Water usage in the tiny house

Posted on March 22, 2017

Happy world water day!  I’ve been thinking about our water usage for a while, and it seemed only fitting to write about it on the day the UN has designated to talk about the water crisis across the world.

Seth and I are lucky to be using very little water per day at the moment.  Right now our tiny house doesn’t have a working shower or sink.  We have plans for both.  I had hoped to get them in before the baby arrived, but sometimes life gets in the way.  And research!  Always with the research.  At any rate, we have water plumbed into the tiny house, but we don’t have permanent receptacles for it, and we use a composting toilet.  This makes our water usage pretty low.

All together we average about 5 gallons of water per day.  This includes hand-washing, dishes-washing, sponge bathing and drinking and cooking water for two people and an infant. We take showers and do laundry once or twice a week up the big house where our landlords live, which adds another 150-200 gallons (yikes!), bringing our total up to approximately 235 gallons per week.  We expect this to increase when we get our own shower in, which will be a super low-flow showerhead, probably this one by Bricor (non-affiliate link) because we’ll be using less water but taking more more showers.  I think we can reasonably anticipate using  about 20 gallons of water per adult per day, and 10 for the baby.  Fifty gallons of water a day!  Holy moly.

According to the EPA, the average family of four uses 400 gallons of water per day.  When you put it into perspective like that, our water usage looks pretty good.

Still, where does that water go?  In our current case, we sprinkle our wastewater in the surrounding trees and landscape.  Once we have our shower and sinks in we’ll put build a french drain type system, and I plan to collect a fair amount and use it to irrigate the garden I’ve started.  Since we use biodegradable soaps, this is a safe bet.  Other options would be to collect it into a wastewater tank and dump it into a sewer or dispose of it at the landlord’s house.

I never used to think about water usage.  Water just sort of went away after I was done with it, which I think is a pretty common sentiment.  Our society makes it awkward to reduce water.  Daily showers are expected.  Single flush toilets are standard, instead of those that have options for liquids and solids flushing.  And it’s hard to find a low-flow faucet aerator or shower head that makes you feel like you’re getting enough water to rinse off the soap.

I have no answers, only more questions.  Are there tools to measure how much you’re using per day?  Is it legal to install rainwater collection systems and graywater reuse systems?  How can non tiny-housers cut back on their water?  Just some thoughts.  What are you thinking on world water day?

The great herbalism cold and flu flow chart

Posted on March 15, 2017

I’ve been asked several times over the past few months what to do for the cold and flu.  Mostly because I’ve caught the flu twice and had a cold twice in the last few months (ah, the joys of trying to sleep while caring for a newborn), so I must have something good up my sleeve.

There are herbs that are awesome for colds and the flu!  But I’ve noticed that it does depend on what type of cold you have.  And since I was laid up again and had a lot of down time…

Cold and flu flow chart

Colds and the flu provide a low stakes way to dabble in herbs for health without spending a ton of money or getting overwhelmed.  All of these remedies are readily available at a natural foods store, pharmacy, or sometimes at your regular supermarket depending on how cool your neighborhood is.  Or you can make them yourself if you plan ahead for next season.

A note on how to use this chart: Don’t use it if you’re pregnant, lactating, have food allergies, thyroid issues, or you’re a kid younger than age 12.  Everyone should consult their doctor before taking herbs, especially if nervous about how they’ll affect you.  But I feel pretty comfortable with these remedies as they’re gentle, and I’ve recommended all of them to my family and friends.  And they work!  Better than cold medicines! Huzzah!  My favorite brands are Traditional Medicinals for the teas, Sambucol for the elderberry syrup, and homemade for fire cider (non-affiliate links).

If you’re so inclined, I’ve turned the Cold and flu flow chart into a PDF so you can print it out and stash it in your medicine cupboard.  Please use and enjoy!

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Seed season

Posted on March 6, 2017

We went to a greenhouse skinning operation about a week ago, full of farmers helping the farmers of Upswing, owned by Brittany and Kevin, as they venture into their first season on new land.  As always, when farm folk get together talk turns to joking about how many turnips are left in the root cellar (tons!), telling how strange it is to write yet another yearly post about CSA sign-up day, lamenting the dearth of experienced farm help, and sharing how unprepared they are for March 1, the date to seed onions in flats in greenhouses.

Across Massachusetts, farmers are sowing seeds in plastic trays with 98 cells and heating their greenhouses through what is hopefully the last cold spell so they can have spring onions.  Next come brassicas and peas and greens, some flowers, and later they move onto the sunshiney crops we all crave: tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, beans.

 

Despite being married to a farmer, every Spring there are things I want to grow for myself.  Thankfully not tomatoes — Seth delivers the goods when it comes to tomatoes.  No, for my home garden it’s all about herbs and flowers.  These plants are my friends and herbal allies, and I miss tending them.  I want them so that in the winter when I’m tired of our four walls and cloudy skies, I can crack open my jars and relive summer.

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IMG_4155I’ve decided to try out the winter sowing method because I don’t have a greenhouse.  And even though we know enough farmers that I could probably borrow a tray’s worth of space, I want to do it myself.  Today I sowed seeds in take-out containers gleaned from the recycling bin, cut slits in the tops and bottoms, filled them with soil and seeds, watered them, and set them outside.  As it gets warmer, I’ll begin taking the tops off the containers so that the seedlings harden off and have room to grow, and when it’s time I’ll put them in the ground.  Seems easy enough.

We have another seedling in the house, a little girl named Addie.  Every morning I lay awake feeding her before the sun rises.  I run my hand over her warm, sturdy back and I think ahead to weeding in the dirt with the baby on a blanket close at hand, or watching Seth ride by on a tractor and waving to us, or laughing together as Lily chases a s-q-u-i-r-r-e-l (we don’t say that word around here unless there’s one in sight).  It’s amazing to me that Addie’s earthside and growing. She was the germ of an idea for a long, long time, and then she was a bump in this mama’s body.  And now we’re in a new farm season, in our new home, with our new tiny human in our arms.  Cheers to the promise of muddy knees and watching leaves unfurl.  Cheers to chubby baby legs.  Cheers to seed season.

Insulation and air sealing

Posted on February 27, 2017

If I’m starting to sound like a broken record, it’s because air movement is a big deal in our little house.  We seal gaps because it makes for less moisture coming in from the outside and fewer drafts, AKA a warmer, drier house with less chance of mold.  So we’ve spent a fair amount of time doing this to the inside as well as the outside.

We air sealed the inside of the house by spreading silicone sealant into gaps and cracks — most notably in the large spaces around the windows and doors.  If the gap was wider than 1/2″, we filled it with backer rod first, and then spread sealant over it.  Side note: if you ask for backer rod at Home Depot, there’s an 80 percent chance that whomever you talk to will have no idea what you’re talking about.  This is a true fact.

Backer rod is essentially rope made from closed cell foam.  It’s located in the plumbing section.  Why?  Beats me.  I don’t know what plumbers use it for. Directions for non-plumbing use: Stuff it into the gap, making sure it can’t move easily.  You want it to compress a little, no more than 20 percent.  Push it in so that the gap you now have to fill with silicone is half the depth of the total crack width, i.e. if you have a 3/4″ wide gap, push the backer rod in so that the depth of your silicone will be 3/8″.  Ta da!  You’re done.

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Spray foam is another method of sealing around windows and doors that most people seem to prefer.  It’s widely available and you don’t have to be as precise as with backer rod and silicone.  Unfortunately, it also off-gasses, and with one sensitive human and one baby living in the house, we decided that backer rod and silicone would be less likely to incur migraines/birth defects/baby popping out of mama like an alien.

Around the same time as we started interior air sealing, we began insulating the walls and roof.  Again, spray foam seems to be most people’s methods of choice.  The added bonus of spray foam insulation is that it firms up walls, so if you have a tiny house with a history of walls shifting, you might seriously consider spray foaming your wall cavities.  In lieu of spray foam, though, we chose sheep’s wool insulation for the walls, and rigid foam board for the ceiling.  Sheep’s wool because: a.) It’s sheep! It’s like wrapping our house in a sweater! and b.) It has the equivalent insulation value of fiberglass but it weighs less, it’s a renewable resource, it’s not hazardous to your health, and it manages water and bugs better than both fiberglass and cellulose.  It’s more expensive, but not by much.  We picked batts from Black Mountain Insulation, USA (non-affiliate link, just giving out their name for the curious).

These were easy to install.  Seth and our friend Kenneth stapled them into the wall cavities.  Where they didn’t fit, we tore them into pieces, including the plastic mesh screen used to give the batts some body.  It was a quick installation, and there has been minimal slumping as the house has moved and shifted.

We’re not thrilled with using rigid foam board in our ceiling, those large sheets of styrofoam.  They’re a pain in the butt to cut.  They make a mess.  They’re also not environmentally friendly, and rigid foam has a tendency to decrease in R-value over time. However, the insulation value is high even with the decrease, and we don’t have a very deep ceiling cavity.  We needed something good there to help keep us warm, and once again spray foam was off the table.  We compromised a bit here and used large sheets from Craigslist.  They’re quite old, so any off-gassing or R-value drift is done and gone.  We still have a few steps to go with the ceiling insulation though.  Our plan is to purchase 1″ rigid foam board to go up underneath the cavities, thereby creating a ceiling with no cold spots due to thermal break from the wood rafters, and then install the tongue and groove ceiling over that.  It will decrease the head space in our loft by about 2″, but I think it will be worth it.  We’ve been using an electric heater so far this winter since our fireplace isn’t ready, and our electric bills are enormous!  Thank goodness we don’t have a bigger house to heat.

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A little more on siding prep

Posted on February 17, 2017

In going over the photos for the trim post, I realized that we never mentioned the black strips that we put over the Blueskin under the siding.  This is a product called Cedarvent. It’s basically strips of plastic that are corrugated like cardboard. We’re using it here kind of like a rain screen: the siding repels most of the water from the house, but in case any rain gets behind the siding we want it to be able to drain away.  This is where Cedarvent comes in. It makes the siding sit away from the Blueskin by about 3/16″ and allows the water to roll down without soaking into the back of the cedar.

We’re not pushing the product or anything.  We purchased it outright and we’re not getting anything from the company for saying that we’re using it.  We just think it’s important for people to realize what goes into a wall assembly to make house walls weathertight.  This will help the lifespan of the cedar and the Blueskin both.  With a bit of an air gap behind the siding, the cedar will dry out more quickly after rainstorms.  It won’t be sitting wet on the Blueskin, which could rot if it stays wet for too long over a period of years.  If the Blueskin rots, water soaks into the plywood walls and forms mold.  And we want our house to last a long time.

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Products like this always make me think of how best to make our house eco-friendly.  We basically bought bits of plastic, which are not biodegradable, not recycled, and probably are manufactured in a way that’s not great for the environment.  They redeem themselves by contributing to the length of time our house will last.  So we sort of have to weigh our options here.  I don’t know though, what do you think?

 

 

At long last love has arrived

Posted on February 14, 2017

We had a baby at the end of December.  And she is the best.

Hot damn I love this kid.  It’s Valentine’s Day, so let me express my love.  It’s been almost two months and we are ridiculously happy with our little pumpkinseed.  Life is very different in its surface details.  We spend most of our time caring for a tiny human instead of building a tiny house.  A good day is one in which I get the dishes done and a load of laundry.  Our budget for sundries has gone up as we purchase disposable diapers (until we get a sink in, I keep telling myself) and one-handed snacks.

Still, Seth and I are both us, but more so.  I like to think we’re distilling ourselves down to the best parts, giving up bad habits in hopes that we don’t pass them along, while also focusing our limited free time on only the activities most important to us, because there’s just no head space anymore for binge-watching Bones and reading 14 blogs a day.  That distillation might be wishful thinking though.  Or maybe it’s the sleep deprivation talking.

At any rate, today is a day dedicated to expressing love.  I love my daughter.  I also love you, reader, even if I don’t know you.  Our new political administration is trying to place the blame for our problems on immigrants, and Nasty Women and disabled folks and those of us with little money too.  Such divisive tactics coming from the top!  We don’t believe in them for a second.  We all deserve food, shelter, healthcare, and happiness.  I’m not saying that because I’m a bleeding heart pinko commie hippie environmentalist (although that’s mostly true), I’m saying it because if I think of you as family, how can I wish anything bad for you?

“Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.”

J.K. Rowling wrote a book series where love conquered all.  Numerous heroes of our time have practiced it: Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Princess Leia. Well maybe not that last one.  But I’d like to practice love too.  Joining the #LoveArmy, reading The Dandelion Insurrection.  Loving our tiny human with every fiber of my being.  And loving you too.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

Trimming the outside

Posted on January 31, 2017

One of the things that Seth has been saying all along is that trim makes the style of the house.  He’s said it about both the inside and the outside.  It’s a good thing he’s been so adamant because when it comes to details like that, I don’t really have an opinion.  Isn’t that terrible?  For me, aesthetics generally take a backseat to price, so I expected to wing it when it came time to do the trim.  Seth, though, has had an idea in mind of building a house inspired by the Craftsman era of design: 1920s bungalows full of simple lines, natural light, and beautiful wood.  We looked at pictures online for months.  Truly one of the nicest rabbit holes we’ve followed in this project, and I’m glad we went in this direction.

After much research and deliberation (as per usual — boy, we’re true to form here!), we designed the window and house trim.  Most Craftsman bungalows have painted siding with natural wood trim, but we flipped that on its end because we like our natural-looking cedar siding so much.  Seth came up with a pleasing angle for the pieces of trim directly over the windows, and we went to town cutting and painting, including cutting the sill piece at an angle to allow water to run off the top.

We picked 5/4″ x 4″ trim for the rails and sills, 5/4″ x 6″ trim for the top pieces, and 5/4″ x 6″ trim for the corners.  We wanted solid wood trim but it wasn’t available in our price range and thickness, so we ended up using a brand of finger-jointed pine called Centurion, which comes factory primed.  From what we hear, factory priming is important to the lifespan of the trim.  We painted ours on three sides with Behr Premium Plus Ultra exterior satin enamel paint, and left the primed-only side facing the house.  We probably should have painted the unexposed side as well, but we were pressed for time — can’t put up siding without trim in place, after all.

2016-10-30-13-51-56The final step in all of the trim work was to add a piece of aluminum drip edge to the top edge of the top piece, forming another barrier against water intrusion behind the windows and protecting the wood from water exposure over time.  You can see it in our photos, a thin white piece of metal that hangs just slightly down.  We attached it to the trim and Blueskin with silicone, taped off the top, and installed the siding directly over it.  It gives a nice detail to the windows in my humble opinion.  Am I biased?  Does my baby poop through a dozen diapers a day?  Yes.  Yes she does.

Cedar siding and Vermont Natural Coatings

Posted on January 14, 2017

Way way back, almost a year ago now, we purchased cedar clapboards for the tiny house.  Sheesh, was it really that long ago?  Yes, Instagram tells me it was last February.  We got the clapboards delivered with the intention of staining them over the course of the winter so that we could install them in the spring and summer.

Time ran away from us, and it was a while before we got the siding up and running. As per usual, the research phase made up the bulk of the delay.  We wanted to find an eco-friendly coating for the siding, one that would bring out the beauty of the wood, protect it from the elements, and be ok for the environment and for people with chemical sensitivities, especially as we were planning to paint the siding in an enclosed space over the winter.

We came across the PolyWhey Exterior Penetrating Wood Stain by Vermont Natural Coatings in our internet trawling, and picked up a small can of the Caspian Clear to test it out.  It went on beautifully.  It was everything we wanted… almost.  Apparently, clear coating on cedar means your cedar will still turn silvery gray over time, and after much discussion we decided we wanted to put off the weathering of our cedar as much as possible.

We spoke with the folks at Vermont Natural Coatings.  Ok, scratch that: we bombarded them with questions. And their answer was to choose a coating with pigmentation, which would impede the sun’s UV rays thereby reducing the silvering of cedar as it ages.  Of their coatings, we picked the Lakeside Cedar color in an attempt to make our Eastern White siding look like Western Red.  Same wood family, natural look — we hoped.  To sweeten the deal, Vermont Natural Coatings gave us a discount on their pricing in exchange for a blog post about our experience, which was a huge help for our budget.  Eco-friendly coatings are not cheap, and we were glad to have made such good friends!

Ok, so you want the truth?

I hate to say it, but our first attempt at painting on the red cedar coloring kind of made our eyes water.  The Lakeside Cedar color is quite orange, and was made more so by the fluorescent lighting of our workshop, and also by the rough cut of our siding, which soaks up more product than a smooth cut.  (On a side note, you want the rough cut side of your siding to face outwards for that very reason: more product soaked into the wood means less chance of water and UV damage to your wood.  Sometimes we are smart!)

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After more deliberation, and with our budget in mind, and once again speaking with the friendly team at Vermont Natural Coatings, we decided not to switch to a different product altogether but to mix the Lakeside Cedar color with the Caspian Clear color to thin it out and make it more palatable to our apparently fine-tuned aesthetics meter.  Vermont Natural Coatings said that mixing the colors was fine in any ratio so we experimented a bit and decided that a 50/50 mixture looked good and would still provide some UV protection.

My part in this saga ended here, but Seth created two spray racks to make the coatings go quicker, and then he sprayed all of the siding over the course of a week with a handy dandy spray-gun.  He used the 50/50 mixture on the rough cut side of the clapboards, and then did the straight Lakeside Cedar on the smooth side, which is the side against the house.  Always spray both sides of your clapboards, folks!  Remember, only you can prevent water damage.

I’m done channeling Yogi the Bear now

The coatings went on well.  Seth says he was pleased by the process and the amount of coverage he got with the cans of PolyWhey.  The gun didn’t clog, the spray racks worked like a charm.  The coloring looks quite natural, if I do say so myself.  And to top it off, we’ve had numerous friends ask us why we didn’t use a coating for our clapboards, and then we laughed with glee when we told them we had.

I must say, the clapboards have been one of the joys of our tiny house.  The wood itself is beautiful, local, and was cut to our specifications by a small company in Maine with excellent customer service, short lead time, and good pricing.  The coatings were easy to apply and they look great.  And clapboards go on relatively quickly and make a big impact.  Our house went from blue box to tiny house in the course of a week.  We still have some siding to put up around the diamond windows and the porch light, but I think it’s safe to say our cedar siding is substantially complete.  And that’s a very good thing.

 

 

 

Cosmo Brown Hat

Posted on November 25, 2016

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This slightly slouchy hat features a wave and banjo cable pattern reminiscent of American vaudeville theater in the early 1900s. Or as I like to think of it, Cosmo Brown’s beginnings from the movie Singin’ in the Rain. With big yarn, some cables to keep it  interesting, and old-fashioned seed stitch, this hat knits up quickly and is perfect for bus, train, or TV knitting to keep your hands busy.

This hat is knit in the round and comes in one size. Final hat dimensions are 20” around and 7.5” long after blocking. Gauge  is 4 stitches to the inch.

I knit this hat for myself, and I love the way it fits on my head.  Knit at such a large gauge, it is just big enough to wear for short jaunts without crushing my curls.  I’m toying with the idea of blocking it around a plate to make it a true beret, and that will give my hair plenty of room.

You can download the pattern PDF here.  Ravelry details are here.  Just in time for last minute Solstice or Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa gifts.  I hope you enjoy it!

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Metal roofing for the tiny house, via Craigslist

Posted on August 21, 2016

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Last fall just after the house walls went up, I was trolling Craigslist for materials when a kind soul posted dark brown corrugated metal roofing for sale, never used.  It came in 17′ long panels.  We jumped on it and U-hauled seven panels away from his house along with a couple of donated 2×4’s for traveling, kindly given by the gentleman in question whose entire roof had to be replaced unexpectedly instead of covered.  Hence selling the panels.

Metal roofing is popular for tiny houses because it’s durable, affordable, lighter than asphalt, and relatively easy to install.  It goes well with the “cabin on wheels” look that characterize a lot of tiny houses.  Standing seam is ideal as the fasteners are not exposed to the elements and will last longer, but corrugated is good too.  Supposedly the fasteners start to go around 10 years.  We’ll see.

Metal roofing was Seth’s first choice but not mine. Originally, I wanted shingles, but sometimes you can’t pass up the Craigslist gods when they offer you a good deal.  Or as my Memere used to say, “You can’t go wrong!”  And of course I love it now.

Buying new metal roofing a lot different from buying used metal roofing via Craigslist.  For starters, you get all of the accessories with it when you purchase yours from a store.  We had to source our trim pieces, ridge cap, foam closures, and adhesives separately.  If you’re buying new-ish metal panels for your roof through Craigslist, you should know that there is a good chance yours are made by Union Corrugating, like ours are. We discovered this by accident, but it’s no trick — count the corrugations per panel and see if you can find a match to some of the popular brands available through big box stores.

Union Corrugating sells their panels to DIY-ers through Lowe’s, and we were able to confirm this by matching the color of the panels to the colors of the roofing supplies in the store.  Then all we had to do was purchase trim, touch-up paint, the ridge cap, etc.  If your panels are not easily identifiable like ours, apparently there are such things as universal ridge caps and trim.  They may not provide an exact color match, but I’ve seen people who enjoy the two-toned roof, and I’ve seen people who paint their roof so that everything matches.  If you’re building a tiny house, you’re no stranger to improvisation at this point. Right?

The corrugated roofing process is fairly easy to describe, although less easy to execute (unless you have scaffolding.  Invest in scaffolding).  There are many, many tutorials about how to install metal roofing so I won’t add one here.  I’ll just jot down a few notes about what we did.

  • We used Grace HT Ice and Water Shield as our underlayment.  HT means high temperature.  I think it was a good investment.  Synthetic roofing underlayment lasts a lot longer in UV rays than does 15 or 30 lb. felt, and it won’t glue itself to the back of the roofing panels.
  • We cut our panels with an angle grinder, de-burred them, and then touched up the ends with paint so that hopefully they won’t rust.
  • Butyl tape is weird.  It’s like if Play-Dough and Silly Putty got together and had a baby.  Special order this because most stores don’t carry it.
  • We followed along with Tiny Home Builder’s method of transitioning the ridge cap from the gable to the dormer.  We purchased the videos, but you can sort of see the way to do it in this blog post by Choo Choo Tiny House.