We’ve settled back in, and are nearing our one year tiny house anniversary! It’s crazy and completely normal at the same time. I’ll be honest, after the big renovations last month, we needed a break from thinking about, looking at, or talking about anything tiny house related. And I think it says something that we are able to do that while living in a tiny house. That aside, this post has been weighing on my mind for some time. We’ve been encouraged to share the reasons why we wouldn’t recommend the builders who built our house. As difficult as it is physically to sand and re-seal a house, this subject is difficult to talk about.

The company is Tiny Smart House, LLC in Albany, Oregon.

Flipped our floor plan: Early in the build process, on a visit to check on the build status of our house, the builder opened the printed plans in a binder they were referring to for the build, and we noticed the floor plan wasn’t right. Expressing our concerns, we found out that our floor plan had been flipped. Instead of the kitchen opposite the main doors, it was now on the same side. We were told this was because they purchased a different trailer than originally planned and the weight distribution had to include the (heavier) kitchen area in the back. Regardless of the reasoning we should have known before this moment. This was the first breach of the contract.

Lost our spot: As the build process continued, we solidified our arrangement with our potential homeowner/host. The day we went with a lease in hand to sign, we again questioned again how the house would fit through to the spot. There was a catch with this particular spot; the space between the driveway wall and the roof-line would be a tight squeeze for the house to  back in and we wanted to make sure we’d fit through before the day of delivery.

Before the build began, the builder came out and took measurements assuring us it would not be a problem and they would build the house to fit through. We were told we would have to narrow the house by 6” to safely fit. Great, we thought, we were already going tiny, why not go tinier. But that day we measured for ourselves and were crushed to realize that because the gables had been raised in the design of our roof, the house would not fit by about 4 inches. Not only did we lose our spot, but this meant we also lost that host/tiny house relationship that was so important to us.

Asked for earlier payment: Because the builders were so behind in the build schedule, they called asking for the next portion of payment early since they had moved into a new pay period. What?! This was another breach of the contract, and we felt trapped…we wanted the workers building our house to be paid and happy; how could we tell them no? How would they treat their job –our home– if they were not paid? So we gave them another portion early.

Lack of communication: We felt there was an overall lack of communication during the build process. There wasn’t a back and forth conversation that would have allowed us to give feedback on what they were actually constructing. I never heard, “This is how I’m designing the closet, what do you think?” We received no emails with pictures of the kitchen cabinets installed or the bathroom and closet doors. They told us they would write a construction blog with pictures for us to follow along (“but before you  know it, we’ll be all done!”), but there were only a couple of entries with a handful of pictures, certainly not enough for us to “follow along” and give our feedback.

Priming: Part of the agreement with the house construction was that we would agree to paint the house if they did the priming. On a trip to check on the house and armed with paint, we arrived realizing we wouldn’t paint that day. The house was poorly primed and had sawdust all over it. They ended up taking the paint and doing the job later since the exterior was not ready.

Delays and dishonesty: We feel deceived by their time completion estimates throughout the process. The “anticipated delivery date” on the contract was 6 weeks. In actuality, the build took 17 weeks for delivery of our (mostly finished) house. There were constant delays, and when we asked, they would tell us they only needed another couple of weeks, the build would not go into October they assured us. Time and time again they told us something that didn’t turn out to be true.

We made arrangements to end the lease on our living arrangement at that time on October 1st. When we realized the build would in fact go beyond October, once again we had to scramble to find a place to stay.  We got a PO box and couch surfed. Because we also had Benjamin, he had to stay at a separate friend’s place with no pets and I had to go back and forth between places, our stuff was in storage, we were living out of boxes, it was complicated. Essentially, we were homeless and relying on the generosity of friends.

Day of delivery: On what should have been a great day (that also happened to be my birthday), the builders arrived 5 hours late, the house was filled with debris, bits of wood from other projects, carpet bits, trash, and every surface was covered in a film of sawdust.

Day of delivery part II: Not only were they late and the house filled with junk, but the build job was still incomplete. The stairs and awning were not finished, the awning for the water heater wasn’t done, we had no bathroom vent cover, no latch on the bathroom door, there was missing trim, missing nuts for the lights, the electrical panel was exposed, the oven door wouldn’t open because it hit the bathroom door hinge and scraped the kitchen drawers. It wasn’t until months later before these pieces were completely put together.

Title: The day the house was delivered, we should have had a title in hand. It wasn’t until weeks later I realized we may not get one. Documentation, such as a VIN inspection for the trailer was not completed by the builder prior to the build. No Manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin documenting the legal creation of the house was processed. After the realization that I would need the builder to fulfill paperwork on their end to finish this process I hired a lawyer to handle communication. It took 9 months, but we finally received a title.

Leaks: The first few months after moving into the house, we had multiple gas leaks. Our kitchen sink leaked water into the cabinet underneath and our greywater holding tank under the house also leaked. [I will say the builder responded quickly to the gas leak notifications and these problems have since been resolved.]

Tub caulking: As I posted before, the tub was not caulked properly. Also, there was spray sealant and scuffs that stained the walls and basin of the tub.

The Closet: Oh geez. I don’t want to even go there. The closet was the worst.

Wood wasn’t sealed: Okay, maybe the closet wasn’t the worst. The ultimate failure was the way the wood was sealed (or not sealed, rather). After fixing it, and even though professional carpenters also told us, we now realize just how bad a job was done prior. There was a lack of coverage on all surfaces, and the walls felt gritty as if a spray sealant was applied over sawdust.  It was apparent the walls were not wiped/cleaned before the sealant was applied.

Not just the walls, but the floors were also a big issue. They were scuffy and dirt and dust would just permeate in them. We couldn’t wipe the surface because of the rough grain. Water would seep into the wood. The softwood fir floors did not have adequate sealant coverage. [We have since fixed this and I’m happy to report we can slide on our floors in our socks and spilled water forms droplets on the surface that are easy to wipe up as it should be (yippee!)]

General wood/trim: Almost a year after living in the house, we are still replacing trim. The wood that was up was unfinished and/or had holes and/or was dirty (literally, dirt and mud on it). The ceiling trim wasn’t stapled properly to the ceiling and bits bent out or just plain fell off. There were hammer marks on finished wood areas, including the wood right above our heads in the loft. Parts are overbuilt and many sections have an exorbitant amount of nails.

 Porch/awning: It leaked and was built as one piece so we couldn’t move the deck separate from the house. See the previous post of how we rebuilt it. 

Water tank: Our kitchen is an L-shaped design. The corner of the “L” was supposed to function to enclose the water heater but late in the process (after the counter was installed) we were told that, as it turns out, the water heater has to go outside the house due to the gas exhaust. Had we known in advance, we may have designed our kitchen differently if we knew this corner space wouldn’t be used for that purpose.

Reading nook bench: The bench is nonfunctional for anything besides sitting on and storage underneath. We had wanted a design that would turn into a daybed and we sent them pictures of bench systems we liked. They told us they would design something better. We were given the impression they could build something useful, but we can’t open both front doors because the bench is in the way. The pieces flip up which restrict access to the shelves above and they don’t flip independently; the cushions have to be removed entirely, and then the bench turns into short, uncomfortable, stationary seats. [We have plans to add the wood and hinges needed to turn the bench into a twin-size day bed and possibly a table with side benches too. It’s on the list of things to change.]

Missed details: We wanted a moveable ladder with a rail and puck lights in the loft, but these requests were missed in the build process. By the time the house was delivered and because there were so many other things that needed completion or fixing we had given up and no longer felt it was worth it to deal with the company. This was when Tomas realized it was time to take ownership of the house and just fix things ourselves.

No compensation – Despite all that we’ve put up with, we received zero compensation for our troubles and pain. Oh wait. They gave us a piece of lawn furniture and offered Adirondack chairs.

My intentions here are to share our reasons why we wouldn’t recommend Tiny Smart House, LLC. This is our review. To us, it’s the classic story of a company over-promising and under-delivering. I can’t speak for the company today, I can only share our experience from that time.

It was a tumultuous journey to get to the point we are today, but here we are. I love our home because of the experiences we create inside and around it and for what we’ve put into it. It is a place where we live and it’s getting better every day.

In case you’re curious:

Why we hired them in the first place: When looking into builder options, our number one builder pick (those that built our friends Tammy and Logan’s tiny home) wasn’t building at the time, they were only doing consulting work, so we looked at other options. Tumbleweed homes were high on the list, but the $50,000 price tag deterred us. Then we came across a company not far from Portland that advertised to custom build tiny homes. They were a new company, with not much to show besides a model home and some lawn furniture. We weren’t blown away, but we thought we could work with it. How bad could it be?

Everything we asked for they said they could do, and included 10% off the price, a 2 year warranty, and a delivery date of 6 weeks from the start. We were thrilled and excited to get started. Looking back we were naive, but we trusted that they could pull it off. We sent them pictures of houses and details we loved. Because they were a two-hour drive away, we could visit and see the progress. We knew it was a risk hiring a newer company, but we thought they would be out to impress. People would look to us as the voice of their product. And sure, we can now do that but I doubt it’s the voice they want anyone to hear.

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On a roll with my nesting projects, the refridgerator always seemed to be constantly running. I fear the lack of proper heat venting may have shortened the life of our mini-fridge, but nothing’s gone wrong with it just yet, fingers crossed.

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Ripping out even more wood that has plagued my nest for 3 years, the upper part of the fridge can now breath properly. Hopefully this next summer, the fridge will stay a little cooler.

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Before the heat-wave heats again, I’ll find some sort of neat looking wooden grate to put over this gap.

Fun times,

Tomas

After 3 years of using a hanging drawer system from IKEA, it’s lop-sided hanging finally prompted me to do something about it.

I couldn’t find anything that fit our criteria for being narrow and large enough to hold our selected items, so I bought some plywood and constructed a simple shelf to fit our needs.

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Some sketching and planning

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Audrey caught me in the act

After getting all the cuts finished, I assembled all the pieces to make sure it all fit as intended.

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Althought not sanded, stained, and sealed, it all came together just as planned.

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Slide it into the closet with the bins in place and all is ready to go. As soon as the weather warms up a bit, we’ll give it some finishing touches.

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I couldn’t find a shelf that fit these boxes the same way as I build, nor had a “leg” that I could trim to sit over the wheel well box. Now we both have extra closet hanging space and more effectively use the limited space we have left.

Fun times with custom furniture!

-Tomas

The two outlets by our bed have always played host to our internet connection, reading lamps, and mobile device chargers.

I finally gave in to the itch that’s been bugging me for the last 3 years to reduce the number of plugs and wall-warts in our sleeping area.

I picked up some outlets that had 2 USB outlets built-in, one for my side and one for Audrey’s side.

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Out of the Box. How does this go together??

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Assembled

 

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Before

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After

Now we can charge our mobile devices and not have to juggle the wall-warts with extensions or splitters.

Fun times in the tiny house.

-Tomas

I have good news and sad news.

The good news is life outside the tiny house has pretty much been status quo this summer; hiking the Olympics, backpacking Alaska, bike-touring eastern Oregon, the usual. Tomas continues his work with Ride With GPS and mountain biking in stunning places.

Fatbike

Photo by Brad Reber

 

Nature and the outdoors continue inspiring me and I’ve discovered the joy of birding (and writing a birding blog!)

Great Horned Owl

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The exceptionally sad news is we had to say goodbye to Benjamin this summer.

Benjamin

 

Life inside the tiny house will never be the same. I know many people have experienced this loss and know how hard it is. He was the best kitty companion I’ve known and his curious, funny, quirky personality is greatly missed. The tiny house feels empty without him, but our hearts are filled with happy memories of the little furball.

He would gently paw my face in the morning to wake me up, and run to the ladder to go down at the exact same moment I did. When we arrived home he would greet us, run over, and meow lovable meows. He was smart, adaptable, and quickly understood how to use the cat-door. He thoroughly enjoyed his time outside laying in sunny spots. He loved car rides and would often hop in the car when we got home. He moved across the country with me and into a tiny house like it was no big deal.

He was a champ and we sorely miss him.

Benjamin

 

To honor his memory, I’ve planted a memorial garden in one of his favorite spots in the garden. In spring, orange and white tulips will grow in his memory.

 

We love and miss you Benjamin.

Miss the cat

Tiny house life goes on, as time heals.

XO,

Audrey & Tomas

We’ve passed our two year mark living in the Hunny House!

Not too much has changed to the interior; a bit more clutter and dust (not too surprising, eh?).

 

A few improvements:

We replaced the ceiling trim (since the wood the builders stapled up fell down). We measured, and then bought strips from Mr. Plywood. I stained them over the summer, and Tomas installed them with brass screws:

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We have a bathroom door! With a real door handle! The door is a standard width ordered from Home Depot that Tomas trimmed (top/bottom) to fit the space. I ordered a flat-handle, and just last week Tomas finished up the job by adding the door-catch on the wall. Now we (and guests) have a teensy bit more privacy.

We installed a French drain for our greywater! We decided on a super simple set-up since our water output is very low. We found a larger perforated pipe at Home Depot with a sleeve that fits around it to keep small sand bits out. We dug a trench about 1.5-2ft deep with a gradual slope away from the house. So far all systems seem to be working okay, no sign of floods or puddles and hopefully the garden will benefit in the dry summer from the extra water input. I planted mint near the greywater exit to mask any smells.

Speaking of water, so far so good with our new water heater (Her Watery Highness). We’ve recently had some below-freezing temps to test it, hopefully the functioning streak continues!

Since tiny houses shift and settle, we had to address small cracks in the caulk along the exterior house and window corners and edges. It was a rather simple improvement recommended to us by a home inspector, who said it’s one of the best ways we can keep up the integrity of the exterior wood. Sealing them properly will keep the rain and moisture from penetrating and damaging the wood. Hooray, we finally did it!

 

One of the biggest projects this year that we accomplished was PAINTING THE EXTERIOR TRIM! What a big job that was – borrowing ladders, taping edges, spilling paint, cleaning up paint, fleeing from wasps, dismantling the awning, waiting for sunny days – but we did it! It was the original plan, to have a bright trim color, but since we had other improvements to make first, this project was delayed. I think the final paint job turned out pretty well, don’t you?

 

We haven’t just settled more into the tiny house this past year; we’ve also settled our minds a bit. Over the year, I still had moments questioning if this is the right decision for us. We wondered if this is a good investment long-term or if we “need” more space. I don’t know what the “right” answers are, but I think it’s a good idea to reflect why we’re making our choices.

We’ve adapted pretty well over two years in the house, and we figure, why not try a few more? Honestly, we no longer feel like we’re “trying” on the tiny house, instead we’re living our lives with the house in the background (especially since we’ve fixed the major errors caused by our builder).

We continue to adapt when things come up, like when Tomas moved his art studio inside, or when my Aunt and cousin needed a place to stay for a wedding in town – we make do and it works! There’s no question of the immediate financial benefits, and we hope that if some day we ever have to sell, the market will be there. We see most of our friends buying big houses, but there tiny house peeps joining the network every day (even in our neighborhood!). We’re excited to see where this next year takes us all.

Making room for the uke.

Making room for the uke.

Happy New Year! – Love, Audrey, Tomas, and Benjamin

 

P.S. Not only is it New Year’s Day, it’s also Benjamin’s 16th birthday! Happy birthday to our beloved Fluffernutter.

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I don’t look a day over 7

 

We’re nearing our two year tiny-versary! After two years, we’re still happily living in the Hunny House.

Since we last posted, I graduated from PSU with my bachelor’s degree in science, and Tomas won the job lottery when he was recently hired on by RideWithGPS. We’ve also gone backpacking in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, biked around Crater lake, and bike-camped at the coast and in the wilderness. Benjamin has spent the summer sleeping in bags and boxes. Exciting times!

 

Tiny-house related items we’ve accomplished this summer: We installed a french drain for our greywater! We caulked the exterior! We painted the trim red! (pics coming!)… and THE BEST DECISION WE’VE MADE SO FAR: we hung hammocks inside the house!

 

Tomas came up with a super simple set-up; just 1/4 in. large screws into the rafters (that we can’t even see when the hammocks aren’t hung). I don’t know why we didn’t think of this sooner…

 

The hammock also makes a good cat magnet:

 

Cheers!

Audrey

“Ugh, I can smell the toilet again”

I don’t know what other people eat so their poop doesn’t smell, but in our house, we have to outwardly vent the toilet otherwise our home will begin to accumulate an aroma that is not entirely pleasant.

We do the best we can to keep the stink at bay, and most days it’s not an issue at all. But, lately our house has this lingering hint of outhouse that needed to be addressed.

Although the fan on our toilet had been doing an OK job of keeping the stinks at bay, it didn’t seem to be helping at all. It was time to get “handy” with a screwdriver.

Somehow, a very fine mist of sawdust had worked its way up the toilet vent and was causing some blockage.

Dirty Fan Filter

 

 

 

After running the filter under the tap for a few minutes, the dust washed out and we were back in business.

OR SO I THOUGHT.

One of the leads had broken off the AC adapter plug in the vent mount.

Broken Wiring

Luckily, I’m just skillful enough with a soldering-iron to get this AC flowing.

Humming fan, lack of “aroma”, and we were back in “doing our business”.

Happy Days.

 

Another 6 weeks, another propane tank.

Why won’t the Acme nut screw in?

Oh. That plastic thing broke.

Broken Acme Nut

Bought a pig-tail at one hardware store, the one pigtaill they had in stock and it wasn’t the right size nor did they have an adapter to make it fit.

Calling and visiting 5 more places, they either didn’t have any idea of what our needs were or they just didn’t have the proper part in stock.

Well, after calling around town and trying to get a new “pig tail”, we finally met someone at Hometown Hearth & Grill that understood our propane-dilemma. Although Acme nuts are easy to replace by hand, we would be regularly plagued by broken plastic ring thingies. Brass is stronger than plastic, duh.

Brass Fitting

Although a wrench will be required every time we needed to swap tanks, the brass fitting would hold up better in the long run, a run we hope will last many more years.

After a year and 4 months, we’re still alive! And still living tiny!

We have been busy bees at the Hunny House; Tomas training for Pacific Northwest Search and Rescue and I working full-time and taking two classes this term to finish my degree this spring (!) at Portland State University.

In tiny house news, we can finally celebrate having hot water again!

After three months with no hot water (and many weeks without running water at all), we have the luxury of showering at home and washing dishes without first boiling water on the stove. Portland (as was most of the U.S.) was hit with a cold winter this year, and it delayed delivery and installation of our new hot water heater (Her Watery Highness).

It was hard to get ahold of plumbers, but I think we finally found our repair people: mobile RV repair services! I guess I knew this kind of service existed, but I hadn’t thought about it for tiny homes. It makes sense though, and I’m hoping they’ll continue to be a helpful resource.

There are a couple of companies in town; we hired At Your Service Mobile RV Inc. because they have good reviews on Angie’s List and they were recommended by our local RV-supply store, Curtis Trailers. I winced when they asked for the make/model of our RV on the phone, but they were gracious and understanding when I explained our situation. They were professional, helpful, and gave a reasonable estimate. They’ve since installed the water heater and everything is working great so far! We’re very pleased.

We like the Rinnai V53e unit so far; it’s a lot quieter than the other (which sounded like a jet-engine when it kicked on) PLUS it’s rated for outdoor use. It is the same unit a couple living tiny in our neighborhood has, and they made it through this winter with zero water heater problems. We’re hoping we’ll be as fortunate next winter!

Audrey

We’re on week 3 with no running water.

Portland recently had a very cold spell that froze our water heater causing the internal coils to burst. We came home from a Tiny House Mixer one night when temperatures finally rose above freezing to find water gushing out of the water heater. So we shut off the water supply, went through a bit of homeowner shock and depression, and assessed how we were going to fix this. Our plumbing is currently set up so that all running water goes through the water heater; with it out of commission, so is the water flow to our sink and shower.

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It didn’t help that our builders installed an INDOOR water heater outside our house. They assured us they followed protocols for installing a water heater that was supposed to be outdoors (they told us this during the time we still trusted them). It was the reason why we have a dead spot in the corner of the “L” kitchen; we attempted to design the kitchen to contain the water heater indoors, but the builders said, it has to be outdoors.  This is the model that broke. It states clearly on the website “indoor tankless water heater”. And that “I” in the model name? Yep, you guessed it: INDOOR. Not that we need more evidence, but add this to the many reasons why we would not recommend Tiny Smart House Llc as builders.

It has been stressful to shop for a water heater when you really need one. We want to take our time, do research, not make an impulsive (expensive) purchase, and we want to purchase a product that will work in our climate. Plumbers have (shockingly) given estimates from $2,000-$3,000 to replace and install a water heater. Ecotemp, the company that makes our current, broken water heater, offered a discount on a new outdoor model, but they were honest and said their products work best in Florida and Hawaii and even their outdoor models don’t withstand freezing temperatures well.

We were close to upgrading to the RV-550 which we’ve heard rave reviews about and could probably retro-fit into the house by cutting out a hole and using the ‘dead’ corner space, but the $1200 purchase price scared me away. There’s even a cool youtube video on how to install.

In the end, we decided to go with a water heater our friends and tiny house neighbors have which got them through the cold snap with no problems. The Rinnai V53E ordered from here for $600 (inc shipping). We’ve learned that exterior water heaters have an internal heating system to keep the coils from freezing and breaking. This won’t prevent the hoses coming in/out of the heater from freezing, we’ll still have to winterize those, but it would keep the internal coils from breaking. The water heater won’t ship until late next week due to the holidays so until then we’re patiently (okay not so patiently) waiting for our new one to arrive.

In the mean time, we’re buying gallon jugs of drinking water and filling up empties with hose water to boil and use to wash dishes. I’m showering at the gym and Tomas is relying on friends to lend a shower. It has been inconvenient and costly, but my money’s on 2014 to be a fresh start with fewer home repairs!

We’ll update with the installation process!

Update: In a moment of genius inspiration, YouTube searching, and one Home Depot trip we now have running (cold) water! Tomas saved the day when he came up with the idea to install a “copper push-fit end stop” to keep the water from flowing into the ‘hot’ section of the water heater. Who’s ready for a cold shower!!

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Cheers and happy holidays to all!

Audrey