Framing and Plating and Landing – OH MY!

Framing and Plating and Landing – OH MY!

First I’d like to apologize for my inconsistent updates. I feel motivated in many ways but updating frequently has not been one of those ambitions as of late. I find it is difficult to update when all I seem to be doing is researching the same things over and over again. I also have to do all of my blogging at strange times since I am still working 70-80 hours per week.

Now that that’s out of the way, today I have good news, bad news, and fantastic news.

The good news is that I have some updated pictures of my build from Tiny House Squared! See below for some amazing progress! My builder, Mark Boyer, is working very hard to complete my build despite the flu, the weather, and some visits from curious locals. (Click on each picture to see a description and larger image.)

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Now for the bad news… Due to circumstances (including my own miscalculation with the trailer registration), my trailer delivery has been delayed a week. It is now set to be delivered Sunday, March 19th.

 

Pennsylvania-DMV-testWord to the wise: Check your local requirements for trailer registrations and plates well before you start thinking about transporting your trailer. As it turns out, PA is strict about more things than just liquor sales. Not only do I need my MCO (Manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin) and bill of sale, but I also need another form (the MV-41, apparently) that requires VIN and trailer inspection by a certified mechanic. We’re figuring it out now, but it’s taken some maneuvering. Save yourself this hassle and talk this out beforehand.

Now on to the fantastic news. I just found out today that I was approved for my land loan! The appraisal came back and everything is good so I’m just waiting for the closing now.

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My next post will be all about insulation and drywall (or wood). I have a lot of decisions to make and I’m concerned about how the choices I make now will affect the future of my Tiny Home.

 

 

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“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”

“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”

I have this quote by William Shakespeare tattooed on the inside of my upper left arm. Call me a dreamer, call me edgy, call me a true English major. Call me what you want. But this quote rings true.

It’s not up to us to look up at the stars and hope, pray, or dream something into reality. You can hope, pray, or dream of course; but you cannot expect anything to come to fruition unless you work at it. My Tiny House dream has taken a lot of work and the work is about to quintuple.

I paid the rest of my money toward my flatbed trailer today.

I finalized my floorplan and am placing my order for the materials my builder needs today.

I made an offer on a piece of land today.

Things are moving right along. No day but today!

Happy Birthday J.J.

Happy Birthday J.J.

Today is my little brother’s 28th birthday. This is immensely difficult for me to believe as I’m still pretty sure all of the friends he grew up with are still 19. (They’re not supposed to grow up! I’m still 21! Right? RIGHT?!!) His birthday today brings up memories of birthdays and holidays past, of cheery and unhappy memories. Now, as a busy adult with busy-adult problems, sometimes it’s nice to reminisce on days gone by. The memories that have been haunting me lately go all the way back to when I was little, when I would play with my brother and his friends from morning until well after dusk every day each summer. I grew up on a street populated mostly by little boys, so we would play little-boy games: football, kickball, street hockey, run-down, and “hock-ball”. (We invented this game when we inevitably broke our hockey sticks from hitting each other too hard. We’d use them as bats to hit the semi-deflated kickball with. I plead the fifth on how many windows were broken playing this particular game.) I enjoyed these games immensely and I still love sports, but when I got to choose the game it was always one of make-believe.

I loved pretending to be the Pink Power Ranger, fighting again Zordon and Rita’s monstrous villains. When I didn’t feel like getting bruises playing hockey, I loved pretending to be a reporter; I’d cover the boys’ games as if they were in the pros. On the rare occasions I did play with girls my age, I loved making up storylines for Barbie and Skipper. But my biggest dream and dearest wish was to have a treehouse or a fort of some kind. I wanted a place to call my own, somewhere to escape to.

One of my friends, also named Rachel, had a small backyard with a retaining wall about 4′ high. We’d climb up that wall and from there we could hang out on her parents’ garage roof, play in the woods behind it, and pretend to be anything we wanted. We formed a club that consisted mostly of just me and her, and we would haze anyone who came near us. (I remember ambushing my brother with full jugs of baby powder for invading our club once. Mom was not pleased.) Another friend, Jessica, moved an hour away when we were about 10. She had horses and dogs and a pond and a bit of freedom. We spent one summer building a fort out of fallen trees; it was my paradise.

When people ask why I want to build a Tiny House, it’s hard for me to explain the myriad of things that led to this decision. It’s easy to rattle off numbers to impress upon people the economic value of a Tiny House. It’s easier still to simply say, “Because I can’t afford anything else” and leave it at that. What’s more difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t want a Tiny House is the warm-and-fuzzy feeling I get when I imagine it.

A part of me longs for the simplicity of childhood, of having a place to call my own that isn’t overwhelming to take care of. Having a smaller space means less time spent working, less time spent cleaning, and less time spent dreading both of these tasks. Having a smaller space means more room for creativity, more time for walks in the woods, and more space for daydreams.

My Tiny House on wheels is many things to me. In fact, it is many of the things you think of when you think of a traditional house. It is a place for sleeping. It is a place for bathing. It is a place to put my stuff. It is a place for eating (even if I’m just eating Taco Bell). But it’s also many other things to me. It is a home to take with me when I want to go somewhere new. It is a place for dreaming. It is a loft for painting. It is comfy couch for movies. It is my cats after a long day, snuggling up on that comfy couch. It is financial freedom. It is retiring early.

And yet, there are things my Tiny House is not. It is not built to fit more than 2-3 people long-term. It is not built for 20-person parties held indoors. It is not buy-whatever-you-want-at-the-mall-and-store-it-forever-in-a-closet-never-to-be-seen-again. It is not working 70 hours per week. It is not wearing out my knees waitressing. And it is not for everyone. I accept that.

But it is for me. And quite frankly, I don’t care if you accept that.

Happy birthday little brother. Thanks for the memories and the reminder; life is short – live it to the fullest. “She designed a life she loved” never seemed more applicable.

Finding My (Never)Land

Finding My (Never)Land

Before I begin I’d like to thank EVERYONE who has reached out to me via Facebook, on my blog, and by phone since my interview aired on WTAE Pittsburgh. Your support and questions are amazing! Having a community like this helps me to move forward even when things seem most impossible.

One of the most difficult tasks we face as Tiny Housers is finding a place to land (literally). Anyone who has tried to find a legal resting place for their Tiny Home knows this to be true. As I mentioned in my interview, each borough in my area has different rules about housing. These rules dictate everything from whether mobile homes are allowed, minimum dwelling square footage, and even how far back on the lot a house must be. It is an arduous task trying to navigate each borough’s individual website, making call after call to find little to no answers.

It is also another set of questions entirely to determine what kind of land you want… Do you want an acre? More? Less? Where will you put a lawn mower? Do you want a lot of trees or something that’s more bare? Do you want a completely flat plot or something high up on a hill? Do you need to be close to highways? Which highways? What’s traffic like on your morning commute? Do you need to be close to a laundromat? Grocery store? Taco Bell? What utilities are already on the land? Where are they? Will you have to pay to put in a well? A septic tank? Gas lines? Where will the electric meter go? Is there access to public sewer? Do you prefer to buy land with an existing house so you can live in it while you build your Tiny House? Do you prefer to buy land with nothing on it so you can map out your own destiny?

Are you exhausted? I am.

My answers will vary from everyone else’s, but for me there are a few things that matter. I need to be within a 30-minute drive from work. I know myself – I am always late – and can’t go any farther out than that. For this reason, proximity to a highway or direct route is imperative. I don’t need to be close to a laundromat or grocery store necessarily; I plan to install a combination washer/dryer in my THOW and I work near several grocery stores. I do prefer to be near a Taco Bell. (Again: your priorities are not my priorities.) I am flexible on the size plot I want, though I’d like to keep it under 2 acres. I will get a shed for outdoor equipment like a lawn mower as well as my camping equipment.

For cost reasons I also prefer to find a piece of land with utilities already on it. This has proven to be onerous. Most vacant plots of land have access to utilities at the street, but I don’t want to be right on the curb. I’d prefer to be back quite a bit. This means that if I buy land like this I will have to pay thousands of dollars to give myself access to water, sewer, gas, and electricity. This goes up even more if I have to dig a well or put in a septic system. (Sound fun to you? Me too.)

With costs racking up in my head, I decided to change my approach and look for land with a mobile or modular home already on it. This would hopefully give me the land I desired without having to pay to install all of the utilities. Once I started finding plots that fit my specifications, I started researching the boroughs online to see if they had square footage or mobile home ordinances. From there, I called the real estate contacts to see if I could view the properties.

I began this researching this new process a couple of weeks ago and so far I’ve found one property that really fits my bill. It is a modular home on a third of an acre and the utilities are available. It has a gravel driveway that will need some TLC, but at least it exists. It has an existing shed in salvageable condition and the property backs onto 100 acres of forest. It is at the top of a hill overlooking the valley; I can see the Ohio River and a forest sprawling out in front of me. I can only imagine how beautiful it will be in the spring and fall. The modular home isn’t on a foundation; instead it sits on cinder blocks. This will make it easier to demolish.

And demolish it I must, for it is in absolutely horrendous condition. There are holes in every single wall. Every piece of wire and every electrical outlet has been torn out. The roof has been leaking for years. The carpets are trashed. Some cat- or raccoon-sized animal has made the bathroom its bathroom. Windows are broken. Cabinets have been ripped out. Trash is everywhere.

But it may very well be perfect. I can reuse the wood from the deck. I can reuse some of the wood siding to cover my THOW or re-cover the shed. Though the shed is filled with trash, it will be a sufficient home for my outdoor storage once clean. I may even be able to save some of the kitchen cabinets. I met both of the neighbors and they seem thrilled that someone may want to tear the property down and start new. They are fine with my building a Tiny House on Wheels and putting it there. Best of all, the borough allows houses of any size and mobile homes.

Did I mention it’s 5 minutes from Taco Bell?

I haven’t bought it yet – there are still a few things to check on. But this Tiny Dreamer may have found her (Never)Land!

My First Step – Finances

My First Step – Finances

Good evening!

I thought I should take a step back tonight and start at the beginning of my Tiny House journey. Way back to the very beginning, back before I knew what a Tiny House was and before I had this dream. Yes folks, it’s that time. It’s time to talk about money.

So I’ll admit I used to be bad with my finances. One doctor even tried to diagnose me as bipolar because I spent too much money shopping. (Okay, okay – in my defense I was 19 then and had attended a private Catholic school my entire life. I’d always worn uniforms! At 18 or 19 I finally got into clothes and started buying a lot of them. Sue me.) But it went much farther than clothes. I inevitably had student loans (and no degree to show for it), got into super fun credit card debt, and spent tons of money I didn’t have. I even had a car repossessed. I eventually had to move back home with Mom and Dad for a year to get myself back together.

I moved back out of my parents’ house for the final time about 5-6 years ago. I moved in with my (then) boyfriend into a townhouse we could (sort of) afford and started (what I thought would be) the rest of our lives together. I never thought money would be an issue since we were both equally bad with it.

Wrong. So wrong!

Fast forward 3 years: I’d gone back to school and finally received 2 degrees. I was accomplishing goals, was excited for the future, and my credit had risen about 100 points. He… hadn’t done those things. Suffice it to say things ended.

That was almost 3 years ago now. I was left with a $695 per month rent payment for a 3-bedroom house with 2 cats. My gas bill in the winter months often exceeded $300 per month. I had to find roommates… I had to use [shiver] craigslist. (I actually met someone who has become a very good friend this way, but I had to put up with 3 VERY bad roommates to find her.)

While I was straddled with bills (and more bills, and then some more bills) I had to find ways to cut costs. I want to give anyone who reads this my very own “Idiot’s Guide to Eventually Sorting Out What Money You Sort Of Have”. Catchy, eh? So here are my first nuggets of advice:

  • Cut whatever bills you can in whatever ways you can.
    • I couldn’t cancel my Dish subscription, so I called to haggle. Before I called my bill was around $85/month for TV only. With a few phone calls to customer service and a promise not to break my contract for the final year, I got my bill down to $19.10/month. (I get fewer channels but I kept my DVR!)
    • Another idea is to combine your cell phone bill with friends or family members. This saved me about $30/month.
  • Take advantage of special offers through work or online.
    • I get a 20% discount on my cell phone service through my job, but they don’t tell you that when you hire you. You have to ask. Always ask.
    • I use a website called The Penny Hoarder to find ways to save on groceries, dining out, and even credit cards!
  • Save money on things you already do.
    • Do you clip coupons? Subscribing to the paper is often cheaper than paying $2.00 on Sundays.
    • Do you like to eat out? Search for discounts before you go, then decide where to eat. Base these decisions on financial goals, not your growling tummy.
    • Do you like to go on special dates with that special someone? Check out Groupon or LivingSocial for ideas and cheaper ways to go out.
  • Consider getting a second job. Even if it’s one day a week, maybe that keeps you from spending loads on a Friday night and puts $50 in your pocket.
  • For the love of everything Tiny, keep a budget!!!

I’d like to share with you a sample of my budget sheet. I’ve left in some examples for you to see even though I’ve deleted most of the figures. It only takes around 2 minutes each morning to update my budget sheet and check registers. Please note that you can easily adapt this to Microsoft Excel, but I simply like the tediousness of updating it in Microsoft Word; it reminds me how much I hate spending money!

Using this budget sheet or some modified version has helped me pay off credit card debt, get through Christmas in one piece, and save for my Tiny. Hopefully it may help some of you as well!

Budget Worksheet Template

Tiny House Dreaming

Some of you may be wondering what a tiny house is. Some of you may already know but want more information. Well I hope to show that you’ve come to the right place! I will be uploading lots of useful information regarding the tiny house movement, trailers, shells, comparisons, financial breakdowns, and more. But for now, let me tell you a little about myself…

My name is Rachel. I am 29 years old. I live in Pittsburgh, PA and I always have. I never thought I was much of the traveling type until a few years ago when I got on my first plane. (Yes, it was just a few short years ago that I first stepped foot on a plane. Crazy, I know.) I began seeing how small the world really is and yearned to travel more. However, it’s a little difficult to afford such extravagances when you live alone and pay rent alone. I began downsizing my life and I’m proud to say I’ve gotten my bills down as low as they can possibly go. (More on that in a later post!) Now, on the brink of turning 30, you may say I’m having a third-life crisis. I have two degrees, three cats, two jobs, and I’m going nowhere. I like my job(s) and I love my co-workers, and I definitely earn a livable wage at EITHER one of my jobs. But I want more. I want to live in a place where my downstairs neighbor doesn’t ring the doorbell SIX TIMES for me to turn up the heat because he’s cold. I want to own a home so I can garden and lounge outside and make improvements and have people over. So I began my house-hunt.

Then I did the math. I was crushed. To purchase a relatively cheap $100,000 home in my desired area, I’d definitely have to be a landlord or get married. Since one isn’t appealing to me and the other is, at best, far in the future, I had to come up with a new plan. I could a.) rent the rest of my life, b.) become a landlord anyway, c.) move back in with my parents until the cows came home, or d.) dive head-first into a more sustainable lifestyle. Enter: tiny houses.

It didn’t take long for me to get excited about tiny houses. (After all, hadn’t I always wanted a tree house or a fort?!) The options available to me were vast and at first it was overwhelming, but it only took a little bit of research to find my footing. In the beginning I’d planned to build the whole thing myself, from the trailer up. Then reality sunk in… I realized that I’d never so much as built a shelf from scratch; how was I going to build a house?! So I found a builder (well, actually, he found me) and together we’ve embarked on this journey together. Mark, my builder, is building the shell of my tiny house then I’m going to finish the interior. I’ll still need a little help from my friends and family, but this is a much more attainable dream now!

In the coming days and weeks I’ll be posting lots of things as my build gets going – my plans, my budget, my power point (because anyone with parents like mine NEEDS a convincing argument…), and my ideas. Hopefully you’ll enjoy taking this journey with me!