Here we go!

27 Feb

I’ve finally sorted out my design and have successfully met all my criteria.

I’ve figured out a way to package:

  • a full height apartment fridge
  • full size bathtub (actually… a longer-than-standard one!)
  • full height apartment fridge
  • living room that can seat 6 at a table… it’s 7-1/2 feet by 8-1/2 (The largest Tumbleweeds on wheels are 1 shorter and 1 foot narrower)
  • a changing room / laundry room (with stacked washer/dryer) with lots of clothing storage between the bathroom and the living room.
  • packaged all this in a house only 18′ long.

The changing room / laundry room / wardrobe was critical for me. I want people to have some privacy in the bathroom and not feel like anyone in the living room can hear every rustle of clothing or every noise, and stepping out of the shower into the living room or kitchen as in a Tumbleweed doesn’t work for me. Climbing up a ladder in a towel is a no go for most people (lol), and so is getting dressed laying down in a loft anyhow (ever try to get dressed in a car? It’s impossible) (on second thought, that may be incriminating, so don’t answer that ;))

Plus, in all the tiny houses on wheels I’ve ever seen, your clothes aren’t near the shower, so now what? And there isn’t room for many clothes. Every girl I’ve ever known needs to change clothes a couple times before feeling happy so I think a Tumbleweed would get old for them really quick.

The way I’ve solved these issues is completely different from what’s been done out there and very exciting. Can’t wait to unveil it! ūüôā

So now that I’m done planning, sourcing, and accumulating materials, fixtures, and appliances… it’s time to begin building!

I’ve decided to use SIP construction.¬† Lighter, stronger, better-insulated, more fireproof, less environmental impact, and far easier and faster to build. Habitat for Humanity erected a house in Idaho recently in 45 minutes! The home was finished in 4-1/2 days.¬† Obviously that’s with a crew, but the potential is clear.

I was able to negotiate a discount on my SIPs, but I need to buy the entire batch and it’s about twice as many as I need. So, I did a guest post on Tinyhouseblog looking for locals who might want to split the batch with me and get a serious discount.

I’ve already gotten some nice inquiries from locals, some who want in on the deal, some who lack funds or aren’t ready and want advice or help, and some who just want to come help me build it! So that’s very cool.

Because I’ve put a ton of time and effort into research and preparation, I’ve found many ways to save money and increase quality or at the very least, get the same quality for less money. I’ll post about this in the next couple days in hopes it can help someone build their dream.

Thanks for all the support and interest, everybody!


31 Oct

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I’ve spent a lot of time studying everything from different construction techniques, to the proper nailing schedules mandated by the County (meaning, which type of nail – and there are many – to how far apart they should be from one another, from edges of plywood, from joints, edges of stick frame elements, etc.).

I definitely have a different approach than charge-right-in Ella at, whom I admire greatly for her initiative. ¬†I myself feel more comfortable figuring out what I’m doing – at least most of the way – and then moving fast. I hate needing something, driving to Home Depot, trying to figure out what I need and realizing I should have brought part of my project with me, taking a guess and buying something, then driving home and ¬†finding out it wasn’t the right thing to buy. Then head back to Home Depot again. Repeat, ad nauseum, lol.

One invaluable place to learn has been Youtube. It’s quite interesting that if you want to know how to do most any task, you can find a video demonstration of it. From “how to fix a squeaky floor,” to “how to frame a house,” to “how to remove hard water stains in toilets” to “how to replace the blade in a Skil-saw,” you can find it. An added bonus is that if you check out a couple different videos on the same topic, often you can pick up some small but very useful trick of the trade from an experienced craftsperson, the kind of information that’s often not¬†in any books.

I’ve also been busy finishing an incredibly detailed CAD model of my tiny house and trailer right down to every board, cabinet, and power outlet.¬†Since my house will maximize width and ceiling height, I will construct the trailer myself using leaf springs and a pair of 4″ drop axles¬†from Dexter. ¬†And serious trailer fabrication is necessary anyhow since my house has a major unique twist which I can’t wait to reveal.

One big delay for me was the time learning about, deciding on, and converting my design from stick-built to SIP construction. I’m excited about it since it will greatly speed construction, improve insulation, and reduce weight.

I think total weight is a piece of information not accurately captured by many mobile tiny house folks. 2×4’s are relatively heavy and add up fast, and so does siding, inside and out. I would not be surprised if, once a Tumbleweed (for example) is fully laden, it exceeds the published approximate weight by a significant amount. That’s important because overloading the axles, springs, brakes, tongue, and/or tow vehicle’s gross towing rating, are all bad news.

I’ve figured out some ways to reduce house weight cost-effectively, or even at a cost savings. Looking forward to sharing!

Front and rear windows for tiny sun house

21 Sep

Today I went to ReStore in Azusa, CA and found windows for the front and rear of my tiny house. $5 a piece!

On the way there I picked up a nice apartment fridge (5′ high, a bit narrower than a normal fridge) off Craigslist’s free section. I won’t be using it as I’ll be using a chest fridge (see other posts), so I will either sell it or donate it to the monks at Pine Valley Buddhist Temple if they are still in need.

As I pulled up to get the fridge, there was a nice front door laying on the curb in front of the next house, which struck me as odd because the house and grounds were well-groomed and in very good shape. I stuck the door in my truck on top of the fridge, to donate to ReStore.

I also got a microwave/convection oven for $15 off Craigslist. It’s a microwave that also has electrical heating elements and is a pretty good size, it will serve as both a regular oven and a microwave, without taking up as much space as both.

Habitat for Humanity ReStore

18 Sep

Dropped off a bunch of stuff at the Ventura County ReStore today. For those of you who don’t know what it is, ReStore is a thrift store for building materials. They accept donations and resell items at a discount. The proceeds go to Habitat for Humanity.

When you buy something from ReStore- say, a window – ¬†it means that window was kept out of the landfill, and it also means no additional natural resources were consumed to make that window, as there would be if you’d bought a new one.

I donated 19 doors, 2 bathroom sinks, some nice kitchen cabinets, a desk and credenza, and some light fixtures. All this stuff was in good shape (some of the doors were new!) ¬†but was going to be thrown out with the trash if I or someone else hadn’t picked it up.

Please spread awareness about the ReStore, because our society sends literally tons of building materials to the landfill. We’re wasting things people need and would love to make use of.

Improved refrigerator for homes with solar and/or wind power, Part 2

17 Sep

I spoke with the Founder and CEO of Sundanzer today. He is an engineer who worked on NASA’s refrigeration programs and currently does a lot of military development work. ¬†Even from what little I had read about him I knew he was a sharp guy, as he built a solar-powered car back in 1973(!).

He was very knowledgable and very pleasant to talk with. We talked about my ideas to integrate SunDanzer’s products (ideas on insulation, placement of the compressor and heat exchanger, my dual-mode thermostat controller concept, etc.) and he gave me plenty of input based on his decades of hands-on experience.

When we were hanging up, he added that SunDanzer is working on a thermostatic controller that, among other things, can provide a cooling strategy like the controller I mentioned I’m going to build. He told me to call him when I’m ready because maybe he can save me the trouble of building my own controller unit. Sweet! Definitely not the kind of CEO one might expect.

Improved refrigerator for homes with solar and/or wind power, Part 1

16 Sep

I have an idea to optimize any refrigerator that gets power from an intermittent source like solar or wind.
I’ll make a simple electronic controller that switches between two modes:

  • When there is input power (such as when the solar panels are working, wind turbine is spinning, etc.), the controller sets the thermostat to a rather cold setting.
  • When there is no input power (sun is not out, or no wind for wind turbine, etc.), the controller sets the thermostat to a setting that is not so cold.

The idea behind this strategy is to make good use of power when it’s available, and to conserve energy when power is not available. By getting the contents of the refrigerator quite cold during the day, it will take them longer to warm up at night… and at night, with that higher thermostat setting, we’ll only turn on the compressor once in a while.

To further help things – and this works in any fridge or freezer – you can keep a couple of bottles of water in the fridge or some big frozen things in the freezer, to function as a ‘thermal flywheel,’ just like putting a “cool pack” or bag of ice into a cooler.

I’m curious to see just how long a controller like this will let the fridge can go before having to turn on the compressor. It would be great if it could run just during the day when there’s solar power available. We’ll find out!

Door thoughts

15 Sep

Continue reading

Efficient refrigerator and freezer for tiny house

14 Sep

I’m going to use a top-opening chest freezer and a chest refrigerator in my tiny house. When you open a top-opening fridge or freezer, the cold air stays inside since cold air is heavier than room temperature air. ¬†When you open a normal front-opening fridge or freezer, the cold air quickly spills out, so the unit must power up and cool itself down much more often than a top-opening unit. I’m going to put countertops on top of them and mount them in my kitchen cabinets.

SunDanzer supposedly make some really nice top-opening chest fridges and chest freezers. They even make some units especially designed to work with solar power. Those units are designed to stay cold overnight (up to a week in some cases!) on their own, when there’s no sunlight to power your PV panels. And they are set up to run directly off solar PV panels, or on 12V or 24V DC power, so you can run them without throwing away 10% of your sun-generated electricity to an inverter.

SunDanzer makes two basic sizes and the amount of size inside (5.8 cubic feet for the small one) totally blows away the miniscule amount of space in an under-counter dorm fridge (about 1.2- 1.9 cubic feet that’s not very usable since there’s not enough height for tall bottles, and the freezer intrudes on the fridge space).

Another reason dorm fridges suck when placed under a counter is that this forces you to bend way down or squat down for access. That’s even harder to do in a small kitchen like in most Tumbleweed houses. This link takes you to a portion of a video showing this:

Most people (myself included, until now) are unaware of small and medium sized chest fridges and think that the only alternative to a stand-up fridge is a dorm fridge.  I hope I can spread the word about chest fridges as a terrific option!

Toilet and plumbing stuff

10 Sep

Today I scored a free, new, never used sump tank and pump for septic systems.

I’d like to go with either a nice composting toilet or a nice incinerating toilet, but I’m not going to spend a big chunk of money without doing all my research first. I’ll need something in the interim¬†so I’ll start with a conventional toilet while I do my research and make a decision on which “green” toilet to get.

But how to get the waste water from the flushed toilet to my septic tank? That’s where this sump tank and pump come in.

With a sump pump sewage system, the waste water leaves the toilet and passes through a grinder pump that breaks up¬†all the waste from the house into smaller pieces (so it doesn’t damage the sump pump, and so the waste can be broken down by the bacteria in the septic tank). The waste water then enters the sump tank, which is buried in the ground.

When the sump tank fills up enough, a sump pump inside the tank turns on, and pumps the waste water through a buried pipe running across the yard to the septic tank.

The tank didn’t come with a grinder pump, but I already own the solution: An InSinkerator! Yep, a garbage disposal unit. I got one a while back off Freecycle thinking it might come in handy for just such a use. In fact¬†I saw a guy use one for this same purpose, to drain his RV wastewater tank:

Yard beautification

9 Sep

Today I scored a free faux rock fountain, and while I was driving away I spotted a nice porcelain sink set out next to someone’s garbage cans, so I picked that up too. It’s the wrong size for my tiny house, but I’ll keep it out of the landfill by¬†donating it to ReStore where someone can purchase and make use of it.

The rock fountain is to beautify my backyard a bit. It’s a fairly large yard but it’s along one side it’s bordered by one of those tall, tan cinder block walls. There are a few small trees growing alongside the wall but definitely not enough to de-ugly it. I set up the fountain against the wall near where the tiny house will go, and I’ll plant some kind of climbing vines to cover the wall there.

My friend Jeff is a Hollywood special effects guy ¬†– a hands-on guy, not digital effects – who has probably made every realistic animatronic animal you’ve ever seen on TV or in the movies. The badgers in the Honda commercial, the impaled ox in True Blood, the bird thing in Robin Williams’ What Dreams May Come, etc… all him. Anyway he is also incredible at faux architectural finishes so I’ll get his input on how to make the fountain look even more like real rock.