Meanwhile, in Japan.

Research Phase

This post begins with an apology to all our readers and supporters. In December 2015, we left Newfoundland to travel to India for a friend’s wedding, and two months later, continued on to Japan where we have been living ever since. During this time, we have been living in the moment as best we can while observing and taking notes on so many different housing and living choices.

In India, we were able to truly realize what we did and did not need in order to travel comfortably, and find purpose in what we were doing. Not surprisingly, this surmounted to very little. We found that as long as we had a shower, clean water to drink, and a place to sleep at night, we were totally fine. Food was never a problem. The things we brought in our packs (in no specific order), and could not compromise on, included the following:
[I included links to Amazon for both my American and Canadian readers – sorry to everyone else!!]

As long as we had these things, we were ok. We actually had a bit more than that in our packs, and we did buy souvenirs (mostly for friends and family), but next time we know what we’d leave at home.We never missed having an expansive wardrobe or my shelves of books, nor did we feel our lives were lacking because we weren’t surrounded by our possessions.

In Japan, we were able to truly realize what we did and did not need in order to live comfortably, and find purpose in what we were doing. Not surprisingly, this amounted to very little. This sounds crazy, but our apartment in downtown Nagoya (the 4th largest city in Japan) is smaller, less convenient and less efficient than what our tiny house will be. It’s only 190 sq. ft. – 9’2″ by 20’8″. It was arranged for us by the school I’m teaching at, so we didn’t really have a choice in the matter if we wanted to be living together in the same apartment. But it was just fine for us, given our tiny aspirations and all.

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Our kitchen is less than the size of what our tiny house bathroom vanity will be. It consists of a stainless steel sink with a cupboard underneath and a one-burner induction stove top; only 6 inches of counter in between the two. Above the sink is a drying rack for dishes, built with stainless steel rods to allow for water to drip back down. Above this are two shelves, about 22 inches wide and 10 inches deep. Between the side of the shelving unit and the side wall of this odd little kitchen unit, we’ve put in spring-loaded expandable poles. On these, we’ve been able to hang most of our utensils and useful things with hooks. Outside of said utensils, we have two titanium sporks, two sets of chopsticks, two large shallow bowls, 3 small bowls, two soy sauce dishes, two wine glasses, two titanium mugs, one saucepan, one frying pan, one steel mixing bowl and one sake decanter with two small cups for drinking. That’s it! We put a suction-cup towel rack on the front of the shelving unit for dish towels. In the space under the stove top, there is a small, cube-shaped bar fridge with an interior volume of about 1.2 cubic feet (35 litres). That’s about enough space for 3 days worth of groceries.

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Our bathroom is also smaller than what our tiny house bathroom will be. The apartment is quite old, probably built in the 1970s or thereabouts, so the bathroom is kind of a one-unit module that has the toilet box, sink, and tub all in one piece. Even the floor, walls and ceiling are moulded together to form one continuous plastic box. The sink faucet swivels and can reach out over the edge of the tub to fill it up if you want a bath. There is no real counter space, but we have used the space on top of the toilet box effectively with some organizers for our personal items. There is another shelf/rack thing above the toilet – same as the one that’s above the kitchen sink, built from steel rods. We keep extra supplies up there, and have hung some small decorative containers from it with hooks for extra storage. I hate all the plastic, but it works. One benefit from this set-up is that it acts like a wet-bath. You don’t have to worry about anything getting wet, and if water spills onto the floor, it’s slightly tilted towards the drain located under the sink (a gap exists at the bottom of the sink unit for this purpose). You’ll also notice a ceiling fan, and an access hatch in the ceiling for the pipes. We did have a leak once, so this was incredibly useful.

dsc00958The entrance way is a typical Genkan, a slightly sunken square of tiled flooring where you must awkwardly take your shoes off with no hands, while you have no where to put down your things, and simultaneously avoid trodding on anyone else’s shoes or the recycling that needs to be taken down to street level. I’m all for taking your shoes off, like you would being from Canada and all, but you need a bit of space! On one side of the Genkan is a closet of sorts, with multiple shelves inside supported by more of those spring-loaded expandable poles (read: they can’t hold a lot of weight). On the other side is a narrow rectangular alcove, with one shelf in the middle of it. We keep umbrellas and that sort of thing underneath it. A friend of ours who’s been living in Japan for a decade and has lived in these type of studio apartments before let us in a sweet bit of info – the front door is steel. That meant we were able to get magnetic hooks and hang up our sweaters and jackets. There’s literally no other place for them, so that was a win!

dsc03207As for the rest of the apartment, it’s just one ‘big’ room (lolz). When we arrived, there was a twin bed on a wooden frame, a modern-ish desk with filing cabinet and folding chair, and a small chest of 4 drawers – 1 drawer for Tim, 2 for me, and 1 for out of season clothes. We added a full length mirror, a metal shelving unit for storage and extended kitchen prep-space (the shelves are adjustable, so we put one right at counter height), a collapsible coffee table, a TV (for movies, we don’t have cable or satellite) and a small sectional couch. Everything we bought was second hand. Bought new, we acquired bed clothes and some canvas storage bins. There is a small balcony with just enough space to hang up your washing… I would have liked to put a small table and stools out there to enjoy the evening sun, but there’s really not enough space. The balcony has nice big glass sliding doors though, which let in lots of light. We’ve left them open from April – June and now again from October – December. During the winter, I can count on my hands how many times we turned the heater on, but in the summer, we used the air conditioner daily. It gets too bloody hot in this country for my constitution.

In conclusion, we have been living on a shoestring for almost exactly a year, and we’re really quite content. The things I miss the most are

  1. Having an oven
  2. Having a freezer
  3. Having enough space in the fridge for leftovers
  4. Personal things, like artwork, that remind us of our past and our travels

These, we know we need and plan to include in our tiny house. Outside that, Tim laments not bringing his safety razor. He bought a cheap one here in Japan, so it’s alright, but a nice quality steel safety razor body saves a load of money on disposable razors. He also wishes he brought a pair of jeans (I did :P). Tim has been doing a lot of online work with respect to his photography and building a website so he has relied on my laptop. It is nice to have your own personal laptop and not have to share with anyone, but again, we have made do and it hasn’t been unworkable. The same can be said about smartphones. We’ve shared just one the entire time, and it’s been fine. I’ve actually really enjoyed not having one on me when I leave the house, it has been very liberating. I could have gotten one in Japan, but I decided it was unnecessary. The only time it’s really a pain is if I go out after work with friends, but in that case, I just ask to borrow someone’s phone to shoot Tim a quick message to let him know.

We haven’t signed an internet contract for our apartment either – the whole time we’ve just been hot-spotting from Tim’s iPhone to the laptop. He bought a sim card with unlimited data when we arrived in Japan, so we never have to worry about going over. For a 6-month term, it costs $174 CAD (¥14,400).  Although this method makes for very slow download speeds and inconvenient browsing, we choose to visit a local cafe once a week for heavy internet use, where we can relax with a coffee and piece of quiche. This might seem wasteful (you can make coffee at home!), but it’s an awesome substitution for having an internet bill.

For the sake of people who want more concrete evidence on this whole concept, i.e. ‘living tiny is a lifestyle choice that allows you to have so much more’, I’m going to continue to lay out costs and expenditures, specifically. I’ve read lots of articles that present tiny living as either extremely luxurious and trendy, or as a solution for homelessness, without any reference to people in between the two. I’m not criticizing either of these scenarios, tiny houses are means to so many different ends!  But I think a lot of the criticism that is directed towards tiny houses / tiny living results from a lack of detailed information about how the lives of people on this path play out, and how these decisions translate practically. “The house is so cute, but are they really happy?”, they ask. I say yes, it requires some compromises, and yes, you do have to make some sacrifices; but, it also allows you to spend a lot more of your time (and money) having fun because you don’t have so much financial baggage!

Rent for us is $478 CAD (¥40,000) per month. Our monthly electric bill has come to an average of $34 CAD (¥2800), our gas bill is around $23 CAD (¥1900), and water works out to about $13 CAD (¥1100). Conservatively, groceries surmount to no more than $478 CAD (¥40,000) per month as well (for two people) but you can do it for less than that (we like treats). My subway fare to get to work and back every day comes to $124 CAD (¥10,400), but I am reimbursed for this by my employer.

So, our monthly utilities costs run us about $100. Including rent and food, in total, we pay ~$1,067 CAD (¥89,285) per month to live in Japan, with no frills. Remember, this covers two people. The total one-time investment we put into making our tiny space livable with furnishings came to $445 (¥37,200).

Now of course, there have been a few frills! We’ve gone on a week long camping and hitch-hiking trip through Aichi, Gifu, Nagano, and Niigata Prefectures. This cost us about $417 CAD (¥35,000). We went on another such trip down to Nara and on to Kobe, which cost a bit more (around $620 CAD (¥51,900)) because we stayed two nights in a hotel. We went to the Summer Sonic music festival in Osaka, which cost about $980 CAD (¥82,100) (including tickets). We went to Kyoto for Tim’s birthday in July, which cost only $380 CAD (¥31,800) because we camped both nights. For my birthday in November, we went to Tokyo, which was our most densely expensive trip – 3 days and 2 nights, no hitch-hiking or camping, and travel by bullet train, we spent $975 CAD (¥81,600) (we did A LOT of cool shit). Oh, and we hiked Mount Fuji in September, that trip cost us $465 (¥39,000). A few smaller trips include going to Ena, Gifu in the spring for rice planting and again for harvesting in the fall; and we went to the same town to stay overnight in an old traditional thatch-roofed inn in July. We went to a firefly festival about an hour away in June, and the Toyota Rock Festival in September. In October we went to an expo park to see a re-creation of the house from My Neighbour Totoro (Japanese animated movie). All of those experiences cost us between $60 and $120 CAD each (¥5,000 – ¥10,000). Halloween night, summer festivals in Nagoya, and various parties and evenings on the town were had as well.

Due to the fact that I still have 4 months left on my contract, I’m not yet allowed to divulge my salary, but I can tell you that my plan is to have $10,000 CAD saved by the time we leave to go home to Canada (after a little more than a year of working). It’s looking like this goal will be achieved even before it comes time to leave. We’ve lived extremely modestly (two people on only one salary), but have had a LOAD of fun times, as you can see.

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My point in all this is that by having a tiny house (and a tiny amount of possessions) you can actually live very large. This is our aim. This is our mentality. The past 12 months have proved to us that not only is it doable, it is enjoyable, and allows us to have so many more new experiences that we would otherwise not be able to afford. I feel ready, prepared, and motivated to return home and complete our build, so we can try out this life on Canadian soil. The part that blows my mind is that our tiny house will allow us so much more efficiency, beauty, and quality in our living space than our Japanese apartment does, and we will own it outright when it is finished. I will forever be grateful that I discovered this path as early on as I did, and didn’t waste my time and money on a McMansion, mortgage, and material possessions. Cheers to tiny house living!

 

Pre-Trailer Build Update

Research Phase

Between the jigs and the reels, we have been delayed by about a month on our Tiny House build, due to things outside of our control. It has been a challenge, since we are very eager to start; and, the more time we have to ponder, the more chances there are to panic and worry! A few things have happened since I last wrote, and we have spent a bit more money. The axles arrived right on time, but since the steel wasn’t ready yet we let them hang out in the warehouse over at our supplier’s for a few weeks. We picked them up (and all their associated parts) and brought them to our trailer building location two weeks ago.

After shopping around extensively, we ordered our windows and front door on June 24. WHO KNEW windows were so expensive?! We collected a load of quotes, but the place we settled on was the best by far. I highly encourage you to shop around if you’re in the market for this kind of stuff! It’s amazing the price differences you’ll see for seemingly identical products. My heart was set on wooden aluminum clad windows, but we found out from the dealers that going that route is anywhere from double to quadruple the cost of vinyl. For reference, if any of you guys are looking for top notch windows, we’ve come to understand that Pella are very good, as are Norwood. If money were no object, I’d be getting Norwood, since they’re made in New Brunswick (yay for the Atlantic Canadian eonomy!) and they’re designed for the climate we are so luckily situated in (as I sit inside on July 21st while the thermometer is topping out at 9°C…). Since we are not rolling in dolla bills, we took it on the chin and went with Acan vinyl windows and steel door. We’re happy with this purchase none the less, since Acan products are made right here in Newfoundland, and they have all the necessary Energy Star and CSA certified ratings to withstand the most severe weather in Atlantic Canada. We are still waiting for these to arrive, but I’m psyched we’ll have them prior to starting the framing so there will be no mistakes made on rough openings.

Main event: we got word today that our steel has finally arrived! So we are aiming to have our trailer constructed by the middle (or maybe end) of next week. We cannot wait to have this phase completed and to get everything shifted out to our main build site, about an hour outside St. John’s. Pictures will be soon to follow!

Getting Ready for Take-Off

Research Phase

I don’t have any additional research to discuss at this point, but I wanted to write a little about where we stand right now. On Tuesday, June 2nd, we ordered our tandem 7000 lb drop axles, which, with everything included (hangers, springs, break away cable set, 8000 lb jack, chains, etc.), cost us an arm and a leg. There is absolutely NO going back now! These are custom ordered, so they can’t be returned. At the end of the build, I will post an overall breakdown of actual costs rather than discuss each purchase as it happens.

We are experiencing a lot of late nights and early mornings, unable to sleep, mulling over details in our heads regarding measurements on the scale of fractions of inches, the uncertainties we haven’t decided on yet, and the fact that this pipe dream is becoming a reality. Recently, we tried to set a rule of “No Tiny Housing after 10pm” to allow our minds to be in a restful state when going to bed… we haven’t had a lot of luck with sticking to this rule yet! Shocking.

I was speaking with my mom about all the goings on with the Tiny House plans, and she brought up an interesting point. She basically told me to cherish and hold on to my youthful ‘ignorance’ and willingness to take risks. She said that from her experience, as people get older, often times they become more acutely aware of the potential negative outcomes of various decisions, resulting in a more reserved approach. Of course this isn’t true as a rule, but I think in a lot of cases she’s right. I also think that this is something that can be changed. If more people take on projects that are risky and show the people around them it CAN be done, it won’t be seen as such a crazy thing when the status quo is challenged.

If I could give a piece of advice to anyone wanting to go this route, it would be this: reach out and ask for help! I have been kinda nervous about telling people about our plans, for fear of judgement, or disapproval. Until a few weeks ago, we didn’t have a solid plan for where we were actually going to build our Tiny House. So we decided to appeal to our friends and family and see if anyone could help us. And it was most successful!! At first, we were thinking that we should be trying to track down a vacant piece of land to use for our build. And then it dawned on me while out for a drive around the bay last week, that what would make a lot more sense, would be to seek a cabin that had adjacent land available for the build, and rent it. If there’s one asset that most Newfoundlanders have, it’s a cabin. We were put in touch with a fella with just the thing, and will be starting the framing part of the build near his cabin towards the end of June! Shout out to all the people who responded to my facebook and word of mouth requests!! I was so touched by all the offers that came out of the woodwork. It has really meant the world to me to have all of your support behind us 😀

Another heads up to those interested in going Tiny- if you’re building the trailer yourself like we are, keep in mind that the axles take time to be shipped since they will most likely be custom made. We were told two weeks. It actually isn’t terrible though, because with that time, Tim is able to carefully solidify his plans for the steel order and the construction of the trailer. We expect the axles to arrive the week of June 15 – June 19, which means we can get started on the trailer as early as June 20. Tim expects the metal fabrication and welding to take approximately 5 days. Fortunately, we are able to do all of that work at a local welding shop, which won’t cost us anything since Tim (and his handy assistant, Jess!) is doing the work.

So until our axles arrive, we will continue watching our DIY How-To videos, measuring twice, and try not to get too ahead of ourselves by comparing interior finish and appliance options (I’m guilty :P). Can’t wait for the build to start. We have been helping my dad clean out his garage, and I found an old leather tool belt which he has given to me with his blessing- I am ecstatic. The next post will hopefully have some pictures of our real life trailer parts!

Here’s a great article for your reading pleasure:

http://boneyardstudios.org/2015/05/14/are-tiny-houses-legal-yes/

The Long Awaited Floorplan!

Research Phase

It is April and winter is quickly slipping away, closing the gap between the research phase, and the build phase. It’s been a while since I last wrote a post, so many things have happened and/or changed since then. The biggest thing was that I was laid off from my crazy adult corporate job. This was a big relief, and great timing. I was unhappy working the 9-5 cube lifestyle (as are most people looking to go Tiny), and it was a real catalyst to stop and say ‘hey. this is really happening now. we’re doing this, because the universe is setting everything up for maximum convenience and opportunity’.

We’ve really amped up our time spent reading about tiny houses and design, and making tough decisions. We also began ‘The Great Purge’ which has been a gradual and sometimes overwhelming process. Only 2 years have passed since I moved back home from Halifax, and I’m not a materialistic shopping enthusiast, but we have somehow managed to accumulate a lot of STUFF all the same. Having my days free to do with as I please, I’ve had lots of time to itemize and organize, which is really the harder part of the process. Getting rid of things you don’t want, haven’t used in over a year, or are no longer useful- that’s straight forward. And very liberating! But it’s the stuff that ends up in the ‘keep pile’ that causes stress. Inevitably, everything in the keep pile won’t fit in the Tiny House. Or at least I’m being led to believe by the sensationalized episodes of Tiny House Nation, aired by FYI… I think in reality, the storage space in our Tiny House will be even greater than what is currently in our apartment, simply due to smart design and no wasted space.


I want to talk about the evolution of our floor plan now, and discuss why we put things where we put them. Our ideas are based mainly on intuition and some  of our favourite Tiny Homes from around the world, so there will likely be small tweaks, in practice, in order to make things fit with Newfoundland Building Codes. I think based on the level of research we’ve done, these changes will be minor.

Initially, we were going to follow closely the plan of Shaye and Tom from New Zealand. Here’s their webpage, and their Facebook page. But we decided in the end that splitting the width of the space lengthwise would just be too narrow to cook comfortably in. To see what I mean, here is a sketch I made ages ago of our first plan:

The first floor plan we designed back in the fall of 2014.

The first floor plan we designed back in the fall of 2014.

First off, the drawing is to scale, and the rectangle on the left is the main floor. The two squares on the right are the loft spaces, that would fit directly above the main floor space on their immediate left. As you can see on the main floor, the bathroom is running tandem to the kitchen at the back of the house, splitting the space into two roughly 4-foot halves, which is fine, but it creates a few problems. First, the requirement of the dreaded CORNER CUPBOARD. I hate these with a passion. They contain a myriad of things that are impossible to get out without banging a wall, cupboard door, head, fingers.. etc. The other major problem would be clearance for drawers and the oven door. With a drawer open, or the oven door down, no one would be able to walk by, or enter the bathroom, respectively. We felt this was too limiting. So we changed our plan to this: *excuse the messy white out job – we ran out!

The second floor plan we designed, which we’ve been happy with for a few months now.

This new plan (drawn by Tim this time) places the bathroom at the back of the house spanning the entire width of the space, and the kitchen directly in front of it. This solves both problems. With a galley-style kitchen, we no longer have corner cupboards. And, there is ample room for movement in the full, nearly 8-foot wide space. Some other things to notice that have changed- the fold out table with chairs is gone. We thought about this long and hard, and realized that we likely wouldn’t use a table like that. We have a table right now, and we don’t eat at it. A better solution for us is a coffee table with a telescoping pedestal enabling it to change heights. That way, we can use the couch as seating during meals, and place chairs opposite it when guests are over. This idea is a marine-inspired one, and there are some cool space-saving furniture companies that are focused on these sorts of designs. We have to figure out if we’re going to buy it, or make it custom, which is why the dimensions aren’t on the drawing yet. It would be great if it could have a leaf or two as well. A great example of another tiny house employing this strategy is Brian Levy’s ‘The Minum House’. If you’re short on time, skip ahead to the 7:00 minute mark.

Overall, the features to take note of for our Tiny House plan are as follows:

  • Full sectional couch, approximately 7.5 ft x 9 ft, which will be custom built with storage underneath to accommodate our camping gear and seasonal things.
  • Full set of stairs leading up to main loft, with storage all underneath, composed of a series of drawers and cupboards. This will accommodate our coat closet, shoe and boot storage, and any other frequently used things.
  • A full size fridge in the kitchen at the back right corner.
  • A combination washer/dryer (one machine does double duty) adjacent to it, with a utilities cupboard and electrical panel above it. Check out this link for the combo units by LG.
  • 10 foot long counter space on the left side of the kitchen, which will have a full sized sink at one end, and a 3-burner cooktop and oven at the other end, forming the magic triangle between fridge, stove and sink, that kitchen ergonomics suggests.
  • A full sized enclosed shower ( 4 x 2.5 ft ) in the bathroom, with the composting toilet placed adjacent, and a bathroom sink with floor to ceiling storage cupboard on the right hand side. This accommodates towels, linens, etc. Just like a normal bathroom.
  • The dotted lines at about 1/3 and 2/3 of the length of the tiny house indicate the edges of the loft spaces at either end. The centre section will be open from floor to ceiling, approximately 10.5 feet high.

I should explain why I’m using imperial measurements. Initially, I started out all metric, like you would, but it very quickly became impossible. In North America, building materials and appliance specs are usually all in imperial, likely because of the dominance of the United States, and the need for congruence. There’s probably a connection also to not wanting to make things too complicated for the generation of workers that grew up using the imperial system. That’s my hunch anyway. Perhaps after a certain amount of time has passed since Canada switched to metric (1970), they will make it a complete switch for all the trades as well. It’s frustrating during the time being for someone like me who thinks in metric, but it’s a necessary adjustment to operate in the building world.

What is even better than the above hand drawn sketch are the following screen shots from our model in google sketch-up. Tim is completely responsible for this and spent many days, weeks, probably months learning how to use this program and putting together a 3D version of our plan that is to scale. All of the furnishings and appliances, really everything for that matter, are representative only. Tim found them in a bank of 3D images available for google sketch up, and so they’re just used as place holders, more or less. The bed in the guest loft will hopefully be ‘in-laid’, so the top of the mattress is flush with the floor surface.

This will allow for smugglers hatches all around it, where we can have in-floor storage! These look like trap doors that lift up on a hinge. We haven’t decided yet if we want to put a window on the wall opposite the tv/media bookshelf. The more windows the better, but we don’t want to sacrifice structural integrity or insulation too much. It will be a question I’ll have for someone more experienced, very soon. We haven’t put walls up around the lofts yet as they would strongly impede the view into the house. But if you remember those long narrow windows oriented horizontally from hOMe (an image is on my first blog post), we will be having the same ones in the lofts on both sides.

Plan view of the main floor. The lofts were temporarily removed.

Plan view of the main floor. The lofts were temporarily removed.

Exterior view, showing the trailer tongue, and the lofts on top exposed. The loft that is furthest away will be ours, and the one closest will be the guest.

Exterior view, showing the trailer tongue, and the lofts on top exposed. The loft that is furthest away will be ours, and the one closest will be the guest.

The bathroom, and master loft above.

The bathroom, and master loft above.

The bathroom. Temporarily removed the wall and window to give a better view. you can see all the amenities, and the floor to ceiling cupboard for storage. Can also see the combo washer/drier through the shower door.

The bathroom. Temporarily removed the wall and window to give a better view. you can see all the amenities, and the floor to ceiling cupboard for storage. Can also see the combo washer/drier through the shower door.

The kitchen area, with stairs on the right leading up to the main loft, and our tiny sardine woodstove!! There will be metal flashing on the end of the counter and cupboards.

The kitchen area, with stairs on the right leading up to the main loft, and our tiny sardine woodstove!! There will be metal flashing on the end of the counter and cupboards.

View of the main working kitchen area, with large window the left of the sink. This was to accommodate the drip-dry cedar shelving that will go above the sink, to allow our plates/bowls/glasses etc. to go straight to their homes after being washed. Slots in the shelves allow the water to drip down. Hurrah for freeing up counter space!

View of the main working kitchen area, with large window to the left of the sink. This was to accommodate the drip-dry cedar shelving that will go above the sink, to allow our plates/bowls/glasses etc. to go straight to their homes after being washed. Slots in the shelves allow the water to drip down. Hurrah for freeing up counter space!

The kitchen looking down the hall. Note the awesome open stud shelving at the end by the sink, which is capable of holding 40 mason jars. We measured! Also, the round window in the bathroom.

The kitchen looking down the hall. Note the awesome open stud shelving at the end by the sink, which is capable of holding 40 mason jars. We measured! Also, the round window in the bathroom.

The living room!

The living room!

Let me know what you think! Have we missed something or could we use the space in better ways?

Windows and Doors

Research Phase

First up, Tiny Plumbing Part 2 will have to wait for a little longer, since my friend is still out of the province and I need to have a chat with him in order to say anything sensible about engineered wetlands. Therefore, we have a topic change!

I recently started panicking because I realized that even though we had our floor plan sorted out, we hadn’t decided about window placement, which is actually much more important at the beginning since it has to be factored into the framing. It just goes to show how many decisions and choices you have to make with a project like this… much more than you initially realize.

There are three main things you have to think about with windows – construction, function, and size.

Construction

The options are vinyl, fiberglass, wood, clad-wood, aluminum, or hybrid. Our top choice is clad-wood, which translates to a wooden core frame, with a vinyl or thin aluminum skin on the exterior facing side. This allows us to have the warmth and aesthetic pleasure of wood on the inside of the tiny house, yet not have to worry about maintenance on the outside of the tiny house. Wooden windows are by far my favourite looking (vinyl is hella ugly..), but the problem is rot – particularly in the wet damp climate that we call home. From what I’ve read online, sadly, it seems like clad-wood windows are the most expensive, but we’re hoping that (similar to our philosophy with the insulation) since we won’t be needing as many as a regular house, we can make up for quantity with quality, and not come out too much in the red. Also worth mentioning: it’s important to us to use healthy natural materials, rather than synthetic materials, to avoid the ill-effects of chemical fumes from the resins and chemicals used in vinyl and fiberglass.

Function

is all about what your windows do, and how they do it. Fixed windows don’t open, which is useless for a tiny house, since circulation and ventilation is very important in a small space. Of the windows that open, you’ve got:

  1. Awning (opens outward from a hinge on the top)
  2. Casement (opens out from a hinge on one of the sides)
  3. Single- or double-hung (window has a horizontal division, creating two y-axis sections, whereby the bottom half slides up, or the upper half slides down)
  4. Sliders (window has a vertical division, creating two x-axis sections that can slide to the left or the right)Our first choice for as many windows as possible is awning style, which will allow us to have windows open while it’s raining – KEY in Newfoundland. Especially the windows in the lofts… I’m expecting it to get pretty toasty up there in the summers, so having a cross breeze through the place will be heavenly. The one exception is the bathroom. We’re thinking about having a larger slider window in there that you could exit through, as a second escape route.

Size

The size of windows is highly dependent on your budget, your layout, and furniture dimensions. Obviously, the bigger the window, the bigger the price tag. In general, I want a larger  (3ft x 4ft ?) window at both ends, and a decent sized window opposite the door, which will be placed on one of the long sides of the tiny house. Having these opposing window set-ups allows for lines of sight through the house, giving the allusion of a larger space. In addition, I want a porthole window SOMEwhere in the place – I love boats, and all things marine, and this is just a fun little add-on for me. I think most porthole windows are fixed though, so it will be a small one, and somewhere not hugely important in terms of logistics for circulation. Maybe in the door!! For the lofts, I really like the idea from hOMe (see the picture of the tiny hosue on my first blog post), where they have very wide but narrow windows. They look fixed, but I will be checking out the possibility of getting ones like these that can open awning style.

Another thing to think about is energy efficiency (look for the Energy Star logo – and check out this link off the Gov. of Canada website). Also, this is news to me – but hooray for research! – Energy Star has developed climate zones, and you should buy products designed for your Climate Zone. The majority of Newfoundland, save the Great Northern Peninsula, is in Zone B, which has a heating degree-day range of >3,500 to

Double pane, argon gas-filled windows will provide the best insulation and prevent condensation from developing in between the panes.

Home Depot does a great job of explaining all the lingo about windows.
I also found ThisOldHouse and HGTV very helpful in understanding what I needed to know to make the necessary choices.

All in all, we still need to make a trip to Home Depot or Kent or Rona somewhere and have a discussion with someone knowledgeable. I’d really rather buy as many stocked windows as possible to avoid the high prices of custom windows. But in all likelihood, we will end up having some custom made ones. Specifics about this will have to wait until we purchase, because I just don’t have the know-how yet!


I have a very soft spot for doors – they are important to me. Doors have character, and they say a lot about how homeowners want visitors to feel when they come knocking. The front door is what you look at, pondering, while you wait for someone inside to come and let you in out of the cold. I have spent a decent amount of time in my life considering what to expect during a first impression while examining the details of a door. Door hardware is essential, and should be of good quality. One of the most annoying things about our current apartment is the lack of thinking that went into the front door. It opens outward, which is very frustrating when exiting a basement after a large snowfall; and, the locking mechanism inside the handle often freezes, leaving us frantically trying to wrestle the door open while the wind whips up through our walkway, aka wind tunnel, created by the side of the house and an adjacent parallel fence. On top of that, the weather stripping seems to have been installed improperly, causing the door to actually freeze in its frame sometimes, when the handle is unlocked.

I really want a solid wood door, and I would love to paint it a fun colour 🙂 perhaps turquoise or red, like the one in the picture. It’s possible we may end up trying to put together a custom built door, which could hopefully use locally sourced materials, and perhaps some recycled hardware. This would allow me to integrate my porthole idea!

The only other door in the place will be a sliding barn style door for the bathroom. In order to accommodate it, we can tip the 2x4s sideways, for the wall framing, so that we don’t lose any space to an unnecessarily thick wall.

I promise, the next post will be the much awaited FLOOR PLAN!! The windows and doors will make a bit more sense once you see it, but I needed to get this stuff down on paper to alleviate my anxiety about having neglected such essential tiny house features.

As per usual, any suggestions or companies / brands you’ve had good experiences with, let me know! Thanks for reading folks.

Tiny Plumbing – A departure from the Culture of Flushing

Research Phase

I’m wary of being definitive about anything with regard to the tiny house, but if I was pressed to say what the biggest challenge for this type of project is, I would probably say the plumbing. I really wish my grandfather was still around to help me out since that was his primary trade.

Boil up during #darknl

Boil up during #darknl

At least with electrical, if something goes wrong or something needs fixing, you can get by without it. If the power goes, you don a few more layers, enjoy actual conversation (gasp!) instead of watching movies. Make your own music instead of playing someone else’s. The picture on the left shows how we boiled up some bottled moose during #darknl last winter, the week long power outage with rolling blackouts. This was really a crisis for the province (much to Kathy Dunderdale’s chagrin, bless her), and a lot of people did not have the gear or preparation to deal with having no electricity in -15ºC or colder weather. Our camping gear is good for -13ºC, and fortunately, our basement apartment is well insulated so it never got colder than 14 ºC. We were actually very ok with the opportunity to try living without electricity, and learned a lot of neat tricks!


But you can’t live without water, it just isn’t possible.

With that said, I believe it’s possible to be comfortable using a lot less water than people conventionally use nowadays. The fact that we use clean drinkable water to dispose of human waste is really very crazy when you stop to think about it, given its severe shortage in a lot of places around the world. Newfoundland is extraordinarily blessed with abundant clean water, which makes it a non-issue for people living here. However, I think that it is fundamentally wrong to exploit a resource beyond your direct needs. It’s easy to forget about the impact a shortage would have on people’s lives when something is so abundant and comes from a seemingly never-ending supply (think: the cod fishery, or the current bottoming-out of the oil industry…). But it isn’t necessarily going to be that way forever, which is why it’s a good idea to foster the practice of minimalism and awareness of resource use and sustainability. The other side of that coin is that learning conservation practices in places where it isn’t required (i.e., here on the Rock) sets you up for flexibility and easy transition into other places in the world where these practices are most definitely required.

Instead of children learning to flush things they don’t want down a drain, with an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality, I think it would be better to create a home environment where children are acutely aware of what happens to the things they get rid of, and the effect that waste has on its end destination. To be able to learn these lessons by choice rather than requirement, as people in many arid countries must, is truly a gift. (Disclaimer: I’m not planning on having kids in the immediate future, I’m just sayin’, lol)

There are a lot of cool things going on right now related to the purification of waste water, particularly black water. According to Bill Gates, over 2.5 billion people in the world have no access to sanitation (i.e. sewage treatment plants). He has teamed up with some engineers to come up with a system that separates the water from sewage, and then harnesses steam power to drive a turbine, which generates electricity to run the whole system itself and feed the excess back to the grid. Check out THIS VIDEO to watch Bill Gates drink clean water that used to be human waste, five minutes prior to him drinking it. This is really awesome.

However, for the scale of a single dwelling, the best thing to do with the stuff that goes in your toilet is to compost it! We’re going to be getting a Nature’s Head composting toilet, which is listed online as coming in at about $925.00. This is pricing listed in the states, and it says to contact them by phone for shipment to Canada, so I imagine it’ll be a bit more than this when it’s all said and done. Compare this to a regular toilet (which you can pick up at Kent for like 90 bucks), it seems like a crazy amount of money. I think that the freedom it will allow us by not having to hook into a sewer main in order to live in the tiny house will be more than worth the extra coin. I don’t want to go too much into detail about how the Nature’s Head works because I know not everyone is as psyched about composting toilets as I am (as my lunch-room work colleagues know), but you can read all about it here: Nature’s Head Composting Toilets. I will say though that it requires no chemicals (just peat moss), and it does not smell. You’ve got a vent and a little 12V fan, and away you go.

Inevitably, there will be people saying things to me like:

  • It’s going to smell
  • It’s too much hassle to be emptying it out all the time
  • It isn’t sanitary
  • You’ll regret this

I am trying to stay on the positive side of things, and I want to believe in this idea as well as the logic and science behind it. But of course, there is a possibility that I’m not going to like it because of how accustomed I am to how things have worked in the bathroom my entire life. With any lifestyle change, there is of course an adjustment period, and I fully expect to go through that period, which may not be the most enjoyable. But I’m confident that Tim and I can make new habits and get by just fine with this method. Every video I’ve seen about other Tiny Housers going with a composting toilet has added to my confidence, and a lot of them don’t even have ones as nice as the Nature’s Head- often times people will just use a platform with a hole in it above a 5-gallon bucket, with a toilet seat attached to the platform over the hole. Basically like a contained outhouse style thing. They follow the Loveable Loo, Humanure Method. This means when you’re all done, you cover what’s in the bucket with sawdust or mulch, cutting off any contact with the air, which I would assume leads to anaerobic break down of the waste. You can read more about it using the link, if you choose.

Here’s a video of our favourite tiny house, totally completed, and they spend some time discussing their bathroom situation. Funny enough, they also have one of the ceramic wall-mounted panel space heaters that I spoke about last post as well!

This sums up the black water side of plumbing for us. In the next post I’ll talk about grey water side of plumbing.

Keeping the Tiny House Warm (Part 2)

Research Phase

Since making the decision to depend partially on the grid for heating (and other electrical needs), I have learned some new information about how things work in the residential world, thanks to Kerry, Tim’s very handy dad. This is really important for all Tiny Housers to know, yet I haven’t come across it anywhere online. Thankfully Tim’s dad knows basically everything there is to know about building any kind of structure so we were very fortunate for his insight 🙂

This is skipping ahead a little, but it is important to consider at this stage because of the wider impact your chosen energy source will have on your situation as a whole.

In order to connect to the grid, NL Power requires you to be connected to either town sewer or an approved septic tank.

Now, this may seem like an obvious thing that you would do, but not so for a tiny house. Most tiny housers (us included) tend to install composting toilets, which eliminates the production of black water and hence the need for traditional sewer arrangements. We will only produce grey water, which can be used to water plants (as long as all products used for washing are biodegradable) or be collected in a holding tank for later disposal. In case anyone isn’t sure about the jargon here, black water means waste water coming from toilets, which is totally contaminated, and grey water is waste water coming from sinks, washing machines, and tubs/showers.

This is where deciding on your degree of permanency earlier on can be very helpful. We were originally thinking that we’d like to avoid hooking into the mains for water and sewer, and definitely avoid installing a septic tank. However, if we plan on hooking into the grid though, it’s not going to happen without one of those two things (or another accepted alternative). This, we will have to ponder over the coming months. In addition, if we do end up having to have a permanent solution for grey water treatment, I’d be most open to installing a reed bed, which is actually capable of dealing with black water. A family friend is in the business of technology development and installation of these types of reed beds, both small scale (the needs of one dwelling), and large scale (the combined needs of an entire town). More on this in a separate post.


Assuming that we follow our original plan as outlined in the last post, we will be in the market for an electric space heater unit. There are a tonne of options, which makes it kinda hard to narrow down. But again, the best thing to do is find out the BTU/hour or watt output. We need something that can give about 10,000 BTU/hour or about 3000 watts (based on an average of the ranges I calculated in the last post). Right away, this forced us to realize that a single electric space heater won’t do- we’ll need a few in order for the space to be comfortable. In addition, we don’t want a standing unit that will take up space on the floor, so a wall-mounted unit will be ideal. I really like eheat’s Envi wall-mounted panel heater.

eheat envi wall-mounted panel heater. Image from: http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/envi-highefficiency-electric-p-105971

eheat envi wall-mounted panel heater. Image from: http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/envi-highefficiency-electric-p-105971

Even though it is super slim and cool to the touch, made in the States, very quiet (operating by convection instead of using a fan) and is wall-mounted, preventing any risk of tipping over and causing a fire (I realize I’m sounding like a commercial…lol), there is one huge drawback. This heater, like many others similar to it, is rated at 450 watts. On the website it claims to be able to heat a 130 square foot space, meaning we’d need 2 to 3 units. But based on our BTU calculations, which takes into account the ceiling height, climate, and insulation, we’d need about 6 of them to heat our space.  I don’t want to believe this because it’s so great in every other way!! But, this is why I did the calculations in the first place. I guess the only way to really find out is to try it. Also, another thing to take into consideration is that most space heaters are designed to meet a very specific need for “normal” houses: to supplement a main heating system in weak areas, such as a bathroom, or bedroom with two exterior walls. So nothing that we buy is going to be expressly designed for the kind of space we’ll be constructing, so we’ll have to find the best compromise possible.

With all this said though, I know that some tiny house users are relying on these types of heating units. For example, Brian Levy’s tiny house (Boneyard Studios), which doesn’t have a loft, has two wall-mounted panel heaters like these:

Ceramic wall-mounted Eco-Heater, as seen on any home-improvement store website

Ceramic wall-mounted Eco-Heater, as seen on any home-improvement store website

 His house is in Washington D.C, and is 10 x 21 feet. It can on the off chance get down to around -10 ºC on a day or two in January down there based on a quick temperature norm google search. These are really cool heaters, basically with all the same features as the envi heater described above (it’s 400 watts), except that you can PAINT this one with low VOC (volatile organic carbon) acrylic paint to match your wall. How epic is that. His plan is the same as ours, to have a main heating unit such as wood or propane stove, with the electric space heaters as a back up to run when you’re not at home. He claims that two of these work just fine for his space.

Switching gears now, for a main heat source we wanted wood in order to avoid buying and storing propane. I remember reading ages ago about one tiny houser who found that approximately half a cord of wood will get you through the winter (for this small a space). I can’t find the link 😦 but as far as I can tell, it’s a very variable thing and it’s better to over-estimate than under-estimate. One website I found (http://modernhomesteading.ca/blog/firewood-basics-five-lessons-for-heating-with-a-wood-stove) suggests that in the northern States or Canada, you’d need about 4 cords per winter season for a 700 sq. ft. space, which would work out to about 2 cords, for our small space. It’ll be something we’ll have to work out for ourselves with experience, but I’m looking forward to it! By the way, a cord is equal to a pile of junks that is 4 ft high, 8 ft long, and 4 ft deep, densely packed. There are several options for buying bulk firewood around here, if Tim and I don’t manage to go and cut it ourselves.

This website: http://www.livinlightly.com/off-grid-heat-small-wood-stoves/
is a great resource for all the considerations of having a small woodstove in a small space. It talks about all the safety precautions such as shielding, carbon monoxide detectors, safe clearances, flues, and using an outside air source to prevent all the oxygen inside being used up. I’ll likely touch on these topics when we actually go to install our chosen wood stove.

As for the actual tiny wood stoves themselves, I am really torn. There are some really beautiful ones out there. I guess the Navigator Works “Little Cod” and “Sardine” stoves stand out to me, since they have a lot of charisma, and have their roots in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia in the early 1900s. The iron foundry in NS closed in the 1990s, but they’re still made in Washington State, near the B.C. border. They were designed for fishing boats, but obviously would be just the perfect size for tiny houses- a lot of people have had great success using them for this purpose. The Little Cod (55 lbs) is on the left below, and the Sardine (35 lbs) is on the right.

Little Cod Wood Stove, from http://www.marinestove.com/codinfo.htm

Little Cod Wood Stove, from http://www.marinestove.com/codinfo.htm

Sardine Wood Stove from Little Cod Wood Stove, from http://www.marinestove.com/sardineinfo.htm

Sardine Wood Stove from Little Cod Wood Stove, from http://www.marinestove.com/sardineinfo.htm

The Sardine is really the best for our needs as it has an output of 7,500 to 18,000 BTUs (2000 – 5000 watts). The Little Cod puts out a whopping 10,000 to 28,000 BTUs (3000 to 8000 watts). In addition, you can have them coated in enamel, with a bunch of different colour options (I could have a bright green cast iron wood stove!!!!?!?!). These guys are pricey though, with the Sardine coming in at $1,300 and the Little Cod at $1,620 (with a glass panel in front, and plain cast iron).

Insert brilliant, but heart breaking, compromise: check out the advice from Kai at 2cycle2gether.com. She explains that a knock off of Navigator Stove Works’ “Little Cod” was still being made by a foundry in Sackville, New Brunswick: Enterprise Fawcett Manufacturing Company. You could get a rougher cast, simpler version of the Little Cod for only $400 or so. I went to look them up, and it turns out that the foundry burnt down in 2012, as reported by the CBC. My hopes of having the perfect little stove built right here in Atlantic Canada, dashed before ever having a chance of being realized. Sad times.

Other options out there include the Norwegian-made Jøtul F100 / F602, or RAIS Gabo wood, and the Danish-made Mørso squirrel which are all beautiful. If you enjoy thoughtfully made, efficient, clever wood stoves, I highly encourage you to check these out. I think in the grand scheme of things, Scandinavia makes the best wood stoves, but it would be too expensive to get one to Newfoundland. Lastly, British-made Salamander Stoves’, Hobbit Stove is also a great little unit. I will consider this one, but apparently is very hard to get a hold of due to popular demand.

The Hobbit Stove, as seen on www.salamanderstoves.com

The Hobbit Stove, as seen on www.salamanderstoves.com

What’d be really spectacular would be to find an antique stove made by the Newfoundland Consolidated Foundry or the Trask Foundry, right here in St. John’s. I’ve seen lots of them on kijiji, but only the much larger conventional styled ones for cooking on. But, I will keep an eye out until the time comes to actually purchase.

Thanks for reading, and let me know if you have any suggestions for heating that I haven’t thought of!! Very excited to hear about others’ experiences and suggestions.

Keeping the Tiny House Warm (Part 1)

Research Phase

I was in Labrador for two weeks for work, so it has been a little while since I last wrote; however, I am now inspired to write about heating, insulation and all things warm (Goosebay was cold!). Going into this, I had a fairly good understanding of options for heating, but very little knowledge about insulation. I have memories of my grandfather installing big panels of the fluffy pink stuff, and that’s about it. But of course, if you’re going to be paying to heat a space, you’ll end up wasting a lot of money and energy if your space isn’t properly insulated. So for those of you who are in the same boat as I was before my research, I will try to lay out what I’ve learned in a straight forward way.

Before I go into explanations, I want to present a few definitions which will make things easier when trying to wrap your head around this stuff- I relied heavily on wikipedia here for sure. If you’re currently completing a grade 8 science course, you can skip this section. Disclaimer: I realize this isn’t a very fun thing to be talking about, but in order to make an informed decision, and be able to back it up, I needed to go right back to basics. This stuff will also be really helpful when I write a post about wiring the tiny house, with the help of my super handy electrician brother.

  1. JOULE (J): Unit measurement of energy, work, or heat, defined as Newton metres. It is equal to the energy transferred (or work done) when applying a force of one newton through a distance of one metre. Also equal to passing an electric current of one amp through a resistance of one ohm for one second.
  2. WATT (w): Unit measurement of power, defined as joules per second. Rate of energy conversion or transfer with respect to time. Significant orders of magnitude include kilowatts, megawatts, and gigawatts
  3. KILOWATT HOUR (kw.h): The amount of energy equivalent to a steady power of 1 kilowatt running for 1 hour. As an aside, one terawatt hour is equal to a sustained power of approximately 114 megawatts for a period of one year. So when discussing the energy generation by a major corporation, terawatt hours would be more appropriate.
  4. BTU: British Thermal Unit. Equivalent to about 1055 joules. This is the amount of energy needed to cool or heat one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. I don’t like this unit because it’s imperial, but it is the most widely used unit when talking about the capabilities of heating units. It’s also very easy to picture- one four inch, wooden match completely burned generates 1 BTU.
  5. R-VALUE (m2·°C/W): Measures thermal resistance. It is the ratio of temperature difference across an insulator and the heat flux (heat transfer per unit area per unit time) through it. The R-value of a material varies with temperature but it is common practice to treat it as a constant value. Simply put, the more the material restricts the flow of heat, the higher its R-value. Important note- in the states, R-values are given in units of  ft2·°F·hr/Btu and often don’t actually state the units. Therefore, if reading about an American manufactured material, it’s likely in imperial, and you should divide by 6 to get the metric value.

Insulation

The interwebs tell me that there are four main types of insulation:

  1. Loose Fill
  2. Batt (Pink fiberglass)
  3. Spray Foam
  4. Rigid/Board-stock

I know you’re all dying for me to write up in-depth descriptions of the pros and cons on each one (and all the alternatives like sheep’s wool, recycled denim, and cellulose)…kidding. I’ll spare you that, even though I think it’s pretty interesting stuff, and just give you the low-down on our preferred route. Another reason for the abridged version is that options for fancy recycled or natural materials are very limited in Newfoundland, like a lot of other cool products mainlanders get to enjoy. So even if I wanted to fill our walls and ceilings with wool, it would likely not even be possible. Island living has its drawbacks.

Because rigid polystyrene is such a great insulator, is readily available, and will add structural integrity to walls, it was a no-brainer to choose this as our main insulator. One website I saw quoted that it ranges from R-3.6 to R-6.7 per inch of thickness. I know some people really don’t like it because it’s a petroleum based product, which makes me think twice as well, but it can be recycled. And the energy it saves compared to other insulators is a fair trade off for the potential cons it has.

I’d like to nerd out and touch on closed-cell soybean spray foam insulation. My initial thought was that we could use this as supplementary insulation in case there are areas where rigid board won’t fit/work, or if it turns out that we can’t find recycled rigid boards. If it is affordable for us, we could use it exclusively, especially since we would need so little of it to completely insulate the tiny house. Here are two great articles about it, in case it’s a new concept for anyone (it was for me!) http://www.hgtv.com/remodel/mechanical-systems/soy-spray-foam-insulation and http://www.thegreenestdollar.com/2009/02/soy-based-foam-insulation-what-it-is-and-why-you-should-use-it/.

Soybean-based products claim to contain no urea or formaldehyde (which other spray foams contain lots of), and they release no volatile chemicals or other toxic emissions. They expand and fill gaps like a regular spray foam for a tight seal, and they’re resistant to mold and mildew. Apparently closed-cell foam is around R-5.5 to R-6 per inch, and like rigid boards, contributes greatly to the structural strength of a building, increasing shear strength by 300% (according to http://www.ewinginsolutions.com/FAQ.html). I need to do more investigating on how easy it is to get here in St. John’s, but it seems that soybean popularity has been really ramping up recently, so here’s hoping. If anyone has any experience with alternative/new insulation options, or any insight, please weigh in!


Heating

There are two camps for heating (and all powered resources) in the tiny house world: on grid and off grid. I initially found myself torn about which I would like to align myself with, since there are very good reasons for both.

On grid implies electricity, which is provided by a crown corporation under provincial government leadership- in Newfoundland’s case, Nalcor Energy. As an exercise to become more comfortable with energy terminology and units, I did some digging on this. The net generating capacity for the island interconnected system is about 2000 MW. 92% of that electricity is produced by Nalcor’s daughter company, Newfoundland Hydro. As the primary generator of electricity, more than 80% of Hydro’s energy is clean, hydroelectric generation. The remaining electricity is supplied by Newfoundland Power’s 23 small hydroelectric plants, which again are considered clean energy sources as they are renewable. Because Newfoundland’s grid electricity is mostly renewable and ‘clean’, and will only increase its proportion and reliability of renewable sources once the Lower Churchill mega-hydroelectric dam comes online, we feel comfortable relying at least partially on the grid, with an electric space heater. If I was living in a different part of the world where the grid relied more heavily on fossil fuels, I would be leaning much more heavily towards being completely off-grid. Fortunately for us, the system in Newfoundland allows me to connect to the grid relatively guilt-free.

The negative side of connecting to the grid is that you become more stationary than mobile. Also, if you’re planning on setting up on your own land, you need to initiate your very own connection through your municipality. If you’re planning on setting up on someone else’s property adjacent to an existing fixed-foundation home, you need to ensure there is sufficient space in their panel box to accommodate the amperage required to run the tiny house. More on this later when I bring my brother in to educate me on how to tackle the electrical side of things.

Off grid opens up a lot more doors in terms of options:

  • Solar (with a 12 volt battery system…$$$)
  • Propane (with storage tanks fixed to the outside of your tiny house)
  • Wood
  • Your very own tiny wind turbine
  • Tiny geothermal wells

Ok let’s be real, the wind turbine and geothermal options are not realistic, and kind of defeat the purpose of going off grid for a tiny house. The main reason you’d want to hook up solar panels on your roof and buy a very expensive battery system, or buy all propane powered appliances would be so that you can go wherever you want, whenever you want, without having to rely on anyone else for your needs. This is very cool. A lot of tiny housers combine solar and propane for an efficient off grid solution to all their energy needs. Since we have already decided that we want to have on grid capability, the most sensible and awesome off grid option to combine with in our minds is wood. This allows us to cut as many ties with fossil fuels as possible. Wood is also extremely plentiful in Newfoundland, making it a great choice for us.


Defining Needs

The newest concept overall for me with regard to this topic was actually calculating our thermal needs based on our space dimensions, climate, and insulation efficiency. Determining this allows us to choose which specific products we’ll be installing in the tiny house. We want a heating unit(s) that will be as cost effective as possible while still providing the heat we need if we want to walk around in shorts and tank tops in the winter like I shamelessly do. Enter the Goldilocks principle (juuuuust right :P). Likewise, we’d prefer insulation that has the highest R-value to cost ratio.

The easiest way to do this is to use an online BTU calculator, like this one: http://www.calculator.net/btu-calculator.html or this one: http://www.bestheating.com/btu-calculator which is kind of crude, but a good approximation. Using these tools, I calculated that we will need between 7,274 BTU/hour and 12,960 BTU/hour or 2131 to 3798 watt. The first calculator takes into account the width, length and height of the room, the insulation condition, and the temperature increase required (i.e. the average temperature in winter in St. John’s is around -10ºC, which means you’d need an increase of around 30ºC to be comfy). In addition to these parameters, the second calculator takes into account the square footage of windows, type of windows, what is above and below the room, the type of wall framing, and how many outside walls are included in the room. Unfortunately 4 walls wasn’t an option, since the thought of having a one room house in North America is not common outside the tiny house (and other alternative living concepts) world, but I picked 3. Strangely, the more detailed calculator gave me the lower heating requirement. I may or may not seek out a mathematical equation and do this manually, but I think perhaps having a chat with someone at Home Hardware or Kent might be even better, since they’ll be knowledgeable of the typical BTU/hour per square foot requirements here in Newfoundland.

Now that everything is laid out, I’m all set up to reveal to you the actual heating units we’re thinking of purchasing for the tiny house. The next post will have lots of pictures and probably be more fun, since there will be real tangible things I’ll be discussing and not just concepts and options. But hopefully this was even a little useful to those of you interested in learning about this topic, and that I haven’t gone and included any misinformation. Again, any suggestions or eye-openers are very welcomed 🙂

The ideology behind going Tiny.

Research Phase

The bigger, deeper reasons why we’ve decided to build a Tiny house are much more rooted in the people we are and the lifestyle we enjoy. Many ideologies that are strongly connected to the Tiny House Movement have resonated with me for many, many years, and for that reason, it wasn’t at all a surprise to my family when I told them what we were planning. In fact, when we told them that it was actually Tim’s initial suggestion, their response was,

“Really?? We would have guessed it was your idea, it seems SO Jess. Huh.”

This was very pleasing and reassuring 🙂 In this post I will go through a few of the main ideological reasons why we (and perhaps future you) will love going Tiny!

Ecological Footprint
I remember in first year university, in my Environmental Management course (I was in a Business Management program at the time), we had to use a Carbon Footprint Calculator to give us a sense of the impact our lifestyles had on the environment, and how dependent we are on fossil fuels. No calculator out there is perfect because there are way too many factors to consider in order to be really accurate, but they are definitely very useful tools to use in comparing how you match up against the average Canadian, and the global goal for individuals. I remember being pretty shocked, since I consider myself to be pretty environmentally conscious. I did it again just now to give you an idea of what the results look like for someone who typically buys local organic, lives in a basement apartment of a well insulated house, uses one car, and went on one holiday in a 12 month period. I used http://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx, and my results were as follows:

  • Your footprint is 15.83 metric tons per year
  • The average footprint for people in Canada is 20.00 metric tons
  • The average for the industrial nations is about 11 metric tons
  • The average worldwide carbon footprint is about 4 metric tons
  • The worldwide target to combat climate change is 2 metric tons

This is scary stuff. Regardless of what our backwards government is (or isn’t) implementing, how can individual people of the western world even dream of participating in a combat against the effects of climate change if our lifestyles so drastically do not match what the Earth can sustainably support? That’s a mouthful. But sadly, in my humble opinion, it’s an unpleasant reality.

Tiny house dwellers use a whole lot less electricity than traditional houses, and produce astronomically less waste (of all kinds). Because there is so much less space to fill with useless possessions, tiny housers are forced to constantly be mindful of their surroundings and what they choose to bring into it. I have come to understand a truth in my life, which I think probably rings true for most people, and it is this: You will spend money according to your salary and you will purchase belongings according to available space.  These two things inevitably lead to one conclusion: the more space you have, the more stuff you end up mysteriously owning, and you eventually get so tied down that you really don’t have any freedom at all.

“The things you own end up owning you” -Tyler Durden (Fight Club)

Simplify your house, simplify your life, be less of a burden on the Earth.

Freedom
I think for most people my age, the thought of taking out a mortgage, buying a house, picking out drapery, paying property taxes, and deciding which light fixtures best represent our personalities is really, really terrifying. I’ve been uncomfortable with debt and loans and the concept of being owned by a bank for a long time- my parents were very frugal people and they taught my brothers and I from a young age that you must live within your means. I guess I probably took their lessons even more to heart than was intended, and now enjoy an irrational resilience to complicated financial commitments.  But you know what, I’m OK with it. I know in St. John’s (and most everywhere else in Canada) there are a tonne of couples like Tim and I who make a comfortable living, but live very carefully and minimally. They do this in order to save every penny possible for a down payment on a house that is really just half decent, AND THEN once they have it, they spend the next 20 years paying off their debt and the interest that goes along with it. But that’s normal, so no one questions it.

If you wanted to put a 20% down payment on a $300,000 home in St. John’s (which is pretty normal for a good quality, nothing fancy house, nowadays), you’re looking at $60,000. When my parents were my age, they could buy an entire house for that amount of money, and have no mortgage. Things have changed. A tiny house (including the trailer), for people who build it themselves, typically ends up costing between $20,000 and $30,000, depending on your tastes for the interior. That’s the equivalent of two years’ rent for me. I don’t think I have to say much more about this.

In addition, being on wheels means that you don’t have to grow any roots until you’re ready, or maybe never! Since leaving home at 17 in 2007 for university, I’ve moved 6 times. I’ve never gotten very comfortable in one spot, for one reason or another. All in all, the financial and geographical freedom a Tiny House would allow me is very appealing.

Realistic Needs
For as long as I can remember I’ve been challenging the assumptions of what people REALLY need, both to survive and to be happy. I camp all the time in a little two-man tent with Tim that is only tall enough to sit up in. My family thinks I’m nuts half the time and my mom always worries I’ll land myself between a rock and hard place, but my running theory that we need way less than we think has served me very well so far. Andrew Morrison talks a lot about this in his video about the Tiny House that we’re basing our structure on. You can find it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSzgh3D7-Q0

Historically, humans have been living in very small spaces for a long time. The idea of a gigantic house in the suburbs with no arable land, half an hour’s drive from any property that isn’t residential is a very new concept. I’ve heard tiny housers talk about this in their videos, but here’s an article that sheds some light on this topic: http://www.100khouse.com/2008/10/20/so-many-square-feet-so-few-people/ 

If you only go back as far as 1950, the average American home was 983 square feet. In St. John’s right now, an average house is probably about 2500 square feet, but the proportion of houses way bigger than that is large. I’d love to see some stats on this, particularly what the median size is. I know my grandparents and great grandparents lived in a house half the size of the one I currently live in (including the upstairs apartment) or smaller, and had like 10 siblings too. They all turned out to be spectacular people, which really goes in the face of what we are currently led to believe we need in terms of per capita square footage.

Photo of Tim's great-grandfather's house. Jack Lake took this house apart in Darby's Harbour, and reassembled it in South East Bight.  The ceilings are extremely low, and there were 9 people living in this while Jack and Mary raised their kids.

Photo of Tim’s great-grandfather’s house. Jack Lake took this house apart in Darby’s Harbour, and reassembled it in South East Bight. The ceilings are very low, and Jack and Mary had 9 children.

A really interesting spin-off of this topic is how our living space and the way it is divided impacts human interaction and child development. This is something I’ve only recently been delving into, but based on what I’ve read so far and a general instinct, people are not as happy at a base level being so far apart and isolated all the time in their own homes. Being able to give conflict a nice wide berth with a whole floor and 5 doors isn’t really that helpful in the quest to become an emotionally intelligent, reasonable human being, when you think about it. Please weigh in if you have any insight, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

I could definitely go on, but I think this post exceeds what my high school english teacher would ask for a final exam essay, so it’s probably time to stop. Here are some great links that expand on what I’ve discussed, and if you have an hour or so of free time this weekend, I’d highly recommend the youtube video linked below, “We The Tiny House People”:

http://thetinylife.com/what-is-the-tiny-house-movement/
http://www.diyhousebuilding.com/index.html
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDcVrVA4bSQ
http://fullmoontinyshelters.com/about/

There’s a lot more on the philosophy behind Tiny Houses that I want to express, but I expect it will come out in dribs and drabs as things progress. Thanks for reading!

How we found ourselves in this place to begin with.

Research Phase

The biggest question we’ve gotten from most people after we tell them our plans of building a tiny house is: WHY?! This post is going to explain where we’re coming from, and the reasons why we’re choosing this path. I won’t go too much into detail about the savings in money, energy, and stress that really make the sell for going Tiny- this will be the topic for another post.

It started out probably the same way it did for most people- a friend had shared a post on facebook about a tiny house (in fact, Tim had also shared it around the same time), which was the first time i’d ever heard of the concept. Here’s the page: http://news.distractify.com/people/itty-bitty-house/?v=1. The featured image at the top of this post is of the tiny house showcased in this article, which was built (and is now lived in) by Andrew and Gabriella Morrison. The reason the Morrissons’ tiny house caught my eye was more so because of its efficient use of space and capability of having a small ecological footprint. It never occurred to me that it might actually be something that I could do.

Then a few months later, in September 2014, Tim and I were on the plane heading to Dublin, Ireland for a two week trip when, by total chance, the man sitting next to me was a tiny house owner from Nova Scotia! He explained that he had a carpentry background and his life situation had changed such that he realized his needs could be completely met by what a tiny house has to offer. So he got a trailer, built the house, and moved in. Simple as that. Now he’s happy as can be with very small bills and the ability to up and leave whenever he wants. This was a huge step for us in realizing how doable it actually is in our part of the world, and that having our own tiny house is a realistic dream.

I could have SWORN I wrote down his name and contact so that we could get in touch once home again, and could hear more of his story and his perspective on tiny houses, but somehow I can’t seem to find it anywhere. Hopefully one day we’ll run into him again and be able to tell him how grateful we are for instilling the confidence we needed to seriously think about getting a project like this off the ground.

Even after all this, we still weren’t close to making any kind of commitment to building our own Tiny house. It required the connection to real necessity for us to open our eyes and actually make a move in the right direction. We have been thinking for a while now that we’d like to take some time to do a bit of longer term travelling before we have any real responsibilities in our world. And with Tim finishing his journeyman block (welding) just before Christmas, the opportunity would present itself in 2015 to get going. Trying to think ahead, we wanted to sort out what we would do for storage, since we’re way too attached to some of our possessions to just sell everything (I know, I know, I’m working on it). We knew that paying for a storage unit would be out of the question- if there’s one thing I’m tired of is paying money into a black hole with nothing to show for it at the end. Tim suggested that we could build an enclosed trailer, which would be costly upfront but we’d at least have something we owned when it was all said and done and could sell it later if we wanted.

At some point in the days following this decision, the thought popped into Tim’s head: If we can build an enclosed trailer, why don’t we just build a tiny house?! And so it began.

Once we’d finally added 2 and 2 together, we tore into this idea like wolves, hungry for information on trailer dimension regulations, floor plans, framing options, insulation R-values, roof and truss designs, and pretty much everything that you need in order to build a smart, efficient, tiny house. I’ll go into much more detail on these topics and more as time goes on. But for now, hopefully you have a better idea of where we’re coming from, and perhaps it doesn’t sound as crazy as it did before you read this.