small homes (112)

More on Small Homes in Cities

You know what? I am suddenly REALLY excited by this idea. Just as I was with the idea of building on a piece of land in the country in the ’60s-’70s.

Different time now.

The last 2 posts hit a nerve: there have been 24 comments on the subject so far.

I was thinking last night about the concept of building in sketchy city neighborhoods:

To be sure, there are these. A beautiful young woman was gunned down 2 days ago in Oakland, trying to protect her kids from a gun fight on the streets. But I believe there a lot more neighborhoods that don’t have drugs and gunshots. When I go to Berkeley, I often cruise Oakland, Richmond, El Cerrito, San Leandro; have checked out Hayward (big town) and Vallejo (on the bay, old buildings downtown, about to get hot I’ll bet). Then there’s Martinez, Benecia, Hercules, San Ramon, Livermore, Danville…This is San Francisco Bay area, my turf, but others in other urban areas will know the outlying towns of big cities.

Point is: not every part of every city’s small building neighborhoods is a crime combat zone. I find tons of neighborhoods that don’t look dangerous.

Here are a few homes in the East Bay. How many little homes like this are in the USA?

I just decided we’ll have a big section in our forth coming book, Small Homes, on “Small Homes in Cities.” If you have something to contribute, write us at smallhomes@shelterpub.com.

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Fixing Up Old Small Homes In Cities

There was an article in the New York Times on March 7, 2015, that mentioned that there are 800 or so abandoned homes in the Bay Area city of Richmond. I think that fixing up run-down homes in less than opulent cities is one of the most viable, practical, and economical things that people wishing to create their own shelter could do in these times.

In fact, I make a point of shooting photographs of small homes in cities like Richmond, San Leandro, Hayward, Vallejo—nearby places where (some) neighborhoods are run down, but hopefully not infested with drug dealers and crime. I guess it’s a balancing act—if you can find a neighborhood that is on its way up, instead of one that is dangerous and has no hope for the future.

Detroit, for example, has scores of well-built small homes in decaying neighborhoods.

I sort of have a fantasy about fixing up an old place and planting a garden and making friends with the neighbors, who will be pleased that someone is improving their neighborhood. Having a house party and inviting the neighbors. People respond to positive action. It could work.

This will be one of the main subjects in our forthcoming book, Small Homes.

Photo by Peter DaSilva for The New York Times

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The Near Impossibility of Building Your Own Home Near Great American Cities These Days

A lot of young people who visit our half-acre compound are inspired by what we’ve got going here. Handmade home, garden, chickens, workshop, office/work studio. How can they get something like this going, they want to know.

Well, it was sure easier 40 years ago. Our land was $6500, building permit $200, I drew up my own plans, was my own architect and engineer, building and health department officials were reasonable, there was no coastal commission…

Since then, the bureaucrats have weighted things heavily in their own favor (bureaucrats beget ever more bureaucracy) and building permits in Marin County (Calif.) are something like $50,000 (more than my entire house cost). Building and health departments do not get their funding from the county, but from fees paid by homeowners (or builders), so guess what? Fees are ever higher, now to the point of absurdity. Regulations also have grown to have their absurdities (having to install sprinklers in single family homes is one such absurd requirement). And to the point of it being just about impossible for an owner-builder without a trust fund to build around here now.

So I tell young people, if they’re looking for land to build upon, they have to get a couple of hours away from any of our great cities.

Tomorrow, I’ll post a few ideas of what I might do now were I starting nowadays. It’s a challenge!

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Island Soul

I don’t see any boards, but these guys gotta be surfers. Somewhere in Kapa’a, Kauai. Authentic, eh?

What I like here (aside from the soulfulness):

-hip roof, corrugated steel sheets

-porch area by subtraction. Think of it as the overall simple roof shape; then by moving walls inside, you get porch.

-up off ground on simplest of foundations.

-colors: red/green. I love the brick red color, especially window trim on Pacific west coast.

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Perfect Design For Small Home

Proportion—proportion—proportion.

Come to think of it, I might do a series of photos of elegant proportion: barns, farm buildings, modest homes, commercial buildings, public buildings…I’m always on the lookout.

My favorite definition of architecture: “…the art and science of building.” Too bad so few architects are builders.

Dog house is in Kapaa, Kauai.

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Just Right Small Kauai Cottages

I’ve shot a whole bunch of these simple little frame structures on Kauai, usually with tin roofs and overhangs, usually resting on foundations of pre-cast concrete pads. I’ll get around to posting a bunch more later. They make sense in terms of simplicity, economy, ease of construction and local climate.

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Tuesday Morning Fish Fry

Blog Posts I just did 2 posts for our new blog — they’ll be up within a week — https://www.theshelterblog.com/, as I transition to a different blogging mode. Not as much stuff as this (although I can’t resist blabbing now and then). More material on building, the home arts, gardening, farming. Especially building.

I feel like I have a lot to communicate with builders after all these years of non-academic study of carpentry and other methods of construction.

Back in the saddle with this new blog.

Coming off 5 years of building domes, I set about to learn the most practical methods of building homes, small buildings, and barns. It can be so simple.

Sample future posts:

•Drawings of 5 tiny homes (including every stick of wood in framing (from Shelter)

•Barns of my acquaintance

•Timber Framing

•Master Builders of the Middle Ages

•Architecture: architects need to know that the definition of architecture is “…the art and science of building.” Building.

Dwell magazine: occasional comments on this paragon of soulless living

•Rad Rigs: More tiny homes on wheels

I’m really excited to be shifting to this mode. I have something like 70,000 photos, both film and digital, to draw from.

Today’s New York Times has a terrific science section, including a stunning photo of the moon by the Lunar Orbiter V, and an article about a combo robot/man diving suit that will be used to explore a Roman ship believed to have sunk in the 1st century BC, and which carried “…the Antikythera Mechanism, a mechanical device for predicting celestial movement.”

Serena was just superb on Saturday. Power and grace. Beautiful.

Surfing Without Catching Waves Went out on my 10′ Haut Surftek board the other day, too many surfers for me, just got a couple of krappy rides in the foam. Then a few days later could not get out through 6′ surf with my surf mat BUT as I get older I settle for just being in the ocean AND I’m gonna get waves — going to Kauai in November with surf mat and fins.

Over & Out I’m leaving tomorrow for Pittsburgh, then to Seven Springs, PA to do a presentation Friday,  Sept 12 at the Mother Earth News Fair. Anyone know if Pittsburgh is worth exploring?

Photo: grapes at Louie’s

I've Got You Under My Skin by Diana Krall on Grooveshark

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Septic System Scams – Homeowners, Beware!

I got a robot phone call last night (around dinner time, of course): “Hello, this is not a solicitation, this is about your septic system…”

The object was to sell homeowners on additives that will “…improve septic tank digestion of solids.”

Don’t fall for this scam. Below is what we wrote in Septic Systems Owner’s Manual (There are 5 complete chapters from the book reprinted here, along with other septic info.). Click here.

Septic system additives, especially enzymes.
(You don’t need to add enzymes; they’re
naturally present in the sewage.) Beware of
telemarketers or ads hawking additives
claiming to avoid tank pumping. They
actually break down the scum and sludge
into small particles, which are then readily
flushed out into the drainfield, increasing
possibility of premature drainfield failure.
The State of Washington has banned septic
tank additives. In Tiburon, California, a
homeowner recently added enzymes to a
septic system that had been working perfectly
well. Soon after, sludge moved out into the
drainfield and the system failed.

I wrote an article that appeared in The Mother Earth News in 2008 about the sorry state of septic systems engineering and regulations in the US. To read it, click here.

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