Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sheltering a Tiny House in Progress in Unexpected Rain

Rain at the end of June!

Yesterday was my son's fourth birthday. We have a big party planned for him later, but for now we just had cake and family presents after pizza at home with immediate family. Still, it was a hectic day, since it coincided with his first ever swimming lesson and a lot of urgent work we're doing to finalize the tiny house and sell it.

Then another coincidence got added to the pile. A half inch of rain was predicted for last night, and we have our second tiny house framed and sub-floored, all exposed to the elements. Usually it's unnecessary to shelter a construction site in the summer here (in Sonoma County) because in our Mediterranean climate rain is rare between May and September. But the satellite pictures on the news were pretty threatening, so after cleaning up the debris and getting the kids involved with some new toys in the living room, three of us adults went out into the windy evening to carefully wrap house number two up with thick black plastic. I figure maybe my description of the process could help somebody else out in the same position. When we had to do it last year we had no idea where to begin and it became so frustrating I thought we might start smacking each other.

Now, I don't know how many houses you've wrapped, but it can be tricky. First there's the fitting: you struggle to hold up long bulky lengths of folded up plastic to eyeball the length. You mentally add some excess to allow for overlap and to make it easier to muscle it all the way around the structure, which suddenly doesn't seem as tiny. In our case we were fortunate to have quite a lot of plastic left over from wrapping the first house in a previous unseasonable rain, so we could be generous with our overage.

There are many ways to wrap a house, I'm sure, but here's what worked well for us (this time). First we wrapped the rafter tails nearest the corners in duct tape to dull the edges so they didn't cut right through the plastic. Then we ran one wall high width of plastic around the whole house horizontally and stapled it to some of the framing. Imagine this layer as the frosting on the sides of a cake. Try to run a couple vertical rows of staples, at least one up each end, so the plastic is supported in more than one place. Staples should be roughly a foot apart, and you don't want it so loose the plastic gapes between fasteners, nor do you want it so tight it's straining at the fasteners.

Then we set up a huge piece that would cover the top of the gable roof from end to end with enough overlap drooping off each end to close off the open gable. It was almost twice the total length of the house. My husband Dylan got up in the rafters and I stood on a ladder next to the house. I fed him the long leading edge so he could go back and forth dragging it slowly over the roof ridge. I had to stand under the plastic and hold the sheet away from the rafter tails along the side, watching for it to catch on any projecting wood so I could ease it over.

When we had the long piece draped over the top of the roof and hanging down evenly on both sides, we weighted the edges with clamps so it wouldn't blow or slide off while we got our straps over the top. We used heavy duty ratchet straps like three belts to hold the whole thing down. You can use smaller ones, but you want to keep the "belts" right on top of the 2x4s and the wider stiffer straps make it a lot easier. Dylan stood on one side and threw the lighter hook end over the top of the roof near the leading (windward) edge first. We caught it on the other side, found a secure place for the hook in the C channel steel under the trailer, and then he gently ratcheted the strap into place while we both kept our respective sides centered on the nearest 2 x 4 for good support. The tension is minimal, but just enough to stay fixed in place. Then we repeated the process on the other end. Right away we could see the wind getting under the plastic in the middle and making it billow out like a giant black sail, so we put a third one right in the center.

To close off the gable end, we folded over the draping edge, placed a small piece of 2 x 4 over the seam, and drove three screws through it into the framing stiffener, which is a temporary bit that we'll take off before we put on the wall sheathing. The 2 x 4 spreads the holding force out over a wide flat area so the plastic is a lot less likely to tear in the wind.

It was a pain because of the wind and the cumbersome plastic, but right after we finished we had that giddy little kid feeling of having made a fort, and we wanted to make up excuses to hang out in there. I'm surprised we didn't end up dragging out some sleeping bags and camping out. The rain started sometime in the middle of the night, and is still coming down now, giving us a steady but moderate soaking. Our garden loves this deep natural watering, but it scares me to think of how high the fuel load will be later this season.

As of this morning, the house interior is completely dry. Mission accomplished!