While Donovan was cooling off at his satellite office, aka Onyx Coffee Lab, drawing yet another detail on his Tiny House model in SketchUp, a curious young woman asked him about his drawing and, upon hearing about the project, disclosed that she herself lives in a tiny house on wheels! Not only that, but the Canadian company that built hers—Minimaliste—is one Donovan follows on YouTube. An excited discussion and a hearty invitation followed, and days later we visited Ashley at the 50-year-old mobile home park where she parks her Tiny.
Ashley indulged us in a detailed exploration of her home in a way only a fellow Tiny House enthusiast would. Having been through the long process of finding and getting funding for her Tiny House, and wishing she’d been able to visit more Tiny Houses before purchasing hers, she generously answered our myriad questions and allowed us to take measurements and photos of every bit of the twenty-by-eight-foot space.
Every time we tour the interior of a Tiny House, we’re floored by how a smart design can make such a seemingly small home feel plenty spacious.
In addition to being inspired and making a new friend, Donovan was able to solve a design issue I mentioned in the previous post regarding the door entrance being over the wheel well. Ashley’s floor is raised at the entrance and steps down into the kitchen on the opposite end, and the cavity that is under her main floor is used for storage. So, Donovan is using that technique to enable him to keep the door where he had originally designed it (before realizing that the wheel wells would be in the way). It happens to make a perfect nook for storing guitars and other instruments.
This visit was preceded by a tour in the same weekend of yet another Tiny House being constructed by local builder and friend, Alex Munson. The Tiny she’s building for her friend Rose and Rose’s son is also 20 feet long and 8 feet wide, with two lofts and a lot of great features like salvaged materials and a foot pump to bring water to the sink and shower. Using salvaged materials makes a lot of sense in a home for Rose, who we call our “trash-free friend.” The day we met her Tiny was the day we met her too, though she’d already significantly affected us when we learned about the depth of her commitment to consume/produce as little trash as she possibly can. You can read more about her sustainable journey here. Incidentally, Rose’s Tiny entrance is also over the wheel well. The clever solution they came up with is building in a long step/stool/shoe storage that you step down from when entering the house.
The day we visited Alex and Rose was the first day Donovan and I worked physically together on his Tiny House. The plan was to make on-site Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs), consisting of two pieces of 1.5-inch foam board sandwiched between sheets of plywood, to produce a strong, insulated floor, with a total insulation value of R15.
Enter one of the countless (and endless) Morality-Monetary Discussions, debating the pros and cons of such materials as formaldehyde and foam.
I learned the smell of formaldehyde while in an attic with Donovan last summer when we were running the venting for a bathroom fan. I took a deep whiff and reminisced about that smell being in my childhood days spent exploring my grandma’s attic. “That, Dear, is formaldehyde,” Donovan informed me. So I was surprised to get a whiff of that same smell when I passed a stack of materials Donovan had brought home for the floor, as a non-toxic building is something he’s after. But, conventional plywood, which contains formaldehyde in the glue that binds the layers of wood together, costs almost half of the formaldehyde-free plywood. So a fairly conventional bottom layer it is.
It took only minimal cursing and tears (on my end) to realize we needed to pre-drill the holes into the steel frame of the trailer, even with our self-tapping screws which are made to bore into metal.
Next, foam board.
Originally, Donovan did not think he’d use foam in the making of Juniper. However, after a cost analysis and considering his desire to experiment with reclaimed materials, he settled on using 1.5-inch-thick foam panels, locally reclaimed from torn-down chicken houses. (The foam will only be used on the floor; for the walls and ceiling we’ll use Gutex and blown-in cellulose.) When D hauled the foam home (on his new trailer), we were having regular rains, which washed away some of the layers of dirt and grime. Once we were ready to work with them, I gave them a vigorous sweeping. Donovan used a caulk-gun-applied foam to patch the holes in the boards, which left a bubbly excess that we tried wiping, sweeping, and cutting off. The best method was using a razor blade in a saw-like motion to shave the bulky foam without dislodging it from the holes.
Cutting the foam board was a trial and error business, too. We experimented with a jig saw and a utility knife, but had the best luck with a skill saw. We placed a piece of scrap lumber under the cutting area to make smooth, even cuts. The fumes of hot foam cut through our dust masks, and Donovan’s sweaty arms were itching from being plastered with foam by the end of the day. In spite of all this, it felt good to see the sturdy, finished product and know we’d spared the foam boards from the landfill.
Lastly: pristine plywood.
This layer of formaldehyde-free plywood (available at Home Depot) that will be just below Donovan’s hardwood floor is not only nice-smelling but also lovely to behold. In fact, Donovan is so smitten with it that he’s decided to use it for some interior walls rather than what he’d originally planned for.
After we had cut and labeled every piece of every layer, we adhered them all together with glue (some of which, weeks later, still clings to my hair and legs) and 5-inch screws.
By golly, it’s happening! We’re floored!
It is a lovely place to lie under the stars without being eaten alive by ticks or chiggers.