sustainability

This Couple is Living in a Vintage Trailer While They Build a Tiny House

This Couple is Living in a Vintage Trailer While They Build a Tiny House

Kathleen and Greg are a young couple living in a 1969 vintage trailer (same year as the COMET!) while they build themselves a tiny house on wheels. Kathleen and I connected a few weeks ago, and I was so excited to meet another couple who lives like Matt and I do! I asked if I could share their ongoing story here, and so here's what Kathleen has to say about their life in their trailer so far. You can read more about Kathleen and Greg and their tiny living adventure on their blog, "Tiny House, Tiny Footprint."

 

Tiny Changes

Since living in a 140-square-foot camper trailer, I have received a variety of questions. I thought it would be best to answer them here and help alleviate concerns for those who are considering tiny living. If you're nervous about embarking on a new adventure like this, I think it's important to remember that you can test it out and if it doesn't work out, you can go back to living how you were previously.

Tiny Home Builders Hands-On Building Workshop

Tiny Home Builders Hands-On Building Workshop

Have you been to a tiny house workshop?

I've spoken at and taught about 20 in the past 2 years, and they always get me excited all over again. Meeting people who are just beginning their small home journeys, discussing science and nature, and making good friends are my favorite parts!

Last weekend Matt and I helped Dan Louche at his hands-on tiny home building workshop in Atlanta, GA. We were there to primarily talk about sustainable building, off-grid systems, and how and WHY you should downsize your life sooner rather than later. We ended up answering a lot of questions about composting toilets. Everyone is ALWAYS most interested in our bathroom habits, and we've become extremely comfortable speaking candidly about our bodily functions with total strangers.

We had the pleasure of meeting up with some people in real life from the current Tiny Transition + Downsizing class, and it was SO FUN to hang out and get to know each other off-the-Internet. Putting faces to names and meeting people I had been connecting with online for months was really great.

Chat with Kevin Kelly and Lloyd Kahn: Tiny Homes and Mobile Dwelling

A few days ago I had the immense pleasure of being part of a video chat (“Hangout”) with two awesome dudes, Kevin Kelly and Lloyd Kahn, both heroes of mine and very inspirational people. If you’re wondering who they are, Kevin Kelly was the publisher and editor of the Whole Earth Catalog, founded Wired magazine, and now does a million other cool things, including the recent publication of the awesome book Cool Tools. Lloyd Kahn worked with Kevin Kelly as the editor of the “Shelter” section of the Whole Earth Catalog, then went on to start his own publishing company Shelter Publications, which has released classic titles such as Shelter, Shelter 2, Home Work, and Tiny Homes (I own and love all of these books, highly recommended!). He lives in a neat owner-built home in California, and is the liveliest, sharpest 79 year old I’ve ever seen!

It was exciting to have a chance to ask Lloyd and Kevin some questions, they both have decades of experience in building, design, technology, and writing/publishing between them. The webcast was broadcast live, and is available on YouTube to watch (and is at the bottom of this blog post!). Lloyd and Kevin started out by talking about domes and Lloyd explained how his book Shelter was a direct response to his years of advocating for and building dome homes. He said that he had realized that perhaps domes weren’t the perfect buildings after all, and decided to showcase a myriad of other awesome homes and building techniques as a sort of resignation about domes. He explained how domes were still viable as some functional spaces, but that they aren’t ideal for residences for many reasons.

 

Tiny House Road Trip Part 2: Preparing to Hit The Road

Last Spring, Matt and I embarked on what we called Tiny House Road Trip. The goal was to leave from Massachusetts, travel down the East Coast, through Florida, and then around the south and back up North again. On the way we stopped at the tiny houses of friends, met some fellow bloggers, and took a million photos and did 15 interviews all about tiny houses, vintage campers, and simple living. We even got to hang out with Deek Diedricksen and Steve Harrell, along with many others we had met on our “tour de tiny”, at the April 2013 North Carolina Tiny House workshop at Steve Harrell’s house. We learned a lot about what it meant to live in a tiny house, and were equal parts surprised and intrigued by everyone’s answer to the question: “Why do you live in a tiny house?”.

    It turns out, unexpectedly, that the act of going on the road trip was just as important to Matt and I as the data we collected. I didn’t realize how changed I would be after living out of my Honda Element for 2 months. I learned a lot about what comfort is, what needs vs. wants are, and what I truly want out of my life. Essentially, I discovered my self on that trip: I am happiest when I am living out of a backpack, sleeping in the car, and waking up in a new, beautiful place every morning. When we got back, I realized how BIG the COMET really is! Sounds crazy, but it just felt so spacious compared to the tiny car we had been living in. I had been nervous about downsizing into the COMET, and now I realized I could downsize again (which I did - major purging happened upon our return). Matt said he couldn’t imagine us traveling the country, me in the passenger seat beside him, with a big camper behind us, saying something like “what is all that space for?”.

Recycling Greywater + Biodegradable Soaps

Recycling Greywater + Biodegradable Soaps

If you’re thinking about recycling your greywater, either in your tiny house or other home on wheels, you need to pay attention to what’s going down the drain. Recycling greywater (which is the used water from showers, the sink, and the washer machine) requires us to be conscientious of what we put down our drains, since those products will end up in our gardens, yards, and in the ground. A welcome side effect of being careful about which products end up in our drains is that we know more about which soaps, cleaners and detergents we are using in our homes and on our bodies. Using all-natural cleaners and body products is better for your health and the environment.

    So If you’re designing your tiny home or other trailer to be off-grid, or at least want to recycle greywater, these are the things I recommend which I use in the COMET. If you’re living in a trailer/ camper like me, another great by-product of recycling greywater is that you don’t have to dump greywater tanks out at dump stations or RV parks, which is gross. I specifically designed the COMET to not have any grey or black water tanks, because I am recycling and composting all “wastes” (which become something much nicer than waste because I’m reusing them!). By being careful and conscientious about what we put on our bodies and down our drains, we can keep water of of the sewers and put it safely back into the land. I’ve gotten a few questions about this topic recently, so I hope this clarifies it for you!

Where Do I Fit In?

Where have I been?It's a good question! I've been really busy the past two months, but haven't made a ton of progress on the COMET. Other vintage camper people out there, have you ever tried polishing the pitted, foggy aluminum back up to a mirror finish? It takes forever! It also requires a large angle grinder, which I'm embarrassed to say I can't really lift up in the first place (so it becomes Matt's job). We've been working on it little by little, but it takes many hours and is a crappy job. It's the one thing standing in between me and a beautiful exterior paint job (also Matt's forte because he used to do fancy pin striping and decals on cars).

SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION ALERT: www.planetqueenvintage.etsy.com The reason I have been so busy is because I really need money to complete the COMET and I had to put a lot of time and energy into my Etsy shop, where I sell awesome vintage clothing. My shop is called Planet Queen Vintage (based on the T Rex song but also referencing awesome ladies that do cool stuff to positively impact the planet) and I would be so grateful if you guys took a minute to check out all the new stuff and hard work I've been putting into the shop the past few months. I added 100+ new items, took better photographs, and increased the overall awesomeness content. Bet you guys didn't know I run a business on the side in addition to the COMET?!

My Life is Validated by Tenth-Grade Girls

All I ever wanted with this blog and this project was to inspire other people to take their life into their own hands and do something creative with DIY attitude. Well, I never imagined that I would inspire a group of high school girls to undertake such a project, but it's happening right now! The girls at the Ann Richards School For Young Women Leaders in Austin TX are not your average tenth-graders. These engineering students focus on project-based learning at their high school. The class's assignment this year is directly inspired by the COMET, as they turn a 1970's travel trailer into a solar-powered learning tool. They are incorporating the eco-friendly aspects of the COMET and the small space design techniques of tiny houses into their project. The girls are learning 3D digital modeling, design, green building methods, construction, and more through the hands-on project. Right now, the design groups in the class are coming up with designs, budgets, and plans. The client will choose the winning design, which will be implemented in the trailer this spring. Needless to say, I was flattered and amazed when their teacher (who is so amazing - I wish I had teachers like this in high school!) emailed me saying that they were undertaking Project Ventura, based on the COMET and my own methods. Now I'm going down to TX this week to teach the class for a week and learn what I can from this group of incredible young women.

Adding Extra Strength Framing and New Paneling to Your Vintage Trailer

When Matt and I went to re-frame the rear wall of the COMET, we knew we had to do some re-design as well. First of all, at some point there is going to be a "bumper garden" (hehe, get it? on top of the bumper...) mounted onto the back of the trailer under the window. Ok, so it's like a way-glorified window box, but on a moving trailer, and made with polycarbonate so it's also like a tiny greenhouse too. Since there will at some point soon be soil and metal and plants hanging off of the back wall, we knew we had to beef up the framing. I wanted enough studs that we could lag into to support the bumper garden. The second part of the design had to address the really weird original framing, which had the rear bench (couch and also my bed) come down halfway in front of the rear hatch, which is the only place to really store anything large. Basically, the rear bench bisected the hatch, and I thought that was dumb, because I want full hatch access! So we raised the bench up 6 inches, so it now clears the rear hatch door and give us a little more storage. Here's how we did it! A little reference, so you can see how the original framing interfered with the rear access door.

On The Green Road

On The Green Road is Cece Reinhardt and Brenda Daugherty. I came across their website when I was researching The COMET project, and since I've found them they have been infinitely helpful and supportive of me. They were my first official sponsor! They really are wonderful people and what they have done and are doing to educate people about sustainable, mobile living is amazing.

Cece and Brenda travel the country in their gorgeous Airstream, which has been completely retrofitted with sustainable, green building materials and technologies in alternative energy. They tow their classic Airstream with a truck that runs on Biofuel (waste veggie oil). These visionary ladies give open houses and informational sessions in their off-grid Airstream, spreading the word about sustainable, healthy living. The two of them live in their Airstream full time, they even have a cat!

Sustainability on Wheels: Campers and the Tiny House Movement

"Vintage campers will save the Planet."

That's a pretty bold statement. I do think vintage/used/old campers can play a role in the way people begin to think about their housing in relation to the environment, social responsibility, and sustainability. Vintage campers make ideal Tiny Houses. First of all, they are tiny (of course) and on wheels - two basic characteristics of most tiny houses. Even a large camper is a tiny house! Also, I think it is always better to re-use an existing structure than it is to build from scratch (the exception being if the existing structure is unhealthy or toxic in some way...moldy, asbestos, etc.) Using an existing trailer camper cuts down on waste and keeps these usable little homes out of the landfill. Often, there will be valuable materials that can be salvaged from the existing trailer. Of course, there is personal preference and style to account for: campers don't look like miniaturized log homes or mini-mansions, they look like campers (though I have seen a camper re-done with shingle siding!). I'll admit they aren't perfect for everyone, but it's definitely a really viable option for the future of housing.Another thing to consider is cost. To build a tiny house from scratch will cost much more than retrofitting an existing structure (in most cases - depends on what you want to do of course). I've gotten campers in towable, totally restorable condition for less than $500. Sometimes a retrofit is a pain in the neck: campers are built from the bottom up, so it can be difficult to replace and repair things in the undercarriage area (but it has been done!). However, I think in terms of cost efficiency and eco-friendliness, making a tiny house out of an existing trailer is the best bet. Even if your tiny house was built out of entirely sustainable materials (which would be very expensive), it would still be using resources that an existing trailer has built into it. Buying the separate parts to build a camper would be much more expensive than purchasing one used. Also, campers just look awesome!