Sehr Gut(ex)!

(Sehr gut translated from German=very good; Gutex=the name of the badass German-made insulating weather barrier boards we’re installing)

* Donovan had a heavy hand in editing the technical aspects of this post. Danke, Liebe.*

Well, work overload breakdowns and a quick trip to Michigan notwithstanding, Juniper (Donovan’s premier Tiny House) is coming along. Most obviously, the installation of the insulating (R9) weather-barrier, Gutex, is almost complete. Window prepping is also in progress, and our friends the Pilgrim-Browns have logged, milled, and partially planed from big, beautiful Eastern Red Cedar (Juniper) trees the boards that will become the siding.

In addition to its use as a weather barrier, Gutex also serves to reduce “thermal bridging” substantially. Thermal bridging is a phenomenon where energy (such as sunlight) takes the path of least resistance through a material (such as a wall stud). In our case we’ll have insulation batts in between our wood framing, which makes the framing much less resistant (more conductive) in comparison to the fiber insulation around it, and hence creates a thermal bridge. Thermal bridging reduces the overall effectiveness of an exterior wall to keep energy (heat) out or in depending on the season (a common R13 insulation can become a measly R8). The Gutex creates a continuous layer of insulation around the framing, reducing the thermal bridging and enabling the insulation batts to maintain their fully rated R-value. (R-value being the measurement of resistance to energy movement through a material. The higher the R-value, the more insulating the material.)

It’s been exciting to see the window openings framed in by the surrounding walls, giving us a true sense of the views from the house. It’s also been quite enjoyable using non-toxic materials: the glue and tape that adhere the air-sealing and weather-barrier materials don’t stink or burn the skin as have some of the conventional materials I’ve encountered in my limited construction experience (although the Gutex does produce sawdust-like matter that makes us sneeze).


These wood-fiber Gutex panels are fitted with tongue-and-groove edges on all sides, which serve to create a wind and rain barrier and allow for fastening even when the seams do not align with the framing. Where we had to cut pieces to fit odd spaces and the tongue or groove was eliminated, we primed and taped the seams with vapor-open air-sealing tape (above right).

IMG_3502Because the Gutex boards are basically non-toxic and biodegradable, we’re planning to experiment with using the shredded scraps in our compost toilets.

IMG_3474We installed this “truth window” (above) behind glass to reveal the layers of the site-built SIP (Structural Insulated Panel) floor: steel trailer, plywood, two sheets of reclaimed foam board, and another sheet of plywood (with air-sealing tape over the seams). The truth window is located on the tongue end of the trailer and will be protected inside a utility closet.

IMG_3326We’d been warned that building out in the elements was a pain in the ass, which has proven to be true, from sweltering sun to pop-up storms. Until the windows and Gutex are fully installed, foam board and tarps are screwed to the sides of the building to avoid soaking the floor during our surprisingly frequent summer rains. Still, after a downpour, rain gets under the tarps and foam board, and we have to vacuum the floor with a Shop-Vac.

Now on to the window prep. First, we started with a framed-in window with a slope cut into the Gutex at the sill angled down and out so potential moisture has an escape route (under my booty, below).


Next, we primed the Gutex with non-toxic Tescon Primer RP (manufacture approved) or Titebond II exterior wood glue (non-manufacture approved, but we found it worked well at a fraction of the cost) to have a non-fuzzy surface for the weather sealing tape to adhere to. This step is shown below by Zac, who was using the fancy glue before we ran out.


Then, we began with the bottom layer of tape to form what is called a sill pan. We used Extoseal Encors, a highly adhesive butyl-based tape that self-seals (which is handy when a window or trim fastener penetrates it). The Extoseal overlaps the exterior edge of the Gutex and goes over the framing and up the sides of the windows at least four inches (see below). Solitex Mento membrane and Tescon Vana weather tape make up the subsequent layers of the window opening sides and top, overlapping each other “shingle style” in a way that leads moisture down and keeps it from going into the wall. Below, Donovan strikes a sexy pose while showing how to apply pressure to the tape to ensure secure bonding. Note: do not do this (as we did) on the south side of the building on a 106-degree day. The heat makes it very difficult to peel the back off the melting sticky tape!


Below, folded over the top of the wall, you can see the black Mento weather barrier fabric, which will be the second line of defense after the siding and roofing against moisture infiltration and is useful for keeping rain off the building until we install the roof. The Mento folds over the Gutex wall and is taped at the seam to create one continuous weather barrier.


Several friends have helped with the progress, doing everything from cutting and installing Gutex, to priming and tape-sealing the cracks between the panels and around the windows, to helping jack the trailer up properly (more on that fiasco at a later date). Thank you, Zac, Michael, and Charis!


Above, Charis and I hang out on the scaffolding, waiting for Donovan to cut and hand up the next piece of Gutex to install. After feeling like we were dying in the 100-degree weather one day, Donovan and Zac had the brilliant idea to attach a piece of foam board on the top level to shade us from the sun and prevent second degree burns from the hot metal platforms.

Now onto siding prep, and the perks of an on-site family-run mill.

Above, Roy Pilgrim and his brother, Reyes Brown, measure, load, and prepare to cut an eastern red cedar they’ve harvested from a local forest.

Afterwards, the brothers planed one side of each board (which will be the exterior siding) and loaded it onto a trailer hitched behind the tractor, which papa Josh drove right down the driveway to our Tiny House plot.

Although I’m featured in some of the above photos, I’ve been hands-off during much of the recent build and exploring the ways I feel most natural and happy contributing, like keeping the work site fairly clean, mowed, and organized, making food, talking with Donovan about the process, and documenting.

IMG_6334Meanwhile, in the past couple months my personal Tiny House efforts (as I plan to build one for myself in the future) include moving most of my household things into my kitchen to see how small I can comfortably and happily live. It being summer, I have many outdoor “rooms” in addition to my indoor space, so I’m uncertain how things will change in the winter, but so far I think I could realistically live in a tiny space. The experience has been informing some of Donovan’s current design and mine. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. Hide it!

Although I normally prefer to have the things I find attractive and want to have easily accessed (i.e., food-related items) on open shelves, having everything exposed in this small a space creates a feeling of clutter that puts me on edge. So I’ll probably want some cabinet doors, and for now I’m hiding the shelves under my counters with tacked-up fabric.

  1. I want a two-butt kitchen!

There is this question that I think came from Michelle on The Tiny House Podcast about whether one has the space for a one-butt or a two (or more)-butt kitchen. Even in the relatively wide space of my current kitchen, I’ve found it difficult to chop veggies while Donovan washes dishes, making it function more like a one-butt kitchen, and therefore inhibiting the potential for co-creation or help—not what I’m after. My solution for now, since I’m doing all my cooking outside for the summer, has been to cover my stove top with a piece of plywood and use it as an additional workspace.

  1. One hundred forty square feet is plenty for my everyday living!

I’m surprised that fitting my office, dining area, and kitchen in the same space leaves room to spare. It’s also convenient to swing the desk chair around to the table when an extra person joins for dinner (hooray for multiple functions!), and to have my computer (which is also my stereo) in the same space as my kitchen, where I like to prepare food while listening to music or a podcast. The things missing from this space are my bed, my clothes (consisting of one 3-foot rack of hanging clothes and one large drawer), out-of-season clothing storage (taking up as much room as in-season clothes), and my bathroom, which is separate from my current house anyway—and which I’ve considered leaving separate from my future Tiny House for various reasons. This makes me confident that I can fit everything I want on a 20-foot (or less) trailer.


  1. Re-purposing is where it’s at!

Since my current house didn’t come with much storage or shelving, I’ve had to be inventive. While I can’t put a spice rack together out of scrap wood as I think I’d like to, I can score a used one from a thrift-store; hang old dresser drawers on the walls for storing books, food, and dishes; and bend and staple spoons to a piece of scrap wood for a mug holder. I’m having fun embracing my resourcefulness and creativity and not letting my lack of carpentry skills (or patience) hold me back.

More details on the technical aspects of the build, including problems with jacking up the trailer to follow. Next step: Installing windows!


6 thoughts on “Sehr Gut(ex)!

  1. CHARIS!!! I’ve known Charis for most of her life. Give her some love from me and Debbie.
    I really enjoyed meeting you and Donovan last night at the other worldy Roots Fest last night. I feel like we are extending our conversation through your blog.


    1. Hi, Kenny. Donovan and I really enjoyed meeting you, too. I’ve read some of Deborah’s blog this morning, and I’m very touched by her thoughtful and vulnerable writing. I will pass your greetings on to Charis!


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