Tiny Tuesday: A House in Search of a Home

Jesse lives in a 180-square-foot house on wheels in Vermont’s Mad River Valley. It was built by a Yestermorrow Design-Build School class, and demonstrates what a tiny house can look like when it’s not staged but actually lived in.

From the front porch, you enter into a mudroom with ample storage space to the left; on the right a sliding door opens on a fairly cramped bathroom. Beyond, a wide corridor kitchen with marine-grade appliances opens onto a full-height volume, with a couch that doubles as a bed along the back wall. Upstairs, twin dormer windows offer headroom to the loft which covers two thirds of the footprint.

Jesse’s house works in large part because of multifunctional spaces. A table and chairs for eating or working fit neatly within the full-height great room, then fold down to almost nothing. The same space is used to access the loft via a ladder which pivots up out of the way when not in use. The bottom is hinged to rest on a wall cleat above head height – a clever solution to the visual and physical space problem of a permanent stairway.

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Part of the kitchen, with an alcohol-burning cooktop and a folding table (yes, there’s chairs in there too).

A tiny wood stove is more than adequate to heat the building; last year got Jesse through the winter on a third of a cord of wood. A sliding door in the corner of the back wall allows him to move wood from outside directly to the stove. He runs his plumbing off a 50-gallon tank that lives right next to the kitchen sink. In terms of legality, Jesse opines that greywater is the biggest problem. Composting toilets are perfectly legal, but no substitute exists for sinks and showers: they need to drain to a septic system or town sewer.

Jesse is in search of a permanent piece of land for his house. For now, he has taken up residence in the backyard of a friend, who runs an electrical cable from the big house to the little one. (Jesse also has PV panels he can set up to live off-grid.) He showed me his VTrans permit from when he last moved the house about a month ago. Its road width just exceeds the 8’-6” maximum for towing without a permit; it’s about 22 feet long and under 13 feet tall when the smokestack is removed. He’ll need to move it again before winter.

If you live in the Mad River Valley and you’d like to host a small house with an awesome occupant, please drop me a line!

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Back wall with bay window, utility compartment, trailer hitch, and wood stove access at the lower right.

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Tiny Tuesday: The Tiny Washer

Recently, several friends have shared a viral-style video about a foot-powered washing machine. Of course I was intrigued. Even an ENERGY STAR certified washer uses about 280 kWh of electricity and 13 gallons of water per load. How much can a human-powered model save?

A lot, it turns out. The YiREGO Drumi holds 5 pounds of clothing and uses 2.3 gallons of water per load. You start by putting in your clothes, half the water, and detergent, and then you pump the foot pedal for five minutes to swish it around. Next you drain the machine, add the rest of the water, and pump the foot pedal for another five minutes to rinse. The company claims it has about half the capacity of a typical electric washer. (I find this claim slightly inflated – 5 pounds equals about two warm-weather outfits for me, which means I’d have to do four or five loads with the Drumi to match my current washer.) The ten-minute ankle workout is a nice bonus.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any reviews, so I don’t know how well the Drumi does its job compared to a traditional washer, or how reliable it is over many years of use. And you might still need a dryer, which is a far larger energy suck averaging 769 kWh. (Of course, for a lot of laundry, the old fashioned clothesline works just fine.)

Several other small washers exist on the market. A few years ago Kent Griswold’s Tiny House Blog reviewed a hand-crank tabletop washer, which is sold by various companies such as The Laundry Alternative. You can also buy a variety of plug-in portable washers, often with sink faucet adaptors, which might be more convenient than human-powered models but don’t save much energy over full-size washers.

Indeed, the most appealing thing about the Drumi (and its ilk) is the size. Slightly larger than a five-gallon bucket, it’s very appealing for anyone living in a small house or apartment with no electric washer. Sure beats a trip to the laundromat!

Figures from YiREGO and energystar.gov.

The Kitchen Sink

On the other side of App Gap, construction of Colin’s house proceeds at a glacial pace. “Glacial” is an appropriate adjective, because the last few weeks of subzero temperatures and nonstop snow suggest the onset of a new ice age.

Cole plowed the driveway minutes before this picture. We almost have a walk-out porch!

Cole plowed the driveway minutes before this picture. We almost have a walk-out porch!

We’re far from finishing everything, but we did hook up the kitchen sink. It’s a deep farmhouse-style sink in a gleaming white. The massive capacity means dishes can really pile up before somebody takes care of them in one fell swoop, a perfect match for this family’s habits. (Admit it, you let your dishes pile up too!)

Shower stalls have come a long way in the basement and master bathrooms, with rot-resistant wallboard ready to be tiled. Also in the ceramic department, the “kids’ bathroom” gained a swath of underlayment for the floor tiles. In the upstairs hallway, we installed several more wall sconces, adding class to the stairwell and landing.

And then there are the interior doors. Only a couple have been installed so far, but they look amazing. The family room, previously a workspace to cut siding, now serves as a warehouse to store all the remaining doors as they await their turn.

Doors galore.

Doors galore.