What we learned (sometimes the hard way) building the A-frame tiny house that we now love!
Shelby Shack was built by identical twin sisters Theresa, Catherine, and their dad Matt during the COVID-19 pandemic. We also got lots of help along the way from friends and family. We recorded our build for our own memories but decided to share it with others who might be fans of little houses! We’ve broken our build into 10 steps so you can easily follow along.
I looked around for the cheapest tiny house designs online. My sisters and I were going to pay for it with our own money from chores, babysitting, and summer jobs. I found a neat design by Deek Diedricken, a cool tiny house planner, builder, and house sculptor, that said it was around $1,000 to build (using reclaimed materials as well) and decided that would be perfect.
We purchased the plans by Deek and thought we were ready to go. We’ve done lots of smaller DIY-type projects by watching YouTube videos, so we felt somewhat confident we could “figure it out.” While the Deek’s designs/plans were helpful, we hoped they were more like directions or a “how-to,” but they are not. The designs are more like blueprints. Since we had no experience building anything like this, the task became daunting immediately right from the start. One of the good parts of the plan was the materials list. We decided to do things a little differently than Deek’s designs but still keep the overall structure. After figuring out the plan, we started ordering materials. One thing we found out was that a lot of the pressure-treated wood, especially plywood, was out of stock pretty much everywhere because of the pandemic (many plants and supply chains were shut down temporarily). It took a month or two to finally get most of the materials after we ordered them.
We needed to decide where in the yard to put it. While we waited for all the materials to come in stock, we looked for places to build it. I picked 2 spots I liked, but my dad ultimately picked the one pictured below because it was flatter and closer to the house. We put these boards in the spot to get an idea of what it would be like.
Because we had never built something like this, my dad enlisted a friend, Dan Zwick, to help us on day 1 for the base and the “A” part of the A-frame. We figured if he could help us with that, at least it won’t collapse! (check out Dan’s general contracting business, Patria Contracting, that serves South New Jersey)
At this time, Catherine and I were working online summer internships. All the work on the Shelby Shack had to be done before or after work, or on weekends. Dan was only free on a day we had work, so we took a day off and tried to get as much done as we could.
If you’re planning on building this too (good luck lol), the base is the first thing you need to build. You want to have the base slightly elevated from the ground to avoid wood rot and help ensure the base is level. We dug in a few spots in the corners and used gravel underneath cinder blocks. Using gravel underneath allows us to make small adjustments while leveling and is good for when it rains. We built just the outside frame of the base first, so we could place it on the cinderblocks. We used a level in both directions to make sure it was level in all directions. If it was slightly off, we’d either add more gravel underneath to raise it or dig deeper if we needed to go down.
Once everything was level, we finished assembling the base. We installed enough beams to provide structure and support for the plywood which will serve as the basis of the floor. (In retrospect, we would have put in a cross beam to absorb some of the small “bounce” we get in the floor.) Dan’s nail gun saved a ton of time (we originally planned on using hammers) and it was a lot of fun too.
You need to make sure the base is nice and straight. You can measure diagonally to make sure the distance is the same corner-to-corner. If not, you can make adjustments. In the photo below, you can see the dead grass from our original markers for the frame position, so we were pretty close with our approximation.
We completed the base off to the side and made final preparations with the cinder blocks to make sure they were in the right position and nice and level.
To help reduce bounce in the floor, we placed one more cinder block in the center of the base, which actually really helped. With that, the base is COMPLETE.
Next was the main A-frame structure. Before we started, Dan looked at the measurements and noticed that the height of the top of the A-frame would hit the branches of the tree above. Oops, didn’t think that would be a problem… Coincidentally, we were getting a tree taken down in the yard the same day, so we asked them to also cut the tree back a little for us. It was good timing.
The A-frame measurements were the most challenging, which was why we were so glad Dan was there to help. He got the angles and measurements just right. The designs that we had weren’t super obvious, so there was lots of measuring and slight adjustments. A small triangle of plywood at the top of each ‘A’ provides additional support. We got the frame installed. You can see in the photo below that we added extra temporary support to the frame since we were still building support for it. This kept it from falling apart or sliding off the base while we were still building the rest. This was something else we hadn’t considered that Dan recommended. With the A-frame in place, we installed the shelves along the back wall. The little shelves in the back are an element we really liked in this design. Once the shelves were complete, we cut and installed plywood for what would be the roof understructure.
We all took turns installing the plywood. The back of the A-frame would be a solid roof structure (different from the original design by Deek). The opposite side is a large swing wall (one of my favorite parts of this design), so we only installed plywood on part of that side to leave room for the swing wall.
After a busy and fun hot summer day, Dan left us with some tips to finish the rest ourselves. We were all nervous if we could finish it by ourselves but were excited to try (I wasn’t actually nervous though, I was just pretending for their sake). I was super excited about it starting to come together and thought it’d be fun to set up my hammock in the frame (spoiler alert: It was).
Hope you liked step one. Don’t worry, I’ll still be with you for step two!
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