716 sq. ft. Cuyamaca Cottage

Started by flyingvan, January 29, 2012, 04:11:35 PM

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   This is my second time around as owner/builder.  The lot had a phenomenal view but was 'unbuildable' due to insufficient room for a septic with the county required 100% reserve.  After moving an illegal driveway, a 4" water main, and putting the required parking in the extreme rear (and  favorable perk test!) I was approved for a 20x20 building site.  I've had help twice so far---first time was concrete pumping day, second was getting the siding up on the tallest wall (I promised my mom I wouldn't do that alone) flyingvan.blogspot.com I've kept a pretty good photojournal---of course, you'll go back in time if you view it starting from now...

I wanna build this

Right here.  The blue house on the left there is my home.  To get to our mountain cabin we'll have to walk across the street.
Find what you love and let it kill you.


Quote from: flyingvan on January 29, 2012, 04:11:35 PM
   This is my second time around as owner/builder.  The lot had a phenomenal view but was 'unbuildable' due to insufficient room for a septic with the county required 100% reserve.  After moving an illegal driveway, a 4" water main, and putting the required parking in the extreme rear (and  favorable perk test!) I was approved for a 20x20 building site.  I've had help twice so far---first time was concrete pumping day, second was getting the siding up on the tallest wall (I promised my mom I wouldn't do that alone) flyingvan.blogspot.com I've kept a pretty good photojournal---of course, you'll go back in time if you view it starting from now...

Couldn't get your link to appear in the post only in the E-mail notification so I took the liberty of taking it from the notification and posting it here.



"We"se photobucket a lot because it's free, simple and works in forum posting with no hassles. Other hosts do work, some don't or require more on the behalf of the forum viewer. Whatever you use look for the ability to copy [img] tags, or the photo url and then manually insert the url inbetween two tags from the selection of items in the message compose window.
Just because something has been done and has not failed, doesn't mean it is good design.


Hope you don't mind, I was curious if you could post a pic straight from your blog.

edit; seemed to work. I clicked the "insert image" tag above the reply window and put the adress of your pic between the img tags. You can get the adress of the pic by right clicking over it and clicking "properties", this is what I copied and pasted between the image tags.


  OK let me try this out... This is the cottage I'm working on now.  Good weather days it's exterior siding; bad it's interior.

   The stones came out of the ground when I dug the foundation.  Craigslist had a wet saw for $50 so they get cut up into tiles.  The stair rails will be out of the oak that blew down last snow storm.  I will post those too
Find what you love and let it kill you.


Pouring the hearth was exactly the same as a countertop would be done.  Since it would end up being 350 pounds I poured it right next to its final position

   Start with the form--I used melamine since it's perfectly smooth.  The edges are 2x6 ripped down to 4" then wrapped with visqueen.   If the concrete is poured right against wood, the wood absorbs water and the concrete ends up dull and chalky.  A bead of caulk in the corners rounds over the edges for the finished product.  I purposely left the wrinkles in to add character.  The rebar was bent and wired, then hung from a 2x6 so it would end up in the midle of the pour.  There are two anchor bolts in the 2x6 to fix it to the base later.

    With the rebar rack set aside, I mixed the first sack of pre-mixed concrete.  ( I added a little cement and poly fibers to the mix) half of the first sack just got thrown in the form.  The second half, I added some 'brown' color to, then slopped it .  Then 3 more 90# sacks, with black oxide color added.  Those all got thrown in next.

     It's very important to vibrate all the bubbles out so you don't end up with any honeycomb voids.  This form was propped up off the floor on some scrap lumber.  I took the blade off the sawzall and pushed it against the form.   (the rebar rack was set in place and screwed down to make the form stronger to withstand the vibrations.  The rebar sunk until the wires held it in place, just from the vibrating)

   I let it cure a few days.  Don't get impatient---if the concree is still 'green' chunks of it can stick to the form.  This was before the front door was installed----raccoons walked through it.It's on the underside so the tracks won't show---next time maybe I'll pour it so the top side stays on top and put food all around it to see what walks through it

     Forms stripped, and the hearth turned over onto its base and bolted in place.  It took very little polishing and some sealant to finish.
Find what you love and let it kill you.


  It's been difficult getting way up into the gables for siding.  I'm using these triangle braces I made when I did the sheer panel, screwing them to the wall, and putting the siding down to the level of the platform.  I'll have to remove them, patch the screw holes in the tyvek, then side up being careful my hardiplanks space evenly for where they meet.
Find what you love and let it kill you.


Very interesting design elements.

I noticed the top siding was wavy.  Was this from a natural log edge or where they designed to be that way?

I really liked the tutorial on the concrete hearth.  What kind of sealant did you use?

In my head, I have been kicking around a design for a tiny 300 square foot cabin.  I have trouble matching up a code built stairway (height and width) with the floor plan and half story.  I totally forgot I could manipulate the landing and height requirements by moving the ridge beam or adding a dormer.

Do you have more on the chimney?  That is a large box at the roof, is it ceramic or stone all the way down?


   I just took some extra hardiplank and cut 23" pieces, lined them all up and snapped two chalk lines--- one at 10" and one at 13"---then drew the curve freehand and cut them with the shears, so ending up with two 'shingles' out if each piece.  I was careful to number them so the wave would line up.  I'm putting flashing paper behind each course overlapping the course below, and priming every cut edge.
   Right now the chimney is just hardibacker over wood frame; I might do the same native stone veneer, but I'm going to experiment with native soil cement over chickenwire with little clusters of native stone, and see how it looks and how it holds up.   I'll take pictures...
   Your stairs---one great way to shorten them and stay in code is winders on the landing, you gain 3 stairs.  I didn't do it because it cut into the under stair storage.
    The sealer is high gloss stone sealer.  I think the trade name is high gloss, I don't remember but I'll look at the bottle again
Find what you love and let it kill you.

Mike 870

Cool projects that you are posting flyingvan.  I like seeing different things too.  I think we do get a little bit of group think on here from time to time so its nice to see some new ideas and design characteristics.


Thanks Mike!  (home for dinner break)  The sealer I used on the concrete (I've used the same jug for years now on different projects) is 'Miracle' brand.  (If it turns out good, it's a miracle?')
Find what you love and let it kill you.



   OK this was a big day... There's one wall that's ballooned framed, with 17' open floor to ceiling to help the place feel bigger than it is.  When you're upstairs in the reading nook, you're looking down into the bay....
   Anyhow, I framed this on the floor then tipped it up little by little.  It took all day.  The 'A' brace kept it from folding in half and levered the rope and come along chained to an oak tree.  There were stops at the wall so it wouldn't go off the edge, and a framed single story wall I could nail it to once it was up.
   After getting more framing done, we flew over it so I took an aerial pic
Find what you love and let it kill you.


   Since this cottage is in the 'Wildland Urban Interface' zone of San Diego County, it has to be built to fire resistive construction specs.  All windows are dual glazed, tempered, high altitude, with special clips inside the vinyl that keep the windows from falling out if they melt.  All soffits have to be enclosed.   Siding has to be cementitios.  Attics vents have to not allow embers in.  All exposed timber has to be 4x6 or better.
   Toughest of all---they wouldn't let me stack cantilevered joists over cantilevered beams.  The building dept.  thought it created too much height to trap heat in a fire.  An essential design element was the covered porch turning a corner and stacking cantilevers was the only way I knew to do it.
   Here's my solution----and, yes, I had to get an engineering stamp since one of the beams cantilevers out more than 1/3 its length.

   Here's the fabric formed foundation with the mudsill in place and the biggest beam waiting to be installed

   Then other major beams stabbed off that one and cantilevered out.  There is a 6x6 post under every intersection with a strongtie supporting and joining them.  I added true 1" stock to the beams up to where the porch begins to provide the required 'step down' to the exterior, and so the TJI's would be flush top and bottom.


  Then put the TJI hangers on the beams, and the TJI's dropped in flush.  The house was already taller than it was wide, so this kept it a whole foot lower than if the TJI's sat on top---which wouldn't have been allowed with the fire issue anyway.  NOTE!!!! Those TJI hangers?  The TJI's just drop in.  No nails, screws, anything.  They drop in easy except the last inch you stomp on them and they snap in.  Easy and quick---but on the last course, I sorta pre-staged them upside down over the TJI's already in place.  The vibration of banging around made them work their way down, clipping themselves in place upside down, on the already installed ones.  They didn't come off easy.  Leave them in the box until you're going to use them.

  All done.  The same strongties used as postcaps where beams meet were used on the porch, inverted, to support the rim beam and 6x6 porch posts.  Custom order and not cheap
Find what you love and let it kill you.


Beautiful area/views!  Looking forward to seeing your continued progress  :)  Those porches will be really nice even though they sound like a lot of extra work & money. 

You will know the truth & the truth will set you free


Thanks Sassy!  I enjoyed your pictures of the conversation pit.  I've been wanting to play around with cob. 

   OK so I know there are pre-builders looking at these posts, and if you're like me, seeing pictures of projects really helps.  This was a mundane but necessary task---putting in the utility pole.  Having it done was WAY out of the budget.  Doing it myself was only the cost of the pole ($300)  Legally this is a trench because it's deeper than it is wide.  The soil here was extremely stable.  If there is any chance whatsoever your soil can collapse, and you don't know how to shore as you go, don't do this.  OK? OK.

   First, make a hole.  I love digging---find a radio station and set dirt aside.  Digging bars can be your best friend.

  It's 7' deep.  That's what SD County required.  Really, it only has to be wide enough to accomodate the pole but unless you've got access to an auger and you don't have big rocks, you have to make it wide enough for you and a shovel.

  Same hole, other direction.

  The pole was $300 and 22' long.  I strapped it to the old Dodge and motored up the hill, untied it, and it rolled to right over the hole---with the wrong end down.  It was really hard to move.

   The long ramp I made for moving stones got dropped in the hole so as I raised the pole it wouldn't scrape up the side of the hole.  I could just lift one end, and the bottom would just 'catch' on the plywood so I could re-position and lift a little more.

   Once it slides in, it's a good feeling.

    San Diego Gas and Electric had, on their website, exact instructions for the pole.  Building department wanted two 8' grounding rods 6' apart so I put one in the hole.  The PVC pipe is strapped to the pole so the inspector can run a tape measure down it to make sure I went deep enough.

   Getting the pole nice and plumb isn't too hard, but very important.  The pole tapers so I made a little block for my level that squared it up and kept checking at 90 degree points.  Get it close, put about a foot of dirt in.  Tamp it down, plumb the pole, add another foot of soil.  After about 3' it was locked in and wouldn't move anymore.  You probably already know that if you dig out two yards of soil, put something in the hole, then try to put the same two yards back in, you come up short.  Soil doesn't 'fluff up', it just interlocks better (plus there's loss to spillage, the wind takes its share, and my wife swears most of it comes home on my clothes)  so have a spot you can harvest soil as needed.
    Oh and the panel---for both this project and the Cuyamaca Cabin,   the utility pole served as 'temporary construction power' but set up the meter to eventually serve as the main panel for the house, then ran wire for a sub panel inside.  This left me with outlets at the pole which is handy and no moving around of high voltage stuff later.  Plus, before the 'smart meters', it was easy for the reader to find the meter. 
Find what you love and let it kill you.


  I just wanted MountainDon to see some San Diego snow (There's much more now but I can't even get there for a pic yet)   I've been working inside on the siding.  The cutoffs go right in the fire.  This fireplace is great----drafts outside air, is airtight, thermostat controlled blower...

  However---I noticed water dripping from the insulation, right behind my very expensive attic vents specially designed to keep embers out---they are supposed to keep rain and snow out too.  Time for some mods I think... These shutter doors were salvaged from the same dumpster I found the chunk of old red oak for the mantel.  (There were two chunks.  I only grabbed one, now the other's in landfill somewhere.  Kicking myself but I bet this is how hoarders get their start)

Find what you love and let it kill you.


So the vents----I had to buy these brandguard vents since I'm in the 'wildland urban interface'.  They are specially designed to keep embers from blowing in.  They're also supposed to keep rain and snow out.  While working inside during a blizzard, I noticed dripping from the insulation on the inside where the windward vent is.  I crawled up into the attic and could see snow blowing in and piling up in the attic.

The wind was blowing snow right through the vertical 'u' channels.  I know adequate attic ventilation is important, but it seems to me the whole point of a house is to keep the outside out.

  So I bought two standard issue attic vents, cut them to size, pre-drilled some holes, screwed them to the back of the brandguard vents from inside.  It cut the stiff breeze through the attic (to the identical vent) down to a gentle puff, and the louvers seem to keep all moisture out so far.  I caulked all around them from the inside also.  Air now has to travel around the vertical tracks, through the mesh, up the 4" louvers and around a lip, through another mesh, into the attic.

Find what you love and let it kill you.


Here are some pages from the plans I drew.  It was a big part of the fun, learning about title 24 energy calculations, 'green building' to save 15% of the plan check and permit fees, span tables, etc.  If do the plans all yourself you've already built the place in your brain once before you pick up a shovel.

    So that balloon frame wall that got tipped up is at the bottom of the floorplan.  The view of Lake Cuyamaca is to the right.  The only deviation from my original plan as drawn is the elimination of the bathroom door from the bedroom----it was stupid.  It just ate up wall space for both rooms, and it's three extra steps to go out the bedroom into the bathroom. 
   I'm am very, very open to criticism and since I plan on doing a third O/B place someday, would like feedback.   I love small homes and am a big Sarah Susanka fan.....
Find what you love and let it kill you.


since you asked...  i really like your design, except for a couple of things - first there is no half bath on the first floor, and the other is it's only one bedroom.  that's being picky, and I know 20x20 isn't much space, but that's what I see... especially from a resale point of view.   The exterior lines are great - very well done. 


   I got the land very cheap because it was 'unbuildable'----too small for a septic system.  I moved a driveway, a community water main, put the required parking in the extreme rear where there was a zero setback, and had favorable perk tests.  (San Diego County requires 100% reserve for the leach field) With all that and some begging and not taking 'no' for an answer, after about 18 months I got approval for the 20x20 building site.  The cantilevered deck and bay window were even pushing it but they let it go....One bedroom was the max allowed---two bedrooms would have required much more septic area (you can build all the bathrooms you want.  They go by bedrooms, which makes some sense) 
   I'm not sure where a half bath would fit downstairs.  I did put the bathroom as the first thing you come to at the top of the stairs....Everything's sound proofed too.  An inherent problem with tiny homes often is bathroom noise.
   Thanks for the input....There are two tricks I'm trying to make it feel bigger---from downstairs, you're drawn to the great wall that goes way up, and when you're in the bay it feels spacious.  Upstairs to the immediate right of the landing is the 'reading nook' cantilevered out into that area, with a great view through the picture window.  Looking down, you're looking into the bay window area, giving the illusion of more floor space.
Find what you love and let it kill you.


here is a design I came across that has a basic 20x20 dimension (disregard the bump out).  Shows how they put in a bathroom on the 1st floor and 2 bedrooms up.   http://www.sheldondesigns.com/cabins/SurfsideCS792c.htm    Hope it's o.k. to post it here.

i really like your design though and only offer this up for reference.   it probably feels very tight and confined given everything they are trying to squeeze in it.


Cute plan---thanks for sharing that.   They sure packed a lot into a small area....One of the design elements I wanted to preserve is the entire downstairs being open.   If the day comes that I really don't like going up a flight of stairs to use the restroom, I'll probably be past the point of tackling an addition, too.. But, for the next project---the chalet---I'll take this into consideration (I have my eye on another parcel up here...Gotta finish this one first though)
Find what you love and let it kill you.


Found your experience with the Branguard gable vents interesting, especially since their advertising indicates these vents keep out blowing snow!  Just another issue with the rush to adopt fire codes before products are well engineered.  Did you contact manufacture and let them know the product does not meet expectations?


No, I suppose I should.  I spent enough on them......The whole fire resistive construction thing is a crock any.  I've been fighting fire long enough to know that you put a house in the forest and burn the forest down, it's going to be bad for the house-----defensible space will save any structure.  First study, they found the point of origin was up in the eaves----so they made us enclose them.  That changed the point of origin to under decks, so they demand heavy timbers, which moved it to the attic vents; then vinyl windows melted and fell out so curtains caught fire, so they demand special clips in the windows.....I'll have to say, though, doing all those things along with the fire sprinklers really drove insurance costs down
Find what you love and let it kill you.


  I think it's only fair to report---I wrote to the Brandguard people and they responded immediately.  The owner tells me they've never had a complaint of water infiltration before, it might be due to how they were installed, and he (the owner) is coming out to see first hand.  The timing's good because the windward side that had the snow blow in is completely finished (and was when I had the problem) and the leeward side isn't sided yet, just wrapped with Tyvek so he can see the install.  I really can't imagine how the installation would make a difference as the snow was blowing through the vent itself, but I installed them same way you'd do a window and used the really thick rubberized window flashing and caulk.   (The retrofit with a second vent right up against the first with the louvers pointing down seems to have fixed the problem)
   Gut feeling is, bad combination of high winds, dry snow and vent perpendicular to wind. 
Find what you love and let it kill you.