Thursday, September 7, 2017

Good Book On The Disposal of Human Waste

Given the role that tiny houses are playing in leap frogging the old flush toilet/sewer system this book is filled with details worthy of a tiny house dweller since inevitably we will have many a conversation about how our composting toilet works. Plus it's a great read. I love accompanying a journalist in search of answers. Here I have noted my favorite takeaways from The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World Of Human Waste And Why It Matters.

Rose George, a British writer after my own heart, extensively explores the unmentionable topic of the disposal of human excrement. This sends her on a worldwide journey investigating toilets and sewage treatment or lack thereof. Her journey begins in the London sewers with the flushers—crews of professionals who maintain these underground pipes. The enemy of the flushers is restaurant fat. Massive amounts that stinks more than poo and is hard to remove. She does a similar tour in New York. Here it is confirmed that New York sewers (and likely the cities of many a reader) are designed to discharge raw sewage into the nearest waterway when overwhelmed by rain. This happens about once a week in New York.

At the opposite end of the system sits the throne toilet unchanged for decades until the Japanese took it to new heights of function by making this unmentionable household feature marketable for multiple upgrades–a marketing feat in this story. Japanese toilets famously can adapt to their owners habits and monitor their health while cleansing them with warm jets of water and heated air to dry them. I’m seeing them in the restrooms of high end shopping malls in Bangkok now.

But most fascinating of all is the human story. No serious book about toilets would be complete without addressing those who have none. For this we must visit the rural villages of India and Bangladesh and learn that just imposing toilets from on high does nothing to dissuade people from open defecation. Authorities armed with facts on the dangers of feces will not force sanitation to become a priority for poor people. It takes a skillful engagement of the villagers to realize for themselves that they want toilets. The slow way is to bribe with offers of running water and wash rooms if an investment is made in a latrine. The most effective way is to engage their disgust. Theirn lies a story in itself.

Next up is China for its investment in biogas digesters, a decentralized in-home system that makes methane for cooking and nutrients to put back into the soil. China has a long history of using night soil on fields and thus insuring the fertility of their fields for centuries. Lots of possibilities for innovation here.

She also includes a slight diversion to tell the story of a pair of inventors on two continents creating a hand pump for collecting privy contents by motorbike. A possible business opportunity in Tanzania.

And on our side of the planet we must also learn about hazardous sludge being used on fields. And no it is not the processed shit itself that is the biggest problem; it is the load of industrial chemicals added to the wastewater from every imaginable industry from chemical production to morgues that make up 25% of our sewage stream. Talk about the wrongful use of the commons. So many different chemicals that it is impossible to prove that such sludge is causing dramatic health problems for nearby residents. Dumping sludge at sea and in landfills also done and not desirable. By now it becomes clear to the reader that so much is wrong with using clean water as a vehicle for waste which then must be cleaned again. And that many, especially those who source their water from rivers, are drinking that water over and over again.

Back in China we are offered a possible future in a rural village where a urine separating composting system is being tested. Invented by the Norwegians, the Eco-san has a urine separator so the urine is processed separately making the solids easier to compost on site for use in the fields. In the city such compost could be put out for collection along with all our other recyclables. Such would be my ideal vision.

What makes this book such an interesting read is all the colorful characters she meets that have taken up the politically unpopular cause of sanitation plus the complex psychological issues of attempting to change human behavior. How culture and social protocol impacts behavior i.e. how the caste system of India created a population of people, the untouchables, who accept being covered with fecal matter as their lot in life. And to add another layer of complexity on the government and world aid level, how sanitation is discussed and addressed as the poor cousin to the much more sexy issue of clean water. How the connection between clean water and the contamination of water by people lacking sanitation is so rarely addressed as one and the same thing.

I am grateful to Rose George for cramming so much interesting detail and stories into this journey and resisting the urge to pass judgement or rant. She has also apprised me of the levels of denial humans are capable of if they don’t want to admit that something unpleasant is going on. And what I already knew to be the cultural dominance of the flush toilet as the pinnacle of human sanitation she makes clear is so not sustainable that the developing world needs to leapfrog this dinosaur whose infrastructure is now crumbling. There is a glimmer of economic hope in the passing mention of the rising price of nitrogen and phosphorus the two main elements of urine. So I’m thinking surely there would be a business opportunity to collect human urine from the source. A stimulating book of a reality humans have created and not fully addressed.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Toilet Report And Bokashi Upgrade Game Changer

People’s reaction to my DIY toilet is out of fear for their nose. So sure are they that their sensibilities will not be able to handle it that they rarely ask me how I go about disposing of my own waste. Less you think my nose is impaired I will start by saying that if I make a tuna fish sandwich I cannot sit in my tiny house for long before the smell of tuna oil drives me to put the empty can outside. So we can start with this shared sensibility as a benchmark.  

The gold standard of composting toilets allows your poop to fall into a chamber under the floor where the user can forget about their deposits for an entire year. At which point the poop is shoveled out from a trap door outside the house as close to compost as your delicate nose might require. The unit is vented with a fan that draws fumes away from the toilet inside the house and has a heater to bolster the composting process (or rather the dehydration process). The price of such a system is $2000. As you can imagine the elitism of this price is more offensive to me than any odor. It was so staggering that in response to the tiny house spokes person offering this information I felt compelled to post a picture of my $2 solution—a frisbee lined with a square of newspaper.

My DIY Toilet

Ok let me back up a bit so to speak. Before I got my tiny house I had already made and used my own toilet on a week long urban camping trip. My design though technically a porta potty and not the more glamorous sounding composting toilet does incorporate the most advanced technology of separating the urine into its own chamber. This I did with a funnel that drains into an oil drain pan container via a rubber hose. The orifice to this funnel being blocked by a plastic toy golf ball and the hose blocking the entry to the oil pan so no smell emanates from my toilet. I did not use this toilet for poop until using it in the tiny house. At which point I placed a small bucket (with sawdust in the bottom) inside the toilet box behind the funnel. And after each deposit I covered the poo with sawdust and this kept any smell from emanating into the tiny house. This would have been the end of it had I not been subjected, as many were on FaceBook, to the marvelously funny animation describing the natural squatting position of humans when defecating which led to the invention of the squatty potty bench now being sold at a highly recognizable big box store near you.

This invention took me back to my childhood in Asia where the squat toilet reigns and I became obsessed with building an actual squat toilet for my tiny house. One I would decorate with mosaic tile and highlight as an icon of cultural pride. But I soon had to give up this idea. I just did not have room for it on my floor plan as the footprint of such a toilet was twice as big as the one I had. 

Then I found a frisbee in my dad’s garage and when you are obsessed with a design everything that comes your way is a potential solution. Thus the frisbee became my minimalist squat toilet accompanied by a bucket with a lid from a commode chair a client was giving away. I kept the frisbee inside my wooden toilet which is open on two sides so was it was easy to slide it in when not in use. This opening also made it easy for me to check how full the urine tank was to avoid it overflowing. If it did overflow I would soon smell it, but luckily the urine did not go anywhere as the tank was an oil pan and the depression to catch oil was equal to the task of keeping urine from dripping onto the floor of the box. I had also lined the box with plastic for easy clean-up.

To use my minimalist squat toilet I took it out from its hiding place and put it on the floor lined with a square of newspaper and a bit of sawdust. Then a covering of sawdust after use cut the smell immediately. The square of newspaper made it very easy to pick up by the corners and place in my bucket. Covered with the lid I was ok with it being inside the house in a corner of my bathroom. 

I had no intention of sharing this minimalist toilet with anyone even to talk about it for fear that y’all would think I had gone feral. The tiny house community are bashed enough without my radical contribution. I am well aware that in order to advance the cause of tiny houses becoming accepted within urban zoning plans it is best to assimilate and aspire to be as normal as possible just as gay people did while working toward marriage equality. 

I was urged by some to get a commercially made toilet that would compost or partially compost within the toilet itself. Most of these units had fans that had to be powered with an electrical hook-up and vented with pipes to the outside which would mean cutting a hole in the wall of my house. All of which violated my principles of simplicity. And none actually compost in the traditional sense of having enough mass to raise the temperature of the poop and sawdust deposits. I also suspected that there was a downside to many of these designs. The Nature's Head one seen in nearly all the tiny houses on TV has a hand crank to mix and aerate the poop to encourage dehydration. A user of such a toilet made a video of all that could go wrong with this design which thoroughly confirmed my suspicions from pee overflowing onto the floor for lack of a viewport to mixing in with the poop and being made into a gooey dough inside the toilet. I was so glad I didn't spend $500 on this learning experience.

The Poop Processing Part

At the time of my frisbee solution I emptied my poop bucket into the barrel of a rotating composter unit. I confess I had not thought this part out completely. The composter was one I had on hand found free on Craigslist. I put my poop into it and ignored it through the winter adding straw to aid in composting. I put the dogs poo from the yard in there too. But the poo didn’t really break down even after the spring heat waves. And rotating the bin just made the poo into cob like bricks. Now there are humans who make bricks from cow dung mixed with straw and if I sterilized my poop with enough heat to kill the pathogens I might have been tempted to try some building projects too, but I was too busy to entertain such a distraction. 

I returned to the Humanure Handbook which had first led me down this road of composting toilets. I was simpatico with the author’s philosophy of providing a simple, inexpensive, easily accessible method of processing human waste and returning it to the soil, but when it came down to it I didn’t have the space to commit to the whole process in traditional large outdoor compost piles dedicated to the humanure process. I did learn from their video on building a composting unit from pallets that the poop is never turned over as with other composting methods to avoid the spread of pathogens. I was also comforted by the fact that if all else fails it only takes a year to render the humanure safe as the pathogens do die off.

Greywater Action in Berkeley with their urban household greywater system and built in DIY composting toilet have a convincing video showing the benign smelling results of their toilet. They put the poop into bins and once filled leave them for a year, but this also required enough room to house at least two 55 gallon barrels for the allotted year.

The Bokashi Upgrade

Fortuitously for the next stage of my education in the Dtao of Poo, I was in Maui visiting my new girlfriend.who had serious experience composting having had a job managing green waste at the Maui recycling center as well as a degree in agriculture and a dedicated interest in organic farming. When I showed her on my iPad the bin I was using she read me the riot act on how this composter was the worse ever invented as it could never physically aerate all of the compost and would render some of the process anaerobic creating e coli in the process. All the reviews said so. She advised me to dispose of the entire thing as hazardous waste complete with warning labels. I assured her I would suit up in my hazmat outfit for the job. As this was the first heated conversation we had ever exchanged I was amused that it would be about compost so early in the morning. Then she jumped up and did an online search for a solution involving EM technology and presented me with a site that would sell me a kit for pet poop composting. I had barely heard of Effective Microorganisms let alone for fermenting poop. She told me later she had been introduced to this fermenting technology by a Japanese health institute in Hawaii and then visited a garden using EM methods that was the most fertile she had ever seen.

I had done worm composting when it was first made popular by the book Worms Eat My Garbage. I had made my own compost bins. I had done sheet composting of an entire lawn and anaerobic composting in sealed garbage bags. I had always been on the cutting edge I thought so I was eager to learn of yet another even more radical method. I watched the videos she had so quickly located online to process poop. The Bokashi method is used in Japan and South East Asia for fermenting waste in closed containers. The actual bins in this kit took up no space at all with a footprint no bigger than a five gallon bucket plus I was very taken by the screw top lids that came with them. Within the hour I had ordered the kit for a little over a hundred dollars. It arrived before I got home.

I mixed up my first container which required two gallons of water and 1 cup of the EM solution plus a tablespoon of bokashi impregnated bran made from wheat chafe all provided in the kit including the spoon. Then I slid my poop into it which left me with a sheet of poop stained newspaper. I could throw that in the mix too as it was organic, but then after several days it dawned on me that I could skip the frisbee step altogether, dispense with sawdust (a difficult to find ingredient) and poop directly into the bucket. I just needed the height to reach it such as might be provided by a squatty potty bench. I pulled out my folding step stool and tried this out. It was just the right height. I squatted on it and hung onto the opposite end of the stool to brace myself.

The experience of using my new toilet was of such a visceral nature as to defy polite description. Shall I just say that it was emotionally akin to an amusement park ridesay the jungle ride over a crocodile infested bog scented with pungent tropical flowers. Adventurous rather than revolting. And too close to the water line for any back splash. The slightly yeasty smell of the bokashi also masked the poop smell almost completely. This novel act of pooping into a bucket of brown bog made me feel close to nature in a primeval and unexpected literal sort of connection. It may however make any normal person run for the nearest Jack In The Box restroom. Down the street two blocks and make a right. You can’t miss it.

After these bog visions I hopped off my stool sprinkled a bit of the wheat chafe on my deposit and anointed the bog scape with an additional spritzing of EM solution before screwing the hatch back on the bucket and placing it gently in a corner of my bathroom pan. As my mini bog filled and became firmer I could see things growing on the top—white patches of yeast. I was assured by the FAQ page that this was normal. 

After several weeks the bucket was filled so I took it outside and let it sit closed up tight and undisturbed for another week while I put the second bucket into service. All I needed to do now was dig a trench where the soil might benefit from this infusion of beneficial microbes. I am not fond of digging trenches in drought hardened ground so I soaked it first. When I opened the bucket I was surprised that it was now mostly brown liquid with a sweet smell that was of such interest to the dog I thought he was going to try to lap it up like a chocolate shake. Luckily I had chosen a spot where he would not be able to reach it. I poured the contents into the trench, mixed in some dirt and covered it all back up. The surface was as liquid as lava and some of the stuff oozed out nastily. I hastily shoveled soil over the ooze. It took a day or so to firm up again, but it was done. Bokashi was now my next big thing. Garden variety compost I had long suspected was underperforming, rarely getting hot enough to fill claims of being able to kill pathogens and weed seeds, being at best a cozy home for a rat. Plus rotting material releases gases as it decomposes thus adding carbon to the atmosphere. This fermenting method released no such gases and is sealed from animals. I could see I would soon be looking down my nose at the compost pile just like all the other Bokashi enthusiasts. 


I am aware that this revelation of my tiny house lifestyle has likely made me unfit for normal society. I may never be able to live a mainstream life again let alone with a live-in partner. However when people ask me if I have a sewer system as someone did just yesterday while asking me about my tiny house I could proudly say I have a toilet system using cutting edge Japanese Bokashi technology to turn my waste into microbial rich water. My listener's eyes lit up at the mention of such water which for our drought state of California was nothing short of miraculous. I felt I had indeed arrived.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Waste Water Chores: The Underbelly of My Tiny

In designing the utilities of my tiny it was my intention to approach tiny house living in the simplest possible way even if it was primitive. If it didn't work out I could always upgrade. That I was actually able to buy a waste water tank on wheels was already a significant advance above anything I could improvise. These tanks were available from RV supply stores in several sizes. I chose the smallest 11 gallon tank which was already so heavy when full I could barely muscle it around.

So in the winter months I dragged the tank around the garden and emptied it at the base of trees. Little blankets of floating fat poured out too so when the rainy season was over I decided to filter the water before I poured it on plants. For this I made a bio filter from straw which I stuffed into a funnel that I place in the mouth of a five gallon water container. Then I made a ramp from a piece of plywood so I could get the tank up onto a pair of milk crates and let the water out while attempting to aim the stream into the filter. This actually worked to filter the solids out. But it took a while for the water to pass through the filter and I got tired of standing there so I thought I would try a filter inside.

After some thought about what kind of container I might use I retrieved an old collapsible water container from my camping gear and cut the bottom out on three sides. Then filled it with straw. The spigot I aimed down the drain. The plastic tube you see drains direct from the sink. This set-up did indeed filter out the solids and was big enough to easily empty my dishpan of dirty water directly into it. After a week it began to smell so I replaced the straw with fresh straw. It is definitely primitive to say the least, but it is biodegradable so I don't mind. Later I may try something more sophisticated or more solid like sand and gravel.









Now it does not take very long at all to drain the tank into a five gallon bucket twice. It is also a bit easier to carry buckets into the garden than to drag the tank over the mounds of grass. This chore is required about once a week. Once I forgot to check it and it overflowed which meant water on the cement slab flowing out to the road, but I am usually pretty good at checking how full it is. I can also pour the urine collection tank from my toilet into the waste water for appropriate dilution to give to plants.

All this might seem a bit much to do in day to day living, but when a friend told me how she spent all day getting a plumber in to clear a drain one Thanksgiving because she had put something she shouldn't have down the garbage disposal I felt fortunate I would never face such a job. I also will never have to have half the yard dug up to replace broken drain pipe at great expense. These are the worries that plague homeowners that are not even on my list of worries.

And best of all I get to re-use all my waste water on plants.

My Hermit Life

While I was in Bangkok for the cremation of a dear aunt I took along a book of photos of my tiny house to show relatives how I was living now. Since the tiny house trend has not yet come to Asia even via cable TV most were quite puzzled by my choice of lifestyle. Small wooden houses were associated with poverty and rural farm life. Nor had they ever seen one on wheels. "So is it a vehicle?" they asked me. They were so flummoxed they didn't know what questions to ask. What they could see was that I had made most of it myself and I was very proud of it.

Then I met a couple of nuns attending the cremation and showed them my photos.  They asked me how big it was in meters and compared it to the size of their rooms. One of the nuns commented that I was living like a Hermit and this was a good start to becoming less attached to the material world, people, animals and plants. I was so startled by this reframing of the tiny house in a traditional Thai spiritual context that it was my takeaway moment of the whole trip. I wrote up a post describing the details of the traditional Thai cremation I witnessed and my conversations with the nuns as this self- revelation of the tiny house as hermitage unfolded.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Knife In The Shower The Dishes On Grass


The first months of living in the tiny house was a work in progress. Dishwashing continued to be a challenge as my dish rack did not quite hold utensils. And the drying mat it was attached to was looking a little grubby plus I didn't like the way it flopped over the toaster oven. 

Then at a thrift store I came across one of those European racks that look like a patch of grass. People mostly use such a design to dry baby bottles or small items, but for so little money I could give it a try. I pulled out my slide out extension to try it out, but later realized that it fit perfectly on top of my toaster oven and there it lives. 


I found I had a use for the slide out extension when I used my crock pot to cook up a batch of beans. I freeze them in containers that will fit easily into my cooler. In this picture you can also see where I hung my cast iron frying pan on the wall close to my stove which is in a drawer right beneath the crock pot pull out.

Tiny house designers like to put things on the wall with lots of brushed steel and magnets, but I didn't have that much wall space as it was taken up by shelving for my dishes. I put my cooking utensils into a mason jar and I was happy with my tray for eating utensils which lay at the back of the counter. I still needed a place to put my chef's knife. I spent some time thinking of nifty ways I could mount a single knife holder to my wall, but it didn't look right to have just one utensil on the wall so I grabbed my available magnets and temporarily attached the knife to the shower wall. The effect was somewhat macabre, but had a certain witty presence. I still haven't got around to gluing the magnets in place, but the arrangement would suffice.

Due to my diligence in measuring everything I planned to have in my kitchen I couldn't be happier with the shelving and storage. I did have my doubts about the storage cabinet where I kept my pots and pans because it was at floor level, but after several months of squatting to get at them I realized when I got to my karate studio that my leg strength had improved. Later I came across the books of Katy Bowman, a biomechanist, who pointed out how our lives were movement starved and I thanked my inner genius for having provided myself with extra movement nutrition!

Likewise the ladder to the loft gave my body a climbing exercise and I did not concern myself anymore with aging out of my tiny house due to this ladder. The five steps or so I must climb down in the middle of the night did not seem as daunting since there was plenty of ambient light from outside lights on the property and from the street. And as Katy Bowman pointed out the cliff dwellers who lived in their adobe dwellings could only access their houses via a ladder and continued to do so long into old age.

For a while I had a TV in my loft and my loft became my living room. I covered the bed with a queen size comforter I had on hand that had a nice homey pattern. I didn't like looking at all the noise of my clothes on hangers and wanted to hang a curtain across the rod. Then in a simplifying moment I realized the comforter was so much bigger than my mattress there was probably enough of it to reach up to the closet pole so I hung a couple of bulldog clips from the hangers at each end and clipped the comforter to the pole. As a final touch a client offered me her framed poster of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapter. It amused me to affix it to my ceiling and was just the right distance for studying this work of art.

This living space deeply comforted me now that I could entertain myself with free DVDs from the library. Then the TV broke and before I could buy another one I asked my ex if I could watch my movies at her house the nights she was gone. Eventually we started watching our favorite shows together and I offered to cook dinner, the more complex dishes I could not cook so easily in the tiny house. Soon I did not think about having my own TV anymore and my ex and I became better friends.

There were still problems with storage and access. When I sat at my desk my knees were crammed between my rolling file crate, which was also serving to hold my scanner, and the ottoman file box which also served as a purse podium. My scanner wasn't working with the new operating system and then I realized I didn't use it very much anyway so I moved it up into the loft and parked it in my closet. That allowed me to get rid of the rolling cart; the files I moved into smaller file boxes that I could store way at the back up against the wall under the desk. So the demands of space forced me to rethink my original desire to have the same desk I had in my old house.

And once I built my table for two I found I no longer needed to sit at my desk and simply left the chair on top of the desk and sat at my new table to use my laptop. One day I parked my laptop on the seat of the chair and realized I had made a standing desk. So I got rid of my external monitor and keyboard. This also solved the problem of getting by the chair all the time since it was now off the floor full time. And the area under the desk I could now store the shoes I wore everyday. I also spent a lot more time lying in my hammock as I wrote on my laptop.

As my life in the tiny house evolved I solved these small design problems, but sometimes the tiny house pushed me to other arrangements. It was too dark inside to really feel inviting for sewing plus it was cumbersome to move the sewing table out form under the stairs. So I didn't do any sewing. Then my ex who had been searching for months got a job which meant that her house was now available during the day so I moved my sewing machine back to her house. I was already walking our dogs half the week and now five days a week. By doing my sewing there too I could now keep the dogs company hanging out with them while sewing. I was doing the tiny house thing of improvising and finding through my network other places to do what I wanted to do. In this vein tiny house living is a kind of share economy. If you have something useful to offer you can trade for what you need.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Expecting Company

With all the interest in Tiny Houses I had many visitors. The long season of rain pre-empted using the little bit of yard I had for entertaining. And so we sat inside. My cushioned benches sufficed for seating for my guests while I sat on my one chair. When someone came to interview me I sat on the bench and they would sit on my rocking stool. The chair wasn't available at this point as I would park it on top of my desk to allow for more floorspace for people coming into the house. There was just barely room for the stool in my foyer by my shoe storage, but I had kept it anyway and used it to sit on when I put my shoes on. Later it would come into use when I built a table in the kitchen area.

Building a table for eating was the next task on my list, but since I could eat at my desk I was able to put off this task nearly indefinitely. It was also raining endlessly and the more pressing task was to get a tarp tied to the eaves to shelter me from rain as I unlocked my door. The tarp was a clumsy affair that flapped in the wind, but it only took an hour or so to tie up and it did the job.


Then late in the season a client hired me to get rid of a pile of items in her garage which included a single giant nylon leaf. As I mulled over where I could best donate this item it occurred to me that I could possibly make use of it as a rain shade and though it didn't offer as much protection it added a stylish touch. The fiberglass frame like tent poles fit between the cinder shingles and the door frame. I learned later from a friend with children that it was an Ikea item meant to decorate a child's room in a jungle style.



So much time did I have during these long winter evenings that I could spend hours writing e-mail letters to a new love. (Someone from my past who had reached out to me after a year plus of watching me build my tiny house.) This old fashion correspondence kept me company over the long rainy winter until I yearned to see her in person. It would be easy to leave the tiny house I realized since I could just lock up and go. I had no pets or indoor plants and no worries about water heaters or plumbing that might leak. Plus my lowered overhead had allowed me to save up some money. So in March I took off on a trip to meet her. Thus this romantic chapter of my life brought up a new concern. How would I accommodate a visitor let alone consider a live-in partner. Luckily my bed was big enough to share thanks to my original decision to widen it to accommodate the possibility of a lover, but now I really needed a table for two.


I researched all the usual ways to incorporate a table and decided that a removable one would be the thing. I ordered a special bracket online. There were traditional ones made for boats with two chrome slots that would attach to the wall, but I came across another kind that had the added benefit of allowing the table to slide. This didn't turn out to be the case, but it was a good choice as it supported the table along the whole length.

I had two nice 4' pieces of shelving 18" wide that I had thought to make into a folding table joined together by a piano hinge. This table would seat four sitting two on a side. My movable benches (which were barely big enough for two) would be moved into a parallel configuration to make diner style seating. Such a folding table with a piano hinge and the need for a folding leg made the design quite complex so I decided to simplify to just  a table for two using just one of the shelves. When I got the bracket I realized that I could mount the long edge of the shelving to the wall instead of having the table sticking out into the kitchen. My companion and I could sit at each end.

There remained only the question of the supporting leg. I had bought a fold up leg, but I didn't end up using it on my table for two because I saw another design in a tiny house video that a friend had posted that would work out. This design appealed to me because it was so simple being just some scrap wood cut with 45° angles and friction fitted.







I finished the table in time to have two friends beta test it for me. At which point my little red stool made it a table for three.


Friday, January 27, 2017

Adjusting To The Tiny Life

Moving into the tiny house required more than a little adjustment. It was part art installation, part moving trauma. To communicate the ups and downs I wrote a long post on my personal blog so all my family could feel my pain as I chronicled the physical and emotional adjustments I made to adapt myself to the tiny house systems I had chosen to inflict on myself. This included using a cooler instead of a fridge, boiling water in an electric kettle for hot water and using a waste water tank that would need to be emptied within a week. Many of my organizing colleagues were surprised that I had designed such a primitive way of life, but the simplicity of it had appealed to me.

The first week I mostly installed hooks so everything had a place to hang as it were. I also installed a nifty dumb waiter to bring my laundry crate down. I had seen one at the tiny house of Alexis and Christian when they came to town. A tiny pulley was all that was needed with some lengths of parachute cord. An S hook was attached to the end of the cord. This would hook to the harness I made for the laundry crate. The pulley would hang from a hook screwed into the ceiling. I made loops in the cord to make it easier to pull. And I installed a hook under the last stair of my loft ladder where I could hook the first loop to hold the crate in place while I unloaded it. When not in use I coiled up the pulley and cord and hung it on the wall. Using it was part of the fun of loft living.

Cooking was also fun with my stove in a drawer, but washing up was a chore I had to finesse in order to conserve water and adapt to the tight spacing. I also spent a lot of time figuring out how best to heat the tiny house given an excessively cold and wet winter. I now have three different space heaters. A tiny one under the desk of only 250 watt. A large dish style one in the kitchen area that I used on the low 750 watt setting and a propane one that would really crank out the heat. But my flower pot heaters were my favorite given the pleasant and silent ambient heat coming off the pots. At first I used tea lights as suggested in the youtube videos, but they didn't last through the night and I was left with a heap of little aluminum casings. I upgraded to votive lights and ordered a case of 288 candles from Candles4less.com which should last me 10 weeks using two flower pot heaters. Once I had raised the temperature with my various space heaters, the flower pot heaters would maintain that heat and offer a warm glow into the bargain.

I've now been in the tiny house for three months and all in all I am happy to have such a sanctuary to return to at the end of the day. I count myself as a refugee of the housing crisis and feel lucky to have finessed such a solution. The brilliance of it is that I have absolutely everything I need close at hand.

A student journalist came by to interview me. English was not her native language so I'm a little stiff as I searched for words that would not be cultural references or colloquialisms. She made a little video that offers a tour of my tiny house along with interviews with all of us local tiny house dwellers. I offered a few words about how the tiny house movement has started a dialogue about excess and what is really necessary to live a comfortable life.