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The Tiny House Story


The Tiny House Story

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The Tiny House Story


The Tiny House Story

                                                                                           Photo Courtesy of Morgan Karanasios


Why a Tiny Home 


For us, a tiny house was the solution to a kind of financial equation we had been struggling to solve. To build our careers, our portfolios, we needed time to create and the finance to procure the resources we needed to do so. We were inspired by the tiny house movement. Here were people choosing to live smaller and get outside more; they were traveling, saving money on bills and spending it on living. Their homes were creative and charming, each unique like the handmade homes of colonial days, and - as if this weren’t enough - they were environmentally friendly. We didn't so much make the decision as the decision made us. It simply made perfect sense.

As time passed and we began to imagine, design and create, it soon became clear that another motivation was emerging, one that would come to dominate as the driving force behind our build: it was simply…fun. Granted, building our tiny house was far from easy, but the freedom of creativity, the authority to include any idea, no matter how whimsical, and the knowledge that we would one day find ourselves sheltered by our own creation was an experience we can only compare to the building of tree forts in childhood; it felt natural, freeing, even primitive. After all, people have been building their own homes by hand all throughout history, until relatively recently. Outside the tiny house movement, some still do build their own houses, of course, but the complexity of modern building regulations, the respective knowledge necessary to work with modern materials, coupled with the cost of living and the cost of typically scaled modern dwellings has made it harder and harder for the layman to undertake the challenge successfully. Tiny houses alleviate the burden of insurmountable cost, and the scale is far less daunting.

We also knew that our financial struggle was not original. Post 2008, we had struggled to make a living like so many. Laid off from my day job, I found work carrying shingles for a roofer at $11 an hour, and I was laid off from that job a month later. It was honestly a little terrifying. So as the years passed and we struggled to pay our bills, not to mention build our careers, we searched more and more, not only for a path that would break us free from financial constraint, but one that would ultimately contribute to others who were also struggling. When tiny house owners rent land that would otherwise sit unused, they not only get a home at a bargain; they give the landowner a financial boost, and the two, having more money to spend are free to put more money into the economy, helping still others. This ideal, along with a fierce passion for protecting the natural world - living harmoniously in its midst both environmentally and aesthetically - is at the heart of our endeavor. We are by no means entirely successful, but we push forward with this goal in mind, making improvements when we can and learning from our mistakes as often as possible.

   

Photo's Courtesy of Pat Piasecki, Morgan Karanasios, & John Hession


We didn’t so much make the decision as the decision made us. It simply made perfect sense.

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Design Inspiration


The Journey of a Thousand Miles...

Design Inspiration


The Journey of a Thousand Miles...


INSPIRATION 


When we began dreaming up our home, we first imagined a little Tudor style cottage, the kind of charming white plaster and black beamed cottages you see in old fairy tales. However, the rooftops of those buildings are pitched quite steeply, which results in a critical loss of space when you consider that homes on wheels are legally restricted in height. Looking through images online one day, we stumbled upon the solution; it was an image of an old steamer trunk, with a gently rounded top and tapered sides. The sound, simple and elegant shape struck a chord. It recalled old gypsy caravans and railroad cars, and old wooden ships. Here were three very old designs, each well evolved for tiny living. They each had brilliant uses of space, and beautiful classical features. The timber framing would surely marry well, and the contraptions we had planned would decorate as naturally as would they were fixed to any old ship or train. 

 


The sound, simple and elegant shape struck a chord. It recalled old gypsy caravans and railroad cars, and old wooden ships.

Interior Inspiration



Design Process


There were several mediums that proved invaluable during the design process. Ultimately, we used Google SketchUp, a 3D design software that Google kindly provides as a free download. It’s very precise, and it’s fairly easy to workout with the help of some Youtube tutorials. What we found most helpful about this software, however, was the ability to move through the structure once it was drawn, and to place the “man” into the drawing, who is of average height, so you could see what the reality of the design’s specifications were, and decide to adjust measurements here or there to improve the space.

However, our first renderings were simply hand drawings, sketches of this idea or that, which amounted to a kind of heap of features that we wished to include. From there, we switched to foam models, cutting one piece of Styrofoam into many little timber-like pieces, and using bits of toothpicks to pin them together. Working in scale, this proved a great way to explore rough ideas, especially the moving components. 
 


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Construction


Construction

Construction


Construction


Framing


Traditional timber framing is the method by which trees are hewn by ax into square shapes, and then fitted together with hand cut joints that pin in place. This method, while extremely effective and attractive, proved impossible for us for one simple reason; we didn’t have any trees. What we did have, however, was a large pile of 2/4’s left over from a film set we had built, and then deconstructed after filming was complete. Cutting, gluing and screwing these smaller pieces together, we were able to create the larger "timbers" we needed, of virtually any size. Afterward, the surface could be planed down by hand, to create the impression of one large timber, rather than a composited one.

To fill the spaces between the timber framing, we used thin sheets of 7/32” plywood (almost all of which we also salvaged from a deconstructed film set of ours) On the inside of the frame, we fastened thin strips of wood, which created a shelf to which we could glue and screw our plywood paneling, inside and out. An inch and a half thick, these shelves decided the thickness of our insulation, which we achieved simply by tearing pink fiberglass insulation in half and stuffing in the cavities. Once the panels were screwed to the shelves outside, we sealed the cracks with epoxy and half round trim.

The roof is comprised of a rectangular frame, atop which sits 6 arches. We made the arches by cutting a dozen strips of 7/32” plywood 3” wide, which we than glued together on an arch template. We cut two layers narrower, creating a slot into which we could fit sheets of the same plywood, again insulating the space between with halved pieces of pink insulation. There are two 18’ long planks of hard wood that run the length of the roof, which help reinforce it from sagging during hoisting.


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Hoisting Roof


A-loft

Hoisting Roof


A-loft

                                                                                          Photo Courtesy of Pat Piasecki


THE HOISTING ROOF


 

One of the first things we decided to do with our tiny home was involve expandable spaces. We had seen many tiny homes struggle with height and width restrictions, which, when maximized, really create a formidable trailer to tow. Including a roof that rises and drops allowed us to reduce our travel height to a manageable 12.5’, which is the height of most moving trucks.

If you’re unfamiliar with pulleys and hoisting setups, our contraption may seem a little complicated, but the way it works is actually pretty simple when you break it down. It’s like lifting up a table by its feet, only we used rope and pulleys to do the lifting. There are four legs, and four pulley setups. Four ropes run along paths to one spool. Turn the ship wheel, and the spool gathers rope. Because the four ropes are gather on one spool, they gather at the same speed and therefore hoist each leg at the same speed.

When the roof is fully ascended, the longer walls, which are on hinges, can then be folded up and loosely bolted in place. The small walls, which are not attached, are simply (or not so simply…) carried into place by hand, and are also loosely bolted. The roof can then be lowered, pressing downward on the walls, and all the bolts can then be tightened.

               Note: Anywhere there is a seam where two walls come together, there is rubber weather-stripping,
               which fills the gaps when compressed, creating airtight and water tight seams.

When the roof section is completely expanded, two and a half feet are gained in height, and fourteen windows are added, which let in tremendous natural light from all directions. Also, four of the windows hinge open, which permit a nice cross breeze and heat escape during the summer.


Bedroom Loft


Photo's Courtesy of Pat Piasecki, & Morgan Karanasios


Couch, Daybed, Guestbed


One of the things Chloe had her heart set on during the design process was a built-in sofa. I had experimented with a variety of configurations, but each one proved lacking in form and function. This become even more so true when the trailer we purchased, which was a great find - practically new, a solid diamond-plated steel bed for only a thousand dollars - was two feet shorter than we had planned for (18' instead of 20'). Tinkering in SketchUp, it suddenly occurred to me that the the loft area, which we had intended simply as a storage space - very boring - could serve not only as a suitable space for a sofa, but that the space was quite large, large enough to work as a guest bed. This was a wonderful revelation, as it suddenly opened up the possibility of having guests stay the night, in a bed no less. 

For the materials, Chloe thrifted the pillows from many different places: thrift shops, flea markets, some were gifted from friends, but most she found by haunting weekend yard sales. Chloe commissioned a seamstress to make the sofa cover from leftover fabric she had used to make curtains for a prior film set, Aimy in a Cage, and we made the cushion from old boat seat cushions that were being scrapped; oddly sized, we cut them up into a dozen or so rectangles, which we stacked together like pieces of bread in a loaf. It's a little uneven, but quite cozy.

We are in the process of designing a removable bed rail, as we fear friends staying the night might inadvertently roll off in their sleep - a 7' drop in a dead sleep would be, well... We need a rail. Stay tuned. 

Photo's Courtesy of Pat Piasecki, & Morgan Karanasios


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Side Expansions


Office Wings

Side Expansions


Office Wings


SIDE EXPANSIONS


 

When we began designing our home, we both felt it was critical that we have separate work spaces. We didn’t want to hinder our respective creative projects with limiting space, or encourage conflict by vying a single, coveted work space. Our solution was to create two respective offices that fold out when parked. These space are ten feet wide, and a little less than four feet deep.

Hilarious Note: When we began building, we noticed that our 2x4's varied considerably in weight, and so we sorted them: heavy, medium and light. We used the lightest wood first, then the medium weight, until we were left with only heavy wood. The office outer wall, which is the largest wall, and the ONLY wall in the office that has to be carried by hand, was made, you guessed it, last, and of the only wood we had left, which was, of course, the heaviest. “Should’ve, could’ve, would’ve…” should be engraved somewhere on this ship. That, and “This took longer than I expected.”

The office floors are sizable and hefty, so we decided to attach tension spring setups to prevent it from ever falling downward too quickly and dangerously. We used garage springs and added an extra pulley to lengthen the rope and reduce the stretch on the spring. We also added adjustable feet for stability, and support wires that adjust with a simple turnbuckle. When all sections are in place, a multitude of custom brackets are bolted together (It’s time consuming to use nuts and bolts, but they firm things up nicely, and prove far more cost effective than quick-release hardware.) 


Her's


Description of pieces coming soon. Thank you for your patience!

Photo Courtesy of Lizzy Affa Photography

Photo's Courtesy of Pat Piasecki, & Morgan Karanasios


His


At first glance, you might suppose I am quite cozy in my office, and you're correct. However, what you don't see is my anxious desire to finish my side, as it is barely configured. Let me explain:

The desk (A quick introduction: I made it with black pipe, salvaged casters, and plywood, which I burned and waxed and after framed with electrician's C channel and junkyard scrap metal.) is getting me by nicely, but I intend a great deal more ease of function, by way of mechanisms and add-ons. The great thing about using black pipe is that you can always disassemble it and improve upon its design with new fittings. At the moment, I need to use a wrench to lock-in the working position, but I intend a more sophisticated arrangement that will allow me to more easily move up and down. I will also add shelving, a computer screen mount, a multitude of built-in drafting tools and a tray mounted on a swing arm for my pastels - I draw. You can see the tray - an old printer's drawer - tucked against the wall in the image below.

The chair you see, the old, shabby-looking one behind me in the picture (Chloe bought it for $20 at a consignment shop), is slated for some improvements, as well. I will be reupholstering it with waxed, black canvas, pinned with gold buttons. The legs will be replaced with a swivel setup atop wheels. This will make it considerably easier to access my clothing beside it.

I have plans for my clothing rack, too. I have found two steamer trunks in good condition at the worlds greatest invention since sliced bread: The recycle center's "Swap Shed". One of the trunks is even ceder-lined! We will be repurposing one of the trunks to hang on the wall like a cabinet. I'll most likely do the frame-work with trusty black pipe, and I'll build in drawers and shelving inside. I'll put wheels on the other trunk and park it beneath my new shelving and cabinetry, that way we can wheel it out and use it like an ottoman. 

Lastly, I need a place to shave (You might have noticed...). I've designed a small sink and medicine cabinet to fit on the right side of my cabinetry, facing the you, in the area above where my guitar is placed. I can run a flexible hose to the shower's drain line, and I can tap into the incoming water lines you see feeding the shower - the shower is to the right in the picture. The piece exemplifies a precept we continually rely on in design: conductivity. That is, we believe that it's best to make something easy to do if you want to regularly do it. In this case, we can hide our toothbrushes in the medicine cabinet, where they will be easily accessible, and I'll have an easy place to shave without making a big mess to clean.  

Stay tuned for these upgrades. 

Photo's Courtesy of Pat Piasecki, & Morgan Karanasios


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Interior


Home Sweet Home

Interior


Home Sweet Home


Interiors 


Description of pieces coming soon. Thank you for your patience!

Photo's Courtesy of Pat Piasecki, & Morgan Karanasios


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Salvage Splendor


Salvage Splendor

Salvage Splendor


Salvage Splendor


Why Salvage


Every time we manage to find or make something for less than it should cost, it's a real thrill for us. Having been at war with financial struggle and its constraints for many years, ourselves, each cheaply crafted piece feels like a small victory, for us and for our broke compatriots around the world. Some people pride themselves on how costly their possessions are; we, on the other hand, cannot wait to say, "10 bucks!" and "here's how we did it:", like we've found the secret to destroying the Death Star, or have stolen the Sheriff's horses, or some other equally geeky reference. In all seriousness, though, people are struggling out there, and we want to help, and information is, at this time, what we have to offer.

We also care very deeply for the natural world and wish to do everything in our power to help keep it full, healthy and wild. It's our mission to spare trees, and the ecosystems they create, from being unnecessarily harvested by salvaging discarded wood and other materials whenever possible, reducing not only the carbon cost of processing fresh trees or other raw materials, but the energy needed to process salvageable materials in a landfill.

We find salvageable items everywhere we look, it seems. Someone is always discarding something or other that we can put to new use. Some of the things we've found curbside or at the recycle center's "Swap Shed" are astonishing, especially if you know how to see them - often, it's a matter of seeing that part of a piece is usable, like sharp-looking doors off an otherwise rotted cabinet.  Using salvage materials that have details, like carvings, trim, hardware and mechanisms is also a great way to bring complexity to a piece, intricacy that would otherwise take considerable time to create. 

 


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Plumbing & Heating


Handmade Ameneties 

Plumbing & Heating


Handmade Ameneties 

Photo Courtesy of Morgan Karanasios


Plumbing and Heating


We live in New England, where winter temperatures can plummet and stay plummeted, wreaking havoc on exposed water lines that will certainly freeze, expand and rupture. Most homes’ water lines come in through the basement, which is below the frost-line, so freezing isn’t a problem. However, not only do we clearly not have a basement; we don’t know where we’ll be getting water from in future locations.

Our solution is to store water rather than continuously draw it. This approach allows us to, once a week or so, depending upon use, fill our water tanks and drain the feed hose. Insulating and heating our water tanks and the subsequent lines leading into the house prevents them from freezing. This setup has a respective advantage in the summer,  as the insulation keeps the water cool instead.

Currently, we use livestock trough heaters to prevent the water from freezing in the barrels. They activate when the temperature approaches freezing, heating a protected coil until the water temperature reaches forty degrees or so. The copper pipes leading into the house are wrapped in heat tape and insulation, as well.

Though this system works, there’s a significant expenditure of electricity. Because we aspire to reducing our expenses, not to mention our carbon footprint, as much as possible, we’ve begun plans for a 2.0 system, which replaces the electric heaters with a kind of heatsink: a pipe will run from inside our house out into and around the barrel and then back into the house. Using a small fan, we can pump our warm air through line, allowing the water to absorb the heat along the way. Providing our barrel insulation job is sound, this should suffice in preventing the water from freezing. We also intend to use a similar system to keep our propane tanks from becoming too cold, which can cause the gas pressure to drop and the heater to fail (something we learned about the hard way this winter…)

 

The Interior


Though we had hoped our water barrels would bear down with enough pressure to power-wash an elephant, the result was less than satisfactory. If the barrel bottoms were cone-shaped, allowing gravity to emphasize a single point of relief, I’d be telling a different story. Even still, the water pressure would inevitably decrease as the water level drops. The solution is simple: a water pump. Once installed, not only will our pressure improve, but smart pumps mean that multiple faucets can run simultaneously by increasing pressure when there is a drop. This would improve even our summer setup, which was simple a direct water hook-up that bypassed the barrels; even that system lagged when you we tried to use more than one faucet.

Copper lines distribute water to a bathroom sink, a kitchen sink and to our shower. The shower is made from about thirty dollars of junkyard scrap-metal that we stripped, straightened and sealed. Sections of different sizes were pop-riveted together, after which we caulked the seams. Its door is made from plywood, and, note the porthole; it’s a Crock-pot lid we picked up for $1.oo!

The wastewater drains out through PVC lines, which lead to a hose downhill. We use only natural, biodegradable soaps, so the water is harmless. Nonetheless, we have plans to incorporate a distiller to improve the process further. We, of course, are using a composting toilet in the bathroom.


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Whats Next


Behind The Scenes

& Beyond

Whats Next


Behind The Scenes

& Beyond

Photo Courtesy John Hession


What You Haven’t Seen on TV


Being chosen for HGTV’s Tiny House Big Living was a surreal thrill. Suddenly our little project was being seen around the country and beyond. One article after another began to appear, locally at first, and then the Daily Mail published an interview in the U.K., which prompted a cascade of subsequent sharing by publications around the world, all the way to China. It was truly astonishing. Misquotes and misunderstandings aside, most publications did a fine job of the facts, but it was immediately clear that many people had questions as to the more specific workings of our house. What’s more, due to a multitude of logistical complications, we simply weren’t able to complete everything we had planned in time for the show’s wrap. Unfortunate, because there’s plenty of really cool features yet to come! Not to worry, though. You can find out the scoop here.


What's Left To Do


The Conspicuous Cavity

Perchance you noticed that empty chamber beneath our front door. This peculiar space is built into the design for two reasons: First, the office expansion floors fold out and downward; if the floor wasn’t raised, those hinging sections would be obstructed by the trailer’s wheel wells. Second, the cavity provides a travel location for our collapsible deck, along with its accompanying pergola. As this area isn't essential for habitation, it'll probably be the last thing we construct. Though we haven't yet any drawings to show, the design is complete, floating around in my head. When we have a rendering, we'll post an image here. Stay tuned!

 

Electricity

Solar power is our preference. Our place is small and the sun is generous. As previously mentioned, we will have an RV-like electrical hookup option, but we ultimately intend to acquire as many panels and batteries as necessary to comfortably supply our power demands. We will be running electrical wires through metal conduit inside, and some outside. Our design has something of a steampunk quality to it and we thought the exposed rigid and flexible piping along with boxes would pair nicely with our copper plumbing piping.

 

Transportation

Weighing in at about 6 1/2 K lbs, our home is light enough to tow with just about any full size pickup truck, but we quickly realized that its design looks, well, a little strange next to most modern vehicles. Smaller Mac Trucks have a charm about them that could partner nicely, but they can be very expensive. We’re talking mortgage expensive, which defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? We're leaning toward 1 of two options: We will either cut up and rebuild a box (moving) truck, or customize what's known in the military as a deuce and a half. Not only are these vehicles monsters at towing, but they’re pretty cheap and reliable, starting up without complaint after sitting for long periods. We're open to other vehicles, too. The most important thing is, regardless of what vehicle we ultimately chose, we will build a box onto the back to act as a kind of mobile storage unit/work station. 

Photo's Courtesy of Pat Piasecki