The Mayday Experiment: Tea and Sympathy and Snowy Roofs

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The weekend’s impending Snowpocalypse, however overblown it may have been, still made our usual Saturday tiny house date unworkable as far as getting any physical work done outside. (In fact, I was so skeptical of the “Snowpocalypse 2015” hype that I left the house in slippers as opposed to boots, a choice I would live to regret.) However, there are many tasks associated with the tiny house that just involve planning and errand-running, and Victoria Salvador needed more information to continue making the plans for the roof. So it was time to go pick up our roofing material, the EPDM.

EPDM stands for “ethylene propylene diene monomer,” which is a fancy way of saying “rubber.” Typically used in industrial applications, it’s the perfect thing for a long, sloping roof like my tiny house has. It’s also one of the most resistant materials to weathering and has a high resistance to wind damage, important qualities while on the road, where wind sheer will be a major concern. That same wind sheer caused us to rule out more traditional forms of roofing, like the asphalt shingles that most people think of as “roof” in Colorado.

Asphalt shingles, surprisingly, are one of the best materials for rainwater collection, as the texture can act as a sort of filter. However, they are also treated with proprietary chemicals that haven’t necessarily been tested for drinking water, and tend to crumble, depositing sediment in the water. Wood shingles just collect mold, and if they’re pressure-treated contain toxic chemicals as well. A galvanized roof, while attractive, will deposit a lot of zinc, iron and lead into your drinking water. Terra cotta is really a perfect surface, but obviously impractical from both the standpoint of weight and durability on a mobile tiny house. But one of the best materials is EPDM, not only because it’s excellent for collecting rainwater, but because in this case, I had been offered some for free.

When I announced my intentions to build a tiny house on Facebook on May 9 of last year, dozens of friends chimed in with offers to help, and a couple hundred more chimed in with love, support and excitement for what I was proposing to do. Notably, my friend Christiane White wrote: “Greg and Pearl and I can help you with your build. We've got some EPDM rubber roofing pieces, I'm thinking about how to get you some solar panels, and Greg can help you with electrical. I can sew anything you need, and pearl is eager to help her hero. What you’re doing is awesome!” At the time, I didn’t even realize what EPDM was, but after all my research it turned out this would be the holy grail for the perfect roof, and it was finally time to check it out in person. After all, it wasn’t snowing much at 2 p.m. on Saturday, right? Perfect time to drive to Arvada with Victoria and visit Christiane and her daughter, Pearl.

Christiane had the EPDM pieces not only because her husband, Greg, had previously worked installing solar paneling, but because she ingeniously uses it in making handbags for her company, Tutela. I had gotten to know Christiane, in fact, through Tutela, whose vintage-inspired hard-sided bags I carried in my shop, Pod. They're now carried in many shops, with many more styles, and Christiane uses the EPDM as an ingenious, repurposed material for large, stylish totes. 
As Victoria and I pulled up in front of Christiane’s adorable mid-century modern home, the first flakes began to swirl gently around us. We caught up over Pearl’s chocolate chip cookies and tea from Christiane’s Mom’s home region of Ostfriesland, Germany, served in gorgeous old china with the traditional method of pouring it over a crackling large crystal of sugar and floating heavy cream on top, which roiled and bloomed into beautiful clouds and coated the sides of the cup with rich droplets. As we chatted, the snow intensified out the window, and though the tea and company were enjoyable the weather rushed us along, and we moved down into Christiane’s workshop to check out my future roof. There were two huge pieces of the heavy rubber, just enough to make up the 202 square feet Victoria had calculated that we needed if we piece it together, and accounting for the necessary overlap. One of the pieces, buried deep in the recesses of the basement, took all three of us to lug into the light, the dead weight flopping and slipping like an oiled fish. Strapping the huge rubber sheets to a dolly, we hustled out the door into the quickly piling snow, with Boo the dog barking at our lurching progress up the hill and looking for a game of fetch in the fresh drifts.
The drive back was a little hairy, with stranded cars by the roadside and low visibility, but Victoria’s deft driving and 4WD truck got us home safely, where I watched the snow mound up on the tiny house’s unfortunately warping plywood roof through the warehouse window. The warp isn’t catastrophic, yet, but the snow on unprotected wood isn’t good, and the moisture is clearly taking its toll. But we will need 48 straight hours of over 50 degree weather to adhere the EPDM to the roof, which by then will need a new thin plywood skin as well to level out the warping. And that will clearly take place much further into spring. Colorado’s weather may be unpredictable, but not so unpredictable that I can forget anxiety over rooftop mounds of snow for a few months. But in the meantime, the planning can continue — so when that moment comes we are ready, material already in hand.

Much of the winter, it appears, will be spent in preparation for the spring, the tiny house like a dormant bulb waiting for it’s moment to push forward and bloom. 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 lynnxe.com.

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