Tiny House Friends

Over the weekend, Corey and I met up with a local guy building his tiny house!  We oddly enough met through some comments on Instagram, when my friend Rob Garlow of Shedsistance mentioned to him that I was also planning to build in Buffalo.  Alex enthusiastically agreed to meet us and gave us a tour of his in-progress build.  He's planning to take this thing on the road in search of adventure and some fresh pow in Colorado...or possibly Montana...he's got options!  We hung out on his awesome roof deck, recently grace-and-water-shielded, and we showed him our design for our future tiny house.

Here's Alex's build:

Our design is ready enough, and we (finally) have enough money to get started.  We just have to decide to pull the trigger.  All of the anxieties about where to park this once its built are setting in....

Tiny House Summit 2017

If you need me, I'll be inside all day watching the Saturday replay of the Tiny House Summit 2017!


Tiny House, Revit

Here's an update on a version of the tiny house I've been working on converting to Revit. This one is built with SIP panel construction which involves redefining an existing, generic wall Revit component and building my own according to a SIP assembly.

This version explores new possibilities of relationships to fit in a generous work surface in the loft, situated above the clothes closet (circled in a dashed line in section), perfect for a home-office situation or a creative person who loves to spread out their projects and not have to put them away just to eat dinner on the table.

This design keeps the bed on the first floor level for those of us who prefer to flop into bed and not stumble down stairs or a ladder half awake.  There is still an ample loft for a guest bed, perhaps a child's room, or a comfy lounge area for leaning back among a pile of pillows to watch some Netflix or read a good book.  The configuration of the  Bed-bath-closet-laundry area is a condensed version of the Master Suites I currently design for clients who are prefer thousands of square feet instead of a couple hundred. 

SIP Roof!

Well back in March I mentioned my next big goals of getting licensed, eliminating my student debt and building our house!  The update on that is that I sat for my 1st Architect Registration Exam (ARE) which was Construction Documents & Services on September 2nd (!), I've contributed about 9k towards student loans and the credit card that allowed me to move out to Denver before I got a job.  Corey and I have been Mr Money Mustache-ing ( my favorite financial blog: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/), budgeting with Every Dollar, (https://www.everydollar.com/) and refining our cooking-on-a-budget skills with Budget Bytes.( http://www.budgetbytes.com/)  While still allowing for a little fun- a flight to NYS for a cross-state bike trip and an impromptu flight to LA to hang out with a good friend for the weekend. 

On the topic of tiny houses, I helped put up a SIP (Structurally Insulated Panel) Roof of a tiny house this Saturday!  The biggest takeaway I had is that SIPs are HEAVY! I am acutely aware of all of the muscles in my arms and back today from lifting those suckers.  For this project, the SIP manufacturer delivered these panels to the build site in 4'x12'x8" chunks, each one unique and all of them fitting together in only 1 way.  As we were getting started, we ran into some complications realizing the SIPs had been assembled wrong, but after talking on the phone with the manufacturer, they advised us that we could still assemble the roof, and that they could fix the issue- the bevel angle of the sides- when the roof was up. 

As the manufacturer had little instruction on how we were supposed to get these panels up on the roof, we had to creatively come up with a system ourselves.  This involved pushing the panels up the short side of the house (it would have a shed roof), sliding up a pair of 2x10s, while also pulling the panels from the other side by a rope attached to them. By the last panel, we were pretty good at this system. 

We also temporarily installed a series of 2x4 "ribs" that the SIPs rested on as they slid into place, and a 2x4 "stopper" at the end of the SIP to keep it from sliding off the roof before we screwed it into place.   After each SIP was up on the roof, we  had to spray a foam sealant in the joint and lock it to the panel before it with a hook and latch system that was part of the fabricated panel.  Then they were each screwed into the walls with 8" long screws.  It was a challenging and exhausting process, but by the  end of a 9 hour work day, there was fully insulated roof on that house!

As I've mentioned in previous posts, SIPs are pretty cool because they eliminate or greatly reduce any thermal bridging in the house, allow for a tightly sealed living space so one can efficiently heat or cool the space. Because they are so air tight they also require venting for proper air circulation that you wouldn't necessarily need in a stick-built house.  

As I consider SIPs for my house, I think its definitely possible to build as long as you have enough bodies to help out.  We needed at least 4 people to get a single panel up. Later in the day we had 6 people to one panel- 4 pushing and 2 pulling on the ropes- which was much more manageable. Other people rent a forklift for this step, which would probably make the process a bit easier for less people, but of course more expensive.

I'm looking forward to seeing the house's progress!

Job Update

2 months later, and the house I'm designing is up for sale. Things are feeling pretty real!




Well I finally made it to the other side.  Thesis is over, grad school is no longer a bunch of deadlines and classes, but is neatly packaged in a few letters, "M.Arch." I have escaped the toxic life of MIT and I am now happily basking in 8 hours of sleep, home cooked meals, ample doses of Denver sunshine, and a pretty cool job that promises to give me a paycheck at the end of the month.  MIT felt like I was trying to get somewhere by crawling on my stomach. through mud. with those electric shocker things above me.  Post-grad school feels like I am running straight ahead. downhill. In top-of-the line running shoes.

My next big goals to tackle will be getting licensed as an architect (within 3 years), eliminating my six digit student debt (in under 5 years) and  building our tiny house (shooting for 2 years). Hurray!  These all go hand in hand with each other, which I love.  Before I begin documenting these journeys, I'll back up a bit to my first tangible action towards these goals.

So I've been planning to move to Denver after graduation for probably over a year, since my boyfriend, Corey, started talking about moving out here to Denver to join his brother who had recently moved there.   The move to Denver would be many things, including cathartic.  I went through a very intentional purging of all the stuff I had accumulated over the years.  It was actually probably the first time I had done this...ever. All my other moves involved either short distances or free large vehicles to transport everything.  For the move from Boston to Denver, it  was critical that I downsize because I would either be flying there or driving in a very small car.  

I started this process the summer before thesis, and photographed all the Stuff I owned that I might want to get rid of, and then in the last few weeks of the semester when thesis was consuming me, but all the other students done with studio were switching apartments, I emailed out my ad to the department. (list serves are awesome!)  I managed to sell a lot of bulky, heavy items that wouldn't travel efficiently, and ended up donating about half my clothes.  I made a nice chunk of change to help fund my trip.  And with every item I sold or gave away, I felt a lot lighter, and closer to Denver.  There has not been 1 item so far that I've regretted parting with (even thought you all gave me shit for giving away certain architecture books), and it's a way to feel like I'm making progress towards moving into the smaller space of the future tiny house.  Of course Corey has me beat; he has about a third of the clothes and shoes that I have.  

My awesome parents drove my remaining Stuff (and me) from Boston to Buffalo, the day after my thesis defense.  After the holidays, I was on my way West.  The move out to Denver was pretty cool. Corey and I drove together in a rental car from Buffalo to Denver over 2 days, stopping in Madison, WI to visit my sister and brother in law.  It was deeply satisfying to have everything I own packaged neatly in 1 little car.  I went for the cheapest car possible which is a small 4 door car, and decided that anything that could not fit would be left behind or shipped.  Amazingly, we got a free upgrade to the next size up, a small SUV, which fit everything with my bike strapped on the back. 

I have had to buy some furniture for the new place, (Corey and our roommate had been living without any chairs for 6 months, which I couldn't handle) but a lot of it I think will fit nicely into the house we build so it is nice to know I won't have to sell it all in a year again and that it is actually the start of a nice investment. I know someone challenging themselves to reducing their posessions down to only 100 items.  I know I will never get there, or want to get there, but I'm at least being more intentional about what Stuff I allow into my home, while also getting rid of anything that makes me unahppy.  "Stuff" is a love/hate relationship for me.  I definitely love buying new things, and window shopping, and owning things.  Oddly enough I get a similar amount of pleasure when getting rid of a particularily useless or unpleasing possession as I do finally obtaining a much researched, highly anticipated purchase.

Well that is my prelude to my Denver life and I'm looking forward to moving my stuff into the tiny house... one day. 


On Thursday I presented for my final review of M.Arch Thesis at the MIT Media Lab with 18 other students. I am elated!!

MIT has a tradition of the Core and Option students helping the thesis students finishing up.  They finish a few days before us and then keep going-building models, and essentially being our interns for a few days.  In the past, I've helped thesis students every year, but never have I seen the department this completely mobilized  contributing to our projects.  We had incredible support! 

In a non-stop adrenaline session, I presented on Thursday and moved out of my apartment and studio and drove to Buffalo on Friday with my family who came to support me. I have a week in Buffalo and then onto a new life in Denver, CO! Onwards and Upwards. (or westwards?)

Portraits of Bikes

Here's a personal project I've been working on lately, Portraits of Bikes.  Each wobbly-wheeled drawing is 5"x7", interpreted from a photograph.  For each drawing, I ask the owner for a quote or story about their bike, and then mail their drawing to them when they're done.  I have a bunch more waiting to be drawn...after Thesis! It's currently a facebook page, but in the future maybe a book?

TINY update

Well the semester is wrapping up and I'm finishing up a 100-page book of all the research done on my tiny house this semester.  More to come on that...but here's some teasers.

Thesis Interview

For the MIT architecture blog, thesis students are being "interviewed" each week about their thesis.  It's a quick way to give other students in the program a window into what's happening in the thesis room. Here's my response:


I'm very happy to be in Denver for the long weekend taking a mini break, visiting friends and my boyfriend, and meeting with a handful of design-build offices in an attempt to actually be employed post-graduation!

PTH update

This past week for my Independent Study in passive tiny house, I ran some numbers for water.  These will eventually be assembled into a manual for other builders to reference.  My conclusions were basically that we will not be able to sustain ourselves on rainwater alone in our current house design.   The three factors in the water catchment equation are 1) how much water you use, 2) how big your catchment surface (roof) is, and 3) how much rain (and snow) you get (annual precipitation) 

Denver's annual precipitation is about 15in.  Our roof is 204 sqft, but we can attach an equal sized roof that can fold up to an open porch that brings us to a total of 408 sqft.  We estimate 2 people  will use a total of 40 gallons per day, everyday (20 gal per person).  This number relies on having a composting toilet, (alternatively you could reuse grey water for this and still be in the 20gal per person range), using low-flow shower heads and faucets, using a front-load washer and hand-washing dishes.  It includes drinking water and cooking water, brushing teeth and washing hands.   With these numbers, we would only be able to catch about a fifth of our water needs.  

So the options are: 

1) Increase annual precipitation (move to different city).  We would need over 57 in of annual precipitation.  Which is possible- New Orleans, for example would qualify.  This would cut down on sun needed for solar energy though.  Most cities we would consider moving to get between 30-40in.

2) Increase catchment area. We would need about 1500 sqft of roof or ground surface.  This is a typical single-family home size, but much bigger than our 204 sqft footprint. 

 3) Decrease our water usage. We would have to get down to 5 gal/day per person.  This basically translates to sponge-baths once a week and never cooking pasta and hauling clothes to the laundromat.

4) Supplement our water source.  Other options are: being hooked up to the municipal water supply, getting water delivered by truck, or digging a well.

We will probably go with #4 and pay for water from the city of Denver.  For our lifestyle goals, this makes the most sense to us.  Water is actually pretty cheap in Denver.  Then we will have to decide if we still want to set up the house for water catchment at all.  There are some large upfront costs with that, and more space devoted to utilities where every inch counts.  I think personally, it would be a good experience learning how to set it up.  If we ever decided to live in it part time, or move to a different city, or rent it out to just one person (while we do a world bike tour, obviously), it's possible that it could sustain itself on water catchment alone, which would be pretty rad.

Looks like I'll be dropping the "P" in PTH though.

Passive Tiny House Design

Here's the latest layout for our tiny house.  I'm proposing an independent study at MIT in which I'll work on the designing the house's off-the-grid energy systems and doing structural calculations.  It's definitely feasible to just build the house without doing all the calculations, but as we're trying to build as cheaply as possible, it's important to know where to skimp and where to invest.  We will try to get a lot of materials used or donated and it would be nice to be able to calculate the long-term value of a 20 year old free window compared to paying money for a new window that might help keep warm air in better in the winter and last longer.  It's a delicate balance between dollars, inches, and years.

Summer Sketching

I was given this hand-made sketchbook as a thank-you gift for helping out a thesis student, Travis, 2 years ago.  It sat dormant for a while, until now.

Could there be a more perfect sketchbook for designing your 8 1/2' x 24' house?  If it was a little thicker I could use it as a scale model!