Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Tiny House Has Eyes

I always think of windows as the eyes of a house, and today our tiny house has newly installed peepers. It takes the housen-ess of it to a new level. Now it looks like a very tall playhouse for children, though the overall proportions have a grace that I've yet to see on any play structure.

The window shopping process wasn't easy. I knew from the start that Jay's design called for several windows to be custom made to particular tiny measurements that fit beautifully with his overall design. He put quite a bit of his overall budget into high quality, insulated low-e windows in custom sizes clad in wood and aluminum. In part that's because he values their contribution to fighting condensation and contributing to a comfortable shelter that's easy to heat and cool. They also clearly stand out as one of the most visually prominent features of the house, just like eyes in any face.

I put a high value on the aesthetic effect, too, but after I priced them I had to make some choices. In the Lusby plans he says about half the windows are custom sizes - but when I shopped the major brands, I found that they're all custom sizes that have to be special ordered. A few of them - the back bedroom and loft windows - are so small the major manufacturers won't even make them. Apparently tiny windows don't meet code requirements for escape in the event of a fire, so they would have to be ordered locally from a glass shop. I examined the clearances and spaces around the windows closely, and decided I could live with having seven uniform 2' x 3' windows on the ground floor instead of three different custom sizes that would cost $350 and up each. The new sizes no doubt ruin the elegant geometry of Jay's intended design - but I must say, the look so far is perfectly pleasing to my eye.

After I made the difficult decision to buy stock sizes for the ground floor windows, I turned my attention to the loft windows. Our highest priorities in this design are functionality, aesthetics, and durability. The loft windows needed to open for ventilation and fit physically and visually in a small space. At first the only small windows I could find either didn't open or had the wrong orientation - like a basement window that was 18" wide and 10" tall instead of the other way around. Since you can't install windows sideways without sacrificing their function, I had to just keep searching.

Eventually I found specialty windows at the Home Depot website that looked promising. I chose an octagonal insulated low-e awning window by Century, so you can open up the loft for ventilation. It looks beautiful up there, even though it's a little oversized for the space. There was another unprimed window available from Century online that was otherwise identical, but was 27" x 27" and cost $100 less - $212 instead of  $311. I drew and cut out paper models of each window and placed them on the elevation drawings to see how they fit. I really wanted to get more window for less money into that spot, but the 27" window barely fit, and it looked cramped.

In the end the octagon window for the sleeping loft was definitely a good call. It adds charm - everyone who looks at the house comments on it favorably. When it comes to spending money on aesthetics though, I only want to do it where it counts, so that brings up the issue of the storage loft. It's unrealistic to expect that anyone living in this tiny house is going to be SO unencumbered with stuff that they won't need to fill up that storage loft. Once you fill it up with stuff, there goes the light and the visual effect from the octagon window! I won't sacrifice the ventilation though, so I'm thinking at this point I'm going to buy an octagon shaped gable vent with louvers and double weather and insect screens. We'll buy or make a fitted door for it for the coldest weather. The two ends will have aesthetically pleasing symmetry in the shapes and ample functional ventilation at the peaks of the house, the hottest places in summer weather.