After a year and 4 months, we’re still alive! And still living tiny!

We have been busy bees at the Hunny House; Tomas training for Pacific Northwest Search and Rescue and I working full-time and taking two classes this term to finish my degree this spring (!) at Portland State University.

In tiny house news, we can finally celebrate having hot water again!

After three months with no hot water (and many weeks without running water at all), we have the luxury of showering at home and washing dishes without first boiling water on the stove. Portland (as was most of the U.S.) was hit with a cold winter this year, and it delayed delivery and installation of our new hot water heater (Her Watery Highness).

It was hard to get ahold of plumbers, but I think we finally found our repair people: mobile RV repair services! I guess I knew this kind of service existed, but I hadn’t thought about it for tiny homes. It makes sense though, and I’m hoping they’ll continue to be a helpful resource.

There are a couple of companies in town; we hired At Your Service Mobile RV Inc. because they have good reviews on Angie’s List and they were recommended by our local RV-supply store, Curtis Trailers. I winced when they asked for the make/model of our RV on the phone, but they were gracious and understanding when I explained our situation. They were professional, helpful, and gave a reasonable estimate. They’ve since installed the water heater and everything is working great so far! We’re very pleased.

We like the Rinnai V53e unit so far; it’s a lot quieter than the other (which sounded like a jet-engine when it kicked on) PLUS it’s rated for outdoor use. It is the same unit a couple living tiny in our neighborhood has, and they made it through this winter with zero water heater problems. We’re hoping we’ll be as fortunate next winter!

Audrey

We’re on week 3 with no running water.

Portland recently had a very cold spell that froze our water heater causing the internal coils to burst. We came home from a Tiny House Mixer one night when temperatures finally rose above freezing to find water gushing out of the water heater. So we shut off the water supply, went through a bit of homeowner shock and depression, and assessed how we were going to fix this. Our plumbing is currently set up so that all running water goes through the water heater; with it out of commission, so is the water flow to our sink and shower.

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It didn’t help that our builders installed an INDOOR water heater outside our house. They assured us they followed protocols for installing a water heater that was supposed to be outdoors (they told us this during the time we still trusted them). It was the reason why we have a dead spot in the corner of the “L” kitchen; we attempted to design the kitchen to contain the water heater indoors, but the builders said, it has to be outdoors.  This is the model that broke. It states clearly on the website “indoor tankless water heater”. And that “I” in the model name? Yep, you guessed it: INDOOR. Not that we need more evidence, but add this to the many reasons why we would not recommend Tiny Smart House Llc as builders.

It has been stressful to shop for a water heater when you really need one. We want to take our time, do research, not make an impulsive (expensive) purchase, and we want to purchase a product that will work in our climate. Plumbers have (shockingly) given estimates from $2,000-$3,000 to replace and install a water heater. Ecotemp, the company that makes our current, broken water heater, offered a discount on a new outdoor model, but they were honest and said their products work best in Florida and Hawaii and even their outdoor models don’t withstand freezing temperatures well.

We were close to upgrading to the RV-550 which we’ve heard rave reviews about and could probably retro-fit into the house by cutting out a hole and using the ‘dead’ corner space, but the $1200 purchase price scared me away. There’s even a cool youtube video on how to install.

In the end, we decided to go with a water heater our friends and tiny house neighbors have which got them through the cold snap with no problems. The Rinnai V53E ordered from here for $600 (inc shipping). We’ve learned that exterior water heaters have an internal heating system to keep the coils from freezing and breaking. This won’t prevent the hoses coming in/out of the heater from freezing, we’ll still have to winterize those, but it would keep the internal coils from breaking. The water heater won’t ship until late next week due to the holidays so until then we’re patiently (okay not so patiently) waiting for our new one to arrive.

In the mean time, we’re buying gallon jugs of drinking water and filling up empties with hose water to boil and use to wash dishes. I’m showering at the gym and Tomas is relying on friends to lend a shower. It has been inconvenient and costly, but my money’s on 2014 to be a fresh start with fewer home repairs!

We’ll update with the installation process!

Update: In a moment of genius inspiration, YouTube searching, and one Home Depot trip we now have running (cold) water! Tomas saved the day when he came up with the idea to install a “copper push-fit end stop” to keep the water from flowing into the ‘hot’ section of the water heater. Who’s ready for a cold shower!!

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Cheers and happy holidays to all!

Audrey

Although we are now in the house for 13 months, we finally had our first real snow accumulation!

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The city has been going through a cold spell along with the rest of the country, but we didn’t seem to get it as bad as other cities.

This snow-day just so happen to be my day off and the day I wanted to try a different heater to combat the frost.

Home Depot employees were brave enough to get to the store before the shoppers and have coffee and heaters ready for us unprepared squirrels.

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Most of the snow was gone by mid-day, but not before giving Mr B a chance to experience the white stuff. He was not a happy kitty.

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Nearing the end of 2013 and just breaching our first year in the tiny house, we’ve come to realize that although the house is wrapped in R-13 rated pink insulation and seems to be blocking drafts quite well, it does get cold a bit easy.

For the most part, we’ve been able to keep warm by using a low power convection heater by Envi for most of the day and a Vornado  when we wanted a bit more heat in the lower part of the house. Unfortunately, we are still running the entire house off of a standard household outlet that is limited to 15 amps at any one time. Since the temperatures dipped below 28F, running either heater on Medium setting just isn’t keeping us quite warm enough. The house doesn’t seem to want to get over 55F. That’s just too chilly for our comfort.

We started to notice a few deficiencies in our insulation. We had to add a couple of missing strips of foam near the cat door, filled a few gaps in the corner of the french door that was never opened.

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We also purchased some cedar lattice along with some contractor grade plastic sheeting to close off the crawl space and limit the heat loss by wind. We also wrapped the entire length of hose in foam pipe insulation. The instant water heater got dressed in bubble-wrap, and all the windows covered in additional plastic.  The floor was also getting quite chilly and proved too much for bushy socks, so we purchased rugs to help fend off the chill.

The house is still a bit chilly at 58F, and although the outside temperatures are going up a bit, but we have already started thinking ahead to purchasing a propane-fired marine-grade furnace to battle the next cold snap.

Living in the Pacific Northwest is awesome! It’s also very damp…

We’ve been cautious about moisture issues in our small space and wanted to increase airflow under the bed in the loft since it’s been rumored other tiny housers have encountered mold under their mattresses. Moisture from body heat gets trapped underneath causing the growth. Originally, we had our super thick pillow-top mattress on simple Ikea bed slats, but Tomas had a nifty idea to raise the bed by making a few modifications.

We went to Home Depot and had a few cedar boards cut to match the length of the slats, and he screwed the pieces together to make a nice “bed frame.” We also replaced the uber-thick mattress with a thinner one that we like better.

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Benjamin approves!

Going through some old journals to scan and toss, I found an old paragraph from 2008:

“I pondered what my life would be like if I lived devoid of all these electronics and entertainment so readily available. I have seen plans on the internet for very small houses of 150-square feet or so, if I had a wife, could I make it work in such a small space? Where would I build? How would I fund it? Could I still be the role I desire? Without a big mortgage, I could afford a small studio space in the city to pursue my creativity. If I lived in a two-bedroom apartment I might still be distracted by the everyday minutia of household chores and access to books.”

This entry was dated Saturday, August 9, 2008. I had just recently walked from a ludicrously paying tech-support job that left me feeling so bored and empty. I was trying to build a new phase in my life and do something different. The last 5 years or so have been so different.  A special someone in my life, a tiny house, and working on something different for a living.

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Much of what I wanted to become in life has come to be, including living with the most awesome woman in the world.

-Tomas

Greetings from the Hunny House!

This month we celebrated our one year tiny house anniversary! How tiny time does fly.

We celebrated by having our tiny house neighbors over for dinner! Well, they aren’t exactly our immediate neighbors, but they are a couple who moved nearby in their tiny house they built themselves. Their house is stunning and they are fabulous people! We are thrilled to have met like-minded allies nearby.

What else have we been up to recently? Myself, I’ve been busy with class (because everyone needs a little class). Tomas has kept himself busy working and volunteering with the BPSA scouts and he was recently accepted to be a part of the Pacific Northwest Search and Rescue (PNWSAR) class of 2014! He’s looking forward to being a part of their team.

What did we spend our time doing this year? Well let’s see…

After one year of living tiny

I can’t believe:

  • We haven’t killed each other
  • The composting toilet doesn’t make the house smell like poo
  • How complex this lifestyle can actually be
  • How amazing the Portland tiny house network is
  • How messy we are
  • How handy Tomas is
  • How well Benjamin adapted (he’s such a trooper!)

I can believe:

  • It’s possible to thrive living tiny
  • In the kindness and generosity of others
  • We are doing the right thing for us
  • How messy we are
  • We’ve grown as individuals (grow? Get it? In a tiny house?…sigh)
  • We are still practicing and there is a lot more to learn
  • Most importantly, if we can make it a year, we can continue for many more to come

We will continue to play, laugh, live, and love.

xoxo,

Audrey & Tomas

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We had fun with squash:

Our ladder is sturdy, but slick, especially since we re-finished it, so we added grip tape!

I went to a local skate shop and purchased a few feet of their finest grit grip tape. Then to add a little character to our ladder, I decided to have fun with the project and I picked up a paw print stamp, made a stencil, and cut out 88 tiny ovals and 22 paw pads to make paw prints! I even added some to Benjamin’s cat perch.

Benjamin didn’t want to walk on the grip tape when we first added it to the ladder and he carefully walked down avoiding stepping on any, trying to slide down the edge of the ladder. But after a few attempts (and coaxing him with treats) he got used to it and gallops up and down like his normal frisky self. I thought it would stick to socks and feel icky on my feet, but it’s not bad and I feel more stable when going up and down the ladder. They’re cute, functional, and they make me smile.

In other cute news, we got a new shower curtain! The more things we can add to the house that make us smile, the better!

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We’ve settled back in, and are nearing our one year tiny house anniversary! It’s crazy and completely normal at the same time. I’ll be honest, after the big renovations last month, we needed a break from thinking about, looking at, or talking about anything tiny house related. And I think it says something that we are able to do that while living in a tiny house. That aside, this post has been weighing on my mind for some time. We’ve been encouraged to share the reasons why we wouldn’t recommend the builders who built our house. As difficult as it is physically to sand and re-seal a house, this subject is difficult to talk about.

The company is Tiny Smart House, LLC in Albany, Oregon.

Flipped our floor plan: Early in the build process, on a visit to check on the build status of our house, the builder opened the printed plans in a binder they were referring to for the build, and we noticed the floor plan wasn’t right. Expressing our concerns, we found out that our floor plan had been flipped. Instead of the kitchen opposite the main doors, it was now on the same side. We were told this was because they purchased a different trailer than originally planned and the weight distribution had to include the (heavier) kitchen area in the back. Regardless of the reasoning we should have known before this moment. This was the first breach of the contract.

Lost our spot: As the build process continued, we solidified our arrangement with our potential homeowner/host. The day we went with a lease in hand to sign, we again questioned again how the house would fit through to the spot. There was a catch with this particular spot; the space between the driveway wall and the roof-line would be a tight squeeze for the house to  back in and we wanted to make sure we’d fit through before the day of delivery.

Before the build began, the builder came out and took measurements assuring us it would not be a problem and they would build the house to fit through. We were told we would have to narrow the house by 6” to safely fit. Great, we thought, we were already going tiny, why not go tinier. But that day we measured for ourselves and were crushed to realize that because the gables had been raised in the design of our roof, the house would not fit by about 4 inches. Not only did we lose our spot, but this meant we also lost that host/tiny house relationship that was so important to us.

Asked for earlier payment: Because the builders were so behind in the build schedule, they called asking for the next portion of payment early since they had moved into a new pay period. What?! This was another breach of the contract, and we felt trapped…we wanted the workers building our house to be paid and happy; how could we tell them no? How would they treat their job –our home– if they were not paid? So we gave them another portion early.

Lack of communication: We felt there was an overall lack of communication during the build process. There wasn’t a back and forth conversation that would have allowed us to give feedback on what they were actually constructing. I never heard, “This is how I’m designing the closet, what do you think?” We received no emails with pictures of the kitchen cabinets installed or the bathroom and closet doors. They told us they would write a construction blog with pictures for us to follow along (“but before you  know it, we’ll be all done!”), but there were only a couple of entries with a handful of pictures, certainly not enough for us to “follow along” and give our feedback.

Priming: Part of the agreement with the house construction was that we would agree to paint the house if they did the priming. On a trip to check on the house and armed with paint, we arrived realizing we wouldn’t paint that day. The house was poorly primed and had sawdust all over it. They ended up taking the paint and doing the job later since the exterior was not ready.

Delays and dishonesty: We feel deceived by their time completion estimates throughout the process. The “anticipated delivery date” on the contract was 6 weeks. In actuality, the build took 17 weeks for delivery of our (mostly finished) house. There were constant delays, and when we asked, they would tell us they only needed another couple of weeks, the build would not go into October they assured us. Time and time again they told us something that didn’t turn out to be true.

We made arrangements to end the lease on our living arrangement at that time on October 1st. When we realized the build would in fact go beyond October, once again we had to scramble to find a place to stay.  We got a PO box and couch surfed. Because we also had Benjamin, he had to stay at a separate friend’s place with no pets and I had to go back and forth between places, our stuff was in storage, we were living out of boxes, it was complicated. Essentially, we were homeless and relying on the generosity of friends.

Day of delivery: On what should have been a great day (that also happened to be my birthday), the builders arrived 5 hours late, the house was filled with debris, bits of wood from other projects, carpet bits, trash, and every surface was covered in a film of sawdust.

Day of delivery part II: Not only were they late and the house filled with junk, but the build job was still incomplete. The stairs and awning were not finished, the awning for the water heater wasn’t done, we had no bathroom vent cover, no latch on the bathroom door, there was missing trim, missing nuts for the lights, the electrical panel was exposed, the oven door wouldn’t open because it hit the bathroom door hinge and scraped the kitchen drawers. It wasn’t until months later before these pieces were completely put together.

Title: The day the house was delivered, we should have had a title in hand. It wasn’t until weeks later I realized we may not get one. Documentation, such as a VIN inspection for the trailer was not completed by the builder prior to the build. No Manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin documenting the legal creation of the house was processed. After the realization that I would need the builder to fulfill paperwork on their end to finish this process I hired a lawyer to handle communication. It took 9 months, but we finally received a title.

Leaks: The first few months after moving into the house, we had multiple gas leaks. Our kitchen sink leaked water into the cabinet underneath and our greywater holding tank under the house also leaked. [I will say the builder responded quickly to the gas leak notifications and these problems have since been resolved.]

Tub caulking: As I posted before, the tub was not caulked properly. Also, there was spray sealant and scuffs that stained the walls and basin of the tub.

The Closet: Oh geez. I don’t want to even go there. The closet was the worst.

Wood wasn’t sealed: Okay, maybe the closet wasn’t the worst. The ultimate failure was the way the wood was sealed (or not sealed, rather). After fixing it, and even though professional carpenters also told us, we now realize just how bad a job was done prior. There was a lack of coverage on all surfaces, and the walls felt gritty as if a spray sealant was applied over sawdust.  It was apparent the walls were not wiped/cleaned before the sealant was applied.

Not just the walls, but the floors were also a big issue. They were scuffy and dirt and dust would just permeate in them. We couldn’t wipe the surface because of the rough grain. Water would seep into the wood. The softwood fir floors did not have adequate sealant coverage. [We have since fixed this and I’m happy to report we can slide on our floors in our socks and spilled water forms droplets on the surface that are easy to wipe up as it should be (yippee!)]

General wood/trim: Almost a year after living in the house, we are still replacing trim. The wood that was up was unfinished and/or had holes and/or was dirty (literally, dirt and mud on it). The ceiling trim wasn’t stapled properly to the ceiling and bits bent out or just plain fell off. There were hammer marks on finished wood areas, including the wood right above our heads in the loft. Parts are overbuilt and many sections have an exorbitant amount of nails.

 Porch/awning: It leaked and was built as one piece so we couldn’t move the deck separate from the house. See the previous post of how we rebuilt it. 

Water tank: Our kitchen is an L-shaped design. The corner of the “L” was supposed to function to enclose the water heater but late in the process (after the counter was installed) we were told that, as it turns out, the water heater has to go outside the house due to the gas exhaust. Had we known in advance, we may have designed our kitchen differently if we knew this corner space wouldn’t be used for that purpose.

Reading nook bench: The bench is nonfunctional for anything besides sitting on and storage underneath. We had wanted a design that would turn into a daybed and we sent them pictures of bench systems we liked. They told us they would design something better. We were given the impression they could build something useful, but we can’t open both front doors because the bench is in the way. The pieces flip up which restrict access to the shelves above and they don’t flip independently; the cushions have to be removed entirely, and then the bench turns into short, uncomfortable, stationary seats. [We have plans to add the wood and hinges needed to turn the bench into a twin-size day bed and possibly a table with side benches too. It’s on the list of things to change.]

Missed details: We wanted a moveable ladder with a rail and puck lights in the loft, but these requests were missed in the build process. By the time the house was delivered and because there were so many other things that needed completion or fixing we had given up and no longer felt it was worth it to deal with the company. This was when Tomas realized it was time to take ownership of the house and just fix things ourselves.

No compensation – Despite all that we’ve put up with, we received zero compensation for our troubles and pain. Oh wait. They gave us a piece of lawn furniture and offered Adirondack chairs.

My intentions here are to share our reasons why we wouldn’t recommend Tiny Smart House, LLC. This is our review. To us, it’s the classic story of a company over-promising and under-delivering. I can’t speak for the company today, I can only share our experience from that time.

It was a tumultuous journey to get to the point we are today, but here we are. I love our home because of the experiences we create inside and around it and for what we’ve put into it. It is a place where we live and it’s getting better every day.

In case you’re curious:

Why we hired them in the first place: When looking into builder options, our number one builder pick (those that built our friends Tammy and Logan’s tiny home) wasn’t building at the time, they were only doing consulting work, so we looked at other options. Tumbleweed homes were high on the list, but the $50,000 price tag deterred us. Then we came across a company not far from Portland that advertised to custom build tiny homes. They were a new company, with not much to show besides a model home and some lawn furniture. We weren’t blown away, but we thought we could work with it. How bad could it be?

Everything we asked for they said they could do, and included 10% off the price, a 2 year warranty, and a delivery date of 6 weeks from the start. We were thrilled and excited to get started. Looking back we were naive, but we trusted that they could pull it off. We sent them pictures of houses and details we loved. Because they were a two-hour drive away, we could visit and see the progress. We knew it was a risk hiring a newer company, but we thought they would be out to impress. People would look to us as the voice of their product. And sure, we can now do that but I doubt it’s the voice they want anyone to hear.

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