Category Archives: preparing to build

Our Trailer is Here and We’re Ready to Build!

We’ve been collecting materials, researching, and getting ready to build for a few months now, but when the flat-bed trailer that will be our foundation arrived a few days ago, it felt more real than ever before. Our trailer is an eight by twenty foot steel beauty built specifically for tiny houses.

We made this little video to show you our fresh, new trailer. This video is the “before,” and in the “after” it’ll have a house on it!


String Theory: Our Scale Model

No, not subatomic particles…ACTUAL STRING!  After reading about how helpful it would be to have a scale model, we went out and bought some poster board and box cutters at the local hobby shop with lofty ideas of gluing small pieces of foam together to make, essentially, a tiny-doll-house in the exact proportion of the Tumbleweed framing plans.  Didn’t happen.

Instead what we ended up doing, which may or may not have been more work, was framing the house in string.  Scale? 1:1.  So now we can actually step through the front door opening and feel the space around us.   I used two walls of a room and triangulated the points from the ceiling and floor using a level and a tape measure.  It’s a little bit off here and there (by no more than 4”) due to the string bending when crossed with other string, but all around pretty functional!IMG_1357 IMG_1355 IMG_1361

Making the String Model helped us with the following :

~Is the space big enough for the two sleeping lofts? Yes.

~Are the lofts big enough to sleep and sit in?  Really? We’ve modified the work loft (our second loft) with some dormers.

~Where the heck should we put our salvaged windows?

~Kitchen orientation + sizing

~Actually feeling like “We’re going to do this!”

~Easier to show friends what exactly it is that we’re doing

~Placement, orientation, and design of the bathroom, kitchen, shelves, window seat

~Appliance sizing (stove, sinks, heating, etc.) Now, every time we have a question are wondering if something will fit in the Tiny House, we step into the first floor String Model, or climb into the loft floor String Model.  Super helpful!

We are lucky to have enough indoor space in our current home to map out our entire tiny house with string, and to leave it up.  If you don’t have that much space maybe you could do it in a backyard with rope or duct tape attached to trees, buildings, or a ladder.  You could also put up a String Model for a day inside, sort out the questions you’ve been wondering about, and take it down again.

Check out our video here to see how to make your walls straight and your ceiling flat and everything else for your String Model.

Window to our Soul-vage: Salvaging Windows

Salvaging materials to build a home, tiny or otherwise, means two things:

~Less money spent

~More time required

Is the time spent worth the money saved? Maybe. It depends on what you have more of. We are currently enjoying the search! Each find is a victory! Like treasure hunting, or geocaching.

One of the biggest expenses of building a tiny house is windows, so we decided to try to salvage most of them and what we couldn’t find, purchase new (which we didn’t have to do). The search was on!

Habitat for Humanity Re-Store windowWe needed to know what range of sizes would work for each window in the house, because we knew we wouldn’t find exactly what was called for in the plans.  Besides that we were open to some multiformity among our windows – we didn’t mind if they were different sizes as long as they didn’t look too wonky.

Show-room floor window

We started by tapping the salvage yards (Habitat for Humanity Restore in Santa Rosa and Urban Ore in Berkeley, as well as a few others where we didn’t find anything) and Craigslist for 75% of our windows, and a great door!

A-door-able!Then we took the advice of a friend and asked window shops if they had a “bone-yard” of new, overstock or wrong-sized windows. These windows are usually  payed for by a customer, then they end up not being needed, and are just stored.  All we had to do was ask!  We went to about six window stores but all of the windows they offered us were WAY too big for our house, like a pair of still-in-the-box sliding glass doors for $60 (retail = $1500), or Buy one 4’X4′ Milgard for $75 take the second one free! “They were just taking up space” was the common refrain. 

This is the first window we found on Craigslist.
This is the first window we found on Craigslist.

However, we did find four small Milgard brand windows that had sat on a showroom floor, out of the elements, and were no longer in use due to model updates.

Zoom in and check out the nice pine casing they came with!
Zoom in and check out the nice pine casing they came with!

The gentleman who showed them to us hesitated saying, “I can’t guarantee them, but I don’t see why they shouldn’t be used.” We assured him that we understood the risk, and got a great deal. 

In summary, most of our salvaged and “bone-yard” windows are so new they still have energy rating stickers on them, and we spent  under half what we would have if we’d custom ordered them.

Hindsight being 20/20, here’s what we’d do differently next time.

~Know the size ranges of the windows needed from the start, and have a to-scale model worked out (see String Theory post)

~When looking around for windows, we were glad that a friend had emphasized to us ANY moisture is a BAD THING!  When we bought windows that were used we went so far as to hose some of them down, set them in the sun for awhile to see what happened.  Outlook = Positive

~We should have started by asking local shops for surplus/boneyard windows as it proved to be less money than salvage! Though the prices were not standardized, it generally was a better deal by a lot.  Por ejemplo: $150 for a used window from Habitat for Humanity,  $100 for four brand new Milgards right out of the store.  Although going to this route increases the situation at the top of the post – a lot less money, but a lot more time.

~Tell EVERYONE we’re building a Tiny House.  It’s surprising and encouraging to receive support from strangers.

Thanks for reading!