Home Building- Week 1

March 8th-15th 2016

You can see a more visual representation of this process on a little video I made. It can be found on YouTube HERE. Before we get into the renovation of this week, it needs to be noted that almost exactly a month ago, when this journey all began, in this very same place, we started the renovation. It all started by assessing a leaky pipe situation and trying to work out the lighting. It ended by ripping out a wall and removing the lighting entirely.

This week, though, we carry on from that point. The reason why we ripped out the wall is that it was a divider for a toilet cubicle. While it was a good idea for the original owner of the caravan (an elderly man with plans to travel with his wife), for me (a single man travelling with only his dogs) it was just in the way.

‘Microcorridor’ is a term which has sprung up with TinyHouses. It refers to a floorplan which creates spaces which can’t be used for anything other than as a thoroughfare. Now, this caravan has some wonderful innovations which made it super convenient for travelling. The hard fold-down walls, drop-down stove and bench, the little catches on the backs of the drawers and even the cubicle itself are just some of them. For a long-term living space though, the cubicle equated to the creation of a microcorridor and really wasted valuable space. It had to go.

It was the first casualty in a week of deconstruction. This process was really just a whole lot of inspections of structures, determining how it could be unscrewed, dismounted or just plain dislodged (usually by means of a hammer). Step two was carrying out said dismantling. Basically I smacked the divider with a hammer until it broke enough that I could see inside at the connection points then I undid the screws holding it to the walls and floor. The bracket for holding the toilet in place was unscrewed, the chemical toilet was removed and I detached everything that was plumbed or wired in to the cabinet space. Cathartic to say the least.

With that space cleared, task two was the main reason for the whole renovation: expanding the bed space. Prior to the renovation, one had the choice of two not quite wide enough, a little bit too short, nearly single beds. The goal was to have one adult-sized bed. The best way I could think to do that while making best use of space was to use the back wall (as the caravan was originally designed). This job was mostly putting a wall cabinet on the floor in order to create an alternative bed base/storage compartment. The cabinet was donated by my WorkAway host in Whakatane, who removed it in her rental renovation.

Next came clearing space from the previous bed position. This involved moving two drawers plus their housings to under the kitchen sink. You can see that the renovation was more of a reshuffle of what was already there. Again, this was mostly to rectify the wastage of space. The dismantling was a similar procedure to the cubicle i.e. smack, assess, process. The resizing was a bit more involved. It was lesson in the importance of measurement and the pre-consideration of clearances and obstructions. After measuring out the space available, I failed to remember to account for the width of materials and ended up making several extra cuts and was left with a drawer that could no longer fit my bin (which was not part of the plan).

Installing the shelf was more straightforward and was achieved by repurposing materials from the divider wall. It was important that as many of the materials were recycled from the original for several reasons: 1) there was nothing wrong with many of the materials; 2) I didn’t want to create unnecessary waste; 3) the budget for the build was fairly limited. This made for a much more difficult project on several occasions, as it meant preserving the integrity of materials while removing and redesigning them. This is often much more tricky than building from new materials.

After designing and making a brace to replace a folding support bar, I realised it would get in the way of folding down and had to explore other options. The option I decided on was to reinstall the bar in a slightly different way so that it could slide up and down instead of fold… hence the brace I spent so much time devising and making became useless. D’oh!

After freeing up this under-sink space and moving/creating the storage to fill it, the challenge was the second bed space. This was more disappointment than achievement. As the boards were disassembled and housings unscrewed, the previous attachment points became visible. The fruits of the caravan’s previous owner were revealed and it became obvious that I was merely reversing his previous renovation. To be honest, it felt a little demoralising to time undoing changes that the changer had not had a chance to use! However, it is was it is and I cracked on with what had to be done.

Mostly it was measuring the space I wanted to use and re-measuring to make sure that my plans would work. A circular saw got involved and then the whole thing was repeatedly smacked with a hammer, drilled and screwed. In hindsight: not such a pleasant day for the structure itself, but we came away with the result. In the end, there was a little more floor space created and the storage drawers contained things nicely. It got the cogs turning as to how best to use the end storage/bench extension space too.

Next came the bed base. Now, those of you who have ever spent a little time sleeping on a foam mattress or a futon will probably know that they absorb a notable quantity of moisture. If allowed to build up, this will lead to mould and degradation. Luckily, I’d been gifted an old trellis which immediately screamed ‘potential’ to me. Specifically, it seemed wonderful for creating aeration spaces under storage and the bed as well as use as building materials for other projects. In the fullness of time, all of these uses would come to fruition.

First came flooring so that the slats could be laid for the storage spaces. I approached this with reckless abandon and while it was laid down in a functional way, I’d not planned it aesthetically. End result was a subpar vinyl job using the pre-glued vinyl tiles you can get at many hardware stores for DIY renovation. Turns out they are much harder to use than a standard vinyl flooring roll. Particularly on an insulating underlay which adheres immediately. It should have been planned out more thoroughly prior and it should have been laid more carefully. If you go this way, make sure you learn from my mistakes. It works though and I have filled any small gaps between tiles with silicone sealant to prevent any runaway moisture build-up beneath the tiles.

Next came the bed base. Actually this was relatively simple. The trellis just so happened to be about the same height as the width of the ne bed. I’ll take an easy win. Thus it was onwards to slicing it in half with a power saw in order to give it double function as a sofa base as well as a bed base.

And that was the first week of renovation.

The real challenge for me was the sense of having “started”. Before this, it was travel and exploration. A severance from what I knew and from my comfort zone. After I had arrived and begun putting in the physical labour, it forced me to come to terms with the idea I actually was trying to break free and live the experience I want to have of life. The individual projects presented their own challenges. They also served as practise for some of the projects I envision in an ideal future and sustainable lifestyle. Ultimately though, it was the ‘trying’ that was most confronting for me.

What happens from here is whatever it is. But this was the real start.

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