Monthly Archives: January 2013

Installing the Fresh Water Tank Fill Spout

The fresh water tank (the only tank in the COMET – no grey or black water tanks) lives underneath the rear couch/bed. Originally it was under the dinette bench on the port side, but that meant that there was about 15 feet of tubing wrapping around the entire trailer to get from the tank to the faucet on the other side. We moved it to underneath the rear bench to be closer to the faucet. The fresh water tank is 15 gallons and I refill it about every 3-4 days. You don’t really use a lot of water when you have to pump it by hand. And the hot water is just one of those black bag camp showers that I hang up outside.

Here’s how we installed the new fresh water tank.

Here's where the new fresh water fill spout goes. Thanks Timbucktu RV Supply in Worcester for all the parts needed for the water tank installation!

Here’s where the new fresh water fill spout goes. Nothing is pressurized, so it’s just an angled spout where you put water form the hose. Thanks Timbucktu RV Supply in Worcester for all the parts needed for the water tank installation!

Close up of the fill. We caulked around the edges, and screwed it into the wall. The small spot to the left of the spout is the vent, which allows the tank to empty correctly.

Close up of the fill. We caulked around the edges, and screwed it into the wall. The small spot to the left of the spout is the vent, which allows the tank to empty correctly.

Here's what it looks like from the inside. We toe-nailed in a piece of plywood so that we would have something more than just aluminum to screw it into from the outside.

Here’s what it looks like from the inside. We toe-nailed in a piece of plywood so that we would have something more than just aluminum to screw it into from the outside.

Here are the lines attached, using hose clamps. The blue and white striped line (the larger one) is the water fill line, it goes from the fill spout to the tank. The clear, smaller line is the vent line for air to escape as the water drains. It goes from the tank to the spout, then outside via that vent.

Here are the lines attached, using hose clamps. The blue and white striped line (the larger one) is the water fill line, it goes from the fill spout to the tank. The clear, smaller line is the vent line for air to escape as the water drains. It goes from the tank to the spout, then outside via that vent. Don’t skimp on the caulking when you’re dealing with the water situation. Better safe than sorry!

Some context.

Some context.

The tank! It came with no pre-drilled holes, so we could decide where to put them ourselves. Using a hole saw bit on the drill, we cut out the correct holes for the hose attachments. There were 3 holes in the tank total: one for water to come in from the spout, one for air to escape when it's draining, and one for water to travel from the tank to the faucet via another line, which is down at the bottom.

The tank! It came with no pre-drilled holes, so we could decide where to put them ourselves. Using a hole saw bit on the drill, we cut out the correct holes for the hose attachments. There were 3 holes in the tank total: one for water to come in from the spout, one for air to escape when it’s draining, and one for water to travel from the tank to the faucet via another line, which is down at the bottom.

Then we cut the new panel for that wall (the old panel was all water damaged under the window and at the floor) and tacked it in.

Then we cut the new panel for that wall (the old panel was all water damaged under the window and at the floor) and tacked it in.

We then put in the framing and front of the rear bench (not tank yet) because we needed to see how we would run the line from the tank to the faucet and make sure everything would fit.

We then put in the framing and front of the rear bench (not tank yet) because we needed to see how we would run the line from the tank to the faucet and make sure everything would fit.

Now, we actually installed the kitchen before attaching the water tank and hooking everything up, so that’s where I’ll stop for now. Basically, the tank got put into it’s spot under the bench, it fit very snugly. We hooked up the fill line to the appropriate fitting that we had installed in the side of the tank, and the air vent line to the appropriate fitting. We put the fitting (barbed) into the bottom for the faucet line as well, but didn’t hook it up until the kitchen was finished. So we’ll look at the kitchen then get back to finishing up the water tank. Photos to come!

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My Life is Validated by Tenth-Grade Girls

 

This is probably the coolest thing that has ever happened to me, so bear with me while I explode with excitement and awe.

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All I ever wanted with this blog and this project was to inspire other people to take their life into their own hands and do something creative with DIY attitude. Well, I never imagined that I would inspire a group of high school girls to undertake such a project, but it’s happening right now!
The girls at the Ann Richards School For Young Women Leaders in Austin TX are not your average tenth-graders. These engineering students focus on project-based learning at their high school. The class’s assignment this year is directly inspired by the COMET, as they turn a 1970’s travel trailer into a solar-powered learning tool. They are incorporating the eco-friendly aspects of the COMET and the small space design techniques of tiny houses into their project. The girls are learning 3D digital modeling, design, green building methods, construction, and more through the hands-on project. Right now, the design groups in the class are coming up with designs, budgets, and plans. The client will choose the winning design, which will be implemented in the trailer this spring.
Needless to say, I was flattered and amazed when their teacher (who is so amazing – I wish I had teachers like this in high school!) emailed me saying that they were undertaking Project Ventura, based on the COMET and my own methods. Now I’m going down to TX this week to teach the class for a week and learn what I can from this group of incredible young women. I can’t wait to see how they’ve improved on my ideas and what they’ve come up with for designs. Matt’s coming as the SketchUp expert, and will be teaching them 3D design using this free program.
I strongly encourage you to check out their blog! It is very detailed and extremely well-written. It will keep you up to date on all of their discoveries and victories. And if you have some money to spare, or think it’s a good cause, consider donating to Project Ventura so that they can begin the building process!
I can’t really describe how happy this class of inspiring young women makes me. I feel like I’ve accomplished a part of what I set out to do with the COMET, and it’s very fulfilling. Of course, I’ll let you all know how the trip goes and I’ll have lots of photos to share. Now go over to http://projectventura.wordpress.com/ and check out these kick-ass ladies!

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Sheet Metal Patches & Bodywork

It’s about 10 degrees here in MA today, and while I look back at these pictures from the summer I am wistful to say the least. So here’s some pictures of some sheet metal work we did on the trailer to patch some gaping holes and button the skins back up after replacing some of the wood inside the walls. Sometimes, when you replace the old rotten wood under the skins, they don’t fit back on just perfectly (they would if I wasn’t going to repaint the thing, but I am so I wasn’t too vigilant about it this time around). There was a gap on the corners of the trailer where the aluminum met and started to separate from the weight of the rear. These gaps had been there since I got the trailer, so I knew I’d have to patch it anyway.

First, we put a strip of sheet metal (aluminum flashing for this application – because it’s flexible/malleable) around the corner and underneath the member for extra protection. We just nailed it in to the new wood. This would be the flashing that would keep any water out. When you put the skins back down, caulk around the edges and screw it in with sheet metal screws (the ones with the little rubber gaskets work well for this, but we just caulked each spot where the screw would go before screwing it in).

This will fill the gap between the original aluminum siding that had separated at the corner. This is common to find in vintage trailers.

This will fill the gap between the original aluminum siding that had separated at the corner. This is common to find in vintage trailers. Matt’s hairy arm, not mine :).

Caulked and screwed back down.

Caulked and screwed back down.

We did the same thing to the spot under the old heater vent, which was a big gaping hole. We flashed with the aluminum strip wherever the skins didn’t meet up just right. This will keep the water out.

Under the old heater vent next to the front door (heater was removed). This step can be a pain in the butt, but is worth it to keep the new framing dry.

Under the old heater vent next to the front door (heater was removed). This step can be a pain in the butt, but is worth it to keep the new framing dry.

Once the flashing was in, we needed to patch that huge hole. We used a different type of sheet metal, stainless steel, for the flat panel that will cover this whole mess. See below.

The process is: caulk around the edges where you're going to place the panel, then lay it on and hold it in place. The caulk should squish out a little, and create a full seal. Put caulk dots all around and sheet metal screw into these spots so that it seals around the entry point of each screw.

The process is: caulk around the edges where you’re going to place the panel, then lay it on and hold it in place. The caulk should squish out a little, and create a full seal. Put caulk dots all around and sheet metal screw into these spots so that it seals around the entry point of each screw.

Close up detail.

Close up detail.

There you have it! We did this on the other side of the trailer where the original water fill was. We didn’t match the corrugation of the original aluminum siding because we figured it was all getting painted turquoise and won’t be a big deal, but if I was doing a period-specific restoration I would match the corrugation pattern of the aluminum.

Thanks for reading and there’s more to come!

 

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Do you know about the Yestermorrow Tiny House Fair?

I have an exciting announcement! Although the wheels have been turning on this for a few months now, I want to remind all tiny house and sustainable building/design lovers about the Tiny House Fair that is happening at Yestermorrow School in Waitsfield, Vermont this summer. Here’s the scoop from the Yestermorrow website. And I’ll be there with the COMET, and giving a talk about small-scale solar power for your tiny house.

From the Yestermorrow website:

Yestermorrow is thrilled to host the first ever Tiny House Fair next spring, June 14-16, 2013. Register Now!

Come to the Tiny House Fair to learn about and celebrate tiny houses!  Join leaders of the tiny house movement, including Jay Shafer, founder of Tumbleweed Tiny House Company and Derek (Deek) Diedricksen of Relaxshacks.

Whether you’ve just begun to explore tiny houses or already live in one, there are presentations you’ll enjoy:

  • how to design and build a tiny house
  • clever cabinetry and finish carpentry
  • design and construction for specific climates
  • finding and building with recycled materials
  • solar power 
  • composting toilets
  • the tiny house movement
  • creating a community

Cost: $300 General Registration, includes all workshops, presentations, and meals.

Dates: The fair starts Friday evening 6/14/2013 with dinner and a speaker, and ends Sunday afternoon 6/16/2013.

Workshop Schedule: See http://tinyhousecommunity.com/fair.htm for a full schedule of workshops and presenters.

Meals: The registration package includes Friday dinner, Saturday breakfast lunch and dinner, and Sunday breakfast and lunch.  We walk the talk of sustainability by purchasing local, organic, nutritious, and wholesome ingredients. The meal plan includes vegetarian options at every meal.

Register Online or call us at 802-496-5545 to secure your spot at the fair. We are limited to 100 participants.

Definitely check out the schedule of workshops over at Tiny House Community….all of the tiny house greats will be at this event. Jay Schafer, Derek Diedricksen, Alex Pino, and so many more.

Here's a beautiful tiny house built by Yestermorrow students.

Here’s a beautiful tiny house built by Yestermorrow students.

And if you haven’t checked out the Yestermorrow website or their course offerings before, you should! I can’t say enough good things about them. I haven’t been there in a month and I’m really missing it up there in VT! They have a Tiny House design course coming up soon, “Less is More”, which is taught by two wonderful instructors.

Another tiny house built by Yestermorrow students!

Another tiny house built by Yestermorrow students!

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Tumbleweed Tiny House Workshop in Boston, February 9 + 10

It’s that time of year again! The Tumbleweed Tiny House Workshop will be happening in Boston in a few short weeks and I’m excited to say that I’ll be guest speaking at this SOLD OUT (!) workshop, talking about my experiences building a Tumbleweed house this fall and sharing my expertise in small-scale (tiny) off-grid systems for your tiny house. The workshop is Feb. 9-10, and you can still put your name on the wait list! Deek Diedricksen is hosting this one, and he’s a wonderful teacher and makes the workshop really fun.

So if you’re already signed up, I’ll see you there! Bring your tiny house questions and get ready to be inspired.

Here's a photo from last year's Tumbleweed workshop, when we visited the first ever built Tumbleweed house that Jay lived in for years.

Here’s a photo from last year’s Tumbleweed workshop, when we visited the first ever built Tumbleweed house that Jay lived in for years.

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Adding Structural Strength for a Bumper Garden

When Matt and I went to re-frame the rear wall of the COMET, we knew we had to do some re-design as well. First of all, at some point there is going to be a “bumper garden” (hehe, get it? on top of the bumper…) mounted onto the back of the trailer under the window. Ok, so it’s like a way-glorified window box, but on a moving trailer, and made with polycarbonate so it’s also like a tiny greenhouse too. Since there will at some point soon be soil and metal and plants hanging off of the back wall, we knew we had to beef up the framing. I wanted enough studs that we could lag into to support the bumper garden. The second part of the design had to address the really weird original framing, which had the rear bench (couch and also my bed) come down halfway in front of the rear hatch, which is the only place to really store anything large. Basically, the rear bench bisected the hatch, and I thought that was dumb, because I want full hatch access! So we raised the bench up 6 inches, so it now clears the rear hatch door and give us a little more storage. Here’s how we did it!

A little reference, so you can see how the original framing interfered with the rear access door.

That beam spans right across the access opening, so we did a little re-designing.

That beam spans right across the access opening, so we did a little re-designing.

Those new studs are 2x6's, so very strong. We cut them to match the profile of the curvy back of the trailer. It had to match the existing aluminum shape. Notice that the problematic beam is gone.

Those new studs are 2×6’s, so very strong. We cut them to match the profile of the curvy back of the trailer. It had to match the existing aluminum shape. Notice that the problematic beam is gone.

Here's another view. The 2x4 spanning the two studs ties them together and gives me another place to lag into when I go to attach the bumper garden.

Here’s another view. The 2×4 spanning the two studs ties them together and gives me another place to lag into when I go to attach the bumper garden.

More framing! We added a 2x4 across the top of the access opening. That member will support the bench framing. We re-used most of the wood from the original bench, just re-arranged it. We tried to make the back as strong as possible. We'll see how it holds up when the bumper garden goes on.

More framing! We added a 2×6 across the top of the access opening. That member will support the bench framing. We re-used most of the wood from the original bench, just re-arranged it. The studs (2×2’s) on either side are for nailing  the new wood panel up, you need something to tack into. We tried to make the back as strong as possible. We’ll see how it holds up when the bumper garden goes on.

Just another close-up.

Just another close-up.

Now you can see that the rear hatch is entirely accessible. Much better! And we made room for a slightly larger fresh water tank too.

Now you can see that the rear hatch is entirely accessible. Much better! And we made room for a slightly larger fresh water tank too.

Just a little tip/reminder for those of you that are doing this yourself: NOW IS THE TIME TO MAKE SURE THE TOW WIRING WORKS! While you have access to the wiring for the rear brake/turn lights, make sure everything works. Luckily, the Avalon was working when we got her. But my other camper, the Beemer, needed to be completely re-wired, and it’s better to know before you go closing up the walls.

Insulate with UltraTouch Denim Insulation. See previous post for more about this cool stuff!

Insulate with UltraTouch Denim Insulation. See previous post for more about this cool stuff!

Here's the plywood I cut to be the rear panel. See that little window cut out at the top (the right side?), that's going to be a picture frame that let's you see and feel the UltraTouch from inside the camper. I thought this would be cool for people to see and feel at workshops and such.

Here’s the plywood I cut to be the rear panel. See that little window cut out at the top (the right side?), that’s going to be a picture frame that let’s you see and feel the UltraTouch from inside the camper. I thought this would be cool for people to see and feel at workshops and such.

Well this photo skips a few steps ahead, but you can see the 1/4 inch plywood panel installed (use shanked finish nails). You can also see the new (though made from the original old wood pieces) bench framing. See how the front of the bench, with the access door which is removed in this photo, has a 2x6 (which is 5.5 inches wide) attched to the bottom. This gave us the height we needed to clear the rear hatch! It all worked out as planned.

Well this photo skips a few steps ahead, but you can see the 1/4 inch plywood panel installed (use ring-shanked finish nails). You can also see the new (though made from the original old wood pieces) bench framing. See how the front of the bench, with the access door which is removed in this photo, has a 2×6 (which is 5.5 inches wide) attached to the bottom. This gave us the height we needed to clear the rear hatch! It all worked out as planned.

Here's a close-up of the little insulation view-hole. I have a picture frame that will go around that square when everything's finished.

Here’s a close-up of the little insulation view-hole. I have a picture frame that will go around that square when everything’s finished.

 

 

And that’s how to frame for a bumper garden (or any other weight bearing rear storage container)! I really hope this works. I think it’s probably a little overkill, considering the bumper garden will also be supported by the bumper, but I’d rather be safe than sorry!

Next post will cover more insulation and paneling (quickly), and maybe a little more of the bench building. It will definitely cover how to install the fresh water tank.

Thanks to everyone who’s been reading along while I play catch up! I hope all of this is helpful to those of you who are restoring your own vintage trailers. And I hope it doesn’t scare away those who one day hope to!

 

 

 

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Framing and Insulating the New Floor

Here I am again, trying to get us up to speed with where the COMET’s at now. This is from the Summer, so bear with me while the next few posts catch us up to the COMET’s current loveliness.

We left off where we had replaced some of the rotten framing in the walls and on the floor, and here you can see how we re-framed and insulated the floor. As I mentioned before, the entire rear half of the trailer had been demolished by carpenter ants, so we just started from scratch back there.

 

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This is how we re-framed the floor, with 2 x 4s where there had been 2 by’s. The lumber framing crosses over the steel frame of the trailer.

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New cross-members, tow-nailed in, for extra support. I wanted this floor to be much sturdier than the original one, which was merely stapled together.

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Those white dots on the pink aluminum sheet are where I caulked where the staples used to be. It’s not necessarily better to be airtight in the floor, because if any water does leak in from above, you want it to be able to escape and not pool in the floor (which will cause rot). But I didn’t want any water to come up from underneath the trailer during travel, so I sealed off the holes where the staples used to be.

 

INSULATION:

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This is the UltraTouch Denim insulation. What a joy to work with. So easy to use and you don’t have to wear a hazmat suit or worry about getting all itchy like with fiberglass. Thank you GreenBuildingSupply.com for donating the UltraTouch!

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Installation was a breeze. I either used the razor knife to cut the batts down to size, or just tore it to the right size with my hands.

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That’s the little part near the door that needed replacing. I think that spot to the left of the doorway is a very common place to find water damage/rotted wood.

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And finally, we cut a new sub floor out of plywood and laid it down. Everything fit nicely. Under the back hatch, you can see a 2 x 6 on top of the plywood. That is the beginning of the framing for the rear wall, which you’ll see in the next post. Those two bolts that stick up out of the 2 x 6 at about 1/3 and 2/3 across are coming up from underneath the chassis. They are holding the metal trailer frame to the wooden camper frame.

Stay tuned for more progress! Hopefully soon we can have a grand unveiling of the finished interior! As always, thanks for reading 🙂

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A New Year, and a Winter Small Space Experiment

I can’t believe it’s been one year since I first launched cometcamper.wordpress.com, and since the COMET began to come to life after years of imagineering prior. I’m so grateful for all the help I’ve had along the way (yay, sponsors!) and all of the amazing people I have met as a result of the many places the COMET takes me.

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Now that it’s January, winter has officially arrived in Massachusetts. There’s a  few feet of snow on the ground, and it’s not going anywhere for a while. Confession time: I really wanted to live in the COMET over the winter this year, but I couldn’t get her weatherproofed in time. The hole in the wall where the fridge will end up going has a large vent, and without the fridge installed it was like sleeping outside! It ended up getting too chilly, and until I seal up the cracks and insulate the vents and install the fridge (and find an acceptable heat source) sadly I will not be sleeping in the COMET this winter. However, I took this opportunity to try on another tiny space living situation for fun and to see what I can learn from it.

While I’m not living in the COMET, I’ll be living in a tiny closet under the stairs in a collective house. The “room” is about the size of a twin bed, but the previous dweller made such good use of the space that it feels cozy, not cramped. There’s a bed on a platform so I can store things underneath. There are two drawers installed directly into the wall as built-ins at the foot of the bed. There is a desk that nests in the wall and unfolds when you need it, and the bed becomes your desk seat. She even installed a nifty bookcase tower. There’s also a tiny window on an exterior wall, so you can see outside and get some fresh air. I will have to post some pictures!

I enjoy living collectively and am looking forward to seeing how effective collective  and shared space can be. When you live in the closet, you spend time in the shared space more than someone in their own larger room. I anticipate making good use of the shared library and other common spaces. I wonder how a collective house of many tiny closet-sized rooms would function, if the collective space was ample? Something to think about! Anyway, it’s interesting to see how multi-functional a single room can be, and how comfortable a closet can be when it’s so efficiently and elegantly designed.

 

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