Words first spoke, NOT by 21st century tiny home builders but by early 20th century architect, Buckminster Fuller, best known for popularizing and implementing (but not inventing) the low weight, high strength geodesic dome (shown below). Fuller’s interests then progressed from the geodesic dome that was funded and utilized by the U.S. government all over the world to his experimental Dymaxion House. The Dymaxion house was Fuller’s proposal for an affordable, transportable and energy efficient house that would be available to everyone (sound familiar!?).
While fuller’s attempts to shift the housing paradigm fell short for a variety of reasons, his vision resonates on many levels in the tiny home community and it was his awareness of our planets finite resources that led him to become an early environmental activist who sought to “do more with less.” This mantra tends to saturate the lives and practices of those who have downsized, is pertinent throughout the design and construction process of small dwellings and is a natural result of the self imposed “limitations” of our small space habitation.
Samantha and I like to include the more broad environmental footprint when discussing a home’s weight, including not only the materials consumed during construction but the amount of resources (electricity, gas, etc…) consumed and bi-products (garbage, grey water, etc…) produced on a daily basis during habitation, many of which tend to diminish proportionally with the scale of a home. For right now however, we will be discussing the literal weight of our future home.
It was a couple mornings ago that we spent a few hours adding up the linear and square foot material weights for our tiny home using what we have observed as “standard tiny home construction procedures”, which is an oxymoron in its own right. 2×4 walls, 2×6 floor and roof, ½ sheathing, 3+ inches rigid board insulation. ¾” lap and TNG siding exterior and interior, ¾” plywood subfloor, ½” wood floor and a few other things combined with the 8.5’ x 24’ 1600lb trailer weight to almost 10,000 lbs!
Granted, our numbers were conservative, but to see that just the shell of our home would be approaching our trailers rating was our largest “in over our head” scare to date. Who would have thought that navigating the tiny size of our future home would not be our biggest problem to solve. We better start brainstorming. Consider this our journey to (or under) 10,000 lbs!
Oh yea, and can you balance that load perfectly? Building a house on a teeter totter has its challenges as well because if you want to transport it (safely) than proper weight distribution is a must. To get the needed 9%-15% of the overall trailer weight on the tongue of the trailer (and thus the hitch of the truck) you must have more weight in front of the center point of the axels, or the fulcrum. Having too little or too much weight on the tongue of the trailer leads to dangerous problems when towing. When purchasing a trailer from Iron Eagle Trailer works you have the option to request that the axles be moved forward or rearward if needed to help with this weight distribution. With that said, Iron Eagle Trailers has a lot of research and experience behind the design of their trailer that meets the needs for most tiny homes. The unique profile of our home had us wondering if we would be off balance on the default axle location so we conducted the following exercise to ensure that our weight distribution would be acceptable.
What we did was split our home in half at the center point of the axles and add up all of the square feet of built surface in front of and behind the axles and found that 45% of our built enclosure weight was behind and 55% was in front of the trailers pivot point resulting in 10% of the weight on the trailer tongue which is where we want to be. After looking at the average weight of the major appliances and systems that would be adding weight in front of and behind the axles as well as the square footage of windows we felt that it resulted in a pretty neutral give and take and would ultimately stay close to or a little 10% tongue weight. We also inadvertently created a safeguard for weight distribution by putting our gear room on the tongue end of our house. This means that if we are too light on our tongue before transportation we can move items to the gear room which is the furthest point from the fulcrum until we achieve the desired weight on the tongue.
While this is far from exact science it gave us an educated estimation of weight distribution with a sufficient enough result to finally put our minds at ease about our design and its relationship with the trailer that we are having manufactured.