Construction Experience and a Place for My Tiny House

So you want to build a Tiny House… Great! Wonderful! Awesome!!! Until you get to the actually building part… I don’t know how to do that. Do you? I mean, I get the idea, but when it comes to reading building plans and using a nail gun and a table saw… um no. Not in my experience. Then, how do you get experience or even some level of comfort?

The first idea I had was classes. This is probably a great option, but they cost money, which I don’t have a lot of these days. There are some that are free, like the ones that they offer at Lowe’s. Most of them are about finishing touches like tile and flooring. What about the actual structure? There are several tiny house companies that offer workshops, but again, they cost money. Like $400 for 2 days. I’m sure that they are provide a lot of good information and that they are worth it, but I just can’t afford that at this point.

The next idea I had was working in construction. But that would require me to give up my current day job, which I love. I can’t trade race cars for… well.. anything. So that’s not an option either.

Today I found an awesome website with all kinds of information on it: http://www.tinyhousecommunity.com/

There was a listing on there looking for volunteers. I don’t know why this wasn’t my first thought. I swear I have gotten more jobs by volunteering than any other way. So, I reached out to them and set up a time to help them out. Of course, their first question was “Do you have experience?” But thankfully they followed with “It ok if you don’t. No worries!” So I am going to get some experience. I haven’t really met anyone who owns a tiny house, so I’m pretty excited about that as well.

The other cool thing about the website is that they have listings for land and for people who want to rent their land to people with tiny houses! This was one of my MAJOR concerns. I have no place to build and/or park my house. I had no idea where to even start looking. This is a huge resource. I have reached out to a few of the listings and am waiting to hear back.

Trailers

When you are ready to start actually planning building a tiny house the first thing to consider is where you are building it. Because of the building codes and minimum square footage rules, most people build them on trailers, which is what I plan on doing.

So, we are going to build on a trailer. Perfect!

What kind of trailer… um… there are different kinds??

Hours and hours of research later I think I have a plan, emphasis on think.

So, most people use this kind of trailer: Tumbleweed Trailers. One of the companies that makes tiny houses is even nice enough to make their own trailers with all of the proper attachments and things. You can buy them directly from them so you don’t have to modify anything. How nice of them!

The thing with those trailers, though, is the wheel wells. They are RIGHT in the way. The trailer actually 8.5 ft wide, but the “build” width is just under 7 ft. When you are talking about a tiny house, those a foot and a half is A LOT to give up.

So, my plan is to use a “deck over” trailer. That means that the wheels are under the trailer, rather than through it. That will give me the full 8.5 ft if width for my house.

The drawback to this kind of trailer is that it sits higher than the other kind.

The idea is to keep the house at or under 8.5 ft wide and about 13 ft tall. That way you can move it without a permit. This isn’t a make or break thing for me, but I’d like to keep it as small as possible, but still comfortable.

With the trailer being higher, about a foot higher, it limits the interior space. This would be a huge issue if you are planning to build a sleeping loft. I’m not, so it’s really not an issue for me. The only thing it will affect is getting into the house. I’ll need a staircase. I was planning on building a deck, eventually, so that won’t be a problem.

Another thing to consider about trailers is weight. A typical tiny house weights around 10,000 lbs. So, when you are looking for a trailer, you need to make sure that it is capable of handling that much weight. You also need to consider how much everything weighs when you are building the house. Granite countertops may be fun and trendy, but they might just be too heavy to include.

Something else… How are you going to move this thing?? This was one of the first questions that my parents asked me. The truth is… I have no idea! I am planning on consulting the experts when the time comes, as in people who have moved something like this before. In fact, I will probably hire someone to move it for me.

I have been watching the new shows on HGTV and FYI about tiny houses. On a couple of the episodes of Tiny House Nation they have had problems with the house moving or almost falling off of a jack or something. I can’t imagine handling that by myself. Nor can I imagine my house and all of my hard work and money falling over. That’s too much to risk for my DIY project.

So, where is the trailer coming from??

This is something that I have been back and forth about a lot. It’s the foundation of the house, so it needs to be a good one. It’s going to weight around 10,000 lbs, so it needs to have the right tires and wheels and brakes to handle that. It’s also the most expensive part of the build, and the part that has been the hardest for me so far. The best thing to do is to buy one brand new. For one that I need, 8.5 x 20 ft, it’s around $5,000. That’s over 7 months rent for me.

The other option is to buy a used one. Several problems here: finding one that fits what I want, that is close to where I live, and that doesn’t need a lot of work. The last one is huge, mainly because I don’t know enough about trailers to be able to see if it needs a lot of work, unless it’s like blatantly obvious. All of the listings that I have seen don’t seem to have a huge price difference between new and used. So, for me, the only thing that makes sense is to buy a new one.

The next step for me in my tiny house journey is to find $5k for the trailer. I’m certain that I can find a place to put the trailer and build the house when I get the trailer. That’s another post…

The plan is to put together a presentation about sponsorship – asking people to “sponsor” my build for advertising and mentions in return. I don’t know if I can get a whole trailer this way, but I think I may be able to get a discount on one at least. I’m going to try anyway.

Tiny Kitchen

I can’t even begin to tell you how many houses that I have lived in. But one of the most important things about every one of them was the kitchen. It’s the gathering place. It’s where you spend so much time. It’s important for it to be functional and livable. There is nothing worse than dealing with a bad layout or one that is missing something.

I’m probably a little bit easier to please than most people though. It wasn’t too long ago that I was living entirely out of a bedroom and bathroom, with no kitchen (or no kitchen that I wanted to use. Roommates… Ugh!). So I know all about toaster ovens and washing dishes in the bathroom sink – which I wouldn’t recommend, but it’s better than nothing.

The kitchen that I have now isn’t much bigger. I do have a regular stove/oven and fridge. There is a small, but deep sink and about one cabinet of counter space. There are upper cabinets as well. I have added 2 small wall shelves and a cubical shelf that I got on sale at Lowe’s.

I keep my dishes to a minimum, mostly because it forces me to wash them. If I had 10 plates, I would wash the dishes every 10 days, but since I only have 2 plates, I wash them every other day. It works for me.

The key to a small kitchen is having everything that you need and all of it having a place – organization. I’m not very good at that. To combat that, though, I have decided to do drawers where I can instead of cabinets. It’s SO much easier to throw bowls and cups and spoons into a drawer than to try and organize them in a cupboard. Plus you end up with lots of waisted space above them.

One solution for that is these nifty drawers:

Drawers

Photo from: http://familyhandyman.com

I guess we should start with a list of must haves. That makes more sense here…

Kitchen Must Haves:

Toaster Oven

Mini Fridge

Kitchenaid Mixer

Blender

Induction Stove Top (or 2)

Jars for Storage (of things like flour and sugar)

Things to consider…

I have a couple of large bowls, a mixing bowl from IKEA and some large Tupperware storage bowls. They need a decent size space. I also have a double boiler pan that I’m not willing to part with.

I plan on using the storage jars as a decorative thing as well as functional. I love the look of open shelves with jars and plates displayed. This idea may not work too well if you are planning on moving your house a lot. I’m not. Mine should be pretty permanent.

My list of must have’s seems pretty small to me. I think it should all fit pretty well. I plan on putting the fridge under the counter next to the sink and putting a washer/dryer combo next to it, but facing out toward the living room, kinds like this…

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My house will have an island like the picture above as well, but the house will be wider. And there will be a bar extension over the side facing the living room with stools for an eating area. It may make the washer/dryer access a little awkward, but I’m willing to deal with that.

My kitchen will be shaped like a U, with the opposite wall covered in cabinets. There should be room for the toaster oven to have it’s own cabinet, like a built in microwave, in the upper cabinets. That’s where I plan on hiding the Kitchenaid mixer as well. I saw this cool idea on Pinterest for hiding them…

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Photo from: http://www.kitchen-design-ideas.org/

It worries me a little bit though. Have you ever lifted a Kitchenaid mixer?? They are HEAVY. That much be a really heavy duty shelf. I’m a bit concerned about the whole thing falling down or randomly falling on my feet. I don’t mind it on the counter, cause I think it looks awesome, but I think I might want the counter space more. I’d like to keep the counter space pretty clean. I think that will make the whole house look/feel bigger.

As for the design of the kitchen, I want it to be elegant, but simple. I LOVE white cabinets and white countertops. Would love to have marble, but I think it may be too expensive, even for only 20 sq ft, and possibly too heavy as well. Quartz is a possibility, although price and weight are a factor. Another option is Corian. It costs about the same, from what I can tell, but it may be a bit lighter.

The floor will be the same throughout the whole house. It is going to be dark wood, either bamboo or recycled pallets. The kitchen will be awesome, though, with white cabinets and dark floors. The walls will be either painted white or white washed.

On the wall that is shared with the bathroom there will be a bunch of upper cabinets similar to this:

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Photo from: homebunch.com

I love the drawers! This is where most of my dishes will be and probably most of my food in jars too.

The only other thing I have to consider is the sink. I had thoughts about doing a really cool copper sink, but I think it will clash with everything else. I am leaning towards a deep under mount or possibly an apron sink.

I LOVE these fixtures from Restoration Hardware:

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Oh! And the backsplash… Either this:

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or this:

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Photos from: hominter.com

I may have to look at both of them in the space when I get that far.

That’s the plan for the Kitchen! I’m excited about seeing come together!

Why Tiny?

“Not everyone will get it. Move on.”

Every time I tell someone that I am building a tiny house they ask one question: “Why?” Ok, actually, first I have to explain what it is, then they ask why. I spent half an hour on the phone with my dad last week listening to him try to convince me that an RV is cheaper and a better option. I listened, as every good daughter does, and then I politely disagreed. He didn’t want to hear my reasons, so I thought that I would share them with you here:

It’s a house. It may be tiny, but it’s a house.

The pride of  building something on your own. This is a huge reason for me. I know NOTHING about construction. But I love the challenge of not knowing and doing it anyway. I like the figuring it out part.

The pride of designing the whole thing is also big. I’m falling in love with making a thousand little choices.

It’s not temporary. It’s built to last. Because you are building it, or you know who is building it, you can control the quality. It shouldn’t be flimsy and cheap like a lot of RVs.

It is built for living in year round. That means more insulation and, in turn, lower utility costs.

It’s more expensive than an RV, but it’s also more valuable when you are done. It will appreciate, like a house, not depreciate, like a car.

It requires less money up front than an RV or a traditional house. I’m confident that I can get it to a livable point for much less than $10k and then finish the rest as I go.

It’s safer. RVs are built with all kinds of plastic and toxins. My tiny house will be built with much safer materials.

It can be built to be off the grid. This isn’t my first consideration, but the more I think about it, the higher it gets on the list. You can take it anywhere… like that cheap, but beautiful piece of land that no one wants because it’s too expensive to get utilities to. With solar panels and a rain water collection system, your utility bill would be next to nothing.

Mostly – It’s because I want to build a tiny house. I don’t want to live in an RV. I want to live in a tiny house.

So I leave you where we started… “Not everyone will get it. Move on.”

Tiny Storage

The most common reaction when people see a tiny house is “Wow! It’s so small! Where do you put everything?!?!” This is very true. It is a really small space, less than 200 sq ft.

I think we need to start with a question though: How much do you really need?

How many things do you have lying around your house or garage or attic that you don’t use every day? Or haven’t seen in years? If you have having trouble considering this, think about moving… as in multiple times. I moved about 15 times over the space of about 5 years. I started with A LOT of stuff. It turns out, I’m very sentimental. I actually still have sand in a jar on my bathroom counter from the first time I went to the beach in SC. I grew up in the Midwest. I wasn’t sure I would remember what sand looked like when the vacation was over.

I have lots of things like that though. I have a box of memorabilia from every year for the past 5 years. Then there are 5 sizes of clothes that I haven’t worn in almost 10 years (OMG could it really be that long!!!) and that birthday present that I got from my mom 8 years ago that I will never use, but can’t part with because, well, it’s from my mom. And even though she lives 1,000 miles away and has been to my house once in 3 years, she may just pop in one day for brunch and ask to make cookies with the santa clause cookie pan that she bought me 8 years ago… maybe.

The question is… do I really NEED a santa clause cookie pan? I really don’t even like santa clause. And, to be fair, my tiny house will have a toaster oven, so it probably won’t even be useful anymore. Perfect excuse to get rid of it!!!

But what about all of the stuff that I have that I want to keep? I have a bunch of scrapbooks and all of the fun stuff that goes with making them. I also have a killer scarf collection and a ton of running, cycling and swimming stuff, including a very expensive bike. I don’t plan on keeping my bike inside permanently. I think I will need a shed eventually. But, still a lot of stuff that needs a home.

Lofts

The first solution is always a loft. My house will have two: one above the built in bed and one above the bathroom.

Bed

There will also be drawers under the bed. Or possibly shelves. These will be for things like shoes and handbags, things that I use everyday. They will be around a foot deep. But that leaves a lot of space under the bed that is still useable, but not easily accessible. That space will have a box that is for stuff that you don’t need very often. Kinda like this… sort of.

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Photo from: http://www.decorreport.com/

There will be shelves on both sides of the bed too, at the headboard and footboard. Some will face the inside of the bed and some will face the living area.

There should be space for one more small book shelf to the right of the door when you walk in.

Closet

Right now my closet is a standard small size. But I have two of them. I also have a dresser and two baskets for laundry. Plus ample floor space for anything that gets leftover or rejected in the morning…

In my house I plan on using an IKEA wardrobe (or something similar) that is only about 47 inches wide. This has to fit everything. I have a feeling that the floor space in the tiny house will be at a premium and it will be important to keep it clean.

Kitchen

My kitchen, at the moment, is VERY small. It consists of two cabinets for food and under the sink and under the oven for dishes. I have added two wall shelves and an IKEA box type shelf for additional storage.

In the tiny house I plan to have cabinet space and lots of organization. The mini refrigerator and washer/dryer combo will fit under the cabinets. There will be a space for the toaster oven and my Kitchenaid mixer as well. That thing is huge and heavy! I will also leave a space for a trash can under the sink. All of this will take up a lot of the under counter cabinets. That leaves all of the wall mounted cabinets for dishes and food.

I have a system of keeping things clean. I only have two of everything, two plates, two forks, etc. That way I am forced to wash the dishes and not let them pile up. I also keep the number of food storage containers low so that I don’t have too much in the fridge at one time. It works for me! 🙂

Bathroom

I’m still going back and forth about a sink in the bathroom. If I do end up with one it will be really small. There may just be floor to ceiling shelves. There never seems to be enough counter space in front of the bathroom mirror in the morning. That mirror will have to be somewhere in the shelves.

Plus, I found this cool idea on Pinterest for above the door storage…

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Photo from: http://www.familyhandyman.com/

I don’t know if I will have room for this, or some semblance of it, but I hope so. There will also be a towel rack along with the shower curtain rack. These will double as clothes dryers for all of those things that you can’t put in the normal dryer.

Outside

There will be a small storage area outside as well, on the bathroom end of the house. I would think that this is where the tankless water heater goes and possibly some other plumbing, but I’m not sure.

So there you have it! With all of that storage I should have plenty of room for everything that I absolutely NEED and not enough room to keep anything that I don’t. And a really good reason to clean out my current house.

As a side note, there will soon be a really AWESOME santa cookie pan at the Habitat for Humanity store in Cornelius if you are looking for one.

Designing a Tiny House

From the first day I saw a tiny house I wanted one. I looked through all of the designs again and again. But I couldn’t find one that fit me. Through the years there have been more and more people building them and therefore, more designs. I think I have finally settled on what I want.

The Outside

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Photo from: http://www.shelterwise.com/our-models/

This is the look I want for the outside. This particular house is made by a company called Shelter Wise. It’s there Cider Box model. I love the dark window frames, the french doors and the wood siding. Plus, I like the design as well. I am not planning on having a loft for sleeping, I may have a storage loft or two though. The added features will make it harder to build, which is something to keep in mind. I think that the ceiling hight and added light from the additional windows will make it worth while though.

The Inside

For the inside, I made my own design. Below is a rough drawing that I did.

House interior

So, basically, you walk in through french doors (the large blue rectangle on the lower right) and the bed is at your right. It will look like this:

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Photo Credit: http://www.buzzfeed.com/

I love the idea of a bed/nook that doubles as a couch. It will have drawers underneath, shelves in the sides, and a wall mounted TV that will swivel out to the living room.

The living room consists of a nice, comfy chair, 2 bar stools at the counter, and either a heater or a fire place (still undecided). I like the idea of a fireplace, but I don’t know if I can make it work.

The kitchen is a U shape. It will have white cabinets with fancy glass knobs and pulls. I plan on having a convection/toaster oven and a couple of countertop induction cooktops. The back wall of cabinets should look something like this:

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Photo Credit: http://www.homebunch.com/

The square that is to your left when you walk in the front door is a closet, possibly from IKEA, or possibly one that I am making. I am toying with the idea of it being open (with no doors) but I don’t know if I am clean enough for that!

The Bathroom

The bathroom has a pocket door, a full size regular toilet and a shower. I would LOVE a bath tub. I take a bath almost every day, but I just don’t think that there is room. This is something that I have considered a lot. It just doesn’t make sense.

Their will probably be a small (like IKEA small) sink in the bathroom along with storage.

I will have dark hardwood floors through out the house. If I buy them new, they will be bamboo. But I have so many ideas for buying salvaged, reclaimed or getting construction scraps, I may have to just settle for what I can find. I do want the walls white though, or possibly a light gray. I want an elegant feel on the inside. The feeling that you get from crown moulding and expensive upgrades. I plan on spending some extra money on the finishes, the light fixtures and cabinet pulls and sink faucets and things like that.

For Example:

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http://www.restorationhardware.com/

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http://www.potterybarn.com/

Even for a tiny house, there are so many choices to make and so many things to think about. I’m really excited to be able to start the process!