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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Wet Weekend in the Wilderness

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Rain on the Tiny House

October 31, 2016

I guess I was a little negligent about making blog entries over this past summer. I think I have just been too busy relaxing and enjoying my tiny house. After 2 ½ years of hard labor building the house and making nearly 100 blog entries, it has been really nice to spend a few months just “being” instead of “doing.”

We have probably stayed out at the tiny house maybe 10 or so times since we first moved it out to our property at the end of June. Each one of those trips has been amazingly enjoyable, but the most recent one was particularly notable: notable enough that I thought it might be worth another blog entry. You see, something different happened on this past trip, something that has never happened during any prior visit to our tiny house. This past trip, it rained. And as much as you might think the rain might ruin a trip to the wilderness, the tiny house somehow turned that rain into magic instead.

That’s not to say that the rain didn’t add a little bit of adventure to the weekend. On Saturday morning, we got everything packed up to go out to the tiny house and then for some reason I can’t entirely explain, I decided I needed to ride my bike over the hill instead of getting in the car. That turned out to not be my best decision or my favorite activity of the weekend. The weather report only showed a 15% chance of rain on Saturday (the bigger chance of rain was on Sunday), but that didn’t stop me from getting wet. It didn’t actually rain on me. The sky only spit at me lightly. However, the streets were wet which always leads to road splat and skunk stripes when riding a bike. Also, once I got into the hills, the trees were raining on me and once I got high enough, the cloud I was riding through added a swirl of thick mist to the moisture mishmash around me. By the time I got over the hill, my bike was a mess and I was fairly damp. It was also a tougher ride that I was expecting. After all the tandem riding we have done over the past month or two (some rides over 100 miles long), I thought a 30 mile ride on my single bike would be easy, but it wasn’t. I went up and over Highway 9 and felt like the whole climb was just kind of unpleasant. I never felt comfortable and it never felt easy. By the time Sheila met me in downtown Boulder Creek, I was uninterested in riding the last 3 miles to the tiny house and threw my dirty bike on the rack and my soggy body in the car.

I thought the rest of the trip to the tiny house in the car would be a piece of cake, but it turned out that even the car was affected by the weather. Specifically, the car was affected by the mud on the road into the tiny house that had been created by the weather. Try as we might, we were never able to get our little Prius up the last hill into the property. The wheels on our car just kept slipping out. I even took a pretty good run at it. I backed up the hill on the main dirt road and then came down, around the corner and up our little lane with pretty good speed, but I still couldn’t make it. It was surprisingly reminiscent of our attempts to get the tiny house up that very same lane at the beginning of the summer. Not having a dump truck available to help us this weekend, we finally gave up and left our car parked at the beginning of the lane. That meant we would have to make several trips to hike in all of our supplies, including the big cooler we had brought.

I can’t say I was totally excited about the prospect of doing all of that manual labor after having just ridden 30 miles in the wet, but in the end, it turned out to not be all that bad. Once I carried the first load in and saw the tiny house sitting on our property, my mood improved dramatically. With all the rain we have been getting over the past few weeks, everything was starting to turn green. The grass was growing and the clover was coming up. The leaves are also changing color with the arrival of fall. I can’t remember ever seeing the tiny house surrounded by so much color. It was beautiful. It was hard not to look at luscious landscape around my house without forgetting about anything else that was bothering me.

What really made me feel good, however, was getting to finally take off my damp bike shorts and take a hot shower. I still have no good comparison for the feeling of being able to take a hot shower in the middle of the woods in a bathroom I built myself inside a tiny house I built myself. It’s quite wonderful in a way that’s really not like anything else. After taking my splendid shower, we made some tuna fish sandwiches and then relaxed a bit before our next activity of the weekend: the arrival of some guests to our tiny house at about 2:00 PM.

Our guests were friends from National Youth Science Camp, a particularly special place in West Virginia that Sheila attended in high school and volunteered at in college. Sheila has spent the last couple of months planning a California reunion for NYSC. The main part of the reunion was on Sunday afternoon, but we also invited people to join us out at the property on Saturday and three people actually made it, including two former Directors, Andy and Paul, along with a Santa Cruz mountains local named Mark who lives just up the hill on Summit Road. I always enjoy having people out of the property and this visit was especially pleasant. We took our guests on a walk down to the creek and over to the one old-growth redwood left on the property. After that, we made a campfire and barbecued hamburgers, sausages and potatoes which we served with salad and homemade apple pie. Unfortunately, although the wood in our outdoor pile was dry enough to burn, it was a little bit too wet to generate enough heat to really cook over, so we ended up cooking everything on the barbecue grill instead. But that didn’t make the meal any less enjoyable. We all sat around eating, drinking, talking and enjoying the campfire until the sun went down and our guests felt like it was time to drive back to civilization for the night.

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Our NYSC Visitors

On Sunday morning, Sheila and I slept in until about 7:00 AM and then made blueberry pancakes for breakfast. Eating blueberry pancakes in my own tiny house was about as delightful as it sounds. However, the blueberry pancakes weren’t even the best part of the morning. The best part of the morning was that shortly after we finished our pancakes, it started to really rain. If we had spent the night at the property a couple of years ago and it started to rain, it would certainly have ruined our weekend. However, watching the rain from inside our warm and dry tiny house at exactly the opposite effect, making our weekend that much more special. The rain also allowed me to do something I have been wanting to do everything since I finished building the porch on the tiny house. It allowed me to sit outside on the porch and just watch the rain. Usually, rain in the wilderness inspires a person to “do” something to escape it. However, this weekend, rain in the wilderness inspired me to simply “be” in the rain without “doing” anything. Sheila and I set up two camp chairs on the porch and sat across from each other, just watching and listening to the rain. My favorite memory of that was leaning my head way back and resting it on the railing behind me so I could watch the rain come down from the sky around the edges of the porch roof. From that position, I could see the rain falling, but none of it actually fell on my head. It was wonderful.

After sitting on the porch for a while, I went back inside and curled up on the bench in the great room to read a book. While I was doing that, I looked up at Sheila, who was curled up in the loft and told her that being in the tiny house just wasn’t getting old. I really thought it would. I thought after a few weeks of staying at the tiny house, it wouldn’t be that special anymore, but I was wrong. Every weekend we go there is special and wonderful and I don’t even think I can explain why. I can take a shower at home, make pancakes at home, watch the rain at home and curl up on the couch and read a book at home, but somehow, all of those things are three times more enjoyable to do at the tiny house. I don’t fully understand it, but that doesn’t keep me from loving it. Something about that tiny house is magic. It somehow turns normal daily activities and chores into moments to savor, enjoy and remember. It wakes me up, makes me pay attention and brings me into the moment unlike anything else I have ever experienced.

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Sheila Enjoying the Porch in the Rain

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First Taste of Tiny House Living

Tiny House at Night

Tiny House at Night

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Three days ago, we returned from what I can only describe as an amazingly wonderful weekend in our tiny house at our property. Seriously, I don’t know if I can really do the weekend justice in a journal entry. Spending the first weekend ever in my tiny house at our property in Boulder Creek was unlike anything I have ever experienced and one of the best 48 hours I have had in a long time.

Unable to focus on anything other than getting out to the tiny house, I gave up trying to work at home on Friday and simply packed up the car and headed out to the property with Sheila as soon as we could, which end up being about 1:00 PM. We got to the property at about 2:00 PM and after we got there, I spent some time getting the solar panels and hot water heater hooked up.  I ran into a few snags doing that, but finally got it all done a little before 6:00 PM. While I was doing that, Sheila broke out the battery operated weed whacker and spent some time mowing the fire pit area and the upper clearing.

Propane Water Heater Hooked Up

Propane Water Heater Hooked Up

When we were finally done being productive, we cooked a really delicious dinner of baked beans, cheesy Bavarian sausages from Corralitos and skewered vegetables over the fire.  After that, we just sat around enjoying the campfire and roasting a few s’mores before retiring to the tiny house at about 9:00 PM.

Sleeping in the tiny house was awesome. It got down to about 55° outside, but even with the window open a crack, it stayed a perfect 68° in the loft where we were sleeping. The mattress and pillows were very comfortable and falling asleep with my wife was as always, one of my favorite parts of the day. I woke up well rested and was especially delighted when I didn’t have to go outside to use the restroom.

Bed in the Loft

Bed in the Loft

On Saturday morning, we decided to go for a bike ride to Big Basin and back on our tandem. We left at about 10:00 AM after enjoying a breakfast of cereal and fruit inside the tiny house away from the mosquitoes. What a delight the tandem ride turned out to be. The air was clear and the weather was perfect. It was sunny but not too hot. Our route took us through the town of Boulder Creek, all the way along Highway 236, down Highway 9 to Boulder Creek and back to the property. I found all of the roads to be so beautiful, especially the road through the giant redwood trees in Big Basin. Biking through that state park has always been one of my favorite things to do and being able to get there so quickly and easily from our property was a real treat.

When we got back, Sheila made a lunch of tuna fish sandwiches on Hawaiian rolls with sweet Maui onion kettle chips added to the sandwiches for a little bit of crunch.  We enjoyed those immensely while sitting on the floor of the tiny house and marveling at the incredible little structure around us that we had somehow transported to the middle of the forest.

After lunch, we changed into our work clothes and set about making a set of entry stairs for the tiny house. Rather than build something out of random wood from the lumberyard, we decided to make the steps out of something at the property. During our tandem ride in the morning, we thought it might be fun to try to carve some steps out of some of the giant rounds of tree trunk that were left over from a Douglas Fir that had fallen on our property a few months earlier. The rounds were about 22 inches in diameter and about 15 inches thick which seemed just about right to create some 8 inch wide steps. Plus, creating a staircase out of a fallen tree meant that I got to play with my new battery operated chainsaw. I had never used the chainsaw before, but it turned out to be surprisingly easy to carve away pieces of the tree trunk until I had something that resembled a staircase left behind. After we had the staircase carved, we carefully rolled it up the hill to the tiny house, did a small amount of trimming and a little bit of leveling of the ground and suddenly found ourselves with a perfect little staircase up to our tiny porch.

Carving Out Some Front Steps

Carving Out Some Front Steps

Front Steps Complete

Front Steps Complete

At about 5:00 PM, just as we were finishing up, our neighbor, Forest, stopped by to see if we were still on for dinner in Boulder Creek that evening. We had invited Forest and his girlfriend, Shelley, out to dinner as a way of saying thank you for dropping everything to tow our tiny house into the property with their dump truck on Thursday. It was wonderful to see Forest and when he arrived, we all took a break and sat around the now shaded campfire circle, enjoying a few beers and chatting about mountain life for a while before Forest left so we could all get cleaned up before dinner.

Getting cleaned up for dinner turned into another highlight of the weekend. It was our first chance to test the shower inside the tiny house and I’m happy to report that the shower enclosure, the outdoor water heater, the water lines and the gas lines all worked perfectly. I think we both had to agree that being able to take a hot shower in the middle of the woods in a house we built ourselves after a long day of bicycling and manual labor was a truly special experience.

It’s really amazing how many things that we totally take for granted in our regular house that seemed like an extra special gift when we were able to use them in our tiny house in the woods. Sleeping in a warm bed without a tent. Being able to go to the bathroom inside not having to put shoes and socks or even clothes on to do it. Being able to sit in a cool, shaded living room when it’s 90° outside. Being able to get away from the bugs. Having lights at night. Taking a warm shower. Making a pot of tea. Running water. Making a sandwich in a kitchen instead of at a picnic table. These are all things that I do every day in my own not so tiny house in Santa Clara, California. However, being able to do them in my tiny house in the middle of the woods in Boulder Creek, California seemed like an amazing and extravagant luxury.

Boiling Water for the First Time

Boiling Water for the First Time

After we were done enjoying our luxuriously warm showers, we put on our dressier camping clothes and headed into town for dinner at the local sushi restaurant. You wouldn’t think that it was possible to get a good sushi in Boulder Creek, California, but it is. This is one of the best sushi places I have ever been to in California and everything we got tasted amazing. Enjoying it all in the good company of friends like Forest and Shelley made it that much nicer. We got a table near the window overlooking the babbling brook below and savored our food while getting to know each other a little bit better. It was wonderful.

After dinner, we drove back to the tiny house and crawled into bed to enjoy a little bit of TV on Sheila’s computer before turning off the light in the loft and curling up in bed for a second night in a tiny house.

Somehow, I slept even better on Saturday night than I slept on Friday night. I even slept late, something I almost never do. I don’t think we got out of bed until nearly 8:00 AM.

For breakfast, we had cereal and milk on the floor of the tiny house again. My bowl of cereal was extra special because Sheila had gone out to pick some fresh blackberries from the property to put on top. They tasted so good.

Cereal with Blackberries Picked on the Property

Cereal with Blackberries Picked on the Property

After breakfast, we spent some time doing some minor improvements around the tiny house. We hung some hooks, a towel rod and a toilet paper holder in the bathroom and a hook in the closet for the dustpan and broom. Then, Sheila did some more weed whacking while I added a few more screws to make the tops of the porch railings a little bit more secure. By the time we were done with all of that, it was about 2:00 PM and it was getting pretty warm out.  Although the outdoor thermometer I had installed said 99°, it remained a cool 75° inside the insulated tiny house and it was wonderful to escape back inside whenever we needed to cool down.

At 3:00 PM, we thought it might be about time to head back to reality, but not before quick trip down to the stream to really cool off. We changed into our bathing suits and walked down to the lower clearing and then down the narrow path to our property’s entry point to Bear Creek. From there, we waded into the river and made our way down the creek to the waterfall in the middle of our property. At first, the cool water took our breaths away, but as we slowly immersed ourselves in deeper and deeper water we started to get used to it and the water began to feel amazingly refreshing.

Stream

Stream

By the time we got to the waterfall, I had already been into the water over my head and swimming around in the pool underneath the waterfall, something that has always seemed much too cold to do before, was almost tolerable, if not even a bit exciting and fun. That was when I decided to do something I have always wanted to do. I climbed the rope on the side of the cliff until I got to the top of the waterfall and then threw myself into the 12 foot deep pool below. It was so awesome. Jumping off of rocks into pools of water is one of my favorite things in the world. I’ve always wanted to do it at my property and never quite had the nerve.  But this weekend, I didn’t want to miss out on anything.

When we left the property after playing in the river, I felt unlike I have felt in a long, long time. I felt energized, happy, content, blessed and oh so lucky. This weekend was everything I always imagined it would be and more to live in the middle of the woods in the house I built myself. Like I said at the beginning, it’s one of those things I can only try to explain, but never really do it justice.  All I can say is that I now know for sure that my tiny house was worth every penny I spent on it and every minute of the last 2 1/2 years it took me to build it.

Waterfall Pool

Waterfall Pool

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Moving Day

A Tiny House in It's Natural Habitat

Tiny House Finally in It’s Natural Habitat

Monday, June 20, 2016

I learned this past weekend that moving a tiny house is not always a tiny effort. Everything worked out fine and the tiny house is safe and sound where I decided to put it next to the fire pit, but it took a lot more effort to get it there than I was expecting.

The “transporter” I found on Craig’s List, Holton, showed up at 10:15 AM. He was a clean-cut, young, nice guy and right away I had a good feeling about him. That feeling continued as I watched the professional way in which he hooked up the tiny house to his truck Dodge 3500 pick up truck with the dually wheels. He had all the right equipment and seemed to really know what he was doing.

House Hooked Up and Ready to Go

Ready to Go

Once the house was all hooked up, I followed my tiny house out of the complex and over to Boulder Creek. Since it was my tiny house’s first adventure more than 1 mile from my driveway, I was a bit nervous. However, aside from back corner of my trailer dragging ever so slightly leaving my townhouse complex, the journey on paved roads went without incident. I followed Holton’s truck and my tiny house down San Tomas Expressway, over Highway 17, through Scotts Valley and Felton and on into Boulder Creek. I cringed a little bit the first time my tiny house went underneath a bridge, but at 13′ 6″ tall the tiny house was just the right height and fit neatly underneath everything the road threw at us. Even the lowest of the overhanging branches my tiny house sailed right underneath, blowing them vigorously up-and-down as it went by without actually touching them. The trip over the hill was so uneventful that by the time we reached the main access road to my property, I was starting to relax and think that everything was going to be just fine.

Highway 17

Highway 17

Scott's Valley

Scott’s Valley

Boulder Creek

Boulder Creek

My confidence level in the move actually improved as we headed down the dirt access road into our property. The driver took his time over the potholed road and across our little bridge before approaching the one thing I was really worried about: the 300 foot long section of steep and bumpy road leading up to the lane into our property. If we were going to have problems, I imagined this was where they were going to happen. However, Holton’s truck went up the steep section without batting an eye and after that, I really thought we were in the clear.

Main Access Road

Main Access Road

 

Steep Hill

Steep, Bumpy Hill

Holton turned the tiny house into the parking area in front of our dirt lane and I pulled in as well so we could have a conversation about the last quarter-mile into the property. My only concern here was that I be able to get a video of the last bit to show friends and have for posterity.  Unfortunately, Holton had other concerns. He took one look at the lane into our property and immediately started shaking his head. The road was still kind of steep and covered with loose dirt and organic material. Holton was pretty sure his truck was going to lose traction on it and he said it was very unlikely he would be able to get the tiny house up that road.

Although my heart sank a little bit at this statement, I was nowhere near ready to give up.  I asked Holton if there was any risk to giving it a try. He said, no and that if he lost traction, he would back down the hill again. So, he gave it a try and, as he predicted, immediately lost traction. Unfazed, he decided he would try again, but get a run up to the hill first. He slowly and expertly backed the house up the main road and then let gravity help back down the road as he turned right and gunned it up our lane. He got a little bit further this time, but still no dice. Then he tried it again from the other side, backing the house the other way down the main road and gunning it again. He made it a little bit further, but still did not make it. Finally, he gave it one more try, backing it up the main road again the way he tried the first time. I said a little prayer to God for help and then watched as his truck and my tiny house came down the hill even faster than before. This time, Holton got further than he ever had before.  For a moment, I really, really thought he was going to make it … but he didn’t.

First Try

First Try

Spinning Out

Spinning Out

Watch the video of this first failed attempt.

I was finally forced to admit what Holton had been telling me from the beginning: his truck just wasn’t going to be able to get my tiny house where I wanted it. Maybe a four-wheel-drive could do it, but not his two wheel drive. It was looking like I was going to need to leave the tiny house parked right there in front of our lane until I could find a different solution. I thought I would probably have to camp out in the tiny house for the weekend to guard over it until I found somebody with a tractor or a big truck to pull it up.

It was at that point that a little divine intervention occurred. Just when I was about to pay Holton and let him leave, a little station wagon showed up on the main road and stopped so the woman inside could tell me how adorable the tiny house was and ask if she could take some pictures. I told her that would be fine and while she was taking pictures and complementing my little house, I mentioned that I was very happy with how it turned out, but would be even happier if I could find a way to get it into my property.  That was when she said, “let me call Forest,” and when I finally recognized who she was. This was Shelly, Forest’s girlfriend who I had not seen in over two years when she had brought a picnic to our property to discuss rebuilding the little bridge where the main access road crosses the creek. If there was a homeowner’s association for all the people who lived off the main access road up the hill and if that association had a president, I imagine Forest would be it. He’s the person who knows everybody and everything that goes on in the neighborhood around our property. He also runs a farm at the top of the hill and happens to have a number of different trucks and pieces of heavy equipment. If anybody could help me out of this situation, it was going to be Forest.

Shelly called Forest and explained the situation and he said he would be right down. I asked Holton if he could stick around just a little bit longer and he said that would be fine. About 15 minutes later, Forest showed up in his V-8 four-wheel-drive truck with knobby tires and a pick up bed filled with a huge bag of potting soil for extra traction. This was looking good.

Forest and Shelly with Their 4WD Truck

Forest and Shelly with Their 4WD Truck

We unhooked the tiny house from Holton’s truck, hooked it up to Forest’s truck and let Forest give it a try. On his first try, Forest got a little bit further than Holton had gotten on his first try, but still not very far up the hill. So, we decided to try the run-up thing again. Forest backed to the house up the main road like Holton had done and let it rip. He came down the hill even faster than Holton had around the corner to the right and up our lane while we were all screaming, “run Forest, run” and I was hoping to God that my house wouldn’t break apart into pieces. The house held up just fine, but Forest didn’t get any further up the lane than Holton ever had and we were forced to admit defeat once again.

Hooking up the 4WD

Hooking up the 4WD

Watch the video of this second failed attempt.

I was convinced that was going to be the end of the story, but my amazing neighbor was not quite ready to give up. Forest got out of his four-wheel-drive and said, “I guess it’s time to go get the dump truck.” Faith with that simple statement, Forest got into Shelly’s station wagon with Shelly and they both headed back up the hill, handing me the keys to his four-wheel-drive truck and leaving it to me to unhook it from my tiny house.

After Forest left, Holton and I worked together to unhook the four-wheel-drive and park it over to the side, trying to leave room for the mysterious dump truck to arrive. At that point, Holton needed to get going, so I paid him and let him go.

And then, for the first time ever, I was alone with my tiny house on my property. It was parked at a weird angle sitting between the main road and the lane into our property and yet it was still beautiful. The house wasn’t where I wanted it and yet, for some reason, it still looked like it was sort of where it belonged, sitting amongst the redwood trees.  I took a few pictures of the tiny house from different angles and then, with nothing else to do, I sat on the porch and ate my lunch.

Tiny House Waiting Patiently

Tiny House Waiting Patiently (more Patiently Than Me)

While I was sitting there, several neighborhood residents drove by on the main access road including a new person I had never met, Andre, in his brand-new V-8 four-wheel-drive pick up truck. He complemented the tiny house and when I told him what was going on, he quickly said that he was pretty sure he could pull the tiny house up my lane. I offered him $200 to do it on the spot, but he said he had to work and couldn’t do it right now.  He drove on up the road, leaving me alone with my tiny house once again.

I waited for quite a while wondering when I would see Forest again until finally I heard a rumbling in the distance. Brrrrummmm, Brrrrummmm, Brrrrummmm it went, ever so slowly getting louder and louder until finally Forest and Shelly came back down the hill in a big, six wheeled white dump truck.

Dump Truck!

Dump Truck!

Forest got out of the dump truck and promptly explained both the good news and bad news. The good news was that he had filled the dump truck with wet dirt and was pretty sure it would have enough traction. The bad news was that the dump truck did not actually have a hitch on the back. Instead, it had a claw. The claw was really just a giant, blunt hook hanging off the back of the truck with a locking latch mechanism that looked like it was designed to go through a trailer with some kind of ring on the front. However, it looked like the hook was just about the right size to fit into the ball receiver of my trailer. There would be no way to lock the truck to my trailer, but it looked like it might still work.

Forest drove the dump truck around in front of the tongue of my trailer and set about trying to connect it to the tiny house. Fine positioning of a 2 inch diameter claw on the back of a dump truck with airbrakes that need to be recharged if the brakes get used too often is not as easy as it might seem. However, after two or three tries, we got the claw into the right spot directly underneath the ball receiver on my trailer and then lowered the trailer down onto the claw. As luck would have it, the ball receiver fit very nicely over the claw. So far, so good.

Hooked Onto the Claw

Hooked Onto the Claw

We made sure that the trailer chains were securely attached to the dump truck just in case the trailer popped off the claw and then we decided it was time to give it a try. I told Forest that in this configuration, we couldn’t risk doing anything at high-speed that might result in the trailer popping off of the claw. He said not to worry, that the dump truck didn’t do anything fast and that he didn’t think speed would be required.

Forest was right. That dump truck pulled the tiny house up the hill into our property like it was flat, paved road. It could care less about the loose dirt on the lane. The wheels never slipped or lost traction at all. I watched with excitement as the truck pulled my tiny house up the hill until suddenly, it sputtered and came to a halt. Wondering what was going on, I walked up to the back of the truck in time to see Forest climb out and say “Just ran out of gas.”

Click here to watch the dump truck video.

I couldn’t do anything other than laugh at this point because of all the problems that happened today, filling a truck with gas seemed like one we could probably handle. Forest called one of his workers at the top of the hill to bring down a tank of gas.  While we were waiting, Forest cracked open a beer and offered me one as well. I’m not much of a beer drinker, but it was a hot day and after all I had been through I was thinking, “what the heck, that looks pretty good.” It also occurred to me that drinking a beer might make me care little bit less if my very nice neighbor who was about to pull my tiny house with his dump truck might be a little bit intoxicated while he was doing it.

About 20 minutes later, the gas can was successfully delivered, so we filled the tank and Forest started up the truck again.  It promptly came back to life and proceeded to pull my house all the way down our lane and into the fire pit area right where I wanted it. I couldn’t believe it. It was perfect.

House Successfully Parked

House Successfully Parked

I told Forest just how grateful I was that he was willing to help me do this. I offered him $200 for his time, but he refused, saying that we were neighbors and he was happy to help. He said I could buy him a beer sometime. I couldn’t believe it. Amazing.

Forest left at about 1:45 PM and I spent the next 5+ hours getting the house ready to live in. A lot of that time was spent leveling the trailer on ground which turned out to be a lot more sloped that I had remembered it. But eventually, I got the house up on jack stands and nicely leveled in both directions. I took the wheels off (see my security post for more on that). I put the locks on the remaining wheels and the ball receiver. I took the outdoor closet off the porch, wheeled it around on dollies, used my pole saw to cut down a small tree that was in the way and positioned the closet on cement blocks near the tongue of the trailer. I put my 200 amp hour batteries and my propane tank inside, hooked up the batteries and made sure I could turn on the lights. I unpacked odds and ends from both the tiny house and the trailer. I put the railing on the tiny house back on since I had to take it apart to get the outdoor closet off the porch. I took the boxes of scrap wood that I brought with me near the fire pit to make a campfire out of later. It was a lot of tough, manual labor, but I knew exactly what needed to be done and doing it felt kind of amazing.

House Leveled with Tires Removed

House Leveled with Tires Removed

Front of House

Front of House

Back of House with Utility Closet

Back of House with Utility Closet

I finally left the property at about 6:45 PM, knowing that I needed to pick up Sheila from the airport at about 8:00 PM. Rather than go home, I decided to simply drive straight to the airport, stopping at the Chipotle for dinner. I ate about half of my burrito before Sheila called me from the tarmac and I headed over to pick her up. It was wonderful to see her again after a week apart and even more fun to have a great story to tell her on the way home. It really was quite an amazing story and I have to say I enjoyed watching Sheila’s jaw drop further and further as I told more and more of the story.

Thinking back on it now, I guess it would have been nice if I had known that my little lane was going to be so difficult to pull a tiny house over.  Maybe I could have had it paved, graded or covered with gravel.  However, if I had, I would never have been able to experience the incredible kindness of my neighbors or get to see my tiny house get pulled up a steep country lane by a dump truck.  Those are two things I will never forget and always be grateful for.  Every part of this tiny house journey has been an incredible mix of unforgettable experiences and treasured friendships and moving day was no exception.

Finally Where it Belongs

Finally Where it Belongs

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New Photos

Front of House

Front of House

I finally got a pretty good shot of the front of the house when we were moving it back to our driveway one last time. Up until now, the house has always been backed into my driveway or our RV spot, making it really hard to get a photo of what I think is my house’s best side.  I am currently putting the finishing touches on the house before we move it to our property in Boulder Creek, California in a couple of weeks.  While doing that, I had the chance to take a number of the inside of the completed house.  If you want to see those, check out the newly updated “Take a Tour” page.

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Should You Build a Tiny House?

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Ready to Build Your Own?

Now that I have finished building my own tiny house, many people have asked me if I would do it again. Honestly, I’m on the fence about that. However, it really doesn’t matter what I would or wouldn’t do. The real question is whether should you build your own tiny house and I believe that’s an extremely personal question. What I would or would not do should have no bearing on your decision. What might impact your decision, however, are some of the tiny house truths I have learned during my own journey.

I’m reminded of a story that my wife, Sheila, likes to tell about a college friend of hers. Shortly after delivering her first baby, this college friend called Sheila to tell her about the experience, saying, “They all lied to me! I’m telling it like it is. There’s nothing beautiful about it!” Evidently, the whole childbearing experience was a little messier than she was expecting. I won’t say there’s nothing beautiful about building or owning a tiny house because there is. However, when you attend a workshop, they make it seem like it’s going to be this wonderful experience that will be delightfully challenging while simplifying your life, helping the environment and just generally making the world a better place. They don’t really tell you about the difficulties and challenges you will encounter, because if they did, you might not buy a trailer or the set of plans they are selling. Since I’m not trying to sell anything here, I feel like that puts me in a unique position to tell you the truth about building a tiny house so that if you decide to build your own, you won’t finish it feeling like someone lied to you.

Before I start, let me say that I think there are probably three primary things to consider when deciding whether to build a tiny house.

  1. Finances. Although building a tiny house is much less expensive than building a big house, it still doesn’t cost nothing. The materials alone will probably cost you between $20K and $25K. If you want to pay a company to build it for you, it will cost you between $55K and $65K. That’s probably more money than most people have in the bank. The tiny house companies can help you with financing if you purchase a house from them, but getting financing to build your own tiny house might be difficult.
  2. Time.  If you build it yourself, it will  cost you about 1500 to 2000 hours of  time. For most people, that means 1-2 years of working evenings and weekends. That time will save you between $30 and $40K which means that the effort you put into building a tiny house is worth about $20 an hour. In other words, if you can make more than $20 an hour doing something else, you might be better off (at least financially) paying somebody to build your house for you.
  3. Experience. I’m not just talking about what kind of building experience you already have, but what kind of experience you want. I was lucky enough to have both the time and the money to either buy a tiny house or build it myself, so my final decision came down to one of experience. I didn’t have any building experience, but for some reason, I decided I wanted to have some. I’m not sure exactly why, but I think it’s because I was hoping I would be able to use that experience in the future to help other people who wanted to build their own tiny house. I haven’t really had a chance to do that yet, but I suspect that if I do, my own experience will become even more valuable to me.

Although time, money and experience are major factors involved in building a tiny house, there are other things you should consider. These are things I did not know before I started building my tiny house and things that if I had known, might have changed my decision or at least my expectations.

First of all, there are the plans. I have already made a long blog post on this which you can read if you want more information. For the sake of this entry, let me just say that you can buy your plans for multiple different companies and no matter which one you pick, the plans will probably be expensive ($800-$1000) and not be very good. When it comes down to it, all of the tiny house companies are really focused on putting on workshops for the thousands of people in the country who think they want to build a tiny house, not for the few dozen who actually do. If you are an experienced builder, you can probably work around the issues in the plans, but if you have no experience, you might find dealing with the plans to be more than a bit challenging and frustrating.

If you wait a bit, it’s possible that the plans will get better. Tumbleweed has been making attempts to improve their plans and has also told me that eventually, they want to provide some kind of instructions to go with the plans. They mentioned something like those helpful pictures like you find in those IKEA instruction manuals. I find the pictures and those IKEA instruction manuals to be pretty frustrating, so I’m not sure how much of an improvement this would be. However, any additional time spent on, or information included in their plans would probably be welcome.

Regardless of how the plans do or do not it evolve over time, you should be aware that building a tiny house is still going to be a pretty big challenge. For me, it was the most difficult thing I have ever done. It was more difficult than riding my bike 518 miles in 40 hours. It was more difficult than getting a bachelors degree in engineering from MIT or a masters degree from Stanford. I really was not fully prepared for how difficult it was going to be. It’s not just challenging to figure out how everything goes together, it’s difficult to keep motivating yourself. There were days when all I could do was sit inside my partially built tiny house staring at the walls in despair over how impossible it seemed to make any more progress. There were days I wanted, oh so badly, to just quit. On some of those days I actually considered setting fire whole thing just to get rid of it. To be fair, there were also some delightful days. There were some days (not many) when I made more progress than I thought I would and days when I did something that made the house so much more beautiful than it was before that I would enjoy looking at what I had created for weeks afterwards. One thing is for certain: if you’re going to build your own tiny house, you should expect both very good and very bad days.

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My Tiny House In Middle of Street After an Attempted Theft

Talking about very bad days leads me to my next challenge about owning a tiny house: theft. I know it seems great that your house is on wheels and can be moved anywhere you want. However, having a house on wheels means that somebody can drive away with it which is exactly what they did to my house in the middle of my build process (more about that here). Lest you think that this is an isolated incident, I discovered soon after that I’m not the only one to have had their tiny house stolen. Luckily, everyone I know who has had their tiny house stolen has also eventually gotten it back (my thieves did not get more than a half a mile from my house). However, the experience does not leave you unchanged. For Casey Friday, the theft of his tiny house was the final straw in a long series of challenges he experienced during his build process (many of which I also experienced) that made him give up his dream and sell his partially constructed tiny house for the cost of the raw materials. For me, the theft of my tiny home was just an eye-opener. I always knew it was possible, but I just didn’t think it would happen. I also never thought about what the impact would be to me if it actually did happen. The impact was much bigger than I would have expected or predicted. Everyone has had things stolen from them and it never feels good. However, in the end, most of the things we have stolen from us are just things. With enough money, we can just buy another one. If you have the misfortune of having a tiny house you built yourself stolen, you will quickly realize that you can’t just buy another one. If somebody steals your tiny house, they are not only stealing $25K of materials, they are stealing 2000 hours worth of your time. I have never been in a situation in my life before were somebody could steal my time. It’s pretty much irreplaceable time because I know that if anyone ever successfully stole my house, I would never find the motivation to spend 2000 hours building another one. In the end, my house and all the time I put into it would  just be gone forever, which is a disturbing thought for me, even now. As long as I own my tiny house, which I hope will be for a very long time, I will always be worried about somebody stealing it and having this masterpiece creation, the most difficult thing I have ever done, just disappear from my life forever.

I know what you’re thinking. If it’s possible to have your tiny house stolen, you should just get insurance for it. That way if it disappears, you may lose your masterpiece, but you will at least get your money back. Unfortunately, that’s what I thought as well and it turned out to be wishful thinking. After much painful research, I eventually discovered that you cannot buy insurance for a tiny house, especially when you have built it yourself. We tried and tried, but no insurance company would touch it. Something that is not really a house and not really a vehicle just doesn’t fall into any kind of category that insurance companies know how to deal with. I have been told that if you buy a tiny house from a company like Tumbleweed, it will be RV certified which means that you might be able to get insurance for it. However, I think even then, the insurance will be limited and will not cover basic things like theft (I still fail to understand the point of insurance that doesn’t cover theft). Anyway, before you start your build process, I would strongly recommend doing some research into the insurance situation and based on what you find out, ask yourself honestly whether you could deal with what the insurance company would or would not give you if you ever lost your dream tiny home to theft, fire, a tree branch, towing accident or who knows what else.

evictionorder

Assuming your house survives all of those things and you find a place to peacefully settle down in your new tiny home, the next thing you have to worry about is eviction. In the workshops, they will try to tell you that putting a tiny house on a piece of property and living in it falls into this gray area of county zoning that is technically legal because your tiny house is on wheels. They will say that county regulations prohibit you from living in a a recreational vehicle for more than 30 days in a row so if you move out for just one day every month, you’re OK. The reality is not quite so rosy. Most likely, your county will not  view things quite the same way the tiny house companies do and if the county finds out about your tiny house, they will probably ask you to leave. At that point, you can try to fight them, but I know of no one who has done so successfully. The problems usually arise when a neighbor notices the tiny house and reports it to the county. After that, you’re pretty much sunk. Jonathan had this happen to him on a piece of rural property he purchased specifically for the purpose of parking his tiny house. He was unable to fight the county and eventually had to give up his dream of tiny house living. Jenna and Guillaume have been evicted from two different places in Colorado.  They eventually solved their problem by hiding their tiny house somewhere where nobody can see it and hoping for the best. Unlike Jonathan, they don’t own the property they are parked on so if they get another eviction notice, they can just move and try again somewhere else. Suffice it to say, tiny house evictions really do happen and are something you should consider and be prepared for.

Having now frightened you with all of the realities and difficulties involved in building a tiny house, let me mention that there are things you can you do to make the situation easier on yourself or to minimize the risks involved. First, I recommend doing your research in advance. Look into insurance. Check the regulations in your county about owning or living in a house on wheels. Find out what the real situation is in advance. Don’t wait until you’re done building your tiny house to figure those things out. Next, think about security (I wrote a post about that here). Since you probably won’t be able to replace your tiny house if it gets stolen, make sure it is as difficult as possible for somebody to steal it. Take the wheels off and put it up on jack stands. Put a good lock on the tongue and chain the axles to a big tree or to a bolt cemented into the ground. Pay for a GPS tracking device and hide it in the house. On top of everything else, try to put the tiny house somewhere where nobody will see it. Doing that may solve your problems with the county as well. As long as no neighbor sees it and reports it, the county will most likely not come looking for it. I know you will be tempted to show off your masterpiece, but in general, the more out of sight you can keep your tiny house, the better off you will be. Finally, be good to yourself during the build process. Don’t push yourself too hard or try to stick to an unrealistic schedule (I actually recommend not having a schedule at all). If you are feeling run down, depressed or frustrated about a problem that seems unsolvable, remember to give yourself a break. I was frequently amazed by how often a really great solution to a really difficult problem would simply pop into my head if I simply took a little bit of time off.

If all of those suggestions don’t make you feel a little bit better about the challenges involved in building a tiny house, then let me also point out some of the really great things about building a tiny house. First of all, finishing your tiny house is a pretty amazing feeling. Even finishing little parts of it can be pretty satisfying. The day I raised my walls, the day I installed my first wall of exterior siding, the day I finished installing my roof and my house was watertight and the day I finished my front porch were all particularly memorable days for me, days in which the character of the house was completely changed. Accomplishing something of this magnitude and knowing that you built it with your own two hands is a pretty amazing feeling.

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The House After Installing my First Wall of Exterior Siding

Perhaps even more rewarding than completing my tiny house were the friendships that my tiny house brought into my life. It’s impossible to embark on a project like this without attracting really interesting, like minded people. I will always be grateful for the people who have joined me on this incredible journey, from our property co-owners, to old and new friends who helped me with the build process or loaned me tools, to brothers and sisters in arms who are building their own tiny house here in my home town. The people I have met on this journey have turned out to be some greatest people I have ever met and I am seriously lucky to call them my friends. For some reason, the kinds of people who are interested in building a tiny house just seem to be really good people. I now think that anybody who is even remotely interested in tiny houses is probably somebody worth knowing.

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Thanksgiving Dinner with Tiny House Friends

So now we return to the original question which is whether you should or should not build your own tiny house. That is still a decision you’ll have to make for yourself but hopefully one you now feel better able to make. If you have read all of this and still want to go through with it, more power to you. My purpose here was not to discourage you from building a tiny house, just to make sure you knew what you were getting into before devoting such a huge amount of your time and money into such a project. Building a tiny house can really can be a very meaningful and rewarding experience. If you know what you’re getting into and decide to do it anyway, I think you have a good chance of success and if you set your expectations correctly, I think you also have a good chance of enjoying the experience. No matter what happens, I can guarantee you that if you build a tiny house, you will have experiences unlike those most of the rest of the world has. Some of them will be good and some of them bad, but all of them will be memorable and no matter what happens, those amazing memories will always be yours.

If you have gotten to the end of this blog entry and are thinking maybe building a tiny house is not for you, then don’t feel bad. Give yourself some credit for figuring out the truth now instead of in the middle of your build when it might have transformed your tiny house into a very large burden. No matter what you decide, the fact that you even considered building your own tiny house means you’re probably a person worth knowing.

If you are one of the few who have built your own tiny house and can think of other things that people might want to consider before starting their own build process, feel free to share them in the comments below.

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A New Porch and a Finished House!

New Porch!

New Porch!

On Saturday, November 28, 2015 at about 2:00 pm, a funny thing happened. I finished my tiny house!!! Here are my journal entries from my final week of work on the house, which was mostly spent installing what I think is a pretty nice looking porch on the front of my tiny house. Like most of the work I have done on my tiny house, the week had it’s ups and downs, but the ups were pretty amazing and finally finishing the house made all the effort I have put into it so far more than worth while.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

I had kind of a tough day yesterday and I’m expecting another tough one today. I tried to work on the tiny house yesterday, but wasn’t very successful. In the end, I felt like I was not only not making any progress on the tiny house, but also ignoring my parents in law, Levi and Vera, who have made a long journey from Iowa to be with us for a few days. I just couldn’t seem to both work on the house and pay attention to my guests at the same time and trying to do both resulted in me being unable to do either, leaving me feeling bad on multiple levels most of the day.

Levi was totally willing to help me on the tiny house yesterday. The problem was that I couldn’t really come up with anything to do. In the morning, Levi & Vera helped my by adding a coat of polyurethane to the loft of the ladder, but that only took an hour or so and after that that, the next thing to do was to work on the porch which I really couldn’t do with the trailer in its current location (the roof of my tiny house porch would have hit the roof of my not so tiny house garage). I also couldn’t quite remember how the porch even went together so what I really needed to do was spend some time looking at my plans and drawings trying to remember how everything was supposed to work. I just needed some time to myself and I had trouble asking for it. Even when I did finally tell Levi that he could go inside and relax, I still felt bad about it. I felt like I was ignoring him. So it didn’t matter whether people were outside with me trying to help or leaving me by myself, I felt uncomfortable and frustrated.

I really don’t solve problems well when other people are watching me.

The good thing about today is that I was able to get the trailer moved a foot and a half forward yesterday which means that we can actually work on the porch today. Yesterday morning, Sheila encouraged me to email our neighbor, Charlie, to see if he was available to help move the trailer. Turns out that he was. He came over at 5:00 PM last night to help. Before he arrived, I put the wheels back on the trailer which I got done, but was a little trickier than I remembered or expected. It was a little bit more difficult with Sheila and Levi watching me work. However, we got it all done and I got the trailer moved, the wheels back off and everything leveled on the jackstands again by about 6:00 PM last night. After that, we all had leftovers for dinner and watch TV before going to sleep.

The bad thing about today is that I really don’t know what I’m doing with the porch. Sheila and Levi want to help again today and I think it’s going to be really hard for me to keep them busy. I think they’re going to be a lot of times today when I need to stop and solve problems while everybody is watching me and that is going to really stress me out. When Sheila first asked me last night if I needed a crew to help me today, I immediately said no which I think shocked and disappointed her a little bit. I felt bad about that, but yesterday was so difficult I just thought it would be better if I worked on my own today. However, after thinking about it a little while, I thought maybe it would be nice to have other people not only help me hold things in position but also maybe even help me solve problems. I don’t know if that’s possible, but it would be great if it was. I would love to not have to be the only person solving problems on the tiny house. So, I’m going to try to let other people help today. I don’t know how it’s going to work out, but I’m hoping it works out all right.

Sunday, November 22, 2015, 8:28 AM at home in Santa Clara

Well, I’m happy to report that instead of being uncomfortable working with everyone on the tiny house yesterday, I actually had a spectacularly good day – maybe one of my best tiny house work days ever. Levi, Vera and Sheila all helped me yesterday and having their help ended up being completely wonderful. Levi helped me more than anyone else and he was just the perfect assistant. Several times during the day, he helped me figure out better ways to do things. He also patiently stood by my side while I was trying to figure things out and he provided that extra set of hands that was so necessary for what we were doing yesterday. We didn’t run into any major problems during the day and by the end of the day, we had accomplished something that I completely changed the character of the house.

I’m not quite sure why everything went so well yesterday. Maybe it was all of the advanced planning I had done. Maybe it was the fact that I had some really great helpers. However, I think there might have been something else that was even more important than all of that. Partway through the day, Vera mentioned that she had been praying for us to have a good day working on the tiny house and as soon as she said that, I knew that was the key. I rarely have tiny house work days that go as well or that I enjoy as much as yesterday. Once Vera said that she had been praying for us, I realized that the only logical reason why we were having such a good day was because God had been there with us.

Yesterday, Levi, Vera, Sheila and God all helped me to finally assemble all the pieces to the front porch roof, posts and railings that I had carefully created and stained nearly one year ago. It took a lot of thinking and precise cutting to create those pieces last year and even more thinking to remember how they all went together on Friday. However, I finally reaped the reward for all of that hard work yesterday. Everything came together so well. Almost all of my pieces fit together just perfectly. They were already cut to the sizes we needed and already stained and ready to go. Pretty much all we had to do is figure out the best way to attach them altogether.

I have to say that attaching finished pieces of wood together is about my favorite thing to do on the tiny house. I think it takes about nine times as much time to get ready to screw something together that it actually does to screw it together, but when I am actually attaching things together, I feel great. That’s pretty much how I felt all day yesterday. I spent the whole day attaching carefully created pieces of wood together and with each piece, my front porch started to look better and better.

In the morning, since I still had a little bit of prep work to do to get ready for installing porch railings and roof, I set Vera and Levi to work on adding the last coat of polyurethane to the loft and the loft ladder. That took them a little bit less than an hour and after that, we were finally ready to go.

Levi & Vera Adding Polyurethane to Ladder

Levi & Vera Adding Polyurethane to Ladder

We started by laying out all of the porch posts on the garage floor in the order they were going to be connected in. Then, we attached them altogether at the top with a 2 x 2 I had created just for that purpose. Next, we attached the square bases to the bottom of the posts. We did this by propping up the bottom of the post to just the right height so that when we held the bases against the bottom, they would be exactly centered. After pre-drilling, we attached everything together with two screws in each post. We did have one mishap when one of our porch post bases split in half despite having already been pre-drilled. However, it only took me another 20 minutes or so to cut, sand and stain another base which we then attached. After that, we attached the 2 x 4 cross members for the front railing between the posts. We held everything at the right spacing by temporarily attaching a long 2 x 4 to the bottom of each porch post. Then, we cut little spacer blocks to make sure that the railings got held at exactly the right distance from the 2 x 4 while we toe screwed them to the post. That method seemed to work really well.

Assembling the Porch Posts

Assembling the Porch Posts

Porch Slat Attached to Bottom of Posts

Porch Slat Attached to Bottom of Posts

After we had the railing cross members in place, it was time to attach the whole thing to the porch. The way we did this was to remove the outermost slat from the porch and then attach it to the bottom of the porch posts while all the porch posts were still laying down in the garage. We attached the slat with two predrilled deck screws on the bottom of each post. Once we did that, the whole contraption was very solid which meant we could finally lift it up and carry it over to the front porch, placing it down in exactly the spot where the porch slat had been removed. After that, it was just a matter of screwing the porch slat back down to the porch and voilà, the four porch posts were now installed.

Standing up The Posts

Standing up The Posts

Next, I set about attaching the horizontal two by fours that connected the porch posts to the front of the house while Levi trimmed the vertical porch railing pieces a tiny bit to exactly match the final railing height. Once I had the horizontal parts of the railing installed on either side of the porch, we were able to start what was probably the most fun job of the day: attaching the vertical railing pieces. All four of us got involved in that. We created little blocks that were exactly right for the spacing between each railing post and marked them to indicate exactly where the screws should go. Then, one person held the railing piece and one person held the blocks while a third person (usually me, but sometimes Sheila) attached everything with two 2″ stainless steel screws at the top and one screw at the bottom. It was so much fun to do this. We got into this great system where we were able to install everything really easily. It was fun to see how quickly the railing took form.

Attaching the Railing - Totally Fun!!

Levi and I Attaching the Railing on One Side

Sheila and Levi Working on the Other Side

Sheila and Levi Working on the Other Side

Sheila and I Standing in Our New Porch Entryway

Sheila and I Standing in Our New Porch Entryway

Levi & I in Front of New Porch

Levi & I in Front of New Porch

When we finished all of that, we still had about an hour left before we needed to quit for the day, so I charged up the compressor and we spent the next 40 minutes installing the pine tongue and groove pieces I had cut out for the ceiling of the porch. This also went really quickly mostly because I already had all the pieces cut to perfect size. Just like the loft, it was basically just a matter of lining up each piece, tapping into place with a hammer and adding a couple of nails to hold it down.

Installing the Porch Ceiling

Installing the Porch Ceiling

Porch Ceiling Complete

Porch Ceiling Complete

Above My New Porch

Above My New Porch

We finally quit at about 4:00 PM so Sheila could take her parents to 5:00 PM mass. For a little while, we had thought we might keep working into the evening and have Sheila bring her parents to mass this morning. However, at 3:45 PM, I ran into a small problem that I didn’t really know how to solve regarding how the porch roof was going to interfere with the gable fascia. After thinking about it for about 10 minutes, I decided this was the kind of problem I needed to think about overnight, so I told Sheila she should probably go ahead and take her parents to church. I wasn’t going to go with everyone to mass, but then at the last minute I change my mind. It occurred to me that if I spent some time with God instead of continuing to just work on my house, I might receive some inspiration on how to solve my problem. Sure enough I was right. About halfway through the mass, I got a sudden inspiration I knew exactly what to do about the porch roof.

The porch roof has been scaring me for a while because it involves two different pitches which will involve some complicated cutting of plywood and roofing material. However, after mass last night, I think I was finally able to see in my mind exactly how it would all come together. I might still run into problems, but at least at this point, I’m pretty sure it can be done. Actually, I always knew it could be done but now I’m pretty sure that I can do it.

I think my absolute favorite part of the day yesterday was when we all drove back into the driveway after mass to see the front porch installed on the front of the house. Sheila probably said it best when she mentioned that the tiny house looked cute before, but now looks absolutely adorable. I think I have to agree with her. I’m not sure that Tumbleweed generates the best plans in the world, but they sure do have great tiny house designs. I really, really love the way the Elm design looks. I knew it was cute when I first saw it on the Internet nearly 3 years ago and now that I have actually created one myself, I think it looks better than I ever imagined it would.

New Porch!

New Porch!

Monday, November 23, 2015, 6:10 AM at home in Santa Clara

I slept pretty badly last night. I’m worried about the porch roof on my tiny house. I was stressed out about it when I went to bed last night and I tossed and turned all night worrying about it.

This morning, I’m tired, depressed, stressed, afraid, frustrated and angry. I just can’t seem to figure out how to build the porch roof. I keep thinking about it and it always seems like there are just too many problems to solve. It’s a hip roof and it just has too many different angles. I keep trying to picture it in my head, but I can’t quite seem to do it. I spent three hours last night trying to figure it out. I made a little bit of progress, but there are still quite a few things I don’t know how to do. I’m sure God will send me the answers when I really need them. I just wish I could have those answers now.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015, 5:35 AM at home in Santa Clara

I had a pretty good day yesterday, much better than I expected. We actually made really good progress on the roof for the tiny house porch. For some reason, like Saturday, I was really afraid to have people watching me while I’m trying to figure everything out yesterday. However, also like Saturday, it ended up being really helpful to have Levi there. It was great to have him hold things when I needed and it was also great to get his ideas when I was having trouble with something. I have to admit that having him here made both Saturday and yesterday go much better than it would have gone if I had tried to work on my own.

Yesterday, we cut and installed all the rafters for the porch roof, we cut all the plywood and we cut most of the metal roofing material. I spent most of the morning creating the rafters while Sheila and Levi spend their time cutting up the metal roofing material. It was really great to have Sheila helping with the metal roofing. That’s not a fun job and I’m glad I didn’t have to do it.

Porch Roof Rafters

Porch Roof Rafters

I came up with the dimensions for the rafters on Sunday night and pretty much finished the design while I was creating them yesterday. Since the slope of the porch roof is so shallow, each of the rafters required a very long diagonal cut on a 2 x 4. I also manufactured a little foot for the base of the rafter. In the end, I decided to just create two horizontal rafters, two vertical rafters and two diagonal rafters. When I placed the sheets of plywood on top of the rafters after I installed them, they seemed to provide more than enough support.

Levi & I Positioning Rafters

Levi & I Positioning Rafters

Rafters in Place

Rafters in Place

After lunch yesterday, we took a break and went over to visit Gregory and Leelee at their tiny house build site. They were in the middle of installing metal siding on the side of their tiny house. It was wonderful to see them and to see what kind of progress they have been making. Their house is starting to look really amazing. Gregory keeps complaining that everything is taking longer than he expected, but I keep telling him that’s just the way this tiny house thing works and that if he got it done too fast, he would just make me feel bad that it took me so long to get my own tiny house done.

Gregory & LeeLee's Tiny House

Gregory & LeeLee’s Tiny House

In addition to seeing their build, I also picked up a leftover roll of roofing waterproofing material from Gregory that I plan to put over the entire front porch roof. I was really hoping to get that waterproofing material placed over the roof by the end of the day yesterday, but I just couldn’t get it done. I ran into a small problem at the end of the day trying to figure out how to flash the corners of the roof as well as a small notch I had cut in my porch soffit in the morning to accommodate an overlap between the porch roof and the gable fascia. The notch seemed like a really good idea when I made it, but when I did so, I really didn’t think about how it was going to create an easy path for water to get into the roof of the porch. I’m still not sure exactly how I will handle that but I think I have at least another day to think about it since it’s supposed to rain today which will probably prevent me from working on the roof. At the end of the day yesterday, we just covered the entire porch roof with Tyvek which should protect it from the rain today.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015, 7:25 AM at home in Santa Clara

I had a pretty good day working on the tiny house yesterday. It was slow, but productive. It rained for several hours yesterday which kept me from working outside on the porch roof so I spent most of my day cutting and folding metal pieces that I hope to use as hip caps and flashing when install the rest of the roof.

When I first got started in the morning, I got really frustrated because I just couldn’t quite figure out how the hip caps and all the flashing we’re going to come together in a way that would keep water out of the porch roof. However, after about an hour struggling with it, I had a good enough idea of how it would come together that I could start cutting and bending metal and once I started doing that, I the rest of the design seemed to materialize in my mind. By the end of the day, I had pretty much everything I needed cut and folded.

I’m getting pretty good at cutting and folding metal roofing. Most of the cuts and folds I had to make yesterday were parallel to the ridges on the metal roofing which always makes things easier. The cuts I made by scoring the line I wanted to cut several times with a sharp razor blade, clamping a piece of wood across the line I wanted to cut and folding the metal back and forth until it snapped. The folding I did by simply clamping another piece of wood on top of the line I wanted to fold on and manually folding it with my hands. I found the trick to that is to make several passes, working my way all the way down the fold line, slowly bending the metal only a few of millimeters each time. The less I tried to bend the metal at one time, the cleaner the bend seemed to come out.

I also tackled a few other small projects yesterday. One thing I did was to paint the gas line coming out of the house. This was made out of black steel pipe and I didn’t realize that it needed to be painted when I installed it. Because I hadn’t painted it, it had started to get a little bit rusty, so I first had to get all the rust off with a metal brush. After I finished that, I created a tiny little door inside my propane stove cabinet so that I can get to the gas shut off valve without having to take the top of kitchen counter off. I think my tiny door turned out really well and like the rest of my tiny house, it seems to have a high cuteness factor.

Today, I really hope to finish the roof. Have several things I need to do. First, I want to take all of the plywood back off the roof so I can add some flashing which I hope will waterproof the overlap between the roofing and the gable fascia. Luckily, I screwed all the plywood and rafters together, so hopefully it won’t take too long to take them all apart again (have I mentioned how much I love screws?). After that, I will put all the plywood back on and cover it entirely with the waterproof membrane I got from Gregory. Next, I will start adding the metal roofing and with a little help from God, maybe that will all finally come together.

Thursday, November 26, 2015, 7:20 AM at home in Santa Clara (Thanksgiving)

I had a pretty good day while working on the tiny house yesterday. I’m still not quite done with the porch roof, but I’m certainly getting closer. Yesterday, I installed some metal flashing underneath the gable window, the plywood on the roof, the drip edge along all three sides of the roof and finally a sheet of waterproof fabric over the entire roof.

Before I did any of that, I removed the soffit boards from the two short sides of the roof and cut the slot for the gable fascia a little bit wider. I did that so that I would be able to slide a piece of flashing into the slot to make it waterproof and ensure that no water could run down into the slot and then into the interior cavity under the roof.

Flashing in the Slot Where the Gable Facia Overlaps the Porch Roof

Flashing in the Slot Where the Gable Facia Overlaps the Porch Roof

Of all the things I did yesterday, the most difficult was installing the metal flashing underneath the gable window. In order to install it properly, I needed to slip one edge of it up underneath both the existing siding and the lower trim board on the gable window. This pretty much meant unscrewing the siding and removing the lower window trim board. The trim board was the hardest removed because it had two screws holding it in place vertically through the bottom of the board and there wasn’t a lot of room for me to get my impact driver underneath the windowsill to remove those screws. To do it, I had to remove all the plywood on the roof that I had installed on Saturday and even some of the rafters. However, I was eventually able to get the window trim board out, pry the siding out a few millimeters, slide the flashing up underneath and reinstall the bottom piece of window trim.

Installing Flashing Under Church Window

Installing Flashing Under Gable Window

Once I had that done, I could finally put the plywood back on the roof for the last time and nail it down. I think I had to take the plywood on and off the roof at least four times before finally making it permanent. Luckily, the first three times I attached it, I only attached it with a few screws to hold it in place which made it easy to take off again. I really do love screws. Every time I put something together with the nail, I’m always sorry about it because somehow, it always seems to need to be taken apart again and doing that when things are nailed together is always a real chore.

Painting Underside Edge of Porch Roof Sheathing to Match Roofing

Painting Underside Edge of Porch Roof Sheathing to Match Roofing

With the plywood installed, I was able to install the drip edge around the outside. Before I could do that, I had to come up with a fold for each end of the drip edge that would allow the corners to come together nicely. I’m pretty happy with what I came up with there. With the flashing properly cut and folded, I used a few roofing nails to hold the drip edge in place.

Fold For Corner Drip Edge

Fold For Corner Drip Edge

Porch Roof Sheathing Installed

Porch Roof Sheathing & Drip Edge Installed

The last step yesterday was to install a sheet of waterproof fabric over the entire roof. This waterproofing material was something that my friend, Gregory, found to make the very low pitched shed roof on his tiny house waterproof. I thought this waterproofing material would be perfect for my porch as well, especially given that my porch roof only has a pitch of only 7 1/2°. Luckily, Gregory had a leftover partial roll that I could use. Even better, my porch roof ended up being exactly the width of the role of this fabric which meant that I only needed one sheet to go across the entire thing. Sheila and I carefully cut out the piece and folded it so that it first attached to the Tyvek on the side of the gable and then ran down the roof until it overlapped the drip edge on all three sides.

Waterproofing Added to Porch Roof

Waterproofing Added to Porch Roof

I was a little afraid of how we were going to position the waterproof fabric without it getting stuck to the roof where we didn’t wanted to be. However, we got lucky with the temperature yesterday. It was so cold that the material really wasn’t very sticky. That meant we could pull the backing off the entire thing and slide it exactly where we wanted it to be before sticking it down. It was so easy to move around that I was actually a little bit worried about how we were actually going to get it to stick once we got in place. However, we were able to solve that problem with a hairdryer and a roller (the same roller I purchased to install the FRP in my shower). I ran the roller over the entire roof and then any spots that didn’t seem to be sticking well, Sheila heated up with a hair dryer and then I rolled it again. That seemed to work extremely well. By the time we were done with that, there was no way the material was coming off again.

Sheila Heating the Waterproofing Sheet

Sheila Heating the Waterproofing Sheet

Me Rolling it Into Place

Me Rolling it Into Place

So now, my porch roof is entirely watertight. The last step in the process will be to install the metal roofing. Luckily, I already have all of the roofing pieces cut. It’s just a matter of hauling them up there and screwing them down. At least I hope it’s that easy. My goal is to finish all of that on Friday. After that, the only thing left will be to decorate the interior, something I will probably do after a nice long break from tiny house work.

Saturday, November 28, 2015, 8:10 AM at home in Santa Clara

I did not have a terribly fun day working on the tiny house yesterday. Yesterday, Sheila and I installed most of the metal roofing on the porch roof and it seemed like we had to fight to get every single piece up there. Also, despite working the entire day, we still didn’t finish the roof installation. We still have two more pieces to install today along with a couple of triangular pieces of siding that need to be installed on the gable above the roof.

Pre-drilled Holes to Screw Down Porch Roofing

Pre-drilled Holes to Screw Down Porch Roofing

Putting the roof on the house started with installing three different sections of roof, one for each hip slope. I think what was so difficult was getting things to fit together just right. We were trying to get exactly 1 inch of overhang on the roof all the way around the perimeter and that was a bit difficult. We found that some of the pieces were not cut exactly square so they needed a little bit of trimming. The side pieces also needed to be notched to go around the gable fascia and the corner trim on the house. We also needed to drill holes and lay down inside closures and butyl tape in exactly the right spot and somehow hold all of that together while we flipped the roof panels upside down and slid them around on top of the roof. Usually, this was followed by cursing and swearing as we realized it still didn’t fit right and had to pull it all back down to make more cuts before trying all over again. Eventually, we got all the pieces to come together. It just took more trial, error and frustration than I was expecting.

Three Primary Sections Attached

Three Primary Sections Attached

Installing the main panels was followed by two pieces of flashing and two hip caps that I had custom bent last Tuesday when it was raining. Of course, all of these pieces also needed to be trimmed before they could fit. The two pieces of side flashing that connected the gable wall to the roof needed to be cut at an angle to match the slope of the roof. That wasn’t too bad. What was worse was trying to cut the hip cap. Before we installed it, we kept trying to come up with some kind of interesting fold that we could put at the end that would cover the pointy edges of the main roofing panels where they came together in the corner. Sheila I must have spent about two hours trying all kinds of different things on scrap metal before I finally gave up. It was while I was working on something else after that that Sheila finally figured it out. She ended up discovering that if we cut a small section of hip cap and screwed it down tightly to the corner of the roof before installing the rest of the hip cap over the top, it covered the corner pretty well and made it look fairly nice.

Flashing Under Gable Siding

Flashing Under Gable Siding

Hip Cap and Corner Trim

Hip Cap and Corner Trim Prior to Installation

Corner Prior to Hip Cap

Corner Prior to Hip Cap

Sheila's Corner Piece Installed

Sheila’s Corner Piece Installed

Hip Cap Installed

Hip Cap Installed

Once we figured out how to do the corner, we installed the corner piece Sheila had designed and the hip cap on one side of the roof. I really wanted to finish the other side as well. However, by the time we finished the one hip cap, it was 5:30 PM, really dark out and I was pretty fried so we decided to call it quits for the night. I’m hoping that now that we know how to do it, installing the other hip cap in the daylight won’t be too bad.

Sunday, November 29, 2015, 8:50 AM at home in Santa Clara

I finished my tiny house! Well, ok – it’s not totally finished. I still need to add batteries and a compartment to store the batteries and the propane tank in. I also need to straighten the jack at the front of the trailer where it got bent when the house was stolen. However, the inside and the outside tiny house are technically done.

Yesterday, I finished putting the last hip cap on the porch roof by about noon. After that, I had to install the two final pieces of siding on the gable: the triangular pieces just above the porch roof.

Last Two Pieces of Siding

Last Two Pieces of Siding

Final Piece of Siding Installed

Final Piece of Siding Finally Installed

Finished Porch Roof!!

Finished Porch Roof!!

After I finished the porch roof, I added another coat of stain to all of the porch wood. Then, I spent a little bit of time finally screwing down the back splashes on the kitchen counter and attaching the baseboards in the great room. And after that, I couldn’t think of anything else to do so I started cleaning the garage. By 7:00 PM, I had the entire garage sorted, cleaned and vacuumed. The garage is not empty to the point where we can put both cars back into it again yet. However, that is just a matter of taking all the boxes of remaining building materials that I assembled yesterday and putting them inside the tiny house before we move it over to the RV lot this week.

It’s kind of surreal that my tiny house is finally done. After two years and nearly 2000 hours of time, I’m finally done! How weird is that? It seems a little anticlimactic doesn’t it? I feel like I should have something more significant to say here, but I really don’t. But that’s ok, I think. This blog entry is kind of like the tiny house process: you work and work and work for months and months and then suddenly one day, you are just finished.

Welcome to Our Finished Tiny House

Welcome to Our Finished Tiny House

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