Posts Tagged With: electrical

Naj Haus: a case study in wiring a tiny house


Trick or treat: a cobra masquerading as a cable, waiting to strike the unwary.

I never had any intention of wiring my tiny house myself. I knew I could learn it if I had to but when you’re building a house on your own there are some tasks you need to let go of to save your sanity. Since electricity scares the bejeezus out of me, it was a no-brainer to hire that one out. Then two things happened: I got an estimate for what it would cost (yikes!) and I met Todd Clay, the owner of Gorge Electric, who took an interest in my project and agreed to mentor me if I wanted to take it on myself. So that is how I came to be a reluctant electrician.

I am way behind on progress updates, but I realized that the primary purpose of this blog is to share the lessons I’ve learned while building Naj Haus and since the wiring experience was a pretty big deal, it’s worth backing up and going over it in more detail. Jumping into the world of electrical wiring as a complete novice required learning entire new vocabulary, tool, and skill sets, and a mind-boggling array of materials and safety precautions. Fortunately I had Todd to guide me with all of his expert advice, but he’s a busy guy and we could only arrange periodic check-ins and inspections; the rest of the time I was on my own. While the internet is a wealth of information, it’s all so piecemeal it can be hard to see the forest for the trees. As I gradually wove my way through the morass, it began to make more sense. I thought I would present my experience as a case study so that others might not have to go through the same torturous process of figuring out how all the pieces fit together.

There are several caveats. This is not a step-by-step instruction manual but more of a framework to help you understand where you should focus your own research. I’ll point out tips and resources I used, but you may find better ones. Keep in mind I am not licensed and you shouldn’t take anything I say as correct. Code varies from location to location and from year to year so you really need to work with someone qualified. While tiny houses on wheels do not require permits and inspections, you definitely want to make sure your house is wired properly, both for your safety and that of others, and to help get insurance if you want it.

What I want to do is describe the process I went through, tailored to my situation, and point out how you can adapt it to your own. I also want to highlight some of ways that wiring a tiny house is slightly different than wiring a traditional house, and what safety precautions you need to be aware of besides the obvious ones talked about in the internet links. Even if you’re not doing the wiring yourself, knowing about some of these issues will help you work with your electrician. Finally, I’ve added lots of photos since there are never enough visuals when you’re trying to stumble your way through something you haven’t done before! They may or may not be pertinent to your situation but if I can help save you some headbanging and muffled swearing, then it’s all worth it.

Here are the topics I touch on in the rest of this post (my posts are getting so long they need a table of contents!):

  1. Lighting design: why this is important in a tiny house & the list of principles that guided me
  2. Developing a wiring plan: questions to research & some resources for finding answers
  3. Circuit diagramming: an iterative process best done with all fixtures in hand
  4. Installing a circuit breaker box: creating an insulated thermal break & hiring out subtasks
  5. Getting acquainted with the world of electrical device boxes & some installation approaches:
    • What is a device box?
    • Different types: Old work vs new work, plastic vs metal, attachment alternatives, special purpose
    • Size matters: box fill capacity & why it’s particularly important in a tiny house
    • Adjustable boxes
    • Junction boxes
    • Exterior device box installation
    • Hanging light box installation
    • Fan or saddle boxes
    • Pancake box installation
    • Exterior light box installation
  6. Tips for rough-in wiring: drilling through studs, running & anchoring cable, nail plates
  7. Tips for making up boxes prior to finishing walls and installing devices: stripping wires, crimping ground wires, wire nut capacity, tucking them in
  8. Next phase: wiring devices into boxes & attaching fixtures…a couple initial tips
Some sconces I got, hanging in a temporary spot.

Some sconces I got, hanging in a temporary spot.

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Categories: construction | Tags: , , | 12 Comments

“That is the texture of the tree; there is the warm gentle.”

silver lining rainbow

Silver lining on a bleak early spring day.

Love press of the kitchen and furniture
beautifully grown tree
past month is.

Okay, from the poem above, you probably think this is going to be about how I’ve finished my cabinetry and built-ins, perhaps my whole house. Given that it’s been four months since my last post, this would be a reasonable assumption, but alas, this is not the case. In fact, I am amazed at how slow my progress has been as I approach my two-year mark from when I started building. In my defense, the first year I was living in one state and building in another when I could get time off work, and this last year has been beset by obstacles. However, it hasn’t been wasted time. Much has been learned and I am very happy with what has been accomplished. Though more battle-worn and less starry-eyed, I’m still as excited as ever about my tiny house. Good thing, eh?

In honor of this anniversary, this post is a look back on some of what I’ve learned these last few months about patience, potential, and perseverance. There are also some observations about nature, design, aging, as well as a look at some of the actual work – my electrical wiring, sealing the windows gaps, and starting to fluff wool for insulation – that I did manage to do. But first, because I’m never content with mere reporting of my building steps, I want to explain the origins of the poem above and the others included in this post:

Exquisite corpses & found poems

You’ve probably played the parlor game favored by the Surrealists called Exquisite Corpse, where one person begins a drawing on a folded piece of paper and passes it to the next person who adds to it not knowing what the first person drew. This continues until the last person adds their contribution and the paper is unfolded to see what this blind, collaborative creative process produced, quite often something nonsensical or, ahem, surreal.

The idea can be applied to other art forms as well. In film school, we would pass a camera around not knowing what the previous filmmakers had filmed, resulting in typically disjointed, but interesting, short films highlighting our very different cinematic styles. Written stories or poems can also be developed this way. It’s somewhat similar to the found poetry that grew out of the Dadaist movement. Like with the exquisite corpses, the appeal of found poetry, or found art, is the fresh insights or unexpected synchronicities that occur when artists portray commonplace objects or text in a new light.

In my case, my exquisite corpse/found poetry turned out to be an inadvertent collaboration between KitoBito, a small Japanese woodworking company specializing in kitchen designs; Google translator; and myself. As I was recuperating and unable to build (see below), I spent time researching my cabinet design. Through a random search, I ended up on KitoBito’s site and fell in love with their work. But beyond giving me inspiration for my own designs, I made a delightful discovery when I saw what random beauty and thoughtful word play was being generated by the Google translator!  Continue reading

Categories: construction, design, tangents, thoughts on tiny | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

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