Taking a pause

When my Wolof teacher, an elderly man with zany socks, needed a break from drilling us on vocabulary, he would say, “Il faut changer l’air un peu, quoi.” Then we would empty from the little classroom into the courtyard and sip too-sweet shots of tea and eat Biskrim or pain chocolat until he’d finished smoking his pipe and was ready to teach again.

With regards to our tiny house project: il faut changer l’air un peu, quoi.

I located energy consumption about the Nina Soft Spin Dryer and Tom said that that the envi heater would drink too much juice from our future solar panels. So, onto wood stoves. Four Dog or Dickinson Solid Fuel Wood stoves seem like the best options, depending on budget and/or floor layout. I asked my insurance agent about renting my house; he said a landlord’s policy is usually less than a homeowner’s policy (whew) but we wouldn’t be able to insure our tiny house, just the trailer it’s built on (boo!).

I also ventured into the lair of the evil giant, Comcast, to ask how much data we use every month. They said: 34G in November, 63G in December, and 56G in January. Yikes. Even if we were in T-Mobile’s local 4G network (we’re just outside of range) they don’t have a plan that would remotely meet our needs. Neither does Virgin (powered by Sprint) and Verizon’s plans are even worse. That leaves satellite internet, which is crazy expensive, and would chew through electricity, to boot. I could make due without a home internet connection but Tom can’t for his job. No access to reliable, high-speed internet would be a dealbreaker.

I’m very aware of how services, utilities, and products are designed to favor going large. There are plenty of wood stoves for 1,000+ sq ft, but only a handful built to heat less, and even fewer that wouldn’t overwhelm a 200 sq ft house. Of the stoves that are small enough to accommodate a tiny house, many are priced prohibitively – perhaps because they’re designed for someone’s secondary residence, a sink for disposable income.

When we add it up, I don’t think we’ll save much money by going tiny – at least, not right now. We’d have to finance the build through bank loans. One of us (*ahem*) wouldn’t pay off his student loans as quickly. Even after we moved in and could rent the big house, the monthly income from the rental would be around $300 after we paid a management company and the mortgage. $300 wouldn’t cover the monthly payments on the loan we took out to build the tiny house.  We’d save on water and electric bills (about $100 a month, put together) but internet would cost more. I’m also hesitant to invest my heart and time (well, and money) in a home that wouldn’t be insured should something happen to it!

New plan: finish and defend my g.d. master’s project. Ride long. Enjoy our wedding. Save money. Attempt RAIN. Pay down existing debt. Spend time with friends. Start applying to jobs. Get rid of stuff we have. Simplify our lives as much as we can. Get rid of stuff. Improve our house’s insulation. Keep planning a tiny house and see where things are later this year. Maybe we’ll be able to start a build next spring. Or maybe we’ll move somewhere and then build. If we haven’t built before we move maybe we’ll buy a little land and build a permanent tiny structure. Not worrying about trailer dimensions will give us more room for insulation. We’ll see. Plans may change again, though – you never know!


Heaters, dishwashers, laundry, and refrigeration – oh, my!

It looks like radiant floor heat, at least the electric variety, might not integrate as well as we’d hoped with solar power. According to the internet, at least – I’m still waiting to talk to someone from Commercial Service, who might know more. Our original plan was to heat with radiant heat (InfraFloor and Calorique are brands I looked at on the internet) and have a portable propane space heater (perhaps Mr. Heater brand) for backup. Warm floors sure would be a luxury! Now, though, I’m wondering if we could make something like the envi heater work, instead (keeping the propane space heater for backup). We’ll need to learn more about how solar energy works before we know for sure!

We also thought, at first, that we’d want a dishwasher. One of us (*ahem*) has a difficult time doing dishes promptly, and found her life transformed when she bought a used dishwasher on wheels from Craigslist that we were able to hard-wire into the washer/dryer plumbing. So, we thought a dishwasher would be indispensable. Between our need to conserve water and electricity, though, we may make due without one. Certainly if we have very few dishes we’ll be motivated to keep them clean.

Similar to the dishwasher, we started out anticipating we’d want a washer/dryer unit in the tiny house. Who wants to pay (in quarters and in time) for a laundromat every weekend? Then I stumbled over several reviews of the Wonderwash, which sounds like it works surprisingly well. Unlike comparable products from Panda, the Wonderwash is hand-powered, so the only resource we’d need would be water. Reviewers suggested pairing the Wonderwash with an electric spinner to decrease drying time, which makes sense. The spinners mentioned in the reviews are no longer available on Amazon, but something like the Nina Soft Spin Dryer might be a practical alternative. The price point is higher than the ones I read about, but if it’s more energy efficient, that would be a plus.

When it comes to refrigeration, I suspect we’ll end up with a DCR50 (fridge) and a DCF50 (freezer) from SunDanzer. We eat a lot of frozen spinach and I don’t think I can sacrifice my frozen blueberries, especially in the summer. That leaves us needing more freezer space than there typically is in a standard fridge. I like the SunDanzer products because they are the most affordable. Other brands I’m looking at include SunFrost, Tundra, Norcold, and Polar Power.

It’s official!

Having a blog means Tom and I are officially serious about building our tiny house, right?

We’ve spent the past few weeks weighing several options. Eventually we’d like to move west and in May I’ll have finished my M.S. degree, which will make me a competitive candidate for the positions I’m interested in. If I got an offer, we could move as soon as this summer! Then, we could build a tiny house after we’ve moved. Or, we could renovate a cheap travel trailer here in town, move across the country in that, and build a tiny house when we get there. Or, we could delay our departure and build a tiny house before we leave. Do we stay in our big house while we build? Should we sell the house? Should we rent it out? Lots of decisions.

What makes the most sense, so far, is to build before we leave. We have land here to build on, friends to support us, established jobs, and connections with local contractors.

Just to make sure we knew what we were getting into, yesterday we drove down to Root’s in Mitchell to look at the interior of travel trailers. We knew there was a possibility we would stand inside such a small living space and decide against the entire idea. Surprisingly, Root’s had two Fairmont Park Trailer models on the lot, so we started with those. They were huge!! And used space rather poorly, we thought. It was colder inside both homes than outside (and it was 17 degrees outside). But they gave us a good idea of what was possible, and what we might do better.

RVs are a fascinating phenomenon. Manufacturers seem to be in a competition to furnish each new interior with the most gaudy decorations possible. Travel trailers from the 80s and early 90s were tolerable; anything newer was downright alarming. We picked up some good ideas of how to use space, and also realized that we’d need a 24-foot trailer. The 20-foot RVs we went into felt just a little too small to comfortably house our entire family.

Back in the shop we met with a salesperson to talk about purchasing a trailer. We’d read Andrew and Gabriella’s suggestions about custom trailers, so we were prepared for that possibility. The salesperson was very helpful and also nice. He didn’t bat an eye when we said we wanted a trailer to build a house in. Quite the opposite – he remarked that more and more the direction of things lately is toward the small. He recommended a PJ 8″ Channel Super-Wide bumper pull trailer and quoted us a price of $5,908, before tax. Yikes! Adding a second jack would be another $187, also before tax. He then said he had a used 24-foot carhauler in their overflow lot we could check out. So we drove Dora across the highway and into a yard behind the church on the corner. Unfortunately, the bed was only 83″ wide – way too narrow. It was disappointing at first, but then I was relieved that we wouldn’t feel pressured to jump on a good-priced trailer before we were really ready to make a purchase.

On the way north we stopped at Bounds and McPike to ask about radiant heat flooring. Although they can install electric radiant heat (what we’re looking for) all the salespeople were away at the annual Homes Show, so we weren’t able to learn too much. We did decide, however, that laminate flooring would be just fine. No need to go with something fancier, like cork. We also learned that the folks at Bounds and McPike suggest a custom installed radiant heat system rather than purchasing a radiant heat mat at a hardware store. If we decide against a simple mat, however, we won’t be able to do the install ourselves. Either way we’ll need an electrician to do the wiring.

I’d read online about a trailer shop in Spencer and since they were open Saturday until 5 we headed that way. The guy we talked with there, like at Root’s, was one of the nicest people. He suggested a Load Trail trailer with the same specs as the PJ model, but with drop axles for extra headroom, and quoted us a price over $1,500 less than the PJ. Still more expensive than we were expecting, but less difficult to swallow. He recommended we place our order about 3 months out and said he’d check on the possibility of making a few customizations (removing the rub rail and building the frame out, making the x-members flush with the top of the frame, and delivering the trailer without decking). Cool!

Last night we studied Tiny House Floor Plans: Over 200 Interior Designs for Tiny Houses and came up with a few ideas. Since we know what size trailer we’ll get we can start dreaming up designs, which is exciting! Tom started designing our house in Sketchup and I’ve been making wobbly sketches with pencil and paper. We have a LOT of research left to do (well, almost all of it!) but it feels good to have a few things settled in the early stages. Especially the big decision: we’re going to do this!