Friday, January 25, 2013

Settling In

It's been just over a month since I moved into the tiny house, but its finally starting to feel like home.  After taking up residence on December 15th, I jumped right into the Christmas season with a trip to New York to help my friend, Joe (Elvis), sell Christmas trees, then it was back to VA for the holidays with my family.  When I finally returned to the tiny house in Richmond, I sat down on my bench in the living room and surveyed all that I had to do.  Build the book shelf, finish the closet, paint the kitchen, build a bathroom door, permanently hook up the water and insulate the lines, install a greywater system...and more.  But, for now, most of the projects are done!

First step was to install a greywater system, since the water from my sink and shower was just puddling under the house.  I found some drainage line with built in geotextile and foam material that I buried in a 10 foot long trench:

The line is under ground, so it's kinda hard to tell if it's working, but the shower hasn't back up yet- so far, so good!  I wanted to change the trim color in the kitchen and use a glossier, easy to clean paint.  Having other projects to work on, I decided to contract that project out to my girlfriend:

The agreement was that I would change the oil in her car and build a bathroom door.  To be honest, I probably would have just lived without a door, but since she wrote it into the contract, I was obligated to get it done.  Not only was it not as difficult as I thought it would be, it turned out great!  I used some of the left over rough sawn poplar and got some replica hinges from Pleasants Hardware (a store I wish I had discovered at the beginning of this project- they literally have "most anything").  Its now one of my favorite features in the house:

The closet was another easy task that I kept putting off.  Having shelves and a rod to hang clothes on is a truly amazing luxury!

Even more beautiful is my book shelf that I made out of the wormy maple.  I assembled it in the big house (its great having all that storage/work space!), and it came together very well.  The height was perfect, but once I got it into the tiny house, I realized that I couldn't fit it under the loft beams and stand it into place.  So, I had to take a gamble and chop half an inch off the bottom legs with the skilsaw.  Thankfully, it still looks great!

Oh, and those cabinet doors you see in the background?  I went to install them with some brand new hinges the other night, and for the life of me, I could not get them to rest in the closed position.  They just kind of hung out there, an inch or two from the cabinet face.  After literal hours of trying to adjust things and staring at them, I figured out that the angle on one or two of the hinges was just slightly different from the others, and thus it wouldn't let the door close tightly.  So, I had to exchange them at Home Depot, and thankfully the replacements worked just fine.  Very frustrating though. 

Also, on that bookshelf you'll see some pots and pans and plates.  I've been using some plastic spoons and a bowl for most of my rather meager eating, but I finally found some kitchen items, so hopefully I'll be able to start cooking more wholesome meals :)

I needed a way to store my common toiletries in the kitchen since, well, my bathroom sink is right next to my stove.  I found some nice little baskets at the Family Dollar store for my toiletries and flatware:

And lastly, I've had a couple of tours of the place over the past couple of weeks.  My parents and brothers came down for the day to tour the house and the Virginia War Memorial.  A couple from the Tidewater area came to Richmond for their anniversary and a tiny house tour- sounds like another house on wheels might be coming to VA!

I'm at the library and snow is just starting to come down...can't wait to burrow under the blankets in my sleeping loft and wake up to a winter wonderland!

Monday, December 31, 2012

Hobo Seen Moving House on Wheels

The transition from hoboing to modern, "civilized" home dwelling has been a gradual and ongoing process.  On November 1st, I handed over the cash and accepted the deed to my property on the impoverished Southside of Richmond.  The local convenience store did not have any champagne, so I celebrated with the "Champagne of Beers" instead:

This was the first step in the transition to tiny house life- moving from the streets to a regular parking spot that I actually legally owned.  The first night there in the back of my truck was pretty warm (40 ounces of High Life provides good insulation!), but November seemed determined to disprove global warming and I was forced to reevaluate my sleeping quarters.  I did own a 1400 square foot house, but to be truthful, I was a little creeped out by the thought of sleeping in a 1920s vintage structure that could probably be rented for horror movie sets.  But after one night of sleeping in its balmy 34 degree quarters on a luxurious 2-inch cot mattress instead of a flimsy foam pad, I was ready to commit to being "home-bound".

Its hard to feel like you're actually living in a home though when the light switches fail to illuminate at night and the furnace hasn't seen a drop of oil in years.  I was anxious to get electricity and water (keys to the modern age, right?), but the quote I received was going to be over $6,000 to lay water and electric lines 100 feet underground.  And that was factoring in me digging the trench!

So, over the next several weeks I kept warm in the evenings by digging, foot by foot.  Finally, sometime after Thanksgiving, I found an electrician that would install the 30-amp receptacle for my tiny house and a couple 15-amp GFCI receptacles for $1100, a price I could live with.

Around the same time, I manned up enough to enter the extensive but very cramped crawl space under the big house in search of my water inlet.  After getting stuck several times and wiggling through much dust and animal droppings, I returned to the entrance where I noticed a thin black pipe connected to a section of copper that was then connected to CPVC that appeared to be going up into the bathroom wall.  I had found a similar section of black plastic pipe while digging my trench.  Slicing into it with a pair of pipe cutters confirmed that I had indeed found my water line.  No need to hire a plumber!  After a trip to Lowes and a Saturday afternoon, I had a functioning water spigot ready for my tiny house to hook up to!

Thus, it was about time for my tiny home to take its first trip down the road.  I scheduled a pick-up rental from the guys over at Commercial Enterprise and got to work on trimming branches from the willow oak at Betty's to give my house enough clearance to exit her backyard.  On the second Saturday in December, my dad and younger brother, John, came down to Chester to assist.  We hitched it up, attached the license plate, and off we went, rolling through the suburbs to the big city!

I love trailering (yes, that was part of the motivation for building a house on wheels), and this structure was a dream to tow, but I'll shut-up and just let the pictures tell the story.  I will say that most of the suburbanites out driving paid little attention to it and seemed to block the tiny house from their vision.  As I approached my neighborhood though, I saw a grizzly-bearded old timer with a brown bagged liquor bottle in his left hand look up, spot a house rolling towards him, and start grinning and nodding his head in agreement!

Hitching Up

Winner of the license plate contest: Eric K.!

Maneuvering in the tight back yard

Squeezing my house around Betty's

Will it make it?!


On the road!

Waiting for Dad and John to catch up

Road trip!

Turning into the alleyway

Sneaking behind my neighbors' houses

On site!

Maneuvering into position

 Am I completely transitioned from the hobo life to home dwelling?  No, far from it.  I just hooked up the gas yesterday, took my first HOT SHOWER!, and am still working on shelving, keeping my water lines from freezing, and building stairs, etc.  As a lot of people have pointed out, tiny life is very different from how most live.  It blends modern conveniences such as electricity and running water with old time chores such as disposing of waste and hand washing dishes.  Its not for everyone, but for this hobo, its just dandy :)  

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Property Search COMPLETE!

Okay, I'll admit I've been shying away from posting anything new about the tiny house for the past few months.  This has mainly been due to the fact that it still hasn't found a home, meaning I've been hoboing it for a while.  To bring everybody up to speed, I did finally find a property in Southside Richmond, and I did sign a contract to purchase it September 5th...

Well, September 5th came and went, but the title work for the seller still wasn't complete.  Week after week went by, and I still didn't have a deed in hand.  It was frustrating being in a sort of limbo- committed to a piece of property, cash in hand, but unable to take the last step that would make it mine.  But, as this project has taught me time after time, patience pays off.  I was finally able to close on the property last week and am now a full-fledged land owner!

Its not the greatest neighborhood, and I need to do a lot of work before its ready for my tiny house to move in, but it feels great to finally have a spot where I can pull in for the night and know its mine.

Now that I actually own property, I'm frantically trying to work through all the issues that come with ownership.  First on the agenda is finding a contractor that will lay water and electric lines from the existing house to the back yard where I'll hook up my tiny house.  Searching for skilled labor is a good reminder of why I've chosen to learn how to build my own house in the first place.  The first handyman I talked to wasn't a certified electrician, so most of the conversation consisted of him asking technical questions such as "Well, I don't know, would the electric have to be grounded separately?" or "I don't know, you might have to use bigger wire to account for voltage drop...", to which I would respond, "Hmm, I'm not quite sure..." while thinking "I called YOU so I wouldn't have to worry about finding the answers to these questions myself!".

I've set up an appointment with a large plumbing and electric contractor, Michael and Sons, in the hope that they can take care of everything.  Chances are, they'll be expensive, but with winter rolling in, it would be nice to be cozied up in my own house with working water and power.  Once that project is done and I take down some trees and an old shed, I'll be ready for the big move!

P.S. Sorry I don't have any pictures of the new property...I don't make it back there before dark and its not the snazziest looking place.  But, during my travels I stopped by Greenfront Furniture in Farmville and found this little bench that's the perfect size for my Great Room!

Down the road at the Wholesale Electric Company I picked up a handsomely crafted sconce for the bathroom:

I have a continual list of projects to work on, so if you'd like to stop by for a day and help out, let me know!  Burn barrel and beer may be involved :)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Cedar Red House

Things are rolling along at the tiny house- rolling too fast in fact to keep House for a Hobo up to date!  But, I did want to share a pic of the outside, freshly stained with Sikkens Red Cedar!  It went on kind of chocolate/gumbo brown color, but turned out a very rich cedar color.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Hobo for a House

My last post was titled "The Final Push", but let me tell you, I've had to do quite a bit since then, and there's no sign of it letting up anytime soon!

To start, I moved out of my rental house June 1st and temporarily "moved into" my tiny house.  I was still busy with construction of course, but on top of that I was preparing for my California trip in eight days, so it was really just a spot to lay down for a few hours each night.

"How was California?" you ask?  AWESOME!!!  I had a great time, trekking 250 miles through the desert, and 225 miles into the Sierras, for a total of almost 500 miles in 24 days.  In the process, I got to do most of the John Muir Trail (considered one of the most scenic trails in America), and hike to the top of Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental U.S.!  Plus, I saw tons of states I had never been to before by traveling Greyhound from one side of the country to the other and back.  All in all, it was a great trip, and very inexpensive.

If they can build a stone shelter at 14,000 ft, anybody can build a tiny house!

Now, remember that I had said I had moved out of my rental before leaving for this trip.  That means that I no longer had an address, or anywhere to legally call "home".  In effect, I was back to hoboing.  During my trip, I decided that, unless something else came up, I was going to get serious about buying a place to park my house so I could move in.  When I got off the trail July 5th and made it into Reno, I called up a lady I knew who works as a Realtor on the side and gave her the details of what I was looking for.  While waiting in the park for my next bus to take me back East, I saw an elderly lady talking to some homeless people and giving them candy.  A couple minutes later, she walked over to me and started sharing her faith testimony.  We talked for a while about Jesus and faith, and she told me that "Everything's going to be alright" and then invited me to a dinner in the park later that evening.  I realized that she thought I was homeless and thought about correcting her until I realized that wait, I am homeless!  So what did I do instead?  I enjoyed a delicious chicken and rice dinner by the river :)

Back in Virginia, I found that not having anywhere to go after work most days greatly increased the amount of time I have to work on the house.  Since I've been back, I've painted walls Vanilla Ice Cream white (can you tell what I've been thinking about?), polyurethaned the window interiors, installed trim around the windows, started on baseboard and chair rail, finished polyurethaning the floors, clad the cabinets with wormy maple, and, one of my favorites- installed the kitchen sink and faucet!

The color I chose for the trim is "Whipple Blue".  I was looking for something that would add some lively color to the rooms; sorry I don't have any good pictures of it, but let me know what you think of the color scheme!

My realtor has yet to provide me with any prospective buys (in fact I haven't heard from her in weeks), so I'm mostly shopping by myself right now, but hopefully I'll find something before too long.  For now, I guess its rather fitting that a hobo wouldn't actually live in his own house, right?     

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Final Push

* Caution: The following  post is picture dense.  Images contained may cause tiny house envy.

Wow, after a four day weekend, I think I'm actually ready for the work week- just so I can have a brief break from house building!  Its been a tiring last two weeks, what with planning my Pacific Crest Trail trip and hosting two work weekends.  But, as of last night, all of my "major materials" projects on the house are complete.  And just in time, because as of the end of this month (Friday), I will be moving out of my rental!

What do I mean by "major materials projects"?  These are the things that, well, simply take a large volume of "stuff" to build, such as siding or flooring or drywall.  My current storage capacity includes a little shed attached to the house, a cheap, leaky Walmart tarp covering a pile on the ground, and the house itself.  Since I'll be "camping" in the house next week before my trip to California, it would be really, really nice to not be tripping over boxes of nails and 2x2s in the middle of the night, so I wanted to be done with these big projects beforehand.

The first push was to finish sealing up the exterior by completing that dreaded soffiting project that was rained out last time.  My brother David and his girlfriend Connie generously agreed to come down last Saturday and help out.  After a day of being perched up on ladders and Connie getting gassed out by the fumes from oil-based polyurethane, we had the soffit and gable trim up and the yellow poplar inside coated!

Using the brad nailer on the soffit.  Maybe not the correct way to attach it, but hammer or drill wouldn't fit.

Securing the gable end trim.

Still alive after a long day of work!

My dad and brother Nick arrived on Saturday to help out with hanging drywall.  The plan had been to finish all the drywall, and hook up all of the electric.  Unfortunately, they were only able to stay for the day, but we still got most of the drywall up, and I was able to finish and plaster it over the following two days.  Yes, it took two days to smooth every corner and joint.  I've about had my fill of that task, but at least the drywall putty was a tasty looking pink, kind of like cake frosting :)

Installing electrical box for exterior light

Notching drywall with the keyhole saw

Applying Liquid Nails before hanging the sheet rock

My finger after slicing it on the edge of the roof

Here's a picture of the difference between the unfinished ceiling and the whitewash pickling.  It really brightens up the place!

I'd love to get a coat of paint up and the floors sealed before I move in, but we'll see.  After working on drywall all weekend long, I was able to finish hanging the remainder of the siding under the eaves, and Voila! A new Tumbleweed!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Off to Californy!

Well, its official.  I'm heading to California to do some hoboing (without the house).  I requested a month off in June, and got approval yesterday, so I've purchased my cross-country Greyhound ticket and am makin' plans!

When I quit my old job and switched to a wage position with State Parks, I had a few objectives in mind.  First was to free up time on a daily basis, so I could do more relaxing, reading, hanging out with friends, etc.  Second was to free up time to build my house.  And third, I wanted to be able to take off at least a month to do a section hike of the Pacific Crest Trail.  Objectives #1 & 2 are continually "in progress".  Objective #3 wasn't really even started until today, May 18th.  My bus leaves in less than three weeks, on the 8th.

Initially, I figured pulling off a section hike of the PCT would be simple, similar to going out for a weekend hike on the Appalachian Trail (throw some gear in a pack, drive to the trail head, put one foot in front of the other, return).  My brother asked me a couple weeks ago how my planning was going.  I shrugged my shoulders, "Planning?  Not really doing much, other than planning on getting a train ticket to California and hiking to the trail, then buying another ticket back.  Or not."  But as I started reading about the trail some more, I realized that I didn't even know how to get there.  What town would be a good start?  Where to end?  What buses run where?

So, I invested $46 and purchased Yogi's PCT Handbook, a handcrafted collection of trail wisdom from various individuals that have thru-hiked the PCT.  Let me say here that I am glad I did.  By the end of my hike, I think I'll say the same.  Originally, I thought I would hike a section from Oregon to Washington, since I've never been to those states before (that was honestly my only reasoning- I didn't care where I hiked, just that I could claim that my shoes had crossed state lines).  CLOSED.  Not legally, but physically closed to hiking until sometime in the mid-summer.  Most hikers start in Campo at the Mexican border late April/early May, hike an average of 25 miles/day, and arrive in Canada sometime mid-October, not because that's the nicest weather to hike- its the only weather to hike.  Until mid-June, the Sierra Mountains are basically impassable due to snow and ice (a mind blowing concept to this east coast native).

With this knowledge, I've rerouted my itinerary to arrive in Palmdale, California and hike 20 miles to the trail at Agua Dulce, where I'll head north (destination?  TBD).  Why Agua Dulce?  Well, mostly because the name sounds sweet (sorry, I had to), but it also should position me for entry into the Sierras after some of the snow has melted.  Some.  It looks like ice ax and glissading techniques may still be required, but I'll face that challenge another day.

Other challenges:  Its hot in the desert.  Its cold at night, every night.  Bears like human food- not me, per se, but things like Cheetos and Twinkies tickle their taste buds, so much so that sometimes food has to be carried and stored in bear canisters (think giant Nalgene bottle).  Snow is slippery.  And it hides trails.  Cacti puncture stuff.  And, I'm gonna be spending a solid two and a half days on a bus.  Each way.

Why am I taking a bus?  Well, hobos don't exactly hop rides on planes, at least that I or the TSA are aware of.  I've flown to Reno before (my only time flying), and it was cool, but I really didn't get to see anything along the way.  I've never been to any of these states before, so ground travel will give me the opportunity to see some new sites and check places off my list.  Originally, my mode of transportation was going to be Amtrak.  But, as I got closer to departure date, ticket prices started going up, well beyond the reach of my wallet.  Advance ticket purchase for Greyhound cross county: $140.

Yes, after working a low paying job for the past year, and building a house, I am broke.  And, as of right now, I still don't have anywhere to live in my house (its not even finished!).  Some would see this as a terrible time to take a month long expedition.  In some ways, yes, that's true, but the one advantage of having such a small income is that when its gone, do you really even miss it?  Right now, most of my wages are going towards taxes, gas, and rent.  Well, actually mostly just taxes.  I will have bus ticket, gear, and food expenses while traveling, but otherwise, everything else will be limited.  My plan is to move out of my current house at the beginning of June (to where is still unknown.  Walmart.) so I won't have to pay rent while I'm gone.  Insurance, credit card bills, property taxes, etc. I'll pay before I leave.

If you couldn't tell, there's a lot of uncertainty with this seat of the pants trip.  I predict I'll face a lot of challenges along the way.  But, isn't that what hoboing is about?  I can't wait to see all of these new places and once again live simply from just what I can carry on my back.  Thanks to everybody who has supported me in my crazy endeavors in the past, and to those who can spare a minute, please say a prayer for me!