Tag Archives: green building

A New School, A Podcast, and A Road Trip

Hello lovelies,

Sorry I’ve been away from the blog for a few days – I have been very busy prepping for Tiny House Road Trip Spring 2013. What is this Tiny House Road trip? In my neverending quest for the essence of the tiny house movement, I have planned a tour of the eastern and southern US, during which I will interview, film, and photograph tiny house people and their homes. I leave in less than 2 weeks! The road trip is about one month total. I’m interviewing tiny house builders, designers, and dwellers, documenting everything with cameras, audio recorders, and the pen. I’m very excited to finally meet some of the tiny house bloggers and internet acquaintances that I have been following via the internet for a long time. I’ll return with lots of footage and insights to share with you all. So for the last week, Matt (cameraman, audio tech, and tiny house partner in crime) and I have been modding out my Honda Element with a platform bed with storage underneath, insulated window covers, black-out curtains, and custom vents for the windows. We’re just car camping the whole trip (not towing the COMET, alas) to save money. If you have a tiny house project or business or thing you think we should see, let us know in the comments! This is the first of multiple tiny house road trips I have planned. I hope it goes smoothly – we’ve been planning everything out to the last detail but you never know!

Also, I was delighted to be interviewed by Andrew Odom of TinyRevolution for his podcast, RevoConvo. He’s a super nice guy, and we share a common sponsor (GreenBuildingSupply.com). We talked about trailers and Worcester and off-grid systems. It was really fun, and you can all give it a listen next Thursday when it comes out! (I’ll post the link when it comes out).

Lastly, I wanted to mention that I’m going through an exciting transition right now in my (also unending) quest for Tiny House University and autonomous education. “Tiny House University” is my phrase for the unusual education/college path I have carved out for myself in search of a major in a subject that isn’t exactly mainstream. I left Hampshire College last semester, which was a hard decision. I had been on Field Study (independent, off-campus semesters) for a few semesters in a row, and realized that I would never be able to go back to campus and the traditional classroom, as the COMET has taken on a life of its own and more than anything I need the flexibility of independent education in order to pursue opportunities that arise thanks to the COMET. I was accepted at Goddard College, a non-residential school in Vermont (my favorite state…in the warmer seasons haha) and I start today! Basically you go to the campus once a year for one week to meet your advisor and create a study plan, then you go home to wherever you live and do whatever you do, while corresponding with your advisor once a month. Pretty cool! So I get to study tiny houses full time, and earn a degree in Sustainability, which is what I’ve been working towards for a few years now without even realizing it! I’m very excited for this new leg in a long journey towards Tiny House University.

Did you guys know I now write for Tiny House Talk on occasion? I’m very excited. Here was my first post: http://tinyhousetalk.com/tiny-houses-of-the-past/. And soon there will be another post on THT detailing my search for Tiny House University, a “how-to” for interested people!

Thanks for reading along, I hope to be able to update you all throughout my week at school and the road trip, but forgive me if I’m MIA for a minute!

Photo courtesy of Swan Moon.

Photo courtesy of Swan Moon.

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Tumbleweed Tiny House Workshop in Boston, February 9 + 10

It’s that time of year again! The Tumbleweed Tiny House Workshop will be happening in Boston in a few short weeks and I’m excited to say that I’ll be guest speaking at this SOLD OUT (!) workshop, talking about my experiences building a Tumbleweed house this fall and sharing my expertise in small-scale (tiny) off-grid systems for your tiny house. The workshop is Feb. 9-10, and you can still put your name on the wait list! Deek Diedricksen is hosting this one, and he’s a wonderful teacher and makes the workshop really fun.

So if you’re already signed up, I’ll see you there! Bring your tiny house questions and get ready to be inspired.

Here's a photo from last year's Tumbleweed workshop, when we visited the first ever built Tumbleweed house that Jay lived in for years.

Here’s a photo from last year’s Tumbleweed workshop, when we visited the first ever built Tumbleweed house that Jay lived in for years.

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Adding Structural Strength for a Bumper Garden

When Matt and I went to re-frame the rear wall of the COMET, we knew we had to do some re-design as well. First of all, at some point there is going to be a “bumper garden” (hehe, get it? on top of the bumper…) mounted onto the back of the trailer under the window. Ok, so it’s like a way-glorified window box, but on a moving trailer, and made with polycarbonate so it’s also like a tiny greenhouse too. Since there will at some point soon be soil and metal and plants hanging off of the back wall, we knew we had to beef up the framing. I wanted enough studs that we could lag into to support the bumper garden. The second part of the design had to address the really weird original framing, which had the rear bench (couch and also my bed) come down halfway in front of the rear hatch, which is the only place to really store anything large. Basically, the rear bench bisected the hatch, and I thought that was dumb, because I want full hatch access! So we raised the bench up 6 inches, so it now clears the rear hatch door and give us a little more storage. Here’s how we did it!

A little reference, so you can see how the original framing interfered with the rear access door.

That beam spans right across the access opening, so we did a little re-designing.

That beam spans right across the access opening, so we did a little re-designing.

Those new studs are 2x6's, so very strong. We cut them to match the profile of the curvy back of the trailer. It had to match the existing aluminum shape. Notice that the problematic beam is gone.

Those new studs are 2×6’s, so very strong. We cut them to match the profile of the curvy back of the trailer. It had to match the existing aluminum shape. Notice that the problematic beam is gone.

Here's another view. The 2x4 spanning the two studs ties them together and gives me another place to lag into when I go to attach the bumper garden.

Here’s another view. The 2×4 spanning the two studs ties them together and gives me another place to lag into when I go to attach the bumper garden.

More framing! We added a 2x4 across the top of the access opening. That member will support the bench framing. We re-used most of the wood from the original bench, just re-arranged it. We tried to make the back as strong as possible. We'll see how it holds up when the bumper garden goes on.

More framing! We added a 2×6 across the top of the access opening. That member will support the bench framing. We re-used most of the wood from the original bench, just re-arranged it. The studs (2×2’s) on either side are for nailing  the new wood panel up, you need something to tack into. We tried to make the back as strong as possible. We’ll see how it holds up when the bumper garden goes on.

Just another close-up.

Just another close-up.

Now you can see that the rear hatch is entirely accessible. Much better! And we made room for a slightly larger fresh water tank too.

Now you can see that the rear hatch is entirely accessible. Much better! And we made room for a slightly larger fresh water tank too.

Just a little tip/reminder for those of you that are doing this yourself: NOW IS THE TIME TO MAKE SURE THE TOW WIRING WORKS! While you have access to the wiring for the rear brake/turn lights, make sure everything works. Luckily, the Avalon was working when we got her. But my other camper, the Beemer, needed to be completely re-wired, and it’s better to know before you go closing up the walls.

Insulate with UltraTouch Denim Insulation. See previous post for more about this cool stuff!

Insulate with UltraTouch Denim Insulation. See previous post for more about this cool stuff!

Here's the plywood I cut to be the rear panel. See that little window cut out at the top (the right side?), that's going to be a picture frame that let's you see and feel the UltraTouch from inside the camper. I thought this would be cool for people to see and feel at workshops and such.

Here’s the plywood I cut to be the rear panel. See that little window cut out at the top (the right side?), that’s going to be a picture frame that let’s you see and feel the UltraTouch from inside the camper. I thought this would be cool for people to see and feel at workshops and such.

Well this photo skips a few steps ahead, but you can see the 1/4 inch plywood panel installed (use shanked finish nails). You can also see the new (though made from the original old wood pieces) bench framing. See how the front of the bench, with the access door which is removed in this photo, has a 2x6 (which is 5.5 inches wide) attched to the bottom. This gave us the height we needed to clear the rear hatch! It all worked out as planned.

Well this photo skips a few steps ahead, but you can see the 1/4 inch plywood panel installed (use ring-shanked finish nails). You can also see the new (though made from the original old wood pieces) bench framing. See how the front of the bench, with the access door which is removed in this photo, has a 2×6 (which is 5.5 inches wide) attached to the bottom. This gave us the height we needed to clear the rear hatch! It all worked out as planned.

Here's a close-up of the little insulation view-hole. I have a picture frame that will go around that square when everything's finished.

Here’s a close-up of the little insulation view-hole. I have a picture frame that will go around that square when everything’s finished.

 

 

And that’s how to frame for a bumper garden (or any other weight bearing rear storage container)! I really hope this works. I think it’s probably a little overkill, considering the bumper garden will also be supported by the bumper, but I’d rather be safe than sorry!

Next post will cover more insulation and paneling (quickly), and maybe a little more of the bench building. It will definitely cover how to install the fresh water tank.

Thanks to everyone who’s been reading along while I play catch up! I hope all of this is helpful to those of you who are restoring your own vintage trailers. And I hope it doesn’t scare away those who one day hope to!

 

 

 

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Framing and Insulating the New Floor

Here I am again, trying to get us up to speed with where the COMET’s at now. This is from the Summer, so bear with me while the next few posts catch us up to the COMET’s current loveliness.

We left off where we had replaced some of the rotten framing in the walls and on the floor, and here you can see how we re-framed and insulated the floor. As I mentioned before, the entire rear half of the trailer had been demolished by carpenter ants, so we just started from scratch back there.

 

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This is how we re-framed the floor, with 2 x 4s where there had been 2 by’s. The lumber framing crosses over the steel frame of the trailer.

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New cross-members, tow-nailed in, for extra support. I wanted this floor to be much sturdier than the original one, which was merely stapled together.

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Those white dots on the pink aluminum sheet are where I caulked where the staples used to be. It’s not necessarily better to be airtight in the floor, because if any water does leak in from above, you want it to be able to escape and not pool in the floor (which will cause rot). But I didn’t want any water to come up from underneath the trailer during travel, so I sealed off the holes where the staples used to be.

 

INSULATION:

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This is the UltraTouch Denim insulation. What a joy to work with. So easy to use and you don’t have to wear a hazmat suit or worry about getting all itchy like with fiberglass. Thank you GreenBuildingSupply.com for donating the UltraTouch!

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Installation was a breeze. I either used the razor knife to cut the batts down to size, or just tore it to the right size with my hands.

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That’s the little part near the door that needed replacing. I think that spot to the left of the doorway is a very common place to find water damage/rotted wood.

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And finally, we cut a new sub floor out of plywood and laid it down. Everything fit nicely. Under the back hatch, you can see a 2 x 6 on top of the plywood. That is the beginning of the framing for the rear wall, which you’ll see in the next post. Those two bolts that stick up out of the 2 x 6 at about 1/3 and 2/3 across are coming up from underneath the chassis. They are holding the metal trailer frame to the wooden camper frame.

Stay tuned for more progress! Hopefully soon we can have a grand unveiling of the finished interior! As always, thanks for reading :)

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Radiosity 3000 – Radiant Heat Barrier for The COMET

So you probably have heard that white roofs are good for green building: white reflects the sun’s heat and keeps the building cool in the summer, reducing AC costs and energy use. In addition to painting the roof (and most of the exterior, except for a few colorful graphics) with white no-VOC paint, I will be using a product called Radiosity 3000 as a radiant heat barrier to keep The COMET cool in hot temperatures.

As you can probably imagine, a little aluminum box like the camper basically turns into an oven in the heat. My solar system won’t allow me to use air conditioning (I also don’t have the space for an air conditioner, and don’t particularly like them in general) so I was looking for a solution to keeping the COMET cool in the summer. The people at Green Building Supply suggested Radiosity 3000, and I think it’s going to end up being the perfect thing.

Radiosity 3000 is a radiant heat barrier that comes in powder form and mixes right in with interior or exterior paint. It has no effect on the paint’s color or performance, as it is just very fine glass. Here’s an excerpt from the Green Building Supply website:

“Radiosity 3000 is a paint additive that creates a radiant heat barrier on roofs, ceilings and walls to greatly reduce cooling costs. It can also be used in interior applications to reflect and trap warm, radiant heat from fireplaces, stoves or in-floor heating systems. Radiosity 3000 contributes significantly to the thermal comfort levels in both summer and winter months while it reduces energy usage.”

Basically, I am going to mix the Radiosity 3000 in with the exterior paint, and paint the entire COMET with it to keep it cool in the summer. On the interior, I will mix it with the interior paint to keep heat in when it is cooler outside. I’ll have a double heat barrier!

Pretty cool!

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Tomorrow I’m going to start demolition in The COMET: tear out the rotted wood in the walls, take out the old water tank, clean it up inside, and get a real sense of what needs to be replaced guts-wise. We’ll see what’s hiding behind those soft spots in the walls, so expect some gruesome photos tomorrow!

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Thank You Green Building Supply!

I want to give a huge Thank You to Green Building Supply, an eco-friendly home and building center, for making an incredibly generous contribution to The COMET project. I found Green Building Supply while I was researching and pricing out sustainable building materials, and knew they would be great people to work with. Their website is comprehensive and informative, and their staff is friendly and SO helpful. I told them what I was doing with The COMET, and they were happy to help me figure out which green flooring, paint, and other products would be a good fit for the project. Green Building Supply has the best selection and best prices of any eco-friendly home place that I came across in my research. I also love Green Building Supply for going beyond the “sustainable products” for interior finishes and having a commitment to energy efficiency and sustainable systems as well. They have composting toilets, air and water filtration systems, energy efficiency items, and everything else you could imagine, in addition to eco-friendly flooring, countertops, paints, and more. Check out their website to see everything they have to offer. I highly recommend them as a resource for your next green building project.

Thank you Green Building Supply for your kind contribution to The COMET, which includes Marmoleum Click Classic flooring, UltraTouch Denim insulation, AFM SafeCoat primer (no VOC), a bunch of paint and caulk (also no-VOC), and Radiosity 3000 radiant heat barrier.

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Also, check out the new page I just added, up at the top of the website, titled “Events + Appearances”, to see where you can find The COMET in the next few months. I’ll be adding Tiny House Summer Camp (with Deek Diedricksen, July 6-9, go to relaxshacks.com for more info)  details and the full roster later, as soon as it is announced. I’ll also add the Brattleboro, VT KOA vintage camper and tiny house event (July 21-22) so keep an eye out for it! And if you have a vintage camper that you would like to display at the rally in Brattleboro on July 21-22, then please contact me! Vintage campers get a discounted rate at the campground.

 

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Marmoleum mock-ups

I love the Marmoleum natural linoleum flooring. It comes in tiles and planks, and the Marmoleum Click series is a great floating floor that is perfect for DIYers. Old campers usually have some sort of linoleum flooring (probably asbestos, too), so using the new, green Marmoleum linoleum seems like a good nod to the past. Today I worked up some really rough mock-ups of some Marmoleum planks/tiles on the floor of The COMET. I was working in stripes, and will probably try some sort of zig-zig or checkerboard variation at some point too. I also have that dark hardwood flooring I found for free that I am trying to incorporate in some way, but I only have 20 sq. ft. of that and the entire floor is 50 sq. ft. I am thinking about maybe using the hardwood up front and the Marmoleum in the kitchen and the back, but we’ll see!

Anyway, I thought I’d share! Let me know which combination is your favorite in the comments! There are tons more colors available, these are just the ones that stood out to me.

In the showroom at G Green Design Center in Mashpee, the Lime color was my favorite (the model directly above this text). But in the models, I really like the light blue color with the white (which is actually called “Barbados”….fancy!).

What may end up happening is I’ll find a remnant and won’t be picky about color at all!

 

 

 

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Green Building: Insulation

I want to start introducing you all to the different options for sustainable building materials that I will be using in The COMET. Though I’ll have to choose just one insulation and one kind of flooring, I’m going to detail many of the most popular options for green building/finishing projects (and some less popular, more alternative ones as well), so that you can see what’s out there for your own project. For example, there are a plethora of sustainable flooring options, but some are better suited to certain applications than others.
The products that I choose to use in The COMET have to take into consideration a few more factors than if I was building a house (small or average sized). I have to factor in how each product or material I use will react with moisture, because in such a small space, just a human’s breath can create moisture issues if the structure isn’t built and insulated correctly. I also have to consider indoor air quality: how will each product/material affect the indoor air quality of The COMET? This is very pertinent also because of the tiny space within campers. Also, the fact the The COMET is mobile means that I have to assess how each material will react under the stress of motion.

So keep an eye out for these materials and systems overviews (I’ll also talk about different options for energy and water systems). I want to give you an idea of what’s out there so you can choose the best material/system for your project. Of course, I’ll let you know what material I have chosen to use in The COMET and why, when I do.

I’ll start with INSULATION:

There are a few options for eco- and human- friendly insulation, any of which are better than traditional fiberglass insulation. Most natural insulation options are great for DIYers because they are not harmful, toxic, or dangerous, and therefore easy for non-professionals to install, and I think that’s a really important advantage.
For camper application (assuming your in an older camper), you’re going to need an insulation that isn’t very thick, as the space between the outer metal shell and the walls inside is only a few inches. Thought the thinner batts don’t have the highest R-value, they are better suited to campers because it will let moisture pass through to the outside and campers are so small they don’t need tons of insulation. I was in The COMET (which has no heat and broken windows) the other day, and it was super warm despite the 30 degree weather outside. It don’t take much, in a camper!

UltraTouch denim insulation: This super soft insulation comes in rolls/batts in both 24″ and 16″ widths (standard stud sizes). It comes in many different thicknesses and corresponding R-values. UltraTouch is made from 100% recycled blue jeans, and it’s awesome because you can actually see the little pieces of denim in the fibers. Interesting to note, and something that I learned when I visited the G Green Design Center in Mashpee – Ultra Touch is only made from men’s jeans, because women’s jeans have to much stretchy material? hmm…

Natural Sheeps Wool insulation: There are a few different brands of this natural wool insulation and it comes in a few different forms: loose, batts, rolls, etc. It’s probably the most expensive eco-friendly insulation option, depending on where it comes from – but again, these products become more affordable in a tiny space.

Loose cellulose: Made form recycled newspaper, this loose insulation gets blown into walls.

Natural Fiberglass insulation: This fiberglass insulation is similar to the regular stuff but has no formaldehyde or nasty chemicals. It’s still fiberglass though, and therefore not a great DIY product and not fun to touch.

Soy-based spray foam: I don’t like this option as much because it isn’t very DIY-friendly and it’s not soft like UltraTouch or sheepswool, but it’s still a great option. I think it has the best R-values, but I’m not sure of the pricing so that’s something to consider.


As long as it is good for interior air quality, any of these green insulation options are good alternatives to traditional fiberglass. I’ll most likely end up using UltraTouch (the 3.5 inch thick R13 one), but lately I’ve been thinking about using both UltraTouch and Sheepswool because I want to showcase both and both are fun to touch and interact with.

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