Putting Up the Shower/ Outhouse: Part One

You lose a lot of battles but you just have to win one more than you lose. That’s all there is to winning.”

— Roxanne Quimby, Burt’s Bees founder

So we need a bathroom if we’re ever going to get rid of the RV and move into the dome. It’s been the subject of a lot of discussion and planning.

For example, outside or inside? We decided outside for a couple of reasons. First, we only have about 400 square feet of interior space for the five of us, so we want to make the most of it. Second, we’re not sure about the smells potentially emitted from the composting toilet. So we decided to go with what the wise oldtimers knew—don’t s!@# where you sleep and eat. Kinda makes sense.

Challenges to overcome: What do you do in middle of the night? Decision: chamber pot. Mauricio’s idea. (My sister Julie has just officially decided not to come visit after reading that, I’m sure.) How do you keep it warm in winter? Decision: a small propane space heater. Where do you put it? Decision: TBD.

1. We need to put it close enough to the dome so that it’s not a huge trek every time you gotta go.

2. It should be in the shade in summer and sun in winter.

3. It can’t block our view from the bay window.

4. It shouldn’t be blowing downwind to the dome.

5. It can’t be subject to erosion and rain draining into it, since we’re building the shower part directly on the ground like our outdoor shower.

What we’ve realized is that the ideal place—outside, to the right of the dome entrance—is completely covered in shade by the dome in winter and would be in direct sunlight in the summer. The opposite of what we’re going for.

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So we’re building it and will move it into place after we get our neighbor Mike to bring his machine and dig a hole into the hard rock. Another challenge: how do you move a very heavy structure? For that, we turned to the ancients and decided to use log rollers. Mauricio’s idea.

IMG_4967Our plan was to build an elliptical structure by building a rectangle with rounded edges. Well, you can’t just stick a rectangle next to that beautiful geometry of the dome. My idea.

Mauricio spent hours silently concepting and sketching, while I spent hours researching online, bombarding him with “What if we” ideas, and trying to pull out of him what was going on in his head. I managed to sneak a shot of this when he wasn’t looking. This is my guy who doesn’t think he’s very smart because he was no good in school.

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In order to round the sides, we decided to use 2×4 lumber vertically. To create the frame, we would bend a 2×4. Mauricio’s idea. Sure. Let’s just bend a 2×4. While pulling rusty nails from some scrap wood to reuse for the frame, I watched incredulously as Mauricio bent a 2×4. He made the prototype by making cuts along the length of the board, wetting it, and pulling it together with a rope, like a bow.

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It took a few tries to get the depth and distance between cuts right. And it also became apparent that knots in the wood or not getting it wet enough would cause cracks.

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Finally, though, he got it to work.

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With proof of concept in hand, we started building a frame, which also involved figuring out how to put the top frame onto wobbly upright corners. We screwed in little ledges and placed it on. Mauricio’s idea.

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With the frame put together, we predrilled the holes and then started screwing in the vertical wall boards. Since all the boards were variously warped, we used our old friend leverage to pull them together before screwing them in. Mauricio’s idea.

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With one wall built, we got to the corner and decided to tackle the rounded edge frame. This involved building a giant compass, Mauricio’s idea. Creating a form to uniformly bend the boards on, Mauricio’s idea. And attaching to another 2×4 at the base, Mauricio’s idea.

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And then we got stuck. It became obvious that those rounded edges would never be sound enough to support the weight of all those 2x4s. The end looked like it would just snap off.

So back at the drawing board, we decided that if we extended the edges of the rounded part further into the frame, it would create more stability. Mauricio’s idea. He went to work on Rounded Outhouse Edge, 2.0. In order to get the huge bend for it to turn in without cracking the board, he had to make deeper cuts in the wood.

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While he was able to get the right bend, he realized that this made the board way too flimsy. So now, we are (he is) back to the drawing board.

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I keep telling Mauricio that I’m totally fine with a rectangular shouthouse (which is what we are affectionately calling our shower-outhouse) and that it’s not worth all the extra time and effort. But that guy does not have it in him to give up on this challenge until he solves it. And that’s one of the things I love about this man.

I love that he is modeling one of the most important things I want our kids to learn. And that’s that it’s not only okay to fail, but that trying and failing, trying and failing, trying and failing again, is the only way to success. And even then, it’s not a guarantee.

Oh, the things you can learn when you build an outhouse.

Here’s his current shouthouse homework in the margins of Giovanni’s math homework.

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7 thoughts on “Putting Up the Shower/ Outhouse: Part One

    1. Yeah, we actually looked at a bunch of YouTube videos on how to do this, like this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0ikg9NdUvM. We initially rejected that idea because it’s so time consuming, and we need to make 6 of these things for the frame. We also looked into steam and/or building a steamer, for which you can find lots of videos online, but are both time-consuming and expensive. Ultimately, the challenge became not around bending, but how to attach that edge in a way that wouldn’t snap off. We are currently working on Mauricio’s new idea, which is to create support vertically instead of horizontally. Will keep you posted. Thanks for the ideas! Got any more?

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  1. Shout out to the shout house builders! The curve technique makes me think of snipping seams in sewing . . . “Never turn around, never give up, never ask directions!” was our rallying cry on a trip through the English countryside years and years ago. YaYYYY for big dreams and crazy sticktoitness

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  2. This is such a great story. Can’t wait to see what you come up with. Meanwhile, the kids are learning college-level math concepts. And seeing why math matters!

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  3. How amazing!! You know, when we moved into our house, I was really delighted by the curved wooden doors of our vintage bathroom vanity cabinets. Our carpenter friend explained to me about kerfing, or kerf cutting, wood and all the nuances thereof. It was pretty fascinating, and I immediately thought about similar this technique was to sewing/notching curves in fabric, as Caryn mentioned.

    (I just snooped more, and found that word kerf comes from the Old English word “cyrf,” meaning to carve. Cool.)

    Merry Christmas, guys!!
    Leigh

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