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Two guys with a tiny (house) dream

By on March 29, 2018 in Featured Homes with 0 Comments

Jake Bickford and his cousin Brandon Williams stand proudly in front of their first (hopefully, of many) tiny houses. This premier edition is an amalgam of design ideas both borrowed and original.

Story by Susan Lagsdin

Photos by Mike Cassidy

Tiny houses, like miniscule shops and pocket parks, little dogs and little children, are definitely cute.

At their best, they are also energy-efficient, easily moveable, relatively spacious, durable, attractive and affordable.

East Wenatchee builder Jake Bickford, 25, intends to become an expert in their construction and use.

Typically, this kind of project takes plenty of know-how and acquired skill, but it’s not considered rocket science, so in that respect he is possibly overqualified.

Jake studied aerospace engineering at the University of Washington, then went on to focus on electronics engineering at Central Washington University. “But I realized,” he said, “That those careers would put me behind a desk, inside — and I’m really more of a hands-on type of problem solver… a kind of an inventor.”

He also has a visionary plan. In the summer of 2016, working with his church to help Okanogan County fire victims, he was dismayed at their lack of housing options. There he met an 80-year-old eyeing the destruction who talked of building small, moveable houses. “The man told me, ’I’ve dreamed and designed, and now I’m too old…’ and that was my catalyst.” Jake said.

Shortly after that, a nearby builder of similar structures generously gave him pointers. Already bolstered by a few years of licensed construction experience as Glacier Valley Services with his cousin Brandon Williams, aided and abetted by his PUD engineer father Brett Bickford, Jake decided to craft his own tiny houses.

He’s counting on their potential not only to relieve homelessness but to serve as campsite and resort accommodations, as mother-in-law/guest additions, and as travel campers.

Tiny houses (as opposed to trailers, RVs, cabins or much-too-small regular houses) were a fad that became a trend that became a TV show that became something we glimpsed in other people’s yards and now have become for the average passer-by a distinct investment possibility.

They can cost about the same as a trailer of the same size but have house-like ambience and convey a sense of permanence that plastic and metal sometimes lack.

The house featured here is a prototype — a year of learning has gone in to perfecting it, and its high-end accessories belie its humble designation as a stick-built house on a trailer chassis. It is street-legal and maneuverable; Jake test drove it behind a three-quarter ton pickup truck and had no trouble easing it back onto its site.

At 8 feet wide by 20 feet long, the house is built on three levels. The door opens to the sitting area: a gas fireplace and flat TV and an L-shaped couch that folds out and up with a trundle to become a double bed.

The one step up to the kitchen and bath allows underfloor room for a whopping 216 gallons of clean water storage and two waste tanks (72 gallons for grey water, 45 for black, which in trailer talk means occasional transfer into septic, sewer or dump station).

A  custom-built ladder to the side accesses a big livable loft with a queen mattress space — or a clothing storage space. More bin storage is available on a deep shelf above the bathroom ceiling.

Thirteen foot roof height makes the loft more cozy than cramped.

Jake’s proud of the choices he’s made with materials, appliances and extra conveniences.

Pine boards, engineered acacia tree flooring and simple trim are spare but homey, and the appliances are a nice surprise: he’s installed two side-by-side undercounter mini-fridges with freezers, which allows room a few feet away for a snazzy all-in-one washer and dryer unit. It’s small and not speedy, but it also takes minimal power and water.

The nearby bathroom (a reality in tiny houses) — is roomy and easy to clean and features an oxygenated shower. Jake said you won’t feel the difference, but it uses half the water of a regular shower.

This tiny house is insulated top, sides and floor with more R-factor than is required for homes. And, “That little stove puts out plenty of heat in the winter,” said Jake.

The ingenious overlapping of power sources is another flexibility feature. It can be plugged in to residential or campsite electricity, it can live off its batteries, or it can use propane. That allows owners to take the tiny house on extended camping trips, park it on a driveway pad, or use it for nightly rentals.

However, there’s a hitch (so to speak). Just what is this comfortable, handy little structure?

Jake has spent most of the winter diligently studying reams of new and amended building codes to find out just where his Douglas County, State of Washington house fits in the spectrum. Wheels on or wheels off? Is it a trailer? Is it a load on a trailer base? Is it a guest house? A park model? An RV? Can he sell it here and know it can be used in Ocean Shores, Republic, or Mission Ridge?

When all the state, county and city codes for these impermanent but year-round-livable houses are finally aligned, Jake will be there, poised to produce his homes to whatever specifications are demanded. “I want to do the right thing,” he said, “So I’m studying as hard as I can.”

Jake and Brandon’s shop is equipped to produce only a few of the handmade houses a year, but hopefully it will be replaced with a larger site they own near Malaga where they can complete up to eight units annually using a streamlined production plan.

That may be several months off, but Jake’s mentally sketched out the new shop’s dimensions, the storage, the tools, the configuration of the bays… he’s ready to go.

“I love to build, to create things… I guess I need to see ‘visible progress’ when I work,” he said.

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