Preface: A long winded explanation of a split second mistake leading to a digital disaster
A couple months ago Samantha and I sat on our couch with our laptop to start writing this post. It was to be a 1 month catch up post that would cover all the little projects we had slowly been working away at, both inside and outside of our tiny house.
Because of the amount of data (pictures, videos, CAD Files, etc…) associated with our tiny house build and adventure photography we use a 2 terabyte portable external hard drive so that we can constantly upload and save our photos and work from different computers with ease. It was on this particular morning that this hard drive fell from no more than 24” and landed on our hard floor. Having (accidentally) abused previous external hard drives in similar fashion without consequence I did not think much of it, even when problems accessing the information were immediately present upon plugging it in.
The next few days were spent on forums and in computer stores in an effort to access our data. The future looked bleak after a computer technician at Yakima Networking took all of 2 minutes to diagnose it as an interior mechanical failure, probably having to do with the read/write arm. Plugging it in would do more damage she warned and while they do not deal with data recovery, they offered a trusted recommendation for a world class company that also came with a high price tag.
Enter Drive Savers; a San Francisco based company specializing in hard drive data recovery. But if they were successful in recovering our data, the question became, was the data on this drive worth $700.00-$2700.00? Seriously, that is exactly what the Drive Savers representative on the other end of the phone told me after learning a bit more about the situation. For a few days we sat on the realization that it was going to cost a fortune to get our data back, or worse yet, it may be gone. Our entire tiny house build and 2+ years of our travels and adventures throughout the PNW, gone (minus the low-res images that we could extract from Facebook and our website if need be).
Drive Savers offered to pay for overnight shipping and do a thorough analysis on the drive in an attempt to provide a better diagnosis and more accurate price estimate, at which point we could decide whether to continue. We boxed up the hard drive and sent it off to San Francisco, now with the added fear of it getting lost or stolen en route.
Their continued confidence was re-assuring, as if they had never had a job too difficult for them succeed but the diagnosis seemed more grim than expected; 5 out of 5 rating for mechanical damage, 5 of course being the worst. In the same phone call they delivered the updated price estimate of $2000.00 to $2400.00 and asked if we wanted them to proceed with the data extraction or have them send the drive back free of charge. I couldn’t answer, waited a few moments, and told them I would call them back after speaking to Samantha. I knew we were going to have them do it, I guess I just needed Samantha to confirm that our photos, video and other documentation was worth that price tag…and I somehow felt that making it appear like we were debating would somehow encourage them to take us more seriously. Riiiight, as if they were going to offer a discount when I called back in order to lock-in our business.
Eight minutes later I called them back and told them to proceed with the extremely expensive data extraction procedures that would take place in a white coat medical grade room over the course of the next 5-7 business days. We choose the cheapest of the 3 major options, because we didn’t need our data back so fast that we would be paying a professional engineer with government level security clearances to be working away around the clock on a weekend in a DOD-secure area and for our data to be security encrypted on two different target devices sent via separate shipping companies, just in case one got lost on the way back. In looking at the other options for data recovery, it became clear that they do business for some very important and wealthy companies all over the world and here we are, wanting the equivalent of some summer vacation photos back.
Ten days later we got a call to deliver the final news and collect payment. They were able to retrieve most of the data (1.8 out of 1.95 terabytes) and recognized corruption on approximately 15-30% of that data but there was no way for them to tell which files in particular would be impacted and corruption could range from a file being rendered completely unusable to a few discolored pixels in the corner of a photo. They acknowledged the less than 100% recovery rate and reduced the final price to $1790.00.
The news was pretty anti-climactic and now left us to question what was saved and what was lost. We paid up and waited [im]patiently for the drive to arrive back in our hands so we could see if the most important files were recovered. Upon first inspection it appears that the data we care about most (our tiny house build documentation and the last 12 months of adventure photographs) were successfully recovered. It is two much data to systematically go through so for now we will call it a successful recovery and who knows if or when we will uncover some of those corrupt files down the road. BUT, we can now finally post this update with recovered photos of the last 3 months of our progress, Enjoy!
The Update: Exterior Progress
When we relocated from the barn that SHED was built in, our friend had JUST closed on his new property and a lot of things were happening at once so we basically plopped the trailer down in the driveway and continued living without running water, using an extension chord running across the driveway for power.
Once everything settled down and we had some more time we began going through the task list to improve our situation. We started with getting water to the house, which was trickier than one might think for a few reasons; The main house gets water from a well that is around 500 feet away. The main house may be removed in the future due to its condition. There is a newer shop on the property that the owner would like water in (for a future bathroom). The water comes into the house on one side of the property and the shop and our tiny house are on the other side of the property.
After much debate and an ungodly amount of manual exploratory digging to try and locate random branches of water lines as well as the main line, we formulated a plan. We would tap into the main water line from the well at the property line and install a valved “T” fixture. We would then run 300+ feet of PEX tubing in a long arc around the house and backside of the shop and over to a newly installed water hook up near our tiny house. This would allow the water to be turned off to the main house but left on to the shop and our tiny house should the main house need to be removed and a new one built.
We rented a 3’ trencher machine from Home Depot at the cost of $200.00 for 24 hours and got to work tearing up the yard like human moles. We returned the trencher on time and laid over 300’ of ¾” diameter PEX tubing by the second days end and felt good about our accomplishments. The negative effects of the rain on the roof that night didn’t completely register until we began the next days task of filling back in the trench. What should have been a half day of pushing dry loose soil back into the trench evolved into an excruciating week long (after work each day) process of moving heavy, waterlogged earth.
We initially worried about not having enough water pressure by the time we piped the water halfway across the property, but a reading at the new spigot read a somewhat promising 42 PSI. This pressure reading was before it traveled through another 50’ of spiraled heated RV house and then entered our plumbing lines, which inevitably have some pressure reducing 90 degree corners in the lines. When combined with our low flow shower and faucet heads we began to worry about having enough water pressure and/or flow rate to even trigger the minimum requirements to fire our on-demand water heater. Our concerns proved true and the water heaters performance was spotty during testing. We did some research and found a simple tutorial on how to change the water heaters sensitivity to lower pressures and it has been working great since then.
We also tossed 350 feet of data cable into the same trench and ran a hard line all the way from the main house to our tiny house where we have our own internet router in the gear room. We did this because our distance from the main house combined with our metal siding made it impossible for us to get WiFi inside our house until we hard wired it.
We have also re-positioned our house closer to the edge of the driveway and pasture and blocked it up to reduce the weight on the axles and springs by supporting it in 10 different spots along the frame. This has also greatly reduced the movement of the house upon entrance and under foot. With the house in its official resting place for the foreseeable future we have been able to start adding skirting, D.I.Y. modular planters and potted plants around the exterior as well as a little potted arborvitae hedge to help conceal our mini-split exterior condenser unit and trailer tongue.
In keeping with the theme of improving our exterior surroundings, we began planning a small backyard space where we can relax and congregate around our portable propane fire pit or have small 6 person dinner parties, surrounded by the newly planted perimeter vegetable and flower garden. To this goal we found some old wood that had been laying in the pasture since long before we moved here and made a backyard dining table out of it. The best part about this space is it becomes an extension of our home both physically, in its immediate proximity for use but also visually through the three large windows that look directly onto it.
Promptly after completing a bunch of this work and our new entry boardwalk we learned that the trees surrounding our tiny house are “cottonwood” trees and we are currently living through a multi week long blizzard of white cotton that put down a snowy layer of white stuff almost and inch deep. In cruel fashion, nature also allows this tree emit tiny sap droplets that cover all surfaces and ensure that the cotton then sticks to our shoes and gets transported everywhere, most annoyingly, INTO the tiny house.
The Update: Interior Progress
It has been tricky working on projects inside the house while living in it, the urge to relax, not make a mess or take off on adventures has made the last few projects move a little slower. But I stand behind our procrastination 100% when the result is epic memories with good friends (see next section of this post).
The first project was the largest under taking, our D.I.Y. under stair storage doors. For this project we choose ½” MDF (medium Density Fiberboard) for a few reasons, including:
1. We wanted to make the front plane of our storage doors match the front face of the 1/2 plywood wall that hides our pantry.
2. We were getting tired of dealing with thin face veneered birch plywood and the amount of prep and caution involved in handling and processing it in order to produce a nice corner and edge condition.
3. We wanted single piece, simple looking doors and that is harder than it sounds when trying to prevent the natural shrinking and swelling of wood that causes flat planes to warp and bend. These are also very non-standard door sizes, so short of having someone custom build them to our specs we couldn’t just go out and buy them, so we decided to do them ourselves.
4. Because it has a consistent makeup throughout the section of the material and is not effected by things like directional wood grain, it doesn’t have a natural tendency to curve and this makes for a more uniform painted appearance
5. I had once built a sub-woofer box out of MDF (in an attempt to make my 1996 Ford Taurus bubble seem even the slightest bit more cool to my friends in high school) and was surprised at how well the MDF held up in less than ideal circumstances (the trunk of said ford Taurus).
We got the 4’x8’ sheet of ½” MDF off the shelf at home depot and had them cut it in 3 strips that were a touch larger than our finished door sizes and so that we could fit it into my tiny Honda Civic. We then cut all of the doors to size and installed them to make sure everything fit. This step will be A LOT more frustrating if your cabinet frames and stairs are not square, and ours are not square. In our defense they are not WONKY, but they are not square and therefor each door has very subtle variations and angled edges to fit in with our intended reveal between each door.
Initially we started putting a thin coat of spackle on the edges of each door as per recommendation because the edge of MDF “drinks up” moisture much easier than the face, much like plywood. This step was a pain and after doing a few test pieces with and without the spackle decided to skip that step and we then took all of the doors off and began priming them with an OIL based primer which was recommended by the ‘experts’ on the google. A coat of white paint followed and they were ready for the tedious installation process. The last touch was installing the same IKEA “blanket handle” hardware that are used on all of our kitchen cabinets.
The next item on our list was to install our shower door which has taken a bit longer than expected to arrive. We choose a door because we wanted to avoid having a plastic shower curtain stick to us when we are in the small 32″ shower. We choose clear glass (instead of a translucent glass) with hopes that the space will feel larger (both when you are inside and outside of the shower) by eliminating a visual partition that would divide the already small bathroom space. The door has a very clean and minimal appearance (“semi frame-less”) and has been working well over the last couple months. We also got around to installing the remaining steel angle trim surrounding the shower and bathroom sink area and then finished the bathroom off with an mini interchangeable art gallery and the best seat in the house is from our [composting] toilet!
The first installation are two 12” by 12” B&W topographic maps of two mountains that are very dear to us, Mt Rainier in Washington and Mt Hood in Oregon. We built the display using angle steel trim that sticks out from between a plywood seam in the wall to hang art using wire and clips. The 2 dimensional drawings, photos or paintings are then sandwiched between two sheets of Plexi-glass that are held together with magnets allowing interchangeable media of varying sizes, quantities and aggregations as frequent or infrequent as we feel.
Moving our focus to the kitchen, we finished up the last two remaining tasks.
First off, the back side of the peninsula counter now has an awesome and simple mountain painting that Samantha did on ½” plywood to cover up the long exposed back side of our cabinets and bring the mountains to us.
Secondly, we completed our Kitchen lighting which I have been referring to as “tape light three ways.” We just finished what I am calling “LED tape light three ways” in our THOW kitchen.
In the photo below) The left light over the sink is 4 feet of 120 LED per meter un-obscured down lighting hidden inside our double beam loft structure and wired to a switch near the sink.
The center galley light runs the full width of the house (7′-9″ interior) and are two 60 LED per meter runs of indirect lighting (facing up towards and reflecting off of the ceiling). One run of tape lighting goes on each side of the free span D.I.Y. Steel angle fixture and wired to a dimmer switch that is also controlled via radio frequency to a wireless switch at our entry.
And the newest addition is the task lighting over the peninsula counter which is 3 feet of 120 LED per meter obscured down lighting that is inside another D.I.Y. Steel angle fixture with a sandpapered slip of plexi-glass (to give it a frosted finish) that visually conceals the tape lighting and wired. This fixture is also wired to a dimmer switch at the island.
The Update: Life outside the walls of SHED
Sound like a lot of work to complete on the weeknights and weekends? It was, and come to think of it, it was mostly done on weeknights because after a lapse of adventuring between November-February due to the big push to get SHED livable and moved we have been pursuing the weekend adventures and explorations at a feverish pace.
We have bagged late season powder lines at our local ski resort and exploited spring weather for an unforgettable mountain top SkiBQ (note: The video below has some [pretty warranted] language from that adventure). We utilized rail travel and hopped a train to the mountains of big sky country in Montana, enjoying both hiked and lift served vistas of the Flathead valley and snowy peaks of Glacier National park. An inspiring photograph of a historical A-Frame cabin on the Northern flanks of Mt Hood sparked a last minute trip to Oregon, riding 5 deep in the pick up truck, anxious to get out the split-boards for the first time this spring season. Going up hill is always easier when you know that you will be snowboarding instead of hiking down. A few trips through the Columbia Gorge produced first time stops; Viento Winery is worth a visit just to experience the space they have created; a modern barn with a continuous glass skylight that slices the building in half. Rowena Crest provided a picturesque view of an iconic hair-pin curve on the historic Columbia river highway and planted seeds for a future extended exposure night photograph we would like to compose in that very spot. And Everybody’s Brewery in White Salmon, WA provides the best food and beer in the gorge with Mt. Hood as a backdrop across the river (We challenge you to prove us wrong, and we will enjoy visiting your suggestions). Most recently we stayed at the most unique AirBNB rental of our lives; a small stone cabin built into the mountainside with a small wood burning hot tub adjacent to a small waterfall that splashed below a giant cantilevered boulder. It was a moving place and enchanting experience. We have this unwritten rule that we don’t return to the same place twice, to encourage new explorations but we have been resisting a strong urge to reserve this place again since before even leaving the property…
The next 30 days hold the following, in no particular order: Mountains, helicopters, hot springs, TeePees, and a regional burning man festival. #LessHouseMoreAdventure