Tiny House: Initial Design

May 15, 2016Categories Tiny House

I’ve been focused on a side-project lately and haven’t had much time to finish up my tiny house design. I’m still not done with it, as there are some things I go back and forth on and other things that simply take time that I don’t have right now to draw out all the details. Nonetheless, I thought I’d share my rough design as it is.

The Shell

The frame of the house will be built using 2×4 walls with a shed-style roof. I’m trying to draw out every 2×4 that I’ll need in the construction so that I can simply count how many are in the design and then go buy that many, plus a couple extra in case I make a mistake (read as: WHEN I make a mistake). I’m even drawing in the fire blocking so my count can be as accurate as possible.

Exterior

I very much am planning and designing for a modern look, as that’s my personal preference and style. I haven’t drawn the “utility shed” at the front of the trailer, where the hitch is, but there will be one drawn out eventually. The utility shed is where the propane tanks, water heater, and possibly some of the electrical system will be housed. Since I live in a cold climate, I’m still researching outside storage of a tankless water heater in below freezing temperatures. I think all I’ll have to do is wrap the small amount of pipe exposed to the cold in some of that electric heat pipe wrap mumbo jumbo (highly technical term) as well as some pipe insulation and I should be fine. I’m not very keen on the idea of requiring electricity to keep the pipes from freezing and there’s a strong possibility I’ll swap the design and make it so I can have the water heater mounted inside the bathroom area so it’s not exposed to the cold.

I’m planning on doing wood siding, ideally cypress, if more research indicates it will handle well in cold environments. I’d prefer wood siding, despite the higher maintenance it will require, because I feel it will have a more nature-like quality.

Interior Overview

The interior will maintain a modern look and won’t have as much rustic appeal as I was initially thinking. I’m still trying as much as possible to plan around having a wood stove as my heat source, despite the inconvenience of it needing floor space and adequate spacing from combustibles. Obviously going with one of those wall-mounted propane heaters would save space, but I don’t want to have to pay for the propane it would require to keep the house warm during a Wisconsin winter. My goal is to live on a piece of land with an abundant quantity of trees that could easily provide a “free” source of heat.

Kitchen

The kitchen will be fairly minimal, as I’m not exactly what you would call a “chef.” I’m designing it as if I were to have a decent-sized fridge, but in all likelihood, it’ll end up being a smaller fridge to reduce electrical requirements. There will also be wall-mounted cabinets for additional storage, but I haven’t taken the time to draw them yet. All of the cabinets are being designed according to the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association (KCMA) standards, but I intend on building them all myself.

There will be a small dinning area in the kitchen that can fold away when not in use. The stools will probably end up being folding wooden chairs that can be stored in the kitchen ceiling so that they’re out of the way when not being used. I designed the table in front of a window so that there’s the potential to have a pleasant view while eating. This table could also double as a desk, if you don’t mind the idea of having an “office” in the kitchen.

Bathroom

The bathroom is minimal, much like everything else. I did get a little “fancy” and am planning for a small sink in there. The toilet will be a composting toilet, so as to not require any plumbing. I haven’t drawn the door, but it’ll be a sliding barn door mounted outside the bathroom and slide in the direction of the couch.

There will also be a shelf, or possibly a cabinet, above the bathroom window for storage. Depending on how I design the utility shed, there may be additional storage above the sink, too. The bathroom has a 7 ft ceiling so that I can comfortably stand in there for showering.

Living Room

The living room is obviously nothing more than a couch, essentially. I’m designing it as best that I can to be long enough to also double as an extra sleeping area and I’ll most likely change the design so that it can slide out to become wider. Frankly, the loft is tiny and can’t be used for much more than actual sleeping. When it comes to hanky panky, it’d be nice if the couch could double as a bed.

There should be plenty of natural light in this area with the glass door at the front and large window behind the couch. You’ll notice there’s no TV, as not only do I want to live life free from that stuff to focus on other things, but I also want to live as free from electricity as possible.

Loft

There’s not much to say about the loft. It’s a small area big enough to fit a queen bed and has some windows for lighting. There’s a strong possibility I’ll add in a skylight so that I can look up at the night sky.

Storage

I have junk that I refuse to get rid of and that junk needs somewhere to go, so I’m trying to build in as much storage as possible without it feeling intrusive or making the space feel confining. The main storage area, where I’ll likely keep clothes and such, is the staircase. Right now it’s designed as open storage, but that’s only because I haven’t designed something I like that has doors and drawers. Yes, I could easily just put doors on the openings as they are, but I’m crazy and it would bother me that the gap between the doors is a different gap than that of the kitchen cabinets.

There’s also a large, open storage area above the bathroom. This is where I’ll likely store all my camping gear and backpacks.

Anyway, that’s my design so far. It’ll be the first or second week of June before I know how much longer my side-project will take and then I can hopefully finish up the design and start purchasing all the materials. I’m a little worried about the wood stove and how long it will take to acquire.

I still have to find a nice chunk of wooded land, too.

Tiny House: Floor Plan, Draft One

February 28, 2016Categories Tiny House

It’s been awhile since I’ve put any thought or effort into working on designs for my tiny house. A mixture of long work hours, followed by a long commute, and combined with laziness has given me little motivation to work on designs. So far this year there has been a lot of change in my life and with some of that change I have a bit more free time once again. Today I sat down and started putting ideas in SketchUp, only to give up after an hour or so. I simply couldn’t “feel” how the house was gonna look, as it’s hard for me to visualize the size and space of a 8’x20′ box while staring at a computer screen.

To get a better idea of how the house was gonna “feel,” I decided to pick up some masking tape and draw the house out in real-life proportions. Man, did this help a lot. I didn’t do anything fancy or even include many details, but simply seeing it at the size it would really be made me quickly realize that I don’t like the first idea I decided to go with. Essentially the design is like many other tiny homes: bathroom on the left, kitchen wrapped around the corner on the right, loft above, living room and entry way at the rear. Drawn out to scale and seeing how much counter space I’d have made me instantly realize that I don’t like the wrap-around counter. I also don’t like the idea of having a corner counter, as I feel the space in the corner wouldn’t be very easy to access for storage. The walkway between the bathroom and the kitchen counter feels cramped, as it’s right around 24″ wide. My door placement had to change from the idea in my head due to the location of the wheel wells. The change in the door made my sitting area change which also changed the location of my wood stove. Here is the overall idea as a whole picture:

And here are the pictures from my actual life-size “drawing.”

Your first question is probably, “why is there a toilet seat in there?” Isn’t it obvious? That’s the bathroom, ya big dork! It’s actually because I’ve decided to start purchasing small things that I know I’ll be using. Since I had it, I figured why not throw it in there for kicks.

As I said, I’m not fond of this floor plan after “feeling” what it’d really be like. I have another idea I wanna tape out and see if I like it more, but that’s another day and another roll of tape.

Toy Box

December 24, 2015Categories Projects

My cousin asked me to build her kids a couple of large toy boxes, so I made some very simple boxes with padded tops for sitting. I started by cutting the following panels out of 1/2″ White Birch plywood to make a 16″x16″x48″ box.

  • Two 16″x48″ panels (one for the lid, one for the bottom)
  • Two 15″x48″ panels (one for the front, one for the back)
  • Two 15″x15″ panels (one for each side)

Once I had the panels all cut, I began gluing and nailing them together.

Then I drew on, cutout, and sanded locations where I wanted to have handle grips and a slot to make opening the lid extremely easy.

Being that these are for young kids, I figured they would get drawn on or marked up in some way, so I painted the entire box in a few coats of gloss white. After I had everything painted, I took some cloth and padding and covered the lid to make a cushion for sitting (I forgot to take pictures of the process). Once complete, I added some hinges and some lid supports to ensure the lid doesn’t smash their fingers.

This is the boy one (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles); I also made a “princess” one for a girl.

Dog Kennel End Table

November 15, 2015Categories Projects

I was asked to build a dog kennel that was also an end table, so I did. I didn’t take pictures of the process, but here’s the finished product. It’s meant for a small dog to sleep in at night; obviously a cushion would be on the bottom.

Although I designed it as I built it, I created a SketchUp file after I was done in case anyone wants to build their own. It’s 24″ wide, 24″ deep, and just over 28″ high.

My Tiny House Trailer

November 14, 2015Categories Tiny House

It’s been a little over a month and a half since since I decided to build a tiny house. During that time I have basically accomplished nothing – I’m talented like that. What have I been doing? Waiting, mostly.

You may remember I bought an old, used trailer shortly after (read: “the day that”) I became committed to the idea of building a tiny house. That same night I finally did some research (I do things backwards, I know) and decided against using that trailer, as I just didn’t feel confident in it any longer. I bit the bullet and purchased and brand-new, custom trailer designed to my specifications.

It was somewhat of a pain finding a local trailer manufacturer. The first placed I called never seemed to have anyone to talk to and after leaving my contact information more than once, I finally heard back from them three days later. Frankly, that’s unacceptable to me and not a business I want to deal with. Some places I called didn’t take custom orders, others only seemed to sell parts related to trailers but not trailers themselves, and finally I came across Big O’s Trailers in Portage, Wisconsin.

I told them exactly what I was doing with the trailer and made a few upgrades as well as a few “downgrades,” like buying it without stake pockets, a bump rail, or any decking, since I’d be ripping that all off anyways. The trailer is considered a “car hauler,” so I also had to order it without ramps or the “dove tail” at the rear, because I wanted the surface of the trailer to be completely flat. I upgraded to 7,000 lb axles, a 12,000 lb tongue jack, and a one foot longer tongue. I went with the heavier duty axles and jack to ensure I don’t come close to maxing out the weight rating of the trailer and I extended the tongue to give more room for a “utility shed”.

After roughly a five week wait, my trailer finally came in. I picked it up yesterday and it was far above my expectations.

When I initially ordered it without the decking, I was told there would be about a 2″ gap between the “joists” and the top of the trailer since the decking sits in the trailer. However, they were able to raise the joists up, giving me a flat surface on top, and they ran the joists every 16″ on center (not sure it that’s normal or not). So, if I wanted to, now I can build directly on top of the trailer frame without having to lay down floor joists.

The other awesome thing is the outer edge of the trailer they welded on a 7″ C-channel, making it so that I can attach a wall on top of it and easily drill down and bolt the wall to the trailer frame. The original description I gave them would have made it so I would have had only 2″ of metal below the wall frame, which was probably a pretty terrible idea.

The only thing I wish I could have gotten are more angular fenders instead of the round ones. I’ve seen pictures of other people’s trailers with the more angular fenders and it just looks significantly more easy to cut all the sheathing and siding to fit around them.

Since getting the trailer, the only thing I’ve done is taken measurements and created a basic 3D model of it in SketchUp, which you can download if you want (for whatever reason).

I have a few design ideas in mind and now that I know the exact measurements and locations of wheel wells, I can start working on getting everything laid out the way I want it. I’m still on the fence about building something “standard” or getting a little crazy and trying to change people’s perspective on what a tiny house can be.

Since it’s approaching snow season here, I likely won’t get any building started until Spring. During that time, I’ll be working on designs and trying to pick one I like and stick with it. My areas of focus are:

  • Modern, but rustic design
  • Off-grid living!
  • Wood stove/heater
  • Solar power; low electricity usage and reliance
  • Low water usage
  • Compost toilet
  • Open floor plan / “spacious” living areas

Small Table

November 8, 2015Categories Projects

I got bored today and built a small table to replace my night stand. There just wasn’t enough space on the smaller one I was using. Sorry, I didn’t take any pictures of the process.

I’m Building a Tiny House

September 27, 2015Categories Tiny House

I’ve been back in Wisconsin for two weeks now not fully sure on what crazy idea to do next. I spent most of that time looking for a new vehicle, and now that I have one I’ve turned my mind towards other things. Specifically, as you may have guessed from the title of this post, I have decided to build a tiny house. As most of my ideas go, I have done little thinking about all the details and instead I’m just taking the idea and running with it, because I think that’s the best way to experience life. It could be my best choice yet or a terrible and miserable failure. Only time will tell!

The idea of building a tiny house is not something that’s actually new to me. In fact, it’s something I’ve wanted to do for awhile now for three main reasons:

  1. I live a pretty simplistic lifestyle.
  2. I’m cheap (or “poor,” if you prefer) and don’t wanna pay rent or buy a real house.
  3. It’s on wheels, so I could travel with it, if I wanted to.

On top of that, living in a tiny house comes with the advantages of having lower property taxes than a regular house would (if you own the property) and the building codes are completely different since it’s built on a trailer and can be registered and insured as an RV, if you do things properly. I’m still looking into the DMV regulations, but what I’ve read so far is┬áthe house will have to be inspected and document everything, including pictures of every stage of building. Although I plan on doing the work myself, I do plan on having the electrical, plumbing, and any gas lines professionally inspected and certified to make sure I didn’t mess anything up and to hopefully make getting it registered as an RV a lot easier.

In the 17 hours that I have been committed to this idea, I have already purchased an old camper trailer for $350 to start building upon. It’s not in perfect condition, as it’s from a nearly 30 year-old trailer, but it needs minimal work to bring it up to par. I chose to go with an old, used trailer because three hundred and fifty dollars, that’s why. Seriously, it’s pretty hard to beat that price.

UPDATE: I decided not to use this trailer for my tiny house and instead bought a brand new, heavier duty trailer that I’ll be using instead.

The trailer I bought currently has two axles that appear to be rated for 3,500 lbs each. I say “appear to be” because there are no markings anywhere that I’ve seen yet indicating the actual weight rating, but their diameters are both 2-3/8″ and according to the internet (which never lies), that should mean they’re rated for 3,500 lbs. The tires are crap and will definitely need to be replaced. Both axles look like they have brakes, but all the electrical will need to be redone and possibly other stuff, I honestly don’t know yet. I’ve never messed with trailer brakes before, so it’ll be a fun learning experience. If I can’t salvage what’s there or decide I don’t trust the axles to support the entire weight of the house, I’ve already priced out new 5,200 lb axles with brakes. There’s a good chance I’ll upgrade the axles just to be on the safe side, as I’d prefer not to come close to exceeding the axles limits.

Enough yammering, here’s some pictures of the junker I bought. I’m gonna try to get it sand blasted, some welding needs to be done, and then a fresh coat of black paint should get it looking like a million bucks. Well, maybe not a million bucks, but definitely more than $350 I paid for it. Its rough dimensions are 24’x8′, including the tongue.

As you can see, the rear, right of the trailer is gonna need some work to get the support brackets straightened out or new ones made and welded on (most likely the latter). The support beam going across the trailer right before the bumper will also have to be replaced, as it’s too rusty and bent to trust. I’m debating on keeping the side step and trying to design the house so that I can have a door above it. The only thing I know for sure right now is that I want the rear “wall” of the house to fold down to become a small porch and there will be another wall about one foot inside the trailer that will have a double glass door to let in lots of light.

The only thing I’ve looked up so far are the basic legal requirements and restrictions to haul this thing down the road. There are both federal and state regulations limiting the length and width of a trailer/RV/motorhome. In order to be in compliance with all states, I’m opting to go with the most restrictive of the regulations, that way it can be taken anywhere… even though it’ll probably never leave Wisconsin. Better safe than sorry. RV Trip Wizard has an awesome breakdown of each state’s restrictions, with the caveat that it *may* not be 100% accurate (I’m sure it’s close enough). You can also check out the DOT’s commercial restrictions, which are basically the same limitations. Again, I’m going with the most restrictive limits so I should meet all of the standards regardless of who looks at it.

Note: These dimensions are the restrictions for trailers, since that’s what I’m starting with.

Max Height: 13’6″. This means the tippy-top of the roof, or anything coming out of the roof (like the chimney for the wood burning stove I want) has to be under that height from ground level. Flat-out, I plan to push this limit to maximize space inside the house.

Max Width: 8′. Blame Arizona, DC, and New Jersey for that. Almost every other state is 8’6″, except Alaska at 8’5″ and Hawaii at a gracious 9′. The trailer I bought is only about 91″ wide, so I will easily be under the 8′ limit.

Max Length: 35′. For this one you can blame North Carolina, as most states are 40′ or more. My 24′ trailer doesn’t come close to this, so I’m good.

Lighting: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has regulations for lighting equipment (brake lights, turn signals, reflectors, etc). It’s pretty easy stuff to follow, but since the trailer I bought has none of it currently on it, it’s all stuff I’m gonna have to buy and add during the design.

Safety: The following safety devices are required. If any state required something, I added it to the list. Again, most restrictive. I want to be in compliance with every state.

  • Safety chains.
  • Breakaway switch on towed vehicles/trailers weighing over 3,000 pounds.
  • Brakes required on towed vehicles/trailers weighing over 1,500 pounds (Nevada specifies brakes must be on all wheels, not just one of the axles).
  • Brakes required that stops the combined vehicles within 40 feet at 20 mph (this is in Kansas and Wyoming).
  • Flares or reflective signs. Not sure if they mean for roadside emergencies or what.
  • Fire extinguisher in RV (aka tiny house).

Rear Impact Guards: Trailers with a gross weight of 10,000 lbs or more are required to have rear impact guards installed, according to NHTSA Standard Numbers 223 and 224. The trailer I bought does have a bumper on it, but I shouldn’t come close to exceeding the 10,000 lb limit… especially since the axles can only support 7,000 lbs.

Tires: NHTSA again. According to Standard Numbers 119 and 120, the tires must be of sufficient size, have the appropriate load rating, and the rims must be of a particular size, type, and identification. Honestly, I would think this is a given. I don’t want tires on the trailer that aren’t gonna be able to hold the load.

Building Codes: The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has building codes designed for RVs, which need to be followed if you want to register your tiny house with the DMV – which I plan on doing.

Misc: I found this Tiny House Community website to be pretty informative for basic questions. They also have a guideline that I’ll probably get a lot of information from. Here’s another good site about codes and whatnot.

I’m not sure how long it’ll take me to build this project, as I don’t want to rush it. I’ve looked up nothing in the design process, construction, appliances, etc. I’m honestly more focused on making sure the trailer itself is sound before doing anything else. This will include cleaning it up, replacing the tongue jack, getting the welding done, buying some jack stands, and getting the brakes fixed or replacing the axles altogether. Once all that is done, I can start construction. I’d like to have the shell completed, roofed, and sided by the end of October, but that’s assuming things go to plan (which I have none).

Route 66: Springfield, IL to Chicago, IL

September 13, 2015Categories Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: ~430

I started a little late today, but I wasn’t too worried since I was so close to the end. I hit the road and made my first stop in Atlanta, Illinois at the Tall Paul statue that used to be located in Cicero at the Bunyons restaurant. These are the kinds of stops I like because they’re so odd. “Hey, here’s a giant man holding an even more giant hotdog… so come visit Route 66.”

I made an unscheduled stop in Dwight, Illinois at a really cool Route 66 information/welcome station. These are some of the best looking old gas pumps I’ve seen on the entire trip.

Another unscheduled stop was in Gardner at an old two cell jailhouse that was built in 1906. I have a hard time believing the exterior walls are original and I’m sure they’ve been replaced. They look in too good of shape to be from 1906. The interior looks as I would expect. You can see the wear and tear of 100 years of time.

Next stop was another “muffler man” – the Gemini Giant in Wilmington. It’s located at the East end of town, but I didn’t know that before I got there. I just kept driving hoping to see it and when I was almost out of town, there it was.

I didn’t stop again until I reached Chicago. I really don’t like big cities, so I didn’t stay there long. I drove until I was close to the Route 66 Begin and End signs, then parked on a nearby street. At $6.50 for a mere hour of time, I found the parking fees a little too outrageous. I only fed in enough quarters to give me time to walk to the streets with the signs, get pictures, and walk back. The “Begin” sign is on Adams St near the corner of Michigan Ave and the “End” sign is one block South on Jackson Blvd, also near the corner of Michigan Ave.

I was going to check out Millennium Park while in Chicago, but didn’t want to waste more money on parking. Parking is just something I have a hard time paying for. Instead, I just headed home to Wisconsin and made it back with enough time left in the day to play a game of cards.

I started Route 66 in California 10 days ago and ended in Chicago today. Granted, I lost two days of travel in the beginning getting the van worked on before the motor blew up, so really it took me eight days to travel the entire 2,448 miles – that’s an average of 306 miles per day. I don’t actually recommend doing it that fast, as I was pretty tired by the end of each day. It was still a fun trip, despite all the bad luck I had on it. I’d like to do it again someday, but in the correct direction (Chicago to Santa Monica). Either way, I can now cross Route 66 off my bucket list.

Route 66: Springfield, MO to Springfield, IL

September 12, 2015Categories Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 307.8

I’ve been in two Springfields today and I’ve yet to see any of the Simpsons. Granted, I didn’t see much of anything today. The only stop I made in Missouri was in St. Louis at the Arch. I’ve seen the Arch before, but today I went to the top of it. It’s $3 to get in, or free if you have an annual National Park pass (which I do). If you want to ride to the top of the Arch, it’s an additional $7 that the annual pass doesn’t cover. The entire park is currently under construction, which ruined some of the ground-level views, but once the construction is done, the park is supposed to look pretty snazzy.

The “elevator” up to the top of the Arch is quite unique. There are eight little pods (and I do mean LITTLE) that form somewhat of a train that climbs vertically up the Arch. The pods are barely four feet tall and are round-ish, so I had to tilt my head forward the entire ride up to avoid hitting it (a second time) on the wall/ceiling. They cram five people to a pod.

Once at the top, the view is amazing. You can even see some of the construction that’s going on in the park down below.

Seeing the Arch took a couple hours out of the day. The rest of the afternoon was more driving without any stops. The next stop I know I wanna make is 30 or 40 miles North in Atlanta, followed by a stop in Wilmington, and then finally Chicago. Hopefully I can do it all tomorrow and still make it out of Chicago before the traffic gets too crazy.

Route 66: Elk City, OK to Springfield, MO

September 11, 2015Categories Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 449.4

Today was a long day and my brain was completely shut down by the time it was over. I made a big push to get all the way to Springfield, Missouri today, but I honestly wanted to stop by the time I got to the end of Oklahoma. I only have the rental car for four more days and I don’t want to pay to keep it for any longer than I have to, so I’m trying to make as much mileage as possible each day.

I liked Oklahoma because it had some of the best roadside attractions that I had seen so far. I also liked it because gas was insanely cheap. Most places in Oklahoma (and Texas) had gas for $1.99 and near Oklahoma City I saw one place that was $1.84. Too bad it’s not like that everywhere.

My first stop today was at Pops in Arcadia, just East of Oklahoma City. Pops is a gas station, restaurant, and “soda ranch” all in one. They’re well known for having the most soda flavors available anywhere – over 700 different kinds – and for their iconic, landmark soda bottle that just so happens to be 66 feet tall. I couldn’t help myself from laughing at some of the soda names and I decided to buy a make-it-yourself six pack. I think the Kickapoo Joy Juice has the best name.

Not too far down the road in Arcadia is a rare, round barn that’s been there since 1898. There’s supposedly only 20 or 30 of these barns in existence anywhere.

My highlight of the day was gonna be Tulsa, to visit the Route 66 museum, but as it turns out there isn’t one in Tulsa… yet. Somehow I got confused about its location and it’s actually back in Clinton (about 150 miles in the other direction). I feel like an idiot because I actually saw the sign for the museum in Clinton, but didn’t stop because I wanted to go to the Tulsa one. So, the only thing I stopped at to check out in Tulsa was the Golden Driller statue, which is the fifth largest statue in the US.

My last stop was at the Blue Whale in Catoosa. Next to Pops, this was the coolest stop of the day because of how random it is. It’s free to walk in and there’s a small gift shop at the entrance. The entire whale is a dock that you can walk on (and apparently fish from). You can also climb up inside the whale’s head and look out the port holes. I really enjoyed this stop.

From there I drove to Springfield without stopping and had dinner with a friend. I passed through Kansas on the way, but there’s only 13 miles of Route 66 there and nothing I found worth stopping at.