I had always wanted to build an Earthship. But for that, you need to own property
and have a lot of financial, physical, and time resources. So I looked into whether tiny houses could be built in an eco-way, using off-grid systems and so on.
Definitely, I have dabbled in many, many different things. I didn’t have a very linear background; I never went to college or university. I traveled a lot when I was in my 20s, worked at environmental nonprofits, worked in an organic food cafe, and worked as a Tibetan translator for almost 10 years. I did spend a little bit of time on Salt Spring Island in BC, almost twenty years ago, actually doing a tiny bit of building for a Waldorf school. I built a little cabin and so I did have a little bit of construction background. Ever since I was a kid, being an architect appealed to me. I was very interested in alternative houses when I was younger, but nothing specific came out of that interest other than ogling at eye-candy sustainability projects online and doing some renovations for this Waldorf school on Salt Spring, and building this little cabin in the woods for them.
My very dear friend, Carolyn Hocquard, was completely obsessed with tiny houses. When we first started becoming friends about six years ago, she showed me everything on Pinterest and on the Internet. And at that time, tiny houses were taking off, but they weren’t as prolific as they are now. I don’t think there were any tiny-house specific television shows at the time. So it was still very counterculture or unusual.
She just kept saying how amazing tiny houses were: “look at this one, look at that one,” and at some point, I started thinking that maybe I could do this because the budgets for these houses were quite reasonable.
At that time, wasn’t sure I wanted to stay with my job as a Tibetan translator. And at some point, the idea of that building a tiny house as a viable possibility just hooked into my consciousness.
There were a few reasons that I was inspired to actually build the house. And it’s hard to know which one was the main one. But I love the idea of just creating something.
And so a tiny house seemed simple for a layperson, it seemed within the realm of possibility to design and live in something like that. I’d lived in a lot of small spaces before. There was also a financial thing.
I was living in a really good rent situation that was really easy at the time, but I didn’t know how long that would last. So I thought at least I would have a home somewhere. And then there was the environmental sustainability aspect of wanting to try to build and live in something in a sustainable way, to try to build something using local, without much garbage, not over-using resources. So I would say, those three aspects were what inspired me to do it.
It was really tough figuring out what layout I need because I wasn’t used to making those kinds of layout & design decisions—you’re talking about a place that you’re gonna be living in for however many years, and you’re the only person that’s going to know whether it worked out or not. Generally, in terms of design, it’s really hard to know how exactly you’re going to feel in a space. A couple of things that I did was mark out using rectangular block-like meditation cushions (I was on a meditation retreat at the time) to build mini walls. I rearranged little floor plans to better imagine what would make a good layout. The room I was in at the time was quite large and the sun would come in at certain angles. So I thought, “OK. How does the light fall in this way.”
I found doing it in real space was helpful. I also used Google SketchUp a lot to get a sense of the flow inside the house. But when you see something on-screen, especially a tiny house space that is that small, it’s hard to know how it’s really going to feel. Is this actually enough space to comfortably move through?
I wasn’t very happy with a lot of the designs online at the time when I was doing this research. There weren’t as many different types of designs as there are now, but of course, I looked online and looked at pretty much every single design plan that I could get a hold of to see what worked and what didn’t for me. Originally I thought I would buy somebody else’s plan and just adjust it slightly, but I found there was nothing that really fit exactly what I wanted.
Part of figuring out the design was asking myself, “what do I want this house to do?” We normally think of a house in terms of “what does the house have? It has to have a bed and a bathroom and so on.” But I tried to think of it in terms of what actions or what kinds of environments I need in my typical day. I need somewhere to sleep. I need somewhere to have people over. I need somewhere to cook. I need somewhere to work. I need somewhere to poop. I need somewhere to clean myself. I need somewhere to get inspiration.
I tried to go through all of those needs and then work the design from that point of view, rather than trying to just design something just for the sake of designing it. But there was also an aesthetic component to it too.
Even now, when I design a little part of the built-in furniture, it can take me awhile. I want it to be an inch longer or a half-inch, shorter. Every inch counts in a tiny house, so it becomes: do I want that inch to belong to the storage, or do I want that inch to belong to headspace, you know? That can get a little difficult and hilarious over time. So, yeah, some of the design decisions are hard.
I needed a lot of light and a lot of windows, but I also wanted to feel protected. I live in a cold climate where a house can’t just be all windows unless you have gobs of money, otherwise, you just lose too much heat.
I wanted to feel like it was spacious in certain parts of the house by virtue of its design, without it actually having to be big. And in fact, I had originally designed it to be a 24’-longhouse, but at the last minute I shortened it to 20’. There weren’t many tiny houses in the province of Nova Scotia at that time, but I visited one in Dartmouth across the bridge. Coincidentally, it was on my birthday, and when we walked in, and as soon as I walked in, I thought, “this is the roofline that I want.” It was an unusual roofline. Most tiny houses online I’d seen had either a shed roof, a pitched gable roof, or a combination of different gabled roofs.
Thinking about a shed roof originally, I tried to balance wanting passive solar on the higher side, but then also wanting the higher side for the loft entrance, but also wanting the higher side for my head (Feng Shui). You can’t have all three with a shed roof. This guy’s house roofline was like an uneven gable down the long side. The roofline follows you up the stairs, and that just really resonated with me.
There are a few things that make my house design unique. One thing is that I had a general idea of where I wanted to put windows, but rather than design exactly what the windows would be and then go and find those windows, I went and looked for used or discounted windows that were roughly what I was looking for, and then tried to design the house around those.
Since some of the windows were a little different than what I had originally had in mind, the house did get shaped slightly around the windows that I found rather than the other way around.
Definitely, the roofline is a little bit unusual. I also think that my loft is unusual because I planned to have a meditation space rather than just a space for sleeping, making my loft a little bit larger than other houses I’d seen at the time.
There were a lot of tiny houses with a galley-bathroom and then a kitchen down at one end and the living space on the other end. But for me, it was really important to have the living space be connected to the kitchen so that when people are over, I can be preparing things in the kitchen while still connected to them. Now there are more houses designed like that, so it’s less unique now.
I also have this interesting spot for graffiti art that wraps around three sides of the house on the outside. That hasn’t been painted yet. Now we’re in a pandemic so it might be a while or maybe my friend Julie wants to paint it.
The house is insulated with sheep’s wool. That’s not necessarily a design feature, but maybe we’ll get into that later.
Another very unusual thing is I actually have an office in my tiny house, a little space where I sit cross-legged and I have a little window right next to my head. It’s behind my stairs and allows me to actually sit at my laptop and have a designated workspace. My workspace is not my living room or it’s not my loft.
Pretty much every single thing in the tiny house is a space-saving feature.
My main couch is a three-in-one. It’s a couch, and it also slides out to become a guest bed. But then if you open it up, it also has storage.
I have stairs with storage in all of them. My fridge actually sits in my stairs like many tiny houses, and then I have accessible areas under each stair.
I have used pretty much every space. Underneath the kitchen floor cabinets, there’s storage in the kick-space, that space right above the floor where the “toe-kick” is. I have used every little skinny space in the cabinets, so I have some skinny drawers for
my teas and spices and things like that.
My closet is a Marie Kondo-inspired design, where instead of having deep drawers where you fold your clothes on top of one another, I built very shallow drawers where I can fold up my clothes into little rectangles and be able to see everything that I have when I pull them out.
I have a few modular cubes from IKEA that are seats that have storage. And those are great. I use them as little stepping stools, tables, storage, seats, anything.
My favorite part of the house is the loft. Maybe it depends on the time of day. But the loft really has this treehouse feel. I’ve always loved attics. I’ve lived in an attic. I love being in trees. I love being high, high up (even though I’m actually scared of heights). I like the grounded feel while also feeling in the trees. There’s something about it where you feel away, or rather, slightly less affected from your day because you have the perspective and space. You’re away from the mess of the house. Perhaps the mess of your daily life. Perhaps the mess of society. It’s also somewhere where my friends hang out. We often hang out in the living room, but we also hang out in the loft. And there is something I’ve noticed, which is that very deep and interesting conversations with both my close friends and people that I’ve just met seem to happen in that space. And I’m not exactly sure why that is, but it seems to happen frequently. I definitely feel a sense of protection and peace in the loft.
But the bathroom is also killer when the light is just streaming in and you get a smell of the coffee chaff used for the composting toilet.
If you are two in the house and one person is downstairs, one person is upstairs, there isn’t much an audio barrier, but there’s definitely a feeling of two separate spaces. I’ve hosted people to stay before and it’s been fine.
The bathroom takes a little getting used to. It’s not as private as a regular bathroom because, of its proximity. But at the same time, people do use it when I have lots of friends over. It does require a little bit of relaxing the privacy and feeling around personal space.
In terms of privacy to the outside, I have curtains everywhere if I’m bothered to use them; I’m situated in a yard and I’m bordered by a couple of parking lots and businesses. So I can feel privacy in that sense. The trees in the summer make it feel extra private then.
I’ve realized that it’s very well insulated for sound from the inside. I can often hear things outside, but if somebody comes to the door, and I yell, “come in!!” they often can’t hear me.
I got my trailer in September, and I basically spent three months, almost every day, working on it. Usually what I would do is in the morning, I would look on YouTube to figure out how to do whatever it was I needed to do that day. How do you build a floor? How do you build this? Or whatever it was, I would look it up on YouTube or call the hardware store or ask a friend to help me figure it out.
And then I would go and do it. I would usually try to have it set up so that someone, like a friend, could come if it was a two-person job or if somebody just wanted to participate. I had a lot of friends who would drop by and say, hey, do you need anything? You need help? They just wanted to be involved in the process in some way. So I’d often teach people what I knew, even though I had just learned it from someone else on YouTube that morning. Some tasks were repetitive over several days, so I felt a little more confident with those tasks over time.
Those were the days I could just wake up, make food for the day, go over to my work site, which was in the parking lot of a multi-unit building a five-minute bike-ride away from where I was living, and then do the work either solo or with friends.
The building process order was basically: I got the trailer, leveled the trailer, built the flooring system (including its insulation inside of the trailer frame), and built the subfloor. Then I built the walls. I’d used Google SketchUp to design the house, which was amazing because once the design was finished, I was able to get exact studs measurements and angles directly from the SketchUp model. So I measured, cut, and labeled everything first, and then putting the walls together was easy. I had some friends over, and we put all the walls up one day. That was a miraculous moment to just go from a plain trailer to a structure.
Of course, the whole thing had to be protected because it had wool insulation in it, which was easy before the walls went up. I got a giant tarp. And every day after the workday, I would have to put that giant tarp over the whole house, sometimes by myself. That thing weighed 40 pounds or something. And then every morning taking it off was hard too, though easier than putting it on. I had to do that every single day until I got the roof on.
Then came the roof rafters, then the sheathing and roof decking on the house. All the sheathing, including the subfloor, was all done with 3⁄4” spruce, tongue and groove, rather than plywood because I was trying to avoid plywood, toxic glues, and so on. All the boards were placed on a diagonal for strength. That was a lot of cutting, a lot of measuring— it would take you a day to do with plywood, but took me a week because I was doing each individual piece. I put the roof decking on straight.
Then came the house wrap and roof paper. My friend Wes and I installed the windows, and we had a few more friends to help install the double doors (they’re heavy!). I used aluminum shingles on the roof. I decided to have a skylight which I found from the Habitat for Humanity restore for 50 bucks. It was such a good deal.
But that was one of the most challenging aspects of the whole build: figuring out how I would integrate these aluminum interlocking shingles with this skylight, because the aluminum shingles are very unusual roofing material, and the flashing—the metal parts around the skylight that prevent water from getting in–that it came with was meant for the regular normal asphalt shingles.
At the time I got the skylight I thought I had seen somewhere that you can just order the flashing parts for aluminum shingles. But it turns out those parts were for a regular metal roof, like a steel roof. So I called the aluminum shingle people. They
gave me some ideas, but I didn’t feel satisfied. And so when it came time to actually doing that part, I probably lost sleep over this. I spent so much time on YouTube talking to people.
So that friend Wes had a few weeks off and was helping me a lot. I remember we were just sitting inside the tiny house, drawing out flashing diagrams, trying to figure out what might work. We had finally come up with something that we thought was going to work out. Another friend, Josh, who’s a designer architect type, came in, and he said, “oh, hey, I just was in the neighborhood, I was installing a sculpture nearby and I thought I’d say hi. How’s it going?” I looked up at him. I said any chance you have experience with skylights? And he said, “no experience with skylights. But I know a lot about flashing.”
So we described the problem to him. In five minutes, he figured out the solution to our problem by just thinking outside the box. “This is all you’re gonna need to do.” He said, “You need to go to Rona, get aluminum, bend it like this way and this way and that way and this way. And then install it with this other piece.” Wes and I were taking notes, nodding, “OK, I think we understand.” (He had also said that if we’d done it the way we were going to do it, or the way that the aluminum shingle guy had said to do it, it never would have worked.)
We would have ended up with lots of problems. So he walked in at the right moment. I had thought about this for over three weeks. I definitely lost sleep, ha! But after that five-minute conversation, the next day we got the aluminum and bent it. It took several tries, but we did it. That was a huge hurdle.
Then once the whole roofing was on, everything else was a little less involved because I didn’t have to put the tarp on every day.
Then more friends and I shingled the house with cedar. That was a very relaxing process. We did that all by hand. It was long, but super easy comparatively, and almost any friend could help.
The envelope was finished just before wintertime, and things slowed down quite a bit. Another thing was I discovered I had a leak somewhere (thankfully it wasn’t the
skylight). But that was also stressful because I didn’t know exactly where it was coming from. I had gotten some of my windows used. It turned out that one of the windows actually had a leak in its frame. It wasn’t even due to my own sloppy work, which is what I had assumed. I was getting these pools of water on top of the wheel wells on the inside after every rain. I was a tad overwhelmed.
But because by then it was winter, there was no real way to test anything because it would just freeze. It was frustrating because I didn’t want to put any insulation, do any wiring or do anything like that until I could fix this leak because it was a major leak. If I had known where it was coming from, I could’ve just fixed it. So that meant I couldn’t work on the house over winter, although I did put in the loft.
In the spring, we sprayed a hose all around and figured out it was an issue in the framing of the window itself. We easily fixed it with high-quality caulking, and then I got back to work.
Then came the wiring. My old roommate, Paul, is an electrician, and he offered to show me how to make all the connections. So, I did the electrical and then the plumbing, and then I insulated it with wool. Then I put up the interior paneling, a 1⁄4” spruce, relatively local— from the East coast of Canada. Then it was just a matter of doing all the interior furniture.
Technically there’s still around 10% left to do, but it was the moment when I finished all the interior paneling and I put all the window trim on that I thought, “it really looks like a house now.”
It still took some time, for example, to put the shower in. The shower was also like another design nightmare because originally I had thought I would build like a small tub, like a sit-in Japanese style tub, but then I ended up getting this shower. And the tricky part was that I needed to put in the gray water tank underneath it. I had thought about this before I built my flooring system. I built a part of the floor that’s actually lower than the rest of the floor—it was in between two steel metal framing members, enough to accommodate space for a greywater tank. What ended up happening was that the shower was just a little bit too tall.
There’s a height restriction on trailers and so trying to get the gray water tank and the shower in together? It was just like one of those wooden puzzle things. Just thinking about that and trying to figure out all of that was very, difficult. Luckily, my amazing friend Josh helped bring it all together.
I had a fiberglass shower stall that I was going to just cut the top two inches off. But I had to go to my grandmother’s funeral, so some friends ended up taking out all the loft floorboards just to get it in there sans cutting it.
The funniest part is that I don’t even use the greywater tank because I realize in the wintertime, even if the tank is slightly heated, it’s just going to freeze around the valve when it’s open, so I have to leave it open anyway. I should have just gotten one of those portable greywater tanks designed for RVs so if I ever did want to go on the road or something like that, I could literally have a shower on the road, but what are the chances I’m going to be taking a shower or washing something while the vehicle is actually moving? It’s a very rare circumstance. So I really could have just used a portable tank. So that was a big lesson learned.
I would say that and the skylight were the two most conceptually difficult things, design-wise; the other things were more banal, fun, or frivolous: “Oh, do I want one more inch of counter or one more inch of fireplace space?”
I built the countertop by hand. I built a lot of the window sills from leftover pieces of the “This Hour Has 22 Minutes” segment called “Hipster Chef” when they filmed in the house. All the live-edge wood on the countertop and window sills came from a guy about an hour from here.
It doesn’t take that long to throw a house together, but doing furniture and those types of things take a super long time. There are the same amount of cuts and measurements, but it has to be more precise.
The Envelope was built in three months, which took me twice as long than it would otherwise, because I used so many non-plywood materials, and did the cedar shingles by hand. The rest of the work took me about a year, as I had to wait over winter, and then I also started doing other non-tiny house work. That’s when I started living in it. Four years after I started, it’s still only 95% done.
I use a lot of repurposed materials. Some materials I found literally on the side of the street; some materials I got from the Habitat for Humanity Restore; many things I got on Kijiji, and I also did get new materials as well. It takes so much more labor time to use repurposed materials. I can see why people don’t have the time or patience to do that, but the end result is something very unique. Being limited by a particular material also allows for a certain type of creativity as well. It means so many elements of the house actually have their own stories
The loft post, for example, has a history. The father of a friend was renovating an old building, turning it into condos. He came by my building project out of curiosity and offered that he had some salvaged materials. My friend, Philippe, and I went down to see what was there. Among some smaller scraps were these big beams, but they were just gray and tattered-looking. They didn’t look that different from any other old boards, but they were a lot bigger. At the time, I didn’t really know anything about wood, but my friend Philippe, who has done a lot of woodworking, said they were Douglas Fir, and that with a little sanding and tongue oil, they would be incredibly beautiful, especially because the outside of them were partially eaten by termites, which created an interesting pattern on the surface.
They were huge, almost twenty feet long, and super heavy. Apparently, they had been gifts or trade from British Columbia to Nova Scotia in the 1800s. So I took these Douglas Fir beams that were salvaged from a 150-year-old building on Gottingen Street, and I followed his advice. It took me a lot of time because I didn’t have some of the tools, but I cut out several things, including this loft post. Now it’s like a really unique feature of the house. It has a beautiful, reddish, golden hue. Many people comment on it.
I also cut out paneling for the back of the loft, which I did laboriously using my Skilsaw on a very sunny day. I got very sunburned and my Skilsaw wasn’t big enough to actually rip through the whole thickness of the board, so I had to do it twice: once on one side and then flip it over and go down over it again. I got roasted in the sun for two days straight ripping these like half-inch boards with my Skilsaw. The smell of Douglas Fir, when it’s cut, is intense and good, like orange or something. So those few days were fragrant. This house has so many stories.
I’ve had a lot of parties in the tiny house. I think I’ve technically had 14 people seated in the loft. That was one time, though not the usual. It would be very common for me to have up to seven or eight people. Before the pandemic hit, I was having 5-6 people over regularly, eating, hanging out. I have a foldout table, so I can accommodate 8 eight people for eating.
I’ve had people spend the night here too. I have a little pullout bed, as I mentioned, and that could fit one person, or two people if it’s a couple. The loft space is also big. I split up my mattress layers and covered the meditation area of the loft with one of the thicker layers to make a giant bed, the equivalent of two double-sized beds. I’ve had three people, maybe even four people sleep up there at a time. I think I could probably sleep six people in the whole house if I needed to.
The overall cost was about $20-$25,000 CAD. I was keeping a budget until I hit about $20,000, and then I stopped tracking it. When I started buying things for my kitchen, was that part of my tiny house budget, or is that just like your regular life budget? So at some point, those two things were hard to separate. At this point, I’ve probably spent $30,000 but many of those things were regular household items like curtains, etc.
The cost of the trailer was $7,500 tax in, and that was the biggest expense. All of the lumber going into the envelope, as well as the roofing and windows & doors, was another $7,000, so the basic house was about $14,500, and then all of the appliances on top of that, including all of the hardware, interior lumber, and other things added an additional $10,000.
I would say to buy a tiny house, it would typically cost between $60k-$100k. Because I did all my own labor, and because so many of my friends donated their labor, it cost me much less. I also know of folks who did it for less, because they spent less on the trailer and appliances.
My tiny house is located and my best friend’s backyard in Halifax. Carolyn was the one who first got me into tiny houses, and she was able to discuss with the owners of her house who were themselves very into alternative living. They agreed to let me park it back here. It did seem a little bit unsure if that would work out initially, but by the time the house was built and she had been living here for some time, I was extremely lucky that they agreed. It was harder for me to find a place to build it. I was contacting lots of people, driving around, just looking at random sites, and nothing was working. I wasn’t hearing back from anybody. I wanted a building site not too far from my house. One day, I just decided to bike around the city and just go where my heart told me to go, which sounds really cheesy. But I biked around the city, jotted down a few numbers and found this one parking lot. There was a very sweet older guy there, Noel, and I told him I was looking to build a tiny house. It turned out he was the unofficial maintenance guy for this building. He got me in touch with the landlord and the landlord was surprisingly supportive. I rented two parking spots in the lot to build it. He offered me power and space in the basement to store some of my materials. It turned out that he was quite a capable builder-engineer type himself. Although politically we were very different, he was very supportive, and gave me a lot of random useful materials, like hurricane ties. He let me use his tools if he had extra tools around.
It turned out to be an excellent situation; I was so relieved because looking for a spot stressed me out a lot at the beginning. I paid $100-$150/month for the original parking spots, including the power utility. Now I pay $200 for rent and $50 in utilities, which include the Internet, water, and electricity. I get some of my electricity from solar, but it’s topped up with the host house.
Before downsizing I traveled a lot. So for me, living out of a suitcase for up to a year is not really that unusual. I could set up a shop or set up home anywhere and get a few things that I need. In a way, the tiny house, while smaller than my previous place in terms of storage, felt actually spacious. Many people around the world have much less house-space to themselves.
Of course, it did require me to downsize some. I didn’t really realize how much stuff I had accumulated over the years. Although I didn’t think of myself as someone who had a lot of stuff, it turned out I had more than I thought. The process of going through that stuff was a process for sure, but once it happened, the downsized living didn’t really feel that difficult.
As I built the house, I went from the small attic apartment where I had been living to housesitting for my mom over the winter. Then my partner at the time housed me during spring. After the leak had been fixed in the spring, I did enough on the house that I basically started just living in it pretty soon after that.
Even before it was done, I was sleeping there. And at some point, it was just like I let go of the attic apartment completely. My mom had returned back, and my partner moved houses, and after several weeks of sleeping at the tiny house, I realized there was no other place to go back to. I guess in those winter and spring months, I would stay in the tiny house for a few days and then go back to my “regular home” or wherever I’d been living. And at some point, there was no back to anywhere.
It was such a gradual transition that I didn’t even really notice it until several weeks of living there full time. I remember thinking to myself one day, “oh, this is it. Now, this is where I live. This is my house now.” Everything had been so fluid.
Some of the best things about living in a tiny house are that everybody loves visiting a tiny house so people are always coming over. I love hosting and have so many people over. During the Covid shutdown, people aren’t coming inside, so the
garden is the social spot the house is a place of refuge and rejuvenation. Sounds like a cheesy retreat slogan, but it really has been like that.
Another thing is that because so many things were personally designed, they are just how I need them to be (except for the things that aren’t!). Many things are just exactly what I need, not more, not less. That works out really well. There are moments where I’m in the house where I just feel like the house is just there for me, like a really good friend, or an animal companion. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like I even built it. It’s like it was the culmination of many people, their efforts. But even then, once it was somewhat finished, it took on its own character in a way beyond just the effort or labor that we put in. So it’s almost like this entity that took on its own existence; it has its own smell. According to my friend Julie, maybe because I cook so much.
I think that is the best part. The financial thing is obviously great too. It is a huge freedom to only be on the hook for two hundred and fifty dollars a month in this day and age. It’s like extreme liberty and privilege.
There is a feeling of self-reliance, a feeling that I have my own little pod that I can exist in. And it brings me a lot of joy just to be in it. I love the woodstove.
I also even love some of the manual maintenance that is required to live here compared to a regular house. There’s something about that that I really like. It’s also nice just to be able to know that I can fix certain things, that I have the skills. This process has allowed me to have the skills to be able to do more than I used to be able to.
I love my spice rack. It brings me a lot of joy since I cook a lot, and I’ve never had an organized spice rack where I just pull it out and I have everything there. Sounds so trivial, but it’s great. Although I don’t move the house a lot—it’s only been moved once—I’m sure that’s a perk of being in a tiny house. I love the yard and my friend that hosts me.
As for the difficulties, of course, there have been some difficulties. I would say the main ones have to do with a few things breaking and not being easily repaired.
I have had a little bit of a problem with the roof leaking where the chimney was installed. That was one thing I had someone help me with since he had to help me source special parts and stuff like that. And so that’s been a little bit frustrating.
I’ve had a few water issues. My hot-water heater broke while I was vacationing in the winter. It did have freeze protection, but for some reason, it didn’t engage. I’ve been trying to fix them by myself with a friend, but I’ve tried to fix it like three or four times, going into a lot of detail, opening up the whole thing, and even doing some soldering, which has been fun. Fun, but it’s still not fixed. So that’s a little bit frustrating.
I’ve also had issues with condensation in areas near where the floor meets the base of the wall as there’s not a lot of circulation of dry air in the winter. The areas that are open are fine because the woodstove dries those out, but I’ve had some mildew.
Another challenge is in the winter it’s nice to go out in the evenings, but if I do that and haven’t been home, then it can be quite cold when I get home since the fire usually dies out after 3-5 hours. I do have one little extra heater, but it would be nice to figure out something more effective. My wood-burning stove just can’t run for twelve hours without being attended to like other regularly-sized stoves. I’d say it’s annoying but hasn’t been too bad. I’m also now used to waking up to cold mornings and making a fire. That doesn’t bother me at all. It’s lovely.
Many people have asked me: ”Is there anything that I would change if I could start over? Overall, I’m quite happy with my design choices, but there are a few small things that I would have done differently. Now that I know how the trailer was built, I definitely would have angled the tops of the wheel wells down towards the outside, so that water would drain off to the outside if there was any moisture that got inside.
I would have tried to create better airflow through certain areas to avoid any chance for mildew. There’s also only one small strip of foam underneath the edges of the subfloor where it sits directly on top of the flanges of the trailer. This also creates slight condensation issues, so I would have done that differently. It wasn’t for lack of thinking it through, it’s just I never came up with a good solution. Maybe I could have built up that area even by 1-2 inches.
Maybe I should have gotten a bigger cooking stove, although I could still do that. I cook so much that I max out my three burners almost all the time. It would have cost some storage space, but that would have been ok.
There are a few plumbing things that I could have just done a little bit smarter. I did do a lot of things pretty well for a total amateur, but a couple of really stupid things, although nothing that couldn’t be fixed if I wanted to. I installed one of my gravity-fed lines, more or less horizontally, so it’s hard to fill the tank that way unless the water is actually coming from much higher up. It should have been installed on even a slight angle so that the water in the line wouldn’t just be stagnant. It could have even been angled towards the outside so that any stagnant water could just flow out. Perhaps I would have added two feet to the whole trailer. I think an extra two feet could have done a lot. It would have given me a little extra space for a fire area.
Perhaps I would have spent more money. I got the skylight for fifty dollars, but I could’ve spent like a thousand dollars and got like an operable skylight, one that you could open and go out onto the roof or something like put it a little bit in it. I was feeling very thrifty, but now I think, wow, a thousand dollars for that feature could have been pretty neat. I suppose I could still do that in the future.
If you are thinking going tiny:
As for the design process, I found the exercise of just going through my life and thinking about “what are the things I want to do in my life, in my home, what are my existing needs or potential future needs?” rather than thinking about how to just design it from an aesthetic point of view first. “A Pattern Language” is also an interesting book.
Do you like to do art? Do you like to have friends over? Do you like to have a reading book, or do you like to play music? Think about those needs and then let the design accommodate those needs rather than trying to fit what a house is supposed to have into the house. Obviously, some elements are almost always necessary: cooking, sleeping, bathing, and going to the bathroom, but a lot of other things we’ve inherited from very outdated. Think about how it is you want to live before you just get into: this is where I need to put the stove and this is where I need to put the cupboard. Here is one small opportunity to shape your design. One person might need something another person might not. On the other hand, humans are pretty adaptable, so as long as you cover the basics, you’ll probably be okay.
I think a lot about light. I think light really affects me, maybe more than other people. I think light and how you see the outside world from inside your house does affect your mood and your ability to recharge.
Light and layout are important to think about because the feeling inside the house can be spacious, even though the inside space is small. For example, placing windows closer to the corners rather than in the center of a wall gives an illusion of spaciousness because it draws your eye out.
It’s important to be clear about the amount of energy you’ll have at the end of the day in terms of your laying-down space: do you want a ladder? A hide-a-bed? I chose to have stairs and a separate loft space for sleeping, both because I have older parents that I wanted to be able to easily accommodate, but also because in the middle of the night if I had to pee, I didn’t want to have to use a ladder. And I also didn’t want to have a situation with a pullout bed where you have to do work in order to relax. So think about how much energy you’re willing to do for all those things that you have to rearrange. How often do you do those things? And are you going to want to do that effort? So if you’re having a party and you want to rearrange things, that makes a lot of sense. But if you’re just going to go to take a nap, do you want to have to lower something down from the ceiling or put away some clutter on a table to be able to pull out something? A lot of people go for the most space-efficient, but in the process, it means that if they’re tired, they can’t just go lie down.
So that advice is for building tiny. As for living tiny, make sure to schedule time in your day to tidy and clean. A small messy space is more distracting than a large messy space. You will likely accumulate more things as you live there, so you have to be conscious of what things you bring in, and maybe go through every once in a while and give things away you’re no longer needing. And yes, reading Marie Kondo’s two books, while definitely has an edge of privilege, is very very helpful. This was the first time in my life I allowed myself to get better-quality things, often made locally, but just what I needed and not more.