The Mayday Experiment: Looking to the Future -- Through Windows!

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After a big problem when we tried to level the tiny house, I returned the broken jacks to Harbor Freight. (Thank you to the kind manager and clerk who took them back, even though they were past the ninety-day deadline -- when something looks that dangerously broken, I suppose you have no choice, but they still did me a solid.) There I picked up two jack stands, thinking that with the two remaining working jacks plus those, we would get the tiny house leveled. But first we would have to get it moved - when it fell, it wound up a foot closer to the street and too close to the tree.

Still, Victoria Salvador and I were determined to get these windows in before the big snow, no matter what. To that end, she had brought her friend Edgar Arvizu, a maintenance man with mad skills, and I had invited three art students I had met while speaking to Jennifer Garner's Metropolitan State University class the week before: Meredith Bowdish, my new intern whose thesis was about tiny houses, and Tony Bearzi and Jamie Devendorf, both of whom were enthusiastic due to their own tiny-house dreams.

Step one of the process was to hitch the house up to Bertha and begin the painful back and forth of maneuvering it into place. See also: The Mayday Experiment -- A Tiny House, Big Disaster

Backing up a large trailer is inherently counterintuitive: When you want the back end to swing one way, the steering wheel should be turned the opposite direction. Precision moving of a large trailer is a skill that might take more than a few tries to master. But doing it while on your neighbor's lawn and blocking a busy alley? Well, that's just nerve-wracking - not to mention tough on the calves with a sticky clutch. After getting it back into position between the sidewalk and the street, we began the arduous task of jacking it back up to level it out on the slope of the driveway -- this time far more slowly and cautiously. With the jack stands ready to slip into place, we raised each side the same number of cranks. Victoria was nervous about the wheels leaving the ground, even though it had been that way for months, and while I thought it would be okay, the jack made the final decision for us when the weld that held the nut the crank turned just snapped -- and the third jack failed. At least it didn't collapse, but that was a moot point now. We cranked it back down with vice grips and reconsidered our options.

Looking at the slope of the driveway and the opposite slope of the street, we realized that we could park it half on the street, straddling the gutter and -- possibly, maybe -- get something close to level. So we hitched it up again and, after a couple of frustrating attempts, I decided that flipping directions would allow me to pull it into place as opposed to backing it in, with the added bonus that the door would finally be on the side nearer the wood shop as opposed to street-side. I drove it around the block, surprising some construction workers fixing the sidewalk around the corner, and on the first try we had our first stroke of luck -- miraculously, without a jack or jack stand or concrete block, the house was completely level!

At this point we had wasted two hours. The windows would be a breeze after all that!

Used windows have their quirks. From bent fins to stuck screens, each gave us its own kind of trouble. We had found the windows before designing the framing, building each window hole to fit the windows we had, as opposed to attempting to find windows to fit sizes we wanted. In each case, the window was a perfect fit, slipping into place easily while someone inside shimmed the window level, and someone on the outside caulked and screwed it into place. We had lined the windows with flashing the week before, and added the flashing above each window as well, cutting the tyvek and folding it back so it would go back over the flashing, encouraging the water to run in the direction we hoped and not sneakily back towards the wood of the wall. Even the two large windows I found in the alley were fairly easy to install - far easier than I had anticipated, since my ideas about installing them were ridiculously wrong, even after talking to my friend D.J several months ago about how to do it. Having Victoria's knowledge and guidance is invaluable and saves a lot of fumbling around.

Only two windows didn't fit right - ironically, they were the two we had purchased brand-spanking-new from Home Depot. In designing the loft, we had trouble finding two small windows that matched, so we wound up choosing basement windows, which were short enough but still opened for air flow. But since we had ordered them through the mail, we didn't have them there when we built the framing, though we knew the size. Now it turned out one opening was slightly too small (though the window fit) and one was much too big (but we made it work). While we waited for the ladders to be put up outside, Victoria and I sat in the loft waiting to place the shims. It was the most time I had spent up there yet, and I could envision my future bedroom taking shape, imagine the future view of the stars through the skylight, place the furniture in my head. Dreaming in a space for dreaming.

I was brought back to reality as we rushed to finish installing the bedroom windows before darkness enveloped us. Getting colder by the minute, we were able to get all but the kitchen and bathroom window installed, then gathered the tools and headed in for tea and the blast of the furnace. For the first time, the floor stayed dry in the wet snow that engulfed us the next day. More and more, it's starting to feel like a home! Looking out the windows definitely feels more real and permanent than looking out the window-holes. One step closer! Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, a 2005 Westword MasterMind winner, will be blogging out her tiny house project, The Mayday Experiment, on Show and Tell. If you'd like to support her journey, you can pledge here. See more of her work at lynnxe.com.

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