Sukkah 2017

Two years ago I built a temporary outdoor room in celebration of the Jewish holiday Sukkot. Last year I missed my chance because I traveled to China for the duration of the holiday. This year it was time to plan and construct a new sukkah.

I salvaged some 4×4 posts and decking lumber from another job, and used these for the four corners of my 6-foot-by-6-foot sukkah. I cut points in the ends of the posts hoping to drive them into the ground, but the earth was too rocky and so I dug postholes instead. I buried the posts leaving a couple feet exposed, tamping down the surrounding soil so they wouldn’t budge.

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Four posts and four columns.

Next I attached a board to each post raising the height to 7 feet. I used screws for easy disassembly. I framed the top of the boards with four fallen branches, again with screws, to support the roof. Then I laid a fifth branch across the middle to keep the roof from sagging.

One of my two purchases for the project was a pair of 2-foot-by-8-foot trellises, which I used as the starting point for the roof. I laid them across the branches and secured them with a couple of screws. Then I covered the top with some leafy branches. It feels a little like having a pile of yard debris on the ceiling, so I’ll think of something more deliberate for next year.

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Roof trellises and support branches.

The other purchase was six yards of white cloth, which I used to wrap three sides of the structure. I stapled the cloth to the four corner columns with an ordinary stapler, wrapping the ends around and reinforcing them with extra staples. Because the cloth is only 42 inches wide, there’s a space around the top and bottom, giving the sukkah only partial privacy but a pleasant airiness.

Alas, Sukkot ended Thursday night and I will disassemble the structure soon. Looking forward to next year!

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Tiny Tuesday: Imagining Home

A collaboration between homeless residents of Burlington, Vermont and local architects yielded seven new home designs. The resulting exhibit, called “Imagining Home” by creator Alison Cannon, raises discussion and shatters stereotypes about the homeless.

As this Seven Days article explains, designs vary from houses on wheels to underground living quarters. All are small by American standards, reflecting the designers’ basic need for shelter, but the similarities end there. The exhibit shows there is no one-size-fits-all approach to reducing homelessness, not even within the Housing First strategy Ms. Cannon supports. Every individual has his/her own conception of home, and so a variety of housing options are required to meet that need. As the Housing First mentality goes, if you like your house, you’ll find it much easier to address issues like addiction that led to your becoming homeless in the first place.

The Gopher Berm House.

The Gopher Berm House.

It’s not too surprising that a resourceful population builds a lot of innovation into their dream homes. Rainwater catchment systems and windows oriented for passive solar energy reduce the houses’ need for water and fuel. The design pictured here, dubbed the Gopher Berm House by designer Mitchell White, uses the high heat capacity of earth to maintain a constant year-round temperature indoors with little demand for HVAC. These designs may never get built, but they showcase the skill set and dreams of a too-often-neglected slice of society. (If any architects are hiring right now… Mitchell White is a darn good drafter.)

The exhibit will be on display at the Tiny House Fest Vermont in Brattleboro this weekend, September 1-4.

Tiny Tuesday: Employee Housing in Aspen (plus an action)

Aspen, Colorado faces a problem common to many swanky ski towns: resort employees can’t afford to live there. Skico, which owns Aspen/Snowmass, is trying to solve the problem this year using tiny houses.

For this season’s experimental run, Skico bought six trailer units and placed them next to an RV park. This Aspen Times article reports that rent is expected to be $600 a month, about 40% of the gross income of a full-time employee earning Colorado minimum wage. (Rent is per person, but it’s not clear how many employees will occupy each unit.) If the arrangement works for employees, employer, and the community, Skico expects to buy more units next year, aiming to close a 600-bed shortfall in the Roaring Fork Valley.

The experimental units, purchased from Sprout Tiny Homes, are quite upscale – this is Aspen, after all. Ample soundproofing and dual lofts with privacy walls make the houses comfortable for employees to share. The price tag of $100,000 apiece makes them a poor return on investment for Skico, especially if the houses are only occupied seasonally. I must conclude that Skico is driven not only by profit but also by the virtue of providing more affordable (or at least attainable) housing to a community that needs it.

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Inside a new tiny employee house in Aspen.

Today’s action: find out if your community has an affordable housing group or committee. If it does, attend their next meeting. If not, consider starting one. To find out your community’s position on affordable housing, begin by calling or emailing your local zoning department.

Sample text: Dear Zoning Administrator, My name is Scott Silverstein and I am concerned about the price of housing in my community. Please inform me if this town has an ongoing plan for developing and maintaining affordable housing. If there is a committee dedicated to this subject, I would like to attend their next meeting. Thank you for your time.

Thanks to Brett Silverstein.