Well, Water & and a Refinished Tiny House

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Refinished House

We just got back from an incredibly productive three day Memorial Day weekend at the property where we finally accomplished two major tasks.  First, we finally got our well all hooked up so we can not only store water in our new water tank, but can also get it back out again we want too.  Next, we use that water to strip and refinish the whole exterior of the tiny house and then re-stained of all of the exterior cedar as well.  I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to have both of these things done.

For those who haven’t been following the story, we came back from three months in Asia this winter to find the tiny house entirely covered with black, splotchy mold.  It turns out this mold was a result of the Penofin stain that we decided to use on the exterior of the house.  The Penofin stain looked beautiful when it went on.  However, we have since found out that 90% of the people who use Penofin stain end up with black mold growing on their deck or house within one year of application.

After much thought and research, we eventually decided the best way to handle this was too completely strip, brighten and re-stained the entire house using a water based Defy Extreme Cedar tone stain.

I could spend paragraphs and paragraphs detailing all of the steps we went through to get the well working and the house refinished this weekend.  However, I think the pictures tell the story better than any can thing I can write, so here they are.

We got the well pump running properly:

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The Well Properly Wired (Unlike Three Weeks Ago)

It only took 35 minutes for the pump to fill our 550 gallon tank.

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Water actually going into our water tank (1500 feet from the well)

We also re-did the piping at the well so all the pipes were underground and added a spigot so we could get water directly from the well, if needed.

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We covered all of that with dirt and added some big logs so no one could accidentally drive over our new spigot.

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We also added a spigot 100 feet downhill from the water tank.

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Spigot

The spigot allowed us to attach a 50 foot hose and use that to feed a pressure washer to help clean the house.

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I’m having way too much fun here

Refinishing the house was a four step process.

  • First, we needed to apply a chemical stripper using hand sprayer (we used Restore-A-Deck).
  • Second, we needed to scrub all of the remaining mold and Penofin stain off the house.
  • Third, we needed to apply a chemical brightener to restore the PH level of the exterior cedar wood.
  • Fourth, after letting the house dry for 48 hours, we needed to apply our new Defy Extreme stain.
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Sheila applying stripper to the outside with a hand sprayer

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The goop that was coming off the house

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Sheila working on the gable (I swear I actually did some of the work)

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Starting to scrub off the remaining mold and old Penofin stain off the house

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After stripping and brightening the wood

48 hours after stripping and brightening the wood, we were finally able to apply new stain.

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Tiny House Looking Pretty Again

Before and After:

 

 

 

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Tiny House, Big Gathering

Everyone In Front of the Tiny House

May 22, 2017:

We just had a really enjoyable and memorable weekend at the tiny house hosting my college friends from MIT and their families, 22 people in all. We have had several parties at the tiny house now, but this was by far my favorite.

What was especially nice about this weekend was that people came from all over to be with us. We had several relatively local people from the San Francisco Bay area, but also people from Washington, Southern California, Arizona and Connecticut. When I built my tiny house, I never imagined that it would become a way to reunite friends I made years ago that now live all over the country. Somehow, the tiny house keeps bringing people together in ways I never quite expect.

When the first of us arrived at the property on Saturday morning, we spent some time getting set up, unloading cars, pulling things out of the shed, setting up the outdoor toilet, setting up a canopy and tables for the food and unfolding all the camp chairs. We all worked together and had the setup done in about an hour which made things super easy on us and left lots of time to relax and socialize.

After everything was all set up, I made grilled ham and cheese sandwiches on a propane griddle we had borrowed from a friend. I have to admit that I really wasn’t sure about dragging that griddle all the way up to the property, but Sheila really wanted it and now I have to admit that she was right (after nearly 25 years, you would think I would have learned that she always is). I thought the sandwiches turned out pretty well and it made preparing lunch for a big group of people ridiculously easy.

People trickled into the property throughout the whole afternoon and it was probably about 4:00 PM before the last arrivals showed up. That was totally fine. The rest of us just spent our time sitting in the shade, eating snacks, socializing and enjoying the cold drinks that kept multiplying with each new cooler that showed up.

Once everyone had arrived, people started to set up their overnight accommodations in the upper clearing. By the time they were done, we had quite the tent city going on!

After the tents were set up, my friend Emmin’s son, Ajax, took all of the kids down to the stream and I followed. While we were down there, Ajax started asking about the waterfall on our property and said that he was willing to jump off the waterfall if I was. I thought the two of us jumping off the waterfall might be enough to at least get some spectators to follow us, so I agreed. What I wasn’t expecting and which was totally awesome was that everybody went to the waterfall together and almost half the people ended up jumping off into the incredibly cold creek below. Several people jumped off more than once. I think Ajax had the record with four jumps. Amazingly, something that I never thought I would be able to talk anybody into ended up being the highlight of the weekend for many of us.

Pretending Not to Look Cold

After we got back from the waterfall, we spent a little bit of time setting up the tree tent. While the kids were investigating that, Melissa and I also set up a slack line between two trees that the kids could try to balance on.

While the kids were having fun with that, Sheila and I started on dinner. I made a camp fire and we ended up using that together with almost every outdoor cooking surface we had to get all of the wonderful food that everybody brought prepared. We grilled hamburgers and sausages over the fire and cooked corn on the cob, asparagus and onions and peppers on the grill. Deb put a pot of vegetarian chili on the burner next to the grill and Melissa fried up eggplant on the griddle. Everybody helped with the preparation and cooking, which made everything a breeze. In the end, I had trouble finding room in my stomach to sample all of the different wonderful things.

After dinner, we spent the rest of the evening sitting around the campfire, socializing, making S’mores, sampling the whiskey that Joe brought and singing songs together. People stayed up talking and singing around the campfire until about 1:00 AM. We went to bed shortly after that and I slept incredibly well. Even now, I really can’t fully describe how wonderful it is to sleep inside the tiny house I built myself.

 

Kids by the Campfire

In the morning, we fired up the generator to make coffee, boiled water on the barbecue burner for tea and hot chocolate and made plain and blueberry pancakes on the griddle. I was amazed at how easy and fast it was to cook more than enough pancakes for 22 people on that big cast-iron griddle.

Many people had to get to the airport or to other activities on Sunday, so most people left the property before 9:00 AM. The people who were left all chipped in to help carry things back up to the shed, take down the canopy and clean up. It all went really fast and the last of us were out of there by about 10:30 AM.

Looking back at the weekend of now, I’m kind of amazed at how easy it was to take care of almost two dozen people at a tiny house located on a piece of property that is completely off the grid. You would think that would be difficult, but actually it was incredibly easy. After the weekend, everybody kept sending us emails thanking us for all of the hard work, but it really was almost no work at all. I have hosted dinner parties for six people at our house in Santa Clara that took much more effort and preparation then this and were not half as fun.

I think one of my favorite things about the weekend, besides jumping off the waterfall, getting to see so many of my friends at one time, and showing off my tiny house, was hearing how much people enjoyed themselves. I was really afraid before the weekend that people would think this was a good idea until they got to the property and had to deal with mosquitoes, ticks and composting toilets. Instead, so many of our friends told us how much they loved the property and thought it was a piece of paradise. Of course, that’s what I think, but having friends that I respect tell me that on their own really meant a lot to me.

So, if you’re afraid that tiny house living might make it difficult for you to get together with and socialize with your friends, you might want to think again. Not only is it relatively easy to have large groups of people visit you at a tiny house, but tiny houses seem to have a way of actually manifesting social events, attracting groups of old and new friends on a regular basis and inspiring adventures and memories that you might never have expected.

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Spring at the Tiny House

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Growing Greenery and Blooming Bushes

May 1, 2017:

I promise I will get back to my story about the well and the water tank at our property. However, I have to take a break today from our regularly scheduled blog to talk about spring at our tiny house, which has finally sprung.

We went up to the tiny house on Friday evening, as we normally do now and it was too dark to really appreciate the beauty of the place when we arrived. However, I spent most of the day on Saturday continually being surprised by all of the flora and fauna that I encountered.

I started Saturday morning by chopping up two large stumps of fallen Douglas Fir tree before breakfast and filled at least half of my new wood shelter with that. It felt good to get a little bit of exercise before breakfast. I also like that when I go out to the tiny house I get to pretend for at least a little while that I’m actually a California mountain man, even though I’m really just an engineer from Connecticut.

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Wood Shelter Nearly Full

As I was finishing cutting the wood, our co-owner, Sabine, showed up and spent the rest of the day with us. After she arrived, I took a break and walked down to the river with her, stopping to look at all of the flowers along the way. We spent a lot of time looking at flowers and wildlife this weekend because everything was blooming and all the animals were out.

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Wild Roses

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White Iris

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Lupine

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Wild Strawberries

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Future Salmon Berry

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Fat Banana Slug

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Scorpion

Sheila spent a good amount of time on Saturday using the weed whacker to cut all of the grass in the upper clearing and to clear a path down to the compost pile and all the way to the river. That made walking around a lot nicer.

After all of that, we had a picnic lunch in the shade. Sheila made tuna fish sandwiches which we ate with some chips and salsa, some pears that we brought and some raspberries that Sabine brought. The pears and raspberries were particularly good.

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Raspberry Dessert Courtesy of Sabine

For the rest of the afternoon on Saturday, we pretty much just relaxed in the shade. That was delightful and perhaps my favorite part of the weekend. The weather was perfect. It was about 75° and occasionally slightly breezy and just beautiful out.

At about 5:00 PM, we set about making a campfire and then cooked the potatoes, zucchini and pork chops over the fire. Sabine also brought a kale salad and all of it was amazingly delicious. After dinner, Sabine drove back home and Sheila and I stayed up for a while and made a few s’mores before putting out the fire and retiring to the tiny house.

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Dinner

On Sunday morning, we spent some time cleaning out the motorcycle trailer and organizing the shed. We have over 20 people (my fraternity brothers and their families) coming for a big camp out on May 20. Some will sleep in the motorcycle trailer and the shed, so we wanted to make those accommodations as nice as we could.

After that, I spent some time working on the front door of the tiny house which had once again swelled up to the point of almost not being able to close it. I must have spent at least two hours shaving down the doorjamb until the door would finally open and close again. I also did this about a month ago, but I think it swelled up again because I never sealed the doorjamb with stain after the last time. This time, after I got the door opening and closing the way I like it to, I took time to stain it and we hung around at least another couple of hours at the property waiting for the stain to dry before closing the door.

While we were waiting, Sheila grilled a couple of leftover sausages from Corralitos that we had pulled out of the freezer before we left on Friday. That made for a really yummy lunch.

After the door had sufficiently dried, we packed the rest of our stuff, closed up the house and headed back over the hill.

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Another Great Weekend at the Tiny House

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Well, No Water

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More Heat and Less Mold

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Tiny House after a Washin’

April 16, 2017 (Easter)

Sheila and I had a pretty busy and productive weekend at the tiny house this weekend. In addition to lots of smaller projects, we also tackled two fairly large projects. The most important was trying to remove the mold from the side of the tiny house that has been growing on it all winter. The other was building a shelter for our firewood. Sheila tackled the house while I tackled the shelter and I think we both agree that I got the better end of the deal.

We were all packed up on Thursday night, so we were able to leave the house before 8:00 AM on Friday. On the way, we stopped at Safeway to buy a few groceries and also stopped at Home Depot to buy a cleaning product called Wet and Forget that was supposed to remove mold stains. Unfortunately, Home Depot did not have the Wet and Forget in stock, so we ended up driving all the way into downtown Boulder Creek where we were able to get some at Scarborough Lumber.

We finally got to the property around 10:30 AM and were faced with our now regular dilemma of how to get up the lane into our tiny house. It had rained the last two days and there was still water flowing down the lane, so I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I tried backing down the road and taking a run at the lane a couple of times with our little Prius, but couldn’t quite make it up the hill.

Eventually, our neighbor, Forest, came by in a four-wheel-drive pick up and offered to drive at least our heavy items up the lane to our tiny house. That sounded like a good idea, so we spent in the next few minutes picking out our heaviest items, like our new 50 pound generator, and putting them into the back of his pick up. After that, Forest tried several times to drive up the hill and didn’t get any further than we had in our little Prius. To me, it felt quite reminiscent of the day last year when Forest tried over and over again to tow the tiny house up the lane into our property. After the fourth try or so, it was clear the pick up truck wasn’t going to make it up the hill and it certainly wasn’t worth getting the dump truck out, so we let Forest go and decided to just carry everything in.

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Sheila Carrying One of Many Loads

We definitely got a workout in. Over the course of at least five different trips, we eventually ported in our 50 pound generator, another 64 pounds of water, a large electric heater, a 35 pound tool bucket, food, overnight bags, a pump water sprayer and a one and a half ton carjack.

After that, we still had probably 50 pounds of lumber left in the car for building my outdoor wood shelter. I knew that alone was going to take several more trips, so I decided to try driving the car in one more time. I thought maybe with most of the weight out of the car, I could do it. As it turns out, I was right. I backed up a little bit further and hit the hill a little bit faster than I had before. The wheels slipped a few times and the bottom carriage of the car scraped a little bit as I crossed a gully in the center of our lane (making Sheila cringe in the process), but I did manage to build enough momentum to carry me, the car and the rest of our gear all the way to the tiny house. It was really nice to have the car by the tiny house for the weekend and even nicer when we were packing up to go home on Saturday. However, I don’t know how many more times I will be able to pull that stunt off. We definitely need to get that lane graded and graveled soon.

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Mud Spattered Car at the Tiny House

One of the first things I did once we got settled at the property was to try out my new toy, the Honda 2000i inverter generator we had purchased from Amazon earlier in the week. I followed the instructions, adding gas and oil and then pulling the ripcord a few times until it fired up. I then plugged it into the side of the tiny house, went inside and became immediately giddy when the lights turned on without the battery connected. I continue to be amazed at how my tiny house can turn even the simplest things, like turning on a light, into something delightful.

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New Honda Generator

After I confirmed that the generator was working, I decided to put it to the test. I carried our electrical heater inside the house, plugged it in and turned it on. I heard the volume of the generator increase as it worked a little harder, but it seemed to meet the demand of our 900 Watt heater with no problem. The best thing was that with all of the windows closed inside the tiny house, we could barely hear the generator at all. Even outside, the generator was pretty quiet. I could easily imagine letting that run for several hours without being bothered by the noise.

After that, Sheila and I got to work. Sheila started scrubbing the side of the house and I went up to work on the shed. We have been having trouble opening and closing the door on the shed for a while and I wanted to shave down the side of one of the doors. I have been thinking about how to do this for a while and eventually decided the easiest thing would be to just take a circular saw to the side of the door. I thought about trying to set up a guide to make a really straight cut, but eventually decided it was just a shed door and I could probably freehand it. As it turns out, I was able to cut a very thin and pretty straight strip off the side of the door without much difficulty. In fact, it would’ve been nearly perfect if I had not decided to try to make it just a little bit more perfect. That was when I went backwards with the saw by accident and it grabbed the door and put a nice gouge in the side of it. Luckily, even that was fixed with some wood putty that I made out of some sawdust and glue. By the time I painted over the side of the door, my mistake was nearly invisible. Best of all, the doors on my shed finally open and close perfectly.

When I came back down the hill, Sheila was busily scrubbing the side of the house and I was amazed at what was coming off the side of the house. She was using a long stiff brush to scrub the side of the house with a mixture of water and OxiClean. All of that was mixing together with the dirt, mold and stain on the side of the house to create a thick brown sludge. She eventually found that she had to clean the house in a pattern from top to bottom, slowly pushing the sludge from one piece of siding down to the next until it finally came oozing off the bottom of the house.

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Sheila Scrubbing the Sludge

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Sheila Pretending to be Happy About Scrubbing the Sludge

The net effect of all of this was a huge improvement and some of the before and after pictures I took were pretty amazing. The side of the house that gets the least amount of sun changed color the most dramatically. That side went from a color of almost completely black to a reddish brown hue that I can almost say resembles real wood again. It doesn’t look good. If you get up close to the siding, you can see that the wood is still has spotty stains from the mold, but it definitely looks better.

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Before and After Line

Even as I write this now, I find myself sighing and becoming a little bit more depressed. I just don’t know if we can fix the wood on the side of our house. Part of the problem might be that most of the stain may have been washed off the side of the house. If we add more stain, it might look better. However, if we do that, what will keep the mold from growing all over again? Now that we have the stain off the side of the house, I know we have to do something. I just don’t know what that something is yet.

The mold still upsets me so much that although I still feel bad for letting Sheila scrub at it alone, I don’t think I could have worked on removing it myself this past weekend without getting too depressed. Instead, I distracted myself and tried to make myself feel at least somewhat useful by working on my wood shelter, which ended up being a pretty big project. It only took me about 1 1/2 hours to cut all the wood at home, but it took me about four hours on Friday to nail and screw it all together and even more time on Saturday to paint it.

When I first started to nail it all together, I was doing it on top of an old wooden table we had out by our wood pile. About 10 minutes after I started hammering, I heard a buzzing around my head that sounded like some kind of bee. I am not afraid of or allergic to bees, so I tried to ignore it, hoping it would go away. It did not. Instead, it got closer to my head, circling around and around. It didn’t seem very aggressive, but it sure seemed persistent. Eventually, I put the hammer down to investigate and realized that there were now several bumblebees flying around me. I didn’t know we even had bumblebees at our property. They were kind of cute, but also a little bit too close and numerous for my taste. I stepped back to watch them for a while before I finally figured out that they were flying in and out of the old wood pile. I guess they had made a nest in there over the winter and my careless hammering on the table had been vibrating the ground and upsetting them. Appreciative that they had decided to simply buzz me instead of sting me to get my attention, I decided to return the favor and move my workshop up the hill closer to the tiny house. From there, I was able to continue working for the rest of the weekend unmolested.

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Pile of Lumber Stacked Next to As Yet Undiscovered Bumblebee Nest (in wood pile to the left)

By the time we finally quit working on Friday, I had a nice 2′ x 4′ shelter constructed. All that was left was to paint it and put shingles on top, which I planned to do on Saturday.

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Wood Shelter Nailed Together

Both of us were too tired to make a campfire on Friday night, so we just had dinner inside the tiny house. We brought along some leftover chili which we heated up on the stove. It was delicious.

We spent the rest of the evening inside the tiny house just relaxing, reading books and watching a little bit of television. We have a new TiVo unit at home now which allows us to easily copy shows to my iPad. That has turned out to be great for both traveling and tiny house entertainment.

Our Friday night in the tiny house was also improved by our new generator which I think may have finally solved our heat problem. On this particular weekend, the weather got into the low 60s during the day and we were able to raise the temperature in the house from 45° F to 58° F simply by leaving the windows open for the day. 58° F was probably warm enough for sleeping during the night, but I really wanted to try heating the tiny house with our new generator. I decided to give it one hour. I turned on the generator, plugged in the heater and watched the indoor thermometer. In one hour, I was able to raise the temperature 8° F to 66° F which, with sweatshirts on, was plenty warm. When we woke up on Saturday, the temperature inside the house had only fallen to 58° F even though the temperature outside was 38° F. Plus, the electric heat doesn’t create the moisture problem that our propane heater created when we tried that. There aren’t that many really cold nights that we spend at the tiny house and I think that even on the coldest nights, we could warm up the house to a decent temperature by only running the generator for 2-3 hours. Doing that would probably use about a half a gallon of gas and only cost a couple of dollars.

On Saturday, we lounged in bed for a little while before finally getting up and making blackberry banana pancakes for breakfast. I love making pancakes for breakfast in my tiny house. It’s one of my favorite things.

Fueled by our yummy pancakes, we got back to work. I spent the first hour or so of the day putting some more work into our shed. When I was walking around inside the shed on Friday, I had noticed some water stains on the floor near the edges of the building and finally figured out that these had resulted from us forgetting to caulk the lower edge of the exterior wall sheathing, where that sheathing met the subfloor frame. The constant winter rain this year had finally driven the water up underneath the edge of the walls and into the floor. I spent an hour or so washing the lower edge of the outside walls in preparation for applying some caulk to that edge which I did later in the afternoon after everything had dried.

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Water Stains in Shed

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Lower Edge Partially Washed in Preparation for Caulking

After that, I set to work painting my wood shelter which ended up being the biggest part of the whole project. It would have been easier if I had just painted the whole thing one color, but I decided to use up some beige, oil based exterior paint we had at home which ended up covering only the interior of the shelter. The rest of the shelter I painted the same color green as the trim on the shed. I bought a gallon of that green at Home Depot on the way up to the property on Friday, knowing that whatever we didn’t use up on the wood shelter we would be able to use next time we painted the shed. The nice thing about using two colors is that it made for a pretty final product. The difficult thing was that I had to be really careful at every boundary and corner not to get any of the green paint onto the beige parts I had already painted and every single slat had multiple boundaries and corners. By the time I finally finished at about 2:00 PM, I was pretty tired of painting.

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Shelter Painted

I finished painting at about the same time Sheila finished scrubbing mold off the side of the tiny house and after that, we actually got to do something together. We put the roof on to the shelter as a team. I nailed the shingles on at about the same pace that Sheila was able to measure the next piece and cut it to size. In about an hour, we had the whole thing done. After that, I made a nice level spot over near the old wood pile, and put down a few cement blocks. Then, Sheila and I carried the wood shelter over and set it in place. There was a big part of me that wanted to pull out my axe and cut up some firewood just to put it into the shelter, but it was getting late, so I decided to save that activity for a future trip.

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Shelter Painted with Roof

 

The rest of our day on Saturday was pretty much spent cleaning up, loading the car, and going through our regular checklist before closing up the house. Luckily, driving the car out of the property was much easier than driving it in had been. No Dukes of Hazzard stunts or dump trucks required.

I still don’t know what I’m going to do about the siding on the tiny house. However, I think I will start by doing some more research on the Internet, talking to more people and asking for help. I’m planning to write to the company that manufactures the Penofin stain that I put on the wood. I’m also planning to write to Tumbleweed, since they were the ones that recommended that stain. Tumbleweed sells most of their tiny houses with stained exterior cedar wood, so I can’t be the first person to ever have this problem and if I have, they should at least be able to tell me what they do differently than what I did.

I was still depressed about the tiny house even when I walked into church for Easter services this morning. However, as it usually does, the children’s story made me feel better. Pastor Dave’s puppet camel, Clarence, was talking about how play dough is such a great symbol of Easter. Dave was arguing with Clarence about this until Clarence pointed out that the point of Easter is that God is always able to create a new life and new things out of death and brokenness and that the same is true with play dough. You can make something wonderfully beautiful with play dough and somebody can sit on it and squash it. However, even if that happens, you can still pick it up and make something new out of it, perhaps something even more beautiful than what you created the first time. I created something beautiful with my tiny house and now it is not so beautiful. However, with God’s help, perhaps I can find a way to make it beautiful again. Also, the story reminded me that whatever the state of the exterior siding on my tiny house, I still have good reason to be thankful. It has been a tough winter in Boulder Creek with roads washing away and trees falling down left and right. My tiny house might have some mold on it, but unlike the play dough in Dave and Clarence’s story, my tiny house made it through one of the worst California winters in years without getting squashed and for that, I am truly grateful.

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Shelter in Place

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Cold Mold and Hot Rocks

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Winter at the Tiny House

March 5, 2017
Yesterday afternoon, we packed up the car and headed to our property for a quick Tiny House visit. We have been out of the country for the past two months and with all of the rain in California, we wanted to make sure the tiny house hadn’t floated away like an ark.
Although it has been dry for the past week, many mountain roads are still closed from all the rain damage. The direct route that we usually take over Bear Creek Road was still closed, so we had to drive all the way to over Highway 17 to Felton and back around to Boulder Creek which took a little over an hour instead of the usual 40 minutes.
We finally got to the property at about 4:00 PM and had to hike into the tiny house because the lane into our property is still too muddy to drive.

We were prepared for that.

What I wasn’t fully prepared for was just how bad the mold on the outside of the tiny house had gotten. We knew it was a problem when we were out there for Christmas, but it has gotten a lot worse since then. It was pretty depressing for me to see my once beautiful tiny house literally covered in black, spotty, fuzzy mold. Actually, I’m not even sure it’s mold. It might be mildew. Whatever it is, it’s gross. What I used to think was the prettiest, most adorable thing ever now looked pretty much like the ugliest thing ever.

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Cold Mold (Ewww)

I tried to forget about the outside of the house and headed for the front door to drop my stuff. That’s when I encountered the next problem. I unlocked the front door, but it would not open. It seems that all the recent California moisture caused the front door to swell enough to jam it in place. Although I was eventually able to pop the door open by hitting it several times with my shoulder, we were not able to get it closed again and ended up having to leave it slightly ajar all night. We were able to get the front closed before we left today, but that’s another story that I will tell shortly.
The moldy siding and the sticky front door we’re not the only problems caused by the recent malevolent moisture. We also found a telephone pole snapped in half and dangling across the road leading through our property (luckily, not our problem) and inside our outdoor closet, we found rust and mold all over our brand-new axe and our once nice looking shovel. I’m pretty sure there are no actual leaks in our outdoor closet. I think the air has simply been too humid for too many months now.
On the bright side, the inside of the house was just fine and still as beautiful as ever. Walking inside and flipping on the lights provided a very nice escape from the dreariness, mold and rust that we found all around us outside.
The house was cold, but not quite as cold as it was over Christmas. Over Christmas, it was about 37° F but yesterday, it was closer to 45° F. That was better, but still not quite warm enough that I was sure I actually wanted to spend the night. We do have an indoor propane heater that we could have used to warm the house, but it generates a lot of moisture and I really didn’t want to use it and risk getting mold inside the house as well as outside.
So instead of the propane heater we decided to try something old-school (or maybe prehistoric-school): heated rocks. We threw a couple of large cinder-blocks in the fire and made a giant bonfire on top of them. Then, we sat around the fire, cooked some delicious cheesy Bavarian sausages from Coralitos over the fire, made some S’mores and then fished the red hot cinder-blocks out of the fire with our rusty, moldy shovel, put them on top of our rusty (but somehow not moldy) cooking grate and carefully carried them into the tiny house. Those cinder-blocks were radiating some pretty serious heat. Within about 45 minutes, we had the temperature inside the tiny house just above 60° F. It was not quite the sauna that the Internet had promised us, but it was still plenty warm enough for spending the night. We also discovered that the cinder-blocks were a wonderful place on which to drape our sleeping clothes for a few minutes before changing into them and feeling oh so toasty warm.
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Hot Rocks!

We actually stayed plenty warm all night. The rocks cooled off by midnight, but the temperature in the house never fell below 56° F.
Unfortunately, despite being plenty warm, I did not sleep very well. The jet lag from our recent trip is still hitting me really hard. I fall asleep easily at about 10:00 PM each night, but can’t seem to sleep for more than about 1-2 hours. Sometimes, I will get up and work on the computer for a while before going back to bed, but that was not an option inside the tiny house. There was nothing I could do in bed and it was too cold to be out of bed, so I found myself trapped under the covers, wide-awake for the next seven hours.
I spent most of that seven hours wondering how in the heck I was going to get the front door closed before we left the tiny house this morning. Eventually, I decided I was going to shave about 1/16 inch off of the entire latch side of the door jamb. Unfortunately, I had not brought any of my tools with me, so I had to wait until 8:30 AM when the lumberyard in Boulder Creek opened so I could buy some sandpaper and a mini planer that I could use to carefully trim down the jamb.
That project took me nearly 3 hours and was not nearly as fun as it might sound, especially given that I was operating on only one hour of sleep. However, I was successful. The front door now opens and closes nicely again and I didn’t have to shave down the door itself, which meant that I didn’t have to repaint the door and which meant that I didn’t have to wait five hours for the door to dry before I could shut it and go home. At some point, I will have to stain the jamb again, but I can do that some other weekend when it is warmer and dryer.
While I was working on the front door, Sheila was working on the mold. We bought some oxygen bleach and some brushes at the store and she used that with some warm water to try to clean up the wood around the porch. Although unable to remove all it, she did make at least the front door area look a LOT better. I just hope the oxygen bleach will keep more mold from growing in the future. If it does, we will use the same technique on the rest of the house this summer.
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Before

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After

After we finished fixing the front door and cleaning the mold off the front side of the house, we took a break and I collapsed into one of the chairs while my wonderful wife volunteered to make me some blueberry pancakes on the stove. I am always a sucker for pancakes, especially blueberry ones.
By the time we left the property at about 2:00 PM, I was so exhausted from working and lack of sleep and so full of pancakes that I couldn’t even drive home. Another thank you to my wonderful wife for taking care of that chore as well.
Despite all of the difficulties we had over the weekend, the tiny house still provided us with some very memorable moments,. We got to see our little waterfall area turn into multiple cascades as it made its way down to the creek. The rain held off long enough that we actually got to enjoy a nice campfire. We got to see lots of little red salamanders and yellow banana slugs. I also got to listen to the rain falling on the roof of the tiny house while I was lying awake in bed which I found kind of magical (not magical enough to put me to sleep, but still magical).
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Broken Telephone Pole

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Red Salamander

Perhaps my favorite thing this weekend, though, was getting to hang a couple of pieces of artwork inside the tiny house. First, we hung a beautiful creation from a dear family member, Molly. The bottom half is a regular antique mirror, but the top half she painted with a tiny landscape of our tiny house in the woods. It’s amazing. We love it.

After we hung the mirror, we wanted to take a picture of it, but quickly realized that it’s difficult to take a picture of a mirror without also taking a picture yourself in the mirror taking the picture. So, we started taking pictures of the mirror from different angles and ended up with a couple of interesting shots.

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Mirror Next to Window with Window in Mirror

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Me in the Mirror

The other thing we hung was a picture of a covered bridge in Cornwall, Connecticut that my grandmother painted shortly before she died. It was something that my mom gave me a while back and I have been looking for the perfect place to put it. I’m so glad we decided to put it inside the tiny house. Not only is it a wonderful reminder of my grandmother, but the colors ended up matching the inside of our tiny house just perfectly.
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Cornwall Covered Bridge by E.B. Read

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Good Match for the Decor!

Wow. I guess that’s kind of a lot to report for a less than 24 hour visit to our tiny house. I’m no longer sure exactly what to expect when I go out there except that each trip is always going to be a bit of an adventure.
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Cascade Leading to the Creek

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Propane Heaters and Electric Chainsaws

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Winter Greenery

December 27, 2016

Sheila and just I spent a pretty enjoyable two days and one night at the tiny house yesterday and today. It wasn’t quite as magical as our visits to the tiny house over the summer, but that’s partly because it was cold and partly because there was a lot of work to be done. However, it was still nice to be there. It is always nice to be there.

When we arrived, we once again found our self challenged to get our little Prius up the muddy, slippery lane to our tiny house. We tried going forward slowly. We tried going forward quickly. We tried going in reverse. None of those attempts worked. We were about ready to give up, park the car and walk the quarter-mile to the tiny house with all our gear when I decided to give it one last attempt. I backed the car up the main road beyond our lane and then came down the hill, turned right and gunned it up our lane. That finally did the trick, but just barely.

As it turns out, I needn’t have worked so hard to get the car up the lane because I still wasn’t able to get it all the way to the tiny house. Three quarters of the way in, my path was blocked by a large madrone tree that had fallen since our last visit.

 

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Madrone Tree Across the Lane

As it turns out, that wasn’t the only tree that had fallen since our last visit. Seems like winters are tough on the Santa Cruz mountains forest. After we had carried all of our gear to the tiny house, we took a walk and found three more trees fallen across the path on the road to our lower clearing.

 

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More Fallen Trees

It looked like we had our work cut out for us for the next couple of days. We had already been planning to spend several hours pulling up all the scotch broom that had grown since last year. Scotch broom is an insidious weed that seems to grow everywhere on our property and will grow to the size of a small tree if you let it. It has become an annual tradition for us to make a visit to the property over the holidays to pull scotch broom because that’s when the ground is wet and the broom comes up relatively easily (although as I write this, my back is telling me that perhaps it did not come up relatively easy enough this year). Now, in addition to  pulling all the scotch broom, it looked like I was going to have to get out the chainsaw out as well.

Before arriving, both of us had been trying to guess what the temperature would be inside the tiny house. I was thinking somewhere in the low 50s which is about the temperature our big house settles to in the winter when we are not in it. At the worst, I thought maybe it might be 45°. Boy, I wasn’t even close. Before I opened the door to the tiny house, I took a look at the outdoor thermometer which read about 47°. When I opened the door to the tiny house and felt cold air pouring out, I began to worry. I ventured in anyway and took a look at the indoor thermometer which read 36°. In response, I opened all the windows to let some of the balmy 47° outdoor weather into the house.

After that, we set off to work. We pulled scotch broom in the upper clearing until my hands and my back couldn’t take it anymore. That’s when I decided it was finally time to have some fun with my electric chainsaw.

At least I thought I was going to have fun. I probably should have started with the smaller trees that had fallen across the road to the lower clearing. Instead, I decided to take on the big madrone across our main lane. Even this might have been OK if I had any experience operating a chainsaw. Unfortunately, I didn’t. I will tell you that I was smart enough not to try to cut this 20 inch diameter tree while standing down hill of it. However, I was not smart enough to cut all the way through it without having it wedge together and trap my chainsaw inside the tree like a vice in the process. 45 minutes of chiseling later, Sheila and I managed to finally break the chainsaw free. By that point, we had only made one cut through the tree, the tree had not moved an inch (turns out only a few millimeters of movement are required to trap a chainsaw) and it was getting dark, So we decided to call it quits (actually, Sheila decided to call it quits by taking my chainsaw away, otherwise I would have been out there long after dark trying my best to get my chainsaw stuck in the tree again).

Although leaving the windows open for the afternoon had gotten the inside of the tiny house up to about 42° F, we knew that staying in the house at that temperature overnight was not going to be pleasant. That’s when we decided to try out a new toy we had ordered from Amazon: a Mr. Heater portable, small area propane heater. The heater screws onto the top of a regular camping propane cylinder and is supposed to be safe for indoor use. I’m happy to report that it actually worked pretty well. We let we let it run for about four hours and in that time, it was able to lift the temperature in the tiny house from 40° F all the way to 63° F, which, when you are wearing lots of layers, warm slippers and a hat, is actually quite comfortable. Heating up some chili for dinner and making some tea made us feel downright toasty.

While the heater was able to get the downstairs of the tiny house up to only 63° F, it was able to get the loft up to 68° F. Once we realized that, we decided it might be time to retire to bed. Sheila was smart enough to bring up some flannel sheets and an extra blanket which kept us plenty warm over the night. When we woke in the morning, it was about 55° F in the loft, which was still just fine for sleeping.

Unfortunately, it was only 47° F downstairs, which seemed a little bit chilly, so we decided to do some more work outside to warm up and to work up an appetite before eating breakfast. Over the next couple of hours, we were able to clear all of the rest of the scotch broom in the lower clearing and the waterfall clearing of our property which was pretty much everywhere it grows. Getting rid of all of that scotch broom really felt like an accomplishment. It also did a great job of warming us up.

Warmed up and hungry, we came back to the tiny house and made pancakes for breakfast. That may have been my favorite part of the whole visit. I have always loved pancakes, ever since my dad used to make them for me every Saturday morning. Being able to make them in our tiny house in the woods whenever I want is always a wonderful treat.

 

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Berry Pancakes! (warm mug is heating syrup)

Over breakfast, I decided to pull out the instruction manual for my chainsaw, something I probably should have done the day before prior to trying to cut up that giant tree. In the instruction manual, I found some great tips for ways to cut trees without your chainsaw becoming a permanent part of the tree in the process. I decided to try out some of those techniques on the smaller trees that had fallen across the road to the lower clearing. As it turns out, following the instructions actually worked pretty well and I was able to clear all three of the smaller trees pretty quickly. My favorite moment was when I finished cutting a rather long section of tree free and watched as it rolled all the way down the road and into the forest on the other side with no effort on my part. In case you’re wondering, that is the reason you don’t stand downhill of a tree when you cut it with a chainsaw. It’s kind of amazing how many things in life can be delightfully entertaining or absolutely tragic all depending on where you are standing, a fact that is certainly no less true when wielding a chainsaw.

Feeling rather bold from my experience removing the three smaller trees, Sheila and I decided to take another crack at the big madrone across the main lane. I was very happy to discover that the techniques I used on the smaller tree worked on the larger tree as well. I was able to make two cuts through the tree without either running out of battery, trapping my chainsaw or getting rolled over in the process. When I was done with that, we had two pretty large chunks of tree left in the middle of the lane, but at least they were no longer connected to anything else. We were then able to use a couple of large posts as levers, gravity and a generous amount of heaving to roll those large chunks off the road and at least partway down the side of the hill (now that I think about it, maybe that’s why my back is bothering me as I write this). Being able to clear a 20 inch diameter tree off of our road by ourselves with an electric chainsaw after having failed so miserably at it 24 hours earlier gave us an immense feeling of satisfaction.

 

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Madrone Partially Removed

We considered spending a second night at the tiny house, but decided it might be nicer to come back to our regular house where I was a little bit warmer (of course, it would be even warmer here if I wasn’t too cheap to turn on the heat). We love the tiny house, but without an effective heating source, Winter might not be the best season to spend extended periods of time there. One of the things I love the most about my tiny house is being able to just rest and relax. However, resting and relaxing is a little bit more difficult when your core temperature starts to drop anytime you stop moving.

Of course, we could have continued to use the small propane space heater to warm the tiny house so we could stay longer. It definitely does work. The only problem is that a generates a lot of moisture. That is always a problem with using propane in a small space. Burning propane generates water and with all the windows closed except one window cracked for a bit of ventilation, water starts to condense everywhere. It condenses on the windows, on the inside of the shower, on the walls, on the mirror, on the silverware and probably inside the walls as well. Done for just one night, using propane for heat is probably fine. However, it’s not something I would want to do long term since generating that much moisture inside a tiny space would almost certainly eventually lead to mold.

At this point, some of you might be wondering why I didn’t install one of those nifty little propane boat heaters into my tiny house that so many other tiny house residents seem to use. I have to admit now that having one of those probably would be kind of nice. However, when I was building my tiny house, installing even a very short gas line to my propane stove seemed intimidating enough. Trying to split that line and continue it through the walls to a place where I could hook up a propane heater and then trying to run a vent from that heater through the ceiling seemed overwhelming. So, I decided not to try to solve the heating problem in my tiny house immediately, thinking that because I would be parking it in California, I might not even need heat. This past visit to the tiny house has made it clear that not needing heat was a poor assumption. However, it’s not like I live full time in my tiny house. If it gets too cold, I can always go home and that’s fine with me. If I had it to do over again I might install a propane boat heater. However, as I thought about it while I was at the tiny house, I also thought that radiant floor heating might have been a good idea. If I had simply run some water pipes through the floor, then I could have hooked up a propane heater outside my tiny house to heat the water to run through the floor to heat the house. That would not have involved anymore gas lines inside the house and it would have kept the propane heater outside where it could be easily ventilated. Of course, I’m saying all of this without really knowing anything about radiant floor heating. I will have to do some research to figure out if that would actually be a good idea for a tiny house and if so, whether I could retrofit my tiny house to use such a thing.

All in all, despite not having a propane boat heater, radiant floor heating or even any chainsaw experience, I feel like our winter visit to the tiny house was still a success. With all the rain, everything around the tiny house is green which is beautiful. We didn’t freeze during the night. I didn’t get myself run over by a large log. We cleared all of the scotch broom on the property. I even got pancakes. If it was always winter time, I would still keep visiting my tiny house. However, I have to admit I’m looking forward to summer.

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Road Cleared!

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