Tiny House, Tiny Living, The Tiny Life.

Archive for the Alan and Marie Category

Spinning Some Tiny Tunes

To build off of Andrea’s most excellent suggestions for entertaining in/around a tiny house, I’ve been thinking about my personal Tiny House Playlist. And since I’m still knee-deep in creating the time-lapse video of our floor build, I wanted to do something fun here in the meantime.

Here’s my anthem for building and living in a tiny house. Old Man Luedecke is an amazing blue grass banjo player and songwriter, and I highly recommend his music if you like that sort of thing, but all of us can identify with the message in this particular song, “I Quit My Job,” even if you happen to like your job right now.

Also, I like to think about how a place can affect your state of mind, like “Up On The Roof.” I’m partial to the Drifters’ version rather than James Taylor.

Alan suggested Less Than Jake’s “Science of Selling Yourself Short,” mainly for the ska-like vibe. Plus, I think he knows what a klutz I am (“my own worst enemy…”).

He also said, when he’s building on the house, he likes to go old-school. A little Led Zeppelin, perhaps?

Is he saying he’s building by himself too much, or that he likes to build by himself? Am I psychoanalyzing his song choice? Yes, yes I am, poor guy.

I would love to make a full official playlist for us here at The Tiny Life so…

Capture

Your Turn!

  • Spit it out, what are your Tiny House Songs?
  • Which artists/songs represent the freedom of tiny living, or the fun/trials of tiny building to you?

Tiny House, Squared

Unless you are building a round or organically shaped house made from cob or adobe (in which case, cool!), keeping the corners of your floor, walls and roof square is a critical task that lasts for the entire construction process. Constant re-evaluation of your squareness will make your life easier at each subsequent step of the building process.

Or so we’ve heard.

There are many good reasons to “square as you go,”and I think we can all agree it’s a best practice for building anything, but there are many forces working against square corners, including:

  • Lumber is seldom straight,
  • Fasteners (nails and screws) seldom go in level,
  • Weight or pressure can shift boards,
  • Existential chaos and entropy

squaring the floorOf course, understanding you need square floor joists is a completely different animal from having square floor joists. Here’s where I reiterate that Alan and I are far from experts and can only share our unique trial-and-error experiences. When we began our procrastiprepping, we agreed we’d need to check for squareness frequently. What we didn’t realize at the time was, this checking and rechecking would also require fixing and refixing: if something is out of square, you have to do something to correct it, something that may interrupt your building timeline. It can be incredibly frustrating, repetitive and disheartening, but also necessary. I don’t want to be on the roof six months from now, realizing I have to cut a weird miter to fit my non-square upper left corner 12 feet in the air. I mean, we’ll probably have to do that anyway, but at least if I make efforts now, I won’t be blaming my past self, just my present/future self. Talk about existential chaos.

P1060304Anyway, there are a number of references and established processes for checking the squareness of your floors and walls while building. As a hobby painter (one who has built her own canvases), I like the “measure your diagonals to see if they match” method:

And my high school friends thought we’d never need geometric theorem notation! Ha!

What this means is, if the length of both diagonals match, the square or rectangle has 90-degree, or square, corners. If one diagonal is shorter than the other, then the corners with the shorter length have an “obtuse” angle, or an angle wider than 90 degrees.

Another way of telling whether you are in or out of square is the Pythagorean Theorem:

P1060306 This method is helpful when you can’t access all corners of your square or rectangle, like tall walls, or if you are working alone. The shorthand version (demonstrated at the bottom of my most excellent drawing), the 3-4-5 rule allows you to just measure off three feet on one side, mark it, four feet on the other side of the angle, mark it, then measure the diagonal between the two marks. If the diagonal is equal to five feet, you’ve got your 90-degree, square corner. The 3-4-5 rule works because Math.

Once you’ve determined you’re not square, which is most of the time, there are several ways to fix it, most of which involve propping, pushing, pulling or yanking. John Carroll’s book, “Working Alone: Tips and Techniques for Solo Building” and the This Old House website are good resources for time-tested methods. But our Fencl floor proved a special challenge, and not in the good-special way, because the wheel hubs got in the way and prevented us from squaring the whole floor at once. Plus, the steel rods that hold the house to the trailer frame also held everything pretty firmly in place, so we didn’t have much control.

corner out of squareHere’s the problem we faced with the floor’s left-hand corner, closest to the trailer tongue. You can see that the corner is about a quarter-inch out of square in comparison to our speed square. Oh Noes!

Incidentally, I heart speed squares. They’re invaluable. We have this big orange one and a smaller steel one. When we get to the roof rafters, we’ll probably get a big framing square too, the one that look like the letter L and has all the rafter dimensions printed on it.

Our problem was compounded by the fact that one of the steel rods held runs through the sill just a foot or two away from this corner. Therefore, we couldn’t just push the far corners closer together, because the rod was holding the outside of the sill in place. The wrong place, but in place all the same.

We adapted one of the classic squaring techniques (attaching a diagonal chain and tightening it to pull opposite corners closer together) to a smaller area. We attached the chain to the sill in two places with several nails, then attached a turnbuckle to the chain. You can see the welded steel rod under Alan’s right arm in the third photo.

Sorry for the changing POVs in these photos… it’s making me a bit motion sick.

P1060274 P1060275 P1060279

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another aside: The guy at Lowes didn’t know what a turnbuckle (the hooked thing in the middle photo) was when we asked, so it took us 20 minutes longer to find them than necessary. If you need to know where to find turnbuckles in Lowes and probably Home Depot, they’re with the door and gate hinges, instead of the rope and chain.

By tightening the turnbuckle, we accomplished the bending of nails most efficiently. But we also managed to bring this corner into square, so the sacrifice of six nails was glorious indeed.

squared corner

Success! Mostly! At least it’s noticeably better than it was! Beer for all!

Ok, so it’s not perfect, but it’s within our arbitrary tolerance of “less than 1/8th of an inch.” It’s also not perfect because we accept that, although the corner is close to square, the sill will bulge out around the steel rod a bit, meaning the wall won’t be perfectly straight, but I think we can work with that problem better than kerflunky corners. At least, I hope we can.

Your Turn!

  • What rules, such as “always check for square corners,” have you given yourself?
  • What is your preferred method of squaring frames?
  • How do you decide when good enough is good enough?

 

Tiny Houses and Pets

One of the first questions my friends and family asked us when we announced our intention to build Big Red was, “What about Angel?”

P1000012

Angel is our 50 lb pit mix, and as you can tell from the question, everyone who meets her becomes a big fan. She’s a rescue, who came to us as a foster with six puppies, all since successfully adopted, and is now a certified therapy dog. She’s the sweetest, most lovable… sorry, I’m sure everyone thinks their dog is the best dog. Angel has papers that say she is, though! She passed tests and everything!

I digress. And I will take this opportunity to post as many Angel pictures as possible.

Pet ownership poses a special challenge for Tiny House aspirants. How do we best accommodate the needs of a pet or pets who did not actively choose the tiny life, the way we did? Possessed of both cats and a dog, I see the challenges of both audiences. Not owners of birds or reptiles or rodents, however, but seeing as how those are mostly stationary animals, all that entails is carving out a single location for them, and perhaps a single trade-off: Bird or Fridge? Snake or Toilet? Fancy Rat or Fancy Wine Cooler? Dogs and cats (and, I suppose, other larger mobile companion animals such as pygmy swine) need room to roam.

Now, I’m mainly addressing urban and suburban pet owners, like myself here. I’ve lived in the country and met many a wonderful yard dog in my time, so if your pet is mostly unfamiliar with the inside of a house, there really isn’t too much to adapt. Also, I make the assumption that the owner and pet are separated for part or most of the day, similar to my situation. If you get to be or plan to be home with your pet, it will be easier to accommodate mid-day walks.

phooIn the same vein, our two cats are semi-outdoor animals (that’s Phooey to the left; Shucks is camera-shy). Please don’t be mad at me. I’ve had many friends, back when I was a park ranger, who insisted all domestic cats should be strictly indoor animals due to both documented increased cat health and feline avicidal tendencies. Domestic and feral cats kill a shockingly large number of songbirds every year. I kept them indoors as long as it was just me and the cats, but Alan does not enjoy rambunctious felines at 3 am. Since my marriage is apparently more important to me than all of bird-dom, out they went.

I’m not too worried about how they’ll adapt to Big Red, since they’ll have regular, unsupervised access to the Great Outdoors, where they will hopefully adapt to using the Great Outdoors as the Great Litter Box. Otherwise, I’ll place a litter box under the house for occasional use, because Big Red is too small for stray litter to be flying around. I think it’s important to accustom all pets to eating on a schedule (I’ve had a vet tell me this), so there won’t be food left out for raccoons, either. I can have them in when I want a snuggle, or when the weather is bad. I don’t think they’ll have trouble with the confinement for short periods of time, as they also enjoy tight spaces and the security of cubby holes when indoors.

Angel, on the other hand, spends the majority of her day indoors, preferably on our bed where where she is absolutely prohibited. Angel-shaped divots in the comforter reveal she does not observe the prohibition. However, this also tells me that she doesn’t spend her day wandering the house, taking up space. The key is, she’s a low-energy, almost zen-like dog. She’s The Dude of dogs.

Breed and personality is critical here. If you have the choice, and you are considering a joint dog-and-tiny-house project, please think about the type of dog that would enjoy small living spaces. Often, it’s not the size of the dog, but the energy level that dictates it’s space needs, and energy level can vary within breeds, so get to know your new friend before deciding your lifestyle will be a good fit.

P1060287

If you already have a dog, and that dog needs 2 miles of running and 3 hours of ball-chasing a day to stay sane, you might want to consider alternative daytime arrangements for your pooch. I will not personally advocate outdoor kenneling, because many more experienced dog experts have told me it’s bad for them, but the most luxurious kennel probably beats many places I’ve lived myself, so I’m not sure I can judge, given some thought to climate control and socialization. However, dog sitting and doggie daycare are other possible options.

Outdoor  fencing is also important for your dog’s safety during supervised playtime, especially if you are near roads or other hazards. Angel is not the type to go more than 50 feet from the house, unless the neighbors are grilling, but if your dog is the adventurous type, put some thought into containment of a physical sort. The size of one’s house does not necessarily dictate the amount of outdoor space you might have at your dog’s disposal, but adequate play-n-poop, non-concrete ground is pretty important, and that area should be fenced off if at all possible.

Food storage will also be an issue. Just like tiny house dwellers have to think creatively about buying other staples in bulk, pet food is most economically found in large quantities. I’m not yet sure how we’ll tackle this problem with both cat and dog food, but it may involve Rube Goldberg (dog food falling from a ceiling hopper through a feeder tube? Via remote control?).

P1060266Many people have planned for their pooches’ sleeping arrangements to be under a window seat or chair, but Angel has yet to ever sleep in a planned spot. She’s had a number of beds given to her, from my parents or from the rescue group, that she has politely ignored. Therefore, we plan to not have a plan and let her find her favorite spot via her patented decision process of, “Am I allowed to sleep here? No? Ok, perfect!”

We’ve found Angel to be an excellent Tiny House ambassador in our neighborhood as well, so she’s contributed to our house-building efforts by making friends and influencing people. For example, it turns out one of our neighbors is an independent construction contractor who happens to also own a pit bull mix just like Angel. So he’s always happy to see us and answer the occasional question about framing. Tiny house building is community building, even for people who are not actually building a tiny house, it seems.

Pets are a wonderful addition to any life, no matter the size!

Your Turn!

  • How does your pet like tiny living?
  • What changes have you made to accommodate a simpler lifestyle for your pet?
  • Where do you store your pet’s food and supplies?
  • How cute/smart/awesome is your pet?

Say Hi, Big Red

Hi, Big Red!

BigRed

While it seems like our tiny house, one Big Red by name, has existed in our heads for years, Alan and I have only just this week begun actual construction. We’ll be sharing our trials, tribulations, and probably ER visits, with you here periodically, so without further ado, a little introduction:

My name is Marie, and Alan is my husband of approximately five years; we’re both in our early 30s, we work full-time, and own one dog and two cats. Although we both grew up in the Northeast, we’ve lived in Charlotte, NC, for over six years and own a 1700-square-foot home in a quiet bedroom neighborhood. Our building site is a small side yard, roughly ten yards from our (very patient and generous) neighbor’s house. I hope they like the sound of compressors on the morning breeze, but if not, we’re willing to supply alcoholic anesthesia.

We purchased Fencl plans from the Tumbleweed company last summer after a lot of “wouldn’t it be great” and “I bet this will freak you out” kind of conversations. As with many of life’s best decisions, there was beer involved. The trailer was ordered from Kaufman Trailers last fall.  While waiting for the trailer, then the welding on the trailer, Alan was purchasing used tools (compressor, nail guns, sawsall, etc) from Craigslist and Amazon while I made materials lists, estimated board-feet of lumber and plywood, and scanned the internet for FSC-approved flooring. I call this our Procrastiprepping Phase. Sure, buying an expensive trailer and ordering equally expensive windows is a financial commitment, but nothing says Point Of No Return like screwing down that first bit of floor joist.

There are so many things we did that qualified as Procrastiprepping:

  • Tool comparison shopping
  • Fretting
  • Sanitation Engineering Research (i.e., toilet shopping)
  • Visiting local lumber mills, without actually buying anything
  • Fruitlessly searching through ReStore’s stash of windows for even one that fits any of our plans
  • Ordering windows
  • More fretting
  • Comparing trailer leveling options
  • Buying several types of jacks, followed quickly by returning most of them
  • Setting up deck chairs on our empty trailer deck, drinking beer, and watching the sunset
  • Painstaking scheduling tasks on a Foreman Plan, so we can equally share decision-making duties and avoid fights
  • Immediately forget who’s in charge of the wall framing task and get in an intense fight over the relative merits of plywood vs. OSB for shearwalls

As this non-exhaustive list shows, we spent WAY too much time in the Procrastiprepping phase. Not to downplay the importance of planning, or even the fun of dreaming about a future tiny house, because I have a feeling that I’ll miss this stage, now that it’s over. Especially since it doesn’t involve splinters or sore knees. But no more Procrastiprepping. Last week, we Leveled:

P1010064P1010066P1010058

As you can see, we have a pretty severe slope to build on, with the back of the trailer up just one and a half cinder blocks, and the front almost four blocks high. This is, unfortunately, the most level spot on our .34 acre property, so we’re working with what we’ve got. At some point, we’ll build stronger piers with more blocks to prevent shifting, but for now, it accomplishes the goals we need it to:

(I like lists, as you can tell)

  • Gets the tires off the ground, to prevent the rubber from rotting
  • Keeps the deck of the trailer objectively level, so our walls won’t be kerflunky (it’s a physics term)
  • Gives us enough space to get underneath for attaching the floor joists to the trailer deck. We’ll draw straws for that enviable task

Another early task Alan was most insistent on (funny when you think of all the times he leaves the front door unlocked… he grew up in a small town): Theft deterrence. Not something you hear a lot about in the tiny house community. Has anyone ever heard of a stolen tiny house? How would one fence a tiny dwelling? Well, here’s a look at our high-tech security system:

P1010077

MMmm, rusty chain goodness! Personally, I feel if someone goes to the trouble of bringing a truck, backing up the crazy ditch/hill that is our front yard, and taking the trailer off all those blocks with their own screw jacks, they probably thought to bring a pair of bolt cutters too. But hey, I wasn’t the Foreman on this particular task, so none of my lip!

Your Turn!

  • How do you Procrastiprep?
  • What suggestions do you have for working together on a long-term project (that don’t involve elementary school group project techniques)?