Two and a half weeks until we pick up the trailer!
In the meantime, I’ve been scouring Craigslist and salvage yards between Seattle and Bellingham for supplies. Managed to pick up 18 sheets of 1.5″ and 4 sheets of 4″ rigid foam insulation from people on Craigslist, to be used in the subfloor and probably the ceiling. I’ve pretty much decided on wool from Oregon Shepherd for the walls. I’ll talk more about insulation choices later.
I picked out all the windows for the ‘downstairs’ portion of the house, half of them at this gorgeously fun place near the West Seattle Bridge:
The other half at Skagit Building Salvage in Mount Vernon, just up the road from my house, where a very handsome tall red-haired man helped load my windows into the truck and told me he’s moving into an Airstream. Universe, thank you for these small moments.
I’m a little nervous buying used windows, but my budget and my build philosophy (use salvaged materials first, eco-friendly new materials second when possible, always being conscious of my status as a broke-ass motherf***er and getting the best I can afford given the first two principles) won’t stand for new, so this is what we’ve got. $550 for windows so far and still need 2 small windows for the loft ends, small windows for the sides of the sleeping loft dormer, and an egress skylight.
I spent 2 days driving all over western Washington purchasing, picking up and delivering supplies to the build site in Monroe., including some 2x4s Dad had leftover from building a shed. Seeing everything collected under the gigantic carport where the house will come to life was pretty cool.
It’s like watching the bones of my little house start to form.
I have an unexpected day off today and while I might pull it together and go do some ‘productive’ things later, for now it’s 11:43 and I’m still in bed watching Russell Brand videos, researching insulation R-value, writing in my journal, drinking ginger tea and listening to the birds chirp outside as the dogs sleep curled at my feet. We’re taking a Domino’s field trip to the 80’s dance night in Bellingham this evening. Life is pretty all right.
Philip Levine was the U.S. Poet Laureate from 2011-2012. He wrote beautiful poems based on his blue collar life in Detroit, combining working class life with a depth of spirit that was often startling to read. He died yesterday. You should read Last Words and Our Valley and especially:
Picture Postcard From The Other World
Since I don’t know who will be reading
this or even if it will be read, I must
invent someone on the other end
of eternity, a distant cousin laboring
under the same faint stars I labored
all those unnumbered years ago. I make you
like me in everything I can — a man
or woman in middle years who having
lost whatever faiths he held goes on
with only the faith that even more
will be lost. Like me a wanderer,
someone with a taste for coastal towns
sparkling in the cold winter sun, boardwalks
without walkers, perfect beaches shrouded
in the dense fogs of December, morning cafes
before the second customer arrives,
the cats have been fed, and the proprietor
stops muttering into the cold dishwater.
I give you the gift of language, my gift
and no more, so that wherever you go
words fall around you meaning no more
than the full force of their making, and you
translate the clicking of teeth against
teeth and tongue as morning light spilling
into the enclosed squares of a white town,
breath drawn in and held as the ocean
when no one sees it, the waves still,
the fishing boats drift in a calm beyond sleep.
The gift of sleep, too, and the waking
from it day after day without knowing
why the small sunlit room with its single bed,
white counterpane going yellow, and bare floor
holds itself with such assurance
while the flaming nebulae of dust
swirl around you. And the sense not to ask.
Like me you rise immediately and sit
on the bed’s edge and let whatever dream
of a childhood home or a rightful place
you had withdraw into the long shadows
of the tilted wardrobe and the one chair.
Before you’ve even washed your face you
see it on the bedoilied chiffonier — there,
balanced precariously on the orange you bought
at yesterday’s market and saved for now.
Someone entered soundlessly while you slept
and left you sleeping and left this postcard
from me and thought to close the door
with no more fuss than the moon makes.
There’s your name in black ink in a hand
as familiar as your own and not
your own, and the address even you
didn’t know you’d have an hour before
you got it. When you turn it over,
there it is, not the photo of a star,
or the bright sailboats your sister would
have chosen or the green urban meadows
my brother painted. What is it? It could be
another planet just after its birth
except that at the center the colors
are earth colors. It could be the cloud
that formed above the rivers of our blood,
the one that brought rain to a dry time
or took wine from a hungry one. It could
be my way of telling you that I too
burned and froze by turns and the face I
came to was more dirt than flame, it
could be the face I put on everything,
or it could be my way of saying
nothing and saying it perfectly.
“It could be my way of telling you that I too burned and froze by turns and the face I came to was more dirt than flame.” I first read this poem four years ago as I was going through a crisis that I can look back now and say was a crisis of deciding, once and for all: do I want to be alive? And this poem was part of a torrent of support that came from all corners and dimensions, saying “Look. We have all gone through this too. You are not alone.” Thank you for that, Philip Levine, and blessings and love on your journey. What is remembered, lives.
Both of these plans have disclaimers along the lines of, “These plans have not been reviewed by an architect and we hold no liability for whatever you use them for”. I have the assistance of my father, an experienced builder, who says we can use these plans as a guide and make whatever modifications necessary required for my specific trailer and my specific design. I don’t know what I would do without him, although after hours of research I feel a thousand times more knowledgeable than even a few weeks ago on these matters.
I like the plans for the Tiny Living house at tinyhomebuilders.com. It apparently has a lot more detail and you can get the SketchUp plans and a materials list. If I was doing this with less help, I might go that route. It’s $349. Other options are to hire a designer and/or builder, which would add a pretty penny to the final build cost but would give you peace of mind if you weren’t born to a crafty blue collar DIY garage, car and airplane builder Alabama boy like my pops.
Some of the changes I’m making to the Caspar plan: adding a dormer in the sleeping loft for some more headroom. Removing the small porch and moving the door to the side of the house towards the front, opening into the kitchen under the sleeping loft. Moving almost all of the windows to one side of the house for passive solar heating and cooling (more on that later). My trailer is designed with recessed crossmembers, so the subfloor is built into the trailer rather than on top of it, which adds 6 inches of headroom to the inside, so the wall height from these plans will have to be modified… I think? Much of this I’ll figure out as I go…
This is my tentative floor plan. Each square is 6″ (which actually leaves 2″ on each direction out. This will be dealt with). From the bottom left, clockwise: toilet closet with composting toilet. L-shaped kitchen counter. 3’x2’x2′ galvanized steel horse trough for use as kitchen sink and bathing. There will also be a removable wooden cover for the tub to make more counter space if needed. Wood stove (With heat shield on kitchen and wall sides and underneath). Fold down desk. Along the back short wall is a built in unit with 2 bookshelves on either side of a 4’x2′ reading nook (aka ‘couch’. I prefer reading nook). On the other long side is an open wall that will have a big mirror for dance practice and will probably have some kind of small table and chairs that can be moved out of the way easily. Small, steep set of stairs, facing the woodstove, with drawers built in. 2’x2′ closet. Dutch door. The side of the house with the sink and desk will have the windows and there will be a big window in the reading nook as well. Considering something small on the opposite wall to create a little light and cross-ventilation, like boat portholes. The dotted lines indicate where the lofts will end. Above the kitchen/bathroom area is the sleeping loft which is roughly 8’x8′ with 4.5′ of height, and above the reading nook is a smaller 3′ wide loft for storage and, in a pinch, guests. There will be a window in the storage loft, and quite a few small windows in the sleeping loft plus an opening skylight (for escape hatch purposes). Opening windows over the desk as well for escape.
I’ve been working 5 days a week delivering pizzas and 2 days a week cab driving and I’m pooped, but have piled up $1000 for the house in 3 weeks. Bought 18 sheets of 4x8x1.5″ rigid foam insulation from a kind man on Craigslist last week which I think will go in the ceiling. Going to Seattle Tuesday to pick up some 4″ rigid foam insulation for the floor from someone else on CL and also going to pick out windows at Earthwise Building Salvage and Second Use, both near the West Seattle bridge. I’m going to buy the best windows at the right size that I can afford now with the money I have (about $600). Tomorrow I’m going to check out Skagit Building Salvage in Mount Vernon, which I’ve been told is ah-MAH-zing (eternal props if you get that quote).
I’m knackered already and we haven’t even started building but overall this is one of the most fun, exciting and engrossing things I’ve ever done. Weeee!
As far as I can tell, there are five main factors to building.. well, anything, but in this case a tiny house.
Depending on how one plans to build a tiny house, you might need more or less of any of these five. For example, if you are hiring a contractor to build the entire thing for you, you need a whole lot of money and not very much time, space, skills or tools. If you are using exclusively reclaimed/used/free materials, you don’t need so much money but you need lots of time. Here is how I plan to deal with each category.
1. Money: I’ve noticed in tiny house blogs that the specifics of money don’t get talked about much. While many people share their budget overall, not very many people discuss HOW they came up with whatever sum they’ve budgeted for. This was intimidating to me. While a $20,000 price tag for a house is much more within my grasp than a $200,000 traditional home, it is still close to my yearly income and therefore, terrifying. I imagined that these people probably took out loans because they have better credit than me (plus, remember my no home loan vow) or that they had really well paying jobs, or an inheritance, or something. On the other end were people that built REALLY low cost houses, which is awesome, but they always seemed a little more rustic than I would like.
My budget is roughly $15,000, finished. I say roughly because I am going to get as much salvaged, used or free material as possible, but also imagine there are expenses I’m not accounting for. Things will change as I build as well I’m sure.
My living expenses are low at the moment. I’ve been staying rent free with my grandparents since September. This was intended to give me some time to focus on writing, which I did, and now has the unintended consequence of allowing me to put almost every penny I make towards the house. I picked up 2 jobs; pizza delivery and cab driving, both things I’ve done before. They pay well enough and I have almost no expenses besides gas, phone bill, food and dog stuff so unless anything goes seriously awry, I’m hoping to put $400 a week towards house expenses for the next 4 months. Then, I’ll go to Alaska to my summer job and will come away with $4-5K towards building expenses in August. I’ll be staying at my Mom’s house then, which is also the build site, and if I need more money I’ll pick up a job in town and work/build until the house is done. I have a variety of skills in high turnover, low wage jobs (lucky me!) so this is generally not difficult to do.
I have also received donations from both parents towards the cost of the trailer, and promised support further down the line from Dad.
2. Time: At the moment I’m working every day to pile up some cash for supplies. The trailer is due to be picked up March 8th. I plan to take weekends off once the trailer is set up at the build site and hope to get the house framed, sheathed and roofed by the time I leave for my summer job in Alaska sometime at the end of May. Once I get home in August I’ll work full time on the trailer until it is finished or I run out of money. Then something will be figured out. Get a job in town and keep plugging away.
3. Space: My mom and stepdad live on three acres about an hour away from where I am living now. Plenty of space for building and they also have a small guesthouse/bunkhouse with 4 beds for overnight build trips. A moment of gratitude for my family!
4. Tools: Dad lives an hour from the build site and has all the tools we will probably need. Uncle Mike has volunteered a planer. I come from a handy family, thank goodness! There are also multiple trucks in the family to be used for moving the trailer/house around until I can upgrade (my ’93 Nissan Pickup ain’t pulling no house, tiny or not).
5. Skills: I, personally, have never built anything in my life. There are lots of tiny house folks that build their houses alone with absolutely no experience and not much experienced help. I think this is awesome, and super inspiring. I am lucky to have a family of builders nearby. Dad build his own garage and will be my go-to for knowledge and advice. Brother Kyle is an electrician and I’ve already started picking his brain. Hurrah for blue collar kin! Later down the line there are also carpenters, cabinet builders and plumbers in the extended friend family whose brains I will be picking (if they’ll let me). And I don’t want to discount the very valuable assistance of my friend Stone who is in the middle of refurbishing an Airstream and will eventually be a tiny house builder herself. Any problem or question I have, she’s already researched. Bless her. But when it comes down to it, I’ll be the one building this thing and the skills will be learned as I go.
Without these amazing familial resources I doubt I would be undertaking this project. I believe a tiny house build is possible anywhere, by anyone, but unless you already have many of the resources listed above (and/or a lot of money), I don’t think it is possible without asking for help. And this is one of the beautiful things I’ve noticed from reading about other people’s tiny house builds… how people come together to make them happen. I’m seeing it happen around me already.
It’s Shakey Graves Day in Austin, Texas. You can download all of his albums and a new one added today on Bandcamp. Pay what you will. Shakey Graves is awesome. Go, give him money, and get some amazing music.
The dogs follow me around the house as if I am God.
Huey’s eyes are soft with trust and desire
when he looks at me.
I take his paw in my hand
and feel him melt into belonging.
I tell him
it is too much to ask of me.
I am flawed.
I am damaged.
I also long for a being bigger
and more knowing than myself
and if some creature appeared before me
seeming to hold all the answers
I too would lay down at her feet,
expose my soft underbelly
and give up all of this fear.
I’ve ordered a 20′ tiny house trailer from Iron Eagle Trailers in Fairview, OR (near Portland). The wheel wells are the maximum 8’6″ wide (to be road legal) and the side bars extend out 8’4″, leaving 2″ for exterior siding and giving me an extra foot of width inside the house if I build the walls over the fenders (many people build inside the wheel wells). I believe there is something with the axles being dropped that will allow me to build my subfloor into the trailer instead of on it, giving an extra 3-4″ of headroom but I’m slightly confused by this. Iron Eagle makes these trailers specifically for tiny houses and work with PAD in Portland. I ordered the optional leveling jacks welded to the four corners, and flashing around the wheel wells to keep water from getting into the walls. The total cost was $4060, which is painful to type but is something like 1/3 or 1/4 of my entire budget. I’m going to use as much reclaimed or used material as possible but the two things I don’t want to mess with are the trailer and the woodstove. I’ll pay top dollar for those things to be safe and sturdy.
The trailer will be done March 7th (five week build, not too bad) and Mom and I are driving down to Portland to pick it up, and staying one night at the tiny house hotel Caravan. Weee!!
I could probably say more about the trailer, and will later, but I’ve just gotten off a hectic pizza delivery shift and have to be up in 6.5 hours for a long day of cab driving. It’s all for the tiny house!