THE small HOUSE CATALOG

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Tim Sherno: I Want To Build This Small Home But Not For Me, For Everyone Else

THE small HOUSE CATALOGComment

The Ladder House

“You have to heat the whole house ‘ya know, not just the rooms you use.” My 16 year old whacks me with a big learning moment. “Same goes for A.C.” (Dang it -he’s right!) (Again.) (This is happening way too often.) That moment was the beginning of this journey. 

Fast forward through a bunch’a learning moments a lot’a research and a heap'a reading a ton’a soul search and just plain searching PLUS something a co-worker said in passing one day and -wammo' the idea of small got big. Huge in fact. HUUUGE. 

What was said in passing? “I don’t think I’ll be able to afford a house until I’m 40.”  The person who said this was 25 at the time. Imagine being 25 and saying that! Imagine being the parent of a 25 year old and hearing that!  

Fact: In 2013 when the average college undergraduate was handed their diploma they were greeted by $30,000 (1) in debt as they left the stage. Congratulations! Welcome to the real world. 

Oh and there’s this: According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the average starting salary for the graduating class of 2013 was $45,327 a year. Ouch! Good luck with that. 

Keep in mind that these young folks are paying rent as they pay off their college dept. How much of that rent money are they ever going to see again? None of it. Any tax breaks from rent? Nope. It’s worse than that. There are different income to debt ratios used to qualify for a home loan -none of them exactly favorable to the income debt ratio described above. (Banker: How much student debt do you have? Oh! Goodness me! Well ok then, how much do you earn? I’m sorry, could you repeat that? That’s what I thought you said. Here’s a free pen. Have a nice day.”) 

So there's debt and salary and one more fact...  it feels like piling on, but what the heck! Fact: The average home price in the United States in 2013 was$265,000. (3) 

What about that $265k house? Here comes the biggie. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average house (or median house, I get the two mixed up all the time) in 2012 was 2,306 square feet and climbing! (4)  I think it’s safe to assume it’s actually larger than 2,306. I won’t quibble. Yes we could have a spirited discussion about wether or not anyone really needs that much house but it would be purely academic because most recent college graduates can’t afford that much house so the debate would be like arguing over riding english or western on a unicorn. (I’d say western, that’d be cool!) 

Things have changed. I bought my first house in my 20’s and it endures as the single best financial decision I’ve ever made. It started me on my way, saved me money on my taxes every year and actually made me money when I cashed in the equity earned by good old #1 to buy #2, and #3 and so on. The American dream looks like a house but in reality it’s not a house at all, it’s a ladder. A ladder that helps young people climb into the middle class, save money and years from now retire.  

The problem is that the lowest rung on the ladder is out of reach for too many young people just starting out. 

Previous generations graduated from college and started saving to reach that lowest rung, but that’s not what’s happening now. Now recent grads are using what could be home-downpayment-money to pay off existing college debt while at the same time pouring money down the drain in rent. “I won’t be able to afford a house until I’m 40.” (Oh, I get it now.) (6) 

Simply put; students are graduating with higher debt, starting salaries haven’t kept pace to help balance that debt and houses are bigger and cost more. 

There’s only one way out of this mess and the best part is, it comes with a lot of upside.

If you can’t make the budget fit the house then make the house fit the budget. In other words, create a new lower reachable rung on the housing ladder. That’s the idea behind The Ladder House. A house designed to be affordable, designed to be beautiful and inviting, and one of the biggest design features isn’t visible in the plans. What is it? 

Drumroll. Flash of light. The answer is: a mortgage. (Blink) (Crickets) Mortgage? Boring. Yes, but follow along. Financing a home with a traditional mortgage comes with a several financial benefits (a.k.a. money bennies.) Like what? The mortgage interest deduction, a financial vehicle to build credit, equity and the promise of a return on investment. Hmm, not so boring. The Ladder House is a permanent home and so it’s eligible for a mortgage with all the money bennies included. But there’s more.

The design itself features two private bedroom floors (top and bottom) each with a full bathroom. Between the private bedroom floors is a shared living space with a full kitchen. The three-floor plan creates the option for an occupant/owner to have a renter who helps further reduce monthly out of pocket expenses.  

And because the house is small and well insulated energy costs are squeezed down from slurps to sips.  

Now include state of the art electronics that allow all lighting, appliances, heating and cooling, everything to be operated and adjusted with an app and you end up with a house that serves people, not the other way around. 

Turning a house into a home. The concept is exciting, but that doesn’t mean anything if the house itself isn’t enticing. The good news —just look at it! The Ladder House is a knock-out. Ample natural light, space planning that apportions square footage according to use not tradition, a clever kitchen that doubles as home base, lighting throughout the house that creates different mood/use zones. It’s worth saying again, “a house that serves people, not the other way around.”

Now consider the additional savings that come from building multiple units on a housing development scale —the result is a real, viable, brand new lower rung on that ladder that leads to the American Dream. A community of Ladder Homes. 

To share a vision you have to have something to show people and that’s the immediate goal of The Ladder House.  Build one. Put people in it. Let other people see people living in it. Let those other people go back to their bosses and investors and tell them what they’ve seen and hopefully get one of those investors to work with a forward thinking bank and create the first community of homes designed to help young people reach the American Dream. 

I offer heartfelt thanks to Shawn Dehner, he’s the guy who designed The Ladder House from the basement up. (7) Additional applause for Shawn for creating and hosting this website to help advance the small-house movement. (8) Finally a full-on standing ovation for Shawn for making designs available for free. 

I want to believe that 20 years from now small starter homes will be everywhere and recent grads and recent retirees will live side by side and enjoying the benefits of smaller living. When that day comes the only question left to ask will be, “What took us so long?”  

That will be then, this is now and someone has to be first.  If you’re reading this then you’re already part of this movement, heck, you may be considering re-sizing (right-sizing) your life. (9) People say it’s liberating. I’ll let you know. Thanks for reading. Good luck building. 

 

FOOTNOTES. (Footnotes?) Yes, footnotes!! 

(1) Look it up yourself, there are tons of sources on this one. 

(2) National Association of Colleges and Employers website.

(3) U.S. Census Bureau.   

(4) More Census Bureau. 

(5) Oh right! Retirement. Imagine how much easier retirement would be if it included the option of a smaller more affordable, more efficient, lower maintenance house? 

(6) And keep in mind it’s the same problem for young people who don’t go to college. And single moms or dads. And the newly divorced. Or widowed. 

(7) Shawn is the guy who designed all the houses on this site. He’s talented. Nice. And a visionary. 

(8) Don’t say ‘tiny-house,’ they're on wheels and can’t be mortgaged. I say ‘right-sized-house.’

(9) I tend to write a lot. Sorry, but it’s been building up in me for a while.  

Island House: Plumbing, Wiring, Insulation

Island HouseJamie4 Comments

The weather is outside now!

Lots of AFCI breaker required in the latest code update. Costs have jumped from about $8 per breaker to $50 or more, staggering.

A lot of time has passed since our last progress report and it’s time to update. I don’t know exactly how I got so out of date with my blog entries on the subject, since progress on the house is all I really think about!

Here’s what we’ve been doing. Plumbing rough in, wiring rough in, priming and painting siding, seeing the insulation installed, mostly siding the garage and having the propane tank installed, putting up the furring strips for the wiring chase inside and continuing with preparation for the all important electrical inspection.

The plumbing rough in is basically done. We are going to have it inspected shortly, along with the insulation. Just a little more abs pipe to hook upin the kitchen. We did an inside water test and all the Pex lines are holding their water!  No leaks, no problems. We bought a little thing called a “test ball” for our DWV (Drain, Waste and Vents) test and will be able to have that done shortly. We hooked up the septic system to the power source and were delighted to hear it humming along pumping - it has been in ground for 6 years so we were a little anxious about it even though people told us not to be. (Why do we tell each other not to worry about things that are nearly impossible not to worry about?).

We spent four days working outside while our insulation was being done. Our insulation consists of a “flash and batt” method where a few inches of spray foam are put in and then covered over with Knauf Eco-Batts, which we used on the Beekeeper’s and like very much. The house is warmer already, feels wonderful! The first two days we worked from home as the spray foam was going in and the roar of the generator was too loud (and we were in the way). We had to suddenly move out of our rental (story started badly but ended well) and thankfully the spray foaming coincided well with this inconvenience. When we got back on site, we worked outdoors for a few days hanging the siding I spent the previous week priming and painting with my new Wagner power paint sprayer. That was a fabulous tool. I am generally a hand painter, and still prefer trim painting by hand, but the siding is an enormous project and I was incredibly pleased with the way the simple little gadget worked. I’ll be reviewing it shortly and will leave further comments till then. We had the siding ready and painted and needed to side the garage so that the propane tank could be installed. The siding is 8 inch cedar bevel and looks gorgeous. The yellow is rich and sunny, a perfect antidote to a dark day. Today the skies grew heavy and gray, poured rain for a couple of hours. The brightness of the garage was a joy to see though the kitchen windows, it actually made me feel happy just seeing it out there. I heartily suggest painting your house yellow if you live in a northern clime. The siding is easy to work with, very light weight. When time and weather permit, we will hang the rest of what we have on the house and probably finish up in the Spring time as we don’t have enough siding on hand and the weather is slipping into non painting weather. Still and all, never in our builds have we managed to get to siding at all in the first year, so this feels like a great accomplishment!

We have now returned to wiring work. Shawn has almost all of the wire drawn through the house and taken to the panel. This week he will work on cleaning up and tying up the box. It’s somewhat difficult this time around as the electrical code has changed and now requires AFCI (Arc Fault Circuit Interruptors) on every 20 amp circuit that serves habitable space. Not only are these AFCI’s expensive, but sometimes they have to be combined with a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interruptor). It’s different than our last wiring work and somewhat complicated by the fact that our island resources for these circuits don’t exist and so we have to order online. That’s not generally a problem, but sometimes during a project it takes getting into it to realize what you’ve forgotten to order. Plumbing jobs are famous for this Murphy’s Law related issue, and this electrical job should experience the effects of a heightened Murphy’s Law as island resources are limited. Tomorrow Shawn will assess his requirements to the best of his ability and see what else he needs. A fair amount he’s already ordered, so at least a solid start can be made. Today we had a short day and finished installing the wiring chase/furring strips for drywall installation and also installed the hangers for recessed lighting throughout most of the house. Tomorrow we are going to drop the ceiling slightly in the kitchen and install the remainder of them.

We’re also having someone come and give us a bid on helping us to install the siding on the dormers. We have tried getting up there to do the papering and the siding of them and it is nearly impossible for us as it involves constantly going up and down to do the cutting and with our limited tools for working at heights, this is a real nightmare. We’ll see what he thinks of the job (sounded enthusiastic when he heard it was a small job and he only works with cedar, so so far so good) and hopefully this can be done shortly. We felt a good sense of relief at the idea of just hiring this work out, it was one of the last areas where work at heights was going to pose some real problems for us and slow us down immensely. Some jobs are definitely worth hiring out to professionals. You simultaneously support the locally skilled economy and save yourself a ton of time and stress.

The next two weeks will include finishing electrical and calling for inspection (hopefully not this Wednesday but the following), having our final plumbing and mechanical inspection, and having our insulation inspection. Then we can move on to preparing for temporary occupancy, ordering/installing plumbing fixtures, drywall and finally flooring. We are aiming for a move in date of December 1st. Let’s see how we do. We’ve got about 50 days to go.

Thanks as always for reading along...

Island House: finished roof, windows and doors

Island HouseShawn A. Dehner9 Comments

This week we saw our roof assembly completed and not too soon as our seasonal rain pattern has started establishing itself. For now we're still enjoying some sunshine, if cooler, and this has allowed us to make progress on getting the cedar bevel siding painted so we'll be able to install it as the season gets colder; crisp, sunny days will be great weather for hanging siding.

In addition, this week we'll finish the rough-in plumbing and electrical.

With our roof shingling completed and Marvin Integrity black windows installed we're finally closed-in.

The clipped gables take on their own appeal now that the roofing assembly is finished.

Jamie has been enjoying the unexpected sunshine and cool temperatures. She's been busy priming and painting the cedar bevel siding and she's nearly done!

Plenty of southern exposure for our French doors.

The Asian influence on the Ladybug House. Looks like a Samurai's helmet!

 

How I did my own 200-AMP Service Connection, Part 1

Island HouseShawn A. Dehner2 Comments

Not all home electrical service entrance requirements are the same. In the past I've simply had electrical meters professionally installed directly to my houses. However, out here on the island, my meter sits over 150 feet away from my house, on a post, inside a meter box, with its own breakers and an emergency shut off, whew... . 

Truth be told, I wanted to have my service connection installed by a licensed electrician but when I got bids ranging from $1000-10,000 I thought the universe, and definitely my local economy, was telling me to visit the local library. With a couple of books, the internet, and some carefully queried advice from a local electrician from whom I bought some of my equipment, I was able to complete my service connection all by myself. It was my first one, had its physical trials and code-infused confusion, but I must have done a good job because I not only passed my initial inspection but had the local power company come out to photograph the work to share as an example for others.

As I mentioned, the work wasn't easy; there were plenty of irritating moments, muddy wet socks, sweat, mistakes, and a few choice words. But it wasn't so bad I'd never do it again (if my wife agrees, she did half the wire pulling!). Now that all's said and done I think the money saved was well worth the short bit of effort and time invested.

So what was needed?

  1. A permit from Labor & Industries.
  2. A backhoe, on site from my foundation work, and a shovel to dig the 18" deep trench.
  3. 2-1/2" schedule 40 grey PVC conduit, couplings, elbows, lock nuts, bushings, and PVC cement, installed underground between my service panel and interior breaker panel.
  4. 4/0-4/0-4/0 aluminum service entry (SE) wire fed thru the conduit connecting the two panels.
  5. 2/0 encased ground wire also fed thru the conduit grounding both panels together, to the ground rods (see below), and the UFER ground inside the house.
  6. 5/8" galvanized ground rods (2) driven into the ground and attached to my outdoor service panel with unsheathed copper grounding wire and acorn ground rod nuts.
  7. 200 AMP service panel with shut off.
  8. Unistruts
  9. Anything else I forgot to mention!

Stay with me. Next time I'll walk you through how I did it and how to make it a little easier for yourself than I did for myself and my wife. In the meantime, why not get reading!

Your library is your electrician

I utilized a couple of electrical books from the library, mostly Wiring a House by Rex Cauldwell, which was decent for this aspect of electrical work, and a surprisingly well illustrated edition of The Complete Guide to Home Wiring by Black & Decker. The best resource was straight from my local power co-op, OPALCO. Their Meter & Meterbase Specification Pamphlet was superb and I highly recommend anyone considering a similar undertaking inquire about any available literature from their local power company. 

You might also consider the latest pocket edition of the NEC as well as Code Check Electrical

The internet was mediocre at best as most of my searches yielded board conversations. But it offered some modest value.

Disclaimer: Although all of the electrical work performed was inspected by Labor & Industries for safety, I'm not a licensed electrician. Anyone considering doing any DIY electrical work should be well read on the subject and obtain the required permits and inspections.

Forty-six sheets of plywood this week

Jamie

It was a great week to be working on the roof. A lot of sunny days, and enough threat of rain in the forecast to keep our motivation alive - as if not having a roof on your house wasn’t motivation enough! We got plywood laid all the way to the ridge line on the north and south sides of the house except where the dormers are. It lined up beautifully and was surprisingly easy to install for us. The actual work requiring Shawn to be out on the plywood deck wasn’t so bad and he was pleased with how comfortable he was using his ropes to move about on a ten pitch roof. That was a pleasant surprise. Much of the roofing we were able to do from the inside out, sliding the plywood sheets up and into position from the inside, nailing as much as possible from the inside and only using the rope and/or harness when some of the nailing had to be done. All in all, a smooth and satisfying process.

We also moved on to building out the walls for both dormers and got them sheathed with plywood, which really makes the house start to look more like it does in our minds. The reality is starting to match the design pictures.

We also installed the final four eave brackets, cut, primed and painted all the merge and barge rafters for the north and south dormers and got the south dormer trim rafters installed and a even start made on the decking of them. Today was a rainy day so I painted in the garage while Shawn nailed on the fascia board for the south rafter and began decking the eaves until he was too soggy to keep at it. Tomorrow we’ll arrive on site with the north dormer barge and merge rafters primed, painted and ready to install. I even have ready several more pieces of eave decking. Hopefully I’ve primed and painted enough so that can be a finished part of the project.

We are now in the process of figuring out how to go about step flashing the dormers, it turns out that we may not install the barge rafter trim till we have the house roofed, which is sort of a shame as the dormer will look incomplete till then. However, with September approaching, we hope to be getting the go ahead to have the roofing done very shortly.

Tomorrow we will be back at it, and hope to complete the sheathing of the roof this week. It will feel good to be able to call the roofers for a heads up and get ready for our framing inspection.

Hope you’ll check in again next week and thanks for reading!

A small house roof can be BIG!

Jamie

It’s been a couple of weeks since our last progress report. The week after our last update was productive, but actually hindered a couple of days due to sorely needed rainfall. Forest fire threats are still high across the Pacific Northwest and the drought is very real, so while this rainfall can’t put a sizable dent in our water woes, it was still welcome, even if it rained us out of work at the site. Still and all, it was a week with a lot of painting and trim and detail work coming together nicely. In order to begin the plywood sheathing of our roof, we had to build out the merge and barge rafters on our roof assembly and complete the short rafters for the clipped gables on the east and west ends of the house. These then needed priming and painting. The need for the pieces of the assembly to be primed and painted before installation meant that we were often measuring and cutting one day but installing the next, so the going felt a little slow at times, though really it wasn’t. Among other painting chores, Shawn gave me a big pile of 1 x 4 decking to prime and paint. This is the material that decks the eaves over the rafter tails and is visible from inside, so I was very busy with priming and painting all week. We both love the way the contrasting colors look, and the yellow and red have really turned out beautifully.

We also used this decking to cover the front porch entrance, which we completed this week with the exception of decorative barge rafters which will be installed shortly. The last couple of days have been a flurry of progress. Progress often seems to come this way…you prep and prep and prep and all of a sudden are able to move ahead strongly as a result. Shawn did all the decking over the rafter tails and trimmed all the way up the merge and barge rafters. He also decked the clipped gable. While he was doing this work, I got the paint on the garage trim. I will just say that there is great wisdom in painting your trim work before installing it. Time restrictions prevented our doing this on the garage and it is far trickier to neatly paint in place. My neck is still singing a song about the strange angles I pressed it into. However, the main painting is done and there are just a few clean ups to do. What a nice difference.

Yesterday we started installing the plywood on the roof itself. This has felt wonderful. The last couple of days have been quite hot, and so far this summer we have always seemed to have to do our work with plywood on the hottest days. The good news about this hot weather plywood work is that it provided shade for us very quickly. While a bit slow going to get started, we are now moving ahead quickly and expect to make more great progress this week. Another positive thing has been that Shawn has become quite a bit more comfortable with working on the roof. Much of our sheathing we are doing from the inside out, but the large sheets of plywood require Shawn to climb out on the roof and finish the nailing work. He is really pleased to be using a pneumatic nailer as this gives him a free hand for holding on to plywood or his rope and makes the whole process of standing out on the roof quite bearable.

So this week’s work will include finishing the plywood work on the roof, then building the dormer walls, cutting, painting and installing the dormer merge and barge rafters, and then sheathing the dormers with plywood. There are some other odds and ends to tie up, but this will remain the focus of our week’s work. That the roof is going on is almost too good a feeling to put into words. Granted, it’s not papered or shingled, but it’s not completely open to the sky, either. And seeing the roof going on really seems to give proper shape to the house, it’s starting to look more like the pictures.

Hope you’ll join us for another update soon!

San Juan Island Small House Update

Shawn A. Dehner

Today is a very strange day because I am at home for the day…the first day in ages I haven’t been on the building site. We are at a transitional point in our build and must take some time to build the eave bracket components of the roof assembly. There are twelve to build so it will take a couple or three days to do it. Frankly, we are having a west coast heat wave and it’s not such a bad thing to be able to work from home in the shade, so that’s what we’re doing.

This week we wrapped up some various projects. Shawn did a tremendous amount of blocking, installing bird blocking (no holes drilled yet, but all installed and waiting final preparations) and also blocking the entire first floor. I did a lot of caulking and air sealing while Shawn was installing 1 ¼” 20 gauge metal strapping over the rafters to tie the rafters to the ridge (performing a function similar to collar ties in that it prevents uplift). This was a preferred method for us as it will allow us to have unbroken bays for insulation. We also built dummy rafter tails and installed them under the north and south dormers. Dummy rafter tails are non structural but important aesthetically as they allow the rafter tails to continue on despite the fact that the actual structural rafter tails only appear above the dormer (where they are performing). Once those were in, it was time for me to apply their two coats of primer in preparation for painting later this summer. I needed to do this before we install the decking over them and it becomes too hard to do. We ordered the ⅝” plywood sheathing for the roof, though it will be a bit before we can install that. We also have the eave decking on order and will get that into place once the brackets are built, primed, painted and installed. This week we also built the gable end walls, installed the second floor plywood up to the point where we can put the brackets on. It was so amazingly easy to do with a framing nailer that I found myself thinking the absolutely bizarre thought that putting up plywood sheathing was fun. The building being square made the installation easy and straightforward and it’s nice to have things getting closed in upstairs. Lastly, we visited a local cedar and fir mill and officially placed an order for the materials for the pergolas and the front entrance. Building these will be an exciting and enjoyable (and very useful) experience. We think the wood is going to be just beautiful and amazing!  The cedar pergola timbers will be gorgeous - can’t wait to see them!

It feels as though we did a lot of little things this week. It’s awfully strange to be at home for a few days but nice to catch up on component building in the shade at our rental.

More to come next week…hope that you will join us again.

San Juan Island Small House Update

THE small HOUSE CATALOG

It seems like the weeks are flying by and we are making such good progress that it’s hard to believe it isn’t later in the season. Good weather, recently a little cooler even, continues to be on our side, and it FEELS likes summer! 

This week we finished our temporary stairs, installed rafter plates on the north and south side of the house and then spent a couple of *hot* days installing ¾” tongue and groove plywood on the second floor.  The process went smoothly… though it was a pleasure to install the last piece, to be sure! 

From there it was time to move on to raising the ridge beam and installing rafters. It is always somewhat harrowing to work at elevation. Shawn actively (and vociferously) dislikes heights but works at them when required (hence the extra vocalizations?) and fortunately, I do not have too much issue with heights, unless my ladder is bouncing. Fortunately, there was none of that this week!  We installed temporary bracing and supports for the ridge beam, which consists of two 14’ ¾” two by tens scabbed together in the middle. The clipped gable ends will be installed later so the ridge is dimensionally shorter than the width of the house. Because there are two dormers on the house, we cannot lay the rafters all the way across but we started by installing some of the rafters to support the ridge. It is still phenomenal to me that wood will basically hold itself together when pressure is applied in the right way. I marvel over this each time we build. What seems impossible is possible though we won’t remove all the supports till the entire roof system is in place.

We were also pleased to note that Shawn got his cuts on the birds mouths, which is where the roof rafter sits on the bottom plate, on the first try with no hitches. It is nice to see our skills build, and both here and in the cutting of stair stringers, we noted some real progress! The rafters fit both at the base and the ridge perfectly. We also finished the small amounts of first floor plywood wall sheathing that needed doing along with the last of the first floor caulk air sealing.

Today, Saturday, we built the north facing gable wall, sheathing it on the ground to save us some time up on a ladder with the framing nailer. We were able to position it without much trouble, anchoring it with 5 inch structural screws along with nails. It is nice to have it installed and now we can continue with the rest of the north wall rafters.

What's next? This week we should finish the full length rafters and build the larger south facing dormer that is part of the main bedroom. From there we’ll need to install the shorter rafters over both dormers. Then the gable end walls will be framed up and at that point, it’s decision making time. We have not decided whether to then break and build the pergolas on the east and west side of the house (which will also provide us with built in staging to do the clipped gable work) or to do that work on ladders. I’m thinking the pergolas will be a good idea. We designed them into the house partly for that very reason…it seemed a practical and elegant solution to working at heights. With a piece of sturdy plywood laid across the pergola, we have a nice wide staging area for a ladder, paint buckets, etc. Time will tell. We hope you’ll check back in and see next week’s progress! Seeing the rafters going in is a real milestone, very exciting!!

San Juan Island Small House Update

Shawn A. Dehner

It seems like I was just writing up last week’s progress report!  We started the week with cooler, cloudy temps and even got some rain on Monday, much needed. It also gave us a chance to take a day off, also much needed.

This week we finished all of the joists for the second floor and completed all of the interior walls, including those that helped frame up the stairwell and the cabinets and closets beneath it. The stairs were the final big project of the week. Shawn cut all the stringers yesterday and we were reminded of Roy Smith, a retired builder in Belfast, ME who answered questions for us along the way as we built our first house there about a decade ago; we raised our hammers in toast to him and appreciated once again his tips on stepping out stairs many years ago that helped us cut our first stringers. 

By Saturday we'd completed the main straight run, installed temporary treads and also the second floor landing. We also got our risers spot on at 7 ¾ all the way up - an important calculation for us and pleasant to achieve without trouble. 

While Shawn stepped out and cut the stringers, I spent a good amount of time carefully air sealing the interior walls by running a bead of caulk along any place where studs, trimmers, sills or headers met each other. We have also air sealed the exterior in a similar way. A blower door test is now required to pass the final building inspection and this extra bit of work will help us pass and make the house more energy efficient by preventing air leakage.

This coming week we will be laying out plywood on the second floor and will be feeling very grateful as we hustle it up comfortable stairs rather than hoisting it through the stairwell, one of us up and one of us down. After that’s installed and square, it will be on to framing up the second floor dormers. It is hard to believe that the roof assembly is in close sight. This is the earliest start we have ever gotten on a building project and quite possibly the finest weather we have ever had for one. Please check in again next week for some additional photos and another progress report.

2015 Small House Project Update

Jamie

Although it ended with clouds overhead (and boy do we need rain) we enjoyed another week of sunny skies to work under. We started the week sheathing the exterior of the first floor with plywood and used a router to open up the windows and doors. Then we move inside where we began framing and lifting interior walls, starting with our two load bearing walls and tying them into the corresponding wall plates. Next we framed up the non-load bearing walls, a lot of fun as it gave shape to the layout of the first floor - it’s very spacious! 

We also tried something new with the transition between the mudroom and the living room: we framed out a 2 x 12 dividing wall between the two rooms. On the larger half of the living room side, there will be bookshelves built into this extra deep wall, and on the mudroom side we are going to install site-built drawers to hold hats, gloves, scarves and other “mudroom stuff.”  Once trimmed out it will also give the house an extra deep entrance between the spaces.

Today, to close out the week, we started installing joists for the second floor and we expect to actually have them finished tomorrow. 

Finally, the garden we planted last week in traumatized soil has begun to sprout! A new garden is always a joyous occasion and this one's sprouting so fast.

More next week!

How To Love the One You’re (Building) With…

Jamie

When we tell people that we are building a house together, we often hear the rather dire prediction that many times when couples build homes together they end up divorced. We haven’t, and I hope I have something to share that will prevent others from ending up separated as well, since partners ultimately build with the intention of sharing the space rather than being alone in it.

Most of us have noticed the ways in which we are like our partners and unlike them. All of us see things differently and approach problems in different ways. For all couples, both our similarities and differences bind us and make us successful. Whenever Shawn and I start a build, I try to remember this. To use ourselves as examples, I’ll share that Shawn's building strengths include his being highly technical, very detail oriented and liking things to come out close to perfectly. Being 1/8th of an inch out of square annoys him. He is willing to work very slowly and measure numerous times to achieve precise ends. Measuring is a weak point with me. I am okay with things not being quite perfect and am impatient and like to be busy all the time, which makes me a great cook and gardener but a poor solo carpenter. I love to work very hard and do not mind tedious jobs (e.g. painting, sanding, staining, weeding). So I’d say my primary weakness is an impatience and desire to always be moving ahead that can lead to error (which I why I do not take measurements, am often uncomfortable with cutting things, and have to constantly remind myself to leave Shawn alone to take his measurements).  My main strengths are in optimism, endurance, long term vision and willingness to work very hard and lift my half of the lumber. Shawn is rarely impatient with things like measurements, cuts, angle calculations, etc. but finds some parts of the process (like painting) almost unbearable causing him to lose patience and not be cheerful with the work. We balance each other very well in this regard. When it comes to doing the hard work and putting in the hours, we are well matched and that has been a key to our building success as well. We also surprise one another regularly, such as when Shawn will handle a boring painting job without complaint or I catch math/measurement errors and save us mis-cutting a board.

Because we’ve just begun building together again, I’ve been thinking that this really simple example might tell others a lot about how to love the one you’re building with, since you already, presumably, love them for other reasons…Building puts different stressors on the table as things like timing and weather become really important and you begin to spend a lot of time and money on a project. There’s no doubt that stress is a part of the process. But stress can have its empowering moments too, as you achieve goals and learn new things. Prior to starting a build together, regardless of whether you are doing all the work or hiring parts of it out, take time to thoughtfully discuss your strengths and weaknesses and consider where friction might occur and how to resolve that for the better. I have noticed that the last two times we have built, I’ve been very successful in this regard by reminding myself that Shawn works slowly and carefully and that it comes out really well as a result.  I remember that I always feel impatient about things like marking and layout, and that helps me to remember that I just have to slow down and relax during that time. There are parts of building that are slow, and parts that are fast. Starting up is often slow as you work to get everything square and plumb and level, framing is often very fast, and then finishing goes slowly as well. I like the slowness of finishing, oddly enough, it’s a time that my patience pays off and I find I do have a strong attention to detail. Realizing where my pet peeves just need to be let go makes the process a lot more pleasurable.

Today, Thursday we finished squaring up our foundation and Monday we are going to begin the process of framing. It seems hard to imagine. I wasn’t always perfectly patient during the beginning stages of this building project, but neither have we had any major difficulties!  Now we can begin to be excited about the next stage of the building process, though first we are going to enjoy one last three day weekend for the foreseeable future!

We will update with more pictures now that there will be more exciting things to share in terms of visible progress, we hope that you will join us.

Thoughts on (Re)modeling the Future

Jamie's MusingsJamieComment

We had an interesting comment recently from someone who suggested we (and this was a collective we rather than a “we” restricted to myself and Shawn) would do better work by remodeling existing homes than by building new ones, given that there’s such a glut of homes on the market, especially in North America. I say that the answer is... not necessarily.

A neighborhood of remodeled bungalows in Atlanta, Georgia.

A neighborhood of remodeled bungalows in Atlanta, Georgia.

Here’s why.

I’ll say flat out that I’m a big fan of remodeling homes. Shawn and I got our start and basic skill set by remodeling. We couldn’t have owned our first home if it hadn’t been in need of a lot of work, because we simply couldn’t have afforded an expensive newer or older house that was in tip top shape. Plus, we couldn’t have made a house seem more “like ours” outside of building it from the ground up if it hadn’t been for the major remodeling we did to it. Even though we didn’t build our first truly loved home from scratch, we put our hearts and souls into it and it became imbued with our love and fingerprints...a Velveteen Rabbit sort of thing. We both love remodeling and curiously enough, would still love to remodel another house in our future, though we aren’t certain if it’s in the cards.

But I will also say that if we were to remodel, we would want it to be an older home, and by older, I mean a home built prior to 1949. The materials and building styles commonly used at that time tend to be better, in our opinion, than those typically used in more recent history (there are always exceptions to generalizations, of course). Some of the most recent architecture, especially large box like houses, seems like it would be nearly impossible to remodel to me. Curiously, I think this is because I consider remodeling to be both an outdoor and an indoor job. It seems to me that the majority of what fuels design in more cookie cutter style homes is a focus on the interior of a home to the near complete exclusion on the focus of the outdoor facade of a home (and the neighboring homes including the people living in them). You might indeed have as a result a very comfortable and attractive home from the interior view. But the exterior is sort of lifeless and not very personalized. All of us have seen developments where this sort of thing occurs. I don’t really write this to demonize these developments or put them down, but to note that if we focus exclusively on the interior of our homes, we create a problem in terms of exterior aesthetic and I think also reinforce a negative psychology that tends to be overly “indoor” focused. There’s more to life, especially the social lives we hopefully share with one another, than a life that is spent mostly indoors and in front of a television. I think that a lot of modern design encourages an overly indoor lifestyle that compels us to remain in the tv room rather than outside walking, meeting our neighbors, relaxing in the fresh air and gardening or doing other outdoor things, like watching the birds or seeing kids playing together. There are a host of ramifications to this that I won’t get into here.

I guess I realize too that if we were to remodel again, I would want to remodel an older home as well because the older homes (especially bungalow styles) I see in various cities and small towns (like Seattle, Portland, OR or smaller towns like Bellingham, WA or Salem, OR) seem to have an added bonus to them. They are surrounded by other small homes and seem to have a neighborhood character that is very warming and attractive to me personally. The bygone era that they represent is not merely pleasing to the eye (I love the character of these homes even when they are neglected; they bring out a nurturing sense in me that makes me want to do something to restore them) but also to my psychology. I can imagine being out in the yards of these homes because even on tiny city lots, smaller older homes don’t take up the entire lot , which means there’s space left over to sit, garden, play or daydream in. To me, this is attractive and life sustaining. It can be very difficult to find building lots in established urban areas, whether they are large or small urban centers, so remodeling and restoring these homes is definitely high on my list of laudable acts. There are many times that Shawn and I wonder if perhaps that might be possible for us to do together again someday, and that’s despite the fact that we love to build together.

I wonder if it will be possible to start building homes on a “neighborhood” basis that might replicate more closely the beautiful old neighborhoods that are a part, somewhere, of many cities across the country. Perhaps the future will hold a chance for generations down the line to remodel well built, character rich homes in cities and towns across the country. I’d like to imagine something like that happening. That’s part of the reason that I don’t think it always makes sense to remodel existing homes rather than build new ones. Sometimes, people building new really IS better. The builder can choose a style that they love and that reflects something personal to them. They can choose to use good materials that will stand the test of time. They can build something that will delight people decades and even centuries down the line. Yes, I think even in a world that is increasingly beset by shortages of material it can sometimes be best served by starting from scratch. Some of the building that has taken place over the years has just been a big mistake. I think that a certain level of conservation simply occurs by people taking matters into their own hands and building something that will last. It can be done and really should be done. And I hope that it will be.

There’s one more reason that I think building from scratch can be a better option than remodeling. That has to do with expense, funny enough. Depending on your personal skill set and the area of the country that you live, it may in fact be less expensive to build from scratch. A lot of remodel jobs with great potential may have already been done where you live. Seattle is a great example of this. There are lots of adorable bungalows in this city, and most of them have been purchased and fixed up already. There’s not a whole lot of work left to be done on them and their cost reflects that. Granted, in an urban setting like this, there’s also a lack of available building lots, so bear with me on this. I do realize this. But there are places where you can actually build from scratch for far less money than it would cost to buy a fixer upper. As in most things, individual circumstances will dictate particulars, but this is just food for thought and part of why, for our circumstances, building is often a more sensible option than remodeling.

I do hope and intend, though, that our buildings will stand the test of time and will be homes that many decades from now would be well worth remodeling to someone, should they ever fall into disrepair, which I hope they do not! That, however, is the very finest compliment a builder, designer or someone otherwise involved in building could ever receive. If this sensation remains primary in the minds of people anywhere who are undertaking a building project, I don’t think there’s much cause to feel guilty about starting from scratch.


“Wow, this place is really spacious!”

Jamie's MusingsJamieComment

Do you think this comment was made by a visitor to the Palace at Versailles or a weekend visitor to the Beekeeper’s Bungalow? Well, let’s just say it could’ve been overheard at either location…

We are really making progress on the house and are starting to anticipate moving in sometime in late spring. Interior walls are built, plumbing is being roughed in as I write, and the stairs are built and are awaiting the finishing details. The insulation is also done and the house is staying toasty warm with just a tiny space heater at this point. We are impressed with this last bit for a couple of reasons: First, when we completed our energy audit for the county while applying for our building permit, it looked as though a single 400W electric heater could do the trick in terms of heating – the entire house that is. While it seemed hard to believe at the time, it is now being borne out. Secondly, we used a new (to us) product, the Knauf EcoBatt, for insulation. We did the entire insulation project on our own, employing caulk and foam for air sealing and this high density insulation to bring our walls, ceiling and subfloor insulation up to and beyond current code requirements (we achieved cavity values of R-21 walls, R-38 floor, R-38 cathedral ceiling). We’re so pleased that the product is working so well. In addition, the Knauf insulation is easy to work with, doesn’t smell bad, is free of toxic binders and dyes, and isn’t even all that itchy!

Knauf Eco Batts (self-installed) in second floor attic bays. Air sealing with Chem Link non toxic caulk and spray foam.

Knauf Eco Batts (self-installed) in second floor attic bays. Air sealing with Chem Link non toxic caulk and spray foam.

Plenty of large spaces are insensibly (and strangely) laid out, feeling cramped, small and inefficient. You can also have large spaces that seem plenty large but don’t actually offer up much in the way of functional space to the inhabitant. This particular design flaw creates a problem for people in that they can come to believe that you need even more square footage to gain function and comfort. Many houses are designed BIG as a way to avoid conflicts with code. However, what people really need (and want) are better layouts and good balance, which can take place in both large and small spaces. Huge vaulted ceilings in a large house tend to be enormous wasted spaces that might make a place seem airy but also inadequate. A small home can suffer, too, I think, if it becomes too much like a low, small den. A little bit of vault can be a great antidote to this sense, along with well placed fixtures and maximized space usage. All of us, I would imagine, have lived in small spaces that seem highly functional, small spaces that seem totally dysfunctional, large spaces that seem to somehow not provide appropriate space, or large spaces that seem cavernous and just lack something despite obviously having plenty of square feet. Balance is key, whether you prefer a large or a small home, or whatever gradient in between.So, all this progress is making the house seem like it’s nearing completion. Of course there’s a lot more to do, but we’re at the point where the rooms are obvious to visitors and a sense of comfort is heightened. People are dropping by with interest and we have noticed something interesting about our visitors: most of them immediately comment, “This is really spacious” or “It doesn’t feel small at all” or “It’s so much bigger than it looks!” We intentionally designed a house that wasn’t extra large or even “large” by current standards. This house, in fact, seems like it could be a little smaller and still be plenty comfortable (for our needs). We’ve noted that other people used to much larger spaces are immediately impressed by how “large” the house feels. This is very interesting, especially to me, in that it makes me consider what it is about spaces that makes a small one seem larger or a large one seem smaller. This isn’t the newest of news, and it’s not a revelation, but it’s mostly, I think, an issue of layout.

A grand staircase at Versailles. Our own grand staircase is slightly more compact.

A grand staircase at Versailles. Our own grand staircase is slightly more compact.

It will be fun to post more pictures as they come and we get ever closer to finishing work.I think Shawn and I have reached the point where we are able to design for ourselves (and others – thank you to our customers and interested followers out there!) small spaces that achieve maximum function by being thoughtfully laid out. Obviously, a modest space is never going to be laid out in a way that causes it to resemble the Palace at Versailles; yet, a small house can definitely, as our visitors attest, be laid out in a way that makes it seem not cramped, small and stingy on space – and even cozy, comfortable and functional with room for all that we need in our lives.

Thanks for coming along!

The Scandinavian Wall

Design PhilosophyShawn A. Dehner

The Scandinavian wall design enables a single piece of insulation (e.g. a fiberglass batt) to be fully inserted into a stud bay without being interrupted - and therefore compromised - by electrical wiring, gang boxes, plumbing and other systems. It also allows a vapor retarder or barrier to be installed continuously, without excessive puncturing, over the studs and insulation. The results are walls that greatly reduce air and moisture migration.

News Update for Autumn (2012)

JamieComment

We closed out the summer with a fun giveaway of a great product. Shauna Carritt Gerke won a Bricor B100 Max ultra low flow shower head by leaving a comment sharing how she conserves water – we hope that the showerhead will be a water saving pleasure for her and her family. We enjoyed the many, many comments we received and suppose the biggest regret with any giveaway is that you can only giveaway one item and there are always so many great entries. It may be a partial remedy to share that we will be hosting one additional showerhead giveaway in the next few months. It won’t be until 2013, but we’ll be using another Bricor showerhead product when finishing the main floor bathroom and will review this new product as well as host another giveaway. Hope we will get many more interesting comments at that time!

Amaze Yourself: Raise the Roof!

JamieComment

Everyone should try to build something in their lifetime. I’m here to tell you why.

This past Saturday, Shawn and I did something really amazing. I don’t know about the scale of amazingness on cosmic terms, but in terms of achieving something that was difficult and doing it both safely and successfully, we really felt great by evening on Saturday. What we did was raise our ridge beam, all by ourselves. We’ve raised a couple of other ridge beams on our own, but they were for outbuildings. The ridge beam we hoisted on Saturday is basically the backbone of our home under construction. It’s called a LVL which stands for Laminated Veneer Lumber. It’s not a product we originally wanted to use, but the county wanted it in there so we complied. We had intended to raise two separate beams and sister them together, but instead we had to use the LVL which is 1 ¾” thick, 32 feet long, and nearly 12 inches high. It’s a big ol’ beam. It’s painted bright orange, which is a special touch and adds a further element of ridiculous to the already somewhat silly situation of two quite small but very independent builders preparing to raise this monster beam from the ground to the very tip top of our house.

The ridge beam, a 32' LVL, moved up to the first level of staging. We moved the beam into place step by step so that we could accomplish the task between the two of us.

The ridge beam, a 32' LVL, moved up to the first level of staging. We moved the beam into place step by step so that we could accomplish the task between the two of us.

Here’s what we did. We had a bit of help. When the beam was delivered, Shawn and Chris, the driver for the delivery, carried the beam into the house and laid it in the front door. So it wasn’t directly on the ground. Good move number one. The next morning, we prepared to slide it up onto the second floor. We planned to have me push the beam and Shawn slowly walk it up the ladder to the second floor where we could sort of lay it and push it into place across the second floor of the house. From that point, we would need to take it up about 10 more feet till it spanned the entire length of the house. That was going to be the real trick. We got a second nice break when our neighbor Mike saw us trying to push the beam up into the house and lent a helping hand. With his help, we were able to very quickly slide the beam up onto the second floor. After that, the work was up to us. We wanted the challenge, and frankly were afraid that if the beam fell on someone it could kill them. This was really our challenge.

The project took about 5 hours for us altogether. We spent a lot of time examining the situation before moving to the following step. We first measured and cut the beam to the exact 32 feet we needed for spanning our home. Then Shawn did the layout on the beam, both sides, marking for rafters to be placed every 24 inches. After this we took a break for a vitamin packed lunch and some time to gather our senses for the raising of the beam. We decided that the lift should be done in stages, using site built cleats along the way to progressively lift the beam higher and higher till it could ultimately sit fully atop the highest point on the pitch walls (aka rake wall or gable end wall). Along the way, we’d have to make sure we kept the beam relatively level so we planned to move from one end of the house to the other raising sides by the turn to keep things in good standing. It’s a funny thing to deal with a monstrous beam that is so long and heavy – and bends in the middle! You really have to slow down and take your time. You also have to overcome anxiety. I say you have to overcome anxiety, but more what I mean is that you have to consider it carefully. Too little anxiety and you might not be appreciating the serious thought that should be going in to something like raising a really long and heavy beam over your head and into its appropriate place. But too much thought, and you could become paralyzed. It’s a fine line. Something that came to me a couple of times during the process was advice that a friend in the tree business once gave us. He mentioned that you have to really learn to trust your safety equipment. In our case, our safety equipment consisted of a lot of careful thought and consideration followed by belief that the temporary cleats that we were placing along the way would hold up properly and keep the beam in a good place while we prepared to move to the next height. I should mention here that the stepped cleats were attached to two site built jigs, themselves attached vertically to the rake walls, that prevented the beam from rolling, which it was prone to do – especially in a warm, convective summery breeze.

Slowly and carefully we continued to plan and place cleats and slowly and carefully we continued to raise our monster LVL higher and higher up the rake walls till finally one end was placed, safely anchored in place by 2 x 4 cleats keeping it standing upright (the beam stands on its narrow end and really had a propensity to tip over, which would have been disastrous. So we really had to keep it cleated properly to prevent this). It was time to lift the other side of the beam well above our heads and into place. The last lift required us to raise the beam much higher than before and the overhead work was nerve wracking at this point, though we could keep ourselves calm and ready by taking our time and talking each move through with each other at least twice before undertaking it. We took a deep breath and prepared to lift the beam the last part of the way into its permanent home. It slid into place nicely and we anchored it with screws till we could put up some rafters the next day. After that process, we were definitely ready for dinner.

Hallelujah!!  What an incredible feeling to have that in place at last!

Hallelujah!!  What an incredible feeling to have that in place at last!

But I have to tell you, I have rarely felt the wonderful sense of accomplishment that I did that evening. Relief, accomplishment and ravenous appetite all came over me like a wash. Very welcome senses all! The sense of accomplishment was tremendous, though. We had done something that seemed nearly impossible at the start and amazed both ourselves and everyone passing by. At the end of our work for the day, our house was tied together with a ridge beam running through it.

So why do I say that everyone should build something? Maybe it’s not a building you need to do, maybe that’s a good metaphor, though. And since this is a building website and so many of our readers want to build (but perhaps haven’t yet), it seems like the most appropriate suggestion to make. We all really amaze ourselves by trying something difficult on for size. This experience stands out for me since it was so recent and so incredibly gratifying. I’m a pretty modest person, actually, but after this day of work, standing in the street and staring at that beam we moved into place, I really think I could have sincerely shouted out that I was just amazed at myself. Because I was! No arrogance involved. Just sheer joy!

Here is a recipe for accomplishing things that you think might be outside your ability. Work slowly, think a lot, read a lot, study your situation. Believe you can do it. Don’t give up or walk away or never try at all. Trust your safety equipment, whatever form it takes. Check it on the way. Use extra screws, they are cheap and they come out after you’re done. Use your brain. Press yourself a bit. Stress yourself a bit. Try something totally difficult and challenging. Take breaks along the way and reassess your situation. Get help when you need to. Don’t be afraid to ask for help but give it your all before you do. The sense of reward of achieving something very difficult is just so wonderfully gratifying.

The Beekeeper's Bungalow ridge beam fully installed by just the two of us and viewed gratefully from the ground.

The Beekeeper's Bungalow ridge beam fully installed by just the two of us and viewed gratefully from the ground.

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.