Tiny Houses in Portland

Tiny House Hotel Caravan

As I mentioned in my last post, I was in the Pacific Northwest at the end of last year. One of the stops was to Portland, Oregon, which is widely known for its big Tiny House community. But when I heard that there are about 6000 Tiny Houses in that area, I was really surprised about the number. Before I had come to Portland, I wasn’t aware, of how big that Tiny House Movement in the U.S. really is. There are two or three different regular shows on TV covering that topic, from following a person or family in their journey to get their very custom-fit amazing Tiny House, to realtors specialized in “Tiny”, looking for tiny and small houses to buy.

While I dove into the scene, I learned that some definitions are more strict than others. A “Tiny House” to a lot of people is not just a very small house, but specifically a small house on wheels. Others just use it for all kinds of very small houses, even tiny appartements. The Tiny House Movement is not just about choosing the size of your home, it’s also (at least most of the time) a social statement. It’s about questioning the current house sizes and all that it entails, simplifying your life, getting out of (or as a precaution not to get in) debt, being able to move without having to give up your house, and probably many more other reasons. But even though everyone has a different reason for joining the Tiny House Community, it still feels like a bonding aspect that really forms a global (sub)community. This inspired me to look a little closer at the Tiny House Communities in Europe, which merits a separate blog post 🙂

During my trip I was able to visit the Portland Tiny House Hotel “Caravan “, which is actually just an old parking lot with currently 6 Tiny Houses arranged in a circle and a small communal area with a fireplace in the middle. Even though it’s not especially cheap to spend a night in one of the houses, it is a great (and relatively cheap) opportunity to try out living in one of them, and maybe even finding out some details of what you really need or don’t need in your own Tiny House.

Lilypad

At the Tiny House Hotel tour I met a Portland resident living in a Tiny House named Lilypad . She was very gracious and showed me her tiny magical amazing universe. It is relatively unusual compared to most of the other Tiny Houses I know, because it has two lofts, both accessible by stairs (not with a ladder). She really created a space with 5 different areas that feel like rooms, making it feel a lot more spacious. The thing that made all the difference was the roof, that was high on one side and a little curved on the other. Having that instead of a gable gives you about twice the headroom (to the sides) in the lofts.

A lot is said about why going Tiny is great, some voices are already countering it. For me, it always depends on your goal. What are you willing to give up? What are you longing to gain? It’s a very vital part of going tiny that should be asked in the beginning. But I believe if those balance each other out, you’re good to go. How about you? What do you think is the most important question to ask when going Tiny?

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(almost) running water

To get myself some luxury in my tiny house, the next thing on my bucket list was to build a rack for the sink. The idea was to have some kind of canister for water storage connected to a tap, the sink, and a bucket below to catch the greywater. My goal was to produce a system that was as simple as possible while still serving all the needs I had.

enamel sink

This was the enamel sink I found on the internet months ago and fell in love right away. perfect size (38×40 cm), perfect weight, and most importantly: exactly the style that I was looking for. I didn’t want plastic because that’s just cheap, doesn’t look good and … well I don’t really have to list all the reasons why this just isn’t an option. Ceramic would have been okay, but it’s extremely heavy and didn’t fit into my tiny house stylistically. Metal wouldn’t have been perfect, but was the only other option I could live with, but luckily didn’t have to. The funny thing is, that the sink wasn’t only perfect for all the reasons I already mentionned, but it was also the cheapest option, because the guy selling it had a few of them and didn’t know what to do with it.

sinkrack

So for the rack… I didn’t want to build the whole rack myself, because I was a little insecure about the stability of the thing, so I used an IVAR rack (from IKEA) that was 50 cm wide and 180cm high for the back that was going to be by the wall, and another one that was only about 80cm high for the front. Since 80 is a little low for the sink, I added some height by tinkering, built a frame for the sink to sit on, and screwed everything tight.

sink with running water

For the water storage I found a solar shower bag with a tap that I just hung on the IVAR rack, put a bucket below, and now I have the luxury of running water! It’s amazing how seemingly little things can make such a big difference and produce so much excitement for me! I’m still looking for a prettier water container (maybe out of glass), but for now it’ll definitely do.

It’s all down the drain… or is it?

Since I’ve been asked some questions about the composting toilet I built, about how it works and what’s the goal of it, I decided to share some of the research I’ve been doing. Warning: I will not sugarcoat this topic, so if you don’t want to read about shit, just stop reading.

So what’s the difference between the good old outhouse and a composting toilet?

The outhouse was – as the name suggests – outside, so the problem of it being smelly didn’t really exist or at least wasn’t a focus. You just dug a hole, put a “house” over it and used it until it was full. In the early days they probably just dug a different hole at some other place. Later on it was emptied regularly.

The composting toilet is in some ways not that different, but the focus and intent is. For example one of the main goals is to conserve water, and by extension not water down the excrements so that they cannot be used for anything other than be treated in a plant with a high input of energy. To go even further, the idea is to create/close cycles in nature. So by composting your excrements, it is – with time – converted into valuable soil that can be used to grow food again.

That is probably the part that worries the most people: “But diseases can be transmitted and all kinds of stuff…” – Well, I can only rely the information that I found during my research, but it all depends on the time and quality of the composting process. I would probably still not use it for my vegetables but for bushes and trees instead, but that’s only because I didn’t go into the nitty gritty science of that topic (yet).

If that’s the part that worries you, there is always the possibility to just collect it in a (thick and preferrably not see-through) bag and throw it in the trash. With this solution, no natural cycles were closed, but at least the other goals that I mentioned can be achieved.

I also briefly mentioned the smell before… well, I read in a few articles, that a big part of the smell comes from the combination of urine with excrements. I did a small field test about a year ago and did notice a big difference. Having said this, I also feel the need to mention, that even though it does smell a lot less, it still smells. So it is imperative to always close the lid and preferrably have a way to ventilate the area of collection.

To achive this separation of urine and excrements, I used a special toilet seat produced by a company called “Separett” that offers all kinds of different non-water toilet solutions. From a very simple toilet seat like I used to a high-tech composting toilet.

In my first few weeks of usage, what surprised me the most, is the ratio between urine and excrement. I do need to empty my urine bucket almost every other day, whereas the excrement-bucket is still only half full after a few weeks. In the beginning, the smell was not really detectable, but now after about 3 weeks it seems to be time to clear out (even though it’s still not too bad). And I don’t have any ventilation yet!

Does anyone of you have different experiences? I’d love to read about them.

new garden, new pets

I already started three vegetable beds last year, and extended my garden to house another four. I was planning on planting tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber, peas, beans, carrots and a mixture of herbs. At the beginning of the year, my enthusiasm and motivation was great, but it diminished over time… mostly due to a very well known garden-pet: the slug!

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Since the garden is in a rather musty and wet area there were huge amounts of slugs! They left my tiny and fragile tomato plants mostly alone – I guess that is due to the fact that they have a special odor, but everything else was gorged down in almost lightning speed (especially for a slug). My equally tiny and fragile cucumber and zucchini and pepper plants seem to be the most delicious thing the slugs had seen.

My frustration with these creatures grew by the minute. I was researching all kinds of ways to get rid of them either without killing them or at least without being too cruel about it. Nothing seemed to work – except just picking them off one by one… And that isn’t less cruel if you kill them afterwards and also far too much work to do on a regular basis. Also it didn’t keep my fragile non-tomato-plants alive anyways.

I read about creating all kinds of rough surfaces that they supposedly do not want to cross, and odorous plants that they do not like… they didn’t care at all about the surface, they only disliked lavender and rosemary, but loved loved loved thyme (the day after planting, I found about 15 or more slugs on the one plant), and even though they surely disliked the lavender and rosemary, that didn’t keep them from eating the delicious plants right next to them. I would have liked to go the permaculture-way and get a runner duck, but what would I have done with it as soon as the slugs were gone??

But after spending a lot of time, thoughts and observations, the tide somehow turned. I became more and more fascinated by these creatures! There were so many different kinds in my garden that were all slightly different in appearance and behaviour. There was the rather normal dark brown spanish slug (Arion vulgaris), but also differently coloured ones that were lighter and had yellowish stripes.

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And the most fascinating one: the tiger slug (Limax maximus). Almost right away, I noticed something different about this slug. It wasn’t as inactive and slow as the others, but almost like a sprinter-slug. Only later I first heard and then read that they are the predators among their kind, because they not only eat plants, but also the eggs of other slugs, and sometimes even other slugs themselves!

A few weeks ago, when I first thought of writing an ode to my new pets, there were still quite a few of them around, but now, as I wanted to take some pictures, I almost couldn’t find any! It seems that they only like it here until June or so, because now it’s too dry for them and they apparently moved on to moistier pastures… – until next year

the dream

A little more than two years ago – maybe even longer than that – I started to realize more and more that there was something “missing” in my life. Since then I embarked on a journey to find at least some of the missing pieces. And now I’ll tell you about one of them.

Among some other things, I started to downsize my life about a year ago. I got rid of a lot of junk that accumulated over the years, and still need to get rid of some more. Also a little more than two years ago I first got the idea of a tiny house on wheels. I had a picture of a wooden, modernized, self-sufficient gipsy waggon in my head – and still have. It looks a little like this one:

Source: http://tiny-houses.de/wp-content/uploads/zirkuswagen-verkauft.jpg

After the picture in my head had started to form, I looked for inspiration on the net and was and still am truly amazed by the many examples of people who had similar ideas and dreams and how they materialized them. Here’s only a short highlight of what I found:

Examples from the US:
http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/
http://tinyhouseblog.com/
http://relaxshacks.blogspot.com/
http://tinyhouseswoon.com/

Examples from Europe:
http://www.roulottes.nl/
http://www.wohnwagon.at/
http://www.bewegtleben.com/
http://www.wohlwagen.de/

To put this list on here without much of an explanation feels kind of like fastfood and I’m sorry for that, but I will dedicate another more comprehensive post to tiny and mobile living. I’ll also feature some examples in separate entries as well, but right now I need to rush a little to get to my exciting news!!