Tiny House Design-Build

A Tiny House Whirlwind

Christian Parsons of  Tiny House Expedition  snapped this shot of the Tiny House Conference.

Christian Parsons of Tiny House Expedition snapped this shot of the Tiny House Conference.

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of tiny house events on both coasts! Four weeks ago today I was headed to the East Coast for Tiny House 101 in DC. Three weeks ago today I was on my way to Vermont to teach Tiny House Design-Build at Yestermorrow. During the 2-week course we constructed the shell of a tiny house on wheels for a fellow named Nick who, at 26 years old, is super clever about establishing housing stability and flexibility. I wish I had been so wise at that age! During the evenings we had studio time to explore tiny house design considerations and students worked on creating their own tiny house designs. If you'd like a sense of the day-by-day flow of this course, you can check out previous posts about Tiny House Design-Build.

We wrapped up there a week ago tomorrow and I flew across the country again to be back home in time to speak at the Tiny House Conference, which was in Portland this year. I've been at all four of the Tiny House Conferences now and it's neat how it alternates between the East Coast and the West Coast. I spoke about Tiny House Community on Saturday and then facilitated the Open Space session on Sunday. During the rest of the time I joined Track C, a new addition to the Conference this year for those of us who are already living or building tiny. It was fun to have conversations about the future of the movement and to swap stories of our biggest mistakes! The Conference is always a great opportunity to connect with fascinating folks from all over the place and I look forward to hearing updates about people's tiny house journeys!

On Monday BA Norrgard and I led a Tiny House Community & Zoning Workshop through the Tiny House Collaborative. We explored various tiny house community models, discussed zoning challenges and opportunities, and laid out some steps (and tips) for creating tiny house community. We were fortunate to have an awesome venue at the Cully Grove Common House so we were able to talk about creating community in the community living room of a very cool community! We also had some special guests join us, including Alexis Deharts Stephens of Tiny House Expedition who (along with her partner Christian) has probably visited every tiny house community in the country! We also had a panel discussion with four community members from two different tiny cohousing communities in Portland. Thanks again, Tony, Karin, Lori and Kyra! It was fun to show people our tiny house community and to have Pam Westra show off three of the tinies at Tiny Digs, Portland's other tiny house hotel. (I've written about Caravan - The Tiny House Hotel in the past and I love that tiny houses are so popular in Portland that we now have TWO tiny house hotels!)

On Tuesday I attended the Build Small Coalition meeting, which is a reconvened group previously dubbed the Space-Efficient Housing Working Group. This is Portland's collection of professionals working to support tiny houses, ADUs, micro apartments, and other space-efficient creative housing solutions. It was great to see familiar faces and hear their updates as well as meeting new folks who are taking on neat projects. I look forward to seeing what we accomplish this coming year!  I have a hunch it's going to be another big year for small homes!

Framing Walls & Embracing Design Constraints

Framing Walls & Embracing Design Constraints

Over the past two days of Tiny House Design-Build we've been busy on the build site with safety and tool orientation, insulating the wooden floor box of our trailer, and framing our first wall. In the studio we've explored design considerations ranging from siting, climate, and massing to codes, regulations, and what to look for (and ask for) when ordering a tiny house trailer.

Tiny House Design-Build Class Hits the News

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In late July I co-taught the Tiny House Design-Build Class at Yestermorrow in Vermont with Lizabeth Moniz and Patti Garbeck. Over the course of 2 weeks our 14 students developed designs of their own and worked together to build the shell of a small shed house on skids. During one of our morning in the second week Alexei Rubenstein of Channel 3 News stopped by to see what we were up to. And our class made the news last week. Check out the Tiny House Class video clip from Channel 3 to see what Alexei saw when he visited! WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Tiny House Design-Build Wrap Up

2015-07-31 14.51.18 Yesterday we wrapped up our Summer 2015 Tiny House Design-Build class at Yestermorrow. After A Week of Tiny House Design-Build our students had their noggins full of considerations and their drafting tables full of bubble diagrams, inspiration boards, and sketches. The tiny house shell we constructed had its two long walls framed and sheathed and we were ready to put up the end walls.

This past week everything seemed to accelerate. In the field, we framed and sheathed the end walls, put up the rafters, sheathed the roof, installed the storage loft joists and decking, and installed the interior walls and the bed platform. (This tiny house is available for sale! If you’re interested in learning more, please contact Mark at Yestermorrrow.)

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In the design studio, students synthesized their design ideas into drawings and models. Three special guests, Mac Rood, Kathy Myer and Chris Cook, all architects, joined me for desk critiques in the evenings to serve as sounding boards for the volley of ideas and questions. It’s always remarkable to me to see how everyone’s designs evolve over two weeks as they wrangle their hopes and needs into spaces that could facilitate the lifestyles they desire. We even snuck in another field trip to the fabulous and well-thought-out home of Ethan Waldman of The Tiny House.

As I noted last time I taught Less Is More, Presentation Day is always a bit like Xmas morning for me. There’s so much anticipation and so much delight in seeing our students designs revealed! I’m especially a sucker for the elegant details everyone comes up with!

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This time around we had a variety of tiny houses on wheels with clever ideas such as:

  • A closet tucked under a raised bed with drawers that interact with the stairs
  • A workbench for projects the length of an end wall
  • A mosaicked shower under a sleeping loft with a peek-a-boo view
  • Rotating quarter-moon disks to increase counter space in a kitchen
  • Rock climbing holds to access a loft
  • A swooping countertop with a corner sink
  • A fabulous customized desk
  • A movable wall that transforms a space into three different rooms

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We also had a set of ground-bound structures, including:

  • A speakeasy-inspired summerhouse
  • A long rectangular house that plays with windows to bring outside in
  • A fire-tower inspired octagonal book and puzzle library
  • A backyard yoga hut
  • A family farm house with a courtyard
  • A cozy addition to a fifth generation lake house

I look forward to seeing some of these designs become reality over the next couple years!

Next up for me: spending the weekend with some VT friends (and maybe lending a hand with a tiny SIPs house), a couple days in GA to discuss tiny house feasibility in Atlanta, and then a flight to CO so I can speak about tiny house community with Lee Pera of Boneyard Studios at the Tiny House Jamboree. There are nearly 10,000 people pre-registered! See you there!

A Week of Tiny House Design-Build

DSC09998 Yesterday evening we sent our Tiny House Design-Build students off for a much-needed 26 hour break. Since they arrived a week ago on Sunday evening, we’ve had a packed schedule with lots of hands-on learning. Today they're going for runs, swimming in the local swimming holes, watching a movie, napping, and otherwise enjoying a lazy Sunday in Vermont.

On Wednesday I celebrated another revolution around the sun by exploring tiny houses with my students and fellow instructors and eating lots of desserts (maple creemees, anyone?) We had the chance to go on six field trips to see a 12 x 20 owner-built tiny house, a small live-work space designed and constructed by Yestermorrow’s Semester Program, a wee 2-bedroom featured on Tiny House Nation, a treehouse overlooking a pond, a sculptural house with a barrel vaulted sleeping space, and little efficient guesthouse by the brook. That’s right up there on my top favorite ways to spend my birthday! (Though my Big Birthday Bash at the Tiny House Hotel was pretty good, too!)

In the studio, we’ve done presentations on a variety of topics ranging from considerations for site, climate, and finding parking to options for systems, foundations, and interior design. Our students brought a variety of design ideas including several tiny houses on wheels (THOWs), a portable sauna, a tree house, a one-bedroom flat retrofit, a tiny house truck, and a backyard library with sleeping nook. During our time in the studio they’ve been finalizing their programming, exploring layout through bubble diagramming, practicing their drafting skills, and building models. They have so many clever ideas I can’t wait to see what they come up with during our studio time in the next week!

In the field we’ve been constructing an 11x16 tiny house on skids so we’ve had lots of practice with measuring, cutting, nailing, leveling, remeasuring, plumbing, shimming, bracing, etc. The house has a shed roof, a sleeping platform, and two storage lofts in addition to the kitchen and hang out space. We’ll continue constructing the shell next week and we’ll take it as far as we can in the time we have. The tiny house will be available for sale, so if you or anyone you know is interested, please contact Yestermorrow!

 

Katie's Reflections on Tiny House Design-Build

And now, a word from our "sponsor." Today’s guest post brought to you by Katie Tomai, a student in this summer’sTiny House Design-Build class at Yestermorrow and the client for the class. Thank you Katie for your perspective and the opportunity to help you make your tiny house dream a reality! Day 9

It’s been a week since the Tiny House Design-Build class ended and it still blows my mind to reflect upon how much has happened in the span of a few short weeks. Three weeks ago I had nothing concrete to show for months of planning beyond some craigslist windows and a trailer that I’d ordered (and hadn’t even picked up yet). Now I have the shell of a house- my house!- calling to me everyday. It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about before I go to bed. I literally dream about it. Every night. My life is like a sappy love song by the Backstreet Boys!

Building the house has felt like this: have you ever heard that quote about how mothers feel like mothers from day one of “Oh hey, we’re pregnant” while fathers don’t really feel like fathers until they are standing there in the delivery room, looking shell-shocked and holding the squalling, slippery bundle that is their newborn child in their arms? I am the father in this scenario.

Despite months of planning and dreaming and talking about the house, it didn’t feel real until we stood around as a class and began leveling the trailer, drilling holes, and cutting insulation for the flooring. And suddenly, it was a thing. A tangible, real, some-day-livable thing. And like many new parents, I was surrounded by a group of people who were just as thrilled about it as I was: we marveled over the framing and cooed over our assembled walls and rafters and took the countless pictures of trivial things that are the hallmark of new parents everywhere. Which isn’t to say it was all kittens and cupcakes and sunshine- just ask anyone who was there as we bent yet another drill bit trying to get holes through the trailer for the tension ties. But these challenges were small blips on the screen of an otherwise amazing two weeks of building.

The thing that I keep coming back to is how grateful I am to have had the chance to begin building with this particular group of people. They’re amazing. They filled every day with laughter, new energy, and a feeling of community so strong that I can’t imagine doing it any other way. I feel so lucky to have had the combined expertise of Lina, Paul, Lizabeth, and Patti, who were endlessly patient with our questions and who shared their years of accumulated wisdom on everything from dealing with grey water to whether or not it's ok to iron your tool belt. (Cue the eye-rolling from Lizabeth!)

I’ve been fascinated and inspired by the people I’ve met through this project so far - and it’s only been three weeks! One of my goals in building this house was taking the first step towards creating a feeling of home and of community after years of transience. Somehow that was something that I’d imagined happening after the house was completed - so it’s an added bonus to find community being created around the house as its being built! I’ll take it as a sign of good things to come.

Looking ahead to the next few months of solo tiny house building, I imagine it’s similar to that new-parent feeling: two parts excitement intermingled with one part “Oh shit! Am I prepared for this?!” Ready or not, it’s all happening and I’ll be interested to see what learning this new adventure will bring.

Day 3 of Tiny House Design-Build: Tiny Tours

Today’s guest post brought to you by Cheryl Gant, a student in this summer’s Tiny House Design-Build class at Yestermorrow. Thanks, Cheryl!

2014-07-23 10.21.07Today we went on a tour of tiny/small homes in nearby Montpelier, Plainfield & Cabot, Vermont.

The first home was 500 square feet and will be on the new show about tiny homes in late August. You can watch episodes of Tiny House Nation that have already aired on the FYI website. The owner got a loan for $50,000 and $40,000 worth of materials were donated through the show. This is a well-designed high-end home with high ceilings, beautiful kitchen with concrete counter-tops, recessed lights & expensive appliances. The wall between the master bedroom & the one for his 22 year old daughter moves against the back wall to completely open up the space. Beautiful tile shower and swanky concrete bathroom sink are among the many elements that make this a very nice tiny home. The couple building it have decided not to move into it because they have all their kids back at home. We asked how it was permitted but he wasn't sure but maybe as a ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit.)

2014-07-23 11.21.52On to the 2nd house which was up high with a view of the river. It had been designed by a Yestermorrow Semester Program. The angles were interesting and the mix of rusted steel exterior and other materials was interesting. The bottom part was a wood workshop (400 sq ft.) & upstairs was the living space (600 sq ft.). Again high ceilings made the space feel bigger. Not sure about the shower door entry on the hallway, but otherwise the kitchen, dining room, and den space were all very comfortable. The high R value of the sprayed in cellulose insulation made it very energy efficient.

2014-07-23 13.40.42Onward now to a tiny house on a trailer bed built by a Yestermorrow class 2 years ago. By built I mean started by a class then the owners have to do the rest of the work themselves and buy the materials. Two years later they were done and living in it and soon to join them will be their new baby. The space was very functional but their loft ladder took up a chunk of space and the temporary bed covered a lot of floor. The owners gave everyone lots of good information about simplifying the electrical system and hiring a professional mover to move your home to a new site.

2014-07-23 15.25.12The last two homes were on the same property and both were used as detached bedrooms while using the kitchen and bathroom in the main house. The first had a bath tub underneath the floor, very cool! Lots of windows and a curved roof, a drafting table and bookshelf.

The next house, well as we headed towards it we had a sudden down pour and we all were drenched by the time we got to it. We lingered for a while inside, admired the plexiglass sunroof that barely leaked and decided that since the rain showed no sign of slowing down we'd better leave so we hopped out and headed for our two cars. The van had most of the class and I was in our instructor Paul's car with Julie and Ashley Layne. Julie was craving ice cream so when we got back to Montpelier Paul dropped her and A.L. out and we drove around the block till they came out with their ice cream. Pretty good day at Yestermorrow!

Day 1: Tiny House Design-Build

Today's guest post brought to you by Katherine Arathoon, a student in this summer's Tiny House Design-Build class at Yestermorrow. Thanks, Katherine!

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It's Day 1 of the Tiny House Design-Build, and we're off to a roaring start!

Lo, the blank slate of a custom-built trailer sat before us in the hangar today, pristine and glossy black. As a class we took a moment to sit with the trailer and think about what we hoped to achieve. Building a home for someone is such an exciting project; we had aspirations for how we wanted it to be crafted ("Well built," "Sturdy walls,"), and also what we wanted it to provide ("Laughter," "Peaceful retreat," "Good food, good cooking!")

We started by leveling the trailer. The back right jack had gotten damaged in transit, but after getting it back into place using a very sophisticated technique (Tomas hit it with a large piece of wood), we were able to level the trailer with a water level. A water level is a long tube filled with liquid that uses only gravity and water's innate predilection for seeking a level plane. As one of our instructors, Lizabeth, explained: "Water doesn't lie."

Then it was time to lay the foundation. We started by drilling pieces of wood into the inside front and rear of the trailer, on the same level as the cross ties. Drilling into metal is not easy, and one or two drill bits and screws were sacrificed along the way, but we got it done. Once that was accomplished we were able to place sheets of plywood across the length of the trailer on the crossbars. We squirted silicone caulk along the edges as an air seal, to stop water from being able to get up around the edges of the plywood. Then came two layers of rigid foam insulation, foamed into place to fill up any holes. We covered this insulation with heavy pieces of wood and clamped it down, to compact it snugly overnight. And then we were done for the day, and went off to eat a well-earned dinner.

Hello Again, Tiny House Design-Build

2014-07-20 20.46.33This evening we kicked off the fourth two-week-long Tiny House Design-Build course at Yestermorrow. This is my second time co-teaching the course with Paul Hanke, Patti Garbeck, and Lizabeth Moniz. (And I blogged about last fall’s class in a set of daily posts. You can read them here: Hello, Tiny House Design Build. It was a great course, which connected me with incredible students, including Laura Klement, my build buddy.) It’s wonderful, as always, to be Back Home at Yestermorrow. Vermont is a magical place any time of the year, but summers here are particularly splendid. It’s also nice to have a break from working on The Lucky Penny. I knew that between the Oregon Country Fair and the three weekends occupied by travel for Yestermorrow’s Tiny House Design-Build class, I’d have a whole month away from working on my tiny house. I knew I’d miss my little house but that it would also be good to take some time away. My goal was to get dried in before I left for the Oregon Country Fair, which was last weekend. I managed to do this with the help of my friends Mike and Eleanor – and a Pool Noodle! – so this break will be a good chance to recharge. When I return to my little house I’ll finish up the exterior – siding, shingles, and building a porch – and then turn my attention to the interior.

2014-07-20 21.35.18The same talented team will be teaching this summer’s Tiny House Design-Build class and I was excited to recognize a couple of the names on the class roster even before I met our fine group of students. One of them was a student of mine in a PAD workshop I co-taught with Dee Williams. And, of course, there’s our client, Katie, with whom Paul and I worked in March to develop a concept and basic layout for her tiny house. Paul has since developed the construction drawings for Katie’s house and we’re looking forward to bringing her house to life. After introductions last night I'm convinced we have another great bunch of people to work with this summer!

We started out with a parti exercise in which the students paired up to create a concept model for a structure based on inspiration from one of Paul's found objects. It was great fun to see the creativity flowing and the neat results of teamwork.

We have an action-packed schedule, which includes tiny house tours, presentations, construction, and design time in the studio. I don’t plan to blog daily this year, but I’ll be inviting our students to guest blog, so I hope some of them choose to share their experiences with you. Follow along for the fun!

Almost Ready to Build

You know you're almost ready to begin building your tiny house when...

  • You're making lists titled "Tiny House Helpers," "Truck Errands," and "Wall Raising Day."

    Laura & Wrench

  • All the nooks and crannies of your current tiny home are filled with components for your future tiny home. (Examples may include: the sink stored in your window seat, the curved rafters on your front porch, or the power tools in your sleeping loft.)
  • Your tool belt is hanging on a hook inside the door - right next to your little black dress, of course!
  • Half the photos in your phone are either price tags or products you're considering.
  • The other half are funny pictures of you and your build buddy attempting to chronicle the experience. (You can read about our adventures Getting Ready to Build over on Laura's blog or in my post Kicking Off Spring with Tiny House Prep.)
  • You change your mind all day long, every day, about nearly everything.
  • You've been to the hardware store three times this week and anticipate at least one more trip.
  • You wake up at 3 in the morning wondering if you should reverse the swing of your door.
  • You've been writing blog posts but you've neglected get them actually posted because it's now 7AM and you can start calling the hardware stores again to see who has the materials you're looking for.

And then eventually the big day arrives and Your Tiny House Build Begins.