I consider Lina Menard to be a thought leader in the tiny house movement. She has been involved with countless builds on both the design and construction sides. Lina was an early proponent of SIPs and has continued to incorporate them into her work. In this interview, we’ll talk about common pitfalls that Lina sees across tiny house builds, issues with tiny house trailer designs, and the difference between a design-build process and a build-design process.
In This Episode:
- What's the difference between a design-build process and a build-design process?
- Understanding the constraints you must work within can help you be happier
- Where do you start with planning for your build?
- What does it mean to be “dried in”?
- How does using salvaged materials affect your build?
- Advice about using and storing salvaged materials
- Struggling to design your build? Lina has great tips for you.
- Taping out the floor-plan works – here's why
- Should you make a model of your house?
- Best practices for attaching your tiny house to the trailer
- Your designs will get better through building
- Exciting trends in tiny house builds
- Making your design fit your needs
Links and Resources:
Niche is Lina Menard, a natural co-conspirator who has lived out her own questions around intentional living, less stuff, and happiness. She has resided in a travel trailer, yurt, backyard cottage, and three (and counting) tiny houses on wheels. Rooted through a background in sustainable design-build and urban planning, Lina also has a penchant for experiential learning and healthy communities. She has found her niche nestled between small spaces, collaborative education, and community planning.
This Week's Sponsor:
Tiny House Decisions
Tiny House Decisions is the super helpful guidebook that I wrote 5 years ago to share all of the knowledge and decisions that I made to build my own tiny house, along with what I did right, what I did wrong, and how I would change things. The guidebook, now in its second edition, has been completely rewritten and expanded to reflect how tiny houses are being built today and it also includes several new tiny house stories from other tiny house dwellers. The guidebook has been expanded to include things like SIPs, metal framing, and different types of insulation, and I seriously think this is the most helpful thing you can buy if you are thinking about living in a tiny house. If you go through the guidebook from start to finish, you will have a solid plan for all the systems and everything else that’s going to go into your tiny house. The second edition has been a long time in the making and I’m really excited to share it with the world.
To learn more you can head over to thetinyhouse.net/thd.
Access hatch for the loo bucket
Cedar chips in the garden help with both weeds and mud
Custom-built alternating tread stairs
Grab bars help you up the stairs
Lucky Penny's porch light
Raffi the cat discovered the heated sink
Raising the first wall!
Springtime for the Lucky Penny
Lucky Penny in the morning
The curved roof and pretty details make the Lucky Penny unique
Tiny house in the backyard
Taping the floor at Yestermorrow
Ethan Waldman 1:34
Okay, official soundcheck, tell me how to pronounce your name and what you had for breakfast this morning.
Lina Menard 1:40
My name is Lina Menard, and this morning for breakfast I had, eggs and beans actually. I guess i did protein and protein.
Ethan Waldman 1:49
Nice. No, I also had eggs and beans for breakfast today.
Lina Menard 1:53
Eggs and black beans. I didn't have any tortillas though.
Ethan Waldman 1:59
All right, sound check looks good that's rolling. Let me just close a couple of these unnecessary windows so I don't get distracted.
Okay. All right, so I will take a quick pause to give myself an edit point, and then I will introduce you, and we will go from there.
All right, here comes a pause.
All right, I am here with Lina Menard. Lina is a natural co conspirator, who has lived out her own questions around intentional living, less stuff, and happiness. She has resided in a travel trailer, yurt, backyard cottage, and three and counting tiny houses on wheels. Rooted through a background in sustainable design, build and urban planning, Lina also has a penchant for experiential learning and healthy communities. She has found her niche nestled between small spaces, collaborative education and community planning. Lina Menard, welcome to the show.
Lina Menard 3:10
Hey Ethan, thanks. Glad to be here.
Ethan Waldman 3:12
Glad to have you.
You know, we were talking just a minute ago and you were like, "What should we talk about?" And I like had written down all of these kind of disparate things because - just things that we've talked about in the past. And then of course in in total Lina Menard style you just like dropped the perfect, perfect, insight, which was design build versus build design. What do you even mean by that?
Lina Menard 3:42
Yeah. Well, what I mean by it, is that a lot of times when people get excited about their tiny house journey, I see people coming at it from one of two different directions. One direction is the, "Okay, so I'm going to figure out exactly what it is that I want. And I'm going to figure out exactly how I'm going to build it." And there are other people who are like, "I'm a DIYer, or at least I want to be a DIYer, and so I'm going to figure it out as I go. I'm going to start building, and as I build, design is going to emerge." Or maybe the alternative to that, the other kind of like you know like Plan B, Version 2, is, "I'm going to have somebody else build the shell, or I'm going to, you know, buy a partially built house, or I'm going to buy a little beach shack or cabin or whatever else is already out there in the world. Something is already built and I'm going to kind of redesign it or, or renovate it from there." So I think those are kind of two approaches two different ways people can go about getting the sort of little space that's going to be home sweet home.
Ethan Waldman 4:52
Is there a wrong answer? Are they both like valid paths to take?
I think they're both valid paths to take, I think that it often depends on kind of somebody's proclivity anyway, like, are you the sort of person who likes to jump in with both feet and figure it out and, you know, be on your toes a little bit? Are you somebody who's really methodical and you take your time and you put things in a certain order? Now I tend to lean a little bit more towards the design and then build side of things, but I've also gotten myself into projects where something's there and then figuring out what to do with it from there. I've done some renovation work and really enjoyed that.
Lina Menard 5:32
In some ways it's really nice to not have the blank slate because then you've got something to work with. You've got some constraints. And the constraints I think can create some, some juiciness in terms of getting the creative juices flowing because you can't do anything you want. You actually have to work within the boundaries.
So I think it's kind of a personality thing. I would say the biggest issue is, when I contact somebody, you know, they've scheduled a consultation or maybe they're, you know, in one of my tiny design classes which I get to teach with you and they're super fun. And they say, "Yeah I've got a trailer, and now we have to figure out what we're going to build." That, I think, is a bummer because if you give yourself the constraint of the trailer before really figuring out what it is that you want, you can't go back and make the trailer bigger or smaller. So I think that can be a bummer sometimes because we don't necessarily... A lot of us, I think, especially in America and other Westernized countries where we're not necessarily super engaged with things that are hands-on like building, we don't have a very good sense of scale. And so, learning how to work at scale, learning how to design something so that it's going to suit your needs, is going to help you figure out like, "Oh, do I really need 24 feet or 30 feet or 20 feet or whatever that is," if you're building on wheels. And the same is true actually even on a foundation. You know the trailer, sometimes people were like, "Oh you know I bought the trailer and now I have to figure out what to design. I think that can be a bummer because of that constraint. But even if people are working with, with the ground-bound structure, there are limitations in a lot of areas about what you can and can't build. So if you don't have any sense yet of what it is you want, then you might end up purchasing a property where you can't build what you want, whether that's that you purchase a house thinking you could do a basement accessory dwelling unit, a little like basement apartment, and you don't have the clearance for it. So, I think it goes back and forth. I don't think there's a wrong way or right way but I think that understanding what sort of constraints you can live with is gonna help you to be happier, as you're working.
Ethan Waldman 5:52
What are some of those constraints? Like if. If I was your client and I was like, "I kind of want to figure it out as I go." What would you say? Like, "Well okay that's fine, Ethan, but maybe you should figure out like x, y, and z first?"
Yeah. So I think one of the first ones is to figure out is are you wanting to be mobile? Are you wanting to be on wheels? Are you wanting to be in a skoolie? Are you wanting to be on a houseboat? Are you wanting to be in a tree? You know like figuring out - trees are not mobile, by the way. But we have the s in the in the tiny house world, you know of ground-bounds. You know, is your house attached to the ground or not? And that's going to be one of the first big differentiators in terms of decision making and of course, you know, you've written a book on Tiny House Decisions, Ethan, so... There are a lot of different considerations as you're deciding to go small what you might want to be thinking about. But I would say that's one of the biggest differentiators right now because of the way legislation is set up and the way regulation is set up that houses that are attached to foundation, and are ground bound, have a different set of constraints than those that are mobile. I'd say that's one of the first starting points. And then, if you're going the mobile route of the constraints that are very like real world constraints of the road legal maximum width which varies from state to state, to a certain extent. There's a national standard 8 1/2 feet wide, and 13 1/2 feet tall and up to 40 feet long, including your tow vehicle, but different states, the Western states, you can go a little bit taller, in Alaska, you can go a little bit taller. In some states they count. you know, the overhangs differently. So there are some constraints there in terms of, you know, giving you the parameters that you have to work within.
Lina Menard 9:45
Similarly, if you're doing a structure that's on a foundation, the area where you live, might have different sets of regulations regarding how big or small that structure can be. In some areas is actually a minimum square footage. So size is one of the big considerations for a small space, or really any space any house size is one of the considerations. And then of course you know as I start talking to clients we start digging into all this other stuff like, how many people are going to be living there? How many pets do you have? Are you going to be working from home? Are you sure about that? So there are a lot of different considerations in terms of lifestyle and kind of who the occupants are. Who's going to be in this space? Are these people who like, kind of, you know, open floor plan or need more privacy? There's a lot of different considerations in terms of the occupants. There's considerations in terms of activities that we do. So lots of different things to think about as we're considering, you know, what are the constraints we can live within versus what do we still want to have? Be flexible and open.
Ethan Waldman 11:03
Right. I think there's also a component. I'll say of budget but what I'm really getting at is like, whether you want to use salvaged materials or not, because there are real limits on how far you can get in a build if you don't know the size of your windows, or if you don't know, like how big of a sink you have or you know all these questions that need to get built in to the house.
Absolutely. Yeah, and I think, you know, you really brought up two things there, Ethan, and one is budget. And that I think is an important consideration in that a lot of folks are not in a place where they've got a lot of money saved yet, but they're wanting to get started sooner rather than later because they recognize that by having a home of their own, yes, they'll probably still depending on situation and where they might be, they'll probably still have a housing cost in terms of paying rent somewhere, but it will save them money. So there's this kind of incentive to get going right. But having enough money saved up to get dried in, I think it's really important.
Lina Menard 12:09
And dried in is basically the stage that your house is at when it's framed and sheathed and wrapped and your windows are in, and your roof sheathing is on, and your underlayment is on your roof, and the house could survive a rainstorm without everything getting sopping wet. So that's what we call dried in because the inside of your house is dry, even on a rainy day. And I really encourage people that I work with, in my classes and clients that I work with, to save up enough to get dried in. Even if you're doing the design, you know, the build design route, even if you're like, "Okay I'm going to kind of go at it as I go and figure it out as I go and we'll, you know, get the box built and then we'll figure out where the windows are and that sort of thing," you really do need to plan to save enough to get through that first phase, so that you're not creating more work for yourself by creating damage. You know I know one person who took about two years to get their house dried in. And in the process, there was a lot of damage and they had to redo a lot of the work. So, one consideration is, if you don't have a ton of money saved, you might be better off this kind of design as you go, design as you build approach, but you definitely want to get to the place where your house is dried in. And that does require you to know about your windows, to know about your doors, to know about your roof shape, to know about your, your wall assembly system. There are all sorts of things to think about.
So the other thing you mentioned, is the salvage, and that does really impact, which route you go you know there are a lot of people who are like, "You know I don't really want to like buy new windows I'm going to see what I can find." But you can only get so far before you've got to know. If you're building your house with structural insulated panels, for instance, which is a sandwich of oriented strand board or plywood, and then rigid foam insulation, and then another piece of OSB or plywood to make this rigid sandwich, you could build your entire box out of that and then punch holes later. That's a possibility. You know, so you could have the box, then figure out where the windows go. But most the time, if you're sick framing, you're going to be doing out your framing layout, based on your windows and doors your roof pitch, you know your rafter layout, all of these different elements so we kind of need to know what those pieces are. There can still be tweaks, you know, we we can renovate homes, we can we can backtrack, but your house isn't going to be as smart. It's not going to be as well done. It's not going to be as thoughtfully planned out. You won't be maximizing materials as thoughtfully. You won't be reducing waste this carefully if you don't think it through in advance. So figuring out what those materials are beforehand, even if you're salvaging, is really helpful. And that's why a lot of people do what they call boneyarding where you actually save up materials for a while and you collect them. So you've got this, you know, you got this window and that window or this door and that door maybe this wood stov or that heater or the sink or you know whatever those things are that are special kind of character pieces that are going to build the, the feel and vibe of your house. Having a sense of what those are and how big they are is going to help you to design a house in a really smart way.
Ethan Waldman 15:37
That's a tricky one to strike a balance on because you do need to know... you have to have some internal sense of what what you like and what will work. Otherwise, you'll end up with a large collection of of materials which are quite large and oftentimes dirty, they require some kind of refurbishing or work. And I think that people can be seduced by the like Woman Builds $10,000 Amazing Tiny House on Wheels out of All Salvaged Materials. And you know, what the what the story doesn't say is that, you know, she spent 20 hours stripping the lead paint off of the antique door and that, you know, he had to plane every piece of that pallet siding and you know go through like 10 planer blades, you know, hitting rusty nails and just like all these little things that go into working with salvage.
Yeah, I think there's a real misconception sometimes that salvage is cheaper. Salvage can be cheaper in terms of cost, but it often takes more time, because often a piece of salvage is going to require some TLC to be able to be really used in the way that you're wanting to use it. So I especially encourage people to use salvage for the character elements, because they're fun because they're quirky. Those character elements that you couldn't get any more because they don't make them like this. But it doesn't work as well for framing, for insulation. In most of the structural components, you're really going to want to go with new materials. Partly that's the time saving, partly that's kind of a safety issue, you know, making sure that the materials you're using, are the highest quality they can be. And then using the salvage for finishes - for countertops, for window trim, for, you know like, you know, cabinet doorknobs all the things that are kind of fun and funky that you engage with on a regular basis that are going to, you know, smile to your face and spark joy in your heart.
I think one of the hardest things about design, especially in the kind of DIY tiny house world, is that it's so hard to look at, you know, a 2D piece of paper like a floor plan, and to kind of envision what that space is going to look and feel like and make decisions about it. And that's why I think that the the build design is so appealing. But I'm curious, what tips do you have for people who do want to do the design build? Go in that order but, you know, are struggling to really, you know, make a set of plans come to life and then be able to make decisions?
Lina Menard 18:46
Yeah. Yeah, it's, I would say there are a couple different things that most people find helpful. One of the things that most people find helpful is to get themselves inside as many small spaces as they can. Granted, this is a little tricky in the current time to actually go visit small spaces. But much as possible, check out small spaces, whether that's staying in a yurt at the coast at a state park or, you know, doing an Airbnb to a little cabin. Whether that's staying in a tiny house in one of the tiny house hotels or some space that's available, you know, for, for rent on a daily or, you know, a nightly basis. Or even a lot of people will try it out for a couple months. Prior to building my first tiny house, I lived in a travel trailer, and a yurt, and an ADU, and a tiny house just trying to get a sense of what these small spaces were like and what they could teach me. Because you learn a ton by being inside a small space. You learn about volume. You learn about scale. You learn about the flow of things - even like the way we cook. There's kind of an order to the way we cook. We tend to pull things out of our storage space, whether that's the garden where we have food growing, or the fridge, or the pantry. We bring stuff out of storage and then we prep it up, and that prepping often involves washing in the sink and involves chopping, or mixing on a countertop. And then, usually we apply heat, you know, certainly there's some raw food just among us but usually we're applying heat. And so we're putting in the instant pot, or we're, you know, grilling it up, or we're, you know, sauteeing, whatever it is we're doing with it. And then we serve. And so there's some really simple things like putting the order of your kitchen in the order you actually prepare a meal, instead of having everything mixed up and jumbled can make a big difference. So, think that that being inside small saces and learning as much as you possibly can, from what works and doesn't inside a small space is a huge.
Another possibility is using a 3D modeling program. So a program like SketchUp is a program that's pretty accessible to a lot of people there's a free version available online. There are tutorials available for SketchUp, but there are also awesome online classes that are available that teach people how to use the program. And I found that for a lot of people, being able to see something in 3D makes a really big difference in terms of understanding how a space works. There's, you know, there's something about the way our brains work, where if we see something in two dimensions, whether that's, you know, a floor plan or an elevation, which is what you see when you look at the outside of a house, or even the section which is a cut through house like it would be if you opened up a dollhouse and you saw kind of the two halves of the doll house. All of those kind of views help us to put together this composite picture of how the house works, but being able to see it as a 3D modeling tool gives you the ability to really understand it in a lot more detail. So I always learn when I design something. You know, it's like I have a sense of the house, and I'm kind of trying to think ahead three steps to understand what's next. But it's not till I actually model it, I really understand how a house works.
So if somebody is a build designer and they're interested in kind of figuring it out as they go they might figure out a framing layout, that's going to use a fairly standard layout they're either 16 inches on center or 24 inches on center depending on whether they're doing conventional or advanced framing. They're going to figure out how to, they're doing advanced framing how to have each of their rafters line up with each of their studs, and they're going to be kind of inside that box, and then figure out, "Okay here's where I want the windows to be," and they're going to cut it out and add in the framing they would need in order to have a window in that spot. It's more wasteful because it's not as planned. So you're going to end up with framing in places you didn't actually need it if you'd done it a little differently, if you'd done it a little smarter. But if somebody doesn't know maybe where they're going to be at first, maybe getting that that first pass of getting it dried in and then getting to a spot where they can work on it further. People have all sorts of reasons that they don't design from the get go. When you have the luxury of it and right now a lot of us have the luxury of some, some time to noodle sometime where we can think things through, I think it can be really helpful to look ahead and to make those choices in such a way that if you have that stud an inch and a half this way, it's gonna make all the difference in terms of being able to fit in that window you want to use.
Ethan Waldman 23:34
I've had the honor of co-teaching with you which I've learned a ton through those experiences. And there are there are two exercises that that we've done that I found to just kind of be mind blowing. And I said, "I wish that I had done this, when I was building my tiny house." The first being taping out the floor plan, kind of in a full scale model, not even yeah full scale on the floor. Can you kind of can you describe that activity and, you know, why, why does it work so well?
Yeah, for sure. Thanks, I thought of that and it like flittered back out of my brain again. But yeah, that's one of the things that we've often done in our classes. And what we do usually is we'll have one of our students be our client. And so they have a program for us. So they're telling us, "It's going to be me and my and my German Shepherd, and we're going to be living in this house full time. We're going to be in Vermont so it's in New England and the climate's cold." So that's gonna, you know, give us some, some ideas in terms of what we might want to do for the roof pitch, what we might want to do for a wall assembly. So we kind of interview them, collect some information, and then we start mapping it out in real space at life size. And the really fun thing about that is that by walking around the space, we get a sense of whether it is too small to have a passageway that's a foot and a half wide, or whether it feels more comfortable to have that window start at 36 inches off the ground or 42 inches off the ground.
Lina Menard 25:18
There's something about being able to actually get a really visceral sense of space and scale by being in space, even if it's pretend, even if it's not a real space that you walk into, being able to be in and negotiate that space physically helps us to understand, "Okay, maybe it's not going to work this way." So I think taking it from, you know, kind of from the page and into real life gives us that sense of, "Okay, this is actually reasonable, not reasonable, comfortable, not comfortable, beautiful, not beautiful." We can really get a lot better sense of it by doing it at scale - at our own scale - and being... One of the things I talk about a lot is right-sizing, rather than necessarily downsizing, figuring out what's the right scale. And so in this case it's talking about human scale, figuring out what's the what's the person-sized version of things. And this will vary. Some people in the class are going to be taller and shorter and, you know, stockier and thinner and all these different things. People experience the world differently based on how they fill up space but most of us can kind of come to some agreements about what feels comfortable or doesn't feel comfortable. And then if we do have the luxury and it is absolutely luxury of designing a space of our own to tweak that to fit my tiny house for instance I made my counter shorter than standard height, because I'm short. So, it doesn't do me any good to have tall counters in my house I gotta make it short. So we have that, those of us who, who are, you know, building a space of our own and can tailor it to ourselves, and being able to do that to accommodate our own bodies, is really a neat aspect of being able to design and build.
Ethan Waldman 27:13
I agree. You just can't know certain things until you do that. An example that I've given in my tiny house is that in the floor plan I was supposed to have a couch, like a built in couch bench, and then in the corner, a little chair. And this is kind of next to my front door, and this is only a seven foot wide space. And I think it's because I saw like a cute little chair in like one of Jay Shaffer's houses. Once I was actually building and framing that couch and kind of laid it out, I taped it out on the floor of my tiny house once it was all dried in and much too late to really figure this out, but taped out the couch and looked at the space that was leftover for the chair and was like, "Oh, this is ridiculous. I'm just running the couch all the way to the wall." But it's interesting because if I had thought of it a different way I might have completely reversed the floorplan and put the couch on the other side and put a built in desk. Who knows? But yeah, taping it out in real life, I can't recommend it enough.
Yeah, what was the other one, Ethan, that you mentioned? You said there are two.
Yeah there are two. So the second one is actually making a physical model, obviously not at scale or not at full scale, but a physical model of the house. That's another one that I never did but watching the students do that and seeing how much they were able to learn about their designs from those models was amazing and inspiring.
Absolutely. You know, it seems to me, now, really obvious, but the first time I was really introduced to a model years ago, I was building a chicken coop. I wanted to build a chicken coop, and I was at the at the hardware store picking out materials to build my chicken coop. But, and I was kind of in a build design mode, you know, it was like, "I don't need to have it all figured out. I just need to wing it you know like I just need to get some stuff and get going."
Lina Menard 29:23
But I found myself kind of throwing a hissy fit because I couldn't figure out how to translate what I was imagining into materiality. You know, I couldn't figure out exactly what it was I needed because I didn't know how everything went together. And so, the friend that I was with was like, "Do you need to build a model?" and I was like, "I don't know what you're talking about. Like no I don't need to buy a model. I just need to take what's in my brain and put it into the, you know, like my floor." And he was like, "I think maybe a model would be good." And so that day I did I modeled it and I found that by modeling it, I really better understood what happened with various connections, how gravity was going to work in relationship to structure. You know, what was going to happen with the pitch of that roof, what was going to happen with, you know the location of the little hatch that the chickens are going to go in and out of.
So, even a chicken coop can deserve a model in order to better understand how all these materials are going to play together, and whether they're going to work well or not. So it was really a neat gift from my friend john that he was like I think maybe a model. And so, ever since I've found that models are a really useful tool, especially if you know if your brain hasn't done a lot of 3D modeling, because it can still be a little bit Never Neverland, right, like if you don't have a real sense of scale, you can still be a little Never Neverland So, using a physical model to translate what's in your brain into something that you can fold and manipulate and understand in a much more tangible way. And so being able to do that, then helps you translate that into a design that can be a lot more livable.
Ethan Waldman 31:05
I also love how the model teaches you how difficult certain things might be to build. And I've heard you say it like, "If it's hard to make your model do this, it's gonna be really hard to do this in real life life for those of you who want like curved wave shaped rooms," or, you know, things like that.
Yeah, it's true, it's true and I'm guilty as charged here, right? Like I've got all kinds of curvy things in my house. I love that stuff and so to me it's worth figuring out how can I make this work. But I do think it's a really useful tot along the way, to think through. okay, I, I need to figure out how to show this in three dimensions. What sorts of materials can I use in order to do this? One of the downfalls I think about digital modeling in some ways it's easier to make something look pretty digitally than it is to do it with more tangible materials like balsa wood and cardboard. And so it gives you this false sense of ease sometimes. And so, you know, people come with all these cool crazy ideas sometimes in digital models. And then it's like, how are you going to build it? How does that actually work? And it's not to say it can't be done. Most things can be done. Not everything is smart to do, but most things can be done. But things that are easy to model digitally are harder to model with tangible materials and harder to build potential materials. So, that's the end point I think the analog model can be a really useful tool for understanding materiality, even if you're playing with things like cardboard, it just kind of helps you understand how physics works because digital model, everything can be upside down and backwards, which is both really really cool, and also kind of problematic in real life.
One area of the build that I struggled with, and basically every single build I've ever been on or seen ends up having like a day of head scratching about whether or not they've designed the crap out of the place, is the kind of attachment and interaction between the house and the trailer. And I was wondering, you know, if you could just kind of talk about that because you've, you've done quite a few builds and I wonder if there are some best practices that you've, you've seen or just a way that you recommend people think about it.
Yeah, you know it's interesting because my thinking on this has changed over time - in part, because of my opportunities to be in Vermont and to teach there and to have friends there, many of whom are tiny house people. So here on the West Coast where I live, I live in Portland, Oregon, many of us have attached our tiny houses to the trailer in such a way that the wall system sits on the trailer. There's usually a little bit of a break, a little bit of what we call a thermal break, to to separate the wall from the trailer itself, but a lot of times our wall system will be kind of on the edge of the trailer, in contact with the metal, and the floor system will be in between that. And here in the Pacific Northwest where it doesn't get superduper cold, that's kind of been okay, we haven't really had a lot of issues related to that in most cases - as long as people are doing their air sealing well, as long as they're doing their siding detailing well, that sort of thing. But a lot of the folks I know who live in colder climates, more extreme climates, have had pretty significant issues with mold, mildew and moisture, especially around that perimeter. So on the East Coast in, at least in New England, building a floor system on top of the trailer and then the walls up from there has really been, we're finding, the way to go, in terms of ensuring a continuous envelope, all the way around the house. So figuring out, you know, which climate are you building in. And they're, granted, we're talking about two at the moment, but there are lots of climates that are experienced throughout North America, much less other places in the world.
But, you know, if you're building a floor system on top of the trailer, and then building your wall system on top of that and so forth and so on, you're going to lose some height and the East Coast has shorter height restrictions than the West Coast anyway. So you're going to bedealing with a little bit more of a constraint in terms of height. But your overall comfort is going to be a lot higher. The integrity of your building in terms of it not being subject to mold, moisture, etc. is going to keep that structure healthier which is going to keep its inhabitants healthier. So I say that because many of the attachment methods that have been shown, especially in the early days of the tiny house on wheels movement were coming from the west coast. They were coming from Dee Williams they were coming from Jay Shafer they were coming from, you know, Olympia, Washington and California and places where we didn't have these climate extremes that we do in a place like Vermont. So, way that people were seeing, "Oh you attach your floor system to your trailer, your wall system to your trailer," like this doesn't necessarily translate to another climate. And so the bolting mechanisms, the attachment mechanisms, are going to need to be climate-specific to a certain extent. Then I need to really figure out what's the best way to attach a floor system, wall system, etc of this sort, that can accommodate this climate to this sort of trailer.
Lina Menard 37:08
And another thing that's been really interesting to me is that there are some trailers out there, where the trailer manufacturer, or the trailer distributor, rightly explained to you how you're supposed to safely attach a house to it. And if they can't rightly explain it to you, I wouldn't buy that trailer. You know, I think it's really important because the trailer's the foundation. If it's a tiny house on wheels the trailer is the foundation. You've got to have a trailer that's really, really strong. Really in good shape. Then you've got to have your house really well attached to it. Dee likes to say that taking the tiny house down the road is like subjecting it to an earthquake and a hurricane at the same time, especially if there's a little drizzle - which pretty much always is in the Pacific Northwest. So, when the house is traveling is really undergoing a lot of different forces. So, building it in such a way that it can have strenth, it's not experiencing uplift were the, you know, wind's coming underneath the roof and trying to peel the roof off, all those sorts of forces are at play. So figuring out how to attach your house to the trailer, your roof to the house, and then make sure everything gets buttoned up is really important. And I think that that's one of the pieces that people don't necessarily think through - in part because some of the, like I said some of the trailer manufacturers are not necessarily providing really good information about it, but also because a lot of us, you know, just like we don't have that kind of tangible, visceral experience of how materials go together. We also don't necessarily understand a lot about physics.We don't understand a lot about how gravity works, and how lift works, and how shear force works, and so learning a little bit about how this stuff works through building a chicken coop, building a doghouse, building a tree house. Some of those little hands on projects get us really understanding this better. And, you know, you probably have experienced this too, Ethan, in our classes but I often find that as people have the experience of designing and building designs get a lot better through building. So, even though you can probably tell right that I tend towards design, build, instead of build design, I did a fair bit of building before I designed my house to work with Habitat for Humanity. I worked on natural building projects. I helped friends out with their projects with renovations. I worked on other people's projects every chance I got because the more you build the more you learn about building's work. So, designing and building, building and designing, they all go together. And the more that we can understand both by doing both, the more practice we can get, the better our buildings will be.
Ethan Waldman 39:56
Yeah, that's great advice and I know right now it's difficult to like hang out with people on their builds but I can't agree enough that getting some experience on a build site is gonna really help you, especially if you're planning on building your own tiny house.
Lina Menard 40:18
Ethan Waldman 40:19
I'm curious if you've seen any kind of trends in the tiny house designs that you are excited about.
Hmm. Good question, and I'll admit, first off, it's kind of hard to keep up because there are so many now, which is awesome, which is amazing. I would say one of the things that's really fascinating to me is how many people are moving towards things that are fancier, you know we're seeing doors that slide up and windows that pop out or windows that accordion over or sometimes pop out. We're seeing roofs that lift. There's so many cool, crazy, creative, fun, inspiring ideas out there. And I mean more power to them. I love that people are really being inventive and creative. I tend to be a little bit of a vernacular builder in that I like, like certain things, because they're proven, you know I like things because they seem to just work. But I'm seeing a lot of cool ideas, and I really appreciate that. There are some things that, at first, we were really nervous about. At first nobody was tiling because we were like, "You can't tile! Tile is heavy and tile breaks and da da da." Now, people tile their tiny houses. They'll often pick a smaller format tile so that there's more grout and more flexibility.
Lina Menard 41:49
We used to think you couldn't drywall, because drywall would crack. Quite a few tiny houses out drywall now like that's not that big a deal. Sometimes there are cracks and sometimes people just fix them right so. So I think even in terms of materiality now that I've been in this for a decade right there have been some changes in terms of what we understand can and can't happen. Certainly if your house is ground-bound you're not dealing with those mobility issues anyway. But, but I think that, you know some of the some of the things that have been really fun for me to see aren't necessarily like, oh, everybody's doing bump outs now, as much as seeing the way that different people are finding ways to make their own lifestyle work better through the house that they're designing. Years ago my cousins inspired by the Sarah Susanka series, The Not So Big House, built an ADU, an accessory dwelling unit, on their property. Their plan was to live in it and then renovate the sun house that was on the property. They ended up moving out of state and that didn't happen but when they were building this little house which is a little under 800 square feet, they didn't put in a dining room. And I remember the first time I was at their house I was like, "Y'all don't have a table. Where do you eat?" and they said, "On the couch watching TV." And I was like, "But, but, but," you know, because in my household growing up, we sat at the table and ate dinner together. That was, you know, something that happened in our household. But my cousins were like, "We don't do that. If we had put a table in our house to eat that would have been wasted space." And it's so much about what you value right because I was growing up, sitting down, as a family for dinner was an important part of our household. So, I couldn't imagine not having that. On the other hand, my cousins absolutely knew themselves well enough to understand that that would be wasted space for them, they wouldn't use that space. So it would have been really foolish for them to have added it into their house, because that's not how they went about their life.
So, we've seen examples like that where people are incorporating in the things that really bring them a lot of joy and happiness, whether that's ensuring that they have space for yoga or, you know, an aerial trapeze or whatever it is that might, might really bring joy to their life, or might help them to be healthy, might help them to be happy, might help them to connect with their loved ones, or to have solitude or whatever it is that really is going to suit someone's lifestyle. I think it's a kind of categorical thing right like it's not any one specific thing, but it's so much fun for me to see that, to see the way that people are able to make their house fit their priorities.
Ethan Waldman 44:50
That's a great answer.
I was, I was thinking while you were talking like how would I answer this question, you should always have an answer to the question that you asked in case, in case the interviewee turns it back around on you. I thought you were going to.
So Ethan. What about you, what are some fascinating design innovations you've seen in tiny houses recently?
I've been really inspired by, like, I've always said this - when I'm talking to people about tiny houses - which is that like the shower is a room and it's like, kind of a waste of space. But there have been two tiny house designs that I've that I've seen recently. One is Erin's tiny house, and another is Kari's tiny house, and she's in Portland and I'm blanking on her last name I just had her on the show a couple weeks ago. Kari actually had her wardrobe on a sliding track. And so basically her wardrobe lives in her shower and then slides out of the way, when it's time for her to take a shower and just reimagining that shower space and figuring out a way to make use of it while you're not showering which is like 99.8% of your time is just such a brilliant, brilliant design trend and I'm just excited to see how people continue to innovate there because there are so many ways to do it.
That was a good answer, too. I did just recently see Kari's tiny house in a video and it is so cool, so clever to do it that way. Yeah, absolutely.
One thing that I like to ask all my guests is are there any books on design or tiny house living or even beyond design - just books that are really inspiring to you that that you want to share with our listeners?
One of my favorites is Sarah Susanka's book, Home by Design. And she she's the one who wrote the Not So Big House series and one of the things I like is that in a little intro to Home By Design she says that this is the book she kind of meant to write all along. And what she meant by that was that, you know, The Not So Big House was a way of encouraging people to consider what matters to you, where you really want to put your money. And if you shrink your space down, and are really intentional about prioritizing. And you can have more of what you want less space. So, so that was what The Not So Big House was all about. Home By Design is the book of patterns that shows you how to do that. So, kind of like A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander which, by the way, my standing desk setup is over here for my work from home. And then these are two of the books that ended up just being part of my, my setup. Turning Tiny which is a fun one of course because I'm familiar with many of the stories and people in it, including one of my own. A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander as all.
Lina Menard 48:02
But, Home By Design is kind of a pattern language in that, it explains, different concepts like being above a loft or what makes a good window seat. And it was really interesting for me, as I read through that book and took copious notes and look through all the pictures, you know, over and over and over again, how much of that has been an education for me about what makes design work well. And how well you can make a space work if you make it work harder and smarter. And I was doing a consultation with a client earlier this week, who was buying a kind of prefab accessory dwelling unit. The intention was to put this on the property and have this be a second unit. And there were some elements of it that were actually really similar to another house that I had designed that they were also familiar with. But the kind of prefab version of it had a bigger space for the kitchen, but it didn't have to kind of work as hard, it wasn't as well organized as the kitchen had been in this other space. And so we talked about that you know we talked about what it is that makes the space really work well. And especially for space like a kitchen or a bathroom or an office where there's a workflow, you know, like there's a certain like set of things that you do that you want to have as easy as seamless as, you know, flowy as possible, that making that space work well is really about setting yourself up properly. So don't have to kind of go through that exercise and think through what would make this prefab space work better and it was a matter of of saying, "Hey, maybe we don't use the kitchen that comes standard with it. Maybe it's actually designed more intentionally, because that's the sort of space where if you put your time and attention and money, you're gonna be happy for a long time." Those are the sorts of places I think that we really want to invest.
Ethan Waldman 50:13
Yeah, I love that concept of, of making your design work harder. And there's no better example of it than a tiny house, really.
Yeah, I tend to find that there are certainly some challenges during during these times in living in 100 square feet. But it's also really kind of magical to me that this space can accommodate my needs. You know I've been joking that I'm not any bigger than I was two months ago. Some people are joking that they actually are a little bigger than they were. But I have to put away my standing desk every day in order to cook my dinner. I have to put away my dinner in order to pull out my bed. So even though there's this part of me is like, "Oh, I'm wasting time, you know making these transitions and my little transformer house." I also really like the element of routine ritual that comes along with that, so that I don't fall into bed with any work still sitting out. And don't, I don't prepare a meal, you know, thinking about the work that's been done. I really have to transition my space from one thing to the next. And it does mean I spend more time tidying probably than the average person is doing right now. There's something about kind of putting my house in order that puts my head in order helps me to transition from one thing to the next helps me have the sense that I'm moving through the course of a day, moving through the course of a week, moving through the course of the month with a cyclicality - with the sense of, of cycles and season then, and all of that, that I think sometimes gets lost. When we go from, you know, from one space to another. Instead of kind of marking a moment where we finish something
Nice. Well, I think that's a good place to leave it.
Lina Menard thank you so much for being a guest on the show I can't wait to share this with the listeners.
Thanks Ethan. Talk to you soon.
Awesome. Just finished the record.
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