Finally, it looks like a house!

Look!! We have some walls!!

CAM00222

Rob and I have been working on framing the walls in the comfort of our garage for the last few weeks. This past weekend, we were finally able to put them up! They are a bit heavy, and it’s difficult impossible to manage measurements and placement with only two people. Luckily, we were able to find some magical internet friends!

Thanks a lot /r/321!! With the help of Cheryl, Price, Amanda, Ellen, Mike, Casey, Eric, Ronnie, Adam, and David (I hope I got those all right… and I can’t forget Brandon, Jade, and Bear), we got all four walls standing and braced. We also celebrated a birthday, and our dog Proton made a friend!

I’m so excited — it really seems like a tiny house now!

Steel Framing

I’ve had a lot of people ask me why we went with steel instead of wood… it definitely has advantages and disadvantages, but overall, I’m very happy with our decision.

The good…

  • Ease of use: The steel is soooo nice to work with — none of the pieces are warped or twisted like with wood, and it really seems like you can get things exactly right if you’re willing to do careful measurements. We were amazed how well everything fit together when we put the walls up.
  • Recyclability: Steel studs are made of largely recycled materials, and the scraps (or the entire structure eventually) can be recycled. [1]
  • Termite resistance: Termites are a big deal down here — we didn’t want our entire house structure to get eaten.
  • Strength & weight: A steel stud is lighter than a similarly sized wood stud. The difference isn’t huge since we’re using 18 gauge steel (some people use the lighter 20 gauge, but this doesn’t meet wind load requirements for our area), but the steel has more strength for its weight.

The bad…

  • Price: I’ve heard that steel and wood are comparably priced — let me tell you, that’s not true around here. I found only one local company selling 18 gauge steel studs, and they were about twice as much as lumber. The fasteners are also more expensive.
  • Possible rust issues: Things rust super fast down here… we don’t think this will be an issue with the galvanized studs, but it could be. Everywhere we make a cut or hole, we use a cold galvanizing spray to protect the bare metal.

Besides that, steel just seemed really cool! I worked on iron and steel for my entire PhD and postdoc, so it’s somehow more personal to me! If you’re considering steel, check out some of the references at the bottom of this post, and definitely consult the Prescriptive Method for Residential Cold-Formed Steel Framing [2] for load tables and lots of helpful diagrams.

Another consideration for steel framing is insulation. Steel acts as a much better thermal bridge than wood, which means that standard “between-the-studs” insulation isn’t very effective. [5] The best method to deal with this is to use continuous insulation on the outsideΒ of the steel. This changes the design a little bit from the typical tiny house, but it leaves the space between the studs free for easy plumbing, wiring, and even shelving. More on that in a few weeks…

Leveling & attaching the scissor jacks

We finally got our scissor jacks on the back of the trailer so that it could be leveled before the walls went up. We decided to attach them using bolts instead of welds — that way, we can remove them for transport to get better ground clearance.

In order to have the bolt heads be accessible (so they don’t turn while you’re tightening the nut), we had to go through several layers — the trailer itself (a 6 inch hollow piece of steel), the floor framing, the subfloor, and the bottom layer of track of the wall. This required super long special-order 3/8″ bolts:

CAM00214

When they arrived, we saw they were only threaded on the bottom bit, and they were a bit too long (you don’t get to be very specific in lengths when you get to foot long bolts), so we added some spacers too. Since the holes we had cut in the steel track were rough & large (so they’d fit over the entire nut), we went back and added steel plates to strengthen things, then we caulked around the edges to prevent water penetration. When the walls go up, we’ll still be able to access the bolt heads from inside the storage area in the couch.

We do plan to add two more scissor jacks in the front — those corners are noticeably bouncier than the back ones now.

We have a little bit more framing to do (some studs we left out for ease of screwing, loft, etc), but luckily we got most of the heavy pieces in place! More importantly, we made some local friends that I hope we’ll see a lot more of πŸ™‚

 

References

[1] SSMA — Green Building

[2] Prescriptive Method for Residential Cold-Formed Steel Framing

[3] Highly recommend this book: Steel Frame House Construction (also includes a copy of the Prescriptive Method)

[4] Buildipedia article

[5] IMPROVING ENERGY PERFORMANCE OF STEEL STUD WALLS, ORNL

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14 Comments

    • Thanks! As for aluminum, the most prohibitive factor is cost — for a similarly sized piece, the aluminum would be about 4 times more (I’m taking that figure from here). Plus, aluminum won’t be as strong… it is much lighter though! Aluminum just hasn’t been used to frame many large structures, like houses or commercial buildings, so the body of knowledge isn’t nearly as extensive as it is for steel. I think sourcing the materials would be very difficult; it was hard enough finding a structural steel stud seller. I have seen at least one aluminum tiny house though — check out The Nautilus; it’s really cool.

  1. Wow this is such an exciting project! I can definitely see how you guys caught the tiny house bug πŸ™‚ Whenever I imagine doing something like this I can see getting rid of most of the standard household possessions, but I would have no idea how to accommodate the bulky equipment I’d be unwilling to let go (caving, skydiving, bicycle, etc). So I’m super curious how you guys are handling all your outdoors gear–separate storage? Or just trimming down household stuff a little more seriously to make room for it indoors?

    • Hey Melanie; good to hear from you! We definitely consider that to be a problem, and we’re also unwilling to get rid of that stuff! Right now, we’re planning that our couch/guest bed will be able to fit most of our outdoor gear — caving, camping, and climbing. It will be basically a 3x3x7′ box. Rob’s surfboard is going to hang on the ceiling. We don’t have bikes right now, so we don’t have to worry about that yet (although I have no idea where they would go… maybe on the outside with a lock?).

  2. Hello!!!

    I have just started the very early stages of my tiny house build (i.e. coming up with floor plans haha) and am thinking about using steel instead of wood. Since many people don’t use steel its hard to find blogs that give details about the project. I was wondering how many steel frame’s/poles you used for your house so far (I’m trying to see how much it would cost me) and i was also wondering how you knew where to put them to insure the house will de durable, did you find any blogs or videos that might be helpful? Thank you – marisa πŸ™‚

  3. Pingback: Continuous insulation, windows, tyvek, and more! | Erin & Rob build a Tiny House

  4. Hey, awesome blog. Love how you have documented the tiny house build. I’m in the process of wanting to go tiny and making some decisions on what I would prefer and going steel frames is one of the ideas I’d like to implement in my own home. I am just wondering in terms of cost? (Obviously different for every tiny home) but is it much more than wood?

    Cheers

    Nikkala

    • So, the studs cost more than wood, yes. There will also be some challenges with different building processes with steel vs wood. I used to keep track of all the costs, but I got lazy, lol. I think we’ve spent around 30k on the entire house, including appliances, etc. I’d say go wood if you want easy, straightforward, standard. Steel if you want to to be interesting, nerd out on building science, and don’t mind spending a couple extra thousand $$.

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