Summer in the city: Matchbox tiny house build update


I suppose it has been nearly four months since the Matchbox's last build update, so now that I'm back and well-settled in from my recent trip, let's just go ahead and get right into it: what's new (and what's still-to-do) in my effort to build an off-grid tiny house.

The Matchbox's nearly-finished façade, September 2013.

When I last reported, siding was nearly done. It's now totally done—thanks to some tremendous help from Tony once I left—and after a few months of weathering, the charred shou sugi ban cedar looks terrific.

Rain catchment

A few cedar boards, some EPDM rubber, and twenty feet of double-looped aluminum rings later, the Matchbox is now sporting a fully-functional rain catchment system. Here's how it works:

  1. First, it rains. Precipitation hits the roof and gently runs down the house's two-percent grade toward the front of the house.
  2. The runoff falls into the gutter, an 8' x 6" x 6" box of red cedar planks with an interior wrapped in EPDM rubber, and drops into one of the three-inch holes drilled into the bottom of either end.
  3. The rain then works its way down the rain chains, an old Japanese technique of funneling runoff that is far more minimalist and beautiful—particularly the dynamism of the chains as they catch a little breeze—than traditional gutters.
  4. The rain chains drop the water into a pair of planters, where it trickles through a few handfuls of sea glass and a mesh screen before entering the plumbing underneath the house. Immediate overflow is pushed into the other side of each planter, which houses a variety of herbs.
  5. Underneath the house, the rain slides back to a pump, which then shoots the flow right up to the conjoined twenty-gallon tanks in the microshed 'round back.
  6. Shower water is then run though a small water heater (more on this part once the shower is up and running), and sink water is filtered through a double-cartridge micron filter before emerging from the pedal-operated sink faucet.

Note: There will be a few enhancements made to the rain catchment system, such as a pre-pump holding tank for downpours, so don't consider this a definitive system explanation. More details (including photographs) to come.
Matchbox & friends. Rain chains are on each end of the Matchbox's façade.

Natural, bright beech wood butcher block does wonders in brightening up the very neutral-toned space. They're not yet permanently installed (nor oiled), but that's high on the to-do list.

Decor and furnishings

Jar racks installed, photographs hung, and other cosmetic touches on the interior are making the space feel a lot more like home. There's still lots to be done, but it's getting there.

Matchbox interior from front door.
Also: curtains! Designed and sewed by a good friend, the billowy drapes do a great job of keeping out light and providing a little privacy when needed.

Additionally, the loft skylight was letting in a lot of heat this summer, so I went ahead and ordered a solar-powered skylight blind from Velux that opens and closes at the touch of a button. The navy blackout blind does fabulous work of keeping out early morning rays and as much as forty percent of the heat hitting the glass.

Air conditioning

To make it a little easier to power the Matchbox on nothing more than rainbows and sunshine (precipitation and solar energy, that is), I was hoping to get away with a simple fan for all my cooling needs. Alas, I returned to DC after my two-month sabbatical in the dead of a heat wave, and a ninety-degree breeze did little to keep me feeling refreshed. So I broke down and purchased an adorably small window unit, tucked neatly away on the floor at the back of the house, which performs admirably—in partnership with the curtains, blackout blind, and skylight vent—in cooling down the small space.


I had also aimed to get by without a refrigerator, but after growing spoiled by a mini-fridge on loan from Lee, I decided a tiny cooling chest couldn't hurt. The fridge I ended up with is small—at 1.7 cubic feet, really small—but for the rare items my vegan diet requires it for, it should provide more than enough room.

Matchbox interior from underneath loft.

Elsewhere on the Boneyard, Brian recently wrapped up construction on his gorgeous Minim house, Lee has been putting our communal green space (and the Matchbox porch) to good use with her summer concert series, we've gotten a little more local love from the media (and more forthcoming), and our monthly open houses are still going strong.

Still to come: A bathroom, installed countertops, rain catchment updates, a couch, a bench, a few more miscellaneous furnishings, lots of seating, and a solar array. Expect more soon!


  1. Hey, just so you know, I've heard placing knives upside-down on those magnetic strips is a lot safer. I'm not sure how well that'd work for you since your strip is so far up though. Just use extra caution!!

    1. You are unsettlingly observant. :)

      Yeah, I'd think it'd be unsafe to have the tips pointed down from that height, for an unexpected drop of a knife could probably do some real damage. As it turns out, however, that strip is only there temporarily—it's actually going to be moved up onto the window trim above the stovetop.

  2. I love it so much, Jay. This place is a beautiful creation.

    1. Why thank you. You should come visit sometime. :)

  3. Make an ask if you have an estimate of what your total cost was on this house ? Dig the siding by the way

    1. I wish I had a good answer to that question—alas, I lost track of expenses quite a while ago. I'd estimate about $30,000 in materials and maybe another $10,000 in labor (I did quite a bit of labor myself, so costs would be higher if built entirely by a professional), but a lot of decisions—like earthen plaster walls over painted drywall, roughly $600 more expensive—factored livability far higher than affordability.

      If you have questions about any expense in particular, let me know. And thanks!


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