Sunday, March 29, 2009

At The Source

When you buy a set of plans from Tumbleweed Houses you get three hours of consultation time with Jay. Today, we went up and spent an hour with Jay. We came prepared with a list of questions. Jay happily answered each one. It felt more like a mellow conversation than a consultation. It was also fortuitous that Jay and company are currently building a Fencl, so we got to climb around it and take a look at how they are building one.

It turns out that there are a great many details that you don't notice when just looking over the plans. For example, the wheel wells are situated such that water could creep in between them and the inner wall. So when building, we'll need to account for this and develop some sort of protection for it. Further, the plans don't come with a framing plan for the roof. Fortunately, there are a number of sets of build pictures we are drawing on. These help - a picture is worth a 1000 words. But seeing the in-progress Fencl filled in a few more details.

So we're getting it all together and should have a trailer soon. Then we can really start!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

At the lumber yard

On April 1st, California will hike its sales tax by 1 whole percent. So it has made sense to do some spending up front. To that end, we've spent the last few days spending money. We've purchased a hot water heater, a refrigerator, a heater, scissor jacks and a toilet. We've been getting bids on other building supplies, like insulation, windows, aluminum flashing, PEX piping, sealant and on and on and on. We should have our order in for these items early next week, for delivery at the end of the week.

Today we went to the lumber yard. I love wood. Good quality wood with beautiful grain... I see exotic woods and I want to incorporate them into our house. How about a teak floor? Birds eye maple cabinets? Trim in ebony? Ok. Maybe not that combination. Anyway, we need to watch our weight. We're hoping to build a mobile house, remember?

But we're also interested in avoiding the formaldehyde that off gasses from plywood and particle board. So we need to use light weight, quality, solid wood materials for the inside of the house. (We will use exterior grade plywood for the sheathing that goes outside of the framing.) We can do this by using 1/4" tongue and groove for the walls and ceiling and 3/4" tongue and groove for the floor. So we just have to settle on the type of wood. And these are big decisions because we both want our place to be beautiful.

But we don't have to make all of the decisions right now. As you might expect, we'll be building from the bottom up, so we need to decide on the materials for the foundation and floor now. By this last statement it is probably apparent that we don't plan to buy all the wood right away, even though we could avoid that 1% tax increase if we did. For the wood, we'll order as needed so we don't have wood sitting around that could warp on us. Plus, we figure we'll have less waste this way.

So what's next? We have to finalize some orders, move a bunch of tools from storage to the build space, get a trailer... ah. The trailer. It is the foundation of our home. Well, more on that later.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Media Inquiries – Facts About Our Project

The following information describes our building project. If you have other questions, don’t hesitate to ask. We can reached at "mobilecottage.blogspot at"

Why are you building a tiny house to live in?
This tiny cottage began as a project that we thought would be fun to work on together. We have both been interested in architecture since we were very young, have wanted to build our own home ‘someday’ since we were old enough to be out on our own, and are experienced ‘tool people’ so building it ourselves seems easily possible.

What does this project mean to you?
Building this tiny home is a way that we can live our dream of designing and building our own home. We’re building it with VOC free, high quality building materials. It will be very energy efficient with minimal material usage or solid waste going into a landfill. Without a mortgage we will have more freedom and options. This is our solution to help with environmental concerns and sustainability while lowering our living expenses. We purposely chose a cute exterior design so that people wouldn’t mind looking into their backyards and seeing us there.

Won’t it be too small for you two to live in full-time?
We are building a slightly larger version than some of the designs we have seen. Some people think that living in a space this size is impossible but there are many couples (and families) who happily live on boats or are full-time RVers. This type of living situation can work, and maybe because of the current hard economic times, there will be many who never thought it possible but who are now considering simplifying their lives as well as spending less on housing / utilities.

Why do you think it’s important to downsize your possessions?
In this country house sizes continue to grow. Larger houses create more land fill and waste, have larger power consumption needs, require larger lots, and more furniture. If we're buying more things for our bigger houses, then we need more square footage for our stores and bigger parking lots. We wonder why our commutes are so long!
We don't think this trend is sustainable and we want to do our part to help change things. Instead of commuting, we’d rather go hiking, take classes or socialize with friends. Paring way down to the minimum that we need, plus a few items that simply make us smile, and moving into a healthy, small, energy efficient environment is our reaction to all of this. We’d love to get to know our new neighbors and be part of the community and we think our tiny house is a step in that direction.

How do you think this project will change your lives?
We have never lived in a space the size of our tiny cottage for longer than a month but we’re certain that whatever challenges come with living in close quarters, we’ll figure out a solution that will make us both happy. We’ve read a lot about living full-time in small spaces (boats, RV’s) and can’t see any big problems with this that can’t be worked out. We already know that we travel light, enjoy each other’s company, are laid back and are willing to compromise. For a month long overseas trip we took a few years ago, we brought one carry-on each and really had a great time even during long car rides in the very tiny rental car.

What are the facts about your tiny cottage?
* Our tiny cottage exterior measures 8.5’wide and 24’ long (including the length of the trailer tongue).
* We will be using a propane tank for cooking and heating. Other tiny home owners say that heating during the winter even where there is snow costs them less than $10 a month.
* We have a composting toilet so we don't need a sewer hookup. No, it doesn’t smell like the porta potties in the park do. The compost is harvested about 3 to 4 times a year. The final product (thankfully) looks nothing like what goes into making it.
* We will need a garden hose hookup for dishes and showers when we aren’t at the YMCA or UW gym. The hose is an RV hose that can be heated using a tiny amount of electricity during really cold days so it won’t freeze.
* We have few appliances, so an outdoor extension cord from a host house will be fine. Someday we plan to go solar because our electric requirements will be so low.
* Our water from dishes and showers will be recycled (as we'll use only biodegrade soaps) by watering nearby plants so we’d like to have a few containers with vegetables or flowers in front of our cottage or would like to plant a small raised bed garden nearby.
* Building codes? The majority of municipalities have minimum size requirements and other constraints even for ‘accessory buildings’. However, trailers are not fixed structures so they have different legal requirements than local building codes.

What are you looking for?
* A 30 minute or less commute by public transport to the University District.
* We’re not interested in publicity so we’d like to be placed somewhere that the general public won’t be stopping by to peek in the windows out of curiosity or bothering the homeowners that we rent space from by walking uninvited up their private drive to get a better look at our cottage.
* A reasonable monthly rent as we only need a parking space sized area, our utility use will be very minimal, and we’ll be outside of your home so you’ll still have privacy. We bring our own ‘room’ (kitchen/bath/bedroom/living room) but expect to pay about what a room rental costs since we take up as little space. Rooms for rent seem to be running $400+ currently in Seattle near the university. Utilities could be added on top of the basic rent if it’s found that our usage shows on the monthly utility bills.
* Arlene is willing to help with house repairs/remodeling (she'll have a bit of experience in all areas by then) or gardening for an agreed upon number of hours per week in exchange for paying a rent close to the amount suggested above. Maybe someone has an elderly relative who needs help around the house or who could use some extra income? Pet/house sitting while our host travels is an option too as well as daily dog walking.
* Arlene will be looking for work upon relocation to Seattle. She’d like to possibly continue doing CADwork for consulting engineering firms but will also be looking at architectural firms who work on LEED projects. She is currently pursuing LEED certification so work as a consultant for other projects such as this one, for environmental conservation with respects to the building industry, or as someone who deals with recycling building products so they don’t end up as landfill, might also be options. She is also currently working on creating innovative LED light fixture designs.

Have there been any parts of this project that were unexpected?
For such a small project it’s actually effecting our lives in many ways. We’ve learned much more about each other and it’s improved our skills of communication, cooperation and compromise. We’ve also become much more knowledgeable in ecological conservation issues and which sustainable building products are readily available (and affordable) than we thought we’d need to be for this project.

What would you tell others who see your tiny cottage and want to build one too?
If you’re not an experienced builder then do your research ahead of time so your project will go smoother; use the library. We did this and were very happy that we did. Also, realize that no set of plans that you might buy will be set in stone. Because your trailer dimensions will vary, your needs and wants will vary from the designers’, you will need to change the construction plans. We never found a set that was complete so being able to make decisions based on the previous knowledge one has about building (for example, “If I do this, then what else will it effect?”) , and to get things done on the fly, will come in very handy.

Other FAQs

what model hot water heater you installed? Precision Temp RV-500.
It's a tankless, on demand, propane hot water heater.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


So what are we building? We're building a 'Fencl'. This is one of the tiny house designs from the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company. We've altered the floor plan, and will use different materials in some places, but otherwise it will basically be like the house in the picture (but longer).

The house will have an upstairs sleeping loft, vaulted ceiling, and have about 115 square feet of living space. It will have a small kitchen, a bathroom, a desk space and living room. Of course, achieving all this, while avoiding feeling cramped, requires a carefully considered, efficient, floor plan.

In addition to being space efficient, we'll be energy efficient too. We aren't TV watchers and don't need many of the other common gadgets that tend to consume a lot of energy, so our electrical draw will be minimal. In fact, the way we are building our cottage will allow us to add modifications later such that we could, if we wanted, get off the electrical grid all together.

And, because the house is small, we can use high quality, mainly sustainable building materials, while keeping the cost low.

Finally, our house will be on a trailer. We'll be building it in the San Francisco Bay Area, but in September of 2009, Jeff starts a PhD program at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA. So once we're done building it - or close to it - we'll be moving our tiny house to Seattle!

This is a good time to mention that tiny houses are drawing a great deal of attention lately. If you check out our resource links you'll note that a growing community of folks across America are building their own tiny housing.

Some common reasons people build a tiny house:
  • Ecological considerations
  • Avoid conspicuous consumption
  • Use of sustainable building materials
  • Use of hypoallergenic building materials
  • Joy of building your own house
  • Efficient use of energy & space
  • Focus on Quality over Quantity
  • Economic considerations
  • Use as a rental or in-law unit
  • Mobility
Moving forward, this blog will document the building of our tiny house. We'll put up some pictures and give some details about why we choose this or that. We've found that reading other builder's blogs has helped us clarify our own process, so we intend to make our own experience available as a resource for others. But, note that we'll be starting slowing and then moving faster as we get into the summer.

So, what's next? We have a space, but we'll need to build our mini mobile cottage on something...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


We started talking about building a tiny house in January. We've been doing research on every aspect of the project since then. We've looked into gray water systems, plumbing, heating, gas, electrical and various other elements of our house. We compared the advantages and disadvantages of AC power vs. DC power. We looking into wood, asphalt, and metal roofs. We spent hours fine tuning the floor plan and deciding where light fixtures, cabinets and so on go. We visited various stores and lumber yards, and have done hours of on-line shopping so we have a rough idea of what we'll be spending.

So, while you are just tuning in on this fine day near the end of March, 2009, we've been considering and planning our tiny house since the beginning of the year. So the project has already started, but we're just now getting to the physical part. To the actual buying of stuff and hammering it together.

So the "When?" is NOW.

But what are we really going to be building?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Jeff & Arlene are a happily married couple who revel in being creative, working with tools and working together.

Arlene is a professional CAD drafter and artist (blacksmithing, coppersmithing, welding sculpture, wood working) who enjoys hiking, reading, anything do-it-yourself and has an odd fetish for old cars.

Jeff is an ex-Software Quality Assurance Engineer turned return student who will be starting a PhD program for Information Science in the Fall of 2009. When not working on his wife's crazy projects (this mini-cottage being one of them), he enjoys reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic.


Arlene and I live in an apartment in the San Francisco Bay Area. So, our first dilemma is: where do we build our mobile mini-cottage? We need to have a secure place for tools, materials and the house as we build it. The problem is, it's expensive in the Bay Area. Well, normally, when the economy isn't in the tank it is. The economy's state means that there is more property on the market and that landlords are a little more willing to work with us. For example, normally they require a year lease for a warehouse space big enough to build a tiny house.

But, after a bit of looking around , we successfully secured a small commercial space to build our tiny house.

Our cottage will require roughly 10 feet wide by 20 feet long as it is being built. We'll need a roughly equal size to frame walls. Then we'll also need space for storage and tools. And pizza. :-)

The space we've rented is 20 feet wide and 50 feet deep. Plenty of space. The door is a 12 foot roll-up door. Now, a few folks will note that our cottage is planned to be a few inches over 13 feet tall... but we have a plan for that discrepancy, which I'll leave for a future entry.

Monday, March 23, 2009


Why in the world would you want to build and live in a tiny house? Won't you be cold? Where will you put the TV? Don't you have to know about carpentry, roofing, electrical systems, plumbing, gas, and and and and...? It's so small. Won't you get on each others nerves?

The bottom line is that we are pursuing our dreams. The older we get, the more we feel like what we want, often not the typical American dream, is worth chasing after even if it means giving up some other things. Specifically if those other things are just things that we don't really need.

One of our long time dreams has always been to build our own house. But we've never wanted a big house (though, this one is pretty small). We like camping and feeling closer to nature than most folks. We're also concerned about treading lightly in the world.

I could really write pages and pages about why we're building a tiny house, our Mobile Cottage, but instead, I invite you to follow our blog as we build our dream. I'm sure that over the months our motivations will shine through our posts and become more clear to you. You'll get to hear about our mistakes, frustrations and successes along the way. And hopefully enjoy vicariously participating in our dream.