First order of business was selecting the right piece of land that would support my project. I was looking only on this little island so was limited by the property that was available at the time. Fortunately I found this lot early enough pre-Covid to be able to make the offer before it was snapped up in the Covid frenzy. The lot had been 2nd on my short-list only because it doesn’t have a view of the water. In hindsight I’m glad I didn’t get my first choice because this lot has turned out to be almost perfect – it is ringed with trees for privacy and wind protection, yet the interior is wide open with a modest slope along an almost due east-west long axis. It also had in the ‘plus’ column that all the basic utilities are on site so that I can live on the property before and during construction. On the other hand, these also present challenges to fit the new structures within the available footprint.
The former owners of this property bought it as a weekend getaway from their high-stress jobs in the Seattle area. Along with a few of their friends who bought the adjoining properties they entertained often and were well known for their warm hospitality. Weekends were full of friends, fun, and great food. To make these times a little more comfortable than roughing it with a tent and campfires, they built a bedroom cabin and bathroom cabin (up to the maximum size they could build without a permit), brought in power, water, cable TV, and a 35′ travel trailer, built a large deck around the trailer, and had a permitted septic system installed.
They are now retired and living across the country near their grandchildren so have not used the property for several years. Although a service continued to cut the grass, the blackberries had consumed a large portion of the previously open space, and all the structures were deteriorating. Due to the buying frenzy at the start of Covid, I was not able to wait to have all the systems and structures inspected (and the value was in the land so my offer would not be contingent on the inspection anyway) so there were a few surprises when I took possession.
Trailer and Deck
There was a 35’ travel trailer with power, water, septic, and a very large wooden deck, near the west end of the property. The real estate agent had sent interior photos of the travel trailer showing that between a roof leak and squatters using it as a party pad, it was in pretty bad shape. I made its removal a condition of purchase. The deck turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Even though it was built long enough ago that a tree had since grown up and around one side (the deck was actually embedded about 1” into the tree), it is structurally sound and none of the deck boards are rotten. Although part of the deck may need to be removed to make way for the greenhouse, the rest of the deck and the trailer pad will be able to stay. The initial plan was to put a tiny home on wheels in place of the trailer some time in the future for guests and, eventually, for a live-in care-taker. Instead I brought in a 24′ travel trailer to live in until the house is done.
There are two cabins, approximately 10’x12’ each, near the west end of the property. Both are structurally sound but not square. Both have windows, electricity, lights, insulation, and finished walls and floors. One was finished out for use as a bedroom, including cable TV, and the other was finished out as a full bath, including an electric water heater. Both had shingle roofing but it was clear the bathroom cabin’s roof had leaked for a long time. Their location on the property is good – they are not within the greenhouse’s construction footprint. My initial intent was to live in them until the house is done and then gut and restore them to the same functions for use as guest cottages.
The plan changed when the water was first turned on to the bathroom cabin and burst a pipe inside the wall. Now the bathroom cabin needs a total gut and restore, in addition to a new roof, to be usable. The next day I purchased an ‘almost new’ 24’ travel trailer that was delivered to the pre-existing trailer pad a few days later.
Now that there is a comfortable travel trailer for future guest use, I’m re-evaluating the cabins’ role in the overall plan. I haven’t made a final decision but the current idea is the bedroom cabin will become my office and sewing room and the bathroom cabin will become a garden tool shed and work shop. Let me know your vote in the comments, below.
Access From Two Sides
This property is actually 2.5 parcels that stretch between two roads – a public paved road on the east side to access one parcel, and a private gravel road on the west side to access another parcel. This is a huge plus now that the site plan has evolved from a single residence into a complex of habitable structures. It is currently possible to drive straight through the property. Once grading for the greenhouse starts, the cabins and trailer will be accessible from the west entrance and the new structures will be accessible from the east.
The septic system’s true condition turned out to be an unhappy surprise. It is permitted and was inspected pre-purchase but I should have asked more specific questions about what exactly was inspected. When preparing to power-up the system to handle the trailer’s waste it became clear that the power supply to the pumps in the tank and sand filter were some form of DIY project. These will be replaced by the electrician as part of the greenhouse/home construction. Until then I am not turning on power to the pumps so the tanks are used for containment but will probably need to be pumped before the new power is installed.
The system includes the tanks on one parcel near the cabins, a sand filter on another parcel near the trailer, and the drain field on another parcel near the east end of the property. There is very little space on the property that does not include the power to the tank and sand filter pumps, or pipes running to and between the cabins, trailer pad, tanks, sand filter, and drain field. I’ve been told that newer system design does not include a sand filter but the additional time and expense to redesign and permit the system without the sand filter is not in the budget. My builder is aware of the pipe and power ‘challenges’ within the construction plan.
There is an existing water meter at the street on the east side and the supply line runs along the southern property edge to the trailer and then I’m not sure how the line runs to the bathroom cabin. The existing supply pipe sits above ground in places and will be replaced along a new route as part of the construction. There is also internet service from the east side of the property and runs along the water supply to the trailer first and then to the bedroom cabin. This cable is also above ground in several places and will be replaced and rerouted as part of the construction.
There is an existing temporary power pole and meter near the street on the east side of the property but on the south side of the driveway. Both the electrician and I are scratching our heads trying to figure out where the current lines run from the pole and where they run between the cabins and trailer. Only half the circuits are live so the amps that used to go to the water heater in the bathroom cabin were cannibalized to give the trailer 30 amps. Providing power for both the trailer and construction tools will be a challenge. No longer having power to either cabin has also delayed their remodel. A new, permanent power line will be brought in along the north side of the driveway that will go first to the utility room attached to the carport, and then to the other uses in the complex.
Even without the cabins and trailer, the new construction is itself a complex of structures that include the greenhouse, the tiny home inside the greenhouse, a separate carport with an attached utility room, a courtyard linking the path between the carport and greenhouse entry, and a rainwater storage and irrigation system.
The greenhouse will be the Conley’s Gable Series 7500 model. Conley’s has been supplying greenhouses for commercial agriculture since 1946 so there are plenty of standing structures to verify both the company’s and model’s viability.
This shape was chosen to make it easier to install gutters and drain them to the rainwater storage tanks. This model was also selected because it is available in both a 35’6” width, if that will fit on the property, or a 30’ width if it doesn’t. This model length is available in multiples of 10’. Sixty feet is the longest that will fit on my lot. This structure will be on a concrete foundation and part of the north foundation will also be one sidewall of the lap pool.
This model also offers 12’ or 14’ height sidewalls that provided a little more flexibility designing the house’s roof to fit under the trusses. The Gable 7500 includes a steel structure and twinwall polycarbonate glazing for the roof, sidewalls, and endwalls. There will be a man-sized door on the east end as this will be the daily and guest entry. There will be a vehicle-sized door on the west end to ease delivery of large loads by Bobcat, backhoe, or wheelbarrow.
I’m waiting for my builder to begin laying out the site before placing the order. Delivery is currently running 8-10 weeks so I’m estimating the earliest we’ll be erecting that is late-August or early-September.
My initial brief for the architect included a bubble diagram, within a rectangle, to indicate how I preferred the spaces to relate to each other, and guideline that I wanted to stay at, or under, 400 square feet to maximize growing space in the greenhouse. The tiny house is designed for one person or at most two people.
The first set of drawings the architect came back with included a variety of floor plans within a rectangle in a variety of total square feet. I was really pleased that he also included a few that were not a rectangle because one of these became the starting point for what became, a few iterations later, the final design.
The final house footprint is approx. 500 square feet and will fit within the 30’ greenhouse width if necessary but the wider 35’6” greenhouse width will allow a 7′ wide by 40’ long lap pool between the north side of the house and greenhouse wall. This is planned as a natural pool with “regeneration ponds” at each end following design guidelines from David Pagan Butler.
Carport / Utilities
The driveway entering the property from the east will enter to a one-car carport. To minimize the precious space within the house and greenhouse that is used for utilities and storage, there will be a utility and storage room under the carport’s roof. This room will house the electrical panel and the water filters and pumps.
Main Entry / Courtyard
There is, approximately, a 4’ grade change from the east side of the carport to the west end of the greenhouse. We’ll make approximately 2’ of that decline with stairs and a ramp down from the carport level to a courtyard at the greenhouse entry-level. The courtyard’s specific dimensions will be determined when laying out the carport and greenhouse but will have a minimum 60” diameter space for a wheel-chair to turn around.
Rainwater Storage and Irrigation
Fresh water is both precious and expensive on this island. Fortunately rain is plentiful so the entire greenhouse irrigation will be from rainwater collected off the greenhouse and carport roofs. We’ll begin with 2 tanks of approximately 5,000 gallons each but have room to expand if necessary. It is expected that gravity feed should work both directions – from the roofs to the tanks and from the tanks to the greenhouse. If additional pressure is needed for the irrigation feed, then pumps and filters can be installed in the utility room.
There is space next to the driveway on the east side to create parking for 2 to 4 vehicles within clearings between mature trees. My hope is that we won’t damage their roots so much that any will need to be cut down. This will be determined at the time. There is existing parking for 2 to 4 vehicles on the west end for the cabins and trailer without any additional work done.
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