Introducing the Scooter Diaries: mid-2013 cross-country adventure


Building a tiny home has never just been about building a tiny home. Yes, there's something wonderful about the pursuit of actually creating something, about having a minimalist dwelling that meets one's needs, about living in harmony with one's surroundings, but what's truly so terrific about living simply is the tremendous opportunities for experience and adventure that such a life offers.

Kymco S250 scooter.
Tiny homes are often touted as being a new form of affordable housing, and in some ways, this is true. They're relatively inexpensive to build—at $10,000 to $50,000, just a fraction of a "full-sized" house—but unlike conventional dwellings, tiny homes builders and buyers are generally not eligible for financing or mortgages, meaning that those wanting to live small typically have to pay out-of-pocket with personal savings, a luxury (that is, a sizable savings account) that many simply don't have.

Thus, tiny living isn't really a new form of affordable housing, but a different type of affordable housing. It's for those who have the means to save, indeed, but more importantly, it's for those looking to purchase more than a home with those savings. It's for those looking to use that money to achieve financial freedom: financial freedom from a thirty-year mortgage, financial freedom from interest and APRs, financial freedom from expensive household repairs and hefty utility bills. By building a small, affordable structure with (ideally) energy self-sufficiency in mind, one can quite realistically lower their cost of living to virtually nothing.

Yellowstone National Park, one of many planned stops on the journey.
And so, with construction on the Matchbox wrapping up early this spring, I intend to make the most of this newfound financial freedom, this general untetheredness, this opportunity for adventure, by embarking on a cross-country journey to see the nation, its people, and its landscape firsthand—camping and climbing and couchsurfing and chronicling my way to the California coast and back.

I'll be getting around aboard my trusty Kymco S250 scooter, heading north from DC to the Great Plains of the Midwest, reaching the northern border of the United States and dipping into Canada at Vancouver, then riding down the scenic Pacific coast. When I arrive in San Diego, I'll snake my way back east through the breathtaking scenery of the American Southwest, dip down along the Gulf Coast for a stop in New Orleans, and eventually return to the District with, I hope, most limbs still intact.

I've already identified a number of detours I'll be making and sights I'll be seeing—with a particular bias toward the wonders of our national parks and geological formations—on the map below, but it's a big country out there, and I could certainly use help making the most of the trip by getting some additional recommendations from, well, you. If there's a place in this vast nation you think is worth visiting (anything except the northeast, really, which is outside of my rather freeform route), let me know via email or comment or whatever, and I'll like, totally go check it out, no questions asked.

EDIT: Map updated to reflect full itinerary.

You may also notice that the blog has been undergoing a few changes, to reflect and prepare for this brave new post-Matchbox-construction world. Matchbox-specific posts can be accessed here or on the main blog (and of course, there will be many more of those to come), and for information on other upcoming adventures, visit the revised About page.


"At night, we would look out over the immense sea, full of white-flecked and green reflections, the two of us leaning side by side on the railing, each of us far away, flying in his own aircraft to the stratospheric regions of our own dreams. There we understood that our vocation, our true vocation, was to move for eternity along the roads and seas of the world. Always curious, looking into everything that came before our eyes, sniffing out each corner but only ever faintly—not setting down roots in any land or staying long enough to see the substratum of things; the outer limits would suffice." — Che Guevara, The Motorcycle Diaries

A visit from Sicily, 12-year-old tiny home builder


It's always wonderful to be reminded of the sheer diversity of the tiny home movement—of the many shapes and forms in which tiny home builders and dwellers come. So this week, it was a pleasure to receive a visit from Sicily Kolbeck, a twelve-year-old building and designing a tiny home in Marietta, Georgia.

Sicily began designing her home this summer, was donated an 8x16 trailer in early September, and has been working on gathering materials and building her subfloor ever since. Having heard about Boneyard Studios and wanting to see our project for herself, Sicily's family brought her up to DC for a visit this Friday.

Sicily (center) and her family.
While showing the family around the lot and touring our still-in-progress tiny homes, the Boneyard crew answered questions, provided tips, and learned a little more about Sicily's own building plans for La Petite Maison, all the while growing increasingly impressed by Sicily's intelligence, maturity, and resourcefulness. We're looking forward to following Sicily's progress in the coming months—if you'd like to do the same, be sure to check out her blog and videosAnd, if you'd like to support a twelve-year-old in her humble quest for independence and simple, sustainable living, please consider sending a few dollars her way, or contacting her family to donate tools or building supplies.

Sicily, many thanks for coming by Boneyard Studios, and best of luck with your tiny house build!

Sicily trying out the shou sugi ban flamethrower on some window trim.

Shou sugi ban: let the burning commence!


A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I'd be using the ancient Japanese technique of shou sugi ban on my siding to achieve a cool charred look with the added benefit of insect-, fire-, and rot-resistance. Yesterday, burning of my western red cedar kicked off with a great start aided by some great friends.

Armed with a couple of tanks of propane, a pair of torches (one of which, alas, did not survive the day), a fire extinguisher, a bucket of water, and some quality cedar, the team got to work charring the wood about eight boards at a time, each board taking a minute or two to burn to the desired texture.

After each set was adequately charred, we oiled the boards with an all-natural Brazilian rosewood oil, giving the already-gorgeous charred cedar an even lovelier shine.

Tremendous thanks to Leila, Abby, Sarah, Chris, Alix, Dan, Dan, Allison, Lauren, Tanya, Brian, and Mark for their help in torching and oiling dozens and dozens of boards in just a few short hours. Of course, there's still lots of burning to be done, so if you'd like to try your hand at the flamethrower, just let me know within the next few weeks.

Hours: 5
Hours to date: 216 (24 days)

Other news from the Boneyard: Brian's windows are in, Lee's siding is nearly finished, and Boneyard Studios gets a little attention on the CBS Evening News and The Daily!

Boneyard Studios on the CBS Evening News (above) and The Daily (below).

Insulation and a ceiling: cozying up the interior


After a few weeks of preparing for my shou sugi ban siding, I turned my attention this past week to the Matchbox's interior: aiming to get the tiny home's inside warm and cozy before the mid-Atlantic's unseasonably warm weather returns to its mid-December chill. And what a week it was: with some invaluable help from Matt Battin (plumbing), Nova Sprayfoam (insulation), and Tony Gilchriest (drywall), the Matchbox is finally beginning to resemble something more than four framed walls.

Insulation before the excess was carved off.
Day 22: Insulation installation

Insulation is important. Along with loft height and hallway width, I'd argue that getting insulation right is one of the single most important things in making a tiny house livable. And for a zero-resource house like the Matchbox, ensuring that the house can be kept warm without perpetually running a heater is even more vital. So I was thrilled to finally have my sprayfoam insulation put in last Monday by a few certified installers, and to find that, well, it works exceptionally well.

For heat, I'm using a little electric fireplace by Dimplex: perfect because it's compact, runs without propane, and even has a flame-only setting for fireplace ambiance without the fireplace heat in the summertime. It's rated to heat a room up to four-hundred-square-feet, so it's more than enough for the Matchbox's tiny 140-square-foot interior. After just a few minutes with the Dimplex running, the house gets nice and toasty, and with the stellar sprayfoam insulation, it stays that way for hours and hours. I'll be talking more about insulationand why I chose (open-cell) sprayfoamin an upcoming post, but for now, let's just say that I'm super-satisfied with the choice.

Before the insulation installation, a few loose ends inside had to be tied up: namely, (a) finish screwing in the hurricane ties that hold the walls' top plates to the roof joists, (b) get preliminary plumbing piping put in, and (c) finish bolting the hold-downs, which tie the house to the trailer, into the walls and floor.

Hours: 8
Hours to date: 207

Day 23: Drywalling the ceiling

The drywall lift hoisting a panel.
I never intended to use drywall in my tiny house construction, and tiny home builders usually steer clear of it due to concerns over how it'll hold up on the bumpy open road, but by stubbornly sticking to adobe plaster wallswhich can't adhere to plywood due to its tendency (as a wood) to expand and contractit looks like drywall is my only viable option.

That's not to say that drywall, or sheetrock, is necessarily a bad optionsimply untested in the world of tiny homes on wheels. Indeed, there are some rather appealing advantages to sheetrock over plywood: it's cheaper, much easier to cut, and simpler to screw into (alas, it is far messier to work with). As for which option is greener, I'd have to go with a qualified nod to drywall, as well; whereas plywood requires trees and questionable chemical adhesives like urea-formaldehyde in its production, sheetrock is simply a mixture of gympsum, water, and a little paper (gypsum, of course, must be mined for, so neither paneling choice is truly ideal).

In any case, Tony and I agreed to take a slight risk and build the Matchbox's inner walls with drywall, starting with the ceiling and working our way down. With just a few hours of work and the assistance of a rented drywall lift, the ceiling was fully patched up and ready for its adobe plaster finish.

Hours: 4
Hours to date: 211

Other news around the Boneyard: Brian's house is up and his windows are in, Lee explores design-by-doing, Matt talks insulation, Tony returns to DC, and tiny home supporters are urged to come out in force to this month's DC zoning public input meetings. Boneyard Studios also gets some more publicitymore on that later.

Insulation and a ceiling!


"When I had no roof, I made audacity my roof." — Robert Pinksy, Samurai Song

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