Could You Live In This Tiny House?

Tiny Home living isn’t for everyone (like my wife), but in a world of increased mobility building a life and a home that is more compact and more intentional is an incredibly smart thing. Here’s a great example of a tiny home that packs plenty of comfort in a small package.

Change The Code

One of the key limitations in tiny house design is the fact that they pretty much have to be built on trailer chassis. Many city zoning bylaws actually have minimum building sizes to keep the riffraff out and the property taxes up; many building codes have minimum room sizes and other rules that make it very hard to build small. By having tiny house designs with wheels, it becomes a recreational vehicle and it can sneak under a lot of radars. The kicker is that it is really tough to design a decent space in an 8′-6″ wide (exterior dimensions!) space.


Andrew and Gabriella Morrison have pulled it off in their 221 square foot home. In many tiny house floor plans, designers compromise on something, be it kitchen or bathroom. Gabriella writes:

To our surprise we have not felt, at any point, that we have had to make any…

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ARE 4.0: Structural Systems – PASS


Yesterday, February 19th. D-Day. I was the most worried about this exam and studied my ass off for almost 7 full weeks. At first I gave myself 6 weeks to study, but my first scheduled date was cancelled due to weather. I was able to re-schedule for the following week and I took advantage of that week to study. The day before the test I did a general refresher of all the material – Lateral Forces, beam diagrams, properties of steel, concrete, wood, systems and Seismic. I felt as if I had enough of a handle on the concepts that, given the reference material provided, I could reasonably get to the correct answers. The reality of this exam was much different.

First, my study materials. The usual suspects:

Kaplan Study Guide and Q&A.
Ballast Q&A
Kaplan flash cards (iPhone App)
Jenni’s Notes
Mike’s Notes (for the Vignette)
FEMA 454 Chapters 4, 5, 7, 8 and 9
Buildings at Risk – Seismic and Wind (know this)
ARE Coach Forums
NCARB Study Guide and Vignette

The test itself is two sections – 125 Multiple Choice questions and 1 Graphic Vignette. The test is broken into two time blocks – 210 minutes for the MC and 60 minutes for the GV. We all know that the time limit for the GV is always way more than enough. Just too bad you can’t roll that extra time back in to the MC section for this test. 125 questions at 210 minutes gives you an average of 1.68 minutes for each question. BUT there are anywhere between 6 and 30 calculation questions on this exam (depending on which version of the exam you get), and those equations all take time. Sometimes a lot of time, so make sure you go through a process of eliminating the WRONG answers first and only concentrate on what you’re left with as possible RIGHT answers. And, as is common with NCARB, the “right” answer is not always actually correct. It’s just the least incorrect out of the choices. Welcome to the psychological warfare that is the NCARB experience.

So, what do you need to pass this exam? Frankly I have no idea. I haven’t gotten my scores yet. But I highly recommend you read, learn and completely digest everything I listed above as a minimum. My exam was nothing like those described in the forums. I had questions that were so far afield that I don’t even know where to go now that I’ve taken it in order to find the answers I may need for the retake. Halfway through the MC section I just wanted to walk out. It was that bad. The “reference” material was useless. I couldn’t use it for a single calculation. Contrary to what is constantly said on the forums, YOU DO need to memorize formulas. Know the entire cheat sheet by heart. Be able to manipulate those formulas in your sleep. Write them down and draw little hearts around them in the margins of your paper during staff meetings. I’m not even kidding. Also, there are no standard beam calculations. But there are lots of very UNstandard beam calculations. You’ve never seen them before. They are not in the books or reference materials or study guides or sample questions. After taking this exam I feel certain I need to go back to school, become a structural engineer and THEN retake the exam and HOPE that I pass.

The graphic vignette was simple and straightforward. This is not to say it was easy. There are some small tricks they throw at you. PAY ATTENTION to the program. I almost hit the SUBMIT button without carefully looking at my solution and found a critical error that would have been an automatic fail. PAY ATTENTION and read the program CAREFULLY. My best advice here is to copy down the action items and rules of the program. Make a list on your scratch paper and once you’ve drafted your solution go back and physically cross off the list items one by one making sure that you’ve satisfied everything. Then, with your remaining time, go back and re-read the program and check your solution one last time. TIP: Your solution must be “structurally sound, economical and efficient”. Take these words to heart. This about what they mean and not just in terms of cost.

This exam is no joke. It’s a beast. The material to study and understand is a juggernaut and is not easy to wrap your brain around. This is not stuff we deal with on a daily basis. Hell, this isn’t stuff we deal with EVER, but it’s part of the ARE so figure out how to get through it and pass. I’ll update once I get my results, but I think you can glean from this post that I am less than hopeful. Good luck to all about to embark on this one. My prayers go out to you. :-\

Update: 2014.02.27 Results are in and I PASSED!!! BOOYAH Baby! 🙂

zoning vs building code :: what is the difference?

Brilliant post on the difference between Zoning and Building Code Regulations and why you need to know the difference. Also a not so subtle plug for “why you should hire an architect”. 🙂

think | architect

zoning code

Please pardon the break from my esoteric soap box to address something important that comes up often in my practice. I have slipped in a few sarcastic statements if you’d like to count them – consider it a game.

Frequently I have property owners (or soon to be property owners) contact me interested in developing property or renovating an existing building where the early discussion revolves around what will the code permit. It is common for them to mention a discussion they had with local municipal officials where something goes wrong (often horribly – no offense intended to government officials). They state something that demonstrates a misunderstanding of the difference between a local zoning ordinance and a building code. I tried to say that politely.

When I get involved and start to do research, I find that people often misunderstand the difference and it is not uncommon that decisions are…

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how small is too small? – a message to architects

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

Recently I wrote a post speaking to clients about “small projects”. In the writing of that post I realized that it’s not just clients that need to be educated, but architects as well. I see, and have been part of, many conversations floating around various forums and other blogs about how the profession is being pushed out by contractors and engineers and “designers” (read: unlicensed architects) and how the built environment is suffering, blah blah blah. The reality is not that architects are being pushed out, but rather are pushing themselves out.

“But how can this be!?” you ask?

Simple. Many architects TURN DOWN work that is “too small”. And so clients who recognize the need for help in design and detailing are left to seek out anyone else willing and able to help them. Enter willing contractors and “designers” who will reinforce the client’s opinion that “you don’t need an architect” because they (the contractor/designer) can just “get it done”.

We, the architects, need to put off some of our pride and take chances on smaller projects for smaller clients if we are ever going to truly change the built environment and the quality of the work being built in it. And I know all the arguments:

“Architects can’t work for free.”
“It’s not worth the time and liability to take on such a small project for such a small fee that will just suck time out of my life.”
“The fee that a client would pay me would be better spent on improving the project itself.”
-Insert your own random whiny argument here-

And I say bollocks. These arguments are uttered in the same breath with complaints about contractors and engineers taking on the role of the architect in the very projects that actual architects are turning down. See the conundrum here? I believe behavioral psychologists call this a “self-fulfilling prophecy”. We are enabling and encouraging the very situations we are arguing against.

So, “architects can’t work for free”. This is true. But then we don’t have to charge a full fee for all projects either. Do we deserve to get paid for our time? Yes. Is our time worth the same amount on every project, say a kitchen remodel versus a master suite addition or a new residence? No. We can adjust and tailor our fee structures to accommodate these smaller projects to make them enticing to potential clients.

“It’s not worth the time and liability.” Again, bollocks. It’s worth our time because it is worth having an impact on a project that will improve someone’s life. That sounds very utopian and naive. But the truth is we all felt and thought that way not so long ago. The idealism of our youth while in college should not be lost or tossed aside for practice. The truth is liability is negligible (i.e. all those untrained, unlicensed “professionals” practicing architecture successfully). The time is always an issue whether the project is 100 square feet or 100,000 square feet. Work smarter, not harder.

“The fee that a client would pay me (the architect) would be better spent improving the project.” Bollocks. Bollocks and more Bollocks. The services of a architect on a project adds value whether it’s a bathroom renovations, garage addition or roof replacement, even if it’s just a consultation fee.

The bottom line is you don’t want to be bothered with some small fee from a small client for a small project. Instead you want the big fee from a big client for the big project. In the meantime potential clients are passing you by left and right. 10 small projects worth $10,000 each are much more valuable than 1 project worth $100,000. Think about it. And get back to work!

Shoe Molding vs. Quarter Round

Decisions like “shoe mold” versus “quarter round” may seem insignificant, but the reality is even the smallest details make a big difference in a project.

Hardwood Flooring

There are two types of moldings that you can install on your floors up against your baseboards once your hardwood floors are laid. They are a little bit different from each other so we’re going to discuss these differences in this article so that you can make the best choice for your needs.

The first type is what is called quarter round. Quarter round molding is exactly what it sounds like. It’s molding that is cut to be one quarter of a circle. Most of the quarter round that is locally sold is ¾” x ¾” with a ¾” radius profile exposed so the molding once applied will come out from the face of the baseboard a full ¾” as well as go up the baseboard the same amount.

The second type is shoe molding which has a slightly narrower profile and is not based on a true radius. Shoe…

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