Tiny house, big dreams built with a steel structure and a dynamic roof
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Tiny house, big dreams built with a steel structure and a dynamic roof

May 24, 2023

A Washington couple thought outside of the box for the design of tiny cabin, which features a steel structure and a dynamic roof.

Perusing tiny homes on social media, Courtney Jackson found an opportunity for her and husband Luke to get creative.

The Washington couple had purchased a plot of land in neighboring Idaho with the idea to build a cabin of some kind on it, Luke Jackson said.

"She found a small, little cabin [on social media] and the roof opened up on it. She thought that was really cool, so I took a look at it," he said. "There were plans for it that you could just buy. But it just looked super cheap and I was afraid of it not lasting through an Idaho winter."

What soon followed was Jackson's ambitious project to make an 8.5- by 20- by 10-ft. tiny home with a dynamic roof and a steel structure.

Jackson went into welding about four years ago, no longer wanting to be a truck driver.

"I saw [welding as] one of the jobs that was challenging and one I got to be creative in. But, really, it was also recession proof. I didn't want to be out of work at any point, so I wanted to pick a job that would be stable all the time, that people are always going to need no matter what so."

He is now the shop foreman at Van Dam Welding in Buckley, Wash. Jackson takes on different challenges through his job, such as mechanical line repair and handrails. In July, Jackson was working on an elevator shaft in the Seattle area.

"When you work in a shop like mine that's pretty small, it allows you to be really flexible. I've worked on a ton of different stuff."

"I’ll probably do this forever, in one facet or another. I get to be so creative [in fabrication]. I’m in an elevator shaft today and I could be somewhere else tomorrow," Jackson added. "It's an industry that's not going anywhere."

The word "different" could best describe the tiny home Jackson had in mind. The ones he had seen on social media did not look like they could survive a harsh, Idaho winter.

Luke Jackson is shop foreman for Van Dam Welding in Buckley, Wash. He began welding about four years ago.

He welded the structure—primarily made with 4- by 4-in. square tubing—with a mix of hard and dual-shield wire.

"I hate hard wire. I know it's plenty strong, but I’m a dual-shield equipment structural guy," Jackson said.

The tiny home was a significant commitment for Jackson, who spent almost every weekend from February through June working on it. Jackson thanked his employer for allowing him to work on it at the fab shop. Work first started inside the shop; once the home took shape and grew, it was moved outdoors.

Some of the work even went home with him.

"All the walls and floors, I framed all of those at home on the weeknights and then on the weekends. I would take it and just slide it into the skeleton of the steel structure and then just TEK screwed everything in."

Jackson said the cabin is made from two steel skeletons. The first skeleton includes the static sections of the lower foundation, walls, fixed roof, and the lower ridged support section that provides structure directly beneath the dynamic roof.

The second skeleton includes the dynamic roof, made from 4- by 4-in. tubing. The roof ridge required 2- by 4-in. rectangular tube. The wood framing was all 2- by 4-in. lumber set on 12-in. centers, Jackson said.

Electric landing gears made for RVs lift the dynamic roof when activated by a control switch on the wall.

"There are essentially two different frames. There's the lower static frame, that is the structure of it," he said. "And then there is the upper dynamic frame—which is the roof and wall section—that lifts up and pivots from the 1-in. pipe hinges that run along the ridge of the roof line."

"When the roof is opened up and you’re sitting inside drinking your coffee, it'll be beautiful," Jackson said.

The tiny cabin is made from two steel skeletons—one featuring the static sections of the cabin and another featuring the dynamic roof.

Everything Jackson learned in fabrication the last few years is on display with this cabin, which now sits on the Idaho property several hours east from where it was built. Jackson moved the cabin from Buckley to Idaho back in June by trailer.

"I couldn't have done it without the skills that I've picked up over the last four years. It just would have been impossible: Understanding how metal flexes and moves when you weld it, keeping things level and straight, the strength and yield points of different types of metals ... all of that came together, all of that was invaluable," he said.

Unsurprisingly, the tiny home has received attention from others. He's spoken to his boss about the potential for building future homes. Such an endeavor would require a whole new business model to make it happen. Plus, he says he could not work solo again on such a project.

His tip for anyone considering something similar? Plan ahead. He bought materials early; he designed the home with CAD software; he prepared for the build early so he could "understand the project inside and out."

Reflecting on the project, Jackson said: "It was hard to build. It was a lot of work to interface the wood siding and all the trim ... there's a lot of things that made it difficult, you know? It was hard to waterproof ... it wasn't an easy thing to build.

"But now that it's done, I'm really happy because it's strong and I feel it's going to last forever."