Friday, November 30, 2012

Beefing Up Our Knowledge, Paring Down Our Plans

My first round from the library!
Winter is upon us, and every instinct tells one to bulk up and store up for the cold days ahead. I'm no different than the spastic squirrels darting about and packing away morsels- only I'm gathering nuts of knowledge and seeds of wisdom. Every day I start out by checking my email for daily news from TinyHouseTalk. It's a great newsletter, showcasing tiny homes all over the world and the stories of those who inhabit them, not to mention many other resources and tips. I have stumbled upon many great sites and articles all stemming from those newsletters. Thank you, Alex!
What amazes me most is the never-ending variety of styles, quirks, motivations, and tricks that went into each and every tiny house. Every time I read a new article and expose myself to a new way of thinking or a new approach to some of the more challenging aspects of tiny house living, I re-examine our plans. While our bag of knowledge continues to bulk up, our design pares down. Recently, I have read several articles in which the tiny home dwellers opted not to include plumbing. Now, even a month ago I would have said, “Woah, woah, let's not get too crazy!” But now, as I have read about people making the choice, living the life, and explaining what they have to do in exchange, it really doesn't seem that bad. To me, the crown jewel of plumbing is a toilet. Since we are going to have a composting toilet, that leaves just a sink and a shower. When we decided to use a very simple camp shower set up, that left just the sink. Over the last week I have been reading exhaustively about simple plumbing set ups, the type of tankless water heater we planned to use, calculating gravity fed water pressure, etc. The more I read, the more I learned, and the more complicated it became.

Is that a magic hose?
As I researched several tankless water heaters, it was aggravating to constantly read, “Portable! Great for remote areas! Great for off-grid living!.....Just hook it up to a garden hose and....” ---Um...excuse me, but did you say 'garden hose'? THAT IS NOT OFF GRID. Garden hoses, last time I checked, don't just sprout from the ground in the middle of the woods. Nice play on words, ya jerks. I wanted to find something somewhere that would work as part of a fully contained system. I have yet to find such a thing.
Since a tankless water heater is triggered by the movement of water through the pipes, that water has to be a certain pressure which is referred to as PSI. Gallons per minute, GPM, is another term you will hear floating around, but that's the rate of water coming out the tap. Most of the smaller tankless water heaters purported to be for off-grid living or camping situations, still require a garden hose hook up to provide that 20-80 PSI operating range. Since we plan to use a gravity fed system, I needed to learn how to calculate pressure for that type of set up. The general rule is this: measure the height (transverse distance doesn't matter) from the bottom of your water storage container to the point of entry into the water heater. For every foot, you gain 0.5 PSI.
         Gravity Fed PSI = height (ft) X 0.5 PSI
No wonder water towers are so damn high!
I sort of laughed/cried when I learned this. Our whole house will stand a mere 13.5 feet tall, so the distance between the bottom of our storage tank to the water heater would be at max, about 3 feet. That would give us a whopping 1.5 PSI, which is not even close to what we would need. So then I started researching water pumps, and learning about filters and pulsation rates, and dry sensors, and blah, blah, blah. I could barely keep my head above water! (See what I did there)
Whenever things get to be a little too overwhelming, I force myself to take a breather and take a step back. Thanks to the internet, you can drown yourself in knowledge if you want to. I want enough to be prepared, but not enough to be scared. During my moment of breathing and stepping back, I realized that ALLLL this work would be for....a single sink.
Suddenly I thought, “What the hell am I doing!? Why spend the money on the water heating unit and all the gadgets that are necessary to make it work, not to mention the headache of designing and installing the system, when it's just for a sink?! SCREW IT! Just heat the damn water up on the stove as needed!” Voila, problem solved.
As I tell people about this and many other decisions we have made with the tiny house, I see shock, disbelief, and “she's a nut-bag” in their faces. At this point, I am used to it, but for those willing to hear me out, there are a lot of benefits to us. Here are just a few...
  1. Cost- no longer need to purchase the heater and all other accessories/installation supplies.
  2. Difficulty- our plumbing system has now been bumped down from “Moderate Difficulty” to “Absolute Novice”. We now have one less gas line to worry about too. We like that. We want easy.
  3. Time- due to simplicity, this system will take substantially less effort and time to actually install when we get to working on the interior.
  4. Awareness- we want to live deliberately. That means being cognisant of all that we do, and more importantly all the we use. Without hot water on demand, we will need to heat our water per use on the stove. Not only will this control how much hot water we use in one setting, it will make us be more efficient/strategic with our hot water use.
Another aspect of the tiny house that I have been reading up on is the solar power set up. This seems to be the last intimidating piece left for us. I came across a few articles and videos that mentioned the same concept- the more daily power you require, the more your solar system will cost. For us, the biggest piece of equipment that requires power is the fridge. I read an alarming statistic:

In order to power a standard household fridge and very few other things, you would need a very large system costing around $12,000!

WHAT?! Now, I'm not sure of the validity of this information, but I'm taking it very seriously and have started exploring options for passive refrigeration. Right now, these methods seem a bit extreme to me, but hey, so did giving up the hot water heater just a few weeks ago. ;)

More on passive refrigeration methods next time...

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dear Google Sketchup, I am in love with you.

“The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or, perchance, a palace or temple on the earth, and, at length, the middle-aged man concludes to build a woodshed with them.” -HDT
A tiny interior
So true, Henry, so true. My how my ideas of a dream home have changed throughout the years!

For as long as I can remember, I have been building things- for kicks. And, when I say building, I mean that in a very broad sense. My creativity was not relegated to structures like my old tree-house. I lived in a very rural area, without a Michael's or Joann's just around the corner, and a set of parents more likely to fly me to the moon than spend money at such a place. So I got resourceful. I gave crafty a whole new definition. I constructed little masterpieces unrecognizable from their material make up. I went through phase after phase, whatever captured my interest, I sought to create on my own. Did you know you can make little Eskimos out of printer paper, cotton balls, markers, tape, and a glue gun? Well, you can, and I won first prize at my middle school's winter carnival cake contest with those little guys! (Plus an igloo made of marshmallows.) I remember making decorative masks out of natural clay I dug from the ground, little sail boats from hallow bamboo and broad leaves, dream catchers woven from grass and feathers I had found, and many sewing projects that ranged from stuffed animals, to quilts, to clothing.
Once for a school project on electricity, I created a small scale house, with intense detail, and multiple working lights in the various rooms. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed creating that itty-bitty home. (Holy cow, foreshadowing!) I also made tiny furniture. I remember being so proud of how well my little upholstered chair came out, using just a glue gun, Popsicle sticks, and some carefully cut felt. Someone stole that little chair the first day we left the projects on display in the classroom. I was angry, but have since learned to take it as a compliment. ;)
My years of MacGyver-style art creations taught me that there are always ways to achieve what you want. You just have to examine the box of limitations you sit in, and decide how to kick the walls down. I was always in need of materials, and as soon as I learned to look at the objects in my life differently, I found that materials abounded all around me. Then, technology entered my life. I still remember the very first computer my family owned. It was top notch for it's day, and the program, Paint, opened up my world. The first time I sat down and began to play, the realization sunk in and I remember thinking, “You mean....I can just....keep making one thing after another?! This requires no actual materials?! I CAN CREATE FOREVERRR!!” Needless to say I was hooked.
Fast forward fifteen years- obviously, Paint doesn't thrill me the way it used to. I have grown more sophisticated, ipso facto, so have my tastes. Intense photo editing programs are where I like to linger when I'm on the computer for fun, but even those have begun to lose their luster. As I was reading through the blog I mentioned in my last post, 2cycle2gether, I admired the mock-up designs that Kai had posted for their tiny house. I have always wanted to get my hands on software that allows you to build 3D structures to scale. Then I read a small tagline under his image that said, “Created using Google Sketchup”. I immediately went and searched for it on the web. The wonderful people of Google have created this program, and a standard version is available for FREE! After watching a couple of tutorial videos, I was off and running, creating several draft versions of our tiny house design.
Thanks to Google Sketchup, I have become increasingly obsessed with the interior design of our tiny house. I find myself rethinking the placement of many items, each time further fine-tuning the efficiency of our space. Here's a glance at some of the drafts I have created.
Note the word “draft”. This idea, I'm sure- if I know myself at all, will change many more times before we begin building. I love Google Sketchup for it's ease of use, and the ability to actually look at a 3D rendition of the simplistic pencil sketches we started with. Looking at a flat floor plan simply doesn't convey the same kind of spatial awareness as a 3D design. Not to mention, I can cook-up one funky interior design idea after another and know immediately if it would be sensible and efficient. I much prefer that idea to the costly process of trial and error as you build.

What you are looking at above is just one side of the interior. From left to right, you can see the composte toilet, a storage cabinet that also serves as a separating wall, a low counter with a small propane oven and stove top, some counter space with a fridge underneath, and then a funky storage cabinet that also serves as the ladder to the loft.

Here (above) is another version of the funky storage/mode of ascension, and also some of the structures on the opposite side of the tiny house. To the far right, (I haven't built it into this sketchup) we plan to put a custom built couch along the end wall. The first step on the funky cabinet will be the same height as the couch. That way we can easily put a table in between and it serves as a dining area. Or, we can fold out the couch, to rest on the first step and it becomes an additional sleeping area. So if Dan pisses me off, he has somewhere to sleep. JUST KIDDING!
On the side closest to you, from left to right is: the shower, a separating wall, a longish counter with the sink, and a tall storage space that also provides some privacy to the loft- okay maybe it just blocks the view of the water tank- either way we like it. For now.
I encourage everyone to go get Google Sketchup and start playing! If you think you want to give this tiny house idea a shot, I highly recommend exploring your ideas in Sketchup. Not only is it easy and fun, it is rewarding and encouraging. The interior was something that I avoided in the beginning because I was intimidated and had no decent way to lay out a plan, but now tiny house interiors have become my latest obsession. I peruse photos of interiors on a daily basis, gathering inspiration and ideas for our dream home. Check out some of these tiny interiors! Tiny can still be absolutely beautiful!

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Monday, November 12, 2012

A Grab Bag of Thoughts & A Few Trinkets of Progress

Yesterday made one
 year together!

“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” -HDT

This may be one of those entries that leaves you all feeling like I'm a bit....sporadic. Okay maybe a lot a bit. I digress.
Although the surface doesn't seem to show much commotion, the tiny house project is very much alive. It's been continuously permeating our life. Like the roots of a great oak, it is ceaselessly stretching, grasping, and growing straight into the soil that is us, since the moment the seed split. I find myself analyzing every single act I perform in a day, and imagining how it will be different, or perhaps even disappear in our new life. I have grown a heightened awareness for all that is a convenience in the life I currently lead, and I'll admit, sometimes it's scary to think of all I will be giving up- but most of the time, it feels incredibly liberating.

A gift from my best friend, Rach.
It's been especially helpful lately. :)
Over the past week, we've covered a whole smattering of subjects....and emotions. This tiny house isn't just a project. It's a choice to make a dramatic life-style change, to live intentionally and sustainably. Although there have been countless positive reactions and support from various sources, (and we thank you all so much for that) there will be those that simply don't relate or understand. But when it's someone so very important to you, it can be very difficult to brush off and move along. Choosing to leave the beaten path means you will walk a lonely road. I sat through a conversation this week that zapped the energy right out of me. I immediately felt all the negative thoughts start to creep in from the perimeters of my mind, as if they'd just been waiting for the right moment of weakness to pounce. I felt how desolate that road can be at times. I felt fear, anxiety, and worst of all...doubt. What if it doesn't work? What if we set something up wrong? What if it takes way longer than we thought? What if we hate it?

It was a difficult few days, but despite the heaviness and waves of defeat, I was always subtly aware of one thing. This project, this monumental life choice, has somehow manifest itself into this engine that sits in a far corner or my mind...and it never stops. From the moment I open my eyes in the morning until I lay my head back down again, I am aware. It churns out a steady stream of thought with one single focus. How can I simplify? Even toward the end of the day, when all other mental functions have slowed or otherwise checked out, the engine hammers on, churning out one contemplation after another. Drawing on some secret fuel source meant specifically for this adventure.
During the aforementioned deflating conversation, the question came up, “Why don't you just put a down payment on a house?” He said it so blindly. It was as if he completely missed how all encompassing this decision is to me. I want to live intentionally. I guess many people have never given much thought to what exactly that means. What living intentionally means to me is this: moving through your days with the chosen company of content and happiness, being present in the moment, being fully aware of every act that I carry out in a day. Each of those chores being necessary, useful, and beneficial to my day to day life. I want to cut out all the crap, basically.
                               So the theme of this entry is SIMPLIFY.
Like I said, that little engine is constantly pumping out a steady stream of ideas, propositions, and questions. How can I simplify? How can I make this easier? How can I make that more efficient? How can we use less? Do I really need this in my life? How can we be more aware? What can I live without? What can I learn?
                          What can I do now?
That last question comes around the most often. It was a mixture of the doubt from that tough conversation and the knowledge that I am continuously amassing that lead us to decide not to begin the build this fall. I came upon this great blog- 2cycle 2gether. (Psst! Liz, I think you would really like this blog!) It's about a couple, Kai and Sheila, who have decided to live intentionally and sustainably as well. Only they are way more intense than us! They have also decided to go on a bicycle tour around the world over the next three to six years. They are currently in Mexico, but before they left, they built a tiny home to come back to.

This blog is, by far, the most meticulous and knowledgeable source I have come across to date. If I choose to build more tiny homes in the future, I hope to reach the level they are on. They not only dug into the nitty-gritty science of building, which is very involved and made me want to hold off consruction till spring, but they also made very specific material choices. They have been environmentally conscious with every selection: acquiring as many reclaimed materials as possible, choosing plant fiber insulation vs Styrofoam, and staining their wood with a natural stain mix then sealing with linseed oil- just to name a few instances. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed and guilty that I am not making more of an effort to track down materials like they have. Then I remember the bigger picture: choosing to live this way is already a gargantuan step in the right direction. Even though we won't approach their extreme, we will pick and choose certain methods that work within our limits- like the linseed oil stain. I am definitely going to do that.

The building science, however, certainly paralyzed me with intimidation for a short time. They began talking about how so many tiny house resources out there don't really spend any time addressing the special circumstances of these structures. There a unique characteristics to consider- like the limited space, and how tightly sealed the building is. Air flow is crucial, not only from a safety standpoint for the dwellers, but also for moisture. If the structure gets wet and cannot breathe and dry out, the integrity of the structure will be compromised.

I'll use Kai's succinct description of building science: “ It’s interdisciplinary focus delves into the many factors that affect buildings, with an eye to understanding the many forces at work and coming up with solutions and techniques to minimize the negative effects of these forces on all aspects of a building’s performance.” It was a dizzying entry to read, with phrases like “building envelope”, “vapor barrier”, and “thermal bridging” knocking me down a peg- closer to reality. That, plus the incredibly detailed diagrams with explanations, ultimately lead me to the conclusion that we have maaaannnny more things to consider before we put hammer to nail. It does feel like a small kind of defeat from time to time, thinking about how we won't actually be doing any building for a few more months, but I never dwell on any one thought for too long. Another awesome discovery from this blog was Google Sketch Up. It's a free program that allows you to create high quality 3D diagrams of buildings! I'll save all that excitement for another entry.
So, what can I do now? Many suggestions jump out at me: Educate yourself! Read up on key subjects! Experiment now, so you have an idea of what something will be like later! Start the mental and material transition! I have made advances in all those directions.
I have explored more blogs and have compiled a list of books to check out from the library-- if they have them. First on my list? The Humanure Handbook. Yep, that's referring to people pooh. I'm going to learn all about it, since we will have a composting toilet. Aren't you excited to read about that shit? ;)
This week, we had a great break-though in regards to the plumbing. It was already very simplistic, making use of gravity fed concepts and a small tankless water heater with a 12 volt pump. Originally, the system went a little something like this: A 30 gallon tank would sit in the loft directly above the shower and sink area; one main pipe would run down through the walls, the first split would divide cold and hot water. The cold line going all the way along the wall to meet the kitchen sink. The hot line first going through the water heater then splitting again, one to the shower and one all the way to the sink. Even this simple set up is still a bit intimidating, and I was fixated on two things. How can I make this easier? How fast will we go through that water storage?
That never-ending train of thought kept throwing out possibilities, and as I came across stories of people living even more extreme than I have envisioned (found a couple that doesn't have a shower or a fridge! They shower at the gym or work and then use passive refrigeration methods) I began to think more extreme. It hit me like lightening the other day as we were leaving the apartment for some errands. I was casually walking out the door when the idea struck. “THAT'S IT!” I exclaimed as I jerked my head around and whipped my arm out like a sword, pointing square in Dan's face. He reacted much like it was a real blade as he replied with bewilderment, “Um, what's it?” “I KNOW WHAT WE CAN DO TO MAKE THE PLUMBING EASIER!” I squealed. “THE SHOWER! We can use a camp shower set up!”
What I meant by that is those shower set ups where it's basically a bag of warm water that you hang above your head and use a simple nozzle to control the gravity charged flow of water. This opened up all kinds of benefits and we carried on our excited conversation all throughout our errands. We realized that this would not only cut down on costs of materials and the level of difficulty, but it would also inherently force us to be aware of how much water we use. Now all the pipes can run through one interior wall in the house- no need to worry about pipes freezing in exterior walls. Now, we fill a water bag with certain amount of water, controlling waste while showering- which was a big concern of ours. Also, this is something we can experiment with now. We plan to get the simple camp shower set up and go through a few test runs, just to 'get our feet wet' with a new, much more efficient hygiene practice. Hehe- see what I did there?
As I mentioned in the beginning, my thoughts and perspectives have already started to change. I find myself analyzing what exactly constitutes a convenience versus a necessity. The line has been blurred over so many generations; we take so much for granted. Like running water. Before I used to aimlessly leave the faucet running while I gave my teeth one or two more scrubs. I'd let the shower get nice and steamy, dumping gallons and gallons down the drain before I even stepped in. I'd crank the hot nozzle on in the kitchen, meaning to rinse something, but then stepping off to do another task and letting it flow...all I seem to think about now is that 30 gallon tank. I ask myself all throughout the day, “How much is left in the tank now? How often will we need to refill at this rate? Can I be more efficient?” Running water is not a necessity of life. Water itself, of course, is a necessity, but having a limitless, highly pressured supply of on demand hot or cold water is a downright luxury! To think I've spent so many years completely oblivious to such a wonderful thing in my day to day life.

Making a huge batch of 'Power Pancakes'
for Dan to snarf down throughout the week.
Power Pancake aftermath...
I find myself appreciating my little apartment so much more. I absolutely look forward to the tiny house, but I'm beginning to see this place as a palace. I will miss my full size stove. I will miss being able to carry out massive culinary operations requiring many burners and many dishes. I will miss my island and all that workspace. I'm also wondering how the dishes will go. We dirty COUNTERFULS of dishes on a regular basis- we both have many dietary restrictions, so we make just about everything we eat from scratch. That will be interesting...
(Hey Judy- it's my g-free recipe if you're interested!)

As for the material side of this transition, I have set up a schedule for myself. Every two weeks, I will make a pass through all my clothes and accessories, and choose items to donate. I will also focus on specific areas of the apartment, and specific groups of things. Today I tackled books. I've actually been reading a lot more lately. I'm reading this book called, “The Happiness Project”. It's been very interesting and I've really been able to relate, even in my unique circumstance. One thing she said that really struck me, is that everyone, no matter who, when asked about the one thing they wanted in life, or for their children, the reply was unanimous: Happiness. Every last person, from the blue collars to the CEO's, just wants to be happy. It is what each person believes will help them achieve happiness that differs. To some it is faith, to others it is money, to me, it is this way of life. She also talked about downsizing material possessions and the cathartic feelings that come with doing so. I've said it before, I'll say it again. Getting rid of shit feels GOOD.

I'll admit, it was hard at first. Making that initial pass through my clothes was shaky, I had those old thoughts trying to elbow their way in, “I might want to wear this....” or “It's good to have a couple of these..” Then I applied my simple set of questions: “When was the last time you wore this?” “How often do you wear this?” “Do you really even like this style anymore?” and “Is there still a tag on it?”

This list of questions kept me on track every time I wavered. I stood back and surveyed my work. The first round yielded two big bags of clothes. I felt weightless as I dropped off my donations. I haven't missed a single item I gave away. It has been downhill ever since.

There are some things that will be hard to pare down though. My books were a test. It's funny the things we quietly lead ourselves to believe are a part of us. As if those things being gone would somehow detract from the person you are. The reality is, there are no objects that will truly contribute to your character and who you are.
Nevertheless, I have always had a soft spot for my book collection, as if it were an abstract reflection of me. Sure the notion is romantic, but the truth was, I had read about a fifth of them, with only two or three that I had any intention of revisiting. A third of them came to join my collection simply because the subjects resonated with me at the time. Well-those times have passed...and there's this thing called a Public Library. I'll let them keep the books. I'm not sure what I was attempting to accomplish. Did I think that someone would be wandering around my apartment while I wasn't there, and peruse the titles of my library to surmise my personality and character? No. Dork. They just sit on a shelf and collect dust, and on occasion get to be the heaviest box full of shit you heave around on moving day.
Once I got warmed up...

All you need is already within you. Remove as many distractions from your life as possible, and focus on exploring, developing, and understanding yourself. The rest will fall into place as you go.

In the spirit of “The Happiness Project” book, I'm reaching out to readers for the first time. In the book, she writes about keeping a blog, and often would pose questions to her readers, gaining a sense of community, support, and refreshing perspectives. I'd like to do the same. So if you have a moment, please do comment on my question.
If you had to downsize the amount of stuff in your life, what thing or group of things would be hardest for you to let go? Why?

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HHH! My identity! What will I do without them!?
I'm kidding.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

One Man's Trash- Another's Treasure

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”  -HDT
Today we collected all the brick we will need to build a small mantle for the mini wood stove. The cost? Nadda. A handful of weeks ago, I went out for a walk to clear my head. I aimlessly wandered my way onto the railroad tracks that run through town. I ended up walking ten miles round trip. I went through stretches of quiet woods, breath-taking trestles, over busy roadways and between tall buildings. You'd be amazed at all the things you find scattered along a railway. At that point in time, I had known that we were trying to build alternatively, so I simply took stock of what I came upon.
A little bit of chiseling and
power-washing and they'll be
good as new!

I came to stretch in the rail where it paralleled a large antiquated industrial area. Many of the massive brick buildings were being demolished. A building very close to the fences of the railway still had a partial wall standing, and many bricks and cinder-blocks had tumbled over into the railway land. It was apparent they had been laying there untouched for a while, and no one would miss them. Brick is a very expensive and durable material. I kept them in mind, and hoped we would find a way to make use of them. Once we decided that we would be using a wood stove, I told Dan that I knew where we could get bricks for free.
Woohoo! It's like a scavenger hunt!
So on this crisp, sunny morning, we consulted a few maps of town to estimate where I had walked. We were able to find the place with little trouble, and we strolled down the tracks with a five gallon bucket to survey the goods. Along the way, we walked past a man that was fixing to cut down a tree close to the fence of the railway. I walked past as non-nonchalantly as possible, but I'm sure the stiffness in my body was apparent. I was apprehensive that this man would turn out to be a jerk and give us crap about taking the old bricks. That would have sucked the fun right out of it.
Starting to lay out the mantle shape.
The bricks and cinder were just as I had left them. We started picking through and tried to find bricks in the best condition, and with the least amount of mortar stuck to them. We took a pallet that was laying near by and set it on level ground. Then we laid out the bricks, imagining how big the mantle for the 12” x 12” stove would probably be. We made some rough estimates for the mantle design and collected what we needed plus a little more. All in all, about 75 bricks. It's better to find out we have extra, in the end, than not enough. Dan filled the five gallon bucket we had brought with us, and I carried six bricks in my arms. The trudge back hardly resembled the stroll in. Dan struggled to find a comfortable way to carry the bucket, and my arms grew numb as we neared the street. Rather than make another inefficient trip- we immediately went and grabbed a wheelbarrow from Dan's parents' place. The 10 minute drive was completely worth it. We returned to the railroad and as we passed the tree-cutting man a second time, he greeted us with a big smile and yelled, “There ya go! That's the smart way to do it! I saw you carrying those things by hand earlier.”

Again, I'm delightfully surprised to encounter the friendliness of a complete stranger. We smiled and made a few affirming comments and then went on our way. We made quick work of hauling the future mantle out to the truck. We only had to take two trips. The fresh cold air, the exercise, and the satisfaction of knowing we got something we needed in exchange for a little hard work, has us feeling great.  To some people, a thing like this wouldn't be considered fun, but the two of us had a great time. There's something exciting and addictive about finding things you need for free and in uncommon circumstances. When we are finished with this tiny house, we will look around at all the various features, and each will have it's own memory and story to tell. I can already imagine telling people about the little mantle that used to be part of a large factory building.

Dan's sister provided a wonderful perspective when he told her of our tiny house plans. She thought it was a great idea, but also threw in an afterthought, “And even if you find that you don't like it, maybe you'll only live that way a year, at least it's something that you two have experienced and accomplished together. That alone is worth giving it a shot.” She's right. I already feel like this project has brought us closer, made us stronger. I look forward to many more little adventures and days like today. :)

Once we have a mantle plan drawn up, I'll be sure to post!

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Friday, November 2, 2012

A Tape of Reality

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” -HDT

With a project like this, where the beginning stages are primarily theoretical, (and everything is rainbows and lollipops) it's important to get a healthy dose of reality as soon as possible. It helps to weed out all those ideas that would be significantly harder to uproot once they've grown on you over a period of time. We have drawn out several drafts of the interior layout for the house, and sure, it all looks neat and wonderful on the 8.5”x 11” graph paper, but staring at a six by eight inch schematic gives no accurate hints of the true feel.

We headed over to my Dads to get precise measurements of our trailer- since all trailers are not made equal- and also tape out a full scale size of the floor plan on his driveway. It was a very fruitful exercise. By measuring the exact dimensions of our trailer, ie: width with metal frame, width not including metal frame, length from back end to wheel well, and wheel well to front end, etc we can now re-sketch our sub-floor plans to accurately match our trailer. This was important since many free tiny house designs make generic assumptions on the dimensions of the trailer. As we suspected, the placement of the wheels on our trailer were different than the measurements used in the free tiny house design. This can affect many decisions on how to lay out the floor plan. The wheel wells will need to be built around, and the design must account for that.

We have decided to make our tiny house 8' 6” wide versus the flat 8'. By the time you put up the 2x4 framing, you lose about 7 inches of interior width. In a tiny house, every last square inch counts. We next did the math to figure out our exact interior dimensions, so when we laid the tape down, we were looking at exactly what space would be left once all the walls were up.

Before we were even finished taping out the bathroom area at the back of the house we quickly realized we were being ridiculous by following traditional house plan concepts. News flash: nothing about this is traditional- there does not need to be a fully closed off room dedicated to showering and doing your business. After we taped off the area we had marked on our little piece of graph paper, we stood there looking down at the huge chunk of floor space already gone. We exchanged “Oh, hell no!” glances, and started ripping up the tape lines. Just like that, our little graph paper sketch that had gone through several exhausting drafts already, was merely a vague map of suggestions.

We opted to go with a set up more like what we have seen in many other tiny house videos, where there is no particular sectioned off space for the shower and toilet. They simply reside at the back of the house in sort of a hallway fashion- the shower on one side, with just the curtain keeping people from seeing you scrub your bits and pieces, and a nook on the opposite side for the composting toilet, with an adjacent storage closet that juts out a few inches further so anyone looking down the way can only see your pants around your ankles. The door for that abutting storage closet will be designed to swing out and provide extra cover for anyone with stage fright.

We also decided to swap some window placements after the bathroom re-write. Originally, we had a large window in the kitchen (about 54 inches tall), which would have gone almost to the floor, since the loft is directly above and we have the ceilings set at a cozy 6' 6” under the loft. We liked the idea of having a window in that space to let in more light and give an open feeling, but having a window go clear to the floor meant that no cabinets or shelves could be put in that space. Not a smart design. The window in the former bathroom was set to be one of the smaller windows, at about 36” by 24”. By trading places, the small window can be set up at a normal height in the kitchen area, and below, we are now going to be able to set up our propane stove/oven, and some storage. The large window will be at the center of the back wall, right between the shower and toilet nooks, providing ample light, and much better feng-shui. I like the idea of being able to walk through the front door and look all the way down the house, out a window on the opposite side. It says, “Yes this place is cozy, but it's open.” Having a floor design that promotes a good flow of energy is super important, especially in small spaces.
After taping down the new and improved concept, we walked around in the space and tried to imagine it all in 3D. Much to his chagrin, I begged Dan to lay down within the lines to get an idea of our sleeping space in the loft... The word snug comes to mind. Haha. Dan had about 5 inches to spare. This is one of the first times I've been thankful that I'm short like my Momma. There will be just enough space for us to sleep and store our water tank for the very simple, gravity fed plumbing system. The loft was the only area that we knew would stay as is. There were still many questions about the floor layout. We didn't have any of our appliances yet, and knowing those dimensions is a very important piece. We did our best to guesstimate, and always on the generous side.
Debating the sliding glass doors.
  When we headed home for the day, we searched the web for possible appliances and took down the measurements. We were happy to find that most everything was slightly smaller than we had estimated. The wood stove was one of our main concerns- not only do you need to account for the size of the stove, but also, a surrounding heat zone. Place anything too close, and it might very well catch on fire! We found a site for a mini-wood stove, only 12in x 12in. A whole new concept was introduced to us, too, as we watched a youtube video of the stove in action. The man had placed it on a platform about 2 feet off the ground. There's an idea! Then we can store firewood below! More free space! Perfect!

Our wee abode. :)
Here is the tentative floor plan after taping.

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