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Posts Tagged Tiny House

Putting A Tiny House On Jack Stands

I wanted to do an updated post today on an older topic that I briefly touched on in this post, but have since had some lessons learned. A tiny house is a very heavy thing, and my tiny house is around 6,500 pounds. Having your tiny house mounted on jack stands is very important for a number of reasons:

  1. You can more easily level your trailer to make building things square and plumb
  2. You can avoid tire shock from your trailer resting on the wheels in one spot
  3. Walking in your house will be more stable
  4. You can remove your wheels from the hubs to dissuade theft


jack-stands-tiny-houseInitially, I had put my tiny house on jack stands that were seated on a gravel bed, with a paver on top which I leveled with sand. This didn’t go so well. The pavers kept cracking and I had to replace them several times. It was obvious that the pavers weren’t going to be a good option. I knew wood was an option, but I was worried that even with treated wood, they’d eventually degrade, mold and rot – not something that you want in your foundation.

This picture is of the cracking pavers and you can see the wood on top that I added as a stop gap as I came up with plan B; it was bad enough that even the board started cracking. I decided to upgrade the foundation and put in cement footings right next the current stands so I could quickly move the jack stands.

If I were to do it all over again, I would have installed a concrete slab with self leveling concrete, and built in some drain lines into the slab. It would be a simple affair to roll the house onto it, set all my jack stands to the same setting and it would be instantly level.

As I mentioned, I decided to put in the footing just in the spots I wanted to seat the jack stands. With just a quick hole in each corner plus some high PSI Quikrete, I had my footings. I let the footing sit for a while to cure and harden up, then carefully jacked up the house with a bottle jack. On the rear of the trailer I had to add these cement footings to gain more elevation because there is a slight slope to the ground. So the front of the trailer (the back of the house) is just on jack stands, but the rear is on blocks. The footings were about $7 and gave me an additional 8 inches of height.

jack stand tiny houseHere is the new setup.  It’s hard to tell in this photo, but under that footing block there is a hole filled with high PSI Quikrete. Getting your tiny house seated on the jack stands is really hard work; it takes some serious elbow grease and you have to be really careful.

My house weighs in at 6,500 lbs and if a stand tips, or if a support plate slips, there is nothing you can do other than get out of the way and watch it fall.  I really don’t like lifting the house alone because I’m afraid that if something were to happen, my arm would be trapped and I would either pass out from shock or couldn’t reach my phone to call for help. It stresses me out.

So the lesson learned is to take the time to install serious footings that your jack stands can sit on. Make sure the stands are perfectly level and the base they are sitting on is level and sound.



Living In A House With Wooden Walls & No Sheetrock

It took me a while to figure this one out, because I’ve always lived in a house with standard Sheetrock walls, but a mystery came to light when I noticed something strange…more on that soon.

fir interior no sheetrock

I have never been in a house will all wooden walls like in my tiny house. For the inside of my wall I opted for 1/4 inch Douglas fir tongue and groove siding. I’ve personally seen several tiny houses now that have used Sheetrock and it works beautifully, but I wanted the look of the fir. The fir was very easy to work with and the stuff is very light (only being 1/4 inch thick after all).

oscilating saw

A few quick tips for working with 1/4 inch T&G interior siding:

  • Most commercial packs come pre-scored on the backs so you can snap them quickly with just your hands
  • Choose packs deeper in the pile and check for the grooves for damage
  • Use an oscillating saw (pictured above) to cut notches around openings such as windows, doors and outlets
  • Tung oil is a non toxic treatment for your interior

So now onto the mystery.

When I first hooked up my mini split, which does both my heating and cooling, I turned it on and cranked it up. Later that night I noticed as I climbed into bed and noticed that my sheets felt almost damp. I was perplexed by it and then started to worry that the dehumidifying part of the mini split wasn’t working. I checked the drain hose and a steady stream of water was coming out from it, so I knew it was working and not clogged. I decided I had just let a bunch of humid air into the house when I was going in and out and the mini split was just recovering.


Over the next week I kept finding the same thing and I began to worry that I was going to have a moisture problem. My sheets always seemed damp and I knew over time that could mean one thing: mold. I started thinking about how I could combat the problem, going over options in my mind for the better part of two weeks.

I was wondering if it was just so humid here in the South, was I in trouble? Was it that in such a small space, a human breathing put off too much moisture? These were the things swirling in my mind. Then I noticed something: my sheets were suddenly not damp any more. In fact they were perfectly dry.

This was very perplexing to me. Why was my house all of a sudden a very normal humidity, and suddenly the moisture in the air was so low?

I thought about this for a while, when all a sudden, it hit me!

It was the wooden walls! Unlike Sheetrock, Douglas fir has pores, which were used to transport water when it was a tree. Before I had installed my mini split, I left all my windows and door wide open to keep cooler, but with that came the moisture of humid NC summers and my walls drank it up.

Then I turned on the mini split and the dehumidifier started removing that moisture in the air. The wood naturally wants to equalize its open grains with the moisture in the air, so it released moisture back into the air. So essentially it took about 3 weeks for my house to breathe out all the moisture my wooden walls had taken in. My house breathes!

So the mystery is solved and my house is nice and dry. It’s interesting what you learn when you live tiny. In a larger home I’m not sure I would have noticed.


Things That Will Happen To You Once You Move Into A Tiny House

It’s a funny thing. You work for a long time to make it to living in a tiny house and then, one day, you do. The big question that I had and many of you will have is…now what? While that will be different for each of you, there will be some things that will most definitely happen to you.

Things That Will Happen

1. You will forever be introduced as the guy/girl who “lives in a tiny house” in every social situation

2. Half of people will tell you that they could never live in such a small space

3. The other half will tell you that they totally could live in a tiny house, but you can tell they never really would

4. You’ll begin to ask bigger questions of yourself, your life and its meaning

5. You’ll become way more laid back and find yourself just enjoying the here and now

6. You’ll own a nail gun and aren’t afraid to use it

7. Everyone will compare your house to their bathroom or closet and all you can think is, “I get it, it’s small”

8. You’ll go to the grocery store or farmers market a lot. Tiny fridges only hold so much

9. People will email you telling you what’s wrong with your house and how you should fix it, without you asking

10. You’ll find dinner parties seem way more intimate and interesting in such a small space

11. You’ll notice that conversations with other tiny house people seem deeper, richer and more valuable

12. People will point blank ask you about how you poop or other intimate details

13. Your bank account will grow and it feels good!

14. After taking on building a tiny house, other things just seem easier

15. Trying new things won’t be as scary

16. You’ll still feel like you have too much stuff

17. You might just end up leaving your job to start your own thing

18. Living in a tiny house will feel normal and you might start to feel like your house seems big

19. There will be days you don’t like living tiny and that’s okay

20. Many days you’ll be grateful


Your Turn!

  • Which do you look forward to most?
  • What else would you add to the list?

Why Your Tiny House May Pass Inspection, But It Isn’t Legal

For a long time I have been thinking about how tiny houses should pave a path to legality, but it has been very difficult to have a quality dialogue about it because there is so much that is misunderstood.

The question of how to become legal is a contentious one.  Most of that contention stems from the following elements:

  1. Less than honest building companies telling half truths when it comes to legality just to make a sale
  2. People calling their tiny houses legal, when in reality the building inspector didn’t want the head ache of filing paperwork to condemn the house, so they just pretended like they didn’t see it.  If that inspector had to go on record about it, they’d never allow it.
  3. The fact that most folks don’t understand the nuances of most building codes
  4. People assuming because one person did it a certain way, that it will work everywhere

I think number two is pretty big and is the main point of today’s post.  There are many people claiming their house is legal when it is in fact not legal at all.  The truth is that building inspectors are people who are often overworked and are in desperate need of more staff.

How this plays out is that there are a variety of things that happen where a tiny house breaking codes will go unchallenged by the inspectors and the city, but if it were to be brought up in court, if neighbors made too big of a deal of it, that house would be condemned in a heart beat.  It’s an important distinction: legal or not contested, I would assert that anyone who says their house is “legal” is in fact just not contested.

A few reasons your house could “pass” or not be challenged:

They never even came to your house:

There are times that an inspector will say they visited the site, but didn’t have time, so they didn’t show.  Most cities require inspections to happen within a certain time frame, but with fewer inspectors and the city continually raising the number of inspections per inspector, stuff just doesn’t get done. Their work metrics makes it so they literally don’t have enough time to do it all.  This plays out where they have to fudge the numbers and just approve stuff sight unseen.  There are even some cities, if they don’t get to your site within a certain time, the city website auto approves the permit.

They don’t want to fill out the paperwork:

There are times where busy people will make decisions based on not making more work for themselves, this equally applies to inspectors or municipal workers.  When they see the house they make a judgement, is this worth the paperwork?  Will people make a fuss over this house?  Will approving this now save me time and work?  In man cases they’ll just sign off because they don’t have time to fill out all the paperwork that goes with condemning the house.

They’re having a good day:

After working with the city on getting thing permitted and past code I’m floored at how much is left up to the whim of the inspector.  If they had a great send off from their spouse that morning, they are happy with their life, or are just having a good day that day, they’ll approve stuff just because.  Catch them on a bad day, they’ll spread that misery around in the form of failed inspection stickers.  We’d like to think the code is black and white, but in reality it couldn’t be further from the truth.

They like you:

When I had my water meter inspected I just happened to at the bottom of my driveway when the inspector pulled up.  I walked up to the guy in his truck and began chatting with him.  I don’t recall what we chatted about, but we hit it off pretty well.  Twenty minutes later he said “alright, things look good here, take care!”  He literally never even got out of his truck and he approved the install.

I even have had one friend had an inspector approve their tiny houses and then the next day got a call to ask for a date.

It would cost too much to pursue

I have had two instances where I have seen an inspector approve a tiny house for one reason only: it would cost too much of the city’s money to force a person to get it to code or condemn the house and drag it all through court.  When the city condemns a house, it triggers a whole line of actions on the city’s part and in some cases the inspector will size up the person who owns the home: are they likely to take this decision to court?  Typically the person who is able to afford a tiny house, is also able to afford a lawyer, so the inspector does some mental math.

In one of the instances that I was present at, the inspector confided in us that he wasn’t going to condemn the tiny house, because it would cost the city about $30,000 to do all the things required by law, to fight it out in court, and all the staff time it would eat up;  He said they had a budget for such things, but he picked and choose when to use that money to condemn homes when he saw parents he suspected of neglecting their kids: If he condemned the home, he could instantly get full access for a social worker to make sure the kids were being taken care of.  So when it came to a tiny house with a owner that was proud of their home and a chance to end abuse of children, he passed on the tiny house every time.

Their time is better used elsewhere:

If an inspector has to make a decision on whether to hassle you on your tiny house or chase down the builder of an entire neighborhood, it becomes a numbers game.  An hour with you is an hour he could be getting a large scale home builder to be safe across an entire neighborhood.  It literally comes down to if the tiny house owner burns to death in their home, that’s one person, if he instead makes sure the electrical work is done well with a bigger builder, he could prevent hundreds of deaths.

They actually like tiny houses:

A surprising number of inspectors really like tiny houses.  It’s a breath of fresh air when a homeowner takes such pride in their house, when a home is built well, when it looks great.  Many inspectors work hard to keep big business builders and lazy sub-contractors honest; the less than honorable ones will purposefully cut corners to save money, inspectors spend a lot of time trying to prevent that.  So when a home owner is trying to make the best house they know how, some inspectors will go way beyond just enforcement and instead educate.

They’ll talk you through how to safely ground your house, what is the purpose of different nails, how a $.86 huricane tie can make your house much safer, or remind you to put a smoke alarm in.  It isn’t their job to do this, but they like talking shop and a tiny house is something new and exciting.  If you’re the person that’s listening intently or jotting down notes, your chances of getting a pass on paper is much higher.

They couldn’t find the house when they showed up:

By their nature, tiny houses are… tiny.  So they don’t stick out like normal construction sites do.  In the case of my house, I live on 26 acres, my house and gravel pad takes ups a very small portion of that and I barley cleared trees.  If you drive down my driveway you can’t even see it until your right on top of if, not to mention you can’t see it from the road.

This came into play with me, I had put in to not have a “storm water” fee on my water bill because under a certain square footage they will remove the monthly charge.  I didn’t know they were going to send an inspector until he called me.  When he called he said “I went to check out your house, but couldn’t find it, do I have the correct address?”  I was shocked that an inspector was at my land, but just told him he had the correct address, the water line was for spigot (a half truth for sure, neglecting to mention the tiny house attached to said spigot).  He said “great” and he’d approve it.


What all this means is that tiny houses that are often called legal is in fact not, they are simply not pursued or an inspector choose to not condemn the house.  It’s a huge difference, but people often confuse the two, which makes for a difficult conversation when it comes to building codes.  In many ways these things are good news, they allow tiny house people to live out their lives in peace having the city inspection behind them.  The unfortunate factor here is that if city officials were pressed on the matter, if they were to be called to give an on the record approval, they’d condemn the house instantly.



$50 That Will Make Your Tiny House Look Like A Million Bucks

Looking back on my build I realized that there were a few things that just made a huge difference in the quality of my finish work.  I am total novice when it comes to finish wood working and before my tiny house I had never built anything, so I learned some secrets along the way that I wanted to share.  What I realized was, there was a few things that cost only a few bucks that really took my finish work to the next level in terms of perceived quality.  Here are a few:

tear out

Blue Painters Tape – $3.50

When you’re making cuts on nicer plywood like birchply or appleply you run the risk of tear-out, which is small tears in the veneer.  Veneer is very thin and right where you cut it, you often get tear out on veneer.  This leave a messy looking edge and reduces the quality of your work.  It can look bad enough that you need to trim over it to hide the seam.  If you instead buy a roll of painters tape and line the blade path you can reduce the tear out a good bit.  Stick it to your board and then make your cut!


A Scribe Tool – $15

I think this is just something that most carpenters take for granted as just common sense, but to a lay-person we would never know of it.  I just happened upon this technique when someone off handily mentioned it in a post and I started googling it.  I didn’t know it at the time, but what I found was a solution to a problem I had been trying to figure out and the universe seemed to conspire to show me the solution.  I really like this particular scribe tool, which is $15, but any normal compass can work.

How scribing works is when you’re having a piece of wood that is butting up against another surface and that surface isn’t perfectly flat, you drag the scribe along the surface of the uneven plane and the pencil transfers the profile to wood your butting up with.  With the exact profile drawn out, you then cut it to make a perfect fit.

round over bit router

A 1/8″ Round Over Bit w/ Bushing – $25

There is something about rounding over edges that just makes things look higher end and it’s so easy to do.  I also find rounding the edges of wood makes it more comfortable if you are making something that you’ll touch often: a handle, a ladder rung, or edges of furniture.  This does assume you have a router, but I feel that a router is a necessary tool for finishing any tiny house.

A round over bit does exactly what it sounds like: it takes an edge and rounds it, making the edge curved.  I like the look of a 1/8″ because it softens it just enough, but doesn’t take a lot of material away, it’s a subtle detail that you can only appreciate up close.  The key here is having a bit with a bushing, which is a small metal wheel that is attached to the router bit and allows you to roll the bit along an edge.  It’s important to note that router and bits come in two sizes:  1/4 inch and 1/2 inch; pro wood workers use 1/2″ but I’ve found a 1/4″ worked great and was cheaper.  I like this particular round over bit; with a bushing you place the bushing on the outside edge and it perfectly spaces the cutting head (assuming you’ve properly aligned it vertically; make sure to do a test piece).  This is great because as long as you keep your router plate flat, you can’t mess it up!  It also lets you move fast, you just set the bit, and you can drag it along very quickly.

align a table saw blade tiny house

Align Your Table Saw – Free

I don’t know why, but this never occurred to me when I first started using tools, but then need to be aligned.  I think the biggest offenders tend to be your table saw and your miter saw.  Out of the box, saws are only so accurate, but with a few minutes of tweaking, you can get your blade to a high degree of accuracy.

I’d suggest getting a high quality blade right off the bat and tossing the stock blade.  If you can also spring for a higher end fence, that can help a good bit.

Even a tiny fraction of an inch can add up when you’re ripping a piece of plywood over an 8 foot distance and it will just make your frustrated later when you go to fit things together.  Check out these videos below on how to align your table saw:


So I hope you find this useful, let me know your tips of taking your finish work to the next level in the comments!

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