Tag Archives: Tiny House

Old wood nooks, crannies and shelves

It's been nearly a year since I moved back into my cabin and it's been a good year of settling back into my place again. Much of what I'd done had been undone during my two years away but I've been busy making it my home. I had no intention of trying to return it to how I left it but thought something new out of available materials would be better. I had a good bit of reclaimed wood to use and that took care of about 60%. I did end up buying some trim boards as well as a few boards for shelving.

The above image is a corner of the cabin which started with some shelving on brackets but it looked naked so I used much of my reclaimed wood to warm it up a bit. It's a mix of oddball sizes which resulted in a very cozy, dynamic surface with different depths. Even better, as I puzzle pieced it together I built in little shelves just deep enough for my iPad, candles, small potted plants, bluetooth speaker and any other oddly little thing that needs a temporary home. When I've had a chance to reclaim more old wood I'll likely take it down another 14" so that it disappears below my futon.

192 Square Feet: Part 2

This is part two in a series. The first outlined the first seven months of building and living in a 192 square foot house that would be the first of several tiny structures on a property in Missouri.

My first seven months in the cabin felt a bit like camping and they were fantastic! As I went into my first winter I had the essentials: a warm, dry tiny cabin with electricity and wood heat. I did not yet have running water but I did have a sink that drained. For water I filled three 5 gallon tanks at our well 150 feet from my cabin. Most modern-day citizens of the U.S. wouldn’t want to do that for long as we’ve been raised with indoor plumbing which delivers fresh water out of a faucet. I welcomed the experience because I knew it was temporary and because I knew it was giving me a bit of perspective.


There are still some in the U.S. without indoor plumbing, mostly on Indian reservations and in rural areas. According to this story by the Washington Post the number, as of 2014, was 1.6 million Americans. According to a WHO/UNICEF 2010 report “3.8 billion people, or 57 per cent of the world’s population, get their drinking water from a piped connection that provides running water in their homes or compound.” If I needed to live for a year or so without water coming into my home I might get just a brief taste of what many others live without not by choice but by circumstance. But there’s more. Many of those that do not have a water line into their home also don’t have the convenience of a private, powered well with clean source of water just 150 feet away. I considered myself very fortunate.


In October and November I put the garden to bed with planted garlic bulbs and lots of mulch all over. Mostly I used cardboard and straw. I mulched over paths as well as beds and areas of grass that were to be expanded garden beds in the spring. An unlooked for but happily discovered fall crop was the Autumn Olive! We have many of them in the area and the bushes not only smell wonderful in the spring but bear huge amounts of tiny red fruit that are not only edible but a real treat once fully ripe!


Heating with wood that first winter worked pretty well but in a small space even a smallish woodstove can be difficult for full time heating. What I discovered was that it was very easy to waste wood because it was very easy to heat the cabin too much. With so little thermal mass the cabin would heat quickly and cool quickly. I would put a couple logs in at the start of the day and every couple of hours add another log or two. If I was very careful I could moderate it but the slightest miscalculation meant the cabin was suddenly 85 or 90 at which point I could suffer through it so as to not waste the heat or I could open a window or take a walk, either way I was “wasting” the heat and wood. At bedtime I would put a log or two in and know that I would need to get up in two or three hours to put in more. If it wasn’t too cold I could let the fire go out and start fresh in the morning. I woke up many days to my inside thermometer reading between 45 and 55. Certainly tolerable but not very cozy. This would be an issue I would have to deal with in the future.


That first winter I also experienced the joy of uninsulated floors! Cold. Too late to do much about it I put down some carpeting and wore slippers. Future plans would include reducing airflow under the cabin as well as increased layers of carpeting. I did come up with a quick fix to slow the airflow on the west side of the cabin which included some salvaged garden timbers already assembled to the right height supplemented by a few bales of hay. The west side was the most vulnerable not only because it had the greatest gap but also because the greatest incoming wind, often over a frozen lake, was from the west. My cabin takes the full force as there aren’t that many trees on that side and those that are there are, of course, without leaves in the winter!

I also learned the importance of monitoring our little well shed. When temperatures dipped to 0 my heating was not nearly enough and the pipes froze. Never again. The key is “heat tape” and a combination of heat lights and/or a heater of some sort. Minimizing the waste of energy also means paying attention to the weather. When the weather warms the heat goes off but of course it is essential to stay on top of things. As soon as temps dip down into the 20s the protective heat has to go right back on.

Ice funnels that form when moisture in grass freezes and expands outward.

But it wasn’t just cold feet I had to get used to. I’d become comfortable using the outhouse during the warmer months. Using an outhouse at 0° is an altogether different experience! Brrrrrrrr. But as with the carrying of water I viewed it as a learning experience and an expansion of my personal perspective. Funny thing really, I got used to it. Not to say it wasn’t cold each time but it just became a part of life. Yes, it was cold but I survived just fine. Truth is it’s probably pretty funny for anyone within earshot of those first moments of my ass meeting toilet seat as my yelping could probably be heard for several hundred feet. Sorta like someone jumping into cold water. I always have a chuckle at myself in those moments.

One of the benefits of the outhouse, summer or winter, spring or fall, was the sense of connection with the outdoors. In an interesting way using an outhouse or just peeing outside reminds one that in the end we are also animals. Yet another benefit is the usage of “wastes” for the enrichment of soil. Eventually the poop is composted and can be safely used for fruit trees. The urine is great for adding nitrogen to compost. What goes in comes out and it’s best to put it to good use.


You may remember that I also did not have an inside shower. I used the outside solar shower until it got cold. I used the shower in Kerry and Greg’s cabin until they turned their water off for the winter. That was probably late November. Now, this is where some of you get grossed out and where I get to share my thoughts on modern bathing habits. You see, for me, this wasn’t a huge problem. And yes, I hear you snicker, but what about the people around me? Might my stink not be a problem for them? Oh, I see a rabbit hole, let’s jump in!

Modern humans of the “developed” world are far too concerned with being “clean”. We’ve got antibacterial soaps and wipes. Women are convinced that they must shave or otherwise remove much of their body hair. So as to limit our body odor we use deodorants and anti-perspirants. Some people shower daily. I’ve known some that shower twice a day regardless of whether they break a sweat during the day. What are we so afraid of? My disdain for too much cleanliness is not just opinion. Oh no, I’ve got science too. Well, to be specific I have preliminary science because as is often the case, science is tentative.

Ever heard of the “hygiene hypothesis“? In short the idea is that we have become too clean. In our war against “germs” we have greatly reduced the helpful bacteria on which we depend. The contention is that we have become more susceptible to asthma and autoimmune problems because we have reduced our body’s exposure to “germs” which it uses to program the immune system. This is especially important for children who’s bodies are most in need of the “programming”. Not only that but our gut and skin biomes have been greatly reduced. Again, these are necessary bacteria (and fungi and archaea) with which we have a symbiotic relationship. We_ need them to survive._ We call this aggregate of microorganisms the human microbiota. Get used to it, your “body” is actually a community with non-human cells outnumbering human cells by 3 to 1. Fantastic!

For a more academic read there is this. There’s a great deal to be said on the subject and I don’t want to go too far down this rabbit hole. For now I’ll conclude by suggesting that I am clean enough. I found ways that first winter to clean-up without a shower. And for the record, while I wouldn’t want to use an anti-perspirant I am happy to use deodorants. Interestingly I’ve been told by family and a few close friends that I have a unique Denny smell. They contend that it’s not a bad body odor but just a unique smell. I’m guessing that for most of human history each person had such a personal odor. It’s only in recent times that we’ve sought to so completely remove it’s traces.

Okay, now that we’ve covered that I’ll bring the tale of the first year to a close. I not only survived the winter but I thoroughly enjoyed it, frozen feet, icey butt cheeks and all. Spring was around the corner and I would soon be very busy with the garden. Tomato and other warm season crops were seed planted in trays and cool season crops such as peas and lettuce were direct seeded into the garden. The plan for the spring included a chicken coop and attached greenhouse as well as a new cabin for Kerry and Greg’s kids. Oh, and honey bees! Lots to do. More to come!

192 Square Feet

A note about writing this. My initial intent was to post a bit about what it’s like to live in a small space but as I worked on that post it occurred to me that for my own purposes I’d like to have a more complete story of this process. I thought it would be interesting enough to offer more details is a series of posts so, I present you with part 1.

Camping during construction. My niece and nephew.

Camping during construction. My niece and nephew.

In the spring of 2008 I made a decision to begin a new living arrangement. With the economy tanking and my life in a period of transition I put thoughts of moving to Maine or Oregon on hold and decided to stay closer to my family in Missouri. With the help of my brother-in-law Greg (who is the real builder) we began a project the family had long talked about. A little village of sorts on our share of land that had been left to us by our grandparents.

Now, before I get into the story I should offer up that I am not a builder. My first recollection of building things was watching my parents help my aunt and uncle as they built a barn and house. But the adults worked, the kids played. I didn’t learn much. A few years later I remember helping my dad build our deck. I should add that my dad is also not a builder. My recollection of the process was one of frustration. My dad’s frustration as well as my own. In the end we had a very nice deck but I don’t recall it being an enjoyable or rewarding process. It may well be that I was just a bratty kid that didn’t want to spend his precious weekend helping build a deck but other memories reinforce the idea that my dad was often frustrated when trying to take on such projects. He wasn’t confident and didn’t enjoy it or at least that’s my recollection. I say this to help explain my own adult tendencies to avoid construction projects and my own lack of confidence in such endeavors. But in the spring of 2008 I did want a cabin and I wasn’t prepared to pay for one. Given that we had larger plans for multiple tiny buildings the choice to learn and work was obvious.

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Tomatoes in July!

I knew some of the basics. Previous experience (as an adult) included replacing a part of the roof at deCleyre as well as helping a friend with a roofing job. Also, I’d helped Greg on a few renovations of their home. He had the experience and had a pretty good idea of what he was doing but I’m observant and had watched him closely. During their home renovations I’d used a nail gun, hammer, circular saw, sawzaw, jigsaw and drill. I had a pretty good idea of what it meant to build a standard 2×4 wall. I ran the electrical wiring and helped put up the drywall. I knew the building of my simple one room cabin was really just a process of building a wooden platform, four 2×4 walls, and, finally, a roof. Then all the details of adding in windows, doors, outlets, insulation, inside walls, etc. Not only did we build my cabin but we renovated a shed and built 4 other structures. At this point I don’t doubt that I could build a cabin on my own should I need or want to. Thanks Greg!

Our first building on the property was an outhouse because we knew we’d need some sort of facilities. We had that built in a weekend. It was a simple structure designed so that I could easily empty a large bucket when full. I set-up an out of the way area for a humanure compost pile which can be safely used after a couple of years .

Trying out the new outhouse

Trying out the new outhouse

The following weekend we set-up tents and an outdoor kitchen in an old shed. Then we spent a month (weekends only) building my 12×16 cabin. The plan for the cabin was simple. I needed something big enough to live in. I don’t own much so basically a single, multipurpose room for sleeping, working, hanging out, food storage/prep and eating. No bathroom as I planned to use the outhouse and bathing would be done outside with a solar shower and then I’d have figure something out for the winter.

Halfway with the floor

Halfway with the floor

Looking back on it now there are two things I would have done differently. I would have insulated my floor and I would have built it bigger to accommodate a small bathroom. If I’d gone just 4 feet more, 12 X 20 instead of 12 X 16 I’d have more room for the bathroom. But that’s it. Generally I don’t mind the lack of a bathroom but if I stay put for the long haul I’m likely to want the convenience of one. As I expected I have found that living in a small space has worked very well for me but more about that later.

My sister and brother-in-law

My sister and brother-in-law

We arrived to begin work on Friday night. We set-up camp and cleaned the cabin site a bit. Saturday morning we finished clearing the site of debris and started the floor platform made of treated 2×12, 2×8, and plywood. That was finished by Saturday evening. My back was already hurting.

Wall building!

Wall building!

Sunday morning started early with building the 2×4 walls. By Sunday afternoon we had the outer wall panels up. By Sunday evening we had the roof on and had the holes cut for the windows. We had a blast and had squeezed in more than 28 hours of work in 2 days and an evening. We were exhausted. We left Sunday evening after dark and I have no idea how we got home. Somehow Greg managed to stay awake while he was driving though I have no idea how.

Cabin Shell

Cabin Shell

The second weekend was adding in windows, door and electrical. I actually moved in at the end of the weekend because while it was far from finished it was a pretty weather proof shelter. It was like being in a tent except the eaves were not yet enclosed which meant flying critters got in. I woke up to a bird in the cabin one morning. There were a few flies, june bugs and other assorted winged creatures including a couple of birds that popped in one morning. There were mice. While I had my cabin ready for electric we did not yet have service hooked up so I would be using lanterns for a couple weeks. But it was home and I was happy to be in it. If that meant sharing it with a few critters well then, so be it. I was eager to get started on the garden. I had several trays of seedlings that we’re going to need a home and my garden consisted of a small field grasses and flowers.

Nearly finished on the outside!

Nearly finished on the outside!

The next couple of weeks were spent alternating between gardening and building. On weekends Kerry and Greg would come with the kids and we would build while the kids played. They’d not had a whole lot of time at the lake up to this point and were just getting to the age where they could explore a wee bit. Mornings were spent around the campfire then we’d break off to work on the cabin and the kids would fish or swim with Kerry. By the last weekend of May the cabin was painted and mostly enclosed. By the end of June we’d gotten the cabin fully enclosed, the cabin painted, a ceiling fan installed and the wood slat ceiling was in place.

Early days of garden

Early days of garden

My weekdays were spent gardening and cleaning up the various bits of debris left from a tornado that passed through 2 years prior. I refused to use any gas tools with the exception of a chainsaw. All the darkening was accomplished with a mix of labor and time. I cleared out the garden area with a sickle and then an old fashioned non-gas reel mower. My family thought I was nuts but I put it down to idealism. It took longer to do it the way I did but it was great exercise and frankly, I enjoyed it immensely. The spring, summer and fall of 2008 might be best described as pure joy and exhaustion. In my 39 years I had never worked this hard. I’d always worked, always kept busy but never had I physically worked from sun-up to sun-down. I fell into bed each night aching and exhausted. I was gaining a whole new appreciation for what life would be like without modern conveniences, without oil.

Forest garden and orchard

Forest garden and orchard. Fencing up, beds in, compost pile underway.

I had a small garden going by the middle of June. I considered it garden phase 1. In a month I had put up fencing, put in double-dug beds and mulched it all with cardboard and straw. Greg had begun picking up fruit trees on sale at the big box stores towards the end of June and they needed to get planted. I sickled and reel mowed pathways into a couple of areas I had planned for fruit trees. July and August will remain a blur of planting fruit trees, hauling lake water in 5 gallon buckets and weeding the garden. I’m happy to say that I didn’t loose a single tree which is saying something because these were all pretty neglected when they got here as they were sale trees that hadn’t sold at Lowes and other places. By the end of July we had a mix of peach, plum, apple, and a single pear, about 15 all together.

In mid summer Greg and Kerry found a good deal on a shed that would become the base of their cabin. We had the shed hauled from 60 miles away and added it to our budding mini-village. It’s a work in progress that continues today with plans to close in the current porch and add a new porch of recently salvaged decking.

My outdoor sink

My outdoor sink

At some point in mid summer I also began clearing out the lake front which had a downed tree covered in tall grass and flowers. There was another tornado downed tree behind my cabin and damaged trees all around the area. I gradually removed branches and cut the fallen trees down to firewood sized logs and sickled away the tall grass. Yes, this was the summer I finally became familiar with the chain saw. Previous to this I’d only ever used a chainsaw a handful of times. I was never comfortable doing it in part because I did it so infrequently. By the fall of 2008 I’d racked up many back-breaking hours with my new friend, an old red Homelight which I’m still using today. It had been my dad’s but he loaned it to me and then gifted it when he saw that I was actually using it far more than he had occasion to. It’s not the biggest chainsaw but big enough to handle small to medium tree trunks. By early October I had one or two ranks of wood chopped and ready for winter and the lake front was cleared enough that I now had a mostly unobstructed view of the lake.

The Kitchen

The Kitchen

Greg had come down several more times through the summer and in early August the walls had all been insulated and finished with wood paneling. As the leaves began to turn to their fall colors we put a bed and storage/guest sleeping loft followed by the wood stove. One of the last projects of the year was putting in some salvaged cabinets and a closet with some shelves and a countertop. My “kitchen”, improvised for most of the summer, started to look like a real kitchen. For much of the summer I’d used an outdoor sink set-up that functioned pretty well. But as the cold weather would be coming soon I decided it was time to move the dishwashing inside so we put in a sink though no running water. I used 3 five gallon water tanks hauled from our well house, usually just one a day. I had always been conscientious about my water use but when I was hauling all of my water by hand I can tell you I became even more careful. This was especially true in the winter when I was hauling the water 150 feet through the snow.

My bed, storage and guest loft above

My bed, storage and guest loft above

The summer of 2008 was busy but we were just getting started.