sleeping loft

A Tiny Natural House

Another tiny houser lives just around the corner! Light Straw Clay Walls with Rough Plaster & Stained Salvaged Floors

This week I had the pleasure of meeting a carpenter who has built her own tiny house in the backyard of the property she owns in Northeast Portland. Katie's green eyes start twinkling as she shows me around her Little House: her cozy abode, her labor of love. Katie's only a few inches taller than me and she teaches carpentry for a living. Needless to say, I have a new hero. And since her house is still a work in progress and she's one of my nearest neighbors, I hopefully have a new mentor as well. She'll be working on the Little House each weekend this spring and I've promised to set aside the books when I can to help out.

Light Straw Clay Tutorial

Katie considered building her tiny house on a trailer but decided against it for two main reasons. First, she wanted a wider house. The 8'5" restriction on width that makes a tiny house on wheels street legal is a major constraint in terms of layout. It's amazing what people have managed to do with less than 9 feet of width, but it's even more amazing what you can do if you have three more feet with which to play! Second, Katie wanted to use natural building materials and was particularly interested in trying out light straw clay for her wall system.

Friends Help at Light Straw Clay Work Party

Unfortunately, natural building wall systems and mobility don't play well together. Natural materials are often heavier than synthetic materials and they are more fragile. Plaster and tile are likely to crack if moved and natural insulations are more likely to settle. Natural materials also take up more room to achieve the desired effect. For instance, straw bales provide fantastic insulation against cold and noise infiltration, lend themselves to neat windowsills and windowseats, and create an amazing surface for plaster. I've worked on two straw bale houses and I look forward to building my straw bale dream home someday. In a place like Walla Walla, where straw is a waste produce of the wheat industry, straw bale is a sustainable and appropriate building material. But even if you place bales "on edge" (on their narrowest side), you're still looking at fourteen inch thick walls!

Tamping Light Straw Clay into Walls

Light straw clay walls can be built much thinner than straw bale walls, but they still require more space than stick framing. Katie's light straw clay walls are 8 inches thick to provide the same insulating value as a standard 2 x 6 wall. Light straw clay is a mixture of clay and straw that is compacted into the wall cavity using either plywood slips or woven mats to hold the material in place while it dries. Light straw clay has the insulating properties of straw with the massive properties of clay and once it is covered in a homemade plaster the walls have a beautiful natural look. Katie's will be a nice creamy color that will brighten up the space and contrast nicely with her dark wood trim and floors. The thickness and fragility of natural wall systems simply aren't practical for a tiny house on wheels. So Katie decided to build directly on-site.

After drafting up dozens of different floor plans she settled on the current layout which includes a main room for socializing, cooking, and lounging, a bathroom, and a sleeping loft that extends over a deep porch. Beautiful beams that run across the width of the house will remain exposed when the peaked ceiling is covered with lath strips. Her bathroom will be a wet bath with a shower head in the ceiling and a drain in the floor. It will include a compost toilet, a soaking tub, and a little corner sink. Katie says her love for entertaining was a guiding aspect of her design. Even though her house is only 190 square feet her fold-out table and open kitchen plan allow her to comfortably host dinner parties for a dozen friends at once. Many of the materials for the house are salvaged including beautiful wood flooring, roughhewn trim, and an apartment-sized electric range and oven. She has shaped her house around the windows and door that she acquired for free. (She's currently on the lookout for two round windows for the loft. If you know where she can score a couple, let us know!)

Light Straw Clay Work Party

Katie has enjoyed the sense of independence of doing most of the work herself, but she's also grateful for the help of some talented friends and family members. A group of friends joined her for a light straw clay work party. Her sister, an electrician, is doing her electrical work and a friend who does iron working is helping with shelves. She plans to have a couple more work parties this spring so that she can move in and enjoy summer in her Little House. She is particularly looking forward to sitting out on her covered porch in the evenings to watch her chickens pecking around the garden while the sun sets.

Cheers to that!

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" /]