Tag Archives: tiny house building

The Money Thing

Money, so they say/is the root of all evil today.

Cash rules everything around me, C.R.E.A.M. get the money, dollar dollar bill y’all….

 

Yes it’s true, one of the biggest sticking points for many folks who want to start their own tiny house venture or other off-grid endeavour, is a lack of start up cash. According to the Federal Reserve Board, 47% of americans have less than $500 in savings, so this is you, you’re not alone. I was fortunate enough to have supportive parents and a decently paid job, so I saved quite a bit between age 16-19. Still, I ended up spending most of the money I had saved for college on the tiny house project, deciding that having a warm, safe place to sleep no matter where I went was more important than a degree that might end up being useless and loading me with debt in an uncertain world.

In light of this, it’s incredibly important to figure out how to get the most bang for your limited buck. So I’m going to lay out a few strategies I used to complete my project on a limited budget.

THE TRAILER:

A brand-new cargo trailer from Wells Cargo, the top-of-the-line trailer maker, costs approximately $3600 for a basic 6×12. After shopping around, this seemed to be the going rate with other companies, including smaller local trailer sellers. However, I’ve seen listings on Craigslist for used Wells Cargo trailers of the same size for $1400-$2000; mine was $2000. That’s a savings of $1500 right out of the gate. When buying a used trailer, make sure to check for a valid VIN number (stamped into the frame), working brake lights and turn signals; avoid trailers with frame rust of other frame damage. If you have more time, ambition, and carpentry skills, you can buy a flat bed utility trailer like this for around $1100; however, you will have to frame out the structure of the house, and this will require more time and more costly materials-not to mention more skill. But it will give you more options as to insulation and the shape and structure of the house. Weigh your options and priorities and choose accordingly.

THE TOOLS

Yes, we know your neighbor is a total tool, but you can’t use him to build a house with, as much as you’d like to use his face to pound in nails. You’re going to need a decent set of hand tools, if you don’t have those already, and a couple power tools. Here’s a list of what I ended up using in my pretty basic tiny house build:

Adjustable wrench, 16-oz claw hammer, cordless drill (this is the same one I had-never did me wrong through the whole project), screwdriver set with a couple different sizes of both flat-tipped and Phillip’s head screwdrivers, small and large flat bar, small handheld disc sander, several sizes of paintbrush (from 1″ to 3″), paint roller and tray, 7″ circular saw (also called a Skil saw, although when I use it, we call it an Unskilled Saw), chalk line, 25′ measuring tape, small Japanese hand saw (really helpful for smaller stuff), hacksaw (for cutting bolts), 1/2″ and 1″ chisels, table saw (with the right jigs, clamps, and work surface, you can forgo this and just use a circular saw), adjustable dado cutter (pretty sure it can be used with a circular saw-for several joint types used in furniture making), 1/2″ and 1″ spade bits, assorted drill bits (lots and lots. If you don’t want to blow half your budget on drill bits, make sure you get ones designed to use with metal if you have to drill holes in metal.), small cross cut saw, assorted rasps and files, assorted sand paper (60 to 100 grit, and discs for the sander), utility knife and extra blades, nail set

I’m probably forgetting quite a few, and there’s a couple things I wish I’d had, like a miter box for cutting perfect 45 degree angles. But this gives you a good idea of what you’ll need to start out. Tools can be pretty expensive, but there’s a few ways around this. If you’re buying hand tools, Harbor Freight has a wide selection for low prices. Although they don’t have the best reputation for quality, they do have a tool replacement policy on hand tools-if a tool you bought there breaks, they’ll replace it for free, according to my friend James (and hey, if you can’t trust a guy who keeps a giant snake as a pet, who can you trust?) Also, look into finding a tool library in your area, for anything large, expensive, or difficult to find. Your local Habitat for Humanity store will often carry gently used tools as well as building materials, appliances, and furniture; also, check out yard sales. If you know anyone in a trade who is retiring, ask if they are interested in selling any of their tools. Or if you have an older family member who has lots of tools but doesn’t use them anymore, offer to clean and organize their garage, workshop or attic in return for taking some tools home.

MATERIALS

I spent about $1500 on materials. Some of this cost definitely could be reduced by better planning and knowledge; I did end up with a few things I didn’t need, especially parts for the solar shower. Proper planning and measuring are the first line of defense when saving costs on materials. Figure out exactly how much square footage/length/whatever of something (plywood, flooring planks, paint, etc) you will need and purchase accordingly. Accurate measurements are VERY important here! If you have the exact measurements for each piece of a project, you can even figure out in the store how you will be able to cut the pieces from the material with the least amount of waste. Or, figure out the standard sizes for the materials you will use, then plan accordingly, using graph paper to plan out the layout of the cut pieces. For example, a standard piece of plywood is 4’x 8′. For other resources on low-cost building materials, see my post on scrap and reclaimed building materials.

TOW VEHICLE

What you use as a tow vehicle will depend on how much, what distance, an over what terrain you plan to tow the tiny house. For starters, get a good idea of the total weight of the trailer so you can choose a vehicle with a proper towing capacity. Some junk yards may have a truck scale that you can drive your trailer onto and have it weighed; this will have the most accurate results, so it doesn’t hurt to ask around. Then, think about where you’ll be towing the trailer. Will you be towing it short distances, over back roads, or very level terrain? If so, you can go fairly close to your vehicle’s max tow capacity. But if you want to tow long distances, on busy highways, or over hilly terrain, you want to make sure your vehicle has enough power to accelerate fast enough to merge and climb hills. In this situation, also consider getting a truck or SUV with a special towing package (this includes features like towing mirrors, electrical connector, tow hitch, and transmission cooler.) Research the tow capacity of various vehicles, and choose one that fits your needs. If you’re towing your trailer a short distance only, don’t go overboard. For example, a four-cylinder Toyota Tacoma has a tow capacity of 3500 lbs, more than enough for a small house trailer. Choosing a smaller vehicle will ultimately save you money both on purchase and fuel costs. Keep in mind, however, that a truck or truck-based SUV can tow more than a car with equivalent engine displacement due to features like a heavier-duty frame. If you have your vehicle choice narrowed down to a few models, you can often find vehicle-specific discussion forums where people share their experiences with towing and answer questions. As for getting a tow hitch installed, shop around and compare quotes; Uhaul locations are nearly everywhere and offer affordable tow hitch installations. Mine ran to a little under $300 for the hitch receiver, hitch, ball mount, pin, and wiring harness. I would not trust a used tow hitch-don’t take a risk on your house and belongings just to save a buck.

Anyway, good luck, thanks for reading, and, uh, happy budgeting.

 

 

Passive Solar Water Heater/Shower

Oh boy, here goes another  dense, boring how-to post, you think. Great. Why can’t we have more stories about your ex, or Renaissance faires, or something cool and fun? But bear with me here, because I’m about to show you how to build your own solar shower. And there’s PICTURES! Even one of me demonstrating the shower! (Sorry, it’s pretty g-rated.) The instructions given here will help even the most distractible person with zero plumbing knowledge (that’s me!) build a working solar shower. A shower built with the dimensions specified will hold about 7.5 gallons of water, enough for a decent shower including washing your hair. It won’t get hot, but it will get warm enough to be nice on a cooler summer night.

But wait, excited readers, before you get started you will need some tools and materials. Tools for this are pretty simple: you will need a power drill with a 1 1/2″ hole saw bit and a star bit for driving screws, an adjustable wrench, pencil or other marking tool, 60-grit sandpaper, channel lock pliers that will accommodate a 3″ object, and I think that’s it. For materials, you will need:

10′ section of 4″ diameter ABS pipe (the black plastic stuff)

1 1/2″ ABS female adapter

1 1/2″ ABS cleanout plug

2 4″ rubber end caps for pipes

Metal pipe hanger strapping– you can also buy this as individual pipe hangers with a loop for the pipe to go through and a screw to hold the loop shut, I recommend getting them in this form but can’t find the right part on the Home Depot website.

3/4″ bulkhead fitting (ABS, of course. This might take some searching around.)

6-10″ garden hose (don’t just cut a length from a longer one, make sure it has the adapters on both ends.)

8  1-1/2″ self-tapping screws

Dramm sprinkler head and shut-off valve (product #10-12365 and #10-12349 in their catalogue.) Don’t try to use another type of sprinkler head-this works best for low water pressure.

Nice big tube of flexible watertight caulk (I used Through The Roof) and caulk gun

Roll of pipe thread sealing tape

Can of ABS glue (do NOT use glue designed for PVC pipes!)

 

Ok, first order of business is figuring out where to hang your water heater. Choose a location that will get lots of sun during the day, and provides a mounting point at least 8′ off the ground. Now, you’re going to make a hole for the fill cap. SLOWLY drill a 1 1/2″ hole in one end of the pipe with the hole saw; if the drill bogs down in the plastic, just back off a little. Clean up the edges of the hole with sandpaper to remove little plastic shreddies. Now, put the female adapter over the hole-this is going to be your fill hole. See how it doesn’t sit flush over the hole? We’re getting to that. Now, wrap the sandpaper over the pipe with the gritty part facing up. You’re going to run the female adapter over the sandpaper until you sand enough of a curve into it that it sits flush over the pipe. When that’s done, put it over the hole you drilled, making sure there’s no gaps between the adapter and the pipe. Now, glue the adapter over the hole, using the ABS glue. Make sure to carefully follow the instructions on the bottle-that stuff sets FAST! Also it’s quite toxic, so keep kids and pets out of the way. Once it sets up, paint a thin layer of glue on the outside of the joint. Let dry undisturbed. Once this is done, screw the plug into the adapter-you now have a filler cap. IMG_20160717_145815282_HDR

You’ll end up with…this.

Now it’s time to assemble the hose end. Screw the shutoff valve and sprinkler head together, then attach them to the hose. Unscrew the two halves of the bulkhead fitting. The sticking-out bit (for lack of a better word) that screws into the round bit will be the part that passes through the rubber cap. place this part towards the bottom of the rubber end cap, trace around it, and cut a hole for it with a sharp knife-make the hole slightly smaller than the fitting. Push the fitting through the cap so the threaded part is on the outside. The hexagonal bit should be on the inside. Also note: there are two gaskets in the fitting, make sure one goes inside and the other goes outside! Tighten the bulkhead fitting as much as you can-you may have to grip one side with the channel-lock pliers and turn the other part. It’s threaded backwards, so turn left to tighten and right to loosen. When the fitting is tight as it can go, run a bead of sealer around the edge, between the fitting and the cap. You will probably need an adapter to attach the hose to the bulkhead fitting; take both parts into a hardware store and they should be able to tell you what part you need. Put pipe thread sealer tape on the threads of the fitting and the end of the hose. Then, take the rubber cap and put it on the end of the pipe, tightening the bolt on the little metal band around it as much as possible. Once it’s all attached together it should look like this-

IMG_20160717_145728232_HDR

Put the other cap on the filler end of the pipe, tightening the metal band with the adjusting bolt as far as it will go. You’re now ready to hang up your solar shower. Put the 4 pipe hangers in place around the pipe. Next, mark off where you’ll hang the heater. You’ll need it to be at least 7-8′ off the ground to get a good flow. You will also need to hang it at a slant. Mark off the position for the fill end 3-4″ higher than the drain end. Space the pipe hangers out evenly, making sure they have a solid support to go into, like joists or a trailer frame. Line up each hanger over a support, and mark out spots for 2 screws in each hanger, marking through the holes in the hangers with a pen or pencil. If you’re putting this on a trailer, line each hanger up with the metal bars that make up the frame. Next, take the heater down, and drill pilot holes for screws. Put the heater back up, making sure the hangers are lined up right. Rotate the pipe so the fill cap is facing up and the bulkhead fitting/drain is facing down. Have someone hold the heater up for you while you drive the screws in. Don’t let go until you’re sure the pipe will stay put! IMG_20160717_145831834_HDR

(I actually attached mine to the roof. If you do this, put a bead of sealer around the screws to avoid leaks.)

 

Congratulations, you now have a solar water heater! You can fill it with a bucket and a funnel, or run a garden hose directly into the filler cap. IMG_20160717_145928590_HDR

And here’s the shower in action! Happy summer, everyone!

The trailer by the numbers: living in the Mothership

I was introduced to “tiny living” when I worked for an Americorps trail crew in Vermont. We lived in tents at a remote campsite where we had to canoe in with all our gear. Personal belongings were limited to what could fit in 2 backpacks, and sleeping space was a 3 person tent shared with a co-worker and her gear. We all cooked and ate communally, and most evenings were spent sitting around a campfire. Definitely a different arrangement than living alone in a trailer, but it introduced me to living on less, in a small space, with the trees as my walls and the stars as my roof. I had to be more conscious about water use, and washing, and not leaving leftovers when I ate-among many other things. In some ways it was harder to live on less, but in other ways it was very freeing: not constantly worrying about paying bills and rent (and having great hiking and swimming less than 50 feet from where I slept) made up for bug bites and occasional wet feet. I’ve decided to take that philosophy a step further and live in my own more permanent dwelling, a 6×12” cargo trailer converted into a living space.

 

WHAT IS THE MOTHERSHIP?

The Mothership is a completely self-contained, off-grid tiny house built in a converted 6×12 cargo trailer. That’s the short answer. The long answer is-it’s been a long, crazy adventure of almost  4 months, an  extensive construction project, and a journey of self-discovery and learning.

 

WHAT MAKES IT SUSTAINABLE?

 

Off-Grid: The Mothership needs no utility hookups. Light is provided by solar-powered LED lanterns and natural daylight, water can be filtered on-site, and heat is provided by a tiny stove that burns scrap wood and small branches. I’m also planning to install solar panels for another source of electricity.

Reused materials: An estimated 25-40% of solid waste generated in the US comes from construction debris; much of this can be re-used. About 80% of the materials in the Mothership are scrap or reclaimed. I’ve sourced materials from barns, attics, secondhand stores, junkyards, dumpsters and abandoned buildings. I also tried to plan the construction based on the materials at hand, rather than making a rigid plan and buying materials to fit that. This construction method minimized the amount of waste/scrap material the project generated.  

Small Size: the house’s tiny dimensions mean it’s less resource-intensive even without trying! It takes less wood to heat, less electricity to light, less water for cleaning and other tasks…

Can be parked anywhere with a decent view (or not!): No need to clear land to build a house; the tiny footprint of the trailer means it can fit in just about any corner of the world, and it’s fully mobile. That also means I can park it somewhere that will minimize my commute to work, friends’ houses, stores, etc.

Less Stuff: The lack of space in the house means I have to be very conscious about owning and acquiring possessions, and not own any more than the minimum of what I need.

 

WHERE CAN IT BE PARKED?

Any flat area with enough room for a 6×12’ trailer, truck, and room to turn the truck around. Preferably somewhere with sunlight, as the solar water heater needs it to make hot water for showers.

 

WHAT ARE ITS NEEDS FOR WATER, TRASH DISPOSAL, ETC?

Water: I don’t anticipate using more than 10 gallons of water on any given day. The solar water heater has a capacity of 7.5 gallons, and daily cooking, cleaning, washing and drinking needs shouldn’t exceed 2.5-3 gallons. The sink has a water storage tank with a 5-gallon capacity and a grey water storage tank with the same capacity, so unless I’m showering a lot, I shouldn’t have to get water a lot, so it’s OK if I’m not immediately next to a water source. My grey water should be safe to dump in a sump hole or even use to water plants, as I plan to use only nontoxic and biodegradable cleaners and not dump anything down my sink like paint, glues, solvents, etc.

Electricity: I don’t need an electric hookup; my lighting is provided by natural daylight and solar-powered LED lights. Eventually I plan to install a rooftop solar array with battery storage for other electricity needs, which will be minimal-maybe a power source for my laptop and a small fan for ventilation. I don’t have refrigeration, and any foods I need to keep cool will be stored in a small cooler with ice. However I’ve found it’s surprisingly easy to live without refrigeration if you are careful about food preparation and consumption. Eating mostly vegetarian food helps. Produce can be stored at room temperature for 5-7 days, eggs and cultured dairy products for 3-4 days, and butter and many condiments for even longer.

Laundry: I plan to use whatever local laundromat is closest, and I’ll try to air-dry my clothes when weather and space allow. 

Toilet and shower facilities: I have a solar water heater on top of the camper with a shower attachment; the black plastic pipe soaks up heat from the sun, warms the water, and gives me a way to enjoy a nice warm low-flow gravity fed shower outdoors (so it would probably be best that I parked a little out of the way…) If the weather gets cold, I can also use the shower at the gym where  I’m a member. As for toilet facilities, I didn’t have room to put a composting toilet in the trailer, so I figured I would just use the bathroom at work or any other nearby facility, and in an emergency, I’d resort to the old strategy of peeing behind an out-of-the-way tree.

Cooking: I have a 2-burner camp stove to do my cooking on, and a small sink with gravity-fed running water from a tank. Grey water storage is below the sink.

Trash, recycle, and compost: I compost food scraps, and would be happy to contribute my compost to any gardening going on wherever I park, especially if it’s something like pumpkins, which love compost. I have 2 bins for recycles (plastic/metal and paper/cardboard) and would not produce more than a few pounds of each type of recycle per week; I also generate very little trash (due to re-using plastic bags and avoiding packaged food or any item with lots of packaging). My total output of trash and recycles would be about 5 lbs/week, probably less. Compost might be a little more due to high water content.

Heating: For heat, I’m installing a small tent stove designed to heat an 80 square foot space with minimal insulation. This stove is made by the Three Dog Stove company and is a clean-burn, airtight stove. It can burn wood from downed trees, brush, or unfinished, untreated scrap wood. I don’t think it would get cold enough in summer to need it, but I would want access to a supply of scrap wood/firewood just in case.

Storage: Everything I own is going in the trailer, no exceptions! (except maybe a lawn chair and a couple potted plants.)

I loved, I lost, I insulated some walls

In March, the love of my life went AWOL, and I insulated some walls.

Don’t talk to me, don’t ever come in my workplace again and sit there staring at me while you drink your coffee, I told you I wanted to be left alone, I told you to respect my boundaries, but you continue to ignore them, I want to remain friends with you but understand that nothing can ever happen between us again. Fine. I can live with that, because I know this has happened before, and with worse fighting, and we’ll just end up in bed together inside of 2 months when he gets lonely. I try to put away my concerns and focus on the trailer.

It’s finally starting to come together; the trailer looks more…real with the floor in place, like it could be a place to live, not a dingy mobile equipment shed. My stepdad comes over with his Sawzall to cut a hole in the side and top of the trailer to install a window and skylight. Since I can’t cut through the metal ribs that form the trailer’s frame, I chose a small window specifically designed for use in a trailer. There’s also trailer skylights available-try looking for an “RV skylight”, it’s just a specially shaped plastic bubble that can be installed on the roof of a trailer. I installed the window and skylight, sealing them against the weather with a healthy bead of caulk.

Then I started in on the insulation.

My father suffers from the after-effects of chronic Lyme disease, which he waged war against on various fronts for many years; one of these fronts, eventually, was IV antibiotics. They came packed in giant cardboard boxes, cushioned by gel refrigerant packs and squares of styrofoam. It was the foam squares I was after; we had a huge sack of this spent ordnance from the Lyme wars lying around the attic. With a little inventive measuring and cutting, the foam squares fit between the ribs of the trailer’s frame perfectly. Basically, I was following the pattern of a traditional frame wall, with a frame inside, insulation in the gaps, covered inside by paneling and outside by the trailer’s aluminum skin-an insulated, weathertight “sandwich”. I chose foam board for insulation over fiberglass or spray foam for several reasons, the most important being that it’s super easy to install and takes up very little space (important in my trailer.) I couldn’t have it sticking out past the metal ribs, because then I couldn’t attach my wall panels, so I went for the thickest piece that would work, which was about 1″. I also bought 3/4″ foam  board insulation to use on the roof, as it would bend to accommodate the slight bow in the roof. All in all, it took 1 bag of foam board squares and 3 large sheets of foam board insulation to insulate the ceiling and 3 walls (I left the back door uninsulated, planning to hang an insulating curtain in front of it so I could still use the door.)  Meanwhile, things seemed to be warming up a little between me and my angry lover. I even thought I might get to see him soon.

Motivated by foolish hope and happiness, I began to put my walls up. Most of the original paneling was in good condition, marred only by a few easily fillable dents, cheap trim, and ugly paint. I pried off the cheap plastic trim with a flat-bar and reinstalled the panels in their original locations, even using the original fasteners and pre-drilled holes (this was convenient, because the panels had to be attached to the metal frame, and drilling pilot holes into the metal was a pain. i went through many drill bits.) To fasten anything to the trailer’s frame, I had to use self-tapping screws, a type of screw that cuts threads into metal or plastic when screwed in. They’re identifiable by the small notch cut into the tip.

For the ceiling, which had previously been bare, I used sheets of 1/4″ plywood. I had to cut it into sections to be able to bend it enough. I cut it into thin strips that just spanned the gap between each set of metal ribs. Then, I covered every other section of the roof with the plywood, attaching it on both sides to the roof-ribs with 3/4″ self-tapping screws. To cover the spaces in between, I cut the 1/4″ plywood wide enough to slightly overlap the plywood I’d already attached. Obviously this didn’t look super finished and professional, but I liked the shingled look it gave my roof. Unfortunately, the wall panels didn’t reach all the way up to the ceiling, so I was left with a gap in the paneling where the top edge of the wall met the ceiling; it was at an odd angle, with nothing really to screw into. This would prove to be quite a pain later.

Then I made the worst mistake of my life: thinking he was about to come back to me. I was convinced that beyond all odds I had managed to be patient enough to merit a final chance at redeeming myself, but this was my downfall. Almost a month after he had first gone missing, he told me he was reunited with a previous girlfriend, who he had been seeing before me. He described her as the love of his life, and told me not to feel replaced because “what I have with her is nothing like what I had with you”. He reminded me that he had lived with her before moving to the area, a privilege I had never enjoyed. Every time I closed my eyes I imagined them together. It was torture, despite my daily reminders to myself that other people were far worse-off and had more difficult things to bear than I. So I tried to concentrate on building the trailer, so I could move on, away from a town where everything reminded me of him. But the construction was delayed for weeks while I flailed around helplessly in a soup of ugly feelings. Finally I managed to pull it together enough to salvage some trim from a trash pile behind a notoriously snooty local dance studio, and paint the walls with 2 coats of linen white left over from my mom’s house. Installing the trim was difficult; the trim nails were hard to drive in because the paneling behind the trim was really thin and absorbed the force of the hammer blows by bending or bouncing back. It was easy to bend a nail or smash a thumb; I did both many times. If you’re doing a trailer conversion like me, remember to nail into something solid, or consider using small screws, or use very thin trim and just attach with construction adhesive.

Anyway, I made it, and the hurt is a little less every day-even less now that I’m busier and know that I’m getting out of here soon.

 

And my walls still stand, and protect me from rain and wind just fine.

The Imaginary House-Builder


 

Are you having trouble picturing yourself building a tiny house? But you still desperately, desperately want to? Do have absolutely no construction skills to speak of? I mean, maybe you know which end of a hammer to hold, and which end to smash your thumb with, but that’s about it? Well, less than four months ago, I was in the same boat as you, and now I have a house-trailer sitting in my dad’s yard, ready to move. The trick to not letting the crazy scale and complexity of the project scare you, is to cut it down to size.

I don’t mean to make it even smaller-tiny houses are tiny enough to begin with; I mean breaking it down into small, manageable segments. And then picture yourself doing each thing. Yes, some things will be new to you, and you’ll have to learn. You’re going to have to learn some basic electrical wiring, very basic plumbing (possibly), joinery/cabinetmaking, installing insulation, painting, installing flooring, installing windows, heating and ventilation…and that’s just the start. But if you break it down into small segments, it’s less scary and more doable. That’s the trick here: you’ll never be able to do anything if you think you can’t. When I was working on a trail crew, I discovered that if I tried to lift a heavy log while thinking of how heavy it was and thinking that I was weak, my arms tired in seconds; but if I thought, I’ll give it my best try and see what happens, I found I had extra reserves of strength I had been holding back-plenty to lift the log into position.

Can you imagine yourself building a whole tiny house?

Probably not.

But can you imagine yourself buying a trailer to build it on/in? Yeah, probably (unless you’re completely out of cash.)  Can you imagine yourself reading books about construction? Can you imagine yourself building walls? A roof? Insulating the walls? If these individual steps seem too much for you, break it down ever further into each individual task, from measuring to cutting to attaching pieces together. Remember, this (or any project) will take time, so be patient with yourself. And read, read, read! There are plenty of books on carpentry, basic plumbing and electrical stuff, wood heat, composting toilets, rainwater catchment systems, etc. etc. at your library. Reading up on what you’re going to do is sometimes better than sorting through a whole bunch of search results. It also helps you break down the steps of what you’ll have to do and what order it should be done in. If I can do it, so can you!

Good luck.

Salvage Sources & Dumpster-Diving Safety

Salvaging materials is a great way to not only reduce costs on your project, but also lower the environmental impact. Up to 45% of waste that goes in landfills is construction debris, some of which is perfectly re-usable material. Many materials you’ll need to build a tiny home or trailer can be picked up for cheap or free, from plywood to drawer pulls. Here, I’ll share some of my favorite sources of salvageable, reclaimed, recycled, and scrap material, and give some tips on safety and general salvaging guidelines. The beauty of building tiny is that you can use many pieces that would be considered too small/scrap in another application.

SALVAGE SOURCES

  1. Habitat For Humanity ReStore

These stores sell leftover, scrap and salvaged construction materials, furniture, fixtures, paint, finishes, fasteners, tools, and just about everything you can imagine, at a reduced price vs. what they would costs new. Just a warning: some stores are more furniture-specific than construction-specific, so call or check the website before you drive 2 hours out of your way. Still, it’s an adventure every time you go, and all proceeds from your shopping go to support Habitat For Humanity!

2. Construction site dumpster

You’ll definitely find construction debris here, but you’ll probably have to dig through a bunch of junk to get to the useful stuff. There’s also probably lots of drywall dust, insulation, sawdust, and other nasty stuff you don’t want to breathe in, so wear a dust mask. You also run the risk of pissing someone off if they bust you rummaging through their trash. It helps if you know a guy who knows a guy…

If you must go this route, scout out the site before you go there. Do you see any debris worth salvaging? Are they easily accessible? What times is the site unoccupied? Where will you park your ‘getaway vehicle’? What’s your plan/explanation if things go sour? I probably would not recommend doing this unless you ask the folks in charge of the site first.

 

3. Dumpster behind lumber supply company

Reward:risk ratio is pretty high here. Lumber supply companies throw some CRAZY stuff in the dumpster. I’ve found almost half sheets of good plywood, pristine flooring samples with various finishes, pine siding with only a small warp/defect at one end, broken (but usable) trim pieces…either ask the store owners if you can take or buy scraps from them, or wait until after hours to grab your present from the plywood fairies and make a quick getaway. One person’s trash is another’s treasure.

4. Abandoned barn or old building

A pretty reliable source of salvage goodies, depending on how long it’s standing and how well it’s picked over. Avoid places with no trespassing signs unless it’s REALLY REALLY abandoned. It’s one thing to take some old pieces of barn board from a falling down building in the middle of nowhere in a field…another to bust into some place someone’s actually trying to fix up. In this case, you’re better off if the building is on your or a friend’s property, or ask the building owner first. Also, with very old buildings, be cautious about taking painted stuff, because it may have been painted with lead paint and you don’t want to put that in your house.

 

5. Friend/relative’s garage

Probably the safest source, and usually free. Just make sure to be polite and grateful; offer to mow their lawn or something. You would be surprised what people have had sitting in their garage since the Nixon administration. They might even thank you for clearing out some extra storage space for them.

 

6. Yard sale/tag sale

This may be not the best place for finding castoff construction material, but it’s a great source of furniture that can be reborn in new forms. Also a great source for second-hand tools, but be sure to ask to test power tools before buying. Anecdotal evidence: my dad has a tag-sale find table saw and it works fine-all it needed was a new blade.

 

7. FreeCycle (https://www.freecycle.org/)

A network of local non-profit groups through which people list, trade, and give away useful items that would otherwise be thrown out-for free! This site isn’t construction material specific; you’ll find everything on here from mattresses to dishware to used trampoline frames (to name a very specific example) and everything in between.

 

8. Craigslist

Check the Tools, Materials, and Free section. The Materials section is a great resource; it’s mainly people selling either salvaged materials or new materials left over from a building project in amounts to small to complete another project-perfect for a tiny house! Even with the new items you can usually save money over going to a store like Home Depot. The Free section is useful for finding free firewood.

 

9. Local paper/advertising section

People will often sell old tools, furniture and occasionally scrap material through the ad section of the local paper. This is usually a pretty trust-worthy source, especially if you’re in a tight-knit community where everyone knows everyone. not the best source for scrap, better for finding old tools-but keep a sharp eye out for a good bargain and don’t be scared to negotiate a bit.

 

GENERAL SAFETY & STEALTH GUIDELINES

-Wear comfortable, durable clothing that’s easy to move around in. Cover arms and legs to avoid splinters and nail scratches.

-Wear sturdy shoes or boots with thick soles to prevent foot injury from nails or falling objects.

-Wear a dust mask if you plan to be salvaging in a dusty area or poorly ventilated old building.

-Wear work gloves if you plan to be doing demolition type stuff or handling things with nails sticking out of them.

-Park your vehicle out of sight if you’re dumpster diving, plan a drop-off route that won’t make you conspicuous, and be prepared to explain yourself. If asking for materials is an option, take that option!

-If you have to actually take things apart to get at what you want, bring pliers, a hammer, flat bar, flat head and phillips head screwdriver…this should cover most of your bases.

-If you’re dumpster-diving, it may help to bring a friend as a lookout.

Above all try to stay safe, keep things on the up and up, and if you have the option of asking for scrap rather than dumpster diving for it, take that option! And don’t do anything too dumb like I would. Happy scrapping!

Go tiny or go home: a virtual house tour

 

Welcome to my virtual house tour, now with crummy cell phone quality photos! Enjoy all 72 glorious square feet of my humble dwelling.  Highly recommended: listening to this while viewing. I got the keys to the highway!

 

20160517_124014

Just inside the front door-kitchen area, waiting for the second countertop. You can see my woodstove on the left side of the picture (still have to set that up too!)

20160517_123950

My countertop, finished with 6 coats of tung oil. I hang napkins and towels from the hooks in the wall, and stores knives in the block in the corner.

20160517_123943

The shower caddy by the door holds toiletries. The cabinet has hooks on the side for hanging stuff like grocery bags up. (Don’t tell my friend Justin I still have the book he loaned me…)

 

0516161055-00
The kitchen cabinets and shelves are built from recycled pallets and plywood scraps, plus some flooring samples I found in a dumpster.

20160517_123819

I found this sink in a junkyard. It cost $12, versus $80 to buy a similar sink brand new. I’m going to hook it up to a waste water tank.

0516161057-02
This bedside table was constructed from a scrap of siding I dumpster-dived. The legs are laurel branches.
0516161057-00
This rolling shelf slides out from under my bed. I use it to store clothes and books (in the cabinet).

20160517_123701

Detail of bed. This decorative piece was made by drilling holes of various sizes in a piece of 1/2″ thick stock, then sanding and coating with 3 coats of tung oil. (This  was a really nice piece, found in my grandma’s garage…think it’s maple?)

20160517_123618

I papered the shelves with recycled gift wrap to prevent delicate fabrics from snagging on splinters or rough areas in the wood.

20160517_123721

There was a vent over my bed, but it was basically just a hole in the ceiling; this louvered vent cover makes it possible to open the vent or close it while driving to keep out dust and debris.

20160517_123712

This decorative bracket is supposed to hold a potted plant, but makes a good holder for my LED lamp or a candle.

20160517_123739

The view out my window: the house I grew up in. This will change soon I hope…

0516161056-01
Over my door. The paper cranes were a birthday gift from my sister, the dream catcher was made by my aunt.

20160517_124156

The view with the back ramp door down. yup, this is it!

20160517_124319

From the outside-with the best little car ever.

20160517_124332

Wish the Civic could pull it. 😦