Journal: February 25th, 2011

I woke up to about a foot of snow this morning; I’d finally gotten that snow storm I’d been hoping for. I have a lot of things outside that I use on a regular basis, like my ice chest, the solar panels, the toilet, and everything had to be dug out before use. Oh, yeah, including toilet paper (which I leave next to the toilet in a ziplock bag). I made myself some banana pancakes for breakfast, and then decided to spend the day frolicking in the snow. Except, there was one problem. I have this nice pair of Sorel snow boots that a reader donated to me (thanks Ed!), but the snow was so deep, even just around my camp, that snow would get in from the top of the boots. Obviously, that’s what gaiters are for, except, I don’t have any. So, I decided to make some! I grabbed a couple of plastic shopping bags, cut one of the handle-loops off each bag, cut a hole in the bottom of the bags, then stuck my booted legs through the bottom holes, and stuck each foot in the remaining handle-loops (to keep the gaiters from hitching up). Then I wrapped some duct tape around the ankles and above the boots, and voila! Ghetto gaiters! I’m proud to say, despite barreling through thigh-deep snow drifts, hardly any snow got into my boots. Unfortunately, the gaiters proved to be only good for one-time use, since I had to cut through the duct tape to get them off… But, I’ve got plenty more plastic bags, if needed.

Later in the afternoon, in a bout of unusual productivity, I finished the rest of the work on the floor. The temperature is supposed to drop down to the single digits (-13C or below) tomorrow, so having an insulated floor will certainly be nice. In fact, it’s about 15F (-9C) tonight, but it’s about 65F up in the loft, and warm enough downstairs that I’m just wearing a t-shirt and a thin hoodie. I’m pretty sure that, when the floor was uninsulated, I had to keep the stove burning a lot hotter to keep the inside temperature 50F above outside temperatures, and it was certainly much colder downstairs. Now, I can even sit on the floor without freezing my butt off. Yay insulation.

A couple of readers pointed out that the way I decided to do my raised floor would be suboptimal, due to thermal bridging. This is indeed true. Those 2x4s will conduct heat out through the original floor, somewhat degrading my floor’s insulation. On the other hand, one of the reasons I decided to do what I did, was because I wanted to try using recycled cellulose insulation instead of polyisocynurate or polystyrene rigid insulation boards. Recycled cellulose, I think, is much more environmentally friendly, not just in terms of the environmental impact during production, but also when it comes time for disposal.

When it comes to houses, most people think about the cost of construction/production, as well as costs incurred while living in it (in terms of heating, air conditioning, and perhaps maintenance). But, people rarely talk about deconstruction, probably because most people expect to be out-lived by their houses, and therefore never really need to deal with the inevitable demise of their dwellings.

In my case, however, Hut 2.1 has an intended service life of 5 years, and is explicitly not designed to last long. There are a couple of reasons for such a short lifespan. First, and foremost, Hut 2.1 is as much an experiment and learning exercise as it is a home. I assumed from the beginning that it would be far from perfect, and therefore, that I would likely be building its replacement in the near future. Secondly, I consider this property itself to be an experiment. Once I’ve learned what I could learn from it, it’s conceivable that I’ll want to sell it, and buy property elsewhere. And if I were to sell this property, I may need to get rid of my structures because, let’s face it, most people don’t want tiny huts — at least, not these huts. (And since someone will inevitable suggest that perhaps I should’ve built something that other people would want, I’ll respond by saying that, building something other people would want instead of what I want defies the whole purpose of building your own home.)

So, even while designing and building my Huts, I’ve been thinking about demolition at the same time, and have concluded that using organic combustible materials as much as possible would simplify this issue. The plan, basically, is to remove any materials that can be reused (windows, for instance), and then to burn the rest. The less plastic there is, the less toxic fumes will be released during combustion. In the case of Hut 2.1, I’ll probably remove the roofing and strip off the exterior polyiso insulation before torching it, and the rest is basically just wood (including the “cellulose” insulation I just put in my floors) and a marginal quantity of unnatural materials like Tyvek and spray-foam insulation. This is also the reason I’ve avoided fiberglass; that stuff doesn’t burn and takes a long time to degrade, while I don’t want to leave behind anything that isn’t bio- (or naturally) degradable.

27 thoughts on “Journal: February 25th, 2011

  1. Hey Ryo,

    Love your blog. I have been following you for about a month or two now. Just wanted to comment and say that, I really appreciate your thoughts about the environmental concerns of your building and your thinking about it’s eventual deconstruction. That being said, when it comes time for deconstruction, I’d advise against burning the plywood in the structure, as plywood has a lot of toxins that will be released into the atmosphere when burned (in fact burning plywood is illegal in some states, including Vermont, where I live). You may already know this and have planned not to burn the plywood but, from your latest post, it kinda sounds like you were planning on burning ALL of the wood in the structure (hopefully there’s no PT on that list either). Otherwise, keep up the good work. I’m really happy to see other Liberal Gun owners who are also environmentalists and your blog reminds me I’m not the only one. 🙂

    Glenn from VT

  2. Good for you! I avoid all plastics because I am chemically sensitive to the off-gassing, and I believe everyone is, they may just call it something else, like asthma or allergies, or migraines or even diabetes, cancer, etc. It is a real challenge to live this way, but an incredible challenge to build this way. Bravo.

    • Rita, not all plastics off gas!
      You need to learn more about what plastics are before condemning them all. Yes, polyurethane foam produced via the formaldehyde process did/does off gas. Newer process have solved this problem to produce a foam with much higher R value and an integrated moisture barrier(google ecofoam). Most plastics of the thermoplastic variety not only are hypoallergenic but are also recyclable. Part of what ryochiji is learning, perhaps you need to follow his lead before making unfounded accusation concerning health effect of materials know nothing of. Are you a medical doctor with first hand knowledge of these material effects? I base the above information on 20 yrs of working with thermoplastics for various applications including medical, UL, NSF, and FDA.

  3. Congratulations on your choice of living simply. I lived that way for quite awhile and it was great. I will watch what you are doing with interest, now I’m a city boy, but have done a lot of the things I did in the woods(solar electric, solar hot water, gardens, wood cookstove soon, etc. Hope you learn alot on your adventure. Rick

  4. Excellent point about building for yourself. Even if one’s planning to build something more substantial and longer lasting (as is pretty much required in areas with building control – if only to amortize the costs of regulation compliance ¹) it doesn’t have to be designed to meet everybody’s requirements. Something more quirky which will only appeal to a tiny percentage of the market can be ok if it’s what that tiny percentage really want; you only have to find one buyer.

    Alternatively a small hut such as yours might appeal to a buyer who wants to build something else but doesn’t want to camp while doing so. It wouldn’t be worth a lot financially but might tip the decision in your favour if they have a choice of a couple of pieces of land.

    Combustion at end of life is Ok but wouldn’t composting be even better?

  5. The merits of building it for yourself and the value of the experience cannot be argued. I applaud your efforts.

    Where I would part ways with you is on the perspective of planned obsolescence. Our society seems OK with it especially when it comes to computers, cars, fashion, etc… Perhaps it is a defect of my own but I don’t see it as a virtue.

    That being said I believe what you will learn and have shared with others will be of benefit for those who choose to follow that path you pioneer.

    Best of luck to you!

  6. Mo Has a great point on the planned obsolescence…never Have I thought of homes, or huts, as being in that category. When I build, be it, furniture, flooring, or homes. it is with the intent that the service life will easily out live me.

    an example…the picnic table I built at our cabin is constructed entirely from 4 x 6 timbers. and weighed in near 600 when first built. My hope is my kids or even my potential (future) grand kids can benefit from my labor.

    A REAL Picnic Table

    Being Green is way easier if the “cradle to grave” time frame spans generations compared to a few years.

    • I think I agree with you and Mo, in that I don’t like the short product life-cycles that have become the norm in our consumer society. Constantly having to buy, throw away, and re-buy stuff is driving up the financial and environmental cost of living, and that doesn’t seem like a good thing. Having said that, if I were intent on building a 100-year structure from the beginning, neither Hut 1.0 or Hut 2.0 would’ve gotten built; it simply would’ve been too daunting (and costly) of a task. So I’ve tried to minimize the environmental footprint of my structures, while balancing other factors like comfort and cost. I undoubtedly haven’t done a perfect job, but I think it’s worth the effort, at least.

      • Your reasoning is sound and your goals are noble. Everything is compromise. I have a lot of respect for those who “step into the arena.” It’s easy to be critical here on the sidelines while you’re the one investing the time, money and labors. Hopefully it comes across as encouragement and is informative in a useful way.

        This blog is a good demonstration of your courage. Not in the man vs. wilderness sort of way but in the this is the real you doing something for the first time that few will ever do. Sharing it with the whole world too. Standing Ovation from the PNW!

  7. Such a small building could be sold and removed by the buyer, there are lots of us out here in the world who lack the skills to build small (yet) but still value the tiny house lifestyle. you could be giving someone else the opportunity to downsize by selling, or even giving away your tiny house when you are done with it. I love your blog by the way.

  8. You ought to have one of those laser thermometers that you can point at stuff and read the temperature.

    It’s one thing to theorize and plane and meditate on how to keep the floor warm. It is another to have measurements that confirm your theory.

    Oh, well – I guess it’s too late now. Maybe next month or next winter.

  9. What Mo said… Hope the boots work for you.
    Let me know if you end up wanting to sell the place, it’s close to where I like to fish.


  10. I really enjoy the fact that you visit your mistakes and share what you will change in future builds. Have you thought of writing a book that visits your blunders and successes regarding all aspects of your adventure?

    I have limited number of years before I green light myself to make my own tiny structure. I have read everything and I try to take away knowledge from true pioneers, such as yourself. I am truly interested in your energy needs consumption and production. How much would I want or need? I have no clue to that mystery.

    That is why what you are doing in my humble opinion is very important! You can save those of us the frustration and the monetary mistakes you already know is least desirable. So, in a sense….funemployed, I think not. The people to follow your example are employing the knowledge you are gathering during this field test.

    Love the photo’s! Love love love them! So, beautiful and white! Stay safe and warm.

  11. I never considered isocyanurate panels non-green. Sure, some of the foam I sprayed around the edges to seal each piece cannot practically be removed/used but the majority (panels themselves) can easily but cut/removed/sold/reused. What’s not to like?

    • Recycling polyiso boards sounds like a great idea and I would certainly encourage that, though I’ve never seen anyone actually do so. I think the economics are just against recycling insulation, but I may be wrong on that. The main objection I have with plastic (of any kind) is that there’s no “green” way to dispose of them. If they’re burned, they release toxins. If they’re dumped, they degrade into smaller and smaller particles of plastic, but never actually decompose (i.e. plastic will remain plastic for at least tens of thousands of years).

      • ryochiji, Polyioscyanurate is not recyclable in the usual sense as it is a thermoset material. It can be physical reused. The thermoplastic plastic can be recycled by melting it down and extruding it into whatever form is needed. Extruded PS foam or expanded PS sheets can be. However, I do not see too many places that collect and recycle anything besides PET and HDPE. It is also untrue about producing toxins when burned. If burned in a controlled environment, not in a garbage dump, like an in a power plant there are no toxic wastes as the macro molecules burn/oxidize completely to CO2 and water, unless you have N or S integrated into the polymer molecule in which case you will produce some nitrous oxides and sulfure dioxides, but at levels way way lower than a coal power plant.
        Plastics not exposed to UV light, ie buried, will stick around for thousands of years (10’s of thousands is a stretch) but so do newspapers when treated similarly.
        So are cellulosic insulations any greener than some plastics. I, like you, do not care for PolyISO boards my next home, a tiny home, will use ecofoam of some kind.
        Just though I’d shine a different light on problem.

        • Thanks for the insight and clarifications. I’m glad to hear that plastic *can* be burned cleanly, but in realistic terms, how much of our plastics are burned that way? How many incinerators are there than can burn plastic cleanly? Seeing how I’m 90 miles from the nearest decent-sized city, if I have to drive my plastic there, that’s already a much higher environmental cost of disposal than wood or other natural materials that I can just either burn or leave to decompose here on my property.

  12. My husband and I spent last summer building a cabin in Alaska and have been following your blog since we found it through Tiny House on Facebook. While reading about how you keep your toilet paper in a Ziploc bag by your toilet, my out loud response was aaaawwwwww, because that’s what we did too and it brought back so many familiar memories. We enjoy reading your posts and look forward to seeing more about your experience.

  13. Just a little note. If you’re planning on burning the structure you’ll probably want to pull the cellulose out first. One of it’s main appeals as an insulating material is that it is actually fire retardant. Once the rest of the structure is gone, it’ll just float off in the wind and cover everything in grey snow.

    And I’d agree with the others. Planned obsolesence is good if well-planned, but don’t torch the building until you’re sure that no-one wants to take it over.

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