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Stick, SIPs, and Steel, Oh My.

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  • Stick, SIPs, and Steel, Oh My.

    Hello again Tiny House Builders with Big Dreams!

    Well I've decided on which Tiny House I want to build. Next phase of the plan is figuring out how to build it. Here are my three options:

    Stick Frame: This is the traditional framing using 2x4 to build the frame. This option allows me to take my time building the frame, piece by piece. However, stick frames are heavy (weight wise). I like that using this traditional method of framing that a lot of people are familiar with, it would be easier getting construction help. It also makes it easier to modify supporting elements like electrical and plumbing when compared to SIPs. Stick framing would allow me to customize the type of insulation in the walls (important for me since I'm moving to far into the Northeast after construction is completed).

    Steel Frame: This framing uses steel beams for the frame. It's lighter weight than wood frames which means less gas when I have to haul my house from the Southwest US to the far Northeast. I can still customize the insulation and its very study when it comes to structural support. The company I'm buying my trailer from already has the structural plans for my tiny house and would be able to produce the steel frame for me which is super helpful. What isn't helpful is that I have no clue how to put together steel beams for a tiny house frame. Also the price tag is kinda high.

    Structural Insulated Panel: If you haven't checked out these bad boys, then you should. Honestly, I'm leaning towards using these to build my tiny house. These panels are pre-made with the insulation already in them and they get put together similar to how you would make a gingerbread house.

    I found a company right down the road from the business I'm buying my trailer from that has done SIPs for my tiny house before. I like the fact that they seem a bit more user friendly for the construction challenged. I also can get them in a high level of insulation (one again important for me). I've seen several blogs that have shown SIP installation in 48-72 hours (from nothing to a tiny house frame). These come with a high price tag too however they might simplify the building process. The big downside!- Everything has to be planned out prior to the SIPs being made. You have to know where every electrical line is going to run and where every pipe is going to lay. Basically, I have to lock in my plan because I won't be able to make too many changes after the SIPs are built.

    How do y'all plan to build your tiny house?

  • #2
    NikkiVIntl My wife and I are still on our own tiny house journey and one of the things we've found very helpful in planning out our ideal tiny house is to stay at tiny house rentals over the weekends a couple time throughout the year. There are tons of individuals who rent out their tiny houses as well as numerous tiny house resorts across the country. It can really give you some good ideas for your own house. You can note the type of construction and the pros and cons of each in terms of the comfort level and how well each different construction method deals with varying weather conditions. I've got a Word document on my computer that's about 50 pages long with notes regarding different features, sizes and pros and cons from all the different houses we've stayed in. Doing even a few weekend rentals is a great way to "try before you buy" and will result in your own tiny house being built in a manner that best suites your own wants and needs.

    We also find it very useful to attend tiny house shows and festivals where you have the opportunity to tour all different types of tiny houses and ask the builders questions about their products and styles of construction. But actually staying in some for a weekend can give you a much better feel for what you like and don't like so that you can better plan out your own tiny house.

    There's no doubt that SIP's will offer the highest R-value of the 3 construction methods you've noted. And they're clearly the winner when it comes to ease and speed of construction. The only real drawback I see to SIP's is as you mentioned, you're pretty much locked into what you spec out prior to build in terms of plumbing, electrical, low voltage wiring, etc. as it's extremely difficult to make any adjustments to those items after the build is completed.

    One thing I'm wondering and don't have an answer for is the weight differential of SIP's vs. steel frame vs stick frame. From your post it sounds like you're just planning to move your tiny house from the Southwest to the Northeast and park it. If I'm understanding that correctly I wouldn't really worry about which was lightest as the difference in the cost of gas to move it once would be so nominal that I don't think it should even be a factor in deciding which construction method is best for your situation. Now, if I misunderstood you and you're planning to travel frequently with your tiny house then I would definitely give consideration to whether or not there's a significant difference in weight between SIP's, steel frame and stick frame.

    Regarding maximizing the thermal efficiency of your tiny house one of the things you may want to consider is a product like RB Shields Me. I noticed in the video you posted at 3:42 it shows them installing "Aluminum Foil Paper (Special Purpose)" which appears to be a similar product to RB Shields Me however I think the RB Shields Me product is much more robust and durable than the product being used in the video. I'll try and get Herman from RB Shield Me to pop into this post and give us some feedback on his product vs. what's seen in the video. Great video by the way, thanks for sharing and welcome to the forum!

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    • #3
      Chuck

      My tiny house is going to be for residence only and not travel, so i understand what you are saying about the weight issue. I appreciate you feedback on my concerns regarding thermal efficiency. While I realize that there is there is the rule of diminishing returns when it comes to insullation, I want to make sure I make my tiny house the best it can be in for keeping me warm (i'm from the South while my BF is from the cold cold cold NE).

      I love you idea of going to stay in some tiny houses to get a feel for what I want. Right now I'm debating bathroom/closet layout. Lucky for me the plan I've chosen actually has a couple of versions of the floor plan constructed and available to stay in via Air BnB. I had looked at their pictures of their tiny houses however it never dawned on me to actually go stay it.

      I really would like to attend a tiny house convention however the next one that is close to me (Denver in June) is the same weekend I will be on vacation with my family. I am going to keep my eye out for some others.

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      • #4
        My 4 month old THOW is made of SIPs panels, its dimensions are 25'x8.5'x~13' and it is 5,500 lbs.
        It was built by Core Solutions with Andrew Bennett of Trekker Trailers fame. It is a handsome two tone design with shed roof & nice little awning over the entrance.
        There are many physical advantages to the panels including this relative lightweight build, very strong frame, easy maintenance & long life prospect without need for paint.
        The financial advantage was a deciding point for me since the stick builds I was looking at were significantly more for less - space wise as well as what was included.
        The jury is still out for me for the panels effective insulation & heating. After going thru just 1 cold season in central FL which for me (a total hot weather devotee) was really uncomfortably cold both inside & out. I need to install proper/safe area heaters in the living room & bedroom. I also need to try to figure out how to eliminate condensation on the window sills. Any ideas?

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Betsy-TinyCircles View Post
          My 4 month old THOW is made of SIPs panels, its dimensions are 25'x8.5'x~13' and it is 5,500 lbs.
          It was built by Core Solutions with Andrew Bennett of Trekker Trailers fame. It is a handsome two tone design with shed roof & nice little awning over the entrance.
          There are many physical advantages to the panels including this relative lightweight build, very strong frame, easy maintenance & long life prospect without need for paint.
          The financial advantage was a deciding point for me since the stick builds I was looking at were significantly more for less - space wise as well as what was included.
          The jury is still out for me for the panels effective insulation & heating. After going thru just 1 cold season in central FL which for me (a total hot weather devotee) was really uncomfortably cold both inside & out. I need to install proper/safe area heaters in the living room & bedroom. I also need to try to figure out how to eliminate condensation on the window sills. Any ideas?
          Were were you using any propane items for cooking or heating? These can create a lot of condensation unless you crack windows to properly ventilate while using. I live in a 140 square foot converted horse trailer which is also poorly insulated, but I've had no condensation issues because I use electric burners and electric heating methods. Propane can also be quite dangerous unless you ventilate properly. Let me know what your heating methods and cooking methods are and maybe I can help you with this issue.
          Last edited by blondeambition3; 05-17-2019, 08:39 PM. Reason: Same as always, typo errors! LOL

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          • #6
            There is a fairly reasonable compromise between stick framing and SIPS if you are looking for maximum flexibility while you build but still want super insulation. You would build your tiny house frame using typical standard wood framing techniques - or even steel framing - that allow you the flexibility and then when everything is in place in the framework you install - or have installed - foam in place rigid foam insulation. The insulation is definitely more expensive that other types such as fiberglass but offers very high insulation values - as much as R7 per inch. There are a couple of other advantages to blown in foam too. The rigid foam adds quite a bit to the rigidity of the structure - both the frame and the skins on the frame. Sound deadening is typically better than fiberglass. Every nook and cranny is fully sealed up and air tight. I have been involved with a tiny house company that offers foam insulation as an option for cold climates. They also offer various levels of completion for a tiny house including some owner construction participation. If you are interested you can check them out at the following link: https://backcountrytinyhomes.com/

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            • #7
              I have some thoughts and observations regarding the topic of propane usage and moisture control in tiny homes. My wife and I are currently living in our remodeled 31' 1973 Airstream which is parked right next to the house I am in the process of building. We have been living full time in the Airstream for almost 2 years now. The process of building the house is taking a long time because I am doing most of the work myself. The winter before this last one we were heating the Airstream entirely with electricity. We have two oil filled radiator type of heaters plugged into thermostats that are themselves plugged into the wall outlets. That has given us better control of the temperature settings. The thermostats are even programmable so that we can have them automatically change to a lower setting during the night time. This last winter has been somewhat colder than the previous one and we found that sometimes we wanted a bit more quick heat than we were getting with the electric heaters. So I added a Little Buddy free standing heater in the front of the trailer. It is a model that is rated safe to use indoors. It has an oxygen depletion sensor that will shut the unit off it the oxygen levels get too low. Also we do not run it at night while we are sleeping. That is in large part because it does not have a thermostat on it. There are only 2 settings on it - either medium or high. So we manually turn it on and off when we need a bit of a heat boost. Our cook stove is propane and was a new RV unit when I remodeled the Airstream. Our exterior walls are only 1-1/2" thick so they are not super insulated. So even with only electric heat and the propane stove we have found that we have a bit of a moisture control issue during the winter here in Central Oregon. The problem has been worse when we use the propane heater because moisture is a bi-product of the combustion process. The thing is we have been able to deal quite effectively with the moisture problem by using a dehumidifier during the winter months. In the coldest weather our dehumidifier pulls as much as a quart of water per day out of the air! We have it set to a relative humidity of 40%. We typically run it part of the daytime and overnight while we are sleeping. It has been a seriously worthwhile purchase. Make sure that you get one of sufficient capacity for you size space. I would think that a typical tiny house would not have as much of an issue with moisture as we do here in our Airstream but if you find that moisture is an issue this is a very easy way to solve that problem. We have not really had any problems using propane appliances but we also have a carbon monoxide sensor in our trailer just in case that is needed.

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              • #8
                I use electric everything and the condensation is only early morning after a night when it's been in the 50s or lower.
                I thought I had responded here but maybe did in a different post, I think the dehumidifier is a great idea.

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