Error: Cabin out of Square

I recently encountered one of the most difficult challenges on Serenity Valley that I can remember in recent years. Things have been pretty ho-hum up here, at least compared to the early days, with very few challenges remaining to keep me comfortable.

So, when I discovered that my cabin had gotten out of square enough to prevent the door from closing and locking, well, it was almost fun and exciting. Well, ok, it would’ve been totally fun and exciting if it weren’t for the fact that I was trying to get out of there in time to get back to the city for a party. But with the time pressure, it was only moderately fun, and I even at one point thought to my self “Huh, I’m not sure I can solve this”, which is a thought I hardly ever encounter in life (except for when it comes to matters of the heart).

IMG_3518-0As it were, it took a few hours and multiple attempts to solve the problem. My first thought was to anchor a piece of 2×6 in the ground, then lean it against the cabin and pull on it to apply a force on the cabin. That didn’t work. I then got the jack from my car, and jacked up one corner of the cabin. I succeeded in lifting up the corner an inch (and could’ve kept going) but that didn’t seem to be making a difference so I abandoned that plan. I then tried to push the cabin using a 4×4 by jacking one end against a tree, but that ended up too unwieldy to set up alone.

IMG_3519-0Then, I got out the come-along, which hadn’t seen any action since 2009 when I used it to winch the trailer up my property. First, I drilled a 1/2-inch hole in a beam inside to tie one end of the rope, then anchored the come-along against the opposite corner on the outside, and tried to winch the cabin back into shape. This might’ve worked, except with the rope coming out the door, I couldn’t get it shut (duh). So, then, I did the same thing, but this time securing the come-along against an interior post (though, by this time, I was starting to get a bit desperate and didn’t have the presence of mind to take pictures). That didn’t seem to work.

This was around the time I felt stumped. Not to sound arrogant, but I haven’t encountered very many challenges in life where I hadn’t solved it with my 5th attempt. I thought about calling up some neighbors to help, but I wasn’t sure what they could do that I couldn’t.

As a somewhat desperate measure, I decided to try one more thing. I drilled a hole through one of my 4×4 posts, all the way through the exterior siding, so that I could tie a rope to the post from the outside. I then anchored the come-along against a large juniper tree using some rope I found. I started applying tension, then with a BANG the come-along went flying, smashing through a plastic bin that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I checked my fingers– I still had 11 of them.

After taking a deep breath and making a mental note to make sure I got more trucking rope for occasions like these, I got another length of rope, doubled it up, twisted it, then wrapped it around the hook on the come-along a few times (that’s where it failed the first time) and then around the tree. I then started cranking again, applying enough tension that it became quite difficult to pull the lever. I became paranoid so I got another rope and reinforced the anchoring using a trucker’s hitch to take some of the load off the first rope. At this point, I probably had close to a ton of tension, rendering the entire contraption into a veritable siege weapon… pointed directly at my cabin. I gave it a few more cranks, then ran over to the door to see if it would close.

It did, just barely.


11 thoughts on “Error: Cabin out of Square

  1. Your solution might lie in using a hydraulic bottle jack. You can pick them up at most auto parts stores. I have even seen them in used tool stores. They can lift significantly more weight and a lot higher than the scissor jack you were using. If you can get your hands on a large hydraulic floor jack like the kind that is used for lifting trucks in service bays of auto repair shops, that would be ideal.

  2. I second the hydraulic jack! It sounds like you’ve got some ground settlement issues. You may want to get a laser level next time you’re in town and check your blocks are all the same level.

  3. I think you were quite creative and displayed much patience & fortitude.
    Did the door open & close easily before you tried to close it to leave?
    Did you check to see if the pins were all the way into the hinges?
    Maybe one of your mid-wall support piers has sunk a bit? By placing your door in the corner of the long wall of your cabin you have little or no corner-bracing so the door frame wracked out of square or humidity caused the wood to swell and move?.
    I would check the level of the floor and plumb of the walls in both directions at that corner.
    You might be able to pull the door frame back into square with some strong cable and a turnbuckle attached temporarily to the inside wall framing at opposite corners of the door opening top and bottom . Then install some corner bracing above the door using 2X4s and/or triangles of 3/4″ plywood attached with several 3″ course thread drywall screws. remove the cabling and check for square again and try closing the door. Best wishes, Rich

    PS I will try to send a couple diagrams to your FB page.

  4. The thing is that it settled slowly & won’t go back quickly. In taking ‘settling’ problems out of a building, it is recommended to go slowly, only taking the jack a small amount every few hours or even per day.

  5. The original builder of my “tiny house” wouldn’t have known a square from Adam’s cat… I just plane the edge of the doors when needed…

  6. Or accept (as hard as it can be) that building a cabin is only for a limited period of time.And start elaborating strategies for the future.Sure that someone as brillant as you and last but not least gifted with 11 fingers can can figure it out.Keep the faith.

  7. Ryo, I generally dont try and give advice online, but having squared up a few chicken coops in my day, all of which were built relatively similar to how Hut 2.1 is constructed, I can offer this from my experience, YMMV, good luck:
    1. Get some heavier rope or a steel cable come along and pull the house back into square with two lines; the 2nd one attached to the opposite side of the hut to your current one. Otherwise you may end up twisting the house, further making problems. These ropes will need to stay in place for a couple of weeks.
    2. Once the two lines are in place and the house measures as square then go around make observations of each corner of the house and determine if you can visually determine if the footers have sunk, or anything else that looks out of the norm. Using a spirit level on the walls and floor to determine square is fine, but the easiest test is the one you’re already doing, just see if the door shuts without an issue).
    3. Once you have observed how each of the legs is sitting now that the lines have the house squared, you’re a smart guy, you’ll figure out how to correct for any issues like soil subsidence or the wood supports having warped/shrunk/gone on strike.

    I have to warn you though, in my experience it involved a lot of manual labor by digging out the footers, raising them up with pry bars and then putting either cement or concrete blocks under the footer to shore them up and prevent further settling into the soil. We tended to dig a hole twice as large as the original footer and pour cement in to make a wider pad, about 6 inches thick for the footer to go back down on. We used a sonotube cut down to about 6 inches tall as a form to try and control where the cement went. We put the footer back down into the wet cement and got everything square with come alongs and then left it that way for a week or more to allow for curing, before we filled in the soil back in the hole. This also allows a bond to form between the footer and the new footer pad, not sure if it was necessary, but it made us feel better.
    Nothing beats a full framed foundation, as it tends to settle as a whole unit, which is why the second set of chicken coops had full foundations instead of just corner footings (we eventually had ten on our farm, 4 with footers and 6 with foundations) . All of this digging probably explains why my dad had four sons spread over ten years; he needed the help.

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