If you are limited in time or money, waiting for the right materials to show up can be a problem. If you live near several re-use facilities (dump, Re-Store, Thrift stores, etc) then your chances improve, but you still need the luxury of time to visit them regularly in search of the treasures you need. The more flexible you have with your design the easier your search will be. You can also start collecting material before you finish your design so you can factor in the sizes and shapes of things you’ve found.
I bought the hard wood floor for my tiny house from a guy on Craigslist before I was even sure I had the courage and money to start build. The poetry of buying a floor for a house that didn’t exist was lost on me since I was busy having an anxiety attack. Being unemployed and dropping $150 for oak flooring seemed imprudent, impractical and absolutely crazy given my lack of building experience. I actually doubted my sanity for a few weeks after. The thought occurred to me I might be having some kind of late mid-life crises or nervous breakdown triggered by a bad economy.
A week later, I won the money back when my brother dragged me off to a casino to celebrate his birthday. My shouts of “come on hard wood floor” got me some strange looks, but in the end Lady Luck blessed me with a full refund for the 13 boxes of oak which I took as a sign of encouragement.
So off I went, slightly more confident in my sanity, in search of Re-Stores where I purchased a baby bay window (bay-be says my friend Perry) in Oakland. If it hadn’t been the exact window I had been pricing on line for thousands of dollars I would have walked away in fear. But instead I bought it for $350. In Pasadena, I found the perfect French door which was the exact size I needed and even the color I wanted, for only $100. No fear with this purchase, because I was in a state of incredulous bliss. I couldn’t get out of there with my new door fast enough. Because I kept finding the exact things I needed, I thought I might be dreaming and if I didn’t hurry I was going to wake up before I got the house built.
So there I was with a floor, a door, and a bay-be window and no house. So I stacked it near the rest of our stuff in a warehouse we were borrowing. Then it occurred to me that the warehouse was the place to build. I blame the Vegas heat for the slow uptake. And I took another huge leap of faith. I bought a custom built trailer.
A House is Only as Good as its Foundation:
Unless you know a whole lot about trailers, can weld, or you find a hefty used trailer please spend the extra bucks to get a good one to build your house on. Even if you plan on not moving your house much remember this is the foundation of your home. You will want it to be strong and sturdy for a long time. Travel trailers with the top removed are not strong enough to hold 2×4 framing. They are designed to be light weight and hold flimsy aluminum siding with virtually no insulation and very little weight. You will also want to take weight distribution into consideration, while designing your house. You don’t want your house to be heavier on one side than the other for example. Ask a trucker or search how to load a trailer to learn more about the importance of weight placement. Learning these things can save your house and possibly lives. If you are building over 20 feet long you should also consider a triple axle (6 wheels total). I went out of my way to get a custom trailer and I still had trouble. Make sure you have someone who knows axles look over your trailer and determine if it is road worthy and capable of holding heavy framing and siding. And of course, get good tires.
Why Used Wood Can Be a Problem:
Wood is porous. That means things get down in it, grow in it, live in it. Old wood is beautiful but can harbor mold, pesticides, bugs and general rot. If you are chemically sensitive that can be just as bad or worse than the VOCs of new wood. Since alternative, safe building materials barely exist and are extremely expensive the other option is regular lumber. Paying attention to these details can keep you from getting sick later on. Mold can kill. Termites can turn your house into Swiss cheese.
Take into consideration your practical and aesthetic needs, space constraints etc. Then research materials and their uses and limitations. You can of course get creative with things, but make sure you know what you are doing. I almost glued down my hardwood floor because I couldn’t get a nail through the boards. Then I realized that wood contracts and expands with the weather. Glue would probably not have worked well. Wood comes in a wide variety of types. Some are heavier, others lighter. Certain wood works better for exteriors and others better for interiors. There are wood varieties that repel bugs (Cedar) and some that work better than others near water.
One thing I highly recommend buying used is cabinets. I bought 5 of them for my house from 2 restores and the dump for an approximate total of $150. That is less than any one of them would have cost new. I cleaned them well and painted them and they are my kitchen cabinets and counter top holders. One is in the bathroom for a kitchen closet/medicine chest. Because they are not made with press board or heavy wood they are lighter than anything I could have figured out how to build myself and they make my house both practical and beautiful.
Sometimes it makes sense to buy used and recycle and other times not. Consider how long you want your house to last realistically. Remember – using quality materials can make the difference between having a box on wheels when you finish or a cozy, healthy, beautiful, home.
Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful — William Morris
Be sure and read Catherine Zola blog here: CatsTinyHome
Bill Thomas of Hobbitat Spaces in Maryland developed a passion for small spaces after 30 years of working in the historic restoration and custom home business. With the change in the housing market came a change in his focus of building and he began to develop small, custom homes that are constructed inside and out of the harsh Northeastern winters.
The first Hobbitat (or “Hob”, as they are affectionately called) was constructed using materials from Bill’s grandfather’s barn, windows from his childhood cabin and other reclaimed doors and materials. Hobbitat Spaces then built 13 Hobs for Blue Moon Rising, an ecotourism retreat in western Maryland. Each of the cabins were built with recycled, reclaimed and local materials, giving them a distinct look and feel.
Hobbitat Spaces is now in the process of taking individual orders for their small, hand-crafted homes. Each of the homes are built in a shop and all utilities are contained within the building envelope under insulation. The Homes are built to Maryland State building and energy codes and take about six weeks to complete.
Each Hobbitat contains the following:
• A complete structural framework, built to IRC code, with a Zip system exterior wall sheathing.
• An enclosed floor system that rests on six piers, installed before the building arrives.
• A roof system of hand cut framing or engineered trusses designed to carry a 40 lb. /sq. ft. snow load.
• A 30 gallon electric hot water heater.
• A 100 amp breaker panel and wiring to conform to the current code. Many outlets and light switches as per code.
• Andersen thermal windows. Your choice of 400 or Architectural series.
• A complete thermal cocoon of 2 lb. foam. R-38 for ceilings R23 for side walls and R30 in the floor system.
• A fresh air intake system with an Airetrak 1A control for indoor air quality.
• A plumbing system that allows you to very easily drain the building and walk away for weeks or months.
• Panasonic brand exhaust fans.
Photos by Hobbitat Spaces
For their first tiny house, Green Valley Natural Builders in Sebastopol, CA decided to build something very small, but beautiful, using only natural, unprocessed and re-used materials. What they came up with is a delightful tiny structure on wheels that cost only $1,500 to build. Because the small company is used to creating houses out of straw bales, cob and wood, they didn’t want the materials for their first 6 foot by 10 foot house to come from the lumber yard.
The group used an old trailer frame, separating and recycling the aluminum and priming the trailer with metal paint. The walls were framed with rough cut 2×2 pieces of wood. The rough cut of the wood varied in thickness by up to a quarter inch and because of this the house began to take on its own dimensions and character. Various sizes of 1/8 inch plywood were used for strength and rigidity and the roof was decked with 1/2 plywood for strength and lightness. The exterior siding was rough milled cedar and fir and recycled blue jean insulation was used inside the walls. The windows came from the old trailer and the door was cut from a slab of 2×12 redwood. Metal roofing was purchased for the roof.
“It was fun to build, although definitely one of the more challenging and time consuming projects I have worked on, due to the variability in the raw material we used and the unplanned natural nature of the design,” said Ganesh of Green Valley Natural Builders. “Tens of hours were spent planning and edging and fitting non-standardized materials. What we saved in material costs we definitely made up for in labor, but the end result is unreplicable making it worth it for me.”
Green Valley Natural Builders is a local builders cooperative with over fifty years of accumulated experience in construction, carpentry, landscaping, heavy equipment operation and forestry. They construct and sell tipi poles, handcrafted furniture, play cabins and dog houses, floating cabins, sweat lodges, saunas, solar water heaters and they are currently working on several collapsible vardos.
The build process of the tiny, tiny house is available on Instructables.
Photos by Green Valley Natural Builders
The tiny EcoPod Holidays vacation homes, located in the Derbyshire area of England are not only portable vardo-like structures, but they have been built from over 50 percent waste materials including sheep’s wool and recycled glass bottles. Each of the EcoPod Holiday huts are available as vacation rentals for people who love to be in the outdoors, but want the comforts of home.
Each of the small structures, scattered around the countryside, are constructed using reclaimed timber with some additional FSC approved woods when needed. The owners also use sheep’s wool or recycled bottles as insulation and all finishes are derived from plant-based paints and natural oils. Solar panels are used for lighting and appliances. EcoPod Holidays also manufactures their own wood burning stoves for space heating and heating water for washing and showering.
Each of the EcoPods have different configurations that include a cozy interior with a kitchen, a dining/sleeping area, a bathroom and shower and some even have an airy conservatory and a balcony. All of them are located in scenic areas close to walking and biking routes. The EcoPod Holidays company will also work with customers to build their own tiny home using local and reclaimed materials.
Photos by EcoPod Holidays