Tiny Tuesday: People’s Choice Award (plus an action)

A group of Norwich University students designed and built the CASA 802, a tiny house on wheels, for a semester program. (802 is the area code for all of Vermont, in case you didn’t get the reference.) The house won the 2016 People’s Choice Award from the Vermont chapter of AIA, America’s professional organization for architects. Now the 324-square-foot abode is occupied full-time by a Shelburne resident, meeting the program’s goal of helping the state’s low-income housing population.

Here are some of the house’s most impressive features. Plywood, flooring, and siding – virtually all the wood used besides dimensional lumber – is locally harvested and formaldehyde-free, minimizing the house’s embodied energy. Cellulose-filled walls, low R-value doors and windows, and high-efficiency HVAC systems further reduce the energy demands of a small house. The house was built for easy installation of solar panels, but they won’t help on the shady current site.

The AIA award reflects this project’s success in creating a comfortable house that fits in with local architecture at a low price point. I hope Norwich makes it an annual program.


Inside the CASA 802 feels spacious.

Today’s action: sign this petition telling President Trump to act on climate change. Trump has stated that global warming is a hoax, and although he backpedaled during the campaign he has since revealed his true position by nominating leaders in the fossil fuel industry to his cabinet. “Protecting the planet” may not be a convincing argument for a businessman, but renewable energy can be less expensive and employ just as many people as the current system. To get there requires a global commitment and appropriate funding for research and development.

I’m not sure how effective an online petition can be to spark change, but this one is nearly 130,000 signatures strong, and it only takes 30 seconds to sign.

Thanks to Laura Schutz.

Tiny Tuesday: Introducing the Minim

I met Brian Levy almost three years ago at the Yestermorrow Tiny House Fair, where he debuted his masterpiece of a tiny house on wheels. At that time, Brian had just finished building a prototype at Boneyard Studios, an outdoor showcase in Washington, DC that hosts numerous tiny houses as a demonstration of urban infill. Brian calls his house the Minim.

I’ve never seen so many brilliant design decisions packed into a single home. The Minim is wider than most houses on wheels, measuring 11 feet out-to-out. You need a state highway permit to tow anything wider than 8 feet 6 inches, but Brian reasons the permits are not that expensive and the house won’t get moved much, so it’s worth it for the extra space. The exterior is built using structural insulated panels (SIPs), which erect quickly and provide better insulation than most stud walls of the same thickness.

It’s hard to pick a favorite aspect of this house. I love the lack of interior walls, the multitude of windows, the full-width kitchen, the storage sofa/banquette, and especially the raised office that conceals a roll-out bed. On the other hand, I’m not wild about the exterior aesthetic, and with no roof overhangs I’m concerned about leak potential. Recently Brian has been working on a production line to build Minims for retail; the first one should be complete next month. Read all about the house and how to buy one here.

Rafter is the Best Medicine

Over at the timber frame, all the inner and outer leaves of the stud walls are up, and the open-web-joist rafters are on their way to forming the gable roof. Lifting these rafters into place is a real team effort, so it was nice to have seven guys on site for a busy day last week. We have set up temporary cleats and ladders to help us navigate the gable’s 16-on-12 pitch.


Rowan and Chris lift rafters onto the roof, while Ben preps near the new dormer window.

Ben and I spent half a day prepping the shed roof for insulation. The job began with shoveling snow off the roof and casting off our protective tarp (which keeps the inside dry while construction is in progress). Then we cut and installed X-braces between the rafters at midspan. Bracing helps the rafters share loads, so if there’s a snow drift or a heavy carpenter standing in one spot then a single rafter doesn’t need to do all the work.

Next, we stapled a tight mesh called Insulweb on the side of each rafter, and along the bottom and top of the roof area. Insulweb encloses each bay of the roof area and enables us to blow cellulose insulation without stuff leaking out. Installation got tricky at the end, when the only place left to stand was balancing atop each rafter.

I remarked many months ago that I would hate to have the job of loading bags of cellulose into the blower machine. Well, that was precisely my job today… and it wasn’t half bad. The paper-fiber material doesn’t itch like fiberglass, but it does produce lots of dust, so wearing a respirator is essential (not so uncomfortable in today’s sub-freezing temperatures). Opening one 25-pound bag at a time with a utility knife, I fed the cellulose into the hopper and tried not to let too much fall on the ground.


Loading a bag of cellulose into the blower machine.

The machine did most of the heavy lifting, pulling cellulose from the hopper into a hose and blowing it up to Ben at the other end. I don’t envy Ben’s job. Perching carefully atop the roof, Ben wrestled the hose into one bay at a time and then stood by until the bay was tightly packed with insulation. Ben also managed a switch that turned the blower on and off from afar. We operated at two speeds: a very fast initial pack and a more leisurely dense pack.

Apparently, in the early days of cellulose insulation, walls and ceilings were loose-packed, and R-values were satisfactory. But the material settled to the bottom over time, leaving air voids that offered no insulation at all. That’s why today’s standard practice is to fill the voids up front with as much material as possible, leaving no space for it to settle. Today it took 38 bags of material (just under 1000 pounds) to fill two thirds of the northeast gable roof (about 500 cubic feet) with dense-packed cellulose. That’s a lotta shredded newspaper between those rafters.


Dudley Do-Right Ben looks down from the roof.