Category Archives: tiny house build

January 2016!

A lot of building, learning and living happened in 2015.  Sarah and I got engaged (woo-hoo!), we toyed with the idea of committing to a beautiful eighty-three acre property in southwestern Oregon (not this time!), I did some theatre, Sarah got a promotion, we both met some really wonderful people and friends, we helped others build their tiny house, and through it all our little abode has continued to grow. It feels more and more like home with every nail 😉 

Oh, and one more thing, we have decided to move back to the Petaluma, California area, or the greater Bay Area in general – please do let us know if you know of a place for an off-grid, self-sufficient tiny house and two tiny-house-dwellers!

Our latest building accomplishments have been: insulating, which took longer than expected (we did loose-fill wool and some denim), installing the interior siding (excluding trim), and my dad came to help for a wonderful week of cedar-sanding and putting on the ceiling.  Pictures…. everybody wants pictures.  So, here are some that detail the progress.

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‘It looks like a construction site in here!’
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Not wanting our leftover denim from the floor to go to waste, we put it here…that was WAY faster than fluffing the wool and stuffing it gently in.
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Wooly walls

 

 

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Vapor Barrier up!
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Ceiling was tedious.

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Sarah stuffed some wool into the wheel wells proving once again that small hands are a real plus on a build!

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White pine on the back wall UP!
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Poco a poco

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discovered some of the wool insulation settled!
discovered some of the wool insulation had settled so we had to re-stuff in some places!
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Dad came to help with some cedar-sanding and insulation on the ceiling! We couldn’t have done it without him in SO many ways.

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Same cedar siding as the outside, just untreated for the ceiling!
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Dad shows me how to un-warp` 17′ boards with a ‘reverso-clamp’ -I don’t know what else to call it)
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Cedar up!
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Laying back in the spacious loft to enjoy a job well done!

 

One step at a time, nail-by-nail, lesson-by-lesson, I get schooled and learn new humility and respect for the people that do this for a living.  Maybe, someday, these skills will translate into something that will benefit the world at large.

Have a happy and humble new year, one board at a time.

Josephant and Sarahpillar.

Always The Hard Way?

Ask my parents, ask my friends, ask Sarah… I always  do things the hard way.  I’m not sure why, I’ve been told it’s because I’m a Capricorn(?), but I’ve recently been recognizing it when it happens.  Por ejemplo, I can’t just make coffee in the morning, I have to preheat everything (Bialetti, Mug, 1/2 & 1/2), find the perfect blend of coffee/chicory/cardamom (5:1:dash), then watch everything fastidiously while Sarah’s ginger tea (finely chopped) comes to a boil.  The tiny house, too, has proved to be an excellent mirror to this particularly pervasive character trait.  I couldn’t just slap up exterior window trim and caulk the heck out of it.  Too easy.  I had to devise a clever interlocking system that would guarantee (so far) water-proofness.  While I DO think it’s a good system, It doesn’t work any better than the easy way, looks about the same, and complicated things greatly when I realized it’s hard to tuck the same piece of siding under two sides of a window.  Oh, and btw, I caulked the heck out of it.  Here are some pictures.

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Knowing my aforementioned proclivity toward encumbrance, it was time to run electric.  We walked through the house and discussed if we really need a three-way-switch to the loft, or even a porch light.  We nixed both because we prefer localized, movable lighting (aka lamps) that we could plug in and click on at the source.  With only electrical outlets needed in the house, the wiring was easy.  Just hook the whole house up like one big extension cord.  Plug one end in and everything works!  The first few were a bit tedious (tiny wires/connection + big clumsy hands) but once I got the hang of it, my sway towards complication began.

It started innocently enough.  I realized that I was using 12-3 Romex when I only needed 12-2 for our simplistic system (Meaning I had one extra ‘hot’ wire: see below).  wpid-20150420_140751.jpgThen I thought, “Hey!  I have two hot wires in the same casing, why not make the house on two circuits (red and black) and they can share a neutral!”  This made sense  and I later found out that this used to be a common practiceSo I wired the outside socket and the kitchen socket on the same circuit (red) and the rest of the house on black.  Good in theory, more complicated than I thought partly due to my lackluster wiring skills, and partly due to not fully understanding what it means to share a neutral.  SO, after wrestling with it over the course of a rainy afternoon, and getting some sage advice from an electrician friend, I scrapped the idea and wired it all on black.  One circuit, no problem.

Do you see the progression, though?  Can you see how it moved from a straight forward system to a more complicated/better way?  I started by recognizing my proclivities, then as I put my head down and started doing it, old habits kicked in and I wanted more/better/different.  I think this is a blessing and a curse.  A blessing because the need to improve has lead me to some pretty awesome experiences and taught me a great number of valuable skills.  It’s helped me learn things quickly and understand them fully.  It’s a curse because I tend to get stuck in the process and have a hard time extracting myself…taking a step back…and realizing that somebody has already figured out how to do this work, and I can probably trust that they knew what they were doing.

So my take away: always find out for yourself….but also trust that other people have already found out, and it’s on their firm shoulders that I wobble around on trying for something ‘new’. After all, it seems that the ‘new’ thing these days, is actually an old thing rediscovered.  Why not walk the well established path for a bit.  Find out where it leads.  Take some easy steps and get to know the trail before banking left into the brambles and steep inclines of improvised electronics and sketchy wiring.  The end.

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Next up, Insulation!

Shift-Alt-Electricity! (or Technology Part I: Electricity (b))

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Ok, ok I know I said that I’d go into our specific energy uses in this post, but I feel there’s more to say about other ways to electrify a tiny house.  So bear with me (roar) as I shuffle through some more potentially helpful alternatives besides solar.

Grid-tied  

When all the factors of embodied energy, supply, waste, ease, and cost are considered, being tied into the grid can be the steadiest, cleanest, and cheapest.  This is especially true for places like New York City, New Jersey or Oregon where you can choose what source the energy is coming from via: www.greenmountainenergy.com/for-customers/contact-my-utility.

Using grid-tied energy, the approximate cost per kilowatt hour (kWh) =  $0.10-$0.15

Biodiesel + battery bank hybrid

This involves using any regular diesel generator with waste vegetable oil biodiesel and a battery bank.  The major downside to using a biodiesel generator is that “generator sizing in a traditional site is based on peak load so that it can handle the peak load requirement when/if it is required. However, a site seldom reaches its peak load for more than a few minutes at a time.  When the generator starts on a hybrid site, it runs at a high load during the boost recharge period to charge the battery bank and power the existing site load. The generator is therefore running at a much greater efficiency (80-90%)…” (excerpted from: www.clean-power-systems.com/resources/hybrid-power-resources).

 In common English this means that when the generator is on, it produces at five kW (or more), no matter what.  If you only need three kW, two kW are wasted.  With a battery bank and a controller, however, you can collect this excess energy and run all your electric-heavy things at once.  When the batteries are charged, the generator turns off, and the units run on battery power.  It’s not 100% efficient but the price is comparable to a grid-tied system, and it’s reliable, upgradeable, and initially cheaper than solar.

 Here is the math on biodiesel:

~34.5×106 J/liter = 9.58 kWh/Liter (www.roperld.com/science/biofuelsfromalgae.htm)

1 gallon=3.785 liters.  9.58kWh x 3.785L. = 36.2603 kWh/Gallon.

 If one gallon of biodiesel costs  $3.00 (current cost in Oregon) then that works out to $0.08/ KWH  (1/36th of $3.00), assuming all power generated is stored or used.  If half of its max is used, it’s about $0.16/kWh.  With the battery bank and hybrid charge controller it would run on 80-90% efficiency, or about $0.10/kWh. 

 Here are some sources that discuss what biodiesel is, and the pros and cons therein:

auto.howstuffworks.com/fuel-efficiency/alternative-fuels/biodiesel4.htm

www.biodiesel.org/

A government-operated site that includes information on all available renewable energy sources including biodiesel fuel: www.eere.energy.gov/afdc/fuels/biodiesel.html

 Windwindpoweredsheep

Wind turbines are just too big and need to be placed up too high to be of practical use to our tiny house.  While it’s a great technology that offers little to no hassle and an unlimited capacity to turn in the wind, it is limited by the wind (or lack thereof) that is present and the location/zoning where we park our tiny house.

Biogas  

This is super cool.   An explanation from All Power Labs: “Gasification is the use of heat to transform solid biomass or other carbonaceous solids into a synthetic “natural gas-like” flammable fuel.  Through gasification, we can convert nearly any dry organic matter into a clean burning fuel that can replace fossil fuel in most use situations. Whether starting with wood chips or walnut shells, construction debris or agricultural waste, gasification will transform common “waste” into a flexible gaseous fuel you can use to run your internal combustion engine, cooking stove, furnace or flamethrower.”

While this is an incredible technology, the fuel for it is difficult to find and the maintenance would be a lot to keep up with.  It’s also not as efficient, dependent upon an unreliable source of fuel and the technology is still emerging.

 Here is a link to the “Power Pallet” bio-gas generator and the fuels that it can use:

http://www.allpowerlabs.com/info/gasification-basics/gasifier-types

www.gekgasifier.com/products/appropriate-fuels

 

Wave Power

This is just another nod to a great technology that would be extremely difficult to implement.

www.treehugger.com/renewable-energy/why-wave-power-so-far-behind-wind-and-solar.html

 

So that’s the skinny on various electricity sources.  I’m almost done running wire through the tiny house and will have a blog about that in the coming weeks.