Thursday, March 23, 2017

Advocacy In Action In April at The Tiny House NC Street Festival

Maybe this makes me sound “old” but here goes…..

There is simply no social media platform that can replace the relationships that are formed by making time for face-to-face contact. Advocacy, in its finest moment, is best expressed in a manner which is both personal and passionate. And in the tiny house movement, you will find nowhere better to make personal and sociological changes, than at a tiny house event.

In a few weeks, I will be headed East across this vast country of ours; to participate in the Tiny House NC Street Festival in Pink Hill North Carolina. And while I have attended more than a few events of its kind, I am particularly excited about this one; Andrew Odom’s brain-child-come-to-life.

Why am I excited about THIS event?

It won’t be held in a far-off field outside of town.

Picture this: A small town FILLED to the brim with tiny houses! Yes, the NC Street Festival will actually be held IN THE STREET!  The vibe that will be created by showing America what “Tiny House America” can actually look like, will be pretty cool. Realizing Andrew’s vision was, however, certainly no small feat; and I for one cannot fathom how many meetings and emails it took to even get the permission to take over this town for an entire weekend.  But the results will, no doubt, be quite impactful. Instead of showing tiny houses, standing alone, connected only by a power cord, the newspaper and local news channels will show a town…a REAL TOWN…with tiny houses incorporated into the landscape.

Pink Hill, NC; Small Town America

Consider what Advocacy in Action can do.

The coffee shop, the restaurant, the grocery store, and likely even the hardware store and pharmacy will be brimming with fun people who think that THIS is how our rural towns should look and feel.  The influx of leaders, and speakers, and builders, and vendors, and sponsors, and journalists, and enthusiasts will leave a lasting impression on all who attend.

Experience is the Best Teacher

After having attended and participated in several tiny house events himself, Andrew’s vision includes many attributes of a well organized community gathering. In addition to the tiny houses themselves and all of the great builders who will be on hand to answer questions, and all of the expert level speakers; (even Dee Williams will be there!) this event has all the little details already ironed out including a traffic management and parking plan, a large selection of product vendors to chat with, several food vendor options, adequate signage, waste recycling, volunteer perks, and a main stage that is centrally located.

Author of "The Big Tiny" - Dee Williams

And That’s Where You’ll Find ME!

“Honored” does not begin to describe how I feel about having been invited to be the Emcee for this event.  While I will fully admit that it will be a busy weekend and a lot of hard work, I am looking forward to adding my personal spin to his vision. Andrew and I have worked the stage together, more than once, and I appreciate his organized yet go-with-the-flow attitude about what can sometimes be, pure chaos.  You won’t find me ONLY on the stage, however.  You’ll also find me roaming the tiny streets, helping where I can, making sure everyone is having fun and knows where to go. I may not be Southern but, rest assured, I can be as hospitable as any Southerner ever was!

If you have not made your plans to attend yet, you should.

If you have not requested time off from work, do it today. 
The event is being held April 21 - 23rd in Pink Hill, North Carolina.

If you have not bought your tickets yet, what’s stopping you!?

And when you get there, don’t forget to find me and say “Hello!”. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Framing Pics - Part One

Hauling 20 foot long jacking studs with a short truck requires a bit of ingenuity.

Once the floor is sheathed, the first wall is framed outside / in, and flat.

To save weight, here is an illustration of the header design we used.

Here we're using hangars instead of cripple studs, also to reduce weight.

An overview of the headers in the first wall.
(Front to Back View)

Wrapped, sills are flashed, and windows installed.
(Back to Front View) 

Next the sheathing / siding is added and it's time to.......

...jack it up!

And up.
(I hate this part, it's so scary to watch; and dangerous to do unless you're a pro like Mark is.)

Wall #1 is DONE!

Break out the Build Day Six Champagne!!

Trailer and Sub-floor Pics

Once upon a time there was a $600 trailer that wanted to grow up to be a tiny house.....

After a long journey from OR to WA, loaded with building materials, 
it was unloaded and ready for demo.

It took us a day to strip the floor and fenders; 680 lbs worth.

After we were done, we were left with a bare frame.
(the wood is there to protect our thighs as we walk past the very sharp ribs on the trailer)

Then we bought some fenders and paid $200 to a guy we found on craigslist, to weld them on. 
He did a GREAT job and added some threaded rod to the front as well.
Then we removed some of the surface rust with a wire brush and re-painted the bare / chipped spots.

Our next challenge was to figure out how to attach the sub-floor to the trailer.
It involved drilling holes and installing over 80, 3/8x4-1/2 long, carriage bolts;
 at every spot where the frame meets the trailer.

Partially Framed.

An areal view of our build site.

The sub-floor frame is complete!

We decided to use 4 inches (over $200) of foam core insulation in the floor 
because it is water and mold resistant.
We did not add an underlayment material (steel or screen or plastic) because we felt it was unneeded.
To start, Mark installed stops using 1x2's he cut from scrap wood.

Once the stops were in, it was pretty easy to cut the insulation to size with a table saw 
(but VERY MESSY) and push it into the open cavities.

Ta Dah!
All Done!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Mr. Plywood = Mr. Awesome Portland Lumber Guy

When I was 16 years old I started working in a furniture factory. For three years, my job was to stand in a non-insulated, non-cooled, non-heated, metal building and sort lumber by grade. Let me tell you, that kind of indoctrination into the working world tends to create lifelong friendships and it certainly did in this case. We sweat together, we froze together, we wrote notes on the scraps, and then sent them down the belt and then laughed till we peed our pants.

Little did I know, at the time, it was “training” that I would use many many years later but in a nutshell; I know a good board from a crappy one. This hasn’t exactly led to any high paying gigs and if you look long enough at a piece of wood I’m sure you can too; but if you’re picking out an entire house worth of lumber from a stack at the local big-box-lumber-store, being able to grade lumber quickly and easily can be a handy skill. (and dare I say, not one their employees likely posses)

Loading the siding was easy!

Or, you can buy from a lumber and building supply store like Mr. Plywood who takes the guesswork out of the process and, frankly, the process out of the process!

Mr. Plywood has been around longer than I have!

Buying local just makes sense. Putting your hard earned money back into the pockets of your neighbors is good for the local economy and the stability of a neighborhood at large. When a store, or restaurant sees you as a neighbor (and likely someone that they’ll run into at the local grocery store) a shift happens in the way you are treated. They do. Actually. Care. The transaction becomes much more personal. They’re vested in how you feel.

Unloading, by hand, was a different story.

I live in Oregon so moldy and wet wood is a pretty big issue. Recently, my friends fought with an entire load of OSB that was moldy within a few days of adding it to their tiny house. When I mean “fought” I mean taking advanced measures at abating the mold and attempting to get their money back from the big-box-store to no avail. Ugh. They swore to never return to the orange vested option and instead chose to buy their lumber for their next tiny house where I got my lumber from; you guessed it, at Mr. Plywood.

Like me, they placed their order and within a few days it was sorted, pulled, stacked, bound, covered, and ready for pick up. They had theirs delivered, I picked mine up. But the overall experience was the same. It was Awesome! They even loaded it onto my trailer with a forklift and I was out of there in less than 15 minutes. Try THAT anywhere else!?

Painting siding flat is so much easier than painting it once its hung!

No grading lumber.

No stacking and standing in line.

No slivers.

We LOVE Mr. Plywood!  (Who wouldn't!?)

I just watched them do the thing they do so well, and drank coffee.

I bet you’re wondering how much more their lumber costs than the blue-box store, aren’t you?
How can the little local guys, compete?

Lumber is a commodity. What the stores pay for their lumber changes, very often, and is set by the trading market. Only the lumber type and grade dictates the price differential. So the big stores pay for the cheapest grades and types knowing their customers may not likely know, or care. They just want a 2x4, right?

Stacked, dry, and ready for the build to start.

When it comes to my tiny house, its stability, and my time; I certainly CARE! And, the difference in price at Mr. Plywood is minimal but the service level and lumber grade is so much better! When I am building a tiny house, I would rather be working on it with my precious weekend time than standing in line.

I, however, was anything but dry that day.

Actually, I would rather be doing anything, ever; than standing in line and loading my own lumber.

If you’re building a tiny house, or any house for that matter, in Portland Oregon; I cannot recommend Mr. Plywood enough. If you place your order in advance, it’ll be ready. If you’re not sure what you need or how much, they’re experts. If you appreciate a friendly face, a kind demeanor, and a patient approach; Mr. Plywood fits the bill.

Framing is my favorite part of the build.
There is something so rewarding about a job well done with high quality materials.

Friday, March 10, 2017

How To Save Money on Windows Without Sacrificing Your Tiny House Design

Are you designing and building your own tiny house?

Don’t know where to start?

Are you trying to stay on budget and save money where you can, without sacrificing quality?


Multitasking at it's finest!

No joke. 

To get started on your build you’ll need to make 3 major purchases:  Trailer, Lumber, and Windows.
I’ve already written about how to save money on the trailer so here we go, let’s talk about windows.

Step 1

Start with a rough drawing of your tiny house design.  That should give you a basic idea of the number of windows you’ll need, the size and shape of them, as well as the opening “type”.  Some windows open up / down (I know, not a very technical term. The proper term is "single hung") and some open side to side. (aka "double hung") For instance the windows over your kitchen sink should probably open side to side. Also, more-well placed smaller windows will be easier to source and better for a tiny house than just one or two, really large ones.

All the windows and doors I need, fit into my SUV.

Step 2
Start collecting windows!  In order to make all of my windows “appear” to be uniform when I knew they would not be, I decided that all of my windows would be double pane, vinyl, and white, with NO pane grids.  Use your rough list of window sizes and types and go to craigslist, Habitat for Humanity Restore, and other recycled material outlets and shop for what you need with an idea of what attributes you’re willing to sacrifice.

Another way to add light and interest to a space is to use clear corrugated plastic siding.

For instance, if you want a window that is 30x32 and you find one that is 30x34, assuming it won’t encroach on other walls, the stairs or doors in the house; buy it! If you start out looking for white windows, but you find an entire set of windows that will be enough for your entire build, for a great price, but they’re cream colored, maybe re-consider your aesthetic? 

Call around to window manufacturers and retail stores to inquire how, or if, they sell returns.  Some manufacturers sell returns to the general public, some of them have agreements with local recycle retailers and only sell through them. This is what I did and I was very lucky to have discovered the “bone pile” of windows at Parr Lumber. They were happy to get rid of them and I was more than happy to utilize them.

We are so thankful for Parr Lumber's support!

Step 3

Organize your windows. I made a spreadsheet that listed all of my windows, and which direction they opened (or if they didn’t open) and what direction they opened. And, it wouldn’t hurt to double check the measurements on the windows at this point as well. You can NEVER be too careful when it comes to verifying this important feature and its impact on your design.

Staged and ready to install.

Step 4

Incorporate your windows into your design.

New windows and custom windows are very, very expensive and I know many tiny house builders who paid over $3,000 for the windows for their tiny house. 

Our first wall, waiting to be raised!

If you’re a DIY builder who does not have thousands of dollars to spend on windows, please don’t sacrifice the look of your house by having only 2 or 3 of them because that’s all you can “afford”.  If you START with the windows, and pay far-below-market-value, and take your time to source them before you finalize your design, the overall look of your house will benefit.  (and likely your peace of mind in the space as well….)

This is the exciting part!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Winterizing My Tiny House - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Not once, not twice, but three times in the past two months the Portland Oregon area has gotten hit by snow storms. First, the city and school districts learned the lesson that even an inch of snow will affect the commute. Second, they learned that road salt is our friend. And, third, we all learned that sometimes staying home and hibernating with wine and Netflix is a much better idea than putting our life at risk by driving. Anywhere.

There was, and remains, much ado about tiny houses that are used as full time living quarters in cold climates. While Portland Oregon would hardly consider itself a “cold” climate we’ve all gotten a taste for what it would be like, if it were, and we’ve learned a few lessons of our own.

After spending a few weeks in sub-freezing temps I am hardly an expert and there is so much more I could have done (and would have) if I was anticipating living on these conditions for longer. Some of what I did to, however, worked marvelously and some of the things I did were not enough to prevent my pipes from freezing.

Pipe Wrap

Upon hearing even the first rumor of freezing temperatures I set about buying and installing heat tape on my source hose. I don’t have anything fancy, no RV hoses, no inline water filters (but will be getting one in the spring) just a 25 foot long heavy duty garden hose. The heat tape comes in several lengths, including 30 foot, so I could have extra to wrap around the well head and that, as it turned out, was a great idea. First I started on the not-plug-in-accessible end of the hose and laid the heat tape on the hose and I attached it by using electrical tape every 6 inches or so. Next I used 1” foam pipe insulation which came with a sticky side which makes closing it together so much easier. Well worth the extra money! Then I wrapped the remaining heat tape around the well head.

RESULTS GRADE: A+ - No freezing problems whatsoever

Well Head Insulation

I cannot take credit for what my landlord did next. Realizing that his “freeze proof” well head wouldn’t be, if it were on (which is required for full time use of a tiny house) he wrapped thick paper insulation materials around the well head and put a garbage can over it.

RESULTS GRADE: A – No freezing but it is somewhat inconvenient to unwrap the well head when I need to use the 2nd hose for emptying my composting toilet / liquid waste tank. However, that is certainly a small price to pay for an effective and insulated water source.

Roof Construction and Materials

I don’t give nearly enough credit to my builder, and boyfriend, Mark for the outstanding job he did of framing my tiny house. It is a sturdy structure and the roof has been holding almost a foot of snow for a week now and shows no signs of weakness, leaking, or heat loss. The joists are 2 x 6’s framed 16” on center and this is certainly way more than was needed, but effective. The roofing materials I installed included an ice-and-rain underlayment which would prevent water from seeping through any tiny holes in the corrugated roofing, and into the ceiling insulation. I used fiberglass insulation in the ceiling (R20) and although my lack of venting may still prove to be problematic, I’ve seen no issues with moisture build up and no proof, whatsoever, of heat loss through the roof.

RESULTS GRADE: B+ - I am giving myself this grade only because I’m still nervous that without venting in the roof cavities, humidity / moisture build up may result in a full ceiling tear down and rebuild eventually. I am taking other steps to mitigate it but cannot give myself an “A” here given that the final “effectivity” results are still pending.

Venting / Humidity Control

During the worst of the weather system, it was 15 degrees outside and 50+ inside. The colder it is, and the more opportunity there is for cold and heat air meeting, the more likely humidity will rise in your tiny house. When I opened the downstairs blinds one morning, there was a thin layer of ice on the INSIDE of the windows. The blinds had captured the cold air coming in and froze it against the window. Of course, then the room temperature melted the ice and created moisture against the windows. I wiped it with a cloth, turned on the ceiling fan, turned on the bathroom vent fan, and within 20 minutes the windows were clear of all moisture. Not knowing, however, if that would be enough, I also bought a temperature and humidity monitor which helps me to keep tabs on when I need to turn the humidify fan on and the net effect of cooking, and being in the tiny. (I purchased and highly recommend a humidity sensing fan but have not figured out how to install it yet. Another spring project)

RESULTS GRADE: B+ - I think I’ll give myself an “A” once my manual interference is no longer needed to control the moisture fan.

Propane Tank Monitors

My friend recommended a propane tank monitor that connects to my iPhone via Bluetooth. It works amazingly in the “normal” temps and takes away the nervousness of not knowing when I’m going to run out and keeps me abreast of how much I am consuming on a day to day basis. However, when the propane tanks get ice on them it forms a layer between the monitor’s magnet and the tank and sometimes gives a bit of a false reading. For instance my small tank read “45%” this morning and I know it’s full and has not even been cracked open for use since I filled it last week. When the difference between warm and cozy and freezing my butt off, knowing how much propane I have and when I need to go get it is VERY valuable information. Even if I have to second guess it at times because I have not purchased blankets for my propane tanks. Yet.

RESULTS GRADE: A – The monitors work great but I wish they were a bit more reliable when it really counts.

Plumbing Insulation / Installation

As I mention in my intro, despite all of the steps I took, my house pipes did freeze and I slept on the couch at my children’s house for 3 days while I figured out what the problem was.  My water system is divided between 3 sections (well head, source hose, and plumbing) so diagnosing the loss of water involved disconnecting each one and testing it individually for water flow. I discovered that the house pipes were the problem and, more specifically, the cold water pipes leading to the kitchen sink.  Although I thought ahead and added an access panel which provided full access to the incoming line on the back side, I also was storing a box against it.  That box, and the panel cover, prevented ANY household heat from reaching the pipe.  And although it ended up being a very small frozen section of pipe, void of any damage, and resolved by heating the kitchen with the cupboard doors open, it shut off all water to the entire house.  It really wasn’t a plumbing or insulation or a heating issue, it was a learning curve opportunity for sure.

RESULTS GRADE: A+ -  I may have had no water for 3 days but even when frozen, my PEX plumbing pipes didn’t have any damage / leaks. I was so anxious about this and am SOO glad I don’t have to tear apart my kitchen to fix a leaky water line.

14,000 BTU Propane Furnace

As much as the roofing insulation has affected the heat retention of the house and is worthy of mention, my 14,000 BTU vented propane furnace by Williams Control really takes the cake and has done an amazing job of heating my 204 sq foot house easily and effectively.  I am going through about 10 gallons of propane every two weeks for heating water and cooking and heating the house(even in these frigid temps) and that amounts to less than $2 a day.

  RESULTS GRADE: A++ - I LOVE my furnace!!!

Propane Powered, On Demand, Rheem Hot Water Heater

My hot water heater has been acting “clunky” lately and won’t always come on when I need hot water.  It always will, after a few tries of turning the hot water on and off; but since “on demand” hot water heaters are supposed to operate “on demand” and not “eventually” I placed a call to my hot water heater guy.  His first concern was that my propane pipes were not sized correctly. I reminded him that my hot water heater has performed flawlessly for over a year now.  He asked me to take a pic of the regulator and suspected it would not perform well in the super cold temps.  But, it wasn’t until I’d spent an hour in quiet-contemplation-yoga-class that the light bulb of realization came on!  What had changed was that I was commonly running the hot water heater at the same time as I was running the furnace.  (in the morning for my shower)  I wondered if taking the additional step of turning off the furnace for the few minutes of my shower would fix the temporary problem.  It did!  My hot water heater guy says my fix makes totally sense because it takes a LOT more BTU’s to heat the super cold water than “normal”. The pilot light remains on so it’s an additional morning routine thing I have to remember when it’s super cold outside but, again, these cold temps won’t stay long.  And thank GOD that’s true because I’m really tired of snow!

RESULTS GRADE: A – I figured this one out, all on my own, and although a bit inconvenient, the extra step I take when I shower is a small price to pay for a hot water heater than runs flawlessly 99% of the time.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Five Common Traits of Tiny House People

TIMELINE NOTE:  I found this post that I wrote in 2014 but, for an unknown reason I never posted it.  It's fun, though, to see where I "was" and where I am now when I read it. 

Tiny houses are awesome.  And all the companies and media outlets who support the tiny house movement, are awesome too.  And all of those people who put their hard earned money, and time, into advancing a way of life that is sustainable and fiscally responsible…..yeah… guessed it……they’re awesome too.

My name is Michelle and a little over a year ago I started building a tiny house on a flatbed trailer in the driveway of my rental home in Sherwood Oregon.  You see, my life has been a series of unfortunate events that has left me facing the second half of my life with no retirement savings. I have been a single mom for 12 years and raised two children without the benefit of child support, or, any support for that matter.  It’s just me and them.  They are in college now and have their entire, amazing, future ahead of them. While looking introspectively at what life has in store for me, I decided that minimizing my foot print would be a good start to an amazing future for myself.

Since I started this “journey to tiny”, I have immersed myself in all things tiny. I have attended numerous networking meetings, watched countless videos, read hundreds of online articles, and talked to dozens of experts. And if you have seen or read anything about tiny houses in the past year you know that this idea of living smaller, has literally exploded.  What was once a backyard secret, is now mainstream media gold. 

But, what you see on the internet and on TV is not exactly reflective of the people behind it. When you peel back the layers of the tiny house hype and media attention, you’ll find some very unique people behind it. And as I seek to find my place in the madness that is this now-not-so-tiny house world I find that they also have a lot in common, I have a lot in common with them:

They are……


It’s hard to build a house with little or no money.  That’s not exactly news.  What is news, however, is how I did it, and how many others do too.  What is unique and yet common amongst the tiny house builders of the world is that they have this burning desire to do this crazy thing and they’ll let nothing get in their way. They stalk craigslist for free materials. They go to garage sales. They take on second jobs. They frequent Rebuilding centers and find ways to re-use materials that was once bound for landfills. They contact companies and ask for sponsorships. They trade.  They barter.  They beg their uncle Bob to help. Tiny house people are the most resourceful people on the planet.


If you drive down any neighborhood in middle class America you’ll often find that all of the houses look pretty much the same. They may very slightly, from one house to the next, but they’re all very similar. Self-built tiny houses are, however, very much a reflection of their owners and their source of inspiration.  There are log cabin style ones, gothic, steam punk, cottage, and even modern.  They are, quite literally, architectural eye candy.  Don’t believe me? Search “tiny house” in Pinterest.  (You’re welcome.)


Tiny houses are divided into two different categories:  ones that roll, and ones that don’t.  But whether or not a tiny house’s’ final destination is unknown, or not; their owners are always thinking about being a responsible steward of the planet and member of their community. Utilizing materials with a sense of style as well as a sense of sustainability, is often a major consideration. Short on water? Energy conserving fixtures and toilets are all the rage!  Want to minimize your draw from the grid?  Solar panels to the rescue!  Mainstream American can certainly learn a thing or two about responsible living from the tiny house community.


Now, let’s peek into the dark side of these tiny little houses…..  For the most part, they’re not exactly “legal” to live in.  And, the reason why their numbers are so elusive is because most tiny house dwellers live somewhat below the radar of local zoning authorities. Now I’m not going to go so far as to suggest that you have to break the law to experience the exhilaration of an adventurous life.  But, if you’re not comfortable with living on the temporary fringes of society (I say “temporary” because laws are changing as we speak) then tiny house living is not for you.  If you wait a few years, as society finally realizes the benefits of tiny living, and as zoning rules change to support them, I’m sure that finding a parking spot for your 8 ft wide by 24 foot long tiny house won’t be a challenge.  But today, it’s an all-out adventure ride.


I not only hesitate to admit that I am one of those awesome people I spoke about earlier, but I am humbled by so many who do so much more than I ever can. There are tiny house communities being built for the homeless and disadvantages. There are planning commissions re-writing rules that govern our communities. There are movers and shakers and people with influence who change laws and pave the way for those who come behind them.  And for them, I am thankful.  All tiny house people, are.  When you have reduced your possessions down to the very basics, when you have prioritized your life in such a way that you can literally feel the love of those around you, you are thankful.  You know that you don’t need 6 mugs for a cup coffee.  You know that probably only two will do.  And you are thankful for one.

Tiny house people are awesome. They live in little spaces and live resourceful, creative, responsible, appreciative, and adventurous lives. And companies like American Standard, and many others, who support the tiny house movement by providing materials and support for building them, they’re awesome too…..