I made some progress on the 160House interior this month but nothing I feel like gloating about yet. So I thought I’d revisit a few past accomplishments that I never publicly patted myself on the back for.
1. Wiring the House: A Powerful Experience
Did you know I did my own electrical? I know right… I should get some fire insurance.
But seriously. Between advice from my dad and this generous literary gift from my friend Ejay, I was able to plan and lay the electrical for my entire house.
Rad Dad did the final hookups though so I think the house is only 20% likely to burst into flames.
But hey, for having no previous experience, I think I did a shockingly good job.
2. Plumbing the House: What a Rush
Around the time I was wiring my tiny house and thinking up hilarious electricity puns, I was also plumbing my home with PEX. I bragged about this a bit on my Instagram. But not to my adoring blog readers such as yourself.
PEX was actually pretty fun to use. One friend described it as playing with legos, but plumbing. Basically, you run semi-flexible plastic tubing through your walls and then pop and clamp them into place wherever they need to go. Much easier (and safer) than melting copper pipes together.
We also used PEX to build a sprinkler system in the ceiling. You know… to put out the inevitable electrical fire.
Overall, I’d say the plumbing installation went swimmingly.
3. Installing Ceiling: Can’t Keep Me Down
The underside of the upper portion of the 16House was the first interior finish I installed. I decided to run boards instead of using plane sheetrock. And I whitewashed them myself.
My dad and I spent several workdays up in the rafters, yelling at each other about holding boards in the right position. You know, basic father-daughter bonding stuff. And in the end, it turned out beautiful.
So you know, things are really looking up.
Full confession… The reason for writing this quick and dirty post is that I’m about to go have a blast in the desert at Burning Man. And prep work has taken over my life. Seriously, I’ve never worked so hard to have fun. So sorry for any hastily made errors (but not for the puns).
So I’m out of here for a couple weeks. Which sadly means a brief stall in tiny house progress. But fear not, I’ll think of something else to congratulate myself for in writing when I get back.
And if you’re also headed to Black Rock City, you can find me in Camp Bad Idea at 6:30 and E!
The 160 House dream team has been kicking ass lately, in and out of the tiny house realm. Lon Wiley aka Rad Dad went to the Senior Olympics and took home a 2nd place medal in the 1500 meter race plus 5th place ribbons in the 800 meter and the 5K. And while Rad Dad aka Speedy McFastman was racing to victory, I’ve been sprinting headfirst into a new career.
In March I left behind the lawless lands of non-profit life for the untamed wilds of freelance writing. And I have to say, it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. Every day I get to grow my skills and help people tell their stories. You can learn more about that by checking out my website WileyWords.com.
But for the 160House, it’s meant a huge change in my workflow. First, I get to make my own schedule. So I’ve given myself two full days every week dedicated to tiny housing. And second, I now have a real reason to GET. SHIT. DONE.
You see, I love what I’m doing for work so much that I’d love to be doing much much more of it. And all this tiny house time is cutting into my writing-for-money time. The extra hours and this new boost in motivation have resulted in some serious progress.
Drywall Sheetrocks My World
The biggest development since my last update is that the 160House now has walls… on the INSIDE! We used 1/2inch drywall instead of 3/4inch to keep weight down. Plus it was much easier on my spaghetti arms.
This part of the process was one of my favorites so far. From installing the walls to taping and mudding and finally painting my first coat of primer. It was messy and it was hard work but it was also satisfying and even kind of fun. It felt like a big art project. And every day I’d go home with my hair thick with the dust of drywall cement, feeling a growing sense of accomplishment.
Now that the drywall is up and primed, it’s time to start painting and then installing all my cabinets and plumbing fixtures. And theeeen it’s time for detailing. So pretty much… we’re getting sort of, kind of close-ish to being done.
When I asked Rad Dad, “Are we almost there?” he just gave me a pitying look and a sympathetic chuckle and said, “We’ve got a ways.” So despite our sped up progress, it looks like I still might be building this house for the rest of eternity.
Not to mention that freelancing has given me more time but less money. An inconvenient point in my life to coincide with my most expensive tiny house purchases like appliances and plumbing fixtures.
But there is one other way I can speed up progress…
Lowering My Standards
“Good Enough” has become my mantra. “Fuck it” is my battle cry. I no longer care if my home is catalog-worthy or if the details are just right. I’m happy with a DIY vibe, a house with chAraCter. So… cabinet doors? Who has the time? Let there be curtains. Build in a desk? Why would I? I’ve got one that works just fine. Matching appliances? Why, when I found these for free on Craigslist?
Tell the children: When you lower your ambitions, all goals become possible!
Work hard, remember what you’re working towards, and be willing to compromise your dreams… these are the ingredients for happiness and a successful tiny house build.
Follow the160House on Instagram for more updates and regular-ish pictures of my build (And one great picture of my butt).
So you’re thinking about building a tiny house? You’ve been watching Tiny House Nation and following #tinyliving. And now you’re drooling over cozy layouts and the promise of a simpler life. And you say… I could build that myself.
Stop. Let’s think about this.
Not about what it would be like to live in a small space. Or what you’ll do for money while you travel the country.
Because if you don’t think about a few things first, you’ll never get there anyway.
The answer to the question “Should I build my own tiny house?” comes in four parts. If you can’t answer yes to these four questions, you could get stuck in a project for LITERAL YEARS. Or never finish at all.
1. DO I HAVE THE MONEY?
It’s definitely cheaper to build a tiny house yourself than to buy one new. Mostly because you’re not paying anyone for the work you do yourself. And having total control over purchases can also cut costs. You can look for discounts and hunt for used or leftover materials from other jobs.
But even with these savings, building a tiny house isn’t cheap. The space is small but it has all the amenities of a full sized house. Kitchen appliances, plumbing and fixtures, heating and air conditioning — maybe even a washer-dryer if you’re fancy like that. And energy efficient, compact items can actually be pricier than their full-sized alternatives.
There’s a great blog post by The Spruce that details the costs of building your own tiny home. But you can expect to spend between $12K (nearly all reclaimed, budget materials) and $35K (for higher-quality, new materials). And that’s not including the costs of buying tools or renting equipment!
So, do you have that kind of money in savings? Or do you have a steady income? Can you afford to put that much into a big project over X amount of time?
If not, a tiny house isn’t in your budget. Yes, it can save you money once it’s built. But if you can’t finish because you don’t have the funds, it doesn’t matter.
But if you do have the money… it’s time to start thinking about a different kind of cost.
2. DO I HAVE THE TIME?
Building your own tiny house saves money but costs you time.
And that’s an average. The less experience you have, the longer it’ll take.
So do you have three or more months to take off? Can you give up your weekends for the foreseeable future? Do you feel amped up about after-work projects? If the answer to all these questions is no, this might not be your best option.
But if you’re ready to commit that kind of time, then let’s move on to question three!
3. DO I HAVE THE HELP I NEED?
I don’t care how independent you are or how great you are at building. The bottom line is, no one accomplishes anything alone.
Working with a friend, partner, or relative can make building your home much easier. But if you’re relying on someone else, make sure it’s someone you trust. If they have a flaky track record, consider what the project would be like without them. Could you do it alone? On a reasonable timeline?
Even if you’re not relying on someone to be there full time, sometimes you’ll need an extra set of hands. For two-person jobs. For lifting heavy things. For giving hugs when everything sucks.
So spend some time evaluating your support and ask… Is my partner in construction as committed to this project as I am? Will the friends who promise to help really show up when I need them? Do I have enough emotional support to take on a huge project?
If you answered affirmatively, you’re ready for the final and most important question…
4. DO I ENJOY BUILDING?
I considered making the last question, “Do I have the skills?” But I decided that isn’t the best way to gauge readiness.
Yes, building a tiny house is easier if you have construction experience. But in the age of YouTube and DIY bloggers, skill building is public property. Motivation is harder to get at.
So the real question is… Do you like working with your hands? Do you feel at peace when you’re up to your elbows in sawdust and your cheeks are smeared with paint? Does the buzzing of a saw sound like music to you?
If yes, I’m starting to think you can do this.
This is the one I want you to REALLY think about. Because it’s a question I forgot to ask myself before starting my own tiny house project. And if I’m honest, my answer is no.
This has been the single most limiting factor in my build. It’s hard saving money for a project that’s draining your energy. It’s not easy to give up your Saturdays for something you hate doing. You’re not fun to work with if you’re not having fun.
Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes, when things are going well, I love the work. And working closely with my Dad is a bonding experience I’ll always remember.
But I assumed that as my skills grew, I would find true joy in building. Mostly I’ve found tedium and frustration. And where I thought I could rely on motivation, I’ve had to force discipline.
So if you’ve never built anything bigger than a bird box, start with something smaller than a small house.
And if you find your flow with a hammer in hand. If woodwork and tinkering get you out of bed in the morning… Then I think you’re ready to build your own tiny house.
“I’ve done this before,” I thought as I traced my pencil lines with the jigsaw, “I think I’ve done this a lot of times before.”
The blade jigged through the last bit of siding and I knelt to the ground to retrieve the tiny corner piece.
I carried the thin sliver of wood in my fist, hoping, praying, “Maybe this time.”
But when I ascended the ladder the truth was evident. The piece did not fit, and in an instant I was back at my sawhorse table, measuring, drawing, sawing.
Act Two: Time-Loop
For how long nobody but me and now all of you know (it was an hour and a half), I measured, drew, sawed, placed, and cussed at my siding before starting again.
I found I had a small influence over the time-loop I had been caught in. In one cycle a piece would be too large, in another too small. Sometimes I would go to the left side of the house, sometimes to the right.
But it always ended the same. Me, back at the sawhorse, measuring, drawing, sawing.
I thought if I could just do it one more time, I could escape the loop. If I got it right, it would all be over but no matter what I tried I just couldn’t.
I thought about jumping from the 160House roof but morbid means never worked for Phil and besides, I would probably just twist an ankle.
Then it occurred to me. At the heart of every awful time-loop plot is a simple trope. The loop allows a protagonist to hone skills to perfection but the skills are never the point. It’s not Phil’s piano lessons that free him.
No one escapes a time-loop without learning a good old fashioned life lesson.
Act Three: Fuck It
On my lucky 13th try I carried my tiny, precious corner piece to the back of the house to once more fit it into the last blank edge at the top of the hutch.
I stood frozen, defeated. I felt as if my entire self-worth were wrapped up in this minuscule piece of siding. Why couldn’t I do this? I had a shiny degree from a prestigious university, right? Haven’t I built this whole house? I’m so good at putting together IKEA furniture!
I stared the piece down, and it stared back at me, taunting me until I declared, “Fuck it!”
Here was my life lesson all scrunched up into a 4ish inch long triangle. I don’t have to do everything right. I don’t have to learn every skill. I just have to finish this fucking house before I lose my mind.
I glued that piece into place, resolved to caulk around it over the weekend, and went home to order pizza. Time-loop broken.
“Look at her, isn’t she beautiful?” they all say passing by but once they get to know her, they face a disappointing reality. Inside she is an empty shell, a hollow skeleton. She likely needs years of work, totaling in the thousands of dollars to become truly whole, self sufficient, move-in-ready.
But damn… she looks good.
Over the past few months the exterior of the 160House has undergone dramatic cosmetic surgery. We flashed the tires, installed vents, sided all four walls, caulked in the trim and windows, and sided and roofed the “rabbit hutch.” All there is left to do is attach the hutch doors and paint the front door an obnoxiously cute canary yellow.
The 160House’ makeover happened just in time for her very first celebrity visitors. My friend Chelsea, an old Sea Scout buddy, is considering making a horrible mistake and wanted to come see what my mistake looked like.
She brought with her Renee Randau McLaughlin and Hillarie Kaczetow, organizers for the San Jose TinyFest. Hillarie is also the builder and resident of Tiny Hell on Wheels (and proud mom to Crusher, the tiny pig!!!). While Crusher rooted for acorns at the foot of my parent’s old oak tree, we stood in the doorway of the house and enthusiastically swapped successes and set-backs. Renee and Hillarie were full of praise, helpful hints, and sympathetic anecdotes. Chelsea did not seem at all deterred from making the worst decision of her young life.
Those glitter counter tops though!
This was my first time kicking it with real tiny house people, and it was truly energizing. It made me want to get more involved in the tiny house community, if for nothing else than to use the successes of my peers as envy based fuel for powering through the remainder of my build.
So thank you to Chelsea and friends for coming to visit for the big tour and letting me show off my most beloved and resented child!
Other thanks this month go to Mio Metals in Petaluma for their well crafted custom flashing pieces we used on the wheel wells and as always to my dad for his skills, time, and mentorship.
Tune in next month to watch me play “Why the Fuck Did I Put this Wire Here 6 Months Ago?”
After literal years of putting time and effort into what appeared to be a generic rectangularish structure, local woman Katelynn Wiley was surprised to discover she’d been building a tiny house all along.
“I had seen them on TV before but I never put two and two together,” Ms. Wiley said in a statement to herself. “It was truly shocking to look up one day and see my project for what it was. You just never think it’s going to happen to you.”
The moment of realization occurred after siding for the structure was properly waterproofed and ready to be installed.
Ms. Wiley and father Lon Wiley had begun to nail boards to the wall when Ms. Wiley reportedly stepped back to say, “Holy shit it’s a house.”
“It’s remarkable that you can spend so much time and energy on a project and not really grasp what’s going on,” Ms. Wiley explained, “I feel like Mrs. Gacy. I should have known.”
Mr. Wiley, who has been an active general contractor for 40 years explained, “In my whole career I’ve never seen anything like it … it’s just so damn cute.”
Despite these ground breaking revelations, the father daughter team reported an uncharacteristically smooth month of work.
Ms. Wiley, who maintains a once monthly blog on the project, expressed concern about how she would go about writing an interesting report on a period of work with so few comical struggles. “I think I’ll write a satirical article conveying what a drastic difference siding makes in the appearance of the house and also lightly mocking myself for how long it’s taken me to get to this point,” she explained.
In the mean time, Ms. Wiley would like to express her gratitude to those who have supported her through this trying time of transition. “One day you’re pouring your time and energy into a big wooden trailer thing and the next you’re building a tiny house. I’m just glad I have friends and family to help me feel grounded in this time of great change.”
In September I chose to stain my siding using a blend of vinegar and steel wool. I was so proud of my swift decisive action that on the first Friday of October I declared that “I was the best decision maker of all time this month!” I then proceeded to spend the rest of the month agonizing over this decision.
On my first October work day, I applied a top coat of transparent stain to the wood. First off, I would like to have a discussion with the manufacturer of this product over the meaning of words like “clear” and “transparent.”
I’d like to clear some things up here about what words mean.
I thought that maybe it would dry clear (purple glue sticks had taught me this was possible) so I tested it on a few boards. It did not dry clear at all but instead turned my gray stains a distinct burnt orange.
What’s more, when I looked at all my boards after having let them sit for a week, I saw that they were wildly different colors and not just between boards but within the boards. Overall they had settled into a deep redwood color, not at all the cool gray I had hoped for originally. I didn’t hate how they looked but they didn’t look like I wanted my house to look.
I call this the steelhead board.
Logical response: That’s cool. I’ll just paint over them.
Actual response: If I paint over these boards I am a failure who has wasted an entire month’s worth of work days. I better waste all of this month’s work days worrying about it just to be sure.
So that’s why there’s no first of November post.
Good news though! This month I am back on track and have real progress to report!
Once I decided to paint my boards instead of sticking with my stain, I had another daunting decision to make. What color? Or I guess just which shade…
I battled indecision and quickly settled on the middle shade. It’s called Chrome.
My dad set up a way better work station than my brain had come up with for my solo painting. Instead of using saw horses to paint three boards at a time and transferring them to ladders to dry, we used an elaborate series of ladders to paint almost all the boards at one time.
We decided to spray instead of roll the boards and it went so fast. It took three short days to get all the boards painted with primer, first coat, and second coat!
And I got to wear this super cute suit!
Forever the icon.
Next I paint my trim, prep the boards, and start installing
One last piece of exciting news is that I dropped a day at one of my jobs so now I have double the tiny house time!
OK, it’s thank you time! Thank you to my dad for his superior painting strategies, to the guys at the paint stores for answering my many many questions, and to my wonderful friends and family for putting up with my tiny house related worries, especially Jonni, who knows there is no stress that cannot be cured by sushi and fried potatoes.
This month it was time to make some decisions about siding aesthetics. Now if you know me, you know I hate to make decisions. Seriously, never take me to the ice cream parlor. But I am super proud of myself! I was the best decision maker of all time this month!
If you recall, at the end of my last post I had just discovered a way to age wood with steel wool and vinegar, and by discovered I mean watched a couple videos on YouTube about it. I wasn’t 100% sure I wanted to do this with my wood so I bought a semi-transparent gray stain to compare, cut a couple samples out of one of my scrappier boards, and tested out the two methods.
To be honest, I wasn’t completely sold on either but I liked the natural stain better. I could have gone back to the paint store and tried another gray stain but they only sold them by the quart. I imagined myself going through $25 can after $25 can of stain to find the right one and decided to just decide. I would use steel wool and vinegar with a transparent top coat to protect the wood. I still wasn’t totally sure I wasn’t about to eff up $1500 of siding.
The staining took up my next couple of work days. I set up a station and played around with the stain. I wanted a variety of tones in my boards so I played with the ratio of steel wool to vinegar, with how long I let the mixture sit before painting, with how long I left the stain on the boards, and with how many coats I applied.
It was messy work. At one point I went to reapply sunscreen and gave myself a very natural orange glow. I also noticed that I started coughing and getting headaches while I applied the stuff. It didn’t 100% occur to me until the last day of staining that I was basically breathing and bathing in rust, at which point I masked up and slipped on a set of gloves. Just because it’s “natural” doesn’t mean it’s good for you!
Becoming one with my siding.
Safety looks good on me.
Overall, I am really pleased with the results! The boards are all in different shades of gray and brown, and all of them have a rich, natural look.
Most of the month was just me and the wood as both my parents were off cruising through Europe like good retirees but just in time for my last work day of the month, Dad got back and started mapping out the studs on the house while I stained. Next step is painting the boards with the transparent stain and then it’s siding time! This is all happening people!
Thank you to the guys at Kelly-Moore Paints in Petaluma for their helpful advice and patience with my staining questions, to my roommates for letting me keep a big bucket of vinegar and rust in our garage, and to my dad for helping me out once he had recovered from all the fun he had on his cruise. And of course thank YOU for making the difficult but correct decision to continue reading this blog!
I feel like this month’s update is a little scattered. Let’s blame the eclipse. I mean everyone lost their minds over it so why not? Let’s start with…
We got the trim almost entirely finished, except for a little bit around the door where I still need to flash the wheel well.
I also went on another siding quest. This time I called ahead and got someone on the phone who swore they actually had the materials. Still, there was always the chance that after 40 minutes in traffic, it could all turn out to be a filthy lie so I had to make sure the trip was worth it this time.
Let’s just say I made a little side quest to a certain bright green, misleadingly named Puerto Rican restaurant on the way… you know the one. If you are thinking, “This is a construction blog, why is she writing about some restaurant?” Then you have clearly never been to Sol Food, your life is sad, and I am sorry.
Image from 4feet2mouths blog
Image from Sunset magazine
Image from some guy named Phillip Woodrow’s Foodspotting profile
When I finally arrived at the store with a belly full of limeade and camarones criollos, I made my way apprehensively to the lumber aisle, sure that I would find only an empty space and a note reading “F you Katelynn!” where the promised boards should have been. But when I reached the siding section, there it was, actual siding! My siding! I piled nearly 50 boards onto my cart, most of which were in great condition, and carefully guided my towering load to check out.
I almost made it out without being on the receiving end of any mildly condescending comments about my presence in the lumber aisle. If you have ever been a young woman in a floral shirt and ballet flats just trying to buy some construction materials, you know this is a true miracle. However, it was not the day for acts of God and as I approached the counter a man cocked his head and said, “Ha! You building a whole house there?”
I said, “Yes.” He said nothing.
The glee I got from this small moment of triumph over the patriarchy lasted only minutes until the woman behind the counter said, “Your total today will be half of your monthly income.” After breathing through my heart attack, I handed over my debit card and thought of all the camarones criollos and garlic plantains I could have bought with $1058.37 (seriously… it’s a really good restaurant).
On the bright side, I now have enough boards to really get started on this siding adventure! This coming month, I can stain the boards and maybe even start to side my house! I have decided to do a graywash, and am experimenting with a natural method that uses vinegar and steel wool to artificially age boards.
I watched a couple of YouTube videos which showed this simple method working in moments. I was skeptical but thought I would test it out. All it takes is vinegar, steel wool, and a jar.
I poured the vinegar over the steel wool, covered it most of the way up with tin foil so that gas could escape but dust wouldn’t get it, and let it sit on a shelf for two days.
At the end of two days it looked like this.
I dipped a piece of sample wood in, pulled it out, and left it out overnight. Supposedly you only have to wait a couple minutes for results but I didn’t have two minutes. I had important reading in bed and falling asleep to do.
Ok, so that last process picture is really awful but look how well it worked!
Now I need to decide if I want to do this natural stain and then coat it with a protective layer of transparent exterior wood stain or if I want to skip the YouTube life hack altogether and go straight for a semi-transparent gray exterior wood stain. There is a lot to consider. The second method would protect my siding better in the long run, and also I am not entirely sure that painting my boards with what is essentially rust and acid isn’t damaging the wood… but it looks so good!
I know all of you will be on the edge of your seats this whole month, waiting to find out what I decide!
Thank you to my dad for loaning me his truck and taking the lead on getting the house trimmed, thank you to the San Rafael Home Depot for actually having more than 8 screwed up boards this time, thank you to Sol Food for making life worth living, thank you to YouTube DIYers Chad Cole (video below!) and DIY Pete for their advice on ageing wood with vinegar and steel wool, and thank you for keeping up with my tiny house memoirs!
All I want to do is hang out by Chad’s koi pond and listen to him talk about stuff. Is it just me?
I finally sucked it up and decided to buy what seems to be the only unprimed cedar shiplap siding available in the Bay. The closest Home Depot that had some in stock was an hour of traffic away. I called ahead to make sure they really had the boards but after 10 minutes on hold, I gave up. The website claimed that they had 50 of the 70 boards I needed so it seemed worth the risk of wasted time. I borrowed the truck and went on a mission.
It did not work out…
Annoyed selfies in home depot.
I bought the 8 damaged boards they actually had in stock at 70% off and hauled them back. This seems to be how siding purchases will go until I have what I need. My dad also made a Home Depot run and came back with about a dozen damaged boards. (He only got 50% off. I guess I’m just cuter).
In the mean time, we are preparing by putting up the last of the housing paper/flashing and trimming the windows and door!
That task has taken up most of this month’s work time but we did get one other thing done. We mounted my water heater in the back. It’s not even hooked up and it turns out it’s actually going to be a pain in the ass to install but even tacking it up felt like a big moment. This was the first “thing” that has gone into the house. It’s not part of my house’s skeleton, it’s guts, you know?
That’s it for July but I want to say that it feels so good to be making steady progress on the house. I feel like every month I have at least some small victory to report. There was a time at the end of last year when I looked at the house and genuinely thought “I will never finish this.” I hadn’t been working on it in months, I couldn’t see when I would find the time to pick back up, and honestly folks I was going through some sh**.
In this dark time in 160House history, I came across a blog post that struck really close to home (I recommend that anyone considering building a tiny house read it). The author writes, “People say: “Oh, you’ve come so far! You’re so close to finishing!” No, we really, really aren’t. We’ve been “so close” to finishing nearly every month for the last two and a half years.”
Sometimes I still feel this way. Building a tiny house is not a tiny endeavor. It’s the biggest, craziest, possibly stupidest thing I’ve ever done, and honestly, I know it’s still possible that I won’t finish. But right now it feels like I will. So I am just going to keep putting in the time when I can and making my slow and steady progress and maybe eventually I can retire in my little house on wheels.
Thank yous are short this month. Just a big thank you to my dad for going on this long, slow journey with me, even when you’re grumpy and would rather be fixing your truck. And thank you for reading! The good news for my loyal readers is this blog may be around for years to come! 😉