Monday, November 5, 2012

Teaching Alternative Housing at Sonoma Academy

Last year I met a woman named Erin Axelrod, who works primarily for Daily Acts, a local non-profit with a mission to encourage and enable people to make changes in their daily behaviors that conserve resources and improve the community. She also works part time for Sonoma Academy, a private college prep high school in Santa Rosa. I was thrilled when she invited us to bring our Towhee tiny house last spring to show it off to the students and teachers and give a short talk to the school about the green benefits of tiny housing.

First we displayed the house in the courtyard and students flocked around to hear about the house and check it out. At one point we had a dozen sophomores hanging out in the loft all at once, and they liked it so much they didn't want to come down. A couple of the guys sat in chairs on the porch and played guitar a bit while people went in and out. It was one of the first times we had taken the house out to open it up to the public, so it was really fun to see it in such a beautiful setting.

For the school wide talk I focused on the business I've started and specifics of tiny houses, but when we went to the classroom we did a general overview on greener housing in general, especially about how the large size of houses today is an issue with housing that can't adequately be balanced by green features of the sort promoted by LEED (leadership in energy efficient design) or Build it Green. Solar panels and Forestry Council Certified wood products are a great choice, but they still have their environmental cost. You may be reducing overall impact by using 300 sheets of FCS plywood, but far better to use 30 by building smaller and greener homes.  We discussed the strides made in creating comfortable energy efficient houses with super insulating techniques and more efficient appliances, then discussing more exotic methods like earthship, cob, and rammed earth construction. The students were wonderful; smart, engaged, and interested in asking deep and sometimes challenging questions.

From attending the school wide assembly and working with this amazing group of kids,  I was able to see plainly how independent thought, academic excellence, and global citizenship was clearly cultivated in every aspect of education in this school. It was a privilege and joy to share some information on my favorite subjects with the students in Erin's class at Sonoma Academy.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Mill Creek Compost Toilet Project

We have many steps ahead of us before we're ready to host events on our property. Building a bathroom in the area where we park, build, and set up our houses was high on the list. We finished it a few weeks ago just in time to test it out by having a big party with over 40 guests, many of whom stayed all day and night - and some into the morning. Here's how and why we built our compost toilet and how it worked out so far:

Why a compost toilet? We have 50 acres with a one bathroom house on it - we use walkie talkies to communicate with each other on our land. We conduct 75% of our lives 500 or more yards from the house in a series of huge outdoor rooms collectively referred to as 'the pond'. As in "Honey, when I get home will you be at the pond or at the house?" It's where we work, play, socialize, park our guests, and have campfires, barbecues, and parties.

The more people we share these activities with, the more we need a handy bathroom facility. It's equally obvious that there's no way we can afford or justify putting in a second septic system. The entire property is a watershed and we don't want to take any chances polluting, so we wouldn't even think about doing an old school outhouse, where you just dig a pit and add lime to the cesspool. A waterless compost toilet was the only way to go, allowing us to return the nutrients and organic materials from our waste safely to the soil.

The dirty details; we were on a tight budget and had some materials left over from our tiny house builds, so we opted for an entirely DIY "glorified bucket" approach. I've watched quite a few compost toilet videos over time, and referred back to a couple to help us plan our project. I get the impression urine diversion is the best approach because it prevents smelly anaerobic conditions and allows more of the nutritional value from our wastes to be used by plants, but to buy a urine diverter costs about $70 - $100 and takes delivery time. Creating our own urine diverter seemed complicated and likely to fail in really unpleasant ways. If we were planning to fully compost the material under the toilet we would have to come up with a solution to separate urine to keep odor at bay, preserve the nutritional value of the compost, and prevent soil pollution from excess nitrogen and salts. But we're removing the material to an aerobic microbe rich composting situation, and we always have a large supply of sawdust so we decided to just use larger amounts it to soak up excess liquid and put everything in one container for now.

mill creek compost toilet with open roode door and crescent moon cutoutOur plan; to make a small structure like an outhouse with a bench seat inside. The bench has a hole with a toilet seat and lid over it,  and beneath it a bin with a contractor trash bag lining. When it's 2/3 full of sawdust and deposited material, we'll open up the exterior hatch to access the bin under the seat, bundle up the bag, and carry it away to our dedicated toilet compost area. We'll make shallow holes far from the creek and pond so the bag contents will contact the earth and all its microbes, getting the composting process going quickly. Each bag will be emptied into its own hole and topped with rotted leaf litter so it can rest a full year and add nutrients and organic material to the soil.

The structure; after we outlined the plan we raided our stockpile for scrap lumber, plywood, and metal roofing. We decided to make it a square building exactly one half sheet of plywood on each side, roughly 4' x 4' x 8'. It seemed like a comfortable size and it minimized cutting. A shed roof was the obvious choice for simplicity, and we decided our left over birch interior ply was perfect for the bench. We gathered up extra paint samples and a door purchased for another job. It wasn't used as intended because it had some flaws, but it's certainly good enough for our little privy. We did have to buy two 4 x 6 x 8' pressure treated beams to make skids for $55.

Freewheeling design; very little was planned before we started, which was great because it allowed for a lot of standing around debating pros and cons of each step with friends. Between four and six people were clustered around the project while it was built, although it was so small no more than two could actually be doing anything at any one time. Nobody got paid in anything but cold ones, and we all enjoyed every bit of it. Overall it probably took us about 20 hours of work over the course of two days to get the job done. One guy made a rustic toilet paper holder, a "sink" (a shelf holding hand wipes), and even a magazine rack. The one aesthetic touch we planned on was a traditional outhouse crescent moon cutout in the door, so I drew that so it could be traced later with a saw. After the framing was up, we decided to place the door to one side, allowing us to save an extra framing member and leaving a space for something. We all had a sense we should put some sort of window there, but we didn't think we had anything that would work until I went poking around some old stuff and found a few square acrylic panels. We tried them out, and three of them filled the space nicely, overlapped slightly at the bottom of each for a look that reminds me of an oversize jalousie window.

Ventilation and insulation; we left the gables of the shack empty to allow for copious air flow. At the moment we still have the moon cutout in the door open too, but I might put some kind of translucent material in there pretty soon - still looking for the right scrap. Before the party, the guys decided to run a vent stack from under the bench through a hole in the wall and up to the roof. Dylan modified a Studor vent for the top of the stack so that it will keep rain out but always allow air to pass freely. We're not insulating the room for now because our climate is pretty mild and we'll wait and see if we really need to as the winter progresses. If we do insulate and close up the major openings we may need to consider more active ventilation, with some kind of solar fan. As with so many things, we'll start minimal and cross that bridge if we come to it.

The inner workings; after we built the shell we looked for the right container. It had to be strong, durable, and commonly available, so we could start with two containers and if needed get more that would fit. We ended up with a horizontal plastic tub rated for carrying over 350 pounds of material. It's way overkill, since lightweight sawdust will always make up a large proportion of the bulk in our batches, but better a "too strong" container than one that doesn't quite cut it, for obvious reasons. I would have preferred to use containers with lids, but these tough heavy duty ones didn't have them, so we went with contractor grade plastic bag liners to contain the load while we move it to the comporting site, which in our case have already been used once or twice on the job site before they go to the outhouse.

Surfaces and finishes; Dylan painted the exterior a sage green I mixed from a bunch of our sample colors from recent projects, and my five year old son and I painted the inside a darker tone of the same color. We coated the floor and the door with brick red exterior paint, and one of the guys spray painted the inside of the "window" panels bright red. Last year we cut out a crescent moon from hot rolled steel during some crafty plasma cutter sessions, which now graces the inside back wall. Dylan installed an overhead light with a vintage style bulb and an automatic shut off light switch, plus a motion sensing porch light outside above the door. A bucket was transformed into a lidded trash container, another bucket became the sawdust bin, and we were ready for prime time. With the same Sierra green roof as my first two houses, and a birch bench with routed edges and a heavy coat of polyurethane on it, this convenience station has turned out prettier than I would have ever imagined.

The reception; our house is quite a walk up a steep hill from 'the pond', so the privy was a welcome addition. We were proud to show our guests to it when the party started in the afternoon, and we got a lot of compliments. By nightfall everyone knew where it was and it was definitely viewed with gratitude and appreciation. Throughout the evening as I conducted my "inspections" the only things I could smell inside were sawdust and a hint of fresh paint. We topped off our bucket of sawdust halfway through the night, and my husband opened the back hatch to check on things and had to shake the container back and forth a few times to settle a growing pyramid. One of our guys has a brilliant plan for making a teeter totter platform for the bin with a handle projecting upwards. It will allow users to occasionally flip the handle back and forth to shake the bin and settle the contents without having to go outside or touch the bin.

The cost; if you have leftover materials to work with you may get away with spending as little as $70 on your toilet seat and containers. We spent about $55 for our skids, $35 on our seat, $15 each on two containers, $10 on a fancy lightbulb, and another $15 on drinks for the crew. The guys who helped us enjoy our parties, so were happy to help with a fun no pressure project to make them go more smoothly. Grand total, $200.I'll try to make an estimate for what it would cost to buy all the materials when I can find the time.

The impression; it has been over a week since the party, the bin is about half full, and even now inside the privy there's no odor whatsoever. When you look into the bin you see nothing but fluffy sawdust. For us, though admittedly it's still very early to judge, the compost toilet has been an unqualified success. What experiences have you had with compost toilets? Would you try this in a remote situation like ours?

 Find more compost toilet build detail photos in our Facebook album.

Eco-Vita Privy Kit
Free Range Designs UK Urine Diverter Source
Clean Water Components Composting Toilet Info
Collecting Urine for Compost Pile - a GardenWeb Forum thread

Thursday, February 16, 2012

My Amateur Drafting Solution

Home & Landscape Design Professional
I took drafting for a couple years in high school. Later I took printing classes at the same high school, and landscape drafting and a couple introductory AutoCAD classes in college. Just enough to get simple computer drafting basics down, and appreciate how deeply complex big architectural drawings can be. And let's not forget how hard it is to get something printed properly!

Since I began designing houses as a kid I've sketched them on paper, but they get lost and tend to lay around unfinished. Sometimes I need to make changes but if I change anything it looks a mess and I can't stand it so I just start over. Plus there's the limitations on sharing and sending paper documents, and storing one of a kind originals safely. I needed to capture my ideas in finished form electronically, so I could tweak and refine endlessly and share the results. I needed something simple enough to get me through the process a lot faster than sketching, and affordable enough to make sense in my budget.

A floor plan for a simple food cart.
I shopped around, read reviews, and  in the end I bought Punch! Home & Landscape Design Professional NexGen3. I had used an earlier version of their affordable architectural drafting program years ago and found it functional and a million miles easier than AutoCAD for quick projects. The only reason it wasn't working for us anymore was because of incompatibility with our current Windows operating system, which caused it to run slowly. This newer version is quick, simple, and does most of what I want it to, and I'm happy I spent the money. Roof-lines are hard to get exactly right and I'm still having trouble with 3D; changing the color of objects, making built in cabinetry, and creating good 3D views that show interior details well. I also played around with exterior house trim but I couldn’t get it to go where I wanted and I couldn't take it off once I put it on. I'm still tinkering and learning a little each day.

Here's a mockup of a larger portable kitchen design.
The only major issue I've had since I began using this newer version is printing. In the old version, you could export your drawings as a bitmap. It wasn't ideal, but I could open the bitmap with photo editing software, save it in a more compact and common file type and print and share it as needed. Now I can only export into .dfx or.dwg drawings, or VRML or 3D still images. As I understand it, .dfx is an open source CAD data file format developed by AutoDesk, and .dwg is the native file format in AutoCAD ( feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, my information is years old and may be out of date). To print those without sending them to my local architectural printing service to be run on their plotters, I'd have to run them through a converter, like AutoCAD DWG to Image Converter, one of many that can be gotten free from CNET and other download sites. Otherwise I'm reduced to taking screen shots of my drawings, which is how I produced my sample images.

This stumbling block is a little deeper than simply an issue of getting a print out or a useable file showing your design. In AutoCAD world, all lines have a default line weight (of .01 back in the day when I learned it). For working purposes, all lines display on the screen at readable thickness proportional to the screen you're looking at. It's only when you try to print your work that the near unreadable tiny lines become apparent. As an AutoCAD beginner, you go back and change all your line weights and from then on you start your drawings with a template that establishes weights for all the most common types of objects and lines used in your drawings. I didn't have to deal with all this on the older simpler version, and now it appears I will have to go back to the work flow of creating templates and always opening them up to start a new drawing.

My concept for a nearly ground floor bed design.
There's an animation export option as well, but the menu item is grayed out for me. I imagine that's because I haven't seen how to capture an animation, so there are no animation files to export. It implies that if I took the time to go through the tutorials and learn more about this program I could "record" three dimensional animated walk-through "videos", which would be great.

Punch offers several price points you can buy into for home design software, one with just the basics, one with more of a landscape library, others with more 3D capability, and even a couple of Mac versions,  Home Design Studio for $149.99 and Home Design Studio Pro for $249.99, which I have yet to try. I see they also have specialized software just for bathrooms, kitchens, landscapes, and interiors. I'm still not entirely sure I'm using all the features I paid for at the $179 version I bought, but I was seduced by the idea of the library of 3D objects, ability to edit and create my own 3D stuff, and somewhat realistic 3D rendering. I want to fully decorate and accessorize my designs in 3D because it's an immensely powerful way to road test design ideas without making so many costly real world mistakes. Obviously the library of objects contains a lot of huge things, but it's relatively easy to re-size them to tiny house proportions. I haven't tried my hand at using the 3D object design tool to create a true scale trailer for a tiny house foundation yet. That will be an upcoming project as time allows. So far I just draft my houses 20" or so off the ground.

To someone who has never had any computer drafting experience at all, this could be a workable solution for you, but expect to use the tutorials, be patient, and take your time. If you've used other drafting programs in the past I would say this package presents a nice balance of capability and simplicity. Ultimately, I haven't yet tried to create a set of plans to apply for a building permit, much less actually build from, and therein lies the true test.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Outdoor Living Room

I think a lot about living in a "just right" house. In many ways my dream house has become pretty minimal over its evolution, in terms of size, features, and square footage. I have no desire for a big bedroom, a luxurious sunken tub, or a huge farmhouse sink. In other ways my standards have become much higher, because I know the ingredients of a house so much more intimately now than I ever have before. The same way I can never go back to boxed stuffing or second rate drip coffee in my kitchen, I will never again be able to ignore poor insulation, inept window placement, awkward trim, and misaligned cabinetry.

One thing I know for sure about my dream house; it must include a nice deck big enough to socialize on. An outdoor living room is an essential ingredient in a quality life for me, so I feel really lucky that there's so much cool outdoor furniture these days. It sure has come a long way since my childhood! Do you remember aluminum framed deck chairs with seats made of wraparound rubbery vinyl tubes? Horror.

Here's the comfy adorable set at Home Depot that got me thinking about my "dream deck" again last night:

Tiny House Heaters; Popular and Obscure Options

Tiny house owners face the delightful challenge of needing too little heat, far less than the output most typical house heating systems are designed for. The heating system will also need to fit in a much smaller space. Because of those factors the lineup of heating solutions for tiny houses is a little limited, but there are several good options. Here’s a quick rundown of the most popular and often discussed choices.

The choice list starts with boat heaters; love their safety features we know are tested in the harshest conditions.

Newport P-9000
For its small size, efficiency, and the sight of flames through the glass window the sleek stainless steel Dickinson Marine Newport P-9000 propane fireplace, currently priced at $1118.55, gets top marks. Solid fuel heaters like the nostalgic Sardine by Marine Stove have won many hearts, even at $1090 with up to a six month delivery time. It’s gorgeous, more than a lifespan durable and now available with an optional glass door insert as well. Although I don’t see any in their product lineups with a heating capacity of less than 1000 square feet, which would be extreme overkill in a well insulated tiny house, little wood burning cabin stoves have a devoted following. The elegant Jøtul F 602 or the more modern F 370 have devotees, as well as Morsø, known for their charming squirrel embossed on the side panels of their small traditional wood stove. I can’t even find prices online for the European models, but you can find them at fireplace specialty stores. I get the hint they’re expensive from the way people talk about them.

All of these superstars have great looks in their various styles and perform well. They’re definitely valued for bringing the ambiance of fire to the tiny house experience as well as their time tested designs and legendary durability. I’ve been soaking up the info about the newer Kimberly Stove from Unforgettable Fire and have developed quite a crush on it, despite the huge price tag.

Kimberly Stove
I think the Kimberly's unique advantages are significant enough to justify the cost to someone looking to solve space constraints and fuel challenges; petite size, portable weight, one burner cook-top, fuel flexibility (wood, wood charcoal, coal, compressed {paraffin free} logs, and even saltwater driftwood), and super efficient gas re-burning action. Even better, this is an independent small business, and their invention is manufactured by craftsman in the US. I love the indie spirit in the new Kimberly Stove video so much, I’m looking for an excuse - ahem, I mean opportunity - to buy one. I want to test it and touch it!
Wave 8 RV Catalytic Safety heater

At the more utilitarian end of the spectrum you find propane catalytic heaters for RVs like the Wave 8 by Olympian. It’s not pretty to look at, but it’s familiar, affordable at around $200, and it is certainly up to the task. Electric space heaters like this little Sunbeam Ceramic Small Room Heater can do the job well in a tiny package at an amazing price, around $40. We might shy away from relying on electricity for heat instinctively, yet for small well-insulated spaces electric heat can often be the simplest, most efficient choice. I personally use the Sunbeam to keep my houses in progress from getting too cold at night once they’re closed and it works perfectly at a reasonable cost. By the way, my climate is not that cold but a reviewer on Amazon (at the above link) with lots of electric heater experience who said “it heats one of my 15x15 rooms to 70 degrees when it is 15 degrees outside, and it hasn't broken, frozen-up, stalled, malfunctioned in ANY way yet!”

If you have adequate air movement through your little domicile and don’t mind heating from the bathroom outward, a combination bathroom ventilation fan, light, and heater in the ceiling may provide all the warmth needed in milder climates. They can be a little spendy, but they’re doing triple duty in one compact package, so go ahead and splurge on one with a quieter fan. Home Depot offers this NuTone Bath Fan with Light and 1500W Heater for about $200, but I’ve heard there are others with timers, which would be great. Also from the bathroom heater world, little wall mounted heaters for 100 to 200 square feet could be mounted on any exterior wall to provide ductless whole house forced air heat.

My newest discovery is a small vent free wall hung propane fireplace that looks like the flames are dancing in a deep frame. I just got one from Northern Tool but I haven’t tested it yet. It only has two settings - “on” and “off” - and it runs off a little camping stove bottle that runs out approximately every four hours of operation. We got a fitting that allows you to refill the small bottle from your bigger tanks, and that’s obviously an awesome alternative to recycling (or worse throwing away) endless little steel canisters. It produces 6,000 BTUs and proclaims 99% efficiency. If we like it after we test it for a while, we might try to figure out a way to plumb it to an LP line permanently if it can be done safely. If you’re planning to run a vent free indoor propane heater, know that water vapor is a by-product of LP combustion. Be aware of resulting higher moisture levels and make sure you provide fresh air ventilation and install a carbon monoxide alarm (always a good idea anyway). We’ll also be careful to warm the place up before bedtime, so we can sleep safely with the fireplace off. Vent free seems like a good idea with its high efficiency, and the one we got retails at about $230 - though of course there are bigger and fancier ones that cost a lot more.

99% efficient wall hung vent free fireplace by ProCom
I’ve been researching underfloor radiant heat as an option for tiny houses, but the topic is way too large to include in this quick heating hit list, so I'll just summarize my findings so far. Radiant underfloor heating is possible in a tiny house both electrically and hydronically (with recirculating water in tubes), however it will be very expensive compared to the cheaper alternatives listed above, and there will almost certainly be some disappointing feasibility and user experience issues that I will go into in a later post.

So that’s my quick round up of some of the heating options for tiny houses. Look for more on underfloor heating, coming soon. Leave a comment with any heater types I may have missed that you think are worth exploring. Share what you’ve been using and what you like or don’t like about it. Have a toasty warm winter day!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Ground Level Bed in a Tiny House

Since I began showing my house the most requested design has been a ground floor bedroom for those who don’t want to climb a ladder every night. Here’s my floor plan with a more accessible queen size bed. It features three steps up to the bed platform, a three drawer dresser in the risers, and underneath, a water heater and insulated storage compartment accessible from the outside of the house. At some point I may spend some time landscaping around it with a ramp entry and a deck. I will release another plan soon modified for those who would prefer to avoid ANY steps or stairs at all.

The floorplan assumes an 18’ flatbed trailer for its foundation and cantilevers 18” beyond that to maximize the enclosed footprint. It could be built on a foundation if desired but at about 8’ by 20’ it’s 160 square feet, and so would exceed most “accessory building” permit exemptions.

This design places double entry doors on the side of the house at the front of the trailer, near the hitch. A smaller sliding glass door or french door set could work, making for a striking entry and a light filled space. A bay window bump out at the front encloses the propane tank(s) in an exterior cupboard, gives more visual spaciousness, and provides a little bench seating along the side of the room. The bathroom holds a 36” shower and a toilet.

The sink is in the great room in a mini kitchen counter. A convection microwave above, a portable convection burner, and an undercounter fridge would make this space functional for a pretty good array of cooking needs. If you don’t believe me read the excellent article “I Can Really Cook in my Tiny Kitchenette” for specifics. Or it could be used largely as a storage piece for those who don’t need a kitchen. The kitchen and bath area are topped by a 48 square foot partially walled loft storage area accessible from the bedroom. A pocket door could be added to close off the bedroom if desired.

The Design Logic
I have found that good quality Murphy or wall beds are super expensive - for good reason in most cases. The hardware is expensive, the safety concerns are numerous, and the engineering can be tricksy as well. Assuming that we don’t want to spend 3 or 4 thousands bucks on a pop away bed of some kind, how does a person fit a good size bed on the ground floor of a tiny house and still have the rest of the essentials? This layout places emphasis on the accessible bed first and the spacious living room second. The loft storage area and mini kitchen play a supporting role and the space under the bed is put to use as exterior access storage for seasonal or infrequently used items.

The water heater under the closet is also accessible from outside for service and maintenance. To make a more budget friendly version one could use a single front door, make the large windows a little smaller and omit the octagon windows or use small square windows instead. The biggest expense here would be paying a cabinetmaker to do the custom drawer stairs. For an amateur to pull of a good fit and function here would be extraordinarily difficult - and stairs are too important to mess up. Really good hardware will allow for deep strong drawers that pull out all the way, have the strength to hold a load while fully extended, and close softly too. I don’t recommend going low budget on that part.

I hope folks can use some ideas from this layout in their own designs or that it might inspire a better attempt at a ground floor sleeping plan for a tiny house. Please feel free to enjoy and share it for non-commercial purposes.

The Disclaimer
Obviously this is a concept, not a construction plan. Please bear in mind that I created this plan quickly on a new drafting program I’m still learning how to use. There are tons of details I couldn’t get quite right but I didn’t want to delay getting it out there in favor of waiting until it was perfect. The roofline isn’t right over the bay windows. The appliances are squished down versions of the large 3D appliances that came stock with the program, so they look funny. The measurements I used however ARE the actual measurements of real compact appliances that are available. The cabinetry control in the program completely eludes me, so neither of the kitchen pieces actually resemble what I would put in this if I built it. I can’t figure out how to change the color of the bed, I couldn’t get drawer fronts onto the stair risers, and I had to eliminate the bathroom door so we could see down the hall in 3D. I also played around with exterior house trim but I couldn’t get it to go where I wanted and I couldn't take it off once I put it on, so if you notice it’s all cockeyed and weird, don’t blame me - I agree.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Permit & Code Info for Tiny House Lovers in Marin County

I just did a quick round up of links to basic permit and code information for the county of Marin, in Northern California. It also works as a search pattern for tracking down this info quickly on the internet for almost any location. Seems a shame to not share it in case it might be useful to someone, so here it goes:

In Sonoma County we start by finding out the zoning of the particular parcel. We head to the Permit and Resource Management Department online and look up the address. In Marin using similar search terms I found the Marin Assessor-Recorder page. Enter a parcel number from tax records and get the zoning codes and tax status on this page. If you don't know the parcel number you can look it up at the Assessor's Office using this mapbook index. This tells you which mapbook the property is in, and then you go to the County Assessor's Office and look up the parcel in the appropriate mapbook. Use the parcel number to track down the zoning. You need to know the exact zoning because sometimes a special zoning lets you do more on a parcel, and other times habitat or natural features puts a parcel in a special sub-zoning that may be more restrictive. Once you find out the exact zoning for your parcel look up the zoning laws that govern it and see if there's anything especially restrictive you need to be concerned about. Here's the municode, aka Marin County Code, with a zoning section that covers all the pertinent information.

Marin County also has a general information sheet on codes in which I found this exemption for buildings less than 120 square feet used as accessory (non-habitable) buildings. However note that installing any electrical or plumbing service to such structures still requires a permit, which could be a problem if you're trying to get a plumbing inspection on a bathroom in a "shed". Generally as soon as a bathroom is involved that makes it habitable and then it's not allowed. One strategy is to build the exterior shell without any interior walls or finish, put in the electrical and plumb it with a sink - because you need to wash your hands and water plants in your potting shed, right? - then get your permits and inspections. After all the officials are gone you can install interior walls, insulation, toilet, etc. You still have a building that would not be considered legal if officially inspected, but you can be quasi-legal up to the moment you put in a bathroom and still get the assurance of knowing the electrical and plumbing systems were considered safe and legal by code standards

Exemptions from permit requirements do not grant authorization for any work to be done in any manner in violation of the provisions of any laws or ordinances of the County of Marin. Please contact Planning, Environmental Health Services and Land Development Divisions prior to commencing any building permit exempt work.
A Building Permit shall not be required for the following (CBC Appendix Ch.1 Section 105.2):
1. The following types of structures may be exempt from a building permit if they are located in compliance with zoning regulations established in MCC, Title 22.
Please contact the Marin County Planning Division at 499-6269 for specific requirements for your property.
A. One-story detached accessory buildings used as tool and storage sheds, playhouses and similar non-habitable uses, provided the total gross area does not exceed 120 square feet. MCC 19.04.060
(deleted a lot of irrelevant exempt items like oil derricks(!) and fences not more than 6' tall)
B. In rural areas on parcels of 1 acre or more, accessory structures used for tool sheds, workshops and horse stalls not exceeding 300 square feet each and fences over 6 feet in height may have permits waived if exempt from zoning regulations.
Separate plumbing, electrical and mechanical permits will be required for related work in conjunction with the above exempted items.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Our Tiny House Photo Shoot

Since we've partnered with Tumbleweed to sell our tiny house, they offered us a marvelous opportunity to have it photographed by an excellent photographer, Jack Journey. He spent hours with our house shooting it inside and out at the Windsor Town Green and on a property on Chalk Hill Road.

It was incredibly flattering to hear from Jack that he found our house very beautiful and he noticed a lot of great little construction details.

Here's a slide show of the pictures taken of our tiny house on January third by Jack Journey.