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Archive for the Ryan’s Tiny House Category

Building My Closet

One thing I talk about a lot is taking care to design your storage in your tiny house very carefully.  Making your storage work for you is very important because in such a small space, to not have an ideal setup for you can make things tough.

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My initial drawing of my closet plan.

When I first approached designing my main closet, I knew that I’d be storing mainly clothing, a few containers of office items and toiletry items.  So with this in mind I knew that the bulk of the space should be dedicated to clothes.  Not only should it be dedicated to clothes, but designed to suit the way I store my clothes.

I have written about my dislike for clothes in general, obviously I need something to wear, but trends, fashions and shopping is something I could do without.  For me I don’t like anything that needs to be hung.  I basically have one jacket, one suit, and one button down dress shirt.  I measured how much this takes up and it only needed 4 inches of hanging rod, I added 2 inches for good measure and that’s all I dedicated to hanging items.  I much prefer to have things stacked or piled if it won’t wrinkle too bad.  So for that me that meant drawers.

I needed one drawer for socks and underwear, one drawer for shirts, one drawer for pants and shorts and another for other miscellaneous items.   I then needed a single drawer that was over sized for my dirty laundry until laundry day.  This totaled 5 drawers in total, with one being much larger than the others.

So here is a video which in the beginning shows of my closet space in its raw form.

From there I built the outside walls and the main interior wall out of 3/4″ birch ply.  Right now its in a raw form, I will later face it out with 1×2 trim parts.  After that I decided to take a crack at building the drawers.  This was also the most technical part of the closet because I wanted to make the drawers from scratch and to do that I wanted to use a technique called dove tail joints.  The exterior of the drawer unit was made of more birch ply, but the drawers themselves were made of poplar.  I should note, I am brand new at this stuff, I’ve never done it before, so its certainly not perfect; I just call the mistakes “charm”.

Here you can see the outside of the main drawer bank.  I used dados that would later become the drawer slides.  I opted for a wooden style drawer slide because I really liked the look compared to what it would look like with the metal slides.  Also quality drawer slides are very expensive, so all around I’m happy with my choice.

One thing to note is you’ll see on the top I used pocket screws made with a kreg jig (these are amazing, get them here), I opted to put these on the top side because I’m going to put a top piece of wood that will cover the holes completely.

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You can see the dado cuts on the inside for the drawer slides

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Better view of dados

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Top pocket screw holes will later be hidden by another piece of wood.

Next I tried my hand at making dove tails.  Technically I used “half blind” dovetails.  The jig I used was a dove tail jig from porter cable, which you can find by clicking here.  This jig made it pretty easy and was great for this project.

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Routing the dovetails in my jig

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The finished joint, I love the contrast.

Next up I cut the drawer bottoms, which I was going to seat in a internal dado of the drawer box, but then I decided to do the drawer slides like this.  So I made the drawer bottoms 1/4″ too big on each slide and they nested in the 3/8″ dados really well.  After tacking it all together, I dropped it in the dresser and then mounted the drawer pulls.  Here is the final drawers.  The gaps are not perfect, but I’m pretty happy with them none the less.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

The Final Days Of Building

I just got back from my trip to Portland where I nailed down some of the details for the Tiny House Conference for April 2015.  We will be having the next conference in the city of Portland itself.  The city is a great place and I think you’ll like it too when you come to the conference.

photo 2Before my flight out I had to move out of my apartment, but I’m still making some sawdust in my tiny house while I finished the walls and install the floor.  I also needed to treat the walls with Tung Oil and then I can at least move into my house. I’ll finish the kitchen, but most of the cutting will need to be done outside the house.

Since I wasn’t quite ready to move into my tiny house yet I started to think about my next project and what I might want to do.  It lead me to getting an enclosed trailer which I was able to load my personal belongings into and would later serve as the start of my next project.  The trailer is a 7×12 foot dual axle trailer, which can hold 5,500 lbs of weight.  A convenient thing is I can drive my smart car into it, so when I later decide to go on long trips abroad or need to move I can park my smart in it to be safe while I’m away.

I drive a Smart Car which can’t tow my house or my trailer, but the truck cost me $65 a day in the city and with my Smart covering 99% of my needs and being only $13,000 I am glad I didn’t buy a truck now, especially after seeing how it guzzled gas.  One thing to note is that I had to rent a truck, but most car rental places don’t allow you to tow with rental cars.  I found a local company that allows you to tow, but if you’re looking in your area try calling the commercial arm of some of the rental companies.

So when I got back to Charlotte I have a house that needs to be finished, its now very hot and humid here and I’ll need to figure out a gym membership so I have a place to shower and then I’m going to have a water service come out for a while until the water gets hooked up.   For the time being I’m going to have to use my generator while I figure out solar, read all about my woes with the city.

Tomorrow I’m meeting with a guy to go over laying down some gravel and clearing a spot for my tiny house.

 

The Search For New Land – Part 4

This is the fourth part of a series, check out part 1, part 2, and part 3 if you’re new to the blog.

Alright I have some pretty bad news, but first let me go back to where I left off in part three.

So I hired my electrician and he put in a plan for the permit, the city had a few questions, but a quick phone call later they approved the permit.  So with a permit in hand the the city’s blessing I had my electrician install the power box.  The box was installed and we notified the city that it was ready for inspections.  The inspector came out and said we needed to push the stranded cable through the main lug another inch because there was some damage to one of the strands, so we did that, quick fix.  He came out again and said everything looked good, but the inspector’s boss wanted me to call him first.

photo-2So I called the number and the man told me that he was going to rescind the permit because they had made a mistake.  The stated reason was that if I just had power out there on this empty land, someone could mess with it.  More specifically he said, and these were his words, not mine: “Junkies will break in to steal the copper and kill themselves.”  I was beyond angry that they messed up and I now had to pay the electrician even though I couldn’t get power and floored he’d say an excuse like that in those words.  So after talking with them, my electrician and the power company, the three people involved called me back and said “we figured out a solution”… I was ecstatic!  ” and it’s only going to cost you about $10,000″…  I was devastated!

I am not going to spend $10,000 for a power pole to be installed, only for them to then turn around and charge me every month.  Its just not in the cards, particularly because I’m only leasing the land.  So plan C…

Plan C was to get a solar power system that would run my house.  Not a big deal right?

Now many people would just swing by Harbor freight and pick up a cheap solar panel kits, but those honestly are woefully underpowered.  You can basically run a cell phone and laptop off that, maybe a fan for a few hours too.  In my house I have the following items that use power:

  • Mini Fridge – 100 watts
  • Laptop – 50 watts
  • cell phone – 5 watts
  • LED lights – 100 watts total
  • Mini Split HVAC – 500 watts on low, 700 watts on high

So if you times those watts by the hours of use, add it all up, you get 11,530 watt/hours.  This translates to a pretty big system, I got a few quotes and they seem to range between $14,000 and $18,000.  The system is so expensive because of the battery bank, I was looking at about $8,000 just in batteries and cable interconnects.  Again, just not in the cards.  What is crazy is that most of the system at that size is just for the HVAC, which currently is the smallest mini split on the market, but also the most efficient on the market at 27.8 SEER rating; compared to a standard AC unit today, most are around 13 SEER.

Before people start emailing me and commenting.  I know I could live without AC, I could use a swamp cooler, I could use a cooler with ice and a fan.  Sure I could, but I don’t want to and that’s my choice. I live in NC and when its 95 and ridiculously humid, I want AC on those days.  I’m also thinking about next year “summer-ing” somewhere colder, as in, finding a place to rent up north during the summer months.

So now to plan D….  Without the HVAC I am looking at a system around $6,000-$8,000 which is a whole lot of money, but its more manageable… Relativity speaking.  I figured that I can start with this smaller system, use my generator on the really hot days to run my AC; I already own a Honda EB2000i (almost identical to the popular EU2000i, this just has a pure sine inverter and GFCI).  Running the generator with the load of my AC unit via a drop cord, I used a Kill-a-watt meter to determine it would run at a quarter load or less on the “eco-mode” and could run 24 hrs on a little over 1 gallon of gas.  So the arrangement is not ideal, but I could at least have power, use fans most of the time and those days that I just want to enjoy the pure bliss of a AC cooled house, it would only cost me about $4 a day.

The Honda EB2000i is also ridiculously quite.  At a quarter load at about 200′ line of sight you almost can’t hear it. If I was inside my house I doubt I could hear it 50 feet away, if the AC was running, it could be at my front door and I wouldn’t hear it.  In this approach I’ve also opted to be in a different place on the property, where I am 100% shaded during the entire day, I’ve found this makes the heat much better, so all you have to deal with is the humidity and a little cooling around the hottest part of the day.

So that is where I am now.  Even though the city had said yes, then changed their minds, I still owe the electrician $800 and have nothing to show for it.  The lesson I’ve learned is if you have land or going to buy land, first figure out power and water.  If you’re buying the land, I’d make an offer contingent on the ability to get both; in fact I’d tell the seller: “I’ll buy it, if you get the power and water running before the sale.  If you can’t I walk away”

 

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