Sunday, July 31, 2016

Rethinking The Shower

When I visited Ella, my instructor from the Tumbleweed workshop at her tiny house on wheels, she said something that stuck with me when it came to designing my bathroom. She no longer liked to use the shower because it just steamed up all the windows and makes her house damp. She worried about the impact of steam on her house. She did her bathing with a swim in the ocean.

Why have a shower at all? I asked myself. This was my chance to have a Thai bathroom with classic ceramic water jar and those ornately decorated silver bowls used to dip water to pour on ourselves. In Bangkok in the '60s the water pressure was often so low it didn't offer a good shower anyway. Plus we didn't have hot water in our house. (Few people bothered installing hot water systems in the tropics.) Every night my nanny would boil water on a brazier outdoors and haul the large kettle to our bathroom to mix the hot water into a tub with cold water from our water jar. This ritual of being so personally bathed was a fond memory. And now in this modern day we had electric kettles that would do for a hot water system. Why not just do with that? At least until I figured out a solar option. Why were showers so much the norm when half the world bathed from a bucket with a dipper? There was even a number of  YouTube tutorials on how to do so for the traveler. We in the West are so spoiled wanting our own indoor water fall plus there's all that water going down the drain while we wait for the heated water to come. All I needed was a water tight area that would house a drain or what is known as a wet bathroom. A shower pan would do the job.

Also plumbing a shower was a complexity I was happy to avoid. I looked around for a suitable container to use for a water jar. There were two lovely ceramic Chinese urns at the Home store already quite expensive at $60 each. I was sorely tempted, but the idea of a ceramic urn filled with water seemed like a liability when placed in a shower pan that might not bear the weight on a permanent basis. I thought of plastic water barrels, but I didn't like the idea of any heavy object sitting on a shower pan. I turned the problem around to a more utilitarian perspective. Why not just have a bucket hanging from the wall as I'd seen done in stables for watering horses? Those buckets were built to withstand being kicked across the stall.

While I was researching shower pans at Home Depot I fell in love with the shape known as a neo angle and knew this was the direction I would go in. After some in depth research about how to install a shower pan. I turned to the online RV supply houses. A tiny house could go either way with the installation of a shower pan. It could be mudded in with cement as they are in regular houses (I didn't fancy that job) or I could find out how it was done in RVs. But the prevailing problem I learned was that the drain could end up being blocked by one of the supporting beams of the trailer. And when I crawled under my tiny house to see, measuring the best I could where the dimensions of the pan would fall, I feared that the drain would land right on top of one of those beams. That clinched it. My best bet was to order an RV pan because the Better Bath brand offered one that could be had with a number of different drain placement options including one which would completely avoid the beam in question.

And when I studied the installation I could see that the mudding problem was solved with a thick styrofoam base already glued to the bottom of the pan. And while I was browsing the etrailer site I saw that they also offered a water inlet connector that could be installed through the wall so I could hook up a hose to a faucet inside the house. In my world this was a quantum leap from pushing a hose through the window. My tiny house builders had not made any concessions to plumbing and I did not want to take apart the wall to run plumbing through the house. I could however handle drilling a single hole through the wall along with the drain whole in the floor.

For the walls of my bathroom I loved the look of corrugated metal roofing. I bought one to see how it would look inside my house. The light danced off it in a pleasantly surprising way. I did long for something a little more built in than a bucket for the sink option.

I perused the horse supply site for a corner mounted water feeder; there was one, but it wouldn't work because the shower pan would require that I build out the corner at a 45° angle. I looked at other stable accessories and came across an urn like grain feeder in black. It had ribs coming down the round form that suggested a greek column. It was big enough to submerge my biggest pot and at the top it had a counter with a lip that would be perfect for a soap dish. The more I looked at this feeder the more intrigued I became. When I saw that it had a plug at the bottom I was confident that it would work for a sink.

Installation posed some interesting options. Such a feeder is usually just screwed to the wall, but would that hold the weight of water? I felt that I would have to reinforce the installation with lumber supports. Then one night I wondered what would happen if I made the sink removable in case I wanted to use the full space within the shower pan footprint. Whimsically it came to me that I could use a length of PVC pipe with a large diameter for a stand for my sink. The pipe would help support the weight and would also hide the drain pipe. Whether or not it was a removable sink I was now happy that my bathroom design had accomplished my goals and was going to be highly unique.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Old Desk To Be Transformed Into Kitchen

My stepmother asked me if I could take away this desk. A house guest had dragged it off the street and said he would come back and get it but never did. So inconsiderate. It's been sitting here for so long the varnish has pealed off from the afternoon sun streaming through the window of the garage.

I looked at the drawers and decided to use them in building a kitchen for the tiny house. I was tickled by the idea of such a transformative repurposing project. And I had read a convincing blog post about some remodelers sealing a wood counter with a product called Waterlox that held up terrifically. I had always wanted a wood counter in the kitchen.

In designing my kitchen I kept in mind all the very simple kitchens I had seen in my travels overseas that involved nothing more than a counter over some rudimentary shelves. All the things that North American kitchens seem to insist on like flush cabinet doors and european hinges, not to mention in ceiling task lighting every two feet are not necessary and just make the building of a kitchen a high end precision affair. Nor did I need drawers. Drawers are a disorganizing machine in my experience jostling everything about every time you open them and drawer organizers take up too much space. I would just hang up my utensils. But I did like having drawers in my bathroom and since the bathroom would be right next to the kitchen I began to design a unit that would incorporate a bathroom facing drawer unit.

I also decided to do away with the kitchen sink because cutting a hole in the counter subtracts from your counter space unless you make a sink cover which involves more precision work, plus you loose space underneath where the sink must be plumbed. Plumbing being another level of complexity. And if the sink wasn't big enough to wash my biggest pot it would only frustrate me. Others have said the same thing about their too small sink and moved dishwashing outside. I moved the dishwashing to the bathroom, which was essentially a shower pan, where I thought I would have a drop down wire shelf to support a dishpan or two or three in classic Thai farmstyle. I would have another shelf to dry the dishes on.

When Tim was here sealing the house I had him cut the top off the desk with his saws-all. (I could have looked for the screws and simply unscrewed it with less damage to the case, but I wanted to save time.) I then knocked the back panel off to separate the drawer units and unbolted them from the leg beam. 

While I was thinking about the layout of the kitchen I stripped the remaining varnish off the desk with my Silent Paint Remover. Basically a heating unit that works like a heat gun but covers more surface. When the varnish bubbles I quickly scrape. The trick was not leaving it so long that the bubbles got scorched black and left a mark. What varnish remained I got off with steal wool and a little sanding.

Once I had my measurements which included measuring all the pots and large equipment I wanted to store I began building my cabinets from doors. I used up my remaining doors on one, but there were three on craigslist for free just waiting for me to come get them. One was an old one with thick wood in it that would be sturdy. I had to do some scrubbing to get the pealing brown latex paint off it, but underneath was a serviceable white gloss. I took the trouble to fill the open cut ends with lumber because I was going to screw the pieces together at the edges. (I tried the Kreg Jig, but it didn't work with hollow core doors. It made it difficult to get the pieces flush and just made holes in the door skin.) For the top and bottom and the shelves inside the taller cabinet I cut down a stash of school room desk size pieces I had on hand that I had built to make sets for a play two years ago. This would save them going to landfill for they were too small for anything else. 

To build out the space where the drawers were to meet the front edge of the supporting cabinet, I made pantry size shelves from my stash of 4 ft, 1" by 12" pine boards that had been shelving. Another freebie from craigslist. There was enough left over to make frames for cabinet doors. I also saved the pull out desk extension shelves and cut one to fit my tall cabinet leaving the other where it was in the drawer unit. All this took most of the month to execute, but so far so good.

The desk top is five feet long, but I decided to cut it down to 4 1/2 feet to fit the space and leave room for a coat closet/broom cupboard. That's the challenge of designing for a small space. If you want something you have to subtract the space from something else. I also cut the depth down from the traditional 24" to 22" so it wouldn't protrude too much from the ladder to the loft. The only reason to keep to the traditional 24" is to accommodate most sinks. And if you don't have canisters sitting directly on the counter you won't miss those two inches. I tried all this out by measuring things in my current kitchen.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Tiny House Fridge Doubles As Seating!

When you go the cooler route you are taking the path less chosen. One that speaks to a more off-grid lifestyle. The expedition style cooler with its thicker walls is supposed to keep ice going for three days or more. After comparing various ones all my online searches brought to my attention an ad for a cooler that could be had for half the price of the name brand ones by ordering directly from the manufacturer. The RTIC cooler was back ordered for a month or two, but once I took delivery of it I was quite happy with its sturdiness and massiveness.

I had it dialed into my layout to sit next to the kitchen counter lengthwise under the loft ladder. This was a difficult position for access so I thought I might put it on wheels so I could pull it out when needed. But I shaved off a few inches from the kitchen counter to 22" in width and I didn't like the way the cooler jutted out past the line of the counter. So I repositioned it across from the kitchen where it got involved with the dining room table area. Once I got it it occurred to me that it could be seating for the dining area. I'm not sure if sitting on your food is good fung shui, but people do it camping so there you are. Once I broke the ice on sitting on it so to speak I thought to buy a 5 gallon Igloo water cooler dispenser to use as a stool and back-up cooler for produce. And next time I was at the Home Store there was a white one for $7. That's how it's been going for me. Think of something and soon it is found just the way I like it—used.

I decided not to get a fridge for my tiny house because I don't have room for a full size fridge and those dorm room size ones don't have freezers worth talking about, plus any fridge that is not oriented as a chest style cabinet just spills the cold air out every time you open the door. I had for a long time wanted to make a fridge that could be operated with a solar set-up. That's when I learned that you could take a freezer and turn it into a fridge with a temperature control device. So I got a 7 cubic foot freezer off craigslist for $50 and a year or so later I bought new a temperature control device. But I never got around to trying it out.

However I did learn to make block ice for a solar powered DIY swamp cooler I made using a fan blowing through a styrofoam cooler that was being demonstrated all over youtube. And now I can use the freezer to make ice for my coolers. Plus have the use of a freezer. No reason why it cannot live outside. The tiny house has an outdoor plug even.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Gifts For Hosts

In the month of June I put in 20 hours on the tiny house and 20 hours into cleaning up the garage and putting in shelving in the corner closet. My stepmother has allowed me to use the garage for storage and a workshop on a permanent basis. Having an accessible workshop is nearly as important as a site for the tiny house.

There was so many garden tools strewn about I decided to make a cart for her to store them in. I was going to make it from the old filing cabinet in the closet as I had seen done on Pinterest, but Ott wanted to keep it. So I took out these old doors of my childhood mildewing in the back store room. These had been covered by my mother with trendy '70s contact paper. She loved that stuff. I took a heat gun to it and pulled it off.

The cart I built turned out better than the filing cabinet idea. I cut up the old PVC pipe lying around and used the sections as tool holders. Then I used up all the closet pole cut offs and brackets to make holders for the long handled clippers. The pegboard and hangers were the only things I had to buy. And I got more space in the storeroom.

Meanwhile I used up more lumber to make a cover for the two sinks at my current home that is used as storage for garden compost materials and finished compost. That used up wood I had stored there and replaced another cover I made from a door that lasted 5 years before delaminating into pieces. I made sure this one would last longer by topping it with a roofing panel I bought. Time to make just under 5 hours.

I also put in close to 8 hours cutting bottle brush at the site where I will be moving to and laying gravel where the storage sheds were moved to. So over 50 hours spent plus working a client load that has me busier than I remember being in a long time.