Going Mobile

So, I have finally made the plunge. I’ve ordered the trailer for my house foundation.

Designing a tiny house on wheels, THoW, is a decision many have to grapple with. Is your tiny house a building, an RV, or something else entirely? That of course will depend on where you live. Zoning laws regulate where one can build or park a tiny house, and if it’s seen as an RV or registered as such, for how long you can live in that place. Some call it recreation, and not living. Living requires a bedroom and kitchen, which by the legal description of them, I will have neither. I’ll elaborate on that topic in a future post. In many cases, you can only recreate in an RV in designated areas and not in others and for a limited amount of time.

We’ve been focused on building for so long, that eventually we’ll need to grapple with these questions. For now, no one is living in or recreating anywhere regarding my tiny house – especially with winter coming and not all the insulation or heating system installed. I’m just building. My full-time residence is in the shared three bedroom home, behind which this project will continue making. The living situation will depend on where we arrive with the town.

So, the trailer becomes important, for a couple of reasons. While not required for this build, as I’m below the minimum of 200 SF size necessary for a permit in this region, it will be incredibly convenient for the upcoming move, adjusting the placement on site and the occasional trade show and conference. Requests for appearances of the BentoBox has been flooding in, and I’m not even fully enclosed yet. I’ve a feeling that 2016 will be a big year!

Below is an image from the vendor’s site, Big Tex. My local dealer, Trailer Station, with multiple locations throughout the Pacific Northwest, gave me a fantastic deal and has been great through the ordering process. I strongly recommend them and looking forward to picking up my trailer soon. Video and photos will follow.


While a lot more beefy than your typical tiny house on wheels foundation, I’m not building your typical tiny house. I settled on an 8.5×20 deckover trailer (approximate size in feet). It is 34.5 inches high, and my house will be just under the 14′-0″ Washington State DOT limits for moving without a permit. The trailer rating is 14k GVWR, meaning the trailer and combined load cannot exceed 14,000 lbs. My house in progress at the moment when empty is estimated at 6,000 and the trailer is 3,500 lbs. My budgeted weight for the completed house with belongings will arrive barely under the designed capacity.

Eventually, I’ll attach the four corner twist locks to the trailer frame, so attaching of the container is not only secure, it’s removable when the need arises.


Next up, my roof gets installed and then I have to move to the new site in time for our community Open House on December 12th. Fingers crossed it all comes together. Here’s another teaser of the latest arrangement we’re looking to create.


The Tiny Bunch

Active building on the tiny house has gone for eight months. Sure, the anniversary of buying my container went by this month… I count February as my start. Although life and conferences got in the way, it’s now really beginning to take shape. Now I’ve got new reason to celebrate. A parking space and a shared living situation is about to become real.

I’ve been sitting on this secret long enough. This is so exciting! In the next month, I will be moving my in-progress tiny house (which should also have a metal roof by then) just a few miles North to park next to my friends, Chris and Malissa Tack. I’m moving myself to a rented room in their new big house at the same property, after weeks of downsizing, on Halloween – spooky, scary!

We’re planning the below arrangement of our mobile studios, while we reside in the three bedroom house in front, as an experiment and educational tool to show what’s possible within cities, to one day create a tiny house community.

rendering, courtesy of Malissa Tack, © 2015
photo, courtesy of Christopher Tack, © 2015
photo, courtesy of Christopher Tack, © 2015

The Tiny Tack House, above, sits in place and is now ready for overnight guests. You can read all about their process of moving the house, while only 12 miles away, to its current location. It seems like it’s meant to be exactly there. For more information, see the listing on AirBnB. If you stay a weekend in the tiny house or the guest room of the main house and want to help me build my tiny BentoBox, I won’t complain.

In the last few weeks as we’ve been discussing all of this, I’ve dithered about the idea of plunking down money for a trailer versus a concrete pier foundation system like this: http://www.pinfoundations.com. The system seemed inexpensive at first glance, and in researching more, it is something that needs soil samples, engineering to design the right size, and a crew with a jack hammer to install, on top of welding custom tie downs for the container, I might not save very much. Being ground-bound also has its downsides, and might then make the tiny qualify as an accessory building. Since we dint want to go down that road of red tape, a trailer may just be the best thing. Isn’t it fun that a container lets you delay a decision that would have otherwise been first a year ago when I wanted to start? It will also be easier to play musical houses on the site or take my house to exhibit at an event if it’s on a trailer. So I am 85% sure I’ll be getting a trailer soon. More details soon.

By the way, if you are in the Pacific Northwest, be sure to join our MeetUp group. We’ll be posting an open house event very soon. See you there!

What’s the Story?

For me, the Tiny House Jamboree was less about the houses than the people, more specifically their stories. I recall after seeing Small is Beautiful at a different event, (it was also screened at the Jamboree) speaking with Ben Campbell. Featured as one of four stories in the film, his experiences were very relevant. I expressed how appreciative I was of him sharing his experiences and that I connected with him on several levels. Yes, there were tears during and after the film. Ben’s gracious and humble reply was, and I’m paraphrasing, “Everyone has a story to tell. It could have been anyone in my place and the film would have been also amazing and interesting”. After meeting so many amazing folks at the Jamboree and beyond, I believe he’s spot on.

If you haven’t seen the film yet, I whole heartedly recommend it. I even screened it in the theater in May with about 150 people. Afterward, the Australian director Jeremy Beasley (yes, he was still in the area and made a special trip to Seattle for the event I planned) told some wonderful stories about making the film. He was definitely passionate about the making of this film and explained how it wasn’t really about the houses at all. It turned out to be about relationships – the family we have and the ones we make around us. We even had a Q&A session with some tiny house owners to share their stories and help talk about what it’s like to go tiny in Washington State.

IMG_3860 (1)
Jeremy Beasley giving the thumbs up approval of the Maiden Mansion (pocketmansions.com)
Sean and Jeremy excited for the event.
My birthday selfie with the crowd filing into the theater. It was also the first theater the movie had played, as he gleefully explained.
Q&A Session
Q&A panel discussion, from Left to Right: Brittany Yunker, Kerry Alexander, Jeremy Beasley, Hannah Crabtree, Malissa and Christopher Tack

Back to the Jamboree

During the event weekend this occurred to me; In driving through seven big Western states (in as quickly as one and a half days), I realized I wasn’t actually going halfway across the country to see houses. The houses on display were mostly all commercially built houses, sponsoring the event to help make it more exciting and also keep it free for attendees. Many folks did want to see pictures, because they are looking for inspiration, so lines were long. Yes, the houses were all beautiful in different ways, had some excellent details and design ideas, and being tiny houses, are cute as little buttons. They just didn’t have stories yet.

Story telling was a big part of the Tiny House Jamboree, with main stage presentations happening throughout the three-day event. One of my favorite photos above, courtesy of Darin Zaruba, of EcoCabins and organizer of the Jamboree, taken during the day two panel discussion Q&A, where topics ranged from building experiences to the social implications of living in a tiny house community, and the environment, Darin Zaruba (not pictured), Lee Pera, Andrew Morrison, Lina Menard, and Zack Giffin answered eloquently and with brutal honesty. Oh, and that’s Bobby Alcorn in the background, one of the event volunteer organizers, who I’ve had some great conversations with over beer. The people and their stories onstage and off were what jazzed me. This kept my batteries charged, despite my tendency to sleep much less than normal for the five nights I spent in Colorado Springs.

Andrew ‘Drew’ Odom talked about being a digital nomad. Which I seem to have become in my career, when I first became a consultant in 2006 and now as a digital leader in my firm. Yes, I hunkered down in a coffee shop, utilizing the free wi-fi and electricity needed to stay connected to all of you to micro blog and Instagram when I drafted this post so many weeks ago. Digital Nomadicism, a term that I previously associated with road warriors and consultants seems to be an increasing trend with the advent of telecommuting. Tiny house living can support and encourage this way of balancing work and home. Some are doing it as part of a corporate job, others freelance or working more non-traditionally. It isn’t just limited to bloggers. Tiny Houses really enable more flexibility in career, as well as allow one to outsource their life, using services available in the community that would otherwise be ignored. That story really resonated with me not just because of my past, but also because of some things that I’m planning in the very near future. Uh, uhh. Spoilers, sweeties.

I truly believe that tiny houses enable more social interaction with the members of the community and because the idea is so new to many of us, our families and friends (or detractors, sometimes one in the same) and we tend to be located all around the globe, those social networks tend toward the digital as well. I’ve found a nice blend between the two and have formed some amazing connections IRL (in real life) with other enthusiasts. They all have stories, sometimes about their homes, or the ones they dream of, how they are planning or building, what happened as they were discussing this lifestyle choice in their neighborhoods and cities. All very fascinating.

There’s a YouTube channel available now for those who could not attend to see some highlights of the amazing event or like me want to relive the memories. Alexis Stephens & Christian Parsons of Tiny House Expedition, traveling the country in their own tiny house on wheels (THoW) to spread the word about tiny houses, filmed a significant amount of material from the event and the first few of their series of five are available now, here.

Now that I’ve been home in Seattle for a while and had time to reflect, I spent some time to return to this – one of many stories I have in my draft folder. I hope to get them all out there and share with you. I mentioned that new houses, fresh  from the factory floor are still awaiting for their stories. The most exciting house stories for that trip, it turned out were the houses I saw as I was heading home. All of the visits completely serendipitous. In a follow-up post soon, I’ll share three stories about touring and chats I’ve had with these great people. Until then, keep in touch. I enjoy hearing from you.

Jamboree Houses – Part One

With over 20 Tiny Houses officially on display at the first ever (and we hope to become an annual event) Tiny House Jamboree, held in Colorado Springs, Colorado over the last three days, we applied for a Guiness World Book of Records citation for the most tiny houses ever gathered in one place. I also managed to see a few other houses over my weekend. Below is just a small sampling and only one aspect of this large event that some say drew up to 18,000 people on its busiest day, Sunday. Final numbers are still being tallied. I will write more when I have a moment to stop and rest. Lots of traveling to do to return home, and I’ll post about my trip as well. Social media and traditional media are exploding right now to cover this event, pre during and post. Search for the #TinyHouseJamboree in your favorite social network and you’ll find more than you can handle.

Links are provided below to learn more about each home that I toured. I am not yet posting interior shots, because each builder may have better ones and I have to do some editing. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to tour every home. The event was crazy busy and lines were longer than a ride at Disney. I spent most of my time having great conversations and watching the main stage presentations. More on that in a different post. Enjoy the eye candy.


Meet the very first production models of the Morrison hOMe by EcoCabins, the host of the event. There were 28 feet (above) and 24 feet models in addition to a steel frame so you could see the ‘bones’ and significant engineering that go into these homes. The feeling of the EcoCabins version, a collaborative effort with Andrew and Gabriella Morrison, is reworked from the original in which the family lives in Southern Oregon.

Tumbleweed had two models on display, the Mica (formerly known as the Popomo) – a real favorite of mine (below) – and the Cypress (above). Very sharp.


 Tumbleweed managed to acquire the original, built by Jay Shafer in 1999. He lived in this house for five years while bootstrapping his first company and now owns Four Lights Tiny House Company (not on display at this event). Pictured above is the real Jay Shafer, walking back into his house for the first time in many years. He told me where the secret compartments are. Just kidding.

Speaking of Jay Shafer, while signing his book for eager fans, someone brought a really tiny house. I love seeing 3D printed models of designs. It’s a great use of this technology.


Sprout Tiny Homes had two models, which take a a modern approach both inside and out. I found the exterior to be very well crafted and a standout in the crowd. The stairs with build in storage and guest Murphy bed are unique features, built custom to these models.

While not a tiny house, I have to give a shout out to BlackFlagCoffee, who had this elegant mobile kitchen next their tent. If you haven’t experienced a pour over from them, you haven’t had coffee yet. Pairs so good with a Gooey Butter Cake.

I didn’t learn much about this one, however it was great to see a DIY model on display in the North lot. There were more homes to tour than could fit in the tiny village.

Another off the beaten path, this house by Kona Contractors was worth touring, as it was built without a high loft, conceived to surround a lovely Italian Murphy bed. See my video of this thing in action.


This home, the last featured in this post (again, stay tuned for more) is by Tiny House Chattanooga. The break in the roofline takes a simple shed roof form and makes it really appealing.

My Super Exciting UnBoxed Road Trip to the Tiny House Jamboree (plan)

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.  ~ by Robert Frost (from “The Road Not Taken”)

I have so much writing to catch up on… and these next two weeks aren’t going to help. Redefining what’s important in life, building a tiny house, and taking on new responsibilities at the office have kept me busy.

It’s official. I will be at the Tiny House Jamboree, in Colorado Springs late next week. Over ten thousand people have registered for this free, yes free event. You can still show up and register on site. Do it!

For a Tiny House enthusiast like myself, the opportunity to go to the very first Tiny House Jamboree event is such a privilege. I was also lucky enough to attend the first two Tiny House Conferences (in Charlotte, NC and Portland, OR) the last two Springs. This will be a little different. It is a different vibe than other events, not better necessarily, just more like a festival, it is substantially bigger, is free for attendees – sponsored by vendors, will have live music and of course one of the most kick-ass lineups of Tiny House speakers ever assembled.

Things are starting to align really well on this trip. I’ve got my camping gear, lots of great stuff to listen to, and the determination to make this a journey like no other. The exact details and locations are removed to protect the innocent. I leave early on Wednesday morning and am essentially driving 45 hours round trip — enough to cross the country if I straightened out the roads. I’m super pumped just looking at the map, thinking of the people and places I’ll get to see in five days of driving in addition to the three-day event. This is going to rock. If you want to follow my progress on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, I’ll be using the tag #MyTinyRoadTrip.


The Torch of July

Sparks flew, loud kabooms rocked the neighborhood and there  were plenty of oohs and ahhhs. Of course, I’m talking about more progress on BentoBox in the form of cutting metal. Oh, there was the Fourth of July too. I pretty much slept through the fireworks from exhaustion.

We used an acetylene/oxygen torch which was significantly faster, although much messier and slightly more dangerous (given two explosive gasses are at play). Luckily, my neighbor has significant experience and equipment for welding and cutting steel.

Note, I do advocate safety. Be sure to follow all precautions and wear your safety gear. I always do. I am not responsible for those that don’t. For instance, when I polished the threshold where my new from door will sit, I used all the gear. Leather jacket/apron, leather gloves, face shield and hearing protection (see last photo). I also highly recommend grinding wheels with an added coarse grit paper on the wheel, like a corner/edge grinding flap disc type.

The moment the torch breaks through is mesmerizing. We captured some of that for you, here.Just like my progress building and blogging, I bring it to you in living color and slow motion.

Intentionally left the walls mostly up with just the corners attached for security. We did open the roof. Even though it’s Seattle, the current drought has meant I can leave the roof uncovered while adding the headers and framing above. More on that in the next post. You can see a hint of it in the last photo in the gallery below.



The original story on Hipstercrite is important to read first. Again, don’t click on my important video response until you read the article above, FIRST.


Now, I don’t live in a tiny house yet, but I will someday soon. My video response captures how I feel about it:

Video Response

Never give up. Never surrender. – Jason Nesmith / Commander Taggert

BentoBox – Latest Renderings

Designers Gonna Design. That’s the way it is. I just can’t stop refining my design until the components are in place and built.

So, here are the latest images of the BentoBox  (click on an image to enlarge):

I’ve got two hats on my house. I did start framing the second ‘hat’. Updated photo progress coming soon. The little low slung beret, where hipsters can hang out on the roof deck (after signing a waver or I figure out a way to get a railing up there).

The second roof has a split personality. In the ‘parked’ configuration as seen here is a shed roof.  The hat on my house as well as many local buildings,  affectionately referred to by architects in this area as the Seattle Sombrero.

Speaking of hats. Yes, it rains a lot here. So the flat roof is not really flat (sloped 1/4″ per foot) and as you may have noticed in my previous post, has an integrated roof drain (sloped 1/2″ per foot) which will be connected to a removable downspout for rainwater harvesting.

During travel mode, the shed roof folds flat, to stay under the maximum height of 13′-6″ (4.11 meters). That is the most common DOT standard in the states and provinces of the USA and Canada. The house is a bit taller than most tiny houses when parked.  Full height (for me) in the tatami room is important. That room is 42 inches (1050mm) above the main level, so all these heights add up fast, including the trailer. The roof overhead will be a continuous standing seam metal roof with that material continuing down the back wall.

The exterior materials are composed of a combination of steel, dark brown stained wood windows and shou sugi ban wood siding, a Japanese technique of burning wood to seal it from the elements. Here’s a fantastic video by Delta Millworks in Texas, who I hope to work with for my project.

Delta Millworks (Trailer) from Good Luck Sir on Vimeo.

I’ve never seen anyone do such beautiful work as they do, examples of different species and techniques are found here: http://www.deltamillworks.com/shou-sugi-ban/ 

I’ll still be working out the construction details and materials for the area above the fixed wall on the shed roof. I would love to do something like a highly insulated translucent panel, however must be mindful of the budget.

Is that a hat on my house?

Here’s a little update on the BentoBox progress thus far. The winter months are starting to fade away as the Seattle weather changes. A lot of prepwork inside has led us to where we are: 2×3 studs are attached to the container walls as the structure for the insulation and siding, the window framing is in place and I am ready to cut holes for the kitchen and bathroom windows. We’ve had several comfortable days of sun and temperatures in the 60s F (15-20 C). That’s roof weather!



My house now has a little hipster hat. Yes, this will be the basis of a roof deck covering about an 8×8 area over the kitchen and bath. The design detail called for some extra head scratching to be sure. It’s important for me to ensure the house width stays under the DOT standard of 8′-6″ (2590 mm). This gave me an opportunity to create a shadow line and a way to still have a continuous soffit vent. For those of you inclined, I’ve attached the detail below.



The deck joists at 12″ on center sit on perimeter rim joists. Simpson Strong-Tie products are used extensively. These include: A24 steel angles (which measure 2″ x 4″) and stainless steel bolts, washers and nuts (to prevent reaction with the container’s weathering steel) hold the rim joists to the container, and H1 hurricane clips and joist hangers are used above to ensure everything is stable, and will not uplift in the event of a strong wind (which is what will happen anytime the house is moved on the freeway).


The tight spacing of the joists meant it was very challenging to get a framing hammer in there for much of the work. A palm impact nailer, suggested by Ryan Mitchell of The Tiny Life did the job nicely. I had no idea it would be so different from a typical nail gun.


You load each nail individually, which allows using the proper nails recommended for the fastener system. Magnets and ball bearings hold ferrous metal nails in place so you can line up the nail with your work. It pounds the nail in with successive hammering action, versus a single quick burst of air. It’s a bit like the game “Operation”. Don’t touch the sides, and don’t touch the nail to anything you do not wish to drive it into. It’s very sensitive. ALWAYS wear your safety goggles.


Attaching hurricane clips. Hannah Crabtree of PocketMansions.com makes quick work of this with the new palm nailer.


I’ve purchased a very simple plastic trench drain – intended to be used on a driveway outside a garage opening. This comes in a 10 foot length. I do not plan to cut it until I’ve finished the tapered deck that will send all water to this. This is sloping at 1/2″ per foot and the built-up roof deck will slope at 1/4″ per foot toward the middle. A roof membrane will be laid on top. My next update will show how I am insulating, venting and flashing the roof to keep everything dry and cozy below.

Make a list, make a budget

When building something as complex as a house, it’s always a good idea to have a plan. That part was solidified over the holidays, and now I’ve begun making lists. Shopping lists, wish lists, comparison lists, lists of lists, and no project could be completed without a schedule, and a budget. The schedule we’ll get to in a future post. Let’s first talk some numbers. By the way, that’s Piggleston above, the Burke family piggy bank and future vacation fund. Say hello.

Making a budget would be a real challenge without prior construction experience. It’s sort of like a game of The Price is Right. Guess too low and you will be in for a surprise com build time, have aspirations that you cannot afford would be a real let down. On the other hand, guessing too high (really rare for most of us) would mean you may simplify your design so much that you are unhappy with the final result and perhaps unable to change your mind later. I wanted to put this together, because I have been challenged by a few nay sayers who don’t believe my budget to be real, or that a tiny house could be built for under $145 per square foot. Of course, I already know that some houses have been built for half my budget by relying on many reclaimed materials and/or sponsors. My new freind Macy Miller built her amazing modern tiny house on wheels with only $11,500 just two years ago.

I’ve done my best to make these numbers realistic – having researched heavily into several of the more costly areas so I could know what to maximize and where to reduce costs. For instance, I knew that I really wanted my design to have significantly more glass than the typical tiny house on wheels. To save money, and preserve the design intent – I will be fabricating my own window frames and sashes, and just having the insulated glass units made to order. I will be spending $35 per square foot on materials versus $65/SF for clad wood windows with all the bells and whistles. Sure, I could put in my labor, however I’m doing this (and building the house in the first place) because I know I will appreciate the experience. Tracking my labor, especially design time would be impossible. I dream about the design, think about it while commuting to work, and spent many a late night tossing out, sketching new and rediscovering old ideas.

Below is my materials budget, both current and with a couple of future projects that I plan to add later. I’ve organized it according to the Construction Specification Institute (CSI.org). This is the most common way of describing materials used for building in the United States. I’ve removed divisions that have no relevance in residential construction.

I did add a section for tools and any labor I need to contract out – which I will try to minimize. I’ve already spend half that on some tools I wanted not just for this project, also for other unrelated projects. As a result, I have broken the tools and labor out so they don’t count toward my goal.

The BentoBox won’t have a hot tub (yet), however since someone else might, I left in the division 13 on Special Construction – ’cause if someone builds an ice rink or swimming poor on or in their tiny house, I want to see it!

As I get all my receipts organized, I will start showing how I’m tracking to the budget – and try to explain what unexpected items I’ve come across. Realizing that this framework is very specific to my choices, especially the decision to build around a shipping container, your mileage will vary.

Pencil Sharpening

Starting your own project soon? I suggest sharpening your pencils and getting to it. It’s not that hard. You can even download the attached Budget Template spreadsheet as your starting point. Good luck.

CSI Division Number CSI Division Name General contents Budgeted
Division 00 Procurement and Contracting Requirements Legal, Contracts, Fees, Permits, etc…


Division 01 General Requirements Tools, Rental, Construction Facilities, Temporary Construction, Cleaning and Waste Management, Labor


Division 02 Existing Conditions Shipping Container


Division 03 Concrete Slab on grade, foundation piers, etc..


Division 04 Masonry Concrete masonry units


Division 05 Metals Metal Studs, Fasteners, Hurricane clips, etc…


Division 06 Wood, Plastics, and Composites Wood Studs, Plywood, etc…


Division 07 Thermal and Moisture Protection Insulation, Siding, Roofing


Division 08 Openings Windows, Doors


Division 09 Finishes Gypsum Board, flooring, trim and moldings


Division 10 Specialties Bathroom accessories, fireplace and stove, cooking stove, fire extinguisher


Division 11 Equipment Refrigerator, washing machine, etc…


Division 12 Furnishings Art, Furniture, drapes, shades, cabinets and countertops


Division 13 Special Construction Hot tubs, ice rinks, swimming pools, vaults


Division 14 Conveying Equipment Hydraulic lifts, slide out mechanisms, etc…


Division 21 Fire Suppression Fire sprinkler system


Division 22 Plumbing Sinks, tub, faucets, water heater, etc


Division 23 Heating Ventilating and Air Conditioning Heater, air conditioners, exhaust fans, dehumidifiers, etc…


Division 25 Integrated Automation Home automation, including learning thermostats, occupancy sensors,


Division 26 Electrical Switches, outlets, electrical system, lighting, storage batteries


Division 27 Communications Wifi, Telephone, network cable, routers and ports


Division 28 Electronic Safety and Security Video surveillance, electronic locks, smoke and CO2 detectors, gas leak detectors


Division 31 Earthwork Work to prepare your parking for the project


Division 32 Exterior Improvements Landscaping, paving, gravel, etc


Division 33 Utilities Water storage tanks, propane tanks, Any connections to utilities or items not permanently attached to the THoW


Division 34 Transportation Trailer, vehicles, etc…


Division 44 Pollution Control Equipment Water filters, air filters


Division 48 Electrical Power Generation Solar panels, wind turbines
Total Spend


Project Phase Total (minus tools)


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