Tiny Cabin Update: Siding and Shingles

Several people have asked when the cabin will be finished. Well, it’s hard to say. When it’s 100 degrees with a heat index of 111, I’d rather tackle some of the 10,000 other things on my “to do” list, not to mention catch up on my freelance editing.

But since my brother Jared was coming in from Oklahoma and volunteered–that’s right, volunteered!–to help, we braved the heat. That week, at least, we had one day at 91 degrees, though another had a heat index of 107. By the time the heat became unbearable, however, we were so focused on our game plan that it didn’t slow us down. We arrived between 7 and 8 each morning and didn’t stop until sometime between 1 and 2.

First step: staining the siding. After staining the first sheet on our hands and knees, we decided to save our backs and carry the sheets to the sawhorses. Chuck framed out the sides of the house and made a run to the hardware store. I can’t remember what we needed, but it never fails that the first day has a few hiccups.

I also showed Jared how to hang the cedar shingles. I had a system for fitting them together, but he improved on it. At first we worked as a team, and then it became clear he’d be faster by himself with me trimming boards when needed.

But our main focus was getting up the siding since there were three of us. Jared and Chuck lifted the panels into place and I made sure the bottom went over the lip of the trim and then pushed from the side until the siding locked with the piece next to it.

What’s up next? I’ll finishing painting the underside of the eave and try not to get paint everywhere. In hindsight, I should have done that before the siding was in place. Chuck will frame out the window and we’ll move the scaffolding to the other side. Our goal is to have the exterior completely done by the end of August. That leaves the inside, which we can do little by little, as time and school permit!

Tiny Cabin: Clearing a Path to the Pond

Among all of the ephemeral childhood memories I have, a few remain vivid.

The first time I went fishing, for instance: four years old, sitting on the high bank of my grandma’s pond, the red and white bobber on my fishing line disappearing beneath the water, me jerking the pole up with all my strength to hook the catfish.

It got away with the worm, of course, but the thrill of the unseen manifesting itself, however briefly, was enough to cement this memory more than any big fish story I’ve had since.

Our land has a sizable pond, but we haven’t been able to reach it due to the overgrowth. I saw it last winter before we signed the paperwork, but I haven’t been able to get close to it since.

As much as we want to work on the cabin, now is the best time to clear paths, as we don’t have to worry as much about poison ivy, ticks, and snakes. Leafless Bradford pears are also easier to trim back and cut down. I can contend with three-inch thorns as long as I can see them.

We came home bruised and scratched, though triumphant: we cleared a path to the pond!

Bradford Pear Thorns

Three-inch thorns on Bradford pear branches

Brush Pile

Ever-expanding brush pile

Cabin Site 2-16

Tiny cabin site

Pond picture

A view of the pond

Hauling Dirt

Before we could break ground, we needed more of it. Dirt, that is. Lucky for us, there’s a mound not far from the building site.

dirt pile before

Dirt pile after

A wheelbarrow worked for the potholes, but not to the extent we needed.

The Conway Home Depot rents Bobcats for $249 + tax, and we would have had to haul it an hour both ways. We hoped we could do better by going local, so we called the first place that came up on a Searcy Google search and reserved one at a considerable discount, quite proud of ourselves.

Saturday morning Chuck and his best friend Dan pull up to a sketchy-looking house surrounded by a fence and a series of piecemeal shacks. It was a junkyard minus the Rottweiler.

The exchange went something like this:

Chuck: “Hello, I’m here to pick up the Bobcat.”

Man: “Bobcat?”

Chuck: “Yes, I called yesterday to reserve one for this morning.”

Man: [Blank look.]

Chuck: “I spoke to Curtis?”

Man: “Oh. Well, I’m Curtis.”

It turns out that the Bobcat was ready, but the trailer was in a shack, parked behind a forklift that, they soon discovered, was out of gas. That wouldn’t have been a problem had Curtis not directed Chuck to fill it up with a gas can that turned out to contain pink liquid and that would have to be siphoned before the forklift could be moved.

We were lucky that our work day turned out to be cloudy and an unseasonably cool 86 degrees because it took two hours just to rent and load the Bobcat.

Driving one of these things is a lot harder than it looks.

bobcat

And for future reference: they won’t go in reverse unless you first pull forward. It was sort of a metaphor for our day: going in the opposite direction before any ground could be gained.

While the guys figured out how to operate a machine whose switch labels had long worn off, my friend Laurie gave me ideas for laying out the future garden, taking a page out of the permaculture playbook, such as planting parsley, Echinacea, eggplant, and other herbs around trees to create their very own microclimate. We also scouted out strategic places for a fir and a fast-growing hardwood to create greater seclusion in front of the cabin. She also advised that the number of old, rotting trees on part of the land will make great fertilizer at the bottom of a raised bed. I could almost feel my brown thumb turning green.

Once the guys got the hang of operating the bucket via pedals and the right angle at which to charge the pile, we spread the dirt.

cabin site with dirtcabin spot with dirt

It took surprisingly little time to complete the task, so after a hard-earned lunch break, we finished out the driveway. Like the foundation of our cabin, the driveway will need gravel, but now it’s at least level with the ground around it.

dirt road from land

We left feeling pretty triumphant, even if later I discovered that I had provided a host of mosquitoes with their daily dose of iron. I had so many bites that they blistered—it felt like chicken pox all over again or the time I somehow managed to get poison ivy on my back. I’ll remember to re-apply the bug spray more frequently, and in the meantime, I’d like to give a shout out to my new best friend, the oatmeal bath.

A Ton of Work…Literally

5-22-15 driveway with partial rockA few days after our sinking episode, we called a gravel truck. The problem: because the clay was so soft, he couldn’t gradually release the rock so that it spread evenly. He just had to dump it. While he went for another load, we spread it with shovels, shoes, and gloved hands.

We hadn’t expected anyone to be able to come out on such short notice, much less deliver multiple loads. Otherwise, we might have had more hands on deck! Instead, it was just the two of us. We had planned to spend the day clearing the new site for the cabin, but we knew this had to be done. More rains were on the horizon, and the driveway was basically a 6’ x 22’ mud hole.

The air was cool and the day was lovely, but after spreading the third load we were worn out—and the driveway was only half done.

Then, the mayor of Higginson himself showed up—tall and serious, with a resemblance to Tommy Lee Jones. He was in the neighborhood because around the corner a stretch of houses were having some sewer problems. [With a composting toilet we won’t have to worry about that!]

He exuded silent confidence while sizing up the situation. He told us he’d be back with a backhoe, and five minutes later we watched, mouths agape, as he smoothed out the freshly-dumped load.

5-22-15 driveway with rock

We asked if we could make a donation to the town, but he wouldn’t take any money directly. Instead, he said, “If you want, go to City Hall and make a donation to the 4th of July fund.” He seems to take his civic position as one “for the people.”

Thankfully, our cabin-building schedule was only tentative, or else we’d be behind. At the moment, we’re under a severe thunderstorm warning, and up to five more inches of rain are expected this week. We’ll go out to the land on Thursday to see if our new site is still above water.

Composting Toilet: Not Flushing Your Money Away

When we moved into our current home, each bathroom was its own color: sky blue, bright red, and teal. That included the sink, tub, and toilet. With five people in the house, using the toilet only three times a day, multiplied by an average of four gallons per flush, we used 21,900 gallons of water a year, not including showers, laundry, or dishes.

Over the years we’ve remodeled the bathrooms, replacing the toilets with more efficient ones that use a lot less water. Still, we’re wasting thousands of gallons a year of perhaps the most precious natural resource we have.

This time we’re going with a composting toilet. It is what the name implies: waste, through various chemical processes and a little time, becomes soil.

The low end of composting toilets requires only a bucket and peat moss. A mid-range toilet requires frequent emptying, possibly before the waste has finished composting.

High grade composting toilets are expensive—relatively speaking. The one we are currently looking at http://www.envirolet.com/320.html is around $3,200 (on sale through tomorrow).

That is considerably more than we had wanted to spend (three times the amount of the materials for the shell of our cabin), but it’s still cheaper than a septic tank. And rather than empty the waste ourselves, a solar-powered battery will suck it out of the house and into a composter. The great thing is, it only has to be emptied once a year, after it’s through composting.

Water, Water Everywhere

driveway 5-13-15

Driveway 5-13-15 before

Driveway 5-13-15 after

Driveway 5-13-15 after

We finally made it back to the land today. Searcy has had crazy rain–6-8″ in the past seven days. A portion of the property is under water, but thankfully not where we intend to build the cabin.

Once we build the cabin and set up the rain barrel, we should be able to collect about 8,000 gallons of water a year [~250 sq. ft. of roof x .62 x 50″ annual rainfall = 7,936 gallons].

Cabin Site

Cabin Site

Next week, we’re going to brave the weather and camp on the land. We’ve cleared away all the small trees and brush; now we need a chainsaw. We’ve staked out the spot for the house and have to decide the path for the driveway. Once it’s cleared, we can have a load of gravel brought for the foundation.

Then it’ll be time to start building.

Clearing Land by Hand: Before and After

wheelbarrow

Some gasoline had spilled in the wheelbarrow, so we drove the hour to Searcy with the windows down. It was 7:00 am and a refreshing 64 degrees.

If only we had been able to go straight to work! Chuck had to give a final exam, so we didn’t get to the land until 11:00, when it was 84 degrees and the sun was almost directly overhead.

Chirping followed wherever we worked, with one bird louder than the rest. It was as if the birds had designated a reporter to keep up with our whereabouts. I’m glad we waited to bring the weed eaters, preferring to see how far the hand tools could get us.

driveway before          driveway after

Based on the before and after pictures, I think they served us well. Granted, I took a three hour nap when I got home. We still have to fill in the ruts in the “driveway.” Luckily, there’s a pile of dirt around the bend.

house area before          house area after

The blue spot in the picture is the tarp we laid over our supplies. It’ll be a few days before we get out to the land again–grading takes precedence, not to mention there’s an 80% chance of rain this weekend. Plus, we have some planning to do and decisions to make.

Things I learned: don’t forget a ponytail holder and wear long sleeves (bugs bite, branches are sharp).

Tiny Cabin

My husband Chuck and I are building a tiny cabin this summer on seven acres with a pond just outside of Searcy, Arkansas. I’m looking forward to breathing fresh air and living more sustainably.

We have a little experience with carpentry, but this will be our first ground-up project. The “Thoreau cabin” will be 10′ x 16′ with a loft. We’re also adding a small front porch and a screened-in back porch. Though we still have some details to work out, we’re going off-grid, using solar power and rain water.

We purchased the plans from solarcabin–watch his 3-minute video for the “Thoreau cabin” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTT5kC4V54o

Tomorrow we begin clearing the chosen spot. The car is loaded with shovels, a wheelbarrow, weed eaters, bug spray. and a first aid kit. What we bought: tarp, rope, gloves, clippers, stakes, a straw hat.

May in Arkansas is lovely. The weather should be great, though there’s a 20% change of a “stray thunderstorm.” Even so, it’s all part of the adventure!