wee-sized bathrooms with wood

We don’t quite understand the popularity of wood in smaller and wee-sized bathrooms. Is it about style or getting back to old ways? Nordic saunas might be an inspiration. Or Japanese soaking tubs. Or even life on boats.

It’s a natural thing.

From the coast of Maine, this all-wood bathroom is an inviting indoor retreat. We like the storage as well different wood shades selected here. (Christopher Campbell, architect)

From the coast of Maine, this all-wood bathroom is an inviting indoor retreat. We like the storage as well as different wood shades selected here. (Christopher Campbell, architect)

Who needs a metal horse trough when an extended, all-wood version can be used for a relaxing soak tub? It transforms this bathroom into a spa. (Building Scheme)

Who needs a metal horse trough when an extended, all-wood version can be used for a relaxing soak tub? It transforms this bathroom into a spa. (Building Scheme)

In a French country home, one tiny bathroom gets hidden and revealed. The space is defined by a plywood sliding door and particle board walls. (Jean-Baptiste Barache, architect)

In a French country home, one tiny bathroom gets hidden and revealed. The space is defined by a plywood sliding door and particle board walls. (Jean-Baptiste Barache, architect)

A used wine barrel takes up very little space as a rustic tub and shower floor. It works well for Minnesota parents who bathe their small children and also enjoy soaks. (Tiny House Nation)

A used wine barrel takes up very little space as a rustic tub and shower floor. It works well for Minnesota parents who bathe their small children and also enjoy soaks. (Tiny House Nation)

From Colorado, we found an elegant Thai-inspired bathroom that's just 20 square feet. Teak flooring is a practical and warm choice for this wet bath. (Joe Statwick, owner)

From Colorado, we found an elegant Thai-inspired bathroom that’s just 20 square feet. Teak flooring is a practical and warm choice for this wet bath. (Joe Statwick, owner)

little houses for limited mobility

Don’t cross little cozy houses off your wish list, if you or your loved ones have limited mobility. Small places aren’t only for energetic, ladder-climbing loft dwellers anymore — and may work well as secondary units, retirement abodes or vacation spots.

Hobbitat's Blue Sky model sports 455 square feet and accommodates disabled visitors or residents. (hobbitatspaces.com)

Hobbitat’s Blue Sky model sports 455 square feet and accommodates disabled visitors or residents. (hobbitatspaces.com)

We’re pleased to shine light on Hobbitat, a tiny house builder which already complies with the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) through its Blue Sky house plans. Hobbitat may be the first tiny builder to do so!

In the Blue Sky home, you'll find a sleeping nook for two which is separate from the great room. (hobbitatspaces.com)

In the Blue Sky home, you’ll find a sleeping nook for two which is separate from the great room. (hobbitatspaces.com)

To accommodate wheelchairs and/or walkers, small homes need to have wider doors and more open living spaces to maneuver around. It may translate into adding a bit of square footage to fit perfectly.

Here;s the Blue Sky great room and kitchen, looking down from a second, lofted sleeping area. (hobbitatspaces.com)

Here’s the Blue Sky great room and kitchen, looking down from a second, lofted sleeping area. (hobbitatspaces.com)

To serve physically limited users, bathroom space becomes more spacious than what’s typically found in a tiny house. Extra bathroom fixtures and wall bars get installed to comply with the ADA.

There's a full-sized bathroom in Blue Sky, likely appreciated by disabled and able-bodied users alike. (hobbitatspaces.com)

There’s a full-sized bathroom in Blue Sky, likely appreciated by disabled and able-bodied users alike. (hobbitatspaces.com)

Hobbitat sells its Blue Sky construction plans ($450) directly. Alternatively you could arrange for the company to build, deliver and place a home on your prepared pier foundation. More information about ordering is here.

james madison’s dwelling units

At the turn of the 19th century, not-yet-president James Madison and his wife Dolley moved into their dream estate called Montpelier. They ran a tobacco plantation, worked by slaves living in tiny houses.

Welcome to Montpelier, the Virginian estate of our founding father and fourth President James Madison. Once there were many tiny houses on the property, to house slaves supporting the mansion, grounds and farming. (Montpelier.org)

Welcome to Montpelier, the Virginian estate of our founding father and fourth President James Madison. Once there were many tiny houses on the property, to house slaves supporting the mansion, grounds and farming. (Montpelier.org)

Supporting the mansion

Modern-day archeologists have identified four areas where slaves lived in Montpelier. Notably the South Yard village was built in full view of the mansion, enabling slaves to service the Madisons as needed.

Here's the 3D rendering of the South Yard buildings. Archeologists discovered stone and brick foundations of duplex homes, measuring 16x32 feet total. (Montpelier.org)

Here’s the 3D rendering of the South Yard buildings. Archeologists discovered stone and brick foundations of duplex homes, measuring 16’x32′ total. (Montpelier.org)

Montpelier preservationists decided to build a ghost or framed-only version of the South Yard village, to represent the Madisons’ time. These structures were considered nice enough to get insured back in the early 1800s.

The South Yard framed structures are shown above. They outline duplex homes, one small smokehouse and a large kitchen closest to the mansion itself. (Montpelier.org)

The South Yard framed structures are shown above. They outline duplex homes, one small smokehouse and a large kitchen closest to the mansion itself. (Montpelier.org)

Supporting the plantation

Living conditions were rougher for other Montpelier slaves. Most lived in small, crowded, unstable and ephemeral log cabins. Based on imprints and remains, archeologists have uncovered an example within the Stable Quarters yard.

Slave log cabins were typically built with clay floors, stick and mud chimneys, and pits to store root crops. In the Stable Quarters yard, one home measured 16'x20' total. (Montpelier.org)

Slave log cabins were built with clay floors, stick and mud chimneys, and pits to store root crops. In the Stable Quarters yard, one home measured 16’x20′ total. (Montpelier.org)

Through Montpelier volunteer efforts, a ghost structure was built in 2014 (see video) on the site of Granny Miller’s old cabin. A slave who lived into her 100’s, Granny had descendants who knew about this Stable Quarters yard home!

Here's a framed version of a slave cabin constructed in the Stable Quarters area. Don't be fooled, as this log structure was not built to last. (Montpelier.org)

Here’s a framed version of a slave cabin constructed in the Stable Quarters area. Don’t be fooled, as this log structure was not built to last. (Montpelier.org)

What are the takeaways?

We should eat some humble pie when reflecting on how slaves survived, in homes filled with health-hazards. They had neither options or choices in life. It’s easy to live in safe spaces and places we choose (most of the time).

The radical difference in freedom and house size is fascinating. Today we think about simplification and downsizing to smaller or tiny abodes as a way to gain freedom. How things change, no?

insulation for unrelenting winters

Is your winter filled with cold snaps or unrelenting below-zero temperatures? To live comfortably and economically in a smaller house, we suggest paying attention to insulation quality in your walls, attic/roof and foundation underfoot.

Designed by Go Logic, this 1,000 square foot Maine home cost around $160k to build. When kept at 70 degrees all winter, energy bills ran only $1,000 annually. (Fine Homebuilding PDF)

Designed by Go Logic, this 1,000 square foot Maine home cost around $160k to build. When kept at 70 degrees all winter, energy bills ran only $1,000 annually. (Fine Homebuilding PDF)

Insulation with R-values

Insulation is measured through “the resistance of an insulating or building material to heat flow, expressed as R-11, R-20, and so on; the higher the number, the greater the resistance to heat flow.”

One well-insulated example is the Go Logic home, which achieves extremely high R-values in an affordable, smaller-size residence. Architect Matthew O’Malia reports three specific R-values:

  • 24″ cellulose fills the attic floor (R-84)
  • 8″ EPS-filled SIPs, 2×4 bearing wall with dense-pack cellulose (R-50)
  • 12″ EPS rigid insulation below the slab foundation (R-60)

Right R-values for you

Back in 2012, the International Code Council (ICC) established R-values and other standards for new home builds. Today they are still getting adopted by local municipalities across the country.

By achieving these ICC insulation standards, however, your energy bills should be lower than typical homes. We recommend achieving (or surpassing) them in any upcoming home build.

Insulation Requirements - ICC

Not sure about your climate zone? For reference, here is a color version of the USA climate zone map, from Florida (zone 1) to the upper Midwest (zone 7).

USA Climate Zones - NAIMA

High insulation, low fenestration

Stepping back, your energy savings come from living within a smaller square foot home that also sports high R-value insulation. But wait for the rest of the story.

Fenestration is a fancy word for air flow leaks, which aren’t ideal when trying to maximize indoor warmth. Culprits include fireplace flues, windows, skylights, sliding glass doors, and other holes – and the ICC addresses them too.

For an overview that’s in plain English, we encourage you to download “Build Like This.” Here’s to your small house and its thermal envelope!