My advice on moving to Vermont. The short answer from a liberal-ish democratic perspective.

General, How-Tos, Travel Reports

My Short Answer After Moving To The Town of Brattleboro in Southern VT in 2008.

Generally – A great state! I find myself amidst the voluntarily lower middle class. My friends and colleagues are mostly relatively happy hippie-ish democratic liberals who are into protecting the environment, education, local community support, and healthy living. There are also lots of retired folks, republicans, a few rich, a more poor. There’s the few homeless (more in summer) and those suffering visibly from psychological issues and drug and alcohol abuse.

The tone I experience here is somewhere between New Hampshire’s “Live Free, Or Die” independent, self-sufficiency, and the West Coast’s hippie-dippie liberalism and innovation.

Under that, I sense a deep commitment to community, family and education that crosses political lines. Most Vermonters I know seem to be able to agree on being there for one’s neighbors, supporting good public schools, farming, effective social programs, healthy local food, being outdoors, and spending time with family and friends.

Finally, it’s a very small state, less then 700,000! So scale back the numbers in all your factoring.

My Advice

  • Have quick plans for food you can make for pot-luck dinner socials. So many pot lucks! And you’ll waste money if you always buy prepared food or bring booze. Sometimes I wish someone would just host a dinner, just once…
  • Even one job with low salary, but full benefits, is very valuable here. Then the other person can freelance, farm, finagle, etc.
  • Lock you car during zucchini season if you have out of state plates. If you don’t it will be full of folk’s surplus zucchinis that they are trying to get rid of.
  • Join the COOP
  • Find a CSA for local veggies and/or meat
  • Get a big freezer for blueberries and homemade pesto all year!
  • Join a board *but not too many.
  • Vote and go to town meetings and public hearings.
  • Trim your expenses and dept.
  • Get some tools
  • Plant a garden
  • Get really good snow tires in the winter (Michelin X-Ice for example).
  • Draft proof and insulate your house (consider a heat pump with Efficiency Vermont help).
  • Find the swimming holes.
  • Okay, on the snow tires…With an AWD cars, some say you don’t need ’em, but I got kids now and they make a huge difference. If you don’t have AWD, get ’em for sure.
  • Get wool socks, sweaters, hats, and wear layers. But wait for a sale if you can, at the end of winter.
  • Keep a blanket, water, and a flashlight in your car in winter.
  • Keep a swim suit, towel, blanket, sun screen and water in the car in summer.
  • Leave time to drive on the little back roads when you can, there’s so many cool little discoveries.

Glad we insulated this old house in Vermont, basement to attic. Good payback.


I’m glad we insulated the crap out of most of the 1300 square feet of this 1907 house. Plus the full basement. I’ll tell you why.

Today was bitter cold, about 5 degrees all day, not counting wind. But it was sunny. With Laura and baby Shaw gone, I turned down the thermostat to 55 and went to work at 7:15am for an early meeting. I came home at 6:30pm figuring the house would be at 55 degrees. To my surprise the downstairs was 56 and the upstairs was 59! I could feel the warmth on the south side rooms especially. We don’t have big windows, but we keep them clean and unobstructed for solar gain. Amazing!

We did do about 7K worth of insulating over two years, lots ourselves to save money. We got about $2500 back in rebates.

Now we use about 350 gallons (Roughly $1200/yr at 3.50 a gallon), for heat and hot water. We have a boiler that does our hot water for sinks and showers even in summer, with no storage tank, and heat. It’s not efficient, but it is at least a good model from early 2000. We’re working on getting a hybrid heat pump water heater next month.

When we bought the house, they used 750 gallons a year! So far, so good.

boing boing traffic for tiny house post

The Tiny (ish) house project has been Boing Boinged


My tiny (ish) house blog made it on, It was quite a rush to see my blog go from about 50 visitors a day to more then 20,000! BoingBoing is top 5 in the world for blog traffic, so it makes sense.

boing boing traffic for tiny house post traffic for tiny house post

Here’s what went down when the post went live:

  • The tenant of the tiny house, an IT guy, emailed me in in about 14 minutes since he happened to catch the post on an RSS feed on BoingBoing. He said it was surreal to realize he was looking at the house he lived in on a blog he reads every day.
  • On Facebook, a friend posted that they’d seen it within minutes as well.
  • I watched 30 to 50 people on my public Google spreadsheet for a couple of days.
  • I resisted the temptation to respond to flame bait comments on the BoingBoing post.
  • I approved a score of comments that came in on my blog.
  • My server hit it’s 40GB limit of bandwidth about three hours after it went live and refused more visits. I called my sysadmin and had it tripled to 150GB and it held.
  • Reddit was surprising as a traffic source.
  • I made $5 on ads.
  • A couple of cool people asked to blog my page and use a photo or two.
House, from the side. It's about 19' high at the peak.

Building a rental/guest tiny house in Vermont that is green, energy efficient, and passive-ish solar.

Tiny House Construction
Winter 2015

Winter 2015

StatusBefore. Plan. After.

  • February 2015. Our second tenants, a young couple who are planning on building a tiny house someday and wanted to experience it, are moving out June 1. My mother is going to take it for two months at full rent (sorry mom, my salary isn’t that big).
  • November 2014: Installed a high end Panasonic ceiling fan.
  • 2013, fencing.
  • November 2012. Completely finished, for at least a few minutes.
  • November 2011, tenant ready. Our tiny house took project took 1 year to be tenant ready. Rent $825/mo
  • March 2011. Permitted, designed done.
  • October 2010. Start of project with design and garage demo.

Clog (Construction Log)

What: We built a large “tiny house” in our Southern Vermont backyard and documented the process, including:

Who: We are not professional carpenters, nor will we be quitting our day jobs. Laura is an elementary school teacher at The Neighborhood Schoolhouse. I’m the director of the educational technology program at Marlboro College Graduate School. I also worked as a carpenter in my youth, and have always been interested in real estate. In November 2010 we bought a house on tiny 1/8th of an acre lot, 1/2 mile from downtown, Brattleboro, VT. (200 miles North of NYC).

Why: I created this Clog because when I was doing research on small house construction, this is what I wanted to find on the Web. We also wanted to have a record for ourselves, and blogging is somewhat job related for me. My wife Laura came up with the “Clog” name and we loved it. We are “clogging” the project in the spirit of open source information.

The idea to build came from a childhood spent in a “back to the land” community in southern Maine in 1970s an the Tiny House movement.  Building your own simple house was common place and everybody seemed to be an amateur carpenter. When we bought our house it had an old garage that begged for help. I convinced my wonderful wife Laura it would be a good to invest our savings in something that could provide extra income.  We also both like guest house possibilities, and enjoy being around people. In addition we wanted to shorten our needlessly long asphalt driveway and park near the road to reduce shoveling. Then we found out that our town offered $3000.00 grants to build second units, and we could get rebates from Efficiency Vermont if it was efficient. Our journey had begun!

March 2011. Permitted, designed done.
November, 2011: Tenant happily in and paying rent. Nov. 2012. Shed and fence done. Rent raised to $825/mo not including heat/dryer/gas stove.
  1. $30,000 including $4,500 in rebates.
  2. 15%+ yearly return on investment including 10months/yr avg. occupancy, expenses, water/electric, increased taxes.
  3. 16′ W x 20′ L x 19′ H. 9′ by 15′ sleeping loft (About 400 sq. ft.) plan.
  4. Passive solar. Super-insulated. Energy Star. Double stud wall, 10″ thick.  Ceiling 12″ cellulose.
  5. Separate metered 100 Amp service with electric heat, washer/dryer and stove.
  6. Shared sewer and water through our basement walls.
  7. Save money by: An efficient design. DIY general contracting. Salvaged material whenever appropriate.  Painting, staining, fixtures, floors, siding, trim, research/buy appliance, rigid foam, site clean up, landscaping.
  1. $54,000 including $3,000 in rebates. Materials were much higher then expected, and we hired people for more then we expected. Efficiency Vermont rebate didn’t happen due to changes in regulations.
    See our costs in our public spreadsheet.
  2. 12.37%+ yearly return on investment including 10months/yr avg. occupancy, expenses, water/electric, increased taxes.
  3. 16′ W x 22′ L x 19′ H. 9′ by 15′ sleeping loft (About 400 sq. ft.) plan.
  4. Passive solar. Super-insulated. Energy Star. Advanced 2’x6′ framing with 1.5″ of rigid foam on entire envelope. 6′ cellulose walls. 12″cellulose ceiling.
  5. Shared electric 100amp service with tenant paying propane for Rinnai 11,000 BTU heater, used gas cook stove, and used propane dryer.
  6. Shared sewer and water through our basement walls.
  7. Saved money by: An efficient design. DIY general contracting. Salvaged material whenever appropriate.  We painted, stained, but paid for folks to do floors, siding, and trim.  We researched and bough appliances, installed rigid foam, and did site clean up, landscaping.

House, from the side. It's about 19' high at the peak.

Floor PLan

Floor Plan. Bob has put the the plans for this tiny house on

Dream Team

We’ve found that if you ask around, the best contractors become evident. They may be a little more expensive, but they will usually end up saving money because they are the most professional. They listen to your goals, only commit to what they can really do, and don’t make costly mistakes. It is also essential they can work together well if  you are acting as your own general contractor.

  • Architect: Bob Swinburn.   (802) 451-9764.
  • Excavating: Jim Herrick, Marlboro VT.  348-6336. A mentor, teacher and pro. A invaluable nexus from ground breaking to foundation done. Helped us stay under budget. Could crush a wall, or safely transplant a flower petal with his machines.
  • Concrete: Brad King. Putney, VT: 387.5732. Total pro. On time and under budget. In and out quick with good communication.
  • Framing to weather tight (frame, windows, doors, siding, trim, subfloor). Gabrial Hulme. 254-7662. Local who’s work we’ve seen and like. Knows all the other contractors.
  • Electric: Victor Johnson Electrical. (802) 254-8747. 483 Cemetery Hill Road, Brattleboro, VT 05301
  • Plumbing: Dale Temple. Temple Plumbing and Heating,  Putney, VT. 387 5540. 25+ years with Jim.
  • Suppliers: Renew Salvage (Used lumber, windows, doors, toilet, sinks, paint…).  Perkins Home Center (New lumber, windows, doors…). Kerber Farm and Mills (siding).



Dense  Pack Insulating

Sketchup Tour of early plan

February Sun Simulation

Lessons Learned

  • Labor: We rushed in the end and hired people to work since we had a tenant ready to pay rent. This cost us a lot more then if we took our time and did more ourselves.
  • Professionals: Find one honest, experienced, professional and they will hook you up all the others in the area. A good team of people who have worked together before saves time and money.
  • DIY. If you want to save money, get ready to be flexible. Surrender your entire driveway for months so they can leave machines and lumber close to the site. Say goodbye to a nice lawn this year and let them work. Be flexible on the schedule. Let workers use your bathroom to save portapotty charges. Offer to back fill by hand to save an hour with an expensive crew. Offer to clean up the site every day after work. Listen to ideas your contractors have to save time and money and do them. Provide water. Buy donuts!
  • Architects vs. Contractors: There seems to be an endless war here. Architects work on paper and the screen. Contractors make it a reality on the ground. Contractors are constantly complaining that architects don’t get the little details right, and don’t realize how much time their designs can take. I’m sure architects complain about contractors. If you’ve got a big budget, you can make any design happen exactly, but if you’re on a budget, listen to the boots on the ground and roll with the reality of what might be quicker or cheaper.
  • + 20-50%. As our budget went over we noticed none of the contractors were surprised! This is a big clue. My dad, who was a carpenter and home builder remarked, “You’ll know you’re half done when your money’s all gone.” If you want to be on time and under budget, budget at least 20%-50% more than what everybody tells you for every cost and every date.
  • It’s a process of slowly moving forward to points of clarity. Chaos is normal. Answers are difficult. The unexpected adds days to every schedule. Don’t get angry or panic, just endlessly push forward step by step.
  • DIY General Contracting: Clear communication and documentation are your best tools. There are no assumptions. You are the nexus of information. Try not to change your mind, it costs money. Do not be a high maintenance client unless you are rich.
  • Get a plan.  Buy it, make it, or hire an architect. Plans allow for estimates that mean something. Every site is unique. Existing plans may not work for where south is and where you want a door to be to keep a tenant from walking in your sight lines all the time.
  • Talk to the town – a lot: Permits and zoning will decide what you can build. Move gently. Ask questions. Make friends. Go in person when you can, it helps people connect a form to a face. Do not push the Town. They have the power.
  • Web Research. There’s a lot of work you can do by surfing free house plans and articles. But it only goes so far. Eventually you will need to talk someone’s who’s actually a professional in your area.
  • Sketchup. An amazing program with which you can build models, walk around them, and see how the sun behaves in your location all year. But be careful, Sketchup can be like online dating, it can be so entertaining that you can forget to go on an actual date!

Construction Journal

Nov. 8th, 2011: From the third week of Oct. until Oct. 29th, it was a big push since we had a tenant. We hired Rick and Dylan even more. Rick built a great railing from the left over yellow pine 2″x6″ salvaged wood. It had to be to fire code, so it looked huge. Rick also did the window frame, in of course…pine! We found some excellent low grade boards with few knots, but we like knots anyway. Rick really understood our “cabin” astetic and “done is better than perfect” mentality along with “use used whenever possible,” credo.

We decided to buy at least one new thing for ourselves, a gas stove! This way we could put our used gas stove in the tiny house. We got a good one for $520 with a real broiler and different sized burners. The gas guys came and hooked both up. The Danby Engery Start bottom freezer fridge arrived and Laura and I picked up both the stove and fridge in the Subaru Forester, in two trips. The gas guys came, all in a rush since their company had new owners. But they hooked everything up and it all worked!

I got everyone out three days before the tenant was arriving and with Junio’s help, sanded and put two coats of water-based poly on the floors. I didn’t sand between. But I did vacuum and mop very carefully. Laura and I cleaned until late at night on the 28th. We also touched up the paint, bleached the cabinets, and put a second coat of marine varnish on the shower and kitchen wood.

The tenants moved in just as a VERY unusual snow storm of 14 inches hit us that night. He was only able to make one trip. But he was warm, even if he only has some of his stuff. The week since he’s been in we’ve managed to clean up the hard, build a basic walk way with all remaining scrap 2″x4″s, and have Rick sneak in and build a bathroom door out of , you guessed it, shiplap! We used scrap wood on the crawl space cover, and have very little scrap left. I hooked up an CAT6 Ethernet line in the extra PVC I ran to our modem in the big house and upped our Internet speed so we can share. When I did, I found that the crawl space is already wet on the wood and side walls. I do need to put down a layer of 6mil plastic, but it’s only about $38. Speaking of money, we’re hitting close to 50K on the house. Mostly labor driving us over by continuing to have others work so we can move fast, and by doing things like the fan, washer dryer, etc. with expensive electricians and plumbers.

On Nov. 2nd we had our Efficiency Vermont inspection. Jenn did a blower door test and took all kinds of notes on every appliance and light. She took measurements and then did the blower door test. She said, “188CFM 50 on the ‘C’ ring, I’ve never had to use the ‘C’ ring before!” so it’s TIGHT.

On Nov. 7th our check came from the town for $3000.00. We expect Efficiency Vermont’s check within a month and we’re exploring federal tax breaks.



October 21st, 2011: I’ve not posted mostly due to being too busy! We’re down to the wire. A week ago I couldn’t sleep after I made a list of what was needed and how much time Gabe and Scott had. I had one night of fear and loathing that involved several trips to my laptop after failed attempts at sleeping. I would go over the lists and the budget and the person-hours. It just wasn’t possible to finish. Then Gabe and worked out that he could leave his tools and his carpenter friend, Rick, could take over. Then I found a local guy named Dylan who needed some assistant type-work. Both of their hourly rates were fair and lower then Gabe and Rick due to having less tools and doing it part time.

Dylan and I were able to finish the second coat of paint. Dylan reminded me that you can mix paints if they are all latex. We mixed four different gallons of salvaged paint and some paint from the basement, all white, antique white or similar. It worked like a charm.

Dawn came and later that day I called Gabe and we worked it out. He’d come for 1.5 more days, and work on he all important stair railing to fire code, and kitchen. Monday came and it all worked out! By Tuesday we had a floor and kitchen in enough for me to finish.

So last week I was running around between my day job and the lumber yard picking up shiplap pine. The entire house, framing, studs, joists, floor, interior walls, loft is ALL pine. And it’s on Pine Street even!

Merrill Gas came with heater on Tuesday. It’s a Rinnai 11,000 BTU jobby for about $1000. It’s wonderful! Small, quiet and when it reaches temperature it just slows way down and keeps a trickle of heat coming out, vs turning off. This makes for a very quiet heater! Of course the used gas stove didn’t work! Maybe it was broken, maybe it was the hose I washed it with? Or the month outside? What to do? Laura and I mulled online.

I used the nail gun Gabe left to put up more shiplap on the bathroom walls so the plumbers could do their final installation.

Then by Friday the plumbers got the little “low boy” water tank in. It was delayed due to the truck that was bringing it here breaking down. Victor the electrician could now wire for it. I had forgotten that sequence of events was the only way to do it! It was a little chaotic.

Near the end of the week Laura’s mother came up to help and visit. She was great in helping us with all the house chores that we’ve neglected. Laura and she did all the yard work, cleaning and small jobs in the tiny house that they could.

And on Saturday my brother David came from Portland, Maine to help and to DJ our Tiny Dancer House Party. It was a blast! Pics. We danced on the unfinished floors in shoes! Oy…the dents might be a problem.

Basically a blur of a few weeks.

Tiny Dancer Party

Tiny Dancer Party



Sept. 27, 2011: Gas powered tankless how water heaters are so sexy! But alas, finding a direct vent one (since I don’t have a chimney), worth a damn for anything close to $800 with installation is hard. For now I believe I’ll settle for a 20 gallon traditional style at under $300. I’ll wait for their cost to drop, then maybe get them for both houses.

Sept. 25, 2011: Power is on. Things are getting comical, fast and cool.

  • Comical #1: The poor fiberglass shower stall. It has sat patiently watching construction from its back yard perch for the last 6 months since we bought it used for $100. The shower stall being one, it was brought through the front door – but wait, it didn’t fit! Gabe and Scott were shocked. Andrew and I tried it that night, upside down even, angled, sideways, and no go. The next day the plumbers tried it. No go. It’s THAT close, but no close enough. We could take the trim down, but it’s all pained, leaded, and in. Labor would cost to take it out and put it back. So we’re going with a new shower, $300.00 and will sell the old one.
Shower won't fit

Shower won’t fit

  • Comical #2: Renew Salvage actually called Friday after all these months of having our supply lists and said a stackable 24″ wide washer dryer just came in. I drove over after work. It was a Whirlpool in great shape and the dryer is run on propane! This means the it can hook up to the system for the heater and cook stove, and that means the tenant will pay the bill. It was $400, about $700 cheaper than a new one. So while were not planning on buying one this year and letting the tenant either buy one themselves or use ours, we bought it. Installing it, now that of course turns out to be hard! The conversation with Matt at the excellent Merrill Gas went like this:
    Me: “I scored a great stackable W/D with a propane dryer!”
    Matt: “They are great, but I bet you want it in a bathroom right?”
    Me: “Is that a problem?”
    Matt: “Usually. Unless you want to cut a hole in the floor, or have levered doors to let more air in, but who wants levered doors in a bathroom?”
    Me: “I do.”
    Matt: “Really?”
    Me: “Really, it’s a great W/D. If the tenant has gas, and happens to have a date, they can send them outside for minute.”
    Matt: Lots of laughter, “Okay, we’ll hook it up with the stove and Rinnai.”
Stackable washer dryer

Stackable washer dryer

  • Fast: The loft and stairs went in very fast. We’re keeping them raw wood, maybe with something like Poly on the loft floor, Tung oil on railings and such and maybe nothing on the stairs for now. The stairs seem like they will double as a closet and storage and are not a big as we thought.
  • Cool: The metal from the roof of the garage looks great all washed up and on the ceiling. We were four sheets short, so we put new metal in the loft by the bed. The tenant came over and likes it.
Loft, stairs, metal ceiling

Loft, stairs, metal ceiling

September 11th, 2011: Moving fast now. Gabe and Scott jammed this week and got the sheetrock, loft, and some other little stuff done. Time for us to start mudding. We also did a test of using the old galvanized metal roofing from our garage on the ceiling. It looked cool, but stained. I washed each sheet today with a hose first on both sides. Then with sponges and a hard brush I used Bon Ami powder with pure vinegar, and bleach for the tough spots – all quickly rinsed off. It got rid of the mildew and rust from them sitting out covering our lumber. We’ll need a few more sheets of new metal roofing since we don’t have quiet enough to for the whole ceiling, but we’ll use those in the loft at the back.

Sheetrock and Loft done

Sheetrock and Loft done

September 8th, 2011:

  1. We got a tenant! I posted to my work community and someone responded. We met and they are into moving in Oct. 28th and even helping finish little details. They even said they’d by a washer/dryer we could buy off them when they leave. It’s a good fit and we’re excited. I think we might have been able to get more then $775.00/month (tenant pays heat, we pay electric/water), but having a happy tenant is better then a few more dollars right now. Perhaps when it’s all up and running after a year, we’ll reconsider cost.
  2. We’re over budget! And we made the budget a public Google spreadsheet. Long live open source! No wait, that’s bad. We’re finding that our busy lives, and having a good tenant, means we are more willing to pay to have things done. We intend to mud and paint the sheetrock and put down and finish the pine floors. We’ll see.
  3. Dense pack cellulose is done! Fascinating how they staple up the netting that allows them to pump the cellulose in tight, then they add a second set of huge staples that tightens the netting down even further. The place feels very warm, quiet and smaller.
Cellulose dense pack done

Cellulose dense pack done

August 30th: 2011: Gabe and Scott got it all buttoned up weather tight a day before Irene hit. Now, the inside starts.

Weather Tight

Weather Tight

August 24th. 2011: A week ago we were almost framed to weather tight! One door and two back windows short.  We are not in the productivity doldrums. August in New England. Carpenters on summer break. Subcontractors stopping by when they can. We practice being a low maintenance client, part of which is not being in a hurry. We’ve been cleaning up the site, painting trim slowly after work before it gets dark, etc.

August 3rd, 2011: Gabe and Scott are framing away. The 2×6 Advanced Framing Technique seems a very efficient and an elegant use of lumber. The metal bands that take the place of wall sheathing are particularly interesting (see photos on main post). In general, there’s a lot less lumber, less scrap, and the 24″ stud bays make for better insulation. The roof should be on this week and trim and windows/doors next week. Then we’ll tackle the long process of finishing the inside. Laura and I are foam insulating the floor joists this week. This weekend we’ll install the ridged foam on the walls and gable ends, as well as prime the trim board to be all ready next week for siding.



July 21st, 2011. While we are road tripping in Nova Scotia we just got a text and a photo from Gabe that the framing started Thursday. He’s a pic from his phone. Going to do some hiking, so we’ll be offline for a week most likely. Back the 31st.

Framing Starts July 21st. (Photo from Gabe’s phone)

July 16-31st, 2011. We’re on a delayed honey moon in Nova Scotia lounging, camping and hiking. Gabe is framing to weather tight while we’re gone.

July 11th, 2011. Foundation is insulated to r20! It basically sucked as a job,but Laura and reminded our selves when we got cranky and fought that we were saving money,and that hard work feels great for many more days then it takes to do.  It was a two day job during brutally muggy 85 degree plus. We impact drilled holes in the concrete to hold the two staggered layers of 2″XPS foam. We decided against a nail gun because we wanted to make sure to not destroy the foam,and so we could tighten the force of the screws to just the right tension. We used another drill to put in the the concrete screws with large sheet metal washers we hand punched holes in. And we glued the two layers together as well.  One day we were so spacy from the summer heat that we kept forgetting things at the lumber store,like what we needed,our credit cards,etc. The hardware guys laughed at us. Laura became an expert foam cutter (score and punch) and I rediscovered my impact tool grip and old shoulder injuries.  This foam will not be coming off that wall anytime soon. The framers is starting this week,hopefully,so  it had to be done.

Done Insulating Crawl Space To R20

Done Insulating Crawl Space (2 staggered layers of 2″ XPS foam)

June 28th, 2011. We found two brand new 24″ octagon windows at Renew for $60 each! And a 3′ x 3′ used shower stall in good shape. We’re going to put the windows in the north side, with one that opens in the bathroom, and one that is fixed in the kitchen. This means we save a couple of hundred dollars and get an extra window in the kitchen.

June, 18th, 2011. Work at home weekend. Breaks from end of school year evals were sifting dirt in a homemade sifter. When we sifted the dirt I was reminded of how in the industrial revolution we invented so many machines, like giant gravel sifters, to do manual labor jobs. And the ideas came from watching how we did it manually with our bodies and making a big machine that did the same movement. Amazing how advanced we got using such simple ideas. Anyway, we used the dirt to level the site more where water was pooling, and the gravel for the new dirt part of driveway now that we need to be able to park side-by-side.

DIY Gravel making

DIY Gravel making

June 15th, 2011. We have final plans with the new stairway up to firecode. We  did a walk though with our framer Gabe yesterday.  He came over and we went though the plans. He also had bad news. He got sick, which pushed his other job back, which pushed us back to July 15th for him to start. Not much to do about it. We’ll be traveling then for a week, back a week, and then gone a week again. Over the last few weeks we have got a $35 low-flow toilet, a $10 stove hood, .50 a board foot 2x4s at Renew salvage. We’ve also paid the excavator who was on budget.

New Stairs to fire code from the side.

New Stairs to fire code from the side.

May 27th, 2011. After three estimates around the same price, and some negotiation, we’ve picked a framer! Gabe and crew will start end of June. It’s about 1/4 of our budget to get the house to “weather tight.” We feel this is crucial to be done quickly by a crew, so rain doesn’t damage anything. With the subfloor, roof, walls, windows, doors and siding on, we can work inside slower.  We’ve seen Gabe’s work before in a friends house, and we liked it. He’s a local boy who knows the other contractors well. We’re now gathering salvaged supplies. Laura and got a $35 low flow toilet in good shape from Renew, and 40, 12′ 2’x4’s for $80! We’re stacking them in the back yard. We’re going to keep looking at Renew, until a week before framing starts, and then order everything we’ve not got new. This saves Gabe’s time trying to find salvaged materials. Time is money for sure in this situation. Also today, we found a kitchen! A friend is taking down a small galley kitchen in our neighborhood and we can have all the counters and cabinets if we help him take it down and give him a little money.

May 18th, 2011. A crowbar smashes through our foundation saving hours of work with an impact hammer, and our bushes are donated to neighbors. Jim the excavator returns and we talk after he’s done we Laura and I return from work. As usual, he’s not only a mentor, but a pro. He calls ahead and coaches us on buying Schedule 40, 2″ and 3/4′ Conduit for water and misc. XPS 2″ foam, what stuff we need to move from the edge of the house, and raking the bottom of the foundation until it’s clear of rocks. All before 8am when they arrive.  This is because the two trenches for water and sewer are to be dug and the plumber will be on hand as well. This is a high dollar day if thing takes too much time. That night Laura and I move things in the rain from the edge of our . We wake up at 6:30am to do the rest and it starts pouring rain as soon as we’re dressed and out the door. Laura valiantly decides she’d rather rake the rocks and concrete out of the foundation, and have me drive to Perkins for the supplies. Jim arrives and we go to to work. I get a call at noon that we need more PVC conduit and if got it it would save me money. I arrive at the site with the supplies to find a most excellent thing has happened. Jim was able to use a crowbar to punch a hold through our foundation! This saves me doing it with a rented hammer and backfilling by hand. The slate rock and sandy soil made it possible. And the bushes are gone and he found folks he knows who want them. Full post here.

Bushes Be Gone

Crowbared hole in main house's foundation

Crowbared hole in main house’s foundation

May 12th, 2011: Our alternate tread stairs looked have fallen on hard times! But the pouring part of the foundation is done! After a few mis-steps we have achieved an approved fire code construction permit, in addition to the zoning permit. But, the stairs are not up to NFPA 101 – 7.2.2, never mind section on hand rails. Bob? Help…

Foundation Pour Done

Foundation Pour Done

May 9th, 2011: They are pouring the walls today. The plumber Dale has talked to Brad (their kids are dating) and knows where, and how high, to put the hole for the toilet. We spent a few hours over the weekend discussing, calling Bob, and strolling around the site mulling with my friend Junio, the different approaches to electrical lines to the house. Our maybe electrician was nice enough to check in over the weekend, even though we’ve not settled on an plan with him – as was Bob. We’re poring this morning, so it has to be decided. The variables were where to come into the house through the foundation wall, since they have to put a hole in before they pour, or in a separate trench around the outside of our house, from the point where electric enters our house. Or through our basement in a pipe above the water pipe. And if we want a separate meter, which is 2-3K!. And that has a lot to do with if we want electric baseboard heat, which takes more load, or if we go gas heat/stove we can maybe avoid a separate meter. These variables feed into the long term costs for the tenant, and how we make sure they pay for their heat and electricity. We like gas heaters and stoves but it’s about 2-3K more then simple baseboards. We’ll have to do a spread sheet on actual costs and benefits…

May 3rd, 2011: Jim Herrick arrived today to break ground. He’d taken care to call the Town utilities office several times, so a couple of guys from the Town arrived shortly after he did. All was well with them and they left. Jim then destroyed the garage foundation is a matter of minutes. The best part was when he stopped destroying and gently dug up some flowers near the foundation. The steel jaws of his machine set the flowers down in the lawn unbroken and with roots intact and ready to be transplanted. He’s a pro.

Ground Breaking

Ground Breaking

April 30th, 2011: The garage is no more. Glenn showed up right at 10am and helped me sawsall (with respirators due to lead painted clapboards) the walls in sections while Laura started on the dumpster and moving our garden to the front of the house. Mo, Jill, and TJ came by after lunch when Glenn left and we all filled the 22′ dumpster to the rim.  We now have a huge open space in our back yard, giving us momentary thoughts of just having a big back yard and no house at all. But financially, not so smart. But we are going to move the shed roof of the tiny house to the other side, so we gain 4ft of lawn.  Main post with photos.

The garage is gone
The garage is gone

April 26th, 2011: Dirt will be spilled Tuesday May 3rd. We’re getting a dumpster for about $500 (total cost) on the weekend and doing a lot of throwing of naily wood. We’ve been reconsidering the framing design to reduce the budget. Specifically going from two, 2″ x 4″ stud walls filled with dense pack cellulose to make a 10″ thick wall, to “Advanced Framing” built 2″ x 6″ walls with rigid foam on the outside of the sheathing. Advanced framing techniques seem to save materials and time and are different in that they “2×6 frame at 24 inch centers with single top plates, two stud corners, no jack studs, no cripples and single headers (and in many cases no headers at all).” Details: Advanced Framing | 2×6 cellulous/foam walls | Double Stud Walls.

April 24th, 2011: A neighbor, Glenn Letourneau, saw the story in the paper and offered to help. He works at Integrated Solar and wants to build a house like this some day. He stopped by on our garage-be-gone weekend and ended up returning with tools and helping take the entire roof off. It was a huge help for Laura and I.

Garage roof gone with Glenn's help

Garage roof gone with Glenn’s help

April 18th, 2011:  Applied on a long shot to the town to have the bike shed roof overhang to our property line. Didn’t pass, but it’s understandable and the town planning commission was very helpful in advising us to make sure we know our property lines.

Town Planning Commission

Town Planning Commission

April 16th, 2011: Laura and began taking down our garage. Laura found a YouTube video that explained how to take of vinyl siding and went nuts on it! The roof’s decades of asphalt shingles under metal roofing will be tough. Weather permitting, I think we’re going to make our May 1st. Deadline. The main lesson we’re learning here is that sometimes it’s good to study up, even for something like demolition.

Laura attacks garage and wins!

Laura attacks garage and wins!

Caleb attacks roof and wins

Caleb attacks roof and wins

April 15th, 2011: Called Jim the excavator Brad the foundation guy. Jim’s a great general contracting coach. I asked him about what next? Checks? Contracts? Dates? He said it was more loose then that now. He’ll come the first week in May. Foundation right when he’s done. The plumber should stop by when the work is being done. A week before May 1st, we all talk again and confirm if demo and all is done. Brad said the same kind of thing. No deposits needed. Call in two weeks. It’s very flowing, but I see the logic of that for a small job with weather considerations, etc. Sounds like these guys have been around enough to work in weeks rather then specific dates.

April 13th, 2011: We are officially scheduling contractors! While some estimates coming in are scary high, and costs look hard to keep under 30K, we’re moving forward anyway. We think we can get a very low interest loan from the town and Bob is helping us change small things to make contractors have an easier job.

April 11th, 2011: Met with local carpenter Ben Carr of He’s got local experience using salvage materials and is interested in the job. He doesn’t like asphalt or plywood if we can avoid it due to their toxicity and durability. Bob says corrugated metal roof and Hemlock sheathing are fine and not that much different in cost. 

April 6th, 2011: We’re in the local Paper! Thinking small Brattleboro couple wants to replace garage with a “tiny house” By Randolph T. Holhut/The Commons. April 6th, 2011. The feeling is brewing that we are going to build, even if the budget is tight. We can always finish the inside slowly as long as we have enough money to get it weather tight, wired and plumbed. We edited the materials list from Bob, and took it to the Perkin’s lumber with drawings. They are going to give us prices and email them. They loved the prints of the plans. We are filling out the Efficiency Vermont paperwork for Energy Star rebates and assistance possibilities with Bob’s help. We are talking with possible framers about time in mid June to start framing.

April 4th, 2011: Concreteestimate is in, $3000.00 for labor and materials for the frost wall foundation. This estimate is fixed, “won’t go up, won’t go down” as he said.

March 31st, 2011: Jim the excavator called with an estimate of 2,550.00 for two visits. We called a foundation guy who could do the concrete, which I didn’t realize was a different person. He’d come and dig the crawl space out, put in frost walls. Then we’d have the foundation done with footings and walls and boxed out holes for water and sewer. Then he’d come back dig the trenches for water and sewer and back fill them. We can keep the driveway intact as a staging area and get rid of the asphalt later for about $250. The key is that before he comes, the entire site is clean own to the old concrete pad, including the work area around the garage and driveway. We’ll have to drill our own holes in the foundation of our house later, or pay someone. We called John, a foundation guy he recommends to come do an estimate.

March 30th, 2011: The Commons newspaper interviewed Laura and I after finding Bob’s Facebook post about his blog, linking to this blog. It was fun. The reporter took photos and we chatted with the plans.

March 29th, 2011: Bob gave us an early version of the house plans. They’re cool! Looks like a crawl space is the best way to go, both financially and to allow for contractors to not have to be as tightly coordinated. The vaulted ceiling will have cross beams, one of which is cleverly the railing for the sleeping loft. We believe we can use the old vinyl siding from the garage on the front of the house so it matches our house.

Early back yard tiny house plan

Early plans

March 30th, 2011: Dale from Temple plumbing and heating in Putney, VT came over this morning. Seemed like a very solid professional. Has worked with Jim the potential site guy  for 31 years. He suggested we save money by having Jim lay water trench deep with a  3-4” sleeve in a trench. Jim also makes another trench for a Sewer pipe to grade and buried. When building is weather tight, Dale will come in with 2 guys for about 3 days. He’ll hook up  the sewer, and he’ll run a water pipe in the sleeve and hook it up. He’ll put in water heater in crawl space?  Install vents for both sinks.  Estimate by him verbally, erroring on the high side, is $4000 including labor/materials. We’ve  entered it in the estimate spreadsheet.

March 29th, 2011: Called town water and sewer guy. We’re all OK and they know about the project. 10ft of separation is needed between water and sewer to house foundation wall. Electric he wasn’t sure. There should be a code. Probably separate by at least some dirt in trench with water or sewer. We are advised NOT to get a separate sewer and water meter. It’s $170, plus installation. It would need to be installed before the current meter. Not sure about this? Before turn we turn on utilities, we need to write a letter to Rick at town. Tell them our situation of using one room for a bedroom, one room for an office, and one room for a guest room in our house. And that we are building a one bedroom studio apartment. This will keep us under the 3 bedroom total limit of our current bill. Our Base allocation 450 gallons/day, 150/per bedroom for three bedrooms. They would like to see the open trenches and map the sewer before we close the site. No charge. Call and tell them to stop by.

March 25th, 2011: Site person Jim came over. Is talking to Bob about designs. Might need to be a crawl space not slab because of the slanting grade. Bob and him are discussing. He avised we get a plumber in soon to give estimates. Advised we focus on the communications part of General Contracting so the contractors are working in unison which will save money if things are well organized and clearly communicated. We can probably save money by punching our own holes in the foundation. We might have to move the oil tank to accomodate the sewer line in. He can tear up the asphalt, will save money if he can leave a jagged edge, not cut it with a say to be clean. We said yes.  We called Bob to let him know these things. He said to call Terry Short for electric, who we know from our inspection. And Mark Garland for plumbing estimates. We did.

March 24th, 2011: Lengthened to 22′. Stairs moved up and center.

March 23rd, 2011: Local ReNew Salvage says we can save a bundle by demoing our garage ourselves. If we separate the stuff, they will come take what they can resell, and leave us a tax write off slip for free. Then they will help use take the stuff we can’t get rid of, such as painted wood and scrap, to the dump with their truck. Looks like we might be having a weekend “garage be gone” demo party!

March 17th: 2011: We fill in application with town zoning representative’s help (worth the trip!) to apply for a zoning waver to put the East overhang shed roof to our property line, vs. 5ft back. This will give us 4 additional feed of lawn we don’t have now. The concrete pad will still be 5ft back.

March 16th, 2011: Our feasibility study has begun. We have started a shared spread sheet of every cost we can think of from lumber to lights. Bob is helping us price it all out. It’s good to get out of the endless searching for plans and building Sketchups.

Monday March 14, 2011: Bob the architect came over and we walked the site with our feedback on his first plan and the basement. We had some thoughts, but most of them turned out to be not such a good idea when discussed. We then talked about what is to come and divided up tasks. He’ll call some site contractors for estimates. We’ll check the changes with the town zoning people, and make a shared Google spreadsheet of every cost we can think of. He’ll then add to the sheet estimated numbers from his experience.

Friday, March 11, 2011: Bob sent us a teaser plan. All this time We’d been thinking the bathroom would be a lot cheaper if it was closer to the house where it taps into the main system. Turns out it might not matter that much. South is at the front. We think we can give the tenant a little garden patch too.

First Teaser Design

First Teaser Design

March 6th, 2011: Start of this blog. and the day we hired an architect.

December 12th, 2010: We get a zoning permit after applying to the town a couple of weeks before. Because it is on the same footprint as our garage, we don’t need a building permit.

Early December, 2010: We meet the permit man to hand off our application, check, and initial plan for a 20′ x 24′, two-car garage with a studio apartment above it.

Original Permit Application Plan in Sketchup

Original Permit Application Plan in Sketchup

End of November, 2010: Right after we buy the house, we meet with Brattleboro Area Affordable Housing office gentlemen at our house,  who say the project looks doable and we should be fine to get the towns $3,000.00 grant for those building rental units in town.

2008-2010: Laura and I came close to building a new house in town when we found a tear down home on a great plot. We also would talk about out buildings as we saw them on our drives and visiting friends. I’m a bit of a real estate junkie. I tend to keep an eye on local listings, and look at home designs and out buildings as I drive.

Resources (In progress)

Clog Tools


  • Building Green. “Independent company committed to providing accurate, unbiased, and timely information designed to help building-industry professionals and policy makers improve the environmental performance, and reduce the adverse impacts, of buildings.” Right here in Brattleboro VT.
  • Building Science. Source of info for advanced building techniques backed by data and experimentation.
  • Robert Swinburne Architect. Bluetime collaborative. Bob has put the The Plans on
  • Brattleboro Area Affordable Housing. Brattleboro, VT supports second unit and in house unit construction so as to provide lower income housing.
  • Greener Living Vermont. Provides simple, sustainable solutions for socially and environmentally conscious clients within the Green Mountain State.
  • Efficiency Vermont. “Efficiency Vermont helps all Vermonters to reduce energy costs, strengthen the local economy, and protect the environment by making homes and businesses energy efficient.”
  • Rural Studio. Auburn University. See their $20,000.00 house projects.

Blogs, Sites, House Plans and Designs for Tiny, Small, Cabins, Guest Houses and Cottages.