Giving Thanks for the Little Life

Here are just a few of the many, many things I'm thankful for today:

  • Curling up on my window seat with a friend, my cat, and a cup of tea (thanks for a lovely pre-Thanksgiving cup-o-tea, Lish!)
  • Waking up to the sound of rain on the skylight of my tiny house
  • The many Tiny House Helpers who helped me create my beautiful little home, The Lucky Penny
  • Getting my kitchen organized in preparation for cooking and baking this winter
  • The landmates ("landies") at Simply Home Community who cook delicious meals, play games, watch movies, go out dancing, take care of my kitty when I'm out of town, and generally make life a whole heck of a lot of fun
  • The incredible vistas when driving up Highway 101
  • The view from my sister's living room
  • Getting updates (with photos) of the houses I've helped make real (congrats Katie and Tatiana!)
  • Baking chocolate pecan pie with my "baby" sister
  • My loved ones near and far who are taking time today to name their gratitudes
  • The feeling I get when I step onto the front porch and peek through the window and think "ahhh! home, sweet home!"

Tiny House Floorplan Considerations

Tiny House Program For months I have been discussing the merits of various tiny house layouts with my friend Jane who is designing and building a tiny house this spring. So it's no surprise that when we sat down with paper and markers earlier this week the draft floorplan for her tiny house developed rather quickly. It was fun for me to ask prompting questions and witness the emergence of a plan.

We began by identifying what functions the tiny house would serve and which would fall to the host house. Jane decided that she wanted her tiny house to enable someone to sleep, eat, cook, and lounge. She considered whether bathing was a necessary element of the tiny house and decided she wants the tiny house to be as self-contained as possible, so she will include an RV-sized shower. But laundry facilities would be overkill in a tiny house and she wanted to avoid the bugaboo of the tiny house world (dealing with a blackwater system), so the host house will accommodate the needs for laundry and a toilet.

I asked Jane to identify what she likes about Brittany's house and other tiny houses she's seen, as well as what she would do differently. She said that she loves the sleeping loft and the window seat, so she'll include both in her tiny house. She would like a little more headroom in the loft and since we can't go any taller than 13'6" we'll go wider by adding a couple of dormer windows. She thinks (and I agree) that a window seat that runs the full width of the house would be a more comfortable place to lounge, so we'll claim the space that accommodates a tiny front porch in Britt's Bungalow and stretch the windowseat longer and wider.

Lofts & Elevations

In Britt's Bungalow the kitchen and bathroom are side-by-side underneath the sleeping loft. It works pretty well to have the shower and closet underneath the sleeping loft because it provides a ceiling for these two spaces. Having the kitchen under the sleeping loft works well, too, because the ceiling provides another surface from which one can hang a wine bottle rack, a wine glass holder, a fruit basket, and a roll of paper towels. However, Jane will put the shower and closet at the back and a galley kitchen towards the front of the sleeping loft. This layout will open up the space under the loft to the rest of the house.

As we considered the floor plan, we also talked about the vertical space. I asked Jane where she imagined the windows: where she would like the light to be coming from and which views she wants to capture. She wants to create privacy from the next door neighbors, so she's limiting windows on the east side to two small ones. Having more windows on the west side of the house will also provide a passive heating assist. She likes having the window seat facing the garden so she wants big picture windows there. She also likes the idea of a sliding glass door which will let more light into the house. She'd like to have a porch off of the sliding door to provide outdoor space and connection with the host house.

Drafting up plans is a project for this week, but I can already envision the space in my mind. I've been playing with window layouts on exterior elevations and basic massing in Sketch Up today. It was fun to show these rudimentary visuals to Jane and see her excitement.

Having a sense of the layout enabled us to create a list of used materials to hunt for: five operable windows, four fixed windows, a sliding door, and an RV shower. Time to start scouting Craigslist!

Tiny House Slideshow

Several of you have asked to see more photos of the tiny house, so for your viewing pleasure, here is a Tiny House Slideshow. Please click on an image to see the captions and higher quality images. [mj-google-slideshow feed_url="" width="500" height="500" link_target="google.feeds.LINK_TARGET_BLANK" /]

By Hook or By Kindle

I have a few days between visiting family and my internship starting up again so I've been hanging out with friends and finding ways to simplify my life as I head into a new year. Mostly it's involved my new Kindle and a few well-placed metal hooks.

Because counter space is limited in my tiny kitchen and the counter tops are wooden, I've been placing my dish drying rack in the shower to drain. This has worked pretty well, but it's a little obnoxious to have to transfer it every time I take a shower, particularly since my showers only last about five minutes!
Today I made a little adjustment that I'm rather proud of, even though it's not very glamourous. I hung my dish drying rack over my dish pan, so now my dishes are right by the sink, right below the space where they all get put away. Water that drips off the dishes lands in the dish pan which is where I stash dirty dishes until I'm ready to do a load of dishes each morning. This is further evidence that a few well-placed hooks can help to create elegant design solutions. Perhaps I can figure out a more aesthetically pleasing version of this strategy for my own tiny house, but for now, I'm pretty pleased with it.
Now when I want to take a shower all I have to do is turn on the water heater and wait about 15 minutes. Granted, it probably requires more forethought than your showering process, but I'm delighted by my newly simplified system! I've found that by using the "pause" button on the showerhead I have a perfectly pleasant shower with plenty of hot water for two shampooings, conditioner, and a good scrub. I'm not sure how long my shower could be if I didn't use the pause button, but I haven't felt any great desire to figure it out with shampoo still in my hair!
In other news, my cousin upgraded to a new Kindle Fire over the holidays (a xmas present to herself) so she passed on her old Kindle to me. What an ideal gift! I've enjoyed reading the books she loaded onto it. All that wait time in transit suddenly becomes time to read a novel. (On the Corner of Bitter and Sweet was a lovely northwest novel to start on the train from Seattle to Portland during a cold winter day!) I still marvel at how I can switch between different books if I'm not in the mood for the one I've been reading. The device is slim and lightweight. And it doesn't get any more cumbersome to have another book along with me. I've also discovered that a couple of the books required for my courses for next term are available in Kindle format. This is soooo cool! I realize that I probably could eliminate paper books from my life completely if I weren't a student, but I think the format lends itself more to novels than text or picture books anyhow.
There are some books (especially picture-rich design books) that still demand a paper format and I wouldn't have them any other way. I keep a very small collection of design books that I enjoy referencing:
  • Sarah Suzanka’s Home by Design and The Not So Big Life,
  • Jay Shafer’s The Small House Book,
  • Lloyd Kahn’s Tiny Homes, Simple Shelter,
  • John Connell’s Homing Instinct,
  • Clarke Snell’s The Good House Book, and, of course,
  • Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language
Three favorite cookbooks provide inspiration: How to Cook Everything, Moosewood Restaurant’s New Classics, and Passionate Vegetarian. Scrapbooks of my travels to Thailand, South Africa, Belgium, and the Netherlands keep memories of far-off lands close at hand. Nevertheless, the Kindle is a fantastic invention and I'm certain that I'll do a lot more reading now that I have one!

Potty Talk

When I tell people that I live in a tiny house most of them want to know about my cooking facilities. When I tell them about my microwave, cook top, and fridge, they realize it's not much different than their kitchen.

But the folks who think to ask about my toilet facilities usually keep their eyebrows up a bit longer. Many people who live in a tiny house use a composting toilet - either a commercial one or a bucket with sawdust. Some people line a 5 gallon bucket with a plastic bag and tie it up and put it in the garbage can each week. (If you think about it, there's a lot of human poop going into the landfills from baby diapers and elder's diapers!) Others decide to actually compost. The Humanure Handbook provides detailed directions about how to safely fertilize poop. However, my host and I decided that it would be best for me to use the toilet inside her house or at school for poo. Setting up a humanure composting system might be the last straw for the neighbors. They've been just fine with a chicken coop and a tiny house, but we don't want to push it.
On the other hand, pee is sterile and it makes a great fertilizer. The garden has lots of non-edible plants so I keep a plastic pitcher inside the bathroom to collect pee. Once or twice a day I dilute the contents of my pee pitcher with water (urine needs to be diluted about 8 parts to 1 with water so it doesn't burn the plants) and dump it on the bushes outside my house. (I've found that daily emptying is necessary so keeping the container small ensures that I'm really good about emptying it frequently!) My guy friends seem to prefer just stepping outside to "water a bush," but the gals who have used my pee pitcher system said it was no big deal. The bamboo loves the nitrogen and I love the simplicity of the system.
There's a whole book about fertilizing with pee called Liquid Gold. There are also periodic articles and essays about using urine as a fertilizer in the news and on blogs. I like this one called "Are We Wasting Human Waste?" I was fascinated when I learned in a permaculture class that humans produce approximately the same amount of nitrogen in their urine each year as it takes to fertilize the food they eat in a year. There is a connection here, but it's been broken. Instead we buy commercial fertilizers, many of them using petroleum products, to fertilize our food crops and we flush our pee into a wastewater treatment system which uses tons of energy and water to process the "waste." Some people are trying to reconnect they nitrogen cycle by fertilizing edible plants with urine. I have a guy friend who found that his tomato plants grew like crazy once he started peeing on them. If you stop to consider it, it's odd that we think nothing of putting other species' poop on our food plants but we're squeamish about using our own sterile urine as a fertilizer. For now I'll stick to fertilizing the bamboo, but I'll keep watching for more research, too.