#5: How I Built a Wooden Ladder to the Loft

We are in a little holding pattern right now on our barn renovation as we wait for our contractor to come back and finish the drywall. We finished the insulation in July and decided to build the ladder to the loft ourselves. It turned out to be very easy!

Here’s the video I followed to build the ladder. Shout out to this random very handy guy on YouTube that broke down the steps for making a ladder. 

I wrote out the materials I bought. I was able to get all of them from Lowe’s.

  • Speed Square $10(to make the ladder 75 degrees from the floor)
  • Timberlok screws $30 (I bought a box of 50 with the bits)
  • Power Tools $179 I have Makita and I absolutely love them
  • Lumber: 2x6x16 ~$25

One of my biggest hangups is that I don’t yet have a table saw (or any kind of wood cutting tools) and I rely heavily on Home Depot/Lowes to cut the wood for me. Here’s a step-by-step guide I followed to ensure I had a successful trip out of it.

So I asked the lovely associate working there to cut 4 blocks of 20 inches out of each 16 ft lumber, and I took the rest (about 9.5 ft) in my tiny car (sticking it out of the sunroof!) back to the barn. *Pro-tip: when cutting these steps, they don’t have to be exactly 20 inches, but they do need to be exactly the same length with each other. Once you cut the first piece, use this piece as a guideline for all other pieces that will help you build the ladder straight!

The hardest part is probably trying to screw all of the steps together which I followed the youtube guy’s suggestion but it’s a lot harder than it looks. In the end, I was able to get them semi-aligned with each other so that the steps are visually leveled. Next time, I think I’ll buy clamps like this to help align the steps before drilling and attaching the screws.

Alas, I climbed up this ladder and it didn’t collapse underneath me!

If you’d like to read more about my tiny barn building process, here are all the other articles. Happy building!

Tiny Saga #4: Framing & Insulation

When we tore out the garage door, we also demolished the second-floor subflooring. We also added 2’x2′ around the studs to make them 6′ in depth (it used to be 2’x4’s on the roof) on the roof to comply with the city inspection code on insulation later on.

We rented a local dumpster service for the demolition of the subflooring and the garage door. These guys are so professional and extended extra days because my handyman was running a little late. *Pro-tip: always negotiate (and do it nicely). Our local dumpster service guy was very friendly and told us if we rented it for a Friday pick-up, he will most likely not have time to pick it up, and leave the dumpster for the weekend and pick it up Monday. This allowed us extra days to throw all the construction trash on the weekend. Conversely, the dumpster companies are usually less busy mid-week, so negotiating Tuesday – Tuesday (8 days) rental would be a lot easier than a Friday – Monday (4 days), and sometimes they’ll even be cheaper!

The sub-floor of the loft consists of 2x8s based on the size of the loft in the building code for our area (see below). 

Because the wall studs were 20 inches apart (instead of the 16 inches for dwellings), we had to add one new stud in between each old stud in order to pass inspection. This made the space between each stud 10 inches and inevitably made insulation a lot harder. Each insulation strip we bought (store-bought is usually 16 inches) needed to be cut to 9-10 inches wide and installed. For future reference, I would have insisted on making a stud at the 16-inch mark because it would make insulation a lot faster.

The biggest hurdle we found was trying to find someone to spray open-cell insulation foam on the roof. It is hard to find anyone who wants to come and spray the foam because it is a very small area. We had one guy who bailed out on us after 5+ weeks of waiting. Eventually, we found a guy recommended by our realtor who came the next day and sprayed in the foam. It is important to note that when you ask for spray foam, make sure to ask if they are going to use their own generator because the guy who came and sprayed ours asked if he could plug into an outlet. But because he needed a 220v and we don’t have an outlet with the same voltage, he decided to just hook the spraying machine up to his generator. Had we allowed him to use the electricity in the house, we may be paying a lot more in our electric bill that month. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it would be a negotiating point for pricing at that point.

It took another two weeks for us to put in the wall insulation. We had to wear full-body suits, gloves, and masks to ensure the fiberglass doesn’t get on our skin. It is now so hot and humid in the summer of NW Arkansas, we had to take frequent breaks as we put in the insulation. Towards the end, Mr. Codejunkie and I found our rhythm: I would cut the insulation batting while he installs them and measures the next cavity length and width.

It was definitely a celebratory moment when the city inspector came in and gave us the green light for the completion of the inspection. It took the inspector a total of 2 seconds and he gave us the green slip right away!

A couple of lessons I learned was: 

  1. Always ask the inspector for ideas at the beginning of your project. 

I asked the inspector about insulation when I presented the project to him. He’s the one who told me about adding 2’x2′ on the roof studs and spray foam insulation. Had I not know that I would have found out the hard way and thinking the insulation cannot be done because prior to this, I didn’t know there was a difference between spray foam, batting, and blown-in insulation!

2. Waiting for 2 weeks is the maximum I will do for subcontractors.

Of course, this is just a general rule for dealing with new subcontractors instead of the ones I have worked with many times before. But I will not wait for a subcontractor for more than two weeks.

I would have never let this slip if I were running this construction as a business, so I should reconsider using this subcontractor after he has stood me up twice (he ended up standing me up 5+ times).

This subcontractor was recommended by my trusted electricians. He also installed the A/C and heating unit in my house. He runs a small business of insulation so he gave me a very cheap price on open-cell spray foam. He also talked about insulation and energy efficiency passionately. The only drawback my electricians warned me was that this guy is hard to get a hold of, and I just had to keep calling him. So I did. For many weeks, I called him every week around Monday, and he often told me that he’s sorry he’s busy that day, but he has it on his schedule to come out later in the week to spray the roof and ask me to call him back later in the week to remind him. I would follow up with him later in the week and he’d say, “I have another job lined up that I want to spray both yours and the other house together since you have small square footage. This way I don’t have to set up the spraying machine twice.” It made sense, so I thought I could just call back again. Usually, the project gets delayed because his other project gets canceled. I thought if I were diligent and friendly, eventually, I could get him to spray the insulation. It struck me that he had no respect for me when I called after 5+ weeks of waiting and following-up weekly, he picked up the phone and said: “are you doing your weekly call and begging me to do work for you again?”

Since then, I found another insulation contractor to spray the foam onto the ceiling and I’ve decided to put a time limit on how long I would wait for a contractor to show up for the job.

For my other tiny house articles, check out this page that contains them all.

#3 Getting on-grid: Connecting Plumbing and Electricity

After we finished the plumbing inside the barn, it was another couple of weeks of waiting until the plumber came back to connect this plumbing to the front of the house (to the city water, sewer, and electricity). Originally, I looked into being off-grid, but it was a lot of day-to-day hassle to deal with composting toilet and rainwater shower/water tower, so I decided to hook it up to the city’s sewer.

Plumber Austin trying to connect the sewer after the rain. I definitely have more respect for these guys after seeing what they go through in order to get the sewer line to work.

The electricians also needed to lay their wires in a similar route but after they inquired with the city inspector, the city inspector asked them to dig two separate trenches (which was SO UNNECESSARY!). Our electrician (and we) tried to explain to the inspector that there isn’t any space to dig two separate trenches 2 feet apart, but the inspector insisted on us digging twice. Sometimes the city rules don’t make sense in practicality, but we know the inspector wasn’t nitpicking on us as we befriended him early on in our project. It is always key to befriend your local city inspectors and meet them in person to explain your project prior to starting your project. 

We complied with the city requirements and as a bonus to this extra step, I got to ride on my electricians’ tractor for a glorified minute, dug one single scoop of dirt while Mr. B took a photo!

The yard, on the other hand, having been torn up twice in two months, was left with a yellow sandy scar throughout the summer. Tali seems to be enjoying the sandy soft ground quite a lot.

If you want to read more about our tiny barn progress, here’s ALL the articles

#2: Plumbing Update in Our Tiny Barn

While everything is happening outside with the removal of the garage door and installation of the front window, the plumbing inside the barn was underway as well. 

At first, I downloaded Sketchup and used it for free for 30 days to sketch out how the tiny barn would look like inside. I drew a downstairs (left) and upstairs loft (right) 3D model. 

Ultimately, there are other small changes made to this plan, like the bathroom and the water-heater swapped with each other. Other than that, there are no big changes.

Now it is the hard part to gather all the subcontractors around our area to do some of this work. We interviewed three plumbers around the area and got quotes from all of them. We ended up choosing this guy Trey who’s the most honest upfront with all the costs and detailed out his worn and it turns out he was totally a hidden gem. 

Here’s the areas that we needed the concrete to be cut out. 

This took us a few tries to find a contractor to be willing to come out for this job. Apparently, around this area of the town, there are so many construction sites going on, nobody wants to come out for such a small job. Eventually, we found a guy 2 hours away who’s willing to come out and bash out some concrete for us. It was rainy season in Arkansas in the Spring, and it was pretty muddy in here for a while.

At first, I really didn’t want to hire out for plumbing because it is probably one of the most expensive parts of this whole build. But once I saw how muddy and slippery the condition was when the guys were working here, I was very glad I hired out for this job. It’s like one of those scenes from Dirty Jobs!

Pros definitely got this job done a lot faster than I have imagined. This whole thing took about a day and half! Now the gravel is in to hold the pipe in place. You can see it just passed inspection (with the neon green sticker on the right pipe) and they are getting ready to pour the concrete back in.

The toilet and vanity will be on the left, and a 3’x5′ shower on the right. Here’s a much more satisfying photo of after-clean-up:

Finding yet another person to pour the concrete back. We contemplated on doing this ourselves because we couldn’t get anyone to come out. After a week of struggling, our handyman took pity on us and just poured it in for us one day. This is when the concrete was still setting. It looks satisfyingly flat and wonderful!

If you want to read more about our entire process, here’s ALL the articles we have!

#1: I’ve Decided to Build a Tiny House

In 2017, after moving to this little town of Arkansas for 6 months for my job, I decided to buy a house (a regular one). I really wanted to buy a tiny house at that time but North West Arkansas wasn’t ready to sell me a tiny house. So instead, I settled for a regular one, 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, with a barn as garage (yes, it comes with the swing! and yes it’s slightly dangerous but I got on it for a few tries). 

I’ve used this garage for two years, the garage door was not automatic and I manually pulled it up and down to open and close it. Last year, the roof started leaking so in order to prevent more water damage and potential mold issues, I spent about $6,000 to replace the roof.

At this point, the garage door is almost non-functioning. It would stay ajar like this in the above picture and I used a 2×4 to prop it closed from the inside. Yes, very classy.

Because the bottom of the barn is all rotting away, and little critters (like possums and cats) are actually using it as a shelter during the winter, I decided to cut down the bottom 4 ft of the plywood, replace them, and put new siding altogether to protect the shed. Of course, now it needs a new door as well.

You can also see a hole towards the back of the barn covered by a piece of plywood to prevent critters from coming into the barn. It was a bleak sight to see the state of the barn!

After replacing the siding wood with plywood, we put up these basic plastic white siding to protect it from rotting again.

This barn looks nothing like the barn I used to own! It reminds me of the Ship of Theseus, a thought experiment that raises the question of whether an object that has had all of its components replaced remains fundamentally the same object. If I’ve changed almost 99% of this barn, is it still the barn I bought? 

Beginning of this year, since we’ve decided to take a break from Airbnb-ing our spare bedroom in the house, I’ve been trying to figure out other ways we can still get into rental properties. I thought about converting this barn into a tiny house. After learning everything about the building code and inspection requirements from the city, we got approved for the permit to start construction! Always check with your city/county rules before starting a big project that requires water/sewer connection because the requirements might be so far out of your perception. . . which happened to us.

With the concept of adding a full functioning bathroom, we want to insulate the barn properly and have the door be the entrance/exit. So we took out the garage door and replaced it with a 4×7 window. 

Because we are doing this on a budget, we didn’t have a lot to spend on windows. I called around the local shops that sell windows to look for a “mis-ordered” window, one that was ordered wrong either by the customer or the shop. Those windows are hard to sell, especially custom ordered ones. I told the local shop the dimension of my garage door, and they found a big window they are eager to get rid of because of mis-order. A win-win situation! I got this lovely high-quality window for about $400. 

Here’s a picture of the barn with the exterior finished.

I found the other windows from Home Depot: egress window 3’x5′ and small kitchen window 19″ x 31″.

Now the next big part is plumbing and electrician. Check out the 2nd of the tiny house series here and the entire series can be found here.