Monthly Archives: November 2014

Cooling A Tiny House

When it comes to tiny homes you’ve got a lot of ways to cool things down!  It is surprising but it is harder to keep your small home cool than it is to keep it warm, generally.  There are however a lot of ways to go about this!  Here is an overview of all the methods out there though:

  • Swamp Cooler
  • AC
    • Ductless/Mini-split
    • Portable
    • Window/through wall
  • Passive cooling
  • Home made AC

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.

This is a collaborative site, if you have something to add/correct leave a comment!  If you have some words of wisdom on any of the methods mentioned feel free to share in the comments!

Propane Heat

What it is:

Propane heat can take many forms, some that can be used to heat a tiny home and some that shouldn’t be, here are a few:

#1 – Freestanding radiant heater connected directly to the tank – Don’t Use (more below)

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#2 – Ventless wall mounted (or on a rolling stand) flame – Possible

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#3 – Ventless wall mounted (or on a rolling stand) radiant – Possible

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#4 – Ventless or vented fireplace – Possible

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#5 – Vented Dickinson Stove – Possible

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How It Works:

Propane is an easily accessible and relatively inexpensive way to heat a space.  It is a colorless and odorless gas but, because it can be toxic, flammable and deadly they bind it with an odor which is easily detected.  Propane is a byproduct of natural gas processing among other things and works about the same as natural gas but is packaged into a fairly portable package making it great for tiny housers.  All of these heaters work about the same, there is a regulator that controls the amount of gas that is released and a flame that burns off the gas.  That flame produces heat.

Things to be cautious of:

A propane cylinder should never be kept indoors, you’ll notice the caution against option #1 above, this places the propane cylinder indoors and keeps the open flame at knee level generally, these are great to heat outdoor tents, etc. but should never be used indoors.

All flames use oxygen when burning, if your tiny home is well sealed you will need to crack a window to allow oxygen to enter the space so that you can breath as well.

With any combustion heat there is the possibility of carbon monoxide building up, this is especially important in such a small space ALWAYS use in conjunction with a carbon monoxide detector.  It’s a good idea to have a propane and smoke detector as well!

Some units require a vent some don’t.  Some units require a 100# minimum tank while a few can work on a standard 20# tank (typical BBQ size), follow manufacturers recommendations.

Follow all clearance requirements which will be noted in the user manual and may be larger than anticipated.

If not combined with a fan you may want to supplement with a small fan to circulate the heat around your space increasing efficiency.

Pros:

Propane is an easily accessible, relatively cheap, portable method of heating a small space.  It is not tied to the power grid which means you will have heat even if the power goes out for days (pretty important!).  The heating units can be small/compact and in many cases can mount directly to a wall, minimizing the square feet they require which is critical in a small space.

Cons:

Propane can have a lot of harmful/deadly effects if not used properly.  There is generally a risk of fire with propane heat when not used properly.  The units get hot to the touch and so may be hazardous to kids and pets if placed in reach.

Regional Considerations:

Make sure you size your heater appropriately, what works in southern California will not always work in Minnesota.  For example sake, I (www.minimotives.com) have used a 10,000 btu propane wall heater in Boise, Idaho which worked very well to heat my 196 s.f. space in 15-30 degree weather.  I have found that I use about one 5 gallon tank of propane a month to heat my space at that rate.

This is a collaborative site, if you have something to add/correct leave a comment!  If you have some words of wisdom on any of the methods mentioned feel free to share in the comments!

How To Design A Tiny House – Part 2

Choose Size

The most common sizes tend to be 16′, 20′ and 24′.  There are of course variations but these sizes are also very convenient because most sheet goods (plywood, OSB, drywall, etc.) generally come in 4’x8′ increments.  Working in a 4′ increment decreases your labor and cutting, especially on those critical structural portions of the build.

Choose Style

Get a feel for the type of style of house you like best.  You can read more on that in Part 1.  My suggestion for this is the fun stuff, look at other tiny houses!  Pinterest, Google, Bing, get a book, whatever you like best, check things out, you will gravitate to a certain style.  Even if it is only that for you, form follows function, you’ll find things that would function well for you.

Choose Roof

It’s not all about style, a big component of a tiny house is the roof!  It defines a style but also can provide a lot of function.

Roofs

 

Gable Roof

The classic gable roof provides a pitched roof, the actual pitch can vary in slope from a very slight angle to a steeper angle.  This can provide a high head area for a loft, vertical storage to sling a bike above head, and a feeling of spaciousness.  It can run either direction, when running the longer direction it can help with aerodynamics if planning on driving often.  The side that is not sloped is called the rake (ie ‘the rake end’)

Dee

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Hip Roof

I hip is the same as a gable roof but all ends are pitched as well, there is no rake wall.  This gives it a more horizontal feel from the exterior and may take away from interior storage space, depending on the layout.

Seattle TH

Shed Roof

A shed roof makes for easy construction and a simple structure.  It too can run either direction, if sloping up from the hitch end it can reduce drag making it easier and more economical to pull.  This can generally be at any slope, large or small (check with your roofing material specs, many require at least a 2:12 (2″ rise for every 12″ run) slope or more for warranty).  This is also a simple way to take advantage of rain harvesting as it can be collected in one location easier than being split on opposite sides of the home.

Boulder-Tiny-House

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Sawtooth

This can also go either direction and offers a unique roof line which can enhance your space and also offer opportunities for upper windows to let light in the space and views from a loft (and ventilation!).  This is a great way to be able to incorporate some overhangs and passive design strategies if that is what you’re after.

Mobile-Villa-1

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Flat

A flat roof is a great way to maximize space.  You do need to have a little bit of a slope to a planned location so that rainwater doesn’t sit on top (at least 1/4″ for every 1′).  This can be a great way to collect rainwater as well.  It will take some structural calculations to account for any snow loads so your roof doesn’t crash down on you.  This is a much complained about style of roof, if not done correctly it has a tendency to leak and fail over time, if you go this route make certain you follow all rules and do a great job!

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Gambrel

The classic barn style roof, this is a great option that offers all the benefits of the gable roof but bumps the sides out to offer more headroom and without the drawbacks you can find with a fully flat roof.  This has a unique ‘look’ to it as well!

Amy

Dormers

Dormers are not a roof style persay but an additional component to any roof style.  They can take on the appearance of any of the styles above but are a miniature ‘bump-out’ in the roof structure that allow you to give more space to a targeted area.  These are often seen in the loft areas but there is no limit to where they can be located and how they can look.  They area a bit more complex when it comes to framing but are certainly simple enough to do!

TinyLiving

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Vardo

The vardo style roof is more organic and often takes on a curved form based on its origin of draping cloth over curved wooden frames.  These can be more complicated to build and insulate but create unique and beautiful forms.

 

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Combo

There are no limits to the combinations of roofs you can make, this may not seem like a big deal but your roof style gives a LOT of character and style to your tiny house, that style is the only part that most people see.  Interior is important but so is the exterior!  At this point the more beautiful your home is the more flexible you can be with parking options.  Since parking is such a collaborative component of tiny living at this point you can become dependant on your aesthetics to find parking.

Combo

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alek

This is a collaborative site, please, if you have something to add/correct leave a comment!

You can also read Designing A Tiny House-Part 1,and Designing A Tiny House – Part 3

 

What To Look For In A Used Trailer

There are two schools of thought on tiny house trailers.  The first is that it is the most important part of your build, buy new, don’t take any risks, get exactly what you need for the tiny house you want.  The second is that it’s the most important part of your build, it might be the most expensive piece as well if bought new but MAYBE you can save a significant amount of money on your build by finding a QUALITY used trailer.

Here are some things you should look for in a used trailer:

        • Title and VIN!

This is not a given!  You can find a lot of ‘free’ trailers which have been abandoned and someone just wants it moved.  These are HARD to get titled and its a headache you probably don’t want.  There is always the possibility that it’s stolen or that you may actually be ‘stealing’ it yourself in the eyes of the law.  Any trailer you consider should have a VIN number and a title so that its legal and good to go.

  • Gauge of steel on frame

This is sort of intuitive since you probably won’t be able to tell exactly what gage the steel is but it should be sturdy, not flimsy.  A lot of RV’s are made to carry much less weight than a tiny house and may (probably) aren’t heavy duty enough to build on.  IF you are going to reclaim an RV the ones built before 1982 tend to have thicker steel since it was prior to ultra light RV designs.  Still, be aware.

  • Axle weight limits

There is a stamp often on the axle itself with its weight limit.  Sometimes this stamp gets obscured by dirt and grime, check with a professional to verify if there is any question.  Many trailer shops can tell by taking a picture in.  

  • Rust

It is ok if the trailer has a little rust but you will need to grind it down and seal it so that it stops.  It shouldn’t be coated in rust and have been deteriorating for years.  Rust is a natural process in steel but it literally breaks it down, if it’s been rusting for years it’s probably one to pass on.  If you do get a trailer  that has rust take a grinder to it until all of the rust is gone and coat it with a rust proofer/primer designed for metal.  Pay particularly close attention to welds, they should have been protected from rust, if they weren’t then pass on it.

  • Welds

Check the welds, they should be uniform and continuous.  As mentioned previously they should be protected from rust.  Check for hairline fractures or any breaks.  If the metal is good rust is repairable but if welds are not continuous you can either weld it yourself or find a welder to give you a quote on their time to reinforce it.  This price may vary quite a bit based on your region and time of year.  It’s good to get that quote prior to purchase if possible.

  • Decking

If you’re going to build on the deck you will want it to be a decent quality.  If you are building into the frame you will want a solid perimeter of sturdy steel to fasten your walls to (or be able to add these).

  • Outriggers

Outriggers, if you have them will likely be supporting your entire tiny house, you want them close enough together to do so and of sturdy enough steel.  If your outriggers are spaced too far apart you will want to weld additional ones on.  I would also suggests adding steel along the perimeter to attach wall sill plates to.

  • Brakes

You’ll want an auto braking axle.  This is so that if the trailer ever comes detached from the pull vehicle that it will automatically brake itself instead of continuing down the road until it smashes into something.  

  • Lights

Your local codes will govern what lights you need to have on your trailer, it is a good idea to make sure any used trailers have working lights.  In the event that they don’t there are temporary lights you can purchase for short moves.  If you need these be sure to factor those temporary lights into the cost of the trailer.

  • Tow Type

There are bumper pulls and gooseneck/5th wheel hitches.  The hitch is different on each and may require a specialized tow vehicle.  A bumper pull is the easiest to move because it is the most common hitch.  The weight in your tiny house must be distributed so that only 10-12% of the total weight bears down on the hitch (so it is fairly balanced over it’s own axles (this plays into your design a lot!).  A gooseneck and a 5th wheel hitch are different in their connection to the tow vehicle (goosenecks use a ball and 5th wheels use a pin, like a semi trailer), both types connect over the rear axle of the tow vehicle.  Since they are centered over the axle these types of trailers allow up to 33% of the weight to bear on the tow vehicle.  This is important to help inform your design and evenly distribute the weight in your tiny home.

  • Wheels and tires

The wheels and tires on a used trailer are likely going to need to be updated/replaced, consider this cost and account for it when deciding if buying used is really a money saver.

Time is money as well.  In the example of the MiniMotives tiny house, a used trailer was purchased for $500.  There was approximately $900 dollars spent to reinforce steel, replace tires, prep the trailer along with about 2 months of time.  That brings the total cost to about $1,400 and a good chunk of a timeline for a trailer that would be anywhere from $5,500-$6,500 new.  In that situation it seems worth it.  A lot of situations it isn’t though, be selective!

The best places to look for quality used trailers:

        • Craigslist
        • Local Auctions
        • Local Trailer Shops

Did you/will you start with a used trailer?  Was it worth it?  

“Anyone who has had a shower has had a great idea, it’s drying off and doing something about it that makes the difference.” Nolan Bushnell, Founder of Atari