available for window installation but they are expensive and I feel like they are overkill.

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The last step was to flash the outside of the window frame, covering the flange and nails with the same membrane used to protect the sill. I pre-measured the pieces again and applied the membrane first to the sides and then to the top. Any time you apply flashing you should start at the bottom and work your way up so the overlap and seams are always facing down. If the glue on the membrane ever gives out, layering the flashing in this manner will prevent water from leaking behind it. I did not apply the membrane to the bottom flange for the same reason I left the silicone off the bottom; so that water could escape out the bottom onto the foam board. If you seal the bottom of the window and water manages to get behind the membrane it can build up and leak back into the house.

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The good thing about windows is that once you have done one the others are all basically the same!

Foam Board – The Envelope of Our House

After the framing was finished the next thing to tackle was the exterior foam board and windows. The foam board, although not extremely thick, does help to prevent thermal bridging and provides a modest but noticeable increase in the R-value of the walls. Wood has an R-value of about 1 per inch of thickness. With 2×4″ walls this would give us an R-value of only 3.5 where the studs were. The 1/2″ foam board has an R-value of 3 so where it overlaps the studs the R-value is brought up to 6.5 which is almost double. This makes a big difference in the winter by reducing cold spots along the walls.

By spray foaming and taping the seams of the foam board it is now able perform double duty as both insulation and  vapor barrier. At this point in the build waterproofing the house was important for us because we didn’t want to have to deal with another flooding incident.

The first step to the foam board installation was to measure and run a chalk line along the studs to ensure the foam boards were installed evenly along the house.  The house is quite long so I had break up the chalk line into two or three different segments along the sides.

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The chalk line can be seen in the picture below.

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Since I wasn’t able to nail the boards on the trailer itself I used construction adhesive instead. Make sure that the adhesive you buy is compatible with foam board.

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To secure the foam to the walls I used 1 ¾” roofing nails. There are special nails made for foam but they were expensive and wouldn’t have laid as flat to the foam anyway. I was careful to nail close to the edges of the foam board so that when I taped the seams I would also cover the nails. Nails that were in the middle of the board I also covered with tape to prevent leaking. Note that the fresh spray foam along the edges of the board I am nailing in the picture below has expended. I didn’t worry about wiping it away or trying to flatten it immediately after applying it to the seams. The spray foam tends to expand for awhile after application. This wasn’t an issue on the interior of the house since it was going to be covered with insulation anyway. On the exterior I applied the tuck tape before the spray foam cured and when I pressed the tape down it flattened the foam out.

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Watch the video for a quick walk through of the foam board installed on our tiny house and another look at the metal strapping used to reinforce the framing.

Terms & Definitions:
Thermal Bridging: A thermal bridge, also called a cold bridge or heat bridge, is an area of an object (frequently a building) which has a significantly higher heat transfer than the surrounding materials resulting in an overall reduction in thermal insulation of the object or building.

R-value: the capacity of an insulating material to resist heat flow. The higher the R-value, the greater the insulating power.

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Have comments or questions? Feel free to start a conversation below!

Framing the Mini Mansion Part 2

If you are building a tiny house having it sheltered out of the rain and wind is best. However, we were able to complete our tiny house without this luxury. Once we erected the walls we had to tarp the house to keep rain off of the subfloor because it wasn’t waterproof and we wanted to keep the insulation under it dry. One morning at about 3:00 a.m we awoke to the sounds of a downpour. Both of us had the feeling we should check on the house.  Sure enough the tarps had failed to some degree and a large area of the floor was covered with water. We spent around an hour in the middle of the night sopping up the water with towels and wringing them out (that’s dedication!)  Later in the week, I lifted part of the subfloor as much as possible to see if there was water under the OSB and a significant amount was sitting on the vapor barrier. More toweling ensued and after that we set a fan to blow  air under the partly lifted subfloor. Eventually it dried out but boy was it a pain 🙁

This is the morning after the flood.

Flooded

 

The first video I made of our tiny house build. This is a small addition to a slideshow I narrated in Framing part 1.

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