A preview inside my tiny house

01/23/2009

And a request for ideas on how to finish this small space!

Folks who show up to our tiny house meetup will get a tour of our small house and our tiny trailer. We’ve already received plenty of RSVPs, which I’m excited about. Meeting people who share an interest in small space living, believe it or not, is my idea of a good time. But what I’m really feeling the need for is some advice and inspiration about finishing up the interior of our little Compact Jr. (If you missed it here is the progress to-date.)

I’m giving you, dear reader, a sneak peek at the inside in the hopes that I will receive some illuminating words of wisdom in return.

Built-in Furniture

Mike and I ripped out the original built-in cabinetry and designed simple, functional furniture to replace it with. We constructed two long benches that run the whole length (10 ft) of the trailer, screwed in several support legs, and kept the original foam pads for seating (not pictured). Instead of doing closed, hinged-top benches we left them completely open underneath for flexible storage possibilities.

bench

You can see a small lip on the benches which function to hold the middle piece of plywood, creating a platform for a nice-sized bed.

trailer_bed

We really like the way these benches maximized the “living area” while keeping roughly the same amount of storage space as before. Overall I think the new furniture (1/2 inch ply) amounts to a net loss in weight — a good thing with my sporty 4-door as the tow vehicle. We haven’t weighed this tiny house yet so the weight claim could be disputed. The original Compact Jr. brochure says “shipping weight” is 975 lbs.

mitsubishitowingtrailer

Insulation

I knew I wanted to add insulation because, well, why restrict myself to trailer living in SoCal? I’m drawn to the climate of Northern California and other latitudes where it gets colder of course. Our first step was lining the inside with Reflectix, a bubble wrap encased in foil. Intended as an eco-friendly, reflective, radiant barrier where its effectiveness is based on how much space it has, we found that it was about the cheapest material we could find at the local home store (about $0.40/sq ft). Eager to get started, I purchase a few rolls of it, some glue canisters and re-lined the fiberglass shell with it.

reflectex

Though it worked well, the Reflectix was thin and I still wanted more insulation. We researched all the different types of insulation out there — and greener options too — but it all seemed so expensive. Plus, after attending one of Jay Shafer’s tiny house building workshops, I wasn’t convinced that greener options were better performers. We decided that good insulation was green in and of itself as we would spend less energy heating the place. Ultimately we bought big 3/4-inch-thick sheets of foam board (CFC-free expanded polystyrene) at the local home store (about $0.32/sq ft) and I custom fit them to the slightly curved walls. The result? A high insulating R-value with relatively little thickness.

polystyrene

While this appears to have worked, when leaning against the walls you can tell they weren’t properly glued in (they squeak and shift back and forth). This is because adhesive had seemingly cursed my life. We ran out of the stuff we used for the Reflectix and it didn’t seem to be available at any home stores anymore. I tried several substitutes but nothing pleased me – who knew that gluing foam board onto foil-wrapped curved fiberglass walls would be so aggravating?

Now I’m thinking I will take some of that GreatStuff insulation spray, peel back what I can of the foam sheets, and spray in there as much as I can… just spray the crap out of it. StickyStuff is a more appropriate name for this product and it would be a big ol’ messy project. Any thoughts?

Walls

Because of my adhesive woes I have hesitated going forward with trying to adhere anything to the foam board. In terms of materials, I’ve thought of all different kinds of cheap, lightweight wall lining, even faux fur. If I could afford it I might look into some funky sticky-back paper or adhesive cork, but not at $1, $2, even $3 per square foot. Others have suggested a super-thin wood paneling, but I’m afraid that may bust my practically nonexistent budget for trailer improvements as well. I’m at a loss.

Help me get unstuck, so to speak, and get back on track with my trailer renovation! Any comments would be greatly appreciated.

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Making a Tiny House Using a Fiberglass Trailer | Small Living Journal
05/04/2009 at 1:14 am

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

jill-0 01/26/2009 at 4:16 pm

I LOVE what you’ve done with the rebuild! I’ve always thought that people could be more inventive with their trailers. Regarding the walls, though, I’ve seen ensolite walls painted with some regular paint and it seems to work okay. I’ll be checking in to see what you end up doing with it!

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James P. 01/26/2009 at 4:58 pm

Hi,

I just wanted to say that I’ve used Gorrilla Glue for tough gluing spots. It might be worth picking up a bottle and trying some.

James P.

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thistinyhouse 01/27/2009 at 10:01 pm

Hi Jill! Thanks! I neglected to mention that I did indeed try gluing ensolite foam to the reflective layer — again, problems with the glue.

Hi James! Thanks for the suggestion of using Gorilla Glue. I remember seeing it in the store and thinking it was pricey, but I might try this…

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Karen 01/30/2009 at 2:52 am

I want to tour your tiny house. Too bad I’m so far away!

Joe says that GreatStuff is indeed great, but it also expands A LOT and might actually push your foam insulate off the walls. He started giving me way too much information in fact. If you really want to hear about adhesive, email him.

I’ve seen some great wall-papered rooms that were covered with cool looking soda bottle labels instead of wall paper. Maybe you can do something like that instead?

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Jen 01/30/2009 at 8:54 am

I’m so glad you posted this. I have a 1970-72 (depends who you ask) Compact Junior which has served us well. It came with the silver insulation and I’m SO glad I didn’t go with my gut instinct and rip it out! It really works! However, it’s ugly as sin, and it rips when the girls and I are careless in our loading and unloading. I was considering some thin doorskin wood paneling, but the insulation probably wouldn’t be able to hold the weight. I’m looking at other options now (including “rat fur” though the $550 estimate at the local upholstery place didn’t exactly thrill me).

For yours, since you have the foam board up already, what about using ConTact paper?

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Jen 01/30/2009 at 8:57 am

Wow…it’ll be interesting to see what the inside looks like once you’ve loaded it in the “flexible storage” area and driven down the road. Mine bounces like a sonofagun. You may want to consider installing some cargo nets to at least keep your load under the new megabenches. :)

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thistinyhouse 01/30/2009 at 2:46 pm

Thanks Karen & Joe, I’ve been getting the thumbs down on spray foam in the FiberglassRV forum as well. Glad we got that straightened out! Hm, soda bottle labels? I’ll think about interesting recycled materials for the walls… Thanks!

Jen, we should get together sometime and have a play date for our Compact Juniors! It sounds like we have similar problems.

In terms of storage while driving, Mike and I have a system down. We “pack” and “unpack” the trailer for road travel. Basically we shove the cooler and all the bedding in the middle aisle, and that seems to keep everything in place.

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andy p 03/08/2009 at 3:34 am

Dear tiny house trailer folks,
I expect you are done with the insulation by now, but the spray foam would stick the trailer to the side of a cliff, but it may not hold foam to foil. Try an experiment?
For a finish, there are plenty of beautiful old blankets to be had at thrift shops and from friends with too many blankets. It would be nice to see my old loved (but small) blanket from Guadalahara would get a second life. Maybe they could get hemmed to cord, that got attached at several levels?
Yurts in Mongolia may have 6′ of felt lining them.
A great adventure.

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thistinyhouse 03/31/2009 at 6:55 am

Hi Andy, The blankets are a neat idea, and similar to my very first idea, before it started to get complicated…

NOW… having had my step-dad’s official consultation, I’m leaning towards a door-skin like wood finish (that can be painted). He convinced me that it would be easy to cut out vertical strips and glue wood to the original fiberglass at several points, thereby giving something for the door-skin ply to really attach to. This makes a lot of sense in many ways. Now we just need to befriend someone in San Diego who has some basic woodworking tools… anyone?

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Wayne 04/04/2009 at 4:56 pm

Love your website. I’ve been following since last year. I really like the idea of having the open storage under the megabenches.

I have two ideas for your wall finishes. They are both kind of out there so please keep that in mind.
1) Take a look at this picture of a man in a digital camouflaged uniform laying on a sofa. http://neatorama.cachefly.net/images/2007-06/camouflage-couch.jpg.
Now my idea. If you finished the walls with something that has an indistinct pattern and also put a fabric on the benches (maybe just on the pads) the wall and the benches would disappear into each other and obscure any indicators that tell the mind where the boundaries of the interior are. This would trick the eye into thinking that the space is actually bigger than it actually is.
2) Take a look at this picture: http://www.illusionking.com/illusions/astonishing-3d-wall-painting-illusion-1.jpg
Maybe you can hire a local artist to paint the inside.

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thistinyhouse 04/05/2009 at 10:53 pm

Thanks! I love those neat decorating ideas. I’ve actually seriously considered doing some kind of illusion illustration, but obviously way beyond my skill level. But before the fake walls… before I can even think about all those possibilities… I’ve got to get some real walls up!

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leilani 07/12/2009 at 7:31 pm

hi, tinyhouse! just found your website this evening, I’m checking out your mini-trailer reno & have a suggestion for your walls if you haven’t finished them yet. Have you considered fiberglass textile wallcovering? It goes up like wallpaper, is very durable & comes in many textures & colors. Paintable, washable, fire retardant & doesn’t take up space. More popular in Europe for residential apps, but it’s widely used commercially here in the US. A (possibly) more economic route would be just to put up wallpaper liner. That’s the stuff people put up before hanging wallpaper if their walls are uneven (panelling) or rough (stucco). Might not be as durable, though left unfinished. Love the site – hope to finish reading it tonight. Good luck! – L.
PS) here’s a link or 2 on that fiberglass stuff :
http://fiberglass8.googlepages.com/fiberglasswallcovering
http://www.roosintl.com/glass_textile_wallcovering/index.htm

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a_bayer 01/08/2012 at 6:22 pm

about the foam covering- in a small trailer forum i read, others were using a fabric covering over foam using a mix of titebond II glue thinned with water. I think they were using large drop cloths that they ironed to remove wrinkles, and carefully applied after brushing the glue on the foam. after a couple coats of glue, and total drying, they painted the walls with latex paint. don’t know how much the materials cost but thought I’d pass the idea along.

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Bonnie 05/30/2012 at 12:12 pm

Hi, I am so excited to see someone else loves the Compact Jr. I had an one back in 1974. My husband David, daughter Jennifer and what ever additional child we took with us enjoyed the heck out of it. David built hooks and hooked light weight aluminum cots and hung them from the pop up railing just below the canvas and the kids stayed in those (they couldn’t wait to go to bed) till they capped 30 lbs. We thought we’de sell it in the early 90′s (for $800.00) and regreted it ever since. I sure wish we had the forthought to realize we would want to downsize after 40 years on the road traveling. We have gone from that wonderful little home away from home to HUGE motor homes, 5 to be exact and now at 64 and 62 we want our Compact Jr Back. TRY TO FIND ONE! Impossible. I will not give up however, I will find one somewhere. Just because we were Floridians at the time (and hated the heat) David and his Dad went up front below the front window and awning and put in a reverse heat and air conditioner. It worked beautifully kept the bed warm in the cold and would freeze you out in the summer. I could go on and on about it but this walk down memory lane may be a bit much for folks. Try liquid nails for an adheasive we found it works for everything. You can find it at Home Depot. Not very expensive. I will follow you now, for If I can’t at leaset I can thru you.

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