Thursday, July 20, 2017

"Happiness Is a State of Activity" ~ Aristotle

While sitting on a closed freeway one day, pondering “what to do next” with my life, I looked over at the car parked next to me and noticed that they were towing a teardrop. I’d always wanted a teardrop trailer but had NO idea how much they would cost. So, right then and there I went on Craigslist and found a homemade one for sale. The next day, on a somewhat-irresponsible-whim, I bought it for $1,000 (which I borrowed from my 18 year old son) from an old guy who made it in his garage, atop a pop-up camper trailer frame.

Early in that same week Mark and I had been discussing possible plans to travel the country and we had calculated that a small car or truck, and a teardrop, would be the LEAST expensive way to do so whilst still maintaining some sense of comfort. (A comfortable, dry, secure, warm, bed every night) My newest acquisition wasn’t pretty, by any means, but it was cute and sturdy and lightweight enough to pull behind my convertible.

A few months later, I loaded our two kayaks onto the top and we took it camping for the first time. And, in the end, Mark was less than impressed. Granted, he had (ironically) arrived at the camp site after 5 hours of being stuck in traffic because of an incident that had closed the freeway. He arrived, grumpy, tired, and his mood or his attitude towards my little teardrop never fully recovered. He has a good point, of course. Since there is only one door the person sleeping opposite the door (him) has to climb over the other person (me) to go to the restroom in the middle of the night. And, truly, honestly, it really is too small for two. But the upshot is that after that weekend I parked the teardrop in the garage and considered “what to do next”.

I moved that winter and the teardrop moved from the garage to the front driveway. Then it moved from the driveway to a storage lot. And, in retrospect, I trusted the maker far more than I should have. During that frantic time, I wasn’t as diligent as I should have been about keeping it fully covered, and after the move dust settled I discovered that quite a bit of water had gotten in. I doubled my efforts at keeping it not only covered but fully wrapped in a tarp, and put desiccant in to help dry it out.

In the Spring, after a MUCH more discriminating inspection, I discovered that the maker had expended NO effort in caulking any of the windows, or the door, and had actually installed one of the windows upside down. The winter rain pooled in the sill, and then leaked over and down into the walls and interior. Also, the stain he had used on the exterior contained NO sealant properties so the plywood itself had also absorbed a fair amount of moisture, was swollen, buckled, and pulling away from the frame.

As the months passed, the teardrop wasn’t completely forgotten but I knew that I couldn’t use it in its existing condition, and I couldn’t sell it. I would have to scrap it, or put some serious effort into making it weather resistant. So I decided I would try…

First, I caulked and replaced every fastener holding down the metal roof. I then dropped it off with a woodworking friend of mine to replace the dysfunctional-boat-hatch-used-as-a-door, bought some new fabric for the curtains, and inspired a seamstress to take on my project amidst her many others. Finally, I removed the metals screws (Who uses metal screws on a wood trailer?) replaced them with wood screws, caulked the heads, sanded the trailer, and SEALED IT! Then I moved on to work on my two tiny houses under construction.

I cannot control everything. I know that. But I’d like to. And, in my younger days, I would emotionally “fight” delays and push harder to “make” things happen. But lately, I have decided that a far more laid back approach is needed in my life. So, when my tiny house builds were both delayed, leaving me with more “down” time than I would prefer, instead of pushing and fretting, I turned my attention back to my little teardrop; to something I COULD control.

After the new door was done, I picked it up from my good friend Bruce at Friesian Woodcrafters; and it was then that I noticed a few mold spots under the window. Masked and determined, I demolished the entire bed frame and wiped down the interior with soapy bleach and mold prevention spray. Once again I discovered how many shortcuts the maker had made.

For the bed platform, instead of using ¾ ply, he used 3 sheets of ¼ ply, assembled in three layers, made up of different sizes and shapes (some not even attached) pieced together, and covered in carpet pad and headliner fabric. (What a mess. What was he thinking?) After demo, I then rebuilt the bed frame with slotted pine boards which would provide MUCH better airflow and access to the under bed storage, as well as give me the ability to visually monitor for any potential future moisture related issues.

Inspired by the Sisters on the Fly, I knew I wanted to have the rear of the trailer painted by an artist. I had some paint left over from another project that I originally wanted to use but, after a LOT of unexpected drama that I won’t go into here, and five time consuming coats of new paint later; it was ready for the final stroke of artistic genius.

So, in true Michelle-form, I placed an ARTIST WANTED ad on Craigslist.  Within a few hours, several local artists submitted their work, and I hired one whose work mostly closely matches my style.

That evening was so fun!  Jacob was prompt, funny, and is uber talented. He flawlessly, affordably, and easily executed my flowered vision quite perfectly in one sit-down. Free form. Color me impressed!

Inspired by Aristotle, her new official name is Aris the Hippie Teardrop.

She weights just over a 1000 lbs, sleeps two (albeit cozy-like with an 8” thick memory foam, Full size, mold resistant, Parklane mattress) and is off-grid friendly with battery powered lights. But, she also works well on-grid and plugs into campsites for full functionality.

When plugged in she cools easily with the use of a fan and heats quickly with a tiny, round, freestanding, space heater.

She boasts 56 sq feet of under-bed storage and can easily haul enough camping gear to accommodate her occupant’s enjoyment of both the convenience of teardrop camping and the primitive nature of tent camping.

I have one vice: Creative Projects. They feed my soul, keep me up at night, energize me, and fill my ongoing and quasi-insatiable need for self-validation.

Yes. I can do this. I can do anything I set my mind to.

It may not be perfect, (nor am I) and everyone may not like it, (or me) and that’s totally OK.

I know that wherever Aris goes, smiles will abound, and I hope her message will inspire others to not just dream but to “DO” what makes them the most happy.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Dear Sponsors, We LOVE you ALL!

There is simply no way we would be able to build My Tiny Perch without the generous support of you, our GREAT sponsors.

And, this time, rather than sending you all an email / newsletter, I’m going to shout to the world (again!) my appreciation (and affection) for you, your staff, and your products; via this blog post.

And while we have not yet cracked open the boxes of ALL of the products we’ve received, there are a few sponsors and products that have taken an expeditious front and center in our world.

"Who are they?"

Sherwin Williams’ staff (which includes my son) was quite surprised that I chose such a bold color for the exterior.  But the comments that started out as a “you’re painting it THAT color?” have now ended up as “I LOVE the color” from all who see it.

Bright, Bold and Beautiful!

Mr. Plywood and their knowledgeable staff have gone above and beyond to advise, select, and provide the lumber and siding which has, after many nights of lost sleep, actually resulted in the under-weight shell that we hoped it would be. 

Working with such great materials also allowed us to stay ahead of the build schedule, 
even in bad weather!

Maybe the framing is not much to look at, but we've been oh so impressed nonetheless!

Here we are, espousing our love for Mr. Plywood everywhere we go!

If eyes are the window to your soul, our windows and door are a peek into the caring souls of the flexible and supportive staff at ParrLumber. The amazing windows are a beautiful and dominate feature of My Tiny Perch that gives the interior a not-so-tiny feel.  

A HUGE view from where WE stand!

I am in LOVE with the orange door!

And last, but not least, thank you to Insulation Solutions for stepping up to provide the house “wraptor” we needed, just when we needed it!

Keeping it dry and prepping for siding.

And, this party's just getting started.....

My EPIC Tiny House Summer Camp Vacation

It’s that time of year …the time of year when we look at the calendar, double check how much time we have in our vacation coffer, and then make our summer travel plans. If you’re like me, with newly adult children, figuring out where they want to go that will result in a minimal amount of complaints; is a thing of the past. Yes, my travel plans can now include going places and doing things I want to do!!

Burlington, Vermont; City Hall

As a West Coaster growing up in a large family and then raising my own, I haven’t had as much time to travel to the East Coast as much I would have liked. Or, perhaps it was the lack of travel that gave me the travel “bug”. Nowadays, I think nothing of road tripping several hundred miles on a weekend. But, there are some destinations that require a bit more work

This is what "travel planning" looks like in my world

And, as I ponder what my trip plans will include this year, I can’t help but recall the bestest vacation ever that I took last year to….drum roll…..Tiny House Summer Camp.

My 2016 Tiny House Summer Camp Accommodations.

Picture this…..ten off-grid wooded acres in the hills of Vermont in late summer, the leaves have not yet started to turn, the smell of a bonfire, and laughter…lots of laughter. I spent 3 of my 7 days of summer vacation amongst the most fun, and funniest, helpful, fun loving, creative, and colorful people I have ever met in my life.

Day One - Wednesday
I arrived in Burlington Vermont with what felt like the worst hangover I have ever had. After having not slept a WINK on the plane I just wanted a horizontal space, ANY horizontal space, to lay my head. The “plan” was to rent an SUV and car camp for a week, and let my whim be my guide. After picking up my rental SUV I headed straight to Goodwill to purchase blankets and then headed to Walmart, where I bought an air mattress. After finding a tire shop to fill the mattress, I sacked out in the parking lot of a grocery store.

Minimalism at its finest!

Day Two – Thursday
I woke up in the middle of the deep woods in Vermont at a camp ground that I found after hours of being lost. It was my day to “acclimate” to the east coast time zone and I could think of no better way to start my vacation than at a spa; so I ventured into a nearby resort village and asked around for the best masseuse in town. Five hours later, freshly showered and adequately relaxed, I put the elusive camp address in my GPS and headed out.

An Austrian Spa in the mountains of Vermont.

Day Three – Friday
Despite my best attempts at drinking myself to sleep, the backwoods sounds of Vermont had other plans for me. Said sounds include what I later identified as a porcupine scrape marks on the DOOR of the very tree house I was attempting to sleep in. Friday morning, guests arrived and started milling about, introductions were made, and they got started organizing the crew and attendees into project groups. Then, a bonfire. But, like Vegas, what happened there needs to stay there so that’s all I’ll say about that…..

My next-tree "neighbor".

Day Four – Saturday
Camp was in full swing! There were hammering sounds coming from all directions in the woods and several projects, of all shapes and sizes, were happening at once. A space ship-esque tree house was started, a hillside cabin was getting some much needed siding, a tiny house on wheels was being constructed, and impromptu survivor class participants were learning about how to make an insulated shelter from sticks and leaves. That night, the bonfire was epic; a deep woods speaker-filled experience lit with candles on a moss covered mini-amphitheater in the shadow of a huge robot tree house. (say THAT tree times fast!?)

The one....the only....ROBOT TREE HOUSE!!

Day Five – Sunday
I was sad to go but eager to explore. And, like any good explorer, I headed straight to a nearby town with a hotel and a bar. I showered, ate spaghetti with the loveliest bartender I have ever met, and then slept like a rock for 12 hours.

Do these earrings make my face look fat?

Day Six – Monday
Yes. You guessed it. I got lost again and arrived not at the ice cream factory which allows tourists, but the ONE that doesn’t. On my way back from almost-Canada I stopped to get an impromptu tattoo. And,  if I need another reason to return to Vermont, the artist is it. He imagines a unique and fun new tattoo to augment my 90’s inspired left-ankle bracelet of pansies.

Pain? What pain?

Day Seven – Tuesday
Time to head home. It was truly the first vacation I have ever been on where I felt like I didn’t want to go home. I’d gotten lost several times and didn’t shower every day but the new friends I had made, and the fun I had, and the memories we created, were more than well worth the investment.

I may have been a visitor, but welcomed I was not.  

Your Tiny House Summer Camp experience will not likely involve getting lost quite as much as I did. But, I guarantee you, that if you’re looking for a fun way to combine your love of all-things-tiny-house and a fun-loving backwoods story to tell your friends and family about, Deek and his crew won’t disappoint. Deek provides all of his attendees with hands-on building and learning opportunities, in a supportive and non-judgmental environment.

I have never seen a more lovely "parking lot" in all my life.

His mantra is “It’s better to screw up on my projects, than your own!” and I appreciate that about him. He takes all the risk and his attendees get all the rewards.

No"screw ups" in this adorable tiny cabin.

It’s tough to fit an adequate description of the life-changing experience I had in Vermont, into a brief blog post that will hold your attention. (Are you STILL reading!?) So, please know that while I have strategically left out some of the details, I hope I have still conveyed the amazing time I had when I attended Tiny House Summer Camp and slept in a see-through tree house.

The little Red A-Frame.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Moving Day for My Tiny Perch

There are many days in a tiny houses's life that are stressful, but dare I say none of them hold a candle to the potentially catastrophic results of moving one down the freeway, at 50 mph.

Yes, I have done all I can to ensure the house can withstand a hurricane AND and earthquake simultaneously; aka the forces that a tiny house is exposed to while on the road.

And, yes, I have had it inspected and re-inspected and inspected again for safety and stability.

But, I can only imagine, even the most seasoned of house builders has a little bit of nervous energy when they move theirs.

To make a long story short, I am thrilled that there was NO drama and everything went VERY smoothly, despite the 170 miles we needed to travel.

And, I am super excited to announce that my risk to buy a recycled RV trailer paid off.  My Tiny Perch only weighs 5440 lbs on a certified scale.  Whew!  What a relief!!

Almost ready to go!

Admiring her, from behind.

Closing up the front window so rocks won't break it.

My Tiny Perch looks sooooo tiny when on the road.

Stopping for a quick driver break.  

Underpasses are particularly nerve wracking but not as much so with only a 12 1/4 ft height.

The final few feet, lifting branches while traversing the driveway.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Miscellaneous Vulnerable Ramblings

Builder Bashing

As I watched the most recent “my tiny house builder screwed me over” video on youtube I couldn’t help but feel thankful; thankful that I have the health, and resources, and support from my friends and loved ones, to build my own. I have a unique sense of accountability this way.  If something does not get done, or is done wrong, or is late; I have nobody to blame but myself.  My timeline is self inflicted and my material choices are my own. Yes, there is stress from this kind of build, but not having to collaborate (or doing so, on a pretty limited basis) results in “the buck stops here” level of responsibility.  Ironically, that is a calming mantra in my world. I have been on my own for so long that depending on someone else at this point in my life feels very uncomfortable, very insecure.

Mourning the Loss of 9 Square Feet

And speaking of collaboration, as we considered the fender replacement options, Mark expressed very strong feelings about using a particular type.  So I spent $100 on the fenders and then $200 to have them welded on. It wasn’t until AFTER this was done that I discovered that we had lost 6” of width off of the house. On a tiny house that is only 18 feet long,  that 9 square feet is a BIG deal!  Mark and I exchanged some heated words and he wasn’t happy that I was “blaming” him.  I wasn’t really.  I was frustrated, sure.  I hadn’t asked enough questions about the fenders to understand the implication of using them. But after a few hours of pouting and mourning and identifying the “sacrifices” my design would have to absorb, I moved on. Yes. I could have torn them off.  But, in the end, the advantages of a better roof overhang outweighed the lack of wiggle room at the end of the bed and the slightly smaller bathroom.

Like Family

Three years ago I attended my first tiny house networking event. Almost two years ago, I completed my first build. And today, I am feeling so thankful that the tiny house community has embraced me as one of them. However, I feel odd even typing this. Like I have no right to assume they feel the same.  I feel like I deserve it, for sure, and have worked hard to contribute to the movement in a positive way. But it still feels odd when I get invited to speak, or write. It’s like someone is talking to me and I am looking over my shoulder to see who else they might be complimenting. Because I am estranged from my family, a firm sense of who I am and who my “people” are has eluded me most of my life. I would love to believe that I have found “home” but my insecurities still bite at the heels of my self confidence. So, until the feeling of peace and security is second-nature, I’ll settle for feeling thankful and motivated by a strong sense of needing to earn my way into the cool kids club.

Pacing Myself

When people hear that I work a desk job 40 hours a week, AND am building a tiny house, AND I’m the Hostess for Tiny House Podcast, AND I write for Tiny House Magazine, AND I drive almost 200 miles to my build site each weekend they always ask “Do you sleep!?” The short answer is “yes” because I LOVE TO SLEEP!  My problem, however, isn’t my lack of sleep but my lack of balance in life right now.  It is an intentional choice, but one that leaves me bone tired from the go-go-go pace I have going right now.  This weekend, after attending 3 straight days of tiny house events, I drove once again to my boyfriend’s house. (aka the build site)  Of course I had a list of stuff I wanted to get done but his TO DO list was much different than mine. He had also worked a full week and his weekend consisted of spending one day doing what he loved (watching boat racing) and one day getting caught up on chores. So, in a nutshell, my build day turned into his chore day but I am totally fine with that. The strength of our relationship is that I speed him up when he’s feeling unmotivated, and he slows me down when I need it.  I got some “tool staging” done and picked up the cabinet for the tiny house bedroom, but other than that it was a totally slack day.  And one that I desperately needed but would have never scheduled for myself.  I also found an affordable tea cart on craigslist for my living room. And that reminds me, I need to text them and go get that today….

Onward and Upward!!!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Want to Save THOUSANDS of $$$ On Your Tiny House Build?

It drives me absolutely NUTS when I read social media posts written by people whining about how tiny houses are sooooo expensive. And, inevitably, the resulting conversation includes harsh comments about tiny house builder’s greed and waste and how fancy tiny houses are “not the point”.

And, while I will fully admit to having a bit of an elitist attitude towards what people refer to as “tiny houses” (a blog post for another day) and will admit that I have seen a $100,000 tiny house that was only 24 feet long and said to myself “What’s the point?”; I will also admit that hearing people complain about how much the movement's popularity (demand) has increased prices sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. It's basic math. It's not as if the movers and shakers in the tiny house world are making money hand over fist. On the contrary; for the most part, they're struggling to keep up.

Building a tiny house is a LOT of work!

So, why all the drama?

I think it's because people don't know what it takes to build a tiny house and/or understand the dynamics at play.  

After receiving a message from someone this morning wherein she asked me if I could build My Tiny Perch for cheaper, I have decided to write this article so I can respond to every future question about this subject with the thoughtfulness that it really requires; rather than the brief offhanded responses I often have time for.

Regardless of the size, or how fancy a house is, there are FIVE things that every tiny house (or any house project, for that matter) has in common. They all need space, tools, materials, labor, and supplies. When I was recently in Georgia I gave a speech about this subject but with a slightly different twist.  The gist, however, is that when you embark on a tiny house build you can pick ONLY two of the following; FAST, CHEAP, OR GOOD. 

Bottom Line:
For each attribute of a tiny house build you have the opportunity to save, or spend, money or time; depending on your motivations and goals.

On my first build, My Empty Nest, I spent just shy of $35,000. However, most of the materials came from sponsors in the form of materials. When, for instance, Rheem sponsored me by providing an on demand hot water heater worth $1,200, then $1,200 was applied to the budget.  Just because I didn’t pay cash for it does not mean the value of the product should be left out of the budget, right?

For My Tiny Perch, however, even though I am collecting sponsors again, the materials are more in line with my more moderate budget of only $20,000. For my Empty Nest, I received almost $2,000 worth of recycled, designer, glass tile from Ann Sacks for my last build.  This time, however, I am using no tile at all.  Is that $2,000 saved or $2,000 avoided?  Is there a difference?

So how do you save money on a tiny house and not sacrifice quality?

I have posted a few ideas lately about utilizing a used trailer, windows, and how to save money on labor by using T1-11 as sheathingand siding.  And I am pretty proud of my cost savings efforts.  But people don't necessarily want to read a dozen blog posts to understand this complex issue.

So, here you go.  

Here in a succinct graphic I designed to help get to the crux of the issue:

As you review this graphic, I hope you will notice the pattern;  Fast = Expensive. And so, since time and money create a trade off, so do the decisions.  And, to clarify, the approach I took with My Tiny Perch is highlighted.

Worth Repeating
For each attribute of a tiny house build you have the opportunity to save, or spend, money or time; depending on your motivations and goals.

Just because you want to save money by building it “yourself” does not mean you cannot hire a pro to do the tough stuff.

Just because you don’t have access to all of the tools you will need to build your tiny house, does not mean you need to spend a small fortune buying new ones.

Maybe, consider saving some money on the build space, and splurging on the labor.

Maybe collect materials for a time, then kick start your build schedule by buying some new materials to complete the next phase of your project.

Tiny House builds are as unique as they are complex.  They are as cheap or as expensive as you want them to be.  They are as palatial or as cozy as you design them to be.

It’s all up to you, and nobody else.

And that’s the best part.

Monday, March 27, 2017

How to Save Weight in Your Tiny House Build By Combining Sheathing and Siding

For ease of construction, and where possible, walls are built flat.
Wall #1 was built ON the trailer, sheathed, and raised intact.

As you saw in Framing Part Two, the rest of the walls are raised once framed,
and THEN wrapped.

Mathematically, it's not easy to keep track of the framing calculations needed 
for building from the outside in, 
(as he did with Wall #1)
and building from inside out, 
(as he did with Wall # 2 through Wall #4)

And then just when he was just getting started on sheathing Wall #2, Mark made a mistake.

That mistake meant we had to scrap one entire sheet of siding / sheathing.

So I went and bought another sheet and painted it.

And, I figured that as long as I was painting, I'd get started on painting the fascia.

A front view with already-painted siding that doubles as structural sheathing.

The Rear View.

The Back Wall View - Almost Done!

Here you can see (and this will haunt me forever) that the replacement sheet 
was not from the same mill as the other sheets.   

I'm trying to get over it....

Front and Main Wall View - With Fascia!

(and I decided to add a 3rd coat of yellow to the entire house as well)

Tarped and waiting for a dry day to add the ice and rain shield / roofing underlayment.

After that, interior framing and roofing,
(Roofing will require another dry day which are in very short supply this season)
and trim, and door installation, and electrical, and wiring.......

Thanks again, Mr. Plywood, for your ongoing support of My Tiny Perch!
We LOVE working with such great materials and people!