tiny 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

Wintering in a Tiny Home

tiny house
Wow, what a crazy winter we have had this year! When I first talked to the people who are hosting my tiny home and me, they told me snow was more of a novelty than the norm. So I wasn't expecting multiple snowstorms, feet of snow on the ground for months, and days when I couldn't get to work because I had to wait for the rural roads where I live to be plowed. They say this has been a record winter, worse than any in 20 years, so maybe I should consider myself lucky to have had this experience. Don't get me wrong, snow can be beautiful when it's falling and waking up to a blue sky and snow topped ponderosa pines is downright magical. It's the cold, the shoveling and the treacherous road conditions dealt with on a daily basis that remind me why I moved away from a snowier climate. Can you tell I'm ready for spring?
tiny house
I am happy to say my tiny house has held up to the snow and below zero temps. Well mostly. My cantilevered door awning did manage to build up enough snow to split and rip apart the siding and furring strips I had lag screwed it to so I'm going to have to do some repairs to get it reinstalled. Luckily I had added a 2x4 across the horizontal supports so the polycarbonate didn't break.

I did invest in a heated water hose this winter and it was the best decision I could have made. For around $100, I have had running water all winter long. We didn't end up installing a frost free hydrant but the utility shed structure and a little bit of insulation around the water hose connections were enough to keep the line from freezing. I had guessed that I would be dealing with colder weather for a longer period of time than I had in Portland, and boy was I right! I highly recommend buying and using one if you live in a climate with below freezing winter temps.
heated water hose
Also, I bought an oil filled radiant heater to use as the primary heat source for my home. I usually had it set on the low or eco modes at 65 degrees (the lowest temp possible), and that was more than adequate to keep the house warm even in sub zero conditions.
oil filled radiant heater

New Toilet!

Before moving to my new space, I knew that I would not have access to a flush toilet, that a humanure system might be tricky to set up and then move in a year, and that I would have access to the septic system. The landowners suggested I look into the RV setup. I did and learned that it is somewhat spatially complex with toilet, blackwater and greywater holding tanks, etc. It would have been much easier to design the house with those things in mind, especially in my case since I decided to have a wet bath and thus no floor or wall penetrations other than the shower drain and ventilation fan. This setup also prevented me from installing the fancier (and expensive) composting and incinerating toilets. So then what?

While doing a craigslist search for something completely unrelated to toilets, I came across an ad for a portable toilet. While I wasn't excited to buy a used toilet from someone I didn't know, I was curious to learn more about this toilet setup. After reading more about portable toilets, I wondered why I hadn't heard about them before from other tiny housers. Maybe they didn't know about them either.

There are a few different brands and styles of portable toilets. The one I chose is the Thetford Porta Potti Curve due to several factors.
1. It has a taller, sleeker, curved shape design unlike the shorter, basic, squarer shaped ones.
2. It has the largest waste compartment I found, holding 5.5 gallons. That means cleaning it less often.
3. It has indicators that relate to the fill levels of both the waste and the freshwater tanks.
4. It has a battery powered flush vs. a bellows flush.
5. It has well designed handles that make carrying it easy as both individual parts or as a single unit.
6. It has a pour out spout to make emptying easier
7. It has an integrated toilet paper holder compartment. How cool is that!
8. It is odorless due to the holding tank sealed slide valve.
9. It is durable. While carrying it to empty, I slipped going down my metal stairs in the rain and dropped it on a compacted gravel surface. I worried that it had cracked but it just got scuffed up a little bit thankfully.
10. It is cost effective. I bought mine off of amazon for around $125.
Laura's Blog
Now that I have been using it for a couple of months, I thought it would be appropriate to do a review. So far, so good! Since I am away at work during the day, I empty it about once every 2 weeks. I don't notice any smells in my house except for after I clean it when I smell some of the chemicals I add that help brake down the future waste. I bought the Thetford eco-smart free and clear deodorant which is supposed to be safe for septic systems. (The other option is using deodorants with more chemicals and emptying them at RV dump stations or in sewer connected toilets.)

The Cleaning Process
Almost time to empty!
Emptying into septic cleanout
Cleaning out waste tank
Adding water to the freshwater tank (deodorant also, not pictured)
Waste tank (left) and Freshwater tank (right)
Good to go again!

New Tinys in the Yard

This past weekend, I helped move two new tiny homes into the yard where I had been living for the past two years. Both homes were being built at Green Anchors (my build site as well) but the builders were ready to relocate into their future living spots. They hired a towing company and early Saturday morning (7:30am!) the first house arrived.
Since this house was going to be located at the front of the yard next to the fence, the plan was to drive in forward and then back the house into the prepared spot. Driving in want fairly well though we needed to add some blocks under the tires due to the steep driveway (but hey, at least it is graveled now!) The driver also avoided trampling most of the garden which meant a little less space to work in. Luckily he had a towing receiver that could adjust the tongue left to right, up, down, forward and backward.
We also ended up using the borrowed power mover to help steer it into place. We operated it on top of scraps of plywood to keep the wheels from spinning in the soft ground. It was really great to have seven people be a part of this move process especially as we had to keep shifting the plywood scraps in front of the power mover's path and keep an eye out to avoid any collisions.
With the first house in place, the truck driver was off to grab the second one and we spent the time doing a little site work to re-level out the ground. We also took a break to eat bagels with various spreads including nutella!
Before we knew it, the truck driver was back with the second house in tow. This one he backed into the yard and it was fun to see the two homes side by side for a minute!
We had to complete the move with the power mover due to yard obstacles but that went smoothly due to the plywood. I still think we need a version with spikes for soft ground though!
By early afternoon, the yard had transformed to a little tiny house community (or future community since they are all still under construction). It will be neat to see the progression of that space over time.

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!

Publicity, Solar and Welding

Well the new year is going by fast and I can't believe it's the end of January already! Much has happened this month including some internet publicity about my house, solar installs at work and I start a new welding course tonight to finish up some house projects!
Last September, my house was featured on The Shelter Blog and this past week it was featured on Tiny House Swoon! My blog pageviews jumped to 1,694 that day! It feels great to see my work published online though I feel a little self-conscious since I haven't quite finished everything yet and the photos most recently posted are already out of date. People say it looks great as it is but I am excited to work on a few projects in the upcoming months so I can take photos I am proud to show off.
One of the projects is a sliding barn door that will alternately cover my closet and bathroom. I am going to attempt to incorporate some bicycle components and a piece of corrugated steel leftover from my siding project. Another project is creating a couple of gear storage boxes that will stack along the wheel well under my loft across from the kitchen sink. I am thinking that these boxes can be unstacked and placed side by side with some cushions on top to create a more comfortable sitting area on the main floor and maybe also an occasional bed. The last project is to create some kind of shoe storage container or rack by my front door.

Other than those welding projects, I really want to get some more light in my house under the loft and in the bathroom. I was using some IKEA battery powered motion sensor lights which are kind of fun but need new batteries quite frequently (I use rechargeables) and don't provide the brightest light. My charge controller has a port for a light load so I need to look into RV lighting and see what I can find.
I recently converted a solar panel pallet into a deck and some leftover framing lumber from structural upgrades into a table underneath my solar array. It looks pretty cool and I can't wait to hang out there on the sunny dry days!
Speaking of solar, this month at work we wrapped up a 30 kW solar system at a vineyard which was a unique (and very muddy) install. One of my co-workers moved to Spokane and another is shifting toward more audits and design so now I have more leadership responsibility which I am enjoying. This past week we started a new project where I was in charge of the layout and racking while my other co-worker who is an electrician mounted the inverter and ran the wiring. It felt really good when everything came together relatively easy!

Chevy Silverado: Adventure Truck & Tow My House Truck

As my trusty Subaru Impreza approached the 200,000 mile mark, I decided it was time to seriously start looking into trading it in for a truck. I had been thinking about getting a truck for a couple of years and looked into getting a Toyota Tacoma due to their reliability, good gas mileage and prevalence here despite their higher cost due to popularity (like Subaru's). I didn't really want or need a vehicle as a daily driver that could also tow my house around since it was not that difficult to find a truck to rent when I moved it last year.

However, the more I thought about my future plans of leaving the city and moving somewhere more rural, I realized it might be more difficult to find a rig to borrow to tow my home on a potentially more frequent basis since I haven't found that one place where I really want to live quite yet.

A little searching on the interwebs for typical makes and models of trucks used to tow tiny houses came up with the Ford F250 (the one I used to move mine last time), GMC Sierra 2500 and Dodge Ram 2500. People also recommended diesel over gas for greater power. All of these 6 liter, 3/4 ton beasts do poorly on gas mileage and if I wanted to use one daily for work, I would be shelling out a huge chunk of change compared to my car.

I discussed these options with my dad and brother who got more feedback from others. We agreed that a 6L engine was not ideal for gas mileage to drive everyday. My dad also thought I didn't really need a diesel engine and informed me that diesel fuel requires more attention in colder weather. He's a farmer so he knows these things :) He drives a Chevy Silverado 1500 5.3L and has used it to tow his 16' utility trailer around with about 6,000 lbs of weight on it. After doing a little bit of research, I found that a Silverado 1500 5.3L V8 has a towing capacity of 7,500 - 8,500 lbs (higher than other trucks at the 1500 level) and has the best MPG of similar trucks.

I had originally planned to save up enough money to be able to buy the truck outright, but the more pressing time frame urged me to call my credit union and see if I could get approved for a vehicle loan. Since I have been good with my credit so far, I was approved! My initial budget was $10,000-15,000 and with the loan terms, I needed to find something that was under 150,000 miles which I had planned on anyway. I checked in with some dealerships to see if they had anything I might be interested in but couldn't find anything older than a few years and under $20,000. So I started Craigslist searching which is how I found my Subaru four years ago. I looked for a couple of weeks, found some good leads, went on a couple of test drives but didn't find quite find the right one. I did learn from the test drives that I wanted a factory tow package versus one that had been added on after market because the factory can modify the transmission system so that when the truck is in tow mode, the transmission automatically reduces shift cycling which helps with transmission cooling, vehicle control and performance. I also learned the value a canopy or "cap" adds since the fiberglass ones cost $1,500 and up new. And, I realized that I'm not comfortable buying a used vehicle that has been in an accident, even though a minor one with a clean title.

Then, I get a message from my cousin's friend who works at a dealership in Hillsboro that they took in a "REALLY nice" 2009 Chevy Silverado 5.3L 4x4 extended cab short bed, 102,500 miles, $18,250 (KBB retail $21,250), factory tow package, black with black leather interior, Tahoe wheels, brand new tires. Was I interested? Yes, yes I was even though it stretched my budget a little.
I drove with a friend to check out the truck, a little nervous because I thought it might be the one and I couldn't believe I was about to commit to a vehicle worth at least five times my current one. What can I say? It was love at first sight! It really is a beautiful truck, well proportioned (though I might have preferred a regular length bed), drove smoothly and has all kinds of features my older vehicles never had like remote start, power seats, power folding mirrors and an instrument panel that tells me my MPG, tire pressure and oil level to name a few. I'm sure that those of you with newer vehicles are used to these kinds of features but they are a whole new world to me. So I said, yes, I'll take it, and after some time doing the paperwork, I was driving it home. Time to go on some adventures!

Garden Cleanup and Planning

Wow, what an awesome growing season it was this past year! It was my first year managing a large garden and thanks to the heat, dedicated watering and weeding, I grew much more produce than I could eat so I was able to share the abundance with friends. As I pulled the remaining tomato and winter squash plants in mid-November and planted cover crops of fava beans and clover, I began to think about what next year would bring. 
Fall Cleanup!
I had already decided that I wouldn't grow as much edible produce without another dedicated helper, but instead add more berry and wildflower plants. I also really enjoyed the presence of the volunteer giant sunflowers so I might plant a whole patch of different varieties and a row of them along the front fence for the neighborhood, privacy and skeletal winter enjoyment.
Early Summer Native Wildflowers and Veggies
I plan to increase the size of the sweet corn patch since even with the dry and hot summer, I don't think there were enough plants to cross-pollinate since the ears were underdeveloped. More winter squash (love the red kuri squash!), less summer squash. More root veggies: beets, carrots, parsnips, turnips and maybe even some potatoes this time. I want to do a better job at succession planting so everything isn't ready at about the same time. I also intend to intermix varieties like my yardie did (now that I can better identify seedlings) to help with natural pest management (namely the aphids) and to achieve a more organic garden aesthetic.
Late Summer :)
Using a map template my yardie created, I mapped out this past year's garden in pen and began planning for next year on another sheet in pencil. I have also been reading a book on gardening my mom gave me. So much to experiment with and learn!
2015 Garden
2016 Garden Planning

One Year Anniversary!

Halloween marked the one year anniversary of when I started the adventure of moving into my house! I invited friends over for a party the day before but due to a crazy wind and rainstorm I postponed until the following week which provided more accommodating weather for tours and sharing stories and s'mores by a fire :)
Last year, it started raining about two weeks before my move which was not an issue at my build site since I was building on asphalt and transportation was easy on the city streets. The difficult part was getting it into the yard on soft garden ground into it's place. You can read more about all of that here. After four days of moving and settling it on a sound foundation, I moved in!
Within a few weeks, I had a couple of friends in town spend the night so I put up some temporary shelving to get things off of the floor to clear a space for me to sleep while they slept up in my loft. Luckily they are also outdoors people and didn't mind the chaotic accommodations.
Since I had spent all of the money I saved to start the build, I took a little break from projects until January when I installed plumbing and finished out my bathroom. I used the compost toilet I found at the ReStore until I had an overflow issue and then needed to rebuild it. I used some inexpensive cedar fence boards to build a new box but it wasn't all that functional for various reasons so I continued to use the shop bathroom. In the last few weeks I finally rebuilt the toilet to a more functional and aesthetically pleasing design so I am excited to be able to use it now that the rainy season is back.
Speaking of rainy season, I am really grateful for the gutters and rain chain I added to help direct rain away from my house, not to mention how cool the recycled glass bottle chain funnels water to the ground. My polycarbonate awning is also welcomed in providing a more sheltered entry to my house. I needed to add some flashing above it to help prevent water from pooling up behind the siding and entering my house through capillary action via my door frame. I also built a covered bike and tool storage area with another shed roof on the trailer tongue. Moving my tools out of my house freed up a good amount of space since about half of my possessions are tools and outdoor gear!
I added rock holds to ease loft access, new "great room" shelving in the form of fruit crates, and a full size digital piano that I hope to loosen up my rusty fingers on more this winter and beyond.
In May we wired up my house for AC power but it wasn't until June that we ran power out to the yard shed where I could finally plug in and turn on my fridge and water heater. In August, I added a small battery based solar system that powers the electronics and lights in my loft and could power my great room light and outlets in the future if I want or need to be off grid. (I would need to swap out the water heater and fridge for RV/boat style propane appliances and figure out my cooking situation if I could cook outside on my RV range or grill year round.)
I learned how to weld in May and built a kitchen cabinet frame which was finished out with drawers and slides in September by a cabinet maker friend who works in the shop next door. I also built a small cabinet with one shelf for the left side of my sink (next to the bathroom wall) to fill in the gap which had been designed for a double basin sink before I found my awesome farm sink!
Outside, it's been a bountiful year in the garden (my first time as the primary gardener for a large space). I grew native wildflowers, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries,pees, green beans, beets, parsnips, carrots, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, chard, cabbage, lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, basil, corn and squash (so much squash...). Giant sunflower volunteers grew to over 10' tall! And of course there was much watering and weeding...the morning glory, thistles, dandelions, wild peas, wild onions, blackberries and quack grass really wanted to take over the yard but not this year...
I have changed jobs a few times from doing home performance audits, sales and project management to a summer outreach and canvassing position promoting the urban forest and now to solar installs! I continue to volunteer for my favorite non-profits: Friends of Trees, Portland Fruit Tree Project and Community Cycling CenterI also found time to play outside more this year, mainly in the form of hiking. Here's to the next year!
As always, you can check out my fickr for more photos!