Can a city boy build his dream homestead on a mountain, by himself and with no mortgage?

Posts tagged “do it yourself cabin

me and my big mouth

cabin close

A few weeks ago I was asked, by a very nice girl, if I would want to participate in a tiny house lecture/Q&A in Los Angeles. Being the publicity houndwhore that I am, I agreed.

With that in mind, if anyone in the Los Angeles area is not too drunk at 1pm this Sunday March 17th (St. Patrick’s Day for those of you in Rio Linda), come on down to Atwater Village, have a cup of coffee, and watch me make a fool out of myself for 45 mins! (you’ll have to buy your own coffee though). I’ll talk about my process, my cabin, and if I don’t get too nervous and wet my pants, I’ll answer questions about everything tiny house.

In case I suck and bore everyone to death, there’s a second lecture after mine about earth-building homes by a very cool and clever couple, it looks like they build fantastic hobbit houses from this picture on Facebook…

Screen shot 2013-03-14 at 1.04.31 PM

Robert and Mireille from Earth Works Building will be speaking about the history of natural building traditions. From cob, adobe, and clay ovens, to newer methods like sandbag structures, recycle friendly earthships. Learn how surprisingly inexpensive, fireproof, and energy efficient natural building can be and the vital connection it makes in building community. 

Clearly they will be more interesting than me so this event should be well worth the drive (and if it’s not, we can always start a food fight!)

For you Face-place fluent types, there’s a interweb page about it…


Tiny House lecture

Lecture is free.
Lunch is pay-what-you-want.
Q&A to follow both presenters.


The event is being held at “Thank You For Coming” at 3416 Glendale Blvd, in Atwater Village, a short walk from either Silverlake or Glendale, I hear that the food is fantastic.

Like the cool kids always say, be there or be square!


long time no see

little sirloin

Hey y’all!

Sorry I’ve been offline for a while. Truth be told, I have very little news to report on my tiny cabin. As my sainted late Grandmother used to say “no news is good news, now go get me a beer sweetie!

All is well up on my mountain, the woodpecker and I are still playing our game of peck, destroy and repair. No signs of man-eating beasts but Tri-Tip and Sirloin had a baby! I’ve named him “lil’ Sirloin’ after his Father (see adorable picture above). The weather has been glorious, I am content, fat and resting.


I had a very busy work season and am now in full repose, gonna start on my next project as soon as the winter chill is out of the air. I promise I’ll post as I go, once I start going!

Thanks for hangin’ in with me. Go out and find someone you love, give ’em a big hug and a kiss and have a fantastic Valentine’s Day!

For now I’ll just sit here LMFAO watching Superbowl commercials, Tivo-ed hours of “Modern Family” and kitten/hedgehog videos)


Bigger is now officially better!

My ecrow has closed, the check has been cashed and the deed has been transferred, as Rush would say… “to those of you in Rio Linda”, I am now officially a land baron!

I have just bought a small parcel of land that make up a very sweet annex to my mountain. The new land is just across the street from me, simply walk to the end of my driveway, cross the street, and walk 100 feet up a dirt road into the woods.

I’m so happy I was able to get this land since it rarely comes available and when it does, it’s snatched up immediately by the neighbors. I guess I snatched faster than my compadres!
Not really sure what I’m going to do with it yet, it’s a marvelous little enclave with a sweet hilltop and a fantastic view, kept private since it’s all surrounded by small hills.
The parcel had already been subdivided into 4 lots, zoned for 4 separate homes. Maybe there’ll eventually be 4 tiny houses there? In the next few days I’ll set up camp on my new hilltop and contemplate what to do but for now, I’ll just hoist a few cold ones in my honor and keep dreaming.
Our houses can stay tiny but where pristine land, open skies, and our dreams are concerned, bigger is surely better!

an update, a setback, and an upgrade

When we last left the UrbanRancher’s tiny cabin on Mt Elroy, it was being devoured by (allegedly) rabid woodpeckers and he was making plans to leave California…

First things first… I wanted to post some pictures of my  woodpecker “fix” to keep those nasty creatures away. Apparently they do not like wire mesh or anything metallic and shiny so that’s exactly what I screwed up onto the side of the cabin.

I am thrilled to report that after several weeks of the new contraption being in place, there are NO signs of any woodpeckers anywhere on the cabin! I’ll take down the mesh in a few days and re-install it again in the early spring aka “woodpecker mating season”.

Now, on the subject of my recent rant on leaving California…

I have just returned from a second fact-finding mission to Tennessee. I spent a week and a half sniffing around the greater Nashville area for acreage and getting to know the people better. I’ve made plans to return before the end of the year to meet with some realtors.

I’m also in the process of re-configuring my main house design to accommodate my possible move. There has been an engineering snafu and I don’t want to release my fantastically cool new idea until I’ve worked out at least the major kinks. I suspect that many of the tiny-house pre-fab builders will want to knock-off this idea so I need to be sure that I am legally protected in case there is money to be earned!

Now for some really exciting news…

My mountain is getting bigger! Land near me rarely comes available for purchase so when some did recently, I pounced.


I heard through the grapevine that a small parcel of land belonging to one of my neighbors would be made available for sale. Within an hour I swooped in and made an offer. It hit the market at 10am and my offer was put in at noon!

It’s a very private piece of land, completely wooded, fully accessed by dirt roads around 3 sides, and has the same views as my cabin!

My offer has been accepted and we are in escrow right now! Since it’s a separate parcel and already zoned into a few small lots, I can either annex it into my main parcel, sell-off the individual lots to friends, or keep it as a little freestanding island of investment.

This opportunity has opened up so many possibilities, I need to absorb them all before I can take another serious breath!  I suppose it’s Murphy’s law on display. The minute I start planning to leave, the Universe makes me an offer I can’t refuse.

Kind of like the new car salesman I was dealing with recently, just as you’re exhausted from haggling and as you’re walking steadfastly out the door you hear… “WAIT, my boss just authorized me to knock off another $1000, I can make this happen for you today!”

and of course, you ALWAYS turn around


is one a rat for jumping off a sinking ship?

this is an unusual post for me but it will explain my motivation for what’s coming up next on my mountain.

California is officially in shit shape…

As a freelance Hollywood professional and a long-time California resident, I watch the financial health of the state like a hawk. In the past 4 or 5 years along with a constant degradation of “quality of life” here, I’ve seen much of TV and film production flee the state of California.

Tax credits and an unfriendly business climate have chased away a majority of TV and film work to Louisiana, Georgia, Michigan, New York, Canada, and even Eastern Europe. Last year I worked out-of-state 9 months out of the year. Apparently Hollywood is no longer in Hollywood.

The state of California is bankrupt and continues to spend itself into oblivion. With oppressive unemployment, the worst schools in the nation, absurd over-regulation and horrid taxation, the working middle class is leaving the state in droves as are the companies that employ them.

I had the privilege to work on projects in both Atlanta and Nashville recently.

Tennessee and Georgia have low gas prices, low taxes, (no state income tax in Tennessee!) well paved roads, clean air, lush forested topography, very friendly people and VERY inexpensive land and housing.

I bought my land in Southern California with the intent to build a small residential compound and eventually retire to the woods, live a simple life shooting at animals, yelling at people to “get the hell off my land” and drinking lots of beer (ok, that’s partially true). It is becoming apparent to me that with the quality of life in California deteriorating, my dream may have to pack up and find a better state (and there are many).

It is a very big deal for me to consider abandoning California, as I’ve invested 20 years, my career, LOTS of cash, and plenty of emotions here. I do not take this decision lightly.

In order to survive as a state, it appears that California will be forced to explode a tax bomb on its property owners and residents in the next few years or go bankrupt and descend into anarchy. Neither of these is an option I find acceptable.

Governor Jerry Brown is considered by the financial gurus to be one of the major causes of our fiscal condition, dating back to his first term as governor in the late 70’s. In 2010, uninformed California voters chose to re-elect this hack over business powerhouse Meg Whitman because Ms. Whitman was alleged to have been unpleasant to an illegal alien maid. Yes, as hard to believe as it seems, the sunburned voters with their abysmal state-provided educations thought it best to drive the state over a cliff because of a manufactured claim of misconduct by Ms. Whitman.

Thankfully we have an election coming this fall. If California voters do not change course and vote out the entrenched political class in Sacramento, our future as a failed state will be sealed.

Much like the Greeks, it seems that Californians are unable to grasp the magnitude of their problem. Much like Greece, without an abrupt change of course California will descend into a failed third-world country in the next few years.

If that happens, I will not participate.

I have started looking at land in other states. I am assessing my options and am actively looking for work opportunities in Texas, Tennessee, and Georgia. How this plays out is dependent on my ability to find work out-of-state. How this plays out with my new small house plan is the subject of my next post. I’ve thought up a fantastic concept to move forward with my home design and building, pending relocation to a more stable part of the country.

it’s so cool, I want to finalize it before posting exactly what I’m gonna do.

Trust me, it’s awesome!

stay tuned…


the devil is in the details

The first step in designing my new small house was laying it out in SketchUp.

SketchUp is Google’s very powerful and free 3D modeling software.  I downloaded it from Google (it’s freeee!) then simply watched a few of Google’s “how to use SketchUp” videos. I’m pretty good with all kinds of software already so learning SketchUp was pretty simple for me. I suspect most folks could learn it with relative ease.

SketchUp also allows you to add furniture to your rooms from a free user-created online database (amazing!!) and then walk-through your model. This makes it possible to see exactly what your house will look and feel like before you spend dollar 1 on anything!

I’ve decided to do detailed layouts of each pod, then spend as much time tweaking and finalizing my design BEFORE I hire an architect to draw my blueprints. By making most aesthetic decisions in MY computer on FREE software, this will cut down on paid hours given to the architect.

The first pod to be designed is the main room, kitchen/dining/living. I need to fit a full kitchen, dining table (I want one, ok?!) and full sofa/tv watching area. Since the kitchen is integral and permanent, it comes first.

SketchUp will let me download a fully built kitchen from the online model warehouse. I found one that is small, tight and will fit in 1/4 of my 16′ wide x 22′ long room.

In order to be precise enough for the architect, I need to design the kitchen down to the 1/8 of an inch. With my rudimentary modeling skills, SketchUp is not the best tool for this. I’m gonna let you in on a BIG SECRET resource…

the IKEA online 3D kitchen planner…it is simply AMAZING!!!

You’ll need to download their 3D browser plug-in so it will run on your computer (their website will let you do it automatically). It is an app designed for you to lay out your dream kitchen (using their products) then go to Ikea and it will spit out an exact list of what to buy (and how much it’ll cost).

It has a very slight learning curve but if you can use SketchUp, you will breeze through the Ikea app with ease. You can build the entire room, complete with doors, windows and vaulted ceiling (all adjustable to your specs), appliances and all cabinetry, all placed down to 1/16 of an inch!

Here’s my new kitchen in the main room…

and the view from the kitchen into the living room!

The app will let you print an overhead layout plot…

elevations of all walls/views…

and a material list with prices…

so as you can see, we’re almost to the point where anybody with a computer and an Internet connection can design their own home (for free) and as I proved last year,

ANYONE with a pickup truck, a few bucks and a dream can build their own home.




even me.

btw, I started one of those  face-page book things. It seems all the cool kids have them and I desperately want to fit in. Check it out and maybe be my friend? (that other tiny house place has like 8 million friends and I’m so totally jealous!)

and for my next trick…

I’ve been spending so much time up on my mountain that I think I’m out-growing the tiny cabin.

My goal of transitioning into full-time rural living is feeling quite attainable lately. I’m eager to put in some additional infrastructure (water tank, septic, garage), but I didn’t want to spend the money until I was ready to build the main house.

Knowing how long it takes to actually “build” a house, I thought I should get started sooner rather than later. I’ve been locked in my room playing around with SketchUp lately and I’ve finally settled on a design…

It’s a simple set of 3 small connected “pods”, built in the same style as my existing tiny cabin, bedroom pod, main room pod (living/dining/kitchen) and bathroom pod. Overall size so far is bedroom 12’x12′, main pod 16’x22′ and bathroom at 9’x12′ for a total of 604 sq ft.

By designing them as separate segments, I can use the lessons learned from building my small cabin and simply expand on them for the larger version…

-Single slope roof for ease of construction and lower material cost,

-Segmented design for building in stages,

-Built on piers for flood avoidance and easy utility access,

-Inter-connected rooms to make the interior seem more spacious (I love to roam from room to room in my LA condo),

-Use the same interior layouts from some of my favorite familiar spaces so I’ll know what each room will feel like before it’s built.

One of my favorite pre-fab homes is the FabCab, a timber-framed unit built using a pre-cut frame and SIPs. FabCab sells a gorgeous 550 sq ft model that is about what I need, the only problem for me is it costs $143,000 not including site work. Regrettably I do not have that kind of cash sitting around and I am not willing to borrow it.

FabCab’s lines are beautiful and very similar to what I’ve already built. By lowering the roof pitch, overall height and sidewalls a bit, I can get a more energy efficient interior by not having to heat and cool such a cavernous 14′ high space. By building in 3 segments, I can avoid a post and beam type timber frame and use less expensive stick-build methods (quality local labor is an issue in my remote area).

I can also have the exact floorplan I want to maximize my view and location, including an indoor/outdoor shower in my bathroom (a dream of mine, to be sure!) and a washer/dryer closet.

Since I will pay as I go and build it myself (with an experienced local carpenter or two), the interior and finish work can proceed at my own pace.

For the overall process I’ll go as far as I can in SketchUp then hire someone to do the blueprints, construction plans and engineering. Admittedly my grand scheme is only in the beginning stages but if I recall correctly, the last time I went down this road, within a year I had a cabin built (and got published in a magazine)!

Details are being considered, advice is being sought, money is being prayed for, the Gods of Art, Design, and Providence are being beseeched, and I’m feelin’ a fire down in me gut.

I hope to God it’s not the Lamb Vindaloo I had for dinner last night.