It's been a little over a month since our last posting, but not for lack of building or progress. It's been busy at Nelson Tiny Houses. Running parallel to the building of our V3 house is an ongoing project of transforming an old derelict piece of land into a functional, efficient shop space and tiny house building-site. We recently secured a lease on a piece of land just outside of Nelson city limits that had an old mobile home on it. Our first order of business was to tear it down and start fresh. It was an unenviable job, but allowed the crew to reflect on the process of building homes in a new way.
While tiny houses and mobile homes (the kind you'd find in a trailer park) serve similar purposes (affordable housing, smaller footprint, built off-site,) we realized in tearing down this old beast that comparing the two is like comparing apples and oranges. Even the things we thought were similar, like the aforementioned list, are vastly different.
Take affordable housing, for example. In Nelson, a mobile home starts at $50,000. That's for a used home, in a trailer park, where you still have to pay rent and fees. Our tiny houses start at $30,000. That's for a new house, ready to live in on your land or the land you rent from a friend, or what have you.
How about smaller footprint? It's true, a mobile home is smaller than your average house, but the one we tore down was so inefficiently designed that even its 12'X68' (816 sq. ft.) layout felt cramped, dark and claustrophobic. It didn't help that the previous owner smoked like a chimney and never cleaned anything, ever. Our tiny houses, at 100 to 240 sq. ft. feel bright, open and airy compared to a mobile home. Heck, we think they feel bright and airy compared to some 3000 sq. ft. homes we've been in.
And size doesn't even begin to address environmental footprint. Tearing down that mobile home was a lesson in inefficiency. 2X3 walls mean an irrelevant R value, meaning your heating costs go towards heating the area just outside of your house; single glazed aluminum windows help with that, too; interior wall panelling that literally said “Made in China” on it do nothing to promote the local economy... the list goes on. In our tiny houses, we focus on efficiency in our insulation and windows and use reclaimed or recycled real wood material as much as possible. For V3, we installed a hemlock ceiling that was milled across the road. We delivered it with a pickup truck, but truth be told, we could have carried it over, had we had the time.
And yes, both mobile homes and tiny houses are built off-site, at a production facility of some sort, but as we tore this old mobile home down, we could see nothing of the three most important ingredients in a beautiful building: quality material, craftsmanship and love.
Money can't buy love, it's true, but when you see a beautiful building, you know that love is inherent there. That's what we love about Nelson Tiny Houses.
Check out this video to watch an excavator assert itself!
Winter seems to be digging in a little bit here in Nelson. We've had a lot of beautiful snow, below-freezing temperatures and some good blizzards. The only thing right now that hints at spring is the ever-increasing daylight and the steady forward progression of our building schedule. Our current build, V2, which this blog has mainly focussed on, is almost finished and has started a late-winter hibernation. All that are left to do on it are tasks that require warmer weather. In the meantime, we've started on our next house, a beautiful 24' x 10' V House, unimaginatively (and only in the interim) named V3.
Building V3 will be a similar process to V2. This house will eventually be moved from our building yard via trailer to a new, semi-permanent location. Like V2, this house is being built on temporary supports which we will remove once a trailer is ready and once the house is prepped for moving.
We started with the floor, which is 2X8s on 16” centres insulated with about 5 inches of rigid foam that we got from a roofing company from a renovation they did. Next, we stood the tall front wall (with the help of a few local strong-men – thanks guys!), the shorter back wall and then placed the massive header/beam that runs the length of each wall and ends with the “wings” that Nelson Tiny House enthusiasts like so much.
The roof structure for this house will be different than anything we've done. We are building an insulated ceiling made of 2X4s that will be clad on the inside with local hemlock 1X material. That ceiling structure will then be temporarily tarped, shielding the whole house from snow and rain. We will build the 2X8 rafter system on the ground, and in modular parts. This will allow us to transport the house without the big shed roof that would greatly increase the house's length and width and pose all sorts of logistical problems. Once the house is in place at its future home, we will put the rafter system up in a short time and the whole thing will be warm and weather-proof. We'll post pictures of all of that once we've built it.
Thanks for reading. Here are some current photos.
Things are wrapping up with our current build. Time flies when you're building tiny! For this week's post, we want to show some of the final touches we're adding. In the next few months, we'll post a tiny tour video of this incredible build. You've seen the work-in-progress video – we're excited to show you the finished product.
As a side project, we put together a short video on Seth's composting bucket toilet that he uses in his own house. We want to explain the simplicity of the system with this video and we've already received a lot of good feedback. A few clients have requested this same system in their tiny houses; it's simple and effective. Check out the video.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this next post is worth that many at 24 frames per second. At the end of last week we filmed a quick tour of our V House in progress and are happy to share this video with you. Check it out!
Meet Mr. Tiny
Also, here's a look at our Spring 2014 ad campaign. When you say it like that, it makes it seem so professional. Tobias created our new mascot – aptly named Mr. Tiny. Over the next few months, Mr. Tiny will use his muscles, bulk and moustache to convince people that downsizing can indeed be uplifting, and that yes, tiny is the new sexy. We have a few more ads on the way. Do you have any catchy slogans that you think we should use? Comment on this post or on the facebook page.
Have a great week!
Building a tiny house poses the same logistical challenges as any other construction project, but we learned today that a major one is working in a 230 square foot house with three guys and a dog. The solution is careful footwork and clear communication. Footwork to save Scout's tail and communication to make sure that our tasks don't all converge on a particular corner. Something must be working properly, because we made some good progress again this week.
The first major step is drywall is up. Now the place really feels like a house. Without the exposed framing that you can see through, there's a clear separation of bathroom and bedroom from living space. Tobias hung all the drywall and Seth taped and mudded. Mike followed a few days later with excellent sanding skills and followed that up by priming and painting everything. The majority of the walls now have their first coat of paint.
As a note, we have opted to keep our water lines in the bathroom exposed and will be going with copper pipe. This is the first tiny house that we have done this with and is a bit of an experiment. Our main reasons for doing this are to ensure a near-zero percent chance of the pipes freezing, ease of installation and to play around with the aesthetics of it. We think it will look pretty cool.
All the interior window extensions and trim should be finished by the end of this week which will then allow us to put in the floor and start making and installing the built-in furniture. We are going with a hybrid look for the trim details, combining our reclaimed-rustic look with a more elegant moulding look that is replete with shadow lines and offsets. All of our window extensions in this house are fir, while the sills and trim are all maple.
Check back next week to see our new advertising campaign and hopefully a tiny video tour of our work-in-progress!
As you know by now, one of Nelson Tiny Houses' driving motivations is to use as much reclaimed and recycled material as possible. A particular manifestation of that is for Seth to go to our hardware and lumber store and pick up all the orphaned boxes of flooring that they have for a greatly reduced price. Most building projects can't make use of 30 square feet of a certain flooring, but tiny houses can. Our current project uses three or four different flooring materials on the inside walls of closets, the wall beneath the kitchen counter, and the floor and walls under the elevated floor of the bedroom. They're all pretty ugly laminate products that we wouldn't want as our actual floors (aesthetically, it wouldn't match the fine wood trim we will be using), but for the out-of-the-way places, these “reclaminate” (a word we just coined) flooring materials are perfect.
This past building-week showed some good progress. We buttoned up the outside with all windows and doors in and all siding and exterior trim up. We moved to the inside and finished the electrical. In total, there are 35 electrical elements in the tiny house – 35 outlets, switches, light fixtures, heater wires and fans for venting. We're curious how that compares per square foot to a big house.
We started closing up the ceiling with recycled T&G. We didn't have enough to do the entire ceiling with one style, so we grouped the kitchen and bedroom ceilings as one type of T&G and finished the ceiling over the bathroom loft with another type. Where the two meet, we will put a strip of wood. We still didn't have quite enough wood to finish the bigger part, so we will complete it with a two-foot strip of drywall that will reflect the clerestory window light really nicely down into the living area.
We also finished prepping the pocket door detailing. We call these the “antlers,” and they serve a double function. One, they stabilize the cantilevered live-edge shelf that is the top of the pocket door. Two, they are what we hope to make one of our signature details – a from-the-forest functional and decorative component of the house. We have a similar detail in our Acorn house, which you can see in the photo gallery. We had a piece of green maple that fit perfectly and Seth hung it over his wood stove to “kiln dry” it in time for installation.
Finally, Mike did a wonderful job prepping a beautiful French door set that we will put into our next house. He took them from a beat-down and weathered state to what you see below. Check these out!
Since the last post, we've made good progress on our exterior finishing – the siding and trim. We are now officially at lock-up, which is important for two reasons. One, the house now has all its windows and doors installed, and when you step inside it actually feels like you're in something rather than surrounded by something. No drafts, no snow blowing into the window holes. It's starting to feel like a house! Two, lockup is one of Nelson Tiny Houses' payment plan milestones. It will be nice to have money coming in and not just going out. It's all pretty basic economics, but running a small business requires hard work that goes beyond carpentry skills.
Inside the house, we started pulling wire for electrical. Here again, there is a noticeable transformation from shell to house. Our walls are now decorated with neat runs of wire that will act as the nervous system and carry energy from place to place. We're bordering on philosophy here, we know, but it's exciting to see how each step in the process of building brings us closer to what right now is just an idea. And once the house is finished and is bringing joy and shelter to its occupant(s), that will be because of all those accumulated steps. The sum of the parts is greater than the whole, as they say. This is the same for any house, but with a tiny house these musings are concentrated and boiled down, sweet and satisfying.
But, back to the the nuts and bolts of it. One thing we'd like to focus on in this post is details. In particular, we have a window on the side of the house that was very nicely trimmed, but every time we looked at it, something wasn't quite right. We mulled it over and decided it had to do with proportions. The header trim, which runs along the top of the window, was too big compared to the sill, which is on the bottom of the window. It gave the impression of top-heaviness. We pulled off the battens below the window and installed an apron, which is the piece below the sill. We trimmed the battens to their new length and put everything back together again. With the visual “weight” of the window more balanced, everything about the installation felt better.
In another case, plans for this house didn't include an entry overhang. We had figured that the roof overhang would be enough to shield the door from inclement weather. However, after working on the front trim, we realized that the bottom of the sliding door was getting wet from the sleety snow we've been having. So, before it was too late, we installed a 2X6 ledger board above the door and two vertical runners alongside to catch future knee braces. You can see them in the photo behind Seth's ladder. Later, once the house is on site, we can easily add a small shed roof to this ledger to shelter the front door.
These details will go far to improve the look and function of the house, and even though we had to go back and re-do a bit of work in the case of the window, the benefit of paying attention to detail greatly outweighs the cost of dismissing it.
In the next few weeks we will be giving a sneak preview of our spring advertising campaign that we will launch locally in Nelson. Be sure to check back to see that!
Thanks for taking the time to read this week's entry. Feel free to comment on anything we're doing; we look forward to hearing from you.
And we're back!
Nelson Tiny Houses took a few weeks off work for the holidays, and while we were gone, some additions were made. First, Seth's family grew by one; he and his partner are now proud parents of two future tiny house builders. And second, the Nelson Tiny Houses family also grew by one when our good friend Mike drove across the country from Thunder Bay to help us build. Mike just finished an internship on an organic farm in Ontario and is now walking a similar path by building tiny houses. Both farming and building are big parts of our society and the way they are done has a strong effect on who we are and how we live. We're happy to welcome Mike onto the crew and glad to see he embraces the small-scale approach. He also came with his dog, Scout, who we are trying to train as a tool-fetcher.
In our first week back, we spent a lot of time in the shop preparing old doors and windows and bringing them back to life. Reclaiming materials, although romantic in theory, is tough work in practice and requires commitment. We're sure you guys know all about it. It's worth it, however, and our final product will look better because of it.
We also started on our exterior finishing. We got a bunch of left over Hardie board siding from a construction site and will be able to use most of it on our project. We're applying it board-and-batten style, with a OSB trim product as the battens. We finished one wall, and think that the green, black and wood has a pleasing aesthetic indeed.
We'll post again soon with some more pictures. Thanks for checking in.
Our First Week
The first priority for our first week of building was establishing a temporary support structure. We are building this V House (which we have given the slightly clinical term-of-endearment “V2”) on a wooden subfloor resting on top of some massive tree stumps. Once the building is done and we are ready to move V2 to its new home, we will jack it up, remove the subfloor and lower it onto the trailer. Easy, right? Here's hoping!
The subfloor support structure went up well, and we levelled everything to within a 64th of an inch. If there's any variation from that at this point, we're blaming frost heaves and changes in gravitational force. Once it was prepped, we started on the actual floor of the house.
The floor consists of 2x8 joists infilled with reclaimed rigid foam from a local roofer's stockpile, set on 16” centres and sandwiched between 1/2” plywood on both top and bottom. From our crawlspace underneath the support structure, we were able to nail the plywood on from the bottom without having to build it upside down first and then try to flip it over. We're pretty tough, but for two guys to wrestle a 23' by 10' flooring system 180 degrees would take more energy than we had, so brain over brawn, baby! When we installed the rigid foam, Seth had the brilliant idea to cut all the foam over the floor joists, so that any foam shavings or small chunks would fall into the floor system and not onto the ground where it could get washed away into Nature. It worked well and soon we had the top plywood sandwich fastened and were ready to frame up the walls.
Our V House design has proprietary (not actually) “wings” that extend beyond the roofline. On our smaller houses, this is a beam that runs all the way through, acting as a structural component. On this 23' long house, we wanted the same look but had to fake it a bit, because we didn't have a 28' 4x6. We built up a 20 something foot long 3 ply 2x6 beam and then that connected with a three foot lap joint to the wings. The final product was a super strong and handsome piece of work that crowned the long back and front walls. We framed these two walls on the floor, stood them up and then hoisted those beams onto the top. It took some trickery with leverage and gravity, but worked well and once everything was up and well-braced, it looked very good indeed.
By this point in the week we were rushing to beat the first big snowfall and the temperature was starting to plummet, so we forged ahead and built the roof. We cut the rafters (enough birdsmouths to start your own flock), strapped it all, sheeted it, papered it, peel-and-sticked the vitals and screwed down the corrugated metal. Once that was done, we framed the two side walls in place and starting laying out and framing the interior walls.
We'll post one or two more episodes of the Nelson Tiny Houses building blog, and then we're taking two weeks off to be with family and enjoy the festivities.
Thanks for reading and check back again soon!
Well, the rain that was featured in our V House video tour has turned to snow, and Nelson is now deep in winter. The temperature dropped to -15 degrees celsius, but we kept rolling!
As mentioned in the previous posting, we have started building another V House. In the next few postings, we'll talk about our design and building process, and keep you up-to-date on our progress. We'll try to include pictures where possible; let's hope the camera doesn't freeze up.
The clients for this project gave us some general guidelines as to what they wanted – V House design, 10' by 23' layout – but after that they, bless 'em, gave us free rein and a license to build however we saw fit. We love working closely with a client to give them exactly what they want, but if they trust our eye and skills, and say go-get-em, we won't argue.
At 230 square feet, we had quite a bit of canvas to work with when doing our layout design. We divided the floor into three separate spaces – the bathroom, the kitchen and dining room area, and the bedroom. We designed a loft over the bathroom that will serve as a storage area and a guest bedroom.
The kitchen will have a concrete countertop (one of our specialities) that will include a special design feature. What is it, you ask? You'll see once we build it. It's going to be awesome. The dining room table will also be a super slick design. Again, check back to see what we do with it.
The bedroom is different from what you might expect after having seen our previous V House. Many tiny houses make use of the loft bed. We do it, and there's no shame in it, but having a loft bedroom is problematic to us on two main fronts. One, it requires a certain ability to climb the ladder or steep stairs. While many of us are comfortable with this level of dexterity, many of us also view it as an unnecessary risk. We hosted an open house a few months ago, and we got quite a bit of feedback from folks about this. Two, while a loft creates two separate living areas (above and below), it also compromises both those living spaces in a tiny house. Below you have low headroom and above you have at best a crawl space. Don't get us wrong, lofts serve their purpose well, but in our design for this house, we took a different approach. Instead of having a loft, we are creating an elevated floor about two feet above the kitchen floor. It will require one step to get up to and the entire space under the elevated floor will be accessible through a series of deep drawers and a 4' by 4' hatch in the floor. What we love about this design is that it still leaves plenty of headroom in the bedroom and provides the house with an immense storage space. We're really stoked about it and think it will be beautiful and functional.
The bathroom will have a composting toilet and a claw-foot bath tub with a shower. We will also put a big closet in there for all sorts of storage.
We'll get some pictures up soon, and in our next post, we'll describe our first week of building.