Auto-Biography: A Tiny House for Will – My Most Recent Building Project

It’s a tradition here for me to share with you my various building projects over the years. Last summer my younger son Will was moving back to Eugene, and needed a roof over his head. He really needed a place of his own, so I decided the best thing was for us to build him a little tiny house of sorts, located in the center of a cluster of eight rental houses. It had been an old storage shed from the 1940s and was rotting, so down it went and this went up, on its slab foundation (of sorts).

He moved in this spring just as the cherry trees were blooming.

I wrote up the first installment here, about tearing the old shed down after determinate that it was beyond trying to fix up.

It was right about the time I was going to start converting my van, but first things first. Here the sills are going down. I drilled into the old slab and epoxied in hold-down bolts, so when The Really Big One hits, this little shed will hopefully still be attached to its floor. The dimensions are about 13′ x 22′.

The plan was to build a very basic shed roof structure with a wall high enough on one side for a platform bed. I like shed roofs anyway, as they’re quick, simple and easy.

I obviously didn’t take any more pictures of the framing from the outside. The siding is Hardi Board, a cementious product that has become extremely popular for siding. In this case, it was 4×8 sheets with battens of the same material. It makes for an extremely durable shell, and holds paint much longer than wood, since it doesn’t expand and contract with the seasons. I had a few sheets and all the batts, as well as the red paint left over from my previous house building project.

The roof is basic Delta Rib galvanized steel barn roof panels, which is cheap, durable and goes down super quickly. The two of us lifted up the panels and screwed it down in about 2.5 hours. It’s my preferred roof product.

Utilities are “borrowed” from the rental house closest to it, and technically on the same lot. I rented a trencher, and the one on the left is for the electric, the center is for the water (blue PEX line), and the white sewer can be seen stubbed out of the side of the foundation, after I had a guy drill the hole.

The electric is just one 240 volt 30 amp circuit tapped off the breaker box on that house. I put a little private electric meter on the new shed, and Will reimburses them for the utilities used (peanuts).

The sewer was a bit more problematic. Amazingly, there was just exactly the minimum slope (1/8″ per foot) from where I could tap into it under the green house to just above the slab in the new shed. I knew I’d have to raise the floor of the new bathroom, but that’s not a big deal. Needless to say, having a sewer like this at just below ground level, even after I covered it up with another bigger pipe and some dirt and a deck is not exactly kosher. But it works fine. If we get a really cold snap, warm water from the shower will keep it from freezing up. It’s a short run.

Here’s the drain lines for the raised floor bath (shower at front, toilet at rear) as well as a line to a sink just outside the bath to the right. It took a bit of head-scratching to figure this all out, but it’s kind of a fun puzzle. And it all works great. A plywood floor covered this.

Water lines are 1/2 PEX, which are the greatest thing to happen to plumbing since plastic glued sewer lines came along. It’s so easy now. That red line is not hot water; it’s a 3/4″ stub to a hose bib. I didn’t have any blue 3/4″ PEX.

I’ve learned to photograph every bit of the interior walls after plumbing and electric is in and before they’re closed up. It’s been very handy once or twice.

A 15 amp 240V heater is the biggest draw on the electric, but since the shed is well insulated, it does not take much to keep it cozy.

This picture of the sub panel is fuzzy. There’s also a 15A 110V water heater, and a couple of 15A outlet and light circuits. The total potential maximum draw is greater than the 30 amps max, but the likelihood of that happening is very slim. And it would just flip the main breaker.

The shed roof joists are 2×10, 24″ on center. In addition to stuffing its bays with high density fiberglass insulation, I also added an inch of rigid foil-faced insulation on the bottom, which meant that sheet rock had to be hung with 3″ screws. But it makes for a very well insulated roof.

I sneaked a few interior shots one day after he had moved in. I didn’t take pictures, but I laid down one inch of pink rigid insulation over the concrete slab floor, than I created a floating layer of 1/2″ OSB plywood over it, by attaching them to each other with little tabs of sheet metal and screws. My original plan was to finish the OSB, as I have done before, but it came out a bit wonky due to the uneven slab, and Will preferred something that looked a bit more “normal”. I got some cheap Chinese vinyl plank flooring on sale for just a little over a dollar per square foot, and so we put that down over it. Its flexibility evened out some of the unevenness of that OSB subfloor, and it is waterproof, tough, and easy to keep clean.

The kitchen is composed of a few of the cheapest unfinished cabinets and a pre-formed laminate countertop. That’s an RV cooktop which is hooked to a propane bottle on the outside. Underneath the cooktop is the water heater.

The platform bed and ladder-stairs are just framing lumber.

Yes, he’s got a shoe fetish. Got it from his mother.  🙂


That’s the bathroom, obviously. I didn’t take pictures, but it just has a one-piece fiberglass shower enclosure and a toilet.

Will wanted it to look “stealth”, so a shed door I had around went back on its front side.

The propane bottle and a spare reside in their own little shed.

The composite decking is screwed to pressure treated 4×4 sleepers just laid down level on the bed of gravel, and steps up to just barely clear (and cover) the sewer line.

That’s it. Materials cost about $7-8k. That’s about $28 per square foot. Hard to beat that for a home to call your own, even if it is small.

Meanwhile, my van conversion is really coming along, and I’m on the home stretch. I’ve been very busy with the rather complicated plumbing setup, which includes a mini-tub and a hot water heater just beyond it, which gets heated by the engine’s 195 degree coolant via a heat exchanger in the tank whenever one drives a bit. We took it out for a 15 minutes spin, and after we stopped, we had hot water coming out of the faucet. Yes! The water can also be heated by an electric element powered by the batteries and inverter. I’m getting ahead of myself, but I will do a very detailed and comprehensive write-up after it’s done.

I must say, it’s been very challenging, and has taken longer than I expected. Although the basic elements appear to be sort-of, somewhat similar to a house, almost everything is actually very different, from the sequencing to the size and scale and almost all the materials. And much of it is all-new to me, like the electric system, with its batteries and solar panel and both 12v and 110v systems. I’ve had to really stretch and figure out most of it as I went along, unlike a house which I can do practically blind-folded now. But the challenge has kept it interesting, and I’m pretty pleased with how it’s coming out. I hope to be able to take it out for an actual camping trip very soon, minus the cabinet drawers, which I’ve never done before and can wait until winter.