The tiny home is off of the rented landlord's property! It was an experience but it was absolutely necessary that I moved out of it after we got a violation notice from the township. I'm just so glad it's all taken care of for now, yay! :3
The tiny home being towed off the property
Settling into my new house I've been thinking about all the little things the tiny home did and did not do for me. I wanted to take some time to collect all my thoughts into one place.
NOTE: This is a really long post just organizing my thoughts over the past 6 months. Reading through it linearly might not be desirable.
- I learned an absolute fuck-ton
- Trucking and shipping
- Municipalities; Zoning and ordinances
- Smart (computer) homes
- Abstract learnings
- The tiny home was not functional enough (for me); It did not fit with my life
- Living in an unfinished house sucked
- Lack of appliances
- Effective organization was challenging
- It wasn't much cheaper!!
- Improvements did not make financial sense, so they did not happen quickly
- Power was flaky
- Tiny home placement and circumstances had pros/cons
- Too far from literally everything
- Rented land was not a good choice
- Looking Forward
I learned an absolute fuck-ton
I had a lot of first time experiences with the tiny home. I did work with things I have never worked with, nor would have, if I had not bought the tiny home.
Trucking and shipping
- Shipping the roller-up door direct from Guangzhou, China. Overseas and then freight via XPO, which the supplier handled. The language barrier and time difference made things very confusing but it got to me in the end.
- The numerous types of trucking trailers, their colloquial names, and why you might want each of them. I ended up buying a lowboy trailer at another auction which the tiny home currently sites on. Not dealing with rental trailers made things much simpler and I think cheaper? I'm really grateful for the people at Hi Ball Co and Miller Transfer for their patience and help while I figured out what the hell I was doing. Also the other numerous contractors I talked to but ended up not working with.
- Getting high centered twice was very interesting. I'm glad we never had to call a wrecker to get out. None of this feels like magic anymore and the subtleties of how to tackle a problem like this makes more sense.
- Trailers have a lot of subcomponents you don't think about. I've learned a lot about the pneumatic system on this trailer after needing to diagnose issues with the bags not inflating and maintain the trailer for the winter.
- The trucking industry in general is fascinating. It makes sense that trucking used to be pen and paper before computers, and that a piece of software like Dial-a-Truck could completely change how drivers get loads at truck stops.
- Overheight and other odd loads can be tricky but they're not a problem for the trucking company. The DoT makes it look harder to comply with than it is.
- Aluminum, steel, wood, cement board, rain screen/open joint siding wrap, all sorts of adhesives, screws, tapes, etc. I worked with a lot of materials I've never worked with before.
- Being that the tiny home was of a very non-standard construction, it was interesting learning the normal way to do things (wood studs, wood subfloor, shingled roof, etc) and how my situation different (metal studs, cement board subfloor on top of steel plenum, recessed galvanized steel roof). It did add a lot of extra overhead as research time however.
- Plumbing up the sink and toilet from scratch, including a waste stack for proper P-trap venting. Kinda unneeded due to it not hooking to a sewer but was fun to learn about and design.
- Welding, but only a few times. There are subtleties to welding near flammable materials I found out the hard way1. Thankfully fiberglass blankets exist for this exact reason.
- Installing 2 windows, building the lofted bed, cutting the vinyl plank floor to size, building the back deck. And I only fell off a ladder once!
- The physics of insulation, which side to put the vapor barrier on (differs by climate!), but it's literally like a heat gradient.
- Heating is generally the most universal reoccuring large expense every household has to deal with. There are many different fuel types like wood, natural gas, propane, geothermal, heating oil. There are also different delivery methods like forced air and hydronic. Each is its own rabbit hole and has different costs, use cases, and efficiencies.
- Condensing boilers (like IBC Boilers) are interesting compared to traditional boilers in that they have 2 stages to extra more heat from flue gasses which also makes venting less of a hazardous task.
- Electric heating is inefficient in cost per energy unit compared to the rest but is simpler to hook up and maintain.
- I did not realize heating oil was still a thing and ubiquitous. It's also a type of diesel (Diesel #1)
- Diesel heaters are nice if you have a truck/diesel engine. I talked to snakpak20 about it and he mentioned Webasto. They also make diesel cooktops!
Municipalities; Zoning and ordinances
I spend lots of time researching zoning ordinances and calling 30+ municipalities to ask directly how they would handle a tiny home when figuring out where to put it. I had some very helpful conversations. I also was laughed at over the phone once. Fuck you Green Oaks Township.
- There is a difference between what is written and how the municipality actually follows. If the municipality disagrees with your interpretation you will most likely have to fight it in court to avoid penalty.
- A lot of the zoning ordinances were quite similar near metro areas. Some were very different, in the biggest cities and the most rural areas.
- Zoning ordinances are very restrictive! I'm surprised anyone considers America free if you're not allowed to camp on your own land for more than a certain amount of days or build without restriction.
- I was surprised to find that zoning and ordinances are malleable if you have the money and staff. You can hire lawyers and engineers to put together proposals to redline a municipalities ordinances, or so I saw in the meeting minutes of certain municipalities. I guess if the incentives align...
- Split zoning is weird.2 I did not realize it was possible and that the rules might differ per municipality.
- Land subdividing has a ton of rules. It usually can not be done with small parcels and sometimes requires a plat/subdivision. It can require a lot of buy-in from the municipality.
- The zoning "appeals" process is different per municipality, but most I talked to tell me they do not use it to make exceptions to the ordinances. It seems to be a precise tool and requires municipality buy-in.
- Municipalities might use the zoning appeals process to stonewall you and exhaust your money. It costs money just to be heard and a convincing proposal requires professional labor. They also have no obligation to do anything after they hear you.
- In short, municipalities suck if you do not get along with them.
Smart (computer) homes
I wanted my experimental house to be smart. I found though that core home functionality has no room to be smartened by computers. A home provides at the core 1) shelter and 2) heating. 1 requires no computers and 2 is already solved by specialized control systems.
The real "smart" homes utilize lots of tricks of space and position to do what they do better (more efficiently, less moving parts, etc). One smart home of note that I get inspired from is this one covered by Kirsten Dirksen of a C++ programmer who built one from scratch. The things of note:
- Completely solar powered
- Greenhouse solar collector that is usable living space + climate control functionality
- Summer kitchen. By having a second stove outside not in the house's thermal envelop, you can choose where the cooking heat energy goes. Having the refrigerator outside also means the fridge has to work less it will have an easier time moving heat in the winter and a slightly harder time moving heat in the summer, instead of fighting with your indoor climate control.
- Variable speed pump for well that draws excess power from solar.
- 12V DC power in addition to 120V AC
- Untreated hardwood on exterior requires no maintenance
- Heat transfer devices from high to low height areas
- Hydronic heating using "sustera" instead of ethylene glycol. Solar when sun, wood stove when not
Not all of these are applicable to my desires or situations, but I think they show really cool things and how little computers are applicable to core home problems.
I do still think there are computer-based smart home things to explore. Particularly with utility usage costs, weather outlook, and interacting with the outside world (mail, etc...). I would like to write about this more in the future TODO
- Human perception greatly warps how a room actually is and the living quality inside it. It's so hard to tell exactly how much a new window will open a room, or how a partition will conceptually segment space and how big each one feels.
- There are not more things so ubiquitous or readily used in a home over the standard electrical wiring and plumbing. I wanted to maybe run ethernet or a 5V supply around the tiny home, but I configure these things so rarely or don't use them enough that it seemed not useful. Even electricity felt not useful when I could just run extension cords in ceiling trays. I'm not sure why we go through the trouble of putting that in the walls.
- Motivation was hard to find for the tiny home, I guess my motivation is very project/type-of-work specific. While I can innately put myself into coding work, I did not have the same organic motivation for the tiny home. I don't think my outlook on the tiny home helped this though.
- I did not treat weather with enough respect before the tiny home. In the tiny home my life revolved much more around weather. Accurate forecasting was very relevant to my life and even safety. Snow meant I might not be able to leave the house for a bit. Storms meant possible leaks or power outages. It required more awareness, which was in short supply.
- I find I generate more waste. I tend to get frustrated and throw things away when I have no extra space for them or no time to repair them. Which is unfortunate because I'm usually very careful about my inputs and outputs.
The tiny home was not functional enough (for me); It did not fit with my life
I thought living in a tiny home would be easy. In past living situations I enjoyed taking up as little space as possible. This was far from past living situations though...
Living in an unfinished house sucked
This was possibly the hardest part of living in the tiny home.
- Construction projects sucked. They required moving all items out of an affected area. This meant the other areas became near unusable.
- Emergency construction projects (for example, to fix a leak) doubly sucked. Everything would need to be moved on short notice, all other tasks would come to a halt. Thankfully this only needed to happen a few times.
- Most construction projects were high priority for living comfort. This made prioritizing hard relative to general life tasks, especially when balancing it all with a normal work load.
- Mentally, these projects would weigh on me and cause insecurity. I would be less social/inviting of people over.
- I thought a blank canvas to experiment on would be freeing but it caused a lot of indecision which prolonged projects.
Lack of appliances
I started with no bed, sink, shower, toilet, or kitchen. Everything had to be built before/as I moved in. By the time I moved out I did have some of these, but no shower or real toilet. Things which I did not have an immediate solution for added a lot of overhead to my life.
For example, for showering I got a gym membership. This required an extra hour of driving as I was far from the nearest city. It also added a motivation hurdle for showering to get out of the house and go out in public while I looked like shit. Gender dysphoria also seemed exacerbated by this.
Another example, when I first setup my sink, I bought a water pump and used 5 gallon barrels for water. Anything requiring water required more steps, more focus, and it was inevitable that I would run out of water quickly. It was doable but I am glad my landlord offered me the option to hook up the hose, even though their water required a lot of filtering.
Effective organization was challenging
I got really creative with storing stuff, both inside with the ceiling height and outside in plastic tubs. Lesser used items became harder to access. The "long tail" of accessed items was chopped off, requiring more motivation to find and use. I would forgo some activities because of this, or make a compromise on at what quality I did something. My life got "slower".
With other living situations where I've lived compactly, I would have a period to adjust to the new space and figure out how it fit with my life. I would get a once over of all my owned items and could fit them in the new place. I did not have enough time to adjust to the tiny home. The time I did have required much more of me. Either for building the furniture or for pre-optimizing space usage so that things fit. If those tasks did not pay off and I had to redo them, it meant a much greater time sink than just reorganizing. I lost more things and bought more replacements due to this.
One concrete example of this was having no immediate place for my one server, UPS, and various networking devices. It took me 2 months before the motivation hit enough times to get the server networked, running, and reconfigured. This was to the detriment of my password manager and remote file storage which powers the rest of my digital life and had many side-effects.
It wasn't much cheaper!!
This surprised me so much. Before the tiny home, I was paying ~$850/mo (rent + utilities) for a townhome with a roommate. I thought I was going to be able to save much more money long term. Moving into the tiny home I still paid $600/mo (rent + other costs)!! The living quality was much worst and the cost not much better. It also did not beat the ~$450/mo (rent + utilities) of when I lived in a trailer park with 2 roommates.
Improvements did not make financial sense, so they did not happen quickly
While the initial $2,000 for the tiny home made sense, future expenditures were harder and harder to justify. After expensive moving costs, learning how hard it was to insure the tiny home3, and how unstable the living situation was (due to it being illegal so I might have to leave on short notice), money felt better kept in savings for a disastrous event.
I did end up spending ~$6,000 on improvements. Not spending more only felt correct with hindsight. All of the extra money I could have put in went into a down payment for the new house.
I wanted to do improvements! But it just did not make sense, so things took much longer to get better and weighed on my mentally while they were not.
Power was flaky
We had maybe 8 power outages. Only a couple lasted more than a day but they came at really inconvenient times and messed with my work flow. It also required extra hours of server maintenance. I remember one week specifically when my food went bad and I had to camp out at my partner's house for a few days with my laptop to work.
Tiny home placement and circumstances had pros/cons
It turned out that getting an officially sanctioned place for the tiny home on short notice was really hard. It meant I compromised on some things.
Too far from literally everything
Living in a rural area was new to me. It sucked having to drive 30 minutes to get to anywhere useful. It did make the barrier to socialization larger, though I did not go out of my way to try to solve this. Instead I would just drive to my current friends houses, though that was 1+ hours away. It ended up being a lot of miles on the car and gas.
Rented land was not a good choice
My landlords were nice people and I appreciate our agreement. I paid a rent and I was able to work and live in my tiny home. Most other places I asked were not willing to let me do this. My landlord was never aggressive or mean. It could have been a lot worse.
However, dealing with not having the final say over the land meant that I was constrained in how I did things outside my 200sqft. I was allowed to improve things, but asking for non-standard requests always felt uncomfortable. With one of the landlords, our relationship felt transactional at best and a burden at worst. I never felt particularly trusted nor liked. This annoyed me and made me desire less communication.
Building a shed or an outhouse would have gone a long way but it was not something I think I nor the landlord wanted to deal with. Putting money into temporary improvements on someone else's land did not feel like a great investment. Small things like parking spots and not driving on the grass always made things complicated.
While the tiny home seemed de facto legal in that there were quite a few other tiny homes in our township, it was not actually legal. In fact, after I moved, the township began actively being cracking down upon it (paywall).
There was little stability in the living situation which did not allow me comfort. I worried I would have to leave on short notice, at expense and stress, which is what ended up happening . The silver lining is I had a couple months to deal with it.
The tiny home is now in storage for the time being. There's potential that it could go on my new property. The lot is large enough and the ordinances allow for it. It's more-so how much resistance I will get from the city. I think for now I will go back to passively trying to sell it while also putting together the proposal for what I want to do.
As for all of the other info, I hope I can loop back around to some of these experiments soon. I want to play with more smart home stuff but in my new, more stable living situation.
: I did start at least one fire during my first couple times welding. I did not have the luxury of moving the flammable materials away as welding to the metal frame of the house was directly next to the siding. From a YouTube video and some experimentation, I found fiberglass blankets work real well to handle this issue!
: Split zoning seems to, by default fall back to the "most restrictive" interpretation of the zoning. But the municipality can also write an ordinance to treat it differently. In my case I was looking at a possible place for the tiny home that was a split residential/industrial property where the industrial interpretation seemed to be the "most restricitve" (according to the municipality) and allowed what I wanted to do. They told me point-blank no though.
It's also interesting how this happens over time. If zoning is defined in one way (200ft from main roads) but does not match up with the parcel grid, you end up with split zoning. How weird and annoying! Like a terrible, legal corner case.
: There are supposedly insurers in my state that will insure tiny homes. Progressive too actually insures tiny homes in a standard way, but it requires a certification that I could not do (NOAH), due to my house being already built.