Posts Tagged ‘home’

Tiny House Jamboree: Conclusion

Just like this post, seeing the Tumbleweed was totally worth the wait.

Just like this post, seeing the Tumbleweed was totally worth the wait.

I apologize for the wait. Moving, among other stresses, has pushed blogging a bit too far down the “to do” list.

My favorite speaker from the Tiny House Expo was Jay Schafer, one of the founders of the movement. His tiny home was designed and built in 1999 and was hands-down my favorite at the show. Of course, I have a growing love for little, simple cabins, which is essentially what his was. He is also the one that said the definition of a tiny home is any house in which every square foot is used well. The idea is that there are a whole lot of options between 100 square feet and 3,000 square feet because, in the end, it has to be what’s right for you, personally.

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Jay’s talk was about his personal journey, but he shared more than just a narrative and a flair for storytelling. He shared lessons he’d learned and philosophies he’d developed. And his laid-back, open manner made it clear why this is such a welcoming movement. He couldn’t have inspired anything else.

Personally, I'd need a little more kitchen, but it does keep you to the essentials!

Personally, I’d need a little more kitchen, but it does keep you to the essentials!

The step he suggests that you start with is to create a list of what you actually need to live. This could take two or three years, so be patient. He did this, himself, when he spent two years living in an Airstream trailer. While he was scraping ice off the inside walls of the Airstream, he determined that insulation was pretty high on the list of things you actually need to live. However, he also believes that your house does not need to be your whole universe. If you’re living in a tiny house village, there’s no reason you can’t share amenities like washing machines or a library.

You're not going to fit a whole lot of amenities in this living space, so pick the right ones. (Gotta say, the people watching that weekend was pretty fun!)

You’re not going to fit a whole lot of amenities in this living space, so pick the right ones. (Gotta say, the people watching that weekend was pretty fun!)

He hadn’t intended to start a tiny house movement. After all, tiny homes used to be normal. Hippy shacks, settler’s cabins, even caves weren’t the massive homes that have become normal. The word tiny came about because a “small” house was 2,000 square feet in the 1990s. Once he found out that tiny homes were illegal, though, it suddenly became imperative to live in one, himself. So he built a house called The Tumbleweed.

There was no ladder into that loft, and, unlike some of the more limber visitors, I wasn't about to do a chin-up for a peek up there.

There was no ladder into that loft, and, unlike some of the more limber visitors, I wasn’t about to do a chin-up for a peek up there.

Every self-built tiny home is a self-portrait of the builder. As Jay pointed out, so much of life is about home and how we live in the universe. Are you a community type that lives in a village? Are you the unibomber type that lives alone in the woods? I’m more the latter type, myself, but I can see the charm of living surrounded by people that have similar goals in life. The house is also about boiling everything down to the essence. What does home mean? Because it means something slightly different to each person, each home will express it differently. As they should.

When you’re building your house (or even having it built), there’s no reason to build to the lowest common denominator. I think that’s the problem with RVs, really. They aren’t built for beauty unless you’re willing to pay so much you may as well have it custom-built. The design should be not just efficient and useful, but also such that the materials aren’t ugly. Any material, from tin to mahogany, can be attractive or not depending on how it’s used.

I am heartily in favor of "home" including a kettle on the stove!

I am heartily in favor of “home” including a kettle on the stove!

One of the challenges Jay faced was finding room for his art materials. As any artist or crafter can attest, one’s stash of necessary materials has the potential to get out of hand pretty easily. Then he realized that art is simply the practice for real life. Real life is living artfully. Your glasses, windows, chairs, and walls can substitute for art.

Isn't that window an artful detail? I love it!

Isn’t that window an artful detail? I love it!

As of 2015, the minimum room size for the building codes dropped from 120 square feet to 70 square feet, though they still require a separate bathroom. (Don’t forget that building to code can happen without meeting the zoning standards. Legally, you have to meet both.) Codes are supposed to be to protect the health and wellbeing of the people- so where is the proof that these size rooms are really necessary for health and wellbeing? As a people’s movement, it is up to the people to push for more logic in the rules that are restricting us from building the house we need as opposed to the house we’re told to have.

You can fit a lot into this storage area- if you've done the internal work to know what you really need.

You can fit a lot into this storage area- if you’ve done the internal work to know what you really need.

Jay concluded his presentation by warning us that the biggest danger is from within. “Tinier than thou” exclusivity could drive out both newcomers and new ideas from those who have been with the movement since it started. There is also the possibility of corruption from within, like the organic movement. Just because it’s small doesn’t mean that it’s an efficient use of space or a way for the owner to really do the soul-searching necessary to live the life this movement is about. However, if we keep the movement of and by the people, it will continue to flourish.

Jay was my favorite speaker, not just because he was fun to listen to and had some very quotable statements, but because he exuded the self-assurance of someone who has figured out what they need out of life, what they want out of life, and how to go about fulfilling both. That makes him not just someone to listen to, but someone to aspire to. Just as each of our homes end up looking different, the way we express how we fit into the world will be different. But the ability to figure out who we are and what that place in the world is, is something that many people have trouble getting to. In no small part because they’re so caught up in their big house, big mortgage, and big piles of stuff that they just don’t have the energy left over to examine their lives in depth.

I have been thinking for a while, now, that I needed to get a better handle on my “stuff” and probably thin the herd quite a bit. Going to the Jamboree and particularly listening to Jay is giving me a positive reason to make the change. Previously it had been negative- I hate moving all of it when I move, I never have room in my rented room or apartment for all of it, storage units get expensive. But now I have something to work toward instead of away from. I will be working toward a lighter, brighter, more complete life than the one I had while burdened with all that “stuff.” It’s a much better reason.

No room for anything but the essentials for a good life!

No room for anything but the essentials for a good life!

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Tiny House Jamboree- Colorado Springs: Part 2

I think kits are half-way between buy and build.

I think kits are half-way between buy and build.

One of the speakers gave a talk that I gathered is a new consideration for the movement. Laura Higgins discussed the choice to buy or to build. The decision is ultimately answered by designing your life around what matters. Is it more important to learn the diverse skills necessary to build a house- and make no mistake, it is a house- or is it more important to get into the house quickly? Is this temporary housing or a permanent move? If you’re building, do you have access to skills (yours or in your community), time (months), space for building, and materials (new or reclaimed). If you are buying, do you have the cash in the bank or financing? Having it built or buying a ready-built one will cost more than building it yourself, but the cost is usually known up front, unlike any building project, ever. In either case, have you walked through enough plans to be sure this will work for you? She even suggested taping out the plan on the floor so you can “live” in it to give it a dry run before building or buying. In the end, though, be open about your journey. People want to help and hearing about your journey may help them in return. Also, be confident in your decision. It is, after all, yours to make.

I'm not sure why there are complaints about these houses. It's adorable!

I’m not sure why there are complaints about these houses. It’s adorable!

Whether you build or buy, you will need to think about how you plan to use it and the codes and zoning that are associated with those uses. Because zoning trumps everything, that’s where you want to start. This is city and/or county down to HOA rules. They may include things like whether or not RVs are legal, minimum square-footage, and shape/aesthetic requirements. Once you’ve figured out those rules, then you can get into the building codes. The original tiny homes were what Darin Zaruba and Andrew Morrison described as “piece of shed on a trailer.” In other words, not to any particular code. The first code they discussed is the RVIA code, or the code for RVs. Tumbleweed and Sprout builders, among others, build theirs so they are registered as RVs. This means they are built to a national standard. Unfortunately, if your zoning doesn’t allow RVs, it won’t allow these tiny homes. The next step up is HUD code, or mobile homes. Unfortunately, it’s the factory that is certified. If you’re building the house yourself, this certification is not an option. The next step up is the IRC, or International Residential Code. They won’t certify a building on wheels, but why is your tiny house on wheels, anyway? Because you genuinely want to be mobile, or because you didn’t know there were other options? It is possible to build a tiny home to their code as long as you meet the minimum size and room number requirements.

Several of the lofts even came with models to show how spacious they are.

Several of the lofts even came with models to show how spacious they are.

There were some additional interesting tidbits from that talk. After 15 years of work, there is now an IRC National Strawbale Code. Change does happen if enough people want it badly enough. Legal egresses are not, in fact, about allowing you to get out if your home is on fire. The minimums are designed so that when you are unconscious from smoke inhalation, an average-sized firefighter can come in the building and save you. Given the size of tiny homes, and the fact that the bedroom is just a loft (IRC does require a separate bedroom) a second egress isn’t technically a requirement, but it might be a good idea to consider how you can skedaddle if anything goes wrong, because the house won’t last long enough for firefighters to get there. Apparently there is such a thing as the fastest tiny house- raced on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Could someone find me that video? I was not able to.

This arrived as a trailer and a kit on Friday. By the middle of Sunday . . .

This arrived as a trailer and a kit on Friday. By the middle of Sunday . . .

If you are interested in building your tiny house on wheels, Damon Deschampes talked to us about what to look for in a trailer. The original tiny homes were frequently built on utility trailers for lack of a better option. They are finding that as the originals age, utility trailers were less than the best choice. They are built for short-term hauling, not permanent, heavy weights. The laws concerning trailers change from state to state and they are currently fluctuating even within states. However, their research indicates that if you keep the height under 13’6″ and the width, including eves, under 102″, it should be road legal without additional permits. It is possible to get permits to move it if you build it taller or wider, but each state requires their own for each trip, so it’s inconvenient to build it bigger if you’re planning on keeping it mobile. You also want to take into account how you attach the house to the foundation because every time you move it, you are subjecting it to earthquake-like movements of 5-6 on the Richter scale and hurricane force winds. One last thought is to check the credentials of the experts you rely on. Make sure they aren’t snake-oil salesmen.

If we're going for productive land use, this one even has a chicken coop!

If we’re going for productive land use, this one even has a chicken coop!

Given all the interest in tiny homes and alternative living options, if you have land, there are people who are looking for places to park. Jan Burton and Sam Austin talked to us about ADUs, accessory dwelling units. They are actually legal in much of Colorado Springs, but check your HOAs and, if you live elsewhere, google ADU and your town. What they’ve found is that it’s great for increasing the population density without increasing the use of cars the way apartment buildings do. It gives rental income, often long-term, and allows homeowners to create living units, not developers. It’s possible to create an ADU either as an internal divide of a current house or as a detached unit. I suspect the internal divide would be easier to get past picky neighbors and HOAs, since the requirements on detached units tend to be stringent.

Once again, I’ve run out of room. My conclusion and favorite speaker will have to wait for Part 3.

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Giving Thanks

Healthy by almost anyone’s standards.

Ok, so I’m a little late on the Thanksgiving post. I think I have a legitimate excuse, though. This is my first holiday in Maine in, well, years. Aside from the big day itself, I’ve been spending time visiting with family members I haven’t seen in an age. I was also helping out with the cooking. Cooking for people, after all, is so much more fun than just cooking for yourself. All of this makes sitting down to put together a post on the back burner.

The diet starts . . . tomorrow.

Going home always includes traditions. I have been to several different family’s Thanksgivings over the years. Each have their own traditions, a buffet, a small family gathering, the first Thanksgiving cooked by the husband. It was really, really nice, though, to go home to the traditions I grew up with. I was setting the table, so I got to pick the china we used. It was Mom’s from her wedding. The same china that we always used for both Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. We had shrimp cocktail that, as it has forever, disappeared with remarkable swiftness. I wasn’t part of a line of kids making the stuffed dates, but they were still part of the appetizers. When we sat down, Dad carved the turkey at the table and we passed around dishes of fall vegetables, many from the garden out back. Even the turkey tasted right. There is nothing quite like a bird cooked on a charcoal grill.

The aftermath.

When we were sitting down we were saying what we were thankful for. Mom was thankful that 3/4 of her kids made it home for the holiday. My sister was thankful to have gotten a good job. Perversely, I was thankful to be between jobs so I could take the time to come home and visit. Once we got settled, we had a laugh about it being a very small Thanksgiving with just seven of us. We couldn’t even fight over who got to sit at the kid’s table and who had to sit with the “adults.”

Marrying a German into the family is a great idea!

After Thanksgiving, we got to go visit a cousin who’s family hadn’t made it up to Maine for the big day. I also got to spend time with two of my three siblings, discussing their current projects and visiting my brother’s. We did not grow up near our grandparents and cousins, so moving to Colorado didn’t mean leaving my entire extended family behind. I am slowly realizing, though, why people don’t move away from their family. Whether you get along with them or not, no one knows you like they do.

Did you get to go home for the holiday, or are you the people that others come home to? Have you noticed your traditions recently, or are they just something that happens? This year, I think I’m thankful that I have family and traditions to come home to.