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!

How Many Lightbulbs Does it Take to Heat a Tiny House?

Last fall I designed my tiny dream house in a workshop called Less is More, which was taught by Andreas Stavropoulos and Dave Cain at Yestermorrow Design-Build School. As I was deliberating about heating options, my classmate John joked, "Sheesh! That place is so small you don't need to install a heater - you, your cat, and an incandescent light bulb would heat the place right up!" John had lived on and built boats in Maine for decades so I took most of what he said very seriously. But I also knew I'm a wimp compared to him, so for the last year and a half I've been paying attention to different heating options for small spaces. Heating seems to be a dilemma for many tiny house dwellers. Some folks love wood heat so they install tiny wood stoves and stoke their fires and call it good. A friend of mine who is an arborist says wood is the way he'd heat a tiny house since he has a limitless supply of it. But crawling out of a warm bed to build a fire doesn't even sound fun to me when I'm camping! Besides, I'm a little pyrophobic. Even if I did like building fires I'd need to get good at it so that I could control temperatures so it was comfortable. And since my schedule often involves being gone for 12 hours at a stretch it I wouldn't be around to stoke a fire.

Taking a page out of Jay Shafer's book, lots of folks have installed propane boat heaters in their tiny houses. They have great ambiance (a flickering blue flame) and they heat a space up quickly and without the mess of wood. But in order get the heat distributed throughout the room you have to have the fan on. And the fan is noisy. Obnoxiously noisy. I have a hunch that when you live in central California heat's not quite as critical as it is during the winters here. Portland has a nice, mild climate, but we still have plenty of heating degree days! Brittany installed one of these propane boat heaters (which requires clearances, running a propane line, and adding an additional penetration in the ceiling).
By the time Brittany turned her little house over to me she had pretty much quit using her boat heater. Instead she had switched to a portable oil radiant heater which has a timer so that it can be set to come during certain periods. Unfortunately, it doesn't have a setback temperature so it would come on and bring the temperature up to the set temp from whatever the house had cooled down to. Depending on how cold it is this can take a while! At the end of the set time it again turns off completely. I found that it worked pretty well to just set the temp to about 60 degrees and manually adjust it whenever I wanted it warmer for a while. But it also took up precious floor space, I sometimes tripped over its cord, and it was a little clunky to have to move it every time I shifted the desk over to use it as a table for dining. So I started looking into other options.

space heater installed

Last week my new heater arrived and, as promised by the website, installation took just a few minutes. The new heater is a wall mounted convection heater with a nice slim profile and some sort of special stack effect technology. (I understand the stack effect - I think! - but I don't see how it can be very effective in a heater that is only two feet tall, so I put it on the near the loft so that the height differential can give it a boost.) The heater is made by a company called Envi and after reading reviews for the three heaters on the market that are similar, I went with this one because there's a temperature control and the design has curved edges which I figured would help me be less likely to snag myself on it. The others also had some reviews that talked about worrisome defects and poor customer service, but it doesn't help that all three of them have very similar names. So I sprung for the one that cost $30 more.

Which brings me to the notion that $130 is a lot of money to spend on a space heater - unless it's your entire heat system and then it's nothing! I like the slim profile and it seems to be heating up nicely so I'm impressed so far! It doesn't actually have a thermostat, but it does have a temperature control. I can turn it up and down as well as on and off. I can't tell what the temperature is in my tiny house. But there's only been one day since I installed it that I felt chilly (and that was after I turned it down because I'd gotten too hot). It was also right around the winter solstice. Short, dark, cold days. So for now I'm just keeping it at full tilt and appreciating that it's always warm inside my house.
Perhaps the coolest thing is that, unlike the oil heater which was a 1500 watt heater, the new one only uses 475 watts (basically like having five incandescent lightbulbs on!) Which, I'll admit, got me thinking of John's comment: it might actually be more cost effective in the short term to just swap out all the nice CFLs Brittany put in for incandescents since they produce so much heat I might not need a heater at all! But really I don't think they'd quite do the trick...

Tiny House Sleeps Five Comfortably

My friends Sarah and Jesse from Walla Walla visited yesterday, bringing their pup Dodge along. It was fun showing them the Alberta Arts District and it was chilly enough that our cocoas were a perfect warm up treat. Jesse cooked us a fantastic squash soup in my tiny kitchen and he served it with homemade bread. Delish!

In order to accommodate everyone for the night I moved the camping gear that I usually store in my loft over to the host house where I stashed it in a corner of my neighbor's room since she was out of town. I set up a bed for myself in the storage loft above the door with a foam pad and plenty of blankets and pillows. Raffi slept with me, Jesse and Sarah had my sleeping loft, and Dodge claimed my giant pillow chair as his bed. We all slept really well and they only tricky part is that I only have one ladder. I'd crawled into bed last so the ladder was on my side. In the middle of the night Jesse, not wanting to wake me, managed to climb down from the sleeping loft using my kitchen counter! Did I mention he's resourceful? And tall!
I'm glad my tiny house was Sarah and Jesse's first stop on their road trip down to California. They live at West End Farm in Walla Walla and they left me with farm treats: pumpkin bread and apricot jam. It was a delight having my friends here even if the visit was too short. And it's nice to know that as long as everyone likes each other a lot my tiny house can comfortably sleep five!

A Praising Accessory Dwellings

Yesterday I joined Eli Spevak, Martin Brown, and Jordan Palmeri for a workshop about appraising accessory dwelling units (ADUs). See the Accessory Dwellings website for lots more information about ADUs, including this post about appraising ADUs. I suppose I'm a bit of a nerd when it comes to housing, but I everyone there seemed to think it was really fascinating, so I was in good company. One of the things they talked about was how accessory dwellings often add value to a home because they create possibility (rental income, a space for live-in help or a young adult that's temporarily returned to the nest, or a parent deciding what the next step is after retirement). There are tons of spaces that are being rented out to singles and couples across the country.

The demand is high and it's a win-win situation for home owners and renters alike. But because so few of them are permitted most mortgage companies tell appraisers to completely ignore ADUs when figuring the value of the property. This makes it tricky, of course, for homeowners considering building an ADU to justify the expense. If it won't increase their property value it's hard to make it pencil out. So many people are building ADUs for the value they bring that's not monetary. The group of folks there would like to see ADUs getting some attention and recognition as a legitimate housing option. There are more single-person households in America than ever before so it would be great to have more housing options that are legal and permitted.

Another interesting aspect discussed was Jordan's research which shows that of all the different things you can do to make a building more sustainable, building small is the most effective. Now I completely understand that most people like having a little more elbow room. (A few of my friends like a little more head room than my kitchen affords, too.) But I do think the research helps create the case for building the smallest spaces that meet our needs.

Fifteen Seconds of Fame

Today was an exciting one for me and the tiny house. A Canadian reporter named Tim interviewed me for a story about small houses. It will probably be a short video that includes information about several people living little. I'm camera shy so I don't think I need 15 minutes of fame. Fifteen seconds sounds just right to me. But also I'm excited to spread the word about how cool it can be to live in a small space, so I hope he got something that will be useful. After our interview Tim and I headed up to Rocky Butte since it was a beautiful day and he was hoping to get some footage of Portland that could be used by his news station. The view from the hilltop wasn't great because of the treetops in the way, but he was pleased with some footage of Mt. Hood.

Here's the video featuring me and the tiny house I'm living in!