Tiny House, Tiny Living, The Tiny Life.

Archive for 2014

A Tiny House In The City

New York City – and the borough of Manhattan specifically – has long been identified by its micro apartments and somewhat comical living spaces where you can wake up, shower, eat breakfast, and get dressed without ever leaving your bed! But what the tiny house movement has continued to illustrate is that it isn’t about size. It is about appropriation. Such is the case with the Manhattan Micro-Loft designed by the Specht Harpman team.microLOFT layout

Actually a renovation project the micro-apartment is situated on the top floor of an Upper West Side (the UWS  is considered an upscale, primarily residential area with many residents working in Midtown and Lower Manhattan. It is seen as the home to New York City’s cultural and intellectual hub) brownstone. The idea for its layout was seemingly more out of necessity than ingenuity. While the footprint is just 425 square feet the vertical space allowed for another 25 feet in height as well as boasting a roof terrace. Besides the obvious issues of heating and cooling as well as acoustical issues the apartment was less than ideal for modern living.

As seen in the photos (taken by Taggart Sorenson) the reno reimagined the space into four platforms laid out so that each space had room for the essentials without sacrificing light and space.

The bottom level is the entry as well as a small kitchen with modern white lacquered cabinetry with flush doors and hidden hardware.

microKITCHEN

A few steps up is the main living area with a grey, upholstered ‘L’ –shaped couch, bright white painted brick walls, and an expansive 12-foot ceiling. Jutting out into the living area is the third platform; a cantilevered bed platform of dark wood that matched the flooring throughout.

micro Entry

The eye catcher though is the bed platform is supported by exposed metal beams.The last set of steps leads up to the rooftop garden area. The entire layout is impossibly large feeling because of the absence of doors and hallways allowing for a downright cavernous feeling.

One of the features in the micro-apartment is one that is being used in clever fashion by a number of tiny house builders as of late. The stairs double as cabinets with a footer of drawers.

microSTAIRS

The bathroom is even “built-in” below the staircase.

microBATH

The absence of traditional closets, shelving units, and storage spaces is forgiven, as every flat surface seems to hide ample storage. The kitchen has concealed cabinetry, hidden appliances, and a countertop that wraps into the living area doubling as a breakfast bar and all-purpose table. The apartment also lacks the furniture pieces that too often add clutter and confusion to a house. Perhaps a few extra amenities and furnishings could be accomplished by incorporating “transforming” pieces as seen in the Micro-Apartment designed by the team at Resource Furniture. The apartment is complex and sophisticated by design, simple by execution, and even simpler by lifestyle.

It might also be noted that Specht Harpman is the team behind the zeroHouse which has been seen as a tiny house inspiration for a number of architects and designers.

Your Turn!

  • Can you see yourself in a tiny, modern space?

 

Via

Don’t Go Gentle Into That Night

I recently was listening to a podcast where a quote was given that struck me.  I have been thinking a lot recently about how predetermined and designed life can be for us unless we wake up and take charge.  The quote was:

It’s called the American dream because you

have to be asleep to believe it.

Wake from your slumber!

The scary thing is if we don’t wake up from this slumber of complacency, our lives are influenced to a point that defies common sense.  It may be extreme sounding, but to be a cog in the machine, to work long hours only to “buy, buy, buy!” it’s like we are merely an engine which we fuel consumerism.  That isn’t to say that to consume, buy or trade is inherently wrong, but to do it with such abandon that the average American has over $15,000 in credit card debt is insane. (source)

dulyposted-live-your-life_quote-610x610Being “awake” is an odd experience when people some call tiny housers crazy for living in a tiny house.  If I were to have no debt of any kind and $10 in my pocket, I’d have more wealth than 25% of Americans combined!  If I have no debt and $15,000, I’d have a higher net worth than about the bottom third of Americans… combined! (source)

We are told debt is normal, that credit cards are normal, that a home loan and a student loans are a “good investment” and people believe it.  I believed it for a time!  I have a Master’s degree and after crunching the numbers, it panned out financially, but that is quickly changing for many people. (source)  A home loan… no thank you.  I have friends who talk about buying a home, with no money down and all I can think of is “I want you to be happy, but I can’t but help question the wisdom of not being able to afford a down payment, but thinking you can afford a house”.

I don’t think it’s my place to say people can’t shop till they drop, have no debt of any kind or they should live in a tiny house.  But I struggle when I see people – particularly friends – taking this predetermined path without giving it serious consideration.  If someone were to be fully aware of things and still decided to proceed, I’d be okay with that, but blindly following the pattern is scary.

tumblr_mzzdbvaN5A1sk4myeo1_1280As I’ve grown older, I’ve seen more and more of my friends get into the grind of adulthood and be miserable in their jobs; luckily I think this is the minority of my friends/acquaintances.  I’ve had friends comment that they now drink more than they used to because it makes the work week a bit more bearable.

I see consumerism as a troublesome band-aid for many folks who are unhappy with some aspect of their life.  Again, I’m not saying no consuming, there are things we need in life, but it shouldn’t be a coping mechanism like it is used today for so many.  I was shocked to find out that I know several people who go to the mall and shop 2-3 times a week!  I think the city where I live, Charlotte, is on the extreme end of this, because I have 6 large malls within a 30 minute drive of my home; there is even tour bus companies here that bring people to our city just to shop!

To not just complain about it all, below are some things that might help determine your own path.

  1. Consider what your goals are in life, then look at why they are your goals, dig deep.
  2. Write a personal mission statement.
  3. Do the math on what debt really means for you.
  4. Ask yourself “if I could do anything right now, what would it be?”
  5. Identify the reason you cannot do number 4 right now… How can you eliminate that?
  6. Consider how resilient your currently are in your situation.  How can you be more resilient?
  7. Identify stressors and potential disrupts, guard against or change to eliminate.

 

To close I thought I’d share this poem, which I used part of in the title.  It’s by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

Finally, I’d like to hear your thoughts about this topic. 

Your Turn!

  • How did you “wake up”?
  • How do you help people consider their path?
  • How can we awaken loved ones we care about?

Moving My Tiny House

It finally came time to move my tiny house from the land where I built it, to the land where I planned to live on it.  Initially I had planned to build and live in it on the same property, but circumstances changed and it was time to move on.  Besides the land that I found to move to was much more suited to me and tiny living, plus it was a much bigger lot that I could tuck my house into out of sight.

photo 2The day arrived and step one was to get the house down from the blocks that I had jacked it up onto so that I could get it off the tires (prevent tire shock) and to get it level.  This was actually a lot harder than I thought it would be.  It was tricky to get it up on the blocks, but now I had added another 4,000 lbs of materials on top of it.  This process was slow and made me a little nervous honestly.  The thing I kept in my mind the entire time:  never let your hand come between the trailer and the blocks.  It’s easier said than done, but if the house were ever to fall, the only thing you can do is run.

Once we got it back on its wheels, I felt a lot better.  The trailer was holding the tiny house nicely even when fully loaded.  To move the house I opted for a Ford F150 which I rented from a local car rental place.  The rental was trickier than I had thought too because most car rental places don’t allow towing with their cars.  I could have gone with a Uhaul box truck which allows you to tow and can pull that weight.  I opted for the pickup truck because I had better viability and it was cheaper.  As a side note, I drive a Smart car which couldn’t ever tow the house, but the truck rental was about $65 for the day.

photo 1(1)Next time I rent to tow my house I think I’m going to opt for a “dually” which is a truck with double back tires.  This allows it to handle a lot more, the F150 did fine, but it’s suspension was put to the test even though it said it could handle it fine.  I should note that I have a dual axle trailer so less force was put on the trailer hitch than a single axle; then again if you have a single axle your house shouldn’t be more than 4,000 lbs total.

I had planned my route out to be the fewest number of turns, least traffic, slower speed roads and no bridges.  It did mean going through one of the more congested intersections, but we planned to go during the middle of a work day, so it wasn’t too bad.  The other thing that I did was in my truck I had my Father ride along to sit in the passenger seat to monitor things and check my blind spot, that was a huge help.  I also had Mother and Brother following behind me in another car.  Their job was to play interference for me; Basically keep cars from behind me and to block traffic when I change lanes.  We coordinated it all with cell phones and it went very well.

photo 3The only two things that had me worries was pot holes/bumps in the road and we saw two state troopers, which I knew were staring at me with curiosity.  I took my time, going just under the speed limit and it was very helpful to have my follow car who kept people from tailgating me.

photo 2(1)Once we got to my land I had my tail car go ahead and open the gate, take a look around to make everything looked good. I hung back about a mile away until I got the all clear.  I then was able to come in and duck into the property out of sight very quickly.  I also planned this for a day and time when I noticed most people were at work and not around, less people seeing the house the better in my mind.  I was able to zip down the road and into the property very quickly, unless someone happened to be already looking I don’t think anyone saw us.

 

Once we got to the property I had already planned out how I’d orient and place the house.  The turn into the pad area was too tight to make with the length so I drove past the parking pad, into the field, did a little off roading with my tiny house to circle back around.  After parking the trailer and chocking the wheels we could disconnect and I had installed a back exit to the pad to drive the truck out of easily.

All in all it was a good bit of work, quite nerve wracking and in the end, we landed safely in my new home.

I put together a tiny house towing checklist, download it by clicking the link below.

Setting Up Your Land For A Tiny House

One thing I’ve realized through my entire journey is that not only do you have to build a house, but there is quite a bit that goes into setting up the land itself.  These things include access, infrastructure, security and utilities.  Each of these categories can be tricky and expensive in their own right, but very necessary for living.

RyansPlace-wKey

General Considerations

You’ll notice that I have a field at the edge of the property which I have two entrances/exits to my gravel pad.  This allows me to bring in the house, unhitch it and then have a place to exit with the truck.  It also allows me to gain access to my storage trailer if I want to move it or take it off the property.  It’s important to consider before you bring your house to the property:

  • How will you enter the property?
  • How will you exit the property once the house is placed?
  • How will you exit with the house if you need to move?
  • Are the curves to tight to make with such a large trailer/house?
  • What direction do you want your front door (back of trailer) to face?

Another thing to consider is parking for your car and visitor’s cars.  I also like to be able to pull right up near the door for move in day and also bringing in groceries.

I would also suggest placing your tiny house in a place with deciduous trees so your house is shaded in the summer and open to the sun in the winter.  Before moving the house to my location, I made sure to go around and inspect all the surrounding trees to see if any needed to be removed because they posed a danger because of rot.  I discovered one tree that was ready to fall any day, so I cut it down before the house was ever there.

Access

The first step to getting the land to the point where you can live on it is simply being able to access it.  This comes in the form of roads, driveways, turnarounds and parking pads.  Before you even think about laying down the road, you must first clear the way, remove trees, level the dirt and make your path to your new home.  You have a couple options: gravel, cement, and asphalt.  Gravel is the most economical, I wouldn’t suggest just dirt, because you are bringing in a very heavy house, it’s likely to get stuck, plus it gets muddy in the rain.

Here is a video of the installation of my road, turnaround and parking pad.  Note I had a much easier time because there used to be an old dirt road in this location, so it was simply a matter of cleaning it up and leveling it out.  The whole process took about 6 hours of hard work.

Infrastructure

Laying the lines, pipes and other key connections is a pretty tricky part because it often requires either backbreaking work or heavy equipment.  When you’re running pipes and lines over any distance you run into issues of drop in voltage and pressure; so you need to take care to size things appropriately and it will dictate where you can actually place your home.  When I first looked at the land, I had wanted to place my house about 300 feet away from it’s current location, but it meant I’d have to run a #3 wire to compensate for the voltage drop as I ran the line to the closest solar exposure, that would have cost an additional $700 in just wire!

For water I am connected to the city water.  The meter and installation cost me $2,200 (city sets price), but that is only from the water main to the closest edge of your property.  You then need to connect it from there to your house, which will cost me an additional $800:  $500 materials, $300 for ditch witch rental, me doing all the labor.

water

For showers I have a 32″x32″ shower stall in my house, but also will be building a larger outdoor shower which I plan to use most of the year, except in the cold months.  Both will feed into the grey water system, but I love outdoor showers and it affords a bit more room in the shower.  My indoor shower is workable, but a little cramped.  I have designed my plumbing system so that I have a hot water line that feed out to my outdoor shower, but it has a ball valve on the inside of the house so I can turn it off to prevent freezing during the winter.

Another aspect of infrastructure is how you are going to handle your waste streams.  For me this breaks down into five categories:

  1. Trash
  2. Recyclables
  3. Compostables
  4. Grey water
  5. Composting toilet waste

For trash and recyclables I have barrels from the city which are picked up at the end of my driveway once a week.  For compostable materials such as food scraps (no meats, fats, or citrus) I handle those with a red wriggler worm bin which I keep in an outdoor bin.  I prefer vermicomposting over regular composting because it much more of an active process, its super easy and if I forget about it, it will continue on without me.  It also breaks down things much faster.  In the warmer months it can handle a few pounds a week, going from scraps to dirt in about 4-6 weeks without me turning.

photoFor grey water I am going to build a small reed bed that takes the already pretty clean water, removes any solids, and cleans it up, then feeds into some irrigation pipes that snakes through the trees.  Its important to note that I’ve spent about 6 months finding biodegradable alternatives to all my detergents (shampoo, hand soap, dish detergent, etc) so the water coming out of this system is pretty good to begin with.

Finally my composting toilet waste is the most difficult to handle because my city doesn’t allow for composting systems.  I am also leasing land so I don’t think its right to do a humanure composting system on the land itself.  If I was I’d follow the Humanure Handbook.  So what I’m doing to meet local code and respect the land owner is bagging the waste every few weeks into a biodegradable “plastic” bag and then sending it along with the city trash; at that point its essentially like a diaper, but the plastic will breakdown in a landfill quickly.  There are other options out there for this too and I considered them, but for me this works.

Security

I get this question a lot from people and it seems very odd to me, but in terms of security I have a few lines of defense.  First off you need to realize that most criminals are those of opportunity, they don’t want to work hard or spend a lot of time stealing it.  The other thing is I do live in a large city, but the land I live on is tucked away deep in back roads and at the back of 26 acres.  The likely hood of someone finding it is pretty small unless they knew to look there.  With that in mind my tiny house weight 6,500 lbs, which means that only a limited number of trucks out there can actually tow the house; even with a good truck it isn’t easy.

jackswheelsNext is I removed the wheels from the trailer because you need to get them off the ground (tire shock) and if I just jacked them up, the house would be really high off the ground.  So by removing them, I could lower my house about 1.5 feet lower than with the tires.  This makes it a lot easier to get in and out of my house.  The tires are chained up out of sight.  Next I have a agriculture style fence gate at the entrance to my driveway, which I will later put on a automatic opener arm with a lock; right now its just chain locked when I’m not there.  photo-5

There are a few other things I do to keep things safe, but at some point you have to realize that you can’t prevent everything bad that COULD happen and you need to go on with your life.

Utilities

For power I plan to use solar, which I’ll be installing a 1.67 Kw system this fall/winter.  The panels and equipment will be mounted on skids on the ground because I’m only leasing the land, I can’t have anything permanent.   For a system this size you can’t fit it on the roof, plus I want to be able to access the panels easily to clean them.  The Inverter will be a 4,000 watt unit, with a large battery bank.  The system will cost about $15,000 if I install it all myself.

In my house my stove and tankless hot water heater will be powered by propane.  The fridge, my 15 LED puck lights, laptop, cell phone, and large computer screen (to serve also as a TV) are all electricity powered.  The air conditioner/heater will be a mini-split heat-pump unit that can handle both, this runs on electricity.

For internet I will be hooked up to standard high speed cable internet. I will also have my cell phone which has internet.  I considered getting a wireless mobile hotspot, but they all have a data cap of about 5-10 gigs, which if you watch 2-3 movies on Netflix you’ll blow through that limit in about 4 hours and be screwed the rest of the month.  It’s worth noting that the wireless cards that claim “unlimited” are not really unlimited.  If you read the fine print they all have a data cap.  For Verizon, Unlimited is 10 gigs.

I will not have a traditional TV or cable.  I get all my TV shows and Movies from online and in general don’t watch a lot anyway.  For laundry I have a laundry mat a few minutes down the road, but for me I hate doing laundry.  So my splurge item is  that I use a service that comes to my home and picks it up, does the laundry and brings it back.

Bulk Storage

Before I get into this section, I know some of you are thinking, “extra storage! That’s not tiny living!”  That’s fine if you think that, but it isn’t practical for me and I’m designing this for me.  The point of this journey isn’t to be tiny, its to design a life that lets you achieve your own goals.  That’s what I’m doing and I think its a disservice to yourself if you artificially constrain yourself by any preconceived notions.

As I paired down my possessions I realized that there were some things that could fit in my tiny house, but I didn’t want to.  Things like tools, camping gear, bikes, large packs of consumables (TP, paper towel, etc).  It quickly became clear to me that even though I could fit everything in my tiny house, I shouldn’t.  This left me trying to figure out what I should do.  I knew that whatever I choose had to have a one time upfront cost, I wasn’t going to do a rental storage unit or the like.  I also wanted it to be relatively protected from water and bugs.

photo-4

Some people suggested storage under the tiny house or little plastic sheds/cabinets.  Since I am leasing, I couldn’t build something permanent, so I needed to find a storage solution that I could move and take with me.  Initially I thought about one of those sheds you see in your big box hardware store parking lots, but they were either too cheaply made or too expensive.  I instead decided on an enclosed trailer which was about the same cost as one of those sheds.  This give me the flexibility of being able to move it, but also being a great storage space.

Outdoor Spaces

Part of tiny house living is making the decision to not stay locked up in your little house, but it instead forces you to get out more.  Part of this is having great outdoor spaces.  For me that means a fire-pit with some comfy Adirondack chairs, places to walk around in, a grill and garden.

Depending on your climate, outdoor living might look different, but about half the year here is very comfortable to be outside.  Outdoor spaces are key to having parties, guests and just leisure time.  Don’t just design the perfect indoor space, design the perfect outdoor space for you too!

Visibility

In general I think its important to have your tiny house placed where no one can easily see it from the road.  Legal or not, its not prudent to attract a lot of attention.  Make sure the house can’t be seen during all seasons, if you move in during the spring, then during fall you might be able to see the house from the road because the leaves are gone.

Solar Exposure

I talked about this in an earlier section, but thought it deserved it’s own section too.  In terms of solar you want to consider how your house is positioned for solar gain during the seasons.  You also want to consider how close you are to a great solar exposure opening if you want to do solar panels.  Anything beyond 50 feet between your house and your solar panel placement is going to result in a big enough voltage drop that it will need to be addressed.

Proximity To Things

This section is more about how close the land is to other things.  Your land needs to be in a location that is close enough for you to get on with living and all the things that come with that.  This includes a reasonable distance to commute to work, to go out to dinner or lunch, close to a gym, library, and other similar services.  I would also consider where your friends and family are, how close do you want to be to them?

For me I am 30 minutes from family, 15 to friends, the city center, as well as the “hot spots” that I like to hang out and dine. I work from home or wherever I have my laptop and an internet connection.  I often plan out my week to what I’m doing and then choose coffee shops near where I’m already going.  I also have access to a co-working space, which I can hold meetings at and work from if I just want to get out of the house.

 

Your Turn!

  • What other consideration should you make?
  • How do your plans differ?

Tiny House Building Codes

It’s been a while since I did a post about how tiny houses deal with building codes, so today I wanted to share the top 5 myths about building codes, zoning and tiny houses.

Building Code Myths(1)

Myth 1:  I don’t need a permit if it’s under ___ sq/ft.

This is true, typically if you are building something under a certain square footage than you don’t need a permit.  The catch is there is an exception to this is and it’s when you want to dwell/live in it.  The second you place any personal property in that house, it is classified as “dwelwing” and it doesn’t matter if its 10,000 square feet or 10 square feet, you need a permit.

Myth 2: It’s an RV, Mobile Home, Camper.

Again this true… If your home is being built by a certified RV or Mobile Home manufacturer; also important to note, to become a manufacturer it will cost you several thousand dollars, an LLC and an inspection process to ensure you meet all 500+ requirements.  So you can’t just build an tiny and and say “look!  it’s a RV or Mobile Home.”  To top it off once you do become classified as such, you often can only reside in certain zoning areas, which are fast disappearing.   There is an exception to this: if your state has a “home built RV” class, but these are few and far between and more and more campgrounds and trailer parks refuse entry on them.

Myth 3: I can just say I’m “camping”

Somewhat true.  Typically municipalities have limits of how long you can camp.  This is is often 2 days to 30 days in one spot or on one parcel of land.  In the city I live in, you are legally not allowed to camp at all unless FEMA has declared a state of emergency.   In some cases you can “camp” if you move every few days, but the city could also say “you’re not camping, you’re dwelling” and then its curtains.

Myth 4: They can’t stop me!  I’ll do what I want.

In some places you’re right.  It’s often the case that its not that they can’t stop you, but they won’t unless it becomes a big public issue.  In most places they can stop you.  They will come in and condemn you tiny house, which means if you enter it, they’ll arrest you for being in your own home!  They can also fine you, run a bulldozer through your house to destroy it, or deny you utilities like they did to me (read about it here).  All of which they legally can do, have done and you have no recourse for.

Myth 5: It’s on wheels codes/zoning don’t apply.

This is a big myth perpetrated by those who want to make a quick buck of tiny house people.  It is true that having a tiny house on wheels will help things generally because it confuses the bureaucrats, you can move it so easily, etc.  But the truth is that the second you dwell in it, all bets are off and the city can do what they want.

So what can I do?!?

There are two approaches to this:  1) you can beat them at their own game and know how to leverage the codes 2) you can fly under the radar.  Each of these have their pros and cons.  To get a better understanding of these things I have an ebook of how you can work within the system to gain legal status with your tiny house.  I show you the key barriers for tiny house folks, offer possible solutions and give you strategies to beat the system.  I also show you how to fly under the radar, how to live in your tiny house without getting caught.  Both are covered in Cracking The Code: A guide to building codes and zoning for tiny houses.

Cracking-278x350

 

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