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Review: The Wagner 0518080 Control Spray Max HVLP Sprayer

ReviewsJamie1 Comment

The Wagner Control Spray Max HVLP Sprayer

I have always done house painting by hand and I enjoy the process for the very most part. But I have a tendency toward rotator cuff flare ups from lots of painting and this year I finally tried a paint sprayer for the bulk of the siding work. 


Earlier this year we actually bought a paint sprayer, a Graco model with a lot of good reviews. Unfortunately, it had several drawbacks, the biggest to me being the multiple steps in cleaning. This model required cleaning and priming before even using it for the day!  Then it required breakdown and a lot of cleaning after the job and also needed to be stored in cleaner. The cleaner was toxic, to boot. I also was a bit spooked by all the warnings on the sprayer about accidentally spraying yourself with the painter. Sounds kind of funny till your realize that at that pressure, serious injury is involved. If you doubt me, look up paint sprayer injuries on google. It’s horrible!  


I decided to check out the Wagner line of paint sprayers after talking with friends who have remodeled many houses and had very good words about the ease and good performance of their Wagner. I found this one on Amazon (and the price has come down $15 since I bought it, grrrr!) : 

It’s called the Wagner 0518080 Control Spray Max HVLP. Not a name that clings to your memory so my thanks for the copy and paste function on the computer! 

Here’s what I like about the machine.

IT'S SMALL

It looks like a baby vacuum cleaner and makes about as much noise. The air compressor has a really long hose attached to it, which is wonderful because you can get around with it.

IT DOES MORE THAN PAINT

It’s good for several different kinds of paints AND stains. You can thin the paint/primer to the specifications of the manufacturer, but I found that with freshly opened water based paint, this wasn’t necessary. If you strain your paint or use fresh paint you will likely have no issues with clogging, even when using for a long time.  

IT'S EASY TO CONTROL

There is very little overspray. I was concerned that with the paint being aerated, it would spray all through the air and end up on cars and other things I didn’t want it on. It didn’t end up anywhere but on the wood, and a little bit on my work shoes and the gravel of the driveway when I was spraying between boards. So Control Spray in the title seems to be well earned.

IT'S PRETTY DARN SAFE 

You can adjust the rate and pattern of spray easily by turning the knob where the paint comes out. Don’t do that while the paint is spraying, but one more benefit of this sprayer is that it isn’t super high pressure, so not dangerous. Yet, it worked very efficiently. imple safety equipment is all you need to operate. I found it noisy so wore ear plugs and obviously used eye protection and wore a respirator.

IT'S COMFORTABLE TO USE

Perfect for home use. The sprayer comes with two size paint containers, one plastic and a bit larger, one metal and a bit smaller. The plastic one was perfect for my needs, as I was doing dozens and dozens of boards. I used the smaller vessel to keep some soapy water in in case I ran into clogs. Then I could just swap out the containers and clear out my blocks. If you are doing a lot of painting, you’ll have to refill your container pretty regularly, but it’s a nice change of pace, really.

IT ACTUALLY WORKS

The paint goes on smoothly and while it sometimes looks beady when being applied, it dries to a smooth, even surface, almost magically.

YAY- IT'S EASY TO CLEAN!

Lastly, clean up is a dream. The instruction manual gives clear guidance on how to break the machine down.

There aren’t very many parts and there are no microscopic parts to fall, a la Murphy’s Law, into the gravel or down the sink thus rendering your machine useless. I do recommend getting a small bristle brush for some of the cleaning. We had one on hand (for cleaning metal drinking straws) and it was just the right size for getting into little parts without having to use a ton of water. 

IN SUM

The machine is simple, low tech, works as promised, has minimal hitches and they can be remedied by simple methods. Clean up is easy and requires only soap and water if you are using non oil based paints. It is so easy for a complete (and nervous) beginner to use. I have nothing but good words for this little sprayer and highly recommend it. 
 

My DeWalt battery powered framing nailer no. DCN690M1 (updated)

ReviewsShawn A. Dehner
THE small HOUSE CATALOG used a DeWalt Battery Framing Nailer. Read the review to help you decide if you should use one too.

this ho-hum dewalt fan

 

I admit I'm not a big fan of DeWalt having had quality issues with their tools, including a smoking drill that freaked me out while building in Maine. I was reluctant to pitch in with DeWalt again for a framing nailer, my first one ever, and a battery operated one at that. Since we were building from the ground up, even installing our own temporary power, which we knew could take weeks or months, we opted to try out something that didn't require a direct electrical connection, and DeWalt had just the tool. 

Several cordless framing nailers caught my eye too but every one of them required disposable gas cartridges along with a battery component. The waste was a bit disturbing to start; and then came the additional costs of the cartridges themselves; and, finally, despite many excellent performance reviews I was turned off on the alleged exhaust odors. On this last point, many reviewers reported the exhaust fumes were often as malodorous as their work trucks!

 

In steps the DeWalt 20V Battery Framing Nailer

 

I eventually stumbled on the DeWalt cordless nailer and guess what? It doesn't require anything but a li-ion battery! No cartridges, no smells, just a simple battery. Ok, I was willing to give it a try and bought one from the Tool Nut (may the Force be with you guys...) for $479 + free shipping and a $50 gift card. 

The nailer arrived in about a week inside a sturdy case. It was in good shape with a well written manual that allowed me to put it to the test pretty quick. I fired a single nail and was impressed a battery tool could actually (mostly) sink a 16d nail. Wow! Then the tool sat quietly in its case until we started up our current building project out here in Friday Harbor, Washington (San Juan Island). 

So how did it perform in the field, on the job site? It didn't do well up against douglas-fir to start. It could only sink 16d nails to a depth of about 3" at best. I grant the tool that douglas-fir is hard stuff and I wasn't actually surprised to see it struggling. I honestly think it would perform much more effectively in other parts of the country (or with cedar) where pine or spruce are the primary lumber for framing. This would have been good for framing in our old haunts of New England or up in Canada where the wood for our previous two building projects originated. 

Okay, so it didn't help us with framing but that was cool, I tend to frame by hand with my hickory Dalluge most of the time anyway, and didn't expect to use it for framing but sheathing. I wasn't offended. I was confident it would be there for us when we started up the wall sheathing...and wow, it was just awesome. I think this tool could be marketed solely as a sheathing nailer because it works amazingly well with all the sheathing we could throw at it all the up to 1-1/8" sturd-i-floor. The tool was consistent, easy to handle, the battery life just great, and the recharge as fast our our lunch. I don't recall any jammed nails and only the occasional half sunk one. We carried on blissfully sheathing walls, roof and floors, moving onto our small house and never missing a beat with this little nailer.

 

Until it breaks...

 

Oh, until that sad moment. I had just - and I mean just - said to my wife working next to me as we were sheathing up the last wall of our main floor how much I "love this little nailer," that it was really "a great investment" when, clunk...the driver (or something) died. I was utterly flabbergasted. My wife stared at me in confusion, What?! We tried another nail and nothing but a click. My shoulders sank and my wife stared at me in disbelief. The nailer would go no further that day.

One garage and part of a house into its life and it had broken. And for no clear reason. Having moved out of an extremely small town to the thriving metropolis of San Juan Island, which actually has a DeWalt dealer, I was hopeful I could at least get it repaired quickly. How wrong I was. The local dealer informed me that they could service DeWalt tools but not DeWalt battery tools and that I'd have to take it into an official DeWalt Service Center, the nearest one being Seattle. I was told I could bring it into them and pay them to send it to Seattle for repairs. That sounded like pretty glum service so I contacted DeWalt directly in the hopes that they'd send me a shipping label or something. To no avail. I was told that in my warranty that I was responsible for paying the freight on the tool. I checked my warranty information and didn't actually find these terms but it wasn't to be. They did offer to send it back to me repaired at no cost.

 

Dewalt's so-so warranty

 

Right now I'm sitting with a nearly $500 nailer, one that I liked a lot but clearly suffers from either a rare defect and/or subpar quality control, and mediocre warranty service. It brings to mind two previous tools I owned, a Bosch and a Festool, that required servicing and it cost nothing and the work was prompt. I want to say I have buyer's remorse here but it's at the risk of maligning my little yellow friend that had performed so well until all of a sudden. 

 

The Hitachi replacement

 

In its stead I've placed a Hitachi pneumatic and have been happy enough. I needed something right away as I'm in the middle of a building project. But ask me if I miss my DeWalt. Go ahead...ask me. Yes, I miss my little friend. He gets such rave reviews online I find it bewildering that mine ran into issues with such light work - even being spoon fed a diet of purely DeWalt nails. I hope to have him repaired at some point to take back onto the job site. I don't build for a living, per se, so I don't know when I'll have the opportunity to do so but if I do I'll be sure to follow up with an update. 

 

*Update*

 

It took $14 in postage and two weeks building time to get my DeWalt serviced and returned under its warranty. Not horrendous, I confess, but considering I'm working to beat seasonal weather two weeks, TWO WEEKS, without a framing nailer just wasn't a possibility so I bought a replacement. The costs add up but that's the way it goes, sometimes.

The DeWalt was useful when it worked but I wouldn't buy it again.

Tajima G-33/10MBW 33-Feet or 10-Meter by 1-Inch Steel Blade Tape Measure

ReviewsShawn A. Dehner

One sad tape measure.

My broken Tajima tape measure with zero customer service...sigh.

Tajima customer service. Does it exist?

 

What can one say when an expensive, high end tape measure blade breaks after a month on the job? One could write something positive if, say, the manufacturer bothered to reply to email requesting warranty coverage and/or information on a blade replacement; or, if the manufacturer had been magnanimous enough to send a replacement there might be a word or two about how great the company is. But neither of these things has occurred, yet.

So we'll just keep it to a few words and leave it to the reader to decide the value of such a review.

Tiny Homes on the Move - Wheels & Water by Lloyd Kahn

ReviewsShawn A. Dehner

Tiny Homes on the Move, written by Lloyd Kahn, celebrates houses that, well, move around! With over 200 pages of color photographs and text detailing a variety of portable houses - from tiny ones that are towed to ones that roll on their own or even float - one finds an eclectic mix of converted buses and pick-up trucks, pop-up trailers, hand-made RV's, sailboats, tiny houses on wheels, vans, motorcycles, bicycles, gypsy wagons, and more. It's definitely a fun book to browse.

In addition to tons of photos, there are plenty of entertaining stories to tell. Lloyd often finds people (and their "homes") in unexpected, out of the way places. For example, while swimming off the Costa Rican coast, he stumbles onto an Argentinian couple living in a converted VW van, traveling Latin America and selling hand made jewelry to fund the adventure.

Worthy of note too are wholly unexpected structures like the Chinese Tricycle House, a polypropylene "house" that unfolds like an accordion and uses a modified bicycle as its foundation. The entire structure is "human powered and off the grid." Or how about a horse-drawn house like the Whinny-Bray-Go  (you'll have to get your hands on the book for an explanation of that one!). And, if you're a gardener, Eliot Coleman's Veggie Wagon will make you smile.

Tiny Homes on the Move is an amusing book that's part documentary, part-journal. If you know and enjoy reading Lloyd Kahn's works then I bet you'll you'll like this book too. If you're less familiar with the author and expecting to find a collection of portable full-time houses or tiny houses, then this may not be the book for you. While I enjoyed browsing the great photos and reading some free-spirited stories, I found few "homes" in the traditional sense of the word, and by that I mean houses, structures where people actually live. Most of the book is comprised of temporary structures designed more for short-term travel and weekend getaways. There's much more attention given to the portable nature of the featured structures than to, say, their livability or enduring quality or craftsmanship.

There are some liveable structures - i.e. homes - in this book. And there are some cool hand-made, well-crafted ones to boot. There's also plenty of cobbled trailers and just downright badly built structures too. For example, featuring a 5' x 8' trailer built from recycled plywood and calling it a "home" is a bit silly. It's perhaps a bit disingenuous since no one even lives in the ones featured in the book. Besides, building something of value from recycled materials is one thing; throwing together a heap of old materials and junk for the sake of doing it isn't really "green" building so much as it is an entertainment (I suppose) or something of an odd sales-pitch (which it is was for the featured builder in this book). 

So, here it is in sum, if you're looking to add to your library a fresh book detailing progressive houses or if you're hoping to see pages of how-to information then I recommend checking out some of SHELTER PUBLICATIONS other books, such as Shelter II, a DIY classic, or the absolutely stunning Builders of the Pacific Coast, one of the first au naturale architecture books I stumbled upon many years ago, and possibly passing up on this one.

If on the other hand you love nutty, whimsical and adventurous boats, vans and trailers, liveable or not, and the people who own them, I think you'll find this a very cool book.

 

BARR non-toxic foundation sealer review

ReviewsShawn A. Dehner

A review about a liquid waterproof membrane… it's gotta be dull, right? Well, it all depends on your experience. If you're someone who's had to deal with many of the noxious products that go along with conventional building you might, like us, be quite interested in an article like this. I'm going to tell you about BARR™ by Chem Link, which is simply a non-toxic, non-carcinogenic concrete sealant, ideal for foundations. Chem Link doesn't stop with BARR, they boast an entire catalog of non-toxic caulks, adhesives and sealants. And let me tell you: these guys are serious about making good products. The only difference I've found between Chem Link products and conventional ones is that Chem Linkproducts are safe to use.

Feline safe!

Feline safe!

Let's chat about BARR, the product we just put on the foundation of The Beekeeper's Bungalow. It's basically a liquid waterproofing membrane that goes on with, say, a paint brush or paint roller, and cures by exposure to moisture. Once cured it produces a continuous elastic - feels like soft rubber – seal. It's 100% solvent-free and is compliant with all known environmental and OSHA requirements. Although it has a slight odor akin to pine tar, it can be used without respiratory protection – even in enclosed work spaces. It cures to an elastomeric rubber that is resistant to thermal shock and won't crack in cold or soften in high temperatures – like many conventional asphalt or coal tar based coatings. The Chem Link data sheet for BARR specifies a surprising number of applications, although we used it simply as an exterior waterproofing agent for our concrete foundation walls. Like all of Chem Link's products, BARR has been tested and shown to be non-toxic and non-carcinogenic. As do-it-yourself builders who are exposed to the products we use, these are extremely important features to us. For all those contractors who are knitting their brows in doubt of a 'green' sealant holding up to its conventional counterparts, THE small HOUSE CATALOG will be the first to tell you – and show you - that BARR is in no way sub-par in terms of quality and performance. Barr is a superior choice for builders, homeowners, anyone in need of a good sealant.

BARR's Pros:

  • It's non-toxic for you – and others – and the environment.
  • It's non-carcinogenic. You won't mind your wife (or husband and kids) using it.
  • It produces a fantastic soft seal (even our foundation contractor – a professional who has built more than 150 houses – was impressed by the quality).
  • It comes in various sizes – up to 5 gl. pails.
  • It can be purchased online and delivered – or picked up locally by finding a distributor via Chem Link at 1-800-826-1881.
  • It's easy to apply, all you need is a throw-away paint brush, a 1.5" nap and roller or a squeegee. We just used a brush.
  • It's easy to clean up. It won't wash off with soap and water but it's not greasy and comes off with a little rubbing alcohol. A word to the wise: just be sure you have enough alcohol on hand – we had only enough for a one arm cleaning!
  • It's low odor.
  • And, lastly, it has a low-VOC content.

Looking for BARR in the Seattle area? Visit ATLAS in downtown Seattle at 6111 South Charlestown Street & 6th Avenue South. 

Visit Chemlink to read the published article.

Tiny Homes Simple Shelter Book Review

ReviewsShawn A. Dehner

Tiny Homes Simple Shelter is a newly released (2012) offering from Shelter Publications. It builds on earlier publications from Shelter and deals specifically with small and tiny homes. The homes within the pages of this book will most likely delight you. I noticed that on Amazon.com, the book is in the top 500 sellers in their books department, and it’s easy to see why. Here are some of my impressions from reading the book.

For starters, the size is excellent for the material contained within. It’s a large, coffee table book with soft covers and a size that is just right for perusing with friends or a partner or for spreading out on the couch to enjoy with a cup of tea. Inside there are so many pictures (all color) that it’s a real feast for the senses. Each photo essay – that’s really how they come across – introduces you to  real, living people, frequently just regular people who have, for one reason or another, struck out and built for themselves a tiny or small dwelling space to call their own. The homes vary in size from tiny houses built on trailer beds, trucks, or caravan wagons, to tree houses; from natural cob buildings and veritable hobbit holes to architecturally sleek and ultra modern spaces – and back again – to homes framed entirely from hand collected beach wood, recycled materials and modified-traditional stick framing. In location, you’ll find these homes in British Columbia, Austin, TX, San Francisco, the Arizona desert, in places like Mali and Costa Rica, on islands, even on the road and in the water! The stories vary from person to person, just as you’d hope and expect, and they’re all intriguing. The stories are generally told by the builders themselves and are often set into the photo essays as letters written to Lloyd Kahn and Shelter Publications about various projects.

What other things can I say about this book? In terms of inspiration, it’s worth the price. It’s a beautiful looking book and is positively hefty in terms of idea generation, enjoyment and interest. You’ll learn a lot reading it or just studying the photos, and you’ll certainly see things you hadn’t even thought of before! The layout has an interesting, organic feel thanks to a good balance of text and photos, photos being dominant and text being varied in terms of individual writers and scenarios being described. I can’t say how many times I simply felt happy while reading these intriguing stories of people who’ve done what a lot of us imagine doing (and sometimes are doing ourselves)…taking a dream and hammering or otherwise molding that dream into a physical form and then enjoying the fruits of that labor. Many of the stories have similar threads, whether written by a woman in her early 20’s or a man in his 60’s, or even a whole group of people. From the unique homes that ooze personal expression as well as pride of craftsmanship, there’s a strong do-it-yourself energy that emanates from the pages. Authors repeatedly mention the freedom that results from plunging into self-building and from coming up with creative methods to allow more time for personal interests while simultaneously fulfilling two of the basic necessities of humanity: shelter and creative expression. Really, the two go hand in hand and nowhere is that better expressed than in the photos of real projects by real people.

Another reason I can heartily recommend this title is that it would appeal to a broad spectrum of readers. The contents are not strictly high-end architectural works or storybook tree houses; they’re not all tiny spaces that many might have a hard time imagining themselves raising a family in for instance. The homes contained in the pages of this book are tremendously unique. You won’t find any cookie cutter homes in any sense of the word. There’s a fine introduction to dozens of ways of doing the same things: learning to build, building, and loving the end results. If you are like me, you will quickly wonder what new things have happened to these builders. I found that to be my only real issue with the book; the stories seem to request a supplemental publication revisiting these homes and the people who built them. Some of the essays do in fact do that although I found myself sometimes wishing to know more about the people doing the building. I can certainly say that it was pleasant to feel that there is – and really always has been – a community of people from all walks of life, from all over the planet, answering the fundamental questions of What is a good shelter and What is a home in their own, “defiantly homemade” way. That this book has been compiled is a real treat for those of us who sometimes feel out of place or vastly outnumbered in our opinions regarding what we seek in our housing requirements. Sometimes it’s just a nice thing to read about creative, ingenious people that are just like anyone else out there. Maybe they’re a little further along the path than we might be in our own personal building projects, but there’s much to be said for trailblazers.

This is a book I highly recommend. It will appeal to builders, building enthusiasts, small home and tiny home champions, fans of alternative building and ecological building & living, people considering downsizing or wanting to build a smaller space for whatever reason, as well as homegrown DIY’s that love an engaging read that makes us feel like we’re all are part of the solution. All ages will enjoy this one too. I can confidently recommend this book to all sorts of people as well because no one “style” is represented; from earthy to modern, it’s all in the book. It seems as though every taste is expressed and no judgments are made. There are all sorts of building methods represented; timber frame, stick built, cob, and straw bale all make the pages. From an anthropological perspective, what a great peek inside the minds of so many interesting people this book is. You get a little introduction to lots of cool people who are just going out and simply doing it, and doing well as a result. I found this book a wonderful antidote to the evening news. What a nice way to spend a night…leafing through a compendium of smiling faces and great stories.

I’d like to close this review by saying one other thing. Aside from the great stories and structures, the thing that most strikes me about this book is the particular quality of the smiles on the faces of the builders represented. There’s a giddy sort of excitement in the smiles that I recognize from personal experience. It’s kind of a cross between happy pride, settled hilarity, contentment and exhilaration. I love the smiles in this book. Give this book as a gift – to yourself or others.

Technical details:
Title: Tiny Homes Simple Shelter: Scaling Back in the 21st Century
Author: Lloyd Kahn
Publisher/Year of Publication: Shelter Publications, 2012
ISBN: 978-0936070-52-0
224 pages, 9” x 12”
List Price: $24.95 list price

You can purchase this fantastic book online from Shelter Publications or Amazon.com.

LG LRBP1031W Refrigerator Review

ReviewsJamie

Don’t be fooled by the romantic name of this fridge! The LRBP1031W is a fantastic fridge and a small one at that. We really debated refrigerators. We do a huge amount of gardening, so a lot of our food is coming fresh out of the garden. In that sense, we don’t need a huge fridge. We couldn’t fit one in if we wanted to, anyway. On the other hand, we cook from scratch, eat mostly at home, and need a real refrigerator. No matter how much you grow in the garden, a fridge is an important part of the kitchen. A small dorm style unit would have been very space conserving but just wouldn’t have suited our needs. We chose this one after seeing it “in person” at a friend’s beach cabin. It’s tall and narrow with a bottom freezer. The freezer has three deep drawers which are very convenient for stacking and storing. We have a ton of berries in the freezer right now and there’s still room for many other things as the cubic storage seems to really save on space. There’s also a quick freeze drawer at the top where we keep ice packs and ice trays. For ice cream fans (and I only mention this because it’s SO important), the freezer drawer will fit the Kitchen Aid ice cream bowl. You have to tilt and jostle it a bit, but what matters is that in the end, you can store it in there!

The top refrigerator section is spacious. It has three drawers, three shelves and the door has ample space for tall things (including wine bottles), a butter (or whatever) box, egg tray, and little shelves ranged in size for storage of smaller items. I’ve found this a great size fridge. It’s not too small for anything. And the unit itself is not humongous, so we are able to tuck it into the kitchen and it really works!

Another thing that I love about this refrigerator is that it’s incredibly quiet. If, for you, the sound of a humming refrigerator is at all annoying, imagine what a problem this could become in a very small space. The LG is truly quiet. I rarely if ever register its sound. I love this refrigerator. Great purchase.

If I can also plug a bit for LG’s customer service, I feel compelled to do so. When we unpacked this refrigerator and installed it, the seal around the door had been wrinkled in transit and wasn’t sealing the fridge door. After waiting a week or so without success to see if the seal would uncoil itself and work properly, we called LG to ask them to please send a new seal out to us. This they could not do. However, they sent a whole new refrigerator out to us, no charge, no questions asked! They merely asked us to send in the sticker on the side of the unit with the model and serial numbers. We thought the response was excessive but obviously more than satisfactory. I would have preferred, truthfully, that they just send the seal, since it was all that was required, but in terms of good responses and willingness to fix a mistake, LG really impressed me with their commitment to customer service. Having done a fair amount of building and remodeling over the years has given me a certain (over) familiarity with the process of sometimes needing manufacturers to honor warranties. LG is far and away the most honorable company I’ve worked with in that regard. I’ll definitely recommend them.

All told, the refrigerator speaks for itself, anyway: It’s quiet, very well designed, attractive, and super functional, all in a smaller package that doesn’t skimp on quality. This is a great refrigerator. By the way, it comes in white and a stainless style finish.

Stiebel-Eltron SHC-4 Water Heater Review

ReviewsTHE small HOUSE CATALOG
Stiebel-Eltron SHC-4 3.96 gallon water heater

Stiebel-Eltron SHC-4 3.96 gallon water heater

This is the second water heater by Steibel Eltron that we have purchased. Stiebel Eltron is a German company and we used an on demand electric model at our self built home in Maine. They’re great machines by a quality company. When we moved into our tiny home, we needed a small water heating unit and originally went with a Bosch-Ariston GL6, which had very good reviews online. It leaked. It was replaced with another one. It leaked too. The design of the model we had just wasn’t great. We opted to return the bad heater and went back to the German made Stiebel Eltron, but in a (less than) four gallon size that fits underneath our counter tops and supplies us with a perfect amount of very hot water. The Stiebel-Eltron SHC 4 heats rapidly, noiselessly, and has a very sensitive temperature gage that lets you control how hot your water gets. It can get very hot, there are no problems with cold showers. Four gallons sounds like a very small amount of hot water, but the tank reheats in less than half an hour (it has a light that lets you know when it is actively heating). For showering comfort, we combined this water heating unit with an ultra low flow shower head from Bricor (.5 gals/min) and we are able to take nearly 15 minute showers, if we so desire. It’s a great combo and highly recommended. There are no leaks associated with the Steibel Eltron because all the water hook ups are on top of the unit rather than on the side, as with the Bosch unit. It’s also built well (and surprisingly in the EU).

I would recommend this as an area to seriously examine design as water leaks are very demoralizing, particularly if you want to have a hot shower to wash your stress away. The Stiebel Eltron has been a real winner for us in this new application. The 4 gallon unit doesn’t have a tremendous energy demand either, although if you are using a 20 or 30 amp service, like us, you might want to give it its own line of electricity. We originally hooked up the oven and the water heater on the same circuit and had the breaker pop, so we rewired. Just a thought if the situation applies to you!

Breville BOV800XL Smart Oven Review

ReviewsJamie

I actually got this deluxe toaster oven after three failed attempts at a Kitchen Aid toaster. The Kitchen Aid toaster was the first “fancy” toaster I ever bought, and it was terrible. It broke three times, from the same defect, in a three year period and after the third replacement, I decided to let Kitchen Aid keep its overpriced, defective toaster and opted to try something new. Knowing we were about to move into a smaller space and being keen on having the ability to use a smaller oven for smaller portions anyway, I looked into toaster ovens and eventually settled on the Breville Smart Oven. It toasts bread (and bagels!), roasts, broils, bakes, has a pizza setting and a few other settings as well. You can easily adjust all the functions and it has a convection setting that can be turned off and on depending on what you are baking. I am an avid cook and baker and bake all my own breads.I was walking the other day and started thinking about how homes listed for sale are described in print. I was specifically thinking of the way that you sometimes see homes listed as including Five Appliances. (Sometimes you see numeric variations on this theme, but five is a number I see a lot). Anyway, I began thinking about our home and what appliances it contains…since it’s a home under 200 square feet, I was considering which of our appliances have made it a resoundingly pleasant 200 square feet to live in. To celebrate the end of our first year in our little house, which coincides nicely with the end of 2011, I’ve compiled a list of the Five Appliances that I think have contributed to a successful year living in a small space. If you are considering outfitting a small space, be it house, travel trailer, in-law apartment, or just a smaller sized kitchen, I hope you will find this useful.

We also routinely bake pizzas in this oven. The pizza function is nice. I have a thirteen inch baking stone that I like to bake pizzas on and this stone does fit into this oven. Barely, but it does if I want it to, and the door closes fully. Wow. That’s amazing! You can also choose to bake on the pizza pan that comes included with the oven. The pizza setting includes subsettings for frozen or fresh dough/pizzas and has an inbuilt time and temperature suggestion for each variety that you can easily adjust according to your own preferences.My biggest concern about moving into a small space was being limited to a large toaster oven for all my baking needs. But I’ve been really pleasantly surprised by the Breville. I can fit two two pound loaves of sourdough bread into the oven at a time to bake (though they come out more perfectly shaped when I cook them one at a time). The oven can hold 450 degrees beautifully, and while the baking space is indeed snug for two big loaves, they bake evenly and turn out beautifully. There’s no steam injection, but tossing a bit of water in the base works well to give me a lovely, caramelized crust and I’ve been really happy with the way this oven has performed.

Broiling works beautifully as does baking and roasting. The bagel setting I have not used, but I use the toast setting every day. I like that you can choose to toast 2-6 slices at a range of darkness, depending on what you like. You can adjust the oven rack to various heights inside the oven, which is handy if you are baking bread or other tall items like whole squash. I can’t say much against this little workhorse. It’s much more pricey than a toaster oven, but in this case, you aren’t buying a toaster oven so much as a small oven. This has been an excellent investment. It functions beautifully on every setting, it’s quiet and small and attractive with a stainless finish. It’s sturdily built and in a year and a half of at least once daily usage, I haven’t had a single problem with the machine.

I give this gem a five star rating. I think the Breville Smart Oven would suit a variety of people’s needs and can’t recommend it highly enough.

Bricor Ultra-Max Video by THE small HOUSE CATALOG

ReviewsTHE small HOUSE CATALOG

The B100 Low-Flow Shower Head by Bricor

THE small HOUSE CATALOG installed Bricor's B100 Ultramax in the Moschata Tiny House Rolling Bungalow and enjoyed it full-time for nearly three years. The shower head worked flawlessly with an electric 4 gallon water heater providing vigorous, dirt busting showers.

THE small HOUSE CATALOG Bricor Shower Head Giveaway 

Book Toolbox for the Beginning Builder

Reviews, Design PhilosophyTHE small HOUSE CATALOGComment

There are some fantastic free resources for small and tiny houses right online, including THE small HOUSE CATALOG! There's the stellar design software SketchUp along with sites like Fine Homebuilding Magazine, The Tiny House Blog and Tiny House Living that all offer complimentary articles. There are also blogs and small and tiny house enthusiasts galore.

But let me tell you the library is still the best resource of all. Pretty much everything you need to begin learning how to build a functional, long-lasting, beautiful little house is available right from the local library - for free. If you want to learn how to build, I suggest getting a pile of books and simply start reading. If you like to shop online that's fine but you absolutely do not have to spend money on DVD's, online courses, expensive plans, inspirational seminars, or any of the other trendy marketing gimmicks cropping up all over the place to SELL you a tiny house or DIY building experience. 

Books are old-fashioned, hands-on, and from the library, 100% free. And best of all - if you put in the time to learn - they work. 

My two cents.

Now, I do recommend investing in a basic book toolbox after you've thoroughly explored the library and are ready to actually begin preparing to design and build a house. A couple that I keep at hand at all times are:

1. The current International Residential Code, which I use for draftwork. It's the most useful reference I have and is used ubiquitously. 

2. Building Construction Illustrated by Chen illustrates various code specific residential building practices and is  useful reference during the design process.

3. Practical Carpentry by Goodheart-Willcox. This is a gem! It's an old tome I picked up for a buck at a used library book sale in Port Townsend, Washington and it's the best book I've ever found on traditional carpentry techniques, like balloon framing, stair sub-construction, et al.

Here's a peek at some of my extended personal library of house building books:

Investing in good books is like investing in good hand tools. It fact it is investing in good hand tools. Books will help you continue learning over the long term. This is a frugal approach to your future as an owner-builder because you're going to need to know the skills to build and maintain a house. With books so it is with tools: research your options and invest in the best you can afford. 

When it comes to design there's a vast supply of books available for all kinds of architectural styles: craftsman, bungalows, mid-century modern, vernacular, contemporary, post-modern, and others. For a veritable hands on approach, Shelter Publications has some really interesting modern design classics (and don't forget to check the library first).

Eventually you'll intrepidly move on to other aspects of construction like insulating, ventilating, plumbing and wiring, cabinet making, stairs, and more. Just keep your house modest and you'll be well equipped to build an efficient and beautiful house to last generations.

Don't just sit there - that is until you've got that stack of books from the local library!

 

Review: BioShield Aqua Resin Floor Finish

ReviewsJamieComment
Pine flooring with finished whitewash

Pine flooring with finished whitewash

I took a few weeks off from work recently to celebrate the close of summer and all the chores involved in it (interior and exterior house painting, siding, etc) with a week's getaway, but also to finish sanding and whitewashing the floors of our home in anticipation of move in. 

We have never bought raw wood flooring and finished it ourselves, though we've flirted with the idea since first thinking about building and remodeling over a decade ago. The idea was somewhat intimidating because of the finishing. Twenty years ago, as a very young man, Shawn helped his roommates apply a polyurethane coating to a floor and it was a difficult endeavor indeed. The polyurethane rippled and buckled in areas and was generally a beast to apply by an inexperienced crew. Anyway, despite having had a lot of good experiences with things we're unfamiliar with since then, the idea of applying a coating to a flooring was still a little intimidating. I feared having a similar experience, though I figured floor coatings of all sorts had probably come a long way since the early nineties...not to mention the power that learning bestows on one over the decades.

For our floor coating we tried a product made by a company specializing in non toxic coatings called BioShield. The product is made in Germany. It's called Aqua Resin Floor Finish and comes in a huge variety of colors.  The product is a stain and finish in one.  One interested in purchasing this product should also be aware that there is another product by the same company with a similar name that is the stain only and does not contain polyurethane, so choose according to your individual needs. From the bioshieldpaint.com website: "Tinted, semi-transparent, water-based finish for interior floors and furniture. Use Aqua Resin Floor Finish for priming and finishing heavily used surfaces. High abrasion resistance. BioShield Aqua Resin Floor Finish is formaldehyde free."  We had installed the floors early in the building process and then proceeded to work and walk on them throughout the finishing of the house in order to give them a good used look (we were aiming for rustic and wanted to avoid a super slick engineered look in our floors). By late October of this year, the floors were well trodden and quite dirty from shoes indoors, drywall dust and just general hard wear. In other words, nearly perfect. I say nearly perfect because I intended to do a thorough sanding before applying the finishing coats. The sanding work cleaned up the wood beautifully, removing all the surface grime and deep construction related scratches and gouges. It was time to apply the first of the three recommended coats. The company recommends applying the product with a short nap roller, which I did. I used the same smooth nap that I did for interior wall painting.  

The first coat was pretty rugged to put on - meaning that it took some true physical effort. I worked room by room, area by area, but given that the floor plan is somewhat open, this generally entailed completing large areas at a time. The first coat was sucked into our flooring very quickly and seemed alarmingly uneven in application at first. I was worried that I would end up with lines and areas that were darker than others, and at the close of the first coat, I had a bit of this going on. I found it a little tricky to load my roller in such a way that I could get all the way across flooring areas without having to break and then re-apply the material. This breaking and then re-starting the process left lines that I didn't like. The first coat was also extremely light. I hadn't expected to need three coats, but I found that this was an exactly perfect recommendation for the finish to reach its full color potential. Despite my trepidation about the first coating (applied in the small bedroom so I could have a chance to get used to the product and apply it properly) I followed the recommendations of the company and allowed it to fully dry (they suggest allowing 4-5 hours between coats with a one week full cure time) and then sanded the overlap areas lightly. I found that this removed the glaring overlap nicely. I was also very pleasantly surprised by the application of the second coating. For one thing, it rolled on much more smoothly. The first coat is a work out because your floor is really thirsty and taking in lots of the product. But the first coating also leaves a slightly slick plasticized coating over the wood and the second coating adheres very nicely to this first coating. I found the second coat not only easy to apply, but interesting in that it almost seemed intuitive. By that I mean that the second coat seemed to take more evenly in terms of coloration, layering in more color in the areas that had turned out lighter in the first coat. The third coat was similar in that it was easy to apply, smooth and seemed to coat with a nice regularity. As I applied the material, I got better at loading my roller and not overlapping too much. Where I had slight overlap lines, I tried to lightly coat and then sand gently to avoid stark lines and blend the product. This worked pretty well. I also found that working with the boards as groups to be helpful in applying. I went with the grain for the most part, but found the application perfect going against the grain and across boards as well. The upstairs of the house has sloped ceilings and I had no problem with cross grain application in those areas where I couldn't stand properly or where my roller wouldn't fit except by working across the grain. In fact, it worked extremely well. 

The final coating is white and glows with a faintly warm pink tone that relates to the flooring underneath (southern yellow pine downstairs and western white pine upstairs). The upstairs wood we face nailed and I really like the effect of the slight darkening around the nails with the whitewash overlaid. It's very rustic and cottage-y. Overall, this is a product I would both recommend and plan to use again (that blue is calling out "someday" to me in a not uncertain whisper). Bioshield specializes in non toxic finishes and I felt very comfortable using the product despite the polyurethane. The product contains less than 115 grams of VOC per liter. There is an odor to the product which airs out quickly and I can't detect at all once dried. The resulting surface is slick to the touch and has a lovely lustrous shine to it - light plays beautifully on it. The feel of the floor surface is stronger and sturdier feeling than any of the pre-finished flooring that we've ever bought before. The whitewash effect is perfect for a rustic look or a beach type cottage and the white brightens the room marvelously while allowing nails and knots and other wonders of woodgrain to show through and please the eye. The surface also has a really nice hardness to it. It's definitely sealed. Water and other liquids are totally repelled from the wood and wipe up easily. I am thoroughly pleased. Aside from the slight rigor of the first coating's application (and the tedium of the sanding - which could easily be remedied by renting a large floor sander rather than using the little orbital sander that I did) this was an easy, no fuss and no fear process. Rippling was never a problem, I had a smooth, beautiful application without having to do any more than read the label and follow the directions. 

My only suggestion with this product is to purchase more than is recommended in terms of square footage, especially if you want a lot of color in the flooring. We ordered ten liters to start based on Bioshield's suggestion that the product covers 140-160 square feet per liter. We ended up ordering another five liters and I think once the stairs are done, this will be perfect for our desired look. A more experienced person or someone desiring a lighter color for the finished product might find the manufacturer's recommendation perfect. Further, one should pay attention to the warning by the company to not over-agitate the product prior to application. You are aiming to mix the product gently without shaking it to the point where air bubbles form. Apparently, if you over shake the product, the air bubbles may show up in the floor coating. I was a little nervous about this (the fear of rippling polyurethane runs deep, I suppose) and because the product comes in a squat bottle with a small spout, I wasn't sure how to go about mixing at first. I tried inserting a paint stick into the small spout and this was unsurprisingly a complete failure. I settled on slowly rotating the bottle upside down and in all directions while avoiding actively shaking the material. This worked well. The product should definitely be mixed well before using. If not, you won't get the color and may not get the proper polyurethane mix in the blend either. 

I had a great experience with this product. I loved the quality, the ease of application and the beauty of the final product. I expect that by the feel of the finished floor it will last a good long time. 

Bricor Shower Head Review and Giveaway!

ReviewsJamieComment

The Leader in Low Flow Shower Heads and Water Saving Products.

As many of our readers are aware, we have been “buttoning up” the Beekeeper’s Bungalow over the last couple of weeks. While we’ve had phenomenally dry, truly spectacular weather in this transition to fall time of year, the very thought of showers and water flow of any kind has been somewhat of a verboten subject in our household. However, THE small HOUSE CATALOG was recently given the opportunity to try out a special low flow shower head, the B100 Ultramax, made by the folks at Bricor. This is the kind of shower that I can talk about quite freely and happily and now that the roof is safely on and working well (we had our first light rain shower this afternoon to test it out) I’d really like to share my thoughts with readers about this product. I have to admit that Shawn and I have had overwhelmingly positive results with the B100 Ultramax and love it.

From now until October 15, 2012 we’re hosting a giveaway of one brand new Bricor B100 Max shower head, a sibling of the B100 Ultramax, and a $74.95 value. Please read on for your chance to win and see what you think of this product!

About Bricor’s Most Water Efficient Shower Heads:

B100 Ultramax & B100 Max

The B100 Ultramax is an ultra low flow shower head specially designed for situations like RV’s  - or tiny houses – where you might have only limited water to use at one time. Since we are currently living in our tiny house, an ultra low flow shower head solves a number of needs. For one thing, like most people these days, we are aware and always trying to be more aware of our water usage. Northwest winters are notoriously wet and rainy, but summers are super dry, and this has been a very dry one, and while obviously advantageous and just what you hope for when building, this dryness also gives one pause for thought. With so much of the country in extreme drought, water saving and conservation is something high on most people’s list of environmentally responsible priorities. But our tiny house gives us a further reason to be water conscious; and that’s the importance of being able to take a decently long shower when dealing with a water heater that holds less than 4 gallons of hot water! You read that correctly: less than 4 gallons. In our tiny house, using the B100 Ultramax we enjoy 15 minute showers that use less than 4 gallons of hot water. It’s amazing! Bricor’s patented Vinturi Physics aeration technology makes it feel like you are getting much more water than you actually are. How? By using air to “fluff up” the water and making it spread over a larger area. This means more coverage and a stronger feeling stream. The ultra low flow nature of the Bricor B100 Max (1 GPM) and Ultramax (.5525 GPM) means that anyone can enjoy a long, luxurious hot shower while saving water and not running through a limited quantity of hot water in your RV, tiny house, cottage, or whatever application you are using these shower heads. The B100 Ultramax and B100 Max are small shower heads with plenty of heft. Right away you know they are not plastic. They feel like good tools made to last a lifetime. They’re also handsome with their shiny chrome finishes. Note: If you have different finishes, you can find a variety of finish options available for different Bricor heads. It’s also easy to install these shower heads on any new or existing plumbing: simply unscrew the old water-wasting shower head, if you have one, wrap a little plumber’s tape around the threading of your wall stub-out and screw on the Bricor. You’re ready for your first wonderful low-flow shower!

The Bricor Touch

Something unique and impressive about buying directly from Bricor is that the folks there will help “personalize” your shower head. By that I mean that they will ask you about your particular psi, rather than assuming you have a particular flow rate, so they can “set” the shower head to run most efficiently for your application. You just call your local water department – or find out what your well flows at. For example, our local water department told us that our pressure is 110 psi. We have a pressure reducer installed at our water meter due to high water pressure and this brings our psi down to about 50 to 55. The B100 Ultramax that we tried out is set to flow at .55 gpm (gallons per minute) at 55 psi. Something important to note here is that an ultra low flow shower head will work exceptionally well and will truly reduce your water usage in the shower, but in order to function, you’ve got to pay attention to your psi. If you try to use an ultra low flow shower head set to flow at 1 gpm at 50 psi but your actual psi is 110, you will not have the results you are looking for. I thought this was important to stress because typically when you purchase a shower head, water flow is not primarily on your mind. You might be looking at the style or finish and not give much thought to your psi. That’s all fine and well. Bricor offers a variety of finishes (from chrome to satin nickel and other options in between) for their shower heads, but you’ll definitely want to inform yourself and Bricor of your psi so that the truly special quality of the shower head, that being the water saving ability of the head, can be maximized.

Getting Down to the Dirt…

I had some concerns that a water saving unit might render up the savings either in a maddeningly wimpy flow that leaves you feeling as though you can’t get enough water out of the head to get the soap off or such a lot of air flowing with the water that pressure might feel good but you still can’t get the soap off. The Bricor doesn’t have these problems at all. The flow is strong and “watery.” It’s not so strong that it feels like you are being pelted with nails but there’s no wimpiness to the flow either. It’s just a nice, steady, strong flow that seems balanced perfectly. It’s warm, satisfying and pleasantly effective. I suppose I really feel like I can’t say enough good things about our own Bricor shower head. Bricor offers a simple solution to a problem that in one way or another all of us encounter. For tiny house enthusiasts, RV’ers, and others the B100 Ultramax and other shower heads in Bricor’s ultra low flow category will be a welcome addition to the plumbing because it solves a space related problem of how to take a reasonably long and comfy hot shower while using a necessarily tiny hot water heater. For those living in very arid conditions, or other locations where water is a costly and conserved resource, the B100 Ultramax will provide similar benefits in terms of water conservation more obviously than hot water preservation.  For all of us (and there are many of us now) who are concerned about water as the precious resource that it is, the Bricor series of low flow and ultra low flow shower heads will help you to be a part of the solution to water wastage. You’ll feel better and notice the difference only in your overall water bill rather than in a lowered sense of comfort in the shower.

Bricor Shower Head Giveaway Details:

Tell the world how you enjoy saving water in the comments section below or right at the Bricor posting on Facebook.

It can be any way at all, just share your ideas!

A random comment will be chosen as the winner and we will arrange to ship the shower head to you.

The giveaway contest will end on October 15th at 6 pm pst, so get your comments posted at the end of this blog post or on Facebook ASAP! 

Book Review: “Defiantly Homemade:” A Review of Lloyd Kahn’s Tiny Homes Simple Shelter (Shelter Publications)

ReviewsJamieComment

Tiny Homes Simple Shelter is a newly released (2012) offering from Shelter Publications. It builds on earlier publications from Shelter and deals specifically with small and tiny homes. The homes within the pages of this book will most likely delight you. I noticed that on Amazon.com, the book is in the top 500 sellers in their books department, and it’s easy to see why. Here are some of my impressions from reading the book.

For starters, the size is excellent for the material contained within. It’s a large, coffee table book with soft covers and a size that is just right for perusing with friends or a partner or for spreading out on the couch to enjoy with a cup of tea. Inside there are so many pictures (all color) that it’s a real feast for the senses. Each photo essay – that’s really how they come across – introduces you to  real, living people, frequently just regular people who have, for one reason or another, struck out and built for themselves a tiny or small dwelling space to call their own. The homes vary in size from tiny houses built on trailer beds, trucks, or caravan wagons, to tree houses; from natural cob buildings and veritable hobbit holes to architecturally sleek and ultra modern spaces – and back again – to homes framed entirely from hand collected beach wood, recycled materials and modified-traditional stick framing. In location, you’ll find these homes in British Columbia, Austin, TX, San Francisco, the Arizona desert, in places like Mali and Costa Rica, on islands, even on the road and in the water! The stories vary from person to person, just as you’d hope and expect, and they’re all intriguing. The stories are generally told by the builders themselves and are often set into the photo essays as letters written to Lloyd Kahn and Shelter Publications about various projects.

What other things can I say about this book? In terms of inspiration, it’s worth the price. It’s a beautiful looking book and is positively hefty in terms of idea generation, enjoyment and interest. You’ll learn a lot reading it or just studying the photos, and you’ll certainly see things you hadn’t even thought of before! The layout has an interesting, organic feel thanks to a good balance of text and photos, photos being dominant and text being varied in terms of individual writers and scenarios being described. I can’t say how many times I simply felt happy while reading these intriguing stories of people who’ve done what a lot of us imagine doing (and sometimes are doing ourselves)…taking a dream and hammering or otherwise molding that dream into a physical form and then enjoying the fruits of that labor. Many of the stories have similar threads, whether written by a woman in her early 20’s or a man in his 60’s, or even a whole group of people. From the unique homes that ooze personal expression as well as pride of craftsmanship, there’s a strong do-it-yourself energy that emanates from the pages. Authors repeatedly mention the freedom that results from plunging into self-building and from coming up with creative methods to allow more time for personal interests while simultaneously fulfilling two of the basic necessities of humanity: shelter and creative expression. Really, the two go hand in hand and nowhere is that better expressed than in the photos of real projects by real people.

Another reason I can heartily recommend this title is that it would appeal to a broad spectrum of readers. The contents are not strictly high-end architectural works or storybook tree houses; they’re not all tiny spaces that many might have a hard time imagining themselves raising a family in for instance. The homes contained in the pages of this book are tremendously unique. You won’t find any cookie cutter homes in any sense of the word. There’s a fine introduction to dozens of ways of doing the same things: learning to build, building, and loving the end results. If you are like me, you will quickly wonder what new things have happened to these builders. I found that to be my only real issue with the book; the stories seem to request a supplemental publication revisiting these homes and the people who built them. Some of the essays do in fact do that although I found myself sometimes wishing to know more about the people doing the building. I can certainly say that it was pleasant to feel that there is – and really always has been – a community of people from all walks of life, from all over the planet, answering the fundamental questions of What is a good shelter and What is a home in their own, “defiantly homemade” way. That this book has been compiled is a real treat for those of us who sometimes feel out of place or vastly outnumbered in our opinions regarding what we seek in our housing requirements. Sometimes it’s just a nice thing to read about creative, ingenious people that are just like anyone else out there. Maybe they’re a little further along the path than we might be in our own personal building projects, but there’s much to be said for trailblazers.

This is a book I highly recommend. It will appeal to builders, building enthusiasts, small home and tiny home champions, fans of alternative building and ecological building & living, people considering downsizing or wanting to build a smaller space for whatever reason, as well as homegrown DIY’s that love an engaging read that makes us feel like we’re all are part of the solution. All ages will enjoy this one too. I can confidently recommend this book to all sorts of people as well because no one “style” is represented; from earthy to modern, it’s all in the book. It seems as though every taste is expressed and no judgments are made. There are all sorts of building methods represented; timber frame, stick built, cob, and straw bale all make the pages. From an anthropological perspective, what a great peek inside the minds of so many interesting people this book is. You get a little introduction to lots of cool people who are just going out and simply doing it, and doing well as a result. I found this book a wonderful antidote to the evening news. What a nice way to spend a night…leafing through a compendium of smiling faces and great stories.

I’d like to close this review by saying one other thing. Aside from the great stories and structures, the thing that most strikes me about this book is the particular quality of the smiles on the faces of the builders represented. There’s a giddy sort of excitement in the smiles that I recognize from personal experience. It’s kind of a cross between happy pride, settled hilarity, contentment and exhilaration. I love the smiles in this book. Give this book as a gift – to yourself or others.

Technical details:
Title: Tiny Homes Simple Shelter: Scaling Back in the 21st Century
Author: Lloyd Kahn
Publisher/Year of Publication: Shelter Publications, 2012
ISBN: 978-0936070-52-0
224 pages, 9” x 12”
List Price: $24.95 list price

You can purchase this fantastic book online from Shelter Publications or Amazon.com.

Product Review: The Max Burton 6200 Deluxe 1800-Watt Induction Cooktop

ReviewsJamieComment
max burton.jpg

This stovetop was chosen primarily for space saving features (it’s a single burner) and for portability. We often cook when we travel so we thought this stove would both work for our little kitchen and also be a useful tool when needing a portable stove. The unit is somewhat large for a single burner stove but the sensor in the unit allows this unit to service different sized pots and pans. That for me was a big plus over our little hotplate. That unit was impossible to put a big saute pan on as the outer edges hung over the burner and would never get hot. This unit solves that problem.

While this unit has been a real plus in terms of allowing me to do all the stovetop cooking I need to do in a small space, there are actually a couple drawbacks to it. It’s a noisy unit. The fan in the device comes on every time you use it. You get used to the sound but it’s definitely a force to be reckoned with, kind of like a noisy fan. That’s the big drawback. Secondly, depending on what kind of cookware you use, an induction model can be a drawback in that only ferrous materials will work on it. That means cast iron, enameled or otherwise, and various types of (usually) higher end stainless steel covered cookware. In my case, most of my cookware was compatible with the unit so it wasn’t an issue. If you consider induction, read about whether your current cast of pots and pans will function on it, though. And a word to the would be wise from one who learned…not all stainless steel pots and pans, even expensive ones, work on this unit! And some cheap pans will surprise you. My water bath canner, a simple black enameled model, worked perfectly. So do your homework and rejoice in your accumulated knowledge of pot and pan materials.

Pluses to this unit include that it’s a single burner model that both saves space and also self adjusts to the size of the pan you are using allowing you to efficiently use several sized pots and pans. It’s energy efficient. It heats things super quickly although only requiring a 110 outlet. The burner top cools down almost immediately despite warnings to the contrary. This unit cleans up beautifully and easily. Things do not burn on to the surface of this induction model in the same way that they do on glass top stoves, which is a real plus in my book. My prior experiences trying to clean stuff off a regular glass top stove had me wishing I was substantial enough to pick up and hurl the stove out the nearest window. This unit preserves my mental peace and requires no questionable chemicals to remove residue from its surface. All in all, this has been a good fit for our needs. It’s a compact enough unit and I like the way things cook on it. I expect most induction units would have similar pluses and minuses but overall, I consider this one of the appliances that has been helpful to me in the tiny kitchen!

Product Review: The Steibel Eltron SHC 4 Point of Use Water Heater

ReviewsJamieComment

The Steibel Eltron SHC 4 Point of Use Water Heater

Used in the FreeShare Tiny House 

Used in the FreeShare Tiny House 

This is the second water heater by Steibel Eltron that we have purchased. Stiebel Eltron is a German company and we used an on demand electric model at our self built home in Maine. They’re great machines by a quality company. When we moved into our tiny home, we needed a small water heating unit and originally went with a Bosch-Ariston GL6, which had very good reviews online. It leaked. It was replaced with another one. It leaked too. The design of the model we had just wasn’t great. We opted to return the bad heater and went back to the German made Stiebel Eltron, but in a (less than) four gallon size that fits underneath our counter tops and supplies us with a perfect amount of very hot water. The Stiebel-Eltron SHC 4 heats rapidly, noiselessly, and has a very sensitive temperature gage that lets you control how hot your water gets. It can get very hot, there are no problems with cold showers. Four gallons sounds like a very small amount of hot water, but the tank reheats in less than half an hour (it has a light that lets you know when it is actively heating). For showering comfort, we combined this water heating unit with an ultra low flow shower head from Bricor (.5 gals/min) and we are able to take nearly 15 minute showers, if we so desire. It’s a great combo and highly recommended. There are no leaks associated with the Steibel Eltron because all the water hook ups are on top of the unit rather than on the side, as with the Bosch unit. It’s also built well (and surprisingly in the EU).

I would recommend this as an area to seriously examine design as water leaks are very demoralizing, particularly if you want to have a hot shower to wash your stress away. The Stiebel Eltron has been a real winner for us in this new application. The 4 gallon unit doesn’t have a tremendous energy demand either, although if you are using a 20 or 30 amp service, like us, you might want to give it its own line of electricity. We originally hooked up the oven and the water heater on the same circuit and had the breaker pop, so we rewired. Just a thought if the situation applies to you!

Product Review: Haier Space-Saving Portable Compact Electronic 1 Cubic Foot Top Load Washer HLP21N

ReviewsJamieComment

For a unit with an incredibly long name, this is a super small unit with a great deal of ‘oomph’ to it. It fits into our kitchen right next to the refrigerator and underneath the shelving where we keep plates and our oven. It’s top loading and you can actually fit much more than a shirt or two in there. I routinely wash a pair of jeans or two with undies, socks, and a few tee shirts. No problems. The bathroom rug throws it off balance and usually needs to be shaken a bit before it goes through its cycle, but sometimes it does just fine. You can wash a reasonable amount of clothing at a time and what is best of all about this unit is that it functions like most of the HE models that are on the market these days. It spins out a tremendous amount of the washing water. And you can set it to run small, medium or large loads and can also adjust for normal, light, or heavy soil levels/wash times.

The unit is somewhat noisy, but really no more so than a regular front loading washer. It doesn’t bounce around (unless badly overbalanced, and that’s human error rather than machine dysfunction). Clothing comes out clean and well laundered. I do not use a dryer but this particular model comes with a matching dryer. Both units run on a 110, which is very handy for a number of reasons. I really like this washer. I’ve used HE front loading washers at two of the last homes we’ve lived in, one by GE and one by Frigidaire, and liked both. I find this one to be in some senses even better in terms of the amount of water spun out. It’s a great little machine. I would recommend the dryer if you have the space, especially if you don’t have space or the time to air dry. We live in a rainy climate and there are times a dryer would be very handy. So far, this hasn’t been a big problem, but consider your needs when designing.

For air-drying you might consider an accordion-style drying rack for, say, a tiny bathroom or utility room, even a porch. Also, the IKEA octopus is an inexpensive (about $6) way to dry socks, diapers, undies and more.

I would highly recommend Haier’s little washer. We chose it over all-in-one units (the combo washer/dryer) based on an abundance of negative reviews we’ve seen regarding units like that. I don’t have any first hand experience with units that combine both washing and drying, but if you share that concern, this Haier model is another very impressive, very space saving unit. Our unit is completely installed but the unit comes on casters and can actually be wheeled in and out of closets, if needed.

Product Review: The LG Refrigerator #LRBP1031W

ReviewsJamieComment

Don’t be fooled by the romantic name of this fridge. The LRBP1031W is a fantastic fridge and a small one at that. We really debated refrigerators. We do a huge amount of gardening, so a lot of our food is coming fresh out of the garden. In that sense, we don’t need a huge fridge. We couldn’t fit one in if we wanted to, anyway. On the other hand, we cook from scratch, eat mostly at home, and need a real refrigerator. No matter how much you grow in the garden, a fridge is an important part of the kitchen. A small dorm style unit would have been very space conserving but just wouldn’t have suited our needs. We chose this one after seeing it “in person” at a friend’s beach cabin. It’s tall and narrow with a bottom freezer. The freezer has three deep drawers which are very convenient for stacking and storing. We have a ton of berries in the freezer right now and there’s still room for many other things as the cubic storage seems to really save on space. There’s also a quick freeze drawer at the top where we keep ice packs and ice trays. For ice cream fans (and I only mention this because it’s SO important), the freezer drawer will fit the Kitchen Aid ice cream bowl. You have to tilt and jostle it a bit, but what matters is that in the end, you can store it in there!

The top refrigerator section is spacious. It has three drawers, three shelves and the door has ample space for tall things (including wine bottles), a butter (or whatever) box, egg tray, and little shelves ranged in size for storage of smaller items. I’ve found this a great size fridge. It’s not too small for anything. And the unit itself is not humongous, so we are able to tuck it into the kitchen and it really works!

Another thing that I love about this refrigerator is that it’s incredibly quiet. If, for you, the sound of a humming refrigerator is at all annoying, imagine what a problem this could become in a very small space. The LG is truly quiet. I rarely if ever register its sound. I love this refrigerator. Great purchase.

If I can also plug a bit for LG’s customer service, I feel compelled to do so. When we unpacked this refrigerator and installed it, the seal around the door had been wrinkled in transit and wasn’t sealing the fridge door. After waiting a week or so without success to see if the seal would uncoil itself and work properly, we called LG to ask them to please send a new seal out to us. This they could not do. However, they sent a whole new refrigeratorout to us, no charge, no questions asked! They merely asked us to send in the sticker on the side of the unit with the model and serial numbers. We thought the response was excessive but obviously more than satisfactory. I would have preferred, truthfully, that they just send the seal, since it was all that was required, but in terms of good responses and willingness to fix a mistake, LG really impressed me with their commitment to customer service. Having done a fair amount of building and remodeling over the years has given me a certain (over) familiarity with the process of sometimes needing manufacturers to honor warranties. LG is far and away the most honorable company I’ve worked with in that regard. I’ll definitely recommend them.

All told, the refrigerator speaks for itself, anyway: It’s quiet, very well designed, attractive, and super functional, all in a smaller package that doesn’t skimp on quality. This is a great refrigerator. By the way, it comes in white and a stainless style finish.

Product Review: The Breville Smart Oven

ReviewsJamie

I actually got this deluxe toaster oven after three failed attempts at a Kitchen Aid toaster. The Kitchen Aid toaster was the first “fancy” toaster I ever bought, and it was terrible. It broke three times, from the same defect, in a three year period and after the third replacement, I decided to let Kitchen Aid keep its overpriced, defective toaster and opted to try something new. Knowing we were about to move into a smaller space and being keen on having the ability to use a smaller oven for smaller portions anyway, I looked into toaster ovens and eventually settled on the Breville Smart Oven. It toasts bread (and bagels!), roasts, broils, bakes, has a pizza setting and a few other settings as well. You can easily adjust all the functions and it has a convection setting that can be turned off and on depending on what you are baking. I am an avid cook and baker and bake all my own breads.I was walking the other day and started thinking about how homes listed for sale are described in print. I was specifically thinking of the way that you sometimes see homes listed as including Five Appliances. (Sometimes you see numeric variations on this theme, but five is a number I see a lot). Anyway, I began thinking about our home and what appliances it contains…since it’s a home under 200 square feet, I was considering which of our appliances have made it a resoundingly pleasant 200 square feet to live in. To celebrate the end of our first year in our little house, which coincides nicely with the end of 2011, I’ve compiled a list of the Five Appliances that I think have contributed to a successful year living in a small space. If you are considering outfitting a small space, be it house, travel trailer, in-law apartment, or just a smaller sized kitchen, I hope you will find this useful.

We also routinely bake pizzas in this oven. The pizza function is nice. I have a thirteen inch baking stone that I like to bake pizzas on and this stone does fit into this oven. Barely, but it does if I want it to, and the door closes fully. Wow. That’s amazing! You can also choose to bake on the pizza pan that comes included with the oven. The pizza setting includes subsettings for frozen or fresh dough/pizzas and has an inbuilt time and temperature suggestion for each variety that you can easily adjust according to your own preferences.My biggest concern about moving into a small space was being limited to a large toaster oven for all my baking needs. But I’ve been really pleasantly surprised by the Breville. I can fit two two pound loaves of sourdough bread into the oven at a time to bake (though they come out more perfectly shaped when I cook them one at a time). The oven can hold 450 degrees beautifully, and while the baking space is indeed snug for two big loaves, they bake evenly and turn out beautifully. There’s no steam injection, but tossing a bit of water in the base works well to give me a lovely, caramelized crust and I’ve been really happy with the way this oven has performed.

Broiling works beautifully as does baking and roasting. The bagel setting I have not used, but I use the toast setting every day. I like that you can choose to toast 2-6 slices at a range of darkness, depending on what you like. You can adjust the oven rack to various heights inside the oven, which is handy if you are baking bread or other tall items like whole squash. I can’t say much against this little workhorse. It’s much more pricey than a toaster oven, but in this case, you aren’t buying a toaster oven so much as a small oven. This has been an excellent investment. It functions beautifully on every setting, it’s quiet and small and attractive with a stainless finish. It’s sturdily built and in a year and a half of at least once daily usage, I haven’t had a single problem with the machine.

I give this gem a five star rating. I think the Breville Smart Oven would suit a variety of people’s needs and can’t recommend it highly enough.