Legally Tiny

In 2015 I had an idea for a site–I wanted to share the stories of people who had found a way to live in a tiny house legally. Finding a place where the regulations and zoning allow building a tiny home, or allow living in a tiny house on wheels, can be a challenge–and in fact, it’s probably the biggest stumbling block for most tiny house lovers. And since it would be impossible for one person to collect the regulations for every state, county, and city in the United States, and even more impossible to try and track all the zoning in those same areas, a database of places seemed like a bad idea. Regulations and zoning can be fluid–changing all the time–and even if a regulation appears fairly fixed, it may be possible to find a way around it with a variance or conditional use permit. So a static database was definitely not the answer.

But a site where I could collect the stories of people who had found a way to live legally in their tiny house? That could be interesting!

During a lull in my schedule during law school, I bought a domain, and was launched. I found some good stories to link to, mostly on YouTube. But when the demands of school took over my life again, I didn’t keep up the site. My feeling was that it would be there, when I was ready to get back to it, and it would still be a good idea, whenever I got back to it…

This week I finally got back to it! And I do still think it’s a good idea, and that it will be useful for anyone thinking of building or buying a tiny house. There isn’t much content on the site yet, but you can browse for stories based on a particular state or city, or you can look for stories about tiny houses on a foundation or on wheels.

A lot has happened legally in the tiny house world, since I started the site in 2015–there is now a section of the IRC building code on tiny houses, which is a huge deal. So it’s a good time to be starting a site on the changes to that world. I’m looking forward to what comes next, and I hope if you have an interest in tiny houses, you’ll check out my first new post in a while, where I ask the question, How Big is a Tiny House?

Those who inspire us to dream bigger…

Back in 2011, while I was sick and not capable of doing much, I started to follow two blogs, both by women building their own tiny houses: Macy Miller and Ella Jenkins. At first it wasn’t as much about them both being women, as it was me just liking their houses, and enjoying the way they wrote about the building process. But over time, I grew more and more inspired by them both. Neither had any building experience, and both were doing most of the work themselves, with a little expert advice, when needed. Their two houses could not have been more different–Macy’s was artistic and modern, and Ella’s was traditional and a little whimsical–and I loved watching it all come together, over the months, on their blogs.

Since then I’ve become friends with Macy. I help her moderate a Facebook group with over 40,000 members, called Tiny House People, and when I was building my own house, I went to her for advice on the structural engineering, since she’s an architectural designer, and extremely knowledgable on the topic of tiny houses! Her house has been featured in Dwell Magazine and TIME Magazine, and may be the most well-known tiny house on the planet.

Then tonight I came across a comment from Ella on a post on Facebook, and seeing her name sparked all these happy memories of reading her blog, all those years ago. So I clicked on her name and the first post on her timeline was a video for a song she just recorded. She plays the harp, and actually included a tiny room for her harp, in her tiny house. I remember hearing an earlier version of this song, “It Ain’t Workin,” several years ago. But this version is more polished, and her voice is amazing!

So I’m sharing that video from Ella, and while I’m at it I also want to share my favorite of all the videos that feature Macy–it was made by the Google SketchUp Team, and it’s pretty great!

I think it takes a certain kind of personality type to want to build your own house, and it takes real guts to actually make it happen, so kudos to anyone who has ever built their own dream house! And special appreciation to the people who inspire us to dream bigger, and do more–and both of these women fit that description for me, and for so many others. Both of them are incredibly inspiring, for so many reasons!

And perhaps it’s even more inspiring to see what they’ve done after they built their houses.  Both have continued to dream big, and are accomplishing big things. Macy has been on the road for a year, with her family, in a tiny camper they built–so a second tiny home for the road–and she’s documenting it all. And Ella has released an album, and now a video.

Macy always says “it’s not about the house, it’s about the lifestyle the house provides,” and I agree. I also think that doing something really big, like building a house, even a tiny one, can change your life forever. Make your life bigger and better, and more fulfilling. Give you the courage to go after new challenges… Because honestly? If you’ve built a house, you can do anything!


My Tiny House: Framing the Foundation

Tiny House Trailer // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsWhat is the first step when building a tiny house on wheels, after research and buying the actual trailer? Building the foundation!

The first task was to remove half of the deck boards. They’re 2x6s, so heavy, and a solid deck wasn’t necessary, so to make the load lighter, I planned to remove every other one–and of course they were bolted on with hardware that required a lot of strength to remove!

Because I wanted my house to be 10’6″ wide, instead of the traditional 8’6″ wide, I needed to build over the wheel wells, so my foundation framing is done with 2×10 Douglas Fir–which makes the foundation tall enough to clear my wheels wells.

Each 2×10 was 10’6″ or 12′ in length, and so over 100 pounds. I definitely needed to hire someone strong to help get the foundation done.

The foundation framing with 2x10s is 24″OC, which is normally just fine–but I wanted to make sure my floor didn’t flex too much, so I decided to insert a 2×4 joist in between each of the 2×10 joists, so my floor would be supported every 12″ instead of every 24″. Why a 2×4? Because they’re much lighter than a 2×10 or even a 2×6, and since it was only to keep the floor from flexing too much, even a 2×4 was sufficient. You can see the blocking on the far left, for the porch, and the blocking in the far center, for the toilet, and blocking around each wheel well.

Wide Tiny House | Clearing the Wheel Wells // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Framing the Foundation // Photo: Cheryl Spelts
Close up of the way the blocking for the porch butts up against a floor joist.

Framing the Foundation of a Wide Tiny House // Photo: Cheryl Spelts
Matthew, the guy I hired to put the foundation together, felt that we needed more bulk at the front end of the trailer, so he used one 10’6″ 2×10, and then glued and screwed two pieces of 2×10 to it, to make it double in width, and then used Simpson Strong Ties at the join. The join is on the inside, and the full size 2×10 is on the outside, so it’s plenty strong.

Framing the foundation of a Tiny House // Photo: Cheryl Spelts
Right before the first layer of 1/2″ plywood sheathing got dropped on top… I wanted to document the Simpson Strong Ties that were used in the foundation. Each 2×10 joist had a 2×10 joist hanger on both ends, and the 2×4 joists, had 2×4 joist hangers on both ends. And where we needed blocking, for the porch, corner Gusset Angles were used.

Simpson Strong Tie Corner Ties // Photo: Cheryl Spelts
Simpson Strong Tie Corner Ties were used on the four corners, where the 2x10s met.

Framing the Foundation of a Wide Tiny House // Photo: Cheryl Spelts
A shot of both a 2×10 and the 2×4 joist hangers, along with a corner tie, all by Simpson Strong Ties. You can also see how the foundation hangs off the edge of the trailer, by about a 12″ on each side.

Foundation for a Wide Tiny House // Photo: Cheryl Spelts
The foundation with two layers of 1/2 plywood, glued and screwed down. Why two layers of 1/2″ instead of one layer of 3/4″? Two reasons! First, I could lift a 1/2″ piece of plywood, and I wasn’t sure how much help I would need to build the foundation, so I whenever I could make a choice that meant I could do the work if needed, I did. And second, by gluing and screwing down one layer of plywood first, and then gluing and screwing down the second layer, with overlapping seams, I ended up with a floor that is one big glued piece of plywood, rather than a floor made up of individual pieces that might shift or move on their own. It was just one more way to make my foundation and floor as stable and strong as possible.