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Moving Half a House

There we were: going along building our house, thinking about walls, about windows, about roofs… when we arrived one morning to a  Cease and Desist order from the Town of Sonoma!  What happened?

When we had researched the legality of building on our group build site everything looked good.  We found many instances in the Sonoma building code in which what we were doing was not actually “building,” because our houses are on wheels, the build site was temporary, and more.  We thought we were good to go.

However.  While we were not in violation of the rules around building, we were in violation of the rules around the stuff you can do in that zone of Sonoma.  Our build site was located in a Multi-Use Zone.  In the Multi-Use zone you can do X,Y, and Z.  And you can’t do A,B, or C.  And even if you are doing “J” or “12″ or “Tiny House,” which is not specifically prohibited, since it is also not specifically allowed…. we are not allowed to do it!  After a number of long conversations with the very helpful, courteous, but firm professionals at the Sonoma City Planners Office, we accepted it.  We had to Cease and Desist; we had to build elsewhere.

So, bright and early one warm Sonoma Saturday morning, Joseph and I arrived at the build site.  We re-attached the taillights to our trailer (which required some amateur electrical re-wiring), we nailed on some kickstand 2X4s to support our two walls, we strapped our walls into place with yellow straps tested at 10,000 pounds and snugged them up tight, we piled all the materials we could manage into the bed of the truck, and we headed off on a slow journey back to the sheep ranch where we live.

Serious straps on our plywood sheathing.
Serious straps on our plywood sheathing

In case you were wondering: No, it is not a good idea to move half a house.  It is not a good idea to go flinging down the backroads of Sonoma County with two heavy walls, attached in an L-shape to each other and to your trailer.  Not recommended.  But we didn’t want to deal with taking the walls down, and then somehow getting them up again by ourselves, so we went for it.

It was a slow and occasionally harrowing journey.  At the last moment, only about 100 feet from it’s new site, one of the walls buckled and a kickstand snapped off.  But, on the whole, we got our house home in one piece.  Huge sighs of relief.

New location for the tiny house build
New location for the tiny house build

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As you may know from our last post, we live on a sheep ranch near Petaluma where we are caretakers for the sheep and the property.  The owners and leasers of the ranch were generous enough to allow us to continue our tiny house build on this property, and here we are.  Our group build-mates are not sure where they’ll move their builds.  They are still waiting on their SIPS, so they have some time to figure it out… but let us know if you have some Sonoma property where they could build!

We’re now embarking on a new stage of our build process, Group Build 2.0, so to speak.  We are still cooperating and helping each other out, but now our process is spread out across the county, with our little house going up right outside of our current house.  In the video below we show the tiny house in its new location, and talk a little bit about the pros and cons of this new situation.

Lessons learned:  Check out all applicable municipal codes very carefully.  Don’t move half a house, or if you do, breathe deeply and drive slowly!

If anyone else is planning to build in the town of Sonoma, we would be happy to send you all the relevant and well-researched details of what we know now about building there, just ask!

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28 thoughts on “Moving Half a House

  1. Well, that pretty much sucks… I was excited by the experiment of the group-build idea; really loved the collaboration aspect of it. I can’t believe there isn’t a big ol’ lot somewhere in unincorportated Sonoma County with an old shed for tools & supplies that can’t be rented for a little money. Imagine how builders could be starting and finishing at different stages and sharing experiences as they go along? Tumbleweed, can’t you make this happen?!

    1. Yeah, we were disappointed that we had to move. At the same time, we are now exploring if there’s a way to do a group build of some sort even if you aren’t in the same location, but nearby. We are in touch with our build-friends, we know what they’re working on, they know what we’re working on, and we intend to join in with each other for a build-party at our house, for a SIPS-raising at their new site at some point, and to do some ordering and salvaging together. Since we all had different schedules and usually weren’t all at the build-site at the same time anyway, maybe it won’t be hugely different… We’ll see, it’s all part of the learning journey that we’re on…

  2. It’s very unfortunate that Sonoma County is not ENCOURAGING you in this effort that is building community, supporting the local economy (with all your purchases to build), benefiting the environment for the longterm, and even giving publicity to the area through your blog (negative publicity with this new turn of events, unfortunately – and not because you are saying anything unkind in your blog!). Very sad. I hope by your getting the word out to the locals, there will be some objective questioning regarding the “regulations” that do not specifically allow nor disallow your project. Your “tangle” with the Sonoma Chamber of Commerce will hopefully pave the way for future projects like your own to be *allowed*. You’re good sports!

      1. Just curious what the Chamber of Commerce has to do with it? I would think it would be under the jurisdiction of the Sonoma Co. PRMD?

      2. AH! You’re right Teri! It wasn’t the Chamber of Commerce (I had the COC on my mind when I wrote the post) it was the Associate City Planner who informed us of all the restrictions and with whom we sought loop-holes or way’s in. She agreed that we weren’t a part of the code per se…which is why it wasn’t allowed there. If it isn’t listed, you can’t do it.

        Thanks for the catch Teri!

  3. It is a terrible shame that you folks had to separate your builds like that. As you say, new opportunities and all. I’m currently in the process of saving for a 20′ Tumbleweed trailer for my Linden build. Were practically neighbors, I live on the border of Sebastopol and Petaluma, where the owner of the studio I rent has agreed to allow me to build. Good luck with your’s, I enjoy checking up on you two…and heck if you ever need a pair of hands to hold a wall… :)

  4. I was sorry to hear what happened to all of you:( Why does there have to be such rules over stuff like that. Why not live and let live. I currently live in NH and right now we are trying to get a loan for a piece of property that is a little over 8 acres. There is a huge pond that we would have rights to as well. I was thinking I’d like to have a few tiny houses built to have like a tiny house hotel but zoning would not allow that so I guess I’d have to keep that a secret…But first I need to have my house. I have been looking at all the options. Do I buy the trailer and try to get some friends help me build or do I have a shell built that I can finish? What kind of trailer did you use? Did you buy plans or design your own? There are so many options out there. I worry about the snow here and things getting ruined because of not having a closed space to build it in. Regardless of how I end up getting one, I know it will happen and soon I hope! Keep up the good work!!
    Megan

    1. Thanks for being in touch and for your encouragement, Megan! Good luck with your tiny house project – I love the idea of a tiny house hotel and I hope you can find a way to have that work out. In response to your questions: We bought the new, and newly-designed trailer from Tumbleweed. We were impressed with the design features that they had added that make it appropriate for supporting a tiny house. It made sense to us to invest in a really strong foundation that we could count on. We also bought the plans from Tumbleweed. We loved their designs – both the esthetic value they have and also we love knowing they’ve been fully vetted by engineers, etc. We are building ours from the trailer up and really enjoying the process, but as you can see from our website – it’s a whole lotta work! Since we don’t have much building experience (Joseph has some; I have none) we are having to learn how to do each thing and then do it, and then learn how to fix the mistakes we made! If you are not interested in learning all of that, perhaps buying a shell would be a good choice. We like learning it and like the idea of living in a place that we put together with our own hands (or nailgun!) piece by piece. Another option, which our group-build friends are doing, is to use SIPS. You order those, they manufacture them and ship them to you, then you snap them into place… it’s probably more complicated than that :) but it goes something along those lines. Regarding snow – yes, definitely an issue! We’re building in lowland California so we don’t have to worry about snow, but we are thinking about the rainy season coming up and wanting to get out house protected and waterproofed before then… or where we can put it if we don’t. Warmly, Sarah

      1. Hello it is me again. I was looking at the tiny house online site and I came across a trailer for sale and it’s about ten miles from where I am living now in NH. http://tinyhouselistings.com/custom-built-tumbleweed-trailer/ The lady bought it from tumbleweed a few months ago and was going to build herself her home then decided she was going to put it off for awhile. She even went to the workshop. Anyway, I am going to meet with her on Thursday and I am almost positive I am going to buy it. It’s no savings except the fact it is next door to me so I wouldn’t have to drive or have it delivered from PA. This one is 18′ long and she was gong to build the Fencl which I guess now is called the Cypress. Then I have a friend that offered to let me use his garage to start building my house except for when I add the roof. His garage is under the house so it is limited. So my next question is who and where is SIPS? Do they prefab pieces for tiny house companies? I’d like to know a little more about them just in case I need some help. I posted the link to the trailer in this note. I wonder if it’s the newer version like yours? What house are you building? Are the plans easy to follow along or are you using the video’s to help too? I hope you don’t mind all the questions here lol! I can’t wait to start sharing when my adventure starts!
        Take care and have fun!
        Megan

      2. Hi Megan,
        Wow – things are really coming together for you to build your tiny house – wonderful! We had a similar confluence of events when we were starting to build – it seemed that fortunate circumstances kept being offered to us.
        To answer your questions….
        SIPS are structural insulated panels. You buy them from a manufacturer according to your plans and they arrive as fully framed and insulated walls, ready to be put in place. We are not using them, but our Tumbleweed friends are. You could contact Joe Coover at Tumbleweed to learn more about them and how to place an order.
        From what I can see from the link, it looks like that is the new T’weed trailer that we also have (ours is 20ft).
        We are building the Cypress 20 that we have modified to include two lofts, a unique interior design, and salvaged materials (windows especially).
        The plans are very good and we are happy to be using the beautiful designs and engineer-approved structure. But I would say they are not easy to follow along unless you are an experienced builder. It has been a steep journey for us learning to read plans and translate them into actual building. There are so many, many aspects that builders know but that plans don’t cover. We are also using the T’weed DVD, and recommend it. It has a lot of useful information and tips but it is not a step-by-step checklist of how to build. If we had more building experience in general, it would offer us everything we needed to know about building a tiny house specifically. Since we don’t, everything has taken us much, much longer than we thought as we’ve had to learn, ask, research, get help, make mistakes, etc. In short, the plans and the DVD are great, and they are not a substitute for you or some very helpful friends actually knowing how to build.
        If you are interested in learning how to build, you can learn by building your tiny house! That is what we are doing, and it is a rich and challenging experience. If you just want to live in a tiny house, though, you might want to consider the SIPS or other alternatives, because building one of these is not a simple and straightforward project!
        Best of luck with your tiny house journey and please keep us posted!
        Sarah

  5. Hi Sarah & Joseph,
    A friend sent a link to your story on Tumbleweed . . . I live in Bodega Bay. I built a house from the ground up in 1989 and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. While we were building (me & ex-husband) we lived in a 20′ travel trailer for 4 years. Moving into our 2,800 sq. foot house after living ‘small’ was overwhelming. I love our home but it was so much maintenance, raw materials, taxes, etc. I now long for a tiny cottage. I love the tiny house idea but my (2nd) husband is not exactly there yet. I’m sorry to hear about the code restrictions. It’s gotten far more restrictive to build anything. I understand codes must be in place for safety/health issues, but my sense is it’s revenue driven. Tiny house builders must join together and ‘lobby’ for changes in the code. Currently Sonoma County just doesn’t know what to do with tiny houses, they don’t ‘fit’ in any category. Tammy & Login dealt with these issues in Chico. I’d love to see the progress and in exchange I’d help out if you could use a hand. I’ve not swung a hammer in many years but it’s like riding a bike . . . http://www.mamelovesthebeach.blogspot.com

    1. Hi Darris,
      Thanks for being in touch and sharing your experience. I just looked at your website – beautiful! Thinking about your move into your larger house, yes, part of what I long for with our tiny house is the simplicity, of maintenance and of items… I would like to see and use all my items all the time, and get rid of the ones which I don’t! It’s not right for everybody, but for me (us) it feels really good. We would love to be in touch and we would welcome your hammer-swinging help :) and solidarity. We’ll be out of town a lot for the rest of this year, but in the new year we’ll be really getting going again and we’d love to be in touch.
      Thanks for connecting!
      Sarah

      1. so… I’m kind of curious about the details of the zoning squabble. Usually the legal framework exists that specifically allows or disallows this kind of stuff in certain zones… your tiny house could be considered a van conversion… manufactured housing… or custom fabrication… I’d even call it research.

        I would love to have your notes…. I’d also like to see the violation notices if you feel comfortable sending them to me… I promise not to post them on our blog ;P aaron at canander with the dot com extension.

      2. Hi Aaron,
        We’d be happy to talk with you more about the zoning specifics. Basically, in the particular zone we were in the only activities allowed were ones already on a list. And we couldn’t fit ourselves into any of the categories on the list. The City Planner knew what we were doing, and clearly said it was not on the list, and not allowed. However, other parts of Sonoma town you may be able to do “custom fabrication,” “research,” or even “tiny mobile house-building.” It really depends very specifically where you are. Or, perhaps if you are under the radar and your neighbors don’t complain, you could get away with it. But if you want to be sure you might want to go to/ call the City Planner’s office and talk with them in detail.
        Again, we’d be happy to talk further about this, and share our notes. You can email us at seeds@seedswithwings.com if you have more questions or there’s more we can share.
        Good luck!
        Sarah

  6. Well I have been watching you guys build so that is a lot of help for me. I do have some friends that have experience in building but the trouble I have is where they are located. I may contact SIPS so they can maybe help getting the main walls up then at least it will be closed in. I don’t really mind the challenge building. It’s more the time and weather factors that my be a problem from time to time. I am excited!
    Megan

    1. It seems like you have great support and are thinking about all the important things to think about! Building is a wonderful adventure. But so is just living in a tiny house! Good luck :)

      1. I am happy to announce I bought my trailer tonight and I have the house plans and just got the online video’s. I really think I could do this even without SIPS. Well if I have help, which I will lol. The land will come too but it’s hard getting a loan for such a small amount of money so I guess it’s save until we have the full amount. $25000 for 9 acres isn’t bad. I did call a SIPS place out of Idaho. That doesn’t seem too bad either. Snow will be flying here soon..so in the next two weeks something will be happening. I’ll keep you posted!!
        Megan

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