Archive for the Uncategorized Category

Tiny House Living: Security and Simplicity?

After Ryan’s post earlier this week, I got to thinking about sense of security. Living in a tiny house definitely decreases dependence on money but living the tiny life does not necessarily mean a life free of worries.

happinessBefore jumping in, I have to say that the completion of La Casita came at a time of great upheaval in the lives of my fiancee and I. Our rental had been foreclosed on, the bank had kicked us out, the tiny house was 3/4 done and we were essentially homeless. Luckily I had family in the greater Charleston area that took us in but it was a harsh reality for a couple of months. Since moving in to our house, life has been easier in terms of money but in terms of legal shelter there have been distinct challenges.

I guess my first question for someone thinking about a tiny house would be:zoning do you mind living in an illegal situation according to most zoning codes? If this doesn’t bother you then my second question would be: does possibly not having a home address, which can make acquiring a driver’s license, a post office box or your citizenship difficult, concern you?

These are some of the realities we’ve faced living in a tiny house. Without a home address, it is very difficult to get our driver’s licenses in Vermont. Without a home address my fiance can’t start his citizenship application and in Charleston I couldn’t get a po box without a street address. Not everyone has this issue when it comes to tiny living but it has been a constant for us since moving in to La Casita and I never considered this would be one of the issues I would face.

Having just moved to a new community in Vermont, we’re slowly meeting folks and people are incredibly nice and open to what we are doing but we’ve already had a town official contact us about living in the house and its questionable legality. In a town of 3800 people, it’s not going to take long for us to be noticed. In a city of 100,000 it was much easier to hide from zone enforcement although they would roll by in their truck about once a month. They never stopped and asked questions but the possibility was there and we knew it. La Casita was a “temporary studio space”  to anyone official who asked but it was fairly obvious we were living in it. Luckily, we planted it in the ghetto where cops and officials were more worried about busting drug dealing than some illegal zoning issue. Don’t get me wrong, I loved that neighborhood and living there was wonderful. We had great neighbors and no one ever messed with us but if we had parked anywhere else in the historic district of downtown Charleston, I’m certain we would have been forced to move.

Read more

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?”

our Angel

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.

Phooey the catIn 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.

Consider having a pet in a tiny house

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?).

having pets in a tiny homeMany 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)?

Welcome Alan and Marie

P1000290

A few months ago I did a post about forming a Tiny House Cohort to connect with other people that were building a tiny house at the same time I was.  The idea was that we could meet up and share thoughts, problem solve and have fun through our building process.  From that post I found a couple that was building the same house as I was, at the same time, in the same city.  Not only was it great to find someone, but it further confirmed my belief that Tiny House people are awesome, and Alan and Marie defiantly verify that theory.

So please join me in welcoming Alan and Marie to the ranks of The Tiny Life.  They will be joining us and sharing their story as they build their tiny house.  Here is a little bit about them:

We’re total neophytes when it comes to building, but we have a very strong drive to live as simply and freely as possible, with as little negative impact on the planet as possible. Walk softly and carry very few sticks, (unless they’re 2x4s, in which case, always carry at least 2 extra). Alan’s works in money, and I work in market research, but our focus is on getting ourselves out of the rat race as soon as possible, and if that means living in a 130 square foot house, so be it. We’re in our early 30’s, no kids, one dog, two cats. We decided to build Big Red in 2011, bought plans in 2012, and “broke ground” in 2013.

As they post you can follow their posts specifically here:  https://www.thetinylife.com/category/alan-and-marie  They will of course show up on the regular blog so you can see them along their journey.

Day Two – Tiny House Workshop

I wanted to do a second update from my time at the Tiny House Workshop put on by Tumbleweed Tiny Houses.  The second day was focused on the design of tiny spaces.

Jay spoke about subtractive design, which is a process of design where you remove elements to refine a design without detracting from the design at the same time.  The balance between removing elements and simplifying the design while still maintaining the core functions and needs that a home provides are inspired by a list in Christopher Alexander’s book, A Pattern Language.

Another point that Jay hit home was that of “vernacular design” where certain design element subconsciously signal us to understand that the design is a home.  Things like a porch or a defined angle on a gable roof.

The last part of presentation was done by Greg Ramsey of Village Habitat Design.  His company specializes in designing small house communities.  It was a really great presentation on how we can rethink traditional housing, layout traditional urban lots to have community, interaction with nature and higher home density that is a quality not typically seen today.  What I really like about Greg’s approach is that his goal is to turn 60-90% of the land into green spaces and gardens.

All in all it was a great workshop, the design approach was an interesting one, to see and understand that Tiny Houses are so intentionally designed.  The added conversation of community building was really fascinating and really got the wheels turning!