On Fires, “Security,” and How to Rebuild After a Loss

I want to provide some background for you all on why I’m so concerned with getting Gyrtle registered as a self-built, live-in camper so that she can be insured for the full amount needed in the event of a total loss.

Here is an excerpt from an email my mom Robin sent out on June 16, 2013 (I’ve added some photos in for reference, as well).

“Dear Folks,

“You’ve probably heard of the fire in Colorado Springs known as the Black Forest Fire.  The fire started Tuesday on the north side of the road that leads to where my tiny house on wheels (Gyrtle, short for Gypsy Turtle, soft “g”) is situated. Because the winds kept blowing north my home was never actually in danger.  Unfortunately some 470 homes across the road burned.  I’ve been evacuated since Tu. or Wed.  I went back in over land on foot to move mulch away from my house and wet it down.  They have started to open up areas around the mandatory evacuation area and let people back in.  We can’t get in on our street because of being only connected to Shoup Rd. and because that is where the fire started and there are so many affected homes down the road.  I’ve been well taken care of and have had a lovely place to stay.


“I’ve been fine and my house is fine.  Biggest problem is that we can’t get back home because the road that we get to our houses from is closed.  The fire started right across that road from us and luckily it never crossed the road anywhere near where we live.  It did further east.


“I’ve lost some work do to the fire – that’s a little bit disconcerting because I’m not really making enough yet to get by.  But I’m sure something else will come through.  Our trio managed to rehearse yesterday – we have our first concert on July 2nd.  The cellist and I were both evacuated.  Luckily we rehearse at the violinist’s house.

“I’m determined now to find a way to insure my house.  And I’m going to park my truck on the property where my house is!  I’ll let you tiny house people know what I did to get insurance once I do.

May Your Life Sing,
Robin Kissinger

My mom drafted this blog post shortly after the Black Forest Fire that made mention of other folks who’ve been threatened by or completely lost their tiny homes due to a fire. The reality is that, especially during construction, the risk of fire for tiny homes is large, while the chances of having building or tiny home insurance is small.

Kim Langston of Olympia, Washington lost her tiny home in an unexplained barn fire partway through construction. Having spent all of her savings and some of her friends’, she had nothing left with which to rebuild. Luckily, the tiny house community is tight-knit and familiar with both seemingly insurmountable obstacles and otherwise unworldly perseverance. Kim created an Indiegogo campaign to fund her second build and was met with a generous amount of support. She has since finished construction and moved on to living out her little dream.

Likewise, my mom spent her entire savings to build Gyrtle, and the threat of losing everything loomed large during Black Forest. I am similarly wary of being uninsured now, not only because wildfires remain a threat where Gyrtle is stationed in Colorado, but also because the idea of transporting a tiny across state lines or actually using the experimental systems she needs to run is terrifying without a financial safety net. I, too, don’t have the funds to re-coup this testament to my mom’s dreams should she be destroyed.

That’s why I’m simply taking things slow. When it comes to tiny living, it truly is better safe than sorry. I’ve reached out to the one multi-state provider of tiny house insurance that I can find for a quote and have started the long process of appraisal and re-registration that I outlined in my last post.

Sorting these issues out hasn’t stopped me from exploring all the options out there for Gyrtle’s next move – when she’s ready to take it. I recently spoke about the potential for tiny houses to contribute to affordable housing and adaptive reuse projects here at the Ignite Phoenix conference on April 1. I’m looking forward to sharing the video when it’s ready.

In the meantime, I have several more posts to come with news about mom’s journey both during Gyrtle’s build and beyond, plus a few more about the plans I see taking shape. I hope you stay tuned.

Happy Trails,

A List of TinyHousers

HI Folks,

Macy over at Minimotives – “Less is More” has a page that links to over 200 tiny house blogs! This is a fantastic resource if you are researching building a tiny house of your own. Here’s the link: TinyHousers One section links specifically to a cob house and another to other useful sites. Her whole site is filled with useful information – check it out.

Just to let you know, I am planning on catching you up soon on the finishing of my house and aspects of living in it and what my future plans are.

Happy Trails,


Keys to Being Happy with Your Tiny Home

Hi Folks,

I wrote this entry as a comment to a post on the Tiny House Blog regarding “Things I Don’t Like About My Tiny House”. There is a lot to learn from such posts and the comments if you are thinking of building and living in a Tiny House. I hadn’t found articles like this before I planned and built my home so I feel very grateful that my house suits my needs so well.  I spent months drawing and re-drawing. I day dreamed about being in my house, what I wanted it to feel and look like and what I wanted to do there. I laid out the space in the yard with string and walked around in it and tried to imagine it in 3D with my things in it. Still, I didn’t really know how it would be in the end. I’m happy to say that I truly feel at home in my home and it’s perfect for me.

Here’s a link to that post: http://minimotives.com/2013/09/06/things-i-dont-like-about-my-tiny-house/   Now follows what I wrote:

I’ve built my own tiny house that I designed (I’m 61 and had a lot of the same concerns as the other “older” commenters) and I must say that I love how the space has turned out and works perfectly for me. I spent many months figuring out just what I really needed and wanted to make sure I’d actually have room for it. This includes that I can do yoga in my living room, I have an electric piano and actually enough room so that another musician can join me in playing music at my house. I can’t do the yoga and have a cellist playing in my living room at the same time though!

My house is 8’6″ wide and just under 13’6″ tall – fitting most of the “down-the-road” no-need-for-a-permit limits. I used a larger flatbed trailer (28′ long and then 8′ of gooseneck) so my bedroom is up a short flight of stairs (5 steps and I have a hand rail) and it is an actual bedroom with a closet and a chest of drawers and double bed. I definitely did not want to sleep in my living room or climb up a loft ladder every night and have the shortened head room over my bed. I have a totally workable kitchen, plenty of storage and a bathroom with a composting toilet and RV-type shower/tub. It isn’t palatial, but it works for me and has worked for my guests.

Speaking of guests and possible visits by eventual grandkids – I have a loft with two twin mattresses in it and a ladder and also a double bed sofabed for my elderly guests – or me if I can’t even make it up the 5 steps to my bedroom because of illness or injury. I even have a built in wine rack and a collapsable trampoline.

I also have radiant floor heat run by a dual water heater that heats the floor glycol and also provides the insta-hot for my domestic water needs. I have a 100gal water tank in another storage loft and can run my electricity from my solar or by running my propane generator or by plugging into “shore” power if I need to. I fill my water tank about every two weeks – more often if I am doing laundry by hand in my large, deep kitchen sink. I got a laundry plunger and a hand wringer and have set up some hooks in my living room (I have a retractable clothesline) so that I can hang laundry there to dry if the weather is bad.

It does tweak my laziness button at times when I have to empty my urine bottle and the compost from the solid waste side of my separating/composting toilet (Nature’s Head). I have two of the urine bottles though so one is always empty and I never have to deal with it in the middle of the night. The compost is emptied about once every two months. The urine is every 3 days or so.

It does take planning to figure out where to put my house. I’ve been in one beautiful place for over 7 months and now need to find another place. Fortunately I don’t have to leave in a hurry so I have had time to hunt for the right spot and meet the people whose land I will be on. This summer we had a fire nearby too and were evacuated. Though in theory I can move my house, ironically the fire fighters wouldn’t allow me to get into the evacuation area with my truck to move it. Luckily it didn’t burn down. Sadly, many immoveable homes did burn.

I think building on the larger gooseneck trailer is the main thing that allowed me to have what I really wanted in my house. Goosenecks are more stable and easier to maneuver to drive down the road too – which is important since my house is quite heavy and tall.

That’s it for today!

Making a House a Home

Hi Folks,

What is it that makes a house a home?  I think it boils down to living in it – doing what you want to do in it.   Here are some of my recent “home-making” landmarks.

On Valentine’s Day I had my first guests over for lunch.  Of course, they had to put together the sofa bed for me before we could get the space reorganized and everyone could sit down.  My guests were my sister Alex, her friend Sallie, my brother Mark and my friend Deb.  I served tuna salad (somehow I got my sister to make that).  We ate, we drank tea, we chatted and laughed, we listened to music and we went for a walk.  Perfectly lovely.

Since that day I’ve done three loads of wash, no, make that four, in my kitchen sink.  I attached my hand wringer to my bathroom sink and wrung my clothes out three times (wash and two rinses) and then tried to figure out where to hang them all.  I have a little umbrella-type device with clips on it that works well for the small items, the underwear and socks.  It’s pretty cool.  If you hang it one way it collapses into a neat package and if you hang it the other, it opens up and holds your clothes out in a tidy circle so they can dry.  I haven’t set up something for the larger clothes yet so pretty much had to scatter them all over the house.

When I do water intensive things like laundry I have to empty my grey water tank before and after, just to make sure it doesn’t overflow and back up into my tub.  (Yesterday I carried 20 buckets of grey water to various places on the land.)  If it does that it can also back up into the vent tube from my composting toilet.  If that happens the smells from my toilet can’t get out.  I know that because it has happened before.  The smell isn’t terrible like an outhouse because the urine is separated from the solid waste.  But it is more smell of the wrong kind than I want in my cedar-paneled home.  It took water spilling on the floor from the vent tube when my brother was fixing my toilet fan and we had everything disconnected for me to figure that out.

It’s interesting how one thing leads to another.  Like how trying to level my house lead to one of my support jacks getting bent out of shape and me realizing just how important it is to actually have the wheels level and depend on them instead of the jacks. This week I finally got my hot water working correctly in all aspects so I can now take a shower that’s longer than one minute.  Haven’t done it yet because I have to refill my water tank – but I can do it.  News update – I had my first official, warm-to-the-very-end shower – it was great!

The plumbers also managed to find the leak in a water supply hose that I had without having to take apart the walls in my coat closet and bathroom.  They were able to take apart just the chase in the closet (only two screws and voila, out it popped), enlarge a hole a bit and work magic in the tiny space.

There aren’t so many big things left now that still aren’t working properly.  Really just two important things.  My solar panels still aren’t running my AC lights and appliances but that may get taken care of this weekend.  So I’m not totally “off grid” yet.  The other is that my grey water tank drips badly from a coupling when I empty it and the box around it isn’t completely finished.

Something very cool is that I now have my trampoline set up and can bounce my way into the morning – or any time.  I find it very meditative and it’s good for my lymphatic system and connective tissue.  I love looking out at the alpacas and the trees and the sunshine while I’m dancing on the trampoline listening to some music or silence.

I hope you enjoy these photos of how the inside of my house is coming along.

Living in a Gyrtle World

Hi Folks,

I must admit, it’s hard to know where to start when it’s been six months since my last real post.  As you can surmise from the title, I am living in the tiny house I dreamed of and built. Hooray!  I’ve been living in it since Dec. 8th, 2012, though I took a two-and-a-half week vacation over the holidays.  I moved in before it was completed and at first (til Jan. 28, 2013) was living in the warehouse district across the railroad tracks from the Martin Drake Power Plant where I got locked inside a chain link fence with barbed wire filigree on top every night.

That first night I cozied into my cushy bed from Ikea with down comforter on top of its bright red storage box and gloried that I had a place all my own to lay my head and I saw that it was beautiful.  I called my daughter and my sister and a friend or two.  The constant whistle and hum and chug-a-lug of the train was romantic.  I didn’t have my radiant floor working in the beginning so I borrowed a space heater and I was plugged into “shore” power so it didn’t matter too much that my electrical systems weren’t working properly yet.  I was also still without running water in my house and couldn’t use my composting toilet yet so I had to make use of the warehouse’s facilities.

The night I got locked out of Gyrtle and had to spend the night on the floor of the warehouse I was especially thankful for warm place to sleep and I felt considerable compassion and commonality with the homeless people just outside the warehouse gates.  The following morning I had to go down the street in my PJ’s to find a phone to use to call a locksmith – a humbling experience.  Similarly, when I got locked out of the warehouse one night and couldn’t use the facilities I had an adjustment of my perspective when I went to the 7-11 in the morning to use theirs and found that I couldn’t have used them between 10pm and 6am.  What do the down-on-their-resources people do?

On Jan. 28th of the post 12/21/12 year Gyrtle and I moved to a glorious new home.  Thanks to the generosity and curiosity of my friends Laura and Tim Spear we have a space in the beautiful setting of Forest Edge Gardens.  Tim and Laura have been gardening and loving this land for over 20 years.  They originally had 5 acres and about eight years ago added the adjoining 5 acres.  Here we all join our creativity and sensibilities to live in harmony and playfulness with the earth. Gyrtle and I will be here for awhile – not sure how long.  I will continue to make other journeys.  It is clear that I won’t be moving Gyrtle casually.  Moving her is nothing to take lightly!

TTFN (Ta Ta for now)

Sorry about Spam

Hi Folks,

My blog was hacked and a spam post was sent out about earning money.  I’ve deleted the post and have changed my password.  If anyone knows what else to do please let me know.  Again, apologies that you received spam from my site.

Blessings and Happy Trails


Pulling Things Together

There’s no pun intended, really, but after looking at all the weights and sitting with it for a little bit, I realized that I did actually need to buy a bigger truck to pull my house.  That’s one part of “pulling things together”.  The more difficult and comprehensive aspect though is fitting together all the puzzle pieces of moving from working on the outside of my house to working on the inside.

I needed to coordinate the work that Dan, my carpenter, Michael the Younger, my welder/jack of many trades/solar mount system designer, Michael the Elder, my electrician, and Mark, my radiant floor heating installer from ABC Plumbing, needed to do so that everyone could be doing what needed to be done next.  This was complicated by Dan living in Oklahoma, Michael the Elder working in Alaska and Mark, the only one in his company who installs these floors, being overbooked.

So, what’s happened lately is the radiant floor is installed along with the special water heater that it took three months to find (more on that another time).  I bought a new (2008) white Ford F-450, diesel, 4WD truck – her name is Cavallo Bianca (White Horse) – Bianca for short.  Dan arrived back here and installed my beautiful bamboo flooring first thing to protect the radiant floor heating panels and then finished up with the siding and caulking.  I got many coats of stain/oil on the siding (with the help of Tyrone, a former neighbor from back in Baltimore).  Michael the Younger did the redesign and welding of the shelf space under the gooseneck of my trailer and I now have room there for four propane tanks, eight batteries and my 3600watt Onan generator.  Also, I have insulation in 3/4ths of my ceiling, Glo-Step folding stairs and all of this has happened since July 12th.

In that time I also moved Gyrtle to ABC Plumbing for the radiant floor install and then back to Allfleet.  I started to have a series of flat tires and discovered that all of the trailer tires had the wrong kind of valve stems on them so had to replace the stems on all five trailer tires.  I don’t really understand why Jayhawk Trailers would have set me up with automobile valve stems instead of heavy duty trailer valve stems.  Luckily I was in parking lots in a town and had help to get the tires off and on and the trailer jacked up, etc.  In doing that I also learned how to change my trailer tires all by myself if I need to – so that’s a good thing all in all.

Gyrtle has now been moved to a new home in the parking lot at our CleanTec warehouse to finish doing all the inside work.  CleanTec is a business my brother Mark, Michael the Younger and I have started, but I’ll tell you more about CleanTec in another post.

Time for some photos!

Journeys Have Begun

While it’s true that I don’t yet have my home built, I have begun to take the journeys that I will be taking in my home – even if I don’t always take my home.  This post is about my first journey which was to go back East to White Rose Farm to participate in the energy of the farm and create a performance together with Sally Voris, a biodynamic farmer and the caretaker of the land, and Cynthia Hoven a eurythmist from the West Coast.  I was there a week, from June 4 to June 11.  So the empty space from Dan leaving and not being able to work on my house has found some purpose.

The time there was truly magical.  Sally has seen the purpose of her farm as a place of beauty, balance and bounty and more recently as a place where agriculture supports community.  She sees the relevance and importance of connecting people to the earth and to honoring the spirit of the land.  She knows how this feeds more than our bodies and as we are fed in body and spirit by being on the land we give back to the land our love and respect.  This relationship is something that is sorely needed at this time.

Sally, Cynthia and I created a wonderful performance (even if I say so myself) that centered on a poem “This is the story of the Mother who comes collecting hearts through the sky.”  There were other poems and songs and the involvement of the audience.  In the end there was a chance for everyone to express their own calling.  One audience member played the native american flute which sounded like water dancing over the rocks in a stream.  There were people of all ages from a baby to an 80 year old, men, women, parents and children – both young and grown up.  It was a very moving experience.

The whole week was a wonderful time of renewal for me and an impetus for continuing down my path.  I share some photos of the place and the people:

The Weight Tally is In

On Thursday, July 5th, I took Gyrtle for a spin and some truth-telling on the scale.  I had the help of my new wonderful aide, Michael Ring.  We even have a video of Gyrtle’s virgin voyage to the scales.  Why don’t you watch this while I run out to my car and get the exact figures.

I’m back.  Here are the figures:

My truck originally weighed 4680 lbs. on the front axle and 3200 lbs. on the rear axle for a total of 7880 lbs..  I don’t remember if the gas tank was full or not.  That can make a difference of around 200 lbs. from full to empty.

When I weighed the truck together with the empty trailer the front axle of my truck stayed the same, the rear axle went up to 4340 lbs. (an additional 1140 lbs.) and the trailer axles were holding 2840 lbs. together.  That makes the full weight of the trailer 3980 lbs. (nearly 2 tons) but only 3000 lbs. (1 and a half tons) on the trailer axles, leaving room for 4ooo lbs. additional on each axle.  The axles are rated at 7000 lbs. each.

The new measures with the basic structure of my house on the trailer are: Front axle of the truck is 4900 lbs. (an increase of 220 lbs.), rear axle of the truck is 6060 lbs. (an increase of 2860 lbs. on the rear axle of which 1140 is the trailer and 1720 is the house).   The trailer axles are now carrying 7760 lbs which is an increase of 4920 lbs. due to the house so I’m a little over halfway to my maximum load on the trailer.  In other words, I have about 6000 more pounds that can go on the axles.

In terms of my truck, the GCWR (Gross Combined Weight Rating) is 23,000 lbs.  My current GCWR is 18,720 lbs so I still have 4280 total pounds I can put on my house in terms of my truck.  If I end up over that (or anywhere over 4000 lbs.) I’ll have to get a bigger truck :), so I’m aiming for no more than 4000 lbs.  I may still get a bigger truck.

My energy systems (4 propane tanks, a generator, 4 solar panels and 8 batteries) are about 1200 lbs, leaving me about 2800 lbs. for interior finishing and furnishing and my personal belongings.  That doesn’t seem like much so I’m going to sell a major portion of my music (13 bins worth) and let go of a lot more books to start with.

That’s the skinny on the heavy.  TTFN (Ta Ta for now)

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