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!"

Downsizing from a Tiny House to a Tinier House

I’ve found my next tiny house and I’m trilled about it! I’ll be living in a yurt in inner Portland. I’ve wanted to try out yurt living for several years, so I’m glad to have a chance now. I feel especially excited about this one.

My Home, Sweet Yurt is tucked in a sweet little garden space with a climbing rosebush growing over the arched entryway. Through the dome skylight one can see the top of a fig tree, bamboo shoots, and a nearby maple tree. After falling in love with the skylight in the sleeping loft of Brit’s Bungalow, I’m delighted I’ll be able to sleep with a view of the sun, the moon, the stars, the rain, and the clouds again.

At 114 square feet with no loft, the yurt is even smaller than the tiny house on wheels I lived in last year. So I’ll be downsizing from a tiny house to an even tinier house. I’m looking forward to the smaller space because it’s going to help enforce My Things Challenge and a simple lifestyle. Stay tuned for more tiny adventures!

Savoring the Tiny House

Tiny House & Hammock A year ago I decided to rent a tiny house. We moved Brittany’s Bayside Bungalow to Portland at the end of September last year, just before I started my first quarter studying urban planning at Portland State University. I figured it would be an economically-savvy and environmentally-friendly housing choice for my first year of graduate school. Living in a tiny house would enable me to decide whether I could realistically live in less than 200 square feet. Furthermore, it would inform my design choices if I decided to build a tiny house of my own.

We’ll be moving Brittany’s Bayside Bungalow back to Olympia this Saturday. So this week I’m savoring the tiny house. I’m enjoying the dappled light through the lilac trees while I’m curled up with my kindle on the window seat, I’m appreciating the tiny, efficient kitchen while cooking meals, and I’m relishing the view of the stars from the skylight of the sleeping loft.

I’m also reminding myself what I will do differently in my own tiny house now that I’m convinced I want to build a tiny house of my own. The top three changes I would make are these:

1)   I’ll design my tiny house with a larger porch (see Shrinky-Dink Porch for an explanation).

2)   I’ll spring for an on-demand propane water heater. (Since I had to wait 20 minutes for the 4-gallon tank to heat up once I flipped the switch I often ran out of time to actually do the dishes, which meant I’d wasted that energy.)

3)   I’ll use the Envi wall-mounted electric heater instead of an oil radiator or a propane boat heater.  (See Top 10 Reasons to Pick Envi Heater Over Propane Marine Heater)

Ten months of tiny house living have also convinced me that a wee abode perfectly suited to me can be even smaller than 121 square feet. My latest design for my own tiny house is a gypsy wagon (also known as a vardo) built on a 14-foot long trailer. I think about it every day as I go about my daily activities in this tiny house. I’m looking forward to scouting for materials this year and building my tiny house next summer. Meanwhile, I will use everything I’ve learned about simple living in my future housing arrangements. For the rest of the summer I’ll be living in a garden cottage (also known as an Accessory Dwelling Unit) on the same block as Cully Grove, where I’m building tiny houses. For next school year I’m considering a more urban version of the Little Life with a studio apartment in a more walkable neighborhood and a shorter commute to campus.

I’m extremely grateful I had the opportunity to test out the Little Life before committing to it. Once we get the tiny house back to Olympia Brittany’s Bayside Bungalow will be available for rental by the night, weekend, or week so that other people can test out tiny house living. There don’t seem to be many other opportunities to rent a tiny house, so if you’re interested, please do get in touch with Brittany. Her reservation calendar is filling up quickly!

Jill of All Trades

let there be (sky)light! We (almost!) finished the tiny house's exterior last week. Eli has found a professional painter with all the equipment to paint the tiny house in just a day. So on Monday I caulked big gaps and primed the battens and trim to prep for the painter. Simon - who is quite an artist in addition to being a great site supervisor - is letting some thoughts percolate for the time being about the design details for the upper portion of the gable ends. Of course, we still need to install the metal roofing, too, but I won't be able to do that by myself. Manda and Simon have been super busy over at the Cully Grove site since the framing has begun over there now. In the meantime, I shifted my attention to the interior of the tiny house and solo projects.

I started out the week by clearing out all the building supplies we'd been storing in the tiny house and cleaning it up. After sweeping and vacuuming, I caulked the floorplates to the floor, studs, and sheathing. I also installed the door knob so that we can close up the house at night. Then I got going again on the rough electrical. Eli did a walk-through over the weekend and had a few modifications and additions for electrical switch and outlet boxes so I set those in place Monday. The electrical additions required a few more holes to be drilled through the studs so I've become pretty handy with the right angle drill. (Manda informs me that it's actually a "hole hog," but I like the idea of Going Whole Hog on the Tiny House!)

wiring fun

With the thumbs up from Eli I was able to pull the wire Tuesday. (I realized there was a good reason Eli suggested making my runs as straight as possible - it's much easier to actually pull the wire that way!) We're using a 12 gauge wire with 4 circuits. There's a dedicated circuit for the 10 gallon tank water heater and second for the range. A third circuit controls the bedroom and bathroom lights, outlet, and exhaust fan. The fourth circuit is for switches and outlets throughout the rest of the house. I've labeled the wires to make it easier for the electrician to connect everything once we've finished out the walls.

Running wire was a good logic puzzle and by the time I had to leave for my Real Estate Construction class on Tuesday, I had a long list of questions which Simon helped me answer on Wednesday. I enjoyed my crash course in electrical. Turns out I enjoy pulling wire and double checking that my switches and lights are all wired properly. Of course, now that I've got the hang of it, I'm finished with rough electrical, but I'm eager to give it a go again soon!

sleeping loft before the skylight

Eli also asked us to install the skylight over the sleeping loft so we can start on the roofing. I marked our rough opening, but I was nervous about using the sawzall, especially in such a confined space and at an awkward angle. The sawzall and the table saw are the two power tools I'm still not quite comfortable with because I hear horror stories of professionals doing serious damage with them. Certain power tools demand respect and I intend to be respectful! So I decided to wait for some coaching.

Fortunately, Manda had some down time at the Cully Grove site yesterday afternoon so she taught me how to use the sawzall safely. Simon helped us set the skylight in place and fix it to the roof sheathing. It's amazing how much the skylight opens up the sleeping loft. Once again, I'm convinced that skylights are the trick to creating a feeling of spaciousness. It's my new favorite feature of the tiny house!

little shared car, big load

Today I did a supply run to pick up 14-3 wire for our 3-way switch, nail plates to protect our wire from puncture wounds when we install the interior finish, and the insulation for our ceiling and walls. Paragon Pacific has a crazy-wonderful selection of insulation, including this 3 inch rigid foam we'll use for our ceiling. I loved loading up the Getaround car with a heap of insulation. It reminded me of the IKEA commercials. Tee, hee!

I've realized this week that one of the strange things about building a tiny house is that I don't have a chance to perfect any of the building techniques. Just as I get the gist of hanging siding, running wire, or cutting rough openings with a sawzall we've finished up that step and moved on to the next one. I imagine by the end of the summer I'll be a true Jill of all trades. Fortunately, I anticipate there will be plenty of chances to apply what I'm learning to other tiny houses! I learned a lot this week and next week it's on to a whole new skill set...

Weather Report: Rain on the Skylight

Recently a couple people have asked for updates about how the tiny house and I have fared through the Portland winter. "Winter?" I think. "What winter?" Ice Crystals by Moonlight

There have been cold days. There was, for instance, the day that sleet froze on my skylight, making beautiful crystalline patterns when the full moon shone through it.

I used the oil radiator heater in addition to the wall-mounted heater several times a week during December and January. Twice when I was using the oil radiator heater I tripped the circuit breaker because I made the mistake of also using my electric water kettle which is electricity intensive. The irony is that both times I turned on the oil heater because I had company coming and wanted to make the place nice and toasty for them even though I would have been fine just wearing my down vest and slippers if it had just been me at home. It was when I decided to make my company a cup of tea that I lost all power which meant all heat and light. In trying to make everything warm, bright, and cozy I made the tiny house dark and cold. I couldn't find the circuit breaker in the big house, so I boiled water on the propane stove, bundled my company up in blankets, and lit some candles. I have that little propane boat heater, too, but without the electric fan it's pretty useless. I turned it on for the psychological warmth even though it didn't do much good. Fortunately, one of my visitors is a fellow tiny house dweller and the other is a nomad and minimalist so they were both good sports about candlelit conversation. The first time I maxed out my electrical capacity I hadn't realized how I'd done it, but the second time I figured out where the circuit breaker is located and I learned to make a choice between heating the space and heating water in a hurry. I started boiling water on the stove more often. It was an easy adjustment.

Propane Boat Heater

Throughout February I've been back to using the Envi wall-mounted space heater as my sole heat source and I've been very pleased with it. It's silent, has a sleek, slim design, and has kept my house at a pleasant temperature. I do keep it on 24/7 because I find that if I turn it off the house cools down enough that it takes a while to get all the surfaces warmed up again. But here it is February and there are times that it's been so warm I've been able to turn it down a notch. In the next two months I'll be weaning myself off of it.

Winters here are so mild compared to what I'm used to that it's amusing to me that winter is already on its way out. I was delighted to discover a front yard in my neighborhood completely covered in crocuses while I was biking home from visiting another tiny house dweller this afternoon. I always think of my friend Claudia when I see the first crocuses of the year. When we were in college she helped call my attention to crocuses, teaching me that they are a harbinger of springtime to come. Next: daffodils. Then: tulips. Stay tuned. The world is about to become a lot more colorful!

Crocuses: Harbinger of Spring

Claudia's attention to natural cycles and her giddy appreciation for little joys are two of my very favorite things about her. This winter I have found myself thinking of Claudia frequently, imagining how much she would like being in a house so small that the rest of the world surrounds her. We have had several storms that have lashed winds against the tiny house, sending driving rain through the screens and onto the window panes. When the bluster really picks up momentum the house rocks, ever so slightly, and I imagine myself on a sailboat.

It's fun to watch the way that the sunlight moves around the house throughout the day, first peeping in through the eastern windows, then the southern, casting rainbows across the sleeping loft from the prism that hangs in the window there. The evening sun spills in through my western window, above my desk. The days that I focus on my internship instead of classes I luxuriate in an afternoon nap in the sleeping loft and then enjoy the sunshine's company as I type up reading notes or a blog post.

On clear nights I love falling asleep to the stars shimmering through the skylight in my little wooden ceiling. Mornings that I wake up to the drum of rain on the skylight I grin and hit the snooze button, knowing that I'm off the hook for riding my bike to campus. I have twenty more minutes before I need to get up, make my tea, and catch my bus.

Taking the Heat

I've lived in the tiny house for a month now and I'm still a little giddy every morning when I wake up. I've settled into some routines that work well for me and it's feeling more and more like home. A friend helped me fetch my oh-so-comfy Savvy Rest latex foam mattress from Walla Walla where I'd stored it with a friend for a few weeks while I settled in. It's 10 inches tall, which reduces the headroom when I sit up in the loft, but it's so luxurious I'm perfectly okay with it. It's such a cozy spot, especially on chilly mornings.

Out of sheer stubbornness I decided I wasn't going to turn the heat on until November. It's the 2nd of November now and I'm really grateful for the heat. I'll take it! Brittany installed a propane boat heater but she said she actually preferred using the electric oil radiator heater on wheels, so that's what I've used today. It's been nice and toasty. I think the heater will become part of my daily routine, too.

Each day I crack the windows top and bottom to provide good ventilation while I'm out since there isn't an exhaust fan in the house. Brittany had trouble with condensation last year, so per her request I'm also running a tiny dehumidifier. When it fills up (which happens about once a week) I use the contents of the little pail to water my two house plants.
I do a load of laundry at my host house once a week. When the weather is nice enough to dry clothes outside I do. I haven't tried line drying inside the tiny house because of the moisture management issues, but I might give it a go now that I'm using heat again. I do have a five-line retractable clothes line I could run between the lofts.
The water heater is a four gallon tank instead of an on-demand model. I don't figure I need it on when I'm not using it, so I flip the water heater on when I get up in the morning. I do my cooking early in the day and pack food to eat in between classes. I turn the water heater off before I leave for school so it isn't using up propane during the day while I'm gone or over night while I'm sleeping.
Tidying up the house goes pretty quickly since everything is close at hand. I put things back in their places, wipe down the counters, shake the rugs, sweep the floor. It only takes about fifteen minutes!
And I don't need to deal with the least favorite of chores: cleaning the shower. The tiny house does have a shower but I haven't used it since I have access to the gym on campus. I bike to school several times a week which takes me about an hour since I'm a slow poke. When I get there I shower and get ready for class. I like that the tiny house has a shower and if I wasn't going to shower at the gym almost every day anyway I think I'd probably be using the one here. Instead I'm using it as a closet. The shower curtain rod works perfectly well for clothes hangers and it makes the bathroom a sweet little dressing room.
It's such a good Little Life!