breathing easy in the micro home (and any home)


Tiny house air quality is of great importance given the tight spaces and tight structures many are building.  There has been some piecemeal discussion about tiny house indoor air quality, but after months of thinking about this (and as a BPI Energy Analyst and former DOE guy), I thought I’d put together some basic guidance.

In short, indoor air quality might be thought of as a product of a) product off gassing, b) combustion appliance functioning, c) moisture levels, and d) natural and mechanical ventilation.  Let’s start with the least frequently discussed.

1. Chemical off gassing/breakdown

Any product in the home that off gasses as it ages will contribute negatively to indoor air quality. While not chemically sensitive, I’ve developed a few personal rules for clean air and clean dust.

  • No unnaturally scented products (cleaners, air fresheners, soaps, candles). Use only natural products for cleaning, and stay away from anything artificially scented.
  • Use only no-VOC paint and wood treatment.  No-VOC paint can now be commonly found at major paint stores. Much more difficult to locate are all-natural oils for wood finishing such as tung oil, Rubio Monocoat, or my favorite, AFM Naturals oil wax finish.
  • Use formaldehyde-free plywood: it’s now very easy to find formaldehyde free plywood (such as Purebond) for any interior construction, thus avoiding any formaldehyde off gassing.
  • No off the shelf furniture or mattresses with chemical foams. Furniture cushions and mattresses are almost always made of polyurethane foam, which is highly flammable, and are mandated to use a variety of flame retardants, which end up in household dust, and include penta-BDE’s (for furniture before 2005) and chlorinated tris, TCEP, TDCIPP and other chemicals listed as carcinogens.  There are volumes of information available on this (NPRScientific American, the My Toxic Couch video, etc) but the simple solution (while we work for new standards) is to not have manufactured furniture and mattresses with treated polyurethane foam in your tiny home (or any home).  Even if you can get untreated polyurethane foam, it’s still made up of a slew of chemicals identified as carcinogenic, and when it’s being sat and slept on daily, the foam oxidizes (the Oecotextiles blog is particularly informative here).  To sum up:
    • Mattresses: Some bed manufacturers will make you a foam bed without fire retardants with a doctors prescription, but then the fire hazard remains.  One natural (but pricey) alternative is 100% natural Talalay or Dunlop latex foam, which is a renewable resource (rubber trees), mold resistant, not highly flammable, with no off gassing, and lasts for 40+ years.  Manufactured mattresses made with 100% latex must have a fire retardent layer added (typically wool, which is naturally flame retardent).  Make sure there are not other chemical foams added- it’s very common to see a 10” mattress with 2” latex and 8” of polyurethane foam.  The cheapest deal I found was a 6” full size soft latex mattress from Miracle Sleep- it’s one of the more comfortable beds I’ve slept on. There is at least one other economical natural sleep option: futon mattresses made with cotton, but note that the cotton is usually treated with boric acid to meet fire codes.
    • Sofas: Any upholsterer will sell you non-treated polyurethane foam for cushions (this is typically their default foam unless they are working for commercial clients).  Making your own sofa + cushions (even with polyurethane) still beats a purchased couch in terms fire retardent chemicals.  But note that the fire hazard of untreated polyurethane still remain, so read up and weigh the cost/benefits.  Another option is 100% latex foam- all foam in couches prior to the 1960′s was natural latex until cheaper polyurethane came along (and now they are difficult to find latex sofa cushions- foamsource.com has them).  But note that without a natural or chemical resistant barrier natural latex can also be a fire hazard.  Other economical and safe options for seating: wood bench, leather, wool, futons.
  • Use certified cabinet fiberboard (MDF) and particleboard: these can potentially be loaded with chemicals that can offgas, so it deserves careful research.  It appears IKEA cabinets are now CA Carb2 compliant (one of the most stringent standards, as seemingly verified here).
  • Insulation: Fiberglass, cellulose, rockwool insulation appear to be relatively harmless (though they have relatively low R-values per inch).  Most debate centers around use of sprayed-in urethane foams (see this discussion on Green Building Advisor).  Officially these foams are ‘stable when cured’, but there are doubts.  In the case of SIPS panels using foam insulation, the foam is mixed and sprayed and cured offsite (when most of the off gassing occurs).  The foam is sandwiched between relatively impermeable, formaldehyde-free OSB, and is structurally rigid and does not break down readily when fully cured and left intact.  While there is still some uncertainty about foam offgassing, there is no question that ensuring adequate ventilation levels is good practice, which could mitigate any off-gassing once the foam is cured (see below).

2. Combustion appliances

Non-combustion appliances such as electric space heaters, water heaters, cooktops should not have any indoor air quality impacts. However, for off-grid living (or any cook that can’t bear the thought of an electric cooktop), LP or natural gas appliances may be required.  Burning gas for heat or cooking releases moisture when LP combusts, and also requires oxygen from within the home if not provided with an outdoor supply line. Here are some recommendations:

  • Gas Cooktops: use only indoor rated cooktops (no camp stoves, etc), but note that these require makeup air.
  • Gas Heaters: use the Dickinson closed loop marine heater commonly found in many tiny homes. The vent pipe on these is double walled, which allows fresh air from outside to enter, and exhaust to exit.
  • Hot Water Heaters: use only indoor rated heaters (some of the smaller/cheaper units are made for camping use only). Any indoor units will require makeup air from the living space.

Note that all combustion appliances should really be tested for incomplete combustion (carbon monoxide) and proper venting (drafting) where applicable. Pressure diagnostics are also recommended when there are combustion appliances.  Typically this involves a ‘worse case depressurization test’ — for example, if the bath fan and gas-fired hot water heater are both running, the pull of the bath fan may backdraft combustion gases from the water heater into the house, etc.  A BPI or RESNET trained energy auditor will be able to perform these tests and make appropriate recommendations.

3. Moisture

In addition to combustion appliances, bathroom use is a significant contributor to moisture levels. All baths should have a simple bath fan that operates during and after showering. Buildup of moisture can quickly lead to significant mold and mildew problems, negatively impacting air quality.

4. Ventilation

Every building needs a natural rate of air exchanges per hour (ACH), currently .35 (essentially, 35% of the cubic air is brought in/exhausted each hour, though this rate varies depending on occupancy).  This allows for adequate moisture control, oxygen levels, and dissipation of any remaining household pollutants.

ERV

Ideally each building should have a simple blower door test (by a BPI or RESNET auditor) to determine air exchange.  Typically, larger older buildings are naturally leaky, and can achieve adequate ventilation rates without trying. Others, among them tiny homes, are potentially much tighter and require careful attention to air exchange.  Most simply, ventilation may be achieved by keeping a window permanently cracked open, but this has drawbacks in terms of safety, noise, weather, and energy efficiency.  Perhaps the best solution is to install an energy recovery ventilator (ERV), which essentially is a bath fan with a heat exchanger, allowing cool/warm inside air to stay cool/warm, all while bringing in fresh outside air at a pre-set rate.  Lee and Matt found one of the smallest and highest rated ERVs on the market, the Panasonic FV-04VE1, and we’re putting them in several of the tiny homes on the lot.  It is adjustable so you can do a simple calculation of house air space and ensure proper ventilation requirements are being met.  The more we all think about it, the more we believe an ERV should be standard equipment on every tiny house– in addition to a CO, smoke and propane alarm.

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.

on choosing plans: designing by doing

Like most people building tiny houses, I had limited options when purchasing plans for a tiny house over a year ago (up until recently there were only a couple options), and none of them fully met all my needs.*  So, I did what I saw others doing and bought the Tumbleweed Fencl plans, knowing that I would significantly alter the interior.  But unlike most people building tiny houses, I was fortunate to be able to spend a lot of time in the Fencl this summer while it was sited on the Boneyard Studios lot.  While there are many things I like about Tumbleweed’s design of tiny houses and I have benefited from their expertise, I quickly realized there were also many aspects of the Fencl that didn’t work for me very well.

Fencl getting moved from the Boneyard Studios Lot

I think it’s necessary to follow plans for a project like a tiny house on wheels, but there is also a benefit to leaving some room to change pieces of the design as you go along.  The typical tiny house look – traditional wood siding, pine interior – just looks too cabin-like for our urban location. Nothing against the cabin-in-the-woods aesthetic, but in an urban environment I wanted to try something a bit different.

So, what a relief and joy that now – six months into this project – I finally have architectural plans being drawn up for my house.  It makes brainstorming about design issues and implementing those ideas much easier – very helpful since the design has changed considerably from when the little house first rolled up from South Carolina.  Here are just a few of the changes we’ve made:

Exterior look: A four-foot locust porch attaches to the trailer and can be removed and stored inside when ready to move.   The extra foot of porch space (a lot of tiny house designs just have 2-3 feet) makes a big difference…you can actually sit on the porch without your feet hanging off of it.  Two boxes at the front of the trailer (back of the house) will store my water tanks and serve as extra storage, but they will be wrapped with cedar siding in a way that doesn’t make them look like boxes hanging off of a house but rather integrated into the design of the house (pictures to come when completed).

Locust rain screen siding and deck

Locust rain screen siding and deck

Deck in construction

We are implementing a rain-screen approach on both the house and roof. To get an idea of what that looks like, here is a rain screen design on a much larger house.  We are using locust and cedar from a local lumber mill in Virginia that sells sustainable rough-sawn lumber (from already-downed local trees and construction sites). Stay tuned for a future post on the benefits of rain screen siding approach and more on working with rough-sawn lumber as siding.

Rain screen siding going up on tiny house

Protohaus Sink/Kitchen

Kitchen: As someone who enjoys cooking and conversing with others while cooking, I didn’t like the fact that the Fencl’s kitchen is so closed off – if you’re cooking you can’t see or interact with anyone who may be in the main room.  Pictures of Fencl kitchen here.  Jay even mentions in his Tumbleweed workshops that he doesn’t do much cooking, so it doesn’t surprise me that he would opt for a small kitchen space.  However, I wanted my kitchen to feel more open and be multi-functional – something similar to the Protohaus kitchen pictured here.  By having a stool or two that can saddle up to the countertop, a friend can sit and chat with me while I cook or with someone seated in the main room.

View of Protohaus open-style kitchen in back

Loft:  The loft in the Fencl felt too claustrophobic to me. I knew this just from seeing pictures, but being able to hang out in it confirmed it for me. So, Tony built dormers and a new roofline on my house. The difference is huge – it feels so much more spacious and the light coming in from the dormers creates a lot more natural light in the whole house. We also plan on creating a little platform off the loft and a ladder that will be counterweighted to raise up when not in use.

Hanging out in Fencl loft

Loft from inside with dormers and shallower pitched roof

New roof, EPDM rubber roofing on (preparing for rain screen siding over it), and new dormers

Size of features: The proportional aspect of features should be taken into account in tiny houses, but it doesn’t need to inform every decision.  I got a great deal on some large windows on Craigslist, but when I taped out the dimensions on the tiny house I realized they would look goofy on such a small structure, so I opted to spend more for smaller, custom windows that fit the dimensions of the tiny house better.

However, not every feature in a tiny house needs to be small.  While originally I thought I would opt for everything smaller inside the tiny house, I quickly realized a lot of the tiny features just annoyed me.  For instance, I couldn’t easily walk through the small door of the Fencl with a couple bags of groceries. The entrance between the kitchen and main area was also too narrow for my tastes.  I tested out washing a soup pan in the small sink and was frustrated by its size. Thus, I’m doing some things differently like putting on a regular-sized exterior door.  Furthermore, by creating a countertop/cutting board (made from paperstone) that can sit over my sink in the kitchen, I can use a larger sink without sacrificing valuable counter space.

Again, being able to try out the space in an already-built tiny house was very informative and made me rethink some of my initial ideas on how I would build my interior, opting now for creating features that are multi-functional, but not necessarily always tiny.

For those of you who have used Tumbleweed’s plans as a basis for your projects, what are some of the design modifications you have made?

*I really wanted to purchase plans for the The Protohaus, but after waiting many months hoping they would be done, they still were not available when I needed to purchase mine. Had I known about Dan Louche’s plans when I began, I would have purchased them since his are the only available plans I’ve found that include dormers and an open kitchen design spanning both sides of the trailer). Once completed, my tiny house plans will be available as well.  As someone who has shopped around for plans and drawn inspiration from many resources, I think having more options rather than fewer is a good thing.

build update: minim house construction starts

Ten months ago I started a project to try to reimagine the tiny house on wheels– to add livability, streamline construction, modernize aesthetics, increase off-grid versatility, all while keeping costs affordable.  After 10 months of research, design work with Foundry Architects, structural review, panel manufacturing, and materials delivery, David Bamford (Element Design+Build) and I recently started construction at Boneyard Studios.

So the past few weeks we’ve been working hard to build this little structure, which I’m calling Minim House – fuller details (and eventually, plans) on the new Minim Homes website.  So far completed are the insulated floor and the walls.  The flooring is built on 2 long beams attached to the trailer, so the entire house can be detached and lifted off, should a permanent siting ever be wanted.  We’re also using SIPs panels (structural insulated panels) to speed construction, add much higher levels of insulation (R-24 walls and R-40 roof), and further reduce weight compared to stick built construction.  Since the SIPs arrived, it’s basically taken 3 full days to put up the walls, and will take another 2-3 full days to put up the ridge beam and add the roof panels.  While the SIPs panels require a little more work than anticipated, once the floor is in, 5-6 days to have a perfectly insulated, framed tiny house isn’t too bad.

Rather than have multiple build posts, I’ll add more updates and pictures here as construction moves forward. (click on pictures for captions)

tiny house appliances: water and sanitation

*Updated Feb 2014*

Currently the majority of tiny homes are built to accept pressurized water hookup from a hose. Simple, but also quite limiting if the house is ever moved for a few days (or longer) to somewhere where there is no pressurized water hookup- a music festival, or, say, a vacant alley lot.  The Tumbleweed Fencl we had here at Boneyard Studios was unusable on the lot for months simply because we have no permanent pressurized water connection. Standard micro houses also require water for toilets, and then a sewage hookup to dispose of it- most inconvenient, and always a little gross.

So, for not much more $, we are building houses with rainwater collection systems, and on-board water that we fill up and remain off any water connection for up to a week at a time.  One can do this either by a) building houses with elevated water tanks and gravity fed water, or b) building tiny homes with RV-like tanks and water systems.  In the latter case, we can also design the system to allow hook ups to pressurized water if/when that is available. The essential components of this modified RV system include:

  • 40 gallon RV fresh water tank (available in many sizes from places such as the tank-depot). This should ideally be mounted within the building envelope (insulated area) to keep water from freezing- as should all piping. If this is not possible, there are a variety of electric RV water tank heaters available. It should also be mounted securely, as it will weigh over 320 lbs when full.
  • A greywater tank to store used shower and sink water.
  • A fresh water fill inlet to fill up the tank (unpressurized)
  • A fresh water fill inlet to fill run the system without the water tank (i.e. when pressurized water is available)
  • A water pump (we’re using this standard SHURflo 2088-422-444 2.8 Classic Series Potable Water Pump). Note that this is a pump designed to run off of 12 volts, but you can easily substitute a 120 VAC model.
  • An accumulator tank to reduce pump cycling and smooth water flow (such as this SHURflo 182-200 Pre-Pressurized Accumulator Tank)
  • A simple water strainer to pre-filter the water (such as the SHURflo 255-313 Classic Series Twist-On Strainer 1/2″ FPT x 1/2″)
  • Some one-way valves to allow city water to plug into the system without any manual switching of valves.
  • A hot water heater.  This can be a) a traditional small electric heater, such as the 2.5-10 gal Aristons, b) RV-specific (and pricey) tankless water heaters such as the PrecisionTemp RV-500, or c) residential tankless heaters such as the wall-mounted Eccotemp FVI-12-LP (note that this also requires 120 VAC to run).

Design: The system can be plumbed according to a traditional RV schematic, below, with a few caveats

  • No blackwater tank: at Boneyard Studios we’re using Incinolet incinerator toilets, which just uses an electric connection to dispose of waste.  So we don’t plan to have any water going to the toilet (and consequently no toilet plumbing, no blackwater to dispose of, and no blackwater tank to take up valuable space).
  • No hot/cold water mixing for shower.  Almost all small water heaters have temperature settings on them which obviates the need for a separate cold mixing valve- simply lining in the hot water directly to the shower is simpler and works great, just adjust the temp at the tank.  Also note that one may run an electric water heater for 5-10 minutes prior to a shower, and leave the heater off the remaining time (this is quite efficient, and allows one to run an electric water heater in an off-grid electrical system, such is done in Minim House).

When plumbing the system, consider designing to to be a) easy to drain, for when the house sits empty during winter, and b) keep pipes outside of the walls, tastefully exposed, so if they fail, they do not fail disastrously, and can be more easily repaired should any freezing ever rupture them.

Water Efficiency: water efficiency becomes much more important when not connected to pressurized water.  This Bricor 1 gpm low-flow model is one of the most water efficient showerheads one we’ve found (there is even a .55 gpm model, but at a rate less than .96 gpm, the tankless water heater does not click on- a widely noted tradeoff of tankless water heaters- always check minimum flow rates).  Bricor will even ‘tune’ the showerhead to match the water pressure your pump generates (in this case, 45 psi).  Bricor also seems to make the most water efficient faucet aerator on the market (.375 gpm).  At this rate, a 40 gallon fresh water tank would give 30 minutes of shower +  26.6 minutes of sink time.  It’s worth noting that this water efficiency is far superior to any RV on the market today, as they all use flush toilets and typically less efficient showerheads/aerators.  Also note that one of the most water saving devices we’ve come across are the foot pedal water valves, available at restaurant supply stores. These valves are incredibly convenient, more sanitary, and much more water efficient than standard faucets- highly recommended.

**Also see the post off grid water for micro homes**

tiny house appliances: cooling

We think we’ve done some decent research on tiny house appliances, so here is our first installment on cooling the small abode. Here in DC summers are stifling, so we need real air-conditioning (not evaporative coolers).

Compared to a (far cheaper) traditional travel trailer, the only real advantage of a tiny house is a) better insulation, b) better build quality and c) aesthetics. So keeping air conditioners entirely out of the window is a high priority.  Leaving these aside, along with a number of other inferior options*, and a standard disclaimer about the importance of maximizing building insulation and air sealing before considering air conditioning, there are 3 basic possibilities:

  1. ‘ductless’ mini-split a/c systems, with the evaporator (outside) and air handler (inside) connected separately through the wall.
  2. ‘portable’ a/c units, which sit on the floor inside and vent outside through a hole in the wall (or the window-which would disqualify them). 
  3. ‘through the wall’ a/c units, which look like window units but are specifically designed to be mounted on a frame in a wall, and can protrude into the tiny house, or outside.

The main considerations in deciding between these 3 types of units include:

  • Btu rating. With adequate insulation and air sealing no tiny home under 200 ft2 should need anything larger than 7000 Btus (see BTU calculator).  Note there are some 6000 Btu and 7000 Btu mini split units by Fujitsu and Mitsubishi, though they appear to be packaged only with multizone (room) applications, or run on 240V. In the end it seems that there are currently no mini-split systems under 9000 btus, so they will typically be a bit oversized. Portables and through-the-wall units are commonly available at 5000-9000 Btus.
  • Cool+heat: some, but not all mini-split, portable and through-the-wall a/c systems come with heating. Not having to pay for or wire an additional heating system is a great benefit. While some will choose to heat solely with a propane marine stove, it is most convenient to have a backup electric heat option to keep things from freezing when away from the house. 
  • High efficiency.  SEER is the measure of energy efficiency, and mini-split systems currently range from 13-26 (the higher the better), typically significantly higher than the portable or through-the-wall units.  Portable units keep the compressor inside the house, and draw air from the interior, so they tend to be rather inefficient (which many reviews attest to).  Through-the-wall units do not have this problem. Note that there are a few portable ‘dual hose’ models that draw outside air in, instead of inside air, though almost all of these are 9000 Btus or greater.
  • Indoor footprint: Given the tiny house size constraints, selecting narrow profile units is a priority. For mini-splits, the only indoor part is the air handler, which typically range from 7-12” wide and mount on the wall. Portable and through-the-wall units are quite bulky, but could be build into cabinetry.  For through-the wall and portable units, it is important to note that while taking up more floor space during use, they require no exterior components, and can be easily detached and stored away during temperate months, unlike the mini-splits.
  • Voltage: Note the majority of mini-split systems, and many through-the-wall units run on 240V. Tiny house builders should only go with 120 volt systems, as they do not require special wiring.
  • Multi-speed. Many units will have a ‘low’ setting that runs around 300-400 watts (as opposed to the 1200+ watts on high). At this low setting, future off-grid solar becomes slightly more realistic.
  • Service availability: there seem to be many relatively unknown makers out there, apart from the well known brands- Mitsubishi, Panasonic, Fedder, Friedrichs, etc.
  • Cost: compared to our alternatives, mini-splits are significantly more expensive both in terms of base price and installation costs (which typically requires an HVAC technician to charge the a/c lines, and occasional recharges). It is also not clear how well the exposed a/c lines hold up over long distance travel.  Portable units require a small venting hole out the side or bottom of the house, while through the wall-units need to be framed inside a wall. Creating an opening for these would be a minimal cost- even less so if built into a new construction.

So the takeaway:

For mini-splits: Apart from being a bit oversized for tiny houses, this SEER 22, 9000 Btu Fedders model fits the bill (and can be found cheaper on ebay). There is another from the previously unheard of MG company. The Fencl we have on the lot uses the Klimaire (which is lower SEER and slightly more expensive). There’s also a Freidrichs model (a/c only, and more expensive).

For portables: While there are a wide range of models available online and elsewhere, though some are much narrower than others, and none of the smaller models (8000 Btu’s and less) include heat (one exception here). But the fundamental inefficiencies of these units call us to consider only the dual-hose models, of which there are very few models under 9000 Btus (one exception by the relatively unknown manufacturer SPT here).

For through-the-wall units: Similar to their window-unit cousins, there is a wide array of units designed to be build into a side wall (the key difference being that these units do not have venting on the sides or top/bottom).  Of the many options, this 8000 Btu Freidrich heat/cool model (UE08D11) fits the bill, gets high marks for performance and reliability, and can be installed flush with the exterior wall with an ‘architectural grate’.  After many months of pondering, currently the through-the-wall approach is our preferred option.

————–

*There are a range of other options we investigated, and discarded:

  • Specialized a/c units that go from 1000-9000 Btus for cooling computer servers and such. See Kooltronic, with the drawback of no heating and systems that are not residentially designed.
  • RV units.  It is surprisingly hard to find units smaller than 9000 Btu, and have the drawback of unsightly roof mounting.
  • Marine units (such as those found here), but like weddings, unfortunately anything maritime seems to increase prices by 50%.
  • Climateright 7000 and 2500 Btu tent and small enclosure air conditioners, which could work, and heat and cool, but with the disadvantages of ungainly (uninsulated!) large vent tubes, and the disconcerting caveat that the lowest outside temperature can be 36 degrees for operating heating.

the philosophy of (tiny house) design

Working through the design of a small space raises a host of issues related to the philosophy and limits of design. Below is an attempt to sketch answers to questions I posed to myself at the outset of this project.

Does design form us? In the Poetics of Space, Bachelard writes that ‘the house remodels man’.  In decorating, designing or building a space, it seems there is an implicit faith that an ordered environment might help us create an more ordered, if not moral, life.  At the neighborhood level, a few pages of Jane Jacobs confirms how neighborhood design profoundly influences our sense of community and security.  In my own neighborhood, it is easily observable that row house neighbors with front porches tend to communicate with their neighbors far more than the porchless row homes across the street.   And at a personal level, an ordered environment helps many to attain a clarity of mind and sense of agency.  Yet one does not have to linger long on some obvious failures of this logic.  Life in a Dwell spread will likely do nothing to relieve existential anxiety or the relationship with our lover.  Life in the White House did apparently little for Mr. Bush.  The finest of buildings, big or small, may do nothing greater for us than some warm soup, as much as we may like to believe otherwise when conversing with our architects, or selecting a dining set.

Does design represent us? There is a reverse narrative we also hear: beautiful space represents a natural expression of an ordered mind and goodness, just as disorganization is at times correlated directly with personal crisis– as every hoarder story and portrait of American poverty quietly reinforces.  Architecture and design certainly represents our wealth and tastes.  But on an individual level, correlation is not causation, and there is often no relationship between the two, as many a brilliant intellectual thrives in disorder or sprawling office parks.  So why does the notion persist that folded clothes and beautiful spaces are somehow the outward manifestation of a peaceful, ordered psyche?  Perhaps because we so desperately wish it were so.  Really many of us are a regular mess, but our clean sight lines and stainless steel appliances imply (plea?) otherwise.  Thus the careful design of space may just as likely be a physical representation of deeper insecurity, an attempt to control the ordering of space when we feel weak to control anything else, even if we are a Hearst or a Frick.

Should we detach from design?  The idea that design represents or forms us may have a darker undertow. It is an admission that the external environment influences one’s own sense of well being– allows stacks of paper, strewn clothes and dirt to readily distract from greater focus.  So the unclean cup can suddenly become another diversion demanding address, like a text message or iPhone app, ready for the monkey mind to seize, at the expense of sustained attention.  So stained walls and suburban banality become a source of regular anguish.

The Stoic and Bhuddist counsel: do not let contentment rest on an ideal or unkept space, a perfect (tiny) house or a soiled couch.  Do not entertain the notion that the finest of spaces can elevate.  And do not spend energy attempting to order spaces that time is forever sending into chaos.  Yet it seems detachment is most frequently invoked when places and people are particularly unwelcome and dour.  It is perhaps, as de Botton writes, a “detachment that stem(s) not so much from an insensitivity to beauty as from a desire to deflect the sadness we would face if we left ourselves open to all of beauty’s many absences”.   So if it can be attained, a prescription of detachment may leave us stable but possibly separated from tremendous beauty, and perhaps less resolved to improve the world around us.  I sense this powerful tool is best left uniquely to situations that cannot be changed through our actions, and have a corresponding capacity to depress us.

Aspirational spaces.  In light of the ruminations above, it seems design and architecture are perhaps best viewed as aspirational activity that plays a supporting role to the kind of life we would like to have, provides a representation of happiness, and supports the values we most desire to reinforce as we rise from bed each day.  We are generally weak to that which surrounds us, and so while a space cannot fully ‘remodel’ us or a community, it can provide daily reinforcement of our conception of the good life.

What then, does this imply for the house, particularly the small one? Apart from providing basic shelter and comforts, what are the values the structure shall attempt to convey and to buttress? If on a blustery day the small house walls could quiver, this is what I hope it might say:

  • beauty is a perfect form of order, fused to complexity.  The clean lines of modernism represent to me all order, and suggest a corresponding sterility of existence.  And the modernist impulse that science and practicality may entirely dictate the form of a structure does not seem to ring true– within the placement of clean lines and open space lies considerable discretion, and an underlying notion that space might order life.   And what kind of life? I find much of what Corbusier designed akin to the lithe legs and perfect skin of a model with little to say- a lovely fling, but rather difficult to engage through years of dinners.  Complexity needed.  Yet by contrast, a rococco interior implies a stultifying complexity and affectation that covers the essence of the structure and (by implication) perhaps that of life itself.  The balance of order and complexity is a delicate one I find in rows of ordered books and clear jars of food, the varied grain in parallel tracks of old wood flooring, and in neatly spaced District row houses, each residence conforming to strict height and width requirements yet each a subtle, unique variation of the next.  In each case, beauty is independent of scale, and perhaps smaller scale allows ever greater attention to crafted quality.
  • a contented life is independent from the scale of dwelling.  From Vetruvius’ primitive hut to Thoreau’s cabin to the modern tiny homes, each small structure sounds a similar refrain: human material and space needs are basic.  We all understand the richness of life is often as simple as fresh pasta and meaningful relationships, independent of house size.  And much of the richness of life is found outside of the home, in the woods, in gardens, in cafes and theaters, visiting friends and traveling.  Moreover, the small house quietly argues that larger dwellings have not made us any more content.  In their fine 2005 article Small is Beautiful U.S. House Size, Resource Use, and the Environment Alex Wilson and Jessica Boehland note as house sizes have increased from 1100 ft2 to 2340 ft2 from 1950-2002, average occupancy fell from 3.67 family members to 2.6.  Thus “in 1950 houses were built with about 290 square feet (27 m2) per family member, whereas in 2003 houses provided 893 square feet (83 m2) per family member — a factor of 3 increase”. (Note that an individual living in the 210 square foot mini-1 represents a 28% deviation from 1950′s norms- hardly a radical move, at least 60 years ago).  Moreover, if the social scientists studying subjective well being are to be believed, larger home sizes over the past 60 years have not not been attended by any reported increases in contentment.  It may be because we now have 3x as much cleaning, maintenance, and decorating to do (and even if one does not do these tasks oneself, time and energy is spent finding, scheduling, supervising and paying for those doing the work).  Or perhaps it is because we simply adapt to circumstances.  Recent psychology studies of paraplegic accident victims and lottery winners strongly suggest that humans adapt rapidly to positive and negative changes in their world, and readily return to their baseline levels of happiness.  The so called ‘adaptation principle’  gives some additional insight as to why increasing house sizes have had no bearing on self reported well-being, and why scaling down is rarely as difficult as we may perceive it to be.  The latest findings in psychology point to a strong influence of genetic makeup on self reported well-being, and a corresponding weak relationship of environmental and demographic factors. (see Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis).
  • the world is on fire, but we might still live well without adding much kindling.  All else being equal, the modern trend toward larger houses and fewer people per house leads to a dramatic decrease in energy efficiency per occupant.  While the average U.S. household now uses around 958 KwH of electricity a month (or 368 KwH per person at current average household size), the structure will quietly demonstrate that an individual may live just as well on an average of 100 KwH/month, with a corresponding decrease in building materials.  Thus the small structure will aspire to show convenient living with little energy use.
  • life is best shared.   The house is intentionally sited next to 3 similar structures on a shared plot of land with a community garden, and situated in a dense, walkable urban neighborhood.  The ordered row of small homes will mirror the rows of District row homes behind them.  As such, the house location reflects the value that community matters, and perhaps is as compelling an option as any suburban or rural location.  Interpersonally, it is easy to assume tiny house conveys a message that cohabitation or family life is undervalued.  Yet nothing in the size of the structure impedes one from sharing a bed, a meal or a story with our significant other or family.   The structure in fact acknowledges what so many roommates, siblings, and lovers discover after a few weeks of life together: a need for personal time and space.  As such, a second detached structure (or a slightly larger, foundation built structure, could we legally build one) may provide such space apart, as so many have found by with a backyard office or garage workshop.

©2012 Brian Levy

are tiny houses too tiny? final design of the the not-too-tiny minim house

After several months of deliberation and design the excellent plans from Foundry Architects are basically complete.  Minim House design stands on the shoulders of others: House 227 from the great folks at Yestermorrow, the hidden platform bed from Front Studios, the not-so-tiny homes from Stephen Marshall at Little House on a Trailer, the Solo designs from MiniHome, plans from Wheelhaus, and Idea Box’s MiniBox.  Yet the design integrates some of the best elements from these plans, adds its’ own unique elements, and responds to my perceptions of the current state of small house-on-wheels design and use:

a) tiny houses are…too tiny.  The average size of an American prison cell is 50-80 square feet, with no kitchen or bath.  A FEMA trailer averages 240 square feet.  Most tiny homes on wheels average 65-130 square feet.  It is well and good to minimize certain material things (clothes, unused items, etc), but I sense that having to dispense with beloved long rows of books, a piano & guitar, bowl mixer and pasta maker, and a freezer that can handle a bucket of ice cream might start to chip away at my ability to live a cultured, full life at home.  The mini-1 has exterior dimensions of 10’8”x22′, with approximately 210 feet of interior space.  Among other elements this includes room for a 10′ galley kitchen with full sink and 8 cu ft refrigerator freezer, washer/dryer, enough space for a seated dinner party of 6, a 5′ clothes/utility closet, 75+mason jars of food, 75+ books, a full size keyboard, and guest sleeping on the 6.5′ couch.

b) tiny houses don’t move all that much.  Every situation is different, but my sense is that most tiny homes may move 1-2x a year at most.  This being the case, there is little reason to keep them at a legal width of 8’6”.  Going up to 11′ wide off a standard trailer bed (with proper structural engineering review) greatly increases the usability of the space, and wide load permits are easily available with a few hours of advance planning.  Compared to the many hours to be spent in the structure, this seems a small price to pay for a far more functional and comfortable space.

c) tiny houses often feel cramped.  Any surface waist-level or higher decreases the perception of space.  Yet most house-on wheel designs greet the visitor with rather small traditional windows, multiple interior walls separating rooms, overhanging kitchen cabinets, and often one or two lofts at face height.  Yet even small spaces may feel wide and open when designed well.  Thus Minum House does away with nearly all walls, keeps the bed at floor height (rolled under an elevated platform when not in use), uses broad wide windows, and avoids all deep elevated cabinetry. Interior heights will vary from 7’6” (by the walls) to 9’8” (at ceiling center), all while keeping the total structure height under 13’7”.

d) tiny houses can live in a modern age.  Tumbleweed homes look great largely due to their strict adherence to classical proportions.  Yet while classical proportions are lovely to behold at any scale, I sense they tend to work better for living in at larger sizes 500 square feet and up.  Meanwhile, in an effort to increase light and space, a host of traditionally styled wood-clad tiny homes are being built that entirely ignore classical proportions, and do so at their aesthetic peril (exhibit Aexhibit B).  Fully modern designs, stripped of these requirements, can allow more light and flexibility of window and door placement, while still presenting a unified, integrated appearance.  Nevertheless Minim House will keep a classically styled gabled roof, executed in a clean minimalist form. On the interior, exposed, homogeneously-toned wood can be all order, with no complexity– compare the all-pine interior of a typical tiny home with the lovely finish of the ProtoHaus.  While interior and exterior finish are always a matter of taste, this structure will be equally at home in an urban alley space as it is on a farmland or in the woods.

Thanks to the great folks at Foundry Architects for the design work, which now will focus on final finish details.  Full construction plans for Minim House will be available at Minim Homes.

©2012 Brian Levy

tiny house kitchen design

Poor design is truly not at the top of the world’s problems, but an ill-designed kitchen is a daily (and often costly) insult, and may detract from one of life’s great joys: cooking together and eating.  When considering the tiny house kitchen, the goal is to subtract as little as possible from what I already have: the ability to cook a wide range of food for a group of up to 10 friends.  Having designed and built out a small rowhouse kitchen 4 years ago, there are a few design principles that have allowed a full range of cooking options with limited kitchen space. This will need to be adapted even further for the tiny kitchen- but hopefully not too much.

1. ‘All is one’. The motto of Dr. Bronner’s soap can be taken and applied to the kitchen: only possess what can accomplish the most tasks with the least, but best, equipment– the fewest number of appliances, cookware, types of glasses/plates/silverware, and storage vessels.  Deliver the greatest variety of food with the least, but best, ingredients. Keep counters clear, decorative schlep be gone. This philosophy is not good for Macy’s stock, but is quite well suited to a well-designed kitchen. More specifically, I have whittled my current kitchen down to the following things, with no apparent decrease in functionality from a much larger, widely stocked kitchen that any moderately serious chef might have:

  • 3 motors: a KitchenAid mixer, a blender, and a small food processor.  If needed, the mixer motor doubles a dough kneader, ice cream maker, pasta press, grain grinder, juicer, food strainer with appropriate attachments.  With it, and a high quality chef’s knife, there seems little reason to have a full size food processor.  A smaller food processor suffices for coffee grinding, pesto making, peanut butter processing, etc.
  • 3 heating elements: the stove/oven, microwave, and upright toaster.  There is simply no reason for a rice cooker if you have a 2 quart pot. Be gone Foreman grills, electric kettles, crock pots and myriad other devices that clog cupboards and duplicate functions.
  • 3 knives: a 8” chefs knife, a bread knife, and paring knife are really the only essentials, along with kitchen shears.  Possibly an extra chef’s knife if there is to be regular co-cooking.
  • 6 Pots: There seems to be really just 6 essential pots: a 2 quart, a 4 quart (a 4 quart pressure cooker is even better), 6 quart, 12” fry pan, a 6-8 quart enameled dutch oven, and a 10 qt. pot.
  • 3 types of glasses: only 3 types of glasses seem necessary: mason jars (pint and quart), wine glasses, and mugs for hot beverages. All other special-use vessels are secondary and unnecessary.  Consider that the mason jar alone may also serve as small leftover containers, vases, a cocktail shaker, oil candles (there’s an attachment you can buy), cocktail and punch glasses, etc.

116 jars on the wall...

2. Good food is beautiful, and should not be hidden. There is a lovely whiteness to salt, a mahogany sheen to kidney beans. The kitchen is about food, yet kitchen designers consistently and shamefully seem intent on hiding it in pantries and cabinets.  Yet when opened, the ‘modern’ pantry is a confettied disaster zone of colored plastic, paper and foil packagings.  It is difficult to see what we have, how much is left, or if it looks good to cook with or eat.  Then even when organized, the true substance of the food is hidden by food marketers behind gaudy packaging, so that even when we are in our sanctified homes we are still being marketed to.  I use a simple and highly space efficient way to organize food, one that also reinforces healthy whole food eating habits: the use of standardized, cheap, durable, non-toxic and beautiful mason jars, organized on a rack. The jars work to store dry goods, frozen and refrigerated food.  All use the same lid (use only wide mouth- a mason jar funnel is useful for loading the jars).

Building a mason jar rack is simple carpentry, and can be constructed for less than a single custom cabinet.  The mason jar system allows display of food (beans, nuts, dried fruit, sugars, spices, grains, etc).  I shop primarily in bulk, then liberate the food when it comes home, repacking in mason jars.  This will reduce the size of mixes, cereals, and begin to cultivate a bias against corn-syrup sodas and artificial foods and canned products.  Canned vegetables are typically mush compared to fresh or frozen, dry beans are far better (and cheaper) than their canned cousins (and can be made quickly too, with the pressure cooker, with excess frozen in mason jars).  Canned tomatoes all contain BPA, so I prefer the ones in aseptic packages. For flour, sugar, and other goods requiring storage containers larger than 1 quart, use plastic stacking 2/4/6 quart restaurant supply containers (only #1 or #2 plastic, as the clear ones usually contain BPA).

3. The kitchen should be a warm place for cooking together, and must be designed as such. Just as it hides food, the ‘modern’ kitchen seems intent on hiding every tool behind solid doors, making it a frustrating experience for sous chefs to help (and chefs, who must constantly dig up the needed items for guests).  If one can’t see it, how easy can cooking be for you or a guest? Therefore:

  • Cabinets: Minimize them, and store in them the least essential things. To the extent that cabinets are used for glassware, plates, etc, have at least some in glass so things are easily viewed. After a bit of practice, I now have 1-2 completely empty cabinets.
  • Countertops: In a functional, inviting kitchen, everyone should be able to make a mess on their kitchen counters without a second distracting thought to damage. We should be able to cut on them, anywhere, without having them dull our knives, drop glassware on them without too much chance of breakage, and have a surface that is warm and inviting (unless we plan on opening up a Cold Stone Creamery).  I admit being scarred by the wrath of an ex for staining her granite countertops with lemon juice- but I think granite is simply an expensive, misguided choice for a functional kitchen. Everything else is passable, butcher block is preferred (with the one downside of 2x yearly oiling).
  • Pots and tools: Try to hang them on walls, easily visible.
  • Silverware: Mix silverware together in several mason jars and leave them out, avoiding the sorting or searching around cabinet drawers.

With these general principles in mind, how will the tiny kitchen shape up? The revised designs have a 9’ galley kitchen (in the 10′x22′ tiny house), with a 6’ folding table behind it.  The majority of food will be stored in a mason jar shrine of 60-70 jars across from the couch that also is built to house books, the propane fireplace/hearth, and bottles of spirits. There will be no cabinets at head level.  I will also likely dispense with: wine glasses, the oven (the microwave will also be a convection oven), the small food processor (it seems the blender can really do almost all the same functions), one of the 6 qt pots, and will limit the place settings to 5-6.

©2012 Brian Levy

lot design, take II

A revised site plan for the showcase, with 4 tiny studios on wheels, shipping container storage, south-facing garden area, limited parking, and fruit trees.

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