Saturday, February 7, 2015

A DIY "Cathouse" - Dog is to Doghouse as Cat is to Cathouse!!

Believe it or not, I can do some woodworking too! How well I do it is to be seen...

Have you ever Googled "cathouse" or "cat house" to try and find some plans to build your feline a nice shelter outside? I did, and I'm here to tell you, not much came up! Information was spotty and I guess cats just aren't as built for as dogs!

So, I built one. 

I have a 14 year old kitty (Her name is Kitty. Okay, it's Tigger, but we've always called her Kitty.), and Kitty has gotten into a really bad habit of urinating on things over the years. It's gotten worse with time and she got an ultimatum: live outside, or....turns out living outside was the only viable choice for both of us. After 14 years of commitment, I wasn't about to give her to the animal shelter. She has a horrible, nasty, stuck-up catty attitude and would probably end up euthanized. (Note: Medically she is fine. When we adopted her, she was a feral kitten.)

I wanted something which was insulated. She deserved that after years of warmth in the house. I wanted something aesthetically pleasing. I deserved that since she'd be living on the back porch. I wanted her dry and I wanted her food dry, so I designed and built this:

This fine little display of my amateur craftsmanship took me three and a half days to build, without a garage, in temperatures that hovered around 30 degrees. 

It is insulated, heated with an electric blanket (for now), contains her food dish, weather protection, and a bit of light. I have about 50 zillion suggestions to give along the way, but I wanted to provide my directions so that maybe problem kitties everywhere could have nice houses too!

Here is the kitty in question. Looks pretty innocent, doesn't she? This was her first kill/present, a mere week after she moved into her new home. Looks like a mouse lived next door in the gas grill. Poor little guy.  (The picture and text came from my teenage daughter.)

Being an amateur, I needed a plan. I remember drafting in high school, but I didn't remember much about it. I printed out some graph paper and got started.

This cat house design proved to be fairly spot on! With the exception of lightening up the materials and a couple of measurements that I didn't account for, it went together fairly easily. (I fully intend to redraw these plans and scan them in!)

I had recently purchased a Kreg Jig and I recommend it for this project.

I started by making a base with 2x4's. In restrospect, I should have ripped the 2x4's into a lighter size, like a 1.5" x 2" pieces. There wasn't a need to have such a heavy duty base for a cat. If you live in an area with a lot of snow, it would make sense to keep the house a little higher so the doorway doesn't get snow covered.

My first ever Kreg Jig use went really well, although there was a little learning curve.

Next, I added a layer of 1/4" plywood, a 1" rigid foam insulation piece, and another 1/4" of plywood. I added two layers of primer and a few layers of gloss paint to make it easy to clean out. I let that dry inside over night before moving on to the next stage. I'm pretty sure there is an option out there to make this insulated floor lighter. I thought maybe one 1/4" floor piece on top of the 2x4's and then I could have just secured the foam insulation between the 2x4" base joists. This would have saved materials and weight.

I had never framed anything before, so I did my best according to my drawings. This house was designed with a "foyer" with the main door and a second door leading into the main sleeping area. This was meant to keep the cold air from just rushing in the front door and also giving me a place to put her food dish so it wouldn't get rained in. In retrospect, I would have made this foyer area wider. My cat is really small, but there just isn't enough space for her to face her bowl and eat, then turn to exit. Also, there wasn't any need to frame the entire thing with full width 2x4's. Once again, I could have trimmed their width so they'd still provide support, but be a little lighter for the end product.

Using a little geometry, I picked an angle for the roof.

I was the only one building, so I used lots of vice clamps to hold my wood in place as I secured it.

After the frame was finished, I began to attach the tongue and groove wood siding. This turned out beautiful and is my favorite aspect of the cathouse!

I used outdoor wood glue in between each slat and secured the bottom and top pieces with screws. The middle slats were secured with a brad nailer since they would be held in place by the first and last slats.

Before putting the front panel of tongue and groove, I cut 1" rigid foam insulation to fit in the wall cavities made by the siding and the framing 2x4's.

A piece of foam insulation was cut for each wall area, then I cut 1/4" plywood to cover the insulation and create an inner wall. In retrospect, given the house is absolutely water proof, I may have been able to choose a lighter material than 1/4" plywood to create the inner walls. Since I caulked, painted and sealed the walls, a cat could probably have done fine with 1/8" MDF paneling on the inside. 

I took it inside and started priming and painting the structure. I figured it would be easier to paint as I go and I needed a break anyway. 

I cut the wall paneling and doorway between the foyer and main living area, and a piece of 1" rigid foam to go in the wall between the plywood. I cut the door to put a swinging plastic cat door there. After the fact, I took the swinging door out because I felt like there wasn't enough air flow - I can always put it in if it gets really cold, but so far, I haven't needed to.

I used whatever paint I had left over from other projects to paint the cat house. I decided on a grey-ish blue for the main living area and a lilac for the foyer.

To give it a personal touch (although cats can't read), I painted a "home sweet home" wall!

The outside color is grey and I wish my real house was this color!

Using some scrap PVC trim finish pieces, I framed in the doorway for a finished look.

I finished installing the inner wall and caulked and painted forever to get it perfect for the kitty.

I had some larger PVC trim pieces and I finished off the corners to make it look like the house had vinyl siding!

I secured all the PVC trim pieces with the brad nailer and some outdoor wood glue. That brad nailer was absolutely imperative for this project!!

Even though the PVC trim is white already, I ended up filling the brad nail holes and painting the trim with white primer and semi-gloss.

I used a router and sander to get the 2x4 frame pieces and the tongue and groove pieces to be perfectly flat on the top. I needed to put a frame on the top for the roof and didn't want any air leaks coming in because of my sloppy wood working.

In case Kitty forgot her name, I added a name plate for her. I was going to put a picture frame to mimic a glass window (with wood cross hatches), but I ended up breaking the plastic frame with the brad nailer. The sign turned out better anyway.

Underneath the top frame, I added thinner 1/4" sticky door foam insulation strips to keep the cold air from sneaking between the base frame and the top frame.

Then I took another break and caulked and painted.

I had never roofed a thing before.

I had purchased 1/2" plywood for the roof piece, but it turned out the 1/4" plywood was sufficient for a roof this size - and a lot lighter. I gathered the necessary supplies over a couple of days; shingles, roofing felt, drip edges, nails, etc...

Lucky for me, I was able to get some scraps from friends and I found JUST enough shingles to roof this. I didn't have one entire shingle left. If I had purchased them, I would have gotten black, but I didn't want to buy an entire bundle for just a few cathouse shingles, so I settled for brown.

This is a side view of the aluminum drip edge I put on the front and rear endge of the roof (which I assembled on my floor, not on the house).

On the side face of the 1/4" plywood roof, I brad nailed some more PVC trim to protect it from the elements.

The roofing nails came through the 1/4" plywood roof, so I cut them off, then used a Dremel tool to grind them down so they wouldn't hurt me or Kitty.

I applied more weather stripping between the roof and the frame on the house.

I used three small galvanized hinges to hinge the roof in the back. That way I can just lift the roof and check on kitty.

I installed the door between the two rooms and hung a wireless thermometer to keep track of the temperature in the Kitty house. As stated earlier, I removed the plastic swinging door because there was zero airflow in that room.

I didn't want the hot sun on the roof to heat the house up like a dutch oven, nor did I want the kitty house heat to escape the roof, so I installed some rigid foam on the roof with glue and some brad nails.

I was too cheap to buy the actual clear plastic kitty door, so I cut my own. I just wanted something to keep sideways rain and wind gusts out.

And it was finally done!!

Kitty approved!!

I got her a freeze free water bowl which is PRICELESS. I wish I had gotten a larger one though.

Things my cathouse was missing:

A heated pet bed. Kitty had an electric blanket she used in the house, so I put it in the cathouse. I also ordered her a heated cat bed. The heated cat bed has come in, but I haven't installed it. She loves that electric blanket. The temperatures outside have been down into the low teens and the coldest it has gotten in the house is in the low 50's - and that was on the absolute coldest night without the swinging door between the foyer and main room. After it warms up a little outside, I am going to run the wiring into the house through the floor (right now I just put the extension cord through the doors into her room) and install the middle door. The heated pet bed is NOT as warm as the electric blanket, but I believe once the middle door is installed, it will be sufficient heat for her.

A light. Right now the electric blanket control is offering a little light in her room. I could have installed a window, but I was scared it would let too much cold air in. When it warms up, I am going to find a little light to install in the wall to give her a tiny bit of light at night. Some would say a light bulb would offer heat and light, but I don't want her to be in there and have it be too bright. That doesn't sound like a comfortable way to sleep!

Enough room for her water AND food. That foyer needed to be bigger. Shes a small kitty, but she needed more room. I carefully monitor her food now and put it in and take it out of the foyer as needed, but I wish I had made it a little wider, even if it had looked a little weird. Maybe even a little wider and deeper, but I didn't want her room to be so big it wouldn't stay warm.

I hope you enjoyed my cat house building story and that maybe you're able to make a cat house too! 

If you'd like to see some of the other things I do, I have a couple of Etsy shops; one for pet things and one for crochet accessories. I hope to get many more things filling the shops soon!

Crochet accessories:
Etsy - Running with Hooks

Pet items:
Etsy - Tiny Tails