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Monthly Archives: March 2009

To continue with the concept of keeping the interior space of my house clear of clutter, all of the furniture has been located behind the “walls”.  In this case, the dining table is located behind the middle sliding panel; when needed, it folds down, and folding chairs are stored behind it.  The rest of the closet component is truer to its name; it contains clothes, etc.



Most people use their bed once a day; for the rest of the time, it just sits there and takes up space.  Since I’m making a tiny house, I need my interior space to work as hard as possible.  Why don’t people use Murphy beds any more?  I recently saw a bed that pulls down from the ceiling (, which would work really well in my house.  And, it doesn’t require you to make your bed before you put it away (which would especially please a certain girl I know).  Here’s an image of the interior space of my house (left) and an image with the bed pulled down (right):


You can see that the ceiling pattern matches the floor pattern, and when the bed is pulled down, a portion of the ceiling will remain, which I plan to use as storage space for books, etc.  

Access to the adjacent spaces (kitchen, bathroom, closet) is still somewhat unresolved.   On each wall, the left and right panels are hinged, but the middle panel slides, which would provide limited access to those spaces while the bed is pulled down (enough to start a pot of coffee in the morning, for example).  

Obviously, there are a few details to work out, but I think it has potential.  (As always, suggestions are welcome.)

The inherent problem with tiny houses is the lack of space (some might argue that it’s the perception of space, rather than the actual volume).  Regardless, here are two easy ways to make any room feel more spacious:

1. Remove clutter (which isn’t easy for most people).

2. Extend the interior space toward the exterior, using windows or doors.  (The trick is to make the glass extend to the corners of the space, instead of simply punching a window in the middle of a wall.)


What you’re seeing here is the interior space created by the assembly of the floor, roof, and wall components.  The cabinetry, furniture, etc. is strategically stored behind the shoji-style screens, as well as below the floor and above the ceiling.  My inspiration:

Wood is good.  It’s durable, sustainable (if properly attained, of course), widely available, and beautiful.  Next week, I’ll be helping a friend deconstruct an old farmhouse in Cass County, Iowa, and I’m hoping to snag some of those materials to use in my project.  Here’s an exploded axonometric drawing of the six components of the structure (floor, roof, and four walls):


As illustrated in my “Materials” post, the structure is composed of two layers of 2×4 framing; it may require additional material, but it improves the quality of the building envelope considerably.  For example, the insulative value of the envelope is doubled, and it helps elliminate thermal bridging.  (Thermal bridging occurs where the interior and exterior sheathing materials are affixed directly to the framing, with no room for insulation, which results in heat transfer and condensation.)  


Water conservation isn’t as crucial in the Midwest as in other parts of the world, but it still costs money to buy water, and it costs money to get rid of it.  Here’s the basic layout that I’d like to achieve:

1. Collection: Precipitation (on the exterior of the canopy) and condensation (on the interior of the canopy) collects in gutters around the perimeter of the dome, where it’s directed to holding tanks.

2. Usage: The water is pumped, filtered, and integrated into the domestic water supply.

3. Disposal: After being collected in a graywater holding tank, the water is distributed through a series of planters, where it’s filtered and consumed by vegetation.



I used to revel in the stories told about dogmatic designers like Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe, who felt they needed to be in absolute control of a building’s appearance.  To prevent the facade of his signature building in New York from appearing disorganized, for example, Mies designed the window shades of the Seagram Building have three positions: fully open, halfway open, and fully closed.  Want a little more or a little less light in your office?  Tough luck, pal.  (Upon hearing stories like this at a party, architects usually laugh gleefully, while their significant others roll their eyes and sigh.)

Some architects take the opposite approach; make the design conform to its user, not the other way around.  (Believe me, this isn’t always easy for designers, myself included.)  This relates to my project in two ways:

1. The design should make sense.  It should be efficient and effective.  Style be damned.

2. I’m building this project for ME.  It’s an experiment, and hopefully, the process will help me refine how I practice my trade.  I’m not trying to tell people how to live.  In the immortal words of the Digital Underground, “Doowutchyalike!”


Since I’m already heading down the road toward hippie weirdness, I thought this would be the perfect time to unveil my proposed toilet: a bucket!  (Initially, at least.)

Joseph Jenkins is an expert on composting toilets, etc.  Here’s an excerpt from his book on humanure:

“One organism’s excrement is another’s food. Everything is recycled in natural systems, thereby eliminating waste. Humans create waste because we insist on ignoring the natural systems upon which we depend. We are so adept at doing so that we take waste for granted and have given the word a prominent place in our vocabulary. We have kitchen “waste,” garden “waste,” agricultural “waste,” human “waste,” municipal “waste,” “biowaste,” and on and on. Yet, our long-term survival requires us to learn to live in harmony with our host planet. This also requires that we understand natural cycles and incorporate them into our day to day lives. In essence, this means that we humans must attempt to eliminate waste altogether. As we progressively eliminate waste from our living habits, we can also progressively eliminate the word “waste” from our vocabulary.”  

You can download his entire book from his website (it’s surprisingly entertaining):


Like many people, I’ve always been fascinated with geodesic domes.  They’re strong, efficient, and beautiful, but they haven’t really found a place in today’s architectural lexicon.  (Don’t get me wrong; I loved playing on the jungle gym when I was a kid, but you have to admit that those shingled dome homes are really ugly.)  

I think Buckminster Fuller envisioned the most effective use of a geodesic dome as a protective structure that encloses other structures.  This might not seem important in a temperate climate,  but in the Midwest, it would be really effective.  If you were to build a house (or a few small houses) inside a greenhouse-like dome, you could protect the interior structures from the elements, while creating a space that could be enjoyed for most of the year.  (Shading, ventilation, and moisture controls would have to be considered, of course.)  


Here are the construction materials commonly used in the walls of a typical house today (as well as the reasons why I don’t want to use those materials):

Vinyl siding- made of PVC, which has been linked to several negative health/environmental issues

Tyvek- consists of high-density polyethylene, which is made from petroleum (various negative aspects)

Wood 2×4 framing- usually cut from young trees, which makes it especially susceptible to warping and shrinkage (bad for many reasons)

Oriented-strand board (OSB)- very susceptible to water damage, and it contains formaldehyde (danger to lungs)

Fiberglass insulation- performance severely affected by moisture, and it’s rarely installed correctly

Plastic sheeting- made from petroleum, and it traps moisture inside the wall

Gypsum board- high embodied energy, and the paper facing provides food for mold growth.

Here’s a preliminary detail showing the materials that I want to use:












My goal is to construct an envelope that is durable and efficient, while using sustainable materials.  I’m sure that some of my design/build friends have opinions on this, so let me know what you think.

A typical house has a roof, walls, and a foundation; in building science, they’re called the “building envelope”.  The building envelope protects the structure from the elements (sun, wind, rain, damage, etc.), and it also keeps the inhabitants warm.  Unfortunately, most builders don’t pay attention to building science, so many houses experience problems with leaks and mold, not to mention the constant maintenance necessary to keep a building from deteriorating.  A “rain screen” is relatively new technique being used in residential construction, where the structure and insulation are separated from the exterior skin of the building.  This allows moisture and air to circulate without compromising the thermal performance of the building envelope.  

Taking this concept one step farther, I’d like to separate the skin from the structure entirely, so it can move and shift to accommodate its ever-changing surroundings (sun, wind, rain, etc.).  This skin could deflect winter winds, follow the sun moving across the sky, or even open up to collect rainwater.  Here’s some of my inspiration:



Hoberman is the best: