Monthly Archives: October 2014

Heating Systems

When it comes to tiny homes you’ve got a lot of ways to heat things up!  In all honesty, in most parts of the country, heating isn’t nearly the task that cooling is.  Here is an overview of all the methods out there though:

  • Propane Heat
  • Convection Heat
  • Infrared Heat
  • Electric Heat with Blower
  • Electric Radiant Heat
  • Dyson Split System
  • In Floor Radiant Heat
  • Wood Burning Stove
  • Gas Burning Stove
  • Passive
  • Pets, electronic devices and Body Heat

There are pros and cons to each and what is right for you may be influenced by other choices along your path.  Stay tuned for more on each type shortly.

Calculating Tiny House Weight

How do you calculate the weight of your tiny house and how do you know if your trailer can handle it?  There are several ways these things can be determined, it all depends on your situation, as does everything… Here is my logic and some of the tools I used to get there.

lifting-weights-to-lose-weight

The first thing to decide would be if you already have a trailer you’re going to build on, if so then you have to decide how much it can carry and design within this.  I am not going to go through the details of how to find out how much your trailer can already carry because Andrew already did a stellar job of demystifying that over at Tiny r(E)volutions HERE.   So, if you already have a trailer, figure out how much you can load it with and design your house using the basic principles below.  Note:  If you buy plans from Tumbleweed or the like they generally come with a gross build-out weight to them, that is handy to use so long as you know you’re going to use those plans with no/minor modifications, if however you are going to change some materials around (say you want granite counters instead of plastic laminate counters) you can use some basic calculations with the tools below and add that to their weight to verify that you’re in the right range still.  

What if you design your own tiny house, how can you guesstimate your weight so you know how much your trailer will have to hold so you can buy the correct trailer?  You COULD find a similar-ish Tumbleweed and err on the side of caution guessing a little heavy but that isn’t really a solid method and I don’t suggest it…  For those of you who have followed my project you know that I pretty much had the house designed before I got the trailer and that the trailer I found needed to be modified to hold the weight I wanted it to… Because I had these known modifications I was able to more accurately plan my axles, both the location and the maximum weight.  I ended up buying a dual 5600 pound (each) capacity axle flat-bed goose-neck trailer, but initially I was planning on a concrete floor (6000 # in itself) so I ended up installing a third axle just to be safe.   If you are going to go this way and customize your trailer be sure to calculate in the weight of your trailer, mine is just shy of 3000 pounds for all the steel.  If you add 6000 for the concrete and 3000 for the trailer (it is home made and a little beefier than a trailer shop would make a trailer, so it is heavier than most) it brings you to 9000 pounds before you even add the house!  So two 5600# axles would only leave me 1600 pounds for the rest of the house in that example, hence I welded on a third axle allowing me to go up to 16,800# total, allowing me 7,800 for the rest of the building materials.    Now, through the design process I have since nixed the concrete in favor of much lighter weight tiles so my trailer is overkill, that was a calculated decision though.

Through the planning phase you will most likely be doing a sketchup model or somehow actually drawing plans, tiny houses are small enough that you can pretty easily take a volume or square foot count of materials fairly painlessly, you have to do this to buy your materials anyway.  Once you have those calculations you can apply weights to things and get a pretty decent idea of where you’ll stand.

I have collected a list of common building materials that you can use.  I like to add a contingency onto the end weight to account for things that are harder to pin down, like the  faucets, hardware, furniture etc., I suggest about a 20% contingency, that may seem high but it’s better to be over than under!   If you make a material list and add things up and it’s too heavy you can start to massage your finishes to make things work out better.  This is a pretty important part of the process so spend some time on it.  I keep saying that this project is weird for me because there are three main design factors that went into my project and the least important is aesthetics (weird for someone with a design background).  The MOST important has been weight and number two is cost since I set a pretty tight budget.  THEN I get to worry about looks :).

Common Material Weights:

Wood Stud, 2×4 (pine):      1.31#/linear foot

Wood Stud 2×6:    2.05#/linear foot

Metal Studs:  1#/linear foot

SIPs Panels, 6″:   3.47#/square foot

Insulation, rigid – 1″:  1.5#/square foot

Insulation, batt 1″: .04#/square foot

Insulation, spray-in 1″:  .5#/square foot

OSB Sheathing, 3/8″:  1.22#/square foot

OSB Sheathing, 1/2″:  1.63#/square foot

OSB Sheathing, 5/8″:  2.03#/square foot

Plywood, 3/8″:  1.08#/square foot

Plywood, 1/2″:  1.44#/square foot

Plywood, 5/8″:  1.8#/square foot

Gypsum (drywall), 1/4″: 1.1#/square foot

Gypsum (drywall), 3/8″:  1.65#/square foot

Gypsum (drywall), 1/2″:  2.2#/square foot

Gypsum (drywall), 5/8″:  2.75#/square foot

Metal Roofing: 2.5#/square foot

Asphalt Roofing: 2#/square foot

TPO Roofing:  .7#/square foot

Carpet: .3-.7#/square foot

Porcelain tile: 4.5#/square foot

Hardwood Floor (birch), 1/2″: 2.4#/square foot

Hardwood Floor (oak), 1/2″: 2.05#/square foot

Hardwood Floor (poplar), 1/2″: 1.45#/square foot

Wood Planks (pine), 1/2″: 1.46#/square foot

Cement, 1″: 12#/square foot

Granite, 1/4″: 3.6#/square foot

Hardie Board Siding, 1/2″: 3#/square foot

Linoleum: .75#/square foot

For a more comprehensive list click HERE.

For a more comprehensive list of various woods click HERE (a board foot is equal to a 1’x1’x1″ section of wood, you can do simple math from there to get to your thickness/width).

You’ll notice some of these are assembly weights, if that is the make-up of your wall skip adding up the individuals and just use that weight per /square foot of wall.

In addition to your building material weights you will need to account for your appliances, the best way to do that is, if you order them on amazon there is an exact weight.  If not you can certainly get an idea on how much a stove similar to the one you’re getting will weigh, again, lean to the cautious side and round up… If you are going to have a water tank on board or a water heater use it’s ‘when full’ weight (water weighs 8.34# per gallon).

Once you have all of that added up figure out your contingency, I use 20% to account for the faucets, the furniture and all those little pieces that it wouldn’t be efficient to add up…  Then you have your weight or at least a healthy stab at it to get you started!

Hopefully that is a semi helpful bit of info!  Anyone else?  How did you determine this?  Did you figure it out beforehand or just build?

Where Can You Park A Tiny House

This is probably the most common question I get, “Where can you park a tiny house?”.  I have no idea why I haven’t just done a post on this, I’ve answered it individually at least 300 times… So, here is the answer:

You can park it almost anywhere it will fit for at least a little while (ha! not helpful, huh? :)).  Parking and living in a tiny house… Legally… very few places (so far).  The answer to this is pretty much ‘parts of Portland’ as an accessory dwelling unit to another structure only.  I have heard from Portland folks though that this is even a blurry line, some say it’s still taboo some say they live tiny and have gone through the process of making their tiny ‘legal’.

Where to live is the one major sticking point (understandably) that prevents a lot of people from choosing tiny.  It is a big investment to take for limited security.  This is the ‘grey area’ that you hear a lot of tiny housers having to make themselves comfortable with in order to live the lifestyle.  My feelings are that, in order to effect change, you have to have pressure and a wave of people pushing in order to change feelings/zoning, that is the reason I felt comfortable building even with this grey zone.  I am willing to have that discussion with officials to try to shift the paradigm if/when it comes up (I think it is coming up very soon all across the country).

Legalities…

So, here is how tiny houses are viewed by the legal entities:  There is currently no ‘tiny house’ classification as codes/zoning see it (I would like that to change), generally they are classified as an RV or mobile home (though you can get them classified as other things depending on location.  I’ve heard of them being classified as a ‘neatly stacked load’ on a utility trailer, or as a semi trailer, neither of which are able to be occupied legally at any time and require different registration/permitting fees).  MOST tiny houses are classified as RV’s (mine included).  Because they are on wheels the building department doesn’t touch them in any location that I’ve heard of so far.  Licensing and registration happen through the transportation department (I personally wish there was some sort of structural analysis required, I have seen far too many sub-par construction techniques used in some tiny houses that I hope I never find myself behind on a freeway…).

Mobile Home: If you are registered as a mobile home you can live fulltime in a mobile home park legally or in any zone that allows mobile homes (a lot of downtown districts surprisingly are not anti mobile home).  The caveat here is that sometimes the mobile home parks require that the home be built by a licensed manufacturer for safety reasons (understandable), not always but sometimes.  That is a sticky point if you are a DIY tiny houser.  If this is the path that makes sense for you I would encourage you to have the conversation with potential locations prior to starting construction.  This option typically has higher registration and permitting fees (as well as taxation).

RV: If you are registered as an RV then you are legally allowed to live in RV parks.  The same rule above applies here though, a lot of RV parks require you to have a ‘current RV’ manufactured by a certified manufacturer (a lot of tiny house builders are getting licenced to be recognised as ‘certified manufacturers’).   If this is the route you are going and you are having someone else build your tiny home ask them if they are certified.   If you are a DIY it probably isn’t feasible for you to get that certification on your own.

Other Options: The ‘neatly stacked load’ and semi trailers don’t ‘legally’ allow for occupancy no matter where they are.

OK, so you want to live in a tiny house but NOT in a mobile home park or RV park, what are the next options?  ..The ‘Grey Area’…

Well, you now fall into the ‘grey area’.  You are at risk of being told you can’t live somewhere.  In which case, you may be glad your house has wheels… :) What a good portion of people do is find a location, move there and take the risk that you may be asked to leave.  It does happen… but not that often from what I have heard from others.  In a lot of cases neighbors think it’s cool.  In some, they don’t.  My best advice is, once you find a place, before going through all of the effort of moving your house, knock on doors.  Ask the neighbors if they have any qualms with a tiny house neighbor.   If they do then look for a different place, that is their right.  It is their neighborhood too, and more so because they can’t just move… like you will likely be able to.   It is best to inform everyone PRIOR to getting to invested.  The fact is that most of the laws prohibiting RVs to be lived in full time (most places have time limits on that, here it is 30 days) in zones other than RV parks are only enforced if reported/complained about.  If you’re a good neighbor you will likely have no issues.  Sure there are ways you can get around that… spend the night at a friends house once a month (or however often your time limit is), move forward 10 feet, register as a mobile home rather than an RV etc. but if the neighbors are complaining then it is probably a hostile situation that you don’t want to be in the middle of, you are backing them into a corner and not being a good neighbor = not good for anyone.  The best thing to do is chat with them beforehand to get their feelings on it.  You may be surprised, a lot of people think it’s great!  You’ll never know if you don’t ask though…

Ok, so how do you go about finding a place and what are the options? 

  • My favorite option would be to purchase an existing house, one with a large enough yard to park your tiny.  Then, rent out the house to cover that mortgage and live rent free!  I do understand many people get into this as a way to NOT get a mortgage but that is one way to use debt as a tool to propel your own finances forward.  So long as you found a place with the right set-up and the ability to rent it out for more than the mortgage payments would be… buying a piece of property also offers a couple other benefits, first being camouflage.  Plain and simple, the right house will hide a tiny house well.  Second, you MAY be able to take it up with the city to have your tiny house recognized as an ADU if necessary (see above linked info if needed, if this comes up it’s good to site other cities as a reference).
  • You can put an ad on Craigslist looking for a place (or look for ads with RV parking).  You’ll want to be specific about what hook-ups you’ll need.  Keep this in mind in your build too, having some hook-ups may limit the places you’ll be able to park.  having a 30 or 50 amp plug for example is not as easy to find as having two 15 amp (standard outlet) plugs.  My house is wired with two separate 15 amp plugs for this reason.  Also having a clean-out required (for a flush toilet for instance) is not as easy to find either.  It can be done but it will be more limiting.
  • Go to TinyHouseParking.com, look for places in the area you want to live.  This is a new-ish site and it is very hard to engage non-tiny house people who may have property but don’t necessarily know that they could make some extra bucks a month by leasing it out… for this reason, TELL PEOPLE ABOUT THIS SITE.  There are lots of interested parties that may have the land, like tiny houses but have no intention of downsizing themselves.  You may have a mother/aunt/uncle/friend who lives alone, struggles to pay bills, faces foreclosure etc. (in your state or not) and an extra $300 a month and/or someone near to them who can check in on them would mean a lot… those people need to find this site.  There is no shortage of tiny housers looking for land all across the country who will gladly rent it for cash and/or in exchange for chores. There is a disconnect in finding the property owners that would happily rent the land to them… check this site often for updates and share, share, share!
  • Stacey started Tiny House Hosting (TELL PEOPLE ABOUT THIS SITE) on Facebook for the same purpose, matching tiny housers with hosts.  For all the same reasons above share this site if you know someone that may be interested in hosting a tiny house and making some cash.  It is important to note that in both the Tiny House Parking and the Tiny House Hosting sites the hoster is under no obligation to provide anything extra.  Generally the tiny houser provides monitoring of their own utilities and reimburses that (it is mucho convenient if the hoster has that already though) or utilities can be set at a flat rate, whatever works best for the parties involved.  If the house becomes unwelcome via the host or any neighbors they may still be asked to leave at no risk/expense of the hoster, it’s just one of the risks that the tiny houser takes on when living in the ‘grey area’.  It is a situation that could be mutually beneficial, the hardest part is getting word out to the property owners that they may be able to pull in some rent.
  • You can of course buy your own bare property as well.  It is important to note that you may still be asked to leave your own property even though you own it if it is not zoned for an RV/mobile home… it is a risk.  It is MUCH less likely to occur in a rural area which is why you see a lot of rural tiny houses.  In this article you can also see that the city of Brainerd okayed small houses (their minimum is 500 s.f.) on foundations.  These have to be located on sub-standard lots and on foundations but this could be a very good situation for some.  I will be keeping an eye on this for sure but this will most likely set a precedence which others cities will/could use to do similar things.
  • What I was planning on doing prior to finding my current location is to simply knock on doors in the location where I wanted to live.  Because people don’t know much about tiny houses they don’t generally know about the opportunity to make some side income.  Tell people about your project, ask if it would be appealing to make some extra money and host your tiny house.  Make sure they know their rights, they know the risks (and that they know that you know the risks), ask how much they would want (and have an idea how much you want to pay).  You can help by having an image of your house or something similar to what your house would look like.  A good place to start (this is not meant to sound horrible, I realize it might) is with the elderly.  In my experience they are the least judgemental about going with a tiny house because houses used to be tiny, it isn’t foreign to them as often.  Not only that, in a lot of cases they may not live near family and would be comforted knowing someone was near if they needed help… this can build community, you can offer them services they may not otherwise have AND help them with expenses (bypass a reverse mortgage which I HATE the practice of…but that’s a different story).  It seems like the ultimate mutually beneficial situation.
  • Also… You can find a place to build your house via these same methods if you don’t have access to one…

It’s important to note that codes/zoning/laws vary a lot by location, these are just the general rules.  I have heard that Michigan is one of the hardest states to live tiny in while Oregon/Washington seem to be among the easiest… If you do choose to live in the grey zone, in my experience it’s the first month that’s the hardest.  Even if you do all your homework, meet all the neighbors, it stinks wondering if anyone will up and change their mind and decide that they don’t want you there.  In all likelihood things will be just fine though, especially if you’ve prepped for it!  And if you have to move, well then you have to move… I have also experienced the fact that finding a place to live isn’t nearly as hard and daunting as it first seems, there are a lot of opportunities out there if you look for them! (and they get easier as you get closer to the end!)

Again, this is my urging for those reading who know others…if you know someone with property and no aversion to tiny houses, maybe a willingness to make a couple/few extra hundred bucks a month share these two sites with them, TinyHouseParking and TinyHouseHostingthere may just be a mutually beneficial relationship to be gained!

My goodness that was a long post, hopefully it helped clear things up, if not it probably muddied them up even further!  Fortunately Ryan wrote a great book on Tiny House Codesthat can explain things further!  With that though I will end it.  I want to ask if I missed some options, let me know in the comments if you had/have other plans that you’ll be using or have used to find a location for your tiny house.  Also, if there are any questions I am happy to help track down answers!  All the best!

How To Design A Tiny House – Part 1

Things to consider:

  • What size house would you like?
  • What style house would you like?
  • What layout works best?
  • What are your 10 things?

What size is right?

Most tiny houses are on wheels to bypass building codes.  If you go this route your house will never be viewed as a permanent structure and thus permitting skips the building department and goes through a different agency (DMV) for inspection and permitting.

When going through the transportation department you are limited on width (by state) to about 8′-6″ max width and 13′-6″ in height (length varies) before having to get special permitting to tow your home.  For this reason MOST tiny houses are confined to the 8′-6″ width and vary in length.  The most common trailer sizes that you see tiny houses on is between 16′-0″ and 24′-0″.  There are plenty of shorter and longer examples out there but in general they lay in that range.

In order to start to understand the what length would work best for you I would suggest looking up other examples of  tiny houses and see which look the most appealing and the most feasible to you and then find out the length.  That will give you a good starting point to go from.   I would recommend sticking with something on a 4′-0″ increment (16′, 20′ or 24′) as it will save you time in construction because sheet goods (plywood, OSB, Drywall, etc.) typically come in 4’x8′ sizes and so it will make for less cuts and easier assembly to stay on a 4′ increment overall and will produce less waste.

What Style Do You Like?

Craftsman

Natural materials, lower pitched roofs, built in furnishings, high detail, comfy, cozy grandpas porch in the city.

Weller_Fort_Brag_1024x1024

fourlightshouses.com/products/weller

Log Home/Cabin

Simple, comfortable, cozy, warm, inviting, rustic.

120

120squarefeet.com

Victorian

Ornate, detailed, whimsical, asymmetrical, complex and beautiful.

NYT2010061716234976C

Modern/Contemporary

Clean lines, flat planes, interesting materials, intersecting geometries, clean, crisp and enlightening.

durango-tiny-house

rockymountaintinyhouses.com/plans/boulder/

Colonial

Formal, proportionate, symmetrical, detailed, strict, strong.

dim-house-tiny-house-adjoining-old-stone-house-richmond

Google Image (no source)

Cottage/Ranch

Practical, inviting, functional, varied.

TinyLiving

tinyhomebuilders.com

Something completely different!

While there are ‘styles’ there are no limits!

fortune cookie 2 - 055

Fortune Cookie from Zyl Vardos, zylvardos.com/fortune-cookie

What Layout Works Best?

Again, I would encourage you to look at as many other examples as you can from others and just think of how YOU would use the space.  If you see a kitchen that seems hard to work in it is probably not the best layout for you.  Think about adjacencies and how you would feel if the kitchen were next to the bathroom, would that bother you?  What if the bedroom was in the loft only?  Would it work better with a ground floor bedroom?  Or maybe just stairs instead of a ladder is a good compromise?  Look at as many houses as you can and keep notes of what would work best for you, start a Pinterest board of your favorite tiny house features, or just keep a little book around for all your favorite tidbits.

What are your 10 things?

There is NOTHING that can’t be included in a tiny house, nothing.  It’s just a matter of how.  The goal of a tiny house is not to limit your lifestyle or possessions, quite the opposite, it is to limit the things that have no meaning so that those with meaning can become more active influences in your life.  Once someone gets serious about choosing to go smaller with their lifestyle I always encourage them to think of at least ten things that are a ‘must have’ in their house.

What ten things would make your house a home?  Do you need wall space to hang all of those family photos?  Do you have a pet with special requirements?  Do you need a double basin sink?  A flush toilet?  Room to sew and hold your supplies?  Maybe you have a kayak that needs a place to call home too?  Whatever it is you can fit it in, but only if you identify those things that are most important first!

In the comments I would love it if you could leave your list of ten things that YOU need your tiny house to accommodate so that you may inspire others!

You can also read Designing A Tiny House – Part 2 and Part 3

How To Select A Tiny House Builder

One of the major challenges is where to even start in order to find a reputable builder.  There are more and more horror stories out there of people taking advantage of others, the following is a list of questions you can use to help you vet out a good builder:

(If you are looking for a List of builders Annie has a good one started HERE and Elaine has one HERE, you can find others at www.tinyhousemap.com)

  • Ask for references (and call them!) see pictures of previous houses/projects ad get the testimonials if possible.
  • What kind of insulation do you use (consider your climate on if this it important to you)
  • Ask what kind of warranty they offer on work?
  • Check for complaints via the Better Business Bureau.
  • How many years have they been building?
  • Is he/she a licensed & insured manufacturer?
  • Are the finished models titled?  What is that process?
  • How long have they been building?  How many tiny houses have they completed?
  • Do they deliver?  Where?  Shipping charges?
  • Are they RVIA certified? (I think this one will become more and more important as time goes on, just a guess though…)
  • What is the timeline to completion?
  • When can they start? (a good portion of builders are booked WAY out!)
  • What their communication level is during the process? Do they have a blog where they post constant updates and photos? YouTube videos? Is visiting the site okay?
  • Ask a lot of questions about material type and quality. This is where you can bring up your requests too which will greatly help inform a quote.
  • Ask about the trailer, what is the max weight and what will the house weigh completed?
  • Is the trailer new or used?
  • How the structure is attached to the trailer? (you don’t have to know the right answers but they had better have AN answer )
  • How do they handle moisture protection on the exterior
  • How do they plumb the house?
  • Do you build to electrical/mechanical codes?

These questions should get you started so you can get a feeling for various builders.  You don’t have to know all of the answers but they should be able to tell you their thoughts on them.  Not all builders will agree and there is more than one right answer in a lot of cases, these will help you get a feel for a trust level though hopefully.

Find my builder profiles here.