Saturday, November 28, 2015

Thoughts After A Year In Fy Nyth


So it's been just over a year since I moved into Fy Nyth. She arrived on the 20th of November last year. I took a few days to move stuff in and get settled, and on Thanksgiving day last year, spent my first night here. Here are my thoughts on tiny living after one full year of personal experience. 

In general I love it! 

I have not felt any need for move living space, nor felt crowded or claustrophobic. Actually I haven't found the space or the "tininess" to be an issue at all. I have 170 square feet plus a sleeping loft and a storage loft. This is quite comfy for one person full time. And even two people part of the time. My best friend lives out of his RV, so he spent a lot of time kinda living here over the last year. Admittedly, most of his stuff stayed in his RV, but as far as having two people hanging out here and cooking, eating, watching movies, writing, reading, and even working out, that was no problem for either of us. Just recently I've added a kitten to the residents, and she has not made it feel any more crowded either. I've had dinner parties (admittedly smaller than the 20 to 40 plus people I used to host at a time) frequently and 4 people at a time feels very comfortable. 6 is crowded inside, but I've done it. During the summer when the weather was nice, having bigger crowds around the fire pit outside was no problem at all. I've even had a few other overnight guests. Between the loft bed and the couch that turns into a bed, everyone has been comfortable with that as well.


I do now have a small garden/tool shed that used to be an old outhouse. Especially if you don't plan to move all the time, some kind of outside storage is probably important. I of course have gardening stuff in there, but even if you don't garden, there is a good chance you are going to have things like propane bottles, gas cans, large water jugs, extra peat moss for a toilet, etc that are not best stored in a house of any size. It's a really small space too, but having all that stuff outside of and away from the house is really nice.

Cleaning. It does often need done more often than in a bigger house. When you walk in the door a few feet with dirty shoes, all of a sudden, there is mud on your entire floor! But, cleaning is also very easy and quick. Sweeping and washing all the floors in the house can be done in less then ten minutes. Most of the time I just use my dust pan and brush to tidy up the floor every day or two. My kitchen gets cleaned every time I'm cooking, so that never really needs done on it's own. The bathroom takes almost no work. The shower is just storage and the toilet bowl I spray down with vinegar water every time it gets used, so it really never needs cleaned either. There is almost nothing to dust. The book shelves are covered in books and there are almost no other flat surfaces to collect dust. So while the whole floor gets dirty rapidly, cleaning really doesn't take hardly any of my time.


My kitchen is very functional. As you probably know, this was a big deal to me as I cook all the time. I've cooked from scratch on a pretty daily basis for 2 to 10 people at a time. (I trade prepared meals to several other people, hence the volume.) I've canned pickles, beets, spaghetti sauce, dried my own herbs, made sauerkraut, brewed kombucha, baked bread, cookies, pies, angel food cake, to list just a few things, all with no problems. 

I absolutely love my double sink and would find it very hard to function efficiently without it. It is totally worth the space it takes up. My small fridge/freezer works great. I love my stove and oven except for one thing. It works great, the 4 burners can hold a lot and full sized cookie sheets or a 20 pound turkey can fit in the oven. 

The only problem is the ignition on the oven. It uses a glow bar. This draws a similar amount of power to running a microwave the entire time the propane oven is on. That's huge if you have a limited amount of solar power and like to bake things for hours at a time. There are a few ovens, including an otherwise almost identical one make by the same company that only use a small battery to ignite the oven and use no other electricity. This one can drain more from my battery bank in a few hours than everything else in the house can in days. If you are going off grid, pay attention to this. I was ignorant about much of this off grid stuff a year ago and had no idea that a propane oven could draw that much power. Tumbleweed is working with me to switch this model out as they were previously unaware of this issue so that I can go back to using my oven regularly. 


My pantry is adequate, I could fill more space for sure. Many of my home canned things are stored in the second loft which is about half food storage too. It works with no problems, but I could always use a walk in pantry if I had the space! I do have the advantage of having a full sized upright freezer stored in a friends shop further away on the property. Without this, I would not of course be able to store the volume of frozen things I have right now, including 300 pounds of free range all natural organic elk meat. So I am thankful for that option. Again, I cook for him in exchange for that benefit and we both seem to find it a good arrangement. 


My bathroom is totally fine. It is tiny, but that has not bothered me at all. I still don't use my shower other than as storage. I shower at the gym or the same neighboring friend's house where my extra freezer is. This is just because I have to haul all my water by hand and a shower would empty my tank pretty rapidly. My shower is totally functional. All my hanging clothing is stored in there and Wynn's bed and litter box are in the bottom. 

I am totally satisfied with my Natures Head composting toilet. I was a little nervous about odors before having actually used one, but can report no problems at all. This has been verified with fresh noses when people come over to visit, so it's not just that I have become used to an odor. I do like my commercial toilet a lot, but after using it for this long now, I suspect I would have been content with a home made bucket version as well. 

My mirror with the small cupboard behind is terrific both as a mirror (it's large enough to get a full length view if you need) and has a perfect amount of storage for my toiletries. And I originally found it at a second hand store for $10 which is probably the best part!


The living room / dinning room is also fine for everything I've done. I find the couch pretty comfy for reading, watching movies, or writing, and am totally comfortable when I sleep there as well. The storage underneath is prefect for things I don't need to access frequently as well as the half that holds all my batteries and electrical components.

My gateleg table from Ikea is amazing! So tiny and out of the way, and so easy to expand for meals and guests. Plus all the little drawers hold all those little things you need sometimes but tend to not have a home for. It's also a great work surface for the times I have a project that requires more surface area. It's also a very comfortable hight to use as a desk or while working on my laptop.


With the table folded down, I have a decent amount of open floor space for whatever you might want that for. Things like dancing or pushups maybe? Those have both happened. ;) 


And the little coat and boot nook right behind the door works fine. Sometimes in the winter, I wish there was a little more space for snow pants, hats, gloves, and so on. But this setup works pretty well and keeps everything out of the way.


My sleeping loft is very comfy. I can easily sit up anywhere if I want. My foam mattress, also from Ikea and inexpensive, I love sleeping on. It's firm enough for me which is great because really soft mattresses make my back hurt. I also spend plenty of time curled up there reading or watching movies. It's even comfy for two people who want to watch something together to curl up and do so.


My storage loft also works fine. I still just stand on the couch to reach things in it. Most of which I don't access very often. And like I said, it's half food storage right now. And partially decorative too I guess with plants and photos. Hiding behind them are more boring things like extra paper and warranty files, yarn for knitting projects, spare tupperware containers (I end up going through a lot when I am handing out food and no one gives back their empty containers for a while. Then they tend to all come back at once and pile up.) and so on.
  

Structurally she seems well put together. Remember, I did not build Fy Nyth myself, she was built for me by Tumbleweed, so I do not have the deep intimate knowledge of her insides that you who built your own all do. (By the way, all of you who built your own are way cooler than me!) But here are my observations. I think Tumbleweed did a good job.

My metal roof sheds snow and rain with no problems. And while you can hear rain, due to all the insulation, it's a soft pleasant sound. Not ever an overwhelming rain on a tin shed roof kind of noise.



The cedar siding I stained grey just so she would blend into her surroundings better. This should not need redone for a long time. And staining my whole house only took two afternoons and one gallon of stain! And while I wasn't sure if I would actually like this color initially, I love it now.

Everything is well insulated and I like the spray foam. The space is easy to heat and keep warm. Even when it is -30F or less which does happen here. Also it's easy to keep cool in the summer. Admittedly, we do not tend to have hot summers (low 80's are pretty much the max, but 70's are more normal), but by leaving the windows all open overnight (the lows tend to be in the 40's or 30's even in the middle of summer), and then pulling the curtains on the sunny side during the day, it feels air conditioned all day long. 


I like my cork floors a lot. They do not feel nearly as cold on bare feet as hardwood and I always tend to get cold feet. The cork also seems to be wearing quite well, meaning after a year, I can not see any wear at all. It can't soak up water, and is very easy to sweep and wash.


So in general, I love my place. There is very little I would change. But there are a few big ones I would do differently if I were designing my house right now though with the past years worth of experience to draw from.

First, I would have it built on a trailer that goes out over the wheel wells. That would give me a little more than an extra foot of width inside. This does not sound like much, but it feels huge! I got to spend some time in another tiny that was otherwise the same size and laid out just like mine and it felt almost twice as spacious (maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but it was close to that) thanks to those extra inches.


Second, I would have used totally different windows. Ones without all the little panes for starters. These are really cute, but a giant pain to clean. My last big house had a total of 10 windows, with 40 corners to clean. I hate window washing, and the corners are always the hardest part to get clean. Fy Nyth has 16 windows with 4 to 8 small panes on each. That gives me at least 60 small pieces of glass and a corresponding whopping 240 corners to clean! And I would have put in a few bigger windows in general, and less total. This would give me a broader view outside, and larger stretches of wall space inside. Probably only ending up with ten windows total.


The next problem is closely related. I would not have used wooden window frames but composite or something similar. Because, in a tiny space, especially when it is cold outside, you will tend to get condensation. There will be some moisture in the air just from each person or animal's breathing. If you also have propane heat, drying coats or boots, food simmering and releasing steam, or anything else causing moisture in the air, this will add up rapidly. Above you can see how much water (and that morning, ice - it was below zero outside) my windows collect. This keeps the wooden frames constantly damp, even though I wipe up the condensation multiple times a day. Remember all 240+ corners in my windows? Yep, I have to try to dry moisture out of each of them multiple times a day, every day for about half of the year. This is a giant pain. In the summer it's no problem. My windows almost all stay open all the time. 

Damp wood will eventually mold. This problem is being kept in check right now by keeping borax soaked into all the damp wood. It kills mold and helps prevent regrowth. Works way better that clorox which is what I first tried last winter. Even so, staying constantly damp and freezing and thawing for half the year is for sure going to pull my window frames apart and make them need to be replaced years earlier than they should. So do not use wood! At least if you live anywhere cold. Yeah, I'd still have condensation with some other material, but should be able to just wipe up the water and not have the frames constantly damp and attempting to mold.


Also related,  I think I am going to add a wood stove. Probably this little beauty above. Initially I did not want wood for several reasons. The space required by a wood stove and the fact that if you are not home and it burns out, almost a guarantee with a small stove unless you are always home 24/7, your house is going to freeze. Small spaces are easy to heat, but they also cool down quickly since there is so little mass to hold the heat. And a frozen house will burst your pipes, kill your houseplants, make your pets miserable, and possible shatter any food you have stored in glass. 

I am now rethinking this decision. Wood is a very dry heat and should take care of all the above condensation issues. This may or may not work for you depending where you live and how much you move your tiny. I am obviously pretty settled into this spot and not planning to go anywhere anytime soon. And thanks to the infamous pine beetles, I have a virtually unlimited supply of dry standing firewood right outside my door. So other than my labor, this would be free heat instead of having to buy propane. This also would allow me to just stack up my stove and open windows to let out moisture while cooking without worrying about the heat loss and expense. (Not to mention that my propane heater does have to have electricity to run. Like the oven, this was something I was unaware of going into the off grid thing.)  I will still have my propane heater on a thermostat which will take care of the frozen house problem when I am gone and the stove burns out. The other heater will just kick on and take over. But I should be able to do most of my heating with wood. It would also give me a cooking option should something happen to my propane range. 

Yeah I've realized I'm some kind of cross between a minimalist and a prepper. ;) But I really like being independent and self sufficient. And not having lots of junk and clutter. Probably before the start of next winter, there will be a small wood stove in here, that at least, is somewhat easy to remedy. Replacing all the windows and changing their locations is not exactly simple or cheep, and will not be happening any time soon if ever.


Living off grid is not necessarily related to going tiny. However I did both at the same time and I know some others have as well. There was a pretty huge learning curve related to that when I moved in here. If you are going to suddenly take a house off grid, especially right at the start of a WY winter, I highly recommend having a friend around who knows something more than I did about building/electricity/etc. I'm sure I would have figured it out eventually, but I can't thank my friend and neighbor Clay enough for all his assistance and knowledge in this area.

At this point though, most of that stuff is pretty easy and automatic. In some ways it does add extra chores, but none of them are hard and as I said, I do love the freedom and independence. I just know now that if it snowed overnight I need to run up and dust off my solar panels. If it was cloudy all day and it's winter, I need to go out and kick my generator on for a while. If my drinking water jug is nearly empty, my main water tank probably is too and I need to go pick up water. If it's been a few weeks, I need to change the oil and clean the filter on my generator. If I think an appliance runs on propane or anything else, I still need to find out how much electricity it requires to operate. If I can't hear the dribble of liquid into the toilet, my urine tank is nearly full and needs emptied. And so on. 


Overall, I would have stayed with the same layout I have right now even if I was redoing the whole thing. It is very functional for my lifestyle. I would have still bought a tiny if I had that choice to make again. I would have still gone off grid capable at least, even if I had the option to plug into power. I would still park it right here as long as that was an option. 

What I do hope is that my thoughts and observations will help some of you who are still in the planning phase think about some possible issues and save you from having any list of things you would do differently a year after moving in!



27 comments:

  1. Ariel, first off, another excellent and detailed post about your tiny home experience thus far. I recall the post about the window condensation and subsequent mold. Can you explain more about the Clorox vs borax? How do you apply the borax? The wood stove and propane heater as backup sound like a very good solution for heat and with less humidity.

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    1. Thank you. I just put a few tablespoons or Borax in a small bowl or mug and add just enough water to make a paste. Then I take an old toothbrush and "paint" it around the window frames. Letting the little white granules sit there in all the edges and corners. They kill any current mold on contact. And every time more moisture soaks into the wood it seems to dissolve a little more into the wood with it, keeping mold from regrowing as well.

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    2. Good to know! I am in a tiny house in the Utah mountains and our windows have frozen condensation every morning! The wood window seals are almost always damp. I will have to give the borax a try, since I have a box of it just sitting around.

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    3. I think borax may be toxic to animals, but I'm not sure. Now that you've added a cat to your home, this might be worth checking.

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    4. Thank you indeed for all the information! Very useful for us dreaming of our own tinys and drawing setups :-) for the mold issue, I'd recommend reading up on this safe, natural product: http://www.concrobium.com/

      during the summer or a "drier" period, you might also want to treat the wood of your windows with a product like Never Wet or a marine-grade deck paint... (http://www.neverwet.com/) please keep the posts, and pictures, coming! :-D

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  2. Excellent update based on experience. Definitely a lot of things to take into consideration. Thank you.

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    1. You're welcome! I'm always glad to be helpful to someone else.

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  3. First, I love that you named your house Fy Nyth - It is quirky and meaningful. It is also great to see someone actually living in a tiny house in a cold climate. I live in Alberta Canada and have wanted a tiny house ever since I can remember, and I'm 55. But after discovering Tumbleweed and the tiny house movement, I have seriously thought that it may not be feasible for this climate. But to read your posts and know that you are living my actual dream, is wonderful. Thank you for sharing..

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    1. That's great. I'm very happy if I can show someone else that this is possible!

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  4. Sandra, also check out Leaf Tiny Houses for some additional cold-weather ideas. The most recent model, Version.3, which was designed with the intent for it to be used in the Yukon.
    http://tinyhousing.ca/index.php/commission.html

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  6. You have a lovely home, Ariel. I am considering going tiny myself here in the next couple years and this post has a multitude of advice that I think can be useful. Additionally, I think your idea for a backup heat source when you are not home is a sound one and, again, one that I did not give appropriate attention.

    Particularly of note was your portion discussing outside storage. It was something I hadn't really considered before beyond and outside hutch for storing firewood (I'm hoping to build or pay for a build that incorporates a woodstove for heating), but you make a good case for the storage of consumables that don't necessarily need to take up space in the home itself.

    Great read and thank you for the information. Coming from a particularly cold region of the Montana Rockies, there was a lot of information here that puts me more at ease with my decision to eventually go tiny. Just need to establish my income and the planning shall commence!

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    1. Thank you. I'm glad to be helpful! Where abouts in MT are you?

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  7. Hi Ariel! I stumbled on your blog while researching tiny houses. I have a suggestion for your moisture problem, an heat-recovering air exchanger used by Leaf Tiny Houses in the Yukon (someone else also mentioned them in a previous comment). Here's the gizmo, the Lunos e2:
    https://foursevenfive.com/product-category/ventilation/lunos-e2-2/

    Cheers from northern MN!

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    1. Thank you. I looked it up. I think that is something I wish had been installed as the house was built. We'll see if the wood stove helps significantly. If not, installing that now may still be a good idea.

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  8. Awesome article and great information.. I have done some research since I think this will be what I will purchase, except there is soooo much information it makes me drunk..lol

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    1. There is a lot to learn. I know a lot now that I wish I'd known before, but I also am glad I jumped in and live right here right now.

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  9. Excellent post. Thank you! Been drawing my tiny for quite some time. Getting ready to purchase a long sheet of construction plastic, go pick up empty appliance boxes, and some painters tape so I can tape it out on the square footage I want and make my furniture out of the boxes to see how well my idea flows before looking for someone to design it from wheels to nails! This one is going to be my forever home!

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    1. That sounds like a terrific idea! I've heard of others taping out their layout, but I like your furniture building idea a lot too.

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  10. Thank you for writing about your experiences with your tiny house. The woodburner you are considering seams to be rather large. I saw many tiny houss on you tube with Dickinson heaters that are fixed on the wall. So you would not loose the floorspace beneath it. One of the ran actually on wood and needed only tiny peaces of wood. Perhaps you can find it. Unfortunately I don't remember the video. But you should be able to google it. Also I saw a couple who had great problems with condensation. You might check their video https://youtu.be/A8MRfi3DI-U and a woman in Montreal who has perhaps the above mentioned heat recovering air exchanger or something similar. https://youtu.be/gCwxgKW9bBg Hope it helps you deciding what to use yourself. Though I am not living in a tiny house I enjoy reading about yours and am not afraid any more of having to downsize in the near future.

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  11. Hello there!
    Love it! I am wondering if you would be so kind to share the brand and color of stain you used? Thanks from Idaho!! Exact color)

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    1. It's an oil based semi transparent stain. The color is a custom mixed very dark grey. Can't tell you more exactly than that, but there is a lot of black in there. In the can it looks really dark, but because the wood was so light and the stain is semi transparent, it turned out this shade and I love it.

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  12. You have a wonderful home, and your posts are so full of information. thanks for sharing with us.

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