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.