On this day one year ago our lives changed. Our apartment lease expired at midnight and we feverishly cleaned it until the final hour before packing the last of our belongings in the car and driving twenty minutes to our tiny house in the January darkness. It was a drive that we had made nearly two hundred times in the previous fourteen months; but this was the last time.
Our tiny house was still unfinished. It did not have running water. It was still inside the old barn that we built it in. We did not have wifi and barely a cell signal. A large barn owl sat on the rafters and peered into our windows while three vocal western screech owls roosted in the rafters above; their sleep schedule was not congruent with ours.
It was a rather surreal COUPLE WEEKS inside that barn. Anti-climatic and uninspiring. It was hard not to question what the hell we were doing. The barn shielded our existence from natural light and we snuck showers at the homes of our generous friends. We showed up at a super bowl party with a toiletry bag and a basket of dirty laundry to wash. Each evening after work we would keep plugging away at tasks, braving a much colder February and nervously anticipating the extraction of our tiny house from the big barn; a process that was to be anything but simple.
The anxiety was gripping when the day finally arrived but with the help of some amazing participants that will go down in SHED’s history, we extracted our 13’-4” tall tiny house from a barn with 13’-0” rafter clearance and saw it hit the pavement for the first time. If you have built a tiny house before, you know that there are a few particular moments that are universal milestones to every single person who experiences them. One is seeing and using your composting toilet for the first time; another is watching your house, your hard work, your blood, sweat, frustration and joy hit the open road for its MAIDEN VOYAGE.
Even once we got to our new location there was PLENTY OF WORK TO BE DONE and
inconveniences, errr, temporary compromises made for this tiny house life. With-in 36 hours of parking our home, an unexpected flood came far to close, re-igniting the type of stress experienced on transportation day.
It would be a couple more weeks before we designed and installed our under trailer drainage lines and a little longer before water flowed through our fixtures; a task that required nothing less than digging and then back filling a 300’ trench to install a new water line to the area of the property we were living. (It was a shared task and expense as the property owner was interested in having it done anyway and we plan to stay here for a little while). We built and installed the cabinet doors on our under stair storage to our cats displeasure and finished up designing and installing the angle iron light fixtures in the kitchen. An outdoor backyard area emerged and we learned the nuances of our on demand water heater through a series of less than pleasurable showers. Eventually we got our tiny house stabilized and blocked up in ten locations; a process similar in appearance to working under ones automobile. Finally, the tiny house was finished; said no home owner, ever.
It was 97% done, and if we are being honest here, those little tasks that make up the remaining 3% may never be finished. It’s almost better that way. As long as there are still a few things to be done, we are still enjoying the journey, delaying arrival at any sort of finalized destination. This could also just be referred to as procrastination.
And then we took a million FINISHED PHOTOS and released our home out onto the internet followed by a VIDEO TOUR and CONSTRUCTION VIDEO. The response was simultaneously heartwarming and overwhelming; an outpouring of questions and interest that was and is difficult to keep up with. Our next project aimed to answer those questions, provide advice, present our design and construction process and share our story in an e-book titled ‘BUILT WITH OUR HANDS.’ In a fun climax to this tiny house project, we were entered into the 2016 Tiny House of the Year Contest and won four categories including BEST INTERIOR DESIGN!
The Architect, Le Corbusier believed that a house should be ‘a machine for living in’ and while the phrase lacks the warm, inviting tone that we associate with ‘home,’’ it is an idea that Samantha and I can relate to. More accurately, life in our tiny house feels effortless. Everything has a place and a function, or two; the things that didn’t no longer belong to us. We have everything that we need, and nothing that we don’t; our existence is now an exercise in minimalism.
From a technical standpoint, the house has done what it is supposed to, which is all you can expect from a house; large or small. It traveled remarkably well thanks to a lower overall weight and proper weight distribution. It has kept us warm in longer than normal spells of single digit temperatures, and performs even better keeping us cool in triple digit temperatures, at least partially attributable to our UNIQUE WALL ASSEMBLY.
It has not felt small which is probably A result of the open concept that keeps the volume of space visually intact rather than split up, including up into our loft area. Having ten windows is a bonus and their strategic placement allows for natural light and view from every location in the home. On those really snowy days our existence becomes ever more enchanting; akin to life inside a snow globe. (video above). The kitchen has kept up with our cooking and baking needs and I am often blown away by the quality of dishes in both taste and aesthetic, that are created and plated. I am not personally bragging because in all honesty, Samantha is the real chef in our house and I think we should seriously start to focus on showcasing our tiny house food a bit more.
Our Ecotemp water heater has worked as advertised. It certainly does not have a problem producing endless super hot water but it takes some time to hone in on the perfect temperature, which requires 2 dial adjustments from winter to summer. This is mostly because of the variable temperature of our incoming water which runs through a fifty foot long hose before entering our house. We Are currently running our water heater and our stove/oven off of a 20lb (grill sized) propane tank. We shower and cook two meals daily and we swap out tanks about once a month. Everything else is run off of electric and we haven’t tripped a single breaker yet. That means our fridge, lights, exhaust fans, and heating and cooling all run off of an extension cord plugged into a standard outlet (20 amp breaker).
Our supply water lines have been problem free. We wrapped the exposed portion of the water spigot (before the heated hose) in heat tape to protect it from this winters long single digit temperature spells. There is no risk of our water freezing after it reaches the tiny house because we ran all of the supply pipes inside the thermal envelope of our home (concealed in built-ins).
The drainage lines however have been a slightly different story. I have found myself laying in the crawl space under our trailer with the hairdryer, thawing our frozen P-trap multiple times this winter. During construction we decided not to run any horizontal drain lines inside our floor system. Instead, all of the drains penetrate vertically through the floor system and terminate directly underneath our trailer with a threaded disconnect. The horizontal drain lines then connect to these stub outs when stationary and are disconnected during travel. We did this because putting the drainage lines inside the sealed up floor system would have added complexity to the build and increased risk of an impending nightmare should a leak occur and/or a repair or change need to be made that required access. Unlike the sink p-traps which happen inside the cabinet below the sink, our shower p-trap is below the trailer and exposed to the exterior temperature, and at times, freezes.
This has only happened when we are out of town for a night or two and the temperatures were below 10 degrees as it appears our daily showers are enough to flush it with warm water and keep it from freezing on day to day basis. We did begin to dump hot water down the drain before going to bed on cold nights to make sure the trap was filled with warm water in the morning (from showering) and evening. A few things could probably remedy this and may be tried next winter. We could add to our skirting, which is currently just a three sided aesthetic windscreen by completing the forth side (under the tongue of the trailer) and adding insulation board behind the skirting or consider heat taping the p-trap. We would only change the plumbing design if the tiny house was meant to travel frequently like an RV as it would eliminate the process of connecting and disconnecting every time one moves.
Yes, we have enough storage space. Outdoor gear, clothes, kitchen stuff, they all have separate and sufficiently sized places to be stored. The storage space under the couch has been underutilized the most because of how inconvenient it is to clear off the couch and lift the top with one hand and reach in the dark space with the other hand every time we want something. This will be re-designed and re-built soon with drawers that pull out from the front and will be one of the main locations for our baby things, including an eventual removable crib that will lock in place over half of the couch.
Our stairs have worked great. The 22″ width is comfortable while not taking up more space than needed and also allows for use of hangers in the storage below. The 12″ x 12″ treads and risers are surprisingly natural going up and only slightly unnatural while descending. It is worth noting that (with the addition of a handrail) our stairs and loft WILL meet the TINY HOUSE SPECIFIC APPENDIX to the building code that was recently passed for tiny houses (under 400 sf) on foundations.
And can you believe that we have been pooping in a bucket for an entire year!? We know this is one of the main hesitations for people considering a tiny house so here are some details. We have the ETL certified Separett waterless composting toilet, which means that when the pump on the shared well recently quit and the neighbors were running to nearby businesses to use a toilet, ours kept on functioning just the same! The urine diversion system (into our grey water set up) is the first step in reducing odor while the solids drop into a compostable bag lined bucket in the toilet module. A constantly running silent exhaust fan in the toilet helps dehydrate the solids while constantly exhausting odor. Believe it or not, using our toilet smells less than using a regular toilet because traditional bathrooms have a vent fan on the ceiling that pulls odors passed ones face during use while the Separett’s in-toilet vent fan pulls all odors (and airborn particles) into the toilet and away from your olfactory senses. So yea, it has been business as usual (see what I did there?). If we build a home on a foundation would we still use a composting toilet? Undecided, but it sure is nice not ruining gallons of water with ounces of pee…. We have needed to empty the toilet about once a month which involves removing the compostable bag of waste, the majority of volume being toilet paper and adding it to the compost pile. For those who want more information about this process we highly recommend checking out the ‘Humanure Handbook’
Ultimately, the last year has provided affirmation that designing, building and living in a tiny house was a really good idea, but if we ended this blog post here we would be doing a grave disservice to all of the things we accomplished outside the walls of this beloved home of ours over the last twelve months. Those of you who know us best or have been following our journey know that we consider our home a tool (or efficient machine) that enables and encourages the life we want to live, a majority of which is spent exploring the Pacific North West and beyond. I really thought it would be impossible to exceed the incredible ADVENTURES WE HAD WHILE BUILDING SHED but this year was truly ONE FOR THE RECORD BOOKS. The following list of adventures corresponds loosely with some of my favorite photos from this year in the gallery that follows.
While completing our first year in the tiny house we:
Jumped a train to Montana and photo-bombed a back country webcam in Glacier National Park. Organized the 2nd annual mountain top skiBQ, complete with charcoal grill and downhill inflatable raft races. Rented a tiny stone cabin built against a boulder and experienced our first wood fired hot tub. Bouldered at Smith Rock and soaked in Eastern Oregon hot springs. Slept in a DESERT TEEPEE and spent an afternoon on the Alvord desert playa. Got high with the help of tiny helicopters and tiny airplanes. Slept on top of a 10,000’ VOLCANO in Oregon and then kayaked to and camped on a small SAN JUAN ISLAND in Washington. We both turned thirty and arrived home to a surprise congregation of friends and family, coming from as far as New York state. We then visited hot springs near Stevens Pass and came face to face with the underside of a fighter jet as it cut a tight lined training run down the valley we were hiking the side of. We were shown hidden waterfalls in our own backyard and discovered remarkable caves in Oregon. We co-built a chicken coop from reclaimed apple prop wood and co-raised chicks into egg laying hens. We began a six month period of adventuring to and sleeping in fire lookout towers dispersed across Idaho, Oregon and California. Sometimes visiting them on our own, sometimes with friends and other times with Family from the East coast. We enjoyed perfect September weather and frigid January snowstorms from inside of those GLASS CABINS IN THE SKY. Our interest in unique small spaces in remote places extended to other types of accommodations as well; a large cabin with a view of Mount Rainier, smaller huts in the Methow Valley, and a hut on wheels SMALLER THAN OUR HOME, buried under many feet of snow and shared with three other friends. We anonymously hosted a two day, multi-state, 300 mile scavenger hunt called THE AMAZING MEANDER. We traveled across the country to see our East Coast family and friends for the first time in two years, stopping in SLC and Jackson hole on the way. We got the BIGGEST CHRISTMAS TREE OF OUR LIVES despite living in the smallest space to date and then ended the year with a memorable weekend, reintroducing love and laughter into an ABANDONED SKI LODGE with some of the best people we know.
Oh yea, and somewhere mixed up in all of that awesome I became a licensed Architect and we conceived our first child, due in April.It certainly has been a wild twelve months and we can not wait for the next twelve!