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Tiny House Advice Requested!  RSS feed

 
Posts: 2
Location: Oregon
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So my big project this summer is to build a tiny house with a friend of mine who has some previous experience building structures. I have never done this before and while looking through the forum couldn't find anything on building a tiny house from reclaimed materials and from presumed garbage. I live in southern Oregon making the possibility of some natural building techniques, such as cob, impractical for my landscape. I was wondering if anyone here had any advice on material scouting and what type of materials you would recommend for this climate.

Also as far as heating goes, any advice on a simple heating system for a tiny house and how to effectively insulate it for my harsher winters?

 
master steward
Posts: 3979
Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
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Hi Kendall, welcome to Permies!  I scrounge a lot of pallets.  If you go after them, look for industrial sites where they may have more variety.  The "normal" 40" by 48" pallets are fairly light and usually pretty beat up.  They definitely work but have their limitations.  I have a place that discards 3' by 6' pallets that weigh about 100 lbs.  We build with them whole, we take off the slats and use them as siding/lumber and we use the runners for structure or firewood.  Broken slats become charcoal or kindling.  The key with pallets is to avoid the blue ones.  They have been treated with some nasty stuff.  Use pallets that have HT printed on them.  That means they've been Heat Treated for bugs vs poisoned.

 
pollinator
Posts: 113
Location: Western Idaho
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Hey I lived in SO for 7 years, what a great place to be able to build. I would definitely look into permits and any legal stuff before spending any money. Coincidentally there are a lot of marijuana growers in that area and the larger stalks and branches are almost always discarded and they are very durable, (could be used in waddle & daub application). Other than that there is plenty of ag and farming in that area so there is plenty of opportunity for great raw materials. It might just be a matter of getting out there and asking folks if they have any byproducts of any kind that might be of some use. The the more you network the easier this type of work becomes.
            You will almost always need a source of clay and sand in natural building, I would start there. Get your soil tested or bring in a sample to the college in Ashland and see if they can help you out, they might do it for free. As far as cob being impractical for that area, don't count it out. Take an inventory of the workable materials you have on the property you're building on and branch out as needed. Natural buildings have two important components; Big shoes and a big hat (sturdy foundation and sturdy roof). Everything in between stays dry. Good luck!
 
Posts: 167
Location: New Hampshire
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Kendall Norman wrote:
Also as far as heating goes, any advice on a simple heating system for a tiny house and how to effectively insulate it for my harsher winters?



Definitely look into rocket mass heaters. (But be sure to also look into downsides, such as my recent post about burning perlite.) They are low money cost but somewhat high in time cost. This last winter I heated almost entirely with pallet slats (discarding the runners). I used a circular saw to cut the slats, then a hatchet to split them into better sized pieces for my 6" system. That saved a lot of time when compared to cutting and chopping regular firewood. By cutting the slats off the runners I didn't have to worry about trying to pull nails, which sped up the process significantly.

[I used the blue pallets I scrounged to make a boardwalk around my small house. A much better use than burning the nasty chemicals.]

I got almost all the pallets I needed from the same restaurant that we get daily kitchen scraps from. They get a lot of food and equipment delivered on pallets.
 
master pollinator
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Location: Toronto, Ontario
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Why would you say that cob is impractical for your landscape? Wattle and daub was used in the UK historically, wasn't it? Isn't it at least as damp in some parts there as it is in Oregon?

I should think that if you have eaves of sufficient overhang, such that no precipitation can directly contact the cob, you shouldn't have issues that way. If methods of moisture-sealing natural plasters were used on the exterior, I anticipate no issues, providing adequate air exchange within the structure.

Rammed earth is another option. I think I prefer it to the similar Compressed Earth Block because you can use equipment off the shelf that can even be rented out of big box stores to get the work done. All that is required are the raw materials in the right ratios, forms exactly like those used for concrete (or insulated concrete forms that you leave in place to insulate your thermal mass), and a tamper. A cement mixer for mixing the sand, clay, and mineral soil would accelerate matters.

Earthbag construction is also an option. But the observation about what materials you have available is pretty pertinent. What suitable material do you have in sufficient quantities that can be had cheaply? If it's pallets, think about that. If your neighbour has a glut of square straw bales he can't get rid of, maybe that's what you should look at (I know, moisture issues. Good boots and a good hat, though. I wonder if anyone has done sections of straw bale rows sealed in earthbags for moisture protection, then cob or natural plasters?).

I would see what alternative building is happening in the area. See what is working, and pay attention to what has failed or been abandoned and why.

Also, think about raw materials processing. If I was building a tiny house out of lumber I engineer from pallets and OSB and/or plywood, I would definitely look at using a Shou Sugi Ban method of wood charring for every applicable piece.

One project I have in the planning stages is a capped pipe-based temperature-controlled retort (like a giant, fire and woodgas-powered pipe bomb, but with pressure valves and a thermostat) for the making of biochar, but designed such that I could kiln-dry wood, or turn whole logs (relatively small ones, or branches, or dimensional lumber) into biochar, with multiple pressure valves blowing the woodgas back into the fire fueling the process without destroying the material. I want to find out to what extent I can pyrolise wood and have it retain structural integrity.

I would hope that I could at least take wooden siding with pre-drilled holes, pyrolise it sufficient to preserve it, and use it as the external building envelope, along with wooden shingles pyrolised the same way.

One last thing: do you intend for your tiny home to be mobile? If so, you've immediately limited your construction materials and complicated your whole project. If it doesn't need to be mobile, or if it at least can be built on heavy skids, designed to be moved with a flatbed like those giant dumpsters, you will have more wiggle room for random materials use and creativity.

A skidded or not-at-all mobile building will make it easier to use a heavier heating solution like an RMH, as well as any heavier or more delicate or brittle finishes.

Good luck. You have many tiny options. Don't restrict yourself unnecessarily, and question everything. Keep us posted.

-CK
 
pollinator
Posts: 1488
Location: northern California
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One problem with a lot of the alternative and natural building techniques is that there are one or more phases of the process that are extremely labor intensive.  The common solution is to host a work party, but you need plenty of willing friends for this, and good organizational skills too.  I have lived near and participated in several iterations of this.  On one strawbale project, yes, the bales were stacked in one day at a work party, but then the owner spent the next three years stuccoing it all on the inside and outside, and adding everything else before she finally moved in!
    So when I built my cabins, and I did this twice, I looked to the dumpsters for a quick solution, and came up with a layered covering, walls and roof, over a frame of poles and/or bamboo.  The layers consisted of, usually, two thicknesses of big cardboard pieces, for structure and some insulation, over which I placed large pieces of plastic in overlapping courses, for waterproofing (big pieces of free plastic are to be had from furniture and mattress store dumpsters, since many of them get stuff shipped in enormous bags. I have even made a free greenhouse cover with these, by "welding" multiple pieces together along their edges in a candle flame!) This then is covered by overlapping layers of carpets, particularly the thin, indoor-outdoor kind with a short looped nap.  This keeps the sun off the plastic.  At that stage the space is move in ready.  To finish I would often stucco the carpet, with portland cement and sand and white paint mixed for the roof, and a mud stucco....about 75% sand and 25% clay, on the walls under an overhang with a thin wash of paint/cement/water put on with a brush to repel rain splash.  Cement stucco will stiffen carpet into a rigid strong building element that can be made in any shape.  I had five people one time on the roof of that cabin, and it never leaked in ten years!
 
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