Overall, full-timing in our fifth wheel trailer has worked well. "Home is where you park it" suits us. For now.
But what happens if health or other restrictions mean we can't follow the geese? Typically when we return in April we experience up to a week or two of minus twenty weather. We survive, but not terribly comfortably. Our fifth wheel is not really designed for that even with the mods we have done. And if it takes ten pounds of propane a day to barely survive at minus twenty what would minus forty be like?
One of the reasons we sold our stick house was the impracticality of leaving a house empty for up to six months a year. The cost continues while you are gone and there is the concern of leaving that kind of investment unattended. Our seventeen years experience as landlords ensured we did not even consider keeping a house and renting it out for half a year. So we don't want a full blown house to leave behind to keep heated and to worry about.
Also in addition to making provision for the future there are a couple of concerns about our fifth wheel trailer life style: there is no shop to putter about in when the weather is rainy or cold; nor is there enough room for everybody if we have them over on a rainy afternoon.
Our solution has been to start construction on a 14'x24' core building that can be used as a workshop / studio for the foreseeable future and, if necessary, be expanded it into a small house, in affordable stages. The concept, shown above, is based on plans we bought from www.countryplans.com . I had wrestled with several of my own designs over the winter, including a repeat of Garry Harder's design for our attached, two-story, two-car garage, but ended up ordering "The Expandable Cabin Design Kit" (aka "The Big Enchilada" kit) by John Raabe.
The design kit offers several options and we chose what suits us and the site. (See here and here.)
One choice was to use pressure treated wood foundation and to insulate the footings and crawl space floor to prevent frost heaving. We also chose to insulate the floor and leave the crawl space ventilated. If it ever becomes a year round dwelling with plumbing we will probably insulate the crawl space walls and open the vents in summer only. Deciding to insulate the floor from on top meant that we avoided stuffing fibreglas batts from the bottom. It also meant a lot of fussing with tarps and plastic to prevent water getting at the insulation before the roof was on. Not sure I'd want to do that again.
The site was cleared last fall during a dry spell since one never knows what the spring and early summer will be like around here. In June we dug the footing trenches, added crushed rock, tamped it and put in the pre-built panels. Pre-building meant that construction could proceed before the back hoe showed up and allowed us to build in manageable chunks. Our daughter, Deborah and I, person handled them into place, squared them up and then it was time for backfilling with sand. The native clay was used to grade the surface drainage away from the building. The area around the building was insulated with 2" EPS (extruded polystyrene - Styrofoam SM) which was covered with clay, then poly and ctushed rock.
The crawl space was filled with tamped sand and then insulated with 2" EPS covered with 1/2 OSB (oriented strand board). The 2"x10" joists were cut to length and strapped lengthways with glued and air nailed 2"x4" 's. This provided much improved rigidity and support for the OSB sheets that support the floor insulation. Once the floor was insulated a sub-floor of 5/8" tongue and groove OSB was nailed down with ring nails. Then a poly vapour barrier was added and a layer of 1/2" OSB on top of that to protect the poly.
The walls were built in 4' panels for manageability. "Manageability" is a relative term since they were built 12 feet long and with 2"x6" studs on 16" centres. Deborah and her husband Ernest came by and along with Bill Perry helped lift them into place. A few weeks later they, along with Rebekah and her husband Nick helped strap the 2"x12" rafters that I cut and Bill Perry and I had put in place. Then they put on the roofing metal on one side on the Saturday of the August long weekend. On Monday morning, Ernest had to be back at work, but the rest of us along with Matthew Rogers and BJ Sargent put the other side on before Nick and Rebekah had to head home to Edmonton.
I closed in the ends and puttered around for another week and then once the place was okay to leave for a while headed to Edmonton and took work at a refinery construction project for five weeks to pay for the next phase, plus some of the upcoming winter expenses.
When the work term was done Nick came out and helped us for a week to finish installing the chimney, install the stove, get some wrap on and to start putting on the soffits. That may be all that gets done until next year since it is getting below freezing some nights and it is time to head south for the winter.