Archive | July, 2010

Inspiration from China

27 Jul

I picked up the first reclaimed item for my house this evening. It was a new IKEA stainless steel wire dish drainer. Not exactly a crucial element, but the inspiration was worth more than the item.

I thanked the woman who gave it to me, Joyce, and asked why she bothered to put this small item on Craigslist’s free section rather than throwing it away. She said, “I am Chinese, and we are very frugal. My parents always tell me not to throw anything away that someone else could use.”

Aside from frugality Chinese people can be incredibly resourceful too, maybe because so many have so little money or opportunities that they have no choice but to be inventive. I was reminded of Wu Zhongyuan, the 20-year old Chinese farmer who built his own helicopter from salvaged materials a few years ago. He didn’t even have a PC so he gathered relevant information by accessing the internet over his cell phone! And this was back when phones had tiny, cramped screens and horrible rendering of webpages. I know it must have been very difficult.

Here’s another guy, 徐斌  (“Bin Xu”), in his DIY gyrocopter.


Joyce remarked that I went to a lot of trouble to drive over for a dish drainer. I explained that the principle was more important than the item and that I was building a small house from as many salvaged or free things as possible to show that it can be done, and to make people think about how many useful things we waste.

She said I should make a public blog since people would be interested to see and read about it.  So here I am.  I hope my words and photos encourage and give confidence to someone with a need or a dream.

Thanks, JoyceXD!


Gathering materials for the tiny sun house

26 Jul

In an effort to minimize my energy consumption and impact on the local landfill, I decided to build this house out of reclaimed materials and items wherever possible. Used lumber requires no trees to be cut down; used appliances require no new plastic, metal, or energy whatsoever. And keeping these items out of landfills is a good thing: I saw a government study that says 41% of our landfill content is construction materials.

I found other benefits I had either not expected or not considered.

First, working with dried lumber is much better than new 2×4’s from Home Depot or the like — when you’re done cutting new commercial grade lumber and you come back the next day to frame it, the boards are all different lengths. The new green lumber is also generally pretty warped. Older wood is also of a higher quality as the growth rings are much more dense. And new pressure-treated lumber gives off all kinds of nasty chemicals, so much so that there are health warnings on most of it, advising you to seal your home to prevent inhaling any of the chemicals. Scary!

Also, used or reclaimed materials are less expensive, or are even free. Check out, craigslist (especially the free subsection under ‘For Sale’), ReUseIt, your local newspaper or Penny Saver, and garage/estate sales.

As I looked around at what was available to use to construct my house, I realized building a little house like this is within reach of a lot of people who never would have thought they could either own a house or build one. Not everyone has $50,000, $10,000 or even $5,000 to build a home.  Even when it comes to free or inexpensive items, many people only get a half hour lunch at work and can’t take time off to go run errands. And many people are single parents who have a narrow window of time to make pickups between getting off work and putting the kids to bed.

I resolved to build my house in a way that serves as an example – and hopefully inspiration and encouragement – to people who have the desire but limited money, time, knowledge, and/or confidence.  I’m going to gather as many free materials as possible on my way to or from work, or on weekends.

If you have a dream of building your own house, be it tiny or large, I hope I can give you the encouragement and assistance to begin. I have no construction experience whatsoever myself, but I know I can do it. I know you can, too.

Strategy: Plan, then buy, then build.

22 Jul

This blog will be a little different than most home construction blogs as I’m going to make as many of my decisions as possible before I start spending money in earnest.

In a project like this I feel it’s unwise to make decisions under pressure — the result is usually spending too much or not researching enough to find the exact right solution.

Also, I do not want to just charge ahead and begin building a house only to later make compromises or have problems that could have been avoided in the planning stage, so before I begin construction or acquiring materials I’m going to work to try to meet all my criteria.

Once the plan is complete, I will acquire as many of the materials as possible (everything from lumber to light switches to appliances), before the first nail goes in.

Finally, once I have a plan, the tools, and the materials ready, I will build. Because of all the preparation and readiness I think the build itself will happen relatively quickly.

So instead of a blogging about a long build process, there will be a few months of posts about research and planning, then the shortest part will be about the construction. 🙂

Tiny sun house project begins

19 Jul

I credit Jay Shafer of Tumbleweed Tiny Houses (and especially the Yahoo! story on him) with popularizing the small stick-built-house-on-a-trailer movement. Seeing his beautiful creations was the inspiration for my project. Thank you, Jay!

Jay’s personal preferences include gravity water systems and a small under-counter fridge. My preference for a home does not include sacrificing such conveniences.

My criteria:

  • a bathtub, not just a shower
  • a sink in the bathroom
  • a walk-in closet or changing room for getting dressed in privacy and for easy access to stored clothing
  • a house wide enough that six or more people could sit in the great room around a dinner table
  • at least two private areas (rooms or lofts)
  • can sleep two couples comfortably full time with room for a third couple to sleep over
  • no need to stoop over to access a dorm room fridge beneath a counter
  • a large freezer and a large refrigerator
  • a convection oven and a microwave oven
  • two cooktop burners
  • higher water pressure than a basic gravity system
  • windows in every room

I know Jay Shafer has put a lot of work into maximizing space in his designs’ floorplans and there doesn’t seem to be much on the table so I know I have a challenge ahead of me.

Genesis of my tiny sun house project

18 Jul

I’m sharing the design and build of a tiny house.

A little about me:

I’m living in a four-bedroom, 1.75-bathroom home on a half-acre in Southern California. The house is probably 6 times bigger than what is needed to maintain the same or better quality of life.

I have long thought about:

  • how little space is actually used on a daily basis in my current house.
  • how few of the things in my current house are needed, wanted, utilized, enjoyed, or even seen.
  • of the things I do use, how few of them are used frequently.
  • how stuff doesn’t equal happiness.
  • how the more things I own, the more weighed-down I feel.

A little about my tiny house:

I had seen Dee Williams on the news in the past and although her house is beautiful, it did not inspire me to live similarly due to its austerity (no running water, no shower, no fridge or freezer, no space for guests to socialize).

Then in July, 2010, I saw Yahoo!’s mini-feature on Jay Shafer. It grabbed my attention, perhaps because his Epu looked a bit cozier than Dee’s house. I watched several videos on Youtube featuring Jay and Tumbleweed Tiny Houses, as well as on other people (like Bakari Kafele or Peter King) choosing to live simply and responsibly, and I became even more inspired.

When I was younger I was interested in the acquisition of money and things as I thought these were sources of happiness — they can be, but not to as large a degree as we may think. Now that I am a father I realize nothing is as important as either time or living your beliefs; that money in and of itself creates no happiness, and material things rarely create deep or enduring pleasure. (Interesting article: But Will It Make You Happy? –

I decided to simplify and downsize, and see how I like it.
This includes building and living in a tiny house.

I’m calling it “tiny sun house” as it’s going to have a lot of natural light inside, and generate some of its electrical power and heat from the sun. To build a tiny house you don’t need to use alternative energy, but I’m going to try it and see how it works out. I’m created this blog in hopes it may assist or inspire someone just as Yahoo!’s video on Jay inspired me..