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Archive for the Tiny House Category

Video Tour Of My Tiny House Clothes Closet

A while back I switched to a what effectively is a uniform, I don’t like the connotation that brings, but essentially I wear the same thing everyday.  Each day I reach into my dresser and pull out a gray shirt, a white undershirt, socks and underwear; all of which are standardized.

I didn’t start out doing this for this reason, but since starting a lot of articles came out about how people are switching to simplified wardrobes.  Notably some people who are constantly in the spotlight and you’d think would be concerned about being seen in the same thing.  Below are Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama, and Steve Jobs.

simplified

The main reason why people opt for a simplified wardrobe is because it’s one less decision they have to make.  There is a well known phenomena called Decision Fatigue

Decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision making.

It may seem silly that people don’t pick out their clothes, but when you have to make a lot of big decisions in a day, each decision you make, reduces your ability to make good choices.  Also if you’re worried about the clothes you are wearing it can distract you.

All this is to say, figure out what your wardrobe needs to do for you.  Here is the video of my wardrobe.

 

 

Your Turn!

  • What’s does your wardrobe say about your choices?
  • How have you minimized your clothes?

Contracts Are Your Friend When Having A Tiny House Built

More and more people are turning to builders of tiny homes to build their house.  When I first started the tiny house movement everyone was building their own tiny house, but that isn’t the case today.  Over the years I’ve found several really great builders, but I’ve also found a lot of really terrible builders.  My only advice is that buyer beware is the best advice I can give.

contracts are common sense

I felt the need to write this post today because there is clearly a need for people to understand how to protect yourself during this process.  I’ve seen countless examples of people not using common sense when it comes to hiring a builder and so here I am making this P.S.A.

When you hire a builder you need to make sure you have the following:

  1. Signed contract
  2. Build and payment timeline
  3. Detailed set of plans
  4. Process for changes
  5. Plan for when things go wrong
  6. Vetted references

builder contracts

Before I get into what each of these things are, I feel the need to justify the need for these things, not because they require justification, but because people seem to think they’re not needed.  It honestly blows my mind when I hear a horror story of a builder and I always ask, “do you have a contract?” 95% of the time the answer is “no”.

A contract does the following:

  • Gets people on the same page
  • Reduces disagreements
  • Highlights future problems before they happen
  • Can help ward off bad builders
  • Gives you a leg to stand on in court if need be

If you’re entering into any agreement in life that’s more than $1,000 you should have something signed. The bigger the price tag, the more time you need to spend on the contract.  When I am considering whether to put together a document, I ask myself this: “Am I willing to lose or walk away from this money?”  If the answer is no, I draw up a contract.

I need to put a bit of tough love on all of you here, because most people I’ve run into think contracts aren’t necessary.  You need a contract and several other documents when hiring a professional to build your house.  If you don’t, I have a really hard time feeling sorry for you when it all goes bad.  Being a responsible adult means taking common sense steps like drawing up a contract on things like this.

So let’s get into what is involved with each of these things:

 

You need a signed contract:

Before you give over one dollar, you need to have a contract signed.  Why?  Because a contract is simply a tool to make sure everyone is on the same page.  People shy away from contracts because they sound complicated, they could be expensive, they are so formal or too “corporate.”

This is the exact opposite of how you should feel.  I love contracts, seriously!  I know it’s a little weird, but I really do.

The way I like to think about contracts is, they’re a tool that lets me understand the other person.  That’s it!  In life I’ve found that most disagreements happen when I do something when the other person expected something else.  If we can both agree on what we expect, most disagreements won’t happen.

So we use a contract to carefully outline what we want, what we expect, how we are going to go about it, and what the plan is. What I’ve found is we outline these things, sit down with the person and we suddenly find out we were thinking different things.  That’s great because we can align our thinking and fix it now.

A contract is best to be drawn up by a lawyer, but really any good builder should have a template handy.  You can get free templates online and customize to your needs.  Be wary of anyone who seems hesitant to work with you on a contract.  Bad and dishonest builders shy away from contracts. Quality builders love contracts because a contract lets them understand their customer and prevent disagreements.

You should have a detailed timeline:

contract timelines

In addition to the contract, you need a timeline.  A timeline outlines who does what and when.  You should outline when each phase of the build is to be completed.  Break down the build into milestones: Design finalized, construction starts, walls erected, roof completed, siding/windows/doors, interior finishes, etc.  For each of these things have a due date and tie those due dates to payments.

Along with a build schedule I would recommend insisting on a formal update every 2 weeks. Write this into the contract, along with what defines an “update”.  It can be a simple email with photos, but honestly I’d do it in person or do a virtual check in where they Skype or Face Time you and walk around the in progress house.  You want to see your house – actually lay eyes on it, don’t take their word for it!

For updates I’d stipulate in the contract:

  • Summary of work completed since last update (100 words or so)
  • 5 photos included with each updated, showing work that was completed
  • Summary of any delays and actions to fix it
  • Summary of work to be done by next update
  • Any items that need to be discussed or addressed

An important note here is you need to compare the work done to the timeline you’ve setup. Compare the last set of updates “work to be done” with the subsequent updates list of “work completed.” The update list should match. If it doesn’t, the builder should have a plan to catch up and explanation.  You should build in some time for setbacks. Be reasonable because delays happen, but set expectations for how much of a delay is too much.

You need a detailed set of plans:

house plansA set of professionally generated plans are an investment to achieve a successful build.  Plans are an effective way to communicate exactly what you want.

Plans will typically cost $1,000 or more, but it’s something that you shouldn’t skimp on.  You want the plans to include specific dimensions, electrical, plumbing, and other utilities.  The other very important aspect to plans is the materials list.  You literally need to spec out every material in the house along with any mechanical or appliances.

Why so much detail in the material list?  Because it will help the builder price correctly and remove any questions when it comes to what needs to go into the house.   Really shady builders will often swap materials for cheaper versions and pocket the difference.

You need a process for changes:

changes will happen in buildingThis is typically a good signal of a quality builder, they rely heavily on rigid processes and insist on “change orders”.  In your contract you need to specifically state that any changes not signed off BEFOREHAND are not allowed and you aren’t responsible for paying for them.

A change order is simple document that states that you were planing on doing one thing, but for whatever reason something needs to be changed.  It should outline what the change is very specifically and needs to include the change of charges.  Even if there are no additional charges, it needs to specifically state that the cost is $0.00 in the document.

 

Things to require change orders are:

  • Changes to materials, parts or appliances
  • Agreements on delays
  • Changes in build, layout, design, colors or other elements
  • Any additions
  • Any changes to final billable costs or credits
  • Anything that wasn’t planned for

Have a plan for when things go wrong or disagreements happen:

Building a tiny house is a complex and things will go wrong.  It most likely won’t be a big deal, but it will happen.  Both sides need to be reasonable and considerate, but you also need to know when to draw the line.  The best piece of advice I can give here is that things are best resolved through productive conversations and understanding.

Be clear about what is bothering you, calmly state what you thought was going to happen, what did happen and propose possible solutions.  When you talk about issues, make sure you stop talking and listen when they’re speaking and ask for the same respect.  Do your best to keep your emotions in check.

Before you even start building, while you’re putting together your contract, sit down with the builder and say “I want to figure out a good way for us to resolve issues if they ever come up and want to work together on solutions together.”  If you have a specific conversation about this it can prevent a lot of heartache later on.

Often contracts will have a mediation process, where a third party hears both sides and determines what the fair thing to do is.  I’d suggest having the following:

  • Define a process that can help the situation early on
  • Define a mediation process
  • Define the location or jurisdiction for any legal proceedings if it needs to go to court
  • Define who pays for what in mediation and legal fees

Vet every builder with multiple references

First off, if a builder has never built a tiny house, run away as fast as you can.  Even if they were a builder of normal homes, that’s not good enough.  Why would you take the chance?

Any builder you engage you need to talk to multiple references.  In those interviews I’d strongly suggest you going to meet them in person and ask ahead of time to see the house they had built.  Most homeowners are proud of their house and love to show it off.  It will give you a chance to see the quality of the builder’s work and give you a chance to see real world examples which can be useful in your own build.

If a builder even blinks when you ask for references you should walk away.  If they aren’t quick to provide several references, you need to run away.  Seriously.  Why would any good builder not be willing to have you talk to previous customers?  Quality builders love references because their work will shine through.

A really important note: if there is anything at all, that seems not right about any of the references choose another builder. If your gut says something is off, don’t use that builder.  I’d rather be wrong than sorry.

Good builders love contracts, timelines, and references because it improves the outcome and shows their quality work.  Bad or sketchy builders will shy away from these types of things.

Your Turn!

  • What tips do you have?
  • What lessons have you learned from working with builders?

New Design Guide: Planning Your Tiny House

Over the years I’ve learned a lot of tips and tricks to designing tiny houses – things that can make a house feel like home, common mistakes to avoid and making the build process smooth sailing.

I’ve finally put together all this wisdom into a single guide to help you figure out exactly what you need in your home, how to place the elements and not forget critical things.  I’ve written this guide to help you design the perfect tiny house or small home.

tiny house desing and layout

Design your perfect tiny house with this in-depth planning guide. This step by step guide shows you how to determine your needs, develop a successful design and refine it to perfection. Included is our floor plan kit which has windows, doors, appliances, furniture and much more for you arrange into your dream home.

Check out the details at our store, click here

 

 

 

 

Precision Temp RV500 Review – Tankless Hot Water Heater

For a long time I have recommended the RV-500 Tankless Hot Water Heater from Precision Temp, but recently I found myself no longer being able to recommend it.   I don’t normally do product reviews, but the RV500 is one of those appliances that a lot of tiny housers use and people wanting to build are planning on installing.  So I thought I’d share my experience here.

tankless-rv500-review

To be transparent, I owned the RV550, which is very similar to the 500, the only difference is the 550 vents out the bottom via a pipe, where the 500 vents out a side panel.  While there are technical differences, they’re almost identical, save the vent method.  Most people don’t know about the 550 as its just a product variant, it’s fair to say its the same series, hence me reviewing this under the RV500 title because that’s what most people will search.

So to the review.

I purchased the unit in 2013 after doing a lot of research about the unit.  It seemed like my options where this unit or an Atwood variant that honestly didn’t look that great as an option.  I laid down the $1100 for the unit (gulp) and awaited it’s arrival.  In addition to the unit I purchased the 110V to 12V adapter, which let’s you simply plug in the unit to a standard power outlet.

When the unit arrived I was checking it out when I noticed an odd noise when picked the unit up.  At first I thought it was just a check valve or some wires jiggling, but upon further listening I became concerned.  I decided to crack open my brand new unit and I’m very glad I did.  What I found was one of the main vent hoses had come loose and the hose clamp was rattling around in the bottom of the unit.

carbon-monoxide-gas-safety

I realized that this was a pretty serious thing, because if I hadn’t investigate and just installed, it would have mean that the vent would be pushing exhaust into the interior of my house.  Very dangerous.  As a side note I later got a new unit and looking at how firmly that vent host was attached, I’m guessing that it was never connected in the first place, not just wiggled off in shipping.

It was then I asked for a replacement unit because I wasn’t sure I could fix it, plus it was brand new out of the box.  I put it right back in the box, repacking just like they sent it to me.  Called them and they sent me a new one and asked for me to send it back, the customer service was good on that call.

wrong

What wasn’t good, was later on, when they received the unit back; one of their staff sent a snide email telling me how there was nothing wrong with the unit and how scratched the unit was.  He then began telling me how I was wrong because they “test every unit before it goes out.”  The unit would have worked fine even if they test it, it just was not venting out the vent tube.  Keep in mind I sent it in the exact packaging they sent it to me in.

The email was rude, the email was petty, but more concerning was that as a layman I could figure out that the unit was not assembled correctly, but the person working for the company didn’t notice a 4 inch vent hose being so loose it wasn’t seated on the connector at all.  I was annoyed by the person’s unprofessional behavior, but ultimately I realized I had a working unit and that’s all that mattered.

I got my new unit and I immediately opened it up to check the internals, all looked in order.  I then installed the unit in my house a while later.  I had a professional plumber come in and install it because I don’t like messing with gas lines.  The install went smoothly until we had to turn the thing on.  The unit would start working, but the vent fan wouldn’t kick on.  Later on we were able to get the vent fan working, but it wouldn’t light.  Finally I gave Precision Temp a call after going round and round, he told me to un-ground the unit by disconnecting the green wire.  The unit turned on and worked instantly.

wiring

This really frustrated me because as you can see above – this is a screen shot from the install manual – you’re supposed to ground the unit.  The support person said that 12 volt is very sensitive so if it’s grounded, it can cause trouble.  This is all true, but their install guide says green goes to ground.  In the end, I didn’t care too much, I had hot water and it was great to have hot showers.

Later that year winter came and I was finding that even in the mild winters of North Carolina, the unit couldn’t get the water hot enough for my showers.  It would be solidly warm, but never hot.  I really like hot showers, one of the best things on earth, so this was disappointing.  I tempered this with the fact that the unit could only rise the water temperature so much, it was rated at around 55,000 btu and that inherently can only warm cold water so much.

I really did like how efficient the unit was, using a 20lb propane tank (like you have on your grill) I could have hot showers and cook meals on my gas range for around 4 months per tank!  That was really nice, I bought four tanks and that would allow me to shower and cook for an entire year, plus have one extra.  This meant my gas cost was $4.50 per month!

Then it all went to hell.

I was taking a shower about a month ago and once I was done, I stepped out to towel off.  I noticed that the tankless didn’t turn off, but instead kept the burner going.  I turned the water back on to see if I could trigger it to turn off, nothing.  Tried the sink, nothing.  I unplugged it, nothing.

What I didn’t know was that the safety pressure release valve had failed and the unit was building steam pressure, all a sudden the unit tore itself apart.  The unit had built up so much steam pressure that it literally ruptured the wall of one valves and tore the threads out of another.  It scared me half to death, but luckily all the steam and debris was kept within the case when it exploded.

rv500-valve-bad

Water began to pour out of the unit, propane began to bubble through into my house, in a few seconds my floor was covered with water and the air was thick with propane.  I ran outside and turned off the water and the gas.  When I turned back water was dripping out of my house from all corners.

I let the gas vent out and then I got to mopping.  This was the last straw for me, what if I hadn’t been home, the water would have flooded my entire house for hours!  What if I had pulled off the cover to inspect it with my face right there as it ruptured!

I cleaned up and called a plumber and schedule an appointment to have a different brand to be installed, I was done with the Precision Temp tankless hot water heater.  I’ll do a post soon about what I opted for in it’s place.

Final thoughts:

In my opinion the unit is way more expensive than it should be.  I was able to get a new unit for around $600 and it has three times the btu and a similarly compact vent system.

I have personally seen two manufacturing failures on two different units.  One faulty unit might be bad luck, getting two faulty units points to a larger issue in their standards and at $1100 a piece, their standards should be high.  Obviously not.

Having a safety valve fail is a really big deal.

Your Turn!

  • How are you planning to heat your water in your tiny house?

Common Mistakes & How To Solve Them – Free Webinar

I wanted to invite you to our upcoming webinar “Common Tiny House Building Mistakes & How To Avoid Them”.  I’m running this free webinar Wednesday Sept 21st at 8pm Eastern Standard Time.  Come learn about the mistakes even some of the pros make!

free-webinar

Are you wanting to build a tiny house?

When you’re building a tiny house, certain mistakes are no big deal, others can be dangerous or cost you thousands!  Having a good understanding the full picture before you swing your hammer is key.  Come learn more about the building process, how to avoid issues and fix them too.

Are you planning to buy a pre-built tiny house?

If you’re planning on buying a pre-built tiny house, you still need to know how it’s supposed to come together when you inspect the house you’re about to buy and make sure your builder won’t make these crucial mistakes.  It will also help you evaluate potential builders even before you hire them.

Seats are limited and it’s first come, first serve.  Be sure to hop on the webinar a little early if you want to make sure you have a seat.

Weds Sept 21st at 8pm EST

Get your invite here:  Click Here

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