The Postcard Underground – supporters of the tiny house movement

Unless you’ve built a tiny house, you may not realize that it can often be a very lonely and discouraging process.  Sure, it’s fun and exciting, but there are many things that are challenging and frustrating about the build process as well.  Yet it seems that for every challenge, there is something positive that keeps you going through the build.  For the last two weeks I’ve been struggling with this nasty flu – for a whole week I hardly left the house, and then the second week of it, I only made it into my work twice.  Yet those two days that I did make it in to work last week, I was pleasantly surprised to find postcards waiting for me from an organization called the Postcard Underground.

A google search revealed several organizations who had also been recipients of their postcards.  Through this search I found out that the Postcard Underground sends anonymous postcards with encouraging messages to individuals and organizations who they believe are doing inspiring work.  Even though I don’t know who is behind this effort, I feel so fortunate to have been the recipient of a few of their postcards.  They came at a time when I really needed some encouragement, and they made me remember the joy it is to receive snail mail in this age of emails and texts.  The fact that the postal stamps are from Minnesota, my home, makes me even more appreciative of their effort.  Thank you, Postcard Undergound, for your support of Boneyard Studios and the whole tiny house community!

A workshop designed like a tiny house

We believe tiny house workshops should be like tiny houses: small, intimate, and designed to your individual needs.  That’s why a couple of the professionals involved in building houses at Boneyard Studios put together a tiny house design workshop for the DIYer who wants more technical information and planning materials for their tiny house build. Our first workshop this past fall was a success and a lot of fun to put on, so we are redoing it again this Spring at Howard University.  Find out more details about the workshop and watch a video from our past workshop.  Check out our photos and materials from the past workshop below and see why I, Lee, was motivated to help design a workshop with these professionals after my experience building a tiny house.

Throughout my tiny house project, I have realized how much building requires project planning, understanding major decision points in the process, and a knowledge of building code and materials.  I didn’t fully understand how one decision impacted another or what building decisions and techniques were unique to tiny houses.  I had naively bought into some of the promotional materials in the tiny house world that claim you can build a tiny house with just 14 tools or that make it seem like building a tiny house is simpler and easier just because it’s smaller than a regular house.  Our experience has been the opposite: a tiny house actually requires more planning, and a pretty thorough knowledge of building science, health and safety, and codes (International Building Code, RV code (ANSI/RVIA), and city code and zoning) in order to build a structure that is safe, durable, and is an efficient use of space.  Come learn with us again this spring!

 

Insulated at last…Pera house update

What a busy month it’s been.   After I finished up the siding of my house with other furloughed feds at the beginning of October, I built my my kitchen cabinets with a professional cabinetmaker at the Build Tiny workshop that my friend Robin Hayes led. Robin has been an amazing resource in my build.  As a master plumber and general contractor, she has helped me to understand how important project management is in construction and even more so in tiny house construction where every decision and detail matters.

Most newsworthy, however, is that last week my house WAS…FINALLY…INSULATED! (with closed-cell foam by AC&R insulation). Eight months after originally planned and with freezing temperatures descending upon Washington DC, it could not have come at a more appropriate time (unless it would have been installed last winter when I originally planned it to be!).  Insulation was a big step – no longer am I just building the structure of my house, but I am moving on to the interior, a more personal space.  Given that shift in the build process, I took some time the morning of insulation to do a space clearing with some sage that my friend Margaret, another tiny house builder, had given me.  When she gifted me the sage a year ago I had fully expected to be done with my entire house when I used it. Yet I felt I needed to honor this step in the build process to thank those who’ve helped me on this journey up until now, and to challenge myself to finish this project in a timely manner.  I’m now very motivated to move forward quickly with the interior of my house, and I’m excited to be working with some new builders/designers since Tony and Matt have moved on to other full-time jobs (thank you both so much for getting the exterior of my house looking so wonderful).

I look forward to posting our progress on the interior over the next couple of months.  In the meantime, check out photos from the past month, including cabinet making during the Build Tiny workshop, a trip to the Hicksville lumber mill (best prices in the area for lumber), a visit from my mother who helped me to organize my supplies and our shipping container (thanks, Mom!), and my closed-cell foam insulation.

 

Boneyard Studios featured in Dwell magazine

Boneyard Studios was fortunate to be featured in the November issue of Dwell magazine. The current issue highlights small space design and we were photographed and interviewed for an article on microhousing communities.  You can check out the article online or in the print magazine. If you don’t already “like” our Boneyard Studios’ Facebook page, go there to see some photos from the photo shoot (thanks to Eli Meir Kaplan Photography for sharing the photos) .  Also, I don’t blog as regularly as I post new photos and announcements to the Facebook page, so follow us there for regular updates or if you’re an Instagram user, link here.

Screenshot of Online Article in Dwell

Screenshot of Online Article in Dwell

Screenshot of Dwell print magazine cover: Small Spaces, Big Ideas.

Screenshot of Dwell November 2013 Issue: Small Spaces, Big Ideas.

A few clarifications to the Dwell piece/photos:

1) We are a friendly bunch who has fun! (Dwell must have a rule on no smiling as the guys look very serious in all of the photos!)

2) Boneyard Studios is not just dudes (Lee Pera, the female founder of Boneyard Studios, and Elaine Walker, the owner of the little white house, were not on the lot the day of the photo shoot).

3) In addition, many other members of the community were also absent from the photo shoot, including our architects and and another builder.  So many thanks to Foundry Architects, David Bamford of Element Design&Build for the beautiful execution of our projects at Boneyard Studios!

Another impact of the government shutdown – siding on Pera house finally complete!

As many of you readers know, I work as a geographer for a government agency which means that I have been furloughed this week.  Although Congress cannot get their act together, I figured it was a great opportunity for me to get my act together after a busy month of travel and finish up the exterior of my house.  So yesterday several furloughed friends and I spent the afternoon finishing up the siding on my dormers and roof. Although we couldn’t do our jobs to protect the environment as we do most days, it was great to do some physical labor and see the results of our work immediately.

Furloughed feds working on the Pera house

Furloughed feds working on the Pera house

EPA employees are quite skilled at carpentry too!

EPA employees are quite skilled at carpentry too!

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Last of the dormer siding!

Last of the dormer siding!

For those of you who have kept up with my posts over the past year, you’ll know that this siding project has been the longest and most labor intensive siding project in the history of tiny houses (okay, I don’t know that for sure, but I’m pretty certain!)  It’s been a very emotional process – especially upon discovering things I’d done wrong, wish I would have done differently, or things I had to do and then redo.  In the end, though, it challenged me to learn new skills  – planing, sawing, drilling, organization, project management, with which I still very much struggle!  In addition, I gained confidence in building (I hop onto my roof now to work where a year ago I was too scared to even climb the ladder to get up there!). Another positive outcome of it being a laborious process was that it allowed me to host numerous work parties with friends and volunteers, and I have such fond memories of all the folks who contributed to the siding, yesterday’s siding party being the last one!  Yes, we finally knocked off the remaining siding on the dormers and roof yesterday, and I’ve ended up with a pretty amazing-looking design.

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I have such gratitude for everyone who has helped with the siding of the house, whether that be a weekend of planing wood, an afternoon of treating boards, multiple work parties screwing them in, or spring afternoons helping me on my roof.  And then there were the numerous weekends I worked by myself – slowly, tediously, but meditatively, challenging myself to complete something I thought I would never finish.  There were many days I cursed the night we came up with this design, yet now that’s it’s finally done I think I’ll put on the rose-colored glasses and just remember the many weekends working on the house with friends and feel proud that we actually finished the most labor-intensive task on my house (well, let’s hope that no other task will take me almost a year to complete!)  Thanks, all!  Next up…insulation and interior!

West Coast versus East Coast: Tiny Houses

Okay, in all honesty, that title was just to grab your attention.  There’s really more collaboration than competition, and Portland has some great tiny house action happening! Indeed, part of what inspired the founding of Boneyard Studios was to show folks on the East Coast that tiny houses aren’t just a West Coast thing even though it’s where the majority of tiny houses seem to be (up until recently that is…North Carolina now has a whole tiny house organization!).  Having lived for 7 years in the Pacific Northwest, I make a goal to visit often and I just returned from a lovely week in Oregon.  While there I was able to visit with some folks active in the tiny house community, including PAD Tiny Houses, Lina Menard, and Kol Peterson, the founder of the nation’s first tiny house hotel – the Caravan and a great advocate on small housing and accessory dwelling units.

It was wonderful to meet with such engaged people working on code, zoning, building standards, design, and education around tiny houses.  I even was put in touch with a guy who started up tiny house shows in Portland (as blog readers know, I started up a tiny house concert series here on the Boneyard Studios lot this past Spring), so look for some bi-coastal collaboration on tiny house shows sometime soon as well!

Below are some photos from the visit.

Tiny House Design Workshop – Special discount for 2!

We had a great raffle for the tiny house design workshop being organized by Open Source Tiny House Sept. 14 and 15 in Washington DC.  Given the level of interest we have received from couples or friends who want to take this workshop together, we are offering a special discount for 2 people who register together.  More details are on the workshop website.  We look forward to sharing our knowledge and experience with you over the weekend helping you design and plan your own tiny house project.  See more details here.  And please contact us here with any workshop questions you may have.

Tony

Tiny House Design

Tiny House Design

Boneyard Studios presents a Tiny House Concert

We spend a lot of time building, gardening, and hosting open houses, but it’s also important to have some fun once in a while.  As a live music fan who loves NPR’s tiny desk concerts, I decided to organize a tiny house concert series this summer.  The concerts follow the tiny desk style – just 3 to 4 songs in a small, intimate setting.  The first show was played in Jay’s House – the Matchbox – by a local band Crooks and Crows.  Enjoy!

We have a couple more shows on the calendar for this summer:  

June 23 – the Sweater Set will play a show with all tiny instruments

August 11 – Local band Triage

it’s not about the house…

Yes, bad timing and cliche to draw on Lance Armstrong, but it fits the story I want to tell.  In Lance’s case it wasn’t about the bike, but about the D’s: drugs, doping, deception, denial, and duping his teammates and fans.  For me, it’s not about the tiny house, but about the C’s: creating community, challenging myself to take risks and learn new skills, creatively finding new ways to live with fewer material possessions, confronting (compassionately and carefully I hope) societal norms and policies that greatly influence how we live, and collaborating with others who are interested in making our cities more vibrant through creative use of urban spaces.

Telling the story of our tiny house community idea - Spring 2012

Telling the story of our tiny house community idea – Spring 2012

Because those are a lot of C’s to cover, I’m going to concentrate on the creating community aspect in this post.  The community building is what inspires me, and it also is something I know a lot of tiny house enthusiasts struggle with when first embarking on their projects: how do you find like-minded people and supporters where you live?  So, I thought I’d share my story with you.

When I decided to take on this project in DC, it wasn’t because of an intense desire to build a tiny house. Yes, I had caught the tiny house bug as many do and spent hours gazing at pictures on blogs and in books.  But what really inspired me was the creative challenge of doing this project in an urban space, especially on the East Coast.  For a while it seemed overwhelmingly difficult, and I thought I would need to move back to the Pacific Northwest before I completed a project like this – after all, that’s where all the tiny house builders seemed to be.

In early 2010, when I first learned about tiny houses on wheels, I started googling “tiny houses and DC” every so often to try and find anyone in the area who was interested in them.  I found Steve who had built one in Florida and now lived in DC (luckily he worked near me and ended up offering me great advice in the early stages of planning).  But for months I couldn’t find anyone else.  Then one day in October of 2010, while sitting on a bus from NYC to DC and feeling optimistic about life, I told myself that I was going to build a tiny house on wheels even if it seemed impossible to do so in DC.  As someone who dreams up many ideas without implementing most, it’s important for me to fully commit to an idea or a project.  Those words, no matter how quietly said to myself on that bus, were still a commitment to this endeavor.  As the mountaineer W.H. Murray said,

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back.  Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.

And something certainly moved.  Excited about the commitment I had made to myself, I once again googled “tiny houses and DC” when I got home that night and, Surprise!, a blog post had been put up earlier that day about two women building tiny houses in DC.  I couldn’t believe it…excited yet disappointed as well because the women (understandably) didn’t want to share their contact information or go public with their projects.  But then a serendipitous moment : the following weekend I met the blog writer at a community bike workshop, and she put me in touch with the two tiny house women.  From that point on I knew my endeavor would be possible.

That summer I participated in a Tumbleweed tiny house workshop and started hosting regular meetups at my apartment with people I had met there.  Twenty of us or so would get together to discuss tiny houses.  Several months later I met Brian, and we started brainstorming and planning the Boneyard Studios project.  We held a showcase with Wangari Gardens in the Spring, where we met Jay, and since then we’ve held monthly open houses and volunteer work days on the Boneyard Studios lot while building our tiny houses.

Recent open house at Boneyard Studios

Recent open house at Boneyard Studios. Photo courtesy of Josh at myclosetgarden.com

I understand the desire of many folks building tiny houses to be private.  After all, tiny houses exist in a grey area of zoning code, and most people who build them do so as a way of designing a life free from many of the pressures of modern-day society.  Many are in rural or suburban areas.   Yet we’ve found the interest in tiny houses in urban areas to be tremendous, and I see a huge gap in the tiny house movement for physical community spaces and showcases.  Sure, we’ve got a great online community with hundreds of tiny house blogs where people share information about their projects virtually.  And there is a great community that comes together for workshops (like Jay’s, Deek’s and Dee’s in addition to fairs like the one that we’ll be presenting at this summer – join us!).  But, if you’re like me, and have wanted to meet people in your area who are interested in tiny houses, it’s not as easy to find a community.

There is a lack of opportunity to actually see a tiny house or help out with one before one embarks on the adventure of building, and I know how important it is to be able to step foot inside a tiny house and learn from others about mistakes or innovations they’ve made.  For this reason, we have made it part of our mission to try and be as open with the public as possible about what we’re doing.

Meetup group volunteers putting siding on my house

Meetup group volunteers help me with installing siding on my house. Photo by Jay Austin.

In addition to the meetup group I organize where you can sign up for a volunteer workday or come to a quarterly meetup event to talk about tiny houses in the DC area, we also host monthly open houses on the lot.  This is a great opportunity to tour the tiny houses, learn about our motivations for building, and talk to our builders and architects about the details of a tiny house project.  While we love to have visitors, we also want people to respect the neighbors and our space which is why we have implemented a more formal visiting process through the monthly open houses and meetups.

Tiny house enthusiasts treat cedar siding

I understand the reluctance of most tiny house owners to open up their projects as it is a lot of effort, time, and can be risky.  On the other hand, our goal is to create community and a space for others to learn about tiny houses and other creative uses of land in urban spaces through the events we organize.  We hope to meet you at one of them soon. And, of course, please email me if you’re interested in discussing anything related to collaboration around creative use of urban space.

~ Lee

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Presenting at Boneyard Studios Open House. Photo courtesy of Josh at MyClosetGarden.com

insulation options for tiny houses

Let me start by saying I like comfort despite a relatively high tolerance for misery.
In my teens I spent more weekends in a tent, or a hand built “survival shelter” than at home, I have slept wet and cold more nights than I can count, but the coldest, most miserable I have ever been was living in a poorly insulated house in Northern Mississippi.  The warmest I have ever been was in a small stone cabin in the Adirondacks heated with a wood stove (the downside was the trips to the outhouse in -20 degrees)

I also hate high utility bills, for a lot of reasons, but mostly because they are unpredictable both month to month but also over the life of a house.  Investing in a well- insulated, tight house can fix this, but it also raises some challenges.  I want to touch on some of these in this post, as well as some of the myths.

MYTH #1You need expensive windows to have an energy efficient house.  I will probably talk about this more at some point, but I want to put this out there right now, it doesn’t matter how great your windows are, they still suck.  They are holes in your wall that heating exits in the winter, and enters in the summer.  Your money is better spent on insulation.  Don’t think that’s true?  Ask a building weatherization expert, and they will tell you the same thing  – If your windows don’t leak air they are good enough.  Did you buy really expensive windows already?  Great, you still need insulation.

MYTH #2Small houses need less insulation.  Sure, if you are going for a really inefficient house, great, do it, and you might see savings in your electric bill, vs. a typical apartment or house, but I don’t want a tiny house with the efficiency of a 1940’s Dodge power wagon (although if you have a Dodge Power Wagon sitting around that you want to give me, I would gladly take it off your hands).

MYTH #3 - Old builders know best.  Building technology is a moving target, and the last 30 years have seen some of the largest leaps in building technology since the Romans figured out running water and concrete (and that took them hundreds of years). There are a lot of changes that building science has taught us.  Science is the key here: people building things, testing them, and taking them apart years later.

MYTH #4 – “I can’t screw this up that bad, right?”  Wrong.  Some of the risks from a house that is not insulated following building codes and modern construction standards can range from sickness to death…yup, death. (Yup, you will have to read down to catch the details*).

My take on insulation: Put your money where it counts.  I like stuff done right, but let’s face it, sometimes we have a budget that limits what we can do.  We need to understand where and when to cut corners.  This can be really challenging because sometimes even design professionals have disagreed over what is best, acceptable, or just a really bad idea.  But at this point, within the architectural and building fields, this uncertainty has pretty much gone away do to the research that exists.  So, rather than address all housing construction, I am going to limit my comments on insulation to the tiny house world.

Your Roof assembly is not the place to cut costs.  Your insulation is more critical than you think – put your money here! (and not because heat rises).  I am going to assume that all houses will have low slope roofs(that’s what some people call flat roofs) or cathedral ceilings, where ceiling height is at a premium, and building height is constrained.  This means that tiny house roof assemblies will be very difficult (I would argue almost impossible) to ventilate.  We call a roof vented with exterior air a cool roof, and this is how most houses are built to prevent ice dams at eaves.  This can be done for cathedral ceilings, but is difficult, and requires vented soffits and ridge, and insulation must be held a minimum of an inch from the roof sheathing.  – This means less R-value in your roof.  This leaves three viable options for your roof.

ROOF INSULATION OPTIONS

1. Structural Insulated Panels (SIP)  I think for those who have considered this option, they usually think it’s an all or nothing proposition.  This doesn’t have to be the case, and there are some real benefits to going with a SIP roof.

First, inch for inch SIPs will give you as much R-Value as any other roof assembly but with a tighter envelope.  Second, SIPs go up quick, so, in many cases, can allow for a roof to go on in less than a day.  The last advantage I would like to point out is that SIPs offer unique structural potentials that in many cases lend themselves to a tiny house.  SIPs are a type of stress-skin diaphragm that can provide additional structural integrity.  It is important to point out that this additional structural advantage must be detailed properly; however, the inherent nature of the SIPs is a much stronger assembly than a stick built roof, particularly regarding dynamic loads that a tiny house experiences while trailering.  So, SIPs for the roof provide more insulation, a tighter envelope, and faster assembly on site.
2. Rigid Foam Sheathing with spray foam to fill gaps.  This option is a similar  R-value to closed cell spray foam, more likely lower in material cost, but requires more labor.  Translation: if you are not paying for labor, it will cost less, but it’s a lot of work, and you will need to use a combination of spray foam and foam cement to get a tight fit.  While this will not be as airtight as spray foam, it is a good option for the roof assembly.
3. Spray Foam Insulation.  There are two options that might seem confusing, but really are not that complex.

  • Open cell spray foam has a much lower R-value per inch (R3.5 per inch) than Closed-Cell Spray foam and rigid foam.  While it does have some real advantages over batt insulation, particularly with its ability to seal air infiltration and prevent cold spots, for a roof cavity, this will mean a much lower R-value than  Options 1 and 2.
  • Closed cell spray foam brings a higher R-value (as much as R6 per inch after it cures (higher at initial install) and it seals openings in the envelope making a tight skin.  The final deciding factor that I would say makes closed-cell foam the best choice over either open cell foam or rigid foam sheathing is the added rigidity the structure of the framed walls get.

WALL INSULATION OPTIONS

1. Structural Insulated Panels.  As with the roof, inch for inch SIPs will give you as much R-Value as any other assembly but with a tighter envelope.  Second, they go up quick, with less on-site labor and the use of wall SIPs also offer unique structural potentials that in many cases lend themselves to a tiny house.  SIPs are a type of stress-skin diaphragm that can provide additional structural integrity.  It is important to point out that this additional structural advantage must be detailed properly, but if you are at the point that you are building your walls and roof out of SIPs, the manufacturer will be providing those details.  The inherent nature of the SIPs is a much stronger assembly than a stick built wall, particularly regarding dynamic loads that a tiny house experiences while trailering.  So more insulation, a tighter envelope, faster assembly on site. The drawback is that panels are sheathed on both sides, so wiring and plumbing must be run through panel chases.

2. Rigid Insulation with spray foam gaps filled.  This is a good option for R-value, but working around studs, plumbing, wiring could be tough.  One option is to sheath the insulation on the exterior of the house (this would be best done in combination with another type of insulation such as open cell spray-foam or batt).  Rigid insulation on the exterior also provides a thermal break to prevent thermal coupling in the wall assembly, which is a significant benefit.

3. Spray Foam Insulation The real benefit of spray application in walls is its ability to seal at window and door openings as well as to seal around wires and pipes running through walls. My choice here would be closed cell spray foam – higher R-Value, added rigidity to the structure and the ability seal the wall assembly make it the prefered choice.

4. Batt Insulation.  There are 3 basic options for batt insluation.

  • Fiberglass. Fiberglass is the lowest R-Value per inch, but that aside it has some real drawbacks.  A small tight house means condensation entering the wall assembly is a huge issue that can propagate mold in the wall cavities as well as reduce the effectiveness of the insulation. In addition to these issues, I am going to throw in the fact that rodents love this stuff, and anyone who has taken apart a vintage travel trailer has seen the evidence.
  • Rock Wool.  Higher R-value, but still lower than foam options and doesn’t have the issues with moisture that fiberglass does.  However, condensation is still a potential issue that needs to be managed in the wall cavity with a vapor barrier.
  • Alternative (green) batt – these range from wool to blue jeans.  While I don’t have any experience working with these materials, R-Value moisture and pests should be considered.

FLOOR INSULATION OPTIONS

1. Structural Insulated Panels.  For most tiny house projects the built-up framing is a lot of additional structure that is serving very little structural purpose.  Detailed properly this could be a viable floor decking option.   While I have not used this in a tiny house floor, I have used it in other floor assemblies, and think it might work well in some house applications.

2. Rigid Insulation with spray foam gaps filled.  This seems to be the most reasonable option for tiny houses constructed without a vented floor cavity.  If you are sealing the floor, particularly with flashing sitting on the frame, closed cell foam is the best option.

3. Spray Foam Insulation.  The real issue I see with this option is access to the floor cavities, getting a sealed floor cavity makes this a great option though.

4. Radiant Barrier Insulation.  This is a product that is full of controversy, and I take a middle-of-the-road position on it.  Radiant Insulation (the foil bubble wrap looking stuff) claims really high R-value (as much as R-18) and seems too good to be true, except for the price, and then you really want to believe it works.   I spent a week camping in the desert with a radiant insulation material to shield my tent from the sun, and I noticed a huge difference, but that was with the foil exposed to reflect the direct sun, and was not in anyway scientific.  I have talked to several people in the vintage RV restoration world who swear by this type of product.  Keep in mind that my 1974 Airstream has only a 1.5 inch thick wall.

I dont think that you should depend on this for your R-value, but if you choose to use it, keep a few things in mind.  First you need to read how to install it, and if you don’t do exactly what they say, plan on getting a much lower R-Value.  Also, the stuff you get at Lowes and Home depot is glorified bubble wrap.  Those bubbles are where the insulation comes from, so you better believe bursting them will make it much less effective. This also means I would expect diminished effectiveness over time.

The product that I like best of the ones I have seen is called Prodex.  Rather than using bubble wrap, it is about ¼” of closed cell foam with a radiant barrier on top.  The upshot is that you can nail and staple through it. They also specify how to use the product on the outside of a building envelope which means, if you get nothing else from the product, it will do a great job as a thermal break, and can also act as house wrap.

*Finally, MYTH #4 explained.  Tight houses mean less air is leaking out of your house.  This “leaking” is bad for thermal efficiency, but living in a sealed jar isn’t all good either, and could be dangerous.  Many conventional building materials off-gas all sorts of chemicals.  This can cause a range of short-term and long-term health problems.  A recent example of this is with the post-Katrina FEMA trailers.  In addition to new materials chemical off gassing, your indoor air quality is impacted by things like mold, dirt, and even rodents (and their excrement).

We have seen a range of these issues in the press in the last few years.  I really don’t think we need to fear these, but we need to build smarter, especially with Tiny Houses.  We also need to consider those who might own our houses later in its life cycle.  Maybe you plan on using it occasionally, but then you sell it to someone who lives in it full time. The chemicals you put in your house might not be an impact to someone in the house for short term stays, but the daily impact could be much more significant.

The other issue you need to be careful of with tight envelopes is making sure you are properly venting your combustion appliances as well as your waste lines and tanks.  Putting a carbon monoxide detector in your house if you have combustion devices is a must.  See this article for more details.

Glossary:

R-value – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R-value_(insulation)
Insulation – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Building_insulation

Thermal Bridge – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermal_bridge This is an important concept, and often an overlooked issue.

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