It’s every homeowner’s nightmare to discover a small patch of mold, and then learn that their floor, subfloor, and insulation have all become a soft, rotten waste. But that’s exactly what happened to my guest today, Chris Murphy. Chris and his wife Bri had to move out of their tiny house unexpectedly when it was discovered that there was a terrible moisture issue in both the floor and walls. In this interview, Chris tells his story so we can all learn from the critical mistakes that were made in Chris and Bri’s tiny home.

In This Episode:

  • From tiny house dweller to houseguest in 3 days
  • How Chris's subfloor was built and how it should have been built
  • Ask which spray foam your builder is using
  • The builder's response
  • How do you even fix a mold-ridden subfloor?
  • Vapor barriers and insulation to get rid of extra water
  • Why you should engage with others in the tiny house movement
  • Where do you park in a town where tiny houses are illegal?

Links and Resources:

Guest Bio:

Chris Murphy

Chris Murphy

Chris lives in Burlington, Vermont with his wife Brianna and their oversized chihuahua mix, Milo. After graduating college and living in New York City for a couple years, Chris and Bri built a tiny house and moved to Burlington where they have resided for the past 3 years. He currently works remotely for a digital therapeutics startup as a product manager. Even though he's not a huge fan of the Vermont winters, Chris loves Burlington and enjoys hiking and camping in the Green Mountains, and always finds time to watch his typically very bad New York sports teams.

Chris's Facebook

Brianna's Facebook

Instagram

 

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More Photos:

Checking out the feel of the tiny house during construction

The walls of the house had a moisture barrier – but not the floor.

The gooseneck trailer was custom-built

 

They made sure there was plenty of airflow throughout the house – even in winter

They even built a custom deck

They lived in their tiny house for about 3 years

 


The living room is over the gooseneck

They noticed that something was growing on the floor near the kitchen

They tried a number of remedies but ultimately called in an expert to get rid of the mold

 

They thought they would have to remove only a few floorboards

The more floor the specialist removed, the more mold he found

Most of the subfloor was ruined

 

They were able to stick a screwdriver right through the soggy floor!

They found puddles of moisture underneath that had been trapped and leaking into the floor and joists

Everything is moldy, soggy, and rotted

Inappropriate insulation contributed to the problem

The trailer is still good, but they still don't know the full extent of the damage

 

Chris Murphy 0:00

Yeah, we're not really touching it right now. We are, you know, kind of moving forward on the legal front, because we feel that the original builders are responsible for the shape our house is in basically less than three years after it was delivered, but we're not doing active work on it right now.

Ethan Waldman 0:19

Welcome to the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast, the show where you learn how to plan, build and live the tiny lifestyle. I'm your host, Ethan Waldman, and this is episode 151 with Chris Murphy. It's every homeowners nightmare to discover a small patch of mold, and then learn that their floor, sub floor, and insulation have all become a soft, rotten waste. But that's exactly what happened to my guest today, Chris Murphy. Chris and his wife, Bri, had to move out of their tiny house unexpectedly when it was discovered that there was a terrible moisture issue in both the floor and walls. In this interview, Chris tells his story so we can all learn from the critical mistakes that were made in Chris and Brei's tiny home. Did you know that I personally send a tiny house newsletter every week on Tuesdays. It's called Tiny Tuesdays and it's a weekly email with tiny house news, interviews, photos and resources. It's free to subscribe and I even share sneak peeks of things that are coming up and ask for feedback about upcoming podcast guests and more. It's really the best place to keep a pulse on what I'm doing in the tiny house space and also stay informed about what's going on in the tiny house movement. To sign up, go to thetinyhouse.net/newsletter. I'll never send you spam. And if you don't want to receive emails, it's easy to unsubscribe. I hope you enjoy next week's tiny Tuesday's newsletter. Go to the hetinyhouse.net/newsletter to subscribe.

Right. I am here with Chris Murphy. Chris lives in Burlington, Vermont with his wife Brianna and their oversized Chihuahua mix Milo. After graduating college and living in New York City for a couple of years, Chris and Bri built a tiny house and moved to Burlington where they have resided for the past three years. He currently works remotely for a digital therapeutics startup as a product manager. Even though he's not a huge fan of the Vermont winters, Chris loves Burlington and enjoys hiking and camping in the Green Mountains and always finds time to watch his typically very bad New York sports teams. Chris Murphy, welcome to the show.

Chris Murphy 2:32

Thank you so much for having me.

Ethan Waldman 2:34

You're very welcome. And this is one of the few shows where I met your tiny house before I met you because it's literally two blocks from my house. So I've I've been looking at it and wondering who's tiny house is that and how do they manage to find a parking spot in Burlington?

Chris Murphy 2:54

Yeah, really it's quite the case of misconnection. It's really, really unfortunate. But it's taken us this long.

Ethan Waldman 3:00

Yeah, yeah, for sure. Well, I do want to ask you, you know, I think later in the interview, I'd love to talk about finding a parking spot in a city like Burlington, where tiny houses aren't necessarily legal. But I want to kind of get into like the main topic first, which is kind of what has happened with your tiny house. And I was just hoping we could kind of start, start at the, at the, at the start of when the problems arose. So how long were you living in your tiny house? Just like, happily unaware of anything going wrong?

Unknown Speaker 3:40

Yeah, I mean, in terms of the major issue we've worked through recently, you know, that's the reason I'm on this episode. You know, that started back in the late summer, early fall. Okay, we noticed a kind of fungus growing at the corner of our floor and wall by our kitchen. And, you know, we tried to, you know, kind of get rid of it kind of came back and we were like, Well, I think we need to have this addressed. And, you know, at this point, we've been living in for almost three years. And once we, you know, dug deeper, we discovered a much, much worse problem with the mold and rot in our subfloor. So, yeah, it's been almost three years at that point when this all kind of started for us.

Ethan Waldman 4:25

Okay, so you just noticed this fungus growing. And so what did you do?

Unknown Speaker 4:32

Yeah, so I mean, the first time we saw we tried to, you know, we, we did the kind of DIY solution, so we kind of cut it off the ground, we applied some, you know, mold killing disinfectant solution that we found when we did some research, you know, thought maybe that was it, but within a couple weeks, it was back. So at that point, we then called a mold remediation service, you know, around, you know, nearby from New Hampshire, and that's when they came in and took a look at it.

Ethan Waldman 5:01

Okay, so what did they do when they got there?

Unknown Speaker 5:05

Yeah, so he took a look at it and, you know, he, he recognized that we probably had to remove the kitchen cabinets, tear up some floorboards and really get the source of it sprayed down we need to disinfect into the the sub floor and then put everything back together basically.

Ethan Waldman 5:21

Okay. So and then so that's what you did. So you removed the kitchen cabinets.

Unknown Speaker 5:27

Yeah, this was in early November. So we we had to actually also get a contractor kind of a normal kitchen remodeling contractor to do the first and third day which would have been removing the cabinets and then after mold remediation on our second day, put the cabinets back in place and put a few new floorboards back after they had been ripped up.

Ethan Waldman 5:44

So now your bio says that you live in Burlington, but but are you still you're not currently living in Burlington because you're not currently living in your tiny house.

Unknown Speaker 5:54

Right? I am calling in from New York because when that happened, and that plan, you know, started on the on the third day or the second day, actually, when the mold remediation specialist took a look at it. He he removed a lot more floorboards than he thought and the subfloor was a little softer than he expected. And he poked around, but kind of you know, you know, he didn't want to go any further because he thought he got the mold and right that's what we're paying him for it. The next day, the contractor came in to put back the flooring. And he started poking around and poked right through and he started ripping it up. And he called me and I came over from I was working in a co working space in Burlington I came came by and he was like, I'm not going to touch this anymore. Because this is bigger than you're paying me. And I don't want to charge you for me just to rip apart your subfloor.

Ethan Waldman 6:33

Yikes.

Unknown Speaker 6:34

And that's what it all started. And basically fast forward three days and my wife and I had ripped up the majority of our subfloor, packed up our car and headed down to New York in the middle pandemic, we had nowhere else to stay, but going home and staying with family.

Ethan Waldman 6:45

Oh my gosh, what a nightmare. So the entire sub floor, which I'm guessing was like advantech kind of sub flooring.

Unknown Speaker 6:55

It was like particleboard.

Ethan Waldman 6:59

Maybe it was advantech kind of has a particle board-ish. You know, it's not really that important to the, my line of questioning, but it was it was totally soaked. Like, you could

Unknown Speaker 7:09

basically like, you know, we had we had found a sub floor and then it was it was like rock wool. And under that was like the the metal pan right that you kind of line the trailer with between the studs, there was there was standing water. And if there was we're pulling out rock. Well, that was soaked. I mean, this was also getting cold. So there was also frost and stuff. But that's when we saw the rot and it was just lining the sides of the floors into the middle. Wow. So we were pulling out wet rock wool, we were punching through, you know, really soft particleboard. It was it was quite interesting. I really understood the added anatomy of a subfloor.

Ethan Waldman 7:44

Yeah, yeah. So standing water down there. So to, you know, if you didn't know, you know, you would think Well, hey, did you have like a leak? What, like, what, what causes this water to build up down there?

Unknown Speaker 8:00

Right. And I mean, this, that was the biggest concern for me, I'm always like, so worried about these kinds of problems that are like, you know, behind the walls behind the floors, right. So we realized that it was just a bunch of it was out a ton of condensation, basically, you know, we had not had a big leak or flooding incident that was that that had that would cause this the scope of this problem. So we understood, we realized that it was just moisture getting underneath the subfloor and condensing you know at that at that, you know, you know, metal layer where it gets super cold.

Ethan Waldman 8:32

Right. And so, you know, I'm not a pro building scientist but but for those listening, you know, the best analogy or the best thing to think about is your your ice cold can of soda or beer in the hot summer. As soon as you take it out of the fridge all this condensation forms on it because warm air can hold a lot more moisture than cold air. And so when that hot air warm air hits the cold can air cools down, but now it can no longer hold all that moisture. So it has to that moisture becomes it goes from a vapor to a liquid. And so that's what was happening inside of your floor.

Unknown Speaker 9:13

Yep, and a whole lot of it. Yeah, we've we've definitely gotten schooled up on you know, problems with moisture inside walls or flooring.

Ethan Waldman 9:22

So did your tiny house. What? How did you heat your tiny house?

Unknown Speaker 9:29

Yeah, so we have a mini split. Okay, so why don't we have a climate? Right? That that does AC in the summer and heat in the winter. Okay.

Ethan Waldman 9:38

And was there any kind of like ventilation system in the house?

Unknown Speaker 9:44

Yeah, so we did have an air exchanger that was running so there was some some pretty good you know, airflow.

Ethan Waldman 9:51

Yeah. And did you like did you monitor your the humidity in the house at all when you lived there was it not kind of really something you thought about?

Unknown Speaker 10:00

Not not something we thought about a ton. I mean, I guess we thought about it to a certain extent, but not to the point where we thought about how humidity affects like things like moisture getting into your subfloor.

Ethan Waldman 10:11

Right, right. So I know that since that original contractor and mold remediation service came in you, you actually did talk with the building science experts. And so, you know, what more did you learn?

Unknown Speaker 10:28

Yeah, so so we actually, you know, talk to two building science experts, guys by name of Jim Bradley and Chris West, up in Vermont, they run a company called Authenticated Diagnostics, and they're just total nerds about building science that had been super helpful. And so we brought them in to take a look at it, we went back up to Vermont for a weekend to see them. And, you know, they basically picked apart the problem and explained to us, you know, what, what was so wrong about how the subfloor was built, in terms of, you know, not really having a vapor barrier, and not providing the right kind of, you know, design around a very, you know, a metal foundation, right, which is going to, you know, which is going to conduct that that heat so much quicker, you're going to lose, and that's where you're gonna get that barrier where the moisture is condensing that that much quicker.

Ethan Waldman 11:13

Yeah. So question about your, your sub floor anatomy, actually. Yeah, were there like wooden joists underneath the sub floor? Or was the sub floor directly on top of metal trailer cross beams?

Unknown Speaker 11:27

So So there, I guess to start from the metal cross means there was like kind of a metal pan kind of, I don't know if it's like sheathing or flashing whatever you call it. Yeah. And then on that there were two by four choice forming kind of the frame of the sub floor. And then in between those two by fours, there was rockwool. And then on top of that, there was the particle board

Ethan Waldman 11:46

support. Got it? Okay. And so what you learn from the Building Science experts is that, you know, you would have needed to have a vapor barrier, at least there, did they, you know, did they talk at all about, like, the thickness of the sub floor or anything like that?

Unknown Speaker 12:06

Yeah, they're really limited the fact that they that our original builders used to use two by fours, because I mean, they knew we're going up to Vermont, and with the Vermont climate, I think it's climate zone six, or whatever it's called. And you know, that two by sixes are, are way better in terms of providing the R value really accumulating that insulation, so that the thickness was a big problem. And then the second problem that we found was that on the kind of both plates on the side of a lot of tiny house trailers, you kind of have that kind of those metal wings that come out. And that's where you bolt the walls down to and on, on, you know, those like maybe like eight inches that kind of came into the house and the particle board was applied directly to that. No insulation in between at all.

Ethan Waldman 12:48

Is that the spot that created most of the moisture, you think

Chris Murphy 12:53

There was definitely a lot of problems there. Yeah, that so that was one of the biggest mistakes.

Ethan Waldman 12:59

I've heard that referred to as like a thermal short circuit.

Chris Murphy 13:03

Yeah. Yeah. thermal bridging, as we've heard that word a lot recently. And we've come to get to get to know it very well.

Ethan Waldman 13:11

Yeah. So was, is the damage limited to just just the floors? Or you know, did did you also have some issues in the walls?

Unknown Speaker 13:21

Yeah. So basically, the problem is that our the way that a lot of these foundations are built is that the subfloor runs the entire width of the trailer and the walls are built on top of it, right but that since particleboard, and that kind of fairly cheap quality particle board that our cell floors unfortunately made have soaked up a lot of water and underneath the walls, the particle board is rotting and soft. So that right there is a problem because the walls are built on top of them. How are you going to replace that? And then even a couple of feet up into the walls Jim and Chris were able to basically just stick a knife right into the material and the wood basically saying, Hey, this is really bad. They did open up other pieces when they're doing further diagnostic reporting up higher in the walls and the ceiling, there wasn't the same problem. But they kind of said, hey, these, these are only two by fours, the walls and they used open cell foam, foam insulation, so it's only a matter of time, in Vermont for that.

Ethan Waldman 14:17

So did they say anything about like open cell foam? And you know, whether because my understanding always is that open cell foam is designed for interior walls of a house to provide insulation, but that when used in an exterior wall, open cell foam can absorb moisture.

Chris Murphy 14:40

Yeah, so I haven't heard the part about absorbing moisture but I but they did explain that, you know, our original builders clearly should have gotten a closed cell foam if they knew that one they were only insulating four inches right because it was a two by four and a two by six. And we are going to Vermont now where you really need this extra extra insulation. So you know when they were building the house for us our original builder was like, yeah, we're using spray foam and in our limited knowledge at that point we were like, Oh, you know, spray foam. Okay, like, you know, we maybe we trusted them on that but, you know, now we've learned there's a difference between the types of spray foam and the quality of insulation will provide you.

Ethan Waldman 15:13

Yeah, that's a really good point that when you when you see someone, when you see your builder, and they say, Oh, yeah, we're using spray foam. The next question is what kind of spray foam, you know, closed cell, open cell. Oh, man, that's, that is heartbreaking. To hear, though, where, like, Where do you stand now? What's the status?

Chris Murphy 15:35

So we did go when we when we met with Jim and Chris, we had, you know, they had kind of instructed us, you know, clear everything out. We have a gooseneck. So it's 24 feet, and then an 8-foot gooseneck overhang. So we hadn't cleared out the gooseneck, yet. We had kind of put a bunch of stuff up there. So we we cleared the house out. We we rented a Uhaul and put everything and a storage room up in Burlington, and then came back down to New York, because we knew we were kind of out of a house at this point. Yeah. So yeah, we are staying in New York with with my in-laws for the time being hopefully not permanent. But yeah, that's kind of where we are now where we don't really have a house. Yeah.

Ethan Waldman 16:12

So have you done or has have contractors done more demolition in the house? Are you just kind of on pause?

Chris Murphy 16:21

Yes. So, you know, after Jim and Chris took a look, they did provide like a, like a full write up of the situation both what went wrong, why it went wrong and then what would be done to remediate the solution - rebuild the sub floor and parts of the walls for it to last in Vermont. And so we have that in hand. Obviously, that's not cheap. So you know, we really don't have the money to invest in that project right now. So yeah, we're not really touching it right now. We are, you know, kind of moving forward on the legal front, because we feel that the original builders are responsible for for that the shape our house is in basically less than three years after it was delivered. But we're not doing active work on it right now.

Ethan Waldman 17:02

Yeah. Now what? So I'm curious, you know, like, at what point did you contact the builder? You know, what did you say? And what did they say?

Chris Murphy 17:14

Yeah, so that day when that initial like contractor mold remediation contractor plan in November went south, we messaged them, and were just like, look, we found this huge problem. You know, there's no reason this should happen three years, like less than three years after you delivered it. And, you know, at that point, we already knew how poorly It was designed and built. And they, you know, basically refuted it, you know, a few days later saying this is actually homeowner negligence, not contractor negligence, which was, you know, adding insult to injury pretty much. Because I worried about, you know, the shape of my home constantly and did what I could to keep it in good shape.

Ethan Waldman 17:53

What did they say? Like, what maintenance did they say that you didn't do?

Chris Murphy 17:58

Yeah, so the, you know, they were kind of grasping at straws for a couple things. But I mean, like, they did say that, you know, we didn't re caulk or reapply silicone to the outside of our house, basically, where the trailer meets that the wall on the outside, which I had done actually this past year. And and they we had sent them they basically they we had sent them a picture of a house and in the house, you can see a deck we built outside the house. And they said, Oh, the certain by certain regulations, that deck is actually if it's built at the same level of the house, that's against code, because it'll make water come in. And then we said, well, actually, if you're looking at a photo, that deck is like a foot and a half below the house. So they were, you know, trying to build a case from that. And that's, that wasn't actually the solution, or it wasn't actually the problem. And then the the issue with re-sealing the house, we told that to Jim and Chris when they visited, and they said that there's no way that causes this amount of damage.

Ethan Waldman 18:51

Right, right. So the builder's kind of saying water got in from the outside along a crack where you should have applied more silicone.

Unknown Speaker 19:06

At that point, that's when we knew that we wanted, you know, we would need to enlist the help of a lawyer, you know, to kind of move forward more formally with with seeking some sort of solution and resolution from them.

Ethan Waldman 19:18

Wow. You know, you hate hate to have anything come come to this. So are you you know, if you are able to, you know, get some relief from the builder, are you hoping to to fix the house and, you know, get back into it.

Unknown Speaker 19:38

So, you know, actually we have reached out to them via the lawyer via demand letter, and they'd heard back and the builders not budging. So we're gonna continue on that front. But with that being said, because the first response was like, Yes, we'll give you some money. I think at this point, we're going to try and sell the house obviously at a much lower cost, with this report of how you would rebuild some of the problems in hand, whoever wants to buy it, right to kind of recoup some of the cost and move towards our future plans.

Ethan Waldman 20:09

Right. Right. So make make this kind of a project for the next person who's handy and inclined to maybe rip apart a good bit of house.

Unknown Speaker 20:20

Yeah, I mean, it's it's built on a great trailer. I mean, they bet they you know, it was built on a new custom trailer three years ago. triple axel. Yeah, yeah. So it's a lot of it's in great shape. And it's a good starting point for like you said, someone who's up for the project. Yeah.

Ethan Waldman 20:33

Can I ask what you paid for the house to be built?

Unknown Speaker 20:36

Yeah, sure. The the original quote, was for around 65,000. After we realized we wanted water tanks for the early go before we were hooked up to a house for water, and a couple other things that ended up coming out to 70,000. And that's usually how projects go.

Ethan Waldman 20:52

Totally. I've never I've never heard of a tiny house project that went under budget. So do you have an estimate of what the repairs would cost? You know, for a professional to do?

Unknown Speaker 21:05

Yeah, so I don't have it in front of me, but that that that diagnostic report was somewhere in the ballpark of around $40,000?

Ethan Waldman 21:12

Wow. Yeah. Ouch. Yeah. Cuz I'm imagining, I mean, disconnecting walls, and, you know,

Chris Murphy 21:25

yeah, basically lifting the walls up, redoing that foundation, setting the walls back in place, you know, and then return the insulation. Right.

Ethan Waldman 21:33

And also not knowing if any of the wall framing is damaged? Yeah, yeah. Wow. Well, I'd like to tell you a little bit more about Tiny House Decisions, my signature guide and the resource that I wish I had when I was building my tiny house, it starts with the big decisions, which is, you know, should you build a tiny house yourself or with help, is a is a prebuilt shell, a good idea? is a house on wheels better than on the ground and what works better for you deciding on the overall size, deciding on whether you should use custom plans or pre made plans and different types of trailers and more? Then in part two, we get into the systems. So heat and water, showers, hot water, toilets, electrical, refrigeration, ventilation, and we're only two thirds of the way through the book at this point. From systems we go into construction decisions, talking about nails versus screws, SIPs versus stick framed versus advanced framing versus metal framing, we talk about how to construct a sub floor sheathing, roofing materials, insulation, Windows flooring kitchen, I know I'm just reading off the table of contents. But I just want to give you a sense of how comprehensive tiny house decisions is. It's a total of 170 pages. It contains tons of full color drawings, diagrams and resources. And it really is the guide that I wish I had when I was building my tiny house. Right now I'm offering 20% off any package of tiny house decisions, using the coupon code tiny, when you head over to thetinyhouse.net/thd, that's THD for Tiny House Decisions. Again, that's coupon code tiny when you check out at thetinyhouse.net/THD. I'm curious, did you did this experience this is actually a question coming in from the chat, which I think is an awesome question. You know, did this episode turn you away from tiny living? Or do you feel like you know, you had a plan? Maybe it was like a five year plan to live tiny and then you were gonna move on anyway.

Chris Murphy 23:51

I don't think it turned me off. I mean, there are so many things that I appreciate now that I've lived in a tiny house like I mean, full disclosure, our plan is to we're actually we just bought a ram promaster cargo van or converting it suite to do van camper life and then also looking to either build or by a very small house as a permanent place in Vermont. So kind of weighing the permanency of the house with it being on the road for a time throughout the year. So but now we realize we do like living minimalist. And I think we just learned a lot more about the kinds of pitfalls that exist when you're building on a, you know, metal trailer. But definitely didn't turn me off.

Ethan Waldman 24:31

Yeah, so you're you're actually going tinier. You're going from a tiny house to a van.

Chris Murphy 24:36

Exactly. Yeah. Exactly.

Ethan Waldman 24:39

Nice. I'm curious, do you? Well, I think you've already answered the question. I wrote down this question. You know, do you think it was an honest mistake on the part of the builder? Like they just didn't know. Or do you think they Yeah, I guess Feel free to not answer this if you don't want to. Yeah, like speculate on their intent.

Chris Murphy 25:05

Right? I, I don't think it was malicious. No, I don't think they meant I I think they may have cut some corners, you know, the open versus closed spray foam. I'm sure they knew both existed and I'm sure they knew open, close, open cell was cheaper but didn't work as well. Yeah. But but at the same time, you know, I based on their response, because some of their defense from our original demand letter was around like, Well, you can't and our lawyer listed a couple laws that they enforce in litigation. And they said, Oh, well, those don't apply, because it's not a home in Connecticut, where they're the builders from. So they knew the loopholes to get out of any problems. Right. So it kind of makes you think, like, they knew what would happen if they messed up and what, you know, they knew how to navigate that, which is, you know, makes me question, but I don't think overall, they wanted to put us through this.

Ethan Waldman 25:55

Yeah. Well, I, I wonder from the legal perspective, does, like, I don't know, what is common for new home construction in terms of warranty, but I would imagine it's like a year or two. Yeah, like, what is the like recourse that you think that your lawyer is kind of saying like, Hey, we can potentially get recourse because of X, Y, or Z?

Chris Murphy 26:20

Yeah. So you know, I don't want to go into all the details.

Ethan Waldman 26:25

Sure. That's a it's an ongoing investigation.

Chris Murphy 26:29

Yeah, it is. Oh, yeah. And I think, you know, the lawyers we have contracted or on retainer, haven't worked on a project like this before, right, in a case like this. So if they they recognize it as this gray area, right, you know, a vehicle and a house, and it makes it, it makes it hard. And, and, yes, it is really an ongoing investigation around what what it is we're going to be litigating

Ethan Waldman 26:51

Right. Was your build? Like, did they go with? Did they build to any certification like NOAA or RVIA, or anything,

Unknown Speaker 26:59

Not RVIA. RVIA came up, and they they said, you know, we could do that. But it, it helps some people, but limits your options otherwise. And looking back, that was a little fishy.

Ethan Waldman 27:11

Yeah,

Chris Murphy 27:12

I think there are more benefits than the pros and cons of doing that.

Ethan Waldman 27:16

Yeah, I mean, I think that I'm pretty sure part of the ANSI code is with so so an ANSI is like the standards body. And RVIA is like a certification that is based off of that ANSI code. Pretty sure they require a vapor barrier of some kind. I'm not I'm not sure. And that's actually, I've been meaning to get somebody on the show who really can nail down these, you know, the differences here. I'm curious what, you know, how are you? Because like, a van is just a metal, a metal house, there's metal all around. So how are you planning to kit out the van? Knowing now, what went wrong in your tiny house?

Chris Murphy 28:07

Well, you know, one thing we learned from from talking to Jim and Chris was, you know, rigid foam board can act as a good vapor barrier. If you kind of, you know, combine that with a soft installation, that typically isn't a vapor barrier. There are also like membranes you can put down. And there are more advanced membranes, I don't know about top my head that like actually really don't aren't a complete barrier, but kind of control the right moisture coming in and letting out because you also don't want to prevent moisture that has made it down to say the whole of a cargo van or the trailer of a tiny house and be ready for getting back up through, right, because then it just sits there and turns into sitting water. So we are thinking about a lot more. And it is at the forefront of our mind with this new build.

Ethan Waldman 28:51

Yeah, I'm sure. And are you doing this build yourself?

Chris Murphy 28:54

We are Yeah, we just bought a used van this weekend. And we're just starting to work through the steps.

Ethan Waldman 28:59

Wow. Wow, that's exciting. Are you are you hoping to hit the road this summer?

Unknown Speaker 29:04

Yeah. My wife typically has higher expectations for the timeline. So she her birthday is in late March. And she wants to be out by then, which is really aggressive. And I actually think we could do it. I think our biggest blocker is like so many people are doing it right now that like a lot of things are on backorder like extra windows, you want your custom windows. Yeah, we actually were looking into like wool like sheep wool for installation. And that's on backorder. So where are we we're regrouping there.

Chris Murphy 29:05

Yeah. Well, I mean, rock wool is a great insulation. And it will probably offer a similar value to wool.

Yeah. So I think the one thing that we've learned is that sheep's wool is a bit more naturally hydrophobic, so it retains and expels water better. Okay. So, you know, we're looking at all options. Yeah,

Ethan Waldman 29:58

Yeah. Is there anything that I like haven't asked you about your tiny house or your build that that you're kind of wanting to talk about?

Unknown Speaker 30:09

I guess just like like what I learned about you know, the tiny house community now and not the community people who live in the house houses but you know, I listened to your episode with Frank Olito and kind of how the it was started DIY movement and you are a big part of that early movement and now there are a lot of builders getting on board and we didn't know anything about building at a time but I wish there were a few things that I was less trusting about Yeah, and really questioned. So obviously like the the installation and the problem of moisture especially in Vermont climate and like really grilling them on that would have been really helpful. And then the other thing is we you know, they installed our hot water heater it's a tankless heater, propane, but they installed in the back shed of our house which is attached and not insulated as much so that I we lost water for an entire winter because a pipe brok in that and it was like a custom replacement because it at one point, I think the fuse to it broke or something and it went up below negative 15 in Vermont, which is common. And and it froze and a part broke. So we had to repair that and so I was constantly worrying about every time and doing all these like DIY fixes that to keep it from freezing out.

Ethan Waldman 31:25

Yeah, yeah, I know all about that. Those hot water heaters. Yeah. What? Is there anything that you this is another great question from from the chat. What What will you put in your van that you that you liked from your tiny house? Oh, man.

Chris Murphy 31:46

Let's see. I don't like actually don't know if there's any, like specific items that will transfer over. I think it's more of like the the learnings we'll take from it. I don't think we'll ever reusing a lot of materials. But if I had to think about, like, just one thing that like we learned that we want to take to is to really like, question every single design design decision, like we're living there, like we had this, this table built for our tiny house, and it was supposed to fold all the way down, then fold halfway up, and then fold all the way out. And the way our original builders built it, it felt like it was gonna fall off it was it was all the way down because there's too heavy for the hinges and all the way out the mechanism for coming all the way out. Like, wasn't that great? And it like stayed half folded out the entire time, because that's what made more sense. Yeah, we never had a use case for folding all the way down. So yeah, I think we just want to think a bit more about what our everyday life is going to be like and design even more intentionally around it.

Ethan Waldman 32:48

Nice. Nice. And I don't usually do this during an episode I save it for afterwards. But you know, for anyone listening who does want to get like, a full dump of info on ventilation and insulation, check out Episode 128 with Brad cook. And the short link for that is thetinyhouse.net/128. And, you know, Brad, I don't know if you ended up consulting with him. But he is, you know, a building science pro, I would say who deals with ventilation and insulation issues. And yeah. You know, from that interview, I really took away that, you know, not every not every even foam board, like within the category of foam board insulation there are so many different types and varieties. And even within the same type like EPS foam, they're different brands have, you know, are better than others. So it's just, you know, can be a bit of a labyrinth. Yeah. Do you have any favorite van, you know, Van life, YouTube personalities or vans that you're kind of inspired by that you're you're modeling after?

Chris Murphy 34:02

Yeah, there's a couple. I mean, like my wife definitely was like, memorize them. And I have not yet but Faroutride on the website, they they've done a great job. I think there was like two engineers, this couple who quit their jobs and converted their Sprinter van and they have great like walkthroughs especially on like things like electrical diagramming, because that stuff you don't want to mess with if you aren't sure. So that's been super helpful. Nice. Yeah. But I think that's one thing we I regret not doing earlier with tiny houses are really engaging in the community. And I think that's why I've enjoyed coming on the show. I think the tiny house community on social media is like super helpful and inviting. And I think I wish I engaged earlier to ask questions like, oh, like, my builder suggests that they're doing this, like, is this really the right thing to do? Right. Yeah, I wish I had leverage that a bit more and participated.

Ethan Waldman 34:47

Yeah, it's interesting, because, you know, as you as you talked about earlier, how the the tiny house movement starts as kind of a DIY almost counterculture movement that avoids these buildings. codes and rules. And when you're building the house for yourself, that's well and good. But then, you know, when you're starting to pay people, but they're not being held to a standard, that's, you know, that's where people can really get, you know, not what they expected.

Chris Murphy 35:20

That's like, something I've been thinking about a lot over the last couple months, like, I remember when we started looking at tiny houses, and, and thinking about, like, a lot of these rules like out here, 400 square feet come up a lot. And like, I was like, wow, these building codes are really restrictive. And I think some of them are unreasonable. But I think I'm realizing now that some of them are in place to protect the, you know, the occupant of a house as much as the builder or the municipality that you're living in and right, and, because, like, so many things that happened to our house, you probably would not happen if there was a more, more and more, you know, stringent code that our builders were following.

Ethan Waldman 35:53

Right. Yeah. And and, you know, you can always get a, you know, you can always look back hindsight being 20/20, and saying, if they had only done this or that it would have been fine. Yeah. Well, one thing that I like to ask, you know, all of my guests is, you know, what are two or three resources that maybe that you've found? Now? Unfortunately, you didn't find them while you were doing your tiny house? But what are some resources that have been helpful for you now that you you could share with listeners, you know, to help educate themselves about this issue?

Unknown Speaker 36:30

Yeah, I will say, I mean, one, this is gonna be a cop out. But this podcast, I think, I don't think I really engaged with that, like, like the community in that way and listening to podcasts and following people on social media and like that, I think there are a couple of really big, tiny house groups on Facebook. And I really only used it a tiny house hosting group to find like, there's a maybe selfishly just to find somewhere to park. Yeah. And didn't really engage in the rest of discussions happening. And looking back, that's something I would recommend people do and feel like, you know, get comfortable doing, because that's going to be a really good resource for you.

Ethan Waldman 37:06

Yeah, nice. And so actually, that's thank you for that reminder. And that segue about finding parking because, you know, Burlington, Vermont is where I live as well. And, you know, from what I've been able to discern, tiny houses are not legal here. But there are several tiny houses parked throughout the city that have not had, you know, nobody has forced them to leave. So I guess I know what the town's perspective is on them. But what was it like finding a host? In a city where like, you, you kind of knew that it was maybe not legal to live here?

Chris Murphy 37:47

Oh, man, short answer a stressful. Yeah. It was tough. I mean, we started our build, this was in in summer of 2017. We had decided like Burlington is where we want to be. My wife had been admitted to our graduate program at UVM. So we knew we were coming up here we had and then so we had visited for a weekend in October. Just basically like driving around, we looked at like, basically anything like campgrounds, mobile parks, like we tried posting flyers. And you know that the tiny house hosting group was great. And we we ended up living in a campground the first few months, we were here, because we weren't sure. So we wanted to kind of hedge our bets, and reserve a spot for a couple, a couple months. And we ended up having to build in water tanks because we wouldn't have a winterized hookup at that campground because all the spots were taken. And what actually got us our spot was I joined a Facebook group for just local Burlington town news, or updates, and posted there and are a neighbor of our current landlord saw it and showed it to our landlord because she had previously hosted a tiny house. So it wasn't even though like tiny house specific groups. So that would maybe be advice if you know where you want to live, like the tiny house hosting is great. But it's typically that hasn't reached a critical mass, where you're always going to find someone in the town you want to live in, or the city you want to live in, like, try to engage with the local forums of that community to find someone.

Ethan Waldman 39:11

Nice. So did you, you know, did you have a conversation with your landlord at all? Like, you know, if that how quickly you might need to be out if they'd like town came knocking?

Unknown Speaker 39:22

Yeah, I think she'd written up kind of a small contract. You know, I think we both knew that it was gonna be a good fit. She's, she's been great. But obviously, I don't I, you know, I respect her need to do that. And so it's kind of like, I think it was a 30 day kind of requirement for us to move out if we chose to move that way. Or if the town had said something. Yeah. And I think and maybe also just, you know, that we are going to pay fines, which makes sense. If that were the case.

Ethan Waldman 39:47

Yeah. Well, Chris Murphy, this has been super, super helpful. I know that people are gonna get a ton from this episode. And, you know, I think you so much for just being willing to come and kind of share because it's, you know, it's painful. It sucks. And I feel like, you know, you could be preventing 10s or hundreds of more situations like the one that you're going through by telling people about it.

Chris Murphy 40:17

Yeah, I mean, I appreciate the opportunity I like you said it does suck but I think being on this was, you know, really helpful for me to to know that maybe you know, it was a loss for me, but it'll help someone avoid where many other people avoid similar problems. So if that's the case, then you know that that's a silver lining.

Ethan Waldman 40:36

Thank you so, so much to Chris Murphy for being a guest on the podcast today, you can find the show notes, including lots of photos of the damage in Chris's tiny house - and believe me, it kind of blew me away when I saw the photos -at thetinyhouse.net/151. Again, that's thetinyhouse.net/151 to see photos of the subfloor and studs and insulation and kind of what can go wrong when you have a moisture buildup in your tiny house. Also, don't forget to check out my signature guide, Tiny House Decisions at thetinyhouse.net/THD and use the coupon code tiny for 20% off. Well, that's all for this week. I am your host, Ethan Waldman, and I'll be back next week with another episode of the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast.

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