Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ceiling trim, counter tops and an outlet

Just a couple of photos and updates to share this week.  We just got back from a weekend up at Mt. Matt and had a lovely weekend.

On Saturday, we got up early and left Atlanta a little before 7am.  We drove straight to Lowe's where we bought a few supplies including stain (Fiddlehead) and the wood for the counter tops. We stopped and got some lunch and headed up to the mountain.  When we got there, we took a few moment to eat our lunch before we loaded up the ATV trailer to cart up to the house.  Once we unloaded our stuff we got to work determining just how we were going to do the ceiling ridge trim.  We had to set up the table saw, which we're not as proficient with. We just had to figure out the angles to be able to fit the trim up in the ceiling to fill in the gap between the siding.  I think we did a rather nice job of it myself.  Though it was a little hard to get the picture looking straight up
Once the ceiling trim was in place, we installed the new light fixture. We picked this simple round ball to match the two fixtures in the living space. 
Then, the last project for Saturday was to stain the counter tops.  We decided a long time ago to make green the dominant accent color in our little cabin. This will just give a little contrast against all the light wood everywhere. 
Then our neighbors up on the hill came to pick us up and we all went to dinner. It was a delightful time. They just moved to their own little cabin from Las Vegas and have only been here for a few weeks.  They took us to Fig, an incredible restaurant in Biltmore Village

Today, we slept in. The weather was beautiful for sleeping in the loft this weekend. It wasn't as hot as it has been the rest of this summer.  After we got up, I put a second coat of stain on the counters and Matt installed an outlet in the storage loft (that way we can plug in a fan up there to provide some cross ventilation.  I didn't take any pictures of that because installing an outlet is rather boring to watch. 

We'll not be back for a couple of weeks.  This coming weekend we will be immersing ourselves in one of our other favorite things, Dragon*Con.  And the weekend after that we are staying in Atlanta to be able to go to our favorite bar to watch the first Detroit Lions game of the season. After that, though, it seems like the only thing we have left to do is trim.  The finish line is so close! 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ask Matt: Finding Land

I wanted to continue our semi-irregular feature with another commenter question. Reader Sarah wrote:
Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. My husband and I have giddily been reading your posts because we've been inspired to go the tiny home route as well, and are specifically interested in NC. Incidentally, we found you on the Tiny Life blog by googling "North Carolina small home"). :)

Right now we're in the process of trying to find land (beginners!), and I was wondering if you'd mind sharing how you went about searching for your land. We're not in NC now, so looking online remotely and getting in touch with brokers who actually have parcels available has been a bit challenging. I would greatly appreciate any advice you could offer.

Thank you so much
And Matt says:

We took our time with our search for land. Before we began, we did a lot of soul searching to make sure this was something we really wanted to do. We also tried to determine some of the specifics. We considered, in no particular order: privacy, distance from a town / city, road access, cost, size of the parcel, availability of water, and climate. Since we had already decided we wanted to be in the mountains, we also had to consider slope, sun exposure, accessibility and a host of other attributes. Our decision to be off the grid allowed us to look in places that conventional land buyers might not, which also meant that some lower cost options were available to us. We thought about our impact on our neighbors. It is very important to us that we take the people around us into consideration and do our best not to disturb those who, like us, are just looking for a little peace.

The actual search took about a year. We spent a great deal of time driving around different areas, talking to locals, reading everything we could, and keeping an eye on real estate listings (several real estate sites have free MLSsearches), classified ads, and for sale signs. Because of our jobs and the three hour drive to get to the mountains, most of this work took place on the weekends. A few months into our search we decided to talk to a few Realtors to see if it made sense to get some help, and we found one who was excited about what we were doing. Having a realtor accelerated our search, because he could do some of the preliminary searching and provide insights that saved us many hours and many gallons of gas. Each property we saw gave us a better idea of what we wanted and what we could afford. We learned what things we could be flexible on and what things were absolute requirements. It took us another several months of weekend trips, but the right piece of land finally came on the market at the right price and we made our purchase.
This is some other beautiful land we found but it didn't have the privacy we were looking for.
And this is from the day we found the land that would become Mt. Matt.
The view form our mountain.

 We'll be back with more building updates after this weekend.  Keep reading and please, keep commenting. We're happy to answer your questions. 


Monday, August 22, 2011

Ask Matt

Welcome to our new semi-regular feature called Ask Matt! From time to time, faithful readers will pose a question on the blog that I as your humble narrator cannot answer. Matt, who has full permissions to post here on the blog tends to defer the writing to me, but I have asked him to answer some of the questions that have asked in comments.  

Our first question comes from fellow Tiny House blogger and enthusiast Andrew Odom
“I am anxious to hear what you do with the solar. What are you setting up? What is the budget? What will it run? Do tell, do tell.”
And Matt says:

We designed the solar for our cabin by first minimizing our needs - energy hogs like electric stoves, fridges, washer / dryer, air conditioning, water heaters, microwaves and such were ruled out. Our system provides lights, small fans, and plugs for small appliances. When we need to run construction tools or other items with large power needs, we use a portable generator. The generator can also recharge the batteries if we need it to.

When selecting the actual components, we took a two phase approach. The system we have now is phase 1. It is a small system consisting of a 60 watt solar array, a 7 amp charge controller, and a 2000 watt- modified sine wave inverter and (2) 60 Amp/hr batteries. I put that together for about $900. The inverter connects directly to the breaker box on our cabin and we use standard electrical fixtures and outlets. The weakness of this system is that the small solar array limits the amount of power we can generate and the small batteries limit the amount of power we can store. Since we are only at the cabin on weekends, this has not been a problem. The batteries are full when we get there and the system runs everything we need it to (lights, laptops, cell phones, battery chargers) for the weekend.

Next year we plan to spend more time in the cabin. When we outgrow the current system, we'll move to phase 2. To do that, we will upgrade the solar panels to (2) 240 watt mono crystalline solar panels, a 30 amp charge controller, and 3 115 Amp/hr batteries. Originally we had planned to upgrade the inverter to a pure sine wave inverter, but the modified sine wave inverter we currently use has worked perfectly, so there is no need to spend the extra money. Based on current prices, the upgrade will cost approximately $2200. The phase 2 system should provide enough power to meet our needs on an ongoing basis. In case it falls short due to long periods of cloudy weather or unexpectedly high usage, the generator will continue to provide backup power and charging capability.
Please, feel free to ask any questions about anything we are doing at any time and I promise to pass them on to Matt to answer and will publish the answers here. 

We'll be back up to the house this coming weekend to start some of the interior trim and finish work.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Minor Report; No Photos

I'm afraid I don't have much to report this week after our trip to Asheville. We got a lot done, just not a lot that would be photo- or even noteworthy.

We left for Asheville early on Saturday morning to go directly to a U-Haul rental place to rent a cargo van. See, we had several hundred various trim pieces to buy from Lowe's and we realized that there was no way it would all fit in the Element. I love the Element, and it can do almost anything, but even it can't carry about 200 individual pieces of 8 foot lumber. It was almost entirely trim for both the interior and exterior. This is really the last materials run for the build. We do still need to go get the counter tops and the shelves, but that can all fit in the Element with no problem.

After we loaded all the wood into the cargo van, we had to take it up to Mt. Matt only to unload it again and put it in the barn room. Since we are no longer sleeping in the barn, we can use it to store a lot of materials now and only take what we need up to the Tiny House for each project.

After we organized all the wood, we went up to the house to take our stuff and knock out a couple of little projects. We put a light box up in the ceiling to install the light bar we got for that. Then we installed the light, but realized that it wasn't a good fit. We had bought a Tidig from Ikea and because of the way it installed with side screws, it just didn't work in the peak of the gabled roof. We had to take it down and we'll figure out something smaller.

We kept the van a little long, so we really needed to leave to get it back to the U-Haul place back in time. And after we did that, we decided to go to the Highland Brewery tasting room. I really enjoyed it and it quickly launched to nearly the top of the list for local Asheville breweries. After a couple of pints, we stopped for dinner and then went back up to Mt. Matt to call it a night. It was a cool and rainy night, so sleeping in the loft was terribly pleasant

On Sunday, we woke to a rainy morning so some of our plans had to be changed. We wanted to do the trim in the ceiling, but we couldn't set up the table saw outside. Instead, we put up the hall light one of the last plugs. Also, our neighbor walked up to the house and we visited with him for a while.

We cleaned up and were on our way home about 1:30. Once back in Atlanta, met up with some friends for our favorite pizza, Mellow Mushroom, for some fun and conversation.

Next trip up should have more photo opportunities. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

South Africa Build Project

I have never monetized this blog. I don't have advertisements and I don't promote anything specific here (save for geeking over various gadgets we use in or around our tiny house). I have always figured this blog was about detailing the process of building our little house and then would transition into a exploration of living in it. I don't begrudge people who do advertise on their blog, I think it is wonderful that people can earn money for what they love to do.

That being said, I've added something to the sidebar here. I am not looking for donations to support the building of our tiny house in North Carolina, but I am suggesting that if you like what you read here you would consider donating money to the Zulu Orphan Alliance.

We will be traveling to South Africa in November to discuss the building, see the land, and meet the people we will be helping. We have selected a building method (Earth Bags) and have decided on plans for the building that will be started in the Spring of next year. Well, Spring for us here in the northern hemisphere. I suppose that would mean it will be Autumn in South Africa when we start. We have all these things as well as the people to help build, but the one thing we could always use is more money.

I'll continue to post updates of our own tiny house build here and I will be happy to share any and all information about the building in South Africa as well. I appreciate each and every one of you who read Life in 120 Square Feet. Thank you for supporting this project.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Living in 120 Square Feet

You may have noticed the title of this blog is "Life in 120 Square Feet" not "How to Build a 120 Square Foot Cabin" even though I have yet to talk about actually living in the little house. I suppose it is natural - before you can live in a house you've built you have to build it. And it has been a long process for us since we are living and working in Atlanta during the week and coming up to Asheville about two weekends a month to build this damn thing. It has been as frustrating as it has been rewarding, and I wouldn't change a thing. 
But the build has hit a major milestone. Probably the most major of all the potential milestones. We can stay in it.  We had been camping on the land and sleeping in the little barn room as we built the house, but over our 4th of July campout, we stayed in the House for the very first time. On the first morning, when I made my way back down to the barn where all of our friends had pitched their tents, a friend was sitting at the campfire and he asked me, "So, how was it" and the only thing I could think of was that it was no longer camping, it was simply "living". 
There is a lot of work to be done. And, in truth, the only thing we can really do in the house right now is sleep (and eat a pre-packed picnic meal).  We have to finish the kitchen and the bathroom before it is truthfully livable.  But it is a whole new reality when we are staying in the little house we built with our own two hands. To see it come together like this is mindblowing and humbling. We did this. Now that we are nearly finish, each trip up brings us closer to being able to do one more thing inside the house.  We're getting the solar and electrical system set up.  Soon the kitchen will be done and we do make coffee and hot chocolate inside. One step closer to living in it every time we finish a project. 
As the rest of the peices fall into place, this blog will in fact transition from building this little house to living in it. Living off the grid on 15 acres on a mountain about 20 miles from the nearest city. Stay tuned for more revelations about our journey.