Archive for the Tiny House Category

Making The Leap To Tiny Living – Jody And Bill

Making The Leap To Tiny Living - Jody And Bill

Today we have a post written by Jody Brady, she and her husband had came to the very first Tiny House Conference and through their journey of learning, building their own tiny house and living in it full time ever since, I’ve had them come speak at the Conference.  You can read more about them, their life and their amazing house at: http://simplyenough.weebly.com

This April, we’re happy to return as speakers at The Tiny House Conference in Charlotte, NC.  It will mark four years since we attended the conference as volunteers, trying to figure out if we were really going to build a tiny house. Showing up at that conference was an important part of our “tiny” journey, some six years in the making.

brick house

Our first “aha” moment came almost ten years ago. We were living in a neighborhood we loved, in a big house we’d shared with more family and friends than I can remember now. But they’d all moved on, and there was just the two of us, sitting in our family room trying to remember the last time one of us had been in the basement apartment or the guest room—or the living and dining rooms, for that matter. We lived in a few rooms, but paid the mortgage, taxes, insurance, maintenance and utility bills on the entire 3,000-square-foot house. We realized the house owned us.

Money was only part of what was troubling us. We’d gone to several Solar Decathlons sponsored by the Department of Energy. At these events, college teams compete to make energy efficient homes, but the competition goes beyond energy consumption. Aesthetics, livability, sustainability of materials and cost are all evaluated, as well. Before we’d ever heard of the tiny house movement, it was these beautiful, compact, sustainable homes that inspired us. We saw that it was possible to tread a little lighter on the planet without sacrificing anything.

Add to that, all the time our house demanded of us. Painting the house inside and out took months of our “free time.” Repairing the decks. Landscaping. Cleaning. Not to mention the hours and hours and hours we felt trapped in jobs we didn’t want to be doing just to pay the mortgage.

So, though we loved where we lived, we came to the realization that the house had to go. We put it on the market before we knew what would come next. I was reminded of a phrase from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: “Leap and the net will appear. ” We leapt, and we sold the house just before the real estate crash of 2008. Thanks to that fortunate timing and all the work we’d done on the house, we made a lot of money on it. We also sold most of our furniture. Things I thought I couldn’t part with at first, but quickly came to realize I didn’t miss: a grandfather’s clock we’d bought on impulse, our dining and living room furniture, our dressers and side tables, our second set of dishes, our kayaks. (Well, truth be told, we’ve missed the kayaks more than all the other things combined.)

tiny house entertaining

What made the process easier was focusing on what mattered to us. I love my Grandma Mae’s china—so we kept that and started using it everyday, rather than storing it away for special occasions. I love the antique silver that came from my other grandmother.  That stayed. So did old books and rugs, travel mementos and art. What went: things we could go out and buy again at a store.  Duplicates. Things hidden away in boxes and closets—many of them we’d forgotten we owned. We went digital with our snapshots and music (and made decent money selling off all the CDs.)

We learned along the way how best to get value out of what we were selling. We sold collectibles on eBay, antiques at auction, furniture on CraigsList, household items at yard sales. Every dollar in bought us time to figure out what we wanted to do. When a relative asked us to fix up a condo she wanted to sell, we were ready for this rent-free opportunity to test out living in a smaller space. And with the house and most of our possessions sold, we quit our full-time jobs and didn’t have to look for new ones.

We took our time figuring out the next step. By keeping our expenses at a minimum, we were able to wander through Panama for eight weeks. We drove cross-country twice. We got to babysit our first grandchild.  We could spend time with our parents when they were sick and then be with them when they died. After our wandering phase, we lived in a couple apartments, trying out square footage, and we came to realize that even a one-bedroom apartment was more than we needed.

tiny house event workshop

Which brings us to the 2014 Tiny House Conference. We’d become aware of tiny houses and thought if we could find the right piece of land, we might want to build one ourselves. We had experience fixing up six houses over the years and figured we could learn whatever we didn’t know. Doing our tiny house research, we read about Ryan Mitchell’s conference in Charlotte and realized it would be a perfect opportunity to decide if we were ready for another leap. Around that same time, a friend living in the Blue Ridge Mountains offered us a corner of her land to build a tiny house.  It seemed the universe was sending us a message.

Volunteering at the conference made attending affordable for us, since we still weren’t working. We split up during our free time: I went to talks on design and building techniques; Bill focused on utilities—especially plumbing and solar. We learned more about composting toilets and trailers and, most importantly, we toured our first tiny houses. Seeing a picture or a video on a computer screen is nothing compared to walking through a space, climbing up into a loft, looking at appliances, comparing floor plans, or asking questions of people living the life we were contemplating.

tiny house framing

What did we take away from that conference? Most importantly, we’d made our decision: we would build a tiny house. We committed to that decision by ordering our trailer from someone we met at the conference—Dan Louche of Tiny Home Builders. We also bought Dan’s book, Tiny House Design & Construction Guide, which gave us an invaluable step-by-step overview of the building process.

10 foot wide tiny house

Skip ahead to today: We’ve lived in the tiny house we designed and built for more than two years. We love it more than any house or apartment (and there have been many) we’ve ever lived in. The space fits us perfectly. It doesn’t require much maintenance. It requires little more energy than what our solar generator produces. We cook with clean-burning alcohol and do much of our heating with a cleaning-burning wood stove. We compost our waste, and we grow some of our own food. We are truly living our dream: consuming fewer resources and spending our time as we choose.

Which brings us to the 2018 Tiny House Conference in Asheville, NC, where we’ll be speaking about off-grid living and tiny house budget and finance.  I can tell you this from personal experience: If you’re considering the leap to tiny living, attending a conference like this can transform intention to action. Ready for a leap?

Getting Ready For The Holidays

The holidays are fast approaching and that means a really busy time here at the tiny house.  With family in town and holiday parties with friends, it can get a little crazy so I decided to try to get all my to do list done so I could just enjoy the time.

First off, I decided to get a tree this year, something I haven’t done in a long time, but I found the perfect solution one day while I was picking up some wood filler from the hardware store.  It’s a rosemary bush that is shaped and pruned into the form of a Christmas tree.

christmas tree tiny house

I haven’t decorated it, YET!  But I really like the look of it and it smells great, plus come spring time I plan to drop it into the ground and let it open up some so I can use it for cooking.

In a small space it can be tricky to do holiday things, but this little tree is perfect for the season.  At only about 2 feet tall and about 10 inches round, its a great little way to decorate for the holidays.

how to fix floor noises

The next big task I had to do was fix my floors.  I have solid wood floors made of maple and I love the look of them, but they are noisy.  There were several places where the floor would flex enough to make noises and I have wanted to fix it for a long time, but didn’t know how.

I found this neat little kit for sale called the Squeak No More Kit which was exactly what I needed.  The screws are specially designed to snap the head off, so you can drive them into your floor and then they break off below the surface of the wood.

floor noise fix

I was a bit hesitant to put holes in my nice floor, but this kit made a very small hole and then can be almost completely hidden with some wood filler colored to match the wood tone.  To use it you first drill a pilot hole with the jig, then drive the screw through the middle hole of the jig and then you hear a snap!  Give it a little wiggle and you have the screw recessed below the wood surface.

The trick to this is you need to be confident, if you go slow you will run into issues with the snapping.  So when your drive in the screw, go in with a lot of speed and torque, I used my impact driver to put the screws in.

before and after stair build

One my floors were nice and quiet, I decided to update my stairs.  The old one was very sad looking and wasn’t super stable, so I wanted to install a nice set.  I wrote all about this in this post about how I built my stairs.

gifts for christmas

Finally I’ve decided to buy and wrap all my gifts way ahead of time so that I don’t have to worry about it.  While people are still thinking about Thanksgiving, I want it all to be done with.

A lot of these things are things that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but they just hung over me, always at the back of my mind that I needed to take care of.  So I just decided to go to town on them and get setup for the holidays early this year.

Your Turn!

  • What things are you going to do to get ready for the holidays?
  • What things do you do to reduces holiday stress?

Building A Basic Electrical Kit

My sister is a new home owner and with it comes a lot of handy man projects that she and her husband have to figure out.  So I was called in to teach them how to install a new chandelier in the dining room.  As part of it I decided to put together a little kit for them to handle all the basic needs of a DIY homeowner when it comes to basic electrical work.

Things like changing lights, adding a fan, swapping a switch of plug all are done very easily and most people can figure out how to do it safely and successfully with a few basic tools and a little know-how.

Here’s What I Put In The Kit

 

First is the tools of the trade.  A good set of wire pliers and a box cutter.  I used to think it was silly to have a set of pliers just for wiring, but when I had to wire my own house I got a pair.  It was there I realized the value of these very specialized set of features.   I’ll often strip wires with the pliers themselves, but sometimes a good ole box cutter is needed.  The pliers ran me $15 (get yours here) and the box cutter was $5 (found here)

Next was electrical tape, I don’t skimp here and I always buy name brand.  Nothing special, but a must have supply to have on hand for any electrical work. You can get them here

wire tape

Next were wire nuts.  Often lights and fans come with some, but if you ever need to redo the connection, it’s best practice to use a fresh wire nut.  These are pretty basic, but I found a good deal on them here

wire nuts

Zip ties are just one of those things that you can’t have enough and they are amazing useful.  I just buy them in packs for cheap here

zip ties

Finally I included a small bit of 14 gauge wire which is good for low power draw items and things up to 15 amps.  For 20 amps I’d go a bigger wire, but for most uses this is fine.  Having some extra is great when you need to make a pig tail or extend a wire because you had to cut it kinda short and need some working room.

14 gauge wire for 15 amp

Finally I packed it up in a nice box for them as their gift.  electrical tools

If you want to learn more about doing your own electrical for your tiny house or even a big house, check out our guide to electrical, click here.

Upgrading My Stairs To My Tiny House

I recently re-leveled my tiny house after some settling had occurred over the past few years.  I had noticed that my sink wasn’t draining all the way and it tipped me off that the house might be a little out of kilter.  So this time around I ended up changing from jack stands to cement blocks and adding more of them so I had a more stable foundation and in the end my entry way was a good bit further off the ground.

before and after stair build

I decided to have a permanent set of steps that was actually tied to the house, not something I could just pick up and go.  I discovered at my local big box hardware store that they had these stair kits.  Basically pre-cut stringers and milled treads that took all the guess work out of it.

When I found them I was surprised how inexpensive they were and for only $9 each, they took all the guess work out of me needing to figure out the complex angles, something I had been dreading.  The treads were around $8 each, but they were nicely milled and the best part, they were designed to fit the stringers perfectly.  So for $58 I had the full kit for my stairs without needing to figure out a single angle or make a single cut!  I was sold!

tools to build stairs

The Tools:

  • Impact Driver
  • Speed Square
  • Carpenter Pencil
  • Ext. self tapping screws
  • Tico hanger nails
  • Palm nailer
  • Shovel
  • Level

 

 

 

Next I dug down to solid dirt and placed two solid blocks, leveled them with sand and then laid the stringers.  After about 30 minutes of fiddling with it I was able to get the blocks, the stringer and the house to all be perfectly aligned.  A quick check with my level and I was off to attach the stringer to the house itself.

To do so I used these flexible angle hangers to firmly attach it to the house.  I was fortunate that behind my trim was 3 inches of solid wood to mount into.  So I got the hangers mounted and then attached the stringers to the brackets with “tico nails” which are galvanized beefy nails that are designed to be used with these metal brackets (very important that you use the right nail to prevent corrosion).

I used this palm nailer for this and shot a quick video showing you how it works because most people haven’t ever heard of this tool.

One I got the bracket nailed in, I nailed the stringers in place, you can see it here:

stair hangers

I rechecked my level, made sure the stringers were going straight out from the house with my speed square and then I started installing the bottom stair.  I did this because I knew the top of the stair was straight and level where I attached it, by doing the bottom stair, I could ensure it was straight and level too.

What this meant was if the bottom and top were all good, everything else would be good to go in between. If the set of stairs had been a longer run, I may have done a little more checking because the longer the board, the greater the warp comes into play.  On this short of a run I wasn’t going to worry about it.

It was here where I decided to add an extra brace in as a redundant support because I’ve never build any stairs before and I just didn’t want to have to worry about it.

stair supports

After I finished all the bracing, way over-engineering it, I dropped in the remaining treads.  Now before someone points it out, my treads aren’t even on purpose.  The left side I aligned the overhang so that it aligned with the outside edge of my house.  I could have cut the treads to match the offset on both sides, but I liked the look and it allowed me to have places to put potted plants on the side without obstructing the main walkway.

new stairs build

A little tidying up and a new welcome mat and I had a nice looking set of stairs!

Your Turn!

  • What projects are you looking forward to on your tiny house?

Winter is coming: How to winterize your tiny house

The one trick to tiny houses in the winter is keeping your water connection from freezing.  In past years I have been too lazy to actually get my pipes ready for winter, but this year I decided I’d take the time to do it up right.

I should start out by saying that I live in NC, where it doesn’t get crazy cold and we get very little snow.  On average I think we’ll have around fifty nights that drop to 32 degrees or below in a given year.  In many cases it just hits 32 degrees for a few hours in the early morning, which isn’t long enough for my water lines to freeze at all.

This year I decided to do a little more winter prep than normal and insulate my lines.  I haven’t taken the step of putting heat tape along the water line yet because I’m running on solar and a heating element such as that would drain my batteries in a heart beat.  IF I was on the grid, I’d be hooking that heat tape up too.

hook up water to tiny house

My tiny house is connect to city water which I ran to my house.  Since I had to run all the underground lines before the house ever was on the property I opted to use a traditional RV setup.  A frost proof hydrant connects to my tiny house via a drinking safe hose (really important to have a potable water hose!).  The inlet is a RV water inlet that installed on the side of my house.

insulate water lines tiny home

I thought about making something more elaborate, requiring wood working, etc. But when I started to price things out I realized that I was looking at spending $100-$200 which was more than I wanted to spend and honestly it would have taken a good bit of time.  I’ve not done this in the past because I was being lazy, so I knew I needed something that was quick and dirty.

That lead me to this method. I got a single roll of insulation for $13 and already had the trash bags and duct tape. This way I wouldn’t have to pull out any power tools and the entire job took about 20 minutes.

Price: Check.  Lazy factor: Check.

I wrapped the batts like this so that I could get the insulation to snug up against the ground nicely while keeping the backing outward for a bit of durability.  Some duct tape to hold it all together and I was done.

no freeze pipe

Next I wrapped the water hose in rubberized foam which was the highest r-value I could find.  I added some duct tape on the outside to make sure it held together nicely and then bagged the whole thing.

So it isn’t a perfect solution, but the black bag is nice way to keep the water out and the outside looking somewhat presentable.  We’ll see how it goes this winter!

 

Your Turn!

  • What seasonal preparations do you need to consider?