We are excited to announce the upcoming publication of our book, Big to Tiny to Small. In it, we detail how we came to the decision to downsize the way we did and how we found our 5 acres of land. Later this year, we will be releasing our build process book (covering the construction of our arched cabin), where we consolidate what we published to the blog as well as add loads of other helpful details.
We hope these resources will benefit those who are trying to decide if an arched cabin is right for them and aid them in completing the build in a timely fashion.
If you would like to be notified when the book(s) are available, please subscribe with your email at the top of the sidebar to the right.
The purpose of this summary post is to comment on our purchasing experience and elaborate on the things we appreciated and other things which could have been improved. These comments are nearly entirely to do with the crew (the particular distributor we worked with) and do not reflect our feelings about our current living experience.
Long story short: The 20 x 24 Arched Cabin – as installed by Arched Cabins – is a quick way to get a dried-in steel structure with a pier-and-beam foundation and a transcendent cathedral ceiling. However, keep in mind that the height and curves make things somewhat tricky for the rest of the build [if you don’t need a cathedral ceiling, a more conventional 2×6″ stick built gable-roofed approach is probably easier]. If you’re interested in having one of these built with the endcaps, here are four recommendations –
- Request OSB [or better yet, plywood] sheathing with house wrap instead of LP Smartside. That way you’re code compliant, the windows / doors can be installed to spec and the nail gun can do no wrong. LP Smartside has a variety of tedious installation requirements.
- Request that only the rough openings for windows & doors be made by the crew. That way you or someone else can take time to properly install them according to manufacturer instructions.
- UPDATE: Request a guaranteed levelness spec (e.g. 1/8″ over 10ft) for the subfloor, especially if you are planning on tile. Use tongue and groove plywood as the subfloor material if possible. NOT OSB or STURDI-FLOOR.
- Request these particular details on the invoice so everyone is on the same page.
In case you don’t feel like reading any further, know this – We are very glad to have our home nearly dried in. The Arched Cabin kit allows you to have a house shell very quickly. We like the unconventional look of it, the high ceiling and the fact that we can modify it in the future to add more space (with a loft). Our recommendation for anybody building one – purchase the kit from the company, hire them for everything but the end caps (and specify that they should cover the subfloor in a torrential rain) and hire a local contractor for the end caps. Also see the other recommendations throughout this post.
Since beginning work on the house, we have discovered some issues that have been surprising and/or disappointing. They are sprinkled throughout our build posts, but since most people will likely just refer to this page, we wanted to list them here as well.
- Untruth – We were told the long screws were used to install the top door hinge. They weren’t.
- Untruth – We were told they would caulk under the door sill. They didn’t.
- Untruth – We were told they would caulk the seams of the end caps. They didn’t and on the last day told us we had to do it.
- Untruth – We explicitly asked for a one foot overhang during the order process. We were told that would be done. It wasn’t (it is about 6″).
- Issue – The roof panel channels around the top ridge collect some rain and the wind whips it off in front of the house. We had planned on building a deck off the front of the house so we will now have to divert this water first.
- Issue – The crew did not install enough studs on the end caps and as stated in the section below, they did not properly attach them. Nearly every panel was bowing out and un-sturdy feeling before we started reinforcing them. If you knock on the side of a house, the wall panel shouldn’t shake. We have been adding studs to give the walls rigidity and provide proper attachment points for the siding. Combined with having to re-nail every single nail they installed (and caulk over their nail holes), this is a fairly tremendous amount of work.
- This point flared up as an issue yesterday when we realized we had to add more studs and further delay painting. Also, yesterday I drafted a post listing out what we paid and I was reminded that each end cap was $2,200 (total of $4,400). That’s a lot of money for poorly installed siding, inadequate studs and improperly installed windows/doors.
- 8/31/2015 – Read flooring comment below in the “build details” section.
[Original Post:] Things we Appreciated-
- The crew – they were awesome. They didn’t constantly pester us with questions while we were at Bean Vivant but checked in daily and called whenever there was a matter of importance. They got back to us promptly when we texted/called. They built a solid metal structure (despite frequent interruptions from heavy rainfall). All five of them were nice and easy going. Perfect match for us.
- The company – thank you for existing! Thank you for taking the risk and starting the company. And thank you for having enough internet presence to come up in google searches as an option for tiny house living.
- The transparency and ease of the entire process. When we decided to add the cross beams, the answer to our inquiry was “They’re $40 each so just let us know how many you’d like before we ship the supplies next Thursday.” There was no sales pitch or pressure to purchase more (i.e. “If you purchase 5 or more, you’ll save $5 per beam!). The price grid for the entire structure is on their website. You just pick and choose which features you want and add up the associated costs. Wanna hire the crew? Simple – pay their travel and a fixed labor cost. All very straightforward.
- During one of the window installations, the crew made a small hole in the screen. They didn’t call us to report it and they didn’t leave it in disrepair; they took the screen to be fixed and pre-paid prior to their departure.
- During the final walk-through, the crew leader spent time with Brian, answering all of his questions and making suggestions on materials and tools for the next stages.
Things that could have been smoother
- Communication in the beginning – when we first inquired about the arched cabins, our emails were going to the main headquarters in Cypress, Texas and were answered by one of the owners. He answered our questions with abundant detail and responded fairly promptly. At some point, we started talking via phone with the distributor in New Mexico (who would be doing the work) and henceforth had a lot of triangle conversations. We’d email a question to the owner but speak on the phone to the distributor and sometimes get different answers. It was confusing at times.
- The money part, again in the beginning – we agreed to the house build via email, learned that they needed 50% down to order the materials and schedule the crew, sent them a check and eagerly awaited the arrival of the crew. When the distributor arrived, he said he needed 50% of the remaining balance in cash and the other portion could be check. The name on the check was also to be different than our first check. This all came as very much a surprise and we got very nervous. It was at this point that we realized we didn’t have a written contract for the work and what if these strangers just ran off with our savings.
- As soon as we were asked for cash we spoke to the owner and he confirmed that the distributor can ask for payment in any method he chose. Understood. It would have just felt better if we would have known upfront how it was going to work.
- The distributor explained to us that the crew has traveled a few times to places far away (like Silver) and were burned upon arrival. In other words, they may have received 50% upfront, but then they paid to get to the job site, paid all of the men, etc only to have the customer say something like, “We can’t pay right now….”
- It was our fault for not requesting a written contract in the beginning. Had we done that, the cash requirement would have come to light and we would have felt some sort of protection from the sheaf of paper.
- Scheduling – This wasn’t a terrible issue but it was a bit of an annoyance. We were originally scheduled for somewhere in the 20s of June and were rescheduled three or four times; always the night before we were expecting them to arrive. We had been originally hoping to get their portion done by the end of June and we’d finish up before rent was due again August 1st. It wasn’t a serious issue but it made us feel insignificant in their planning and contributed to our confusion and doubt when the money issue came up.
- Now that we’ve seen them work, we understand their past rescheduling and delays. Our job was supposed to take 4-5 days and today is Day 6. So if there was someone scheduled for today, they’ve now been pushed back. The weather can be an unknown and also material supply. The only real hardware store in Silver closes on Sunday. Therefore, their productivity was limited yesterday; they may experience this same thing in other towns.
Some build details we would have done differently
- We would have covered the floor during the big rains. There is some cupping in the subfloor that we may need to sand down before we lay the tile. 8/31/2015 Update – The cupping was more difficult to uniformly flatten than we first guessed. Additionally, about a third of the floor joists were found to be floating up to an 1/8″ above the steel I-beams, and we found a few spots where board edges are unsupported because they didn’t line up with a joist. It is frustrating to spend a large amount of time correcting the subfloor, especially because it holds up progress in other areas – i.e. installing the door, framing the bathroom. (In case you haven’t read up to the post with the price sheet, we paid $2,400 for them to do the floor and joists.)
- Tyvek [or equivalent] housewrap was not used as a moisture barrier on the stick-built endcaps [as is the standard in the industry]. We were told at the outset that there would be Tyvek but it was skipped during the install. This came as a surprise (given we thought we were paying for it and its installation) but we realize it does make air sealing a bit easier in this case. Additionally, it would have been a very frustrating situation if the building inspector told us we had to tear down the end caps and install it. For future projects, such an unorthodox move should be run by the the client and/or inspector beforehand.
- This is an example of why a contract is a professional protocol and how it protects both parties.
- In a typical build, the window fins are nailed to the OSB sheathing and siding goes last, overlapping the fins and protecting the window from moisture even getting near the window opening (along with the tape, caulk etc in there too). However, in this case, the LP Smartside board is the sheathing AND the siding on the endcaps. And although the windows could’ve been nailed to the framing before the Smartside went on, our windows were installed as the last thing, outside the Smartside board, so there is no redundant ‘belt & suspenders’ protection from moisture sneaking behind the window fins when it rains. It will be entirely up to the power of Pella Smart Flash foil-backed butyl tape to protect the openings.
- On the other hand, while our windows may not be redundantly weatherproof, the seals are easy to access and maintain if need be. In a typical build, the windows are sandwiched between siding and sheathing, making non-destructive repairs or investigation quite difficult. Again, we’re okay with the way ours were done, but we wish we’d known ahead of time. Then we could have had our weatherizing materials at the ready in order to protect the structure before the next storm. (See next point)
- Upon asking about weatherizing the windows, the crew immediately suggested Pella Smart Flash tape. It was great to get such a stamp of approval on a particular product and we felt it was worth the 4 hour drive to get some before the next monsoon attack. However, this step should really have been done during the window installation and not left as a high priority afterthought.
- You may have noticed the insulation under the roofing material in a few posts back. It was a few inches longer than the house. To tidy things up, the excess was trimmed back to be flush with the endcaps. We would rather that it had been left uncut and folded under the siding instead, creating a natural insulation overlap with the endcaps.
- The smartside siding should have been installed with nails every 16 inches (horizontally) and every 12 inches (vertically) and the nail heads should have been flush with the surface (not sunk halfway through). It appears their nail gun was set too high for the whole process and the spacing was way too far apart. Since this siding is known for expanding/contracting with moisture, we have had to re-nail everything to spec, add extra nails in the gaps and caulk their nail holes. This is a LOT of extra work that we thought we had already paid for.
- The cross beams were welded too close to the arched wall, with most of their corners jabbing into the insulation. In order to reduce thermal bridging and prevent cuts in the insulation, we will be trimming off the corners with a sawzall.
We love the idea of an Arched Cabin and are excited to have one to call our home. You really can’t understand how cool it is until you stand in one. The crew did a great job on the metal aspects of the project, as well as on the foundation. However, we feel the end cap work was amateur when compared to the striking precision with which the foundation and metal frame were constructed.