The Next Chapter: A Small House

For us the Tiny House was a means to an end, and that end was to build a larger (though still small) house DEBT FREE.  And I guess 18 months of Tiny House living really worked, because we’ve saved up enough to buy land and start building.

The Land:

6.7 acres in the Baca Grande neighborhood of Crestone, CO.  Million dollar views for …. $9,000.

Panoramic view looking east.

Panoramic view looking east.

Looking east toward the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in Southern Colorado.

Breaking Ground on our new house.  Looking east toward the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in Southern Colorado.

We bought the land for about $9,000, but it was raw land and putting in a well, septic, and hooking up to the electric grid cost about $20,000 more.  Still, a lot of land in Colorado goes for $30,000 – $80,000… per acre!

Why is Crestone so cheap?  It’s very rural: an hour drive (each way) to get groceries, a 4 hour drive to the airport (Denver), very few employment opportunities.  The climate is very harsh: The San Luis Valley is 8,000 ft. above sea level, with sub zero winters, extreme winds in the spring, very dry all the time, sandy soil, and really bad mosquitos in the summer.

Our land is called a “Mesic Meadow”… which means a meadow with moisture.  It’s a very dry Mesic Meadow, but does have actual soil and native grasses which used to cover the entire valley.  Now most of the valley is either agricultural land or rabbit brush due to excessive irrigation and the drying trend in the last decades.

The Design:

Design considerations include:

  • Insulation and heating for sub-zero winters
  • Blocking cold winter winds from the North and dusty spring winds from the Southeast
  • Minimum 900 SF per local code
  • Low budget – we’re building out of pocket – as we get the money
  • Passive Solar – 300+ days of sunshine a year
  • Active Solar – hot water heating for radiant tubing in the floor and future PV to generate electricity
The Northwest corner of the house blocks the cold winter winds.  The Great Room ceilings are 10'-0" high, Bedroom and Office ceilings are 8'-0" high.

The Northwest corner of the house blocks the cold winter winds. The Great Room ceilings are 10′-0″ high, Bedroom and Office ceilings are 8′-0″ high.

We’ve settled on conventional 2×6 wood framing with spray foam insulation over a concrete slab on grade which will also be the finished floor.  Single story, 1,000 SF with 1 BR, 1 Bath (and an office) to start, with the Tiny House parked next door to become the COOLEST guest house in the West!  (if we get too many guests, we’ll simply put the bucket toilet back in!  haha.)

The L-shaped plan creates a courtyard facing South and East that can be enjoyed all year round.

The L-shaped plan creates a courtyard facing South and East that can be enjoyed all year round.

The Hallway faces south and includes a CMU masonry wall filled with concrete for solar collection / thermal mass.  The Utility room houses a washer and dryer, radiant floor heating equipment, hot water solar collection tanks, and the pressure tank required for the well.  I am hoping that the passive solar design plus the radiant floor heat will negate the need to use the wood stove in the winter.  We’ll see…

The Plan: 1,000 SF 1-BR, 1-BA, with an office.  Concrete slab on grade with solar hydronic radiant in-floor heating.  The southeast facing courtyard blocks the cold winter winds.

The Plan: 1,000 SF 1-BR, 1-BA, with an office. Concrete slab on grade with solar hydronic radiant in-floor heating. The southeast facing courtyard blocks the cold winter winds.

The house is designed for the addition of another bedroom and the conversion of the office into a 2nd Bath and closet, so then we’ll have a 2 BR / 2 BA in a roomy 1,150 SF.  We’ve debated bumping the Great Room ceilings up to 11′-0″ and the side wings to 9′-0″ but this goes against our principles of efficiency to heat and efficiency to build… so I think we’re sticking with 10′-0″ and 8′-0″.

The house was designed for the easy addition of a 2nd Bedroom and Bathroom.

The house was designed for the easy addition of a 2nd Bedroom and Bathroom.

The house is oriented 30 degrees east of south.  The best views are to the East and slightly Northeast.  Solar south here is already 15 degrees east of south and another 15 degrees rotation doesn’t impact solar gain.  I don’t know this guy, but found this website about Passive Solar Design really concise and informative.

I almost forgot!  The Shop.  There will be a detached Shop / Carport located to the Northwest which will block cold winter winds as well as shield the house from the street.  1,000 SF?  Shane was altruistic enough to build the house first.  ;)

The Build:

We closed on the land April 4th, broke ground April 17th, and had the ICF perimeter foundation installed by April 26th.

ICF perimeter for insulation.  The inside foam gets cut away for a continuous slab / stem wall pour.

April 19, 2014: ICF perimeter for insulation. The inside foam gets cut away for a continuous slab / stem wall pour.

The bathroom design got a LOT simpler when I was personally digging the trenching for the under-slab plumbing… haha.  Went from a 4-fixture bathroom with fixtures on both walls, to a 3-fixture bathroom with all the fixtures on one shared plumbing wall.  Manual labor would do a lot for architects and designers.

Trenching for under-slab plumbing.

April 26, 2014: Trenching for under-slab plumbing.  The trench in the background brings electrical, phone, and internet from the street.  That was dug with an excavator, thankfully!  Sod is incredibly tough!  And it grows back really well.  I did hand place all the grass chunks on top of about half the length of the trench… then 12 hours later had Shane backfill the rest with a machine.

Backfill over under-slab plumbing, then 3" of foam.

May 11, 2014: Backfill over under-slab plumbing, then 3″ of foam.

The incredibly complicated Utility Room.  Hydronic radiant in-floor heating with solar hot water.

May 16, 2014: The Utility Room houses the radiant floor equipment, hot water solar equipment, and well equipment. Hydronic radiant in-floor heating with solar hot water.  About 24 yards of concrete.  We did a 5″ thick slab.

The finished concrete slab.

May 20, 2014: The finished concrete slab.  The well is visible behind the house.  3 days to drill that… 130 ft. deep.  Our water table is at approximately 8′-0″, which is why grass grows here.

The day we placed concrete was horrendously windy and the slab went off way too fast, which is a bummer, because our slab is the finished floor, both to save money and because we like concrete floors.  The floors have character though, and that’s the inherent beauty of concrete.  I love it!

Rainy spring day May 30, 2014.  The grass is so persistent!  It grows back really well, especially where we've driven on it...

Rainy spring day May 30, 2014. The grass is so persistent! It grows back really well, especially where we’ve driven on it…  The Great Sand Dunes are visible to the Southeast on the far right horizon of this photo.

Crestone has been a great move for us and Shane is busy doing General Contracting and I’m busy doing design consulting, so this house is just our weekend job.  I’ll keep you posted!  Next up: Wall Framing!

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Categories: Small Houses | Tags: , | 13 Comments

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13 thoughts on “The Next Chapter: A Small House

  1. Congratulations!!! Looks amazing, my favorite quote ‘Manual labor would do a lot for architects and designers.’ True that!

    • Glad you agree! I can’t wait to see your house in Dwell! that’s awesome! and TIME?! Wow! Congrats to you Macy!

  2. AWESOME!!! I am so stinkin’ happy to hear from y’all and about y’all again. Love y’all and what y’all have done and are going to do. Be well. Keep us posted.

  3. Don & MaryAlice Jensen

    Fabulous, Carrie & Shane . Loved the pictures. Gramary

  4. Stevo

    Fantastic looking project! PLEASE do not stop these LIFE SAVING Clothesline Blogs….ever! Although I don’t always have time to read them (what??! you may ask!) I love knowing that you have succeeded and lived life like so few of us do in a Tiny Space. I take solace knowing you have done it, and that there are others doing it. Despite the fact that you are moving on to a larger space, you will always be considered part of the family of Tiny Housers and consequently seeing a Clothesline Blog appear in my Inbox brings a HUGE inner smile to me! Thank you Thank you Thank you for the BRILLIANT Blog.

    • thank YOU for your support and excitement! a great dose of positive reinforcement to keep the blogs rolling, nice work!
      - Carrie

  5. Jacqueline Welles

    Congratulations! On staying together thru tiny house era :), and new place. I am surprised to see a flat roof. Is there not much snowfall? or do solar panels melt it as fast as it accumulates, or what?

    • thanks!
      the roof will have a low slope, as all “flat” roofs do, it does snow here, but not as much as in other parts of the Rockies. the santa fe style roofs are common here and work well.

  6. Jacqueline Welles

    Thx…and do keep all us fans posted on your appearance in magazines! Way cool!

  7. Congratulations on the journey to finding what works best for you. You are living and demonstrating what everyone should go through to determine what is best for them rather than simply following the crowd and commercialism/consumerist brainwashed ideas of going bigger and bigger and farther in debt like a bunch of Lemmings (remember that video game? Maybe I’m showing my age…). I applaud you for recognizing what does and doesn’t work for you two and pursuing your dreams based on what you learn. We’d all be better off and much happier if we all did as your example here.

  8. kadave

    Wow….what an incredible journey. I’ve only recently started following the blog but am fascinated by the transition from a tiny house to a reasonably sized 1 bedroom house. Please continue to write and update the blog. I’ve learned so much.
    You might consider putting your tiny house on Airbnb so your readers can visit. :-)

  9. Co cool!!! I absolutely love what you guys are doing (and have been doing). Very excited and happy for you. Please keep blogging! That view.. Wow. Congrats :)

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