strawbale house

Tiny House (& Van) Conference

Last weekend I was invited to attend the Tiny House Conference in Portland, OR! This year they had a special Track C for people who had attended a conference or for those who already live in a tiny house. Of about 30 people who signed up for this track, I was one of about a third who already live in one so it was fun to hear what other people had done and their learning lessons as well as the questions and comments from the soon to be tiny housers. We also discussed advocacy and what's in motion at the state and national levels that will potentially shape the future. Finally, of course, we toured the tiny homes people had brought from all over the country.
tiny houses, Laura's Blog
Just a few of the tiny homes in the parking lot.
I have to say though that since I have built and lived in mine, I could live with even less. I originally started with a 20' design, then 18' and finally 16' because in addition to the design challenge, I knew that smaller would be easier to tow around and to find places to park. Some time after building my home, I sketched out a 12' plan and learned how to maximize space even more. After moving mine twice I realized some limitations of taking it on the road and finding a place to live. In some ways I want to be more mobile but still have a solid home base (which will hopefully be the strawbale house on owned property).
I have been looking at Sprinter van conversions with my boyfriend lately and we have been thinking about buying one and building out the inside to travel and live out of for periods of time. Van living is an attractive idea to me because it enables a similar level of the hand-made customization of tiny homes but eliminates the need for a towing vehicle, is more compact and stealthy to live out of. It has a solid shell that you could paint to give it some character and can be easily set up to live off grid. Wheels are turning...
sprinter van conversion
sprinter van conversion
sprinter van conversion

Moving Considerations

So I started a new job on August 1st as a Project Manager for Green Home Design + Build in Hood River, OR! In the 8 years I lived in Portland, I fell in love with the Columbia River Gorge; cycling on the old highway and hiking in the forest amidst thundering waterfalls, native wildflowers and sweeping vistas. I knew that someday I would want to leave the city. For me, Portland had reached that tipping point with the overwhelming amount of people moving in, clogging the roads and dramatically increasing the cost of living. Rent is now double what it was 5 years ago and wages haven't kept up. Having sensed this population growth trend and realizing that I would never be able to afford a house in Portland is part of why I chose to build a tiny house on wheels two years ago. My plan was then to save up money to buy land in the Gorge and then move my house out there to live in until I built my dream strawbale home. The move timeline accelerated as an erratic work schedule instigated putting feelers out to the communities in the Gorge. Before I knew it, I was offered a job that not only pays well but also advances my career, where I am able to draw upon my varied work experiences to create new programs and manage construction projects.
Working in Hood River while my house is in Portland presents some challenges such as the fact that I chose not to commute everyday and instead camp out of my truck. I recently bought a canopy and plan to build out the back eventually once I figure out how I want to use the space. Camping out of it during the week has worked out quite well so far since I have found a mountain bike area where travelers are commonly sleeping in their vehicles. I have also slept near the waterfront event site which is another popular spot for people staying overnight. I found a yoga studio with a shower, cook meals on my camp stove and have access to a fridge and microwave at work. It has been relaxing to get out of town after work, set up camp and read a book in the evenings. Though it has also presented the challenge of not being able to spend time during the week preparing my house for the move next month. Weekends have been a whirlwind of preparing the house and managing the garden.
I found a space east of Mosier on a family's 10 acres with a view of Mt. Hood that is mostly ready to move into since it was intended to be their bigger house site but they chose not to build. That means a solid, leveled, graveled pad with water hose connections and septic clean-outs. A PVC pipe was already in place so they just had to run wire and make up a box for me to plug into. They were asking the highest amount of rent compared to the other spaces I had found but were also the most ready to host a tiny house. Other spaces had issues such as access, water quality and quantity, and winter road maintenance plans. Plus, I was hoping to stay on the Oregon side to avoid transferring things over to WA, not to mention better health insurance in OR.
The move is nearing and I'm both anxious and excited for my new life in the Gorge!

The Impetus

Hello, my name is Laura and this is my first blog post! I grew up on a farm in rural MN and have recently resettled in Portland, Oregon, where I lived for about 4 1/2 years prior to the last nine months. In the past nine months, I moved to San Diego to work for a solar company doing energy audits. I had a friend working for the company and qualified people there were hard to come by so I thought, why not further my professional skills in a sunny locale? Of course, this was my rationale during rainy and cold January (although still not as harsh as MN winters). San Diego was a sunny and warm relief and I did learn a lot about energy auditing as well as about solar. I was less impressed with the amount of people, traffic and obstacles to cycling but did manage to eventually find a relatively safe route to work and back with the help of a pedestrian bridge. After three months, I was promoted and transferred to the Orange County office in Santa Ana and found a place to sublet on the UCI campus. I actually enjoyed living in Irvine mostly because the city has a great network of multi-use paths which I enjoyed for recreational cycling (riding to work was not really feasible) and because I had a really great roommate with an adorable cat. My new role at work was as a lead auditor (I was an assistant before) and at first I had an assistant who soon was phased out so I was doing audits solo. At first, it was a bit overwhelming, especially when I was going to two homes a day and then having to complete the data upload. Eventually I worked out a system that streamlined the audit and data upload process and enabled me to complete audits faster with better accuracy. Then the company decided not to offer the full energy audits and to incorporate a simplified version to the solar audits in order to still meet incentive requirements. That meant my job would be phased out. So I continued to learn as much as I could about solar including the auditing, permitting and inspections processes in hopes that I could transfer to a new position. Unfortunately, by the time my audits ended, the company was not in a position to transfer me so I was laid off after 4 months. During this time, I also learned that living in the "O.C." did not really fit with the culture and values I want in a place so I decided to move yet again. I stayed with a friend in Sacramento for a week, left some of my things there and headed east on a three month road trip in my Subaru. The details of this adventure will be covered in a future post. By the time I returned to Sacramento, I realized that Portland was where I really wanted to be, so I found a place to stay through a friend where I am able to keep living costs low by helping work on the house. As much as I enjoy traveling, it really is great to have a home base! Part of the reason I started this blog is because I want to share my travel experiences and to inspire extended periods of travel. The other part is that, after moving 6 times in the last year, I really want to have a place of my own. Since I cannot afford a conventional house and do not want a mortgage, I have decided to build a tiny house next summer. Until that time, I will be volunteering, researching and blogging about what I learn in hopes of being able to help and inspire others who also want to build. My dream is to have a tiny house in Portland which I could rent out when I want to travel to those interested in living more simply. I would also like to find and buy land in the forest and build a small strawbale cabin, studio, sauna, etc. which would be a retreat for me and others. I am excited to share this journey with you wherever it leads!

On the road to San Diego