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)


Update, BentoBox design is now really close





Here’s a preview of my current design in progress – Bento Box, a one of a kind shipping container THoW. I spent the last hour annotating the floor plan to make it easier to explain the components. I’ll model the “garage” and other areas below the sleeping/living platform later this weekend and add this to my blog.

Comments and questions are most welcome. I’m so excited I got all the major layout issues worked out in the last two weeks.

I will miss the butterfly roof… it just doesn’t get me the headroom. The only way around that is to punch up past the allowable 14’ height for the west coast states’ DOT limit. I could do something with hydraulics, which while would be the most amazing tiny house ever, might just be beyond my capabilities.

Exterior Progress

IMG_2601.JPGI have a significant number of posts in draft form, especially from houses and Tiny Housers I have visited in the last few months. I’ll get those up soon enough. Let’s talk about now. I’m celebrating, for two reasons – I’ve created some tangible evidence of activity happening on this project, and I made my first little video. I’m sure production will improve over time. For now, I’m just trying to document what I can as I work. Nothing fancy.

I made a trip with the pickup I have access to get some materials; 2×3 studs and the first of many poly-iso boards. I set up a chop saw with a stop to quickly cut each to length.


My lovely assistant Betsy came by the house to help. She held the studs in place while I tapped the metal corrugated wall and initially anchored them. IMG_2609.JPG

Here’s a little video walk around…

Now I can finish this part of work on my own. Each stud will be held by self-tapping 1 1/4″ #12  hex screws at 8″ on center and construction adhesive. Once I’m finished with this process, the insulation boards will go on. I will be welding a steel relieving angle at the bottom and attaching anchors at 4′ and top. Notice how they fit neatly into the valley of the corrugated wall?

IMG_2612.JPGI like the way these fasteners look on the interior and they will tell a story of the assembly of the house. The rubber washers will also prevent any moisture from the interior getting into the wall cavity.

That’s all for now. There’s much work ahead to prepare for the insulation and siding – which will be a rain screen of 1×4 and 1×6 western hemlock. So exciting.

The Eagle has Landed

I’ll be putting together a few images and possibly a short video of this over the next several weeks. So many things happening all at once, it’s very exciting. I’ve got some news about press coverage on my project to share soon, and will be hosting a project kickoff party with my local Tiny House Enthusiasts group.

I must admit, this is the largest thing I’ve ever had delivered. At nearly $1 per pound, it seems like I got a screaming good deal. Thank you Port Containers for all your great customer service. I wish I had specified which way to face the doors… hindsight being 20/20, I may need to make a few adjustments to my design. The towing company was professional, and I was surprised how easily it dropped where I needed it.

The container is now set on the driveway on exterior grade plywood, and this weekend I will jack it up on temporary cribbing to level it. I’ve made a couple of very crude renderings in Revit to mock-up the roof and materials. Am very pleased with where things are heading. The trailer design is also coming along – progress image below.

My First Podcast

Some of you may have run across this already, however I wanted to share that the amiable Cherrie McKenzie interviewed me on her site: CoActive Dreams. I really enjoyed ‘talking tiny’ with Cherrie about my thoughts on Tiny Houses, and how I plan to live intentionally.

This experience was so much fun, that I am considering starting up my very own podcast. Of course, I wouldn’t turn down other opportunities to share my interest in this movement. There are so many people in the Tiny House Community – just now there are over 7,500 members of the Tiny House People Facebook site – started by Macy Miller only 3 months ago. It’s clear, this area of interest is growing rapidly.

Click the play button below to listen now, or subscribe to Cherrie’s podcast Imagine Radio for a variety of ever-interesting topics on Stitcher.

Don’t have time for the interview in it’s entirety, that’s alright. You can listen to a short clip, here:

Frozen Music

There is an old saying, one of many incorrectly attributed to Mies Van der Rohe, that “Architecture is frozen music.” This was actually first published by German writer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Here’s the full quote.

“Music is liquid architecture; Architecture is frozen music.”

I love music, and I love architecture. Yes, that quote is very poetic, and to some of you may seem like complete bull, until you’ve experienced what he was trying to capture. This happened to me a few times in my life. One particular example relevant to the Tiny House ideas that burn in my belly came from spending the night in the Fern House. Built by my very close friend, and college alumni Robert ‘Bob’ Swinburne, at his family homestead, the Fern House is a very simple structure. It’s what is often called an architectural folly. Measuring approximately 50 square feet, composed of 2×4 wood studs, insect screen, and polycarbonate roof, it is built on top of an old tent platform. Bob and his wife Rachelle bought this sprawling Southern Vermont property nearly 14 years ago where they’ve since made a delightful home and are raising two adorable children. He’s even built his own barn, completely solo. That’s a different story.

Way before I’d ever heard of the term ‘glamping’, or glamorous camping, I had stayed a weekend with my friends in this little guest bedroom. For lack of a better term for it, that’s what it is, having one simple piece of furniture, a bed suspended from bright red parachute cord. It was here that as the day faded into night, and a bit of moonlight crept in, I truly knew what that quote meant. Frozen music.

Not only could I hear the quiet sounds of the wildlife from all around, crickets like a distant orchestra tuning their instruments, but I could also hear – nothingness. Peace, tranquility, and a soft wind blowing through the forest ferns and spindly trees. It was as if there was no one else around. It was romantic – both because my then fiancée was with me, and it seemed a bit overly luxurious. Like we were in our own private cathedral, both grand and sized just right for two; simultaneously simple and posh. That combination had never occurred to me. Perhaps it had a more long-lasting effect than the moon those first two nights.

I haven’t been back to Vermont to visit, and of course nap at my friends’ place nearly enough. A nap sounds fantastic right about now. I truly hope to recapture that feeling with my own tiny house. Like everyday is a vacation. Everyday is fresh and you cannot shut out the renewing light of the sunrise. Will my house feel exactly like being in the Fern House? Probably not.

If you wanted to create your own version of the Fern House, Bob will happily sell you the plans to create one, at $150. You won’t regret it. Someone in Wisconsin has already built one and it turned out very well. I know that once I’ve got a slice of land somewhere, I plan to build my own folly in the woods, maybe even one like Bob’s, just a short hike from the tiny house.

Last year, a professional filmmaker interviewed Bob, and the resulting short clip below gives a great flavor to what I’m describing. This really is a must see.

A few more images, showing the seasons’ change. No ferns in autumn or winter and sleeping outdoors is a little more brisk these times of year.

Fern House in Fall

Fern House in Winter

Check out Robert Swinburne’s blog (Vermont Architect) and his work (Bluetime Collaborative) here: http://swinburnearchitect.com 

The Modern Tiny

There are many, many examples of tiny houses if you look online. Curated below are a couple of examples of modern style tiny houses. There are some interesting and unique design features of these, including: lightweight and inexpensive materials, industrial fixtures, and sometimes minimalist furnishings. These are inspiring to me. I hope you find them fun and interesting idea generators, regardless of the style you want for your own space.

As I am compiling my list of inspiring designs, there’s something I notice; many of tiny homes don’t have names. I’m not sure why not, or why I felt compelled to name my design before it’s even built. I’m calling out three specific examples, and will try to describe them as best I can.

Miller House, near Boise, Idaho


Macy Miller, perhaps one of the more well-known and well published tiny house owners, has created an inspiring project. I’m surprised I haven’t written about it before now.

Macy is an architectural designer, and was able to build this fantastic project for only $11,000 USD. The gooseneck trailer provides a nice sleeping platform, adding to the living space significantly over the more typical designs. The exterior is clad in repurposed shipping pallet slats, and adds a very pleasant texture. I like that the whole trailer bed wasn’t used for living space, and a cozy porch on the tail provides a place of transition before entering the house.

The interior is decidedly modern and the lines are kept clean. There’s some great use of color for accent pieces, like the hand-blown glass lampshades. Many folks I’ve talked to about tiny houses have made comments about the appropriateness for families. Here, a family of three, plus a Great Dane, shows that it can and does work.

Here’s a great interview with Macy on NPR from December of 2013. There’s a great amount of info on her site: MiniMotives.com 

220 SF Tiny House, Western Massachusetts

selman-tiny-house-2011-croppedThis house, build by students from the Warren, Vermont based Yestermorrow Design/Build School, is ground bound—sitting on foundation piers and not wheels. At 3650mm (12′-0″) x 5790mm (19′-0″), it’s still pretty tiny. The polycarbonate cabinet doors look great, and would help reduce weight, important in a wheeled design. As you might be starting to notice, I really like shed roofs. The straw bale hot water heater, feature in the video, is brilliant and another great way to save money and reduce carbon footprint. I also like that it has the same vanity sink I purchased for my project earlier this year.

Minim House

Minim House - 03

The Minim House, designed by Foundry Architects in Washington, DC, is a bit wider than typical trailer homes, meaning a permit and most likely a professional crew would be needed to move  it. However, as I’ve described tiny homes to many new to the idea: they are moveable, however aren’t necessary meant for moving often like a travel trailer. This balance between fixed and wheeled, allows for a well-cared for and high-quality tiny house to become a family heirloom and can help its owners respond to changing jobs and the desire to live in new places without giving up a home. More info available at Minim Micro Homes.


One Night of Tiny House Bliss

Monday night, I tried on my first Tiny House for size. That’s right, I went to the store, picked one out my size and went into the fitting room. OK, actually spent the night at the Caravan Tiny House Hotel in the Northwest area of Portland, Oregon.

Tiny Vacation

It was wonderful. I stayed at the Kangablue, which is the newest arrival. At only 15 SM (160 Square Feet) plus a sleeping loft, it was just right. Surprisingly roomy. I will write-up a more comprehensive review soon, as I seemed to have caught a flu-like thing… I always want to see too much of a new city, and invariably exhaust myself. I wish I had planned a week or two in this hotel, and I could have tried them all. Below is a sampling of pictures for your enjoyment. You can read more about the six tiny houses available to stay in part of the Caravan here: http://tinyhousehotel.com

Meet Bento

from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bento
from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bento

The FORGE system from my earlier post inspired me. I’ve tried to see how much I can push the limits to keep my shipping container looking unmodified when it’s closed up. By basing the design on the use of a side opening configuration, I can have a container that is largely open along one side as well as the short end. Those doors are big and heavy, however with simple finishes, my overall project should still be roadworthy. 20140614-232214-84134780.jpg

So, on to the good stuff. I have spent a few hours reconsidering nearly every part of the layout and removed the traditional tiny house loft. It is instead replaced with a storage/sleeping platform. Nearly everything that is not being used, which doesn’t contain plumbing, could sit its own little compartment. It’s like a Japanese bento box., or maybe a traditional wooden puzzle box. I’ve tried to have elements of the design serve more than a single function, which really will make this feel like a house that is many times larger than the footprint suggests. So, here it is. I’m taking the lid off my design and I hope you enjoy it. I present, Bento: This series of vignettes is modeled on my iPad, using Autodesk FormIt, a free 3D modeling environment. I will take you through the transport mode, to standard living, to food prep, dining, sleep time and ‘party mode’ (where the center floor space opens up). Click on an image to view the gallery as a slide show.

I still need to work out how the pop out breakfast/reading nook will function. That’s one of the pieces I removed so you could see into the great room. Also, there’s opportunities to explore the storage and access to the covered porch off the bedroom. Now, to begin detailing this design, while continuing to complete a deal with a trailer fabricator. I’m down to three options, and I could have more to share very soon. Exciting! I’m really curious to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment. Thanks.