We’ve received a number of comments and emails from Small Living Journal (SLJ) readers expressing interest in Do-it-Yourself Projects. This issue contains a wealth of information on building tiny homes as well as a variety of tips and resources.
I’m really excited about this issue for a number of reasons. First, some of the authors have created Podcasts and sideshows to share with you. Second, we included an article from a new participant: Anne Lupton from Small House Building. If you’re interested in participating in a future issue, please refer to our Guest Submission guidelines.
Finally, I hope the stories presented in this issue inspire you to build your own tiny home.
Take a look around and enjoy.
One of the most enjoyable things about having a blog is the people you meet along the way. During the publication of the Tiny House Blog I have met many interesting people who are building or remodeling their homes.
In fact most of the authors of the Small Living Journal I met writing a post about their projects. Recently, I have been getting to know some builders of Jay Shafer’s Tumbleweed Tiny Houses. One of them, Will Pedersen from Abbotsford, BC in Canada kept a written journal (which is available for download at the Tiny House Journal) of his building expenses. He also took photographs of each step along the way.
Will had very little carpentry experience, yet he was able to build his home with a little guidance from a carpenter friend, who was available for questions and assistance when he needed help.
Will’s journal and photos got me thinking that this might be a way to show the average person that they too could build a beautiful home with little or no experience and with some guidance from a professional.
I decided to start a new web site featuring these people and have just made the site live in the last few days. Below is a video I put together from the photos Will took of his build of his Tumbleweed Tarleton.
I hope this video and the Tiny House Journal will inspire you to take the step and make your dreams of owning and building a tiny house come to pass. You can do-it-yourself!
Video Journal of Will’s Tumbleweed Tarleton
I’ve been having so much fun drawing 3D tiny houses lately that I thought I’d use this opportunity to show you the basics of drawing with Google SketchUp. Instead of writing it all down I decided to dust-off my podcasting microphone and do a quick podcast video to show you how to do it first hand.
Google SketchUp is free 3D drawing software that’s easy to learn to use and will run on both Mac and Windows computers. Before trying it do yourself a favor and watch a few of the SketchUp training videos. I made that mistake and couldn’t draw a thing until watching the videos a few times.
In the video below I’ll show you how I start a quick tiny house sketch. You’ll see how easy it is to draw the basic shape of a house. I’m also posting the actual SketchUp file in case you want to play with the actual file. If you’re like me and like to day dream and explore design ideas I bet you’ll enjoy playing with Google SketchUp as much as I do.
Explore the tiny houses I’ve drawn on Tiny House Design… and sorry that the video sound quality isn’t great
I’d like to begin by drawing attention to a distinction between Do-It-Yourself and Do-It-By-Yourself projects, because I think that there is major difference between the two. So for the purpose of this article I will refer to both DIY and DIBY.
The DIY approach is, basically, do simple things by yourself, and when the job gets demanding or daunting, get some assistance.
DIBY means that, essentially, you’re on your own. (So far I’ve persuaded three of my friends to come out and help me with my project. Evidently “help” in this case means drink beer and throw the cans around the yard. I guess I did get Matt to drill a hole).
For reference purposes, I’ve participated in several DIY type projects in my own small house endeavor, including transporting the house to Aromas, moving the house up the hill, wrecking a collapsed barn for salvage wood, building a deck, installing a woodstove, and plumbing the house. The common denominator in all of these projects was my father, whom I call Ironhorse. In retrospect, I regret not asking him to write an article for this edition, as I can think of no one more involved in DIY than he. But barring that, I think it will still be useful to contrast he and I.
Ironhorse takes a one-man bulldozer approach. He gets serious results and he breaks a lot of things in the process, which he then has to fix. Using this approach he has built and broken (and repaired) more stuff than anyone else I know. And he gets the kind of results you would expect from a coordinated team effort. But this technique requires great motivation, fearlessness, energy, strength, a refusal to take no for an answer, a high tolerance for both pain and filth, a bunch of stuff (which will soon be broken), and most importantly the know-how and determination to fix the wreckage that you’ve left in your path (or at least the stuff that you think is important). When it comes to DIBY, frankly, his method works.
I am not Ironhorse. I share his physical strength, endurance, and willingness to dirty and bloody myself, but lack his motivation, technical knowledge, determination, and natural inclination towards practical mechanical problem solving. By contrast I am more cautious, contemplative, dreamy, bookish, and academic. To be blunt I’m not a self-starter and without direction I’m prone to laziness and indolence. In the DIY world this isn’t necessarily a problem; it’s been my experience that I’m the ideal assistant for virtually any physical task (I have this idiosyncratic competitive streak that compels me to outwork everyone else on a jobsite). But unfortunately none of this translates very well to DIBY.
If you’re a dipshit like me, (who couldn’t even get this post up without assistance from his girlfriend who isn’t even writing an article this week – thanks Manda!), without proper direction you might install a window by sandwiching the nailing strip between the framing and the siding, instead of just nailing the thing to the outside of the building. This isn’t necessarily a horrible way to do it, but if you’re working by yourself it’s way harder to simultaneously suspend a window and frame around it, and it will take you hours and you’ll wonder how the hell anybody does it in the first place. Then when you’re all done someone who knows a thing or two will come along and tell you that you haven’t left enough clearance around the edges of the window to allow for settling and expansion, at which point you’ll just shrug your shoulders, cross your fingers and hope for the best, cause you’ll be damned if your gonna take the whole thing apart again now.
You see, what does not come naturally to me is the PRACTICAL vision and direction. Any of the individual tasks of measuring and cutting and drilling and nailing is no real problem, but it is in the putting everything together that I am weak. I can cut and glue PVC, but if you ask me for a 3/4 street 90, who knows what you’ll get? And when it comes to electrical I really don’t even have a clue.
I can gleefully design a hundred gorgeous tiny houses. But those designs are just that, designs. They are like long articles that don’t convey any tangible knowledge or understanding. They are FUN, no doubt, but there’s no guarantee they will ever be anything more. In Lloyd Kahn’s Shelter, one of the contributing authors cautions against excessively detailed designs, because unless you’re independently wealthy, you’re going to have to work with what is available to you. Improvising with available materials is part of what makes owner-built homes unique and charming, and over-engineering can easily become an impediment to the improvisational necessities of the real world.
This is one of the reasons why I particularly admire Jay Shafer. Here is a man who obviously delights in design, who is not a bulldozer, and who executes his well thought-out designs into delightfully proportioned, comfortable, and functional extensions into reality. I’m more inclined to draw a floor plan and then take my shovel outside and move some dirt around.
For another thing, all my commitments are to ideas, values, and principles. I avoid commitment to practice. If I have a concept, I will implement it in a loose, rough form but I am reluctant to finish anything. I prefer to leave things partly finished for as long as possible until I am forced to make a decision on them. For instance, my deck wraps around an oak tree, and one of the salvaged 2 x 12 redwood planks runs wild about a foot, angled along the tree. My original intent had been to chop it off in a straight line with the rest of the planks, but when I look at it, the angle harmonizes with the tree and with the planks on the other side and I simply feel no compunction to cut it off. Maybe someday I will, but for now I see no reason to.
Or I’ll take a piece of material, say salvaged corrugated steel, and screw it up onto the ceiling in one spot, and just leave it there for a month or two, looking at it, until I decide whether I like it or not. If I like it, I’ll screw some more on there, and then discover that I’ve got to take it all down and put the siding up first.
I can accept these qualities in myself. From the beginning of this project Ironhorse and I had an agreement that this was to be MY project; he just didn’t have the time to help me. I can arrange for a few hours of assistance a month with things I just have no idea about, like plumbing or electrical, or maybe winching the house up a hill. But I knew that for anything to be accomplished I would have to station myself in the house, where ultimately the inconvenience of anything dysfunctional would force me to act on tasks. The downside of all this is that my 216 sq ft building has to serve as workshop, woodshed, and house, with mostly unsatisfactory consequences. And things get done, but they crawl along at a snail’s pace.
The purpose of this article is certainly not to discourage anyone from DIY or even DIBY, but rather to encourage readers to honestly assess themselves and their abilities, as well as their expectations for what they hope to accomplish and along what time-frame they require results. While I’m really not the ideal candidate for DIBY, I’m relying on necessity to be, if not the mother of my invention, then at least the driver of my production. Unfortunately, for the wannabe cynic philosopher, necessity is a rather lackadaisical driver.
The abundance of do-it-yourself books on home building and home repair on the market is an indication that the subject of DIY is of great interest to people. And why not? Being able to fix or build things associated with your home not only saves money, but gives you a great sense of pride and accomplishment. Laying new tile in the bathroom, building a new deck or patio in the backyard, or even tackling building a whole house brings a whole new way to boost your self confidence, as well as protecting your pocketbook.
Working with wood, tile, plaster, paint, lighting, power tools, etc. is a great exercise for kinesthetic learners. Reading instructions in a book is one thing, but actually using a power miter saw to install new baseboard or crown molding takes you from theory to the real world. Working with your hands, and with quality tools, is very satisfying. But the kinesthetic, hands-on, lesson only comes after reading some DIY book or article that has inspired you to actually pick up a hammer and try something.
You read a DIY book on building decks, let’s say. Talk to a few friends or family who may have done a similar project, and jump right into buying materials at your local home improvement store. Being able to interpret those drawings and instructions and apply them to your own personal building project is a great way to exercise that muscle between your ears. And with every project you become more confident to tackle something bigger and more involved.
But, even though doing your own home repairs and building can save you a lot of money, the one thing NOT to skimp on is quality tools. I have a friend who once tried to use a Leatherman tool (think Swiss Army knife) to cut the miters in some new baseboard molding she was putting in the bathroom. I cringed. But, at the time I didn’t want to say anything to hurt her feelings. Sometimes the best lessons learned happen this way. Trying to make do with inferior tools or materials until you realize you’re really wasting your time while in the end discovering how inferior your final results will turn out.
My best advice on all you aspiring DIY’ers out there is to buy quality tools, especially cutting tools (saw blades, drill bits, router bits, etc.). Clean, fast, and safe tools will make your job go a lot faster. Having a sharp saw blade slice through wood like butter is a pleasure you just can’t explain unless you’ve been there yourself.
Next is to ask a lot of questions of people who have done the kind of job you’re thinking of, and observe (or, better yet, take part in) someone actually doing it. Sign up for all the free demonstrations at your local home improvement store as possible. Even jump in on Habitat for Humanity building projects. You’ll not only gain some basic building experience, but get a warm fuzzy by helping a needy family gain a home.
And, finally, know when to call it quits when it’s obvious you just don’t have the skills for a particular project. For me it’s coping, the very precise cutting that’s involved in installing molding, specifically the inside corners. The objective is to make that inside corner appear as if the two pieces flow into each other without any sort of gap. For the life of me I just cannot make an accurate coping cut. So I hire it out.
Also, if a job requires a lot of strength, like replacing windows, then it’s also a good idea to hire that one out too. Last fall I had 2 very large windows replaced in my condo. There was no way I would have been able to take on that job myself, especially considering one of the windows was on the second floor and required scaffolding set up outside. These are good examples of when to hire out.
But, installing a new dishwasher? You bet I’m going to do that one myself! Which I really have to do in the next couple weeks as I’m putting my condo on the market soon. Anyone interested in a cute little condo in a quiet neighborhood?
In the end, whether you end up with a gorgeous DIY remodeling job, or a complete mess where you have to hire a pro to take over, you will have gained such valuable knowledge—mostly about yourself. And life isn’t complete until you’ve learn a few hard-won lessons about yourself. For me the lessons learned in building a house have given me so much confidence to tackle just about anything. There’s not much gained if you keep your nose in a DIY book all day.
Happy building! Feel free to stop by my website Small-House-Building.com and say “hi”.