Something strange happened on my most recent build stint. My house became real.
I had thought it was real before, as the walls went up and the roof sheathing and layers of foam went on, but I was wrong. It took up space but it only had the faintest of heartbeats, personality, soul. It had vacant eyes and a bald purple head. I loved it anyway.
But this time, with only a little prodding from me, it came into its own. It now has a full roof and windows and a crazy smile. It’s still without siding and a door, but now there is a definite sense of interior and exterior, a defiant assertion of self. I feel like my child has just sprouted a wispy beard and gotten a driver’s license; it’s both amazing and a little terrifying.
The last few weeks have been a time of big changes and a girding of loins. Of peering through the dark. Of confronting fears and planting seeds and taking leaps of faith. As I look back on my fifth build stint and the pictures I took, there’s a preponderance of grays and black, of clouds and drizzle, of cold metal and granite rocks. Of shadows, winter twilight and aluminum crutches.
But burgeoning beneath all of this are oranges and reds, warm light and glowing wood, budding friendships, camaraderie and familial love, and the promise of spring and of becoming, bubbling up like lava, inevitable, molten, raw.
It wasn’t exactly an auspicious arrival. After the stress of my last build stint and trying to juggle lives and work in two places, I came down with shingles – how fitting is that for a house builder! Since I wasn’t back to full strength, I decided to fly up to Oregon. What should have been an hour and half flight and an hour drive from Portland, ended up being a two day affair. A major snowstorm the weekend before had melted and saturated the soils and, the night before I arrived, there was a massive rockslide that closed the main highway up the Columbia River Gorge. My parents picked me up at the airport and we tried to go up the other side of the river. We spent hours not moving due to additional rockslides and several terrible accidents, so we gave up and returned to Portland. The next day we tried again. It was slow and tenuous, with lots of nervous glances at the cliffs above, but finally we made it.
Finishing the roof
Derin and Ben, the stellar Shelter Wise team who did the first phase of my roof, arrived with the addition of Bobby to help with the tricky custom flashing that was needed. Bobby was a professional roofer for years but now has his own business called Healthy Dwellings, which specializes in mold removal and air quality testing. As you will see below, the three of them did an incredible job installing my roof and skylights.
While many tiny housers do their own roofs, I decided to hire this part out. Partly this was due to my heights fear and lack of desire to do any more clambering up there than I had already, but also there were some complicated aspects to my roof. The ears on my house required a number of detailed customizations. Also, I had mistakenly ordered curb skylights when I think I needed deck ones, and the flashing kits my window guy had ordered didn’t work on metal roofs. Turns out Velux doesn’t make a metal roof flashing kit for their curb skylights. By the time we discovered this, the curbs and membrane had already been installed. Fortunately Derin said they could make their own custom flashing. I suspect what they came up with might even be better than what came in the kits.
Roofs are tricky and require some expertise and special tools. Given the consequences of a leaking roof, I’d strongly advise those thinking of doing their own roofs to have some experienced help or at least work on someone else’s first to know what to expect. Now that I’ve seen it done, I could conceivably install one myself, but doing it cold I’m sure I would have made mistakes. This way I will sleep much, much better.
I ordered my windows last May so that I would know the exact measurements for framing the rough openings. For the last eight months they’ve been propped out of the way, like abandoned eyeglasses, but not forgotten. Every trip up, I was hoping to get them in but was waylaid for various reasons. Now was the time. The roof was done and that night I was hosting the first ever informal Tiny Housers of the Columbia River Gorge potluck. I wanted to at least get one or two windows in before they came. Steffen came over and we went to work. He was determined to get them all in. My arms were aching but we got all but one done before I finally had to call it quits to run take a shower and clean up before everyone arrived. It was so rushed I didn’t have time to fully appreciate this big change to my house, but it sunk in over the next couple days. If eyes are the windows to one’s soul, my house now had both eyes and soul.
A gathering of tiny housers in the Columbia River Gorge
To my surprise, I had been contacted by several people in the area who were building tiny houses. Just goes to show you, we are everywhere! Rather than meeting with each individually, it seemed better to make it a group event, hence the potluck. Emily and Brynden have just started but have their walls up already. They are planning on running Brynden’s catering business out of their tiny house! After doing some world traveling, Bryan is back in the valley and working on his house – we’re at about the same stage. Joan is waiting to sell her big house to have her builders get started on her tiny, and Leslie is building a tiny house as her awesome high school senior project to raise money for college. It was great to swap stories. Some friends of Emily and Brynden’s are going to be building a tiny house so our group will undoubtedly grow. Derin was also able to join us and answer some technical questions people had.
The next day I was exhausted; I think I had overdone it after being sick. I’d gotten into my work clothes but couldn’t get moving. Joan (of PAD) and Rita called to say they were in town after a ski trip and did I want to meet them at the Double Mountain Brew Pub – that didn’t take much convincing! It was great to catch up with them and then bring them back to see the house. I am kicking myself for not taking any pictures of either the potluck or their visit so these warm interior shots will have to act as stand-ins:
My last couple days of the stint were spent installing the last window and getting all of them fully flashed, plus cleaning up. I’d hoped to finish the gable end eaves but that will need to wait until the next trip. I’m learning to pace myself a little more (ha!).
The inevitability of change
Besides the changes with my house, there have been a couple other happenings of note. In the midst of all my activity around my windows and the potluck, my dad, who had gone to the beach for the weekend, blew out his knee. Otherwise pretty healthy, he returned from the ER on crutches and in a great deal of pain. It was heart wrenching to see him completely incapacitated and a vivid reminder how quickly things can change. He’s going to need surgery but fortunately should make a full recovery. Of course this happened right when the three hundred blueberry bushes need pruning for this year’s harvest!
The other big shift is that I announced my plans to “retire” later this summer, after nearly 25 years at my job, and move back up to Oregon permanently. Although I’ve been mulling this for some time, it was unnerving to make it official. For someone who thrives on change and gets bored if I’m stuck in the same place too long, I was still a little queasy the day I told my manager. That night, however, I snapped awake with a fully-formed idea for the next phase of my life, one that builds on all that I’ve been figuring out about myself throughout my tiny house journey. Too soon to tell what may come of it, but it’s intriguing.
Like my house, I am becoming. I don’t know where it may lead, but it feels right and I’m learning to trust that.
above the snow
at the level of bird song
~ Jane Reichhold