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Archive for December 2010

Lessons Learned From Building My First Tiny House

Today we have a great guest post by our friend at the Austin Tiny House, Louis Burns at www.austintinyhouse.com.  Louis has some great hands on experience, so feel free to pick his brain in the comments!

Have Flexible Expectations

Before I started, my biggest question was how long it would take to complete. I had initially planned to have a friend work with me but then he landed his dream job and was completely unavailable.  I read somewhere that a guy had built a tiny house in 12 days. After the first 12 days, I was still working on framing. I suspect 12 days may be possible for a professional crew but it was just me. It took me 500 hours to build it over 9 months.
I’d spoken to another friend about storing all my materials in a shed on the property. I’d gotten the okay but the day before delivery, she “forgot” our prior discussion and said I couldn’t use it. I ended up putting all the supplies under an open shelter with plastic sheets covering them.
In the planning process, I’d added up everything I thought I would use and had those two friends look it over too. We were estimating $4000 in building supplies including the trailer. No such luck. By the end I’d had to spend around $8000. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
The only expectation I started with that I came out the other end with was that I could finish the project.
Quite a few days – especially during the Texas summer – I had major motivation issues. The heat aside, I found that if I was approaching a step that I didn’t know how to complete like framing the roof or wiring, my work pace would slow to a crawl too. I had to keep in mind that as long as I kept working on it, it would eventually get done.
I noticed that I worked better when I knew how the next step would work before I got to it. It’s like having your next book to read ready. Regardless of what I’m reading, I usually have a next book in mind. It helps me stay motivated to finish what I’m currently on.
Sometimes I would get so frustrated that the only thing that kept me going was the fact that I’d already sunk a good chunk of money into the project and that my wife was proud of my efforts. I can’t imagine trying to do it with an unsupportive spouse.
More times than I can recall, I reached a place where I thought I was stuck. The last two instances I recall were that the storm door was the wrong size and that the plank in the porch I wanted to replace had a screw in it that was under the door frame. When that would happen, I’d take a break and see if a solution would come to me.
With the storm door I talked to the manufacturer’s customer service and then realized I could build onto the framing with the remaining lumber I still had. With the porch board I sawed as much off as I could reach with the reciprocating saw. Then I took my biggest drill bit and drilled all around those two screws. I used a chisel to get the wood pieces out and then sawed off the ends of the protruding screws. The new plank is as secure as the others.
Often times, the solution that presented itself was better than what I’d planned originally. I hadn’t known enough about vinyl siding to order undersill and it hadn’t been suggested by the salesperson. When I got to the top of the siding installation, I ended up tucking it under the roof trim and hiding it with finish trim. It looks better than if I would have tried to use undersill.  Of course I didn’t try to wing anything. I probably bought 5 books on building and checked out 10+ more from the library. I did check with a former electrician before I started but the rest I learned as I went. I think that’s where a lot of folks start so I’m proof it’s possible.
If I were doing it again, I’d definitely make sure I had a dedicated (preferably inside) space to build, store supplies and all the right tools. Trips back and forth looking for something that’s been borrowed, going to the home improvement store or waiting for the weather to cooperate can really slow you down.
Besides that, working your plan is what gets it done. Even if you can only manage a few hours a week, it will eventually work out.

Louis

Building a tiny house…

In Search of Local Food

Not too long ago I talked about my two focus areas of my life: Affordable housing and sustainable food. I have recently picked up Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle which has been a really good read.  The author talk about the many issues of our food system, primarily stemming from large agribusiness.

None of this is new, in fact it is rather old news to me, but something spurred inside of me to take a look at buying local.  I once made a big push for this, but when I arrived at the farmers market and discovered them simply repackaging produce from Argentina and placing it under the “produced in North Carolina” sign, I gave up.

I think what really motivates me is that I want real food, actual real food, not some chemically, induced genetically modified, adulterated and processed food.  After taking a look around, I realized something, it is hard to find real food.  Today’s companies market the fact that they use real sugar as if they are somehow an industry leader, I can only think “you are proud to say “our food is actually real food” “.

The other day I was at Walmart – I know, I know – and was excited to see that they had a “seasonal foods” aisle,  I rounded the corner to find seasonally thematic candy.  Not what I was expecting.  How far as a culture have we gotten away from our food when our seasonal foods are candy, simply repackaged?

A mental picture always comes into mind of the bumper stickers all over Asheville, NC and beyond “local food: 1000’s of miles fresher”  and it is true, the food we find in the stores is a bastardization of mother nature’s brilliance aka fruits and vegetables.  I have tried to find a local place to start buying milk – let’s not get into the whole raw vs. pasteurized debate – and have found it can be quite difficult to procure without driving an hour.  For eggs I soon will be producing my own, I could raise meat chickens, but I think it would be easier to just find it locally.  For cheese I plan to start making my own from the local milk.

I know there are simply some things I must resign myself  from getting locally such as flour, rice, and a few other things.  In all honesty, I love fruit so much that I don’t think I will ever stop buying out of state or country fruit, just can’t.  But it has caused me to rethink things and discover the local side of my food.  I think once I can get it buttoned down pretty well I can then start sharing my experience within my community, to show the ins and outs, the pros and cons.

Share your thoughts on local food  in the comments

Reclaimed Tiny House In Vermont

Yet another group of students have taken the dive and started their own Tiny House;  it is very exciting to see students getting exposed to alternative housing options!   Even better that they are building Tiny Houses out of reclaimed materials for under $2000!  The house is 8 feet by 12 feet and fully insulated, all that is left is to add plumbing and a solar electrical system.

During the design and construction process, students adhered to sustainable building practices including use of reclaimed materials whenever possible. Some of the lumber and windows came from Re-New Building Materials and Salvage in Brattleboro, Vt. The threshold to the front door is slate from a local quarry. The door and windows were also recycled.

Via

China’s Problem

So we have seen how we have countless neighborhoods that have been almost abandoned or stopped in mid construction.  In my post, Boulevard of Broken Dreams, it shows how California has been hit hard.  This pales in comparison to China’s empty houses.  Currently there are enough empty house in China to house roughly 2/3 the American Population.  That’s right, China currently has enough homes to house over 200 million people.

In a quest to “westernize” or “Americanize” investors dumped their wealth into constructing entire cities where there might only be a handful of people living in them.  They are so big, but so sparely populated, they don’t even have enough people to keep the city in working order.

Click the photo to see these ghost cities

Happy Holidays From The Tiny Life

Just wanted to say happy holidays to all of you, have a good one.

-Ryan

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