Colin’s Coastal Cabin

by Kent Griswold on February 21st, 2013. 165 Comments
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Here’s a little bit of my tiny house building story and some of the things I learned in the process. I hope this information will help or possibly inspire a few future tiny house builders, in the same way I was greatly supported by all you guys who shared your stories before me. The best things about this project were the support I received from friends and family, and getting to learn so many new things this year.

completed cabin

Before I started I had a little bit of experience building. I’d built a shed or two and some homemade plywood furniture. Until a year ago, the stuff I built was almost totally designed from a functional perspective. But a few months before I started my project I had the good fortune to work on a backyard shed with my friend Steve, who taught me all about using salvaged and old materials.

On my first trip to the salvage yard I had no idea how much things should cost, or even the difference between redwood and fir. A few weeks later, the idea of taking a little extra time to find beautiful materials and design things a bit more uniquely was starting to make sense to me. Turns out interesting and older materials (usually cheaper, and almost always more time consuming to get) really impact the feeling of the house.

wool and floor

In order to get from the little experience I had to being comfortable building this thing, I relied on a few key online resources, including Dee Williams “Go House Go“, “The Tiny House Construction Guide” and a great video from Tumbleweed showing the building process.

At first I was hesitant to pay for those e-books, but I quickly came to my senses and realized the cost would more than pay for itself by saving me time and money spent making big mistakes.

I designed the house myself, using Google Sketchup (which I had learned earlier that year for a couple other personal projects.) Of all the computer programs I’ve learned over the years, Sketchup has the best instructional videos I’ve seen, so I would definitely recommend it to non computer experts – a few days of practice and I think anyone could design their own house with it!

four walls

A few notes on the design of my house:

  • I did a rough design based on the property I was planning to move to first. This was before I had the windows or any other materials. Then, after a month of searching to locate windows and doors that were roughly the correct size, I did a final design with those measurements.
  • I chose the shed-style roof because I’m really tall and wanted to maximize loft-space. And I definitely wanted a couple of windows in the loft, so I could gaze out while lying in bed.
  • It’s on a standard 8×18′ “car-hauler” trailer. The manufacturer was willing to add some welded on “wings” so I could make my house wider, in exchange for not including some of the extra metal (d-rings, etc.) that usually come with such a trailer.

front half sided

A few notes on materials and systems:

  • Insulation in the floor, walls, and ceiling is wool from Oregon Shepherd, which I read about from Tammy Stroebel’s project built by Dee. It was time-consuming to install, but otherwise a total pleasure to work with.
  • Downstairs floor is reclaimed 1 1/2″ tongue and groove fir, upstairs floor is 3/4″ fir – both from a great salvage yard in Windsor, CA.
  • Exterior is two batches of T+G redwood. One had been sitting unused in a friend’s landlord’s barn for 30 years, the other from a salvage yard in Petaluma.
  • Interior wainscoting is that same 30 year-old redwood, with tongues and grooved ripped off.
  • Ceiling, and much of the kitchen cabinet, is reclaimed fir from a house on the Russian River that was pulled apart by a carpenter friend. I re-sawed it in half, from 3/4″ thick down to about 5/16″, thus making a lighter ceiling and giving me twice the material. I used the same technique for the redwood hallway walls and closets.
  • White walls are 1/4″ plywood from Home Depot. I went this route thinking that plywood would be lighter and stronger than drywall, and would add more visual light and less all-wood-monotony to the room. So far so good.
  • Water heater is 10 gallon RV tank-style heater. My research seemed to say this was going to be more efficient than tankless. It’s still hard to believe that’s true…I might go tankless next time. But this does work well and I can take piping hot 10 minute showers.
  • Fridge is high-efficiency Novakool, powered by AC or DC. (currently running on DC)
  • Wood stove is “The Hobbit”, by Salamander Stoves of the UK. It’s an amazing stove, and from my research was cheaper (and more attractive) than similar small US-made stoves. Can’t recommend The Hobbit highly enough.
  • Water system includes two parallel supply lines: One for “city” water, if I’m hooked up to a friend’s hose, and one for “gravity” water, with an RV water pump to boost the pressure in case the incoming water doesn’t have enough. (Which is the case at my current semi-rural location.)
  • Electricity is 100% solar, coming from two 225 panels and six Trojan
  • T-105 batteries. House has AC and DC lighting. (Water heater, fridge, and RV water pump are also DC.)
  • LED tape lighting around the upper part of the walls is super-efficient and can’t be beat for creating a comfortable ambience.

house on the road

The schedule of my project was roughly:

2011:

  • September 2011 – research and design
  • October 2011 – gathering materials (especially lumber, windows and doors, and the trailer)
  • November 2011 – January 2012: building the outside and getting waterproof
  • February 2012 – March: researching plumbing and electrical
  • April 2012 – plumbing, electrical
  • May – June 2012 – interior

front of cabin

I did most of the building myself – but early on I decided that while my pride wanted to be able to say “I did it all myself,” that was actually a recipe for loneliness. So I begged and traded for as much help as possible, and was blessed to know incredibly skilled people who sped up my learning curve immensely. In order to feel any degree of confidence that my house wouldn’t fall apart, my contractor friend’s advice made all the difference. Tony sacrificed his back-health to get the four walls up, and freely offered consultations on everything from solar to framing to, well, everything. I would have imploded or gotten totally stuck on the electric and the plumbing, without help from Jim and MichaelBruce and Duncan shared tons of amazing cabinetry and furniture-making wisdom, as well as the use of some pretty deluxe tools. I had a great time working with both of my parents, who each stepped in and helped me with many crucial aspects of the project. And four amazing angels shared with me their beautiful property on which to build my house, and gave me a room to stay in until my house was liveable.

woodstove

I’ve tried to keep this story brief, highlighting practical information for future tiny-house builders, but I did a ton of research (thank you tiny house community!) and I’m happy to share more about anything. Ask any questions you like in the comments section below if you’re building or thinking about building your own tiny house.

loft

upper cabinet

couch

toilet

165 Responses to “Colin’s Coastal Cabin”

  1. Leanne says:

    Beautiful home, lots of info, and great pics. Job we’ll done

  2. Amidu says:

    Hi, wow love the house. I am doing construction A-Level ATM and one of our project is to design a tiny house, I was wondering what wood you used for both the frame and the outside of the house. And also why you chose these woods over other types of woods. Thank you in advance.

    • cc says:

      hi, the frame is regular 2×4 fir. rafters all also 2×4. 2×6 rafters are more common, but i wanted the extra headroom, and figured the width of the house was narrow enough that 2×4′s could support the roof. the outside of the house is 1×6 and 1×8 tongue and groove redwood. that was chosen mostly for looks, but redwood and cedar are the main two options for exterior because they are weather resistant.

  3. Carolyn says:

    1) What type of freestanding stove did you install? What material does it burn?
    2) The Porch awning supports your solar panels. What did you use to frame this support? How did you fasten it to the side wall?

    Love your awesome tiny house!

    • cc says:

      hi
      - the stove burns wood. it’s a “hobbit” stove, by salamander stoves in the uk.
      - the porch awning is metal roof on a frame of 2×2′s. it’s attached to the house with some metal brackets i got at the salvage yard, and supported by regular 1″ conduit pipe. the solar panels are mounted to the roof with 1.5″ angle aluminum.
      :)

  4. Cap'n Frank says:

    I love your house.It makes more sense that the shed type roof is used than the many faceted roofs that you see on many of the tiny homes. Your use of solar is commendable. Keep up the good work!!

  5. Tom Saecker says:

    This is the best I’ve seen yet on THB…most organized creative flow of thought and information….Thankyou.

  6. Tom Saecker says:

    ,,,yes,…my question. Could you please explain the circumstances of the property? I think this is so basic and fundamental to all of us who have the same or similar ideas of tiny house living. Is it rented, owned, squatted? I believe in under the radar discretion but the legality of impermanent and movable structures is very important to this discussion. Thank you Much, tom

  7. heather says:

    Hi! I love your little home. It looks great. We are about 1/2 way through building a tiny house. I like the ladder in the kitchen with storage behind. That gave me a total brainwave that I think will work in ours.

    My real question is about the hobbit stove. We are thinking of buying one. I am just wondering what do you find the burn time is on that if you are burning say birch or a hard wood? Have you used it in a winter yet ( if you have winters where you live)? We live in a fairly snowy climate and I want to be warm enough. Did you just put aluminum flashing behind the stove with a 2×4 sub floor beneath?

    • cc says:

      so far the longest i’ve got it to burn without being attended is about 3 hours. that’s with some fir and oak. the logs are pretty small. it’s easy to get and keep the house warm, but for me not possible to keep it going over night. still, it stays sorta warm with good insulation and takes 30-45 minutes to get toasty again.

      behind the stove is steel flashing, 1″ away from 1/2 cement board (w/ ceramic spacers – available at fireplace stores). below the stove is 1″ of cement board and then plywood.

      hope that helps.
      :)

  8. john says:

    May I ask who you got the Hobbit through and also what is the chimney pipe size ( 6″ )?
    Thanks ,
    John

    • cc says:

      got the stove thru salamander stoves, online, and the pipe is 4″ pellet stove pipe, which the hobbit manufacturer recommended. an earlier commenter pointed out that my pipe might not be rated for the heat it’s getting. so far it works fine but i can’t say for sure it’s the proper solution.

  9. velvetanne says:

    my favorite TH ever. LOVE your creativity – you have a gift. thanks!

  10. Laura says:

    Hi Colin,

    Your tiny house is amazing, most of them I find just a bit too small. Yours is perfect! I do have a couple of questions:
    - What is the height of your house?
    - Do you know how much it weighs? I am doing my research now and this would be useful information regarding the trailer needed.
    - In what type of climate do you live? Like Heather, we have pretty cold winters here.

    Would be freat to hear from you..

    • cc says:

      hi, height is 13’5″ off the ground. roughly 10-11 foot ceilings inside. it weighs about 9000 lbs including the trailer. definitely was worth it for me to get the trailer rated for 10,000 pounds. i live in a moderate (sf bay area) climate. rarely gets to freezing temp. i used to live in snow mountain winters and i think this would be adequate…but cold in the morning!
      :)

  11. Ariana says:

    Kia ora Colin, Your creativity and attention to detail is astonishing! Above the bed, in the toilet. I am in Christchurch, New Zealand and I have just started my journey to create my own Tiny Home. Due to the amount of native wood and other salvageable items from the earthquake your explanation is invaluable. Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us so unselfishly it is truly appreciated. Arohanui ki a koe, Ariana

  12. Lyn says:

    Thanks, Colin, for sharing your narrative. How did you go about finding a place to live permanently in your tiny home?

  13. Lana says:

    Hi Colin,

    Your tiny house is inspiring and beautiful! I am looking into building one, and am wondering (sorry for the tacky question), what your budget was for your tiny house. I would be so grateful!

    Thank you,

    Lana

  14. Patricia says:

    Oh my!!! Your house is so incredibly gorgeous! Absolutely lovely, and so unique. Clearly alot of thought, research and love went into it. The resuly is truly fantastic! Wish it were mine!!!

  15. Sue says:

    Hi Colin! I truly love your home! Your
    utilization of space, & the layout
    of your home is excellent.

    If I were building my tiny home today,
    it would be something like yours.
    Right down to the off grid set-up.
    Do you think you would consider
    selling plans for Colin’s coastal cabin
    ( including solar set-up) in the future?

    Thanks again for your generosity in
    sharing your story! You & your home
    are a true inspiration!

    Thanks so much for sharing your
    home building story

  16. JT Croteau says:

    This is one of my all-time favorite builds. I just bought a new pickup truck for accessing and moving to my land, I wonder if it’s capable of towing a cabin of this size. *ponders*

    • cc says:

      i was really lucky to move this house with my friend’s new-ish full-size dodge 4×4 turbo diesel. that was good cuz there were some hills. lots of tongue weight too. my house would for sure need a big strong truck…good luck!

  17. Frank B says:

    I’m ready to build something like this…at 50 y.o and NO pension…I have enough savings to have someone help me with my “Week-end warrior” skills build something like this.

    If you’re willing to help me “almost duplicate” your home…let’s talk about this….let’s see if you would be interested to ‘act like a General Contractor” for me now.

    Thanks,
    Frank in upstate NY

  18. Christi says:

    Hullo– Your house is absolutely gorgeous. I love the look of the various woods in it. Well done. I have a question about the solar panels. you said tht they are the sole power that you have. How much electricity do you use? do you run a computer /radio, etc. on them, or do they just run the lights, basically? and do you run out of power and have to use something else, like a kerosene lamp sometimes? Thanks SO much.

  19. Carrie M. says:

    Beautiful tiny home! How does the toilet work for disposal of waste? The one thing holding me back from tiny living (aside from waiting for my kids to grow up) is the toilet issue. Growing up, we lived in a camp trailer while building our home. When the waste tank developed a crack and was too expensive to replace, Dad built an outhouse. I was thirteen, so somewhat traumatized by the experience, even into my 40s.
    Thanks,
    Carrie

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