You're Going To Build A What?

The saga of J building his tiny off-grid house

Really, really overdue update

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Well it’s been quite a while since my last post here, and this will be the last for a while to come. The short update is that this little plan is no more. Life became busy, I moved in with my girlfriend and found myself in near full-time work in the film industry.

I sold the windows, chimney, batteries and most other parts of the tiny house and scrapped the lumber to various places that it could be used.

I hope to return to build a tiny house one day but it’s a way off in the future, as there are some other plans afoot to take the two of us to the countryside in search of a less hectic life together.

I’ve been asked here and there what advice I might give to anyone else considering building something similar and it would be simply this: buy a decent trailer and make sure it’s good before you start anything else. I could have bought a custom trailer, modified by the manufacturer with the extras that would make the build much easier for about £2500, it would have been money well spent. I could scrimp and delay putting some nice things inside but at least the house would have been built in a fraction of the time, been solidly roadworthy and I might be living in it now.

Life has turned out differently for me, I’ve become wonderfully entangled with my new girlfriend and we forging a future together. I do still follow the world of tiny houses with great interest and when I see a particularly well done example I get a pang of wonder about how mine might turn out. I’ve still not seen one built the way I had mine designed and perhaps that’s enough incentive to one day make mine a reality.

Thanks for following along with my journey.

Peace, out.

Written by justin

October 20th, 2012 at 7:22 pm

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Overdue update.

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My apologies for being absent on here for a while. Life, as it has a habit of doing, has become rather busy. Last thing I posted was that it was going to cost an excessive amount to upgrade the trailer so i was requesting prices from a number of firms to get a trailer built to my specifications. The bids came it from £2000 – £3000 and I’ll be going with one of the lower options when I have the money to do so.

In the meantime I managed to pick up some part time work that very rapidly seems to have become full time for the next few months. I’m working long hours which has left me virtually no time to even think about the tiny house, let alone update the blog. However, I’m clearing off some debt, which is a big weight off my mind but means that it’ll be spring before I’m likely to have any time to get back to working on the house.

I’ve also been rather unlucky with having the really bad weather arrive at exactly the point where I couldn’t spend any time at the house. This had lead to a significant portion of the woodwork becoming waterlogged. I’ve had to take all the framing apart, separate out what’s good and get that stored away. most of the OSB sheeting that was stacked under tarps has soaked water in from the edges and seems to be unusable now. I think a good half of the timber i bought is now trashed. on top of that I need to get the old trailer moved off site for the winter and, with no time to get it to a point where it is towable (which would require significant welding) I’m looking at just going in and cutting it into pieces and taking it to the scrap yard.

The end result of all of this is that most of the year’s work is scrapped, along with about £1000 in costs for the trailer, steel and timber. After being quite depressed about this for a while, I’ve decided that the only thing I can do is chalk it up to experience and remember that I’ve learned a great deal along the way from it. I will start again in the spring with a custom trailer which will be designed explicitly for the house and allow me to move straight into the build phase knowing my foundation is solid.

I’ve learned enough this year to prove to myself that I’m capable of building my tiny house, that my basic plan is viable and the rest of the things I collected to go into it are still tucked away safely in store and will come out as and when needed. The new house will be a little bigger, as I can spec the trailer the way I want and will be 18 x 7.5 feet when finished. I will also have a 3 foot fold down deck outside which means I will be able to use the full 18′ as interior space, significantly increasing my living area. The basic layout will be unchanged but allow me a bit more storage space and living room while still being a size that can be reasonably towed by something like a 4wd or a van.

I’ll be keeping an eye out for useful bits and pieces for the house but I’m unlikely to be updating much over the next few months, though I’ll be keeping an eye on my tiny house friends and staying in touch. Life is ultimately a journey which has ups and downs, I’ve had both this year and it’ll be interesting to see what the next year brings.

Peace, out.

Written by justin

December 1st, 2009 at 8:19 pm

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One step forwards, two steps back.

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My tiny house is officially on hold for a while. While looking for brake shoes to replace the broken ones this morning I found that they’re an old, out of date design, and will cost £50 per wheel to replace. Worse than that though, the guy at the trailer place finally managed to uncover some information about the suspension hubs that are on my trailer and the news isn’t good.

When I bought the trailer I was told it was rated to 2700Kg which is quite a long way from the truth. The absolute max these hubs can take is apparently 2000kg, and they may not even be rated that highly. The hitch is rated to 1700 and the manufacturer won’t sell me an upgrade unit without having proof that the hubs can match it.

Replacing the hubs and suspension unit would cost in excess of £700, plus another £250 for the hitch. This is in addition to any welding work still to be done on the trailer. I’m looking at £1000 just to get the running gear sorted and the trailer still wouldn’t be ‘as good as new’.

I’m currently evaluating my options but I’m seriously considering what I should probably have done in the first place, which is increase the budget and instead of finding a trailer designed for another purpose and modify it to my needs, just have a trailer custom made to be exactly what I want. To this end I’ve sent out enquiries to some trailer manufacturers today to have one built to my design, with a full 3500kg load rating, an 18′ length (2′ longer than the current one), all new wheels/suspension/brakes/tires etc, a brand new chassis with the load bay built to take a flat floor and extended around the wheel area for the house which I can then get on with building straight away.

I’ve had one reply already with a price of £2500 + tax (15%) and I’m waiting to see if the others are significantly higher or lower. It would take 5-6 weeks to be built which would put me well into November before I could do any work on it, so I also have to decide whether to get started straight away or try and get whatever work I can find over the winter and start again in the spring.

As you can imagine, I’m incredibly fed up and somewhat despondent right now, but I’m trying to see this as a good thing in that I may end up having a really good foundation to build on and one that I know will last me many, many years to come, even if it does put me an entire year behind my original schedule and add 50% onto my budget. I’ll let you know my thoughts over the next few days, but I think this is probably the best way forward right now.

Peace, out.

Written by justin

September 15th, 2009 at 6:05 pm

Braking news…

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John came down for a couple of days and we worked on the trailer brakes. Pulled the hubs off and cleaned everything out as they were in quite a state, gunged up with dirt and grime to an almost unrecognisable degree. A can of suitable solvent and a roll of rags later and they looked much more reasonable. Almost no wear on the bearings so back in they went along with a large amount of high temperature grease.


In the process I discovered that one of the hubs didn’t even have brake shoes in it which, after some of the other things I’ve found as I’ve worked through the trailer renovation, doesn’t come as much of a surprise, and another set of shoes came apart in my hands as I removed them. I’m off to the trailer spares place tomorrow to get some new sets.


The other puzzle to the brakes is that the actuating rods seem to have been connected backwards, as I can’t find any way that they could work in the correct manner in their current state. I’m hoping to have a look at a trailer or two at the spares place and see if I can figure out the correct way to put it all together.

I also took the other 6 batteries over to where they’re currently living and swapped them onto the panel. The first 6 seem to have charged up to where I expect them to be after the past couple of week’s sunshine which bodes well. Another couple of week on the panel for the new set should put them in good shape too and then they can all be tied in together and left to stay topped up until such time as I can put them in place. Which reminds me, I should think about designing a folding stand for the panels to ensure they stay securely positioned.


I’m thinking I may just rent a welder for a couple of days and do the trailer welding myself after my holiday. Nick taught me the basics and I reckon that if I work on the side supports first, of which there are 14, then I should know whether I can safely tackle the main structural members after that. Otherwise it’s going to be winter before I’m getting anywhere and the delays are just driving me nuts. Besides, it gives me a chance to play with things that make fire and sparks and, after all, what could possibly go……… oh!

Peace, out.

Written by justin

September 14th, 2009 at 2:46 pm

Beautiful, tiny ecohomes

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I don’t normally put things in this blog that don’t relate directly to building my house, but as I’ve mentioned one of these before, I thought I’d include this great little show of how you can build small and green for very little money.

Written by justin

September 9th, 2009 at 12:45 pm

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Powering up.

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The bad news is that my welder is definitely knackered, so I’m looking at alternatives to get the trailer fixed and finished, probably I’ll just either hire a welder if my brother can make it down soon or I’ll just find a friendly welder to come over and do the welding for me.

In the meantime, I finally got half the power system up and running. The batteries have been in storage for a while, which isn’t the best thing for them, so the first 6 are now wired up and connected to one of the panels. It’s only temporary, which is why the cabling looks shoddy, but at least they’re under charge and being taken care of properly. In a week or so I’ll have the other 6 in place too. I can then monitor them to see what condition they are in as I have a couple of spares if any of them have been damaged by their storage time. All the cells were reading between 1.98 and 2.02v, which isn’t too bad, but we’ll leave them on charge for a week and then remeasure them when I take the next lot up.




One of my next jobs will be to design and build a decent support frame for both panels. They’re going to stay on a ground based frame so they can be moved when needed. If they were mounted on the roof and I had to park the house anywhere that I can’t get the best angle I’d lose a lot of power generating ability. The solar hot water panel will be on the roof as this is less susceptible to angle changes.

I’ve also managed to pick up a few days work this week and next, so that will pay for a short holiday I’m taking later this month and put a bit of money back in the coffers for continuing the build. However, it also means I won’t be doing much on the house for the next week or so.

Swings and roundabouts.

Written by justin

September 1st, 2009 at 11:34 am

4 Walls.

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Lovely day to be outside today, sunny, warm and my office is quite a special place to work, I’m very lucky.


Framed up the fourth wall today, which was very satisfying. Managed to put all of them up and temporarily screw them together. Like yesterday I spent some time just walking around in the space, getting a feel for it, imagine the things that will fill it and looking around to see if there’s anything that needs changing.


I marked out the bathroom wall roughly, penciled in where the shower and toilet will go and realised that the bathroom window would be better positioned if I moved it 3 inches towards the back wall. That’s the nice thing about this sort of framing, it makes for easy changes. Took about 10 minutes once the walls were back down to actually shift the framing. The window in question is the left frame space in the photo below.


You can see the floor layout below, the wall between the bathroom and kitchen is marked by the 2×4 on the floor, the shower tray will go in the corner. To the right the 2×4 on the floor marks where the kitchen counter with the sink will be.


At the other end is the living room with the two big windows. I was surprised just how big they looked like this, but then remembered that the frame and dividers will take up a chunk of that space but, even so, that corner is going to let a lot of light in given that one window will face south and the other west. I keep imagining the evening light streaming through them and giving the place a real sunset warmth.


I’m thinking of making a stable type door with a window in the top. I think it would be lovely to be able to just have the top part open to let in the breeze. I’ve been keeping an eye out for doors on ebay and have seen some nice ones but I’d have to cut them down to fit. The height between the top and bottom pieces of the frame is 6 feet and there’ll be a frame to go in too, so the door will only be about 5’11″ high, although there’s room for a 30-32″ wide door so perhaps I’ll buy one and cut it down. You’ll have to duck slightly going in but once inside the headroom should be about 6’2″. Given that I’m 5’11″, that’s fine for me, plus the living room will have a cathedral roof about 11′ high.

Had to take the walls down once I’d finished walking around and dreaming and until the trailer’s finished that’s the end of the woodworking. I stacked the frames on the trailer and tucked them up as there’s rain forecast. It’s been a very satisfying day and I have a real feel for how my tiny house is going to end up.


Before leaving, I took advantage of one of the nice things about my office and picked a box full of fresh blackberries from the field next door to add to my breakfast muesli.


Peace, out.

Written by justin

August 25th, 2009 at 6:02 pm

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Another wall is finished.

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I’m really enjoying the framing, it’s best done alone where I can take my time and think it through, there’s a real sense of accomplishment seeing a wall going together and, if you do make a mistake, it’s generally not difficult to undo it and fix it.

Today was the turn of the North wall, this will only have one small window in, for the bathroom, so its a fairly simple and straightforward build. Once it was all put together, I couldn’t resist standing it up to have a look at it. Fortunately the wind was light and it just stood there, being all wall-like.


Of course, once that one was up, I couldn’t resist putting the other two in place as well, and then walking around within the space it enclosed. Tomorrow if the weather stays good, the final wall will be done and I’ll really be able to feel the space properly.


It looks like I’ve found someone to fix the welder for me, they’re going to look at it tomorrow and give me the verdict, so hopefully the trailer won’t be holding me back much longer. I’m picking up the last pieces of steel on Wednesday so fingers crossed the welding will be complete shortly.

Peace, out.

Written by justin

August 24th, 2009 at 5:17 pm

Floors and walls, oh my!

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Another productive afternoon at the tiny house. I started out by building the two end walls, taking pains to make sure they’re as square as I can make them, the diagonals are within 1/4 of an inch, which I think should be ok. I expect it to be tougher to get the longer walls as accurate, but we’ll see.

This will be the west wall, showing the door and where one of the large windows will be. My desk/workbench will be at that window.


On the right is what will be the east wall, no windows in this one.


Once I had them done I starting thinking about how I was going to build the longer walls and realised that a solid flat surface would be pretty much essential, so I screwed the 3 floor frames together and then cut the osb sheet to fit around the wheel wells. I discovered it was actually faster to trim them by hand with a decent hand saw than to go down to where I store my tools and bring the circular saw up, plus it added a bit more exercise to the afternoon. I then screwed the floor panels down with a few screws to hold them in place.


For the first time I could really get a feel for the size of my tiny house and spent a while just slowly walking around the space, seeing in my mind’s eye where the different rooms would be, turning from one surface to the next and seeing how it fitted around my body. I may take a big magic marker over one day and sketch in the outlines of the walls and fixed units. Then I just sat looking out of where my windows will be and imagined the views.

At this rate all the walls will be done in another couple of days work. However, I can’t do anything about putting them in place because the trailer’s not fixed. Having the floor in place made me realise just how fast this will come together once I get the welding finally done. I’ll be picking up the aluminium sheet for the underside of the floor early next week, I have the insulation stored on site, I have the walls and sheathing sitting there. If I could only get the trailer sorted I could be putting the roof on by the end of next week. I need to either find someone local to look at the welder or just rent one for a day, or perhaps pay a welder to bring one and get the damn thing finished. Mind you, I also need to get the brakes sorted before I bolt the floor on.

This is really starting to move now, and it’s exciting. I know there’s a long way to go, but just having the walls and roof up will be such a big step. I couldn’t resist taking a photo of myself standing in my tiny house.


Peace, out.

Written by justin

August 20th, 2009 at 5:55 pm

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At last the framing starts.

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Had a busy day today and finally got started on the framing. Went over to the tiny house and started off by building a couple of sawhorses so I could put the chop saw at a comfortable height. For now I’m using a piece of old plywood that came off the trailer when I first bought it, but when there’s a suitable offcut of osb and 2×4 I’ll probably switch to that as it’ll be more solid and flat. In the meantime, I have a bench to work at that doesn’t make me bend down and knacker my back.



I’ve built the floor frame in 3 pieces so that it’s easier to manhandle, and  because I have to keep taking it off as the trailer isn’t finished yet, there’s still some welding to do. When I’m working on my own I simply can’t lift the entire floor up and over the suspension posts so this is the best way for now. I’ve finally found somewhere selling 4×8 sheets of 1mm aluminium which I’ll put on the underside of the floor. I can’t find anywhere locally that sells the wide aluminium flashing that seems to be popular in the US, so this is the best option to prevent road grime and rodents from getting into the framing. I’ll probably shoot some underseal over the aluminium to add an extra layer of protection.

Once the welding’s finished I’ll be able to bolt the frame to the trailer and start insulating and putting down flooring, then screw the walls in place. Those will be the project over the next week or two, starting with the easy wall that has no windows and working my way up in level of framing difficulty. I do have a new best friend in the framing business though…


This is a battery powered impact driver and a box of square drive, self-drilling screws. I am more enamoured of these things than any man should probably be of something inanimate. If you’re ever going to do framing, buy these. No, seriously, trust me on this. The screws self drill due to a cutting tip which means you don’t have to pre-drill any of the timber. The impact driver is so much better than a regular cordless screwdriver that you have to experience it to believe it. Instead of having to use lots of force and eventually the driver gives up, this thing is almost effortless and just keeps driving away repeatedly. You don’t even have to hold it tight, just place in position and hit the go button. I’ve never used one of these before but it was recommended to me and I can only say ‘why the hell didn’t I get one years ago?’

Right, so without further ado, the floor framing, in all it’s glory.



Peace, out.

Written by justin

August 18th, 2009 at 5:25 pm

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