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  • Writer's pictureJim Martin

On Water Levels and SketchUp

With the deck on, it was finally time to put up some walls... well almost time. Two important things had to be done before we started framing:

  1. We had to check the trailer to ensure it was still level. Imagine how frustrating it would be to build walls that were perfectly plumb (straight up and down) only to find out the deck you built them on was not level?

  2. We had to make some specific decisions on the size and specific placement of our windows and door. The "rough openings" for these are framed into the walls as they are built. Getting them right now saves much frustration later.

We used two tools to check the deck for level. The first was the rather pedestrian four foot level you saw in this picture a while back in the Beginning On The Level post. In that post I talked about the process of jacking up and leveling the trailer the first time. Now it was time to see if the trailer had settled at all during the building process so far.

In order to check we used a much more interesting and simple tool called a water level. A water level is just a long tube filled with water. It takes advantage of water's inherent commitment to stay level in whatever container it finds itself. It's incredibly simple, very cheap, and super versatile. I made this one by purchasing about 30 feet of clear plastic tubing and filling it about 90% full with water, making sure all the bubbles were out. Then I took two pieces of scrap lumber and carefully marked them at exactly the same height off the ground (about 5.5' in this case). Here's what it looks like:

The beauty of this set up is that now, no matter where those two pieces of lumber are placed, the level of the water in each side of the tube will be the same. So, Jenna took one side of the tube with it's corresponding piece of lumber and I took the other. We compared all four corners of the trailer. And sure enough, some settling had happened. The corners were not all level with each other.

We found the high corner and jacked the lower ones up to the same height. (For these minor adjustments, we inserted thin plywood shims between the jack stands and the trailer frame.) We checked our work with the four foot level, and both tools were in agreement. So it was time to proceed!

(If you are wondering why we didn't just use the four foot level and call it a day, there are at least two reasons in my mind: The first is that the water level is way cooler--it's an ancient, slick, simple tool. The second is that all the four foot level can really tell you about is the four foot section it is sitting on, not the whole run of the 20' trailer. There's enough fluctuation in the plywood subfloor, that any couple of readings with a four foot level might disagree with each other just because of a variation in the plywood or a joist underneath. Much better to check the actual corners of the trailer against each other.)

The next challenge was to dial in the size and location of the windows and door. In order to get a sense of the proportion of the whole thing, and how the sizes and placements of these windows would look, I used a free online modeling tool called Sketchup. It's remarkably powerful and fairly easy to learn (lots of YouTube tutorials!). I created a very simple three dimensional scale model of the house including size and placement of the windows and door. We made some adjustments, and soon arrived at this:

Sorry I don't have a more slick recording of the walk-around! We just recorded this with an iPhone pointed at the computer screen! The cool thing about this kind of model is that all the elements are to scale and measurable. So we can transfer measurements from the drawing to the actual walls.

In the next post, we'll actually put up some walls. I promise.

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