The Mayday Experiment: The Roof...the Roof...the Roof Is...ON!

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I have to confess: I’ve not yet been on the roof of my own tiny house. It feels like a travesty. An even bigger confession: I’m a little terrified of heights.

I’ve gotten over this fear to some degree over the years – anyone who hangs work in a gallery will tell you that ladders become a big part of your life – but bridging the gap from the ladder to the roof has to this point been a bridge too far. 

Still, I did think that the start of May would be the weekend. Because this, finally, was the weekend we were putting on the EPDM roof! So I had psyched myself up. I could do it. I would do it. 

But sometimes people are so efficient, you just have to get out of the way and marvel. Victoria Salvador (who is doubly my angel this week for fronting the money to my broke ass for the adhesives and things needed to apply the roof!) had brought her friend Reg Archer, who was an efficiency machine. Measuring not twice but three, four, five times and working with Victoria (they had worked together before on projects, including renovating Reg’s home), I felt I was in good hands despite the unknown territory. Along with Metropolitan State University students Katherine Scofield and Galen Craddock, who bravely volunteered to help, we had a fantastic crew.

Which is good, because the studio was chaos. My friend Tim Flynn, a fellow artist and found-object hoarder extraordinary, is moving to Chicago in a month and had several storage spaces and a studio to clear out of rusted parts, wire, centrifuges and some gorgeous vintage resistors that I instantly nabbed. He needed a place to have a sale and contacted me, and since I had so much to get rid of in preparation for the major de-hoarding that the tiny-house lifestyle will require, I figured it would be a win/win solution to work together on finding homes for our stuff. 

As we worked all week to move the rest of the wood shop (he efficiently helped me tidy and “knoll” everything, cleaning the wood shop in the process!) and set up the sale, we did a lot of talking about the life cycle of objects. Tim, like me, has difficulty throwing something in the dumpster, especially something of use. And to an artist, it’s often all of use; our brains are wired to see material and form before function and intended use. 

But working on the tiny house and having a yard sale at the same time was madness. (Madness that will continue next week, BTW – still more to get rid of!) Between the chaos of driving in downtown Derby Day traffic to borrow a belt sander from my friend Dave Seiler, to the constant stream of friends and curious passersby that I usually wind up talking to (the conversations that drive this project, always), I felt like an anxious pinball bandied between requests, causing me to forget half of them…did I grab that drill? Who needed a knife? Yes, I’ll take $5 for that. Where was I?...

Of course, this is always how it is when we work on tiny…and I suck as a project manager. I’m happy to be the gopher and let Victoria take the lead, even when she doubts her own experience as a builder (as opposed to architect). I know she knows what she’s doing, though, and so far, the gaps in her knowledge have been filled in by things I know or can research. But Reg and Victoria worked seamlessly together, and Reg’s leadership style included the democratic process of urging us all to pitch in our ideas, which we did while laying out the EPDM on the sidewalk and figuring out a plan. A plan that included the “taco” – folding the EPDM one way, applying the adhesive, and putting it down, then folding it the other way.

But first, we had to smooth the rough-cut edges where we had cut down the plywood crudely with a saws-all last fall, which is why I was dodging Derby Day celebrants in fancy hats and driving through downtown to Dave’s studio and back. The right tool for the job makes all the difference – his belt sander had us ready to go in about twenty minutes, as opposed to the four hours it would have taken with the orbital and palm sanders that occupy my shop, more suitable for detail work on sculptures than actual construction.

Despite our desire to keep tiny as green as possible, for some things, you have to use conventional materials — and unfortunately, there isn’t really a green way to attach a rubber roof to a plywood substrate. The adhesive – a foul yellow sludge that smelled exactly like contact cement, but gooier – had to be stirred for five minutes, and the fumes were enough to make you light-headed. Victoria – dubbed the “Toxic Avenger” by her undergraduate architecture-school peers — scooped it into paint pans with a cup, and we carefully brought it up the ladders to the top.

The adhesive dries quickly, reaching a tacky stage where long strings and webs pulled up and created a cotton candy cloud around the paint roller. Victoria and Reg worked quickly, rolling onto both the plywood roof and the back of the EPDM, and then flopping it over smoothly with the help of Katherine on the other ladder at the end of the tiny house. (I, being a little useless when it comes to the roof, teetered up the ladder long enough to take pics, and fetched needed supplies from the ground.)

The EPDM wraps into where the gutter will be, cut out of the end of the roof in preparation of the box we’re building for inside, and around the edges, held down by the adhesive and galvanized nails. The siding will cover the edges — but for now, seeing the nail-studded edge on one side of the tiny house from the ground feels like huge progress. Next week, we’ll do the other side, and possibly even get to installing the skylight….Step by step, we’re getting somewhere. 

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, a 2005 Westword MasterMind winner, is blogging about 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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