The Mayday Experiment: Raising the Roof

There’s always a cost to not knowing what you’re doing. You can watch all the YouTube videos and read all the books in the world — but in the end, you’re still bound to make mistakes. And this is precisely why I’m so thankful that Victoria Salvador is in my life, helping with this project….at this point, as I reach burnout levels of task-juggling. When Philip Spangler and I began construction, we knew how to build a structure, but a structure isn’t a house. Throughout this project, I have been continually amazed at just how much I don’t know. And one thing I never considered: How is a roof constructed?

Philip and I didn’t even know what kind of roof we had constructed – to us, it was just a matter of what form met what function in a pleasing fashion. I now know that what we built is called an “unvented Cathedral roof.” The cathedral part isn’t a problem so much, but the unvented part? Turns out, that is.

Houses have attics for a reason. By having an attic, the house has room for air circulation and, thus, moisture dissipation. Otherwise, the air – and the humidity held in that air – collects along the ceiling, causing unpleasant dripping. And the air baffle has another function" to help with insulation. By venting air through, cold air isn’t trapped. And after hearing horror stories of people sleeping in down jackets in their tiny-house loft bedrooms, that wasn’t a problem I was eager to have.

Of course, all of this is recent knowledge, learned long after the roof was constructed. During the construction of the roof, we took liberties that now make our lives harder: the direction of the beams, for example. Ordinarily, the beams would have traversed back to front, but because of the length of our roof-line, this would have meant an investment in more lumber when money was running thin and a pile of 8 foot-long 2 x 4’s still took up valuable real estate in my studio. So we went side to side, creating an incredibly sturdy, strong roof — but a bit of a nightmare for insulation placement, as each “square” needs to be filled. Saving money at the time will cost us time down the road.

A couple of weeks ago, what we thought we were doing was building up the curb for the skylight so we could add a second layer of plywood, thus creating a false roof for that crucial venting. But Philip, who built the structure of the house like a tank, had used liquid nails in fastening the existing curb (thinking, of course, that it was permanent — and why wouldn’t he?), so we had to re-think yet again, since taking off the existing wood would have created too much damage.

And height is also a consideration. In building the roof higher, we push it closer to the legal limit of 13’5”, creating difficulty in finding accessible bridges. When Philip last measured the height, after the framing was finished, we were at thirteen feet, two inches. But adding the plywood cladding, windows and loft added enough weight to remove two inches through compression. And while adding more roof would only add two to three more inches, there’s no reason to push our luck on those bridge underpasses.

We also hadn’t really considered how the rainwater system would collect, and where the gutters would go. In my mind, the gutter system would have just been like the vinyl and aluminum gutters on a regular house; however, those wouldn’t stand up to even the slightest wind sheer on the road, even at the forty miles an hour at which I’ll be crawling along. This was another thing Victoria has been puzzling over, visiting online forums where interminable mansplaining attempted to divert her from the EPDM roofing we had decided on (we have access to some for free, so no mailsplaining will convince us away from that), as opposed to answering her straightforward questions about what to do with my roof.

So as Victoria and I sipped Earl Grey tea over my kitchen table cluttered with receipts, jewelry parts and tax forms, she unfurled a new set of plans, for the modification of the roof and gutter system. Ingeniously, it includes cutting out a portion of the existing roof and building a gutter into the roof itself for the collection of rainwater at the front end, where the tank will live. The roof will dip down, with a drain at the tank end, and covered with the EPDM vinyl itself, wrapping around the side. The tank will have a float, and when it’s full, the water will redirect back out to the outside.

Because there isn’t a tank at the back end of the house, the plan is to buy gutters from the RV junkyard and use those – I can connect a hose to a tank in the back of the truck if I want to collect more water. And along the sides, the flashing will direct the majority of the water to the front and back, and any overflow away from the siding.

But all this will take money, money that I am sorely lacking. So: As Victoria prepares for her month-long honeymoon, the work of fundraising and organizing sponsorship must begin in earnest. I’ve been mostly wearing  the building hat of this project, but now it’s time to switch hats – and there are a lot of them to wear on a project this big, I’m realizing, and only some of them are a good fit. From tour planning to PR, event organizing to design, this project I’ve undertaken requires every skill I’ve collected over the years — and plenty I don’t yet have. But when I started this, I had even fewer skills, and despite how much I don’t know still, I’m bolstered by what I’ve learned, and continue to learn.

The journey is as important as the destination.  

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, a 2005 Westword MasterMind winner, is 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

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Lauri Lynnxe Murphy