Monthly Archives: July 2014

Heartwood week 2

Hi everyone! I have finished my second week at Heartwood. At the end of last week, Fiona told me she was camping at some campgrounds nearby by herself and wanted me to stay with her. Despite the rain, I agreed and set my tent up at the end of the day on Monday.

This week has been kind of chaotic. I went to the Green River festival last weekend and I think I must have caught a virus from someone because on Monday night or Tuesday, my glands got really swollen and started hurting. By Tuesday night, I had a fever and it hurt to swallow, especially food that scratched my throat. I looked at my throat in the mirror and it looked pretty nasty. My parents got in contact with my on call doctor who recommended that I go to the emergency room to get tested for strep, just in case. So, as the rain poured down Tuesday night, I drove myself to Berkshire Medical Center ER in Pittsfield at about 10pm and got tested. Long story short, I hung around for two hours waiting for the results when finally, at 12:15am, the doctor came in and told me I didn’t have strep but that I should drink a lot of fluids and get a lot of sleep. My parents booked me a room at the Quality Inn nearby so I wouldn’t have to sleep in my soggy tent or drive half an hour back. I slept in and skipped the morning part of class. It’s Saturday now and I’m feeling a lot better, but for the rest of the week my throat still hurt. I also went back to our campgrounds Wednesday evening and confirmed that my tent really was a puddle. EVERYTHING was sopping wet except for the food so I packed up all my stuff and drove all the way home. Fiona just got a little damp. She was uphill from me.

Anyway, I got a good sleep at home and then decided to give it a second try and to camp out with Fiona (in her tent this time) for our final night (Thursday). Unfortunately, Thursday was so beautiful that she left her rainfly off her tent to dry out. We stayed for a wonderful pizza and graduation/ course completion party with the group until it started to rain. A lot. And rushed back to find her tent soaking wet. This time, her mom booked us a room at a nearby inn. I sure have got an experience in shelter this week. Now I know how to provide myself with shelter from building it to positioning it on top of a hill to staying at hotels. I also learned the lesson that Will has been trying to teach us first hand. He always tells us to “think like a raindrop” when building because that way we can learn how to keep it all out!

Though this week was tough to get through because of my throat, I still learned quite a lot. On Tuesday, Fiona and I went back to Heartwood for open schoolhouse where we worked on our plans and consulted Will about them together. He gave us some good feedback and answered our questions. Its sounding like I don’t need the plans that I bought from Tumbleweed after all, because now that it’s the end of the course, I know all I need to know on how to build a house, especially a tiny one. I just put in my return application for my plans so I can spend the money on building my house.

This week, we finished the walls and learned a lot about how to make rafters. A lot of it was frustrating because it was a lot of math and really hard to visualize, but on day two of rafters, Will had us work in groups. He taught us three different ways to figure out all we needed to know with the given measurements and then gave our groups each a problem to figure out the three different ways. It also took a lot of time making the rafters. We actually did a bit of timber-framing for them which was interesting.

We finished the loft this week, put up the rafters, and also finished the sheathing. It looks like a house now! This course has helped me so much. Now I know how to build a tiny house, and I also had an easier time visualizing the inside of my house by building and looking at the inside of the one we built. On Friday we covered some stuff on plumbing and electrical wiring which was interesting to me and also a little bit of a review from physics class (Thank you Mr. Patari!). Looking forward to getting started!

Oh, I also found out that I’ll be able to pick up my trailer in mid-September probably. Until then, I’ll be planning like crazy – budgeting, working, and I’ll hopefully have my materials list up on my crowd source site soon, so you all can see what I need. I just have to figure out how to use the site first…

Pictures coming soon! I have some on my camera, but lots of other people took pictures too that I’d like to get. I’ll post them when I can.

Heartwood week 1

I made it to Washington! Well, I’m currently in Pittsfield at the home of my lovely hosts, Janet and Tom. I have had a thoroughly wonderful and interesting week. I drove directly to the Heartwood School from home on Monday morning to arrive at 8:30am and the rest of the days I commuted from Pittsfield which is half an hour away. The school is located in a beautiful building (of course) at the top of a long windy and narrow drive. It’s a lot smaller than I imagined it! There is a nice small work yard shaded by trees out front, but with enough sun to get burnt if we stayed in one place long enough. Inside there’s a wood shop, a classroom upstairs where we spend our mornings, and through the door of the wood shop, the building suddenly transitions into a very homey and beautiful kitchen/ dining area.

When I first arrived on Monday, I learned two very cool things. First, I walked upstairs to the classroom ready to meet everyone and encountered a familiar face. Though I’d never interacted with her before, I recognized Fiona Wilson from Four Rivers! It turns out that she went to MCLA for two years after she graduated from Four Rivers in 2012 and is now taking a leave of absence to build a tiny house on wheels! There are only eleven people taking the course, three of whom are interns there for the summer, so this is quite a coincidence indeed.

The second very cool thing is that for the course, the project we’ll be working on to learn the skills and process of home-building is constructing a tiny house on wheels! In past years they’ve had to commute to different building sites nearby where students would work on projects that where going on elsewhere in the Berkshires. This is the first year they’ve done a tiny house.

Like I said, there are ten other people taking the course: Ann, Eli, Hank, Hank, Fiona, Sylvain, Sarah, Terry, Lenna, and Tate. Tate, Eli, and Fiona are all around my age (under 21) and everyone else is older by a little or a lot. It’s been nice having such a small group of people to connect with and learn from as our experience varies a lot too.

Throughout this week, I think I enjoyed the afternoons more than the mornings mostly because I’m a hands-on learner. On the first day, we learned about all the tools, what they were for, and why, and then learned how to use some of them. Will and Michele Beemer, the instructors, first taught us how to use our measuring tapes correctly, and how to make a swallow-tail/ arrow to the point we wanted to mark, then use our combination square correctly to draw a line. They emphasized how important it is that, when building a house, we keep everything plumb, level, and square (perpendicular to the earth, parallel to the earth, and with right angles). Then we learned how to use a hand saw and a circular saw. Throughout the rest of the week, we mostly hammered a lot of nails and did a lot of measuring and cutting. It’s actually a lot like a puzzle where we have to fit everything together.

In the mornings, Will gives us lessons on the more conceptual and mathematical things about building houses such as what types of wood to use and how to calculate the weight a house will bear in order to determine the size and species of lumber and how much of it to use. He shows us pictures with everything, as examples, which helps my understanding a lot. This week we also learned a lot about designing our houses and what to take into consideration. Will spoke a lot about “A Pattern Language” by Christopher Alexander, a book I’ve heard mentioned several times. The points that Will mostly talked about were the importance of careful thought going into designing our houses and how we can use our space effectively and efficiently. Since I’m building a tiny house on wheels, there were some mornings that didn’t apply to me as much, like when we were talking about foundations. My house will be on a trailer and I found that there is a lot to learn about where to build and how to meet codes, and what to use for building foundations that I didn’t really need to know.

At noon we have a delicious lunch made by Michele. Not a bummer meal yet! We always have sandwiches with a tasty vegetarian option instead of lunch meat and with fresh veggies, some kind of soup or cold salad, and yummy desserts. Then we have a short break during which I usually work on my tiny house plans. After the break, we put on our tool belts and head outside to get working! I love that it feels more like we are working on a project together and learning from experience and our leaders (Will and Michele) rather than having a full week of demonstration and observation with a little hands-on experience. We really get to work directly with Will and Michele and ask questions as they occur. I worked with Michele, Fiona, and Ann

By the end of the week, we have flashed the trailer (put down shiny aluminum flashing that keeps water and muck from coming up through the trailer into the house), framed the floor, cut and installed insulation, sealed with caulk, covered the framing with subflooring (particle board), framed the walls, assembled the walls, and put the walls up/ attached them to the trailer and to each other. We encountered several problems that we had to deal with. First, the trailer provided for us has railings that we had to build around. We had to figure out how to cut the boards and insulation right so it would fit around the railing and also frame the floor around them. We had to figure out what to do when we didn’t have enough flashing. And we had to try something different when a nail bent or didn’t go into the wood. The first two walls weren’t square when they met up. Sometimes we had to undo our work. But like I have learned about life, not everything works out and it is important in carpentry/ construction as in everything else to learn how to problem-solve rather than resort to desperation.

Tag Sale-ing

Over Fourth of July weekend, I went to a tag sale at the other end of town. There were so many piles of stuff that I sorted through, including pots and pans and plates and appliances that I was tempted to buy. Of course I’ll be doing the same thing next year when I actually have a house to furnish, so I decided only to get some books and a bowl and call it quits. I came back with my mother to consult her on some other things I’d seen. We spent a good two hours there going through everything and ended up buying a small vacuum cleaner, some more books, and some silverware. AND we found and bought an old featherweight singer sewing machine!! I’ll have to find a special place to put it and use it in my tiny house.

Pictures coming soon!

I don’t have much more to say in this post. But the next post will be about my experience at the Homebuilding course at the Heartwood School in Washington Mass!

Balancing Act

There are a lot of pieces that go into building a tiny house. Even though I told myself I’d start planning as soon as school finished (because then I’d have more time), I still haven’t gotten very far and it’s already July 5. The thing is, all of life is a balancing act. While I should be spending a lot of time listing and looking for materials and planning my tiny house, I also need to be working and finding a consistent job so that I can pay for the project. On top of that, I need to dedicate some of my time to my family and help clean the big ol’ farmhouse that we live in, and also have space to maintain my relationships with my friends and with myself. All of these things I see as equally important and it is a lot harder than I thought to see the whole picture in my head and map out time for each of them, especially when a lot of it happens spontaneously. It has been hard to follow the schedule I set for myself because of this; It didn’t leave much room for hanging out with friends or going to late night events.

Another tricky thing about planning my tiny house is that I just want to start building! I love using my hands, and I’ve learned that building will be the fun part, not that designing my tiny house isn’t also fun. I know that I won’t have the building without my planning, so I’m working on shifting it towards the top of my to-do list.

On Monday, I’ll start the second part of my learning process: my two week building course! I’ll be taking Comprehensive Homebuilding at The Heartwood School in Washington Mass (the Berkshires) highly recommended by my former adviser, Susan Durkee. I don’t really know how to build yet, so this will give me the skills I need to build my tiny house. I’m getting pretty excited; I got a bunch of new tools for graduation gifts and I’m ready to learn how to use them! (Thank you!)

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on making a list of my needs and wants and designing my house accordingly. I originally wanted the Cypress 18′ because I wanted to go the smallest I possibly could, but more recently I’ve been thinking about the Cypress 20′. It would give me a bit more room and the stuff I’d drawn into my plans was looking pretty cramped in the 18′. The free bathroom sink I found might even still be too big for the 20′, but I hope it’ll fit!

Here’s a picture of my plans so far:

Tiny house interior design