Ultra-Posh Tiny Homes: The Small House Movement Goes Luxe

The Tiny Home Movement is getting noticed by Forbes Magazine.  It’s with mixed emotions that I make that statement, and that I even share this article.

I’m not sure how I feel about the majority of the homes in the gallery photos linked to this article.  The exception is the Zyl Vardos home (see also links under Resources), and a few others.  Some seem way too extravagant (1.8 million?), but it is Forbes.  Ultra-posh may appeal to the typical Forbes reader, but most of us who wish for a tiny lifestyle are focused on living simply and intentionally, not just seeking to expand our inventory of toys.  Still, I wanted to share this article, as I’m always looking for new ideas and working on the plan in my mind.  I do like the media attention the movement is getting of late, and hopefully building codes will be modified by the time we’re ready to transition in a couple of years.

Ultra-Posh Tiny Homes: The Small House Movement Goes Luxe – ForbesLife.


Planning for a Tiny House and Other Crazy Ideas

I am a research junkie without much fear.  Give me a YouTube video and I will build a bathroom. That’s pretty much what we did.

Jon owns a house 60 miles away or so that has required a lot of repairs due to deferred maintenance and an undetected water leak that had completely rotted out the floor in parts of the master bath and second bedroom.  For the last year, we’ve spent one of our weekend days (and sometimes our vacations) commuting 60 miles to spend the day doing construction and home improvement.  We’ve moved walls, sistered floor joists, replaced subflooring, built closets (where there were none), learned to install drywall, and in the process, developed skills we never imagined we would.  Paying a contractor to make the repairs would have taken much less time (we’ve been working on it for a year), but we’ve enjoyed the hands-on and have learned a tremendous amount.  Eventually, this house will be rented out — at least until Jon can recover the equity he lost during the economic downturn.

Repairing the subfloor

Repairing the subfloor

Neither one of us was particularly handy before this began, but we are resourceful and our styles complement one another.  Jon likes to jump in and try things; I tend to analyze things and dependencies, sometimes to the point of analysis paralysis.  I’m a planner; he’s a doer.  It works for us.

Jon repairing the bathroom floor.

Jon repairing the bathroom floor.

With Jon’s house nearing completion, we’ve wondered what will fulfill our home improvement addiction.  Becoming construction junkies wasn’t in the original plan, but the whole process has been so rewarding that I can’t imagine not having something to work on.  Spare time?  What would we ever do with that?!

We’re in a rental currently, but have been planning on buying a fixer once Jon’s house is rented.  And in our long-term plan to live off-grid and eco-friendly, we’ll now be looking for a fixer with room to build a Tiny House — eventually selling, or renting out that fixer to live further off the grid.

After hours of obsessive research over the last few weeks, I bought a couple of books on Tiny Homes for inspiration (I’m sure this isn’t the last of my book purchases):

Master bath almost completed!

Master bath almost completed!

I have only had an opportunity to flip through them at this point, but am hoping to delve into them this weekend.  I’m anxious to read Dee’s book for a number of reasons.  First, she lives just a short drive down the freeway from us.  Second, there is much that can be learned from following one person’s experience from start to finish.  There are some great blog posts about building Tiny Homes out there, but most are very subjective and limited in scope (e.g. “Why we chose XYZ stove”).  I wanted to read a story that would inspire me.

So, here’s the plan:

  1. Get Jon’s house rented out
  2. Buy a fixer with room to build a Tiny House
  3. Fix up house
  4. Build a Tiny House
  5. Rent or sell fixer house (I’m still not sure how I feel about being a landlord)
  6. Buy Land (and hopefully zoning laws will be more flexible by then)
  7. Move Tiny House to land

Sounds like a 2-3 year plan, which we’re fine with.  It will coincide nicely with our daughters both heading off to college, and the opportunity to relocate eventually, though we may need to build a guest Tiny House!

And a Tiny House art studio…

And a Tiny House chicken coop…

The Cider Box | Tiny House Swoon

I love this!  This has to be my favorite exterior design of a Tiny House by far.  The side entrance floor plans seem to have a more functional flow of all the Tiny House designs I’ve examined, and I much prefer the light that french doors provide.  The kitchen and stairs would need reworking to suit us, and the interior is a bit dark for my taste, but this one is really close to meeting our needs.  Check out additional pictures on Tiny House Swoon.

Check out additional interior photos here: The Cider Box | Tiny House Swoon


Homemade Laundry Soap: A Year Without Commercial Detergent

It was just about a year ago that my boyfriend and I were inspired to make our own laundry soap.  Ok, I was mostly the one who was inspired.  He was supportive, willing to lend his clothes to experimentation, and happily muscled through the grating of the Fels Naptha (not fun).

You’ll find several recipes for homemade laundry soap scattered around the internet.  For ease of assembly, I chose to go with the powdered version.  That, and I’m frugal.  I blame my Scottish mother.  After comparing ingredients and weighing the pros and cons, here’s the recipe we ended up following:

2 (5.5 oz) Bars of Fels-Naptha (If you can’t find it locally, check Amazon)
  • 1 (5 lb) Bag of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda
  • 1 (4 lb 12 oz) Box of Borax
  • 1 (3 lb 7 oz) Box of Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda
1 (3 lb) Box or Tub of OxiClean
  • Optional:  Several drops of essential oils

Grate the Fels-Naptha soap bar, then put the grated soap into a blender or food processor and blend or pulse until it’s a fine powder.  Combine with remaining ingredients in a large container.  A 3-5 gallon bucket works best.  Use only 1-2 tablespoons per load.

Note:  If stored in a semi-damp basement as ours is, you’ll want to break up the detergent occasionally.  One of the few drawbacks is that it wants to clump in a moist environment.

The Bottom Line:  We paid slightly over $30 for all ingredients, as I recall.  They could have been purchased for less, but I shopped from the comfort of my living room sofa, and didn’t have to step foot into a large chain retail store (big bonus).  We average about 4-5 loads of laundry per week, and a year later, we still have about 2-3 cups left.  I’m probably using closer to 2 tablespoons per load since I do large loads.  My cost is closer to .12 cents per load of laundry, but others have reported .05 and .06 cents per use.  It cleans well enough, but we are an English teacher and IT worker.  We do play in the dirt on the weekends, and clothes come out clean and fresh.  Our youngest children are of the teenage variety, so I can’t speak to the stain removal capabilities for things like strained spinach and carrots.  Occasionally, an oily spot will need an additional wash to come clean.

Although the resulting costs per load (due to my heavy handedness) were double what I’d originally read, I feel good about doing this for a number of reasons:

  1. The amount of packaging saved is significant.  I always preferred liquid detergents. Plastics, even when recycled, are often shipped to China for processing, which has an additional environmental impact.
  2. The laundry soap is phosphate free and biodegradable. Environmentally responsible companies have created phosphate-free, biodegradable detergents, but the cost of these can be prohibitive.  This homemade version is both earth and budget friendly.
  3. Even at 12-cents per load, the savings over commercial detergent is significant.  I imagine we’ve saved a minimum of $100 by making this ourselves.
  4. There is satisfaction in simplification – in doing things the way our grandparents may have.

We are due to make another batch soon, and I think this time, I may research various liquid recipes and try something new, just for comparison.  If you have a great liquid laundry soap recipe, please let me know!



Weekend Project: An Inexpensive Raised Bed

This time of year, I itch to get out into the garden, and I’ve been dreaming of expanding the available vegetable gardening area for months now.  This past weekend, my boyfriend and I (ok, mostly my boyfriend) constructed a cheap raised bed to partially fill an otherwise useless side yard.

Raised bed built from fence pickets

Raised bed built from fence pickets

Materials we used:

  • 6-foot Cedar fence pickets (rot resistant, and inexpensive):  These were on a coupon special from McLendon’s (Western WA). We bought 6 for this plan at a price of $1.28/each, or a total of $7.68.  
  • 1- 8′ foot 2×4 for corner support and cross-support (non-pressure treated, due to potential food contamination issues)
  • Self-drilling screws (these were the most expensive item aside from the compost/soil)
  • Trim for added stability (we used 1x2s)
  • Compost/topsoil – We used 7 cubic feet of compost and 4 cubic feet of topsoil.

This is a great basic and inexpensive bed to build, and pieces can be pre-cut at your local hardware store.  Using self drilling screws means the only real tool needed is a screw driver (cordless drill with phillips bit) if material is pre-cut.  We assembled it as follows:

The basic instructions:

  • Cut corner supports to 12″ lengths
  • Attach sides, using 2 full length 6′ fence boards for the long sides, and 1 halved 6′ fence board for each of the short sides (1 picket cut into two 3-foot lengths).  We butted our joints leaving the joint on the short sides, so the width of the bed was 36″.
  • For the brace, we used a 3′ length of 2×4 spanning the inside of the bed (will be covered by dirt).  It was screwed to both the upper and lower fence boards to provide support and prevent bowing.
  • To finish, and provide additional stability/warp control, we attached 1×2 trim around the top.  Nothing fancy, but I think it will help to prevent warping.

This was so quick and easy to do, we were tempted to head back to the hardware store and build another, which we may do on another weekend (perhaps a 3×3?).   After a failed attempt at growing pumpkins there last year, I’m excited to potentially put this otherwise unusable piece of lot to good use.