Cold Mold and Hot Rocks

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Winter at the Tiny House

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

We were prepared for that.

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

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Cold Mold (Ewww)

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

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

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After

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

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Red Salamander

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

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

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Mirror Next to Window with Window in Mirror

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Me in the Mirror

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

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Good Match for the Decor!

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

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Propane Heaters and Electric Chainsaws

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Winter Greenery

December 27, 2016

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

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

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

 

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Madrone Tree Across the Lane

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

 

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More Fallen Trees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Berry Pancakes! (warm mug is heating syrup)

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

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

 

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Madrone Partially Removed

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

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

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

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

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Road Cleared!

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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

Posted in Tiny Living, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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

Posted in Moving | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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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