tiny house roof

Musings on My Vardo Roof Box

Skylight box went up the third day of my build, getting dried in took over a month! Today I met with Fred at Taylor Metal Products and Tim Bancke, the roofer who recently completed the beautiful curved roof for Lilypad, a tiny house currently under construction for my friend Anita by Walt Quade of Small Home Oregon. I did the concept design work with Anita and the half-curved roof was my big idea so I'm thrilled it's turned out so nicely! You can read all about it over at Once Upon a Lilypad!)

Although I admire folks like Ben Campbell and my build buddy Laura Klement who installed their metal roofs themselves, I've decided to let the pros handle mine. I knew that my vardo's roof would be a design-build challenge, but I am enamored with curved roofs, so I decided it would be worth it. Now that I've finished Sheathing My Vardo Roof, I do still think my curved roof was worth it, but I would have done a few things differently. (For the full list, check out my forthcoming blog post ALL The Mistakes.)

I've found myself drawn to curved roofs for as long as I can remember. Street cars. Gypsy wagons. Sheepherders wagons. Barrel vaulted ceilings. To me this shape means freedom, whimsy, and exploration.

I adore the lovely curved roofs on little houses like Ben Campbell's vardo and Caboose at Caravan - The Tiny House Hotel. And I've been especially inspired by the exposed beautiful arched laminated rafters made by talented craftspeople like Katy Anderson who created PAD's vardo and John who built Big Maroon on the back of a 1949 Federal truck. Exposed rafters remind me of ribs and there's something about that structure that really appeals to me. I decided I wanted a curved roof, too, even though I knew it would take longer and cost more.

I knew as I was Building My Arched Rafters and Planing My Curved Rafters and then creating my Rafter Tales and finally Rafter Raising, that by exposing my rafters I'd be creating a roof system that would stretch my building skills and my budget. But I also knew I'd love it.

I took it a step farther by adding the skylight box. The shape was inspired by the mollycroft roofs of gypsy wagons of yore and by my friend John Labovitz's tiny house truck Polymecca. I've never seen anyone put skylights on the top of the monitor like I've designed, but I'm enthralled with the idea.

I'm less enthusiastic about the amount of time it took to get my complex roof dried in! Once I'd created my Floorbox (and then reworked it with the help of Patrick Sughrue of Structures Northwest), My SIPS Wall Raising only took an hour and a half! The next day we completed My Tiny House Air Barrier. Because of supply issues, being rained out, and making a couple trips out of town because I was, well, Doing Life, it took over a month before my roof was dried in. That means I had to untarp it and tarp it back up again each time I worked on the house! (Mind you I did have the assistance of many Tiny House Helpers.) I ended up on Plan F: Take 2. During this time I was so anxious I didn't sleep well.

It seems the roof is both my house's crowning glory and it's Achilles heel. So I've been thinking of ways I could have avoided (or at least reduced) the anxiety.

What I've decided is that I should have built my tiny house roof (and floor for that matter!) out of SIPs, just like I did with My SIPs Walls. I didn't do a SIPs roof for one big reason: SIPs are flat and my roof is not. But I've come up with two possible ways to do it.

First, I could have done a curved SIP roof. Talking to Patrick Sughrue of Structures Northwest, I've learned that it is possible to have a curved roof built as a SIP. Wouldn't it have been amazing to have my whole house put together in just 1 day?! There's only one factory Patrick knows of that can do a curved SIP on the Best Coast (did I say that?! er, I mean West Coast!) It's also a fairly wasteful process because you start out with a big block of foam and carve out the curve, which produces a whole lot of material you don't need. Also, I probably wouldn't be able to get a curve with as tight a radius as the one I've got. However, I'm not sure that it has to be so curved. In fact, I've learned from roofers today that the snaplock panels which we're hoping to use on my house work best with a radius of 10 ft or greater. My roof has a radius of approximately 8 feet, so it will be a stretch to use this system. Maybe it would be okay to have a shallower curve after all. Especially if I could get the house dried in in a weekend instead of a month!

This winter Patrick and I will be working on a Vardo kit made out of SIPs so that folks who love the vardo shape can get their shell built in a weekend! If you're interested, please let us know!

However, this curved SIP roof wouldn't have worked with exposed rafters like I have. As I learned while Making Ends Meet, getting those two curves the same is a challenge. On the other hand, I could have done faux exposed rafters on the inside. I plan to try it on the next vardo I build. Besides, my skylight box would have been a challenge anyway. So here's the other option I came up with:

I could have had a set of long 1 foot wide SIP panels fabricated which would have sat on top of my exposed rafters on either side of the skylight box. Shorter 1 foot wide panels would go on either end of the skylight box at the front and back of the house. I would have put the rafters up as I did. I figure I could go through the same process of Ceiling Up My Vardo Roof with beadboard panels or I could install this material from the inside afterwards. Either way, instead of building the roof box, which required Eave Caps and Plan F and resulted in my first (and hopefully-but-I-doubt-it-last) melt down, I would have put the SIPs on top and attached them to the rafters. Then my roof would be both insulated and sheathed in one fail swoop. There would be triangular gaps at the top of the roof where the panels come together, so this area would be spray foamed and then cut back and covered with a flashing. The whole roof would then be ready for waterproofing and roofing.

Mind you, I'm not entirely sure either of these systems would work. Although theoretically they'd be fine, I'd have to try them to be sure. The design I've come up with for my vardo roof does seem to be working and maybe it's the best way to do it. If you have done either of these alternate systems or if you decide to try it now after reading about it, please report back. As I've noted in another (forthcoming) blog post, My Mistakes Manifesto, I believe sharing our mistakes is even more important than sharing our successes because we can learn so much from other people's mistakes! Also, if you have other ideas for creating an insulated and air-sealed vardo roof (especially with exposed rafters and a skylight monitor), please share them in the comments!

Sheathing My Vardo Roof

Jesse in the skylight box Yesterday the carpenters came out of the woodwork! (This is a good thing, by the way. Wouldn't be so good if it were carpenter ants, but carpenters coming out of the woodwork is magically good!)

I had just pulled out all the tools we’d need to sheath my roof and I was untarpping the house (for the last time!) and waiting for Kenny to show up when Tony and Aline arrived. They’ve stopped by a few times now to check on my progress and they’ve helped with My Vardo Rafter Raising and Making Ends Meet, too. I hadn’t heard anything from them about helping yesterday. So I hollered out “Hey, did you guys come by for a status update?”

“Nope, we’re here to help!” Tony said.

“And we brought snacks!” said Aline.

Now THAT, my friends, was music to my ears. I was thrilled!

(And what’s better? These people. These people are going to be my neighbors! More on that to come…)

Aline cutting insulation

So we got to work. We pulled out the sheets of ½” plywood and checked them to determine right side up (the side with fewer holes to fill!) We’d already put the first sheet up during the Tiny House Mixer, which you can read about in Sidestepping with Siding. So we measured for the second sheet and cut it with a circular saw. We were just about to put it up when Kenny arrived. Together we hefted the plywood onto the roof and marked our rafter lines with a chalk line. Then we fastened the sheathing to the rafters with 4” GRK fasteners (one of my new favorite tools!) When my co-workers Evan and Jesse showed up, we really hit our stride. Kenny has worked in commercial roofing, Jesse is a carpenter, Evan does rigging on the side, and Tony and Aline built a tiny house. This was the perfect crew to have helping me sheathe my vardo roof!

Tony & Kenny applying Cat 5 to roof

We took a break for fish tacos and horcata at Super Burrito Express, one of my favorite St. John’s lunch spots. And then we went back to work, finishing the insulation at the ends of the skylight box and getting the last of the sheathing up. In the evening Kenny and Tony put the first coat of Cat 5 from the Prosoco R-Guard system on the roof. I’ll do another layer first thing Friday morning.

After a quiet weekend Sidestepping with Siding, it was such a productive day! Tony and Aline even managed to do the touch ups with Fast Flash in my window openings and get My Kitchen Windows cleaned up. Now that my windows and ROs are prepped and my roof is weatherized, I’m ready for Tiny House Window Installation on Friday!

I haven’t been sleeping well because I’ve been anxious about not being dried in. But last night, I slept like a rock all night long.

Hip, hip, hooray! Three cheers for my amazing Tiny House Helpers! I have a roof!

Plan F: Take 2

Lina planing the wild edge before installing the barge rafter, photo credit Amy Weller (having photo rotation issues - sorry about that, but this is about how it felt! Yesterday evening were working on Plan F and just placing everything together so we could decide whether to assemble the system on the ground or in the sky when I discovered that 2 x 6s are sold in "dead-on" pre-cut stud length.

Now it makes perfect sense, really. If your sill plate is 1 1/2" and you have a double top plate that's 3" and you're doing a drywalled ceiling and a finished floor you would, of course, want to just use stud length 2 x 6s that are already cut to 92 5/8."

I just had no idea they existed. So I didn't think to make sure I was buying anything other than 96" studs. In fact, I remember looking at the label for the 96" studs. It just happened to be the label for the studs above it, not the ones I bought.

So as we discovered this, I began giggling. Then I began laughing maniacally. Then I fell on the ground laughing and crying. Then I just cried for a couple minutes. I was so exhausted. And so frustrated I hadn't thought to measure. And so annoyed with myself for wasting the time of the people who came to help.

This was my first melt down of the build. I was warned it would happen and yesterday was the day. I was embarrassed my Tiny House Helpers saw me in such a state.

Amy installing outriggers around my skylight box while I point out next steps, photo credit: Love Ablan

But Karin was right. It was bound to happen. No one was hurt. No permanent damage was done. It wasn't even a very big cost. And my friends seem to still love me anyway.

I was feeling tempted to abandon the plan entirely when Angela and Randy convinced me there was no need for a plan G. Plan F was a good one. I just grabbed the wrong materials. Christian and Angela agreed to come back in the morning and help get the eve caps installed.

Angela coaxed me back into the car and we went to the hardware store to pick up 4 brand new 96" 2x6s. We got them back to site and decided it was time to call it quits for the day. We tidied up the site and headed to Signal Station Pizza for dinner and unwinding.

This morning Christian and Angela helped me get the eve caps up. It took longer than we anticipated since we had to pry the bead board up to slip the eve caps in place, but it worked. Plan F was ultimately successful. As Angela and Christian ducked out, Amy, Melissa, and Love arrived.

Melissa painting my arched window

Today we cranked out great work all day since the prep was done already yesterday. In addition to getting the Eave Caps for My Vardo Roof installed, we installed the outriggers on either side of the skylight box. We also planed and installed the curved ends of the roof box and installed the barge rafters at the front and back of the house sandwiching them around the ceiling panel, which had been running wild. (This is the first tiny part of my house that looks finished and it's so rewarding!) We even got the front of the arched window painted!

I'm so grateful for all My Tiny House Helpers! My roof box is now ready for insulation!

Eave Caps for My Vardo Roof

in Plan A a 2x4 is ripped top and bottom at 64 degrees and bolted to the rafters with a 6" timber lock screw - but I cut my rafter tails at a curve so this won't work Last weekend my Tiny House Helpers and I installed the bead board ceiling over My Arched Rafters, which I wrote about in Ceiling Up My Vardo. Then I realized that I'd need to come up with a new plan for the edge of the roof box. (Because my rafters are exposed, I'm having to build my ceiling, insulation, and sheathing from the bottom up!)

My plan for the roof box as I went into the build was to attach 2x4s on end at the edges of the eaves with 6" timber lock screws. I planned to rip the top and bottom at the correct angle (64 degrees) so that they'd sit on the Rafter Tails properly. The trouble was that I'd done my sketches before I cut my rafter tails. (The biggest trick to design I've learned is the ability to think 28 steps ahead! I'm working on it!) Once we'd finished Ceiling Up My Vardo, I realized that it wasn't going to work to put 2x4s on end at the tips of the rafters.

Plan B called for L-shaped flashing tipped up to vertical to catch the insulation

By the way, in these little thumbnail sketches, brown is the rafter, yellow is rigid foam insulation, purple is plywood sheathing, blue is flashing, and green is roofing. The orange on the first one is the 2 x 4 on edge.

So Plan B was to install a piece of normal L shaped flashing at the eaves to catch the insulation. I figured with enough finagling, the flashing could be bent up to the proper angle so that it would be vertical. When the metal roofing goes on another piece of flashing would cover up the top of the L-shaped piece before the roof panels went on.

Plan C involved U-shaped flashing to catch the plywood, but it would make my roof box stick out too far

But then it occurred to me that if I had an eave cap shaped like a U the sheathing could be tucked underneath as well. That seam could be flashed with the Fast Flash from the Prosoco R-Guard system. (Read My Tiny House Air Barrier for more on that!) So that was Plan C. However, It wouldn't work for these U-shaped eve caps to stick out without being bent up to vertical because I'm building my eves to 10' so I can still move my house with a trip permit. I don't have enough wiggle room to have the roof box extend out any further. And I knew it would be tricker to bend a U than an L.

So I decided it would be nice to have an eve cap that was already bent to my specifications. It would look much tidier but it would also be easier. So Plan D emerged. Laura and I noodled through the 7th grade geometry and determined that I needed a 64 degree angle at the bottom and a 116 degree angle at the top. The pieces needed to be 2 1/2" long on the bottom to catch the beadboard and 3 1/2" tall to accommodate 3" of insulation and the 1/2" plywood.

Plan D is to have Vinje's make me custom flashing with a 64 degree angle on the bottom and a 116 degree angle on the top

I asked around and everyone told me the place to go is Vinje & Son's Custom Sheet Metal. Vinje's is a great local family-owned sheet metal company that works with lots of do-it-yourselfers on jobs both big and small. I called them up and they said it wouldn't be a problem at all to create just what I envisioned. So I enlisted them to help with Plan D. When I got there we sketched out what I needed and they put my order into the manufacturing queue. They fabricated four 10' long eve caps that I could piece together to make a 16 foot length. I placed my order on Wednesday morning and the pieces were ready for pick up on Thursday. Their staff was friendly and knowledgeable and I'm sure I'll be back again soon whether it's for the Lucky Penny or another project.

Amy spray painting eve caps copper colored

I was planning to pick up the eave caps in the morning and get to work, but it was raining (again!), so I spent my morning working at the Breathe Building and doing errands. This evening it had cleared up so my friend Amy helped me pick up the flashing pieces and spray paint the bottoms copper. The other portions won't be seen, but the copper colored eave cap will be visible between the rafters. (By the way, I'd asked the fellow at Vinje's about copper while I was placing my order, but it would have been a couple hundred dollars instead of $60! So I'm fine with faux copper.)

Amy caulking seams with R-Guard Joint & Seam

Amy and I also sealed up the joints around the rafters with Joint & Seam and the blocking with Fast Flash from the R-Guard system by Prosoco. (You can read all about that in My Tiny House Air Barrier.)

Tomorrow the plan is to install the eave caps at the ends of the wall and slip the insulation inside. Hopefully we can sheathe the roof on Sunday and I'll add the air barrier on Monday. Then I won't have to tarp anymore. Hip, hip, hooray!