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The Shiny Tiny; Airstream Update

The Shiny Tiny, part 1

In October, 2016, we received a phone call asking questions about building a tiny house that resembled an RV as they did a lot of relocating for their work and wanted to be able to stay at RV parks. However, they were experiencing a lot of pushback from RV parks about tiny houses, with one park owner saying “if it looked like an RV, say an Airstream, there would be no questions or issues.”

They then asked if we could renovate an Airstream to a nontoxic unit. They admitted that they called numerous places and no one could or would take on the project. They then asked, if I would consider doing it for them. I cautioned them that it would be out of our norm, but since we knew about nontoxic and chemical free tiny houses, we would do it. We set the budget and started looking for an older Airstream that could be gutted and rebuilt.


  • Price had to be under S15,000
  • No major denting of the roof
  • Few major leaks, All airstreams leak.
  • Within 500 miles of the shop
  • Not a “shiny turd”
  • No tail separation

A “shiny turd” is an Airstream that has been polished but not updated in any other way. It is shined up to get a higher sell price from unsuspecting buyers.

Shiny Turd

Shiny Turd

Another key difference is that a restored, renovated, or modernized Airstream will have documentation to prove that trailer has been repaired, a new axle installed, or the flooring replaced. A “shiny turd” will have none of that. A shiny turd is like a sign that says “buyer beware.”

Tail separation is when the tail end of trailer frame has separated from the main trailer, usually in connections to the trailer frame at the axles. A simple way to check this is to stand on the bumper and move up and down while noticing if the body of the trailer also moves or just the frame does. It is costly to fix and at this point, we were not considering rebuilding the trailer.

What we found was a 31ft 1983 Excella Airstream in fair condition. There was dent in the roof, the top was balding, it smelled slightly musty, and some of the appliances did not work. Since we would be gutting it down to the shell and tossing everything, the trailer appeared doable for the project, so we made a deal.

1983 Excella

1983 Excella

We towed it to the shop and started gutting it to the shell, and found that the floor had rot, which since all Airstreams leak, it was not a surprise. What we encountered next did surprise us. We removed the flooring and found the musty smell was strong. The pink fiberglass insulation in the floor had absorbed moisture with mouse droppings scattered on the top. Mice!!!IMG_20161117_103714750

Upon removal, we found that the underbelly had holes that allowed mice to get inside as well as many mouse carcasses. Upon closer examination, we decided to do a separation of the shell from the trailer so we could work on both. Once we had separation, we could see the holes in the frame from rust and corrosion as well as broken welds in outriggers. The trailer needed some major work.

After consulting with the buyers, it was determined to rebuild the trailer with heavier steel while reusing the axles, step assembly, tongue and hitch, as well as tank enclosures.  The rebuilt trailer cost $800 more than trying to fix the old frame.

The trailer was built for the Airstream in the background making sure we followed the old trailer design so that the shell could be reattached. This Airstream is being modernized to a nontoxic chemical free status. The couple chose the Airstream model over a tiny house as it would be accepted in RV parks for long stays without question.

Some have said that there is not much left of the original and while that is true, the most important parts are left; the RV certification and the shell which says I am an RV, and an Airstream! And it will provide a “safe” home for the owners to live in year around.

The new trailer

The new trailer

It has been said that you have not renovated an Airstream until you stood on the ground while inside the Airstream.

Stood on the ground

Stood on the ground

Airstream has a lot of different meaning for its’ parts such as “banana peels”

The floorplan; Airstream Retorfit 5_2

If you want to follow the place we post pictures of the build click on the link Airstream Build

Come back for the next update to learn about that and more.














The Move

Or Growing pains for the shop

A month ago, we were informed that our space that we were sharing with Pete’s Fabrication and Repair was ending as he was terminating his lease with the buildings owners. Our 1st thought was to rent the whole shop out for Tiny Green Cabins, but after running numbers, it was proving to be more than I wanted to undertake at this time. Some of our ideas for using the extra space;

  • Rent out some space for a private party to build their own tiny house
  • Host a series of workshops on building tiny
  • Rent out space for someone needed a shop for a weekend or short project
  • Move to New Ulm, MN for a less expensive shop

In our search of New Ulm we found a place that was for sale and inquired about it. The building was for sale and it could be leased.

After asking questions about utilities, we learned that the heat bill was over a $1000 a month through the winter. That heat cost made the New Ulm space more expensive that what we were looking at in Blaine. We made an offer on the lease asking for the owner to pay for 50% of the propane costs for the 1st winter and we would do a 2 year lease. He declined .

So we decided to stay in the Blaine area for the foreseeable future.

Then we had a visit from another shop owner that did welding and fabrication whom asked if we would be willing to switch spaces. He had 3000 sqft and we had 6000 sqft. The numbers were a wee bit more friendly, and after some thinking and discussion with family, I decided to make the switch. That meant tow shops that were working plus one that was closing needed to switch spaces. For me, that was an easy task as my work had not accumulated a lot of stuff….yet!!

Our part of the move was easy. The fabricator has a lot of specialized equipment and a mezzanine to move. He said he had built the mezzanine so he could take it with him. This we had to see.

And he did it. I am impressed!!!

However, Pete was swamped with trying to finish up his back log of clients and others that heard he was closing and wanted that last minute car repair done by him.

So we loaded our trailer and moved it to the new place and then moved the hOMe out of the shop to its new place.

So, now it was up to sort things out, pack up what he wanted, and toss the rest. He tossed out a lot, and he still has a lot to sort and liquidate. In the meantime, he is using some of our space and will be having a fire sale over the next month..

We are just about finished with the hOMe bound for MA, and have the other custom hOMe started. And that is all we can fit in the shop until Pete moves his stuff out. In a week or so, we will have room to start the Prairie Rose for the workshop class we will be holding the end of October.  And when Pete moves his stuff, we will have room for a 3rd tiny house.

The start to finish of the move took 8 days, with the weekend included in that.  Now we need to organize the shelves and shop so we can find stuff easily.

If anyone wants us to build or start one in the next month or so, I would suggest that you book that slot. Otherwise, the next slot after that would be early spring of 2016.

Tiny House Builder, Jim

Tiny House Builder, Jim


Tiny House Parking Request

A tiny house special request

Tiny House OM Request

In need of parking place, can be temporary or permanent

One of our customers that retained us to build the attached tiny house for them has requested assistance in locating a place to park their hOMe tiny house. It is 28’ x 8’6”. Their ideal location would be in the vicinity of Framingham, MA. with availability as of August 1, 2015.

If you know of someone that has space for this couple to live in their tiny home such as a RV Park, trailer park, back yard, or field close to Framingham, MA. let us know. This tiny house is able to be lived in off the grid for extended periods of time with a solar system and 200 gallons of water storage tanks.

Send Jim an email at or comment on this thread.

Thank you – Jim

Firefighter buys a super tiny house

And you will not believe what she did!Nicki the Firefighter

In early May, we received a phone call from Nicki the Fire Fighter who lives in Savannah, Georgia. She had fallen in love with the Ravenlore tiny house and wanted to start the process rolling for purchasing it along with some changes. The list included eliminating the sleeping nook for a larger kitchen, adding a sink to the bathroom, and taking advantage of a sale we were holding, “Buy a Wildflower, Ravenlore, or Prairie Rose and get a 600 watt solar package for 2000 off” and could she select the paint colors. She loved the Carpenter Gothic architectural details of the Ravenlore tiny house and wanted it to “look like the Easter Bunny threw up all over it.”

Nicki is a firefighter, paramedic, and 1st responder in the Savannah, Georgia area and is passionate about life and her career. Some of her activities include kayaking, surfing, bike riding and exploring new places.

Nicki 2


She also likes to runs marathons……in full gear.



After we had it framed and sided, Masking 101

we started adding some color10622733_771073939616074_5362068251847797207_n

And more colormore tiny house color

And some more color1966108_10153365589384937_3958702924510469456_o

Then HGTV Tiny House Hunting called with the question; “do you know of any unique tiny houses that are close to completion that we could use in a new series? ” And Jim referred then to “Nicki the fighter” and she said “yes”
The crew showed up at the build site to shoot some film for “Nicki the Firefighter” episode with this film crew.
Tiny House Hunting Film Crew

Tiny House Hunting Film Crew

After which we finished the tiny house and the Ravenlore left for Savannah, Georgia and Tiny House Giant Journey filmed it as the courier was backing it into place for an open house that Nicki the firefighter had scheduled so all of her friends could see her new home. He even caught the jets overhead as he used hand signals to direct the driver. Pretty cool video and click the link below.


Stay Mentally Sharp

Stay Focused!

FocusGet comfortable but not TOO comfortable with your tools and work surroundings. When a project requires repeated cuts for identical parts – making the same cut 20 times, one’s mind can wander to that “date night”, lunch, a recent conversation, or that beer after work.

Never walk away from a tool while it is running and always wait for the blade to come to a complete stop before reaching for cut-offs near the blade. And never stand in line with the blade as when making rip cuts at the table saw; if the board kicks back, it is coming straight at you.  Also, never place your pushing hand in direct line with the cutting motion, regardless of the tool.

Tug the plug!

When not in use or during blade changes, unplug the tool, or if the tool has a safety tab – remove it from the on/off switch. This prevents you and shop visitors (young and old) from accidentally turning on a tool.

The same principle applies to pneumatic tools; when adding fasteners to a nailer always disconnect the air hose first. And always, always keep your hand away from the area to be nailed by at least 24”. I have had a gun slip which fired a nail into my hand when I was in a hurry and not focused. The head of the nail was in the web between the thumb and fingers with the point coming out the other side of the palm.  Luckily, I did not hit any bone and the Dr was able to clamp on a vise grip and pull it out in ER.

And finally, when working even a moderate height, pay attention to where you are standing and what you are standing on. Make doubly sure that you are safe. I was standing on a 2×12 x 8’ and thought to myself after looking at the surroundings, I would be safe.

A Cast and Surgery

A Cast and Surgery

I failed to notice the spike knot in the center of the board and seconds later was on the ground with a severely dislocated  and shattered ankle.  After a ride to the ER and surgery, and about 3 months of recovery, I was able to walk again. Although the steel plates holding the ankle together made it less able to respond to terrain changes.

Stay alert – Stay unhurt!


Reader Question on screws and tiny houses


I really like the idea of using welded steel framing for a tiny house on wheels but have some concerns.  How durable is the house after being moved a time or two?  Attaching sheathing (interior / exterior) will be done via something like screws – how secure are those screws after the house has been moved a few times?  (If i put a screw into wood then the length of the screw has contact with the wood. If i put a screw into a metal stud then only a short section of the screw has contact and that contact will work loose with movement of the structure).


One of the main differences in wood vs steel is that steel is not subject to the drying out or swelling to moisture conditions. This drying and swelling is what allows a wood screw to loosen up and back its way out of walls, hinges, and other connections. Even a screw of 2″ that is fully imbedded in a wood stud will loosen up just from being still on a foundation.

To solve this issue, some builders use a pneumatic gun with barbed nails in an attempt to lock the fastener and sheathing to the framing. In tests, the screw appears to have more holding power considering shear and double sided pullout.

In wood a #8 screw has 90lbs of shear and 168lbs of pullout.

However in steel framing a #8 screw has 103 lbs of shear and 204 lbs of two sided pullout.

In framing we use the self tapping course thread screw as all joints and connections are welded, which tends to often weld the screw in place also. Our supplier was concerned that while the screw would hold up for vibration and strength in a steel frame, he felt better when we suggested welding all joints also.

In the finishing we use a smaller self tapping screw that is fine threaded because the fine thread holds tighter with very little loosening up. We also use the impact screw gun to drive the screws in wood finish products deeper and that also increases the “hold” power of the screw. The screws also have a higher rating of hardness to minimize twisting the head and shaft apart. Fine threads in screws will hold any material to a steel 16 gauge steel stud or stronger. And steel being an inert material has stable properties and does not shrink of expand from moisture or humidity like wood

Do the screws loosen up over time from vibration. We have not encountered this in our experience even with our 1st tiny house that built 6 years ago travels between Minnesota and Texas twice a year without this happening.

Thanks for the question

Sawhorses and Slideouts

A Readers asks; “How do you make your sawhorses?”

Tiny House Sawhorse

Tiny House Sawhorse

You can make a pair from five 2 x 4 x8  cut into six 32-in. lengths and eight 26-1/4-in. lengths. Screw the 32-in. pieces into I-beam shapes and attach the legs to the I-beams with 3-in. screws. These screws, along with the upper edge of the I-beam, stabilize the legs. And when you need another workbench, just screw a piece of plywood on the sawhorses and you’ll have a stable table. By screwing the pieces together, it becomes easy to change the part, especially the top I beam member.

Another readers asks; ” What is your pricing on slide-outs?”



An 11 ft by 34 ½” slide-out adds about 350 pounds of weight to a tiny house for  each slide-out. A 6-10 ft. module costs approximately $7,900. A 10-13 ft module would be around $9,850, and a unit over 13 feet would be approximately $1,000 per lineal foot. In this picture, there are 2 slide-outs, the master bedroom would cost about $ 7, 900 while the living room/dinette slide-out would cost about $9,850.00.  This does not include a roll out canopy over the slide-out.


So….A Tiny House?

Winter Morning Wildflower

Winter Morning Wildflower


You just bought a tiny, green cabin.

It sounds like the first line in a children’s book, but it’s actually a lesser- known, higher-tech housing option.

Essentially, it is a very small house built on wheels.

It’s road-worthy. It’s a trailer. It’s a RV.

But it looks like a house, feels like a house and has all the amenities of a house, from a full-size sink and shower to a washer and dryer.

It’s built like a house and will last a lifetime, unlike those RV’s!

It has an incinerating toilet which burns waste into dry, sterile ash.

I will never have to pack a U-haul again to move!

It’s built like a fortress!

Quality is never an accident

Loose screws in a steel framed tiny house

Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.
— William A. Foster

It has been said on a tiny house blog in January;

“Lots of folks think about using metal studs for the construction of tiny houses because of the weight advantages.

Although it’s becoming well-known that the screws can come loose when you tow your tiny house due to the vibration.”

We would like to address the issue of the screws in steel framed tiny houses.

With the road vibration from moving a tiny house, it is possible that screws would loosen up over time. That fact alone is the main reason we took the extra step of welding all pieces to make a stronger frame than could be possible with just screwing pieces together. After welding, the joints are actually stronger than the original piece of steel as now it has taken on the characteristics of the area around the welds similiar to tempered steel. This is an added step to make sure we deliver a product that will last a lifetime.

Typical Pictures are of the Wildflower II

Tiny House Interior Finish Stairs with Drawers

Tiny House Interior Finish Stairs with Drawers

Tiny House Welded Frame

Tiny House Welded Frame

Reclaimed Material in Tiny Houses

or Two rights can make a wrong

Sometimes, two rights do make a wrong! Recycled, reused or repurposed building materials can conflict with other environmental and health concerns. For instance, many green buildings are extremely energy-efficient, in part because of new synthetic materials that provide greater insulation and strength than traditional materials. The reuse of old materials can reduce stress on the environment, but at what cost? Is it better to reuse old, drafty lead-tinted windows or simply make or buy new ones? Wooden beams may retain their structural integrity, but what if they are contaminated with lead paint? In the world of reclaimed lumber, beams and timbers are called “black gold” because of the price to purchase and then recondition them. Recycled or repurposed building materials must be closely examined before they can be used in new construction projects.old red barn

If you are planning a tiny house project, using reclaimed building materials can help you save money while adding a touch of nostalgia to your work. When looking for reused building materials, it is important to know what size lumber or fixtures you need. Examine the wood carefully to see if it has rotten places or signs of termite damage. You may also want to know if the secondhand building materials you are considering contain lead or asbestos, because these elements can be dangerous and costly to remove. While the EPA discourages the use of these materials for building, they are not ruled unusable if they have a sealant placed over them to prevent dust or particles from flaking off.   However, while the EPA may not be specific on the use or sale, state laws may. For example there is a state statue in Wisconsin, against selling building materials with lead on them.

The rules are a lot tougher on the contractor and “builder” and once again, it is wise to check out the rules and statues in your particular state. For example, building one tiny house, you may not consider yourself a builder, but your state may. If, your intent is to build one and live in it, then resell and build another one, Minnesota considers you a builder and you need to be licensed as such.

You may want to start your search for reclaimed building materials at a salvage lumberyard. Here, you may be able to browse through stacks of vintage building materials in order to find a specific item. Since the inventory at such lumberyards changes on a day-to-day basis, you may not find exactly what you are looking for on your first visit. Having a written plan and material list for your building project will help you know what recycled building materials you may be able to use, and give you guidance in determining the size of different items.

After you find reclaimed building materials that you are interested in, the next step is to make sure they are usable. Look each piece over carefully, and check to see if there are rotten places in any of the wood. It can also be a good idea to look for insect damage to avoid carrying home termites or other bugs.

Knowing where the reclaimed building materials originated can help you determine whether these building materials may contain lead paint or asbestos. Many dealers identify such items by placing a label on them warning consumers about these hazardous materials. Lead paint and asbestos were widely used before 1980, so materials from homes built before that time could contain them, even if they are not specifically identified.

Salvaged wood has characterSome vintage building supplies may need a great deal of work before they can be used in your tiny house project. This is especially true of baseboards and molding. If you chose an item that needs repair work, you need to decide if you will do this yourself or if you will hire a professional. A professional needs a clean room specifically for working with these products. In the event that you need to hire someone, this could make the end cost much higher than you anticipated. Knowing how much it could cost to refurbish certain items can help you make an accurate calculation so you will be able to buy recycled building materials while staying within your budget.

Below is a handy index for use to help you determine if the reclaimed material is wise to use.

Reclaimed Material Index



 What to reuse

 What to recycle

 What to dispose

 Environmental & Health Concerns

 Wood (lumber, flooring, etc)  Timbers, large dimension lumber, plywood, flooring, moldings, lumber longer than 4′  Unpainted and untreated wood unfit for reuse  Painted, pressure-treated and rotting wood  Painted wood may contain lead or contaminates, especially prior to 1980
 Windows  Windows in good condition (for single pane consider adding a storm window)  Metal frames and screens, unpainted and untreated wood  Glass, unusable painted items and wood in disrepair  Lead paint, asbestos in older window glazing compound, energy inefficiency
 Cabinets  Good used cabinets (consider re-facing or reusing in your home/workshop/garage  Remove and recycle hardware, unpainted and unfinished wood  Painted or finished wood Lead paint, formaldehyde in particle board or interior grade plywood
 Plumbing Products  Sinks, tubs, faucets  Metal pipes, toilets and inefficient plumbing fixtures (porcelain or metal), faucets with lead content  PVC and other plastic pipes, toilet seats(not accepted at recycling centers)  Drinking water; lead content in faucets, solder, and old galvanized pipe
 Plaster and Gypsum Wallboard  Repair cracks, or cover with textured paint, install new wallboard over old or skim coat  Wood lathe if clean can be reused/recycled, unpainted wallboard  Painted plaster or wallboard  Nuisance dust, lead paint on walls, possible asbestos in older wallboard
 Electrical Products  Only if in good working order or rewired  Metal fixtures, conduit  Ceramic and plastic parts  Frayed wires, possible asbestos insulation
 Roofing Materials  Retain sheathing, if in good condition, terra cota slate times, metal roofing  Metal materials, contractors generally have outlets for recycling asphalt roofing materials, untreated cedar shingles  Treated cedar shingles  Possible asbestos content