Scary Moments In Building (And Why I Wouldn’t Trade Them)

Scary Moments In Building (And Why I Wouldn’t Trade Them)

snow 1A fresh blanket of 15″ pure white snow greeted us at our homestead yesterday. Unable to make it up our driveway in our car despite studded tires, chains and three attempts, we hiked our provisions up our 1,500′ driveway.  We had just bought sleds in town for some fun zipping down our hillside, but before we got to experience the fun, we turned the sleds into cargo carriers. Cinch straps used to tie down materials to our roof rack were used to connect our sleds to our waists, making easy work of hauling the hundred or so pounds of food and clothing up to our tiny house.

snow 6Though we have slept on our land numerous nights, when the weather turned cold, we took refuge at a good friend’s house. Having spent the last 3 weeks sleeping there at night, we had just been coming up to our homestead during the day to continue building our tiny house. A few days ago though, our new propane, direct vent heater had finally arrived. After 3 days of burning it on high to allow it to off gas, we were now ready and eager to spend the first night in our tiny house. So, no amount of snow, ice or distance could have kept us away from our first night in our new home.

snow 34Our land, the mountains around us, our regal oak tree and our tiny house looked so beautiful in the thick snow that I felt giddy. I was intoxicated by the beauty and in awe that this is our home. To commemorate our first night up here, Andrew carried me across the threshold. As we crossed it, we exclaimed in unison, “We’re HOME!!!”

The evening consisted of doing some email work for, listening to music, and cooking dinner. Normal day to day things. But there was such a sweet sense of satisfaction in knowing that we have personally crafted this house every step of the way. Conveniences like power, internet and refrigeration feel like luxuries and we are not taking them for granted. Creating the infrastructure has been a process every step of the way that has required clarity, patience, and humility.

We have had several scares throughout this journey. For example, there was the day the well drillers couldn’t find water by 220′ (way below well levels in our area) and they suggested that they quit because chances were so slim of ever finding any (and that we would be stuck with the $8,000 bill whether they found it or not). Or the time our brand new custom windows literally diverted a meager bit of rain straight into the interior window channels, nearly overflowing our window well. Or when we turned our electrical service panel on in our tiny house for the first time and nothing happened. Or when a large delivery vehicle drove over our spring fed water line and burst the pipes, affecting neighbors’ precious water supply down the line. Or when we couldn’t get our newly installed solar/gravity water system to work. The list goes on but you get the point. Stuff happens. And by this stuff, I don’t mean warm, happy stuff. I mean the unforeseeable and seemingly negative stuff.

Over the years we have learned that fear clouds our ability to think creatively and to trust the process. It can literally blind us so that all we can see is the negative. But as our build progressed, with each new challenge, we were able to see with more ease that everything was going to be OK in the end. The fear is in the not knowing. But in time, everything, every situation, explains itself and in retrospect makes perfect sense. Each build we have done has taught me something new. The theme of this one would be TRUST. To just know in my heart that no matter how awful something may seem at first glance, that it will work out. That a solution will be found. And the sooner that I realize that in each situation, the easier finding a solution is because I am calm and am able to see things from an open perspective.

GratitudeThe life lessons I am gaining from this tiny house build apply to all parts of my life and if these scares and others are what it takes for me to learn a deep lesson in trust, then it is all worth it; even down to the scariest moment. Which for me, by the way, would have to be the prospect of having to pay $8,000 for absolutely nothing but an empty hole in the ground.

p.s. If you would like to know how each of the scares described above turned out, here are the outcomes: The well drillers found water just 15′ after we told them to dig just a little bit deeper. The window representative will be coming out to fix the leaking windows and in the meantime, we have our own in-house natural humidifier! Nothing had happened when we turned on the electrical panel because we had forgotten to plug our tiny house to our power center (not used to plugging in a house)! The spring line break took just an hour to repair and neighbor complaints were minimal. We found that the water issue was related to a frozen ball valve which took just a couple minutes to resolve once we found the problem. You see, staying calm and trusting the process allowed us to find solutions or for the solutions to find us, every time.

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13 Responses to Scary Moments In Building (And Why I Wouldn’t Trade Them)

  1. Kate December 19, 2013 at 11:51 am #

    Thank you for giving me a moment of clarity, I really needed it.

  2. Victor J Gonzales IIi December 23, 2013 at 10:12 am #

    Perseverance is a key ingredient for success in any worth while endeavor which you guys obviously have plenty of! Bravo for your wonderful creation.

  3. Steven F January 12, 2014 at 8:55 am #

    Thank you for sharing a realistic account of building your dream home. My partner and I finisned a four year renovation of a 1932 Tudor in Denver last year…what was suppossed to be our “dream home” has turned into a 4500 sq ft ball and chain !! We have found a breathtaking 35 acre plot of land in the foothills and are seriously considering developing a “farmstead”…complete with a small stone cottage, greenhouse, and chickens !! Being able to share your adventure is giving us the courage to take the project on…keep sharing!

    • Gabriella January 12, 2014 at 4:23 pm #

      Steven…can’t wait to hear what you guys end up doing! 🙂

  4. Ron Cass February 6, 2014 at 3:11 pm #

    My wife, Linda & I recently celebrated 50 years of marriage. During that time I have been self employed as cabinetmaker with my own shop over 17 years, (having grown up with my Dad teaching me the trade prior to that). Then I spent most of 20 years, while the three kids were growing up, as a contractor specializing in Industrial and commercial roofing, construction and demolition. In 1988/1989 I had two years back to back that almost made me file for bankruptcy.

    Since the winter of 1990/1991, I began a sales route for a friend, selling fruit from a semi trailer. We acquired our own truck in 1995 and Linda quit her job to work full time with me. Our enterprises overlapped, since each were seasonal.

    Since 1975 we had been renting a place we had fixed up for the landlord for cheap rent and had hoped to buy eventually. The spring of 1992 Linda had a breast lump removed. (Ten years later she had a breast removed.) May 30, 1992 after she came home from surgery, the landlord dropped us a bomb, with a 30 day notice to move (after being there 17 years), since his daughter needed a place after her divorce. Linda had just received a small ($10,000.00) insurance benefit from her stepfather’s death. I had been collecting building materials etc. from jobs for years.

    I had to move from my rented cabinet shop space just a short time before that, and the people I did the last kitchen for, offered to sell me a 2 acre lot they had, on land contract to build on. I got the Idea to build our own house and not rent anymore. Seemed like a good Idea at the time. HAD WE KNOWN IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE BEFORE WE STARTED, WE WOULD NOT HAVE ATTEMPTED IT!

    July 4th 1992, we moved to our building site.With $10,000.00 in hand and a large supply of used materials, we expected to soon build a house. I expected to drive a point for water (that is what all the surrounding homes have). I had a small bobcat and small excavator and experience installing two septic systems with my Dad. We had a 24 foot motor home to reside in during construction. No problem, right? WRONG.

    First we had deal killing issues, to get past zoning to get land use permit, (without at least a 9 month to 18 month delay). A complete saga in itself. We managed to progress past that issue before the end of June.

    The soil passed a perk test. I was ready to get water first. I started to drive a point. I also was ready to start installing a septic system. Turned out to be against the law. Have to be licensed master plumber in Wisconsin to do anything with a septic system. Had to hire a contractor, using up a major portion of our cash. At least it was legal to drive a point for water myself.

    While I worked on the project, Linda continued her job at a factory.I had the electric and phone service preliminary’s done. Had to have foundation located and permanent utility entry area. We layed out the site plan, and started to excavate the area for the foundation. After driving my point for water, over 30 feet deep to bedrock, I had to give up on getting water. We contracted with a well driller with the rest of the cash reserve. We were in too deep to quit, under financed, committed to continue. Still didn’t realize it was not possible to do what we were doing!

    I learned something about used, “free” materials. They come with a cost, sometimes greater than buying new at full price. Much precious TIME is consumed re-claiming materials for use. That is another major saga to relate.

    I fit a few subcontract jobs into the summer to supplement our cash needs. We had planned to have my shop downstairs and live upstairs. Our time ran out for the warmer weather, it cost too much to heat the Motor Home, so we made a “temporary” apartment in the lower (walkout) basement/shop area. (Nothing is so permanent as something done “temporary”.) :Linda quit her job in 1995 to go full time with me. To make a long story short, we lived in the “temporary” quarters until 2007. Since I was living in the designated shop area, I had to build a separate shop across the driveway to be able to stage my projects. That turned out to be another major saga.

    We managed to have the basic structure for the house closed in with plywood and Typar, and roofed before a major snowfall of 1992. We kept working whenever we could get enough money (pay as we go) to continue. In 2007 there was a crop failure for the peaches we sell. My Dad died in June. We had the place evaluated and were able to acquire additional land (total 10.7 acres) and borrowed money to “pay myself” to work on completing our residence.

    Right now we are thinking of downsizing, selling the property and using the equity for our retirement. 1953 my dad designed and built a three bedroom house 24 ft. by 48 ft that included a 2 car garage, plus a 24 ft. by 24 ft. basement under the living area. The living area was 24 ft. by 24 ft. capable of sleeping up to 8 children plus a master bedroom for the parents. I still have his hand drawn plan. The house he built is still in use today. Only 576 square feet of living area, yet extremely efficient and comfortable. I am torn between that plan and some of the smaller dwellings. Zoning might be the determining factor.

    Sorry for such a long story, but that is the shortest I could make and still make sense. Most other couples would have divorced a short way into the project, but my sweet wife supported me all the way. Twenty two years and still working on it. We can relate to the issues you are experiencing. DON’T GIVE UP. The journey is as satisfying as the destination.

    • Gabriella February 6, 2014 at 8:34 pm #

      Oh my goodness Ron…thank you for putting our build in complete and clear perspective!!! I will never complain again having read of your saga. 😉 And that you remember it all in such explicit detail speaks to how challenging it all was (is). Well, we sure appreciate the advice to never give up. Coming from someone with your experience, that means a lot.

  5. Ron Cass February 7, 2014 at 4:17 pm #

    Ignorance has its advantages.

    The US West might have never been settled if they knew before hand what it was going to take!!


  6. Comet February 22, 2014 at 2:58 pm #

    I am pretty sure NO ONE would have ever left the tree tops if they had to contend with the kind of issues we have to today to just have a roof over our heads. Not to be critical of all safety measures or proper installs but—some seem pointless and designed to do nothing more than line some one ELSES pocket for jobs we CAN do. Doubt you could live in a well appointed cave; soddy; teepee or longhouse these days without extensive problems getting there!


  7. Donald February 23, 2014 at 3:28 am #

    Having built my Father’s house I can certainly understand where Ron and Comet come from. We were very lucky in that we didn’t need a construction loan, or to hire a general contractor (G.C.). Having said that a construction loan and possibly even a general contractor would have been a huge relief to have. The construction loan for one is what I consider good debt to have. (I am currently debt free and the only debt I will ever consider is for a mortgage) For example if we needed to take out a mortgage (for some ungodly reason) a construction loan makes that process easier, as there is a debt history with the owners and the property, there is also an oversight paper trail. That paper trail helps prove that the house is built to at least minimum standards, ensuring if all goes sideways the bank is not left with an unsellable asset on its hands. It also ensures that subs have been paid and that only the bank and government will have the right to place a lien against the property. The loan also forces you to have a much better understanding of your costs entering the project.

    A good G.C. can help you understand the costs of your project as well. They are also a huge help with scheduling, and access to quality sub contractors. As well they also have a good understanding of building products and proper application/use of them. Many people look at the cost of a G.C. (they generally work cost + 20%) and say hey I can save a lot of money by doing it myself. In reality they would be better off hiring a G.C. and going to work part time at McD’s. If you want to do it yourself as a learning opportunity there are G.C.’s out there who will work with you and having access to their experience is worth far more than what you pay them.

    I realize that a tiny home will be tough or impossible to get a construction loan for, but part of the idea behind them is they really are small enough that you don’t need one. Since the steps in building really are small enough to be able to be financed by someone with a fairly low income. As well since they aren’t a permanent structure, or at best could be considered an outbuilding they don’t keep someone from being able to access debt secured by part of their assets.

    Ron, you father was a pretty smart man. a 24′ truss is just about the most efficient truss you can build or buy, it’s also a very good width to easily do rafter framing with. Since you are looking at building a permanent structure I highly recommend you check out also check out the building science insights and build science digests at

  8. Sandi May 12, 2014 at 1:19 am #

    I am embarking on my own build project and have to admit I often have second thoughts. They only last for seconds however. I am building an RV structure and will be using the under trailer that my travel trailer was built on. It is 36 feet long. I am attending a workshop this coming weekend here in San Diego and am very excited about it. I have a few issues to deal with. First my trailer has a super slide and I want to utilize that in my new build and then I will be incorporating the holding tanks. I have been looking at plans on and have been following their site for several years.

    I have liked the gabled roofs and all of the tumbleweed, but want the additional half story and double lofts. Seeing the hOme unit and the utilization of the slant roof — that build makes a lot of sense to me and the cost would be less. So, thanks for the ideas — I may be purchasing your plans. The inside arrangement will be a little different my closet/bath/office area will be forward, kitchen in the middle and living area aft with a rear entrance and I want to put in a sliding door somewhere.. I plan on taking my time once I have the shell and lofts in place so that I can really be sure of what I want the inside area to be. I like the stairs to the loft in the hOme. I will not have to worry about building around the wheels as my unit is built above the wheels.

    Anyway, reading your stories is helpful and gives me ideas. I am glad you have this site to share. I will be following it closely. I am embarking on your free class and read the first day today — this evening actually. Enjoyed your shares — looking forward to more.

    • Gabriella May 12, 2014 at 12:43 pm #

      Thanks so much for painting a picture of your vision Sandi! Would love to see hOMe stretched to the 36′ range so keep us posted if you go that route. 🙂

  9. André May 29, 2014 at 5:55 am #

    And this is true in every areas of one’s life!

    Thank you very much for sharing! 🙂

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