From Texas-sized 2 Tiny House For Three
Below is a good estimate of how long our Amish Barn Raiser will be – a 1979(ish) 25′ Airstream Land Yacht we rented for our 2-nights in ATX at the Tumbleweed Workshop 4/11-4/13. You can also see how tall Brandy is, though he’s hunched over a bit brushing his teeth. 😉
We had a great time in Austin this past weekend attending the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company Tiny House Workshop hosted by their lead designer, Meg Stevens, and tiny house builders/dwellers Ella Jenkins (Little Yellow) and Brittany Yunker (Bayside Bungalow), all three of whom are both knowledgeable and hilarious. While I don’t call myself a true feminist (they have way too many rules and are generally too pissy for my taste lol), I do have to admit it is awesome to see female presenters at a building workshop. That’s not to knock any of the great guys who’ve also built tiny houses under similar circumstances (little to no experience, little to no help), but c’mon… you have to admit chicks who work with power tools are pretty damn awesome! 😉
I can’t completely count myself in that statement, though, because most of those things scare the crap out of me. If I took a class, though, I’m fairly certain I would get over it since really my fear only pertains to rotating blades vs. powered projectile launchers/drillers like nail guns or impact drills. A screw or nail in the hand would be mighty painful and gruesome, but not half of a tenth of a billionth as gruesome or permanently disfiguring as the hand going bye-bye all together from faulty use of a powered saw of any variety. No thank you very much. *shudder* Just… eew. I like my hands whole and attached, thank you very much, and that goes for fingers, too.
Anyway, our trip to Austin got off to a later start than we would have liked (story of our lives, trust me!), but we did get to have a really yummy and crazy-filling meal with R.A.D at the local IKEA that was having its annual Smorgasbord Friday evening. We stuffed ourselves with all manner of Swedish-style herring and salmon dishes, in addition to our faves like meatballs and roasted potatoes. I made a point to try a bite of everything they had to serve, which was a LOT but all quite tasty. We tried all the dessert varieties too of course, and naturally R.A.D suddenly found his appetite again when tempted by cream cakes covered in yellow marzipan. Quite a tasty meal for only $20 (R.A.D was free for another year… w00t!).
After we dropped him off with my dad we hauled ass down to get to the Airstream before midnight, which was about 2mi from the hotel where the workshop was and just across the Colorado River from downtown Austin. We brought our bikes with us and rode to the first day of class on Saturday, but with 2 festivals and a lot of construction going on we kept getting diverted from the path I’d planned us to take. That made us late, and so did the fact that we reeeeally didn’t want to get out of bed that morning. Add to it the fact that we ended up skipping breakfast to reduce how late we were, and after a particularly big hill followed by another shortly after, my out of shape self needed a breather. We were just 0.8mi from the hotel, but two back-to-back hills on zero calories had this hypoglycemic-on-a-good-day girl wiped the eff out. lol We paused for a couple minutes for me to sit and catch my breath (had to bring my heart rate down from the rafters, too), and after that I was fine for the last leg. Clearly I need to be biking more, or at least next time not decide to start riding again after a 6+yr hiatus in such a hilly city!
Amazingly we were only about 20min late even with all that drama, so we slipped in to the back as quietly as possible and took our seats among the 30 or so other participants. I say 30, could have been 50… just didn’t count! They passed the microphone around, and since I knew we’d be the last ones to talk I tried to make a mental note to hit on all the important parts of who we are and why we’re building our tiny house, but as usual I sucked at public speaking. I skipped over the fact that we plan to go to Colorado and then travel cross-country with our house, and then I mentioned the blog but forgot to give out the address. DOH! Thankfully Meg had a signup sheet where we could list our e-mails for mutual contact between classmates, so I’ll share the blog info at that time.
The first day was the basic ground zero build information covering everything from types of trailers on up through the basic framing of the floor and walls. Since we are having an Amish Barn Raiser built for us to finish out a lot of the Day One info didn’t pertain specifically to our first tiny house build, but I did pick up some tips and hints along the way for how to deal with internal walls (they aren’t load bearing, so build ’em however you want!) and more details on the various window options (full aluminum BAD; aluminum clad wood GOOD!). The three ladies traded off discussing the various topics, which included everything from the aforementioned trailers, framing, and window options to listing and discussing the various tools needed for the job (including alternative ways to get them, like tool libraries or trading labor for borrowing privileges from local farms), basic financial planning (Meg even gave a breakdown of her own expenses as she and her hubby build their Linden 20′ home, the very home she designed from scratch for Tumbleweed), and heavily emphasized and repetitively reemphasized how vitally important it is to remember that these houses encounter hurricane force winds while traveling down the road and must be thoroughly secured to the trailer and the framing secured to itself to be safe for travel. That last point alone is the precise reason we went with the Barn Raiser over building it from scratch ourselves. We know we will be traveling with our house all across the US and into Canada, so we wanted to make absolutely, positively sure the house was professionally secured with all the necessary strapping and anchors to be the safest possible. Well worth the added expense to us!
In the roofing section they mostly talked about standing seam metal roofs, which are of course both highly functional and quite beautiful, but I’m still not totally sold on using them on our roof. We have a pretty specific look in mind for our house, and a solid color metal roof just doesn’t quite fit the aesthetic we’re going for. Ella talked at length about how we should all remember to consider the aesthetic of our homes as well as the function while we build, and even though we’re breaking her “rule” about how important built-in porches are to keep the house from looking like a shed (we are going to have a porch, but it will be a drop-down one that can be folded up for travel – not as pretty, I agree, but still functional), I do think aesthetically a different style of roof will really complete the look of our house and more than make up for the missing corner porch. I actually have a post I’m going to write about the roofing material we’ve chosen, DaVinci’s Bellaforte Shake Shingles, that I’ll link back to HERE shortly. I’ve been trading e-mails with one of their reps for about a week now, and I’m certain that we’ve found a great solution for our house that can withstand the crazy winds and be made even safer for our specific application with just a little modification. More on that later…
Two local Austin attendees of our workshop happen to be about 1/2 way through their build (they’re part of the Austin Tiny House Community on Facebook – just look for posts from Lacey Jade), so they invited everyone out to take a look at their house after class ended the first day. Unfortunately since we were on bikes and needed 30min just to get back to our car and they were 25mins from the hotel site we had to miss out on seeing their house in person, but we had a good chat at the Mixer our three hosts held up in the hotel’s restaurant/bar at 7pm that evening. It gave us enough time to make a pit stop at Whole Foods for some snacks and a loofah (brought towels, forgot washcloths… whoops!) and pedal back to the Airstream, though Brandy’s back wheel popped a bearing out or something on the ginormous hill of doom that I knew better than to attempt to ride up and put it out of commission. C’est la vie – I’m glad we tried it at all! It just meant that we could leave straight away from the 2nd day rather than ride back across the river first to get the car. At the mixer we got to have more casual discussions about ourselves, our tiny house plans, and hear more about the hosts themselves, and I got in a good conversation with Brittany about Washington state, her home state and our eventual landing zone. It was also good to hear her speak earlier in the day about just how much work she does to keep her tiny house dry (another HUGE topic of discussion since tiny houses are prone to moisture problems and need vigilant dehumidifying by one means or another), which will help us be prepared when we head to coastal regions in general on our travels and especially once we settle down in Washington. Brandy got wrapped up in conversation at the bar with another attendee and her son & son-in-law that came with her, so he missed out on the other conversations I had with the ladies and with other attendees. Still, it was a fruitful night and a good time to hear from all these highly varied kinds of folks that want to build tiny houses whether for themselves, for family members, or for businesses.
Day Two started off with us again dragging ass (this time because we stayed too long chatting rather than sleeping), but this time we were only late because the parking attendants at the hotel said, “We weren’t expecting so many people for the Tumbleweed thing, so there aren’t any more spaces,” and directed us to a parking lot across the street. I agreed with him, actually, because I was expecting maybe 10-15 people myself! Guess we should have biked in after all, but at least this way we got breakfast and saved $8 on the exorbitantly high cost the hotel had charged us for parking for 3hrs for the mixer the night before. This was the day I was really looking forward to because I knew the hosts would be going over insulation, appliances and finishes, the three categories we will have to worry about most besides roofing and siding since our framing will be done by Tumbleweed.
I was a bit disappointed to learn my idea for using recycled denim insulation would be a bad idea since cotton holds on to water almost as badly as the cotton-candy texture of fiberglass, another no-no for your tiny house, but I picked up a great phrase that made me simultaneously giggle and shudder: Cotton kills! Brittany mentioned it as a saying hikers in Washington use because of how wet the climate is and how ridiculously long cotton takes to dry. I’d never really thought about it, but she’s totally right – cotton does take forever to dry, and if you’re wearing a cotton t-shirt and jump into the pool (even if the water is warm) the shirt is icy cold in a matter of seconds once you’re out of the water. Ella even switched to wearing nothing but wool clothes because wool dries fast and can be just as soft and flexible as cotton, and the wool insulation in her tiny house also doesn’t require the use of a vapor barrier and is naturally flame retardant. Count us in! I remember Mariah Coz of Comet Camper mentioning she wears nothing but wool clothes, even wool undies, in one of her downsizing course lessons I took about 2mo ago, but I didn’t really focus on it at the time. Now I see why she suggested it, and with a second from Ella I think I will definitely investigate both the wool insulation for the house and wool clothing options for my day-to-day outfits at least. I can’t do anything about my scrubs being made of cotton, but I can at least make some changes in our basic wardrobes.
Ella also talked about the various heating units (propane, electric, wood-fired), and I’m pleased to say that we are definitely taking her advise and investing in a Kimberly Wood Stove by Unforgettable Fire. Not only will it heat the house without propane (hooray!!!), it will actually help reduce moisture in the air and can even act as a cooktop and has a thermo-electric generator attachment that can help power our house. Booyakashaw! I was dreading this decision more than most because of my intense desire to avoid propane if at all possible even though the Dickinson heaters are wall-mounted and take up very little space, but I just don’t like the idea of having propane (which ADDS moisture to the air by the way) for our primary heat source. We might not be able to completely escape propane since it seems to be the only way (aside from solar camp showers or boiling water and mixing it with cold, which isn’t totally out of the realm of possibilities but FAR less convenient for sure) to have hot water off-grid, but at least that can be mounted outside the house and eliminates the need for gas pipes anywhere inside the building envelope (aka the walls). We’re already planning on using an Origo alcohol cooktop to avoid propane or electric there, and with the eventual baking oven accessory for the Kimberly stove we wouldn’t even need a separate electric toaster oven like we’d planned to get for use when connected to shore power.
Speaking of power, both Ella and Brittany gave good descriptions on the various differences between the power connections types you can use for a tiny house and how to help determine how much you’ll need and which kind of connections are best for your purposes. They also covered the plumbing basics including thorough descriptions on various composting toilet types and methods of disposal (turns out plants LOVE human pee if you mix it 1:10 with good old water!) and gray water recycling/disbursing methods. We’ll likely have to rely on traditional gray water dump stations if we’re in an RV park for an extended amount of time, but we are definitely working hard to eliminate the final products we use at home that wouldn’t be safe to drain onto the ground directly. That way if we find land to rent somewhere we could potentially drain the gray water tanks directly onto the ground perhaps via a small soaker hose to minimize the “evidence” just in case it’s still frowned upon even with careful elimination of toxins. I’ll have to do more research into our solar options, too, because Ella suggested to me that we not risk permanently mounting the solar panels on the roof due to the wind they’ll encounter while traveling. I told her I was looking into a method of installing permanent frame “clips” on the roof that the panels could be popped into when we’re stationary, and now I’m also considering a similar idea for the actual sides of the house, perhaps over the window frames where the panels could be propped up to look like an awning over the window and then taken down at night. At least that way we wouldn’t need a ladder to put them up on the roof. Ideas to ponder!
The rest of the class was more in-depth discussion about insulation choices and a great slideshow of some various finishes of tiny houses around the country, including the ones Ella and Brittany have already built and Meg’s in-progress house, too. They wanted us to find inspiration in the various ways everyone finishes their houses out, and I definitely gleaned a few ideas about ceiling fans (hadn’t planned on one, but they actually make a lot of sense in a tiny house) and decided we are definitely using the “extreme weather wall assembly” since we will be traveling in all sorts of climates and want to make sure the house stays warm or cold depending on where we are with as little need for electricity or other heat/cold sources as possible. This means we’ll be adding a sheet of expanded polystyrene board over the exterior sheathing and under the exterior siding to increase the insulating properties of the house by reducing the thermal bridge effect where outside temperatures seep into the inside of the house wherever there’s a gap in the insulation (i.e. where the 2×4 studs touch the siding). I’d been looking into that idea and was about to raise my hand to ask about it when I turned the page in our booklet and -BAM- there it was. They really do think of pretty much every question anyone could think to ask in these workshops, and they definitely know their stuff!
The class ended at 3:30pm, so we jumped on the road back to Dallas almost immediately but not before I told Meg that when they rolled through Dallas in August we would be happy to tow our ABR in whatever state it may be in at that point to the workshop. I really wish we’d been able to see a tiny house, ANY tiny house, up close and personal in this workshop, so I volunteered us to help the next Texas group get that opportunity. Meg said that the couple who invited everyone over to see their house had essentially done the same thing and contacted Tumbleweed in advance to make that offer, so I’ll definitely be checking to see where they finally decide to hold the Dallas workshop. If nothing else perhaps we can invite the class to drive to us, but since both our house and my dad’s are a bit off the beaten path I think it would be easier for us to come to them. We’ll just have to see! Regardless, though, the Tumbleweed Tiny House Workshop is DEFINITELY worth the trip even if it isn’t a hands-on type workshop. The knowledge level and approachable nature of the presenters made learning and asking questions easy, and the content was thorough and informative.
To steal from movie reviewers everywhere, I’d give it 4 and 3/4 stars and only take that 1/4 because of the lack of hands-on or show-and-tell (as in getting to see some of the mentioned products in person, even in small quantities, like little chunks of the different insulation types for instance) for those of us tactile learners and watch1-see1-do1 types. If you want to attend and want to save money, too, just keep your eyes peeled for the discounted dates and book online! We were able to both attend for the price of one regular ticket ($399) by buying during their New Years sales. Definitely worth the time and money at any price point, though, for anyone thinking seriously about building a tiny house or just wanting to find out more about the actual processes that go into them! 🙂