Tiny Home: Arborion

Bathroom Sink

I was in need of a compact bathroom sink that did not exist. The only one that came close was a tiny IKEA design, but it only came in one color — white porcelain. This is not what I was looking for.


Face frame and sides

Since my Dad is an expert woodworker, and always up to a new challenge, I talked him into helping me build a black walnut vanity.   The design measures 18″ tall, 19″ wide, 10″ deep with a 6″ deep sink. Just large enough to wash hands, shave over, or brush teeth.


Initial clamp up


Sink basin is added

Below the sink is a small amount of storage area.


Taped off for multiple coats of epoxy


Epoxied, oiled and drain installed

The inside of the sink basin is also epoxied to remain waterproof while the rest of the outside is oiled.


Look at that curly walnut!

Now that the shower panels are installed I can mount the bathroom sink.


Vanity mounted in place


A beautiful addition to the bathroom

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Shower & Soaking Tub

When designing the shower for Arborion I knew I wanted a tub for multiple reasons. The first was to be able to soak in a bath. The Japanese often make use of small soaking tubs such as this. I also wanted a backup to washing clothes at a laundry mat. This tub would provide that utility if needed. A tub also provides more assurance that the water from a shower leaves through the drain instead of being held back by the low lip of a shower pan.


Tub parts stained and drying in the sun

The tub is constructed from marine grade fir plywood and maple. These pieces were stained dark on the faces that would be seen. The bottom of the tub was built up with an additional layer of maple and shaped by sanding a gradual slope to the drain location.


Tub assembled


Tub epoxied with several coats to keep it watertight


Tub installed with drain


Marine grade plywood wall substrate


Applying the Max-metal to shower wall surfaces starting with the ceiling

It took me months to locate a suitable material for the waterproof surface in the shower. Although, just about the time I was ready for the material I found a local supplier.

I did not have confidence in thin plastic liners or tile so I went a different route. This material goes by Dibond or Max-metal. It is two layers of aluminum with a core of poly ethylene. It can be cut easily enough so using it in a custom sized shower was not a problem. It is waterproof and will not corrode. It is also lightweight and durable.


Max-metal aluminum panels glued to plywood substrate

I chose a brushed aluminum surface which looks great in such a small space. Now all that is left is to use silicone in the corners and install the shower head and faucet.


All that is missing now is a bit of walnut trim

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Propane & Water Hookup

This step of the build has been a long time coming. I saw it as the last big unknowns. With all the new disciplines I had to learn to construct Arborion, I felt completing the water and propane hookups were the final hurdles to overcome.

Piping water and propane into a wooden tiny house is serious business. I wanted to be sure I knew what I was doing to the final detail before tackling this myself. The last thing I wanted was to flood Arborion or burn it to the ground.

Several tips I’ll offer to anyone attempting this for the first time.

  • Take your time to learn all you can
  • Make sure you feel confident in your knowledge before proceeding
  • Ask questions of other professionals
  • Invest in the best systems, piping and fittings you can afford
  • Continuous pipe runs are better than multiple fitting (especially within the wall or floor where you can not access it easily)
  • Don’t give up in the face of setbacks

I used HomeFlex piping for the propane and Uponor ProPEX (compression fittings) for all water lines. There are no fitting inside the walls with the exception of the shower. This means a separate run for each hot and cold water lines (total of 6 lines) and propane lines (total of 2 lines).

Previous Related Post: Learning Curves and Flexible Pipes


Running hot and cold water


Propane cook top


Functioning kitchen

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Tansu Stairs

Initially I was not going to build stairs for Arborion. I thought that the room they would take up was not worth accessing the sleeping loft more conveniently, nor the extra storage space. However, I slowly came around to seeing the benefits beautiful tansu style stairs could offer.


Initial clamping to make sure everything lines up before gluing

Where ever possible we used a datto for more strength when joining the 3/4″ maple plywood. The front edge is banded with walnut, but the inside is left the lighter maple in order to reflect more light.


Assembly begins

The largest cabinet opening will be used for hanging clothing like shirts and jackets.


A little chiseling and sanding

Dad built the pulls that will be inserted into the top right corner of each door.


Doors and pulls

The treads are red oak with a very dark stain to match the flooring.


Dark stain on red oak stair treads


Tansu stairs with treads


Tansu stairs up to sleeping loft

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Kitchen Counter Tops

These kitchen cabinets have been in need of beautiful black walnut countertops for some time now. Here’s how my Dad and I made that happen.


Kitchen cabinets ready for countertops

It all starts with careful measurements and a cardboard template. The gas range and sink are located along with faucet and knobs.

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Cardboard template for the countertop

We used a generous amount of marine grade epoxy and clamped up the strips of walnut to cure.


Strips of walnut are epoxied and clamped together

The countertop for the pantry cabinet is also complete. Now it’s time to transfer the final dimensions using the templates.


Template used to mark out the countertops

Using a router and straightedge, the edges of the countertops are trimmed.


Trimming with a router and guide

Marine grade epoxy is applied in coats on both sides to seal out moisture.


Countertop sealed with epoxy

The epoxy is sanded down to a satin finish. Drop in cutting board will cover the sink and add more counter space.


Countertop with drop in cutting board

The finished counter tops fit nicely. I oiled with with several coats of bee’s wax and linseed oil until the walnut looked beautiful.


Countertops in place and oiled

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Extendable Futon

Just inside Arborion’s front door is a maple futon under a large window. As with all things in a tiny house it has to serve multiple functions to maximize the usefulness. This futon is both a bench and bed, but also Scout’s bed fits underneath.

The construction of a physical scale model was crucial to getting this project right the first time. From this I was able to experiment and learn what worked best and the trouble areas I might encounter during the actual build.


1/8 scale working model of the futon


Large maple boards for best yield


All the pieces for the futon are blanked out

The spacing between the slats was critical. Dad insisted on making Formica spacers to go between every one on both ends. This was a very important step! With each slat in the correct location I could make the attachments to the supports.


Assembly of the 46 slats with proper spacing

After a little more oiling it was time to install the futon in place.


Futon in bench mode


Futon extended into a 4′ x 6′ bed


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Composting Toilet & Bathroom Cabinet

This post is about the business end of the bathroom. The bathroom measures 2′ 6″ wide by 7′ 4″ long. On the right side is the composting toilet and upper cabinet. This cabinet is for towels, toiletries and other bathroom supplies.


Bathroom cabinet frame


Bathroom cabinet doors


Bathroom cabinet

The composting toilet is a waterless system where waste is broken down through proper chemistry (nitrogen + carbon) into rich soil. The process takes about a year in an external bin, but it keeps the build simple and does not pollute water like traditional toilets.


Composting toilet base


Toilet lids clamped up

The center hole is where the human waste goes. The left and right holes are for sawdust (to cover the human waste) and regular trash.


Assembled top of toilet


Composting toilet


Bathroom perspective from tub

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I’ve got the POWER!

The days of running an extension cord out of the main house in order to power Arborion are over. Its wonderful to be able to run the air conditioner with the turn of a knob or turn on the lights at the press of a switch.

The tiny house is supplied power through an RV style 30 amp receiver located under the utility annex. I installed a RV receptacle nearby fed from the main house and connected the two with hardy 10 gauge extension cable.


30 amp twist lock receiver

The circuit panel was a challenge to get into position with all the wires feeding from different angles. In the end, it just took a large measure of patience and sweat. Mostly patience.


Tight fit!


All tidy and buttoned up

Arborion feels ‘alive’ now that it has that warm glow.


Looking mighty cozy

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Mysterious Leak

Last Wednesday I drove home from work during a fierce thunder storm. I was wondering how Arborion was doing since I had left the windows open on either end to allow for a little airflow while I was gone for the day. These particular windows are below a one foot overhang so they are fairly protected from the weather, except when it is windy. I was nervous because this storm was gusting heavily from the south as it plowed through.

I arrived home safely glad to be out of the traffic and dashed from my big house through the rain and standing water to the cozy tiny house and jumped inside trying to let as little water in as I could. I was pretty wet at this point, but there was cardboard on the floor to catch the drips.

I checked the interior and closed the windows. And that’s when I saw water all over the window casing beside the door. It appeared that it was the result of the rain being blown in through the previously open window, but I caught sight of a trickle of water from the top of the window frame. I opened the door and stood on the front landing and checked outside on top of the window, but that was well protected under the foot overhang directly above.

I jumped back inside, shut the door, and calmed myself. I tried to think about this as clearly as I could. I figured the water was making it’s way through the siding, then the storm guard, the plywood sheathing, and the waterproof closed cell spray foam insulation in order to find it’s way to the top of the window frame.

At this time the wind shifted and the rain came in from the north. I noticed that water was beginning to seep past one end of the threshold under the door. The rain was now blowing directly at the porch landing and front door. I grabbed a towel and mopped it up and  left it along the length of the threshold to hold back water. Then turned my attention back to the window frame leak.

The leak was much slower now. Barely a drip. This was a clue that the leak was on the south side of something as it all but stopped once the wind shifted. I then saw that the interior maple wall was dark along a seam directly above the window. I marked it with painter’s tape and followed the ‘line’ vertically up until I saw that it lined up with the south side of the awning window up in the storage loft. That was the moment when I knew I had it right. Rain must be getting in around the awning window in the loft.

I had never noticed this issue in the past even during many days of rain, but this was no ordinary storm. This was a wind driven thunder storm coming from just the right angle. Once I got over the shock, I was glad to have been there to witness the leak and identify the problem before it got any worse. I also recognize that if the weather had not been as fierce, or if I had not gone out into Arborion at that time then I may not have found this leak and it may have resulted in a bigger problem down the road.

The next day I carefully removed the window and added a generous dose of caulking to the window frame. I also recaulked around the threshold. Withing twenty-four hours I experienced another serious rain storm and I’m happy to report that it appears the window and threshold are both properly sealed. No more leaks.

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Inspiration from my Granddad

On July 21, 2015 at 10:10 in the evening my Grandfather passed away peacefully. His name was Ron, and he was a great man. The best Grandfather anyone could hope for. He never forgot any of his grandchildren’s birthdays and always made the holidays extra special with his child-like enthusiasm. He’d end every conversation letting me know how special I was and that he was proud of me. And now that he is gone it has occurred to me that I’m not sure if I ever let him know just how much he inspired me.

My earliest memories are explorations around my Granddad’s river house. It is one of, if not the oldest, original house built in Brevard county. Built in 1786 along the Indian River in Sharpes, Florida, it is a two-story river house with wrap-around balconies, rope swings hanging from huge magnolia trees and a long dock out into the river. My two younger brothers and I spent our early childhood growing up in this old house. That grand river house had character, but it needed repairs. My granddad restored the house with help from others including my Dad. It was truly a sight when completed.

Ron also built an A-frame in Port St. John, Florida with the aid of a government grant based on his environmental design. I was still too young to help with the construction at this time, but my Dad and a couple of his brothers were put to work.

I remember going with my Mom and brothers to the site and bringing lunches. The stages of building a house looked so much like a life-sized version of the same forts my brothers and I spent our days building out in the woods.

My family moved from the river house into a house that my Dad built almost entirely by himself. I remember helping alongside my Mom and brothers as we swung hammers, soaked bricks, and played under a hand pump in the backyard. My granddad helped with this design as well. Passive solar winter heating, and convection currents were employed to make our house more energy efficient.

Memories of Granddad

It’s been two years since I’ve said goodbye to Grandfather Ron. He continues to inspire me to this day. His memory lives on.

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