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An Idea is Born

Conceptual rendering

Gypsy Rose was born of necessity. I (Kevin) live on a boat (Raven) on Lake Champlain from April through November. Marion recently bought land in Tunbridge, Vermont. While I was exploring options for a winter residence in Burlington (Raven is "on the hard" from mid-November through the beginning of April), Marion knew she needed a temporary summer home in Tunbridge until she decides how to eventually build a permanent home on her land.

Last winter, I was mulling over the options while on a long drive through Vermont. It came to me. I called Marion and suggested, "Why don't we build a home on wheels! We can share it. I can use it during the winter months in Burlington and you can use it during the summer months in Tunbridge."

An idea was born! Marion loved it and we immediately started working through concepts and ultimately drew up plans for the new home. "Gypsy Rose," we'll call her.

At the Drawing Board

Lots of research and lots of bouncing ideas eventually led to a concept for a traditionally "stick built" home on wheels. Life aboard Raven has given me a good understanding of independent, low impact living. Like the boat, Gypsy Rose will be self contained and off the grid - using many systems that were developed for marine applications. She will operate primarily on 12V electrical systems whose batteries will ultimately be charged by solar or small-scale hydro (with a generator backup). Propane will power the stove, the refrigerator, the furnace, and the on-demand hot water heater. A composting toilet will handle the waste.

From the Drawing Board to the Driveway

At first I had thought I'd build Gypsy Rose on a stock construction trailer base, but ultimately I went to Bob Schumacher at Outdoor Recreational Supply (Shelburne, Vermont) and asked if he could build me a custom trailer frame that we could use as a base. Bob's engineering mind immediately went to work on the design and the frame was welded up and ready by the end of October.

Frame Delivered

Lights, camera . . . ready to roll down the highway to Marion's home in Connecticut where the building will begin.

Blocked and level

Blocked up and level in the driveway, and we were ready to begin construction on Saturday, November 4th.

 Bolting nailers

From the base plate up, the structure is traditional wood-frame construction, but integrating the floor joist system with the steel frame of the trailer was all new territory. We tried to work out as many of the details as we could during the design phase, but once construction began we knew that there would be the unforeseen that would have to be accommodated as the project progressed.

Many half-inch holes were drilled through the frame to attach "nailers", which were bolted to the steel frame members. From the nailers, the floor joists were hung.

First joist installed

Joists nearly complete

By the end of the second day of building, the floor joists were nearly complete.

 

Comments

What do you use for the grey water?
Any interior photos after moving in?

What is the length/width of your trailer?

Jill,

The grey water "system" is not yet plumbed in. For the time being, we collect it beneath the sinks with a five gallon bucket. Soon, I will put in the drains that will lead to to corner beneath the shower and it will drain outside into a trench with crushed stone.

The key to grey water is not putting anything into it that would be harmful to the environment. (The same goes with water that is drained into the contemporary sanitary sewer systems, but people don't always make the connection.) We don't use anything except mild soaps.

I'll have to get busy taking interior shots this winter. We've had many requests for them.

The length of Gypsy is 24 feet. That includes the 4 foot porch and 4 foot shed. The width is 8.5 feet - the maximum width allowed on the highway without a special permit. The height is 13.5 feet, also the maximum allowed highway dimension.

All the best,
Kevin

Justin wanted to say hello, found your site while investigating building my own small house in the new year. Love the tiny stove, think I'll be getting a sardine to heat mine. Look forward to watching the rest of your build and will no doubt have some more questions in the months to come, I hope you won't mind me picking your brains.

You've two beautiful homes and are a great craftsman.

Best wishes,

Justin Peer.

Kevin,

I have been an avid reader of your blog for many months now. Your project has turned into a very beautiful home and I am sure will give you many years of pleasure. I have been impressed with how solidly you have built her. She would pass cyclone code over here in Australia.

I have been dithering somewhat over whether or not I should build a home like this for myself or buy a new apartment in the city. The mathematics though have come out firmly in support of this style of living and I intend to start my own house in the new year.

I'd like to thank you for the level of detail in your blog. It has been very informative and shown me the way to go about building my own home. I have liked Jay Shafer's homes from an aesthetic point of view but your house combines good looks with greater utility.

I am in the process of doing my own plans at the moment, but I'd like to encourage you to make your design/plans available to the rest of us (for a fee if necessary) to use as a guide(Cheat notes) when we do our own plans. We use the metric system in Australia which means we have to redo the dimensions of any plans we get from overseas. In addition our metric supplies are actually dimensionally different. This prevents us from simply changing the plan dimensions from imperial to metric. Also we don.t have many of the building products you have over there and we need to locate local substitutes.

However, I relish the challenge, and I will undertake to make public as much as I can of my building progress. I look forward to seeing how your project finally turns out, and hearing from you too.

Best Wishes

Lance

Kevin,
I've been following the small home movement for some time now. I agree with Lance that your home is built especially tough and it seems perfectly suited to our northeastern winters!I'm from New York so I know the fun of snow!

I was wondering if you had any breakdown of materials you used. For instance the specifics of your trailer frame, or the types of wood you used for the frame/rafters.

It would benefit many of your fellow DIYer's who are not as adept as you!

Keep up the good work your home is beautiful!

~J

Justin,

I don't have a compiled breakdown of materials used beyond the receipts from local lumberyards.

Among my goals on the project was to use readily available materials that are available to the typical DIY'er. While I love learning about all the latest and greatest news from the green building fronts, I've found that many of the new technologies also involve specialized tools, skills, etc. I figured that by virtue of size along, Gypsy will be much more "green" than even the platinum LEEDS certified structures that, in my opinion, can never be considered green by virtue of their size alone.

My trailer frame was built with 2" x 6" box steel. I used a pair of 3500# axles. (Gypsy weighs less than the 7500# capacity of the combined axles, but, if I had to do it again, I'd install a pair of 5000# axles just for some extra insurance.)

I used Douglas Fir for all of the framing - 2x6 for the floor joists and rafters and 2x4 for the walls.

Best,
Kevin

Hi Kevin,
I've found your blog both enjoyable and useful, thank you for putting it out there. I noticed your trailer doesn't appear to have any suspension. If so, any problems? It does serve to get you lower to the ground I guess. Thanks, Wayne

Wayne,

The trailer does have suspension. (Any attempt to take an unsuspended home on the highway would probably have disasterous results.) Rather than leaf springs that are visible on the outside, my trailer uses a torsion suspension. The height of the trailer can be set with this type of suspension by varying the angle at which it is mounted. In an effort to maximize the headroom inside the house (within the 13.5 foot height restriction), I set the trailer up for lower clearance than found on a typical utility trailer.

Best,
Kevin

Hi, I was thinking of building a stick-built house on a trailer and found your site while Googling trying to figure out how to attach the floor.

I was thinking a flatbed trailer, whereas yours is what I would call just a trailer "frame", being open in the middle. Why did you decide to go with this sort of trailer?

Also, I see you used Douglas Fir, is this the most lightweight framing lumber?

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