tech offices sport tiny escapes

Many tech offices are known for their hip hangouts. Rather than sticking to bright and energetic themes, companies are adding calm and escapist areas. We’re seeing small-space benefits play out in meeting rooms, dining areas and other work spaces.

Let’s examine evidence from Twitter, Quixey, PayPal and Google offices.

Authentic West from Twitter

TWITTER - Here's a 100-year-old Montana homestead, one of two reclaimed for Twitter's headquarters. (marinij.com)

TWITTER – Here’s a 100-year-old Montana homestead, one of two reclaimed for Twitter’s headquarters. (marinij.com)

TWITTER - This log dining area comes directly from a Montana cabin, forever protected from the elements. (Inhabitat)

TWITTER – This log dining area comes directly from a Montana cabin, forever protected from the elements. (Inhabitat)

Ersatz West from Quixey

QUIXEY - In a saloon meeting room, featuring an 1880s piano, staffers transport to the Wild West. (SV Business Journal)

QUIXEY – In a saloon meeting room, featuring an 1880s piano, staffers transport to the Wild West. (SV Business Journal)

QUIXEY - The Ski Lodge meeting room delivers mountain charm, especially with that hunting prize. (SV Business Journal)

QUIXEY – The Ski Lodge meeting room brings mountain charm, especially with that hunting prize. (SV Business Journal)

Outside from PayPal

PAYPAL - In Chicago, a tree house is ready to host Braintree collaborations or independent work. (Business Insider)

PAYPAL – In Chicago, a tree house is ready to host Braintree collaborations or independent work. (Business Insider)

PAYPAL - Three Braintree employees are working comfortably in hammocks, rather than sitting at desks. (Braintree)

PAYPAL – Three Braintree employees are working comfortably in hammocks, rather than sitting at desks. (Braintree)

Inside/Outside from Google

GOOGLE - In the NYC office, Google's tiny apartment interior delivers a non-Googley meeting environment. (PC Mag)

GOOGLE – In the NYC office, Google’s tiny apartment interior delivers a non-Googley meeting environment. (PC Mag)

GOOGLE - There's a furnished tiny house trailer parked in the Amsterdam office. We love this escape! (Office Snapshots)

GOOGLE – There’s a furnished tiny house trailer parked in the Amsterdam office. We love this escape! (Office Snapshots)

brainerd, minnesota voted yes

This year, Brainerd City Council members began addressing their vacant city lot problem. With 465 properties legally blocked from development, members proposed lower minimum house sizes — and finally voted yes!

This 1920s Brainerd home contains four bedrooms and two baths. It just sold for $84,000, a decades-ago price in any large U.S. metro area. (Realtor.com)

This 1920s Brainerd home contains four bedrooms and two baths. It just sold for $84,000, a decades-ago price in any large U.S. metro area. (Realtor.com)

Brainerd took its first downsizing step, lowering minimum house sizes from 750 to 500 square feet on all empty lots. While a 400 sq. ft. minimum was first proposed, it changed due to existing home value concerns.

Why is Brainerd, MN unusual? It’s a small city of 13,590 citizens, and a vacation place with modest home prices. Typically large metros, with high real estate prices, have been first-movers in lowering minimum sizes of homes.

The Star-Tribune reports that Minneapolis set a good precedent, with 500 sq. ft. minimums for standalone houses and 350 sq. ft. minimums for secondary, efficiency apartments.

P.S. Are Brainerd residents thinking about buying property yet? A quick search uncovers Minnesota companies which design and build small, beautiful places. We like these weeHouses and cabins.

sweet definition of a kit house

Typical kit house: A house design and all building materials available for sale. Separately requires land purchase, building permits, site preparation, foundation and utilities. Constructed by local contractors. [Tiny House Joy]

Here’s a sweet 550 square footer from Seattle-based FabCab. The estimated cost without land is $165,000 for this high quality house. Let’s take a peek at the exterior and floor plan, and then learn how kits get built.

This TimberCab 550 kit home is located on Idaho’s Lake Pend Oreille. The owners added an extra deck and porch to expand outdoor living on the hillside. (Fine Homebuilding)

This TimberCab 550 kit home is located on Idaho’s Lake Pend Oreille. The owners added an extra deck and porch to expand outdoor living on the hillside. (Fine Homebuilding)

The floor plan of the TimberCab 550 features a separate bedroom, great room with kitchen, bath and entry. It's possible to build on any foundation for storage. (FabCab)

The floor plan of the TimberCab 550 features a separate bedroom, great room with kitchen, bath and entry. It’s possible to build on any foundation for storage. (FabCab)

Kit house companies provide materials

With a kit house, you rely on experts to design a home as well as source, order, manufacture and pre-assemble materials. The kit company will handle and deliver everything to meet its building plan specifications.

We picked FabCab as an example since it offers modern looks, in single-floor living. The company also specifies efficient materials, notably structural insulated panels which deliver R-24 efficiency for walls and R-40 for the roof.

After finding a kit you love, check for “strong bones” and longevity. There should be easily-maintained internal/external finishes — and natural wood, double-paned windows and a long-warranty roof are good indicators.

Many kit companies also have interior packages for kitchens and bathrooms. It’s enjoyable to start making your appliance and fixture selections upfront, especially in a smaller square foot home where everything gets noticed.

Your responsibilities for a kit house

Starting with the house plan, you may want to make adjustments due to your preferences, site or local permit requirements. Kit companies vary in their support, though FabCab offers architectural and engineering services.

Searching for the right general contractor becomes an important step. Check previous jobs and references, and make sure individuals are credentialed through your state’s licensing board. Review small builds: five key things to do.

You should decide on a foundation, whether using pilings (least pricey), slab, crawl space or full basement. Consider your geology, local environment and municipal requirements.

Utilities access must be addressed for a primary or secondary dwelling unit. Do you have a line for water, access to electricity and gas, and connections to city sewer or septic? What are the costs for installations?

Keep in mind that your general contractor will oversee the build and sub-contract plumbing and electrical work. He or she handles municipal inspections along the way, plus getting final approvals.

The rest of the FabCab kit house tour

Now that you know what’s involved in bringing a kit house to life, we want to complete the TimberCab 550 model’s tour. Here are sweet interior photos of the Idaho lake home, which reveal its rooms and finishes. Learn more here.

What a shining example of a great room, overseeing the lake! We love the lighting and furniture, though might arrange more seating in our own place. (Fine Homebuilding)

What a shining example of a great room, overseeing the lake! We love the lighting and furniture, though might arrange more seating in our own place. (Fine Homebuilding)

This attractive galley-style kitchen, located within the great room, includes a tall fridge-freezer, dishwasher, cook-top and microwave. (Fine Homebuilding)

This attractive galley-style kitchen, located within the great room, includes a tall fridge-freezer, dishwasher, cook-top and microwave. (Fine Homebuilding)

The bedroom is accessed through modern-day, sliding barn doors. It takes up one wing, with plenty of room as well as open views towards the lake. (Fine Homebuilding)

The bedroom is accessed through modern-day, sliding barn doors. It takes up one wing, with plenty of room as well as open views towards the lake. (Fine Homebuilding)

Next to the house entry, the spa-like bathroom shows off with its elegant sink, toilet, cabinet storage and a modern shower reflected in the mirror. (Fine Homebuilding)

Next to the house entry, the spa-like bathroom shows off with its elegant sink, toilet, cabinet storage and a modern shower reflected in the mirror. (Fine Homebuilding)

backyard cottage, a budget primer

Your custom-designed, backyard cottage is a terrific idea that costs more than a high end auto. To shed light, let’s review key budget areas and some choices together.

Susan's cottage has a 247 sq. ft. first floor and 176 sq. ft. loft. It's built in her San Francisco area backyard. (New Avenue)

Susan’s cottage has a 247 sq. ft. first floor and 176 sq. ft. loft. It’s built in her San Francisco area backyard. (New Avenue)

According to New Avenue Homes, a custom one-bedroom, 360 sq. ft. cottage will cost $147,000 including its design and permitting ($26k), construction ($106k) and project management ($15k). Yet we noticed a few places to save costs:

  • Buy existing house plans, making minor changes – $15k
  • Use pilings instead of a concrete foundation – $5k or more
  • Take over your bidding, oversight & administration – $15k
  • If willing, run your own project in lieu of a manager – $15k

Excluding project management, there are 13 different building steps and plenty of details to consider in your budget. Make sure you have plenty of room to make changes as well.

Build preparations

  • Design & permits – $25k, with $18k for architect/engineer hours, $6.5k for municipal permits and $2.5k for a site survey.
  • Bidding, oversight & admin – $6k for billing, change orders, meetings.
  • General contractor mobilization – $4k for site, toilets, cleanups.
  • Demolition and remediation – $0.6k demolition if needed.
  • Site work & earthwork – $7k for digging foundation, utility trenches.
  • Foundation & concrete – $12k for foundation construction.

Materials and installation

  • Framing & carpentry – $22k for all framing, interior work, cabinets.
  • Insulation & moisture protection – $13k for siding, roofing, insulation.
  • Windows & doors – $6k for four doors, four windows, one skylight.
  • Finishes – $11k for painting, walls, floors (appliances extra, by owner).
  • Plumbing – $16k for gas, sewer, water, all bathroom, sinks.
  • Heating, ventilation & air conditioning – $4k for gas unit, ducts, vents.
  • Electrical – $5k for wiring, panels (fixtures extra, by owner).

tiny house nation: tv about tinies

When there’s sufficient tiny house interest for a television series, something is shifting culturally. Tiny House Nation promises to feature a person or family taking the leap into tiny house living, on every show.

The series premieres on Wednesday, July 9th at 10E/11P, as part of an A&E channel launch called fyi. Like us, you’ll have to watch it live or on demand.

Here's a half-minute, sneak peek video of Tiny House Nation. Click on the image, and watch closely as several newly-built tinies flash before your eyes. (fyi.tv)

Here’s a half-minute, sneak peek video of Tiny House Nation. Click on the image, and watch closely as several newly-built tinies flash before your eyes. (fyi.tv)

John Weisbarth and Zack Giffin will serve as hosts for the show. We already know Zack and his girlfriend Molly, who tow their tiny house to Western skiing destinations. Zack’s building and living experience should be a great asset.

Look at this tiny ski house built by Zack Giffin, which glows in a cold winter night. Parked next to ski lifts, it's conveniently close to tomorrow's backcountry adventures. (Ian Provo photo)

Look at this tiny ski house built by Zack Giffin, which glows in a cold winter night. Parked next to ski lifts, it’s conveniently close to tomorrow’s backcountry adventures. (Ian Provo photo)

We are unashamedly excited to see a pure, 100-percent tiny house series emerge on the scene. For everyone thinking about getting his/her own tiny on wheels or land, let’s hope this TV show fulfills its promises to share true stories and homes.

7/17/14 Update: Tiny House Nation episodes may be watched free and online, including “172 Sq. Ft. Dream Castle” (view) and “River Escape” (view).

help me with municipal approvals

One of the gotcha steps of building a tiny or small house is reviewing building plans with your county and city officials — and getting those plans approved before construction begins.

If you aren’t a professional, then maybe it’s time to seek help. Here are four options which rely on external suppliers.

1. Architect: Arrange for an architect to handle plans, hire reliable builders, obtain approvals and permits, and make sure you are happy. You are paying for all the professional advice and have an advocate to make changes required by municipalities. It’s a sweet and pricey option.

ARCHITECT: Imagine living somewhere special and getting this modern home approved. It's an exposed concrete cube tucked naturally into the mountainside. From architect Lischer Partner Architekten Planer. (Ferienhaus Vitznau)

ARCHITECT: Imagine living somewhere special and getting this modern home approved. It’s an exposed concrete cube tucked naturally into the mountainside. From architect Lischer Partner Architekten Planer. (Ferienhaus Vitznau)

2. Builder: Buy existing plans from an architect directly or third party like Houseplans, with a materials list included. When you hire a builder/general contractor, they are supposed to get approvals and permits. If you need to make plan changes, then seek out an architect, designer or plan provider.

BUILDER: This single-level deck house received Fine Homebuilding Magazine's Small Home of 2013 Award for "its shared spaces and connections to the outdoors." Building plans for the 800 sq. ft. home are available for sale. (Houseplans.com)

BUILDER: This single-level deck house received Fine Homebuilding Magazine’s Small Home of 2013 Award for “its shared spaces and connections to the outdoors.” Building plans for the 800 sq. ft. home are available for sale. (Houseplans.com)

3. Prefab Supplier: You may order a prefab house “kit” and hire a builder. Yet many suppliers offer construction services which alleviate stress. Kanga Systems builds your house, ships it, places it on your site and finishes set-up. For about $10k, they will obtain approvals and permits beforehand.

PRE-FAB SUPPLIER: A welcoming, country style is seen in this tiny house. It features well proportioned windows, doors and an open front porch. The board and batten siding makes it feel authentic. Kanga's house measures 168 sq. ft. (Kanga Studio)

PRE-FAB SUPPLIER: A welcoming, country style is seen in this tiny house. It features well proportioned windows, doors and an open front porch. The board and batten siding makes it feel authentic. Kanga’s house measures 168 sq. ft. (Kanga Studio)

4. Shed Supplier: Backyard sheds provide simple, extra space. As tiny structures without major plumbing, you shouldn’t run into permit issues. There are six ways to buy them, from architects to near-DIY projects. One long-standing supplier is Modern-Shed, which delivers and installs modern escapes on site.

SHED SUPPLIER: In Seattle, a felt artisan was fed up with working in her family kitchen and ordered this craft shed which fits perfectly. she selected the nice red color and added the deck. (Modern-Shed)

SHED SUPPLIER: In Seattle, a felt artisan was fed up with working in her family kitchen and ordered this craft shed which fits perfectly. She selected the nice red color and added the deck. (Modern-Shed)

Changes afoot on the tiny and small house front

Be prepared for some house rejections from your municipality, even with help. Your dream place may not be large enough, have the right proportions for space use, or exclude appropriate egress. It’s possible that your foundation or materials aren’t up to snuff. Perhaps the power, water and sewage hook-ups won’t be approved yet. We can’t predict the objections, and sigh with you.

It’s okay if your first plans don’t fly. If you aim to build under 400 sq. ft., then upsize a little bit. We do need to share how a woman moved to Hawaii, bought land and received approvals to build a garage and main home. So far, she has built on the garage pad and lives in that sweet tiny house. Her main house will be constructed and rented out — though she isn’t in a hurry.

Or follow the wheels of tiny housers who have preceded you. If you need and want a full house with comforts and will be using it part-time, then consider buying a trailer-based beauty from 100-200 square feet. In this case, you go to the DMV and get a license instead.

By getting approvals for and living legally in YOUR tiny or small house, you are contributing to the greater good too. Municipalities have opened up their requirements, especially for secondary dwelling units and for trailer house uses. It’s only a matter of time for changes to spread from Portland (OR) and Austin (TX) to other U.S. cities.

solar roof with heat and power

An open letter to Elon Musk:

We appreciate your commitment to solar power, as chairman of Solar City. Making photovoltaic cells available on a wide scale is an important mission, and these panels work for many homeowners. Improving panel efficiency through your Silevo acquisition is good news, since consumers could install fewer of them. We wish you (and others) much success.

New heat and power roof: The top solar layer, seen here, generates electricity. Then heated air gets trapped between layers for heating purposes. (Renew Economy, Australia)

New Heat and Power Roof: The top solar layer, seen here, generates electricity. Then heated air gets trapped between layers for heating purposes. (Renew Economy, Australia)

What are your plans? Combining solar collection and heating elements is now possible. Australians just replaced an old metal roof with the first building integrated photovoltaic thermal (BIPVT) system, on a Sydney-area house. It creates air flow which heats water or air as well. This $5 million project was funded by a government grant and BlueScope, a steel manufacturer.

What happens next? Investment leading to manufacturing the BIPVT roof lies ahead. While in test phases, this technology may also need support to reach consumers. It’s already undergone five years of feasibility, pilot and material studies from research universities. (See results from “steel BIPVT” search.)

Should we fast-track? Maybe you can help cheer-lead, assess and lead the demand for this next-gen roof — even with others in the solar industry. We are not experts, and look forward to hearing what you think!

Sincerely,

Tiny House Joy

conservation cheers to a tiny house

By moving into a well-insulated, smaller house, you easily conserve energy and reduce your footprint. Even in very cold or hot locales, it’s possible to live comfortably and save money.

Exterior: Let’s look at the EDGE house, which stands for “experimental dwelling for a greener environment.” Built several years ago, this AIA-award winning house in Bayfield, Wisconsin costs only $30/month to heat.

Here's the exterior of EDGE, a real energy-saving house. It starts with 480 sq. ft. of living space and north/south facing windows. (Revelations Architect)

Here’s the exterior of EDGE, a real energy-saving house. It starts with 480 sq. ft. of living space and north/south facing windows. (Revelations Architect)

Interior: You’ll discover room to sleep, dine, bathe and hang-out inside EDGE. One reason is all the built-in and multiple-use furniture pieces. To get a sense of the house, we suggest watching this Milwaukee Journal Sentinel video.

The interior is sheathed in plywood, a popular look. See the great room, which opens up the space, along with one of two lofts and the hidden bathroom below. (Revelations Architects)

The interior is sheathed in plywood, a popular look. See the great room, which opens up the space, along with one of two lofts and the bathroom hidden below. (Revelations Architects)

Floor plans: There are two levels, including a 320 sq. ft. main floor and 160 sq. ft. upstairs. We appreciate the large amount of glass which creates views and invites nature into this shared space. As a tiny house, there is some storage though downsizing is a must-do.

The house is well-designed to maximize space, placing the kitchen and bathroom on either side. Upstairs lofts sleep four, with access by staircases. (Revelations Architects)

The house is well-designed to maximize space, placing the kitchen and bathroom on either side. Upstairs lofts sleep four, with access by staircases. (Revelations Architects)

Energy savings: In a Northland News Center video, architect Bill Yudchitz says the EDGE house has geothermal heat, air-to-air heat exchange, radiant floor heat and two barn-like doors that insulate by covering large windows.

What's missing here? The windows have disappeared from view, as heavy sliding walls now cover them and provide insulation for cold nights. (Revelations Architects)

What’s missing here? The windows have disappeared from view, as heavy sliding walls now cover them and provide insulation for cold nights. (Revelations Architects)

Water savings: The EDGE house also uses a rainwater catchment system, where water gets collected on the roof and channeled into reservoirs adjoining the home. Rainwater services both the bathroom and kitchen here.

See the butterfly or V-shaped roof, on top, almost ready to collect raindrops. Below, the roof gutter is getting installed as part of the system. (Revelations Architects)

See the butterfly or V-shaped roof, on top, almost ready to collect raindrops. Below, the roof gutter is getting installed as part of the system. (Revelations Architects)

small builds: five key things to do

Let’s say you selected a small bungalow house, have building plans in hand and want professionals to build your dream. Why not stack the deck in favor of a joyful outcome?

Whether you plan a primary or secondary dwelling, you will need time to make decisions, seek approvals and course-correct. With these caveats, we delve into five key things to do.

Maybe you selected the B-53 bungalow for your house build, which ranges from 777 to 884 sq. ft. (Tumbleweed Houses)

Maybe you selected the B-53 bungalow for your house build, which ranges from 777 to 884 sq. ft. (Tumbleweed Houses)

1. Finish planning — Have you checked local zoning and building codes online or with city hall officials? Even with an initial thumbs-down, please don’t fret. You may adjust house plans, get another set and/or seek professional design help to comply.

Bring those B-53 or other building plans along, to confirm code compliance with City Hall. (Tumbleweed Houses)

Bring those B-53 or other building plans along, to confirm code compliance with City Hall. (Tumbleweed Houses)

2. Set a budget, add 30 percent — Are you creating a materials and labor budget? As a time saver, both Lowe’s and Home Depot will price out your full materials list. Some house plan sellers also offer build-costs, including local materials and labor estimates (see Houseplans).

Make sure you have budgeted well. Otherwise you may be forced to downgrade to a play kitchen! (Hayneedle.com)

Make sure you have budgeted well. Otherwise you may be forced to downgrade to a play kitchen! (Hayneedle.com)

3. Figure out financing needs — How much have you saved up? Do you have a decent credit score? Determine if you want to apply for a construction or home equity (asset) line/loan. It’s not too soon to start checking terms online, visiting banks and pre-qualifying for short or long-term financing.

Why not pursue a construction loan? It might work for your specific circumstances. (Let's Just Build A House)

Why not pursue a construction loan? It might work for your specific circumstances. (Let’s Just Build A House)

4. Start downsizing — If you are moving into a smaller primary residence, are you ready to downsize? Work incrementally and over time through all your possessions and sell, donate, recycle or toss stuff out. Remember to keep only what you’ll actively use or truly cherish.

This garage sale aimed to sell furniture and kitchen items. They sold within a couple hours! (The Comforts of Home)

This garage sale aimed to sell furniture and kitchen items. They sold within a couple hours! (The Comforts of Home)

5. Select contractors — How are you going to select contractors? Have you gotten references, met contractors and checked their licenses? Do you understand the risks of owner-builders? Please visit your state’s contractor licensing board website, for consumer and contractor requirements.

Here's the California website where you may check contractor licenses and consumer info. (Contractor State Licensing Board)

Here’s the California website where you may check contractor licenses and consumer info. (Contractor State Licensing Board)

book shelfies reveal saving styles

Shelfies are rather popular these days, as people share images of their own collections. Book shelfies reveal particular interests as well as three saving styles:

  1. Major savers – store as many books as possible.
  2. Artful displayers – arrange books so they belong and look nice.
  3. Downsizers – donate or give away, and keep a precious few.

Let’s see how these shelfies look, from massive libraries to a couple books within reach. Of course, the style choice depends on available square footage and how many books matter to you.

Major savers

Journalist Peter Jukes says he has two book walls in his home and admits to literary overload. (Peter Jukes, Twitter)

Journalist Peter Jukes says he has two book walls in his home and admits to literary overload. (Peter Jukes, Twitter)

Writers Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman store a lot books in their bedroom, some even double-deep. (Remodelista)

Writers Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman store a lot books in their bedroom, some even double-deep. (Remodelista)

Artful displayers

Architect and author Sarah Susanka places built-ins where they won't overwhelm the space. (Yahoo gallery)

Architect and author Sarah Susanka places built-ins where they won’t overwhelm the space. (Yahoo gallery)

These built-in bookshelves use space well, surrounding a window. Do people really organize books by color? (HGTV)

These built-in bookshelves use space well, surrounding a window. Do people really organize books by color? (HGTV)

Downsizers

A few pieces of wood serve as nice bookshelves in a smaller home. Yes, people organize books by color. (Fever London)

A few pieces of wood serve as nice bookshelves in a smaller home. Yes, people organize books by color. (Fever London)

Even in a 240 sq. ft. tiny house, it's possible to create bookshelves on two or more interior walls. (The Tiny Project)

Even in a 240 sq. ft. tiny house, it’s possible to create bookshelves on two or more interior walls. (The Tiny Project)