“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?”
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 spent a lot of time this month wandering around hardware stores and lumber yards pricing out cedar siding. What I discovered is that it’s really freaking expensive.
I remembered a design element I had seen in other builds. They used wood siding most of the way up their walls and then switched to another material towards the top. By implementing this simple but appealing design I realized I could save at least a few hundred dollars.
So here’s the thing, I could tell you everything that happened in May but it would be a short story. In fact, here is what that post would look like:
I reparked the trailer again, I installed some more wiring, and I priced out siding.
Instead of ending there, I thought I would tell a different story, the story of how I designed (and continue to design) the 160House.
Phase 1: Convertible Everything
When I first started to dream up the house, I had all sorts of elaborate plans. It looked a lot like this bullshit…
My original few layouts had tables converting into beds and stairs doubling as dressers. It sacrificed no amenities. The exterior was just as bad. I had lofty dreams of awkwardly placed balconies and impractical rooftop terraces.
Phase 2: Keep it simple, Stupid.
My tiny house plans were starting to resemble Fred and Carrie’s Microhouse. There were even a couple iterations with a bathtub. A BATHTUB! (If your curious, it extended underneath the kitchen counter).
I reevaluated. One of my favorite parts of designing the 160House has been taking a deeper look at what is important to me. In a very literal sense it has brought to my attention how much space specific activities take up in my life.
An example: I had been envisioning myself writing my novel in a tiny nook and hosting dinner parties at my family sized dining table but I hate working in cramped spaces and I have never in my quarter century on this planet cooked dinner for my friends. The tiny house wasn’t going to suddenly transform me into a socialite who invites her peers for philosophy and souffle, and I wasn’t going to be happy shoved into a little corner every time I had some creativity to squeeze out. The answer: A big ass desk.
If you want a feel for the inside of the house, watch the video below. I came across it when my entire YouTube suggestion page consisted of tiny house tour videos. The major differences are my shed style roof and my loft over the office space instead of the kitchen area.
Phase 3: You can’t afford that
Now back to my siding dilemma. I simplified the design but was determined not to compromise on aesthetics or quality. Unfortunately, buying nice things is expensive. So, just like this week when I added a new element to my siding plans to cut down on costs, many of my final design decisions have been based on budget.
I don’t have all the windows I once imagined and not all of them are operable, my skylight is not a perfect 4×4 square, the heater is going to be a simple split unit and not one of those cool looking wall mounts where you can see the flames, and the kitchen sink won’t be a classic farmhouse basin but just a big ass metal tub my mother found for $5 at an estate sale.
To Be Continued…
I am sure there will be many more compromises and days spent shaking my head as I flip back and forth between Lowe’s website and my bank statement but so far I have made it through every dilemma with a decision I feel confident about.
Thank yous! Thank you to my friend Andrew who made digital renderings of some of my plans. Sorry I changed the design afterwards! Thank you to my dad for his patience as I deliberate, redeliberate, and obsess my way through this project. And thank you for taking the time to stay caught up on my Tiny House adventures.
“Can your truck tow a tiny house?” I laughed. No one else did.
In horror, I realized that my off handed, half-brag joke had become an offering. “I mean, it’s really big and it doesn’t have any siding,” I tried to back track but the board was undeterred.
“The truck can tow it,” said the executive director, “and we fix homes so it makes sense that it’s unfinished.”
It was decided. I was out of non-lazy reasons to say no, and the 160House would be the Rebuilding Together float in the Petaluma Butter and Egg Days Parade.
Since my last post, I mostly spent my work days preparing the house, clearing debris from in and around it, scouring the floor for sharp objects, vacuuming, sweeping, cleaning windows, and relocating spiders.
Look at it!!!
The day before the parade the Butter and Eggs committee (renamed the Beer, Butter, and Eggs committee because hey, I was on it) met to clear the last of the debris around the house and tow it downtown.
Because nothing can ever be simple with the 160House, this became a complicated three hour ordeal. In a single afternoon I became a regular at the local auto-parts store, returning three times to fetch the proper tow ball, electrical hookups, and flat tire repair equipment (I have no idea how my trailer got a flat when it wasn’t even resting on its tires). Finally, we did get the house hitched and ready.
Another board member towed the trailer downtown and I left slightly after the truck so it took me a moment to catch up. Every turn I made, I could see where the house had been. Under every tree was a murder scene of broken branches and fallen leaves, and I caught up just in time to see us take out a phone line (I feel no remorse. My house is street legal. Hang your lines higher PG&E!).
The whole way downtown, heads turned and fingers pointed. I was pretty impressed with myself. I had built that massive, tree destroying, phone line snapping, attention grabbing trailer.
It had been a lot of work but it was worth it to support an organization I care about.
Then the above picture was sent to our executive director. “It’s really big and it doesn’t have any siding,” she texted back, “I don’t think we should use it.”
In the morning I went downtown to retrieve my house and tried not to think about the many hours of progress I had lost that month. On the way back we managed not to take out anymore power lines, and we almost made it without incident but just as we made the final turn, a tree took its just revenge. A branch slapped into one of my top windows, shattering the glass and the last of my good humor. “$200,” I involuntarily muttered.
I gathered the broken pieces of custom window from the street, patted my gal and told her she was beautiful no matter what anybody said, and then we headed back to the parade. The rest of the day was great and was probably a lot less stressful than it would have been with the house in tow. We got the truck decorated, threw cute kids in the back, and handed out old t-shirts from wheel barrels. Afterwards I celebrated in true Butter and Egg Days fashion, by day drinking with people I went to high school with.
A couple days later, we got the tiny house back in her spot and leveled up, another all day ordeal, and a day later a neighbor hosting an open house begged us to move it. I didn’t have to be there for the second move. My dad towed it with a friend while I was at work. But still, more labor undone.
This whole post has felt very negative so here, a few positive things that came from the Butter and Eggs Debacle:
Planning for the parade motivated me to finish my roof.
The inside of my house will be much easier to work in now that it’s clean.
I learned new life skills for towing and tire maintenance.
I formed valuable relationships with the good people at O’Reilly Autoparts.
I know that my house won’t fall apart when I tow it (but trees and powerlines…)
I got a deep sense of pride and happiness watching people point and stare.
I can totally guilt the Rebuilding Together board of directors into helping me bust out my siding now.
Thank you to my dad for putting up with all this crap. Thank you to everyone who smiled and pointed when they saw my house. Thank you to the guys at the autoparts store for their humor and guidance. Thank you to all you cool kids who came back to town for our hometown holiday, caught me on my way back to my car, and talked me into drowning my tiny house sorrows in cheap bottles of PBR. It was great catching up after all these years! And thank you everyone at Rebuilding Together Petaluma for offering to fix my window for me, for helping me put up my siding (really so kind of you to offer with no pressure from me at all…), and for mobilizing over 600 volunteers to repair more than 50 homes and non-profit facilities in Petaluma every year! Seriously, you’re worth the hassle! And thank you Reader, for being excited enough about this project to follow my blog. I will try to have some real progress for you next month!
In early October I began to make what felt like my first real progress on the house. I had a stack of lumber delivered to my house and it was time to start framing.
It seemed as if this stage would be quick and easy. In one afternoon, my father and I busted out one of the long walls and laid out most of the second.
The next morning my parents left to go gallivanting across the United States in their own tiny home/recreational trailer, leaving me to complete the second wall on my own. I was excited. As much as I love working with and learning from my father, I was eager to prove my own capabilities. My last words as my parents pulled away in their truck was “When you get back I will have this frame done and the walls up!” And I truly believed it.
If it took us both a quarter of an afternoon to build one wall, then I decided it would take me a full day to finish the one we had already started. I fully anticipated being able to gather a party to raise walls by the following week.
But I knew after the very first afternoon that this was going to be a longer endeavor than I anticipated. For that afternoon and several afternoons after, I pulled more nails than I left in… by a lot.
For my dear readers to understand the magnitude of my struggle, I am presenting to you all a list of mistakes you can make while framing, a list which has been thoroughly tested and not at all approved by yours truly!
Ways to F *** Up While Framing
You can nail the wrong piece
You can nail the right piece in the wrong place
You can nail the right piece in the right place in the wrong order
You can nail the right piece in the right place in the right order but not have checked to make sure it was level with the piece it was attached to
You can nail in the right piece in the right place in the right order and have made sure it was level only to discover that the board was more twisted than you realized and won’t nail in correctly on the other end
You can try to leverage this twisted piece in to place and look up to realize that you have now leveraged it out of place on the opposite end
After double checking for right pieces, places, order, levelness, and twistedness, you can finally have an entire section of wall together and realize that you cut a piece slightly too short
Alternatively, you can nearly complete a section and realize it was all measured all wrong in the first place.
Now that you’re angry, you can drive that stupid nail in so hard it cracks the lumber.
Or you can drive a nail in at the wrong angle and bend it to hell.
Or even better you can miss the nail entirely and slam that hate fueled hammer right into your thumb and forefinger.
Now while you’re furious about your bent nails and your cracked lumber and your possibly broken fingers, you can jam your crowbar in with far too much fervor and further crack the piece you’re trying to remove and every piece in the vicinity.
You can repeat these mistakes over and over and over again until it takes you an entire month of working tirelessly on every day off and some mornings before your night job to complete something that you thought would take one little 8 hour work day to knock out.
There are my mistakes. I hope this inspires you to go out and cuss at your own projects.
When I decided to take on the 160House I knew it wouldn’t be easy but I did think that my glowing intelligence and positive attitude would make for a quick learning curve. After spending four weeks making and remaking mistakes and practicing my most colorful language skills, I now know that I am going to have to ride this out on pure stubbornness. No matter. I have plenty of that.
Things did eventually pick up. After 4 work days of absolute struggle, I finally started to leave in more nails than I pulled and I stopped having to yell at the wood so much. Eventually I did finish that wall and was ready to gather friends for a good old fashioned barn raising.
The Raising of the Wall
Many heroes showed up at my house that hope-filled Wednesday. My sister and little nephew came to cheerlead and take photos, and my friends Kurt, Ejay, Kate, and my partner Joe came to do the heavy lifting. Together we heaved the surprisingly heavy wall over to the trailer and set it down. An end piece cracked off and fell to the ground. Bad omens (or workmanship but let’s say omens).
After attaching a new piece where the other had fallen, we had to strategize. First, problem was that it appeared that the wall, when lifted, would collide with one of the trees beside the trailer. The second problem was that if we pushed the wall any closer to the edge, there wouldn’t be any room for it to slip and it could fall off of the trailer.
We ended up pulling several wooden saw horses to the side of the trailer and lifting the wall on top of those. The plan was to drag the wall back to the trailer and then prop it up quickly by attaching a piece of wood to the tree and wall. (My quickly rejected suggestion was that we attach boards to the trailer as stoppers and just try lifting it to see if it would actually hit the tree. Remember this because I will briefly gloat about it later)
The plan at first seemed to be working. With a little will power and grunting, we got the thing upright, but as quickly as we got it up, things started to go horribly wrong. One of the saw horses began to sink into the ground, tipping backwards. The bottom of the wall started to slip out, causing the top to tip back down towards us. Panic ensued as we simultaneously reconciled with our own mortalities and refused to relinquish our delicate holds on life. We used our superhuman, near death experience strength to keep from being crushed, setting the wall back where we started.
For some reason, everyone wanted to go home after I almost killed them.
I probably should have felt more disappointed but mostly I was just thankful that nobody had been hurt and proud of myself and my friends for trying.
The Raising of the Wall Take 2
My dad came home the next day and was nice about not mocking me for my overzealous declaration.
A few days after he returned, just the two of us used a pulley system to get the first wall up. It took about an hour and there were no near death experiences. (For the record, I would like to say that we put a board down to keep the wall from sliding and that the wall didn’t even come close to hitting the tree when we lifted it so I am smart and everyone should listen to everything I say. See, I told you there would be brief gloating).
It was just one wall but it’s my wall. I made it and I lifted it, all with the help of my amazingly supportive friends and family. I am so proud of myself and thankful for my community.
So THANK YOU to my Dad for being my teacher and making things look so damn easy, to my Mom for photographing our framing day, to my sister Andra for photographing our wall raising day, to my nephew Carter for being our adorable wall raising mascot, and thank you infinitely to my friends Ejay, Kurt, and Kate and my wonderful partner Joe for their time, hard work, and misplaced trust. This would not be possible without all of your love, support, and efforts.
Last week my dad and I took a quick jaunt up to Portland, Oregon to drink beer… I mean pick up my trailer. My dad had graciously agreed to let me use his truck to haul my foundation back down to California and I had talked him into staying an extra night to have some time to spend in what is absolutely one of my favorite cities.
We began our quest up North early Tuesday morning, switching off every few hours. It was actually my first time driving anything larger than my sedan, which to be fair is kind of a boat. I did pretty well though. I think I only hit 5 cars and I don’t think I killed anyone but I was in such a hury to get to my trailer I didn’t stop to check on that one guy…
After a 9 hour drive we arrived at our Motel 6 in Tigard, Oregon, a few miles south of Portland. Hey, it was cheap. We drove into town a little after and kicked off our beer tour right with pizza and a 15 beer sampler from Hopworks.
We picked up my trailer at the Iron Eagle facilities in Fairview Wednesday morning so that we would have the afternoon for our beer tour. Rob was as nice and helpful in person as he had been over the phone. He took a few minutes to talk to me about the trailer’s many tiny house specific feautures, then ran a series of tests to make sure that both the trailer and the truck’s towing equipment was fully functional before bringing me to his office to finalize the purchase. And then it was mine!
Once we had the trailer parked back at the hotel, we immediately caught public transport into Portland. We had limited time and a serious plan. The first thing on our to-do list was a visit to one of our favorite places on Earth!
Then it was time to get to the really serious business. We had planned a walking tour of a few breweries in downtown Portland. There are 92 breweries and beer bars in Portland! That’s the most in any city in the United States (probably)! We had a lot of options but we ultimately decided to hit up Rogue, Fat Head, and Deschutes and were not disapointed.
We left Portland at sunrise on Thursday morning, knowing we had a long trip back in the slow lane.
I was a little nervous about towing for the first time but quickly became comfortable, maybe too comfortable. As I was passing another trailer at around 80 miles per hour, I glanced to my left and saw a police car. The officer pulled onto the freeway and I knew I was doomed. But then… A MIRACLE! The officer pulled up and flipped his lights on behind the poor trailer I had just passed!
Thankfully, the rest of the drive was uneventful, probably because I drove a lot slower after that.
In all the trip back down lasted a little over 10 hours but fortunately we were in good company. We made it back home just before dark.
The trip was only 3 days long and we spent as much time in the car as we did in Portland but I think we made the most of our time there. Not only did I retrieve my beautiful tiny house foundation from Iron Eagle Trailers, we were also able stop in at the glorious Powells City of Books, and sample nearly 40 Portland brews (38 if you’re counting… which I am of course)!
Thank you so much to my dad for taking this wonderful trip with me. Thank you to our bartender at Fat Head Brewing for sneaking us extra samples! Thank you to that other trailer for doing whatever it did to get pulled over! And thank you to Rob and everyone else at Iron Eagle Trailers for making at least one of my decisions easy and for making such high-quality, reasonably priced products. For anyone out there trying to decide on a trailer company, I give my highest recommendation to Iron Eagle Trailers in Oregon!
Note: I did not actually hit any cars or people, I swear.
Today I made my first and hopefully biggest investment towards the OneSixty House when I ordered a custom built trailer from Iron Eagle Trailers in Portland, Oregon. There is no going back now. Soon I will have a several thousand dollar, several thousand pound purchase sitting in my yard.
Also, because I am buying my trailer from Portland, get ready for Portlandia references on every trailer post. Sorry not sorry.
I had originally planned to buy used and modify but realized quickly that this was not a good plan for me. After a couple weeks of researching, checking out trailers, and calling custom shops to get estimates on modification costs, all the evidence indicated that I was about to spend months of my life searching for something with no guarantee that when I actually made a purchase it would be the right one. I decided that the time I would save and the peace of mind I would get from knowing my trailer was being built by experts was worth the extra money. Plus, the Portland cell phone guy has a good point.
A fellow member of the tiny house community referred me to Iron Eagle Trailers and I am so glad she did. They have a series of trailers specifically designed to serve as the foundations of tiny houses on wheels and their tiny home trailer expert Rob always clearly and quickly answered any questions I had during the decision making process. I feel confident that I have chosen a trustworthy company.
The completion is estimated at 6 weeks from now which means I will be able to go pick it up mid-March. The estimate they gave me was March 19! I guess I’m taking a road trip to Portland! Bummer.
Thanks so much to everyone who has helped me towards this huge step. To my mother and father for keeping their eyes open for used trailers, to Maggie for referring me to her helpful cousin Pepper, to Pepper for referring me to Iron Eagle, and to Rob and the rest of the crew at Iron Eagle in Portland for making this stage of my tiny house journey easy.
I want to share something exciting with my friends, family, and network. I have decided to build my own home! Actually, I have decided to build my own tiny home. Yes, those little cabins on trailers which have been flooding your social media feeds: I am making one!
I will be using this blog to share my progress and resources with loved ones and other members of the ever growing tiny home community!
Let me quickly run you through the what, where, when, why, and hows of my project!
My little house will be a lot like any other house. It will have a bathroom, office space, kitchen, lounge area, room for guests to stay, and a place for me to sleep. The only difference is that mine will be mobile and will have a footprint of only 160 square feet! The entire structure will be built on top of an 8′ by 20′ trailer and measure 14′ from ground to the tip of the roof.
I will be constructing the little house in the backyard of my Sonoma County home and sourcing as many of my materials from Northern California as possible!
Starting now! I am already in the process of designing, budgeting, and searching for a trailer. I plan to finish the project by Summer.
There are many aspects of building a tiny home on a trailer that appeal to me: mobility, a low environmental impact, the opportunity to design my own living space, the confidence that comes from planning and executing such a big project. But one reason looms above all others…
IT’S CHEAP! The estimated cost of building a 160sqft tiny home on a trailer is $10-15,000. With savings from rent in California, this project will pay for itself within two years of use! With all the money I save, imagine all the extra travelling I can do!
One answer is “With my own bare hands, dammit!” but the real answer is with a lot of hard work, will power, and the help of my many talented friends. I admit it… I NEED HELP! I cannot do this alone.
I have already been surprised and uplifted by the unanimous reactions of enthusiasm and support from everyone I have shared my plans with. So thank you to those who have already offered their hands, advice, and blessings. I know that when the OneSixty House is complete it will not only be my perfect living space but also a tangible representation of my beautiful, supportive community.