You're Going To Build A What?

The saga of J building his tiny off-grid house

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Finally some trailer progress.

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Last week my lovely friend Pinky came over to spend the day working on the trailer with me. We both came armed with angle grinders and spent a very happy afternoon cutting bits of unneeded trailer away, grinding sections back to flat and finally using my new best friend the wire brush wheel to strip off all the old paint and rust.

The wire wheel leaves a lovely burnished look to the steel frame which it seems a shame to paint over, but rust doesn’t care for looks and so a thick coat of rust-killing, undercoat was applied generously.



We found a couple of small areas of rust that will need patching, but they’re minor and a simple plate welded over the area will suffice. Next week will be devoted to getting the rest of the trailer finished to the point where only the main welding is left, for which I have to wait for my brother to get some time off work.

In the mean-time, I’ve been working on the framing plan, which is complete except for the roof. I’ll be heading down to the local Jewson branch this week too, so that I can order and pay for the 2×4′s and osb sheets which they’ll deliver for a very reasonable £15 charge. Then it will be stacking that lot away under a tarp and getting on with building the floor and wall frames. I can do that before the trailer’s welded up, but I just can fix them in place. Still, should mean a load of fun construction that will quickly become house shaped once I’m ready to build.

Here’s hoping the weather stays fine this week.


Written by justin

July 12th, 2009 at 12:23 pm

Posted in Construction

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Now we’re seeing progress!

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It’s been a busy week on the tiny house project and there’s finally some visible progress being made. This is how the trailer looked before we started:


After a couple of days work, it now looks like this:

The boards are all off, it’s up on blocks, it’s been leveled so that there’s a plumb base to work from, the wheels are off, and most of the extraneous metal has  been removed. There’s certainly more work to be done on it, and it’s going to be a busy couple of weeks getting everything done that needs doing.

Brakes: No idea how these used to work, from what we could make out amongst the twisted metal rods, there’s no way they could have worked correctly. We’ve taken it all apart and sat and played with the bits and have a reasonable idea of how it should go together properly. I need to replace one of the brake rods and bend on of the brackets into shape. I think one bracket will need replacing as the pivot rod is too loose for it to pivot rather than swing. Given the weight of the final house, I’m paying rather close attention to getting the brakes working properly as the last thing I’d want when towing is to see the house overtaking me. The wheel hubs look reasonable although I’m going to strip them down and check the bearings, repack with grease, etc. There’s also 3 different sized tires amongst the 4 wheels, so they’re going to need to be replaced. I’ll probably just find a local scrap yard and pick up 4 new wheels and tires so that they all match properly. I imagine there’ll be new brake pads going in there too.

Suspension: I couldn’t find any makers information on the axle/suspension units. They look similar to Indespension ones, but there’s nothing to confirm what load they take. Need to do a bit of googling on this and find out more.

Frame. In general, the trailer frame’s in good shape. The main frame is box section steel, with heavy angle reinforcing members below. There are a couple of sections that have rusted where additional pieces have been added later, and it appears as though they’ve just been points where water has pooled and it’s rusted.This is the worst bit, there’s only a one this bad and a couple of small patches elsewhere.


Those will need to be cut out and new sections put in their place. I may also replace the front draw bar as there’s some rust where the wheel dolly was welded on badly. Nothing too serious so I’m going to hunt up some new steel stock and replace any sections that need it. My brother’s coming over in a couple of weeks and will weld it up properly while also teaching me how to do basic welding so I can weld together the folding porch, I just need to find a 180amp or so mig welder on ebay. Before then I need to sand down and paint the good bits of the frame, for which I’ve bought some rust treatment/undercoat paint, and will then top coat with hammerite.

Benjy came over, armed with his angle grinder (mine having gone missing somwehere) and we had a fun afternoon of removing excess metal from the trailer, consisting of the frame around the edge ( I need the trailer flat to be able to build the subfloor ) and the winch/winch mount from when the trailer was used for shifting cars and farm machinery in it’s former life.


There’s a bit of grinding to do so that the stubs are flat with the frame and some other small bits will need removing but those can wait until Nick comes over for the welding and I can pick his brain on how best to do them. I’ll put some more photos up next week as it’s often hard to describe what we’re doing or how lovely my workspace is, as you can see from John trying to explain what he’s been up to this week.


28 years we’ve known each other and it doesn’t take much of a harebrained idea to get us together in the sunshine playing with tools and implements of destruction. The weather was supposed to be bad all week but apart from a passing shower on one day we’ve been really lucky and it’s been fine, warm and sunny all week. It’s officially summer now, so here’s hoping the next few months continue in the same vein.


Written by justin

May 3rd, 2009 at 8:34 am

And so to the tiny house

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In the previous post I outlined my idea for a dream home, the reasons behind it and the ways I think I can make it happen.  However, before I get to that point, I need to be able to save the money to get it started. For the past few years, in London, I’ve been renting first a one bedroom flat and later a room in a house shared with others. The least I’ve paid is £500/month. That’s almost £20k in the past 3.5 years. That’s around half of what I expect my house to cost. I need to be saving that, but so far I’ve been only just able to make ends meet, with no money left for saving. I need to get out of the rent trap.

Most of my friends in London are in a similar situation, working hard, trying to make ends meet, but not able to save for their own place due to the ridiculously high costs. A few years ago I came across Jay Shafer’s Tumbleweed Tiny House Company who build very tiny houses. Go take a look at his site, if you haven’t already, it is full of the most beautiful, well thought out yet tiny houses. His site was an inspiration that I’ve carried around in my head for a while, turning over ideas, figuring out how to make it doable on a small amount of money. Then I heard about a customer of his called Dee Williams, an inspiring lady who bought plans from Jay and built her own tiny house for $10k using mostly recycled materials.

Now I’ve been pulling things out of skips for years, furnishing my own flats and rooms mostly from free finds. It always amazes me how people will throw away stuff that is perfectly usable to someone else. The magic of the internet has given us ebay, craigslist and freecycle, all great ways to reuse and recycle things for which we’ve no longer any use, but which still have plenty of life left in them.

Buying a set of plans wasn’t really going to work for me, as that would have meant relying too much on finding exactly the right parts rather than making use of the things that I could find free or cheaply. I wanted to womble as much stuff as I could for the house, so I started just rolling the idea around in my head, figuring out what I needed to have in the house, how to downsize my life to fit into such a small place. It’s a great exercise in going through what’s truly important to you.

I’ve done a reasonable amount of diy over the years, and I’m a hobby woodworker, so it made sense to work with what I knew. I also believe fervently in trying things you don’t know. Last year I needed to do some plumbing, so I sat on the internet for a couple of days and taught myself basic plumbing, enough to replumb sinks and baths and add additional radiators to a central heating system. If I don’t know how to do something, I enjoy figuring out and learning how to do it myself.

With all that in mind, I figured that I could build myself a tiny house for around £5k, while still having some luxuries in there. After all, I’m planning to live in it for a couple of years while I save money for the first chunk of the cottage build, and then live in it while building the bigger place. Further online research unearthed a whole movement in the US, and around the world, based on living in substantially smaller houses. It’s a reaction against the spread of McMansions, those huge cookie cutter houses built in their thousands across the US. When I lived in Texas for a few years, they were everywhere, whole subdivisions of these things, all 3-4000 square feet, and maybe 6 ot 7 different designs replicated over and over again. Huge, empty places where you could spend days hardly seeing the people you lived with. They felt completely soulless when I visited friends living in them. Jay Shafer has been one of the founders and leading lights of this movement, along with Greg Johnson who founded the Small House Society, which has forged a rethink on what we really need in the way of housing. I’ll be adding resource links to the ‘Inspiration’ sidebar on this page if you’d like to learn more (I particularly recommend subscribing to the Tiny House Blog that Kent Griswold runs, to see real imagination and ingenuity at work), along with links to other builders of tiny houses, once I have permission from them to link to their blogs.

So, after my marriage ending, a nervous breakdown, plus my business failing last year, I found myself increasingly unable to pay rent and desperately in need of something to rebuild my life around. I decided that if I didn’t do it now, then it probably wasn’t going to happen.

Of course, right when that happened I was offered a job I couldn’t turn down. I’m now working 3 days a week, doing a job that I’m finding challenging but hugely enjoyable, while earning me just enough to keep my head above water and start building the tiny house part time.

I therefore started spending rather too much time on freecycle and ebay……..

Written by justin

March 9th, 2009 at 11:33 am

Posted in Intentions

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