Colin’s Coastal Cabin

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

175 Comments Colin’s Coastal Cabin

  1. Marsha Cowan

    Absolutely beautiful! The exterior is so pretty and unique. I love the sunburst design in the loft and on the front of the toilet. The whole house is very cozy and appealing. I could certainly spend a winter huddled up in front of that adorable wood heater. Great home! Thanks for sharing with us!

    Reply
  2. Holly

    This is beautiful! So many lovely features — but the varying size and design of the windows is one of my favorites, especially the long narrow one that adds so much light to what could be a dark “hall”. I also like the design of the ladder. It seems very sturdy and useable, even for a ladder-phobe like me. I was thinking that if it were mine I would cut some handholds into the treads and that would give me something to hold on to even on the darkest mid-night trip “downstairs.”

    Reply
  3. steve

    Well done Colin. I love your design and the way you have presented your project to us. I particularly like your schedule/time line, I think that will give many DIY builders confidence to take on their own projects and believe they can actually complete the house in a reasonable time. Your craftsmanship is excellent. Thanks.

    Reply
  4. Joe

    Hey, thanks for writing in! We’re looking at woodstoves now for a tiny house: could you tell me what your total cost with pipe and shipping was for yours (not including sheilding)? Thanks!

    Reply
    1. cc

      hi – the hobbit stove was almost exactly $800, including shipping from england, and the chimney, which is 4″ pellet stove pipe, was about $300. (google “4” woodland direct pellet vent pro cathedral ceiling chimney system”)

      Reply
  5. alice h

    What’s your roof pitch? I’m planning a shed roof also, love the way yours turned out. It’s nice to see that a shed roof house can look so good as up to now I was having doubts. Between this and the Oregon house the other day I’m getting more enthused.

    Reply
  6. Laura M. LaVoie

    Such a great design. I love your tiny house and the setting where you parked it.

    I also love your point about building it all yourself could equal loneliness. I agree and building a tiny house with friends is such a rewarding experience.

    Thanks for sharing your story!

    Reply
  7. Meg & Joe

    This Tiny House is the best one I have yet seen (besides my own…lol). The attention to detail is incredible. The wood stove is the only one I have seen in a Tiny House. I am still planning on getting mine before next winter. I wish I could see more of the shower and closet. Kudos to you for such well thought out home. Your ladder is the best setup yet.
    Awesome.

    Reply
  8. Aric MH

    What a gorgeous house! Congratulations! The passion and hardwork you put into it really shows.

    As I continue to design my tiny house, I think I will use some of your tips. I really love the tall window at the back, makes it feel brighter and more open!

    As for tankless vs tank water heaters, my neighbor switched from tankless back to a tank heater in his RV. He said it took so long to get hot water and after you turned it off and back on again, it had to reheat. He felt like he was wasting water to save gas. Water is more expensive than gas!

    Reply
      1. Lisa

        What about “Hot-Water-On-Demand” systems? Anything I’ve ever heard about them has been good. Anybody know of any drawbacks to having a HWOD system?

        Thank you for sharing this tiny house with us. There are so many admirable appointments! I love the reclaimed windows. I have salvage windows in my vardo. Your attention to detail adds a beautification quality all its own. Excellent job!

        Reply
  9. Deek

    A home run…….love the fanned interior woodwork, the stove placement, and the layout. I might be worried about it being so tall and top-heavy if I were to transport it at all, which might not be your intent, especially when crossing bridges or taking tight turns, but otherwise, its a damn magnificent piece of work. Congrats, be proud, and enjoy! Thanks for sharing with us.

    Reply
    1. cc

      yes – i was worried about it being tall and top-heavy too. but so far so good…i’ve moved it twice (a total of about 45 miles) including on some windy and bumpy country roads and it hasn’t tipped over yet. :)colin

      Reply
  10. Nick

    AWESOME! I’ve looked at hundreds of these houses online and even a few in person, traveling a great distance! While I cannot at this time build mine as I live in West Los Angeles, I know that post-college paying off my debt will not be as hard. What other reason would I have to leave the military but the same in smaller-post-war housing…to get my own home and life, right?

    I did have a question for you. I noticed the height and was elated to see it, as I have been dreaming of a higher loft, maybe a second story. I know myself and know that hitting my head on the ceiling has never been my thing. It’s good to see that you can make it higher, did you have to get a special permit? If so, how much did it cost? If you did it under-the-table, say no more!

    I guess there’s nothing else to say but WELCOME HOME! And maybe someday I’ll get tired of Southern California, especially cause owning a home here is a dream, and living in something like that here makes you…well, weird. Not in a good way.

    Reply
    1. cc

      hi – i guess it does look taller than some tiny houses, but i’m pretty sure everyone builds to the 13’6″ limit, just like me. i think mine just looks taller because there’s more house above eight or nine feet. no special permits needed. :)

      Reply
  11. Urei

    Good job. Interior is rustic and simple–the way I prefer a Tiny Home to look. Love the wood stove!

    Everything about this Tiny Home is perfect. Reclaimed materials, mix of off grid devices and grid accessibility, sensible insulation, good use of windows, dark exterior to match surrounding environment, etc.

    I think if you’re a newbie to Tiny Homes and don’t have a deep wallet, this is probably something you should aim for.

    Reply
  12. Bernadette

    where did you find your Hobbit stove in the US?….i have been looking all over and can only find the UK store…thank you.

    Reply
    1. cc

      hi – i got it from the salamander stoves website, direct from england. they were really nice and helpful and perfectly happy to sell to the u.s.
      – colin

      Reply
  13. Alek

    Absolutely love this. I too am going to build a house with a shed style roof. Love the use of reclaimed wood! I really hope I can find similar sources of reclaimed materials. Nice choice on the Nova Kool fridge, too! I just looked at those. They are pricy, but tempting. Well done! Your an inspiration!

    Reply
  14. Lynne H

    Lovely craftsmanship and I agree with the loneliness advice. You made the right choice getting friends on board your project. It is gorgeous with all the details. The little stove is soooo little, I can imagine it takes very little fuel. I, too, wonder about turning corners. Also, wondering about total cost :-) Exquiste!

    Reply
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  16. marty

    Nicely done Colin! Seems we have very similar tastes. I am building a shed roof cabin on wheels and using reclaimed redwood as well. Your choice of recruiting friends would certainly speed up the project. I am amazed at your time line, great job. I have chose to do it all myself and I think I will have 2 years of my time invested by the time I finish. That sounds like a lot. but I am having loads of fun.
    Oh and great choice on the Hobbit wood stove I have one as well. What a great stove! well worth the money. I cant see a flue dampener in your picture maybe you have one? If not there only about $10 and give you even more control of that little gems heat output.

    Reply
  17. Kenny and Esther

    Beautiful! Love the interior wood. We bought a Hobbit for our tiny house build as well. Where did you find 4″ stove pipe? So far we’ve only found it from the folks at marinestove.com, and the chimney from Selkirk in Canada. Would love to have any advice or leads on this.

    Reply
    1. cc

      hi, got the pipe from woodland direct. (google “4? woodland direct pellet vent pro cathedral ceiling chimney system”)

      Reply
      1. Kenny and Esther

        Thanks for responding to all these questions! Have you tried it out yet, or experienced any problems with off-gassing? From what I understand, pellet stove pipe isn’t built to withstand the kind of heat wood stoves can produce.

        Reply
        1. cc

          that’s a great point and i’m glad you mentioned it because i forgot about that! indeed the pellet stove pipe did off-gas like crazy! on the first use the hobbit was humming along when suddenly the whole surface of the pipe shot out clouds of horrible-smelling gray smoke. we had to open the windows and leave for a few hours. since then it’s gone away completely, and now when the stove is hot there’s no smell or anything from the pipe. so, whoever told you pellet stove pipe might not be able to handle it knew more than the people (including the hobbit manufacturer) who recommended it to me. at this point i think it’s fine in my house, and perhaps usable for any small stove if you crank it up to heat in the driveway before installing it….but who knows, maybe i’m getting cancer every time that stuff gets hot? i’d be happy to see any links you have to more info….

          Reply
          1. Kenny and Esther

            Salamander Stoves also recommended 4″ pellet stove pipe to us, and we were kind of shocked to hear that from them. Galvanized steel is definitely NOT okay to use with wood stoves, since the zinc coating will burn off. Zinc is poisonous, and it means your pipes will probably rust now that its burned off. I’m glad you didn’t get sick! Also, what does your chimney set-up look like? Pellet stoves rely on forced draft (instead of natural draft), so I wonder if you stove might not be drafting as well as it could be.

  18. Maggie Natasha Johnson

    Thanks soo much for the inspiration and perfect details!!!!!!!!!! Really loved reading this the way you layed it out and the house is amazing!!!!! Gorgeous! Well done! I love your epiphany on the support and to hear how abundant it was! And also really digging the salvaged materials…where are you now? Ca? In WA state and planning to begin a build by this summer. If you feel compelled drop me a line at loveisourpurpose@gmail.com so I can pick your beautiful tiny build brain some more. Really thanks for sharing this! Love, Maggie

    Reply
  19. Bohemiansunsets

    You have incredible skills and you being so forthcoming with your process and your advice is tremendously helpful and what I love about this tiny house community. I have plans to start my build in May! I feel more confident after reading your posting. Do you have a blog? This is a wealth of information. I will be back with questions but first and foremost thank you for this alone!!!

    Reply
  20. Charlotte

    My favorite tiny house ever. Thank you for sharing. Smart and beautiful design… you research and thoughtfulness paid off big time.

    Reply
  21. Patty

    Beautiful and very inspirational! Please share whether you needed any special permitting due to height? I assume this is registered as an rv?
    Thanks for sharing your experience and the photos.

    Reply
    1. cc

      hi, not sure if people check the whole list of comments so i’ll copy this answer from similar question above…i guess it does look taller than some tiny houses but it’s just under the 13’6? limit. i think mine just looks taller because there’s more house above eight or nine feet. no special permits needed.

      Reply
  22. Kath

    Very nice work. Many thanks for sharing the process so intimately…very inspiring and wonderful helpful information. Would love to see your tiny house “live”! Are you in Sonoma County? When you mentioned the salvage yard in Windsor and then another resource in Petaluma…my heart leapt! If you’re up for a visit and short chat I’d love to come take a look.
    Again, thank you for sharing this wonderful story and the process of building your beautiful home.

    Reply
  23. Victoria Mayhue

    I’m planning on doing the white plywood as well and I’m happy to see a tiny house with lots of and bigger windows, I’m doing that as well.
    I will eventually be completely off grid, but am planning my home to be able to be in all situations.
    Great job and thank-you for sharing.

    Reply
  24. Victoria Mayhue

    Oh, I forgot to ask, now that you’ve been in the home, how is the wool insulation working for you? Do you have any condesation issues?

    Reply
    1. cc

      hi, the wool insulation seems great. the house stays warm in winter, cool in summer… no condensation issues. though it should be noted i don’t have an indoor shower, which makes that a bit less likely i would think. so far so good.

      Reply
  25. Anna

    Hi Colin!
    Thank you so much for sharing your house with us – it is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship! I love, love the ladder/kitchen shelf combination. I’m curious to know about the measurements of your house, particularly how tall it is, and where your house is located? I love the idea of wool insulation, but since I live in Sweden where the winters are really long and cold, I’m not sure that would work for me…

    Anna

    Reply
    1. cc

      hi – the house is 18′ long, 8.5′ wide, and 13’5″ high off the ground. my trailer has a “drop-axle” which makes the bed a bit lower…so inside the ceiling is about 10′ on the low side and 11′ on the high side. regarding insulation…my research seemed to indicate that wool had basically the same R value as regular fiberglass. it doesn’t get that cold where i live in northern california (only down to just below freezing occasionally). i think the insulation would be fine for colder climates…you just might want some kind of heater that can keep the house warm-ish overnight…this small stove can only burn for about 2 hours without being re-stocked.

      Reply
  26. soody

    Nice design Colin! Love the open feeling and the height makes a big difference. LOVE the starburst in the loft and bath. So much visual interest. The wood, the wood! Gorgeous :) A real labor of love! Echoes of Leaf House? Enjoy your home.

    Reply
  27. Sally

    Congratulations! This is absolutely exquisite and the salvaged materials really do set it off …along with the sunburst patterns. Enjoy your new home. You deserve it! And don’t let anyone tell you you’re “lucky”!!

    Reply
  28. Zach Winchester

    Hi, Colin.

    I absolutely admire your “Tiny House”! I have a 2003 Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, 4.6L V8 with Police Programming of the ECM/Computer, and I’m planning on doing a heavy duty tow hitch addition to my vehicle. I’m wondering, though, what are the weights of your building? I am fully willing to sacrifice on looks to make up for trimming poundage, but I am in love with your design. Thank you for the post, and I would love to converse with you privately!

    73’s de Zach, KC0CSB, Central Kansas

    Reply
    1. cc

      hey – the house weighs about 9,000 pounds. which is 1,000 less than the trailer is rated to carry. not sure what the tongue weight is, but i think it’s reasonably well balanced. i think my house may be a bit heavier than most due to wood windows, double door, and lots of heavy window headers….

      Reply
      1. marty

        Colin

        As I have been building my little house the question of weight has crossed my mind constantly. Your house is very similar in size and the materials used in the shell as well. How ever I am building a LOT of built in cabinets and all the furnishings will be built in as well.
        I was wondering if the 9000 lbs you gave was as we see it in the pictures more or less. Or if that number was as lite as you could reasonably make it for travel? figure I

        Reply
        1. cc

          hi – regarding weight…it’s 9000 lbs pretty much as you see it. as for built-in furniture this house a little bit…a couch/bed, and of course the closets and kitchen cabinets. last time we moved it i actually left the awning on (it folds down against the side but could be removed) and even the solar batteries in the front storage area. i suppose i could pull about 500 pounds off for the next journey if needed…

          Reply
  29. tinyteam

    wow. what a great tinyhome. my girlfriend and i have been looking for a side double door entrance and sloping roofline just like this. thank you for all the great documentation. i will definitely be coming back here for inspiration. nice use of reclaimed wood and and creative radial slats.

    Reply
  30. Newton

    That is one crazy beautiful handcrafted home. You and your friends did marvelous job of making your vision a reality.

    Reply
  31. erik

    hi & thx for that story.. it came out really nice!
    i love the stove- and the bed area!
    did you ever consider a flat roof or a monopitch roof?

    thx!
    erik

    Reply
    1. cc

      hi – i considered lots of different roof pitches…though i don’t think flat was on my list, and i’m not sure how monopitch differs from shed…maybe sloping front to back? i wanted to do a curved roof, thinking it would be easy to find salvaged curved corrugated from some old quonset hut. in the end i decided a curved roof and curved rafters was one extra challenge i didn’t need to take on. thanks for your interest! – colin

      Reply
  32. saul

    thank you for posting this beautiful creation of yours. ive dowmsize big time myself. i build a 20×20 two story cabin, and i love it.
    im in the process of deciding a floor plan for a 8×20 small home for my mom. id love to be able to see your floor plan if possible. really love your design, can you please email it to me? thank u again for sharing ur small house.. take care

    Reply
  33. Claire

    Colin, what a beautiful tiny house! Very well done both on the general design and layout, which seem to let in a lot of light, and on the details – the sunburst designs in the loft and bathroom are simple but lovely. Thank you for all the pictures!

    Reply
  34. Mike

    This is my favorite Tiny House to date, most especially for the mindset of the builder and the sincere care that is shown in the build and the thoughtful sharing with the Tiny House community.

    This story epitomizes the Tiny House movement for me. Great job.

    Reply

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