Tiny Tuesday: The Nomad

My dear friend MK lives in a house she built on a 24-foot-by-8-foot trailer. The Nomad (as she named it) is parked in her hosts’ sloping backyard in the Finger Lakes region of New York; legally, it’s an accessory dwelling. It’s not a house on wheels at the moment, because she jacked and leveled the house and removed the wheels.

MK previously served as an intern at Yestermorrow Design-Build School, and the courses she took there gave her the expertise to design the house herself. She drew plans with Sketchup. She cut material costs and overall weight using advance framing: rafters align with studs and floor joists to eliminate plates, and strategic placement of windows and doors allows for light header beams. She hired local talent to build a custom trailer (with floor joists in the right places), and she leveraged a building class to contribute labor.

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MK’s Sketchup plans for the Nomad.

I love the house’s wedge shape, using a shed roof with a shallow 1.5-on-12 pitch to create headroom without complicated roof lines. As you enter through double doors near the low end, an eat-in kitchen stretches out to your left, with open cabinets, a 3-burner stove, and a huge chest freezer (which MK intends to convert to a fridge). To your right is the bathroom and the mechanical area, including an array of batteries for a future PV installation. The far end contains a steep stairway to a landing that serves as a dressing room, then turns to a loft, which is entirely filled by a queen-size mattress. The stairs and the loft floor frame a living room with built-in shelving and a loveseat tucked into the far wall.

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Eat-in kitchen, stairs/dressing area, and living room with loft above.
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Handsome finishes on the living room’s built-in shelving.

Right now the house is pretty much off the grid. There is no running water or electricity, although the hookups are all there. (MK uses a composting toilet and showers at the gym.) Insulation is tight with no thermal bridges, and MK expects her marine wood-burning stove and her heat recovery ventilator will be more than sufficient to keep the place comfortable as she prepares to spend her first winter there. In the meantime, the Nomad helps her save money for her dream of one day running a farm and rustic B&B.

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MK says it was a challenge to level the house on a wooded, sloping site.

Stove Envy

I’ve been helping Jas on and off with the installation of a new wood-burning stove. He finally got the thing cooking this week, so it’s time to report on the process.

To set the stage, let me invoke Captain Obvious for a moment. Stoves are hot. When wood gets hot, it catches on fire. Jas lives in a house made of wood. (A log cabin, in fact.) Several recent incidents in my area prove that houses still do catch fire sometimes and burn to the ground. So the main concern with installing the stove was protecting Jas’s house.

It’s not just the stove itself, of course: there’s also a chimney. The manufacturer gave guidelines for how far each length of pipe must be from a wall, with different minimum values for single pipe, double pipe, and insulated pipe, as well as reductions if the wall is shielded with another piece of metal. The manufacturer also specified the number of S-bends allowed and the final height we needed to reach above the house. Our path of least resistance goes through the exterior wall a few feet above the stove, jogs around a second-floor window, then travels straight up through the roof overhang to the peak.

Once we determined where the chimney should pass through the wall, Jas grabbed his chainsaw and began slicing a 10-inch diameter hole to fit an 8-inch diameter pipe surrounded by 1 inch of insulation. It wasn’t easy even for a chainsaw – his walls are almost a foot thick at the thickest part of the log. Once he roughed out an opening, I shaped it into a circle using a sawzall with a new blade.

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The transition stovepipe slides snugly into the hole.

In general we needed double-wall stovepipe inside the house and single-wall stovepipe outside the house. I installed the transition piece through the wall, and we sketched out the remaining sections of pipe we’d need. Jas installed them all, patched the openings, crossed his fingers, and lit a fire. Boy does it ever keep his house warm!

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Jas’s cat warmed up to the new stove right away.

Class Dismissed

Oh wow, the Yestermorrow class sure accomplished a lot in one week. The dining room, where it once had a creaky sliding door, now boasts a swinging glass door and a window. The front door and an interior wall received complete overhauls as well. I would have liked more time to meet the students and instructor; they covered a lot of ground in a short course and I’d be fascinated to hear their perspectives.

Front doorway boarded up while the Yestermorrow class replaces it.
Front doorway boarded up while the Yestermorrow class replaces it.

But I rarely found myself working close by the Yestermorrow crew, and it’s hard to justify chitchat when we all have so much to do. The polyurethane coating on the bedroom’s barnboard wall came out so well we decided to repeat the treatment all over. The stair surround got covered, as did the barn-style doors we built for upstairs and all the timber beams that will hold their hardware. I used an angle grinder to cut some hand-forged nails down to one inch long (so they wouldn’t puncture any hidden plumbing or electrical) and then hammered them into the bathroom walls.

A plethora of little tasks took less than a day each, sometimes less than an hour. Bob, wearing his electrician hat, installed cans for ceiling lighting in the bedroom. Mark and I cut another hole through the exterior wall (hideous job for a sawzall, with three layers of solid wood to push through) and slid in the dryer vent. I laid a new subfloor in a corner of the downstairs bathroom and jigsawed out a hole for the new toilet plumbing. I also replaced an outdoor spigot, though I didn’t hook it up to anything.

And Paté removed every mote of dust from the master bedroom floor so she could unroll a cardboard-like protective surface as flat as possible. We want no expanding foam to fall on our finish floor when the insulation guys come to fill in the new roof. They’ll be here Monday, I’m told.

Master bedroom floor protected in preparation for foam insulation.
Master bedroom floor protected in preparation for foam insulation.