Once upon a time, there was a middle-aged soccer mom who lived in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She liked to move around a fair bit and tended to leap before looking, which to be honest sometimes made her friends and family a little bonkers. We can talk more about that later....but for the purposes of this story, I think we’ll call this middle aged soccer mom the Tiny House Fairy. To make a living, the Tiny House Fairy did a little of this and a little of that- including (but not limited to) real estate sales, hotel management, house flipping and renting out the house she lives in by the week in the summertime. She calls this song and dance the “single mom shuffle”. Finding a new place to live in the Outer Banks every summer while her house was rented was proving more and more difficult so the Tiny House Fairy decided to, well, build a tiny house. This may come as a surprise, but finding somewhere to rent during busy season with two Newfoundlands, a 19 year old blind cat and a 10 year old son can be tricky. She figured building something from the trailer up would be easier than trying to find something that accommodated her eclectic crew. She imagined a simple summer life, spending time on the beach with dolphins and friends, watching her son surf and grow, taking her dogs for long walks.....and so she began....
The Tiny House Fairy had just finished flipping a regular house when she decided to embark on her new tiny house. While she was very proud of the flip (which can be seen on HGTV's "Beach Hunt/Bargain Front" in an episode called "Taking Flight in Kitty Hawk"), the manual labor involved seemed to have exacerbated an ongoing arm and neck problem- so she needed to find some help. She'd been a mom in construction for what seemed like forever, so hiring someone else to run the show was a little out of her wheelhouse. After doing a little research and making a few phone calls, she happened across a local Facebook post written by a guy who was new to the area and had a tiny house business. She checked out his website and references, had a meeting with him, and they struck a deal. She was crazy excited to get started and went out in search of cool materials to get this show on the road. In a happenstance road trip a little west of the Outer Banks, the Tiny House Fairy stopped at Lyon Metal Roofing in Jamesville to chit chat about materials and ask where she might be able to obtain some old barn wood for siding. The owner of the shop exclaimed, "I think I might have just what you're looking for- follow me"...so she did, and right around the corner in his back yard lie stacks of old cypress that would work perfectly. This proved her theory that we should all stop and talk to random strangers just a little more often. After hauling the wood back to the Outer Banks and letting it dry, the Tiny House Fairy found a lovely man with a sawmill in Kitty Hawk. While she stood on the planks surfboard style, he pushed the wood through the blade- turning thick planks into thinner planks- which allowed her to stretch the amount of material needed and cut down on the overall weight of the tiny house.
Even though her hands and arms hurt to the level of waking her up at night in screaming pain, the Tiny House Fairy was determined to be part of the process. She crawled under the trailer to help secure the protective sheet metal overlay, ran all over creation for supplies and started the process of making window sashes. Because she was having upper limb trouble, she used her teeny wet saw (with a wood blade on backwards) and Dremel tool to notch out the sashes and create channels for the glass to sit in. She then installed the glass, siliconed all channels, and sealed up the wood with oil paint. Oil paint was a nemesis of the Tiny House Fairy's.... but when all is said and done it provides the best protection, so she sucked it up. While foraging for cool stuff to give the tiny house some character she found a fantasical little antique shop in Norfolk called Boobala's and, much to her children's dismay, spent a fair bit of time picking out the perfect stained glass window for the front of the tiny house. She was pretty used to her kids telling her to hurry up because they were hungry and bored, which normally she ignored with an, "mmmhmm, almost finished!" While the Tiny House Fairy was sure this response is not uncommon amongst women in construction, she decided to hurry it up when her son started trying on helmets from suits of armor and such. Potential for disaster was not normally a great motivator for her, unless it involved having to pay for stuff she didn't intend to buy. Speaking of potential disasters, it was about this time when the Tiny House Fairy started to notice that perhaps the builder guy she had hired wasn't as experienced as he said he was. A blaring example of this is when they had a heated discussion about the difference between a window sash and a window casing. When he had to use his phone to google the correct terminology, she knew she was in trouble.....
So what's a fairy tale story without a villain, right? As the Tiny House Fairy went along, it was clear that the guy she hired hadn't a clue what he was doing. I think from here on in we'll call him Fake Contractor. It appeared that the Tiny House Fairy actually knew more than Fake Contractor about how to build things, which made steam come out of her ears. This all came to a head one day when she made the comment, "I've given you 90% of the money we agreed upon, and you're not even 50% finished. Not another dime until I see more progress." Now, Fake Contractor knew that the Tiny House Fairy and her crew had to vacate their home for summer rental season very soon- and he thought he'd use that fact to his advantage. He told her that she had made changes to the original plan (not true) and that these changes would cost her a whole lot more money. "Nope" she said, "not going to happen." After that conversation things got down and dirty. She mentioned her troubles to a friend she just happened to run into at the bank. Shortly after, they met for lunch where he mysteriously slid a thick stack of papers her direction and said, "don't tell anyone where you got this." The Tiny House Fairy's friend happened to have gotten his hands on an extensive background check on Fake Contractor. Turns out he had a criminal record spanning essentially his entire adult life- including but not limited to check kiting, credit card fraud, and soliciting prostitution. He also had three aliases. After taking a moment to absorb this information, the Tiny House Fairy set aside some time to get up close and personal with Google. It turns out that Fake Contractor had swiped all of the photos on his website from other websites, and although his website and Facebook page said that he was an architect and licensed contractor, he was in fact neither. The tidbit that pissed her off more than all of the other falsifications was that he had claimed to give a certain percentage of his proceeds to a non-profit animal charity....an animal charity that he "founded", but in reality did not exist. Upon the advice of a local attorney, the Tiny House Fairy took a truck and a couple of guys up to the Fake Contractor's shop to retrieve her tiny house and materials. She arrived and told him that all she wanted were the materials and the (not even) half built house, and that they could then part ways and call it a day. He REFUSED. Not only did he refuse, HE CALLED THE POLICE! Here's what the Tiny House Fairy learned in the following weeks:
- Nobody cares (not the police, not the county entities) if your Fake Contractor is residing full time in the commercial storage unit he's using for a shop.
- Nobody cares (apparently it is not a crime) if your Fake Contractor pinched other people's work and passed it off as his own on his website. It is also not a crime to falsify one's qualifications or skill set on one's website.
- The county where the work was taking place will tell you the problem belongs to the town where the parties signed the contract. The town where the contract was signed will tell you the problem belongs to the the county where the work was taking place. It was during phone calls to these particular agencies that it occurred to the Tiny House Fairy that a) there are many, many folks in law enforcement that don't know what exactly the law is in their municipality and b) it is apparently acceptable for law enforcement to say "Not My Problem" to a tax paying, law abiding citizen.
The biggest lesson the Tiny House Fairy learned is this:
- If someone takes money from you for work and never starts a job, it is a crime. If someone takes money from you, starts a job, and has no clue how to finish said job, it is a civil dispute. If all materials related to the job are in a shop or storage space that is owned or leased by the person who was hired, that person is not obligated to give you those items back if you request them. You must sue them to retrieve your things.
So off to court she went....
The next six months or so were a blur to the Tiny House Fairy. Her house, the one she lived in and rented out in the summer, flooded in hurricane Matthew. After numerous appointments with various doctors who had no answers to why her arms hurt so badly that she wanted to cut them off with a reciprocating saw, she had finally traveled to her hometown and found a doc who had a diagnoses and a solution- so she scheduled surgery. In between cutting out soggy drywall and wrestling with medical paperwork, she was providing her attorney with as much information as she could in order to get the tiny house back. Early in this process her attorney suggested that one option would be to do nothing, cut her losses and move on. This option was unacceptable to the Tiny House Fairy, especially in light of Fake Contractor's criminal past. She not only didn't want him to succeed in taking advantage of her, but also wanted to make it more difficult for him to take advantage of others. Paperwork was definitely not her strong suit....and in fact she'd rather scrub toilets than sift through receipts and re-create timelines, but she and her stubborn streak got through it with a little help from a whole lot of coffee. In the end the Tiny House Fairy succeeded in court, although she'd surely never see any part of the monetary judgement that the judge awarded her (Fake Contractor had no bank account and no assets). So she crossed the bridge to the mainland and hauled back the tiny house frame and the remaining materials that hadn't gone missing during the process. It was time to roll up her sleeves and get to work, which she did (wonky arms and all). As the hammer started swinging she may or may not have grumbled, "If you want something done right, you have to freaking do it yourself" a few times under her breath. It was then that The Tiny House Fairy decided to not-so-affectionately label the year 2016 as "Everything But The Locusts".
As she got to work, the Tiny House Fairy felt both in and out of her element at the same time. She hired a couple of guys to help her with varying results. There was Louie, the Ukrainian wonder boy, who while very eager when he showed up didn't always do so...and his phone answering skills were a little sketchy. Nevertheless, he helped her install the aluminum roof rafters that Harbor Welding in Wanchese had custom built and graciously kept laying in their yard for months and months while the Tiny House Fairy wrestled the unfinished house back from Fake Contractor. In the end he had one leftover....which left her scratching her head, but whateves. There were plenty to keep the structure strong and intact. Together they chose the windiest day ever to install the 18 foot long metal roof panels. It wasn't Nor'Easter OR hurricane season, but the 50 mph winds had them looking like a circus act. He also helped her install the beautiful Cypress siding she'd been holding on to- every board was imperfectly perfect, and she loved it. Louie then moved out to the Portland, OR area to help a friend of a friend out on an up and coming weed farm, so the Tiny House Fairy glanced around again for some help. This time it came in the form of a guy from VA named Will. Will claimed to have a crew and lots of experience working on older homes doing custom work. The Tiny House Fairy found pretty quickly that his claims were a stretch. The crew consisted of Will's girlfriend, a random old guy with no tools, and himself. While they worked in earnest, there were many times she walked up to the tiny house and found herself yelling, "WHY ARE YOU DOING IT THIS WAY? THAT'S NOT WHAT WE TALKED ABOUT". While the "crew" were warm bodies making marginal progress, the Tiny House Fairy did not consider it money well spent. Then there was "take your kid to work" day, in which she enlisted her then 11 year old son to help. He was at least as helpful as the "crew", although she felt far more of a need to supervise his use of the power tools than she did with the grown up people. She also felt a little bad at the end of the day when she realized they both had a touch of heatstroke from working too many hours with too little water and shade. It made for an unproductive "day after take your kid to work day". There were some tough times during the first months of work, for sure- the Tiny House Fairy and her family lost both their 19 year old cat, Peaches and their sweet old Newf, Georgia. It was during these days that she was grateful to be able to pound nails- all. day. long.
Soon the days turned warmer and the nights became shorter. The Tiny House Fairy knew that shortly she would have to haul the tiny house away from her driveway and clear out in order to make room for the weekly guests who would occupy her cute, now dry and fully remodeled for the second time in 7 years, Outer Banks beach cottage. She had some fantastical friends who had abundant senses of humor, so she counted on them to help get her through the peak season. First she hauled the tiny house over to a local friend's house, having another local friend follow her and do the backing up into the side driveway bit. She, the kid and the dog stayed with these fine folks for a couple of weeks in order to secure the tiny house for long distance travel and let her kid (mostly) finish the 6th grade. Then they were off! She didn't have a route planned, exactly. She didn't know where they would stop to fuel up or sleep, exactly. She didn't know how much the tiny house weighed, exactly (or at all really). When these facts were verbalized to the friend the Tiny House Fairy was staying with, the look of terror in her friend's eyes was enough to give her pause...if only for a fleeting moment. "What the hell", she thought. She now had two neck surgeries and a flood under her belt, which made her feel confident she could handle the trip. So the day arrived, and they departed. Through the Washington DC area they went, over and under the mountains of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, through downtown Chicago, and north to Madison, Wisconsin. The one bit of information that the Tiny House Fairy did indeed know and keep in the forefront of her mind during the trip was that the tiny house was 13'4" from the ground to the highest point in the arched roof. This proved to be good information to have, as they approached two bridges in downtown Chicago that had 13'6" clearances. As she had never hauled anything before, the Tiny House Fairy found the trip to be a bit harrowing. It took the entire two day trip to understand that even with semis whizzing by on either side, the tiny house was not going to tip over. It also took the entire trip to figure out the best trailer brake setting using the button inside her truck. Live and learn, she thought, repeating these three words as a mantra while she and her son both ducked their heads every time they drove underneath a bridge. She and her oldest friend talked on the phone (hands free of course) into the wee hours of the morning in order to stay awake and push through the last few hours of the long trip. And so they arrived at yet another dear friend's house....tired and a bit stressed, but in one piece- and without a single sliver of the tiny house displaced.
And so began the summer. The Tiny House Fairy was certain that she could finish the interior in between having surgery on both hands and elbows, taking care of her friend's two girls during summer break, raising her son, and visiting friends and family in the area. She was also sure that she could find one or two handy people to help if need be. With that in mind, she had every intention of rolling up her sleeves and starting the moment she had unpacked and settled in. Instead, she got kidney stones and a trip to the ER. After recovering from that and her first week of watching kids (including two extra kids twice a week bringing the total to five kids), it was time for her first surgery. The Tiny House Fairy trusted her neurosurgeon implicitly, and had every confidence that things would go well. They did indeed go well, but because the previous surgeries had been so successful she failed to discuss how long, exactly, it would take before she could use her dominant hand to run power tools again. Turns out it took waaay longer than she expected. While she was healing up, she put some feelers out to see if she could find a little skilled labor to help. She was only marginally successful in this arena. Summer is prime time for construction in Wisconsin, and as it turns out there were far more jobs to do than people to do them. So....the Tiny House Fairy worked when she could, and hired help when she could. It was slow going, made extra slow by an unusually rainy summer for the region. Although the work she was doing was mostly on the interior, she needed to use table and chop saws and install plywood walls and cedar trim. The rainy weather consistently impeded this process. The good news was that with all the rain, she could now say with absolute certainty that the roof did not leak. She started there- with the interior ceiling, and worked her way down...in fits and starts, and bits and pieces. This is how the 2 inch strips of lath were caulked and screwed to the lath strips running parallel to the roof, the styrofoam panels (good for insulation and noise) were caulked to the wood, and the painting and antiquing were done.
The Tiny House Fairy borrowed some tools from friends and relatives along the way and, lucky for her, the friend she was staying with had a stash in her basement. It perplexed the Tiny House Fairy a bit when early on her brother decided he ought to explain to her how to use his table saw. She scratched her head in confusion and bit her tongue, wondering whether or not he remembered watching her flip a bajillion houses in previous years. It was the same sort of feeling she got when she entered a lumberyard or home improvement store and an employee asked her if she was working with a contractor...a little like her head might explode. She was grateful for the use of the tools, though, and even for her brother's company~ although when he "helped" she knew things would take a bit longer than when she worked solo. So the Tiny House Fairy put up the 1/2 plywood walls over the solid spray foam insulation, cutting out holes for windows and outlets along the way. She hadn't wanted the weight of drywall, and frankly could not understand how humankind could put a man on the moon yet not come up with something better than a material that turns mushy and molds immediately upon getting wet to install on the interior walls of houses. That being said, the plywood was not without it's challenges- the 4x8 pieces were not heavy, but as the Tiny House Fairy is 5'1" tall they were sometimes tricky to move around. Then there were the occasional wrong measurement/wrong cut moments. These caused her to use language so colorful it would make a sailor blush. Slowly the walls went up, the windows were trimmed, and the problem of how to deal with the arched front and back ends was solved. In hindsight, it would have been a whole lot faster to find some sort of lightweight planking for the interior walls, but she had hauled the materials with her, and the thought of having to take back or sell the 20 sheets or so of plywood was more than she could handle. The same could be said of the cedar trim, which were really parts of boards left from the decking and floor joists. Each piece had to be cut and sanded, then lightly whitewashed and dry before installing. This took a great deal of time, but she was happy to be using what she had on hand, and that very little would end up in a landfill somewhere.