Sean Burke cover

The first time I met Sean he was sketching tiny houses in a sketchbook at a speaker dinner after a tiny house conference. I'm so glad to have him on the podcast all these years later. Sean is an active member of Tiny House Engage, my online community, where he does monthly design reviews of various members' tiny house designs and he is a professional architect. In this interview, we talk about Sean's design philosophies and the tiny home he designed and is almost finished building. We also cover how to build affordably in 2021 and beyond, as well as some of the ways that tiny houses can go wrong.

In This Episode:

  • Resilient design goes beyond sustainability
  • Thinking about the future while planning your tiny house
  • Sean's own design, the Bento Studio
  • Can you build affordably without sacrificing quality?
  • The ups and downs of CLTs

Links and Resources:

Guest Bio:

Sean Burke

Sean Burke

Sean Burke is a Registered Architect in Washington State and has a passion for resilient design. He is an advocate of design-based activism and housing justice.

Sean has been a presenter at the Tiny House Jamboree in Colorado on the topic of “designing for wellness”. He’s an organizer of a local Tiny House meetup group and has volunteered time to help others build. He currently works remotely for an international architecture firm from his tiny studio and can be often found baking sourdough pizzas just North of Seattle in the scenic Pacific Northwest.

Unboxd Studio Instagram

Sean Burke Instagram




This Week's Sponsor:

Precision Temp Logo


PrecisionTemp is making one product to solve two issues that I know everyone deals with in a tiny house: running out of hot water and heating your tiny house. PrecisionTemp has made the amazing TwinTemp Junior propane tankless water heater, which provides unlimited hot water for your tiny house and hydronic heating. This means you get warm heated floors, so there are no cold spots. It's designed specifically for tiny houses and features whisper-quiet operation as well as high efficiency. If you want more information on how PrecisionTemp can help make living tiny easier and more comfortable visit While you're there, use the coupon code THLP for $100 off the TwinTemp Junior plus free shipping.


More Photos:

Sean hid many of the components of his system in the walls – accessible from the inside!


Sean's Bento Studio plans

The Bento Studio's kitchen boasts 10 feet of counter space!


Sean designed the pullout futon for his great room

The workstation looks like something out of a sci-fi film!

Intello X allows for passive airflow out of the house

Locally-sourced materials kept build costs down


Sean Burke 0:00

I think there's there's two, there's two things going on. I think there's more awareness of what it takes to be off grid. And then the other is, some of these tiny houses are getting larger and larger.

Ethan Waldman 0:15

Welcome to the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast, the show where you learn how to plan, build and live the tiny lifestyle. I'm your host, Ethan Waldman, and this is episode 174 with Sean Burke. The first time I met Sean, he was sketching tiny houses in a sketchbook at a speaker dinner after a tiny house conference, and I'm so glad to have him on the podcast, podcast all these years later. Sean is an active member of Tiny House Engage, my online community, where he does monthly design reviews of various members' tiny house designs, and he is a professional architect. So we are going to talk about his design philosophies, as well as the tiny house that he is just about finished building. This is a home that he designed and then built himself. We'll talk about how to build affordably in 2021 and beyond, some ways that tiny houses can go wrong, and a whole lot more. So I hope you stick around for the interview. Because it's a good one.

I'd like to tell you about the sponsor of today's episode PrecisionTemp. PrecisionTemp is making one product to solve two issues that I know everyone deals with in a tiny house, running out of hot water and heating your tiny house. PrecisionTemp has made the amazing TwinTemp Junior propane tankless water heater, which provides unlimited hot water for your tiny house and hydronic heating. This means you get warm heated, floors so there are no cold spots. It's designed specifically for tiny houses and features whisper quiet operation as well as high efficiency. If you want more information on how PrecisionTemp can help make living tiny easier and more comfortable. Visit While you're there, use the coupon code THLP for $100 off the TwinTemp Junior plus free shipping. That website again is coupon code THLP for $100 off the TwinTemp Junior plus free shipping. Thank you so much to PrecisionTemp for sponsoring our show.

All right, I am here with Sean Burke. Sean Burke is a registered architect in Washington State and he has a passion for resilient design. He is an advocate of design based activism and housing justice. Shawn has been a presenter at the Tiny House Jamboree in Colorado on the topic of designing for wellness. He's an organizer of a local tiny house Meetup group and has volunteered time to help others build. He currently works remotely for an international architecture firm from his own tiny studio and can be often found baking sourdough pizzas just north of Seattle in the scenic Pacific Northwest. Sean Burke, welcome to the show.

Sean Burke 3:15

Thanks very much for having me.

Ethan Waldman 3:18

Glad glad that you could be with us. I guess my first question for you is what what is resilient design? Can you can you kind of define that for us?

Sean Burke 3:29

Sure. I sort of liken it to the next step in thinking regarding sustainable design.

Ethan Waldman 3:38


Sean Burke 3:38

If sustainable design is all about finding things that are on balance with nature, resilient design is is is doing two different things, it's going beyond that a little bit, looking at being net positive carbon, not just carbon neutral, but net positive for instance, okay, but also being climate, positive. ecologically positive, as well as being able to adapt to changing situations around you. You know, we're seeing extreme heat. We're seeing extreme flooding and parts of the world as well. And so, you know, different ways of being able to address those, those sorts of topics.

Ethan Waldman 4:23


Sean Burke 4:24

specifically focused around, my interests are focused, focused around housing, but in my day job, we do a lot of different building types we work on, you know, corporate offices, we work on hospitals, university projects, things like that. They're all quite large. Yeah, I'm contrast I wanted to when I started working on designing this space, you know, this is the smallest space I've designed that has come to be.

Ethan Waldman 4:55

Well, that's there's so much there just in resilient design that I want to talk about. I mean, what immediately came to mind is, you know, somebody put solar panels on their house, and they, you know, they spend the, the electric meter backwards, so they actually feed the grid. Right? But I'm guessing when you think about it from a design perspective, from the very start, you can, you can do a lot more than just, you know, just spin the electric meter backwards.

Sean Burke 5:21

Yeah, for sure. You're, you're thinking about things in terms of like, Where are the materials coming, that were, were sourced to build the project? How it uses concepts like biomimicry to, to kind of use some of the natural systems that deal with changing seasons and weather and, and re imagining those systems as the built environment. It could potentially, you know, change the way that buildings look, but also, how they behave.

Ethan Waldman 6:02

Cool. How does that play out in in tiny house design? Is I would imagine that there are some, there are some limitations with with a tiny house of what, what you can do in that area, and that array.

Sean Burke 6:17

Right? So and some of the most exciting design opportunities are when you have lots of constraints, obviously, tiny house on wheels, which is what my platform is built on. You've got the dimensions of that, of that, that frame, yeah. And maximum heights and that sort of thing. So what can you do within those bounds that's both creative and inspiring to the occupants, as well as, you know, reduce your energy consumption, for instance. So one of the examples of that is, I've next to me here, I don't have any of the artificial lights turned on today, even though it's a very overcast day. And it's it's unseasonably cold out. Even though Pacific Northwest had massive heat waves recently, we got our first rain in the last, I don't know, five weeks or so.

Ethan Waldman 7:20

Oh, wow.

Sean Burke 7:21

So most of the daylight that's coming in is coming from my, what I'm calling the Nook, which is a little window seat area, and it's the window is, is five foot by five and a half foot tall, single opening with with double insulated glass glass. And in my current situation where I'm parked, now, it's not ideal, as far as orientation to the sun. But the idea is that in the wintertime, that would be where most of the light would be coming in. And there's a slight overhang over that window to block the sun in the summer, so that you don't get the direct, you know, heat gain. So we get the benefits of natural light. But it's it's sort of, it's responding to its environment.

Ethan Waldman 8:13

Awesome. One thing that that I'm kind of thinking about is is like, as, you know, in the midst of all these crazy climate events that are now becoming commonplace, we have to start thinking about, you know, what will the climate be in 10 or 20 years, because, you know, this building that I'm building now will certainly still be standing then. And, you know, are my insulation needs different? Or do I need to think about, is it going to get too hot? We've been doing that in tiny house on wheels designed for a while because the house could be moved, and we need to potentially design for a different location.

Sean Burke 8:54

Yeah, exactly. My current, you know, situation where I where I'm parked with, with two other tiny houses. So there's three of us in a little caravan circle, which is, which is great. It's, it's very, it's very community building. Right. And the thought is, is that this could be parked in the mountains or at the ocean, in the future. And so I had to think about, okay, what, what happens in in winter when you're actually in a mountain and you're getting, you know, more snow versus being in a more of a marine environment?

Ethan Waldman 9:36


Sean Burke 9:36

So, yeah, having to plan what that wall system is going to look like, how it's going to both keep out the weather and also deal with any moisture and vapor might be generated from inside. So I thought about a lot of those things. So there's a lot of systems that are built in a lot. Many of them are quite opaque. to people when they first come into the tiny house, because I've made the technology kind of disappear. So you know, you can see like, the walls are all paneled with the with thin plywood. Yep. And reveals. And so some of those are actually, you know, like, you know, the old sci fi, TV shows where they there's like a little panel in the ship and they pop it off and there's stuff back there. So I wanted to hide as much of that as I could to sort of make it feel like a neutral space and it can transform to whatever the needs are of the of the use. Yeah,

Ethan Waldman 10:41

well, let's talk about the Bento Studio.

Sean Burke 10:44


Ethan Waldman 10:44

And that is the name of your of your, your tiny studio.

Sean Burke 10:48


Ethan Waldman 10:50

We met, I don't even remember how many years ago, but many years ago at a tiny house conference. And I remember that you were sketching at dinner with the other presenters, you were sketching tiny houses in a little notebook. So it's this has been a long time in the making, right?

Sean Burke 11:08

I spent a lot of time in the making. This is not the first one that I've started. Okay, this will be the first one that I've finished.

Ethan Waldman 11:17

When you say started, you mean you've actually started building tinies and then decided not to?

Sean Burke 11:22

Well, I had a I had a life opportunity that I could not pass up, which presented itself to me in 2016 and late late 2016. Okay, the company I worked for had an opening in their London office. And I was halfway through building my my original tiny house, which was called Bento Box. And it was a it was a shipping container conversion. Okay, a little bit larger than this one. I made a lot of mistakes along the way. And there's some things that I would have done differently had I design that now. But when that opportunity to move to London came up, I was like, hmm, do I stay and finish the tiny house? Or do I you know, get someone else to put it in storage? Yeah. So ultimately, I took the job opportunity. I moved there for three years. I sold that as it was, and then a couple bought it and they moved it to Oregon. Cool. Yeah. I don't know what happened to it's, it's

Ethan Waldman 12:34

alright. Yeah, that's I was gonna I was about to ask you. Do you know what happened to it?

Sean Burke 12:38

I have no idea. No idea.

Ethan Waldman 12:40

All right.

Sean Burke 12:40

Yeah. So when I came back here, it was actually three weeks before Washington State went into lockdown.

Ethan Waldman 12:48

Oh, boy.

Sean Burke 12:49

So last February was when I moved back to home. The same property I'm living with, I'm sure you know who they are. And maybe your listeners do as well as Chris and Malissa Tack. Yeah, they built their tiny house about 10 years ago. And they lived in it for about four or five years. on a farm. They had rented some property. And then I had met them at a book signing or a tiny house conference in Portland or North Carolina are one of the many right one of the many. And so we we became best friends. And they invited me to, to come here on the property and add my tiny house to their little collection. Nice. Yeah.

Ethan Waldman 13:41

You gotta love when tiny house parking finds you!

Sean Burke 13:44

I know, I was shocked.

Ethan Waldman 13:48

It's something that so many people struggle with.

Sean Burke 13:50

Yeah, I was in North Seattle originally with the first one, building it in a family member's driveway. Yeah, yeah.

Ethan Waldman 14:03

Yeah. And actually, I Malissa was a guest on the show, which that would be Episode 98. We talked about how the tiny house helps to kind of support the growing family and then continues to support them through Airbnb income, or at least at the time of recording., it did. And that would be Episode 98. So if anybody after this one, obviously, they can go to and hear our conversation with Malissa. And I think she even mentioned that somebody is building a tiny house in her in her backyard right now. So the Bento Studio. Yeah, just by the name I'm I'm assuming that it is not where you live.

Sean Burke 14:54

Not yet.

Ethan Waldman 14:55


Sean Burke 14:55

I'm calling it a studio for many different reasons. You know, I could have called it a tiny house, I could have called it, you know? Whatever. Yeah. But I think of like, the the word studio kind of evokes a certain emotion. And a lot of people you think about it in terms of an urban loft, or a place where you can go to great art, or, or, you know, post workshops or just kind of be, it becomes very flexible, right? Yeah. And I also didn't want to build the loft to sleep in. So I wanted it to be very open space, the great room to the to the right of me here is like seven feet by 10 feet. If you count the little extension of the Nook, it's quite large. And it's nine and a half feet tall. So you get lots of room and everything and the sofa basically just be a pullout. pullout bed.

Ethan Waldman 16:02


Sean Burke 16:03

So I wanted to place where I could do architecture, I could do art, I can play music, you know, if someone wanted to use it to teach a yoga class, great. But yeah, it will be I'll be moving into it in just a couple of weeks.

Ethan Waldman 16:17


Sean Burke 16:17

It's really just, it's just fit and finish kind of stuff to do. Interior paneling and some siding. And that's basically it. You know, some of the storage solutions will come later. I've got some kind of hidden compartments to to build, but awesome. Yeah.

Ethan Waldman 16:38

And what is the what is the overall length of the of the Bento Studio?

Sean Burke 16:43

It's on a 14 foot trailer that was built by Iron Eagle Portland, great quality. Its maximum capacity is 10,000 pounds.

Ethan Waldman 16:55


Sean Burke 16:56

It's about 110 square feet finished. And, and it feels a little bit larger than the 14 foot trailer because there's a cantilever off the back for the Nook. And then also the front edge of the where the kitchen is over the over the tongue of the trailer. That wall slopes forward at an angle that matches the roof. So it's a single shed roof goes over the whole thing as well.

Ethan Waldman 17:24


Sean Burke 17:25

Yeah. And, and the budget for it. Not including the future upgrades to put solar panels or things like that. But as it will be in, you know, in the next couple of weeks. Yeah, the budget was $30,000. For materials, not including my labor. But that number was selected because it's less than the average rent of a one bedroom flat in London. For the year, the year. Yeah. So basically, the idea is that, you know, this thing pays, it pays itself off pretty quickly. Right? And I get a place where I can work, live and cook and entertain.

Ethan Waldman 18:16

That's awesome. And so were you able to complete it. under budget?

Sean Burke 18:20

I haven't added up all the receipts yet. And I was really good first, like yeah, like everyone, you know, you put them all and you categorize them and things like that. So they're in a digital shoe box right now they're inside of Notion, and I need to actually get them into a database. Yeah, yeah, separate out all the costs, but I think it's pretty close. That's awesome. I mean, the cost of lumber really, really skyrocketed last year. Yeah. And most of my, you know, besides the framing, yeah. All of the interior finishes are plywood or Maple or, you know, things that are available local. Yeah. But they use smaller caliber trees. So that was prices didn't really go up as much as like, you know, heavy timber of construction. Yeah, just some of the stuff that we're trying to do now to be more sustainable in my in my day job. Yeah, so we're seeing that. Yeah.

Ethan Waldman 19:27

Can you? I this is like a really nerdy question. But I've having been around well, having built one and then having been around tiny houses for almost 10 years now. And seeing tiny houses that are a few years old, having issues. I'm curious if you could walk us through your, you know, building envelope like, what insulation you used, what sheathing what house wrap, all that kind of stuff. And just maybe if you could talk a little bit about why you chose what you did? For sure.

Sean Burke 20:03

Yeah, I know, a number of my colleagues are certified in the passive house standard. Okay. Which is something that I know you've talked about on some with some of your other guests. Yeah, I'm trying to build it to Passive House kind of standards, which is exceeding the, the most stringent local codes here, I'm not actually in the city of Seattle, but in case I ever needed to park it there and get it, you know, permitted back, I wanted to exceed their energy code, and Seattle. So in order to do that, I had to think about one of two different paths.

There's either a prescriptive mode or a performance based mode. Okay? prescriptive mode says, you know, your floors have to be whatever our x and walls have to be our 22. Ceiling has to be our 38 or something like that. Wow. So I kind of went with the prescriptive mode, because I didn't want to spend the additional monies to do performance based testing, and come in here with a blower door test, and that sort of thing. Okay. So I got it kind of like, for a first time, you know, build. I've been drawing this kind of stuff for years. I've been, you know, working in the field of architecture for 27 years now.

But the first time, I've actually physically put everything together, so I had to do a lot of research. And one of the resources that I turned to first to figure out what materials I should use was I went to the 475, high performance building website. Yeah. And so I got a lot of materials from them. So the interior air barrier is vapor permeable in one direction. That's in Intello X is the name of that product. It's very heavy. And it's perforated to allow moisture to come through. So that if water gets into the wall system, it can dry both to the inside, and then the outside has mento 1000 for the entire wrap the house wrap.

Ethan Waldman 22:29

Okay, and that's also vapor permeable, but out.

Sean Burke 22:32

But out, yeah, yeah, it stops rain from coming in. But if vapor gets trapped behind it, it can escape. Okay. And it's wood frame construction. And everything is, you know, tied to the trailer and the roof is tied down with hurricane ties. The insulation is primarily I wanted to avoid foam wherever I could, and avoid direct contact of wood to the trailer wherever I could, because those are places where, you know, moisture can get trapped. So it's rockwool just about everywhere. Except for there's one inch of poly ISO board between the framing and the and the trailer on

Ethan Waldman 23:19


Sean Burke 23:19

on the bottom is sandwiched in there. Yeah, it's just sitting because there's basically a metal pan that's installed galvanized metal pan that's installed over the framing members of the trailer when they deliver it, that's an option that they that they provide. Yeah. And that prevents, you know, any pests from coming up in living in your floor. And so because that's all metal, I didn't want my floor joists to just rest right on that. Yeah, so I put down the foam first, then I laid in my floor joists and they're all tied to the the horizontal supports on the perimeter, the joists on the perimeter of the trailer. So it's everything's hung off of that.

Ethan Waldman 24:06


Sean Burke 24:06

That's pretty much the envelope and then everything that goes beyond the envelope is, is there's strapping over the rockwool, okay, rigid board, rockwool on the outside so that you've got a rain screen system. So there's the two by four construction. Yep. With the weather barrier, and then there's another inch and a half of rock will board on the outside of that to get your R value up to where it needs to be. Got it. And then there's strapping on the outside of that and then the siding is attached. Okay,

Ethan Waldman 24:40

so that is that rockwool board, your sheathing or does - is the strapping that does the sheathing?

Sean Burke 24:48

No there's there's actually plywood sheathing, okay, tongue and groove plywood sheathing for shear strength.

Ethan Waldman 24:54

Yeah. Okay, got it. So that's quite, that's quite a sandwich. There's,

Sean Burke 25:00

it's it's a big wall system and interior, because I didn't want to bury all of my my plumbing pipes and my electrical inside of the wall system and have that both a take up, you know all the junction boxes take up precious insulation space. Yeah, I built a service cavity on the inside.

Ethan Waldman 25:25

Wow. S

Sean Burke 25:26

o they're strapping on the interior to before that siding goes up before the the interior paneling goes up.

Ethan Waldman 25:33


Sean Burke 25:35

It's between three quarters and an inch and a half depending on what what's there. Yeah.

Ethan Waldman 25:40

So can you say what the Passive House R-value is again?

Sean Burke 25:48

It depends on where you are in the world,

Ethan Waldman 25:50

For where you are.

Sean Burke 25:51

But the most the most important part of the passive house standard is, is controlling airflow, so that it's not, you don't have leaks. Yeah. In. So the envelopes very tight. Yeah. So the Intello X air barrier on the interior is one of the most critical components to get right. Right. You can't accidentally pierce it. You can't pierce it when you're putting in your electrical and things like that. So that's one of the reasons why the strapping is there. So then, if the strapping is regularly spaced, then you know, if I wanted to hang a picture on the wall, I could do that. As long as the nails were not too long, and then they're not gonna puncture the air barrier.

Ethan Waldman 26:35

Right. Right.

Sean Burke 26:36

Yeah. And then there's, there's active ventilation. So there's a there's a a Lunos Squared system. So one is pushing area and the other one's pushing air out.

Ethan Waldman 26:48

Right. Right. And that that becomes very, very important in a in a tight build as well.

Sean Burke 26:53

Yeah. And when the weather's nice, I turn that off. I open the windows. Yeah. Yep.

Ethan Waldman 26:58

So forgive me, if you said this already. Did you go over with or are you within? Are you eight and a half on the outside?

Sean Burke 27:08

eight foot five and three quarters?

Ethan Waldman 27:10

Wow. It's, you know, it must be a fairly small space on the inside, you know, after those, you know, thick wall assemblies, and then the, the service cavity,

Sean Burke 27:24

it doesn't feel that thick, or that that small inside. So I've got seven foot clear.

Ethan Waldman 27:33


Sean Burke 27:34

In the great room. And then in other places where I didn't need to build the service cavity, it's part of the cabinet. And there's a lot of cabinetry, you know, on this side. Yeah. And I built the bathroom, you know, kind of as if it was a cabinet as well. So it's not framed in it's just three quarter inch plywood that's framed to the floor and to its supports about Right,

Ethan Waldman 28:01

right. Yeah, I mean, in some ways, like the interior of a tiny house build is just like one giant cabinet job. Yeah.

Sean Burke 28:09

Yeah. And that's why it takes so long.

Ethan Waldman 28:11

Yeah, no, yeah. How long? When did you start construction of the Bento Studio?

Sean Burke 28:17

One year and one and a half weeks ago. On July 7.

Ethan Waldman 28:23

All right. Yeah, that's pretty good.

Sean Burke 28:26

Yeah. The winter time I really slowed down because, yeah, it's just it's just tough. Yeah. Yeah.

Ethan Waldman 28:35

Very cool. Congratulations. I've been I've been enjoying seeing photos of it. You're actually a member of Tiny House Engage.

Sean Burke 28:43


Ethan Waldman 28:43

And so it's been cool to follow your your progress there. And you've actually been doing some of the most popular events in the community, I would say our design reviews where you actually, you know, take a look at somebody's design, whether it's a sketch on a piece of paper, or you know, a full blown SketchUp model and kind of talk through it.

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I'm curious if you if there are any, any trends that you're seeing in tiny house design, or any any things that you you kind of have noticed have have been changing and that are manifesting themselves in in current tiny house builds?

Sean Burke 30:55

I think there's there's two, there's two things going on, I think there's more awareness of what it takes to be off grid successfully. Whether your goals are are the environment or just for your own comfort, I think just in general, that is becoming more and more, more popular. And then the other is some of these tiny houses are getting larger and larger. To the point where some folks are building them as if they're fifth wheels, you know, 30, 40 feet long, and the budgets are skyrocketing as well. But I think in some ways that's kind of keeping pace with the trends of real estate in general. Yeah, like here, when I first moved to the Washington State area. I don't know, almost 15 years ago, real estate was was high, but it was still within reach for some for many, I should say. And now it's it's it's gotten crazy. I think the average cost of a house back then was in Seattle was about $475,000. And now it's close to $900,000.

Ethan Waldman 32:18


Sean Burke 32:19

That's the average cost.

Ethan Waldman 32:21

Yeah. Yeah. So $30,000 is like the taxes for one year on?

Sean Burke 32:30

Yeah. Yeah, not even a deposit.

Ethan Waldman 32:33

Yeah, not even a deposit on it. And that's, you know, I think that what I've noticed is that it is still possible to build a tiny house affordably, especially if you if you do the work yourself, and you don't think about paying yourself for that time that you've spent just in dollars, outlaid, you can still do it affordably. But a lot of times you see a trade off between the performance of the building and the quality of the materials in order to hit that less expensive house goal.

Sean Burke 33:09


Ethan Waldman 33:09

And I think what's what's really great about the Bento Studio is that you are building it to very high standards. And using high performance building materials, you know, those, those, the Mento and the Intello X are both, you know, high performance, and also they're not cheap building materials.

Sean Burke 33:32

And when you buy a second roll, you're like, Oh,

Ethan Waldman 33:36

yeah. Can you sell the rest of the roll?

Sean Burke 33:42

Yeah, we're trying to, you know, as a as a collective here, we're trying to determine what to do with some of the leftover materials. Yeah. What's our next project? build out? You're right,

Ethan Waldman 33:52

a passive chicken coop?

Sean Burke 33:54

Yeah, we have a fancy workshop next door, which is where a lot of the tools are stored, because there's no garage on the property. But what I will say is that I'm only building this for about maybe 10% more, if you if you adjust for inflation than the Tacks' build, their house for? I think they're I think theirs was around $22,000, which would be in today's dollars, about $25,000 to $26,000. Okay, so, yeah, I think it doesn't, it doesn't cost a lot more to do a high performance building. When it's the small

Ethan Waldman 34:32


Sean Burke 34:33

Because, you know, those systems only take up so much space. And I didn't, I didn't go for triple pane windows from some fancy company in, you know, Poland like a lot of people have been doing because the really high end kind of Passive House certified windows are very expensive. Yeah, so I kind of went with an upgraded Marvin window, which which is, you know, it's a beautiful window. It's wood on the interior and clad aluminum on the outside, and it's got a good thermal break. So I haven't, you know, seen any moisture collect on the interior.

Ethan Waldman 35:13


Sean Burke 35:15

And, you know, went through a pretty mild winter last year. But, you know, there's there's things like that to consider to consider when you're when you're planning is is you go go for something less expensive. What are you sacrificing as a result of that? Yeah, yeah. But I think my heating costs last, you know, while I was building, I've got just a single two foot by four foot thin ceramic panel. Radiant heater on the ceiling. Yeah. My most expensive month was about $26.

Ethan Waldman 35:57

Cool, though the radiant panel. Is that? Is the idea there that you heat the the people and the objects rather than the air?

Sean Burke 36:08

Yeah, yeah, it's an infrared heat. And so it feels like you it's like that when you walk under it. It's like the difference between standing in the shade and walking under the sun. You kind of you really feel it kind of being absorbed by your clothing. Yeah. And it's so comfortable. It's, it's just that's very gentle. And I can leave the thermostat set to about 62 degrees and it will feel like it's 71.

Ethan Waldman 36:39


Sean Burke 36:41

Yeah, it's great.

Ethan Waldman 36:42

And it they're they're not terrible electricity hogs either.

Sean Burke 36:47

No, not at all. This one is 450 watts. Yeah. Yeah.

Ethan Waldman 36:53

Now what a system like that. Be able to like keep your pipes from freezing in the winter, or would would like I'm kind of envisioning, okay, I'm in Vermont. It's like zero degrees outside. If I wanted to go that route in my tiny house, or in a future tiny house, but I still need to bring basically warm air into the cabinets to keep my plumbing warm.

Sean Burke 37:19

Yeah, that's a good question. Um, I've got, you know, simple, inexpensive thermometers that I have. Yeah, around the, the space just to sort of monitor those kinds of things. Right. Probably, by the time we get around to next winter, when I actually do have stuff in my cabinets. I'll have to, I'll have to verify that. But I've kept the the cabinet design, very simple. And instead of putting hardware for pulls, I routed out a hole, so that you can grab it with your hand.

Ethan Waldman 37:58


Sean Burke 37:59

So there's room for airflow in that design.

Ethan Waldman 38:03

That's cool.

Sean Burke 38:04

So that's one of the things I was thinking about.

Ethan Waldman 38:08

Neat. Is there any I mean, I'm assuming since you're you are going to live there. You will have some kind of kitchen as well.

Sean Burke 38:18

Yeah, yeah, exactly. quite large kitchen for a tiny house. That's Yeah. 10 feet of our space. Nice. Little L shape. And, you know, I think the kitchen is about a third of the whole tiny house right now. Yeah. Because there's like, there's little opportunities, like if you kind of slide the composting toilet back a little bit, then you've got space over the over the back of it to build like a little slide in pantry. Uh huh. And that sort of thing. And like, the apartment style refrigerator is lifted off the floor, so there's more space underneath it. So, you know, I kind of thought about, like, how to, like, Tetris myself into this place. Because I'm, you know, really big into cooking and that was that was a big consideration. Yeah.

Ethan Waldman 39:20

Yeah. And then in terms of a sleep space, is there is there a loft?

Sean Burke 39:26

loft, it's a sofa that pulls out and it's, I haven't built that yet. Okay. So the, the mattresses, fold up their little futon mattresses that are three and a half inches thick. They've got a latex core so they're really really firm, but supportive. And so the so folk can pull out in in a configuration we've got a single or or both. Pull out. And it's essentially it's called a, it's called a stow, the size of it. But when both of them are pulled out, it's the size of a queen size bed. Nice. And then if I wanted to have another guest sleep over, they could sleep in the neck as well as, as long as they're under five feet.

Ethan Waldman 40:19

So who make is is that? Who makes that so far? That sounds like ideal for a tiny house. Oh, the

Sean Burke 40:25

the mattress itself was made by White Lotus company in New Jersey. Okay. And they all of the stuff that they do is either natural fibers and then you also have the option to do or fully organic as well.

Ethan Waldman 40:29

Cool. Okay, so then you're just building the the actual pullout mechanism?

Sean Burke 40:49

Yeah. Yeah.

Ethan Waldman 40:51

Nice. Very cool. I I'm, I've enjoyed the photos that I've seen. You know, you've posted to Facebook and and you've, you've shared them with me as well that I'll put on the show notes page for the episode. So people can take a look. Right? There was actually another another concept that I think you shared on your on your Facebook page that I wanted to ask you about. Okay. And I'll just read I'll read your caption. What if a carbon neutral tiny house made from prefabricated CLT cross laminated timber could be assembled in a weekend for the interior ready to move in and insulated panels attached to the exterior in a day? designed in 30 minutes on an iPad? This 120 square foot loft? Plus loft could be your next home office or studio. Cool.

Sean Burke 41:47

I know I was just kind of horsing around with Yeah, I was using a tool called Formit by Autodesk. Okay. And I've been a big fan of that for a while. It's sort of a competitor to SketchUp, if you will, okay.

Ethan Waldman 42:01

Like it's a little simpler?

Sean Burke 42:02

It's simpler. Yeah, a lot less tools. But but it's very powerful and nice. And it works in conjunction with the professional tools that I use, right?

Ethan Waldman 42:15


Sean Burke 42:16

So the the idea behind that. And initially, it started off as a as an April Fool's joke. But I guess as I got into it, I was like, you know, I can, I could probably do like, 10 of these in an hour. And I just like, made a copy of it. And I made a couple of other designs that I haven't quite shared yet.

Ethan Waldman 42:32


Sean Burke 42:33

But there's this trend right now, where we're trying to get away from, you know, a lot of the materials that go into, and we were talking about just now, the systems that go into building my walls. Yeah, it involves a lot of different suppliers, a lot of different costs a lot of labor.

Ethan Waldman 42:54


Sean Burke 42:56

And one of the ways that we can make our buildings more sustainable, is looking for renewable resources to put into them. And so cross laminated timber construction has, has been very popular in Europe for a number of years. And it's only really just starting to take off in the US because the cost of concrete and steel are rising. And their carbon footprints are massively high.

Ethan Waldman 43:27


Sean Burke 43:28

When you build with with wood, it's carbon positive, because the trees sequester carbon while they're growing. And as long as you don't burn it, you know, that carbon stays there. So there's a number of factories that are popping up kind of mom and pop shops that can do cross laminated timber construction, and some of them are more advanced and others, but it's essentially like a large sheet of plywood, if you think about it that way. And I've toured some of these in the past where it just gets tilted up with a crane.

Ethan Waldman 44:07


Sean Burke 44:08

And, and then you've, you've got your interior finishes are done. You don't have to think about them.

Ethan Waldman 44:15

Beyond that. interior walls are done. They're just wood.

Sean Burke 44:18

They're just wood. Yeah. And you can seal them, you can paint them, you can do whatever you want with them. And generally, the windows and doors are already installed in those panels when they're tilted up.

Ethan Waldman 44:29


Sean Burke 44:30

So to weatherproof them, either they're either spray applied with a waterproofing membrane, you then finish them out like you would a typical rain screen system. And so it's very fast. Yeah, it could with scale with a factory that can build these things. Because the machining equipment doesn't really care about how complex those cuts are. Right? It's just a matter of how many cuts does it have to make and how quick tweaking it produce panels in an hour. As it, you know, kind of rolls through if it's very optimized, the cost of construction could drop significantly. So yeah, that benefit, you also get the environmental impact as well. But I suppose the downside of that is we've got to make sure that that lumber is harvested sustainably as well. Yeah, we're cutting the entire forest.

Ethan Waldman 45:28

Right, right. I think I even had someone on the show. Who who builds with with CLTs. How does insulation work? Because, you know, the solid wood or that it's not solid wood, but the cross laminated timber probably doesn't have much insulation value on its own.

Sean Burke 45:50

Yeah, I there's a couple of different systems that are out there. One is it's solid timber, usually, usually it's three layers glued together.

Ethan Waldman 46:01


Sean Burke 46:02

But some of them are more like SIPs. Okay. So there's actually a panel of insulation in between? And, you know, I've kind of I think it just depends on the use.

Ethan Waldman 46:15


Sean Burke 46:15

And what's available in the area. They're both good systems. But I think by focusing on moving all the insulation to the, to the exterior, you get lots of benefits for, you know, sound reduction, or moisture reduction. Yeah, everything that gets generated inside stays inside the panel, kind of like, you know, a climatized. to that. Yeah. So I think it's, it's great, because it's, it's really reducing the complexity of construction.

Ethan Waldman 46:52

Yeah. Yeah. Well, they look really cool. And it's something that I'm excited to see. be applied to tiny houses. Yeah. Yeah. I'd imagine they're quite heavy. So Prop, maybe not tiny houses on trailers.

Sean Burke 47:10

Exactly. Yeah. And probably with the heavy, kind of like layers of all the different interventions of systems that I've put on this one, I've probably pretty close to my, my weight limit on the trailer. Do you plan to get it weighed? like most people, I'm like, No, no, just don't tell me.

Ethan Waldman 47:32

Yeah, I've I've never weighed my house.

Sean Burke 47:35

Yeah, there is a weigh station nearby. And yeah, yeah, I'll take it on country roads. Yeah.

Ethan Waldman 47:46

Well, it's always the thing is like, Okay, if it's if it is, in fact, 10,000 pounds, like, I'm sure you don't own a vehicle that can move it. Maybe you do. But no. So it's a it's a big deal to move a tiny house. It's not just like, Oh, I think I'll take the tiny down to the scales today.

Sean Burke 48:06

You have to like, disconnect stuff. Yeah. You have to be willing to take a lot of risks. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Because moving moving. The previous one was a sketchy situation, to say the least. Yeah. It was a friend. Yeah, it was a friend who moved it. And, and they had a suburban, you know, which is basically a three quarter ton capacity. And it was it was struggling. Yeah. To stop that trailer on some hills.

Ethan Waldman 48:41

Yeah. Wow. That's a little scary. Anyway, anyhow, make sure you hire a professional. Yes. Yes. And that your trailer has breaks? Yes. Well, Sean Burke, thank you so much for taking the time to chat today. Yeah, thank you been a pleasure. One thing that I just like to ask all my guests, when, when applicable is Do you have any any book or other resource recommendations on on design or tiny house building or just anything that's inspired you lately that you can share with our audience?

Sean Burke 49:21

Wow, um, you know, I will say, it's not a book but there's a there's a, there's a company in, in Europe, called Kodasema. They've been around for a number of years, but they're really mature now. So they've got like five different models. The first one that they built was, it's about 350 to 400 square feet. And it's prefabricated in a factory. Similar to what we were talking about, you know, trying to reduce the costs, make these things really accessible. Plug and Play, if you will. Yeah. And then they came out with a wood version of that. That's, that's CLT. And, and more well insulated, but it's also much lighter to transport. You know, they've put them on barges, they've put them on properties all around Europe in the UK.

Ethan Waldman 50:23


Sean Burke 50:24

I stayed in one in Tallinn, which is fantastic. It was a little like, hotel, if you will, that they set up temporarily in a parking lot. It was very, very comfortable. Fantastic. Yeah. So I'll give you the link to that.

Ethan Waldman 50:41

Yeah, please do. Please do. It's always interesting. Like, I love looking Europe and seeing the building things that they're doing there because it seems like they got on board with sustainability requirements a lot. Yeah. Yeah, for we did. And yet, like the tiny house movement in the, you know, the sense that we're talking about it, like little houses built on trailers is so is is much more developed here, in terms of legal landscape and the numbers of the sheer numbers of people who are doing it. And so it's like, it's almost there could be some symbiosis.

Sean Burke 51:22

Yeah, I think I think on the other scale of things there are there are some small companies as a count company in my city where I live now in Everett, Washington, called Pallet. Yeah, they make shelters for the homeless. And they're super simple, like aluminum and fiberglass. They're not the most attractive, but they are really functional. And they're they've kept their costs extremely low. So that if charities or government organizations want to buy a bunch of these to help get people, you know, off the streets, and into something that safe and you know, with dignity name is much better than sleeping in a tent.

Ethan Waldman 52:09


Sean Burke 52:10

So there's those options. And then there's a company in California called Jupe that I'm following now. That's, that was started by Professor Dumpster.

Ethan Waldman 52:21

Oh, okay.

Sean Burke 52:22

Yep. Yeah. So it's kind of like a tent on a platform. It's kind of interesting to see because, you know, if you can build the platform to be modular, then whatever goes on top of it could be different. Yeah, depending on what your needs are.

Ethan Waldman 52:38


Sean Burke 52:39

So that's a that's a really cool thing to keep an eye on. Kind of like the, you know, if Apple was designing Tiny Homes. Yeah. Yeah.

Ethan Waldman 52:50

Cool. Well, those are, those are two more great recommendations to check out. And as always the everything that we've talked about, as long as I can find it will be on the on the show notes page for this episode. And I'm going to bug you, I'm going to try to get you to send me a diagram of your wall system. Yes. so that people can visualize it.

Sean Burke 53:16

I have actually have some detailed cross section.

Ethan Waldman 53:19

Yeah. Awesome.

Sean Burke 53:22

My website is kind of in development right now still, but it will go live in the next few weeks. And I will. I'll be teasing more details from the project. And eventually, I'll sell plans if someone wanted to build another one. Similar to it. So yeah.

Ethan Waldman 53:43

Awesome. Sean Burke, thank you so much for being a guest on the show. This was this is a great conversation.

Sean Burke 53:50

Thank you, sir.

Ethan Waldman 53:53

Thank you so much to Sean Burke for being a guest on the show today. As always, you can find a complete transcript for this episode, links to Sean's website, and images of the Bento Studio at 174. Again, that' 174. Well, that's all for this week. I'm your host, Ethan Waldman. And I'll be back next week with another episode of the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast.

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