As you may (or may not) know, the zoning hearing for our Tiny House in Garfield is fast approaching. Before the hearing we wanted to get the neighbors up to speed on what’s happening. We will be holding a community meeting at the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation Youth Development Center to discuss the project. This is an opportunity to learn about the project or follow up on the progress and give some input. Come and let us know what you think! More details regarding date, time and RSVP information are on the flier.
You might remember that the original plans for Minim show it built on a trailer. This is a very common way to construct a tiny house, but it is important to understand the laws where you intend to live. Your municipality might not let you have a tiny house on wheels and here in Pittsburgh, ours does not.
The City of Pittsburgh follows the International Residential (building) Code which states that “buildings and structures … shall be constructed to safely support all loads … The construction of buildings … shall result in a system that provides a complete load path…to the foundation.” If you really want to geek out, you can read more about this here.
Basically, this means that in Pittsburgh’s residential neighborhoods, like our small plot in Garfield, buildings are required to have a solid attachment to the ground to be considered structurally stable. Neither the International Residential Code nor the City of Pittsburgh considers a trailer with wheels to be a solid attachment to the ground.
So, what does this mean? This means that in the City of Pittsburgh the wheels are off.
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Now that our new direction is set, it’s full speed ahead. Chad promises that construction drawings will be complete in ten days. We’ll put the house out to bid again and hope to have our first round of numbers back within a few weeks. Once we have finished bidding and value engineering, we’ll apply for a building permit and should have the process well underway by the time we have our zoning hearing in March. With zoning approval and permit in hand we’ll be ready to start.
At the same time, once the bidding is complete and the budget is finalized, we can begin the task of finding financing for the Garfield Tiny House.
Come spring, when the ground thaws, we want to put shovel to ground.
Over the last month we’ve reconsidered a number of things, and I’m going to explain why.
Our goal was to build Minim without pursuing a variance of any kind. We wanted to show you how to build a tiny house in the simplest of ways. But last week we discovered that the City of Pittsburgh’s Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections will not permit us to build on our tiny, 1050 square foot site without applying for a variance. We had originally expected the site to be “grandfathered in” considering that it once had a house on it. Now the code requires a minimum lot size of 1,800 square feet and the City is going to hold us to it. Given that we have to apply for a variance anyway, we’ve decided to apply for several more, leading me to our redesign.
December brought winter, and a bunch of very expensive tiny house bids. There are a number of factors that we believe caused this. First, some of the larger contractors we approached simply can’t efficiently bid a tiny house. Our best approach will be to have two guys on site who build everything themselves, with a little help from a roofer, plumber and electrician. Second, Minim’s design separates out the kitchen and bathroom plumbing. This makes no difference on a trailer, but it makes a lot of difference on a building site. You need kitchen and bathroom plumbing backing onto each other to have the most cost effective solution. Third, we disliked the siting of Minim, lengthways along the site. In particular we thought its tiny elevation would not look good on the street. Fourth, using 170 square feet of our tiny 1,050 square foot site seems downright foolish. So we have redesigned our tiny house into a compact L-shape which hugs the back of the site. We’re planning a beautiful garden out front and the owner will park on the street. While we’ll keep some interior elements of the Minim design, we’re ready to call it The Garfield Tiny House instead.
Our zoning hearing is in March and we’ve applied for the following variances:
- A reduced rear yard setback of 3 feet;
- Waiver of the on-site parking requirement; and
- Permission to build on a site that is smaller than 1,800 square feet.
Slowing down and changing direction has allowed us to develop a more attractive solution for our tiny site dilemma.
You might think that construction costs are all that we have to worry about. Not true. There are many and varied expenses that make up the cost of a development project, whether tiny or not. We’ll have to consider this entire checklist:
• The cost of the land;
• A survey;
• The Minim plans;
• Architect fees to help with zoning code compliance, permitting and contract administration;
• Site engineering;
• Permitting fees;
• Legal fees to purchase the land and sell the house;
• Title, recording fees and transfer taxes;
• Holding costs including property taxes, water, sewer and interest on a construction loan;
• Concrete foundations;
• Utility hookup fees;
• A crushed gravel, paver or concrete driveway and a curb cut to the street;
• The house;
• Appliances, including stove, refrigerator, dishwasher and washer/drier;
• The deck and stairs; and
• Landscaping, including the removal of a very large tree at the corner of the site.
We’ll have to consider all of these before we set a sales price. Affordable is the goal. I’m going to sharpen my pencil now.
I’ve been silent I know. The timeline for the tiny house is far from tiny. Progress is creeping along.
About six weeks ago our construction drawings were completed. This set of drawings includes everything either a contractor or manufacturer needs to know in order to price the site work and the house itself and consists of:
• a site plan;
• a foundation plan and foundation details;
• the house plan with attached deck;
• a reflected ceiling plan, primarily showing lighting;
• a roof plan;
• four elevation drawings;
• four internal sections;
• detailed wall sections;
• bathroom elevations, showing the location of shower, toilet, sink , mirrors, etc;
• a finish schedule;
• a barn door detail (for the bathroom door); and
• a bed and floor detail.
Since the house is small, we decided to pick very good finishes, including beautiful tiles for the bathroom, lots of built-ins for storage, a gorgeous appliance package, high-quality windows, great light fixtures, a lovely wooden floor and even a bed. We’d like the house to be a perfect gem and wanted to see what we could afford. We sent the drawings to a manufacturer to price the house itself and also to a local contractor to price the foundation and site work. Alas, both were much too expensive. Rather than value engineer (reduce the quality of fixtures and finishes), we decided to send the drawings out again, this time for a bid from a group of smaller contractors, all who would build the house from ground up. Keep in mind that each contractor must get prices for not only the materials they will have to purchase, but also sub-contractors they will employ (such as electricians and plumbers), so it takes time to put a bid together.
And so we wait again.
As an art director in the film industry, my job takes me from city to city. It’s been hard in the last few years to feel like I really belong anywhere. I walked away from my belongings and apartment in Los Angeles in late 2011, and since then had only been back for three to four weeks at a time before leaving again. Lots of life-altering events occurred in the fall of 2013 and at the beginning of 2014, I again found myself on the road in New Orleans for another movie. At this point, I had just decided I was over leases, rent, and not living in a space I was paying for so I put all of my stuff into a storage unit. I bought an SUV and stuffed into it only what I needed – clothes, some electronics, work gear, a few cooking supplies, and my wiener dog.
This life on the road taught me how to live small and I honestly forgot about that couch from Ikea I enjoyed changing the color of every few years or that useless shelf I bought to fill an empty corner of my LA living room. Still confused about where to go next in life and not sure where I wanted to end up, I came across an article a friend posted about a young couple who built a tiny home on wheels and went off the grid, free from a mortgage/rent. As someone who has quite the hefty student loan to pay back and probably would never be able to afford a house in LA until he was 45 anyhow… I quickly became obsessed and read everything I could get my hands on from e-books, to blogs, to store purchased items. I originally thought I’d buy a piece of land and build a little 500 sq ft home, though, after visiting a friend in Jackson, MS one weekend, I stepped inside one of his friends tiny homes on wheels that was only 14’ long and was hooked. I remembered spending time with my dad while he was working away in NC living in an RV and those tree houses my brothers and I spent a lot of time in as a kid… there was something special about those small little places… something I felt the near thirty year old in me needed.
My line of work has been one that luckily allows me to be around design daily. I can draft and draw myself, so the design phase took off quickly. My father was a builder / wood worker and had my brothers and I doing projects very frequently growing up – so I thought with a little refreshing, it would all come back. With each step of the way, the initial plans, the model, the render, etc – it all came in handy; preplanning was key. My show in NOLA was ending and I had just been hired on a show back here in Pittsburgh, so I decided to order a 20’ tiny home trailer and just go for it – building it in my late father’s garage. It seemed like the perfect place – he has every tool known to man, it’s a good scale, and it has allowed me to be spend weekends with my family and get closer with my middle brother. I decided to hire a moving company to bring all of my stuff back from LA and when it arrived, I invited my 19 year old cousin over whom had just bought a house and had nothing… I gave him 80% of what I owned – It felt liberating.
The build began in early August 2014 and will continue throughout the spring of 2015. I’ve decided that I need to take this adventure on my own with the occasional help of my brother or a friend. I remember having ambitions as a teenager that someday I wanted to build my own home and now I’m doing that. I will surely hire a hand or two for the over-my-head electric and plumbing work, but for the skills that are just a You-Tube link or a book read away… I’ll make my own attempt to keep it all relative.
You can keep track of Shawn’s adventure on his own journal.
What’s it going to take to ground Minim? Typically a structural engineer would design the size of footings, and test borings would be drilled to ensure that the footings are on solid ground. But because Minim is so small, and doesn’t weigh very much, we are going to take a simpler approach. We’ll assume a 2000 lb bearing capacity (which is very low), and set the house on poured spread footings that are three feet wide and one foot deep. Chad will draw a foundation plan and check it quickly with a structural engineer. Once the contractor has started digging, if we find unexpected conditions on site, we can always pour a little more concrete. We think this will prove to be more cost effective. Test borings could cost around $1000. Better to save that money for extra concrete if should we need it!
Now that we have our survey, we’re going to finalize adjustments to the floor plan. The original Minim is twenty-two and a half feet long by eleven feet wide. We’re going to stretch ours a little bit (to maximize the space we have on our site) to a HUMONGOUS twenty-eight foot long by twelve feet wide. Our total square footage will be 336 square feet versus the 247.5 square feet of the original.
You might remember that we chose Scheme A -1 for our site plan. Here it is again …
And here is the original Minim plan.
We’re going to be making some changes to the original plan for a number of reasons. First, the increased size and the orientation of the house on the site will require some changes. And second, we heard some requests at our brainstorming sessions which we are going to heed. Changes will include:
• a deck
• french doors leading out onto the deck
• a window on the office platform, facing the street
• a pantry next to the kitchen, for added storage
• a washer/dryer
• a full range instead of a recreational vehicle model
• a separate shower in the bathroom
• a through the wall mini-split heating and cooling system