tiny house design

Tiny House Design Thoughts

I wrapped up my week of house and cat sitting at Sweet Pea yesterday. Spending more time in a tiny house was helpful in getting more of a feel for the space and to notice more details. 

Having access to a kitchen with a sink and cooktop was also a benefit since I am still living with a basic setup at my house. Cooking with gas was a pleasure though a little unnerving that the burner (and flame) was close to the bathroom wall. I had wondered if it would be a good idea to design an arrangement like this, and it is probably fine, but in my house I would want the burners in a more open space. The range hood helped vent the steam and gas fumes but I also opened a window to let more fresh air inside. I do like gas for cooking but I am considering using alcohol as a fuel or possibly even go with electric because I feel like it would be a better option in a small space (and for other reasons which Logan has written about in this detailed blog post). 

I still do not really like L shaped kitchens because the space in the corner is often wasted. In Sweet Pea, placing the water heater below the counter instead of above would have saved counter space and better used the space below in the corner. Since the interior space is wider than some tiny homes, the kitchen beside the bathroom and closet works, though I think it would feel more open if the bath and closet were at the one end and a galley style kitchen over the wheel wells, which is what I am planning for my tiny house. Since I used the chiller box outside for food and had the refrigerator unplugged, it was nice not to hear the fridge hum. It is strange that something like that can be bothersome but I know I am not the only one in thinking so. While I do not plan on designing my home without a fridge, I might experiment with using it less, especially during the colder months when a chiller box works just fine.

I do like the light that the French doors permit inside although I would want doors that are taller than 6 feet and wider than 4 feet. A two foot door is kind of narrow when you are carrying things in and out. Standard French doors usually start at 5 feet wide and 6’-8” tall. While that could possibly work into my design, I think I will likely go with a single 30" or 32” wide glass paneled door. I found a 36” wide door for $75 at the ReBuilding Center today which was tempting but it seemed too wide and had some deep scratch marks on the lower half that would require some serious sanding and refinishing.

Climbing up and down from the loft was no problem for me though I think my shed roof design with a permanent “ladder” will suit me better for getting up there. I liked the option to rotate the bed since the loft is 8 feet deep which I had also planned. Sleeping under the skylight was cool and probably more awesome if in a rural location without light pollution so you could see the stars more clearly. This bed placement works better for one person since you really need to have your body aligned with the skylight or when you get up in the middle of the night, you could hit your head on the sloped ceiling (which I did by myself anyway). I also sleep better with complete darkness and am going to have a blackout shade on my loft clerestory window. I liked that the loft light had two switches, one down and one up so I didn't have to climb up in the dark.

I think I have finalized my design enough (design is never finished) to order a trailer this week so it will hopefully be done by May and I can start building!

Tiny House Sitting

This week I am tiny house sitting at Sweet Pea while Lina Menard is at Yestermorrow teaching Less is More. While I have toured several tiny homes, this is the first opportunity I have had to try living in one. Built on a 16 foot trailer, with an interior width of about 7 1/2 feet, nearly 11 feet to the peak of the ceiling, and an 8 foot sleeping loft, it really feels quite spacious. I have hesitated to seriously consider a gabled roof in my own tiny house design since the loft space feels tight with wasted space at the edges. However, Sweet Pea has taller walls and a shallower roof pitch so the top of the wall is almost 8 feet which is one foot above the floor of the loft. With the extra vertical space, the bed can be placed in two different directions. 

Right now it is aligned with the roof ridge but I plan on rotating it so that the head of the bed is under the skylight to see how I like sleeping there. One thing that still bothers me about gable lofts is the access which is much easier from the center. This usually means that a ladder has to be moved around to grant access but then be out of the way when using the space below. In my shed roof design, I am planning a series of fixed shelf steps against the tall side of the house. I think I will like that design better but I probably will not really know until I build and live in it.

I like that the great room space has french doors since they allow lots of light inside. They are 4 feet wide and 6 feet tall so they could be placed under a loft as well. I am 5'8" so I have been debating whether or not I want to have my entrance into the great room or under the loft. A large part of the design consideration has to do with the layout of the trailer and its wheel wells since I am going to place the door on the long side. I have worked with designs where the door is in front of, behind and on top of the wheel well. I really like the french doors but on a 16' trailer, it just may not be practical for my design. They work in Sweet Pea since they are on the tongue end of the trailer which is where many people put the kitchen, bath and loft. I am unsure of the weight distribution and towing implications of this design with most of the weight on the back end and it is something I am investigating further.

The kitchen has a sink, 2 burner cooktop, toaster oven, microwave and mini fridge. The fridge is currently not plugged in and I have really appreciated the silence since my own mini fridge is in my bedroom. At Sweet Pea, outside is a chiller box which works fine in cooler temperatures for most things that you would normally refrigerate, but now temperatures are rising and it will either be necessary to regularly add ice or cold packs to the chiller or to turn the fridge back on. I really like my two door mini fridge and freezer because then I have the ability to freeze things like half a loaf of bread and ice cream! I have come to the realization that I do not really need to have an oven in my tiny house. I have been using a toaster oven and grill for cooking and have been baking occasionally at a friend's house (where I also do laundry). A cooktop is great to have though so I think I will want to have one, just not sure if I want to go with gas or electric.

The bathroom has a cute mini tub and a simple bucket compost toilet. The cat litter box is also next to the toilet and it smells more than the toilet which does not really smell at all since the waste is covered with coconut coir. When the bucket fills up, it gets emptied into a large barrel outside where it sits for a year and then can be used as compost. I think if I do a compost toilet in my home, I would like to try out a Separett which is an insert that separates pee and poo. Or I will put in a conventional flush toilet with a blackwater tank that gets emptied every month or so.

I plan to write another post about my thoughts on tiny living after I complete my stay at Sweet Pea so stay tuned!

Designing My Tiny House

I have been working on a design for my tiny house since I started reading about them last summer. I assumed I would be building on a trailer and need to follow the size constraints of doing so; 8 1/2 feet wide, 13 1/2 feet tall (from the ground) and 40 feet long. I knew I did not need (and did not want) a house more than half that length, but would it be 20 feet or 18 or 16, or possibly even 14 feet? I have looked at hundreds of photos of tiny houses and have toured several of them. It has made me realize that good design is of greater importance than size. Three of the houses at Caravan Tiny House Hotel were each 16 feet long and the same width yet one felt more cramped and one more spacious than the others. This was due to a combination of layout, materials and components (although many basic componenets were similar in all three). I started off with a 20 foot long model during the Tiny House Design/Build Workshop at Yestermorrow last October because it seemed like a pretty common length and it worked well with my floor plan. During the course, I questioned that length, cut off one of my model's ends and readjusted things to fit  at 18 and 16 feet. 16 feet looked too cramped but 18 feet fit everything I wanted well.
Things I want in my house:
Sleeping Loft - I want to have the opportunity to be at a different level than the rest of my space. I am going to have a daybed below for reading, lounging and for when I don't want to climb up to sleep at night.
Galley Style Kitchen - I feel that corner space is often wasted in kitchens so I am planning to have two 4 foot parallel sections which will include a sink, 2 door mini fridge, enclosed cabinet storage below and open storage above. I also want a full range with oven and cooktop. While I don't bake everyday, I do enjoy baking often enough that I would like a convenient opportunity to do so. I am currently living with just a toaster oven and grill outside which are fine and I have had friends offer their ovens for me to use for which I have been grateful.
Bathroom - I have been going back and forth and in circles about this one. I started out with having a shower and toilet in the same room, and possibly a faucet. Then I separated the shower and toilet into side by side stalls with a sliding door that would cover whichever one was in use. Then I put them back in the same room. Then I decided I didn't need to have a shower because I don't shower every day, didn't want the extra moisture build up in a small space, and could shower at a gym or yoga studio. I have recently put the shower back in (with a bath fan for ventilation) but in the form of a wet bath with the toilet and a 3'x3' footprint. I figure I can try out showering other places and see how that works and if not, then I have mine for backup. For the toilet, I may decide to go compost style but am leaning more toward a flush style with blackwater tank that gets cleaned out once a month. After all, I only flush once or twice a day and don't use all that much water. Plus, in a city and in the mild, wet NW climate, I have my doubts about the success of humanure systems unless they are very carefully monitored.
Water Heater - I have lived in several houses with tankless water heaters and have loved the instant hot water. They are more energy efficient than tank water heaters due to storage losses but also more expensive and I haven't found a manufacturer of ones that will work year round and long term for homes that are sometimes mobile. I have heard that 10 gallon storage tank water heaters will give you 10 minutes of hot water which may be what I decide to go with but I have more research to do.
Space Heating - I haven't decided on anything yet. I'm trying to design my space small and tight enough that I won't have much need for heat. I have been using a portable oil filled radiator in my room to supplement the radiant floor heat system which has been struggling when temps have dropped into the 20s and below. It heats the space very well and the bills weren't that much higher during the last cold snap so that's an option. Or I may get an Envi heater since many others in tiny homes are using and like them. Heating blankets work well too although I've heard they can be fire hazards, again more research is needed.
Storage - I'm planning a closet across from the bathroom for clothes, storage under the daybed for suitcases, tools, bike stuff, outdoor gear, and crafts.
Materials - Reclaimed wood for siding, hardwood floors, cabinets, trim
Wood double pane windows, metal roof, foam insulation

Things I do not want in my house:
Materials - OSB, fiberglass, drywall, Hardiplank siding, shingles, vinyl windows
Appliances - Dishwasher, washer, dryer
Solar - Not this time. I am planning on living in Portland where it is easy to connect to the grid and options exist to buy power from wind farms and solar communities. I plan to have all LED lights which are very energy efficient and will have few other plug loads that the solar would otherwise power. I might look into solar water heating though.

Most recently, I have been debating whether or not to build on a trailer or to build on skids. Designing for a trailer has been somewhat limiting because you have to plan for the wheel wells, weight distribution, front door placement, etc. Without a trailer, I have more freedom with my floor plan. While it will likely cost more to move my house on skids than to rent a truck to haul a trailer, I don't envision moving it often or for long distances. I have some cost comparisons to do there. Without a trailer, I would have to double check the permit situation as from what I know, in Portland, as long as you build under 200 sq.ft. you don't need a permit. I'm not against the permit process as it could be helpful for getting insurance, I just don't want it to be cost prohibitive.

Another thing I have been thinking about is building with SIPS: Structurally Insulated Panels. My biggest hesitation is that I have no experience building with them and I have many questions about their connections, tying into interior components, space for running electrical and plumbing, and future modifications to name a few. They cost more than conventional framing but could be worth it for a tight shell with no or few thermal breaks. The other idea is to frame the house and then wrap the exterior with 2" rigid insulation and leave the studs exposed which would lead to some fun design problems inside. My current design shape is a simple shed roof which would make it ideal for SIPS so we'll see.
I really like homes with two shed roofs offset by clerestory windows which is what I had designed during the Yestermorrow course. However, I decided that 8 feet is really too narrow of a space for both. So my plan is to have my main living space under a shed roof and then build a detachable or temporary lighter shed roof frame with clear roofing above my front door which will shelter the bike parking, entrance porch, bench and hammock lounge area. Maybe even a greenhouse if it is able to be oriented south which is how I have designed it. Together, these structures will have the look of a singular clerestory dwelling.