Friday, June 12, 2009

What We've Learned So Far

As we look back, we could have saved both time and money if we'd have done a few things differently. Well, now we know. Hopefully this information will be of use to you:

All trailers are not created equal.
We bought the size we wanted but never gave any thought to the color. We have a ‘midnight blue’ trailer… but we will have dark green trim on the windows with redwood siding. Though not a really big deal, this multi-color combination is not one we would have chosen on purpose. I have sanded the trailer wheel wells and they will be painted to match the window trim later. When parked, the trailer tongue will either be covered by a small deck or will be surrounded by a low fence so it won't be noticeable. When we're traveling (not often), people will be looking at the tiny home on wheels, not the trailer tongue.

Make sure to buy windows with tempered glass.
The plans we bought didn’t mention this. We also haven’t seen it mentioned on anyone’s blog about building a tiny mobile house. Jeff happened across the fact that California law requires tempered glass in vehicles. Many other states probably require it too. Check into the requirements near you before you order windows.

Your construction plans will need to be tweaked… no matter what.
Trailers come in all different sizes (and often haven’t been built to be level or perfectly square) so any plans you buy will need to be adjusted. We bought a set of construction plans that cost us $1000 although we had seen very similar plans to these in a book called ‘Yard & Garden Structures: 74 Easy-To-Build Designs' c2001, page 64 (though you'll need to call them to get this set, you can find others on that cost only $45 for the 'study set'. The reason that we bought the more expensive set was that we had thought that they'd have some special information that we'd need. Well, they did give us some information about bolting the foundation to the trailer but we would have done that anyway and because tiny house bloggers/builders show construction pictures, and will answer questions, we could have gotten any other information that way. Find out exactly what the plans do, or don't, include before you buy. Most plans for a tiny sized house (sometimes referred to as a garden shed) don't come with utility plans and some come with roof plans but some don't (remember to watch your height if you're building on a trailer). Shop around, stay flexible and know what you'll get before you buy.

Shop around for your materials.
Home Depot was willing to give us a contractor’s discount of about 10% because we asked for a bid from them for over $2500 worth of materials. We didn’t buy all of our materials at the same time (because of a limited build space and the total cost of materials) and stopped using them because availability/delivery was promised in 2 weeks but it took almost 6 for our first order. This delay impacted our building schedule. Also, their delivery service either can’t get the address correct or won’t deliver at the agreed upon/promised time. This made life a bit more complicated for us since we were not building full-time. After the second delivery glitch we started to use a local, independently owned home supply/lumber company instead. The service is much better and the prices are actually comparable. Which leads to:

Try to buy as much as you can all at once so that you will pay less for delivery.
We have carted as much of our booty back to our lair by ourselves as possible. We have access to a friend's truck which we can use for materials pickup but it’s not always available at times that are convenient to us. The most common company to head to for a rental truck is always time consuming and a hassle so we really don't want to use them. And my Jetta wasn’t going to be happy trying to move the 20’ lengths of lumber that we wanted for the siding or for as much total lumber as we’d need to build even a tiny home. We've had 3 deliveries for this project at $80 each. That money could have been used for much better purposes than the 1 or 2 mile run from their store to our build space. Either have a gracious friend who owns a truck that you can borrow often, have a place to store your supplies and collect/buy them before hand, or buy all of the supplies you need ahead of time and load them all onto your new trailer.

I'm sure that we'll learn more as this project progresses so we'll be posting more on this topic in the future...


  1. Hindsight is 20/20, isn't it?
    Sounds like you've done a good job adapting, as things came up!! love to see how your tiny home is progressing!

  2. I saw in an earlier post by you that Jay didn't include roof plans with the Fencl design. That's just shameful. How can you not include roofing plans in a home design? Are you kidding me Jay? I'm serious here, are you kidding me? As for me, I'll follow your blog for needed info on construction guys. You're doing a great job of documenting your build and I'll keep following you. I saw Jay and the Fencl in Indy. I mentioned your adapting his plans (moving the bathroom to the rear, great idea by the way) and he looked at me like I had 2 heads. Any who, continued success to you guys, you're doing great!!!!!!

  3. Thanks for the tempered glass suggestion. And the pitures of your progress.

    I wonder why you even went to HD instead of local independently owned company? If we want local, sustainable systems we have to help build them ourselves.

  4. Dia:
    Yep, hindsight certainly is 20/20. Thanks!

    Anon1: Well, Jay's floor plan certainly has some advantages. For example, his layout reduces the hallway effect that a long open space has. But with ours we feel like we'll be less cramped and more able to be in the kitchen at the same time. Anyway, he saw our plan and said it was good, so either he was being conciliatory with us, or forgetful with you (or both). Who knows.

    Shear boneheadedness and a spot of laziness. HD is darn near right around the corner from our build space, whereas the store we like is in the next town over.

    I agree that financing HD is of less value that helping out Castro Valley Lumber company or Larson Brother's Lumber. Both are places near us that we would recommend.


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