Monday, October 27, 2014

(Oct 27) BluePrints

Thought I would put the design of the cabin out here so that people might get a better idea of scale inside.

Cabin is 12'x20' exterior dimensions.
One door at Living Room side.
9 Windows.
Bathroom is 3'x8' interior.
TV cabinet with rising TV (behind chairs)

This 1st image is with everything closed. The table is locked against the bed closet (between the sink and the sofa) which is closed as well as the table that's against the TV cabinet behind the chairs.

In this image, the table that's attached to the TV cabinet has been opened and the chairs turned around to work/dine in front of the window facing north. I imagine this will be our most common configuration when it's just the 2 of us. You could also open up the kitchen table at this point to accommodate up to 9 people for dinner - 4 at kitchen table, 2 at TV cabinet table in chars and 3 eating off of TV trays on the sofa. Of course, you might have to make reservations for the single restroom in advance, but hey, you've got 12 acres to help accommodate the more adventurous of the group!

In this image, the table hanging from the bed had been extended. Actually, half of the table as it is hinged in the middle.

In this image, the table has been fully extended. The sofa has been moved to the corner for additional space.

Here, the TV Cabinet table has been opened and the bed cabinet has been opened. Notice the bed cabinet, which is 7' tall doubles as a privacy screen for the bed. By using a Queen Short (standard size in RVs), we can maintain 15" between the end of the bed and the bathroom wall for easy passage. It's really nice sometimes to be average height!

Here, the bed cabinet has been opened and the bed lowered as well as the table off of the cabinet door. This now functions as a work/eating table for one person on the sofa. The door to the bed cabinet helps screen off the living area if someone wants to stay up and work on their computer or watch TV. The IKEA closet door can also be opened up to help close off the bedroom area.

Here the dining table has been fully extended to accommodate 2 people sitting on the sofa. You could also pull the chairs around to handle 4 people sitting around the table, 5 if you put a folding chair at the end.

Here the sofa has been opened up as a sleeper as well as the Murphy bed. The bed cabinet acts as a screen between them. We made sure the front door still opens fully for safety. The chairs can be pulled around to face each other and make a small bed for a child. Be sure and secure them together so they don't spread apart in the night.

(Oct 27) Bathroom Progress

I can't believe we are still getting weather in the 90s! it's nearly November! Oh well, gave us incentive to stay inside this weekend and work on the bathroom. My daughter Sabrina and her "dream" of a boyfriend, Triston, came out and spent the weekend with us. We took the 1st 20 minutes just unloading and rearranging to make sure we had room for all 3 beds. A light dinner and we all stayed up to watch Captain America: Winter Soldier. I  must say I slept very lightly with the knowledge that there were 2 teenagers sleeping inches apart! :)

Kim and I got paneling up on 2 walls and the bathroom ceiling tiles installed while Sabrina took Triston for a tour of the property. Nice to have a little more privacy for the bathroom. I was really surprised how easily the tiles went up. We trimmed 'em to size them with a box cutter and a straight edge then used Liquid Nails adhesive to attach them. I did put in a couple of staples in each against the outside edge to secure it until the Liquid Nails dried. We were very pleased with the look. The tiles (18"x24" square) were about $11 ea at Lowe's. It took 8 tiles to cover the 3'x8' bathroom ceiling. More than I'm willing to spend to cover the entire house ceiling but it was worth it in the bathroom. We tried to keep the edges within a quarter inch of the wall as we will trim the ceiling/wall joints with a cedar board. Need to find a longer pipe for the shower head so that Kim can reach it. :)

Scary part was mapping out and cutting holes for the light fixture and shower pipe. 

Before and after of the bathroom area. 

Bathroom walls paneled to ceiling. 

The rest of the South wall will be left open to shelves. We'll start trimming out the inside of the shelves and then trim the openings. We decided to cut the plywood a bit tall to cover the OSB that makes up the deck of the loft. I'll just go back and cut a couple of finger holes in the deck pieces so that we can pull them up and over the plywood if we ever need to take them out to get to the electrical or plumbing that runs through the joists of the loft.

I will also be SO glad when we get a point that we can install the flooring. I can't tell you how many times we have relocated the pile of 30 lb boxes of vinyl tiles. No matter where we put them, that seems to be the next place we need to work. 

Ceiling in shower area. 

We got a grommet cover to cover where the pipe enters the ceiling but did't bother to put it on for the picture as we plan on replacing the brass pipe with galvanized to keep the look consistent. I can't wait to get the cedar trim up. Kim also picked out some galvanized pipes, elbows and footings to attach to the ceiling as a curtain rod. I love the industrial look that she's picked out of the bathroom. 

We ate pretty light this trip but I did grill some salmon with boiled new potatoes along with buttered peas for our last meal on Sunday. I love eating our meals outside, watching the birds flutter to and from the feeders. It's so relaxing. We need to start planning an outdoor hanging bed next. I could have crawled in and slept for hours after lunch! :)

I woke up quite early (for me this time of year) on Sunday at about 5 a.m. and went out to make a campfire. It was so nice to sit there in the coolness of the morning and listen to the woods wake up. The peace ended when a murder of crows got into a squabble over something a couple of hundred feet away. There were about 30 of them fussing and cawing at each other for 5 minutes. After they moved on everything calmed down again. As the sun came up, I wondered down the drive for a brief walk just to get some of the morning stiffness out. As I walked by a metal trash can that we store bird feed in by the cabin, I noticed the lid was covered in fresh blood. It appeared that there were 3-4 other large patches of dried blood on the lid as well. I wondered if it could have been a dog or raccoon trying to get into the food but realized there were no prints on or around the can. I came to the conclusion that it must be an owl using the can as a dining table in the night. I couldn't come up with any other reasonable explanation. If you have any thoughts, please chime and let me know what you think. 

Driveway leading to the front road. 

We also brought back the Go-Kart to get the brakes worked on. It won't be quite as exciting as it has been but it will be a lot safer! :)

Friday, October 24, 2014

(Oct 24) Cub Scouts in MA build a tiny house/cabin w/Deek to raise funds...

Awesome project by Deek at

You give our Tiny House community a great name and reputation!

Good job!

(Oct 24) House Design Article

The following is a small article I wrote regarding design and function. It's a bit of a rant at times but it has some valid points in it.

- - - -

It’s come to my attention, (understand, this is just my observation and opinion) that there are some really odd, and often bad, designs of little houses out there. I believe that this comes from a problem that seems to plague our entire society. Architects and Engineers feel compelled to design their goods prior to understanding the client, their needs, the landscape and the environmental demands on the structure. In martial arts, we consistently talk about Universal Truths, a solution to a problem (like trying not to get hit) that is so simple and pure that practitioners of many different types of arts have come to the same conclusion without any collaboration with each other.

We find many parts of our art, Wing Chun Kung Fu, are the same as we find in fencing instructions that are 400-500 years old. Doubtful our Chinese counterparts that crafted our martial art had much contact with French swordsmen hundreds of years apart but they both came to the same solution for a problem and no one has effectively improved on it since.

Thus it can be said for design work as well. Not that everyone wants to live in houses that all look alike, but I believe that there are Universal Truths about design, efficiency and functionality that we should work towards achieving. Don’t be different for just the sake of differentiation. Be different because it’s a little better in design and functionality than what you’ve seen before.

We, more than those buying McMansions, must be diligent in our use of space and resources. Then, shout it from the rooftops and let others see and build on to it for the future. Revel with them and acknowledge the improvements in subsequent models. At some point, you achieve perfection, a design so clean and efficient and functional that it cannot be added to or taken away from without lessening it’s simple truth, “This works with the least amount of effort and waste.”

I see problems arise all of the time from the necessity of design engineers changes. I understand some of the forces that drive companies and designers. You have to keep changing to keep up with the other guys. They, for the most part, are dealing with fashion though, not functionality. You have to constantly have new, stylish cars rolling out because people want to make a statement with the car they drive, much like the clothes they wear. I see changes in car models all of the time that make no sense. They were changes that were made just for the sake of change. Engineers need to justify their jobs. Companies need to differentiate their products from year to year to justify price increases. How many of you have gotten into a new car model to find that your favorite feature from your current car is no longer there and the new feature that they put in it’s place is much harder to use! This is what I’m talking about. Change for change sake. They probably have every intention of putting the better feature back in the car at a later date and will likely call it an improvement! Voila, another change!

The problem is, houses are not disposable as is a watch, a pair of jeans or even a car. I propose that we work together as a community and I challenge each of you to simplify and improve housing designs. You should always examine and critique every component as you design and build to determine if this is the “very best” way of achieving what you need to do, understanding that budget always plays a role in our decision making, though typically when we’re worried about budget, we’re talking about material type and finish, not layout and flow.

I’m not suggesting that we move to a minimalist approach, but that should be a starting point. Start with a blank slate and add rooms and features to your house by necessity. Any added features should make the design better, not just different. Features that serve minimal functional value should be replaced with something better or scrapped altogether. Then, put your design out there for the rest of the world to see. Get as many opinions as you can but be discriminant about your changes from there. Remember, there are lots of people out there that are willing to voice their opinion without any experience to back it up. Put more value in those opinions that come from real life experience. (Why didn’t we listen to our Grandparents and Great Grandparents when we had the opportunity! Do you think they had any less fun in their houses that were ½ the size of current building trends?)

If your house is going into a permanent location, get to know that location well before the design work begins. Where do the winds blow from in the summer? Are there any natural wind/sun breaks or areas that flood. What direction offers the best view in your favorite season. Be patient. We are a society driven by “I want it now!”. Politicians drive us to this every election. “I’m going to get our economy back on track!” What that really translates to is “I’m going to get everyone spending as much money as possible.”

Face it, if the Tiny House Movement ever catches hold in mainstream America, our entire economic model will shift and morph into something very different that we live with today. No longer would people be driven to spend more and save less. That’s why most of us who have been bitten by the bug, now start to question all of our economic decisions. Do I really need that new car and if I do, do I have to have this particular model with these specific features? OR, can I do with less and actually get to keep more?

Does it make sense for us, at this point in our lives and in these economic conditions, to purchase a 3,000+ SF house just so that we can have one that’s bigger than the one that we’re living in now? Embrace the reality that your decisions, especially regarding your house, will impact your future as well as your family’s future, for many many years to come. Sit down with family members and discuss the impact of committing to what amounts sometimes to half or more of your income, at current levels, with current conditions. Forbid that anything to lessen your economic prowess should something happen - a job loss, company failure, economic downturn, health problems, etc, etc, etc. and ever cross your path.

How many were caught flat-footed when the last economic downturn rolled around? Do you actually think that will be the last you see in your lifetime? How many of us can wake up every morning and say “You know, if I get laid off today, or if my spouse falls ill and has to quit work, or my 401K is suddenly worth ½ of what it was last month - It’s OK. I think we’ll be fine.” Most of us live with the cognitive dissidence (ability to rationalize 2 opposite ideas at the same time) that based on history, economic challenges come to fruition all of the time AND it could never happen to me (again)! What were we thinking! Plan for the future! Plan for things to be a little more challenging than they are now. Plan to get a little slower and a little poorer as you age. Accept a little reality and you will slowly lift the veil that clouds your vision. No one ever got to retirement age and said “Damn, I wish I hadn’t saved so much money!”

Make a conscious effort to improve your position in the future and a large part of that starts with being smart and practical about your housing expenses, usually the largest portion of your spending. Enough preaching! I look forward to a forum where we can exchange ideas without fear of being able to say “No, that doesn’t work in reality.” or “Sorry, that’s just wasteful! I’m going to keep it simple.” I know it’s a cliche, but from my heart, I hope that you all Live Long & Prosper! :)

Monday, October 20, 2014

(Oct 20) Calm and easy weekend

Came out to the property on Saturday night. Absolutely one of my favorite times of year. The weather was cool and sunny and the mosquitoes where no where to be found! :) We sat out at a table in front of the house, lit some Tiki torches and opened a bottle of wine. It's so nice to relax after a hectic week! Kim had an asthma attack in the house due to the gas coming off of batteries we were charging. When the eves of the roof were open, we had lots of ventilation as well as heat, cold, bugs, birds, etc. But now that we've sheet rocked most of that off, I will have to move the batteries outside.  Sunday found us sleeping in late (8:00) taking a trip into town for some "city" breakfast. Upon returning we decided to spread out more road base that we had delivered earlier in the month. I think we finally have enough on the drive to keep the culvert from scraping the bottom of the car. :) We also inspected and talked about the proposed placement of a power pole and transformer. Kim had a great idea, putting the service pole next to the transformer pole, thus eliminating the need to clear (and keep cleared) the trees leading down the drive. I will get online today and look at the requirements for the service pole. We should be able to get it done for a minimal amount. Farmer's Electric revised their quote to move the transformer to the pole on our property (100' closer to the house) to help with the voltage drop. It will be about $200 more but I haven't talked to them about eliminating the 75' run to the service pole. Maybe that will make up for some of the cost difference from the 1st quote. After we rested for a bit, we finished installing the insulation we'd been storing for some time. It was good to get it out of the way. :) We also tossed our beloved tent. It has served us for about 5 years and done really well. We camped in it for several years at a number of State Park sites before we bought the property and camped in it here until earlier this year when we got the house enclosed. Then it became our "storage unit." It was fairly weatherproof and bug proof. Sitting in the sun for the past 2 years though weakened it and the storm last month fell several branches on it, one leaving a 4 foot gaping hole at one end. So much for being weatherproof. We rolled it up and unceremoniously tossed it in the trash. We also cleared out he "Starlight Lounge", our first latrine. A canopy with 4 walls and no top. In our early days of camping in the tent, we were sure that keeping the toilet bucket in the tent would be a bad thing so we erected the canopy from the remains of what had been a larger canopy in Arlington before a storm ripped through it one evening. It kept tools and building materials out of sight but now we are considering removing it too as it clutters the site and blocks our view. I can still remember how happy we were just to have the property, and how the "Lounge" got it's name, from our sitting and watching the stars as we did our business in the middle of the night. We just need to rearrange where we will store some items that are OK with being outdoors. We strolled down a small road in the center of the property visualizing where the shop will go.  There was a dead tree of considerable size which had fallen across the road. It'll take an afternoon or more to clear. Not up to it right now but soon. We found several more Brown Recluse spiders in the house today. I'm really looking forward to getting all of the interior finished. I feel then, and not until then, we'll have all of the cracks and openings closed up and sealed off and banishing most if not all unwelcome tiny crawly creatures. Time will tell.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

(Oct 14) Revised Electric Plan

Came out for a quick trip this morning to meet the engineer with Farmer's Electric, Dianna. I just can't stomach the $8500+ that we were quoted before to bury the line to the house so I'm looking at having them drop a pole at the front corner of the property and I will work on bringing the line to the house. The sites I've researched show I should be able to get by with a 1/0 wire set and still have plenty of power for up to a 60 amp draw 600' away. Andrea and I loaded and spread 4 carts full of road base on the driveway. We also cleared a dead tree and a couple of small cedars from the drive that would be in the way of the service line. I have to remember when felling trees - ALWAYS Have an Escape Route Planned. Andrea had been sitting on a log about 20' away from where I was cutting one of the cedars down. I was planning for it to fall towards the open drive, away from her. I suggested she might move as you just never know how trees are going to behave as they fall. She did and it was a good thing! As I cut through the base, it slipped to the ground and fell at a 90° angle to where I had planned, right on top of where Andrea had been sitting. Now to be fair, the part that fell where she had been sitting was small but none the less it would have scratched her up if she had been there. She might have hurt herself more from trying to scramble away from it than actually being slapped by some light limbs. I think she understands now, it is much better to stay clear of the area completely. We rested at the camp for a little bit after laying the road base. It was for the most part quiet and peaceful, except for the dove that flew into a window and died. :( Still not sure how to keep this from happening. We hung plastic tarp pieces in front of the glass several months ago to discourage head collisions. It worked for a long time.  Maybe we will try hanging a net a few feet away from windows this fall. We had lunch at Robertson's BBQ on the way back to Arlington. She had quite the appetite as she ate a large sandwich and a full order or onion rings. It was good to spend time with her!

Friday, October 10, 2014

(Oct 10) Thoughts on the Tiny House lifestyle

It still seems odd. Somewhere over the past year we went from "We're going to build a small storage building to camp out of while we build our real house." to being comfortable with the thought of living in a 240 sf house. There is a part of me that still wants to build the 800 sf house that I designed but the practical side of me (and the side that wakes up tired and sore every Monday) says the smaller house will be just fine. We have lots of land to play on and every dollar we don't spend on the other house could be used in a different manner. We're already planning a building to be used as storage (since we're going to live in our previously designated storage building) and a workshop. It will actually be 480 sf, 2x the size of the cabin. The plan right now is to build it out of used warehouse racks - heavy steel which locks together like and erector set and is cheaper than the steel we're using on the cabin. Think about the racks in the big box stores which hold products and pallets of back stock. I find myself projecting forward 10 years and I like what I see. Paths through the woods. A water feature or 2. A workshop where Kim and I work on furniture projects. A large outdoor BBQ grill for smoking and grilling. I do get sad though when I think about the distance we will be from the kids and Riley. I'm really hoping to find something I can bribe them with to visit us more often. :) Not sure that BBQ by itself will be enough. I need to start a family tradition. Maybe a big get together a couple of times a year for both family and friends. Once in the Fall and once in the Spring. It's so peaceful during either. There's usually a light breeze. Temps are in the 60s or low 70s and the bugs are at a minimum.  Just need to pick the days and make it happen. :) It'll be easier when we've gotten farther along on the cabin and the storage building. Right now the cabin is serving as both.  We need a dog run set up for Steph's four legged babies. We also need to get the brakes fixed on the go-kart. Riley (9 year old grandson) has lots of fun not being able to stop when needed, however it really scares the rest of us.  We need additional outside seating. Nothing we can't overcome, but resources are thin at the moment.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

(Oct 5) Ceiling Sheetrocked

Finished the sheetrock on the ceiling and loft this weekend along with the bathroom walls and part of the East and South walls. I will have to redo one panel in the bathroom as we forgot to leave the electric/switch outlet proud of the wall. We had done the same thing on the breaker box but I was able to move it in place and leave the sheetrock installed. No such luck on the outlet as the anchors are not exposed. We also realized that we had not left any room on the outlets for anything other than sheetrock, ½" at that. Kim had played with the idea of putting up some bead board but that's out now unless we go back and re-seat all of the outlets and switch boxes. We could get by with just adjusting the 2 lower outlets for wainscot, if that's what we finally decide to do. We'll see how we feel about it next week.

I've had pretty good luck with cutting the sheetrock with a reciprocal saw after we mark it up. Nice thin blade and it moves through it pretty quickly. Comes out smoother than cutting with a hand saw. I still don't have the art of marking it up and cutting it perfectly before installation, as we've had to widen or adjust holes we cut for outlets. The hole we cut for the service panel was pretty much dead on and I was pretty happy about that one. About the time we get the hang of it, we'll be done! Another skill achieved and left dormant to fade away. :)

Also got stung by my first scorpion on Saturday. He got squashed by his first human! I've had a fear of being stung by them since my childhood. I remember watching our cat battle one in Flower Mound when I was about 8 years old after I discovered it in my bed. This weekend, I was clearing the deck in the loft so I could crawl up and install sheetrock. He was hiding on the back side of a box and got me on the finger as I picked it up. Luckily he stuck around long enough for me to repay the favor. Kim gave me a Benadryl right away and the burning and throbbing had pretty much stopped about 30 min later. It never did swell and I didn't show any allergic reactions so we went back to work. She pulled out the UV flashlight I gave her to see if the scorpion really glowed under UV light. The light was originally more to ease her fears of the critters.  I was amazed how the scorpion lit up like a Christmas tree under the UV light.  Much like a Grinch Christmas bright green. I picked it up and threw it away before she thought to get a picture of it. I'm sure we will get more chances in the future. I keep reminding her this is a "cabin in the woods". Not a house in the city. We have only seen a few scorpions and usually those are found under any dead and rotting tree I can push over. This might have been our 5th or 6th in the near 2 years since we bought the property. I will be glad to start sealing walls however. At least then the majority of them we'll encounter will be out in the woods. :)

We were worried when a large storm with damaging winds hit DFW this past Thursday. It looked as if most of the storm would pass up East Texas. There was a lot of damage and power outages scattered across Tarrant county. We lost our canopy top in the back yard in Arlington. The frame seems OK, it just shredded the canvas. Kudos to Kim. The shaded drapes she made last year were unscathed! Good job, Honey! No roof damage or fence damage. No trees damaged. All in all, we were lucky there. Not so much in Point where we lost the top ⅔ of a very large tree by the cabin and large branch of another near by. The top of a dead tree broke and fell on the tent, tearing away it's north side and leaving several other holes. It's trash now. We were too involved in getting the sheetrock in place so we emptied out the items that were susceptible to more rain and relocated them to the cabin when we left. We'll remove the tent's remains next week. Timing couldn't have been worse as we brought out the table saw and miter saw and had counted on storing them in the tent to save room in the building. The storm also damaged the Starlight Lounge but it is repairable and we will put a tarp cover on it next week and move some of the building materials out there. True to our intent when building with steel, there was no visible damage to the cabin. I was surprised that we didn't lose a little exposed tar paper or anything else but all was in tact when we arrived. We'll also spend a good amount of time next week clearing all of the ground clutter left by the storm. If the weather's cool enough, we might put the chain saw into action and start cutting up some of the downed trees.

We were reminded how cool 50° is as we only used light bedding. Lots of cuddling helped.  As I often say, "Cold kitties are friendly kitties!" The same goes for my wife. Weather was great. Highs in the 70's and nights in the 50's. Too bad we won't get too many of those. At least any that don't involve rain. We made chicken cacciatore for dinner Saturday night and had oatmeal on Sunday morning. It was so nice, just sitting there in the light breeze, watching the birds. We were surprised to see a hummingbird at the camp on Saturday. We immediately put out fresh necter but didn't see another hummer the rest of the weekend. He must have just been passing thru. I can't imagine what they go through when these major storms hit. All of the animals must take a real beating between the winds and the flooding. Luckily, the water drains quickly here and there's rarely any standing by the 2nd day after a storm. It all either soaks in or runs down to the creek which was surprisingly dry this trip. I really thought after this week's storm the creek would have standing water in it.

Saw a snake hiding out in the large stump in the road on Sunday. He was about as big around as my finger. I couldn't tell how long as he was only hanging out of the stump a little bit. I did manage to catch a shot of his face. He looks harmless enough but has a grumpy brow. I'll take him over the scorpions any day. :)