Sunday, January 23, 2011

Long Time Comin'

Given the poor condition of my home when I purchased it in 1991, my plan was to build a home next to it and tear it down within a few years. It's almost 20 years later. What happened? Life did. So many chapters, so many challenges took precedence. I never completely lost sight of the plan...but it did repeatedly go into hibernation.

When I purchased this property, my plan was to build the new house into the hillside, a touch further north and away from the drop to the road than the current house. After living here all this time, though, I'm determined to put the new house where the current house is situated for one key reason--it's closer to the river view. This decision has prevented me from moving forward with construction these last few years because I just could not figure out how to develop a cost-effective living arrangement that would allow me to live on the land while tearing down the current house and building a new one…AND would not require me to live in a wreck of a structure during the process.

Over the years, I have drawn up plans for garages, studios, and various combinations of workshops, garages, and apartments. Although each design had its attractiveness, I just couldn’t begin work on any of them. The combination of the cost and complexity of each structure gave me pause, as did this nagging worry that, combined with the future house, I would end up with too much structure in total.

The new plan is to build a small home on a travel trailer, live in it near the current house (to make utility hook-up easy) while tearing down the current house and building a new one and, then, either keep/move the trailer home or sell it. I developed a project timeline that gave me until the end of January to decide whether the project was a go or no-go. After spending a lot of time researching trailers, I happened upon someone who can custom-build exactly what I need for a very reasonable price. Everything felt so right, I decided weeks ago that it’s a GO! My travel trailer is under construction right now and will be delivered this spring when the snowbanks are gone.

I am calling my house design the “JayBee.” As I work to finalize the plans, I keep tweaking and re-drawing. I have a feeling this will go on for weeks. During this process, I am also researching building materials. While 20 years of reading and researching have contributed to my thinking and my house design, I especially want to thank these businesses for providing inspiration and invaluable information: I took a housebuilding course at the Shelter Institute ( during the winter weekends at the beginning of 1991. I use all that I learned during that course every time I work on any aspect of house design. Patsy Hennin, co-founder of Shelter, gave me advice and support when I participated in the real estate foreclosure auction through which I acquired my property. For the idea to use a travel trailer as the foundation of my JayBee, I credit the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company ( for the inspiration. I have scoured through that web site several times, purchased Jay Shafer’s “The Small House Book” and Popomo plans, and studied both the book and the plans extensively. I don’t know if my JayBee will qualify as a "tiny" house, since it will be 26 feet long, but it is definitely inspired by Jay’s work.

Here’s where the JayBee will sit on my land. (I apologize for the weird shadow and color lines; I knitted two photos together to make this one.) The basketball pole/net will come down. And the two trees identified with red arrows will be cut. By the way, this is the hillside I had initially planned to build a house into—so I will have an opportunity to see just how it feels to live in this spot with the JayBee.

Below is the view I will have from the JayBee. Until it is torn down, the current house will block much of the river view. (The car shouldn’t be there under normal circumstances; right now, it’s parked on what is normally lawn in order to be out of the way of the snow-plow guy.) The Kennebec is covered in snow in the distance. Come spring, it will be wide-open blue again.

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